Showing posts with label Sanctification. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sanctification. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

(Much Delayed) Reflections on a Month of Blogging

Last month, I wrote 24 consecutive days, missed one, and finished out with a small bang on Sunday. I still have a dozen more ideas for posts, and plenty more to say. I am not entirely sure where to go from here, however.

Blogging takes time. Even a short post demands a certain amount of mental energy, and producing 500 words takes me at least 20 minutes. That's a bare minimum: depending on the 500 words in question, they might take me an hour to whip into a satisfactory shape. I might be able to push out 1000 words in 35 minutes—but only if I refuse to edit the piece, if I intentionally let the written record be simply what I thought at first. As any good writer—and especially any good editor—will tell you, that's a terrible strategy. So, given that I was publishing posts between 500 and 1000 words long every day, that was an average of 45 minutes each day that I spent on blogging. That, in turn, was an average of 45 minutes each day I did not spend on other things.

As it turns out, I didn't particularly miss most of those things. While there were a few days I didn't want to put out a blog post, by and large I enjoyed writing far more than I missed any of the other things I wasn't doing with that time. Halo: Reach is fun, but not nearly as enjoyable as thinking through interesting concepts, synthesizing ideas from the books and articles I'm reading, and generally forcing myself to grow by forcing myself to write.

That is part of why I love blogging so much. Like many others before me, I find that I learn by writing. I start out with a rough idea what I think on a subject, and tease out its intricacies, its twists and turns, its interesting corners by writing about it. Sometimes I find that I have to rewrite the opening of a position piece because, by the time I finish it, I have changed my mind. The process of wrestling through ideas and their consequences is transformative. At its very best, it forces me to distill vague notions down to concrete terms, forcing the vapor of my original conception to materialize into a solid shape.

Add to that the challenge of saying something meaningful day after day, and writing proves the best sharpener of my thought—and indeed, the best means of provoking careful thought throughout the day—that I know of. I enjoy writing not only for its own sake, but because it forces me to think throughout the day, not merely to drift along in the current of consciousness but to seize a paddle and force a direction through my stream of thought. It forces me to take hold of a notion and grapple with it until I understand it well enough to say something about it to others.

On the whole, I loved blogging every day last month. It was draining at times, certainly, especially when combined with a busy schedule and another major project running simultaneously. (You can see the results of that project here.) That sort of busyness is not itself a problem, at least from my point of view. My time was being spent productively and effectively, and I enjoyed it more than I would have enjoyed any of the purely entertaining alternatives.

For my beloved wife, however, the month was a bit different. She was not inside my head, enjoying the adventure of thinking, processing, understanding with me. Much as I try, I can never quite communicate the thrill I get from thinking and writing—to anyone, even her. For her, those hours not spent playing Halo were hours not spent playing Halo with her. She felt separated from me, isolated by my tapping away at the keyboard. We are different, she and I. I feel happily connected if we are sitting near each other, occasionally pausing from our own tasks to talk, or share a quiet moment of holding hands, or an amusing thought or idea from a book or our own musings. She feels connected when we are sharing the activity itself. In short: I like writing side by side, she likes watching movies together.

While there are several reasons I haven't written a post since the start of November, one is that I haven't yet worked out the balance here. On the one hand, blogging is good for me. For all the reasons outlined above, it benefits me deeply. It sharpens my thinking and forces me to think, and in the sheer mundanity of my daily routine, that's important. At the same time, my relationship with my wife is exceptionally important. If I value my own intellectual satisfaction over caring for her and making sure her emotional needs in our relationship are met, I am just being selfish. When you add in all our other activities, especially in the evening, it is easy for her to feel disconnected (even if I don't). That is not a situation I can or will tolerate. As such, I am chewing on how to both serve my wife and achieve the ends that blogging helps me reach.

When I figure it out, I'll let you know. Until then, I will be here, fitfully and irregularly as ever.

Friday, October 29, 2010

One of those nights

Jaimie's car died today.

I walked in circles for half an hour tonight.

