Monday, February 27, 2012


     My community group has been listening to the Old Testament survey taught by Secret Church founder, David Platt. It has been an incredible encouragement to me to hear a respected Bible teacher expounding some of the very same things my Father has shown me in His word! An example of this would be that there are many "layers" to what is going on in a given Biblical account, the most important of which is how each person's story that is told fits in to the ultimate plan of redemption that God had laid out for His people the moment Adam and Eve made that fatal choice. The whole of the Book is about God, His Christ, His plans, His glory, and His goodness, and each individual merely a small part of that immense plan. It is a humbling view.

    Another thing Mr. Platt mentioned that stood out to me in a new way is our tendency to look at Old Testament stories and identify ourselves with the main character. The specific example he used was that we often look at the story of the infant Moses and take away the message, "God will protect me," rather than identifying with the dozens of other infants that were slain. Why is it, then, that we think of ourselves so highly? What is this great worth of self that God will preserve when He did not see fit to preserve the life of His own Son in the Incarnation? Why do we identify with David as champion over Goliath but not David on the run from Absalom? Or better yet, why do we identify with David, the victorious and glorious king, and not Amnon who raped his half sister?

      I think if we were to to become brutally honest with ourselves, it is indeed the blatant and damaging self-focus of Amnon that more correctly mirrors the state of our hearts rather than the character of David, who trusted in God enough to spare Saul's life not once but twice after he was anointed as king. Oh, we like to envision ourselves in the role of the "supermen" of the faith, but as a whole are we not better described as those who "Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive?"  Here again, we like to identify with Isaiah when he said, "Send me!" surely, but not with the people about whom he wrote God's message; "...this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me..." We do not, however, like to identify ourselves with Isaiah's persistence even in the face of repeated futility. We do not identify with his sawn-in-half corpse.

      There are exceptions among believers today, of course, but the overarching theme I see in the American church is "me, mine, and how I want it." We are meager in humility and grand in opinion. There is a great love of Christian bookstores but a great leave-taking of the bare and unadorned Word of God. We are on a quest for what makes us feel good as opposed to submitting to our calling to endurance in faith and love, no matter the cost, until the very end. As the demon Screwtape put it to his nephew in C. S. Lewis's classic novel, The Screwtape Letters: "... the search for a 'suitable' church makes the man a critic where the Enemy [that is, God] wants him to be a pupil."  Our churches today are full of many proud critics with only a smattering of truly humble, teachable pupils.

     This self-focus is in direct contrast to the theme of the Bible where God's promises are for His glory, to further His kingdom and where His gifts are given for the good of others and not for self. His promises to Abram were not all fulfilled in the man's life span. Many of the prophets who prophesied about the coming of the Messiah never saw Him walk the earth with their own eyes (see  1 Peter 1:10-13).

      The ultimate example of this God-focused life--and the only Person in the Bible that we truly should emulate--is, of course Jesus. Christ did not come in power and glory when He came to set us an example "that you should do as I have done for you...." but in humility. He did not march to the cross in triumph, but badly beaten, with the saliva of mocking soldiers mingling with His own blood, and barely able to stand. More to the point, perhaps, He did not really want to do this thing, but did it in submission to God and for the good of people who hate and ridicule Him both then and to this very day. As "Little Christs" we who are His followers are supposed to be becoming more Christ-like all the time. Why then do we not identify ourselves with that picture--the picture of the battered and humiliated Christ, willing to suffer so that our enemies can be lifted up?

     All of this has also been convicting to me, reminding me that I need to be not only learning  more about the Word but living as though I believe what it says. Saying I believe it matters not if my life does not reflect it. It is how I actually conduct my thoughts, relationships, and lifestyle at this moment that will prove my faith, or at my worst moment, perhaps. If I feel indignant because I am, or more accurately, because I perceive I am mistreated or taken for granted, I have just failed to act humbly. I have failed to "treat others as more significant than" myself, and I have failed to love like Jesus loves. Praise God for His patience with me, indeed, but I do not dare to use that lenience as a loophole to repeat my folly of self-seeking, self-serving behavior. I am my Lord's, fully--may it be to me as He says.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me." For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:1-6

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Eagle's Wings

     Monday was a rather explosive day here at the Davis Academy. The whole crew--teacher and students--woke up exhausted and not really in the mood for school. A little stubbornness on the part of one pupil, a sprinkling of whines, a dash of moaning and groaning, and diminished tolerance on the part of the teacher turned out to be a combination more volatile than nitroglycerin.

