Wednesday, July 23, 2014

hope vs. suffering

This morning, Romans 8 continues to work its way into my bones, a chapter full of hope, but only because of the chapters that surround it. Especially the previous chapter, with its vulnerability and honesty (see previous post). The words of chapter 8 keep freedom front and center, with hope surrounding it as we realize what we've been set free from & what we have been set free for. Today's word is hope. 

"For I claim that the present season's sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the coming glory, about to be revealed to us. (8.18)
"Also, we ourselves, having the first fruits of the spirit, even we are groaning within ourselves, eagerly awaiting adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we stand saved. But hope which is seen in not hope; for who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly await it with steadfastness." (8.23-25)

The basis of our hope, even creation's hope (vs. 19 following), is an unseen reality that has not been seen or known since the entrance of Sin into the world. In fact, all that we do know or have seen is flawed by sin's effects. Creation knows this better than us, but we are a part of creation and therefore know it as well. Yet, Paul asserts, in order to fully be found in the hope that is coming--glory, and in order to remain hopeful and expectant for its coming, we must be found in these present sufferings (8.17). 

Yet they are not worth dwelling on or comparing to that which is coming. That doesn't mean we aren't suffering, or that we should stop groaning (note: the word in the passage is not synonymous with "complaining") along with creation; even the spirit groans with us (vs. 26). But even suffering can be full of hope if we search it out. Subject, even to suffering and decay, is only a precursor to freedom. That is why even God's curse on the earth in genesis 3 was made full of hope, because God knew that freedom--true freedom--would come. We are still living in the midst of the "would come." But we've been given a downpayment of redemption--the self-sacrifice of Christ and the forgiveness of sins, the removal of the old self in favor of the new self, and the Holy Spirit of God who has been loosed within us to bring victory in the here and now of the "would come."

So, we wait with hope for something yet to be revealed. But because it is such a great and unseen hope, steadfastness fills our bones, steadies our hearts, and firms our feet, and we eagerly and patiently await. Eager with expectation but patient with the sufferings that must come first. For even this is how Christ lived, and the Spirit comes to help us follow after Him, living the same path He walked for us. Let us do the same for others who are seeking Him. Let our lives, even our sufferings, be catalysts of change and hope. Let it be. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

digging into the trenches

Powering (drudging) through a hefty work of translation in Romans 7 today, I was reminded of this great battle we are all in. It is such an encouraging, open confession that Paul pours out over this church in Rome, most of whom he has never met face to face. But he is so convinced of their faith, so willing to entrust such powerful words concerning the work of God in Christ, that he knows that they understand the war that exists between what we want to do and what we do not want to do, between our flesh and our spirit, and that, just maybe, they need to be reminded of the victory that exists even within the trenches of that battle.

In the same breath (vs. 25), Paul confesses that God is worthy of all the praise through Jesus Christ who is our Lord, and that he finds himself in the midst of serving two masters--the law of God and the law of Sin. He can do this, because the praise exalts the finished work of Christ--already spelled out over and over again before this chapter. And because the confession following it acknowledges that the work is not yet finished, and we must never forget that the fight is real, the war is strong, and the problem is sin. not the law (which is good and holy and just--vs 12). not us (vs 17, 20). the problem is sin: this power that has taken up the sword against us and has taken us captive (vs 23). 

Sin is trying to overtake us completely. But so is grace, which overwhelms even the abundance of sin that comes against us (5.20-21). The victory on our behalf has already been won by grace. Though we face this war, it is not without faith that came to us in Christ and not without hope that brings endurance. The bookends of this very chapter highlight this--Paul is not confessing just to confess the difficulty of life in Christ, but the reality of a battle that he has already brought up and the assurance of previous & current victories in the fight. In Abraham's faith that came against outward circumstances (ch. 4). In the need to rest in the peace justification brings (ch. 5). In the need to consider ourselves as dead to sin, but alive to God (ch. 6). And in the fight to live in step with the spirit as we groan in expectation for something that is greater (ch. 8).