No one reads my poems. (I think perhaps no one reads poems anymore, period. Or maybe mine are just bad.)

My job is frustrating.

At times, I feel very lonely.

I'm not sure what this post is about.

God is still good.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Letter to a Homeless Man

Dear sir,

I apologize: I do not know your name, or almost anything else about you. I know you were walking. I know you were tired, hot, and alone. I know you were hungry, that you wanted money for food, not beer. I know you were homeless.

I got you a meal, tried to point your thanks to where they belong, to the one who gave everything for me, gave everything I have to me. I am glad I fed you lunch today. But I wanted to do more. I wanted then and I wish now that there was more I could have done—that somehow I could have been more a debit card swipe, more than some well-made rice and shrimp. (I hope that plate was as good as it looked.)

I wish I could have helped you more.

Jesus told us that if anyone asked something of us, we should give it. I have wondered, over the last few years, what that looks like—whether I should keep cash with me to give to people who ask, or whether I should buy them what they claim they need, or whether I should stop at all. You made it easy: you just wanted some food. I could give you that.

But I wondered as I sat down to eat my own meal with family a few minutes later: will you have food to eat tonight? Or will you be trying to use your two dollars—those meager two dollars, too little for a meal—to buy some more sustenance on your trek to somewhere unknown? Do you know where you are going? Do you have any hope at all, or are you just trying to survive another day?

I wish I could have helped you more.

But I don't know you, I don't have your name, you don't have my number, and even as I sat with those unshed tears in my eyes, you walked out of the restaurant and out of my reach. I moved on, ate my meal, laughed at my father-in-law's jokes, and could not forget the sorrow in your eyes or the depths of your gratitude for a meal that cost $7.05. Less than an hour at minimum wage. But I spoke with you, and I think I understand. What jobs can you get? Where will take you, and more than that: where will keep you?

We have left you alone, wandering through this life like you are wandering through Fort Worth, on your own.

Do you know that there is hope beyond the prison bars of this life? Do you know that there is one who can help you more than I ever could, who loves you, who died to take your sins and give you life? Do you know him?

Should I have somehow told you more? Should I have sat with you as you ate? Should I have found you a way to where you were going? Should I have done more?

I don't have the answers. But I know yours is the face I will remember as I keep chewing on this thorny problem in front of all of us. Yours is the face I will see when I hear politicians use the homeless as a talking point, when people talk about poverty in America, when discussion flares about starvation. You are a person, not a statistic, talking point, or problem. Yours is the face of the downtrodden and lonely ones that Jesus came to save.

However poorly I showed it, I saw for just a moment His love for you (and even, a little, his love for me: as poor compared to Him as you are). The feeling will fade, but I will remember.

I hope you get where you were going, and I pray that someone feeds you more along the way.

I wish I could have helped you more.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Breaking Up for the Wrong Reason

Note: I have been chewing on the following thoughts off and on for several years. I don't have any specific scenarios or people in mind here—so if you're reading this, understand that I'm not talking about you in particular!

For years, I have watched women break up with men for the wrong reasons. "Immaturity!" they claim, when what they really mean is simply youth.

I am, as anyone reading this blog knows, very much in favor of high expectations. I have frequently written (and sometimes railed) on the low expectations we set for Christians in general. I am deeply frustrated by men my age who continue to act like adolescents and so give the rest of us a bad name. I am particularly annoyed by Christian men in their twenties who refuse to step up and lead in their homes and churches, abdicating their God-given responsibility to exercise their gifts for the good of their families and communities—whether because of laziness or fear. I have little time for immaturity that is not the product of simple ignorance.

So when I say that I have seen women break up with godly men for the wrong reasons, I hope you take my meaning clearly. I am not letting men off the hook, not excusing immaturity, and not suggesting that we lower our standards. I am, however, suggesting two very important correctives: realism and humility. (I should also note that everything that follows is equally applicable with the sexes in the discussion flipped; I write as I do because it is the main way I have seen this problem play out.)

