Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Big Mouth

Me and my big mouth. 

Don't you just hate it?
It's not the first potato chip--it's the twentieth, or the fiftieth.
It's not the kind comfort we speak, it's that tidbit, that little salty taste of gossip.
We love them. At first.
Later, not so much.

How in the world do I keep my mouth from getting me in trouble?
James didn't hold out much hope-- man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.--James 3:8
Restless evil. No kidding.
Whether I'm putting something in my mouth or letting something out of it, I'm in danger.

But a girl's gotta eat, doesn't she? And talk? It's not like I can just sew my mouth shut to keep from sinning in overindulgence or indiscretion. Somehow, I have to figure out how to tame the untamable. 
How in the world am I supposed to do that?

Paul has some advice along those lines:
Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial--1 Corinthians 10:23a
  So what I do with my mouth has to benefit everyone involved.
Everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive--1 Corinthians 10:23b
  What I do with my mouth has to help build up someone or something.
Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.--1 Corinthians 10:24
  I am not the focus of what goes into or comes out of my mouth. Other people are.
Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the Glory of God.--1 Corinthians 10:31
  God is paying attention. Is He glorified by this? Really?

OK, what does that look like with arms and legs?
  Admit when I've done something wrong.
  Remember that lust is a sin. If I have to eat it or say it right now or I'll explode, I'd better shut my mouth instead.
Listen to my inner voice--
  If I feel even a little guilty afterward, I shouldn't have done it.
  If I eat when I'm not hungry, I shouldn't have.
  If I say something about somebody else that I wouldn't have said to their face, I shouldn't have.
  If I say something that elevates me above my companions or puts me down among them, I shouldn't have. It's not about me.

OK. I did it. Of course. What then?
Repent. Out loud.
Out loud.
What does that sound like? How about, "I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry." in front of everyone who heard you say it.
Or "I ate (or drank) too much again. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that." in front of your dinner guests or your family.

Somehow, I have to make what I did wrong real. Because it doesn't seem to be now. Not real enough to stop.
It's important.
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons, too.--1 Corinthians 10:21
I don't get it both ways. I don't get to excuse my behavior. I don't get to downplay or rationalize it.

This is self-control at it's best. It's not like giving up smoking or gambling.  
We have to eat and talk. We can't completely give them up. We just have to do them the way we were intended to. 
And there's a reward for this:
For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ.--2 Peter 1:8
And that's what we wanted all along.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fixing My Ouchies

I have an infection.
How do I know? Because it hurts.
It's red and icky and swollen. Just looking, anyone can tell that something is definitely wrong.
I've tried to clean it out and de-infect it, but nothing's worked so today, I'm going to the doctor. I'm sure the doc will know what to do and afterwards, it will stop hurting.

Nobody likes hurt.
Nobody likes it, but nobody escapes it. We all get hurt.
And some of our biggest wounds are the ones that don't show.
It's harder to show a doctor an infected heart than an infected finger. But it hurts just as much, maybe more. And just as when I don't get my infected finger cleaned out and healed, my emotional infection left untended will spread and get worse. Much worse.

We all know what physical infections look like when they're not tended. Nasty. But what do emotional hurts look like when neglected? They have repercussions, too. Like anger, and bitterness, and isolation.
OK--so when we go to a doctor, they ask us for symptoms of our physical malady. How about our other hurts? How about those symptoms? 
Who or what makes me consistently mad?
Or, what inexplicable outburst took me and everyone around me by surprise?
Who just always irritates me?
What kind of book or movie or remark always puts me in a bad mood?
Why do I pick on a particular person or behavior or habit?
When did I stop going to church?
Or hanging out with friends?
What makes me just want to hole up at home and avoid everyone?
What place or person or subject do I want to avoid no matter what?

I know that, if I don't get my finger healed up, the affected area will get bigger and eventually, I'll either get blood poisoning and die, or I'll catch it in time and it'll heal, but will leave a scar. Well, I have non-physical scars, too. And they are not without consequences.

Ironically, a physical scar won't hurt like the wound did. It might twinge a little once in awhile, but the constant, throbbing pain is gone. Someone can touch it, and I don't jump anymore. I know that a doc can probably help me with my physical hurt. But I have to get help with my other hurts, too. And just like my physical ones, I have to admit I hurt in the first place.

