Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Where is home?

Some time ago, I was at a weekly meeting held by C4C at UBC, at which the topic of discussion was about 'home'. During the course of the discussion in small groups, two very thought-provoking questions that were raised were the 'what' and 'where' of home - what is home? where exactly is it? Many people in my group talked about how home was with their parents and family, or a familiar environment, where their heart was most comfortable and at peace.

As these ideas and feelings were expressed, I reflected upon my own life and situation, asking the question "What about my state of affairs? Where is home for me?" Although I grew up in a home made by loving and caring parents whom I love intensely, I have effectively been away from home for 10 years now, having left home in '99 when I began my undergraduate degree. Since then, I have effectively lived in seven cities in four countries over the past decade and moved myself and my limited possessions very frequently. Home was wherever I would return to at the end of the day, in the particular city and country that I have lived in during my travels. I saw my parents and sister roughly once every year over the last decade, usually when on vacation from university or during a short stopover in the city they were residing in, while on my way to somewhere else. As the discussion progressed, I thought about how this lifestyle over the past decade has also impacted many of my habits, particularly over the past three years. I had not bought any furniture, deeming it too difficult and cumbersome to deal with when uprooting myself to move. My suitcases became my clothes drawers, and I did not unpack and hang up my clothes until the summer of last year; when I did so for the first time, it seemed almost alien to see them hanging in the built-in closet of my room. I had lived on the simplest level possible, sleeping on the floor in a comforter and without a pillow, only acquiring a bed two years ago after moving to the apartment that I reside in now. Since that time, God has blessed me with a wonderful living environment, repeatedly doing so through other people. All of it has beyond any expectation I have ever had.

Although it was initially interesting as God moved me from east to west, back east and now back to the west for the past few years, I began to feel sick of this modern-day nomadic life over the last year or two. Packing everything I own, moving, unpacking and settling in only to repeat the cycle began to feel sickening, especially as I began to consider the prospect that I might be called to do it once again in the near future. There comes a time in one's life when the heart begins to yearn for a place it can put roots down into and call 'home' with some degree of permanence, somewhere it can look forward to returning to, even if it were to travel elsewhere. I began to feel this ache about three and a half years ago, though it had subsided temporarily in between, only to return once again as I approach the end of my Master's degree and possibly my entire time in academia.

"Where and what is home for me?" Sitting in that small group at C4C @ UBC's weekly meeting and searching for some insight into the matter, a fascinating train of thought began to emerge from my rumination. It began with the recollection of the song 'All I Ever Wanted' from the animated movie 'The Prince of Egypt', depicting the life of Moses. Moses has discovered that he is actually the son of a Hebrew slave, rescued as a baby from a proclaimed infanticide of Hebrew children by the Pharaoh he addresses as 'Father'. Attempting to supress the truth and convince himself otherwise, he sings the following lyrics:

"This is my home
With my father, mother, brother
Oh so noble, oh so strong
Now I am home
Here among my trappings and belongings
I belong
And if anybody doubts it
They couldn't be more wrong

I am a sovereign prince of Egypt
A son of the proud history that's shown
Etched on ev'ry wall
Surely this is all I ever wanted..."

Affirming him in his denial of reality, his 'mother' the Queen joins the song and reinforces what he has believed thus far:

"This is your home, my son
Here the river brought you
And it's here the river meant
To be your home
Now you know the truth, love
Now forget and be content
When the gods send you a blessing
You don't ask why it was sent..."

Moses believed that the truth of what he had seen and taught to call 'home' was indubitable. Reading His story in the book of Genesis, God eventually had to strip away everything he thought was 'home' and show him that his identity as a prince and member of the royal Egyptian house was an illusion. Moses never really had a permanent place he could call 'home' after that. The rest of His life after this rude awakening was spent on one massive journey of wandering with God - exile into Midian; the return to Egypt to free his people and 40 years of wandering the wilderness, following a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In effect, Moses' (and indeed, all Israel's) home became wherever the presence of God went; pitching tent and tabernacle wherever His presence stopped, breaking camp and resuming their meandering as God began to move on.

My state of globetrotting has not been too different from that of Moses on his journey with God, the only difference being that I have no illusion of the wonderful home and family that I have been born into. I was struck by the idea that home, then is not a place with parents and family; home is being in the presence of my Heavenly Father and following Him whenever and wherever He summons me to. Without Him, neither I or anyone else has a home; we would repeat the words of Cain as he echoed the curse that God had laid on him for murdering his brother: "...from Your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth..." (Genesis 4:14, ESV). Indeed, without Him we are reduced to more than fugitives and wanderers, for if home and heaven are found in His presence, it is not homelessness, but hell in His absence. 'Home is where the heart is' is reduced to an empty statement if the heart does not find itself following the beckoning of Him that fashioned it to yearn for His presence.

