Monday, April 29, 2013

Defending Almighty God, or Protecting Me...

Did you read last week’s blog?  In it, I mentioned the struggle I have with wanting to defend God from people who just can’t accept him for who he is.  Fortunately, the Bible speaks to our personal struggles – it really is a great book!  I’ve been learning, how to handle these situations a little bit better, thanks to my morning conversations with the Holy Spirit in the book of Romans.  However...

Over the course of the last three years, I have met off and on with a gal who looks at everything about God (especially his character) through the lens of her own personal struggles.  She’ll argue to the nth degree why he just can’t be the God we think he is.  Unfortunately, over time, her words sound much like a broken record (for those of you who’ve never listened to a broken record, those words are symbolic of a phrase that’s stuck on repeat).  The result of our conversations is that I’m either for her, or against her.  So, to present God’s perspective from the Word, in spite of all my good intentions...well, makes me into the bad guy.  However...
I don’t think I am.  I have a soft heart for this gal.  Undeniably, life has been hard.  Unquestionably, many of her desires have been unfulfilled.  Sadly, there isn’t a lot of hope glimmering up ahead in her future.  I understand why she could be angry with life’s hand, and God’s.  My want-to is to be a beacon of light that shines on some semblance of what-could-be on down the road of life.  I’ve wanted to be a friend, and one who would “stick close.”  However...
While I’m still in the book of Romans, I’ve gotten side-tracked by some other passages of Scripture, as I attempt to hear from the Lord on how to best respond in situations like this one.  Here are some of the verses I’ve been drawn to read (caution:  they sound pretty harsh) -
...reproof and discipline is a way of life (Prov. 6:23).
...a scoffer will not listen to reproof (Proverbs 13:1).  Side note:  a scoffer throughout the book of Proverbs is literally “one who makes a mouth at, refusing to seek knowledge and understanding” and is categorized as foolish.
...a fool does not delight in understanding; only in revealing what is in his own mind (Proverbs 18:2).
...leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge (Proverbs 14:7).
...don’t make friends with an angry person...lest you entangle yourself in a snare (Proverbs 22:24-25).
I get it; this sounds like I’m looking for a way out. It has to appear as if I’m trying to justify walking away, and not continuing to meet.  It sounds more like I'm protecting me (well, yes, I guess I am, sort of, so read on). I’ve searched my heart, and labored over these verses.  However...
After seeking some godly counsel; after much reflection and realizing how “entangled” I’ve become in an unhealthy way (i.e. consuming mental energy trying to help her find TRUTH); after following Paul’s steps of honest reproof; and years of praying that the Spirit of the Lord would get through, I am making a decision to still be friendly, but no longer meet in an attempt to be a helper.  Sometimes, Scripture seems to say, wipe the dust off your feet, and move on.  Sometimes, Scripture seems to say, don’t keep giving wisdom where it isn’t received.  Sometimes, for our own healthy mind, Scripture says to do the hard thing, and let go.  However...
My heart aches.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Defending the Almighty God (No Cussing Necessary)

OK.  I need to backtrack in Romans.  I'd made it all the way through Chapter 7, and then a question came up this week that I started wrestling with, and it sent me scattering through Romans for an answer.  I think I found it, but it may take a couple of weeks to completely and thoroughly figure it out.  Here's "The Question":  Have you ever wanted (or felt the need) to defend God?

Recently, I’ve been in that position, where I felt like God was “cornered,” and I struggle with how to respond.  Does God want me to come to his defense?  Does he need me to?  After all, he is God, and is more than capable of stepping up to the plate on his own behalf.  Yet, from time to time, I meet with very honest people, who struggle with connecting the dots between the events of their life, and the character of God.  I understand when we’ve been in tough spots (or are currently), how difficult that can be.  When circumstances out of our control occur, we wonder things like, “If God is good, then why didn’t he step in or step up, and keep this from happening?”  “If God says that it ‘isn’t good for man to be alone,’ then why am I alone and lonely and in my 40’s?”  “Where was God when I was being hurt?” I’ve even had someone say, “God just seems to be like the big bully who stands over an ant with a magnifying glass, just to watch them squirm; only I am the ant.”  Or, “God promises to give us what we need, but it’s like I’m dying of hunger, and he says, ‘...oh, here’s a blanket; you must be cold.’”   I’m so thankful for honesty, and I want to provide a safe place where people can feel free to examine their uncertainty.  Yet, from time to time, when God’s character comes into question, and unbelief looms large, something rises up within me wanting to speak to his integrity.  At the same time, doing so feels like I’m arguing...  So, then I wonder, am I allowing myself to get into a senseless argument, which Proverbs and the New Testament are filled with warning against, calling it foolish?

