The Struggle

The cost of sin is life
against which we strive.
Both life, and with it sin,
the struggle here within.

Salvation from shackles and chains,
in Christ only freedom remains.
But with chains we continue to play,
trying to make white out of justified grey.

Greater joy remains, yet, for those,
where love and obedience grows.
White fields and orchards ripe,
in Heaven, our greatest delight.

Trusting

To not know and continue walking
resting on God’s living Word, is
unsustainable in my own strength.
Seeking the joy of obedience,
the Glory of God shines bright.
In the dark we know he is leading: we strive to
never waver off the straight path before us,
God is working out His perfect will.

Un-Fiction

One month from today, you too can enjoy Waiting for Unicorns. Here is a glimpse of how it is hitting us as we read an advance copy.

The current read aloud at my house is apparently pretty good. I haven’t been around for much of it at all. I think a partial chapter at the beginning and now a chapter from the middle.

Paula reads it to our children, and you can hear the different voices of the characters as she reads. This work of fiction, though, is deeper than words and the paper they are printed on. She tries to hold back tears as she reads and she has to pause at times to swallow and continue. You know a story is impactful when these kinds of things happen. I put a hand on her leg, affectionate support, as she reads out loud while we drive. There is a resonance in this story that plucks a string of pain in her heart. “This book…” she swallows back more tears. She continues to read and my own heart is wrenched. I know the pain in her heart, and I can hear it in the words she reads, so descriptive and poignant. We’re at a part where the protagonist is remembering things. Hard things to remember, memories so real they feel like they are happening again as you recall the details, and the detail is lined out in this text. I’m there in the room that is described as Paula is reading. The world fades away, and it’s just me, the protagonist, and her mother. I feel defiance rise up in my throat against the threats I’m hearing joining with the story and the struggle, and tears well up in my own eyes as the picture of love that is being described in my ears. It is dangerous for me to drive like this. I’m going to have to pull my life over to experience the entire work in its fullness. A tear escapes Paula’s eyes and narrowly misses the rim of her glasses as it rolls down her cheek and onto the seat belt across her chest. This is real. The most real fiction I’ve heard in some time.

Thank you, Beth.

 

Man

Man

I am David
Who is told of a son who will come.
I am Jonah 
Who has a better plan
But eventually falls into line.
I am Abraham
Who waits for what seems like forever
Resting on faith.
I am Ezra and Nehemiah
Called out to build despite opposition.

In every success and failure
I’m carrying out the order
Prescribed by the One who ordered it.

I am man
Who glorifies.

Disappointment

Disappointment, most of the time, is the result of built up expectations in my own mind. When I experience disappointment, it is because things don’t go the way I want them to.

Moments come, and have recently, when I find myself feeling sorrowful or disappointed, but, I can’t stay there. Actually, I could. I could wallow in it and feel sorry for myself. I could share my frustration with everyone I talk to. I could, but if I did, it would be sin. What makes my little disappointment an act of willful disobedience and defiance to God? To figure this out, I have to analyze myself. When I recognize the feeling of disappointment in my life, what do I do with it?

One option is to let it fester like an unmedicated boil. It grows and poisons my heart. A septic wound that rather than healing, stays a wound, and whenever it gets touched, it sends jolts of pain through my entire body. It becomes an idol. Who would want to worship a disappointment? I become a worshipper of it because it becomes the standard I compare things to. The disappointment becomes a measurement scale. Mere greetings get transformed into an opportunity to spread my pain.

-“Hey, Jonathan. How’s it going?”

-“You know, not bad, considering. Did I tell you about that awful thing that happened to me?”

When this disappointment becomes part of my identity, I am saying to God, my plan was better. You messed things up.

Option two is to recognize the disappointment, and turn away from it to Jesus.

The Bible teaches that God is completely sovereign over all things. It also teaches that in all things, God is working out his perfect plan for our good, and His everlasting glory (Romans 8:28).

As members of God’s creation we are all testifying to God’s glory. God made man in His image. (Genesis 1:27) We are all little images of God running around the earth doing our own thing. I want this image, my image, to be actively glorifying Him in every word, thought, and deed (1 Corinthians 10:31).

