Friday, November 1, 2013

Doing Away with Duplicity

Last weekend, I experienced my first women’s retreat at Harvest. I’m not gonna lie—women’s retreats are not my thing. And, despite my near break-down the Monday before the retreat, I survived the weekend, made some new friends, and, more than anything, heard incredible teaching that even still—one week later—continues to stir my heart.

So, the overall theme was simplicity, and we talked about simplicity being the singular focus on Christ, simplicity being not the opposite of complexity but rather the removal of duplicity: those false versions of ourselves. And honestly—while I don’t have the singular-focus-on-Christ thing down, I thought, eh, I’m okay; I am not a duplicitous person. In my mind, people who live a false version of themselves are those people who are performers, loud, in charge, center-stage: the extroverts, the story tellers, the drama queens; they are the ones performing a false version of themselves.

But what I learned is: duplicity is any desire to be more than I am. And any time I desire more, I’m living with a mindset of “lack.” And any time I’m living in lack, I’m living a false version of myself: duplicity. *Gulp.*

I often feel the need for more. More furniture, so people have more places to sit. More stuff on the walls. More curtains. More dishes. More coffee cups. And that’s not where the need for more ends: more beauty, more attraction, more personality. More. More. More.

I want these things because 1) I don’t feel like I am enough; or 2) I am comparing what others have to what I want. Although not consciously, I believe, if I just had more—more furniture, more hair,  more personality, I would be more accepted, more fun, maybe have more friends.

Not only does He ask me to surrender the need for more in these areas—He wants me to surrender the greatest area of lack—the greatest desire for more. That desire when I look around, and all of my married friends—with the exception of a handful of newlyweds—have a family. They have 2.5 kids, and a dog, and a house with a swing set. And then I look at my own life, and I feel that deep, dark hole, that void—that area of lack, where I am not enough. When I look at my own life, it’s like check, check, check, oh, wait…

And remember my thinking that duplicitous people were those loud, outgoing, performers? Well, it turns out that any time I shrink back from me—when I’m shy, when I’m intimidated, when I’m afraid, I’m not being “me” either. People aren’t getting to see the real me, the me that Hal gets, the me my family and close friends get.

But God wants me to be content with all that I have—with my race and my season of life. God wants me to be content with me—to know the fullness of who I am in Him and to walk in that, not in a duplicitous version of myself.

Any time I am faced with the desire for more, any time I’m living a false version of myself, I’m not walking in the fullness of who He says I am: that, in Him, I am enough, that, in Him, I have all I need.

Reading through Colossians this morning, I felt overwhelmed by all God says I am. And because I like lists—and because my list of God’s words to me stays taped on my mirror—I created my own “Who I am in Christ” list:

I am qualified (Col 1:12)
I am redeemed and forgiven (Col 1: 14)
I am created for Him (Col 1:16)
I am sustained by Him (Col 1:17)
I am reconciled (Col 1:20-21)
I am holy and blameless (Col 1:22)
I have Christ in me—the hope of glory (Col 1:27)
I am complete in Him (Col 2:10)
I am made alive (Col 2:13)
I am freed from legalism (Col 2:20-23)
I am a new woman (Col 3:10)

Oh that my heart would receive all that He says I am, that I would walk in the confidence of my calling, that I wouldn’t shrink back from the me that so many don’t get to see, that I would run my race in my season of life, and that I would learn to walk in simplicity—in that singular version of me, singularly focused on Him.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Encouragement from His Word: For all who are weary

"My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to your Word." Psalm 119:28

