An Unbelief Problem?

Image source: see notes

Image source: see notes

I scheduled a visit with our pastor Doug last week for counsel about a life development that I characterized as a “setback.”.

After I laid out what was happening, he offered a question, “What is this “setback” preventing you from achieving?”

I reviewed some goals I viewed this setback blocking my way from – to make a satisfactory living, contribute in my workplace, be viewed there as valued and relevant, and to have sufficient non-work time leftover for personal pursuits – family, community, church, etc.

When I finished my diatribe, Doug allowed a long pause into our conversation during which an odd dawning rose in me that I had failed to mention the Lord in any of my answers,

n o t   e v e n   o n c e.

“OK,” Doug commented, “but you haven’t answered my question. “How are you not moving forward due to these developments?”

I thought I had JUST ANSWERED that question so I was somewhat at a loss for words.   Doug came to the rescue (if you can call it that).

“Glenn, don’t take this wrong because I suffer from this as well.  Try considering that you suffer more from an unbelief problem than from this so-called setback.”

An unbelief problem?   Me?

Cycle of unbelief

The vicious cycle of unbelief (Gospel Transformation, pg 145)

Clutter-clearing comments like those are why I appreciate Doug’s counsel so much.  However, not until I was visiting with God the next morning did the weight of my alleged unbelief problem begin to sink in. The Gospel Transformation study I’m doing even offered a nice little diagram for my condition, titled “The vicious cycle of unbelief.”

I was more than a bit taken aback to see myself in ALL FOUR unbelief categories.  A couple of pages later was “The gracious cycle of faith” where I saw some of myself but not nearly enough.

Doug often explains how belief is just one of three ingredients of faith – Knowing Christ, Believing in Christ and Trusting Christ. If all are not present and working simultaneously, it’s not faith.

The fourth bullet of category 3 of the unbelief cycle really gave me pause., “I give intellectual assent to who I am in Christ, but it is “only positional,” it will really be true when I get to heaven.”  To defer to this line of thinking, as I sometimes do, is to dismiss what Jesus offers, “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” As in RIGHT NOW!

These points were contained in a lesson titled ‘“Who am I: ‘saint” or “sinner”?’  In Christ, I am a saint.  Developments that seem like setbacks are, for saints, actually fodder the Holy Spirit uses to mold us into Christ’s image.

Gracious cycle of faith (Gospel Transformation, pg 147)

Gracious cycle of faith (Gospel Transformation, pg 147)

When faith is operating on all cylinders, we become how Paul describes himself in 2 Corinthians 6: 3-13.  Waking in trust in the Spirit of Christ within us, setbacks are absorbed so we are always “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks … to give the reason for the hope that (we) have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15).

Excuse me but I have some praying to do.

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Notes:

  1. Photo source site: https://mavunodowntown.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/help-my-unbelief/
  2. Diagrams from Gospel Transformation, second edition, pages 145 and 147.  By World Harvest Mission

The Village It Takes

baby and handsWhoops! Road Report had a little mishap this week and couldn’t get out of the garage.  But we are back up now thanks to my gracious host, Todd.  So here’s a special re-edition of my intended Tuesday post.

In my large extended family of nine siblings now all grown, expansion passes on to our children marrying and having their own children.  My oldest sister’s two children lead the baby-production with three each including two sets of twins.

The youngest twins, born just three months ago were recently baptized.  “Two new Christians, “ declared another of my sisters at the ceremony.

Having been raised in a Catholic family, I was baptized as an infant.  But I was in my late twenties when I was drawn to Christ by a series of occurrences before accepting His invitation to commit my life to Him.

I share with many others looking on that “conversion” experience as an important turning point in my life.  In many Christian denominations not Catholic, baptism occurs after conversion, “believer’s baptism.” When I became a believer, I was still a practicing Catholic so believer’s baptism wasn’t an option.

Twenty years ago, we joined Grace Chapel, Protestant, “Evangelical Presbytarian” denomination, or “EPC” as we call it. We were not drawn to Grace Chapel’s Protestantism or its denomination but by how its people believe and live out their faith.

