A Parable for When We Want Clarity

A Master Architect, known worldwide for his dozens of stunning and otherworldly designs scattered across the globe, put the finishing touches on his latest creation. This particular plan was unique because it was not commissioned by anyone; rather, it was a personal project of the Master. For ten years, he had worked on the draft: drawing, critiquing, erasing, redrawing. His commissioned plans always displayed his greatness, but they were designed within the boundaries of another’s purpose and location. This plan though, was an unleashing of all that was in the Architect’s genius mind as well as what was in the depths of his spirit. 

The Master Architect began seeking a builder to work with him to bring his plan to fruition. He advertised the world over, willing to work with anyone who was willing to work with him. He knew many would come to him, but that many would also refuse to work with him. He knew this because there was a catch to his plan: he would only allow the builder to see the precise step of the design that was being worked on at the moment. No one was to see the finished design. This meant that someone would have to agree to begin working on the foundation without knowing what the structure itself would look like.

So, many well respected builders from all over the world came to offer their services to the Architect. And many became troubled when they learned how the Architect desired them to carry out their work – step by step.

One builder looked doubtfully at the Master Architect after learning of this caveat. He wanted to know the plans because he could suggest shortcuts and less expensive or quicker options. Said the Master in reply, “My ways are not of speed and ease. I take time and I have plentiful resources. Slow is my process, excellent is my product.” Troubled by this, the builder turned and walked away.

Another builder came to see what the job of the Master Architect was all about. He told the Master that he was a busy man, in high demand, but that he could fit the Master’s project in between some other projects. Said the Master in reply, “I require full devotion. No other task or project will come between you and this work. Your full dedication, attention, and energy will be required.” Without a moment’s hesitation, the builder scoffed at the Master and left.

A third builder, after hearing that access to the full plans of the build was restricted, began to question incredulously: “It will be for me as if I am blind and no one can work well in darkness!” Says the Master, “Ah! But from the darkness of dirt a seed emerges as a living plant, from the darkness of the womb emerges a life and soul! Though it seems you will work in darkness, my plans and provisions will guide you, even comfort you.” Thinking the Master Architect must be crazy,this builder, too, walked away.

By this time, word of the seemingly ridiculous plan of the Master Architect began to spread. Many builders who had considered an interview with the Master decided not to bother. Still, another builder came to inquire about the Master’s plan. This builder asked of the Master, “What’s your timeline? When will I be done and available to book other jobs?” Said the Master in reply, “You need not worry about ‘after’ – it will be more glorious than you can imagine. You need only to be present to the process. As you remain present, my plans will prove to be timely and exceptional. You will need nothing else in life but to be my builder. Everything else will fit into place. Trust me.” But this builder, jaded by his life’s experiences, trusted no one besides himself, and so he left without glancing back.

Another builder, confident that he would be able to sway the Master’s decision to withhold the plans, approached the Master saying, “I view my work as a partnership with the Architect. I want to know what I’m getting into. After all, my name goes on the finished product too.” Said the Master Architect: “Yes! We will be partners, but partnership isn’t essentially a transaction of information and plans. Partnership, in its truest essence, is trust. It is not simply a joining of minds, but a joining of souls. In this partnership, you must trust the result, the finished product, to Me. You see, partnership isn’t about equality, but about a unified purpose.Trust me, you will not be disappointed!” But this was too difficult for the builder to accept. In fact he was offended by the idea that the Master would not regard him as an equal in this endeavor. He refused to trust his good reputation to this ‘irrational’ Architect and fuming, left immediately.

Just as that builder was storming away, another builder arrived. “Sir,” said he, “you are a Master of Masters. Your work is the greatest the world has ever seen. I am young and inexperienced. I would understand if you chose to have nothing to do with me. But I long to learn from the greatest. I know you’d probably prefer someone far more skilled than I. In fact, you probably see me as just a child! But I am willing.” Rejoicing, the Master exclaimed, “It is you I have been waiting for! Child you are, yes, but you will be as my own child. Inexperienced, yes. Bound to make mistakes, absolutely. But know this: I delight in teaching and making young things grow into mature things. You will have innumerable questions for me; I will only give the answers you need in the moment. I require that you trust me even if you don’t understand my plans – even if my plans seem unnecessary, impossible, or like a mistake. You will learn to trust as you look back and see how the first steps of the building process are leading into the present steps. You will be my servant. I know that’s an uncomfortable thought to some, but you will find no Master as worthy of serving as me. You will help me build something extraordinary. True, it will be your entire life’s work, and even then you may not finish. Another may have to replace you. But forever your name will be inextricably linked with mine. Stay faithful to your service to me, your laboring for me. I will provide all you need for the job – both tangible and intangible. And when you can serve me no longer, we will look back together with joy and I will declare: Well done! You have been a good and faithful servant! Let us rest in joy forever!” So the builder began the work of the Master Architect. And the greatness of the Master is still unfolding today.

