Waiting to Be Exalted

“I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭18:14‬ ‭NASB‬‬

http://bible.com/100/luk.18.14.nasb

 

Do you trust God enough to wait for Him to exalt you? Can you patiently humble yourself? Do you really believe that He will give you the amount of exalting you truly deserve? Justice is getting what one is owed. Can you set aside the demands that seem sensible to you and trust that God will build and bring justice into your life?

The Best Use of Our Gifts

What am I supposed to teach our children about their responsibility to use their gifts? What is the highest, the purest, the best use of our gifts? The first answer that comes to mind and has throughout my life is using gifts for big audiences, which implies maximizing visible effects, fame and acclaim. But I don't believe that's the best barometer for "success." So what is? I don't know how to answer it for myself, so how can I give them an answer, advocate for a particular package with a bow on top?


I believe, and can see more clearly all the time, that being a husband and father is the most important work I can be doing. But is that because I believe the net positive effect will be bigger by my work through them, or because it meets the criteria for some other barometer?


How should I answer this question?

The Clueless Obedience of John Baptizing Jesus

 “Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?' But Jesus answering said to him, 'Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.'”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭3:13-17‬ ‭NASB‬‬

http://bible.com/100/mat.3.13-17.nasb

 

Did John make the dove fly from heaven? Did John make God speak from heaven? Did John make Jesus pleasing to God? Did John understand exactly why Jesus said he had to baptize Him? No. No to all of these. But the baptizing of Jesus had to be done for this event to roll forward. John didn't make all this happen. But he had to obey to trigger the rest of the event. Jesus was already pleasing to God. God the Father already loved Jesus. The Spirit was ready to descend upon Jesus in the form of a dove. But the experience that made visible all of these elements was John baptizing Jesus. John had to obey, even though it made no sense to him. He had no idea what would happen after he obeyed, since he couldn't even imagine the act of obedience itself.

 

We, too, have no idea what God has in store for our obedience, what He stands ready to cascade as consequence of us obeying His commands. The consequences of our obedience may be as mere as we imagine them, or they could be immense beyond our imagining. We don't know the other pieces of God's puzzle that await the fitting-together with each other and with our own obedient pieces. Only He knows. We can trust Him, His love for us, and the commands He gives.

The Raft and the Ship

God does not set us adrift on the raft of our own feelings. He offers that we sail the seas of life on the steady ship of the Truth of Himself. He is Love, which sacrifices mightily for the beloved, and He asks those who follow Him that we also sacrifice ourselves for those that He loves.


He offers the steady Ship, but to board that Ship we have to stop resting our lives on, relying on, our feelings as though they were reliable enough to save us from the storms. We have to stop leaning our weight on that raft, and start stepping onto His Ship. But when we do that, we can't just go where our feelings tell us to go anymore. We must go where He leads us. We still have our raft with us, and could take it overboard anytime, jumping back into the seas with a non-seaworthy vessel, just for the privilege of sailing our own direction. But the longer we're on this Ship, the more we should find the flimsiness of the raft unacceptable, and reject it as a viable option.

Layers of Decisions

Civilization can be thought of as layers upon layers of decisions. When we make a decision, we take into account a host of different factors, depending on the nature of the individual decision. The final decision, if made well, is in a sense a summary and a distilling of all the factors that were considered in the making of the decision.  When we make a decision that can be considered as "built upon" previous decisions, then the later decision, if done well, can be considered to be a distillation of previous decisions as well as new information.

 

In today's culture, it is not uncommon to discard old decisions, in essence to discard the distillation process performed by earlier generations of deciders. But unless we have somehow rigorously taken into account all of the factors and information and experience that earlier deciders pulled together to make their decisions, our fresh decisions will carry a significant amount of ignorance, and thus be weaker decisions.

He Makes Me Choose

I imagine a moment through the eyes of one of Jesus' followers...

 

"I look at Jesus and He looks normal. No halo, no glowing. Then He performs a miracle. He just does it. Again, no trumpets, no glowing, it just happens. And He walks on. And I stand there for a moment more, looking at the healed person, trying to decide if it really happened. But He walks on, and I'm following Him, so I need to keep walking, too.