There's no shame in hurting. Jesus did, too.
During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death...--Hebrews 5:7a

Loud cries and tears. Jesus was not shy about telling God about His hurts. And what did God do?
...and He was heard because of His reverent submission.--Hebrews :7b

Jesus humbled Himself to admit there was something wrong and then accepted God's healing when He did. I have to do the same thing.
God wants to do for me exactly what I want the doc to do for my infected finger:
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.--Psalm 147:3

But I have to admit that I need it. I have to look at the warning signs--the pain, the tenderness, the inability to engage in normal activities, and realize that I need to let God bind my wounds. I need to let the scar form if it must, and wear it as a sign that I've come through safe, after all.
We're pretty good at saying that God is the Great Physician. Now we have to act like it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Still Rationalizing After All These Years

I've finally figured out why I still sin.
I like it.

OK, some sins do revolt me but when I think about it, the sins I find disgusting are usually someone else's. When I take the unwelcome trouble of comparing my own thoughts, words, and actions against the two great measures God gave us--The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes--the list of instances where I fall short is long. And when I take a good look at the list, most of the time I really wasn't aware that I was sinning at the time.

When I got mad, I thought my anger justified.
When I judged, I thought my judgement fair.
When I exaggerated, I thought it harmless.
When I bragged, I thought the self-praise well earned.
When I withheld help, I thought my caution prudent.
I didn't think my sin was sin. I thought I was being smart, careful, even discerning. 
I forgot that the life Christ requires is a life of abandon to Him, unmeasured love for Him, and humility before Him that takes no notice of me at all.

That's the problem. I keep remembering me, elevating me, comforting me.
I'm not supposed to do that. That's God's job--His promise, even. I am to remember and glorify God.

However, I usually want to take care of myself first. That's why I sin. I am not listening to God's perfect advice:
Love your neighbor as yourself.--Matthew 22:39
I will never hate myself. Not really. I will never forget myself. Not really. Well, I'm not supposed to do that to anyone else, either. But I do.

I hear a lot of religious-sounding flap about loving the sinner and hating the sin. Oh really? Am I prepared to do that toward myself? Is anyone?
I don't hate my sins. I excuse them, rationalize them, protect them. 
I have to be at least as ruthless with myself as I am with someone else.

Why do you worry about a speck of sawdust in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own?--Matthew 7:3
It's a wonder I can see at all. I must see and know God's genuine offense at what I have done. And it won't be pretty.

In order survive this look, however, I must first have a deep understanding that God loves me--that in His eyes, I am precious and renewed in His love day by day--and that He accomplishes this renewing as the Creator who made me with His own hands with full intent.  However, His love does not include prurient license. He, in His mercy, is perfecting me and in doing so, will not let me wallow in whatever pigpen I've chosen for myself.

Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean. Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.--Psalm 51:7

But in order to become clean, I must first admit that I am currently filthy. I must see my pigpen. And that part, if I am honest, is quite easy.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

But I Don't Wanna Give it Away!

Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.--Psalm 118:27 (KJV)

Whenever the ancient Hebrews offered the best of their flock or herd to God, they tied it to the altar still alive, kicking and struggling. Once there, the shepherd bent back the animal's head and slit its throat with his own hands. Then, hands red with its blood, he watched it die.

I'm glad we don't have to do that anymore.

Not so fast.
Actually, I'm thinking that we do.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. --Matthew 5:17

The New Covenant Jesus introduced changed the old one, but did not put it away. We can eat pork now, but we must eat it to God's glory. We do not have to abandon disobedient children beyond the city gate, but we do have to abandon them to Christ. We don't have to slaughter our animals in church, but we do have to kill what is not godly in ourselves.

We are no longer required to kill a sheep, but we still have to raise the knife.

What do we have to kill now?
Put to death, therefore, everything that belongs to your earthly nature...--Colossians 3:5

Great. My earthly nature. Isn't that just about everything?
Well, yes, it is. Everything, at least, that doesn't resemble God.

This is going to hurt.
Well, yes again. It will hurt. That's what sacrifices do.
Do you really think that those Hebrew shepherds didn't look at those spotless lambs they kept having to bring to the temple and wonder whether they would be able to feed their family on what they had left over? Of course, they did. And so do we.

