Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cooking in Bulk

This past week I made stuffing for ten people. I'll admit, I was pretty proud to be cooking in bulk. But I'll also admit that after preparing my one measly dish to garnish the Thanksgiving dinner table, I was wiped out! I thought, "I can't imagine cooking a whole meal for that many people."

Last week, I babysat for three little kids. I had to feed them and play with them until about 9 pm. Again, I was proud of my ability to keep everyone alive and unbloodied- but also surprised at how wiped out I was! I thought, "I can't imagine having three small children all the time!"

Both experiences made me doubt myself. They made me wonder if I'm really cut out to be a grown-up. Who was I kidding when I thought I could parent well? Who was I kidding when I thought I was the "big family" type? Then I remembered the first time I drove cross-country with my mom and how I was worn out after about 2 hours. At first, I wasn't capable of making a long trip by myself. But a year later, I was driving to and from New Jersey without any help! God prepared me slowly. He helped me stretch my driving muscles. He equipped me for what He had called me to do and He did it over time.

That's a nice thought. I don't need to pretend that I have the skills to constantly juggle swarms of little people and cook for them every day. But I can be confident that one day, I will! And I don't need to pretend that I'm equipped to live in another country or share my faith with people who intimidate me or help start a church- but I can be confident that one day, I will! I can be confident because my calling is not dependent on my current skills or abilities. My calling is up to God, and He'll equip me for it in time.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Half the Gospel, Pt 3: The Bigger Picture

The point I wanted to make in my last post is not that the rules are bad or that we should get rid of them, but that we should never think of them as a way to get right with God. We get right with God through trusting in Christ, by finding ourselves in Christ. Remember the requirement for entering God's presence? Psalm 24:4 says "Who can ascend to the hill of the Lord? Only he who has clean hands and a pure heart." Those who are in Christ can "approach the throne of grace with boldness" (Heb. 4:16) because in Christ, they also have clean hands and a pure heart. So when I read all those crazy requirements of the law, I can say- that's true of me because that's true of Jesus.

Christians call that justification by faith; I'm right before God because of my faith in Christ, not because of the "good" things I do. That was a game changer for me.
But what I'm learning about the gospel- about being in Christ- is it doesn't stop there. It doesn't stop with me being made right before God. It doesn't stop with me having a perfect "record" of obedience (Christ's) charged to my account. In fact, my "right standing" before God is only one aspect of a bigger reality- my union with Christ.

Here's what I mean. A lot of times the gospel is reduced to Jesus handing us a "ticket to Heaven" and we say, "this is the gospel! I'm justified through faith!" But that's simply an exchange of goods, not union with Christ. We can't
reduce the gospel to just getting off the hook, because in fact it's so much more. I have "right standing" before God because it's part of being united to Christ. He didn't just hand me a "get out of jail free" card- He made me one with Jesus! You might be thinking, "this is a lot of philosophical mumbo-jumbo and it doesn't have much to do with my life." I used to think that too- before I realized how this changes everything.

It changes how I see myself. I'm not just a forgiven sinner. I'm not still a dirty rotten murderer who simply had the charges lifted, nor am I playing "pretend" with God about being righteous. I am actually changed on the inside to be like Jesus. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17) The old, murderous me died with Christ on the cross. "We know that our old self was crucified with Christ" (Rom. 6:6) I've been given a new heart and a new mind- a new identity!- that is growing up to look like Jesus. "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put in you" (Ez. 36:26), "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5)

It makes sense of my calling to do good works. All throughout the New Testament, Christians are called to live holy lives- but the reason is never "so that"...it is always "because of". The command is always because of who we now are in Christ. "You were dead but now you're alive! Live like it!" (Romans 6) "Your old self died with Christ and now you have been raised with him! Live like it!" (Colossians 3) "You were once orphans, now you're God's own children! Live like it!" (Galatians 4).

Adoption is one of the most helpful metaphors for me, because I've struggled with my own issues being fatherless. Orphans are used to not being able to trust anyone. They're used to hoarding food and closing off their hearts. But when they're adopted, their parents long for them to learn to let go of their fears. They long for their little ones to realize, "you are mine now! I'm not going to let you go hungry and I'll never leave you. You are no longer an orphan, you are my precious child- and I want you to learn how to live like it." Or if you're a Disney nerd like me, think of Simba. He was called to fight and take a stand against Scar- but it was in light of what was already true of him. Mufasa said "remember who you are!" This is like our calling to live like Jesus. We have been made one with him, and we need to learn how to live like it.

