Category Archives: Scripture

words for these days

DSC_0494There are two ways of living:

 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”
But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy a field.

Living for the kingdom is not a careful, calculated decision but a wild abandonment of everything else in life. It’s not even a choice, but an irresistible compelling. We are citizens of heaven, people under the enchanting spell of grace. In contrast, the careful, calculated decision of the rich young man come from groveling servitude. “He did not own his possessions; they owned him. If he had owned them, he could have been free of them.” (Bernard of Clairvaux) It is impossible to live for stuff and God because it is an issue of worship. What we allow to dictate our days, order our emotions, what we serve and worship shows what we love. Like Hansel and Gretel dropping crumbs in the forest, the little choice we make about what we give and what we take and what we labor for leave a telltale trail straight to where we really are.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Furthermore, it is impossible to truly own anything already destined to be destroyed by sin. No matter how hard I try, I cannot hold on to anything material in this life. The only things I have a lasting part in are the eternal, the “treasures in heaven” that God gives. Granted, the eternal and the physical are so intertwined as to be nearly inseparable—and this is why throwing away a shirt or bowl or blanket can feel like throwing away a memory or a friendship. But it is not. Serve what the creation was designed to enable and flesh out rather than the creation itself and embrace the fearlessness that an offer of eternal life can give us.

This is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life–whether you have enough food and drink or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they don’t harvest or store food in barns for your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they? Can all your worrying add a single moment to your life?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously and he will give you everything you need.

Worry is completely unproductive. In my mind, in the alternate reality I’ve constructed, I think that stuff makes a life and that I control that stuff (by planning, purchasing, choosing, worrying, etc.). But every good gift comes from our Father above whom me call “Abba” to and only have to ask for whatever we need. The stuff? The unbelievers run after these things…

If you think this is a show-uppance (because I think I’m doing this), I wish I could show a replay of the many moments lately where I’ve been the rich young man with the Holy Spirit prying my white-knuckled fingers off of shiny trinkets. But this is not who I want to be—I want to be the girl who sees the treasure, throws comfort and caution to the wind and runs after it. Don’t you?

Bonus: songs for these days

Love is not the easy thing…walk on. What you’ve got they can’t deny it, can’t sell it, can’t buy it. Leave it behind, leave it behind… from U2

I am a poor, wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe. I’m only going over Jordan, I’m only going over home. I’m going there to meet my Savior, to dwell with him and never roam. From Wynter Poe

Let’s do this right, you know what I’m talking ‘bout!?” from Lecrae

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! From the Na Band

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the pulled punch (part 2)

Sometimes Satan comes in by the back door, quiet and unassuming, at the place we only have a sideways glance for. All attention is focused on the prime target, the obvious fight, and we leave our, um, rear flank open for a good whipping. David was busy not killing Saul and almost killed Nabal.

In the middle of the story of Saul and David are two nearly identical stories and in between those two stories is one about a woman caught in the middle of everything. While hiding from Saul, David and his men had to eat. He had provided protection for this man, Nabal’s, flocks and then requested food in exchange. Seems weird to us, but apparently a pretty standard understanding in that day. But Nabal, living up to his name, refuses and offends David, basically taking advantage of him. So David, in a weak moment, runs to avenge himself, full of the same passion and skill we’ve seen before, but this time misguided. Abigail, a beautiful and wise woman famously married to a rude idiot, runs to meet him. And the man who took out a giant listens to her—not because she was beautiful (although it probably didn’t hurt) or she flattered him or because he was wrong about Nabal, but because she reminded him of his responsibility before God.

