Sunday, June 29, 2008

Absorbing Injustice

Absorbing injustice like Jesus. That was the theme of a sermon I heard last month. It's only about 30 minutes long, and I encourage you to listen to it if you have time. When the pastor read through Mark's account of the trial of Jesus, I was struck by the phrase he used to describe Jesus' posture during His trial.

Absorbing injustice.

Not just enduring injustice, but absorbing it. What is it about the difference in those two words that hit me so hard? As I thought back on it, the word endurance gives the picture of insults that run off like water on a duck's back. It's injustice, but it doesn't impact me deeply. I'm able to deflect it and therefore endure. But the word absorb paints an altogether different picture. Now the injustice inflicts me deeply. I feel the pain deeply--it cuts me and wounds me. But I absorb the injustice and bear it like Jesus.

This can not be done on our own. We can not absorb injustice done to us apart from deeply abiding in Jesus, staring into His face, and getting a clear vision of His trial and crucifixion. It isn't until I get a deep understanding of the injustice Jesus absorbed for MY sake that I can begin to absorb another's injustice to me.

Here is a link to some of Mark's account of the trial of Jesus. It has caused me to think deeply about how I respond to sins against me. When I am sinned against, I often feel completely alone. But that is a lie from Satan, because it is in suffering the sins of others against me that I most start to identify with the life and death of Christ. And there is something profoundly transforming in fellowshipping with Him in this way. (Phil. 3:10)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What Happened

On my recent trip to South Carolina, I bought What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception by Scott McClellan. It's fascinating to read, and the fallout in Washington and the political talk show circuit from the book is even more fascinating still. I'm surprised the book is generating such a gut reaction from Republicans and conservative talk show hosts. McClellan obviously likes Bush and respects many of those he worked with in the White House. His critique is pretty specific--that a lack of transparency by the Bush administration in relatively small controversies led to some very large consequences. The tone of the book is not accusatory. Instead, he seems to be trying to show how good people with good motivations can still make bad decisions. It's disturbing to watch the gut reaction by some against what he has said. Instead, I would think all good people everywhere would want to stop for a moment and really think about the processes we go through in decision making.

As I think objectively about this book, it seems that McClellan's experience and the reaction to this book are not unlike things that happen in the church. If McClellan is being honest about his experience, I think there are some important life lessons here.

1) The best way to put controversy to rest is to be completely transparent, even if it leads to criticism of yourself. Deal with the criticism, don't deflect it. If you made a mistake, admit it. Correct it. Repent of it. ONLY THEN will you be able to freely move on. If you refuse to acknowlege your mistakes and repent publicly, every good thing you try to do from that point on is tainted from others' point of view.

2) We have only one true loyalty--that of Jesus Christ and His kingdom. We have to constantly evaluate ourselves in light of the truth of Scripture. And sometimes, our convictions may bring us into tension with friends and family. Disloyalty and betrayal are only issues if we are disloyal to or betrayers of our God and His work. When we have made mistakes, we must correct them no matter how others read our motivations.

3) Don't get defensive. Just examine yourself. Don't read into others motives. Just examine yourself. This one is especially hard for me. I have a terrible time hearing constructive criticism without bending over backwards to defend myself and my motivations. Sometimes, even when my heart is in the right place, I can still make mistakes. And it is good and right that I stop and hear the truth of what happened and how I can correct it for the future.

It's called sanctification.

And just to make sure my points aren't misunderstood--I am not likening the Bush administration to the church. I am saying basicly that I read a story about, say, squirrels, and something about the story on squirrels reminded me of some things that are also applicable to the church. That's the only correlation I want to draw. Also, I strongly desire this blog to stay away from politics, so I don't want this to seem either pro or against the Bush administration. It is what it is, and I think it is food for thought for ethics in any realm, particularly the church.

20th Reunion Update

So I went to my reunion after all. And it was just as I thought it would be. First of all, everyone else was different. They were grown up with diverse life experiences--joy, pain, suffering, and triumph. Life changes people, and everyone seemed genuinely nice and interested in each other.

But more importantly, I was different. And the changes that have taken place in me over the last few years have made all the difference in every relationship and life experience I have had, this reunion being no different.

The difference in me is pretty simple--I really get now that my identity and worth has nothing to do with man's approval. It's okay if I don't have a high status job. I don't have to have the best advice on marriage or child-rearing. I don't need to be embarassed if my pants are wrinkled or my toenail polish chipped. I know who I am in Christ, and that has made all the difference.

In times past, I thought I knew who I was in Christ, but I'd catch myself all the time trying to manipulate circumstances to make myself look good or being critical of others to make me feel better about myself. When I examined how I talked to people, I realized that I wasn't secure in Christ. It mattered way too much what others thought of me and things they said to me. So I have had to get a grip on the gospel and my identity in Jesus. Ephesians 1-2 has been big for me.

