Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Value of One Another

I enjoyed a great privilege this week:  the mirror only a true friend can hold.  Last week's post was originally emotional and overwrought.  Thanks to the faithful words of a friend, I went back and adjusted a few things. My goal has never been to exploit you, the reader, or make this a public confessional.  My hope is that we will all be encouraged and changed.  If I can contribute to your growth through my own life and applying the Word of God, it's a small price for holiness.
That was the gift from one friend among many.  Perhaps you, like me, could name the
- person you call with off-the-wall prayer requests, knowing she will keep it in strictest confidence,
- person who is beyond you in life and experience, but willingly shares from her own walk with God,
- person who is fun, who laughs with you and for you,
- person who calls you on your mistakes and loves you anyway.
Each one is treasure. Two years ago I stopped to chat with a couple of older saints in a golf cart and received an amazing gift toward building friendships: a vision for accountability.
Up to that point, I had avoided all references to accountability.  It didn't speak, "friend" as much as "foe." It felt like those asking wanted to swap responsibility--yours for mine.  Nope.  Not interested.
One of the women in the golf cart shared a model for accountability she was actively using and it sounded wonderful.  A small group of women (three-ish) met for an hour, once a week.  There was no Bible study, no book or curriculum, just life sharing. Each person needed to be willing to change and willing to challenge others.
After mulling it over, I prayed and did research.  Online articles by Dr. Richard J. Krejcir pointed to biblical examples and directives for interpersonal discipleship.  There is a measure of discernment needed in sharing our lives, especially as it relates to others, but we are also called to open ourselves and allow others to speak truth. It's part of the one-another's of Scripture. 
In a true accountability group, "others" ask hard questions, follow up on things I'd rather forget, and encourage me to endure.  They don't assume responsibility for my choices, but they care, they ask and they apply specific Scripture.  I listen to their struggles and victories and ask questions, seeking to keep Christ at the center.  The hardest part is the group size--making and keeping it small.  We want to include everyone and exclude no one, but it's best not to, just for this time.  Jesus's intimate group included Peter, James and John.  He exposed Himself to them as He did to no one else, He rebuked them, asked them hard questions, and allowed them the privilege of doing the same.
We began more than a year ago and decided to memorize the New Testament book of James as a jumping off point each week.  We haven't finished, but we're making progress.  It's an extremely good, rich, deep time of fellowship.  6:15a.m. comes early, but it's worth the yawns.  As we drink coffee and take notes we share laughter, sometimes tears, but God is there, directing and using us, for His glory and our good. 
And it isn't just us--our husbands, children, local church, co-workers, and people whose lives we touch benefit because we're not in it for ourselves, we're in it for the glory of God.
"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,  with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace....
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,  for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,  till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,  but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:1-6,11-16 NKJV).


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Living Life Backwards

"This is what my father used to call, 'too-big-for-your-britches," my husband coached one of our children.  I listened with humility.  God and I just had the same conversation.

The holidays made devotional time difficult.  There just isn't a routine from one day to the next and my spiritual appetite (which decreases with time, unlike a physical one), had waned and wavered. 

Sunday was a busy day of ministry--Sunday school, choir, youth, worship.  A wonderful day.  I crawled into bed, ready for the end.  Before I knew it, my review of life was more about me and less about others.  The downward, negative spiral carried over into a wrong-side-of-the-bed start to Monday.  Realizing I was overly critical of others, I prayed, "God, please make me more aware of my own sin than the sins of others."  It was a dangerous request.

After everyone left for school and work, my heart said, "Your know what your problem is: you don't love people enough." Lie. Loving others isn't the problem; loving God is.

I answered, "I know I haven't been reading my Bible enough.  I should start with prayer and Bible reading.  That will help."

"But you've been reading Isaiah.  That's part of the Old Testament. That's not going to help."  Lie. God never changes. "You should skip it until you've figured out the love-thing." Lie. "Not by righteous works which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us...."

"The New Testament.  1 Corinthians 13.  I should review and meditate on that."

"Phtt.  You already know 1 Corinthians 13.  What good's it going to do to read it one more time?" Lie.  "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God."

So I read 1 Corinthians 13 by God's grace.  And repeated it.  And prayed.  And meditated on it, focusing on Jesus love for me.  Instead of me loving others, I could see God loving me and realized I was backwards in the saddle--looking at others instead of Him.

Sin is ugly.  And deceitful.

But God, in His goodness, allowed me a closer view of my need. 

Miles J. Stanford wrote, "There will always be a degree of 'labor' involved [in sanctification].... because self will never change;  it will always be sinful, never possessed of one good thing.  We must count on the exchange of the cross to separate us from the influence of self, freeing us to rest in the life of our Lord." (The Complete Green Letters,  p. 234)

Instead of standing with my back to the cross, looking at the shadow it cast on the lives of others, God turned me around.  To face Jesus.  And there, gazing upon the cross, I saw my failures in the light of God's incredible love, lost in the wonder of God's glory.  Filled with the love of the Father and Son, I was empowered by the Spirit to love others with abandon and sincerity.

