Thirty (30)

It is true that today I turned 3 decades . . sort of.  Depending on how you count my time on earth, I could already be considered 30 + about 9 months.  🙂

However you figure it, I’m older than I have mostly ever wanted to be.  I wasn’t much into turning older on birthdays after my 21st . . for many reasons . .

one was that I simply didn’t want to become old (a common goal)

. . another that I didn’t want to outlive my dreams . .

nor did I want to lose the youthful beauty I think most of us girls long to have & to hold . .

But here I am, at 30.  Perhaps 1/3 of my life here is already gone.  If I live to be only as old as my father, over 1/2 of my life is already over.  I’ve taught 2nd grade, and I know in the fraction world of circles or squares, a half is a scary-big chunk of the whole.  And who’s to say I will live even that long?

And not only this, but the rest of the chunk of my life–however big that slice–isn’t promising to be good by anything I can muster.

My life is complicated: I find myself on the hard-gravel ground of disappointment.  When I look at my failures compared to my successes, I could pull out my hair.  Much of the time I trip, trip, and fall more than I even walk, much less run, toward what I most want.

Truth be told, I often do not feel confident I know what I’m doing.  At times I lose battles to intense anxiety and bouts of depression at, of course, inopportune times.  I struggle to cope with my own faults, and many times I feel downright detestable.

And that’s me, at 30.

But now let me tell the same story in another way:

It is true that today I turned 3 decades . . sort of.  But, however you count it, in the realm of Heaven, I haven’t even lived 1/100th of my life.  Not even 1/1000th.  Not even 1,000,000,000th.  Because of the righteousness of Christ, I will live forever.  And ever.  And 30 years is not so long in the sand timer of eternity.

I’m older than I have mostly ever wanted to be.  I wasn’t much into turning older on birthdays after my 21st.  One reason was that I simply didn’t want to become old . . but now that Christ has torn a gaping hole into the flat picture of my mortality–a wide, wide hole for me to escape right through–that problem is solved.

I didn’t want to outlive my dreams . . but my daydreams have changed, and my achievement in life is now based on the merits of Christ, not my own.  I can no longer outlive the plan for my life, because the plan for my life is no longer time-sensitive but instead eternally minded.

When I was 21, didn’t want to lose the youthful beauty I think most of us girls long to have & to hold, but now I’ve seen real beauty, and I can tell you it has nothing to do with being 21.  If you want to find out what beauty looks like, stand at the foot of the cross and look up.

Here I am, at 30.  About 4 years ago, I decided to yield my heart to Christ, and the last 4 years of my life have held more meaning than the first 26 put together.

I didn’t instantly become perfect (as anyone who sees me on any basis whatsoever knows) . . but I instantly gained His perfection.  All my fears didn’t run and hide . . but they will someday.  I don’t have it all figured out . . but I know the Master Planner who works despite the evil we’ve invited into His world, and I trust Him.

My life is still complicated, but at times, I glimpse the unspeakable simplicity of the freedom I have in Christ: He stood in for me at the cross.

When I still find myself on the ground of hard-gravel ground of disappointment, the hope I have in Christ is an earthquake on the Richter scale of 100 and KABLOOEYS my disappointment into smithereens.

When I look at my failures compared to my successes, I could pull out my hair, and that’s why it’s much more productive for me to spend my time looking at Christ’s track record.  He lived a perfect life because He knew I couldn’t; now I can be free from the bondage of always being imperfect and never measuring up.  His record is my record; my record is now perfect; I can live in His perfection with a whole new outlook on everything.

Much of the time, I trip, trip, and fall more than I walk, much less run, toward what I most want.  But, by the grace of God, I do get a few sprints in now and again.  And when I’m not graceful, and I land on my face, Christ is always there to pick me up.  When I am limping, He lets me lean on Him.  And when I can’t walk; He carries me.

I often do not feel confident I know what I’m doing, so I’m so thankful He knows what He’s doing.  At times I still lose battles to intense anxiety and bouts of depression at, of course, inopportune times, but He’s at the end of the WAR on sin and the Curse and He’s the victor.

I struggle to cope with my own faults, and many times I feel downright detestable . . but He hasn’t given up on me yet.

