Sunday, November 13, 2011

the second half

I am convinced my life is one big cycle. Or more of a spiral, maybe. I don’t know, I mean I do feel like I learn a lot on a regular basis, and I do feel like it’s deeper and more relevant each time, but generally I tend to learn the same truths over and over again.
Because I am a small human.

Something that’s been continually coming up in my heart is the concept of being a daughter of God. How absurd a thought is that?! Seriously. I don’t even know how to be that. Servant? I can do that. Ambassador? I’m learning how. It seems that natural responses to God’s love are to serve Him and sacrifice myself,  or to represent Him and claim His message and do His work.
These seem very logical to me. Maybe that’s just because they’re my organic response to a love like His—to humbly sit before Him, knowing I am truly an unworthy recipient of His grace. Of course I feel like all I have to give is to be a servant.

But as J.D. said several times this morning, “Great, you’ve got the first half of the gospel.”

Like normal, I feel like every message/devotional/class I’ve heard lately has been pointed around the same topic: this time it’s God’s radical love for us. You know, the very thing I’ve identified that I’m really struggling to grasp right now.
He always does that, doesn’t He? Doesn’t even try to be sneaky…

Anyway, I’ve been clinging to Hebrews 4:16 lately, “Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” And the song “Come Boldly To the Throne of Grace” has been running through my head for a week or two now, because I’m trying really hard to comprehend what it could look like for me to come boldly to His boldy claim grace...

And I’ve been thinking about writing this blog entry for over a week now, but I’ve felt a little inconclusive (and busy) so I’ve put it off. But church this morning really nailed it down for me so I could at least take hold of this truth, even if I’m not quite to the point of actively walking in it.
Let me explain.

Of course, in the sermon J.D. referenced Hebrews 4:16 and he went on to say that groveling before God and confessing how unworthy you are is truly only half of the gospel! The other half is that we are now His children, and we are to come to Him boldly—like a child to a Father. We should come to Him so boldly that it shocks and offends people. (The image he used was actually hilarious: he told a story about having a meeting at home and having his 3-year-old daughter yell from the bathroom “Dad! Come wipe me!” Hilarious, but seriously makes the point!)

The way I approach God—like a little child to her parents—should shock people…and might I add that it should shock them out of their rigid, rule-loving, tradition-soaked, liturgical, impressive, distant view of God. No, rules, tradition, and liturgy are not a bad thing—not the point!! My God is not and will not be defined by my behavior, my unworthiness, my uncleanliness…you get the idea. God is who He is, and He is making me to be that. Who is God? How is He described? LOVE. (1 John 4:8) God is LOVE. He’s not law, He’s not a slave driver, and He’s not about to let me live as a servant thinking that’s all He’s got for me. No matter how convinced I am that I deserve it—He won’t let me be a servant.
In Luke 15, the Father of the prodigal son won’t even let his son request to be a servant. This is a son who has insulted him, made a mockery of him, disobeyed him, disrespected him, and then came home to ask to be allowed to be a servant. But his father interrupts him to start arranging a party. He clothes him and takes him in as if no wrong had happened, and reminds him that he is a son.

God hears and acknowledges my repentance, but it doesn’t stop there. He makes me a daughter—a co-heir with Christ. (Romans 8:16-17)

And knowing I would struggle to believe it, God gave me the words, His Word, to remind myself, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Straight burnin' up.

Saturday I had an experience that I never really recommend to people, but for whatever reason seems to reoccur in my life in kind of an absurd number of times: I returned the good old (somewhat cliche?) standby "I'm-at-such-a-loss-that-I-am-just-going-to-pray-and-read-whatever-page-of-the-Bible-I-open-up-to."
And lo and behold, I was hit with truth from a faithful God.

I read in Ecclesiastes 5:13-6:12, and then jumped over to chapter 11.
And pretty much, the gist of it all is to live with what circumstances you have, know it's from the Lord, count it a blessing, but do not let it define you.
And chapter 11 had these words of wisdom to shoot straight through to my stubborn, self-centered soul: "He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap. (v. 4) " AKA nothing is going to just happen for you because you want it to. "Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things." You don't know why things happen, how things happen, heck, you don't even know the things that happen, so you most certainly are not going to understand how God is working the unfathomable mystery of the Gospel into your heart.

But. He is.

After this beautiful encounter with a wonderful, relevant truth, I quickly forgot it. (That's what humans are supposed to do right?) And by the time I went to church the next morning I was already in a pity-party because I was alone and unconfident that this is my home. And when unexpected circumstance piled up on top of challenging circumstance, I ended up in a big, self-pitying, victim-mindset that made me want to revert back to my days as a 4-year-old and throw a big nasty tantrum, and this was all before the sermon even started.

As I am NOT a 4-year-old, I refrained. At least until after church.
But then J.D. started preaching. He introduced a new series he'll be doing on 1 Peter. Want to know what the first thing he said about this book was? "First Peter is written to a group of people who are in the midst of suffering."
Okay, Lord, you have my attention.
He continued to blow my mind with every line of the sermon. I felt like he was talking to me, the one in the congregation who was already on the brink of tears because things have been hard since I got here.
I could write three posts about this sermon, but instead you should just listen to it here:

After the sermon, I was thinking heavily about verses 6-7 in 1 Peter 1:
"In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

...and I was thinking about their implications for my current situation. And how beautiful it is that I am the gold.
My faith is the gold! Gold can only be refined by fire, otherwise you'll never see the impurities. The good stuff has to be melted down in the heat of the flame so that the bad stuff will float to the top to be removed.
J.D. said, "Trials reveal the places where you don't actually trust God."

