Friday, August 31, 2012

Rest


Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30


Jesus opens wide his loving arms. He knows I've been trying to get by on my own (laboring). He sees me straining and stressed out believing that it's all up to me and falling for the lie that says if I don't carry it all everything will fall apart. He hears my groaning as I exert my own effort and energy and he can tell that because of my straining and striving I am oppressed and encumbered by the sheer weight of my load.

Which begs the question, what load? What am I weighed down with? While I can get overwhelmed with my schedule and my to do list, what tends to weigh me down more than anything?

Could it be that more than my tasks, what's really weighing me down is my guilt, shame, and the sin that so easily entangles me? You see, my problem is not necessarily my "to do" list although that can tend to take on a life of it's own.

No, my problem is not "out there". My problem is inside of me. I could blame the list or the myriad of responsibilities I have, but the real culprit is my heart.

But you say, "Isn't the fact that you have too much to do and not enough hours to do it all in the real issue?". While an over scheduled life can certainly be cause for concern and weariness, the real and deeper problem underneath is a heart condition.

Jesus says "I will give you rest". I don't have the ability to give it to myself. If I did I would have done it already! How many times have I tried to unload my burden, take a break from it all, or settle myself down...to no avail? Jesus is telling me not only does he have rest to give, but he is able. By his power, his infinite and inexhaustible rest is mine. Because I am in Christ, rest is mine - right now, free and lavishly given! I don't have to strive to find it or work more hours to earn it. Jesus didn't give me a list of requirements to fulfill before I come. He simply said, "come".

Think about the last time you worked hard around the house all day. You got to check off those over due home projects like cleaning the garage or working on the lawn. Then, the day ended and you were finally able to sit down with the sweat still on your brow. You said to yourself or your spouse - "whew! I'm done. I deserve a break and a chance to rest for the night - I've earned it".




Thanks be to God that we enter into his rest freely. No work quotient necessary.

We bring to the Lord our hearts - heavy laden as they are. We bring to him our burdened soul, weighed down and struggling. We bring all our shame and guilt over things we've done and words we've spoken. We bring the worst of who we are, the things only our hearts know because we couldn't bear to speak about them. There, right there in that moment, we find rest. It is there that Jesus speaks with all the authority as Lord of heaven and earth, yet with all the gentleness and lowliness of a shepherd. "I will care for you, your heart is safe with me, I can handle all if it because I love you more than you can imagine. I know the places you've been and the wanderings of your heart and the self-effort you've put forth and what I have for you is so much better."

Jesus says "Come...and you will find rest for your souls."


Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Is My Daughter So Judgmental?


I had a conversation with a friend the other day. She recounted comments her daughter made to her about a recent moral tragedy that took place in our church. You can read our pastor's heartfelt post about it here: The Pastoral Practicality Of Law-Gospel Theology. What was disconcerting to my friend was the judgmental tone her daughter took; in essence asking the question "How could he?"

All at once I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I began to replay in my mind the way my husband and I have raised our own son. We home-schooled and the responsibility for choosing curriculum fell to me, I was the teacher. Each year I selected academic resources to accommodate my child's strengths and weaknesses. I then carefully chose bible studies and christian growth programs I thought would appropriately instruct him for his Christian walk.


I believe I was doing the best I could with what I knew, but now I understand why her daughter was reacting the way she did to the sad news of this family in our church. Could it be that her daughter received the same messages my son had?

All those years I was intent on raising a morally upright Christian. I believed teaching appropriate outward behavior was of supreme importance and would assure us of producing a godly young man.

I was more concerned with the appearance of Christianity.

This kind of moralistic parenting is frightening, crushing, and void of Jesus and the freedom and grace he died to bring us.

Please don't misunderstand me, I am not saying these virtues are of no value. And I'm not saying we stop training up our children to walk in the narrow path. But we run into problems when we concentrate solely on character. Their hearts are either crushed under the weight (knowing they can never attain to it so they give up), or their hearts are puffed up and self-righteous (they have kept the rules and feel good about themselves and look down on others that can't keep up).

What follows is an example of how we train our children. This particular list is specific to young men. It's often used as a tool to help young women discern potential husbands. Please bear with me. It was not necessary to include the entire list to make my point, but take the time to read it in it's entirety.

A man who will “Fight the Lord’s battles". 
A man who loves and is devoted to the cause and purpose of God.
A godly covenant man who takes that covenant seriously and walks in obedience.
A man with no desire for his own glory.
A man with uncommon courage and backbone who loves liberty.
A man on God’s mission.
A man on pursuit of righteousness.
A prayer warrior and Biblical scholar studious in the Word of God.
A man who diligently lives his life under Biblical authority and covering.
A man of godly character and integrity.
A man with a teachable heart and spirit.
A man who has God at the center of all things.
A man of faithfulness.
A man with a servant heart.
A man who loves God, life and loves you.
A man whose intentions are pure.
A man who recognizes the high office of womanhood and motherhood.
A man who will love you and cherish you as Christ loves the church.
A man who will honor you and who lives with you in an understanding way.
A family man who will be a leader and will lead you and your children sacrificially.
A man who is forgiving.
A man who commits his ways to the Lord.
A man who is self-controlled.

