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Run, Dog, Run!

Posted on October 27, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20




I’ve written on Stephan Pastis’ work before; Pearls before Swine is my favorite comic strip, and I read it daily. Pastis typically displays what we might call “great acumen about human nature.” And he’s done it again here in the above (and below) strips.


It’s naïve Pig’s response that caught my eye. When asked why he’s excited, Chained-up Dog replies with tremendous enthusiasm, “New Chain!!” Pig’s right, being excited about a new chain is quite optimistic. In fact, it’s nothing to be excited about, because it’s not good news—the dog is still chained up. But, truth be told, don’t we all get excited about the new thing/behavior/rule/diet/routine that will be the key to real success, to us finally achieving control over our lives. It’s in our fallen nature to be oriented as such. I’ve seen this in my own life, and I’m sure you’ve seen it in your own. I’ve seen it in my tendency to be attracted to the newest diet craze (where are we now, gluten?) to my fruitless efforts to watch just one show at night (wait…how is it 12am?). I desperately try to control broken behavior with behavioral changes, and that is just switching out an old law for a new one; that’s not freedom and it’s certainly nothing to be excited about.


The good news is that the Gospel is not a new chain, a new law. It is a word of freedom, silencing the law and its tyranny in my life, in our lives.


But all too often the Gospel is presented as law. One too many of us have heard some form of the idea--either explicitly, but more often implicitly--that it is not simple faith in Christ that justifies but faith and works. When the ‘and’ creeps in, then the Gospel, rather than being a word of life and freedom, becomes a new Law. And Jesus becomes a new Moses. And no amount of optimism (or marketing) can change the fact that we are now not free but have been given a new chain.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAtiaVA3PaQ&w=600


The problem with turning Gospel into a new Law is this: the Law doesn’t love me, won’t lay down its life for you, and can’t pity and have mercy on miserable sinners like us. Also this: the Gospel rather than being the word that sets us free and grants us new life becomes a demand that we won’t fill and that will bring death. And worse: the work of the Cross is nullified; Jesus’ sacrifice was in vain.


But the Gospel is not a new Law nor is Christ a new Moses. The good news is that by faith in Christ we are justified apart from works; the good news is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification—all of it apart from any of our works and always in spite of them. Martin Luther in his Lectures on Galatians writes,


‘...Now I have Another, who has freed me from the terrors of the Law, from sin, and from death, and who has transferred me into freedom, the righteousness of God, and eternal life. He is called the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’


And this,


As I have said, faith grasps and embraces Christ, the son of God, who was given for us…When He has been grasped by faith, we have righteousness and life. For Christ is the Son of God, who gave Himself out of sheer love to redeem me…. Therefore Christ is not Moses, not a taskmaster or a lawgiver; He is the Dispenser of grace, the Savior, and the Pitier. In other words, he is nothing but sheer infinite mercy, which gives and is given…


It’s important to maintain this definition of Christ because otherwise, to use Luther’s words, we turn Christ into a taskmaster and tyrant. The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world becomes the rigid judge standing over us in judgment dolling out death sentences.




When Christ is turned into a taskmaster and tyrant, people are wounded, become skeptical, and flee the one place that should have been a word of life because it has become a word of death. Pastis is right, the new chain does nothing but make us desperate. And, desperate for life and freedom, we will run and run (hungry and thirsty) seeking to fill that void with just about anything.


Therefore, we hold on to this definition of Christ: He is the one who "loved you and gave himself for you.” (Period.) There is positively and absolutely no "and" attached neither to that fact nor to the fact that this is all ours by faith alone. We might even find ourselves inspired to proclaim to the desperate, burdened, shamed, guilty, wounded, and the skeptic (i.e. ourselves and our fellow human beings) who Jesus Christ is and what he has done on our behalf.


For Christ is the joy and sweetness of a trembling and troubled heart. We have this on the authority of Paul, who adorns Him with the sweetest of titles here, calling Him the One ‘who loved me and gave himself for me.’ Therefore Christ is the Lover of those who are in anguish, sin, and death, and the kind of Lover who gives Himself for us and becomes our High Priest, that is, the One who interposes Himself as the Mediator between God and us miserable sinners. -- Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians.



