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Fighting Inside

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With strong warnings and great opposition from many Christian reviews, I managed to survive viewing the movie “Noah” this past weekend without losing my faith completely.  If I have lost my faith completely, it certainly has nothing to do with this movie – or any other movie for that matter.  My lack of faith exhibited in wrong actions is never due to outside forces or evil influence, says my one and only trusted friend – the Bible.  No.  My sin comes from the inside out.  It comes from within.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” ~James 1:14

Now.  I have a love for right doctrine.  I have a keen and powerful kind of conscience.  I hate falsehood and, most days, I love the truth.  But, if we’re being honest, my days have been quite dark lately.  My conscience has been quiet.  My Bible has been closed.  There’s really not much worse than being profusely angry at your Creator.

I started boxing because I am mad.   No surprise there, huh?  I imagine that’s what most fighters do.  I mean, no one wakes up one day and says, “Wouldn’t it be relaxing and enjoyable to hit people?”  Right.

Because I generally always spar with guys much taller and far stronger than I am, I have trouble landing any punches at all.  I’m simply too far away.  The best way to hit them is to get inside their range.  I don’t get close enough because I’m afraid.  Closer means I’m in an even more compromised and vulnerable position if I falter.  And I don’t have enough skill to not falter.

So the movie.  The outcast – the leader of the rebellious enemies of God on earth – speaks to God at one point.  He calls out asking, “Why don’t you answer me?  Why are you silent?”   I thought of how many times I’ve called out those same words, desperate to hear him; desperate to know his mind; desperate to understand him and his doings.  But he would not speak.

That rebellious leader was fighting outside.  Perhaps I’ve been fighting outside, too.  Maybe we cannot reach God from this position.  Maybe one has to get a little closer.

Noah.  Noah knew how to fight inside.  He knew he heard God.  He didn’t renege no matter how ridiculous and incomprehensible his instructions were.  Noah wasn’t afraid to be afraid.  Noah trusted God more than he feared fear.  Rebels like me are cowards.  We’d rather throw a hundred punches at the air than get inside on that giant and land one – or, in Noah’s case, get inside that boat and wait until God does the honors.

Some think Noah was a righteous man.  Some know him as a drunk.  I believe he was both.  I imagine one would have to drink a bit knowing the whole world was going to be annihilated and then having to watch them all die.  But Noah loved God.  He loved truth.  His only righteousness came from the same place our only righteousness comes from – Jesus Christ.  God chose him because God loved him – not because he obeyed better than other people.  If he did obey better than other people it was because God gave him that spirit.

God chooses us.  So often though, we chose gods.  Gods that don’t save.  Idols.  People, material things, pleasure, status – just to name a few.  We chose gods in place of the one true God.  We fight outside, mad as hell when they fail to save us from the devastating blows of the Enemy.  But God chooses us despite all that.  He chooses us because he loves us.   He wants us to get inside.  He is the ark.  He is the shelter.  He is the protection, the provision, and the place where we will land our greatest punch at the prince of this world.  Well, he will.  I mean, he did.  So we don’t have to.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had quite enough rain.  Let’s go inside.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyRKh5Czbmo

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“Look! They’re flying!”

“There’s strings.”

“Look! There’s a ghost in our cart!”

“It’s just lights.”

“Look at the jellyfish!”

“It’s made out of feathers.”

“Look at those monsters!”

“They’re just humans in monster clothes.”

After five days in Disney, I have to say that my just-turned-five-years-old-this-week daughter kind of busted my bubble.  I was wowed by the excellence of the entertainment but she didn’t miss a trick.  Every time I got excited at the extremely well done wonder of the shows or the characters Maylee very matter-of-factly informed me what was behind the scenes.  I guess I should have known better than to believe even the best of the best would be able to successfully put one over on the likes of her.  

This is a girl who, by age two, refused to open her own Christmas and birthday presents.  She so dislikes surprises.  She hates being told what to think, what to feel, or, God knows, what to do – even if its for her own good.  She hates being singled out or doted upon for any reason.  She is extremely shy, extremely smart, and by golly, extremely sure of herself.  Maylee prefers to be incognito and undercover.  She is my little mastermind, complete with a no-nonsense, let-me-do-it-myself-or-I-can’t-enjoy-it attitude.  

Nevertheless, every so often throughout our vacation, Maylee would tug my shirt and inform me, “Mommy, I wanna live here.”

