Sunday, August 30, 2009

This world is not my home

The chorus from an old song I sung growing up in church still rattles around in my head at the oddest time--

This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me through heaven's open door,
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

This world is not my home. It's a pretty clear Bible principle. I'm a stranger and alien in a foreign land. I live in tents. My permanent dwelling place--my real home with every need for physical and emotional security that is implied by that word--is in heaven with God eternally.

I Peter 2 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

An exile is someone experiencing prolonged separation from their home or country by forced circumstances. To sojourn is to stay temporarily in a place. It's a stop along the way but not our permanent residence. My parents have lived in the same house for over 40 years. And I have spent 6 years in my home, which is reasonably nice and from which I have no desire to move. I have nested here. I have put down "roots" so to speak. But I'm coming to realize that it's not home. Not in the full sense of the term with all the security that term implies. Home implies a deeper rest than I will ever be able to experience here. I can walk in my earthly home after a hard day, and I can let down (somewhat) and turn off (somewhat). However, I can't reach that depth of peace that my soul deeply longs for. It illudes me, and the answer isn't to look for a different home on earth. The answer is that this world is not my home. This house is my temporary residence as I wait to be escorted to my real home in heaven for eternity.

I have learned a ton about Biblical marriage and parenting. I know what to look for in a church. I understand better what makes a real Biblical friendship. But put it all together and make every possible good choice you can make in this lifetime ----- and this world is STILL not your home. God has been intent that I get this message. It started with a suggestion from Nancy Guthrie, author of Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow. From there, C. S. Lewis got me good in the Screwtape Letters. From a conversation between the two demons seeking to undermine the new Christian --

"They, of course, do tend to regard death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good. But that is because we have taught them to do so. ... The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campainging weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. ... The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectvely from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else."

As if the exhortations from Guthrie and Lewis were not enough, Bryan Chappel in the Promises of Grace has emphasized this as well in his study of Romans 8.

"We too have cause to groan as we wait for the redemption of our bodies. Until that day these bodies, like the fallen world in which we live, are subject to suffering and decay (Rom. 8:23). But in the light of the testimony of the Holy Spirit, we can be confident of our inheritance and constant in joy despite present difficulties. Even the frailties of our bodies (and may I add our mind and emotions) do not deprive us of the deeper joy of knowing the decay will end, glory will come, and we shall reap an inheritance, the rewards of which will make trials of this life distant memories of momentary pain." p. 59

Somehow all of my Bible study has coincided with these Christian books I have read the last few months. I am currently studying Hebrews and have been struck by the way the author ends the book--with a long flowing exhortation to simply ENDURE. Hebrews 11 is the hall of fame of faith, giving a long list of Bible men and women who all endured as aliens and strangers, looking at the promises from afar, and enduring in hope to the end of their lives. This cast of characters remain as a cloud of witnesses around us, cheering us on to the end as well. The exhortation is to look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, as we, like those who have come before us, run with endurance the race that is set before us.

There is something about this particular cloud of witnesses that always encourages me. They have lived it before me and testify to me that, indeed, this world is not my home. But don't despair. Our eternal hope is real, and this cloud of witnesses stands in joy experiencing the full benefits of all it means to be a child of God. They exhort me from the sidelines to continue in hope of my very real inheritance whose first fruits I have only just begun to taste on this side of heaven. Even at times when that first taste has faded in my memory, my appetite is whet for that very good fulfillment that is eternally secured for me in heaven. This HOPE--this expectation of something real, that I KNOW IS REAL and waiting ready for me--is the only thing (empowered by the Holy Spirit) that can sustain me longterm to endure in my alienation.

"... that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints ..." Eph. 1:18

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Crisis Hospitality

Seven years ago, my young husband had open heart surgery. We were new to Seattle at the time, and an elder from our new church visited us in the hospital. He told us he lived right around the corner from the hospital, and if I needed a place to stay to let them know. I'm not one much for imposing on other people, so I thanked him but didn't take his offer seriously. But two nights into our cardiothoracic intensive care unit experience, I called him sobbing around 10 pm. I was exhausted and unable to handle the intensity of the ICU. When I got to their house, he and his wife were in their pajamas with the sofa bed open and a firelog lit in the fireplace. They put their arms around me, prayed with me, and put me to bed. It was the night before Thanksgiving, and I left early the next morning to get back to the hospital before the doctors made their rounds.

This is crisis hospitality. Little warning. Little fanfare. Just a need and a person in the Body of Christ prepared in advance to meet that need. I've asked myself if I could do for others what that couple did for me that night. I know how my mind works--my house isn't clean enough, I don't want someone to see me in my pajamas, etc. The problem with crisis hospitality is that there is usually little warning. Biblical hospitality is not inviting a couple over from church for dinner with a week's warning. In fact, the Greek word for hospitality has an emphasis on graciousness toward strangers, not known people.

Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

For me, the greatest mental barrier to being ready in a moment for crisis hospitality is the idea that my hospitality needs to be perfect. That my house needs to be completely clean, that my meal needs to be Southern Living perfect, that my kids need to be quietly entertaining themselves. The truth is that such perfectionism is impossible to achieve, let alone maintain, unless someone walks in my house the exact moment I put the vacuum away. And secondly, such perfectionism isn't particularly hospitable. Nothing makes me quite as uncomfortable as walking in a house that I know, simply by walking across the floor, I have just contaminated its pristine condition.

I also note that the English term hospitality is closely related to the term hospital. Our modern day view of hospitality is far removed from the origins of the concept. Our call is not to be a medical hospital but a social one of sorts. An emotional, spiritual ER. Ready when the spiritual crisis occurs--ready with food, ready with love, ready to care for children, ready to house a stranger overnight.

My experience in my few, brief opportunities to personally provide crisis hospitality is that God gives grace. He requires that my identity be in Him and His gospel so that my joy isn't tied to how flavorful my meal or how clean my home. But He gives abundant grace, so that we can give a portion unto seven, and then even unto eight when we didn't know we had anything else to give. We cast our bread upon the water, and it returns after many days. We don't make the opportunities. We just stand ready when He dumps it into our lap. And instead of making excuses, we accept our place in this good work He prepared for us before time began. And in His providence, we find joy.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Promises of Grace by Bryan Chappell

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear;
And grace my fears relieved.

That line from Amazing Grace has echoed in my head for a few years. It's one of those lines from a song that I had sung for years but woke up one day realizing I had never given much thought. I started a blog article on it a few months ago that I never finished. What does it mean that it was God's grace that taught me to fear? That hardly sounds gracious. Bryan Chappell's The Promises of Grace has helped me put into words the thoughts rattling around in my head. And he's expounded upon them and fleshed them out in very practical ways.

p. 37 "... that apart from the working of the Spirit, men do not even discern their sin; they see only what has disadvantaged them. True spirtual understanding can be explained only by the presence of the Spirit... Were we not His, our sorrow would be selfish, self-centered, and even hostile toward God."

p. 41 "Praise the grace that reveals the spiriutal dangers that should alarm us. Praise that same grace that amidst the storims of conscience yet whispers, "Peace, be still."

Praise God for the opening words of Romans 8, that there is NO CONDEMNATION in Christ Jesus. For some of us, that sounds like an excuse to not worry about our sin. If you aren't concerned by your sin, Chappell makes a good argument that you are not Christ's at all. Rather, when the grace of God begins its work in our heart, we become well aware and disturbed by our OWN PERSONAL failures. Not the failures that have been projected upon us, but the ones we have done ourselves and the even bigger ones we are capable of. Grace teaches us to fear. Ourselves.

Then grace our fears relieves. Once we have a right understanding of the weight of our sin, God whispers, "Peace, be still." In Christ, the debt has been paid. The chains of our sin have been broken. We can repent, get up, and no longer be controlled by the behavior we have come to despise in ourselves.

Chappell gives a great illustration of this concerning disciplining his young son. I fully identified with it, because at this stage of life, this is the place of my greatest self-condemnation. I have great idealistic ideas of how I want to patiently parent my children. Then I have moments when I fail in every way. I sat on the floor one day recently crying with my 2 boys (who were also crying) as I felt the weight of failure in how I had responded to them. But Jesus whispered Peace. I knew that Jesus had made the way for me, and that I now needed to travel that path. I asked my boys to forgive me. I told them what I should have done as opposed to what I did do. And we prayed together asking for God's grace to change our attitudes and actions. And we got up, wiped away our tears, and went forward through the day on a different path from the one we had started the day.

This is only one of the first points of the Promises of Grace. Chappell's book is a study of Romans 8. He writes in a way that I LOVE. His writing and illustrations are accessible and relevant. He doesn't need big words to get his point across. I feel a kindred spirit as I read his book. You CAN communicate the deep truths of Scripture without complicated language. The theology in Romans 8 runs deep, but Chappell brings the deep meaning to the surface and shows how the gospel truths there radically change how we view ourselves and our lives.

In keeping with my impulsive tendencies, I am posting this sort-of review before I have finished the book. If I run into anything that totally undermines this recommendation, I'll let you know. But right now, this book seems like a book of first importance for all Christians to fully flesh out how the gospel changes everything.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Problem with our Christology

Christology--the study and application of the person and work of Jesus. What could be more core to Christianity than a proper understanding of the Christ Himself?! In some sense, we do a beautiful job in reformed circles of articulating, at least in our textbooks, a correct understanding of the person and work of Jesus. But I'm burdened that the latest wave of enthusiasm for ministry in reformed circles has a troubling view of Christ. That's a loaded statement, so I will explain.

