A Pathfinder out of Self-exaltation

In the half-a-year since my last post, I have continued to walk with Him, and have been spared much self-exaltation by the input of people in my life who keep me grounded in Gospel reality. Getting Covid, being in a time of some “transition” in my life, and also experiencing relational abundance that I have long desired has recently brought me to an all-too-familiar temptation of self-aggrandizement and self-righteousness. I am sure others struggle with this too, but for me it looks like having pretend conversations with people that make me feel good about myself. This bad habit has led me into temptations of more practical natures such as indulging in lusts of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life that leads to treating others carelessly and unlovingly. This most recent time, I recognized I was turning inwards on myself, trying to assuage feelings of sadness and by journaling, I marked the pathway out.

I believe God has given us tools to manage and combat the sin in our internal world that arises from within all us. If you would like to follow me, I will show you the path from self-pleasing thoughts, to God-pleasing thoughts. The person who spends his time pouring over his own private treasures of achievements and accolades, and bases his view of himself upon them is a very poor man who has little experience of the Love of God in his life. And it is the Love of God that our hearts are truly seeking.

Here is the way back to God if you have fallen or some later day fall into this trap.

  1. Repent, looking to the Lord. The most terrible thing about pride is it gets our eyes off of God and places them onto ourselves or that thing in which we take pride. The first step to any right orientation of the heart is the re-placing of the sight upon the face of Jesus in the Scripture. Seeking His face, His grace, His love, His truth. Without this, one is trying to find his way out of a room blind.
  2. Confess the fantasies and my pride in them. Let’s say I had a fantasy of someone who I thought didn’t like me very much. This person in the fantasy is in danger, and I save their life. If I was to rehearse this fantasy often so that my heart got used to a feeling of superiority over their appreciation, when I engage with that person in real life, it has happened that I find myself dissatisfied with the reality of the exchange at the heart level. It is a fantasy that my heart has wanted to believe to be true, because my heart wants to accumulate more worth to itself. It becomes a lie when I choose to desire that reality over the reality God has given me to live in the Gospel. In other words, when I indulge my heart in good feelings over a fantasy of people’s praise, I base my heart on my own imagination and I become puffed up and I “lose connection with the head.” (Colossians 2:19) This sets me up for the same failure of any member of the body that is powerlessly disconnected from the brain. I say all of this because it may not be immediately obvious what is wrong with fantisy. To imagine it is not necessarily wrong if it’s not in violation of God’s moral will, but the way the heart takes the fantasy and uses it to ascribe worth to itself: this is the wrong. The only true standard of worth that the heart should take pleasure and delight in, is conformity to the image of Christ Jesus. And so, I lay out the fantasy before God, and acknowledge my pride in that self-created smokescreen. This is because “In all your ways acknowledge God, He’ll make your path straight.” (Proverbs 3:6) God can only straighten us out, if we are willing to be straight with Him.
  3. Take each fantasy and feeling and self-thought captive to the obedience of Christ. This is where we can use our imagination against our pride. Jesus said, “Take up your cross daily, and follow me.” So, ever Christian has a tool to put to death their old life, and to remind them of their present life, and the promise of their future life. The Cross is this very tool. It is that which a Christian carries with them, until the time God has appointed them to set it up and give their life as a representation of Christ. It is the very thing that separates Christians from non-Christians, and it is a stage of Christian development that not every Christian attains, but this is how the Cross can be the answer to any sin struggle. In this case, what I like to do is use my imagination to picture my Cross. It’s usually laying down on the rocks in a dark-cloudy place. I see my fantasy stretched out on the cross, and take a hammer in my hand and nail the fantasy to the cross for it to die. I usually incorporate a tangible bodily action like swinging my hand with a make believe hammer in it, because fantasy touches reality through our emotion’s impact on our bodies. The reverse is also true. Reality touches fantasy through our bodily actions impact on our emotions. And so, when I take a fantasy, let’s say pictured as my idea about the way a person should feel appreciative toward me, and I nail it, it’s not like I am wishing evil upon that person. It is my acknowledging that this thought of them is unworthy of them, and must be dealt with. Not only this, but it is unworthy of Christ. And the Cross is the Gate by which anything inside us or outside of us can be given to God as a sacrifice. If God wishes our heart, or our imagination about something to be spared, then He can resurrect it for His glory by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once this step is taken, I find that there is an emotional response like loss or a sadness over the fantasy given up, but this is where the heart must take the next step.
  4. Thank God for the good things that remain. Whenever I have done this, I have found that God gives me great clarity about the things that are of Him vs the things that are of me. The things that remain still alive after all is nailed to the Cross are things are of God, and therefore worthy of giving Him thanks. The things that are of me are temporary, but the things that are of God are eternal. And when I thank God, I anchor my heart’s sight upon the Lord, by recognizing God’s goodness in the things that are from Him, through Him, and to Him. (Romans 11:36). To Him be the glory forever.
  5. Worship, delight, and rejoice in Him. O the joy of leaving behind the worthless and vain things of our own heart-idolatry! Our hearts grow so unhappy simply because we are so determined to want anything and everything short of God Himself. But when our eyes are on God, we feel based on His truth, His gospel, His love, then we have an overflowing cup of eternal joy that will spread to every area of our life. This eternality of Joy is the secret on the other side of the Cross a Christian carries. The source of every dissatisfaction in a believer’s life, is anything un-crucified, or un-surrendered to his or her new Master. But in obedience and submission to Him, a human being finds his purpose fulfilled, and all his life is as it should be until he hear those precious words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)

