A Psalm of Lament

2 Corinthians 3:17-18, 4:5-18

(3:17-18)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

(4:5-18)
For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.13 But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

God I am so tired. I am mad at all the in fighting and division. I am angry at what I believe caused this. It’s so devastating to watch your Church destroy itself. The people you have given the gift of forgiveness, compassion and love. It is not because of one man but the sin inside us all that is causing all this…. But I AM angry at one man. I am angry that one man’s sin has caused others to sin along with him, misleading the flock and deceiving young believers. I am angry that my friends are fighting. I am angry that your character is lacking in us all. I am angry that I feel hurt by it all, and cant at times see through the cloud of confusion. I feel perplexed, beaten down, even persecuted. My heart aches for an unbroken world. A world not scarred by sin, not impacted by the Fall. This life is hard. I ache for you. Like a weary soul in need of water. You are my spring of life. At times this life is too much. Deaths, disease, corruption, brokenness, abuse… and yet your presence has not left your people. I stand amazed that you stay. We are a mess! You CHOSE to enter this mess with us, before we tried to ‘clean ourselves up’. You decided it was worth your very self, your other-ly-ness, your Kingship, to lay aside your honor for dishonor, your perfection for our sinfulness. To hold the corruption in your hands and say, “I will take all this. It is pardoned. You go home clean”.

Isaiah 53:4-6
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

I will forever stand amazed at that. You think all this is worth it?! I would have chosen long ago to escape the filth of it all. If anyone deserved to not endure the weight of sin and leave, you did, and yet you don’t. So why do I deserve escape when you have given me undeserved grace? And yet you are there to give me the answer. I get YOU. Through suffering, I have found you to be faithful. I have seen more of your glory and purpose. You have made through hardship my heart yours. I still long for the day when that work will be complete. When the sin in my heart will be banished for eternity and I am raised completely anew. But for now I need to trust your promises and your truth. You see the end that I don’t. I love that 2 Cor. 4 brings comfort in the call to an eternal perspective:

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Why do we endure? For the sake of eternity. We live for the one who died. Who gave us good gifts, and called us to a purpose not our own. We live so that God’s glory (the goodness and person we have experienced and know) may be known to all men. We live so that in this fallen and hurting world, others might experience and see the grace and forgiveness that Christ laid out for them on the cross. To declare “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

God is doing his work in a broken world. He IS working out His eternal kingdom in the midst of the mess of our lives. And that is immense grace to us. Thank goodness! Cause you know what, I am still a mess. I haven’t stopped being in desperate need of God. And thank goodness, God has not stopped saving in the mess.

So as I look at the mess of the world – At the Church, at the culture, at broken bodies, and hardship – I look to Jesus who, although invisible, is redeeming and calling his people to himself.

Paul says “for we walk by faith and not by sight”. I walk forward believing that God is not done yet, and his grace is greater than this mess. What Jesus conquered on the cross (disease, death, my sin, Satan) will be completed when he returns. All will be made completely new!

He is not done yet.

Humility & the Kingdom of God

I have been pondering on the nature of the “Kingdom of God” or in other words, the attributes that describe God and what he wants his people to value and reflect. Basically, how does God order things. What is most important? What is less important? If God could ask you to do one thing, what would it be?

Christians have VERY different answers to this question. We all have proclivities. Different comfort levels with different commands of God. But if we attest to follow Christ, and be “Christ like” our proclivities and the aim of our heart should reflect that of whom we follow. We should adopt the values and nature of our King that we serve. Similar to when you believe in an organization or company, you want to take their “mottos” or “agenda” and make that your own and spread them to others because you believe they work… Except for God’s kingdom is ultimate and higher than any made of man and deserves all importance. It is all together true, holy and trustworthy.

As I was thinking about this, God reminded me of the parables and the beatitudes that Jesus taught.

Have you heard a sermon like this in a while. . .

“Blessed is the poor in spirit…” (Mt. 5:2-11)

If you were to foster an attribute, would it be “poor in spirit”? He goes on…

“Blessed are those who mourn…. Blessed are those who are meek… blessed are you who others revile” (v. 4, 5 & 11)

When was the last time I felt blessed to be reviled? How does one even do that? Or “poor in spirit”. I spend most my time trying to be “good” and “all together”. When was the last time I was even ok with being “poor in spirit”, much more finding it a blessed or good thing!

“Blessed are the meek…”

Man, does frustration rise up inside me when I don’t get the honor I believe I deserve. And to be seen as “meek” by others, even worse! How many people can relate to my feelings?

Let me ask you as I also ask myself… Why do you think God calls these things blessed? Let’s think about it for a while. Why does God choose the foolish to confound the wise? Why is it not ONLY ok, but called “blessed” by Jesus to be called a meek, poor in spirit, mourning, reviled, least of these, Jesus follower? Here are a few thoughts:

The greatest love is to lay down your life for a friend (Jn. 15:13)

Jesus laid down his life to save us. To be with us. Immanuel. Jesus’ love for us required humbling himself from his throne of power to become a baby and live a hard and “unglory-filled” life for our sake. By the time he died on the cross, all his disciples basically left him. He fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 53:3, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not.” His disciples followed suit. Are we willing to follow?

