A Soggy Sinner

In the beautiful city of Claremont where I live, there is a lively little section of shops and dining called The Village, and I occasionally go there to study and write. Recently I was sitting in the outdoor plaza there, which has a creative, interactive fountain that is well-loved by the children of our town. As I was working, I happened to see two ladies walking past with a little boy in tow, who was perhaps 5 years old. fountain ClaremontThe boy’s mom had a hold of his hand, but as they walked past the fountain (which the two ladies seemed not to notice at all) the boy was visibly attempting to get out of his mother’s grasp, and he kept longingly looking at the splashing water as he was dragged past it into The Coffee Bean cafe.

I smiled to myself at the boy’s obvious preference of playing in the fountain over sitting in the cafe while his mom and her friend chatted, and inwardly commiserated with him in his unfortunate situation. But then I got back to my work and forgot all about the boy, until some time later when he emerged with a grin from Coffee Bean, unrestrained by his mother’s grasp, and headed straight for the fountain. His mother was still deep in conversation with her friend, but threw a halfhearted threat in the boy’s direction, telling him not to get wet. Sarcasm got the best of me as I thought to myself, “Good luck–that’s not going to happen!”

Well, sure enough, the gravitational pull of the water proved to be greater than the fear of mom’s threat. But it was intriguing to watch that play out in front of me. First the boy just walked up to the edge of the fountain, then he pretended to dip one foot in the water. Eventually the foot that was hovering over the water accidentally got a little wet, then it was a full step down into the water with just that foot. After the first foot was soaked, it wasn’t long before the second foot joined in, and with both feet in the water, the delighted little boy couldn’t help but dance around and splash his feet.

I think you can guess as well as I could how this story played out. The stomping feet produced wet pants, and since the pants were wet, why not just sit down in the water? And since sitting down was so delightful, maybe laying down would be even better! In fact, the raised part of the fountain with water pouring into the lower part looks like a little waterfall, so why not crawl through that head-first? So it wasn’t long at all before this little boy was completely soaked from head to toe, and loving every minute of it. All the while, his mother would occasionally look up from her conversation and scold him, but never intervened to stop him.

As I watched this little drama unfold before me, I was enjoying the obvious delight of the little boy, yet at the same time I was dismayed by his complete disregard of his mother’s instructions (as well as her complete failure to follow through). It was as if James 1:14-15 was being acted out in front of me. James describes the progressive nature of sin, starting with desire, giving birth to sin, and finally leading to death. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

The little boy’s desire was obvious–he wanted to play in the fountain. That was not a sinful desire in and of itself, but it became sinful when it was set against his mother’s command to not get wet. But desire is strong, and the boy was lured and enticed by what he desired, until desire morphed into action and the sin of disobedience was born. Unfortunately, if that little boy is not rescued from his sin through trusting in Christ, that seemingly insignificant disobedience will end in total separation from God–he will one day get what he desires and find that he has desired the wrong thing.

To be fair, the mother’s desire was also obvious–she wanted uninterrupted conversation with her friend. That also is not a sinful desire in and of itself, but it became sinful when she elevated her enjoyment over the well-being of her son. She also was lured and enticed by what she desired, and her desire translated into disregard and abdication of her parental role. Unfortunately, what took place that morning was probably already a pattern in her life, and the longer that pattern persists, the greater her need of rescue grows.

So what are you–and what am I–desiring in this moment? Is that desire starting us on a path toward deeper trust and dependence on God? Or is it starting us down the path toward sin and death? We would do well to regularly consider those questions…

Waterfalls & Rotten Logs

From way back in my childhood, God has often wooed me to Himself through the stillness of the forest and the beauty of mountain streams and waterfalls. One of my first experiences of the discipline of solitude–before I knew what spiritual disciplines were or that solitude was one of them–was as a youth serving at Trout Creek Bible Camp in Oregon. On the days when the campers went home, I would hike through the woods to my favorite spot by the creek, where there was a small waterfall and I could be alone to think and rest. In all the years since those times by the creek, I have always loved being alone with God in the woods and along streams–that is where I feel closest to Him.

