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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Feeling Sin

I've got a lot of thoughts: go with me here.

I've been reflecting on sin.

Sin is sad.
It's wicked. And it's sad.

I believe and I trust and I know that everything works for the Kingdom. The things that are wicked, God beautifully works in and redeems. I've seen the evidence of a rebirth and transformation firsthand! But God is not the author of pride, anger, lies, disunity, confusion, tension. And when the beauty of a rebirth comes through sin and not obedience, that's tough. It feels like life is full of human sin and stupidity and failings and short memory loss on how great God is. Because of sin, we need a Savior to save us.

Sorrow is always my last response to sin in my life. And I wonder if that's right. I feel anger and bitterness first at situations and events in my life, which builds to confusion and a constant questioning on what I need to do.. and then I mourn. The dust settles, reality kicks in, and I'm often overwhelmed by sadness.

But I wonder if that should be first. Maybe mourning and sadness over sin is the right response. To mourn the presence of sin: to feel your heart broken: to feel great sorrow. Because I think we feel a little of what God feels when we disobey.
When we run away.
Do it ourselves.

Because feeling sin deepens the significance of the Gospel. Of the invitation we have to come before Christ as the unworthy, cruel, selfish, sinful people we are.

In Timothy Keller's sermon "The Gospel and Your Self," he talks about God moving from a concept to a reality. God as a concept is a God being shaped by us. It's a God that you believe in but hasn't changed you very much. You basically have more glory. But God as reality is you giving way to the glory of God. It's a radical change. God as reality is sacrificing your individual needs after coming into His presence.

But the point TK makes about this shift is this: you start to hate yourself. It's in the Bible everywhere: the moment the God of Job, Isaiah, Peter moves from concept to reality, they start to see themselves for who they really are. And that happens with us too: When God becomes reality, you think you're a sinner. You see your sin.

Keller says, "One second after Isaiah realized he didn't deserve to live and he was more wicked and flawed than he ever dared believe, he is now more AFFIRMED and VALUED and WANTED than he ever dared hope."

The more we realize our true nature, the more we realize who we are in Christ Jesus.

We become both bold and humbled: more wicked and more loved. All at the same time!

Why?? How??

The Grace of God.

We're nothing but sinners saved by grace.

I think when I focus too much on sin, I miss the point. I miss the redemption. Sure, sin is devastating but that's the humanity of a fallen world. And sure, it's right to mourn.. but we must proactively mourn. Be filled with sorrow at the sin we throw at our Savior everyday but be OVERWHELMED and MOVED and IN AWE at the grace and the love we receive despite that.

How in the same moment we see the sin, we see we're loved more than we could ever hope.

So sadness is our cue: our call: to look at the big picture and see Christ on the cross.

We worship despite our sadness.
We recognize our continual sin and that should push us closer to the One who died to save us.
We mourn our sinful humanity because we know we were made to be in harmony with God and this disease has thwarted that (for now).

And His grace is so undeservingly beautiful and unexplainably rich.

(P.S. A partial dedication to my friend Andrew, who I hope makes it to the end this time. AND who runs marathons without training!! Check it out: How to Hack a Marathon if You Aren't a Runner).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Who We Were: Who We Will Be

Have you ever read the story of Paul?

Back when Paul was Saul, he hated Christians. He destroyed the church and put God's people in prison. He approved of the execution of Stephen, who was the first martyr. His mission was to destroy the name of Jesus. His name was infamously known.
And then God steps in:
"But Saul still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' And he said, Who are you, Lord?'' And he said, 'I am JESUS, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.' The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank" (Acts 9:1-9).

He encountered the risen Christ.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias whom the Lord came to in a vision. He told Ananias to find a man named Saul and to lay his hands on him and to give him back the sight he lost during his Damascus Road conversion. Ananias had heard of Saul's reputation and the evil he had done to the Lord's people. Could this be the same man?
And to this, God responded:
"GO, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel." (Acts 9:15)

A CHOSEN INSTRUMENT. The one who used to kill Christians and hate them to his core is a chosen instrument of God!?

And Ananias went and laid hands on Saul and immediately scales fell from Saul's eyes and he regained his sight and was baptized. "And he immediately proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, 'He is the Son of God." (9:20).

