And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17
Today marks the first day of Lent. Observing Lent has not been part of my tradition, just as Advent has not been. I wrote a blog about Lent a decade ago, so I guess it’s time again.
Many churches observe the imposition of ashes, with these words: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is a reference to the judgement pronounced on Adam in Genesis 3:19 after his rebellion to God’s command.
I’ve never participated in that particular ritual, but the allusion to the Genesis creation account resonated with me today.
I’ve been meditating on how little salvation means to me. I don’t mean that I don’t care. My words will say that Jesus’ death for my sins is the most important thing in the universe. Yet my heart has a hard time feeling it. I have to conclude from this that I’m just not that convicted about my sin. I’m a pretty good guy; let’s face it, we Pharisees have a lot to be proud of. That’s not to say that I reject the doctrine that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), but to me sin is just a word I use to describe myself in the abstract. It doesn’t touch me viscerally.
If you read God’s command to Adam honestly, you have to say, “Really? Eating from that tree carries a death sentence? What kind of power trip are you on? How can it be such a big deal?” Maybe the Queen of Hearts might say such a thing, but the loving creator of the universe?
Chances are, unless I am unique, some similar kind of rationalization of your sin continues to this day. “Yes, I was harsh to my spouse/child/employee/boss, but they pushed me too far.” “No, I didn’t give my employer a full day’s work, but I worked harder than most of the others.” “Of course I took some office supplies home; no one really cares.” And so it goes. We don’t see sin as really that terrible. Certainly not worthy of death. So it’s hard to connect emotionally with the idea that I deserve eternal torment for my life.
The problem is, my standard is not the one I’m accountable to. God’s standard is clear. From the beginning, the wages of sin have been death (Romans 6:23). What we miss as we gloss over the Genesis account is that Adam’s actions were high treason against the Kingdom (rule, authority, dominion) of God. While Adam was given dominion over the creation, he himself remained subject to his creator. In defying the only prohibition given to him, he removed himself from under that authority and placed himself on equal footing with the Lord of Hosts.
Not convinced? High treason is a crime that undermines the offender’s government, or criminal disloyalty to one’s country. This pretty accurately describes the actions of Adam and Eve. Under English common law, punishment for treason generally included drawing, hanging, beheading, and quartering. All at once? That sounds harsh. Is that really what sin is? Connect the dots for me.
When the serpent tempted the woman, she countered with a more-or-less accurate representation of the command. The serpent flatly contradicted God in asserting, “You will not surely die.” (Genesis 3:4). So now they were faced with the choice of remaining in obedience to God, submitting to his rule and authority, or of believing the serpent and grabbing all the gusto. In rejecting God’s command, they rejected his authority, his right to make the rules. They set themselves up as independent, superior authorities. In other words, they said, “I know what you said God, but I have a better idea. My way is better than yours.”
Not much has changed in 10,000 years. Rebellion is so entrenched in our nature that we hardly even blink in the face of it. Some popular parenting advice even advocates for it in children as a sign of a healthy development. Speed limits are “suggestions”. Red lights are a challenge to see how many more cars can squeeze through. Homework is optional. Rebellion is good. You shall not surely die.
In pulling my focus back to the garden and the pronouncement “for dust you are and to dust you will return,” (Genesis 3:19) I am challenged at the beginning of this Lenten season to change my thinking about my rebellion, my sin, my treason. I must begin by embracing how utterly and completely I have earned my death sentence. I need to hate sin with the hatred of a holy, perfect God, and confess (agree with him) that I deserve a punishment as least as severe as the most heinous criminal I can think of. Only then will I be able to glimpse the magnitude of the grace that has been given to me.
Easter is the celebration of the fact that “it is finished” (paid in full) was attested to by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). My gratitude will be directly proportional to the extent to which I believe I deserve the judgement that was poured out on Jesus on the cross. The more I acknowledge the heinousness of my treason, the greater will my appreciation be for being redeemed from my just sentence of death.
Some time back, as an action point for a sermon (and apologies to my pastor, I have no clue what the sermon was about), we were challenged to pray through five different psalms during the week. It was a very encouraging exercise; many of the psalms were familiar and it was sweet to meditate through them with the Lord. But one particularly grabbed my heart.
I Have Calmed and Quieted My Soul A Song of Ascents. Of David.
The Psalms of Ascent were sung on the approach to the temple in Jerusalem. They are songs designed to prepare the heart for worship, to rightly orient the heart of the worshipper towards the God of Israel. Intentional preparation for worship is a good thing; too much of our daily, secular lives take our attention away from the Divine, from the God of our Salvation. Purposeful reorienting is incredibly valuable.
Over the past week or two, my wife and I have been memorizing and meditating on Psalm 131 as a call to worship before we pray. It’s a very short psalm, only 3 verses, but it is packed with incredible depth and wisdom. Walk through it with me, and allow me to unpack it.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
A lifted up heart speaks of pride. The best antidote to pride is to look at someone better [smarter, wiser, kinder, richer, funnier, prettier,…] than me. Coming before the Ruler of Heaven and Earth makes it pretty easy; I don’t have to look any farther. No matter how highly I may regard myself, in comparison to God I am nothing.
There is a big difference between humility and humiliation, though. They both come from a root meaning “low” but humility is the state of being low (in heart), whereas humiliation is the act of being (publicly) brought low, or shamed. Humility is a place where I can (should) hang out; I don’t have to make much of myself because God has already made much of me, by redeeming me from my sin and adopting me into his family.
On the other hand, there is security in being humble before God, because he will never humiliate or shame me (Ps 51:17).
my eyes are not raised too high;
Related to the posture of the heart is the focus of the eyes. In part, this also speaks to humility; in the hierarchical society of David’s day, the lesser would look down, or avert their eyes from the greater. Looking down was a sign of deference. Not raising my eyes “too high” is a declaration of knowing my place before God.
At least in our modern day, the aim of the eyes is also aspirational. Goals are a good thing, but we do not want to be like Satan (Is 14:13) and set our eyes on something that belongs to another. Neither do we want to devote ourselves to unattainable goals. Such goals would be frustrating and destructive.
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
Simply put, I don’t worry about things I can’t control. But the language is much richer than that.
The word translated great speaks of magnitude, intensity, or importance. Some things are just overwhelming. It is also used in relation to age (older). Think of how we preserve the innocence of children, by not exposing them to things too great for them.
Similarly, the word translated marvelous speaks of things that are too difficult, beyond my power. It is the same word used in Gen 18:14, when Sarah laughs at the prospect of bearing a child in her old age. To her doubt, God asks, “Is anything too marvelous for the Lord?”
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
The heart is prone to worry, but worry is the enemy of worship. I must choose where my mind dwells, and on what I spend my energy. The psalmist’s example is to choose to “stay in my lane” and leave the big stuff to God. Easy enough to say, but how about some help here?
like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Weaning in David’s time occurred sometime between the age of 2 and 5. Remember that Hannah brought Samuel to live with Levi at the tabernacle after he was weaned, so we aren’t talking about a swaddled infant here. Consider such a child, somewhere between toddler and rambunctious little boy (three of my grandchildren are currently in this age, so the picture is vivid for me).