When I choose to wallow in self pity because of disappointment, I am flaunting my frustration before Almighty God. Rather than sharing how great my God is, I am spreading my infectious personal dismay and annoyance with God to others. What I’m telling people is that God failed and ruined my perfect plan.
What is the truth? God is perfect, and no one else is (Psalm 18:30). On my best day, my wisest thought is still foolishness compared to God (1 Corinthians 3:19).

Don’t hear me say that the pain of disappointment isn’t real. It is. The pain of disappointment hurts. The bad news I receive doesn’t feel good. But I have to recognize two things from it. First, I’m reminded that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6 ESV) With this in mind, I remember I have no greater friend in the universe than Jesus, my savior and God. So if my wounds come from Him, then I can know that they are faithful! On top of this, even at my best – on my most righteous and God glorifying day, the Lord is still more interested in bringing Himself glory through me than I am.

The second thing I remember is that this pain has a purpose. It is for my good and God’s glory, but how does that come out in my life? James tells me: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:3-4 ESV)

My disappointment is real, it hurts, but I have a faithful God that I can trust more than I trust myself. God has a better plan. Better for me, and more glorious for Him.

Identity

This morning, Paula and I loaded up the kids in the car and headed over to a couple’s house who are in our small group. We spent the morning helping them finish packing for a cross country move. They are using one of those pods that get dropped off in your driveway and you fill it up. Two other families from our small group came and helped. We all loaded up the pod with everything that they had packed in less time than expected. We finished well before lunch, and we got the joy of being a blessing to some dear friends one more time before they move away.

My mind was awash with so many things. I had to compartmentalize so much of what was going on in my head in hopes of gaining better focus on the task at hand. Since Paula and I have moved at least 13 times in our nearly 16 years of marriage, we’ve gotten pretty good at moving over the years. I was reflecting about the events of the day when I realized something about how the way the day went in respect to the kids.

They were quite well behaved today, and we often receive praise for their good behavior. A trait that I pray continues for years to come. But the thing I noticed while reflecting on the day was how I watch them. I’m like a hawk, even with my compartmentalized thinking on the task at hand, I am watching to make sure they are performing up to snuff. If they get out of line, I pounce on them verbally to make sure they notice what is going on and shift their behavior to fit the occasion. “How is what you are doing helping with what we are currently doing?” “Are you being helpful right now?” With so much work to do, and with their young capable bodies, I wanted to make sure they were assisting. Even my youngest helped holding doors open and shuffling boxes from the garage to the loading area and into the pod.

They all did a great job, but as I look back I have a few things I need to critique, and they have nothing to do with my kids and everything to do with me.

Why is it that I watch them like a hawk? My quickest response is that as their father, I am responsible for helping mold and guide them to send them out in life. Pointing out their faults is important to help them learn and grow from their mistakes and errors. No one would argue with this answer. It is a good answer. If I’m honest, this is only half of the truth, and it may just be the attractive facade of the truth.

The ugly core of the truth is that I take their behavior, good and bad, to be a reflection of my identity. If they are behaving well, then I get to look good. If they are not behaving well, then I look bad.

The reality is that heir behavior is not an overflow of my heart, it is an overflow of their own hearts, and I can’t control what is going on in their hearts. God is the creator of their hearts, and knows their inmost being better than I do. (Psalm 139:13-16) Their heart motives are between themselves and God. My role as their parent is to help point them to Christ in everything, behavior included. The problem is that so much of the time, however, I do it because I don’t want them to make me look bad. This reality then, casts light on the true condition of my own heart. I’m an idolator, and the idol on the throne of my heart, when I do things with this motive, is a graven image of Jonathan Davis. I want to look good, and I’m using my kids to make that happen.

I need to be pointing myself to Christ in these situations. I need my heart changing to be more like Christ’s, and continually becoming a new creation. (2 Corinthians 3:18) The Gospel of Jesus gives me freedom to find my identity in what He did on the cross, saving me from my sin and putting his righteousness upon me. In this gracious freedom, I don’t have to be a slave to finding my identity in how my kids are behaving at any given moment.

Once the log is out of my own eye (Matthew 7:3-5) and I’ve got my identity right, then I can help show them the amazing grace of what Jesus did for their sins too.

