Monday, June 13, 2011

Asking the Impossible

The room is full of weeping. The finality of death weighs heavily on those present. Expectation is ended, all hope is gone; Lazarus has passed away.

Enter Jesus.

At the sight of the Teacher, all their mourning is reactivated and their tears fall again, together. Jesus, with all the perspective of the Divine, enters into their grief with them. He doesn't offer them cold words of instruction or chide them for having little faith. He doesn't even try to cheer them up or comfort them with promises of the future. Instead, He weeps with them. "Take me to the tomb," he says.

Then, He asks-- He commands-- the impossible.

"Lazarus, come forth!"

John's account says that he came out of the tomb still bound in grave clothes. Jesus' next words were, "Unbind him and let him go."

I've been living in this story for the last few months. I've grieved. The pain of a specific brokenness in my life had been cleverly disguised behind a number of masks, in part from shame. "If I really grieved this before the Lord," I thought, "He'd tell me how ridiculous it is that I feel this way. I shouldn't be this hurt, I shouldn't be this upset." But Jesus gently disagreed with me and forced me to a place of honesty. When I got there, He met me in my grief and wept with me. He saved the lessons and the words of wisdom. He didn't try to cheer me up. He just said, "Tell me the whole story."

And then, Jesus commanded me to do the impossible. He told me to go back to that very place of hurt and brokenness and repay evil with love. He commanded me to give up the fight of self-protection and to live freely, vulnerably, and generously. He's been calling His people to this kind of thing for a while. "Seek the good of the city where you are in exile"; "Love your enemies"; "Forgive seventy times seven; "Pray for those who persecute you"; "Lend without expecting anything back." He commands all of us to extend our withered hand that He may heal it.

What I'm learning is, with the very command of Jesus comes the power to obey. That's why He could literally tell a dead man to get up and walk and see it done. He never calls us to do what He will not accomplish.

This week He is asking the impossible. "Walk into danger where you have no power to protect yourself. Relate to a culture you've never known. Meet their needs. Heal the sick. Give sight to the blind. Raise the dead."

With His command comes the power. By His Word are dead hearts raised to life.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Surprise in Genesis

This was not meant to be Myth Busters Pt. 2, but God used my little blog theme to teach me this morning (He's so nice to condescend). I'm reading Genesis right now and it's blowing my mind! Here's the myth: "God's people in the Bible were really good people. It's basically a collection of moral heroes that we are to emulate." At least I know I've often thought that.

Throughout the Old Testament, God is referred to as "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" as if those guys are like, the all-stars of humanity and everyone is wowed by their character. Well, I'm only through Genesis 27 but so far, Abraham and Isaac both lied about their wives in order to save their own skin, Abraham got his servant pregnant then cast her out of his home, Isaac favored his older son because he was a better hunter (I thought that only happened in South Carolina!), and Jacob's very name means Deceiver- he lied outright to his own father to steal the older brother's blessing.

Not exactly the all-stars I had made them out to be. In fact, as I'm reading, I can't help but be a bit disgusted by them. I'm finding that reading through God's Word seems to leave very little room for being impressed with man at all. The only option I truly have is to be impressed with God. God created everything and actually deserves and can demand right behavior (stop and think about this- we all demand "right" behavior from others. Just listen to all our talk about "human rights." We, who do wrong all the time, still feel entitled to good treatment. How much more does God actually deserve right behavior from His creatures?). Yet this God weds Himself to an unfaithful, ungrateful, undeserving people and transforms them with His goodness. This God loves them- and me- not because any of us have "impressed Him" (ha!) with our good deeds or pure hearts. God loves because of His pure heart, and in spite of our "good deeds"- which are filthy rags compared to Him! God's relationship with His people doesn't show that He picked the cream of the crop, but that instead, He picked the opposite- in order to show Himself as Redeemer.

If I've ever read the Bible thinking the central theme is, "be good," I was mistaken. What is actually at the center of this great story is God declaring of Himself, "I AM good."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Myth Busters, Part 1

This past year has felt a bit like a private episode of “Myth Busters” with God. He’s debunked a lot of my beliefs about who He is— what His character is like, and what it means that He is “good” in my life. Myth #1: the belief that life with God works like karma— I do good stuff, I get rewarded; I do bad stuff, I get punished.

We think like this. A good husband and father is diagnosed with terminal cancer and we say “why would God allow that? He’s a good father!” Or the mean girl from high school gets married— or lands the perfect job— and we say “why would God reward her? She’s a nasty person!” On the flip side, a friend is struggling with infertility and we say, “God is probably punishing her because she wasn’t sexually pure before marriage.” That same mean girl from high school gets an illness and we say “she’s finally getting what she deserves.”

So anyway, I was living both sides of this coin. I felt entitled (and often disappointed) when I did good, and I felt punishable (and often unworthy to come to God) when I did bad. I also looked for this kind of punishment/reward system in others’ lives, alternately resenting God for blessing others who’d hurt me or feeling “less worthy” when good things did come to them.

Enter Jesus. His perfect life shows me that there is absolutely no good I could do to come close to deserving anything from God. All my good deeds combined are like “filthy rags” before Him, and comparing myself with the perfection of Christ’s life makes that painfully clear! All I deserve— all I’m truly entitled to— is God’s wrath. And guess what? Jesus took that wrath on Himself. The cross means that all the wrath of God stored up for me was already poured out on Christ. There is therefore now no condemnation for me! There is no “getting what I deserve,” having mysterious punishments from God in the form of illness, infertility, poverty, or loneliness. Jesus said “It is finished” and He meant that for me, for the friend who wasn’t sexually pure before marriage, for the mean girl in high school, and for all who are in Christ.

This means I can stop hiding from God when I’ve failed, expecting rejection. He’s already dealt with the consequences of my every sin and all He has for me is acceptance. It means I can stop feeling like the black sheep in the family when good things come to a friend, and I can stop demanding God to “punish” those in the family of God who have behaved less than honorably. For all who are ransomed by the Cross, there is only grace.

“I beheld God’s love displayed, You suffered in my place;
You bore the wrath reserved for me, now all I know is grace!"

to be continued...