IMG_1563

So here at another camp–Mt. Hermon Conference Center in the mountains around Santa Cruz, California–I took a walk alone in the woods today and discovered a little waterfall I had never seen before. Amidst the beauty of the sun filtering through the giant redwoods around me, surrounded by the pleasant cadence of the falling water, and breathing deeply in the few minutes of time alone, I again felt the gentle wooing of God and relaxed in His presence and love.

In remembering my times alone with God next to the waterfall at Trout Creek, I recalled seeing something there that made a lasting impression in my mind. There was an old tree that had fallen across the creek many years prior, but as that dead log decayed, there were all kinds of new plants–including a new young tree–growing out of the fertile soil of the damp, decaying wood. As a youth by that creek so long ago, God used that image of life springing forth from death to illustrate the Gospel reality of my life coming out of Christ’s death.

So here at Mt Hermon, as I sat and enjoyed the stillness and beauty, I realized there was brokenness and deadness here too: a section of the fencing was broken down next to where I sat, there were thorns intertwined with the plants growing by the stream, and there were dead limbs and leaves in some of the trees. Yet even in the midst of such evidences of the curse of sin and death, the beauty and life of God’s redemption and creation far surpass it.

In this season of life for me–especially in marriage and parenting–God is allowing me to see much of my own brokenness and sin, and there is much that feels like it is dying. At this point, while I do not yet see the life and redemption and beauty that God is bringing out of that death and loss, I trust that He is at work and that He is indeed bringing beauty out of ashes and gladness out of mourning (Isaiah 61:3), because that is who He is.

 

 

 

3 Attitudes that Kill Thanksgiving

Entitlement: If I think that I deserve more (or better), or if I think that I have earned all I own by my hard work, or if I believe that God owes me a good life, then I will feel entitled to more and will not be thankful for what I do have. But, if I see all that I have as a generous gift from a gracious God, I will be thankful for it because I know I don’t deserve it and I haven’t somehow earned it and God doesn’t owe it to me. It is a gift, and therefore I am thankful. 

Comparison: If I am constantly comparing myself with others–by noticing that someone is better dressed than me or eats better than me or lives in a nicer home than me or serves more than me or seems to be happier than me–I will never be satisfied and certainly never thankful. But if I think deeply about the blessings God has bestowed on me and meditate on all the ways that He has surprised me with His mercy, my heart will well up in thanksgiving for His goodness to me.

The Upgrade Mentality (a.k.a. Newer-Is-Always-Better): If I am constantly sucked into the marketing that promises I will save so much time if I have this new gadget, or my health will be so much better if I follow this new diet, or my Christian life will be so much more fulfilling if I read this new book, then thankfulness will be a fleeting idea that gets tossed aside like last year’s iPhone. But if I learn to see the value in enjoying deeply what I already have, and start to actually utilize things instead of just consuming them, and discover the relational joy that comes in making something together as a family, then thankfulness will take root and flourish like a shade tree that’s been growing for a century.

A Painful Poem

As a child in school, I dreaded the part of English class in which we had to write poetry–I was too precise and rule-bound, and the free-flowing creativity of poetry made me freeze up. So the poetry I tried to produce in those classes was probably quite painful for my teachers to read.

But the poem I want to share here is not painful because it’s poorly written. (In fact, it’s not written by me, so there is a much greater likelihood that it’s not painful poetry.) Rather, the reason I call it a painful poem is because it comes out of much pain and gives perspective on pain. And it was written for–and gifted to–a woman whose genuine joy in the midst of tremendous pain stands in stark contrast to my oft-complaining spirit in suffering that does not come close to hers.

This was written by Nan Powlison, and given to Joni Eareckson Tada as a birthday gift. Joni was speaking at the CCEF National Conference (which I was privileged to attend last month), and her birthday landed on the second day of the conference. So at the end of the evening session, in which David Powlison (Executive Director of CCEF and one of my favorite teachers) had been dialoguing  with Joni about joy and sorrow and suffering, Nan (David’s wife) came out to present this poem to Joni, in celebration of her birthday.

