Love for the Lawless

A few weeks ago my dog ran away.

It was a perfect, sunny Sunday. We were leaving the house through the garage, so I pressed the button to open the big door, then turned back to grab his leash from the hook on the wall. In less than 10 seconds, he spied two stray dogs across the street and took off. Suddenly, my normally well-behaved dog was deaf to me. As you might expect, happy to be part of the game, the two strays led Brave on a wild game of chase through the neighborhood.

Within moments, they were out of sight. The last tail ducked into the woods at the end our cul-de-sac. Unreservedly, I charged through my neighbor’s yard and into a mass of thorny vines. I plunged toward a small clearing and then scanned the horizon for Brave. No dogs. Anywhere.

Hysterical, I ran the three blocks back to my house. I screamed at my husband, “Brave ran away! He is chasing some strays that were in the yard across the street!” Without waiting for a response, I grabbed Brave’s leash, which I had dropped in my panic and took off again, with no idea where to go.

Because God is good, I didn’t have to look very far. There was Brave, just across the street again, stand stupidly in someone’s front yard. This time when I called, he ran straight to me.

It’s funny when God decides to drop little lessons in our hearts. As I secured Brave to the end of his leash, a recent sermon came to mind. The pastor compared Christians struggling to live “good” lives and follow all of God’s rules to a dog on a chain.

A Christian cannot experience true freedom in Christ while trying desperately to be righteous on his own. Paul talks about this in Galatians 5. But often, we’re afraid that if we break the chain, or unleash ourselves from the bondage of the law, we will lose our closeness to, or relationship with God. At the same time, we often feel frustrated and bitter about having to be “good” all the time.

In my runaway dog story, as soon as Brave realized he wasn’t on a leash, he took off after the other dogs excited to experience the same freedom they had. Similarly, when we understand our freedom from the bondage of the law, there’s a chance that we’ll stray. But it’s vitally important that we grasp what this freedom really is. Otherwise, we cannot fully appreciate what Christ did for us on the cross.

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” Galatians 5:1

Now here’s where it gets really good! Brave came back! He was only missing for about 10 minutes. He knew that life with me was so much better than anything else he could experience in the big wide world. It’s the same way with believers in Christ. Jesus is so much better than anything we can experience or have or become.

Romans 2:4 says, “ Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”

When Jesus died on the cross, He removed the chain of the law. Romans 7:4 tells us that when we believe in Christ, we are no longer slaves to the law. We no longer have a long list of “do’s” and “do not’s”. And yes, there is the freedom to run away.

But just like Brave knew that I am good to him, that I feed and brush and care for him, those who have trusted Christ know the lovingkindness of the Father. And His kindness draws us back to Him. In fact, Psalm 63:3 tells us that God’s love is even better than life.

“Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.”

Book Review, Ted Dekker’s “Outlaw”

If I hadn’t heard Ted Dekker speak in person at the re:Write conference in Austin, TX, I probably never would have picked up this book. I like to read true stories and prefer a good dose of probability if not historicity in my fiction. To the casual reader, Outlaw, delivers neither.

The first 21 chapters follow Julian, a lonely, unattached, single mother perplexed by a mysterious song in a repetitive dream. Feeling as if she has nothing to lose, Julian and her two-year-old son, Stephen, leave their home in Atlanta in search of the dream’s source, its meaning. And here the story opens, with Julian and Stephen “tossed about like a cork on a raging dark sea off the northern tip of Queensland in 1963”.

A sudden storm capsizes the boat, taking the captain under with it. Julian is rescued alone by three indigenous warriors representative of three tribes collectively called the Tulim, living in a jungle valley by the same name. Briefly, Julian clings to the hope that she will escape or be freed and return to her homeland. But, she also wonders if life without her son is worth living. Perhaps she would rather die at the hand of uncivilized strangers.

Julian never goes home.

I won’t wreck the story by divulging details, but I will try to explain the feelings that, Outlaw, evoked in me.

Most nights, I put the book aside determined not to pick it up again. I wasn’t drawn in. I didn’t identify with Julian. The jungle setting and depictions of tribal life seemed to stretch my imagination. But somehow, perhaps a bit like Julian’s winsome melody, Outlaw, held some magnetic power over me.

