The Door In the Wall: A Tale of the Kingdom

Image result for open castle door

There once was castle set in the center of a perfect Kingdom.
The land was lush and beautiful.
The skies were blue.
And the people were happy.

They were happy because of the perfect beauty of the Kingdom – but they were even happier because every day they got to spend time with the King. Each day the massive arched doors of the castle would swing open and the King would stroll through them, eager to spend time with the residents of the Kingdom. They talked and laughed together, exploring the beauty of the Kingdom and enjoying sweet fellowship with their King.

But, unfortunately, an evil lurked in that Kingdom. A long- time enemy of the King watched and waited for his chance. He hated the King – and therefore, he hated anyone the King loved. It was obvious that the King passionately loved the subjects of His Kingdom.

One day, it happened. The enemy found one of the King’s subjects and cleverly twisted the King’s words, planting seeds of doubt in the mind of the woman. He made her question the goodness of the King and in just a moment, she had made a decision that changed the Kingdom completely. The woman chose to side with the King’s enemy – and with that one act of defiance, the doors of the castle swung shut. The King no longer could walk among His people because their rebellion separated them from Him. The Kingdom – or at least the part of it beyond the castle grounds – had fallen into the hands of His enemy.

The King, in His goodness, did not destroy the enemy or the remains of His Kingdom in that moment. Instead, He set into motion a plan. The King told the enemy that one day his head would be crushed by the Servant the King would send. He also explained that His Servant would suffer in the process – but that, in the end, the King would restore the Kingdom to its former, perfect glory. And in the meantime, the King gave His subjects a choice about where they would dwell. They could venture into the once glorious land, which was now filled with dangers both seen and unseen, and attempt to make it on their own. Or they could choose to willingly submit to Him and live within His protection.

Those who chose to live within the protection of the King found that He did a marvelous thing. Around the castle He built a high, thick stone wall. It was so high that you could no longer see the castle or its courtyard, hidden behind it. And it was also so tall that it was impossible to climb over it. It was so thick that you could not tunnel through it to get to the courtyard of the castle. There was no visible door to the castle within that wall.

But within that thick, high wall the King set many, many rooms. These were the places provided to those who chose Truth and threw themselves on the King’s grace rather than believing the lies of His enemy. By choosing the free gift of grace the King offered, they could dwell in the King’s shadow, within the bounds of His protection.  They could not see Him face to face like their early ancestors had. But they could dwell near to the heart of the Kingdom, the heart of the King. He sent them messengers who faithfully recorded His Words. And those who were wise within the Kingdom took those words to heart, not just hearing them but faithfully obeying them as well. He assured them that even though they could not see Him, He was still there, still present and still listening to them. He gave them many great and precious promises to cling to while they dwelt there in the wall surrounding the courtyard of the King.

These rooms within the courtyard wall were rather wondrous. No matter how many people chose to accept the King’s gracious offer, there always was enough room. And there was always room for one more. All the former subjects of the King were now born in the land of the enemy. But all of them were given the choice – to come and live with and for the King or to stay in enemy territory.

There are many stories I could tell about the Kingdom and how marvelously the King set it up. And there are many stories I could tell about the subjects of the King and how they often forgot the King’s ways, in spite of the messages He sent them. But those are stories for another day. However, there is one more wondrous thing to share about the walls where the King’s people dwelt.

In the walls of the courtyard there were only doors from the outside, in. You could freely come from the land that now belonged to the enemy to enter the walls to dwell in the shadow of the King. However, there was no door that you could open to get through the other side and into the castle of the King. But for every person who lived there, the same thing would eventually, inevitably happen. At some point, a door would appear in the wall between them and the castle. And as the door opened, they would glimpse the beauty of the castle and the unspoiled, perfect Kingdom within. They would hear the King’s voice calling their name. And they would rise and go to Him, unable to do anything else. Their residency would change that day, from living in the shadow of the King to living with Him in His glorious, unspoiled, magnificent castle.

For some, this door in the wall appeared at the end of a long illness. With relief and a touch of guilt, the others who loved them would celebrate that they were no longer sick, no longer in pain, no longer suffering.

