Monthly Archives: February 2014

Feeling Like a Foreigner

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I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to this. This place still does not feel like home. After only four months, I suppose this may be normal, but there’s something that keeps me very much unsettled.

Maybe it’s that I’m not in my own home yet. (Could the end of March take any longer??)

Maybe it’s that we’re still not completely settled into a church yet.

Maybe it’s that we haven’t gotten the chance to make friends yet.

Or maybe I’m just getting a glimpse of what we should feel like as God’s children living in a place that’s really not meant to be our home.

There’s definitely something about moving that can give you a perspective for eternity. In the deepest parts of my heart, I really don’t want to ever be comfortable in this place as long as I live. If I start feeling too comfortable, perhaps something is wrong. Maybe not wrong…but not completely right.

I’m thinking that my desire to be with Christ in heaven should make this earthly home pale in comparison. {Lord, may I never be too easily satisfied with what this world offers…} We just read from Philippians this Sunday about Paul being conflicted in himself about being with Christ or remaining on the earth with those whom he’s been able to teach (1:12-30). He said in v. 21,

For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.

It’s so short yet so profound. Now there’s a man who knows where his citizenship lies. Later in Philippians 3:20 Paul talks about our citizenship being in heaven and “from it we await our Savior…”.

I’m telling you, there’s nothing like being in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by unfamiliar people that makes you really long to be with what’s familiar – Jesus.

Even the writer of Hebrews addresses this in the famous “hall of faith” chapter (11:13-16):

13 These [Old Testament believers] all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.”

Sigh.

I’m so beyond grateful that He is my home.

When I’m with Him, I’m home. No more feeling like a foreigner. No more feeling unsettled in the unfamiliar. His Word gives me hope as I look forward to that home He’s preparing for me. In the meantime, I can look to Him and sink into those familiar arms, trusting that anything from Him is better than anything here.

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When Will You Learn Your Lesson?

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You’ve had those days. You start out well with a nice, refreshing Bible study, putting your mind and heart squarely on what God’s word says. Then you walk out of your room to go snuggle with your four-year-old son (whom you promised you’d snuggle with in the morning), only to find him no where in his room. You search the house. You call his name. No son. No answer. Then you go to his 2 year-old brother’s room. You open the door then quickly wished you hadn’t. For in that moment you beheld a disaster. Board books everywhere. Aquafor lotion open and half gone on the floor. Vicks vapor rub open and half gone next to the bed. Baby oil completely gone. Two travel size baby lotion bottles open. One tube of aquafor, one tube of lanolin, one tube of Neosporin all nearly gone. And then to top it off, sprinkles of baby powder everywhere.

I begin to cry because I remembered that instead of going crazy with anger, you should show your kid how sad you are that he has done this terrible thing. So I begin the lecture on how sad I am at what he’s done and at how much he’s wasted.

In all the rage and sadness I hadn’t even looked at my two boys yet. As I’m starting the clean up, I finally look at the culprits. There they stand, in my two-year-old son’s bed, naked (mind you the two year old is not potty trained…) and with every manner of lotion and oil slathered in their hair. The bed is also slathered with the aforesaid mentioned lotions and oils and powders. The books, the walls, the toys, the boys…everything is a complete mess. I couldn’t speak for at least 5 seconds (that’s a long time, right?).

That’s when I completely lost it. No more tears. No, it was time to yell. I quickly ordered my four year old out of the bed and told him to go get some clothes on. The two year old was innocent in my opinion but because of the mess I made him stay in the bed just so I could clean up the area and then start a bath. I look back at my 4 year old who is still standing there as if he didn’t just hear me bark my orders. Uh, did I stutter? You’re about to lose your life, child, you’d better get going. So I lift him out of the crib, and he runs to his room. I get madder as I begin wiping baby oil and aquafor off of books and toys and the bed. Most of the oil has soaked into the board books. I’m sure the oil and powder and lotion is also in the carpet. Lovely. As I clean, I just yell, “I can’t believe you’ve done this. Why didn’t you think. You know you’re not supposed to get these books down. Why would you get into these lotions? Did you know that you could have hurt yourself or your brother with these things? You have absolutely wasted my time this morning. I’m going to have to clean up this mess then give you both baths. You’re in so much trouble, mister.”

