For the Joy Set Before Him

Evelyn Anne mentioned a podcast she recently heard which once again stated the reality that we are all chasing “the next thing” that will bring happiness.  We chase it through tiresome posts on Facebook, search for it in the Twitter feed, hope it’ll come through Hulu or Netflix, maybe at happy hour that always feel well-deserved after the toil of our labor or perhaps in a second helping of that yummy “treat” from the freezer section or bakery.  For me, I search for it in relationships…the euphoria of connecting at a deeper level with another human being.  This comes to mind as Terrell and I today acknowledged how richly blessed we are with friends, friends who are more than social company but instead are those who take us deeper into the beauty and complexity of life.

One of these beloved yet very new friends sent this in an e-mail:  In The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald there is a touching scene in which the grandmother in the story, who is visible only to the princess, says to her, in essence: “Now is not the time for you to be understood. Now is the time for you to understand.”

Isn’t that what we’re looking for in music or television or a movie – lyrics or characters or situations that articulate our own experience of life in some way?  Even in a delicious dessert or glass of wine I go to be seen or understood or simply met where I am.  I watched the entire season of Orange is the New Black,even though the lesbian sex scenes began to feel overly gratuitous,  because there was something of Piper Kerman’s experience of stepping out of one familiar culture into a wholly different one that I identified with deeply.  I go to these things or people to feel less alone.  And I think it is that raw and vulnerable sense of aloneness, an isolation not created by physical separation but at a more emotional and psychological level, that creates the frantic search for its alleviation.

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  Romans 14:7-8

He knows when I sit and when I rise, my going out and my coming in, before a word is on my tongue, He knows it!  (talk about finishing someone sentences)  Each day I live was written in His book before one came to be.  (Psalm 139)  I belong to Him!  Such knowledge is not only “too lofty for me to attain” but eludes me without effort.  “Thanks for all that God but I’m just going to see if there is something witty on Twitter.”

Why am I so much hungrier to be understood and known that to know and understand?  How defeating a way to live, on a practical note.  I mean, if my driving passion is to be known and understood, how often is that really going to happen?  And if or when it does, what then?  (Like a new iPhone, how long does the novelty last?  Apparently people are already complaining about motion sickness iwth the new ios7.)  How does that moment of being seen or known or understood bring life to others?  How does that serve the needs for restoration around us?  As a life objective, it will leave me always disappointed and always unsatisfied.  But to know Him?  Well we can’t exhaustively, maybe ever, but probably not even close to the limit of what He has revealed even in this lifetime.  Whatever I do for the least of these I do for Him, which means He intends to show Himself to me through others, not just my own reflection in a mirror.  Novel.  AND, its not just that I jump on the gnostic bandwagon and ignore the natural desire for intimacy, but rather, see that He is already there too…Living Water from which to drink so I don’t have to go sucking it out of others and leaving them dry.

 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Deut. 30:19-20

For the Lord is your life.  Choose life.

Ok, sure, but how?

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.  Col. 2:2-3

What is needed is understanding.  Now is the time to understand the mystery of God, Jesus, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Will it happen now?  No, not yet.  But we are promised that One Day we will know even as now we are fully known.  What if He really could become “my life” in such a way that the needs of others – to be listened to, to be known, to be seen, to be cared for – actually became a greater priority than being known, listened to, seen and served?  What if I could ever resent my bed instead of the knocks at the door?  Oh my goodness what freedom that could bring!

When my family returns home momentarily, will I choose life, love and God over self?  Of course not.  Their noise will be too loud, their mess will undo my labor and their demands will be urgent and I’ll probably not respond like Jesus with my eyes fixed on the Father.  Nor did Adam, Israel or the disciples.  But because the second Adam listened to God’s voice above the serpent’s, because He held fast to the Father and loved Him with His whole heart, mind, soul and strength, the blessings of a life pre-occupied with God over myself are mine.  What was not possible with man is now possible through the effective work of Jesus.  He started all this, and He will finish it.  What Good News.

…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  

Hebrews 12:2

Love is not Easily Angered

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  1 Cor. 13:4-6

Today began by disappointing my oldest daughter who wanted to leave our house at 7, and let me know this ten minutes before as I was just waking her two younger siblings.  There were tears and words of frustration, not mine this time.  So, before I’d even fully adjusted my eyes to the new day, I was in conflict.  Something similar happened a couple of weeks ago, when I thought the day (all ten minutes of it) was off to a good start with my youngest.  We had giggled as I was waking her up, I had gotten her dressed without resistance and had her sitting in the kitchen booth while I got her breakfast.  Her first complete thought of the day?  “Sometimes I don’t like Mommy.”  I think I mentioned this soon after it happened in another post.  But I won’t lie, it still stings, even from a three-year-old.

