What Your Facebook Wall Says About Your Heart

facebook likeHearts are treacherous things. It is always difficult to see what this monster inside me is trying to do. My heart is deceitful, just like yours. Jeremiah even refers to it as “desperately sick.” There is a long Christian tradition of distrust of hearts and desires. As the wise philosopher Pogo the Possum once said, “I have met the enemy and he is us.”

One of the great difficulties of taming the heart is the myriad forms this evil takes. There is a modern notion that people are intrinsically good (except for those bad people). There is no justification for this idea other than it is quite comforting to believe it. Generally, when I try to assert that people are good, I am really making a much more personal statement.

I am saying that I am a good person.

Now, I must defend this sentiment. Evidence comes up all the time that says quite the contrary. If I am so good, why do I want to yell at my kids, envy my neighbor’s car, sleep with that girl? I know these things are wrong and yet I want them.

Feeling the tenuous support for my assertion of my goodness, I must do some mental gymnastics to keep cognitive dissonance from killing me (for an excellent book on the sorts of gymnastics we do, read Mistakes Were Made: but not by me). I can, for example, say that I deserve my neighbor’s car. I work as hard as he does. My kids were being little demons, yelling at them is totally justified. If God made all those beautiful girls, why would he say I can’t enjoy them.

Our powers of rationalization are nearly limitless. When Muamar Gaddafi was killed by revolutionary forces, one of his last words were, “What did I do to you?” I think he meant it. I think he had no idea why these people he had brutally ruled for decades would want him dead.

What is frightening is that I have the same monster living in me. Mark Sayers in his book Facing Leviathan argues that one of the great problems humanity has is that when our heroes save of from a monster, they don’t account for the monster inside them.

We would be wise to identify the monster and name it for what it is. One useful tool to do this is actually just a few clicks away. That’s right, your Facebook wall.

Take a look at the last ten posts you put up.

It’s OK, we’ll wait.

….

Back, good. Why did you post what you did?

Maybe you lambasted those idiots at some organization. Was it a selfie? Maybe it was an adorable thing you kids just said. A quote that you found inspiring. A rant about that guy who cut you off in traffic earlier. A complaint about the weather.

Behold, your heart.

I recently was talking to a friend about selfies and he noted that they are usually put up by ladies more than men and more often by single eligible ladies than any other. So a selfie, for them, it partially motivated by the desire to get a guy. There is that desire that everyone feels to be wanted and attractive and nothing does that like a selfie with 42 likes.

How many men have put a picture of themselves up with their beautiful girlfriend? In their hearts, they know they are showing everyone else how special they must be to have that girl at their arm. What about that picture of a cat? Part of the message you sent was, “See how funny I am.”

Closer to home. Here is the last post I put on Facebook.

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. -Animal Farm

Now this appears harmless. I just finished reading Animal Farm and this is one of my favorite quotes in all of literature. It is also important to me that you knew I read it. I want everyone to know that I am a literate and intelligent person and nothing does that better than to post a quote from a book. Yep, none of you will think I’m stupid. I read a book.

What about the post before that?

You just know that every tech company is right now developing a phone bending machine to determine if their phones bend too easily.

This is innocuous enough. But I know that this will affiliate me as part of the cutting edge group discussing the recent difficulties with the new iPhones. Chip sure is a cutting edge guy. To top it off, do you sense that fun sarcasm? I sure hope you do!

Even as I write this blog post, the monster inside me stirs. Wow, people will sure know that Chip is a guy who knows his weaknesses and is willing to be out there: authentic. honest. Chip is one great guy. One of the great joys of Heaven will be to have that monster silenced forever.

Some will object that I am being too harsh. The post of grumpy cat was actually quite funny and harmless. If we second guessed every single sentence on we wrote or said, we would quickly stop speaking. Every sentence could have a possible poor motive ascribed to it.

This is true. A result of reading this could be that everyone is so concerned about this that they never post anything, write anything, or speak to anyone. The goal of life is not simply to fail to sin but the honor and love God. I hope to cause some introspection, but only enough to cause you to look outside yourself to the God of all speech.

But in your searching of your heart, consider not just what you posted, but what you didn’t. There are many things that are not appropriate to place in a public setting like Facebook. Your bathroom habits should not be a public discussion nor your brothers troubled marriage. We should keep these private matters just that, private.

There are also those matters we fail to bring up because they reflect badly on us. I have been known to go back and correct spelling in my posts not because I want to make a more pleasant appearance for the reader, but because I don’t want to look stupid. Would you ever post a bad picture of yourself because it is a great picture of someone else? There are a delightful few people I know who regularly talk about their weaknesses and pains, but most only discuss their successes and virtues.

