Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

The last two or three weeks have been of absent-mindedness on my part.
I seem to lack "fervor" in the things i've been meditating on.
But this day, roughly two millenia ago, my Savior died for me. And He died for you. Broken souls, unworthy and filthy beings, hopeless people . . . All of us. We were truly hopeless without Him.
But in my seeming absence of passion, i'm reminded of the Passion of Christ. He was stressed to the point that He was sweating blood. This is something that happens to mortals, though not often. Facing death isn't enough to cause it. He knew what awaited Him after the torture, after the beatings, after the crucifixion, after the death . . . He knew what awaited Him when His Father would forsake Him, when He would bear the shame and penalty for every sin you and i have ever committed, when He would be face-to-face with Satan who would be laughing and mocking, beating and tormenting Him.
And He did not turn away, He did not flee, He did not hesitate to offer Himself for us.

Like a lamb to the slaughter He was silent.

He did not so much as offer a word to avoid what was coming.

No, instead He looked at the crowd and said "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."
Instead, He turned to the man on the cross beside Him and said "today you will be with Me in Paradise."
Instead of you. Instead of me. In our stead.

As my favorite secular author described it in "The Traveller," which i highly recommend,
"Those eyes. Those eyes. My God, they’re so—they’re so hurt! Like a father who’s been beaten by his own children. Yet who still loves his children. Who’s been set upon by loved ones and stripped and beaten and nailed and humiliated!"*

*Matheson, Richard (2011-09-27). Steel: And Other Stories (p. 185). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Proverbs 12:1

I decided to pick a verse from Proverbs at random to study.
Maybe there was something subconscious going on from Sunday's evening service, but i'd already forgot those verse numbers . . .

I chose 12:1.
"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid."
That one was mentioned last night.

Whoever loves discipline (or "instruction" in some translations) loves knowledge.
Who doesn't want to be smarter? We all love knowledge. But to become smarter, we have to know where we're wrong. We can't increase in intelligence without having made mistakes. We can't become wise without knowing our foolishness.
To gain knowledge, we have to find out what we know, but more importantly we have to find out what we don't know.
We can't be spoon-fed everything in life; we have to take leaps of faith (faith if not acted on is dead), make displays of independence (or else it does not prove itself), express our individuality (or we fade into the crowd). Then we seek counsel.
We can be instructed beforehand. Honestly, though, you can read and read and read about driving a car. The first time you're in the driver's seat, though, that instruction is out the window. You have to get accustomed to the vehicle, and have an experienced driver there beside you to guide you. And try not to wreck as you learn not as much from what they say but from what you feel. They can say how things work for them, but they are not you.

But here's where it gets hard.
It's easy to tell someone how to do something they don't know how to do.
How easy is it to be told how to do something you're unfamiliar with? Or how about something you already know how to do?
Not as easy that way.
What if it's someone pointing out flaws or insufficiencies?
I received some criticism a couple months back that was pretty rough. It chafed me. I wanted nothing more than to rebuke them and say "You know, i've seen and been told of your faults and they outnumber mine," but i refrained. I wish i had out of wisdom or patience or grace or some sort of fruit of the spirit. But no. I was tired and couldn't think of how to eloquently (now that word's stuck in my head) word it so as to twist the dagger with as few words as poignant as possible.
The following day, i got home from work and went to writing my letter.
Wrote out about three or four pages of pointing out the flaws of the person who had given me criticism (most of which wasn't even my account but from others). I was furious.
I read back through and realized something.
They were right. At least to some extent. Perhaps even still more than many would suspect.
I hated correction.

I'm still not wise, nor will i ever be in my own words.
But the correction thing; that's gotten much easier in the last few months.
Who it comes from doesn't matter as much as whether or not they're right.

I'm going to list three things my pastor said to do when receiving correction:
  • Consider the source; are they qualified, and are they trying to help?
  • Ask yourself "is it accurate?" If so, what can i learn, what can i gain, and how can i apply it?
  • Take it under advisement and seek counsel from a trusted friend.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

He Makes All Things New

This came to me while listening to "My Soul Longs For You" by Misty Edwards.

"Behold, I am making all things new.”

Many know this quote well. It's from Revelation 21:5. A lot of people going through recoveries from eating disorders and depression and various emotional/traumatic issues use this verse.
It's a wonderful quote, it truly is. And it is hopeful.
But notice how He doesn't say "I will make all things new," as the verses surrounding this one imply things that will happen, not things that are happening.
"He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
He will dwell with us. We will be His people. He will wipe away our tears . . . But He is making all things new.

Entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, states that all things break down over time. But here, the Word of God says something that seems to go against what is a law of physics.
It seems a contradiction. It seems one must be false if one is true. I'm not a physicist or a person of high intellect, so i can't say that one of those is wrong and present evidence to support such a claim . . .
God is making all things new. He is. Right now, as i'm typing this, not just some things, but all things are. Yet a law of physics says that all things are breaking down, getting old, and falling apart.
Entropy is actually one of the most interesting ideas supporting a young earth--and universe, for that matter. But i won't go there today.
God is making all things new . . . By means of entropy.

