Changing Times…

As the present now, will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

” The Times They Are A-Changin’ “
– Bob Dylan –

Things are always changing – in fact they never stay the same. The world is constantly in flux – changing governments, changing weather, changing life stages, deaths, births, etc. – and this is something that I’ve recently turned my thoughts and prayers to lately. Whether it’s weeping with a family over the loss of an unborn child, celebrating the closing chapter of another’s seminary career, seeing the preparations for several upcoming life-long marriage covenants, or seeing the dynamics of many friendships change, God has seen fit to remind of the truth behind Bob Dylan’s words ‘the present now will later be past’ as I struggle to make sense of this time in my life.

I guess I’m not so much struck by the fact that life changes, but rather how often and how much it changes. Because in a few months’ time, babies will be born that will change a family’s dynamic forever, people’s jobs will change, people will move to different cities, and the things that seem so important now will fade into a distant memory only to be replaced with new ambitions, desires, and longings. So I’m left with this tension of having temporary stresses, emotions, and situations, all the while knowing that in a few years’ time and a little more perspective, I will simply shake my head and smile at the drama and ‘turmoil’ that made up my mid-twenties.

Being a ‘type-A’ kind of guy, I like to attempt to exert some control over my life and I enjoy it when things are predictable and stable. But if I’m being honest, this is never really the case (and I hear it only gets worse after marriage and children). It’s a rare occurrence when I feel like everything is in its groove and I’m firing on all cylinders, and when that happens things are smooth and seemingly easy. But then something unexpected happens – a fender-bender that puts my Jeep in the shop, a change of plans that makes me rearrange my schoolwork for something ministry- and/or entertainment-related, or any one of the million things that can change at the drop of a hat.

Surely there is a season and a time for everything under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and I thank God that he makes everything beautiful in its time, because death, weeping, loss, and war hardly seem beautiful while we’re walking through them. But the beauty of trusting in God is that no matter what happens in this life, and no matter how hectic the schedules or how random the events, I know that God is ultimately working for my good and for his glory (Romans 8:28, 31). The same God who upholds the world by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) also knows the number of hairs on my head (Luke 12:7), so my ‘type-A’-ness can rest easy and worship in all circumstances because I know that God has dealt bountifully with me (Psalms 13:6 and 116:7) through the grace that comes by faith in Christ. Thank God that his sovereignty is so comforting because without it I would be a nervous, neurotic, depression-prone bitter cynic… well, even more than I already am.

I hope that these rambling musings made sense. If they seem jumbled it’s because they’re that way in my head, and I’m praying for the wisdom and perspective to sort them out… or at least the patience and faith to trust God and lean not on my own understanding.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
– Isaiah 55:8-9 –

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“Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
– Romans 12:2

I remember this time I took a theater class when I was in high school. I’m not really a theater-artsy kind of guy, so it was a challenge to get into character… I didn’t know how to act at all. I remember how frustrated I was with the whole ordeal. I had the right outfit with the right props and I had the lines memorized but my performance was still crap. Somewhere along the way I had missed something crucial to the performance process. So I stayed after class to talk with my teacher, and she gave me some great advice: I had to put myself in the mindset of the character… get to know the character I was playing and then mold my viewpoints to fit that person before my performance would be believable. If I didn’t make that change in my mind, my role would conform to my personality rather than come off the way it was meant to be played. She told me it wasn’t just about the props or the wardrobe, or even the lines… acting wasn’t about representing someone else’s character on stage, it was actually being that character, and that started on the inside.

So that memory got me thinking… aren’t we Christians like that? It seems as if we’ve got the lines memorized (“I’m good, how are you? How can I be praying for you?”), we have the right clothes for church and our Christian camp t-shirts for class, and we even have the coolest props around (iPods with sermons and acoustic praise music, worn-looking Bibles and trendy journals).

The problem is, the performance isn’t real unless we have the character of Christ on the inside. And if we appear to do everything right on the outside but inwardly we’re not living it out, Jesus calls us whitewashed tombs. Our role as Christians won’t resemble Christ, but will rather conform to our own fallen flesh. If we are trying to deal with sin but aren’t dwelling in the victory that we have in Jesus, then we’re trying to tackle a monumental spiritual problem with just our discipline, reliability, and faithfulness. That leaves us shorthanded and outmatched with no reinforcements… pretty much a strategic nightmare.

However, if the mind is renewed and if we are transformed in light of that, then we live in the purity that Christ purchased in His death on the cross as well as the victory that He accomplished at His resurrection. And when we base our lives (or ‘performance’ as it were) on our Lord Jesus, then He gets the glory and He saves the day. It then rests on His perfect will, not our imperfect one. Our outward character will begin resembling our renewed inward soul as the glorious grace of Christ moves from inside out.

What I’ve found in my short time on this planet is that God is the only one who can change hearts. I’ve tried it without Him, and it just flat doesn’t work.

Another thing that I’ve found… when God begins this renewing and molding process, we begin conforming to the image of Christ and start thinking like Him, walking like Him, talking like Him, and acting like Him. We start memorizing our lines (of Scripture), and we begin really playing our part in the Kingdom.