Originally published at www.mbird.com: http://www.mbird.com/2013/01/run-dog-run/

Beggar to Beggar

Posted on August 11, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

It was one of those driving mistakes where you find yourself on the wrong road, headed in the wrong direction, adding an additional 20 minutes to your drive. I was already running late to pick up my boys from Nana. I didn’t need this. I made the necessary exits and turns to get back to the right road. As I pulled up to the intersection leading me back to the right road, the light turned red. He caught my eye standing on the corner with his sign, “Homeless, Need work, Happy New Year.” I reached into my purse and pulled out some money and rolled down my window; he came near. I said to him, “I don’t have work to give you, but I do have this,” and handed him the money. He looked at me and said, “Thank you, you are kind.”


Those words hit me hard. I looked at my steering wheel briefly and then back at him. “No,” I said, “I’m not kind. I’m just a fellow broken human being.” He looked down at the ground and then back at me, “Wow,” a pause, then, “Thank you.” “God bless you,” I said and rolled up my window. The light turned green and I drove off.


My husband teases me that I can’t let things be, that I can’t stop myself from correcting incorrect statements. This often leads me into muck and mire—often better if I had just let the statement stand and walked on. I could have just said “Thank you, God Bless” to the man’s “You are kind,” rolled up my window and waited for the light to turn green.


But, the fact is, I’m not kind. I’m selfish and self-centered—I initially resented the man for standing there and burdening me with his suffering. I’m not innately kind; this act of charity, this act of kindness came from something unnatural, from something given to me. The kindness from me came from God’s kindness towards me. I gave because God has given. My gift (of a few bucks) flowed from the new eyes and the new heart that God has given me through the proclamation of the gospel: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).


God’s word is a leveling force—it equalizes the rich and poor, the strong and weak, the capable and incapable, those with a home and those without. Through his law, God destroys the illusion that any of us are better off than our neighbor; through his gospel, God brings to life a new heart beating with compassion and gives a new way of seeing our neighbor: as ourselves.


What I saw standing on the corner wasn’t just a poor, homeless person. I saw a fellow human being, loved by God, one for whom (like me) Jesus was born, died, and raised. I saw my neighbor, my brother. God has given Jesus to me; and so I gave: beggar to beggar, beloved to beloved.



Originally posted at liberatenet.org.

The Guilt Hangover

Posted on August 4, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

A friend of mine a while back made the following Twitter-confession:


Sometimes it's really hard to accept being loved. Sometimes, my husband makes me get out of bed, and then cleans the kitchen and makes me coffee while I'm in the shower. And I still have to tell myself "he's not mad at me for oversleeping; he doesn't think I'm lazy; he's not impatient with me to finish here." He's never like that. Ever. He's consistently tender. [why is my head so messed up?] I call this "guilt hangover" and it's just stupid. God isn't mad at me. My husband isn't mad at me. So why am I afraid?


This situation isn’t unique to my friend, it is something that we all suffer from. I can name countless interactions with my husband and dear friends that, when boiled down, are me asking, “Really? Do you really, really, really love me?” while simultaneously making the statement, “I just don’t believe you…”


The phenomena of hearing judgment when someone intends love, is actually very common. My friend, in the midst of being one-way-loved (legitimately, in my opinion) is still convinced her husband is mad at her. Even when historically his actions toward her have been consistently loving (her words), she still just can’t believe it’s real, just can’t hear the I truly and really do love you for not other reason than I just do.


Why?


Because there are great depths of shame that reside in our hearts and we know just how abject and miserable we often are and can’t believe that the other person could actually love us; in fact, most of us have stories about people who have walked away when we’ve been at our worst. Each of us can probably recall the look of horror on someone’s face when we've shared that deep, dark secret. We can doubt love, because, in reality, others’ actions toward us have given us proof that it’s doubt-worthy. Even when we’ve been truly vulnerable, a similar response from the other is not always elicited. Of course, sometimes there is mutual vulnerability, and those special (rare) moments make all the difference. Unfortunately, sometimes those moments are more like emotional-one-night-stands. In truth, being vulnerable for me is, if I’m honest (vulnerable!), a shameful thing to do: because I’m opening my self up to rejection, and I’ve been rejected before.


What I need is not only mutual vulnerability, but (conjointly) immovability. Where the rubber meets the road is at the point of will you leave…even now? Will you reject me like the others? Will you stay with me here, in this mess that I am, and if it gets worse?