So here is the reality – there is therefore now no condemnation from God, but what about from others?  Sure, sometimes the judgments of others can be dismissed with “misunderstanding” or “its about them”.  But the truth is, often there is no misunderstanding at all but a justified disappointment or even dislike.  How do I then love well, as one bearing a big black X on my face, without either being defensive or combative in response?  And yes, I get very combative in response  even to a three-year-old…what of it?!?

I fly into a fury as one victimized by extreme and unjust cruelty.  How dare they not spend their days longing to please me and make me feel loved and cherished and perhaps even a little idolized?  Those are reasonable expectations, right?  On the other hand, it is not actual love for me to pander to get them to like me again, to apologize merely to clear my name or any other scale tilting behavior that is really more about me and having people think well of me than genuinely and unconditionally loving “them”.  But my peace is so easily rattled, my joy so willingly relinquished, my kindness so readily traded for bitterness…

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

I’m not living by the Spirit but by my own flesh.  I am fiercely committed to defending my own glory and control.  When either of those two are threatened, here comes Jane with guns a blazing.  Lord have mercy indeed.

What if I ever became more consumed by His glory and control?  What if those moments of rancor weren’t actually about me at all?  What if, because of the fact that I am no longer condemned by God, those moments ceased to be about my justification?  If I am blameless in God’s eyes, not because I actually am innocent but because He is on my behalf, what if those moments didn’t have to be about my beauty in the eyes of the other but about His?  I really don’t know how that would work out, practically.  But maybe it would make me more willing to say, “I’m sorry” and less ready to “fight for my honor”.  Maybe I would need compliance with my will along with unceasing praises and control a little less and be able to love genuinely and selflessly a little more.  Maybe I wouldn’t respond “in kind” to them but instead out of a humble delight that He does not respond “in kind” to me!

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  1 Peter 3:9

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;  he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  Is. 53:7

A couple of final thoughts on the matter today:  Unlike Jesus, I am not innocent before my accusers nor so great about keeping my mouth shut when even mildly afflicted.  And unlike Jesus, the burden of restoring righteousness is not on my shoulders.  Yet, because of Jesus, it is possible that my mouth could be slower to shoot fire and maybe even eventually stay closed a little longer.  It is out of the heart that the mouth speaks.  As my heart begins to believe that truly, “It is finished”, perhaps my voice won’t have to be the thing that tries to make it so.  Is it likely I will suddenly have a totally new personality?  Probably not.  But rather than changing my personality, perhaps by changing my heart’s most devoted affection from my image to His, my passionate voice can be used to bring life rather than vengeance.  Who knows, maybe even I’d even start doing something akin to loving others more than myself!  Now that would be Good News.

Cosmic Tally

I’ve spent almost a full week in bed with pneumonia, which provides plenty of hours for thinking about significant topics and I’ve also watched a lot of tv.   Halfway through this week, once I was over the fever but not yet adjusted to the new medicine, I was awake almost until morning unable to drift off.  And, as often happens when the world is dark (at night time) and silent (because everyone else is soundly sleeping), my most anxious thoughts surfaced.  The general theme of the thoughts tends always to be how I hurt others more than bring healing to them, how I serve myself in every relationship more than the other person, how nobody can ever please me but most probably feel like they’re walking on a mine field around me.  These thoughts were of course exacerbated by the reality that in my physically defunct bodily state, my parents, friends and especially Terrell were having to take up the slack in child care and other responsibilities.  I haven’t been “pulling my weight” and others have had to suffer (and exhaust themselves) because of me and for me.  Even last night, after my first day of really feeling more like myself as indicated by my furious house cleaning to restore order, Ellie said in good humor, “Yes, I think she’s well, she’s getting bossy again!”  (If you could see how the categories in the side door of the refrigerator had been all mixed and jumbled, you’d totally understand my reviewing with them the instructions of refrigerator order.)

