Royal Wedding

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. 
Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love. Song of Solomon 2:3-4

“I think by this time, even the cynics have been wowed by this,” said Matt Lauer toward the conclusion of the wedding coverage this morning.  I admit to being one of those cynics who has paid no attention to the news about the upcoming wedding, who has wondered this week when it has been hard to avoid it in the news why I am supposed to be enthralled it, and who is now swept into the magical nature of it all.  I didn’t tune in until the carriage ride to Buckingham Palace…and they had me at the carriage close up.  Wow.

The cynicism sprang from being weary of star gazing and fame obsession, living through other people’s lives rather than contentedly in one’s own.  The human impression that certain people are more important than others because of the amount of stuff they possess or the commanding nature of their presence in a room of decision makers.  We are quick to make a golden calf out of a golden girl or couple or man of our dreams.  That is dangerous.  But, what struck me this morning, is that cynicism and loss of wonder and dreaming is just as dangerous.

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. Mark 10:15

Children do not roll their eyes with disinterest as if to say, “whatever”.  Children run and yell out their impulsive thoughts.  They are swept away by the presence of a pirate at a birthday party or a princess bending down to speak to them personally at Disney World.  So what is it that is stirred in the hearts of children and bigger children at the sight of superheroes and newly wed royalty riding in a carriage, standing on a palace balcony in front of thousands cheering and celebrating the moment?

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  John 14:1-3

I’m guessing that deep in my heart where I don’t always know it, I wouldn’t mind being a royal bride, being dressed in a breath taking white gown, being driven in a classically designed royal carriage to a magical palace.  Yes, I love the idea of being Braveheart, of being a sassy Anne of Green Gables, or of being one of Charlie’s Angels.  The dichotomy, however, between the life of a princess and the life of someone actually doing cool things with life is something that is perhaps a product of sin and our fallen world.  God, the King of all Kings, has prepared a place for us, and a time, where and when we get to fully settle into the privilege of being His children.  And this privilege will no longer be elitist or superficial or neglectful of the many needs outside the palace walls.  There will be no more unmet physical need, no more sickness or dying, no more hunger or crying…the blessing of some will not be at the expense of others…other than the Son.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5

Adam and Eve were given dominion over the kingdom of earth, but they forfeited this good rule and reign for a deception that it could be used for their own appetites.  Through Jesus, the perfect ruler reigning even now, I get to be a productive member of THE Royal family.  One day the luxuries and glory included will not be in opposition to authentic, selfless, creative service to the Kingdom itself for the honor of the King.  

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Col. 3:1

What opposes the cynicism is the fact that this future Kingdom reality is not a pipe dream, a pathetic daytime t.v. escape for the lonely, nor a shallow aim for those who are obsessively consumed with the superficial.  It is a beautiful reality that reminds us currently that we are surrounded by royalty in the houses next door, for whom we will applaud their procession to the King.  Just because we abuse luxury and fame now does not mean it is intrinsically wicked but rather, there is something peaceful and beautiful and powerful about the royal wedding that directs our hearts to the wedding that awaits us, His Bride.

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, 
like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:

   “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! 
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”

   (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)
Rev. 19:6-8

How Good and Pleasant

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly.  When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.   Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.  He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert.  He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.  The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived.  Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.  Psalm 106:6-12

Maybe it is springtime or that our house is feeling more and more settled after months of slow renovation and organizing, but I am feeling so satisfied with life these days.  My heart’s internal process has closely followed the external seasons, with this spring following a long, cold winter.  Much of what I have clung to for my identity and security has been left behind, or is being left behind, and I have been so pleasantly surprised by the freedom and peace I am feeling on the other side.  I never knew how much I was operating like one must who lives under a dictator’s regime, afraid to stand out or act in any way outside of the norms.  Now, of course, people can abuse this “escape from the status quo” and make it a god in itself, finding anti-status-quo righteousness apart from  Jesus alone.  But for me, it has felt like real mortification of lesser gods in exchange for greater delight and simplicity in my affections for the one true living God.

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.  I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 2 John 1:6-7

Walking in love is threatened by deceivers and antichrists, who aren’t large scale villains as in popular Christian fiction, but any who do not acknowledge the person and work of Jesus.  Walking in love.  I feel like more and more that is the activity that God is drawing my attention to and away from whatever else it is that I have spent my life doing.  I don’t think I have ever been consciously walking in hate, of course, but just yesterday it hit me that for much of my life, I really did.  It didn’t look like skinhead hate or gangster hate, but it was a general discomfort with most people who didn’t fit my narrow definition of acceptable.

