Friday, April 27, 2012

Stunning News!

Running The Other Way

Let's be honest. I was not looking for God. It's not as if I was walking along one day contemplating God and thinking how I would really like to know Him. I was not planning my days so I could serve God or others. I was not considering all the ways I could love God with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength. In fact, I was not even neutral about God. I wasn't really concerned with "doing the best I could". I would not have kept silent when other's said Jesus is the only way to least not in my heart. While I may not have audibly disagreed, in my soul I was fighting God tooth and nail.

I actually remember attending a Homeowner's Association meeting several years back. We had a board meeting to discuss various issues in our development at the time. The President of the Association was a Christian and at this particular meeting he closed by asking if we had anything we wanted him to pray on our behalf. Although I did not say anything, my heart was inflamed; but not for God. My heart was indignant because of the arrogance of this person to assume any of us there wanted anything to do with his god. I was not neutral - I was running the other way!

I Think Pretty Highly Of Myself

It is tempting to look back at my salvation experience and think about my contribution. Certainly I was good enough for God to give me a second glance. I was not perfect, but I wasn't like other people I knew. And, although I did have that embarrassing moment at the Homeowners Association meeting, that was just one time and I wouldn't say I was mad or anything...just maybe a little annoyed. I thought God was an OK guy...

The truth is I am pretty good at making myself out to be better than I really am! But the Bible has a different view of what my life looked like before God saved me. To paraphrase Ephesians 2:1-5:

Lori, you were dead walking around in your sin.  You were bent on your own selfish ways and insistent on resisting anything to do with God.  Lori, your pride and arrogance kept you on a path of disobedience.  You looked for ways to carry out evil and used your own desires of your body and of your mind to direct all of your decisions and actions.  You believed you were good because you weren't as bad as others.  Your pride and arrogance not only made you feel better but it also caused you to pity others and see them as inferior.  Lori, you were passionate about one thing only - you.

But God 

This is the crazy part. While I was in this mess I wasn't thinking it was bad! I was headed for destruction and didn't know it. Continuing the paraphrase:

But God possessed so much love for you Lori, that it was spilling over.  It was ceaseless and all that love for you was poured out in infinite amounts of mercy.  While you were running around denying God and bent on your own agenda; while your were mocking Him and doing everything possible to resist Him, while you were dying in all of your rebellion, He came to you.  He looked at you.  He loved you and forgave you for all of your stubbornness.  So though you were dead [unable to save yourself] He saved you and made you alive and gave you a Brother, namely Jesus. And even when you are still tempted to think you had any part of this rescue mission - God still loves you.  Lori, it is by grace you have been saved.

As I read this stunning good news this morning I could not help but be gripped once again by the unbelievable and endless mercy of God who came down and set His sights on me.   May this freely given, unearned gift never cease to be both dazzling and devastating...

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved. 
~Ephesians 2:1-5

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Not Just Free To Fail, But Free to Admit Failure

The gospel that frees sinners is the same gospel that frees sinners to admit failure. In an excerpt taken from his book Living by Grace William Hordern writes:

If the first implication of Christian freedom is that the church should be free from rules and regulations, the next implication is that the church should provide an environment where fear of being oneself is removed. Christians may sing with fervor "Just As I Am", but all too often people are afraid to be themselves in church circles. Instead they find that they are put under great pressure to wear a false mask, to pretend to a righteousness that they do not have.  In some circles, at least, it may win a badge of approval to confess to past sins. Christians can take considerable pleasure in hearing of the depths from which a person has been delivered. But Christians are not nearly so likely to be open to confession of sins of weaknesses that plague a church member in the present.

I Once Struggled

As I have sat and listened to speakers and leaders talk about pain and suffering I've become aware that most times the story goes like this:

"I was going along in life thinking everything was pretty good and then _______ (fill in the blank) happened. I struggled and failed and God brought me to the end of myself. My faith is stronger and I see more of God's love for me now than I did before. I understand now that God had a purpose for my pain."  

