Monday, January 12, 2015

Bodyguards and Trusting God

Ezra and a group of exiles were returning from Babylon to the land of Israel.  By a powerful move of God on the heart of a king (whose heart is in the hand of God anyway - Prov. 21.1), they are going back with resources and a mandate from the king to rebuild the temple.

But they had to make the journey.  Depending on the source you consult, it's a 900-mile journey that could take 3-4 months.  It was a long way and it was fraught with peril.  Normally, a group with the commission of the king would get to travel with bodyguards or soldiers.

But not them.

Some people read this next passage with an improper and misaligned focus on the word ashamed.  I think when it says "ashamed," it's talking about a spiritual lack of trust in horses and chariots (Ps. 20.7) but proper focus and faith in God.  Here's the passage:

Then we proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.  For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy while on our way, since we had told the king, "The hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of His wrath is against all who forsake Him." (Ezra 8.21-22)

I think they were willing to take the risk to show how capable God is and how powerful He really is.  I think the shame would've been in trusting in horses and chariots.

This isn't against common sense.  It isn't against being grateful for and using the common graces of doctors, police, and whomever else God grants.  It's a case of having them in the right perspective and depending on God in a way that He will get the most glory for it.

That land anywhere on you today?

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On the Fear of the Lord and Ming Vases

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, recently released a book on prayer.  In the book he outlays a perfect illustration of how to approach God with fear, particularly in your prayer life.

Imagine yourself holding a priceless Ming vase (you know...vase like "vaahs" instead of vase like base).  You might tremble in its presence.  You will be fearful.  But it won't be because the vase will suddenly reach out and strike you.  It won't recall all your previous failed attempts at holding vases.

You will be fearful, scared, even trembling because of the value of the vase.  You will be fearful, scared, even trembling because you're scared you'd hurt it.  Drop it and your klutziness gets you on CNN!

So it is with the fear of the Lord.  We, as Christians, don't have to be scared that He will hurt us.  Jesus has taken away the reason He would be angry (our sin) and has purchased for us His favor through His own righteousness.

In an important way, we can't hurt God.  Every illustration breaks down somewhere.  But we can "hurt" God by our actions, attitudes toward others, unforgiveness, etc.  And when we pray we are in the presence of the Value of values.  So the fear of not being and doing what is appropriate in the presence of Someone like that prompts us toward obedience.

For me, that's a really helpful picture of the Fear of the Lord.  Hope it spurs your prayers today.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Objective Measures, Part Deux

Yesterday I argued that there are a couple of objective measures in the spiritual life that help us determine how we're really doing.  One is the keeping track of our treasure (whatever form it might be, but especially and uniquely our spending) to determine the state of our hearts.  In my particular ministry context of suburbia, it's a good one to keep handy and steadily employed.

The second is how we deal with trials.  Peter talks about trials as walking through fire, being refined as you go.  There are multiple other images to go with that, but here's the essence of it:  how we respond when trials come is an objective measure of the state of our spiritual lives, of our hearts.

If we respond with griping, we are probably struggling with entitlement.

If we respond with multiple Facebook posts about how hard our lives are, we are worshiping the idol of attention.

If we respond with withdrawal, we are living with and in anger - at God, at ourselves, at our spouse, at our kids, etc.

If we respond with blame, we are either unwilling to accept our part (whatever it might be, big or small) or we are struggling with the victim mentality.

If we respond with joy, then our hearts are in pretty good shape.  So Paul (Romans 5) and James (James 1) both command us to rejoice in our trials.  And if that's what comes out of our hearts when trials come, we're in good shape.  

No, it may not come at first.  The Lord knows I'm prone to griping and withdrawing.  But an objective measure of the state of your heart is whether joy is present in trial.  It's never because of the trial itself.  It's always because of what the trial is working in us, uniquely the transformation of our hearts.

Treasure and Trials.  Two gifts (though not always wanted) to help us self-diagnose our hearts.  Strange gifts.  But good ones.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Baylor Football, Objective Measures, and So Forth

On New Year's Day, I was sorely disappointed to watch my Baylor Bears blow a three-score lead in the fourth quarter of the Cotton Bowl.  But if you're "America's #1 Offense" and can't put any points on the board in the 4th quarter, I'm not sure you deserve to win a bowl game.

What it told me is that although Baylor is a very very good football program, one of the most exciting in the nation to watch, we're not quite top-tier...yet.

Bowl games (in that sense) are a good, objective measure of the entirety of the football program.  It puts appropriate stress on coaches, players, logistics, fan base, and so on.  When you're not quite ready for the big-time, it shows.  It's an objective measure.

There are a couple of objective measures in our spiritual life, though admittedly they're not as exciting as a bowl game and there's no national television coverage.

Jesus said it this way:  "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  If you want to know the status of your heart, look and see where your treasure is.  Treasure, in this sense, is most easily and significantly monetary resources.  But it can be expanded to anything you count as a resource:  time, relational capital, unique abilities, and so forth.  The heart is the inmost part of our selves, the part Jesus lovingly lays siege to, captures, and ultimately conquers so that He can renovate it to His liking.

In an important way, that's a real gift.  It allows us to really see what the status of our spiritual life is, not what we think it is or hope it might be.  Where our treasure is, there our heart will be too.

But that also works the other way:  if we learn to redirect our treasure, our heart can come into line.  Our priorities determine our passions, not vice versa.

So here at the outset of 2015 with all our resolutions and diets and regimes anew, I hope we all take a moment and take stock, objectively, of the state of our hearts.  I hope we clear some path for our priorities to be realigned as necessary so that when 2016 rolls around the state of our heart is better off than it was today.

Priorities determine passions.  That's objectively true.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Goodbye 2014 - You Won't Be Missed

According to the date of the most recent post, it's been about 2.5 months since I last tried to say something that you might benefit from reading.  It has felt that long too.  There was some much needed recouping and regrouping to do after such a year.

Goodbye 2014.  You won't be missed.

Instead, I'm going to look forward to this coming year.  I won't let the struggles of the past become my identity of the present, knowing there are Stockholm Syndrome-like dangers of becoming the person who doesn't know how to live apart from the pain and the past.  Telling the story of 2014, we hope, will spread God's name far and wide.  But I don't want to live with my identity in our struggle but in our Savior (the Queen gets all the credit for boiling that down to its core).  May it be true for all who encountered life-shaping struggles in this past year.

I look forward to fighting for the things that matter:  belief in God's goodness and His sovereignty as really real and truly true, the transformation of my own heart before I seek it in others, the fidelity and mutuality of marriage to an amazing woman who devastates me, the hearts of kids who apparently are eating Miracle-Gro, conversations that are not mediated by a device, a neighborhood full of people who need Good News and a Friend to Sinners, a world full of brokenness that I can do something about, a church who deserves a better pastor, and a prayer life that enjoys the conversation more than the results of it.

I look forward to more time in God's Word without weaponizing it to make sure I get my way.  Had that happen.  It feels worse than a flu screen (also happened).  Both are painful and awkward.  I'm confident I've done that before.  Somehow being on the receiving end reminds me all the more and makes me more acutely aware how precious the words are and how they can perform as a two-edged sword to do His work without my help or hijacking of His agenda.

Goodbye 2014.  You won't be missed.  Here's to 2015, whatever it holds.  And to Him who holds it.