We warmed into the denominational belonging. Official joining occurred after attending classes. I was pleasantly surprised by how closely EPC essential beliefs and official positions on certain issues aligned with the Catholic faith I came from. I found certain comfort in not having to reconsider my stance on some of those positions that I had already embraced.

An exception was infant baptism.  Fully expecting my new Protestant denomination to subscribe to the  “believers” version of baptism which would thus give me an opportunity to be baptised as a newer believer, I was surprised to find that infant baptism is “believed in” by the EPC!

I won’t go into the Biblical basis for the two stances on baptism, infant and believer’s.  Good people believing strongly in either stance can offer solid Biblical support for their respective position. Although I tend to be more supportive of believer’s baptism, I maintain a truce with the practice of infant baptism.

Fortunately, my stance on baptism is not a requisite for being a Christian.  That only requires believing in Jesus Christ and living as if that belief were absolutely true.  Still, God patiently draws me along on some of these views I hold as I continue to walk and live in faith.  This week, something by author Lauren Winner about infant baptism really resonated with me.

I’m reading “Girl Meets God,” Winner’s memoir about converting from Orthodox Jew to Christian.  Regarding the practice of some churches to renew baptismal vows during certain seasons of the annual church calendar, Lauren confesses she finds this hard to do.

“I remember what I pledged at my baptism and how badly I’ve done at keeping those pledges and I wonder if I dare make them again….no baptismal candidate, even an adult, can promise to do those things all by himself. The community is promising for you, with you, on your behalf,” wrote Winner.

“It is for that reason that I love to see a baby baptized,” she added.  “When a baby is baptized, we cannot labor under the atomizing illusion that individuals in Christ can or should go this road alone.  When a baby is baptized we are struck unavoidably with the fact that this is a community covenant, a community relationship, that these are communal promises.”

While the call of Christ is certainly personal for each of us who believe, the Lord mandated that we live faith out as a people, a community.  Even Jesus belongs to a community, a triune godhead. As His Father formed a people, Israel, God the Son also established the communal entity that would be His offensive force to take down the powers of sin and hell – the Church.

Immediately following Peter’s inspired recognition of Jesus as Messiah and God, Jesus established upon the “rock” of Peter’s confession a “church” against which no power in heaven or either would or could combat.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18, ESV)*

In my mind, Winner’s explanation folded in with Jesus’ church-establishing declaration. Just as Church is not about one (human) man, baptism is not about one infant or, for that matter, the belief of any lone person.  Church and baptism regard the community of the faithful that is even bigger than the sum of everyone ever affiliated.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20, NIV)*

When a God-declaring community forms, even for a simple prayer, God is present and accounted for.  In that context, community is formational.  Conversely, going it alone, forsaking community is also formational.  Americans call this rugged individualism. Heaven has another view about that.

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  (Ecclesiastes 4:12, NIV)*

“It takes a village to raise a child.” I would add “in faith.” Something about church that baptism plugs nicely into, whatever the variety.

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* For homework, read the verses preceding the ones I quoted: – Matthew 16: 13-19; Matthew 18: 15-20Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Crossed Up Logic

Sporting my cross pendant.

Sporting my cross pendant.

I put that choker type cross pendant on just for this post.  For many years, I wore some kind of  cross pendant but stopped several years ago when wearing it became a burden for me.

The cross represents Christ and Christianity, right?  Like a badge authenticates the office of the badge-wearer, a cross implies or at least suggests the cross-wearer is a Christ-follower, conducting himself in a Christ-like manner.   Right?

Understand my dilemma now?  I am not always such a good ambassador.

Without that cross pendant burning a hole into my chest, when I “slip” into conduct unbecoming of a good Christian, which occurs more often than I care to admit, at least I’m not sullying the reputation of Christ.

My understanding is different now.  Clearly, I missed the point. The cross isn’t about having it all together at all. If anything, the opposite is more true.

See, cross-wearers share the condition of all humans – sinners in need of redemption.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (Romans 3: 23, NLT)

Look at the preceding verse.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. (Romans 3: 22, NLT)

No exceptions.  Far from claiming a corner on holiness, the cross broadcasts brokenness that desperately needs mercy and redemption.  Brokenness is a condition I am powerless to change no matter how many crosses I wear.  Rescue and restoration is obtainable only through Jesus Christ.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2: 8-9, ESV)

With that kind of meaning, it’s a wonder anyone would want to be associated with the cross, never mind wear one as a pendant or earring. A friend has an awesome cross tattoo on his arm that he is able to cover over but can’t exactly “take off” on a whim.