Silly as it may sound today, I found the occasional trip with my mother to K-Mart absolutely demoralizing as a child.  I mean, this was the cheap store and I was so embarrassed to be seen there and certainly didn’t have anything in common with the other people wandering the aisles and devouring up what I saw as cheap and tacky goods (the judgment of a  non-income producing elementary child).  (These days, I am a frequent shopper at the evil giant Wal Mart and happy for the discount deals.) Similarly, my parents loved to go down to the edgy Little Five Points where we would eat at a restaurant called Eat Your Vegetables where they served tofu back in the 80’s!  This experience would just overload my Alex P. Keaton (Family Ties character who was president of the young Republicans club) circuit board and I would practically have a panic attack until we returned safely to Buckhead where all propriety was restored.  I took such pride in my snobberies and eagerly adopted new ones as they came to my attention.  Even today, I heard myself speaking to an appraiser who came to our house in my “Vanderbilt voice”…yes, I even developed a snobby voice!  (I shouldn’t bring down Vanderbilt in the description.)

What is my point in sharing all of that?  Well, all those little elitisms and standards had everything to do with my self-importance and nothing to do with the importance of others…unless they fit my standard of self-importance of course.  This translated not only into dismissal of a good majority of the earth’s population as being anything more than a great mass of common anonymity, but actually a disdain for the majority of people who didn’t meet my preferences for personal presentation, speech patterns, tastes in movies, music and books or any crazy number of other things.  I mean, why can’t people think Olive Garden or Chili’s really are great places for good times?  I would essentially walk in hate, putting down (in my thoughts and heart) those I passed in other cars or encountered behind a counter, who clearly were outside of my elite boundaries.

One more sad fact:  this wasn’t limited to after school special type snobbery.  It moved right into my Christianity in a spiritualized form.  Christians who weren’t using “this” lingo probably aren’t really as biblically-centered as I am.  Christians whose theology isn’t as sophisticated as mine aren’t to be trusted.  Christians who are not living out their faith in the same manner God has particularly moved through mine must be weaker in their commitment to and trust in God.  “Love others as I have loved you”?  Hmmm…that certainly disrupts my judgments, elitist standards, self-righteousness and superiority.

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” Hosea 3:1

Is this nastiness past tense?  Not until Jesus returns.  But the delightful thing is that just yesterday I realized how “at home” I am in the presence of people with whom a decade ago I would have been terribly uncomfortable.  God is walking me out of this hateful prison of self-importance and into His bigger, more life-giving and satisfying Kingdom where His importance increases the value of all who bear His image.  I no longer feel tense at the Wal Marts of the world or among those whose body art I now appreciate (my brother in law has transformed my family’s perspective!) as I couldn’t back in the 80’s.  My affections for myself and my own image have never deterred God from pursuing me, rescuing me, cherishing me and loving me.  My self-idolatry and therefore disdain for others has been met by His compassion and long-suffering perseverance to change my heart.  And the end result isn’t just “death of self” but resurrected life freed up to share the abundant life I am finding in others all around me but was previously too inwardly focused to enjoy.

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!  Psalm 133:1

While unity used to mean everyone speaking in ways and thinking in ways and having preferences that are exactly the same, He is showing me that unity is the shalom of simply sharing life together, even as outwardly different parts of One unified body.  And if the neighbors, for example, do not acknowledge His body?  Well, then, I have all the more reason to walk in love, that they will know we are Christians by such love and be grafted in by His great love shown to them.  And what fun it is to taste and see that God is indeed so very good.

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.  Psalm 147:10-11

Grace for the Stiff-Necked Me

Yesterday was just the most idyllic day starting with a festive morning at church, followed by family and friends joining us for an Easter lunch and neighborhood egg hunt.  We got to visit with familiar neighbors and meet some new ones while the kids were searching high and low for more candy.  After everyone had gone home, Terrell and I sat on our front porch, enjoying the breeze and a quiet moment.  We finally rounded up our children and got them in the shower and were sitting at dinner when I looked out the window and saw someone who looked like a guy I know who frequently walks our street on his way to look for day labor and a few dollars.  He was walking on the other side of the street and, though I didn’t recognize him after all, I did recognize the big red monster truck he carrying in his hand as he sauntered up the street.  It was Chad’s!  Then our across the street neighbor called to say she had just seen a man come into our driveway and take our child’s toy.  By the time we processed it all and Terrell headed after him, he had vanished.

Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.  Is. 9:7

The startling and agitating event of the theft of a child’s toy from our own driveway was a good reminder that “it is finished” but it is still being completed.  There is still a bit of “not yet” in our “now”, but boy did we enjoy the shalomy day that encompassed that reminder of brokenness.  And do you know how sweet Chad responded to loss of his truck?  “Well, maybe his little boy doesn’t have toys to play with and now will have fun playing my truck.”  While it is just as likely he stole it to get $5.00 from someone else, I was strengthened by that Kingdom perspective on our possessions as expressed by a child.  His day was not ruined, his world did not end, his future wasn’t darkened by this loss.

But guess who couldn’t stop thinking about it and churning over it?  Me, that’s who.  I mean, what a jerk coming onto our property, into our children’s chalk drawings on the driveway, and so brazenly taking what wasn’t his and not even sprinting away but coolly walking at a leisurely pace as if collecting leaves along his way.  That was just wrong.  It was mean…a grown man taking a child’s toy!  And then I replayed watching him walking so casually and imagined several different scenarios where I confronted him with witty and leveling questions to let him know he was seen, that what he did was shameful and to be sure he didn’t think he had really had victory over us as if we were just naive prey.

“You are always righteous, LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice:  Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (asks Jeremiah of God)

“Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard and trample down my field; they will turn my pleasant field into a desolate wasteland.  It will be made a wasteland, parched and desolate before me; the whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares.  Over all the barren heights in the desert destroyers will swarm, for the sword of the LORD will devour from one end of the land to the other; no one will be safe.  They will sow wheat but reap thorns; they will wear themselves out but gain nothing. They will bear the shame of their harvest because of the LORD’s fierce anger.” 

This is what the LORD says: “As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance I gave my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them.  But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country.  And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the LORD lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people. But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,” declares the LORD.  Jer. 12:1, 10-16

While the whole time I knew we could live without the monster truck, that we have plenty of toys and cars and trucks for Chad to enjoy, that it is just “stuff”, what I realized is was making me mad wasn’t the injustice of the theft but the disrespect and dishonor of me and of our family as the rightful owners of the property.  What was burning me up was the idea that the thief clearly thought what he was doing was fine or reasonable in his view of the world and I wanted to make him know he was not at all correct in that thinking.  

And then I thought about all the times I feel this way.  A friend was essentially bullied out of a business partnership in which he had done the majority of the work on a project that was very successful for the group.  The man who pushed him out was snaky and unethical, but powerful and therefore nobody else was willing to confront him on the behavior they all observed.  In lesser matters, when I observe people handling conflict with a greater affection for personal victory than relational reconciliation or any number of other attitudes and behaviors that seem so contrary to the person and work of Jesus, I feel the same agitation I felt at this grown man walking away with my child’s toy.  But God’s peace and confidence in His Kingdom coming confronts me in my thirst for judgment.

“Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Does this mean their “knowing not” makes them less guilty?  Not according to Paul who said they die in their sins just as those who knowingly sin.  What it does remind me, though, is that the heart is the control room of the thoughts, words, attitudes and behaviors of each and every person.  Getting my toy back and attempting to shame the thief wouldn’t turn his heart to righteousness.  That is the Holy Spirit’s job.  Standing guard over my house with hawk eyes and becoming the woman not to mess with might keep our stuff from being taken, but it wouldn’t do much to change hearts.  And until hearts are transformed, not much else will be, including me.

How often do my words cause my children and husband to burn with anger toward me or my attitude seek to dominate others into doing my will by shaming them?  Yet God is patient with me and His kindness leads me to repentance.  Am I more deserving of this grace than yesterday’s Easter Grinch? Am I less in need of His mercy than that guy?  I suppose my answers to those questions lets me know how much I understand about the weekend we just celebrated.

But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands.  They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies.
      Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.  You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.  Nehemiah 9:16-20 

Into the Abyss

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, LORD my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  Psalm 13:1-4

While I don’t have a memory of believing that God has forgotten me, I do know what it feels like to lose sight of His face, wanting nothing more than to see it or touch Him or in some tangible way, have my faith confirmed as it slips forcefully out of my grip.  I do know what it feels like to wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart.  I do know the experience of feeling like those who are not “on my team” are winning, getting their way, feeling affirmed for their opposing view point as I sit feeling defeated, disoriented and weary.  My eyes have never (or at least, not yet) sunk fully into the darkness, but I have observed others who have lost all hope and even all strength or desire to hope.  There seem to be far more stories, or stories more readily available, of those who have felt overcome.  Even by those who have kept their lives insulated beyond belief, the presence of darkness as experienced through disappointment, betrayal, irreconcilable divides, bitterness, discontent, and so on is irrefutable.

