Friday, August 29, 2008

The Most Important Thing

If ever there was a passage in Scripture that ought to command our attention and a lifetime of meditation, it is this one.


Matthew 22 (ESV) 34But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35And one of them, a lawyer, asked (Jesus) a question to test him. 36"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

And a second one is this.

Luke 6:45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

I know I want to love--because, well, it's the GREATEST command. Secondly, I know that looking at the words that come out my mouth is a great indicator (perhaps the #1 indicator) of how well I love.

Furthermore, I am not left to define love by my culture or my upbringing. Instead, God gives us an objective standard for evaluating our hearts by defining love in very clear, practical terms in I Cor. 13.


1 Corinthians 13 NAS

1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.


When we connect these Scriptures together, we see that loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves are the foundation for all other obedience. If we are in a sticky situation in which the righteous path may not seem clear, we can ask ourselves, "What response is most consistent with I Cor. 13?" Furthermore, we are given objective standards by which to determine if our heart is truly one of love for our brother, and our words are a primary indicator of this.

Here are the objective standards by which we can evaluate our heart.

1) Love is patient, kind, and not jealous.


2) Love does not act unbecomingly. The ESV says love is not "rude".


3) Love does not brag, is not arrogant, does not seek its own

Philippians 2:3-8 (ESV) 3Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing [emptied Himself (NAS), made himself of no reputation (KJV)], taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.


4) Love is not provoked.

James 1:19 (NAS) 19This you know, my beloved brethren But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;

5) Love does not take into account a wrong suffered.

2 Corinthians 5 19namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

6) Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth.

Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.

Proverbs 17:9 He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

**Love doesn’t sweep sin under the carpet; rather, it keeps others out of the room until it can be cleaned up correctly.**

7) Love bears all things and believes all things. Love gives the benefit of the doubt.

“is ever ready to believe the best of every person” Amplified Bible

8) Love hopes, endures, and never fails.


I Cor. 13 is such an interesting passage especially because of its context. The Corinthian church seemed especially gifted by the Spirit and were subsequently filled with pride and the conflicts that naturally follow. So Paul clears it all up in chapter 13. Though you speak with the tongues of angels, if you do not demonstrate these objective characteristics of love, your words will sound hollow and out of tune to the hearer. Your bodily sacrifices will be empty and meaningless. Your prophetic utterances and acts of faith will be of no value. How sobering!

For me personally, the characteristic of love that has caused great examination and change in my own heart is that love is ever ready to believe the best of someone. This has been so important in my marriage and other relationships as well. In fact, I'm becoming more and more convinced that personal failure on this aspect of love particularly cripples homes and churches.

Finally, according to Gal. 5:22, love is a fruit of the Spirit. Growth in our love for God and love for others is a natural by-product of a healthy relationship with God through the indwelling presence of the Spirit. A fruit tree doesn’t consciously focus on squeezing out a piece of fruit. Instead, fruit is naturally produced when a fruit tree is healthy, well-watered, and connected to the root system for nourishment. In the end, if we want to see the fruit of love in our lives, we must focus on our relationship with God. Is it healthy? Am I well-nourished through prayer and Bible study? Do I yield to the Spirit’s conviction? I hope self-examination of our heart through I Cor. 13 will be helpful to you here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Infertility Part 3

This is the final installment on infertility. Here is part 1 and part 2.

7) “How can I have a meaningful relationship with women who have not been through this struggle?”

If women who have not struggled with this issue seem to respond to you callously, give them the benefit of the doubt (after all, Biblical love as described in I Cor. 13 requires no less). Most likely, they are simply ignorant of the emotional battles you are facing. Educate them honestly about your situation. Women who love Christ will appreciate your honesty and want to come alongside you in support during this time. It is essential that church members mutually share individuals’ burdens. This speaks to the heart of what it means to be members of the Body of Christ. Paul was honest about the hardships he suffered so that his brothers and sisters in Christ would be unified with him in both the sufferings and the comfort of Christ.