Outlaw’s obvious themes are sacrifice and redemption. But what captivated me was Dekker’s description of humanity. Through key characters, Dekker reveals his perception of human bodies as costumes, our immortal spirits as our true selves and the freedom that comes from internalizing this truth. I could almost taste a new freedom; personally feel chains and inhibitions fall away as his characters progressively released their fears of pain, loss and loneliness and embraced the all-sufficiency of The Father.

A few things marred my appreciation for this book. Three characters seemed to simply disappear without proper closure and the demise of one seemed unnecessary and slightly outside of the narrative’s flow. Secondly, in the final chapters, it is a little difficult to discern between what is happening to flesh and blood characters and what might be happening to them postmortem in their eternal existence.

As for the narrative seeming a little far-fetched, the Author’s Note explains it was in fact realistic, however outside of the average reader’s experience. Dekker was raised the son of missionaries in the jungles of Irian Jaya. He lived among a tribe of cannibals called the Dani tribe. I particularly appreciated this revelation as it lent authenticity to the story instead of simple, wild imagination.

Come on, an Idol? Really??

If you’re like me, you cringe when I say that living in an eating disorder is equivalent to practicing idolatry. As a Christian, one of the most confusing, painful parts of my eating disorder was wondering why I didn’t have enough faith to get well.

Perhaps you think, like me, “But I love God and I believe that Jesus died for my sins and I am trusting Him to get me to heaven.”

And then you kind of panic.

“Is God frustrated with me? Will He give up on me? Have I lost my faith?”

I cannot tell you how many nights I cried out to God, “Please, please just take this away! I don’t want to be miserable and feel distant from you anymore. Please, just let me wake up and all of this anxiety over food and my body be gone!”

Then, I’d wake up one more morning and know, one more time, that I was still stuck. If Jesus had sat down on the bed next to me and said, “Stay here with me this morning.” I would have stood up, put on my running shoes and left Him sitting there. I could not resist the call of my other master.

Let’s start at square one. To establish at eating disorder as an idol, consider these verses:

Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

The Greek word for “covetousness” can also be translated as materialism, avarice, or eager to have more especially of that which belongs to others.

I won’t put words in your mouth, but I will confess that in my heart of hearts, that’s exactly how I felt about my eating disorder. I craved the attention that it afforded me, I was covetous of beautiful bodies and clamored for more of what I thought would make me perfect.

On a more obvious level, I began to see my eating disorder as idolatry when I realized that it consumed more of my time, more of my thoughts, indeed, all of my life, than Jesus did. Being thin and the concept of being strong and needless was my treasure, and yes, that’s where my heart was also. (Matt. 6:21)

So, what of this idol, this earthly treasure? Can I not have God, too?

Luke 16:13 makes it clear that we cannot serve two masters. Goodness knows, I tried. Every single day, after my workout of course, I pulled out my devotional, my Bible and journal. Every single year, I read through the Bible again. I led Bible studies at church. But hollowness lingered in my soul. I could not pursue my anorexic goals with all the passion of my mind, and give my heart fully to Jesus.

I’m sorry if this is hard to hear, but neither can you.

Let me be clear, having an eating disorder or any other addiction does not mean you are not saved. Salvation is by faith alone in what Christ did for you at the cross.  (John 3:16)

But I was wondering why I couldn’t grow in my faith, why Jesus seemed distant, why I wasn’t learning how to trust Him more and more, even with things like eating and my physical body.

Back up a few verses in Luke 16. I’m pondering here, so search this out for yourself if it makes sense.

Verses 10-12 say, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”

It is a very great and precious treasure that God has invested in us, the very life of His Son, Jesus Christ. However, if I prove less than faithful with my own physical body, how can I ever expect Him to continually reveal to me greater levels of intimacy and freedom in Him?

Flip the passage over. Think with me of Christ’s faithfulness. In my eating disorder, I essentially said, “God, I trust you for heaven and eternity, but I don’t trust you with my body right now.”