I don’t mean to say that everything said is done from a poor motive, I hope this whole blog post is helpful to me, my friends and family, and the church. I know my motives are mixed. Knowing that does not force my silence. Reticence to make a mistake is as dangerous as being cavalier. Edmund Burke said it well, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

While some will be tempted to silence, most of us will fail to take Jesus seriously. For example,

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, Matthew 12:36

The monster inside me starts to justify against the words of Jesus. Then James follows up with an even harsher message.

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. James 3:5-10

What? A fire lit by Hell! The monster revolts at these words. James is clearly exaggerating. What Jesus and James are asking is impossible!

How can I fight the monsters out in the world when even when I defeat them, the monster in my heart will replace them. This is the dilemma when Frodo offered Gandalf the One Ring, he responded:

Gandalf: You cannot offer me this ring!
Frodo: I’m giving it to you!
Gandalf: Don’t…tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo. I would use this ring from a desire to do good…But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.

Human beings are far more majestic and powerful creatures than we ever imagined. We are more like Gandalf than we realize. Being image bearers of the Holy and Powerful God of the Universe is something we barely understand.

So what do we do? Clearly we need to talk and clearly our hearts have deep motives that we don’t understands. Thankfully, God did not leave us without guidance. The Psalmist struggled with his Facebook feed just like we do.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139: 23-24

Talk to God about it. He knows you fully and loves you! He knows what is good and what is evil. The technology is new but the hearts are not. The Psalmist had a problem in his heart too and he felt safe to go to his God with it.

Humility is not the failure to be proud. It is to stare deeply into the soul of your God and to be overcome by Him. We have a God who is surrounded by unimaginably powerful angels day and night yet somehow, amid all of that grandeur, he loves you. This is an amazing thing.

So look at your heart for a minute and look at your God forever. Some should leave Facebook because it is too tempting for them. Most of us should live in it wisely. As Jesus said:

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45

Who is the good person? The lover of God. If you want to redeem your foolish heart and speech, God alone is the source of a pure heart. How is the monster slain? By going to the God who has already killed it. Jesus killed the monster. It is in its death throes in my heart today. Soon, very soon, I will die and it will die too. Then I will be free.

Until then, rejoice in the slayer of monsters. Watch the monster in you die slowly and Jesus’ power in your life grows. The solution to the weaker joy of wanting approval from people is to trade it for the greater pleasure of being approved by Father or Heavenly Lights! That, my friends, is very good news.

-Chip

The image above is courtesy of Sean Macentee and is used with permission.

Advertisements

The Potter and The Prophet

potterElisha added some water to the clay in his bowl. On these dry days the clay thickens so fast sometimes. Even though he likes the sunny weather, it did make his work a little harder.

“Elohim, it would be good if you gave me some clouds this afternoon.”

No clouds came.

Well, no man could order Yahweh around anyway.

Elisha was a sixth generation potter and his family had a reputation of excellence throughout Judah. The mark of his family meant that the pot was a good one. Elisha knew that a reputation like that was hard to get and easy to lose, so he jealously guarded it. Rachael often told him he was too picky with his pottery and that they could make more money if he wasn’t so particular.

But being particular was his way. His father had been meticulous with his pots and had demanded that excellence from Elisha from a very early age. The tradition had stuck and now Elisha was every bit as hard on his own sons to do good work.

He lifted the lump of clay out and set it on the pottery wheel. Wait, too little. It is easy to take some away but adding more is harder. He took another fistful of clay and added it to the lump.

The men of Jerusalem don’t respect the difficulty of pottery. They respect a warrior or priest or even a farmer, but they don’t give much respect to a potter. They think it is easy unless they get a flawed pot and suddenly a potter’s job is important. Well, at least important enough to chide him for his failure.

Elisha wasn’t chided often. He was much harsher with himself than any other man could be of him. He took very personal responsibility for the clay in front of him. The clay was a representation of him. If communicated what sort of man he was. Sometimes he would see his own work in the marketplace or the temple and would smile. His work was reflecting him well.

Not everyone could spot a good piece of work, but Elisha could. The best work really was his.

As he worked the clay deftly with practiced fingers, it slipped smoothly into whatever shape he wanted. Maybe he should make a large bowl now. Yes, this lump of clay would make a fine bowl.

A sound in front of him awoke him from his reverie.

“Good morning Elisha.”

Elisha jumped slightly and nearly marred his work. Looking up he saw Jeremiah the Priest.

“Good morning Jeremiah,” he said, trying to look unsurprised, “Does the temple require some pottery today?”

“No, your work is good and all of your bowls and water vessels seem to last forever. Elohim truly blesses your work.” Jeremiah said, looking somewhat distracted.

“How can I help you Rabbi?”

“Well,” he said with some obvious discomfort, “I have a strange request for you. Would you permit me to watch you work today? I have a special assignment and I’m told you can help me.”

