Monday, June 27, 2016

On alcohol and polygamy

People.  We need to get it straight, what the Bible says, and what it does not say.

Also, where the Bible is concerned, we need to realize: this is the revealed heart of God.  The Revealed Heart of God.  Thus, one should not read the Bible with an eye to looking for loopholes.  One should read the Bible humbly, recognizing the beauty of the authority it holds.

One must not bring preconceived ideas to the Bible and insist that they exist in the Bible, simply because they existed one's mind first.  This is folly.

Revelation 22:18-19 warns us neither to add to nor to take away from the words of the scroll.  I believe that this specifically applies to the book of Revelation itself, but I do not think I am adding to the scroll if I suggest that it would be a safeguarding principle to apply this standard to our approach to all of scripture.  There are dire consequences for tampering with the Word of God.

You must not throw out parts of God's Word that you don't like.  At the same time, you must not claim that God's Word says things you wish it said, but that it does not say.

For instance (I will offend 99.9% of people by the time I've reached the end of this post; I'm sorry):  Claiming that the days in Genesis 1 are 24-hour days is going beyond what the text tells us.  Could they have been 24-hour days?  Of course!  Of course they could have been.  I am not saying that they weren't.  I am only saying that there is not definitive proof in the text that they were, and therefore I think we should be cautious about making claims about how accurate it is to interpret "day" as a 24-hour period of time, rather than as an epoch or something else; for instance, I don't think anybody assumes that the "day" in the phrase, "Day of the Lord," is necessarily 24 hours.  Again, please hear me: I am not saying that Creation did not happen in 24-hour days, I'm just saying that the text does not make it definitively clear that they were, and thus we should be careful about what we insist on.  We should firmly maintain that God is the Creator of all things, and that everything that exists has its origin in Him.  We should not insist on 24-hour time periods.  We can ponder the possibility and discuss the implications, but we should not proclaim that the Bible says something that it does not say.

Political activists who are distraught over the definition of marriage in the United States make me similarly crazy.  They try to bolster their arguments against homosexual marriage with bumper stickers sporting stick figures and the phrase, "one man, one woman."  This is insanity.  I'm sorry, but it is.  You cannot read the Bible and come away with the idea that it clearly defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman.  The Bible is rife with polygamy.  Abraham had two wives: Sarah and Hagar.  ("Wait!" you say, "That didn't turn out well!"  Well, no, it didn't, but God did not condemn Abraham for his union to Hagar.  In fact, God extended blessings and mercy to Hagar and Ishmael.)  Abraham also had a wife named Keturah.  As far as I am aware, Isaac was only married to Rebekah.  However, Jacob had two wives and two concubines: Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah.  Again, maybe it didn't turn out ideally, but God never prohibited it, nor did He condemn Jacob for his family situation.

Moses had at least two wives: Zipporah and a Cushite.

King David was married to Saul's daughter, Michel, and also to Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Eglah and Bathsheba.  That makes seven.  The only one he got into trouble over was Bathsheba, because she was another man's wife and David committed adultery with her.  David was called a man after God's own heart.

When Moses presented the Law, among the guidelines God gave was that a king must not take "many" wives, lest his heart be led astray (see Deuteronomy 17:17).  This--the giving of the Law--would have been a perfect opportunity for God to define marriage--the ideal marriage situation--as one queen for one king, if He so desired.  But He did not.  God only warned kings not to get carried away taking too many wives.  Solomon got carried away and took 700 wives and 300 concubines.  After his wives led him astray to idol worship, Solomon did lose the kingdom, but I think we can all agree that his was the type of extreme case that the guideline had been given to prevent.

Even in the New Testament, where qualifications for overseers are listed, it says that they must be "husbands of only one wife," (1 Timothy 3:2), and the same for deacons (1 Timothy 3:12).  This leads one to assume that there must have been men in the church who had more than one wife, hence the clarification.  Why would you even mention the requirement if it was prohibited for someone to have multiple wives in the first place?

