Friday, January 07, 2011

Trouble With Bossing

Perhaps it is one of the perks that comes at this grade level, but certain seven- and eight-year-olds (at least the variety with whom I deal) sometimes have it in mind that it is their sacred obligation to inform others of what they are doing wrong. When the issue came to a head the other day, we hunkered in for a class meeting about how to stop micro-managing classmates. Some of the kids were able to brainstorm that there may at least be more polite ways of directing their peers. Others suggested that saying nothing would be better still. And yet, when the inevitable had to be pointed out, there were kids who were ready for the message.

For it was one thing to illustrate that there's an inherent "power-tripping" in the bossing, a desire to control another and so exert prideful force; but it was a totally new message to some that the direct opposite of bossing is actually serving.

For, when all is concluded, serving is the hallmark of love. Or rather, it is the tangible demonstration of a will that is set on benefiting another; the outward manifestation of a determined volition that no shame is too high a cost, no rupture from one's own plans too grievous a penalty, and no amount of distress too unreasonable an imposition, if there might be added to its intended beneficiary even the slightest degree of good.

It is the form of giving which is set on foot-washing and bowing down; not seeking control over another, but desiring fully to be a simple blessing, in being and in might. It is the status of readiness, willing at every opportunity to lunge at even the smallest avenue by which to demonstrate the good will meant toward its recipient. It is the epitome of selflessness, which gives heed only to the nature and neediness of the one who will enjoy its labors; it is the grace toward a fellow being which cares not for its own preferences, but counts it a glad victory to see that the other's needs are satisfied, until it is not a matter of doing good, but of being the good of the other. In every sense, it is the truest condition of yielding, so as to express with utmost clarity, precise in word and deed, the state of being for the other person.

If "bossing" demarcates the grossness of self-centered assertion, then serving is the purest, most concentrated substance there is by which one can profess, with a humility of heart more disarming than coercion, that no hindrance could grieve love into forfeiture, no hardship could garner from it failure, and no heartache could galvanize its flight.

"For love is as strong as death... Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it..." (Song 8:6-7)

Thursday, December 23, 2010


It's fascinating how much of photography is determined by light alone. The art itself, literally defined as "writing with light," is so heavily composed of the interplay of shadow and sun that even color is completely ineffectual in enhancing a photo if there is no good contrast from the onset.

A little further in, the definition of photography hits on the method more succinctly: "the art or process of producing images of objects on photosensitive surfaces." Incredible to think that there are surfaces designed for the sole intent of absorbing light so that an image may emerge.

Yet that is God's design for us. He says in Jeremiah 31:33, "'But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days,' declares the LORD, 'I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people'" (cf Heb. 8:10, 10:16).

John 3 makes plain that we are creatures with an affinity toward darkness rather than the Light, for our deeds were evil (v. 19-20; see Job 24:13). Yet, rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God's beloved Son (Col. 1:13), our souls bear the image of the Light to whom we are exposed. Second Corinthians states, "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."

Through various passages, the Bible makes clear that our beings are the surface upon which God 'writes with light,' using the stylus of His truth [Jn. 17:17] to bear upon our beings the word implanted (Js. 1:21), the commandment which enlightens our eyes (Ps. 19:8), and the wisdom by which a man's countenance is brought to beam (Ecc. 8:1). He is the Light of life (Jn. 8:12), in whom we see light (Ps. 36:9).

For the One who spoke light into existence (Gen. 1:3), who is Himself the radiance of God's glory (Heb. 1:3) and who will ultimately illumine heaven by His sheer Being (Rev. 21:23), came into the world, that those who believe in Him may not remain in darkness (Jn. 12:46) but have a great light dawn upon them (Mt. 4:16; cf Is. 9:2). And it is to His good purpose and pleasure that we, who were formerly darkness and are now Light in the Lord (Eph. 5:8), reflect the Lord's glory, being transformed into His image through the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

For God, in whom "there is no darkness at all" (1 Jn. 1:5) and with whom "there is no variation or shifting shadow" (Js. 1:17), has created our souls to be 'light-sensitive,' that He may write upon those who once 'dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death' (Ps. 107:10, 14) the image of His Son, into whose likeness we are being conformed [Ro. 8:29].