I mean, have you ever heard a better story!?

I think you have. That story is yours and mine.

Our church has been spending an awesome amount of time dissecting Colossians (written by Paul!) and today we talked through 1:21-23. Check out verses 21-22:
"And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach him."

Sometimes I don't know how to articulate the significance of these verses. It's taken me a long time to get what they really mean: it's taken me a transformation. The 'you' that Paul is speaking to: is me.

Colossians 1:21-22 is the Gospel:

WHO WE WERE: is alienated. Aimless. Doing evil deeds. Worshipping idols. Enemies of God. David Chadwick put it well that we worship creation, not the Creator and that the focus of our worship has become distorted. Jesus came to change our minds.
WHO WE ARE: is reconciled. All our sin was poured onto Him. Now we're sons and daughters! Our identifier is now the Cross of Christ.
WHO WE WILL BE: is holy. Blameless. Above reproach. Perfect. Sin has been traded for a new righteousness. Jesus will PRESENT US before God with pleasure.

I can't even fathom a story like that.

But that's the transformation that takes place when you come humbled before Christ. That's the transformation of Paul, of me, of everyone. That's what happens when God reconciled us to Himself through death on the Cross. That's what happens when you encounter the risen Christ.

The Gospel transforms us.
The Gospel calls us to new life.
The Gospel frees us from who we were and welcomes us into who we will be.
The Gospel is changing us from evil deeds and is sanctifying us to perfection.
Jesus was the ultimate Chosen instrument of reconciliation so we could all be chosen instruments to carry His name.
The Gospel saves!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

God in All Our Simple Deeds

Figuring out what I want to do for the rest of my life has never been automatic for me.
I played 'school' my entire childhood: with my students being the empty room. I made real homework assignments and kept track of the troublemakers whose parents I had to 'call.' I grew out of that game when I entered high school and my teacher aspirations went with it. Then I went to college and studied journalism before I realized it wasn't what I hoped to be. I found my passion in majoring in history and have never enjoyed studying anything more. But history stops in a classroom.. unless you want a career in a museum.

This past year, especially, I've spent navigating through a career: what to do with the rest of my life (which sounds so daunting, doesn't it?). I've recently realized it's the one thing I'm least likely to share with people, even my closest friends. The journey I make towards finding the right job and calling is one I prefer to do in private.
And I think it's because I still draw my deepest identity from having a job. I've become wired with a 'do' mindset.. and 'do' for the wrong person: me.

And in my recent shift from 'do' to 'done (by grace),' my insecurities over my job uncertainties have (stubbornly) been the last to go. And I'm learning (have learned + still learning) that having a job does not create happiness, worth, contentment, or value. Yes, it's essential and important and imperative in learning responsibility and in making a difference through a calling: yes, yes I love jobs. But it doesn't create ULTIMATE worth. That's the cross and that's the Gospel. That's Jesus.

In 'The Pursuit of God,' A.W. Tozer writes on 'The Sacrament of Living' and how most Christians divide their life into two areas: the sacred and the secular. He says this causes us to live divided lives because we tend to always bounce back and forth between our disunited lives. Jesus lived a united life.
Tozer writes that we "must offer all our acts to God and believe that he accepts them. Then hold firmly to that position and keep insisting that every act of every hour of the day and night be included in the transaction. Keep reminding God in our times of private prayer that we mean every act for His glory; then supplement those times by a thousand thought-prayers as we go about the job of living. LET US BELIEVE THAT GOD IS IN ALL OUR SIMPLE DEEDS AND LEARN TO FIND HIM THERE."

What if I learned to live like that? To live out Colossians 3:23-24 ('whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward')? To find Him and love Him and serve Him in EVERYTHING? What if I refocused?
I think figuring out what I want to do wouldn't make me so fearful: because I would already be serving Him in all things and wouldn't be waiting for the one thing.

As this post gets longer and longer..
I've recently discovered what working heartily for Him NOW means and found my point of refocus.

It's been a year of stretching, growing, challenges, new life: by far my best year. Ever. And interwoven between those times of anger and bitterness and uphill climbs, there have been.. children. I spent the most time with kids than I think I've ever spent before and I've fallen in love with them. I found that I loved + laughed + learned from people.. some even 20 years younger than me!

