Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Psalm 127


Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

For a long time I've thought over this verse. I've prayed to God about it, I've talked with friends about it, I write it on the top of some of my papers in school when I'm bored. This particular verse has always puzzled me and drawn me to it. It is important to me because it really seems that this is one of those verses I really need to understand. I'm warned by this verse that there is a way to work really hard in my job, in my family, running, everything – and it all be meaningless. And then I'm also told that there is another way to do things, so that I can "do all to the glory of God" (I Cor. 10:31). Psalm 127:1 illustrates the paradox of working with God, "struggling with all his energy," as Paul would put it. The LORD is building the house, but there is also "those who build it." And the LORD is watching over the city, but at the same time there is a watchman keeping vigil. In other words, without being on the LORD's side, you end up with the conclusion of the teacher in Ecclesiastes: "vanity of vanities! All is vanity."

Sometimes I come to God with questions about this verse in the Psalms. What do you mean, God? How am I supposed to know if you're building the house? What does that even look like? How do I know if you're building and watching with me? Or do I need to look at it the other way around – how do I know if I'm doing things with you? Like, for instance, when I think about what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. I'm going to Carolina for linguistics, to study language, learn some more Spanish and dive into Persian. But how do I know that's what God would have me do? It freaks me out to think I could be setting myself up to "labor in vain." 

Other times I come to God with nothing but joyous thanksgiving. There have been times in my life when I know I am working with my God. It's a beautiful feeling, to spend all of my energy, everything I have, and know that none of it was wasted. None of it was used in vain. The best example I have of this is working with Centrikid. Every day of camp, I would go 100% non-stop from 7:30-10:15. And it was all for the sake of Christ. I can remember specific days when I would be completely drenched with sweat, teaching kids straight from the Bible, absolutely exhausted, but still going. In moments like that, I knew that I was working with the LORD – I couldn't possibly do the things I was for my own ends or with my own strength. 

All the time, though, I'm amazed at the simple implication of this verse. We can work with the LORD, God Almighty. I can be a coworker with God. Because of the sacrifice Christ made for me, I am a coheir with Christ, and I can work for the ends he has in mind, and with his energy. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

I must be at a point in my life where it's exceptionally hard to explain what I'm thinking. It's always been difficult to translate between my brain and English, but lately, it's been near impossible. Almost daily I'll find myself at a loss for words. Which has a lot to do with why I've written here so infrequently. Countless times I've started writing something, only to over think what I'm saying so many times that I end up just adding to the countless drafts I've created. Maybe it's something about my age – maybe there's just too much stuff going on and too much conflict in my head about different issues of life and doubts and uncertainties. Maybe it's something to do with my brain still developing (I've heard it's still developing up until around the age of 25).

Regardless, in the past two months or so I've done a pretty good job of confusing myself. Big questions like what I want to do with my life, what can I do with my life, what is God's plan for my life come up in my thoughts daily.

I've had a lot of doubts lately. Doubts about Christian things. For some reason, it seems to be taboo to talk about doubts if your a Christian, especially if they're doubts about your faith. I suppose what makes doubts oftentimes unmentionable is that people think to doubt means to forsake what you believe in. Doubt, at least how I think of it, is not that at all. Doubt can be uncertainty, or confusion; it often leads to questions. And if you're asking questions, even if they're questions grown from the soil of doubt, it at least shows two things: That you're actually thinking about what you believe, and that you're honest enough with yourself and with God to ask. Of course, no one would say that the ideal state of a Christian would be a doubting one. No, I want to be sure, to be convicted. But it's foolish and ignorant to assume that this is always the state of the Christian.

So what have I been doubting? Well, the main thing I've struggled with is my sanctification. If I'm a Christian, why do I still like to sin? Of course I'm changed by God through Christ; I don't doubt that. Most of the things I do I know positively do not come from me. But if the Holy Spirit of God himself lives in me, how on earth is it possible for me to sin so often? How can I be a "new creation" and still be so much like my own self?

Another doubt I've had is about non-Christians being saved. I can't wrap my feeble mind around the concept that although God is "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9), Jesus says things like "the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:14). Why are so many people going to Hell? Why does it seem that everyone I talk to is ok with offending a holy God and takes sin and death casually? I've only been at Wake Tech for less than a semester, and it is honestly depressing to see how many people see no worth in the Bible and no reason to take serious the claims of Jesus.

Yet another doubt. What am I even doing for the kingdom of God? It seems like all of my efforts for holiness are thwarted by sin. Time and time again I'm too lazy or apathetic to put time and energy into having a conversation with a schoolmate about Christ.

I really don't like where I'm at right now. I'd rather be in a secure peace, with everything undersandible. Like the psalmist I ask, "why are you cast down, o my soul?"  Like the disciples, I cry out, "Lord, increase my faith!"