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE those stories! I have stories like that myself. When others share what God has done in their lives it gives me hope and courage and helps me to persevere through my own tough circumstances. It helps me to see more of Jesus. But just as Hordern describes, there is somehow a sense that it is O.K. to share what God has brought us out of, but when it comes to talking about present pain, present sin and present catastrophe, we draw the line. I am not an expert, but having been through my share of struggle I can see reasons for this-

  • Because of my pain it's hard for me to talk.period.
  • I don't want to admit my own weakness and sin - fear and pride gets in the way. After all I need to be who you think that I am.
  • I'm confused and depressed and indecisive.
  • If I did feel like talking, I wouldn't know where to go.
  • The enemy has convinced me I'm the only one struggling with this.
  • The messages I receive inside and outside the church tell me others want happy perky people and right now I'm not that.
  • I'm in a leadership position in my community and my reputation will be damaged.
  • My job could be at risk if people know what I'm dealing with.
  • My friends will get burned out on my problems.
  • My family members won't understand and I don't want to burden them with my junk.
  • I am embarrassed and I should know better. I should not be dealing with this. (this is more prevalent inside the church. You can audibly hear muffled gasps when people learn about your sin)
  • People will think my response to this struggle is extreme and that my pain is really not that bad.
  • When going through a difficult season of life, it is hard to find time to be still. We have jobs and kids and marriages and responsibilities and it can be impossible to get off the crazy train. While normally that may be OK, during intense seasons of struggle your schedule leaves no time to think about your problems let alone seek out others to help.

"he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,"

You may have other reasons. There are no cookie cutter problems, responses or solutions. God has wired us all differently and he has allowed circumstances in our lives that are unique to me and to you. The comforting good news is that in the person of Jesus Christ, God has given us the Answer. He has given us a Redeemer and He has given us the redeemed.

"to proclaim liberty to the captives,"

Because of what Christ has accomplished - the redemption of sinners - we are free to admit struggle and pain. Not just the pretty package neatly tied with a a bow to present after it's over, but the unwrapped, disheveled, pile of junk that is difficult and hard right now. The gospel that comes to us in Jesus Christ fees us to fail and liberates us from having to cover up our failures.

"and the opening of the prison to those who are bound."

In a follow up post I'll talk more about how God sets us [and others] free by liberating us from the need to keep our pain and struggles private.

And stay tuned for more Real Life Wednesdays where I will be sharing snapshots of the reality of life!  You can find my recent Real Life Wednesday here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Real Life Wednesday!

Welcome to Real Life Wednesday! This is not some crazy weekly post confessing great sin and revealing all the intimate details of my existence.  (that would actually be pretty boring!)  It is simply a desire to authentically share what goes on in my "real life".  I have realized that while I have the desire to be real and transparent, I keep getting pulled back in to the lie that says I have to present myself in a certain way in order to be liked, admired and approved.  My intention with this weekly post is to give you a snapshot into normal everyday life lived 24/7 in a fallen world with other sinners.  If being free really is what it means and if what the Bible says about Jesus coming to set captives free is really true, then I am free to "come clean" from living according to the wisdom of the world.  I can live as one whose chains have been loosed.  

My first post experimenting with this glorious freedom is admittedly, a bit superficial.  Am I really free from needing the approval and acceptance of others based on my outward appearance?  Would it really be so bad to "come clean" to the world about how I look...right out of the shower with wet hair and no make up?  Do I need all of the adornment I've come to depend on to give me confidence in how I look and how I am perceived?

Caution - the truth is a bit scary!  Scary for you maybe - you have to look at this!  

But not scary for me... 

Not anymore.

No, I am not going to some extreme ascetic way of life by denouncing all unnecessary material goods.  That would be slavery in the opposite direction!  I love make up and clothes and pretty shoes and toenail polish.  I go to a salon and have my hair cut.  I indulge periodically on highlights.  Enjoying these good gifts that God gives has more to do with my budget than believing they are somehow "wrong".

What I have wrestled with and what I believe God is doing is freeing me from any dependence I have on things I think I need in order to make me feel like I am accepted, liked, valued and approved of.

I am coming to realize that there really is no better place to be than free!

p.s. for any fellow staffers reading this - I will be donning makeup in the morning :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Does Your Pain Feel Like A Death Sentence? Good!

