Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bittersweet

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 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?



Crucified,
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.





Thursday, May 5, 2016

Heaven on earth, or what Jesus came to fix?



Many times, when doing evangelism, Christians make great claims about how giving your heart to Jesus fixes everything and makes your life pleasant in the here and now.

I'm so happy, and here's the reason why, Jesus took my burdens all away...
Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before...
Something good is going to happen to you, happen to you, this very day.  Something good is going to happen to you, Jesus of Nazareth is passing your way...

Now, there is a certain truth in this.

For one thing, when you live by good, solid moral standards such as telling the truth, being kind, controlling your temper, and working hard, you generally do encounter fewer bumps and bruises in life.  Although living by a high moral code is not the core of Christianity, it is a highly correlated benefit of Christianity.

For another thing, becoming a Christian brings the wonderful blessing of being forgiven from all your sins and freed from guilt, condemnation and the fear of hell.  Christians receive the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit who comforts us, illuminates our understanding, helps us navigate life, and promises never to leave us or forsake us.  The Holy Spirit also empowers us to live increasingly purer lives, resulting in the blessings that naturally flow from morality.  These truths are worthy of much celebration, and they do bring joy.

However, there is an impression we sometimes give: Today you are a miserable sinner, locked in the shackles of pain and darkness. But when you come to Jesus, you will get a job, balance your bank account, restore all your broken relationships and be healed from all your diseases and addictions.  We give the impression that turning to Jesus brings heaven on earth, that everything will be restored quickly in the here and now, and you will live happily ever after.

I think many people--especially those who grew up in churches where they were exposed to the idea that Jesus fixes everything, and the Christian life is free from pain--turn away from the Lord when they experience the realities of suffering in a fallen world.  They are primed and ready to swallow the devil's lie that, "A good God couldn't possibly allow such things to happen."

There are some earthly benefits to being a child of God.  Of course there are.  (Check out the book of Proverbs.)   But this is not the reason why we throw our lot in with Christ.  This is not the great promise of the faith.

The whole point of Christianity is that the world is broken, fatally wounded; dying, in fact.  The world is corrupt and decaying, and there would be no hope for any of us.

Except for Jesus.

Jesus gives us hope.

Jesus gives us hope that we can be saved from this deathly place.  He gives us hope that there is forgiveness for sins, through the blood He shed for us, which He poured out in payment for the staggering sin debt we had racked up.

Jesus gives us hope that there is eternal life in the future, and a place where justice will reign, where all will be made right, where death will be undone along with injustice, pain, sorrow, disappointment, danger and fear.  Our hope isn't for a nice house and a cancer free body in this world.  Our hope is for an eternal future of life and health and joy in the presence of God, fully redeemed, fully purified.  This is the great promise of the faith.

When we encounter the brokenness of the world--sexual abuse and political corruption, mental illness and terminal diseases, wars, car accidents, bank failures, floods, fires and tornadoes, friends who betray, plans that fizzle, dreams that die--it makes no sense to ask, "Why would God allow this?"  Instead, we need to say, "This is what Jesus came to fix.  This is why we need to set our eyes on things above, on our eternal hope."

Yes, in a sense I guess God does "allow" these things, but only in that He "allowed" Adam and Eve to defy Him.  Rebelling against God leads to death--not because God is mean, but because He is the source of life.  Rebelling against life leads to death.  Furthermore, rebellion is sin, and sin is a web that spreads.  Nobody's sin happens in a vacuum.  Sin always sends out disastrous ripple effects.  Sin constantly runs amuck among us, while the original beauty of God's creation stands as the backdrop to life, testifying to His existence and His grace.  We can be so blinded by Satan's schemes that we think the beauty is ours, and we mistakenly attribute the effects of humanity's cumulative sins to God.  May the Lord have mercy on our souls and open our eyes to the truth about these things.

God has always allowed us to choose, and He gives us what we want.  He even warns us, repeatedly, to choose well; but at the end, He gives us what we want.

"This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." 
~Deuteronomy 30:19