Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me...
Philippians 3:12

This is the passage on which God called me to meditate for the year (2014), but I haven't known what to do with it.  Honestly, it follows one of my least favorite little excerpts in Philippians.  I don't know, something about Paul's statement, "Not that I have already obtained it, but I press on toward the goal" just turns me off.  Maybe it's the race metaphor.  It makes me feel hot and tired.  I like to run in circles on the grass in my bare feet with my dogs.  I like to run on the beach or down a cascading dune of sand.  I like to run in moments of bounding joy or energy or life.  I do NOT like to run races.  Boo.

However, the truth is that this line, this specific line is kind of ... magical.  

It says that Jesus took hold of me.

Yes!  Yes, I have experienced that in so many ways, at so many times in the course of my journey.  Christ Jesus captivated me with his love and sacrifice when I was just a tiny girl.  He wrapped me in his presence.  He held me up as a kid when I was terrified of school, rejected by my peers, and unable to get out of bed in the mornings.  He gave me courage and he gave me joy.  And then he walked with me into the valley of the shadow of death.  And there, that is where he caught me up.  He reached down and took hold of me, and he brought me out.

And he had been wanting to do it for a long time.

He brought me out to something, for something.  What a glorious day it is to be brought out!  But how much more glorious is it to be brought out to something, for something, something he had in mind, something he had intended before he ever went in to get me!

But I must take hold of it.  I must receive it.  I must hold on to it.  I must fight for it.  I must chase it, chase it like life, like chasing my puppies through the grass on a firefly studded summer evening.  I must want it, dream of it, wait for it, imagine it, long for it, pray for it, work for it, defend it, cherish it.

What is this thing, this mysterious thing for which Christ has taken hold of me?  It is the pearl of great price.  It is the Kingdom of God.

It is for freedom that Christ set us free. 
Galatians 5:1a

So simple it might be disappointing - unless you've experienced it or truly been desperate for it.


It's true.  And it is amazing.  I have both been desperate for it and I have experienced this freedom in Christ.  I have experienced freedom from shame through the conviction of the Spirit, through the humility of finding my identity in and through Christ, and through the confession of sin and the acceptance of this world as it is, not as I would have it.  I have known freedom from perfectionism, legalism, isolation, depression, and self-loathing.  I have experienced freedom from oppression.  I have known the freedom of being accepted as I am and loved in the darkest places of my soul.  I have experienced the freedom that comes from seeing and living in the truth.

A friend of mine confessed to me the other night: "I didn't know Christ had something for me. I didn't know that I didn't have what Christ had for me."

I didn't know that I didn't have...

It hit me.  It was profound.  He nailed it.  He described in two short sentences the "struggle" of his Christian walk ... through the desert ... for years.

How many of us ... don't know ... that we don't have ... ? How many of us don't know that we don't have freedom, life, joy? How many of us don't know that we don't have the power of the Spirit in our lives? The fruit of the Spirit? 

Christ has taken hold of us, but how many of us don't know that Christ took hold of us for something?

I just described the freedom Christ brought to my life.  But I didn't know it once. My life was simple, mundane. I worked a 9-to-5 job. I ate out 3 nights a week, went to the movies on the weekends, wrote reviews for a corporate newsletter. I went to church on Sundays, played in a worship band, took nice vacations every year, lived around the corner from my mom and we had coffee on Saturday mornings with my little dog, Sol. I watched my favorite shows on tv, went to the lake during the summer, worked on home projects year round, hosted Thanksgiving dinner. None of these things were bad. They were beautiful in many ways.

But I didn't know that I didn't have.

Blessed are the poor in spirit ... for they know that they don't have.

I didn't know that Christ Jesus took hold of me for something. And I didn't know that this something for which Christ Jesus took hold of me ... is something that must be pursued

I must press on toward it. I must grab hold.

I must want it.

I must need it.

But I cannot unless I know - truly know - that I don't have.

As CS Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory:  

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

My prayer for you and I as we close this year: 

May we be profoundly struck by the knowledge that we don't have.  

May we recognize then that Christ took hold of us for something, and may we desire it enough that it disrupts our lives and plagues us with such discontent that we pursue him and all he has for us.

Heart, soul, mind, and strength.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ask for Directions!

Step Three

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

It was about 6 years into my recovery that I found myself praying this prayer on a fairly regular basis:

What does it look like to turn my will and my life over to the care of God right now - in this moment, in this situation, with this person?

I have found much solace and power in this prayer.  It has circumvented codependent rescuing when my loved ones have been in distress.  It has gotten me out of bed in the morning when I am overwhelmed with anxiety and depression.  It has given me the courage to face difficult situations.  It has reminded me that I can  survive making mistakes and even face the consequences of my actions.  It has helped me to live one day at a time, one moment at a time, and it has helped me to "accept, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it."

It reminds me that I do not have to have all the answers; I need only surrender now. It makes each step a step of faith rather than something I must do in my own power.

Proverbs 3, 14, and 16 and Step One helped us to understand that our way of doing things doesn't work, and continuing to do what we've always done will continue to get us the same results.  If you're not a fan of some aspect of the life you've created for yourself so far, well, I'm sorry, but that's all you really know how to do on your own.  It's all any of us know; we are all in the same boat.  There is no pride in Christianity.

