Monday, May 31, 2010

Nobody changes by the boot on the neck.

O foolish Galatians? Who has bewitched you? Whether you want change in yourself or change in someone else, there is only one way it happens.

“Many areas of the church which contain a great deal of legal thunder and lightening exposing at least the surfaces of sins are full of desperately anxious and bitterly contentious people. Law without grace provokes sin and aggravates it into some of its ugliest expression.” Richard Lovelace

Piggybacking on last week’s post on Biblical Restraints on Spiritual Authority, I have some thoughts on the broader problem among Christians in terms of law and grace. That is the THE issue that every believer has to get in its right order. This week, I have read more articles on spiritual authority operating outside Biblical restraints than I should, along with the comments afterwards. There are many unbelievers interacting, and I have no expectations of grace in their posts. But there are many professing Christians posting, and I have been overwhelmed with the bitter, angry, accusatory vitriol from both sides. It’s not that one side is for the law and the other is for grace. Both sides have their own version of law—some appropriately defined as Scripture defines it, some not. But there is an amazing lack of grace. It reminds me that people don’t like others sin, but rarely are we invested enough to care to facilitate real, gospel-centered change.

I think there is a pretty clear problem and a very simple solution. And wherever we are in our journey in Christ, we could all stand to examine ourselves on this. My hope is that those reading this all agree on 2 major things – that our primary problem is sin and that God’s answer is the good news of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross.

Even if we all agree that our primary problem is sin (our sins against others as well as their sins against us), we often do not define sin as Scripture does. This is a foundational problem among highly controlling Christian groups. They do not believe in the SUFFIENCY of Scripture in its definition of sin. They often adamantly believe Scripture is to be literally read, but they don’t practically accept that what they literally read is actually enough. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says the Word thoroughly equips us for every good work that God has for us. God’s instructions are as specific and detailed as He intended. We need be no more and no less dogmatic than He is. He is dogmatic on the issue of pride and humility (He is firmly set against the proud). He is dogmatic on the issue of love (It is the most important commandment on which all other teachings hang). He is also pretty dogmatic in His definition of love, giving us an entire chapter in I Corinthians 13 that lays it out in very practical, objective terms. He is not so dogmatic on dress, entertainment, hair styles, and so forth. So while we all agree that sin is our primary problem, if we are not content with Scriptures specific statements on what is and is not acceptable to God, we become dogmatic on things that may make sense to us but which Scripture never addresses. And that gets into dangerous territory quickly. Because you and I can’t be trusted, and each step away from Scripture into human reasoning is potentially flawed. Then one day you wake up in a world where it is OK to kick a dating couple out of college their senior year because they were alone in a study room. The 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon between God’s clear command against sex outside of marriage and a fully clothed couple talking in a campus classroom is mind boggling to some. But if you are an authority structure who does not feel constrained by Scripture on what you can and cannot claim as sin and what you can and can not require of those under your authority, it likely makes perfect sense to you. That’s an extreme example, but I too am capable of requirements that are equally exasperating to those under my authority, even if they are more subtle.

But even once we have sin appropriately defined as Scripture does, we still have a problem with what to do about it. The case of the sexual offender who finally got arrested 15 years after the crime is particularly interesting. It’s disturbing at multiple levels. But the thing that keeps me up most at night is the number of conservative Christians who do not seem to have any interest in fostering genuine repentance. It’s like a series of confrontations in which each side is posturing itself to get it’s boot on the neck of it’s opponent. Get the foot on their neck, give them a brief moment to come over to your side, and then crush their windpipe if they don’t.

O foolish Christians! Who has bewitched you?

Wake up, fools. It seems so strong to say that, and yet this is exactly Paul’s response. Someone has bewitched you! IF you want authentic repentance that leads to real change, there is ONE thing that accomplishes that. If you only want your opponent destroyed, well don’t read any further. If you just want to be right, don’t read any further. But if you want honest to goodness CHANGE, listen closely to what Paul says DOES NOT accomplish that.