My britches are a little more comfortable--and it's easier to move forward when you're facing the right direction.  The busyness has calmed.  I am regaining an appetite for God's Word.  And Jesus continues to be more gracious, more wonderful, more generous, more loving, kind and gentle than ever before.

"Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat.  And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

So he said, “Teacher, say it.”

"There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, 

“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head.  You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in.  You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50 NKJV)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Painful Truth

We had the privilege of eating at a Brazilian steakhouse with family this week.  As nearly twenty of us spread out around the table, my husband and I found ourselves in the midst of children.  To my right and across the table sat at least four ten-year-oldish children.  Rounds and rounds of meat on a skewer travelled past our table.  Responding to hunger, curiosity, and physical appeal, the wait staff stopped and cut off generous portions of each new offering.
After a generous dessert, we realized our nephew was now reclining on his mother's lap, stomach distended, tears in his eyes.  She gently massaged his discomforted belly and whispered quietly in his ear.
"Why is everyone laughing?"  he asked. 
"Because we've all done exactly the same thing," she answered.
The next morning my parents and I were discussing spiritual matters and I was reminded of the book, "The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness," and Timothy Keller's comparison of our sensitive egos to an extended organ.  The more immediate and painful our reaction to criticism or assistance, the more over-extended our ego.  If my opinion of myself is too high, I will respond with anger and defensiveness.  If my opinion of myself is accurate, I will respond with humility and gratitude for another's investment in my life.
Even as I read from the book of Isaiah this morning, I was reminded of the importance of truth and honesty and the fact that it must start here, with myself.  Until I can openly and honestly own up to my own mistakes, shortcomings and failures, I am in no condition to regard the world around me.  This is why the Word of God is so important.  Apart from the anchor of God's unchangeable, timeless, life-giving Word and way, I will wander and swagger through life, lost.  But as I take time to listen, to reconsider, to submit myself to His Person and Way, my compass is reset and my feet fall on solid ground.

"Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,

And princes will rule with justice...
The foolish person will no longer be called generous,
Nor the miser said to be bountiful;
For the foolish person will speak foolishness,
And his heart will work iniquity:
To practice ungodliness,
To utter error against the Lord,
To keep the hungry unsatisfied,
And he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.
Also the schemes of the schemer are evil;
He devises wicked plans
To destroy the poor with lying words,
Even when the needy speaks justice.

But a generous man devises generous things,
And by generosity he shall stand.
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And righteousness remain in the fruitful field....
The work of righteousness will be peace,
And the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.
My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation,
In secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places,
Though hail comes down on the forest,
And the city is brought low in humiliation....

Blessed are you who sow beside all waters,
Who send out freely the feet of the ox and the donkey." (excerpts from Isaiah 32)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Who's in Control?

If you have done any living, you can guess that this past week was rife with failure after the post, "How Sin Makes Me Fat."  I should have known better--but the goal is for all of us, not just myself.  Once again, I am human.  I fail.  Life goes on.
The greatest encouragement and challenge of the week came through The Complete Green Letters by Miles J. Stanford.  Perhaps one of you is a pastor-person or Bible scholar who would leave a comment and fill in the blanks, because this is a new thought I haven't entirely studied out.  If you haven't read the book, you will appreciate the insight.  If you have read it, perhaps this will be a timely reminder.
Well into Part 4 of the 5-part book, Stanford expounds on Galatians 2:20:  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (NASB).
In personal and group studies and teaching, I admit to getting caught up in the idea of "mortifying" the flesh (particularly in Jim Berg's book, Changed Into His Image). 
Here, Stanford explains that the old self, the sinful self, the unregenerate self, has been crucified; i.e. it is still hanging on that dreadful cross.  It is not dead.  I cannot bring about its death.  But it has been crucified.  It remains there, as I myself am "united with [Christ] in the likeness of His death"  (Romans 6:5).  My sinful self is rendered immovable, fixed, bound.
But, as he says at the end of the chapter, I am often ordered about by it, obeying its voice, desires and demands. 
"There is the allegory of the sea captain who, in mid-ocean, is charged with a capital offense, put in chains, and replaced by another.  As the ship sails on, the chained one seeks to assert his old authority over the crew.  Some of them might be foolish enough to respond, but there is no need to for he has been judicially deposed.  It is now simply a matter of acknowledging the new captain and refusing the threats and orders of the condemned one.  The death sentence is not yet carried out beyond his being held in the place of death, his power broken, but he will be executed when the ship reaches port.  In the meantime, he causes a lot of trouble.
"Is this not a picture of the Adamic source, held in the place of death, replaced by the new Source at the helm of the ship?  Our attitude toward the old man has to be this: 'I reckon on the crucifixion of the cross as your undoing, and therefore refuse your reign over me.  I count the Lord Jesus Christ as the Captain of my life.' When we reach the heavenly port, the conflict will be over; in the meantime, we rest in Him" (The Complete Green Letters, p. 222-223). is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."  Galatians 2:20
It is not a matter of giving up as much as it is a matter of control.  This week, I've asked God to replace the old Sydney-self-control and with the new Christ-self-control.  God works it out by His grace, through faith, and it's a much better solution than me, myself, mortifying--myself.