Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter 2013

I sit at my computer this morning, the warm cup of ever present coffee sitting next to me as I look out he window.  The sky is overcast this morning, the air humid with the hope of rain later in the afternoon.

I've sat at this window for almost four years now through various seasons of the year:  summer heat, winter rain, winter snow (once), every changing of the seasons - which here seems to equate into hot or cold, leaves falling or no leaves falling.  Such are the seasons in the semi-equatorial region in which I live.

And today is Easter.

The grass and not-grass that grows in the backyard is all the marvelous color of green.  The trees have their new budding of foliage upon them.  Where the grass has not fully covered or where their is too much of a build up I see the dead brown of leaves, almost like small islands in an ocean of green.

Interestingly my eyes are not drawn to the green - instead, they are drawn to the dead leaves scattering the lawn.  They remind me of something that I should have taken care of long ago, old business I should have resolved.

When Christ arose, He too arose in the midst of the dead brown of life.  The trappings of death - the tomb, the sealing stone, the wrappings in which He was laid - were around Him.  But the focus was not on these dead things, supposed reminders of the futility of life as it was.  The focus was on the Christ, the One Who Conquered Death.

The Risen One.

Do we also grasp this as we look out our own windows on Easter Morn?  Through the resurrection of Christ we too are made new:  "Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Through His Resurrection we too have the promise of newness in ourselves, the hope of life eternal, the hope of an existence where the dead brown of our own lives is covered by the green beauty of forgiveness.

We may live in reminders of the old world - old mistakes, old consequences, even old behaviors - but we should remember that these things do not define our life in Christ any more than the grave defined His Resurrection.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013


The beauty of friends:
Not believing in yourself,
they believe for you.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Exit Strategy

Do I have any exit strategy?

This the thought that has been floating through my head this week.  It has not been the best week a work (and yet it is only Wednesday today), but every time I consider the thought I remind myself that at this moment there is no back up plan in place. If things were to go horribly wrong as they did in 2009 there simply would be no plan but to start looking in the industry that I am in  - an industry which colloquially is contracting in the type of work I do.

Upon reflection this does not sound like a terribly astute strategy to me.

After considering the last week what I have come to realize is that one always needs an exit strategy - and what is more important, one needs an exit strategy as soon as one starts something new.

That sounds a little be ominous, even a bit like Chicken Little:  the concept that as soon as you begin a new job or career you are thinking about the time you will be leaving it may seem to some like always preparing for the sky to fall as soon as you walk out of the door.  But what painful experience has come to teach me over the years is that without such a strategy in place one  loses one's ability to act.

With no plan to leave and/or for what is next, one is less diligent about getting the experience and education one needs.  One becomes first comfortable with, then dependent upon, the way things currently are.  Comfortable ultimately leads to an unwillingness to change because the change becomes too difficult and too extreme to imagine - until one day one realizes that one is trapped where they are or with what they are doing.  In other words, we carefully remove the ability and responsibility of ourselves for our careers until we have put all of that into the hands of someone else, someone who can be less concerned about us and our lives and more concerned about how our lives should be supporting their plans and goals - even if it is not always in our best interests.

How does one change this?  This is the challenge.  The first obvious step is simply the realization of where one is and that one needs an exit strategy.  It can be very painful to realize where we are and how much authority over our lives we have ceded to others.

It will probably be alarming as well.  That is as it should be - if your house was on fire you should be alarmed! - but the one thing that cannot be done is to overreact by suddenly creating grandiose plans or deciding to make a change right now.  Like any successful action such things need to be planned and reviewed before they are acted on.

What to do in that plan?  That is the choice of the individual - of me, of you. Only we ourselves know the decisions we must make, the situation of our life, the things we want to do.

But in the flurry of individuality and specific plans let us not mistake the need for planning how we do it for the need to have a plan.  Things change - sometimes quicker than we can imagine and often in ways which we cannot control.  If we lack a exit strategy, something that guides us on where we are going through an experience to what the thing beyond it is, we will find ourselves in a combination of living in fear of change and being frustrated by wanting to be able to take action but having no idea what that action will be.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Evangelism and The Poor

Have we fallen into the same trap that the church falls into from time to time?  The trap?  Going about evangelization in a way that is not the most productive.

I wonder - and this is all theoretical, because I am not an evangelist of any great talent or even ambition - if we sometimes have fallen into the trap of the power:  that we need to seek conversions and advancements among those that are the trend setters of our society, the rich and powerful.  It makes sense in a way, of course:  would we not want the leaders of any society - artistic, business, political - to be examples of living the Christian life (we should wish that all are saved, of course)?

The difficulty is that this does not seem to produce the results we always would like.  At best we often seem to get people which may be Christian In Name Only (CINO) living lifestyles that can create significant issues for the cause of Christ;  at worst we get shallow conversions and very public rebuttals.

What did the apostles do?

They just preached.  They preached to everyone.  They did not specifically seek out the rich and powerful (although they certainly did not shy away when the opportunity presented itself!), but simply spoke the word of God.

Interestingly, I find Pope Francis' life and commentary on the seeking more ways to aid the poor useful at this point - not simply because it is a command of Christ (it is), but because this may represent the greatest missionary field that the church can significantly impact in the coming years.

Being active in these areas can give the church its arena of greatest impact.  Meeting basic needs is not necessarily an expensive task.  There is not necessarily a capital campaign that we would need to organize to begin. Meeting such needs is as simply as looking in our cabinets or going to a grocery store and seeing what we can buy and give.

By doing this we also (I think) subtly change our focus.  We are not seeking to convert for the influence that someone can bring; we are seeking to serve to make the love of Christ real.  I can't fully explain how that works - only that it seems different to me in a way that seems powerful.