2 Corinthians 1 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 8We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

8) “I think God is punishing me.”


Absolutely not! Romans 8:1 teaches that there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus. Sure you sin and deserve judgement. But Jesus Christ fully paid this penalty on the cross. Now, God operates with us on a totally different playing field called grace. Instead of punishing you, God is disciplining you--which is an entirely different concept than punishment. The term discipline in Scripture means training in righteousness. So God is allowing circumstances in your life to teach you something beautiful about Himself that will conform you to His image.

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."

7 It 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. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but 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,


God constantly works negative things in our lives for our good and His glory. The story of Job is the classic example of God bringing horrible circumstances in the life of a believer DESPITE his uprightness of character and obedience. According to Job 1, it is because of Job’s righteous character that he is picked for this burden. Satan accuses Job of obeying God only because God is good to Job. If God brings hardship to Job, Satan believes Job will reject God. So Job’s story is about proving God’s worthiness to Satan. In hardship or blessing, trial or glory, God is worthy of praise and adoration. Like Paul’s sufferings, God is working in your life to make known to heavenly powers that He is worthy of praise.

Ephesians 3 10His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Job 1 20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Infertility Part 2

Here are the next set of common questions and concerns about infertility.

4) “There is no way I can be satisfied with this stage of life.”

Godly contentment is possible! At issue is the tension between actively pursuing the God-ordained act of raising children and resting contentedly in this waiting time. God is working good things in your life at this stage. This stage of infertility can be a sweet time of friendship and sharing in your marriage. It could be a time to minister to others in far away locations. Maybe God has called you to a time-consuming ministry in town you won’t be able to do later when you have children. Despite His waiting to fulfill your desire to have children, He has prepared works in advance for you that will contribute to a life of abundant joy—even at this stage.

Ephesians 2 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Proverbs 19 21 Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. 22 What a man desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar. 23 The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

Philippians 4 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength. 14Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

I Timothy 6 6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

Psalm 90 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

John 15 9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

5) “How much time and money should I spend seeking fertility? How far is too far?”

Short of creating embryos that will be discarded, this decision is up to you, your spouse, and your conscience. There will be times for you to go forward with treatments and times for you to step away from the process. Only you can say at what point you stop trusting God and start trying to manipulate your way around His will. He is sovereign over this process, and He opens and closes the womb. Through His common grace, He has given doctors good knowledge on this subject. It’s always wise to be informed as long as that information doesn’t cause you to trust in man over God.

Psalm 20 7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

Romans 14 23But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Psalm 40 4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.

6) “I am bitter and jealous towards others inside and outside the church.”

These emotions are common but never justified. We must deal with them simply as the sin they are. In Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin. We have the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit working in us to conform us to the image of Christ. We DON’T have to give in to these sins. Rebuke yourself when you see this attitude surface. Repent to Christ and force yourself over the hurdle to be kind and honest to those you resent.

Genesis 30 1 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or I'll die!" 2 Jacob became angry with her and said, "Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?"

Romans 13 13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.

Romans 6 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Infertility

Several years ago during my own struggle with infertility, I sat down with other godly women struggling with the same battle to hammer out a handbook for an seminar on the topic. Many years have passed. Some have adopted. Some have gotten pregnant with or without fertility intervention (and then gotten pregnant a 2nd time unexpectedly). Some still have not yet conceived a child of their own. But I believe the truths we gathered from Scripture on this topic resonate still. And if you or someone you love are struggling with this topic, I hope this will be an encouragement to you.

