Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Just As I Am

“To live as God's child is to know, at this very instant, that you are loved by your Maker
not because you try to please him and succeed or fail to please him and apologize,
but because he wants to be your Father. Nothing more.
All your efforts to win his affection are unnecessary. All your fears of losing his affection are needless.
You can no more make him want you than you can convince him to abandon you.
The adoption is irreversible. You have a place at his table.” 
(Grace, Max Lucado)

In Waking Up: How I Found My Faith By Losing It, (free on amazon) Ted Dekker shares: “I was sure that my powerlessness was uniquely my fault. I didn’t have enough faith. I needed to try harder and do better. Others seemed to have it all together, but I was a failure. So I pressed in with greater passion. I got filled with the Spirit; I got a degree in biblical studies; I spent days praying in the mountains; I fasted; I wore the pages of my Bible ragged; I went on retreats; I recommitted my life at the altar over and over; I took communion with utter sincerity; I worshiped in silence; I worshiped with my hands raised; I worshiped to organs; I worshiped to drums; I served as best I could; I shared my faith; I started a home group; I preached on a corner; I went on a mission—I did it all.

I was that kind of person, desperately seeking the approval and favor of my Father in heaven by measuring up to His expectations of what constituted a good son—one who is known for a love that holds no record of wrong and who does the works of Jesus wherever he goes...

For fifteen years I pressed in, writing more than thirty books in a solitude I called my prison, driven by an almost maniacal obsession that few I knew could understand, determined to experience God as He was presented by Jesus.

But the more I succeeded in the world's eyes, the more I realized that that success in itself was only another prison, fashioned by the values of this world...

There in my office, drowning in a sea of self-condemnation and unworthiness, a gentle question whispered through my mind.

Does your Father in Heaven not love you with the same love that He asks you to love others?...

Let go of all that you think you know about Me, so that you can know Me.

I didn't hesitate. Nothing else mattered to me in that moment, because if it was true that God was this kind of loving Father, I would throw myself off a cliff to fall at His feet in gratitude for such an extravagant love.

An so I did. There, in the darkest of nights, weeping, I closed my eyes, let go of who I thought I was and who the Father was, stepped off a kind of cliff, and I free-fell into that space beyond mere intellect where faith and love are found...

As I knew my Father in a new way, I discovered who I was as His son. That I was already all I could hope to be because I was in Christ. All of my striving to become had actually hidden the truth from me, because in striving to become, I was only denying who I already was.

Falling off the cliff into faith, I began to discover that I already had wings. And that I could unfurl those wings. And that to the extent I experienced my Father's love, I could love with that same love. Love Him that way. Love myself that way. Love others that way...

My entire identity shifted...For the first time in my life I felt truly worthy and complete.”

“Christianity is not primarily a moral code but a grace-laden mystery; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair; it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands.” Brennan Manning

“Now with God's help, I shall become myself.” Soren Kierkegaard

In As Soon As I Fell, Kay Bruner writes, “I had spent most of my life trying to figure out how to be good enough. Now I had to learn how to be me. I had to learn that my way of being was acceptable . In fact, my way of being was beyond acceptable. God had made me this way on purpose...

By accident, one day, I happened to read the passage that had given me so much grief, the one that says, Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) I finally read the context. The passage is talking about how much God loves us, and everyone else. The verse tells us to be perfect in that way: in our love for each other.

I was starting to feel, for the first time in my life, that I might have genuine love to give away. It seemed that in the past I had been a counterfeiter. I didn't really believe or experience that God loved me, but I was supposed to love other people anyway. I gave and gave and gave, thinking it was love, but often I was giving out of emptiness, a fake love. But now, the more I received love from God and from others, the more I was filled full of love, and the more I could genuinely give to others...

It felt to me that terrible day on that hillside, as if I fell into the deepest, darkest, most trackless depths of the sea. Instead, that day, I was actually falling into Love, into grace, into healing.

As soon as I fell, He caught me.”

“And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet,
and learn to be at home.” 
Wendell Berry 

Casting Crowns: Good, Good Father

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Holiness and Wholeness

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
(Hebrews 12:14)

At Mount Sinai, the Israelites discovered that the holiness of the Lord was fierce. And they needed to keep their distance. Or be destroyed.

But, many generations later, at just the right time, God in the flesh came to earth to bridge that great chasm separating His created people from His unapproachable holiness. A giant gap between sinful man and holy God that was so wide and deep that there was no other way possible to cross it. 

For no matter how good and righteous we might think ourselves to be, we are utterly unable to earn God's acceptance. Only Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice on the cross enables us, many generations later, to be acceptable to the Almighty God. 

