Pessimism

It is a true saying that our desires are too small. Mr. Lewis pointed to this in his work, The Weight of Glory. We are content to play with mud, satisfied with little pleasures. All the while ignoring the invitation to play on the clean shores of the sea. Our desires are weak.

This is reflected in pessimistic speak. I am convinced that Satan is the ultimate pessimist. And that when we participate in a pessimistic attitudes or language – we are joining with the enemy in dismantling hope. For that is exactly what pessimism does – it looks to kill the worth or the value of its object. To make it pointless.

What does pessimism sound like? It sounds like “just.” “He was just a friend.” “It’s just a song.” “It was just a little thing.” Pessimism by definition tries to diminish the worth in the object.

There is no good desire you have that is bigger than the source of satisfaction, God. The water does not go higher than the waterfall right? You cannot desire what does not exist. This is so fantastically important because – if we will allow ourselves to believe His promises – this principle will open up floodgates of hope.

Do you desire food? That is because bread exists. You were made to eat.

Do you desire to feel purposeful? That is because you were made to work.

Do you desire friendship? That is because you were made to be communal.

Do you desire to be known? That is because God is Love and he made you to be loved.

You want things because those things really exist.

This is utterly critical and it is True to the fullest: every good desire you have will be totally satisfied in heaven. Every single one. Do you desire to walk cool mornings and smell fresh rain? Do not despair that you live in a desert right now – God created mornings and fresh rain! Do you really think they will cease to exist in heaven? Do you desire challenge and the feeling of conquering a mountain? God made mountains! He made that feeling you get when you reach the top – do you really think those will go away in the new earth?

The promise of Christ is that He came to give us life and life more abundantly. Not less. He made dirt, flavor, smell, and feelings. The things that are good are not accidental, and they are most certainly not of the enemy, for he cannot create. No! God alone makes good things, the author of your heart wrote desires into your being – will he not satisfy? Consider this – none of your desires are neutral. They are either warped by sin OR they are from God and good. There are only two options.

This is why pessimism is so freakishly evil. It seeks to dismantle what it means to be human. It attacks the very image of God in us. God made the desire for love and friendship – pessimism says that love and friendship are not real. Pessimism is the fruit of hurt and disappointment, of desire unmet. Pessimism says, “Since I cannot have this thing, it must not exist.” This is a disruptively cleaver escape, if the thing you desire doesn’t exist – you cannot hurt, you have no reason to.

But joy and joy again we do have a reason to hurt! And hurt we should when loss occurs – but we in Christ never will despair. Our hope is secure. We will walk the mornings, we will work and know purpose, we will be known and loved. Because God is. And He has redeemed.

We must correct pessimistic language, refute it, kill it. We must fight for what is beautiful and true, for there is a reason to hope.

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A Start

No one likes to talk about scary stuff – the actual scary stuff. I certainly avoid it. However, the great peace of Jesus is my security in Him. If you read scripture (1 Peter for example) we are not told that we might suffer, we are told that we will suffer. That we will hunger, we will be ostracized, we will be hurt – we will be killed. That’s not hype or doom and gloom. That’s the reality of Christian life. I find it easy to mentally accede to that fact, but much more difficult to really flip the switch and believe it. I’m not sure if I fully do, even now.

However a recent article I read definitely flipped a few switches.

In the National Geographic article The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion the author, Gabe Bullard, writes about the growth of secularism worldwide. According to his findings “the religiously unaffiliated, called “nones,” are growing significantly. They are the second largest religious group in North America.” That’s not hard for me to believe, nevertheless it is startling to hear. I can still remember people quoting statistics that stated a 70% “Christian” majority in the USA. What’s even more startling is the time it took for the non-religiously affiliated to become so large. Bullard writes, “In the past decade, U.S. nones have overtaken catholics, mainline protestants, and all followers of non-Christian faiths.” In the past decade – ten years – this change has taken place. That’s a drop in the bucket in historical timelines. Yet we are seeing in our life times dramatic change in the cultural attitude. Even Bullard calls it “startlingly fast.”

