Members of One Another

“Is this one better, or this one?” the eye doctor asks as she flips between lenses.

“I don’t know,” I finally admit.  One lense has clear, crisp lines, but a shadow to each line.  Another lense has no shadows, but fuzzy lines.  The lenses can assist my imperfect eyes to see, but ultimately they cannot fix my eyes.  Aging eyes need different lenses for different situations, reading glasses are good for close work, but miserable for driving.  Glasses help us to see some things, but blur others.

The same is true of culture: we see God through our cultural lenses, and while some things are clearer, some aspects are blurred. If we are not aware of our own culture, we may find ourselves trying to “drive with reading glasses”, so to speak.  Because of our individual culture, some values stand out more.  We give more weight to one ideal, while forgetting or neglecting another ideal.  In other instances, our cultural ideals dress themselves up as Godly and go masquerading into our thoughts as impostors of the truth.  What needs to change is our eyes.

Christians in my culture, the self-made American culture, cherish the idea that “God is all you need.”  I have been wrestling with this “only God” concept, presenting it to my friends on Facebook, and finally resolving to read through the entire scriptures in search of God’s heart.  It has been only a week, and I have made it through the first five books.  My theory, in the beginning, was that the “God only” concept is favored because our culture is so independent by nature.  What I found is that this thinking is borne of something far more universal than the spirit that won the west:

betrayal.

Experience speaks, “God is the only one who will never fail you.”  Of course this is true.  My limited study of Genesis through Deuteronomy agrees.  However, I am greatly alarmed by the foregone conclusion that if God is the only one who will never fail you, then He is the only one you need.  

After fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah, losing his wife to her own regrets and backward longing, Lot concludes he cannot live among people.  He takes his daughters and goes to a cave.  Betrayal drives him to isolation, and he concludes not only to trust in God alone, but to need no one but God.  His daughters determine they need someone else to help them carry on the family line, and seeing their father as the only man left, “lie” with him.  Ew.  Just ew.  (Genesis 19:30-38)

Do you see why I’m alarmed?

In defense of my friends who shared the sentiment “to only trust God is to need only God”, I know from their lives that they have followed God back into life-giving community in the midst of recovering from deep betrayal.  They may speak with their words to need only God, but with their lives, they speak the truth of the Kingdom.

God, in his own perfection and self sufficiency, chooses to bind Himself by covenant to a man and a people, knowing full well they will fail him.

What?

Knowing full well they will fail Him, God binds himself to a man and a people by covenant.  Binds Himself.  By covenant.  To a man who lies, laughs at the promise, and then connives with his wife to fulfill the promise on their terms.  God is still faithful.  God.  Binds Himself.  By covenant.  To a people who will break His heart, as he tells Moses in Deuteronomy, “will rise and whore after the foreign gods” (Deuteronomy 31:16)  Knowing all this He still chose them and bound Himself to them, and through them blessed all the nations of the earth.  Through this people, God shows His power, His love, His glory.  Through this people, God brings the family line of Jesus.

While WE were still far off and hostile to God, he chose US, Jesus died for us.  Betrayal tempts us to forsake community, but the way of the Kingdom is forgiveness and reconciliation.  To trust God is to embrace our need for others, for community, despite their obvious lack, because He is strong in our weaknesses.  God is not only strong in my weakness, but in my neighbor’s weakness.  Like our Lord, we are bound to His people.  We are members of one another.   For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5, ESV) In 1 Cornthians 1, when Paul talks about the Corinthians having no lack, he is talking about the community.  We as a community have everything we need.  To receive the fullness of the gifts God has for us, we must overcome the fear and pain of betrayal, and receive the gift of relationship.

 

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Revelation of Grace

“…nothing in us can absorb sin.  Nothing.  Even when we are the one being sinned against, we still cannot handle sin…”

TrueFaced Thrall, McNicol, Lynch

The annual remembrance of Christ’s passion provides for me another opportunity to think about the work of the cross.  I think I said it last year…how all sin is destroyed on the cross of Jesus.  The sins we have committed, and the sins committed against us.  The effect of sin is always the same: a broken heart.  TrueFaced says it this way:
“When we sin or when someone else sins against us, we experience some automatic responses.  If we do the sinning, our automatic response is called guilt.  If someone else sins against us, our automatic response is called hurt.  God designed these two responses to tell us that something wrong has happened, that something just got fractured and needs healing.”

Good News for the Broken

The cross of Christ does not make sense if you think you have it all together.  The extravagant love of God seems wasteful.  The Good News does not seem good at all until you know your own desperation before God.  But we live in a sin soaked world and all of us have been brushing up against sin since we entered this world.  It has broken our hearts.

The effects of sin, whether it is ours or someone elses, are the same: broken heartedness.  The answer is also the same: the cross.

