Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jesus Died For An Arrogant, Unsubmissive, Loudmouthed And Flat Out Disobedient Bride

I read some things this morning that frustrate me a bit. It was an essay on God's design for marriage and gender roles. Written by a man, it focused on women and their submission in the context of marriage. A couple things stood out to me.

First, the article pointed to the example of one particular woman's love for and submission to her husband by saying it was so faithful that the Lord raised up generations after her that would call her blessed. He then points to a biblical woman, Sarah. Although she had difficulty, he notes that what set her apart was the fact that she adorned herself with a gentle and quiet spirit by submitting to her husband.

To be clear, it was not Sarah's love and faithfulness at play here. 

You may recall that Sarah laughed at God. Sarah schemed with her hubby to sidetrack God and take matters into her own hands. Sarah was mean to Hagar and resented her involvement with her husband (who wouldn't?!?). Not exactly a picture of love and faithfulness.

Isn't it interesting that Jesus, the only One who ever submitted perfectly, died not for the submissive wife. He loved and died for an arrogant, unsubmissive and flat out disobedient and loudmouthed bride, so that, generations would be raised up and be named, blessed.

Second, noting 1 Peter 3, the essay asks, "Have you ever noticed that women who place their identity in external appearances tend to be loud?" I'm not sure I have a category for this interpretation of that passage. Suffice to say that the equation does not add up...on many levels. I wonder if the same holds true for men? This observation is quite frankly, embarrassing. If we were talking face to face I may just have shouted that, which may or may not be an indication of where I place my identity.

Finally, in a sad (but all too common) interpretation of 1 Peter 3, the essay declares that by your submission, you can guarantee your salvation and will be called one of Sarah's children. This statement contradicts the entire narrative of the Bible which is, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). 

Whoever believes has eternal life. 

The article also maintains that it would not be surprising if one day, when the saints are gathered together before the Lord, there is a large group of women standing next to Sarah, for in the midst of their marital hardships they trusted that the Lord would vindicate them. However, the article left out multitudes of other women.

Standing next to Sarah will be all the other women (not just wives) who doubted, laughed, mocked, distrusted, schemed, resented, hated, and lied.

Standing next to Sarah will be women who couldn't muster up what the world expected of them, couldn't believe the things the church wanted them to believe, couldn't trust anymore because of shattered dreams, couldn't stand up anymore because of the heavy burdens placed on their back.

In fact, some may not be standing. They may be on their knees weeping, Weeping that it's all over. Weeping that the striving has ceased. I know the bible says no more tears, but tears are divine. God catches every one. Tears demonstrate the most human and raw emotion possible. Tears brought us near. Tears will usher us in.

Standing next to Sarah will be every single woman who by no accomplishment of their own faith, was loved by the only faithful One. 



Saturday, May 23, 2015

Jesus Alone Saves

(*A couple of disclaimers. First, I chose to put this in one post instead of a series. Be forewarned, it's long. Second, as with everything I write, this is my story. I'm no expert. I write my experiences and hopefully they somehow (not always neatly) point to Jesus. I understand it may not be your experience and that's o.k. I appreciate different journeys, stories, and faith experiences. In fact, I would say I need them. I need your differences. I need to know that there is way forward despite our differences. I want to learn how love prevails.)


Paul Loved Those In His Care

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Sometimes Paul spoke with endearing words and an affirming tone. He longed to see the congregations he left behind. They were his beloved and he missed them desperately. In the book of Philippians Paul says, "I yearn for you," "I thank my God for you." Clearly, strong words expressing a strong love.

However, if you read the book of Galatians it's not quite the same feel. The book opens up with Paul's standard greeting. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Then, he cuts to the chase.

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--which is really no gospel at all."

He continues, "O foolish Galatians!"

At one point it is as if he catches himself in mid-sentence to say, "I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you."

But then he keeps going...

"I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!"

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

Paul never shied away from calling it like it is.

Imagine if your pastor wrote you a letter like that today. It might go like this, "What the heck are you doing? You believed, and now you are deserting what I taught you and relying on your good deeds to earn you points with God. I wish that whoever is influencing you would cut um, well, *cough* *cough*, cut their balls off. Now, get back to the business of the Gospel because that is why Jesus came. To set you free, not so you could sin more, but so you could love more."

Paul wrote to the church in Galatia to remind them of Jesus.

What distracts me from Jesus? What prompts my heart with promises of freedom that only lead to slavery? What bright shiny object has me locked up in chains again? What theology, cult, or club sidetracked me? What beckons me back onto the slave block?

Having begun by the Spirit, am I now being perfected by the flesh?