For others, the door appeared at the end of many, many years. With failing body and wasting memory, the person waiting would welcome the door and its opening, eager to be made new in the presence of the King.

But for others, the door would come after only a short time. It would appear suddenly – and those left within the walls would be stunned by its appearance. They would shake their heads and say things like, “But he was so young!” or “She had her whole life ahead of her!”

They forgot the messages from the King. They forgot that the life that they were living in the shadow of the Kingdom was nothing compared to the Real Life that was waiting, a life with the King. They forgot that the walls were temporary dwelling places, not built to last forever. And they forgot the attributes of the King. They forgot His kindness, His beauty, His mercy, grace and glory. And because they forgot, they feared the door in the wall. They feared “losing” someone they loved. They grieved the absence of the person, forgetting that they were guaranteed to be reunited with them one day, this time in the glorious presence of the King.

Their grief was understandable. It was difficult to be without the person they loved as they lived in this fallen world, on this side of the courtyard. But the King reassured them with this message: “Do not grieve like the people who live outside of my protection. They grieve like that because they have no hope. YOU do have hope! Those who have gone ahead of you into my presence are with Me. And one day, you will be with Me, too. You will be reunited. Or perhaps you will still be alive when I come back again. Because, remember, that is My plan. I will return one day and you will see Me face to face. I will destroy my enemy once and for all and we will all live together in perfection once again. You can be sad because you miss your loved one – but do not forget that I AM your Hope!”*

The subjects of the King did their best to remember these things. They sought to remind themselves and each other that the door in the wall – death of this body – is inevitable. But that life in the presence of the King is Real Life. That life started at the moment that they chose to live for His Kingdom and not the enemy’s. But one day, that Real Life will be fulfilled when they finally see the King face to face. And that is Real Hope for the residents of the Kingdom!

*First Thessalonians 4

The Answer

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An only-slightly-edited excerpt from my journal today (and not at all what I had planned to post):

Abba, You know my heart this morning.
I am full of doubt about everything but You.
Questions without answers – or with too many answers.
On so many topics.
About so many circumstances.

Will I ever get married?
Is that part of the plan or not?
What food did I eat yesterday that my body does not like?
How does prayer work when someone else’s will is in play? You say You direct hearts – but how does that jive with free will? I know You are Sovereign – but what does that look like?
Am I wrong?
Should I be doing something differently in this situation?
What about that one?

I know Your timing and ways are perfect – but I am so weary of wrestling. With all of this. With everything.
My heart cries, “How long, Oh Lord, how long?”

With fuzzy-at-best answers.

So, Abba, what do I know for sure?

These things I know, both from Your Word and from experience:
You are good.
Everything You do is right.
Your timing and ways are perfect.
You loved me enough to die for me – surely that means You love me enough to direct my life.
I do not exist for my happiness.
I do not exist for me.
I exist to bring You glory.
To show Your glory.
To show Your power made perfect in my weaknesses.
This life is not about me.
Not my marital state.
Not my health.
Not my weight.
Not my happiness.
Not my success or failure.
None if it is about me or for me.
It is about You.
And for You.
In the grand scheme of eternity, my questions are small.

Because You are not.
You are not small.
Not tiny.
Not infinitesimal.

You are the God who created all things.
Crafter of the Grand Canyon.
Designer of the deepest coral reefs.
Creator of the cosmos.
You are God.

You speak and nothing becomes something.
And not just a disorganized blob of something-from-nothing.
But intricate, detailed, astonishingly crafted things.
Like the human hand.
An eyeball from any creature.
A microorganism
And a majestic mountain peak.

You are the King of all Kings, the One Who sits upon the throne.
Holy, terrifyingly holy.
Perfect in all Your ways.

And yet, You are mindful of me.
Just one of billions.
A flower quickly fading.
A single grain of sand from the beach, easily brushed aside.
Made from dust.
And eventually becoming dust again.
At least the part that I am so worried about, so concerned over, so enamored by.
The part that will not live forever consumes my thoughts on a regular basis.
And really is the root of most of my questions.

What will I…?
Where will I…?
How will I…?