But on a more significant level, I reflected on the fact that I am dissatisfied far more than I am full of praise, critical far more quickly than appreciative, judgmental far more than gracious.  I walk around our house and it just smells, all the time, and its like the blood in Macbeth that just won’t ever come out…”Out damned smell!”  Our perpetually dirty house, the perpetually piled laundry, the perpetually unfinished paper work…I would feel so great if they were perpetually clean and fragrant, put away and completed.  I would feel so great if others could be indebted to me for favors, even if just for a moment, rather than the other way around.  I would feel so great if our finances made us look responsible and in control rather than reflective of a late trip to law school, a move and an international adoption with the unavoidable addition of  private school tuition.  I would feel so great if I had more tally marks in the “admirable” column and almost none in the “shameful”.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.  Romans 3:19-20

When I see a beautiful, spacious, well kept home, my own home’s mildew in the shower and hair balls from the dog seem all the more glaring and disgusting.  The fact that others are so quick to make meals and deliver them as a kindness, which I appreciate so much on the receiving end, serves as a spotlight into the reality that I never take food to people.  When I hear teachers couch one “instruction” in the midst of three praises to the children, I am reminded that this is far better than just nagging them all the time and seemingly only addressing their faults.  Now of course, those examples are not biblical law, but they do demonstrate how God’s Law holds a mirror before us to silence any pretense of self-perfected legal beauty or perfection.  As my wise sister reminded me the other night, most of the condemnable attributes I am aware of in myself are in fact true but can’t be resolved by merely stacking the other side of the scale.  The person and work of Jesus in fact does recognize this game of the cosmic tally, and recognizes it is a game no human being can ever win.

To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.  Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.  But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man,how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!  Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.  For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.  The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,  so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Romans 5:13-21

I don’t want to be dependent on Jesus because I want to earn it myself.  And, He seems slow in correcting/fixing my unattractive qualities.  I sit alone on the judgment seat daily, trying to merit a favorable verdict, angrily rebuking all things along the way that jeopardize a positive outcome.  By faith, He offers me a favorable judgment each hour, even when my house looks and smells like squatters still inhabit it, even when I am bossy mom, even when I receive more gifts of service from others than I ever offer, even when I complain and criticize and am ungrateful.  Do I really believe that the reverse of these things would ever be able to merit the pure, perfect and holy righteousness that the biblical law actually demands?  Isn’t that the deception? I get so agitated and despondent determined to “be righteous” in a few select categories that I miss the larger more impossible weight of the Law – to “be perfect as He is perfect.”  All the while neglecting the faith required to trust in His righteousness credited to me rather than futile attempts to achieve one small aspect on my own.

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

A cosmic tally does exist for everyone, and by it alone everyone loses.   Constantly feeling the inability to win is angering, discouraging and condemning.  Faith invites me to believe what is not visible, that His goodness is mine and my ugly faults are absorbed by Him.  What if I lived out of this reality, that I am powerless to make myself admirable but that He is admirable, and He will complete my transformation into His image by the time I meet Him face to face.  How might this reality extend to others, allowing them to be in process themselves, and trusting that it is God, not I, who will complete the good work He has begun in all of us?

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  Rom. 8:31

 

Micromanaging the Manager

The summer that ended with our trip to Uganda, Ellie was 8 years old.  Already, and perhaps even before, she was very concerned that things be done correctly and on time and in good order.  “Are you driving too fast?”  “What time are we supposed to be there?” “Did you pack the…?”  I began repeating, “Ellie, let me be the parent and you just be 8 years old.  Trust us to be the adults and you just enjoy being our child.”  I wonder how often God tells me that?

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.  Eccles. 11:5

Theologically, I love the concept of God’s sovereignty and control over all things.  Practically, I don’t actually believe it at all. Intellectually, I absolutely do, for how could God actually be God yet our actions be more powerful than His?  Our stupidity or gross defiance cannot thwart His plans, as if His will and power are that weak and tenuous.  And yet, I still want to take credit for my successes (or think of them as unexpected surprises that “just happened”) and bear the weight of my failures (as if they too are unexpected surprises or indications that the universe is out of control).

Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?  Job 38:2

The reason I did not get a job last spring was not because I didn’t try all the avenues I could think of nor because I am a worthless and unnecessary member of society that no respectable employer would ever hire.  I didn’t get a job because for reasons unknown to me, God has a different plan for my time and talents right now.  I have no idea what it is and not knowing makes me automatically assume there is no reason and then to begin to feel helpless and pointless.  I think that road of thoughts would be called, “words without knowledge”.  Because I don’t know, I assume there is no answer.