But Jesus looked at them and said 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' Matthew 19:26


Humans are a fickle bunch, but the good news is that God’s isn’t fickle. And we/I need to constantly hear, over and over and over again, just how un-fickle he is. Martin Luther writes in him commentary on Galatians, that we are so prone to disbelieve the activity of God toward us in Christ, in the Cross, that we need to be perpetually told that God truly, and unconditionally loves us--that we are truly justified by faith apart from works.


For if we lose the doctrine of justification, we lose simply everything. Hence the most necessary and important thing is that we teach and repeat this doctrine daily, as Moses says about his Law (Deut. 6:7). For it cannot be grasped or held enough or too much. In fact, though we may urge and inculcate it vigorously, no one grasps it perfectly or believes it with all his heart. So frail is our flesh and so disobedient to the spirit (emphasis, mine).


We are wounded and doubting creatures and need to be told things repeatedly: This God, this very God, the creator of heaven and Earth, loves you so much. But not only that, but also this: He will never leave you, nor forsake you no matter how dirty your past and how wounded or skeptical you are of Him. Thus the importance of the preacher proclaiming this very message every Sunday; to do otherwise is to starve the congregation, the hearers (both old and new) of this word of life. Even our own testimonies are important for demonstrating God’s activity in our life, less in terms of how impressive we’ve become since the initial encounter with Christ, and more in terms of the evidence of how far God will go to rescue just one, how willing He is move into the darkness of our heart and life. And, in this confession, see how far he’s gone for me, we are not only caused to be truly vulnerable with others but also immovable, there is nothing you can tell me that will make me leave you; I will sit with you here, in the depths.


It takes time to actual comprehend this truth from God and from those who do truly love us; the only solution I've found is to keep listening to the good, good Story about God’s unconditional, one-way love for us in Christ.



Originally posted at www.mbird.com: http://www.mbird.com/?p=23919

The Battered Heart of Sanctification

Posted on July 14, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)


John Donne’s poetry and sermons speak to the deepest part of the distraught sole. His own struggles and passion take on life and, especially, take on life within the reader. Through his poems, the reader, “meet[s] a turbulent soul, grieving over his sins, questions his faith, pondering his mortality, wrestling with God, striving for humility--and in the end soaring with thankfulness and praise”. While some scholars argue that Donne merely shifted his youthful desire for women to a mature desire for God, others have argued that Donne’s poetry is incarnational. Donne’s relationship with God was heart-centered rather than mind-centered. Every word, aptly and specifically chosen, inspires his audience. Donne’s charisma and passion are contagious; one is changed by the seed of Love planted deep within the heart.


Donne, historically considered one of the Caroline Divines, stands out amongst his peers: he is a man who is broken, conscious of the power of sin (even in the life after conversion), and completely aware of his need for the cross. Thus, Donne’s main goal is to proclaim the Cross and so affect his listeners and readers from the inside out. Donne, fervently, passionately, and eloquently points to the Cross and proclaims what Jesus Christ has done. Donne’s approach to ‘holiness’ (or ‘sanctification’) is not through an outright addressing of actions, but, rather, through the proclamation of Christ crucified, while relying on the Holy Spirit to work within the heart of the believer. Through his poems and his sermons, there is a very prominent thread: the broken man who draws nearer and nearer to the Cross and grows in his awareness of his need for the Cross. For Donne, it seems, this is sanctification.


Let us look at “Holy Sonnet No. 14”:


Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new

I, like an usurpt town to’another due,

Labor to’admit you , but oh, to no end,

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly’I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betrothed unto your enemy:

Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I

Except you’enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.



Photo by Josiah Miller


“Batter my heart, three-personed God” An exceptional line invoking an image of a desperate person aware of the sickness in their heart. “Hardness of heart” is one of the chief reasons (along with Pride) for disobedience (as frequently referenced in the Old Testament).


