Juxtaposition

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?  Romans 2:1-4

To sit at the Piedmont Driving Club, among old friends and some from more recent years, in a setting that was familiar from my childhood and in that place to hear about educational opportunities for those on the other side of town, the other side of the economic advantage, the other side of any kind of advantage was surreal.  More jarring was that those speaking as recipients of the charity of this gathering were my neighbors, school children wearing the uniforms I see walking past my house every morning and afternoon.  Both groups of people know very little about one another, many have some distant assumptions about the other, but both are unconsciously certain that they probably will never sit down to dinner in this place as intimate soul mates or best friends ever in the future.  To each other, they are both “other”.

At that gathering, everyone chuckled when the facilities at Westminster (the school in partnership with APS to execute this summer program in support of which we were all gathered) were praised as “the best and finest”.  I suppose everyone chuckled because it is obvious, because it was an understatement and because what else can you do in the brief awkward moment when abundant resources cross paths with the rarely resourced?  And then this morning, Terrell and I visited a promising school in our neighborhood whose walls were covered in peeling paint, whose budget does not include full time administrators least of all art, music or foreign language teachers, yet is bringing to the table another viable option for parents in the area who have no choice otherwise.  It is a school full of heart and great philosophy and might serve our own children well in the future, but it is far from the standards, resources and facilities of the Westminster Schools.

I don’t know what the answer is because I don’t even know what my question is, really.  Maybe my question is, “What is God seeing in this juxtaposition of worlds?”  Or maybe it is, “Where is the person and work of Jesus setting His gaze?”  He always seemed to be recorded zeroing in on the hemorrhaging woman or the tiny man up in the tree or the children, individuals and situations nobody else seem to notice or perhaps even tried to avoid in contrast to the more obvious attention grabbing events.  I am pretty sure that redemption of all things even now probably isn’t just “evening out the facilities” or making sure everyone at every single school has a Mac laptop to advance their academics.  There is a deeper dissonance pulsing through this juxtaposition upon which Jesus has His finger but I can’t seem to place mine.

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 Sam. 16:7

Before I go looking outward at some societal problem as if that is where Jesus’ gaze is, which it almost never is, I need to understand better what is pulsing in my own heart, which is where the Gospel always focuses its work.  The resourced don’t have need of the under-resourced and the under-resourced are doing everything they can to become resourced.  The affections of both are set on the resources: the facilities, the influence, and the opportunities that seem dependent upon those things which resources provide.  Human beings become invisible from both perspectives.  My heart feels unsettled in one environment and depressed in the other and my heart judges one contingency and is condescending to the other.  My heart does not see dynamic human creations equally made for a dignity greater than material or experiential resources in either setting.  My eyes are entirely preoccupied with the outer appearance of both and absolutely missing the hearts just beneath the distractions and losing mine as well.

My affections and gaze have been captured by the products and achievements, by the juxtaposition of the haves and have nots, as if the person and work of Jesus has as the ultimate aim fairness and equal distribution of stuff.   What breaks His heart is not the brokenness of unequal Apple laptop allocation but the disregard of one people group for another, the lack of genuine love and affection of one created being for another as we vie for positions of authority over one another.  When God is on the throne, love for others flows from worship of Him.  When I am grabbing for the throne, stepping on others is a necessary part of the climb onto that big chair.  When I see only peeling paint or shiny Mercedes SUVs, I am not focusing on the same thing for which Jesus has lived, suffered, died and resurrected over which to reign: the hearts and affections of His people, even mine.

Does this environment increase my attention upon Him or does that?  Will it take more of these resources to enlarge His reign in my heart or will His rule be more easily grasped with less?  Do all hearts respond the exact same way, thereby needing some new law about just how nice an interior needs to be decorated to display His glory from within the hearts of the inhabitants?  Does poverty and ignorance glorify God better than affluence and elite intellectual achievement?  Are there temptations inherent in both?  Of course.  But in my golden calf of education, I have forgotten what man’s chief end is, and it is not resourced opportunity.  The juxtaposition, I suppose, is actually more about whose reign I am more concerned with and whose is destined for overthrow.  When my worship returns to the proper and current and eternal inhabitant of that throne, I will not see others in contrast to one another as much as in equal position (and need) before that throne.  Perhaps if my heart’s gaze were more fixed on that, I would be less easily distracted by the outer appearance of things.