May you and I find our deepest delight in the One whom our hearts were designed to worship.

The Mirror

Once upon a time, there was a magical mirror. Perhaps you’ve heard of one of these before. This full length mirror framed by gilded flowers had the ability to show the viewer not only what was on the outside, but it also showed what was on the inside of a person. A good person would look into the mirror and would see a beautiful face staring back. A bad person would look into the mirror and see an ugly face staring back. Many people from distant lands came in search of the magic mirror, because they wanted to know what was in their heart. When people left, some of them were in tears, some were rejoicing, others screamed, and others were silent.

The Keeper of the Mirror was a middle-aged man named Henley. He had a daughter named Blaine. Henley told Blaine when she was 12 that she was ready to look into the mirror. His only caution was, “Don’t believe everything you see. There is more behind the mirror.” The child nodded and looked into the mirror for the first time. Staring back was a beautiful face, but as she smiled at her reflection, her teeth were green and sharp. She covered them up with her hand, and her hands were like claws. Her face recoiled and the eyes bulged out too large for her head. She looked away from the mirror, covered her face, and told her father, “Father, I am hideous!”

The old man knelt down in front of her and said, “Look into my face.” She looked. “What do you see?”

She looked and saw his eyes full of compassion and his gentle smile. She didn’t answer him.

“Remember what I told you when you look into the mirror, “Don’t believe everything you see. There is more behind the mirror.”

“So, I’m not ugly?”

“What you saw was true, but about your heart, and what is in your heart will come through your face.”

“Why were my teeth green and sharp, why did I have claws, why did I have eyes too big for my face?”

“That is something only the Maker of the Mirror can tell you.”

“Where is he?” Blaine asked

“If you look for him, you’ll find him.”

“I don’t think I want to. What if he tells me that what I saw was true?”

“That is something for all people who look into the mirror to decide: What will they do with what they see?” said Henley, and then he put his arm around his daughter and led her out of the Chamber.

That night, after Henley had gone to bed, Blaine got up and went to the mirror chamber alone. She couldn’t help but look again to see if it was the same. She trembled, but she also was drawn inescapably it seemed.

Entering the chamber, she uncovered the full-length mirror framed by golden crafted flowers, but she couldn’t bring herself to look into it. She worked up the courage and looked, and there was a girl who was her, but the more she looked the more distorted the image became. Her nose became pointy, her shoulder’s slumped, her hair falling out. She wanted to smash the mirror as sobs racked her body. She crumpled to the ground crying.

