11
Nov 13

3091509135_43117e15d7_bI like snow globes, I guess...

Not in the sense that I have an unhealthy affection for or collection of them. In fact, I don't think I've ever owned one. But they're peculiar, aren't they? You see one in a store, or on the finely dusted shelf at a friend's house, and you just have to pick it up, give it that slow shake, and watch all the "snow" or plastic or whatever that material is dance around in the water.

Tiny houses that could almost be gingerbread... Like little snacks preserved in some strange liquid... Little drops of sugary goodness dancing all around them. A happy world in which nothing changes, it's all twinkling and glittering in the light, and falling to peaceful rest all the time, every time.

We can almost lose ourselves in it, right? Don't get me wrong, snow globes are beautiful. But I think we may subscribe far too often to this fantastical idea of reality in which every thing has to be perfect and nothing is ever out of place. Having this concept of reality is poisonous and detrimental to our well being, our state of mind, and our faith. Here's why:

God didn't create you to exist in a snow globe world. Yes, He made it perfect. Once. But from the beginning it has been our choice to follow his directions and fulfill his purpose, or choose our own path and suffer eternal consequences for them, and the world we live in today isn't perfect.

Look around you, and you'll see, this world is dying. I don't necessarily mean in the literal, end-of-life sense (although that's true, too) but look around, read practically any publication in existence and you'll see evidences of a sick and twisted world in which man desires to seek and fulfill the pleasures of his own heart. Children dying of hunger and malnutrition. Wives decaying from the inside out from unfulfilled marriages, students losing sleep, hair, or sanity at the sake of some lofty goal and societal pressure to be something they were never made to be. Droves of humanity desperate for food or water or shelter, all the while fat and pompous others lounge around or play and rest easy, pretending the world isn't drowning and suffocating under the weight of reality.

One of the best statements I ever heard in a sermon as a student was "this world will tell you that you can accomplish anything, and become whoever you want to be - but you won't. The problem is, that's not always what God intends. You can dream all day that you'll be some big CEO, or a professional athlete in the NBA, the NFL. You can be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, etc, etc, and on and on it goes. But here's some harsh truth you'll need to eventually come to grasp: for some of us, that will never become a reality. You may not be built to be a professional athlete, or you may not have the capacity to be a doctor or lawyer... BUT, you CAN become anything and everything God created you to be."

Now to some of us, this is a bit harsh. The point isn't that we shouldn't dream, or shouldn't strive to do our best. The point is that we all have specific and harnessed passions, skills, and talents that were all designed to be exactly in line with what God wanted us to do.

I used to write a blog that observed many of the Old Testament stories, and during that time, I experienced a very humbling opportunity for growth when a complete stranger and I exchanged a number of emails examining the nature of God in the Old Testament. This guy was passionately perturbed at a supposed "God of love" that left millions upon millions of people to drown in their sin (or literally drown), burning or slaughtering entire nations, all the while this God was still proclaiming his own love and fervor for his own people. In my young age I was admittedly unprepared for such a discussion, but what I came to realize was that a loving God, while seemingly harsh and ruthless in these stories, refused to accept a world in which people chose in their own right to pursue selfish ambitions. His love is so relentless that is does not rest until he is made known to those who haven't heard.

It would be easy for us to accept God's love if everything remained perfect. It would be easy for us to have faith in a God that hems us in a picturesque life where nothing went wrong, no sickness befalls us, no tragedy strikes. But that's not the world we live in, right? Unfortunate circumstances happen every day to countless people. So where is God's love in that?

Living in a snow globe would be easy. It's what we all strive for. At our core, the "American dream," or whatever new hipster moniker we attribute to it, diminishes our concept of the life we're to live, and robs from us the true beauty and love of the nature of God. We work so hard at accumulation of wealth, success, materials, people, or worth, trying to build for ourselves a snow globe in which we can relax, dance in the snowflakes, and let the world look at us in awe and wonder.

Where is God's love in that? What of all the others around us who can't come up with the strength, the money, the passion to build a snow globe of their own? God's love was extended to us for more than our satisfaction in ourselves. God's love was meant to stretch beyond the spherical realm we wish to exist in, so that others who haven't seen or experienced it yet might share in it. In a perfect world we would not choose to ascribe worth and glory to God, but rather to ourselves and our own accomplishments.

And our individual world may be perfect. Everything might be in its rightful place. But we know it's not for everyone. We know there are others that aren't there yet. So what do we do with that? This world isn't perfect because if it was we would have no need for God.