If Jesus is continually faithful to forgive all my sins and to save my soul, is He not then obviously faithful and capable of caring for my physical body? Why would I not trade this worthless idol, this brutal task master of anorexia for the One True and Faithful God who not only guarantees my eternity, but is capable and worthy of tending my physical body as well?

Welcome to hot-seat, please sit down

Christian, let me put you on the hot-seat. Don’t worry, I’ll sit there with you. We can warm our buns together and talk about sensitive subjects.

It seems these days you can’t turn around with hearing someone decrying the shame of homosexuality, the evil of abortion, the wickedness of corrupt and dishonest politicians. From nearly every pulpit and Christian media outlet, we hear of pending doom, the unbearable wrath of God looming over society’s collective shoulder as it marches into hell.

Seriously, where do we get that??

Despite our pious followup of “grace” to this vehement condemnation, we hardly live out what Christ the embodiment of LOVE actually exemplified. Think with me.

We’ve heard it and likely said, “Hate the sin and love the sinner.” Is that anywhere in Scripture? NO! In fact, the closest we can get is re-wording Ephesians 6:12, which says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

What we wish it said, what we often act like it says, is, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood sinners, but against all the evil things they’re doing.

Or take, John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.”

What we seem to think this verse says, For God so loved those who believe in Him that He gave them eternal life. 

We act as if Jesus never met a homosexual or prostitute (think of the woman at the well). We seem to believe He didn’t know any corrupt politicians or evil government officials (think Roman soldier and Pilate and Herod). And maybe Jesus didn’t ever actually see a thief or a murderer (who hung on the cross next to Him?).

I challenge us who grew up in the protective boundary of the church, and who have the privilege and honor of reading the Bible whenever we desire and knowing Christ, God’s Word, personally – I challenge us to name one time when Jesus rebuked an obviously evil person.

The people Jesus spoke against most often in Scripture were those who not only thought they were good people, but from all outside standards, really were keeping the “whole law”. Except, to love their neighbor – the Samaritan, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners. Christian – who do we most look like today?

Do we keep the whole law, behaving well and even performing outreach and being faithful to our spouses and being activists in our communities – but then, hold our neighbor at arm’s distance, telling them first of their sin and finally of the God who loves THE WORLD?

Another couple verses that often pop up in this delicate conversation are John 16:7-11, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Usually, I think, we read this as if the Holy Spirit is standing indignantly within us, slapping our wrists when we miss behave and giving us the authority to point out sin in the world. But I don’t think that’s what it means. Follow along to the next verse…

“…concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;” What is the sin that the Holy Spirit convicts of? It is the sin of unbelief. No other sin is unpardonable. Lay it along side that other verse we struggle over and worry about:

Luke 12:10 “And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to deny what He says, namely that we must believe. What if we quit beginning our conversations with rebuke, and changed our public arguments to stop railing against the evils of society and simply pleaded with everyone to know the God who loves them and believe in Him?

“…concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father;” because Jesus became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. All righteousness anyone could ever need to perform has been taken care of, all that’s left is belief.

“…concerning judgement; because the ruler of this world is judged.” IT IS FINISHED. There remains no means by which to condemn anyone, except unbelief. So perhaps we’re wasting our breath by tackling all the blatant sins in the world. The only good thing that remains to be done is to believe in the fully sufficient righteousness of Jesus Christ.

And after all, “It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance.” All of our indigence and law quoting is for naught. Jesus never quoted the law to an unbeliever. He merely and only loved them, and that drew them to Him, that they might believe and have eternal life.

Book Review: Fierce Women

Fierce Women is not unlike a couple books you’ve read before. But then, most lessons aren’t only learned once.  What sets Kimberly Wagner’s book apart is that she isn’t preaching from the sidelines. Wagner’s marriage slogged through the valley of the shadow of death. The scenery’s beauty of the other side of the darkness is what inspires her story.

The first few chapters of the book explain what a fierce woman is. She is determined, faithful, disciplined, courageous and devoted. However, it is said that our greatest strengths can also be our biggest weaknesses. It is so with ferocity. An untamed, fierce woman will become proud, demanding, cold, bossy and controlling.

