Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where I Stand

A little over a week has passed since last I wrote here. In that time I have thought through a great deal, prayed a great deal, learned a great deal. Not least I have learend a great deal about just how much remains to learn.

Over the weekend, I took another trip to Ft. Worth to visit Jaimie. The trip was wonderful, though it had plenty of trying moments. We had an at-times very intense conversation with her parents about our relationship and timing issues. Praise God that I am not who I was a year ago, a semester ago, even a week ago. Were I still, that conversation would have gone badly. I did not do perfectly, to be sure, yet God is faithful. And as Jaimie and I continue to grow together, to work through issues in our relationship and in each of our own hearts, I am increasingly amazed at what God has done and who He is, even as I am increasingly grateful for our relationship.

She is good for me. She pushes me in new ways, challenges me to pursue Christ more fully, inspires me to walk as a man. And I'm pretty sure that well over half the time she has absolutely no idea she's doing it. She is an incredible woman, on fire for Christ, and her heart for Him and for me challenges me immensely. And this is as it should be. I am profoundly blessed to be walking down the road of life beside her, learning to love her as Christ loves the church - sacrificially, life-givingly. It is a humbling thing, a wonderful thing.

My parents are an incredible blessing and encouragement to me. I learn much from their words and their example, and I am incredibly grateful to God for the health of our family. It is no small thing that our family - though we have our issues - is so close and such a place of Christ's love. I told Jaimie recently that there are only two places in the world where I can sleep peacefully and well: my own room and bed where I usually sleep, and in my parents' house. I am grateful beyond words for the restoration that God has done in our family. Ten years ago, I could not imagine what a marvelous thing God would do in our midst.

I enjoy working hard. Spending hours on end crunching code for a program you're designing can be frustrating work, but also rewarding. I can very much see how my father enjoys it. His example of hard work has been an encouragement to me. I've learned a great deal this summer about working hard on a task, and I'm still learning a lot.

Combining that thought with a previous one: I begin now to understand things my father has said throughout the years in ways I never did before. I begin to understand the passion he has for providing for his family, the strong work ethic he has, the concern he showed for my having a degree and a job with which I can provide. I see those concerns more clearly now because I share them deeply in a way that I did not before.

I had a hard day today. A presentation on my research went badly. And I learned a great deal from it. Funny what happens when I ask for God to make me more teachable...

In the pipeline: an essay on The Dark Knight (not a review; there are plenty of those), a review of Voddie Baucham's The Ever Loving Truth, a review of Howard Hendricks' Living by the Book, and thoughts on various things I've been studying in Scripture.

God bless you all; may His grace and peace sustain you, and may His glory consume you.

- Chris

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Developing discipline

Following off of some of the recent posts, what does it take to build a lifestyle of discipline - of committed dedication and consistent effort toward Godliness? This is an important question for us to answer if indeed we wish to develop such an ethic of life.

First and foremost, when it comes to heart change and spiritual growth, we cannot make the change ourselves. Only God is capable of changing human hearts - in that first great step, of exchanging hearts of stone for hearts of flesh, but also in developing Christlikeness in us. We are incapable of disciplining ourselves in our own strength; only by the grace and through the power of God, dwelling in us, can develop self-control and self-discipline. (You'll note that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit - not a fruit of man's intent to change himself.)

This means that for our part, we must begin by recognizing our own inability to make real change in our lives. It's one thing to build a disciplined life in terms of physical health; it's entirely another to build spiritual health ourselves. We must recognize our need for the work of Christ in our lives, for His transforming grace working in us by the powerful actions of the Holy Spirit. And then we have to act on that recognition by asking for His help. And He will certainly give it: He delights in giving us things that are in line with His will and purposes - and working toward being in the image of Christ, dedicating ourselves to lives disciplined to conform to His life, this is very surely in line with His will.