Hebrews 12 describes Jesus as, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)  Look at our responses to sin in the passage from TrueFaced: guilt or hurt.  These are both good indicators that we need Jesus.  But so often we hide our guilt and hurt in a vain effort to make them go away.  Left unchecked, both become shame.  Shame moves us from “something wrong has happened” to “I am wrong.”  But Jesus despises the shame and pushes through to the cross anyway…for the joy set before Him.

Do you know what Joy was set before Jesus that He would go through everything He endured?

You.

Me.

We are His joy, and “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  (Romans 6:5 ESV)

God is doing a really cool work in me this season.  I haven’t been keeping up with the Lenten devotion I talked about in my last post…but mostly because God had other things in mind.  I guess He’s God.  I guess He can do that.

Beauty and Ashes

Wednesday morning I woke up with a deep need for a revelation of grace.

I think that we walk around with fear and pain and anger and all sorts of things bound up and hidden in our hearts, even from ourselves.  When the time is right, the waters start churning and those things come to the surface.

So it is with me.  In the past few weeks I have become painfully aware, once again, of my need for a savior.  I do not need to know that I am human and every body makes mistakes.  I need to know, desperately, that I am forgiven…that I am being made new.

I did not remember until later that day that Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  Lent is the liturgical season where we set aside 40 days to remember Jesus sacrifice for our sins and to repent in the context of His resurrection and grace.  The season is actually 46 days long, because Sundays are not counted.  They are still a celebration of the resurrection.

I believe God is wanting to spend time with me in stillness…so I am setting aside the first hour of every day, and I would like to invite you to join me.  I will be going through the Litany of Penitence, one line a day, reading from scripture, and ending with a symbolic act of forgiveness to remind myself I am forgiven.

This morning I walked to the park and read from John 13:31-15:11, and then I thought about and journaled about the first line from the Litany: “Most holy and merciful Father.”  I asked forgiveness for the times I have been unmerciful (already at the forefront of my mind), forgave others for not being merciful, and then asked Jesus to make me merciful.  As I walked home, I washed my hands in the dew soaked grass as a sign that I am washed clean by Jesus.

Chewing Gum and Stillness

The difference between shame and conviction is that when God convicts you of something, His purpose is change and He always gives you a way out.  I mentioned in my last post feeling convicted about my words.  I would like to share with you some of the practical strategies I have come up with in the last three days.

PRAY…at the start of my day, or entering into another meeting, I ask God to help me hold my tongue and think before I speak.

Chewing gum…okay, this is an old favorite of mine.  Probably not the best, but it works, and saves me from gaining 15 pounds.  I used to eat to keep myself from saying things I should not say.  Shove down those words with a sandwich or a baked potato or a cookie.  Ick.  I learned that some situations call for chewing gum…because either I will eat my weight in caramel popcorn or I will light the figurative match that burns the house down.  It’s not the ONLY reason I chew gum, but it’s a good one.

Heart check…“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  (Matthew 12:34)  Ouch.  I think I’m in a season where stuff I kept hidden from others and even myself is coming to the surface.  Fortunately, God can deal with the ugly junk when it comes to light.  Unfortunately, everyone else has to, too.

Stillness…I think this is my new secret weapon in the war against my tongue.  It’s pretty much my secret weapon in everything.  “In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.”  (Isaiah 30:15)  So…slow down…listen louder…wait on God.  I figure if I intentionally set aside time for silence throughout my day, it will help me in the moments I am speaking.  It’s a simple strategy, but one that has always worked before.  Plus, it’ll help with God dealing with the junk stored up inside.

Spring Cleaning

This week the speaker on the DTS, Donna MacGowan, spoke on Fear of the Lord.  Due to me being sick, I didn’t get to spend as much time with her as I would have liked, so maybe some of our amazing students can fill me in on how God moved in their lives this week.

Fear of the Lord is a topic we like to have on every DTS.  It is about honoring God in every area of your life, submitting all things to His loving discipline, and ridding yourself of the impurities, however great or small, that God brings up.  I say the words, but so many of my friends have been so hurt by churches that meant “Fear of Leadership and Our Opinion” rather than “Fear of the Lord”, that I know some of these words land in tender spots.  Many of you know that I have struggled long and hard with some of these battles, and the only freedom from other’s opinions can be found in a healthy reverence for God.  If it helps, I have been thinking of it as spring cleaning.  And God has been doing some spring cleaning in me.

Tom Gaddis, the pastor at Father’s House Church, mentioned last week that “When words are many, there is much sin…”  He himself was feeling convicted of some things, and something in my spirit stood up and took notice of this Proverb.  “Hey…I talk a lot…I ought to keep that in mind.”  I have been finding myself, for the past several weeks, with my proverbial foot in my mouth…and some times are more serious than others.  I have been confronted internally for things I have said to others, and have had others confront me regarding thoughts about myself I have verbalized.

