In Decision 2011

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.   Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:4-5

The topic about which I have been writing over the past week is not directly related to our new neighborhood or neighbors but is a parenting decision we need to make in the near future.  It feels like a monumental decision even though to outside observers it might not.  The decision itself is not as important as where it is taking our hearts, or perhaps how our hearts are interacting with it.  Moving to this neighborhood did not feel like a step of faith as much as it felt like the only reasonable thing for us to do.  I didn’t feel like we were risking all that much, whether or not we actually are.  This next decision is poking around in some pretty fundamental “untouchables” in my heart and it is freaking me out.

Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?  Luke 12:24-26

What I realized last night is that rather than going to my heavenly Father, who made me and knows me and is writing the script in which I now find myself, I am “worried and upset about many things.”  Rather than resting it all at His feet, trusting that a year from now we will all be exactly where He draws us, it is like I am trying to solve a great riddle or discover the end of a treasure hunt by sniffing out just the right clues.  I am trusting in my reasoning ability, my theological sleuthing skills while placing great hope in a coming “Aha!” moment.  My actual prayer time for this decision is at best like Columbo’s murmuring his thoughts aloud in an unintelligible, seemingly disconnected way and at worst just non-existent.  This is all very telling about the distance between what I think I believe and the object of my heart’s actual trust. I trust myself more than God.

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 wilderness. 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. 1:30-33

Knowing how it is going to end up makes me feel more secure, more stable and more at rest.  It allows me to start planning in this direction or that, to start envision other aspects of life accordingly.  Knowing what the decision will ultimately be allows me to adjust my heart’s perspective and expectations.  Knowing makes me feel less powerless and more in control, like a roller coaster that allows you to see the direction of the track ahead in contrast to the ones in pitch black darkness.  I hate feeling powerless and I have a very high need for control.  I want to know “how much longer” I will be in the car until we arrive at the beach.  I want to know what my alternatives are so that I can prepare for any outcome.  I want to be ready.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

I absolutely trust more in my own understanding than in the Lord.  It doesn’t matter that I know intellectually that my understanding is limited, that my experiences are not rules and that God is good and is in control of all things.  Just like Adam and Eve, the Israelites and God’s people before me, I am naturally bent on self-reliance though I have no good reason to be.

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.  John 5:39-40

The Pharisee is a picture of me…I study to find life in the Scriptures but not in Jesus Himself!  Like Adam and Eve, I want to take His fruit apart from Him…but it only remains alive in connection to Him.  Who will save me from this cycle and strong propensity?  What is my hope for ever trusting Him despite my strong will to trust myself more?

All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.  For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  John 6:37-40

I am not trapped in unbelief not because He will inspire me to pull myself up and start fresh tomorrow, but because He will give me the very belief in Him that I lack on my own.  He is drawing me to look to Him and not myself, and that is a sign of life, of His life in me, that I cannot resist or thwart.  He will not lose me or cast me aside, no matter how determined I am to listen to the serpent instead (like Adam and Eve), or to keep the Israelites in slavery (like Pharaoh) or flee to Tarshish rather than go to Nineveh (like Jonah) or destroy the followers of Jesus (like Paul).

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

Terms of Engagement

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

I was created in God’s image, to image Him in a particular way. None of us exhaustively communicates who God is by ourselves, but He tells of His character and work through the story He is writing through our lives – the sin and brokenness, the promise and hope of restoration, the tangible tastes of redemption in part now and the confidence of sharing in His glory when the time comes.

As a kid, I loved to perform and would put on plays for anyone who would watch. I loved being in productions at school or outside of school, as the opportunity arose. Then I hit that stage of self-awareness where I felt embarrassed to be seen on stage or that it might not be so cool to get really into acting.

From first grade through high school, soccer was truly my passion. The feeling of driving the ball down the field, past the other team’s offense and through their defensive line was exhilarating. A good collision here and there increased my adrenaline and satisfaction that I hadn’t held anything back. Then I tore my ACL and cartilage and realized I was in fact destructible. After surgery and rehab, I returned to play, even getting travel to Germany to play in tournaments with my club team. But I lost my boldness along with my speed and agility.

