Sunday, November 11, 2012

Of Whom The World Was Not Worthy

Standing with the persecuted church
"Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented - of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth." 
- Hebrews 11:35-38, NKJV
   Over the last week beginning November 4th with the International Day of Prayer [1], Willingdon Church participated in a week of prayer for persecuted Christians worldwide. At the culmination of this last week, we had the privilege of hearing Reverend Paul Johnson, Executive Director of Open Doors Canada [2] preach at Willingdon's sunday service today. I was fortunate to have the chance to have a long personal conversation with him after everyone had gone home.

    Much of what we talked about that was close to our own hearts - missions, evangelism, theology, truth, suffering, life, faith, practice, sacrifice, purpose - reminded me of my own convictions in post I had written a week or two ago, "To The Last Drop of Blood." In the process, I was also reminded of the verses of Hebrews 11:35-38 that I've quoted above.

   All of these challenge me once more as I examine my own life and conscience. I am reminded of my priorities and "first things", as one life among many others that have been called, more than an organization - a family. I am reminded that as much as my life and purpose are precious to God, so are those of others that form His church, of whom it is said, "a great multitude which no one could number, of all all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues." Where then, are my thoughts and concern for them, in the midst of all that crowds into my life clamouring for my attention? I was convicted by Rev. Johnson's observation during his sermon, that he found his own prayer life in want of fervor and discipline in comparison to those fellow believers whom he has encountered of the persecuted church around the globe. Is too much comfort and too little devotion slowly asphyxiating me? 

   I was also reminded by my Bible that while I am often found living my life in silent contemplation of my own "bubble world", a great cry has been heard in heaven. Blood cries out from the ground and voices have not been silent in heaven, of those whose blood has been spilt on account of the Christ they have followed, because they " did not love their lives, even unto death" :

"...I saw under the altar, the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" - Revelation 6:9-10, NKJV

While the blood and voices of the slain cry out on their own behalf,
why is mine not heard on behalf of the church that is being dragged to the slaughter?
And when asked of me, am I willing to join them?

     "Watch and pray," Jesus said, "lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Just as I am in desperate need of the good news of the Gospel preached to me everyday while struggling along the path of sanctification, so too do I need a daily reminder of what that entails in my life as part of the larger family in which I find myself:

"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnared us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." - Hebrews 12:1-2, NKJV

- The Wisdom Seeker


Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Searing Ruination of Stolen Water

 “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s hard to get it back in.”- H. R. Haldeman

   "CIA Chief Resigns Over Extra-Marital Affair" [1] were the startling, yet matter-of-fact words that populated one news site as it displayed. But I doubt if any sentence summarizes the gravity and tragedy of this episode, and every other like it, as the opening words of a similar article on another news site [2]:

"Only two people know how the affair started, 
but the world knows now about its inglorious end."

Image: AP Reuters
   I cannot help but feel sad as the words of Proverbs 5:14 come to mind and I look at the photograph of the man at the centre of this unfolding story, the latest in a long line of such tragedies. He wears his neatly starched and pressed uniform so well, the olive of his uniform complementing the green of his piercing eyes, his hair parted neatly to match. Smart, capable, handsome, distinguished, accomplished, decorated, recognized, respected, powerful, admired, saluted. The stars of rank on his shoulders and the decorations on his chest speak for themselves of his excellence in his profession, a man of discipline and action in war and peacetime. Credited with saving the military campaign on the frontlines and potential presidential material, yet it seems he has tragically failed at home.

   The director of the nation's foremost intelligence agency discovered in his marital unfaithfulness by the nation's foremost investigative agency. I don't know whether to interpret it as irony or comedy. What happened to you?, I find myself wondering. How did you get here? Perhaps he too is wondering the same right now.

   It seems only to add to the sorriness of the whole affair that this is no lackey, but a man brilliant in his capability and accomplishments, and acknowledged by his peers:

"...renowned for taking charge of the military campaigns..."

"...the best-known general of the post 9/11 wars..."

"...considered the nation's most well-known and popular military leader since Colin Powell"

" ordinary government official. He was the top man in the intelligence agency."

" of the outstanding general officers of his generation."

"...a shrewd thinker and hard-charging competitor."

