Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Never Turning Away Love

If you have suffered, you are probably familiar with this Psalm. No comfort, not praise filled, no resolution. Just pure gritty despair, agony and grief. Matthew Henry writes "This psalm is a lamentation, one of the most melancholy of all the psalms; and it does not conclude, as usually the melancholy psalms do, with the least intimation of comfort or joy, but, from first to last, it is mourning and woe."

Listen for the echoes of the Savior. The bible tells one story from beginning to end. "Every story whispers his name".

O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.

He was despised and rejected by man; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.

You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;

Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness. 

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 

But God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted and he has not hidden his face from him. He heard him when he cried (Psalm 22). While he was in distress he called upon God, he cried for help. And from his holy temple, God heard his voice and his cry reached his ears. (Psalm 18).

Suffering is agony and Jesus knew it well. He experienced what we never will - not just pure violent pain and death, but separation from God, his father. Bearing our wrath he felt the Father's fury so that we never would - ever. Because of this Suffering Savior our debt is paid. If you are in Christ, you may suffer but your eternity has been sealed and your present help in time of need is at your hand. 

If you are suffering, God knows. God hears. Help is on the way. In Christ, His love runs to you in the midst of your suffering, in the middle of your mess and in the pain of your sorrows. God turned his face away on the cross so that you and I would never experience his turning away again. One way love. A hope that cannot fail. A love that will not let us go. Hallelujah!

Psalm 88 and excerpts of Psalm 53 taken from the ESV

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Gospel > Complementarianism

If you are like me, you are probably wondering what in the world the word complementarianism means! If you looked for it in your Bible you would not find it. In fact, it is not in my dictionary or spell check either. (You can read a short primer on the word and it's meaning here Complementarianism for Dummies by Mary Kassian) Many words we use today do not appear in the Bible and yet they do reflect truths and principles from the Bible. Mary Kassian uses the example of the word trinity in her explanation referenced in her article.

If I had to "label" my understanding of male and female as God created them I would say I am complementarian. But here is the deal. If you would have asked me about complementarianism a few months ago, the word did not exist in my vocabulary. If you would have asked me about a biblical view of men and women I would have pointed you to scripture, namely Genesis 1-2. However, what I would first want to talk about is the gospel.

The truth is, apart from the gospel these conversations are in vain.

You see, before we were formed from the dust, God came down. God hovered over the face of the waters. God spoke everything into being and He declared it was good. He formed man and from man he made woman and He said it was very good. Although God declared everything good, things went very bad. But God, in his great mercy, had a plan.

God came down to redeem lost people

Through his son he would reconcile a people to himself. The entire Bible speaks of God's son, our Redeemer Jesus. All of scripture whispers his name. As things were going very very bad, our very very good King was on His way - clothed in righteousness - enough clothing to cover the unrighteousness of his people. From the pages of Genesis to the end of Revelation we read about this one theme of the Bible. The One story.

If this sounds more like a Sunday school presentation of the gospel rather than an intellectual discussion of biblical manhood and biblical womanhood, that is the point. I have been reading a lot on this topic recently and quite honestly my head is swimming with a myriad of voices and opinions. While they may be rooted in scripture I have come to the realization that somewhere along the line, the point of the gospel is missing from the discussion.

The gospel is the point that all other discussions must rest on.

What has Jesus Christ done for sinners who are hellbent on destruction? By his death we are saved and by his wounds we are healed. On the cross, the battle is over. In his body and his blood he has united a people like no principle ever could. By his power we are reconciled - all sinners, all saved by grace alone through faith alone. No Jew or Gentile, just sinners in need of a rescue. No male or female, just screwed up people trying to make their way in a fallen world with other fallen people by the power of God's Holy Spirit. How does that inform our conversations about biblical manhood and biblical womanhood and this idea of complementarianism?

Maybe I am over simplifying a much more complex topic. However, I believe the gospel must be held as the one truth and the only truth that can direct this conversation.

In Christ, all walls are broken down. In Christ, all playing fields are leveled. We are free. 

The greatest offense of the gospel is the freedom Christ died to bring. It's offensive because it's uncontrollable. You can't contain it or put it in a box or section it off. Grace is wild, it is unpredictable and unmanageable. That is the breath of fresh air we all need. Whether or not I am complementarian or egalitarian is not the question.

The question is "Do I know the radical good news of the gospel that frees me to live out of that amazing grace?"