I finally separate the non-oily books from the oily ones and wipe down the bed frame with a blanket that’s already sprinkled with baby powder. Then as I am about to get my two year old out of his bed, I realize he’s peed all over his sheets and two blankets that were thrown into the mix. Even better. So I start a pile of laundry in his floor then get him out and start the bath. Remember, I’ve left my four year old in his room to get dressed. I peek in there to make sure he’s actually gotten dressed because so help me if he hasn’t…

Thankfully he was dressed and waiting. I tell him again that he’s in big trouble and slam his door, telling him to wait until I’m finished bathing his brother. I get the two year old clean (except his hair…I learned later that the shampoo did NOTHING to wash out all of the lotions and oils out of his hair) and get a diaper on him. I send him off with a small lecture telling him that what they’d done in his room was a “no no”.

I go get my four year old, and he’s sitting in his room playing. Playing. How could he be playing when he should be mourning the fact that he’s just disobeyed his mom, wrecked his brother’s room, wasted practically every bottle and tube in my son’s room, and given his brother these products to possibly ingest and to definitely make a mess? I lay out his behavior and he knows the consequences. Spanking. Three swats. He tells me I shouldn’t have hurt his bottom. Well, son, you shouldn’t have “x, y, z…”

His bath is done. He gets his clothes back on. We get our breakfast and then he does his school work. It’s all I can do to refrain from being in punishment mode all morning. The cold shoulder. The angry answer. The sarcastic remark. I don’t want to be THAT mom. So I push on through, fighting every feeling in me to explode at every infraction, be them intentional or not, important or not.

This is my chore day. I have to get laundry done and go get groceries. I make sure my four year old realizes again that he’s wasted my morning and has set us back in our schedule to get to the store (ugh…this makes me cringe reading back over it). And all day it goes like this. I get angry over and over based on his decisions from this morning. I keep re-hashing it. I realize I’m just so scared that this four year old is never going to learn to obey. If he can’t learn to obey me, how is he ever going to learn to obey God? I’ve written him off as a failure for all of his life because he can’t get this one lesson down… perfectly… right now (and keep in mind, this is my rule follower son!). I even tell him a few times during lunch, “son, you’ve got to learn your lesson or you’ll keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.” I remind him of how much I hate to spank him and that I’d rather him just obey. When I ask him to tell me what’s he’s learned, he shrugs his shoulders and gives me the “I don’t know” answer. Again, I’m scared he’s not going to learn so how can I force him to learn his lesson? Maybe if I lecture him a few more times, he’ll learn. Maybe if I add another consequence, he’ll learn. Or maybe not.

My bible study lesson this morning? Living in the truth of who God says you are. Believing Him when He says He’s made me courageous, adequate as His servant, and that I’m accepted not on my own merit but by the blood of His Son. How could my behavior today have taught my son anything about the truth of who he is? I was being fearful (not courageous) as I parented. I felt completely inadequate to deal with this situation properly, and I truly was, because I was trying to fix it in my own strength and through feeling my way around the situation. I was essentially punishing my son over and over with my words, making him feel like he couldn’t even gain my approval until he was perfect. Ouch. That one hurts the worst.

So I began to speak the truth to him about who God says he is. God has called you to be a man of integrity and honesty. To obey Him and love Him with all of your heart. To be courageous. That he is acceptable no matter what he does. And then I apologize for my crazy explosions. God help me.

What I wouldn’t give to have started out that way. I’m not really any different from my children when it comes to learning my lesson. The difference is I have a perfect Father who hasn’t written me off as a failure just because I can’t learn my lesson perfectly today. He gives grace, undeserved. And when we feel inadequate, He supplies the strength and the wisdom to make us adequate. Acceptable. Thank you, Father. I’ll take it all.

{P.S. This happened back in October of last year as we were packing up our home to move. Looking back at this, I just giggle because he was just doing what kids do…making messes and having fun doing it. It’s too bad I was too stressed out to see that. Lesson learned.}

Theology Thursday: On God’s Wrath and Love

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Today’s lesson brought to you by the letter W. Wrath. Sounds like just the topic for Sesame Street…or not.

My last post was about Christ transferring His righteousness to us through the work He did on the cross. I thought it only appropriate to dig into the issue of God’s wrath against sin. Exciting, I know.