It's easy to question and rail our fist against a God who allows sickness, trial, heartache, and death run rampant upon a world he claims to love. It's easy for us to scoff at the audacious man-in-the-sky who seems either unaware or uninterested in our current situation. What's much harder is to submit to the thought that in all things, whether good or bad, there's a message of his love underlying our feeble existence. It's much harder to acknowledge that our experiences have an affect on others around us. It's much harder to realize that even at our very core, where we're sick and twisted and selfish and depraved, we have the opportunity to make more of our world than a ball of glass with trinkets inside. We are met each day with the chance to show others there's more to life than snow flakes and pine trees.

So what, if your snow globe isn't perfect? So what, if your world is filled with cracks and blemishes, and leaks in places? So what, if you're not pretty enough, not strong enough, not smart enough to "measure up?" You think God isn't aware of that? You think he's surprised by what befalls you? God is more acutely aware of your situation than you will ever be, and in His design, he desires to make himself great in the midst of however small you may feel. That's the picture of God's love we miss. It's not about what we individually accomplish, but rather, as a global body and family, we make much of the God who put it all together in the first place.

Your lifestyle, your job, your triumphs, your failures, your passions, your skills and talents, your memories, your efforts are all designed to reach a global audience. It may not be your "dream job" or "comfortable situation," but it's worth every effort you make toward it. Each part of your individuality and character was meant to point others to Christ. Take joy in this. Your snow globe may look like a broken paperweight, but you know what? There's someone else that's looking at theirs the same way, wondering what in the world to do with themselves. Don't be lost at this opportunity for growth. God gave you everything you need to make much of him in the lives of those around you.

A loving God would much rather allow his creation to choose to attribute him glory, than to make everything perfect for us and nothing too hard. A loving God craves our affections so deeply, that even in the midst of our hardest trial, his peace is still made available to us, if only we would look away from our snow globe that may or may not be falling apart. We look at ourselves constantly thinking, "something's not quite right, yet." While God looks and says, "YES! This is perfect for what I meant it for." A loving God desires for us to love him back, not the gifts he may or may not choose to bestow upon us. That's the problem with us all. We far too quickly look to what's made and glaze over the God that made it.

So where is God's love? It's in you. Not in your snow globe.

So do I like snow globes?

Not really.

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30
Sep 13

Giving part of ourselves can be exhausting. We find ourselves pouring into work or school, relationships with friends and family, "charity" work or community service, church ministry or just helping out a friend - or even a stranger - and before it's all said and done, we. are. tired.

With countless things fighting for our attention, our affection, we slice off a piece of ourselves at each encounter, and then wonder why we look back at something good we've accomplished, and feel bitterness or regret. Life's a balance, absolutely, but what are we to say or do when more and more things keep piling up, and no end seems to be anywhere in sight?

What's weighed on my heart recently is the unanimous chorus sung by those involved in ministry of getting burnt out, tired, abandoned, betrayed, or exhausted. But this doesn't just apply to ministry, does it? I guess that depends on your definition of ministry, but what seems to echo through the hearts of everyone in the face of all that life brings our way is that at some point, we get stretched so far and so thin that we end up resigning to the feeling that "I can't do this anymore..."

At some point, you've said that to yourself. And you know what?

You're right.

The problem is that we weren't designed to carry the insurmountable load of life by ourselves. No one can safely and sanely keep up with everything that goes on in a person's mind, career, family, education, and social life. Every one of us could very quickly fill volumes of pages with everything we have to take care of, pay attention to, or be a part of on an every day basis. These aren't bad things, but why is it that we let them take away from us the joy they whispered in our hearts in the first place? Why is it that we look back on good and great things that we've been a part of, and feel disdain as if we've lost something we'd never get back?

We are taking an approach to aspects of our own lives that poisons and dooms them from the start. In our selfishness, we misappropriate beautiful parts of God's creation and view them through distorted lenses of our depraved minds.

I've written before about when Jesus says for us to "take [his] yoke upon us" he's not saying 'hey, carry this cross with me, I'm gonna go be crucified on it for you.'

No.

Jesus has already died on that cross and raised you up with himself. The cross we bear today is not the one he was crucified on, but rather, the yoke of Christ we take upon us is the one he's already carrying: our lives.