The image of the fleshy heart, the soft heart, the “battered” heart, would bring to mind fertile soil fit for the Love of God to take root and to grow, where the New Covenant would place its seal (ref. “circumcision of the heart” Deut. 30: 6, and Rom. 2:29). Our hearts are hardened and they need to be ‘battered’ and softened. Donne continues by confessing a bound reason (“is captive d, and proves weak or untrue”) and will (“betrothed unto your enemy”) and begs, pleads not for freedom but for a different imprisonment (imagine Luther’s image of the “Two Riders”) by Christ (“take me to you, imprison me,”). Donne closes with physically passionate words: “for I/Except you’enthrall me, never shall be free,/Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me”. Donne’s language would seem more appropriate between two lovers (reminiscent of Song of Songs); however, Donne’s understanding of the power of the Cross and the Love of God is akin to the power and love between two lovers. Jesus enthralls and ravishes us. Donne desires to be made into a real and true lover of Jesus by Jesus loving him; as he draws nearer to the Cross he is more aware of his need, his desperate need for Jesus.


Looking at “A Hymn to God the Father” we can see another example of Donne’s understanding of sanctification:


Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,

Which is my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt thou forgive those sins through which I run,

And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When thou has done, thou has not done,

For I have more.


Wilt thou forgive that sin by which I’ve won.

Others to sin? And made my sin their door?

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun

A year or two, but wallowed in a score?

When thou has done thou has not done,

For I have more.


I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun

My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

But swear buy thy self, that at my death thy Sun

Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;

And having done that, Thou has done,

I have no more.



Photo by Josiah Miller


Donne describes not only a beautiful understanding of forgiveness, but the helplessness of the human will and ability to get it right, to move beyond any sin. Sanctification is not something "we do" but something that happens to us. Donne paints a clear picture in this poem: he is riddled with sin and is so till his dying day; his only hope lies in the faithfulness of God’s promises in and through the Cross. In this hope is sanctification.


Donne’s words tug at your broken heart, make you aware of your parched soul, and cause you to feel the weariness in your bones; simultaneously, he breathes life back into your lungs, brings you to the base of the cross, and, lifting your head up he points and passionately urges, “Look. Have faith, have hope, have life. He’s won.”



Originally posted at mbird.com: http://www.mbird.com/2011/05/the-battered-heart-of-sanctification-the-poetry-of-john-donne/

Of Bears, Ducks, and Unconditional Love

Posted on June 30, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

One of my favorite things about being a parent is that I get to read a myriad of different books to my children. But one of their books I love to read in particular. It’s an excellent children’s book that is not only short, but packs a good gospel punch: Suzanne Bloom’s book, A Splendid Friend, Indeed. When I first read it to my oldest son, years ago, I couldn’t help but try to choke back the tears at the end. The story is not merely ‘touching’, but gets at a gospel truth: unconditional love, no matter what our actions are towards the lover.


The story goes something like this (yes, spoiler alert):


There are two characters: a polar bear (Bear) and a white duck (Duck). The book opens with Bear deep in a book and Duck, having climbed on to Bear’s head, puts his head right in Bear’s face (eye to eye but upside down),


“What are you doing? Are you reading?” asks Duck. Sitting between Bear and his book, he says, “I like to read.” Bear is exasperated and turns away from Duck as Duck takes over the book and asks Bear if he wants to hear him read.


Bear finds something new to do; this time, Bear is writing. Duck approaches and repeats the same series of questions causing the same amount of exasperation in Bear. Bear can barely tolerate Duck and furrows his brow, the unstated frustration obvious; Bear wishes for this little Duck to leave him alone…what a nuisance, just get lost and leave me alone!


There’s one more exchange between Duck and Bear with Duck doing all the jibber jabbering, which ends with Duck announcing that he’s gonna go make a snack. Bear, obviously greatly relieved by Duck’s absence, returns to his to writing notebook.


But Duck comes back…with his snack…and a note; a note which he announces to Bear that he will read aloud. Bear has now buried his head in his notebook in utter exasperation and irritation…just go away Duck, you bothersome nuisance. But Duck, undeterred by Bears frustration pursues him and reads his note:


“I like you. Indeed I do. You are my splendid friend.”


Bear’s response? Frankly, it’s initially shock and, consequently, reciprocal love.


“Thank you. I like you, too. Indeed, I do. You are my splendid friend. My splendid friend, indeed.”


The back of the book has a review that says, “Adorable tale of friendship and patience.” Frankly, the story has very little to do with patience. Duck loves--in a tangibly unconditional way--Bear. Bear has given him every reason to leave. But Duck doesn’t, not because he’s determined to turn Bear, but because he can do nothing else but just love Bear. I get choked up not with Bear’s response, but with Duck’s proclamation: I love you, Bear, for no other reason than I just do.