Forgiveness Of Sins Brings Freedom

It is easy to believe that I, one who "gets grace" and understands Law/Gospel - that I am the "right" one. It has been easy for me to sink into the acceptance preached and the grace taught. Because, who knew? I never knew. So I set out to preach no other gospel. To boast in nothing else. Except, my boasting was in doctrine. My claims were about theology. Sure Jesus was thrown in there. But all along, I was peddling something that had no power. You may be angry when you hear me say that Law/Gospel has no power. But it's true. Law/Gospel is a theology, a set of doctrines void of power. It is a hermeneutic principle, a theological distinction, an approach to understanding the whole of scripture (see Wikipedia, and The Law and The Gospel by Michael Horton). 

When the God of the universe chose to reveal his Son Jesus to me and open my eyes to the freedom he brought when he died for me, he gave me power from on high. He loved me. But His love for me was not dependent on my understanding of Law/Gospel, reformational teachings, or grace. In fact, I understood nothing because I was blind. I was dead.

Yes, I have known freedom from understanding Law/Gospel. I've taught it, and I embrace it, especially now in days of confusion and doubt. But I see clearly, now more than ever, the truth that a doctrine can't save me. Truths prescribed and subscribed to, can't raise dead people. Jesus raises dead people. Jesus sets captives free.




The ACE hotel is easy to spot due to this sign on its roof (Photo: Lauren Coleman)
{photo credit: Lauren Coleman/travelskills.com}


Jesus Alone Saves

Does knowing the Law/Gospel paradigm give me a lens with which to read my Bible? Yes. But, it does not have the power to take a person who is dead in their sins and raise them to newness of life. Paul said it best, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3).

Reliance on a hermeneutic or doctrine is not the same thing as reliance on Jesus. Only when I can say...

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;

...can I really be free.

Nothing in my hand I bring...not doctrine, not a hermeneutic principle, not my denominational set of beliefs...simply to the cross I cling.

So, I found I was crushed by the very thing that was meant to set me free because that very thing was doctrine, not Jesus. I was clinging to theology which had no power to rescue my free fall, no power to transform my broken heart. I replaced Jesus with a lens. I used a lens to look at Jesus instead of looking at Jesus with my own eyes.

While using the Law/Gospel lens with which to view scripture I found I was not beholding the Lamb who took away my sins. 

Paul reminds me what is important. Jesus. The one who died for my sins in accordance with the Scriptures.

Why Does This Matter?

First
, I find it an important discussion because of the renewed interest in the Law/Gospel hermeneutic. It has been used powerfully in the lives of many, my own included. However, the following observations are critical in order for me to "keep the main thing, the main thing."

· The Law/Gospel hermeneutic is not the Gospel.
· The Law/Gospel hermeneutic is not power unto salvation.
· A Law/Gospel understanding is not required for saving faith.

Faith rides many trains. The vehicle God uses to deliver faith is the word ("So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17), but the word is carried in many different boxcars. Believers for centuries past and for centuries to come will know the saving grace of the Lord Jesus apart from knowing and understanding the Gospel through a Law/Gospel hermeneutic.

Second, it's an important discussion because clinging to a theology can often produce tribalism. I noticed it in my own thinking. One of the reasons Paul was concerned about "another gospel" seeping into the churches he wrote to was because of the pride it produced. Any gospel apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ leads to pride and is evidenced by a lack of love toward others. When you add anything to Jesus, the Gospel becomes void and powerless. Reliance is now placed on the "plus something" and it can lead to boasting in self. A sense of superiority seeps in, and condescension, mockery, and disdain follow. In other words, those who have "so great a knowledge" assume they are better off than those who have no knowledge of it. I believed [wrongly] that I had superior knowledge and insider information.

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I found that instead of becoming more approachable, I was actually becoming less approachable. My doctrine kept some people at arms length because it was my doctrine (clinging to my rightness) that drove my heart, not Jesus. Lovelessness comes from clinging to my "rightness." Lovelessness does not come from beholding the Lamb who takes away sin.

I admit to falling into the thinking that said I’m right and you’re wrong. I failed to love my neighbor as I protested their views, their doctrines, and their teachings. Funny thing though, eventually I was put out for not believing "right theology." When placed outside the camp, my eyes opened. I began to see, maybe for the very first time, the beauty of Jesus for losers and last ones, for the abused and the forgotten, for the not wanted and the not part of.

I am exactly who Jesus rescues. He went outside the camp to find me.

Jesus marched out and said, “She’s mine.” 

You may have the same story. If so, a doctrine did not march out to your rescue. Jesus, very God, died to save you. He alone, almighty in power, came down to save you. He does that for all of us.