Even though I’m not an asset to Him . . even though I don’t profit Him anything but what He Himself gave to me . . even though He has no need for me . . even though He has every reason to hate me . . even though there’s nothing about me that could invite Him to take an interest in me . . even though there’s nothing in it for Him to become my friend that He couldn’t have equally well without me . . still, by His nature–by the very nature of who He is–He seeks me, for my sake.  For 30 years He has had His eye out for me; for 30 years He has loved me; and for 30 years He has given me the next heartbeat, the next breath, the next grace of another moment.

Since I am with Him, 30 is just the first 3-0.  Next up: 300.  Then 3,000.  Then 30,000.  Then 300,000.  Then 3,000,0000, and eternity is just beginning, and I will still be getting to know my Christ . .

I told you I would tell you the story another way.

Christ is the Way.

And He makes all the difference.

“I am the Way,” replied Jesus, “and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, Weymouth NT)

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Published in: on August 28, 2013 at 11:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Deceitful GPS

Following a deceitful heart is like following a deceitful GPS.  If I knew Satan had downloaded the maps into my GPS, would I use it to take me places?  So why would I trust my heart, which Satan has filled with his desires, to try to make good decisions?

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26, NIV)

Published in: on August 27, 2013 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Veil

About three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, eli, lema sabachthani?”, which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, ISV)

Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice again and died. Suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth shook, rocks were split open, tombs were opened, and many saints who had died were brought back to life. After his resurrection, they came out of their tombs, went into the Holy City, and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those guarding Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the other things that were taking place, they were terrified and said, “This man certainly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:50-54, ISV)

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Mark 15:33-34, ISV)

It was already about noon, and the whole land became dark until three in the afternoon because the sun had stopped shining, and the curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two. Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice and said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” After he said this, he breathed his last.

When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “This man certainly was righteous!” When all the crowds who had come together for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they beat their chests and left. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, were standing at a distance watching these things. (Luke 23:44-49, ISV)

The veil . . torn.

The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from view:

TORN.

The veil that separated God from man.

TORN!

The veil that only the high priest could enter through, only once a year, and only with a sacrifice of animal blood . . TORN by the High Priest who entered with His own blood as the sacrifice.  That is who Jesus Christ is.

The Tearer of the Separation between God and Man.

In a mystery we do not understand, God was denied access to God.

As Jesus carried the sins of the world to become sin for us,  He lost his relationship with His Father.  God lost relationship with God.  He Himself gave Himself to be the blood.

Innocent animal blood made it permissible for the high priest to visit God once a year in fear and trembling, but God’s blood, offered to God, by God, made it possible for God Himself to rip the curtain in two.

As Christ was separated from His Father by the unbearable burden of sin He carried . . God departed from God for the first time in history.

One infinite Person of God, the Father, was just to condemn sin . . and another infinite Person of God, Jesus the Son, stood in our place to be condemned.

The penalty of sin demanded that the Judge require payment in full . . and the Judge Himself was the payment.

God the Father ripped the veil with His own hands to make way for God the Son–the Sacrifice and the High Priest–to come through.

Jesus was exactly right.

It was finished.  Right then.

The veil in the temple, separating the Presence of God from us, ripped from top to bottom, torn by the Father as the nail-scarred Son stepped right through.

The way from God to man . . opened.

OPENED.

Not since Eden had it been opened.

And now, the Son stepped through, introducing the Father to us.

The Holiest of Holies . . wants to adopt you and me.

And now nothing stood, and still nothing stands, in God’s way to reach us.

But millions die without entering through the veil.

Why?

We have our own veils we place up to block the Light of God out of our lives.

These veils serve as idols, woven by Satan, to prevent us from seeing our salvation.

These veils and not our sin keep us from Christ.  That is, these unholy veils are sin, but it is active use of them as an obstruction that keeps us from Him.

Even that obstruction, that sin of a blocked heart, can be forgiven when the heart repents.  You must actively, persistently hold the veil up with all your might if it is to remain.

To keep yourself separated from God, you must willfully hold your sin up as the veil to prevent His Light from coming through.

