Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Extravagance

What do you think of when you hear the word Extravagance? Do you hear it in a negative or a positive way?


I think of the Hershey’s chocolate syrup and Jif peanut butter that we topped our waffles with this morning. Two luxury food items that came in an early Christmas package from sweet friends. I remember the way the peanut butter slid easily out of the jar on the knife and the way the chocolate syrup drizzled out of the bottle. Many eyes watching around the table. Like hawks. “Stop!” “That’s too much!” Use sparingly. Don’t waste it.

I wondered outloud, “What would it be like if instead of trying to stop each other from using too much, we said, ‘I don’t think you got enough chocolate syrup on your waffles. You ought to put some more peanut butter on too.’ What if we encouraged extravagance?”

My family laughed at me. Knowing it would never happen.

If our family had been in the home of Simon the Leper when the woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ head, I’m sure we would have contributed to the complaints against her. Why this waste? Think of all that the money could have been used for instead.

But Jesus praised her for her extravagant worship. Though she didn’t know the significance of what she had done, Jesus said she had done a beautiful thing by preparing him for his burial. Her story would be told as the gospel spread throughout the world. (Matthew 26:6-12)

When Jesus said He came so that we could have life to the full (John 10:10), I believe the idea of extravagance is in there. He wants us to experience all that He has for us. Not to be content with a mere spoonful of water at the ocean’s edge. “Jump in,” He invites us. There’s so much more to life in Me.

By life to the full, Jesus didn’t mean “living it up” in a wasteful lifestyle like the Prodigal Son who “squandered his wealth in wild living.” (Luke 15:13)

He meant that we could welcome home extravagantly like his father, who ran out to meet this wayward son and said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feel. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.” (Luke 15: 22-23)

Because the father was able to forgive extravagantly, like the master who mercifully forgave his servant a huge debt that he couldn’t pay (Matthew 18:23-27) And like Jesus who prayed for those who had nailed him to the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

We can also give extravagantly like the poor widow who put two small coins in the temple treasury. It was all she had. (Luke 21:3) And like the Macedonians of whom Paul said, “out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity...they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their own ability.” (2 Corinthians 8:2-3)

Jesus wants us to bless extravagantly, as He once told his Pharisee host: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” (Luke 14:12-14)

And to thank God extravagantly, like the one leper out of ten, who “when he saw that he was healed, came back praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” (Luke 17:15-16)

We can repent extravagantly, like Zacchaeus who was transformed from a dishonest tax collector to a generous follower of Jesus who said, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

And love extravagantly, like the Good Samaritan who stopped to care for a wounded stranger: bandaging his wounds, taking him to safety on his donkey and paying an innkeeper to look after him. (Luke 10: 30-35)

Jesus enables us to live life to the full, in His extravagance because “from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (John 1:16)

From the fullness of God’s grace, we can extravagantly worship Him, welcome home those who have wronged us, forgive them, give beyond our ability, bless the needy, thank God, repent of our past and love our neighbors as ourselves. From the overflow of His immeasurable love within us.

May Jesus live extravagantly through us this Christmas season.



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Safe

Safe. What does that mean? Reading about the Connecticut elementary school shooting this morning, my heart grieves. How could someone do something that horrible? Murdering innocent and unprotected children.


Thinking about Herod’s order for all boys two and under to be slaughtered after Jesus’ birth. (Matthew 2)

Thinking about Pharaoh’s order for all male infants to be killed around the time that Moses was born. (Exodus 1)

Thinking about having read “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift yesterday for CJ’s literature assignment—a satire in the 1700s about how killing babies in order to eat them could deal with the problem of poverty in Ireland. I had trouble seeing the humor in it. It just felt wrong.

Killing children is wrong.

Is the world safe?

Evil is real.

Last Saturday I had a conversation with one of the women who came to paint fingernails at the birthday party of one of Jordan’s friends. She had never met a foreigner before and said she was afraid of overseas. I asked her what she meant and she talked about all the killings she reads about in the news. I agreed with her that we generally feel safer in China than in America.

We were 30 miles away from the Batman movie theater shooting in Denver in July. It felt so real and up close. So heartbreaking and scary to watch the live broadcasts the morning after.

It would be easy to live in fear.

The world isn’t a safe place. No matter which part of the globe we inhabit.

I was impacted recently by reading The Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot. I was especially touched by the letter Elisabeth’s mother wrote to her after she heard the report (that was not yet confirmed) about Jim Elliot and four other men’s murder by the Aucas in Ecuador in 1956.

“How I long to take you in my arms and comfort you. As yet we have no official word as to the outcome. Rumors fly about. Well-intentioned people phone with the latest things from the radio or TV. The next one may completely contradict the one before. Hope rises and falls. But through it all God is giving unbelievable peace, not to ask that the boys be spared, but only that HIS perfect will may be accomplished and that you dear girls will be so wonderfully conscious of HIS strength and grace that you may be surprised at the peace of heart that He can give...

The following quote from Amy Carmichael seems to fit: ‘Jonathan...does not so comfort David that he becomes necessary to him. He strengthened his hand in God. He leaves his friend strong in God, resting in God, safe in God. He detaches dear David from himself and attached him to his Very Present Help. Then Jonathan went to his house, and David abode in the wood—WITH GOD.’”

