Friday, March 22, 2013

When the Tree Doesn't Fall Far from the Apple

Exhausted and exasperated I collapsed on the couch.  Looking over at my bride we just stared at each other in disbelief, hoping for some sense of solace from each other.  Why was this happening?  How were we failing?  In adjoining rooms we could hear them.  Small feet on hardwood floors, the occasional giggle, a voiced exclamation - all sounds that drove our blood pressure higher and higher.  These were the clamor of  willful and stubborn disobedience, the sounds of a war that had been waging for days.  The children were supposed to be in bed, having been punished by an early retirement for a day's worth of misbehavior and fighting.  A fog of rebellion had enveloped not one or two of them, but all four of my youngest and now all four were purposefully in full mutiny in complete denial of consequences and lacking remorse for actions.

Had it been only one child, I would have rationalized the behavioral choices on time, events and environment.  Depending on the child, I would have even delved into parental psychoanalysis of past trauma and abuse and its after-effects once removed.  Had it been two children, I would have surmised personality conflict, possibly one child feeding off of the other's behaviors.  But to have four small individuals simultaneously insubordinate, defying parental directives, seemingly looking for ways in which to do the exact opposite of every instruction given to them for days on end; this war of wills was draining my bride and I of all energy and joy.  Nineteenth century boarding schools began to look more favorable as we longed for even one day of serenity and bliss away from the maelstrom of misbehavior.  Blessed with an eleven-year old of developing culinary skills, it is a sad indictment when this child says "Mom, I can tell by the look on your face you need brownies!" and he proceeds to bake a pan of calorie laden warm soft goodness. 

For reasons I cannot explain, I seem to have zeroed in on one of my children as his actions evoke the most frustration, the greatest hair pulling, and the absolute highest lack of consistent logic.  He is the youngest and his behaviors are not born out of ignorance because he knows exactly what right and wrong are, knows what good rewards and bad consequences await and for reasons unexplained simply does not care.  "Nap time" translates "Dance party in my room".  "Time out chair" equates to "I'll go see what my sister is doing in the other room?".  "No talking at bedtime" means "Let's all sing!"  "Go back to bed" at 5:30 am computes "What a great time to play dolls in my sister's room!"  Even "use toilet paper after certain bathroom functions" can be interpreted at will and if at all, said paper usually ends up in the trash canister despite continual reminders and verbal chastisements.

Every one of these children has garnered our absolute devotion and affection.  To each of these we are committed parents and love them more than they will ever know.  But in honesty, there are days when we are outnumbered and we have trouble with this math.  How can four little bodies "out-will" two determined loving parents especially when I am certain they could never work well enough together to make it a combined team effort?  It's hard enough to get them to share the Wii remotes.  Sometimes it feels like a variant home-version of Survivor and my bride and I would love nothing more than to be voted off the island.  How could each child repetitively disobey, repetitively choose an incorrect course of action expecting somehow to dodge consequences, and repetitively expect me to look down into their eyes as if they were the greatest thing alive?  After being sent to bed early for the third night in a row, my daughter looks at me expectantly and sweetly says "hugs and kisses?"  What keeps them coming back to me for love and affirmation after repeated offense?

In thinking on my youngest, I recently caught a glimpse of myself in him.  How often do I stumble before my Father, choosing my ways over His commands?  How often do I perform this action repeatedly and on how many issues?  What areas of my life have I failed to obediently submit and which areas am I continually and willfully holding onto my will.  I know His Word, I've witnessed His goodness.  I've even benefited from His love and blessings yet there are still choices I make that are contrary to His will, contrary to His desires.  And like the small ones in my home, I always come back expecting. 

But unlike the small ones in my home, we have a Father whose love is flawless in its perfection and without limit.  Our Father does not grow frustrated by our misdeeds or missteps.  In fact, our actions don't puzzle Him at all for He knows us intimately, knows what makes us tick, knows our weaknesses and our strengths, knows every flaw.  He never throws His hands up in exasperation, no matter how we choose to live this life.  Rather, His arms are always open to receive us, to guide us back to a path of life and promise.  

