Self-Preservation Before the Cross

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. Col. 2:2-4

What strikes me here in Paul’s writing is that fine-sounding arguments are so easily able to persuade me that the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are separate from the person and work of Jesus.  “They” never say that, so blatantly, of course (and by “they” I mean the chorus which is often enlarged by my own heart’s inner monologue!) .  But I’ve been thinking more about the way people use the word wisdom – almost as a threat when they don’t like the choice you are making.  When I tell someone “I don’t think what you are doing is wise”, I almost never mean, “I don’t think what you are doing looks like the person and work of Jesus.”  No, what I usually mean is that it isn’t good budgeting, or it might not keep you safe from getting hurt or protected from losing something valuable.  It is just startling to me how easily I begin to believe that the American dream is perfectly compatible with Christian faithfulness – comfort, security and prosperity.  Any alternative automatically means a wasteful, irresponsible suicide mission.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.  Col. 2:6-10

I am easily thrust into doubt and self-consciousness because the arguments against God’s calling may be hollow, but they are powerfully deceptive.  The basic principles of this world and human tradition have merit.  Traditions exist because they worked successfully more than once.  Principles of this world, such as self-preservation, self-protection and self-interest are hard to argue against on a moral level when brought into real life contexts.  But they become much harder to defend at the foot of the cross.

but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
1 Cor. 1:23-24Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Phil. 2:4

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal. 6:14

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 1 John 3:16

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  Mark 8:35

I am pretty sure that Jesus was not on an irresponsible, wasteful, suicide mission.  Being in very nature God, He took on the nature of a servant.  He surrendered His rights to be served by the world, to be served by His accomplishments and merits, to be served by His reputation and chose to love those who did not even love Him first.  Actually, He came to those who were at enmity with Him, starting with Adam and Eve.  God’s people for whom Jesus entered creation didn’t just “not love Him”, they despised His reminder that they were not gods unto themselves.  He did not fear what others would say about or do to or take from Him because there was nothing of His character, value, power, love, purpose or presence that was, is or could ever be in the least bit threatened or diminished.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24

My inclination to cling to the familiarity and safety of the stalk feels quite reasonable.  I am scared about what others might say or do or take from me.  But nobody is fed by wheat that remains in the field until it withers and dies.  When I put self-preservation before the suffering of the cross, it feels immediately prudent until I see Jesus.  Then I realize that it is only in His death that I have life and it is because of His life, death and resurrection that I am guaranteed of abundant life – not the American dream but something fuller and more satisfying: the depths and riches of being one with Father through Jesus…an inheritance that thieves cannot steal nor can moths or rust destroy.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor. 1:18

The Patient

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal. 2:20

One of my favorite Homer Simpson lines from back in the day is, “And now we play The Waiting Game…the Waiting Game sucks!  Let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippo instead!”  Oddly, I have found comfort in that crazy yellow cartoon man’s words as I have waited through this adoption process and it’s many steps, waited and waited for our former home to sell (and then to find renters when the sale fell through), waited and waited and waited to get to our permanent address (which also has been deferred) and then waited through the grueling banking process to close on this next home on that same street.  Now that we are actively moving towards finally living there, it is clear that waiting alone does not grow patience.  Experience is not a guaranteed teacher.  And, patience not only isn’t taught, it clearly isn’t “caught” either.

God doesn’t teach patience as if it is informational or conceptual.  Patience isn’t a skill to be fine tuned by repeated practice, it isn’t a lesson to be learned, and it isn’t a commodity to “go get”.  Patience is part of who God is:  God is love.(1 John 4:16)  Love is patient. (1 Cor. 13:4)

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 1 Cor. 1:30

A man’s wisdom gives him patience;…Prov. 19:11a

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Gal. 5:22-23

Jesus, who is the very embodiment of God, in whom the fullness of God dwells, became wisdom and lives in me.  As His life is revealed in me, His patience becomes evident like fruit on a tree which grows in the appointed season.  I can’t learn patience or “get” patience or hone my patience skills because Jesus isn’t a lesson or a commodity or a skill .  Whether by a huge life transition (moving, adopting, birthing, new jobs, marriage, etc.) or bumper to bumper traffic, or a waiting room where time seems to stand still, I am confronted (and harassed) by my lack of patience and often merely resolve to learn, fine tune or get more.

