Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Being depressed

On Facebook, it's very easy to post a status based on emotion: really happy, really angry, sometimes overwhelmed or sad. People usually comment in kind, responding to the emotion of the post. I'm about to talk about something, not because I'm feeling emotional and need comfort. I want to share my thinking with you.

This January, I have struggled with being depressed. Depression can come from sinful choices or bad circumstances, and it can be oppressive and bad. I know exactly why I'm depressed: it's part of a grieving process. And because my sadness is part of healing, it is not bad. It's just sad.

It is easy, living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in my very Christian culture, to believe that being sad is wrong. I feel that way sometimes, and it usually makes the sadness worse: I feel depressed and angry about feeling depressed. In my anger, I think that if I can just cheer up, then I'll be okay, and when my heart doesn't cheer, it fuels my anger. This isn't a good pattern for me.

What has helped has been to admit that I'm sad. Mornings can be very hard, because there are deadlines and sometimes stress. In the morning, I usually sit down with my Bible, or my husband asks innocently, "How are you doing?" If I start analyzing, I can get really bummed. Another morning, and I'm still down. Great. Another day wasted.

But my sad days aren't really wasted. It is right to be sad over some things. When Mary and Martha begged Jesus to come heal their brother, He delayed, and Lazarus died. Jesus knew He was going to raise the man from the dead, and yet He wept when Mary fell at His feet crying. Jesus bothered to be sad, even when (from our perspective) it wasn't necessary.

What has been liberating for me is simply to confess (to my husband, my wonderful network of support) that I am depressed. These sad feelings don't define who I am (a beloved child of the King!), but they are real. I'm good at glossing over things, which is really just a form of lying. Telling the truth is a foundation for healing.

Here are a few things I've observed.

On days when I'm struggling, I know that in my sadness, it would be easier to believe things that aren't true, so I guard my thinking. I know I am susceptible, and so I am hesitant to embrace every thought in my head. I am eager to confess Scripture.

Healing takes energy, emotional energy. Some days I don't accomplish as much as I think I should. Some days I don't feel like dealing with people, whether it's calling about a problem with our cell phone or picking up when a friend calls. That's okay.

I don't let my sadness dominate my relationship with my children (which is where a lot of my energy goes). I often expect my youngest to be mature and understanding of a situation (because she is mature and understanding) but there are honestly times when I just need to be the grownup. It's important, it's a small window, and with the Lord's help, I can be faithful to be the mom I need to be.

It is also important for me not to get too isolated. I attend church. I make the effort to talk with people, sometimes when I don't feel like it, because I know I am prone to spiral into miry places. I am often honest about how I'm feeling, because real connections with people are healthy, and superficial ones are just suffocating. Sometimes I fall apart on my husband or my best friend, and that's okay. They love me and want me to be well.

If you find yourself in a time of healing, give yourself permission to heal. The world will be better because you are well. Any frantic attempt at moving on will only leave a pothole in your heart that might someday bust your transmission.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

God, angels, and the big picture

I'm going to tell you a story. Think with me for a minute about God and the big picture. Allow me a little creative license.

God is holy, three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). He is not lonely or desperate or hungry. He is. He dwells in a beautiful place that we call "heaven," and he creates a beautiful race we know as angels. They are magnificent creatures. Heaven is populated with all sorts of creatures: fantastical beasts, cherubim, seraphim. I suppose all the variety are "angels."

The angels populate heaven, serving God and glorifying Him. There are three magnificent ones: Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer. And one day Lucifer decides that being a mere angel is not enough. He rebels against his creator and is driven from heaven along with a third of the angel population.

After the dust settles, God suggests a new endeavor: "Let's create something that can be redeemed." Redemption? What is that?

"Well, redemption means that if there is a rebellion, I will restore the creation to Myself."

What?? This is crazy talk. Who could forgive rebellion? There is something about rebellion that inherently changes a creature. Look at Lucifer. There's no way he could ever come back to heaven. God is holy; this isn't possible.

"I will atone," says the Lord. What?? What does "atone" even mean?

"I will become like them. I will cross over to their state, and substitute My righteousness for their own. I will cover them with My holiness."

The angels are in. What a story this is going to be. They watch as the Father speaks, and a new world begins to come into existence through the Son. Pause to imagine it: the swirling gases, the compression of light, the forces of the universe coming into being. The tiny atoms that build a complexity so amazing it mirrors God Himself. The angels themselves are pretty amazing, so this creation seems in line with what they are used to seeing. Gorgeous and new, but a familiar new.

