Saturday, March 29, 2014

Paradox, Doubt and Grace

"When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of 
paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. 

I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, "A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God."

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned--our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night's sleep--all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, "If we but turn to God," said St. Augustine, "that itself is a gift of God."

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

― Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

Friday, March 28, 2014

Do You Have A Key To The Church?

I often reflect on the first church my husband and I attended as a family. Our son was ten and he wanted to pursue the Boy Scout religion merit badge, so off we went a few blocks away to a local community church. It is one of those "God has a sense of humor" stories because I thought we were going to help our son fill up his green boy scout sash. Literally, six weeks later God saved me. Sitting in a pew on a June Sunday morning something happened. I did not grow up in the church and I would have had no idea what you were talking about if you had asked me, "Did you pray the sinners prayer?" or, "Did you ask Jesus into your heart?" I had absolutely no clue what had or was happening to me. None of my friends were Christians. No one in my family was a Christian.

A Gentle Disagreement

Fast forward a few years. I was learning the Bible and loving every piece of it. I was involved in my new church and one of the studies I attended was in my pastor's study on Wednesday evenings. Through that study I came to learn that my pastor did not believe something that I held to be a vital part of the Christian faith and sound doctrine. I was incredulous and sad. For days I poured over scripture and commentaries. What took place next was shocking. I called my pastor on a Saturday morning. He was driving back from the Keys and had some time to talk while his wife took the wheel. He spent three patient hours with me while we talked and compared Scripture. It was a gentle and caring conversation. Here I was, a new Christian, going at it with a pastor of forty years. Ha! And yet, he was patient, loving and kind with me. We agreed to disagree, but my love and respect for him never wavered.

A Crazy Question

...Fast forward three more years. I became more involved in this community of believers and unbelievers - all tousled together under this one roof. I served in bible studies and prayer meetings and on church committees. It was becoming increasingly clear that it was time for us to change churches. We loved the people, the pastor and all. However, our son was entering high school and not connected where we were. He became involved with some guys at a nearby church and he boldly made the decision to leave and go to a place he felt suited him. My husband and I were happy to see his commitment. Upon making that decision, I called our pastor to make an appointment. I could not bear to leave without telling him. We sat in his study and laughed, cried and talked. He took his time with me not wanting to rush the conversation. I explained that we were leaving and as best I could told him why. All he really wanted to know was how we were doing. How was my husband? How was our son? Towards the end of our time together, I told him I would be considering options for alternate locations of a prayer group I met with each Friday morning in the church library. I was considering moving it to my home or to another church in the area.

He listened, then asked, "Lori, do you have a key?"
I replied, "No."
He smiled, and said, "Let's get you a key."

My response? Tears. Uncontrollable tears. Who does that?

A Crazier, Bigger God

I have shared that story countless times and each time I do, tears well up. Each time I remember the kindness of that man, I am struck again with the bigness of God. The further on down the road I get in this Christian life, I am convinced like Paul;
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Cor 13:1-3
I am forever grateful to that pastor. He showed me unconditional love, patience and kindness that looked a lot like Jesus.
"Do you want to know what God is like? Then look at Jesus. If you want to know how God reacts to people, look at how Jesus reacted to people." Steve Brown
He gave me a key. Not just to the library, but what I later understood to be, a key to the kingdom. A pathway to view the freedom of the gospel.

I think that's why people leave the church. I think that explains what is going on in Christianity. We are more about locking the door and throwing away the key. We are less about extending the keys to worn out, left out and burned out people.

This one thing, I am coming to learn.

The gospel is way bigger than I thought it was.
The gospel is way more inclusive than I thought it was.
The gospel is way more welcoming, inviting, loving and receiving than I thought it was.


Keys keys and more keys!Thankfully...

...the gospel isn't about a lock anymore.

We don't have to have the perfectly cut key to open a locked door.

The door is open. The old keys are piled up inside, as a reminder. A bunch of old keys used to keep people out are now sitting in a heap on the floor next to the open door. This is what freedom looks like.

Come on in...the door is open.