Men respond to an untamed fierce woman in one of three ways. They numb out with the nearest brainless object like video games, a computer or television. Or, they may be fearful of disappointing their demanding wife and go any length to keep her happy. Finally, an intimidated man may lash back in anger and frustration. The resulting dynamic is never positive. Eventually a marriage in this state will dissolve. Even if the couple remains legally married, they will co-exist as miserable roommates. This is no more pleasing to the God who desires that they represent the unity of Christ and His church.

Within the first two years of her marriage, Wagner found herself miserable and lonely. Under the gentle influence of the Holy Spirit and some not-so-gentle circumstances, she was humbled to learn that she, a fierce woman, was much to blame. That’s where Wagner’s story pivots and begins to lead the reader on a quest to surrender their strength to God for His glory and the good of her marriage.

For me, the most poignant lesson in Wagner’s book is her acronym for the word, APPRECIATION. It reminds me of Dr. Gary Chapman’s recent book The Five Languages of Appreciation, which he admits are the same five languages that love speaks. Within this acronym, the first I stands for “invest”.

“I’ve [also] learned that investing in my husband brings the rich reward of intimately knowing, enjoying, and valuing him. By investing, I mean putting time and effort into getting into his heart and mind.”

I too have learned this lesson with a bit of sweat and tears. However, it is exciting to see my budding knowledge affirmed by a wise, Christian woman.

Wagner’s book is a must read for any woman frustrated by her husband’s emotional distance. She turns the light of God’s word on a woman’s heart and enables her to see her own contribution to a marriage’s troubles. Then, by changing the only thing she truly can, herself, a woman will find hope for her marriage.

Truth – in the other half of the story

The Prodigal Son has been bugging me lately – because I’m not him. I think most Christians read this story and try to fit themselves into his shoes. They bemoan their wayward habits; then praise the good Father who welcomes them home with forgiveness. Honestly, the more I read this familiar story, I am starting to think the Prodigal had it more “right” than his good-guy big brother.

Years ago, I remember being irritated with my younger sister who seemed to get everything she wanted. Jen got the go-cart she asked for, the kitty, the overnight at a friend’s house, her favorite story at night and on and on. I remember asking her once, “How on earth do you do that? Why do Mom and Dad always say, ‘Yes,’ to you?”

“They don’t,” she insisted, “but they’d tell you, ‘Yes,’ more often too if you just asked.”

At the time, I huffed that I was too mature, I didn’t need to impose upon my parents’ generosity. I wasn’t going to beg for things. I was simply grown-up, dignified, self-sufficient and respectful. It wasn’t polite to ask for things.

Well… Now I think I had my theology wrong. 

Most of the time, when we read the brothers’ parable in Luke 15, we focus on the younger boy, the rebel. He’s the one who barged into his dad’s office and demanded to have what was coming to him. At this point, we don’t know anything about big brother. He’s probably out in the field, working his weary little fingers to the bone, thinking about how disciplined he is, how he must be Daddy’s favorite, how he deserves everything he gets.

You know the rest of the youngest’s story, the philandering, the famine, the pig food, his devastation and finally his return and groveling before Daddy. But do you remember where big brother was when the youngest showed up on the porch? He was out in the field – again, probably working his weary little fingers, thinking about how disciplined he was, how proud Daddy must be of him – especially since that good-for-nothing little brother of his ran off.

And the party started without him.

I don’t think Jesus intended for us to tune out the rest of the story. A full eight more verses round out the parable. Big brother (me) finally came in from the field sweaty and tired. The sound of revelry grated on his nerves, exacerbating his fatigue. When he found out that his little brother had come home safe and sound, he staunchly (on principle I’m sure) refused to join the party.

After a few minutes, Daddy came out to encourage his oldest. He got an earful. “How dare you! I’ve been the good son! I’m the one who has never asked you for anything. I’ve done everything you’ve asked. I’ve followed all the rules – and you never did anything special for me!”

“All that I have is yours.”

What do you think of that? All along, all of Daddy’s store houses, fields and wealth were available to his oldest son. All of Daddy’s riches, servants and companionship was simply there for the ASKING.