Galatians 3:2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Nobody changes by the boot on the neck. We didn’t change that way on the first day we heard of Christ and the gospel. We don’t change that way today. We change by the Spirit applying the gospel to our hearts at every turn. Hearing with faith. Whether it’s you (or me) who needs to change or it’s our opponent, authentic change happens one way, and only one way.

I had been meditating on Galatians 3 over the weekend and then walked into church Sunday morning to hear a message on this very subject by my pastor. If you have 24 minutes, listen to his sermon on Growth. It only happens one way, folks.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Biblical Restraints on Spiritual Authority

When studying through Ephesians for By His Wounds You Are Healed, I was particularly struck by this quote from John Stott on the authority figures in Ephesians 5 and 6 – “ it is not the exercise but the RESTRAINT of their authority which (Paul) urges upon them.” This is very true. Apart from Christ, we see in the curse in Genesis 3 that the man oppressively rules over the woman. But in Ephesians 5, Paul puts specific limits around the husband. He’s limited by CHRIST. He’s to love sacrificially with Christ as His example. Masters of slaves are given similar limits. Serve sacrificially like Christ. If Christ wouldn't do it, neither do you.  And parents are given a particularly limiting phrase – do not provoke or exasperate your children.

Historically speaking, authority figures in Christianity are always the last to see their sin. That’s been the norm in every church and parachurch organization with which I have experience (and I have a lot of experience). It’s why I believe so strongly in the church government of a plurality of elders. Everyone needs accountability, and the higher you are in the authority food chain, the MORE you need accountability. The most dangerous person in all of Christianity, in my humble opinion, is the unaccountable senior pastor.

In terms of the restraint of parental authority, I have heard precious little over the years to Christian parents on how NOT to exasperate your children. I have heard tons on children obeying their parents. But the reason Paul commands parents not to provoke their children is because Christian parents WERE provoking their children. The reason Jesus warned against causing a little one to stumble was because there were people doing that very thing. And Jesus says to let the children come to Him because His disciples were preventing kids from coming to Him in that very moment. In other words, the instructions are given because they address a legitimate problem. The first step to correction and obedience is to understand the ways we fail this. The problem is that Christian parents often DO exasperate their children. Many pastors DO create stumbling blocks for children. Just like Jesus’ disciples, some modern followers of Christ see children as a distraction and would rather usher them out a room than facilitate their access to God. It is a real problem even among those who sit in churches (like the one at Ephesus) or who figuratively sit at the feet of Jesus (like His disciples).

I came across this story today – a classic example of a church authority structure putting a massive concrete stumbling block in front of one to whom they were called to point to Christ. The comments after the article are telling. True to Biblical warning, such actions cause many to stumble, doubt their faith, and dismiss the church. I’m tempted to react in retaliatory anger. “****ing expletive!! You have made my job of representing Christ in my community 500% harder with your blankety blank behavior.” But one thing constrains me from that response. And it’s my understanding of the doctrine of the Church as presented in Scripture. The Church is a mess.  To be blunt (as Scripture is), she's a whore.  So when she participates in disobedient practices that harm someone, I remember that she has done that from her earliest history. You may argue the group in question in the article isn’t REALLY part of the church. But that is a simplistic diversion from the truth – even those of us firmly in Christ believing the true gospel are capable of pretty bad things. It’s grace because we deserve something so different. And this story reflects that truth quite brilliantly. I have hope that gospel grace can redeem and transform even this bit of perversion of God’s plan for His people in general and pastoral authority in particular. If I didn’t have that hope, I’d be sunk. But that transformation requires FIRST the acknowledgement of the sin. It requires repentance – confession that includes honestly admitting the sin as God defines it. It absolutely will not go away any other way.  The options are repentance or destruction.  I am confident that something good CAN come from this in the Body of Christ. But it will not happen, it could not possibly happen, until those involved first REPENT.