And then in a conversation afterwards in the midst of my simplistic cries of "I just want out of the fire"  and "what do I need to do?" and "how do I get out of this?!"
and a pretty darn wise man pointed out to me, just as simply:
Maybe getting out isn't the point. Maybe the point is just being in it, and learning how to be in it.

Finally in a blast from my past, I was reminded of how we taught the story of Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego at camp last summer, and one of the more brilliant things I ever heard anyone observe from that study was on Daniel 3:25-26 (go re-read the story, it will bless you!). She said "I think it's interesting how God rescues the three in the fire, but not from the fire."

Stay in the fire.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sheep+fighting=abundant life?

Do you ever feel like you're racing against your own thoughts?
Like, if you don't get them down in writing or at least unintelligibly spoken somehow very soon you'll lose them forever, and you are convinced that this is actually the only chance you'll ever have to articulate them so you better call one of those trusty people you process through things with before these thoughts wander away into oblivion never to be tamed again?
...Yeah, me either.

However, I do have about 43 lines from other people running through my head right now. (Not to mention the constant to-do list I can never manage to put down on paper and the list of people I want to call and questions I want to ask them...but I digress.)

I'll just narrow it down to three great thought-provoking lines for now.
And I'm going to attempt to express some of these unruly thoughts by tying them all into a single, foundational truth I am beginning to grasp right now.

"Do not despise your pasture." -J.D. Greear
When David of the old testament is chosen to be king (1 Samuel 16:14), he is called out of his third-class job as a shepherd, anointed by God's prophet Samuel...and then sent back to the pasture.
Can you imagine? "Hey, listen, God told me to pick the next king of Israel, and I've already checked out all of your far-more-qualified older brothers, and it's not them. It's you. God wants you to be the next king. Now, go on back to those sheep, mmk?" 
Right. You just told me I am going to be a KING and you expect me to go back and hang out with the dumbest animals on the face of the earth in a very under-appreciated, very un-glamorous, very lonely job?! Not likely. Gimme dat crown.
But that is not how David responds! David knows this is all absolutely insane. David knows he is not capable of being a king on his own. David knows his place--and that is wherever God tells him to be. David knows God has put him in this pasture for a purpose. Maybe he doesn't see it happening while he's there; maybe he's even frustrated with God for putting him there. But he does grow while he's there. He learns the things that God needs to teach him to make him a great king. His character is formed so that he can fulfill the role God has set apart for him and the tasks that God has planned for him.
And if seminary isn't a pasture, I don't know what is.
Being called to care for people spiritually, then ripped away from the abundant opportunities I had just 6 months ago to fulfill that very idea of calling, and then being plopped into a place where I am challenged, where my circumstances are less fulfilling than I had hoped for, where my very way of thinking is disrupted, where my desires are required to change just so I can continue onto the next lesson...this is my pasture. This is concentrated sanctification. It is not easy, it is not particularly pleasant, but man, I have to believe it is good.

"Unity is one of the hardest things you will ever do." -David Dwight
The sermon at Hope this morning really spoke into a lot of unresolved thoughts I've just been sitting on. And by "sitting on" I mean one step short of ignoring.
But the sermon boiled down to the fact that when we give our hearts to Christ, we can no longer reconcile the cultural ideas of individuality and independence. Christ's prayer for His church in John 17:11 is unity. And in order to embrace a lifestyle of unity in any relationship, we must be willing to sacrifice whatever we think we are entitled to have from the other person. He talked about how this unity is manifested in marriage, and how the couple who has been through 50 years of fighting through tough times and sin patterns and wondering if they're even going to make it--the couple who has spent those 50 years working for the relationship--they are an image of unity. The belief that the commitment is worth fighting for. That is the unity Christ calls us to allow to permeate through our whole lives.
We must not be willing to walk away when things are hard. We must not think there is any relationship worth sacrificing in lieu of humbly working through problems, even if only for the sake of unity.

"I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." -Jesus
Now you might be wondering how in the world any of these are going to tie in together.
Hold on to your hats.
This statement Jesus makes in John 10:10 is a reminder of His person and His purpose.
What I mean by that is this:
Jesus came to do something! He came to give us life!! So that must mean that in order to have this abundant life He's speaking of, we have to get it from Him. If He came so that we can have it, there is nowhere else we can get it. Not from ourselves, not from others (read: not from making it through the pasture, not from achieving unity in relationships).
And Jesus is good. This is hard to believe a lot of the time, but He promises here that if we want this life, He came to give it to us. He is for us, and He deserves to be trusted.

So how do I get through the pasture? How do I find unity in relationships? By looking past myself and straight to Christ. I am not naturally patient enough to get through a season of waiting and growth, nor am I selfless enough to make sacrifices for the sake of unity and love. Those things only come from knowing Christ and seeking Him.
My growth and my service and my ministry are all for naught if they are the goal of my life. Jesus is the source of abundant life, and when I shift my focus to other things, it's no wonder I grow discontent. Technically I shouldn't even know when/if I've "gotten better" at something in my life with Christ. If the journey through the pasture and the lifetime of relationships are Christ-centered, the growth will happen without my even being aware.