She remembered her father’s words, “Don’t believe everything you see.” But if I’m not supposed to believe it, why did he let me see it? Does the mirror lie? Then, she remembered the second half of what he said, “There is more behind the mirror.” She looked up at the mirror frame. It was wide enough to be a door frame. She covered the mirror, and then grabbing ether side of the mirror, she wiggled it to see if it would move. It moved on the right side.

The mirror swung open, and in that dark chamber, a new doorway opened up. Inside the doorway was a craftsman’s shop. She walked in and saw many crafts hanging on the wall. Many mirrors not like the magic mirror.

She walked past them toward the lamp-light at the workbench on the far side of the Craftsman’s Shop.

“It’s a bit late” said the voice of a man with a tinker’s helmet on at the work bench “To be up and about, isn’t it?”

“Who are you?” said Blaine shakily.

“I am a craftsman.”

“Are you the Maker of the Mirror?”

“I am.” said the man.

“Then can you tell me why I saw what I saw?”

“I can, if you want to know.”

“Why were my teeth green and sharp, why did I have claws, why did I have eyes too big for my face? Was it real what I saw or was it a lie?”

“All my looking glasses tell the truth. Your teeth are green and sharp because you are greedy and the things you love are not all good. Your hands have claws because your fear makes you fight others, you had eyes too big for your face because you are proud and think too much of yourself.”

The girl was angry, but slowly as she breathed she knew what he said was true.

“I guess that means I’m ugly. She said sadly.

“Only if you want to stay that way. That is something for all people who look into the mirror to decide: What will they do with what they see?”

“What can I do?”

“Nothing. Your heart is something you don’t have the power to change.”

Her heart sank.

“But that’s not the right question.” continued the craftsman

“What is the right question?”

“‘What can I do?'” Said the Craftsman.

Blaine hesitated, “What can you do?”

“I can show you another mirror.”

He offered her a way over to the other side of the workshop. There was a mirror with a very different frame. It had a ring of thorns around it.

“Will it show me what is in my heart?”

“Yes.” he said.

“Will it be true?”

“Yes. All my looking glasses tell the truth.” he responded gravely.

“But what if I see the ugliness again. I couldn’t bear to see that all again.”

“There is more for you to see if you will seek for it.”

Blaine looked at the thorns, and she felt like she had seen more than she wanted to see already. She turned to leave the craftsman’s shop, but at the doorway of the first mirror she stopped, and her head hung sadly.

“What if my ugliness is really all there is?” She said.

A voice behind her gently called, “It may be, but if you will not look into this mirror, then the mirror outside will be all you have seen. Everyone must look into that mirror, but there is more, if you will see it.”

A tear clouded the surface of her eye, and she blinked it back. She turned back to the craftsman. She walked across the shop, slowly, up to the thorny mirror, and with a feeling like resignation, she lifted her eyes to look.

The face staring back at her was her own. Again she saw the teeth were green, the hands were claws, her eyes too big. She looked and her lips trembled at what she saw. The nose was pointy, her shoulders looked frail and slumped and her hair was falling out.

Then. . . she noticed the other person in the reflection. The Maker of the Mirror stood beside her without his tinkering helmet, and his own reflection came into it, and she saw his face. To her amazement, It was brilliant like the sun shining bright and beautiful, and and she realized the beauty of the heart of the one who stood beside her. It was comforting, but also terrifying, because she saw her own ugliness right next to his beauty.

She looked away from the mirror at him frozen to the spot not sure if she wanted to run or cry.

“Who . . . Who are you?”

“I make things.” He said smiling. “And I also remake things.”

Then, with his two strong hands, he turned the mirror and stepped to the side. Now when she looked into the mirror, all she saw was his reflection glowing at her, and slowly, his reflection, started to take her distortions, and put them on himself. Now He was horrific and ugly looking, his teeth greened, his hands clawed, his eyes big, his nose pointy, his shoulders slumped, and his hair falling out. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing: her ugliness had been transferred to him. She felt so awful that it was her ugliness had caused him to be so disfigured.