     After spending the entire day on the front lines of the homeschool battleground, I went to bed that night physically and emotionally spent. As a result of my fatigue and irritability, I was feeling somewhat rebellious in my spirit. I was asking, "Why me?" questions and allowing my thoughts to drift to what could have been if only I had made different choices. This, of course, is a pointless exercise and I am forced to admit that my regret is really just dressed up self-pity. Some part of me understood this even caught up in the moment and I knew that I needed to breathe a prayer and open up the Word of God before closing my eyes for a much-needed snooze. I have learned that at times like this, I need to find rest in God or my physical sleep will do little good! With that in mind, I recalled a passage He had directed me to a few days previously and decided to begin there.  I opened my Bible to Isaiah 40 and was both comforted and convicted by the following words:
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God?"  Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:27-31

     I found comfort in the reminder that my God does not grow weary, but convicted of my own faithlessness when I was reminded that His understanding is unsearchable. How am I to know the mind of an ancient, eternal Being who sees and knows all? Could I possibly understand why He had placed me there, in that moment of difficulty, and expected me to simply believe and follow His ways? Certainly not, for I cannot even understand my own, finite motives at times. His understanding truly is unsearchable--it is my lot merely to trust and obey. Really, there is freedom in that--freedom from decisions that are too weighty for a mortal like myself to make on my own.

       I was also reminded to wait on Him (a point He has been pressing upon me lately) and encouraged that, should I obey in this matter, He will renew my strength. And so, my Father rebuked me but gently and with reassurance of His love and grace, for He knew I was too far gone that night to handle anything more.

     The next morning during my Scripture time with the children, we read 1 Corinthians chapter 10 and there it was--the somewhat less gentle reminder to recall what we had "discussed" the night before and an exhortation to act on it in this new day:  
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
1 Corinthians 10:12-14
     It was a stark reminder that my previous day's temper tantrum was simply a failure on my part to look for the way out. I had fashioned my plans for the day into an idol and basically succumbed to despair when my idol did not produce results. I expected more from my children than I myself was able to deliver. I could have found the way of escape that God certainly provided, but instead I obstinately stuck to my well-crafted plans and lost it when they crumbled around me. I was so certain of my stance that I was utterly shocked when I found myself landing squarely on my backside.  So I am reminded when I have one of "those" days, flee from idolatry... be flexible and discard my plans if they prove to be worthless and instead look for God's will on that day in particular. Perhaps He is calling both myself and my children to find our rest in Him rather than to accomplish the goals of the great (and sometimes terrible) Professor Mom.

     Much later yesterday evening, God gave me yet another place to turn when the going gets tough; another reminder of His goodness and grace no matter how hard put I am in life. It was a humbling reminder, too, when I realized that it was penned, not by a privileged homeschooler whose greatest challenge is a difficult pupil and a dirty floor, but by a man who was watching the destruction of his city and the captivity, plunder, and rape of its inhabitants. My life is not so hard, and I am ashamed that so often my mind is on me and not on the great and wonderful mercy of my Lord. Here is the sobering and inspiring word that wrapped up my Tuesday:
He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, "My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD." Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
Lamentations 3:15-25
     Praise God for His patience with such a selfish wretch as me! May we all learn to forget ourselves entirely and keep our eyes fixed on Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith...

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.  Isaiah 58:13-14

      This was the passage that first set me thinking about Sabbath. I knew, of course, that the fourth commandment is to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, but as a believer I must admit I had given it little thought. Somehow it seemed to me a lesser commandment, and early in my walk I never paid it much heed. In recent years, I have given some marginal thought to Sabbath and taken a day off of laundry and making my bed, but that was about as far as I went with the concept. Until lately, that is.

