Giving Up

My husband and I recently went on vacation in Door County, Wisconsin: a whole week of camping and biking and kayaking. The kayaking was my husband’s idea, but it sounded fun. Lake Michigan was still a lake, right, so how rough could the water be?

The answer: really, really rough.kayak3

If you’ve never kayaked before (like us), you find out that it’s a lot more difficult than it looks. In a two person rig, the person in front paddles to provide forward movement to the boat while the person in the back is in charge of ruddering with his or her paddle to keep the nose pointed in the right direction.

I took the front, while Jeremy was in the back. And we found the limits of trust and patience in our marriage.

Jeremy didn’t know how to steer, so every time we tried to go straight the wind would push us in circles. The waves were breaking over the front of the kayak, a terrifying sight as I tried to paddle as hard as possible with the nose of the boat tipping first up into the sky and then down into a deep valley of ominous blue-green water.

After five minutes, I was yelling. After ten minutes, I was threatening divorce (if we survived). After twenty minutes, I propped my paddle across the prow out of the water and just cried. We were going to die during our summer vacation, 200 yards from shore.

Eventually, Jeremy figured out how to steer and we had a nice day feeling pretty bad-ass as we crested the massive waves with growing skill. But my initial breakdown revealed something ugly I didn’t want to realize: the very shallow level of trust I had in my husband.

I should have remembered all the things he’s done, and then I would have known that if it meant jumping out of the boat into the freezing water to pull me to shore, he would have done it. He’s always sacrificed his own comfort for mine, faced down his fears so I don’t have to be afraid. But I was afraid. And I blamed him for it.

It made me realize how bad I am at trust in general. I can’t trust my husband for twenty minutes in lake-sized waves. And I can see him. I can touch him. But God is mysterious. He’s invisible. How could I possibly trust Him?

Lately I’ve been reading in the Old Testament, specifically the Pentateuch or Torah, or the first five books that detail the creation of the nation of Israel, God’s covenants with them, and His leading them into the promised land. Sounds like a great positive, happy story, right? But over and over again the Israelites complain. And rebel. And want to turn back.

If they were in the front of the kayak and God in the back, they would be putting up their paddles and crying.

Whenever I read about Israel, particularly when they tell God right to His face that they would be better off in Egypt, I just want to smack them up-side their collective head and say, “Don’t you remember the ten plagues? Don’t you remember the Red Sea?” I think to myself that if I had manna every morning and a pillar of cloud over my church every day that I would have no problem trusting that God was awesome and powerful and had everything under control. That if I had a God who gave me water in the desert and food from the sky, I would never doubt His good intentions and ability to carry them out.

But if I’m really honest, I don’t get upset with Israel because they’re stupid and I could do better. I get upset with them because they’re me.

God has come through for me time and time again. He’s saved me from staying put in bad situations, He’s given me material things I’ve needed right at the last moment, He’s plucked me out of what I thought I wanted and put me somewhere even better, fulfilling my wildest hopes and dreams. He’s showered me with blessings and love and goodness.

But all it takes is one big wave, one look at how far away the shore is, and I start yelling. And threatening to leave. And then just giving up.

Just like I do with the Israelites, I mock Peter when he fails to trust Jesus even after he has already taken several steps (!) across the water of the Sea of Galilee (which is just a lake, if you didn’t know). Just like them, Peter has seen the power and the awesome faithfulness of Jesus over and over again, but when he looks down at the waves, they just seem more real than God, and he sinks.

peter1Israel, Peter, and I all struggle(d) with the same thing: sometimes the scariness of the physical situation around us just seems stronger than God’s power. And we cry out to go back to Egypt. We start sinking beneath the waves.

But the Old Testament, the New Testament and personal experience all tell us that though we may try to give up on God, God never gives up on us.

God sticks with the Israelites through the entire Bible, thousands of years, and even incarnates Himself as one of them in order to suffer and die and offer grace to the entire world through them. If He has been that faithful to them despite their failures, think of how faithful He must be towards us who have been marked with the blood of the Son as His children.

So while sometimes I want to hate myself for just how faithless and pathetic I can be, I try my faltering best at remembering not just God’s power, but also His love. Yes, it would be better if I could just trust Him all the time no matter how big the waves are, and I should always be trying to improve my faith, but when I fail, I have God’s amazing character to fall back on.

I’m seeking to grow in double trust: faith in God’s power to lead me through what seems impossible, and faith in His character to never leave me even when I deserve to be left.

My husband didn’t push me out the boat and leave me to float in the middle of Lake Michigan, though he had good reason to. If he as a human being can be that patient and compassionate, I’m pretty sure I can trust God to get me safely back to shore.

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On Crucifying my Flesh, and Loving my Body

????????????????????????????????????????I’m a skinny white dude.

I’m tall – taller than most of the people I meet. But I don’t play basketball. At least not well. Basketball requires your hands and feet to do the things your brain tells them to do, and quickly. Mine usually don’t.

Because I’ve been an athlete most of my life, I’ve spent a lot of time with guys that have way bigger muscles than I do, and when I was in high school I set a goal to be able to bench press my body weight, because that’s the goal my weight training coach told all the skinny guys to start with. It was a good starter goal. You know, a goal for before we started getting strong.

I’ve never bench pressed my body weight.

Now I’m 31, and I’m somewhere in the awkward middle ground between balding and bald.