But the complete picture of patience is also how we use the term in dealing with whiney children, disgruntled adults, chronic illnesses and other evidences of broken shalom around us: long suffering.  And that is where the connection between patience and Jesus becomes even more clear.  My hope in Christ is integrally connected to “long suffering”.

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Hebrews 2:10

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Rom. 5:1-5

When my heart starts pounding, my nerves stand on end, my mind won’t stop racing or my mouth begins firing darts at those around me, would I not look to new resolves or methods but to Jesus – the author and perfector of my faith.  It is His person that is needed, not some manufactured counterfeit aspect of Him. 

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil. 1:4-6

In All Things

You grumbled in your tents and said, “The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.  Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.’ ”

Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”  In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go. Deut. 1:27-33

I am exactly like the Israelites.  God, time and time again, makes His presence known, His love evident, His provision tangible and yet my Gospel amnesia is so great that moments later I am convinced I will die alone in the desert and be eaten by wild animals.  “As a Father carries his son…” is His promise to me as one clothed in His Son, yet I am more prone to believe I have to walk alone and get there by my own will and wit.  Each cactus shadow makes me jump and dread what lies ahead.  So, how does the person and work of Jesus confront my unbelief in seasons of scurry, change, upheaval, and uncertainty?  Why do the dominant voices of cynicism and fear have such success in minimizing His dominion in my heart?

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  Rom. 8:15-17

Is it possible that this season of waking at night, after I’ve fallen asleep for a couple of hours, due to high anxiety and an overactive mind is sharing in Christ’s sufferings?  When He alone spent time fully separated from our Heavenly Father, on the cross smothered and covered in my guilt and toxic sin, it must have made His heart pound with fear and desperation like I will never really know.  That wide eyed terror of being confronted by traumatic destruction and loss is not possible in the presence God whose perfect love casts out all fear.  My experience with mild doses of that kind of fear happens because somewhere deep down where I can’t seem to control it, I believe I am separated from God’s good, loving, kind care and protection.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Rom. 8:29-35

The existence of unknown wicked schemes of those who could cause me great harm, from governments to businesses to strangers just down the street, does not mean that my sonship (daughtership) is a thing of the past or that even those are somehow excluded from conforming me into the likeness of His Son!  How does His Fatherhood, Kingship and Redemptive Lordship interpret the scenarios which most grip my heart with fear?

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. Col. 1:16-18

Nothing can separate me from His love or His Fatherly care because there is no scenario from which He is separate.  He was not absent in the desert or in the fiery furnace.  His children throughout biblical history have been told not to fear because He is with them!  The children still get placed in lions’ dens, whale bellies, before hateful kings, in the forced servitude of wicked masters…and yet in all these things God is conforming His people to His image, even as they all find their meaning and purpose in Him. 

Genuine separation from the Father will forever only have been experienced by One of His children – the Child.  Because Jesus endured that, I do not have to fear such a genuine and helpless isolation.  In what scenario can I find myself separated from His Fatherhood, His Kingship or His Lordship?  Jesus is at work in my fears to birth a new depth of belief in His promises, person and work.  Oh may I move from mere theological agreement with “sonship” to trusting His Fatherhood and living securely as His child.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139:7-12

Nothing Can Separate

My brain is tired.  My body is tired.  Life is good, thankfully, but full…also thankfully.  It has been nice to have a season of forward movement in contrast to the previous one which just seemed so full of setbacks and disappointments.  But those hard places make my weakness so clear and therefore my dependence on His power, control and work so much more evident to my heart.  In this new season of “practical decision making” and straight forward task lists to accomplish, my Gospel sight seems blurry and my heart, quite frankly, feels a little numb.  Those fragile places at least make me feel more confident of His presence, while this more stable (so relatively stated) season makes me feel more distant from the One I need the most.

