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Monthly Archives: June 2011

In the Absence of Grace

Lack of joy is in the absence of grace, and often I think this is due to legalism. What a dirty word. I hate, hate, hate it. Legalists really push my buttons. Probably because I used to be one. In a very recent conversation with a dear friend, I realized how I’d been watched earlier in my Christian walk. Further reflection caused me to grieve for my legalistic ways and how they have contributed to my dear sister’s hurt and confusion. I used to hurt the same way. I didn’t even know I was perpetuating this common malady of the American Christian church…

Most of us raised in the church, or saved for a very long time, especially in our Western Christian culture, can identify with legalism’s nasty grip and lasting effect. We have to DO things right and make sure others do, too! We can’t miss church, or quiet time; we must ‘say grace’ before a group meal, and never say ‘no’ to whatever is asked of us… Pretty soon we forget why we even started down this path; We become frustrated and angry and burned out; and we don’t even know why. We lost our joy because our joy stopped originating from the Giver of Himself; It gradually shifted to us — us trying to be what we think He wants us to be. Or maybe what we think the Pastor or Pastor’s wife, or some other brother or sister wants us to be.

A life of liberty comes from knowing God, from seeing and savoring Jesus Christ. Not for what He does for us, but simply (or maybe not so simply) Who He Is. We are here to make much of God; to glorify Him alone. Sure, we go to church because we are more effective in this together. Sure, we pray and read God’s word because we hunger and thirst for Him like water in a dry desert, not because we feel obligated to put in our 20 minutes of quiet time… When the perspective changes to God Himself being our very food, water and breath, legalism creeps quietly and rightfully out the back door.

The liar of liars wants us to carry around guilt for not doing. Or not doing things right. The Giver of Himself wants us to know and love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. If we do that the liar is shamed and hushed, and we are joyful and victorious.

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”  ~Ephesians 3:14-19

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2011 in God's Word, Grace, Jesus, Joy, Love

 

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Eve Didn’t Shave Her Legs

For a departure from the weightier topics of this blog, I thought I’d share some take-aways on a few other blogs I’ve recently read on what makes a woman beautiful. Actually, these blog posts focus on Christian women, and I’d go so far as to say American Christian women. Regardless, my focus here is correcting some wrong thinking some of us may have about beauty and the American Christian woman.

My favorite, About Your Ugly Wife, was written in response to comments posted after Tim Challies wrote Letting Herself Go. I laughed while reading both, but there are some very great points in each. Challies wrote his piece after reading an article by Rachel Held Evans called Thou Shalt Not Let Thyself Go?. (And now I am writing this… Don’t you just love how networking works??)

Here are my take-aways (I won’t repeat the great supporting stuff in the posts above — please read them for yourself!):

Beautiful Woman

Beautiful Woman

  1. Women are beautiful just the way God made us. Trying to be something we’re not or look like someone we’re not or some age and shape we’ve long passed is not scriptural and it may even border on or be idolatry.
  2. A man telling a woman she looks better with makeup is like telling her, “Honey, you’re just not pretty enough without some embellishment.”
  3. If I EVER hear a Pastor utter the words, “If the barn needs painting…” I am SO going to be in his face! (In a loving, Christian sister kinda way, of course…!)
  4. There is nothing in the Bible that focuses on a women’s physical beauty — it’s about inner beauty.
  5. Both men and women can “let themselves go” and it’s more of a matter of the heart and relationship with others — a man or woman who cares about his or her spouse wants to be pleasing to them. I wear clothes that are attractive, take care of my hair, and wear a little makeup because I know that is more attractive to the love of my life than sweat pants and a stained t-shirt, a rat’s nest on my head and dark circles under my eyes.
  6. A Christian’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. We should take care of it because it really belong to Someone Else. It will perish one day but it’s all we have to carry us through the years here on this earth and accomplish the works our Savior has called us to complete. It doesn’t have to have makeup on it, but it should be maintained and cared for properly!
  7. I don’t have to shave my legs. Eve didn’t.

There you have it American Christian women: Correct your wacky view of what’s beautiful and bring it into alignment with God’s word. Men: You, too! If we all do this maybe I can stop spending $90 and three hours every three weeks dying my crown of white to chestnut brown…

What do YOU wish the Christian community would give up from the Western world’s definition of “beauty”?

Quick note: After finishing writing this I went to Microsoft Images searching for a graphic of a beautiful older woman for this post. I was immediately drawn to the image above. Upon uploading it via my blogging software I was pleased, and not surprised, to find the photographer’s notes indicate this is a Guatemalan woman who is praising or thanking the Lord. I know now why I was drawn to her beauty!

