Pages

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Confession of Sin, Celebration Of Grace #Messy

I am more than likely a person who, by definition, would be accused of having a skewed view of grace. As I have thought more about what the accusation really means, it has pressed me more and more into grace not more and more away from it.

If you have followed some of my recent struggles you may ask how I can continue to talk about all of this grace stuff. I answer by saying, it is precisely because of my recent struggles that I need to talk about this...about grace. Because, if grace is not what is by definition - undeserved merit, I am in big trouble.

I am banking on the one way love of God that pursues sinners. 

The.End. 

If you struggle, then we are in the same spot. We need grace.

We can't consider grace just a nice thing to have. We need it.


Having a skewed view of grace is defined as celebrating failure and discounting obedience to God's moral standard. Let me first say that I wholeheartedly do not believe that someone who revels in God's grace discounts obedience to God's law. I would say it is exactly the opposite. In my experience, the one who loves grace recognizes God's high and holy Law as being perfect and good and lovely and...unattainable. Hence, their love for grace.

All my attempts to obey fail because all my attempts to obey fall short of God's holy and right standard of perfection.

Obedience on our part never meets God's standard and in that respect, it fails. Always




Who has ever loved God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength...even for one second?

I don't celebrate my failure, but I do confess it. Sin is never a cause for celebration. God hates sin and so should we. Is it possible that the confessing of failure can sometimes sound like celebrating it? I would argue that the "celebrating" of it is really just vocalizing the realty of sin and weakness. I vocalize my weakness and "celebrate" my inability to keep the Law which leads me to confess the Lawkeeper.

My confession of imperfection is a confession of Perfection.

Jesus calls people to a deeper level of obedience. No more white washed tombs. Instead of looking perfect on just the outside, He calls us to actually be perfect...inside and out. And, sometimes we do obey. 

However, a some of the time obedience is not what the cross was all about. 

A some of the time perfection is not what Jesus referred to when he called his followers to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”, (Luke 10:27).

God's redeeming work is evidenced by true heart transformation. My desires are different. I begin to love the things God loves and hate the things God hates. But nowhere in the Bible do we see that having a right desire guarantees a right obedience. Some would say that grace leads to a willy-nilly disregard for God's moral standards. I don't believe professing Christians are actually desiring to live any old way with no regard for God's standards. I trust that believers actually want to do God's will. The problem is the actual doing of God's will according to his standard...perfection. It is not possible this side of heaven. That is why the gospel is such good news. In our efforts to love God, realizing that we fall short, we fall on the gracious and merciful love of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ who died for our sins.

The problem is not in thinking we can never obey. 

The problem comes in when we think our some of the time obedience is enough.

At the root of the problem stands not the Law. The root of the problem is and always has been our hearts, "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Although it's true that the gospel is at work in our hearts transforming us from the inside out, we remain sinners until the day Jesus comes back or we go to be with him in glory. It is what we see in the Bible; example after example of people who longed to do the right thing and failed. "People may be pure in their own eyes, but the LORD examines their motives", (Prov 16:2).

Which brings up a good question. Why does God exhort us toward obedience? Is it all a big joke? He calls us to be holy yet we can't be holy. What is going on? Some would say the exhortation towards obedience is to teach us that we can obey, thus giving us hope. It sounds good. However, at some point it breaks down. Is God's desire for us to put hope in our ability to obey? 

Or, is God's desire for us to give up hope in our own obedience so that we might seek the One who perfectly obeyed on our behalf? 

Ultimately, we put our hope in Jesus, not our own obedience.

Any celebrating going on in the life of a Christian is the pure and simple reveling in the finished work of the cross which reminds me I'm not able, but there is One who is.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 
2 Cor 12:9




Friday, July 25, 2014

She Just Showed Up And Played



I was talking with a friend yesterday - she was eagerly recounting to me the details of her escapades from the night before. Don't worry, this is G rated :)

She golfs. She loves it! And she is really good.

Tuesdays are tournament days for her. She heads up a league and is responsible for all the details each week. It is a busy, tiring, but fun day for her.

Tuesdays can end up being an even longer day because she also substitutes for another league in town. She plays when needed, and they needed her last night. Happy to do it, she headed over. Well, kind of happy. She was actually hoping for rain as she drove up. Even though we've had rain literally every night for the past month, this night proved to be the exception.

She relaxed and realized she was enjoying the evening as the game progressed.

She played well. 

