The sorrow of the tamed

I went to the zoo a few years ago with my family and have tons of happy memories. But there is one sad memory that I’ve never been able to shake off. The gorilla exhibit. I don’t know if I can adequately express what I saw in the eyes of that animal. If I had to describe it, I would say it was sorrow… a resignation to a life that wasn’t how it should’ve been. He was meant to be wild. He was meant to be free. But he is not allowed to be that and so he sits and looks at those who stop to look at him. He even seemed to pose for the pictures. What else can he do when his life consists only of what is inside of walls and gates and bars. But the look in his eyes seemed to say that he knew his life should have been something other than that. It was the sorrow of the tamed. I’m sure he was well taken care of. He doesn’t have to search for food or shelter. But he wasn’t meant to live a tamed life inside the walls of a zoo. And the nature within him would’ve told him that it wasn’t meant to be that way. I walked away feeling very sad in my heart. Not for the gorilla, but for the church.

Because to a great degree this gorilla story is a parable of much of the church. So many people sitting inside the walls… so comfortable in a climate controlled environment, the padded pews, well fed from the pulpit. Just enough God to get them to heaven but not enough to bring heaven here. I read the book of Acts, the church in the very beginning, and those were some wild people. Preaching everywhere. Defying death to make Jesus known. Risking everything. Think back in your own life when you got saved. Most of us offended our whole families by telling them they were going to hell. We lacked wisdom, but there was a fire in us for Jesus. But then some time passed and we learned how to be proper Christians… and became tamed.

Who told us that our lives were supposed to be ordinary, normal and safe? I don’t believe it was God. You may have had people tell you that you need to be balanced and to be careful that you aren’t so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good. I reject that entirely. The Bible tells us to seek those things which are above, to set our minds on things above. The balanced life that we need is to seek Jesus and be about His business morning, noon and night.

I can’t think of a single place in the Bible where we are commanded to protect and guard our lives. But I can think of many that tell us to lay our lives down, pour ourselves out, give ourselves away for the sake of Jesus and his gospel. If you love your life in this world, you’re gonna lose it. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to drop dead on the spot but that you’ll be reduced to a mere existence. Tamed.

Too often we content ourselves with reading the stories of people in other ages that have done great things for God. Always watching other people serve the Lord. Feeling a sense of envy but not the willingness to do what they did and risk what they risked.  We live without the supernatural touch of heaven on our lives and learn to lean on our own abilities and talents. God wants to be glorified through our lives, but it will only happen as we live supernatural, Holy Spirit empowered lives. The only reason we don’t have that is that we just don’t want it badly enough to press in for it.

So we will live and die… and make very little impact on this world for Jesus. Because it’s not just going to happen because you became a Christian. The impact of your life corresponds to the fire that burns within you.

I remember several years ago hearing a preacher make this statement, “if you want to go to the place where you will find the most potential, go to the graveyard. Most people died with theirs untouched and unused”.  And I remember the cry that rose from my heart… Oh God… please don’t let that be me.

The greatest sorrow of the tamed will be when they stand before Jesus. You are a steward of the gift of your life. You will spend the remaining years of your life deciding what to do with all that time.  Choose wisely.

We spend far too much time and energy getting comfortable in a temporary dwelling place.  Invest your life in eternal things.   

It’s not always practical

Revelation 2:20 “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.

This was written to the church of Thyatira, a commercial city with many trade guilds (similar to a union). If you wanted to make a living in this city you had to be a member of one of these guilds. The guilds would regularly have a feast which the members were expected to attend. These gatherings would involve worship of pagan deities which included some form of sexual immorality as part of that worship. The woman who is called Jezebel was teaching the believers that it was okay to be a part of these meetings because it was necessary for them to be able to earn a living in the city. It was purely a practical thing. I’m sure that some of the things she said to the people were along the lines of “God knows that you are not there to worship any other gods, and he knows you have to provide for your family. “. And so she made allowances for the people to be involved in extreme ungodliness that would taint their testimony for Jesus and would most certainly taint their conscience.

Reading this passage reminded me of what Jeroboam said when he had the two golden calves built at Bethel and Dan:

1 Kings 12:28 Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!”

Sometimes being obedient to God can be very inconvenient and there will usually be voices telling you that it doesn’t take all that to serve God. We must reject those voices that counsel us in ways that are contrary to the word of God. We are called to be obedient, even when it seems impractical.