The mission field is much larger as well.  The amount of influencers is small; the amount of the poor is large.  This is something that can be performed as close as a neighborhood away or as far as a continent away.

One more point of clarity:  the reason for doing this is (ultimately) to glorify God, to spread the word of His Kingdom.  This is the difference that we as the church can offer that no other organization can:  not just meeting temporal needs but meeting the needs of eternity as well.  Doing correctly, what a powerful witness this could be.

Where would we start?  How would we start?  These are things that I don't really know (although I probably should pay them more thought).  All I do know is that there is a great chance here for the church to do what it has done from time to time in past:  turn the world on the side of its head and at the moment when (as G.K. Chesterton said) so many believe that it has gone to the dogs, demonstrate that the God we worship and proclaim is still real and still active in the midst of His people.

Monday, March 25, 2013

God's Truth

" Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth" - John 17:17

"Jesus answered 'You say rightly that I am a king.  For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.'
     Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?'" - John 18:37(b) -38(a)

The first quote is from what is called the High Priestly Prayer of Christ.  It is his prayer in the upper room after Judas has departed to betray Christ and after Jesus has had what will become His last significant verbal teaching opportunity with His disciples.  He pours into them what is coming up so that it will strengthen them.  And then He prays a pray on their behalf to God, that God would strengthen both the disciples and those that come after them - not that He would take them out of the world, but that God would keep them from Satan.  And how does Jesus ask God to keep them, to show that they are not of the kosmos (world)?  By sanctifying them, by making them hold by means of God's truth.  Christ points the disciples again to something He has been showing them:  God's word is truth.

The next time we hear of truth is one chapter later and within 8 hours when Christ, arrested by the Jews and tried three times, is brought before Pilate for the judgement required to execute Christ.  Pilate, seeking to find a reason to release Christ, asks Him if He is a king.  Christ answers in the affirmative - not only to state the fact of His kingship, but to explain His mission:  He is here to bear witness to the truth to those who are of the truth.  Pilate, in words that have come to so many down through the centuries, retorts that truth is essentially unknowable, that it is true for some and not others.

Thus Christ's arrest and trial is bookended by the concept and question of truth.  What of it?

Are we also a people of truth?  And not just a truth, but the Truth? 

We have a definition set for us by Christ Himself.  God's word is truth.  And we know what God's word is - 66 books of Scripture set forth.  And we know the impact that this truth should have on us - it should be sanctifying us, making us more holy, making us a people of the truth.

But here is the unfortunate reality of my own life:  too often it does not.  Why not?  Because too often I fail to do two things;

1)  I fail to focus on God's truth.
2)  I fail sanctify myself through God's truth.

Too often I will go anywhere but God's word for God's truth.  Why?  Because it is painful.  Because too often I find myself wanting in very deep ways against the standards God sets forth.  Because God's agenda is so often not the one that I want for my life.

And sanctification?  That is for those that are holy, pastors and priests and monks and such.  To seek to work on my holiness seems an impossible task, let alone when I will not even go to the God's word in the first place.

But here is the remarkable thing.  Notice that John 17:17 does not say "Sanctify yourselves in God's truth".  It says "Sanctify them by your truth."  Even this sanctification is a work of God.  Yes, a work that we participate in as we expose ourselves to God's word (and thus how important that we expose ourselves to God's word!), but none the less some that God does - again, a reminder that without God and Christ's sacrifice, we can do nothing spiritually for ourselves.

Are we of the truth?  Do we hear God's voice and seek to work with Him through our lives to make us more holy?  Or do we, like Pilate, discount the fact that any sort of truth can exist at all, thereby relieving ourselves of the difficult work of grappling with the truth because it is simply too painful and too hard to consider the fact that there is something beyond ourselves?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Feeling Optionless

What do you do in life when you feel optionless?

I'd like to say it is depression but I suspect it represents more than that.  Depression I know in its various forms and fashions from years of being neighbors.  This seems different.

When did it start?  Good question.  I'd almost tie it to the end of last month, when a combination of factors occurred.  The first was that an interview - the fifteenth or twentieth over a three year period - went nowhere.  The second was the loss of 20% of my staff.

The interview thing matters because one cannot really go somewhere else until one successfully passes an interview.  And after fifteen or twenty unsuccessful interviews (in some cases which are not filled) one begins to wonder if there is something intrinsically wrong with one's self - and if there is any hope of improving what one is.

The second - the 20% staff loss - has been a steadily rising wave.  The tasks that have come from this loss are significant and seem overwhelming when viewed against the background of the list of tasks that I already am responsible for.  And if I try and make progress over here, I lose it over there.

I tried to compensate for it the first week by working a great number hours.  It worked - for about 3 days.  Then my productivity went down considerably and I ended up accomplishing less in the last two, making things even out as if I had worked normally.

The result of all this?  A sense that there is nothing that can be changed.  Every minor success is tinged by the thought that there is so much left to do.  And even if I do succeed, what of that?  The larger picture is that, at least right now, it feels that there is little impact in what I do - and that what I am doing will not transfer into any kind of greater opportunity for myself.

The biggest problem is that I find that it weighs mentally and physically on me as well.  I'm tired much more, needing to regularize my sleep patterns to the point I seem to have less time to do other things.  And even for those things - things that I like and enjoy doing - I find less energy and dedication in doing them.

I am not sure what to do with all of this.  All I do know is that I find it harder and harder to be motivated about anything.  The sense of having options, of other things that I could or would do, has been quietly slipping away, leaving nothing but a mental landscape which is flat and dry and windswept.