The Bible does warn that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination to the Lord (Leviticus 18:22, 2 Kings 23:7, Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:9-10).  This is because God is the great Husband and Provider, and He created the marriage relationship to be a picture of His relationship to His people (Ephesians 5:31-32).  God wants husbands to provide for, protect and be faithful to their wives in the same way that the Lord does these things for His people.  He wants wives to respond to their husbands' faithfulness and goodness with love and honor, reflecting the way believers should respond to Christ.  These are sexual roles God has created for a specific purpose, and in God's design, the roles of husband/man and wife/woman are not casually interchangeable.  This is true.  This is what the Bible says.  The metaphor exists throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  However, if you combine this point--which is true--with the idea that polygamy is wrong, you discredit yourself.  The Bible does not say that polygamy is a sin.  The Bible demonstrates that polygamy is an arrangement that does not usually breed peace and harmony, but the Bible does not command people not to participate in polygamy.  To suggest that it does is to lie. When you combine a truth with a falsehood, you should not expect to be taken seriously as a truth-teller.  If you want to help people understand how homosexuality is outside of God's will, you ought not combine your argument with blatantly unbiblical claims about polygamy.

Polygamy is not recommended or encouraged, but it isn't prohibited either.

And then there is alcohol.  If I haven't offended you yet, I suppose I will now.

Like polygamy, alcohol consumption is not prohibited in the 10 Commandments.  Jesus famously  turned water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana (John 2).  Some folks try to argue that this was not strong wine, not consumed for a mood change, but John 2:10 would suggest otherwise -- these people were drinking to get drunk, and the master of the banquet was very confused as to why the best wine was brought out after the guests were too inebriated to appreciate it.

There is another affirmative mention of alcohol in Proverbs 9, where Wisdom prepares her banquet and calls people to come to it.  Proverbs 9:2 says that Wisdom has prepared her food and mixed her wine, and in Proverbs 9:5, Wisdom calls out, "Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed."

Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, "Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do."  But one must be careful about pulling verses out of context, especially from Ecclesiastes, which also says that bread is made for laughter, wine gladdens the heart, and money is the answer for everything (10:19).  We know for certain that it is not Biblically sound to operate under the premise that money is the answer for everything (Matthew 6:24, 1 Timothy 6:10).  Likewise, wine may not gladden the heart in a completely healthy and wholesome way.  We should be careful, but all the same, the Bible clearly does not prohibit alcohol consumption.

God does not condemn or prohibit alcohol consumption in His Word.  That may bother you, but it's the way it is.  Perhaps it doesn't bother you.  Perhaps it makes you very happy.  If so, now it's your turn to have your thinking challenged.

Although alcohol appears in a relatively positive light a few times in scripture, most of the time when the subject of alcohol comes up, it is related to someone giving his enemies a "cup" to drink, so that they will be drunk and reeling, and easy to defeat in battle.  People use alcohol throughout the Bible to exploit others, and even when someone isn't specifically using it to exploit, it results in shame and humiliation for those who drink it (compare the stories of Noah in Genesis 9:20-27, and Lot in Genesis 19:30-38).  Nabal, who got drunk during sheepshearing season, was described as an utter fool (1 Samuel 25).

Like polygamy, alcohol consumption is not prohibited, but (also like polygamy) it is shown to be commonly detrimental, something to be approached with caution.  Proverbs 20:1 tells us that wine and beer result in fights and foolishness, and that the wise will not allow themselves to be so led astray.  Proverbs 23:29-35 tells us that those who linger over wine bring all sorts of unnecessary strife and sorrow into their lives, in the end losing all judgment and sensibility.  Drunkenness is condemned outright (Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 5:11 & 6:10, Galatians 5:21, 1 Peter 4:3).

In Deuteronomy 17:17, we saw that God warned kings not to take too many wives.  In Proverbs 31:4-5, we also learn that it is not for kings to drink wine or crave beer, lest they lose their judgment and fail to rule justly.  Just as 1 Timothy 3 outlines that elders and deacons should be limited to one wife, it also explains that they must be temperate and not indulge in much wine.

Priests were prohibited from drinking wine while they were serving (Leviticus 10:9).

I believe that the Bible demonstrates that the better, safer path is the path that eschews alcohol.  At the same time, I cannot argue that the Bible condemns alcohol categorically, because it clearly does not.

It comes down to convictions, and convictions are tricky things to navigate.  Convictions are impressions that the Spirit of God lays on individuals for how they, personally, should live, in areas where scripture does not state clear commands.  Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8 give us guidelines for handling our convictions.  We are to listen to the Spirit and obey His promptings.  I am not to force on others the promptings that the Spirit lays on me.  However, believers are also sternly warned not to belittle a conviction someone else has--which they themselves may not share--because to encourage someone to act against a conviction that God has laid on him would be to encourage him to sin.  Above all else, we are to walk in love and humility, looking not to our own interests but to the interests of others, making up our minds not to put a stumbling block or obstacle in our brother's way.

