9/15/14

the Bible is not an option

Our server at Olive Garden had a pretty elaborate tattoo on his arm as he grated the cheese over our salad. Jesus on a cross with a lot of scripture from Philippians. It took up his entire right forearm.

Let's call him Jay. He was nice, so my friend Lauren and I had no problem becoming friends with him. By the end of the night he had given us pretty much an entire bag of Andes mints.

As the restaurant began to empty, Jay swept the floors beside our table and asked us what we did for a living. Lauren answered first about her job at the chiropractor's office. Then when he looked at me, I told him with a partial-smile that I was basically in the process of figuring all of that out.

Funny how being openly confused about your life opens up opportunity for other people to feel safe in being openly confused about their lives, too.

Jay shared about how he grew up Catholic but got saved at a Southern Baptist church with his wife. After their divorce, however, he sank into a life of drugs and alcohol and ended up in prison.

He knelt beside our table and lowered his voice. "When you spend months in solitary confinement," he said, "you have a lot of time to get bitter. But you have a lot of time to do some searching, too. And when all you have is the Bible, you figure some things out."

I wanted to scoot over in my booth and ask him to sit down and tell us more about what he was figuring out. But his boss was peering through some fake plants around the corner, so Jay apologized for taking up our time and scurried off to sweep some more floors.

I've been thinking about the church a lot recently. The church in all its variations across America and the world. And then I think about Jay in solitary confinement with his Bible, and how now he's involved in AA and working two jobs and going to school and seeking the Lord.

I once heard a pastor ask the question from the pulpit, "Is there any more important time during your week than the 70 minutes you spend in church?"

I had shifted uncomfortably in my seat, wanting to raise my hand and say, "Yes, yes there is," but I didn't.

Oh, my friends, we are missing it.

I love the church: big church, small church, house church, mega church, church plants, missional communities. So many good things are done through so many different avenues and the name of Jesus is being preached.

I would love for Jay to get plugged in to a church, to be discipled, to find community, to grow with others and be encouraged and challenged by a body of believers. But his transformation began in solitary confinement with nothing but a Bible and the Holy Spirit. 

Transformation comes through opening the Word of God and letting the Holy Spirit speak through it to change your heart. It is feeding your mind with His words. Every day. Over and over. Again and again and again. Repeat.

You do not become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled simply by walking in and out of the church building every weekend. You don't go in dirty and come out clean. It is not a carwash.
"We should be able to say every year, 'I am more loving, peaceful, joyful, patient, kind, and gentle than I was last year.' If we can't honestly say that, then we are not growing." - Neil T. Anderson
How many of us are missing this. How many of us are sitting passively by, letting preachers preach at us, watching worship leaders entertain us, drinking coffee in our seats for 70 minutes every weekend and feeling like we are better people because of it. Like we got what we came for and we're good to go for the rest of the week until next time.

I am often guilty of this.

My friend Lauren and I stood out in Olive Garden's dark parking lot for a couple of hours talking about these things, so I have lots of words I could very passionately write here, but I won't. Maybe later I will. Maybe I won't. I don't know; there's a lot.

But here's what I will say, here is what I am learning, here is what I am challenging you and me with: Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Put yourself in solitary confinement on purpose. Memorize the Word of God. Tuck His words into your heart and repeat them to yourself and to others. Cling to His promises. Know God's truth and use God's truth as a weapon against the ways Satan will try to trick you.

You will not be transformed by watching others. You will not be transformed by observing. You will not be transformed by shaking the preacher's hand and saying, "Good sermon today, Pastor."

Pick up your Bible. Open it. Read it. Digest it. And be transformed.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. - Jesus (John 17:17) 
And Psalty the Singing Songbook is here to help, too:

 

9/11/14

lo, the storms of life are breaking

How many times have those of us who've grown up in the church heard and read this passage, at Good Friday and Easter and probably even Christmas. But could you take a moment to read it again? Slowly? Maybe even out loud? To your dog or your fish or just to the air?
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. - Isaiah 53:10-11
I was sitting on the deck watching planes fly overhead and thinking about these words. Crush. Grief. Anguish of soul. I have felt these words in my heart. Really, really felt them. Have you?

These words here are talking about Jesus, the Son of God. He felt these words in His heart. I suddenly felt closer to Him, like I perhaps understood just a tiny bit more of His heart, and that He understood the whole of mine.

But then here's where our two hearts feeling the same feelings collided to make me sit up and stop watching planes.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.
Ah, how differently my mind winds around the concept of grief when I view it as something that has come from the hand of the Lord Himself. How much more intimate grief feels, how much more intentional, like an artist meticulously renovating the inside of a cathedral rather than an invading army attacking from the outside.

Perhaps affliction is not just a "detour" in which God chooses to bring good out of unintended bad. Perhaps, instead, affliction is the most meaning-filled, purpose-filled, significant road God has designed for us to travel to bring us to Him, a road already well-traveled by the Son of God.

Because God's call to holiness is a journey, and it is over difficult terrain, and it is full of sacrifice.

Yes.

But God's call to holiness is a journey to be closer to Him, a call to rid yourself of that which keeps you from Him, and a promise that He is already in the place He is calling you to, He is familiar with the road He is asking you to travel, and He is traveling it right beside you.

Therefore, as Alistair Begg told me over the radio in my car this afternoon, when we ask in affliction, "What are you doing, God?" we can know that the answer is, "I'm going to make you like Jesus."