After a day of rest, God goes to visit with His creation. And wouldn't you know, Lucifer shows up, prowling around. Of course he would want to look into this--they are all curious. Michael wants to drive him away, but the Lord says no. There is a purpose in all of this.

But this has to be a mistake, because Lucifer messes everything up. He tempts the woman (the crowning achievement of this new creation) and she disobeys God, along with her husband. Great! Here we go again! The whole thing down the toilet at the very beginning.

But God isn't flustered. Righteously angry, yes. Clear regarding the consequences, yes. But something new is happening here. Revelation 13 tells us that Jesus Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. And Hebrews 13 speaks of the blood of the eternal covenant. Something in the very nature of God, part of this world from its very beginning, is being revealed: redemption.

When God curses the serpent, the embodiment of Lucifer, He says, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman,and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Rebellion and Redemption are going head on. Wait and see.

This the angels have never seen. God calling a people to Himself. Becoming incarnate, one of them. Letting them kill His Son, and then rising, establishing a new priesthood, a new creation. All those who come to Him are holy, washed clean from their rebellion and in right standing with God. His own Spirit inhabits them.

Lucifer, vicious and angry, is bent on destroying them. But he is just as puzzled by this "redemption" as any of his race. He knows a time has been set for his condemnation, but he is loose now. Surely the mess he began so long ago can't be undone. He's still loose, damn it.

Judgement is coming. Here we go.

Friday, January 18, 2013

God speaks

I started this post with the thought that the Trinity is not God, Jesus, and the Bible. True statement, and I may blog on it later. However, as I contemplated the Scripture, the wonder of this book crept over me.

The Bible is the Word of God, and it's slowly been building over the course of history. Moses wrote some of it down. King David and his son Solomon penned some. And there was an explosion of Scripture around the time of Israel's captivity. Jesus came. The printing press revived our ability to read the Word. And now we have so much scholarship, so many versions. It's like God knew that as the world became increasingly bad, His Word to us would become more available.

All of us learned about God because someone told us about Him. We have likely learned about Him from a church. We have spent our lives watching other people who say they love Jesus (or hate Him--we can learn from all sorts of places). While people are the best and clearest witness, they are also pretty confusing. And in the midst of the crowd, there stands the Word. God's own testimony to us.

We are blessed to live in an age where the Bible is so accessible. The Israelites are another people of the Book, and for a large chunk of their history, they mostly ignored the gift they were given. But after the Babylonian captivity, without the Temple for sacrifices, they began to teach the Word in their communities wherever they were scattered. The synagogue became the focal point for how they learned about God and right behavior. Even after the Temple was restored by Nehemiah, the rabbis scattered throughout the people made a difference in their level of knowledge. Boys grew up memorizing large portions of Scripture; the Word was known.

As Christianity grew and eventually became the official religion of Rome (what Jew, looking for the Messiah, ever saw that twist coming?), the Scriptures and teachings of the apostles were widely taught as the Roman world, Gentile and Jew alike, grappled with this new belief. But when the Roman Empire fell, so did the opportunity for learning as led by people of the Book. The Church became more fractured, and people were subject to whatever was taught in this area or that. Literacy declined, and the value of the Word declined in communities.

Then comes Martin Luther, the Enlightenment, the printing press. "Sola Scriptura" becomes the cry of reform (and eventually fracture) in the Church. In our age, there is so much information available to us, some of us choose to live as ignorantly as people did in the Dark Ages. Superstition and false teaching is easily accessible to us; our schools do not teach logic or thinking skills, and they lack a common cultural base to teach from, so our students are weakly prepared. We look a little more like the Jews in the book of Judges, a highly uneducated time period, when "every man did what was right in his own eyes."

And yet we still have the Scripture. It is our gift. It remains the standard of knowledge. Whenever it has been valued, it has rooted us in Truth. No matter what we have been taught by people, either in word or example, we can look to the Bible for the real answer. Martin Luther felt this way when he read the Bible himself: "Whoa, this isn't what I'm being taught in church." If you've never had that realization, let me tell you, it's a sickening one. It doesn't make you feel happy, but it does make you incredibly grateful for the witness of the book.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reading the fig tree

In my previous entry, I talked about the act of reading, how we commit to a story or remain surface readers. I want to provide an illustration from Mark.

In chapter 11, Jesus is going to Jerusalem the day after His triumphal entry.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it....