As I continue on with my study in Romans, I feel as if I’ve gotten a little glimmer into how the apostle, Paul, might have handled situations of this nature.  Sprinkled through the book, at least ten times, and maybe more, since I’m not finished, Paul uses some strong language (NASB):  May it never be!  Whenever he uses those four words, they almost always follow a discussion of either God’s character or the validity of His words.  Examples:
Does my unbelief nullify God’s faithfulness (just because I have a hard time believing God’s character does that mean he’s not who he says he is - Romand 3:3 & 4):  May it never be!

Is God unjust (just because I don’t seem to have life as easy as someone else, is he unfair, unjust, unrighteous - Romans 3:5 & 6, 9:14):  May it never be!

Has the Law become sin (just because God hasn’t fulfilled his truth the way I interpreted, does that make that same truth wrong - Romans 3:31, 7:7, 13):  May it never be!
Has God completely rejected those he says he loves (just because God has blessed someone else, does that mean he’s turning his back on me - Romans 11:1):  May it never be!

May it never be!  Heaven forbid!  Absolutely not!  Not on your life!  God forbid!  By no means!  Certainly not!  Paul couldn’t have been more emphatic, insistent, or forceful...not without cussing.
Here are some observations for such situations (if I want to follow Paul’s lead): 

Never take another individual’s statement of unbelief personally.  This isn’t about me.  I’m not the one being cornered.  This is about him; and God is capable of defending himself.  God never needs me to get “defensive” for his sake, only to be on the “offensive” with the truth.
State the truth emphatically (but don’t cuss).  It’s always important to bring to light anything that bleeds of heresy with a rebuke.  Goodness doesn’t shy away from speaking what is right, no matter how hard or forceful it needs to be (although goodness is always preceded in the list of spiritual fruit with kindness, reminding me to temper my “goodness” with love).  Yes, we can be forceful and loving at the same time.

Once I speak truth offensively, I must let it go...and let the Spirit of God take over.  After correction has been verbalized, God will step up, step in, and come to his own defense when necessary in his own timing.  In his own sweet way, truth will win out.  It will never be forced down another’s throat, but in the wooing, gentle way of God’s Spirit, he always allows truth to continue to prick at the heart.

I’m learning one other, more difficult lesson.  I’ll save it for now.  Just this much is worth my continued pondering...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lenten Lessons

I realize Lent is over, and it's way past Easter, but I’m just wondering, did you give up anything as a part of Lent this year?  Again, I wish there were times we could sit down over coffee and discuss what you learned about yourself, about the Lord, about sin, about death, about resurrection…the list would probably be endless.  When I was a child, we always gave up something for Lent – candy, part of our allowance, meat on Friday (but we could eat fish), lying, being mean to our sister…something.  I’m not a strict adherer to Lenten sacrifice these days, but I did decide to give up something this season.  Here goes…I gave up (drum roll) stepping on the scales.  I decided I was getting more addicted to the numbers on the scale than I was to just simply being healthy.  It’s amazing how three little numbers can ruin or make one’s day, and affirm or devalue one’s significance.  These are things I chat with high school and college girls about all the time, yet even at my age, it can still be a struggle.  So, I decided to give it up for Lent.  Here’s what happened.

The temptation to weigh myself grew greater and stronger.

The desire to eat more unhealthily grew greater and stronger.

…and I began to realize, as I gave into both temptations, not just once, mind you, that the very thing I wanted to do, I didn’t do.  The very thing I didn’t want to do, I did.  Oh my goodness, there is still flesh inside of me, and it is powerful.  And, when the law has been established, law wins…and law is death.   Will I continue in sin (?) - that's the million $ question... So, what's the answer?

Hmm…sounds a bit like Paul in Romans (Have you noticed we’ve been in Romans a lot over the last few weeks? That would be because it’s where I’m spending my mornings in quiet time.  Take note that this isn’t me trying to write a commentary on Romans.  I’m simply sharing what I’m learning and how relevant the Word is for EVERY DAY!).  Here are some snippets of what Paul says (though I have skipped around, please read them as if they were in context):

For the good I wish to do, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.  But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me (Romans 7:19-20).

I would not have come to know sin except through the Law (7:7)…

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin (7:24-25).

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did; sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (8:3).

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (8:5-6).