Monday, March 24, 2014

An Uninvited Guest

I was standing in the middle of my kitchen last week when suddenly there was a loud pounding at my front door. It was a frantic and forceful series of knocks. My husband was working late and even though it was still light out, my senses were alerted. Heart beating fast, I walked to the door and peered through the blinds. With relief, I opened the door and fell into the arms of a very dear friend. She had heard of my suffering. She dropped everything, jumped into her car and raced over to my home - unannounced. She pursued me with abandon, not thinking twice. Nothing could stop her. She would not rest until she saw my face.

We sat for four hours. We wept. We talked. She was by my side until my husband came home. She knew I was safe and in good hands. Only then did she leave.

I am counting on the truth that this is what God is like. In the midst of suffering and sin, I hope that all the things I have believed in the past are true. That despite, pain, disappointment, anguish, abandonment, confusion and isolation, that somehow that does not stop Him. That He will arrive unannounced and uninvited, at my doorstep and pound His way in. If that's not true, I have no hope and neither do you.

You have heard it said that God is a gentleman, that he will not force his way in. If that is true we all might as well fold our hand and leave the game. The truth is, none of us would welcome a polite God who doesn't want to interfere with our lives. None of us would gladly entertain a politically correct God who waits patiently for our invitation.

We are all hell-bent on our own party, inviting who we want and washing our hands of those we don't want - God included.

How deeply do men err who conceive of God as subject to our human will or as standing respectfully to wait upon our human pleasure.
- A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of Man

Your hope and mine rests on what Brennan Manning calls "the furious longing of God." Manning offers great comfort by reminding us that, "God is one who chases after creation with a fury unlike the universe has ever seen."

Radical, good news...

 ...assurance for the broken.

Friday, March 21, 2014

From One Broken To A Broken One

quill and fox parrot and typewriter cards
This note came across my screen the other day - an ocean of Love, a sea of Comfort, a word of Hope...

...beyond grateful.

"Been thinking about you today and am thinking about you right now. I am praying for you and want you to know how much you have impacted lives with your willingness to be honest about your brokenness and open yourself up to a watching world. I wish people could understand how much God uses that to encourage others to do the same. Love to you my sister tonight."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What The World Needs Most Is Love, Sweet Love

Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:11-13

People in crisis do not need ten easy steps on how to turn that frown upside down. They don't need a few pointers on how to get up and get going. They don't need reminders of past failures and sin - they know them all too well. They don't need new goals, a new outlook, a different perspective, or the latest health improvement regimen. People in crisis are in a complicated situation that no one really understands.

One way the Bible instructs us when facing a friend who is suffering is found in this passage from Job. Upon hearing of his sorrow, Job's friends went to him to show him sympathy and comfort. They wept with him and sat with him.

This is a beautiful picture of care for a friend. We sometimes wrongly assume that hurting people need or want to be left alone. Or, we leave hurting people alone because we don't know what to say or how to respond.

However, the opposite is true. People in crisis need the help other's can provide. Think about it this way. Suppose you break your leg. You go to the doctor but the doctor does not come out to see you. You are sent home having received no help, no care. Although you are in severe pain and can hardly walk, the doctor has determined it is best for you to heal on your own.

Jesus reached out his healing hand to those in greatest need...the crippled, the demon-possessed, the dead, and those who had no idea of the depth of their need.

He did not wait for their repentance to come. It was in his coming that he granted it. Only the gospel compels that kind of love. Love engenders love.

It's what we all need most...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I Fail at Submission

Yep, I just dove into the murky waters of a sensitive subject. This is not an effort to unpack the "how to" of submission. This is also not agreement with or disagreement against various interpretations of Bible passages on submission. My only goal is to take a look at this topic from maybe a little different perspective - with a different lens, so to speak.

I believe the lens with which we view any discussion must be the lens of the freedom we have been given in Christ. Read more here.

Morality or Freedom?

Therefore, any discussion about submission that is not first seen through the gospel (what God, in Christ has done) will likely lead to a moralistic attempt to fulfill God's demands. In other words, we will focus on the application of scripture without first reveling in the proclamation of scripture. We will be left to our own devices to pull ourselves together and follow the rules regarding submission. As you may have experienced, this is a losing proposition.

