Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Howling Dark of Sin and Chris Tomlin's Pale Grace

Got grace?
Well, of course I do, silly.
I am set free by it, washed in the blood of the lamb. I am saved, Saved, SAVED!
And grace is amazing.
John Newton says so.
Chris Tomlin says so.

But John knew something Chris appears to want to forget.
Grace needs sin.
The crime. The betrayal.
The howl of deep hurt forcing itself to be heard from torn heart of the person, and of the God, I said I loved, said I would never forsake.
And then did.
And I have to listen to it.
Ragged. Raw. Unrelenting.
And I am responsible. Only me.
I did it on purpose, because I wanted to, because I thought myself more important.

That is why I need grace.

Amazing Grace is not a hymn. John Newton did not sing it.
He wrote and recited it with his congregation as a statement of wretchedness.
The grace he described covered the sin because it could not make it disappear.

The minute we forget the sin, we can forget the grace, too.
We do not need it any more.

If we want to sing about grace, we'd do well to remember the sin that made it necessary.

Look into the horror.
You will need to be bold, but it's worth it, because that is the only place you will find real grace.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find help in time of need.-Hebrews 4:16

Sunday, January 27, 2013

When More is Less

Life is not random.
I'm just coming off two and a half weeks of flu and, whenever something hits that hard, I wonder why.
And that it should come now, at the beginning of a new year, at precisely the time when I'm setting goals and gearing up, well...I wonder doubly.
It is only now, as the illness begins to release its hold, that I start to get a glimpse.

For the first time in long memory, my whole life had to stop.
I was too sick to do anything, go anywhere, even talk to anyone.
I didn't clean, or shop, or cook, or go to the gym.
I didn't write.

I sat. I stared. If I felt halfway decent, I read a book.
And I thought.

Now, at nearly the end  of it, I think I know.
For the last years, I have told God I wanted more.
More of His intended life, more from my life in the body of Christ, more of Him.
And, to that end, I have picked up and put down goals and activities.
I have read and studied.
I have kept my eyes open and attentive.
I have prayed.

But I missed what was happening.
I didn't see the cage begin to turn, to pick up speed, to whir and rush.
I didn't see that I was in it.

Carried in a flood of sacrificial activity. Lost in the constant whoosh of wind.

Then it stopped. It had to. I had no choice.
I said no. And no again. And again.
Until nothing was left.
And I found it.
I found His hand.
Reaching from the emptied place.
Where He'd always waited.
And it was full of the more.

Thank you, God, for the flu.
For it is: Do ,and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there...God will speak to His people, but they would not listen.  Isaiah 28:10-12

Be still and know that I am God.--Psalm 46:10
And I'm not the only one whose new year has brought this lesson.
See Sandra Heska King's How Clutter Makes Us Fat

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In the Palm of Your Hand

You already have it, you know.
The world in the palm in your hand.
You have God and God has you. You are safe in His arms for all eternity. What more could you want?
Plenty, as it turns out.

There are two ways to live a Christian life:
The first is to experience salvation and live in the freedom of it.
The second is harder. It is the way of sacrifice:
 If I do not intentionally sacrifice, that is, eschew the things of this world I could otherwise enjoy without sinning, I will live a materially-based Christian life.
I will still go to heaven, and while I'm waiting, will enjoy the world, but I will miss something else.
If I intentionally sacrifice what comes naturally to my physical body, I am more likely to attain a full, spiritual relationship with my God.

Abraham had to offer God Ishmael before he was given Isaac.
I have to do the same.
If you would be my disciple, you must deny yourself...--Matthew 16:24

More is required of a disciple than of a believer, or even of a follower and, if I want to be one, I have to deny myself. Becoming a disciple requires discipline.
I cannot pray my way into this. It requires action. My action.
Jesus has already saved me. Now, He has shown me my part.

So, we have the world in the palm of our hand.
Now, it is for us to turn our hand over and dump it out.
In doing so, we are only making room for the better part.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hit Me

So I'm playing blackjack and I'm dealt 15 points.
The smart money says that I take another card, that 15 points will probably not be enough to win.
But the next card might be another seven, or it might be a a jack.
And I would lose.
I scratch my head and hesitate.
I don't know what will happen next. I wait. I think. I ask "What if...?" until finally I squeak out, "Hit me."
And the dealer does.

Fact is, we don't know what will happen next. 
Not in cards, not  in life.