Take a moment to drink that in. Jesus says his yoke is easy, his burden is light. The message he's trying to get across is that we don't have to struggle with the heavy burdens that inevitably hamper down on our lives. God is intimately aware of all our situations and wants to be a part of what happens in the face of them. Walking, living, and breathing in the manner which he calls all of us to is with Christ walking, living, and breathing right beside us. We begin to accomplish powerful things without being drained of our essence or passion. This is the beauty of His love for us: that our passion is not expended by our efforts, but fueled by Jesus.

We should begin to accept that God really is in control of all things and he wants us to surrender power and authority back to him.

We are quick to ignore the painfully brutal truth that God governs the seasons, time, and the heart of his creation. Believing that God is for you is dangerous because it can quickly give us a distorted view of reality in which our desires supersede those of the Creator. Christ calls us to a dangerous life, though. We are to be bold in faith, firm in truth, and unashamed of gospel power. God is for us, yes. But his love extends beyond our personal needs, and permeates every aspect of our being, so much so, that it makes cataclysmic impact on the world around us.

The truth is, God knows what's up. He's never shocked or taken by surprise when our car won't start, we lose our job, or when illness befalls His creation. In all his majesty, God desires to enhance the story he has interwoven into our hearts so that this huge, beautiful picture of his redemptive love story will shine even brighter because of what he aims to bring us through. It's a matter of perspective, right? From his side of things, He is for us. And nothing can be against us. Because nothing can take us out of his hands.

In the midst of everything going on right now at this very moment in our life... We should remember to do as God did, as Christ did, and truly rest. Rest in God. Those that rest upon the Lord will renew their strength.

You can do this.
With God, you can do this.

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13
Sep 13

I remember sitting in that cold, whitewashed room. Four boding cinder block walls and a five-inch-thick steel door. I remember sitting there, crumpling up balls of toilet paper and slowly tossing them the complete distance of the room - six feet - into my water cup. Passing the time. I remember the mumbled echoes from the halls that stay lit twenty four hours a day, the clank of doors that crashed through the building even when you closed them gently. I remember the constant and incessant hum of electric bulbs, the icy shivers from having no carpet, no furniture, no comfort. I remember sitting there, with nothing, thinking: "this is it." I thought that for whatever my life was worth, here was my reaping what I had sown. I deserved this consequence more than I had ever deserved anything in my life.

If you know much about me (and maybe you don't), I've made choices in my past that brought me to places I never wanted to go. That's a story for another time. However, I recall that moment so vividly, because for the first time, it seemed, I realized I had nothing, and I was nothing without my Jesus. All the choices I made, all the efforts and pursuits I garnished, would never have been enough. I remember it because I had never experienced this weight of defeat, the overwhelming sense that man in all his toils becomes bruised, battered, worn out, exhausted, twisted, tortured, and broken. I hadn't experienced the reality of Jesus bringing us to walk in the light - where he called us - and walking in the light exposes everything.

One Sunday I went to visit a church in Austin with a friend. That day sits heavily with me for many reasons. I came to love what God accomplishes through the ministries at The Austin Stone, and I remember the sermon about Joseph, and all that God wanted to accomplish through his journey. I won't be able to aptly go through all of his story in an appropriate length of this post, but I'll try to summarize his story. I'll include some references, and if you have the time, I'd encourage you to sit with a cup of coffee and pour over his journey accounted in Genesis.

Joseph was one of Jacob's sons who lived in the land of Canaan. This is important because later in his journey, Joseph's home (and all of the region) went through a serious, torturous drought. He's the second youngest son of Jacob (also called Israel), and was born when Jacob was already very old. Because of this fact, Joseph was loved more than any of Israel's other sons (Gen. 37:3). If you've ever heard of Joseph and the coat of many colors, this was a robe that Jacob gave him because he loved him so much.

As if this blatant display of affection for Joseph wasn't already discouraging enough to Joseph's brothers (Gen. 37:4), Joseph walked around flaunting the gifts God gave him. Joseph had dreams, and was granted the wisdom to see and interpret them as how they played into God's plan of redemption. So he has these dreams about binding sheaves of grain in the fields with his brothers. His stands tall, and all his 11 brothers sheaves fall over in front of his. Another dream he sees the sun, moon, and 11 stars bowing down to him. He tells these dreams to his brothers, and it just fuels their hatred for him even more. As if their littlest (at the time) brother would ever reign over them!

Okay so a lot more happens in Joseph's story, but the three things I want to examine are what God is working on in the hearts of Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers. Here's briefly what happens in Joseph's life.