Let us therefore proclaim the 'excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light' (1 Pe. 2:9), as we cry with whole-hearted, reverent adoration, "The LORD my God illumines my darkness" (Ps. 18:28).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where We Reside

After sitting through a highly convicting sermon last night, in which I felt totally bruised, I wondered again why I have wasted so much time in the shallows.

My life is composed of spelling lists and shoe-lace-tying lessons, when I have spent many times wondering if I should not be in another country, serving the kids of Russia who have been abandoned to an institution (детский дом, a children's home), not through parental death but outright decision. These are the "social orphans," ninety percent of whom still have at least one living parent: children who were labeled too inconvenient or costly to be reared by their own family.

The waves came crashing in last night. Why do I sit here occupied with parent conferences and paper correcting? What is the point of teaching kids how to use prepositions and protractors? Why I am swamped in the trivial, the superficial and the meaningless? 'Why,' in other words, 'this waste?' (Mt. 26:8).

It was at about 1:00 PM today, as I sat in what I thought would be a customary meeting with a parent, that God addressed the questions. The mother, wanting to apprise me of her child's physical and emotional challenges before the school year began, explained that her youngster has been making good strides. While number sense is coming along slowly, there has been some notable growth in reading.

Yet, as I sat there with the most recent diagnoses laid out before me in ten-point font, I was hardly taking mental notes on how to make classroom accommodations. Instead, I was mulling over God's exceeding intentionality. For the child He was presenting me was adopted from Russia; left for the first fifteen months of her life without forming any attachments; and is still, all these years later, recovering from the fall-out of her infancy. She was one of the ones for whom I'd been praying...

All that time, when there'd been a pressing need to intercede for those who had been relinquished for selfish or desperate reasons; when there had been a dire sense of needing to "do" something, now He was lending to these hands an avenue by which to act on all that He had inspired.

I cannot help but marvel at how masterfully He weaves His purpose with His design. Nor can I do anything but faithfully rejoice that He, fitting together the impending need to act, with the firmly-defined sphere where He's had me reside, should now merge the restlessness with reprieve.

He alone is the One to answer our striving with the sufficiency of His planning and pleasing. And we are left to exult in Him with grateful worship:

"'For I proclaim the Name of the LORD;
Ascribe greatness to our God!
The Rock! His work is perfect...'"
Deuteronomy 32:3-4

In the Tedium

Spent part of yesterday afternoon enjoying some time in a fabric store, looking for a pattern that would fit well with the teal print I had just purchased. Yet what caused me to marvel in gratitude was my company. For, as I perused the pattern books that were sprawled across the table, I was surrounded by friends who would never have voluntarily chosen to be there on their own: one, who admits that the closest she's come to sewing patterns was in using her drafting tools to sketch her own skirt; another, whose sewing teacher had berated her so much that she was turned off to it entirely; and two, who avoided the craft store for as long as they could with a trip to the nearby bookstore. To see them lounging around the table with me as I pored over photos of empire waists and cowl necklines meant a great deal, not only for their patience, but even more simply, for their presence.

How much God values that kind of undying loyalty though. He commands in Proverbs 3:3-4 that we are to 'let love and faithfulness never leave;' that we are to 'bind them around our neck, write them on the tablet of our heart,' and thus, will 'win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.' How much it pleases Him when, having the opportunity to walk away, yet we remain, even in the 'tedium' or costliness which would drive us away.

For He Himself pioneered and forever epitomizes that kind of unswerving endurance, not counting it too costly a task [Heb. 12:2] to come to us in our sinfulness, to enter our sphere and take on flesh (Ph. 2:8) for our sake see (Acts 3:26). We are forever changed by that kind of love, which willfully volunteered to insert Himself in the fallen circumstances which entrapped us. For Christ to have set aside His own desires, His own comfort and glory and honor; for Him to have intentionally taken on the ridicule and scorning and torture, the weight of guilt and shame rightfully ours, we can only behold with unutterable wonder the implication: that faithfulness is more highly concerned with obedience (Ps. 54:6; see also Gen. 22:10, 12) than the losses incurred.

And it is then, when we desire intently to honor the Father, that He empowers us to convey devotion as He has. For in Him alone is the power to 'love at all times' (Pro. 17:17); and from Him alone comes this longing to display, as He first did, that - even when it means 'swearing to our own hurt' - we will not change (Ps. 15:4).

"A faithful man will abound with blessings" (Proverbs 28:20).