REPOST: the woods. December 2009

This is a repost of a poem I wrote back in 2009. I thought I had lost it but after texting with a friend of mine, I remembered where I had stashed a copy, so now it is online again where it can be preserved.

the woods.
By Jonathan Davis

Walking, wandering, content I thought.
Only to see I was tot’ly, lost.
Though left to my own I had not sought
to be found, nor to be fraught
with all the dangers that haunt me now.
I still will seek not to be found.

Wandering, stumbling in the dark,
I heard somebody calling,”Hark!”
“I need no map!” Was my reply,
“…I can wander ‘till I die.”
Groping, my hands, gave me no sight,
My logic said ‘twas a losing fight.

Stumbling, falling, the voice, it grew.
I ran and cried, “I don’t know you!”
Faster and faster now I ran,
Away from this all knowing hand.
My fears surrounding all I see,
and then… the hand reached out for me.

Falling, flailing, I cursed and spat.
Following me into the pit;
The hand it passed me to the spikes;
The thought passed through, “it served him right.”
My fall came finally to an end,
Yet there I was, safe in his hand.

Raising, kneeling, I scarce believe,
His wounds lift me, that I may breathe.
My pride I followed into the gape;
The hand I ran from, taking shape.
Pursu’d me, knowing I could not see;
Chasing me to the pit that day.

Racing, running, beyond my haste,
The hand that chased me took my place.
I should be dead, spike in me gored.
Instead, my savior and my lord,
Who sought me when I ran away;
My own desire to wander stray.

Undeserving, disbelief.
He chose that day, chase after me.
He who made that murky wood,
The pit He planted for my good.
No more wandering in the dark,
For, now, I follow with my heart.

Selflessness

Bob and Janet are a couple in the winter of life who attend our church. Janet recently entered into her eternal rest with our Savior.

In a church like Bethlehem, its easy to not meet people, or to not get to know them. Some studies show that we can only ever really “know” about 75 people very well. So, to say that I knew Janet would be a gross overstatement, though, much can be gained from observation. Directing the technical aspects of the services and attending the South Site for the past 4 years or so, I’ve seen Bob and Janet come in faithfully each week and sit regularly near the audio console. Janet’s health struggle was very clear, though specifics were never shared with me. As I watched Bob faithfully wheel her in to church each week, I received a tiny glimpse at the great love that he has for her and the even greater love they share with our great God.

Bob would carefully put her into a position where she could best see the platform, and follow along with the lyrics in worship. When we changed venues to Lakeville South High School, Bob had to change his methods. He would bring many pounds of large and heavy books to raise her wheelchair up to a higher level to give her a better vantage point. He made sure she had a copy of the worship folder so she could track where we were in the service, and would adjust her glasses for her to make sure that she was able to see properly. I could see Janet’s lips moving with the songs of praise to Jesus. Bob adjusted her in her wheelchair I assume to help her be in a more comfortable position. When it came time for the sermon, he would make sure she had her Bible, and that it was opened to the correct passage and I would watch as Janet would track with her eyes and hand the verses in the Scriptures.

Once, I saw for a moment the kind of labor it took for Bob to care for Janet, as he lifted her from her wheelchair and loaded her with great care into their car, and this on a very cold and icy winter morning. I think back on the labor it took for Bob to care for Janet and I see with great clarity the living out of what I’m sure was part of their marriage vows together before God, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health…”

Death has now separated them, but the legacy of selfless love that I witnessed in their lives, lives on in my heart. I pray to God for the strength to pick my wife up when she needs to be carried, the diligence to make sure that she can participate in worship when circumstances make it difficult, the patience to always make sure her glasses are on straight, and the love to give up my own comfort and ease to make sure she can be at ease and in comfort, all for God’s glory, for He laid down his life for us.

Encouraged in witnessing life and death for the glory of God.

Once

Tomorrow is the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. The following is the overflow of a study of Hebrews 7-9.

Once a year the day of atonement comes.

Once a year the high priest enters into the Holy of Holies.

Once a year he offers a blood sacrifice for his sin and ours.

Once a year, the hopes of all the people to find forgiveness for their sins is pinned solely on one man, one high priest, who goes before God Almighty on their behalf.