The rising tide of secularism is not what startled me, however. Rather it was how Mr. Bullard referenced “Religious Freedoms” that most caused me to pay attention. He writes, “And even in the secularizing West, the rash of “religious freedom bills” – which essentially decriminalize discrimination – are the latest front in a faith-tinged culture war in the United States that shows no signs of abetting anytime soon.” Read that sentence carefully. Religious Discrimination – Christian’s choosing to not wed gays – was just labeled criminal. The church behaving in line with scripture is thought to be wrong – punishable by this kind of thought. How long until Christian behavior is criminal?

That’s real. And maybe I’m behind the times on where our culture is, but that sentence shocks me. It sobers me more than anything. We have experienced precious little suffering. But mightn’t  that change soon? What will happen in the next 10 years? It was only 3 years ago that Obama came out as “pro gay.” Now gay marriage is legal in the United States and one of our presidential candidates is recommending transgender bathrooms. Our culture is experiencing metamorphic change at a rapid rate. This is real.

Should it cause fear? No. Be anxious for nothing is no less the Word of God than it was before.

“Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” Isaiah 2:22

But it ought cause sobriety. It ought spur you to press into scripture and prayer, not because those save you. But because they draw you into a love relationship with the Creator Author of time and life.

Real and painful times are ahead of us and our children. And it seems it may come sooner than we think. Nevertheless we are safe my friends. We cannot loose. For He has already won.

I am glad to see you.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I doubt it. So often when I awake in the morning, I’m like a dog with his tail between his legs. Be it actual sin or imagined sin or maybe just some ambiguous feeling of “I could have done that better”, I wake up avoiding eye contact with God.

Why is this?

The root answer is shame, shame leads directly to avoidance and seclusion. Adam and Eve hid when they sinned. They were ashamed.

But why do I do this? Sometimes I can’t even remember why I’m ashamed, yet I still act like God is in the armchair across the room looking over his glasses at me with a knowing disapproval.

Sad. Sad and religious. We are half baked Christians in some ways. We get grace, we get that we don’t have to do anything to earn our salvation. Praise God! But once we start touching things, as soon as we lay a hand on life and things start breaking…we try to fix them. And here we meet moralism and half baked religion.

The little voices sound something like this: “If you had only spent more time in scripture, you would have known not to get angry at that man.” “If you had only spent more time in community, you would not have made those choices.” “If only you really feared God, you would stop sinning.” “If you really loved God, you would have been more excited about that friend’s conversion.” “If only, if only, if…if…if…” All true, to a degree. All heavy and binding. What can you say in response? “I’ll do better next time.” 

And so we do. We block out time to read more, we send daily scriptures to our phones, we sign up for one more community bible study group thing, we try to listen to worship music more…all to show God that we are serious about following Him.

We change our life to attempt to fix the things we know we fail at, not because we succeed after the changes, but because we want to show God that at least we’re trying. Isn’t he pleased with that? Isn’t that good enough?

No.

Praise God the answer is no.

Is such the fast that I choose,

a day for a person to humble himself?

Is it to bow down his head like a reed,

and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?

Will you call this a fast,

and a day acceptable to the Lord?”

Isaiah 58:5

This was written pre-Christ, and still God is saying, “Is the purpose of fasting, of religious action, so that you can show me how humble you are? How pious you are? Will you show me your righteousness by your works?” We are no different than our predecessors, we measure our faithfulness in terms of attendance and service. We look at how much our outward life reflects obedience and give ourselves a grade before we go meet with God. The Pharisees measured days fasted, we measure Christian acts of service. But this is not God’s measuring stick.

“Is not this the last that I choose:

to loose the bonds of wickedness,

to undo the straps of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?”

Isaiah 58:6

Cutting of bonds and breaking yokes. That is what fasting looks like in God’s eyes. What is a yoke? It is a big wooden thing we used to place on cows so they could plow fields. A yoke is a burden, a heavy thing. Like religion.

Jump back to the beginning of this discussion. How often do we wake up with a yoke on our necks? The yoke looks like “not good enough, not enough scripture, didn’t pray enough, haven’t stayed pure enough. Not enough…not enough…not enough…” That is heavy as hell. Indeed that is hell – a place where your shortcomings and willful apathy scream in your face for eternity.