     In the last several weeks, God has been showing me not only how important Sabbath is for the modern-day believer, but also what it is. The Sabbath is supposed to be a holy day of rest--that is to say, a day set apart from other days for the sole purpose of repose. However, it is not a day of sloth and self-indulgence. As we see in the passage from Isaiah, the purpose of Sabbath is to delight in the Lord, taking our rest in Him. He and He alone should be the focus of Sabbath, and He is our respite, our refuge, our resting place. That is not to say that Sabbath ought to be boring or dull--far from it. The reality is, if we truly delight ourselves in the Lord, having an entire day set apart to spend with Him is a grand affair; a promised glimpse of glory to look forward to in the dreary drudgery of everyday life. We are privileged to spend one day a week indulging in quality time with our Father, delighting in Him, maybe learning a little more about Him, and above all honoring Him. Sabbath is meant as a gift, not a burden.

     Concerning whether or not to appoint a specific day as the proper one to observe Sabbath is another question I had. I found that Romans 14:1-9 seems to leave it open for discussion. I admit I am not entirely convinced that every day should not be a Sabbath to the Lord for His disciples, since we are to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" and because we now live for Him. But that is a squirrel I will not chase today.  Even so, there is great merit--and great reward--to setting aside an entire day for the sole purpose of spending time with God in rest. Making a hard and fast rule about when Sabbath should be observed seems to miss the point a bit, however that freedom to choose would be unwisely used as freedom to choose not to observe a Sabbath rest. As I've mentioned in other musings, our freedom in Christ is not meant to provide the freedom to sin but rather freedom from it. Sabbath should still be honored diligently now that Christ has come to save us; if anything it ought to be more often now than ever before. The observance of Sabbath for today's believer offers a visible way to be set apart in a day of tranquility in a world that is quickly devouring itself with hurry as well as a day spent in gratitude and praise for the incredible sacrificial love of our Lord.

     So we see that Sabbath is still a viable command. But what does "Sabbath" look like?  For some, Sabbath may be a day devoted to Bible study and prayer, but it can also look like a day of worship spent hiking, reveling in the splendor of creation, perhaps singing songs of praise perhaps not. It can be found in meditating on a passage of Scripture while lying on our backs and staring at the deep blue sky. It could be pondering the mysteries of His fingerprints in nature while we go bird-watching, or relishing a picnic in gratitude for His provision of food and fellowship. It could be snuggling up with our families over a cup of hot cocoa and singing praises to our God or trading stories of His goodness on a frozen winter's day. Or any number of permutations--whatever it is that causes you to draw closer to Him, to appreciate His glory, to feel grateful for His goodness. And to rest. To truly rest in the Lord and draw refreshment from the unending Well of living water. That is the purpose of Sabbath.

     Fine, great, good. But how can I possibly do it? That was my question for so long, and to be honest, it is a great deal of effort for me to make Sabbath happen. Today's world is all bustle and bluster, never slowing down to taste life much less to savor its Creator. I have often found myself too busy for Sabbath. However, the words of Isaiah convicted me and I saw that my busy-ness was really a failure to fully obey. Thus unmasked, the thing was found to be merely the sin of unbelief.  I did not have enough faith in my God to take that day of rest and reflection, trusting in Him to help me fulfill my needful duties. Like Martha, I was worried and upset over many things and could not fathom how it was possible to make time to merely sit at my Lord's feet and listen.

     I have tried to imagine my Father's amusement when I displayed for Him my many excuses, most of them self-imposed and not on His to-do list for me at all! I found myself ashamed, having to admit that many of my good activities were not truly good, for they were not directed by my Father. Having learned that, I was faced with a choice: Let God dictate my task list, believing that He will grant all that I need to accomplish His will every day of the week, including His will that I spend a day focused on Him, or do not believe. What once seemed so complicated as I tried desperately to justify my unbelief actually boiled down to this simple truth: Trust or do not trust.

     Faced with the bald truth, I now see no other way. I choose to fight for Sabbath and to strive to keep my activities, my thoughts, my will trained exclusively on Him at least one day of every week. I will rest in my God, and I know that in Him alone will I find the strength to continue. I will do my utmost to honor the Sabbath--whatever day of the week it is for me--and to keep it as a holy day to worship, adore, and bask in the presence of my God and my King. I will thrill in it as a gracious gift of solace from my Father, the King of Glory.
      Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30This command to keep the Sabbath is a gracious, pleasant gift, but one I have been delinquent in opening. I must say, it is fast becoming the most wonderful day of my week, and I haven't a clue how I thought I could keep pace with the rest of life without it.