The most important question you can ask yourself is, Will you?  Will you allow your veil–whatever it is, Satan isn’t particular on the threads you use–to block the light of God from reaching your soul?

Or will you drop your sin-reeking, self-made veil to let the love of Christ through?

For when you drop your dark veil, what you see is the Light coming through the real torn veil.

And then you see that nothing, absolutely nothing, separates you from God.

I choose the Light.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” (John 3:16-21, NLT)

Rediscovering Cinderella . . Part I

One of my favorite fairy tales is the story of Cinderella (and I’ll tell the Disney version I grew up loving).  

Cinderella, a lowly, abused maid, and her little mice (including the adorably chubby Gus) live in a high-up tower in the house that she herself should rightfully own as her father’s only heir . . except that the house belongs first, by law, to her stepmother.

Surrounded every day by loads of laundry, piles of dishes, demanding, selfish stepsisters, a calculatingly malicious stepmother, and an evil cat to boot, Cinderella has no means of escape.  None.

But then one day, an opportunity– not an opportunity of a lifetime, but a supernatural opportunity that does not come in anyone’s normal lifetime–appears when she least expects it.

Stripped of the dress she tried to make for herself to reach qualification for the ball–her dress literally ripped away by her sisters who (truthfully) claim various pieces of it were stolen by the mice–Cinderella lays on the floor of her own home where she is a slave, weeping . . and the sound of horse-hooves disappears outside, her stepmother and stepsisters carted away to the ball.

At the lowest point in her life, with no hope at all, surrendered to her bondage forever, the final straw of her will broken, who should appear but her fairy godmother?

Now, no one has ever even heard of a fairy godmother (no one in Cinderella’s world).  In fact, looking at this story through the eyes of Cinderella’s world, her world is less expectant of such an event occurring than our world, because in our world we at least have heard of fairy godmothers . . but in Cinderella’s world, no one even knows such a gift exists!

Cinderella had absolutely no expectation of her fairy godmother’s coming.

Unlike other fairy tales, Cinderella didn’t wish for the gift to come . .

. . she didn’t pay or earn the right for the gift to enter her life . .

. . she wasn’t smart enough to invent something to connect her to the gift . .

. . she didn’t discover something to take her to the event . .

. . she wasn’t clever enough to discover the gift on her own . .

. . and it wasn’t by an inherent right that she received the gift.

Her fairy godmother shows up when she least expects it, transforms her rags into a ball gown the like of which has never been seen in her world, and creates for her a carriage to take her to the ball.

The fairy godmother’s magic, however, is limited to midnight, and at that point, Cinderella’s dress is turned back to rags, her carriage to pumpkin, her horses to mice.

. . Amazing, isn’t it?  Versions of this story have captured attention around the world for we-don’t-even-know-how-long.  Type in your search engine “versions of Cinderella stories around the world” and you find a list of countries in which some form of this story appears.

But . . why?

Have you ever wondered what’s behind the Cinderella story?

Is something striking you very familiar about it, but you can’t quite place your finger on it?

Or have you already realized its origin?

If you go back thousands of years, you will find what I believe is the trunk of this story that so captivates the hearts of children–especially girls–everywhere.

But if you’re to understand this trunk, you need to know the real name of the first character who I think experienced the story of Cinderella:

Joseph.

That’s right.  His name was Joseph.

He lived a long time ago, with his father, his mother, his stepmother, his stepbrothers, his stepsister, and his little brother.  You see, in his family, his father was tricked into marrying his stepmother, and, as a result, a devastating family furrow was laid.  The stepmother and the mother fought for the husband’s favor–but it wasn’t so easy as to say the stepmother was evil and the mother was good.  Not at all.  Both were in a heart-aching struggle for love and both more than likely wronged each other.

The stepmother had many children, but the mother only had two: Joseph, and his little brother.

But the father loved Joseph and his little brother most.  Far most.  And the stepbrothers knew it.

When Joseph was still young, on the day his little brother was born, his mother died.  We don’t know who raised him after that point, whether it was his stepmother, or one of his father’s servant-wives, or who else it might have been.  But we knew he grew up as a treasured favorite of his father.