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Fig Trees and God’s Sovereignty

The following was written in August 2007…

Habakkuk 3:17-19
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

God is sovereign even if He does not give us money, food, cars, a spouse, etc. Though we toil through life and experience hardship along with providence, God is still our hope and strength, for who have we in Heaven but Him (Psalm 73:25)? We must throw ourselves on His mercy and expect the Almighty, the One with the highest wisdom to bring about His glory and the best things for us, regardless whether they make us sting or sing, or whether they bring pain or bring joy. Our reliance on God cannot and must not rely on His providing everything that we want, for if we ask God to provide for everything we want, we automatically assume that we know what is best, and that our finite knowledge and experience of a few decades is loftier than the wisdom of the Creator of both life and time.

Though the sweetness of this earth has evaded us (“the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines”), we must trust in the sweetness of God.

His Word is ‘like honey on our lips’ (to steal a line from a worship song), and His wisdom is like honey to our souls. Though the prosperity of life hides itself from us (the olive crop fails), and we yearn for food (both spiritually and physically), we must trust that God has a plan, a purpose, an awe-inspiring plot behind the scenes that we are only beginning to awaken to. As in the book of Job (1:16-17), though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, we must fall on our faces and worship God for who He is, whether that be with anointing oil running down our faces, or whether we sit with shaved head in the midst of ashes wearing torn clothes.
On a more personal note, we must be supremely satisfied to know the Bridegroom and to attend their wedding feast. Our joy must be found full and complete in hearing the Bridegroom’s voice (John 3:29-31), though there is no mention of our own bride on this planet. John 3:27 says that man cannot receive anything unless it’s been given him from heaven. This includes our measure of faith (Ephesians 2:8), the grace that comes from it, and any other Gift (1 Corinthians 12) or Fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) that we experience in our days under the sun. Marriage is a gift, a responsibility, a dedication, a commitment, and a wondrous delight, but it need not distract us from the surpassing greatness of God, His Son Jesus, or the pursuit of His glory on this earth at the behest of the Holy Spirit.

God is our strength. To deny such is to deny belief in Him at all, which is a dangerous proposition at the very least. To forsake the rod and staff of God, to deny the authority of His law is to throw off the wonderfully secure blanket, to shred His hedge of protection, and to dismantle His fortress of defense in our lives brick by brick. He makes our feet like the deer and allows us to walk in high places. He allows us to transcend this world’s thorns and thistles, to scale the heights as only those who are pure in heart can (Psalm 15). Therefore we submit to His authority, His will for our lives and put our concerns fully in His hands, casting our anxieties at His wonderful feet, and though we may cry tears of pain or joy, we are fully confident that they are falling on the feet of our Savior, our Protector, our Potter and Creator.

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Geese and Confession

I was watching this show on the Discovery Channel and I observed something that made me immediately sit back and think.

The show had a few men and women testing and foot-tagging Canadian geese for some kind of scientific data endeavor. They had helicopters hovering overhead so the geese would feel intimidated and not fly off, and then they built a corral of sorts to herd the geese into. After all of this goose wrangling, they picked out the geese one-by-one and put the foot tag on, swabbing them to see if they had bird flu, and doing a few other things. Once the workers were finished with this alien-abduction-like process, the geese were free to go. But the birds wouldn’t run off or fly away – even after the helicopter had gone and the restrictions on their wings were removed. The former goose captives, even though they were free to go, would huddle back up with the rest of the gaggle… back inside the corral. They chose a communal prison rather than the temporary isolation of freedom (the birds always find each other in the wild fairly quickly).As I thought about this, I wondered to myself whether we Christians aren’t the same way sometimes. After being convicted of sin and asking God for forgiveness, rather than escaping into the newness of life and the freedom that ensues confession and openness (as James 5:16 tells us), we huddle back up with the other captives and hurry on as if nothing has changed. We’re back in captivity with the rest of the evangelical gaggle. No observable repentance, no discernible victory, no lasting change… sanctification grinds to a halt. But what if we were, like Nate Larkin – the author of “Samson and the Pirate Monks” – to be mature enough and confident enough in our God and His Son Christ Jesus that we could and would confess our sins to each other and experience the healing within the safe confines of true Christian unity. In “Samson,” Nate tells his gritty story of addiction, adultery, pain, and long agonizing despair in sin. But he also tells of the victory that is found in godly repentance, spirit-led confession, and the true victory that walking in the light brings. It is one of the few books that addresses sin as it truly is, and warns of the danger of keeping secret sin from the potentially helpful awareness of true brothers and sisters in the faith.

I think it took this one crazy goose who went off into the freedom of open confession and the joy in victorious living for me to see that the way to holiness and continuing sanctification is by weeping at the foot of the cross, but not alone in my room at night before I sleep… rather in the sight of trusted believers. And I’ve found two really cool things… First, I’ve seen that it hasn’t necessarily made my struggles easier, but it’s made my walk more comfortable because I know that I don’t have to be the hero. I don’t have to be the Christian Superman who has it all down. Second, I’ve realized that there are a lot of solid, mature believers out living in the openness of true confession and repentance. The community is real, the brotherhood authentic, the relationships wholesome and fulfilling. The rest of the evangelical geese back in the communal captivity of the religious corral have some semblance of community, but it’s all based on a common fear – that their armor might be seen as rusty or that it might have a weak spot or two. But I’ve found that the true community is found in patching each other’s armor and grinding the rust off each other’s blade.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” – James 5:16

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17

“The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” – Romans 13:12

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