My own conviction--that alcohol is dangerous and best avoided--stems from the following:

(1) Alcohol is highly addictive.  When a person becomes addicted to something, that thing becomes a major "need" in his life.  When we need something other than God for satisfaction, comfort or fulfillment, then it is, by definition, an idol.  God categorically condemns all idolatry.  Perhaps I would not become addicted to alcohol if I used it, but statistics show that approximately 20% of people who drink become alcoholics.  I do not want to open myself up to a 20% chance of shackling myself to idolatry.  God is my source of satisfaction and joy.  ("And do not get drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit," Ephesians 5:18.)

(2)  Because of the high number of people in our culture and society today who struggle with alcohol addiction, I do not ever want my actions or example to lead anybody else into bondage to addictive sins.  ("It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall," Romans 14:21.)

(3)  I have enough trouble keeping a clear head without adding chemicals to the mix.

I am not telling anyone else what his or her conviction must be.  That is between you and the Holy Spirit, and you need to take it seriously, but it's not my business what He tells you.  I understand and agree that the Bible does not say, anywhere, "Thou shalt not partake of a glass of wine."  I will not condemn you or think ill of you for doing so.  At the same time, I ask that if you do not share my conviction, you would still respect me in my conviction, and not ask me to do things with alcohol that would trouble my conscience.

We need to get straight on what the Bible says, and what it does not say.  We need to speak the truth in love, extend grace, love mercy, seek justice and surrender humbly before the the Lord.

Also, I'm counting on my husband never to take a second wife while I'm alive, whether it's prohibited or not.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Battle weary

Sometimes I get tired.

I don't say that to complain.  I used to have a friend who said, "I'm not complaining.  I'm just stating facts."  I also am stating a fact, and I state it not because I think that I get more tired than other people, or because I think my tiredness is more significant than other people's.  On the contrary, I state this fact because I think others besides me probably get tired too, and we need to encourage one another to keep on in hope, despite our fatigue.

Have you noticed how good things make you tired in one way, a good kind of tired that often leads to deep sleep, while bad things drain your energy and leave you empty and hurting?

Lately, I have experienced both highs and lows.  My soul has sung in praise to God.  My heart has also been torn and bruised, crying to the Lord for help and for mercy.  I've seen blessings poured out; concrete, measurable answers to prayer; the sovereign hand of God directing circumstances.  I've seen the words of the Bible come to life in the events of my days.

I've born witness to the acts of God, given glory to His name, and I've been told to stop, that wasn't God after all, nevermind, just a coincidence.  Like Elijah after Mount Carmel, when Jezebel remained unaffected and rebounded by threatening his life, I flee to the desert exhausted and longing for an angel to cook me a meal, longing to hear the whisper of God's gentle voice in my ear.

God can direct the heart of a king like a watercourse.  He is in control of all things.  Yet, He does not force a stubborn heart to bend.  He holds out the power of the Holy Spirit as a gift to any who will humbly enter into relationship with Him, yet He does not force Himself on anyone, ever.  He opens blind eyes, unstops deaf ears.  He enables the lame to walk, and cures those with leprosy.  Yet, it is those who call to Him whom He answers, those with a desire for healing.

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23).  Indeed, He takes no pleasure in anyone's death (Ezekiel 18:32).  He wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).  He is patient, not wanting any to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

I stack these truths against verses like Isaiah 46:10, where God says that His purpose will stand and He will do all that He pleases.  In Psalm 115:3, we read that God is in heaven, and He does whatever pleases Him.  He does not get frustrated about things that do not go His way.  He has the absolute power and ability to make things go His way.

Here's the question:  If God desires that all men be saved, and if He has the power to do whatever He desires, then why won't all men be saved?

I don't know.

The Bible does clearly state that not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven.  In fact, the Bible says that the road to life is a narrow road beyond a small gate, and only a few find it.  The gospels record ominous parables about wedding banquets that people can't get into, and about the separation of sheep and goats, wheat and tares.  Revelation tells us that nothing impure will ever enter heaven, nor anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.

And yet, God desires for all men to be saved.  It is the deceiving wile of the devil that prevents salvation.  God's Holy Spirit illuminates truth, convicts hearts with the truth, and battles deception on every level.

Our battle, Ephesians 6 tells us, is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

God is mighty to save.  Long ago, He saved Israel from slavery to Egypt with His outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.  In our day, He will save His children from slavery to sin with His outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.