Let us imagine for a moment two early twenty-something people who meet and begin dating. Both are serious about their faith, but the woman has been a Christian most of her life while the man came to Christ only a year or so ago. He is new to walking with God, but passionate and hungry for more. She is solid in her walk, and still passionate and hungry for more. They date for several months, but eventually she grows convinced that he is simply not mature enough to lead her spiritually, and breaks up with him.

This scenario is common; I've seen it at least a dozen times over the past five years. It concerns me deeply. Here's why: in many of these cases, the woman was wrong—perhaps not to break up with him on the whole (that's between her, God, and her spiritual authorities) but certainly in her reasoning. The man she was dating was quite capable of leading her spiritually. Sometimes he was not only capable of leading, he was leading. The problem was that she didn't think he was capable because of a few symptoms of an entirely different issue. She misunderstood what she was seeing and, heeding the advice of godly mentors who told her she needed a man she could follow, broke off the relationship.

This would have been the correct course of action if indeed the problem was immaturity in the way her mentors meant. That sort of immaturity essentially reduces down to two things: a lack of humility and a lack of responsibility. Men who lack humility cannot be taught, because they are sure they are capable of figuring things out on their own. They are unwilling to learn. They stagnate. Men who are not responsible will not carry the relational and spiritual and physical weight that they must if they are going to be faithful husbands. Women should certainly be willing to end (or forgo) a relationship with this sort of man. (If so, make it absolutely clear why—no stepping lightly around it. Tell him the truth and pray God uses it to break his heart and make him the man he should be. You do him no favors by trying to be "nice" about it.)

Unfortunately, people often confuse real immaturity and simple inexperience. A woman may see a man who is only beginning to develop the habits she has had for years and assume it means he cannot lead. The man is beginning to read his Bible daily, developing habits of prayer, getting the basics of theology under him, and struggling to do relationships in a godly way—to break years of ungodly habits. He is relatively immature in one sense of the word: he has far less knowledge than she, far less experience than she, and perhaps even less steadiness than she.

In the long run, though, none of this matters a whit. I remember hearing Matt Chandler comment that a man's trajectory is far more important than his current position, and I think he was absolutely right. A man's position tells you where he is now, but his trajectory tells you where he will be in five years. Give a man a year with his Bible, a few good mentors, and a heart that is on fire for God and see what happens. He'll grow like an aspen tree by a stream—fast and strong. A man who is teachable and works hard at his faith will soon surpass a much more "mature" man who has stagnated for lack of teachability or discipline. The real measure of a man's ability to lead spiritually in the home is how much he is willing to work hard at growing and learning—no matter how long he has been a believer.

As I said, many women need a dose of realism and humility. Realism, because they often expect men who are relatively young in their faith—even those who are working hard at it—to have knowledge or habits that take time to form. More: because they are often modeling their expectations on men much older—their fathers, their mentors' husbands, their pastors. No man my age will look like that; we haven't had time to grow into it yet! (Ask Jaimie: I'm much more mature than I was when she met me... and nowhere near as godly as lots of other men we know!) How much more is this true of men who came to faith in college than for those of us who grew up in the church? This is where humility is necessary, too. Be honest, ladies: how many of you think you would measure up well if men held you up to the standard of your mentors or their pastors' wives?

In short, to all my single female friends: before you break up with a guy (or turn him down for that first date) because he's not mature enough, stop and look again. Is he someone who is on fire for God, who is willing to work hard at his faith and his life, who receives correction humbly? If so, stick with him, even if he isn't very knowledgeable or wise yet, because you have a treasure. He might pass you in knowledge and wisdom—and he might do it sooner than you think. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to break off a relationship. Real immaturity, the kind made up of pride and laziness, is definitely one of those—but simple youth usually isn't, in my opinion. Sometimes it's even an asset.

Don't break up for the wrong reasons!

Friday, July 2, 2010

This Marvelous Busywork

This has been a good week. I have written a fair amount, spent good time with friends, spend better time with my wife, been productive at work, and learned a lot.

