Monthly Archives: April 2012

the sight of the knives

I think I went into this understanding that following Christ would not easy. But there are a lot of days where I just feel exhausted spiritually, like each choice or thought or act stands before me like a mountain to climb and waking up is like facing a whole range. The Christian life is a race of the marathon category and to be quite frank, I didn’t think I’d be this pooped with this much still to go. I’m only 31 and given current stats I’ve got a lot of mornings to wake up to still.

While Christ has accomplished all we need for our salvation and God’s grace is sufficient for all we face, every time I turn around I’m told to “appropriate” and “remember” and “focus” on it. There is some serious mental labor involved there and it seems like an awful lot of work for something I understand to be a gift. Given the tension of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, it’s not a dilemma I expect a solution to necessarily, but in my worst moments I sort of feel like God bait-and-switched me. Like I was somehow conned into this without reading the small print. 50 years until Christ’s righteousness is revealed in me?!? And how can I possibly do all that you ask me to in the way you ask me to in the meantime? Without becoming a hermit that is… The task ahead of me and the frequency of my failure in it is simple overwhelming. I really just want to skip ahead to the part about righteousness, hanging out with Jesus and streets of gold.

In Romans 8, Paul talks about creation and the followers of Christ groaning, longing for that day. I’m glad he said this stuff in addition to all the rest because when we sing “At the Cross” in church, I’m the person sometimes lip-syncing the line “and I’m happy all the day” for my conscience’s sake. In Colossians, Paul’s eschatology is more “realized” and he talks about our life in Christ in such present-day language it makes me wonder what’s wrong with me. There’s a small clue, though, in the phrase “and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” It’s that hidden part that gets me everyday! But what slips past as a descriptive phrase rushing towards action in Colossians is a thoughtful paragraph in Romans 8. The rich visual imagery makes it clear that Paul (and the Spirit) have been in the trenches with that hidden bit.

Verse 18 starts a new section in the chapter and Paul’s opening statement has often been very convicting for me. Paul is always exulting in the glory of God with rash, praise-dripping statements, so it’s easy to skate right by his words here, but don’t. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Sure, we know that the future will be fantastic, and that the present time is full of suffering, but what I often missed was Paul’s recognition that we are prone to comparing the two. Every day I make choices about which reality I think is more “real.” Do I think the suffering part or the glory part is more significant and therefore the foundation of my thoughts, feelings and actions? If my mind contained a giant old-fashioned scale, there are a lot of days where the suffering side is not even tipping slightly, but crashing down and sending the glory flying away. I compare what I feel now and think that this reality of difficulty is weightier than the reality that lies ahead; I compare them and decide that the present time is worthy to compare and consider against glory. Not so shockingly, I often choose to dwell in the suffering reality and let it reign in my life.

Verse 23 is where we groan. And groaning is a good thing because it is the sign of the Spirit in you. The awareness that things are seriously screwed up in this world and in our own lives is an awareness that things should be better. That suffering should not the end of the story, but glory should be. The groaning indicates a longing for this state of weakness to be conquered.

But verses 24 and 25 are what I especially need to hear. I’m right there with Paul on the groaning and on things needing to be fixed, but much less enthusiastic on being stuck in between! What’s in between? Hope. In his commentary on Romans, Moo says that Paul’s point in these verses is to show that the need for waiting should not be surprising. Why not (because, yeah, I totally missed that too…)? All the way back in verse 17 Paul says we suffer with Him (Christ) so that we may also be glorified with Him. “So that” is the language of cause and effect meaning that we get to glory because we suffer. Lest we think that cruel, the statement is softened on all sides by the example of our own God in the flesh. Furthermore, Paul explains the “why” in verses 24 and 25: hope. This is the time that hope is on display and the display of hope demands the absence of its object. My next thought is always something like “Ok, God but how long does this displaying really need to take?” Something like when my grandma told my mom that her chore was to wash the dishes so that she would learn how to do it, to which my mom replied “it only takes one time to learn that…” But that thought is exactly the type of comparing Paul says we can’t do. I’m imagining that my 50 or 20 years of hoping is somehow more bad than the good of an eternity full of faith made sight.

