Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Stripping off the Old

Lately I've been feeling the desire to strip the trim in my living room.  I live in a house that was built in 1900 and someone had the novel idea to paint this beautiful woodwork salmon pink.  I take one look at the trim and just cringe.  I moved in back in May and have honestly just been waiting for the time and money to do the work.  However, I've noticed the longer I live there the more I don't even notice how atrocious it looks.  It's only when I'm sitting in that room and stare at the woodwork do I notice.  How much is my spiritual life like the trim in my living room?  When I take a good long look at the state of my life I'm reminded of how much ugliness desperately needs to be stripped away... but, what work!  What an investment!  It's easier if I simply ignore it and just learn to deal with it as it is.  Paul makes a point to the church in Corinth that sometimes we can fear making the investment because we aren't sure it's worth it, or that it'll work out if we do.  The paint that diminishes the quality of the wood is the sin and lies that put on a veil and diminish our ability to experience Christ.  Paul says that Jesus Christ is the muscle behind what strips the paint off; he does away with the veil on our hearts.  A repentant heart is our chemical that removes the paint, the actual act of repentance is the scraping tool used to remove the paint and do away with the veil (2 Corinthians 3:16).  Handing both over to God allows him to put the power of Jesus Christ to work.

Sometimes the sin is merely a way we've been living.  I'm used to hardening my heart, being calloused, whenever I face feelings of vulnerability and fear.  Rather than admit what I actually need I'll simply shut out the world and figure it out on my own.  To admit my needs is to chance that they won't get met, and to show just how hurt I am means giving someone the avenue to my heart and how to hurt it.  Lately God's been showing me just how detrimental this is to my walk with Him.  He's used his children, my brothers and sisters in the faith, to point out areas I need to grow and change in how I handle these emotions and the ways I don't let anyone in.  I felt like God was showing me this gigantic section of wood that desperately needed work in order to take another step in helping make this temple of his, my heart, complete and I needed to give him the primer and the scraping tools in order for him to get to work.  My heart softened, and I grudgingly discovered what I needed to do.  I took a step in repentance and apologized to my brothers and sisters in the faith for being a sourpuss and shutting them out, and said I'd work on communicating my needs better and being more loving toward them by allowing myself to be vulnerable among them.  It felt like God had taken a little scrape off that section of trim.  It hurt and it scared me, but in that one moment I could breathe a bit easier even though it did cause me some distress.  I believe the distress is merely part of the process of testing my faith (2 Corinthians 4:17).  While it doesn't feel good to repent, and while it doesn't feel good to have to completely alter the way I live and have lived - and I'm sure this will be a process that will take some time and will probably include a few setbacks - it is good to be doing it.  What is good doesn't always feel good, but we're called to continue doing good even when we're feeling worn out from doing it (Galatians 6:9).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I Feel I Should Stop Feeling So Much

He said the Bible was revolutionary, and he was right.  He said prayer became a whole new experience, and it has.  He also said that his brothers and sisters in the faith were suddenly so much more than people walking the same narrow path he was.  This is how a friend described how it was for him to learn how to listen to and follow the Holy Spirit.  As he explained it to me, I saw my own experience of heeding the Spirit take shape.

I’ve always understood the Bible to be God’s way of talking to me, and prayer was my way of talking back to God.  It’s a conversation.  The more Bible I inundated myself with, the clearer God’s voice became.  The more I prayed, the more I revealed my own heart and God’s Word would come back to me as easily as someone conversing in my ear.  I’m an emotional being, like most people, and yet I tend to lean more on my own feelings than my mind.  My mind can betray me because my intelligence is so limited in the grand scheme of the world.  My feelings, however, are based on experience.  How can experience fail?  It fails when it contradicts Scripture and what God says is true and trustworthy.