The Chinese traditional character for Righteousness is a “lamb” over “me.”
The blood of the Lamb of God, freely given, ushered into existence a new covenant, and the writer of Hebrews explains how it completely changed our access to Holy God:

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, that judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (12:18-29)

When the holy Lamb of God is over us, making us righteous in God's sight, our hearts are changed and we are set free from the control of sin in our lives.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)

The fruit of our changed-by-the-Lamb lives will be to give Him praise for all of the circumstances in our lives. The answers to prayer that we wanted and the answers that we didn't want. As well as the fruit of extending God's grace and mercy to all the people He places in our lives. Those who are easy to love and especially those who are difficult to love.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:15-16)

He is able to provide us with all that we need, in order that we can do all that He asks of us. So that He receives all the glory.

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

No longer do we need to cower in fear at the foot of Mount Sinai, keeping a safe distance from a fearful holy God. Through the spotless Lamb of God, we can come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God. He has opened a way for us to enter into His presence. And receive Grace.

Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 5:16)

The sinless life of Jesus and His death on our behalf allows us to enter into the Holiest of Holies. At Jesus' last breath, the curtain in the temple was torn in two (Matthew 27:51). So that we could enter. With confidence. And find the throne overflowing with abundant grace and mercy. Enabling us to become a people who freely offer God's grace and mercy to a world thirsty for unconditional love. 

God's Grace through Jesus takes us by the hand and leads us into Holiness before God and Wholeness with people.


Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of "Hesed"

Friday, February 5, 2016

Who Won at Mount Sinai?

Mount Sinai proved to be a battleground between the Almighty God and the gods of Egypt for control of the Israelites' hearts.

The Israelites had grown into a large nation, since the time of Joseph and his brothers. But for the past 430 years they had been a nation of slaves. In a land not their own. The time had finally come and God had rescued them by His mighty hand.

The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.” (Exodus 12:35-36)

They rejoiced as they left the land of slavery with their children, their flocks and and their arms full of treasures. Heading toward the Promised Land. But their hearts did not yet belong to the Lord.

After witnessing all of the horrible plagues in Egypt, safely crossing the Red Sea on dry ground before those waves of water poured over Pharoah's army, following God in His pillar of fire by day and pillar of cloud by night, receiving manna from heaven and water from a rock, and then defeating the Amelikites, the Israelites “remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: 'You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven. Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.'” (Exodus 20:21-24)

The Israelites would need to learn how to follow God according to His commandments. God said they were to worship Him and Him alone. Their faith was about to be tested.

When Moses went and told the people all the Lord's words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” (Exodus 24:3)

So Moses sprinkled the blood from the sacrifices on the altar and on the people. “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:8)

Then Moses entered the dark cloud on the top of the mountain where he stayed for forty days. God gave Moses very specific instructions about the building of the tabernacle and the clothing for the priests (as a directionally challenged person all of those details feel pretty overwhelming when I read them. I'm glad God gave them to Moses and not me).

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.” (Exodus 32:1)

So Aaron took their gold earrings and made a golden calf. Whenever we get to this page in our Bible story book, Daniel lets out a big sigh and says, “Oh no!”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:7-8)

Moses interceded for the people and God listened to him. He punished them but did not destroy them. Then Moses returned to the top of the mountain with two new tablets to receive the Lord's commands again.

Moses said to the whole Israelite community, “This is what the Lord has commanded: From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering of gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.” (Exodus 35:4-9)

The people gave and gave and gave until they had to be restrained from bringing any more. Because there was more than enough to do all the work. (Exodus 36:6-7)

All of those treasures they brought out of Egypt (except for the golden earrings that went to make the golden calf), freely given as an offering to God. And all those who were skilled offered their talents to build the Tabernacle. Because the Israelites had decided to follow the Almighty God. To turn away from the gods of Egypt that they had been surrounded with for as long as they could remember.

Yes, they would make more mistakes in the days and months and years to come. And be filled with doubts and complain that they wanted to return to Egypt. But this was a victorious moment for the Israelite nation. They gave willingly of what they had (and those beautiful things from Egypt would have been nice for former slaves to hold on to). And what they gave was more than enough.

What's competing for your heart today?

*******Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of "Compete"********

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Barriers into Bridges

The following is one of my favorite passages from Bruce Main's Why Jesus Crossed the Road. I hope you have a chance to read the whole book!

"Metaphorically speaking, Jesus crossed the “roads” that divided people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and economic standing. Jesus' road crossing actions demonstrated that he did not follow the religious and societal protocols of this day. In a world that was governed strictly by geographical, religious and social barriers, Jesus was audacious enough to cross the roads that kept people in safe categories. And by crossing those roads Jesus demonstrated that a God-following life is a life of inclusion and expansion—not an exclusive and limited life that avoids certain kinds of people and certain places. The God-following life for Jesus was a life committed to entering the lives and stories of all kinds of people. It was a life that challenged barriers...

At the heart of Jesus' public ministry was his willingness to convert barriers into bridges—bridges where differences could be united and embraced...