Do I revel in God's grace and freedom to live as Jesus empowers me to live? Have I experienced God's grace so I can love others as Jesus empowers them to live - trusting that God is guiding and directing? A very wise friend said to me during my recent marriage separation; "I pray God sets you free". Wow, let that sink in. She did not pray that I would understand my role as a wife in a more biblical way. She did not tell me to get on board with my role in a complementarian marriage relationship. She did not tell me to submit to my husband. She said "Lori, I pray God sets you free". Biblical views on womanhood can't to that for me. Only the gospel can set me free. Only the gospel has the power to unshackle my heart to love freely without needing anything in return. Only the gospel can melt a human heart. Only the gospel can kill and make alive.

The gospel is hope in a hopeless situation. 
The gospel is freedom in a relationship that is enslaved. 
The gospel is liberty for captives.

I am a complementarian. But more than that, I am a gospel addict. The best I can say about what I believe is Jesus. His name is above all names and it is his name that announces my freedom. Free to live under the banner of "it is finished". Free to live a life of love and grace because of His costly sacrifice on the cross. Free to welcome, accept and approve others because of His welcome, acceptance and approval of me.

The apostle Paul said it like this:

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Cor 2:2


Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Gospel Breaks The Mold

If we understand that the gospel frees us to love and to be spontaneous with our love, it begs the question; "What does that look like?" What does a life set free by grace free us to do? In considering the implications of the gospel, we love the question; "What will you do now that you don't have to do anything?"

However, our relentless desire to perform creeps in and asks; "O.k., now what? What must I be doing? What exactly does it look like to love this way?"

A friend shared this recent experience she had with her husband. They were both exhausted from the day and came together for a refreshing dinner out hoping to catch up and enjoy each other for the evening. As they sat at their table, a man nearby caught their attention. He was sitting alone and in a moment of spontaneous love they reached out and invited him to join them for dinner. It was sweet to hear her tell of this gesture because I couldn't help but think how loved this man must have felt.

Their dinner conversation included a discussion about a highly controversial issue and my friend commented to me that she struggled afterward with doubts. Did she say too much? Did she not say enough? Was what she said right?

We are asking the question these days; "What does the gospel have to do with our everyday lives?"

"How does it free us to live out of the overflow of the love we have been shown in Christ?" As I sat with my friend, that was the burning question in my mind. "How does the gospel meet her in her doubts and questioning?"

The gospel does not bind us to a prescribed set of actions and responses. Collective *sigh*. Because the gospel does not enforce rules of engagement for those loved by God, we are free. Free to respond or not respond. Free for me to respond a certain and for you to respond a different way. Free to respond one way today and another way tomorrow. Although all of this may sound elementary, the truth is we agonize over our doings ad nauseam! We believe (wrongly) that we have messed it up and have gotten it wrong. We plan ways we'll do better next time.

So what does this have to do with my friend and their dinner? For my friend and her husband, spontaneous love flowing from the gospel looked like an invitation to a lonely man. But, on another evening it could have looked very different. Suppose my friend and her husband meet for dinner after a long day and spontaneous love looks like an intimate dinner and rich conversation between the two of them, with a momentary glance toward the man at the table by himself? Both equal freedom.

Suppose that at the dinner with their new companion, the conversation was such that my friend felt no urge to speak. Or maybe she was compelled to speak clearly and completely on the topic. Both equal freedom.

Rooted and established in the gospel, we are free to respond. Our voices and deeds are freed from tight and constricting requirements. We're not actors on a stage reading lines from a script. The gospel unchains our hearts and hands. And the best part is that the gospel redeems our imperfect love. We don't have to regret and doubt and fear. We rest in the perfect love of Christ and the redemption in his eyes. "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Col 1:13-14

The gospel is freedom in action. The gospel loves and approves and accepts. The gospel is always a round peg in a round hole (perfect). The gospel is unpredictable, surprising and refreshing.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed"  Luke 4:18

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Gospel Is For Outsiders

I feel like I'm always on the outside. I'm the one looking in. Even the word "insider" sounds more welcoming and accepting. The word "outsider" sounds creepy and lonely. But that's how I feel most of the an outsider.

Standing talking with a group of moms after church - I'm the one with older children. Sitting at lunch with other women - I 'm the one with the mundane stories and the boring insights. On Facebook - I'm the one with fewer friends. At work - I'm the less credible one, less educated.

In my family - I'm the least successful. Among my friends - I'm the worst. In the mall - I'm the one not put together (in fact, I'm the one with little makeup and yesterday hair dashing in for a quick purchase)

In my class - I'm not the A student
On my block - I'm the one with less money, an older car and a dirtier roof.