 

"But my mind is still back there, at the site of the healing. Did that really just happen, right there, right in front of me? He keeps walking. Eventually it fades into line with all those other memories. And at some point I have to decide. He makes me decide. Belief in Him isn't automatic. I have to choose. He leaves me no other way. I can choose how I make sense of the memory. He gave me the gift of being there when He performed the miracle. But He doesn't force me to hold on to the memory. He doesn't force me to use that experience and its memory as the interpretive cornerstone of everything else I know. He makes me choose."

An Ideal of Community

I want to be part of a community that actively seeks out the situations where the deepest convictions of its members are in conflict, where the community has developed "sides," and works diligently to build bridges of peace between them. Not to declare one side right the other side wrong, but to make sure that both sides are really hearing each other as children of God, humans made in the image of God, worthy of dignity and respect.

Art = Naming Creation

Creating art, at its best, is more like Adam naming the animals than it is like creating idols. What (would have?) happened if Adam, when he saw a particular animal, was so overwhelmed with the beauty, etc of that creature that he didn't want to limit himself to just a few syllables. Instead, he wanted to write a poem, a song, or perhaps had a visual idea in his head that represented the animal more directly and precisely than just a few syllables could have sufficed to do. Maybe he wanted to paint a painting, or carve a sculpture, that depicted what he had just seen and experienced, all as a means of giving glory to God, all as an extended exercise in naming Creation. Maybe. 

Recognizing the Spiritual

Do you ever wonder if what we experience as we perceive other people has sources and causes that are more than just physical? If I see a pretty girl, and something within me awakens or is energized, is that just hormonal activity, simply a physical urge? Am I just responding selfishly to the physical beauty I physically perceived in her? Or is it possible that when we turn our attention to another person, with our eyes and any other physical faculties like smell, etc., is it possible that we are also turning our spirit towards them, and part of the experience we have as we perceive them is also some sort of spiritual perceiving that is separate from the physical perception we experience?


That certainly seems possible, given what I/we believe about the nature and composition of what makes a human being. But as with so many spiritual things, I don't know how to separate the spiritual from the physical. I don't know how to identify what is happening to me at a spiritual level, how to discern, how to separate, not for the purposes of dissection and killing what is within me, but for the purposes of understanding and recognizing what is real, so it may be honored, or rejected, or addressed in some other fashion.

Suffering and Purpose

It is the way of Jesus that the suffering of God's servants, God's ambassadors and representatives, is the way that glory goes to God, that our inherent and unavoidable purpose is fulfilled. If you doggedly make avoidance of suffering your highest priority, you will be misdirected away from the purest, most direct way that you can bring glory to God and thus be completely fulfilled.

 

It's not that you should be seeking out suffering, or that all cases of suffering maximize bringing glory to God (shall we increase all opportunities for pain, so that God's glory may abound?). But as you do your best to pursue God's will, to hear and obey His guidance, if it leads into or through suffering, you shouldn't be surprised or dismayed. You shouldn't fall into the trap of our era that believes that suffering is evidence of waste, worthlessness, error, or the absence of God. Instead of working to eliminate all instances of suffering, expect God to use your suffering to produce meaning, healing, and the advancement and fulfillment of His purposes.

 

(Derived from ideas in "How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels"  )

Trump, Jesus, and Suffering

The Christian idea of the exercise of power is that those who are in leadership will serve, will suffer. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, to be the lowliest and the meekest of all of us. I suspect that Trump does not restrict himself from getting any luxury he really wants. I suspect he is very, very demanding in how he carries out his daily life. Trump at least appears to exert power in the way that Jesus says the Gentiles, in contrast to himself, exert power. A president who was truly trying to follow Jesus' example would not do that. He would be someone who would take suffering onto himself, instead of allowing suffering to be imposed on others while he enjoyed the highest comforts.

