Monday, July 6, 2015

Helping Peter

As you grow in Christ, you come to know His voice. If you hear God as angry and condemning, I am writing this blog entry for you. Romans 8:1 says, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The word "therefore" means "pay attention to what comes before this." At the end of chapter 7, Paul talks about his struggle with sin, how he doesn't always behave how he wants.

Do you struggle with your behavior? There is no condemnation for you if you are in Christ Jesus. It is one thing to read this verse; it is something else to see it worked out. I want to look at Jesus, to see what it means to have no condemnation.

The group of people that Jesus criticized most sharply, over and over, were the Pharisees. These were religious leaders who, honestly, had very good answers to all the important questions of the day. Jesus criticized their hearts, saying "Woe! Woe!" to them, calling them blind guides, hypocrites, and snakes. That's condemnation: Jesus did not approve of their right thinking and hard hearts. We know that Jesus does indeed condemn.

Then there's Peter. Peter betrays Jesus. Now, Jesus may have tweeted, "Peter, SMH," that day, but the Lord and Savior doesn't actually condemn him. Jesus was always helping his disciples with important bits of information, like, "Hey, dudes, I'm going to die in Jerusalem. One of you will betray me." It was compassion and leadership that caused Jesus to share this information with them: not going to be a party in the capitol. Be prepared.

That kind of news, however, is shocking. Jesus said it over and over, so it would slowly sink in, but it really was appalling. What if your mom said at breakfast, several times over a few weeks, "Hey, kids, I'm going to die of a heart attack in early August. Don't worry, though, I have things covered. You'll be okay."

"Hey, Mom, that's a real downer with my Fruit Loops. Can Aaron and I have money for the water park?" We hear the words, but they don't register; something deep within us might now be more prepared, but our surface reaction is often odd.

When Jesus says, in Matthew 26:23, that one of the disciples will betray him, they one by one ask, "Is it me?" This reminds me of the Old Testament king who heard a prophet say the kingdom would be destroyed, but not until after he died. "Whew, not my problem," the king thought with relief.

The disciples want to personally escape from Jesus' really sad news about betrayal. "Not me, right?" But later in the evening, Jesus tells them that they will all abandon him. And Peter, who is a leader, says, "No! Even if everyone else runs away, I never will."

Every sermon you have ever heard wants to lead you to Peter's enthusiastic declaration of loyalty: "I will always follow! I will be the good one!" And you've resolved in your heart, you will this time, you will indeed have a good week, not cuss, not be tempted, not skip your devotionals, blah blah blah.

Jesus looks at Peter and says, "This very night, you will disown me three times." I don't hear these words in the same tone as "Woe to you, blind guides!" or "You have made my house a den of thieves!" It is the gentle tones of a shepherd: dear child, you will mess up.

And Romans 8:1 says, don't worry, I got this. Signed, God.

Peter is not a slacker. When Jesus is arrested, he draws his sword and attacks. When the disciples flee the arresting mob, Peter makes his way to the house where Jesus is held. He does not abandon Jesus. Do you see his resolve? He said he would follow Christ, and he is staying close, he is persisting. Points for Peter.

But through the window, Peter can see the religious leaders slapping and punching Christ. The chief priest has torn his robe and declared Jesus a blasphemer. Things are going very badly. If Jesus himself wept in the garden and begged God not to make him walk this path, you can bet that Peter had reason to be afraid. *slap* "Who hit you?" *slap* "Prophecy to us!"

And then the servants, huddled with Peter around the fire, say, "Hey, guy, aren't you one of Jesus' followers?" Peter is just protecting himself; he, of all the disciples, is right there within ear shot of Christ, but he doesn't want to join in as a punching bag. When the rooster crows, he realizes what Jesus said has come to pass: he has indeed denied his Lord.

And Peter, like all of us who did not keep our enthusiastic Sunday morning/church camp resolve, beats himself up. He decides to go back to fishing; he's no good at this Jesus thing. He's failed. And the risen, triumphant Christ restores him: don't worry, Peter. I got this.

When Jesus says to Peter, to all his closest disciples, "You will mess up," maybe he is also speaking to us. You are not going to be as good at this as you think. Even the best of you will verbally curse and walk away from me.

But that is why Jesus died. Not to condemn us for being weak and failing--to rescue us when we do. We know the law; we know we do not measure up. But he did, and he has made a way for us to be clean and whole before God.

The way is not our good behavior; it is him. He is the way to God.

So today, you are going to mess up. I am not telling you this to condemn you; it is a fact. When you do, look at your heart: are you trusting your own goodness, or are you trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to redeem you?