Perhaps the larger problem than what the church authority structure did in that situation was what the parents allowed in that situation. Who knows where they were?! (And if you do know, don’t tell me because it’s none of my business). And while it is not my business to know why the parents abdicated their responsibilities in such a way, it does make me think. I have written several articles on parenting our children the way God parents His. My boys are young, so I’ve only just begun wrestling with this on my own. But here are a few older articles on gospel centered parenting if you are interested.

Discipline v. Punishment
The Rod
Parenting Our Children the Way God Parents His

P. S. I want to give a shout out to our church’s children’s ministry. I am daily thankful for the informal and formal positive peer pressure and constructive teaching I receive that equips me to value my children as God does and parent them in ways that reflect His grace centered adoption of me.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

America the Beautiful

This weekend I watched a disturbing documentary on America’s obsession with artificial standards of beauty. It’s fed by male immaturity that views women as objects. It’s fed by female insecurities that consistently return to the shallowest coping mechanisms of surface level beauty to address something much deeper in our hearts. It’s fed by simple greed – the cosmetic, fashion, and entertainment industries have much to lose if western attitudes toward external beauty ever change.

I’m not going to deal with much that I saw in the documentary, except to say it made me thankful I have boys. The pressure on girls in our media-saturated culture to meet an impossible standard of beauty is simply oppressive. I know those of you with daughters or younger sisters (or maybe just in terms of yourself) have a lot to think through as you prepare them (or yourself) to navigate this culture.

What struck me as I watched the documentary was thankfulness that I feel more beautiful now (at age 40, after two c-sections that wreaked havoc on my stomach muscles, and 50 pounds heavier than at my wedding) than I ever did in my twenties as a 5’ 6” college student weighing 120 pounds. I don’t know what I really looked like to others back then, but I know I felt gawky and awkward inside and was classically insecure. Last evening, through the night, and again this morning, I am pondering why I feel so differently about myself now. In terms of external standards of female beauty, I am NOT now more beautiful than I was years ago. But I have exponentially more peace on the subject now than then. I know the change is something that has gone on INTERNALLY.

As a disclaimer, I have experienced some circumstantial changes that have helped me tremendously. First, while I weigh 50 pounds more than I did during my college days, I weigh 5 pounds less than I did at Christmas. Even that small change has helped me feel better physically. Second, my husband regularly affirms me physically. Words of affirmation are my love language, and I have bloomed internally due in no small part to his affirmation of my dress, hair, or general appearance. And third, I live in Seattle. I appreciate the hippie liberal vegetarians’ perspective on beauty. The majority of my friends here, both in the church and out the church, shine daily with no self-consciousness without a stitch of make up in 2nd hand clothes from Value Village. Coming from the Mary Kay world of the south, it has been a long process for me to accept without enhancement my imperfect skin tone, my eyelashes, and my cheekbones as God made them. (By the way, I’m not lobbying against makeup here--that's not my point at all). The peer pressure in my culture is that natural IS beautiful. I’ve appreciated that change and have found it helpful for my own self-image. All that to say that I acknowledge external changes that have helped me change my perspective on my own beauty.

But for all the external circumstantial change, by far the greatest change is how I think about myself INTERNALLY. The word that comes to mind is CONFIDENCE. Some may call it SELF-confidence, but any self-confidence I feel has a source in a larger confidence that is well beyond myself. For every word of affirmation my husband gives me, there are days or weeks in which he forgets to verbalize things to me or is so distracted by work issues that he fails to notice my appearance altogether. But God says words of affirmation over me that are accessible every hour of every day. He chose me before time began to present me as part of the beautiful, perfect Bride of His Son. Ephesians 5 says that He is making me glorious. I know with confidence that every day I walk forward in faith I am one day closer, one day more like Him. I know what God thinks of me, and that gives me confidence. I know what God has called me to do, and that gives me confidence. I know where I’m going, and that gives me confidence.

I write this out now, because I know next week, I may not FEEL this way. And I want to remind myself where to look when I don’t FEEL beautiful – when my husband doesn’t notice me, when my skin breaks out, or when I gain back two pounds. Even then, God’s words of affirmation over me still ring true. His purpose of my glorious transformation in Christ is still on track. And I can still walk forward with internal confidence that makes me stand up straight, smile wide, and walk forward boldly because of who I am in Him.

