Bob and Weave

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103rd Psalm Part 5: From the Pit

Posted by flyingbk on 11/14/2016

First, a plug for the Scripture Typer app. I use it regularly to memorize Bible verses. It’s awesome. I love it. Try it. It’s free!

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103, NIV)

We continue our look at Psalm 103 (Past entries: Part 1, Part 2a, Part 2b, Part 3, Part 4). We’ve been looking at this psalm as a progression that gets better and better. We are now at verse 4. God forgives all our sin, and then heals all our diseases. Now we get to the pit.

In his brilliant book The Good Soldiers, David Finkel tells a story that well encapsulates the types of challenges soldiers faced during the Iraq War surge:

Still, on June 5, Kamaliyah was a long way from having sewers, which meant that the trenches were filled to their rims as a convoy pulled out of the COP on a lights-out mission to rendezvous with an informant.

“Go right! Go right!” one of the soldiers in the last Humvee yelled to a driver, who was fiddling with his night-vision goggles, or NODs, as they rounded a corner, but it was too late.

The Humvee began to slide into the trench. Then it flipped. Then it sank. Then it began filling up.

Four of the soldiers scrambled out a door and got out of the trench relatively dry, but the gunner was trapped inside. “He was yelling,” Staff Sergeant Arthur Enriquez would remember afterward, and if there was any hesitation about what to do next, it was only because, “I didn’t want to jump in the poo water.”

We’ve all felt like that gunner throughout the seasons of life. Trapped by despair and our insecurities. Wondering why we have to suffer, and if there’s really any meaning to it. Feeling like we’re sinking little by little, with hope slipping away.

Sometimes, it’s other people’s fault. So we make them easy scapegoats and blame them for all of our problems. But if we’re honest with ourselves, a lot of where we’ve ended up is our own doing. I’m reminded of a quote I once shared before, concerning the Old Testament Israelites in exile:

In the case of the chosen people, who for nearly seventy years had been strangers in a strange land, and had drunk the cup of bitterness to is dregs, there was thus added weight to their sorrow–the conviction of their captivity being the result of their own impenitence and transgression. This is the bitterest of all–to know that suffering need not have been; that it had resulted from indiscretion and inconsistency; that it is the harvest of one’s own sowing; that the vulture which feeds on the vitals is a nestling of one’s own rearing. Ah me! This is pain!
-F.B. Meyer, Christ in Isaiah

(I actually shared this quote back in college for my school’s Christian newsletter. Yup, it’s still available online. Not crazy about my writing in that article, though.)

So then we feel stuck. We feel like we’re in the poo water (ew). But thanks be to God. He’s the one who can deliver us, and willingly does so. Finkel continues:

And then?

“I jumped into the damn poo water.”

Down he went, into the crew compartment, where the gunner was stuck in his harness straps, his head partly in the sewage water, which continued to seep in. Enriquez got one arm around the gunner and lifted his head higher, and with his other hand began cutting away the straps. Now he and the gunner were nearly submerged as he pushed the straps away and began pulling at the gunner’s body armor away. He squeezed his eyes shut. He wondered how long he could hold his breath. He felt for the gunner’s waist and began pulling. Everything was slippery. He tried again. He got the gunner to the door. He kept pulling, and slipping, and pulling, and now they were out the door, out of the Humvee, out of the sewage, and up on the bank, and that’s how this month of hopeful signs began for the 2-16, with two soldiers wiping raw Iraqi sewage out of their eyes and ears and spitting it out of their mouths.

That’s what Jesus does for us. He got down into the poo water, and emerged victorious. He paid the price that we couldn’t pay, he endured the physical suffering and relational severance that we couldn’t bear, he descended into hell so that we would never have to dwell there. He went down into the deepest, darkest pit so that he could forever lift us up: from literal hell, but also from the pit of hopelessness, of meaninglessness, of helplessness.

But, but, wait… there’s more! One way the devil attempts to discourage us is by saying this: “Well, so you got out of the pit, you got out of the burned-down house. But where you gonna go now?” So we immediately get down all over again, thinking about the next steps and the so-called uncertainty that lies ahead, and we fall back into anxiety and worry. But hello! We just got redeemed from the pit and saved from hell!!!

We actually have so much to look forward to, but instead we choose to ruled by fear, bemoaning what we can’t control. The good news is that not only does God save us, he also then crowns us… More on that next time.

