Thursday, December 25, 2008

Reflections on the Snowstorm

For the last 2 weeks, Seattle has had uncommon weather. My husband was out of town the first weekend we got snow. I debated going to church that weekend. I was desperate to get out, longing to talk with friends, and seriously in need of worship (let alone someone else watching my kids for me for an hour). But, alas, I have the driveway from heck and had no confidence in navigating it with my 2 young boys.

Then it snowed anound 6 inches the next Thursday. And on top of that, we got 6 MORE inches on Saturday. I didn't want to miss church again. I hate the idea of everyone else making it in and I being the wienie who couldn't risk getting out of my driveway. I struggle with self-condemnation anyway and tend to beat myself up if others are making a sacrifice I feel that I should have been able to make.

In light of all that, I got the neatest email from my church on Saturday. It said something to the effect that all events were cancelled, stay home, and play in the snow. In light of my own church background and my tendency toward self-condemnation, this proclamation really ministered grace to me. I have grown up around a mentality that the more spiritual you are, the more you will endure to get to church. So those who are willing to risk getting stuck in the snow and potential hypothermia apparently love God more than those who opt to stay home in inclement weather. I have bought into that mentality for years, feeling particularly guilty when I was the one at home. However, as I examine that mentality against the gospel, I recognize that it is very much opposed to the truth of what we have in Christ.

I don't earn God's extra favor on me by trudging through the snow to church. I don't prove my love for Him by making such sacrifices either. The Bible has a much simpler litmus test for showing my committment as His disciple.

John 13:35 "By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

I felt very loved by my church leaders when they told me to stay home and be safe. Their love and concern for my safety is also, according to this Scripture, testament that they are authentic disciples of Christ. They were living in light of the grace of the gospel, reminding me that I don't earn special favor from God for making unsafe choices for my family. All of my standing before God is earned by Christ's righteousness applied to my account. In light of that, I can REST. I don't have to strive to prove myself to Him. Jesus has proven Himself for me.

I hope you too are staying safe and warm in this crazy weather. And I hope you remember during this season of many obligations that you don't earn God's favor by burning the rope at both ends. Rest, dear sister. And please someone remind me of this when I start getting caught up again in the rat race of life once all this snow melts.

Happy New Year!

**Update--if your church had services during bad weather, please don't read this post as a condemnation of that (unless they implied that the people who came were more spiritual). I think most reading this blog love their church and would be disappointed if they couldn't go.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

God With Us

For the first time in my 38 Christmases, I am doing an Advent Calendar. It's a simple set of stacked gift boxes numbered 1 to 25 that I got at Target on special discount because one of the doors is missing. We got a Play Mobil Manger Scene from Target as well. I am trying to read the boys the Christmas story and point out the people from the story in the manger scene before opening the Advent Calendar door for the day in which they get their gum ball or other candy. Next year, I'll stick pieces of the Play Mobil Manger Scene in the calendar instead of candy, but this year I wasn't that smart. Live and learn.

The great thing about observing advent this year is that it has caused ME as much as if not more than my boys to meditate on the coming of Jesus Christ--God with us. God came in human form and lowered Himself to be born in a manger with a cow and donkey as witness (if my Play Mobil set is to be believed). The humility of Jesus is one of the most intriguing concepts in all of Scripture to me.

Consider the magnificent description of Christ from Colossians 1.

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He 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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

And contrast that with the humility He lived out for us and calls us to repeat in Philippians 2.

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

As I meditate on the example of Christ--lowering Himself to be born in a manger, to wash the feet of His disciples, and to die in the most shameful way before the very people He came to save--I get why God repeats in Proverbs, James, and I Peter that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. May we be a humble people--not with simple politeness and sham diplomacy that masquerades as authentic humility--but people who are genuine servants esteeming others better than ourselves, letting go of our rights for the good of the cause of Christ. May we be like Jesus.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Worries of this Life

I wrote earlier this week about the parable of the seeds from Mark 4. Here is another part of that parable, this time quoted from Matthew 13.

22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

Jesus speaks of dual enemies that choke us from growth and fruit: the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. I would sum these up with the phrase "suface-level distractions." By suface-level, I don't necessarily mean minor. Some of these things are big issues. However, they are big issues on the SURFACE of our lives that often distract us from the greater, deeper things God is working for us in places we cannot see.

You are a mature Christian. You have heard the Word and have studied the character of God and His plan for your righteousness in Scripture, but you are distracted away from him by some situation in your life. Maybe like me, instead of hard circumstances causing you to cling deeply to Him and to meditate on your relationship with him, you allow it to divert your focus away from Him. Christmas is a season of many surface-level distractions. Your car needs unexpected repairs, an inconvenience that disrupts and complicates your well-planned day. On top of that, you need to spend money you had set aside for other real needs. But your God is soverign, compassionate, and wise. He loves you and has plans for you set in motion from before time began. Do you allow these truths to interpret your circumstances, or do you allow your circumstances to distract you from these truths? The first option leads to fruit. The second choice strangles us.

