Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pride isn’t your real problem.

I often hear people, especially religious leaders, confess pride as their greatest sin or weakness. That's never set particularly well with me, and it has taken me some thinking to figure out why. It’s a circular idea—that pride is someone’s greatest sin. A cop out really. Pride is a sin. A very big one. But pride isn’t your real problem. It’s a symptom of your real problem – which is ignorance of all the ways you break God’s laws. When you confess pride as your greatest sin, it really means that you think well of yourself because you are deluded away from your very real sin. You are proud because you don’t realize that you really are very angry. You are proud because you have deluded yourself from seeing your very real selfishness. You are proud because instead of seeing your control freakish nature as the sin that it is and millstone around the neck of those you love, you think it makes you look disciplined. You worship your own agenda and ability to control those around you. You likely have a lust problem that you’ve deluded yourself into ignoring. Your spouse, kids, and/or coworkers probably resent you because you are harsh and demanding. You’ve got a lot more problems than mere pride. Pride is just the symptom of the fact that you don’t recognize in yourself your own sin tendencies.

Paul says something at the opening of Ephesians 4 that gets my attention every time I read it.

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility …

The calling to which he refers is the gospel he’s just laid out in Ephesians 1-3—that we were dead in our sins, by nature children deserving of God’s just wrath. But God lavished His grace on us, adopting us into His family by no work of our own, but solely by His own unconditional love and grace. Because we could never have earned it on our own. We were without God and hope in this world until He moved toward us. And humility is the key indicator that you either do or do not fully understand the gospel.

The hard truth from Scripture, which Paul particularly reveals in Ephesians, is that we will never get the gospel until we are profoundly aware of what we deserve and are capable of apart from it. Three times Paul goes through the juxtaposition of what we are by nature and what God gave us instead. God didn’t save you from one day being a bad person. You WERE a bad person. By your very nature, you deserve His wrath. Remove His grace from yourself for just one day, and you’d be horrified by what you are capable of.

I used to think I was pretty good. Then I got married. Then I had kids. One of the best and worst days of my life was when I responded to my children in such anger and ugliness that it left me stunned at myself. Horrified. I HATED how I responded. I finally realized that I was capable of a lot worse than I had ever imagined. And against the most vulnerable of all, my children.

But that actually was a GOOD moment for me. Because I couldn't get the greatness of the gospel and the full worth of God’s final affirmation over me through Christ until I saw it clearly in juxtaposition to what I deserve. If pride is your “biggest problem,” you need to recognize that it is a problem at all because you are oblivious to the really heinous things you have done and are capable still of doing. Chances are others around you aren’t quite as oblivious to it as you are though. And facing it head on isn’t the horrible thing we perceive it to be. For facing it head on becomes the first step in facing the fullness of what God has said over us in response to it. And THAT is beautiful! THAT transforms us.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Audacity of Lesser Hopes

… having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, Ephesians 1:18

This is not a political commentary. But current political issues are illustrating clearly for me the problem with placing our hopes in lesser hopes than the one to which we are called in Scripture. A lot of people were hopeful after the last election. (A lot of people were also very upset and determined to undermine everything.) But a lot of people were very, very hopeful – earnestly expecting a positive change. And it didn’t happen as they hoped. Two years later, they are disappointed. And there is a massive rebound effect. In my opinion, that rebound does not have nearly as much to do with political ideologies as it does with disappointed hopes and expectations and our attempts to find new hopes after the last one let us down.

In Christ, we have a different hope altogether that political ideologies cannot even begin to touch. It alone is the hope that will not disappoint, that will not put us to shame. Every other lesser hope will fail us, even if it is a good thing. New groups are placing new hopes in new political ideologies, all of which may be very good, but it is still not a safe place to put my HOPE. There should be a difference in good things we pursue and good things in which we HOPE. Do good things. Pursue wise political paths. Obey commands. But don’t place your HOPE in them. I love my husband, train my children, and care for my friends. I steward my money and guard my words. I prayerfully choose the best education methods for my children. I make sacrifices to bring them into this world, feed them, and educate them in light of my convictions. But I can’t HOPE in that.