One of the more interesting aspects of this week was work. As you may have noticed, work has been on my mind a great deal recently. On the one hand, I really like working. I enjoy doing good work well, and I like glorifying God through excellence. Programming has the benefit of being interesting at least some of the time; there are good intellectual problems to solve on a semi-regular basis. Alas, recent months have not afforded me much opportunity to do the best parts of programming; since coming on with this job, I have spent most of my time analyzing data and trying to identify the causes of failures. That is good, important work— but it is hardly work that stirs the mind, much less the soul.

That has led to a certain amount of quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) discontent. As my mother can attest, from years of homeschooling me, I loathe boredom; the only thing worse is busywork. Being confronted with both on a regular basis, and often starved of social interaction (programming involves solitarily staring at a screen for hours on end) has left me mentally fried. In this I do not think I am particularly unique. Whatever my oddities—and make no mistake, I have many!—the struggles that afflict me are common to everyone.

Each of us wants our life to have purpose and meaning. We all want our days tasks to accomplish something, no matter how small. The particular kind of work that will satisfy each of us varies gloriously; I praise God (not least out of gratitude) that there are people who enjoy electrical work and repairing cars; I am not among them. As the kindly gentleman I spoke with at Borders a month ago pointed out, though: we are all of us needed. What matters is that we take joy in doing our work well and hopefully find vocations where we can exercise our gifts. For him, that is laying floors. For me, right now, it is carefully crafting software. What it will be in the future remains to be seen.

Work is good. God did not create work as a punishment for the Fall; Adam was commissioned to tend the Garden first. Like everything in this world, it has been corrupted by our sin. Ingratitude and complaints obscure the gift God has given us. Our relationships with bosses, subordinates, and coworkers are poisoned by sinful relational patterns. Work itself can become a drudgery, especially when we are set tasks to which we are not suited. Yet still it is a gift, not a curse. However much we may find ourselves toiling with frustration instead of joy, work is a gift.

The questions, for each of us, are whether we will choose to gladly accept that gift and whether we will seek to use it to the glory of God. In each case, if we answer in the affirmative, we will find the work better. It may not be any more pleasant, but even the worst of work, done to the glory of God, is good work.

For me, then, the challenge is to recognize that the tasks I have to do each day are worthy of my best efforts. No matter how they frustrate me, and no matter how pointless they may seem, they are the work that God has set before me. I must remember that I am not merely allowed to work; I am called to work, and to work well. Even busywork can be glorious.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sanctified (Slowly)

It happened again today. I found myself at work, convicted. Apparently, the Holy Spirit means business, and He's going to sanctify me, whether my flesh is interested or not. (That's good, given my flesh's stated disinterest in the things of God.)

I sat at my desk, having more and more enjoyable work than I've had in a long time, and I thought to myself, "I hate this." I was furious. I didn't care for the direction the assignment was going, my brain wasn't working well, I had a headache, and I was mad. Not someone asked me to do something immoral mad, or even someone asked me to do something stupid mad. Just mad.

Just like yesterday, the Holy Spirit gave me a moment's pause, and let the thoughts running through my head echo around for a few seconds. The ridiculousness soon dawned on me. I've been hungry for more and more substantive work for weeks, as my friends and wife can attest. Here I had it. More code changes and additions in a single day than in the previous six months combined. Real programming work, with some actual problem solving to do. Nothing terribly exciting; the problem in question isn't even a problem so much as an opportunity to make things better for the future. Nevertheless, it is far better than data analysis or some of the other ways I have recently had to fill my time.

Yet I was complaining. Never mind Scriptural prohibitions on complaints; never mind the immense blessing it is to have a good, stable job (especially in a down economy); never mind that this job was from the beginning an answer to prayer. It wasn't exactly what I wanted it to be today: so I grumbled in my head.

None of this escaped my lips, of course. I am far too skilled a sinner to let others know about my depravity, at least where I can hide it. For that matter, I hide my sin from myself as much as I can. The longer I can pretend my anger is deserved, my pride warranted, my jealousy justified, the longer I can go without really submitting to God. Today, again, God showed the depths of his grace by showing me my ingratitude and self-absorption.