It changes how I see my future. Matt. 24:13 says, "he who endures to the end will be saved."
That verse used to make me really nervous! I used to wonder, will I endure to the end? What does that even mean? I thought I'm saved by faith, not works! Well, if my salvation means that I've been made one with Jesus, I will endure to the end. If it's who I am now, I can't help but continue to be that. Romans 8 says that we're predestined to "be conformed to the image of" Jesus. I don't need to fear whether or not I'll "make it" in the end because I know that if I'm in Christ, I will become like him. Phil. 1:6 says, "I'm confident that He who began a good work in you will complete it." It's as simple as that! God made me one with Christ. It's who I am now. Even if I only show glimpses of a Christ-like character right now, even if it's still mixed in with a lot of the "old me", I know my trajectory. A baby swan doesn't look very much like a swan at all. But he can't help but to grow up to be what he actually is- a swan.

Jesus Christ lived perfectly before God. Why? Not because he felt obligated to keep all the rules! He did it because it was in harmony with his nature to love God and live in relationship with Him. In the same way, my being in Christ means that God changed me on the inside to want to obey God. This means that no matter how inconvenient it is, I'll always end up uncomfortable with sin. No matter how much I still love my little idols, I'll always end up wanting God more. It's my nature now!

This is drastically different from an attempt to "be good" in order to make God happy with you. Instead, it's "being good" because you've actually been made good on the inside. If you belong to Christ by faith, you are righteous before God because you're actually united to Christ. You've actually been changed on the inside. You haven't just been forgiven- you've been radically, permanently changed. And you will show it. You will repent of sin because it loses its appeal compared to the beauty you now see in God. You will bear the fruit of righteousness because you're growing up to look like your Father. It's who you are. You were saved- united to Christ- not just to get into Heaven or receive a "get out of jail free" card, but to become a "partaker of the divine nature" and actually live the life of Christ through His union with you.

And one day, you won't even need the "rules" to remind you how to live.


"I have been crucified with Christ; therefore it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives through me" (Gal. 2:20) "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Eph 1:10) "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." (Eph. 5:8) "See that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." (Col. 3:9-10)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Half the Gospel, Pt. 2: Redeeming Rules

So, part two of this gospel saga starts with some mad props. In the last few years, some older, wiser Christians have really helped some stuff make sense for me. They've worked hard to remind me that salvation is not something we earn; we don't "become righteous" before God on the basis of our good deeds, we become righteous before God on the basis of Christ's good deeds! Maybe you're a non-Christian reader and that surprises you. Maybe you thought Christians teach that "good" people go to heaven and "bad" people go to hell. Maybe that ticks you off because a lot of the Christians you know don't seem much more "good" than anyone else! Or maybe you're a Christian reader and you think "yea yea yea I know all that." But maybe what you think you believe isn't really what you live. I know that was true of me- I knew God accepts me based on Christ's work (not mine), yet I often felt unworthy to talk to God if I had been "bad" that week. Again, it took a lot of people reinforcing the truth for me to realize that in many areas of my life, I wasn't actually believing the truth. So whether you're a Christian or not, hopefully this can be relevant for you!

First, why aren't "good" people OK with God? The Bible refers to all our righteousness as "filthy rags" in the eyes of God. This doesn't mean God is a grumpy old stooge who simply refuses to appreciate our efforts; it means He can see how sin corrupts each and every desire we have,
even our desire do good! Someone living in a garbage dump might find a new shirt to wear while rummaging through the trash heaps. It may actually be a lot cleaner than what he's currently wearing! But that doesn't mean it's a clean shirt, it just means it's the cleanest thing he's ever known. That's how our good works are. We may think they're so good that God is impressed, but it's just b/c we're comparing them to what we know, not to the perfect, white-hot goodness of God.

The pharisees made this mistake. They compared their good rule-following to all the "bad people" around them. But when Jesus got there, he had no problem revealing their areas of blindness. He said, "you're like whitewashed tombs: clean on the outside but rotting within." He pointed out (to their fury) that they weren't actually following the rules at all, because the rules go to the level of the heart. Jesus said, "the law says do not murder. But I say whoever is angry with his brother is a murderer." They may not have been killing people, but their thoughts and feelings toward others weren't totally pure. According to the Standard of the Rules (that's Jesus!), even the best rule followers, the "good" people of the time were as bad as murderers. I'm no exception- just ask my husband!

The Bible also says that nobody can come into God's presence without "a pure heart and clean hands." I've already shown my disqualification there, despite the fact that many would consider me a "good" person.
You might be thinking, "Well who can live up to that standard? That's impossible!" My response is, that's exactly the point! The rules show us that we're sinners- they're a beautiful gift for His people (we'll get to this later!) but they were never intended for us to try and live up to them in order to earn a right place before God. So if I treat them that way, I've missed the whole point and have bought a big fat lie. When I read, "who can ascend to the hill of the Lord? Only he that has clean hands and a pure heart", the point is not for me to say, "OK- I need to work on having clean hands and a pure heart so that I can be close to God!" Instead, it should make me realize "that counts me out!"