It got me to thinking about how different people really are.  Maylee experienced Disney world in an entirely different way than the rest of the family did.  She felt different.  She thought different.  She remembers different.  But the differences don’t mean she loved it less.  The differences just mean she is able to teach us something about how to discover the world in a completely different way; how to love her unique personality more; how to see through the eyes of another perspective and learn even more about our vast, variety-loving God.

When we can only see the differences in others as negatives, we miss out on what they have to offer us.  We overlook the gifts they bring into our world.  We refuse the exchange of ideas meant to challenge and sharpen us as well-rounded, open-minded, life-appreciating individuals.  

As a deep thinker and, admittedly, a kind of unusual human being, I understand what it is to be quite dissimilar in most circles.  What I’m just now beginning to realize is that I like myself.  I love who I am.  I like being exactly who God created me to be.  And I do not need anyone else’s approval to do so.  I don’t ever want to conform to the status quo.  I don’t care who disagrees.  And I will not be told for one more second what to feel, what to think, or what to do by any person who refuses to accept me for who I am.  Popeye had it right: “I am what I am and that’s all I am.”  From now on, when I tug on my Father’s shirt I will be telling him that this is where I wanna live.

I know that I know that I am who the Great I Am made me. He did not fail or flounder.  It is only his grace that changes me, not man’s disgust and disdain which is so often cast upon me under the guise of his name.  I trust God alone to finish that which he began – not by might, nor by power, but by his Spirit.  Amen.

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. ~1 Corinthians 15:9-10

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0uHQGb09ps

 

 

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Lessons for the week:

1. How to take a punch.  

2. How not to get hit.  

Even if you’re not into boxing, these are good life lessons to consider.  Evasion trumps Excedrin every time in my book, so I tend to favor the latter.  None the less, we practiced both last week.  

Two things stand out in my mind from our training sessions.  One is the kidney shot that felt like the end of my life, and the other is the sobering instruction on combination punches.  

“Don’t get hit with the first punch.  Because it’s not gonna be just one…the second, third, and fourth are coming right behind it.  If you get hit with a three or four punch combination, you’re done.  Even getting hit with a few hay-makers spread throughout the duration of the fight is better than getting hit consecutively.  Successive punches are the most devastating.  You will fall.”

Before the words even finished leaving Coach’s mouth, the concept was resonating in my heart with a vengeance.  If there’s one lesson I’ve learned the hard way it is that it does not matter how strong you are – if you take one blow after another without recovery time – be it in life or in the ring – you are going down hard eventually.  No one can stand strong forever under that kind of attack.  

I read Job for the better part of last year.  I studied his life in depth.  I desperately wanted to understand the reaction of a godly man to consecutive, devastating, combination blows to his life.  If there was ever a right reaction, Job’s was probably as close as it comes.  And I guess what it came down to in the end was the revelation of his utter inability to change or control anything – despite his diligence; despite his discipline; despite his strength; despite his goodness; despite his work; despite his earnestness; despite his prayers – despite all he had done right.   It all came down to dependence upon that which he could not see, hear, or, for quite a time, even find at all.  That’s one way to eliminate a God complex now isn’t it?  Right.

Perhaps boxing is the same.  I can’t say for sure.  I’ve never been bloody and beaten inside the ring yet.  But I have in life.  So, perhaps, in the end, when you’re spent but still with several rounds to go, perhaps that’s when you learn to depend on someone outside yourself.  Maybe that’s when all the voices stop, all the second guessing subsides, all the questions cease to matter, and you finally begin to truly hear the only one who’s really in your corner anyway.  Maybe that’s when real trust is born.

Ideally, don’t get hit with the first punch.  Practically, train by taking some I-feel-like-I-just-got-hit-by-a-truck taps from your trainer.  Realistically, learn who is really in your corner and how to trust him even when life’s devastating combinations have made you blind, deaf, and dumb to everything you thought you knew.  Perhaps that is where he is truly found.  

Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
    yet I will argue my ways to his face. ~Job 13:15

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N68BgieLs3s

Letting Go

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“The snow glows white on the mountain tonight, not a footprint to be seen.  A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I’m the Queen.  The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.  Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried.” ~Idina Menzel

This is the song my littlest girl sings every day of her life.  With the video release of “Frozen” set for tomorrow, I couldn’t let the day pass without saying something about what it means to us girls.