At the end of elementary school, I was one of six in “the cool group”. Of course I was friends with everybody, but I liked the feeling of popularity. Then I entered junior high and all the rules changed and I wasn’t given the rule book ahead of time. I didn’t want to carry a purse, or wear make-up yet, or sneak out of my house at night. For the first time in my life I felt insecure and on the outside of the really cool group. I felt lost.

High school and college snapped me out of that moment of an inferiority complex and I came back with a full throttle superiority complex. Then after my junior year of college, God sent me for the summer to Branson, MO on a Campus Crusade for Christ summer project. My identity was as one of the group of people living in this nasty old hotel, with people in jean shorts who thought sororities were sinful, who rather than date preferred to “court” and I had to drive my roommate’s old, rusty Toyota to my job every day. As determined as I was to retain my distinctness from “these people”, God was determined to use them to show me my arrogance and total cluelessness about His valuation of and honorable love for people, including me.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:23-28

With the help of friends who know my story and can tell me what they hear, it seems God just might be calling me to “Branson” again, in a sense – not the real place of course. My deep resistance to being identified with this group or that group is indication of a total unfamiliarity with the person and work of Jesus. He did not come to be served, but to serve. He did not demand honor and glory, but gave it all up to pour out His life for His Father’s Kingdom rather than safeguarding His own. Because He was so securely encompassed in His Father’s love, filled in such a way that nothing could add to or diminish this connection, He could and did love others lavishly and without hesitation. He identified Himself not simply with victims of poverty and disease, but with Zacheus who was repulsive in behavior and attitude to the wealthy and poor alike. He had compassion on the arrogant Pharisee who publicly disdained the very people Jesus created and came to fully redeem. He had mercy on the Israelites who had turned from Him in Egypt, and rescued them from slavery not because of their merits but because of His.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Cor. 13:1-3

It is just not going to work for me to live for God’s Kingdom on my terms. I can’t reserve for myself this area of my reputation or that pet affection and love others whole-heartedly. I cannot judge other Christians whose behavior and attitudes and political leanings repulse me or who I don’t think are as cool as I am and also claim to walk in generous and unrestrained love as Jesus did. I can’t fear injury and run boldly down the field at the same time. I can’t be intimidated by mockery and sing and dance my heart out at the same time. I can’t protect my social status and make myself nothing simultaneously.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. Heb. 11:13

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


Becoming a stranger and foreigner and losing my life are the worst sounding ideas I could imagine and no matter what I believe theologically, they are the very last things I want to do. The beautiful thing, though, is that like Aslan’s powerful pull of the children into Narnia, I cannot resist His will, which in the end leads to far more magical places and fuller life than the reputation, knee or coolness I think I want to protect instead. What sweet grace and mercy that He is faithful even when I am not. He will work in me to will and to act according to His good purpose, even if I think I’d rather high tail it to Tarshish. (:

Favoritism

My goal 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

God is really messing with my paradigms right now…that isn’t anything perverted in case you aren’t familiar with the term.  He just has me in what I hope will be a short-lived questioning of many of the untouchables in my world…and by “my world”, I really mean my mind and how my mind has assumed the world can only work.  I guess these seasons do happen, but man, it is so disorienting.  A pro-con list does not work for this kind of sorting.  For the lucky few who have heard me think out loud in the past couple of days, it sounds like really fast point-counterpoint, over and over again.  Life-held assumption -> argument that God’s Kingdom isn’t bound by that cultural limitation -> counter-argument that the untouchable assumptions makes obvious sense and I agree most fully with all of them – >challenge that I am trusting in traditions of men rather than God whose will I can’t thwart or mess up even if I do get it all wrong.  (That very last part is the grace in all of this!)