And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Mark 15:34

Jesus entered into the abyss of darkness – the oppressive weight of life’s heartaches, of personal isolation, of separation from the oxygen of relational connectedness, of shameful guilt, of shame itself…He was naked and felt the shame.

This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:

   I am the LORD, the Maker of all things, who stretches out the heavens, 
   who spreads out the earth by myself, who foils the signs of false prophets 
   and makes fools of diviners, who overthrows the learning of the wise 
   and turns it into nonsense, who carries out the words of his servants 
   and fulfills the predictions of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’ of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be rebuilt,’ and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’ who says to the watery deep, ‘Be dry, and I will dry up your streams,’ who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’  Is. 44:24-28

When creation fell into brokenness, into the abyss of sin and death and all ensuing sorrows, a promise of restoration was made.  By wounding the second Adam, would the first Adam and all his offspring be healed.  By the judgment and destruction of the second Adam, would the blessing and new creation come.

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.  I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.  Is. 65:17-19

Chad and I were watching The Princess Bride and had just finished the scene where Wesley and the princess come out of the fire forest where Wesley is wounded by a giant rat and they both had nearly suffocated after a fall into a sand pit.  Chad said, “He seems much nicer after he got hurt in that forest.”  While unlike the dread pirate Wesley, Jesus had no sin prior to His suffering, His obedient immersion into the abyss of darkness and death results in our transformation so that I can now emerge on the other side of His injury not simply “nicer”, but with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.  His Spirit will never be taken from me, nor will I ever be separated from His love as only Jesus endured on behalf of His creation.

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  Romans 8:20-21

Because of the Resurrection

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Luke 24:45-47

The first thing that follows Jesus’ resurrection, in this sentence in Luke, is repentance and forgiveness.  Because sin no longer nails the coffin of the offender for eternity, repentance is possible.  Because death has been swallowed up in victory, as Paul wrote, it is now a means to an end rather than the end in itself.  This is so huge that I don’t really get it, which is why it doesn’t make me celebrate more.

Death is no longer the end of the story, the thing to be dreaded and feared and avoided at all costs any more than a bath or a nap is really as world ending as a small child is certain it is.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  Romans 8:28-29

Even though these verses have been abused and trivialized over the years, they explain the implications of the resurrection to every single other thing in life.  An argument, a season of depression, cancer, the mean ladies at the post office, a lost passport, unfinished homework, dismissal from a job, rejection from a school, a migraine headache, and all the other little tastes of death and evidences of the fall of man no longer stand as dead ends or the conclusion to the story.  Panic is no longer necessary nor condemnation and judgment in the midst of these.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  1 John 4:18

I tend to avoid conflict because I fear its judgment of me, that I will create irreparable damage or at the very least, an unnecessary mess.  However, the Gospel actually invites me into redemptive conflict for the genuine restoration of both the relationship and my own self-focused, self-protective heart. Or take depression as an example of something we just want to fix quickly in others or in ourselves.  The resurrection takes even that, with all its complexity, and turns it into a season of “baking” in the Gospel.  God knows when we need to come out of the oven and when we need to keep baking…in whatever the external trial seems to be.  But the trial itself, because of the resurrection, has been swallowed up in ultimate victory and is not indication of defeat as it otherwise would seem.

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Cor. 15:13-22

Because there is resurrection, our faith is not in vain.  Our faith that is not in vain tells us that we can’t “blow it” or “ruin everything” or “live to regret it” in the things that lie ahead of us because in all things (our good and bad motives, our strong wills and weak wills, our selflessness and selfishness) God is at work conforming us into the image of His Son.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:2-4

Because of the resurrection, wandering in the desert now has purpose.  Because of the resurrection, peace can now come even through conflict.  Because of the resurrection, my confidence in God’s goodness does not rest on the absence of trials but upon His presence with me in them as He moves me, like His Son, through suffering to glory.
Because of the resurrection, I can trust His admonition not to fear because He will never lose me.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Phil. 3:7-12