Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Righteousness by faith not works. An oxymoron. Thank God...

Romans is an intense book! Every time I read it I feel like I just barely skimmed the surface and need to read it 5 more times to even begin to understand. It is such an interesting combination of subjects. Paul goes from talking about God's incredible love for us given through the death of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit, to God's sovereign right and ability to choose whomever he wants to for glory or condemnation. Then he moves back into how the work of Christ is meant for all people. Let me try to synthesize a little bit of what I have been reading so far.

Through creation and his revelation through Israel God has made known his glory to all people. In our rebellion we have rejected him and chosen to follow our own sinful ways instead. Through Adam, sin entered the world and brought condemnation for all of humanity, but through the death and life of Christ God has provided a way for all people to be justified, declared righteous and reconciled to God. This justification comes through faith in Christ, not through a righteousness attained by our good works. Through faith we stand in the grace of God, no longer condemned but accepted and loved by God. And when Christ justifies us, no one can condemn us. God pours out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, and nothing can separate us from this love. We may experience hardship, sickness, persecution, even death, but the love of Christ remains with us.  Previously, God had chosen Israel to be the conduits of his love and picture of his grace, but because they rejected the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, he has made all of humanity his family, to those who believe, and has hardened the hearts of Israel so that they might see his grace among other peoples and eventually be brought back to him. For he does not forget his promises to Israel. God has hardened hearts and bound men to disobedience so that they may see their need for him and that he may have mercy on them all. It is God's mercy, not our goodness that saves us. Because of this mercy, then, we should offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices, being transformed into the image of Jesus and living in his will. All those who believe are now the physical body of Christ on earth and work together to bring worship to God. We are to love each other with a radical love that turns our way of life upside down, putting others above ourselves, loving our enemies, not repaying evil with evil but overcoming evil with good. We are to respect those in authority and honor the weak in humility. We no longer judge others for their differences but accept others as God has accepted us. In everything be united to each other in love, which is the fulfillment of the law. We can live this way because we stand justified and accepted in the grace of God, because of Christ, and have no one to fear.

Romans in a nutshell.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You mean the story's not about me?

Recently several things have come together to change my perspective about my life... again... Seems like God has to keep reminding me and teaching me things I should have known a long time ago. Thank God He is gracious and patient!

I'm reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan, and it's doing a number on me. Here are a few of the quotes that really grabbed my heart:

"Frankly, you need to get over yourself... To be brutally honest, it doesn't matter what place you find yourself in right now. Your part is to bring Him glory."

"The point of your life is to point to Him... God wants to be glorified, because this whole thing is His."

It's His story, His world. That was exactly what I needed to hear. It is easy to fall back into living as if this life and world is about me. When that happens we become miserable about the things that aren't working out like what we want. "This isn't what I wanted for my life, my world."  It's God's world! God's life! His Story! It doesn't matter what I do or don't have. It's all for Him.

Francis goes on to talk about how when we forget this truth we try to control our lives, circumstances and people to fit the vision we have for ourselves. The problem is that this is impossible, which leads us into further frustration, fear, misery and despair. He says:

"I have just as little control over my own life and what will happen to me. Isn't the easiest thing at this point to start living in a guarded, safe, controlled way? To stop taking risks and to be ruled by our fears of what could happen? Turning inward is one way to respond; the other is to acknowledge our lack of control and reach out for God's help."

I have been trying to control my circumstances because I wanted my movie to play out a certain way. In 50-100 years no one will even remember my life because this story is not about me. It is about God. My significance lies in the small part God gives me in directing praise and love towards Him, in my relationship with the One whose story it is. It lies in partnering up with Him, for just a little while,  in what He is doing. The great thing is that He is overjoyed to have us. It's like He's saying, with a big smile on His face, "Hey, Debbie! Let's go! I have really cool plans..." Plans that will play out in His story. We get to jump in and ride along.

Oswald Chambers says it this way:
"I must learn that the purpose of my life belongs to God, not me. God is using me from His great personal perspective, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him. I should never say, "Lord, this causes me such heartache." To talk that way makes me a stumbling block. When I stop telling God what I want, He can freely work His will in me without any hindrance. He can crush me, exalt me, or do anything else He chooses. He simply asks me to have absolute faith in Him and His goodness. Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world."