I think one of the most difficult things about my walk with God is letting go of what I know to be true based on my experience, and trusting in what God says is true based on his Word.  When I’m sitting in a coffee shop with one of my brothers in the faith and he asks me why I’m holding back when it’s obvious that the tears in my eyes want to fall and the white knuckled grip on my coffee mug is the only thing keeping them at bay, my feelings tell me to keep my mouth shut, turn off, and get away as soon as possible because the man across the table will hurt me if I show him just how weak I am in the area he’s just discovered in our conversation.  The Bible tells me to lean not on my own understanding and that the brother across from me, the one God put specifically in my life who’s proved himself to be nothing but patient and gentle while continuing to spur me on in my walk with God and challenge me to grow, will not intentionally do me harm.  Discerning between the two, the Spirit pulling on my heart to reach out, and my gut reaction to what I perceive to be danger, has been quite the experience.

I was recently pointed in the direction of a job, one very different from the position I currently have as a skills coach with a youth inpatient rehabilitation facility.  The position is a secretary at a petroleum construction company, 8-5 Monday through Friday, $12 an hour and benefits after 90 days.  At my current position I’m blessed to get 24 hours a week at $10 an hour – without benefits.  I have an interview at the company next week.  I feel apprehensive.  I don't like feeling apprehensive so I took a good piece of advice and sought scripture.

I’m working my way through the minor prophets and while I wasn’t certain what I would find in those books, I trusted God would speak through his Word.  Not wanting to waste resources I also used a Matthew Henry complete commentary as well as a chronological Bible to help me understand the context of the text.  I started where I left off, and turned to Haggai.  Haggai is a prophet who, in 520 B.C., was sent by God to urge the Jews to continue the construction of the temple.  In the first ten verses of Haggai, chapter one, we see that after many years of oppression and prohibition from the Persians, the oppression was finally over, and the Jews weren’t all that excited about starting construction on the temple again.  It was a huge project!  Not to mention a lot of pressure.  This was GOD’s house.  Their thought was, let us finish building our homes first.  We’re beginners after all and we need to get these done before we start such a big feat like God’s temple.  Were they insecure?  Lazy?  Self-focused?  All as likely as the rest.  The reasons behind their desire to say “not yet” isn’t as important as the fact that they said “not yet” to God’s call to move forward.  They didn’t refuse, they simply said, "We'll do it later."  Haggai reminded them they had it backwards.  God had the say in what happened when, not them.  He told them that God’s timing was now and their response should be to act.  God’s house first, then the construction of our own houses will come to completion.

Haggai pointed out that the Jews had been laboring for their own affairs and were not getting their fill.  They were trying to get their own goals to prosper, but God wasn’t blessing their efforts or endeavors so they were often coming up short.  They wanted to put a hold on building the temple so they could prosper, but God was trying to tell them, once you build my house, then I will bless your efforts.  We’re to consider God’s will, God’s work, before we concern ourselves with our own affairs (Philippians 2:21).  What's most important is our relationship with God.  Our body is God’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19).  When Christ was crucified and resurrected he demolished the need for a temple because the Holy Spirit of God takes up residence in his people.  There’s no need for a temple.  Each of God’s children is the temple.   

I have a lot of personal goals, a lot of things I want to do with my life to bring glory to God and make a difference in my community.  I want to build a large home for teenagers in abusive and homeless situations to come and live so they can finish school, get a job, learn the Word of God and learn to love and be loved.  I want to foster unwanted teenagers, share the Word of God in juvenile detention centers and rehabilitation facilities.  I feel God holding me back, telling me, “Not yet.”  Not because my goals are unbiblical, or because I’m not the right person for the job, but because His timing is always right.  His temple needs to be built first.  There’s work to be done in me, on the purity and stability of his holy temple within me before I am to move forward in my ambitions.

I’d like to think it's because as much as he'd like to see me happy by having my goals come to fruition and to share his love with those kids, he’s not willing to lose me in the process.  His relationship with me is more important.  If I’m to do it, I’d like to believe that a loving father wants to make sure I can withstand the storms that are bound to come my way before he sends me forth on such a journey.  Perhaps this 8-5 job is God’s way of giving me the resources to prepare for such a journey, money for instance, as well as the freedom to start sharing the love of God with the kids on my own time by volunteering.  I have to trust that while I may feel ready, my gut may tell me that I’m the perfect person for this job, God knows my heart and mind and soul well enough to know, that may be true down the road, but right now I have some work to do.

I’m comforted by the fact that he loves me enough to do what’s best for me even when I don’t get it.