This is the type of love we all desire: the kind that is undaunted when we are at our ugliest and meanest and most alienating. In so many of our relationships we intentionally or unintentionally push that boundary: Do you love me? Even now? Husbands and wives, sons and mothers, daughters and fathers, and friends, we push this boundary, always hoping to hear, “Yes, I do still love you.” Sometimes, unfortunately but realistically, our relationships don’t stand that test. Indeed, we all know how exhausting such tests can be, for both parties. But with Christ it is not so. He can handle and withstand our child-like boundary pushing: do you still love me, even now? Even more than that, He, like Duck with great joy and love, radically and relentlessly pursues us to the depths with the greatest love note ever written:


I love you so much; I will never leave or forsake you and I will lay down my life for you, even now.



Originally posted at www.mbird.com: http://www.mbird.com/2012/06/of-bears-and-ducks-and-unconditional-love/

How Good It Feels! "Black Beauty" and the Beauty of Yes

Posted on June 9, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

A while back, I was reading Black Beauty to my boys at nap-time. While it was a favorite of mine growing up, I was struck (read: shocked) by the repeated emphasis on right action and the dichotomy between good humans and bad humans - which seems solely to be based on action. I questioned how I even loved this story as a child; why in the world did I shed so many tears every time I read it? The story seems so full of judgment.


But then it dawned on me. I'm not afraid to admit that I began to see it at the beginning of the third part, chapter 32 (yes, 32 chapters in, I finally figured it out). I figured it out when I started tearing up and my voice cracked. I didn't relate to the people in the book; I related to the horses, to Black Beauty. His story was becoming my story because it's a story about judgment and love, of "No" and "Yes".


Black Beauty was raised, initially, by the loving hands of his groomsman, John Manly, and cherished and adored by his rider. He was sold, successively, to riders and groomsman that seemed to grow more dimwitted, negligent, and downright abusive with each passing of the reigns. And at the end of this series of bad riders and groomsmen, Beauty stands at a horse-fair waiting to be sold once again.


Long strings of young horses out of the country, fresh from the marshes; and droves of shaggy little Welsh ponies, no higher than Merrylegs; and hundreds of cart horses of all sorts, some of them with the long tails braided up and tied with scarlet cord; and a good many like myself, handsome and high-bred, but fallen into the middle class through some accident or blemish, unsoundness of wind, or some other complaint...


...I was put with two or three other strong, useful-looking horses, and a good many people came to look at us. The gentlemen always turned from me when they saw my broken knees, though the man who had me swore it was only a slip in the stall.


To be measured and found wanting, to be eyed-up and declared unfit, many of us have experienced this at some point in our lives. I'm not strictly speaking of our failure to do God's law (though, that is a big one); I'm also speaking of the judgment from the world, from others, from ourselves. We feel passed up because we've grown too old and too weak and seemingly useless; we feel turned away from because we've been wounded and scarred and bear those seemingly disfiguring marks. There's more than that. We've been told we are unforgivable, unacceptable, unlovable, we've been told, "No," by the simple gesture of someone turning their back to us.


Yet, we long for one not to turn their back, one to see through the exterior and the scars, we long to hear: yes, this one.


There was one man that made me think that if he would buy me I should be happy. He was not a gentleman, nor yet one of the loud, flashy sort that called themselves so. He was rather a small man, but well made, and quick in all his motions. I knew in a moment by the way he handled me, that he was used to horse. He spoke gently, and his gray eye had a kindly, cheery look in it. ...He offered twenty-three pounds for me, but that was refused, and he walked away, and a very hard-looking, loud-voiced man came, I was dreadfully afraid he would have me, but he walked off.


One or two more came who did not mean business. Then the hard-faced man came back again and offered twenty-three pounds...but just then the gray eyed man came back gain. I could not help reaching out my head toward him. he stroked my face kindly.


'Well, old chap,' he said, 'I think we should suit each other...Twenty-four ten,' said my friend, in a very decided tone, 'and not another sixpence--yes or no?' 'Done,' said the salesman...


The gas lamps were already lighted; there were streets to the right, and streets to the left, and streets crossing each other, for mile upon mile. I thought we should never come to the end of them. At last we came to a long cab stand, when my rider called out in a cheery voice, 'Good night, Governor!' 'Halloo!' cried a voice. 'Have you got a good one?' 'I think so,' replied the owner...