Keep Your Seat

“Haste makes waste,” he chides, not so quietly, as a dozen of us observe a hurried student slip and fall on one of many perpetually wet campus paths. She was rushing to her next class. It seems harsh to me, a fellow hurried student, that he, a gray-haired and beyond retirement professor, would fail to show a little more compassion. It’s not that he’s mean, just so matter of fact. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve already taken a handful of classes from him.

One was an independent study class that required me to meet with him one on one in his office. No hiding in a back row of seats among other students. My heart pounded before every meeting.

Our first meeting, I approached his half open office door and gently tapped the dense wood. No answer. What do I do now? I wondered. Slowly, I pushed open the door, peak my head in first. There he was, sitting in his chair – hands clasped behind his head, eyes closed. Was he sleeping? Or worse? At his age, who knew! My imagination ran wild. Thankfully, before I had to make any decision about what to do, he stirred. He saw me and beckoned me to sit down in the chair on the other side of his desk.

What was he doing? Thinking. Being still and thinking.

Nearly twenty years later, he is with his Creator and I’m left with these memories: the quote and the image. “Haste makes waste,” and a reclined thinking man. The memories linger and I’m just beginning to understand why.

His example was subtly counter-cultural. Without much reason, I admired his example back then; now I find myself aspiring to it.

Stillness.

My mind wanders back to something the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica: Be ambitious for quiet. In Greek, the word we translate as quiet literally means ‘ to keep one’s seat.’ It implies a stillness of demeanor and one that is undisturbed by external or internal circumstances. I think of the old man with closed eyes, contemplating, taking time to be still.

Of all the things even we as Christians are ambitious for (career, finances, ‘kingdom building,’ service, parenting, approval, etc…), Paul only ever uses this term ‘ambition’ to describe what our attitudes ought to be toward one thing. Stillness of lifestyle.

Is this my ambition? Is it yours?

Author Emily P. Freeman talks about being able to sit down on the inside, even if you have to stand on the outside. It’s a perfect picture of this idea of quiet and stillness – keeping your seat. The world around us may be chaos, but our souls can still be ordered aright. A shark may need to keep moving to survive, but that movement can be purposeful, steady, and calm.

I begin to understand something even more: stillness is strength.

The Psalmist declares God’s desires when he writes, “Be still and know that I am God.” Stillness precedes knowledge of the Holy One. Stillness is the path of settling our souls into the loving care of God. One confidently seated in Christ is stronger than all “principalities or powers, or things present or things to come.”

Haste and striving, on the other hand, cause wounds and fractures in our souls. In the extreme, it causes us to waste away in every respect – physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally. Haste, the flurry of busyness and activity, does indeed make waste of our lives.

Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.

John Ortberg

A still, quiet thing, after all, is a strong thing – a Cornerstone, a Rock, a Foundation, an Anchor.

My first finished read of 2020 was a short book called, “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry,” by Portland pastor John Mark Comer. Comer speaks of spiritual disciplines, one of which is practicing stillness, as a trellis. “If a vine doesn’t have a trellis,” he writes, “it will die. And if your life with Jesus doesn’t have some kind of structure to facilitate health and growth, it will wither away.”

Stillness, ceasing even unto death of our own plans and endeavors, brings life and growth to seeds and souls alike. This is Christ’s invitation to us – die to yourself so that you might find life in Me.

What can possibly be stronger than Christ in us, our hope of glory?!

The world may see stillness and quietness as weakness. It may taunt us to jump up from our secure seat in Christ. But we are not of this world. We answer to a higher call. We serve the King of Kings. We can keep our seat knowing that He is sovereign – entrusting ourselves to the only One who judges righteously.

Be still. Cease striving. Be ambitious for quiet. Keep your seat.