Then, he turned the mirror back to her, and she looked and saw her face again. Her face had changed and she gasped. There was no longer any distortion of her features. All of them had been taken away. Instead, her face was glowing and youthful. It beamed like the sun just as His did. She cried again, but this time the tears were happy.

She looked away from the mirror, and saw the Maker standing there, with his eyes full of compassion and love. His own face was still bright with joy.

She was silent.

“How?” she finally asked.

“I made this mirror for you, to remake you.”

“You know me?”

“I’ve been waiting for you. I had hoped you would find me here.” He said.

“My father told me there was more behind the mirror. Why do you hide behind the mirror?”

“Not many people are ready for what I have to show them. Only those who seek me diligently are ready to find me.”

Blaine’s heart was full of peace. “What do I do now?”

“Take this mirror with you. Use it to show others what I have done for you.”

She took the thorny frame into her hands. One of the barbs pricked her finger, and she said, “Ow. Why is my frame so thorny?”

“That, you will understand more in time.” the Maker said.

She took the mirror to her room and went back to sleep. From then on, every time she looked, she remembered the face of the man who made her mirror, and who remade her. And when she grew up, she became the Keeper of the Mirror in place of her father.

The King and His Champion

Once upon a time in a Kingdom ruled by a very wise King, there was a certain knight who was famous for feats of gallantry in battle. This knight was the best sword fighter, best with a spear, best with a bow and arrow, best at jousting– All the Kingdom knew and saluted this champion and praised and cheered each victory.

But under the armor, the knight was very unhappy. Every day this knight would ride into battle with this fear: “I am not worthy to be loved just for me.” This champion also had one weakness carefully concealed: being incredibly slow at running. Because of this, could you guess how many foot races this knight entered? That’s right. Zero!

Until one day, the King made a proclamation that he was holding a footrace in which every knight in his service must compete. But as a peculiar twist, one knight was to wear the King’s own colors. Can you guess which one? Yup. our very own best-at-almost-everything champion. How do you think that knight felt?

The day of the race arrived, and the King’s champion was sick with worry. Soon the whole kingdom would see just how unworthy this knight was to wear the King’s colors. The race began. Very soon every other knight had passed the “champion” who at this moment was feeling like anything but a “champion.” The race concluded and every knight crossed the finish line, but last of all, a whole minute later, in front of the whole laughing crowd of the kingdom, and in front of the King, hustled the Knight who carried the kings colors.

How embarrassing! Can you imagine how that knight felt then? That knight was so mortified with shame, that off came the kings colors, and left off was the armor of a knight, and our hero went home and stayed inside too ashamed to be seen in the kingdom again.

Then one day, a knock came at the door of the knight’s house. It was the King himself! The knight blushed for shame. What could the king want with such a disgraceful, unworthy champion.

“I want you to come back into my service as my own personal assistant.” said the King.

“My Lord, why? Why would you want such a slow foot-soldier in your service? And why would you have ME run in the race wearing your colors?”

The king answered, “I have watched you fight so hard to prove to everyone and yourself that you are worthy of admiration and love, but I organized the race to teach you that love is something you cannot win. Love is a gift. I do not love you because you’re the best. I choose you and love you because I see your heart and I treasure it. You will be my errand runner if you will accept my love.”

The knight was speechless and from somewhere deep inside tears streamed down. The King came near and embraced the knight. From that day on, the champion happily became personal assistant for the King and did not care about being the best fighter or the fastest, because of this truth: he was loved just for him.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

This story is was written for a friend who I recognized was struggling with tendencies to cover feelings of unworthiness with achievement. The ending can also read: she was loved just for her.

Heart in Irons

Dripping cold off the edge of an iron leaf
It twinges quaking with the agony of past defeat
Should not the past be swallowed up with present victory?
No, the story memories tell is too weighty.