So well that she won the tournament - to her delight! Not only did she win the tournament, she won a carry over prize from the week before!

Yes, it was a good evening. As they walked into the clubhouse and grabbed a drink, the club president was making some announcements - my friend tuned in long enough to hear her name!

Another surprise - she had won the drawing that week!

I couldn't help but smile as I thought about the people who faithfully play in that league week after week. Can you hear the whispers? 

"Umph!", "She is not even part of our league!", "Did she have to win everything?!?"

This all but explains grace. In our small minded thinking about God and how he operates, we're always determined to do something to earn it. Even if we "get" grace and have been around the gospel, it's hard to get away from the whole quid pro quo arrangement with God. Don't we have to do something? Aren't there any prerequisites?

What my friend experienced is a tiny sliver of what God's grace looks like. She was there and she played.

I think that's what God wants. Be present and play. It's the good news of the gospel. 

God is not waiting for us to earn prizes.

He gives them.

Freely. 
Eph 2:8

Now, go play!






Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hope and Help for Single Moms


I am excited to announce that Set Free... has launched a new ministry for single moms!

Hope and Help for Single Moms will serve the local community by aiding single moms in Broward County, FL. 

Several projects are planned - the first one is for back to school assistance.

If you would like to learn more about HHSM, visit our information page.

Like us on Facebook!

Find Back to School event information!











Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Injustice of Injustice

Photo credit: Daily Mail
The face on this man is exactly how I envisioned my face the other day when suddenly, while stopped at a stop sign, the very large SUV in front of me started backing up.

My hands probably went up just like his as I shouted "Stop! Stop!"

Only, he didn't stop... 

...he just kept coming. 

The next thing I know I'm calling my husband, 911 , and a friend I was meeting for dinner that night.

You know the routine. If you've been in an accident before, its a lot of hurry up and wait when there are no injuries and little damage.



Conflicting Accounts
The police officer finally arrived. He spoke to the other person first. Several minutes later the officer walked over and said "So, what's going on here?" (I cannot properly convey to you in writing the amount of disdain he spoke with. I'm sure he was just having a bad day.)

I began to tell him what happened, but when I got out the words "He backed into me",

the officer interrupted and said "That's not what he said."

I was so incredulous that I actually laughed (note to self: not a good idea to laugh at an officer - especially when he is having a bad day). The short story is that the man flat out lied and told Mr. Policeman that I was on my phone and ran into him.

umph! 

the nerve! 

Liar liar pants on fire! 

OK, that sounds all cute and not so bothered. The truth is, I was furious.

The Bigger Issue
Justice
Where was the justice? It was all so unfair! Even though there was little damage to my car, I could not get past the bigger issue. This man blatantly lied! Self-preservation in all it's glory.

Why did it bother me so much? Was it just about my puny desire to vindicate myself?

What is the real "bigger issue?" Maybe it's the same one we all have.

A longing for Justice. Our hearts long for it.

We long for a world where wrong is made right. A place where fairness and wholeness thrive. When I look around, I don't see that place.

But it doesn't change what my heart desires. I suppose I could have an "I don't care attitude." An attitude that says, "It's just the way it is and it stinks." But somehow, my heart hopes. Somehow there is a whisper in my heart that reassures me, "This is not all there is."

Justice Is A Person
The longing in my heart is not my self-generated desire for good. The longing in all of our hearts for goodness and flourishing could never come from ourselves. If I had had my way with goodness I would have demanded fairness which put me in the right - what a small-minded selfish view of justice. It is good news then, that Justice does not come from within us but from outside of us. God created our longing for Justice and graciously provided it in the person of Jesus.

Justice has come.

And one fine day, Justice will restore all things.

Justice will turn the tables on unfairness and inequity. 

Justice will make whole, make right and make new.

The Only Just One
God alone is Just. We often look to the ways of this world for pictures of justice.

Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life. Proverbs 22:22-23

We read the scriptures and set out to follow the instructions believing that the world will play by the rules and that we will actually play by the rules too. We forget that there is only One who is Just. God alone holds that job. But here's where it gets a little crazy. God considered the poor and needy. He took up our case.

Jesus' ministry is not the incidental patching up of injustices. Rather it is the bearing of the final injustice - death ~ Robert F Capon, The Parables of Grace

God exacted life for life. Jesus died for you. Jesus died for me. God exacted his life for our lives. Life for life. That should turn every table upside down on the whole justice issue.

Fair? No.

