Perspectives of Pain and Perfection

Is happiness dependent on whatever life throws our way or do we have a say in the matter? We can find peace amongst chaos, contentment despite limitations, and joy even in our lowest moments. It all comes down to Perspective… Craig Groschel in his recent series on Philippians

Everyone is blinded by their own perspective. Perspective is the angle at which you view something. A pauper views a sandwich and shelter as the essence of life. A king views those same principles of sustenance as bland and ordinary, nearly an assault to his majesty. Before I lived in Georgia, I believed that Oklahoma was humid. An athlete views a difficult workout as a challenge and something to be mastered, a couch potato views the same drills as agony and next to death. Do you see where I am going?

Recently I brought you some stories about the persecuted church. After a few days of reading about the physical abuses that Christians in Nigeria and Egypt were enduring, we read about discriminative abuses against Christian businesses in the United States. I am not diminishing the pain of the Christian businesses, but put in perspective, what is endurance?

I am going somewhere with this (:

Craig Groschel has convicted me on many occasions through his online sermons at LifeChurch.tv, but his series on perspectives has been very humbling. I’ve begun to consider the privilege of pain. “Count it all joy, my brothers when you encounter various trials,” says James, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”            (James 1)

Like the example above, my own pain, in perspective seems minimal and sometimes petty. But my Father knows the testing that my faith requires in order to perfect me. Be it struggles in my marriage, the constant humbling need to destroy my personal idols of food and fitness, loneliness, feelings of failure or any other hurdle that God places in my path in the future, He is intentional.

Intentional. Intentional and repetitive. As He is known to do, God has been echoing this one message in my life from various angles. I am also preparing to lead a Beth Moore Bible study in my home. God chose the book of James this time. As I read through the first chapter, I was skewered by the passage I quoted above…

For you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.

That’s what I want. I want to be perfect, clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness, perfectly and contentedly reliant on Him for all my salvation and life. That’s going to require a change in my perspective – a new perspective on my own good works, my own sin, my own struggles and my own forgiveness of others. I hope you find the LifeChurch.tv catalogue of sermons effective for your own training in righteousness. Start with the series on Perspectives.

Day 1 Book Review: The Good News We Almost Forgot

Catechism. It’s an old, dusty word that rolls boringly off the tongue. It sounds like library books and creaky chairs laden with inches of dust, unmoved by studious backsides.  I remember my mother once determining that my sisters and I would study and memorize the catechisms as part of our homeschooling Bible class. As tedious as it seemed and though I never made it through the 129 questions and answers, sometimes phrases of the old document leap to my mind in response to a probing question.

Even more so now, 20 years later, with the emergent and seeker-sensitive church movement, these timeless truths have been shelved. Shelved often behind cobwebs, the very cobwebs that shroud our clarity of thought, the simplicity of the scriptures and our commitment to absolute truth.

Kevin DeYoung does a marvelous job of presenting the old Heidelberg Catechism in an intriguing light in his book The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Truth in a 16th Century Catechism. As I read the book, it was a progressively dawning light. It illuminated truths that I’ve known, but never known how to express. It confirmed doctrines like the Trinity and original sin and total depravity.

As usual, I stumbled upon this new book as I listened to In The Market With Janet Parshall on Moody Radio. By the end of the interview, I could barely wait to get my hands on a copy. Now, for three days this week I want to whet your appetite, too. At the end of the week, I will be giving away a copy of the book.

Recently I have been listening to a series of sermons on reformed theology, by R.C. Sproul. True to form, God has folded truths from both of these sources into overlapping confirmations in my mind. I certainly don’t have it all wrapped up in a nice little package, but I’m getting closer to a confident understanding and an ability to express what I believe.

I confess, I haven’t finished this book yet. You may be privy to additional nuggets of treasure that I unearth even after this week. But it’s a start. Don’t forget to be lively – COMMENT HERE – follow the links. The more involved you are the higher your chances of winning a free copy of The Good News We Almost Forgot. 

