Ceasing to Pretend Vapor is a Solid

What is your spiritual background? No, I don’t mean your religious background — as in what church, synagogue, mosque or temple you attended; what holy book’s instructions you have worked to keep; or what religion you believe is the answer to all the world’s questions — but the experiences that have made up the structure and support of your spirit?

More simply, what has made you what you are today, what gives you hope for the future, and stability for today?

If everything you hold dear in your life were lost, what would your spirit have to hold onto, by what strength would it live?

If all the trappings of your religion were somehow inaccessible to you, what would you be standing on?

If your heart sank, and your body failed, would there be anything to raise you up?

These may sound like outlandish questions, but the reality is that every faith can hold us up in summer but, can we trust those beliefs to remain pliable and useful in the dead of winter?

I have seen what it is like to have answers once so sure get blown up by questions that are too big and uncomfortable to compliantly nest inside them. I don’t know whether you are currently enjoying summer, or resenting winter, but it’s critical to your life that your beliefs can take you through each one.

In the spring of the year I experienced the fiercest winter I had ever known. Everything that I had once been so sure of — even arrogantly flaunting — was suddenly insufficient to weather the assault made on my soul.

Where do you turn when this happens?

What I used to call “home” for my soul had been washed out and frozen under, while I stood forlorn and afraid in the blizzard wailing around me. I hadn’t known that my house was not insured with a no-collapse guarantee; I thought because I believed it was strong, and it had always stood for everything else, that it was safe and secure.

How appalling to learn the truth when it’s too late. If this is where you are, as long as you have life, there is still a chance to rebuild. But, opportunity comes with a cost and a stern warning:

The second time you must not naively build with the same foundation and approach that you contracted the first time. If it falls once, it cannot be trusted. And you would waste your life to reinvest in it.

This ought to a reality abundantly clear to us when everything comes crashing down on us, and takes us down with it, but some of us are stubborn, choosing, instead, to pretend that things aren’t so bad as they now seem.

But, how can we ever rebuild, how can we ever know anything better than what we have now, if we will refuse to admit that we don’t have enough to live on right now?

For building materials we have but two to choose from: sand and Rock. One is common and inexpensive, the other rare and priceless. The first will go well with anything you bring to it, the second is of such choice composition, that it will not agree with anything you bring of lesser and unproven value.

This may sound disheartening, but think about it: Would you rather forever hold onto everything you have — whose worth is merely transient — or reach out for something that is inestimable enough to establish your entire inheritance?

Let us be wise, then, and choose to set our lives upon that which has the power to keep us — though perhaps not our present treasures — in all storms and violence of this earth and eternity.

Yes, there is sacrifice involved even in taking hold of the infinitely priceless. But, when we try to balance the weight of sacrifice for claim of the Rock versus sacrifice for claim of the sand we may freely mold ourselves, the values don’t come out even. Indeed, the price of sacrifice is always in proportion to the reward we seek.

Yet, regardless, we will be sacrificing for whatever we get, so might we not aim high in expectation of obtaining a reward that will outstrip all loss we may experience?

I ran to the “Life-House” that promised me more than what I could expect from fashioning my own safe-house from the sand. No, I will not have the same lee-way to demand what I want in architecture and presentation from the Rock, but if I could, it would be no more excellent then the sand below.

I want the Rock that doesn’t move, but moves me to higher ground, moorings that are more sure than a structure that tempts the sea to transform my work to sludge that will go with it anywhere.

Christ offers us more than that: His body will become our own, while His Spirit will sustain us from deep inside. The vapors of my dreams may blow away while I’m with Him, but there is no danger of our separation. I will not be shaken by any threat of fear, for nothing can estranged from the One who is the Solid, Unshakable and wholly Impenetrable. He is my Refuge and Strength, and in Him I am fully assured of the outcome I shall have in this life, and what I shall then experience in the next.

Faith is Feeding Me

I have thought a lot about living by faith in the last year. What does that mean? Is it possible? If so, what does it look like? And, of course, the implication that most consumes me, What will it cost me?

Faith is a wonderful idea. On paper it sounds beautiful, intriguing and highly inspiring. I consider a person putting everything on the line to trust in something that can’t be seen or personally manipulated, and I applaud.  I can easily recognize that the worth of what is to be known is worth far more than all that may be sacrificed for it’s sake.

But, when we bring this faith-experience closer to home, it can be a little scary.

You come to your first real trial to “take by faith” and you have no idea what you are supposed to be doing. Okay, you say to yourself, I’ve heard that we’re supposed to believe in God, but what does that mean? Do I stand around shouting, “God I believe in You!” or should I lock myself in my room and pray all day? Maybe it would make everything better if I just pretended the problem didn’t exist.