Joseph fell in ill favor with his stepbrothers for many factors, the first of which was more than likely simply because he was the favorite.  When looking at the events that led up to what would happen to him, there are different theories on whether Joseph brought some of the troubles on himself or not, but, however it was, his brothers hated him.

And then, one day, his father gave him a special gift.  A beautiful, beautiful robe.  But when he visited his stepbrothers, they stripped him of his coat and threw him in a pit, an empty well.

He begged and pleaded with them to pull him back out.  To set him free.  But they sat down for a meal.

While he was in the worst anguish of his life, they were getting ready to eat.

And then, what should come along but a caravan?

Joseph’s circumstance dramatically changed, but not to dramatically better.  Rather than being left in a well to die slowly of thirst, he’s sold to merchants headed to Egypt–a country of pagan gods, extravagant Pharaohs, and desperately lowly slaves.  And from the way his stepbrothers thought later, they seemed to view this slavery as leading to death.

Cast out, exiled to become a slave, Joseph was powerless to change his circumstances.  Trapped in a caravan, very likely bound by ropes, he was led away to a country he’d never been in, to serve a people he did not know.

Joseph worked as a nobody, a nothing, a slave, probably for years.  Then, thrown in prison under false accusation, he found himself in the pit of Egyptian society with no way out.

But something happens.

God steps in.

God gives Joseph, with total clarity, the explanation to two dreams.  And two years after, his knowledge of dreams becomes known to the king.  The king, who’s had a dream that bothers him very much, commands for Joseph to be brought before him.

Given (probably hurriedly) an opportunity to clean up and change clothes, Joseph–this nobody of nobodies–is suddenly, surprisingly, supernaturally brought before the king of all the land.

And God again gives him, with total clarity, the explanation for the dream.

Instantly (quicker than a fairy godmother can wave her wand!), Joseph finds himself dressed in expensive clothes, wearing Pharaoh’s signet ring on his finger and a probably impressively weighty gold chain around his neck.  He’s the shocked new owner of a chariot,  accompanied by servants running ahead of his chariot proclaiming his importance, renamed to fit in the order of Egyptian regalia, gifted with a wife who was probably very beautiful and her father probably very powerful, and, by the way, commander of every person in the nation except Pharaoh himself.

(Not even Cinderella’s godmother could have accomplished all this before the clock struck midnight!)

And not only this, but the clock does not strike midnight for Joseph.

During a famine, he lives in multiplying wealth that I would imagine would be comparable to the top wealthiest in the world of our day, he’s gifted with at least two sons, honored and feared most likely wherever he goes, and, as if this isn’t enough, he’s given a double inheritance of his father’s land, a gift that becomes very significant hundreds of years later when the Promised Land is divided for the 12 tribes.  Joseph lives the rest of his life without the clock striking midnight.

Wow.

And I thought the story of Cinderella was good.

But just wait.

Because the story of Joseph is next to nothing compared to the Cinderella story to come.

For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him! (Isaiah 64:4, NLT)

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9b, NLT)

Read Joseph’s Cinderella story for yourself.  Backdrop: Genesis 29-30, Genesis 33 (the game of favorites), Genesis 35 (the death of Rachel), and Joseph’s story: Genesis 37, 39-50.

How DID I miss this one?

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. (Psalm 33:6, NIV)

The Creator spoke, and the world existed.  He breathed and there were stars.

And God put breath in us . . but we wasted it.

Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. (Genesis 2:7, NLT)

The very same Creator who breathed the constellations into existence would one day breathe the air He Himself had invented–but He would be breathing it not in Eden, but rather on the cursed land that resulted from humanity’s fall.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, NIV)

This Creator of breath would breathe–first in a stable . . and at the end, on a cross.  Yes, the Creator of breath breathed His last.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. (Mark 15:37, NIV)

But the end was the beginning.

My pastor once talked about what it might have been like the first Easter Sunday in the tomb of Jesus.  Two angels, sent to the tomb, (my pastor supposed they might not have known why), perhaps behind the sealed rock, inside the tomb, inside the stillness.  And then, suddenly,

breathing.

As my pastor pointed out . .