Vengeance is mine… Jehovah will vindicate his people! See now that I, even I, am he and there is no god beside me; I kill and make alive; I wound and I heal, and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

She echoes Moses’ song in Deuteronomy, which echoes the first commandment from Sinai: you shall have no other gods in my presence. A life that recognizes God’s proper place refuses to put trust and confidence in anything else. Nothing compares to God, nothing is in the same category, nothing else is worthy of our prayers, reliance, pursuit, adoration and unwavering loyalty. So Abigail deftly puts David back in his place by putting God in His. She reminds him that God wants to give him a dynasty because it will be characterized by fighting God’s battles (not his) and by sinlessness (so don’t!). If you are threatened, you will be kept alive by the care of God but your enemies will not be kept in his care but abandoned. And because of this when you are king, by the hand of God, you won’t have the burden of conscience that comes from needless bloodshed or the second-guessing of self-achievement. She says all this using language that reminds David of his battle with Goliath (a battle that was God’s battle, motivated not by revenge or offense to him, but to God) and with a double reminder of the error that is saving yourself. Perhaps the lady married to the rude idiot knew something of waiting for the deliverance of God.

David gave Abigail his ear (and then some) and it’s evident in his next encounter with Saul. In the first story, Saul practically falls into David’s lap, walking right into the cave he was hiding in. In the second, David rose and came to the place where Saul was encamped, and walks through Saul’s entire army in the dead of the night. In the first story, David cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, a reaching of his hand and weapon that was a little too close for comfort. The second time around, he refuses to touch him, only taking his spear and water bottle to prove his proximity. All of this adds up to a David who is simultaneously more bold and more harmless, a strange combination. His rash reaction to Nabal has made him wary of himself, but more resolute to trust God. As he tells Abishai in chapter 26, The Lord will strike Saul, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. David refused to kill the anointed the first time around, but now he does so because (as Abigail reminded him) both his own wellbeing and the timing of Saul’s death are within God’s hand. To kill Saul would be sin, which meant that it could not be a battle the Lord wanted him to fight—and fighting it would be to abandon the God who had made him king as the only God worth serving. David taunts Abner for not protecting the life of the anointed. His point is that he, Saul’s supposed enemy, is doing a better job at protecting him than his own commander, thus proving his innocence and determination to do God’s will. “David dreams of power; his dream, however, has limits beyond which he will not go. In that moment of refusal, David seems to know that violence against Saul would destroy him as well as Saul.” (Brueggeman) David refused to be a king after his own heart.

Sometimes the hardest part of a fight is standing still, waiting for the right moment. Outwardly David looks spotlessly courageous, but the psalms tell a different story of an intense inward struggle over the danger in his life and the implications it had for God’s faithfulness. As Murphy said of David, “He has to cooperate with the divine providence by doing nothing: the story of David exhibits “the paradox that all evil must be punished, but it is heroic to refrain from punishing… ‘David’s heroism comes not from deeds of war but from his heroic mercy… David’s heroic mercy is sustained and kept intact through his faith in a God who alone is just, whom he can trust to punish the evil he faces.”

It is here that we see the beauty of Christ as God’s final anointed one, truest Son of David. As Jesus hung on a cross, awaiting vindication of his righteousness, his lips muttered the words of his ancestor who had travailed the wilderness and found the faithfulness of God. When God shows up we see the heart David lived according to. We chase the infinite spiral of the incarnation when we wonder who followed who here. But both teach us that snatching for ourselves is never true achievement, that often if we just stand still God’s matchlessness will shine, that waiting for God is hard but deeply satisfactory. That life comes from death and sometimes the pulled punch wins the battle. The waiting and the fighting of the completely blameless One has given us so much glory—a king not just after God’s heart, but God for a king. Whatever’s worth fighting for should be given, not taken.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,

for in you my soul takes refuge;

          in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,

         till the storms of destruction pass by.

I cry out to God Most High,

         to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

He will send from heaven and save me;

         he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah

         God will send out this steadfast love and his faithfulness!

My heart is steadfast, O God,

         my heart is steadfast!

I will sing and make melody!

Awake, my glory!

          Awake, O harp and lyre!

         I will awake the dawn!

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;

         I will sing praises to you among the nations.

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,

         your faithfulness to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!

         Let your glory be over all the earth!  