As I reflected on this idea, the words of Christ to His disciples at the Last Supper suddenly presented themselves to me:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may be also." (John 14: 1-3, ESV)

What a difference presented by the comforting counterperspective of Christ to all that the world calls 'home'! I can almost hear a pleading tone that enters His voice as He says the words "if it were not so, would I have told you...?". Jesus makes a spectacular pronouncement in these sentences which he only reinforces a little while later with the words "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18). There was a tremendous silence and emotion that entered my heart as my mind connected the implications of the story of Moses and the comforting words of Christ. Thousands of years apart, yet both addressing the yearning of one's heart for 'home, sweet home'.

Moses tells me that all that this world calls house and home are but illusions without the presence of God; Jesus affirms this with His very first statement to His disciples in John 1 : 35 - 39, "Come and see". Moses by his life testifies that 'home' for the believer becomes following God's summoning; Jesus reinforces this as He called those who listened to Him with the words, "Follow me" and "Come unto me". Moses' dwelling was a symbol of the fleeting nature of this temporal life - a tent. Paul resonated with him thousands of years later in 2 Corinthians 5 : 1- 5. Jesus asks me to trust that He desires me to be with Him forever. in fact, He desires this so much that He is preparing one room of all those in His Father's house for me, just for me. And once He is done, He will personally come and take me there. For He knows that His own home is in the presence of the Father, and I will not truly be at home until I am in His presence as well.

On that great day as the Father stands at Heaven's gates with His Son, welcoming all His children to the place that He has lovingly prepared for them, it will truly be "home, sweet home".

- The Wisdom Seeker

Monday, May 11, 2009

To Hold Someone's Heart

   Over lunch with some friends a few days ago, one of us observed that human beings seemed to be almost infinite in their capacity and variety to hurt one another. As I pondered this statement for some time, my mind was drawn to the power wielded by our words, particularly in the context of our relationships with those who are or may become nearest and dearest to us.

   When someone voices words of kindness or affection to us, they are essentially asking us to trust that their words reflect their inward intent towards us. They ask us to believe that their words are true, without any hint of guile. And indeed, at this point we must pause and ask ourselves, what does it mean for one's words to be "true"? The answer necessitates the involvement of the definition of truth - "that which describes things as they really are". Thus, with words of kindness and love, they ask us to believe that those words describe the intent of their inmost spirit towards us as it really is. And in doing so, whether either person realizes it or not, the consequences become serious; for we trust them with that which is most precious and sensitive - our hearts.

   Modern culture and media most commonly uses the term 'heart' in connection with one's emotions and feelings, among other things. In this context, the promulgation of myth and the potential for abuse is enormous; I am reminded of the saying that "nothing is as widely believed as that which is least understood". What does it truly mean to ask for someone's heart, and in winning their trust, to take their heart into our hands? And, on the flip side of the coin, what does it mean to give our hearts into the hands of the one who asks for it?

   While looking up the meaning of the word 'heart' in many languages, I found the most insight provided in the ancient Hebrew, which uses the word 'lev' [1]. While the ancient Hebrews viewed the heart as the centre of emotion, they also understood it to be the centre of thought; there was no dichotomy with the mind residing in the brain and emotions ascribed to the heart. Instead, the 'heart' was perceived to be the centre of one's being, holding all thoughts, both of the mind as well as emotion. For them, it was the very locus of all of one's being.

   If this is indeed the perspective of the Bible, then the implications of being entrusted with someone's heart are very serious indeed. For when we trust someone with our heart, we give them that which encompasses our most fragile sensitivities, thoughts and emotions - all that defines us and makes us vulnerable. The phrase "my heart in your hands" takes on a very literal meaning indeed; it is like cupping water in one's hands. If you've never tried doing that, I suggest you try it now. In the light of this analogy, the words 'love' and 'commitment' take on new and serious dimensions - the one who loves appreciates the fragility of that which he/she holds in their hands and is committed to keeping their hands together, otherwise the other's heart will fall and shatter, or be spilt on the ground.