*****

I finished Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star last night. I absolutely LOVED this book. The two main characters are Daniel, a Korean high school senior whose parents want him to go to Yale, and Natasha, a Jamaican who is trying to fight off her family’s impending deportation. They happen to run into each other on this fateful day (the novel basically spans only one day). Daniel is the poetic, sensitive type while Natasha is the already jaded, science-driven one who is all about the data. So yes, it can be a cheesy opposites-attract story at times. But Yoon interposes her narrative with delightful historical and cultural insights, and her ending is pitch perfect. Certainly, if you’re Korean, you’ll enjoy it even more (they spend quality time at a noraebang, naturally). There was a big smile on my soul, mixed with a tinge of pathos, as I read and finished this book. I enthusiastically recommend it.

*****

Pete Carroll became my favorite NFL coach last night. With 4:24 to go in the 4th quarter last night, the Seahawks took a 31-24 lead on the Patriots. I have been waiting for a coach to do the bold, right thing by going for 2 in that situation. Why? If you make the 2, you take a 9-point lead and the game is basically over. If you miss it, you still have a 7-point lead (Contrary to what Jack del Rio did in Week 1, almost no team is going for 2 when an extra point means overtime). The 2-point try especially makes sense when you consider that the extra point is no sure thing anymore (look what happened earlier yesterday!), and usually reliable Seahawks kicker Stephen Hauschka did this a couple weeks ago:

Bravo, Pete. Perhaps he learned something from that kick (the look on his face as he watches the miss is priceless), and there may be hope yet for NFL coaching.

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Posted in 103rd Psalm, Books, Sports | Leave a Comment »

Live For The Reward

Posted by flyingbk on 09/28/2016

This is the final part of a 3-part series. Here’s Part 1, and Part 2.

10 days ago, I serendipitously ran into a friend of mine. Let’s call her Sandy. I drive into NYC for church, and pick up random people at the George Washington Bridge to save on tolls. Sandy happened to be there, waiting for a car. I do a circle hand wave, trying to get her attention. She does a double take, and realizes it’s me. She gets in my car, and tells me she’s on her way to church: my church!

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It can take forever and a day to find parking in the city, especially on Sunday morning. So I meander round and round for over half an hour. But it’s fine because Sandy is someone I’ve been wanting to catch up with, and the search for this elusive spot allots us plenty of time.

The reason Sandy’s going to my church is because she’s helping her cousin find a church. Her cousin is recently new to the NYC area and is looking to find a church in Manhattan. This is the second week they’ll be attending the church, and Sandy plans on helping her out each week until she finds the right one. Sandy then blurts out, half-jokingly, “God better have a big reward for me when I get to heaven.”

In my last two posts, I looked at the human need for validation. Whether you’re a celebrity, a politician, an athlete, a working man or woman, a stay-at-home mom, or anyone else, we all possess this need.

First, it’s important to note that the desire for validation is God-given. Yup, God created us with this yearning. It’s not a character flaw. God specifically made you and me with a desire for reward, with a desire for being praised. Let’s look at a well-known verse from the Word of God:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NIV)
We focus a lot on the first part of the verse, and rightfully so. But what does this “faith” consist of? The verse is clear that there are two components. One must believe that God exists, sure, but one must also believe that God *rewards* those who earnestly seek him.
The Bible is not shy about rewards. In fact, there’s many verses that give a sort of reward as motivation for those in the faith. Here’s a quick sampling:

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5, NIV)
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14, NIV)
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:12, NIV)
I’m currently reading the book An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness by Andrew M. Davis. (Shameless plug: Connect with me on Goodreads!). There is a fantastic chapter where he graphs out the shape of various journeys of Christian faith i.e. those who backslide, those who remain lukewarm, those who keep growing. It’s worth getting the book just for that chapter. But I digress.

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Davis writes the following:

A healthy theology of rewards is of the essence of faith. As we have already noted, Hebrews 11:6 makes faith in rewards essential to pleasing God…In other words, we cannot please God if we don’t believe in rewards! We are supposed to live our lives in this world as though the ledger sheet is supposed to be imbalanced, that the reason for our suffering and the effects of our seed-planting, and the results of our gifts to the poor, are all hidden and seemingly unrequited. We are supposed to expect to be repaid only “at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14: 14).
To believe in future rewards for present suffering and service is absolutely required in order to please God. If we say, “I don’t need any reward; for me it is enough to make God happy,” we might think we are being humble, but we are actually being arrogant. God intends us to live daily for the rewards, and to store up as many of them as possible for the future (Matthew 6: 19–20). (emphasis mine)
So again, this human desires for rewards, for validation, for someone to be pleased with us, for celebration of our good deeds and good life, is God-given. The problem, of course, is when we seek that validation in what cannot validate us long-term. It could be the praise and pleasure of another person or group of people. But as the old adage goes, “Praise [from man] is like perfume.” OK, I’m not sure that’s a real adage, but I heard a preacher once present it that way. The point is, it smells good initially, but if it’s left on too long, it goes stale. Moreover, when we do achieve someone’s praise, we become desperate to hang on to it, and terrified of losing it. We saw that was the case with O.J. Simpson and the portrayal of Nick Wasicsko. No wonder many of our human relationships are riddled by insecurity, and marred by codependency.