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 8:28-29

What does it mean that I am loved well, deeply, and fully now, in the midst of my blurred vision and short circuiting brain?  Why is it easier to believe His unmerited love for me when I am feeling lashed on every side than in the quiet of “normal” daily life?  I’m guessing it has something to do with my default sense of responsibility to aggressively pursue Him, therefore feeling righteous in my active, holy pursuit.  Put more plainly:  when it feels totally out of my control, I can believe His grace covers me.  However, when I gain the smallest sense of renewed strength, I assume just like time in a hospital or under the care of family, I am in danger of overstaying my welcome in the generosity of that sacrificial service.  What it comes down to, it seems, is a pernicious belief that the covering and smothering of His grace, of His gracious, merciful affections and sovereignty over the details of my life, is somehow merited by my weakness and forfeited by my “strength”.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. John 4:10
While I was still a sinner, He died for me.  When did I stop being a sinner?  On a practical level, I didn’t.  From a legal sense, I was given Jesus’ innocense as He took my guilt.  But what must be lurking under all my insecurities before is a false sense of my own righteousness, which essentially says, “Yeah, I was a poor shmuck back then when I needed Jesus to die for me.  But now that’s done and I have enough righteousness that I shouldn’t be so dependent upon Him anymore.  This failure of mine to be faithful, to be actively pursuing His favor and intimacy, rests fully on my shoulders now.” 
At no point in biblical history have God’s people deserved His pursuit, His help, His mercy, His kindness, His strength, His protection, His affections or His adoration, except one:
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matt. 3:17
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Rom. 6:11
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 1 Cor. 1:30
At some point in there, after the moment of crisis passed, I stopped finding myself in Christ and began to believe that I was merely in me, in my own righteousness and self-redemption.  I began wondering what I must do, what I should be thinking differently, how I might “get back” to feeling “in Christ”.  From God’s perspective, I never left.  He has sealed me in and will bring me to deeply believe this Gospel’s promise about my security in Him even as He reminds my faith is not complete yet.
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 2 Cor. 1:20-22

Oh may I begin to deeply and genuinely believe this!

The Pull Apart Game

My last paid job before birthing babies was working with students at our former church.   My favorite part of the job was the trips we took, whether international mission trips or local weekend retreats.  (There is no substitute for that kind of time with people even at my current stage of life.)  A particular junior high trip up to the YMCA camp on Lake Burton called High Harbor sticks out in my memory because of a field game called the “Pull Apart” game.  It’s about as ridiculous as the name implies and one you’d only find on such a retreat.  All of a certain category (boys/girls/kids/grown-ups) connect themselves together on the ground with tangled arms, legs and hands.  Then, the other category of people works hard to pull them all apart until the last connected pair is declared the winner. 

Not surprisingly, one of the little girls came out of the game crying that her arm was hurting.  If you know anything about junior high, this meant that about fifteen other girls needed to be intimately involved in the trauma.  Being exceptionally sensitive, I told them all to pipe down and that she was fine and then I took her to the infirmary to get some ice.  She showed up at church the next week with a huge cast because, it turns out, her arm had been broken in two places.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:3-5

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. Gen. 1:18

From the beginning, it seems, no individual has ever had the capacity to image God completely or sufficiently independently.  And yet, from the beginning, the Pull Apart Game has been in effect, determining to separate individuals from one another.  I’ve been feeling this so much lately and thinking about excessively as if it’s a riddle to solve or like I can cure it if I just find the golden key.

Here is the evidence of the pull apart game that is like finding maddening signatures left behind from a serial killer:  A couple’s marriage dissolves into a tense roommate status because it’s easier than sorting through all the hurts, disappointments, shame and turmoil to work towards genuine harmony and joy.  A small group Bible study brings together people who apparently like each other but feel awkward trying to get on the same page theologically and socially so eventually, individuals stop coming.  Friends move into new life stages which reveal differing perspectives on materialism, politics, and their faith.  They get together a little less frequently until their meetings are just by chance at someone’s birthday party or other gathering.  The point is, the pull to separateness and distance between people seems to consistently overpower any desire for intimacy and genuine unity. The result is not just broken arms and broken body parts, but a broken Body. Our disconnects (socially, politically, spiritually and relationally) seem like impenetrable iron walls which grow thicker and taller and leave any notion of connectedness defeated.  

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Is. 53:5

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Matt. 26:26
He was pulled apart so that we could be reconciled…to Him and to one another.  He took our disconnects and replaced them with His righteousness, the only righteousness which unifies all people from all backgrounds who come from all perspectives.

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Col. 1:18-20

The only One who could image God fully without dependence on other men, Jesus, is also the very same only One who can kick holes through the iron walls and level them to the ground.  Those little girls who gathered around the friend with the broken arm were right to be concerned and notice something was not right about this game.  My sin is indeed as great a deceiver as that snake in the Garden, luring me into isolation even if means a broken arm.  Christ in me, the hope of glory, gives me confidence that He who is in me is in deed greater than he who is in the world, even greater than my own divided heart.  I can do nothing alone about the iron walls that spring up like weeds around me, but He can.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. John 17:20-16