There's a family of five who live down the street that I spend time with everyday. A 10 year old, 8, 4, 2, and a two week old newborn! And every day I go to their home, I get on the job training for future responsibilities. Their mom teaches me about motherhood: the struggles of a big home, what no one tells you about pregnancy, how she dealt with losing a child, how to incorporate the Gospel into tough conversations with her 10 year old: she's my teacher.
And then I get to 'intern.' The kids and I play, we do homework, make dinner, stretch and take baths (the 4 yr old loves to stretch before bathtime: ask a kid to do a sit up and you'll never stop laughing), read books, sing songs, say prayers, and tuck them in (burrito style is always the best).

These are my simple deeds.

This is my refocus.

In my recent journey through Luke, I reached the 9th chapter and the Transfiguration and had a moment of wonder:
"And as he was praying, the appearance of his face altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah"-- not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!"

This is a glimpse of the second coming: of the future glory of Christ. He is illuminated from the inside. He is the transcendent Son of God. The significance of Moses and Elijah is that Jesus is the fulfillment of both. He is far greater than the Law and the Prophets. All the Old Testament POINTS to him.

While reading this afternoon, I felt a charge to REFOCUS. Jesus came to fulfill the kingdom of God and the new covenant and he promises to come again in all his glory. He is the better Moses and he is the better Elijah. Instead of always offering up prayers of petition for my life, what if I remembered the Transfiguration and remembered prayers of adoration and praise for who God is, what He came to do, and what He will come to do? What if I prayed in anticipation of his glory?

A good friend told me this week what calling looks like vs. our desire. He says that deciphering the true calling of God involves a process: a process of seeing your desires crushed and heart broken, only to see it reborn in a slightly different way. It can become a joy and a point of praise to watch the destruction of our idea of "God's call wrapped in a thick layer of our glory" and to see the beginning of a joyful waiting for his calling to be revealed. But true calling is to abide in him. To heed His voice in the middle of it all.

To abide in the promise of the Transfiguration. And to remember He is in all our simple deeds.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reading New

I've recently fallen in love with reading.

My whole life I've been a huge reader and have always more than enjoyed it (holler Harry Potter).. but in the past year, I've been learning the passion behind it.
How what you read affects how you think.
How what you read can shape who you are.

I've recently fallen in love with my Bible.

Which is hard to do when you've grown up with a 1st grade Adventure Bible (confession: I had mine until I was 22 years old). While the crafts explanations teaching your family how to make Noah's Ark out of toothpicks was fun, I'm not sure how applicable it was.. in my late teens/early twenties. But thanks to an intervention by dear friends, I now own an ESV Study Bible. And it's changed (and changing) the way I live.

I just finished A.W. Tozer's book "The Pursuit of God" and he writes an entire chapter on God's Voice called "The Speaking Voice." It's a chapter on how God is speaking: continuously and articulately: and how the whole Bible supports that idea. God is ALIVE and His word is ACTIVE. It is the nature of God to speak. The Bible is the "inevitable outcome of God's continuous speech."

Tozer writes: "God is speaking. Not God spoke, but GOD IS SPEAKING. He is by His nature continuously articulate. He fills the world with His speaking Voice."

And this: "The Bible will never be a living Book to us until we are convinced that God is articulate in His universe."

GOD IS SPEAKING. He isn't past tense. I've heard how difficult it is to understand the Bible because it wasn't "written for us" or it was an "instruction manual written for a different time." Haven't you seen it like that? I know I have: during my Adventure Bible days and beyond, I wondered how it applied to me. I attributed the difficulty of Christianity to the Bible being vague. I've seen it more as an historical work.

But what if we saw the Bible as alive? As powerful? As God's voice? And what if we stopped reading the Bible as a book about us or about what we should do.. but saw it as a book all about Jesus? What if we took the spotlight off ourselves while we read it and focused on Who we're reading about? What if we saw it as God's mighty power and sovereign word fulfilling the promise of His Son?

As a book "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)?"
Or "breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?"

I think we'd find we'd been reading the wrong book our whole lives.

