Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Masons, Money, and Men

"You are... members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord." -Ephesians 2:19-21

At first glance, this verse is very comforting, telling us that we are a part of the house of God.  For those who grew up in church, it might bring forth images of "a big, big table with lots and lots of food" or "a big, big yard where we can play football."  But other than being the inspiration for a peppy song and a comfort, we may not notice much else.

However, this verse holds a truth that is dangerous to some of our ways of life.  You see, we have all built our houses, brick-by-brick, with our own two hands.  Each wall is a well-crafted accomplishment, one any fine mason would be proud of.  Even the foundation is steady... we have been able to recite the teachings of the apostles and prophets since bible school age.

In fact, our home is quite near perfect.  Still, though, we can't help but feel as though there is just one thing missing.  We are so confident that we are even able to admit this, asking around to see if anyone can identify what we need.  It's not long before we realize... we have forgotten the cornerstone.  We have tried to make Christ a part of our life, but he is not the basis of it.

The problem with the cornerstone is, it can't be stuck in after the entire house is built.  In fact, in order to ensure it serves its purposes, the entire house must be torn down and then rebuilt around the cornerstone.  Many of us will go away sad when we learn this is what we must do.  Tearing down the lives we have worked so hard to build for ourselves and starting over in the light of our newfound Savior is just too much to ask.  We would much prefer a God who can simply be placed anywhere in lives... who will fit nicely into a box, who is just a simple brick.  But only with Christ as the cornerstone will our house be able to stand.

"A man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?... All these [commandments] I have kept since my youth.'  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, 'You lack one thing: go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.' Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." -Mark 10: 17, 20-22

Saturday, March 29, 2014

In Our Own Words

The poetry and prayers of David, also known to many as the book of Psalms, are some of the most well-read works of all time.  They relate across time and cultural barriers, tapping into those emotions and experiences which are common to all people.  But the art of Psalm writing itself has been lost.

Why?  Why not record our prayers and our thanksgivings in the same way David did?  Why not express so clearly our pain and our praise?  Encouraged by a friend who often rewrites Psalms and bible passages in her own words, I decided to try my hand at it.  I encourage you to as well... you may be surprised at how the Lord speaks when you meditate on His words.

A Psalm based on Colossians 3:5-11

Praise the Lord, who is mighty to save,
  who has declared war on death for taking captive those He loves.
He will rescue them from the grasps of sin
  and bring them into new life.
He will not see them for what they have done
  or from where they have come,
  but as those that His Son died to save.

He will see the new people they have become, people that resemble Him.

Therefore, we will set aside all of our old ways,
  for they have died in us just as Christ died in our place.
We will find, instead a new life--
  the Holy Sprit within us, convicting and teaching us
  so that we will become more like the perfect Son of God.
We care nothing for our old ways
  for they were the ways of death.

We are now on the path to life and have left our old ways behind us.

Praise God for sending us a rescue
  that we might come to know Him.
Praise Jesus Christ for defeating the power of death within us.
Praise the Holy Spirit for perfecting in us
  the ways of God and the ways of life,
  which are one in the same.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Issues of the Heart

Dear Friends,

Can I bare my soul for just a moment?  Grab a cup of coffee and sit down, it's time for a heart to heart.  I need to get these words off my chest.

I remember high school... the goal of dating was to just have fun.  Most couples were just looking for a good time and as a result, a culture was created that made a "long-term" relationship one that lasted more than a few months.  Certainly not the best of situations, but one I don't have time to address here.

Then, boom!  College!  All of the sudden, romantic relationships have an extra element, one that adds a little flavor to the mix-- the "M-word."  Marriage.  Suddenly, you're chances of finding your happily ever after increase, and it seems to make everything just a shade more interesting.  Because now, everyone is looking for that person to complete them.

And it is that final thought that makes me the most uncomfortable.  When did Christians start believing they need a romantic relationship to be completed?  When did it stop being "Christ makes you whole" and begin to be "Christ and your boyfriend" or "Christ and your wife"?  Doesn't scripture tell us, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness" (Colossians 2:10).

When did marriage become an idol?

If I'm even more honest, I would go further and say that romance has become an idol.  We have all bought into the lie that we must be romantically involved to be happy or else we should be at least searching someone.