Psalm 60:12 tells us that with God we will win the victory; God will trample down our enemies.  Remember, our enemies are not flesh and blood.  Our enemies are the spiritual forces of evil.  But God is greater.  God is above all spiritual powers, infinitely above, and He always has been.  As the jewel in the crown of God's absolute authority, Jesus has battled Satan and triumphed, clearly and decisively, by dying on the cross, carrying the cumulative sins of all humanity down to hell, and then bursting forth, free, perfect, pure and resurrected.  Jesus has already done this.  If God is for us, who can stand against us?  There is no power that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world.

And yet, I get tired.  Because God is able.  He is almighty.  He is sovereign, glorious and victorious.  He is also compassionate, merciful, gracious, loving and zealous to save.  He is the healer, the restorer of souls, the deliverer from evil.

But He doesn't force Himself on people.

And, remarkably, people reject Him all the time.  Even when He is actively reaching out to them, even when He answers prayers and performs miracles.

This makes me very tired.

Hold me together, Lord Jesus.  Oh Lord Jesus, have mercy and help us all.

Help us not to despair, because You never do.

Help us always to pray and never give up (Luke 18:1).

Sustain us in our tiredness; let us find rest in You.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Full heart, exceedingly full.

A lot has been going on.

Now and then I have an idea for a blog post, and then it evaporates.

I want to write a post about the Holy Spirit, but it probably belongs on Seeking Wisdom.

My health has been a bit pesky of late, but that belongs on To Sleep.

Today will be scattered, more of a diary entry than a blog post.  Messy.  Incoherent, perhaps.

Back when we went on our trip to Zion National Park for our 25th Anniversary,  I never finished writing about it.  I hope I can get at least one more decent post out of our trip to the redwoods, before the images and memories fade.  I need to write about the Best Hike in the World.  The exuberant man on top of his camper.  The white-faced, black-eyed teenagers near Patrick's point.  Our secret discovery of barking seals, spouting whales and swooping eagles.  Cooking Petrale sole at the Trinidad Inn.  The man in the elevator who asked us, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"  The midnight desk clerk at Embassy Suites Dallas Airport.  The British lady who needed some help with her walker, coming off the airplane in Chicago.

So many pictures in my mind.  So many stories.  So little time.  So little energy.

Lupus.  Bah.  And the bills that go with it.  Boo.  And the insurance companies that consistently deny claims the first time they are submitted.  Hissssssss.

In April, Shawn and I went to the beach, the Atlantic Ocean, and spent some time with David and Ashton.

In May, Jon and I went to Minnesota and saw Aunt Nunie as she was packing up to move out of 2715 Wingfield.  We said good-bye to Great-Grandma Herbold's historic house.

Also in May, Shawn and I went to San Francisco and the redwood forests of northern California.  Within two months, I touched the water in the oceans on both our east and west coasts.

This is not my life.  I am a run-of-the-mill housewife.  I do laundry, clean toilets, and shop at Aldi.  I am not a big traveler.

But wait.  There's more.

In June, Shawn and I went to Georgia.  (We also crossed through a corner of Alabama, adding two more states to my list of places I've been.)

We met Ashton's lovely family, and David asked Ashton to marry him, out in the pasture, under the spreading oaks.  She said yes!

It was a happy, happy time.

Oh, the plans He has for them.  The plans He has for us all.

Smiles all around.  We all smiled up a storm!

If the engagement was this joyful, we'd better hold onto our hats when the wedding day arrives!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Bucket List

I have had one item on my bucket list.  Well, maybe two, but the second is on hold, possibly permanently.

The second item on my bucket list is a trip to Israel.  I would like to see where Jesus lived, walk the roads, smell the air.  But I have lupus, and such a trip--jet lag and all--would be very ambitious even were it not for the volatile political situations in the world.

The other item on my bucket list was to see the Redwood Forests on the west coast of our own country.  Last week, I did.

We flew to San Francisco.  Here is proof of it:

We were in San Francisco for a few days while Shawn worked at a trade show.  When the show finished, we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and away to the north.  Whew!  I like the country better than the city.

We drove north into Mendocino County, and came to a town called Ukiah.  There we turned left, and drove 13 miles on a treacherously high and twisty road called Orr Springs.

Eventually, Orr Springs Road descended on the far side of a high range, and (although this is what we came for) quite surprisingly we found ourselves nestled in a grove of giant redwood trees.