We are called to fight. It takes grit to do this. Grit to praise the One who has rescued us, while crying out, "Who will rescue me?" Grit to confess the struggle. Grit to be vulnerable. Grit to join others in the trenches. Grit to dig deeper into them, knowing and trusting that these trenches are the very places where He meets us.

Friday, July 11, 2014

snippets of study

I've been studying through Romans for the past few weeks, revisiting the ebb and flow of Paul's great words of the gospel that has changed everything. Today was chapter 6. The movement of God's work was the imagery I couldn't let go of, so I wanted to let others in to see it. So here are a few words on verses 15-23, first my translation of a few of them, then some of my own raw words, lifted from the lined pages of my journal:

"Do you not know that the one to whom who yield yourselves to as servants poised for obediences, you are slaves to that one who you obey--either sin resulting in death or obedience resulting in righteousness? But praise be to God! you were slaves of sin...but, having been set free, you have been made slaves to righteousness. 
For just as you yielded your members as slaves to unrighteousness and to lawlessness resulting in more lawlessness, thus now yield your members as slaves to righteousness with a view toward sanctification.
For when you were [yet] slaves of sin...what fruit did you have then?"

Oh this free gift that has changed everything! May that always be a truth that grows harder and harder to forget or neglect. I'm just caught up this morning in the imagery of movement seen in verse 19. There was none before. One more of the same thing, more of the same slavery ("lawlessness unto lawlessness," literally).

But God reached down into the very midst of the old chains and pulled us out by grace--something we never could have done on our own, try as we might. And He brought us to a different bondage--bondage to Himself, to grace that moves us forward--closer to Him. "Slaves now of righteousness that looks toward sanctification." Righteousness that looks not to what we can do, but to what He will do. This is what we have been set free for!

So why, then, do we still so often act like slaves that are not set free? Like only the first half of verse 23 is gospel truth for us today? No! We have a new master--"Jesus Christ our Lord"--a personal, intimate, relationship of freedom has been freely gifted to us and we get so caught up in the defeats of the day that we miss it. We miss Him. We miss what He can do by focusing instead on what we cannot. 

Our position has been changed--from sin to righteousness.
But now we need a change of perspective--from sin to righteousness "with a view towards sanctification."

Father, change our perspectives. Our focus gets fuzzy by the defeats of the day instead of sharpened by your great victory over the worst defeat--death itself. So also we have been raised! So may we also raise our hands today, yielding no longer to sin or self, but to the victory of your son & our Lord, Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever by our words and by our deeds. Amen.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

vulnerability

I wrote this earlier this spring, in my personal devotion time. The story at the onset of John 8 has been in my mind this week, so I read it this morning and decided to look up where I had studied and journaled on it. Just knew I needed to share it. Thanks for reading!


This is one of my favorite stories of Jesus' ministry. Though perhaps not really an episode of the evangelists, I do not think it has survived for nothing. In fact, it almost didn't. But evidence against it's truth is small. It even fits with the current storyline of John, in my opinion, with the attitudes of the Pharisees overwhelming their sensibilities so it is not surprising that they would conduct this accusation scene to aggravate the people and to trap Jesus. If he said to stone her, he would have gone against everything He had been teaching. If He had merely said "Don't stone her," the Pharisees would have had great cause to accuse him of blasphemy. 

But something he does here makes it better for them to just walk away. He really doesn't even say anything life-shattering. His presence, his nearness to this woman, and his simple, honest, even vulnerable words--that could even put him in the same group with the Pharisees, risking His honor in the process--are enough. 

And isn't that true of Jesus' whole ministry? Simplicity. Vulnerability. Risking His honor, putting it all on the line to give life, to restore worth to someone else. That is what He is about. Even His words come down to our level in the same way, just as they did here. They do not cut this woman down--neither do they condemn or give her lofty orders. No, they build her back up and enable her to be transformed and walk away new

In the same way He has spoken to us, enabled us to, and called us to. It takes great humility, an unassuming nature, and a soft voice, just as Jesus had. Who would we kneel down before today? 