Being “safe in God” meant preserved life for baby Moses. In a papyrus basket by the Nile River. For young Jesus. As a refugee with his parents in Egypt. For King David. As he was pursued by countless enemies.

But “safe in God” meant death for Jim Elliot and his four friends. At the hands of the men with whom they wanted to share the Good News. God could have but did not protect them from murder. Just as He did not protect His own Son.

God is weaving, through preserved life and allowed death, His Perfect Plan. In ways that we can’t see now and may not understand at all until we see Him face to face. All of our days are numbered. But we don’t know how many we (or our loved ones) have. Let us live our days with courage. With His peace. In His strength. Not in fear. Even though the world isn’t safe.

Attached to our Very Present Help, we can be “strong in God, resting in God, safe in God.”

I love the words that Abigail spoke to David: “Even when you are chased by those who seek your life, you are safe in the care of the Lord your God, secure in his treasure pouch.” (1 Samuel 25:29, NLT)

We can be safe in God’s treasure pouch. In our unsafe world.

God, please bring comfort and strength through Your abiding presence to all the families affected by this Conn. school shooting. The horror of what they have experienced is unimaginable. May they know You to be their safe place as they process this great pain and try to move forward with their lives. You can redeem even this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

God of Truth

“Could I speak with you a minute? I have something very important to say to you.”

We were just finishing our lunch on Saturday at the noodle shop near our apartment when a college-age looking woman approached our table. We nodded and she continued.

Have you come to China to find God?”

Now this was a question we had never been asked before.

“We are followers of God,” Charly answered.

“Did you know that God has come to China?” the woman asked with heartfelt tears in her eyes.

She said she would wait outside for us so we could continue the conversation.

We wondered where she was really coming from as we gathered our things and made our way outside. I apologized to her that Jordan and I needed to catch a bus to get to a birthday party, but that my husband had some time. CJ and Joshua decided to return home while Charly talked with her and her five friends. It seemed like they believed in the Bible, but also believed that a man they referred to as “God” was in China now and had prophetic words recorded in a book. Charly said he felt sad talking with them because of the false teaching they believed and were spreading. Deception mixed with some truth.

How important is an accurate and complete understanding of the truth anyway?

We are studying Church History with Sonlight this year and have been learning about the Ecumenical Councils that attempted to define true orthodox views and false heretical ones. So many controversial and divisive questions. Jesus’ nature: how to reconcile His humanity with His divinity? The Trinity. The Creeds. Icons. Veneration of the saints. Baptism. Liturgy. The Eucharist.

Who is right and who is wrong (and who decides)? What can be tolerated? And what is worth fighting over? Dying for?

On Sunday we had a lengthy family discussion about the term “Son of God” and what a person needs to believe about Jesus in order to be saved. What is essential and what areas of belief have room for differing views? We came up with some different approaches to this question, and would love to hear your thoughts if you’d like to join in our family conversation!

I love having these kinds of discussions with our kids. They are such challenging, relevant and fundamental issues. They are also directly related to Charly’s graduate studies. Tough topics like truth and tolerance. Acceptance of others’ beliefs without compromise of one’s one. Learning from others. Influencing others. Unity. Diversity. Interfaith dialogue.


Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him,”If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) and John wrote to believers, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.” (1 John 2:20-21)

When I came to faith my freshman year of college, it was partially through the Church of Christ. A friend invited me to church, and I was amazed by the eagerness I saw there to learn and grow and apply God’s Word. People actually took notes on the sermon! I joined a Church of Christ Bible Study that met in my dorm and was individually discipled by a sophomore named Rachel. 

I felt like a sponge, soaking up all that I was learning. But I didn’t know what was truth and what was “off” in the church’s teaching. My Mom expressed real concern when I told her my church friends wanted me to stay during the summer break so I could continue meeting with them. They said their church was The Church and unless I was baptized there I wasn’t going to heaven. In the end, I decided to go home for the summer, and I came to realize there were some things wrong with that kind of teaching. So when I returned in the fall I told Rachel that I wouldn’t continue attending the Bible studies or pursue baptism there. I had decided to go to church somewhere else. She cried because she knew I would be going to hell.

While not all Churches of Christ are the same, I am so thankful that God protected me from continuing on in this one, which I believe was a cult.  But I didn’t know that in the beginning. How many people are in similar situations? Like the woman who spoke with us at the noodle shop “because God told her to.” She was very sincere and committed to what she believed was the truth.

When she first told us she had an important message, the words “Good news of great joy” immediately came to mind. The incredible announcement from the angel of the Lord to the shepherds right after the miracle of Jesus’ birth. I admired her boldness in sharing with us, but did her message bring good news of great joy? Was it Truth?

God is a God of Grace and He is a God of Truth. And Jesus came to earth full of both. (John 1:14) Fully God and fully man. Fully entering our humanity and fully bearing the weight of God’s wrath to fully save us from the eternal punishment we deserve. This is good news of great joy. Jesus. Nothing more. Nothing less. The full Truth and nothing but theTruth.

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