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2011 in Contentment, Relationships, Society

 

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Water Offered in a Familiar Cup

“The indigenous missionary movement, the only hope for many unreached nations, is large and growing. And it is not going unchallenged either by satan or the world. Revivals of traditional religions, the growth of secular materialism including communism, and the rise of cultural and nationalist barriers are all united in opposition to Christian mission activity.”

This quote from chapter 16 in a book by K.P. Yohannen called Revolution in World Missions. After reading the whole book, I am convicted, and convinced that part of the problem is the American Church.  We seem stuck in some bygone era believing that missions means sending only white people to other countries to set up social ministries. But today, unlike 20 years ago and earlier, many countries do not even allow Western missionaries inside their borders. Some national Christians in these countries believe that until Westerners leave the country all together, they will not be as successful in spreading the Gospel.

A story is told by Sadhu Sundar Singh, a pioneer national missionary evangelist in India: “A high-caste Hindu had fainted one day from the summer heat while sitting on a train in a railway station. A train employee ran to a water faucet, filled a cup with water and brought it to the man in an attempt to revive him. But in spite of his condition, the Hindu refused it. He would rather die than accept water in the cup from another caste. Then someone noticed that the high-caste passenger had left his own cup on the seat beside him. So he grabbed it, filled it with water and returned to offer the panting heat victim who immediately accepted the water with gratitude. This is what I’ve been trying to say to missionaries from abroad. You have been offering the water of life to people in India in a foreign cup, and we have been slow to receive it. If you will offer it in our own cup—in an indigenous form—then we are much more likely to accept it.”

Dennis E Clark states, “There are times in history when however a gifted a person may be, he can no longer effectively proclaim the Gospel to those of another culture. A German could not have done so in Britain in 1941 nor could an Indian in Pakistan during the war of 1967, and it will be extremely difficult for Americans to do so in the Third World of the 1980s and 1990s.” Now we know it is even worse today.

Having said all this, I am not convinced that “the indigenous missionary movement [is] the only hope for many unreached nations.” I do believe there is still a calling and many places for the American Christian to “GO therefore…” So what are do we do?

The American Church has the funds but sends a tiny fraction of what we invest in our buildings, programs and social gospel. What if we redirect those funds to the brothers and sisters seriously and effectively spreading the Gospel, planting churches, making disciples, and doing far more than whites ever could? For the cost of flying one American to Mumbai, a national missionary already in the field can minister for years!

Again, this is NOT to say God still does not command all of His people, include American ones, to “GO, therefore, and make disciples of all peoples…”.  If He calls you or me we need to respond. Perhaps it is not to Sudan or China (but perhaps it is!). Perhaps it is downtown, or around the corner to the convalescent home. Maybe it’s on a short-term trip overseas to build homes or train and strengthen the national brothers and sisters. Or it could be through sacrificial giving of money and prayer for those that can go.

I know God’s command demands a response. It demands more than I am doing, and I wonder if that is true of most American Christians. How does His command affect you?

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2011 in God's Word, Jesus, Missions, Salvation, The Church

 

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Kudzu and the American Dream

One of the most memorable things about a vacation trip to the Southeastern United States a few years back was the kudzu. Mile after mile native trees and shrubs and even man-made poles and structures are covered with the stuff, often completely obscuring the original object. Like something out of “Jumanji” these thick green vines crawl up and wind around everything until entire landscapes are completely transformed.

In and of itself, this plant is kind of attractive. It has medicinal properties and makes for good animal feed. Scientists are finding new and beneficial uses for the plant in treatment of alcoholism, cancer, migraines, allergies and diarrhea. But left unchecked this non-native plant becomes of the most invasive in the United States landscape.

On a plane yesterday this memory came back to me (“out of the clear, blue sky”) and it came while I was pondering a book I’d just finished called Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt in which “The American Dream” is exposed for the dangers it poses in the believer’s life. While not evil in itself and useful for many good things, the lifestyle that comes with obtaining “The American Dream” can take over a person’s life until the only thing you see are those things. The things are like kudzu that has now obscured the true aim and purpose of the Christian. Nothing about that person’s life looks any different from the next door neighbor pursuing the same dream but without Christ.

I am fifty years old now and quite confident I have wasted a good many of those years in the comfortable, selfish, unscriptural practices of the ineffective pseudo-Christian life. I completely missed the boat on what it means to live a cross-centered life. I did not count the cost so I did not pay the cost. Instead, I let what many American Christians honor and condone, The American Dream, become a very real and central part of my life. Instead of using God-given resources to largely serve others, I let them largely serve me, and they gradually took over my life to the point where you could not tell the difference between my kudzu-covered life and a well-behaved non-believer. What a sad testimony.

