Sunday, April 24, 2011

dissolved by Thy goodness

Thy mercy my God is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart, and the boast of my tongue.
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Hath won my affection and bound my soul fast.

Without Thy sweet mercy, I could not live here.
Sin would reduce me to utter despair,
But through Thy free goodness, my spirit's revived
And He that first made me still keeps me alive.

Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart.
Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground
And weep for the praise of the mercy I've found.

Great Father of mercies, Thy goodness I own
In the covenant love of Thy crucified Son.
All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine.
All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Living in the Death

Earlier this week, a former professor and friend made a comment that gave me pause. "Remember," he said. "The longest part of Easter weekend is living in the death of Christ." It's true. We remember Good Friday in solemness and rejoice on Easter Sunday in celebration. But what do we do on Saturday?

We live in the death of our Savior.

While reflecting on the death of Jesus last night at service, the pastor mentioned how we always focus on how much the Father loves us as shown through the sacrifice of His son, but we are uncomfortable acknowledging the anger of God. God is angry at sin, and our choices of sin. His anger was brutally displayed on Good Friday. Good Friday was good in the sense of how Jesus was our atonement for our sin, but the process of taking on such atonement was not "good." It was brutal and shameful and unthinkably horrific.

"For thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath by breaking the covenant, yet I will remember...and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed... I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord God, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you all that you have done."
Ezekiel 16:59-63

In order to embrace our much our Father loves us, we need to acknowledge His anger. In order to understand salvation, we need to comprehend our depravity. We cannot take one without the other.

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Romans 3:23

Around Easter, we spend a lot of time reflecting on grace. And this is so important. But we also need to remember how much we desperately need God. We cannot just accept salvation and move on with our lives as if nothing has changed. Jesus tells us again and again that we must die to self in order to follow Him. And I think that's why so many people accept salvation at one time, and then walk away later in life. Because dying to death -- living in the death -- requires sacrifice and change and hardship. And sometimes, it seems that the narrow road is just too hard. Dying to ourselves actually gives us freedom in Christ, and we embrace the life that we were designed for.

So that's what I mean when I say, "Living in the Death." On this Easter Saturday, ask God to help you fully grasp how dying to self actually lets you live, and ask Him to reveal where exactly you need to die to self each day.

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Matthew 16:24-25

Sunday, April 17, 2011

As a Christian, should I be a Starbucks customer?

"So I tell you this, and insist upon it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

"That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

Ephesians 4:17-24

"Should I be a Starbucks customer?" The question suddenly dawned on me as I looked down at my tall soy chai in Starbucks. It was Sunday morning, and the young adults had congregated at the local chain store down the street from church. This was our newly-established ritual, greatly embraced by all. A few months ago, we unanimously decided that coffee was good for our brains and the fellowship was cozier and more conducive to our discussions.

But as I sat there on this particular Sunday, I heard our conversation about true worship and living differently in all areas of life, and I stared down at my paper cup -- and the several paper cups at the table -- and I thought about throwing them away and creating more garbage, and the luxury to buy a $3+ drink at all, and how mindlessly I do it every week -- and the question came again. "Should I consume at Starbucks at all?"

How ought I to live?

I suppose this question didn't come completely out of the blue. You see, I've been feeling that God really wants to make me new -- that He wants to make radical changes in my life. And, to be honest, I have already seen Him make some radical changes.

For one instance (and there are so many), God has called my husband and I into communal living. This was never my first choice, and there were moments I resisted Him kicking and screaming, and daily I find myself fighting various (usually negative) opinions on the matter set forth by people who don't understand how/why we live this way and could subject our (almost?) baby to such a life.

My answer? It's totally God. It's a God-thing, and I don't know how else to explain how He absolutely changed my heart to longing for community. And it's totally a God-thing that there's this little person growing inside of me and that He has blessed us with this miracle. And when we originally found out we were pregnant, we were almost at full support and ready to make plans to live on our own, and then things changed. Our support dropped and we did not end up moving to a cheaper area. God changed our plans, and so now our life looks different. But even though our life may look different, it doesn't make it any less valuable to the Kingdom.