Is it an abandonment of hope? I do not know that I could say.  Certainly I seem to lack hope in most of my daily activities - but I question if that is less of an abandonment of hope than a simple acknowledgement that it simply cannot exist in these circumstances, not that it cannot exist.

All I do know is at this moment things seem to be a long barren road fading into the distance, seemingly leading back to where I am standing.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Accomodating Sin

Why are we as Christians so eager to accommodate ourselves to sin?

I suppose that this question has always been present within the church; we know that Paul dealt with it in Corinth and the Apostle John speaks to the church of Pergamos about the very same issue.  Perhaps it is simply something that is within the sinful human condition.  But it still haunts me.

I know.  Haunt is kind of a big word for something that I seem to have minimal control over.  But it bothers me at a deep level when Christians and the Church seem to cut themselves down from within.

A challenge from my own life that I believe is the same for others and the church:  name one sin that you made accommodations for in your own life that improved your life.  Let us be clear:  I'm not speaking of things that are preferences or things that we may name as "sin" but God clearly does not or even things where we are given latitude to determine what we do.  I am speaking here specifically of something God names as a sin that we bring into our lives as a form of accommodating living with it instead of eschewing it and fighting against it.

An simple example from my own life:  I tend to enjoy certain kinds of movies which often (largely towards the "R" rating end) for their plot even though they embrace things that I am to have no part of in my life.  I do not, of course, but none the less I vicariously see them through the medium of entertainment.  I have two options:  I can continue to justify the fact that entertainment is my "right" and I watch away or decide that, as the Apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 "Abstain from every form of evil" - which in my case would mean putting aside such movies altogether based on the rating, regardless of whether or not I want to watch them.

The question germane to my thought above is "Does anything in my life improve by watching these movies?  Do they make me more holy?  Do they strengthen my witness?  Do they glorify God?"  With perhaps one exception - The Passion of the Christ - I can honestly say no. But I am willing to accommodate this in my life.

Why?  Because of my desire to do what I want to do?  Because of my belief that this is not as serious as it really is (after all, who am I taking more seriously:  God or myself?)?  Or have I simply stewed in the culture long enough that the difference is no longer there: I am no longer "salt and light" but rather the gravel and darkness of the world around me with a slightly different texture?

The reality is this:  accommodation of sin in the life of an individual or organization never improves that individual or organization.  Never.  It may feel reasonable, it may feel relevant, but it never improves it.  Accommodation over time will simply lead to the the same sort of process as bacteria unchecked on an enamel tooth:  a shell with a deep wound in it which is painful, infected, and threatens to destroy the integrity of the tooth.

Interestingly God never accommodates sin, nor did Christ during His time on earth.  Were they forgiving?  Yes.  Did they constantly express their love to sinners - both Jewish and Gentile - who lived in sin, forestalling judgement even as they called them back?  Absolutely.  But God does not look upon sin and attempt to find a way to accommodate it - through the work of His Son, he found a way to pay for it now and eliminate it in the world to come.

Not accommodating sin is hard - no doubt about that.  It will cost you in terms of interactions and popular culture.  Once you start down the road of not accommodating sin you will find that it has become even more enticing to you.  It will whisper to you of how you are being "unreasonable" and denying yourself very simple pleasures and actions that God does not really damn all that much anyway.

But as Christians, we are called to a different standard - as Paul says, "For God did not call you to uncleanness, but in holiness" (1 Thessalonians 4:7).  Let us seek not accommodate the sin in our life; let us rather seek the far more difficult task of cultivating holiness.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Last night we had hail.

Oh, not the hail of my youth that I always associate with hail, a sort of small pelletized version of rain that pattered on the roof and we would pretend was snow.  No, this was larger sized hail - grape or bubble gum ball sized. 

There was no gentle patter on the roof as the hail fell; instead, it sounded much more like a series of small explosions that were going off on top of the house.  Hitting the ground it sound like rocks hitting the ground and falling apart.   It went for 5 minutes or so and then slowly went away, to be replaced by the sounds of rain falling on the roof and the thunder marching off into the distance as the thunder cloud moved on.

To look outside this morning is to see nothing of what sounded like an intense peppering attack:  perhaps a few branches down, a driveway covered in leaves, a hanging bank of clouds the reminder that we perhaps still really do live in the time of not-quite-spring.

The amazing thing as I consider it is that it stands (again) as a reminder of the sheer force and power of a God who can make such things - and how we so often fool ourselves that we are in control of all that which is around us.  For all that we have done, we cannot generate hail with our own hands or even prevent the it from coming.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Life Hunting

We are in the market for a house.

It has been a long process to get here:  three years of deciding that we wanted to look, followed by a fourth year of waiting for our credit to clear.  And while we were waiting, the market changed on us.

To work in a buyer's market as a buyer is to have the choice of one of many houses that one wants, not only including the very house that one wants but the money that one is willing to pay for it.  It can be the equivalent of a buffet, where you get to choose not only the location and type but amenities and what you are willing to pay for - and what the seller will pay for.

To work in a seller's market is a very different thing entirely. 

The first noticeable item is that houses move quickly, so getting a bid in is important.  The second noticeable item is that pricing immediately becomes an issue; the fact is that if one does not at least meet the bid price for most homes, one will simply get pushed aside out - so one either begins at the asking price or goes a little up.  What this means in a practical way is that your choices become much more limited by the amount of loan you are able to afford. The third item - perhaps the most difficult - is to learn to not fall in love with any home until you have actually entered a contract lest you always find your heart being broken.

But what has become most bothersome to me in looking is the reminder of the failures of my life as I look.