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.  For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.  God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.  Psalm 47:6-8

In the Know

As a kid, I was someone who always knew what was going on with people at school.  I was the first to be able to report the “did you hear?” gossip.  The thing about being up on all “current events” is that not only does it provide a sense of power but it also prevents the fear of being taken off guard, startled or in any way having a “kick me” sign unnoticed on your back.  Knowledge of pending plans allows for either the opportunity to effect change or for to plan so as not to be inconvenienced.  More positively, knowing what is happening with people certainly allows for greater sensitivity or even accuracy in interpreting their words and behaviors.  Knowledge, in many ways, is morally neutral, though possession of it can take my heart in both directions.

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? “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  Luke 12:24-31

As we drove into the North Carolina mountains Friday night, just having crossed over from the South Carolina state line, Terrell and I could see the reflection of police lights flashing around the next curve.  We were on a road that was totally dark, no cell reception, and until those flashing lights, we were the only car on that road for miles.  Yet, when we made the turn, there were at least seven police cars lined up on both sides of the road with a few unmarked cars included in their rows.  A policeman with his flashlight signaled for us to pull over behind another couple who at this point were both out of their car and dealing with another officer.  There were entirely too many police cars in relation to the number of civilian cars coming through for this simply to be a DUI stop.  As Terrell was showing the officer his license, I noticed another officer on my side of the car with his flashlight.  It certainly seemed as if they were looking for someone specific.  In former years, I would have expressed my curiosity by saying something casual like, “Everything all right?” or “Do we need to be concerned about something?”  But this time, that impulse was restrained by life in our neighborhood.

On Valentine’s day, as Chad, Ellie, Martha Jane and I headed out to deliver goodies to our neighbors, we noticed a police car with his lights flashing around the corner from my parents’ house.  So, of course, we changed our delivery route so we could “wander past” and see what was happening.  Very nonchalantly we glanced as we made the turn in the other direction and we saw two police cars with their lights on parked behind a black mini-van,  two women and a man interacting with the police out of their car.  After making our delivery, we came back on our way home to discover a third police car with lights on and a prisoner transport van.  The man was now handcuffed and by the time we got back up to our next door neighbor’s house, they were leading him into the van.  Our next door neighbor assumed it was prostitution related though the ladies involved didn’t seem to be under arrest.  If we hadn’t called her to the door for her homemade treat, she wouldn’t have even known this was happening.  Sirens, blue lights, arrests and even gun shots are common place and not something that draws everyone outdoors or even makes the news in our neighborhood as it totally would have on the street where I grew up.  My children have no sense that these things are out of the ordinary or might have been a show and tell event at school for me when I was their age.  They are just facts about the world in which we live.  Even when a home invasion accross the street actually made the news, the police wouldn’t really tell us anything about it.

So, when we passed all those police cars in the mountains, I now understood that they would do their job and my knowledge of their assignment was not relevant.  Not everything that I think I am entitled to know is actually “need to know” stuff.  As it turns out, a lot more about what goes on in the world is really not my business.  But I usually think it is. I think it is my right to know if it exists to be known.  Not knowing places me at a disadvantage, makes me more vulnerable and might even handicap me in decision making.  This is what makes insider trading so enticing and why Mrs. Olsen on Little House on the Prairie found nothing wrong with eavesdropping on all the phone calls in Walnut Grove as the self-appointed switch board operator.