Paul meant business when he wrote about dealing with sin. He exhorted the early believers to put sinful tendencies to death, and to recognize that their old, carnal ways were dead. They were now alive in Christ; how could they keep on sinning? Today, I think we take sin lightly. We psychologize it into oblivion, rationalize it into nonexistence, and above all trivialize it into meaninglessness. Sin is but the hobbyhorse of an older, less enlightened age; we understand that all our foibles are but the products of wounds done us at some earlier stage.

I am not discounting psychology, and I have seen how I often lash out at others in precisely the areas where I have been hurt the deepest. But the reality is, most of our sin is just sin. No excuses, no justifications, and no way out. It is sin, and we have to put it to death. We must do so in full reliance on the power of God, not trusting to our own devices. We must call out for help, rememering that God who has saved us is the one who will finish the work he has started. He will complete our sanctification and glorify us with him. Our hope is secure.

So, to all of us, the call is press in and get to work. Kill sin—or it will kill you. By the grace of God, we will all of us look more like Him tomorrow (and no doubt he will show us then how much remains to do).

Monday, June 28, 2010

An Evil Heart

I saw again today the evil that lurks in every heart—I saw it in my own. One little thought, but it quickly made the point. I looked at a coworker (one I’ve never seen before, never met) and thought, “Wow, somebody’s hair got stuck in the wrong decade.” And then the thought echoed in the silence of my mind. How cruel is that? How vile and despicable is it to so swiftly scorn someone on the basis of their hairstyle?

Praise God who does not leave us in our sin.

When I thought that cruel, despicable thought earlier, he graciously let it echo in my mind for several seconds. What an ugly thought. Self-congratulatory, other-belittling, and simply sinful. It was disgusting. I was ashamed.

It strikes me now, though, how very typical that mental exchange was. We look at others and see ourselves better than them. I do it all the time, in small ways and big. I count myself a better writer, programmer, composer, thinker, person. It is, as I realized this morning, disgusting. I am not a better person. Even in areas where I may be more talented or more skilled, two salient questions remain: what does that matter, and who made it so? To which I must answer: it matters not a whit, especially as a person’s worth is concerned; and God made it so, not I.

Such comparisons are always sinful. The only aim I can have in comparing myself to another person is to puff up my own pride. The only possible results are always bad: I will either count myself better and pride myself in it, or count myself worse and forget that my worth and value are found in Christ alone.

Nor was God done exposing the evil of my heart.

For a very long time I have prided myself on seeing people beyond their surfaces, seeing who people really are. That sentence alone should give me pause; too often it has not. Whatever we pride ourselves in is folly. We have nothing from ourselves; there are no self-made men. Every one of us was born into circumstances outside of our control, given breaks (hard or easy) outside of our control, given a personality outside of our control, and given talents (or a lack thereof) outside of our control. My wife, talented woman that she is, did not somehow conjure for herself the ability to write; the talent she has carefully honed were given to her.

Yet pride in my talents or abilities is not the worst of its siblings. More dangerous by far is pride in our moral standing. Humility, as Ben Franklin quipped and others have often echoed, the hardest of all virtues: whoever thinks he has it almost certainly does not.1 When I begin to pride myself on seeing others truly, on not failing to miss the deeper aspects of people’s character and personality, I am running a very dangerous course indeed. I run the course of religious people the world over—Christian and non-Christian—who put their trust in their own moral competence rather than in Jesus and his finished work. I become a legalist,a Judaizer, a fool.

Again: praise God who does not leave us in our sin.

I, who pride myself in judging others well, at seeing deeply, at looking beyond the surface—I scorned a woman for her hairstyle. How very misplaced my pride is. I do not judge as I ought. I do not see as I ought. I do not look at others as I ought. These grounds I thought I had for boasting prove instead to be in fact a cause for shame. The light of grace shows up my moral excellence for what it is: failure and ineptitude.