Today I was re-reading a section in Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers by Shaine Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:

"There's a beautiful place in the Gospels where Jesus lets the disciples in on a family secret:

'Truly I tell you,' Jesus replied, 'No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father of children or field for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred time as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and field--along with persecution.' (Mark 10:29-31)

Jesus assures us that as we leave our possessions and family in allegiance to God's kingdom, we will enter a new household of abundance... Persecutions will come to us when we choose an economic order different from the pattern of the world." (pp. 20-21)

There are two things that strike me about this passage and excerpt. The first is that when we follow Christ, again and again, He promises us persecution (not just in this passage, but many others). I always used to envision persecution as bodily harm or some sort of physical exile, but now I see it as more. I truly now feel as though I have been experiencing forms of subtle persecution for us merely following the Lord's specific leading in our lives.

The other thing that strikes me is how Jesus promises us abundance of homes and families in this life. Our pastor read this verse a few months ago, and I initially was confused by it. I thought that Jesus somehow meant we would have money and comfort and our own home, but I knew in my gut that that interpretation didn't make sense. I now see that once we "leave" our biological families, we inherit the entire family of God. "We have sisters and brothers and mothers all over the world," the authors point out. "Jesus had homes everywhere he went... the disciples were not sent out in the simple poverty of an ascetic life but with a new vision of interdependence, trusting that God would provide for them... The church was not only to practice hospitality, but to be dependent on hospitality also. The line between 'us' and 'them' was dissolved" (21-22).

Isn't that beautiful? The thing is, there is enough wealth among our Christian family -- wealth of money, of space and homes, and family -- so that no one will go hungry, no one will go homeless, and no one will be orphaned. And yet we have not broken free from the bondage of the world -- the bondage of our own greed. We have conformed to the pattern of the world and have not allowed ourselves to be made new.


I wonder if it has to do with the little things. The daily time in prayer. The daily time with God. Obedience in the small things. Are we just waiting around until God asks us to do that one, big thing that will change the pattern of our lives? Are we just idling away until we feel inspiration to change? Are we holding our breath until God calls us to leave our families for the mission field?

Here's the reality: we won't make the big changes in our lives until we start responding in daily, mundane obedience. It starts small. Going to church every Sunday and becoming anchored in a Christian community completely changed my life, and I only started going back to church because they hired my fiance. But through that one simple act of obedience and one step of forming a new habit, God transformed me. There were other steps along the way, but the first step was simply showing up for church every Sunday.

Now there are different calls to obedience in my life. I could easily choose to ignore them or wait until I'm really fired up to change, but if I just obeyed, maybe the church would be one step closer to being made new. Maybe I would be one step closer to being made new.

And so my original question lingers in my brain, and I wonder about my Starbucks-habit and how God wants to use my obedience for the Kingdom. Quite honestly, as a former employee, I love Starbucks and have found no major ethical reasons to boycott them in my life. And maybe the question was my own thought and not from God at all, but what if it was God? What would happen if I stopped consuming Starbucks? Could we perhaps save more money for our daughter, or have some extra cash to take a student out to lunch, or give more money to a child in poverty (or even the homeless along the streets of Philadelphia)? I'm going to continue to pray about these questions and ask the Lord to continually renew me and my lifestyle.

What about you? How is God asking you to put on the new self?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Non-Perfectionist

"Do you know what would be best for you? Stop trying to be spiritually perfect to God and man."

Lately, I've had to come to terms with the Perfectionist inside me -- or, rather, I've had to come to terms with the reality that I am not perfect.

I don't know when the perfectionist ideal snuck into my heart, but it's probably been ruling a good portion of my life for the last 20 years or so. There's always a catch-22 with perfectionism, though. As I strive to be perfect in one area, another area inevitably suffers. (There's also the fact that no one is perfect, but you know, somehow my brain blocks that fact out on a consistent basis.)

Take, for instance, college. I firmly believed that we should do all things to the best of the ability that God has given us. This isn't a terrible sentiment, so I set out to do it. I put a high priority on my studies -- aiming to get the highest grade possible, because I knew God had given me that ability. I excelled, and to this day have a stellar work ethic. But what suffered in the process? Oh, you know. My health. A little joy here and there. Oh, yeah-- and relationships. With people, with myself, with God.