We did not have the hang of photographing them, although we quickly learned why so many pictures of them look like this:

And like this:

And sometimes like this:

There is practically no way to take a picture that does not show the trees to be wide at the bottom and narrow at the top.  They are that big.  Taller than I'd ever imagined.  Literally breathtaking, as in: I can't breathe and my chest hurts from the immensity of them.

We learned that it helps to take pictures with familiar objects in them, for perspective:

Here, a redwood next to Shawn (a "familiar object") for perspective.

And a bigger one, behind me.

And an even bigger one.  They kept getting bigger and bigger.

So that was our first encounter, and it was beyond my wildest dreams.  I wondered where we could possibly go from there.  But wait.  There's more.

The next day, we drove through a tree.

We visited a tree house, which was very much reminiscent of a hobbit house:

And then we drove up the Avenue of the Giants.  This is what it looks like:

You drive through grove after grove of giant redwoods, their trunks reaching up directly from the side of the road, which is wide enough for two lanes, but sometimes just barely.

Avenue of the Giants winds through Humboldt Woods State Park, where we stopped and did a few hikes, and took lots of pictures.

Shawn is standing in front of the roots of a tree that fell over many years ago.  I wonder what could have caused it to fall like that, pulling its roots out of the ground.

A friendly tree, almost small enough to hug.

You feel rather insignificant in such magnificent surroundings.

See me looking up at this tree?  Being in the redwoods does something to your posture.  Also, my glasses (which I generally wear on the top of my head to keep them handy) kept falling off the back of my head, over and over.

The sunshine was magical, dappling through the leaves and landing on fronds and ferns.  I was inclined to feel a bit like a bug, darting around beneath these silent, dignified beings with their verdant heads lost in the light above.

Trees like this were still alive, with branches and foliage above.  I think I'd like to roll out some bedding and take a nap inside one of these trees.

You can't possibly take it all in, the height, the silence, the cool shade, the lush undergrowth.  Even if you are right there, you can't see it all, and you get dizzy looking up and turning around as you try to.  Pictures fall far short.  I am overflowing with gratitude to God for allowing me to see and experience this, and to my husband for being the Lord's instrument for getting me there.

There were many beautiful, blooming wildflowers, too, and so much more, so much I could not contain my heart.

I will continue this post soon . . .

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Aunt Nunie was a career missionary to the Congo, which was also called Zaire for much of the time she was there.

She has been a missionary everywhere she has lived, reaching out, ministering, sharing the gospel wherever she goes.  Her heart beats for Africa, but she loves the United States, too.

When she retired from the mission field, Nunie moved in with Grandma at 2715 Wingfield, which Grandpa had bought way back in 1931 and paid for in cash, $400.  It came with a pump and an outhouse.  Over the years, they've added plumbing, electricity, and a furnace, among other things.

Last June, Nunie turned 90 and we celebrated.  Now she is nearly 91, and the time has come for her to give up caring for the charming antique relic that 2715 has become.  She mowed, dug and planted right up to the end.  On Saturday, she will move to a senior apartment where she will live near friends in a community where she can relax and enjoy the fellowship without having to concern herself with home maintenance.

It will be good, but it has gone shockingly quickly.

Jon took me up to visit her this past weekend.  The house is already coming apart as Nunie packs for her move.  At one point when we stopped by, she took a break from her work and brought out a CD of piano music recorded by one of my cousins and her husband.  Jon got the music playing, and Nunie sat down on the floor, pulling up her knees up like a teenager as she lightly bobbed her head to the jaunty piano rhythms.

I took a few raw photos for posterity.

Jon greets Nunie as we arrive.  (See her coming out the porch door?)

The front of the house, and a sun spot.

Nunie under the numbers: 2715.  I'm going to have to learn a new address.  

The house is on a historic registry.

I have so many memories of long conversations out on the porch, swaying in this porch swing.

This is the chair I remember Grandma sitting in, always.  
It was red, and it used to be in the living room, against the back wall.

The fold-open desk where they'd set us to color, the little kitchen table, the corner cabinet.  (I realized after I got home that I never took a picture of the dining room, I suppose because the table was full of packing.  I hope someone has a picture of it.)  I have vivid memories of that window between the corner cabinet and the refrigerator, and watching the birdhouse, watching wrens and bluebirds, accompanied by the scent of lilies of the valley and lilacs wafting in.

I was always amazed and maybe a little bit frightened by the trap door to the root cellar 
in the center of the kitchen floor.