The Final Destination

With the recent church building renovation, I've been brought the decidedly sweet recollection of home. Somehow the familiar scents of plaster and primer immediately return me to the contented nostalgia of growing-up years, in which nearly every house knew Dad's masterful hand of renovation.

Yet 'home' has always seemed such an elusive concept. I can remember being asked one time the name of my hometown, and could only muse, "I don't know." Were home defined by birthplace or origin; were it determined by where one feels the most content, or familiar with surroundings; or perhaps - most ideally - were it predicated on the notion of where one belongs, then I could think of at least a couple of places which I would name home.

But the reality is that our true home outstrips every paltry perception we have if we only look at it as the object or end to our needs. It is an easy trap to believe that there is anything worth chasing in this life that could actually leave us 'settled,' at ease (see Ecc. 2:11). The more we walk around on this globe, the more we sense our own foreign-ness (Ps. 119:19), as well as the pointed discontentment with all this world has to offer (Ps. 73:25-26).

And while, as Christians, we long for our eternal home (Heb. 11:13; also Ph. 1:23), perhaps we are backwards to surmise that home is the place that is 'made for us.' Perhaps, instead, the very reason it is even recognizable to us is because home is the only place for which WE were made.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Meditations on Forgiveness

Perhaps on of the most helpful "words" I have ever heard is 'unforgiveness.' Until that point, I had always counted failure to forgive as a lack of the good thing I'd ought to aspire to; not the grievous presence of bitterness and malice that it was. The fact that Paul refers to it as a stumbling block within the Enemy's schemes against us [2 Cor. 2:10-11] ought to make us all the more eager to be rid of it.

In fact, 'unforgiveness' creates an interesting juxtaposition:

Where unforgiveness encourages us to nurse our wounds, and grieve in self-pity over the losses and injustices
...forgiveness demands that we forfeit our pride, our clinging to our rights, and our concerns with what we gain or forfeit in this life (see Heb. 10:34).

Where unforgiveness presses us to dwell repeatedly upon the nature of the injuries and the malice of the offender
...forgiveness leaves the hefty fees of another's selfishness and pride unrecorded (1 Cor. 13:5).

Where unforgiveness contents one with the ploy that retribution is sweet
...forgiveness leaves room for the omniscient One to take vengeance (Ro. 12:19) with the accuracy and perfect justice which repays 'every transgression and disobedience' with 'a just penalty' (Heb. 2:2).

Where unforgiveness insists upon being relieved immediately, and determines that nothing is so grievous or deplorable as what has been endured
...forgiveness looks wide-eyed at the cross, with unfathomable wonder at how the only One blameless (1 Pe. 2:22; Lk. 23:4, 14, 15, 22, 41, 47; Is. 53:9) could absorb to Himself the 'scorn of soul' (Ez. 25:15) and malicious intent which have defined the human race.

Where unforgiveness longs to be rid of the affliction, and cares only about relief from the venom
...forgiveness waits patiently, suffering with closed mouth, and a deliberate submission to the One who judges righteously (1 Pe. 2:23).

Where unforgiveness sees the offenses, and can look no further than the losses and calamity
...forgiveness 'peers past,' beholding the one at enmity as a creature in need of vertical reconciliation, and relief from misery (Ju. 10:15-16).

Where unforgiveness would mete out its own valuation of justice, would relinquish nothing except forcibly, would clamor for every reproach to be "undone"
...forgiveness surrenders to the nature of a God who created a people who would rebel against Him; and seeks to be included, caught up in the participation, of being an ambassador for His Name's sake (2 Cor. 5:20).

Where unforgiveness cannot see, does not wish to perceive, the like nature in itself
...forgiveness recognizes: 'it is all level ground before the cross' (see Col. 3:13).

Where unforgiveness fights and impedes the flow of grace, restricts the gift of mercy (see Js. 2:13)
...forgiveness offers that which has freely been received (Mt. 10:8; also Eph. 4:32).

Where unforgiveness drives us away from God, and enlarges itself through a hatred it justifies
...forgiveness lessens the "self" with a follow-through of sacrificial living, and a refusal to squirm off the altar [Ro. 12:1].

Where unforgiveness makes one more caustic, and self-righteous, and rigid
...forgiveness softens us with the knowledge that we are fully unworthy of the pardon we have been shown (2 Tim. 1:9).