Looking at all of these reminds me of the last time we home shopped almost 10 years ago, back when The Firm was the rage and I felt myself among the great and successful.  I made decisions - foolish ones - that have continued to impact us to this day.  Like buying a house which we never could have afforded, which indirectly came back to losing a house that we never could have afforded.  Like choosing a field based not so much on my ability to succeed in it but on my sincere "dislike" of what I was currently doing at the time.

To house hunt now is to take a realistic look at my life as it truly is and truly will be at this point.  It is accepting the fact that choices do impact what we are able to do moving forward - and that some of my choices have created a situation where what we can get is in some cases significantly bounded by factors which have moved beyond my control. 

I drove by a second house that we are looking at last night.  It is much more similar to the one we are currently renting in term of age, neighborhood and look/feel.  It does not fire my emotions so much as the first house we looked at - which interestingly was built in same time frame as the previous house we had owned - but it is probably a better deal with some financial upside in the long run.

As I drove back I sighed - because I realized that part of my "reluctance" was due to the fact that first house had reminded me more of the look and feel of The Firm and where I was going at that time and the possibilities that existed, while driving by the second house tonight reminded me more of where I actually was in my life right now and the limited scope of what I feel is possible.

It can be a hard thing to take the failures of the past in hand and looking to them, accept them for what they are.  It can be a foolish thing to take the failures of the past and looking to them, fail to learn from what they are.

Monday, March 18, 2013


The heat of Summer
has cast aside the Winter's cold
with no sight of Spring.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Seek Ye First

"But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you." - Matthew 6:33

The combination of reflecting on Haggai and the election of a new pope - and, frankly, having some time to meditate on the combination of the two - has left in a place where I had not really suspected  I would be:  the question of a life dedicated to the glory of God.

This came at me from two different angles:  from Haggai, the question about being about one's own business rather than concerned about glorifying God through making Him and His work a priority as large as our own; from the election of Francis, the testimony of others concerning a man who has lived a life a doing good works and has brought credibility to the belief he professes.

Both of which thoughts brought me to my own situation as I continued to move through the daily work of my own life:  how much am I about the business of God?

You write "the business of God" or "the Kingdom of God" and one almost tends to cringe inside, thinking of  the extreme circumstances that one would be called to:  selling everything, living in a cardboard box preaching, traveling far away to an unknown land and culture to be a missionary.  I suppose that is a natural human reaction we all have - thinking of the worst case possible - but I also don't wonder if it is a tool that Satan uses against us as well, trying to walking us away from considering a life more dedicated to God by feeding our own fears and sense of sacrifice.

But is the problem really with what we are asked as Christians to do, or is it with the fact that we don't want to do it?

What if we came the question a second way:  how am I glorifying (giving honor to) God in my life?  How is the work of my life testifying to what I say I believe?

The question phrased this way speaks nothing of supposed sacrifice or inconvenience.  It speaks simply of glorifying God - of giving honor to Him, of making Him great.  And how do we honor Him and make Him great?  By living our lives and acting in such a way that we are in accordance with His word and thereby giving credibility to what we say.

Let us be honest:  I look too much like the world.  Other than knowing that I go to church, is there anything in my life that gives testimony to the God of the Universe?  I'm not specifically speaking about witnessing, but acting in deed and through word in such a way that I glorify God.  Or is it simply the case that my Christianity is more of a veneer, a thin overcoat with nothing to maintain it underneath?

What to do?  That is the real question.  If this is the problem, how do I rectify it?

A sudden spurt of wholesale "change" will not do it.  Trust me, I have tried multiple times.  There is a large burst of activity that never seems to maintain itself.  Instead, I do not wonder if the change starts much smaller than that:  by simply driving a wedge.

Financial planners use this concept.  When there is a salary increase, instead of spending all the new money that is coming in, find a way to keep the finances at the same amount and use the different between the new income and the old outgo - the "wedge" - to begin saving or paying down debt.  Over time, this wedge will get bigger as expenses continue to decrease.

Likewise here.  Maybe I cannot immediately make my entire life about seeking God and glorifying Him, but is there one point where I can drive a wedge between what I am doing now and what I should be doing?  It can be small but should be meaningful, something that either God commands or glorifies Him.  Something, anything that makes the Gospel more credible.

Of course this is one of the traditions of Lent, to deny ourselves something in remembrance of Christ who ultimately denied Himself all.  It is just extending that into our daily lives to make the reality of the God of the universe visible to those around us.

The wedge is only ultimately temporary, of course.  We should continue to expand that wedge as much as we can throughout our life until we reach that point where all that we say and do glorifies our God.  But we need to start somewhere, with one simple act, seeking first the Kingdom of God by giving physicality to our belief, of glorifying God in our words and actions. 

Many speak of how their God is worthy of glory.  Let us live like it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papam!

We have a Pope!

I am not Catholic, so I have been following the resignation of Benedict XVI and the interregnum/election process somewhat at a distance - but with more interest than I can remember in the election of Benedict XVI.  By my calculations this is only the 4th conclave that has happened in my lifetime, and one of only two that I can clearly remember (John Paul II was there, but I only vaguely remember the event).

Why more interest than Benedict XVI?  Because the need is greater, the situation more seemingly more dire.  Catholic Christendom, much like Protestant Christendom, seems poised on the edge of a knife.  Beset without by a culture and environment which (in my opinion) has never been more in need of the message of Christ, beset within by scandals (again, Protestant as well as Catholic), it feels as if the church is at a crossroads:  become credible and become powerful through the example of Christlikeness or begin slipping faster and faster into the irrelevant status of many former Protestant Mainline Denominations.