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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the pulled punch (part 1)

Anything worth fighting for should be given, not taken. I’ve been basting this line in my mind after a few weeks with David and Saul, turning it, coming back to it, layering it. There’s a lot of irony here and even questions: a fight of mostly standing still. As one scholar pointed out, “David… is bound on the one side by his own anointing by Samuel and on the other by Saul’s prior anointing. Both come from God…” (Francesca Murphy, I Samuel). David knows God’s will for his life, specifically and directly, but he waits for it rather than takes it.

David is an interesting character in so many ways, one of which is his sheer renaissance-reminiscent plethora of abilities. This guy wins battles, writes poems, plays music, woos women and is, you know, “after God’s own heart.” You almost feel bad for Saul. And Saul, in fact, was in many ways a very successful king—he protected Israel valiantly from her enemies (which is why they wanted a king in the first place). The problem with Saul is that he thought it was his responsibility to do so. You get the feeling that he was trying to bring God into the picture, but the conversation just could never get going. Saul builds altars for incriminating sacrifices, makes rash vows he can’t keep, sends for the priests and then shoos them away, wants the ark, doesn’t want the ark, etc. When Samuel comes to him at Gilgal he reminds him “Jehovah anointed you king over Israel and Jehovah sent you on a mission…” And his question, which is probably best translated as “Are you so little in your eyes?… Jehovah anointed you king…” hits the bullseye of Saul’s simultaneous inferiority/superiority complex. We’re well indoctrinated on the sad missteps of the self-esteem movement (mainly its failure to account for the fact that we actually are pretty crappy on our own), so it sounds a bit backwards to us for Samuel to be challenging Saul that he thought too little of himself. But in the context of the previous and following statements, his point is not that Saul attached far too little value to himself, but to what God wanted for him. By treating the fine print of God’s commands so flippantly, Saul revealed that he gave no weight to the role God had given him and his responsibility. He apparently thought it was his to rearrange and adjust—as though he could bargain with God, assuaging him with offerings while still furthering his own ambitions. He had forgotten who made him king and whose mission he was on.

Then there’s David, anointed and successful, encouraged on all sides to simply take what everyone knew was rightfully his, but who refuses to tamper with any of the fine print especially the anointing of the man hunting him down. As he would later declare, I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly turned from my God. For all his rules were before me and his statutes I did not put away from me. Although it would be an error to oversimplify the spiritual processes going on in David’s life, there is one theme that keeps popping up that seems key to this steadfast yet unambitious resolution.

David knew, more than anything, that God was with him. This simple statement summarizes the way God viewed David, David viewed God and what everyone around him saw. This became the core of his identity and David knew that to jeapordize that relationship (by sinning) meant to jeapordize everything he had, even his very life. Although a very talented and charismatic person, Scripture wants us to realize that David was king not because of his abilities but because of God’s choice. It was his story after all in which God can make the point that He “looks not on outward appearance as man does, but on the heart.” Because when we meet David he’s so far down the totem pole that God practically has to kick Samuel in the head to even consider him as future king. But from that point on, he’s God’s man and everywhere he goes people say that the Lord is with him. The narrator repeatedly points out to us that David was successful in everything he did, in everything Saul asked him to do, that everyone loved him, that Saul’s entire family abdicated to David in one fell swoop, that even former enemies did not harm him, that God continually provides for and protects David, that although Saul sought him every day, God did not give him into his hand. David knew that the source of his every success was God—and he believed it even more when “success” was defined as mere survival.