Despite my incessant gangliness and my disobedient hair follicles, I can’t say I’ve ever hated my body. But I’ve never been super-pumped that this is the one I ended up with, either.

It probably didn’t help matters that one of the most popular verses among the athletes at my Christian high school was I Corinthians 9:27, which encouraged us to “beat our bodies” and “make them our slaves.” Our bodies were the enemy. They had to be brought into subjection in order for us to achieve either athletic success or holiness.

But we also encountered Ephesians 2:10, which taught us that we were God’s “workmanship,” a word which could perhaps more appropriately be translated “masterpiece.”

Reconciling these two verses was so easy that I didn’t even see the contradiction – obviously, Ephesians 2:10 is talking about me, not my body.

Me was something I saw as wholly internal, a disembodied entity that had to fight through corrupted, rotting flesh to find freedom and expression in the world. I was a Platonist and I didn’t even know it.

But then in college I made the connection that the same guy that wrote I Corinthians 9:27 also wrote Ephesians 2:10.

And I took a human biology class, where I learned how indescribably intricate and beautiful, and how well-planned the human body is.

And I started listening to Louie Giglio and reading Dallas Willard.

I paid a little closer attention to the book of Romans and the Sermon on the Mount.

divineconspiracyWillard’s Divine Conspiracy challenged me to think beneath the surface of Jesus’ command to cut off my hands or gouge out my eyes if they cause me to sin.

I heard about Origen, a man who learned by experience that even a castrated man can lust, and I realized that Jesus must have known that it’s not our hands and eyes that cause us to sin. I realized that even if I did cut off my right hand, the first thing I’d do is figure out how to use my left hand to sin.

And if my body is evil, then why was it so important for Jesus to be incarnated? He was born in carne – “in flesh.” And when he rose from the dead, he didn’t leave his carne behind – he took it to heaven with him.

Jesus, in heaven, is carnal

If you have the same baggage with the word carnal that I do, that last sentence might short-circuit your brain. Or it might just offend you.

But the word carnal, at its most fundamental level, just means “in flesh.”

Here’s what I’ve been studying recently that has helped me understand this:

In Greek, the word soma is the primary word for “body.” It’s used when a writer wants to talk about hands, feet, ears, and epiglottises (Epiglotti? Epiglottoes? Epiglets? …darn plurals). But there’s another word that shows up all over the Bible. It’s the word sarx. Sarx can be used to talk about the body, but it can also refer to the things we usually mean when we use the word carnal. The NIV often translates this word “Sinful Nature,” and it is a word that is often specifically non-physical.

For example, in Galatians 5:16-26, Paul contrasts the works of the sarx (flesh) with the fruit of the pneuma (Spirit). Among his list of the “works of the flesh” are idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, dissention, and envy. This isn’t the whole list, but it’s most of it. And here’s the point: most of the things Paul lists as acts of the flesh don’t actually require flesh.

In Galatians 5, Paul is drawing a parallel between two primarily non-physical things – two life orientations. Granted, these attitudes result in behaviors that involve our physical bodies, but they don’t come from the body. They are first and primarily internal. Jesus said nearly the same thing when he compared the man who commits adultery to the man who only desires to commit adultery (Matt. 5:27-28). The deeds of the body always flow from our inward orientation.

As he makes clear in Romans 6:13-14, Paul’s view of the body is the same as Jesus’ – the parts of the body are tools (lit. weapons) that can be used for good or for evil.

And as Dallas Willard says, our bodies are our connection to the world, so if we’re going to make any kind of difference in the world, it’s going to be by using our bodies. But when we dissociate “me” from “my body,” we lose our God-given power to make a good and holy impact in the world. We deny that of all things in creation, we alone were created by the touch, and not only the word, of God. It should come as no surprise that our denial of God’s touch in the denial of His Word about our bodies has resulted in our corporate failure to touch the world.

But let us never forget that the ministry of Jesus was a ministry of profound physicality.

Let us never forget that when Jesus healed people, He almost always touched them. The One who had created them with his hands re-created them, restoring their wholeness just as he first knit their DNA.

So can we take delight in “fleshly” pleasure? Most definitely. Jesus certainly did. And he did so in such a way that he left us an example of how to enjoy the great gift God has given us in our bodies.

Anyone who pays even a little attention to the world can see that God’s instructions when it comes to pleasure and our bodies are simply His explanation of the best way of living.

One of the reasons God asks us to keep sex within the marriage covenant is that He knows sex is better there.

One of the reasons he asks us to handle our money wisely is that he knows the great joy of being free from debt and free to exercise extreme generosity.

He’s the one who made strawberries taste good, and poison taste bad.

Tim3He’s the one who first thought up the mountains.

And the flowers.

And sunsets.

And the ocean.

And our bodies.

I know a guy who flies all around the world just to take pictures of the most beautiful places on earth. That’s his job. And because he’s really good at it, he’s been able to make a living selling his pictures.

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What I love about his job is that everything he photographs is already there. He just captures it. His job is to help people worship a God who didn’t have to make the world beautiful.

And according to Ephesians 2:10, we, that is, our bodies, are his masterpiece.

So, love your body. It’s your connection to the world. It’s a gift to you from God, and someday, in heaven, it’s going to be perfect, but until then, don’t let sarx use it for evil. Take care of it. And be like Jesus – use it to make other people’s lives better.