From what I have been able to read of Francis, he makes me both comfortable and uncomfortable - which I suppose is what we really want from any sort of leader that is going to move us forward in any sort of organization.  He seems to be a man that will push the church in certain situations and simply lead them in others.

When I first heard the choice of his name, I instantly leaped to Francis of Assisi, one of the most of famous of all the Church heroes - so famous, in fact, that he is even recognized outside of the church.  Only later, after hearing of his history, did I think on Francis Xavier, the Jesuit great missionary to Asia.  And only later, after hearing another reference, did my mind go to Francis de Sales, a great man of piety of spirituality.

Francis has said that he has chosen his name to honor Francis of Assisi (and one would think that the man would know his own mind).  But he does not suffer from the association of the other two as well because all of these men have attributes that the church of today so desperately needs.

The times are needful of truly competent leaders who are sine cera, without flaw.  A credible life goes before a credible witness.  May Francis have the courage and power to take what he has practiced privately into a world where such things need to be practiced publicly.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Living with Sin

I am currently reading A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law.  It is an 18th century Puritanesque writing about the daily practice of living a holy, pious life.

As I have paged through the book, I have found myself constantly challenged by the thought process that it is possible - and of course desirable - to live a holy life.  This is an unusual thought because it is certainly not something that comports with most works that one reads today.  The idea that one could live a life on a daily basis which seeks to be holy is, ironically, revolutionary in an age of secularism and satisfaction of the individual as the highest form of good.

It has made me reflect at some length of my own particular life.  What I have found is not that pleasing.

What reading and reflecting on this book has made me realize is how comfortable I have become with sin in my own life. I could come up with particular things to blame - a culture of hedonism, a culture of entertainment, a thought pattern where I am that which matters - but really it comes back to the fact that I am a sinner and as such, I sin.

What bothers me is how in reading this the fact does not bother me more.  Sin has become so ingrained in parts of my character that the thought of living without it seems virtually impossible.  The thought of living a day free from those besetting sins like envy, gossip, greed, and the others seems unattainable.

Take a simple one:  gossip.  Could I go a single day without gossiping - and not just the way I like to define "gossip" but all the aspects of gossip that I use to soften the blow of what I'm doing: soliciting information, blowing off steam, counseling others, being a resource?  Could for one day I simply go to work, work, say nothing except positive things about everyone and then go home?

Now multiply that for every sin that I face in my life and you begin to taste extent of my challenge as I look inside of my soul.

This is odd thing:  a devout and holy life - a pious life, as Law often refers to it - is a far more difficult thing than many people can imagine. It requires the daily and constant exorcising of our own besetting sins.  It requires a single minded devotion to Christ and an almost minute by minute consideration of the activities and thoughts of one's life:  "Is this what I am to be doing?  Am I honoring Christ in this?"  It requires the endurance of a long distance runner, the strength of a Highland athlete, the attention to detail of an Iaido practitioner.  In other words, it is the spiritual representation of the physical activities I love to do - and in doing those, I begin to understand how challenging it can really be.

My parting thought for the day on this:  what would the testimony of Christianity be if, instead of looking like the world around us or looking like the way the world perceives 18th century devout people looked, we were the manifestation of 21st century Christians living a devout and holy living, dedicated to the thing of God, obedience to His will, and seeking His kingdom above our own?  Could there be any doubt that, at least, the distinction between the world and the church and the question of the power of God to change lives would at not at least be on display for all to see?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rebuilding the Temple IV

What was the response of God to the work of the people in Haggai Chapter 1?  How did he respond to their hearing of His word, their fearing of His presence, their repentance of their agendas above His, and then their obedience in coming to work on the temple?  We find the record in Haggai Chapter 2:

"'And now, carefully consider from this day forward:  from before stone was laid upon stone in the temple of the LORD - since those days, when one came to heap of twenty ephahs, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw out fifty baths from the press, there were but twenty.  I stuck you with blight and mildew and hail in all the labor of your hands, yet you did not turn to Me,' says the LORD.  'Consider now that from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the LORD's temple was laid - consider it:  Is the seed still in the barn?  As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit.  But from this day on I will bless you.'"(Haggai 2:15-19)

God again takes them back to chapter 1:  do you remember, He asks, what it was like before?  You looked for yield from your crops and your labor, yet you found little.  Why?  Because I struck you because of your lack of obedience to me.   But behold, you were obedient to Me on the 24th day of the 6 month - 3 months ago.  From this day on , go look:  you have not yet planted and the trees and vines have not yet yielded fruit.  There is no outward sign that this year will be any different than last year.  But you can now date your prosperity to this day, when you completed your obedience by building the temple.

In other words, God directly invited the people to draw a clear relationship again - not like the first time, where their lack of obedience and concern about themselves led to economic ruin, but instead the relationship of being obedient to God and honoring Him above their own concerns and seeing the results.  This is similar to what God speaks about the tithe in Malachi 3: 9-11: 
"'You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation.  Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this' says the LORD of Hosts, 'If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive.  And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field', says the LORD of Hosts."

Again, says God, obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings cursing.

But do we believe it? 

That is one of the questions that leaps out at me as review the text - indeed, we could include Malachi in there as well since it is a similar record of how God's people came to value their own needs and goals above God's.  It is a recurring theme in the Old Testament - but it is a recurring theme in our own lives as well:  who do we believe and what will we do about it?

God values obedience to His word.  Scripture is replete with it, from the Fall to the faith of Abraham to the failure to enter the Promised Land because of a lack of obedience to the success of entering the Promised Land because of obedience.  The opposite of obedience, says the Lord in 1st Samuel 15:23, is rebellion, and that is repugnant to the Lord.