For all the ways my heart feels left out, God assures me of my real status.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him Col 1:21-22

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— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Eph 2:4-7

Although once alienated I have now been reconciled to God. It means I am an insider now. I have been brought in by the God of the universe to live with him now and forever in eternity. It means I am not now nor will ever be separated from him and his kingdom - no more peripheral views. I am not only in the front row, I am backstage. God has raised me up and seated me with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. What!?! This surpasses any dream of being included with the most popular, powerful, influential people. I am standing in the middle of the most powerful group ever! And here's the deal - it wasn't my straight A's, my money, my great job performance or my lack thereof that got me there. It was two simple words "But God" that guaranteed my status. Beloved daughter of the Most High King is my name. Beautiful and well pleased is what God says about me. Welcomed and accepted is the banner over my head. 

Lord help me to daily believe this truth. Help me to know you have picked me up from the outside and placed me in the center - the only status that matters. Amen.

Trading Frantic For Free

Your life might not be as out of control as Harrison Ford's life was in the movie Frantic. He is in serious freak out mode when he realizes his wife has disappeared from their hotel room while on a trip together in Paris.

However, you can probably relate to the idea of feeling frantic. Your to do list is unmanageable and your schedule is jam packed. All the moving pieces of your life are spinning out of control and you're not quite sure how to gain a foothold.

Or, you may be reading this thinking this doesn't apply to you. While your life may not be perfect, things seem to be running smoothly. The kids are doing well, you have food in the pantry and the bills are getting paid. The chaos seems to be at your neighbors' house not yours.

The truth is that whether you feel like it or not, life is a mess. On some level you would have to agree that this world is out of order. If we are honest we would say that things are not the way they're supposed to be. Even if all the moving parts appear to be running smoothly on the outside, there is a constant underlying sense that life is hard. Our struggles are many and no one seems to have the answers for the difficulties we encounter on a daily basis. If you have any doubt just browse the self-help section of your local book store. 
Are you able to pay the bills but deep down anxious about retirement? Are you struggling to meet mounting demands of college educations or medical care for aging parents? Did you marry your childhood sweetheart but realize now that underneath the twenty year anniversary you have an overwhelming sense of loneliness? How about the universal feelings of inadequacy? Every single one of us at one time or another has struggled with feelings of failure. We never measure up, we're always on the outside looking in, we're never part of the click and always left standing on the periphery. Those feelings alone create stress, anxiety and sadness contributing to the chaotic unsettled feeling we have when we put our head on the pillow at night.
As if that's not enough, let me add a whole other level of frantic. If you are a Christian , you are not somehow transported out of this mess. In fact, for many believers their faith is seriously confronted with the difficulties of life and they are left with despair and doubt. Despair because the Christian life is not what they thought or hoped it would be. Doubt because they are wondering if they really know God at all because life is still so hard.

For all of our frantic paces and failing faith there is Hope. Only when we get a glimpse of Christ and the life he lived for us can we be set free from the madness. You may be thinking "How exactly is that possible?" If we were sitting face to face, here is what I would say. But first, here is what I would not say:

I would not tell you to buy a new planner to help organize your to do lists, appointments and coupons. I would not insist that you prioritize your list and eliminate the bottom three items. I would not tell you to budget your time like you budget your money. I would not say you need to get your priorities back in line ie.: God, spouse, children, etc. I would not say you need to get up earlier and pray about all the ways you are running frantic.

While all these strategics might be helpful, not one of them offers relief for your anxiety because not one of these addresses the real problem. In fact, while they seem to make sense, what they will most likely do is remind you of how much you are failing and how guilty you feel. We have all set out to tackle our out of control lives only to realize that despite our best efforts and well meaning intentions, nothing changes.

Have you ever heard this? Jesus lived the life that you couldn't live and died the death that you should have died. That means for all of your inadequate and meager attempts to save yourself, you fell short. You missed the mark of perfection and the righteous requirements of the law. You broke God's holy law and stand condemned. But God, in Christ came into your mess, died for you and saved you to Himself. That is what Luther referred to as the "glorious exchange," in which Christ takes our sin and gives us his righteousness. 

But it gets better! 

Jesus died the death you deserve, but he also lived the life you couldn't live. Jesus walked this earth being made in human form. He took on flesh when he condescended to this world. He, being God came to live our life, only perfectly. Let that sink in. Why did God need to come to earth? Couldn't he have done this whole thing another way? Yet, Jesus took on bodily flesh and bones to live perfectly on our behalf. You know those times when you are tempted to lash out in anger at the one you love the most? Jesus was tempted in the same way. However, for all the ways we have given in to sin, Jesus did not. 

He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.1 Peter 2:22 

His perfection in life frees our imperfections here. We can rest in his perfect life lived on behalf of sinners like us. This amazing good news frees us in ways we have only dreamed of. We can now live and love freely not frantically. We can stop wringing our hands and start resting in Christ's perfect life lived and finished work on the cross.