Are you the woman that can’t accept compliments because your internal voice shouts them down? I know so many like that – that so lack internal confidence that they are paralyzed by their insecurities. They hate their appearance and see something totally different when they look in the mirror that what every other person who knows them sees. The problem is internal. No amount of Mary Kay makeup or trips to the gym will change it. First, acknowledge your insecurities. Second, stop fooling yourself that any external tweaking of your appearance is going to help. Deal with God. Wrestle with Him. Plunge into His Word (I recommend Ephesians), and don’t let go until you start to confidently internalize all God declares over you. Then repeat to yourself in the mirror the truths God has declared about you. Adopted daughter of God. Set apart to be conformed to the image of Christ. Lavished with God’s grace. Being made glorious, adorned with splendor, to be presented one day to Christ as His beautiful bride. Those are the internal things that will break out of you with a radiance that Mary Kay cheek color can never reproduce.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

All You Single Ladies ... Or At Least Those Who Are Over Thirty

Thirty is an arbitrary number. There's no telling what year the tide changes for the Christian single woman -- that moment when you wake up and no longer feel the rush of a swinging single but profound loneliness as you eye what seems a desolate future. It happened to me when I was 26.

When I was 24, I moved to S. Korea for a year. I was dating a guy seriously at the time, and we planned to marry when I got back to the states. I developed diabetes while I was in Korea. When I got home, I just didn’t have peace about marrying this guy. I couldn’t talk myself into it, so I broke up with him. I spent a year trying to regain my health, then I moved to a new city to start a new life with a new job. Almost immediately after moving and starting the new job, I fell into pretty serious depression. I slept a lot. I cried when I was awake. I laid prostrate on the floor of my bedroom waiting for lonely hours to pass. I finally called the guy that I had broken up with to see where he was and put out feelers about getting back together. But he had already started dating someone else seriously. They got married soon after. I was devastated—-I thought I had lost my last chance at happiness. I had a warped view of the sovereignty of God and had no confidence that He was going to work my circumstances for good.

Weekdays were hard, but weekends were unbearable. Sundays were the worst day of all. I hated trying to find a church home by myself. Everyone else seemed a family. Walking in all alone to a service filled with unknown people was almost more than I could bare. I remember visiting one church in particular. I was interested in the topic at one of their Sunday school classes but felt distinct pressure to go to their Singles Sunday school class. So I gave in and went to the singles class, after which the entire class walked out single file to what apparently was the singles row in the church sanctuary. I was funneled right down to the singles row in the church—to have gotten out of line and sat somewhere else would have been obvious and rude. I never went back to that church. I hated my singleness too much to allow myself to be pigeon holed with what I perceived at the time as other hopeless singles. In my depressed state, I ended up choosing my church that year not based on doctrine or theology or ministry philosophy or anything of value. I chose my church because I had married friends there that invited me to sit on their row and would have me over for lunch every week afterwards. That church allowed me some family companionship. I didn't care what they taught -- having a family to eat Sunday dinner with was worth it to me.

Fast forward a couple years. I got married and moved to Seattle. It came time to focus on having kids. I miscarried and entered a season of struggling to get pregnant. I was in a very small community group at the time—just 3 couples. And both of the other wives had never miscarried, nor had either had problems getting pregnant. Each had a young child and 1 was expecting her 2nd. But both of these women were encouragements to me during that season. Even though they hadn’t experienced what I was going through, they were very concerned and willing to listen. I remember holding one of their newborns. I rejoiced with her over her new baby even as she sought to support me during my time of infertility. She asked me questions so she could better understand my struggle and be a safe place for me to be honest about my emotional struggles.

Here’s how I’d summarize what I learned during these experiences. First, the depression I experienced as a single (which I thought was completely tied to the issue of being single) really was about much more than singleness. It was about loneliness, insecurity, and discontentment with God’s plan for my life. And that same struggle has crept its way back into every stage of life I’ve had. I’ve found that changing my circumstances isn’t the hope of release from depression, because inevitably, the depression returns in a slightly different form regardless of how my circumstances evolve.