I think we can definitely go to God with our heartache, but that heartache must move from a focus on self and what I have planned for my life, to God and His mysterious purposes, recognizing that even the heartache is to be used for His glory and plans.

So, all that to say, frankly, you need to get over yourself.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Over and over again

There are some lessons that are just really hard to learn. "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer."Rom.12:12. That seems like an easy one, right? Pretty straightforward. But I find that these three basic instructions are some of the hardest for me to live, to really trust.

"Be joyful in hope." I have a love/hate relationship with hope. Hope is a source of strength and joy when it is in something that is trustworthy, but when our hope is in things that fade away or things that are not true, we are setting ourselves up for trouble. So when I think, "be joyful in hope," I think, "I am hoping! and it's bringing me incredible turmoil because I don't know if what I 'm hoping in will come true."  How can I be joyful in that? I can't. The only hope I can be joyful in is the hope of Christ's love for me and his work in my life. That brings me incredible joy, and I can scarcely believe it's true. That song that says, "turn your eyes upon Jesus... and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace" is so true. May I let go of hope in those things that do not last or provide satisfaction and hope in the goodness, grace and love of God. May I hope that he is leading my life, working in me and through me, and that when I see him one day, he will smile and open his arms wide in love.

"Patient in affliction." Oh, patience, where art thou? No one says to be patient in affliction anymore! Everyone seems to be saying "fix the affliction," "get out of the affliction," "be strong in the affliction," "overcome the affliction." But God here says to be patient in it. There is a sense that there is a purpose for it. That Someone else is using it. That we are to believe that God's purposes are more important than our comfort and that if we will walk patiently, trusting, in the affliction, we will see fruit, the fulfillment of His purposes for his kingdom and in our lives. The sense I get is that my attitude should be something like, "Father, this is really hard. All I want is to make it stop. But I know that you are great and good and that you are working out your purposes through this hardship. I will trust you and receive your work in my life through this affliction. I receive it for as long as you give it to me, and I will wait for your goodness."

"Faithful in prayer." This word "faithful," "proskarterountes," is not the usual word for faithful in Greek. Usually, the word "pistos" is what we translate as faithful. In this case, proskarterountes has a different emphasis. The word is literally translated to "attend continually, be steadfast towards." It carries a strong sense of continuity and active perseverance. "Faithfulness" doesn't quite cut it. This is not only a sense of loyalty to prayer. It is an active, continual participation in prayer. God knows that if I am to be joyful in the right hope and patient in affliction, I will need to be continually seeking him in prayer because these heart beliefs and choices do not come naturally or easily. I am not to pray once in a while when I feel overwhelmed, but to throw myself completely upon him through continual prayer, enduring in it even when it feels like my prayers are weak and useless. This is key to living out God's ways in our lives.

Three things. So simple, but so utterly different from my sinful nature that I must rely on God's Spirit alone to change me and create in me this new way of living and being in him. This is what his children look like. I am his child. May I live out this reality in him.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The thing about turning 30...

When I was a wise 21 year old, I remember thinking that turning 30 would be no big deal. I was perfectly content with my singleness and couldn't understand why girls would get so bent out of shape over gettting older. Even in the past couple of years I remember thinking that 30 seemed like a great age. People finally start seeing you as an adult, you begin to have a little more wisdom, you have better ideas about what you want in life, and yet you're still young and relevant. This week has been a different story...

In a sense, I feel like I am both dying and being born. As I leave my 20's I feel like there are parts of me that are dying. Parts of selfishness, of living to see what the next adventure will be, of trying to come up with a future that would impress me, God, family and world. I am dying to the norm of being married with kids by the time I'm 30. (That one I still haven't put in the casket... it's rotting on my bedroom floor.) I am dying to being "normal." We all say we like to be unique, but only in certain ways...  And yet, I am being born! I have a whole life in front of me full of God. Full of God's kingdom and the reconciliation of the world to him. I have a life ahead of me full of having the amazing privilege of growing closer to God and being free from the things I am dying to.

