Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Every year at our church’s youth camp out, young people and adult workers alike enjoy a scenic bike ride on the Elroy-Sparta Trail, once a railroad path but now a quiet trek through the countryside of western Wisconsin.  A favorite spot along our fourteen-mile route is a long tunnel that drips water but perfectly amplifies the human voice, so that the usual trip through this 1/8 mile of darkness is accompanied by groups singing at the tops of their lungs in 4-6 part harmony.  Flashlights are a must and no one is allowed to ride his bike through the darkness.  The idiom, “light at the end of the tunnel” is made tangible for everyone who walks his bike through the many feet of darkness. 

Emerging from the dark interior of the tunnel reminds me of what it is like to finally understand the reality of certain sins in our lives.  Even as believers, we are sometimes unaware of a particular sin that accompanies us along the path of life.  Just last year the Holy Spirit confronted me about such a sin, and I saw it starkly for what it was—rebellion against a loving God.  I had grown to tolerate it, but His awareness nudged me persistently to the reality that, in pleasing myself, I had broken the greatest commandment and failed to love Him completely.

The reality of this sin stared me down daily.  Like walking through that dark tunnel, I felt plagued by its thoughts.  It was as if my own sinfulness was amplified, as are voices in the tunnel.  Although I had already confessed it, the fact that I had allowed it to live in such close harmony within my thoughts and daily life awakened within me a keen perception of its many tentacles, and I shrunk from their sting, aware of what Charles Wesley called the “wandering of my will”:

“I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near;
Help me the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wandering of my will, to quench the kindl’ing fire”
(from the hymn “I Want a Principle Within”).

Like the light that becomes ever more apparent near the tunnel’s exit point, that godly fear began to emerge as I experienced first-hand the truth of 2 Corinthians 7:11—biblical sorrow works repentance:

“For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”

My turning from this sin proceeded down a pathway of surrender, and a carefulness overtook me, the likes of which I had not before experienced.  And yet I still felt conflict, for the dark and depressing view of myself towered over me, hiding from me the triumph in Christ.  I knew I should look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:1), my Example, and it was comforting to do so; but it seemed my introspection still dug deep.  And then I came across this quote: 

For every look at yourself you take, take ten looks at the Lord Jesus” (Memoir and Remains, ed. Andrew Bonar, 293).

And this one by Thomas Chalmers, which I took the liberty to put in second person:
“For every thought [you cast] downwardly upon [your]self, [you] should cast ten upwardly and outwardly upon Jesus, and upon the glorious truths of the gospel” (Letters of Thomas Chalmers).

There’s no Bible verse that says ten times is a magic formula in experiencing victory, but these men of God left me with a glorious thought:  a perpetual look at the Savior (the Light) can transform my darkness (the sin I saw in myself). I can victoriously place my focus upon the triumphs of His cross!

I set a goal to do just that.  To help me, I made the following simple alphabetic reminders of some of the attributes of my Lord.

            He is my…
Assurance of Heaven
Best Friend
Companion on the road of life
Deliverer from every temptation
Ever-present Help in trouble
Faithful friend
Helper, so that I need fear what man will do to me

He is…
            Omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient
            Quick to hear
            Ready to forgive
            Savior of the world
X-cellent in all the earth
Yesterday, today, and forever—the same
Z:  the beginning and the End

In meditating upon His attributes, the bright light of illumination—to obey, to follow God’s will, to be filled with His Spirit—brilliantly over-floods the darkness of introspection and replaces it with an inner glow brought forth by the Light of the World.

“I am the Light of the World:
he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness,
but shall have the light of life”
(John 8:12).

Monday, June 9, 2014

Love that is Free: A Tribute to my Husband

Somewhere over the years in my Christian life, I got this notion that I had to earn God’s love.  Maybe you did, too.  You thought that the more time you spent with Him in your devotions, the more service ministries you participated in, the more you gave of yourself to God—the more favorably He would look upon you. 

I didn’t expect to get to Heaven by my good works, knowing they were all filthy rags in His sight.  But I did expect God to somehow be more pleased, love me more, and view me with more graces if I chose to live for Him.

Little by little, this image of God has cracked.  Through various means, this idolatrous god I had erected in my mind has, I hope, been replaced with the God found in the pages of Scripture.

The most significant tool in chipping away this false ideology has been my encounter with love that is free—my husband’s love for me.

“You mean you’re not upset with me?” I asked him after doing something I’m sure he didn’t like.

“I’m always happy with you,” he said.

How could it be?  I couldn’t get over that kind of acceptance.  The sort of love that looks past offenses to a deeper truth and takes its cues from the love God has for us.

When he said, “I forgive you,” he meant it, I learned.  He didn’t bring it up, didn’t harass me about it five weeks from the words being uttered.  It was gone.  His was the sort of forgiveness stemming from the deep forgiveness God mercifully pours upon us—not because of who we are but because of what His Son did.

“You mean you still love me?” I would ask him after being married the first year and then the second and the third.  I had somehow wondered if a growth in love were possible or if love would wear off, like it seemed it did from my limited observation.  I thought love would get dimmer, grow less intense, be less obvious as the years passed.

But I found that the kind of love I had when I married him—the love that believed he was God’s will for me and that cared for him on a certain level—has deepened, intensified, and grown richer every day.

He is always happy to see me when he gets home from work, and he never fails to welcome me home if I get back later than he does.  I found that if I wanted the sort of negative opinion I was looking for about an outfit, I couldn’t get it from him, because he always had a compliment for me. 

Last night he reminded me, “God’s love for us is free.  That’s how my love is for you.  It’s not based on anything you do.”

Because I love my husband, I want to please him.

Because I love my God, I want to please Him.

But it’s not in pleasing Him that love is earned.  That love is free.  What a liberating thought—not a licentious liberation—but one that cries out, “Freely ye have received, freely give!” 

As my husband has demonstrated God’s love to me in our seven years of marriage, so I have learned about the God of love and my relationship with Him.  In turn, that vast ocean of love—limitless, boundless, free—has deepened my relationship with others, so that, by God’s amazing grace, I can love others and keep learning how to do so with the sort of free love given to me by God.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, 
and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God; 
he that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love”—I John 4:7-8.