Yet God, the creator, the weaver of desires and human life, would smash these yokes. He would have me awake and smile with joy. I am free.

“I, I am He 

who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,

and I will not remember your sins.”

Isaiah 43:25

“…you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.”

Isaiah 43:3

Precious. Honored. Loved. When I awake in the morning, it is not with a knowing disapproval that God greets me. No, he sees me come out of my room sleepy-eyed and yawning and with an embrace the God of life says,

“I am glad to see you.”  

God ain’t Grandpa

“Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief…” Isaiah 53:10

Here’s a startling thought: it is within the Character of God to crush a man. It is not inconsistent for God to will to bring grief to a person. God did not suspend His character when He called Jesus to the Cross, rather He willed it. He did not hold off benevolence in order to lead Jesus to suffer and die. No. We must accept that God acted within His character in crushing the person of Jesus.

And Jesus was perfect.

“And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.” Isaiah 53:9

This should frighten us. God is not chronically bound to be nice. He is not grandpa. He is Father, and His wrath is withering. God is Holy and the Holy does not breathe air with sin. Can we understand this? The wrath of God is his absence. His neglect. His mercy is discipline. His kindness is letting us feel the pain of our sin and thereby realize our emptiness so that we can return to relationship with Him.

Jesus was without sin, yet God crushed him.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:5-6

We belong – we are the creations of the God who crushes sin. In Jesus’ last moments he cried out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” For the first time, the Son felt the disapproval of His Father. He felt the wrath of God – His absence. And He died beneath that weight.

The crushing absence of God is the fate of those outside of Christ.

What does this mean for me? Several things. First, it is good to consider that God is not a weaponless God. His sword is sharp and it has tasted blood. God is a God of war and His battle is against those who do not acknowledge Him. Isaiah makes this vividly clear.

Isaiah 42:13-17

The Lord goes out like a mighty man
    like a man of war he stirs up his zeal;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes.

For a long time I have held my peace;
    I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor;
    I will gasp and pant.

I will lay waste mountains and hills,
    and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
    and dry up the pools.

And I will lead the blind
    in a way that they do not know,
in paths that they have not known
    I will guide them.

I will turn the darkness before them into light,
    the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I do,
    and I do not forsake them.

They are turned back and utterly put to shame,
    who trust in carved idols,
who say to metal images,
    “You are our gods.”

In this we see both God’s sword and God’s mercy. God’s sword levels mountains and dries up rivers. His sword destroys. But His mercy is miraculous and tender. Which is the second thing I can take away from this: In Christ I am promised the protection and leadership of Him who makes light out of darkness.

What does Isaiah 53:10 have for us who are no longer under the wrath of God? A true picture of God to remind us to fear. And a vivid picture of Jesus to cause us to delight in His covering and intercession.

V10 “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief…”

v12 “…He poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet He bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

My sin is borne, my transgressions are covered. Now, rather than god’s wrathful absence, I get to know His intimate presence.

Shame by Identification

Today in church we began a discussion on the idea of Integrity. Integrity as defined by the dictionary is, “the state of being complete or whole.” Integrity is that idea that you are solid – consistent. If you were a bridge I’d feel safe about walking anywhere on you, because you are whole. Solid. The same at all times. You are a person of integrity.

The reality is that none of us are truly people of integrity. None of us are whole. The nature of sin and brokenness we live in is that I am, by nature, a “double minded man unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8)

In me exists the same bio-polarity Paul writes about in Romans 7, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” The nature – the very DNA of the flesh is anti-God. It knee-jerk rebels against God’s law. “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” (Romans 7:14) And the flesh is built to follow the “law” of sin, as Paul writes in verses 21 through 23, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” 

There exists inside the redeemed Saint a conflict between the old law and the new. We are in the process of being sanctified and in that process we get to watch a spiritual land war take place daily inside our own beings. Our souls are the turf that these battles play out on, day after day. And we are conscious of both sides. We can taste and feel the desire of both the Spirit and the flesh. And in the midst of this tug of war, I, like Paul, sometimes want to scream “Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?”

Re-enter integrity: for although inside all of us exists this war, we are still called and created to be whole. We hunger for wholeness, for consistency. We hate when we are inconsistent and we become experts are ignoring our own hypocrisy. But that is not the gospel.