These are not calm and quiet children. They are perpetual motion machines, a seemingly inexhaustible source of energy that, could it be harnessed would solve all of the worlds energy needs. Yet this energy defies harnessing; rather, they are chaos engines wreaking havoc and destruction wherever they go.
Except… let one of them become hurt, tired, hungry, or afraid and there is just one place they want to be, safely snuggled in momma’s arms. Whatever the injury, a kiss and a hug allows them to release the pain and regain their security that the world is a safe place. How? An unshakable faith in Mother’s ability to make it right; a bedrock knowledge of Mother’s fierce love; this is what calms the weaned child.
Here, then, is the clue on how to calm myself. Instead of churning and fretting over things I have no business with, I throw them down and run to my God, who truly is able to make them right, and who loves me more deeply (Rom 5:8) and more fiercely than any mother ever did.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
Biblical hope is not wishful thinking, like “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” The word translated hope here has a root meaning of waiting. In the more intensive Piel form here, it means to wait (expectantly) for.
Contrast what the psalmist admonishes with how we normally hope. We set our hope in an outcome: a test score, a promotion, a healthy child, secure retirement. Instead, Israel (and by extension, all who worship the living God) is to hope in a person, the covenant God of Abraham. I can’t help but be reminded of C.S. Lewis’ classic quote:
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
C.S. Lewis, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”
Have you ever been on a long trip? It may have been a wonderful time, perhaps seeing new things or relaxing in a beautiful location, or it might have been difficult and emotionally or physically exhausting. It doesn’t seem to matter the nature of the trip, as it approaches its conclusion and the closer you get to home, the more urgently you long to be home.
My wife was returning from an extended visit with her parents. Unfortunately, the only way to get from there to here is to go through Chicago. As any seasoned traveler knows, avoid flying through Chicago, at all costs. This was one of those trips that proved the rule.
Weather closed in on the airport, and all flights were delayed. And delayed. And delayed again. After many hours, a young child lay down on the floor and kicked her feet, screaming “I. Just. Want. To. Go. Home!” Everyone in the terminal identified with her.
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:23
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead changed everything. While he made it clear during his earthly ministry that he was not seeking to establish an earthly kingdom, his disciples were steeped in Jewish prophecies and tradition about the Messiah sitting on the throne of David. It is my personal belief that his disciples followed him in a continual state of bewilderment, not entirely knowing what he was doing, but wanting to be in the middle of it, whatever it was.
When he rose from the dead, the pieces started to click into place. Their dashed hopes were renewed, and again they looked towards David’s throne (Acts 1:6-7), but instead of meeting their expectations, he sent them to Jerusalem and ascended to heaven. Instead, angels gave them a new hope (Acts 1:11), one of his return.
From the very beginning, the church lived in eager anticipation of the return of Jesus. Especially as persecution increased, there was little about the present age that could attract them more than a returning, triumphant, reigning Christ. Their hearts and minds were eagerly set upon the imminent return of Jesus (Revelation 22:20).
In the centuries since that time, however, the urgency of Jesus’ return has waned. Christians still hold it as a doctrinal tenet, but it does not occupy the forefront of our thinking, like it did in the early church. Especially in the United States, where life is prosperous and filled with various delights to occupy our time and dull our affections, few give more than a passing thought to what comes after this life. We say we believe in heaven, but live as if it isn’t real.
“Belief” can have an interesting dichotomy. There are the things that I hold to be true in my mind, my “objective” belief, and there is the way I live day to day, my “practical” belief. It is strange how easily we accommodate incongruity in these two perspectives.
Most Christians will profess a belief in the resurrection from the dead into eternal glory and communion with God through Jesus. The Bible teaches that in heaven there will be no more mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4). That sounds pretty appealing right now.
Practically, though, we live as if that is not true. I was a young teen in the wake of the Jesus Movement. Youth groups were focused on the rapture of the church, and I remember thinking “Jesus could come again any day… but please God, not before …” [some not-yet experience]. In wanting to delay the coming of Christ, I was implicitly asserting that the temporal experience to which I was looking forward was of greater value than the experience of eternity in the presence of God.
What about death? For the Christian, death is understood to be nothing more than passing through a doorway from temporal life to eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:8). It is my observation that most people have a visceral dread of dying; many refuse even to talk about it, even when it is a near-term practical consideration. Some insist in using euphemisms, such as “passing” rather than face the starkness of saying someone “died”.
I am not at all saying we should do anything to hasten it along; God has numbered my days, and as long as my heart still beats and my lungs draw air, I will live for him. I am saying that we should actually believe that what comes after this life is better than anything we have ever known (for those who are in Christ), and not face death with fear. To be clear, death is an enemy, but one who Jesus has vanquished. In rising from the dead, he demonstrated that the power of death was broken.
At this point, I should emphasize that if you are not in Christ, you have no such hope; you should fear death and eternity because you are dead in your sins. The good news, though, is that by ending your rebellion to God and surrendering to his love, forgiveness, and sovereignty you can be “transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11
More practically, what occupies your attention? Are you building for yourself an earthly kingdom, pursuing wealth, power, status? Are you driven to obtain comfort and entertainment? When Peter says “passions of the flesh” he is describing a focus on temporal, material satisfaction. While to some extent, these things are a necessary aspect of temporal, material existence, the desire for them is at odds with having an eternal perspective. As Paul writes, being focused on these things is being hostile to God (Romans 8:7).
Can I invite you to a change of perspective, “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2)? Remember this is a journey, whose destination has not been reached yet. The end (purpose) of this journey is the glory of God (Ephesians 1:13-15).
Your objective should not be to improve your seat on the journey; rather it should be to make sure the journey itself is successful. That is, that whatever you do, do it for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.
Psalm 61:1-3, KJV
(technology defeated me; I tried to hide this at the bottom and auto-play it, but it just won’t work; give it a click and read on)
In the early 90s, the majority of the music we sang in church was simply scripture set to music. Of course, music is a powerful mnemonic device, but I believe it is the power of God’s word that has cemented the words of these songs in my mind, heart, and spirit. Even today, the phrase “and when my heart is overwhelmed…” is likely to arise, unbidden, from my unconscious, set to Kent Henry’s 1993 music.
However, if I’m truthful, my heart is rarely overwhelmed. I’d like to say it is the fruit of walking with God for nearly 6 decades. I like that a lot; sounds very spiritual. My faith in God is just so strong that no matter how bad things get, I trust in him. Yeah, that sounds like something a Pharisee would say.
Maybe it’s the survival instinct of chronic illness that closes down before anything gets too intense. My mother said that she knew something was wrong before she knew something was wrong, because she watched me pull into myself before the physical symptoms were evident. I’m not sure I ever really came out.