Perhaps, like me you have rehearsed each one of these alternatives, and yet you don’t feel any better for it; in fact, everything may have just been made worse by the reproaches you’ve recently adopted. You wonder, Is this how faith is supposed to be — something that doesn’t work, or makes a mess?

No, you were not deceived when you were first attracted to faith; it is true and it is what you need — it just may not work out like you thought. In fact, faith is a learning experience. If you hadn’t counted on that when you first “signed on,” then let me gently correct your misunderstanding.

A faith that is advantageous to its possessor must first be active. Now, before your minds overdoses on graphic images of yourself engaged in mental and physical labor for the sake of prospering your faith, lets review what it means for our faith to be active.

Dictionary.com provides two definitions of our adjective that should be very helpful. First, active gives the idea of something that is:

1. engaged in action;  characterized by energetic work, participation, etc.; busy: an active life

We understand this one perfectly well, it witnesses an energy and accomplishment that we can see and substantiate. But, the second one goes a little deeper, makes us think a little more:

2.being in a state of existence, progress, or motion: active hostilities.

Though it is harder to picture, I believe definition number two is a more fitting description of what it means to have faith that works in every circumstance.

Faith is a dependence of the heart on God. Though He can’t be seen by the body, we know that He has made the body, and is capable of directing its actions and behavior. With a spirit that desires to learn and carry out the ultimate in dependence upon God, we seek God, determined to know Him.

2 Corinthians 5:7 describes it this way:

For we walk by faith [we regulate our lives and conduct ourselves by our conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, with trust and holy fervor; thus we walk] not by sight or appearance.        [Amplified Bible]

We walk by faith as we continually communicate to God that we want to set our dependence on Him, and are willing to be instructed in His ways of living, that we may love Him in every way we can.

Having faith in God is believing that He is who He says He is — all wise, all knowing, all loving, and all sovereign. He knows how life is best lived: He belongs at the center, and out of that all things will spring forth.We trust that He will lovingly instruct us and patiently understand us and creatively direct us.

So, when we face our trials or our mundane weeks, we look to God and cry, “I love You, and I will choose to walk closer to You, because Your words and Your presence and Your ways feed me.”

And it is in this posture that we find that faith is so much more than what we can see. Faith is not an amenity to be purchased for its utility or popular appeal. Faith is a life-source, a way of life, an anchor to the soul.

It is a gift given to us by God that enables us to draw close to God and set our sights eternally upon Him. While we accept it freely, we cannot hold it with apathetic hopes or lethargic intent. Faith requires invested interest and practical dependence upon God to develop a broadening of our souls.We must invest all that we have into it, that we may receive on God’s return scale.

When we initially take hold of faith, we are surprised at its simplicity and relative emptiness. We question our rationality in choosing to take hold of it, and insist that it is impossible for a man with such worldly pressures upon him to live by this weak diversion.

But we forget that faith is not about us and what we do, but about God and what He means to us, how he changes everything about us from the inside out.

When maintaining and strengthening faith gets hard, we need to seek the object of our faith with greater abandon. The more we put ourselves in claim to God, the more our faith grows and we blossom in hope. The reality of living based on who God is instead of who we are is the most liberating thing we will experience this side of heaven.

Yet, if we never get this close to God, we will never get full of life.  Our hearts will be empty, and we will wonder why; that is, until we place our faith-investment in the mystery of His great significance.

For a long time I couldn’t even think about this type of surrender. The very sound of it was like death.

When I thought about it, words like painful, agonizing, deprivation, unsuitable and absolutely unrewarding came to mind. I had no other way of thinking of it. That is, until I put faith to the test. Or, maybe I should say that faith put me to the test. I came to a point in my life in which everything I once believed I believed was called into question.

It was not that what I thought I was to believe had suddenly become unsure, but that my demonstrations of those beliefs were being challenged. I had been failing to represent any convictions in my beliefs; my behaviors in testimony of them were but weak and fickle. The truth I espoused was failing me, because I was not standing solidly on it. My faith was a casualty of casual faith. I was trying to hold onto several contradictory beliefs at the same time.

I divided my soul with warring worldviews. I wanted to talk trust in God while living trust in myself. I thought I would be safe enough admitting God is good but paying attention to how good I was. I imagined the possibility of God always taking care of me, yet daily predicted that He would indefinitely fail me.

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, consider this: God is not necessarily subject to what we subject Him. Our expectations cannot be considered authoritative on God’s character or the probability of His behaviors. They are not. The only Person whose expectations of God were ever consistent with the outcome He experienced was His Son, the Word.

Only God’s personal revelation of Himself is accurate and reliably informed. To believe in Him at all, we must know Him. And knowing God is impossible without committing yourself to His Word.

So, how much do you want to live by faith? Are you willing to lay aside everything else in order to establish your heart upon the One everlastingly important reality?

It is only when we bring everything to God, with a spirit willing for His preeminence, that we find out for ourselves why God is everything we really want, and nothing we can live without.