Special assignment? What is he talking about? Elisha wondered to himself if maybe Jeremiah was trying to spy for one of Elisha’s many competitors. They were always trying to learn his secrets. But Jeremiah had been a friend for years and as a priest, he had no reason to be a spy. Elohim knows that Jeremiah has enough enemies as it is. He doesn’t need more.

Elisha pondered whether he could even tell a priest ,”No.” The temple was an important customer of his and also he felt like his offering to Yahweh was his fine craftmanship that is used in worship. Besides, Jeremiah would never violate a trust like that. He is a Yahweh fearing man.

“Yes, Rabbi, you may stay and watch. Please don’t speak while I work. I need to concentrate.”

Jeremiah went to sit to Elisha’s right side and sat to watch him work. Elisha glanced over at how close he was sitting to a water jar that was almost ready to be placed in the oven. This was a little too close for Elisha’s comfort, but he didn’t say anything.

With everything still again, Elisha began to work. The soft smooth clay slipping gently over his fingers. The muddy smell that always permeated his shop filled Elisha’s nostrils. He worked the clay into a cylinder and willed it to become a bowl. His hands knew how to work as Elisha delighted in the work. When Yahweh made the world, this must have been how he felt. The firmament giving in before his magnificent fingers and forming the ground.

It was this feeling of being a creator that filled Elisha with the most delight. What a privilege to be able to take something as meaningless as dirt and to use the skill given by Yahweh to turn it into something useful, even something beautiful. It was not lost on Elisha that man was made from dirt too. What a privilege.

Wait, what’s that? Something hard had brushed by Elisha’s thumb. He waited a moment.

There it is again. There is a small rock in this clay!

Anger and frustration filled Elisha. He drove his pointer finger into the clay and snatched the offending stone out. Pinched between his two fingers, he hurled the stone out the open doorway. Looking down at the deformed bowl with a deep gouge, he grabbed the whole lump and lifted it and smashed it onto the spinning wheel.

It was then that he realized he had lost his temper right in front of a priest, a prophet no less.

Does Yahweh punish those who lose their temper in front of a prophet?

Elisha looked sheepishly at Jeremiah. The prophet was sitting quietly, as if expecting something else to happen. He looked almost impatient.

“It’s fine Elisha. Please, keep going.”

The old man began to work with the lump of clay again. How had he let this happen? He knew better than to have a stone in his clay. Maybe he was losing his touch. Maybe it was time for him to pass the business onto his sons.

While he thought his hand began to work. This time it was not a bowl, but a water jar he would make. He had a rule that if he had to start over, then he would make that clay into something truly special. As if redeeming the clay made it more valuable, more precious.

Yes, this will be a lovely water jar. I will inscribe flowers into it. It will be unique and a delight to the eyes.

“Elisha, tell me something. Why is it that you were angry?”

“Rabbi, I am ashamed to have done that in front of you.”

Jeremiah waved the apology aside and indicated for Elisha to answer the question.

“Well, Rabbi, I love the pottery. It is so beautiful. This lump of clay is not beautiful but my vision for it is exceedingly lovely. If it resists me, I become angry because it should do as I say. I know what it can be and what it should do, it should submit to me. I know it is silly. The clay is just dirt, but I feel like it is either working with me to become something wonderful or working against me to become something ugly.”

“Why didn’t you throw that clay away?” Jeremiah asked.

“I have a rule Rabbi, that if I have to rework clay, I make it into something very special. Somehow redeeming it makes it very special. My best works, the ones that truly delight my soul, are the ones that I have broken and remade. Most of the works in the temple are remade. They stand as a testament to my failure and also to my success.”

While he spoke, Elisha’s hands finished a truly remarkable water jar. It was difficult to say why it was special, but to anyone who saw it, it clearly was. Somehow the love and passion Elisha felt drifted into his fingers and into the clay.

Jeremiah suddenly sat more upright, almost as if he were at attention. His gaze was distant, as if he were listening to another far away voice.

“Rabbi, I…” but Jeremiah silenced Elisha with a waved of his hand.

“Thank you Elisha, I must go at once” the prophet said hastily.

With that, Jeremiah bolted out the door. The bewildered old man was left with his lovely water jar.

“Well, just leave then” Elisha muttered. He picked up the water jar and placed it gently on the shelf to dry. He preferred to be alone with the pottery anyway.

-Chip

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. Jeremiah 18:1-5

The image above is courtesy of Walt Stoneburner and is used with permission

A Dream for Kitty (on her High School Graduation)

6117920326_29df6221dc_b (1)

Kitty,

I know you don’t like to be called Kitty any more. You have grown into a young woman who has the world in front of her. A sea of expectations, hopes, fears, and dreams. A commander of your destiny who will choose to battle the storms and find a new country for herself. Bold, curious, and determined, you have a bright future.

Such a person really shouldn’t be call Kitty.