Clayton King spoke tonight on how to read the Bible, why we read it, and why it exists. He answered two crucial questions: what do I do when I don't know the answers? And what do I do to keep from sinning?
And the answer was the same for both:
READ THE BIBLE. Live according to His Word. God will use what it says.

What's it telling you?

Reading the Bible starts your process and it ends it.
It leads you to the Cross of Christ. It points to Jesus.
The One who is resurrected and alive.

"It is important that we get still to wait on God. And it is best that we get alone, preferably with our Bible outspread before us. Then if we will we may draw near to God and begin to hear Him speak to us in our hearts. I think for the average person the progression will be something like this: First a sound as of a Presence walking in the garden. Then a voice, more intelligible, but still far from clear. Then the happy moment when the Spirit begins to illuminate the Scriptures, and that which had only been a sound, or at best a voice, now becomes an intelligible word, warm and intimate and clear as the word of a dear friend. Then will come life and light and best of all, ability to see and rest in and embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord and All."
(Pursuit of God: Tozer)

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Best Part of History

I just finished reading a book on the Watergate scandal of the 1970's called "The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat." I know it could just be me and my history obsession, but this story is one of the most fascinating ones I've ever read. AND IT REALLY HAPPENED.

The book is written by Bob Woodward, one of the two journalists at the Washington Post who were integral in bringing President Nixon's scandal to light (history AND writing? I'm in heaven). Woodward and his partner Carl Bernstein began their investigative journalism after a break-in at the Democrat's national headquarters in the Watergate office building in 1972. They did some research, began reporting, uncovered a money trail, and soon realized the break-in didn't stop there. By writing, they helped impeach a president.

But the coolest part of the story is Deep Throat.

Deep Throat was their secret source. A mentor to Woodward.
They would leave secret messages to each other and meet in parking garages at two in the morning. He wouldn't tell the journalists everything he knew: but would guide them and lead them in the right direction. Give them clues about where they needed to look. His identity was kept hidden for 30+ years until 2005 when he was revealed to be Mark Felt: the number two guy at the FBI at the time. The second in command at the FBI was meeting journalists in parking garages in the middle of the night to help them uncover and bring down a presidency? And nobody knew who he was for 30 some years!? I'm getting pumped just reading my own thoughts. This stuff is so cool!

One of the reasons I love history so much is because of stories like this. Because we can learn from it. We can read about it and go back to that time and dissect it and ask why and how things happened. We can look at the real people behind these events and see who they were. And they're not fiction: they made real life decisions and real life choices: it's fun to see the why.

And what I take from the story of two resilient writers: is perseverance. It's really incredible to think about the task they took on and what they were willing to do. It's cool to think of where they came from (Woodward was denied a job at the Post when he first applied) and how they sought help to get where they needed to be. And Mark Felt: the things he risked, his determination: it'll speak into your life whenever you're feeling lazy.

But above all, the story has helped show me the importance of mentoring and seeking and trust.

At church on Sunday during a study of Colossians, we learned of Epaphras, a Christian teacher who spread the Gospel in Colossae (the cool thing about Epaphras: he's real! He's a part of our history too!). And David asked the question: who is your Epaphras? Who in your life is bringing you the Gospel and teaching you?
And in a historical kind of way, Deep Throat reminds me of Epaphras. Someone in the shadows, pointing in the right direction, facing risks, determined. It's empowering to know someone's teaching you, mentoring you, leading you, encouraging you to think for yourself and come to the answers with your own thinking and a little push.
Who are you seeking?

And on the other end, who are the Bob Woodwards in your life? The students who are seeking, the ones who want to learn, the ones who are writing, the ones you can point to the Gospel?
To echo David: to whom should you be an Epaphras?

Our ultimate Epaphras and our ultimate Deep Throat is Jesus.
He wants to be sought after: Hebrews 11:6 says we are rewarded when we seek Him.
His characteristics far outweigh those of our humanity and His motives are pure. He came and He died and He loved for us. He's our ultimate Teacher, Mentor, and Leader. He's ever present to lead us through the scandals of our lives.
Reading through the Gospel of Luke has given me a valuable lesson on who Jesus is.

He's the best part of history.