I will break this up into a series of posts over the next few days due to the length.
If You Were Coming In The Fall
By Emily Dickinson

If you were coming in the fall,
I'd brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.
If I could see you in a year,
I'd wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.
If only centuries delayed,
I'd count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen's land.
If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I'd toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.
But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time's uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

Emily Dickinson must have been long acquainted with the frustration of waiting. Though likely written about a lost love, her poem well articulates the annoying problem of waiting for something with no indication of when (if ever) your wait will be over. For many of us, that wait is for God to give us a child. If you have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, you have likely experienced feelings similar to the bee Dickinson describes that flies about your head threatening its sting but never fulfilling its threat. Wouldn’t you sometimes just rather KNOW? Many couples go for years without getting pregnant with no documentable problem with either spouse. What do you do? How long do you wait? Should you try to adopt?

God often uses WAITING in Scripture to accomplish His purposes. Lamentations 3:25 promises that the Lord is good to those who WAIT on Him. But what do you do in the waiting? How do you deal with emotions and fears that buzz around your head threatening you like Dickinson’s goblin bee? Here are some common questions and concerns faced at this stage of life along with Scriptural answers for each.


Common Infertility Concerns and Questions


1) “I prayed and I’m still not pregnant. I’m afraid God’s answer will be NO.”

God invites perseverance in prayer. The parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18 was given to us for the express purpose to teach us to not give up in prayer. Though God is sovereign over this process and has before the foundation of the world established His plan for our lives, He still invites us to nag Him in prayer. And in that persevering prayer, He promises a peace over our hearts and minds that will transcend our ability to understand. What a gracious God!

Philippians 4 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 18 1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' 4"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' " 6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for
his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

Romans 8 26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

2) “God isn’t good and He isn’t working for my good.”

Oh, but He is!!!! God is notorious for using the worst of circumstances to work the best of things in His children’s lives. This is His trademark. Think of Job, Joseph, Hannah, Ruth, etc. He brings bad circumstances into our lives, forcing us to lose our life so that we may truly find it. Then He teaches us the meaning of true abundant living. Dying to ourselves is painful. But believe that the work He is performing in your life defies expectation. This is fundamentally Who our God is.

Romans 8 28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Hebrews 11 1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. ...6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Matthew 10 37"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

3) “Why did God give me a desire that He refuses to fulfill?”

The desire to be parents is certainly God-ordained. But desires out of line with sufficiency and satisfaction in Christ are devastating. God often uses unfulfilled desire in Scripture to accomplish His purposes. Consider Hannah’s classic example. Without her long unfulfilled desire, she would never have been willing to give her son up to service in God’s temple. No one can say for sure why God is allowing this unfulfilled desire in your heart. But you can trust that it is consistent with His character and that He is working in your desires to accomplish His will. Psalms 37 speaks of God’s working in and through our desires. But consider the context. The general exhortation of the chapter is to be patient and not worry when evil people seem to be winning and your desires are slow to be fulfilled.

Psalms 37 3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD ; trust in him and he will do this: ... 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;


Isaiah 30 15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

What Salvation Looks Like

I listened to this sermon this morning, and ... well ... it reminded me why the Bible teaches that the preaching of the Word is a means by which God ministers to us His grace. I got a major dose of hope and grace this morning.

If you are struggling with sin (and, in all likelihood, you are!), I hope you too will find mercy and hope through this preaching of Psalms 40.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Insights in Parenting from Finding Nemo

I originally wrote this article for another blog and posted it sometime back. But I just watched Finding Nemo again with my boys, and once again, I teared up during several scenes that poignantly present the very issues I struggle with as a parent. So I decided to post this again today.

Yes, I am writing thoughts for grown adults of spiritual insights gleaned from Finding Nemo. Don’t laugh. But this is my stage of life. No more blockbuster hits for me. No critically acclaimed dramas. Instead, as the mother of 2 young boys who love Pixar films, I find myself watching Finding Nemo numerous times of late. However, despite the 2-10 year old intended audience, I find it oddly compelling. In fact, there are several scenes in it that speak to me—reflecting my own mental battles with God over my children. I can identify with Marlin, Nemo’s dad. He’s lost his wife and other children in a violent tragedy that leaves him obsessed with Nemo’s safety. He’s fearful, and rightfully so. But his obsession with Nemo’s safety drives Nemo to an immature act of rebellion. Marlin has provoked his child to wrath.