I am not burdened about how we articulate who Jesus is. I think we get that right. He is both suffering servant and avenging King. He turned the other cheek at His betrayal in the gospels and returns with a sword in His mouth in Revelation. Our problem in reformed circles is that WE MISTAKE WHICH JESUS WE ARE CALLED TO BE LIKE. We know from Romans 8 that God's plan from before time began was to conform us to the image of Christ. That is sanctification--God roots out our sin and depravity and replaces it with His image and His example. But talk that makes it sound like we are supposed to take the sickle and sword to our enemies on a white horse with a tattoo down our leg is the sign of a warped understanding of who Christ is and what it means to be conformed to His image.

The concern some have is that emphasizing the suffering Servant of the gospels presents an effiminate Jesus that men don't want to be like. That troubles me. It troubles me a little as a woman. My husband is a very manly man, but it's not because he does mixed martial arts, drives a pick up truck (though he does drive a nice big, black one), or has a tattoo on his thigh. But more than troubling me as a woman, it troubles me as a lay theologian. Because even without a seminary degree, I know exactly what the Bible wants me (and my husband) to emulate when it says to be like Jesus. Because just in case you think being like Jesus means coming in white hot fury with a sword in your mouth, Paul clears it all up for us 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!

Turning the other cheek is not effeminate. Washing someone's feet is not wimpy. Returning grace in place of vengeance does not undermine masculinity. God forbid we minimize the suffering Servant of the gospels in an effort to "reclaim" a segment of Christian ministry. And if you are a single lady reading this, I encourage you to not mistake testosterone driven nonsense for authentic Biblical masculinity. Look for a man who demonstrates Christ's humility, returning grace for vengeance and love for retaliation. Beware of the guy who seems to think the most important act of Jesus we need to emulate from the gospels is overturning tables in the temple. Jesus certainly did it, but in context.

Who defines in your mind what it means to be a manly man? Is it Jesus? Is it the Jesus of the gospels who allowed Himself to be betrayed, mocked, and scorned because He had mercy and grace on those who could not save themselves? That, dear sister, is the definition of masculinity. And for anyone who would argue that it's not my business as a woman to analyze or warn against this trend, I say you are dead wrong. It is crucial for Christian women to understand what authentic Biblical masculinity looks like, especially if you believe in wives submitting to their husbands and male-only pastoral leadership.  It is of fundamental importance for all of us in the church to have a proper understanding of what it means to BE LIKE CHRIST.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who chooses what you get to do for God?

I get the sense that the general readership of this blog consists mainly of those who love God and want to serve Him. You understand that you "are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph. 2:10). My question today is who determines what good works you will do for God? This thought has rolled around in my head over the last year as my idea of the good things I would do for God has diverged from the reality of the works to which He has called me in the daily grind. I told my pastor's wife about the conflict in myself between what I wanted to do for God verses what I was actually accomplishing day by day. She wisely replied to me that maybe God's plan for me was different than my plan for Him.

Today I read in Philippians 1

21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.

It's interesting to note the difference in what Paul wanted to do and what God actually called Paul to do. There was a necessary job to do that God had prepared Paul in advance to do. This was Paul's job, and Paul REMAINED at his job though he'd rather be elsewhere because he desired their progress and joy in the faith.

So today I am contemplating the difference in what I want to do for God (usually grand and glorious) and what He wants me to do for Him (usually tedious and quiet with little glory). I remember the life changing truth I learned from the Experiencing God Bible Study many years ago--God is already at work building His kingdom. Instead of coming up with the great thing I want to do for God, I need to look for where He is already at work and join Him. For me, I tend to miss the little evidences that cross my path indicating God at work--my son asking me to re-read a Bible story to him. No, I'm too busy writing blog articles to stop and do that. The unbelieving friend who mentions the death of her friend. I may briefly express sorrow, but I don't stop long enough to really engage her where she is struggling. The nursery needs more workers? No, I'm too busy editing manuscripts to watch someone else's infant so they can worship God.

God is working on me to watch out for where He is at work in my home, my neighborhood, with my friends. My prayer is that I would not miss the evidences of where He is already at work by being distracted coming up with my own agenda of what I want to do for Him. He has already prepared the good works for me before time began. My job is not to create such good works but to stand available when He brings them across my path. And I should not expect Him to trust me with grand and glorious works when I have been hardened and unreceptive to the many evidences of His kingdom coming in the hearts of those in my home and neighborhood.