Walk Through the Desert, Walk to the Sea

When we consider to what degree God cares about us, does things for us, performs miracles, and is present in our lives, we need to remember the back-and-forth nature of His interaction in the Scriptures. Israel could not have seen God's parting of the Red Sea unless they had obeyed and walked that far. They had to act, they had to obey what had already been given to them, for God to do His part. 

Authenticity, Spontaneity, and the "Heart"

It is a lie of the enemy that says success is only true success, authenticity only arrives, if you do it right the first time. The enemy militates against trial and error. The enemy whispers to you that if you arrive at a conclusion or a plan of action only through many experiments and attempts that failed, then the conclusion you arrived at must not be genuine. This same valuing or worshiping of spontaneity contributes to the idea that our truest selves are seen in the spontaneous desires that fill our hearts.


On a separate, but related, note, references to a person's "heart" are fraught with imprecision and lack of nuance. It can be legitimate to use the concept of a person's heart to refer to the deep and persistent work that God does in communicating himself, his purposes, and his ways to us. But it can also be legitimate to use the term "heart" to refer to the ungodly desires that fill us. If our attempts at communicating do not take this into account, especially when we are discussing matters that relate to our innermost experiences, we are very likely to miscommunicate.

Lent: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

In this season of self-control, we do well to understand some of the tricks the tempter uses to lead us away from the grace and goodness of our Father.  In today’s passage, what does he do to lead our first parents astray?

To start, he misrepresents God’s words.  The divine command was grounded in freedom: “ALL of the trees are yours to eat from, FREELY.”  There was only one exception, one simple restriction.  Through the guidance of the Serpent, Eve didn’t focus on the freedom, the provision, the opportunity that flowed from God’s loving words.  She saw the apparent benefits of what she could not rightfully have.  She piled up the reasons for why she should have it, rooted in her desire for pleasure.  She blocked out all the other trees that were also good for food, were also a delight to the eyes, all the other ways that God Himself had worked to make her wise.  Having put on such blinders, she chose.

Adam and Eve had within them the knowledge that God and His commands were good, and that He had commanded them not to do what they were choosing to do.  They turned away from that knowledge in order to grasp at a “wisdom” that Love did not give them.

God’s commands are a form of grace.  In our now-fallen world, still rocked by the consequences of our first parents’ willfully blind choices, God does not promise we will always escape evil.  But with every temptation we are promised “a way of escape,” a way to reject the temptation, to choose what is right.  God has freely provided for us, as He did Adam and Eve, in a multitude of ways.  Our opportunity is to obey our Father, the One who is Love, not because we understand and foresee all the consequences of our choices, but because we trust the One who does.

Don't Break Down

 “Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them. Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you," declares the LORD.”

‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭1:17-19‬ ‭NASB‬‬

http://bible.com/100/jer.1.17-19.nasb


"Gird up your loins." Get ready for battle. Go through the ritual of preparing your clothes and everything else about yourself to be the strongest that you can. Don't think about your weakness. Don't focus on the things you can't do. If you focus on such things, you will defeat yourself before you even approach your enemies. Don't expect Me to save you out of a situation like that if you don't even take full advantage of the strength that I have put within you to compensate for your weaknesses.

Yes, you do have weaknesses. I don't expect you to lie about that. But you also have My strength and My help and My presence that will be with you in all situations. If you ignore my presence and the reassurance of my help and my faithfulness when you go to be in the presence of your enemies, then you have already given up the battle. To think only about your weaknesses and not about My strength is to break down. And if you allow yourself to break down by focusing on that weakness, then I will let you be broken down in front of these people.

You can be strong in attitude in the face of your enemies because you have real strength from Me. I have given you strong walls. I have strengthened you with strength that no one can overcome. I am with you, and I will deliver you. Start with this strength, My strength, in mind. Then you will not break down. Remember My strength from the very beginning, and you will not be defeated.