We are always looking at the hand we are dealt today, looking at the decisions we must make, and determine whether to hit or hold based on only part of the information we need.
I don't like that.
In fact, I like it much less in life than I do in an inconsequential game of cards.
Life brings much, much higher stakes.

But it's OK.
I don't have to know the next card. 
God knows it.
And because he does, we don't have to hedge our bets.

When Abraham went to settle in Gerar, he tried to hedge.
He told the king that his wife was really his sister so that they wouldn't get thrown out.
He already had 17 or 18 points in his hand, but he wanted to win, no matter what.
"Hit me," he said.
Only the next card was the king of hearts.
Abimilech took a fancy to Sarah, thinking her single.
Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

However, unlike Abe, Abimilech did not try to guess the next card.
He, in this situation, displayed more trust in God than Abe, and God rewarded him by watching his back.
Abimilech, looking at his hand, held, like he was supposed to do.
And God protected him from the sin he might have otherwise committed.

And God said to him, Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart, for I prevented you from sinning against me, therefore I suffered you not to touch her.--Genesis 20:6

We don't have to know the next card the dealer will slide off the pack.
We don't have to agonize over every decision.
There are rules, and we just have to follow them and trust God to take care of us in whatever He deals.
Hit or hold,  win or bust, the point is not the game itself--it is how we get to the end of it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Fool Who Follows Him...

Take a close look. I thought this was clever at first. The Last Supper, but rather than Christ and His disciples, well-known scientists-- Galileo Galilei, Marie Curie, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Thomas Edison, Aristotle, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin.

Harmless.  Even funny. But then I saw.

Not the heresy of it, although there is that component.  
It's the danger of it. Not because it's a joke, but because it isn't.

My former amusement dies to a choke, a strangle. I can't laugh at this because I live with it every day, as does every single smart person God made.
Suddenly, I get scared. Really scared.

This is the problem:
Smart people get used to being right.
They do. 
They get used to it because they often are, or sound like it. They know the right arguments, the pertinent facts, the scientific proofs. Most of them don't mean to lie or to deceive. Smart people are sincerely trying to help others understand. They are teachers, doctors, researchers, philosophers, scientists....and pastors. They are the best of us, aren't they? We go to them when we want to learn, want to improve, want to get well. 

But they have a problem. Us.
Because we believe smart people so completely, we have given them permission to believe themselves. 
We have given them license to ignore their own capacity for self-deception.
We ignore, and let thus let them ignore, their own humanity.

Oh sure, we all say no one is perfect, that we're all only human, and screw up, but then don't universally apply what we acknowledge to be universal frailty.
We permit some people to be more perfect than others.
We permit some people to be like God.

And that is what this picture is really about. 

Look again. 
Each of these men and women used their intelligence to figure out something important, and I am grateful for that. 
But some one of them also believed, and seemed to have convinced some of us, that their ability to figure stuff out makes them so special as to discount their own vast capacity for being wrong.
And this makes the smartest of us also the most dangerous. 
Listen to them, but don't trust them.

It is easy to deceive a really smart person when the deception involves their own perfection. 
They will believe in their own rightness almost every time.
After all, they're smart, aren't they?

The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.--Proverbs 14:8

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Who Are You Looking At?

Do you ever wonder how God wants us to pray? I do.
I am not satisfied with most prayer. 
It seems self-serving, not God-serving.
It sometimes sounds whiny, like "This is what I want, God. Would you help me out and give it to me, please?"
Prayer can also sound like the person praying has too little faith to even know what, or more importantly, who to ask. Like "I am so overwhelmed, God. Please help me. Please bail me out. Don't let me suffer like this."

I know that God tells us to ask for things.
And I also know that He understands when we get in so deep we can't see the way out.
But when these prayers of rescue or favor-granting become our standard fare, when our daily prayers consist of fearful flailing and endless lists of I-wants, I am sure we are not in the place God wants us.

To confirm that, I look at John 17:
After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed...--John 17:1
He looked toward heaven, not toward His concerns on earth.

Glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify You.--John 17:2
He asked only for what would benefit His Father, not Himself.

I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me.--John 17:9
Jesus confined His prayers to what His Father had already indicated as concerning Him.

May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.--John 17:21
He prayed for the success of the plan His Father put in motion through Him.

Jesus does not once here pray for His own concerns--His coming suffering, His earthly friends and family, or His own strength. He trusts God for all of these.

If I pray for a thing, then my goal is clearly the thing, not God.
If I pray for a relationship, I am more interested in the relationship than in God.