A perfect analogy of this whole thing was given by our pastor. Adam and Eve were made perfect, whole, and pure. They walked naked with each other and with God  – for they had nothing to hide. However, the moment they sinned – the war began. They were no longer whole, they were dis-integrated. It was at that moment they knew shame and for their first act as broken people they covered their nakedness. Shame.

No longer could they be transparent before their God and spouse…they had dark corners now. Evil thoughts. A recognition of something ugly in themselves…and they had to hide.

We, Christians, are the exact same. Shame is a cancer and a chain and it has me and you in ways we fail to see. Shame clamps on us as we try to hike the mountains of life and causes us to fall behind into isolation. When we are ashamed, we make like Adam and Eve and grab what we can to cover our flaws and we hide.

What causes shame? Identification with that which causes rejection. We claim, traits, desires, or thoughts as our own. We recognize that those things are either sinful or perceived as socially unacceptable and we try to hide them, we cover up. “Covering up” is a reflex result of shame. Out of shame we hide from people, out of shame we hide our thoughts, out of shame we don’t make eye contact with our friends. Isolation is often a result of shame. Imagine the hump-back of Notre Dame, he was hidden away because of his deformity (and his master’s cruelty). He was ashamed of his appearance, so he isolated himself.

When you consider this principle in the context of sin, Paul’s bipolarity starts to matter. We as Christ followers are not whole – yet (that is glorification). We are justified, whole, washed white, and pure in the sight of God – but we are in still in process (sanctification). There still exists inside of us the very real and present desire for heinous and evil things. And we don’t just think about them, there is a part of us that really wants them. Deep down in the dark closets of our beings, we recognize the parts of us that crave to put down, abuse, and harm others, while exalting self. The hole goes deep and the thoughts get worse. I know that if I were totally honest, there have been times I’ve desired things that would sentence me to life in prison.

There exists within us a flesh ruled by the sin nature. And that nature is not cute. It is not just a little greedy sometimes, cashing in on occasion when it can’t get caught. It is entirely depraved. Black. No light, no goodness. No excuse. Utter rejection of God to the point of wanting evil. That is the nature of the flesh that exists in us.

This is where shame comes in. As churched people we know morality, we know what we ought not do. We even know what we ought to do instead! And it gets worse! Jesus taught that even our thoughts can condemn us. Now we are not only called to be moral in action, but to be wholly moral. To be people of integrity morally even in our own private thoughts.

That’s all well and fine – until we fail. And fail we do. We fail in our thoughts and desires. We fail with our words, with our eyes, and with our bodies. We gratify and feed the flesh we know is evil, hoping that it will eventually just “go away.” And we go about our lives.

Until we come into contact with wholeness – then we hide. Then we feel shame. Because we know that we have identified with evil.

The truth is our flesh is not simply sitting still in this moralistic environment. Rather, it is capitalizing on every chance we give it to cut us down and feed itself. And so in our sanctification, as we learn to walk in holiness, we also learn that our habits matter. Our eating matters! Our leisure matters! Our work and even our sleeping habits matter! Because if we do not guard those things, our flesh floods into the smallest of breaches and leads us to sin. (This is why some people do not drink. And why others do not listen to certain music or go to certain places. Their flesh has a highway carved through that part of their wall – they know their flesh will feed there. So they, wisely, avoid giving themselves the chance.)

But why do we feel shame? Why do people duck eyes when they start talking with their Christian friends or their pastors? Because they are identifying with the sin. They are claiming as an integral part of themselves ideas and desires that they know the person they are with would not approve of. Shame.

Imagine if you had a square purple nose, you would likely cover it up. You can’t remove it, but you sure don’t want people to see it! Sin is like that. It is woven into our beings, we can’t remove it! No matter how positive we act, how good we get at self-discipline, how clever and minimalist we become. We cannot beat our flesh alone. Consider how many priests have been associated with molestation? We can not out run ourselves. We cannot kill sin, it’s in our blood.

But there is good news. Indeed this IS the good news that we are not doomed to be devoured by our sin. We are not slaves any longer to a flesh monster that lives in us like a parasite. We are washed. The disease of Sin was killed by the Great Physician who paid the necessary price for the antidote – Grace.

