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Defined and Refined

For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.

                                 – 1 Thessalonians 4:7

An antonym is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as a word opposite in meaning to another. Understanding opposites is helpful because often we define what something is, or come to a greater understanding of what it is, by exploring what it is not. When a word has an unclear antonym, you might be able to quickly get to the opposite meaning by simply adding a prefix like “im” or “un” to the root word, which has become a standard practice in the English
language.

While the world can effortless convey an opposite sentiment with a simple prefix, we risk losingthe richness of God’s intention for us if we apply this practice in our Christian walk and allow the world’s definition to shape our worldview. Impurity is wrongly defined by the world’s
antonyms – dirty, shameful, unredeemable. But God’s antonym for impurity is sanctification, which encourages us to hold our bodies in honor (see 1 Thessalonians 4:4).

Whose worldview have you allowed to define you? Are you allowing the world to form you or are you holding on to God’s gracious definition to transform you?

Lord, I pray for wisdom to know when I am being defined by the world instead of you. Open my eyes to Your design, your will and your plan for me to live a life defined only by You. 

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Laying Down the Law

Have you ever try to lay down the law on yourself? You are going on a diet tomorrow, but today you make the unhealthiest food choices. You are going to put your phone away to have face time with your family, then you binge on Facebook for three hours. You are going to get your money right and stick to a budget, then you max out the last credit card you had any room on. The prospect of discipline drives us to go further astray. It doesn’t fix the problem. 

This is exactly the relationship between the Law and sin – the Law not only defines, but magnifies the problem with the human heart. Unchecked, without the Law, we are ignorant to our heart’s leanings, and while the Law exposes it, it can only contain it for a time. 
Our situation, if left right there – is hopeless – we can never be good enough, do enough or be enough to fulfill the letter of the Law. Lawbreakers deserve death, God remains unchangeable, and so the Law must be fulfilled. God’s wrath appears to be the only recourse, but love changes everything. 
Because of His great love, something quite remarkable was set in motion … God became flesh and made His dwelling among us. He came for us – for you and for me. He lived a perfect life and died a gruesome death on a cross to free us from the penalty of sin – because of His great love. Jesus conquered sin and death and lives today at the right hand of our Father – advocating for us because he knows exactly what it’s like to be human.  

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I had myself a good cry in the car on my way to work this morning.  It’s been a while.  I honestly believe that sadness is a characteristic of the mild to acute depression that is hereditary in the women my family, and because of this, I am always a bit scared when I am inexplicably sad.  Then I realized the date – its May 1st.   Shakespeare very appropriately said that rough winds shake the darling buds of May, and May has always been unusually rough for me – at least since 1995.   That was the year my mother died.

 You can imagine my relief when I came to this realization this morning.   I know that many of you reading this will have absolutely no idea what this is like.  It’s a frail, solemn club that we who have lost our mothers are in.  Sadly, it doesn’t matter if you lost your mom when she was 30, 60, or 80 – the void is the same and its forever.  At least that’s what I find as I move towards the 18th anniversary of my mom’s passing.  I find now that after all these years, that the pain goes from subtle to excruciating with subconscious promptings – for me every year, its Mother’s Day (duh), Relay for Life celebrations, Memorial Day, and most recently, my Facebook feed bringing me the comingled dramas and victories of cancer patients fighting, winning and losing their battles.  At other times, I clearly see God connecting me to a greater understanding of Him through her.   

 

My mother’s life was characterized by uncompromising grace, the lessons of which I am still learning.  Just this weekend, as I was contemplating “contemplative prayer”, love and grace after finishing Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, I remembered a time when my mother was actively fostering teenaged girls. These were the girls who got a little wild with other foster families and the next step was a group home environment – my mother always loved the hardest people to love and took in the children who were toughest to place.  One day, this lovely pair who knew each other for a few weeks after having met in my mother’s home, decided they were going to run away together.  One of the girls had a sister, who apparently wasn’t deemed fit to care for her that they were going to run off and live with.  My mother informed me of this fact over lunch at her house on a cool spring day, much like last Saturday.  Apparently these children had been gone for hours, having left sometime in the night.  I asked my mom if she called the police.  She calmly replied, “No.  I was waiting for you to get here so you and Pauline could go look for them.”

 

Go look for them – somewhere in New York City.   My mother wanted us to go find two wild girls that I barely knew, who had been in my mom’s care only for a few months, in one of the biggest, most dangerous cities in the world.   This seemed completely reasonable to her.  My response, sadly, was another question – why didn’t you call the police? After all, it was the only right thing to do.