It's weird because if I stop and think about my life, what God has done, what he is doing and what he is going to do, I KNOW that my life is amazing and that I am incredibly blessed. I feel humbled at the privilege God has given me to be loved by the people who love me and to be used in the ways he has used me. And I know that he has really cool things up his sleeve. I know that the very fact that he loves me and knows me and speaks to me and cares for me and is gracious to me is more valuable than the most precious thing on earth. I would not trade him for the world. And at the same time, there is a sadness inside of me, a feeling that I have lost something. A feeling of love that could have been, of time wasted not loving the one I would love for the rest of my life. I think this is the hardest. It is the feeling that I am losing precious moments of loving and experiencing that one person that Christ would use to teach me about his love and unity. Yes, God has blessed me in incredible ways, and yet right now, my heart keeps going back to that one thing.

Lord, you know me. You know your kingdom. As I long to experience oneness with someone here on earth, you long to experience it with me. You experience it with the Father already and would that I, as your disciple, would experience it too. As I look around and back and down, searching for that love to satisfy, I know that you DO satisfy, and I ask that your love would fill my heart, that I would be one with you. I ask that you would be the apple of my eye, that my delight would be in you, that everything is worth just being with you. May that be what I long for now and always.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ramblings

I just feel like writing tonight. What do I want to write about? Let's dig up some thoughts that are rolling around up here.

Number one, our relationship with God and how we perceive him to be is reflected in our relationships with others and how we perceive them to be. This is an intersting concept for me. A very wise woman challenged me with that belief recently. I haven't yet processed whether or not there is Biblical foundation for that, but my guess is that there is probably a lot of truth to it. It is interesting as I hear all these relational therapy theories about family systems, differentiation, triangulation, pursuer/distancer, attachment, life narratives... They are all intersting. Some seem more reflective of reality than others. Some seem to fit some situations better than others. Some are just weird. What I have been noticing lately, is that many of the good principles in these theories were taught by Christ, taught to the church in the epistles, or spoken by God himself directly to people in the psalms, through prophecies and visions and words. And he continues to speak them to my heart. Wisdom that people from all ages have "discovered" in many different ways. For me, it seems things always come back to God, and it's hard to try to even think differently at all.

I don't know that if my relationship with God is right I will automatically have right relationships with people, but it definitely makes me more able to. For one, God is perfect, so the only one messing up in that relationship is me. Lol. He really does love perfectly, forgive perfectly, is completely faithful and and always wise. No one I am in relationship with, or ever will be in relationship with, is, and neither, of course, am I. But as I receive God's perfect love, and learn what it means to trust and believe and receive and give and rest, in him, I am learning what it means to love that way and trust that way and believe and receive and give and rest, with those who too are made in God's beautiful, amazing image. It's like a re-learning to love. A re-learning of what a pure relationship can be, through my relationship with God. If we are being transformed more and more into his likeness, we are being made increasingly able to be faithful the way he is faithful and to give the way he gives and to receive and love and rest, the way he does. That is amazing. He is transforming us. You and me. So that we can be his voice, his hands, his heart to the world. And we are being transformed together, learning together, loving together, and receiving from God through each other. Is there anything more beautiful than that?

So, as a therapeutic tool, I would say, "Where are my human relationships weak?" and in looking there I will likely find the area where my relationship with God is also weak. Or it could work vice-versa. If I do not trust God to forgive me, I probably will not be able to trust others to forgive me either.  I'm thinking of that verse that says something to the effect of, "If you do not love people whom you can see, how will you love God whom you cannot see?" (forgive me for my poor quotation). The two greatest commandments are to love God and love others. Another passage says:
"We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." I John 3:14-16
And many other passages suggest that there is this link between loving God and loving people. The direction goes both ways. We are learning to love God by loving people and we are learning to love people by loving God and receiving His love. "We love because he first loved us." (I have another post in the works for this one coming shortly). This changes everything about how I view and am in relationships.

Number two, gratitude... I've realized I'm really bad at giving without desiring recognition or appreciation. I think I equate the latter two with love. So I feel like if I don't receive that, I'm not loved. That's ridiculous, but it's there nonetheless. I did something the other day for someone and was really upset at the fact that I didn't know if they knew it was me who had done it for them. I was trying to tell myself it didn't matter. The bible says to do good deeds with one hand in such a way that the other does not even know you are doing it. And yet, I wanted more than my hand to know! I wanted to prove my love, and by them not knowing, I was not able to. And that was torture. But... all that crappy stuff aside, it did get me to thinking how much God does that with me, and the billions of people in the world. EVERY DAY he is giving and giving and giving, and rarely do I look up to him and say, "Yes, you are the one who gave it to me. Without you I would be lost." And yet, he doesn't withhold it from me or become angry with me or feel unloved or insecure in my love because I don't thank him. He is the one who really does deserve to be thanked. I don't really give anything to anyone. It is God who gives through me. He does ask for our gratitude and yet ironically he is completely sufficient and satisfied without it. Does my ingratitude hurt him? Does my gratitude bring him joy? Does my response move him like that? I don't know, but I don't even want to risk something like that. I'll be damned (not in the literal sense) if I don't thank God for what he gives me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Refining