Angels (maybe) do not breathe.  Maybe there was a marvelously startling terror in them to suddenly hear the breathing of Someone in a tomb that contained only the body of their God.

Can you imagine . . can you imagine what it might have been like for one of those angels to turn around?  To see the breathing LORD?

And though I heard that sermon over a year ago now, still, still I missed it until, in bed last night, I realized.

Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8, NLT)

The breath from Christ’s mouth . . destroys the man of lawlessness.

Christ breathes again.

The very act of resurrection is the only victory required for the defeat of all evil.

In other words, no further action is needed for Hell to have met its match, for sin to be quenched, for Satan himself to be unraveled in defeat.

Jesus just needs to breathe.

And He already does.

Although it will be very real one day, Armageddon isn’t going to decide the fate of Heaven and earth.  Neither are events we have imagined, like aliens from other planets, global warming, nuclear bombs, homicidal maniacs, modern psychologists, the internet, or how many shoes we have in our closets (our obsession with materialism).

And it isn’t going to be decided by an imaginary superhero with bullet belts strapped down both sides of their body or by the latest CGI karate master or by whoever builds the biggest, smartest robot on the planet.

Only One, and One only, decides the fate of everything and everyone, and He doesn’t do it by any way that our movies think up.

He just breathes.

See, the Name of the Lord comes from afar,

with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke;

his lips are full of wrath,

and his tongue is a consuming fire.

His breath is like a rushing torrent,

rising up to the neck.

He shakes the nations in the sieve of destruction;

he places in the jaws of the peoples

a bit that leads them astray.

And you will sing

as on the night you celebrate a holy festival;

your hearts will rejoice

as when people playing pipes go up

to the mountain of the Lord,

to the Rock of Israel.

The Lord will cause people to hear his majestic voice

and will make them see his arm coming down

with raging anger and consuming fire,

with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail. (Isaiah 30:27-30, NIV)

He just breathes.

And you know what?

He is already breathing.

He has already won.

The breath of life from the resurrection is the final say.

It already is!

Doesn’t that make you want to be on God’s side all the more?

This isn’t a battle like in some spaceship movie where two sides shoot laser beams at each other . . or a western where two enemies count ten paces, hands on their holsters . . or an action movie where machine guns and bombs and high-speed car chases decide the winner . . or a Medieval battle where two knights gallop forward on their steeds, swords drawn . . or a march across Middle Earth, elves on one side, orcs on the other . .

This is about one breath.

He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. The earth will shake at the force of his word, and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked. (Isaiah 11:4, NLT)

Have you realized the power of the resurrection?

“Then at the command of the Lord,

at the blast of his breath,

the bottom of the sea could be seen,

and the foundations of the earth were laid bare.”

(2 Samuel 22:16, NLT)

And the following verse for everyone who believes in Jesus.

“He reached down from heaven and rescued me;

he drew me out of deep waters.”

(2 Samuel 22:17, NLT)

Published in: on August 22, 2013 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Beyond grace?

In this life, you are only beyond God’s grace if you want to be.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:13-16, NIV)

Precision

Plane Creative CommonsOn my flight (I believe it was to Florida in route to Paraguay), I journaled about an unusual experience I had when looking out the window.  I don’t usually look out the window on flights, and even on this flight I didn’t keep my eyes pasted to the window, but still I saw tiny planes flying by–FIVE of them, I thought I counted, at different times–and that prompted a thought:

How important precision is.

If any one of those flights (including ours) had not checked in with the control tower, we could have had a catastrophic collision.  If any one of those flights did not follow the directions from air traffic control, all our lives would have been in jeopardy.

No one thinks it’s intolerant of air traffic control to expect the pilots to check in with them, or to have to obey their commands.  We might not think of it as commands, but really, it is.  The pilot can’t take off unless he has permission from air traffic control to do so.  The pilot can’t go willy-nilly on his own path through the sky, unless he expects to be fired (with possible lawsuits from passengers to follow!).

Yet, when we get to talking about God (although people try to tame the topic down by calling it religion instead of talking about God), people often throw out ideas like:

  • Most (if not all) roads get you to Heaven.
  • It’s merely opinion.
  • What’s right for you may not be right for me.
  • We’re all on a journey.  This is the path I’m taking.

