Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Longing That Won't Go Away

I thought it would go away if I could just find the secret. The longing, the deep yearning that says, “There must be more than this.” We all land there pretty early in life.

Sitting at the kitchen table with my mom in our little starter home shortly after John F. Kennedy was assassinated I said, “Mom, I don’t want to just die, be buried and be forgotten.” The longing was there.

In high school I thought if I could be accepted and applauded then it would satisfy the longing. I experienced it and it didn’t.

Well, maybe when I go to college, live on my own, make my own decisions and not be controlled by my parents that will satisfy the longing. I went and it didn’t.

Perhaps if I find a wonderful, beautiful, loving woman and marry her, that will satisfy the longing. I did and it didn’t.

Surely when I go into pastoral ministry, preach God’s Word, help other people, give my life to the service of the Lord and people, that will satisfy the longing. I did and it didn’t.

Possibly if I have children, that will satisfy the longing. To invest myself in other, to make a difference in young lives. I had four and it didn’t.

If I could gain some notoriety, some success in preaching and writing that might satiate the longing. I did and it didn’t.

Then I thought, maybe I just wasn’t close enough to God. If I pray harder, take more time in the Bible, worship more deeply, fast consistently -- that will satisfy the longing. But no matter how much I did the things preachers say will make me close to God, something still burned within me. The longing.

After all that, I read a book by Larry Crabb called “Finding God.” The lights came on as I read his explanation that there will always be a longing within us while we are alive on earth because the longing is a desire to be with God. What a relief! There’s nothing wrong with me, this longing is normal. Okay, so there may be some other things wrong, but not this.

C.S. Lewis said it this way, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (Mere Christianity).

God, speaking through the Apostle Paul, attempts to show us this truth. My comments are in parentheses.
"Now we know that if the earthly tent (our human bodies) we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven (a glorified body), not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed (be in Heaven with Jesus) with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked (in our earthly bodies). 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." 2 Cor 5:1-5, NIV

God, Himself created us with this longing. Because He is mean and doesn’t want us to be happy? No. He did so out of love, to lead us to Himself. He has placed a deep, intense, profound longing, a yearning, a soul-hunger, an ache, a desire for something beyond ourselves when He created the human race, even before sin landed us in such trouble. He does not want us to be satisfied with this world, but to live and long for that for which we were made.

The wisest man who ever lived put it thus, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

We naturally strive to satisfy this longing. As I did, we look to pleasure or possessions or position or pride in accomplishments to fill the vacuum. The human soul cannot sit idle while this longing boils inside. But nothing we seek ever satisfies.

Here’s the test: What do you do when you feel bad? What do you turn to when you are sad, angry, hurt, lonely, feeling bad about yourself? Pleasure (food, alcohol, things that make feel good), possessions (playing with toys, shopping, trading up), pride (doing things that accomplish, tinkering, hobbies). Whatever we turn to is THAT to which we look for satisfaction. It delivers momentarily, but the longing comes roaring back with ever increasing energy. Instead of trying to medicate the pain or cover up the fear, sometimes we need to hold on to it, take it to God to find out what He is trying to do in our lives. If we do so, we discover that God does offer to satisfy the longing.

He offers “samples” here on earth. You know the tastes they offer in the grocery stores on the high traffic days. Amber and Chadd loved to grocery shop with Sheila when they were pre-school. Sausage in one aisle, crackers in the next, cheese farther down, juice near the dairy. They could get a full toddler meal. But for adults those are only tastes, a concerted effort to whet your hunger and convince you to buy the product. They did not, could not satisfy the hunger because they were only tastes of what you could have for supper if you purchased the product. So with God, He has given His Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come, but the deep longing cannot be satisfied on earth.

God offers complete satisfaction in Heaven. Not floating around playing a harp or singing songs we don’t even like, but the deepest satisfaction being in the place we were designed to occupy.

If we make Jesus Lord of our lives, Heaven will be home. Like that trip you took. You remember, the one where the wheels came off. You’re driving the 15 hours home with a carload of people who are tired, grumpy and smell like they’ve been in a hot car for 15 hours. They complain until they finally fall asleep, leaving you to drive alone in the dark. Then it starts to rain, hard. Your body aches, you can hardly stay awake, you desperately need a shower and you’re wondering why you brought all these people along on such a depressing adventure. Then your headlights hit it – home. You feel the relief the moment you step out of the car. Your heart leaps as you walk in the door. Home where you belong.

That is a very frail picture of Heaven. It will be complete satisfaction for those who live for the destination rather than the journey.

So what are you doing with that longing? Trying to satisfy it with the temporary? Deny that it is there? Keep busy enough to ignore it? Pursue a dream in hopes of satisfying it?

