Friday, September 27, 2013

The Comfort of Knowing It's Out of My Hands

"I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want "free-will" to be given to me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities, and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground and hold fast my "free-will" (for one devil is stronger than all men, and on these terms no man could be saved); but because, even were there no dangers, adversities, or devils, I should still be forced to labor with no guarantee of success, and to beat my fists at the air. If I lived and worked to all eternity, my conscience would never reach comfortable certainty as to how much it must do to satisfy God. Whatever work I had done, there would still be a nagging doubt as to whether it pleases God, or whether He required something more. The experience of all who seek righteousness by works proves that; and I learned it well enough myself over a period of many years, to my own great hurt. But now that God has taken my salvation out the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. "No one," He says, "shall pluck them out of my hand, because my father which gave them me is greater than all" [John 10:28-29]. Thus it is that, if not all, yet some, indeed many, are saved; whereas, by the power of "free-will" none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish. Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favor promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Am I Even A Christian?

I've been asking that question lately. Anyone else out their ever doubt their faith? Surely, I can't be the only one afflicted in this way. In fact, Ecclesiastes reminds me that there is nothing new under the sun. And, 1 Corinthians 10:13 reassures me that "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man."

This is somewhat familiar territory. Over two years ago I vividly remember standing at my bathroom sink. I looked at the person staring back at me and asked "What is happening to me?" I had no idea what a nervous breakdown was, but those were the words I used to describe what I was feeling when I called my husband on my way to work that day. Feeling so overwhelmed and worse, so far from God, I crumbled. Although I would not describe my present feeling in the same way, the common denominator is the distance I feel between myself and God.

A friend called the other day. She asked how I was. We talked for a while and she wanted to know how I was dealing with this - a friend of hers was going through a similar "dark night of the soul." I'm not even sure what that really means, except to say that apart from God, there is no light. When I feel far from God, when the distance seems great, the darkness sets in. 

Because I have experienced this in somewhat of a similar fashion, I am asking this question:

Is this a "crisis of faith" or simply just the tension of every Christian? 

In other words, is this the journey of faith? Certainly, our journey as a Christian does not keep us on a level path that is free from stumbling stones and potholes. I know this is true. This actually serves to give me great comfort. I also believe that if the truth were known, many other Christians - probably sitting right next to me, are experiencing their faith (or should I say, lack thereof) in the same way I am.

In the midst, God's grace has enabled me to give thanks for a couple of sweet surprises. One, my husband. He has been for me a rock, an inspiration and a comfort. His confession is strong and innocent and seemingly immovable. I'm so grateful for God's grace to him, and as a result, to me. He has reassured me and been a sounding board for me. Second, the gift of theology. God has given me the privilege of taking a class this semester. Martin Luther's theology feels like an oxygen hose connected to my very soul. These are words I hang on to:
In these works faith is still slight and weak; let us ask further, whether they believe that they are well-pleasing to God when they suffer in body, property, honor, friends, or whatever they have, and believe that God of His mercy appoints their sufferings and difficulties for them, whether they be small or great. This is real strength, to trust in God when to all our senses and reason He appears to be angry; and to have greater confidence in Him than we feel. Here He is hidden, as the bride says in the Song of Songs: "Behold he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows"; that is, He stands hidden among the sufferings, which would separate us from Him like a wall, yea, like a wall of stone, and yet He looks upon me and does not leave me, for He is standing and is ready graciously to help, and through the window of dim faith He permits Himself to be seen. (excerpt taken from Treatise on Good Works by Martin Luther)
As I gathered this morning with my brothers and sisters for worship, God comforted me again with these words:

Weary burdened wanderer
There is rest for thee
At the feet of Jesus
In His love so free 

(lyrics from Come to Me by Michael Bleecker)

It is no surprise that God laid this verse on my heart this summer: For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2) 

Right now, this is all I got...


Friday, September 13, 2013

Survey Says...Family Over Jesus - Duh!

In a recent Barna survey62% of women said their most important role in life is as a mother or parent. Jesus came next: 13% of Christian women believe their most important role in life is as a follower of Christ. Why does that shock us? After all, the bible tells us who we are - selfish, self seeking and prone to wander. For me, this survey just serves to confirm what I know as a parent, and probably what you all know if you have children. I have put great stock in my "mom/parent" identity.