When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:12-14, 19-21 NIV)

Jesus cursed the fig tree for not producing fruit. It was out of season. Why would he even check it? I wouldn't go looking for peaches on a tree in the fall, or apples in the spring. And couldn't he just as easily have brought forth fruit from the tree? What is this passage telling me about Jesus? It seems a little scary.

At this point, I could decide that Jesus condemns us if we don't produce fruit out of season, and be afraid and uncertain of my standing before Him. But that just doesn't seem right to me. I know the parable of the talents, where God is described as a "hard master," but I also know that Jesus said, "Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). The Lord Himself established seasons; is He somehow overruling them here? Yikes, I am unsure.

But I realize I don't know anything about fig trees. When I googled "Jesus curses fig tree," I got many hits, but found this website to be most helpful. The fig tree, it turns out, becomes leafy before the figs appear. Mark says, "It wasn't the season for figs." Got that. But if a tree is going to bear fruit, it has little pre-fruit, almond-sized things on the tree, that hungry people would often take off the tree and eat. I gather it was better than a pre-ripe apple, but that's the idea: not fully-ripened fruit, but still edible. This tree was in full leaf, but had no pre-fruit, so it was never going to produce figs. If figs were ever going to come from this tree, Jesus should have found something there.

This is the Jesus I know. And here is where we tap into the larger story. Jesus has come to preach to Israel, God's chosen people. The nation is in full leaf: the Temple is functioning, learned men are teaching, sacrifices being made. Sure, they're oppressed by the Romans and would like to rule themselves, but that's why the Messiah is coming, any day now. And yet when the Messiah does come, He looks at them and says, "You're in leaf, you look great, and yet you are never going to bear the fruit I require." And He pronounces judgment on it.

Now, instead of a scary Jesus, I have a different picture: the King, coming to His own, and He finds them not ready. This theme appears over and over in Jesus' teaching. He was asking of them what they should have been prepared to give, and they were found lacking. This judgement I can accept; this motivates me.

My Lizzye told me one time, "I tried to read your blog, but it was just a lot of Bible stuff. I don't really find that helpful." I hope, reader, that looking over my shoulder as I read the Bible was a little helpful to you today.

Reading a book

I often read in the evening while my husband sits and listens to music. I will laugh out loud at something, usually subtle humor like the wry word play in a bit of description, and my husband will ask why I laughed. I can usually tell him the brief funny bit, but sometimes I have to explain why Hawk was in Susan's apartment when Spenser was in California, and who this other gunman from Arizona is, and in all the backstory, it just becomes less funny. You either just laugh at the tiny highlights, or commit to know what's going on. If I keep him informed on the story as we go along, he surrepticiously reads with me. In those cases, sharing the funny highlights with him is easier, but there's I'm also obliged to keep him up with the story: "Oh, Hawk just got shot! I wonder if Spenser will come back now?"

I am teaching a survey of American Literature to my oldest two daughters, and I was reading excerpts from Emerson and Thoreau to them this week. Liz pointed out that people quote these authors all the time, so I occasionally read a sentence that was often quoted, but in context. Oftentimes, we found that they sounded pretty good when quoted in one isolated sentence, but if you read their whole story (especially Emerson), it wasn't something we agree with.

Reading the Bible can be like Johnny's experience with my books. Either he gets in on the story, and understands what's happening, or he just laughs and doesn't think too much about it. You can read the quotable parts of an author and think, "Ah, that relates to me," but you're seeking your own meaning in the quote, and not really endeavoring to learn Thoreau's message to his American audience. Sometimes, there is that awkward middle stage, where you read it and think, "I just don't get this." You can choose to get help, go deeper, puzzle it out, or you can give up and remain a surface reader.

In teaching my kids, we've been talking about deconstruction, a method of criticism which assumes you can never understand what the author is trying to communicate. The only way you can learn from a text is to bring your own meaning to it, understand it in relation to your own story. There's a certain despair inherent in this thinking, because it implies that we only communicate with ourselves--understanding someone else is impossible.

When I read the Bible, I assume that the God of the universe has something to communicate to me. That alone is an amazing fact. If I rightly understand that He is holy and incredible, and I'm just one of millions of His creations, and yet He knows me and cares about me and wants to communicate with me...okay, that's a good way to start reading the book.

