Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An Extracted Truth

I was in the bathroom at work the other day brushing my teeth. I never wanted to be “that one.” You know the one who keeps the toothbrush in her desk and is in the bathroom after lunch uncouthly spitting toothpaste into the pricey marble sink? But there I was upon dentist’s orders to brush my teeth after “every single meal!”

I was given this directive (along with a lengthy laundry list of others) in order to avoid further irritating a riled up nerve in my mouth that is threatening to abscess. So there I was, leaning over the marble sink, the eyes of six-figure-salary manager looking on in disgust as I spit lather from my mouth like a commoner. “Why am I doing this?” I thought, wishing she would go away.

Why? Easy answer -- pain. Lectures from my dentist, common sense, memories of past root canals, and pricey dental bills all failed to force me into that bathroom to brush my teeth in front of my peers previously. A throbbing tooth provided me all the motivation that I needed. I realized that God often has to deal with us this way. We know we should not do something, but we suppress our common sense, warnings from others, and past consequences and continue in our sin. How often does our behavior go on unchanged until the pain of abscessing sin exposes the raw nerve in our heart? “That hurts!” we say, and the behavior is altered.

Thinking the little analogy would go no further, I was surprised that same night, over dinner that the metaphor took on even more depth. The dentist had also instructed me to “baby” the left side of my mouth. I had made a pizza that night and after the first bite, I realized it was baked perfectly -- just like I liked it. It tasted SO good! But after a few bites, I realized that I was very frustrated. In trying to keep all the food off my abscessing tooth, the food was not really hitting my taste buds. My nose smelled the food, a taste bud here or there was catching a little taste…but because I was not fully rolling it over all of my mouth, I was not satisfied.

I realized again how much that is like our spiritual walk. We try to live these compartmentalized lives. We push our spiritual stuff into the corner just under the tongue – enough for survival and brief moments of taste, but far enough away from our sin so as to not remind us that area of our heart is rotting.

We say we want to taste Jesus – but we don’t really want to take a huge bite and roll him all over our tongue. Because when the conviction of the Spirit hits that raw nerve that is painful! So we avoid the pain (or so we think) by “babying” our sin, and not letting Jesus touch that part of our heart. So while we have just enough of Jesus to keep our sustenance going, we do not have enough of him to say, “I have never tasted anything so sweet! I want more!”

This tooth is driving me crazy. It hurts. But now, each time I become aware of its throbbing, instead of complaining, I find myself marveling in the fact that God loves me so much, he can take something as simple as a toothache and use it as a means to point me to his glory. If we could train ourselves to see more of him in every little detail – we would be praising him all day long!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Again I say, "Rejoice!"

"Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee who passing through the valley of weeping, make it a well" (Ps. 84:5, 6).

I have been thinking intentionally about joy lately. My middle name is Joy, and based upon the importance that Scripture seems to give to the meaning of people's names, I have begun to pursue joy with a new and deeper fervor than ever before. My mom did not originally intend to name me Vicki Joy. She decided upon the name only after I was born and determined that a spirit of victory and joy were the two main weapons I would need to get through life with a facial deformity. Because I have already seen evidence of these two graces manifesting themselves in my life, I am now engaging in an even more intentional pursuit of these fruits in my life.

But joy is an illusive thing. It is very easy to appropriate outward signs and indications of joy (laughter, smiling, telling jokes, being in a “good mood,” etc.) I have those disciplines over my physical body down pat. But my heart’s participation is another matter.

In my pursuit of joy, I have discovered several things:
· Joy is sometimes present, but manifests itself so quietly that it may go unnoticed
· Joy does not have to be loud, hyper, funny, raucous, or excited
· Joy does not come naturally – it must be intentionally pursued and fought for
· Joy can co-exist with sober-mindedness and sorrow
· Joy can be obtained on earth – it is not solely a promise for heaven

Hebrews 12:2 says, “…who for the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross…”

I believe joy can be mingled with sorrow. Jesus knew Scripture by heart, he had a flawless prayer life, he had godly friends, he faithfully attended the temple and gave his tithes…but none of these efforts carried his cross…joy did.

