The Desolation of the Locust

The Desolation of the Locust

(Musical recommendation: Hallelujah – Joshua Hyslop
http://http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=p7q3EDTLQ-w)

The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
    the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
 I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
    my great army, which I sent among you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Joel 2:24-27

Originally this post was supposed to be about my grandfather, who wrote a song once with the main line of the chorus being, “He’s given me back the years the locust had eaten.” In a positive folky tune. He would speak by way of explanation in his best Johnny Cash that, “The locust being the devil, see?”

I was going to write about the joy of having sins forgotten, putting behind the time that I spent serving darkness instead of the light, and not only forgetting, but redeeming those days. About how lovely a man my grandfather is. But that must be for another time.

Tonight my wife and I got a call, and though I could only catch bits and pieces through the phone by her ear I heard enough. Someone we had known, who struggled with drug addiction for many years had committed suicide.

That horrible, awful thing. The action that pure-hearted men and women will always feel heartbroken over. And touching us closer than I’d ever feared.

For so long this young person had struggled for light. There were periods of lucidity and hope, and times of regression and darkness, and in brightest moments, our friend has known the love of Jesus Christ. And I still don’t understand, not that I’m owed it, but can’t grasp the plan. I’m an analytical thinker and I just can’t find the pattern, the way things fit into place. The horror of the locust cloud covering over so many years of a sweet, struggling person’s life.

The mourning for someone I hardly know has just begun, but I’ll be trying to understand for longer than I’ll feel the sting of it. The mourning is complicated, I don’t know what I hope for this person, and I don’t know what will happen.

I know what I’ve prayed. I know I pray for hope in the midst of absolutely soul destroying desolation. I pray for peace for the addicted. I pray for unbelievable mercy, because I know what dark clouds have passed over my mind, and that by the grace of God I have been sustained and renewed. He renewed the years the locust ate from me.

I may differ from my Catholic friends on this point, but I pray also that our friend enter the gates of Heaven, led by sympathetic eyes and into holy grace.

There will you be given back every darkened day,
There will you eat of that which truly satisfies,
There will you see only the brightness of the Glory of God,
And despite your earthly shame at your affliction,
There you will never again be put to shame.
No distractions, for He is God, and no one else.
May he deal wondrously with you.

Only God knows the state of a human heart, and I am thankful that he does. He is sovereign and holds all things in the balance, for which I am also thankful, for it means that it is not a waste to send my prayers to him.

As I reflect on my own life, and consider what it is I truly deserve for all of my arrogance and pride, for all of my thinking much of myself and little of others, the moments I have shirked God’s law and scorned his sacrifice, and allowed the cross to become odious, I am laid flat on my face by this grace. I cannot fathom it. And I don’t want to. It will always be immeasurably more than my reach. In weaker moments, therefore, I hold to this promise:

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

O Lord, please do not tarry.

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Reading and Response: Jan 6, 2016

Hosea 10:12
“Sow for yourselves righteousness,
reap steadfast love.
Break up your fallow ground,
for it is time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”

I was stuck on this phrase “break up your fallow ground” in my morning reading. After some thought it came to me that these are the areas that have been ignored. Areas yet untapped as a resource for being made into the image of God. There are areas in our lives that are laying fallow, and at some point they may not have been ready for growth, but being aware that a day may come for growth in this more difficult soil is key to expansion in faith and belief and sanctification.

So I prayed this morning that all areas in me, even in things I am not naturally disposed to, those areas can be used for growth and for blessing, not just for myself but others. Break up this fallow ground, it is time to seek the Lord, that He may rain down righteousness on me, and you.

My New Year’s Toast

To my family, to our son, new this passing year,
I lift this glass with friends tonight, may it pass with cheer.
Here love abides, strangers welcome, as friends they may soon be,
I lift this glass in thankfulness, though sometimes hard to see.
And to my friends I lift this glass, through trials come and gone,
Laughter in our hearts has filled our houses and our lungs.
Friends new are pleasant, old are grand, wrought with depth and truth,
I’d raise that glass a thousand times, though ageing, from my youth.
Now to this year,  through blessings brought from God who art on high,
Our hearts and minds have reeled at gifts we have, but know not why.
Now raise with me a glass you all, for things as yet unseen,
For what is coming next, God knows, in two thousand and sixteen.