But I also have to commit to hearing His story. Sometimes Johnny will ask me a question when I'm reading, and my response is, "I would have to explain too much. Just laugh. You don't want to know the rest." But if I do answer his questions, sometimes it's tedious to him, five minutes of his life that he would rather have spent with his music. Sometimes he thinks what I'm reading is stupid, but if he asks and listens, he discovers why I like it, and it deepens our understanding of each other. He invests in our relationship.

When you read something in the Bible beyond the familiar quote, does it sometimes offend you or seem puzzling? Why would God tell them to kill all those people? And at this point, do you really want to understand God or do you not want to invest the time? The story is a big one, and you have to commit some time and energy to grasping it. You have to lay aside your own perspective and seek to understand what is happening, maybe ask for help.

If you commit, you will deepen your relationship with the God who wrote the Book, the one who wants to communicate with you. But this is God's story, and you have to set aside your own.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Table of Contents

You know what it means to have a "personal" relationship with God. Once you decide to follow Jesus, your own personality and your experiences, your hangups and successes, become your own story that reflects the goodness of God. You don't just read in the Bible that He is good or hear other people say it; you yourself know about His goodness because you have experienced it.

What is your relationship with the Bible? You have heard other people talk about it; you hear a pastor preach from it. But is your own story enmeshed with the words on those pages? Instead of just hearing someone read Psalm 23 at a funeral, do you have a personal experience with that psalm that comes back to you when you look at the verses?

At the last Lunch at Angie's, I rambled a bit about my own relationship with the Word. James was my favorite book when I was first saved--it was so easy and clear. The psalms were early favorites too because they are expressive of our emotions. Once, I spent a year copying the psalms in my own voice, one a day, as my prayer to God.

I used to be very intimidated by Isaiah--I just didn't like it. And then I heard someone (teacher or preacher, can't remember) say that it was the book Jesus quoted the most. If Isaiah was Jesus' favorite book, then maybe I should look into it. There was a period of years when I was in love with Isaiah, and it was the foundation of many prayers, the way Psalms had once been. There was another time in my life when I was very frustrated with the gospels. Jesus just seemed confusing and unattainable. And another time, after a church we were attending split, I stayed in Matthew for six months, finding comfort and healing there.

When you look at the table of contents in your Bible, do you see a depth of relationship with the books listed there? I read my Bible alphabetically (mostly--I pull the gospels here and there, since they're kinda clustered around the middle), so the table of contents is my reading guide. After I complete a book, I put the two digits of the year next to it, so I can keep track of where I've been. I try to read the Bible through every three years. Over my lifetime, I hope to continually read it; it's not really a race. If I read it at a faster pace (like once a year), I find I don't meditate on it well. I start gulping it down like my morning organge juice, instead of savoring it like my coffee.

If you are simply feeling guilty about not reading your Bible, please stop. You should be honest: are you going to read it? If you're not, stop feeling guilty. Just say, I'm not doing that now. But if you do want to develop a relationship with a very large, lengthy, ancient book (c'mon, this isn't the easy read of a John Grisham novel), then set a specific goal. I want to read the little letters of the New Testament (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, etc.), or I want to read Revelation. One year, my goal was to read a little every day, so I bought a perpetual calendar with a Scripture for every day. I could always find two minutes, standing in my kitchen, to read the Bible. My goal was to build a daily habit that I could expand on.

Pick something. Do it. Begin a relationship with your table of contents.

A meditation on the rich young man

I am at a point, in my walk with the Lord, where I am really considering the cost of being His disciple. Thinking about the "downside" does not mean that I am considering not following. In truth, I want to follow with everything I am, and I am considering the price required of me. Jesus is not something you add on to your life. He requires something of you. Actually, He requires everything.

In reading Mark 10 today, I encountered the rich young ruler, who rushed up to Jesus as He was leaving the area. He fell to his knees before the Rabbi and began, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17)

Jesus begins with a puzzling statement: "Why do you call me good? No one is good--except God alone" (v.18) In the very next exchange, you see why Jesus began here. This rich young man thinks he himself is good. After all, he has always kept the commandments. He calls the Teacher good, but he is pretty confident in his own goodness, and perhaps, unknowingly, he is coming to Jesus as if they were equals. He bows down to Him, but Jesus knows that the man is thinking, "Hey, I'm careful to live well. I wonder how to add Jesus to this package."