I know - shocking, right?

What in the world does that mean?

How can the pain that I am experiencing
[to the point of feeling like I'm dying]
be good?

You may be thinking this is crazy talk! 

Easter Sunday my Pastor dropped a bombshell in his sermon on Galatians when he said:

"He came to kill you and then to raise you to newness of life. Jesus came to kill you."

He went on to ask: 

"Have you heard that from many pulpits today? That's so mean."

Then he added:

"He didn't come to make you better. He came to kill you. And then to raise you up so you are something completely different than what you were before."

He reminded us again that Jesus did not come to effect a moral reformation but a mortal resurrection!

If you are a Christian, you probably get the whole dying to live concept. You've been taught and the Bible speaks plainly about Christ's death and resurrection. You understand that Jesus' death brought life - that he was raised by the power of God and in his death believers are made new, live eternally with him forever and find newness of life on earth. You probably realize that Christ's death was necessary for your salvation, that when you die you will be with Jesus eternally. 

But, how is dying necessary for life...while you're living?

In writing to the Corinthian church the apostle Paul makes a shocking statement. In speaking about his own suffering for the sake of Christ he writes about the purpose of pain and suffering and anything else that feels like death:

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.
But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 

 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:9

Paul declares to the world and for eternity that although he felt like he was dying he knew that God 1)had a purpose for it all, 2)would raise him up again, and 3)would deliver him from death.

Dying to live. That's what Paul is talking about. The very death he felt was for the purpose of stripping away any self reliance he had. God rescued Paul from all of his misery in the midst of his misery by setting his sights on Jesus - his hope and deliverer. In essence - God killed Paul, raised him to newness of life and delivered him from himself. That's freedom. The ongoing work of Jesus is to set people free. The freedom and newness of life I experienced in my salvation is the same freedom and newness of life I experience each time God kills me, resurrects me and delivers me. Every hard place in my life is God's crucifixion of my idols, his resurrection power for my new life free from my idols and my renewed hope in the One who delivers - Jesus.

Like Paul, I I have felt at times that I had received the sentence of death. It felt like my very heart would burst and my soul had nothing left in it. It felt like I was alone and afflicted on every side. But God knows that the one condition for a resurrection is death. His very purpose for my pain was to put to death my self reliance. To put an end to my dependence on my own schemes and plans. God was planning my resurrection. He alone would raise me up to newness again, delivering me once more from the peril of death! 

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life ~Romans 6:4

Monday, April 16, 2012

Do You Want Sons and Daughters or Do You Want Slaves?

You are probably familiar with the the story of the prodigal son.  Using this parable, Jesus aptly expresses the concept of God's love [the gospel].


Upon first examination you may not think the Bible has much to say about interpersonal relationships, but delving into the pages of scripture we see countless stories of interactions between husbands and wives, parents and children and workers and employers.  The Bible really is the authority on interpersonal relationships - God is the author of sociology!

This story of the prodigal son is, at the very center, a story of interpersonal relationships.  What's going on with the son, the father, the two brothers and the family members looking on?  As the storyline opens we see that from the very beginning it's all about the relationship.  As the father contemplates giving his inheritance to his son he is running through his mind all of the scenarios - will he invest it wisely, will he squander every penny?  For those of us who are parents of older children, we would not have to think too hard about what we know our children would do.  Because we have seen their heart in different situations we could probably predict the outcome fairly accurately.  So it is with this father.  But the astonishing thing is that his decision has nothing to do with what he knows to be true. As he was considering what to do don't you think he was trying to withstand every argument in his mind that pleaded to hang on to the money; to prevent problems if he could, to make it safe for his son?

Theologian William Hordern in his rich study Living by Grace writes:

Thus at the beginning of the parable the father faces a choice. He is not compelled to give the inheritance to the son and probably the father understood his son well enough to know that once the boy was on his own with the money in his pocket, there would be trouble. No doubt the father's heart longed to prevent the problems that he could see hanging over his son's head.  And it would have been easy to do so. The prodigal does not appear to have been the type who would have gone off without the means to pay his way. The father could very simply have refused to turn over the inheritance.
But if he had taken that course
he would not have had a son,
he would have had a slave.


