Saturday, July 19, 2014

All Men are But Grass...

A voice says, “Cry!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
    and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever. (from Isaiah 40)

No matter what you've gone through, no matter what injustices you have suffered from the hands of others or witnessed by others, no matter how lofty those people may seem for a moment, they are all like grass.  Their "glory" blows away and dries up.  But God's word -His promises, His purposes to redeem and make everything right- stands forever.

There are two responses we can find ourselves in with regards to this:

We can camp in place, dig our heels in, pout, and demand of God, "I will not move until you do something about my situation right now!  I demand that you address these injustices immediately, or I will not follow you, I will not trust you, and I will certainly not leave this stump I'm sitting on!"  It's all on our terms.  And in that, we whither and die.  We turn against God, and yet we believe that He has turned against us because He does not operate on our terms.

Or we can finally give up our demand for control and come to the place where we say, "Oh God, their glory is their shame.  Their strength is weakness and it stands for but a time.  We are all like grass, blown away in the wind of your breath.  But there is a time when you will make it all right.  Your purposes will stand.  And until that day, I will follow you.  I will follow and trust that you have something more and something new for me.  I will trust that following you will make it all worthwhile.  Here I am, Lord.  I follow."

One is death. One is life.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Living or Dying

I have a step-son who is a young adult, and I've watched him grow through many different ways of thinking.  At one point, I remember hearing him say things that I hear a lot of young people say.  The image to the left summarizes one such statement pretty well: "Are you really living life... or are you just paying bills until you die?"  Granted, most of the people who say things like this are kids who couch-surf from place to place and have no job.  Their anti-establishment idealism of 'living life' versus being a 'slave' to the establishment seems to loosely cover, like Adam's fig leaf, a deeper shame of feeling lost and both unable and unwilling to find a place in this world.

But I understand the feeling.  I understand what it's like to feel like you belong nowhere.  And I certainly understand what it's like to feel like life is just a long sequence of pay-periods.  Everything revolves around paying your bills and keeping afloat, if you can.  But recently my son said something that was astounding.  He said, "I get it.  The reason why you work is so that you can have things and provide things so that you can enjoy them with the people you love."  That was one of my proud dad moments, for sure.  So could it be that when there is something greater to live for, you become willing to pay those bills that seem to be so restrictive?  Hmm...

The image above was used today in an online forum that advertizes people looking for used things things or selling used things.  One man, a younger man that seemed to come from the marijuana crowd, shared this image with all of us after being railed on by an older gentleman who basically told him to put down his pot pipe, stop looking for handouts, and find a job like everybody else. 

Both of these men revealed what they live for and what they believe freedom to be.  The younger man believes that freedom is about not being tied down.  That is "living."  So, he winds up looking for handouts and snubbing his nose at the establishment.  The older man believes that "freedom", if you can even call it that, is found in being a responsible, contributing member to society and to a family.  That's what "real living" is.  You get a job.  You work.  Someday you die.  That's a good life.  It may not be "free", but it is at least respectable.

Regardless of the fact that I lean toward the latter man's point of view, if for nothing else than the fact that his point of view seems far less self-centered, both of these points of view (as far as they are described here) are wrong.  And they are wrong and misguided for one simple reason:  Any ultimate worldview that seeks to establish a freedom and ultimate purpose in the things found in this world will ultimately fall upon itself.  It will fail, but before it does it will lead you to turn against your brother -as I saw today, two men bickering from opposite sides of the fence.

The bottom line is that if we live purely for this world, to create a heaven-on-earth by our own power, we will not only be disappointed... we will be fools.  What we call "living", no matter what formula or self-salvation scheme we apply, will be eventually shown to be futile.  It will die.  In other words, if you live for this age, everything you do -not matter how much it seems like living- is actually just drawn-out dying.  But if you live for the next age, the things of this age have less desperation to them.  They can be enjoyed for what they are because you aren't trying to squeeze life out of them.

Those who purely seek "living" in this age are dying.  In fact, they are already dead.  But those who know that this age is dying can live in it with gratitude and place their hope ahead, where life is to be found.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When Faith Goes Sub-Terranean

For the past few years, my faith has gone "underground" in some ways.  I used to try so hard to be involved in this or that at church.  I used to make a point of reading the Bible every single day.  But things have sort of pressed me down and into situations where it took everything I had to keep going.  I guess you could say I used to be much more "churchy" but in the last few years I let a lot of that go in order to focus on other things... like surviving.