"No one is good--except God alone." I think Jesus made this statement in order to communicate, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." This isn't one of those statements like you find in John, where He is declaring His divinity, although that is certainly revealed as a side note, one we can see from the vantage point of history. "No one is good--except God alone." Yeah, we're all sinners. It seems like a throw-away comment, not germaine to the conversation. But this is the heart of it: the rich young man does not know he's a sinner, in need of Jesus. The young man kneels before Him; he calls Him Lord and yet in his heart, he's confident of his own goodness, apart from Jesus. Do you do that? "Lord, Lord," and yet in your heart, you have your own agenda?

Jesus lists off some of the commandments, and the young man says, "Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy" (v.20). Still, he calls Him "teacher." He is anticipating that he has already earned the A he is seeking. He might have been listening to Jesus teach the multitudes earlier. He might have seen Jesus confound the Pharisees with His answer to their divorce question. But he's going to pull Jesus aside just as He's leaving the scene to say a quick, "Hey, Teacher, I'm okay, aren't I? I'm already good with God?"

Next comes one of the amazing bits of God-become-flesh. Jesus looks at the man and loves him (v.21). He sees everything about him, and He loves him. If you think God has a big stick and is just waiting to whack you with it, spend a lot of time reading this sentence. Jesus was born in human flesh to demonstrate to us who God is. When we come scrambling up to Him, bow down casually, and say, "Hey, am I okay with you?", He doesn't just say, "No, you moron, no one measures up." And He doesn't say, "Oh, I just love you so much, I'll take you just the way you are." He SEES him and LOVES him. When we bother to approach God--God, the Creator of the universe--all of time stops around us, while our Maker acknowledges us and reaches out to us with truth.

Because God loves this young man, who has chased him down and would like an easy answer, Jesus tells him the truth: "You're only missing one thing." I doubt if there was enough time for the man to feel any relief--just one thing he needs to add to his list of goodness! Just one! Wow, that's like an 89.5% or something.

"Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (v.21). I only need you to do one thing, Jesus says: give up everything.

The rich young ruler was sad and went away.

I am this young man; I have just as much as he did. I live with all the comforts of the United States. I am still healthy, so we'll say I'm young. The gospel of Luke refers to this man as a "ruler," so he had some status in the community. And he had lived a good life. This is me.

But I don't want to turn away. If Jesus is asking one thing of me--give up everything you have, everything you think is right, everything you think makes you what you are--and be my servant, that's what I need to do. So I don't turn away from Him. But I take a deep gulp, and start figuring out where my question to the Good Master has gotten me. Turns out, it's not about the A.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Holding that weird sign

They went out and preached that people should repent. - Mark 6:12

The good news that Jesus told His disciples to share was, "Repent!" You've seen a photo of someone wearing a placard telling us to repent...or maybe you've seen a real person doing this. It sounds judgemental and a little crazy.

But "repent" is a clear and simple message that applies to all of us: "You are not on a good road. Turn around." Repentance is for people who are sinning, those things that we know by gut-instinct are bad. And repentance is for people who are living their own life, without heeding instructions or their Creator. If you have your own ideas about what you should be doing, and you are faithfully chasing after your dreams, then repent.

You were never created to live out your own ideas. Someone much bigger and wiser than you has invested a lot in who you are, and you should pay attention. Scripture says, "We all like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6). That's not an uplifting image. We are sheep, one of the dumbest animals in the world. And we need to be cared for.

I know some of you don't like thinking that you're dumb, but there is real release in being reconciled to the One who created you. When you're working to "get it right," inevitably you fail. This is not a surprise to God, who is able to take your failures and still find purpose and meaning in your life. He has made provision for everything you could mess up. You might have denied that you're even messing up, but I find it very refreshing to admit that I do. I have. I will again. probably today.

It is easy for me to divide the world into two groups: those who have surrendered to God and those who haven't. I don't care what your reason for not. I do not look at most of those I know who choose not to follow Jesus and see terrible sinners or wicked people. But I have lately come face to face with a third category of people: those in the church who are not following Jesus. They're still pursuing their own ideas about things, but they speak all Christian-y and love-y and preachy. In this person, there is toxic confusion about what it means to be a Christian.

If you are outside the church and find yourself drawn to Jesus but repulsed by Christians, I'm sorry. Those of us within the church struggle with what our group does in the name of Jesus. The church is the bride of Christ, and with all her flaws, I do love her. She will someday be cleaned up and amazingly beautiful, and until then, some of the worst sinners in the world are predicted to come from her midst. For me, Jesus was so appealing, I couldn't help but step into the church. And I have found some genuinely wonderful people there, who reflect who He is, Jesus with skin on. I pray that I am part of the solution, not part of the problem, but on my bad days, who knows if I haven't soured someone's image of God?