I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.   You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’  Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’  My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Job 42:2-5

I’m like Ellie in that I want to know what time, when, how and then I want to double check a few times and be certain that all is set and ready and sure.  God seems to prefer that I see Him.

Yesterday, I got the greatest news, news that is really trivial in the big picture of the world and all its problems, but so exciting to me even so.  I can’t miss that what I learned is just as much from God, a generous and personal and intentional gift from God, as anything else that happens in life.  Nothing is trivial in His economy.  Nothing is outside of His rule and reign and redemptive purposes.  Nothing is minor – neither the child’s heartbreak over the answer “no” to more television nor the birthday gift of your favorite party band agreeing to bring the funk for an unreasonably and hugely reduced cost. (:

I am the child and need to let Him be my parent.  When will I trust that He provides for our needs in His way and in His time?  When will I trust that He really is working all things together for His good purposes?  When will I trust that where I am today, what I do today, what I eat and say and think and do or don’t accomplish, are all within His will no matter how they appear or seem to me?  If Pharaoh, Joseph’s brothers, Jonah, Judas and Israel and their defiance or self-protecting, self-serving ways were each intentional parts of God’s story of redemption, how can I ever buy into the notion that there are aspects of my life (or whole seasons) that are not also as necessary to the whole story as the parts that are more seemingly holy?

 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,  so that no one may boast before him.  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.  Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”  1 Cor. 1:27-31

Entangled

How can Christians talk about the implications of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus without being behaviorally prescriptive?  Is it possible to discuss decision making in light of the Gospel in a way that isn’t merely moralistic or an establishment of new laws for righteousness?  We seem to have so much difficulty with this that I want to conclude “No, we can’t.”  And yet, we must, right?  So what is the “Gospel’s third way” among believers, that doesn’t land on new law on one end or silent apathy on the other?

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebews 12:1-3

No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.  2 Tim. 2:4

“Laying aside every encumbrance, sin and the affairs of everyday life” could sound like a recipe for self-indulgent, self-serving laziness…an excuse to be removed from community, from civic responsibilities and from the messiness of engagement in a broken world as a broken person.  But to take these verses as such would require they be read outside of the context of the full story in which they find themselves.  In both cases, the issue of entanglement isn’t that the individual is being kept from a restful vacation but rather from enduring the cross set before us.  In other words, the problem is when the affairs of this world distract us from the temporary nature of this world and the enduring nature of His restoration of it.

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word;  but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.  Mark 4:18-19

Those “others” are certainly me.  And the sin is no different from culture to culture, country to country, era to era but in all cases that increase of self-importance and decrease in focus on the only One who is to be called Good. (Matt. 19:17)  Like kudzu which creeps slowly but powerfully and tenaciously, covering and suffocating all life in its path, so too do the cares of this world and “worries of this life”.  Reputation is such a deceitful master, promising fullness of life it can never deliver.  Image, social approval, status and all those things that become almost cliche to name are still insidious in their ability to mute the promises of God’s Kingdom in favor of the glory of one’s own enviable kingdom now, here and in this place.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”  Matt. 4:8-10

I like to think that if I directly encountered Satan and he offered something like this, I would obviously turn him down.  Yet he does this regularly and I regularly say, “Ok, sure.”  By making choices that decrease our stature rather than increase them seem absolutely unreasonable and even foolish, he is effective.  That Jesus came to serve rather than be served, to set aside His royalty for the identity of a servant, to gravitate toward the lepers over the leaders, the filthy over the famous…is just baffling.  And on its own, it is arbitrary and meaningless.

But Jesus did not choose the way of the cross, the way of foot washing and suffering over spa treatments and fanfare just to be different.  It was the only way to restore the creation He loved deeply.  Setting aside the promises of glory that the world offers isn’t just for its own sake but is an aspect of fixing our eyes on and investing in the ultimate Kingdom that will never spoil, perish or fade is the reason we were created.  Are elegant homes, beautiful cars, powerful job titles and elite educational institutions compatible with the work of restoration?  Of course they are.  Can they entangle our hearts and deceive us into thinking that they are the source of abundant life and without them we will perish?  Absolutely.  Is there a new law we can establish to help us walk that fine line righteously and without fault?  Nope.

Like Peter stepping out of the boat, the only way to battle the kudzu, or the waves, is to fix my eyes on Jesus.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Gal. 5:1