We are not the answer

The plan of God’s redemption was never that we would be the answer. That our glory and performance would usher in the Kingdom. John the Baptist who paved the way for Jesus said, “I must become less, so that Jesus could be made much of” (John 3:29-30) The is also our call. We are not it. Jesus is. So as we die to ourselves and be made alive to Christ, we can walk with him in full freedom, not holding on to any pride or need for glory, but entrusting it all to the one who does deserve it – Jesus.

Those feelings and experiences in the beatitudes are inevitable for those who follow Jesus’ foot steps and teach his Truth

In the gospel of John, Jesus says that the world will hate you, because it first hated me. You cannot be above your Master or expect to have a different experience. What feelings do you think Jesus felt when betrayed, devalued by his closest friends, tempted, debated, pursued to be murdered out of hatred and utterly despised by so-called ‘godly’ leaders? Could it possibly have felt something similar to “poor in spirit”, “meek”, “reviled”?  Being honest in experiencing these attributes doesn’t devalue God’s glory if he himself says these things are “blessed”.  And it does not impact joy either. The Bible also says, “Jesus counted as joy to go to the cross….” He joyed in his death. Why? Knowing he would get us. Knowing he was doing the Father’s will, in which he utterly trusted. He had his sights on the God’s redemptive plan: he saw the end zone. He knew God was making all things new, and using his sacrifice to reconcile man to God forever. The end was enough for him.

If we have nothing, there is nothing to protect

Two of Jesus’ parables say basically the same thing (Lk. 14:11, 18:14). The greater you are, or think you are the higher chance God will humble you or possibility you might not be his child or in his kingdom. And the more humble, and dead to your sense of self-righteousness you are, the more he will glorify you. I think part of this has to do with the less you glory in yourself, the more you will be free to glorify him. In another parable it says, he who is faithful with little, will be faithful with much. If in small ways you honor the Lord, when unseen, then God can trust with you, knowing his message will not be tainted by pride or deception with greater places of glory and honor.

Eternity-minded.

It is our gift to give God glory, and be made less of and him be made more of. Why? Because we inherit the Kingdom of God. Is that enough for you? Is that enough for me? It was enough for Jesus. Jesus had God’s ultimate glory and goodness in mind for our salvation, when he found it joy walking toward the cross.

If it is to God’s glory and goodness to make me less, my prayer should be so be it. If it reveals the truth of grace to have me reviled by others, I want follow. If my shame is God’s glory, I want to trust. This is the prayer of my heart. That I would truly die to myself and fully entrust myself to God’s goodness and purposes, no matter where the road takes me… Even if it takes me lower.

The Kingdom of God is a “narrow door”, and not many want to go through it the way Jesus is leading. And Jesus is asking, will you follow? 

And someone said to him (Jesus), “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Luke 13:22-30

Shattering Egypt

“Then Israel will no longer be tempted to trust in Egypt for help. Egypt’s shattered condition will remind Israel of how sinful she was to trust Egypt in earlier days. Then Israel will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.”

(Ezekiel 29:16 NLT)

What a gift when God breaks the bonds of our sin! What a gift when he rips out of our hands our precious idols! What love of our Husband that he would fight, even die, to win back his love from her many ‘mistresses’ after she had cheated and gone astray. Or what love of a Father, that after his son have left home and lost himself, used up every form of sin, He still welcomes us back into the family with celebration and honor.

After?

After we had tasted intimacy with the King and said “This is nice but I think there is something better out there.” What wildernesses we wander in that come up dry and ultimately bring us to back to you! Oh God, how humbling, and bitter sweet is your forgiveness. Let the humility of our selfish efforts change us to remember. To remember to die to our trust in ourselves, and place it back in you hands. You allow us to denounce past “slave drivers”, and take our place as sons and daughters of the king of Kings without recompense.

What painful grace is that which receives us when we do not want to be found. Which follows us, when we do not want to be followed. Who loves us when we want Egypt instead! The Psalmists get it right when the writer meets the grace and mercy of their Maker, and declares “Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come! You alone are worthy!” God’s grace is painful in that it reveals his goodness and our own wretchedness. Once seeing this amazing grace, we can only choose between turning from it to be slaves to self-righteousness or die to self and be alive in Jesus.  His love makes it possible to not be crushed by our sin because he said, Christ was enough. He paid it all. It is finished.

God’s sweet love crushes our idols, and false hopes and false dreams.

I want to praise God for the crushing because he does it to let me know who he is. The he is my God. My God is jealous. My God fights for our love. That I don’t deserve it but he choose to pursue me when I had already betrayed him. Just like Israel, God chose covenant with me based on his efforts and not mine. And he does everything to fight for his Bride.

How great is this love!

Surrender & Brokenness – Jeremiah

I have been confronted by the theme lately of complete surrender and complete brokenness. It’s like God is whispering to me, reminding me of what I had unknowingly lost track of in the dust of suffering. The last six months have been like surgery. God has been taking a knife to heart and digging out the pieces he doesn’t want there anymore, in hopes I would cling to Him, completely. I am left without many options to cling to besides Him…. although my broken, desperate and wandering heart tries to find them.

