LASTing Peace, Beyond Belief, Week 1c

Are rules and laws obsolete for mature Christians? If so, what takes the place of the rules and boundaries?

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Deflating the Misery Index

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy … “ Romans 15:13

Statistics show that you are miserable—albeit less miserable than you were last year.

Did you know that there’s such a thing as the Misery Index? In the 1970s, Arthur Okun, created a simple formula to measure the happiness of the average American. The equation is the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate, and as of February of 2015, the number is the lowest it’s been since the mid-1950s.

But, Americans still express a dismal outlook about the next six months. A recent article on NPR suggests that the formula is just too simple for today’s economy. They factor wage growth and consumer debt into the equation and surmise that the economy is still the culprit for our misery.

But what if there’s more to it? St. Augustine said, “”You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” And God’s own Word tells us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Even those who deny the deity of Christ or shun His saving sacrifice, understand the need for hope, joy and peace. It is the lack of those things that inflates our misery index—not simply empty pockets. As Christians, we possess the antibody to the world’s misery. In the grip of Christ, misery is indeed foreign to us; the love of Christ has dispelled it.

As we brave the world today, let’s flavor our witness with joy. The world is ripe for it.

 

Continuous Creation

I started off to wonder,
How the trees and skies were made.
How shadows follow fingers
And butterflies parade,
Round roses, daisies, buttercups
And only for a season,
Then disappear, to come next year
With hardly any reason.

How the breeze can be so winsome
And terrify me too.
One night’s sky an angry yellow,
The next one, navy blue.

How can my face be worn and lined?
The skin once baby-smooth and fine.
How can my one same spirit
Live inside an aged frame?
My one same spirit—
Growing through the change?

Perhaps it’s not that creation was—
It wasn’t yesterday.
Maybe God still speaks life,
And and breathes souls
Today and everyday.

I chased these thoughts throughout the day,
And took them last to Scripture.

“Lord,” I said, “I don’t understand
“How all these things can be.
You made earth once, but I still see
Your hand in everything.”

“Daughter,” Abba slow replied,
“The world spins within my hand.
And every breath that’s taken,
Yes, those are all mine too.
Yes, I once created,
But I’m always making new.”

Revelation 21:5 “And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”

Amos 4:13 “For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth—
the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!”

Interruption Applied

I’m finally getting somewhere.

Thanks goes to Jen Hatmaker for keeping me up not just one night, but several nights. And thanks, too, for not simply revealing straight away what God’s message was for me in all of this (I guess that’s not fair. How could she know?). Instead she let me sit and percolate the truths in her new book Interrupted. It was a slow process; she saved the best part for last.

It was this quote, near the end of the book, that started stirred me:

“I used to reside exclusively in Christian subculture: I read James Dobson to learn how to parent, studied Dave Ramsey to learn how to budget, sang Third Day for inspiration, went to Women of Faith conferences for encouragement, consulted Christian Coalition voting guides to see how to vote, and read Tim LaHaye for my fiction fix. This was the controlled bubble I lived in with a few hundred of my closest friends…When your running in the middle of a herd of buffalo, everything looks identical. What we see becomes our reality.”

Jen meant this to explain the shallow, sheltered life that many Christians live in, the safe bubble that gives us our “sanctified buffer” such that we hope others see us doing godly things and are impressed by our “awesomeness” to come to Christ without us having to actually associate with the “worldly ones”. Truthfully, I’ve been one of that crowd, part of the herd of buffalo. But that began shifting a few years ago. This time, God is after something different in me.

This morning, a strand of light broke through. God began highlighting similar messages in Scripture and through a few different pastors I’ve been reading and listening to: Steven Furtick, John Piper, John Bloom and Ann Voskamp.

Truth is dawning, albeit slowly, but I’m getting it. It has much to do with maturity–not confusing it with growth, moving beyond the milk of the Word, the testimony of my recovery from anorexia, my easy obedience to Christ and my walk in the Spirit. Moving past the parameters (read: safe bubble), I’ve established, where I know “what works”. 

For all of my life, I’ve sought my “calling”, what I’m supposed to do, and sought to settle in there. My writing has been accepted by publishers and editors–that’s all I have to do now, right–just write about Jesus? Surely, God’s plan was to develop my testimony. I’ve shared it. Now I can sit back as one of the “stories with a happy ending” and continue to follow my calling?

And now we’re full circle back to Interrupted. God’s been interrupting my sleep and peace all week. He’s been overlaying Jen’s testimony on my own life to reveal a personal correction and gentle admonition: Move on. You’re growing, now continue to mature.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19

A Kingly Lesson

I don’t think I’m the only one who has ever read through Kings and Chronicles and thought, “What’s wrong with these royal guys? Every other generation is evil! Couldn’t they teach their kids better than that?”