   Without this understanding, the phrase 'I love you', perhaps the most used and abused phrase known to mankind, becomes a horrific instrument of destruction. How awful to say such a thing without meaning it, to convince another of one's love and take their heart into one's hands, only to open those hands when one is no longer interested! How terrible is the one who voices words of love and commitment to another, only to discard them when someone else comes along! How selfish to play with another's spirit for one's own mental and emotional gratification, and then spill that heart on the ground without regard! It is perhaps one of the worst acts that one human being can perpetrate upon another, to violate another person in such manner. For as bad as it is in which one violates another's body, even worse is that which violates another's soul. Thus, betrayal of any form becomes the act of those who do not comprehend what it means to hold another's heart in their hands.

   Having said all this, what about the happiness of those who do understand these truths, and is there anyone into whose hands we can place our hearts? For when properly understood, giving one's 'heart' into another's hands and holding their 'heart' in ours is possibly one of the greatest privileges of the human existence. I will probably pen my thoughts on this matter in the coming posts. Until then, have a good week and God bless!

- The Wisdom Seeker

[1] Ancient Hebrew Word Meanings: Heart ~ lev

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Passionate Commitment

I was reading through the 18th and 19th chapters of the Second Book of the Kings some days ago. King Hezekiah was ruling over Judah in Jerusalem, and Sennacherib, King of Assyria had sent a massive army against Jerusalem. He had sent an extensively worded threat against Jerusalem's populace through his chief of staff (2 Kings 18:19-37 and 2 Kings 19:10-13). In response, God delivers an even more impressive verdict against the Assyrian King through the prophet Isaiah (2 Kings 19:20-34). As I was reading through God's response, I was struck by one sentence in the passage:

"The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven's Armies will make this happen!" (2 Kings 19:31, New Living Translation)

I read that sentence over and over. Nearing the end of his speech, there was a potent fury that could be felt in the words of the prophet, as he voiced the words of his Lord and Master. My mind was brough to a standstill by the words 'passionate commitment', expressed as 'zeal' by older translations. While a strong phrase in itself, it was made even more so by the Person it was being ascribed to - The Lord of Heaven's Armies. I thought about that for some time. While many statements are made about the nature of God throughout the Bible, this was not something I had thought about before - God is "passionately committed". I was seeing an aspect of His character anew, just as the jeweler's light shining on a diamond from the right angle shows off a different facet to perfection.

"Passionately committed. My Father is passionately committed". My mind began to explode as those two sentences took hold and began a chain reaction of thought. God's passionate commitment speaks of a depth of action that flows from a depth of being, a determined, tremendous and unstoppable power that makes Him the omnipotent being that He is. I thought of His passionate commitment to His Word, promises, creation, righteousness, justice, judgement, peace, mercy, forgiveness, deliverance, healing, restoration...the list is endless. And I realized and knew that as His child, it applied to me as well. This great God who calls Himself my beloved Father was, is and always will be passionately committed to his son, who loves Him. As I thought of the implications, I wanted to write them down.

My Father is passionately committed in His relationship to me. When He says 'I love you', He means it with all His heart; He will never retract and utter the words 'I don't love you anymore'. He is passionately committed to the sacred romance between us. From my first moment to last, there is no limit to which He will not go in His pursuit of my heart; Psalm 139 is an awesome testament to this. He was so passionate in His commitment to love me, that He demonstrated it in the ultimate act - sending His Son to die on the Cross for my sin.

He is passionately committed in His protection of me; there is not one promise of guardianship from Genesis to Revelation that He will not fulfil. In the heat of battle, in the depths of sorrow, in the burning hot days and bitter cold nights of the soul, He is there, watching over me. When my heart is broken, He is unfailing in His passionate commitment to grieve with me and for me, to pick up the pieces and heal. When I have been wronged, He is there as defense, prosecution, judge, jury and executioner.

He is passionately committed to my present and my future; He will see me through to the end of my Master's degree and beyond. "The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven's Armies will make this happen!" He is passionately committed to His blessing in my life, in every way imaginable.

He is passionate in His commitment to my growth and pursuit of wisdom. There is no question that I can ask that He will not tire of answering. There is no explanation that He will not patiently give. There is no subject, course or topic that He cannot teach me, for they are all expressions of His infinite wisdom.

If I have been able to show any commitment to anything in life, it is only because I have learned that commitment from Him. My Lord. My King. My Rock. My Redeemer. My Saviour. My Teacher. My Guide. My Guardian. In all this and more, You are passionately committed to me. May I be as passionate in my commitment to You.