My former, churchy self would probably be worried for a whole host of reasons.  But I'm not.  I'm not worried.  I do want to become more involved in a church family once again.  I do want to have regular family dinners with my kids and read Scripture to them nightly, once again.  And I will.  I may even start again tonight. 

But I'm not going to beat myself up about it.  And none of this is to suggest that I've walked away from God, even for a time.  Not by a long shot.  I've been through enough to know that even in the darkest moments I cannot walk away from Him.  I do not invite the testing of that statement, but I've found it to be true nevertheless!  It is more that my faith has become more... personal, more private perhaps (but not privatized), and definitely more tangible.  It is less about the outwards and more about the inwards, about walking in real life.  It is more down-to-earth, more real, less intellectual and abstract, more about walking my path after Jesus and less about keeping up appearances for others.

And I'm realizing that there are times and seasons in our lives for certain things.  Right now is a time where I am healing and growing.  My faith may appear less "churchy" and therefore more sub-terranean, but I know that it is there, underground, where deeper roots are growing and reaching the wells of water beneath my feet.  New paths are being forged.  Old, good paths are being deepened.  God is at work.

And it is here that I must hold fast and keep my eye focused on the prize.  I must keep on keepin' on.  I must keep patient in hope.  I read this from Isaiah 35 this morning, and it lept from the page.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
2 it shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8 And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.[a]
9 No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Beauty of Good Character

Over the past handful of years, I've become a big fan of UFC.  What I originally saw as a pointless and brutal display of violence, I came to see as true competitive sport that requires strength, peak conditioning, perseverance, and skill.

As I've watched various matches and followed various athletes, I've come to favor and follow certain athletes in particular.  Some of them I favor for their skill alone, but others, like Lyoto Machida, I favor because of his skill, his unique contribution to the sport (he is the only UFC fighter I am aware of that primarily uses Karate techniques), and, as the icing on the cake, his character.

He stands out, as even commentator Joe Rogan pointed out in Machida's last fight against Chris Weidman in UFC 175, as one who is gracious in both victory and defeat.  He is a sportsman who believes in honor and good sportsmanship over showmanship and inflating his ego.  He gives credit where credit is due.  He accepts loss graciously and humbly, and he accepts victory with the same amount of humility and gratitude.  Yesterday, Machida lost to Weidman by decision, but you know what?  I will still follow his fights and root for him.  Character matters.

It may not matter to everyone.  There are certainly plenty of people who are too wrapped up in all of the trappings of feeding the ego, gaining power or wealth or fame, constantly seeking attention and adoration for themselves.  But when you go that route, it comes at great cost.  You give up character.

It is easy to become discouraged or even envious of such people, however.  Some people pull it off.  We see the authors of Scripture talking about such people and, more importantly, talking about the very human reaction that borders on envy.  "Why do the wicked prosper?!"  It seems unfair.  Why do they seem to get everything they want?  And why do I not?

Though it may not be the answer we want to hear, the answer is not that difficult to see.  Having good character has a cost associated with it.  You will suffer.  You aren't always going to be admired or recognized.  There will be seasons, perhaps long, arduous seasons, where maybe nobody sticks by you, where few aren't wrapped up in the fanfare of attention-seekers, self-seekers.  That is the way the world works.  That is what Christ experienced, and He told us we should expect no different.

But it is worth it.  Eventually, character stands out... and it stands out to those who matter most, to those who value character also.  And even though we may envy such people because of their apparent success in easily getting what we sometimes wished we had -those temporary and fleeting self-made glories- we should ask ourselves a question:  Would we want to trade places?

What if we could?  What if we had an opportunity to sell ourselves out and become like those people, to gain all of the temporary glory they seem to attain for themselves so easily, but it meant that we had to become like them?  Would you?  I wouldn't.  No way.

See, while there a cost to standing your ground in what is right, in what is of good character, the cost is ultimately much higher to give that all up for what they seem to have in the moment.  You would give up you.  You would give up everything God has built and wrought in you.  You cover the light He has fixed in you.

And such is a shame, a waste of the "talents" given.

I realize Christians often have a hard time talking about good things within ourselves.  We are sinners, after all.  That is true.  But it does not also mean there is not a part of us that sheds the light of Christ and reflects that light through good character.  It is not pride to recognize that when we know such a thing is a gift from our Maker.  When we know we have something precious and valuable given to us, we are more likely to protect it and use it for Him.