What are we supposed to give? Time, talent, and treasure, isn't it?
So what does that look like? Warning:  Some of this may sound familiar...

Time:  If I spend an hour or two praying or reading and studying my Bible, who will do my other work?
Talent: If I fix the church's computers, who will fix mine? If I take someone else's mom to the grocery store, will someone take mine? If I adopt this child, will my others suffer?
Treasure: If I give ten percent, or even more, what will happen to saving for a rainy day? If I ever need something, who will meet my need?

Remember, we have to bind up the sacrifice while it's still alive, not wait until we don't care anymore, until it's become comfortably surplus. When it finally goes up in smoke as incense, we need to watch it rise with some regret.

It's true that we are not to be foolish in this--there are limits. We are not usually called to give away all of our earthly attachments and possessions, but that does not mean we are not to give away any of them.

In the end, what I bind to the altar is concern for myself.
My comfort, my pleasure, my affection, my habits.
That's right. My hesitance to offer real sacrifice points to lack of faith, lack of trust in God. Every time we cling to something, we uncover an instance of unbelief.
We say that we believe that God has our back, but when we can't let go of something, whether it's material or human or emotional, that is the single thing we most desperately need to lay down. 
I'm sorry, but we have to kill it. 
"But I don't know what I'd do without it...." Exactly.
We don't know what we'd do without that thing or person or feeling. But God does.

Raise the knife against it, my friend. Raise the knife to it and trust God that, if you are not to kill it after all, He will stay your hand. He's done it before.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

No Baggage, Not Even a Carry-On

Pack light.
We get that advice everywhere, and not only for vacations. Did you ever try it? It's not easy.
Even Jesus gave that advice to His apostles:
These were His instructions: Take nothing for the journey except a staff. No bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals, but not an extra shirt. --Mark 6:8,9

Now that's something to think about.
Nothing to eat. Nothing to wear. Nothing to spend to get either of them.
Why would He tell them to do such a thing?
Not because they wouldn't need them. They would. They would need to eat and find a place to sleep and, eventually, change their clothes.
Maybe He told them not to pack anything because the things they brought would hinder them.
No baggage, He told them. You may bring no baggage.
Not even a carry-on.

They were going out on their life's journey, accomplishing the task Jesus set them to do.
Well, I'm doing that, too, aren't I?
Maybe I don't get to pack anything for the trip, either.
And I thought I was doing pretty good, limiting myself to a single carry-on for a vacation, one junk drawer, a half a clothes closet. Guess not.

Take nothing for the journey, Jesus says. It's only stuff. 
That's true, but I don't think He's talking only about stuff.  I think He's talking about other baggage--the crippling guilt from my past, a sad longing for childhood or where I used to live, a petrifying desire to regain what God has clearly removed--situations, friendships, jobs, even loved ones.
Leave them behind, He says. You'll be OK. Honest.

Let the dead bury the dead--Luke 9:60
See, I am doing a new thing--Isaiah 43:19
Don't worry about anything--Philippians 4:6
Consider the lilies...--Luke 12:27

So what do I need?--a staff and sandals. What does that mean today?
It means, I think, the stuff, both interior and exterior, that facilitates my walk.
It's not another pair of shoes or another book or even another Bible study or community event--it's what I get today that helps me gain a firm hold on Christ right now.

Christ has appointed a way for every one of us. What are our own staff and sandals? What brings us closer to our goal?
We need to figure this out, because we're not supposed to take anything else.
For one of my friends, her day care business is her staff and sandals. That is what takes her before the Lord, both physically and spiritually. Through that, she not only ministers, but is ministered to. Not only children, but entire families, see God's light through her.
Another of my friends, a widow, is putting on her staff and sandals by selling her house and moving closer to her grandchildren. There, she will finish the work Christ has so evidently begun in her as a helper, a mentor, and a companion, but also provide a platform from which she is loved.
Both of these women are leaving behind the freedom that comes with maturity and investing where God has pointed them. Both are leaving behind lots of easier choices, opening themselves up to a life over which they have less control, not more. In short, they are dropping what supports an old world, leaving each known thing behind and picking up an unknown. They are emptying their bags of stuff, both physical and emotional, and in the process, I watch them both being changed and changing the world around them.

