Sunday, March 31, 2013

Full Heart

Honestly, I feel "written out."  Ever feel like you just have no more words?  That's how I feel as I come to a blank page this morning (like there is really nothing left to say)...  The page is empty, but my heart feels full.

I am so full to the brim of revitalized joy, following days of reflection as we moved toward Easter...

So full of excitement after a break from normal routine, and, though I worked hard with some "spring cleaning" and closet/cupboard re-arranging, feeling a soul-satisfied sense of accomplishment...

So full of sweet peace following days of deep-spiritual-fellowship - a rare, but wonderful, visit from one of our "dorm boys" from Kenya, his wife, and five children; and time spent with family and friends...

So full of contentment following some grand-baby snuggle-time...

So full of the warm intimacy following amazing worship and the joy of celebration of our Lord's resurrection, and His GREAT GRACE!

In very, very, very small measure, I think I feel much like the disciples must have felt following a visit to an empty tomb...heart full up and overflowing with every gamut of emotion, but really, absolutely nothing left to say.

...and you? 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good for Me!

Recently, I spent the afternoon with my sack lunch at Canaan in the Desert, in Phoenix, Arizona.  I found one of the few rare spots with shade and camped there with my Bible and my journal.  It’s truly a restful place, and the presence of the Lord is certainly palpable.  The prayer garden incorporates the seven stations of the cross of Christ, perfect for this season of the year.  The place I chose to sit, rested directly across from the theme verse of this particular station that focused on Christ’s scourging:  He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities, and with his stripes, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).  Because Easter is fast approaching, and before Easter comes the cross, sitting there in the garden, I got to thinking in particular about the time period we call, “Good Friday.”  Good (?) Friday.  The day Jesus was beaten.  The day he was mocked and betrayed.  The day his shame caused the Father’s back to turn away.  The day he died.  The day he was rushed to be buried in a borrowed grave.  Yet, we call it “good.”  Certainly not for Jesus.  No!  Not by any stretch of any definition, as he was crucified in excruciating pain, immersed in pitch black darkness and sin-deafening silence.  But...

Good for me!

                My transgression washed away, as his blood trickled down.

                My iniquities forgiven as I bathed in the bloody pool at his feet.               

                Sin-sickness healed as I allowed his flesh to be torn from his body.

Good for me!

            Today I’m no longer blackened by the dirt of my foolishness, but white as fresh fallen snow.

Today, I’m no longer hiding in naked shame of regret, but standing in a glistening golden royal robe, a princess’ crown upon my head.

Today, my nauseous stomach is soothed and filled with the bread of life from his body, my thirsty soul satisfied from his blood.

Good for me!

                Good for me!

                                Good for me!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday, the Supreme Court, & the Law of Love

Growing up, my family always celebrated Passion Week, and our church held special services commemorating the events of Jesus’ last week leading up to his death, and resurrection, generally beginning with Palm Sunday.  I wasn’t one to ask a lot of questions as to what we were celebrating, but understood the “why” behind it, which culminated in Jesus death to take away my sins, and his resurrection of new life. 

This morning I did some research.  The older I’ve gotten, the more questions I seem to ask, or the more I want things explained.  I’ve wondered about the name given to the Thursday before Jesus died.  What exactly is Maundy Thursday?  So, I “googled” it – thank you, Internet.  I think what I discovered is pretty reliable.  It actually came from an online devotional (free) from John Piper.  Here’s what he says:  “The word Maundy comes from the Latin word, mandatum – the first word in the Latin rendering of John 13:34.  A new commandment (mandatum novum) I give to you, love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  Maundy Thursday is known as the Thursday of the Commandment.”

Incredible timing on this revelation.  This week the Supreme Court of the United States began debating the issue of marriage.  A new battle is raging, and new lines are being drawn.  Christian conservatives have become known as the haters.  We’re the “anti” people: always against, never for whatever the current issue is at hand.   One has to wonder, “Why?”  Yet, the answer is a fairly obvious one – a brief perusal of social media (take your pick) and you’ll catch on.  We draw lines.  While lines are good, and biblical, and convictions are nothing more than guard rails for protection, we start letting the lines define us, instead of the ONE THING that Jesus wanted to define us: LOVE.