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)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Retreating into the Word of God

Social justice issues interest me. I read a lot about world poverty, environmental responsibility, the LGBTQ community. I am a follower of Christ, and I am interested in these things the way my husband is interested in science articles--God wired us with a certain bent, and we are called to surrender to Him so that we can use our bent to build up His body (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). I had resolved to take a break from all my issues reading, however, because I have been growing weary. Retreat is sometimes necessary for renewal.

Then SCOTUS ruled on same-sex marriage, and my Facebook page lit up with rainbows and conservatives. I am so weary of the same Scriptures: the ones addressing homosexuality countered by Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge[insert exclamation mark, although the text has a comma]." I am constantly being told to "read my whole Bible," which I do. And frankly, right now, it is all that I want to read.

One of my favorite verses is Romans 12:1-2, which I memorized when I first became a Christian. Let me pause and say this: I chose to be a Christian. I don't believe we ever have a Christian nation. Our nation can enact laws that honor God, but we are not some blessed, chosen people as Americans, where as a group we safely position ourselves before the Almighty and everything is hunky-dory. I can hear some of you arguing--it will have to wait for another time.

I chose this path, which Jesus describes as narrow, which few find (Matthew 7:13-14). Christians will likely always be the minority in the culture in which we live. The Christian life is not easy, which is why we gather with other believers to be encouraged: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies will be the members of his own household'" (Matthew 10:34-36...another verse you don't hear quoted very often).

So I have been meditating on Romans 12:1-2. I am hungry for spiritual renewal, and this passage is foundational:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Paul is speaking to believers (not the world, not all Americans, but me, and those like me who have chosen to be disciples of Jesus). Because we have received God's mercy, paid for on the cross, where Christ physically suffered, we should give Him our bodies, even if it's physically uncomfortable. The second verse says that we should renew our minds.

Do you want to know God's will? Start with your body and your mind.

My body has been abused lately, in two specific ways: I drink too much coffee, and I have pushed myself beyond any slim imagining of rest. I have taken on too much work. I have never been good at resting, but this last semester, it is as if God let me pursue my own natural bent, and wow, am I messed up. I desperately need to learn about Sabbath, which is addressed in the Law, the Prophets, and the New Testament. The Christian life does not always look pleasant to outsiders because it involves discipline. It doesn't always look pleasant to the Christian--because it involves discipline. Ugh.

I need the discipline of drinking more water, instead of having coffee in the afternoon.

I need to rest, and I really have no idea what that looks like. Jeremiah 6:16 says, "This is what the Lord says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’" Ouch. Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline is my starting point for finding "the ancient paths" of my faith. Perhaps I will read the chapter on Solitude...but I seem to have given away my copy.

And the first step I need to take in renewing my mind is to not dislike the discipline so much. I want to draw closer to God; this is how to do it. Stop griping! Be glad that there is a way, a visible path, and start walking. Anyone who has dieted or started an exercise routine knows the first hurdle is the resolve to begin. That's me, resolving to change my thinking, to rejoice in God's way, to not give in to my own whiney-ness.

So this post is entirely for me. Those on my Facebook who are yelling at Christians to read our own Bible, the whole thing--well, here I am. This is what it looks like. And while I do not expect the world to see or understand me, I am grateful for those believers who are walking this same path. Thank you, brothers and sisters, for your encouragement and fellowship.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Game Over and the pillow fort

I am not one of those Christians who pours over Revelation and has a map on the wall about the end times. I have indeed studied Revelation, and I have opinions, but it is not one of my hobbies.

That said, I can't wait for Game Over. I have a greater sense of purpose than ever before in my life, and I am convinced that God has work for me still to do, but my heart is with Paul when he says, "I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary [for one or two people] that I remain in the body" (Philippians 1:23-24).

Getting to see Jesus means that I can stop striving in half-darkness. 1 Corinthians 13 says that someday I will know as I am known, fully, face to face, not a dim glimpse in a foggy mirror. And I know that I will have failed him, come up short, but his love for me is compelling. I am not afraid to be found wanting--of course I will. That's why I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ; my own clothes are tattered.

I am like a child trying to keep a pillow fort together. When Jesus comes, I get to drop all of my blocks and attempts and run to him: "I am so glad you're here! I think I've really messed things up."

And he will set all things right: my heart, my thinking, the world, his church.

So, Lord, I'm going to get up again today, and I am going to try. And I will talk about you and seek your face and walk in your Spirit. But I am genuinely grateful that all of this is almost over. Come soon.