Hordern continues;

In short, the father knew that the only hope of having a father-son relationship between himself and his son was to take the gamble of giving the son the inheritance.  It might not work; the boy might forever leave the father and go his own way.  But there was the chance that he would freely and willingly return to the father-son relationship.

As we later read, the father freely receives his son as he returns home having spent himself and squandered his inheritance. Hordern explains:

Although the free forgiveness of the father is a gamble that may not work, the alternatives are certain not to result in the relationship sought by the father, even though they may result in better external behavior.

While the law will almost certainly produce good behavior and immediate results that disguise themselves with blessing and peace and order and calm, the law does not have the power to produce a genuine expression of love. Only the unconditionality of the gospel produces the motivation to freely love, freely respond and freely interact. In speaking of the marriage relationship Hordern comments:

A happy marriage, for example, cannot be maintained by the penalties involved in the marriage laws of the nation. Such laws may keep a man and wife together, but they cannot possibly give rise to the free expression of love which is necessary for a happy marriage.

I will be the first to admit this is hard to grasp.

It just does not come naturally!

Our world is based on conditionality.

You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

I Have Loved The Law

As I have wrestled with this over the last several months and even in recent weeks God is showing me more and more the myriad of ways I approach my relationships with conditions. I have actually been loving the law - it has been to me a security blanket, an anchor in the storms of life and a refuge when things get chaotic. The only problem is it doesn't least not in the long run. No change of heart, no lasting transformation and no inward conversion - only temporary, outward defiant modification. Blech!

I think the story of the prodigal son resonates with me because I'm the mom of an adult son. At the end of the day my desire as a parent is that my son would not hear me say "If you love me, obey me." Instead he would hear "I love you even if you don't obey"; "My love for you does not depend on what you do or don't do".

Friday, April 13, 2012

Coffee and A Temper Tantrum

What a lovely little bag of deliciousness! I spied this in the coffee and tea isle at my local grocery store last week. The best part - two for one! Coffee can be pricey so I was super excited to bring home two bags of what promised to be beautiful beginnings for many days to come. [insert "Lori, you are being ridiculous" grin]  I snapped these up and placed them in my shopping cart as I imagined Saturday morning and the rich aroma wafting from our kitchen. My sweet husband is up every morning making coffee before I roll out of bed and I couldn't wait to wake up to that glorious essence and the sound of our coffee maker gurgling and brewing this tasty concoction! What is it about a wonderful cup of hot coffee that is so appealing, so comforting, so...well...necessary!!! Yes, I said necessary. I have become dependent on this little java perfection each morning. There have been times over the last several years when I've felt myself becoming a little too tied to this morning ritual. When that happens I usually switch over to green tea for a while but I find that I keep coming back to this brown little bean. I'm kind of at that place right now - feeling a little too obsessive about my friend. Feeling a bit like my life would be less than it should be if I missed my steaming mug of jo every morning. The thought has crossed my mind that it has become an i---. Ugghhh, you know what I mean. Could it be that I am worshiping this tasty treat? How would I know for sure? Here is a litmus test if you are wondering about your own intense feelings for your favorite brew.

As I was waking up last Saturday morning I smiled inside as I realized what was in store. That tasty concoction that I had anticipated was waiting for me. I had excitedly shared the news with my husband the day before - proudly exclaiming the fact that we had two of these yellow bags of goodness for the price of one! I knew he would be as excited as I was [insert "really?"] [insert chuckle].  As I walked to the kitchen I anticipated a day filled with perfection because of this simple pleasure.  My poor husband had no idea what was coming...when I asked him about making this new find he replied that he had made the coffee that was still left in the old bag intending to use that up first before we opened the new one!  WHAT!!!!!  I quickly descended into a ranting lunatic!

They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 
Psalm 106:36

I am still surprised at how this innocent looking treasure could have the power to throw me into the tailspin I was in. My friend had turned into my idol!

Here is the litmus test: 
 If you rip someone's head off over a cup of coffee, 
you've probably made it an idol. 

This post got me thinking about coffee slogans and coffee facts.  Enjoy!