  • Joseph's brothers debate whether they should straight up kill him. (Gen 37:18)
  • They relent and take Joseph's beautiful technicolored dreamcoat, throw him in a large pit, and then decide to sell him into slavery to a slave merchant that conveniently is passing by. (Gen 37:22-24, 28)
  • They decide to take Joseph's coat/robe, dip it in goat's blood, and return home with the "bad news" that Joseph had been devoured by some wild animal.
  • Jacob is - obviously - distraught. He tears his own clothes, weeps and mourns, "woe is me" type of behavior. Again... obviously. (Gen. 37:35)
  • Joseph goes along in slavery, not really deserving to be there, and ends up in Egypt under one of the Pharaoh's officers (Potiphar) as his master. Potiphar's wife is all hot and bothered by Joseph, and wants some of that, but Joseph's like "nuh uh, honey, get to steppin'" (Gen. 39:12)
  • Then Potiphar's wife trips out, tells her husband Joseph assaulted her, and Joseph gets sent to prison. (Gen. 39:19-20)
  • In prison, Joseph interprets two other prisoner's dreams, which happen to come true. One of them was supposed to remember Joseph when he gets out of prison, but forgets for a long time. (Gen. 40)
  • Later, Pharaoh himself has these perplexing dreams that none of the mumbo-jumbo magicians and some such people can interpret. Then the former prisoner guy is like "hey, there's this guy Joseph that interpreted my dream, and it totally came true" (Gen. 41:9)
  • So Pharaoh calls Joseph, tells him these dreams about seven healthy cows being eaten whole by seven decrepit, sickly cows. And another about seven plush stalks of grain being devoured by seven skinny weak-sauce stalks of grain. (Gen. 41:1-7)
  • Josephs interprets the dreams as a sign that there will be seven years of prosperity in Egypt, followed by seven years of severe punishing drought and famine. Egypt would need to stockpile during the prosperous years so they'll have enough when the famine comes.
  • Pharaoh is impressed, and decides Joseph is the man for the job of overseeing all this gathering and stockpiling of food. So Egypt builds tons of barns and silos and such, collects food for seven years, and rises to become a huge power-house in the region during this seven years of famine.(Gen. 41:25-36)
  • The drought affects everyone, and Joseph's family back in Canaan is like "hey, I hear there's food in Egypt, let's go see if we can buy some." (Gen. 42:1-2)
  • So the eleven brothers go and have to speak to Joseph, cause he's the guy in charge of selling any of their consumable goods. He recognizes them, but they don't seem to know who he is. (Gen. 42:8)
  • Then this whole weird process takes place where Joseph wants his brothers to bring their youngest (now Benjamin) back to prove they aren't lying about who they are or where they come from. Joseph wants to see the character of his brothers. He ends up doting upon them and revealing that he is their brother Joseph that they hated and sold into slavery so many years ago.
  • The brothers are super scared and think he's going to kill them. They straight up sold him into slavery and convinced their family that he was dead and gone. Joseph could have done any manner of terrible things to repay them, but in the end they all have a big group hug and even daddy Israel makes the trip and the whole family moves to settle in a land that Pharaoh gives to Joseph.

 

Okay so it's a long story, but it's a really cool story of redemption. It's a story that shows that God has big plans even when we don't see them at the time. It's a story that shows Joseph not giving up, but playing with the cards he's dealt. It's a story that shows a family that reunites despite whatever betrayal and heartache has wrecked them in the past.

Here's what I always want to remember about this story.

The circumstances that take place in Joseph's life are not inconsequential. They happened for a purpose. A purpose even mentioned at the close of the book of Genesis in chapter 50. That even though his brothers may have "meant evil against (Joseph), but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (v.20)

This blows my mind. We're talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people saved (with the help of some random former prisoner guy, Joseph) from starvation and cruel death - DESPITE what Joseph's brothers sought in a jealous rage. God had a redemptive purpose the whole time.

The three affects?

These circumstances take place

1. To break down the idolatry in Jacob's heart. His love for his son was good. But God needed to show Jacob that his fulfillment in life would never be found in his son, or any other person but the LORD God.

2. To mend the hatred and jealousy in the hearts of Joseph's brothers. God needed to show this family that His purpose penetrates, transcends and defeats any obstacle or fabrication we have in our minds, or experience in reality. God needed to show that He is relentlessly invested in the reconciliation of His own children - with each other, and to God Himself.