Why are you cast down, o my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Psalm 42:11

Poem 5

Like sun through my window
That makes the room glow,
My heart alights with passion
Whose origin seems even
Farther than the sun
And just as alien:
Why do I feel the things I do?
Odi et amo cries the poet,
But what of being filled with only love?
What deep room in my heart
Owns the blindless window
That should for now be shut
But instead leaves me with blindness
Like sun through my window?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Freedom of Slavery

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Romans 6:16-18

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17

     The Bible teaches in Romans 6 that before a person is saved, he is a slave to sin. And that probably seems pretty logical to most (I say probably because I'm usually not in the camp labeled "most"). When I hear people talk about their lives outside of Christ, and when I think of who I would be apart from Christ, everything screams "you are a slave to sin!" 
     The harder reality to grasp, to me at least, is the fact that a Christian, "having been set free from sin," becomes a slave to righteousness. How on earth does that work? I mean that cliche literally; how does the fact that I am a slave to righteousness work itself out here in this world? Evidently, it does not mean that I never sin. Oh, how I sin! I echo Paul: "wretched man that I am!" So what does it mean to be a "slave of righteousness?" 
     I think that the answer is found in 2 Corinthians 3:17. I could imagine someone putting these two parts of Scripture side by side (kind of how I did above) and saying that the Bible is full of contradictions. However, there is nowhere farther from the truth. The truth of it is, the Spirit of the Lord brings the freedom of slavery to righteousness. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 is talking about the old and new covenants, and how in turning to the Lord, a person is freed from being enslaved to sin (the slavery that the law testifies to) and to being obedient to righteousness. 
     The Holy Spirit provides us with conviction when we try to run back to our previous slavery, because the truth is, we still tend to think that living in sin will satisfy our souls. Every day at some point I tell myself that I know what's best for me, not God. Every day the Spirit reminds me that I'm wrong. This whole thing is complicated (adding sin to an equation always brings complication), which is why Paul explains this whole concept in earthly, "human" terms" – because we (I) are too stubborn and reluctant to enjoy the freedom of slavery. 

Unite My Heart. Give Me New Shoes.

Thought one
I love the Psalms. Almost every time I read my Bible, I read over four or five psalms. This afternoon, one of the psalms I read was psalm 86. Verse eleven says:

Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.

I know, like David obviously knew, that the human heart has the unfailing tendency to run after a thousand different things. The same thing David asks of God, I would: that he would unify my heart in order that I might fear his name.

Thought two
Ephesians 6 contains a pretty famous section of Scripture – the part where Paul commands the Christians in Ephesus to "put on the whole armor of God." Honestly, I usually look over this part of Ephesians because I feel like I know it well enough and don't need to bother with such "elementary" and "simple" things in the Bible. (The sinfulness and pridefulness of that type of thinking is worthy of a whole other blog post.) But in my small group at church, we've been going through the book of Ephesians, so I figured I'd read it through again.

One particular thing that Paul mentions in the "armor of God" verses is to put on is a pair of shoes. He says to stand firm

"as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace."

Another way of saying this is "put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace as shoes for your feet." I'm busy thinking about running shoes and cool outdoorsy sandals, and Paul's idea of ideal footwear is the readiness of the gospel. I guess the question to ask is, how often are the steps I take motivated by the readiness of the fact that Jesus Christ redeemed me?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Even when I feel like I've got nothing.

Sometimes, I get in a certain mood that makes me feel quite apathetic. It makes me feel like I can't do anything important, and even scarier, that I don't want to do anything important. This mood is usually connected to getting a migraine, which probably explains most of it. I am in such a mood right now (And I also have a migraine.).

All of a sudden, it becomes so easy to focus on all the negative things in life, and anything good in life is minimized. Everything becomes blown way out of proportion. I feel worthless because I don't have a job: I feel like I'm wasting my time and failing as a man because I am not working. I feel like I am not effective as a witness of Jesus Christ because I tend to be socially awkward. I feel like everything I do in life is not done by a good motivation – that it's just done to cover up who I really am.

The truth of the matter, though, is even when I have a mood like this (which I do realize will pass), I can confront my feelings with Scripture, and know that even the realities of my exaggerations only highlight the goodness of God and the glory of Jesus and his gospel. This morning in small group (Sunday school) we looked at Romans 8. Just check out some of the verses in that chapter:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (v. 1)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (v. 14)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (v. 18)

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (v. 26)

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (vv. 29-30)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present no things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus out Lord. (vv. 37-39)

So no matter my mood, no matter my feelings, I can always rejoice in the God of my salvation. I never need to feel despair, because: I was eternally separated from God because of my sin, and now, because of Jesus, there is nothing that can separate me from the love of God.

As a Sanctus Real writes,
When I don't measure up to much in this life, I'm a treasure in the arms of Christ.