Now, I'm gonna get closer to home for myself, as a writer (if I have the right to claim such a term). It's a big, metaphorical leap. Just be prepared. Or stop reading. I hope you're willing to come along with me. 

In the same way, this is what writing does to me. I end up on the ground like this woman. Vulnerable, stripped down. Condemnation surrounds me with stones in hand. But Jesus walks up. Jesus meets us in the middle of our dreams, no matter how messed up they seem. Jesus kneels down into the mess of manuscripts and legal pads and journals and scribbles on scraps. And He writes with us. The stones fall heavy around us--but never on us. He redirects our gaze to the empty scene in which we sit; He says with strength, "Where are they, those whose stones were aimed at you? Has no one condemned you?" And we respond with shaky tenor, disbelief dotting our wet eyelashes, "No one, sir." 

And He asks us, He is asking me, to keep going. Jesus doesn't condemn us. He enables us to keep going. I'm praying for the humility and strength that He exemplifies more than I ever could to overwhelm my spirit and enable me to keep going. 

Again the question begs to be asked: Who will we kneel down beside today?

Monday, June 2, 2014

when the enemy doesn't seem disarmed.

There is this verse that I quote a lot. Colossians 2.15:

"He [Jesus] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them by it [the cross]. "  

I quoted it last night for a friend. Texted it to her as soon as it came to mind. Claimed it over her as I prayed for her. I turned over to go to sleep, when tears flooded my tired eyes. Painfully aware of the battle raging not just over my friend miles away, but even in my own body, my broken voice whispered: 

"They don't feel disarmed, father." 

I'm the one who feels disarmed. 

Struck down with whips, disrobed and mocked, chained, halfway driven to death, then placed on an instrument of torture to die--this is how disarmed feels. 

But rewind those images of self-centered romanticism concerning my own pain, my own cross.

See Jesus kneeling over me, shielding the blows from my skin in exchange for his own. See him allowing his robe to be taken, and placing it on me in exchange for nothing. Hear him mocked, humiliated in exchange for my chains being broken, silenced in exchange for my freedom song rising over his groanings as death drew nearer and nearer. See him nailed to the cross--in exchange for me walking away unscathed. 

But not unchanged. 

Because three days later, he overcame those exchanges for his own exchange: death for life, sin for forgiveness, wrath for mercy, condemnation for grace. To defeat my self-sufficiency with a love too strong to resist. To arise from the dead, the first but not the last eternal resurrection, victory at last won.

Disarming comes with defeat. When an army overtakes another force, the first thing those who are overcome drop to the ground are their weapons: that their hands may fly up into the air, that their knees may hit the ground hard, that their heads may hang low in submission. The cross of Jesus defeats the enemy's tactics and powers; the resurrection exalts Him over their supposed sovereignty.

Speaking of Jesus, the author of Hebrews writes: 

"He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the Word of His power (He is in control). After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high..." (1.3)

and God echoes the exaltation of Jesus, saying,

"Sit down at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."
(1.13)

We are waiting for that to happen. Jesus' feet aren't propped up just yet. I picture His feet behind Him at times, behind His bent knees...as He now "lives to make intercession for the saints." (7.25)

But at the exact same time, we're told that it has happened. That He has "disarmed" the enemies. And He has. The resurrection is the proof. The worst of their tactics--death--couldn't overcome our Savior and Lord. They are "put to open shame" because of this blunder. They thought they had won. Turns out their victory was reversed by the resurrection. God pulled a "trump card" in the resurrection, as my greek professor always said, and "triumphed over them."

They are disarmed. Ultimately, their tactics won't work. But right now, all evidence points to the contrary. Friends experience their minds attacked every night with horrible nightmares. My body sometimes still feels so weak. A train hits a car full of kids. Thousands of children die in acid attacks. Humans are trafficked as slaves. While the world looks on, the majority ignorant and unmoved. 