The New Testament is no different.  Christ is the ultimate example of obedience, showing perfect obedience to the Father's will.  And the writers of the Epistles constantly find themselves calling the people to seek greater compliance and conformance to God's law and God's will through the example of Christ.

But do we live like we believe it?  Do we live in such a way that we demonstrate that we know that being obedient to God brings blessing - perhaps not always temporal blessings seen in the agricultural world of the Israelites, but always spiritual blessing and God's favor?  Or do we, like the remnant of the people of Israel in Haggai's day, seek to be more about our own business and remember God when it is convenient to do so - oftentimes never?

God's record is clear, His expectations certain.  Are we willing to obey?

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Rebuilding the Temple III

The problem and solution have now both been laid before the Israelites:
The problem:  They have suffered a drought which has affected their crops and their livelihood. 
The reason: they have been more concerned about their own lives and lifestyles than they have about being obedient to God and glorifying Him, as seen by the condition of the Temple, which is in ruins even as their houses are built in luxury.
The solution:  rebuild the Temple that God may glorified, both in worship and by the nations around Israel.

The question:  what will Israel do?

"Then Zerubabbel the son of Shealtiel and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all the remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet as the Lord their God had sent him, and the people feared the presence of the Lord.  Then Haggai, the Lord's messenger, spoke the Lord's message to the people, saying "'I am with you' says the Lord.  So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubabbel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of Hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius." (Haggai 1:  12-15)

1) They obeyed: "Then Zerubabbel the son of Shealtiel and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all the remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet as the Lord their God had sent him, and the people feared the presence of the Lord. " (v. 12).  The first step to making any progress in any part of our lives where God has told us that we are going the wrong way is the exercise of repenting, of agreeing with God about the nature of our sin and turning from it.  It may be easy to say, but hard to do because often we have invested a great deal of time and energy in making a decision to go our own way rather than to go God's way and turning around can be embarrassing, humiliating and sometimes expensive.

How do we know that they repented?  Because "they feared the presence of the Lord."  They had the same reaction that the people of Israel did at Mt. Sinai when the Lord came down on the mountain to deliver the Law: "You speak with us, and we will hear, but let not God speak with us, lest we die." (Exodus 20:19).  They acknowledged God as sovereign and were willing to obey Him.

Were they sincere?  We know they were, because Haggai take the effort to say that he, as the Lord's messenger appointed by God spoke God's message to them.  And what did God say?  "I am with you" (v.13).   This is a statement God would not have made unless their repentance and obedience was real.  It was also a reminder to them of their own history, of when the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land.  There, too, in the midst of seemingly impossible odds, God had reminded them that he continued to be with them.

2)  They worked:  "So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubabbel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of Hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius." (v. 14-15)  John MacArthur notes "The Lord energized the leaders and the people through His word to carry on the work of rebuilding the temple...The people's response of repentance and obedience allowed God's Spirit to energize them for the task"  (MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1334).  Through their obedience in repentance and fearing the Lord, God gave them the spirit to work.  So they began working to rebuild the temple, to repair the ruins, to bring the wood from the mountains and build so that the Lord of Hosts could take pleasure in the temple and be glorified, as he had stated.

The thought I'll end with today is MacArthur's comment "The people's response of repentance and obedience allowed God's Spirit to energize them for the task".  How often do I get that statement backwards?  How often do I seek to mentally build up the energy to do something for God rather than starting at repentance and obedience?  God is quite clear throughout Scripture that His will is the one that will ultimately be accomplished.  If that is so, then I should be less concerned about finding the time and energy and will to do it and more about repenting of those things in my life that keep me from it  and simply being obedient to whatever God asks me to do.  God is more than able to energize us; are we willing to do the so often seemingly impossible work of repenting and being ready?

Friday, March 08, 2013

Rebuilding the Temple Part II

As you recall in yesterday's post, the Israelites of 520 B.C. had a problem.  They were unsuccessful upon their return to the former capitol of the kingdom, Jerusalem. Their crops were withering.  Their livestock was dying.  The work they were doing was resulting in nothing but literally rolling out of the pouches and pockets they put it in.

They had the effect; God through prophet Haggai communicated the cause to them:

"'You looked for much and indeed it came to little, and when you brought it home, I blew it away.  Why?' says the Lord of hosts.  'Because of my house that is in ruin while every one of you runs to his own house.'" (Haggai 1:9)

God was clear:  His people were not honoring him.  The Temple, the former dwelling place of His glory, the place where He was to be worshipped and glorified, was a heap of ruins.  And after 18 years of their return, little had changed - oh, they had worked on their own prosperity, building houses with wooden paneling, reclaiming fields, starting businesses, but their house of worship was an eyesore in the midst of their rebuilding, the undeveloped center of town that every one turned away from and pretended was not there.

God told them the cause:  what was His suggestion for the solution?

"'Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I make take pleasure in it and be glorified,' says the Lord (Haggai 1:8).

Three commands - simple, but direct:

1)  "Go up to the mountains" - Get up.  Stop what you are working on, the plans that you have laid for yourself about the things of your life and go to the place I tell you.

2)  "Bring wood" - As John MacArthur points out, after 70 years of the Exile the trees had re-established themselves.  Wood was a necessary component of building - indeed, the people of Israel had paneled their own houses with it.  They knew what it was.  They knew how to use it.  They just never used it in the service of God.

3)  "Build the temple" - Put aside your own plans and work on the House of the Lord.  Turn away for a time from doing things that are all about yourself and do something that is about Me.