  1. Those who expect/wait/hope/trust in me will not be disappointed/ashamed/kept waiting. (Psalm 25:3)
  2. I have not forgotten you; you are not passed by. I am El Roi--and I see you. (Gen 16:13)
  3. I am 100% for you--so nothing and no one can stand against you. You are more than a conqueror. (Romans 8:31, 37)
  4. I am good, and I give good gifts. (James 1:17)
  5. I am not withholding blessing from you.  I only have your best interest at heart. (Psalm 24:5; Psalm 37:25-26; Psalm 84:11)
  6. Everything I do is because I love you. (Deut 7:9; Zeph 3:17; 1 John 3:1)
  7. I am with you always; I will never leave you nor forsake you. You are not alone. (Deut 31:6; Joshua 1:5)
  8. I have a plan for you--and you can trust that it is good. I order your steps perfectly. (Jeremiah 29:11; Psalm 37:23)
  9. I will perfect that which concerns you. I am the author and finisher for your faith. (Psalm 138:8; Hebrews 12:2)
  10. I am your protector, provider, healer, and comforter. In me, you are complete, made whole, satisfied, filled, and secure. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

For those who play it safe: A dare to risk

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Ps. 147:3
Heals = râphâh – lit. to mend (by stitching); fig. to cure, heal, repair, make whole

Binds = châbash – to wrap firmly

I love the word pictures in this verse. The word for heal here literally means to stitch or to mend, so when it says God heals the brokenhearted, it means He takes our hearts, and He sews the pieces back together; He carefully, meticulously stitches the broken seams, the tattered and torn places of our hearts.

I don’t sew, but having watching my sister sew (she’s amazing at it!), I know it requires precision and accuracy—it cannot be rushed. And to stitch, to make repairs by hand, is an even slower process. So this work that God is doing when He is healing our broken hearts: it’s careful, it’s calculated—and it’s slow.

But the end result is beautiful because within this same word, râphâh, it means to make whole. So He doesn’t just start stitching and mending and then set us aside to work on someone else. No, He carefully holds our hearts in His hand, and with needle and thread, He sews, He stitches, He mends our brokenness—until we are whole, until we are healed.

The other verb here—to bind—is equally as tender. Literally, this means to wrap up, and the Lord gave me this beautiful picture of taping an ankle that’s been broken or sprained. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to practice wrapping someone’s ankle (or even harder—your own!), such as for an athletic event, but let me tell you, it’s not easy! Those who are skilled in taping ankles will tell you it takes a lot of practice. And what I’ve learned is that there is a definite pattern and technique. You can’t just wrap the tape like so—you have to follow an order, a pattern so that the ankle is tight and secure. Wrapping of this kind is an art.

And in the same way, the Lord takes our wounds, and again, He skillfully and knowingly wraps them; He binds them up in the perfect way, to keep the wound covered, secure, and in place. His binding of our wounds is His protection. He doesn’t leave our wounds gaping open. No, He tenderly wraps them as He knows how and allows our wounds to heal under His protective covering. This, too, takes time.

This week the Lord showed me that too often I guard my heart, even from Him. I try to protect it on my own because if I really risk it, if I really “go for it,” I could get hurt.

I take soft risks. Calculated risks. Risks I know I can win. Ask anyone who has ever “bet” me: I only bet when I know I’m right, when I know I can win.

Last weekend we went to a parenting conference (even though, yes, we’re not yet parents). The whole message was incredible, but one thing that really spoke to my heart was how we can teach our children to fail; if they never take risks—and risk the chance that they’ll fail—how will they ever succeed?

I’ve said it in another post that I think my parents did a great job teaching us how to fail—but of my siblings, I’m the most reserved risk-taker, which means I have the greatest fear of failing.

Blame it on being the youngest, or being an introvert, or being extremely analytical—whatever the reason: the truth is I like to play it safe. But my Daddy—my heavenly Father, who wrote the textbook on parenting, wants me to succeed, and so, I must also learn how to risk…and maybe even fail.

What the Lord showed me is that I play it safe with my heart, with my faith. If I really believe, if I fully give in, then it might not happen; I might be hurt and disappointed. And so I hold back.