Someone told me the other day that they think God is teaching me trust in both my relationship with him and with people. It's an interesting process God is taking me through. Painful at times... He's connecting things I never realized are connected and is revealing things that are really painful to see, truly leading me to grieve over my sin. You know that verse that says, "For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me." Ps.40:12 That's how I feel. And then this morning I feel God laughing with me, showing me just how awesome he is and how much he loves me and is caring for and using me. I don't think God has ever brought me through such a "diverse" time of growth, where every single area of my life is being challenged and stretched and cut and remolded. It's tempting to shut Him out, because it's hard. Oh, Lord, give me strength to go through the refining process. Give me the courage to see my own sin and submit it to you. Forgive me when I fail. Thank you for your incredible love and grace! And help me remember... Thank you for your pleasure in me. Thank you that I am fully approved as your child. Thank you that you are with me every step of the way, every moment, loving, supporting, teaching, watching. Let me remember your loving gaze.

Trust... oh, how I want to force God to show me what to do, where to go, what to think, what to feel. Oh, how I want to pretend I know what the future holds so that I can prepare for it right now. How I want to ignore God's voice when He asks me to step out into the unknown. But I'm tired of that! I'm tired of trying to live my life "prepared" for whatever may come, for what I've decided will come. I'm tired of submitting to God only when it is convenient to me or when it fits in with "the plan." I'm tired of sometimes being Enoch and sometimes being Cain. Father, I want to really hear you. REALLY hear you and trust you... completely. I don't need to know the plan. I don't need to know the future or the steps to get there if I think I do know it. Your ways are SOOOOOO different than my ways, and you have such crazy ways of working that I could never figure them out or understand why you do. Father, please change my heart. Change my ways. Change my mind. Transform me so that I am living a life completely submitted to you. Completely trusting in you. Being content in taking one step at a time when you speak. Speak your ways, and let me hear, and follow, one...breathe... moment...breathe... at...breathe... a...breathe... time...breathe... moment...breathe... by...breathe... moment.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Balancing Act

What is the balance between depending on God and depending on people? Seems like when I do depend on people, I'm inevitably disappointed because nobody's perfect. I can't really blame them. That's just the way we are. But, I hate being disappointed... so I'd rather not depend on people at all. Maybe it's practice in forgiveness and grace... Ultimately, people cannot provide for my needs in a complete way. They can offer me appetizers for my hunger, little snippets of provision and compansionship, but never wholeness. Is it possible to find my fulfillment and provision completely in God, and at the same time be connected to the body in a way that requires interdependence and cooperation? If so, would I still be disappointed when people fail me? I guess I go back to forgiveness. God never said the interdependence of the body would be perfect. He just said to be that way. But still, the source of the body is Christ. So when that person I'm depending on bails, or cannot meet my need, it's ok because Christ is the one supplying life to the body and ultimately providing for my need. It is not that person alone working alongside me; it is Christ. It is painful when a certain part of the body is injured or does not carry out its function, and I will hurt because of it, but I am not hopeless because Christ is still the head and is directing the body and providing for my needs. (Whether it is in the way I want or not.) The possibility of disappointment does not preclude the mandate to be a part of the body, with all its interdependence and imperfection. I still feel that tension between complete dependence on God and allowing myself to depend on my spiritual family though. Maybe it is depending fully on God, being content in Him and allowing Him to provide for my needs through that family if He chooses, but not relying on that form of provision. I accept their place in my life as a gift but do not rely on it. Ya think? I don't know...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