Why?  "That I may take pleasure in it and be glorified".

Two points here.  The first is that the results of the Israelites work would be the glorification of God to the surrounding nations.  It is not that unreasonable if you think about it:  people know what we value and treasure by the amount of energy and time we put into it.  People who love their cars constantly care for them and people who love their dogs constantly groom and care for them.  No different, says the Lord.  The completion of My house of worship shows what you value and draws attention to the One who is worshipped there.

The second?  Perhaps the most stunning.  God says He will take pleasure in the work of their hands. 

Let that sink in for a moment.  The Creator of the Universe states that He will take pleasure in the fact that humans build something for Him. He could do it Himself in a heartbeat if He wanted to - but He gives His creatures the power of casualty, the ability to please Him through the work of their hands.

Tomorrow we'll discuss how the Israelites responded.  The thought for myself - and hopefully for you - is this: What one thing has God spoken to your heart about that would glorify Him?  Do you understand what He is asking for?  And do you understand - and believe - that doing so will glorify Him and bring Him pleasure?

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Rebuilding the Temple Part I

I had another experience of God talking to me two nights ago.

(No, not like that:  no flashing lights, no voices, no visions. It does not work that way in real life for most of us).

I was pondering the substance of what I wrote about here, about how I see to be making a lack of progress in so many parts of my life.  As I thought and thought, lying there, suddenly the 1st Chapter of Haggai leaped into my mind

The Book of Haggai (if you have perhaps forgotten your minor prophets) is one of the shortest books in the Bible.  It was written by the prophet Haggai (convenient, no?) over the space of 4 months in 520 B.C.  It was written with the intent of spurring the returned Jewish exiles to complete the rebuilding of the second Temple.

Why do I feel like this was something other than an early morning synaptic rush?  Because the words of the first chapter, which I have struggling to memorize, suddenly leaped to mind with perfect clarity and recall.  At least for me, this is how God speaks - through His word, where often a passage or sentence comes to mind at precisely the moment it was needed.

And what does God say to the Israelites?

"Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Consider your ways'.
You have sown much, and bring in little;
you eat, but you are not full;
you drink, but no-one is filled with drink;
you clothe yourselves, but no-one is warm;
and he that earns wages, earns wages to put into bag with holes" (Haggai 1: 5-6)

"You looked for much and indeed, it came to little., and when you brought it home, I blew it away."  (Haggai 1:9a)  

This all began to sound very familiar to me.

Why?  Why was the Lord saying these things to the Israelites?"

"This people says, 'The time has not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built'". (Haggai 1:2b)

"Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses and this temple to lie in ruin?" (Haggai 1:5)

"You looked for much and indeed, it came to little, and when you brought it home, I blew it away.  Why, says the Lord of hosts.  Because of My house that is in ruins while every one of you runs to his own house." (Haggai 1:9).

The people had become more concerned with their own lives (as demonstrated in the concern for their houses) than they were about the Lord and his will and glory (as demonstrated in the lack of concern for the rebuilding of the Lord's temple, where the Lord was worshipped and glorified). 

The result?  The effects are listed in verse 6 and 9a above - but God made it more explicit:

"Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit.  For I called for drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the work of your hands." (Haggai 1:10-11)

The thing to note (beyond the effects, which are specific) is who was responsible for all of this.  It was not nature.  It was not a random series of events.  It was God acting specifically in the lives of His people, acting in a way to bring them back to the things that really mattered rather what they thought mattered.

The question that came through my mind as these words came through my mind was "What? What is the temple of God in my life that has not been rebuilt?"  It is easy enough to make the connection in the Old Testament but what does it say to me today?  Is it certain that the things I am experiencing in my life at the moment are the results of things similar to the Israelites of Haggai's day?  I'd be arrogant to think so much of myself as to say yes.  But is is possible that the same could be true?  Absolutely.

But what is the "temple of God" - the place where God was worshipped and glorified by the Jews - in my own life?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Lack of Progress

What do you do when if feels like every direction you turn is a blank wall leading nowhere?

This is how I feel at the moment - that every direction I walk, every project that I pursue, that everything that I do is leads directly to high wall I cannot get around or over.  What seems to be worse, these walls are moving in on me, constricting my ability to make progress.

It is the sense of doing the things you have identified as doing and finding none of them is going forward as you had desired; that the one thing that satisfies you the least has come to take up the most time, squeezing out the time to do anything else - and that this thing is also seemingly of such a nature that the more and more effort poured into it will not result in greater reward and progress but instead in no sense of progress at all.

There is almost a sense that I being bounded in by God, kept from moving forward in anything by His hand.  Is it is sin in my life that is causing this stasis?  Possibly - certainly it is easy enough for me to always find some sin in my life.  If so, one should repent and move on (which I suppose for me is in and of itself something of a struggle).  But even as I try to find those issues that are ingrained in my life, there is a real sense - to me at least - that moving through these would not make the least sense of progress on a larger scale.

Is the progress being stopped for some other reason, something that God is doing somewhere else in my life for some other reason?  I am not sure that I would know that this is the case even if it is.  I suspect this is the sort of thing that one would only realize years after the event looking back.

Perhaps this is simply a problem that cannot be resolved by my pondering it at length.  What is so concerning about it is the fact that even though I may have a chance someday of understanding, I have to live through this sense of blank walls every day.

That, too, is a sense of no progress leading nowhere which is difficult to live with.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Struggling Again

I am going through one of my periodic struggles with accepting life as it is.

Fear Mor leaving has been a great struggle.  Essentially I am now responsible for the work of  two people.  The schedules have not slowed down, you understand, just the the availability of personnel to the job.