(The picture of the pillow fort I copied from Steve Ezra's blog. I didn't ask him; he's a Christian, so I hope he forgives me. This is me, bungling through life again. I also grabbed the sky photo from someone--I don't even have a credit for that one. Please come, Jesus. I am such a wreck.)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

My messy house

My house is a disaster. I would take a photo, but it couldn't capture the level of disorganization. Not only are there dust bunnies in the hallway and crusty stuff under my contact lens case, but things are simply out of place. Groceries not unpacked; school papers and books and assignments scattered over multiple surfaces; daily tasks shoved into corners and mounding with a layer of quiet panic. And of course, my daughter's shoes have been multiplying like rabbits near the garage door.
This photo isn't mine-but you get the idea.

I do not always live in such chaos, but if you have any window into my life this last semester, you know it was insane. My house is simply evidence of a life lived too fast, too full. I don't regret it--although now, I must recover from it.

As I was straightening the bed this morning, I thought about how housework gives me time for meditation. Restoring and refreshing this environment allows my soul to ponder and rest to the steady lapping of my hands.

Ironically, I don't think I would want to live in a clean house all the time.

I love the concept, and I may repent of actually writing that down, but messiness is appealing to me. I get the pleasure of cleanliness. For a few hours after we've had company over, I delight in being able to see the kitchen countertops, the vacuum track marks in the carpet, the smell of furniture polish.

But if I lived in a clean house, I would be most comfortable with...comfort. I would be comfortable with you when you are cleaned up and presentable, with a whiff of polish about you. And honestly, I like being part of the messiness of people. I like the examine the crusty layer that piles up under this belief, the pain shoved off in a corner, the cares that multiply like shoes from a shopping addict. If you clean up before you come see me, you are honestly not very interesting.

It is still my goal to clean the stupid house. But it won't stay that way, because I want to be comfortable when God sends me into messiness. And if you want to come over while I clean the dishes, I will make us coffee.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

One big blessing

Often, I will think about Scripture, getting some notion in my head of what it says--and unless I have memorized it, sometimes my "gist" is simply wrong. Recently, I've been studying the beatitudes. In the back burner of my brain, I had begun to think of them as Jesus' words to the downtrodden. Of course, this sermon begins, "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." and it probably goes on to hold up the underdog. Right?

I also thought that Jesus was speaking to different groups of "poor" people. Going back to the Word itself is always a correction for me. Listen to whom Jesus is blessing: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek (always a bad rap, the meek), those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.

This doesn't really sound like a social justice list. In fact, it almost sounds like Jesus is talking to...His followers. You and me. And when he says "bless you," just like a good parent, he is telling us something about how we should be.

"Poor in spirit" means not puffed up, not having it all together. It's comforting to me that I can come to Jesus in my spiritual mess, and he's okay with that.

"Those who mourn." In recent years, I have found myself grieving: sad with the sin in our poor, broken world, sad with the posturing and missteps of the people I identify with (the church). This Christ-following thing is hard, and it sometimes makes me feel out of step with everyone: church culture, American culture, all of it. Grief has elements of denial, anger, sadness, and bargaining. I think I do all of that.

"The meek." Sometimes, because I follow Jesus, who describes himself as Truth, I can get pretty puffed up. Jesus says, "Hey, dear child, you are blessed when you are meek." Sigh. What, again, is meekness?

"Hunger and thirst after righteousness." As someone who loves to study, this blessing has always appealed to me. But as I get older, I am challenged more and more on what it means to love people, what it means to reconcile people to God as an ambassador, what it means to be in the world but not of it. Many things in me have to die in order to be right before God. I do want that, and it is comforting that my Lord says I will be filled.

"The merciful." How many stories does Jesus tell about forgiveness? I have been forgiven much; I know this. May my face always be full of mercy to anyone who sees me in their journey towards God. He shows me mercy; I get to be merciful.

"The pure in heart." This one is hard for me. When I think of the beatitudes as speaking to separate groups, I can imagine the Pure In Heart sitting off to the side, with little harps and white robes. I know I don't qualify. My soul is steeped in sarcasm and intelligent wit, sometimes a little too worldly. But if these words of Christ are a blessing for all of his children, then I am called to purity. Now I'm circling back to poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hunger and thirst...

"The peacemakers." Paul says we are ambassadors for the gospel; we are called to help others make peace with God. Lest we get in our own little cocoon and think all this righteousness is for ourselves, remember: there is a world of hurting people who need to know the love of God. Jesus reminds me I am blessed as a peacemaker--he is sending me out.

"The persecuted." As he sends me out, it's not always going to go very well. Who says to their followers, hey, this thing won't always be successful, but cheer up, you come from a long line of hated people. Even more ironic: I find these words very comforting. And it reminds me to respond to a hostile world with meekness, poverty of spirit, mercy...see the loop?

Jesus looks straight at me in this sermon. He tells me that there is a reward. There is comfort. There is a payoff. There is mercy. I will see him. I will be called his child. I am not alone.

To see the Beatitudes of Jesus, read Matthew 5:1-12.