Undivided, I’ll Worship

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Train me, God, to walk straight;
then I’ll follow your true path.
Put me together, one heart and mind;
then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear.

From the bottom of my heart I thank you, dear Lord;
I’ve never kept secret what you’re up to.
You’ve always been great toward me—what love!
You snatched me from the brink of disaster!

God, these bullies have reared their heads!
A gang of thugs is after me—
and they don’t care a thing about you.

But you, O God, are both tender and kind,
not easily angered, immense in love,
and you never, never quit.

(Psalm 86:11-15 The Message)

Now What?

Perplexed

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These are my ear buds for the iPod that holds my precious music. This is what they look like when I go to use them. Tangled. No matter how carefully I set them down, they end up in a convoluted wad. Every single time. (It may have something to do with sending them through the laundry process tucked in the pocket of my jeans, but hey, they still work.)

This phrase caught my attention recently:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair…” (2 Corinthians 4:8 ESV)

The apostle Paul wrote this to people he was urging to make changes. They needed to learn to relate to others based on love. These changes would transform the way they “did church.”

Did he say “perplexed?” (Actually he said aporeo which apparently means not knowing which way to turn, or how to decide, or being stymied about what to do — or to be perplexed.) The word perplexed comes from the root idea of “through entanglement or intricate entwining.” Like my earphone cord.

But I thought Paul was the one who had it all together, the one who had a direct line to God and always knew what to do.

Apparently not. Apparently he, and the ones who ministered with him were, on occasion, perplexed. But not driven to despair. He humbly acknowledged that they were like fragile flawed jars of clay because God chose the weak of the world to make sure people knew it was Jesus Christ and not them who was the source. For the sake of the gospel they were willing to live in that uncomfortable place between well-that-didn’t-work and what-now-?.

For someone who wants a firm handhold in the future before taking the next step into the unknown this is both discouraging and encouraging. Discouraging because not even spiritual giants like Paul had all the answers and encouraging because not even spiritual giants like Paul had all the answers. He was willing to endure being perplexed the way he was willing to endure affliction and persecution and hardships – out of love. Someone told me that if you want to receive Jesus’ promise of peace that passes understanding you need to understand that you won’t always understand.

I find myself in that uncomfortable in between place. A while ago I took a step of faith into unfamiliar territory as I am learning about hearing God’s voice for myself and leaning more on Him for wisdom and discernment. I stopped going to the traditional services under the steeple on Sunday morning. (I didn’t leave the people because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ and family is family. You can’t divorce brothers and sisters, but I have discovered that’s the assumption many make if you aren’t in the pew for that hour and a half a week.) I felt the Lord was asking me to step back for a time to gain a broader perspective. He wanted to show me something, a bigger picture of what he means by The Church that I couldn’t see inside a section of distinctiveness protected by administrative berms that sometimes don’t let fresh water in or stale water out. I’ve met a lot of sincere followers of Jesus here outside the berms and I am not without fellowship, but it’s not comfortable place.

Yes. He has shown me a lot. My eyes have been opened – but I can’t talk about it.

I can’t talk about it because, although everybody sees the problems in other denominations or fellowships, nobody likes being told they have parts missing on their ship. And every isolated group has parts missing. We all have holes.

We are like a town that has learned to live with the smells from the pulp mill and frequent serious collisions on that really bad corner by the bridge but still believe our community is the best because we have a new state of the art hospital and our team won the cup last year. It’s not all bad. There’s really good healing stuff and stuff to cheer about and really stinky stuff and even dangerous stuff. It’s just tangled.

You can’t repent of sin you don’t acknowledge and lately I have been facing the challenge of untangling ideas and separating truth from false beliefs in my own life. Repentance means exchanging the way I think for the way God thinks. I have parts missing on my boat, and having that painful fact pointed out has also been a part of this process.

Now I’m perplexed. I’m standing on a point on the road where I do not yet see a clear answer, and I don’t know where this is taking me. The now-what? point. The point of asking over and over, “Did I hear you right?” Are these ear buds working?

But there is more. I know in my knower that God knows what he is doing. Every day I meet another person with the same desire – to know Christ more deeply. Everyday I read about someone on a similar journey of hope.

Perplexed, but not driven to despair.

And because the Lord is relentlessly kind he brought a song by Misty Edwards and Paul Moak to my attention. The lyrics, in part:

Can’t pretend that I am blind
Can’t go back and erase the mind
Naivety and wide-eyed wonder are far from me
But at least now I see
It’s like I’m walking on a tightrope
Stretched across the universe
Way too high to go back from where I came
Overwhelmed at the miles I’ve yet to tame

I’m too far in to turn around now
And I’ve got too far to go to sit down now
Too far in, too far to go…

 

I know, I know You’re with me
You surround me, You surround me
Your invisible hand is around, around
In this uncomfortable in-between
Where I’m too far in to turn around now…

Misty Edwards and Paul Moak, Little Bird album, Forerunner Music, 2014

 

Nor Sit in the Seat of Scoffers

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For some reason this chair in front of a windowed door caught my eye. I snapped a photo of it and continued on my way. Later, when I was experimenting with editing dud pics and wondered what it would look like in black and white I heard this phrase in my spirit.