Particularly, 2 Chronicles 29 through 35 really got to me yesterday. Starting with King Hezekiah of Judah, it’s like a spiritual ping-pong match: Good guy, bad guy, good guy, bad guy.

Often, there was a clean break between generations, a righteous king had an evil successor. But, taking a close look at Hezekiah and Manasseh, I think I see the problem right in the middle of their lives, a perfect case study. And, as usual, Scripture has a very modern application for me.

Over and over throughout Scripture, God blessed and prospered humble kings. David became king from humble shepherd roots and acknowledged that God had brought him so far. For centuries, David’s name has been preserved with honor. Think of Solomon, who humbly asked God for wisdom. Not only did God answer that request, but He made Solomon the richest man that ever lived. When kings followed the Lord, they often won battles without even raising a sword.

So, why is it that so often, these good and powerful kings left their kingdoms to sons who turned their backs on God?

I wonder…

Growing up in blessed households, perhaps pride was allowed to take seed in the young men’s hearts. No doubt they received homage from the people. They wore fine clothing and answered to, “Your majesty”. (Okay, admittedly they didn’t speak English, but go with me here.) Perhaps the power went to their heads. When opulence became the norm, power fermented and became putrid, infectious, fatal pride.

And pride always comes before a fall. Suddenly, the king found himself kingdom-less, powerless or poor.

But, when a son grew up in a humbled kingdom, his heart was soft, meek and submissive to the One True God.

Manasseh was an evil king. (2 Chronicles 33:2) God spoke to Manasseh and the people over and over again, urging them to repent. But they refused. Finally, God brought Assyria to conquer Judah. It was in captivity, that Manasseh was humbled. He sought the Lord and was restored to his kingdom. (This is a great story, read all of 2 Chron. 33.)

There, Manasseh led Judah in rebuilding the altar of Lord and sacrificing to Him. Manasseh’s son, Amon, grew up in this time of God’s favor. He watched his father be restored and blessed. By the time he took Manasseh’s place, he had an evil heart. Eventually, his own servants murdered him. But Josiah, his son, saw that his father’s wickedness cost him his life. Josiah took the throne at age eight, and was a Godly king.

I observed this ping-pong match in my own heart just yesterday.

In the beginning of my eating disorder I was proud. I was proud of my self discipline, strength and thinness. But pride led me into deep illness with anorexia. Finally, I was sick, powerless, out of control and captive to this eating disorder.

In my darkest, most humiliating moment, I turned toward God. He fed me and restored me, outside of my own conscious efforts. And for a time, I relinquished control. I ate what God fed me, I trusted Him for every bite and let Him lead me as I exercised. Now, I am strong, healthier than I’ve ever been. I feel attractive. I am restored and I recognize the beauty God created.

But yesterday, as I walked my dog around the lake, I caught myself checking to see if the cute guy who passed me was turning around for a second look. Did I catch his attention?

When I got hot, I stripped down to a sports bra, admiring my own body and thinking, “Wow, I’ve actually got abs! I look pretty good.”

I began to wonder what I did to get here. How did I accomplish such a nice physique? What workouts and meals am I doing to get these results? Look what I’ve been able to do!

Suddenly, I felt the Holy Spirit tap me on my spiritual shoulder.
“Daughter, this is what happened to those kings. They came to believe that they were responsible for their blessings. Man has an innate difficulty containing both my blessing and humility. I did not only create you in your mother’s womb, but I continually create each new cell to replace the dying ones. Every perfect gift, including your body and your life, come from me.”

 

 

Resonance

An echo in my spirit,

Like a pulsing in my chest,

An ache in my soul.

Life struck

by felt-bound hammer, and

Days pounded repeatedly, my

Pain cloaked in mercy.

Your Spirit sings near me and

Tremors erupt in my belly.

Notes of resonance, harmony.

Your voice beckons all my straining

Peels the silence away.

With strikes and songs, strokes and pelts.

You coax the music of my life

To resonate and harmonize

Where beauty lay cold and shrouded under cobwebs. 

Abandoned, deemed useless and out of tune.

You stood nearby and hung your notes between us.

I felt the rumble in my belly –

chords of life vibrating with mysterious life. Creator Life.

Then Jesus, you sat and touched the keys,

Pulled your fingers down the dusty keys,

And crescendo followed trill as songs I long thought died

came forth.

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?

Shhhh…It’s the Quietest Gospel

The Quietest Gospel. Kind of self explanatory, but Wax explains there are a couple angles. For the sake of baiting you to read the book, I’ll only explain the version that I struggle with the most.