I highly recommend Platt’s book to any Christ-follower who is dissatisfied with The American Dream or wanting something far more than the temporary goods they have obtained. Other books with similar messages include Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper and Crazy Love by Francis Chan. But lest you become overwhelmed or lean towards guilt and remorse (as I am prone to do), you would do well to also read Holiness by Grace by Bryan Chapell in which he makes a beautiful and scriptural argument for God’s powerful grace and mercy and how He values the worker who comes late to the harvest.

For those starting out their careers and who also love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength: Beware the kudzu of The American Dream. Guard your heart against the desire for comfort and seek first the kingdom of God and the Treasure that cannot be bought but is freely given. It will joyfully cost you your life and that life will never be wasted.

 

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“Accepting Jesus”

OK, this will likely be controversial, but for a while now I’ve been struggling with this phrase, “all you need to do to be saved is accept Jesus.” I can’t find it in Scripture and the Jesus I do find doesn’t seem in any way in need of our acceptance. (Indeed, we are in need of His!) Yet this is how most American Christians are told we can obtain salvation. A silent prayer repeated after a pastor or evangelist, maybe followed by a raised hand (with head bowed and eyes closed). But is that followed by a markedly changed life?

For the record, YES: I believe that we must believe, and confess with our mouth, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God to be saved. YES: I believe that if we ask for forgiveness of our sins, He is just and merciful and forgives us.

ALSO YES: A Christ-follower is known by their “fruit” and the branch that does not produce it is cut off.  AND YES: Faith without works is dead. AND AGAIN YES: He who endures to the end will be saved.

I wonder how many of us would be Christ-followers in Indonesia? It costs me nothing to whisper simple prayer and raise my hand here in this country (yet). It doesn’t cost me anything but a little time to attend church, read my Bible or pray. I have done those things and so checked off my American Christian requirements. But following Christ costs the believer. We are told it costs us our very lives (see Jesus’s words in Luke 14:26-34). This has bothered me for quite some time: What if that silent prayer and raised hand isn’t enough? What if there are multitudes of Americans who think they are Christians because they believe they said the magic words and have obtained a ticket to heaven? What if many of us who think this way will be told on that final day, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”? After all the folks Jesus said that to in Matthew 7 actually did many mighty works in His name.When is the last time any of us performed a major miracle? He follows this by saying, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” I think the “and follows it” is pretty important here…

I am not saying confessed belief + works = salvation. Salvation results from the work of Christ alone. I am saying we are known by our fruit, specifically our love for others. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We take up our respective crosses and follow Him.

For years you could not tell the difference between me and a non-believer just by viewing my actions (other than the good-Christian-girl-checkpoints mentioned above). I certainly was not the disciple Jesus describes in that passage in Luke. What does that say? I think the answer to that question would be very different coming from a believer in Sudan than a believer in the comfy chairs of the typical American church. The answer from Bonhoeffer and Lewis and Edwards would be far different from what we might hear from some church leaders in America today.

Again: I am NOT questioning the mighty hand of God’s salvation nor His faithfulness to His children even when we are unfaithful to Him. I AM questioning whether our formulaic method of “asking Jesus in our hearts” has created untold numbers of people who think they are saved, but in reality are floating down a wide, comfortable river to eternity without Christ. And this is a very, very scary thought to me.

This is what I want to learn in a much deeper and daily way: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

 
 

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A Quiet Discontent

I haven’t written in several days. Partly because I’ve been back to work full time and am still trying to find the right balance and missing the time to write I came to love last month, and partly because I’ve been thinking deeply about a few things and wondering how to share them. I’ve not stumbled upon any profound words, so I’ll just say it: Nothing about my life hurts. Nothing. I am not even uncomfortable. Because of this, I fear I am doing little, if anything, to obey the commands of Jesus to “GO therefore…” For several years now there has been a growing disquiet in my soul. A dissatisfaction with my life. An ever-present knowing that something is not right, that there is more, and that I am missing it.

There are a lot of verses in God’s word, many spoken by Jesus Himself, that I (and I suspect the majority of American Christians) conveniently skip over in daily life application. We pick the promises we like and ignore the ones we don’t. Perhaps we rationalize away some of Jesus’s instructions as “not for us.” Maybe we’ve not taken time to try to understand some of His words. Here are a few (emphasis mine):

Mark 8:34

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.

1 John 3:16

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.

Matthew 19:28-30

Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made newand the Son of Mansits upon his glorious throne…everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.

Luke 14:25-27

A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

Romans 12:1-2

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Hebrews 13:15-16

Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

And finally, is this about to be us?

Matthew 10:16-39

“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

“A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.

“Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master. And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names!

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.

 ‘I have come to set a man against his father,
      a daughter against her mother,
   and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
      Your enemies will be right in your own household!’

“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”

What is the American Christian’s response to these very real words of God? What is my response? My first response is to humble myself and pray. Seek God for what He would have me do, change, give. My next response should be nothing less than to obey.

 
 

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