The law is actually describing something impossible for us, because it's describing the character of a Person that we simply can't be. The law demands outer and inner perfection. The only Person who ever lived with a truly "pure heart and clean hands" is Jesus Christ. The fact that the rules demand perfection and reveal my inability to "live up to them" is actually good news, because it get me ready to say, "I can't do this! I need a Savior!" It helps me to realize that the only way I can approach God's presence is through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

That's what the Cross is all about. In his death, the Perfect One took my angry, murdering heart onto Himself and payed for it by dying in my place. In his resurrection, he beat death itself and therefore gets to offer me the truly Good life that is his. My sin and my punishment are still in the ground; all that's left is the perfect life of Christ, which he shares with me.

So then...why bother trying to live right? Why not just throw out the law if its only purpose is to show us we can't save ourselves?

To be continued...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Half the Gospel, Pt. 1: Redeeming Worship

Ok, I've been putting off this topic for a while, mainly because it won't be easy to write. But it has pretty much altered the emphasis of my life, so I think it deserves a post or two. Here it is: I realized that I'd been living with half the gospel for a long time.

In fact, I realized that a lot of the time, Christians preach half the gospel! So maybe you're a non-Christian reader and you've only heard half the gospel. Well, if that's the case, I'm really sorry. I'm sorry that we Christians don't always get the full story (I know I still don't!) but I'm thankful to God who does, and who is graciously making it known.

It goes something like this. God is our Maker and He designed us to be worshipers (enjoyers) of Him. We, however, ditched Him but not our worship, because worshiping is central to who we are (we can't not worship!) So instead of God, we chose to worship whatever else we could get our hands on. Older cultures worshiped things they could see like the sun and the rain. We enlightened Westerners laugh at such a notion and instead worship much more civilized things like money and sex and relationships. We turned what is good, and designed to bring us greater enjoyment of God (i.e. the sun, money, sex) into what is ultimate. We made idols and worshiped "false gods."

Again the issue is not whether we worship, but what we worship. So since we worshiped false gods, we got ourselves into a big sticky mess. Relationships became dysfunctional. We sought our identity in "measuring up" to others which made us jealous of each other. Pretty soon we were killing each other and invading each other's countries. We put our hope in things that would fail, like our sex drives and our twenty-four inch waists. Pretty soon fourth grade girls started calling themselves fat and developing eating disorders. We began to display evidence of the fact that something was wrong. Very wrong.

But, as the Story goes, God saw all this. He watched us make our own mess and then roll around in it. Despite consistent reminders that life is in Him, not created things, we blamed Him- not our rebellion-as the source of our trouble. We were dying of thirst next to the fountain of life, and cursing Him all the while. And yet, in all this God still came to the rescue. Jesus came and took our rebellion (and all its mess) onto Himself, offering His own perfect life and enjoyment of God in its place.

So here's where sometimes the gospel gets cut in half. We share all this and then say, "so ask Jesus to forgive you and come claim your ticket to Heaven."

What?!?! Where did that come from? What happened to all that talk about life and worship and enjoyment of God?

The gospel rescues us not just from punishment, but from false worship. It's not just an offer of forgiveness, but an invitation to life! In other words, Jesus didn't come just to get us out of something bad, but to bring us back to something good. He came to redeem our relationship with God, and restore our ability to enjoy Him- and for that matter, with everything else in creation! It restores to us what is Ultimate and therefore allows us to enjoy all other things in proper context. The gospel has to do with our sex life. It has to do with our relationship to our job and with our spouses and with our friends. The gospel saves us from making these things ultimate by restoring us to right worship of God alone.

Jesus came to give us life, which starts now- not in some celestial place-after-death. Jesus said, "and this is eternal life; that they know the One True God, and Christ, whom He has sent." (John 17:3) I'm learning that the gospel is much more than a "free pass" to a happy place that I get to redeem when I die- it's rescue in the here and now! It's relationship and enjoyment of the One I was made to enjoy. It's freedom to see all these other blessings around me as just that- blessings- which lead me to enjoy and glorify God all the more.

(The Heaven part just means that it won't ever end!)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Family Traditions (Just Fun!)

Ok I'll admit I'm shamelessly stealing the idea for this post from a friend of mine, but I'm still really excited about it! I have amazing memories from childhood surrounding holiday traditions, and I'm interested in what other families do/have done throughout the years! So if you have a favorite or special holiday tradition, please share it in the comments section of this post. I'd love to know what was meaningful for you growing up or what you've loved doing with your own kids (it never hurts to start thinking ahead, right? :)

Did you ever have a Thanksgiving service? An amazing stuffing pie recipe that you can't miss? What about events leading up to Christmas Day or other family celebrations? And if you have any great resources or links that you'd like to share, I'm really interested in advent readings, Jesse tree suggestions, and of course, anything with chocolate in it!