Such a sweet, tidy little kitchen, even as it's being packed.

"Grandpa's Secretary" -- the one really fine antique.  
Everyone has always spoken of it with reverence.

The "old kitchen" was turned into a laundry and furnace room, 
but this amazing antique sink remains, pristine.

The back of the house.

The storm cellar.

Catching rainwater right up to the end.

Backyard with garden and clothesline, of course.  Beyond, there is a golf course!

Aunt Nunie and me, on the sofa she reupholstered herself.

So many memories.  So much to be grateful for.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Three things I learned very slowly

Sometimes it is embarrassing to learn as slowly as I do.

You can know a lot of facts.  You can have a great deal of knowledge about the Bible.  You can even memorize numerous Bible verses, and still know very little.

There are certain principles in life -- perhaps you have experienced this -- where you know the principle, and you use the principle.  Maybe even daily, you apply this principle, assuming it will work, and it does.  But then one day while you are working through something, applying the principle as you always have, enlightenment suddenly dawns on you: This is why it works.  This is what it means.  This is what it really means!  All of a sudden, your knowledge has deepened and everything is new, everything is going to be easier because of what you just figured out about what you already knew.

This can happen in science.  It can happen in math.  It can happen when you are cooking, or when you are relating to another person.  It can also happen in your religious belief system.

So far, it has happened to me three times in my religious belief system.  Here are three things I knew, but didn't know, until one day enlightenment dawned on me and the facts in my head became alive in my heart.
  1. My righteousness comes from Christ alone, and is guaranteed because of Him
  2. God is good.
  3. All I need is Christ.

Let's briefly consider these things one by one.

My righteousness comes from Christ alone and is guaranteed because of Him.

I never had any trouble with the idea that I was unrighteous apart from Christ, but I had a great deal of trouble grasping how it worked, that He somehow imputed His righteousness to me.  The way people talked about it, I got the idea that they were describing Jesus as some sort of camouflaging umbrella over my sin: I'm down here under the tent of Jesus, heedlessly sinning away, but all God can see when He looks at me is the pure covering of Christ, hiding my filth.  I recoiled from this image.  I recoil from all teaching that suggests that we are fine if we continue in sin, since Jesus loves us and forgives us and it doesn't matter.

I have always believed that my righteousness is from Christ alone.  I just didn't understand what that meant, because I knew it couldn't possibly be a justification for marinating in sin.  Yet, I am conscious of my incomplete victory over sin every day.  How can I be righteous when I am so obviously wicked?

The winter I turned 27 years old, I had three very small children.  We were sick all the time.  I was isolated, far from family, seriously sleep-deprived, and I believe, looking back, that I was in an undiagnosed clinical depression.  I was also reading through the Bible (the grace of God is almost funny, in a sort of not-very-funny way).  That was my first time through, and I went straight through, cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation, absorbing only a little.  When I hit the Psalms, I did not enjoy them.  Contrary to what you might expect, they almost aggravated my depression.  I have a clear memory of one day reading a section of Psalms and feeling that they were taunting me, because over and over they proclaimed outrageous promises of blessings for "the righteous."  I knew myself to be a crabby wife, an impatient mother, a crier, a yeller, a complainer, selfish, negative, angry and (on top of everything else) lazy and undisciplined.

I set my Bible down in my lap and told Jesus, "That's all well and good . . . that You promise all these great things to the righteous.  But I'm not righteous."

Almost before I had finished giving shape to the plaintive thought in my mind, the voice of God filled my head.  I can't describe it any other way, except that it was the voice of God, although it was not audible.  He told me, "You are righteous, because I died to make you righteous."  I was completely taken aback.  It hit me, fresh, for the first time.  Jesus' sacrifice on the cross cleansed me in such a way that I qualify for God's promises to the righteous.  I am counted as one of the righteous.  Even though I stumble in sin every day of my life, God's precious promises apply to me.  The relief that flooded my soul was indescribable. 

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
~1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
~2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

God is good.

I knew that God was good.  I did.  I knew it, and I believed it.  I even wrote about it.  However, I had a fear of the idea, a need to distance myself, to explain that "good" isn't always what we think of as "good."  I agonized over how God works good in our lives through trials and suffering, how He refines us with fire.  His purposes and results are always good, but His processes can be painful, and we have to trust Him.  This is all true; it isn't wrong.  It just wasn't completely helpful.