Master of My Own Destiny?

OK, I warned you this week might get deep.  forgot to mention controversial! I’m going to be sharing what Father is teaching me as I study His word. You may exercise your free will to skip this post, but I’d love to hear your opinions!

FREE WILL!

It’s probably one of the most hotly contested issues among Christians and non-believers alike. Protesting a lack of free will is often sited as a reason not to believe in Jesus. No one wants to be told what to do, given a list of 10 commandments or told that disobedience spells eternal doom.

Christians argue about who chose who. Did God elect those whom He would save, or does each one have free will do chose or deny God.

Does God’s choosing eliminate free will?

Is God unfair by choosing some and not others?

Does God’s presumed unfairness make Him less loving and less good?

Sticky stuff. Until recently, I hummed quietly in the background when these conversa

Well, I can’t hang out on the sidelines anymore. It’s time to defend the sovereignty of the God I love and know and worship. Honestly, if He is not the sovereign God I believe Him to be, if He really handed fate’s reigns over to his own creatures, then I can’t devote myself to Him heart and soul. I might as well make my own way and be my own god.

HUMANS HAVE FREE WILL. The problem is that our will is only against God and against righteousness. Always, no exception.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Romans 3:10-12

That’s the long and the short of it. Sure, not everyone is as evil as he can possibly be. That’s not what total depravity means. Total depravity means that all of us, from our very core to our smallest appendage is bent toward evil. And if you don’t want to qualify yourself as evil, you can certainly understand that you are less that perfect. And perfect is what God requires. Short of absolute equivalency to God’s righteous standard, we are evil.

Consider: the Fahrenheit temperature required to freeze water is an indisputable 32 degrees. It doesn’t matter if your nose is frostbitten and you can’t move your lips. It doesn’t matter if schools are closed and everyone tells you, “It’s freezing outside.” Anything short of 32 degrees is not freezing. There is an absolute standard and anything, no matter how legitimately, unreasonably cold, just won’t cut it.

So, even if you choose a pro-life stance, you give generously to charities, you are kind to every stranger and never speed, and never raise your voice – you still fall short of the absolute standard of perfection set by an uncompromising God. You cannot will yourself to achieve that righteous standard. Given his own free will, every single man without exception will spend eternity in hell.

So here’s where I land. God created man in His image. He gave us free will and we proved that our free will would chose our own appetites over God’s commands. God’s justice demanded death for our insolence. God’s mercy sent Jesus to pay that debt. God did chose who would chose Him.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 36:26-27

It’s a tough pill to swallow. God knowingly, willingly allows people to chose their own appetites even though He could change the rules? change their choices? change their behavior? It’s not unfair. God is fully merciful and fully just. Some receive His mercy for their sins, some receive His justice for their disobedience. Neither receives injustice.

Yes, God is Sovereign. One definition of Sovereignty is: Indisputable. We cannot argue with His truth anymore than we can argue with 32 degrees.

A very helpful resource for understanding this doctrine, an element of Reformed Theology, is R.C. Sproul’s teaching series, “What is Reformed Theology?”

TaDA! Another Year Down, One Closer to Christ’s Return!

Oh Friends,

What I precious time I’ve had getting to know you this year. And what generous readers you are to put up with my chatter, my learning, my sharing, and doubtless, my typos!

There’s one more day this year. Today, the 30th, Patrick and I are setting off for Oklahoma. We’ll spend a few days with his family and then travel to Kansas to spend sometime with my parents. The sad part is that my sisters were in KS for Christmas, and by the time I get there, they will have returned to TX and jobs and family life. I will arrive in the wake of some real excitement though…

JORDAN JUST PROPOSED TO RACHELLE!! My next planned trip to the midwest will hopefully their wedding! There is no way to express my joy that Jordan will now be my brother (I’ve accidentally been calling him that for quite a while now). And no one, I mean no one, is God more happy to bless than Rachelle. Her heart for Jesus and desire to love those He loves is unparalleled.