Then we move to what the world calls the practical part of this - but we recognize that the first step is the most perfectly practical step in the whole equation. These latter steps depend entirely on it, for without the help of God they will take us nowhere.

We need a plan - a concrete set of steps to reach our goal. That requires us to know our goal as well. Utlimately, of course, it is Christlikeness. What are the small goals along the way? What are the waypoints, the check-stations along the way that we use as our goals and benchmarks for progress? Here we must be careful, recognizing that works alone do not equal righteousness, nor merit salvation, but salvation and growing righteousness do produce good works.

We must identify the areas in which we are weak, and seek Christ's help to make them strong. We must consciously engage those areas, and prayerfully work through the sin roots behind our problems. (Our issues are not primarily psychological, whatever the world may believe, but spiritual: the roots of all our conditions, even those that are psychological, are sin - either in a general sense, leading to the fallen condition of our bodies and minds, or in a specific sense, leading to our particular issues.)

We need time for studying Scripture. We need dedication to memorizing Scripture. We need to be devoted to prayer. We need fellowship and accountability - we desperately need community.

---

My thoughts are somewhat scattered tonight; I am tired. I hope I am less so tomorrow.

- Chris

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Conviction

So... God continues to expose the sin in my life. This is ugly, people. And yet, somehow good. Somehow good. Not pleasant or pretty, but good. He shows me the sin - lets it come out, rear its ugly head, then shows me the consequences. It destroys my relationship with Him; it destroys my relationship with others; it destroys me. It's as though God is intending to dig up everything at the next level all at once: expose it for what it is and then call me forward— out of it, into life.

This is hard. Seeing the sin has meant sinning, and I'm not a fan. God has used it to reveal my heart, though: to reveal how dark it still is, to reveal how against Him it still is in some ways, to reveal how out of tune with Him it still is.

And here's the scary bit: I'm not nearly as broken as I should be. I can tell that. And it bothers me. That's a good thing. But this sort of revelation ought to utterly humble me, bring deep and piercing contrition. And it doesn't. It brings contrition, or at least feeling bad, but not to the depth that it needs to.

So I am crying out to God to break me, to open my eyes to the darkness of sin. To how evil it is, how worthless, how revolting it should be. I need a breakthrough.

And you know what? I have hope. Because my eyes are not on my sin... they are on Christ. And He is more than able to save. He saves to the uttermost. It is His grace that changes us, not our own strength, and His grace that destroys sin and makes us like Him. It is His grace that convicts, that breaks our hearts, that remakes us.

So as I am slowly broken, as I am slowly humbled and transformed, as I am made aware of just how deep the stain goes... I am also made aware of just how deeply the grace of God penetrates, how incredibly patient is the Holy Spirit, and how amazingly merciful was the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.

I am a sinner, wretched and unworthy. And He saved me; He saves me; He will save me - to the uttermost.

In this I can take hope.

When the people were broken because they knew their sin:
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, as Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our LORD. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." So the Levites calmed all the people saying, "Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved." And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12 (ESV)

When the Lord had spoken judgment on Israel through Zephaniah:
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout o Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.

The King of Israel, the LORD is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

"Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.

"The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing..." Zephaniah 3:14-17


Go in peace. Know that the God of grace will save you to the uttermost.

- Chris

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Turning to the Word

The past week has been somewhat interesting for me, spiritually. I've been struggling, honestly, to remain focused in my study of Scripture, and really having to choose to press in with regards to my walk. Yet, at the same time, it has been a fruitful week. God has spoken to me immensely - using Scripture, bringing it to mind in crucial moments when I've been confronted with the blackness o fmy heart.

My entries on this blog have reflected that a bit. Emotions have been all over the place, and God has used that to expose things in me: chipping a little off the surface of my heart here, peeling away some of the fa├žade there, revealing my sinfulness for what it is, revealing my sin for what it is.

And, as I noted, it's been a point of gratitude and, to my surprise, even joy to me.