How often have I introduced myself as my son's mom? How much of my conversation revolved around my parenting, my child, his schedule? If you have children, chances are everyone around you has kids - meaning you hang with others who have the same season of life experiences you do. The result is, your day to day world revolves around children and their needs, and friends with children and their needs. All of this makes perfect sense to me. Moms are singularly focused on their kids. As moms, we live inside the tension of knowing this focus is out of whack, yet living in a non-stop cycle of caring for our children.

Why bring this up? Why is all of this worth talking about? Can we change? What hope is there for us? Because the truth is, if I had it do all over again, I'm not so sure I would or could do it any differently. I am not saying clinging to your children is OK. I'm just acknowledging the fact that it is very difficult not to, when your day in and day out every waking moment is spent nurturing and training and teaching your children. We don't have to maneuver through a lot of mental gymnastics to figure out what the result of all this is. Our children have become our idols. We have placed all of our hope in a faulty basket - our sinful kids. If they turn out "good" I will have proven my worth and "paid my way" so to speak. All those years of pouring into them have paid off and I've done my job well. But, here is the problem:

If we cling to the deception that our kids prove our worth, we will be crushed, and so will they.

Let me unpack that a bit.

  • Our worth is found in Christ alone. Counting on a person (a child) to give us value is empty - the created does not give value to the created. Only the Creator can give value to the created.
  • Saddling our kids with the burden of having to be good enough to prove we are good (parents, etc.) will crush them. Proving our worthiness is not in their job description, and they can never be good enough to prove our worth - that's why it will crush them. They can't do it.
  • When we realize that our worth has been severely damaged by their "bad" behavior, it will crush us. When we come to find out that they are "real people", sinners just like us, we are devastated because we realize our reputation is at stake and our value and worth as gone down. We are shaken to the very core. Even now, most of us are still clinging to the hope that they will "pull through" - that they will finish that college degree, find that Christian spouse, stay pure until marriage and go to church regularly. Then, we will be satisfied. Our worth will have been proven. 

If you are still with me (because I know all this is pretty dreary), I want to give you good news by first asking a few questions:

Do we believe that God is not aware of all if this?
Does God shake a pointing finger at moms, waiting for them to shape up and start focusing on Jesus?
Did Christ die for everything else BUT the idolatry of our children?
Do we think we are the first moms ever to have an unhealthy focus on our children?

The truth is that none of this catches God by surprise, he is not shaking his finger at us. Listen to this unbelievable good news: 

In the midst of idolizing your kids, God loves you.

He knows it's not healthy for you, so he may gently pry your white knuckles from the grasp of your children's lives. However, his love for you has never faltered and will never fade away. 

You see, the gospel frees us to be good mom, bad mom and/or idolizing mom, because who we really are is forgiven and loved in the midst of it all.

God loves you with an everlasting love that makes it's stand on the cross of Calvary not your crown of glory. His love for you does not depend on your ability to get it all together and stop idolizing your kids. Will all of you be better off if you do? Possibly. But the love of Christ and his grace for you does not wane. His friendship, his nearness and his delight in you cannot be halted! It is a full force love that you can do nothing to stop - thankfully!

Looking for our identity in parenting is disappointing and fleeting. Knowing our identity is in Christ alone brings hope right now in the daily grind of our lives, and, the assurance of eternity with him.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Behind the Curtain - Pretenders And Powerplays

One of my all time favorite movies has to be The Wizard of Oz. I grew up in Kansas and I remember watching it from an early age. Every October the local TV station played the iconic film ("back in the day" before DVR and Netflix). With the recent release of Oz: The Great and Powerful, I pulled out the classic once more. There is no comparison, in my humble opinion.
There are so many great parts, it is hard to select one over the other. However, there is one striking scene toward the end of the movie. You may remember that Dorothy and her friends traveled great distances and faced severe and life threatening challenges along the way. They managed to get back to Oz, having fulfilled the condition the great Wizard set before them - kill the Wicked Witch of the West and bring back her broomstick. They arrived, expecting the Wizard of Oz to keep his part of the bargain - return Dorothy and her precious dog Toto to their home and family in Kansas.

As Dorothy and her friends stand, knees knocking and hearts trembling at the sound of the Wizards' mighty and ferocious voice, Toto begins to nip at a curtain off to the side. With one tug the veil is pulled back, revealing a man...a rather small, old, timid man. Having been found out, he confessed his identity - he is no wizard, just a nervous man - a man afraid of conflict, a poser who was so ashamed of his own being, he went to great lengths to prove to others he was not who he said he was. The whole city, the Emerald City, was founded on this impostor. He played the part of a Power-broker, pretending with every word he spoke.

As soon as the truth was out, he confessed his fear:

The conversation continues...