But let’s go back to my airplane experience.  Suppose, mid route to Miami, I notice the pilot is steering our plane only a few hundred yards from another plane!  I rush to the cockpit and shout, “What are you doing?”

The pilot casually responds, “I’m taking a different route.  After all, most paths will get us to Miami.”

“What are you talking about?” I cry.  “We’re going to crash into that other plane!”

“Oh, well, that’s merely opinion,” the pilot says casually.

“That’s not opinion!” I scream.  “WE’RE GOING TO DIE!”

“What’s right for you may not be right for me,” the pilot says, sitting back, stretching his legs.

“I’m telling you, we’re headed right for that plane!”

“We’re all on a journey,” the pilot answers.  “This is the path I’m taking.”

That kind of attitude would never fly with any airline.  We all naturally know that the pilot should obey air traffic control, and that the route he takes shouldn’t be up to him, but up to experts who are in towers with computer monitors, tracking all the planes in the area, viewing every plane’s routes, and able to direct the pilot to the safest passageway.

If we feel this way about something temporary, like a plane trip, shouldn’t we feel this way all that much more about something eternal, like the destiny of our souls?

In a plane, the worst that can happen is for the pilot to wreck and all the passengers to be killed.

But in eternity, the worst that can happen is for our soul to spend eternity is the wrong place.  How will we manage if we are wrong?

Which decision should be assigned more intolerance for error: the course for a plane or the course for our soul?

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (Jesus, quoted in John 14:6b, HCSB)

__________________________________________________

Photograph by Preston Rhea, photograph here.

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

Published in: on August 6, 2013 at 5:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Have you ever been broken by God?

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, NIV)

I don’t know for sure about you, but I resist being broken.

I’ve never broken a bone that I know of except for maybe a rib, but one of the most painful experiences I had as a child was a time when astonishingly I did not break a bone.

I was in a park on a playground, and I’d guess I was about 8 or so.  I was fascinated by the teeter-totter, and I wondered how the mechanism worked that tilted it up and down.

I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but I went over to the teeter-totter to check out the axis.  While I was sticking my hand in to see how the mechanism worked, two kids got on either side of the teeter-totter and started using it.

It was one of the most extreme pains I’ve had.  The weight of the teeter-totter bearing down on my arm was so agonizing I could not even find my voice to tell the children to stop.  I’m sure it all took place in a matter of a few seconds, but I found my voice and in what seemed to me to be a dazed murmur asked them to get off the ride.

They got off, in surprise, and I pulled my arm out.  I was in shock about what had happened as I held my throbbing arm out.

Since then, I’ve rarely put my hand in any kind of mechanism again without seriously thinking about it first (I’m reluctant to get something out of the garbage disposal).

The idea of God breaking us is not one I think any of us can honestly say we are comfortable with.  For one thing, many believers still don’t fully trust that God is love, and so when they (and most of the time I am included here) think of Him breaking them in their lives, they think secretly of some ill-purpose or ill-will.

I would assert that we try very hard not to be broken by God.  Have you ever been listening to a sermon that was convicting, and found a way to distract yourself?  Have you ever been reading a book that was too uncomfortable about radical devotion to God, and found something else to do?  Have you ever felt God convicting you of a sin and been too fearful to face the consequences?

We are masters at resisting God’s breaking.  At 3:00 in the morning, if God is working on your heart, you can not only read a book, but you can turn on the TV, surf the internet, play a video game, or chat on Facebook.  Some people are even able to work from home and answer emails or write new proposals during the uncomfortable time.

The goal for us seems in whatever way possible to resist God’s breaking of us.

And for reasons that seem very valid to us.  God’s breaking of our hearts can be far more painful than the time my arm was caught in a seesaw.

But why would God want us to break?  If He doesn’t desire to be mean to us–He doesn’t enjoy kicking us around the way a criminal might kick a dog around–and He doesn’t seek as an end result for our sorrow, then why would He cause something so terrible to happen to us such as breaking?

Here are a few reasons I can think of.  You might add your own.