I don’t think joy is the absence of all pain and sorrow, I believe it is the catalyst that buoys us through them. Sorrow without joy breeds despair and hopelessness. Sorrow with joy breeds hope and strength.

Some have quoted to me the verse, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecc. 3:1, 4) as a means to prove that joy comes and goes in phases.

But I do not believe joy and sorrow are intermittent stages in life, experienced independently of one another. 2 Cor. 9:10 says, "...sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." This indicates that joy does not abandon us, even when we weep, because our joy is not a mere temporal feeling that comes and goes with the fleeting pleasures of the moment. Our joy is rooted in things outside ourselves, namely God, and because God does not change, our joy need not wane.

But this doesn’t mean it isn’t a fight. At every moment, our flesh and minds will work against our quest. Temptations to grumble will meet us at every corner. We must battle these grumblings and our only sword is the Word of God. The promises in Scripture have the power to cut these negative thoughts and lies and fears into pieces. And so we must gird ourselves with truth if we portend to think we can make war with our joylessness.

My mom recently shared with me that she got a picture in her mind where she saw herself standing out in the rain. She lifted her arms into the air and tilted her head towards the sky and was catching all the dew drops on her face. When she opened her eyes, she noticed that written within every single drop of rain was the word “joy.” Then she told me, “I felt like the Lord was telling me that even though the rains may come, he wants to shower me with joy." And then she choked up and said, "...and you know what, even though I have Cancer, I have never been happier in my life.”

My mom is able to experience true joy in the midst of Cancer because there are gifts much greater (and much harder to obtain!) than a young, healthy body. In exchange for her health, the Lord has buoyed her up in her time of sickness with a vast army of intercessors, a husband who has risen to the occasion and is cherishing her as the wife of his youth, and she has been afforded a scenario that has allowed her to contemplate and experience the deeper benefits of hope and faith that can only be seen when life and all its temporal pleasures threaten to be taken away.

Joy doesn’t come from good health, it comes from the Lord, and sometimes we see the Lord most clearly when all the other promises have abandoned, deceived, or disappointed us. When health and life and good times fail us, we look around to see if anyone is left standing or if we are utterly alone. It is in these times that we see the Lord has remained standing. “I will never leave thee or forsake thee, for lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” How can these words mean anything to us until we have been forsaken by all others?

I believe that heaven will usher in a kind of endless joy like we have never known, and a joy like we can never know here on this earth. But that does not negate Psalm 27:13-14, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”

I like that David exhorts us to “be strong and take heart” – it indicates that for sinners to expect joy from a holy God takes faith. Waiting also increases the challenge because it is so easy to perceive a “wait” as a “no.” But the Psalmist encourages us to fight through the doubts and the guilt and the long periods of delay and to courageously continue to expect the goodness of the LORD on this side of heaven.

I do not believe, as many modern Christians do, that suffering is the appendix of the Christian body (namely, it is a spare part that we do not need and can merely cut it out and discard it once it begins to irritate us). I believe that suffering is as integral to the body as the blood flowing to our hearts. But I do not think embracing God’s disciplines and trials for our lives means resigning ourselves to morbid melancholy. Being morose is not a requirement (or sign) of holiness. We can be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. That is what I am striving for.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Love Vs. Knowledge

I was reading Ephesians 3:19 (" know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God") and something struck me.

I have always interpreted that verse to mean that the love of Christ "surpasses" other words, "it is too much for our feeble minds to comprehend." (And I do think that is what it means).

BUT, in the NKJV (above) it doesn't use the word "surpass" it uses the word "passes" and so the mental picture that slammed into my head as I read the verse was of two runners on a race track. One runner is Love and the other is Knowledge. They were neck and neck, but then Love, in a burst of speed, runs past Knowledge, leaving it in the dust, and goes on to win the race.

So, in addition to God's love being beyond our comprehension, perhaps this verse could also allow for the idea that the Love of God is SUPERIOR to mere knowledge of Him. We all know it is possible to have a complex understanding of theology and still miss the proverbial boat of knowing God.