It is because of this that shame is so utterly backwards. Christian – know that you are no longer identified by your darkest thoughts and desires. The wonder of the Cross is it has made you a new creation. A creation able to say no to the flesh where you once had no voice.

Romans 8:1-2 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” 

2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Shame off you. No longer do you have to hide, do not cower from even your darkest thoughts – they are not yours! Do not identify yourself with them – they are not you. There is no condemnation. Take heart and know joy! You are free from that basement of death and fear. The darkness does not own you. The skeletons in your closet have been washed away with that whole old house. There is nothing to be ashamed of.

This then is what is meant by setting your mind on the Spirit or the flesh: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6) If I set my mind on the thoughts and desires that my flesh tries to throw in my face – I despair. I taste again the desire for evil and it is familiar. It is pleasant and I choose sin again. And again I do what I hate, and again I know shame. I have set my mind on the flesh, I have identified with my flesh.

But – if instead I recognize those thoughts as foreign – as not a part of who I now am. I am free to reject them. I’m free to dismiss those things as the hell spawn that they are and respond in holiness. There is now a choice, where there once was no choice. There is now freedom.

So, dear Christian, do not be dismayed by the war in your heart. Rather take courage! Fight with the Sword you’ve been given – the very promises of God.

For…

 “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The war is over. And we are utterly victorious.

A Critique on Criticism

Critical people come in two brands: hellish and helpful. What I mean by that is that there is a criticism that comes from the character of the enemy, and there is a criticism that comes from the heart of the God. The difference between the two is as different as the knife of the surgeon and the knife of the mugger. One cuts to make whole, the other to make holes.

There is a kind of criticism that is genuinely redemptive, it sees hope and the potential for the object or person as it scrutinizes. There is another kind though that is as sinister as a poisoned apple. Wicked Witches don’t give apples to their friends, for we all know the wicked witch has no redemption in her heart. The apple she gives seems innocuous, all shiny and red, but it is poison to the person who eats it. The apple is criticism, and often it is bundled in gossip.

The dark magic of the apple is to turn the person into an evil apple giver themselves. Critical people produce (and attract) critical people. Pessimism is both toxic and contagious and it has this bizarre ability to suck the life right out of its target. Have you ever had a band/song/movie that you yourself were quite fond of, only to have that band/song/movie trashed by a friend who only could point out the bad things in that band/song/movie? They are the worst.

In my experience the hater wagon seems to come around the most often (and most benignly) with movies. I am not highly critical of most movies, maybe that is because I don’t expect a whole lot out of them. In any case, I can accept plot holes if there is enough cohesion to allow me to see what makers were trying to do. And on the whole, most A-list movies do a good job at this – even if their new arch villain looks a little like a greek statue and seems to have a strange immunity to helmet hair (*Cough cough* Kylo Ren). In this arena the evil apple critics are annoying but mostly harmless. However the principle is the same – their criticism steals the enjoyment of the good in the thing. Sure, there are plot holes, and yeah, ok that part where they blew up the death planet that was inhaling the sun wasn’t super realistic, but sheesh – enjoy the movie! Critical people of this kind, can only see the issues, the negative, the bad parts of the object they are critiquing. And in doing this they ignore and make irrelevant any good that might have been enjoyed.

Imagine a dinner table where a family is gathered after church. If one member starts with a line about how “the worship team needs to get some new songs” or how “the pastor needs to get out of the first chapter of Romans.” That starts a conversation trajectory that leads towards all the issues in the church, which produces an overall attitude of ingratitude and frustration towards that church. However, if at the start of dinner a member says, “Man, I really am glad there are people who give their time to play music for us on Sundays.” The opening tone is different, the trajectory is appreciation. The important thing to note though, is that neither statement contradicts the other. But their focus is fundamentally different.

The problem with critics is – they are right. The issues that they point out are often legitimate, and that is why they are so deadening. We hear their criticisms and begin to respond only to recognize that the points they raise are valid. This realization then causes us to second guess ourselves, were we wrong to think so highly of that book? That sermon? That person? Maybe we were foolish and naive, perhaps this friend is right in all his critiques. And that is how the poisoned apple works. It causes us who listen to the wicked critics to become apathetic and pessimistic with them. And eventually we start making and passing out poisoned apples ourselves. Rather than push against the critical evaluation of our friends, we join in the consensus and slander our target of choice. We give the fruit that we receive.