" of our nation's most respected public servants....redefined what it means to serve and sacrifice for one's country."

It is sobering to be reminded of the emptiness of brilliant victories abroad, 
if we lose the battle to "forsake all others, to have and hold" at home

    This perhaps is the most important reminder for us as Christian men and women to take sober and careful heed of, for we fool ourselves if we imagine that we are mightier and stronger than those who have fallen and now regret. Lest we believe in our naivete that this plague afflicts only the apostate and unbeliever, we need only lift our eyes and take a cursory look at the landscape of Christendom. The carnage is open for all to see, inflicted upon marriages across churches and ministries, leadership and laity, by husbands and wives who forgot the severe warning of Scripture and let their guard down against the merciless onslaught upon themselves and their marriages:

"You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin." - Hebrews 12:4, NKJV

    Lest we also delude ourselves that this is a solitary episode of the few and far between variety, one need only look at the sad parade of public figures who have been engulfed and brought to personal and public ruination within the last few years alone. The Governors of South Carolina and New York [4-5], one of the most recognized faces of professional golf [7], a political candidate for the Republican presidential nomination [8-9] are but a few of those whose personal lives have been ransacked and their professional standing brought low.

   But in the end, it was the very last line at the end of one article that captured my attention and thoughts:

"Petraeus and his wife, Holly, live in Virginia. They have two grown children."

   This rather inconspicuous and bland sentence is where the true tragedy lies. In the end, it is the family that bears the brunt and pays the price of marital infidelity. I think of the many that I know who carry those scars, and of one woman in particular. Though married and with a family of her own, to this day is unable to speak about her father's infidelity toward her mother and the pain and heartbreak that it brought upon her during her growing years.

   Without fail, human beings prove over and over again that in attempting to break the law of God, we prove rather than disprove that it is right, and we bring heartbreak and ruination upon ourselves and those whom we have pledged to love. It was Cecil B. DeMille, producer of the movie The Ten Commandments who said: 

  "If man will not be ruled by God, he will certainly be ruled by tyrants - and there is no tyranny more imperious or more devastating than man's own selfishness, without law. We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them..."

    I doubt if I could conclude this sobering post better than the words of a father instructing his children in the book of Proverbs, words that are a grim reminder both to me and all men and women who would be faitful husbands and wives one day:

"Lest you give your honour to others, and your years to the cruel one;
Lest aliens be filled with your wealth, and your labours go to the house of a foreigner;
And you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed,
And say:
"How I have hated instruction,
And my heart despised correction!
I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers,
Nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me!
I was on the verge of total ruin,
In the midst of the assembly and congregation....

Do not lust after her beauty in your heart,
Nor let her allure you with her eyelids.
For by means of a harlot a man is reduced to a crust of bread;
And an adulteress will prey upon his precious life.
Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?
Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?

Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding ;
He who does so destroys his own soul.
Wounds and dishonour he will get, 
And his reproach will not be wiped away....

He did not know it would cost his life.
Now therefore, listen to me, my children;
Pay attention to the words of my mouth:
Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways,
Do not stray into her paths;
For she has cast down many wounded,
And all who were slain by her were strong men.
Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death."

- Proverbs 5:9-14, 6:28, 32-33, 7:24-26, NKJV

[1] CIA Chief Resigns Over Extra-Marital Affair
[2] CIA Chief Petraeus Resigns Over Affair
[3] Profile: General David Petraeus
[4] The Strange Persistence of Moral Sanity
[5] A Governor, A King and The Tragedy of Adultery
[6] The Age of Indiscretions: Moral Credibility and Political Leadership
[7] The Travail of Tiger Woods: Lessons Not To Be Missed
[8] For Christian Men: The Lessons of Herman Cain
[9] The Cain Mutiny: Character Doesn't End At The Bedroom Door
[10] Adultery Incorporated: The Infidelity Industry

Monday, November 5, 2012

To The Last Drop Of Blood

Image Credit: Andrej Anei [1]
   A sermon preached by Pastor John Neufeld at Willingdon Church two weeks ago has given me much to think about since I poured out some of my internal conflict and consternation in my last post. At the time, I was really wanting a new day [2] and a fresh start on a new chapter of life, after what seems to have been a rather trying year that has left me feeling rather drained.

