Month: November 2014

Bigger Better Baked Goods: Process

pen-and-paper_400x295_39Today, we’re talking about doubt in the process. Check out the rest of the series here and here.

“Patience” is an uncommon thing in this day and age. In a world of one minute microwave dinners and six minute abs we all seem to be raising our voices crying “NOW!” It is amazing how impatient we are.

I remember when my family first gained access to the “Internet.” I could not believe what the Internet promised me. I could not believe that from a corner in our apartment I could communicate with others around the globe within seconds, and gain access to information that would take hours for me to find in books adorning dusty shelves. My mind struggled to grasp the vastness of the claims and promises that the “World Wide Web” was making. However, one fateful day in the Pagaard home it happened. We had the Internet.

Immediately we all huddled around the computer as we double-clicked the “Compuserve” icon and waited in anxious anticipation for this “World Wide Web” to be unveiled before our eyes. There we waited…and waited…and continued to wait. After several minutes of “dial-up suspense” serenaded by dial tones, pings, static and more pings, we were connected. We were on the web. The funny thing about that memory is that, once we were connected, we never thought twice about what it took for us to become connected, and how long the process was. We had no expectation other than being connected to the “web.” There was not even the slightest presumption that the process was supposed to be fast. The only thing we desired was what the “web” offered, and how amazing gaining access to it would be. However, nowadays, it seems to be that we tend to be more bothered by the wait than what awaits us. Speed is everything: without the speed, nothing is worth anything. We are people that want things right away, and being told to wait means we lose interest. Many people focus on power and speed in their connecting to God, with the result that the actual “quality” relationship with God is easily overlooked, under-appreciated and overshadowed. As is all too often the case, many people seek God as a means to a particular end and not the end itself.

As my mother finished preparing the cake mix that she continued to defend despite its unpromising appearance, we entered into the “baking” stage of the process. This is the point to which I can best trace the dissolution of my interest in baking. The “baking” stage meant that my job now was to wait as the mix from the bowl was miraculously transformed into the promised final product of cake. With each passing minute my interest in the cake itself began to wane.  In the boredom, I typically found something else to occupy my time and mind. Reassuring that I would be back to help my mom finish the process, off I went, heading off into some new, and likely trivial, activity. My mom always seemed to respond to my promise to return with hesitation and doubt, but I confidently reassured her with three hopeful words, “I’ll be back.”

Some time later,  my mother would call that the cake was finished. To my shock, and shame for leaving my mom to finish the cake by herself, the process I began with intentions to complete was finished without me. Not only was the cake finished baking, but my mom had proceeded to step three alone, icing and applying the finishing touches. The looming reality of my decision to give into boredom and abandon my mom and the baking process left me with the conviction of failure and betrayal. “How could I eat and enjoy the cake now?” I asked myself.  I was not prepared to endure the patience required in baking.  I was in it from the beginning to simply eat the cake and enjoy the fruits of the labor, not to do what was required in order to bring about the finished product.

This natural aversion to patience is always present in our walk with God but, in some instances, can downright control our walk with God. In the Bible, God is often referred to as a gardener who takes his time growing the plants and pruning for progress when necessary. We, as Christians, are compared to branches that grow slowly, or plants that arise from planted seeds that grow at a gradual pace. All of these words like “slowly” and “gradual” have little in common with words like “now” and “right now.” Yet, this slow, gradual, yet productive, characteristic of God is the only one described in the Bible. This slow, gradual, yet effective process is the only one concerning our growth as Christians. Therefore, to grow as a Christian under the will of God often means two things: the process will be gradual, and the process will be slow. However, the process promises to be real and absolutely worth it and transformative.

The baking process not just require patience. The other necessary element needed to transform the mix into a cake is heat. And this heat is extreme.