We are called to set our minds on heavenly things, take our thoughts captive, submit to the truth of the Word, and keep our minds set steadfastly on God (see Colossians 3:1, 2 Cor. 10:5, Isaiah 26:3). In other words , our focus is to be on the eternal--heaven, Christ, and the kingdom of God. We are choked from fruitfulness when we become consumed with the cares of this temporary world, and in particular, the deceifulness of riches. Many Christians are more convinced of the reality of their daily problems than the reality of their God. We will never be fruitful for the Savior if we fail to look past our surface-level, earthly cares to see the heavenly reality beneath.

In an effort to capture my thoughts and make them submit to the truth of Scripture, I have found Ephesians 1 very helpful in getting a good perspective of my heavenly reality in Christ.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Spiritual Parasites

Over the years, I have had a lot of questions personally about the parable of the sower in Mark 4. I was raised in the church and have seen many Christians come and go. So understanding Jesus' teaching on different responses to hearing the Word is important to me. I don't want to judge others in their Christian walk, and yet I need some way to think through the variety of people I see who deny core pieces of the gospel and/or fall away after a period of what seemed like genuine spiritual conversion.

Mark 4 :5-6 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away …

Jesus’ explanation of the parable:

16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

I am really interested in understanding the implications of Jesus’ teaching here. The phrase “it had no root” is especially noteworthy to me. I have spent my life in Christian circles, and I have witnessed a lot of seeds springing up that have enthusiasm for a bit but then fall away when the going gets tough. The phrase that clarifies what’s happening in this case is that “they have no root in themselves.” Wow! That’s sobering. They have heard the truth, and they receive it with joy. They seem really excited about it all. They jump right in and get involved. But over time, they are more like the moss on my stone patio than the lavender with deep roots in my garden. The moss grows on anything, but all I have to do is step on it and it is uprooted and scattered. Why? It doesn’t have any roots of its own. It’s a parasite. It gleans from its host, but it produces nothing on its own.

That’s a sobering analogy. Even more sobering is to think of this word picture in terms of people I know. In particular, I know a few men who have attached themselves this way to godly women I know. They are parasites. Spiritual seeds sown in their midst seem to spring up quickly with joy, but they have no roots of their own. This type of man gleans all he can from the woman who has caught his interest. But if she is ever removed from the picture, his true state is immediately revealed.

In this parable, Jesus teaches that true Christians, those in which the seed has taken root, are recognized by their fruit. But I need to make sure I define fruit the way the Bible does. Many think of fruit as numbers of people we witness to or influence. But the Bible defines fruit very differently—it defines it as the character produced in the heart of the seed bearer. The fruit of the Spirit—the clear evidence that the seed has taken root and that the Spirit is at work—is love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5). Na├»ve enthusiasm isn’t spiritual fruit. Large numbers aren’t spiritual fruit. If we really want to examine ourselves in terms of spiritual fruit according to this parable, we must examine our love. Our gentleness. Our kindness. Our self-control. And it’s probably wise to do this in community with other believers.

Here is a good sermon entitled Recognizing God's People on this passage by our pastor.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The battle for hope

A friend and I were talking last night about the battle for hope. We’re both at what could possibly be called a mid-life crisis. For me, the crisis comes from the fact that I'm dying to the idea that, since God is good, therefore life following Him at some point becomes good too. Instead, God is good, and that's supposed to sustain me when life is not. When thinking today about the hope I’m supposed to have, I found this verse.

Ps. 33:17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.

Even as a Christian who was raised in the church, I cannot believe how many different “warhorses” I have looked to over the years in hopes of rescue. My warhorses are always linked to some type of circumstantial change—but they NEVER rescue me the way I expect. They are always a false hope. They let me down every time.

The Bible talks about hope IN God …

Psalm 39:7 "And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.

… and hope FROM God.

Psalm 62:5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

And yet, I’m not sure even how to define this hope. I know that the Hebrew word for hope is also translated expectation. I get the idea of sitting in the middle of my struggle and looking longingly for rescue. But where do I expect this rescue to come? Part of my problem is that I often don’t know what rescue is supposed to look like. From past experience, I know that God’s choice of rescue is both unpredictable and consistently better than my visions of rescue, but I have no idea how to predict His mode of rescue for the future.

I am learning that only God can rescue and am aware of the futility of setting my expectations on anything or anyone else. I still don’t know exactly what rescue looks like. To summarize, I often don’t really know what I’m looking FOR, but I have to hang on to hope in Whom I am looking TO.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Oh, Aslan

I watched Prince Caspian from the Chronicles of Narnia series on DVD last night for the first time. For other Lewis enthusiasts, this post is several months out of date. But I have a 2 year old and 3 year old, and getting to the movies while they are still in the theater doesn't happen very often for me anymore. So I get my movie epiphanies after they are released on DVD. And I had some thoughts after watching Caspian last night.