The Word is full of it:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love one another…1 John 3:14

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth…1 John 3:18.

This is his commandment that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us…1 John 3:21

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love… (1 John 4:7-8)

On this day, the Thursday of Commandment, let us all take heart to the message Jesus exemplified for us.  In spite of our differences.  In spite of our convictions.  In lieu of our Lord’s commandment…Let us LOVE, even while drawing a line.  Let love be without hypocrisy.  Let love be gentle.  Let love be kind.  Let love be patient.  Let love be good.  And may our love lead to the purpose Jesus died…reconciliation to the Father.  May we all be ministers of reconciliation first and foremost.  This is our call.

And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Ro. 5:11)

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).

Monday, March 25, 2013


I get pretty excited about sports; well, some sports.  Gotta admit, I’m not really a baseball fan, even though I do love the sound of a bat cracking when it meets the ball.  I like sporting venues that bring a little more action.  That’s why I like basketball; and, the fact that I fell in love with a former basketball player.  I also enjoy watching the fans at sporting events.  Seriously, don’t you get a kick out observing them?  I’m always intrigued at the ones who paint their body’s team colors, or wear team shirts and wave those stupid foam fingers.  I’ve been amazed at the long lines they will endure just to enter an arena, or the amount of money they pay to sit in an uncomfortable seat (worse yet, some of them never even enjoy the seat they purchased – they stand the whole time).  Maybe that’s why I’ve never heard a fan complain about the seats.  I am shocked at those enthusiasts that enter a lottery in order to be able to park in a stadium lot. Or, the ones who drive to the stadium, tailgate, and watch the game on a little TV in the back of their SUV, because they can’t afford to park in the parking garage, or pay the price of admission into the game, yet still want to hover in the atmosphere.  I smile big when I see how carried away these same groupies get when their team scores.  Timid people turn into living tornadoes when their favorite player creates positive motion on the court or on the field (the very thing they are often paid to do).  I have to laugh at some of the antics – fans contort their fingers into odd shapes to symbolize their support; they leap up and down; jump on each other’s backs; run around; scream and yell until they lose their voices (they may not even be at the game doing these things; they may simply be on their couches).  I watch, I smile, I laugh, but I also recognize this is normal behavior at a ball game.  Normal!  These are signs of exultation, and exultation is the norm when something big happens at a sporting event.  And, yes (I know, bad grammar to start a sentence with “and”), I do it, too.

So, if this is the norm when something big happens in athletics, what should be the norm when something big happens in life?  Paul tells us in Romans, right after he lights up the sky with those two stars:  Take a look.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope (emphasis mine) of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing...the love of God has been poured out within our hearts...And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
(Romans 5: 1-3, 5, 11)
When after dark days of sin-filled hopelessness, I receive justification...EXULT!

When following confusion and anxiety, I find peace...EXULT!

When life is hard, yet I grow in character and perseverance, and experience the love of God filling me up to overflowing...EXULT!
When I’ve felt the sting of rejection, abandonment, and separation from God, and I receive new life, reconciliation and purpose...EXULT!

These are life events I call mine because of the Resurrection.  These are game-changers, the positive motion created on the court of this sporting event called “my life”.  These are the touchdowns, the free throw shots, the goals, the trys (rugby terminology), and the hole-in-one that bring the “W”.  So, what is my response?  Is it to exult?
Let’s define the word.  Here are a few synonyms:  revel, glory, triumph, rejoice, party, cheer, celebrate wildly, express great joy, elation, delight, jubilation, and exuberation.  The word, like merit-monger, was coined in the 16th century from a French word “exulter,” which meant to “keep leaping up, or to leap out.”  Next Sunday is Easter.  Resurrection Sunday.  A day set aside to remember my justification, peace with God, the overflowing love of my resurrected, victorious Savior, and my new life.  What will be my response to the hero who won the game for me?  Will I leap up and cheer?  Will I jump up and down?  Will I shout and scream and lose my voice, the way I did when Bay’s team won the national championship?  Probably not; but, why not?

Apparently Paul did...and it was NORMAL.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Best Easter Word EVER!