3. To unquestionably prove to Joseph that God Himself is enough. To show that whatever situation we find ourselves in is never intended to be "enough," but rather an opportunity for God to work through our lives and impact others in powerful ways we would have never even dreamed of. Joseph was a hothead that boasted about himself. God needed to show Joseph, his family, and an entire nation, that all the credit is due to God.

 

So I remember these moments in my own life when I was in a place that maybe I didn't want to be. Sometimes, maybe often times, as a result of my own choices. Other times it's just simply been the way things worked out. But I can see more clearly each day that God is not ignorant of our circumstances. He is well aware, and acquainted with even, of our sorrows, our toils, our struggles. He rejoices along with us in our triumphs, our victories, our moments of joy. His intention is never to sit idle while we experience pain, failure, or heartache, but rather to bring about the undeniable truth that He wants the world to know His love, His power, His provision, His mercy, His grace, and His Son Jesus.

Each opportunity we experience as we walk in the marvelous light Jesus brings us into is scary. Light exposes everything, right? It shows us truth. It shows us what we idol, whether that's money, fame, entertainment, pleasure, health, success, people, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a spouse, a friend. It shows us where we fall short. Our jealousy, our hatred, our misplaced love, our emotions that were designed and given to us by God for a reason, but maybe run afoul of their purpose and design, chasing after things of this world because it seems ok, it seems right. The light shows us that everything we build up around ourselves, whether in our minds or in real-life tangible things, isn't enough, and it's not designed for us to settle on. They can be good things. They can be great things. But they're meant to push us closer to God. In the same way, even terrible things, awful or sad circumstances, don't terminate on themselves. That's not what God's purpose would ever be. His deepest desire is to reconcile to Himself all the things he made and said were good.

The point is: often times we simply can't look past our present situation. Sometimes it's elation that blinds us. Other times it's disappointment, or sorrow, grief, worry, or heartache. But to sit and just accept it isn't what God intended. He calls us to action. All the time. Every day. So that more and more as we pursue his beauty, we ourselves shine a little brighter in a world that's become so dull, dark, and depraved of His Spirit. I'm not saying that "everything's going to be okay" because sometimes quite honestly, in our minds at least, it's not. But that doesn't mean God is done, or that we have to accept our fate - good or bad.

There is a bigger, wider purpose at work in you. That none should perish, but that all would come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9. Read it, love it.

 

Thanks for reading.

-m

 

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6
Sep 13

Okay, so there's lots that God has been showing me recently, and I've been drafting this post for about a week now. Today, I read an article titled "5 Lies every twentysomething needs to stop believing." Such a good article, and what I've been wanting to write about wouldn't be categorized as a "lie," but rather, a truth that "we" (churches, millennial Christians, modern-day followers of Christ) tend to maybe read into too much, or maybe misinterpret. There's two verses that I wanted to look at. It's sad because for as much beauty as there is in Scripture, I think we bank too much on what we think they mean, and often miss out on what God is actually saying to us.

The first one is Jeremiah 29:11

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."

Ok so this one's maybe familiar to many of us. It sounds great! But the problem with cherry-picking feel good Bible verses is we may miss the rest of the message God wants us to hear. Verses 12 and 13 for instance:

"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."

Ok. So we're still on board with this, right? Here we see God proclaiming His sovereignty and knowledge over the plans He set before us. We can accept that. And the Lord says we will call upon him, and he will hear us. Great! We will seek him, and we will find him when we seek with all our heart.

To be honest, I get so, so tired of this verse. Yes, God knows the plans he has for our lives. Yes, they are plans that end in our wholeness, our goodness, our welfare, and our peace. Yes, they give us future, and a hope. But what I can't ignore is the context in which God is giving this message to the people of Israel. The people of Jerusalem are in exile (again) because of their flagrant refusal to repent and follow God's decrees. As had become customary for the Israelites, they did not heed God's warning when they were chasing idols, drowning in their own lust and pride, and living lives in contrast to what God had asked them to do. God warned that Judah would fall into the hands of Babylon - and they did! In verse 10 God says "when SEVENTY YEARS have passed, I will visit my people and fulfill the promise I gave to you."

So here's what I'm reading. YES, God fulfills his promise to bring the people of Israel back home - again. YES, it is for their prosperity (as a PEOPLE). YES, it gives the nation a future and a hope.