A Personal Reflection

I did not grow up in the church. God saved me when I was forty. I was not looking. My husband and I went to church so our son could earn a religion merit badge for Boy Scouts (another conversation for another day). That’s when Love broke in. Four weeks later, I left church different than when I went in. God raised my dead body and made me a new creation. Did I know what grace was? No. Did I know what the Gospel was? No. Did I understand Law/Gospel? No. I had never heard those words before. 

Love, It's What There's Just Too Little Of

All of this is messing with me a bit. I’m asking a lot of questions now. How did Jesus get buried underneath a hermeneutic? How is it that such good news can be used to separate, not unite?

To be sure, it’s nothing new. Down through the centuries doctrine has divided the Christian community. And isn't that the real problem? Divisions? Quarreling? In-fighting and back-biting? All of it, lacking love? Find Christians clinging to doctrine and you will find divisions and quarreling nearby. It would seem however, that those who have truth, who have Jesus, who know we love because he first loved us, it seems to me we would be the most gracious, the most loving, the least bothered when someone doesn't agree with us. If we all believe in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we can instead, warm our hearts by that love-fueled fire. If we all believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived as a human, died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of God, ruling and reigning and praying for us, we can agree together that there’s no other Gospel. There is no other Love that’s greater than the love of the Father for his beloved which fuels love for one another, so that we can...

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...stoke the same flames of righteousness, faith, love, and life that spiral up from the ashes of our death. 

...like the no-named preacher in Revelation (Rev. 5:5), point others to the slain Lamb. 

...point to the one with all authority – not because he slays, but in his own slaying, becomes the Redemption for a people from every tribe and language and people and nation (probably people that don’t agree on everything.) 

If the gospel I am preaching causes me to love more, it’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If the gospel I am preaching causes me to mock, condemn, judge or ostracize, it has nothing to do with Jesus. If the gospel I am preaching causes fear or anxiety, it’s not from Jesus. If the gospel I preach pits one against another, I have gone off track. 

Maybe a look at what the beloved disciple John wrote would help reorient my wayward heart. He tells us these things in an effort to melt our hearts, to remind us that in the midst of suffering we can know we have an Advocate who loves us. He wants us to know that because love is from God and is God, our only hope for loving others is knowing so great a Love for ourselves. He writes so we may know,

Beloved,

Love is from God. God is love. God was made manifest among us - God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that you or I have loved God...

...but that Jesus loves me...

...but that Jesus loves you.



Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Way Out Of Relational Tension


Relationships are hard. If you are breathing, you've felt it yourself. Every relationship brings with it some form of tension.


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Not to oversimplify the issue, but there are basically two extreme ways we respond during intense relational struggle.

Retreat


When tensions are running high and emotions are spilling out, the most natural response is to back away. At all costs we must protect ourselves, so we leave. Not literally, although in some cases we do, but I'm referring to our hearts. We shut down and shut out the other person. We silence are heart so we can endure the pain. The goal is to eliminate the hurt altogether. While this seems to make sense in the moment, it's of no help in the long run. Walls go up. Division deepens. Communication weakens. Awkwardness sets in. Retreating from each other always makes it more difficult to reconcile, and worse, it denies the reality of the relationship. It signals a walking away from the other as if to say, "we" never happened.


Ignore

An alternative response does not walk away, it pretends as if nothing happened. The tense and uncomfortable issue is so painful that in order to spare yourself, you live as though it never occurred. You hold onto anything good in the relationship in order to block out the bad. Pretending that everything is fine brings some comfort, but it is a false sense of security. It denies the reality of the problem. It is an unhealthy approach which says things aren't really as bad as they seem.

A Way Forward

Thankfully, there is a way forward, but it is not the easy way out.

This option declares that we have a relationship worth saving, and, we recognize we have a problem. It is an honest response to pain and turmoil in a relationship. It does not back down or back away, but confronts head on the messy places our relationships stray toward. This approach embraces uncertainty. It commits to the other person while at the same time confesses the mess. It plows ahead, not by going around, but by going straight through the problem. It may require help from outside. A counselor, friend, or pastor can help bring clarity, perspective, and calm to sensitive and confusing conversations. Freedom awaits as you confront issues head on with honest commitment and confession.

There is a way out. It is possible, but it will take hard work. Commitment always does. It says, I'm not backing away and I'm not sticking my head in the sand. Together, we will find the way out.


Check out A Gospel Marriage Moment for more on relationships.





Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Another Chapter In This #Messy Life


A Near-Death Experience

Hey there, I know it's been some time since my last #messy post. Honestly, navigating my feelings is hard work as I try to gain a foothold. A friend asked me the other day, "Have you ever had a near-death experience?" Wow, I saw my life play back in my mind like a filmstrip as I sifted through the years, trying to recall a moment in time when I felt that I might truly die. I remembered the morning a thief broke into my apartment. He threatened me with a gun and a knife as I begged for my life. Thankfully, he took what he wanted and left. I think I have always been afraid to admit that I could have died that day.

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My mind quickly jumped to another time.

It was scary too. In an instant I thought, I could die.

I was at the beach with friends, the surf was rough. A wave threw me down, my head pounded against the sand. I didn't black out but I was shaken, and I struggled to reorient myself. I flailed my arms as I tried to determine which way was up. Running out of breath, I finally sensed some light and gasped for air as I pushed through to the surface.


Spiritually, that's how I feel. One year ago in March a "wave" caught me and threw me down. I didn't see it coming. I think, if only I had been prepared I could have steeled myself against the rough and unforgiving onslaught, the violent and harsh assault. As a result, I was instantly disoriented. What just happened? What is happening? What do I do, where do I go? Reaching and flailing I tried to find solid ground but in the process I felt like I was sinking deeper. It's like a free-fall, it's hard to know how much further the drop is. I still don't know. In many ways it feels like I'm still falling. No foothold. Still shaken. Disoriented. Fearful. Breathless.

Running.

Running out of.

Running out of breath.

A Soul Struggle

I've found help navigating my story by listening to other experiences. Different voices help me put words to my own narrative. Most recently, I've been captivated by the heart-wrenching account from Jonathan Hollingsworth and Amy Hollingsworth in their new book, Runaway Radical. It is an incredible true story of faith, suffering, doubt, abuse, numbness, and healing. At one point in the book Jonathan recalls a question asked by an associate pastor regarding his plans for the future. Johnathan told him he just wanted a break from God. A break from missions the pastor asked? A break from God, Jonathan answered.

That tender and raw answer seems to explain a lot of what I've felt this past year. I need a break from the Christian culture that seems to have everything tied up with a bow. Where neat tidy answers respond to politically correct questions. And, honestly, I need a break from God, like Jonathan confessed. I've crashed and burned before, and for now, I'm done. I frankly don't want to look at any more carnage. Not now. I'm just not ready.

You see inside now.

What you knew before is that I have a messy life. You've seen some of my struggle. What you have not known (how could you), is the more shocking realities of the mess. The soul struggle. The battlefield where heart and mind and will is at war.

Belief...Unbelief.

Assurance...Doubt.

Giving up...Fighting until death.

And all the while, not denying...but not embracing God.

One night as I lay in my bed wanting only sleep, I found no sleep. In the quiet darkness, without any warning, the word Jesus silently rolled off my tongue. It's been fourteen months since I last whispered that name. You may ask, but Lori, how is it you write about the gospel, Jesus, grace? Exactly because deep down, I know I need it. Writing about it keeps me tethered. I find that writing about it somehow steadies my wobbly existence. I can't explain it any other way.

When the name Jesus tumbled out of my mouth in my mind, it rattled me. What came next was even more surprising...

...I drifted off to sleep.

A Hug For Uncertainty

I wish I had one of those beautiful bows to tie around this mess. I don't. I just have a story, the story of a fellow traveler making her way home.

Rather than a red bow neatly tied, it looks more like a crimson thread woven through and through.

I don't know much. I have less and less figured out these days. Gray has replaced black and white.

Some trials propel us to cling to certainty, while others propel us to embrace uncertainty.
-Jonathan Hollingsworth

While I long to have more answers than I do, I have peace. More and more, I am confident in Jesus. A better word might be desperation. A desperation for Jesus.

Nothing in my hand I bring, 
simply to the cross I cling; 
Naked, come to thee for dress; 
Helpless, look to thee for grace;

Yes, these days I think it looks more like desperation. If any of this is up to me, I'm in trouble. Big trouble.

And that's why I say desperation.

Jesus.

That's all.




















Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Kevin DeYoung Is Not The Enemy

I don't know Kevin DeYoung. I have read some of what he's written, but I don't keep up with his blog. What I am about to say may sound like a defense of Kevin DeYoung, it's not. I simply name Mr. DeYoung as one who comes to mind when I think about this topic.

Efforts to publicly shame, mock (we call it humor), and ridicule fellow believers for their wrongness is an arrogant misguided attempt to discredit them. From the confessions stated on The Gospel Coalition website (confessions of Kevin DeYoung by association), I doubt anyone reading this would disagree with the essentials of Christianity articulated there. I am certain we would not all agree on the vision for their ministry, or non-essentials, and that's O.K. It's not our ministry.