He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. Romans 4:25.

With Easter just a couple weeks away, this is a notable verse for the season!  After a huge discourse on the theology of reckoning, Paul whips out some “Twitter” worthy words.  The whole compound sentence capstones the miraculous, but there is just one word that thrills my soul: because.
There it sits in two places, this word, becausefirst, followed by a picture of that sin-ugly, sin-black creature of Romans 1, 2, 3:  me.

Because. Of me.  On my account.

Because – followed, next, by the only list that really matters, the one that says “Bad I’ve Been Involved In”, also known as "transgressions"... 

Because  - those transgressions (mine) put Jesus (the He  of Romans 4:25) on the cross on Good Friday.

Because - now, written across that chart of accounts are these words:

Debt Cancelled.

Because - my justification, my Debt Cancelled  (somewhere down the road 2000, and some, years later) powered Jesus up from the grave on Resurrection Sunday.

 BECAUSE.  Isn't it just the best Easter word EVER WRITTEN!?!

Consider how impactful that one word is...and rejoice in His Resurrection! are this loved!

Monday, March 11, 2013

By.In. & Merit Mongering

I think the best way to tie together the last two weeks of blog-thoughts is to tell a little bible story.  A special thanks to my co-worker, and friend, Jimmy Farley for drawing my attention to this story a few weeks back.  I’ll Peg-Paraphrase the story, but you can actually read it for yourself in Luke 18:9-14 (please do).  In my Bible, it’s titled The Pharisee and the Publican.  Jesus is telling the story.  Here’s my version. 

The good church-goer, who obeyed all the righteous-rules, went to church one day.  Keep in mind, this guy (or girl, but I’ll use the term guy – it makes me feel better) was a “doer” and he knew that by his doing, he found favor with God.  He was “in.”  Because he lacked no confidence that he was “in,” he stood inside the temple, probably as close to the altar as he could possibly get, and prayed out loud (notice it says, “ himself” – his words were addressed to God, but, in reality, he was praying to himself).  As he prayed, he presented his laundry list of law-abiding goodness:
I am not like other people

I am not a swindler; I don’t cheat

I am not unrighteous

I am not an adulterer

I am not like this other guy

I fast twice a week

I pay a tithe to my church

The other guy, to whom the good church-goer referred, was an IRS agent (Have you done your taxes yet? If so, you probably don’t like this guy any more than the goody-two-shoes-church-boy does.  I mean seriously, can an IRS agent really make it to heaven?).  Mr. IRS is a bad man.  He squeezes people for all he can get.  As the old saying goes, “This guy can get blood out of a turnip (where did that come from, anyway?).”  However, Mr. IRS is very aware of his “badness.”  He doesn’t even try to get close to the altar – he stands, but some distance away.  He wouldn’t even dare to lift up his eyes, and his prayer was humble, he had no laundry list of the good he’d done.  His heart was so heavy with sin, he could only pound on his chest, and seek the mercy of the only One who could lighten his load.  His prayer was simple, “God, be merciful to me, THE* sinner.”  Note: not a sinner, generic; THE sinner, specific.

God reached down that day, and lightened the load of Mr. IRS.  He went home “just as if he never sinned.”  Not so, Mr. Church.  Whoa!  I hear what you're yelling, "That’s not fair!" 

...but, wait! Mr. Church was a perfect definition of a merit-monger.  He had the do-good list.  He deserved....oh, yes, he did!  He made a great case for himself according to the law.  However, Mr. IRS understood Romans 1, 2, 3.  He was THE SINNER.  He was the sin-black-sin-ugly creature swimming in the dark waters of the first three chapters of Romans.  He NEEDED those truths we talked about two weeks ago to so penetrate his heart that nothing remained of self-righteousness, or expectation, or any thought of “I deserve _________________.”  Mr. IRS understood grace (in a big way).  We all need to remember there’s another list besides my “do good” list, or the “bad done against me list.”  There’s a list called “Bad I’ve Been Involved In.”  That particular list is longer and larger than any I might try to rattle off on my behalf.  After spending time in Romans 1, 2 & 3, I have no case for merit-mongering.  Like the tax collector in Luke 18, all I can do is beat my chest, and cry out, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”  All I can hope for is grace.  By.In. Because of these two prepositions, that is exactly what I get...grace!