I am a self-professed “know-nothing” when it comes to baking and all of its molecular intricacies; however, I have been able to wrap my head around the basics.  I know that baking requires an oven, and this oven needs to be able to produce extreme temperatures. Regarding the nature of chemical reactions and molecular transformation I have no clue, however, I do know that when you take the mix from the mixing bowl and place it into the oven at high temperatures over a period of time, something tends to emerge in some sort of baked form.  Required in the process is heat, and the endurance of heat. It is these elements that I believe are most directly related to our continual growth as Christians.

Heat is necessary in order to bake something. And when the heat is being applied to something other than ourselves, when we are protected from that heat by a barrier, we can all agree that this heat is not only important, but necessary. No one would stop someone from baking a cake out of compassion for the mix in the pan, in regards to the intense heat it will soon face. On the contrary, we tend to encourage the more immediate loading of the mix into the oven out of some inherent primal desire to feast. We want the mix in the scalding hot oven without delay because we want to eat. However, with us in the place of the cake-mix, extreme heat tests our faith in the process that promises we will not only survive the heat, but that, in the end, we will be made even more beautiful as a result.

The truth is, we do not like to experience heat. In other words, we do not like to experience challenges or times of trouble. If there is any hope in averting such things we try with all of our might to do so. It is easy to dream of the end results in things, but when faced with the realities that lie ahead on the journey, we often seem paralyzed by the impossibilities and difficulties confronting us. We like the easy road. Any hint of setback is translated as a sign directing us to turn around, rather than to press onward. In moments of trial, it is difficult to trust in the process. It seems much easier for us to question the necessity for such a stage than for us to see the irreplaceable value in the state. While praying to God regarding a particular new venture, we often pray for three things: safety, health and success.

The other step of the “baking” stage where we find common ground with cake mix concerns the element of endurance. While we might be troubled by the nature of our personal “ovens,” we become beside ourselves when we are informed of how long we might be expected to remain in the heat. Feeling a quick burn on the stove is one thing, but slowly cooking in extreme heat is another. No one desires this. No one welcomes this. When we find trouble or challenge in our lives, apart from the prayer for general deliverance from our time of difficulty, we most likely emphasize our desire for a “quick” or “rapid” rescue. When we are sinking, the last thing we want is for the lifeguard on duty to take their time addressing our very real emergency. We need help and we need help right away.  When we find ourselves facing the “heated oven” qualities of life, it is no surprise that we want out fast. Perhaps we have come to the spiritual maturity that agrees on the necessity of challenge, however, this maturity becomes increasingly tested as we find that our rescue is nowhere in sight.

While both “heat” and “endurance” are two things that cake-mix should expect when becoming a cake, they are also two things that we must prepare for as we make our way down the road of discipleship. Jesus was always open to his disciples that this world was not going to be easy. His most profound and moving example of his expectations of discipleship came in his personal sacrifice in the passion narrative. Jesus is upfront with his disciples that the ones in this world who enjoy the comforts of worldly wealth, health and success are not the ones who will inherit the Kingdom of God. Rather, in the Beatitudes, the “blessed” ones are the ones that not only experience the “heat of the oven” but those who endure it. Only by doing both can we fully come to an understanding of why we suffered in the first place. Only by doing so can we come to trust God that the fire is not there to destroy us. but to reveal the brilliance of our creation in the eyes of our Creator.

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Kings 4

2 Kings 4:1-7bible

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”

Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”

Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”

Our approach to God often takes on one of two natures.  We approach God with the expectation that he can change impossible situations.  However, we approach his claims as impossible to entirely believe.  We expect him to turn the water into wine in our own lives, yet we stubbornly refuse to adjust our lives one inch closer to him when he says, “Come, follow me.”  The result is a tug-of-war that leaves one feeling stretched and stationary.  This approach to God, while understandable, is not supported in the scriptures.  The scripture only shows us a God who, though constantly confronted by doubt and suspicion, responds with a confident promise to supply more than we even thought possible.  God always desires more for and from us, while we tend to feel paralyzed by not ever having enough.  With every passing year we further ingrain the limitations of this world into our foundational beliefs.  However, when building faith in God, the first step is to completely remove the old foundation.  From this position will we not only take God seriously when he promises to do more, but we will also learn to view this world as God does: limited but aching to be more, have more, do more and accomplish more.  Doubt has no place to hide when overwhelmed by the hopes and promises of Jesus Christ.