I once was swinging through the trees
The wind racing through my long hair
I once grasped for a vine with my toes
And slipping terror split my chest
Until I hit the ground hard and looked up
The branches were now so far away.

I can’t breathe the way I once did
My shallow coughing is hard and pressed together
Crunching down on my now deflated heart
Leaving no room for anything new.

A backhanded lash of cowardice
Steels my heart in indifferent irons
Crying comes whenever the weight shifts
And people do not know the life they disturb
With their well-meaning questions about the past
And now I stare out the portal of a swamped, sinking ship

Can you hear me?
Can you reach me on the other side?
Will I ever be on top of the waves again
Swinging from the tree branches enjoying new fruits?

But what’s the point?
No victory will last beyond the span of time
Except that which God does in time.
These trees grow and roots descend
At the behest of the one who gives birds their nest
The end of it all: will God defend?

So I do what is needed,
The trees tower, but I do not cower.
The irons are weaker than my heart
But He will be the one to break them.

The Cave and the River

Toes stubbing on uneven wet shale
The weight of rock dampening overhead
The horizon was a distant ribbon of blue and white sky
Here in the cold I trudge comfortless

Each step feels like moving backwards
The flow of time is a stopped train restarting
Futility I breathe in, Hopelessness I breathe out
How do invisible thorns grow where there is no sun?

Above, all is dirty, burdensome black
I remember when the heaven’s used to sing my name
When the life growing with me danced in rhythm
And the others did not fear my face

But here, a gloom has shaded my eyes.
The fire within once lit my way inside
Then I quenched the flame from the giver,
And gave myself over to the tangles of the dark.

O to soothe my tear-smudged face
With the crystals offering pale ghost light
Just some digging in the dirt
And my strength can feel real again for a moment.

No! Like Puddleglum in the Underworld,
I remember to myself reminded
That the sky is not made of ore
Nor is there any thing of life to be found in here.

My Beloved is near. He never leaves me.
He bids me lift my eyes to the hills.
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

With time, my strength regathers,
And I keep on toward that blue ribbon
Fattening on the assurance of hope undeserved
Until I step over the lip of this dreadful dungeon.

The stiff blades of grass spring beneath my feet
Light and lightness as the open air descends
The dome touches my heart with longing
As the warm sun stings my eyes with tears of joy

I spring off the edge into the river
Sweeping me away as if it never stopped
Fresh grace I breathe in, fresh thanks I breathe out.
How can the cut of cold make me more alive as I shiver?

What fire cannot be quenched by any water?
What Symphony of light knows no drowning out?
I ride the current, yea, I lead it in dance
Unashamed of the strong Truth Creation gently whispers

My eyes are glowing like embers
My heart is melted in his heat
Like a wicked candle consumed with holy flame
I can feel once again that I, though unworthy, am His.

I am new! The day is new!
I am warm from within and without all is glad.
The music sings it’s melody in me again
A glorious noon of Springtide made young.

All stains of the dark are washed away
The Sun has disgraced the moon’s facade
I kneel gratefully in the dirt
Raising my arms to receive their nourishment

Yes! I am returned to Your country, O Lord
The dark memory of the past instructs
This is the place for which my heart was designed
Where life’s eternity cannot fence in the roaming of my soul.

My Beloved is near. He never leaves me.
He bids me lift my eyes to the hills.
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

With time my strength regathers,
And I face the rolling countryside windswept and free
Faith settles simple within me,
As I lift my foot to run the length of it.

I Got Pulled Over…

Some of my thoughts on the Black Lives Matter controversy are in this story.

I got pulled over.

Around midday, I was driving my ’97 F-150 home from a Mediterranean restaurant down 484. I was in a hurry to get home so I accelerated to make a yellow light that turned red before I went under it. Immediately, I heard the chirp of the siren and saw the lights dancing behind me. I pulled over into a parking lot, and I was not ready for what happened next.

Before the officer came over to the window I had both hands on the wheel and my license in my hand. I am white, and the officer that came up to my window was black.