Where unforgiveness belies the nature of the one offended as being holier, purer, truer
...forgiveness whole-heartedly recognizes that there is no merit by which relief from shame was ever reasonably granted (Titus 3:3-5).

Where unforgiveness buffers our pride, and satiates our vain displays
...forgiveness reminds us of and reconciles us with our place: that we are not greater than our Master (Jn. 13:13-16), who knelt down to cleanse the feet of him whose kiss of betrayal would spit in the face of faithful, unconditional love.

Where unforgiveness drives a disdainful wedge between us and the purposes of God
...forgiveness aligns us, with a penitent spirit of submission which sooner wills to see the unmerited grace we've received made manifest and available to others, who are equally as desperate and hopeless apart from His saving intervention.

Where unforgiveness works destruction and demise, a petulant stronghold which refuses to be put off or dismissed
...forgiveness works restoration, life itself, even when the giving of it means the death of the one through whom it is offered [Jn. 15:13].

" that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan,
for we are not ignorant of his schemes."
2 Corinthians 2:10-11

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bumper Car Faith

Ecclesiastes 8:11 says this: "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil."

For a while, David operated in the same way. Until held accountable.

It's an interesting dynamic: this preoccupation with reading God's "response" to a sin - whether He's swift or silent - as punishment or permission.

In Isaiah 57:11, God frames His question to man like this: "'Was I not silent even for a long time so you do not fear Me?'"

But for one who functions with that "bumper car" mentality, proceeding in a direction until sent flying backwards, the internal contemplations come something like this:

Psalm 10:13 "He has said to himself, 'You will not require it.'"

Zephaniah 1:12 "'...who say in their hearts, "The LORD will not do good or evil!"'"

Psalm 94:7 "They have said, 'The LORD does not see, nor does the God of Jacob pay heed.'"

Ezekiel 8:12 "'For they say, "The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land."'"

It strikes me as a sad state in which to live, because so wholly defiant of God, pushing it to the limit, until something else speaks to the conscience and causes a new aim and compliance. Why is the moral compass left on default? Why is that kind of curtailing the only boundary or guideline, when a deliberate aim at holiness would be so much fuller a manner to live?

Part of it comes from not fearing God [Ps. 36:1], but another aspect could easily be that there's a lack of intentionality. One song lyric puts it like this: "Am I doing everything to follow Your will, or just climbing aimlessly over these hills?" ("Whatever You're Doing (Something Heavenly)"/Sanctus Real).

Second Peter outlines so much more. There is even a list in the first chapter, from verses 5 through 7 (ex. faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love). But even larger is the motivation behind those qualities; for we pursue them not for the sake of possessing them, or for flaunting some religious superiority/purity, but rather, in the reverent acknowledgment of the preceding verses. From verses 3 and 4 we read, "...seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust."

Were we to spend the rest of our life offering up these souls and bodies as living sacrifices, that would be 'an offering far too small' for the full deliverance and free pardon of which we have become partakers. We wouldn't see our obligation to God as a perfunctory resonance with His punishment, and redirection. We would seek heartily after His ways, and all that delights Him, because our hearts would be turned toward Him in a way that recognized with a bowed-down humility that we are nothing; that we, who corrupted ourselves most willingly, and set ourselves on a path of destruction, were saved from God's holy wrath.

And perhaps we would no longer see ourselves as having the "liberty" to exercise our sinfulness because not immediately "caught." Perhaps then our cry would be more akin to Ezekiel's, when he - in full understanding that 'all things have been created through Him and for Him' (Col. 1:16) - proclaimed, "'O LORD... You are God in Israel and... I am Your servant'" (1 Ki. 18:36).

Monday, July 05, 2010

O, Conviction!

(When the words "I love You" ring wincingly false) --

If I truly loved You...
...I would never count my losses more than Your own;
...I would seek what You desired;
...I would align myself fully with what You have sought.

If I truly loved You... first concern would be Your thinking; only consideration would be Your pleasure; last thought would be of "self."

If I truly loved You...
...I wouldn't question Your devotion to me, or shrink back in fear;
...I wouldn't turn in faithlessness each time You asked me something difficult;
...I wouldn't justify my "self" and fight for my own ways and cause You grief with my disbelief in Your kindness.