Bigger Better Baked Goods: Ingredients

pen-and-paper_400x295_39When I was young, my mother would ask me if I would like to assist her in the kitchen as she baked. Perhaps she invited me to share in some quality time, which I am truly blessed to have shared. Or, perhaps she invited me to instruct me in the dos and don’ts of baking that she, one day, hoped I would use in my own kitchen. If this were the case, she unfortunately failed miserably: my oven and pans were the cleanest parts of my apartment as a bachelor. Sorry mom.

Whenever I was in the kitchen with my mother at the initial stages of the baking process, it always seemed unlikely that the unappetizing mixture of egg yolks, milk, sugar and flour could amount to anything more than the sludge that stared back at me from the mixing bowl. “This is going to be the cake?” I would ask myself. But, to my surprise, each and every time, what eventually emerged from the oven was a beautiful and always delicious product that I wasted no time in enjoying. The reason behind my doubt was that what I saw in the mixing bowl did not share any resemblance to the cake I had concocted in my own imagination. The cake in my imagination was a picture of the finished cake on the cake-mix box, with absolutely no likeness to the cake-mix in the bowl. These two things were completely different in my mind. Placing them side-by-side it would seem illogical to assume otherwise. What I saw in the bowl was unformed and unrealized cake. What I saw on the picture was formed and completely realized. The mixing bowl seemed to me less than desirable, while the image of the cake, whether in my mind or on the box, taunted me with sweet delight. One I had no interest in. The other had my undivided attention.

This line of thought is not much different from the way we tend to view ourselves. One look at our personal traits or characteristics and the “hand that we have been dealt,” what we tend to see is something undesirable or unrealized. Perhaps we see some growth and some potential but, in the end, we come away disappointed by the all-too-real “cake-mix” and no sense of a “cake.”

Successfully, confidently approaching the impossible is like seeing the finished cake that everyone wants to try first. However, what we see reflecting back to us in the mirror is not so much the cake everyone wants, which is the dream fulfilled or the impossible made possible, but rather the cake mix that no one takes a second look at.

While it is possible to find joy without succeeding in all of our dreams, and it is equally possible to find happiness while not achieving every goal, we try desperately our entire lives to improve ourselves or our situations. We always want more and we always want to be something different. Yet, we are consistently, and quite abruptly, brought back down to earth by the reality that there are some things that we can do and many things we cannot. At some point we take a look at the ingredients intermingling in the mixing bowl and say to ourselves, “This just doesn’t look good. This just doesn’t look like cake.”

Now let’s allow our imaginations to run wild a bit and imagine that the ingredients in the mixing bowl had lives all of their own and the presence of mind to assess their respective states. If an egg or a grain of sugar were shown the picture of the finished cake on the box and were told that soon they would become that picture, there would naturally be suspicion racing through their minds that becoming “the cake” was unlikely or even impossible. At this point, we are fortunate to have access to the foresight of the baker with the entire baking process in mind. For example, when I doubted my mother and the sight I saw in the mixing bowl, she reassured me that what I saw was simply the first step of the process and, with delicate care and patience, we would ultimately come to realize the fruits of this labor with a delicious cake. The question for us is, “How can we know that what we see in the mirror every morning has any potential to become something that we might not have the ability to envision?” One possible answer to this question is in the perspective of God toward his creation.

God is a creator God who, after each of the seven days of creation in the Genesis creation account, always uttered the same words: “it was good,” and ultimately, on the seventh day, “it was very good.” What we read in the Bible is the story of a God that desires more than anything to see his creation reach the full potential for which it was originally designed, According to the Bible, the motivating factor behind God’s creation of the world was to share the love and unity experienced in the triune relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit with a creation of willful participation. The attainment of the seemingly impossible exists entirely with God. The desire and the ability to do more than we think we can began with God. We were built for more, and therefore, in us is always a longing for more.