Or perhaps my sinful, broken heart just doesn’t feel like it should. A couple of relatedblogs I read recently suggest that the more we love, the more injustice offends us. A child starves in Africa and I can cluck my tongue, wag my finger, and say piously, “someone should do something about that.” But let my child be wronged, and my righteous anger will flare and I will gird my loins for battle.
That, perhaps, hints at another reason my heart isn’t overwhelmed. I can more easily mask pain with anger, lashing out, scorching the earth before me, than I can allow myself to feel the full weight of the evil that confronts me. I am skilled at anger, and a warrior at heart; let me go to battle and deal with the feelings later. Except I never do.
Recently, I’ve been glimpsing hints of overwhelmed. One of my friends is an incredibly gentle and caring woman. She has been visited by enormous and repeated grief, and is facing it yet again. As we have been praying for her family member, we cannot help but also pray for her. I begin to taste the magnitude of her pain; suddenly the word “overwhelmed” is no longer an abstract poetic verse, but a tumultuous storm threatening to wash away everything in its path.
Similarly, the unrest coming out of Minneapolis is a stark reminder that too many in my country are still marginalized, dehumanized, belittled, and abused. It is too easy to allow this not to touch me as I sit enthroned in my basement cyber-kingdom. It is too easy to allow the anarchy, riots, and violence to drown out the outrage. Appropriate outrage. Overwhelming outrage.
So this is where we come to hope: “When my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Being overwhelmed means that it is too much for you to bear; too much for you to hold. Overwhelmed is the storm surge rising, a tornado uprooting trees, a mudslide erasing houses. It is a God-sized problem. You need a God-sized God.
I still remember vividly, in the midst of my deepest despair and the excruciating pain that seemed like it would never end, the mental image of me clinging to God like a young child might wrap himself around his father’s leg. When life is more than you can bear, stop bearing it alone. As a rock is immovable in a storm, so God can weather the storms of your life.
“For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.” Trust is built from experience. Like the psalmist, I have lived long enough to have enough experience to know that God is faithful. This isn’t self-righteous Pharisee-speak; it is the first-hand voice of experience. God has shown himself faithful to me and through me.
I’m no longer content to hide from the powerful pain and sorrow that is unavoidable in this world. I’m learning to only fight the battles my commander tells me to, but that leaves me open and vulnerable. The best place to hide is in the tower of my God.
Always simple, never easy. SDG.
Some other links that are worth reading. This is not an exhaustive list, but just some of the best that came across my path.
And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances,[a] but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius[b] and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.
Jesus was no stranger to controversy. People in his day were not so very different from people today. It’s not particularly surprising that his opponents tried to get the government to do their dirty work. In fact, modern liberal “theologians” maintain that Jesus was actually executed by the Romans as an insurrectionist, and not in accordance with God’s plan as the atoning sacrifice for sin.
However, Jesus did not get embroiled in earthly debates. You see, who governs earthly kingdoms is of little consequence in God’s eternal story. Debates about laws and taxes and such will not determine your eternal destiny, and rarely result in God’s glory being magnified. So when asked to take a stand on a hot-button political topic in Jewish society, Jesus articulated a crucial, eternal truth: those who control earthly kingdoms have the right to make the rules of those kingdoms. But God, who controls the eternal, spiritual kingdom, makes the rules of that kingdom. Both deserve their due, and must be served.
This post isn’t about politics and such, although there is certainly much in the current political landscape that deserves comment. In fact, I have purposely avoided political issues in this blog; not because there isn’t much that I could say, but more because in the limited opportunities I do have to speak, I prefer to focus attention on my God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Rather, this post serves as explanation about my decision to leave Facebook. The short version, for those who don’t want to read on, is that I am no longer willing to subject myself to Facebook’s one-sided editorial policy, that emphasizes the liberal echo-chamber and silences dissenting views. I don’t begrudge Facebook their right to do with their platform as they wish; I just exercise my freedom not to participate. This in no way speaks judgement on those who choose to continue; this is my personal decision and it is right for me. For those who choose to continue the fight, you have my support and encouragement.
The Gory Details
It is a simple fact that the Facebook “feed” is a never-ending firehose of content. Just trying to keep up with your family and friends is an impossible task. Even if you were to maintain a continual presence, reading every story as it appeared, you would miss some. So, when a casual user opens Facebook a couple of times a day, what stories do they see?
We’ll Decide What You See
Facebook has sophisticated algorithms that deliver customized content to you based on a number of factors. They consider your past history, who your friends are, and other things. If you respond to a particular friend’s post, you are more likely to see posts from that friend. They use your Google history (ever notice that you search for something and moments later see an ad for it on your Facebook feed?). They also monitor pictures posted by your contacts, running image recognition algorithms and helpfully offer to tag you in the pictures in which you appear.
All of this curation of content is designed to help you sift through the vast ocean of data and focus on the posts you are most interested in. For the most part, it provides a satisfactory experience.
However, in the 2016 presidential campaign, Facebook became a nexus for dire warnings about “fake news”, particularly when it came to light that Russian agents purchased ads targeting particular demographics, posting stories with little or questionable support. Since that time, society has grappled with the reality that the internet is an unmoderated forum, where anyone can publish anything.
In 2019, Tristan Harris testified before Congress. In his testimony, he asserted that platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are driven to get “market share” and the market is your attention. Their research and empirical data show that polarization and extremism are the fastest way to keep a user engaged. In his words, these platforms are “outrage amplifiers” that move users away from calm and towards “crazy town”.
Illusion of Intimacy
To this point, I hope nothing I’ve said is surprising or controversial to you. Hopefully you are just nodding your head, as all of this matches your experience. So why, you may be wondering, am I now deciding to jump ship? I mean, Facebook is a marvelous way of re-connecting with people from your past. Certainly, I have been able to “connect” with folks from high school and college who were important to me. I likely would never have made contact with them if not for the pervasive reach of Facebook.
Unfortunately, for the most part these contacts are unsatisfactory. Some people I care deeply about, people who were a major part of my life in the past, just don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to connect with me on the deeper level that I crave. I long to sit down over dinner, one-on-one and get to know who they are now, how their lives have changed, and where they are going. That doesn’t happen on social media.
Others are consumed by posting hate-mongering click-bait. It is painful to endure the constant onslaught of vitriol. While I admit that I’m a bit more tolerant of the posts that more closely align with my positions, I’m just not a fan of incitement, unless it is to “[incite] one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
With some people, I have the illusion of contact. I see as you post pictures of your family, advertise your business, give your inspirational sayings. These don’t offend me, but neither do they provide the necessary grist of shared experiences that produce real relationship.
Fake News (aka, Points of View We Don’t Agree With)
What has pushed me over the edge is Facebook’s decision to protect the sheeples from misleading information, and to become the sole arbiter of what is and is not true. The problem with Facebook’s “fact checking” is that no one is fact-checking the fact checkers. What ostensibly should be an objective and straight-forward process is inherently flawed by the biases and brokenness that humans bring to the equation.