Happy new year.

Speak a true word.

Wake, feel your worth, O my soul
Speak the word, the word that can save us all
Awed by grace, I fall on my face
And scream the word that can save us all

-Thrice, Stand and Feel Your Worth

 

“Y’know usually you come up with pretty good things to say but don’t do any more of that care bear **** alright?”

That’s what he said to me the day I decided to say what needed to be said. I was a safety representative for my job in a modular manufacturing plant and in our pre-workday meetings I would often be called upon for a “safety moment”. The idea was that every day I would draw to attention something for our interior finishing department to keep an eye out for our own safety and those of our co-workers. To care for each other’s best interest.

What I had noticed was that many of my co-worker’s first instinct early in the day was to interact in a cajoling, playfully insulting way, and that was how these men got along with each other. Some were more aggressive and abrasive than others but generally this was how the day went.

But I also knew that a young man in our department had just lost his father to cancer.

When you work in close proximity to other groups and trades all day and everyone has a job to do sometimes things can get heated, so I decided to make a point of that as my safety moment for the day. I encouraged them to find out what kind of day their co-workers were having before assuming that there could be a no holds barred session of insult and criticism and in that way maybe reduce the amount of disagreements and arguments in the workplace. That was it. Just a little consideration in case you happen to meet someone on the worst day of their life, and the first and maybe only thing you do to them is to tear them down further.

That wasn’t the only comment I received in response to my safety moment but the rest were much the same.

That was the day I started to realize that it doesn’t matter what people will say or do, they need to know the truth. Words have so much more power than we think they do sometimes. The closer in relationship you are to someone the more power they hold. My wife, for example, knows everything she could say that would rend my heart and soul to pieces. But she also knows the things that can set me up on mountaintops of self-confidence and assurance.

I used to say things like “The way guys know if they’re friends is if they can insult each other.”  But I don’t believe that anymore. I used to, but I no longer think that is the best way even for men to relate. For the last ten years the phrases “Speak the true word.” and “Speak glorious truths.” have often come to my mind and I’ve spent countless hours trying to consider what that looks like.

Ephesians 4:29-32 says:

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

I believe our words change things. What we call down on others can be loosed in heaven. Our words can cause eternal activity, things that change the course of history, and I don’t want to waste time with anything that will damage for a day, much less till the end of days.

To you, reader, I want you to be encouraged, built up, loved, assured, made whole, made new, and restored. If I have to correct or rebuke I want to speak the truth in love. I don’t want to divide. I will continue (if I have truly yet begun) to be the bleeding heart. The mocked one. To be turned aside and dismissed as caring too much, as I once accused others of doing. And I regret every moment I could have told someone that I loved them when they needed to hear it, to love someone enough to say something that might destroy our friendship but restore their soul! There are such times, may they be few for you.

I remember what C.S. Lewis says about being a writer and a dreamer is that I may often imagine being a better person so vividly that I may convince others I am that person when I describe them, and convince even myself. I don’t want to do that. But I think right now that I will be content to be reviled and cast out, all for standing out in the fringe, in the desert, calling out to any who would listen:

“True joy is offered to you, and it is offered freely! I love you because God himself loves you so incorruptibly! Strike me if you must but accept His forgiveness! Hate me but love HIM! Trust that he is good! Know that he is true! Don’t look at me but look at the one who saves, who transforms, He takes away the sins of the world!”

To put to death each day the desire to see the creation as precious in itself, and to consider every person, every desire, every good thing in a 10,000 year view; these are the desires of my heart. So that in the very moment that eternity hangs in the balance, I will speak the true word.

Lord let it be so.

Faithful in the Grey

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

These words from 1 Corinthians chapter 10 were written to a church that was celebrating the freedom they had found in the grace of God. They were once under a law that was too much for them. The covenant of the Old Testament between the people of Israel and God. After many thousands of years the nation of Israel had found time and time again that it was impossible for a man or woman to live in complete accordance with these laws.

This was not unjust. The level of difficulty of a law or order has nothing to do with its rightness.

And so when this Church heard the news of Jesus and how his death had overcome sin and paid the price for them, they rightly rejoiced! The freedom that came after the burden of being a slave to sin and constantly offering sacrifices of no real power, and to find that the sacrifice had been made to cover all past and future sins meant the release of a burden that no man could bear. The celebration was justified. A peace in the heart that could never have been explained or foreseen is a cause for great joy.