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.  Prov. 3:5-6

This demand to be “in the know” is a fearfulness that disasters might be either imminent or avoided based on my knowledge and control of the situation.  I can handle a wait better if I can just know ahead of time how long it will be.  I can deal with my illness if I can just understand exactly what the treatment and cure will be.  I can tolerate suffering if I can just know the purpose and exactly how it will serve a good purpose in the end.  Turns out, like the police officers, I don’t need to know all this stuff for God to accomplish His very good purposes.  He is omniscient so I don’t have to be.  What I see though, is that at the root of this fearfulness in not knowing is a lack of trust that His knowledge is enough.  I want oversight of the police, the elders, the faculty and principle.  I want to double check with webMD and Consumer Reports.  I have come to believe, like Adam and Eve, that I am more trustworthy as a final judge or supervisor than God. If my heart didn’t actually believe this, I would have no reason for worry and all forms of anxiety.

Does this mean that biblically I am to be passive in all things at all times?  Of course not.  It does mean, however, that if He is in the know, He will involve me in accordance with His good and perfect will and I won’t be able to miss or even avoid participation when He deems it necessary.  I can even trust Him not to let me miss out because He withholds no truly good thing from His children.  And I can trust Him to determine what the truly good things are and what they aren’t.  He is the know and I am in Him and eventually, by grace, that will be enough.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  John 14:26-27

Now

For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!   So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.  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.Rom. 7:22-25, 8:1-4

I frequently make reference to the profound verses that Paul penned, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” Rom. 8:1  I have to assume I’ll continue being bewildered, confused and persistently intrigued by these strange words as long as I live in this natural body.   While street preachers and beach evangelists can reduce these words to simply offering an escape from hell, they declare a truth unfathomably better, and one I don’t grapple with enough nor live by most of the time.

“Now” means now, when I just forgot to call that friend back as I promised and then “now” when I am screaming at my children and also “now” when I am gossiping about the marital situation of my neighbor and “now” when I said it all wrong and also “now” when I realize the damage I caused that is so deep and complicated I may never be able to make it right and now…”Now” is present tense, in the this very moment, at this very time, here…now. I have an easier time with it meaning, “here at the conclusion of the story”, with all the regrettable moments in the past and only a memory.  If my condemnable acts and attitudes can be neatly placed in the past tense, that is an easier way for me to grasp no longer being condemned.  “See then I just stumbled but now I’ve got it together thanks to my relationship with Jesus.”  But that is not at all what is being said.  My relationship with Jesus is that He has it all together and based on His togetherness, I am no longer condemned…mine would otherwise still condemn me even now.

And here is the next bit of mind boggling theological beef jerky (I don’t know why that image, just go with it): HE makes me righteous and I can do nothing about it.  That pushes against the deepest resistance to grace which courses through my blood no matter what I claim to believe.  I grew up knowing that “to whom much is given, much is expected” and that “you reap what you sow” and “but James says that if we don’t act on our faith our faith is dead” and that “he who is faithful with little will be given much” and so on.  The truest assumption in my inner being is that God has given me all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to put together to create the image of Jesus in me, but I am responsible for putting them together.  So I read and I study and dig, I ferret out my sin and search my heart to see what messes need to be cleaned, I feel artificially satisfied with my progress in some moments and yet constantly condemned as the unfinished puzzle stares at me from the table (or the mirror) or the blank/disappointed/unimpressed eyes of others.  Into this grace whispers “now no condemnation“.

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Col. 1:27

My hope is that it is Christ in me working out the completion of the jigsaw puzzle, not cheering me on with bated breath from somewhere else in the room.  He promised to complete the good work that HE began and nowhere said His people were to finish what He merely initiated.  To whom much is given much CAN be expected because it is the person and work of Jesus who has been given and it is the person and work of Jesus from whom I can expect much, much and so much more.  He sows His life in me and He will reap the righteousness that He is sowing just as He reaped the violations of His holiness and authority which I sow, even now.  He is the author and perfecter of my faith and His life in me cannot be kept in the tomb, so James has not given me a prescription to follow but a description to look for His activity in me.  He is faithful and He will do it.