A friend posted this article, describing the Facebook fact check of the Epoch Times film on Coronavirus. Regardless of the factuality of the film (and frankly, I don’t much care how or where Coronavirus stared), the flaws in the fact check are disturbing.
Recently, I shared a video from PragerU. In it, Michael Knowles and Ben Shapiro do a “book club” review of the Federalist Papers. In the likely case that your high school education did not include reading this book, it is a collection of essays written by the authors of the U.S. Constitution explaining why the Constitution is what is it, and what they were hoping to achieve (and prevent) by instituting this form of government. My posts have a certain rhythm to them; a certain number of people can be expected to react and comment within a day or so. This post was strangely silent. I’ve had similar posts over the years (typically of my blog), and I just attribute it to Facebook’s ranking algorithm de-prioritizing dissenting points of view.
Within a day or so, I received an e-mail from PragerU declaring that Facebook had labelled them as a “Fake News” site. If you are not familiar with PragerU, they produce high-quality videos from a number of voices, many of them leading conservatives, but also some from the left. I don’t agree with everything they say; Dennis Prager and I might disagree on more than we agree upon, but they are an important counterpoint to the so-called “Mainstream Media”. The upshot of the e-mail was a fundraising plea, so I filed it away, but the timing, coincident with my “dark” post was curious.
I did some research to try to validate the claim. I’ve been down all sorts of rabbit holes, only to come out the other side with more questions than answers. Without boring you with my results, I’ll just say that there is no moral high ground in the search for unbiased reporting. The fact is that Facebook, YouTube, and Google have, at various points in time (whether just now, or not) restricted access to conservative voices because they were conservative voices.
Censoring the Censor
Therein lies the rub. These platforms, ubiquitous and pervasive though they be, have no obligation to the consumer. I don’t frequent sites like Huffington Post or Breitbart because their stories are more likely to be supporting or defending their bias than giving me useful information to think about. I’m more likely to be interested in a Munk debate, where both sides have the opportunity to make their case. But if Facebook is going to take the choice away from me and only present points of view that agree with their world view, then it’s not a place where I need to spend my time.
So, Mr. Zuckerberg, it’s your platform, and you are free to prioritize, curate, and censor content as you see fit. I leave you to it. I just won’t be submitting my eyeballs to your kingdom anymore. Oh sure, I’ll miss out on a few things, like our neighborhood private group, incidental information from incidental contacts, and occasional outrage flares. And while I don’t think I was overly swayed by your thought-experiment of driving people towards “crazy town”, the fact that too many of the people I care about have been demands that I remove the imprimatur of tacit approval given by my participation.
Stay In Touch
If you would like to stay in contact with me, and for some reason you don’t have my contact information, leave a comment with a valid e-mail and I’ll reach out to you. If, for some strange reason you would like to keep reading my blog, be sure to subscribe (see the box to the right).
If you have a good social media platform that is an alternative to Facebook, let me know. There aren’t many. An effective monopoly is difficult to beat. For now, I’m exploring Diaspora, a distributed network of networks. You can find me at https://bobspora.com/i/c15a046715ee. Maybe. I don’t see much need for social media.
In the meantime, I will be rendering unto God the things that are God’s.
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
Exodus 33:18-20 ESV
I am probably not alone, but I’m not good at prayer. I have distractions all around me, and even inside of me that all conspire to pull my attention away from God and on to anything else. I have more than enough work to do, a phone in my hand with limitless time sinks, and a constant musical soundtrack in my head, even when it is silent. My normal routine is full, comfortable, and has little room for more than the occasional head nod in God’s direction.
I don’t mean by this that God and the things of God are not important to me; nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing I like better than digging in to the deep things of scripture and marveling at the beauty of God’s plan revealed through nature and in history. I am, as you might imagine, a big hit at parties.
Finding myself in a lousy hotel room in Greenville, Texas with nothing to do on a Saturday, I was prompted to redeem my time. How can I glorify God in this moment? I should pray. What should I pray about?
Many years ago, an old Baptist preacher named Mickey Bonner taught a young man about spiritual warfare. He said the most dangerous prayer you can pray is to ask, “Lord, show me to me, as you see me to be.” The concept was that if we saw the depths of the depravity of our soul, we would be utterly broken (Isaiah 6:5). This is not just fire-and-brimstone hyperbole; when we understand the the magnitude of our sin, we will marvel at the exceeding abundance of God’s grace that forgives our sin. Most of us are willfully ignorant of our sinfulness, simply choosing not to look at the corruption that clings to and erodes our soul.
However, there is a theological problem with Brother Bonner’s prayer. The way God sees me is clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Philippians 3:9). Holy. Perfect. Complete. That’s a good meditation, but it’s purpose is less to puff us up, and more to draw stark contrast between our sin and God’s glory. Many people stumble at this point: “How can God love me like this? I don’t deserve it.” No, you don’t, but he does anyway. There is nothing you can do to earn it, and nothing you can do to lose it. His love for you is unconditional and the blessings for those who are in Christ are unfathomable.
Being of a certain age, and incurably introspective, I probably have a reasonable awareness of far too many of my failings. I do lack sufficient horror at them, but it’s less that I deny their evil and more that I dwell on the other side of the Cross. I have wrestled with my legalism and become ever more comfortable in God’s grace. I am resting in the finished work of the Cross, rather than striving to attain God’s favor.
Then it hit me. Perhaps the most dangerous prayer is the one Moses prayed. “Let me see your face.”
Moses had lived through two careers before God called him. He lived for 40 years, growing up in Pharaoh’s house, before throwing it all away by committing murder. He lived another 40 years hiding in the remote wilderness near Midian. By the time God called him, he knew his failings. Murderer. Shepherd. Stutterer. Nobody.
God then used him in the most miraculous intervention in human history ever recorded. He did things no human had ever done, could ever do. He was the very agent of God is delivering his people in power. God set out to be a very personal, present God for the nation of Israel, and Moses was the point man. He had a front row seat to all of God’s blessings. He knew very well the goodness that God was revealing to his people.
But all of this was not enough; he wanted more. He wanted to know God. “I see your deeds, but I want to know you.” This longing harkens back to our creation, made to know fellowship with God, to walk with him in the pleasant part of the day. To just hang out, and enjoy him. Obviously, sin got in the way, but deep in our souls we long for the fulfillment of our original purpose. This too, is restored in Christ (John 14:21).
These are indeed dangerous prayers. If you pray to know your sin, you will come away changed. Once you know how God feels about sin, you won’t be able to turn a blind eye towards your own failings. The hurtfulness of your words will sting in your ears. The greed of your heart will burn like acid. The selfishness of your actions will stink like a rotting corpse. No longer will you think that sin is “no big deal”.