And thankfully so.




Friday, July 18, 2014

Dear Church, I'm #Messy

Dear Church,

In some ways this resembles a love letter. Well, not exactly love. More like a "breaking up from love" letter. It is a letter I've had inside me for a while...

...but it takes guts to spit this out.

And I don't usually have guts.

Funny thing though, once I came to grips with the leaving part, the spitting it out part is coming easier.

I'll never forget the day we fell in love. Not the first day we met, but the day I was struck in the heart with a deep fondness for you. It surpassed superficial attraction. It sparkled with a newness and life and grace...yes, grace. That day seems shadowy now, far away and a bit vague. So much has happened and so many names, situations and circumstances have torn at our relationship. It's hard to make out what's left of it. It is badly damaged, which is why I'm writing to you. I'm leaving you. Saying that takes guts. But saying it also takes an awareness of freedom. Freedom that, ironically, you taught me.

Too Hot To Handle

Photo Credit: Bangor Daily News
I know you want answers. I'm sure you would like to know the reasons why. In time, they may come. For now I only know that the overwhelming reason is, I feel like I'm too messy. I've become too much of a problem and what some might call "high maintenance."

I have not said the right things or done the right things. My Christianity did not measure up, my theology was off and my idols were too hot to handle.

Put it all together and I was not good enough, not sane enough, not balanced enough, not tame enough.

I saw it in your eyes each time I exposed the truth of who I really am.


Gospel Reassurance

Friends that know me tell me I look better and seem healthier. How is it that the further I get from religion, the better I feel? How is that? How is it that the sun looks brighter and the landscape looks more diverse? How is it that my freedom feels fuller and my anxieties seem smaller? I am quite sure it has more to do with me than the church. 

This is the reality of my mess right now. As I've said before, I am forcing myself to write in the midst of it, not on the other side of it. I am trying to express the gritty, raw and not so pretty realities of this Christian life. Someone asked me last night,

"Are you reading your Bible?" 

"No."

He pressed, "Are you praying?"

"No."

Shocking, I know. But it's the truth, in all it's messy glory. Here is what I am coming to understand though. God has not changed. None of this catches Him off guard and He is able to handle it all. Every last drop of mess. You see, the religion of the triune God is not cookie cutter. The Christian walk is not easy, not sane, not routine, and there is no template. All of this is of great comfort to me now.

I don't know much of anything right now. But this I count on,

If the gospel is what it says it is - radical one way love for rebels like me - then I don't have anything to worry about. 

I don't have to wring my hands over my prayerlessness right now. I don't have to narcissistically focus on getting my Bible reading act together. God's got this. That is what I'm banking on. If everything I've believed, talked about and written about is true - that God's hot pursuit of me will outrun my attempts to squirm away - then I can relax. 

And breathe...

I have posted this quote before, but it is one I needed to read again:

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last 'trick', whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.
'But how?' we ask.
Then the voice says,
'They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'
There they are.
There *we* are -
the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.
My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

So, there it is. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I won't see you Sunday. I'm not sure when we will see each other again. But I know,

God's got this.

Sincerely,

A so wanting to be faithful, defeated, soiled by life, bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but clinging to faith christian. 


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Becoming Like Christ - Or, I've Sprouted Another Leak

The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 
1 John 2:6

How did Jesus walk? 

Interestingly, God did not lay out a religious performance improvement plan for Jesus to follow while he walked this earth. If He had, it more than likely would not have included destroying temple property, back-talking religious leaders and breaking all the rules (you know, little things like breaking the Sabbath, not following traditions and observing rituals, and hanging out with criminals).

When Christians exhort other Christians to walk as Christ walked, they don't mean break the rules. What they want is for people to follow the "rules." 


It is not good news when I ponder becoming like Christ. Why? Because I know me. I know not only what I've done, but what I continue to do. 

Still, there are areas of my life where I see improvement. My husband speaks about the fact that I'm different than I used to be. Our marriage is different as a result. And, I know my husband has changed too. As a result, our marriage is different. 

However, I liken it to a garden hose. Hoses sprout leaks. Once one leak is repaired, two more sprout. And so it goes. One step forward, two steps back. Just when I think I've improved a bit, more leaks sprout.

Christ told us to be holy. "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48). This is what God requires. 

The good news is spectacular;

We can't. Christ was, for us. 

How then do we walk as Jesus walked? The only way I know is by trusting Him for my holiness. For my sanctification. I know that while I might have gotten a bit better in some areas, I'm still a mess. And that's O.K.


