An Unworthy Exchange

This week, I was reading Psalm 106. It’s about God’s faithfulness and goodness despite Israel’s unfaithfulness. As I was reading, one verse caught my attention: “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass” (Psalm‬ ‭106:20‬ ‭ESV)‬‬. When it’s put that way, it sounds absurd that the people of Israel made the choice to worship the golden calf (see Exodus 32).

It’s easy for me to sit back and judge their unfaithfulness, because I would never bow down to “the image of an ox that eats grass.” Right?! But I started to think about all ways I “exchange” God’s glory, His presence, for lesser things. What about that extra 20 minutes of sleep, instead of getting up to seek Him? Or how about the half thought out, half followed through commitment to fast? Or that one more episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, instead of cracking open my Bible before bedtime?

Psalm 105:4 says, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually” (ESV, emphasis added). If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have things we are seeking, other than the presence of the Lord. For me, it’s comfort, rest and peace. None of these things are bad, in and of themselves. But while I’m chasing them through extra sleep or one more episode of my current favorite TV show, I end up with a sorry replica of what can only be found in the presence of God.

Don’t get me wrong, God honors rest. He even set aside a whole day in the week for it. But when I seek that more than His presence, I’ve basically “exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

Matthew 6:32-33 says, “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (ESV). So that’s what I’m choosing to do–seek God first. When I do that, I can trust that everything else, including that coveted comfort and rest I so desire, will be added to me.

But It Still Hurts: The ongoing struggle to forgive

Has this ever happened to you? You bump into something and bruise your arm or leg. It smarts for a minute or two. But after a while, the pain subside and you move on. But then you bump that same spot again, and suddenly the pain of the original injury comes flooding back. You realize that there’s still a tender bruise there. That’s been my process of forgiveness. I’ve tried to be quick to forgive, not wanting bitterness to take root (Hebrews 12:15). But sometimes a situation will come up, unexpectedly, that will renew the pain and I find myself in need of forgiving all over again.

“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis

Keeping my heart free from unforgiveness hasn’t been easy.  C.S. Lewis said it best in his book Mere Christianity, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”

I’m reminded of a time when Journey hurt Faith. As I was mediating between them I encouraged Faith to forgive her brother. Her response was so innocent and real: “But it still hurts!” Years later, as I think back on that incident, I know exactly how she felt. How do you forgive when you still feel pain?

I think God must have had a similar dilemma. Over and over, from that first moment when Adam and Eve took a bite of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3), mankind has rejected God in one form or another. Yet even in the pain of rejection, He made a plan, through Jesus, to reconcile us to Himself: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).

I’m learning that walking in forgiveness isn’t pretending like the offense never happened or the pain isn’t real. I’ve found that it’s important for me to process through the emotions of the hurt. And as good as it feels to vent to my friends and family, I have found no better listening ear than my Heavenly Father. I can be ugly honest with God. I can tell Him that I’m hurt or angry or some combination of the two. I can tell Him that I’m having difficulty forgiving. Then I can ask Him to heal me and help me forgive by the power of the Holy Spirit. And He always helps me. It’s not always instantaneous. Sometimes it takes crying out to Him several times. But I’ve also learned that forgiveness isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice. It’s not a one-time event. But an ongoing, daily–sometimes minute-by-minute–decision to let go of my desire for retribution.

I’m hopeful that one day soon those tender spots in my heart will heal. And the enemy of my soul will no longer have a bruise to poke. But until that day, I will continue to cry out to God to help me forgive as He has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32).

From the Ground Up

Last month, I celebrated my 42nd birthday. And I find myself in the strange position of rebuilding my life from the ground up. I thought my life would be somewhere completely different at this point. I never imagined I would be starting over in so many areas. I’m starting from scratch in my career; I’m going from being a homeowner to renter again; and most notably, I’ve gone from being married to single.

I had so many other plans for this time in my life. But it turns out that all the plans I made, all the hopes I had were built on the wrong foundation (Matthew 7:24-27). Oh there was some rock mixed in with the sand. But as the sand began to shift, my life became unstable. I spent too many years taking a little bit of God’s word and a little bit of my own “wisdom,” and mixing them together, making a very insecure foundation on which to build my life.

When a building is demolished, it is completely destroyed. But it is only to make room for something new that will be built there. It’s the same with my life right now. So much of what I thought I had built has been decimated. As painful as it has been to watch what I’ve built be razed to the ground, I know that it is necessary to make room for the new thing God wants to do in my life.

Part of the rebuilding process is letting go of what was in the past and what I thought life would look like so that I can embrace the new thing God is doing. Isaiah 43:18-19 captures this perfectly: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (ESV).

I’ve been given an opportunity to rebuild, this time on the right foundation. But instead of doing it on my own, I’ll allow God to lay the foundation and create what He has purposed for me. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stay up in vain” (Psalm 127:1 ESV).

 

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