I keep thinking of this kneeadable eraser I have.  It is a grey, sticky, elasticy putty.  It turns black when I use it to erase charcoal or graphite, but as I pull it and fold it and squish it back together, the black marks magically disappear.  Due to it’s stickiness, it also collects carpet fuzz.  And hair.  And sand.  And wood shavings.  And pretty much any other small debris it touches.  So in college, when I was doing more charcoal drawing, I would sit and pick all the little fuzz bits out.  You have to stretch it like bubble gum, then fold it in on itself over and over again to even find them.  That’s how I feel now…like God is stretching and then folding me and picking out all the dirt.

I wish I could say it was wonderful and refreshing, but it’s actually a little awful.  Sometimes I wonder why God and others even trust me, and I could sure use an angel to come burn my mouth with a coal*.  I am painfully aware, after many tries, that I cannot pull myself out of this one.  Repentance (rising above) is going to take an act of God.

Fortunately He has already acted.

Here I am, back at the cross, to be made new.  Forgiveness for sins isn’t just wiping the slate clean…it is changing my very nature, one foolish, careless thought and word at a time.

The people in my life have been so gracious and God has been so faithful to push me back on the path each time I stray.  I am not thrilled about this season, but I am grateful for it.  A thoughtless word and a sharp tongue can do so much damage, and my life is primarily about loving people.  Among other things, I am staffing the DTS this summer.  I know I won’t be “all better” by then, but I know this season is a very timely preparation for leadership.

Pray for me.

 

*From Isaiah 6,  “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. … And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Valentine’s Day Post

I strongly dislike Valentine’s Day.

I have always viewed it as a day for single people to feel lonely, lonely people to feel more lonely, and people in relationships to feel undue pressure to perform.  Yeah, not my favorite holiday.

But I might be slightly bitter…an issue which I have been wrestling with recently: my bitterness against romance.

It didn’t start that way.  I remember when I first fasted romance movies.  My heart was so pure in intention.  The man I loved had ended our relationship, and I realized I needed God’s view of romance.  So I fasted the movies.  I read a little book called When God Writes Your Love Story and handed the pen over for God to compose.  I remember reading when Leslie Ludy says God is writing a story for each of us and it will happen soon, and thinking to myself, “Soon isn’t a fair word.  This is going to take a long time.”

At first the theory was that it was taking so long because I wasn’t ready.  Then, my contemporaries theorized, perhaps he is not ready (whoever he is).  I was recently running on the beach, lamenting to God how few people understand how pervasive the loneliness can be, when it occurred to me that *I* understand.  I have been given the gift of longsuffering in this area, and so I have an intuitive sense of the loneliness of others, how it dogs your every step.  What if the waiting wasn’t about me, wasn’t about him, but was about learning how to love people in their loneliness.

God cares a lot about the lonely.  The widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, the poor.  These are the four populations He mentions over and over in the Bible as those to whom we should show care.  The lonely, the lonely, the lonely, the poor.  “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt,”  Exodus 22:21.

Remember the lonely, Beth, because you too have known loneliness.

These days God has been confronting the bitterness that cropped up over the last nine years since I “handed Him the pen,” which includes bringing that book across my path again.  It’s been sitting around the student’s house for weeks now, haunting me.  I finally picked it up and reread Leslie’s introduction.  Soon.  So unfair of her to use that word…but I knew.  Nine years ago, I knew this wasn’t going to be my version of soon.  I’m pretty sure I’ve taken back the pen on more than one occasion.  God has not been silent for the last nine years, either, but working with me through every trial, holding my heart through every loss, teaching me to hope again…and again…and again.  Still I’ve become bitter.

Today God has helped me keep the taste of bile out of my mouth.  I got to play violin with the Santa Maria Mission’s Base Prayer Room.  I got to deliver valentines to women at the strip club.  I got to have friends in my home and got to know them better.  Out of no where, my friend began encouraging me that this part of my life is not on back burner, that God cares and is working on my behalf.

It is good to lead such a full, rich life.  I still have my moments of loneliness, but I am surrounded by community.  Here I am, at the end of another day, with a debt of gratitude to everyone who has walked with me through the lonely days, who has loved me back to life through brokenness and pain, who has fought for me instead of with me, and who has welcomed me home.

Sabbath (Bible Week…Day 7)

“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.”

…But you were not willing.

Isaiah 30:15

All through the Old Testament, God talks about keeping the Sabbath.  Before the Israelites go into exile, and especially when they return, He talks about the importance of the Sabbath.  In fact, upon their return it seems almost synonymous in keeping the law in the promises that go with it.

It is not surprising, then that when Jesus arrives, the Jewish people have gone a little…extreme…in keeping the law, especially the Sabbath.  But still they missed the point, and actually crucified Jesus over working on the Sabbath.  Especially in the gospel of John I noticed over and over that Jesus kept healing people on the Sabbath, and the religious leaders got their panties all bunched up every time.

So it seems that understanding Sabbath is crucial to understanding the character and nature of God and His hope for us.

I prayed about this as we listened to the book of Matthew.  I feel like God answered with Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Sabbath is about working with God.

Sabbath is about trust.

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