Considering its rather dark history as a diabolical method of execution and shame, how did the cross become revered as a symbol of redemption and mercy? Indeed, the cross “crosses up” our understanding of how God operates. Think about where we are with the cross right now:

  1. Due to the cross, death is no longer final but a corridor to life eternal.
  2. The cross mandates that the only deed that counts is faith in Christ, a crucified outcast.
  3. By the cross, God not only rendered resounding justice, he also preserved  bottomless mercy.
  4. For the believer, the cross is solidarity with suffering and abandonment of self-reliance and control.

(see 1 Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 2: 5-8 and Hebrews 12:2)

Are you thinking, where do I sign up?

Far from a simple adornment, the cross stands logic on its head.  About the only thing right-side up about the cross is the cross itself!

The reason I am more O.K. now wearing a symbol that highlights my messiness over my goodness is due to my alignment with Jesus who is more than enough to overcome the ugliest parts of me.

Could be you’ll see me wearing a cross again.

Loners Don’t Generally Rule

My "lay-down" loner - one of very few ever

My “lay-down” loner – one of very few ever

I’ve had a few “lay down loners” playing euchre.   Most times, I don’t have the opportunity to play a potential loner hand.  An unfulfilled loner hand usually becomes more a liability than a help.

Several years ago, my wife and I were part of a group of neighbors taking turns hosting semi-monthly euchre tournaments during the winter.  The hosts drew up a round-robin tournament chart pitting 2-person teams in a series of games while everyone else brought a snack to pass and a beverage.

Euchre is played with two teams of two players each.  Our tournament set up was for each person to deal two “hands.” After playing out eight hands, each player added the points their team won to their own running total.  At end of the night, the player with the most points won the tournament.

While I consider myself only a moderate euchre player, I won several of those neighborhood tournaments.  My secret to winning euchre is to count on and often defer to my partner to  win a trick or two each hand. I think I won not because I’m such a great individual euchre player but a better than average team player.

Generally, I don’t enjoy games and competition, especially those that depend on my individual prowess.  However, I will participate and may even enjoy the comradery of games that rely mostly on team play, where individual ability is less of a factor.

Euchre is an easy-going team game in my book.  But even euchre isn’t always a team sport, like when I am able to play a loner hand.  Then it’s all about me, me, me!

A loner is when one player is able to call trump than play out the hand “alone,” allowing the partner to “stay home.” A successful loner requires winning at least three of the possible five tricks, scoring one point.

Playing a loner is an exciting one against two match with many ways to lose.  However, the incentive to try a loner is great.  If all five “tricks” are taken, the lone player wins four points for their team vs. the customary one point earned to win a hand with a partner.  Four points can change the balance of the customary ten point game.

Loner hands don’t come along very often, especially “lay-down loners” which are customarily comprised of the five highest cards of trump.  Akin to a walk-off home-run in baseball, a lay-down loner can be played out but a more merciful way is to simply “lay” your cards down when play starts to spare opposing players the frustration of losing every trick.

In my infrequent euchre playing, I’ve had less than a handful of lay-down loners including the one pictured here. Most loners are not of the “lay-down” variety and involve an element of risk.  Losing a loner by failing to take three tricks results in getting “euchred” and awarding the opposing team two points.

I doubt St. Paul would have used euchre as an analogy for how Christians optimally function as the church in his letter to the Romans when he wrote,

“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” (Romans 12: 4-5, NLT)

Like euchre Christianity is best not “played” alone.  While one, “loner” person can have an impact living out life in Christ, Jesus formed a band of brothers to live his message with and then he mandated that the followers he left behind also band together as “Church” to be “on earth as it is in heaven” until his return (see Matthew 6:10).

Operating cooperatively, each believer contributing to the good of the whole was so essential to how Christians are to be present in the world that a “how to be church” principle was among Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples before he was crucified.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35, NIV)

See the parallel now between euchre and Christian faith?  Occasionally outstanding but most times, loners don’t rule very well.