“Hello.” said the officer.

“Hello, officer.” I said.

“You know why I pulled you over?”

Now, I had been feeling frustrated due to the reason for my visit to the Mediterranean restaurant, and I also have a high respect for law enforcement, so I’ll share with you what I said, and the conversation that followed.

“Yes sir, I do. I know I ran a red light back there, and I am sorry. I can explain the situation if you would be willing to hear it. But even if you’re not willing to listen, I understand what I did was wrong. I broke the law. Would you please be willing to hear me as I share with you what is personally going on?”

“Okay.” The officer said shifting his weight to get comfortable listening to me.

“I love my wife. She wanted some Mediterranean food for lunch, and she only had an hour for us to eat lunch together. I wanted to get her some food she wanted because she’s cooped up doing work training on Zoom because of the Pandemic. I was delayed getting the food because there were other people ahead of me, and when I came back it was 40 minutes into her lunch break. When she opened the black bags she didn’t have any sauce or humus. And the menu online was not set up right, so I offered to go back to the restaurant and get her sauce and humus, and to let them know they needed to update her menu. So I went back just now, got the stuff and by this time, I have driven 15 minutes there, 15 minutes back, 15 minutes there again, and now I’m trying to get back because she’s hungry, even though I won’t be able to enjoy lunch break with her. And when I saw the light turn yellow, I was like, “No!” and I pushed for it. And it turned red. I shouldn’t have, but I was frustrated and acted out of that frustration.

“I am sorry. I recognize what I should have done, and I ask you for a warning. I am not entitled to one, and I don’t deserve one, but I boldly ask you for one. I trust your judgment in this case, and if you give me a ticket, I will receive it.”

The officer paused a moment and took my license and said, “Wait here.”

He went back to his car, and looked through, presumably my traffic record. After about 5 minutes he came back to say this:

“Sir, I see in my records that you are a teacher at a Christian school is that right?

“Yes sir.”

“If any one of those kids saw you run that red light what would you say to them?”

“I would tell them I was wrong to do so and that I have repented.”

“You better have. I see on my records you’ve gotten pulled over one other time for running a red light, and you told the officer that time it was due to ‘frustration’.”

“Yes sir.”

“You need to deal with this frustration issue. I don’t want to catch you doing this again. Red lights aren’t optional. You could get yourself or someone else seriously hurt.”

“Yes sir.”

“That’s your warning.” He said as put his notepad back into his pocket. “Now, I’d like to ask you a personal question, if you’re willing.”

My eyebrows furrowed as I blinked and said, “Okay.”

“Does your wife usually send you back to get things that restaurants miss?”

“No sir. This is something I wanted to do for her.”

“Alright,” the officer said as he pulled out his wallet and handed me 40 dollars! “This should cover it.”

I was shocked as I said, “Officer, this is not necessary.”

“You teach the Bible, right?” asked the officer.

“Yes sir.” I answered

“Then you probably know that in Romans 13, it says the governing authorities are servants of God for good, to punish evil behavior and praise the good. Your willingness to go and make things right for your wife is commendable, so let me help cover the cost.”

Tears filled my eyes and streaked my cheeks as I reached out my hand to shake his hand.

“Thank you, sir. I know things are really hard for the police right now. I just want you to know how glad I am that there are those of you on the force who seek not only punitive justice, but restorative justice.”

The officer shook my hand firmly and said, “I hope I never forget that.”

He bid me “Take care,” and I went home to my wife.

The story is fictional, but should it be?