I cannot even pray for new motivations, or emotions, or will. Those are my part.  God will not control me. I must control myself and dealing with my own will and emotion and motivation is how I do it. My obedience in emotional self-control is what I bring to the party.

And we wonder why our prayer is not answered.
God does not give His favors to relative strangers looking for a new toy.
Proper prayer, however, God always answers, and we find it in those rare moments when our will intersects with His own.
Prayer is answered from a place of union with God only.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Here is Eternity

The seventeenth chapter of John is one of my favorites in the Bible.
There, we hear Jesus not only proclaiming His identity and intentions, but also showing his heart for men. In it, He prays for men.  All of us. Believers and unbelievers. Disciples and newbies.
In it, he speaks out loud His love for us in plain words, not by saying 'I love you', but by telling us what He most deeply wishes for us.
I like that.  A lot.

But He also shows us something we have a very hard time grasping.
He shows us the nature of eternity.

Father, the time has come.--John 17:1
Jesus understands that progress of time and that certain times are designated for certain things.
His declaration separates the things designated for certain times from those designated for all times, that is, to be eternal.

Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify You. For you granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him.--John 17:1-2
Jesus is talking about Himself, of course, and states plainly His job from the beginning of time. He does this so that we, who live in time, can recognize His eternal mission. Like any good boss, He clearly articulates Himself, telling us what must be accomplished and when.

Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.--John 17:3
This is the job--both Jesus' and ours.

And eternal does not mean later, afterlife, or heaven. 
Eternal means always--now, before, and yet to come. 
And this life, then, this life of knowing, is eternal.  It is to be done always.
It is a knowing that must precede the doing. Understanding eternity and our God who inhabits it is the source of strength, the beginning of right motivation, and the intentional goal of every holy thought and action.

This is life, and life eternal. Today. Right now.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Only One Journey

Everybody started with God, so we are all in the process of returning to God.

If we believe God made us, and that we are, at the bottom of all things, His, then we have to acknowledge not only that our yearnings always draw us back to Him, but that our failure to follow them is the root of all of our unhappiness.
“Their deeds do not permit them
    to return to their God.
A spirit of prostitution is in their heart;
    they do not acknowledge the Lord.
Hosea 5:4

We talk about being saved, but this is not a new experience, it is a returning.
We have already been near to God, so it makes sense that we should want Him back. Only one thing--only one-- prevents that.
Israel’s arrogance testifies against them;
    the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin;
    Judah also stumbles with them.
When they go with their flocks and herds
    to seek the Lord,
they will not find him;
    he has withdrawn himself from them.
Hosea 5:5-6

Whether we know it or not, we are always seeking God. It doesn't always look like Him, but it is God nonetheless. He is farther away from some than others, but we are all on the same way. There is no where else to go. We must seek God. We were made for this and only this. We only have to admit it and go.
“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.

Hosea 6:1 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Why Aren't We Holding Hands?

All Christians belong to the same church.
Did you know that?
Well, it's true:
In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.--Romans 12:5

But we sure don't act like it.  This is how we sound:
"The Catholics aren't Christians. The worship Mary."
"The Baptists believe in once-saved-always-saved. I couldn't worship with them."
"Pentecostals roll around on the floor in trances. That isn't biblically orderly."
"Methodists welcome gays. I couldn't go there."
Sound familiar?

You may not like it, but this is what makes a Christian:
If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."-Romans 10:9
That's it. That and nothing else.  And, as far as I know, all of the above-named denominations would qualify.

Why don't we like that? Why are we not celebrating that we are a big, big club rather than little exclusive sects patting ourselves on the back for being smarter than the next sect?
Because people are different.
We worship the same God differently, I think, based on who God made us. 
Bobby likes liturgy. Suzie likes hymns.  Bob likes long sermons. Mary likes contemporary worship.
It Doesn't Matter.

We go to two churches in our family, his and hers, sometimes together, sometimes not. We consider both congregations an important part of our lives.  My husband and I have different personalities and upbringing.  Should I be surprised that God reaches us through different kinds of worship?
Just think of all the ways we express the principle of salvation:
Christ died for our sins.
Christ did what we couldn't do.
We are washed in the blood of the Lamb.
Christ defeated death.
They are all the same thing, but one undoubtedly appeals to us more than the others because of who we are.
It's OK.
By the way--I'm the analytical type.  I like the second one.
Can we hold hands anyway?