Kept from stumbling

Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. – Genesis 20:6 NASB

There is something astounding about this statement of the Lord to Abimilech: “I also kept you from sinning against Me.”

When I look back on my life, I can recount a lot of instances when I sinned. Heck, when I look back on today I can recount a lot of instances, and I haven’t even had my morning coffee yet.

But what takes my breath away is the remembrance of all the instances in the past when I had opportunity to sin and somehow God made the way of escape. This includes times even before I came to Christ.

It wasn’t me not wanting to sin. It was God keeping me from tremendous future trouble and regret.

He didn’t have to do that. I would have deserved the consequences of my actions. But he loves me and he knows my name and he cares for the glory and honor of his Name.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Jude 1:24‭-‬25 ESV

Heading in to work

Heading in to work. Had a good weekend.

In particular, I immensely enjoyed another Moot with the Thinklings. It was a great night with those guys. I do fear that I spent too much time during it bemoaning the state of our politics and also bashing away at neo-Calvinism.

I have been wondering how much emotions are tied into my stances. I’ve been, in a way, granting myself more license to be angry at what is going on. In other words – and perhaps this is a function of age – I have shortened my approach to the “this has gone on long enough and needs to end now” phase of discourse.

Approaching decisions and stances driven by emotions is not the best way to go. It produces too much heat, not enough light. But emotions have their God-given role. I’m working out the balance.

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. – Proverbs 16:32 ESV

“Slow to anger” doesn’t mean you never get angry. But the runway is long, and the transition between the “on the ground” phase and “wheels up” on your anger should not be abrupt and catastrophic but smooth and controlled.

It seems we live in such an angry culture. I don’t know if it’s just that social media amplifies the angriest voices; I hope it’s not as bad as it seems.

I certainly don’t want to be a part of perpetuating destructive anger. There is too much good and necessary and gracious work to be done.

As I said, I’m heading in to work. In more ways than one.

Now

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Psalms 46:10 ESV

And when that happens, all of our temporal cares and worries and labors won’t have the attention of our hearts and minds, will they?

And yet… I find myself falling into the trap of forgetting that, although the full exaltation of God in all the earth is yet to come, stillness is commanded now. Knowledge of God is something to seek now. God’s exaltation is already happening, now.

How is he exalted? In the hearts and lives of his followers, now, growing and spreading over the earth.  Now.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. – Habakkuk 2:14 ESV

To live in this “not yet”, now, as if it already is, brings it about.small and close and (I hope this makes sense) is all a part of bringing it to completion far and wide.

I’m wiped out by the cares of this world; in particular by cares related to my family. It’s natural and tempting to look toward a future, a “then”, when I’m through with the day to day struggles and efforts. Then I will be able to be still.

The passage’s grammar doesn’t allow that.

Be still and know. Now.

Escape

I haven’t posted recently because I  haven’t been on the bus for awhile. I spent last week in California at a data conference. Jill came with me; it was an enjoyable week and we even got some vacation time on Friday in San Francisco.

While there we visited the prison at Alcatraz. That was fascinating. Alcatraz housed the worst of the worst. As far as is known, in its 29 year history no one ever survived an escape attempt from Alcatraz. Even if you were able to get out of the facility, Alcatraz is an island a mile and a half off the coast of California and it is believed no one would survive the tides and hypothermia of the swim. But people still tried.

Fight or flight? When to escape from your circumstances and when to dig in and push through? I think about this a lot when I’m in difficult times, but I almost always pick “fight” over “flight”. I believe persevering through results in a better man in the end. Push through.

God has given me a lot of escapes in the midst of all that fighting and pushing. Home is an escape. Jill is an escape; home is where she is. My kids and grand kids are an escape.

I use the word “escape” the way J.R.R. Tolkien used it when responding to criticisms that the Lord of the Rings was “escapist.” He agreed that it was, in he same way that escaping from prison is “escapist”.

One thing I love about Jesus is that he didn’t escape when he could have. He persevered through the most horrible trial imaginable on the cross. He escaped death, not by avoiding it, but by literally submitting to it and then breaking out of a stone cold prison and walking forth in resurrection power.

In the same way, he didn’t die and rise so that we could escape this world. He is redeeming this world and building his Kingdom and one day he will set this world all to rights again. We won’t be escaping, we will be coming home to the garden for which we were created.

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:5 ESV

Just need to start living it

I made the mistake of getting back on Twitter this week. Big mistake.

So I’m getting back off of it. It’s too addicting and too troubling.

Facebook may be next.

Some wisdom I have undertaken to understand over the past five years, though I haven’t lived it as well as I would like, is this: simplicity is good. God speaks to us in simple things.

I have repeatedly seen a vision of what my life could be like.  It includes much, much less time before a screen. Breathing the open air. De-cluttering. Reading scripture in a physical Bible far more than I do. Paying in cash. Making good use of my time. Resting more. Living in the real world and not the meta-world.

It’s all right there. Just need to start living it.

Be there

Back on the bus; it’s been a few days. I spent a lot of time in cars over the long weekend. Trip to Waco Friday. Unplanned trip back to Houston Friday night to deal with an attic leak. Saturday drive to Dallas to meet back up with the family. Marathon one-day road trip on Sunday with Bethany to get her car back to Chicago. Flight back home yesterday. It was a gauntlet but I made it, and there was a lot to enjoy along the way. I think I did a decent job at not missing out on the good things happening in the moments that made up what was, physically, a fairly stressful weekend. Being present in each moment doesn’t always come easy for me. I’m still learning.

There is a balance to be found between thinking only of the future or only of the past at the ends of the spectrum, versus being where you’re at, now. The past offers wisdom and experience. The future is something to press toward, but the present is where all the real action is.

Be there.