   So it was, while trying to pick myself up off the ground and find the internal drive to get moving again, that the words of "What Real Life Looks Like" [3] spoke to me at a much needed moment, as Pastor John explored the following passage of the book of Philippians:

"..and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you for all your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again."
- Philippians 1:18-26, NKJV

   What do you desire more than anything else? What are the things you passionately look to have? What do you think is the example of a successful human being? What does success look like? And what are the things in your life that you would sacrifice, and what are the things that under no circumstances would you ever sacrifice if you had that chance? These were some of the opening questions of the sermon that gave me cause to pause and reflect. They brought back memories of my own convictions that I have come to over the years on these matters, and words that I have in effect written to myself to this effect on this blog as reminders. I took a good, hard look at a Mission Statement sitting on my desk that I had written out for myself seven years ago, a fresh graduate at the end of my undergraduate program in Engineering. The words and convictions are still the same, yet the man behind them has changed, grown, undergone metamorphosis, chrysalis...

So what answer do I have for those questions, with where I find myself?

    An answer to those questions emerged as Pastor John worked his way through his sermon. 

   Thinking about the situation in which I've found myself over the last two months - out of a job and looking for work, I find that I can intellectually assent to the statement that "hardships are opportunities", but struggling to find out what that looks like in my situation on the ground or how to get to where I'm supposed to go. To tell the truth, sometimes I've just felt dead on the inside in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of this current episode, trying my best to keep things from falling apart, get back up and barely hanging on in the process. Planted between my situation and opportunity stand the determined foes of my own self, with whom I must do battle: my inertia, lethargy, apathy, dejection, despair, resignation.  

The foe is not out there, he is in here - in my mind and heart.

   If this, as Pastor John explained, is "what real life looks like", I don't stand a chance of making it through on my own. If anything, that should be the lesson that I should learn from this episode, if not from those of the last several years - that the resources are not in me to make it through. I really need help.
   It was the reminder of Jesus that brought things into focus for me. After all, who else has been the core subject of all that I have written and thought about? Who else has been the companion of this fool in search of Wisdom? It is really He that has been the cause of every post that I have written, and Him that I have thought about as I conclude every one of them. All of this has been written for and about Him. All that has motivated and driven me to do anything worthwhile has been my love for Christ, and Christ alone.

"But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."
- Acts 20:24, NKJV

   That sentence, from the mouth of the Apostle Paul, is the answer of the Word of God that I latched on to. It brings into perspective everything that has happened to me - everything I have written to myself; every conviction that I have held; every resolution and promise that I have made; every up and down; every setback; every hardship; every heartbreak; every loss and gain; every abandonment and rejection; every failure and disappointment; every sorrow and anguish. None of these things must move me, because they are not the end goal. They do not matter if the sole purpose of my life is not to preserve it, but to lose it.

   This, I think, is the reminder that will help me get back up and keep moving forward - "nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy." My life is not precious to me, to be held on to tightly and kept comfortable. I will pour it out for the sake of Christ and others, till the last drop of blood is gone, and there is nothing left to give anymore. This is my purpose. And when that has been done, I will have reached my finish line and I will go to the home that awaits me [4] in the Land of the Living [5].

   The greatest obstacle of my life is my self; the greatest purpose - to pour everything out for Christ, till the last drop of my life and blood is gone; the greatest gain - to go home to Him.

    It's been a struggle to find the right words to write this, but I feel better now. I think a words of a hymn that is also my prayer are appropriate to conclude this post:

O Thou, who camest from above,
The pure celestial fire to impart
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart!

There let it for Thy glory burn,
With inextinguishable blaze
And trembling to its source return,
In humble prayer, and fervent praise

Jesus, confirm my heart's desire,
To work and speak, and think for Thee
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up Thy gift in me

Ready for all Thy perfect will,
My acts of faith, and love repeat
Till death Thy endless mercy seal,
And make my sacrifice complete
- Charles Wesley

    These were the words with which I began last year. I'm glad I was reminded of them as this year begins to draw to a close. Everything, till the last drop of blood is gone.
- The Wisdom Seeker

[1]  Blood Drop
[3] "What Real Life Looks Like", John Neufeld, October 21st at Willingdon Church
[4] Where Is Home?