He's not a God of second chances.  He's a God of "millionth" chances and I continue to test that number.  None of us, no matter how badly we misstep, behave, or sin, can outperform or overshadow the overwhelming victory that was achieved once for all at the cross.  If we could, Jesus wouldn't be who he claimed to be and none of this would matter anyway.  But thankfully He rose again, making it possible for us to come to our Father at will, something He deeply longs for.

When next we look at our children or the children of others as they misbehave, or encounter challenges, let's remember that we, too, are all children regularly making our own missteps.  But we have a perfect Father modeling the perfect response to those mistakes and choices. 

If we freely admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just true to His own nature and promises and will forgive our sins, dismiss our lawlessness, and continuously cleanse us from all unrighteousness, everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action.
I John 1:9 AMP

For this is what the Lord Almighty says: “After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye—
Zechariah 2:8 NIV

Monday, March 18, 2013

One Man

Though you weren't there, no doubt by now you've heard about it.  The fanfare, the celebration, the  masses.  People gathered from all walks of life, all backgrounds.  All of them congregating to usher in hope, to celebrate God's man, his chosen.  Men, women, children - all excitedly brandishing token symbols of devotion and praises of honour.  A parade was formed and fervor rose in anticipation of the arrival of this single man, of his appearance and revelation. 

Born of lowly status he had made a name for himself as a benefactor to the poor, ministering to masses, even circulating regularly with them and surrounding himself with them - something, unfortunately, that was uncommon for those in his position and culture.  He refused the wealth of coffers and of comfortable homes, choosing rather to live simply, more as a hermit in lowly abodes to place himself more closely with those he regularly ministered to.  Rather than sequestering himself with the learned or the scholarly, he often traveled in open public and was often readily accessible to those who sought him.  And now, finally, with the full support of those masses and many from abroad, this man was elevated in status and adulation.  The exuberance was intoxicating to those in the throng.  Countless numbers were caught up in the celebration.

A week later those same masses called for his death as he stood before them, torn and beaten beyond recognition.  For this man was not an elected church official or some representative of ordination.  This man was the son of a simple tradesman from a small country town far to the north. This man had defied religious convention, ignoring social protocols making many uncomfortable with his willingness to engage even those of inferior lineage or of Godless races.  Regularly he had made a mockery of the  rigid ordinations of men and the strictly held observances that immobilized his culture.   Where condemnation for violation was prescribed, his message was unabashed love.  Where penitence and payment were preached, debated, and even haggled over, his actions demonstrated unconditional mercy and forgiveness.  Where bloodshed was demanded, his way was reconciliation. 

Often those who upheld the doctrines and tenants of God's word openly argued with him, and he frustrated them every time.  Consider debating the word of God with the one who was the living Word (John 1:1-14).  He restored worth to the prostitute, introduced the color spectrum to the blind man, gave legs for running to the lame, purged a host of demons from a boy and cast them into livestock.  He gave thanks over a child's small lunch of bread and fish until it fed thousands.  He called a friend back from death and even heard the cries of several men whose flesh was being eaten away by the rotting disease of leprosy - stopping the progression dead in its tracks, restoring limbs. 

This one man drew the masses in adulation and praise.  This one man was favored and honoured.  This one man spent the entirety of his ministry giving himself to others and innumerable multitudes were affected.  Crowds gathered when he entered a region.  This man was known throughout his culture.  Word of his comings and goings were heralded from community to community.  This one man gathered large throngs of followers as many assembled to hear his words and witness his works. 

Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise God in highest heaven!”
The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 21:8-11 NLT

This one man was killed by many of those same masses, in a sham trial, put on by the religious conservatives of his day, enforced by an occupying government.

