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