Who took my “Good Old Days?”

goodolddaysBeen thinking about the “Good Old Days” lately.  You know, when life was simpler, work easier, the kids were little and our time was mostly taken up with them.  The good old days didn’t include the internet and the only channels our TV offered were what the rooftop antenna picked up.

I thought life would smooth out more by the time I reached 60.  It hasn’t.

By now I thought I would have conquered bad habits that were also present in the good old days except that, back then, I felt I would eventually triumph over them.  Now I’m not so sure.

Of course the biggest problem with the good old days is that they are old, long gone. While I vaguely recall them as good, the details of their goodness is kind of fuzzy.  They float into my mind as a sort of ideal that got lost along the way.

Recently an exciting realization popped into my mind – that I can go back into my journals and find the good old days!  Maybe I can even re-discover or somehow recreate them to improve my present.

I’ve been chronicling life in some form or another since I was 17.  That’s right.  I have notebooks from that far back.

The first 14 were mostly poetry covering nine years.  Then I moved into combo creative writing and note-taking for the next five notebooks spanning 10 years.  I started what I consider “true” journaling 21 years ago.  Currently I’m on journal 37.

Having journaled for my entire adult life including ALL the good old days, I embarked on a research project in search of the good old days.

What I found instead was a little shocking… Are you ready for this?  MY GOOD OLD DAYS ARE MISSING!

See my journals revealed that what I thought were the good old days were not in fact any better or worse than the present.  Even when I went exactly to the times that I recalled were especially good.  Most days then were JUST LIKE days now – Similar dilemmas, struggles and setbacks as well as joys, triumphs and times of contentment.

Challenges were not easier than challenges now.  In fact, some of them were harder and I got through them. My journals are proof.  Furthermore, the lessons learned then help me negotiate today’s challenges better.

The hardest lesson I learned from this little exercise was that if I REALLY want to have good old days, I should STOP JOURNALING IMMEDIATELY!  I’m serious. An added step would be to burn all my old journals.

Without any journals to prove otherwise, I would have no proof of the non-existence of good old days.  I could conjure up good old days in my imagination and then be comforted by them when life in the present gets dicey again.

Proof!

Proof!

Without real history, I can live the dream – literally!

But there would also be a serious downside – losing concrete evidence of God’s presence in my life during all the times of life, the ups and downs and in-betweens.

As I flipped through the journals’ pages, threaded in and around every challenge and worry were prayers, cut-out readings, just-right Scripture verses and occasional notes about a good development at work, and family life experiences – watching our daughter careen around a soccer field or our son playing roller hockey with friends in front of our house. A family vacation in the Badlands of North Dakota…  One entry reflected about the peacefulness I gained from simply stepping into our back yard for few moments before heading into work….

Two verses come to mind….

Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

and

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 22-23, NIV)

While I didn’t find the good old days I thought I had, I found something better that I’ve had all along and still have – the Lord at my side every step of the way.

I have proof.

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1. Image source site: http://www.streetdirectory.com/thegoodolddays/

22 Minute Wait

15-07 Refrigerator1

Our refrigerator is “speaking” to me!

Waiting.   Been waiting for our refrigerator to croak for about a year now. Maybe longer.

It’s making a loud clunking sound every time the compressor completes a cooling cycle.  I researched the sound a bit and narrowed the clunk sound to a number of issues, none good and all expensive starting with the diagnostic service call.

Considering that the frig is several years past its customary life expectancy, we’ve already shopped for its replacement.  So we wait for its demise as it keeps clunking along, cycle after cycle.

A few mornings ago, I was launching into review of a study to prepare for a meeting when I thought I heard a terrible popping sound coming from the refrigerator, different from the clunking.  My first thought, “That’s it, the thing finally died.”

I instantly felt irritated by how inconvenient this frig replacement was going to be.  A work day for me but my wife was home for summer from her school job and could probably do most of the legwork. However the process unfolded, several days of inconvenient disruption were involved.

I readily confess that my internal irritation needle was edging toward anger. (You may wonder why I am confessing at all. Read on.)