Yet, as ever, I am not content. The more God pierces me and destroys the old self, replacing it slowly with the image of Christ, the more passionately I am driven to seek Him, to make His glory my all.

I was reflecting in the shower this morning (a common pastime of mine): how important dedication is if we are to be effective ministers of the kingdom of God. Many of us have dreams and visions of what could be, can be, should be - in our lives, in the body of Christ, in the world. And yet, most of us never attain all that we could of our part in realizing those hopes. And the ultimate cause is that, by and large, we lack dedication. We do not have the discipline to press in, even when tired, even when discouraged, to continue to seek after the heart of God no matter what opposition may came.

And it takes great discipline and great fortitude indeed. All those I can think of that have powerfully impacted the world for Christ - the Bunyans and the Wesleys alike - were people dedicated to the pursuit of God, the increasing knowledge of Jesus Christ, the deepening attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. Above all, that manifested itself in every case I know of as a deep and passionate dedication to the word of God: a commitment to study it, value it, know it. And yet the first thing to go for many of us, when we are tired or busy, is our time spent pursuing the knowledge of God in His word. It's absurd.

The witness even of this week, for me, is that God faithfully uses His word in my life. Over and over again, He has spoken through Scriptures that I have memorized or have come across in studying to speak conviction to me, to encourage me, to point me back to Him as my source of life and hope and joy, to remind me that it is not I but He who is the source of anything I can offer to this broken world.

So I challenge you even as I challenge myself: renew your commitment to knowing God as He has revealed Himself. To be certain, He can speak to us in other ways, and I believe He sometimes does. But first and foremost - most reliably, and most certainly - He has spoken to us through His word. Let us not so cavalierly abandon it; let us not so readily set it aside. Let us hold fast to an unflinching commitment to know and understand and believe the word of God.

Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." John 18:37

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Hebrews 1:1-2


- Chris

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Emotions

Emotions can be surprising things. They're a veritable whirlwind, a storm, at some points, and a calm sea breeze at others.

In the last 24 hours I've gone through an insane progression of emotions, all of it spawned by trivialities. And what's interesting to me is that in the midst of that, my actual desires and choices were relatively constant. Despite having an extremely (indeed, maddeningly) changing emotional state, my actual decisions remained unaffected, at least on a large scale. Momentary decisions were less than their normal tempered selves, but even those I overruled by and large - less with reason than with will and acknowledgment of the folly of letting those things rule me.

I've learned a lot from David over the years. In many of the psalms he wrote, we see a fairly consistent pattern: some set of emotions is playing out in his heart, and - be they fear, anger, sorrow, joy, or any other - he deals with them and then turns to praise God. No matter his circumstances, no matter how confused or even angry toward God he was, always he praised his King.

I'm not there yet, but I'm learning, largely from his example. Others do it, too: Habakkuk comes to mind. And through the word that God has given us, the Spirit speaks powerfully. In many ways, I can see that I've come very far indeed from where I was only a year ago. In others, I have very far to go. Yet what is important here is that I am learning, growing, being made more and more into the image of God.

Have you ever pondered that? Our God feels emotions - intensely - yet never acts on "pure" emotion. He acts out of wisdom, always. That's quite remarkable, from our limited human experience. And yet as we are slowly sanctified and are increasingly able to do so ourselves, though in limited fashion, we begin to understand who God is a little more. The process of sanctification is striking and remarkable. In it we are transformed by increasing knowledge of God, and as we are sanctified we increase in our knowledge of God. It is a circle, feeding on itself - the opposite of the sin circle that leads us in the other direction. The more we know God, the more we will be like Him, and the more we become like Him, the more we can (and do) know Him.

I come again to this place of awe, of reverence, that our great and mighty God, He who is infinite in power and majesty, in righteousness and holiness, in love and mercy, has rescued me. His grace daily changes me and makes me more as I ought to be: an image of Christ, Himself the image of the invisible God.