I am to place my hope in one singular thing – the gospel. Paul prays at the end of Ephesians 1 that our eyes would be opened to the hope of our calling, which he has just outlined in Ephesians 1 as the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places we have in Christ, secured for us for eternity through the deposit of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Our hope is that God will not default on His promises to us. Our hope is that He WANTS us, and we are SECURE in Him.

Just as people get disappointed when their president doesn’t change the course of the country in two years, I get disappointed when my children don’t respond to my carefully thought out discipline. Or when my budget doesn’t rebound after careful planning. Or when conflicts between friends don’t reconcile in a timely manner. Or when the weight doesn’t fall off after denying myself the food that I want. My emotional response to disappointment is a good indicator to me whether I was just being a good steward trying to make wise choices or if I had misplaced my hopes for what will save me and heal me.

Lesser hopes, even when realized, inevitably diminish over time. You get the husband, child, job, or president for which you had hoped. But it doesn’t bring you what you hoped it would bring. At our core, we want rest and peace. We want shalom. We want things that ease our loneliness or stress. We want safety and security. That reality has been secured for us in heaven, and it is breaking even now into our reality on earth. As the writer of Hebrews says, we don’t yet SEE everything subject to Him, but everything IS subject to Him. And that is our hope.

If you are disappointed, I encourage you to look clearly at the object in which you had placed your hope and which then let you down. And free yourself (and them) from that expectation. Be a good steward. Make wise choices. But hope in Christ and those things that are not seen but which are your secure reality in heaven.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Rom. 5:5 NIV

Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live,
and let me not be put to shame in my hope! Psalms 119:116

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Gospel Plus Anything Is Not The Gospel At All

The term gospel can be a hopeful balm, a source of unity, or a lightening rod for controversy. At least, it’s used all those ways among evangelicals. However, in Scripture, the gospel is a fairly simple (though deep), straightforward concept. It is the “good news” of all Christ has accomplished for us through His death and resurrection. It is the juxtaposition between the wrath we deserve by our very nature (Ephesians 2:1-10) and the lavish grace we have received in the place of that wrath through Christ. It’s not that He just removed His hand against us, but that now His hand is so very much FOR us. All in, through, and by Christ. By His grace and not any work of our own.

And that’s about it.

The use of the term gospel is something about which I am doing a lot of thinking as I work on a potential study on The Gospel-Centered Woman. I see in myself a tendency to throw the term around in imprecise ways. Yet it is the precision of the gospel in its simplest terms that is the power of God for salvation. While the gospel informs everything else, it is NOT everything else. So I read today a criticism (link is broken now) of a group of good conservative evangelicals with whom I agree on MUCH. I didn't agree with everything said in the series of criticisms (I HATE that I need to say that, but someone will inevitably point out some sub issue from the criticism and I don't want to focus on that). The overarching critique is valid. The group in question has chosen to center their title around the term GOSPEL. Yet their basic documents (which one must affirm to be a part of this group) extend way past the gospel. A more accurate title for their group would be along the lines of “Together 4 the Gospel Plus Some Other Things.” I have no qualms with a group organizing themselves around shared doctrinal beliefs that extend past the gospel. Just be precise in how you say it.

I think the group in question does have a good grasp of exactly what the gospel is and is not. I hope that they will prayerfully hear this criticism (not that any of them are reading this blog) and correct the perception that they are including the gospel plus some things in the term gospel. Because the entire point of the gospel is that it is NOT plus some things. It affects all things, but it stands on its own as the good news precisely because it is effective for our total salvation apart from any other work. We who most want to uphold a correct understanding of what Scripture means when it uses the term may most undermine it if we are not precise with what it is and what it is NOT. The somber warning of Scripture is that the gospel plus anything is not the gospel at all.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Running Over People So As Not To Be Late