But I never really saw it as a problem.
Until I realized I couldn't do it any more.

Pregnancy has been hard on so many levels (but it's the good-kind-of-hard, you know what I mean?). Not only have I been physically pushed to the brink of exhaustion, but I have been pushed to the brink of mental and emotional hullaballoo. I literally cannot keep up with my pre-pregnancy schedule, but I feel like I do not have the wiggle room to slow down.

Two days ago, I had a breakdown. Ok, three breakdowns. These are no longer foreign to me or my husband (or maybe any other pregnant lady out there), but somehow I am always caught off guard. As I slouched in a bench, slowly getting drenched in the rain, hoodie draped over my face, hiding in the shadows (yeah - it was pitiful), I cried out to God. My cries were something like, "Please take something off of my plate," and, "Why doesn't someone give me permission to stop something?"

My husband's advise was wise and practical: I can't expect someone else to remove things from my schedule. I will have to sacrifice doing my most perfect homework for grad. school. I will have to sacrifice being perfect for my students. I have to be okay with not being perfect.

All that uttered out of me was, "I don't know how."
I don't know how not to have these enormous expectations of myself. But that's just what they are: enormous expectations of myself. No one else is forcing them on me; in fact, everyone else in my entire life is telling me to slow down and take it easy.

And then, he asked the whammy of all questions: "What would you say to our daughter if she were in your situation?"

Shoot. There was no wiggling out of that question.

"Learn to see yourself as you are, and accept your weakness until it pleases God to heal you. Your goal is to be as patient with yourself as you are with your neighbor."

I'd tell her to just take a break, to stop trying to be perfect, to take care of herself.

"Long-standing habits are easily restarted, because you already have a natural leaning toward them. Stay away from anything that will lead you down old paths."

So that's what I did. I buried my own perfection idol, at least for the day, and just stepped back.

You know, there's a difference between doing everything to the best of our abilities and doing everything for the glory of God. Yes, it's good to put forth our best effort insomuch as it points to the Lord. If it instead points to our glory (or if our motivation is for perfectionism), then our activities have become our idols. We are no longer letting God be LORD of our lives. We must remember that the Bible says again and again that God uses our weaknesses to bring Him glory.

"If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness."
2 Corinthians 11:30

Oh, and by the way, God did end up taking a few things off my plate (classes, meetings, etc.) byno act of my own.

... and the quotes are from Fenelon's The Seeking Heart.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

the knitting together -- the forming of days

Dear Pixie,

I cannot wait to meet you -- to hold you in my arms -- to see this little person that God has given me to care over. You have been so much a part of my life for the last 30 weeks; my entire body and mind and soul has been preparing for you. Every moment, I praise the Lord for you. You are a miracle -- a real person -- forming within me, and even now, God has designed the days of your life. Please know that I am praying for grace -- and will pray daily for grace -- to be gentle with you, to love you through every action, to discipline you with the kindness of the Spirit. You are already so beautiful to me, and you are even more beautiful to the Lord.

With love and great anticipation,

"For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them."

Psalm 139:13-16

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Facebook Fasting and Being Still

A couple of weeks ago, Lent was just around the corner. Coming from a Reformed Protestant background, I had never been in the habit of truly observing the Lenten season. College marked the first time I encountered people "giving things up" for Lent and establishing a new spiritual discipline. The idea was always intriguing, but I never knew how to participate without "giving up" something arbitrarily.

This year, it wasn't so arbitrary. I sensed an urge to take some kind of break from technology.

"I think I'm going to give up TV shows," I said to my husband one night.
"Rachel, you don't really watch any TV shows."
Oh, yeah. Right.

The thought of forgoing Facebook started to jump around in my brain. "But I need that for work," I thought. "I need to stay in connection with students." Then I noticed my habit of keeping in contact with students via text messaging, and instead using Facebook for time-wasting and perusing people's photos.

My break from Facebook has been so revealing of certain unhealthy tendencies and so life-giving with discoveries. In fact, I'm not looking forward to getting back on Facebook (although, truthfully, I will - if only for the countless photos of my nephews).