So the update on my reunion is that I had a great time connecting with old friends and was able to put to rest insecurities and hurts that had plagued me since high school. God is good, and I thank Him that He doesn't leave us as He finds us. His transformation is beautiful (though the process is often painful). I know we have much more transforming to do, but it was neat to see in clear ways how much growth has taken place in the last 20 years.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Even So Come Quickly, Lord

I got a call last Thursday that a member of my extended family had been murdered. I won't go into the specifics of who it was out of respect for family who need and deserve privacy. Suffice it to say it was a well loved aunt who had hosted many family gatherings.

I went straight from the funeral Tuesday to the airport to fly home. It wasn't until I got on the plane and things quieted for the long flight that I began to process my thoughts and experiences from the weekend. First of all, I was really proud of my family. I think my aunt and uncle were looking down from heaven quite proud of the way their children handled themselves. Despite the obvious devastation from the worst circumstance life could hand you, they were strong, dignified, and faithful.

But I guess the big thing that rolls through my mind again and again is the striking contrast between the way this loved one lived and died. There was a line out the door of the funeral home the entire time of the visitation. Her casket was abundantly surrounded by beautiful flowers of every kind, including an arrangement complete with skeins of yarn from the yarn shop where she taught crocheting classes. The entire viewing and funeral testified to how much she was loved and appreciated by her family, church, and community. Then, as I admired the outpouring of love, I'd hear words like "murder", "blunt force trauma", and "bond hearing." It remains very hard to reconcile the gentility of her life with the brutality of her death. One of the most striking things was a news clip that showed both her picture with her bright natural smile and a picture of the 17 year old charged with her murder, the look on his face personifying disdain and contempt. While the others charged as accessories after the fact looked scared and remorseful, the alleged murderer gave a look like he'd do it all again given the chance.

It would be wrong of me to portray my family as the paragon of virtue in contrast to the accused. My theology (and personal experience) teaches me that apart from the grace of God, I too am capable of horrible sins against others. But right now, I am processing the external intersection of good and evil, gentility and brutality, faithfulness and depravity that my family experienced this week.

The other thing I noted and am processing is what Larry Crabb calls Self Talk v. Soul Talk. Soul Talk is his term for conversation that seeks to really listen to another and enter their suffering, walking with them through it. In contrast, Self Talkers listen only long enough to figure out what they want to say to reflect the conversation back on them. In one particular news story, a reporter interviewed a neighbor who talked about how bad this was for her--her fears, changes to her lifestyle--with no mention of concern for the family of the one who was lost. Perhaps it was just strategic editing by the reporter, but it came across as incredibly self-centered by someone relatively unscathed by the crime compared to my aunt and her family. But I can't cast stones, for I caught myself doing it at times--thinking of the next thing I wanted to say, interrupting others, and reflecting conversation back on myself instead of really listening to them and then asking follow up questions. I'd like to think that I was mostly a compassionate, good listener, but I remember at least 2 times that I interrupted another person instead of genuinely listening to them. That kind of conversation isn't just rude. Instead, it is sin. It reflects a self-centeredness that is in complete opposition to the humility we see in Jesus.

My final reflection is that I am thankful that I know who my God is, so that these horrible circumstances don't shake my confidence in Him. But it does make me recognize anew that things just aren't right on this earth. The area of the country where I was raised and think of as home is overrun with crime (a woman was stabbed at Cracker Barrel in broad daylight as we ate lunch there Sunday celebrating Father's Day) and murder has touched our middle class, relatively crime-free family twice now in the last 6 years. This place where I was born and raised is messed up, and I am reminded of the Bible truth that this world is not my home. I long in prayer like never before, "even so, come quickly, Lord."

Please pray for my cousins and family. Most are still in shock, and the next weeks will be hardest of all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Satanic Attack v. Discipline of God

I have been watching a few different situations involving suffering and conflict. Almost everyone I know who is in the midst of these situations seems to think of them solely as Satanic attack. They think Satan is attacking to get them to stumble and sin. While I definitely believe Satan is still on the prowl and that we must be on guard against his attacks, I'm not convinced that the situations I am observing are solely about Satan attacking. I think some of these situations involving increasing pressure, unresolved conflict, and suffering are the result of the discipline of God recounted in Hebrews 12.

Hebrews 12

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:

"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes (scourges) everyone he accepts as a son."

7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

I've been thinking why it's easier to identify oppression, conflict, and suffering as Satanic attack rather than God's discipline. I have a hypothesis. If we identify something as Satanic attack, the implication is that Satan is trying to get me to sin and fall. But when God disciplines us, instead of Satan being the problem, we realize that WE actually are the problem. We have already sinned and fallen, but God is disciplining us (discipling us) to correct us and teach us a better way to live and make choices.