Second, I have found great encouragement from godly women at differing stages of life. These women were good listeners who were honest about what they did and did not understand about my struggles. They helped me not feel alienated, like I had as much to offer them as they had to offer me despite the differences in our life experiences. And now, as a married women with 2 kids, I find some of my greatest sources of encouragement are from single friends who have never been married and have no kids.

If you are an older single woman, transitioning out of a time when being single was fun to a season in which it feels a heavy burden, I encourage you to think on this question. How are the mental, social, and emotional battles you face “common to man”? So often, we tend to compartmentalize struggles, but I would like to submit that while there is a unique aspect to the struggle you face, there is also a common element to it that identifies you with all Christian women regardless of stage of life.

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

I am burdened that we tend to alienate ourselves (and sometimes our churches facilitate that alienation with extensively segregated ministry) based on the particular burdens we face. Divorced. Single. Mothers. Newlyweds. I'm not discounting the value of counsel specific to our stage of life, but I'm also burdened that we not discount the commonality of our burdens. Whatever emotional battles you face now, tempting you to doubt God and despair over your circumstances, are NOT unique to you or your stage of life. They are “common to man”. You likely experience intense emotional battles (discontentment, loneliness, alienation, despair). You probably experience sin battles (sexual sin, gossip, bitterness). You have many sisters in Christ who have experienced similar variations of the struggles you face. You need your Christian family. Don’t allow Satan to use feelings of alienation to marginalize you in the church.

I Cor. 12: 18-27 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" …. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Furthermore, whatever emotional battles you face now, your Savior is well able to sympathize with you. He understands your weakness and is ready to help/nourish/strengthen you in whatever temptation you face.

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

You face temptations to doubt God’s plan, to doubt God’s goodness, temptation to take matters into your own hand, to settle for less than God’s best for you, temptations to fill your life with substandard and superficial entertainment to numb yourself from the deeper issues in your heart.

Hebrews 2:17-18 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help (succor, nourish) those who are being tempted.

On a practical note, I highly recommend The Path of Loneliness by Elisabeth Elliott. I have at times had the attitude that I am a victim of my circumstances, and I look for anything to medicate me to put me out of my misery. Distract me. Give me hope that something is going to change. But whatever you do, don’t make me really think about my reaction to this stage of life. If that’s your attitude, don’t read this book. But if you refuse to play the victim and instead stand ready to face head on what God does for us through pain, loneliness, and personal loss, this book is a good companion on that journey. Elliot calls it a “severe mercy”. Loneliness, loss, pain, suffering. It is the severest form of God’s love and mercy. It is “not good” that we be alone. Death, loss, sickness—these are the result of the fall of man and sin on the earth. And yet, God in His sovereignty governs the fallout of these pains. Sin bombs our lives but God guides the ashes to the ground -- like the fireman to the rescue, He clears the path to the one door of escape. And then the bomb becomes not simply a force of destruction but the avenue to see God’s providence and hand of provision more clearly. It becomes a “severe mercy.”

You will never hear me minimize the pain you experience at this stage of life. But if there is one thing I've learned from godly older single friends, it is that we cannot wallow. We are not victims. We cry out to God. We weep when we struggle. We are honest with ourselves and our church body about our burdens and struggles. But after all is said and done, we echo with the Apostle Paul,

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

For Moms, Former Moms, and Wannabe Moms

Like any holiday, Mother’s Day is sweet for some and bitter for others. For some, it’s both. I remember feeling on the outside looking in on Mother’s Day, first as a single woman and then after I miscarried our first. Our church had an entrance near the nursery called the Family Entrance. Could I use it? Were we a family? I finally just used it regardless, almost as an act of defiance. Now as the mother of a 3 and 5 year old, I can deeply appreciate someone setting aside parking near an entrance that kept me from having to walk my toddlers across a busy intersection. But at the time I was dealing with emotions that weren’t swayed by practical realities. I just wanted to be a mom. And that sign at the church entrance reminded me I wasn’t.