Once a year the high priest goes into a forbidden place to meet face to face with God.

Once a year the people are reminded that their sins separate them from a perfectly Holy God, so much so that even the high priest can’t go in but once a year.

Once a year, the high priest risks being struck dead by approaching the mercy seat of the perfectly holy God to seek forgiveness for the people.

Once a year is the only chance they have to be forgiven, and if he is struck dead, they stand subject to the wrath of a Holy God.

Once a year the people are reminded with vivid imagery, that the gifts and the sacrifices that are offered all year long do absolutely nothing to take care of the real problem in their hearts.

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Jesus is the final High Priest.

Once for all, He took our sins upon himself.

Once for all, He entered into the presence of the Holy God on our behalf.

Once for all, He became the perfect blood sacrifice for our sins.

Once for all, all the wrath of God, for all sin, was poured out on Jesus.

Once for all, the way between man and God was opened.

Once for all, the work that needs to be done for forgiveness was completed.

Jesus is the perfect high priest who offers the perfect sacrifice of himself for sinners like us. How do we receive this forgiveness?

Scripture tells us: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13, ESV)

Then you can experience true peace.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, ESV)

Prepared

As an Associate Director at a multi-site church, taking care of all the technical things is a bigger job than one person can handle, and as my title suggests, I’m not alone. My boss is Timothy Frederick, the Director for Media Ministries here. When he’s here things just go easier. We work together well, and because of our varied backgrounds and perspectives, we complement each other where our strengths and weaknesses lie. We don’t always agree on everything, but our mission and vision are the same when it comes to serving the body here at Bethlehem.

Tim recently left for vacation. He was gone for over a week which put this frequently three-man-job, that two-men-do, squarely on my shoulders. This was a daunting task to be sure, but the good news is, I didn’t feel unprepared. In fact, I knew, in the middle of Tim’s absence, that I was well cared for, and he prepared a way before me. Thanks to his leadership, he anticipated problems that I might come against and took care of them. For the issues that couldn’t be tackled before he left, he briefed me before leaving. He left me a manageable list of tasks to take care of in his absence, and he gave me a communications route to use in case I needed one.

As I began working through my week, I began to see the evidences of how he had prepared me for his absence. I felt really well cared for, and it gave me confidence that this wasn’t going to be an impossibly difficult week — a week I could get through because of the work he had done ahead of time.

The same is true of Christ. He drank to the dregs the cup of wrath that was reserved for us when we were lost in our sin. He knocked down the roadblocks of guilt and condemnation and made a way for us to know forgiveness and grace. God’s direction for us is laid out in his authoritative word, the Bible. Jesus’ last words on Earth were our marching orders for life, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV). His communication has been crystal clear in his word, and not only that but he left us a helper in the Holy Spirit. He’s given us prayer to call on his name, and he helps us faithfully

Remove the roadblocks. We need to take that same attitude of care and concern for our volunteers that serve in our services. When we know about roadblocks that could make things difficult for them, we need to do what we can ahead of time to make their way easier. We need to take their weaknesses into consideration. Where a service is concerned, maybe you need to bring others into the conversation to help think of ways of accomplishing their goals. Let’s make serving a pleasure for our tirelessly serving volunteers, not something that drains them due to too many complications.

Give the right tasks to the right people. Don’t overburden them with tasks or responsibilities. If it’s more than you would want to do on a given day or event, then don’t hypocritically require it of them. When you do, you’re telling them that your free time is more important than theirs. Take Christ’s example and be the sacrifice for them. Do the hard thing so they don’t have to. After all, if they fail, it’s you who will be held accountable anyway

Leave them clear communications. Don’t even let them have a chance to be stressed out because you didn’t let them know about an element or a change that is going on. Even informing them that you expect everything to run normally will bless them to know you’re thinking about them and that their ministry matters to you as their leader. Give them an avenue of contact for you, even if you aren’t there, so if there is confusion you can talk them through it or get on site to help out. They won’t always need it but they have confidence knowing there’s a backup plan.

These things are simple and are all part of God’s call on our life to give sacrificially of ourselves (Rom 12:1) and to take the reality that our bodies have good and varied gifts that we should use for the benefit of Christ (1Peter 4:10).