Thursday, November 21, 2013

Not Too High

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. 
Psalms 131:1-3
      I admit it: These words are not often ones that would accurately describe my state of mind. Sometimes I find myself over my head in waters into which I never should have ventured. I wrestle with problems that are in actuality someone else's battle, or I feel unease over situations that I could not hope to influence even if given a chance. I worry. I fret. I feel dismay.

     At such times, my Father reminds me of His goodness and sovereignty... and of how little I really am, how myopic is my own understanding, how puny my wisdom. I am once again reminded that I am His child. I can almost feel His unyielding grasp lifting my chin and forcing my eyes away from the whirlwind problems that have held my attention, firmly and inexorably drawing my wayward focus back to the contemplation of His face. It is on Him alone that my energies should rightly be bent; in ruminating on His majesty and the endless wonders of His mercy.

      In humility, I have to confess there are far too many times where I have allowed my thoughts to drift away from gratitude for my Father's gifts to peevishness because I do not have things quite my way; far too many times that I have made that subtle mental shift from prayerful decision-making on how I should personally respond to unGodly cultural trends to fretful anxiety over the fact that these trends have wound tendrils into the very structure of the Church itself.

      Let me state for the record that I understand that this infiltration of the world into the Church is a tremendous problem. It is definitely not something that I need to embrace or accept or even overlook. However, while it is a considerable problem, it is not necessarily my problem. I am absolutely called to be alert to it and to pray diligently for the Church, to stand firm against the schemes of the devil when they rise in attempt to thwart my walk or that of my children. However, I am not personally responsible for the response of entire congregations. It is not my exclusive duty to keep the world out of the Church, nor would I succeed in such an endeavor if I do not begin by first keeping the world out of my heart.
     Here is epitomized the deadly subtlety of Satan's slippery schemes laid like mines along the Narrow Road: In looking at the encroachment of sin on one hand, I fall into a different sin by allowing acknowledgement of a problem to become agitation and distracting disquietude. It is a simple matter of focus, and quite simply my focus should be on the Lord and not the problems that eddy and swirl around me no matter how deep the water or strong the current. There will always be storms. He is ever and always the Master over the storms. Peering around me, I will never find rest. When I gaze upon His face, I am filled with peace for He is my Resting Place.

     It is often difficult to navigate this modern climate, this increasingly darkening path, this great societal push to relabel sin as "choice" or "personality trait" or "lifestyle" or "inclination." and thus attempt to avoid facing it. It is impossible if the whole of my focus is not firmly on my God, the God Who provides light for the step I am taking without illuminating the whole path so I am ever reminded of my need to stay near Him; the God Who is always right at my shoulder whispering, "This is the way; walk in it," when there is a fork in the path. It is difficult, too, to fight the internal battle between my will to put on a charade of seeming Godliness that is all about appearances and His will to submit fully and without reserve to Him no matter what it looks like to others. I must remind myself constantly that changing the label will not change the nature of the thing. . .  nor will it change the ultimate consequence.

     I can call my worry "reasonable concern," or I can recognize it as fear and failure to trust that God is in control and repent. I can continue to excuse my harsh words to my children as a result of fatigue or pain, or I can accept responsibility for my wrongs and turn my grumbling into gratitude and praise, even despite my feelings. I can try to redirect attention from selfish motives by clothing them as pious and spiritual actions, or I can beg God's forgiveness for trampling His courts and admit that the outward appearance can not fix the decay within and bow myself in genuine contrition. I can gloss over my sin, or I can agree with God on what it is, leave it behind me, and turn to Him for refuge, forgiveness, and strength.

     When I step back and look at it in those terms, it seems so childish of me to play pretend that such obvious offal is something elegant or appealing -- Like dressing up an orangutan as a dinner date! Neither one is a recipe for a peaceful, joyful time. Now that I've mulled it over, I think I'll keep my eyes lowered, my thoughts from pondering too long the ways of the world, and my heart fixed steadfastly on my great and merciful God. He is enough!
For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God--his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?-- the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great. You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. 
Psalms 18:27-36



Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 
Revelation 3:15-19

     With the modern church cry of, "Be authentic!" ringing in my ears, I have taken some time to search my heart and pray for God to help me to be authentically humble, honest about my sin, and genuine in my repentance. As I have done this, He has brought to my attention how easily I have often slid into the trap of focusing on my failures and weaknesses under the guise of authenticity rather than focusing on His power to redeem and deliver. I was ashamed of this realization and am in the ongoing process of repentance. It is where I hope to spend the remainder of my life on earth: prayerfully asking the Spirit of God to search my heart, expose my sin, and convict me to repent and turn to His glorious grace.