We who know the victory have to stand in the victory, even when we cannot see it. That is what faith is all about anyway: being certain of what we do not see; hoping for what is unassured by circumstances (11.1). 

The good news is that God doesn't ask us to stand rigidly, making rote repetitions of words we cannot feel. He welcomes words like I whispered in the dark last night. He wants vulnerable, intimate, honest admissions from our hearts. He already knows each one, and He already knows the ways in which He will answer us in those words we offer to Him, the ways in which He will tell us to take our stand.

For me, it was a solid reply: write it down; listen to me and write it down. I turned back over in the dark, grabbed my phone again and wrote out a couple of paragraphs, which begin this post. He asked me to be vulnerable not just with Him, but with others. He flashed images in my mind of the victory already won over the pain I imagined being measured blow-for-blow over my own defeated self. He redeemed those images by His own. He told me to keep writing. 

The bottom line is this: both parties stand defeated at the cross.

Our enemies are not yet to their knees, under the feet of Jesus. 
Oh but I am. Hands up, knees bent, guns down, head hung low: submitted to the True Victor. 
Self-sufficiency ruined by the self-humiliation of Jesus. Self-dependence cut off by the perfect obedience of the Son. For at the end of me--there He stands...

"For in Him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them by it."
(Col. 2.9-15)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

home.

I've been at home for two weeks now. The last place I ever thought I'd return to after a full year away again, post-2012's home stay. I had everything all planned out...again. Funny how "all planned out" very, very rarely ever turns out the way "we plan." But not only are God's plans different and higher than our own; they are better. There's no getting around that fact. And though, for you, they ever seem better in the moments and the minutes that you are living now, they will be. Our God is the God of redemption. Of making worse better. Of taking sickness and healing it. Of taking darkness and lightening it. Wait and watch for it, my friend. Habakkuk recorded this best:

"For the vision still awaits its appoint time; it hastens to the end--it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay." (2.3)

Habakkuk saw his world crumbling, darkness closing in as political forces rallied against all things moral, and yet it seemed that God was the sovereign allowing, and--dare I say it?--orchestrating it all "as planned". 

Sometimes, it makes no sense. Even in the Bible. Take heart and take hope in that today, friend. 

And even if things are going well, take heart and take hope in His will. Hold everything with an open hand; depend on Him with all you hold dear. It's worth it. Good, bad, ugly. He's got this. He will not let you go. His right hand upholds you not just for kicks, but for good

Home is a good place to relearn trust. I wrote in a journal in India several years back now that home is "wherever the will of God takes you." I was coming home from a new home, a new place and people that had stolen my heart, my personality, my all. I was wrapped in their clothes and their culture. I was undone, forever bound to this place. And yet, there I was, on a 16 hour flight back "home." I wrote those words not because I wanted to hear them. I didn't. I woke up during the night hearing a truck drive by on the interstate down from my house, thinking it was a bus on the dirt road across from our flat. I got sick on American food, never having been sick in India. My eyes drew many tears as I gazed at my friends and my village roads that are forever etched on my heart. But I needed to hear them. Home is not a place or a people. Home is the heart of my father, turning my own heart and paths exactly where they need to be at exactly the right moment. There are things to do here, there, wherever I am, and I'm bent on finding each one of them and being obedient to the Spirit of my God within me. 

The same power that conquered the grave lives in us; I think it can conquer wherever else home takes us.

I'm home in the will of my father. Where are you? 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

when adversity arises

Doesn't it always seem to be the case that when the work finally gets going and the sovereign hand of God finally gets moving--to our tiny and doubtful perspectives, at least--that then comes the opposition. then comes the enemies. then comes the road blocks that make you question absolutely every single move and decision you are trying to make? (yes.)