May we all dedicate time to lean back in our chairs, fingers laced behind our heads, close our eyes, and contemplate the glory and power of our all sufficient God. May we chose, through stillness, to die to the pressures and ambitions of this world so we can experience the strength and peace of a life hidden in Christ!

The end [goal] is life to the full with Jesus. The end is to spend every waking moment in the conscious enjoyment of Jesus’ company, to spend our entire lives with the most loving, joyful, peaceful person to ever live.” John Mark Comer

Guest Post and a Giveaway!!!

I’m so happy to introduce you to my friend, Erin Mullins! She has graciously accepted my request to share how God is developing her soul. I know you will enjoy what Erin has to say. Be sure to read to the end for a special Christmas Giveaway!!

Unshaken

Guest Post by Erin Mullins

When was the last time you shivered from being cold-to-the-bone? For me it’s those drizzly Pacific Northwest days when the air is damp and I feel chilled and unsettled.

On these days  I want a cup of coffee most, a hot mug cupped between two hands, the heat of ceramic radiating onto my fingers. The nutty-bitterness of coffee mingled with a bit of sweet and smooth creamer seems to comfort and satisfy.

I gave up coffee about six weeks ago. Obviously, I miss it. 

Why did I give up coffee? One morning as I was pouring my regular cup, I felt a spiritual nudge to give it up.  This invitation seemed to come out of nowhere. I ignored it for about three days. Maybe it was just the fog of sleeplessness talking. Doubt creeped in. My desire for coffee in the morning was too strong.

But I couldn’t shake the idea. What did I have to lose? If I believe God is good, then there must be something good to gain by trusting and obeying. Do you know what I discovered? It wasn’t just about giving up something to drink. It was about giving up my first comfort of the morning and the thing I look forward to. It was disrupting my routines. 

Drinking water has never been my strength. I often confuse my body’s cues for thirst with being hungry. So I often grab a snack when I’m actually thirsty. In letting go of coffee, I found my thirst cues coming through more clearly. Instead of reaching for a cup of coffee, I reached for a tall glass of water, reminding me that Jesus Christ is the only one who satisfies my thirst.

My tastebuds started changing. Honey now tastes sweeter. Sourdough bread tastes more sour. Was I imagining these things? I looked it up and coffee does impact one’s sense of taste!  Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.” This was quite literal in my case.

But the biggest thing I came to admit was that coffee had become an idol. Intellectually, I would tell you that God is my strength. Of course, I can survive without coffee. Functionally, I believed the coffee culture lie that I couldn’t make it through the day without it. In the early morning I would think, “Oh my, I didn’t sleep enough last night, I need coffee in my system ASAP.” Later in the morning, “I am dragging today, I need another cup.” And on especially tiring days I would scrutinize the clock between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m. deciding if it was too late for another mug.

Recently Psalm 62:1-2 began popping up in various places in my life. “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

My soul finds rest in God alone. Soul. What is my soul exactly? I was led to a word study series produced by The Bible Project. This team developed a video that takes a closer examination of the word soul. What I learned fascinated me.

The ancient Hebrew word for soul is “nephesh.” On a basic level it translates to mean throat. However, it doesn’t just mean one’s actual throat, but takes on a larger meaning that one is a living nephesh. Initially that sounds strange, but it makes more sense when you consider that  our whole physical being depends on what goes in and out of our throats: breath, water, and food. Nephesh represents our entire living being.

Now I can see God’s sense of humor at play here. Coffee is the thing I want to chug down my throat on tired days. Here in the midst of giving up coffee, He teaches me about nephesh. “My soul finds rest in God alone.” My throat (my entire being) won’t find rest in coffee, but in God alone.

In the morning, instead of my first thoughts being for coffee, my first thoughts are tending towards God. He is renewing my mind and I can see that it is good. Coffee consumption is so minor in the grand scheme of things, but I am impressed by the big lessons in such a small cup. 

I am learning to surrender to God’s best for me. Practicing faithfulness in small ways is preparation for faithfulness in bigger ways. Exerting discipline over something small like coffee is developing my spiritual muscles. Trusting God in small ways will strengthen me for the greater things God is preparing me to do.

By doing so, when greater things unsettle us, we can respond with an unshakable faith. There will always be cold, rainy days that cause us to shiver. Undesirable things are always going to happen. We are going to encounter a social media post that ruffles our feathers, a car accident that jolts us, or a relational conflict that causes brokenness. Let us practice now, before deeper troubles come, trusting in the unshakable God.