In watching the events of the past week and the religious fervor that has swept the planet, I am thankful for the attention that is being paid to faith, and spiritual issues.  Watching flags from multiple nations waving in crowds numbering tens of thousands all unified under the banner of Christ is a spectacle that is awe inspiring.  But in the viewing, I am reminded that one day, all nations, all flags will gather and be cast at the feet of one man.  Not the man who was just named head of a church, but the man who walked this sphere healing the sick, enraging demons, reclaiming the dead, and lifting the scorned from the dust.  A man who was cruelly executed on a device of Roman torture designed for the depraved of society, entering the viciousness of hell, conquering once for all.  This one man rose again, overcoming death and securing my salvation and eternity with him. 

I will celebrate this one man.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Revelation 7:8-10 ESV

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reclaiming Fear

Horror, carnage, and senseless violence.  All of these combine to haunt sleep and dreams as the envelope continues to be pushed further and further into fearful depravity for entertainment's sake.  Audiences with an appetite that cannot be satiated lust for more and greater grotesque imagery, greater visions of slaughter and more shocking story lines.  In morbid fascination we are drawn like moths.  Read the listing of films currently playing at the local cinema.  There will be at least one that presses into the demonic, the horrific or the distasteful.  We all know at least one person who will be drawn to that film.  This trickles into our homes as television programming caters to the crime drama and the bloodthirsty and deranged hold the spotlight.  One begins to wonder in our society; when does fiction follow fact and where does fact begin to follow fiction? 

More innocently, the thrill-ride experience that realigns the spine raising the passenger to dizzying heights just before plummeting them earth-ward at uncomfortable velocities.  Turns and loops disorient the horrizonal perspective of the thrill-seeker and they step away from the experience often seeking to do it again.  Our dance with fear is difficult to comprehend.  We loathe fear yet we pursue it.

But we also need it.

A small child marvels that the parent regularly prepares food on the cook top, making tasty meals.  Commercials have played over and over showing the toy cake ovens.  This child decides to try their hand at the stove when mom is not looking, even though they've been warned not to.  The resultant burn is a lesson that instills pain, wisdom, and fear in the form of a healthy respect for that which is hot and which is off limits.

My own children are admonished on the "fear" of consequences.  Choosing right and wrong is sometimes difficult for young minds and often the repercussions of incorrect choices need to be laid out so that informed decision making can occur.  Very often, fear of negative consequence is the deterrent that borders good behavioral choice. 

Though beneficial, these later definitions of fear, like the previous, revolve around aspects of dread or terror towards consequence or pain.  There is another definition for fear that does not make its way into our vocabulary in modern vernacular but is, none-the-less, as important as the remembered burn or the judicious avoidance of loss.  It is the fear that entails awe and veneration, commanding honour and respect in the sheer weight of its magnificence and majesty. 

This is the proclaimed "fear of the Lord" as admonished in Proverbs 1:7.  It is not the dread of retaliation or terror of destruction, but the swell of awe, gratitude, and honour that accompanies the pondering of One who led millions in a column of flame through a desert from captivity, has named the stars He birthed, and designed with meticulous detail the very molecules that are currently supporting yours and my lives.  

But this fear is something that for many, including myself, often wanes, ebbing and flowing in the business of our lives.  We will read our Bibles, attend our churches, even sing our hymns and worship choruses; but too often we are moving through an exercise rather than considering in awe the being that is giving us our next breath, commanding His hosts to guard our steps.  Often we disassociate our morning "quiet time" with the rest of our day not realizing this time of prayer or reflection is simply the precursor to carry over into days in which our entire existence is a walking act of worship.  For this, many of my days are found lacking as fear is replaced with fret, awe is usurped by agendas, worries substitute worship, and honour is supplanted by the hour-hand. 

And as the child forgetting what awaits eager hands at the top of a heated stove, so too we forget the peril of letting slip this reverent fear of our Savior, this awe and respect for the One who lay dead in the grave, entered Hell and reclaimed our eternity.  Loving us as always, he does not hold this against us - but what a wonderful thing it might be if in loving, respectful, awe-filled fear, we each regularly reached for Him and worshipped the limitless grandeur of His Majesty not for what He has done for us, but simply because of who He is.   This is fear worth having.

Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear, revere, and worship You, goodness which You have wrought for those who trust and take refuge in You before the sons of men!
Psalm 31:19 AMP

Monday, March 11, 2013

Staring Into the Devil's Eyes

 A recent Swaziland Team Meeting has me reflecting and pondering the distance traveled in time and space, and the changes that have come in the course of twelve plus months.  For a few years now I have been increasingly challenged in both insight and compassion towards the plight of others.  Eyes have been slowly opened and blinders have been removed.  This is not a self aggrandizing statement as I still have a great deal to work on and many, many, many things to be taught and shown.  It is accurate, none-the-less to say a thresh-hold has been crossed and a new world has been revealed.  Wisdom has come that I never before considered and value has been placed upon that which never garnered my attention previously.   A paradigm shift has occurred that has completely devalued, in my thinking, what many are pouring out their entire lives for - the totality of their sum beings to obtain; the trinkets and fixtures of modern comforts, luxuries, habitations, conveniences, and experiences. 

Filling this vacuum is something I never expected;  the simple beauty of the broken.  The lowly, the one ground underfoot and damaged, the abused and the neglected.  These are the treasure of Heaven - the very "last" who "shall be first".  With these lie the very heart of the Father, for if not with them then He could not have compassion on any of us as we all fit the above description in one form or another.  And this realization is, for me, hidden treasure and God delights in revealing His treasures to those who are searching.

At that same time Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and he said, “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.
Luke 10:21  NLT

But....there's a catch.

One doesn't encounter treasure without encountering the dirt that it's buried in.
One doesn't recover it without getting that dirt on their hands.  There is no "sterile" recovery.  There is no well-wishing from afar - not if you want the full reward of the effort.  And this treasure for me required getting dirty.  It required (and still requires) the pain of cutting away my pride, my prejudices, and my desires for personal comfort as I endeavor to reach out to others, to put others above myself.  It was amplified as I rolled in the dirt of a mountainside in distant African lands playing with children.  It is still costing me effort as I still have not recovered all of myself from that journey.   And the richest of rewards very often bring one in direct contact with the enemy of the ages - face to face with the fury and demonic presence of Hell itself as Lucifer continues to wage a losing war upon the created in defeated wrath.   He will not surrender ground benevolently.  Only when forced by the Word and the Blood of the Lamb will he yield a claim staked. 

The evidence of his carnage is present throughout lives of people all around us.  It is present in the diseased and dying world around us.  When Jesus stated to his disciples that they would do greater works than him, it wasn't a "there-there, don't feel bad that I"m leaving" pat on the back.  It was a promise that the empowered believer would incapacitate the forces of demonic dominion throughout the earth.  The question is are we willing to engage?  We've been given the weaponry.  We're assured victory.  All that is lacking is will - God's directive will and our will to move forward.  Are we willing to meet the enemy as he assails our home, our neighbor, our co-workers?  Are we willing to move into our community and our government and look into his eyes as he assaults the vulnerable and steals, kills, and destroys.  Are some even willing to go into other nations and hold small and sickened bodies, comfort families, or speak hope into desperation to those simply needing the Father's love demonstrated to obliterate Hell's carnage in their hearts?

No follower of Christ was ever called to singularly rest and enjoy the spoils of this life while the world around them perishes.  We are each of us called, daily, to look into the enemy's eyes and take from him a little more of his dominion in our own lives and the lives of others through the Word and the Blood of the Lamb.  So don't be afraid to stare into the devil's eyes...