But the beauty of râphâh and châbash is that He holds my heart—and because He mends the brokenhearted, because He binds up the wounded, I am safe and free to risk it all. This is why the psalmists declare over and over that He is our safe place, our hiding place, our shelter, our protection, our covering. 

He holds me and secures me and covers me and protects me—so that I can be free to fully believe Him, unrestricted, uninhibited. Because to really believe Him for the desires of our heart—whatever that desire may be—is always a risk, and it’s costly. But, really, it’s a safe bet—even if it doesn’t feel like it:

Because He is for me.

Because He is with me.

Because in Him, I am safe and covered.

And in Him, I am free to risk it all because He’s got my heart securely in His hand. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What does "Not my will, but Yours" look like?

Every morning for a week. Seven days. The words replay in my head over and over and over again. His prayer in the garden: “not my will, but yours.”

But how? How does He get there? What does that even mean? Not my will, but yours? What does that look like? For me. For Laura. Today. September 15, 2013.

I can't find where I first journaled about these words, where the revelation hit me square in the face. His words--He, too, begged:

"O, Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39).
I read it again in Mark and in Luke: 

“Abba Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will but what You will” (Mark 14:36).

“Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
But the cup could not pass; there was no other way for salvation. He had to endure the cross.  This was the plan for redemption—that He who knew no sin would become sin, on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21). 

And so, it says, He prayed again—a second time: "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done." (Matthew 26:42). And in John, we see total acceptance: to Peter, He says, "Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?" (John 18:11).

And there, in His words, I'm encouraged: He, fully human, God's only son, asked for a different plan. And, He, too, received a "No."  

But what does He do? Does he throw a fit? Does he become offended?  Of course not. He—fully human, fully perfect—sets the example: "Not my will, but yours." 

And so, for seven days, I've been thinking about that. What does that mean? What does “not my will, but yours” look like lived out

Just this week, I’ve had several women tell me they’re encouraged to read my blog. My first thought, I’ll admit, is something along the lines of What? People actually read this? But my second thought—the one that captivates me most—is pure fear: What if blogger Laura looks fantastic, but real Laura…not so much?

And here’s the truth God showed me: What people read and relate to is your vulnerability. When you’re willing to be vulnerable, you open a door to others that says it’s okay to be vulnerable. And when we’re vulnerable, we’re honest. With ourselves and with others.

Because here’s the other truth: Blogger Laura and Real-Life Laura do not have it all together.

And you know what?  That’s okay.

My vulnerability for today:  It's hard for me to admit that because, if I’m honest, I’d really rather have it all together. I’d rather be that woman of faith—already. Arrived. Complete. I see her in others—but it’s hard to see her in me.

The last seven days have been hard, but when I surrender, when I talk to the Lord about my heart—where I really am, I find that I’m right where He wants me to be. From the beginning of this journey, I told the Lord: I want to be real as I walk through this. Often we give our testimony after the fact. But I didn’t want that. I wanted to give my testimony during the journey.

And I’ve learned two incredible truths so far: 
  1. The greater the hope, the greater the risk of disappointment. (And related: the greater the wait, the longer the delay—the sweeter the reward.)
  2.  If my circumstances do not change, God is no less good and no less faithful.

 But I’ve learned some other things, too—that it’s okay to be offended with the Lord. He can take it. It’s not okay to stay there. But it’s okay to be there. For a time. 

It’s also okay to play the “What if” game. What if this doesn’t work? What if this—this thing I want—isn’t supposed to happen? What if ______ (Fill in the blank: worst case scenario)? But it’s not okay to stay there. It’s not okay to live there.

And above all: it’s okay to not be okay. Jesus was not okay in the garden as He prayed, as He begged: isn’t there another way? can there be a different plan?

This week, I’ve not been okay. I've been thinking all along if I just pray enough and beg enough and DO enough and have enough faith, I can somehow change God's will. I can make it like mine. But that's just not true--and I don't think that's what He desires of me. 

He desires a heart that says—that really says—not my will, but yours.