Tapping into the joy of art and the lessons I’m learning, this art-prayer was created: “Her soul’s truest rest is in God alone. Planted by the stream of Living Water, her roots run deep. She will not be shaken.”

Not only did Erin create this beautiful piece of meaningful art, but she is offering to give it away to one of you!! How sweet is that?!? So here’s what you need to do to win: Simply follow this link to subscribe to Aiming at Heaven and you will be entered into the giveaway. If you’re already a subscriber, thank you! Your name will be added automatically so there’s no need for you to do a single thing :). All entries must be in by Monday, December 9, 2019, 12 PM PST. The winner will be selected that same evening.

Merry Christmas! And a huge thank you to Erin for her generosity!

If you’d like to connect with Erin, you can find her on Facebook (@Erin Mullins) and Instagram (@emullinsphotos).

Sustainable Gratitude

Sierra Leone in February, Mexico in March. Phew! To any of you who travel regularly for your job or even for fun, I applaud you. It’s valuable, but hard. I enjoy travel, but love home. So I’m thankful to be here, typing away at my own desk in my own bedroom.

After two missions trips in the last two months, I’ve heard a common comment from my fellow travelers. It came from my own mouth, too, after my very first mission trip in High School. By ‘it,’ I refer to this often repeated sentiment: Seeing how little they have makes me so thankful for what I have! Or some variation on the same tune. You’ve probably heard it or said it too.

But, for a few years now, this sentiment has bothered me. In processing my recent missions trips, a couple reasons for my unsettled feeling about this common response are becoming clear.

The first component of this response that bothers me is that it is based on comparison. But, should comparison be our source of gratitude OR dissatisfaction? Comparison is an unhealthy standard by which to perceive and approach the world around us. God doesn’t recommend we look around and itemize our possessions and other’s possessions and then, when we’ve found someone who has less than us, then and only then, give thanks. He tells us to look up to Him, the Giver of every good thing, and give Him thanks and honor and glory and praise!

That’s not to say that recognizing how much we, as Americans, truly have and enjoy is a negative thing. We MUST remember that we are in the extreme minority. We cannot become so accustomed to our ease of infrastructure and access to necessities that we lose sight of the blessing they truly are. We need to pursue a more complete perspective of the world around us so that we don’t take for granted what we experience.

I love that my youngest child, on our drive back from Mexico, kept asking me if it was OK to flush the toilet paper, or brush his teeth using the sink water. As a five year old, his eyes are being opened. Experiencing a different culture is a tangible and memorable way to remind him of the blessings of ease and comfort God has given us, even though we are undeserving.

So I guess what I am saying it this: comparison CAN lead to gratitude, but it cannot be our only complete source of gratitude. It is a shallow foundation upon which to build a life of thanksgiving.

“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18

If comparison is our guide, what do we do with verses like, “in everything give thanks”? When trial or poverty come, is the answer to look around for others whom we determine to ‘have it worse’ than we do? It begins to sound a lot like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 who thanked God that he was so much better off than the tax collector. It is a slippery (and prideful) slope to bolster ourselves upon the debasement of another.

Another frustration I have with this over-simplified sentiment is WHAT is being compared. Riches, possessions, ease, comfort. Perhaps such evaluations reveal an idol in our hearts. Aren’t there vastly more important things to be thankful for? Aren’t all believers, regardless of income and possessions, abundantly rich with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3)?! All things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter1:3)?! My sisters, and fellow pastor’s wives from other countries, Coni from Mexico and Rachel from Sierra Leone, are equally as rich as I am. We are equally as rich because of our shared inheritance in our Savior! Praise and Thanks to God!

My sister in Christ and fellow pastor’s wife, Coni, in Tabasco, Mexico
More sisters in Christ! From Left to Right: Nancy, Samuela, Amy, Zainab, Esther, Regina, Rachel, Deborah, Florence, and Me. Most of us are also pastor’s wives, working together for God’s Kingdom.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”

Ephesians 1:18-19

The command to give thanks in everything is universal. It is given to the family living in the dump in Mexico and to the Wall Street mogul earning $2000 dollars a day. It is given to the mother in Sierra Leone who has been abandoned by her husband because of her faith in Jesus, as well as to the middle-class, stay-at-home mom, typing out these words you read. Our thanks can, yes, arise from physical circumstance. But, this source is not sustainable. Our thanks must arise, in even greater degree, from spiritual reality. Money creates a false dichotomy that Jesus has abolished. Haves and Have-Not’s can all be rich in Christ!