Praise Him from who all blessings flow!

- Chris

Monday, July 14, 2008

Troubleshooting

A short but important life lesson:

I spent about four hours attempting to troubleshoot a problem in a piece of code I'm writing for the research I'm doing. Not even a terribly important piece of code (though understanding how it works is important). And then today I walked up to a professor who knows his way around Fortran and the problem was solved inside of five minutes.

Far too often we're afraid to ask for help - especially from those who are best able to give it: parents, mentors, and so on. Why? Usually it's a stubborn brand of pride: we want to prove that we can figure this out, we can do it ourselves. But we were not made to function that way - we were made to function in community. God has given us the body of Christ for a reason: because we need each other, and there is wisdom in others that we do not (cannot!) have in ourselves.

And that's particularly important to remember when troubleshooting. When dealing with sin, when working through conflicts, when struggling with the travails of life - when troubleshooting - never dare to do it alone. Do it in community as we are commanded.

- Chris

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Faithfulness of God

I'm amazed. I know that God is faithful and good, and that He answers prayers. Yet, in this moment, I am once again awed by how precisely He works, how perfectly His timing is made clear, how elegantly His plans come to fruition. I am particularly confounded by the manner in which He has worked our prayers into His plans: how He positively delights in answering them, and is not slow to do so, but rather in the precise time that is right answers them perfectly.

Just over two weeks ago, I was riding a train to Ft. Worth to visit my beloved Jaimie. On the ride down, I wrote the final entry in a journal I began nearly three years ago (October of 2005, early in my freshman year of college). After finishing it, I began to reread the journal slowly and contemplatively, meditating on all that God had done and indeed is still doing in me: in my life, in my heart, in my knowledge of and walk with Him. In so doing, I crossed paths with the work he was doing in me last spring. And, thanks to the gracious prompting of the Holy Spirit, both then (having me write a few short but important phrases) and now (having me reread those at that precise time), I realized once more that that work is ongoing.

God began breaking down my misplaced pride a very long time ago, but it was last year that I truly began to see it as something not merely bad but truly evil: for the first time He made clear to me, in the fruit of that sin, just how vile it is and how much destruction it reaps. And He worked fiercely to destroy a great deal of that. In the same stretch of time, He radically dealt with my words. He has given us all a very great gift: we have power in what we speak, power to build up or to break down those around us. We have a great responsibility to do rightly with our words - and He began to show me more fully what that required of me.

The correlation between the work He did in me last spring and the opening of my eyes to many, many more things last summer is a direct one.

In my reading through those entries, the Holy Spirit reminded me of what He said to me then: the work didn't stop after spring break 2007. It was to continue. And so I asked, "Lord, continue to break me of these things. Continue to destroy pride in me; continue to teach me to speak only in ways that edify and build up."

Within the next 24 hours, He was doing precisely that. He presented opportunity after opportunity for me to choose how to speak. He began working through Jaimie to bring conviction about particular phrases, expressions, etc. that are less than edifying - and then for us to work together to eliminate them.

And that same weekend He brought up situations that, though less than perfect themselves, are very much His perfect way of exposing in new and deeper ways the pride that still remains in my heart. In the past four days, He has been steadily and faithfully exposing that pride, showing it for what it is, making clear just how dark and disgusting that festering rot is. He has spoken perfectly clearly - through Jaimie, through books I've read, and especially through His word.

That last is the reason for this note. I often try to read from Proverbs every day: there is much simple (yet so profound) wisdom to be had there. Yesterday, after spending the previous night deeply praying for God to break my heart more about pride and to continue to break through, I read in Proverbs 11. It's one of only four chapters in the book where God specifically addresses pride - and one of the four well-known verses where God indicates that pride leads to destruction, but humility to life and honor. Coincidence? Not likely. He orchestrated events in my life just so, in order that it would line up and I would be where I needed to be in studying Scripture at the right time. And today, as I continued to press in, gladdened by my heart's joyful response to conviction, I read in Proverbs 12. The second verse struck me profoundly: Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. It was as though God had chosen to speak directly to me to encourage me to continue pressing on, to continue delighting in His discipline and sanctification. (And it is not merely "as if" He had done that: being the great and awesome God that He is, He did do that, through a passage that has undoubtedly spoken to millions of others throughout the millennia.)