STOP IT! Enjoy the tastes God offers. In fact, grab as many samples as you can get. But focus on “Home.” Let the longing capture your mind and heart with an eternal perspective.

Boldly, Herb

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Strengthening the Resistance Muscle

I'm using muscles that have very happily remained latent for a long, long time. And don't seem any too thrilled to be disturbed. Oh I'm sure they were used when I was young, but they haven't been pulled out of storage in recent memory. The aching is a bit of a surprise since I've been going to the gym for five years and thought I was exercising everything in sight. Turns out I was wrong. There's a whole civilization of muscles that have been hiding.

It started in February when we finally received the building permit for the church property. We immediately dove in with everyone's feet to put insulation between the first floor joists. At first I was really sore, then sore, then a good tired, until finally the muscles were strong enough to do the job without screaming. At which time we finished the insulation job and moved to nailing 5/8" drywall on the ceiling of the lower level. Again - really sore, sore, good tired, strong. At which time we moved to nailing spacers to the ceiling. Then screwing another layer of drywall. (Did you know you use different muscles to nail drywall than to use a screw gun?) Then taping and mudding the drywall. Then ripping up the third level floor. Then digging footers. Well, you get the idea. I think it's a conspiracy by my church family to keep me so sore I can't preach very long. Sorry, doesn't work.

On Sundays you can spot the people who worked at the property the day before. They are the ones stretching their arms and shoulders to get kinks out, who stand slowly with a groan, who have blisters on their hands. And who have BIG smiles of satisfaction on their faces. They are experiencing this truth: we grow strong through consistent use of our muscles. Those who don't use their muscles do not get stronger, experience the soreness or enjoy the benefits.

Another interesting phenomenon - when I first started a task new to me, I struggled and fumbled and was really slow. As I did it over and over and over, it eventually became almost second nature. (Notice I said "almost." I'm talked about working with my hands here...) It's what sports trainers call "muscle memory." When we become familiar enough with a task, we don't have to think about it - our muscles automatically respond in a certain way. Remember the times you've driven home and don't remember doing so?

"Okay, Herb, are you going somewhere with this or just trying to impress us?" I hear from across the country. Hang with me.

Joseph, you know, the guy with the multi-hued "dad loves me best" coat. The one sold by his brothers, a slave to Potiphar, put in charge of the whole estate. That guy. Doing his job with distinction when his boss' wife tried to seduce him. Over and over, until she grabbed his clothes, an attempt to force him into her embrace. Do you remember his IMMEDIATE response? He RAN, leaving her holding his outer cloak. He didn't think about it, discuss it with her, gather research, take a public opinion poll or consider his options. He RAN because his spiritual muscle memory kicked in. The one he had exercised by resisting all kinds of lesser temptations over many years. The one that gave him the strength to resist when he needed it most.

Where are the Josephs today? Those who will blatantly resist no matter the cost, even if no one else will do so? We live in a world where the resistance muscle has gotten flabby. Frankly, it's easier to give in than to resist just as it is easier to stay in the recliner than go to the gym. But the result is deadly. God had plans to make Joseph co-ruler of the world, but he would have missed it if his resistance muscle had not been developed. Oh, it would have been pleasure for a short time, but he would have missed what really mattered.

Look at this scripture...
"Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." Hebrews 5:13-14 (NIV)

It is by CONSTANT USE Christ followers get strong. THERE ARE NO SPIRITUAL STEROIDS. Sorry.

So what do we do? I have learned that only by using the soul muscle to resist temptation does it become strong, causing us to more automatically resist and immediately turn away. But the more we give into temptation, allowing that muscle to lie dormant at best, to deteriorate at worst, the weaker, more vulnerable and accepting of sin we become. And each time it is easier to give in and stuff the guilt. "Dangerous ground, that is," says Master Yoda.

Beyond resisting temptation, you can build the resistance muscle by deliberately denying yourself things that are okay. You know, give up TV, the newspaper, talk radio, or a computer game for a week. The best way of denial is fasting for a period of time, either all food or certain foods. It forces us to use the resistance muscle and turn to God.

You can spot the people who use their resistance muscle. They are the ones who experience the most robust joy and most durable freedom, who are often sore from the battles, who have the deepest wisdom. All that comes from the highs and lows of living for Christ by the power of Christ to resist temptation. Those are the people who are “real”, who admit their weaknesses, celebrate their strengths, who reach down to help the fallen rather than criticize and judge. And who never give up. Perfect? Not hardly. But focused and growing as they help others do the same.

"That's hard work," you say. Well... OF COURSE. But worth every effort.

So, ladies and gents, get your soul off the spiritual recliner and start resisting, exercising, strengthening and stretching. You have no idea how good it will feel.

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." 1 Cor 10:13 (NIV)

Boldly, Herb