Or, if you pray to know your standing in Christ, you will come away changed. All of your insecurities will evaporate in the warm embrace of God’s love. Self-doubt and fear have no place to stand when you see the scales weighing your sin flung violently to the side of righteousness. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
And if you pray to know God, to see his glory, you will come away changed. Moses came away from his “close encounter” with a face that visibly shone with the echo of God’s glory. Isaiah had a vision and became a bold prophet, speaking God’s words to the nation. Peter saw Jesus transfigured and had severe case of logorrhea, but despite later denying Jesus, he became a pillar of the church.
Are you ready to take a chance? Let’s live dangerously!
There is a way that seems right to a person,
but its end is the way that leads to death.
A person plans his course,
but the Lord directs his steps.
“Range anxiety” can be defined as the concern, worry, or fear that your vehicle will not be able to get to your desired destination. It is not, as my brother first intuited, a fear of wide open spaces experienced in the plains (as in, “Home on the Range”)
For most people, driving internal combustion engine (ICE as we EV owners call them) cars, it’s something rarely experienced except in the remotest areas. The reality is that you can’t go more than a few miles without finding a place where you can fill up your tank with dinosaur juice.
It’s a more serious concern if you are in an airplane or on a boat in the middle of the ocean. And it’s a very real concern in an all-electric car.
Tour de Tesla
Taking a long distance trip in a Tesla is different from driving an ICE car. A road trip in a Tesla is punctuated by stops to recharge the battery. First, you decide how far you want to go in a day, then you look for hotels with “destination chargers”. A handful of hotels around the country have installed Tesla chargers that allow you to wake up to a fully charged car, which makes a significant difference in a long road trip.
Next, you tell the car to calculate a route to your stopping place. Tesla has built an extensive network of Supercharger stations, such that it is possible to get most places in the United States or Europe (no, you can’t drive from the United States to Europe). The car is knows where the Superchargers are, and will (by default) tell you which station(s) to stop at to get from where you are to where you want to be.
Warm Up Lap
On our first road trip, I charged the car to 100% capacity and set our destination. The car told us to stop at the supercharger in Colby, KS and off we went. As we got closer to the stop (but not that close) I had my first encounter with range anxiety. The car’s estimated range is an approximation, based on a lot of factors, so you can’t take an estimated range of 50 miles and assume that you will drive exactly 50 more miles. Watching the remaining range continue to decrease, and seeing how many more miles to the stop, I was starting to second guess the car. When we arrived at the Supercharger with 16 miles of range remaining, I decided that the car was more aggressive than I; we would rather stop more frequently and not worry than get a panic attack before every stop.
On our next road trip, we knew that it was possible to get to Colby, but we weren’t having it, so when the car routed us to Goodland, KS I was pleased. I thought perhaps, in addition to the software updates that had given us nearly 10% more range, perhaps the navigation had been tuned to live a little further away from the edge, for old fogeys like us.
We stopped at Goodland, enjoyed lunch at the Steak-N-Shake next to the charger, and left with another full charge. I was surprised, however to see that the car wanted us to stop in Hays, KS, arriving with close to 50% charge. While cautious, I thought that was ridiculous so we did some quick math and determined that we could get to the charger in Salina comfortably.
It would be really nice if the navigation software allowed some customer tweaking, like specifying a minimum level of charge before stopping, or explicitly adding charging stops (or even adding additional stops, like finding food for a vegetarian passenger). But it doesn’t so I simply drove through Hays, on our way towards Kansas City, without stopping.
The navigation system adapted to my intransigence by continually suggesting that I take each exit before it passed, so I could turn around and charge up. Finally, frustrated that the car wouldn’t figure out that I could make it to Salina, I changed the navigation to go directly to the Salina charger and on we went.
As we approached Salina, my wife noticed something different about the Supercharger icon on the map. Looking more closely we realized that it had the universal “no” icon (circle with a diagonal line) through it. Panic began to set in. I quickly called Tesla, because if the station was closed I was going to be in a world of hurt. The very nice man on the other end of the phone assured me that the station wasn’t closed, but it was “degraded”. He said one of the pillars was taken out of service by the electric company, but the other two were fine. Relieved, we continued on our way.
I have to say that I despise the Salina Supercharger. It has the worst amenities of any charger we have stopped at to date. It’s at the end of a barely paved road, in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn Express. There are no other reasonably nearby amenities (there’s an IHOP about 1/4 mile back up the road, but you wouldn’t want to walk that in the dark… or at all, if you are me). Unfortunately, its location and the spacing between superchargers makes it an ideal stop when driving between Denver and Kansas City. My dislike of this stop was not eased by what happened next.
As we exited the freeway and made the turn onto this poor excuse of a road, we were greeted by a “road closed” sign and several inches of water across the road. The panic started knocking at the door again.
I pulled into the truck stop on this side of the water and called Tesla again, looking for suggestions. I was really hoping that they would tell me that they would be right there with a tank of electricity to get me on my way; unfortunately the fellow who answered the phone this time was not as helpful and transferred me to the general support line. I’d endured that particular pain before, and didn’t have the hour to wait on hold so we hung up and called the hotel. They said yes, they were open and that “the water isn’t that deep, if you stay to the center of the road”. I started to brave it, but about a foot in, I decided that there is a decided difference between wisdom and foolishness. Electric car + water did not add up to a winning outcome. So I backed out and regrouped.
Looking at the map, there appeared to be another way to get to the hotel, so I started out. This time I turned off the main road onto an under-improved dirt road. Driving carefully to avoid the potholes (all I needed was to blow a tire to make this adventure complete), I came to where I was to turn towards the hotel. I made the turn and found myself at a rickety little bridge with what appeared to be a wet sand road ahead of me. I decided that pursuing that path wouldn’t end well either, before we saw the sign that said “Road closed when wet”.
Time for one last call to Tesla. I needed options. I had 53 miles of range left; not enough to go back to Hays or the 100+ miles on to Topeka. All they could offer me was a campground with a Nema 14-50 plug, or a nearby Nissan dealer with a J1772 plug.
A note about charging. The Tesla Supercharger is one of the major reasons for Tesla’s popularity. When it comes to electric cars, range is king; the farther you can go without charging, the better. Next in importance is how fast you can re-charge and get back on the road. Tesla owners talk about charging in terms of “miles (of range) per hour”. While many factors affect charging rate, at a Supercharger, I can charge at up to 500 miles/hour.
A destination charger will charge between 25-40 miles/hour (which is fine for overnight charging). As noted, a 120v outlet will charge at 5 miles/hour. Were it not for the Supercharger, long-range electric car travel would simply not be viable. A 30-40 minute stop at a Supercharger is a nice respite from driving and long enough to get a good charge before moving on down the road.
My Tesla came with a nice little zipper bag that includes a 20 foot charging cord and adapters for either 120v (wall plug) use or 240v Nema 14-50 outlets. Since my daily commute is trivial, I’ve been content to use the 120v connector. This comes with a loss of efficiency and only charges at a rate of 5 miles of range per hour, but meets my needs. Before leaving on this trip, I debated unplugging the cord and putting it back in the bag, but we had pre-booked destination charger hotels and I just couldn’t see a need to plug in anywhere, so I made the decision to leave it plugged in at home. Therefore, stopping at the campground was not an option. Besides, as it turns out, the campground is next to the hotel that we couldn’t get to!