As David’s story begins we see him with two main enemies: Goliath and Saul. Goliath looms large in every way—he makes David famous. Saul is a much more complex enemy, lurking everywhere in the shadows, but he makes David’s fame just. One of my professors taught that David deserved his brother’s taunting remarks at the battle, that David was a cocky, know-it-all brat. I’m still not convinced of that reading, but David certainly does begin his warrior career with flourish. He is so sure of God’s pursuit of His glory he literally runs to take on a fight saying “the Lord will rescue me.” He brazenly warns this giant that he has “defied the name” of God and unbelievably goes against everyone’s better judgment stating that “it is not by sword or spear the Lord saves; the battle is the Lord’s!” Underneath this impossible courage, though, lie a few significant things. First, although I’d never seen this before, David really knows what he’s doing. As I read about this passage I learned that slings were legitimate weapons, not children’s toys and that David counted on the element of surprise and used it quite advantageously. Everything he does is calculated to make Goliath assume they will engage in hand-to-hand combat (the carrying of his staff and his last-minute run towards the giant) essentially throwing him off his real strategy. And his shot, finding a tiny opening with maximum impact, was certainly no accident. And as he told Saul, although probably only 15 or 16, he was no stranger to a fight. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” David had skill, but he knew where that skill came from and this is the fine line between confidence and arrogance. Saul was always looking for the magic bullet: the best warrior, a great sacrifice, an oath, and yet he was never confident. David had skills and mighty men and a priesthood (that came running after Saul killed most of them off), but he knew that these were not the source of his success, only the tools. When David says, over and over again, that God is his rock, his stronghold, it was because he knew that every cave he ever hid in and every outcropping he was shielded by was from God’s hand. David was confident, bold, courageous, and wonderfully afraid of nothing but his God.

In his battle with Goliath we see that David is afraid of nothing, but in his hiding from Saul we see that he feared God. Service for God is not something achieved but something given. The only way for David to live without sinning (in other words, really live), was God’s deliverance—and he waited for it till it seemed utterly impossible. He would rather be endangered, humiliated, questioned, and in hiding than in sin. It doesn’t seem like anyone else was on the same page with David regarding the whole not-killing-Saul-thing and yet he never succumbed to the excuses and justifications. David waits perhaps a decade for a kingship already promised to him but still in the hands of a raving lunatic. He is enabled to do this by the same faith that ran headlong towards a giant with a cowardly, taunting army behind him; any success he had would come from God. This kind of faith can make you look like a crazed daredevil on one day and a pitiful wimp on the next. If God is the giver of all true good, we should display both boldness (because He is able) and patience (because we are not). As David told the king of Moab, he was waiting to “know what God will do for me.”

I said that no one was with David on the subject of preserving Saul, but I’m going to take that back. There was one who stood up to David and allowed him no excuses at a time when he was tempted to take them. Abigail comes at David with more true courage than all his mighty men.

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i don’t advise the yelling

(post from August 2010)

That we’ve already let our son fall prey to television’s deception is evident because he lives under this misconception: every construction project begins with a demolition. See, he watches “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” on a fairly regular basis and this is the order of events: an old, broken house is torn down (or blown up or shattered merely by Ty Pennington’s habitual yelling), then a new one is built. So it seems an incontestable truth to Clive that every new building being built was preceded by an old, broken one that was demo’d.

I thought of this today when reading Phil 3. This passage (verses 3-11) is one of my all-time favorites and I re-visit it often to do battle with my self-sufficiency and pride. Several years ago I began to see Paul’s thinking in these words from a slightly different angle. Paul doesn’t just say that he won’t brag about his qualifications or achievements or rely on them to gain favor with God, but that it is only to the extent that he discards his confidence in himself that he is exercising faith in Christ. In other words, it’s a simple choice between living based on Christ’s merits or my own. Visually, I imagine it as a balance scale that can only tip one way or the other and my ability to live in the reality of Christ’s accomplishment for me on the one side will weigh heavier as the Spirit chips away at my “confidence in the flesh” on the other side. Or emptying out to be filled. We will not be found “in Christ” as long as we are primarily allowing ourselves to exist as ourselves, standing on our virtues rather than His. I’m convinced (by Scripture and experience) that we’re born living for ourselves and our own glory and that a lifestyle of glorifying Christ is only built by on the wreckage of self-glory. I am constantly glorifying myself and the only way to glorify Christ is for the Spirit to reveal how I’m using my thoughts, words, actions, responses, etc. to do this and then where that lifestyle can be torn down and a new way of living (faith) constructed. Unlike the order of events on Extreme Makeover, though, the old, broken woman I am takes a lifetime (and a death) to demo, so rather than a deconstruction then a construction, both are constantly going on.