We need a new way.

Step Two helped us to turn away from the old way of doing things (a chore in and of itself!) and to turn toward hope.  But turning in the right direction will not do us any good unless we start moving.

That is a rampant misunderstanding of repentance: Pastors often talk about the original meaning of the word "repent," and say that it is to simply "turn around."  They teach us to pray the sinner's prayer and send us on our way - right back down the path from which we came!  Yes, we must turn around and then we must go the other direction.  It doesn't magically happen and we can't do it on our own.

That was the discovery of my Third Step Prayer: I can ask for help.  I can ask for a new way!  I need to ask, in fact , fairly constantly and desperately, or I will simply go back to the way I've always known, like a knee-jerk reaction or slipping into auto-pilot on my drive home from work.  When we have traveled the same familiar path over and over again, we create a rut, and as soon as we aren't looking, our feet will slide right back down the embankment and resume that path without our even realizing it.

That is why repentance doesn't end with turning and why recovery doesn't end with Step 12.  Repentance is a lifestyle.  Recovery is a life-long journey.  This is what it means to
work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose
 (Phil 1:11-13).  If that sounds daunting or discouraging, well, I speak from experience when I say frankly, it is better to be traveling the path of salvation than it is to return to the path of destruction even for a moment, regardless as to how much work it ends up being in the end.  Salvation is free.  And it costs us everything.  But we gain life.

If we have truly come to grips with our powerlessness, and if there is a power greater than ourselves who will help us live, then we must ask for help.  Proverbs also taught us that wisdom, love, and faithfulness are not passive.  They will not land in your lap while you are sitting there day dreaming, feeling sorry for yourself, playing video games, or numbing out.  You have to ask.  You have to seek.  You have to knock.

For everyone who asks, receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks the door will be opened (Matt 7:7).

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you (James 1:5).

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart (Jer 29.13).

Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God!  (Prov 2:3-5).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Only Way to Live

Lent is like a walk in a cemetery in the springtime.  There is a peace in the acceptance of death.  There is a validation of life in the honoring of its passing.  One gives way to the other, who gives back again.  When we say, "There is death.  It matters." we also say, "There is life and it matters; it is significant."

And so, during Lent, we take the time to remember the death in our lives.  We acknowledge our own fragility.  We remember our need for new life, for a savior.  And we remember the death that our savior embraced in order that we might live.

I do not mean to neglect this last piece in my meditations here.  No, it's just that our cultural expression of Christianity seems to use the Gospel in an attempt to forget - forget our frailty, forget our need, forget or drown out our past, our slavery, our stories.  But it is in our stories of frailty and need that we find Christ, that he comes to be with us.  It is through these same stories that we join in his death and resurrection from the dead.  The Gospel doesn't drown out our stories, it redeems them.

Last night a couple shared their testimonies at church and I was disturbed by something they said - or rather, something they didn't say.  The husband, a life-long Christian, confessed to affairs and a pornography addiction that had permeated his life as far back as he could remember.  (His wife cried as he spoke.)  He went on to describe an experience of someone in his small group confronting him over his lack of sobriety (faithfulness).  Only then, after years  of being "in recovery," did he finally commit to being sober.  And only when he made that commitment could he actually work his steps.  The couple shared that he now had 3 years clean and they were working to help other couples dealing with similar issues.

Yay!  Clearly sobriety in that man's life is a miracle!  In fact, many sexual addicts never find sobriety.  It could have been such a redemptive story, a humanizing experience in the sharing ... except ... well, except that it was disturbing how this young man used Christianity for so long to keep sinning (hurting himself and others) ... and he talked about that tragedy as if were the most normal thing in the world, as if it were okay.  He talked about it as if the whole scenario weren't somehow tragic and completely heart-breaking, as if his wife weren't sobbing beside him in grief and loss.  He showed very little if any remorse for or recognition of the damage that he had done and the hurt that he had caused.  I make no presuppositions about his heart, but I left feeling grieved by the message of their testimonies.  Is this the Gospel we present in church, that Jesus just makes everything all right?  As if we don't live with the consequences of our choices?  As if those two young people would not have to recover from those things for the rest of their lives?  As if God is somehow okay with exploitation as long as it all works out in the end?

Jesus just makes everything all right - so we don't have to look at our depravity, we don't have to bare the hurt, we get to escape?

Jesus didn't say that we would escape.  No, we must lose our lives to gain them.  We must die with Christ to share in his resurrection.  In fact, he didn't say that we would escape really much of anything.  He offers freedom ... through suffering, through the taking up of our crosses, through hardship with purpose and hope.  Jesus is not an escape. And when we attempt to use God this way we do not accomplish the things of God.

If we diminish sin and death, if we minimize our slavery, we diminish, too, new life.  We diminish God's very salvation.  And we diminish the God who saves.

If that man's slavery was not truly tragic, then is it a big deal that he has found any kind of freedom?

Lent is the season in which we, as the Kingdom of God, confess to the world that sin matters.  Death matters.  We do not ignore tragedy, exploitation, and brokenness.  We do not minimize it.  We call it what it is and we repent.  We live in a manner worthy of repentance, because that is the only way to live.