Obviously, Christmas will have passed. But Patrick and I will arrive in Oklahoma in time to take in OSU’s bowl game. We’re going to go to old stomping grounds, Eskimo Joe’s, (where we feel really old) to watch the game. Hopefully, some friends will join us.

So, on to business. January. If you had asked me 15 years ago if I expected to see 2012, I would have said no. I didn’t believe I would live that long. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to live that long. Thank the Lord that He doesn’t ask us for our opinion on His sovereign plans. To this end, I have been asked to review Simple Steps. I can’t tell you much yet, except that it is a UK website aiming to help those suffering from eating disorders. We’ll discover this treasure together as I review it for a week in January.

Also, I have joined a book review program with Moody Publishers. I will be reading, reviewing and giving away a copy of one of their books each month (Lord willing) starting in January. That will take a week of our time together as well. As you know, I am a Moody disciple – devouring everything from their radio programs to their books, to their Bible studies, to their continuing education courses to…I’m sure I have yet to discover all they have to offer.

That only covers 2 weeks of January. I trust that God will continue to teach me about Himself- the very Truth Himself. I promise to share everything with you so that together we can combat the enemy of our souls. For one week, I will delve into the truth that God has been teaching me about men. Now that could get interesting! The truth about our differences, the joy in those differences and certainly the pain. I’ll include stories, juicy ones sometimes using my marriage as a case study. Finally, I will offer related resources.

And the fourth week… NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS.  I don’t make them. Enough said??

Shopping Pains

I can’t make up my mind.

If I don’t hurry, they’ll leave me behind!

Red stockings? Green?

Cinnamon or Vanilla bean?

 

I can’t make up my mind,

If I don’t soon, they’ll leave me behind.

Should I buy Dad great coffee,

Mom – flavored tea?

 

I can’t make up my mind,

If I don’t soon, they’ll leave me behind.

Does Mom want new gloves,

Can a tie show my love?

 

I can’t make up my mind,

If I don’t soon, they’ll leave me behind.

Does my sister wear tall,

Does Pete still play ball?

 

I can’t make up my mind!

If I don’t soon, they’ll leave me behind.

The mall is closing, Dad’s jingling the keys.

Oh if everyone was just easy to please!

Jesus – Unwrapped

I am absolutely terrible at gift-wrapping, but I do enjoy it – for the first 50 packages.

The corners on my square packages always look wrinkled, the tissue protruding from the top of my bag-wrapped gifts always has a perfectly peek-able gap. Usually, I cut the paper just a little too small and end up having to cull the scraps for a strip just long enough to cover my naked box. The scrap that fits rarely matches.

However, whenever Patrick and I are lucky enough to go home for Christmas, I am inevitably conned into wrapping all the last minute gifts from everyone to everyone that everyone thought would wrap themselves and then everyone realized on Christmas Eve that their presents were still uncloaked. “Abby, do you mind wrapping my gifts for… Dad, Mom, Jennifer, Pete, Kelsey, Patrick, Rachelle….? I ran out of time!” So I break out the Christmas carols, lock myself in a hidden room and snip, clip, curl and tape away.

Why do we wrap our gifts for family and friends? I was pondering this for some reason as I finished my quiet time with Jesus this morning. I was reading Matthew, a few chapters after the Christmas story. “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes…”. Ummm… why?

Why did God wrap Jesus in humanity? Why did he send him disguised in the form of a tiny, Jewish nobody?

The most obvious answer is: because He wanted to. God had foretold the coming of Christ for centuries and it was His good pleasure to do it in an nondescript way in the fullness of His own timing. God does what God does. Period.

But I think there’s a more intriguing answer.  We wrap our Christmas gifts for friends and family because we love the thrill of anticipation. Patrick loves to make me guess what he’s picked out for me. He loves to watch my eyes light up at the sight of green bows and glittery paper and the little sticker with my name on it. He loves to watch me unwrap my special gift. He loves to see the realization of his personal creative investment as the reality of his generosity washes over me.