Your skin. It's new. You're in a constant state of shedding. What's on the surface is dead skin, and what's underneath, working its way to the surface, is the new. You're being made new from the inside out.
Trees lose their leaves and crops in the Fall. In the Spring, they grow new leaves, and the crops they drop begin to sprout. He's making the trees new.
Things die . . . How is He making all things new if things are dying right now? By entropy. Things die, they break down to their core materials. Dead plants rot into dark compost, fertile soil for new plants to thrive in. Animals die, they decompose and fertilize the ground. Even the waste/leavings of animals feeds the ground to nourish the plants so the animal that consumes the plants will have something to eat. He's making all things new by breaking down and building again.

Same goes for broken lives; scarcely has someone changed the world that did not at some point change their heart because of a broken life. It may've been something that drove them to a certain career or field of study, but it often comes from a tragedy that seems to be tearing apart someone's life.
He picks up the pieces of a broken soul and makes something more beautiful than before with them.
Ever seen a great painter paint (i've had the opportunity to watch my dad, the best painter i've ever seen, many times)? Ever try to figure out what they're painting right after they start? It's hard. In fact, they're not looking at the detail they're working on at that moment, but instead they see a picture that's already there . . . But if you're watching their hand/brush, you're going to be left thinking "This isn't going to work out, this isn't going to look very good." But if you could see the picture before it's painted like the painter can, you'd see that the current detail may be minute and not look like anything but a blotch, but it's part of a big picture soon to be revealed.
When God lets us fall apart or break down, He's washing the canvas, so to speak, in order to have a clean slate to work with. I've said it before and will say it again, He's an artist. All of creation is a work of art, and so is whatever trial you may be facing.
Are you watching the Painter's hand as He paints what seems to be random strokes, or are you willing to trust that He has a finished masterpiece in mind already?
He is making all things new. In nature. In the cosmos. In me. In you.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Enduring Faith

Something my pastor said earlier this evening that has apparently taken root in my heart already.
He mentioned that John had faith that couldn't be shaken by things of this world, not even death, and said his prayer is that those in the congregation he leads have a faith like that; faith that makes them stand like a green tree in a desert, as that draws attention and people want to be by it and want whatever it is that causes the tree to remain healthy.

But this got me thinking; most trees in deserts are mirages.
The tree doesn't know it's fake, because it's just a trick our mind plays on us.
In thinking about this, i realized that the same applies to his idea of Christians being healthy trees in the desert. A lot of us perceive others to be strong and healthy in their spiritual work, but the abundance and strength of the tree is merely a mirage we convince ourselves of. Many of those who appear to have a closeness to God don't have it in all actuality. It takes proximity to realize this. Upon closer examination of the lives of the "healthy," we see that their spiritual prosperity is an illusion.
And i'm not saying i'm holy or righteous or closer to God than anyone else. I may simply be the tree that doesn't realize i'm unhealthy. Most of us who think we have a flourishing spiritual life, when it all comes down, don't. If it takes harsh criticism of me, so be it. Examine me so that you can see where i'm real and where i'm fake, then point it out to me.
I have faith that my faith would endure any storm life can throw at me, but so does everyone who claims dependence on God . . . How many actually do?
Thousands came to hear Jesus preach when He fed them by means of a miracle. The next day, when there were no miracles performed, the people were not fed, they faced a very short spiritual drought, they faltered and turned away. They wanted God now, without regard to tomorrow. They required constant nourishment of their spirit to be healthy. I want to be one of the few in that crowd who were satisfied with what He's already given me, so that i can endure tomorrow.

I want to be real.
I want a faith that endures.
I want to be close to God.
I want to love God with an intimacy that transcends limits of mortality.
I want to be tested.
I want to need Him. I need to need Him.

I don't want to be a mirage.

I want to be a tree with a taproot, not one of these Texas oaks with roots that sprawl about the surface. I want one root, one source, one truth, one faith, one hope, one supply, and i want it to run deeper than can be measured, down to the water that never dries up.
I want the enduring, timeless, living water.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Paradise City . . .

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
That's Matthew 15:10-11.
While not referring specifically to interests and music and the like, it struck me in such a way. But not until last week did it really hit me.

"Take me down to the Paradise City, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty."
Yes, i was singing that. Not an overly perverse song compared to a lot of stuff out there, but if you went through my music library, you'd find nothing of the sort.
Now, i don't listen to Guns 'N Roses or whoever wrote that. It's the theme to a video game i used to play all the time called Burnout Paradise, set in a fictional town called "Paradise City."
But this went into my ears. A lot. And it's a terrifyingly catchy song.

But the reason that verse hit me so hard is because i sang that after coming across that video game's case the other day, and my mom heard me and said "Josh, what are you singing?"
The reason for her shock was because i don't listen to that kind of music aside from in that game. But it was constantly going into me.

Now let's go back to the words Jesus spoke; “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
It hadn't defiled me by my exposure. But i gave it room in my mind, and because i let that seed take root, it came out of my mouth - the overflow of the heart.
It was given room in my mind by ingestion. It then flowed into my heart, and eventually came out my mouth.

While there are things worse to have flow out of my mouth than a simple remark about pretty girls, it was still below my standards. That's precisely why i don't make a practice of listening to secular music. Because what we entertain ourselves with is merely seeds to either plants or to weeds. And if we let them take root, they can be the "inch" that we give the devil. Next thing we know, we've lost all standards that set us apart from the rest of the world.