 

I didn’t know exactly how, but with very little to go on, somewhere between the Bronx and an apartment building in Spanish Harlem, we found these girls and brought them home.   At the time I thought it might have been due to Pauline’s excellent acting skills when knocking on the apartment door (it felt like we were reenacting a scene out of a Law and Order episode), but now I realize that it was much more than that – it was God’s grace at work.

 

My inclination was to call in the law – my mother’s reaction was grace.  Those girls were so loved by my mom, even when they gave her no reason to love them, that she was willing to risk her reputation and her status with the foster care agency by not calling the police.  She loved them so that she sent her own daughters to look for them in the parts of New York City that most tourists never see to give them another chance.  I realized last Saturday that this is exactly what God does for us.  Instead of exacting the full measure of the law, as is His divine right, He sent His Son, our Big Brother into the world to us to search out and seek what was lost – sullied, unwanted, unlovable and desperately lost.  We get exactly what we don’t deserve. 

I don’t know where these girls are now, but my hope is that like me, they are still unravelling these lessons we learned from my mother, and I pray that they might still be making connections from my mother’s life and actions as often as I am.  I am always comforted by the fact that there are so many people who were deeply touched by her love.  Although there are more sad days ahead for me, I can always rest in that until I’m with her again.    

These are in no particular order.

1. Men. I love that two weeks into the show, they still have guys who love the word and are highly engaged in knowing God’s word.

2. Jeff Foxworthy. Confession – I was thinking “smarter than a 5th grader” – that he would expose the whole world to American Christianity’s biblical illiteracy issue. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong about that one. He is a gracious host and very entertaining and may actually be covertly helping to solve that problem.

3. Light, fun, yet honoring. The questions are well written, categories are playfully yet respectfully written.

4. Charity. Teams seem really committed to their causes – Minnie’s Food Pantry had me in tears when they won. It challenges me to be more giving and committed.

5. Gracious losers. So far, everybody’s happy, and no one seems to be down in the mouth about not coming away winners.

6. Bible Study Time. I am thrilled any time I see people discussing God’s word. I would love to see the contestants using some study tools. Is a concordance too much to ask for?

7. The Choir. Nothing engages me more completely than gospel harmonies.

I Have Issues

According to Francis Chan, I really do. I was one of those people who waited in eager anticipation of the new Chan/Sprinkle book, Erasing Hell, because I was simply captivated with intellectual curiosity. The controversy ignited by the release of the Rob Bell’s Love Wins promotional video and the twitterverse erupting in response that culminated on the cover of Time magazine was literally a cerebral feast for me. The countless blog posts, response books, and thoughtful post-mortem articles about what we learned as a community were added brain gravy.

I read Love Wins before I read Erasing Hell, mostly because I didn’t want to be one of “those people”  who reacted without a complete set of facts, but more so because I thought Chan and Sprinkle were writing a response to it. It turns out that they did and they didn’t – Erasing Hell was much more than that.

While I was intellectually satisfied by finally reading Erasing Hell, I was also deeply convicted that prior to reading it, I missed the whole point. Shaping theology for 21st century and sound exegetical interpretation wasn’t the point. The fact that people are going to hell is.

As  I said earlier, Erasing Hell is and isn’t a response to Love Wins, and I don’t believe it was intended to be. The approach to the areas of Bell’s book that begged for correction, namely that Gehenna was the city dump, hell is a place for correction and purification, and the gates of the New Jerusalem are eternally open and waiting for those released from the fire were addressed with in a spirit of love and correction with respect. By chapter 4, roughly mid way through the book, there are no overt references to Love Wins.

Chan and Sprinkle then focus on what is really at issue – there is a real hell where people who are living all around us today will go if they don’t accept Jesus and start living differently.

“We can’t be wrong on this one.”

“When it comes to hell, we can’t afford to be wrong.”

“Don’t forget to tremble.”

Structured like a Pauline epistle, Erasing Hell first sets out and corrects the erroneous doctrine of the day, pressing into scripture and scholarship with equal intensity as Chan and Sprinkle refute the more dangerous aspects of the point of view expounded by Bell.  Before moving into the exegesis of the new testament teachings of Jesus, John, Peter and Jude, they ensure that the 1st century foundations for understanding the content of the teachings was laid, most notably that for 1st century Jews, hell was punishment as a result of God’s righteous judgment, would have been a given, which added the appropriate heaviness to the expounded teachings of Jesus and his followers.