Application Pathfinder: Nail it to the Cross

“Each soul that would enter into real life. . . must go out through the Gate of the Cross.”
 ~Parables of the Cross by Lilias Trotter

  • First ask the Lord to reveal what is in your heart.
    1. Honestly answer: Who or what in my life that if I lost it, my life would be meaningless?
      • Wait for the Lord to reveal something to you anything or anyone big or small.
      • If you decide you want God to be most important in your life, follow these steps.
    2. How to “Nail it to the cross”
      1. Nail it. (Choose one which feels that can be done most genuinely from the heart.)
        • Verbal processor—Tell God out loud what it is, and verbally give it to Him.
        • Writing processor—Write out to God what it is, committing it to Him.
        • Art processor—draw or paint it on paper, write poetry, craft something.
        • Eidetic processor—Imagine your hand nailing it to the Cross.
        • Kinesthetic processor—Get a hammer and nail and take something representing it and nail it to a block of wood, or just swing your hand.
        • Actors: Take an indefinite break from it.
        • Other: Decide to nail it with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and do something to represent that.
      2. Thank God for it, and worship Him (Choose one which makes sense for you)
        • Verbal—Sing a song like, “I Surrender All” or “Take My Life and Let it Be.”
        • Writing—Write a psalm or praise poem for God, or a Love letter to God.
        • Art—Create a work of Art that Arises from Scripture.
        • Eidetic—Elevate God in the loftiest place He can be.
        • Kinesthetic—Dance for/with God.
        • Actors: Do something that is exclusively for God.
        • Other: Do something else to glorify and enjoy God as He leads you.
      3. Bring it before God again and wait for God to lead you in what to do with it. (Yes, He does still speak today, if you believe it and are humble and want Him to.)
        • Voice—God speaks inaudibly inside the heart, or externally outside the body
        • A Word—God can give a “word” in your mind. Give every word back to him to see if it’s from Him.
        • Impressions—A general sense, or an artistic form can come to mind that makes sense in the heart
        • Dreams/Visions—Separate the actual dream/vision from its interpretation, ask God to show you what He wants you to know.
        • Situations/Signs—God works in the world around us, see what He’s doing.
        • Guided Actions—He can give you peace, motivation, or a slight nudge in the direction of a decision.
        • Other: He chooses how He wants to speak.
      4. Check: You will know it is nailed to the cross when your heart feels brighter for God than that thing.
    3. Nurture that bright heart for God by doing this with your whole life regularly.
  • Scriptures on this theme for personal Bible Study
  • Matthew 10:32-39
  • Mark 8:34-38
  • John 12:23-25
  • 1 Corinthians 1:17-31
  • Galatians 6:12-16
  • Ephesians 2:14-16
  • Philippians 2:5-11
  • Colossians 2:9-19

The Pray-er and the Pastor

Once there was a young man who was a devoted Pray-er. He was not very popular and never got invited to parties. The local Pastor invited him to his party and welcomed him into his home, but when he sat at the table with everyone else, the people clamored to get near the popular Pastor, and the Pray-er was politely acknowledged and forgotten about.

On the Day of the Lord, the Pastor and the Prayer were both welcomed to the marriage supper of the Lamb. The Pastor was so excited, and he remembered the time Jesus said, “He who humbles himself will be exalted,” so he sat in the lowest seat he could find. The Prayer also sat in the lowest seat he found.

Then the Bridegroom came in and greeted his guests with warmth and joy! He walked to the end of the table farthest from the head, and politely acknowledged the Pastor. He said, “Faithful Pastor, you may go higher. Go and sit with my groomsmen.” The Pastor rose and was exalted before all the guests. The people rejoiced to see him move to a place close to the Groom!

Then the Bridegroom turned to the Pray-er and said, “My friend, it is good to see you. Come sit with Me.” And He took his hand, and led him up to the seat on his left side, and sat him down closer even than His own best man! The people were dumbstruck, and the Pastor was deeply insulted!

The meal progressed, and the Pray-er spoke, listened, and laughed with the Bridegroom, and the Pastor stared with longing in his eyes. Finally he couldn’t restrain himself and he walked over to the groom and said, “My Lord, thank you for honoring me to sit at the place for your Groomsmen. Please tell me: what did I lack to sit with You at the table?” And the Lord said, “Friend, you have served Me well, which is why I honored you with My groomsmen, and I am glad you are with Me now. This young man devoted himself to being with Me. We have been intimate friends for years, and we have shared much joy and sorrow of life together. Should he not be close at hand to share in the greatest joy of My life’s new beginning?”