  • Salvation.  The most obvious reason is salvation.  Many people feel broken before salvation, though some (because they were a small child or because they had already gone through a breaking time previously, or for another reason) may not experience this breaking pre-salvation, but post.  After months of feeling broken, God in His grace brought me to His salvation in a time of healing.  God knows how each of us work.  Many come to Him in broken-hearted repentance.  (For me, much of this repentance came after inviting Christ into my life.  I was on a journey to confessing [and admitting] all of my sin before God, a journey I’m still working on, fearful that He wouldn’t forgive me if He really knew me.  But I did come with the mindset of already knowing I was a sinner, and having known that for years.)
  • Confession to evaporate guilt.  There are two ways to look at this: God is cruel or God wants you to be free of entanglements and burdens.  The entanglement and burden of unconfessed sin is huge.  If you are too afraid to give God a sin because you think if you “acknowledge” it He’ll stop loving you (personal experience here), then you carry a weight that God doesn’t intend you to carry as His child.  And He will increase the pressure and pain of that weight until you give it to Him, so you can walk free.
  • Confession to evaporate denial.  Sometimes, it’s easy to not give certain sins to God, mainly if we want to keep doing them (again, spoken from experience).  Rather than looking at God as someone who is all to overjoyed to punish you for your sin, realize that He wants you to walk a life that is a witness to others, and that He is working to bring about your sanctification (the purity of your walk before Him).
  • Eternal perspective.  It is so, so easy to hear the message of Christ drowned out by the so-called ‘goodies’ of this world.  I find myself struggling to resist looking at magazine covers as I walk through the grocery store aisles; distracted by bulletin boards that idolatrize materialism and physical beauty; and overwhelmed at times by the plethora of possessions one can own in their lifetime–each with the personal, very intimate, and totally deceitful promise of a and then I lived happily ever after claim.  Other times we feel inundated by work or relationship demands, sexual cravings, physical needs, retirement concerns, etc.  The list is nearly endless.  And in all this, the eternal perspective we should have is forgotten or put on a back burner.  When God breaks us from these things, what happens?  We are able to focus on the delight of Him, and to truly draw others into His Presence.
  • Passion.  Becoming dull for God can begin to happen in a single moment.  One choice can cause us to stumble and fall out of fellowship with Him.  In this time, we are not only on a self-destructive path for ourselves, but we do warfare against the precious testimony we have toward the world.  God wants to create in us a zealous, earnest passion for the lost, for His Truth, and for His everlasting love.
  • HumilityWe can get to where we think we are the coolest Christians on the block.  God breaking us reminds us to have an eye out for the broken.  When we are standing proud with our chest puffed out, showcasing the ‘metals’ we think we’ve earned in our Christian walk, we nearly always ignore the needs of the lost around us.  God wants us to remember the lost, including the ‘undesirable’ lost.  And not just to throw money at them or pity them, but to reach out and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them!
  • Dependence on God.  It’s hard to believe, but sometimes in our Christian walk, we can think we are soo special that God could scarcely do without us, rather than that we cannot do without Him!  Ever been there?  I have.  When God breaks us, it isn’t an act of trying to force us to see Him as boss, but a gracious kindness to remind us that He is our Life.  When we stray from dependence on God, we become dependent on things that serve as ‘mini-idols’ in our lives, like our relationships, our career, our plans, etc.
  • Bravery.  When we have an area in our life that we feel we can’t achieve victory over, God can give us the courage to have victory by breaking us of our love for that wrong thing or or the fear holding us back from doing the right thing.  God can break us of our fear of sharing our testimony, witnessing to people on the street, etc., or our love of materialism, forgiving those who have hurt us most, etc.–by destroying the false hope we have in doing something wrong and destroying the false fear we have in doing something right.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, NIV)

I am so afraid of being broken.  I am so afraid of suffering.  If you’re like me, you probably are, too.  But there are times in my Christian walk when I’ve prayed for God to break me.  In fact, one Christian song we sing, Hosanna (Hillsong United), invites God to do just this with the line,

Break my heart for what breaks Yours.

We may artificially request for God to break us and be shocked by the very real answer He gives us.  True brokenness is terribly painful and we struggle to accept it, even from the hand of our Rescuer.  But think about the verse from the Psalm, and these other Scriptures, and you and I will see a bright torch of Hope in our brokenness.