My owner pulled up at one of the houses and whistled. The door flew open and a young woman, followed by a little girl and boy, ran out. There was very lively greeting as my rider dismounted. The next minute they were al standing around me in a small stable yard. 'Is he gentle, Father?' 'Yes, Dolly, as gentle as your own kitten; come and pat him.' At once the little hand was patting about over my shoulder without fear.


How good it felt! How good it feels to be loved in spite of our shortcomings, failures, weaknesses, and faults. It pierces deeply to the marrow of our being when someone says "Yes!" to us when we've heard countless 'no-s'--from others even from ourselves; and this is the power of the Gospel message: God's unconditional "Yes!" to us with no merit of our own to bring to the table. We stand like horses at a horse-fair enduring judgment, waiting for the final 'no' to be pronounced, waiting to be sold to the hard-faced man. Yet, it doesn't happen. Instead, the gentle, kind, loving One comes back and we strain our heads toward Him. We come face to face with the One who has loved us first.


How good it is!



Originally posted at www.mbird.com: http://www.mbird.com/2011/10/how-good-it-feels-black-beauty-and-the-beauty-of-yes/

When Disbelief Yields

Posted on March 17, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

This song isn’t a hard one to figure out. When it’s your heart that is broken, when you are the one who receives the loss, you bear the bulk of the burden of sorrow. While the other persons seems to be just fine, you are in pieces, ‘still alive…but…barely breathing’. In this sorrow, in this ‘barely breathing’ you are pushed to desperation; the pain and heartache is too much…you will do anything because you are desperate: you may just pray to a god you have never believed in.


“I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing

Just prayed to a god that I don’t believe in

Coz I got time while she got freedom

Coz when a heart breaks no it don’t break even”


And this is why I love this song: because it perfectly captures that very desperate spot we are all in apart from Christ and His Cross. We come broken, weary, worn-out, starving, thirsty…desperate to His Cross. Our hands are empty and are hearts are broken, we offer nothing but our pain and failures. We are barely alive and barely breathing. We come not of our own volition, but because we have no where else to go, no where else to turn. We are pushed to the very edge of ourselves. On that edge, in that moment, the only thing we can do is pray. On that edge, in that moment disbelief yields to something much more substantial: hope.



Previously published at http://www.mbird.com/2010/10/when-disbelief-yields/

He Loves Me, You Love Me Not

Posted on March 3, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Obvious fact: some people don’t like me.


Odd fact: I’m fine with that. Let me tell you why.


I am justified by faith apart from works.


How does the event of justification shine light here, in these dark places of approval and disapproval? How does the real, actual event of being justified have any word of comfort to speak to me here, in my relationships, in how I view myself and am viewed by others?


First, we have been restored to God through Christ by the power of the Spirit. The old children’s limerick, Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so, is not just a “little diddy;” it’s a deep truth. That Jesus loves us is exactly what the gospel message declares to us—a love for us while we were loveless. Paul writes,


“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8)


It’s being encountered by this radical love, this mind-blowing love, this one-way love that is the quintessential element in being okay with yourself when others are not. When we are encountered by this love, by the gospel, two things happen: 1. We’re free to see ourselves for who we really are, to hear the diagnosis of God’s law: transgressor, broken, dead. 2. We are given new life, true life: beloved child of God.


This leads me to the second point: in light of being encountered by the law and the gospel and dying and being given new life, we have been given ourselves back. As Christians, we make a big deal about losing yourself. But is that the FULL story? Jesus says,


“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 10:39, cf 16:25; Mark 9:41; Luke 9:24, 17:33)


I want to put a lot of emphasis on both the losing and finding. The death we suffer resulting from the encounter with the law is the act of losing. But, it doesn’t stop there; we find something too: ourselves, our lives. We lose life to gain life (as a gift). In this losing and finding—in this dying and rising—pop psychology’s attempt to make everyone okay with themselves is finally made possible. “I’m okay, you’re okay is only true in light of the declaration of an encounter with the law (“I’m not fine and you’re not fine,” Welcome Wagon) and the gospel (“There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, Rom. 8:1).


And this brings me to my third point: God loved and loves me when I’m not okay, so you can think what you will of me because it does not define who I am.