But that is not what the writer of this letter is talking about. There are other actions, with less clearly drawn lines for if they are to be considered sin in the first place. I have spent a great amount of thought on these grey spaces. Some are spoken of little, and others not at all in the Bible. But there are ways to determine if they are lawful and beneficial for you or if they are unhelpful, and actually destructive, in your life.

I have heard a preacher once say that you know the things in your own life that either increase or destroy your affection for truth, Jesus, and other people, and whether or not you can handle some or any of those things.

I’ll start with an example of the sorts of things that are spoken directly to in scripture, and work into the more difficult to define.

Alcohol. Christians, as has been written by better men before me, must be “teetotalers”. We must put to death any desire in us to be seen as strong or manly in the site of others by the amount of alcohol we can consume without passing out or talking foolishly. Ephesians 5:8 states “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” And so we have a clear guideline for the place of alcohol in our lives. Can Christians with a clear conscience take part in a glass of wine? Absolutely. Assuming we have not and are not being drawn into addiction. But what is the redirect in this verse? “But be filled with the spirit.” We know the focus of much of the world is to be filled with new and better and stronger drink. It is epidemic. But in the church our epidemic should be a desire for more and better and stronger works of the Holy Spirit. I could put it this way: Don’t worry about what you drink, but become obsessive about your pursuit of holiness and intimacy with the Holy God. As a serial hobbyist I know that all obsessions of material things will forsake you and ruin you, and the only obsession that I know will improve you and leads you to care more for others is of God’s word, his presence, and the recognition of his voice. So, let our ears be tuned to it.

But what about things that are “morally neutral”? Sure I can have a glass of wine. Sure I can spend a day playing video games. Sure I can and probably should get regular exercise. God has made the world with a myriad of good and right things that for each person, may (with a heart of glad thankfulness to God) be enjoyed for our joy and HIS glory. But some of these things may hurt you. I have found that I can’t spend multiple hours on video games. I can’t explain why and I don’t fully understand it. But for me in my life, with the personality that God has given me, I am made to feel weak to temptation, despondent, inattentive, and mentally drained when I partake. So what do I do? I abstain.

What about exercise? I enjoy running in crisp air or hiking in the woods, the rush of blood and the heightened heart rate that makes me feel alive. But what if it is taken past enjoyment of God’s creation and how he has wonderfully made us all? Am I constantly examining myself for physical improvements? Am I so focused on my flaws that I need to purge them from me by excessive exercise? Do I constantly compare myself to others and give pride yet another foothold to distract me from the beauty of the metaphysical, for God’s love and his immensity and how the way he has made us speaks to his wisdom and goodness? In all honesty, I would say: sometimes. What does that mean for me? It means that I don’t carve out my day to go running all the time. I don’t give up time with my wife and son very often for the sole purpose of physical improvement. But I do make an effort to include my family in things that benefit my spirit. Climbing mountains, walking on riversides, and taking those times to drink in the good that God declared over his creation, the bits that are still there despite the fall.

So I take my exercise in measured and intentional amounts, I don’t play video games, I enjoy an occasional drink in an appropriate setting, with those who take a similar view. There is a second part to this idea in 1 Corinthians, and that is “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” Now what does that mean? It means in the grace and power of God we take this thing one step further. We work by the Holy Spirit to identify those things that are beneficial, and which are neutral, and which tear down ourselves, but God’s work on the inside of us is always and forever making us look outward at others to see what we can do for their benefit and their good, so they would glorify HIM.

Once those things are identified and we have good conscience about all of them in light of the truth of the Bible, we must stop thinking about ourselves almost altogether, and about the good of others. Other people are going to have different strengths and weaknesses, and if we wish to live a life that puts others first, then we need to consider our morally neutral acts in light of those around. It says in Romans 14:15 in the context of whether or not someone may think eating or drinking of a certain food be sinful or not: “If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” So if we know that our friend can not drink alcohol, and indeed is convinced it is sin, then we abstain at the very least in his/her presence. For the Christian, we must almost universally participate in less than our conscience allows us, for the sake of others. 