    As a side note: My friend and pastor gave an excellent sermon on Sabbath very recently, nicely coinciding with all God had been showing me. If you would like to hear his thoughts, you can listen to it here:

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Seeing or Believing?

     I saw something incredible this past Saturday. I attended the Tennessee State Judo Championship after missing it last year, and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with old friends and watching some stellar judo. Among the many familiar faces were several new competitors that I had not seen before. One of these began to stand out as the afternoon wore on and people were eliminated from each bracket. I was attempting to help things run smoothly and so missed this particular man's arrival on the mat. I thought he had a somewhat eccentric approach to his opponent and also thought it a little odd that there was no grip fighting, but it was just an idle, passing thought. In fact, I did not immediately realize there was anything atypical about the young man at all until I saw the ref guiding him to face the correct direction for the closing bow. He was blind. And he took home a silver medal for the tournament, competing against many others who had no disability.

     It was truly a treat to see him on the mat. His judo was played entirely by touch, and it was remarkable to see the efficiency with which he could gauge his opponent's actions and reactions. I almost wondered if the blindness that hindered his ability to walk freely actually enhanced his ability to sense tiny tensions in his opponent's muscles, minuscule precursors of movement that are hidden to those of us so dependant on our vision.
     I noticed, too, that frequently a friend would narrate other matches so he could "see" the action. Probably the greatest part was, aside from some genuine appreciation for his ability and some rather subtle assistance, no one treated him any differently from any other player. He was just a judoka there to try his skill against others and do his best. I honestly admire anyone who has what it takes to get out there with so many people watching, but I must say I have a new level of respect for someone who cannot watch me in return.
    I was glad to be there, glad to be able to offer some meager help to the guys running the mats, and doubly blessed by watching this blind guy excel. The experience has provided a great deal to mull over. The obvious is that I really have no excuses for  my hardest at whatever I am given to do. Where I have a weakness, there I must simply give greater diligence and think creatively to find out how to turn it into a strength.
     Perhaps equally obviously is the reminder that, in following God, I will not always know where I am being led. I watched the blind judoka walking around the facility with his hand on another man's shoulder, trusting his friend not to lead him the wrong direction. I had to ask myself, am I so trusting with God?
     I know that I have heard the voice of the Lord behind me, whispering, "This is the way; walk in it," and upon looking I see no place to set my foot. I see no path at all, rocky or otherwise. I am utterly blind and faced with a choice: Do I believe Him and take that step, trusting Him implicitly, trusting that my obedience will bring understanding when it is needed?  Or do I wait until I can see my way clear before I take a step, standing frozen in place and numbed by my lack of trust?  For if I truly believe in God as my loving Father, I will know that even if the path He bids me tread is a difficult one, it will never be a false one. I will know that He will give me the "why" of it when I need to know it, but I must trust His wisdom to keep from me the burdens of knowledge that I am not yet ready to bear. It is my job to obey only--to take that step into the darkness and trust that if it is a step into an abyss, He will catch me. If one blind man can trust his human friends not to lead him into harm, surely one blind sinner can trust her holy Father to know which path is best.
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.
Isaiah 42:16

     As a side note, while I am no longer an active judoka, the sport will always have a place in my heart. Whether I ever step on the mat again or not, it is likely I will always enjoy watching judo. It may seem odd to some, but there is an art to it that appeals to me. There is something magnificent about the feeling when you get a throw right and it just happens, effortlessly. There is also something wonderful about a sport in which the lack of eyesight is less of a hindrance than the lack of flexibility. Beyond all of that, it is the general attitude of judo that I enjoy; the concept of jita kyoei--mutual welfare and benefit--that the best players live out both on the mat and off.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 10, 2012


They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them. And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.   2 Kings 17:15-17

Wow, the children of Israel were into some nasty stuff. Burning their sons and daughters, using divination and omens, selling themselves to do evil. That sounds completely horrid, and no wonder YHWH was angry! He had set down rules that, if the people lived by them, would turn out to be for their own good, to be a blessing to themselves and all nations around them. Ten simple commandments that, if fully and whole-heartedly obeyed, would promote peace, goodwill, fellowship, joy--all the things they were created for. But instead they chose to anger their Creator, turning their backs on His protective power to pursue creations of their own. Lousy of them, and so easy for me to see from my perspective as I am reading through their story and not living in it.

