Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Remembering


...and without the shedding of blood 
there is no remission of sins...
Hebrews 9:22


A heaviness comes over my heart every year at this time, as I am sure you feel the same.  It's almost a shameful heaviness because it seems that when I take a good look at the cross and see my sin, my guilt, my shame being punished, the sacrifice of Jesus becomes so much more personal.  I think I feel ashamed because it takes a holiday to remind me of my sin. But I am thankful that a "holiday" has been given, at least for now, to allow me to remember, just like all national holidays are intended to do:  
  • On Thanksgiving we remember the Pilgrim's, their struggle and their sacrifice to build a place where they could  freely worship God and raise their families
  • On Memorial Day we remember the soldiers who have given their lives so that our freedom could survive 
  • On Independence Day we remember the battle fought against Britain so that we could become a free nation 
  • On Veteran's Day we remember those who have served our nation, promoting freedom and democracy in the world and defending the rights of Americans to remain free 
On each of these days, we remember the sobering sacrifice made so that we can be...free.  Then we live however we want the rest of the year until we are reminded again.  But truth be known, I don't think our soldiers or our founders want us to live in a constant state of mourning, but instead, exercise and enjoy the freedom that is our because of their sacrifice.

I believe this is the heart of our heavenly Father, as well.  He wants us to understand that because of Jesus' sacrifice, we are free from the bondage and punishment that comes with sin.  He tells us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  He wants us to live life to the fullest, giving us His Spirit and His Word to teach us how to enjoy our new found freedom.

And yet, it is important to remember. Jesus wants us to remember.  That's why He established the communion table as a time to soberly remember His sacrifice.  And perhaps that's why all over the world this week people, who have no idea why, will pause to think about the cross.  But we know why.

Without the heaviness of Friday there is no joy on Sunday.

So let's remember this week.  Let's let the heaviness surround us. Let's read the accounts in scripture and slip our feet into the sandals of the characters.  Let's turn our heads away from the ghastly realities of the scourging and feel our chests heave when we see Jesus stumble on the Via Dolorosa.  Let's let the smells and the sounds of the cross hit us in waves.  Let's stay long enough to watch Joseph and Nicodemus take Jesus' body away and let's peer from behind a tree in the garden as the men struggle to push the rock over the grave opening.  Let's find time to feel the loss, the brokenness, the death of our Savior. Let's let the sights that confuse the world sink into our hearts, because we know that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission, no cancellation, no suspension, no forgiveness of sins.  

It's only for a few more days and when Sunday comes, I believe the heaviness of Friday enhances the glory of the sunrise on Sunday morning, the glory of the fact that the tomb is empty and that we are forgiven.  We serve a living God and He wants us to fully enjoy the fruits of His labors.  

It's Friday but Sunday is coming.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Trust Issues


Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and do not lean on your own understanding...
Proverbs 3:5

trust - firm belief in the reliability, truth, 
ability or strength of someone or something


Here's the problem with forgiveness:  I can forgive someone and I can choose not to talk to others or myself about the offense, but does that mean that I have to actually trust them again?  

The best way to answer this question is to put it in spiritual terms.  So, I am imagining God, sitting on His throne in heaven, talking with Jesus, and pointing down at me. Here's how the conversation goes:

The Father:  Yeah, see Kristen right now?  I really love her but I've got to be honest with you, Jesus - I don't trust her as far as I can throw her.  You know how she keeps _______________ (fill in the blank with whichever sin in my life you want to use)?  I forgive and I forgive and she just keeps doing it again and again.

Jesus:  I know.  What a disappointment.  I don't blame you.  You can forgive but you'd be a fool to ever trust her again.  You're just setting yourself up for hurt again.  

The Father:  I've even applied the forgive 70x7 rule on her, but she passed 490 about two decades ago with this one.  (Shaking His head) Will she ever learn?

Jesus:  Pretty safe answer to that is, "No."  

Does that sound like a reasonable conversation between the Father and the Son?  Thankfully I don't have any scriptural support for that conversation, but rather I can look to the gospel to dispel any doubt that God not only forgives, but restores, rebuilds and transforms.  In Romans 7, Paul describes the conflict between his flesh and his new nature in Christ - they are constantly battling for his will. Sometimes he has success but often he fails. When he cries out for help, he turns to the cross:  "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me from from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (v. 24, 25)  Jesus not only set us free from the bondage of sin, but He fights the battle so that we can have victory here and now.

One of the songs we sing at church says, "Our God is fighting for us always, Our God is fighting for us all" - the whole song is about the fact that God is mighty and strong to save.  It's not talking about fighting against persecution but rather sin's hold on us - if He doesn't give up, why would we?