The Bible says God loves an obedient giver. No, that's not what the Bible says. The Bible says God loves a cheerful giver, (2 Cor 9:7). Submitting for the sake of submitting in order to fulfill the Law is not what God had in mind. Outward obedience is not the kind of submission that flows from the gospel. It is precisely that kind of outward obedience that God said we are free from. Martin Luther said:

Faith in Christ brings freedom from the crushing obligation of the law.

Begin With The Right Question

I remember my pastor once said the if you want to get a party going just walk into the room and say the word predestination! The same could be said for the word submission. There have been reams and reams of paper produced expounding this subject. On Amazon alone, there are 172 Christian books on submission. Every book answers (or tries to answer) this one question; What does submission look like? In other words, how do we submit?

I am convinced we are starting with the wrong question when we ask "How?" A better question might be, "Are you getting it done?" The truth is, I could tell you to go to all the passages in the Bible that talk about submission. We could talk about "husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church", and, "wives respect your husbands."

However, I might as well tell you to "be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect." Now, just go do that. 

The problem is we can't do that. None of us are perfect. In the same way, no man loves their wife perfectly. God did not just say, "Husbands, love your wives." He said, "Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church." Loving your wife as Christ loves the church is a picture of perfection - to the point of a love-motivated, self-sacrificing death. Husbands, who of you has done that? No wife respects her husband perfectly. Our hearts are deceitful and our motives are impure. Wives, who of you has respected your husband with right motivations and thoughts? Herein lies the crux of the matter. We can talk all day long about what submission looks like, but at the end of the day what we are talking about is law. What we’re talking about is the ought to, the command which only kills. We are left with death. Just death. No power to bring to life.

Only Jesus Submitted Well

You don't have to look hard to see an utter lack of submission in the Bible. Abraham denied the fact that Sarah was his wife. He lied by saying she was his sister. The disciples promptly fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus said, "Watch and pray." David slept with another woman. I wouldn't exactly call that loving your wife as Christ loved the Church. We are in good company. We have all failed in our efforts to submit. We can't do it. We don't submit well, we don't want to submit period (that started back in the garden), and even when we want to do the right thing, we still don't carry it out right. We are in trouble all over the place.

Without a gospel lens, we will continue to have the conversation about what submission looks like over and over and over again. The truth is, it all looks bad. Only Christ submitted well. Us, not so much.

The question now becomes, "How do we live with one another in light of the gospel, in light of what Jesus has done for us?"

Our Record of Submission is Perfect

Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf in every way and perfectly. He is our Savior, Rescue and Sin-taker. As a result, in the midst of our relationships when we realize we are not getting it done, we can remember the One who submitted perfectly. That record is ours. 

When we don't submit because we are flat out disobedient, we can remember that Jesus obediently submitted, to the point of death. That record is ours. 

When we realize we can’t submit, we can remember that Jesus could, and did, even in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances. That record is ours. 

When we don’t know how to submit, we can remember that Jesus knew how to perfectly submit, and he carried it out. That record is ours. 

When we are ignorant of what submission looks like in a particular relationship, we can remember that Jesus knew exactly what submission looked like in every single one of his relationships and acted upon that perfect knowledge. That record is ours. 

In the midst of all the ways we get submission wrong, it’s o.k. because Christ has freed us from not only the need to be submitted to, but also from the guilt and condemnation stemming from knowing we fall short in all of our efforts to submit. The gospel frees us to actually go out and submit knowing our record is the perfect submission of Christ. That is amazing!

Joyful and spontaneous submission unencumbered by the weight of the Law - that is true submission. That is what cheerful giving looks like.

Good News

Here is your record of submission:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Phil 2:6

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 6:38

So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. John 14:31

You heard that I said to you, `I go away, and I will come to you.' If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:28

Even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. John 10:15

...just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. John 15:10

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will. Matthew 26:39

Honestly speaking, my desires are wrong, my motivation is lousy and any follow through is worse. Pride, arrogance, stubbornness, ignorance, and love of self get in my my marriage, at my job, in my relationships. Like Paul, I find I do what I don't want to do. And the things I know I should do, I don't. It is glorious good news that I can take comfort and find rest in Christ's perfect submission on my behalf.

Revel in the good and relieving freedom that His record is now yours!