There is a sensitive situation at a Christian college in which a student was involved in a hit and run in an attempt to make curfew (or so the rumor goes). Whether that was the case or not, it hits home to me and I have compassion for the student, for I have come close enough personally to doing this very thing literally (I wrote about that here) to recognize that it happens, both literally and figuratively. In my case, it pointed to some significant theological/gospel issues. It can powerfully illustrate how our efforts to move from sin to righteousness apart from the gospel can go desperately wrong. For me, the incident of breaking the law to get to preschool on time indicated something much deeper going on in my psyche. I wanted to be on time, because I perceived that would mean I was good (or at least make me look good), that I could keep the law and meet other’s expectations of me. Instead, I broke the real law (of God and the land) because I let lesser expectations of me rule my own view of myself. I had to examine myself – why do I feel SO BAD about myself when I show up late? And it was eye opening. It reflected on a lot more than just being on time to school. Without the constant application of Christ’s finished work for our righteousness on the cross, we are all capable of sacrificing the physical, spiritual, or emotional health of someone to preserve others or our own inflated image of ourselves.

I praise God that he’s protected me from physically harming someone when my self-righteous agenda trumped common sense and love for others. But I have definitely run over people in the figurative sense, leaving them wounded on the sidelines, in pursuit of my own warped view of personal righteousness. I recount a specific incidence here. I misplaced the object of true righteousness and substituted it with a lesser version. And it destroyed much more than it preserved.

In God’s paradigm, it’s SIN --> GOSPEL --> RIGHTEOUSNESS. And by gospel, I mean the daily application to every aspect of life all Christ has accomplished for us on the cross, God’s lavish grace on us completely without any work of our own. When you remove or distort the gospel, our efforts to move from sin to righteousness ONLY INCREASE THE SIN. Every last time. You can count on it. We become people who figuratively run over someone as not to be late. It’s why the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to strive to enter His rest. Because striving to maintain our own warped views of righteousness is natural. Instead, strive to rest. Rest in His finished work. Ease our foot from the gas pedal recognizing that showing up on time is not as important as loving others around me. Slow down to love and maintain peace and preserve unity along the way because the goal that I was aiming for was more about making myself look good and maintaining my own self image. But Christ has made me look good once and for all, and now my self image is maintained by Him in the heavenly places. He shows His wounded hands and feet and says I was worth THAT. And running in late to preschool or getting demerits for missing curfew are irrelevant to this eternal fact.

In the corporate sense, we do this as well. We sin to get away from sin. The church excommunicates the couple who moved in together a month before their wedding long before they have dealt with their sin using the appropriate Biblical instructions (Matthew 18, Galatians 6). We send away our daughters who get pregnant out of wedlock. Or they have an abortion to cover the fact they got pregnant at all. The Christian college immediately ships the student caught in sin. Removing them from our presence seems so much more palatable than walking with them through the process of repentance and reconciliation. We hate sin, and especially hate sin that we can SEE. But we step on the neck of others in an effort to rid ourselves of sin’s poisonous influence. We sin to get away from sin.

But that never works. It just makes me dirty in new ways. I show up on time. I look prompt. I appear righteous. But I left a trail of wounded bodies on the side of the road in my quest for righteousness. The quest for righteousness apart from a thorough, constant fleshing out of the gospel at every point is the dirtiest path of all.

That may be painful to read if you, like me, have done that very thing. But the gospel meets us there as well. I feel woe for the stumbling block I put around someone’s neck. I feel it deeply! And yet I find hope, as Paul and Peter did, that the gospel transforms even legalists. I can face my sin head on, call it what it is, and walk forward with humble confidence that it no longer characterizes my life through Christ.

I continue to work slowly through Counsel from the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson. I THINK I know the remedy that keeps me from sinning as I attempt to deal with my and others’ sin. But Dennis and Elyse are exposing to me many ways the gospel has not yet transformed how I view my own attempts at righteousness and my responses to others in sin, be it my children, husband, friends, or other public people with whom I don’t have a personal relationship (sometimes I care about their sin and righteousness a bit more than I should, often with no thought of the gospel).

I have particularly found the chapter on the gospel and my sanctification very informative. In some sense I knew all this, but they have worded it in ways I find very helpful with useful illustrations. You can read it here and buy it here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wheat, Chaff, Fool, Wise, Sheep, Dog, and Wolf

In the grand scheme of spiritual authority figures, I am nobody. I am a wife and mom who teaches math part time at the local community college. I wrote some books. People seemed to like them. And I have a blog that some have enjoyed reading. But that’s it. This blog remains a lecture to myself. Today’s post is something I want to document long term for myself—working out my own convictions on an issue that troubles me much, how we categorize people within and without the Body of Christ. Speaking harshly to people based on false Biblical categories is a sacred cow for some spiritual leaders. I can’t do anything about that, but I do feel free to articulate my personal convictions here. You are welcome to read along.