The Bible expresses throughout scripture that in order to share in this “creator power,” one must willingly participate in the relationship with God that requires the element of trust or, faith. However, perhaps we, like the cake, might doubt the state of things as we see them, or doubt the direction in which God is leading us.

God’s expressed desire is that we have faith in his ability to control any situation from beginning to end. This notion of trust, although quite shallow in comparison to the actual trust in and proficient ability of our creator God, reminds me of a show that my family used to watch when I was younger living in Singapore. Living overseas has many benefits but, unfortunately for a small child, certain entertainment sacrifices have to be made. First and foremost, TV will inevitably be different. Your favorite shows from back home out of reach in your new home, and the shows you are able to enjoy are typically third-tier entertainment back where you came from. However, this presents one with the opportunity to stumble upon TV shows that, at home, you would not have given a second glance. One of these shows my family began to enjoy was called “Sledgehammer.”

The story revolved around a police detective, nicknamed “Sledgehammer” who, for most of 30 minutes each week, went around making a mess of a situation. But, come the end of each episode, Sledgehammer found a way to be the hero. As a result of his constant bonehead antics, there was little trust on the part of his colleagues or friends that he would ever amount to anything or achieve his objective. However, before heading off into each mission, Sledgehammer always left the audience with his tagline of choice: “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”  While Sledgehammer clearly did not deserve the trust of those around him, God has left us with a 3,000-page autobiography that provides us with reason upon reason why we can, with all confidence, trust him. So, trust him, he does actually know what he is doing.

When it comes to our ability to foresee our potential or purpose, our position is not all that different from the ingredients in a recipe.  As ingredients, we lack the proper perspective to know who we truly are in God’s design of us and why we were created in God’s design for us.  To acknowledge these simple truths is the beginning of true life as we were created to live.  To deny them is to remain under-developed and hopelessly incomplete.

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Kings 3

bible1 Kings 3:1-15

Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of theLord, and the wall around Jerusalem. The people, however, were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the Lord. Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguishbetween right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

If given the choice, most people would be quicker to choose one million dollars over an education.  In fact, in this day and age, a college education is often viewed as a “waste of money” to some people.  Why is this?  One possible explanation is that we place the highest value on the things that can ultimately serve us in return.  We see one million dollars as a better home to live in, a better car to drive, nicer clothes to wear or more vacations to broaden our experience.  We have been deeply scarred by the memories of educational burdens, boredom, and debt.  When we were in school we wanted to have other things and we wanted to be somewhere else.  The irony is that far too often we hear of lottery winners wasting their money, and not actually changing their lives much in the long run.  Or we hear story after story of celebrities that strove for riches and fame only to be disappointed by them just as they would have been by a 9-to-5 job.  The reality is that no matter how many possessions we own or how much money we have in our bank account, nothing has more life-changing power than knowledge. But the value of knowledge can be measured only by how effectively it redirects you to wisdom.  Wisdom allows us to discover the value of less and the dangers of more.  Wisdom allows us to discover the value of suffering and the dangers of ease. Wisdom often contradicts our reason, but it has the power to outlast any object that we strive to attain.  God does not desire that we obtain knowledge and possessions only to lose both without wisdom.  His desire is that we allow our eyes to be opened by His spirit so that His wisdom can become our own.

Thursday Reflection Series: Bigger Better Baked Goods

pen-and-paper_400x295_39We live in a world where achieving dreams or fulfilling maximum potential is a driving force in each of our lives.  Dreams are meant to be chased and fulfilled. This is a wonderful thing: children are taught that the world is their oyster and anything is possible. We hang posters of our heroes on the walls of our bedrooms, we watch movies starring our favorite actors, we watch sporting events displaying the explosive talent of our favorite athletes. Regardless of the particular area of interest that fosters our dreaming, we grow up with an innate belief that we can achieve anything. Unfortunately, this is worldview is entirely flawed.