It is an age-old conundrum in humanity in general and Christianity in particular. How do you honor someone who has something good that you want too? How do you applaud the sacrifices of one without minimizing the suffering of the other? I don’t know exactly, but I do think there is an over arching principle that is helpful.

Motherhood is not the greatest good for the Christian woman. Whether you are a mom or not, don’t get caught up in sentimentalism that sets it up as some saintly role. The greatest good is being conformed to the image of Christ. Now, motherhood is certainly one of God’s primary tools in His arsenal for this purpose for women. But it is not the end itself. Being a mom doesn’t make you saintly. Believe me. Being a mom exposes all the ways you are a sinner, not a saint. Not being a mom and wanting to be one does too. We may long to get pregnant, looking at motherhood from afar. God sanctifies us through that longing. We may lose a pregnancy or a child, and mourn the loss of our motherhood. God conforms us to Christ through that as well. We may have a brood of children of various ages, and heaven knows God roots sin out of our hearts that way. It’s all about THE greatest good, being conformed to the image of Christ – reclaiming the image of God that He created us to bear through gospel grace. And God uses both the presence and the absence of children in the lives of His daughters as a primary tool of conforming us to Christ.

Single woman watching your biological clock tick away, I encourage you to look today at your longings through the lens of the gospel. You don’t have to deny your longing or talk yourself into a happy attitude for all the good things you can do without kids. It’s OK to mourn the loss. God said children are a blessing. But after the fall, we do not all get to experience that blessing. The gospel makes up the difference. While you are disappointed in deep ways and that disappointment is real, you will one day sit with Jesus in heaven profoundly content with His work in you through this disappointment. In heaven, you will have no longing for something you missed. You will not be disappointed. May confidence in that hope sustain you.

Married woman experiencing infertility, I encourage you with similar words. People can be callous with their words, especially in the church. But believe in confidence that God in this very moment loves you with a deep love. You may feel estranged from Him, knowing that He has the power to give you that sweet infant that He has given so many around you. It seems like He is dangling a desire in front of you, teasing you with it. But understand that unfulfilled desire is a tool He uses to give you even better things – things of Himself that you cannot know in easy ways. Believe in confidence that this time of waiting is not just a holding pattern with no discernible value, but it too is a blessing, albeit in disguise, as it increases your strength to run and not grow weary and to walk and not to faint. Wait on the Lord, dear sister, in confidence.

And mom who fails her children regularly (because that’s everyone else), preach the gospel to yourself this day. If you have any grasp on your reality, you are likely painfully aware of every failure you’ve made with your children. And maybe you are fatigued by the fears of future failure as well. It’s okay that your children expose your own sin to yourself. In fact, it’s the mom who doesn’t seem daily aware of her failures that most concerns me. Christ has made the way for you to be at peace. If you sinned against your kids, ask their forgiveness. If you are kicking yourself for your failures, preach God’s grace to yourself. Don’t learn to live with your sin – don’t embrace it with the attitude “that’s just how I am.” But don’t deny it either. Be honest about it. You sinned. You confess. God forgives. You get up and walk forward in confidence. It’s called gospel grace, and THAT is the legacy to leave your children.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Using the words gospel, grace, and Jesus in context does not make you a gospel-centered Christian

I was raised in the Church.  In gospel believing churches.  In gospel believing churches that believed Jesus was the only way to God.  In churches that believed we were saved by grace through faith and not by our own works.

But I was not raised in gospel-centered churches.

What is the difference?  At first, I thought the difference centered around Calvinism and reformed doctrine.  The churches in which I was raised and attended into adulthood were mostly Baptist (dispensational, KJV only Baptist if you are familiar with those terms).  When I discovered Martin Luther and the reformation, I thought that was the solution to the ills I had witnessed in gospel believing, though not gospel centered, churches growing up.  But it doesn’t take long running in reformed circles to figure out that they (we) often aren’t any more gospel centered than the independent Baptist crowd.  We might be able to articulate the doctrines of grace with great eloquence (complete with Scripture references and Calvin quotes), but that just makes our distractions from gospel-centered ministry that much more troubling. 

