Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
–Jeremiah 17: 5-8
I’ve only been in one physical fight my entire life.
I was ten or eleven years old at the time. Along with my Sunday School class, I was competing at the statewide Bible Quizzing tournament. We spent many hours and months memorizing verses and stories, practicing the correct way to ring in our answers with cardboard letters that were to be placed behind our back. The night before, I was filled with so much excitement I couldn’t sleep. I viewed this two hour game as my way of proving myself to Whitney, the new girl who I had a major crush on. The next morning, we headed out to the competition in our church bus with our “jerseys,” which were baby blue t-shirts that had our church’s name on them. The entire bus ride, I had a grin on my face; I felt like this was going to be a day that would change my life.
I was right.
The first round of the quiz meet, I was able to calm my boyish nerves and did very well. I had a perfect score until the final question before lunch time. The butterflies that I had held in check got out of their net and began to romp around in my stomach, causing my stomach to growl and me to suffer temporary hearing and memory loss. I completely blanked out on what the possible answers were and went with C, only to hear from our coach (my friend Alex’s mom) a sigh. Before we went outside to eat our delicious lunch of sloppy joes and potato salad, our coach told us to make sure we all ate together so nobody got lost at the massive event. It may be due to the fact that my mom didn’t make sloppy joes that frequent, but I devoured that bun and processed meat faster than anyone else. I walked away from the group to dispose of my trash and when I headed back, Cameron had his trademark grin on his face.
Cameron was the pastor’s son and we didn’t get along; our young personalities were at odds with each other for much of elementary school. He was the life of the young party and I was the nerdy bible scholar. He was getting into trouble all the time and cracking jokes about others. Even though I didn’t like him, I secretly wanted the attention that he got. Every time he would tell a joke, his face would light up like Christmas lights and his grin, well let’s just say I thought for a long time he was the inspiration for the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland. When I walked back to the group, Cameron was grinning, which us kids knew was a precursor to a funny joke, but this time he had his sloppy joe in his hand.
I don’t remember what Cameron said, but somehow the sloppy joe left his hand and landed on my jersey. His laughter caused the other kids around us, including Whitney, to laugh with him. To hide my tears, I kneeled down to the ground and gently picked up the sloppy joe that was now covered in rocks. I wiped the barbecue sauce off my shirt and when I looked up, Cameron had another sloppy joe and launched again at my direction. He hit his target, dead center as again, another barbecue stain left a brownish mark on my blue shirt and the tears started to come out again. The rest of the kids walked away from the site of the sloppy joe-dom in laughter, crowning Cameron as the funniest kid of the day. As soon as I could get my tears back into my eyes, I trailed behind them. When I was asked about the stains on my shirt, I lied saying that I tripped which caused me to “sloppy joe” myself.
I am confident that this story will be a story I tell my grandchildren as they sit on my more-than-likely bruised knees, rather than a sermon illustration.
This past week and half has felt like I was in a fist fight, and as I write this on Saturday evening, I have a metaphorical black eye and bruised knuckles. The last eight days have punched me to a pulp, as I have felt emotionally drained, stressful and tiresome. Days of feeling tired from when I got out of and then immediately back into bed, rough days at work, tough conversations and nights staring at the ceiling trying to put together the pieces of the brokenness I was feeling.
Then it hit me.
Well, God hit me.
I’ve been slowly reading a chapter from the book, You Can Change by Tim Chester. He makes the assertion that the origin of our sinful actions and negative emotions is unbelief rooted in a lie. He says, “We sin because we believe that we are better off without God, that his rule is oppressive, that we will be free without him, that sin offers more than God.”
As I analyzed each blow that I felt had been dealt to me, a pattern emerged. In my head, I could rationalize that God was in control over each situation, but in my heart I had trouble believing this to be true. In my head, I knew that I was an accepted, loved son of God, but in my heart, I was still trying to prove my worth to friends, family and God himself. Ultimately, I created a religion where I had created myself as God. I don’t get angry or frustrated that much, but one of the things that pisses me off is when fellow Christians exhort me or others to love myself or have confidence in myself. The more I look inside myself I find a hypocrite, an adulterer, a murderer, a man covered in wickedness, filth, and a shitload of brokenness. The more I look inside myself or believe in myself, the more disgusted I become. There’s got to be someone more powerful, more gracious, more trustworthy, someone filled with more steadfast love that I need to look to.
He left his heavenly home where he had a perfect relationship with the God of the universe, to have a relationship with imperfect people like you and me.
He endured the wrath of his father, a hideous and disgusting death, so that he may sympathize with those with pain and weaknesses.
He was resurrected from death to display his power and might, but also to give his brothers and sisters hope that death would not be the end of their story, but the beginning of a new chapter.
He is full of grace and truth, so we may understand what it truly means to love one another.
He sits on his throne, not looking at his children with indignation when they sin, but with compassion and love as he brings them back into the family of God.
He loved us before we loved him.
By calling myself a Christian, I see that it isn’t because of anything special within me, but because I have been given a new life and identity because of Jesus Christ. My life is no longer about me– it is about him. My life is to resemble his life in word, thought and deed; I will walk this life beaten up, bruised and depressed, because of the brokenness of the world around me and what I bring upon myself, but I know that I don’t walk alone, because He walks beside me and he’ll never leave or forsake me.
Light after darkness, gain after loss,
Strength after weakness, crown after cross;
Sweet after bitter, hope after fears,
Home after wandering, praise after tears.
Sheaves after sowing, sun after rain,
Sight after mystery, peace after pain;
Joy after sorrow, calm after blast,
Rest after weariness, sweet rest at last.
Near after distant, gleam after gloom,
Love after loneliness, life after tomb;
After long agony, rapture of bliss,
Right was the pathway, leading to this.
–Frances R Havergal, 1879