The sign of hope (verse 25) is eager endurance, a phrase I have come to have a love-hate relationship with. Love because it’s full of irony and challenge and hate because I rarely rise to that challenge. Last night I sat at a graduation and sang an old-school song I hadn’t heard in a while about being faithful. Faithfulness is something I think our generation has a hard time with. We’re willing to die a martyr’s death in the 10/40 window, but have a hard time giving our money to church instead of Gap. And before any older people (who probably aren’t reading this, now that I think of it…) jump on our case, let me say that I think it begins with good reasons. For one, we want to do right with passion, not out of legalism, duty or people-pleasing. But as we get older and realize that there are a lot of days and moments that the passion isn’t blazing hot, we struggle. We want to feel it because we believe that truth should be felt.

Paul’s answer is the Spirit, the firstfruits and down payment of the glory ahead. In his book Spiritual Depression, Lloyd-Jones says this of 2 Tim 1.7:

As I understand it, the big thing that Paul is saying in effect to Timothy is: ‘Timothy, you seem to be thinking about yourself and your life and all you have to do as if you were still an ordinary person. But Timothy, you are not an ordinary person!.. We allow the future to come to us and to dominate us, and we compare our own weakness and lack of strength with the greatness of the calling and the tremendous task before us. And down we go as if we were but our natural selves. Now the thing to do, says Paul to Timothy, is to remind yourself that we have been given the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, and to realize that because of this our whole outlook upon life and the future must therefore be essentially different… The way in which we face it all is by reminding ourselves that the Holy Spirit is in us. There is the future, there is the high calling, there is the persecution, there is the opposition, there is the enemy. I see it all. I must admit also that I am weak, that I lack the necessary powers and propensities. But instead of stopping there I must goon to say: ‘Yes, I know it all, but—…’ And the moment I use that word ‘but’ I am doing what the Apostle wants me to do… In other words, we have to learn to say, that what matters in any of these positions is not what is true of us but what is true of Him…

The Spirit is the bridge between Christ’s time on earth and the revealing of our now-hidden life. We’ve been trying to teach Clive how to wait patiently because while he knows he’s not supposed to interrupt that doesn’t seem to stop him from repeating “excuse me excuse me excuse me” ad infinitum while the other parties are finishing their conversation. So I told him that patience means waiting happily without complaining or selfishness. While I was reading Romans 8 yesterday he came down from his nap and asked me what I was reading about. I told him “Mommy’s trying to learn how to wait better.” I’m beginning to understand why patience (among other things) is a fruit of the Spirit. And encouraged by the reality that He is the Spirit of Christ who leads me in this new covenant age in all the “appropriating,” “focusing,” and “remembering” I must do. So while there are still days that will feel like mountain-climbing and the marathon has only just begun, I am not alone. And I’ll end here before it starts to sound like that footprints poem.

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this girl got it

It’s not quite the last supper yet, but this meal was full of the same poignancy and heavy anticipation. Jesus had chosen to go to Jerusalem and to its resident religious leaders, prowling and pockets weighed down with a payoff. Of course there was talk of the feast, of who was going with who and women busy with the planning. But what everybody really wanted to talk about was Jesus: half of them hoping he would show up so they could kill him and the other half hoping he had the sense to stay away. The disciples had tried everything they could think of to keep Jesus from the feast, but here he was just a couple miles away enjoying dinner with friends.

In the middle of a scene full of anxiety, fear, anticipation, joy and wonder, Mary quietly walks in and offers the worship that Jesus has been waiting for, but no one else has quite figured out. She takes a bottle of perfume worth a small fortune (an average years’ wages) and shatters its long slender neck on the edge of the table. She tips the jar and pours the oil over Jesus as he reclines at the table. The attention of all in the room is centered on her and the smell permeates the room. Their shock is deepened when she lets down her hair to wipe the perfume from Jesus’ feet, something a respectable woman would not do in public. The disapproval of all is voiced by none other than one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas. “What she is doing is a foolish waste – we certainly can think of wiser ways to use that for the Lord.” John doesn’t sugar-coat Judas’ true motives, though – he was no frugal charity worker, but a plain thief. As Mary kneels at Jesus’ feet generously pouring out her worship, here is a disciple jealously eyeing the perfume dripping off Jesus’ body. The disciples are so far removed from understanding Christ’s purposes that they are thinking of money only a few days away from his death.