I think to solidify this in my heart and to bring some type of comfort to my broken soul, God directed me to read Jeremiah. Jeremiah is known as the Weeping Prophet. Sometimes I laugh – Sometimes my rebellion wants to yell “Really, God?” Cant I read John or Psalms? But He always knows how to take care of me. He always cares and He is always good.

In the first chapter, what God calls Jeremiah to do shook me. Most people quote the verses about how God knew Jeremiah “before he was formed in the womb” but if you read on this is what He says:  

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak. “Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord. Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. “See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, To pluck up and to break down, To destroy and to overthrow, To build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:7-10 NASB)

What strikes me about this is God called him to be a prophet. This was no choice of Jeremiah’s. It was also not his age, experience or rank that qualified him but God who commanded him to go and to do.

What did God call him to? To pluck up and break down. To destroy and overthrow, to build and plant through the words God places in his mouth. He would be a mouth piece to a rebellious, unrepentant Israel. What a weighty call. What a heavy burden. For a man who loved Israel, he would now go through horrible rejection, reproach, persecution from his beloved nation, even to  the point of despairing of his own life, to obey and be the mouth piece of God (Jer. 15:15b)

Is this what you picture calling to be? When Christians talked about their “calls”, I have never heard anyone even come close to discussing anything remotely close to what Jeremiah experienced. I don’t know if it is the result of the American church or our own sin that entices us to believe the direction and will God has for our lives will always be coupled with ease, comfort and we will be rescued from harm. This is not the calling of any of our forefathers of the faith. Certainly not what God commanded Jeremiah to do.

The promise here is no different than in other parts of scripture – God will be with you… to deliver you. Deliverance does not mean escape from rejection, physical strife, loneliness or possible eventual death. So what does deliverance mean here?

When God called Jeremiah here, there really isn’t much of a choice. To turn away would awaken God’s wrath, that Jeremiah was fully aware of. Jeremiah did not, like many of us, doubt God’s power to move. This made his obedience less of a choice, and more of a necessity. And where else could he go, where God was not? What could he do but follow God. For those who have been captured with the affections and fear of their Maker, there really isn’t anywhere else to go. Even if the path is taking you where you never wanted to go. And asking to do what you never wanted to do.

At one point in Jeremiah the actual translation of how he felt about his call was “seduction” and “rape” in Jeremiah 20:7a. God has seduced him, then overpowered him to do his will. What hard imagery is this? What harsh imagery to reconcile with a good God … But is it?

Why would all of this be a comfort to me amidst suffering? When you have been placed in unlikely of situations, where all feels lost and despaired, to know God can interact with people he loves like he does with Jeremiah is a comfort. To know his love can actually look at moments like hate. His love sent his Son to die for all mankind. God’s love for Israel sent Jeremiah to call them to repent, knowing full well Jeremiah would suffer. God’s love for his Church sent the first disciples to preach the gospel to the world, and to eventually be killed. God’s love sends missionaries to desolate places, to harsh lives.

Why do people like Jeremiah, Paul, Jesus, you and I choose to follow God, even if it’s most likely we will go through refining fire, and maybe through moments of such despair you wish you were dead?

This is the only answer that makes sense to me – God, Himself, becomes better than life. The eternal becomes greater than the finite. God breaks into our lives and shakes us so deeply to our core by his love that we can no longer live for self alone. Gospel Wakefulness takes great efforts to describe this phenomenon. When this “phenomenon” happens, you begin to follow God joyfully … blindly. When God brings you to an unknown, unforsakable place, your flesh might squirm with the fears of what it might entail, but you have no where else to go. You have met Love, Himself. You know too well where all other paths in life will take you. You can not turn back. You cannot return. To do so would be walk away from God.

He promises us: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18)

So I welcome whatever following God looks like in my life because I know whatever it is, my life will not be in vain. I have everything in God, Himself. And no matter what I know the goodness, glory and work of God in me is worth the temporary suffering. I cannot say that about any other place in this life. Nothing compares to eternity. Nothing compares to God’s work. Nothing compares to God, Himself, loving, working and living inside of me.

I want to leave you with this song by Sara Groves that paints the tension between wanting to follow God but dealing with the frustration of where it is taking you and having to reconcile that it is still where you want to be.

Painting Pictures of Egypt

Sara Groves

I don’t want to leave here
I don’t want to stay
It feels like pinching to me either way
The places I long for the most
Are the places where I’ve been
They are calling after me like a long lost friend

It’s not about losing faith
It’s not about trust
It’s all about comfortable
When you move so much
The place I was wasn’t perfect
But I had found a way to live
It wasn’t milk or honey
But then neither is this

CHORUS

I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacked
The future seems so hard
And I want to go back
But the places that used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I”ve learned
And those roads closed off to me
While my back was turned

The past is so tangible
I know it by heart
Familiar things are never easy to discard
I was dying for some freedom
But now I hesitate to go
Caught between the promise
And the things I know

If it comes too quick
I may not recognize it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?
If it comes too quick
I may not appreciate it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?