And, in the process, what they get is Christ.
Leave it all behind, He says, and you'll still have me. 
Leave it all behind. Eventually, you won't even miss it.
I am a light burden. You can carry me in your heart.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

What is the Gospel?

Our faith tells us that we are taught to preach the Gospel, but I have often wondered exactly what that Gospel is. Its direct translation from Greek put simply means the Good News. OK, but what good news?

From a personal standpoint, I know well the good news Christ brought to my own life--the renewal, the hope, the transformation, and the strength. But how did He do this? Well, through His suffering, death, resurrection, you say. That's right. He has done all this through His Holy Redemption.

But that's not quite it. I think there's more.

I know what Christ did--born of a virgin; lived and taught the New Covenant principles of love, humility, and sacrifice; performed miracles; died an undeserved and public death, then rose first from it and then from the earth itself. But the key to all this isn't His activity, it's Him.  

Everything Christ did only mattered because He did it. Other people performed miracles. Other people have died, then come alive again. Other people have died sacrificially for someone else. Other people live exemplary lives. But they do not carry the same weight.  Christ does not call us to preach what He did, but the One who did it--the Son of God, Son of Man, Creator-Redeemer, Jesus Christ. The Gospel, the Good News, is not what Christ did because, had anyone else done it, it would be no news at all.

Christ didn't enact the Gospel. He is the Gospel.

So, this is how I preach--deferring attention from the act to Him, lifting Him up. I know we all love to tell our stories of redemption, and we should. Believe me, I do too, but my story doesn't begin to come close to explaining the miracle and wonder of God. Nobody's does. My story, I think, is mostly for me--to remind me who God is--how intimate and mighty and, well, involved.  It helps me stay on the road toward Him.

So how do I preach? Well, if the Gospel is not what He did, then it's not what I do either. If the Gospel is who He is, then as I am called to follow Him and resemble Him, the Gospel is me. Myself. My very person. If you are saying, 'Whoa, there--we are not like God,' well then, I say that if we are not like God, if people can't see God in us, we are not equipped to preach. If people cannot see God in us, then we have no real knowledge of the Gospel at all. 

My very presence should say, 'Here He is, friend--Jesus Christ--Savior, Redeemer, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God. He's in me and in you, too.' My life should make people long for God. I have to live the new life Christ has put in me, living primarily before the Lord, but all the while in the company of everyone He has put in my path. I can live so that when people see me, they see Christ. I can do this because God says I can.

Is this hard? Of course it is. At least until it becomes very, very easy. In the end, I don't have the responsibility for anyone else's salvation. I just have to look out for Christ as He shows the way. And that is very Good News, indeed.

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified--1Corinthians 2:2
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, Christ in you, the hope of glory.--Colossians 1:27

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

This Very Day

I keep forgetting that I can live my life in only one way--one day at a time.
God knows this, but I often don't.
Sure, I know all the repetitive tasks that need to be done every day--making beds, dishes, going to work, caring for children, preparing meals--as well as the ones I sneak in from my to-do list--clean the hall closet, take a meal to Mary. But one thing never appears on my list: consecrate my life to God.
I need to intentionally give my life to Christ the same way I carefully plan everything else--every day.

I don't decide to follow Christ once for all. I do it every day, every hour, with every breath. 
I know this is true whenever I open my mouth and decide to lie or speak an unkind word. I decided for myself in that moment, not for God.
I know this is true whenever I raise my hand for a third piece of cake or to push away annoyance or embrace frustration. I decided for myself, not for God.

God intends for us to live like this--to be constantly aware of the need to choose Him with every thought, every action, every word.
I have to live every day aware that I live it before the Lord.

Decide this day who you will serve--Joshua 24:15

This day is important to God. I looked it up. My concordance has nearly 1500 instances where it uses the word 'day', and many of them have numbers. They're all over the place.