There is a part of me that wishes it were true, that all we as parents need to do is simply follow a carefully prescribed "Character Counts" program. The problem is this doesn't work.

Motivation for right behavior never comes from a striving toward moral "to do's."

When we raise children with the goal of producing upright Christians it will have one of two effects. It will either lead to despair or it will lead to pride.

The answer to all of our parental questions about raising godly children lies in one word, one Name.

Jesus.

Our parenting must become more about what Jesus has done for sinners like us and like our children, and less about the need to develop character traits in them.

Only then will they have the opportunity to experience real freedom. Freedom from crushing demands, unreal expectations, prideful feelings, judgmentalism and the ensuing guilt that racks their troubled conscience.

Take another look at the list of ideals for a godly young man. Consider this: your children are unable to keep this list of godly character traits and desires. 

There is only One God-Man who perfectly kept this list.

Only one Man who committed his ways to the Lord. Only One Man who rules His house well. Only One Man who is of lowly spirit and laid down His life. Only One Man who will honor you and live with you in an understanding way. There has ever only been One Man who will fight the Lord’s battles, who loves and is devoted to the cause and purpose of God, One Man who takes His Covenant seriously and walks in obedience. There has ever only been One Man with uncommon courage and backbone who loves liberty, only One Man on God’s mission, and One Man who pursues righteousness. There is only One Faithful Man, One who loves God and loves you and only One Man whose intentions are pure. Thank God for Jesus who alone has God at the center of all things!

Our children don't need another set of behaviors and character traits to learn, they need a Savior. 

One who died for them, lived perfectly for them and loves them perfectly. A Savior who knows their behavior and character is not and never could be perfect, yet runs to them with joy and delight and everlasting love!





Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Who Does God Receive?


“God receives none but those who are forsaken, restores health to none but those who are sick, gives sight to none but the blind, and life but none to the dead… He has mercy on none but the wretched and gives grace to none but those who are in disgrace.”
–Martin Luther


"And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17


Saturday, August 11, 2012

How The Law Revives A Soul

Do you remember that day? The day of your salvation? I do. I was forty. I was sitting in church on a sunny June morning with my family. I can't tell you what the sermon was about. I don't remember the songs or the prayers or any other details but this - I left there that day different. I had no idea what happened, but if I had known how to explain it I would have used the word free. That's how I felt - burdens lifted, hope instilled, peace beyond understanding.

That was thirteen years ago. Since that time I have absorbed large chunks of the Christian culture around me. I have read books, listened to sermons, and I've tried to watch and learn from those further on down the road.  


My Mission?

Become the godly

wife,

mother,

daughter,

employee

and friend that God wanted me to be.



I believed that if I could just attain that one additional piece of knowledge or skill I'd make it. I would be "all that God wanted me to be." I had failed to realize I was already "all God wanted me to be." Because He had rescued me from a miry pit, raised me to newness of life and given me his robe of righteousness I was free to rest. That was the only additional piece of knowledge I've ever really needed.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.  Let us therefore strive to enter that rest. Hebrews 4:9-11

In the following excerpt, Elyse Fitzpatrick hits the nail on the head in her instructive and soul soothing work Council From The Cross:

The striving that will command our energy is a striving to enter into rest, a striving to live "by faith in the Son of God, who loved...and gave himself" for us (Gal 2:20).  Most of us think that our efforts should be focused solely on godly living.  While this is partly true, it's not the whole story.  We've also got to focus our efforts on "striving" to enter into the rest he has provided for us.  If our souls are not fully resting in his love and welcome we won't have the energy we need to fight for godliness.  Christianity will be utterly exhausting.  This rest of soul is found only in the gospel message: we are sinful and flawed, yet loved and welcomed.
If we live by faith in Jesus Christ rather than by faith in ourselves and our works, we'll know the joy that protects us from accusation and we'll live in the love that will constrain true obedience.  Since we no longer view the law as the means to obtain righteousness, since it no longer has the power to either harm or threaten us, we may now use it has it's meant to be used. We will be free to delight in the law because we are freed from the power of the law to curse us.
All of the wonderful obligations of the law will then help us on our way toward godly living and sanctification. Since we cannot be made any more perfect in God's eyes than we already are, we are now free to make the law serve us.  It will serve us by making us more thankful for Christ when we see how we fail to obey it, and it will serve us by showing us how to love God and our neighbor as we long to.  Rather than viewing the law as our enemy, we'll learn to say along with our Savior, "I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart" (Ps. 40:8).  From this position of security and rest in God, the psalmist wrote:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward. 

When the law is kept where it belongs - as a means to draw us to Christ and to show us how to love - it is delightful and causes us to rejoice.  When it goes beyond this and attacks our conscience, we must silence its threatenings by remembering the gospel and putting the law back in its place.  The law is a light on our path, but it is not the path, and it cannot impel us toward holiness nor make us love God.


My striving to fulfill the demands of the law can cease.

My mission is crushed to death in the face of God's unrelenting love and welcome that assures me it's already been done for me.

Now I am free.

This freedom alone revives my soul!