But I don’t see you that way. To me, you will always be, to some degree, that little girl sitting in that van with a ridiculous number of pets in it. With brown hair and tender eyes, that little girl’s sweet disposition shined through. A tender soul who looked at life with curiosity and a healthy dose of caution.

That little girl visited us often. I remember when she visited us in our apartment in Knoxville. I remember when she lived in our basement, when she drove a car for the first time, when she pursued her first job. Soon, I will remember when she graduated High School and moved into a strange and exciting world.

Please permit and old man like me to see you as a little girl and, because I love the name, to call you Kitty.

What should I say to you? How do I encapsulate all of the hopes, fears, and joys I feel for you in a single letter? Even for an old man like me, this is too grand a task. Your life cannot be wrapped up in a few fumbling words, even if I wish it could. The tender affections I feel for you and the deep hopes I hold for you could fill volumes and yet would not fully describe them.

When God sat down to create the world, he had many things on his mind. The molding of atoms and galaxies. He hand-carved the Earth and threw it gently into its orbit. He formed the first seeds and scattered them over the whole Earth. He then worked on men and women. Even as he gathered the dust up to make Adam he pondered the people who would come from what he was doing. God has a nostalgic side.

He thought of you. Deep in his enormous heart a fountain of joys poured out as he considered the way you would walk and the funny things you would say. He cried quietly about your hurts and laughed with you at the joys you would have. He chose to love you deeply and to hold you close to his heart.

He also took a bit of that affection and was kind enough to give it to me. What a sweet gift!

From that tender place in my heart, I see a future for you. That future has not happened, but I pray for it. Allow an old man like me to show you what I hope for you.

Love Jesus (Choose your God Well)

Kitty, give your heart wholly to Jesus. My affection for you is a tiny spark that was flung from the inferno of his affection. He walked through a dark and painful world out of his love for you. He died for you. One of the stunning revelations we will experience on crossing into Heaven will be the deep and tender care he has for us. Love him!

Love Your Husband (Choose your Husband Well)

God knows I am very pro-marriage. There are few more beautiful things in the world than a sweet marriage. But there also few uglier things than terrible marriage. Most awful marriages could have been prevented while only a few of them can be fixed.

The fact is, most people don’t change. I mean the core of them. Sure some surface things are refined in life, but most of the deepest parts of us are fixed and we cannot change them, even when we want to. Most people do mean to be faithful when they marry, but they are then are unwilling to deeply and truly love when the challenge is put to them.

Kitty, one day soon a young man will walk into your life and will see you and see a glimpse of how precious you are. He will honestly and deeply desire you. This is a good thing! He will pour his creativity and heart into winning you. This too is good! He will be sincere and it will feel really good that he wants you that passionately. This is wonderful as well!

But his sincerity and desire are not good enough. It takes more than good intentions to be a good husband. Please be careful. Take your time. Bring in trusted adults with stable marriages to look him over and to see what substance there is to him. It will be so wonderful to see you happily in love. I want that to last a lifetime. Be careful.

Love Your Life

Soon you will have the wonderful privilege of making big decisions. As you stand at the crossroad you will realize that when you choose one path, you are choosing not to go down another. If you want to become a doctor you can’t simultaneously become an interior designer. God gave you a limited life in this world and you will have to let things go to fully embrace what is good.

Don’t be afraid. We have all faced this.

When you choose, throw your heart into that choice. None of the choices are wrong, but give yourself to your choice and pursue it with passion. Pray about it. God gives wisdom to those who ask.

Holiness and Joy are the Same Thing

You will be presented choices that will look like God is holding a joy away from you: that if you do the right thing you will be choosing misery.

That is a lie.

Certainly you will suffer for doing the right thing. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung from a gallows naked for his choices. The Apostle Peter was crucified upside down for his choices. Were they fools?

No, they suffered because they believe that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Jesus commended us to not “store up treasure on Earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but to store up treasures in Heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.”

The fact is, your God loves you and the rules he has placed are there because he loves you. The guard rails at the Grand Canyon are not limitations for you, they are guides to keep you safe. Remember, holiness and joy are the same thing.

In Closing

Well, I seem to be rambling a bit. Kitty, you have a bright future that is full of joys and sorrows that you cannot imagine. I don’t know what they will be but I promise you this: as long as I am able to, I will walk them with you. To the extent I am able to support you and care for you as you strike out in this world, I will do it.

In this way, I am acting like my Father. He too will walk with you. Unlike me, he knows what is coming and is already preparing you for it. Unlike me, he is never out of resources to help you. Unlike me, he will not die and cannot be stopped. He will never be sick and he will never sin against you. Trust me a little bit. Trust him a lot.

Kitty, I am so excited to see what this life has for you. Permit me to take part in your journey.

-Chip

The lovely image above is courtesy of Ephriam Ragasa and is used with permission