Some may wonder at this point if I'm not bitter, and no, I'm not.  At least, not at dating or romance.  I'm simply frustrated with society... for making me feel like I am incomplete, for trying to distract me from trusting in God's plan, and for telling me that my happiness depends on anything other than God.

Because if you are reading this, whether you are single or dating, married or unmarried, that is the truth I wish to convey.  Our happiness depends on one thing and one thing alone.  As the old hymn puts it: "My hope is built on nothing less / Than Jesus' blood and righteousness; / I dare not trust the sweetest frame, / But wholly lean on Jesus' name." Christ is our victory and our prize, a gift kept safely in heaven, untouched and unharmed by our circumstances... whatever they may be.

"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Mark 6:20-21).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The End

It's a creeping habit that sneaks up on me when I least expect it.  It's not that I mean to do it, it's just that sometimes I get so busy that I don't have time to sit down and straighten out my priorities when they get out of line.  The next thing I know, I'm doing it again.

The distractions pull at the corner of my mind and stress begins to blow things out of proportion.  I need something to get me through.  I need someone to tell me it will be all right.  I need some guarantee that I can do this.

And then, I remember Him... the Big Guy Upstairs.  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  Great, thanks God!  But then I run into a problem.  So I pray.  And through the process of much prayer and divine intervention, things begin to work out.  Soon, I am faced with a tough decision and I ask for discernment, just to be certain I am making the right decision.

Consulting God and leaning on Him during the busier times in life is a beautiful thing.  But too often when this happens, I begin to notice a shift in my thinking-- one that is dangerous and needs to be addressed.

Because the more distracted I get, the more I begin to view God as a means to an end rather than and end in itself.

I see Him as the answer to my questions, the Almighty one who can use His power to step in when things get too big for me to handle.  In the meantime, I stop seeing Him for who He truly is, a beautiful and loving God who deserves more praise than I could ever dream of giving Him.  He is the Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End.

Just as it would be rude of me to treat a friend as a tool to reach my goals and get through the struggles of life, it would be rude of me to do the same to God.  And yet, so often I find myself doing just that.  It is in these moments that I take a deep breathe, set aside a few moments, and spend them in God's presence, reflecting on who He is and the fact that my problems pale in comparison to His beauty.

He is not a means to an end.  He is THE End... one so beautiful it leaves me wanting for nothing.

"Be still and know that I am God;  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." -Psalm 46:10

Monday, March 24, 2014

Precious and Honored

People are never wrong.

Beliefs can be wrong.  Expectations.  Dreams can be wrong.  Words can be wrong.  Morals can be wrong.  But people?  People are never wrong.

When did we become so hypercritical that we forgot the value of a human soul?

Perhaps if we saw each other through the eyes of God, saw how invaluable and hurting those around us were, we would not be so quick to jump to conclusions, not be so careless with our words, and not be so consumed with ourselves.

Instead, we allow our own insecurities to haunt us like devils.  We listen to the voices that tell us we are not beautiful, not worthy, not loved.  Guilt over our past and fear of our future are poisons we have learned to live with.  And because we question our own value, we also fear that others may be more valuable than us.

Comparison becomes an obsession and we learn that insults followed by "just kidding" are more socially acceptable but just as effective in tearing down.  Labeling others and searching for reasons to find them inferior to us become such a habit that we don't even realize that we do it.

But as we learn our own value in Christ, we should begin to see the value in others.  Christ didn't just die on the cross for me... he died for everyone.  If I truly believe that others are so valuable God would redeem them at the cost of His son's life, I would be doing everything in my power to show them this.

"Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you, and peoples in exchange for your life." -Isaiah 43:4

Drowned in Love

I mentioned that sometimes I write poetry when I process things.  Another thing I do is imagine myself coming face to face with Jesus in a situation and ask Him to reveal to me what he would say.  Although these are usually metaphors, they help me to understand different parts of the Bible or my life-- and most recently have allowed me to further explore the symbolism behind baptism...  Here is a excerpt from my journal:

I glance at the water cautiously.  It is unlike any pool I have ever seen before.  It is churned and muddy, and I have no idea what is awaiting me beyond the shore.  You stand, waist deep in the waves, holding out a hand.  I wonder if this is how Peter felt as he stepped out of that boat.