Friday, August 10, 2012

No Need To "Spin" Sin

When was the last time you said:
A horrible and shocking thing has happened in this land?
Jeremiah 5:30
Was it a moment in time that you can look back on or is it something you are in the midst of?  Is it sin you see around you or has God convicted your heart of your own sin?  Are you shocked by it?

Various translations of Jeremiah 5:30 use the words disgusting, horrible, appalling and astonishing.  The  Contemporary English Version puts it like this:
Look at the terrible things
going on in this country.
I am shocked!

Jeremiah 5:30

Commenting on Jeremiah, one writer describes the scene by simply stating "Jeremiah lived during troubled times".  I can't help but see myself, my community and our times in this prophets wise words.

What appalling situations are you facing?  What horrible and disgusting scene have you witnessed?  What has shocked you and rocked you to your core these past weeks?  We could all weigh in on these questions and I have no doubt the answers would turn all of our stomachs.

We can say along with Jeremiah "Look at the terrible things going on in this country.  I am shocked!"

We would have to agree that we're living during troubled times in much the same way Jeremiah was.





Saying What A Thing Is

While it would be easy to point the finger at what's happening outside of our church walls, what is riveting and most shocking to me is what takes place inside of our church walls.  We may think that the world has believed the facade that says the church is full of saints, but the truth is we're not fooling anyone.  The church is no different than the world - it's full of sinners.  This is what Jeremiah knew, this is what he preached.  He spoke God's words and in so doing he effectively diagnosed and accurately portrayed the problem of the day - human sin.  Rather than down play sin and instead of trying to "spin" Israel's sin, Jeremiah does what Martin Luther called "saying what a thing is".

Reflecting on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, Gerhard Forde writes:
In thesis 21 of the Heidelberg Disputation Luther says that a theologian of the cross "says what a thing is," whereas a theologian of glory calls the bad good and the good bad...
A theologian of the cross says what a thing is. In modern parlance: a theologian of the cross calls a spade a spade. One who "looks on all things through suffering and the cross" is constrained to speak the truth. The theology of the cross, that is to say, provides the theological courage and the conceptual framework to hold the language in place. It will, no doubt, also involve critical appraisal of the language and its use. It will recognize indeed that the half of the vocabulary that has disappeared can be frightening and offensive. But it will see precisely that the cross and the resurrection itself is the only answer to that problem, not erasure or neglect.
It is curious that in spite of attempts to avoid offense, matters don’t actually seem to improve. We seek affirmation, but we seem to experience less and less of it. We look for support, but others are too busy looking for it themselves to pay us much mind. Preachers try to prop up our self-esteem with optimistic blandishments, but more and more people seem to suffer from a deteriorating sense of self-worth. Perhaps a return to calling a spade a spade has its place.
(For an in depth study on theology of the cross and theology of glory I highly recommend picking up On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde.) 

Jeremiah did not use this phrase, but he was indeed calling a spade a spade!  He did not hold back in talking about the sin he saw when he said  "they swear falsely, they felt no anguish, they refused to take correction, they committed adultery, they have turned aside, they lurk like fowlers lying in wait, they set a trap, they are full of deceit, they know no bounds in deeds of evil, they judge without justice, they do not defend the rights of the needy."

Like Israel, we are a shocking people.  It's so bad, we can't see the deep depths of the problem.  We are bothered by it maybe, we are uncomfortable with consequences of sin, and we are even sorrowful.  But we still have yet to know the intense and disgusting reality of who we really are and what we are really capable of.  Only when I see the horror of anothers' sin and realize I am that sinner too will I understand the wickedness that resides in my own heart.

The Supreme Shock
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Now that should shock us!  Think again about the appalling sin and the disgusting circumstance you've witnessed recently and consider this:  God, in the person of Jesus, came down and found me and you.  We weren't looking his way.  We weren't merely falling a little bit short of the mark.  We were headed down and falling fast.  We were sinking into the pit of devastation and destruction - no way out.  We were without hope, despairing of ever finding true peace, true love and true contentedness.  We were set on ourselves - our only hope was possibly finding something good in ourselves - a vain attempt!  This is the state at which God found me.  A one way love that was not repelled and disgusted at the ugliness inside of me, but a knowing and overflowing love for me that said "welcome home".

This is the supreme shock, the ultimate offense - that God would look our way.

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things. It strikes us when we are weak, not strong. It strikes us in pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we feel our separation is deeper than usual. It strikes us when our disgust for our weakness and our lack of composure becomes intolerable. It strikes us when longed-for progress does not appear, when old compassions re-emerge, when despair destroys joy and courage. Sometimes, at that moment, a wave of light breaks into the darkness and you hear God say, "Because of what my Son did, you are accepted. Once you had not received mercy, but now you receive mercy. You belong to Me. Do not try to do anything. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!" Yes, you are flawed and sinful, but you are more accepted and loved than you can imagine. (excerpt from Mockingbird Ministries - Two Words edited by Sean R. Norris)
Because of this one way love, the undeserved acceptance, we don't need to "spin" sin.  We can call it what it is.  We can acknowledge that we are more sinful than we had believed but we are more loved than we dared imagine!