More than that: even if I were as righteous as I thought, I would have no cause to boast. I have no holiness to call my own. God works in us to sanctify, God delivers us from sin’s consuming power, God overcomes our resistance to his grace, God provides the strength to follow him, God accomplishes our salvation.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13

1 When I was much younger, I once ponderously responded to my youth pastor’s question, “Who is the humblest person you know?” by saying, “You know… honestly, I think I am.” The irony was lost on me; I don’t know how anyone in the room managed to keep a straight face.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Planting Seeds Under Fluorescent Lights

I am running data—for the fourth time—bored out of my mind. Stare at the screen; wait for the numbers to reach 100; check the results—and repeat. This is not what I dreamt of doing with my life. It still isn't. Somewhere beyond the gray skies and fluorescent suns of this box that is my current vocation is a life of purpose and meaning. Or perhaps it is in that box: finding little ways to knock metaphorical windows in a building that has only one of the physical variety. Maybe purpose is not something that awaits discovery; maybe it is found instead in devotion to excellence and doing work well, wherever we are. Maybe dream jobs are as mythical as their name implies. Maybe I would still have days of boredom and frustration were I doing exactly what I think would bring me fulfillment.

God has made us uniquely, called us peculiarly, and shaped us strangely (so to speak). The deep-seated discontent that sometimes rustles under a bed of fall leaves, sometimes threatens to shake our walls down entirely, is a good thing. We would accomplish little, and strive for nothing, if we were always content to simply drift along with the ocean of humanity surrounding us. As a definition for our days, however, discontent fails quite pathetically. What it begins it has not the power to finish. Fires burn on oxygen and wood, not a continuous supply of sparks. If we are to meaningful lives, we will have to find purposes that are deeper and truer than a persistent unhappiness. Sojourners we may be, but we are in this land until the days of our journey are finished.

God is enough, I remind myself. He satisfies like nothing else: not work, not friendship, not food, not sunsets, not sex, not music, not marriage, not anything under the sun. This gray box can rot, or it can flourish. Perhaps my purpose, for now, is simply to nudge it toward greenery in human form. Black text on a white terminal window: the process advances to 23%.

God is enough.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eyes open to hope

I love the little moments when God stuns me with an old realization again. I hate how my profession can become no more than words as life's sameness exacts its daily toll from my hands. It is as though I have a bank of passion, which is filled in quiet little ways—conversations with friends that remind me that I am not alone, a morning watching the sun come up behind thick clouds, long deep meditations on the word of God—and drained by nearly every circumstance I face in my days. Not because they are bad, per se, but because they bear so little resemblance to the world that I desire to see.

The weather outside all day has been beautiful. Gray skies have let rain seep down at intervals, soaking the earth in fresh moisture without the tumult that inevitably leads to floods around here. But were this weather to remain, day after day after day, it would soon take a very heavy toll on my spirits. I grew up in one of the sunniest places in the whole United States—with mountains and high blue skies with pillared white clouds. Too many days of rain depresses me, not because I dislike rain (quite the contrary) but because there is an unchangingness to it.

So it is with life. I struggle, not so much with the truly hard things, but with the ordinary things that simply continue on. Passion is sapped so easily by the ordinary toils of each day, while it remains strong and sometimes is even fueled by adversity. Few things, in my admittedly brief experience, so quickly sap the human soul of its vitality as feeling that one is trapped in a meaningless existence, doomed to drag one's limbs forward day after day toward nothing.

Thankfully, God perennially reminds us that it is not nothing toward which we are striving. We are not without hope, even when the skies of our lives remain overcast for years—because we live in the light from his grace having appeared, looking forward to the time when his glory will appear. We have promises that we can rely on, knowing that God does not lie.