The Gift of Worship

Worshiping God with the people of God is a privilege, a powerful, beautiful, and uniqueopportunity.  We do a disservice to our children if we treat the time of worship as something they are to endure with trivial time-wasters while the adults "really" join in worship. When we treat our children this way, it usually betrays how we think of our own participation in worship. We may have the self-control to put on a smile, or other socially acceptable mask, to not draw attention to ourselves during the service. But our children may not have such social awareness, or self control, so we give them busy work to pass the time during the service.

If instead we understood the unique and amazing opportunity we have to join with other believers in worshiping the one true God, and prepared ourselves before, and focused ourselves during, this special set-aside time, surely as that vision took root within us more and more deeply, its effect would spill over into how we guided our children within the service.

Throughout the worship service, in Word, Table, song, and community, we are being fed the bread of Heaven. When we allow our children to be distracted during the service, we allow them to ignore, and be starved from, the tremendous gift and nourishment being put in front of them.
Additionally, I think of people in closed or oppressed countries and cultures. They know, to a greater and more immediate degree, the cherished value of community worship. They are much more keenly aware of what life is or would be without that gift of corporate worship. They know what it is to be starved of that bread of Heaven, and might see, more clearly than us, what our children miss when they are distracted during worship.

You Are Eternal

You are eternal. You cannot change the fact that you have existed. The memory of God contains your story, and will never lose it. For all of eternity, no one can change the fact that you lived in certain places for certain periods of time. Such facts can be ignored, but not changed.

At the end of time God will tell the complete story of all people, of all time. Everyone will know what you did. (Will He let us also tell parts of the story? Will He tell us all what He intended/planned for/hoped for?)

Live a story you will be eager to tell.

The Best Arguments

Many people hold ideals that they long and strive to live up to, but fail to do so.  Their failure does not diminish their desire to live by the ideal, or the value of the ideal itself.

One of my chief ideals that I am rarely able to do justice to is this: to discover, understand, and make others aware of the best arguments on both/all sides of important issues.  It's not enough to just know the best argument in favor of a position you advocate; you need to know the best opposing argument as well.  Your ignorance on one or both sides of an issue leaves an opening for your opponent to sway people in the wrong direction.

Public advocacy or debate isn't the only area where this principle is valuable.  Living with integrity requires that we make a good-faith effort to choose the strongest positions, based on the broadest and deepest understanding of human nature we can gather.  But additionally, one of the hardest implementations of this ideal is in understanding your opponent's worldview.  What is the most emotionally compelling, intellectually satisfying reason to believe and advocate as they do?  What drives them to take positions that, left to yourself, you find disagreeable or even offensive?  The practice of seeking out the best arguments on both sides can help you "walk a mile" in their shoes, see their humanity more vividly, and treat them consistently with the love God has for them.

Purpose

I don’t know what the purpose is of writing in a blog.  I don’t need a place to write; I journal almost daily for my own records and edification.  I don’t need to use a website to tell my closest friends what is important to me; I use email or phone calls to do that.  And while I care generically about humanity in general, I don’t know what “they” need, so I don’t know what I can offer to help them.

My whole life I’ve been a big fish in a little pond.  I was the firstborn… of two children.  People called me the smartest kid in my class… in a tiny country school.  My songs and communion meditations have made a positive contribution… in a church of about 150. 

People have always told me I could be anything I wanted to be, but I didn’t want to aspire to anything in particular.  I didn’t want to stick my neck out there and risk anything, because I might find out that I wasn’t such a big fish after all.  I might have my identity pulled out from underneath me if I exercised any appreciable ambition.  So I stayed in my little pond.

Now I’m trying to anticipate and short-circuit that letdown.  It doesn’t matter what someone thought about me in the past, the comparisons they made between me and others in this or that context.  In the grand scheme of things, I’m a small fish.  (Those are kind of hard words to write.)  There is nothing about me that is inherently worthy of fame or acclaim.

But I’ve tried to align my life, my thinking, my choices, with what really exists.  I’ve tried my amateur level best to make sense of what I’ve observed and experienced, both inside and outside of me.  I’ve learned a few things.  I can post some of those lessons publicly.  And maybe a few of those lessons and observations might help someone else out there.  Hopefully that's purpose enough.