WIZARD Uh - now, please don't be angry with me. I'll - I'll do anything you say, only... only if you don't shout at me. It makes me nervous! 
SCARECROW It makes you nervous? 

Of course, this is just a movie. However, how many of us lead this kind of charade? Who am I...really? Is who I portray myself to be anything like the real me? If I am being honest, no. I get how the Wizard began his makeover. Fear of being found out takes over and a new and improved version of you gets displayed. Especially in Christian circles, appearances must be kept up. Don't talk about the job you just lost - people might thing you are a failure. Don't discuss the challenges you face with your kids - people will think you're a bad parent or worse, that your kids aren't perfect. The impostor takes over and in every area of our lives we the point of not knowing who we are anymore. We actually believe our own press, just like the Wizard. The whole town believed he was who he said he was.

Thankfully, there is an alternative. In the gospel we see the truth. The truth of what God says about us. 

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”
Brennan ManningAbba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging

We don't have to define ourselves by what we can accomplish and how much power we have. We don't have to stay enslaved to the endless need to prop ourselves up and make ourselves look good - to God and to others. We can stop all the relentless sales pitches and get popular schemes. In a recent post entitled Grace and Personal Identity, Tullian Tchividjian writes:

"An identity based in the one-way love of God does not take into account public opinion or, thankfully, even personal opinion. It is a gift from Someone who is not you. As my friend Justin Buzzard wrote recently, “The gospel doesn't just free you from what other people think about you, it frees you from what you think about yourself.” In other words, you are not who others see you to be, and you are not who you see yourself to be; you are who God sees you to be—His beloved child, with whom He is well pleased."

Hear the good news for worn out impostors.

Come from behind the curtain, and be free.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Four Word Comment on Women's Ministry

When asked, "What are your thoughts on Women's Ministry?", these four words are by far the most common from women inside the church.

Church Lady Praise And Prayer
"I don't measure up."

I don't measure up. I can't do it. I tried, I left. I am not that. 

Almost every woman I've talked to has said the same thing. 

They have either tried Woman's Ministry and left, or they won't come near it. 

The thought of having to cram themselves into the "godly woman" mold is just too much, so they run...or they just stay away. 

Before you say, "Those are just a few extreme cases of women who have been hurt by the church", I'd encourage you to do your own informal survey. Ask around and see what you hear. As I have listened to women of all ages in various life stages, I am hearing the same thing. I am forcing myself to listen. By forcing myself, I mean to say I am straining to hear their heart cries. If so many women are saying the same thing,

I (we) need to listen. 

I (we) must ask questions.

I (we) cannot ignore the truth.

Google Women's Ministry and you will find several articles and posts on the topic, some are very good. However, I was intrigued recently by a question posed on Facebook. Author, Elyse Fitzpatrick, simply asked the following, "I'd like to know what you think are the dumbest things people tell women they have to do in order to be godly." Over the course of several hours, 446 women weighed are some of the responses:
  • Depression is just pride, overcome your pride-overcome depression.
  • You need to keep a beautiful yard so the neighbors will see the beauty of Jesus. 
  • You need to speak softly.
  • Isolate children from the world's influences.
  • You must nurse.
  • Postpartum depression or baby blues can be anticipated and dealt with by loving God and trusting in Him, and more humble.
  • Do not talk about your sin or you will give Jesus and Christianity a bad name.
(read all 446 responses here - Post by Elyse Fitzpatrick.)

These comments are from real women, in real churches, living real lives. Maybe you've never heard these before, but I'm sure there are other "expectations" set before you to help you on your way to "godliness." (read more on expectations and the gospel here.)

Please hear me when I say, 

that all of this is categorically NOT the gospel. 

If you hear these sorts of expectations from your church, run...quickly.

All of this frightens me. I oversee a ministry to women and... heart breaks for all the women who feel left out and for anyone who feels crushed under the weight of made up rules and "Christian" imposed pressure.

The roots of fear and the wounds from harsh taskmasters are deep. 

Pray for a freedom revolution.

Pray that the gospel reaches deep so captives are set free.

May we be women who are unafraid. Bold in our witness of Jesus and the freedom he died to bring us. 

May we be less about telling each other what to do, and more about declaring to each other the freedom we have in Christ.

You are loved. You are cherished. Jesus has set you free. He came for you, beloved. He came so that you would be free. Free to love. Free to live. Free to be who he made you to be. That freedom never came with a list of rules. It came with an emancipation proclamation that reads "It is finished." Go now, and live your lives out of that freedom.

“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