The Bible mentions lots of types of people. Wheat, chaff, fool, wise, natural, spiritual, shepherd, sheep, dog, swine, wolf. Each of those categories is mentioned a few times in passing. Other than the foolish man and the spiritual man, about which the Bible is pretty specific, we are given very general impressions of these categories without much in the way of identifiable traits for each. In other words, the Bible does not set these categories up with clear-cut boundaries.

There is a single category in Scripture with clear-cut boundaries, about which all of Scripture circulates, and it is the elect. This category is easily defined—the elect are known by the gospel. Period. “If you will confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). And the evidence of a correct understanding of the gospel is love. “By this will all men know you are my disciples, that you love one another” (John 13:35). So there is the verbal articulation of the gospel that defines the elect, and there is the practical outpouring of the gospel that is evidence of the elect. All of Scripture centers on the relationship of this singular category of people to their God and each other.

What about the other categories? Most importantly, they are all simply analogies, and none are absolute. Except for one case in Acts, all the Scripture on wolves in particular use the phrase like or as. In other words, it’s an analogy with helpful parallels. I generally know there are people who won’t receive truth (swine), and there comes a point where I should no longer throw my pearls of spiritual ministry in their direction. I also know that there are some who distort the truth of the gospel (wolves), and I must watch out for them diligently. But dog, wolf, sheep, or swine are not dogmatic categories in which we can put people and lock the door. You could say that Paul was a wolf before he walked the Damascus Road. Then he became a shepherd. But at both points, he was elect. Then there is Peter, who was both shepherding the sheep and bearing the rebuke of Paul as a wolf for his legalistic view of the gospel possibly at the very same time.

There are many pitfalls to making hard and fast categories of people, especially when we assign ourselves different obligations to each. The primary pitfall is that such categories simply give us an excuse to sin against people who are hard for us to love. I’ve watched it again and again and again throughout my history in the church. If I categorize someone as swine, dogs, or wolves, I’m off the hook. I don’t have to speak the truth in love. I don’t have to bear long in love. My words don’t have to minister grace to the hearer. I can give voice to my sinful anger problem.

Scripture does give us categories that are hard and fast. And our instructions for how to talk to someone in these categories are equally spelled out in Scripture. There are the evidently elect—those brothers and sisters in Christ who claim the gospel for themselves. And Ephesians 4 is clear—crystal, sparkling clear—on how we speak to each other in His Body, be it husband, wife, parent, child, slave, master, or any other relationship within the church. We are to be humble and gentle, bearing long in love. We speak the truth but within the constraints of love articulated in I Corinthians 13. We speak to minister grace, not condemnation, to the hearer. And we forgive as Christ has forgiven us.

Scripture is equally clear on how to relate to those who are not evidently elect, even those who are not just passively unbelieving but are actively opposing us.

2 Timothy 2 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.

It is noteworthy that the rebukes of Scripture most often used to justify harsh speech center around one consistent theme—the gospel itself. Paul’s classic rebuke in Galatians is fully about the gospel. In contrast, we often choose much lesser topics as the line in the sand over which we will harshly, sarcastically rebuke. We also project onto our reading of Paul’s rebuke in Galatians a tone based on our own desire to justify our anger problems. I wrote about the unbiblical idea of righteous anger in another post that generated thoughtful discussion. Did Paul violate his own instructions to Timothy when he rebuked Peter to his face? I don’t think so. Paul himself is concerned about his tone in Galatians 4:20. Elsewhere, Scripture is clear that the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Scripture is the best commentary on itself, and Paul likely obeyed his own, Spirit-inspired instructions to Timothy, even when the gospel was at stake. And we should too. Speak the truth. In love. With gentleness (strength under control). With patience. Not rudely.

