Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I Am Cold In Love; Warm Me

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled.
My Lord, fill it.
I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.
I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.
I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you.
In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have.
I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.
I am a sinner; you are upright.
With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness.
Therefore I will will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give.

~ A Prayer of Martin Luther

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Never Turning Away God

Have you ever had second thoughts about telling someone the truth - the raw gritty reality of what you did or what you think? It is a heart-palpitating thought. If you have, you know what I'm talking about. You are horrified at the thought of your own transgression and your heart begins to beat a little faster. What will they think? What will their eyes speak? Will their expression say everything? Coming clean is a daunting assignment. The questions haunt you; Will they still love me? How could they still love me? It wouldn't surprise me if they walk away. I'd walk away from me too...

A friend recently confessed a secret. Later that evening she commented that of everything we talked about over the course of several hours, she most appreciated the fact that upon hearing her secret, my demeanor never changed. 


 noun \di-ˈmē-nər\
: a person's appearance and behavior : the way someone seems to be to other people

That one comment has radically changed how I respond to others in those moments. I don't want to be fake, but I do want to be genuinely riveted by Christ's work on my behalf; so much so that I cannot turn my face away in judgement, condemnation or disgust. The truth is, I almost never get this right. My face typically says everything I feel! I try and arrange my eyes and mouth differently, but most times I am an open book. *sigh*

One of the most shocking illustrations of being unaffected by horrific sin is the account in John chapter 8. A woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus. We don't know what his face looked like, but hearing the words he spoke tells us he was not aghast. He simply said "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She responded "No one, Lord." And he told her, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." His demeanor never changed. Jesus, headed toward the cross, was so in tune with human experience that he understood the temptations of man. He himself had faced temptation. He loved people and had compassion on those beat up by the hardness of life. How could he condemn her? He loved her. 

He knew what was coming. He would experience that same sin as he took the sins of humanity upon himself at the cross. He knew where he was headed. His prayer at Gethsemane demonstrated his anguish over the work at hand. He cried "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."

Even on the cross, Jesus' demeanor never changed. The mocking, the spitting, the humiliation - all the rage and emotions of the angry mob hurled at him had no effect. And, if that is not shocking enough, there's more...

"Into Your Hands" by Jeffrey Smith
The One Christ should have been able to count on, the very One who named him My Son, turned His face away. Christ saw his Father turn his face away and cried out in anguish; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment when Christ took on your sin and mine, God turned his face away. 

Christs' demeanor towards us never changes because God's demeanor toward him did.

How is it that Jesus can look on you and look on me not with condemnation for our sin, but with love for sinners? The only way was through the cross. 

God had to look away, so Jesus could look our way. 

Christ was condemned so that we would never face condemnation. The penalty had to be paid, justice had to be served. Jesus paid it all. He served the time to set us free. Jesus freed us from ever facing a turning away God.

In Christ, God will never turn his face away. His demeanor toward you and toward me will never change. The good news of the gospel means God is always looking our way with one expression, Love.

In Christ, there are no folded arms, furrowed brows or pursed lips. 

In Christ, we find open arms and Loves' perfect expression. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Gospel Gives And Gives

Our merciful Father in heaven saw how the Law oppressed us and how impossible it was for us to get out from under the curse of the Law. He therefore sent His only Son into the world and said to Him: "You are now Peter, the liar; Paul, the persecutor; David, the adulterer; Adam, the disobedient; the thief on the cross. You, my Son, must pay the world's iniquity." The Law growls: "All right. If your Son is taking the sin of the world, I see no sins anywhere else but in Him. He shall die on the Cross." And the Law kills Christ. But we go free. 

A "happy exchange." That is what Martin Luther called it. Jesus takes upon himself our sin, and in exchange, we get his righteousness - prisoners everyone of us, go free. It is ludicrous really. This idea that all fifty-four years of my stealing, lying, cheating, pettiness, bitterness, anger, impatience and adultery would be taken from me and in return I would receive love, forgiveness, mercy, welcome, acceptance and freedom. That shocks the sense out of me every time I consider the unprecedented economy of that transaction.

We celebrated communion last Sunday, and I was reminded once again of the life giving, always giving, abundant giving and unmerited giving of God to me, in Christ. It is a freedom train shouting "All aboard! Sinners step on in!" It's a free ride straight into the arms of Jesus once more. I glimpse the station I left behind - the dark and murky outpost of sin. God turns my face to his Light and beckons me, come. He calls to me, take...