The only way to life is through death, the deconstruction of confidence in ourselves for the construction of faith in Christ. Being conformed to his death in order that I might attain to the resurrection… (Phil 3.11) I would rather boast in my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor 12.9) For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you. (2 Cor 13.4) In his book Jesus and the Spirit, Dunn says that the new birth begins the forces of life working in you so that both death and life are always present. If you do not believe in Christ, death has the last word. If you believe in Christ, life begins to combat the forces of death in you, gradually overtaking them until it conquers death, creating the life of resurrection even out of the experience of death (p. 337-338). So we are always in the midst of demolition and new construction, death and life.

When we first believed in Christ and accepted salvation, part of the statement we’re making is that we cannot be right with God on our own—therefore, we need a righteous Savior who will stand in our stead. We must continue participating in the Gospel by continuing to grow in this truth, understanding it more deeply and applying it more thoroughly to our lives. To be a Christian is to understand that I cannot solve my own problems, that I don’t have the answers to life, that I cannot get what I need on my own, that I don’t make the right choices, that I can’t work hard enough or do anything well enough to gain God’s approval, that even the best of the best by the world’s standards cannot stand before God. Only Jesus can does. But, in the world and flesh, I still live as though it matters what others think of me, that it matters how much I get done and how well I get it done, that what is important in life is what I want, dream about, plan, and work for rather than what Christ has done and how God is forming me after His likeness. It’s usually obvious who the main character in a story or book is, right? Because the plot and everything that we as the audience know in the story revolves around that person or group of people. Well, I still live life as thought I’m the main character. Time for a rewrite.

And now for some massively postmodern reader-based hermeneutics on U2 (“Walk On”):

You’ve got to leave it behind.

All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you can leave behind.
All that you reason
All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
All that you scheme… 

The only baggage you can bring is what you can’t leave behind. Love is not the easy thing. Walk on. Press on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of us. The new is only built on the ruins of the old.

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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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in us and among us

repost from November 2010

We were at a missions conference last week where I taught a workshop on discipleship and sanctification. The title was initially proposed to me as “Sowing where the Gospel has been preached,” and in that conversation, the next phrase that immediately came to my mind was “keep preaching the gospel.” And when you start talking about how to preach or know the gospel, you can’t get very far (or even start) without the Holy Spirit. If the gospel is Christ (as Paul states in Rom 1.3) and the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, then we need to be careful that all this gospel-talk is not just busy back-patting fact-rehearsing, but a talk empowered and sweetened by the Spirit to change our lives.

In my preparation for this workshop, I read a lot of James Dunn and some of the things he said are still swirling in my head. Here’s one: “The ‘functions’ of the body are precisely the charismata of the Spirit (Rom 12.4)…Charismata (or charisms) thus understood are the living movements of the body (1 Cor 12.14-26, Eph 4.16). Without them the body is dead. Christian community exists only in the living interplay of charismatic ministry, in the actual being and doing for others in word and deed…There are no dead organs in the body of Christ…”  (Dunn, The Christ and the Spirit, p. 249, emphasis mine).

First, don’t jump when you read the word “charismata.” Having and using these (the Biblical word) doesn’t make you one (the English cognate). Dunn uses it here in the best sense and it’s a word Gordon Fee defines as “a concrete expression of grace.” Now what could be more beautiful than that? And Paul uses it of lots of things other than specifically Holy Spirit-dispensed actions (such as eternal life and marriage, to name a couple). But the work of the Spirit in our lives is also in this category and I’m learning that nearly everything the Spirit does He does to us. Not just me. I used to think that the Spirit has regenerated me, sealed me, illumined my mind… But after reading Dunn, I started looking at those passages in Greek and realized that Paul kept talking to the saints in second person plural, which is difficult to translate into English. So Paul doesn’t pray (for example) that, “he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being” but that God would grant you all (me, my sisters and brothers in Christ, the church) to be strengthened.