And God is important WHY?

If you’re wondering why God exists, or what is the point of all His works, you are in good company. The whole of His creation must ponder such questions when at their most honest and vulnerable.

What do we know of God, and what difference does it make? we ask. And how can we not ask it? Is this not the beginning of wisdom — to question what we know, and to seek to verify for ourselves what is true? To deny such questions and to forge ahead with such doubts so deeply ingrained in our consciousness would be quite an error on our part.

Oh, that we would have the courage to seek God’s truth! To desire that knowledge of Him — and not solely about Him — that will lead us to realities we’ve lived ignorant of our entire lives. Thought the end of this quest be a mystery, may our desire to test the reality of what we’ve heard and thought, be enough for us to move ahead.

Let Me See You, O God!

God, it seems you’ve been our home forever; long before the mountains were born,
Long before you brought earth itself to birth,
from “once upon a time” to “kingdom come”—you are God.

So don’t return us to mud, saying,
“Back to where you came from!”
Patience! You’ve got all the time in the world—whether
a thousand years or a day, it’s all the same to you.
Are we no more to you than a wispy dream,
no more than a blade of grass
That springs up gloriously with the rising sun
and is cut down without a second thought?
Your anger is far and away too much for us;
we’re at the end of our rope.
You keep track of all our sins; every misdeed
since we were children is entered in your books.
All we can remember is that frown on your face.
Is that all we’re ever going to get?
We live for seventy years or so
(with luck we might make it to eighty),
And what do we have to show for it? Trouble.
Toil and trouble and a marker in the graveyard.
Who can make sense of such rage,
such anger against the very ones who fear you?

Oh! Teach us to live well!
Teach us to live wisely and well!
Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?—
and treat your servants with kindness for a change.
Surprise us with love at daybreak;
then we’ll skip and dance all the day long.
Make up for the bad times with some good times;
we’ve seen enough evil to last a lifetime.
Let your servants see what you’re best at—
the ways you rule and bless your children.
And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us,
confirming the work that we do.
Oh, yes. Affirm the work that we do!

Psalm 90

Dying to Make Room for Him

Could there be any other way to learn to love my precious Savior without suffering in His will? If I were not pinched and picked by various things that His hand controls, if I did not learn to surrender in all things for the sake of what I cannot see, would I be what He needs me to be — a soil ready for sowing, a construction site ready for the cornerstone to be set in place?

His seeds of truth and righteousness will not grow unless they may be sown way beneath the surface. The excavation He does to get to the deepest places of my heart, are painful because He digs into flesh, and removes rocks and roots that I have wrapped myself around in comfortable companionship. But, the habitat for His precious embryos of hope must be cleared and contoured in such a way that it may be settled in place and remain upright and able to grow up and out of me.

The fruits of the Spirit cannot be plucked from other trees and shrubs around us, but cultivated from tiny seeds within our own souls. And in the hope that such Life will emerge, we die so that it might be nourished and protected, it’s life being far more important than the body that holds it.

God, give me the grace to see what you’re doing in my heart. You have bid me to die and I shall live in the fullness of Your never-ending life. You are Love and I can believe nothing less of all that You do. Help me to trust You, help me to lean on You and give You my all willingly.

He discredits my every complaint

Complaining. I don’t know about you, but I like to complain. I like to believe that I have that freedom, and that my words can have a significant influence on my unpleasant circumstances.

For example, I hate being alone when I haven’t chosen solitude. When I have to adapt to my circumstance I wonder: how this will help and not hurt me, especially when I’ve already passed several days of this restriction? Must I again accept this when I believe I could benefit so much more from talking and hanging out with my family and friends?

I look at occasional days that pain augments my ongoing fatigue and question the appropriateness of being further burdened.

I beg for only the bare minimum in the intensity of these endurance tests.

On particularly hard days, when one more thing must be given up or is taken away from me, I ask: Lord, how much do you think I can take? I am human — I can only endure such a restricted lifestyle, diet and community. Am I really learning that much more than I would if I could still have some of these things?

And God’s response is, Do you think that I am not enough? Do you doubt My wisdom in leading you down this path of hardships? Do you think that you know so much more about living than I? Are you so opposed to dependence on Me that you would refuse walking so closely with Me to delight yourself in lesser and lighter pleasures? Is your food and life not contingent on more than bread and basic human relationships? Will you think I am worth it enough to reach out and take My hand, believing I walk through all the hardship with you?

My child, I am showing you that you don’t know how to live this life. I am bringing you closer to Me, so I can lead you, teach you, and, yes, enrich you. Like My servants Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah on My diet — My provision — you will emerge from My tests radiant and glowing. And You will lead everyone around you in praising the Name of Your God who has created through extraordinary means a difference in you that will enhance the vision of His glory in your world.