My littlest girl.  Maylee Ruth.  She won’t open gifts if anyone is watching.  She clings to her mama when she enters new places.  She doesn’t answer questions when more than one person is listening.  She is going to be five in two short weeks.  My youngest daughter is inexplicable shy.  Her feelings are more fragile than anyone else in the family.  All you have to do is look at her wrong and she runs away, hides her face, and begins to cry.

She loves to sing, though.  She’s got a great big, bossy mouth at times, too.   If no one is watching she belts it out like nobody’s business, complete with a heaping dose of charisma and congeniality.

I used to sing, too.  That is, until someone, somewhere who was in a position of power told me I could not.  I stopped singing.  I felt small.  I believed him.  I felt sad.  I was small.  I was sad.

What does a little girl do when she cannot sing her song?  What if she’s got something serious to say?

Perhaps she speaks instead.

It seems somewhat strenuous to speak when one is not being spoken to, though.  When all the important people are talking and all the seats are taken, sad, small voices don’t get much of a listen.  So, in her shyness, she sheepishly stops speaking.  She retreats the moment she realizes all that she says is sterile.

What does a little girl do when she is unheard, though?  What if she has something she simply must say?

Perhaps she will write instead.

Yes.  She will write.  She will write and write and write.  Every single day she will write what most grips her heart and she will show it to them.  She will share every thought; every joy; every pain; every discovery.  She will share her very heart with ink and parchment.  She will be an open book for all who care to read.  Her fragile, timid heart will be read in the lines of her expositions.  The risk of rejection after much rejection is even greater now.  But…well…I suppose she will share it anyway because, because, because she has so very much to say.

She found the pearl some years ago.  She found what every heart seems to search unknowingly for.  She must show them.  She must describe him.  She must seize their attention somehow.  She must!  So, she writes.

She hears the powerful people shout repeatedly from the table.  Over and over and over again soberly at her they say, “STOP!”  They want her to be silent.  She stopped singing.  She stopped speaking.  “Now, just stop scribbling, small trifle.  There is no seat here for your songs, your statements, your stories, or your study.  Stay silent and small where no one can see him in you.”

She thought.  She thought and thought and thought about this final instruction.  She felt fragile.  She cried.  She stayed quiet for some time.  She even stopped searching for him.  She started to give up.  He was, after all, everything to her.  He was all that was real.  He was all she ever had.  She could not bear not sharing him.  He was her heart.  Without him, she turned cold.  She no longer cared.  Nothing was real.  Nothing meant anything without him.

Jesus.  She wrote about Jesus.  She loved him all her life…since she was a small, shy, fragile, poor, little girl.  Moreover, he loved her.  She simply had to say it.

What does a little girl do when she stops writing about her first love, though?

Perhaps she hides her face and begins to cry.  She is just a little girl with feelings more fragile than anyone else in the family, after all.  Maybe, just maybe, she will let it go for good this time, though.  Funny thing about little girls, though…they often let go when they really should be holding on and hold on when they really should be letting go.  No matter.  Perhaps its far too late for such realizations.  Perhaps she will seek what is real and true apart from those whom she always thought could help her do so.  The cold doesn’t bother her anyway.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moSFlvxnbgk

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After another stellar workout and a mind full of regrets, she gets in the car to leave.  She notices an unfinished book that has tucked itself down between the seats.

“Holiness.”

She shrugs and rolls her eyes.  Holiness.  As if ten years and a second read could really make it sink in; make her any different.  She sits and stares as her anger forbids the inevitable avalanche of dammed up pain from bursting forth – at least for the moment.  Spiritually spent, she starts the engine and dutifully drives home.

Deep thoughts linger as the realities of the day play out around her.  Like a dream wherein she is only an observer she feels fully detached.  She watches as her four year old reaches for the dog.  Once, he nips her.  Twice, he scratches her.  Thrice, he bites her.  Each time, pain followed by premature forgiveness.  He lunges again and her countenance changes.  No more soft, sad eyes.  No more holding her own little hands together trying to ease the hurt.  No more whimpers as she waits for an apology of sorts.  No.  With new-found fury in her eyes, she stands up tall over top of him.  Viciously, she grabs his knotted toy and she seeks revenge.  She is me.

She cooks.  She teaches.  She obeys.  She submits.  She forgets.

She feeds.  She fails.  She rebels.  She usurps.  She remembers.

So, she fights.  She fights.  Her fury fuels her fear and she finishes what she figured she would always fight against.  She fails.  She fights.  She fails.  She will not forgive.