The truth is, however, I am living in it, or at least I was. I, too, have gone after false idols and become false. I have chased down self-interest, self-pity, self-focus, and selfishness. I have claimed my rights and fought fiercely over them, not realizing that I was fighting to the death for something that would merely turn and consume me. I have put up false pretenses, looking very pious and generous on the outside while inwardly stewing over the affront to my rights or my dignity or whatever I believed to be affronted at the time.

 I have burned my son and daughter as offerings; perhaps not literally, but I have scalded them with an acid tongue when they stood in the way of something I wanted to do or a (in my thoughts) well-deserved moment of peace and quiet. In doing so, I have scorched their spirits on an altar of my own self interest, and in doing so I have set an example of self-love rather than the self-sacrifice that Christ has called me to.

I have sold myself to do evil, perhaps not in the sight of the world, but certainly in the sight of the Lord. I have been tempted by good things, giving myself to them wholesale because they were good things or  worse, because they made me look good. This is evil in the sight of the Lord, this selling of myself to exalt my name.

I have done all these things and worse, and so I cannot judge the people of Israel too harshly. It is a plague of the human condition that, until our eyes are opened and we are given the Holy Spirit to see that which is spiritually discerned, we often do not see the sickening stain on our selves when we can plainly see it on others.  And oh, how I fought the Lord in this! For while the use of omens and divination that I left out of my confession did occur before I knew Christ the rest, I must admit with shame, occurred after I knew Him.

In this, I find the most incredible thing about the love of my God--His notable long-suffering of Israel's sin is also mirrored in my walk with Him. Though Israel provoked Him to anger, it was generations before He actually allowed them to be swept away. A similar pattern existed in Judah with one exception--there were moments of true repentance and return to the Law in Judah. There were none in Israel. God was patient with them both, sending prophet after prophet in hopes of inspiring repentance and a return to His favor.

He has been equally tolerant of my foolishness, rekindling the voices of the same prophets to sear my conscience with His words of love and rebuke. When my eyes were first opened to the truth of sin as a newly-born Christian, I saw everyone's sin as clearly as my own. Infinitely patient, He has turned my eyes from them to my prideful, self-righteous facade and shown me instead how painful my own sin is to Him.

Rather than look scornfully on the rest of the world, I must address the sin in my own heart. No matter how humiliating and painful it may be, it is mine to dredge the substance of my own heart for every design reminiscent of rebellious Israel and turn them over to Him for destruction as they come up. In doing so, I find that I stand accused and deserving of death, but He Himself has provided a Lamb to die in my place. My response is to die with that Lamb and live for Him now and for myself no longer, to no longer be false, to no longer follow all the people around me. No matter what I want, no matter what "everyone else" is doing, He has shown me that I must fix my will on Him and follow Him alone.

So they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear the LORD, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that the LORD commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. The LORD made a covenant with them and commanded them, "You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, but you shall fear the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, but you shall fear the LORD your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies." However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner. So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children's children--as their fathers did, so they do to this day.  2 Kings 17:33-41
But not me. This part, I shall read but I shall not live. I choose now to raze the old idols of rights and pride, to sacrifice myself and not my children, and to give my life for the Lord. This is not to say I will not stumble, but when I do I will not take my eyes off the Light that guides my way, not even to examine what caused me to stumble. That is no longer a concern to me, but only that I, in my journey, might match my stride more and more to His.

"Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
Joshua 24:14-15

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 6, 2012


     Here's another thing that I adore about the Word of God: I can read and re-read the same passage over for years and suddenly one day something new will stand out. Last week, I was reading over the account of God's creation of Adam and Eve and the Fall, and I noticed a nuance I had never picked up on before. When Eve chose to take that fateful bite of fruit and Adam chose to listen and do the same, they actually chose knowledge over life. Look with me and see what I mean:

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up--for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground-- then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . .

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."  Genesis 2:5-9, 15-17
     Notice here that God put at least two unique trees in the Garden; the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, Adam was forbidden to eat from only one of these trees. To eat from the tree of life was permissible, but the fruit from the tree of knowledge was not to be eaten. To reiterate, the thing that astonished me was to see that the first couple chose knowledge over life, preferring to die and be knowledgeable than to live in innocence! They chose to snub their noses at the trusting relationship they had enjoyed with their Creator and eat of the one thing He prohibited. Of course they did not know that their choice would bring chaos, misery, pain, despair, heartache, and desolation for generations, but they could have chosen to trust that their Father's prohibition was for their own protection.

      And so the sad story unfolds. They took the gift of life with contempt and decided to follow a path of worldly wisdom rather than keeping faith in their ancient Father and following His footsteps in the path of true wisdom.  In doing so they became, as the serpent said, " God, knowing good and evil." In becoming "like God" in this way the became repellent to Him, just as like poles of a magnet will inexorably and infinitely repel one another no matter how hard you try to shove them together.

      But I cannot judge Adam and Eve too harshly. I am ashamed to admit that I have seen the very same choice at work in my own heart. I have seen myself so eager to show off my knowledge that I chose the silly display of it over the life of various relationships. I have thrown up understanding like a defense, in the process repelling others as surely as my inner heart longed to attract them. Before Christ, I was as foolish as the pair in the garden and now it is only when I am surrendered completely to Him that my choices reflect His wisdom and not my own often damaging knowledge.

     On a broader scale, I see this thing pervasively at work in the world. Jesus came to give life, and that abundantly, yet many in the world choose to cling to feeble human "knowledge" rather than humble themselves and accept eternal life. They reject true knowledge--the knowledge and wisdom of the Eternal God--preferring to adhere to their own understanding without seeing how quickly today's science is revealed to be tomorrow's dupe.

      And as for dying,  I know that  the knowledge of good and evil causes me to die a little every day. I see it with my children, for I am powerless to prevent evil from touching them, and I must admit the possibility that they may even be corrupted by it. Only by the grace of God will they see His goodness in the midst of life's pain, and only by their own decisions will they ultimately choose between following Him or the world.  I pray ceaselessly that their childish faith will grow into a mighty and unshakable oak of righteousness. I also know full well the evil in my own past, and it still haunts my dreams and led to death when I opted to die to my self and live with Christ. There is no pleasure in knowledge of good and evil. There would have been unimaginable pleasure in choosing the tree of life and leaving the tree of knowledge unplucked and uneaten. We can see now the truth behind the old cliche, "Ignorance is bliss!"

     I am sure that once they bit of the fruit and had their first taste of shame, the regret of that very knowledge stalked Adam and Eve until they found respite in the grave.  Knowing the pain and shame of my life, I cannot say that I am glad for the knowledge of good and evil, but I am beyond delighted that God made a way to heal the breach and to flip my life around again, making it repellent no longer but once again attractive to Him. How was this done? "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"   It is for Him that I can now live, joyful and victorious, despite the ponderous knowledge that I bear. It is for trust in Him that I can rest, unafraid, of the choices my children will make. And it is for Him and Him alone that I now choose to become as a fool to the things of this world.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.  
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.  
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.  
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.  
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.  
But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.  
The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. 
Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!  
Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Psalms 103:1-22

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Fury of a Father

         A funny misconception I once carried is that God seems to change personalities from the Old Testament to the New. In my first reading of the Bible, I saw only a furious, vengeful God in the Old Testament and a loving God in the rest of the story.  My time walking and talking with the Lord (very literally walking and talking--for any of my neighbors who happen to read this, yes, the occasional fervent gesticulation while I walk my dogs does have an audience!) has opened my eyes to His character and helped me to see more clearly. My time as a parent has enhanced my perception, also. I don't know about others, but I can certainly say that love and anger are often very chummy in my relationship with my kiddos. I find I am often the most angry with my children when their choices have threatened their safety or caused harm (emotional or otherwise) to others. In such cases, my anger with their poor choices is a reflection of my love for them, stemming from genuine concern for their well-being, and not a different emotion. As I now see it, anger and love are inseparable in a fallen world and dealing with sinful beings. 