Why should It Use Up the Ground?

The Hook

Some of Jesus’ parables are frightening.

The Book

His parable in Luke 13:6-9 certainly is. The owner of a vineyard was seeking fruit from his fig tree, but when he came to it he found none. He told the Gardener, “Three years I have sought fruit from this tree, and still I find none. Chop it down! Why should it use up the ground? The Gardener says, “Let it remain for a year, and I will dig deep and put in fertilizer. If it grows fruit then it is good; if not, then chop it down.” ~Luke 13:6-9. This parable Jesus told is alarming when you realize the tree is given to mean you.

The Look

The Vineyard owner does not merely like trees for decoration. He wants fruit, sustenance, profit, continuation. He does not want the earth gone to waste. Indeed the word in Greek for “use up the ground” gives the idea of taking all its usefulness so that it is wasted and useless afterwards: like a soiled tissue, or a an empty pizza box. Another important thing about the phrase “use up the ground” is that the ground is the word for Earth. In Hebrew and Greek the word for earth, ground, and dirt art synonymous. A possible rendering of Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew is “In the beginning, God created the [ground] and the [sky].” It is much less a rendering of a material planet here and now and an immaterial place somewhere far away where God’s throne is, as it is talking about the concrete and immaterial reality that makes up life today around the world. In the Old Testament this idea of Heaven and Earth is vital to understanding the whole story, and God’s plan for a new Heaven and Earth in both Testaments.

The Took

Jesus gives a a story about what life is worth and what is worth ending life for the sake of life. The Gardener and the Vineyard owner in this paragraph demonstrate the Justice and the Forbearance of God.

JUSTICE: says “This tree belongs to me and it is not doing what it is meant to do. It must be removed and extinguished because it is using up the good and making it bad!”

FORBEARANCE: says “This tree is worth investing in and waiting a little bit longer to see if it is fruitful, so that this good thing may produce more good. If however, after further investment and patience it does not improve, then we will know for sure that the problem is with the tree itself, not the soil or the owner. So then it will be right for it to be removed.

“Behold the Kindness and Severity of God.” ~Romans 11:22. God is true, and requires a good accounting; He is also loving and gives all he can. In the end, all glory goes to His name, and all creation be filled with the glory of His goodness.

Application:

  1. That being said, I believe this parable is meant to draw our attention to the earth, the tangible concrete reality in which we live. “Why does it use up the ground?” is another way of asking, “Why does this even exist?” God has poured out his blessing on Humanity, and made a good world, and has charged mankind with the task of making making it good extremely! (See Genesis 1:28-31). This is part of what has been called the cultural mandate given to humanity. All humans are called to continue the growth of God’s good world.
  2. Specifically for Christians, God has called us to be the salt of the earth to preserve it. We are to take the good and make more good of it in concrete tangible ways. As the Holy Spirit guides us, He breathes life into all the the dead and dying things and from them creates new things through which His life can nourish others. Believers must learn to be led by the Holy Spirit so they can be a part of this preservation of Life.
  3. Specifically for Christians, God has in mind for us to invest and make good those things which will last unto eternity. This does not negate the need to accomplish physical restoration and healing of our concrete tangible reality. Jesus after all did not only preach about the life to come, nor value purely the souls of humankind, but also their physical needs he met and their infirmities he restored. All this he did with a view to the praise of His Father who expects a good harvest of Earth and Heaven before he makes all things new. So then, believers must not work for temporary ends of the kingdoms of men, but rather for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ which is filling the whole earth, starting in the hearts of men, and flowing out from them in all that they touch.
  4. For all Humanity, we must learn to fear the God who made us, planted us, owns us, and seeks results from us. He is forbearing and kind, and He is also exact and just. His patience will come to an end, and He will act for the good of His beloved people and creation, and the sake of His name, so that all the world may give praise to the Lord, “for He is good, and his Love endures forever.”