The rest of the story is Marlin’s heroic efforts to get Nemo back and the odd group of marine life that helps him along the way. The climactic moment, at least to me, is the scene in which Marlin and Dori, his sidekick, are stuck in the whale. It’s a poignant moment in which Marlin comes face to face with his fears and the ineffectiveness of his obsessive methods for protecting Nemo. The whale becomes a God-like figure.

MARLIN We're in a whale! Don't you get it!? … 'Cause you had to ask for help! And now we're stuck here!

DORY Wow. A whale. You know I speak whale.

MARLIN No, you're insane! You can't speak whale! I have to get out! I have to find my son! I have to tell him how old sea turtles are! [sobs]

DORY There, there. It's all right. It'll be okay.

MARLIN No. No, it won't.

DORY Sure it will, you'll see.

MARLIN No. I promised him I'd never let anything happen to him.

DORY Huh. That's a funny thing to promise.

MARLIN What?

DORY Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.


And then it looks like the whale is about to digest them. It becomes obvious that Marlin has allowed his fears to keep him from trusting those who are best able to help him. He always expects the worst and keeps shooting himself in the foot accordingly …

MARLIN What's going on?

DORY I think he says we've stopped.

MARLIN Of course, we've stopped. Just stop trying to speak whale, you're gonna make things worse.[gasps] What is that noise? Oh no. Look what you did. The water's going down!

DORY Really? You sure about that?

MARLIN Look, it's already half-empty!

DORY Hmm..I'd say it's half full.

MARLIN Stop that! It's half-empty!

DORY Okay, that one was a little tougher… He either said we should go to the back of the throat or he wants a root beer float.

MARLIN Of course he wants us to go there! He's eating us! How do I taste, Moby!? Huh!? Do I taste good!? You tell him I'm not interested in being lunch!… What is going on!?

DORY He says it's time to let go! Everything's gonna be all right!

MARLIN How do you know!? How do you know something bad isn't gonna happen!?

DORY I don't!


Then Marlin lets go, the whale spurts them out his blowhole, and they find themselves in the Sydney harbor—the very place they wanted to be. Of course, this doesn’t come across nearly as poignant when reading a transcript. But every time I watch that scene, I see myself, desperate to hang on to control and utterly convinced that if I don’t fix my mess myself, I’m utterly lost. I always expect the worst of others. Then there comes this point where my attempts to fix things—to correct my own mistakes or protect others from the same—crumble in my hands and fall through my fingers. My best efforts fall miserably short of the goal of fixing my problems and protecting my loved ones.

Instead of a whale, it is the Sovereign God of the Universe who calls on me to trust Him. While Marlin’s savior in that moment only helps him through that particular phase of his journey, my Savior promises to never leave me and to thoroughly equip me for each test, trial, and temptation I face. But I must come to that moment in which I let go, even though I don’t know the outcome. I let go of my control and fall into the arms of God’s grace. I don’t know how it’s going to work out, but in my free fall, I know that God is in control, He has the power to convict men of sin, and any positive change in other’s hearts or my circumstances is ultimately because God chose to work.

Letting go when I don’t know the immediate outcome is a difficult but necessary act of faith in God—especially where my children are concerned. God understands this—just think how many of Scripture’s pivotal stories revolve around parents and their children. Dealing with fears that you’ll never have children (Abraham, Sarah, Hannah). Giving up your children in sacrifice to God (Abraham and Isaac, Hannah and Samuel). Children who break their parent’s heart through rebellion (David and Absalom, Jacob and his sons who turned on Joseph). Fine if God wants to use me for His purposes—but trusting Him with my children tests my faith in a new and intense way.