All of my questions have one answer.
If I need it, You will supply it.
If I don’t need it, You will withhold it – no matter how much I kick and fuss.
When I sorrow, You will be my comfort.
When I laugh, You laugh with me.
If it concerns me, You know about it and can change it.
And if You do not change it, it is because You see something that I cannot.
You see the greater purpose.
Or the end result.
You see the final outcome.
Or the hidden danger.
Most of all, You see the plan, the path ahead, the things You have planned for me to do and the ways they will be accomplished.

I see none of that.
Because I am tripping over today.
And myself.
And my feelings.

You are the answer to every question.
And one day, You will yank them all into exclamation points for Your glory.
I may get to see You do that here on earth.
Or I may not understand until heaven.
I have to search Your Word to find out Your thoughts on a matter.
And I have to choose to believe You are Who You say You are and will do all You say You will do.
I may have to wait to get the details to the answers.
But in the meantime, You are The Answer.

So I lay my questions on Your altar.
And not just this moment in the quiet of my house, with coffee by my side and a cat curled up against me.
But every moment that they occur.
Each time they come.
I will choose to bring them to You as a living sacrifice.
Not stewing over answers I cannot find.
But laying them before You.
Knowing You are at work.
Even when I cannot see.
Even when it doesn’t feel like it.
Even when I do not understand.

I will walk by faith and not by sight.
I will trust in You with all my heart.
I will choose to not lean on my limited me.
But I will seek You first in every question.
In every circumstance.

Because You are my Creator.
And because You are my King.
Because You chose to die for me rather than live separated from me.
And because you rose again which means this life is just the title page to the real life that is waiting.
Because You love me just as I am.
And because You love me too much to leave me that way.
Because You are worth it every time.
And because You are The Answer.

Every time. For every question. Period.

A Question…

The message from the world:
Your abilities determine your worth.

Smart? Athletic? Good with numbers? A great public speaker? Graceful? A way with words?
Then you are worth something. Measured on a scale of comparison, against everyone else who is whatever you aspire to be, you are assigned a value.

Can do = Worth more.
Can’t do = Worthless.

The message from God:
Your availability is far more valuable than your ability.

Weak? Like Peter? The man who swore he would never deny Jesus and then turned around and did three times less than 12 hours later?
God made him one of the founding fathers of The Church.
He wasn’t able – he was available.

Too young? Like David? The boy who couldn’t fit into the armor provided for him so walked into battle with only his clothes between him and a 9-foot tall, heavily-armed man?
God directed one stone to fell the man and then gave David the strength to lop off his head.
He wasn’t able – he was available.

A minority? Like Esther? The girl who was an orphan, plucked out of the crowd because of her pretty face, doomed to life in a harem from that moment on? The girl who came from the hated race in the land?
God caused her to find favor with the King and placed her on the throne as Queen so that she could save the lives of her people, the Jews, because she was there “for such a time as this”.
She wasn’t able – she was available.

A criminal fugitive with a speech defect? Like Moses? The man who killed a man in the name of the Lord, then fled from Pharaoh’s wrath? The man who spent the next 40 years of his life tending sheep in the wilderness? The man who told God, “No, I don’t speak well” when God said, “Go say…?”
God used him to deliver His people from slavery and then to lead them – over a million of them – to the land He had promised.
He wasn’t able – he was available.

I could go on and on. Stories from the Bible. And stories from Christ-followers since the Bible who were un-able in the world’s eyes – or in their own – and yet were used by God because they said, “Yes” to Him.
Even when they wanted to say “No”.
Even when they saw their own shortcomings.
Even when they truly were all the “uns” – unable, unworthy, unacceptable.

It is a theme woven through God’s story, first in the Bible and then in the years since it was recorded.
He takes a little and makes it a lot.
He uses the weak to conquer the strong.
He makes the unfit the leaders.
He says, “Humble yourself and I will exalt you.”
He says, “When you are at your weakest, I am at my strongest.”
He says, “Your value is not based on what you can do. It is based on what I can do through you. Because I made you. I designed you. And I am for you. The things you do well? They are gifts from me. But I can take that little bit and make it a lot if you will make it available for My use.”