Twitter and towers

Among the better decisions I’ve made this year has been to get off of Twitter. I gave it up for Lent, but once Easter came and went I realized that the best move might be to remain in the twitterless Lenten Lands for a while longer.

I have no beef with Twitter. I follow good, smart people (well, good and smart people plus the President who I also follow for some dumb reason) and I have learned a great deal and had my thoughts sharpened and even changed through the content of the tweets and threads I’ve read and with which I’ve interacted. It was fun; while I never had a large following, one of my tweets was actually liked by Lin Manuel Miranda, which was definitely a highlight.

The problem isn’t Twitter. It is me. As an active user I found myself in spare and not so spare moments scrolling scrolling, scrolling, searching, searching, searching.

Why is that? I think it’s because I live and participate in a culture that fears silence; a culture that reveres activity and controversy and hot-takes and making a name for oneself.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4 ESV

Comparing social media and the Tower of Babel; kind of a stretch, right? Possibly. But perhaps not.

To be honest, one of the draws to social media for me is the technological fascination with the platforms themselves, and the promise of things that are truly good: connection, interaction, mutual support, creativity, community. These are good things. Just like building a city and a tower is a good thing, in itself. God isn’t against ambitious construction projects.

The Tower of Babel was somehow seen by those who built it as a protection against solitude and disconnection, “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole Earth.” Desiring to be connected and together is a good thing as well.

Unfortunately it is the human condition to take good things and twist them, to attempt to take the reins of our lives from the hands of our Creator, to make a name for ourselves. It’s the human condition to desire independence from our God and to run from his face, avoiding the silences and the solitude where he is, desiring autonomy in theory but then just clumping ourselves together in our tribes, allowing ourselves to be under the boot of the loud and the strong and the ruthless while declaring ourselves free; free to be at war with the other tribes with whom we go to battle, stick and stone and tooth and claw.

Dispersing the people, confusing their language, and leaving the Tower of Babel an empty husk was, like all of God’s actions, wise and good, though we may not understand it com poll letely. It would do us well to study it and learn from it.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be off Twitter. But I’m learning to love the new silences and unoccupied moments in my day.

Closed doors and Hempstead Highway

The HOV is blocked by a stalled bus, so we’ll be taking Hempstead in. Nice.

Being blocked is part of life. Unless you’re sitting still all the time, you’re going to have obstacles at times  between where you’re at and where you’re wanting to be.

Sometimes the way is impassable. What do you do? What are your options?

Some people plot their spiritual course relying on the Urim and Thummim of what I call Open door/Closed door theology. “Look for the open door”. Sometimes they add the modifier “when God closes a door, He opens a window.”

It’s not ridiculous to think this way. There are solid Biblical examples: Paul’s closed door to Asia and open door to Macedonia, for example. However, Paul didn’t approach his situation by simply saying “closed door, must stop.” In fact, if you read the applicable text in Acts 16, there is no mention of contrary circumstances standing in Paul’s way at all. It was the Holy Spirit who forbade him and his team to speak in Asia, and the context suggests they were striving mightily to do so, because they had to be forbidden again by the spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:6-10).

This is one reason among many why setting your path based upon whether there are obstacles in your way, or “closed doors” if you like,  can be both a cop out and a good way to miss out on the better plan. Sure, sometimes the Lord Himself is the obstacle and in that case the path is clearer. Sometimes, as in Paul’s case, the Lord really does open another door.

But sometimes he wants us to bull through the obstacle. Sometimes he wants us to sit and wait by the obstacle. Sometimes we have to take a detour. And sometimes he has other plans entirely.

Sometimes when God closes a door, he doesn’t open a window. He wants you inside when the building collapses. – Jared Wilson

Read Scripture and watch the main characters struggle and strive to get where God is taking them. Take the aforementioned Paul, for example. One might consider being stoned with rocks, dragged out of a city and left for dead to be a “closed door.” But it wasn’t. See Acts 14:19-23 and this old post of mine.

The HOV lane is a “closed door” this morning, but I’m still supposed to go to work. So my bus will crawl down Hempstead highway to get to the Transit Center, and I’ll pick up the 33 there and be on my way. I’ll get where I’m supposed to go, a little later than I would have liked, and that’s OK.

Turning around and going back home to get in bed because I hit a “closed door” was never an option.

Instructions

When it feels like the wheels are coming off . . .

Stop the car.

Take a deep breath.

Call in the family.

Call your closest friends.

Remember – this has happened before and you made it, all of you, intact.

Get a wrench.

Lift it to the sky.

By God’s grace, work on tightening the lug nuts. Even though you know the whole axle may yet come off. You have a duty to do that’s right before you.

Thank the Lord that you still have firm ground underneath . . .

Heartbreaking implications

A friend of mine posted on facebook: “Our President is new…the Great Commission is not. As our President begins his new work, it’s time for Christians to get back to their work.”

Here was my original response. The only part I left in the comment is the part in bold below but I’m posting my full thought below.

I fear for many of our American Christian brothers and sisters, the “work” they think they’re supposed to be doing is furthering political agendas, garnished with Jesus-talk to give the facade of spirituality. I came of age in the 80s and the early days of the religious right and was an enthusiastic partaker for many years. In this election the mask was finally taken off. Principles that they swore were unshakable (and that they used to bludgeon past Presidents) suddenly were discarded. So I really appreciate the sentiment, Mark. But I don’t believe it anymore. Lord, we need a generation of Kingdom-minded, not Nationalistic, Christians who will have their focus on God’s kingdom and not on political idolatry.

The Republican party is not now and never has been the answer. I repent for ever thinking it was.

Implied in your post is a heartbreaking truth – so many devoted so much time in service of a political idol while the great commission calling on their life languished,and the witness of the American church suffered greatly. Unpopular opinion, I know.