"Do not go in," a voice scolds from within.  I hesitate at the edge.  Seeing my inner struggle, you encourage me, "That is your old master.  You don't have to listen anymore.  You are no longer obligated to him."

I frown, confused.  I have been following this voice for so long that just it's tone makes me believe I must obey.  If not now, I know I will give in eventually and do as he suggests.

"You are with me now.  I love you and I bought your freedom," you explain, gesturing me forward.

I step in.  The water is already up to my ankles.  It is cold.

"What will happen?" I ask, still uncertain.

"You will die," you answer.

I falter, not expecting this answer.  You smile.  "The part of you that I created will live on, but the broken-ness inside of you will die.  The person who is bent on doing the things that hurt you or others will be gone.  You will be given a chance to start over, and this time with me by your side."

Now I walk towards you.  This is what I need, I know.

"Will it hurt?" I ask.

"The part of you that must die will tell you it does, but after you will see that you were okay the whole time.  You will be much better off.  You will understand freedom.

I stand across from you now, facing you in the water.  "Okay, I am ready."  You smile, and I realize you have been counting down the days from the dawn of creation until this moment.  You reach out and take me in your arms like a child.  Then, you push me under the water.

Immediately, I begin to panic.  What if I'm not ready?  What if this was a mistake?  What have I done?  I am choking.  I can't breathe.  I inhale a gulp of water and begin to gag, kicking hard.  With a rush of panic, I realize I am dying.

I try to fight you.  "You're drowning me!" I scream in my head.  How could you do this to me?  You, who said that you loved me.  You, who promised life.

Suddenly, something inside of me changes.  It is as though my very nature shifts.  The fear is gone.  I am breathing.  I am still under water, but I am no longer dying.  In fact, I distinctly feel more alive than I had ever been before.

You pull me from the water and before I can say anything, you are hugging me.  "You are free!" you exclaim.  I grin in return.  The doubt and worry that once dimmed your face to me is gone and now I can see how beautiful you are.

"Will she come back?" I ask, thrilled to have shed the old me.

"No," you answer.  "You must believe that she cannot harm you now, or you will still be a slave to the idea of her."

I nod.  "Where is she?"

"Gone.  And you do not have to worry about becoming her again.  You are victorious now.  You will mess up, but you will not be her."  You smile and I now you are seeing me for who I am, without the part of me that was broken and sinful.  "Welcome to life."

"What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." -Romans 6:1-4

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Freed from the Stream

I spent the last two posts explaining the concept of "transformation," God changing us and freeing us from sin.  But I think I failed to explain why this is important.

After all, doesn't God's grace cover us?  Aren't we forgiven of the areas in which we struggle?  Yes, the cross covers our sins and makes us whole.  But as Paul explains in Galatians, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery"  (Galatians 5:1).

Sin is sort of like a river.  It naturally pulls us downstream, towards destruction.  However, in order to get away from our sin, we need to swim upstream.  We have times in which our energy is renewed and we make progress in the fight, but after some time we aways grow tired and give in for a moment, being pulled downstream in our moments of rest.

But Christ offers us not just the strength to swim upstream, but the opportunity to climb up on dry ground.  We think because we were born in water, we are water creatures.  In reality, we were made for land.  We think because we were born as sinful creatures that this is our destiny, and there is no escaping it.  But we were made, not sinful, but in the image of God and in Christ we are given the opportunity to return to this holy life.

So why don't we?  Because we have been taught to believe that the momentary thrill we get from the river is worth the danger we put ourselves in.  We bend the rules and push the lines.  We ask, "How far can I go in before the current takes me?"  Don't think so?  Well, how many times have you wondered, "How far can I go with this before it's sin?  Before it's idolatry?  Can I omit the truth and still not lie?  Is this technically envy?  Jealousy?  Anger?  When does this bad habit become a sin?"  

The problem is, we are asking all the wrong questions.  If we are asking, "How long before this is sin?" then we are already headed in the wrong direction.  Instead, we should be asking, "How can I become more like Christ?"  It's not, "How deep can I get into the river?", it's "How much can I do now that I am not fighting it with every step I take?"

We have been freed.  It's time we act like it.