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Come ye sinners, poor and needy. 

Jesus gives and gives...

and is happy to give some more. 

Unending love,

amazing grace.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I Cannot Cause My Soul To Live

Songs for the Book of Luke cover art

No list of sins I have not done, 
No list of virtues I pursue, 
No list of those I am not like, 
Can earn myself a place with You. 
O God! Be merciful to me— 
I am a sinner through and through! 
My only hope of righteousness 
Is not in me, but only You. 

No humble dress, no fervent prayer, 
No lifted hands, no tearful song, 
No recitation of the truth 
Can justify a single wrong. 
My righteousness is Jesus' life, 
My debt was paid by Jesus' death, 
My weary load was borne by Him 
And he alone can give me rest. 

No separation from the world, 
No work I do, no gift I give, 
Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands; 
I cannot cause my soul to live. 
But Jesus died and rose again— 
The pow'r of death is overthrown! 
My God is merciful to me 
And merciful in Christ alone. 

My righteousness is Jesus' life, 
My debt was paid by Jesus' death, 
My weary load was borne by Him 
And he alone can give me rest.

By Eric Schumacher & David L. Ward
© 2012 ThousandTongues.org, admin by Thousand Tongues

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Mirror Of The Law And Glad Tidings Of The Gospel

Law and Gospel go together like a creme filled sandwich cookie. OK, that's kind of ridiculous, but the point is that you cannot have one without the other. They go hand in hand. Law and Gospel are God's two words, and one just can't be eliminated from the other. With Law alone, we all would perish (no rescue option in sight). With Gospel alone, we all would perish (never having seen our need for a rescue). Each has it's proper function, and each word (Law/Gospel) is meant for both Christians and non-Christians, because both Christians and non-Christians are sinners.

"The law is a mirror to show a person what he is like, a sinner who is guilty of death, and worthy of everlasting punishment. What is this bruising and beating by the hand of the Law to accomplish? This, that we may find the way to grace. The Law is an usher to lead the way to grace. God is the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted. It is His nature to exalt the humble, to comfort the sorrowing, to heal the broken-hearted, to justify the sinners, and to save the condemned. The fatuous idea that a person can be holy by himself denies God and the pleasure of saving sinners. God must therefore fist take the sledge-hammer of the Law in His fists and smash the beast of self-righteousness, and its brood of self-confidence, self-wisdom, self-righteousness, and self-help. When the conscience has been thoroughly frightened by the Law it welcomes the Gospel of grace with its message of a Savior who came into the world, not to break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, but to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, and to grant forgiveness of sins to all the captives.

When the law drives you to the point of despair, let it drive you a little farther, let it drive you straight into the arms of Jesus who says: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.'

Once the Law has done its proper work, we must then say to the Law: 'Mister Law, lay off him. He has had enough. You scared him good and proper.' Now it is the Gospel's turn. Now let Christ with His gracious lips talk to him of better things, grace, peace, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life." ~ Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Friday, November 15, 2013

Breaking The Women's Ministry Stereotype

Leading our ministry to women has sent me off in a thousand directions. I'm researching other ministries, talking to women and leaders, reading articles, blog posts, and sourcing books on the subject. I'm searching for the "right" way to do this thing called Women's Ministry (read my honest thoughts about Women's Ministry here) Quite frankly, I'm not even sure what it means other than what the bible talks about. We are all called to be ministers, one to another. We are also called to teach others (read Older Women Teach the Younger - A Gospel Approach).

One thing I am convinced of, women have a unique need to be with other women. To live life together. 

think of Mary, mother of Jesus. She couldn't wait to visit Elizabeth upon hearing of her pregnancy. She was excited to share her own news as well, that she was pregnant and that God had performed this miracle in her life. They lived life together for three months and for each woman it must have been a wonderful and safe relationship. They shared intimate parts of their lives and I can only imagine how difficult it was for them to say goodbye. When I think about a ministry for women that is what I think of. Women relating to each other as only women can do. 

However, what I just described is not what most people think about when they hear Women's Ministry. That phrase usually conjures up an outdated stereotypical image of tea parties, circles, and baking for church events. As antiquated as that sounds, it is still the expectation in many churches.

Additionally, ministry to women sounds like events, planning bible studies, retreats, and mom's groups. Typically this is what Women's Ministry gets reduced to. Events on the calendar that need to be coordinated. Is that it though? Is that really what it is? 