The outcome?  In order to make sure things continue on this means working later. No great surprise, I suppose - except that it means that once again the timeline of my life is going to get compressed.  Potentially a great deal.

The critical stuff will get done of course - I'll still see my family and have time to eat and walk the dog and ensure I get the amount of sleep that I need.  But the parts that make life savoury - the fun items, the things for me - are starting to recede to the background as they do during times like this.

I always have problems when things like this happen.  Intellectually I understand that God is under no compulsion to provide me with a life that allows me to use my talents the way I see fit and enjoy, but the reality of the situation is painful when it smacks me in the face.  This is what it is to be an adult:  to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done and put off the rest.

But until when?  That is the part that seems to leave me grasping in situations like these.  And what is the reward from such situations?  Merely maintaining what I have?  That hardly seems to be any kind of meaningful reward for essentially surrendering parts of your life to a series of events which ultimately do not matter except as a vehicle of paying for your existence.

How to break out of this?  Oh, I wish I knew.  All I see before me is waves of paperwork and hours of review.  Any incentive has been stripped away to the bare minimum of "Do it because".

Is this truly life?

Monday, March 04, 2013

Why Write?

I am in the process of re-evaluating my writing.

Oh no, not the fact that I write.  At this point I think that it is too firmly rooted in my pysche for me to ever walk backwards from doing it.  It has become a part of my life - literally a part of my mornings which I design around to insure that I get to do it - and I can honestly say that I miss the days when I do not.

No, what I am re-evaluating is why and where and for what I am writing.

Why?  Why do I write?  Originally it was to become a great voice in writing on the Internet.  Then it shifted to become a great voice writing for my industry, then for homesteading, then finally for success.  In each and every one of those cases, things have not turned out as I intended.  Instead, I have come to write mostly for myself and a small cadre of readers (most of whom I know) as a sort of mental and spiritual exercise.

Is that okay?  Is that enough of a reason to do this?  I think so - after all, if I alone benefit from the daily activity of writing it (much like journaling) becomes an activity of growth.  And the off chance happens that I someone reading something is helped as well.

Where?  Ah.  I've got at least three blogs spead across the Internet now, all doing different things.  Is this a spreading too thin of my energy?  Does one of them make a difference more than the other two?  Or in my desire to throw as many things against the wall as I can and hope something sticks have I overstepped my ability?

Because that falls into the what I am writing for.  I can make an argument that I started writing in different places in the (apparently) vain hope that I would find the magic combination that would finally establish a career in writing:  if I could not appeal to this audience I would appeal to another audience. 

But the audiences have never come in the overwhelming amounts that my mind saw.  The links from other sites never really appeared.  Alas, the commercial offers also never seemed to find their way to my inbox along with the book offers I was so sure would show up.

So why am I writing?

The (unfortunate) reality is that at this juncture I am probably never going to make my way into the ubercompetitive quickly moving environment of top blogs or websites.  My chances of magically being "discovered" are probably nil.  I am one man, writing mostly about small subjects important to me.

But that doesn't change the original benefits I identified above.  I grow through this process.  Occasionally I help someone else.  Perhaps that is enough.

The amount of blogs I write?  Perhaps that is something that I need to seriously look at - not so much from a branding perspective as an effort and quality perspective.  I am perceptive enough to realize that there are limits on my time, limits that in turn limit what I am going to be able to do well.

But stop writing altogether?  I do not see that as something that I want or need to consider.  It has become too much of my personality - because even with little exposure and in a quiet corner of the blogosphere, to write a blog means that one is a writer.   And to write, in some way, is to change the world.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Posting and Disliking

Wondering again about how active I am on a well known social site.

I had the experience this week of someone posting a seemingly snarky response to a (at least theoretically) inspirational quote.  It wouldn't have struck me as odd but it is the third time that such a thing has happened in the last six months or so.

Reading the quote helps nothing - one feels kind of offended after one reads it and quite possibly angry (I was).  But the initial response - fire back a response - is never the correct one; you look exactly like the person who posted the quote and the web has hardly demonstrated itself to be a forum for useful discussion.  My initial response was simply to take a bit of a break from posting anything at all. 

There are two ways that I could go.  The first - more of an observation - is that this well known social site, while being useful for reconnecting friends and family, may have some of the problems that any reunion does:  we think we are seeing and talking to the people that we knew years before when in fact the years have intervened.  We change - but the patterns of relationship and our understanding of how people used to be may not have.  It comes out when we interact - we either retreat to older forms of relating, essentially picking off where we left off in high school and ignoring the fact that 20 years have intervened, or we come to the jarring realization that our friends (and ourselves) only inhabit bodies that look like us; the person has changed.

The second way is a general questioning of this entire idea of social websites and indeed of putting one's self out there at all.

Have I enjoyed the well known social website?  Yes.  It has allowed me to connect with people whom I had not seen in many years and catch up.  It has renewed some friendships in meaningful ways, which is always a good thing.  And it has allowed me to share our lives with our family in real time.

But beyond the basic contact - why am I doing this?

The same question could said about any writing I do - this blog, for example.  I have long surrendered the notion the that this blog was going to be a mechanism whereby I catapulted any writing career to something semi-self supporting.  Certainly it serves a function as a sort of online journal for myself and does keep me writing, which are both useful things and enhance my life.

But does continuing to try to significantly engage through inspirational quotes on a well known social site serve the same purpose?  I am not sure.

I have not decided what the final outcome will be - there are people who claim to get something out of what I find and for that I am grateful.  I suppose the question is does that outweigh dealing with the reality that "friend" has come to have a significantly different connotation than it used to.