Okay, back to forgiveness and trust. Now that we understand God is not disgusted with us in heaven, follow my train of thought:  
  • You have been hurt repeatedly
  • You choose to forgive, but in forgiving, it opens you up for more potential hurt
  • God demands that we be good forgivers, because He understands that if we don't forgive, it creates a root of bitterness in our hearts - bitterness, anger, frustration, and a lack of trust 
  • Though it's hard to trust a sinner, it's not hard to trust a faithful God - do a word study on "trust" in the Bible.  We are explicitly told to trust in the Lord over and over again...
  • When He tells us to do something, we can obey, fully putting our trust in the One who is conforming us into His own image
  • Because we trust the Lord, we can trust someone who has lost our trust - knowing that if they fail again, God will step in the gap and work through the circumstance for our own good and for His glory
I feel the need for a quick disclaimer - some sins have consequences we can't take away.  A father who sexually abuses his daughter can be forgiven but he has lost the right to a relationship with her or her children.  Sometimes sin brings consequences and if you are struggling right now about whether to restore trust to someone or if there are consequences that prevent that, then you need to talk with your small group leader or a pastor to make sure you are not trying to deal with someone's sin, rather than letting God do it.  

That being said, in MOST cases, we can willing place ourselves back into a vulnerable position, knowing that our trust is in the Lord, that we are walking in obedience to His will and that He alone has the ability to change the heart and actions of those who have hurt us.  And friends -  He can do that through the testimony of our ability to forgive!  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Vacation on Your Mind



To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, 
brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 
not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, 
but giving a blessing instead;
 for you were called for the very purpose 
that you might inherit a blessing. 
I Peter 3:8,9

It's that time of year again...spring break is right around the corner.  Here in Michigan there are two kinds of people when it comes to spring break.  First there are those who have been planning since the first fall of snow for this vacation.  They've got their trip all mapped out. Whether flying or driving, nothing is going to stop them from getting on that beach.  And I mean, nothing.  Not long lines at the airport, not slow lanes around Atlanta, not even the 100th time "Are we there yet?" will be asked.  They have had their bags packed in their minds for months now, and all that is left is to throw in the latest Grishom novel and some sun screen.

The other group consists of those who can't stand traffic, lines and crowds. They wouldn't be caught dead at Disney over a holiday and travel mayhem is not worth the two week tan lines that boast a hot destination trip.  They plan on staying home, praying for a day over 50 degrees and finding "fun things to do right here in Michigan."  

They also can't stand the travelers.  And here's why:  because for the past few weeks, you can't get a good answer out of them.  You can't fluster them and you can't get their full attention.  You see, their mind is on that nearing vacation and not even an office meltdown will rattle them.  They have a future plan and it includes sand, sun and a lot of aloe for sunburn.  

In Peter's first letter to the church, he runs through a quick to-do list for the believer.  He tells us to be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted and humble.  All of these words imply that they are not easy to do and the believer is sacrificing some rights to make peace.  He goes on to say, when being insulted, give a blessing - don't return insults.  Again, be the bigger person and keep the peace.  

This is very difficult to do and there are times that we will get tired of taking the blows and not getting even.  I can remember chatting with my children about difficult kids at school.  Today we call them bullies, back then they were just mean.  I would tell the kids not to respond to insults, not to engage in verbal battles, but to say something kind and walk away. That throws a bully off his game and it keeps you from having to ask forgiveness for saying something mean yourself.  My children didn't like this counsel.  It was hard.  It was humbling. It was sacrificial.  But it served them well, teaching them that God will deal with bullies, but He wants you to remember who you are (a child of the King) and what you are called to (a life that brings glory to Him).

This is the same counsel I give in the counseling rooms at church.  Over and over I hear stories about marriages that are hard, parents who are unfair, work conditions that are trying, and I am constantly telling my sister in Christ to humbly serve the ones God has placed in their lives.  Sacrificially put up with bad behavior just as Jesus did, not reviling in return but continually entrusting themselves to the One who will justly make things right one day.  This is hard counsel and as believers, it can be tiring to constantly take the high road.

But Peter doesn't just tell us what to do - he tells us why - because we are inheriting a blessing.  We are children of the King.  He is molding and shaping us into the image of His Son as we share in His sufferings.  And our future is bright.  We have heaven in our sights!  This broken life is not all we have and we'd better make the best of it.  No, we have eternity with unhindered fellowship with the Lord, in a recreated and restored Earth which will be greater than our imaginations can possibly imagine.  That is our destination, that is our heavenly focus.  