Without apology, I ask you to repent. Come to Jesus with all of your questions and disbelief. He is worth knowing, and once you know Him, your desire for His ways becomes insatiable. You will never get anywhere good without Him.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Serving the Master

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Luke 17:10)

We don't have the daily concept of "master" in the United States. In fact, it's a rather ugly word to us, a reminder of slavery and other tyrannies we rebelled from. But when we say, "Jesus is Lord," we mean He is Master. Have you ever given it much thought?

A servant represents his master, not himself. When he goes somewhere, what he says and how he behaves reflects on who he serves. His words and actions also account for his own character, in the sense that he is seen as a "good servant," a "faithful servant," a "wicked servant," or a "lazy servant." No one would say, "Oh, he's a lazy person, but a good enough servant." Your very identity is tied to whom you serve and how well you fulfill your role.

Think of Gehazi in the Old Testament (2 Kings 4-8). The goal is not to notice him; he simply represents the prophet Elisha. But when he becomes greedy (2 Kings 5:20), we sadly shake our heads--and Gehazi is struck with leprosy. To a large degree, Gehazi reminds me of the disciples, just following Jesus around, mostly bystanders but sometimes remarkably stupid.

My goal is to be a transparent representative of my Father and Lord. I think there are many instances where I have bumbled this badly. But it helps to be more aware of my role. Oftentimes, I have seen myself as the star, the lead role, in the drama of my life. Lo and behold, He is the lead. I'm the supporting actor.

When I served on staff at a church, I was the servant left in charge of an estate. The Master put me in a position, and I had to work hard to fulfill His charge. Now, He has called me back to wait on Him. It is as if we are in a tent, and He stands at a table, pouring over charts and maps, planning the next strategy. I am against the wall, in a group of servants, waiting while He discusses with his generals and advisors. He knows my skills, my strengths, and my weaknesses, just as He knows each of the other servants waiting with me. If He asks me for a cup of water, I will gladly fetch it. My readiness is what He desires. If I start to get my own ideas of what should be happening now, if I slip from the tent to take care of things that I thought should be handled, I would not be a good servant. I wouldn't be worthy of His trust.

There is no difference in my heart between the busy task I was sent on for several years and this time of waiting. I love my Master; I have had my ear pierced.

But if the servant declares, "I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free," then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.(Exodus 21:5-6)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The foundation of it all

I use my imagination a lot in my walk with God. I like to picture what it was like for the people in the Bible, to imagine their lives and what I would have felt in their place. Pictures come to me sometimes when I pray.

Over the past years, I have had different pictures of who I am in this journey. I have seen myself as a precious child; I have seen myself as a warrior. Most recently I have imagined myself as the servant of my Lord. I am very secure in how He values me, and in that context I have lately considered how Jeremiah was never allowed to marry; how Ezekiel was told his wife would die and he could not mourn her; how Hosea was commanded to marry a woman who would betray him more than once with other men. In one of the parables Jesus told, God is portrayed by the lazy servant as a "hard master":

Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. (Matthew 25:24-27)
The master in the story embraces the label. I have been considering how I serve a hard master, not because I am frustrated with Him, but because I am considering the deep respect other followers have shown Him by giving Him everything. I want to lay down my own will--that is perhaps a different blog entry.

This morning I was contemplating what it means to pray and what I expect from prayer, and it occurred to me that I am not a Christian because of prayer. I am not a Christian because God gives good gifts (James 1:17). I am not a Christian because my life is better now that I follow Jesus. I was told that God was good when I was considering becoming a Christian, but my understanding of what that goodness looks like was not the basis for my relationship with God.

I am a Christian because Jesus saved me. I was separated from my Creator by rebellion and sin, and only Jesus could bridge that gap. Learning who He is now becomes my joy and responsibility. I followed Him because my life was dark and lost without Him. In Him is all light and life (John 1:4). Now that I am part of the household, my walk with God is influenced by my personality, my culture, my circumstances, the teaching I've received, the people I surround myself with. My understanding of God may differ from someone in Malaysia or Chechnya or Honduras--and possibly even from you, dear reader--but we are each of us redeemed by the blood, restored to our Father by the sacrifice of His son.

As the year begins, look at your walk with Christ. What is the rock you are building on? The rock of Jesus is our gospel, our good news, our hope and foundation. Lay aside the trappings for just a moment and remember the basic truth. When we seek to persuade others to become like us, we should share the gospel.

Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:29)