I don’t recall if the compressor was running when the pop sound happened.  I opened the frig and noted the temperature on the thermometer we put inside when the clunking sound first started.  If the compressor had finally breathed its last, the temp will climb. After jotting down the reading and time, 6:25 a.m., I turned back to my study review.

Wouldn’t you know, the section was about anger! “It figures,” I thought, feeling more irritated in spite of the conviction the topic presented.  I vaguely recalled that I was mad about something else the first time I did this lesson not too long ago. I think I even emailed my pastor about it.  Wait until he reads this!

Unrighteous anger for all the wrong reasons is a feature of our fallen, sinful nature.  Note the bullet points for chapter titled, “The flesh: anger”

  • To consider anger as a characteristic of the flesh
  • To connect our anger with underlying idolatry
  • To recognize the pervasiveness of anger

Concentration eluded me as most of my attention turned to the deafening silence of the refrigerator compressor not kicking back on to start a new cooling cycle.  At some point, I would have to wake my wife to share the bad news and start the long, expensive process.  Yuck!  Still, I tried to focus on the study.

Then at 6:47 a.m. the compressor cycle kicked on, officially ending one of my shortest “waiting on the Lord” cycles ever – 22 minutes to be exact.   Impatiently waiting… angrily, impatiently waiting.

As I basked a moment in the pleasant sensation the running-refrigerator sound gave me, I gratefully thanked the Lord for postponing our refrigerator’s death until another day.

I also chastened myself for basing my sense of well-being to the state of a refrigerator!  This would be one of those unrighteous anger instances noted in the study.  Unrighteous, self-centered anger is a response to failed idolatry.

Idolatry occurs when we value anything more than we value God. Even over-valuing my morning routine with God is a form of idolatry because the circumstances of that routine have to be just right according to me for me to feel O.K.

God used our still-working refrigerator to remind me (again!) that he meets my needs just as he has always met my needs and that he will continue to always meet my needs, in ALL circumstances.

No problem thinking of a verse for this point – they are all over our refrigerator.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV)

The words “always, continually and all” mean not just when my refrigerator compressor is still working. Even when it fails, I rejoice, pray and give thanks because my trust is based on my confidence in God’s assessment of my situation, not my own.

That was about when God also brought to my mind all the circumstances more dire than this averted inconvenience that He has already guided me through. Like he was gently challenging me, “When are you going to FINALLY release your grip on circumstances for contentment and strengthen your grip on Me?”

Now is always the best time to fully trust in the Lord I thought as I glanced in the direction of our refrigerator.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding….This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.  (Proverbs 3: 5, 9, NIV)

Seventy times seven imagined

prodigal-son

A welcoming Father, communicating compassion. (See notes for image source.)

Hard to imagine the kind of love that instantaneously pardons. That kind of love could be life-changing.

The concept comes from a story I’ve read many times, possibly hundreds of times.  So often in fact that I gloss over it most next times…

This time was different.  I was answering a simple question posed in a study I’m doing.

“List some words to describe the way the Father welcomed the son and communicated his love.”

Most of us know the story as “The Prodigal Son” in Luke 15: 11-32.  A son demands his inheritance before his father even dies. Then he squanders it. Destitute, he slinks home hoping for mere hired hand status.  But his father has none of that.

Words for the way the Father welcomed and communicated love? I surprised myself by coming up with a bunch.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”  (vs. 20)

Imagine the father scanning the distant horizon many times every day for months on end looking out for the son… Imagine recognizing his son from a long way off (“saw”)?  Imagine knowing his son so well to recognize his need for “compassion?” And then being wiling to offer it?

Imagine the son’s thoughts as home first comes into view and then having little time to process his emotions because his father “ran” out to greet him?

A running father could put some fear in a prodigal son’s heart but the immediacy of the father’s outpouring for his son needs no imagining.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.”  (v. 22)

Immediately, the father …

  • set aside the son’s confession
  • reaffirmed the son’s status with the servants
  • and honored the son with notable adornments – a ring, a robe and sandals

Imagine the servants having a boss like the father. Would you be a different kind of mom or dad that night?

So many other welcoming and love-communicating words to concoct with this story. Imagine lavishly attiring the son without even demanding he bathe first? And what about the instantaneous feast the father literally announces into being?