First, I read the book again in preparation for the movie and was ticked off for the first half of the movie by all of the out of sequence events and plain old inaccuracies. I calmed down around the time of the scene with the hag and werewolf as they tried to summon the white witch. That's where things almost seemed to get back to Lewis' story.

But one thing has gotten me thinking, and it really transcends any petty discrepancies over when Peter got where when and who was Lucy with when Caspian met the werewolf and so forth. The book and the movie both resound with the idea that Aslan wasn't there when they needed him. He was far off, at times visible, but even then only barely so. And there was a great amount of defeat before he swooped in and made things right.

And this really resonated with me. He didn't come in and save the day. They woke up the next morning and the nightmare of the night before wasn't a dream. It hadn't resolved with the new day. And when that happens, what do you think of Aslan? It's natural to look for help elsewhere. It's natural. It is the nature of man, our depraved nature, to look for help elsewhere when we do not perceive that God is coming to our aid. We all are tempted to look to our version of the white witch in those moments.

Aslan does show up. And his reaction in the book to Lucy not following him, when she barely saw him and couldn't convince the others, is really thought provoking. He rebuked her. In contrast, I defend her--"Aslan, she's the youngest of them all. They wouldn't listen. How could you hold little Lucy accountable for not following you when she was against such odds?!"

But the interesting thing is that Aslan doesn't let her off the hook. She was supposed to follow him. In the midst. Down the steep path that she couldn't even detect from the rocky overlook. Without her siblings. She was STILL supposed to follow him. And later when only Lucy could see him and the rest couldn't, they were all still supposed to follow him. Even when he was obscure and undiscernable, they were supposed to follow him. Why didn't he make himself easier to see and follow?!

That was profound to me. I am still thinking about it tonight. And I will likely meditate on it for a while longer. I am left with the idea that faith is more than believing that he will come in and save the day. Real faith is following him when you can not see him, can not discern his plan, and when the day before past without him showing up in the ways I thought he surely would. Will I follow him when I wake up on that morning?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Self Talk

Over the last year, I have come to realize that I have had a shallow understanding of Christian friendship and community. I've watched people come and go out of my life, but I've also watched myself come and go out of others lives. I am coming to a strong conviction that God has called me as His child to bear long in friendship. To endure, pursue, and forbear long term with friends through the hard as well as the good. And especially to forbear when the hard things aren't just what has been done TO them but also what they have done to others or themselves by their own sin. Abandoning someone as they work through their sin seems more and more like the most un-Christlike thing I could do. To me, it seems like abandoning our confidence in the gospel.

But I've noticed that as I work through what it means for me to be an enduring, listening, persevering friend to others, I grow in my own longing of it for myself. I want to be known. I want to be heard. I want to be listened to and asked follow up questions that reflect that someone really heard what I said and cared enough to process what it meant to me.

I opened myself up on a few occasions the last few months that had very painful results. In one particular instance, I told a friend about the recent loss of a loved one. And to be honest, in a comparison of tragedies, what I shared with her seriously eclipsed the things she was complaining about to me. I didn't mean it to be a comparison. I was just trying to be honest with her about where I was at. She said she was sorry to hear that, didn't ask any follow up questions, and proceeded to tell me about a party she was going to. It's hard to put into words how hurtful that was--realizing that I didn't really matter to her. That she felt no burden to walk with me through my loss. I opened up to her about the most pressing issue on my heart, and she didn't even notice.

But the Word of God is alive, and powerful, and fully equips us for every issue we face. Here was my Scripture reading the evening that happened.

Matthew 20

17Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18"We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!"

20Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21"What is it you want?" he asked. She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." 22"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" "We can," they answered.

23Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father." 24When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Here Jesus opens up about the pain He will soon be enduring. And no one seems to even try to process it. Instead, a disciple's mom asks if her son can have the honored seat in heaven. After my own experience, I can only imagine how this cut Jesus after all He had shared with them.

But Jesus' response is so gracious. He still loves them, serves them, and teaches them. I felt both embracing love and strong rebuke from God as I read that passage. He embraced me with the idea that He understood the pain of not being heard. He embraced me by showing me in Scripture exactly what I needed to feel equipped to deal with my own hurt. And He strongly rebuked me by showing me His example of grace in response. I felt both heard by Him and exhorted to continue in endurance with my friend. I felt called to be like Christ.

And lest this sound like I am the only one who doesn't get heard, I have become increasingly aware through this journey of the many times I don't hear my friends, or my husband, or my children. Too often, I am the friend who talks over others concerns instead of asking follow up questions. But God is growing me in this, and I am thankful for the journey.