She exits the externally pristine world her best efforts have created.  The envy of her peers destroys any sense of accomplishment achieved by that which was real.  The sting of frozen air comforts her with its familiarity.  She runs.  She wonders how she got this far away.  She feigns forgetfulness.  She pines for perfection, but as she peers inward all she ever sees is that pitiful, poor little girl so plagued by the past.

Far away from what?  It all seems so false.  Holiness?  Truth?  Righteousness?  Reality?  What is it all about anyway?  She is unsure why she is so unsure.  She is indifferent about her sudden indifference.  Apathy.  Hollowness.  Emptiness.  Nothingness.  Darkness.

She stays outside until her hands ache with cold.  “Ice Queen” is the name she has been given.  She cannot figure whether it is because the cold does not faze her or just because it is so wretchedly plain to see that her heart is bitter cold.  Perhaps it is a little of both.  All she knows is that she no longer cares.  Apathy and numbness have spread like cancer over all affections.  She is dying.

She attends the high school musical.  Beauty and the Beast perform an epic that seeks to awaken her lost love once again.  She watches as a princess sacrifices herself for the sake of her father- a father who loves her immensely.  She dozes, exhausted from the week’s fight.  She awakens to a beast with a changed heart sitting at the table with an even more beautifully clothed princess.  She no longer sees staying with him as a sorrow-filled sacrifice.  She wonders if the fairy tale will materialize or if she is simply an utter fool.

Finally, she closes her eyes and she struggles to slowly sift through all the sickness and sedentary shadows she stores inside.  She searches for a shred of something that has somehow been so long stolen.  She reluctantly surrenders.  She swears it will be the very last time.

Hope.  She hopes.  She will still lose.  She already has.  With the taste of failure still in her mouth, she remains.  God save her.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_5U0M9ErGA

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“Choke up.”

“Keep your eye on the ball.”

“Follow through.”

I could not begin to count the times Daddy said these words to his baseball lovin’ wanna-be baby boy, yours truly.  Why did I always forget?  Were they really that hard to remember?

When the world was big and life was small, the countless hours spent in that old field behind our house proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was the apple of Daddy’s eye.  I was the one holding that bat bought for big brother, albeit far too low.  I was the one swinging at (and missing) every pitch Daddy threw.  I was the one making contact and forgetting to drive that ball on through once I did hit it.  Daddy saw me.  Daddy knew me.  Daddy loved me.  Daddy corrected me.

His wisdom?

“Choke up.”  Daddy wasn’t talking about clearing my throat.  That big ‘ol bat was just too heavy for my string bean, seven year old arms.  He wanted me to move my hands up higher and let that Louisville Slugger bear and balance some of its own weight.  Could I be so amnesic as to forget his good counsel today?  When the plank protruding from my eye is breaking my back, there is no way I can swing straight on.  I’m gonna miss the mark every single time lest I loosen my grip, take my hands off that sticky base (that tape just never seemed to stay right), re-position myself, and find the balance that will help bear my load.  

“Keep your eye on the ball.”  I learned, not so quickly, that I could not be thinking about swinging when the pitcher let go of that ball.  Swinging the bat had to be second nature.  Technique and timing had to be reflexive.  Slugger stance had to be natural.  I couldn’t daydream – my favorite Loriland pastime.  I couldn’t zone out, unless, of course, I didn’t mind a baseball to the belly.  My eyes had to be fixed upon the trajectory of the ball at all times.  That ball had to be the sole and primary focus of my attention when I was up to bat.  Nothing should have been able to break in on the business between my big green eyes and that ball Daddy first bought for my brother.  

But it did.  Oh, how many swing and miss struggling times it did!  So distracted.  So unprepared.  So forgetful.  Why couldn’t I just look at the damn ball?  And why don’t I remember to look at my Savior when life has me in the 50-consecutive-fast-pitch batting cages?   Focus.  Without it, I get annihilated by hard balls that really hurt.  I strike out when it really counts every single time.

“Follow through.”  My boxing coach (Thanks, Mike!)  began to school me on following through with my punches the other day.  That’s what brought me back to backyard bouts of baseball in the first place.  I heard Daddy’s voice echo in coach’s constant correction.  I guess following through has always been problematic for me.  Even after all the practice on how to swing, how to stand, how to keep my eye on the ball, and how to hit it, I still failed to drive that rogue home.  Even after all the training on how to stand, how to move, and how to hit, I’ve got yet another skill to try and master.  