We are under no obligation to the flesh, to live according to the flesh (8:12)…

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we shall also live with Him (6:6-8)…

So now present your bodies as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification (6:19b)…

The Scripture speaks for itself, doesn’t it?  Lent – a reminder of the Law, that none of us can keep (as if I need a reminder).  Lent - a great picture of the Romans 7 problem.  However, it doesn't just rear it's head during a particular time of year.  Every day, there's a sign of the old me; but praise the Lord, there is a way to find victory... My sacrifice for Lent was, in and of itself, motivated by a good thing.  Yet it turned to a difficult thing when it became a regulation.  What I need to remind myself is that every good thing can become a Law of Death if it is micromanaged with a wrong motive.  Why would I not want to weigh myself?  Not because it was "evil," but because my focus was unhealthy.  However, the weigh-in became a standard of comparison.  That standard robbed me of my joy, and sin abounded. 

Victory is found in daily living in the reminder that I am DEAD to those things I don't want to do which are a part of the law of sin & the flesh (leading to slavery), AND that I am ALIVE to choices that lead to freedom and result in Spirit-filled righteousness.  I am DEAD! yet ALIVE in JESUS!

What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? May it never be (6:1)!

For there is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1)!

Is not the Christian life full of excitement?  There are no words adequate enough to proclaim!  Jesus thought of everything.  The gospel is, indeed, an every day gospel.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Measuring an Easter Kind of Love

“I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’ And Jesus said, ‘This much.’ Then He stretched out His arms and died.” – Unknown

Ever wish you could measure love?  Sometimes I think if there was some sort of measuring stick for love, it might be easier to “walk in love,” “life a life of love,” live a life worthy of God’s love,” and to live-loved, as Paul encouraged in each of his epistles.  I am also of the opinion it would be easier to help others, myself included, who struggle (no matter their age) with the question of worthiness.  I keep seeing how not having an accurate understanding of our God-given, Christ-identity leaves us lacking in confidence, courage, and a real sense of belonging (and when I say belonging, I don't mean fitting in). Yet the question of measurement is ridiculous, as well as redundant.  We all know love cannot be measured.  We even sing about it around Easter-time:

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.

Some have tried, and done a fairly adequate job on a human level.  Who hasn't seen the little sign with the quote above...  Even some of the newer praise choruses show worthy attempts:  His love's like a hurricane, and I am a tree, bending beneath the wind of his grace and mercy...

Paul may come the closest in Romans, when he writes:

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

So ponder these facts from this verse, for they each hold a key to knowing the breadth, the length, the height, and the depth of God’s love.  In fact, to a certain degree, at least, these verses are our “measuring stick.”  In fact if we weren’t able to understand even a bit, then why would the Apostle Paul have wasted his breath praying this for us in Ephesians 3:18?  For this reason I bow my knee before the Father...that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth...

How do we measure the love of our Lord?

The price paid.  He gave his all…his very life…  We must remember that Jesus, while being in the very nature God, was man.  He felt the same pain as any man.  He had the same wants, the same dreams, the same hopes for life as we do.  Yet our salvation over-ruled any of those.  His sacrifice was a great sacrifice.
      The attitude with which he paid the price...Both the Psalmist and the writer of Hebrews tells us that he delighted to go to the cross on our behalf, that it was his joy to carry the shame.  Really?
      The liberty with which he paid the price…  Not only did Jesus give his all and gave up his all, and not only did he do so with delight, but he did so, freely.  There was no coercion.  Sitting at the right hand of God, when God asked the question, “Who will go for me?”  He immediately stood, and said, “Here am I send me.”  I know those words are spoken by Isaiah, but I think they are a true picture of our Jesus.  Somewhere I read a quote by John Piper who said, “Love, true love, is deep in proportion to its liberty.”  As such, when Christ gave himself freely, he exemplified the depth of his love.  
      How little we deserved this gift.  It’s so true, we might be willing to give our lives for a good cause, or a good person, but why would we want to freely, willingly, lay down our lives for an enemy.  Why would we die for one who had treated us poorly, who offended us, shunned us, betrayed us, and even wanted to kill us?  Why?  No reason, other than the purity and vastness of love!
      What we receive as a result of the gift.  Oh, my goodness, the benefits of this love.  This could take an entire blog in itself, and should.  Quickly…all heaven is mine ETERNALLY; a new identity is bestowed on me; a life of abundance and freedom; spiritual gifts; a grand purpose; a new kingdom on earth as well as in heaven; joy in spite of my circumstances is possible, and victory over sin and death.  These few just capstone the many blessings of Jesus’ death on our behalf. 

How deep the Father’s love for us…  How vast, yet comprehendible…  AMAZING LOVE, HOW CAN IT BE, THAT YOU MY KING WOULD DIE FOR ME! Oh, if we could only live in this kind of measurement!