For the first time in my entire life, I recently had to ask my gracious and godly friend to refrain from something that was causing me to stumble. I don’t think he acted wrongly, but I could not in my heart get around his opinion on something that I held dear. I am a vegetarian, someone that Paul earlier in chapter 14 of Romans calls “the weaker brother.” And I had to ask, in a sense, for my friend to apologize to me. I had never thought of it in this light before but to plead with a stronger brother on your behalf, that you might not sin in your heart but be in good communion with the church family was one of the most humbling things I’ve experienced. I’ve rarely had a real problem doing what was right (generally, and even that not to my credit, but a gift of God), and I’d up till then held that it was a strength of character that allowed me to endure the light ridicule of others if it meant not grieving their hearts by admitting my hurt. There may still be some truth to that, and we should always try to suffer all offense graciously, but that’s not what was going on inside me.

Why do I write all this? I write it to say that you can never know if the day will come that you will be the wounded one, the weaker brother or sister, in need of the grace and kindness of your family and friends to be willing to sacrifice things they have every right to, covered by the grace of God for your benefit and yours alone.

When,–not if– that day comes, you will want to look back and see that you had always conceded your rights for the good and building up of others. Many things are lawful, but not everything is beneficial or helpful, so let us seek not just our own good, but the good of his neighbour.

In this way, we can live righteously, together in love, in the grey.

Japanese Car, Juggernaut Heart

I was around fourteen when I started writing about love. I wrote poetry of infatuation, odes to beauty and heartbreak. Phrases that I thought at that age summed up well all there was to know about love, that great muse of the Greeks, beauty and truth herself wrapped in pure sunlight and veiled by shimmering clouds. Until only a few years ago, my imagination of love and pure rapture of its presence gave me more delight than the real thing itself. The love of my mind was fierce and impervious to attack. It was kept as the secret source for hope, joy, happiness and resilience for those who knew its mysteries. The love of my mind was the love of the romantics, or what I thought I read in Shakespeare and all the writings of dead men that I placed firmly in the mental file of “Old Poetic Stuff.”

It is worth taking stock at various junctures in life of the progression one moves along, (not progress in the evolutionary sense, but intentional work one does in pursuing perfection) if only to mark the differences, and to view the imagined trajectory of ones inner growth along the spectrum.

This is that.

Note the wisdom of the maker. As I grew up, I started to understand the love one must have for their neighbour. In friendship and acquaintance, I learned dedication and loyalty, and the ferocity one may find in themselves at the degradation of their closest friends. As situations present themselves and you feel the inner heat flare inside yourself and the sense of justice and the war for peace you feel for those you care about you start to get your first inkling of what love looks like.

–Note: I am leaving out the different definitions or types of love for my purposes. Many have worked out their distinctions and I think could easily point out and categorize the ones I name here, I am not presently concerned with definitions, but of my personal interaction with these loves through the course of my short life. —

This first sense of love then paints itself into the picture I had held in my mind of perfect love. Love now had grit to it. It was taking form somehow, becoming alive. My heart had been given the premium fuel and I craved the passion that made me weak but made me feel somehow beyond powerful. The strength of genuine human connection.

If the love of friendship is the ideal fuel for the human heart, then romantic love that is forged into the steadfast love of lifelong marital commitment is a crude retrofit of parts bolted onto the heart of homo sapiens. You start with the inkling of a feeling, an understanding, that you and some other person have begun a journey toward something you both value but do not understand. Like any experiment all of the parts bolted together spew smoke and boiling hot oil outside and any operator must wear his goggles if he wishes not to be (as is often accused of those in love) stricken blind by the new firepower that backfires and spits and threatens to break through his rib cage. And if this were to continue forever the caged heart would break.

Now what I’ve found happens next is not a fearful thing. It is not a thing to bemoan. It is the engine of the heart being tempered and tweaked and optimized and made efficient. After a time those in love must calm themselves and the temperature must cool if they wish to be any good to the world at all. And the cooling is a sign that the heart of their love is running well, because the fights become less regular, there is more harmony, all of the parts of the two become one milled and engineered to exact specifications.