I believe that we can faithfully read the Bible, pray, fast...and never really change. We can go to church all our lives and still hold bigoted views of others, live in fear, and never develop the capacity to see beyond our own kind of people...A life dedicated to the practice of traditional spiritual disciplines does not guarantee growth toward full Christian maturity.

The problem with the traditional spiritual disciplines is that they can all be done in isolation—both privately and within groups—and simply reinforce what we want to believe. The problem with a spiritual life being exercised in isolation is that it allows people to grow without the perspective of others. Surrounding ourselves with people who think, act, look, and even smell like us usually leads toward a distorted growth pattern or no growth at all. We may ultimately experience a small fraction of what God wants for our lives, even with erroneous views going unchallenged. But ultimately our growth becomes biased, unbalanced, and stunted.

That is why the discipline of road crossing is so critical to add to our spiritual disciplines.

Some people might argue that crossing roads—going to those places we find uncomfortable and out of the way—should be the end result of our interior development. To put it another way, we engage in spiritual disciplines to prepare ourselves to reach out to other people. Crossing roads, you might argue, should be placed in that category of “Christian service” or “social action,” not spiritual discipline.

I would argue differently. Jesus did not have a “spiritual life” with a little service tacked on. Nor did he have an occasional service project with a few hours of spiritual disciplines scheduled in his downtime. Rather, there is an integration of these two realities expressed in the life of Jesus. Action and contemplation interact with one another in a dynamic relationship. They feed each other. They shape each other. For Jesus, every aspect of life had the potential of deepening his relationship with God and expanding his notion of what it meant to live as God's child.

From Jesus we learn that the act of road crossing—crossing barriers—places us in conflicted situations that challenge our narrow vision of spiritual growth. Conflict can be healthy and lead to growth: it can call us to reevaluate our lives, our commitments, our perspectives, our prejudices, and our vision for God's work in the world."

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Breaking out of the Bubble

How easy it is to live in a sacred cocoon. In a Christian bubble. To define the world as Us and Them. And to make a conscious or unconscious decision to stay within the protective World of Us—unless absolutely necessary to venture into the scary World of Them. Stay where it's safe with people who look like us and think like us and worship like us. Is there anything wrong with that?

I remember struggling with this question for the first time when we returned from China to live in Kansas for 7 months in 2004, while Charly finished his Masters. We were connected with a great church, and all of our activities and relationships seemed to branch off from there. If I wanted to connect with non-church people, it would really take some effort. So the underlying question was did I want to make that effort? Being involved with church people felt really comfortable.

We have been in Colorado for 6 months now, and sorting out how our family fits in America. Getting connected with people. Trying to figure out the church scene. And not wanting to be confined by a bubble. Charly has been more aware of this issue than I have. My recent reading of Why Jesus Crossed the Road by Bruce Main has helped me to better understand the tension he's been feeling. And to have a growing desire, along with him, that our lives be lived “out there” not just “in here.”

Richard Rohr offers a great challenge: We must "have one foot in our faith community and one foot in the larger world—or frankly we have little to offer either group...Somehow we all must learn to love people, groups, and institutions that really turn us off—or love is not love at all.”

How can we cross roads to connect with people who are different than us? People not very natural for us to love? To extend a hand instead of close a door. To invite them in instead of shut ourselves off.

The following passages have gripped me as I've been pondering this issue of Inclusion/Exclusion:

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you yourselves have made it a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:15-17)

What was it that made Jesus so angry? The NIV Study Bible says, “The court of the Gentiles was the only part of the temple in which Gentiles would worship God and gather for prayer.” And here were people who were trying to hinder these non-Jews from worship. They were trying to make money off of them in the holy place designed to be a house of prayer for all nations. Isaiah had written:

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—those I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. The Sovereign Lord declares—he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:6-8)

Those who belong to the Lord are not all gathered to Him yet. Doesn't that sound like what Jesus said in John 10?

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (v. 14-16)

Those in God's family will come from different places, to become one flock. Jesus came to tear down the dividing wall and to bring unity.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are called Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision”--remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and people to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-18)

God's plan has always been for the nations. A blessing to be extended. Not withheld.

The end times will bring the ultimate fulfillment of God's plan for the nations, voiced in song for Jesus, the Lamb who was slain:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God 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)

The song Jesus Friend of Sinners by Casting Crowns has been one of our family's longtime favorites, and the lyrics always make me feel convicted:

"The truth's become so hard to see. The world is on their way to you but they're tripping over me." 
"Let our hearts be led by mercy. Help us reach with open hearts and open doors."
"Nobody knows what we're for, only what we're against when we judge the wounded."
"Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours."

Bruce Main writes, “To those carrying his name today, Jesus calls out and reminds us to rediscover the often overlooked discipline of road crossing. With this challenge comes a promise. Our faith journey will be enriched. Our lives will be transformed. And our world will be changed.”

The adorable youngest daughter of the Libyan family
that we met at an ESL potluck and Charly invited over on Saturday


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