At dawn the first day of the week--Matthew 28:1
On the first day, hold a sacred assembly--Exodus 12:16 
The second day of the month he did not eat--1Samuel 20:34
On the third day, He will rise again--Luke 18:33
On the fourth day, they assembled in the valley--2Chronicles 20:26
On the fifth day, prepare nine  bulls--Numbers 29:26
On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much--Exodus 16:22
On the seventh day, hold a festival--Exodus 13:6
The seventh day will be your holy day--Exodus 35:2
On the eighth day, when it was time--Luke 2:21
The evening of the ninth day of the month--Leviticus 23:32
On the tenth day of the seventh month--Leviticus 23:27
On the twelfth day of the first month, we set out--Ezra 8:31
On a single day, the thirteenth day--Esther 3:13
On the fourteenth day of the first month--Leviticus 23:5
On the fifteenth day of that month--Leviticus 23:6
On the seventeenth day of the second month--Exodus 16:1
On the twentieth day of the second month--Numbers 10:1
On the twenty-fourth day of the first month--Daniel 10:4
On the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month--2Kings 25:27
The day after Passover, that very day--Joshua 5:11
By this time the day after tomorrow--1Samuel 20:5
I will raise him up on the last day--John 6:40

The Bible is a book of single days--not all of them rolled up together and put before us as eternity, but individual days, written one at a time, exactly as we live them. Its stories have not happened in a hazy, non-specific past, but with detailed what, who, where, and when, just like ours.

I did not know this morning when I got up whether this day would be significant in the story of my life or whether my choices would be life-altering for somebody else. But I do know where the day came from--
 This is the day the Lord has made--Psalm 118:26
 and what I am supposed to do with it.
Teach us to number our days--Psalm 90:12

This is the day I am to use my free will to choose Christ.
This is the day I am to consecrate to God.
This is the day I decide to be holy, one act, one word, one thought at a time.

This day. This day. This very day.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Stuck Between Awful and Awesome

I didn't know this would be the hard part.

It looked so straightforward at first.
I was a sinner. That was plain. The list of my ungodly behaviors was long and shameful. But God is good. He showed my sins to me one by one, as gently as was possible, and guided me out of the dark place where I lived with them. And I learned to leave them behind, step by painful step, and the horizon cleared. I learned how to live in God's light, for the most part within His commands. I changed. A lot.

And God said it was good.

So, here I am. A new person. Walking in a new light, a new life. I look around and relax into it, nodding my head in agreement with what God has done in me, saying "Yeah. Thanks, God. I'm liking this."
I go to church every week.
I'm kind to children and animals and even cranky neighbors.
I mind, for the most part, my words and thoughts.
I help the people God brings into my world.
I concentrate hard on being a good wife and mother.
I try to work to God's glory.
I've found a rhythm to this life. It's become familiar. What I used to be and do is slowing fading into a shadowy past and this version of me has become my new, redeemed normal. 

And that's the problem. It's normal.
My new life is normal and God isn't. God is awesome. He's thrilling, exciting, beyond imagination surprising.
But if something doesn't change soon, I'm going to be stuck here. Rescued from the awful, but not reaching the awesome.

This is what nobody told me when I started on this way--
God doesn't want us to look like redeemed humans.
He wants us to look like Him.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory--2 Corinthians 3:18

Darn. That's hard.
Harder than following commandments. Harder than changing behaviors. Harder than stopping habits and thought patterns.
God doesn't just want me to be the best I can be. He wants me to be like Him.
And, just for the record, I am not at all like God.

And yet.....and yet. I've nowhere else to go. It's either go back to the old me--no longer a viable alternative at this point--or it's more of the same--which is bogging me down--or it's this next thing, this glory, this transformation into something that's not only not me--it's not even human.

Not even human. That's the reason it sounds and feels so strange. God wants me to become more than I've ever seen in me or anyone else. I can never be God. I can never share all of his power or might or perfection, but He does want me to become god-like. He wants me to share His glory.

He created me to be like Him.
And God made man in his own image--Genesis 1:27
He says I can be holy.
Be ye holy as I am holy--Leviticus 19:2
He says that, as His beloved child, I am one with Him.
You are gods--you are all sons of the Most High--Psalm 82:6
He says he can make me perfect.
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father.--Matthew 5:48, Nehemiah 2:48

If I am ever to get unstuck, this is where I have to go.
Up. More.
He must become greater, I must become less.--John 3:30
I have to aim for what looks impossible.
I have to go to a place I can never, never reach on my own. 
And maybe that's the point.
The further I go, the more I need His help. Until, finally, we get so close that we are never apart. So close as to be almost indistinguishable.
Yes. I would like that.