Truly, it is a perplexing subject because we want to think of God as the loving Father, not capable of what seems like the antithesis of love. Wrath. Is it really the opposite of Love? I’d like to propose that it isn’t. Here’s why…

…the supreme object of that love is himself. And because he loves himself supremely he cannot suffer what belongs to the integrity of his character and glory to be compromised or curtailed. That is the reason for the propitiation. God appeases his own holy wrath in the cross of Christ in order that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory. ‘Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood to show his righteousness…that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus’ (Rom 3:25-26). [This comes from John Murray Redemption Accomplished and Applied]

Murray’s point is that propitiation (the “covering” of sin with the effect of “cleansing and forgiveness” before the Lord) does not “detract from the love and mercy of God.” He’s combating the complaint that many people make against God, namely that to offer Christ up as the propitiation for our sins is too wrathful and does not display His love or mercy. Murray says that is completely opposite of God’s reason for sending Christ. It was out of love for Himself (to defend His holiness against sin and be just in dealing with sin) from which the sacrifice of Jesus stems. He has wrath against sin because of His utter holiness, and if He did not deal justly with it, He would not be the God we know. “The wrath of God is the inevitable reaction of the divine holiness against sin.”

In summing it all up, yes, of course He sent Christ because He loves us, but it also remains to be said that He loved us so much that He remained true to His holiness by dealing justly with sin. Think about it, what kind of God would He be if He did not handle sin sinlessly? I know I wouldn’t want to serve a God who is flippant with sin because then what does that say about His character (among other things that we won’t even go into right now)?

Did you ever think that God’s wrath could have everything to do with His love for us? What a crazy concept.

Just some food for thought. Enjoy 🙂

Just Try Harder

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I’ll never forget the message I received loud and clear one day as I was driving home from work some 5 years ago. I was listening to a Chip Ingram message from his Living on the Edge broadcast about the pressure we put on ourselves to just try harder and do better. See, I’m one of those people who is very critical of myself (and unfortunately of others…I’m working on that…), and I get into this mentality that when I mess up I should just try harder. I should beat myself up over not being perfect. I should feel really ashamed and wallow in it for a while. Ridiculous? Absolutely.

What does that even mean? To try harder? To be a “better Christian”? What does trying harder even look like? More self effort? More tears from failure and frustration? Or does it look like the Pharisee? More pride in self effort?

I’m thinking I want to stay clear of all of that. And you should too, frankly.

In his message, Chip mentioned that he was working with one of his sons on lifting weights. This event came after he and his wife were helping him through some life difficulties, including the son feeling like he was failing in some serious ways.  The son was having difficulty with lifting the weights (because he had just started and wasn’t very strong yet), and Chip kept yelling to him to “try harder!” “try harder!” The son would strain with all of his might, but the results were the same. He just couldn’t try hard enough.

Chip, being the wise father he is, had a great moment with his son at this point because he was able to lovingly direct his son that trying harder is not the answer. And trying harder in your Christian walk isn’t the answer for any of us either.

Let’s get one thing straight. There are definitely passages in Scripture that direct us to work out our faith with fear and trembling, to be good stewards of what God has given us, to run the race with perseverance. There’s nothing in my Bible that says we should just coast through this life being lazy bums because we don’t want to confront sin in our lives. Faith without works is dead, says James, the brother of Jesus. But there is a balance and a small twist to all of this.

 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Let this soak in. Let it pour over you like a refreshing stream of life. Read through the lines and see the grace in this. It is Christ’s power in you that allows you to do any good thing, to overcome any stronghold of sin, to run this race of life to His glory. It has absolutely nothing to do with you trying harder to better at this whole Christian thing. It is getting to the end of yourself, realizing you can’t do it, and watching God pick up and do beyond all you could ask or imagine. It’s when you can’t explain how it happened because there would be no reason for it to happen by your own power. It’s abiding in Him.

I am the vinenowatermark

When Christ spoke to the people about who He was, at one point He makes a statement about being the Vine. And we are the branches. We can’t ever be the Vine. And these branches can’t ever produce any grapes apart from being attached to the Vine.

Think of it, a piece of a grape branch lays on the path right next to the vine. It has no fruit on it, but it has a lot of PASSION to bear fruit. It DESIRES to be fruitful. It really wants to have a beautiful cluster of grapes growing on it, but try as it may, it just can’t seem to make grapes. Oh, it tries very hard. But the fact remains that it’s not connected to the vine.

You and I must realize that we have to ABIDE in the Vine, drawing from the POWER of Christ and the Holy Spirit, in order to conquer that habitual sin, to do any good thing, and to truly run the race set before us. Stop trying harder and go before Him with completely honesty that you can’t do it, and then ask Him for His power to be made perfect in your weakness. For when you are weak, then you are strong.

Will you or I get it right immediately? Probably not. Most likely not. Abiding in the Vine is not a one time event though. Chip Ingram went on to tell of the long hours he spent with his son in weight training. Eventually, his son could lift those weights that were impossible for him in the beginning. But it took time, and it wasn’t about him trying harder so much as it was trusting in the process of strengthening those muscles little by little (and being disciplined to stick to it). So, be weak and proud of it.