Not so very long ago, I had a breakthrough.  I'd like to say it happened in my late forties, before I turned 50, but I'm not absolutely certain that it did.  I'm not sure how it happened, either, or what circumstances brought it about.

One day it just fell into my mind, clearly, simply:  God is good because He loved us enough to send Jesus to die on the cross.

Jesus died on the cross for our sins and saved us from this fallen world.  Here we see God's goodness made manifest.  God is good because His purpose is to bring His people home to dwell in eternal glory with Him, and He sacrificed His only begotten Son to accomplish it.

If you ever doubt that God is good, all you have to do is look to the cross.  All His great goodness is displayed right there. 

. . . but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  
~Romans 5:8 (ESV)

And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth.
~Revelation 5:9-10 (NIV) 

[note:  I am probably not saying anything here that you haven't heard before.  I had heard this over and over, and truly believed it, before the Holy Spirit permeated my heart with it.  Although I had believed it, it took me forever to feel it, to know it.  So I doubt if my awkward words here will accomplish in you what the Lord accomplished in me, but I hope that when it does happen in you--if it hasn't already--you will recognize and rejoice in it.]

All I need is Christ.

I also knew this.  I have known this for a long time. 

But there is something that I did not realize.  I did not realize that this is the source of our joy.

Here I've been limping along, trying to figure out how to cultivate Spirit-fruit in my life, filled with feelings of insufficiency and worry.  "Where is the joy?" I would ask myself.  "How can I be an ambassador for Christ when the wellspring of my joy is dry?  Who would believe that God brings hope to the hopeless by the testimony of my life?"

Then He showed me.  It might have been as recently as last week.  I think it happened when I was thinking about heaven, and my heart finally felt the truth that Christ Himself is the great prize.  Nothing else matters.  To be at home with Jesus is everything.

All I need is Christ.  Christ is my hope and my salvation, the living water that refreshes my soul, the lamp that lights my path, the bread that nourishes me and the song in my heart.  Christ is the sacrifice that has made peace for me with God and purchased--secured--my eternal future in glory.  Christ is my beauty, my wisdom and my home.  If I have Christ, I have everything I need for life and joy and eternity.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. ~2 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)

Even better: nobody and nothing can take Christ away from me.  I am His and He is mine.  

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
~Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

I don't need a nice house, or pretty clothes or a reliable car.  I don't need a husband, children, a dog or money in the bank.  I don't need my lupus medicine or friends or vacations or food or even water.  I am thankful when I have these things, but I don't need them.  All I need is Christ, and He will take me home to glory, and there in His presence I will never even imagine needing anything, ever again.  I will have Him, and He is more than enough.  I depend on nothing else.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
~Philippians 1:21 (NIV) 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.
~Psalm 23:1 (NIV)

I've struggled with a fear: What if someone I love doesn't come to Christ?  What if someone I love doesn't make it to heaven for eternity?  What if I can't get someone saved?  How can I live joyfully if someone I love is not safe from the wrath of God?

First off, I won't be getting anybody saved.  God does the saving.  Jesus taught that people are unable to come to Him unless the Father draws them (John 6:44).  I can be an ambassador, but I am not the Savior.  Jesus is the Savior, and He is mighty to save.

It's my job to live out the radiance of Christ, to showcase His redemptive power through the Christlikeness of my life.  I need to walk in love and grace, humility and kindness, forgiveness and gentleness and peace.  Living in the power of the Holy Spirit produces opportunities to share truth.  I can't do any of it if I am fearful and unhappy.  The cure for fearfulness and unhappiness is to understand, deep within my inmost being, that all I need is Christ.  And I have Christ.  Nobody can take Him away from me, and He will never leave me nor forsake me.  All I need is Christ, and He freely gives Himself to me and fills me with His Spirit.  This is joy.  This is security.  

This is the key.  All I need is Christ. 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
~Romans 15:13 (NIV)

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost."
~Isaiah 55:1

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
~Revelation 22:17   



Monday, May 9, 2016

Can we get beyond egocentrism?

Laid behind a stone,
You lived to die
Rejected and alone.
Like a rose,
Trampled on the ground,
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all.
[from "Above All," by Michael W. Smith]

Those words come from quite a pretty song.  I always find myself blindsided by it, because it has a lovely melody and it starts out really well.  Then it ends:

Like a rose,
Trampled on the ground,
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all.