Soldiers and civilians

2 Timothy 2:4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.

In this natural world, no one is a soldier and a civilian at the same time. You are either one or the other. You are either serving your country in the military (subject to the requirements and structure of that life) or building your own life according to your own desires.

There is a similar spiritual reality. We cannot be engaged in this spiritual battle and be entwined with the things of this carnal life. Yes, there are things that require our attention-work, grocery shopping, home maintenance, etc-but these things don’t need to disengage us from the battle. In fact, they could all be theaters where the battle is engaged.

How many believers indulge in entertainment that pollutes them or leisure activities that dull their spiritual appetites? We deceive ourselves when we think we are effectively fighting an enemy that we live in agreement with. A soldier that defects to the enemy is called a traitor and is subject to being charged with treason and we would agree that is the right thing to do. We are much more merciful to ourselves, justifying our daily defections as we romp carelessly in the devil’s minefields. Unaware of the danger that lies just beneath the surface, we risk being blown to pieces at any moment.

The true spiritual soldier realizes the importance of being focused in the battle and the danger of compromise, but his primary motivation is the pleasure of his commanding officer. He serves joyfully for the reward of the pleasure upon His countenance. He embraces the discipline required and the sufferings encountered because the battle is a worthy one and the reward is eternal. He is ever on the alert for a command that may be issued and hastens to perform all that his Commander requires, for he is well equipped and victory is assured. The affairs of this life pale in comparison to the excitement of his journey. He will live and die as a soldier of Jesus Christ.

Go deep in God

Today I was watching as a large bird was flying over the water, so close to the water that it seemed to be barely above it at times.  This bird was on a mission, searching for it’s next meal. The victim would be a fish that was swimming close to the surface and easy to snatch up. The bird can’t go into the fish’s environment to get it so it has to wait until the fish is close enough to the bird’s own environment. And the unsuspecting fish hanging out in the shallows becomes dinner.

Shallow living is dangerous for the fish in water and the Christian on earth. We have an enemy who walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.  For the believer safely abiding in Christ, the devil may not. But the believer who plays around in the shallows of this life rather than plunging deeply into intimacy with the Saviour, makes themselves an easy target as they live their lives on the fence called compromise.  They venture so close to the enemy’s environment that he snatches them up in an unsuspecting moment and they find themselves a captive to some sin or other…never knowing they had been so vulnerable.

Go deep in God, believer. And then go deeper still.

Watch out for creeps

Mark 4:18-19 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

The Amplified Bible says it like this:

The cares and anxieties of the world and distractions of the age and the pleasure and delight and false glamour and deceitfulness of riches and the craving and passionate desire for other things creep in and choke and suffocate the word and it becomes fruitless

These cares, distractions and desires don’t come rushing in. It says that they creep in….slowly, unnoticed at first. Only taking a little bit of time and attention at first….then a little bit more….until you find whole chunks of your life given over to these “other things” and every spiritual thing is crowded out. The enemy so often finds success when he works incrementally. This why the Scriptures tell us not to give place to the devil (Eph. 4:27). Not even a small place…..for he will take any small piece of your life/time/thoughts/activities that you might not be guarding, but rest assured that he will not rest with only that small part. He’s not seeking whom he may trifle with, but whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

Protect your life by staying close to Jesus. Be so utterly consumed with Him that there’s no room or opportunity for creeps.


An untouchable magnificence

Acts 19:24-27. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen.  He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade.  Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands.  So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.”

I get the sense that Demetrius was not so much a religious man as a greedy man, as he makes several appeals to the financial benefit that Diana worship brings to men of the city of Ephesus.  Surely such a businessman had the intelligence to realize that Paul was correct…a man cannot make a god with his hands. However that was not a profitable stance for him to take and not one that he would lend any credence to. So he appeals to the men on the basis of what he worships (money), and then on the basis of the dangers to their religious culture and warned that Diana’s magnificence would be destroyed by what Paul was teaching.  This is the “greatness” of a man made God- it is ever subject to being demolished and dismantled by truth. Whatever magnificence Diana had was a magnificence imputed by men and could thus be taken away by men. But the magnificence of the true God cannot be touched or diminished.  No man gave it to Him and no man can take it from Him.  The magnificence of Jesus was revealed in greater glory and power after they attempted to destroy Him by crucifixion. Though He is rejected by men still, His magnificence is untouched.  He remains as glorious as He has always been in eternity past and will be in eternity future.  He doesn’t need us to protect His splendor….only to reveal it. Let the world in its vanity scoff and mock if they will.  He loses nothing by their disapproval and disdain. His remains an untouchable magnificence.