Growing up role-playing as my favorite sport star of the moment,  it seemed perfectly logical to assume that I could naturally develop the skills I pretended to have in my neighborhood games. Of course, all of us boys began to realize our natural limitations as time passed, a sobering reminder that impinged on the “if you can dream it, you can live it” perspective.

This brings us to the main focus of this particular reflection. Most of us lose hope in “dreaming” and “achieving the impossible” because the voices that typically encourage us to do so don’t truly know us and in the end don’t care about us. The more we come to grips with reality, the more we begin to see that the “just do it” slogans that perhaps at one time motivated us are really fake, empty and misleading. We begin to see the wizard behind the curtain and all of his selfish incentive to get on our good side by “encouraging” us to do and be more all the while lining his pockets and laughing all the way to the bank.  We see that the world has no room for the dreamer and has much more respect for the down to earth doer. While this might seem pessimistic, it is often the case. The more time passes, the more we realize that there are many things that we would love to do, but probably very little that will actually get done. Either “life gets in the way,” or we collide headfirst into our own limitations.

This glass-half-empty outlook is based on a steady string of disappointments. Throughout our lives we have come to the realization that life boils down to the hand of cards we have been dealt, and to think otherwise is to a naive, irrational dreamer.

It is no surprise, then, that many are put off by the claims and promises of the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus. Within the pages of the Bible we are repeatedly confronted with a God who tells us that we can do anything, and that nothing is impossible with God. We are told that all things are possible through Christ and with faith in Jesus Christ we can “move mountains.” That leaves most of us responding with an emphatic, “yeah…right!”  So, as one questions the possibility of a mountain being moved on faith alone, you might also be wondering how possible it is to transition from where we are now to where we plan to go.  As proof that miracles do still happen, allow me to introduce our focus of this series, baked good.

There is nothing more satisfying and mood-lifting to me than the smell of a bakery. The aroma that escapes the confines of a bakery is beyond distracting. Reading the Bible, I believe that God shares in my love of baked goods. In the Old Testament, after the Israelites were rescued from Egypt, as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, God provided a miracle “bread from heaven” that the Israelites dubbed “manna.” These were flakes that appeared every morning like that of morning dew atop the grass and, after collected, was then made into dough and baked. This sheds light on two crucial ideas that make me love God all the more. First, I learn that God will always provide for us. Second, God is a bread lover and shares my passion for fresh baked goods!

Yet, as much as I love to indulge in the tastes and smells of freshly baked pastries, I absolutely have no passion for baking. There are several reasons why I have fostered distaste for baking, but a strong taste for the finished results. Baking requires delicate care, attention to detail, and prolonged patience. These are three qualities that I regrettably lack, making me and the art of baking bitter foes, no matter how often I might make the attempt.

Often while looking at dreams or challenges impossible to surpass, we Christians revert more quickly to the logical sense of doubt that society has impressed upon us, than to the firm confidence in a creator God that has expressed his desires to achieve what we deem impossible. Because of my previously mentioned love of pastries, let’s look at this idea of the Creation questioning the Creator like a cake questioning the baker about its promised potential. If using this analogy, we can identify three sources of doubt that might pass through the figurative, albeit delicious, mind of a cake during the baking process. What we see is that the doubt of promised potential arises from:

Doubt in the Ingredients

Doubt in the Process

Doubt in the Baker

Join us every Thursday as we see explore what happens when our limitations are met with the limitless power and ability of God.

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Samuel 2

bible2 Samuel 2:8-32

Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Boshethson of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel.

10 Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The tribe of Judah, however, remained loyal to David. 11 The length of time David was king in Hebron over Judah was seven years and six months. 