Those who know the truth of chosen love and experience it as I have and do, know that there is a regularly occurring reminder that to lose the other person would be the most horrific and degrading of amputations. “The two become one flesh” is not a euphemistic turn of phrase. As I have only known in nightmare the fear deep set in every man’s heart is to lose the one they love, stolen by the one I call the organ thief. To be awake in the operating room unable to speak and only scream in your own head “Please! You’ve taken my good leg! My strongest lung! The very best of all that I am…” And then to be forever a cripple, knowing that what you had thought, before you met the one you love, was complete health was only a half-man.

Despite the fear, it is a life of great peace. 3 years in and I already know I’m owed no more than this. No one has lived a life deserving of more than the joy I’ve already been given. And yet, in the divine wisdom of an infinite God, I received, a son.

What I’ve found since the birth of my son is that if marital love is a retrofit for the heart, then parental love is a completely new transformation. All the excess is cut out to make room for a heart that no young man suspected could beat beneath his chest.

I could never believe myself capable of the humility and servant-heartedness that is required to love an infant. It seemed a trick to find it in myself and when you deeply love your child it is a reward, even if not the end in itself. Somehow, all work and all sacrifice made for them seems like its own pleasure, and one has the sense that it is the baby who is doing you a favour. Or at least through him you can learn humility, gentleness, kindness, consideration, to be quiet and calm.

I’ve looked back and seen the way God has taught me through this ever expanding love for others, and the love itself was its own sort of lesson. Seeing that it has grown in me is proof of the hand of God growing and teaching and reproving in me. There is no other explanation, for I know that left to myself I would only crave chaos.

But here. My shaking hands with her smooth hands, his tiny hands held tight, I know at the bottom of this juggernaut heart that I have been made new.

Radical Forgiveness

“What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!’
Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”

Dear Lewis,

I do not propose to map out a method for the release of all hatred, malice, vengeance, and anger, but only to plead with you passionately on behalf of your soul. I have seen the world, and I have seen the way we humans get when we are together. The progression of technology that has brought us closer than ever, or more truly brought those of us already in agreement together, is a double-edged blade in itself.

I have tried to reintegrate myself into this world in careful measure but I admit to you now that I have ever and always the increasing inclination to reject wholeheartedly what I have seen called tolerance and social justice, “crying out against oppression” and forms of patriotism. I want to live somewhere I can no longer see the smoke of our cities burning. The online communities that have sprung up serve as a benefit to those who felt alone by replacing that feeling with one of being surrounded by many like-minded friends, all sympathetic, to their cause and station.

Now it is true that the foundation of all great sins are good things. The most passionate violence can stem from the deepest love. The motive, however, cannot redeem the action.

I cannot read the news. Every day there are people being ugly to one another in unimaginable ways. It hurts me but it does not anymore surprise me. Worse yet when a person of some importance is found guilty of something that was supposed to be “beyond him” there are two responses that I despise the most. The first is an arrogant declaration of the person’s guilt and how so-and-so knew all along they couldn’t be trusted, and he yells harshly “look at your God now!” They feel that they have been justice itself all along. A lone blind judge holding the balance.

The second response is similar and it is the response of those who take on the pain of others as a personal insult, as if they were owed righteousness from their famous ones. They, then, make it their personal goal to find and inform every person who will listen about the many horrible things the fallen person has done and replay and rehash until breathless every horrid thing, and in doing so shove their hands deep into the filth of the accused, and I think, take some joy from it.

Not so for you. You cannot judge the heart of man. If there is anything that I hope you learn from me it is to practice daily the forgiveness of the unforgivable. This is the greatest benefit to the shrinking of the globe. Now that you know who the worst people are in all the earth, think of them. Think of their faces before you. Look them in the eyes and wonder and pray and ask God how it is they came to take part in these things. Pray with tears and be thankful that whatever your lot in life was it hasn’t brought you to the place this person now dwells. Then, take pity. Console the victim. Encourage the downcast. But never take on the hate of this world for any cause. If you must rise up, rise up in justice, but never in anger or out of vengeance. I assure you it cannot be born without ruining you. Forgive the war criminal. Forgive the murderer. Forgive the liars, cheaters and the self-justified who would die without admitting their guilt. I say again you cannot bear the judgment for the sins of the world, for none is righteous.

This may seem impossible. But it is a practice that I think will serve you well. If these are your thoughts, then maybe, just maybe, you will in life be able to forgive your friends, and your family, and your neighbour, and possibly even yourself.