I realize that’s how I behaved toward my parents in many respects and certainly how I (and I venture most life-long Christians) behave toward my Heavenly Father. I believe the reason we don’t see more miracles, the reason we don’t enjoy more abundant life and full joy, the reason that we do not have peace, wisdom and contentment – is because we do not ask.

Matthew 7:7, “Ask and you will receive…”.

Luke 11:9-13, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”

I wonder how much God has stored up for our inheritance, that we’ve never even seen, dreamed of or dared to ask for. Do you realize that since Jesus came and died and redeemed us, we are sons of God and heirs of promise (Galatians 3:29), heirs of all that Christ purchased for us – life and joy and peace.

In the story Jesus told just before the story of the Prodigal son, he spoke of a shepherd who was more excited about finding a lost lamb than he was about 99 sheep who stayed obediently within their stall. I don’t think that’s because of simple relief. I don’t think it’s because he loved that stray so much more than the others. I think it’s because suddenly, that little stray sheep realized how rich and privileged he was to belong to a shepherd. After his rebellion, he knew how good his shepherd was and how safe he was in the shepherd’s arms.

Anyone in any relationship knows how good it feels to be appreciated. God finds His greatest joy in us, His children, when we acknowledge, ask for and enjoy all that He is for us. Don’t miss out!

wondering if i wander

is this living by the Spirit

unsure where i am and

untethered against next wind’s gust?

or

is this?

to live by increments

a divided clock and protracted heart

degrees of devotion to each good deed?

or

somewhere in the middle –

is there quiet and peace?

I know there is!

for

I have a shepherd who

promises quiet water trickles near

but though i trod, i fear.

how?

to walk with him without wondering

to walk with him without wandering

his Spirit in me?

Prayer for Crushing Idols

Last weekend, I was disappointed because Patrick had to work. I look forward to our Saturday morning coffee times. We roll out of bed about 7 a.m.  and sit our butts right back down in cozy living room chairs with steaming cups of banana nut-flavored coffee and the computer. Sounds romantic right? Well, we don’t get cable and we don’t pay for newspaper delivery, so Yahoo News, and FOX online do the trick. After browsing a few depressing stories, our search deteriorates to the funniest pictures of animals, or YouTube bloopers.

But this last weekend, one of his soldiers got a DUI, so Patrick called the whole company in for a corporal punishment of 8 hours of safety classes. But my greatest Lover, my Heavenly Father, met me right there. This week, I promised to share Scripture prayers with you. The Bible is laced with perfect narratives, supernatural dialogue and personal scripts for prayer. I am without excuse for prayer-less-ness. Saturday morning, God got personal.

I am doing a wonderful Bible study called In His Image, by Setting Captives Free. I had been doing it infrequently, a day every couple weeks, but I’ve been missing out! God has used my study mentor and the probing questions to dig deeply into the lingering worship that I ascribe to food and exercise. The Bible talks several times about the Israelites “following God,” and yet at the same time refusing to tear down their high places of idol worship. I often find myself in that exact position: daily serving and following God, all the while with my idolatrous alters standing in the background. Why? Is it a safety net? The idea that I can always go back?

So, Father brought me again to a place of surrender. I want to share with you the verses that He strung together and draped as a garland around my neck. When I am inhaling, exhaling, gazing at and living in God’s word, then I am beautiful.

“My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment,
do not let them out of your sight;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.” Proverbs 3:22

Father, today (Saturday, April 28, 2012) I lay my body and my appetites before you in reasonable and rightful worship. [Romans 12:1] I choose to renew my mind in your word and conform it to your perfect, personal will. I am setting my mind purposefully on your Holy Spirit, grateful for and convinced of your promise of life and peace. Just as you raised Jesus from the dead, you can and will fill my body with life. [Romans 12, 8] I confess to you that I am unable to do this at all – but you promised to help me in weakness. Intercede for me and personally meet my needs and bless me. I am opening my very mouth before you – fill it. [Ps. 81:10] I will feast on your sufficient word, it is my delight. [Jer. 15:16] I hear you call my name. Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

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