We went on to the Nissan dealer, arriving around 6pm. Fortunately, the zipper bag with the J1772 adapter was still in the car, so I was able to plug in and begin charging. We then took advantage of their restrooms and waiting room, and we waited. And waited. And waited.
By the time we got to the dealer, I was down to about 25 miles of range. I needed to go 100 miles or so to Topeka, and I wanted some buffer. While I was certainly grateful for the charger, happy that it was free, and appreciated the hospitality of the dealership (until they closed at 8), charging at 24 miles/hour was one of the most painful travel experiences of my life. We charged for four hours before getting back on the road at 10 pm.
Remember what I said about range having a number of factors? As I set my navigation to the Topeka Supercharger, I was cautioned to keep my speed below 70 to reach my destination. Not wanting to be stranded in the middle of Kansas in the middle of the night, I set my cruise control to 65 and off we went.
My car has a graph showing real-time battery consumption and an estimated range, based on that consumption. My wife was glued to the screen, as each hill we climbed ate into the range, and the downhills added to it. Over time, it appeared that we were maintaining a constant 20 miles or so of range buffer. It was one of the most tense 90 minutes in recent memory, but we were never so happy as to pull into the Topeka Supercharger. By the time we walked over to the Quality Inn to use their restrooms, and walked back we had more than enough charge to make it to our hotel in Kansas City.
I really hesitate to add this part. While there are many hotels with Tesla destination chargers, there is only one in Kansas City. When there are more Teslas than there are chargers, someone has to do without (this happened to me one night in Franklin, TN). However, the staff at the Homewood Suites in Kansas City are so kind and eager to support Tesla owners, that I feel I owe them a mention (even it it means you take my charging spot on my next trip!). This hotel has two Tesla chargers and one J1772 charger (for the rest of you).
When we got back on the road after our “time out” at the Nissan dealer, my wife called the hotel to let them know that we would be arriving late, and in need of a charge. The very nice person at the desk walked out to the parking lot, determined that there was still a Tesla spot left, and put cones in the spot to save it for us. We were so grateful when we arrived at 1:30 AM to know that we could plug the car in and go to bed, and wake up to a full charge.
On the return trip, we pulled into the hotel much earlier(!). Only a handful of cars were in the hotel lot; perhaps 10 total. Yet as we drove around to the EV spots, I discovered I had been “ICEd out” (when ICE cars park in EV spots). The front desk staff was very upset by this (unfortunately, they didn’t have any way to match vehicles to guests). They promised to try to figure out who was there and make them move. In the meantime, they assured me that I was safe to park in the adjacent handicap spot, which was well within reach of the charging cables. Our room was directly above where the car was parked, so an hour later or so, when one of the offending cars moved, I was able to see and move out of the handicap space.
When we checked out, they were very interested in suggestions of how to prevent this situation in the future. We shared with them that the hotel in Franklin had a sign that said “Tesla Parking Only; All others will be Towed” and they liked the idea. I have to say that this level of support and accommodation makes this hotel a “must stop” for me. I encourage you to stay there as well (but not when I’m passing through!).
If I haven’t tortured the racing analogy too much, at the end of every race the team reviews the performance of the car, the driver, and the crew. Each person looks for how they can improve the area where they are responsible to make the next race better.
Observation without application is just entertainment. Rather than waste a perfectly good lesson, I will leave you with three.
Lesson One: Trust Someone Smarter Than You
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will make your paths straight.
We’ve been living with smart phones for some time now, and have some amusing family stories that all lead the the same conclusion: Trust Siri. While it’s possible she is wrong, it’s more likely that you are so just go where she tells you.
Similarly, my car knows things that I don’t. I’d like it better if it would share more with me, and allow me to be engaged in the decision process, but the bottom line is, if the car tells you to stop in Hays and charge, you need to stop in Hays whether you think you need to charge or not. You don’t know what’s down the road (but the car might).
Case in point: On the return trip, the car was telling us we would arrive in Kansas City with about 11% range (about 30 miles) remaining. While tight, it was manageable, except for one thing: you get less range at 80mph than you do at 65. As we continued down the road, our reserve dropped into the single digits and I was anticipating a repeat performance of the outbound trip.
As we entered Columbia, I decided that a quick top-off would be in everyone’s best interest. After about 15 minutes, we were back on the road, but soon we saw a sign on the road saying there was a vehicle fire just past Exit 121. About that time, the navigation system began telling me to exit at Exit 121. We inched along in bumper-to-bumper traffic, squeezing over to let an emergency vehicle drive up the middle of the freeway, until we finally got to the exit. Surprisingly, very few people were taking the opportunity to leave the traffic jam. The car faithfully navigated us down back streets I didn’t even know existed until we were past the problem and were able to resume our freeway driving.
More generally in life, God knows more than you do; you aren’t as smart as you think you are. You will do much better if you listen to the one who created you and who sustains all things. Unfortunately, we don’t come with navigation systems that can route us around the unforeseen problems of our lives, but God has revealed his wisdom for living in the Bible. While we may think we have a plan, God has the final word in how things turn out.
Lesson Two: Worry Won’t Make the Car Charge Faster
Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
I have defined stress as “emotional energy expended on something over which you have no control”. Anxiety is stress out of control, and it is a huge issue in American society today; billions of dollars are spent on alcohol, prescription and other drugs as a way to numb the pain.
As a result of various life experiences, and a deep and abiding faith in the goodness of God, I’m not generally prone to anxiety. However, as the situation unfolded our general range anxiety gave way to full-blown anxiety. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that something bad was going to happen and I couldn’t stop it. Through all the phone calls trying to work out a solution I held the anxiety at bay, but as we sat waiting for our car to charge, 24 painful miles at a time, I started becoming physically ill. Things would not be better until we were back on the road. Despite the fact that leaving before the car was sufficiently charged would not end well, it took all of my mental resolve to just sit and wait.
Surely, all of us have faced situations outside of our control: physical illness, financial distress, wayward children, the list goes on. Some try to adopt the advice of Bobby McFerrin or Douglas Adams, but in the end it doesn’t work.
The best cure to anxiety is given in the Bible. When there is something you can do about the situation, you do it. When there is not, your worry won’t have a (positive) impact on the situation.
Lesson Three: Sometimes Bad Things Happen
My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.
Heeding my own advice, I consciously tried to release my anxiety. I wondered what purpose God might have for me to be in this place at this time. I looked around for someone who I might possibly be a blessing to, but the dealership was deserted. When the very nice manager told us we had to leave, I was left in my car with just my wife and daughter. And I found no purpose, no redeeming quality, no hand of God. Just the incessant waiting.