Thus, I find more and more that my day to day tasks and chores must be approached eschatologically. When I live my life in sight of heaven, cognizant that the apparent meaninglessness of much of my time is, in fact, pointed toward the great end of knowing God (the very definition of eternal life), I recognize that even those tasks which are hardest to bear do in fact have worth and meaning. When I run the race not looking at the ground beneath my feet, changeless and even, but straining to see the goal that awaits me, I find that those changeless steps each has a purpose, however small. It is when I believe that the purpose of each step is itself that I falter and stumble. No runner finishes a race by thinking of how glorious his next stride will be—he thinks of the prize that awaits at the end for having run well.

So we run with eyes full of hope, and we learn to delight in long days of rain as well as bright days of sun—because we know that both are pointed not toward themselves but toward God our Savior's ultimate appearing to finish what he has begun. We can live lives that are unexciting, mundane, and meaningful. Indeed, that is what most of us are called to do—and we ought to be grateful for days that are unexciting and mundane just as we are for those that are thrilling. The fact that excitement makes it easier to give thanks simply means that it is more important to work at giving thanks when our lives are not exciting.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Writing and Idolatry

Even as I worked to redesign my blog yesterday, I continued to contemplate the issue of voice in my writing. Part of the answer struck me at church today. (Conviction struck me a moment later as I realized I was thinking about blogging instead of worshipping God.) I realized that, especially at Pillar, my writing over the last few months has moved in a very systematic direction. Lists, four-point analyses, and carefully organized paragraphs have become the norm for me. Even now, writing here, I find myself moving that direction. Systematic approaches are not in and of themselves bad. To the contrary, they are often very helpful for quickly navigating the content of a blog.

However, my writing flows better when it flows. If you will allow me the metaphor: I can sometimes forget that I am a musician as well a programmer with a physics degree. Writing is not merely a problem to be solved; it is also an activity to be enjoyed. Words are not merely a means to the end of communicating content, at least for me: they are also a source of beauty and joy. When content eclipses beauty as the goal of my writing (or, frankly, vice versa) bad things happen. The time I spent learning to write technically was good, and I will never forget my physics professor's quiet amusement at the language in the first draft of my capstone paper. That said, a style that was horribly inappropriate in the context of a scientific paper may not be inappropriate in the context of my personal blog or even a more tightly focused platform like Pillar on the Rock.

In my mind, these past few days, Pillar on the Rock has come to represent a number of challenges facing me. The first was my search for my voice, and my recognition that writing for Pillar has changed my writing—and not always to the better. Of course, the problem is not the blog itself, but how I have allowed my goals to decide (and not merely influence) my style. I hope to change that over the next few weeks and months.

Similarly, I recognized today that I have allowed my work on Pillar to channel my theological interests and passions in a particular direction. Again, this is not anything intrinsic in the blog; it is my (very bad) tendency to allow a project to dictate my overall direction. In this case, my focus on church has distracted me from the very reason I was passionate about the church in the first place: my passion for the glory and supremacy of God himself. As I have written before, when anything takes the place of God himself as our chief passion or greatest love, it has become an idol. That means that healthy churches can easily become an idol, and there are few more dangerous idols I can conceive of. Striving for churchly goodness without God's glory as our only real aim will lead us to tear the body of Christ down faster than any imperfection would.

Of course, if I return to the original topic of this post, then I must admit that writing well is as apt to become an idol as doing church well is—and the consequences would be no less disastrous. Writing well is a good goal. But it will remain a good goal only while I strive to point not to the quality of my own writing but to the glory of the one who spoke the world into existence. He loves words, so I should love words too—but I should love the Word far more.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Reflection and Confession

One plus side to having had mono for a month and a half, and being home for half that time, is that I've had plenty of time to think. While that hasn't corresponded to increased blogging output, thanks to my general fatigue, it has corresponded to opportunity for reflection.

Reflection is a rarity in American culture. Whether because of the frenetic pace of our days or because of our fear of confronting the difficult inner world we inevitably face when we do pause and consider, we avoid reflection like, well... mono.