Only have a little to give?
A little time?
A little talent?
A little treasure?

Give it and see what He does.
A little oil filled many jars when what was available met the God of the impossible.
Two loaves and five fish fed 5,000 men plus their families when what was surrendered met the God of miracles.
12 uneducated men turned the world upside down when lives that were willing to follow met the power of the God who called them.

The key to Kingdom success?
In God’s economy, availability outshines ability every time.
Because a person who can do it all, has it all together, and is fully able – that person doesn’t need God.
And a person who doesn’t need God gets all the glory for himself.
But the person who steps out in faith and says, “Here I am, Lord. Use me in spite of me, flaws and all” – that person gives God all the glory.
Because he recognizes that it is God who accomplishes the work.
And that God alone is able.

Are you able available? Will you say “Yes” to God, no matter what He is asking you to do? Will you say to God, “I can’t do what You are asking me to do, but You can, so I yield – use me as You will”?

I don’t know the specific outcomes if you will choose to do that – but I do know this, both from history and personal experience: If you will say yes to God, He will show up in ways that blow your mind. If you will surrender to Him and say, “Your will, not mine” in every area, He will accomplish amazing things through you – and in spite of you. He’s proven time and again that He’s worth the risk. So I ask again:

Are you available?

On Idolatry…

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We were at The Museum of Natural History looking at the minerals and gems. My friend said, “Many of the Hindustani have a rock in the yard that they pour milk over each day.” When I asked why, she explained that it is an offering to one of the millions of gods they worship.

Spending time with my friends, the Shiwdat family, who are missionaries to the Hindustani of Suriname, South America, has had me pondering this idea of idols and idolatry. The people they work with came from India in the 1800’s and brought with them their millions of gods. They feverishly seek to please and appease these gods in order to be reincarnated in their next life into something or someone better than they currently are.

In my pondering, I shake my head and think about the hopelessness of that. I wonder, what life would look like if I was in their shoes?
Wondering which idol I should pray to today.
Trying to determine which one I may have offended or will offend if I don’t do the right thing.
All in the hope that I might, possibly, maybe, perhaps gain a better life somewhere in the unknown.
As I think of all that, it is easy for me to say, “Wow, I am so glad to know the One True God – and that I do not have idols to worry about!”

But even as the thought crosses my mind, I am aware of the fallacy of that statement.
I DO have idols.
Maybe not millions – but plenty that I bow to with alarming regularity.

See if you share any of mine…

1. The Friend god
Something goes wrong. I am having a bad day. Or someone says something hurtful. My first instinct is to phone a friend. Pour out my troubles. Make myself feel better. Look to them for support, encouragement, validation, understanding. And there is nothing wrong with a great friend! But they should not be my first call. If my friend – or parent – or spouse – is the one I turn to first when I am hurting, then I have put him or her in first place in my life. And that spot should be reserved for God alone. So when I am hurting, my personal rule is that I need to pray about it before I phone about it. And often, when I do that, I have less of a need to talk it over with someone else because I have already given it to the One who can give me wisdom and change my heart. He is also the One who can change the circumstances if He chooses to do so.

2. The Food god
Perhaps I should call this one the “Comfort god”. For me it is baked goods, preferably chocolate. Having a bad day? Feeling sad? Bored? Tired? Uncomfortable? Grab that sweet – it will make all the difference! Of course, it doesn’t make ALL the difference. The only difference it really makes is an addition to my waist line and something else to feel guilty about. Again, nothing wrong with great food – but when I turn to a pan of brownies – even gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free brownies – for my comfort, I am putting them ahead of God. If I am eating them because I am hungry, because I have saved room for dessert, because I am celebrating something with a friend – fabulous. But if I am eating them to fill a hole in my heart rather than a hunger in my belly, they are an idol. For you it may be the salty/crunchy thing. Or ice cream. Or a glass of wine. Something I put in my mouth because I have an emotional need. An idol.