Truth be told, in the “testing of my faith” I had come up lacking. I was mostly certainly “deficient” in patience, kindness, gentleness. Caught up in my own emotions, I was brusk and thoughtless with my family. For the rest of our trip, I continued to process this situation. I apologized for my harshness and we continued to try to figure out how to live broken together.
We search for meaning in our difficult circumstances, because if we can ascribe some greater good to our misery, if it has significance, then somehow enduring it seems more noble. But sometimes (and I think this might have been one of those times) we just have to endure hardship to give us practice enduring. Like lifting weights strengthens our muscles, facing trials strengthens (and proves the quality of) our faith.
I had a pastor’s wife say that she prayed for patience and God gave her sons. There is nothing glamorous about the process of acquiring patience, nothing delightful about the opportunities to demonstrate it. Yet patience is a fruit of the Spirit, and an attribute of the Most High God. Certainly, it is worth the cost.
Traveling with adult children is … interesting. My daughter is very much like me, and I enjoy talking with her immensely. We can process things together in a way that my wife (who is nothing like me) finds difficult. On the other hand, my daughter is very much like me, so she is quite skilled at seeing my faults and not shy about “sharing” them. Having her with us was an fitting backdrop against which this drama could unfold.
She said that she felt no stress during the whole ordeal. We were safe at all times, we had food (well, junk car snacks), we had electricity, and in the end we got to where we wanted to go. Since she had no responsibility, control, or ability to affect the outcome of our trip, she was able to just sit back and let things unfold.
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2b
A common phrase in Christian communities is “The joy of the Lord is my strength”. While a popular Christian chorus, it is found in the Bible in Nehemiah 8:10, where Nehemiah uses it as encouragement for the people who were humbled and broken over their sin and ignorance of the law. Rather than wallow in their contrition, he encourages them to find joy.
I had this phrase stuck in my mind one day and as I turned it over and over, I wondered, “what is this ‘joy of the Lord’ and how can it be my strength?”
Without any allusions to any past presidential statements, it seems to me that the crux of understanding “the joy of the Lord” is in the meaning of the word “of”. Is this a joy that belongs to the Lord, or a joy that derives or proceeds from the Lord?
Through the miracle of the internet, I do a pretty good impersonation of a biblical scholar, but www.blueletterbible.org let me down, as I could not find “of” in the Hebrew interlinear tool. So I turned to an actual scholar friend who told me:
The normal grammar of a genitival relationship between two nouns binds the first (the construct) to the second and the sense is “belonging to”. There is no definite article in Hebrew but because LORD is a proper name, this construction is “the joy of the LORD” not “a joy of the LORD” which perhaps further strengthens “belonging to” rather “deriving from.”
If this joy belongs to the Lord, I have to wonder, what gives God joy? The Hebrew word translated “joy” in Nehemiah is חֶדְוָה (chedvâh). Although there are other words translated “joy” in the Old Testament, this word appears only one other place, in 1 Chronicles 16:27, a song David wrote for continual praise before the presence of God. That particular verse is part of a stanza describing the nature of God; he concludes that “joy [is] in his dwelling place”.
Knowing that joy is in the presence of God brings me no closer to knowing what it is that brings joy to God. Looking to the New Testament, Hebrews 12:2 appears to be the clearest clue to the mystery.
“For the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Having just left Easter week, the passion (suffering) that Jesus endured should be fresh in our minds. It is clear that he considered the shame to be nothing in comparison to the coming joy. The author of Hebrews makes it clear, in the logical case building to this point, that “sitting down” is an indication of a completed work, a resting from labor. So what followed the cross, and was utterly completed?
You! God’s purpose in all of creation, his willingness to humble himself, taking on human form, enduring the cross, was to provide the way of salvation. God’s great joy is to provide for a sinful and rebellious creation the means of being reconciled to him, and restored to the relationship he intended in the first place.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I don’t get it. I don’t know how or why that brings God joy. But it very much should bring us joy! And if it doesn’t, then consider afresh this verse from the Horatio Spafford hymn, “It is Well With My Soul”:
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
Having a somewhat better handle on what “the joy of the Lord” is, how can it be my strength? How can the fact that God delights in saving sinners make me stronger?
Again, impersonating a Bible scholar, in Nehemiah the Hebrew word for “strength” is מָעוֹז (mâʻôwz). It has more of a sense of “stronghold” or “fortress” as opposed to personal power or might.
A fortress is a place of refuge; a place to hide from enemies that might attack. The security of the fortress is that it can withstand whatever the enemy might throw at it; as long as you are inside, you are safe.
Now, at last, it all comes together! Knowing that God delights in providing salvation is something that I can run to when I’m feeling assaulted. When I stumble and fall, when the enemy whispers in my ears that God can’t possibly forgive me this time, when all the voices around me scream my worthlessness, I have a fortress that can withstand the onslaught. Knowing that Jesus was so excited to make the way of salvation for me, that he scorned the pain and shame of the cross gives me security. The lies of the enemy cannot overcome the joy of the Lord. My salvation is secure because it does not depend upon me. Jesus sat down because the payment was made in full … including whatever it is that I have just done (and no matter how many times I do it).
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Revelation 3:1
My wife and I just spent an interesting day with Jenny from CrossPurpose. First, some background.
CrossPurpose is a local Denver area ministry that is seeking to eradicate poverty, one life at a time, through extravagant investment in individuals. From their web site,
CrossPurpose equips unemployed or underemployed adults to become self-sufficient through job training and personal development. In six months, program graduates will be earning $15/hour or more in a meaningful career.
I first became aware of the ministry when I heard a BreakPoint podcast about them. So much of this ministry is different from the traditional ways Christians have dealt with the poor. The vision and the results of this organization have touched me; being in my back yard, I was convicted to partner with them.
The follow-up e-mail was unusual, but not too surprising; a small ministry tends to be closer to their donors than bigger ones. It was the phone call that caught my attention. The thing I remember about our conversation was that she said, “I really just want to get to know you and your wife and understand where you are coming from.” She wanted to schedule a time to meet us (that’s never happened before). It wasn’t a particularly good time; I was in a hotel on a business trip, we were coming up on the holidays, so we agreed to try to get together after the new year.
Time went by, and I had let it all dribble out of my brain, when one day my phone rang. I was sitting in the airport, waiting to board a flight (I see a trend!); I didn’t recognize the number but my phone helpfully offered “may be Jenny”. As soon as I answered, I remembered why that name looked familiar. Again, it wasn’t a good time, but I put her in touch with my social director and they scheduled today for us to meet and tour the facility.
Jenny said something as we walked, which is really the point of this blog. She said, “Everyone comes through these doors with their own poverty, whether it be financial, relational, or spiritual.” That thought has been sticking with me.
Financial poverty is the easiest to recognize. You know when you have more month than money; when life is a constant struggle to juggle the unpaid bills; when you have to prioritize heat over food and clothes will just have to wait. It is cruel, demeaning, demoralizing, stripping people of dignity and leading to hopelessness and despair because of the inability to provide for oneself and one’s family.