12 Abner son of Ner, together with the men of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, left Mahanaim and went to Gibeon. 13 Joab son of Zeruiah and David’s men went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. One group sat down on one side of the pool and one group on the other side. 14 Then Abner said to Joab, “Let’s have some of the young men get up and fight hand to hand in front of us.”  “All right, let them do it,” Joab said. 15 So they stood up and were counted off—twelve men for Benjamin and Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, and twelve for David. 16 Then each man grabbed his opponent by the head and thrust his dagger into his opponent’s side, and they fell down together. So that place in Gibeon was called Helkath Hazzurim.[a17 The battle that day was very fierce, and Abner and the Israelites were defeated by David’s men. 18 The three sons of Zeruiah were there: Joab, Abishai and Asahel. Now Asahel was as fleet-footed as a wild gazelle. 19 He chased Abner, turning neither to the right nor to the left as he pursued him. 20 Abner looked behind him and asked, “Is that you, Asahel?”

“It is,” he answered.

21 Then Abner said to him, “Turn aside to the right or to the left; take on one of the young men and strip him of his weapons.” But Asahel would not stop chasing him.

22 Again Abner warned Asahel, “Stop chasing me! Why should I strike you down? How could I look your brother Joab in the face?”

23 But Asahel refused to give up the pursuit; so Abner thrust the butt of his spear into Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He fell there and died on the spot. And every man stopped when he came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died. 24 But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner, and as the sun was setting, they came to the hill of Ammah, near Giah on the way to the wasteland of Gibeon. 25 Then the men of Benjamin rallied behind Abner. They formed themselves into a group and took their stand on top of a hill. 26 Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?” 27 Joab answered, “As surely as God lives, if you had not spoken, the men would have continued pursuing them until morning.” 28 So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the troops came to a halt; they no longer pursued Israel, nor did they fight anymore.

29 All that night Abner and his men marched through the Arabah. They crossed the Jordan, continued through the morning hours[b] and came to Mahanaim. 30 Then Joab stopped pursuing Abner and assembled the whole army. Besides Asahel, nineteen of David’s men were found missing. 31 But David’s men had killed three hundred and sixty Benjamites who were with Abner. 32 They took Asahel and buried him in his father’s tomb at Bethlehem. Then Joab and his men marched all night and arrived at Hebron by daybreak.

We fight because we think we are right and someone else is wrong.  We fight because we think we can win and someone else must lose.  We fight because we think that if we win, conflict will be resolved and both parties can move on.  The reality is that when we fight we only deepen old wounds, open new wounds and prolong the healing of already existing wounds.  The result of a fight can only be negative.  The act of fighting is grounded in mistrust, disrespect and pride.  When we fight we are shown to be entirely human.  We also display how little the gospel of Jesus Christ has affected that human nature that led us to fight in the first place.  Our inability to trust one another, respect one another and be wronged by one another gives our sinful state fruitful ground in which to grow strong.  On the other hand, a sign that the gospel has made its way past our enslavement to sin and has infiltrated the depths of our human heart is not only the loss in the value of the fight but a total distaste for it.  Because the nature of the gospel is to heal, those carrying the gospel in the heart have an aversion to all things that have the potential to hurt.  From this perspective no fight is worth the cost: healing becomes the primary interest.

Above All Else: Joy

(Find the rest of the series here, here and here.)pen-and-paper_400x295_39

Today, we seek joy…

Joy when we discover Him in the storm.

For most of my life as a Christian the word “joy” was a word I would rarely use to describe my Christian identity.  More appropriate words might have been words like “duty,” “routine,” “confusion,” “obligation.” Rarely anything in the vicinity of “joy.”

In my Christian life, there was little to take joy in.  God was a distant, silent God that I did not know personally. The experiences of Christian life were nice, but far from transforming.  I had a wonderful upbringing in a Christian household. My joy in being Christian had everything to do with my family and nothing to do with God and his son Jesus.