You don’t need to be rudely caustic to strongly rebuke. The rudely caustic rebuke has only one goal – to win its point. It is always at the expense of the heart of the one being rebuked. When your point trumps their heart, you have truly lost the battle. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you have somehow preserved the gospel when your very presentation of it denies the gospel’s own core values of love and grace to those least deserving of it.

Certainly, we all experience anger. Paul’s wording in Ephesians 4 indicates that anger doesn’t HAVE to turn sinful. It needs to be pored out to God in prayer (as the Psalms regularly demonstrate). We either bring it to God in prayer where it is transformed by His grace into something He can use, or we will be doomed by it, giving Satan a foothold to destroy the work of God in our homes and our churches. But don’t be fooled into thinking that anger can ever accomplish a righteous outcome. That’s just ignoring Scripture to justify an anger problem.

There are fools. A lot of them. There are also pigs, dogs, and wolves. And there are stupid sheep. But if I really get Ephesians 2, I know that I was by nature the fool, the pig, the dog, and the wolf, justly deserving of God’s wrath. And I now know the antidote for that kind of behavior—grace through faith in Christ. And I know, as the great wolf Saul who then became Paul did, that it is not of my own works that I no longer subvert the gospel and seek to scatter the sheep, but the gift of God’s grace lavished on me so undeserving. Then and only then am I equipped to turn to my opponent and be a conduit of God’s grace to him or her. And it is only God’s grace that will save them. They may be my opponent, but they are not my enemy. As Paul tells Timothy, my opponent is the prisoner of my enemy, “captured by him to do his will.” Be clear on this – we have one singular enemy, and he is not flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). God forbid I accept the grace God has lavished on me that freed me from my chains of slavery, yet withhold it from the next person because they seem so undeserving of grace and deserving of harshness. But for the lavish grace of God, there go I. That is the gospel.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Encouragement of the Scriptures

A lot of the time, I am relatively strong. I persevere. I encourage others. I like to think of myself as Eowyn in Lord of the Rings, or Phoebe in Romans, or Ruth. But every few weeks (at least I hope it’s only that often), I get seriously discouraged. Stay in the bed, can’t stop crying discouraged. It’s not a generic depression requiring treatment, though I imagine it could become that. It’s always tied (and has been my whole life) to a consistent theme – simply that this world is not right. It is not as it should be. Relationships aren’t as they should be. Work isn’t as it should be. Health isn’t as it should be. The Church isn’t as it should be. And most sobering of all, *I* am not as I should be. God does not have to talk me into praying that His kingdom would come. I know good and well that it is only He and His rule that will set everything right in this world. And I long for it. I pray for it. I seek it.

On a good day, I know His kingdom is at hand, and I have hope that He is perfecting His Body to be revealed in all her glory very soon. But not every day is a good day. Some days, the marathon that is the Christian life overwhelms me. Every day, I feel like I’m trudging upstream against a raging current. But on those days, it feels like weights have been attached to my ankles. And then my wrists. And then my back. My ability to trudge upstream against the current slips. I feel myself moving slower. And then I come to a dead stop, the weight of the current threatening to overtake me. In those moments, I cry out, “God, please move!” I just want God to do SOMETHING. I want Him to move in some way that I can document. To do something for me that I can’t mistake that reminds me that He’s there and He has a plan. Pay a bill through unexpected means. Have someone call me with a heart for Christ that I thought was dead to Him. I want reconciliation in unresolved conflicts. Healing where there has been long-term illness. Hearts passionate for Him that once were stone cold.

And He does none of it for me.

He doesn’t resolve the unresolved conflict. He doesn’t bring healing to the debilitating illness. Stone cold hearts remain stone cold. At least it seems that way to me. To me, in that moment, there seems a complete lack of movement on His part. I cry out again—“please God, won’t you MOVE?! I need ENCOURAGEMENT.” Again, silence.

Finally, after hours of this, I stumble over to the Word. I am reading through Romans, and there it is in tonight’s reading.

Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

I have long since learned not to go looking through Scripture for a verse to make me feel better. Instead, I read straight through books of the Bible. I have found that God is much better at finding me in Scripture than I am of finding Him. When God speaks to me in unexpected places in His Word, it increases my faith in ways that a sudden healing from illness or bill paid out of nowhere cannot do. He says it Himself again and again—His Word is His sword. It tenderizes hearts and builds them back up again. It is His self-revelation to us, and it contains EVERYTHING that pertains to life and godliness. And as I read Romans 15, sure enough, those words written in the former days for my instruction gave me endurance and encouragement and HOPE.

The truth is that God IS healing the sick. He is resolving conflicts. He is paying bills through unexpected means. He is turning stone cold hearts into living things passionate for Him. But that’s not where I’ll find my source for enduring. I certainly can get comfort from seeing such things, but I get long-term encouragement and hope from the Scriptures. May I never forsake them or underestimate them in those moments of discouragement.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Thomas, Percy, James, and Other Insecure Train Engines

As the mother of two young boys, I am overly familiar with Thomas the Train. My son can name each train including number and color. We have a Thomas the Train tent, fan, camera, and shirt along with a small fortune invested in Thomas the Train wooden and plastic rails and both working and non working engines. As I type now, my son is watching Thomas chasing after a runaway kite on the TV.

As a parent, Thomas annoys me more than most children’s programs. It’s clean. The boys love it. But it has a quality about it that’s both true and disturbing. Those little engines are I.N.S.E.C.U.R.E. The theme of each episode is their need to be USEFUL in Sir Topham Hat’s eyes. Here’s a generic episode recap: James overhears Percy say something that makes James think he’s no longer useful and is getting sent to the junk yard. So James embarks on some ill thought out adventure to prove his usefulness but that results in a bridge getting toppled or Annie or Claribel going over a cliff. Then either James gets rebuked by Sir Topham Hat and it ends, or some engine accidentally does something helpful and gets lauded by Sir Topham Hat for being a “really useful engine.”

Does that not sum up most of our lives? Except we usually just get the rebuke and rarely the affirmation at the end of the day for being “really useful.” The quest for affirmation from an authority figure who only values us for our usefulness is … well … pretty much universal. I understand the angst of those little trains, and I’ve resorted to my own version of their destructive attempts to earn affirmation from authority time and time agin. I must perform. I must accomplish something useful. Otherwise, I’m going to be sent to the junk yard--disposed of, ignored, marginalized—if I can’t prove my worth and value by doing something useful.

But God spends much, much time in Scripture saying the exact opposite to me. If I got nothing else out of my study of Ephesians, I got loud and clear that I don’t perform to earn God’s favor. That is, in fact, the exact opposite of God’s message to me through the cross. I don’t seek to perform in useful ways to earn my security. I am secure. Period. With no strings attached. Not by my performance. Not because I am useful. But because of God’s great love for me poured out on the cross. Any real usefulness in the kingdom on my part flows from my deep confidence of who I am in Him.

In Counsel from the Cross, Elyse Fitzpatrick gives a case study from the life of a hard working husband, father, and church volunteer named Ernest. His wife has talked him into counseling because of increasing alienation between him and his two goth teenage sons. Ernest is committed to doing the right thing. He manages his stress and controls his emotions despite an intense work schedule, his responsibilities as a Sunday School teacher and deacon, and volunteering as an ESL tutor. The little time he cuts out for his boys is planned to be maturity-building exercises outdoors together. Ernest is annoyed and resentful at his sons’ rejection of him, because he sees himself as one who is very useful – one who meets his obligations and then some. Elyse correctly diagnoses Ernest’s heart – he is profoundly insecure and deathly fearful of failure in any area of life, in any area of PERFORMANCE. “His efforts to justify himself as a conscientious breadwinner … are subtle forms of idolatry, violations of the first commandment, and attempts to compete with the living God, who declares that he alone can save and justify guilty people.” But in Christ, empowered to live daily through gospel grace, Ernest “no longer needs to defend himself by finding fault with others to compensate for the faults in himself that he desperately tried to hide.”