The best part of waking up, is Folger’s in your cup

What do you want most from coffee? That’s what you get most from Hills.
-Hills Brothers Coffee 

Good coffee is like friendship: rich, and warm and strong
-Pan American Coffee Bureau 

Bring on the day 
- Starbucks DoubleShot 

Work can wait. Smooth out your day, everyday 
- Starbucks Frappuccino 

Imagine what a bit of Classic can do. 

When it's time for Me, it's time for Melitta 

A new experience every week 
- Tchibo Coffee 

  • Coffee is the world’s second most traded commodity, taking a backseat only to petroleum
  • Coffee market earns nearly sixty billion dollars annually
  • Brazil is the largest coffee producing region.  Colombia ranks second
  • No coffee is grown in the United States 
  • When coffee first reached Rome, Christian priests believed that Satan had invented coffee as a substitute for wine which Muslims were not allowed to drink. 
  • Since wine was used in Christian practices such as Holy Communion, priests thought that coffee must then be from the Anti-Christ. Faced with strong beliefs that coffee was the drink of Satan, Pope Clement VIII asked to try a cup before making a decision. When he did, he blessed the drink as a Christian beverage, resulting in massive imports of coffee to Italy and the Western world.
  • Today, US coffee drinkers consume approximately 3.1 cups per day on average
  • Over eighty percent of Americans consume coffee 
  • On average, coffee drinkers will spend $164.71 per year on coffee
  • Coffee drinkers that get a cup to go from a local coffeehouse before work will wait in line nearly forty-five hours each year
  • Coffee is the world’s second most popular drink after water
(taken from Coffee Facts and Statistics)

...Excuse me while I go meet a friend for coffee ;)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Unrelenting Sorrow and Unrestrained Joy

Unrelenting Sorrow

Celebrating Good Friday seems like an oxymoron. How can Jesus, suffering and dying on a cross be cause for celebration? And doesn't celebration involve merriment and festivity and gladness? If you are a Christian, you understand the full weight and implication of what took place on this day long ago. God in Christ as fully man and fully God, suffered and died. He felt pain and agony and anguish just like you and me. He cried out and demonstrated a human desire to be anywhere but on that cross when he prayed the night before his death “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me".

When we come to this day overcome with sorrow and sadness, it demonstrates our humanness.

We are more like Christ when we experience sorrow over the pain and suffering of another. Christ himself expressed deep sorrow upon entering Jerusalem weeping and saying as he entered the city "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!" 

God made us to feel compassion for others. It is never wrong to feel deeply for others. We feel even more sorrow when we think of the sufferings of our savior compared to the arrogance and pride in ourselves. I often wonder why my devotion and love for Jesus is not as deep as I think it should be. Why is it that I can look at the cross or come to this day without more sorrow or more devotion?

It is exactly this obsession with myself and my performance that drives me to a desperate realization once again - I need Jesus.

I need his death. I need his resurrection. I need his life. I need him to be for me what I could and would never be on my own.

Unrestrained Joy

As quickly as my sorrow builds, the joy erupts. As soon as my sorrow overwhelms me, joy explodes onto the scene. My sadness is overtaken by outrageous joy, gratitude and worship as I come to grips with the truth that I am finally and forever forgiven and free!

God in Christ died to make me and to make you free. Forever forgiven. Forever loved.

 "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" 2 Cor 5:19. God came down in the person of Jesus to reunite the ones he loves with himself. What was once impossible is now possible. What once was separated is now joined together. The only way this could be accomplished is by not counting our trespasses against us. They have to be counted against another and that person is Jesus. By his death we've been freed. Without that promise and hope I'd be crushed, and so would you.

That's the irony of the cross. The upside-downess of God's Kingdom. 

Sad and joyful all at once? Painful and sweet, together they meet? 

How can that be? We can't comprehend such love. 

So we rest, we smile and we believe that what Christ said, he meant.

Good Friday is good! My savior came for me today. It is finished!

At the cross I bow my knee
Where Your blood was shed for me
There's no greater love than this
You have overcome the grave
Your Glory fills the highest place
What can separate me now? 

You tore the veil
You made a way
When You said that it is done.
~ Hillsong