This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.  We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.  As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message.  On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles.  Gal. 2:4-8

One of my basic assumptions, based on experience, is that certain inner circles of people can accomplish “great things” more reliably than others.  A well-known, well-connected Christian can get more done for God’s Kingdom than an unknown, unconnected Christian.  But then, the next question is: what does God’s Kingdom most need to have accomplished?  What qualifications does the transforming work of the Holy Spirit establish as pre-requisites? 

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?  But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?  If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.  But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.  James 2:2-9

I’ve always been free and clear of this charge of favoritism because I read it with as much tension as an after-school special.  Of course I would never tell “the poor man” to “sit on the floor by my feet”.  How ridiculous.  Nobody does that.  Oh, but the person and work of Jesus gently shows me that I do exactly that.  I do it by flocking to the “important” person in the room (based either by public opinion or by their usefulness to my future dreams or based on a felt connection that serves my hunger for connectedness) and then, effectively, neglecting the others who don’t offer the same kind of return for my investment of time and energy.
On one level, I show a definite favoritism for those with whom I envision a future return on the investment.  On another level, I trust far more in the power and connectedness promised by “inner circles” than the power and connectedness of the One who holds the whole world in His hands.
 
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”  Luke 1:28

God’s children, of which I am one, are highly favored because God is with us through Emanuel, His Son.  It is not the other way around.  What favor do I seek that has more power, influence or satisfaction than that from God of Heaven and Earth?
One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

Exalted

Since about the 2nd grade, being cool has always been a very high value of mine.  And a lot about being cool is conveying an absolute aloofness about being cool…like it is the last thing on my mind or that I’d ever care even notice.  You can trip in the lunch room and still be totally cool, or wear your hair awkwardly or laugh with a snort because the key isn’t exactly in what you do or say but in being so confident before the eyes of others that they can be convinced the fall, the awkwardness and the snort were actually all on purpose.  On purpose is big, which maybe has something to do with always being right.  For example, “Oh, you thought I fell down because clumsiness, but the joke is on you because I did it to make other people laugh, you tool.”  Ok, so sometimes it gets a little harsh like when it is far better to humiliate the person who wrongly assumed they caught you being humiliated.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?  But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”  Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:4-12

The law of the land, then, was to mock others before they could mock you, or at least better.  Judge them for being awkward or foolish as a way to prove one’s own authority on not-awkwardness and coolness.  If you can spot the weakness, it is one step closer to being above critique.  Isn’t that why we give a million disclaimers when people come to our homes?  “Oh, we’re getting that recovered and isn’t that gross?  We’re going to re-do that and then we plan to…”  But curiously, this wasn’t how Jesus interacted with His people.  He saw the brokenness and grossness, He knew how everyone needed to be restored and that He had come to do it.  But He didn’t spend His time protecting His image from the perceptions of others.  His job approval ratings from the people He came to serve and for whom He would die had no bearing on what He would do.  He was actually serving His Father, not them.  He had His Father’s full and exhaustive approval without fear of loss…except on the cross.  What did public opinion know about the intricate details of how each and every aspect of creation’s restoration was to take place?  He is God and He knew every bit of the work that had been started would be completed successfully and lavishly.

Those verses in James used to puzzle me because I thought we were supposed to love others and care for others and this seemed to be saying otherwise.  But in context of the whole passage, and in the context of redemptive history, it is shining a spotlight into my heart.  Being proud is connected to the kind of friendship with the world being discussed.  An obsession with personal dignity and honor begins to supersede the focus of those things on God alone.

And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  James 2:23

Abraham’s friendship with God compelled him to believe and to do what no outsider looking in could have supported or applauded.  But those same friends to whom Abraham might have bowed, could never provide the life Abraham needed, which was then extended on to generations ever afterward.

In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?  Psalm 56:10-11

No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves.  It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another. Psalm 75:6-7

I genuinely and deeply fear ridicule and the judgment of others.  A judgment is so authoritative and final.  Disapproving opinions not only sting, but they can have the power to shut me down.  I want to exalt myself and fiercely protect my exalted social status.  I’m assuming more power of others and myself than we actually have.  There is only One who approves or disapproves, who exalts or lays low, who opens doors and shuts them.