My prison is for your soul

Psalm 34:19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.

What a beautiful promise of deliverance this is for the child of God….one that many have clung to in the dark seasons of life. Deliverance.  An end to the trial. This is often our sole focus in time of trouble, trial and affliction….the end of it.  But what about the fruit of it?  What about the work of God through it?  That same verse tells us that afflictions WILL come. Many afflictions. It is an unavoidable part of life.  Can we believe there is purpose in it?

Acts 16 – Paul had been in Philippi for many days. He had been to Lydia’s house and to the river, but what about this jailer?  How would he hear the gospel?  The wisdom of God is to put His ministers in jail. Paul’s prison was for this man’s soul.

Paul probably didn’t know this when he was beaten and put in the stocks, but He trusted God enough to leave His suffering to God’s sovereign purpose. How else would he be able to worship in such a situation?

My suffering often benefits me when I allow myself to be instructed through it and I am grateful for the lessons I have learned and the experience with God through it. But maybe….just maybe…my suffering is for someone else.  How easy to bear is a prison that brings forth a soul.

Love with no limit

Where does love draw the line? At what point is the cost too great? Shall I love this far and no farther? Is my own comfort and safety the boundary of my love? Shall I love just up until the point of someone else’s displeasure or disapproval?

I’m glad Jesus didn’t love me like that…but He loved me all the way to the cross. He didn’t draw the line at thorns and nails. There were no boundaries to His love…none imposed by Himself or by others.

Lord help me be bold enough to love like that.

Burning Words

Catherine Booth, wife of Salvation Army founder William Booth, travelled much due to their ministry. She heard some of the greatest preachers of her day and yet she still cried out, “Burning words! That’s what I’m looking for. I travel all around and I hear oratory; I hear clever preaching. But what I’m searching for is something that will burn my heart like the men on the road to Emmaus.”

Luke 24:32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”

I came across this picture today and I remembered Catherine Booth’s quote. And I realized that this picture illustrates the reality of what she was looking for….the burning words come from the burning heart of the captive made free.

Really, our hearts are filled with so many things….many things that compete with and quench our love for Jesus. And so our words have no fire because our hearts have no fire. And the cold, dark world around us remains cold and dark.

We need to hear the voice of Jesus just as the men on the road to Emmaus. We need Him to open the Scriptures to us and make these eternal things real to us again. We need to walk with Him and listen to Him and love Him….and burn for Him.

Colossians 2:6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him

We began by grace. We must continue by grace. We can burn for Him by grace. He is willing. Are we?


1 John 2:28 And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

What a tragedy that some will be ashamed before Jesus. This isn’t talking about those who rejected Him. This verse is to the “little children”….those in the family of God.

I’m certain there will be many who will sense the regret of a life wasted on their own pleasures rather than whole hearted service to the King. But John isn’t talking about that. He’s talking about the shame of knowing there was a God to know and walk with and choosing other things instead. How ridiculous all those other things will appear on that day.

Will we then remember all the sporting events we cheered loudly at and the worship services we almost slept through? Will our dead, dry prayer life witness against us when all the while there was a living God always ready to infuse our prayer time with life? But because we rushed in and rushed out of prayer, we didn’t meet with Him. We just tossed our list at Him as we ran right past Him, so anxious to get to the next thing.

Consider the greatness of WHO is desiring this abiding relationship with us! It is God Himself! Could anything be more glorious? Does anything else so deserve our life’s priority and focus as this? Brothers and Sisters, let’s not neglect the tremendous privilege that has been set before us. Today, right now, we can walk with God. Let the glory of the abiding life be the testimony of your life….until the day you see Him face to face….unashamed.