Take care to give Him the glory by boasting in your weakness.

Then watch Him go to work and amaze you.

vine abide

Theology Thursday: Houston…We Have a Problem

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Sometimes I wonder about things that I have a feeling I’ll never know this side of heaven (but really REALLY hope to find out when I get there). Things like, why don’t we get the full story in “x” story in the Bible? Or what was Jesus’ tone of voice in “y” story? Or what’s up with the dinosaurs? (seriously, where’d they go? and how?)

One of my favorite things to think about (in a kind of twisted sense) is what sin must have felt like to Jesus as He walked on the earth. And particularly, what did it feel like for this Holy God to experience the weight of sin as it was laid on Him at the cross?

We know sin all too well so it’s hard to wrap our minds around what it was like for Jesus. Sin is like that annoying friend that we really don’t want to be friends with, but she just won’t go away…ever…until we die. (P.S. I don’t think I actually have a friend like that just so no one wonders if you are “that” friend…) We know sin because we were born into it. This is what is known as “original sin” (as opposed to “actual sin” which is exactly what it sounds like…the sins we actually commit). Sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden when the serpent deceived Eve and Adam, and they ate of the forbidden fruit. Going back to our topic on the covenant (and here), God had made a covenant with Adam and Eve, and they broke it when they disobeyed His command (“do not eat…”). This sin brings them under condemnation (Romans 1:32, 2:12-14, James 2:9-10) . It brings guilt, which also involves punishment (Romans 3:19, 5:18, Ephesians 2:3). Sounds pretty rosey, eh? (Btw, you can study more on your own in any Systematic Theology book. I have Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology book and use a lot of material from it for my posts.)

Our problem is that we inherit this sin from Adam (and along with that – condemnation, guilt, punishment…death). This is known as the representative theory. Sin inherently corrupts our nature. Another way to look at it is that Adam and Eve were originally made in God’s image, but when they sinned, it corrupted their nature (that’s not to say that we aren’t still made in God’s image, because we are, but now we don’t naturally seek after God since we are corrupt). Adam is known as our “natural head” and was our representative before God in the covenant. When he sinned as our representative, he imputed his sin to us (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). TIME OUT.

Yes, I just said imputed. Here’s your big word lesson for the day. The dictionary defines this word as:

to attribute (righteousness, guilt, etc.) to a person or persons vicariously; ascribe as derived from another.

It’s just really ugly. And there’s no way that we can get ourselves out of this mess. That’s why we need a Savior. We need someone who can be our new representative before God to undo what Adam did.

Let’s think about what Christ did (yes, I know, He did a lot of things, but I mean for salvific purposes!). Christ is the second person of the Trinity, and we know that He has always existed. What we also know is that we humans fail miserably at keeping our promises to God, because frankly, we’re not perfect. So we’re trucking along in the OT and God is making all kinds of promises (or covenants) with the Israelites, fully knowing that they really can’t keep up their end of the deal (and for the record, we wouldn’t have been able to do it either). Enter Jesus, stage right. God the Father, being perfectly faithful to Himself and to us, upholds His side of the covenant but then also made a way for humans to keep their end of the deal by sending Jesus. Jesus leaves heaven, while still retaining his deity, and becomes a man. Romans 8:2-4 says,

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

A.maz.ing! (Also if you’d like to know more about why Christ had to die you can view Heb 9:15-22.) Ok so that’s the first key for how this all works. We have right standing before the Father because of Christ. Now, the second key is how what Christ did transfers to us. The phrase “in Christ” is really the first clue. We are literally “in” Christ. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:5-6,

even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

We were dead, so Christ died to fix it. We couldn’t save ourselves, so God raised Him from the dead, making us alive just as Christ also became alive. He raised Christ up and now He is seated in heaven at the Father’s right hand, we are seated with Christ in heaven.

Come again? I don’t recall ever being in heaven, did you? No near death, extra supernatural experiences here last time I checked.