Bring the fattened calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate. (v. 24)

Not hard to imagine the father’s mood. “Let’s have a feast” he declares.  Servants included!

Approaching the story this way helped me recognize how the story isn’t about the son at all but the Father.  Jesus is telling the story so that Father is God.

The study went on to further explore the lavishness of the Father’s mercy.  A later question probed how many other such times a father could and would so freely welcome a prodigal son’s repeated rebellions and returns.

Even knowing the extent of my own rebellion, I imagined my own patience running pretty thin after just a few wayward adventures.  But when Jesus was posed a similar question in another story about how many times forgiveness is required, his answer was “Seventy times seven times.”  (See Matthew 18: 21-22).

I find 70 times 7 hard to imagine. Then again…

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

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1. Image source site: http://redeeminggod.com/prodigal-son-luke_15_11-32/

2. The study I mentioned is Gospel Transformation by Neil H. Williams

 

Back to nature?

One of our camping cabin sites

One of our camping cabin sites

As this report surfaces this morning, my wife and I are pseudo-camping in the eastern U.S. on a little vacation. Just us two.

I say “pseudo” because our tent is a little log-type “camping cabin” that we opted for years ago after tiring of all the set-up our pop-up tent trailer involved.  After selling that, we bought a little covered trailer that we shove our camp stuff into.

Most camping cabins are a 1-room bedroom with a little covered porch, a plug and an outside water spigot.  We pull up and move in.  We add plenty of customization to make it our own.

Long ago, we dreamed of getting a light-weight travel trailer that would give us more access to quieter, more secluded settings that the tent trailer used to afford.  But stuff happened and we couldn’t pull off the travel trailer plan so camping cabins do nicely for now.

Camping vacations certainly get us more “back to nature” than does day-to-day life in suburbia.

When we were raising our children, most summers featured a 2-week camping vacation. We are drawn to water and mountains so those settings populate our vacation pictures.

Something about getting away from the hub-bub of suburban life and spending time in a quiet wood near a running stream or lake or surrounded by craggy peaks.  Something about heating water for dishes then using our two-tub, “swishy-swashy” system to wash and rinse them…Something about tending a little campfire each night and leaning back to watch as another starry night flickers into the inky night sky overhead, brightening as day wanes and night deepens…

I read a story about missionaries serving in a remote region of the world who were astounded at villagers traveling from far away on foot to hear what they had to say  about God.  When probed at how these primitive people had any notion about God, they said they learned about him from nature and from stirrings in their own hearts.

Could it be that Biblical claims along these lines are more than simple imagery?

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1, NIV)

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV

The missionaries gladly filled in the parts of God’s grand story story that nature and intuition alone could only dimly reveal.

Of course, I bring my Bible and journal along on all our camping trips so I have both the general revelation (nature) and the special revelation (the Word) right at my fingertips.  Lucky me!

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12: 7-10, NIV)

I’m not sure if just a week of camping is sufficient to dial me down enough to truly hear what God wants to say to me through the lips of his marvelous creation but I will be listening intently nonetheless!

On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. (Psalm 145:5, NIV)

Pride aware in an unstable world

Image source: see notes

Image source: see notes

Increasingly, God reveals pride in me that I sadly confess I still too easily slide to than to trust in Him.

Pride’s pervasiveness frightens me. From doing some simple service for my wife to attempts to live well – eat healthily, exercise, work, be loyal, properly love family and respect colleagues, my self assessment often falls short.

When pride awareness comes, confession may be more remorseful than repentant. Not so much submitting to Christ but ashamed to be found out.  Admission may in fact be ulterior, luring others to affirm me for relief that is fleeting.

Roles I fancy defining me best hammer me the hardest. These are where falling short is most obvious because I camp on my sense of how others view me… obsessive monitoring of feedback.

This excerpt from a study resonates.

“You still have a most important lesson to learn: Your own strength will no more help you to stand upright than dropping yourself on a broken reed. You must not despair of me. You must hope and trust in me absolutely. My mercy is infinite…”  (“A Letter from Jesus Christ to the Soul that Really Loves Him,” by John of Landsberg, 1555 from the study Gospel Transformations, pg 73)

“You must not despair….hope and trust in me absolutely.”  I know this in my head.