The enemy is always trying to make us give up, to become apathetic, to stop trying. That is why this poisonous kind of criticism is so satanic, it yanks the rug out from under its victim and calls it stupid for standing up in the first place. It makes us want to distance ourselves from whatever is begin criticized. It makes us give up on that thing. This might be harmless in the case of a movie or a song, but when we start criticizing people and churches in this way, we turn on ourselves, we shoot our own teammates. We fight for hell.

Worse still, we are quick to be this kind of critic. It is easy, even fun, to point out a things’ weak points and exploit them. There is a perverse pleasure in demeaning others. It makes us feel secure and strong to show how weak and silly something – or someone – else is. But that is not love, that is hellish.

What then does helpful criticism look like?

I don’t have the full answer, but I know that a key ingredient must be redemption because that’s what God does. Redemptive criticism recognizes a broken thing and sees the potential for wholeness. Hellish criticism stops short of this, it just sees the brokenness of the person and camps out there. With great detail and painful accuracy the hellish critic line items all the issues and weaknesses of our failed attempts to make (or be) things worth anything.

Redemptive and helpful criticism goes further though. It sees the mountain on the other side of the valley. Love hopes all things, endures all things, it is not self serving. God sees my chronic brokenness and He hopes. Isn’t that crazy? If you knew me and my thoughts, would you hope? Or would you back away in fear? If I knew you, would I do the same? But no, God sees the creature made possible by the blood of Christ and He redeems. This is what we, on a smaller scale, get to do with things on earth.

Practically that means pointing out, or at least remembering, the good when we discuss the bad. It means balancing the reality of strengths with the reality of shortcomings. Helpful criticism is totally frank when it comes to the failings of an idea or an institution, but it is also very quick to keep in perspective the good and the future hope for whatever it is discussing.

When it comes to people, our response ought be a hushed humility. We ought to be slow to demonize people’s failings and quick to praise God and affirm them for the good qualities they carry. Good is not made by Satan, therefore you can genuinely praise that exceptionally irritating childrens church worker who does nothing but complain. For even though her nose is in her naval and all she can see is her problems, her patience with children and gift for games is a Godly thing and it is worth rejoicing in. And you will do more to heal her for the recognition of it.

Words are easy. And where words are many, transgression follows. It’s a math question, people are messy, the more we touch – the more messes there are. But hallelujah! God makes our messes matter and redeems our failed attempts to bring Him glory and praise. Critique in love, asses in hope, look for the wholeness, not the brokenness. May we deal gently, for we have been dealt with gently.

Two Delights

My kids better brace themselves, if I have my way they will have some rather…nontraditional names. I do not mean that I will name them bizarre things like Moon-unit or Hogarth (real people have been named such). It’s just that there are some words out there that whose meanings are so rich! It makes perfect sense to me to use them as names. I look at it as a way of raising vocabulary awareness, my kids are just being volunteered for the job.

Two such words I recently discovered are Hebrew words for “Delight.” They are the words `anag (pronounced like it looks – a nag) and chephets (pronounced chey-fets). Unfortunately these words do not sound very pretty in the english, so I likely will not be naming any of my daughters `anag… sounds a little bit too much like me calling her a donkey. Nevertheless! I can’t help but nerd out about these two words and the Biblical truth they reveal upon a little digging.

I was reading one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 16, which if you haven’t read recently, go and do so. There is so much good news in that psalm, it is a fantastic prayer. In any case I didn’t make it very far. In fact I only got to verse three which reads: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” This caused me to pause. “Why would all my delight be in people? Isn’t God to be my greatest delight? My greatest pleasure?” No offense to any of you saintly people out there, but sometimes you’re not that awesome. Why would David write that all of his delight was in people? Especially people like you and me?