          At the very beginning of the story, we see God--holy, perfect, and pure--who creates a world and makes two remarkable beings after His own image. He gives them a garden and dominion over all of His creation, and He walks with them in it and shares a relationship that is unspoiled. He even provides a tree, called the tree of life, that is theirs for the taking. His one request? That they not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Just this one tree in all of creation. Why? Well, if there was no possibility for obedience, there can be no possibility for disobedience and therefore no choice to trust, no choice to make at all. Without choice, can there truly be love? But  that is a question for another day. . .

         When all is said and done, Adam and Eve make a poor choice, flinging wide the doors to sin and the wrath of God for generations. Much of the rest of the Old Testament does, indeed, speak of the anger and outrage of God. The first sin brought the first breach in fellowship between God and His creation. Sin took the image of God and smeared it with filth and decay, ruining the masterpiece and destroying something far more precious--unquestioned trust in the Creator and mutual adoration. In place of those treasures, sin delivered fear, uncertainty, distrust, suspicion, hatred, shame-- and the list goes painfully on. The point is, along with the entry of sin suffering and death entered the world as well. God's anger could very likely stem from His understanding that our choices to sin are choices for self-mutilation. He is angry because He cares for us. Seen in that light, is it not the very force of His fury that indicates His deep concern and affection for humanity? Without love, why would He care that we sinned or continue to do so; why not just pull out entirely and leave us to rot in our chosen state?

        Honestly, the most recent times I have read Genesis 3, it is sorrow that I seem to hear in the voice of God rather than anger. The same sorrow that pierces the heart of any parent who learns that their children do not trust them and are even openly hostile--only intensified, for an eternal Being must feel a depth of grief that a tiny human heart can only faintly echo. There is anger, too, and rightfully so. His very own Creation to whom He has given paradise has turned and stated, "It is not enough. I want more." Even so, in the midst of what must have been unfathomable rage and sadness, He outlined a plan that would be centuries in the making--a plan to right the wrong done by Adam and Eve, a plan that required very little of their descendants and yet cost Him more than a human mind can fathom. This plan of redemption involved incredible sacrifice, beginning with a life of abject humility and unflagging certainty in the goodness of God, and offers humankind the opportunity to restore what was broken and to become His children again. The uncontaminated life and willing sacrifice of Christ restored the image of God that was once soiled and offered it as a cloak to cover the bestial nature that humankind had chosen. He voiced this astounding plan while the first couple still averted their eyes in distress for what they had done. If that is not an act of love, I do not know what is!

        Beyond that, however, His compassion is rampant in the rest of the Old Testament. Most of the books that compose it talk more of the degradation of mankind, more of man's deserving destruction, than they do of God's wrath. Oh, His wrath is there and plain to see, but plainer still is the vigorous energy man seemed to devote toward earning every drop of it. The Old Testament is full of  stories exhibiting mankind multiplying wickedness, scoffing with foolish pride, believing themselves larger than life, and ultimately looking like a pack of ninnies as their names go down in history with a few brief and unflattering words. Many of them sulked like naughty toddlers. Several of them boasted and swaggered. Often they thumbed their noses at God in one way or another, frequently they were recalcitrant, and all of them ended up the same general way--as provender for worms, dogs, or birds. Some throughout the history actually saw the absurdity of their situation and humbled themselves to one degree or another. Among these were prophets, kings, common men, prostitutes... a varied assortment, and yet to each was extended some measure of grace or another, some promise kept, some glimpse of the coming redemption offered, and a chance to become children of the King no matter their lineage or occupation.  When  I read these accounts, I see, not an angry God, but an exorbitantly patient Father, offering chance after chance to His stubborn brood, encouraging those who were faithful, and patiently enduring the centuries until the fullness of His plan for our redemption had arrived.

      The Old Testament is a collection of books full of the folly of man, the seriousness of sin, and the graciousness of a God who forgives. Sure, He is angry that His creation has bent itself on its own destruction, but He is angry because He loves this creation so dearly. He is the perfect Father, wanting the best for His children and willing to go to any lengths to keep them from thoroughly decimating themselves.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.