My child, I'm going to make you like Jesus, my very own Son, whom I crushed and put to grief so that YOU and all who trust Him would be accounted righteous.

The result of Jesus' affliction was the salvation of our souls.

What then shall be the result of our affliction?

That is my prayer, to have that perspective always, to trust in His sovereignty, and I ask for grace to pray it more honestly. 
Father, refine me in the fire of affliction so that I may look more like Jesus. May I not beg for it to stop, the pounding in my ears from being hammered into Your likeness, but instead cling to the sound of Your assurance that You are answering me, saving me, fighting for me, that You will not abandon my soul, and that You have been here before me and will see me through it.
These sermons have just been so good and I recommend them:
Called to Suffer and Rejoice by John Piper

A Purpose and a Promise by Andy Stanley
My Times Are in Your Hands by Alistair Begg

9/1/14

in this world you will have car trouble

Cornfields.

Just cornfields, all around, somewhere in Indiana, after already driving for five hours in rain and traffic, and Dad was telling me on the phone that I needed to find an auto place, maybe a Wal-Mart? Or else my engine was going to overheat. At least, that's what the little needle by the little sailboat thing on my dashboard that was bouncing around way up above the "H" was indicating.

"Get a towel," Dad was saying, "and use it to unscrew the radiator cap, in case the water is hot and sprays up in your face. Then add some water, because you're probably just low."

My thoughts: What's a radiator, where's the radiator, where am I supposed to get a towel, what if the water sprays into my eyes and I'm blinded, where am I supposed to find a Wal-Mart, why is there so much corn in Indiana, who am I, what is life.

The nearest exit was in three miles and I prayed the whole way. Please don't let my engine explode. Please don't let my engine explode.

I told my GPS to find me the nearest auto care place. "Magg's Auto," he responded. Down a country road with more cornfields, to a lone house next to a big warehouse. Please don't let me get abducted. Please don't let me get abducted.

A woman was standing at the end of the driveway with a puppy on a leash. Harmless! I pulled up to the driveway and opened my car door.

"DON'T GET OUT OF YOUR CAR!" She screamed at me like a war buddy warning me of an incoming grenade. I jumped back inside just as a vicious snarling dog came running up to my car like it wanted to eat my face.

"DON'T ROLL DOWN YOUR WINDOW!" She screamed at me again.

I was not inclined to disobey her.

She walked up to my window and I yelled through the glass like an inmate, "My car is overheating and I just pulled off the highway. Is there an auto place nearby?"

She told me to pull into the driveway, all the while trying not to run over her angry dog, which she kept screaming at curdlingly to get away from my car.

As she coaxed her dog inside, I sat in my car and stared at my steering wheel. I laughed out loud at the absurdity. "Nothing's ever easy, is it, Lord," I said.

The woman's name was Deanna. She told me the nearest auto place was at the next exit. Instead of risking it on the highway again, she offered to call her dad to come take a look. Larry. He drove out and squirted water from a hose into my radiator. I know where it is now. And it didn't spray water into his eyes and blind him, either (thank goodness).

Then the woman's daughter, Gretta, came home with her friend Luke, and they refilled my coolant. Because apparently I was low on that, too.

Why do people let other people operate deadly machines without full knowledge of what kind of things happen inside to make them run? Why am I JUST NOW finding out about these liquids that run low and make your car a ticking time bomb?

I told Deanna my GPS sent me here and told me it was Magg's Auto. Apparently her husband owns a trucking company called Magg's.

Oh, GPS, you confused little robot.

Deanna told me that God had sent me there. Then she gave me a gallon of water and a towel in case I had to stop and put more water into my radiator, a glass of ice water because I was thirsty, and her phone number in case I had troubles further down the road. "Text me when you get there," she said.

I have met the nicest people in the midwest because my car is a pooper. (Remember last time?)

Nothing's ever easy.

I've been thinking about the process of moving down to Kentucky from Wisconsin. It has not gone smoothly. Things have not fallen beautifully into place. It has, in fact, been very hard.

And as I sat in Deanna's driveway while Cerberus leapt at my tires, I thought about opposition.

Jennie Allen talks about this in her book Anything:
Somewhere in my life I picked up the idea that if things did not feel right or fall perfectly into place, God was not in them. I thought obeying God should feel pretty easy and convenient. For instance, if God was calling you to Africa, then he would have a buyer for your house in two weeks; and if not, then he likely isn't in it....All my life I thought I had God's stamp of approval because my life wasn't going badly. Now I was faced with the fear that it might actually be the opposite. What if my life was going so beautifully because I wasn't chasing after God?
It makes sense to me that the harder we chase after God, the more opposition we will face.

Remember this blog post I wrote about living life surrendered to God? I am being reminded of that today. Surrender does not mean that we sit around and wait for God to move, or that we give up when we face opposition, but that in every choice we make, in every step we take, in every battle we fight, we are completely surrendered to whatever the outcome will be, and to the reality that God can alter our course at any moment.

So I'll keep walking, and fighting, and surrendering, and I will trust that God will keep making it clear what He has for me.

Because God will not waste a surrendered life. He waits eagerly for a surrendered life. Oh, what purposes God can accomplish with a surrendered life!

And you can trust that, no matter the opposition, He will accomplish them.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. - Thomas Merton