Follow through – without which none of the others much matter even if all are mastered.  Making contact will be of non-importance if my opponent doesn’t feel impact.  No runs get batted in and no points show up on the scoreboard when the ball barely makes it out of the batter’s box.  Every skill learned builds to this.  It is the climax of all that’s been poured into me.  This is it.  Follow through is the last step.  Follow through is, dare I say, the most important step.  Daddy knew nothing else he’d taught mattered if I failed to follow through.  That’s why he never stopped saying it – over, and over, and over again.

With that I ask for your prayers.  I often still forget to choke up.  The load is far too heavy and I end up with the weight of the world on my back.  I constantly take my eyes off of my Savior and strike out when it really counts.  I ever fail to follow through and I waste what he’s poured so much effort into with me right at the very end.  

I just want to make it home.  I don’t care if I get dirty.  Truth is, I actually prefer that.  At least then everyone will know I played the game.  Clean or dirty, the hours spent learning, trying, failing, and falling in love with my Father prove to me beyond the shadow of any devil-induced doubt that I really am the apple of his very eye.  Lord, may your words ever echo in my ears and give me grace to cross the final plate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTfwbtVVtAY

A Worker of Grace

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In conclusion in his letter to the Galatians, Paul gives his last and final warning regarding false teachers there.

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. ~Galatians 6:11-15

Paul again sites the men who were trying to lead and sway the church toward their own selfish interests and ideas.  He again describes them as externally focused, cowardly, hypocritical, and full of boasting.  Let’s consider those ugly attributes for just a moment.

Externally focused.  You’ve met leaders like this.  They are the ones obsessed with counting attendance; crunching numbers; building bigger.  They love talking about all the work they are doing and telling you about all the work you ought to be doing for God.  (‘Cause what Jesus called you to do just ain’t good ’nuff bro.)  They like publicity.  They like pats on the back.  They’re the ones telling everyone besides their elite carbon copies that they are likely outside of grace lest they all conform and work diligently on…you guessed it…their vision.  Beware, says Paul, teachers whose emphasis is on work, duty, and things such as numerical growth from the brethren above grace, mercy, and love of the brethren.

Cowardly. These men did not want to suffer for the gospel.  Let’s face it, no one likes to suffer, but, these guys were willing to compromise anything and everything necessary as far as truth goes in order to stay “safe.”  They loved their reputations.  They loved their positions.  They loved their names, their titles, and their social statuses.  Therefore, they had to compromise the truth in order to please men, look righteous, and play both sides of the fence.  Anyone who would challenge the validity or veracity of their false teachings or practices became their enemy.  Hence, the attitude of social and spiritual exclusion.  

Hypocritical.  These are the guys who point out every letter in the law for every single soul but themselves.  “Do this.  Don’t do that.  If you do; if you don’t, you are demonic and damnable…”  They not only fail to recognize humanity for who we are (Christian or not), but also fail to recognize the darkness and deceit of their very own hearts as well.  There is no grace.  There is no hope.  There is only judgement, disgust, and self-righteous condescension towards those they claim to seek to lead.  Oh, the damage done by men so blind and barbaric!  Jesus saves sinners.  It is the sick that he heals.

Boastful.  These men used their external works and rule-keeping logs as a badge of honor and boasting in the church.  They never sinned…publicly.  They never admitted their own failures.  They never confessed.  They only kept lists of all the great things they did according to their own rule-books.  The whole point of encouraging others to follow was for the sake of their own pride and boasting over more of the same works, not for the glory of Jesus Christ or the gospel. 

You know what Paul says about their externally focused, cowardly, hypocritical, boastful religious works??? You know what he says about his own works?  

For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

They count for NOTHING! Nothing!  Paul wants his brothers and sisters to see who they are in Christ, not who someone else that clearly doesn’t even love them at all expects them to be.  Funny, he doesn’t mention anything about their outward condition.  No.  But he calls them new.  Bought and owned by a God of peace; of mercy; of grace.  Instead of telling them how they ought to suffer, he encourages them with his own suffering.  He offers a farewell bent on grace and love.  

For a guy who was thoroughly troubled and frustrated with his church, this is a remarkable sort of love letter.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit, Paul has truly given us a work of grace in this short epistle to the Galatian church.  Amen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGF6c0tjAgI

 

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