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers.

This is from the first verse in the book of Psalms: How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers.

Other translations call scoffers mockers, deriders, the scornful. People who are familiar with the internet call them trolls.

I’ve been thinking about scoffers and the temptation to sit in that seat. How many of us no longer read comments on news sites or have ceased joining discussions in formerly interesting groups because scoffers have entrenched themselves there? Scoffers block the way to greater insight the way the troll in the childrens story blocked the three billy goats from reaching greener fields. Scoffers don’t move. They sit.

Mocking, scornful deriders have been around for a long time, and they sit in the middle of many pathways. Sometimes you don’t realize you have been dealing with scoffer until they are gone. It’s like the moment when someone shuts off the persistent background noise of a loud fan. Peace. During their rare absences quarrelling, abuse, strife, doubt and dishonour leave with them – until someone else decides to sit in their chair. Sometimes that empty chair is hard to resist.

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about the scornful.
He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonour for himself,
And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you.

Contrast that with the next sentences:
Reprove a wise man and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser,
Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.
(Proverbs 9)

A scoffer presents as someone seeking wisdom but who can’t recognize it when it is plainly demonstrated to him or her because arrogance blocks their own view. Arrogance is the inability to esteem others more highly than yourself. A mocker has no grace for anyone not up to their standards and will miss the wisdom of children and folks of lower status.

My brother and I were only a year apart. Teachers in our junior high school loved his class and hated mine. His class had natural leaders (my brother was one) with a great sense of humour and sense of comaraderie that honoured classmates. Our class was greatly influenced by two extremely intelligent, but rather bitter scoffers. From the first day they so intimated the other students (I was labeled “hairy arms” by one of them) that we felt we needed their approval before cooperating with any project a teacher suggested. They rarely gave it. Secretly many of us envied their power and wanted to be like them. For three years we turned into an entire class of cross-armed witty, but nasty, skeptics who dared the teachers to engage our enthusiasm. Scorn is contagious.

To make things worse one year our home room teacher announced a seating plan based on academic merit. Every month we all knew exactly how we ranked when he re-assigned numbered desks. Those two boys never lost their seats in the first row. The teacher actually joined them in his derision of the last row. He believed he could shame the “low” achievers (who were in a class for gifted students) into trying harder, and that “healthy competition” would stir them on to greater things.

It didn’t work. For a couple of students the results of this experiment were tragic. Not all gifts can be measured by percentages on a test. Names stick.

I found scoffers entrenched in universities as well. One would think that in an environment dedicated to learning that new ideas and daring research would be highly honoured. Many discouraged potential PhD candidates and their supervisors can tell you how often a project is dismissed by a scoffer with power who sits in front of the door.

I’m not surprised by scoffers and mockers of those who believe in God or Jesus Christ. It’s a lifestyle. What surprises me is the number of scoffers who identify as believers. Now I’m not holding up naivety or gullibility as virtues; good questions lead to knowledge and wisdom. If you have a hole in your boat or those jeans really do advertise that your backside looks like a barn door you need to know. But some questions don’t lead to answers. Some questions are only meant to mock and deride and discourage and stop folks who want to press on.

Paul quoted the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk when he spoke in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. “Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; for I am accomplishing a work in your days, A work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you.’” (Acts 13:41.)

I’ve met people in churches who insist there is no proof that God still does miracles today. When provided with documentation they dismiss it or ignore it. Scoffing makes it hard to believe. Scoffing entrenches disbelief because the scornful cannot give up the power of the scoffer’s seat and turn to see the light shining behind them.

 

Wait. What?

I was about to finish up this essay when I heard the Lord say in my spirit, “You’re still in the scoffer’s seat yourself, you know.”

“What? How so?”
“Why do you find it so hard to believe what I’ve told you about the way I see you, about your identity in Christ?”

I’ve been struggling with writing a short bio for a project I am joining. It’s sometimes easier to ask someone else to write these things because it does stir up the scoffer’s stopper question,”Who do you think you are anyway?”

Oh boy. Busted.

Change is hard, but it’s time to kick the scoffer out of her chair and open that glass door by faith. Here goes.

Lord, I am no longer a hungry caterpillar crawling on my belly. I am a butterfly who is learning what wings can do.

I am, like Snow White, one who appeared to be dead, now raised to new life by the kiss of the Prince of Peace. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I am learning about the power of love because you love me.

And by Your grace I am still subject to change.