With so much emphasis these days on our getting better, I fear the church has lost this essential truth -

we are not going to get that much better. 

Even the super apostle Paul confessed (at the end of his life), "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" (1 Tim 1:15).

Bible verses like 1 Thess. 4:3 are sometimes pulled out of context to make a case for our pursuit of sanctification. Some say that this verse is proof that God's will for you is sanctification. However, the Greek word used is ἁγιασμὸς (hagiasmos). While not used in the Greek classics, it is found in the New Testament and is rendered holiness. God requires us to be holy as He is holy. Of course, the only problem is we cannot be holy as He is holy. There is One holy, and it is God.

Which brings us to Jesus... 

...literally

Recognizing our inability to be what God requires from us should point us to our utter need for Another. One who is Holy in our place. 

Yes, we have been given newness of life, a heart of flesh, a renewed mind, Christ in us, and the Holy Spirit. However, we are still simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously sinner and saint). Which explains my lame garden hose analogy; 

on one hand getting better and on the other hand falling short.

Take one look at modern day Christianity and it is clear that sanctification is the whole game. However, sanctification should not be the focus of our Christian life. Our justification is the focus, namely Jesus.

The good news of the gospel is not about you or me becoming more like Christ. 

The good news of the gospel is Christ became like us.

Jesus trusted his Father in heaven, condescended to us and became like us in every way that he might save those who are perishing.

How did Jesus walk?

By trusting his Father. 

The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 
1 John 2:6




Wednesday, July 16, 2014

As The World Turns

What makes the world go 'round?

Creationists and evolutionists both believe the world spins on a perfect axis at just the right speed, although they disagree as to what or who propels it.

But, what truly makes the world spin 'round? Not in a literal sense, but what makes sense out of the world? What gives purpose? Meaning? Direction? How do we make sense of history? The future? Life? Death?

What does it all mean? And, what makes living with the lack of answers to these questions bearable? What do we do with the tensions of this life?

Theologian and author Robert Capon said;

"The supreme act by which God makes history turn out right - the still, reconciling point of the whole turning world - is the very nightmare of the cross itself."

The world turns by the nightmare of the cross.

Before God descended in all humanity and divinity, the world was spinning. Even before the rescue mission took on flesh, gravitational forces were at work in unfathomable preciseness. And yet, it was spinning out of control. Sin had entered the perfection of creation. Never again would the garden be perfectly tilled and precisely cared for. Darkness seeped in. Trouble met the horizon. 

But God...

...descended into the darkness...into the chaos...once again bringing order. The first time He by speaking the world into creation.. This time by bleeding for the world and it's redemption.

Marc Chagall - Jesus on the cross of Calvary
However, it's not what we expected it to look like. It wasn't with great power and an ornate crown. It came by way of great suffering and thorns. It was not a dreamy, ethereal "God thing", it was a nightmarish, gritty "suffering thing."

Now, what seemed hopeless is not...by the nightmare of the cross...

Now, light shines in the darkness...by the nightmare of the cross...

Now, the old is made new...by the nightmare of the cross...

Now, the dead are made alive...by the nightmare of the cross...

What happens then to all the questions, to the meaning of life and the tensions of this world? Have they disappeared?

No.

We do, however, have a lens with which we view them. The lens of Love.



God so loved the world that He sent His only son to die, that we might live. My questions pale. My heart is calmed. My anxiousness is stilled. My hand-wringing about tomorrow can stop.

Only the nightmare of the cross brings hopefulness to our sad hearts. We see the power of Love. Jesus suffered and bled and we begin to realize that He understands our pain and our weakness as a result. He's been where you are. He's felt the same things I have. He knows our frailty.

Only the nightmare of the cross brings light into the dark. Hanging on the cross and bowing his head, Jesus died. The earth shook, the veil was torn and a light shown in the dark - even to a darkened heart. "When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Only the nightmare of the cross brings newness. As Jesus looked down from the cross where his mother was standing, He created. He gave his mother to his beloved disciple and he gave his disciple a mother. Imagine, a brand new relationship for the rest of their lives. They would be loved and cared for as a result of this nightmare.

And, only the nightmare of the cross brings life out of death. Hanging, bleeding and suffering, Jesus looked at one who was condemned to die and said "Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

As Robert Capon put it, God makes history turn out right...

...not by chance but by the cross.