BUT,

In the meantime, they are living in exile under a cruel king as a result of the disobedience and rebellion. So when I see this verse, I don't think "yeah, God's got plans for me, and they're good plans, and everything will be just fine." Because many times - often times - they won't be. They just won't. Many times we have to wade through exile for who knows how long, until a later time when we finally look to God after the idols we've been chasing have all rusted and cracked and dried up and broken. When everything or everyone around us has died away and we look to God, call upon Him, and he hears us. When we seek Him with all of our heart. Seventy years is enough time for most of the people that hear Jeremiah say this to die. The people of Israel are restored - yes. But how many people died, never having seen the fulfillment of this promise? How many people will remember the last time they were in the place God wanted them as a place of their rebellion and sin?

Verses like this force me to remember CHRIST as our hope of glory, CHRIST as the plans God has for us. CHRIST as the fulfillment of His promise. And Christ was part of a CENTURIES long process of redemption that God had plans for. It's easy for us to insert God's plans inside our own. But too often, it would seem to me, God's plans supersede ours, and we can run along all we want to down our own path, but until Christ is all we have and all we want... where is our hope, really?

The next one is Romans 8:28

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

This one's another popular verse, making it into songs and plastered onto tshirts. More people even recognize that in the following verse we hit it says God "foreknew us" and "predestined us" to be conformed to the image of His Son. But that's the sticky part of it, is it not? Without getting into a debate over "predestination" or "free choice", let's examine just for a second what God's truest desire is for our lives: the GOOD being: us - God's creation - becoming more and more like the image of His Son, Jesus. What Paul writes in Romans doesn't say that all things are gonna be just great. He's not enclosing the letter with a poster with the kitten hanging on to a tree branch that says 'hang in there!'

Paul is writing to this early Christian church and saying "look, I know life is going to get tough. In fact, it might be tough for the rest of your life. But here's the key, church! Here's what I don't want you to miss! ALL things, whether good or bad, whether lovely or miserable, whether in rejoicing or suffering, God is working all of those things together for the good of those He calls to look like His son. Because that's the message. That's what Christ Himself pleaded as he walked this earth. 'Follow me. Leave everything else behind. This world will hate you, because they hate me. You will beaten, you will be taken to places you don't want to go. You will whipped, ridiculed, and murdered. But follow me, because that's what will bring you into the presence of the Almighty, if you look like me.' Paul writes later in Philippians 3 that he has experienced pain, suffering and loss " that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death." The purpose Paul was chasing after was to look like Jesus. God has unwavering standards of perfection, and without Christ we won't make it. Paul knew that whatever happiness he could earnestly desire would always play second fiddle to the deep reality that in Christ alone his hope would be found.

Don't miss the message. God is not in the business of maintaining our happiness outside the parameters of His sovereign will. This is a harsh truth we must embrace to experience joy in the midst of suffering, hope in the midst of loss, rejoicing in the midst of victory, and faith in the one who is making us more like himself in the midst of it all: Christ. The good that God works for in the lives of those who love him is still subject to his definition and perspective of what good really is. The wholeness, the welfare, the prosperity God pieces together from our shambled lives is only with complete subjugated trust that God is who he says he is, and will complete the purpose for which he breathed life into your blood in the first place.

That you look like His Son: Jesus.

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21
Aug 13

I always used to think that making Christ our firm and sole foundation was this fantastic place where we align ourselves with in theory, but may never really be in a place where that concept becomes practice. As "western Christians," it's easy to remove ourselves (in our minds, at least) from the prospect of true spiritual challenge, or the depth of struggle, heartache and loss that Christians in other parts of the world legitimately face. The truth is, however, we can face a great deal of trials right where we may be, both in our hearts and our minds, as well as from outside of ourselves in the forms of friends, media or entertainment, family, anything!

I was thinking over the old hymn today: The Solid Rock. For the first time, it seemed, I thought of that first verse, "I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name." What does that mean? What frame? After some brief research, the "frame" is likely referring to a place or person that, despite being beautiful, lovely, or good, still shouldn't be where we place our trust or hope. Here's a quote from someone in attempt to grasp the concept of this word usage:

"If you had a moment, one blissful moment, when you were sure your heart was right toward God, and you could rejoice in the darkest prison before your imminent death, you would have experienced a moment in the sweetest frame."

Sounds good, right? But here's the problem: however great that moment may be, that sweetest frame, it's still not enough to place the trust of our souls in. At first glance, this doesn't make sense. Why can something so great, so peaceful and inviting and uplifting, be painted in this negative light? Why is it something I can't trust in?

The hymn's anthem rings out: "All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand."
What?!