Is that all we want it to be?

I'm thinking about all of this out loud as we seek to affect culture in our church. How do we reverse the stereotype and invite all women to the table, cultivate an appetite for transparency and encourage a thirst for gospel freedom?

How do we communicate to women that they are more than baking? How and where do we find places for our women to serve in ways that utilize the wide variety of skills and gifts God has given them? How can we tap into their intellect, discernment and wisdom? This is a huge challenge and one that I want to take seriously. Many women I speak with are left with the impression that their usefulness to their church boils down to serving in the nursery and children's ministry, or helping with hospitality and women's events. Sadly, if women are not serving in these few areas, they are somehow viewed as "not involved". 

In many churches, the majority of women don't serve in the nursery, nor do they help with women's events. Why? Probably because they are busy raising families or working outside the home. They are helping their ninth grader with algebra or training systems analysts in their workplace. They are coaching their daughter's volleyball team or flying out of town on business. They are principals at our children's schools or doctors in our hospitals. Just like those who serve in the nursery or in children's ministry, they are intelligent, gifted and compassionate women. 

I believe that what women need first and foremost is the Gospel. That comes by way of preaching as we gather corporately each week. However, I also believe women need a place of safety and freedom to connect the dots; to unpack what gospel freedom looks like in their workplaces, their families, their relationships, their struggles, and in their own personal relationship with Jesus. In addition, women need places to serve where their unique gifts can be used. Creating spaces and places that are safe, affirming and loving is one way to help them as they live out of the love they've been shown, in Christ.

I would love to hear from you! How are you working to break down Women's Ministry stereotypes in your church community?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Women Teaching The Bible

Foundations for studying the Bible are essential. The way we read Genesis to Revelation will dramatically affect the way we understand God's word. Understanding the one grand theme of the Bible helps us interpret the passages we teach. This one theme is, God's redemptive purposes throughout time in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In other words, all of scripture should be filtered through this meta narrative. All of scripture points to one hero, namely Jesus, the one star of the show so to speak. 

“If you want to interpret well and confidently, set Christ before you, for He is the man to whom it all applies, every bit of it.” ― Martin Luther

As leaders who teach, we have focused our attention on a few key strategies this year, and in so doing, have laid a foundation for all subsequent teaching for our women. You see, it is not enough to have a head full of bible knowledge. It is not enough to memorize verses and all the books of the bible. Because, if we miss the main point of the Bible - we've missed the gospel. After all, what is it for if not to point us to the only One who can save us? What would all the knowledge about ancient bible times profit us if we never saw the coming King? If we never experienced personal redemption? If we never became a new creation? How can knowing rituals and time lines, bible heroes and archaeology help us when life has crushed us and we're hanging on by a thread? We would be left with a ton of knowledge, yet crying out "Who will deliver me?" Sadly, there are many people who grew up in the church, yet missed the gospel. Many know the rules, the stories and the heroes, but never met The Hero of the Story. 

In a previous post I referenced five principles for studying the bible. 

I recently highlighted two of these points with our leaders.

#4 of the five principles talks about the proclamation of the good news. "Jesus came to set the captives free by proclaiming the gospel – “good news” – in word, deed, and in his very existence. The good news (“gospel”) is precisely that – news – an unconditional declaration of what God has done for desperate sinners. What has God done? God sent Jesus to live the life we can’t live (satisfying the demands of his perfect Law), to die the death we deserved (paying the penalty we owed for Law-breaking), and rising from the dead to show the curse of sin and death has been broken. Forgiveness, reconciliation to the Father, salvation, and abundance of life are now ours – not through human achievement of any kind, but faith in the one God sent, namely Jesus." - Adam Masterson

The next crucial point is #5. "We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone, yet it is true that saving faith doesn't remain alone but will result in good works and newness of life. When speaking of these things though, the order is vitally important. Imperatives in Scripture (things we are commanded to do to live a God-pleasing life) are always grounded in the indicatives (what God has done for us in Jesus). If we teach the imperatives apart from the indicatives, we’re not teaching the gospel but moralism and ethics. Therefore when teaching, it’s practically important to always end with good news – the reminder of what God has done – for this is the only proper fuel for a changed life." - Adam Masterson

These points culminate into a final point we have underscored with our leaders. End every lesson with gospel and not law, with a reminder of what’s been “done” and not what to “do.”As leaders in ministry our aim is to support the ministry of the pulpit in all we do – teach, lead, mentor etc. Our pastor's single focus is to communicate the good news of the gospel (One Way Love) that sets people free.