- The Wisdom Seeker

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Perfume Within the Pain

The crushing moments of life have been so extensively written about in mankind's history that I wonder if I can contribute anything useful from within my own hammering upon the anvil. It has been said of evil that 'man's inhumanity to man is one of the most verifiable features of our existence'. It seems that this holds no less in the case of our own individual grief and sorrow - there seems to be no lack of it in supply. We have all either experienced it or will experience it in future; there is none that is spared. While it comes in many forms, few are as excruciating as those delivered by those closest to us.

The heart that is speared and the pain within the chest is no illusion; it is physically felt. The feeling is akin to someone holding the heart from within while it is beating, and squeezing it until it can beat no more. I've been told by others that have experienced it that this is the physical pain of heartbreak. The treasure that was most precious and kept carefully for so many years without being given away was treated as something cheap, trampled on and then shredded into ten thousand pieces. What is gone forever can never again be regained. Betrayal unlike anything experienced before has burnt everything built on trust down to the ground - there is not even foundation stone to be seen anymore. No comforting music soothes the soul; distractions are futile; money is as worthless as the paper that it is printed on; there is only so much that friends can do. In those moments, what do we do? When the heart is being torn asunder, to where will we run for comfort?

It is in the midst of the crushing agony that something draws me to yet another place of incredible grief and sorrow unlike any other in all of history - on level ground, at the foot of the Cross. I gaze at this incredible edifice in my mind. Though thousands of years old, the timber has not faded, cracked or begun to disintegrate. The wood is still stained with the blood that ran down in rivers from the body of Him who hung there. Though His body hangs there no more, the testimony of His suffering resonates in the silence that is almost deafening. In my own pain, I reach out and touch the wood, tracing my fingers over the stains of the blood flow that were indelibly soaked into it. As I gaze upwards at the holes in the wood where the nails were driven in, I realize that His pain that still resonates from the Cross was because of me - it was I that nailed Him there, and drove the spear forged from my own sin through the heart of the only pure One that ever walked this earth. And I am engulfed by the memory that with His broken and ruptured heart, He still looked upon me with love, forgave me and died there. As the pain reaches its crescendo and my own heart ruptures with this realization, the power of the Cross simultaneously reaches its maximum. For from within the pain contained with the blood-soaked wood of the Cross, a perfume begins to emerge, the scent of which is unmatched by any blend made by man in all of history. As I inhale through the tears, it speaks wisdom.

The excruciating pain of my own painful experiences allows the perfume of Him who I crucified here to infuse my own heart and spirit. And as the precious bottle of my own heart is broken, the perfume of Christ that is held within His Cross begins to penetrate my heart and to spread from within it. And it is at those moments of greatest pain that my Father is able to do His most powerful work, for His Sprit moves to transform me in that moment of crushing unlike at any other. I am reminded that the greatest power of Christ's life emerged not in His preaching or miracles, but when He was crushed on the Cross for what I had done. And if I desire to be like Him, the same inevitable fate awaits me as well; I cannot escape and will not be spared. I am reminded of the saying 'Him whom God would use greatly, He will wound deeply', and the statement quoted by Chuck Swindoll that 'When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible person and crushes him.'

Those who hurt me matter no more; they fade into the background as the perfume of Christ spreads around both me and His blood-stained Cross that I lean against so lovingly. One word escapes from my lips, calling the One whose Son I crucified and whose perfume I now inhale, by the most intimate name that I address Him by: "Papa". The response is instantaneous; He drops everything and comes running. The crushing is not over; it is not His time for the pain to leave yet. But He is there, grieving with me and for me in the midst of it all. He is there. And that is enough.

- The Wisdom Seeker

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When God Wants To Drill A Man...

I had come across this poem in a talk given by Ravi Zacharias titled 'The Preparation and Portrait of a Prophet.' Thought I'd share it here. I think we can all identify with having gone through such experiences of pain, anguish and agony at some points in our lives, or maybe some of us might be experiencing it even now. I hope it speaks to you, if it happens to be such a time in your life.

When God Wants To Drill A Man

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man
And skill a man

When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part,
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world might be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways.

How He ruthlessly perfects,
Whom he royally elects.
How he hammers, and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay
That only God understands,
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands.

How He bends, but never breaks
When his good, He undertakes
How He uses, whom He chooses
And with mighty acts induces him
To try his splendor out,
God knows what He's about.

- Anonymous

I will write more on this in the coming days and weeks. Have a good week and God bless.
The Wisdom Seeker