Moral of the story:  I must remain in the depths of my sinful despair long enough to truly make the buy in to the BY.IN. of Jesus.  I will always surface "just as if I've never sinned," filled with gratitude as opposed to greed.

(*Emphasis mine.)

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Case Against Merit-Mongering

I ran across an odd phrase while perusing the dictionary (I know, I’m a nerd...I’m OK with that).  Ever heard the term “merit-monger?”  If so, you either lived (which I highly doubt), or have read literature coming from the sixteenth century.  It hung around for about a hundred years and then descended into obliteration around 1828.  We may need to revive it here in this century.  I’d like to say, “I aren’t”…but...I fear…I am.  If the cliché is true that it “takes one to know one,” then I come across others like me on a regular basis, too.

Here’s how merit-mongering works – I’ll make it personal.  Over the past several years I have spent significant time, energy, and money investing in the development of a particular program.  If you and I were to sit down and chat, I could tell you every thing I’ve ever done to contribute to its success.  I can also tell you every hindrance and hurdle that, in spite of all my good efforts, has caused this “baby” to not get off the ground.  I can go through the inventory quite effectively, and make a good case for my project.  By the time I am through, you would agree with me, that my undertaking is worthy of consideration; should not be overlooked; and, in fact, you would recognize, with me, that I have a right to be credited, if not greatly rewarded for my efforts.  Not only would you think I deserved to be compensated; but you’d also be indignant that I wasn’t!  Merit-mongerers know how to make a case for themselves…

Don’t we all do this to a certain degree?  It may not be a project.  It might be a job.  It could be found in a class we’re taking, or the child that we’re raising.  It can be found in our marriages, in our friendships, in the way we think about life, in general.  We maintain a mental two-column list.  On one side is the do-good list, the other side just doesn’t happen to be the do-bad list, but the done-bad-against-me-list.  Both lists prove my point: I deserve _________________ (you fill in the blank).  I have a right to ____________________.  I’ve earned the credit for____________________.  I am worthy of being treated with ________________________.  The whole concept of “merit-mongering” falls under a category of justice. We want to believe that there is a valid principle of fairness, satisfaction received, and reward justly handed out to the “deserving.”  When it doesn’t happen, and we turn up empty-handed, we get angry, upset, discouraged, and depressed.  After all, “I had a right to…” 

Here are some of the well-deserved, merit-mongering rights I hear myself saying, as I do others:
I deserve to be treated with respect (“What am I chopped liver?”)…

I deserve to be loved (“Everyone should love me as much as I love myself;” I think it, even if I would never dare say it)…

I deserve to be happy (“After all I have put up with, isn’t it time?")…

I have a right to be married (“God, didn’t you say it wasn’t good for man to be alone?”)…

I deserve to make the same amount of money (“Whatever happened to impartiality and equality? Why should you get more than me?”)…

I have a right to be compensated (“Look at all the effort I made!”)...

The desire to demand my rights came out of my 1970’s past, and has cemented itself into my current Christian culture...yours, too (just maybe not connected to the 70's).  But, as I have been reading through and studying the book of Romans, I catch the current of a different tide; and, as I ride the wave to shore I see a bonfire and an altar.  Then, I hear these words, “I urge you, my beloved, in view of God’s mercy, to present yourself...this is your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).”  As long as I think I “deserve” or “demand one right or another” I will stay trapped in a cycle of defeat.  I will never experience true joy.  I will never be fulfilled in worship.  I will always be on a spiritual and emotional roller coaster.  The only way out is off.  The way off is to yield. 

Jesus showed us “the way.”  “I came down from heaven, not to do my will, but the will of the one who sent me (John 6:38).”  The writer of Hebrews said it, too:  “Here I am...I am come to do your will, my God (Hebrews 10:7).”

Last week, I mentioned that I would expound on the other reason I needed to swim around in the darkness of Romans 1, 2, and 3.  I'm going to put that off for one more week, because, actually, it has a lot to do with merit-mongering...

Thanks for hanging in there with me.