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
1 John 4:4  ESV

Friday, March 1, 2013

Reaching for the Ugly

It started with a statement, something I took as an accusation.  A simple phrase and defenses were awoken.  A return was uttered and escalation ensued.  With justification as the primary goal, brick by brick words were laid and cemented in carelessness by myself until empathy was an afterthought.  Compassion evaporated under the shadow of the wall I had constructed, a wall that barred communication, blocked effective listening, wounding my spouse, and ushering a darkness into the atmosphere of my home that was palpable.  Late for work, this was the aura I left behind for my bride to manage our home and children in; a state of discord, dysfunction, and disunion.  I later learned that my actions had ramifications throughout the day for six people besides myself as small ones acted out, older ones displayed rebellious actions and words, and a mother was forced to lay aside her own hurts to reign in the myriad of divergent disobediences bubbling forth.  When presented the opportunity, instead of reaching for love, I had reached for the ugly and the consequences sent tremors throughout the foundation of my entire home. 

An ongoing struggle I wrestle with, and I believe many wrestle with, is the knowledge that our actions impact far beyond just our own person, far beyond ourselves.  "No man is an island", seems a sensible statement but is not truly something I believe as I often attempt to walk through this life troubling as few people as possible.  I will readily move to aid others but it is difficult for me to receive it.  I don't want to impose the needs of my life into others'.  Consequently I have, and I would say many have, developed a sense of their own thoughts and actions being somewhat disconnected from the thoughts and actions of others.  In this, there is a lack of consequence for what you or I choose to do if the intent is truly innocent in our own thinking and we perceive it to only "affect me".  The problem in this thinking is

1.)  it is completely self-focused and creates a disconnect between you and everyone around you and
2.)  it is completely false as we all impact and are affected by each other whether we realize it or not

Of a particularly foolish line of thought is the notion that I should somehow have any portion of a disconnect from or should somehow fail to affect those I am supposed to be closest to - those in my own home.  Yet I have repeatedly erred on this front.  With regard to my bride above, I was correcting an inaccuracy, a perceived wrong.  Further, I was willing to justify myself and lay forth a case of evidence that needed to be heard.  None of this should have had any negative effect on anyone.  The only intent was to logically lay forth argument that needed to be heard and to reach the enevitable conclusion:  that she was wrong and I was correct.  Love or Ugly?

I was wrong.  I was wrong in attitudes let alone in action.  I have since apologized to my bride and her beautiful heart has forgiven me, but not before I realized something.  Hypothetically what if the tables were turned?  What if she had been completely wrong and knew it and I were completely right and she knew it as well.  And in this what if she still were to insist in the validity of her points and the correct-ness of her views.  (Those who know my bride know this is the antithesis of her character).  Would I still reach for love by swallowing that pride and seeking reconciliation over justification, by pursuing harmony over legitimacy? Or would I reach for the ugly and stand fast until she realized the absolute error of her ways?  

How many of us do this in the home?  At work?  In the Church?

How many of us are willing to overlook the slights, the misbehavior of others, the mistreatment of others to reach for love when it is so much easier and, in many cases, justified to reach for something more in line with what that individual deserves.  Very often this is, at the very minimum, a piece of our mind.  At the very least we simply ignore them, politely nod or speak to them but have little to do with them.  But are we ever willing to lay ourselves down for them?  Are we willing to lay ourselves down for someone else even if it requires us to lay down our pride?  Or is our pride the line we refuse to cross - "I'll go this far God, but don't ask me to humiliate myself!"

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

The Holy One of the Heavens, the embodiment of the spoken Word who resides in majesty beyond description poured himself into a frail human body becoming God in a fully human form subject to our wounds, our temptations, even our discomforts.  This being of magnificence beyond comprehension was then subject to the entirety of hell's fury and punishment for my misdeeds, for yours, for the misdeeds of the thief, the murderer, the pedophile, the liar, the cruel and the wicked.  The mold has already been broken for humiliation.  He beckons, "I've endured it all.  I've carried the weight, now follow."

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.  Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle, meek, and humble, lowly in heart, and you will find rest, relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet for your souls.

Matthew 11:28-29 AMP

It never matters whether you or the other individual is in the right or the wrong.  When you have opportunity to reach for love and humility or to justify always choose the former, anything else is simply reaching for the ugly.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3-4 NIV