It is probably worth a discussion here on what a saint is, but for sake of the length of this blog post, we will abstain. The important thing to know for this particular thought bunny trail is that we are called saints. God looks at us and calls us set-apart and holy people: saints. That’s pretty wild, and I bet it would blow my mind to read some of the old testament scriptures in that light. But for now – Psalm 16.

So why delight in people, even if they are holy and perfect in light of the Gospel? Why would people be my joy? My mind jumped to that other verse in the bible, the one about delighting in God and Him giving us the desires of our heart?…yeah that one. I didn’t remember the exact address so I googled it. Here is the verse in full from Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” “There you go,” I told myself, “this verse says that I ought delight in God, not people.” And so I concluded that the Bible contradicts itself and became a Buddhist.

lol.

No sir, if you’ve never gone and used a tool like blueletterbible.com you are missing out on a level of scripture mining like you wouldn’t believe. I, however, was privy to this resource and popped up these two seemingly contradictory verses in two different tabs. Lo and behold – they are two different words! You guessed it: `anag and chephets! `Anag is used in Psalm 37 and chephets is used in Psalm 16.

I looked up the other uses in scripture for the word chephets and `anag and found some really cool things:

First, chephets is never used to describe delight in God, but `Anag is Often used to describe delight in God.

Chephets could be defined as “delight, desire, longing, good pleasure, that in which one takes delight.” I think the best way to understand this word based on its use would be our idea of “care.” Specifically care of things on earth. And this not in a negative sense! The idea seems to be: if it takes up space in your mind and you care about what happens with it, you use the word “chephets.” I care about my house, I delight in it, I chephet my house. I desire to have food, I delight in food. I desire those cedar trees, I chephet those cedar trees (that’s a 1 Kings 5:10 reference for you people keeping score at home). It’s also used to describe God’s delight (or lack thereof) in sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). It used to describe delight in the Law, or in safety (psalm 107:30).

This word seems to be limited to things on earth, almost a delight in an endpoint. And not in a devaluing sense! Experiences, goods, places, end goals, people, all good things, these are the things for which this word is used. God experiences “chephet” too! In fact in Isaiah 62:4 God says of Israel, and us by adoption, “My delight is in her.” The word there? “Chephet.” God’s delight – His good pleasure, His desire, His Chephet – is in us.

(I would like to take a brief but very sincere moment to say that I am not highly educated in the Hebrew language…there may be some scholar who reads this and weeps at my poor use of this word, but I’m swinging with what I got! And I do believe I’m swinging in the right direction.)

Chephet is a good word.

 

The word `anag, however, is quite different than chephet. It is the word chosen to describe delight in God.

`anag means the following in scripture: “to be of dainty habit, be pampered; to  be happy about, take exquisite delight; to make merry over, make sport of.” This is the word God uses to describe delight in Himself.

What?! “to be of dainty habit? To be pampered?” What the heck does that have to do with delighting in an almighty powerful God? A fair question.

When considered with all three definitions, the word carries with it this idea of innocence and being sheltered from hardship. There is a delicate and feminine air in the word. Children can make sport of scary things, for they have not had to face them on their own yet. Pampered, dainty women can make merry over life’s hardships – they have not had to bear them. Princes can make sport of their enemies, they do not fear them. This word is used for that kind of delight – the child like, playful, silly kick-your-feet-in-the-air kind of delight. The kind of delight that laughs deep and enjoys richly. The kind of delight that is not tainted by the weight of the world. That is the idea of `anag. And it is this kind of delight that God tells us to enjoy Him with.

Dude.

Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

“But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.”

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.”

Imagine banquet halls with kings and queens celebrating. Imagine children running loops around the tables giggling like there’s no need for oxygen. This is that delight. Rich, Peaceful, Provided for – joy. He is our Lord, our Peace, and our Food. We can take exquisite delight in Him.

So then, what of Psalm 16:3? What am I to do with these saints? I am to do what God does (Isaiah 62:4) and make all my delight, my focus, my end, my goal, my pleasure, my chephets on this earth in them – His people. His saints. For there are two things that will last forever – the Word of the Lord and the Souls of men.

But for God I reserve the carefree, total trust, not tainted by the weight of the world delight. I will `anag in God. I will laugh richly and enjoy exquisitely my Lord. I will play, I will make sport, and He will fill my heart.

He promised he would.