I am learning as a relatively new mom that I am powerless to control all the factors that affect my children. But I know the One who can and does, and He is the best of Fathers.

Psalm 62:8 Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Grace in conflict--bearing with one another in love

I was asked to speak at a small women's study on grace in conflict. It forced me to organize my thoughts from the last few blog entries, and this post hopefully is a more coherent presentation of the concept.

I'm going to deal with 2 questions--first, what is grace, and second, how do we demonstrate grace in conflict?

1) What is grace?

*From Dictionary of Theological Terms by Alan Cairns
Grace is "a mode of the goodness of God, often described as undeserved favor. It is more than that. It is underserved favor bestowed upon those who are positively deserving of the wrath of God…."

*The Greek word translated grace is charis, which in short means loving-kindness, favor, or gift. However, those three words don’t really plumb the depths of how Scripture uses the term.

*Hebrew, Greek, and English dictionaries each give really long definitions of grace from multiple angles. But the common thread in each use of the term is that it is NOT about giving what is due.

*Verses using charis

Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.

(If you work for it and get what you are due, it is not charis)

Luke 6 32"If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

(If you give good back to others who are good to you or extend charity to those who can repay it, it is not charis)

Summary: When you give back what is earned or deserved, it is not charis—it is not grace. It is not favor or benefit and it is not credited toward you as anything other than exactly what you are expected to do. Instead, grace does what is unexpected, undeserved, and out of line with reasonable responses. Grace is an unreasonable response—unreasonably good, but unreasonable nonetheless. And (Luke 6:35) when we give grace, this undeserving favor that does good to enemies and lends expecting nothing in return, then we give evidence to our relationship with our Father in heaven, because THIS is his calling card. He is good to those who don’t deserve it. He is full of grace.

2) What grace is NOT.

It’s not being diplomatic, generally friendly, or polite. Don’t mistake personal politeness or good manners for this altogether different thing named grace to which God has called us.

Grace and humility are intertwined theological concepts. When we get grace, the only choice is humility. Grace is an unreasonably lavish response to those undeserving of it. And it is based on our own understanding of God’s great, undeserved favor toward us.

A friend wrote me this in an email, "Grace is free in that it is not earned (indeed it is the very opposite of what is deserved), but it is costly as it is given with sacrifice because of love. That is the scandal of what God did for me by the cross and it is His calling for me to do to others to bring glory to His name." Then she cited the example of Jesus washing Judas' feet as the one that drew a good friend of hers to see his need for Jesus. It was Jesus example of undeserving self-sacrifice to the one who would ultimately betray him that really spoke the gospel to this man.

3) How do you demonstrate grace in conflict?

First of all, I submit that it’s impossible to demonstrate grace in any other situation. Grace assumes sin. Otherwise, you’re just being nice.

2 Timothy 2:24-26 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

From this passage, I get 4 thoughts on grace in conflict.

a. Grace understands the truth of someone’s condition—they are ensnared by Satan and DECEIVED. They really don’t see things the way you do.

b. Grace is in it for the long haul—it patiently endures evil.

c. Grace corrects (so the truth is not subverted or glossed over) but it corrects gently (with strength well under God’s control). This reminds me of I Peter 4:8, “love covers a multitude of sins.” The Bible repeats this principle in the Old and New Testament. But what does it mean to cover sins in love? It almost sounds like we are ignoring sin and not dealing with it altogether. Here is the phrase that I use to help me distinguish between the two.

"Love doesn’t sweep sin under the carpet, but it keeps others out of the room until it can be cleaned up."

d. Grace’s goal is not self-acquittal or vindication or that people would come to see things your way. Grace’s goal is repentance with God that leads to knowledge of the truth.

Concluding thoughts:
There is grace, and then there is everything else. And everything else leads to death. If you don't get grace, you don't get the gospel. If you don't exhibit grace to others, it's evidence you don't understand it for yourself. If grace doesn't dominate your relationship to God and your obligation to others, your religion will suck the life out of you and others around you.