If this isn’t a firm foundation upon which to build our gratitude, I don’t know what is. We must lift our eyes to greater reality, to God’s reality! We must Aim at Heaven.

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

James 1:17

If you’ve never had the privilege of going on a short term mission trip, I strongly encourage you to bump it up to a higher spot on your list of priorities. You will be challenged. You will grow. You will be changed. It is awesome, in the literal sense of the word, to be a witness of God’s diversity and creativity among people as well as His undeniable involvement in the hearts of people all over the world. When you go, I pray that gratitude will be one of the outcomes of your experience. Gratitude for your tangible blessings, yes. But more importantly, a deeper gratitude for all God has done, is doing, and will do in you and the whole world.

God brandished His rich beauty through this glorious Mexican sunset!

Softer is Stronger

The attack assailed me – swift and unexpected. I was turned the other direction, fortifying different strategic locations. A word. A thought. A deception. It sneaked in and lodged itself in a vulnerable and fatigued corner of my mind. Fiery darts robed in questions. Questions craftily construed by the Enemy.

They say there are no dumb questions.

But I say there are downright evil ones. Questions meant to condemn, not to bring to light.

These are the questions upon which our Enemy relies.

Who do you think you are? He taunts me.

The burning interrogation paralyzes me. The Accuser knows only a question is needed, not a blatant accusation. He needn’t condemn, only touch a nerve that triggers self-condemnation. He knows how my flesh will answer. I’m nobody, not worthy, arrogant to think I should attempt anything, others despise me and look on me with disgust. I should stay home, say no, retreat.

Only a second and a half does it take for my mind to be lit ablaze by my own untrue responses to ill-intended questions. I am overcome.

But I’ve been here before, Enemy. And I’ve learned. It may take an hour and a half to stand firm against what you started in a moment, but you won’t overcome this time. I don’t have the answers, but I know Who does. I have an Advocate.

I’ve attempted a steel-hearted approach before – sticking my fingers in my ears and turning my face away, hardening my heart with self-willed firmness against your blows. But my self-made shield is like jello compared to the defense I’m learning I already possess!

My heart is growing softer, and softer is stronger.

Softer surrenders to what is Truer and Stronger than you.

A softening heart toward the Omnipotent One is my greatest defense.

Go ahead and try me, Deceiver.

Who do you think you are, to counsel others? 

I am one in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. I am one to whom the wisdom of God Almighty is available. I have been justified and taught of Christ. I am a vessel through which God’s wisdom can flow.

(James 1:5; 2 Cor. 1:22; Romans 5:1; 2 Timothy 2:21)

Who do you think you are, to teach and write?

I am one who believes the truth and listens to the truth. I am one who is supernaturally gifted to build up the body of Christ. I am one who is obedient to the call of God.

(Proverbs 21:28; Romans 12:6-8; 1 John 2:3-6)

Who do you think you are, to lead?

I am one who was created to do good works. I am one who has been given the truest example of leadership in my Savior – becoming a servant of all. He teaches me that leading isn’t about becoming greater than, instead it’s about becoming less than. You tempt me to pride, but God guides me to humility.

(Ephesians 2:10; Mark 9:35; James 4:10)

Who do you think you are, to walk in confidence?

I am one who stands perfect and spotless in Christ. I am loved. I am sealed for eternity. I am never forsaken. I have Christ in me, the hope of glory.

(Romans 5:8; Colossians 1:27; Hebrews 13:5; Ephesians 1:13)

The fiery darts of the Enemy assail me, but I know where my protection is. It’s not in a hardening heart, buffeting itself from destructive blows. No. My protection and salvation comes from letting an ever softening heart settle into an armor form-fitted to me.

When the fiery darts would burn me up and destroy me, I am untouched. Because my faith-shield was forged by the Living Water. His is a pure and powerful water able to extinguish in a flash the scorching arrows of the enemy. I am unscathed because I brandish Christ. He is the answer to all the Enemy’s questions. He gave an answer for us once and for all at the cross and when He rose victorious from the grave. A soft heart knows it is powerless to fight alone, so it robes itself in the strength of God’s might.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” Ephesians 6:10