If I truly loved You...
...I would lean wholly on Your Name;
...I would keep focused on Your plan;
...I would risk freely, give lavishly, and live unreservedly.

If I truly loved You...
...I would not have my eyes fixed on the present;
...nor would I complain about hardship;
...nor would I count anything but loss for the sake of knowing You.

If I truly loved You...
...Your nearness would be all I cared for;
...Your contentment and favor, all I strived to attain;
...Your quiet rest upon me, my delight.

If I truly loved You...
...I wouldn't turn my back on You with a callous, abrasive stance;
...nor lash out at You from distrust over Your motives;
...nor seek other things in place of You.

If I truly loved You, as You rightly deserved; as I'd ought...
...I would live poured out, broken down, held back for nothing;
...I would give wantonly, heedlessly, and abounding with joy;
...I would worship reverently, patiently, and with no demands to be found.

...I would be stripped of all pride, conquered in all flesh,
unburdened of every sin;
...I would be genuine when I neared You, calm when You delayed me, submitted when You required more;
...I would be open without condition; softened at all times;
ready for Your employ at every turn.

If I truly knew how to love You...
...this life would no longer have any mark of my scratching for ownership;
...this soul would no longer be wearied with sighs of self-pity;
...this heart would no longer justify itself in pursuing self-will.

If I truly understood, if it ever came naturally...
...I would be a different creature:
conformed and compliant;
refashioned and reformed;
endowed with Your nature in such a way
that all of the hurting of this world could not stain or mar,
but could only cause to pour forth all the more heavily
the kind of love, Your kind,
which bleeds for the brokenness of the unbeliever,
and yearns for the wayward home,
and would give up any personal gain
for the restless soul to be set free.

O, that I could love You!

Friday, April 23, 2010

At Great Expense

My school does nothing except in extremes. Our start-up was a "hit-the-ground-running" scenario, with no buildings (only a dirt lot) just weeks prior to opening. In like manner, the teacher appreciation that the parent community expresses is no less intensive. I sit surrounded by vases of gloriously scented flowers, and the kinds of food that would be detrimental to any figure.

But the reason I rejoice is that God has defined once again, with His gentle clarity, the amazing nature of giving. For it is no small thing to be granted tangible displays of affection, by which one expresses a kindly gratitude for one's presence or deeds, nor is it anything lightly received to know the bestowal of good will and nurturing care. But there is a kind of giving which transcends in nature even those most generous and gregarious, overtly-pleasing acts. There is, as I was brought to tears today with the reminder, the gift of the will, and it is a most costly and gracious gift.

It was as I was cleaning up the classroom, readying to lock up, that my eye was caught on a small yellow Post-It note left on the shelf behind my desk. On it, scrawled in turquoise marker, were six simple words and a name, penned by one of my students who has - much to my chagrin - felt increasingly alienated from the class because of his excessive talking, and the challenge he still has in using self-control.

As I stared at the note, suddenly all of the gifts given by parents and students all week - the roses, the calla lilies, and irises; the homemade meals and hand-made cards; the warm drinks and warm thoughts - took their proper perspective. For on this one, small note was written the gift that cost the greatest sacrifice, for surely it was the present that demanded the most from its giver. The declaration was straightforward and heartily determined: "My gift is being on task!"

Of all of the kindnesses and well-wishes, of all of the deeds that were intended to bring me cheer and comfort, this one had behind it an enormity of costliness. For in it was every bit of intentionality, and a striving to overcome for my sake; and in it was wrapped the depth of knowledge of what was truly pleasing in my sight.

He had not handed me platitudes which he would quickly rescind. He had not chosen to convey fleeting sentiments that he could easily betray with his actions. Neither had he proffered something which would minimize what would be required of him. Instead, he had elected that which would, by its very nature, set no limit on the scope of what it would cost him. He had committed himself, in decided efforts, to that very purpose and demonstration which would not simply be costly, but would invariably be the most expensive gift he could offer.

I am by no means untouched by the devotion and loving appreciation which have overflowed and overwhelmed me all week. Nor am I able to adequately thank all of those involved for such extensive and magnanimous efforts, but I am exceedingly mindful that the giving that exacted the most was that which meant an exercise of the will. And it is through such that I am mindful of why God has made so plain: He is not interested in tangible presentations as He is with a will bent on pleasing Him.

As Jeremiah 7:22-23 words it:

"'For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, "Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you."'"