My prayer right now is for those who are feeling oppression and suffering because the Lord is disciplining them away from their sin and toward righteous repentance. May we all recognize our sin and realize that it is the enemy WITHIN us that is our greatest adversary, and it is the discipling of the Lord that is our greatest ally.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

God Spoke To Me Last Night

I have been struggling of late. I feel like I’m in the 13th mile of a 26-mile marathon--worn out, but the finish line is way out of site. I sprinted in the beginning thinking the finish line would come around the next corner, but now I realize I have to pace myself and endure for the long haul. There are several aspects of life that seem a marathon right now. I get a glimpse of what looks like progress or positive change, only for it to slip away, like a mirage in the desert. And the marathon continues.

I headed to the gym Wednesday evening fairly discouraged and emotionally drained. On my Ipod, I chose a sermon with the nondescript title, A Sermon from Mark. It was from Mark 13 and was a good exhortation on endurance and steadfastness. It ended with encouragement from Hebrews 12, the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and cheer us from the sidelines in our own marathon.

Last night, as I once again wrestled with discouragement, I was reminded of that sermon and turned to Hebrews to read it in context.

And God said to me …

(I have bolded some passages that the Spirit seemed to particularly emphasize to me)

Hebrews 10

32But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay;38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back,my soul has no pleasure in him." 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

Hebrews 11

1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

4By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. …

8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with
Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. …

17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

23By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
29By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

32And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38of whom the world was not worthy— wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Hebrews 12

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."
7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. … he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

12Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; …

28Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29for our God is a consuming fire.

He said more to me in Hebrews 13, but those points were a little subtler. God spoke to me clearly. Endure. Persevere. You are not the first Christian to encounter struggles that seem to go on and on and on. In fact, we are surrounded by a great number of saints who have endured the same and worse. Faith is believing even in the midst of the marathon that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. We are looking to an eternal kingdom and now endure God’s discipline in this life as He prepares us for the next.

God’s Word is supernatural and amazing. He speaks through it subtly at times, but other times it is like I am standing in His face watching His mouth move. And His Words cut me open like a two-edged sword and correct my thinking as only He can do.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My Identity in Christ

I don't think there is anything in Christianity more important than understanding, if you are a believer, who you are in Christ. I found this online today. The blurbs are helpful, but it's the Scripture itself that has the power. I've included links to the Scripture so you can easily read the truth of who you are from the Word itself.

My True Identity in Christ

You are justified and redeemed (already)–Romans 3:24

Your old self was killed (crucified)–Romans 6:6

You are not condemned. (My performance is condemned when I don’t trust in His life through me, but God does not condemn the performer, just the performance.)–Romans 8:1

You are free from the law of sin and death–Romans 8:2

You are accepted. (All my life I’ve sought to be accepted. Now I am!)–Romans 15:7

You are sanctified (holy, set apart)–I Corinthians 1:2

You have wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption. (I am ransomed–restored to favor)–I Corinthians 1:2

You are always led in His triumph (whether it appears so or not)–II Corinthians 2:14

Your hardened mind has been removed–II Corinthians 3:14

You are a new creature. (Even though I don’t always feel or act like it.)–II Corinthians 5:17

You are the righteousness of God. (You can’t get more righteous than this.)–II Corinthians 5:21

You are liberated–Galatians 2:4

You are joined with all believers (not inferior to anyone)–Galatians 3:28

You are a child and an heir–Galatians 4:7

You are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Heaven–Ephesians 1:3

You are chosen, holy, and blameless before God–Ephesians 1:4

You are redeemed, forgiven–Ephesians 1:7

You have obtained an inheritance–Ephesians 1:14

You are sealed with the Spirit. (Imagine the real you sealed up in the envelope of God Himself.)–Ephesians 1:13

You are alive (formerly a dead spirit)–Ephesians 2:5

You are seated in Heaven (already)–Ephesians 2:6

You are created for good performance. (And I can let Christ live through me to perform it.)–Ephesians 2:10

You have been brought near to God–Ephesians 2:13

You are a partaker of the promise–Ephesians 3:6

You have boldness and confident access to God (not slinking as a ‘whipped dog’)–Ephesians 3:12

You were formerly darkness, but are now light–Ephesians 5:8

You are a member of His body (not inferior to other members)–Ephesians 5:30

Your heart and mind are guarded by the peace of God. (Peace is knowing something, not always feeling it.)–Philippians 4:7

You have all your needs (not greeds) supplied–Philippians 4:19

You are complete (perfect)–Colossians 2:10

You are raised up with Him–Colossians 3:1

Your life is hidden with Christ in God–Colossians 3:3