Others’ opinions of us, no matter how accurate according to our brokenness, fall flat and voiceless. The “you’re disliked” from others is, to steal a phrase from the Apostle Paul, not worth comparing to the “You are my beloved, in you I am well pleased” that God shouts about me from heaven because of Jesus.


Originally published at liberatenet.org: http://liberate.org/2012/10/02/you-love-me-not-he-loves-me/

Come, Lord Jesus

Posted on December 23, 2013 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Thus says God, the LORD,

who created the heavens and stretched them out,

who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people on it

and spirit to those who walk in it:

“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;

I will take you by the hand and keep you;

I will give you as a covenant for the people,

a light for the nations,

to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

from the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:5-7)


Blind, prisoners, dungeons, sitting in darkness…Stay here where things are dire. Our guilty consciences, our bruised egos, our shame, our failure wants us to move on; "Let’s not talk about this… let’s get to the good news… quickly!" But, in this very last day of Advent, this is where we should be: face-to-face with the dire reality of our situation. Things are no longer “very good” (Gen 1:31) and not even a little good; they are—once again—completely “not good” (Gen 2:18). Because we prefer to dash the mirror to the floor rather than face ourselves as we are, because we would rather run to the furthest, outermost darkness rather than let the light expose the truth. We must be reminded of where we were, where we are without Christ. St. Paul reminds Titus, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves…passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” We were once blind, imprisoned, cloaked in darkness, helpless, hopeless, separated from God and each other, and, for all intents and purposes, dead. Apart from Him, our situation is just that bad, just that dire, just that “not good.” If it depends on us, the story ends here.


But the story doesn’t end here, because it is not up to us. Things are about to get very good.


…I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness…Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare (Isaiah 42:6c-9a)...


God will come for his people; He will descend into our reality, into our darkness, into our prisons and dungeons, even into death to rescue us. Why? Because He promised He would and because He loves us. Because His word never falls flat and His love never lies dormant.


For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).


Remembering where we were and are apart from Him, our hearts quicken with expectation and excitement as the incarnation, the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior, and the long awaited inauguration of the fulfillment of God’s promise rushes towards us. Our hallelujahs join with those of yesteryear and our eyes brim with tears of gratitude: morning is breaking.


Come, Lord Jesus.


Originally posted at mbird.com: http://www.mbird.com/2012/12/hopelessly-devoted-isaiah-chapter-forty-two-verses-one-through-eleven/

The Immoral Brother

Posted on November 11, 2013 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you’” (1 Cor. 5:9-13)


I read and am grateful that I’m not the object of Paul’s harsh words in 1 Corinthians 5. I am an observer, shaking my head, whispering, “Tsk, tsk, tsk” as Paul strongly exhorts the Corinthian Church to expel the immoral brother. His sin is a wretched one: he has taken his father’s wife as his lover. I, a faithfully married woman, am free from Paul’s accusations. I can sit back, relax, and observe; Paul is not talking about me.


And then, 5:11: “But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat” (emphasis mine).


Convicted. His words invade me, penetrating every part, weighing heavy on my conscience. I now see myself described and addressed. I am, in reality, an immoral person. My thoughts betray me, for they are wretched; my actions, evidence against me, for they are self-focused. Even my dreams remind me that I will not be judged innocent. I slander, I have idols, I am greedy, prideful, and prone to anger…


It is not the absence of immorality, but the presence of repentance, remorse, and regret that is the dividing line between me and the one who is to be expelled. I am not the brazen faced, seductive woman of Proverbs, lurking around the corner eager with alluring words (Prov. 7, 9). Rather, I am the woman caught in adultery, dragged before the Temple elders in shame, accused correctly of my sins, hoping beyond all hope that someone greater than I am will have mercy. Just when the stones should be thrown, they are not; they drop (John 8:1-11). Jesus intervenes, silences my correct accusers, and I lay weeping at His feet, grateful and filled with love for Him who saved me. Because I have been loved by this One, I am not judged immoral, worthy of death as I should be; rather, I am judged righteous, and receive, undeservedly, what I shouldn’t -- life.


Lord, turn our stony, proud, deceitful, betraying hearts into ones that love You; hearts that weep, in love and extreme gratitude, for what it is You have saved us from. Move passionately within us, stir us up, cause us to rejoice over and to love You with every part of our being.


Originally published at www.mbird.com: http://www.mbird.com/2010/08/immoral-brother/