So how are we seated with Christ? Jesus became our representative to the Father. He goes before the Father on our behalf, making atonement for us, and interceding for us. Check out 2 Corinthians 5:21:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

This process is what theologians call the “imputation of righteousness”. There’s that big fancy word that you can toss around in casual conversation again! (I found a good source from John Piper on this if anyone wants to read more at desiringgod.org.) To explain this a little further, “impute” does not equal ”impart”. God imparts gifts or fruit to us, but He doesn’t impart righteousness. God imputes righteousness to us which means He credits us with HIS righteousness. You’ve all heard this before (i.e. God credited it to [Abraham] as righteousness), you just didn’t know it was called the “imputation of righteousness!” (or that there was such a fancy way of speaking about it) Paul says it this way in Romans 4:6, 11:

just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them

God credits us with everything that Christ is. Where it can be said of Christ that He is holy, it can be said of us that we are holy. I gain access to the Father because Christ satisfied the demands of the holy God through His death, and God the Father accepted His sacrifice as a pleasing aroma when Christ ascended to heaven like the smoke from a sacrifice. Christ has constant and unhindered access to His Father and lives to intercede on our behalf! I stand as a free woman without the glaring sentence of condemnation for all eternity because Jesus took my sentence (Colossians 2:14) and nailed it to the cross. He stood condemned so that I wouldn’t be. So when Paul writes about being “in Christ,” now you know he really, literally meant it.

Sin problem solved.

Jesus image with 2 Cor 5.21

Up is Down

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Artwork by Tony Damico

Following on the heals of my last post, I decided (or more like have been undergoing sculpting by the Potter) that the issue of service deserved further attention. Two weeks ago I sat in a Bible study watching a Beth Moore video in which she asked us to write a letter to Jesus telling Him what we seek (what we want from Him…and I’m not talking a fully furnished home and a Rolls Royce). Some of my letter was practical. “I want my baby to be born AFTER my house is completely built.” “I would like to settle into a church home before Your second coming.” You get the picture. Other parts involved spiritual requests. A few were typical “Give me faith to trust You even when things are hard.” “I want to be a woman of courage.” But then I got to this one issue.

Perhaps you’ve done this, and perhaps you felt as sheepish as I did after being brutally honest. Let me shoot straight, you want to ask Jesus to change someone else so that things would be easier for you. Yeah. I did that. The real issue for me is that there are people who are easy to serve and then there are “those other people.” You’d rather suffer through boils all over your skin than to stoop down and just serve those other people. It’s not that you’re opposed to serving, it’s just that those other people have a sense of entitlement (that you should be serving them), and this attitude makes your skin prickle all over. It makes me jerk my head in defiance honestly. I feel like those people don’t deserve to be served. Am I striking a chord with anyone? Am I the only one who does/thinks this? Bueller?

But like a good girl, I asked Jesus to give me a heart of service anyway because I OBVIOUSLY need it. It’s like asking for patience. We all know what happens when we ask for patience. We are placed in situations in which we must learn to be patient, right? So that means if I ask for a heart of service then I’m likely to have LOTS of opportunities to serve those who are hard to serve. And isn’t this exactly what I don’t want to do? Ugh. I’m really speaking with tongue in cheek here. I trust that God will chisel away at the places in my heart that don’t reflect His character. But the chiseling still hurts…

I had to start thinking about the scenarios that Jesus might have encountered as He walked this earth. He certainly came across countless people who had difficult personalities. He did not pick and choose whom He would serve based on how nice they were or how appreciative they would be or how deserving of the service they were. Jesus told the Twelve, if anyone wants to be first (greatest), he must be last (least) and a servant to ALL (Mark 9:35). This statement came from His mouth right after the Sons of Thunder (James and John) were arguing about who would sit at his right hand in the Kingdom of God! They learned that if you want to be great, you have to learn to be the least person. Up is down. No more thinking you’re important or powerful or in control. You get down and serve, and that is what Jesus calls greatness.

One of the best things about Jesus is that He lived this out. He didn’t come to be served but to serve and give His life for us (Mark 10:45). You’d expect the King over all creation to have a grand reception in which He would be waited on hand and foot as soon as He made His entrance on this earth. But no. He didn’t even have that mindset.

http://alisonfurminger.blogspot.com/2010/04/scriptrix-scribblings.html

Artwork by Alison Furminger

He took the form of a servant (ESV translation) and humbled Himself to die a criminal’s death. If God did this, what’s my excuse?

If I’m going to truly obey His word, He leaves me with no excuse but to bite my tongue and quietly serve (and trust me, there are lots of times I just want to smart off with some corrective or telling statement). It may always be the case that person “x” never learns to appreciate your service. The point is that you’re doing what you’ve been called to do regardless of how person “x” responds. You can leave their issues in the hands of Jesus (who is likely to be chiseling away at person “x” too if that person is a believer). I want to be great in His estimation. If that means to get down, so be it. (Just don’t expect me to like it…at least for a while…and don’t think I won’t have trouble serving because I will.)