So just like those destination Spring Breakers, nothing can keep us from the joy of our destiny.  Nothing can shake us, nothing can take our joy.  It was purchased for us and the tickets are non-refundable.  Just like the ones who are anxiously awaiting the moment that they can say, "Good-by, Michigan!" and head out the door to a warmer destination, as believers we have even greater motivation to endure this life for God's glory.  Our minds are set on the things above, not on the things here on Earth. 

No matter which spring break personality you are, as a believer in Jesus Christ, when we live with an eternal perspective it changes our ability to do the hard things and live at peace with all men, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Good Works


Let your light shine before men in such a way
that they may see your good works, 
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

Okay, so this picture just makes me laugh, don't read anything into it.

I have been thinking about good works today.  Understanding that good works are not meritorious - in other words, they do nothing towards my standing before the Lord regarding salvation - we are still called to good works throughout the scriptures.  Ephesians 2:10 even says that we were created FOR good works, so they are definitely a part of life.

So what constitutes a good work?  Here's where the wrestling begins because I think in our humanity, we have made goods works a competitive system.  You might serve in the nursery on Sunday, but I read the Daily Bread every morning.  You might take fresh baked cookies to your neighbor, but I made them a whole meal.  You might pray every night when you go to sleep, but I not only pray, I journal, study, memorize a verse and listen to a worship song. Is prayer even a good work or are good works only something you do for others? Are good works earning something?  Maybe just brownie points, but is there value in getting more brownie points than other people?

As many of you know, David and I had six children, all with different needs, strengths and weaknesses.  When trying to run a household with that many children, I had to set up pretty narrow systems to make sure we got out the door in the morning with everything we needed.  For some of the kids, we had to lay out the clothes the night before, while others could manage that on their own.  We made lunches the night before, packed backpacks and had them lined up on the red cabinet, ready for lunches to be dropped in and zipped up.  Each child knew what was expected of them when I got them up - make their beds, brush their teeth and get dressed before coming down to the kitchen.  There I would have their breakfast of choice ready to go (most of them wanted Eggo waffles) and when they were done, they put their dishes in the dishwasher.  Then bags were packed with lunches and pretty quickly, we were out the door.  

This was not too overwhelming to five of the kids, but one really struggled with their part of the expectations.  Their bed was rarely made, their room was a disaster, homework was a struggle.  It just took extra effort on my part to get this child with the program.  On days when this child was on top of things, I would cheer and make a big deal because of the success.  But quickly I became frustrated when I had to cheer for something the other 5 did without question or cheering.  Was I fostering a disobedience that would only be rectified through praise?

Here's the truth:  the other 5 children had privileges that were often taken away from the one.  They didn't need cheering - the blessing of obedience was a consistent, positive relationship with mom and dad, plus more freedom because they could be trusted to do what was expected (which is another way of saying "obey").  The other child was fully capable of obeying, but most of the time didn't feel like it.  Therefore that child had limited freedoms and privileges, until that child learned that with obedience came not only blessing, but good fellowship/relationship with mom and dad.

So what are good works?  Obviously they are good actions, good things - not evil or destructive.  But if you boil it down, good works are simply obedience.  God created us to walk in obedience to His Word. When we obey Him, like an earthly father, we are in good fellowship with Him.  When we reject His boundaries or refuse to obey, then like an earthly father, He will discipline us - choose to sin, choose to suffer, right? So good works are everything from kindness towards others, forgiving others, meeting other's needs, spiritual disciplines - anything that glorifies God and is within the boundaries that God has set for us.  When we extend our hands, we do it for Jesus.  We should never do anything that He wouldn't do.  Good works are works that are consistent with Jesus' character.

There are several benefits to good works. In addition to continual fellowship with God, it is the easiest way to show your gratitude for the cross. Willingly placing yourself under God's authority, with a good attitude, an attitude of gratitude, is a visible way to tell the Lord, "Thank you." Good works are also the most effective way to live out your faith.  If you don't put actions to your beliefs, then your faith is dead.  Good works show who you follow.  You also give testimony to those around you that God is real and that He loves you.  Your good works will bring glory to God.  And finally, good works produce spiritual fruit - the works of the flesh produce all sorts of negative and broken feelings, but good works, with your eyes set on Christ, produce fruit of the Spirit in your life.  

One final note:  we're not aiming for perfection here because we know in our flesh we are limited.  Think of it this way - who dreams of having a child so that you could discipline them constantly?  Instead you dream about the good times and the close relationship.  This is what the Father wants with you and the way to have a close relationship with Him is to willingly seek His will and obey.