Month: February 2015

Broken Cisterns of Validation, Vindication, and Veneration

Inevitably, I find myself drinking from the rainwater cisterns of man. You’d think that the bitter taste of the water would help me see that I’m drinking from the wrong source, but I can drink there a while without realizing it. And sometimes, I drink there on purpose and enjoy receiving my satisfaction from what the cistern can give. I find myself craving 3 things: validation, vindication, and veneration. Where will I go to find them?

I want to be validated. I want my life to be substantiated, confirmed, and approved. I want to hear that my life is successful, fruitful, and valuable. I want to know that I’m not a loser. I want to believe that my life counts for something, both in the here and now and into eternity. Yet I easily seek to measure these things by worldly standards. How prestigious is my job? (and this is not just in a corporate America sense, but also for people esteemed by others for their full-time ministry positions). How much money am I making? (especially when the salary goes down at every new turn in life rather than up). Where am I living? (do I own a house, or at least can I rent an apartment, or I am unable to even manage that?) What do other people think of me and say about my life and how successful it is? Do I measure up? But by these standards, it looks as though I’ll never achieve validation. The cistern is broken and the water does not satisfy.

I want to be vindicated. I want to know that the choices and decisions I’ve made were the right ones, especially when they made my life harder rather than easier. I want confirmation that I’m going in the right direction. I want to know that I’m on the right track. Yet again, I look to the circumstances of my life or the chorus of public opinion for the vindication I crave. The cistern is broken and the water does not satisfy.

I want to be venerated. What do people think of me and say about me? As much as I am repulsed and embarrassed by kind acknowledgements, there’s another part of me that likes it. Oh please, don’t embarrass me by saying nice things (err…but please keep saying them!). What twisted hearts we have, the holy and the heinous both residing there. I want to be good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, godly enough, successful enough, etc. And I look to people to feed me what I desire. The cistern is broken and the water does not satisfy.

In its commentary on Jeremiah 2:13, the ESV Study Bible says this: “Palestine has three sources of water: the best is fresh running water, such as flows from a spring or stream, which is called ‘living water’ (Hb. mayim khayyim); next comes ground water, such as might collect in a well; and last is runoff water collected in a cistern…thus in Jeremiah’s image, not only have the Israelites traded the best of water supplies for the worst, but their cistern is broken, with all its water leaked out and nothing but sludge remaining. Their covenant infidelity is not just ungrateful and unnatural; it is also foolish. It leaves them without help in the coming difficult days.”

It reminds me of another woman looking for water. We seem very different on the outside, but perhaps we’re not so different after all. We meet her in John 4, where she meets Jesus. She came looking for physical water, but Jesus changed her life by giving her the living water of salvation and eternal life. In John 7:37-39, Jesus cried out to the crowds to receive this living water, the Holy Spirit who would indwell believers and empower them continually from the inside out.

And faith is not a one-time drinking, but rather, repeatedly going to drink from the living waters that only Jesus gives. It’s continually recognizing the tendency to drink from the wrong place. The cistern will not satisfy my desires for validation, vindication, and veneration. And even if it did, it would just be a pleasant-feeling deception. I have no validation in and of myself. Only in union with Christ and a life-direction of glorifying God does true validation of my life take place. Not in the world’s eyes and according to superficial standards, but in God’s eyes. Better to be considered invalid by the world than to be considered invalid by God, and better to be validated by God than validated by the world. Only in union with Christ will I be vindicated, because I actually don’t deserve vindication outside of Him. I deserve condemnation, but through faith in Jesus, He is my vindication before the Father. And whoever trusts in Him will not be put to shame. So I make my decisions and live my life with an aim to do what I believe is pleasing to Him, as best as any human being knows how to do. Because ultimately, His opinion is the only one that matters. Better to be vindicated in the eyes of God than vindicated in the eyes of the world. And only in union with Jesus do I remember that veneration for myself is not the right pursuit. God is to receive veneration, and I am to offer worship to Him for His worthiness, and live so as to receive His commendation of having been a good and faithful servant. Praise from the world is a lame and pathetic substitute for praise from God.

So may we seek mayim khayyim in the only place it can be found: the triune God.

How a Stranger is Changing my Life

I don’t know what she looks like. I don’t know whether she’s tall or short, what color her hair is, or what her laugh sounds like. But a woman I’ve never met is changing my life. You might wonder how this could be possible… the answer is simple: she has been praying for me almost every single day for about two years now.

I know very little about her besides her name (which is Gayle). We are connected through our mutual friend Betty, who has been a steadfast and faithful friend to me. She and Gayle have prayed for me almost every single night.

Prayer is hard work, especially prayer for others. We are all fairly motivated to pray for our own needs, problems, and desires, since obviously we’re the ones being benefited by the prayers. But praying for others, especially with any consistency, is hard. In fact, I think that the ministry of prayer is one of the most humble ways we can serve each other in the body of Christ. After all, when we encourage someone through our words or our works, our labors on others’ behalf are fairly conspicuous. People will know that we took time to serve and help them, and we’re more likely to be thanked for our investment. But prayer? That’s a different story. For the most part, we’re completely unaware when another person is sacrificing time with their friends and family, hobbies, relaxation, or work, to knock on heaven’s door not for their own needs, but for ours. Since what they do is in secret, they’re not likely to get thanked or praised. Their reward will come from the God who sees in secret.