Lacking the joy of following God, I was surprised and confused to find, when reading the Bible for the first time, that God would prefer it that we stop following altogether than to follow joylessly.  I always thought that God desired obedience above all else and cared little whether we liked obeying Him or not.  It was shocking that God viewed my motivation to serve him and the way I enjoyed said service as the highest importance.  Why did he care?

As I continued reading I saw, over and over, that God viewed his relationship to us like a marriage.  The more I started to see how he viewed our relationship, the more I realized that I had been a quite unenthusiastic and uncommitted bride (Christian) to one particular bridegroom (God). The more I realized that God desired to have a relationship with me like that of a married couple, the more I realized that it would be more offensive to me if he didn’t care if I lacked joy in being with him.  To approach such a close relationship with passivity implies disinterest and indifference, ultimately worse than hate.  At least hate brings a passion to fight, defend and protest.  To approach God from such apathy is to express the perfect anti-love.  I began to realize that this “anti-love” fit me.

At the same time I began to understand those Christians who showed such joy in being “married” to him.  Their reactions to God’s presence were like they were embracing a loved one after long absence.  This sense of anxious, unbridled enthusiasm was not only common to all of these people, but also came naturally. Not forced, and not in response to a demand.

It’s so easy to lose this sense of joy in Christian life.  In the world we live in that continues to take more than we are able to offer, there comes a time that, in terms of a newly married couple, the honeymoon is over and real life begins.  We still define ourselves by our faith, but less and less so the way we did during the honeymoon.  Honeymooners are easy to pick out of a crowd because they cannot get enough of each other. But even after the honeymoon, people that love to be married are easy to spot because there is a sense of peace, joy and happiness in their togetherness.  To them, being together is far superior to being apart.  The question all Christians should continue to ask themselves is, “Can I get enough of God?”  Or, on the other hand, “Have I had enough?”

Remember Bartimaeus? Just days away from the cross, as Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem, he was confronted by a voice from the crowd.  The scream from the crowd was from a blind man named Bartimaeus, and his reason for screaming was that his faith in the healing power of Jesus was demanding a healing and a life-change on the spot.  Here is a man who would not let Jesus go without an encounter.  The jeers and judgmental thoughts of those along the roadside, including the disciples, did not intimidate or deter him.  He wanted Jesus and nothing would stop him.  And when he received his healing, he followed Jesus.

Bartimaeus needed Jesus. He cried out for Jesus. He was overjoyed when he found Him. Are you?

Above all else, in and out of storms, fires, humdrum days and nights, excitement and stillness, remember the joy of salvation. This God comes with us into life, makes Himself known there, and wants nothing more than joy in His presence.

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Samuel 2

1 Samuel 2:12-26bible

12 Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord. 13 Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled 14 and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. 15 But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.”

16 If the person said to him, “Let the fat be burned first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.”

17 This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they[a] were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.

18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. 20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to[b]the Lord.” Then they would go home. 21 And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

22 Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. 24 No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the Lord’s people is not good. 25 If one person sins against another, God[c] may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.

26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people.

How often do we take what doesn’t belong to us?  How often do we freely give of what we have? One follows the standard trajectory of the human heart.  The other follows a trajectory dictated by the spirit of Jesus Christ.  We take what is not ours due to a disregard for others and an over-inflated view of ourselves.  From that vantage point, we lack the ability to even see the interests of others because our vision is dominated by self.  And since we cannot see others at all, we can’t see their sadness as a result of their loss;  we are preoccupied by the joy that results in our gain.  By contrast, the giving heart of the Spirit echoes the heart of God.  This heart doesn’t simply evolve an interest or value in giving.  This new heart is defined by giving.  This new heart finds it nearly impossible to take and all too natural to give.  Giving in this case does not leave you without, with less than you had.  It is giving what was not yours to begin with and leaves you with what was always there.  God has brought all of us into this world not for us to fall in love with it.  He brought us into this world so we can fall in love with him through our experience in his creation.  Thus, when we fall in love with who he is, we become less aware of what he has given or taken away.  At this point it is him we desire, and nothing can take him away from us once we find him.