     These thoughts and experiences have led me to wonder. As the Church, when we talk of being authentic, what exactly do we mean? Do we try to manufacture "authenticity" by putting on a costume to reach young people or stylizing our sanctuaries to look more "real-life" than the traditional pews and pulpit (and when we do, is our money authentically used for Kingdom purpose or is it spent for fashion or strategy? And if the latter is the case, are hearts and lives changed through style?)

    Worse yet, I wonder if we are authentic but worldly, promoting not humility and repentance but smug acceptance of sin? Are we authentically accepting sin as a way of life, or are we authentically accepting the gift of Christ's atoning death as a way to die to ourselves and live to God, set free from the power of sin? Are we authentically zealous for, committed to, and humbled by the Holy Spirit? Are we authentically indulging in friendship with the world which James tells us is "enmity towards God," or are we authentically willing to let go of everything--our reputations, the acceptance of man, our comforts and conveniences-- for the sake of Christ, to live as if all else is rubbish but Him. Are we willing to authentically die to ourselves to follow Him?

     I don't know the answers. What I do know is that if our authenticity is mere worldliness couched in an edgy, modern-churchy package, we will not reach the world for Christ. We will not make genuine disciples if we are not, ourselves, genuine disciples. If we are not authentically standing firm on our convictions, willing to forsake any and even all things for the sake of the Kingdom of God should He require it of us, then we are not authentically denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Him. If we are not faithfully and truthfully responding to the "minor" convictions of the Holy Spirit, then all our proud words will find us incapable of being faithful when the greater tests stand in our way.

     As I search my own heart for what I am authentic about, I find that there have been times I have denied the genuine power of the Holy Spirit in my life; times God has convicted me of "small" sins such as negative speech about my children or complaining of health struggles or some such thing for the sake of appearing "authentic" to my friends. Rather than the genuine example of grace God wanted to do in me, changing my complaints into praise or my bitter words into words bringing life and healing, I actually quenched the movement of the Spirit within me for fear of appearing "inauthentic." Sadly, I was less authentic then, unleashing torrents of spite and bile about my various little complaints and remaining someone I did not wish to remain being. God abandoned me to this for a season, allowing me to experience for myself the proverb, "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit."  That fruit was authentically abhorrent.

     Today, I find am authentically grateful for a God who allows me to feel the weight of sin so that, when He exposes it, I will be ready to release it. I am authentically hopeful that when people look at me, they will see genuine and undeniable change; the true and limitless power of God which knows no social boundaries and follows no cultural trends. I am authentically willing to let my own preferences die for His sake. I am also authentically willing to change my patterns of speech, thought, and the very course of my life to bring Him greater glory, forsaking negative words or complaining even if it appears inauthentic to others and asking for forgiveness when I slip and indulge that pet iniquity of mine.  I will truthfully think of these things as sin when they appear in my life and no longer try to gloss them over as "venting" or "letting off steam."

     I will not worry about trying to look perfect, nor will I worry that I look too perfect to others to seem real. Instead, I long to be genuine in my devotion to my God, authentic in standing firm on what He has convicted me (even the little things), and true to the calling He has on my life. What I long to be and pray that He will give me the grace to become is a genuine disciple, dedicated in zeal to His purposes quite despite myself, my appearance to others, or my preferences. It is my prayer that God will lead me, as David penned, "on paths of righteousness for His name's sake..." and that I will diligently follow Him as He leads.

     It is also my prayer that we, the Church, would see less authentic embracing of worldly standards and more authentic humility, repentance, and honesty about our sin and our need for God. My heart's desire is to see genuine, heartfelt, and sweeping revival; to see a return of focus on and true worship of God. I am still not sure what this will look like, exactly. At the moment--and I could very well be wrong here--I am not entirely sure it has anything to do with engaging our culture, but rather that we need to be engaging our own hearts openly before the mighty Throne of Grace and willingly allowing God to define what is and is not good, what is and is not acceptable, what is and is not of Him. It will look less like a well-thought-out strategy for reaching those outside of church culture and more like brokenness, sorrow over sin, and repentance that leads to an unstoppable outpouring of worship. What we need is not to be authentically ourselves, but to feel an authentic longing for God that is keener and more consuming than physical hunger and thirst, to live authentically transformed lives that do not conform to this world. What we need are authentic disciples and lovers of God.

     Lord, please continue to shape me into a genuine disciple, never allowing me to be satisfied with status quo but always desiring to deepen my commitment to You, to genuinely confess my sin and turn away from it, to authentically be wholly devoted to You no matter the cost to me. Forgive me when I falter in this pursuit and increase my little faith. Light a fire in my heart that the world can neither contain nor smother, and may Your name be glorified by my life... or by my death. Light a fire in Your Church, too, and shake us and wake us up from our lethargy. Start with me: with my sins, making my heart authentically contrite and transforming my life into a life of authentic repentance. This I ask in the name of Jesus, my King, and for His eternal and unquenchable glory, amen. 
 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.  
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 
Psalms 51:1-4, 10-17