Friday, May 30, 2008

Gospel Me

I have been studying Ephesians a good bit lately. I love it because, from beginning to end, each thought flows naturally into the next. And it all starts with two profound chapters on the heart of the gospel and all of our spiritual blessings in Christ. From there, Paul shows how these gospel truths transform how we think about the church, our marriages, our children, our workplace, and pretty much every situation Satan throws our way to trip us up in our daily lives.

It all starts and ends with the good news of the gospel. And Paul teaches that THAT is the key to dealing with every relationship conflict in our lives. However, in my life, turning to the good news of Jesus Christ is not my first response in stress or conflict. Despite my years in the faith, this is a fairly new thing for me. It makes no sense to English teachers, but when I reach the end of myself in some stressful situation, I am learning to cry out to God, "Gospel me!" I pray, "God, I know from Ephesians 1 that You have accomplished something for me on the cross that is deep and transforming. I know You promise that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in me now. God, open my eyes to that power and transform how I think about this trial. I know I am free from the power of sin. Change me now so that my responses reflect all that I have in You."

God has been so gracious to use this prayer and meditation to transform how I think about my trials and frustrations. I have prayed this many times recently, especially in times of conflict with my children. Recently, my 3 year old son and I flew home on a 6 hour nonstop flight. By hour 2, I was at my wit's end. None of my plans for entertaining him were working, and he, I, and everyone around us was feeling the stress. I got to the place where the only thing I could do was cry out to God, "Gospel me! God, surely there is something about the gospel that equips me to deal with this situation in a way that brings honor to you. How do I deal with this stress? Open my eyes to Your power to transform my responses to ones that reflect all I have in You." And He did. In His own way, He transformed how I thought about the stresses around me, calmed me down, and ministered His grace to me, my son, and those around us as only He could do.

Most of us believe the gospel is powerful and transforming. But do you believe it is relevant? Do you believe it matters at this moment in your daily life? I am learning I am moment by moment utterly dependent on the good news of Jesus Christ. And this has been the most important lesson I have every learned.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My 20th Class Reunion and the Gospel

Who are you? How do you describe yourself to others? For what do you want to be known? And in the stillness when no one else is around, how do you view yourself? If you are like me, you have likely spent much of your life trying to figure out who you are and what purposes and accomplishments will give meaning to your life. Since I was a young child, I have watched others’ responses to things I say and do. Their reactions often determined how I would act next. As I grew up, I admired from afar those who seemed comfortable in their own skin with the confidence to act as they were convicted rather than react in light of others’ actions toward them. Nowhere was this more obvious than my years of high school. I was classically insecure—constantly tweaking my appearance and personality to conform to the popular people—then withdrawing altogether when I could not figure out the magic formula for changing my image with either my peers or myself.

The problem, of course, was I was trying to conform to the wrong image. This was highlighted clearly to me as I prepared for my 20th high school reunion. Despite all the life-lessons learned and maturity gained in the last two decades, I found myself falling back into the same old patterns of insecure thinking as I contemplated what it would take to make me walk back into the small town country club where I experienced my last painful high school dance. I joined a gym months in advance so I could lose the baby fat that clings to me two years after the birth of my son. If I was going to return to the scene of the crime, I wanted to be svelte when I did so. But after 5 months of faithful exercise, I hadn’t lost a pound. I searched dress stores for the perfect outfit that would reflect the perfect image. My husband finally told me to just be myself and wear the kind of clothes that I am normally comfortable in. And that really scared me. Wear my usual style of clothes? Don’t try to project something about myself that isn’t true? But that leaves me exposed! I’m a bit heavy and most comfortable in jeans and a black shirt. I won’t impress anyone that way.

And I started to listen to myself. I sounded like an insecure teenager trying to determine her outfit for her senior prom. Am I really that dependent on my DRESS to prop me up to meet these people I haven’t seen in twenty years? Don’t I have anything better than that on which to rely?

During this season of contemplating my reunion, I also began a study of Ephesians. I had read through it many times before and heard several sermon series on it as well. But this time was different. This time, I was aware of my insecurities in a way I had not been before, and I was deeply moved by what I read. Ephesians defines my identity and security in Christ. It tells me in detail of the real benefits I have as a daughter of God. It shows me how these benefits equip me to reclaim my identity in Christ and to be like Him. And it draws a straight line from all these gospel truths to the heart of my insecurities today. It shows me how to walk into my 20th class reunion as a secure woman who knows who she is in Jesus. For me, this study has been priceless.