It violates the fabric of what we want to believe in to truly embrace these words. If you've ever sung this hymn... like many worship leaders might ask you about any song we sing in praise to God, do we really believe those words? Do we really accept that no matter if we have a place that is so smooth, so good, so solid, or if we have a place that is cracked, shaky, and unsteady... neither of them is the same, neither of them comes close to the solid ground of Christ the Solid Rock!

I've realized this is true more in a few moments of today than I ever have before. As I sit and remember sweet, precious moments from even this past summer, I sit in an office and hear from my boss how quickly and how harshly those moments don't even matter. They can disappear in a literal split-second. This was a shock to me, this conversation. Despite the truth and reality I've had to embrace with each passing day, I was still shocked at the mention of this extreme riddance of my character, this perverse retardation of the truth I've known in my heart, this violation of trust that lay before me across his desk: the sweetest frame I had placed my trust in just wasn't strong, it wasn't enough.

God has a common habit of taking something we have security in, and ripping it right out of our hands. It's not unloving of Him, it's quite simply the nature of who God is. One popular song we sing in worship services today start out with the words, "He is jealous (Ex. 20:5) for me." God is infinitely and passionately invested in possessing all of our heart. His jealousy is just. His "love like a hurricane" runs so deep, existing in every fiber of His being, that God does not rest without having all of our hearts, and that hurricane will shred apart any structure we've run to until there's nothing else left.

It's here as I stand and look around at the shambles of my hurricane shelter that I realize: despite how great something might seem, there's not enough in these crumbled pieces of stone and lumber to keep me firm as I walk through life. All these people, these friends and family, these jobs, these possessions, these feelings or these experiences aren't going to be enough to withstand the ferocious love God has for me. These things aren't inherently bad, though. The problem is in the way I perceive them. I always enjoyed going through the Old Testament with my students as a youth pastor. One lesson on the fall of man that I cherish so much, is the fact that nothing that God created is in itself bad or sinful. The problem came when man ate of the fruit. The fruit that opened man's eyes to the knowledge of good and evil. Man was now able to perceive things - all of which God created and said was good - in ways that man was never designed to perceive them. It's a really cool lesson, and I won't get into all of it now. But essentially, man is now inclined to perceive things in ways we never would have were it not for this knowledge of good and evil. Food, sex, music (to take just three examples) were not created as bad things. But man, in his freedom, can take these things, and view them in ways that become sinful.

So here I am holding the crumbled pieces of a sweetest frame, and remember God. His unrelenting love for me pierces even our sweetest of frames. The point of his love crushing even good things is this: God's first and greatest commandment was to love Him with everything we have. He leaves the submission to that commandment up to us, yes. But that doesn't mean He won't step in and smash our castles in the sinking sand so that we would see our folly. It doesn't mean He won't take us by the face, look us straight in the eye and say "Marshall, I didn't place these things in your life so that you would idolize them. I placed them there as a frame of reference so that you would look to me."

I look at rockstars of Scripture like Paul, who without reservation chased and pursued the advancement of the gospel without fear, displaying a confidence (Phil 1:12-14) in Christ even to the bitter end, and I realize how much I'm still missing it. I realize that the sweetest of frames aren't ever meant to terminate on themselves, but serve as beacons of light, life, love and beauty to cast our eyes on Christ, the One Solid Rock.

 

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name
When darkness veils his lovely face I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil
His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way He then, is all my hope and stay
When He shall come with trumpet sound Oh, may I then in Him be found
Dressing in His righteousness alone: faultless to stand before the throne

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand

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19
Jul 13

I've been very fortunate to have learned so many things in the just the last few months. Summer is a busy time; an even busier one working at a summer camp. It is truly remarkable how God chooses to speak to us, how in the midst of turmoil, chaos, or confusion... we can hear His voice. Sometimes it's harder to hear, or maybe we're more willing to ignore it. But it's there. God's told us he's not going anywhere. (Heb 13:5)

We feel like we know all these truths about God, and yet we don't accept them as truths in our hearts. This is puzzling and saddening to me. I like to feel like my faith is strengthened with each day, every breath God gives me to breathe. But is it? Do my actions truly reflect an attitude of unreserved trust and dependence on God - who knows all, yet doesn't share all with me? I've been spending more time in Scriptures lately than I have in a long time. It's been great, because I have desperately needed to hear from God what His plan is for me. I have so many questions, so many unknowns... and God tells me to chill out, that it'll all be ok.

I want to believe this.