Some of the great men of the faith—men I deeply admire and would like to imitate in many regards—were sick for much of their lives. Hudson Taylor, one of the great missionaries of the last several centuries, spent many months lying ill in his bed. In the meantime, he worked feverishly (pun intended) on his correspondence and his encouragement of others. John Calvin was beset by an incredible amount of physical agony, and yet was one of the most prolific (and powerfully productive) Christian writers in history... even while he pastored a church and helped lead the Reformation. Obviously, these were men of extraordinary gifting and calling. Yet they also chose how to spend every day. They chose whether to work through their sickness and pain. They chose to honor God with every breath.

The doctor prescribed rest, so I don't feel bad for simply having rested. Yet as I had a good deal of time and silence in which to think this afternoon, I recognized that it's quite possible to take the doctor's orders as an excuse. There are many things I could not do during these past weeks... but there are other things I could do that I have not done.

And so I see highlighted again one of the quiet struggles of my life, spiritual and otherwise. Sometimes, I am lazy.

Where does it show up? In my walk with God, in leading my wife, even at work. When there is something I do not want to do, or something that bores me, I can very easily tend toward laziness. Worse, I can fake diligence quite well—I can do my work, make a show of godly leadership, and memorize a great deal of Scripture. But these external things are not always reality. Sometimes they're a show, a fa├žade over a layer of quiet lethargy that simply does not care.

There is something to be said for doing what we do not want to do, but this isn't that. This is giving every appearance of wholehearted, diligent work, while quietly hating it and wanting not to do it. It's laziness of the heart and frankly, I think that the quiet, internal variety is as bad as (or worse than) the external. External laziness has obvious consequences. Internal laziness simply deadens the soul.

It is good that I go on doing what I ought despite my heart's condition, but it is bad when I do it for any reason other than loving obedience to God. The same is true not only here but in every aspect of life. The Pharisees of Jesus' day were far more morally upright than any of us can hope to be, judging by deeds alone. But in their hearts, they were just whitewashed tombs. A sepulcher is no less full of death because it has a pretty covering.

Dealing with sin means dealing with these ugly internal realities. We must hold them up to the light of the word of God and let his moral beauty and holiness show our moral ugliness and unrighteousness for what they are. Then, when we see our sin for what it is—disgusting, evil, and deeply offensive to God—we can begin to hate it. We can also, finally, turn to God and call on him to sanctify us. More, we can be confident that he will deliver us from sin: justice demands it.

Thank God for mono!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Glory unfurling

One of the mysteries of my life is my friendship with Stephen Carradini. I met him within fifteen minutes of his arrival on campus at OU his freshman year, and he stuck to me like Velcro. Nearly every experience I had in college he repeated in one way or another. Despite our myriad differences in background, opinions and relationships, God has ordained that the major strokes of our lives run in parallel, with Stephen just far enough behind to watch and learn from my successes and failures.

As Stephen himself commented to me recently, he lives my life.

I have rarely seen such a simple, perfect picture of the sovereignty of God. In the three and a half years since we met, God has consistently put me in positions that I found frustrating, painful and inexplicable—until months later, when Stephen invariably found himself in the same straits, and I could lend an ear and sometimes a hand. I rest on God's sovereignty because Scripture declares it, but I find it easier to believe because I have seen it.

Jaimie recently spent some time reviewing old journals and observing how God has answered prayers she offered up half a decade ago. Though we are not to live in the past, we are to remember it and savor God's works. When the present grows dark, God's past faithfulness comforts us. He has saved us and cared for us before, even when we could not see.

The months since our wedding have been a time of upheaval, struggle, fear and pain as Jaimie battles depression. She's winning, by the grace of God. And joy has filled our lives. We love being married. Day by day we see God's goodness more plainly. Whether it is in a quiet evening spent reading together, the wondrous dance of married love, or the hours we have spent crying and praying together, we remember that the Holy Spirit is working for our good. We hold to that truth with all our strength; sometimes we have nothing else.

Day by painful day, I see Christ's image growing in Jaimie. I see her slowly freed and gradually perfected. I see her face unveiled and the glory of our Savior unfurled by the breeze of the Spirit in her heart. Suffering is producing joy inexpressible as He forges us into complete dependence.