When I go on vacation, one of my favorite things to do is to stay disconnected from technology. I like not having Wifi or wasting time on a computer or being glued to a phone. I like spending my time reading and journaling and praying and just being. The difference with only abstaining from Facebook and not all technology revealed to me how much I use technology as a diversion and distraction from being in the present moment. I find myself filling the minutes with reading blogs and finding information on baby things and e-mailing everyone and who-knows-what-else. If I'm not careful, I will let the busyness of technology distract me from the stillness of God.

The fact is that my soul longs for God's stillness--for His Spirit.
I long to wait upon the Lord, and technology distracts me from doing so.

God, please forgive me for filling hours up with technology--
for ignoring the peace that you so willingly give me.
Help me to be more attuned to Your Spirit--
to seek stillness and quiet over busyness and distraction--
to be in Your presence--
to choose simplicity of being.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Out Into the Battlefield: Quiet Time with God

"There are two major reasons it is so difficult to develop the discipline of a daily quiet time. First is the influence of the flesh. Keep in mind that your old nature is opposed to daily quiet time... Pray that the Holy Spirit will enable your new nature to overcome your old nature in this battle.

"The second reason is resistance by Satan. The devil opposes your every effort to please Christ. His strategy is to rob you of daily quiet time joy, to complicate your time schedule by keeping you up late at night and making it hard for you to get up in the morning, to make you drowsy during your time with the Lord, to make your mind wander, and otherwise to disrupt your meeting with Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to retain the devil."

- Greg Ogden, Discipleship Essentials, page 37

Before yesterday, I never really thought of our reluctance to spend daily quiet time with God as a part of greater spiritual warfare. It just sort of seemed like an "I-know-I-should-do-this-but-", passive, menial struggle. But this downplays the seriousness of our neglect, and the devil subtly chips away at us through this "passive, menial struggle."

Every student I ask about quiet time admits the same thing: they don't do it regularly. When I was in college, I also tended to shirk it in favor of memorizing lines, studying, and hanging out with friends. I always thought, "I'll have more time when I'm out of college." What happened? By the time I left college, I was barely a Christian, toying with declarations of Agnosticism or even Atheism.

What I tell my students: It never gets easier.
In fact, it will probably get harder.

Yesterday, I decided it's time to stop treating this spiritual discipline as something that would be "nice" to accomplish and start treating it as something vital for life. Jesus tells us in John 15 to abide or remain in Him and the Word. If we don't, we won't grow--we won't be nourished--we will bear no fruit. In fact, if we don't abide with him, we will wither, be cut off, and thrown into the fire.

Hellooooo! This is serious!
Why are we NOT taking it seriously?

What I challenged to my students yesterday--and my challenge to YOU--is to take out your calendar before you go to bed tonight. Literally schedule in at least 10 minutes of quiet time with God daily for the next week. If you miss a day, then just start again the next day. I'm going to check in with them next Wednesday. Find someone you can check in with and keep you accountable.

So I'm done with being passive. I'm done letting the devil have this victory over my life, and the lives of the women I mentor. It's over, Satan. The Lord has the victory.

"With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies."
Psalm 60:12

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Simple (but important) Reminders

A quote from Dean Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (1815-1881) of Westminster Abbey
...with added comments from my pastor's sermon last night...

"The intellect must seek Truth without undistracted fearless zeal -- else we do not serve God with our whole mind and understanding."

You must be spending one-on-one time with the Lord, undistracted. Otherwise, you are not engaging in intimacy with the Lord and will not be able to serve Him.

"The bodily powers must be guarded and saved for the healthy discharge of all that providence requires upon our passage through life -- else we do not serve Him with our whole strength."

You must put yourself in a position to have maximum energy to serve, worship, and commune with the Lord.''

"The affections must be kept fresh and pure -- else we do not serve Him with our whole heart."

If what you are long for isn't bringing you closer to God, you shouldn't long for it.

"Our conscience must not have stained itself with secret sin, unworthy transactions, false pretenses -- else we do not serve Him with our whole heart."

Guard your eyes, ears, heart, and soul; keep your conscience clear.

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