The conservative version maintains the appearance of prophetic speech by speaking out against certain sins. But it often reduces the gospel announcement by relegating its implications to personal fulfillment in a way that makes the church irrelevant to public discourse. (pg. 140)

Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow Him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (quoted on pg 140)

The problem is I observe plenty blatant sins in my daily life. It’s easy enough (though sometimes I wimp out even still) to declare that am pro-life and abortion is wrong, that taking God’s name in vain is a sin, that stealing is wrong and so is sexual immorality and lying and abuse and sorcery and… you get my drift. Many people, priding themselves on morality, would support these assertions. However, the true Gospel calls me to more than that.

Where is a Christian living out the bold apostolic Gospel that defies evil even when to do so will cause pain? Where is the Christian willing to take the true Gospel for all its political assertions, for its nitty-gritty implications on everyday life? I suggest to you that there aren’t many living in the United States.

It is frequently heard from our pulpits, “Just preach the gospel.” I have heard many Christians say, “I don’t really say much about my faith, I just hope people see Jesus in my life.” That’s not the Biblical Gospel.

Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Amos, and Ezekiel had no trouble holding together the proclamation of good news with the prophetic call to care for the poor and needy, to stop economically unjust practices, and to return to a heartfelt worship of God.” (pg. 145)

I think on a smaller scale of other examples of a quietest gospel: when we’re afraid to raise our hands in church or kneel in worship because of what others may think; when we don’t give money to that homeless person because we don’t know their real motives; when we don’t tell the truth about where we’ll be on Sunday morning when asked to make other plans. Anything sound familiar?

This morning I began my quiet time as usual with my journal open on my lap. Suddenly, after a few pages of drivel and standard prayer requests, the Holy Spirit dug deep into my heart. He asked me, “Abby, if there were no hell, would you love me?”

What?

“If there were no eternal consequence to sin, no fiery hell to be avoided, would you love me? Or would you say, ‘A little longer, I’ve almost got it right down here;’ or, ‘I’m actually enjoying this for now.’ How passionate is your love for me? Is it greater, louder, more fulfilling than your comfort, your reputation, your self-esteem?”

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. Hebrews 12:1-4

The Holy Spirit, Numbness, and the Hole in My Lip

Whew, I survived today. There are still seven hours to go, few of them daylight, but the hard part of today is over.

Doesn’t everyone dread the dentist? It’s a shame. A dentist really never stands a chance, because no matter how good they are, the smell of a dental clinic is enough to turn the strongest stomach and the sound of a drill is enough to melt the sturdiest knees. Such was my lot today. I tried to conjure up some legitimate reason to cancel my appointment, but as I had already rescheduled it once, I figured I should just get it over with.

I was lucky, the lady dentist that I saw last time is on maternity leave. So I got to see Dr. B….. I can’t begin to pronounce his last name. The poor guy was spinning like the Tasmanian Devil trying to see all the patients and keep up with his three assistants. He was about 30 minutes late getting to me and I had nearly decided that was enough of a reason to skip the appointment.

But I didn’t.

I lived through it. Dr. B numbed my left jaw as locally as possible so I can still speak pretty well. My smile looks terribly lopsided and I’ve already drooled coffee and water down my chin. The tingles are now returning, so I’m on the mend.  However, along with the tingles, I just realized that I apparently viciously bit my lip while I was numb.

Now my lip is still swollen – because of the chomp and not the medicine. This pain is going to last a while longer too.

I’ve described living in ignorance of the Holy Spirit as feeling numb. When a Christian has experienced walking daily with the Holy Spirit, speaking to him and being spoken to, His sudden distance is more than lonely. It feels like I’ve lost touch with myself. Without the Holy Spirit informing my every thought and enabling my prayers, all my senses seem dull. My head feels stuffed with cotton. I can’t concentrate, and I flit from one vain pursuit to the other – completely ineffective.

In those numb moments it’s easy to sin. Just as it was easy to bite a near hole in my lip and not even notice it right away – when we are estranged from the Holy Spirit, it’s easy to slip inattentively into sin. We don’t even know it right away.

But the pain will come. Sin always has consequences. The Holy Spirit won’t leave us to ourselves. He will bring conviction, the distinct return of feeling, awareness and conscience. Suddenly, the pain is real – the reality of our offense and the repercussions of pride, unbelief, judgement, adultery, greed, lust or other sin.

This pain won’t last forever. As it heals, a Christian whose heart is fully devoted to God will repent and return to the Lord. His pain will be a poignant reminder of his sin and God’s overwhelming mercy. 2 Cor. 7:10