It is not good for man to be alone

I'm discovering more and more how much I dislike doing mission alone. I have done it. I have done it through the grace and strength of God, but he did not design me, anyone, that way. As a church we are meant to be on mission together. The apostles rarely went out alone and often in the letters requested more companions and help. I'm discovering that even in everyday life missionality, I would much rather have other people to partner with, to share the burden, to "gospel" each other, and encourage each other. I'm fiercely independent. I like to do things my way, when I want, with whom I want. That's the dark side of independence. On the flipside, I often think that serving God alone makes me depend more on Him. I've had no choice many times but to press forward alone, just relying on God for my strength and wisdom. Singleness, you know... I've glorified this independent reliance because it makes me feel better about my life. About how disconnected I am. It really has drawn me closer to God, but, though you may find this a no-brainer, I'm realizing that reliance on God and community are not dichotomous. I NEED my brothers and sisters, and that is not a bad thing. In fact, it is God's provision not only for my loneliness but for His purposes for my neighbors, my classmates, my friends, my community, the world. But... that sucks. Because that means I have to be vulnerable and admit that I need people. I hate admitting that. Maybe you won't think I'm quite so strong anymore. Maybe you'll realize I'm not God. (I know you didn't really think I'm God, but sometimes I want you to believe it.) So where does that leave me? I'm still single. And I may be single for a long time. Praise God that I have a community now that is beginning to see the importance of missional community as well. I am truly grateful for them. Still, the reality is that as I look into my future, I see myself alone. Alone in a refugee camp in Europe, or a shelter for abused women in Iraq, or as a counselor for Arab women in El Cajon. Lord, I believe in the church. I believe you have made us your body so that we can truly be a body! Working together to bring reconciliation to the world. I don't want to do this alone. I can't do this alone. I trust you to build your church and to make me a part of it. An instrument in your hand, connected to your body, accomplishing your plans. Please, Lord. I trust in you.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Brain and spirit cramps

Father, speak to me. Help me sort out all this crazy stuff. Let me see you will and your heart for this generation. And let me be unafraid to seek.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Gift of His Presence

I am reading Hebrews right now, and came across a passage this morning that always amazes me but that really hit home today.

Hebrews 10: 19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

God recently has been showing me just what an amazing privilege it is to be able to come into the presence of the living God. The theme of Hebrews so far has been Christ as our high priest, who gives us eternal and unlimited access to God, who before Christ could only be experienced once a year by one person for a few moments. The rest of the year was spent in fearful sacrifices performed close to, but not in, the presence of God. Of course, this was symbolic of his presence since God's presence is everywhere, but even the people of God, the Israelites, were very limited in their communion with God. Only occasionally did he allow someone to experience his Spirit and interactive presence. The imperfection of men and women was a constant barrier to communion with God. Here, we are told that we now have not only a new way, but a living way to enter into the Most Holy Place, the presence of God. This living way never dies, because Christ will never die. It's the gift that keeps on giving. This Priest has sacrificed himself so that we have been perfected through his death, once and for all, and been given access to God through his life, eternally.

We are told that, because of this confidence, we should draw near to God... DRAW NEAR TO GOD! That in itself blows my mind. That we can choose to be near God and move towards him. We have constant access to his presence, because of Christ's mediation for us. We are to draw near to God with a "sincere heart in full assurance of faith." How do I draw near with a sincere heart? A sincere heart is one that knows what she is doing... drawing near to God. A heart that is not trying to deceive, but is wide open to the eyes of God and completely confident in God's acceptance. We do not need to, and should not, approach God trying to convince him or ouselves that we are worthy to be there or trying to hide our imperfections. We come to him acknowleging our imperfection but in full assurance of faith that Jesus has perfected us through his blood and therefore opened the way for us to God.

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess." Let us be dilligent and persistent about coming before God with sincere and honest hearts. Elsewhere in Scripture it says, "let us not neglect so great a salvation." Such a great price has been paid, events orchestrated, history changed, all so that we could come behind the veil and dwell in God's presence. How dare we neglect such a gift! How dare we go one moment forgetting that Christ gave his life so that we could be friends of God. How dare I not dwell in his presence every moment of every day, making little of what he has given. Oh, Lord, I do neglect so great a salvation! You offer yourself to me daily, constantly, yet I make little use of the opportunity. People die seeking you, and I am here before you, looking elsewhere. Forgive me, Father. Teach me, lead me, change me to hold UNSWERVINGLY to this hope, to this faith, to this gift. I love you, Father. You are perfect in all things and compassionate beyond measure.