As we teach other women, are we declaring this good news that will set them free? Are we setting before them the unconditional declaration of what God has done for desperate sinners? If we choose to proclaim our own ability to pull ourselves together, we will leave them with no hope, no peace and no comfort for their terrified, guilty and afflicted consciences. Pointing women to Jesus and his work on their behalf will set them free.

Finally, two diagnostic questions will help keep our teaching singularly focused.

1. Has my teaching enabled the women to feel lighter than when they came in? Are their burdens lifted? Or, might they leave feeling heavy laden.

    2. Have I ended with good news? Have I spoken a word of promise to their parched souls and impoverished hearts? Have I sent them on their way with the only truly good news they will hear that day? That in Christ, their sins are forgiven?  That there is no more condemnation? That Jesus came into this world to save sinners? And that, "I've come to bind up the brokenhearted, to bring freedom for captives."

“A friend of mine once said to another who was seeking peace by doing, “You have a religion of two letters.  My religion is a religion of four letters.” “How is that?” asked the other.“Your religion is do.  My religion is done.  You are trying to rest in what you do.  I am resting in what Christ has done.”  ~R.A. Torrey

At the end of the day, the gospel is (literally) “good news”. It declares that Jesus Christ has done for sinners what sinners could never do for themselves. This is the message we are called to declare: God's love for them in Christ, "that saved a wretch like me."

"Swiss theologian Karl Barth visited the USA in 1962 to lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary and the University of Chicago. According to church lore, during his trip he was asked to summarize the theological meaning of the millions of words in his monumental work, Church Dogmatics. Barth thought for a moment and said: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Whether or not he actually said this, it is the way Barth would often answer a question. It undergirds his understanding that at its heart the gospel is a simple message pointing to Christ as our Savior who loves us with a perfect, godly love."

To read more about women teaching the Bible, check out this article by author Elyse Fitzpatrick.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Throne Of Grace

Suppose I come to the throne of grace with the burden of my sins; there is one on the throne who felt the burden of sin in ages long gone by, and has not forgotten its weight. 

Suppose I come loaded with sorrow; there is One there who knows all the sorrows to which humanity can be subjected. 

Am I depressed and distressed? Do I fear that God himself has forsaken me? There is One upon the throne who said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 

It is a throne from which grace delights to look upon the miseries of mankind with tender eye, to consider them and to relieve them. 

Come, then; come, then; come, then, ye that are not only poor, but wretched, whose miseries make you long for death, and yet dread it. Ye captive ones, come in your chains; ye slaves, come with the irons upon your souls; ye who sit in darkness, come forth all blindfold as you are. 

The throne of grace will look on you if you cannot look on it, and will give to you, though you have nothing to give in return, and will deliver you, though you cannot raise a finger to deliver yourself.

~ Charles Spurgeon

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jesus Did Not Go Upstairs and Close the Door

On days when God seems far off, it's easy to think that his door is closed. I may not literally believe this, but thoughts about my sin and sufferings overwhelm me and I cannot fathom how God could love me. I don't understand why God would step down into the mess of this world and specifically, into the chaos of my heart. It's too dark. Too gritty. To raw. All jumbled up with emotion and doubt, fear and shame. 

Is it really true? I read these words...

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb 4:16

...but I don't believe them. 

I don't feel his grace, so I draw near to every other possibility out there. Anything that is a bit more real. Friends, books and social media are my go-to's. Surely, there must be an answer to the throbbing questions of my aching heart. I am reminded of a question Jesus asked his disciples;  "Do you want to go away as well?" and Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." John 6:67-69

I know deep down that God has the answers. I understand at least in my mind, that there is only One who understands the depth and the meditations of my heart. 

I hold on...no, God holds on. I wait. 

I believe, Lord help my unbelief. 

God says that I have a high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God. He says I have a high priest who is able to sympathize with my weaknesses.

And so...

...by faith, I believe that Jesus did not ascend into heaven to wash his hands of this dirty world. 

...by faith, I believe that Jesus did not enter into the throne room of God cleaned up and presentable, but human, scarred and pierced.

...by faith, I believe that Jesus  did not close the door behind him in order to leave this messed up broken world.

...by faith, I believe God is merciful.

...by faith I believe the door is open...

he really hears...

he really knows what my heart feels...

By faith, I believe.

Lord, where else can I go? You have the words of eternal life...