Even those who aren't trying to look at things with the eyes of faith would say the exact same thing. Those who are, even more-so, though, because we have a ruthless enemy and deceiver who wants to keep us entrenched in just enough doubt and fear that the first half of john 10.10 comes to fruition:

our dreams are stolen
our passion is killed
and the work of God in our lives [seems] all but destroyed.

But the second half of that verse gives great hope. Jesus stepped into the midst of the enemy's schemes and said, "No." Life flooded in, even through his death on a roman cross, like the unfolding of the dawn. gentle and sure. And not just life as it's always been known--with the enemy having the upper hand as a their, murderer, and destroyer. No, Jesus brings abundant life. A life perhaps not free from the enemy's schemes, but indeed a life free of their effects. 

he cannot steal the dreams God has set in motion. 
he cannot kill our zeal for God's name to be glorified by them.  
he cannot destroy the work of God because Jesus already said, "It is finished." as He destroyed the enemy's work.

These thoughts flooded my mind as a stared as the unmarked pages of Ezra 4, and saw the bolded words of adversarial warning and of orders to cease the work that the people of Israel had returned to do: to rebuild the temple. For 3 years they had been back, having raised up the altar of God anew and begun to lay the foundation of the temple. 

And I feel those same bolded words over my own heart this morning, flashing like neon strobe lights.
Warning. 
Danger. 
Stop!

Yet these were just not working exiles. They were worshipping exiles. 
And so are we. As strangers and aliens in this world, we too must worship in the midst of adversity.

The tactics of our enemy are the same as the people of the land who rose against the people of God as they built:
            false testimonies (lies and accusations)
            discouragement 
            fear
            force and power (warfare)

Above all else, the enemy of the people of God is a LIAR. All of his tactics stem from that false, deceptive nature. Faith grounded in the truth of God's word and work is our defense. Discouragement and fear, then, are the quickest way to break down those walls of defense against his lies. He wants us to forget our calling as Christ followers. He wants it to feel impossible. He wants the surpassing worth of knowing Christ to be hidden by the loss it entails (see philippians 3). He wants to turn our calling that beckons, "anyone who doesn't hate his own mother, father, brother, sister, friend...cannot be my disciple," and convince us that losing any of those people would be unbearable. He fights for us to be afraid of everything, as if the bottom could fall out at any moment and destroy us.

And he's partially right. 

This calling is scary. It is hard. The bottom could and does fall out.  

But last night at church the air was charged with hope, even as it inevitably was full of those very real and closely felt tactics, with our voices, singing, 

"The Rock won't move and His word is strong, the Rock won't move and His love can't be undone."

"The Lord lives, and blessed be my Rock, 
and exalted be my God, the Rock of my salvation...
He is a tower of salvation to His king, 
and shows steadfast love to His anointed,
to David and his offspring forever." (2 Samuel 22.47, 51)

The ultimate call within this worship, however, is seen in verse 3 of Ezra 4, and it overshadows the fear and opposition and questions that are thrown at the will of God in our lives...obedience. It involves sacrifice. It involves hard things. It may even involve an executive order from the authorities around us that command that the work of God has you doing must cease. It was decreed for the people here. 

And what followed the decree to cease working was 14 years of waiting for the reversal. 14 years of limited worship, with only the altar and foundations laid before them. But it was enough. With the prophets urging them on (5.1), to renewed courage and strength and repentance and worships, God kept His people (psalm 121). He was not surprised by the delay. Rather, he leveraged it to continue to build up his people. He made it worth it. Worth-it waiting. Worth-it adversity.

And we know that in all things--good and bad--that God works them out for good on behalf of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose. All things. Premature birth. Surgeries. Anxiety. Heartbreak. Wanderings. Fear. Waiting. Pain. Unsureness. His hand is on each one. We are called to entrust these burdens to him and to instead lift up his burden--light and fit specifically to our shoulders--and walk in obedience to him alone. It is this that will usher in the abundant life promised to us. No matter what the circumstances--His purposes will not be thwarted. His ways will not be stopped. His promises will not be left unfulfilled. The Rock won't move. He won't move.