Grace is meaningless without truth. But truth will kill you without grace. The worst thing we can do in conflict is engage in it when we don't understand grace for ourselves. But once we really understand God's undeserved favor to ourselves, then we can minister grace to others who have sinned against us in whatever way we can with the prayer that God would draw them to repentance and the knowledge of the truth.

A good book to read on this subject is All of Grace by C. H. Spurgeon; also coming soon Prodigal God by Tim Keller.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Grace

*Note: edited on Thursday, August 7*

A godly man shared a nugget of wisdom with my husband and I last night. We were getting to know each other, and he shared some of his history in the church. There was one period in a church that was particularly discouraging and hurtful to him. He said he learned from that experience that there was grace, and then there was everything else. And everything else, he said, led to death.

Wow--that was profound. And he is exactly right. There is grace. Period. And if you don't get grace, you are spiritually dying. Everything else leads to death. If you don't get grace, you don't get the gospel. If you don't exhibit grace to others, it's evidence you don't understand it for yourself. If grace doesn't dominate your relationship to God and your obligation to others, your religion will suck the life out of you and others around you.

A good book to read on this subject is All of Grace by C. H. Spurgeon.

John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Addendum: I've had a helpful discussion on this topic with a friend over the last few days that prompts me to add some thoughts. John 1:17 speaks of grace and truth, and Ephesians 4 speaks of truth with love. The question then arises--can we overemphasize grace and love at the expense of truth? I don't think so. In fact, my understanding of grace and love is that both are meaningless apart from the truth. Grace has a stark understading of the issues. It sees the truth of our sin and depravity at its clearest level. Grace isn't simply responding nicely or politely to someone while either passively or actively denying their (or your own) sin. Grace gets reality. It understands the truth. First, it reflects an understanding of the truth of our own sin. And secondly, it reflects an understanding of the sin of others. But most of all, it understands the truth of all that the death of Christ on the cross means for us.

So, my clarification is that grace is meaningless without truth. But truth will kill you without grace.



Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Battle for our Minds

2 Peter 1
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being
ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

Peter gives instructions here that are very relevant to the mission of this blog. He tells us in verses 3 and 4 of all we have in Christ, "through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence." Then in verse 8, he speaks of being "ineffective or unfruitful" in this knowledge. I have been working through the very great promises we have in Christ, using Ephesians 1 and 2 as a base for my study. And I am soberly reflecting on the fact that simple study of these truths isn't the guarantee of spiritual growth and change. Paul and Peter both teach about the 2nd tier of the battle--first knowing the truth and second bringing our thoughts into submission to the truth.

In 2 Cor. 10:5, Paul teaches us that we must “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” The terms “destroy” and “take captive” are terms of war. The idea is that there is a battle for our minds. We must destroy (refute and tear down) arguments that contradict and diminish what we know to be true about God. Then we must take our thoughts captive and make them submit to what we know to be true about Christ. The same word for taking our thoughts captive is used in 2 Tim. 3:6, “For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions.” To be honest, this is not my favorite verse in the Bible. On a bad day, it just seems sexist. But on a day when I’m thinking honestly about my own nature, it reminds me that either I take my own thoughts captive and make them submit to the truth of God’s Word, or I am a prime target for someone else coming in to take my thoughts captive, leading me away from Christ and into sin. I tend to be much better at refuting the bad arguments of someone else than the ones going on inside my very own head. I can point out others unreasonable thoughts about God, but my own go unchecked quite often.

There is a battle for our minds. If you’re like me, you are likely to focus first on what you DO. But Scripture is clear that our mind is the first battlefield, well before our actions. What we THINK will determine all the rest. Here are some other verses that reinforce this concept. They have been helpful to me as I wrestle through what it means to “abide in Christ” and to live mentally governed by the reality of what I am in Him.

Colossians 1:17-18 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Isaiah 26:3 3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.