The title of this post, “Pride aware in an unstable world” envisions me as a believer at the intersection of (1) awareness of pride as my default against (2) the backdrop of an unstable world.

Instability is the default of the world, the stage where my mortality plays out.

The dawning introduces a burdensome tension in me, and all believers, that John of Landsberg’s statement addresses.  Our own strength will not help.  Not much room for pride in that.

I wonder if this tension for believers is normalcy for unbelievers?  Perhaps pride surfaces as something better-sounding – independence, self-determination, resolve, control, strength… Laws attempt to squelch instability.

Belief changed my paradigm even as pride clung to me, and still clings now many years later. A chorus from a Sara Groves song….

“But the places that used to fit me / Cannot hold the things I’ve learned / And those roads closed off to me / While my back was turned” (From the song, “Painting Pictures of Egypt”)

As my relationship with Christ evolves, the places that used to fit me can’t hold the things I am learning.

Most stark is that tension between goodness and depravity, truth and untruth.  Despite that sin’s pervasiveness corrupts all goodness, that so much goodness exists is evidence of God here and near, gracing believers and unbelievers alike.

“the world is cold and so very, very cruel / but the sparrow and the roses / remind me there’s still so much good / yesterday is gone / today I can see / today I believe” (Jenny & Tyler from their song, “This is So Beautiful”)

Thank you, Lord for goodness.  I am so, so grateful for access to Your holy Word to teach into my experience of You in my being and spirit.  At every turn, Your story speaks to all of this.

“One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” (Proverbs 29:23, ESV)

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Notes:

Image source site: http://www.melissahatfield.com/2012/08/20/faulty_foundations/

Did something happen?

52872327_What_Happened_Election_answer_2_xlargeA Facebook friend of mine posted this comment on June 26: “Wait, did a thing happen today?”

Yeah I know – Profound.   My thought as I “Liked” his remark.

The world is a big place so a lot happened on June 26.  I can’t be sure what my friend had in mind.  Could be something in his life that those who know him already knew about. Or maybe it regards something not so personal.  Perhaps something reported about in the news?

More than likely it was a happening of humans.  In which case, its significance will be tested by time and our resolve.  Historically, human resolve is pretty fickle.

As humanity ebbs and flows, so goes our happenings. Convene lots of humans, happenings and some time and you have an empire.  Add more time and we leave an era or a civilization.

Is the United States an era yet?  Certainly an empire.

We Americans think we’re pretty special and significant but you gotta wonder how our 239 years of happenings stack up to the eras and empires and civilizations that have gone before us.

Have we Americans generated any happenings unique in all history?  In our minds, probably. But against all of history, not likely. Although the internet may be an exception…

Since the internet is for now an open amalgam of all we all, let’s search it for “greatest civilizations in history” to see how the United States ranks…. I found us 7th on one list but not even making the top ten of most of them.

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun,” said the sage writer of Ecclesiastes (1:9, niv)

Right now, we are at war with each other regarding certain licenses that generate considerable debate. We think what we want to do is new but history reveals otherwise.

St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians (v13a), “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man”  regarding God’s assurance to protect well-intentioned believers from falling for forbidden temptation. Said otherwise, no temptation we’ll ever face is uncommon.

Whether we consider any happening positive or negative, we who participate in it can be assured that not only is it not new or unique but, ultimately, we answer to God for it.

Regardless of what laws we’ve passed or rulings we’ve won to force our neighbors to license our desires, when we stand before God we stand alone or we stand with God’s son, Jesus. We stand by our own merit or by Christ’s.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5, niv)

Another thing about that moment.  No matter how formidable the rationale we’ve imposed upon others to let us live as we see fit, when we stand before God, understanding will dawn immediately followed by either worship or dread.

“It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'” (Romans 14:11, niv)

The “I” is God so this happening is an absolute certainty.  Also notice the word “will,”  as in voluntary.  If you think differently now, you won’t then. (God’s way is different from ours.)

More than anything, I want to be trending toward worship.

“They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow.” (Psalm 144:4, niv)