He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  2 Peter 1:17
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.  Gal. 3:26-29
How might my decision making change or my countenance change or my love for others increase if I began to really believe that as I am covered and clothed in Christ, God is well pleased with me and all else is irrelevant?  How might giving myself away bring more life to others than my fierce commitment to protecting my image before the eyes of others?  What if I took more delight and comfort in His exaltation than my own – even if that simply means within my own heart?  “But He gives us more grace!”  What very good news that even as I struggle with these things and their implications for big decisions ahead, my approval rating with Him and His fulfillment of His promises of restoration, are unchanging and eternally reliable because they are based solely on the person and work of Jesus which covers my weakness.  Hallelujah what a savior, hallelujah what a Lord!

Assessments

I got reprimanded at the Y today.  I just hate being told I’m not allowed to do what I am doing, particularly by someone I don’t know and who doesn’t know me.  They also don’t know all the extenuating circumstances which might explain why what I am doing is actually ok and not offensive or harmful to anyone.  (I was listening to my ipod while running on the track when it was interrupted by a phone call from a friend I’d been playing phone tag with for three days.  I answered it while continuing to run on the track.  I had totally not noticed the sign on the door to the track, which says “no talking on cell phones”, probably because when would I ever talk on my phone while exercising?  Apparently, today is when.)

Here was the sting about being reprimanded: After initially wanting to blame the rule or the lady or whoever brought me to her attention, what it came down to was the sting of being characterized as “one of those people.”  One of those people who jibber jabbers on their cell phone in public with no regard for those around them or one of those people who is oblivious to others.  And then, the next level of sting was the assessment that whatever I was talking about was by no chance significant or necessary.  Along with that, what does she know about the context of my day…I mean, what if someone had just died and this was my first time out in weeks after depression and grieving and the phone call was to help me keep going?  Well of course it wasn’t that by a long stretch, but all those thoughts were so very telling about my need to have people assume the best about my motives and intentions at all times in every place.  The 30 second exchange and the hours of thought afterward are revealing about my need to be assessed above reproach by strangers, family and friends alike.

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.  So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. Gal. 3:23-25

What is clear from this brief episode and other decisions I have been pondering lately is that I am still held in custody by any and every “law” others may hold up to assess my acceptability and approval ratings.  If the new law is organic or natural eating or how much television my children watch or how we’ve decorated our home (which is a joke right now) or how where our children go to school, by golly I want to stand approved by that law.  Give me your law for perfection on your terms and I will meet it so that you will honor me and not look down on me.

We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. Gal. 2:15-16

What?  Ouch says the determined Pharisee in me.  But true.  If I am seeking to be justified by any measure other than Jesus, not only am I a slave to all those laws which will never set me free, but I am denying my own need for the person and work of Jesus.

Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,  being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone,  but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Romans 4:20-25

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4
 
Here is how it plays out practically for me: If we do/don’t do “x”, Sally, my child’s classmate’s mom (or Sue, my friend at church, or Steve who works with my husband), will characterize me/us as “one of those” kinds of people and I/we are not like “those” people.  What it comes down to is my greater need for peers to declare me righteous in their sight than the declaration of righteousness I already have by the God of the universe.  And what that stems from is the classic fear of man being greater than my fear of God.  I trust more in what man might do to or can do for me than what God has the power and love and grace to control or provide.
 
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns? No one. 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.  Romans 8:33-34
 
So am I advocating that we break the rules at the Y because we are not condemned in Jesus?  Seriously?  Is that what you are reading?  Of course not.  That was merely a vignette to demonstrate that the larger judgment of human assessment of my character and honor have become far too important to me.  My reputation has taken the ruling throne of my heart so that even my obedience becomes more about serving my image before others than about living in the freedom of His image alone.
 
By the way, I’m increasingly realizing that I am “one of those people”.  I guess as soon as get more comfortable with that reality, I will increasingly enjoy the benefits of being one of His people.
 
The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.  The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.  Psalm 145:8-9