Chan and Sprinkle then urgently explain how we should not only think differently in light of this information, but live differently. With the same level of loving admonition that Paul wrote to the Ephesians in the later chapters of that epistle, they go on to paint solemn warnings for Christ’s church today.

To say that the imagery of hell in this context is sobering is an understatement. Judgment. Punishment. Wrath. Lake of Fire. Utter darkness. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. Whether or not this is an eternal destiny or final annihilation isn’t ultimately decided by Chan and Sprinkle (although Chan admittedly leans towards the everlasting and eternal view vs. destructive), but considering the imagery, I, like the authors, have a new appreciation for the cross and Jesus, and his willingness to endure that horror and agony for me.

And at this point, I repented – “God wants us to do more than intellectually agree with scripture, he wants us to live in light of them.” Chan and Sprinkle make sure that the reader understands that this is life and death – most likely in perpetuity – and this subject impacts the fate of every person that has ever breathed on this planet. I am encouraged to grieve, mourn and rejoice and live my life in the beautiful tension that is created by knowing, and serving and loving a God whose ways are so much higher than ours.

Hell is real, judgment and wrath aren’t pretty, but God is God, and he is good, even when we can’t understand His ways.

I don’t enjoy squirming, and watching people squirm really is annoying. When famous (insert dripping irony here) Christians come out and evade hard questions I am deeply disturbed. For the record, I never saw an instance in the Bible that Jesus did that.

Jesus answered questions from the crowd on point – yes, sometimes with a question, because the expectation was that you would find the answer yourself if you took a hard, practical look. He forced those around him to think. That is great leadership.

It would have been great if someone from the crowd yelled out, “Teacher, what about the gays?” I hope one day I will get e chance to ask him myself, because this is one issue that Jesus didn’t address. He went hard after the Pharisees and defended those who couldn’t defend themselves, but his summation of the Law was to love God and neighbor (with a great parable to define neighbor) with his only addendum being “as I have loved you.”

Parables, Jesus’s preferred way of communicating with the masses, force us to reconsider what is around us and apply our God given sense of reason, and in the Christian context, the Holy Spirit’s leading is paramount to understanding. Jesus doesn’t tell us what to think, he teaches us how with the Holy Spirit’s enablement.

So, at the risk of getting unFriended and unFollowed this morning, I am going “on the record” to say that God loves gays, and we are not equipped in the slightest to make the call on whether or not this is a lifestyle or a sin, or any of the other things that both sides of this debate. Christ called us to love as he did, unconditionally and sacrificially. Love and harsh judgement is a house divided, and Jesus teaches that a house divided will not stand.

Today, as Jesus commanded, I choose love. Not “loving the sinner, hating the sin”, just love. I’m reserving judgment of “sin” for the one true Judge.

Loving My Scars

Sad and maybe a little sick, but true – I love my scars. There are great stories of both triumph and tears behind each one of them. My left elbow tells the tale of a Mother’s Day motocross race long ago, involving a finish line jump and a well meaning (and poorly executed) desire to clear it. I learned how not to let off the gas at the top of the hill – the scar on my right elbow proves it. On my left shin, the scar from the foot peg comes from loading up my bike after the first time I went to a practice session unassisted by Bob or Nick.
On my right arm, I wear the heartbreaking teeth marks of a beautiful, powerful and misunderstood dog that bit me while having an absence seizure. The scars I wear emotionally from that incident are much more prominent. They are a reminder that the ones you love the most are the most likely to cause you the greatest disappointment and pain.
The scars we wear on our hearts are much less noticeable, but much more dangerous. Betrayal and loss leave profound marks on our hearts that, if not appropriately dealt with, will contribute to further damage and ugly healed marks.
I got to thinking about these scars today because they are so much prominent now that my skin is tanned – exposure to the sun makes my scars much more noticeable, and I couldn’t help but thinking that my perspective on these scars would really shape how those around me see them when they are out in the open. Whether physical or emotional, your approach to your scars, whether positive or negative, will determine how those around you will see them. Your heart, along with its scars, will undoubtedly be exposed to opportunities to love and trust. If you can see strength and resilience in your healed emotional wounds, then you healed well, and you can be proud of your circumstances, and the person you are because of them.