Relational poverty is just as rampant, although there are no statistics gathered, no government programs, very little acknowledgement of its existence. It is rampant in white-collar communities where people live isolated lives, leaving their safe little boxes only by means of their boxes on wheels that take them to other boxes where they work in isolating cubicles. It is possible to have all the trappings of wealth and be impoverished inside, for the lack of meaningful human interaction. Relational poverty is also demeaning, as the loneliness eats at your soul, until you wonder if anyone actually cares that you are alive.
Spiritual poverty is the most prevalent of all, since we are all born into this condition. We are born with nothing in our spiritual bank, nothing to offer to a holy God. Perhaps because we are born this way, most people are at best numb to their poverty. The need does not feel as pressing as physical poverty; the pain is not quite as poignant as relational poverty. But I assure you, it is the most desperate of all poverties.
In financial terms, income is the input to your (financial, relational, spiritual) system and expenditures are the output. When income is insufficient for your necessary expenditures, poverty exists. When output is greater than input, this creates debt (financial, relational, spiritual). While deficit spending is possible for a while, eventually the debt becomes crushing.
Fortunately, spiritual poverty is the easiest to solve. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Why? Because the first key to spiritual riches is a humble acknowledgement of your utter spiritual destitution. Only when you give up being good and declare spiritual bankruptcy can you find the solution to your problems. Jesus said,
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 3:14-15
In classic Christian buzz-words, “He paid a price I could not pay to satisfy a debt he did not owe.” But just as financial poverty can’t be eliminated by a lump sum payment, and a party won’t heal your relational poverty, simply having your sins forgiven isn’t enough to end your spiritual poverty.
No, the solution to poverty lies in eliminating the underlying causes. At its simplest, it requires increasing input to the (financial, relational, spiritual) system in excess of any increase in output. When income exceeds expenses, there is a surplus, which is the seed of prosperity.
God has provided the ultimate increase in your spiritual input: his own spirit living in the hearts of his people.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:33-34
My friends at CrossPurpose have a pretty good strategy for addressing financial poverty. And, as it turns out, the real key to success is to work on relational and spiritual poverty at the same time. Because, as it turns out, Jesus really is the answer to every question.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us Hebrews 12:1
She was a woman of substance. Tall, elegant, confident, beautiful; when she was in the room, you knew it. She wasn’t brash or obnoxious, but gentle and loving. Yet she would not back down from the truth.
If you spent five minutes with Bev, you would know that she had three great loves: Jesus, her family, and Muslim people (generally) and the people of Tunisia (specifically). She lived her life passionately devoted to these loves. She would be uncomfortable reading this, if she were alive, because she was keenly aware of her faults and shortcomings and uneasy accepting praise.
Love of Jesus
There was nothing more important to Bev than knowing and serving her lord and savior, Jesus Christ. She was passionate about sharing the gospel with anyone and everyone who needed to hear it. This isn’t to say that is was always easy or comfortable for her; she described how terrifying it was to go to the food court in Park Meadows mall and share as she was led. But her passion for obedience overcame her fear of people, rejection, or even personal safety.
As we studied the Bible together, she longed for a deeper call on the lives of Christians. Not content to simply “play church” and be comforted by soothing platitudes, she hungered for a radical commitment to the things of God in the truth of scripture. She keenly felt the demands of God’s word for personal holiness and selfless surrender. She knew that salvation was not purchased at the priceless cost of the death of Jesus so that we could live comfortable lives of mediocrity. Her passion was, like Oswald Chambers’ wrote, to give “My Utmost for His Highest”.
Love of Family
Bev loved her family more than anything else on earth. She was faithfully committed to her husband. This is not to say that their marriage was perfect; who among us can claim such a thing? No, broken people in relationship together will have issues. But she always stood by her husband. I never heard her say anything disparaging or derogatory about him, even when I suspected that she didn’t agree with his decisions. They stood by, supported, loved each other as they walked through life together.
She loved her children. Her heart was constantly towards them and when they hurt, she hurt. I had the privilege of praying with her and for her (and them) as each one went through various trying times. She was vulnerable to her friends, unashamedly weeping as she poured out her heart to her God on behalf of her children. She longed for her children and grandchildren to know her savior as she did.
Love of Tunisia
When the Missions team at Grace Chapel brought a challenge to the elders and congregation to “adopt” a particular people group, to commit to and focus on growing the indigenous church, Bev was among the first to “spy out the land”. Through multiple trips, prayer walks, and relationships started, God gave her a tender heart towards Tunisia and its people.
As her calling to Tunisia grew, Bev decided to learn French so she could communicate more effectively. She researched Muslim apologetics and cultivated relationships with Muslims both at home and in Tunisia. Her life became punctuated by the annual trips to Tunisia. Her heart had been gripped by the love of God for the people of Tunisia, and she longed for many to come to Christ.
She returned year after year, developing relationships, showing God’s love, patiently explaining the hope that is in Christ to anyone who would talk to her. In between trips, she had countless social media conversations with her Muslim friends; loving them, encouraging them, challenging them with the truth of God’s word.
Other than surrounded by her family, there was no place on earth that she wanted to be more than Tunisia. So it is fitting that, at the end a trip to love and serve the people of Tunisia, after enjoying a stroll along a beautiful beach, she stepped into eternity.
If you are wondering why I’m writing this tribute, you aren’t alone, I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. While I would say that we were friends, we weren’t close. Although you might not know it from the way I described Bev, I can’t say I knew her well. We’d spent many years in the same Sunday School class, but I don’t think we’d ever been in each other’s homes. I’d characterize our relationship as “intimate acquaintances”.
My heart is for her husband and children, and I pray for them nearly daily as they grieve and navigate their loss and what life looks like after Bev. I know she was a key figure in the family dynamic.
Yet, her death has hit me hard. It’s not because we are about the same age, and her death reminds me of my own mortality. Death holds no fear for me (nor should it for any follower of Jesus).
In some way, the notion that she is in the presence of Jesus seems surreal to me. And that really bothers me. It seems that I’ve stopped thinking about, longing for, eagerly anticipating my redemption. I’ve gotten a little too comfortable here.
Thinking about her being in the presence of God reminds me that “well done, good and faithful servant” is not a given. It requires, well, actually being a good and faithful servant. And, as I am all to painfully aware of my own shortcomings, I know I need to live like she did: fully aware of my calling and fully committed to God’s purposes in my life.
Chances are good, unless you are part of my church family, you didn’t know Bev. Her death, to you, is less impactful than President Bush’s. However, I would hope that you are encouraged, in light of the testimony of a life well lived, and recognizing that Heaven is not just waiting, but watching, to renew your commitment to your call.
And if you don’t know what I’m talking about; if Jesus is not the ruler and king of your life; if in any way you are unsure about your eternity; the best response you can have is to let me introduce you to my savior. Then, one day, you can meet my friend Bev in eternity. Nothing would make her happier.