Joni is not first and foremost a quadriplegic, nor is she primarily an artist or an author or an advocate, but she is a woman whose life is defined by her relationship with God and her deep trust and delight in Him. But because she is also an artist, and because she suffers from quadriplegia and chronic pain, this poem from Nan is so beautifully descriptive of Joni’s deep desire.

Draw me into you, Lord

Rough me in and draw me

Sketch me and erase me

Sketch me and erase me

Trace me positive in negative space

Balanced

Composed

Defined

By shades and shadows

A light design

Then fling me out

Across your page

Bold strokes for service

‘Til they see

Your face in mine

Draw me, Lord

(Nan Powlison)

Highlights from CCEF Conference

My wife and I greatly enjoyed attending the CCEF National Conference together this past weekend! Here are a few of the highlights for me, along with some oimg_1116ther random observations from our trip…

Most beautiful house: on Forest Ave, a few blocks from where we were staying on the North Shore in Chattanooga.

Favorite new song I learned at the conference: We Will Feast in the House of Zion

Favorite kinda new song we sang at the conference: Psalm 126

Favorite old song we sang at the conference: How Firm a Foundation (In case you can’t tell, singing together with 2000 other Christians so many songs rich in Gospel truths was one of the best parts of the conference for me!)

Favorite quote from the conference: Joni Eareckson Tada compared suffering to “splash-overs of hell,” but then said that “Splash-overs of heaven are: finding Jesus with you in the splash-overs from hell.”

Best find in the conference bookstore: The Radical Book for Kids, selling for $12.50 (50% off) before it has even been released!

Best restaurant food: sweet potato fries at Urban Stack in Chattanooga. So good!

Best lunch deal: a 4-pack of meal-size Santa Fe Chicken Salads for $5 (total!), from Costco.

Favorite insight from a speaker: Aaron Sironi reminded us that the essence of marriage is a one-flesh union, therefore marital conflict is more like an autoimmune disease (i.e. a body fighting against itself) than like a boxing match (2 opponents fighting each other).

Favorite speaker: David Powlison is a man I greatly respect, whose writing and teaching have become very influential in my thinking. He did not have a full plenary session to teach this time, but I was scrambling to jot down notes even from his opening remarks at the beginning of the conference–he has a lot of wisdom to share.

Most touching moment in the conference: Joni Eareckson Tada’s birthday landed during the conference, so we all sang Happy Birthday to her in the session when she and ice-signDavid Powlison had a “fireside chat.” Then Ken Tada (her husband) and Nan Powlison (David’s wife) came out with a gift for Joni and honored her–it was an emotional moment.

Most confusing road sign: We flew into Atlanta, and then drove up to Chattanooga, and all along the highway we kept seeing this sign. Huh?!
I finally came to the conclusion that it meant that the section of roadway that was a bridge might be icy even if the rest of the road was not icy, so proceed with caution. If I’m ever driving that road in winter, I guess I’ll have to watch out.

Hidden Joy

My friend and colleague in ministry, Ian Nagata, released his first album this past week, and I was very excited to listen to it. A year ago I had blogged my thoughts related to one of the songs on this album, called The Joy that Hides in You. That song, along now with a few others on the album that take the form of laments, continues to minister deeply to my heart in the midst of struggle and suffering and sorrow. What resonates so deeply from those songs is the reality that suffering, though very real, does not have the final word. And in that there is a joy that is hidden (i.e. not immediately apparent)–that the sorrow and suffering I face brings me into deeper communion with my suffering Savior, and in fact He is using that suffering to form His character in me in a way that could not happen apart from the pain. So rather than finding joy by escaping from the suffering, there is actually joy in the midst of the suffering–that is the joy that hides in Christ, and that is the joy that shines so clearly in these beautiful songs that Ian has put together.

You can check out Ian’s album here.

50 Shades of Green

Living as long as I have now in the dry, brown metropolis of Southern California, I forget how refreshing and beautiful the color green can be. Spending a whole week driving and hiking through the mountains and forests and hillsides of Oregon in the springtime (as I just did this past week) reminded me of that beauty that I used to take for granted living in the Pacific Northwest.

Image

Image 1