The image Dunn gives really helped me to process this: the Spirit’s work is the movements of the body. A body naturally does things; muscles and tendons and bones work together to go somewhere and do life, to live. But without those parts working together, no movement happens. And then our “body” is just a collection of pointless parts. That is why he says that the Christian community (and evidence of the Spirit) exists precisely in the interplay of our ministry to each other. I think I’m just beginning to understand this, but it has already changed the way I’ve experienced my conversations with fellow believers this past week. The Spirit’s goal in gifting us is uniting us to Christ and each other. This might sound goofy, but I think we often live out the body like an octopus body—each person connected to Christ, but barely connected to each other. This isn’t the Spirit’s design, though, and Christ is exalted and His work on earth furthered by our connection to each other. Not just as I read my Bible and try to become more like Christ on my own, but as the Spirit uses that process to enable me to encourage others to become more like Christ as well. And really, what kind of “Christlikeness” would focus only on my own spiritual state and leave others in the dust? Not the kind that looks like the Christ who abandoned all self-interest. So where is the Spirit’s body? Not at an address, not in a random collection of individual mystics, but in the interaction of Christ-followers as they discover the “concrete expressions of grace” in their lives. As we talk and give and serve and pray and push out into the world everything that God dwells in us to give.

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Your Kingdom Come

–Repost from June 2011

Your Kingdom Come
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

Today I want the bright and sparkly, the deeply pure and right. I am groaning to be comforted, to hold my inheritance and to taste satisfaction. I want to see God.

What I have is friends who came and packed for me when I only felt like crying into empty boxes. And a friend who is bringing me dinner not because it is easy or she has nothing else to do, but because of Love. And a little tiny person who goes into full-body convulsions of joy upon seeing me. And a slightly bigger one who still thinks that the Bad Guy can be fought with punches. This is the kingdom coming from afar. Some days I can see it so clearly and some days my mind casts a dense fog.

For Thine is the kingdom
And the power
And the gloryForever and ever.
Amen.

The heat of obedience is that we are trying to feel, see and bring the rule of God to earth precisely because it isn’t here. This absence sends me reeling almost every day. So if we pray as Jesus taught us we will be reminded that it isn’t ours to bring, only to ask for and watch for. I once read a commentary on the book of Job that had as its subtitle the phrase, “the triumph of impotence.” Throughout the book we hear a righteous and upright man beg for an audience with God, complain that God’s had is heavy on him, chase after a glimpse of God and refuse to buy into the small but tempting explanations of those around him. Strahan said that, “It is the chief distinction between Job and his friends that he desires to meet God and they do not.” The end of this story is that he does meet God and find contentment in the dust and ashes of the human condition. He finds triumph in impotence, in quietly trusting the God he’s been busy chasing the whole time. He doesn’t get answers; he gets God.

I have so many questions for God, mostly about what He isn’t doing, about why his will and rule seem landlocked in heaven. About why nothing we’re doing seems to work, about why obedience is so hard and we feel so powerless, so impotent.

For this impotence to display the triumph of God, I must keep going to God with the questions, with both the beginning and the ending of Jesus’ prayer. Chapter 23 is one of my favorite passages in the book of Job as he puts his foot down declaring that the darkness will not silent him—only God is worthy of the response of fear. When we crumble under life’s weight, we must fall to a bow.

Today also my complaint is bitter…
            Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
                        that I might come even to his seat!
Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,                        and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
                        he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
                        when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
                        I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
                        I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
                        What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
                        and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
                        when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
                        the Almighty has terrified me;
yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
                        nor because thick darkness covers my face.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

It’s better to know God than to know everything else.

 I say, “My endurance has perished;
                        so has my hope from the LORD.”…
            But this I call to mind,
                        and therefore I have hope:
            The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
                        his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
                        great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
                        “therefore I will hope in him.”
            The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
                        to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
                        for the salvation of the LORD.

It is good to wait for the kingdom to come because it is his and he cannot fail to bring it. I wish it was today, but as Paul would tell me (and does)… what would be the point of hope then? It is good to wait.

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