“Son of man, groan before the people! Groan before them with bitter anguish and a broken heart.” (God, Ezekiel 21:6, NLT)

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (David, Psalm 34:18, NLT)

My days are over. My hopes have disappeared. My heart’s desires are broken. (Job, Job 17:11, NLT)

“I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the LORD.” (Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:15b, HCSB)

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. (David, Psalm 147:3, NLT)

I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. (David, Psalm 38:8, NIV)

Ezekiel (whom God commanded to groan), David, Job, and Hannah all followed God.  They had hearts that sought Him.  Job is a man whom God said about him,

“There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8b, NIV)

Surely Job had a life that we should look carefully at to learn what a follower of Jesus might expect to experience in this world.  (By the way, “blameless” does not mean “sinless” but that he followed God exceptionally and was forgiven of his sin.  In Job, he refers to sin he has had in the past, and indeed he sins against God in his anger/doubt towards Him.)

What do we find?  Job had a time of intense grief, questioning, doubt, struggling, and terror.  God broke him.  And in this, Job discovered the wonder of God.

What about Hannah?  She wanted children, probably more than just about anything.  Maybe even more than she wanted a relationship with God.  But she came to God in great brokenness, laying her grief at His feet, and she rested in whatever answer He would give her.  Then, when God did give her a child, she did something that seems almost unthinkably hard–she gave her first child to Him, to live in the temple.  She got to see her child, the boy she’d so longed for, once a year.  And how did God honor her for giving over what she most wanted to Him?  He gave her sons and daughters to raise, and the baby she dedicated became perhaps the greatest Old Testament judge during the time before the kings.

And David?  David lived a life of soaring highs and terrible lows before God.  After he became trapped in sexual sin, he killed men, including the husband of the woman he had violated.  He became terribly broken (see Psalm 51).  God forgave him, and in his beautiful, broken Psalm about his sin (Psalm 51), we find these words:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

so that sinners will turn back to you.

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,

you who are God my Savior,

and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Open my lips, Lord,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart

you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:12-18, NIV)

David knew something that many kings who came after him didn’t: only the Messiah could truly take away sin.  No matter how wealthy David was, or however mighty a warrior he was, or however talented with musical instruments, nothing and no one but God could take away his sin.

In summary, there are many reasons why God might break a person.  For a lost person, the reason is always for the purpose of salvation.  For the saved person, God sanctifies us through times of brokenness.  Resisting His brokenness as a lost person is to resist Eternal Life.  And resisting His brokenness as a believer is to resist His work to purify your life and testimony here on earth.

In a time of brokenness, however deep and fearful and even hopeless it may seem, remember that God’s ultimate desire is not for you to remain in this brokenness, but for you to be saved by it (if you are lost) or for you to experience His delight more deeply and draw the lost to Him (if you are already saved).

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Solomon, Proverbs 17:22)

A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. (Solomon, Proverbs 15:13, ESV)

Although this blog might seem like a detached commentary on the pain of brokenness, it is far from it.  I write this during a time of very personal and painful brokenness in my life.  I am not fully out of the feeling of having my arm caught in a seesaw yet.  I still feel the new wound of brokenness and I still have an unsettling, restless angst of, What if it does not go away?  I don’t know who said this first, nor is that really important, but I hold to the line, God does not waste our pain.  Whether you are a believer or not, God isn’t bringing suffering on you because He enjoys tormenting you.  Rather, He longs for you to be saved, or, if you are saved, to know Him better.

Although much of my heart still wants to resist the experience of breaking in my life, and though I still at times feel like a wild animal struggling to be tamed, I believe in, I hold to, and I desire to cling with white-knuckled grasp to the love of Christ.  I know that times of breaking are not senseless, needless, or for the purpose of my destruction, but rather to bring my heart closer to God, to bring my will in dearer alignment to His, and so that I may “rest on His unchanging grace” (Edward Mote, hymn On Christ the Solid Rock).

And one more Scripture each for unbelievers and for believers going through a time of brokenness.

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9, NIV)

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” (Hebrews 13:5, NASB)