I have had the extreme privilege to meet (again) and get to know someone recently with such a precious and genuine heart. In all of our conversations, it seems, they just pour out devout wisdom and concern. It's really neat, and really different from any friendship I've ever had. It has proved to reveal things to me about myself, teach me things about my life, and open my eyes to see things I hadn't before. The way God works in our lives is far more interwoven than we ever really acknowledge. I never would have expected to have become such a different person in just a few short months, and all from experiences and conversations with just one person.

Here's some things I've been learning recently:

God does not sit idle - even when we are.
This is a big one. Haha. As Christians (who happen to be human) we get so used to the idea that we have to work for things, whether they be personal goals, or something God calls us to. We go through periods in life where we feel and sense God's presence, identify something He calls us to, and then chase after it with everything we've got. But even that statement leaves a bad taste in my mouth. As a Christian, I know (or I've said so to God) that I'm in need of Him, right? So why in the world would I ever just chase after something with "everything I've got" ? That statement alone shows how self-focused we can become, even in the midst of a higher calling we've sensed God laying on us. "Everything I've got" isn't enough to accomplish what God calls me to if He has nothing to do with it. Shouldn't the statement rather be made: "Chase with everything God gives me." ? It pains me to have been exposed to how selfish I truly am in my core. The writer of Hebrews prays for us in this way (Heb 13:20-21): "that the God of peace might grant us every good thing we need to do God's will, working in us things that are pleasing to Him" (paraphrased). What I have seen more and more and love about Scripture recently is how matter of fact God's truths really are. This isn't something that we either experience or don't. The truth is: God grants us plenty, actually, ALL good things that we need. We just fail to recognize, accept, and trust those things to be pleasing to God. We try and pursue honorable and good things without the consent and sending of God, and then begin to wonder why we fail time after time. God is infinitely patient with us. We are feeble creatures in comparison. But He is good. And He is working in our hearts, even when we don't feel like He is. Even when we don't ask Him to or want Him to. That's the beauty of His unrelenting love towards us: God will continue to pursue the purity and perfection of our hearts, and will impute all of the attributes of Himself to us, so that we might be pleasing to Him in the first place.

God decides the course of our lives - even when we think we have the handle on things.
This one has been hard to hear and learn. I have found myself looking back at who I thought I would become, and the things I thought I would accomplish. Nothing was really all that wrong about those things I dreamed, but at the same time, they weren't the life God had intended for me. My life went through some serious course correction, and it's as if now, for the first time I see more clearly what God wanted me to do all along. I had aspirations of career success and personal goals that were all centered around me. Making money or accomplishing goals aren't bad things... but despite my "professed" faith in God, I had made Him no part of any of those plans. God desires to walk with us. (Ps 23:4) God wants to be an active participant in our lives. I have spent a lot of time denying that... and have paid the price in tears and time learning that lesson. Again, we become so focused on ourselves, that any accomplishment seems to be our own, because of something we did to earn it. And any failure or trial we go through, we convince ourselves how alone we must be to go through it without God! How sad! When He promises us time and time again that He is the protector (Is 43:2)of our faith. (not to mention the author and perfecter (Heb 12:2) of it, too) Got does not simply stand by and watch us as we go through any amount of sufferings or any amount of rejoicing. He rejoices with us and he mourns with us. How else can you explain the sorrow and weeping Jesus exuded at the death of Lazurus? The same guy he not a few verses later raises from the dead. Jesus is aware and familiar with the struggles of this life. Jesus commands us to take his yoke (Matt 11:29)upon our shoulders. That we should not just carry the weight of this world. Here's the kicker: we weren't designed to carry the weights of this world. 

The yoke Jesus is referring to is what they'd bind an ox to when it would plow or turn the mill wheel. It would go over the shoulders and around the neck, and its weight would hold the ox down and weigh down heavily to get the task done. What Jesus is saying is that His yoke is light. His burden is easy. He's willing to take the bind of the yoke, share it with us, and he'll take all the weight it burdens down. That's what He did when He died for us, and we rob Him of the sacrifice He made when we attempt at life without His yoke upon us. How. Selfish. We. Can. Be. to have the audacity to wear our own burdens and carry our own weight when all God ever designed us for was to walk in purity, perfection, and peace with Him in the first place.

 

So there's two things I'm learning recently.
Thanks for reading you guys!

-m

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19
Feb 13

Hey guys,

So it turns out, the site fell prey to some malware or some-such... and after many attempts to remedy the situation while salvaging my posts... I decided to just delete it all.

So here's a new start. Check back soon for a fresh post! And I hope you enjoy the reading.

-marshall

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