3. The Affirmation god
I personally am wired for people, not tasks. When I take any of those personality assessments, they come out the same way – extroverted (gaining energy from being with people) and NOT task-oriented. I care far more about the people around me than I do about the tasks that need to be done. And, since work does need to be done, I really, really want us all to have a great time getting the tasks done as we work together. Again, nothing wrong with how I am wired. But when I care more about what you think than what God thinks, my people-orientation becomes people-pleasing and it is an idol. Which leads me to…

4. The Peace god
I hate conflict. I want everyone to get along, be happy, and never, ever disagree. And again, peace-makers are good things. But peace-at-all-costs-makers are not. Being wise in what I say, how I say it, when I say it and where I say it are all good things. Shooting pot shots out via social media is not what I am talking about. Using sarcasm, a large vocabulary and some wit to tear someone to shreds is not taking a stand, either. But when God’s name, reputation or Word are being violated and I stay silent simply because I want to avoid conflict, I am not being a peace-maker, I am being an idolater. I must choose at that moment to honor Him by “speaking the Truth in love”, usually privately and usually in a calm, peaceful manner. I would rather not. But when I choose to bow to the god of “peace” rather than lovingly, thoughtfully speaking up for the Prince of Peace, I am an idolater.

And then there is the trickiest, slickest, most deceptive idol of all…

5. The Creating God in My Image god
I cannot comprehend God. He is too big, too mysterious, too completely other for me to even begin to understand. He even says that about Himself in Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8) Because of my limited comprehension, it is easy for me to remake God as I want Him to be, not as He is, as He is revealed in His Word. For example, I would like the words “God is love” to mean that sincerity is the way to heaven and that a loving God would not send anyone to hell. If I sincerely believe anything, then I can get to God – because let’s face it, I am sincere. But that is not who God has presented Himself to be in His Word. He very, very clearly states that there is ONE way to heaven and that is through putting my faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, believing that he died in my place and that nothing I can do is good enough to get me to God. The “is love” part comes in when I comprehend that this Way is open to everyone – from the people I consider the “worst” to those I think of as the “best”. And when I add to that the fact that God made this Way by sending His one and only Son to take my punishment, I am compelled by His love to share that! With everyone I meet. All the time. Whether it is politically correct or not.

And that is just one example. There are other things about God that I cannot comprehend or do not like and, therefore, want to change. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if He said, “Fooling around before marriage is a good thing – go for it! After all, I love you and I want you to be happy. So go find some boy-toy to make yourself happy.” But He didn’t say that. He said marriage is the only place for sex. And He said marriage is one man, one woman, until death separates the two He made one. I cannot change His Word without changing His character – and if I do, then I have re-created Him in a way I want Him to be. Which means He is not God at all. He becomes a version of Himself, a god among many. And I become the person Paul described to Timothy, the person who will inhabit the earth “in the last days”: one who is “holding to a form of [outward] godliness (religion), although they have denied its power [for their conduct nullifies their claim of faith].” (2Timothy 3, AMP) I cannot pick and choose Who God is and Him still be God. When I do, my faith becomes idolatry because I am not worshipping Him – I am worshipping myself, my version of Him.

Unfortunately, my list of idols could go on and on. And you may have a different list. Perhaps popularity drives your decisions. Or the quest for power determines your conduct in the work place. Perhaps it is about money for you – making sure you have enough, making sure you hold on to what you have. It may be self-fulfillment – pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, making your own way in the world, buying into that verse that is not in the Bible, “God helps them that help themselves.” All idols. And we all have them. They are not usually statues for us here in the US and especially not in the Church. They are not rocks in the yard with milk poured on them. But anything that drives your thinking, your decisions, and your actions that is not God as revealed in the Bible, is an idol. And the very first commandment God gave was to “have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20). Or, if you prefer a New Testament verse, idols of any kind are the exact opposite of “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Matthew 22)

One last word of hope. You can learn to recognize your idols and to throw them down off the throne of your heart. How? By spending time in God’s Word. Daily. Seeking Him first. Asking Him to show you Himself as He is, not as you want Him to be. Asking Him to nudge you when you are practicing idolatry. And remembering that there is always forgiveness, always grace, and always strength for each new day. His mercies are new every morning; great is His faithfulness! (Lamentations 3)