So what, then, is the point in asking Him to search my heart and show me my sin and condemnable ways if they are covered and I can’t do anything about them anyway?  For one, it is because as the old hymn states, my heart is prone to wander and prone to leave the God I love.  I quickly forget my need of redemption and help and power outside of myself and assume a self-reliance and ability that the Bible does not accord to me.  And for another, until I see how great is my need, I cannot see as clearly how great is the One who meets my need.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  1 Cor. 13:12

Childish Idols

It is amazing how quick I am to exclude various aspects of my life from the reach of the Gospel.  What I mean is that I am a “new law” making factory and hold on to these rules with unquestioning commitment.  Many of these new laws are culturally conditioned, societal norms that are so ingrained into “the way things are” that it never occurs to me to even examine them.  I assume the value of “good” or “bad” or “best” or “worst” that my culture has determined is undeniably straight from God’s heart, so to disagree or reject these values must also be to rebel against God’s holiness and authority. Yet, a surprising number of these new laws under which I labor are actually about morally neutral aspects of life to which I’ve attached some extra-biblical significance.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.  Gal. 3:10-14

I take really good things, like in this case, being a self-sacrificing mother, and subtly make it a new condition for my righteousness and for my children’s future health and well being.  For instance, if I can ever complete a day in which I feel like I have actually put my children first in all things, given them my full attention all day rather than just babysitting or even ignoring them, I feel good.  (Like the rich young ruler, I naively call myself “good” based on some notion of my own law meeting righteousness.)  However, in the majority of the time when my attentions are divided to things like house work or a phone call or even ministry to people outside of our home, I feel terrible guilt and condemnation and a sense that I will pay for this “neglect” of their fragile souls in the future in a most irreparable way.

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain?  So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?  So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Gal. 3:2-6

A deeper problem with new laws is that they lead to idolatry.  As long as I am trying to earn or maintain my own righteousness, I am going to turn to means other than the promised Seed, the person and work of Jesus, for this righteousness and blessing, and also fear that idol for its ability to curse me beyond the reach of His rescue.  There is a basic assumption, just below my conscious awareness, that though it is by grace I have been saved and through which He is growing my faith and restoring more fully His image in me, here is an area from which this truth is excluded.  I have begun to believe that it is by my works that the people around me will flourish or perish, that it is by my faithfulness to this particular task that I will stand or be disqualified from God’s favor and blessings.  AND, in my particular case with motherhood, the cultural description of what good mothering looks like is not actually a biblical mandate.  (Substitute “good friending”, “good neighboring”, “good employee or employer status” and so on.)

Just like other areas where God is determined to show me that HE is the one who wills and acts through me according to His good purpose, just as it is GOD who will complete the good work that HE began, He will create a Gospel “third way” between my notions of “good mothering according to culture” and the ways these definitions are in reaction to “despicable, selfish mothering” as demonstrated by those we deem neglectful, abusive or otherwise reprehensible in this category.  He removes my children from the throne of my worship (though I would never have called it that) and returns Himself to that rightful position.  This means that serving Him first (perhaps through that phone call, ministry to others besides my children and other household or community tasks) will ultimately be serving His will for them as well.  Why do I assume a dichotomy between God’s creation of me with my particular gifts and Bodily function ( body of Christ, not awkward personal bodily issues) and His good purposes for my children?  Is it not possible that if He were calling me to be Mayor or a nurse or a musician this would also be part of His good purposes for my children rather than my lifelong assumption that anything other than them at the center of my devotion all day every day is some sort of parenting adultery?  (again, substitute job devotion, neighboring/friending devotion, etc.)  Or, lets say even in this I have it all wrong and am heading toward a path of egregious neglect or sinning against my children by divided attentions.  Is that outside the reach of His redemptive purposes for all of us?  Whom shall I fear?

Though my heart may condemn me over new laws to which I cling, if the Son has set me free, I will be free indeed.  And this freedom isn’t to serve myself without guilt, but to serve more passionately and recklessly without fear of condemnation, whether the feet I wash are my children’s or those outside our home.  I am at peace with Him because of His work, not my own.

…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.  Phil. 3:9