Nobody else gets it, but Jesus certainly does. Jesus treasures Mary’s show of love and rebukes Judas. Mary is contrasted here to both the unbelief of the Jewish leaders and to the weak faith of the disciples. Judas sees the ministry of Christ as something which can benefit Him while Mary sees it as something which demands everything she can give. Mary seizes the opportunity to worship Him while He is still present, but Judas is only concerned with the “greater cause” of himself and with what Jesus can provide Him in His short time left. Mary realizes exactly who Jesus is and (in the same way that she understood the priority Christ had to have over anything else in her life) is willing to express faith in Him no matter the cost or what others think.

As Mary watched Jesus raise her brother from the dead, unwrapped the graveclothes from his body and, in the days following, thought of what she had learned at Jesus’ feet, she somehow realized the truth of what lay ahead. As the news of Lazarus’ resurrection spread through Judea, the excitement surrounding this man Jesus grew, as did the religious leaders’ fury. Those who had seen Lazarus raised went to Jerusalem and testified to all the people gathered for the Passover – John tells us that many of the people who greeted him at the triumphal entry came because they had heard of Lazarus. In Jerusalem, everyone wanted to know whether Jesus was coming, most of all the leaders who waited for the perfect moment to seize him. At the center of this storm, sat Mary with the clear recognition that what Jesus had done for her brother might very well be the impetus to his own death. She was also now strengthened by the faith that the miracle was designed to instill—she realized, perhaps more than anyone at this point, the fullness of who Christ was. What she does is full of sorrowing love but also unwavering faith. Mary’s response is actually uncannily like Jesus’ later in the chapter—fully aware of the sorrow and pain ahead but ruled by a faith that desires the glory of God more than anything else. She worships his death not because she takes it lightly or looks forward to it, but because she has learned that, with Jesus, death can be the way to life.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me…

Mary is certainly sure of His impending death and she chooses not to be afraid, to try and keep Christ from Jerusalem or even ask questions of Him about all of this. It’s quite possible that Mary is already imagining the possibility of the resurrection based on her experience with Lazarus. Even if she doesn’t, though, she is determined to trust Christ as the one sent from God no matter what happens. She doesn’t worship Christ in spite of difficulty, but uses the difficulty they face as a cause for worship. She poured burial oil on the feet of the Resurrection and the Life and prepared him for his death, something which only brings joy if one believes in life even in and through death. Mary clings to Jesus as the Resurrection and Life, God Himself, even in the face of death.

Jesus is the Resurrection and Life in us right now, He changes us and gives us hope right now—not when things get better, not when we understand everything or feel like we’ve seen Him work. Faith sees the glory of God no matter what the circumstances are. Because of our life in Jesus, the power and force of sin, pain and death is gone. Even as we stare death in the eye, we ask, with Paul “where is your victory? Where is your sting?” In light of the resurrection, even death is an occasion for worship. It is in the midst of death and suffering that we worship Christ as the One who overcomes them. Death was overcome by going through it – we do not always understand the divine purposes in the midst of our suffering, but it is for the glory of God. Mary makes the mental leap no one else does and chooses to worship Christ in the midst of uncertainty and impending death because she knows He is God and whatever He does is right and worthy of her worship. Lazarus was the trial run and she and Martha dealt with the uncertainty and pain of that time in the best way they knew how. But that experience taught them to believe not only that Jesus can do great things, but that He is great. It moved Mary’s faith from trusting Christ to do things for her to trusting Him (no matter that cost or outcome). It was easy to see Christ as the resurrection and life on Easter Sunday, but faith saw it even as the shadow of the cross loomed on the horizon.

We have to quit waiting for the perfect moment to worship Christ: for the moment when we understand it all or when it all makes sense or when things are better or we can see His blessing. We miss opportunities to worship Christ because we’re caught up in our own causes, desires and plans. Just like the disciples worried about staying alive, keeping their ministry intact and stealing money, we worry about how God isn’t giving us what we want, doing what makes sense to us or working according to our plans. If Judas had grasped the worth of the person sitting at his table, he certainly wouldn’t have been worried about money. And if we could recognize the inherent goodness of Christ, we wouldn’t be worried about much else in our lives either.

Faith that recognizes the true identity and value of Christ can’t help but worship lavishly. This is like Paul saying that compared to the value of Christ, everything else in life is trash. We’re not living for ourselves anymore, so fear and self-preservation should be out of the picture. If we’re still caring about what others think or considering whether obeying Christ is worth the cost, our view of Christ is skewed and our faith weak. When was the last time worshipping Christ really cost you?

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