I am reminded, as I consider the perfection of His timing, of the words that Tolkien put in Gandalf's mouth: "A wizard is never late. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to." Wizards may not be, and they may not be so punctual - but God is, and He is perfectly punctual, arriving exactly when He means to, and thus exactly when He needs to.

- Chris

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sin and Grace

I've been pondering, recently: how readily the dark places of our heart slowly swell up to consume us if we do not constantly check them, if we do not constantly seek the conviction of the Holy Spirit and His sanctifying work in our lives. It's so easy: a little slip here, a little giving in there, and we find old sins beginning to flourish again. Or we discover for the first time things we didn't know we had in us.

For me, frustration, anger, bitterness... they've cropped up (or perhaps have simply become visible) in the past few weeks. I despise them. They're ugly. Like the most vile weed in the world, only worse: because a weed was not originally ugly, is only ugly because of the fall and the way it destroys the good things we plant. Sin is worse than that. Uglier. It's like a stain of blackest ink seeping across a perfect white page, marring it. It's as though some hideous thing were eating at sun and sky, somehow making them not. Not simply dark, but not. Sin is disgusting, sickening, revolting.

When we begin to see sin as it is - when we begin to see God as He is and then finally begin to glimpse how awful sin really is - then we begin to know just how great this salvation we have been given is. We also begin to understand the wrath of God, His fierce justice, in a richer way. Bitterness, anger, frustration: these inner rots are a defilement on the image of Himself that He placed in us. His wrath is righteous, His judgment good. These ones, in me, are all rooted in pride. Hardly a surprise. And it is an uglier sin, yet, if it is possible: it raises itself and says, "I am god."

Terror should grip us when we realize just how vile our hearts are: a holy fear of the wrath of God. Not a terror in which we should remain, paralyzed, but a terror which compels us to worship God all the more for His incredible, inconceivable, sovereign grace. That we who have destroyed His image in us by choosing sin, who have embraced the sickening rot, who have become the curse even as we are cursed - that we should be paid for with His blood? The thought is a terrible one indeed. You and I were bought with the life of God Himself: infinite worth, suffering under the infinite wrath of God, that infinite justice might be done for an inconceivably great sin.

And in this we have hope and respite from that horror that would otherwise bind us so. We are free to step from that terror: but not into pride, or self-adulation, for it is not we who have saved ourselves, but our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And if He is not Lord we are not saved, for He has bought us with His own blood. No, we step instead into reverence and awe, a kind of great and terrible delight.

The apostle John told us that while we do not know what we shall be like when Christ is revealed at last, we know this: we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. That is a great promise indeed. To see God with redeemed eyes is to be like Him: for we must be, will be, conformed to His image. That is a comfort, a great comfort, when we are confronted (as daily we are) but the sinfulness of our sin, and the depravity of our hearts.

We are to be holy, as He is holy. And He in His great compassion has given us the power and the grace to become so.

- Chris

Yearning

The sky is different here. Strange, I know, but it's true. A lot of people I know think it's larger here, more expansive. It doesn't feel that way to me. It feels smaller, less grand. It's odd. There are no mountains, and mountains change the sky in ways impossible to describe: possible only to be seen. I do not claim to understand that. I simply know it to be. My heart yearns for the heights, for the striking grandeur of peaks tilting heavenward, for the thousand-foot falling water of snowmelt in July, for the thinness of air where trees no longer grow.

My heart yearns for heaven, and thinks it tastes it in the mountains. Yet Heaven shall infinitely greater be.

- Chris