Equipping me to face the mental battles attached to my class reunion is just one small way the good news of Ephesians has changed me. The gospel should transform how I think about everything. But what about you? Back to my opening question in this post, who are YOU? What triggers your insecurities? To what do you look to define your worth and establish your identity? Is it your degree? Did the bottom drop out from under you when you lost your high-status job in your field of choice? Is it your husband? Does your daily happiness depend on his affirmation and approval of you? Is it your children? Do you feel pride over their successes and shame over their failures? Raising my children has exposed my insecurities at an entirely new level. To what are you looking for your identity and security? I believe that you, like I, will find answers to these questions in the gospel that will sustain you for a lifetime. Ephesians 1:1-2:10 is a good place to start.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Marriage and Divorce

Here is a relatively short, grace-filled sermon on the issue of marriage and divorce--a great example of speaking the truth in love. And whether you are single, married, or divorced, the theology in this sermon will bless you (in my humble opinion). After listening, I felt equipped for marriage based on a greater understanding of God's love for me. Have a listen--it's the perfect length for a workout.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On Suffering and Lament

A lament is an expression of sorrow or mourning, and it is written or sung BEFORE deliverance and in the MIDST of suffering. Scripture is filled with them (and an entire book of the Bible, Lamentations, is named for them). An article in the blogosphere today got me thinking on this subject. I have noted that many of us in Christian circles are quite uncomfortable with lament. I have had my own times in life (where things were going smoothly for me) that others' laments were seen as a lack of faith. But I like to think I've matured a bit since then. I have suffered. Certainly not as bad as some, but bad enough. I have dwelled in dark places where God was silent for a time. And I have had others treat my laments as lack of faith.

In the Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn James, she recounts the loss of her brother in law in a climbing accident on Mt. Hood this last year. He was able to call his wife with his cell phone from an ice cave near the summitt. He was able to summon help! He was alive. But a storm blew in. And Carolyn James' husband sat at the foot of the mountain waiting helplessly with the rescue workers while his brother froze to death.

There was no deliverance. Only suffering. The sovereign Lord of the Universe, who is well able to command the storm and calm the sea, did not calm this storm over Mt. Hood in Oregon on this fateful day (actually I think the storm lasted over a week). Perhaps you are now thinking of hopeful spiritual answers. But if you were waiting on your brother to die as you were helpless to rescue him, what would your words be to God? Most of us would choose silence. Stony, cold silence. But in Scripture, the better choice is lament.

Psalm 73 is one of my favorite Psalms. It ends with such great truth and hope. So when you read on into Psalm 74, the contrast is striking. Consider this lament.

Psalm 74
1 Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember the people you purchased of old, the tribe of your inheritance, whom you redeemed—Mount Zion, where you dwelt.
3 Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary....
7 They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
8 They said in their hearts, "We will crush them completely!" They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land.
9 We are given no miraculous signs; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be.
10 How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile your name forever?
11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
12 But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth....
18 Remember how the enemy has mocked you, O LORD, how foolish people have reviled your name.
19 Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts; do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.
20 Have regard for your covenant, because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land.
21 Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace; may the poor and needy praise your name.
22 Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day long.
23 Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries, the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.

I like how, in verses 12-17, the Psalmist speaks truth to himself and God in the midst of this lament. But verse 9 really gets me--we are given no miraculous signs, no prophets are left, and we don't know for how long.

It is in these laments that faith is tested and forged. I praise God that, instead of condemning me for my utterances of sorrow, mourning, and confusion, He welcomes them, giving us a model in His inspired Word of how to speak truth to ourselves even as we honestly cry out "HOW LONG, O LORD?!"

Saturday, May 10, 2008

You can't handle the truth!

You gotta love Jack Nicholson. He has played so many iconic characters with memorable lines that have become ingrained in the lingo of our culture. Two very contrasting roles (and lines) come to mind immediately.

"You can't handle the truth!" as Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men

"You make me want to be a better man." as Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets

Both of these lines, from characters that are polar opposites, speak to an issue I see at play in my sanctification and that of many sisters in Christ. First, we want to be better people. We want to be more sensitive wives, mothers, sisters, and friends. We want to be more like Christ and less like the world. But the weight that holds us back many times is that WE CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH. We easily recognize this problem in others, but how often do we recognize it enough in ourselves to overcome it? You have to REALLY want to be a better woman before you can hear and handle the truth when it comes to changing.