Life events over the past few years have caused me to see the reality of spiritual warfare with new clarity. We really do have an enemy, he really does desire to destroy our faith, and we can come treacherously close to wanting to give up. Of course, God is the sovereign one, but I believe that He uses means, and that Gayle and Betty’s prayers have been one aspect of God’s means of preserving me in the faith.

Ultimately, this displays the glory of Jesus Christ in His ministry of prayer for us. In John 17, we see Jesus praying to the Father for those who belong to Him. And in the book of Hebrews, we see His ongoing ministry as our High Priest, interceding for us, as does the Holy Spirit.

It’s hard for me to fathom how someone who doesn’t even know me has been such a faithful friend in prayer for me. But I am convinced that one day in the glories of the new heavens and earth, I will see just how much my life was preserved and protected through her prayers. And until then, I hope to become a woman like her: full of the character of Jesus Christ that I too might labor in prayer for someone I’ve never met.

Antiques Roadshow and the Judgment Seat of Christ

It was one of my geekier moments. I had seen a flier at the local library for a free antiques appraisal, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to bring in some jewelry and art I’d received from my grandparents. I rolled out of bed early on a Saturday morning, packed my treasures into reusable bags, and drove to the library.

After arriving, I sat down and started people-watching while I waited for my number to be called. I saw all types of interesting items: an antique wooden rocking horse, an enormous Asian art scroll, and a commemorative plate of American presidents. Some of the items were pretty, some were interesting, and some were downright ugly.

The most surprising part of the whole experience was listening to the values assigned by the appraisers. Some of the items that looked beautiful in my estimation were worth relatively little, and some were worth nothing at all. On the other hand, some items that looked like garage sale rejects were valued as worth thousands of dollars.

The valuations seemed so unexpected, so counterintuitive. In that moment, I realized that my observations pointed to a more significant reality: how we tend to see and judge our lives may be quite different from how the Lord will see and judge our lives one day. Scripture clearly teaches that believers will be judged, though not for our right to stand in God’s presence and dwell with Him (for Christ has accomplished that on our behalf). However, our works will be tested, and rewards will be given based on God’s appraisal system. And this appraisal system may be quite different from our human appraisal system.

Young moms: do your days of dirty diapers and laundry seem less valuable than a fruitful workplace career or church ministry? Pastors: does your faithful preaching to a small congregation seem less valuable than being a well-known pastor writing books and speaking at conferences? Employees: does your diligence in your boring job seem less valuable than a fulfilling career that impacts the world in concrete and tangible ways? Sick ones: does your confinement in your home or hospital bed seem less valuable than a life of busy activity? Believers: does your present circumstance tempt you to feel as though you’re having very little impact for God’s kingdom, and is a grand departure from the script you would have written?

Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Appraiser. He alone will define what is of great value and what is relatively worthless. And simple acts of faith and obedience done in relative obscurity may rank far above what seem to be grandiose acts done before a stage of observers. So take heart, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. And you just may be surprised one day at the true value God places on your perseverance in the seemingly small things.

Blank Check or Invisible Ink?

Most of us are familiar with the concept of giving the Lord a “blank check” with our lives. The blank check metaphor communicates our desire for everything in our lives and our future to be at the Lord’s choosing and disposal… our pursuits, direction, decisions, etc. Usually this is not a one-time event, but a prayer that is repeated throughout our lives as we fight to seek His kingdom above our selfish pursuits. And this fight, of course, is a good thing. The Lord calls us to deny ourselves and submit ourselves to His rule, His plans, and His desires. And Scripture makes plain that He is a sovereign God who has ordained the good works that we should walk in, and controls all the sweet and bitter providences of our lives.

In the past, I have truly thought that I had offered the Lord a blank check. But lately, I am beginning to see that the metaphorical blank check I handed over is laden with invisible ink. Though I’ve never tried it, I have seen on TV how a “secret message” can be written in lemon juice, and by exposing the paper to heat, the words that had previously been invisible on the “empty” sheet of paper begin to appear seemingly out of nowhere. In a similar way, the “heat” of trials in life have revealed some stipulations I had written on the check without consciously realizing it.

Apparently, the Lord could do whatever He wanted in my life (and here comes the invisible part)… but only (fill in the blank) or as long as (fill in the blank). For example, the Lord could inflict me with sickness and disability, but only to a certain degree and for a certain length of time. Or, the Lord could keep me single, as long as eventually I got married. Or perhaps, the Lord could call me into any kind of ministry and career anywhere, as long as I found it interesting, fulfilling, or important. I thought I had given a blank check, when in fact, I began to see all over the check the invisible ink of a comprehensive contract which I was expecting God to keep. And only the heat of life revealed it.

What’s written in the invisible ink of your own heart and life? In what ways do you need to surrender the story of your life again to the Lord? As you consider, be sure of this: though each of us has written a “bad check” so to speak, there is One whose perfect check has been fully accepted. He wrote a true blank check to His Father, submitting to His will at every point because of His love for the Father. And in return, the Father was pleased to accept His offering and apply it to the bank accounts of those who trust in Him. Jesus has done what we could not do, and through His Spirit, empowers us to become more like Him. One day at a time, we can purge the invisible ink, offering ourselves in greater measure to Him, trusting that the investment of faith and obedience is worth every penny in heaven’s economy.