It could also be reaching a certain goal or promotion in our careers. It could simply be itching for that daily sense of accomplishment. But none of those things can truly fulfill our need for validation.

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Christians believe that we were created in the image of God, to be with God. Therefore, it’s God’s validation, God’s pleasure, God’s joy that we get to share in, and that alone is what satisfies the human heart. And it’s an eternal security: Even when we mess up, even when we don’t have that sense of accomplishment, or disappoint (or even lose the support of) a fellow human being, even when our flaws get exposed (cue my blog’s tagline).

And we know that this security is eternally certain because of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross, forsaken by his Father, so that he would never have to forsake us. Jesus absorbed the punishment for all of our sins so that if we believe in him, that punishment becomes our peace. There’s a safety net: No matter how much human validation we receive on any given day, we can soak up as much of God’s validation over us as necessary.

Last time, I quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Show me a hero, and I’ll show you a tragedy.” Jesus endured that tragedy on the cross so that he could be the hero that we need. He alone can give us the validation that we were created to receive. All we have to do is believe that he exists, and that we need him.

After all, what is this reward constantly referred to in the Bible? Take it away, Davis:

The reward is praise from God: that God would actually praise us and commend us and speak words of blessing on us in specific and detailed ways based on what we have done. He may also give us tokens or emblems of that praise (some people call them “crowns,” based on 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12, Revelation 2:10, 3:11, 4:4, and 4:10) as our permanent possessions in the New Heaven and New Earth. But the essence of the reward is the joy in the relationship: my heavenly Father is pleased with me! (emphasis mine)
Oh, yes. And we can live with that joy each and every day. So let’s live for those heavenly rewards while also knowing that in this present life, God is our great reward. Then, and only need, can we keep that pesky need for validation, and all its destructive tendencies, at bay.

Posted in Books, God | 2 Comments »

Nonfiction Historical Narrative Interlude

Posted by flyingbk on 09/20/2016

I’ll get to Part 2 of my series in the next day or two. But a quick interlude: I am so excited to tackle Candice Millard’s book Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchillwhich is out today! Nonfiction historical narratives are my absolute favorite genre, and Millard is a master at it. Plus this story is about Churchill, one of my personal heroes.


I cannot recommend her previous book, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, highly enough. There’s romance, rags to riches, political intrigue, attempted murder, the foolishness of premodern medicine, and Alexander Graham Bell. And I love these kinds of writings because they’re paced like an action novel. You will come away with a great appreciation for President James A. Garfield, a man of impeccable character who passed away too soon.

The one anecdote in this book that will forever stick with me, and one I’ve used often as a sermon illustration, is about Garfield. I’ll let Millard tell it:

Nor was Garfield capable of carrying a grudge, a character trait that neither Conkling nor Blaine could begin to understand. Years before, Garfield had resolved to stop speaking to a journalist who had tried to vilify him in the press. The next time he saw the man, however, he could not resist greeting him with a cheerful wave. “You old rascal,” he said with a smile. “How are you?” Garfield realized that, in a political context, the ease with which he forgave was regarded as a weakness, but he did not even try to change. “I am a poor hater,” he shrugged.

I love it. May we all seek to be “poor haters.” It’s so easy in today’s world to instantly judge, stereotype, hate, harbor offense, hold grudges. We all know there’s a ridiculous number of opportunities every single day for people to stir up hate and anger in us: co-workers, bosses, spouses, parents, children, friends, acquaintances, strangers, political figures, athletes, celebrities, police officers, drivers, pedestrians (that last one is for me).

But the secret is to instantly forgive. As quick as the opportunity to hate arrives, we should be even quicker to forgive and refuse to take offense. Life is a lot more joyful and a lot less messy that way. Thank you, Millard and President Garfield.

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