I now understand that a pastor can say gospel, grace, and Jesus in sermons as much as he wants, but that doesn’t make him gospel centered.  That doesn’t mean he understands grace.  That doesn’t show an awareness of the fullness of whom Jesus is and what He came to live out before us. 

The gospel isn’t a word.  It’s a paradigm-shifting lens through which we view everything else.  It isn’t something we do to change ourselves.  It’s something done for us, in which we dwell daily.  The gospel changes everything.  The gospel INFORMS everything.  The gospel is the pair of glasses that sits on our nose as we leave Sunday service changing how we view ourselves, our marriage problems, our marriage successes, our disobedient children, our obedient children, the people we don’t want to be like, and the people we do want to be like.

The gospel enlightens us (I did not save myself).  The gospel teaches us  (Neither can they).  The gospel inspires us (Love them unconditionally the way Christ loved me).  The gospel gives us hope (They aren’t past repair).  The gospel gives us power.  (The same force that raised Christ from the dead is at work in me and them).  The gospel changes everything. 

The gospel keeps us from thinking too highly of ourselves.  It keeps us from thinking too highly of others.  It protects us from self-condemnation when we fail.  It equips us to catch others when they do.  It gives us hope that transcends car accidents and relationship failures.  It gives perspective to painful hindsight of mistakes with our husband or children, coworker or roommate.  It just simply changes EVERYTHING.  But it won’t change everything until you learn to look at everything through the lens it provides.  And that means more than throwing the words around, even in proper context.

Monday, May 03, 2010

I like whales

I like whales, particularly those of the dolphin family. I’m fascinated by them – absolutely sucked in and intrigued any time I am exposed to a documentary on one. The two times I got to personally interact with them (swimming with dolphins in Key Largo and an orca whale watch tour in the San Juan Islands of Washington) were magical, even spiritual. As someone who loves the Word, I have thought a lot about what it is that draws me to these animals. Is it some type of unspiritual mysticism? Am I being sucked into an unbiblical elevation of animals to a level God doesn’t give them? I’ve wrestled with these things. I don’t have any believing friends who share with me my fascination with whales and my concern over the conservation of their habitat.

So what is it about whales? I experience something similar with my dogs. And some people see the same in horses. They mesmerize us because, though they don’t say words, they communicate. And sometimes they communicate with shocking clarity. It might be the clarity of a two year old, but coming from a mute member of an animal family, it’s still shocking and profound.

It’s interesting that in the Garden of Eden, no one seems shocked when a snake talks to Eve. Later on when the donkey talks to Balaam, he’s shocked. But in perfection, the lack of shock implies that this was normal. Perhaps animals talked in perfection. Certainly they were different in the Garden. They were at peace. It wasn’t eat or be eaten, kill or be killed. In perfection, Adam perhaps laid with lions. Maybe Eve swam with orcas. And sometimes, when I see a documentary like this, I’m reminded that some animals still bear resemblances of what God created them to be in perfection. There’s Luna, the lonely orca whale who insisted that people and dogs be his friends. Then there’s Tillicum who kills his trainer at SeaWorld. Maybe animals reflect the interplay between God’s perfect creation and all that was ruined by the fall just as we do, albeit with much less spiritual significance according to Scripture.

So when Luna the whale stares at me through the lens of the camera, or when the dolphin in Key Largo comes back to get me after I slip off his fin as he pulls me through the water, I think of what interactions between humans and animals were like in perfection. And what they may be again when God’s kingdom to come is fully realized. God didn’t create animals for their functionality alone. There was something “good” about their creation long before the first animal was killed for food and clothing after the fall. As I write this, my 12 year old arthritic chow mix dog limps past me and settles by us on the floor. It’s not exactly the lion with the lamb. Just a chow with a 3 year old. But it makes me think.