clay.

it seems to me that there are two different ways we can respond to things, but namely to God and the things He commands: submission or defiance.

defiance sounds like such a harsh word, especially when it seems like something isn’t a big deal, when it seems more like simple disobedience. it seems like a harsh word when disobedience seems like the thing that comes more easily, and more in line with our nature (news flash: we have a bit of a nature for disobedience, anyway…)

it doesn’t seem like defiance if you choose to go a different route than your GPS suggests to go home. and this is, of course, a bad analogy, because i can buy that we may know the better route given traffic at certain times of day – but consider this: God isn’t a faulty GPS who only sees the shortest possible distance and doesn’t account for traffic. no, God is supremely wise, supremely good, supremely sovereign, and it seems to me that the things He commands His people is always – EXCLUSIVELY – leading to life.

He’s a Father who gives good gifts to His kids. (Matt. 7:11)

He’s the God whose word illuminates the path of those who hear it and welcome it. (Psalm 119:105)

He’s the God who makes known the path of life (Psalm 16:11)

He’s the God who will one day wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 7:17)

He’s the God who sent His Son to make a way for all to live eternally with Him (John 3:16)

He’s the God who Authors our salvation (Hebrews 12:2)

He’s a Potter, and we are clay. (Isaiah 64:8.)

As the song says, He’s a good, good Father. His way always leads to life. His way often confounds us, His way rarely (if ever) makes sense according to the way that most people think, but that doesn’t change His goodness. This is perhaps the hardest thing to understand, and i can attest to its difficulty. i can testify to some of the very distracted prayers we lift up to Him because it’s hard to see past our circumstance – whether that’s loneliness, financial struggle, a lack of a clear direction, loss of something or someone near and dear – i get that. i’ve been there, too.

i get the temptation to lean away, and not to lean in. that’s instinctive.

here’s what i know: stuff happens. pain happens. hurt happens. loss happens. and i know how tempting it is to believe that in a life with God, none of this should happen. technically, you’re right – in the garden, before sin came in, none of it did happen. but then sin happened, and it does happen.

but that doesn’t mean we just consign ourselves to that reality forever and curse God for it by in our inaction and disobedience. all through Job and the Psalms, we find these “how long” statements – how long will my enemies triumph over me? how long will You crush me? how long must i be sorrowful? how long will You just stand there and look? how long will other people get the better of me?

you know, God has His fair share of “how long” statements, too – how long will y’all refuse to obey what I’ve commanded you? how long will you refuse to go into the land I’ve promised you? how long will you refuse to humble yourselves before me? how long will you grumble against me? how long will you keep wavering between two options? how long will you keep holding on to your wicked thoughts?

now, the good news (as has already been alluded to) is that this isn’t just a combative, continuous back-and-forth blame game between us and God. even if this was a fair exchange of grievances, God decided to step in and settle it Himself in the form of Jesus.

the curse of sin, in which this age-old back-and-forth of “how long?” is rooted, is lifted through Jesus because of His perfect life and substitutionary sacrifice; because of the fact that He – sinless and perfect and complete – was punished as one of us, who are sinful and imperfect and incomplete, so that we’d have a way back into this eternal life, this eternal wholeness, this eternal shalom – peace, harmony, wholeness – the world the way it’s supposed to be.

the main reason i’m writing today is to hopefully encourage you – i think there’s deep joy in embracing our role as clay in the hand of the Potter. i think there’s freedom in letting go of control, of releasing the pressure to make everything happen yourself, in trusting that God always has our best in mind – not to imply that our lives will be perfect now, but that He’s leading us in the way everlasting, til the day He makes the world new again, and the curse of sin, death, and suffering will be lifted forever.

that promise is worth the cost of faithfulness now.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)

bricks.

You make known to me the path of life;

in Your presence there is fullness of joy;

at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11.)