I think God is like that. He loves to watch us discover the true treasure that Jesus is and the amazing truth that He wants to walk with us, to relate to us, to love us. When the disciples first began to follow Jesus, he was just a good man. Many men of Biblical times followed a particular rabbi and ascribed to his teaching. It was over the days, weeks, months, years that they discovered, unwrapped who Jesus is.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Matt. 16:16

“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. The said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'” Luke 24:31,32

If God had simply appeared in history, with all His splendor and glory, we would only have known His power, might and righteousness. If Jesus had appeared as the worthy King that He is, all creation would have instantly bowed the knee. But we would never have known the full character of God, we would never have experienced the breadth of all that He is. By coming in the form of a man, a tangible human being, God allowed us to experience His love, His touch, His mercy, His affection. As evidenced in the garden of Eden, before the fall, God enjoyed walking with man in the garden. God created man in His own image for His own glory and for relationship with Him.

Jesus came to explain to us the Father – to show us all that God is for us. By coming wrapped in flesh, hidden from our expectations and sensibilities, we are able to unwrap and discover Jesus, going ever farther and farther into the deepest aspects of our loving God. He loves to watch our eyes light up as we progressively seek Him and He reveals Himself to us.

Burnt Offering

I collect the fragments of yesterday

And the wispy tendrils of tomorrow.

Standing in a void of time

Wedged between the bulges of my hourglass.

I place memories and wishes

In a basket made of thorns.

My sweaty palm blisters

From its death grip on the handle.

A looking glass behind me mocks

Like wicked witch, cackling failure and doom.

If I turn, alas the fate of all men – death,

Will come too soon. But welcomed?

The Son pierces weighty clouds above

Called by songs of praise and love.

My mirror, enemy of my soul, backdrop of

a redeemed past.

Sparks, ignites like withered twigs.

The thorny collection on my arm

Takes light

In a moment blazing offering

Of yesterdays, tomorrows and

Pours forth a mysterious fragrance

Of sweet, redeemed pain.

Getting What You Could Be Giving

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? It’s almost embarrassing that of all the lavish Christmases and birthdays I have enjoyed, I can’t recall many specific gifts. Not that those gifts weren’t wonderful and appreciated at the time, but as they didn’t meet a sincere need I guess they were for the most  part – forgettable.

One special memory envelopes several Christmases. My mother is on an annual crusade to simplify Christmas. Especially when we were young, she tried to shrink the number of extravagant gifts and encourage us to be grateful, gracious and generous. One year, she decided to stuff all the gifts for every person into a few giant, black trash bags. Then, she pulled out the board game, Bible-opoly. She asked random questions from the game cards and the correct answer won the privilege of blindly pulling a gift from one of the bags. Then that person delivered the gift to the proper recipient and everyone watched with respectful attentiveness as the lucky one unwrapped their present.

Her  plan successfully slowed the mad dash to the tree and wild shredding of paper in disregard of gratitude. However, much to my husband’s chagrin when I brought him home for Christmas – the process drug gift-opening on for a ridiculously long time!

Recently, I read of another plan to reverse the focus of gift-giving and receiving. The leadership at Vine Wesleyan Church in NY surprised their parishioners with a backward offering. Instead of passing a red velvet plate, crooning about the rewards of being charitable – the church gave envelopes containing $100 each to it’s members 18 years and older.

“Traditionally we have taken a special offering at Christmas Eve and we have sent it to a Christ-centered ministry,” a note inside the envelope read. “This year the needs are greater than ever in so many places, including for some of us [in] our own families,” Rev. Christopher Baldwin said. (http://www.thechristianpost.com)

The church gave away about $8500. Is this a reflection of the TRUE meaning of Christmas? Did this church just twist the concept of giving, LYING about their motives? Does the gesture reflect God’s gift of Jesus to the world?

TELLING YOURSELF (and us) THE TRUTH… what would you do if $100 appeared on your seat in church this Sunday?