Disagreeing with someone over theology, denominational practices and traditions, or ministry mission and vision is not wrong. In fact, thoughtful and considerate discourse is healthy. Sadly, that healthy form of dialogue is infrequent at best. There is another kind of "conversation" that seems to me to be more and more frequent. Not only is it not healthy, it is hurtful. I have no doubt you have noticed it too - it includes mocking, shaming, and accusing those we disagree with.

Are we free to mock others? Yes. Are we free to shame and accuse others? Yes. Jesus paid for every last drop of sin on our behalf. Free. That is the song of every Christian. The good news is that even though we will continue to mess up and make unwise and stupid decisions, the Lord has forgiven all our sin and gives new mercies every morning.

I'm always amazed when I think about the fact that Jesus, fully God and fully man, walked this earth and did not sin. Constrained by love, he walked in obedience to his Father. We can only hope that the love of Christ would constrain us more and more, that the love of Jesus would soften our hard hearts and melt away our ferocious desire to be right, and that the love of Christ would motivate more love for our brothers and sisters. Love can motivate our hearts to respond to our doctrinal and theological differences with life-giving conversation. Love can fan the flame of desire for the kinds of conversations that go further than mere tolerance of another viewpoint and move us toward acceptance. Acceptance of a person - a person of value, worth, and uniqueness.

The gospel frees us to accept people for who they are without having to agree with what they believe.


Brothers and sisters, I may disagree with you, but you are not my enemy.

I became a Christian fifteen years ago. One sunny June morning I realized as I left the sanctuary of a beautiful Methodist Church, that I was leaving different from when I walked in. I stumbled my way around the Bible and Christianity over the course of the next year. I sought out my pastor for answers. He was always gracious and eager to help with even the most elementary of questions I had as a new believer. I recently read an email from that first year in which I wrote to ask him about Lent. My question was simply, "Why do we celebrate Lent if it is not in the Bible." I sat barely moving as I read his response. In the first paragraph he explained legalism. He went on to explain biblical principles. He then explained Lent, tradition, and denominational practices. His three page response was grace-filled and informative. He closed by pleading with me to ask more questions. He encouraged my thoughtful inquiry and my eagerness to understand the truths of my newfound faith. He never once condemned me for what was in all honesty, a legalistic inquiry. He did not make fun of me. He did not rebuke, chastise, condemn, or belittle. He treated me with respect, love, and sincerity. Reading that response gave me a picture of gospel discourse as I seek to interact with others of differing beliefs, theologies, and perspectives.

In love, interact.

With grace, disagree.

Pointing to Jesus, agree.


Maybe instead of being against someone, we can be for them - in Jesus' name.

As I said, this is not a defense. It is a rally - a rally around our only hope - Jesus.

Scotty Smith prays for all of us in this poignant post and I think he gets it right. That Jesus would give us wisdom and grace to know how to relate to faultfinders, conspiracy-hunters, liberty-smashers and self-appointed prosecuting attorneys as well as those friends who have turned Christian liberty into epicurean fantasies—"Eat, drink, and be merry, for we have a big gospel!"

The reality is, I find I am both. Free and bound, at the same time. I love the freedom the gospel gives me, however, in some areas of my life I still want to sniff out conspiracy. It is not as cut and dry as I want it to be. It is more messy than I'm comfortable with. Am I licentious? Yes. Am I legalistic? Yes. For all of the ways I am planted in each camp, I need Jesus.

Love...

...invade my heart.

Assure me of your great love for rebels, attorneys, the older brother and the younger. Show me the liberating freedom of the gospel and the hilarity of the party you've invited me to...

...I would much rather go in and dance.





Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mother's Day Is Hard




We had to do a Mother's Day lunch and it was heavy for me...this time of year is tough.


I'm empty. I don't want to fake it for Mother's Day. We pretend we are a happy family but all I feel is that it's out of a sense of duty. I want us to actually love each other. I'd rather spend the day alone, it's an emotional thing. The reality of life is not pretty. It's raw. It's painful. We will probably go to lunch after church and I will endure it. But, I don't want to go. 

I don't want to pretend.


Mother's Day is just icky. We don't usually do anything. At Christmas my husband asked me if I wanted him to get me a Christmas present. Maybe this will be the year he gets me a card. A card with sentiment.

Three friends, three broken hearts, three conversations about Mother's Day. If we have ears to hear, let us weep with those who weep this weekend. We cannot take away their pain, but we can join with the unnamed minister in Revelation and say, Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered.

Pointing to Jesus we can say, behold the Lamb who takes away sin.