Theologically, I am not sure where this idea comes from.  Jesus thought of me, above all?  It is a very romantic and sentimental thought, but it may not be rooted in scripture.  Jesus died because God loved the world and desired to restore His people to fellowship with Himself.  Jesus died for the salvation of men and for the glory of the Father.  This was an inconceivably gracious and obedient act.  I am overwhelmed at His goodness, His mercy and His love.  And yes, He loves me.  I am a part of this great salvation that He provided; I am a recipient, saved by grace.

But I do not think it is right to say that He thought of me above all.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you."
~John 17:1 (ESV)

Looking to Jesus, 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)  

I think it would be more accurate to say that Jesus thought of His Father's will and His Father's glory above all.  That was the overarching thing, and by some great mystery of grace, God's glory increases through my salvation, which brings Him joy.  I receive the benefit from His glory in a most amazing way.  You can, too.  He did not think of me above you, nor of you above me.  He thought of His Father above all.  The miracle is that what brings God the most glory brings us the most good, because He is God--holy and unique--and the things that glorify Him send ripples of divine blessing out over all creation. 

To say that Jesus thought of me, above all, as He poured out his blood on Calvary to satisfy the justice of God, seems egocentric.  How can we, as believers in the fully effective work of Christ, be egocentric?  Christianity is about not being egocentric.  Christianity is learning to die to our self-focus and self-interest.  The point of Christianity is that we are freed from self-absorption, which always leads to misery, and we are turned towards the face of the God, where we find perfect love and life and joy.

In a similar vein, I have heard it taught that, "If you were the only person on earth, Jesus still would have died for you.  He loves you that much.  You alone are worth all of His grace."  This statement baffles me.  It is completely moot.  I am not the only person on earth.  God's goal from before the beginning of time was to purify a people for Himself.  People.  That's plural.

Yes, God loves me.  God knows me by name.  He keeps a record of my tears, and He knows each hair that falls from my head.  He is fully aware of every word I speak, even before I speak it.  He has a plan for my life, and specific jobs (good deeds) that He has prepared in advance for me to do.  He knows when I stand and when I sit down.  He watches over my coming and going both now and forever.  He is with me, will never leave me nor forsake me.  Here's the truly remarkable, miraculous thing:  God is not just obsessed with me.  God has this kind of zeal for each one of His people, every single one.  He loves all of us, from every nation, tongue and tribe.  He has a plurality of love that far exceeds anything we can imagine.  When He spoke to Abram about the promised Messiah, ages and ages ago, He said, "Through your seed, all the families of the earth will be blessed."  The point, the beauty, the amazing thing is that there is a Divine Being who can love with that depth, power and attention to detail on such a vast scale.  It's not about me.  It's about God.

Conversely, a different idea is true.  If God were the only thing in heaven, it would still be wonderful and surpass our wildest hopes and dreams.  He is everything.  He is all.  He is truth, beauty, life, light, joy and goodness.  He is love.

If I were to get to heaven, and the only thing there was the Lord, He alone would be abundantly more than I need for my eternal fulfillment.  This is hard to understand, because it is hard to grasp the concept of God.  Actually, it is probably impossible to grasp the concept of God; all we can do is try to ponder His attributes as best we can.  But I know and believe that God is far more satisfying than any jewels, or streets of gold, or perfect sunsets, or heavenly harp music, or even precious family relationships.

Sometimes I can get to fretting about who may or may not be in Heaven.  Sometimes I wonder if I can be happy if certain ones whom I love don't arrive there.  Surely, it will be wonderful to be reunited with loved ones in our promised eternal home, but this is not the Great Hope.  This is not the Ultimate Reward.  The Great Hope, the Ultimate Reward, is the unveiled presence of God in all His glory.

When we are with God in Heaven, nothing else will matter.  When we are with God in Heaven, we will live in unending joy and peace.  We aren't going to miss anybody at that point.  It's going to be okay.  We will be with Jesus!

We still need to testify to the goodness of the Lord.  We need to speak of His grace, His love, His salvation.  We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to convict and enlighten.  We need to pour out our lives for the salvation of the lost.  What does that even mean?  We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and walk in love, demonstrating the grace of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in whatever ways He shows us, ways we probably could not even imagine on our own.

When we learn to be channels for the Holy Spirit, to walk by the Spirit, to abide in Him, to truly offer our bodies as living sacrifices, then we will become instruments in the Father's hands, instruments He uses to accomplish His salvation for His people.  He will use us, and it will be glorious, and there will be no regrets.

No regrets.