 

i think i wrote about something similar to this my last time on the blog: fall has gone from being one of my most hated seasons to one of my favorites. i’m a sucker for cold mornings and evenings, with warm days and afternoons. i’m a sucker for playoff baseball, college football, and a pumpkin spice latte. i’m a sucker for wearing my jacket. so you’ll forgive my exuberance at this time of year, dear reader, because on certain days my heart feels so full of joy that it could burst.

especially lately.

now, i’m not of the mind that God is only interested in our happiness – that is by no means true. i think holiness supersedes happiness and i think it is dangerous to think otherwise. however, i am of the mind that sometimes God gifts us with our favorite things to remind us He’s faithful. i’m of the mind that God loves us through His people, and often times we can experience an emotional sensation of the love of God because of certain people who are around; and i’m of the mind that the heavens declare the glory of God and we can be convinced/reminded of the love and faithfulness of God in the form of a beautiful sunrise, a cool summer breeze, or a chilly fall evening.

i spent an afternoon about a month or two ago at the Arboretum (one of my favorite Lexington spots) sitting by a tree with my bible, journal, and some worship music in my ears. as the ideal July (let’s just assume it was July, anyway) afternoon – complete with a cloudless sky and mild chill – passed by, i was reminded of the numerous conversations i’ve had at the Arboretum: the countless times my dear friend Jess and i sat by the “crying tree” and discussed boy/girl problems and our thoughts on certain parts of Christian culture; the time that Sean and i talked by another tree about the transitions we were both in and how doggone hard it is to write a book; the few Bible studies i’d had there; and from there, i got to thinking about how many amazing, incredible people that God has/had put in my life, especially in the last year.

(i don’t know where you’re at, reader. my hope is that this portion of my story provides you with deep encouragement.)

at the end of the year 2015, i was pretty broken, pretty lonely. i’ve written about it many times in past blogs, so i will not prolong the point, but – i had largely turned my back on the church, i was pretty much alone. i lived in a cramped apartment that i hated, and i was pretty happy with my job but still had my days where i needed/wanted to get away from it. i still wrote a fair share, which is probably how i coped, but what i really needed and wanted was community, a sense of friendship. this continued more or less all through 2016. everyone felt at an arm’s length – there were people that i worked with, people i served, and people i occasionally grabbed a beer with, but there weren’t many folks that i really knew, or who knew me (not to mention that i felt pretty self-estranged, given some of the stuff that happened in 2015.)

put simply, i needed a friend or few.

pretty amazing how God sometimes lets us get desperate for something so that we know that it’s He who comes through. someone shared that thought with me this week – that even Adam in the garden was given time to be alone so that it became clear that he needed someone else around.

at the beginning of this year, it seems that God opened the floodgates of friends. He took me from a very select few (outside of co-workers) to introducing me to a massive group of young adults in Lexington. my “base” blew up pretty quickly, and it wasn’t long until i had a number of things i could do every week on almost any night of the week, usually with a swath of people.

this reality has been overwhelming me lately in the best possible way. the other day i had a dream in which i got to see and embrace a very old friend until the point we cried. funnily enough, the next day i got to see a bunch of folks i hadn’t seen a few months, and then that weekend, folks from Berea that i hadn’t seen in years. i actually did weep on the way out of that gathering – partly out of pride for seeing how well these people were doing and how much some of them had grown; partially out of gratitude that i got to call them friends and gratitude that i got to see them again, and partly out of an overwhelming sense of joy that God has enriched this extrovert with so many incredible people, both back home (where i’m from) and in Lexington (new home.)

see, i guess the point i’m getting at is not so much how lucky i am (although that is true, and i could go on and on about the things that have filled me with both happiness and deep joy) but maybe let’s talk about the role that we are meant to play in each other’s lives.

i’m gonna take a liberty or two in my interpretation of scripture real quick (although i may not need to do so.) in Ephesians 4, Paul’s talking to the church about how God gave the different types of ministers – apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers – for the sake of equipping the saints to do the work of ministry. my stretch here is that maybe we can just lump those five-fold ministry gifts together and say that God gave us each other (whether you’re an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a shepherd, or a teacher) as a whole to equip and encourage and spur one another on for Kingdom work. i don’t know about you, but i find myself (even subconsciously) responding in light of this call from Paul, in the sense that when i find myself around God’s people, i’m more and more encouraged to do God’s work. in other words, the reason God gives us each other is to settle once and for all the question of whether or not we’re loved so that we can move on to Kingdom work. Hebrews backs this up in chapter 12, verse 1 – since we’re surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses, let’s lay aside every weight…and run the race that’s before us.

i’m convinced that this is the role we play for each other – we testify to each other of God’s goodness, love, and faithfulness so that we can all go forward with Kingdom work. i’ve been searching for an analogy, but the best one i can come up with is this: i think we’re like bricks. every brick in a building has four bricks around it – it has a brick that supports it, a brick on either side, and a brick that it upholds. together, each one playing its role, they form a building, in this case – the house of God.