Sunday, March 23, 2014

When Old is New

Nothing new. Ahh, the world shakes, nations tango and tremble, rise and fall. Young people disregard old people, recreate old trends. Successful people leapfrog; the downtrodden disappear. There is nothing new under the sun.

There is nothing new in--nothing to add to--God's Word. How dangerous it is to look for something new, hidden, secret. And yet, perhaps it is even more dangerous to know what God's Word says and fail to do it. How tempted we are to overlook the simple and obvious in search of a closet permission to meet our heart's desire. But that is not how it works.

God has given us a simple truth (remarkable, but humbling): Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I am a sinner. I need a holy God.

To believe that, to take God at His Word and bank my life--my eternity--on it, is to turn my world upside down, inside out. It's not new. It's not improved. It's not going to be on the nightly news. But if I were to truly embrace and live by His grace, based on the old, old story of Jesus and His love,

- I would measure the activities of my day in eternal rather than national currency.
- I would desperately seek to touch the hurting, needy, and outcast.
- I would willingly sacrifice comfort and conveniences.
- I would not attach my name to success, but to weakness, failure, and infirmity.
- I would not worry.
- I would look for ways to serve others instead of myself.
- I would sleep at night, both from a sense of well-earned weariness and God-given peace.
- I would not want.
- I would thank God instead of asking, "Why?"
- I would hold my agenda (my children, my home, my job, my ...) with an open hand instead of a closed fist.
- I would spend more time on my knees and less on my feet.
- I would not humor self-condemnation or false guilt.
- I would be quick to confess my wrongs to God and others.
- I would be quick to listen; slow to speak; slow to anger.
- I would praise, not complain.
- I would love without expectation.
- I would give without acknowledgement.

In other words, I would look, sound and live like Jesus. I would find that He has made Himself at home in my body, my mind, my world, my family, my church, my life. Jesus would be here, living through me, and I, by faith, would experience the joy, peace and power of the gospel that only He can give.

The Christian life is not new. It is not old. It is. Because I Am has come. I Am is here. I Am is among us. The life lived by faith in Christ is a present reality that began in eternity past and runs through eternity future--but it is not dependent on me. God's work will continue and live on... and on....

The beauty and strength of the Christian life is found in the precious truth of this Savior, told over and over, day after day, moment by moment. And in those moments, I no longer need something new. He is. Enough.

For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
“Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:20-25)
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Just as If...

A friend's daughter returned to the kitchen after time out. "Mom, I sure like people better when I'm by myself." What a laugh, but oh, how true!

This morning I was convicted and encouraged that God doesn't feel that way about us. Our youth group and leaders are on a 2-year trek through the Bible and it's easy to wonder what applications we can glean from Exodus and Leviticus. In all of the directions for building the tabernacle, directing worship and giving commands, I continue to find these types of references to Aaron and his sons:
The holy garments of Aaron shall be for his sons after him, that in them they may be anointed and ordained. (Exodus 29:29).
God adds this in the midst of a long series of instructions for Aaron and his sons without bias, without foreshadowing, without a list of exceptions. Knowing what we do about Aaron and his sons, God might have clued us in to the fact that Aaron had issues--and so did his sons. God might have set up safe guards against their frailty and failure (Exodus 32, Leviticus 10). But He gave commands, promises, and warnings as if all was well.
The same is true in the New Testament. Jesus knew all men, even Judas, and what would become of him (John 2:24-25). But in love and wisdom He included him, commanded and taught him as he taught the others.
We (I) fall so short of that example! How easily our bias for or against others shows itself. Rather than think the best, we hedge our bets or seek to protect our interests (justifying it as "realistic" or a natural consequence) with very little, if any evidence one way or the other.

God's love for those who have trusted Christ is perfect. His love does not depend on the individual or vary with our behavior/motives/words. He is the same. He gives, protects, and provides generously, unconditionally... as if we had never sinned.* Oh, for the understanding and love to accept others the way He loves us!

(If you have not experienced His love and forgiveness, read the questions and Scripture in the margin to the right or ask a friend who knows God personally.)

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth...." (Luke 20:21)

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.(Galatians 6:1-5, 10)

*His love for us includes discipline (Hebrews 12), but it is a perfect discipline born in love not resentment or anger.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Complaining: Beauty from Ashes

Yesterday a beautiful thing happened. It wasn't something I did or planned to do; it just--was. As I moved clothes from the dryer into the basket, folding along the way, thoughts of the miserable cold I'm suffering turned to my friend with Bel's palsy who hasn't been able to blink for two weeks and I prayed for her, for her discomfort, protection from long-term difficulty, healing, perseverance. As I picked up another piece of clothing with one hand and blew my nose with the other, I prayed for my young mother friend who is fighting cancer, for joy, perseverance, faith, and the revelation of God in the midst of it all. And the list continued: the husband suffering long-term effects of CO2 poisoning, the father with ALS and their families....

Standing to transfer clothes from the washer to dryer, I heard myself. God had done a work through my complaining and transformed it from personal muck to glorious love. Aware of my relative discomfort, He allowed me to channel it to thoughts of others. Much like the discipline of fasting, God used my infirmity to propel prayers upward on behalf of others!

Some of you are not surprised; you fight pain, weakness, and discomfort all day, every day. You know. You know the power of God--that the gospel of Jesus empowers us to love others in spite of, through, because of, the pain and suffering. You know that God wastes nothing and uses everything. You experience His life-giving power in the midst of ongoing death. And, while on earth there is confusion, anger, clamor, disillusionment and despair, even in suffering, through Jesus, there is beauty, life, joy, peace, comfort; a giving from those who have nothing earthly to give to those in great need. And God triumphs. Once again, He claims victory and proves His worth.

"And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.  Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. "(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You,  as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent....
"I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours....
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  (John 17:1-3, 9, 20-21: IThe night before He was crucified, knowing what was ahead, Jesus prayed for His disciples and those who would later believe and follow Him.)