Oh, how can I complain when my Father holds me so close like this; when the hardships He walks me through are for a purpose so much higher and loftier than I?

I obey, and this is what I get!

So, what’s the worst thing that could come from obeying God? Think of the most awful thing He could ask You to do, and then write it down.

Okay, now that we’ve taken a deep breath, we are ready to invite God into this little exercise. What, Father, is the harm in following You?

Yes, believe it or not, we can be this open with God. He would rather hear these thoughts that possess our hearts, than be forced to wrestle with silence that keeps us apart.

You see, He knows what it is you and I spend our time thinking and fearing and trying to pretend doesn’t exist. We think that if we let God in, He will either condemn us for our lack of faith or prove our ignorance by making our worst nightmare come true.

But, we must consider: Are there really any nightmares with Christ? Hasn’t He come to overpower the darkness and make void the lies that hold us in captivity?

If this is true, then can we really curse Him for accomplishing this in ways that we do not understand? Isn’t it the light that scares us more than the darkness, and the truth more than the lies?

Let’s be honest here, it’s not that anything that God could ask us to do would be so unexpectedly wretched, but that everything would be intentionally set up to be redeemed.

Walking with Christ, there can be no limits to what He asks of us, where He chooses to lead. Because we know Him, we have no excuse for disbelief and resistance.

No, He is perfect; He is pure; His knowledge cannot be searched out; and His purposes are absolute. Where do we have to run from that? To maintain our trifling control, we must beg to remain ignorant and purposely uninvolved. If we don’t, He will woo us, and every part of us will strain to respond to the One who brought us into being and filled us with the breath of His life.

And would this One who first conceived us, then rescued us from the curse of our rebellion against Him, turn against us, to destroy us in the end? No, this would undermine His marvelous character, His great plan. We are His worshipers, whom He has gathered and regenerated to rejoice in His holiness and boast in His mercies.

And from this our obedience springs — not from grudging duty, but from unrestrained love. When we know the Son, and get close enough to glimpse the ways of the Father working from the throne of heaven, we long to be connected; this is where we belong, and these activities of His are what we were meant to do with Him.

So we do God’s acts because we join God’s plan. We see His objectives, and are schooled in His motives until all doubt in us has lost its place to the love that wells up within us. This is the worst that can happen in obeying God — we would lose the doubt and fear that we have always known and still so comfortably believe. Oh, WHAT a loss!

So you like Love, do you?

Love is trumpeted the world over as the ideal/emotion most capable of inspiring mankind. It is a gift, and the most fulfilling reality we know on this earth.

But, what about when love comes to us disguised? When we don’t immediately recognize it in its initial form, we often give no thought to immediately turning away from it.

How little we know of all the ways we run from love! We claim to be enamored with it, but act in ways that compromise our commitment to experiencing the real thing.

The Son of God came to us in the form of a lowly servant — a man without a face or physique that we should recognize as glorious. His manner was also unlike anything our world or we can boast.

He did not come to show that God has finally came around to our way of thinking, or impress us with His willingness to negotiate a mutually agreeable arrangement for peace. He will not compromise His law, or bow down His character to us. His aim is so far above submitting Himself to our expectations of God — including displays of obsequious love and undying respect for our demands.

Rather, He has done us the greatest service imaginable in entering into our mess and treating us like what we are: people broken and beaten by our rebellion against God.  He sees that we are separated from Him by our own self-destructing choices, and He has come to reveal the choice that He has made to deliver us from them. It is the choice that has the power to save and change our lives.

The rescue, and subsequent transformation, of our hearts is the key to lives that may be lived to the full, unlimited by death.

But how many of us truly know about these dynamics? We know plenty about changing our lives, and altering our behavior, but what have we ever experienced of heart-alteration?

To tell you the truth, we have and will not know until we have known Jesus Christ who alone is capable of making such a difference in us.

If we do not know Christ according to experiential and spiritual knowledge that transcends merely amassing information about Him, we will never truly know what any of this means.

How many of us walk away from the chance to be forever changed, because God didn’t garb Himself in ambitions that naturally align with our own.

He did not come near to us, to pleasantly assure us that all our problems can be easily cleared up because they are entirely external. He is not here to agree with us that there is nothing inherently wrong with us or how we approach God. What could be the ultimate gain for us in this? How would this glorify Him?

A Being who would not dare to defy our means of self-expression and god-devoid pleasures would not be worthy of following. If He is not unmovable in His commitment to His righteousness — to declare His judgments and to develop it in us — there would be no sense in trusting Him as He would not be truly good.

But this is not the case with Him: He is absolutely good, and all His judgments are perfect; therefore, we are not free to exercise disbelief without inheriting undesirable consequences.

Let us then, open ourselves up to love that is what we really need; let us move beyond the fear of never getting what we want and instead discover what true love offers us in God.