My husband and I go through this over and over again. I really do want to know the aspects of my personality and conversation that annoy others and put them off. But if he ever lets me know I said or did something, I get my "feelings hurt". If we've worked through this once, we've worked through it a thousand times. His response is "but don't you want me to tell you?" And I do!! I don't want to be a woman who can't handle the truth.

Here is why the truth hurts:
1) It is humbling.

2) It is humbling.

3) It is humbling.

:-) The bottom line is that I don't like to be humbled. I hate to admit that I got something wrong or offended someone. I'm embarassed. Embarassment and defensiveness are the ugly stepsisters of pride. And they are both really inconsistent with the gospel. I need to know who I am in Christ (which is a sinner desperately in need of God's salvation and utterly dependent on Christ for any good). Then the exposure of my faults can be seen for it's true God-centered purposes. It humbles me, causes me to acknowledge my faults, and drives me back to Jesus to help me change.

Phil. 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Raising Boys (they that compare themselves among themselves are not wise)

2 Cor. 10:12 "...But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding." (ESV)

If ever there was a nugget of wisdom in Scripture on which I need to daily meditate, this is it! This has been a battle for me all my life--finding my value (or lack of it) by comparing myself to the talents and blessings of others around me. But never have I needed it quite like I do right now, raising my 2 boys.

My boys have developed slowly. They are usually months behind suggested developmental milestone at each stage--slow to crawl, slow to walk, slow to talk, slow to potty train. And you know what? I'm okay with that--as long as we're at home and no one else's kids are around.

I enjoy my boys. We have fun, and I understand their broken language. But when we get out in public, at preschool or playdates with friends, things change in my mind. That's when the comparisons start. Her kids know all of the OT Bible stories? They can clearly sing the ABC song and get all the letters right? Her son is fully potty trained already?

The worst is when my friends' younger kids can hold conversations with me involving several connected thoughts. My oldest is definitely not there yet. Then I start wondering--did I let them watch too much Baby Einstein? Is it because I didn't follow through with baby sign language? Where did I fail them?

During a recent play date, a friend's youngest daughter, not quite two, communicated a fairly complicated thought to me. My wise friend could see the wheels turning in my head. I was stunned at how well this little one articulated her thoughts. My friend looked at me in the eyes and said, "Don't compare." She knew my heart well.

The gospel teaches me that while I have likely failed my children in many ways, there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Furthermore, I'm not to determine my successes or failures by comparing myself to my sisters in Christ. In that paradigm, I have succeeded if my boys can recite the story of Jonah by age 3 and failed if they interrupt grownups without saying excuse me. In the gospel paradigm, the only person to whom I compare myself is Jesus. Here, I've failed in every way. But God has made a way for me to be renewed.

Instead of judging myself on how my children rank with their peers, I seek to conform to Jesus' standard, which is quite different. Jesus loved unconditionally, took time for His personal relationship with God and yet gave up Himself in every other way. He was welcoming to the outcasts of society, children in particular. He was gentle with the weak and patient in his teaching. He didn't measure the worth of His ministry by comparing His disciples to others. Honestly, at the end of Jesus' 3 years of ministry, His disciples did not seem particularly well prepared. They didn't understand the coming crucifixion. All deserted Him during His suffering. Who would have thought they would change the world as they did after His ascension?

The gospel frees me from comparison child-rearing. But it also binds me to a far tougher standard--one that I can't possibly keep on my own, but which I'm learning to keep in Christ. The most important things my boys need from me is humility, repentance, and I Corinthians 13 style love. Bathe me in yourself, Lord Jesus, for apart from you, I can do nothing (John 15).

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Who is my God? (continued)

Part 1 and Part 2


He is the Spirit who lives in all who believe...

John 14:17 (ESV) even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

Romans 8:9 (ESV) You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;

… who guides us into all truth.

John 16:12-14 I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.

He is my counselor and helper…

John 14:15-18, 26
"If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. … But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 16:6-8 (ESV) But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:

… and the deposit, seal, and guarantee of my future inheritance.

Ephesians 1:13-14 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.