Thomas and friends daily remind me of the ramifications of insecurity. They are a caricature of a very real problem. The need to be useful to win an authority’s favor is, as I said before, pretty universal. It’s the legacy of the fall of man. And performance idolatry has ruined many relationships, as each steps on the other in an attempt to feel better about themselves. God has freed us from this slavery, speaking over us once and for all His strong, clear words of approval. “It is finished,” He cried. The veil was torn. And we may ever boldly and confidently enter His presence—approved and secure. For eternity. Amen.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Theology of the Mistake

I made a mistake. At least it feels like a mistake. A really big one. That affects me for at least the next year in many, many ways. I thought I had analyzed everything well. I wrestled through which option was best. I should have prayed about it more. I prayed about it some. But I didn’t stop everything and pray really hard. I made my choice based on what I thought was best for our family. And now a few months later, it is glaringly obvious that the other choice would have been much, much easier on me. The choice I made is bringing daily stress. And when Mom is stressed, it’s very hard not to project it onto the rest of my family.

So I sit here in my rocking chair wrestling with how to think about it. With each new annoying consequence of my choice, I kick myself again. Why did I DO that? Stupid, naïve me! It wasn’t a sinful choice. It wasn’t a foolish choice. But now it seems to me to have very much been the wrong choice.

But God is sovereign even over my choices. He could have protected me from making this mistake. He does it all the time in fact. I can’t count how many times He’s protected me from doing something stupid, protecting me from my own ignorance. But He didn’t do it this time. Maybe He’s protecting me by allowing this mistake. Maybe He has a plan in this mistake. I think of Gandalf’s famous rebuke of Frodo in the Fellowship of the Rings.

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many - yours not least.

As Gandalf told Frodo, my heart tells me too that my “mistake” may have some Kingdom role to play in my heart and my children’s heart this year. Sure--I could have prayed about it harder. Sure—I could have done more research and not assumed I knew as much as I did. But in the end, the gospel frees me from kicking myself every time a new consequence arises. And the character of my God gives me hope that even mistakes can be used by Him for Him—for my good and His glory.

Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Books I've Loved

Someone recently asked me for some book recommendations. Here are some ones that I read from start to finish – which is RARE for me. Just that very fact means I liked them, was drawn into them, and most of all, they made me THINK.

The Walk: A Moment in Time When Two Lives IntersectThe Walk  by Michael Card

It's out of print but worth getting if you can.  This little book challenged my view of discipleship and corrected my vision on what it looks like to impact the kingdom for Christ. It’s a very personal story of how Michael’s former professor spoke into his life.
Grace-Based Parenting

Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel

This is the parenting book that gave me hope and a vision for what I wanted discipline to look like in my home. It challenged me to let go of my stress over correcting things with my boys that just don’t matter in the grand scheme of God’s kingdom and think through exactly what gospel centered grace looks like with a 4 and 5 year old.

Girl Meets God: A MemoirGirl Meets God  by Lauren Winter

This is Lauren’s memoir of her twisted road to God (via orthodox Judaism). I liked how she wrote. Her voice resonated with me. And it made me reflect—on God, on theology, on how we come to Him, on all kinds of things in His kingdom. One small excerpt just caused me to think on The Lord’s Supper. I still think of communion a bit differently since reading this book.

Sacred Influence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their Husbands
Sacred Influence  by Gary Thomas

This book changed me. I was heading down the highway of life, and the highway started curving to the left. This book tugged my heart toward an exit, and now I’m heading in a slightly different direction. The scenery on this highway is better. The air is cleaner. And again, I have a better vision for the future. Thank you, Gary.

For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of MenFor Women Only  by Shaunti Feldhahn

This rocked my world. I have 3 sisters and no brothers. I did not know anything about men, to be perfectly honest. I’d read a chapter of this book, look over at my husband, ask him a question, and his response echoed EXACTLY what I was reading time and time again. It was fascinating, eye-opening, and SO very helpful.

The Path of Loneliness  and Keep a Quiet Heart  by Elisabeth Elliot

Path of Loneliness, The: Finding Your Way Through the Wilderness to GodI love this lady. She has spoken soooo much wisdom into my life. The Path of Loneliness is hard to read if you still naïvely believe that if you can just get it all together, your life will turn out as you imagine and that you’ll be protected from deep pain. For the rest of us, it is comforting to hear from one who has walked the path of pain and come out boldly professing the hope and comfort we have through God our Father.

That’s a few of my favorite reads. I will post more in the future.