So what does that look like? Maybe it’s the choice to choose Him, to choose that He is sufficient for me. He is enough. He is Abba.

Maybe it means I change the way I pray—change what I demand. I’ve begged for my way, and now it’s time to stop; it’s time for my heart to align with whatever He wants, with whatever He wills.

I want to learn what He desires of me, and I only want to desire what He desires. I want to learn to really hide my heart in Him, to hide my expectations in Him, to be content that He is sufficient.

Not my will, but yours.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Content Not To Know

My chest tightens; the vessels inside work and constrict, trying to move life through me despite the knot, the pain, despite the fact that my heart aches and burns and cries out. Tears fill my eyes, and I blink them away, doing my best to see the road before me, to keep my wheels between the lines. But how can I see with my eyes what I can’t see with my heart? What my heart feels and knows and experiences.

“Why me? Why us?” Her words echo in my mind. I’ve thought them, too, and I am careful to choose my words, careful not to say what I hate to hear—what is trite, and obvious, and exactly the opposite of what she needs, today.

But what can you say? There’s really no words, none worth expressing, none that can capture the fullness of this pain in my heart, none that translate the tears, now streaming.

Why? I find my voice; it’s a scratch above a whisper, and I ask Him. Why her?

For all that I’ve begged and implored and declared—the hours and hours of presenting my requests to Him, that it not be with her as it is with me, that she not have to walk this journey. I wanted it more for her than I wanted it for me. Because more than anything, I didn’t want her to experience this—the grief, the loss, the disappointment, the pain.

So why? I ask again.

And I hear it quietly—the answer He gives me often, not what I want to hear, but what I know is true:

Not everything is for you to know.

I am ready for it this time, rebuttal in hand. I feel like fighting today.

Fine, but why? This I want to know. Not for me, for her. Why?

Laura, do you believe I have your best interest at heart?

Yes, but –

Do you really believe I am good and what I do is good?

Yes, of course, but we’re talking about—

Do you trust me?

I stop, my answer is slow. You know I do.

Then trust that I have her best interest at heart, too. Trust that everything I do is for her best just as it’s for your best, too. I love her as much as I love you, and I’m not withholding anything from you. 
I’m not holding back my gifts or my blessings. They will come. They just didn’t come today.

My defensiveness flares a little—yes, but why not today?

Because, baby, not everything is for you to know.

I am done arguing. My defense is weak, and I know He is truth. And when I believe it, when I taste and experience and accept His truth, then I am set free.

I am reminded of my words before—do I really believe He is good? Isn’t that at the core of it all because if He is good, then He is good no matter what. He is not good because… He is just good.

My heart wraps the truth around itself, the truth seeping into my veins, pulsing through me. If I’ll really believe that, for me, for her, for all who face this journey, then I can see that He has my best interest at heart. His agenda is for me, so that He gets the glory.

Is it easy? No.

But He is here, and He holds me, and He never leaves me. And can I learn to be content with just that? That He is here, and I am held. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Having Faith in "The Gap"

I believe last December was the first time I ever publicly blogged about our journey with trying to get pregnant, and while I don't explicitly blog or post about it often since then, I do talk about it a lot more because that experience for me was--in a word--freeing. I received text messages and fb messages from people I had no idea were on the same journey (or had been on the same journey) as me, and what I realized is that this is something people don't talk about much. But when you're in the midst of it, you need people to talk about it. And you need people to talk to about it.

So, here I go again... Yesterday, our pastor at Harvest preached on faith in "the gap"--that is, having faith for the time between when God says something will happen and when it actually happens. And he said something that really caught my attention--if you're disappointed in the gap, then your faith is not in God. God does not disappoint. Isn't that what His word tells us? That He is faithful; that He never leaves; that His hope does. not. disappoint. 

I was floored by that. I keep thinking about how all week I've been so discouraged. In fact, my last journal entry started like this: "I should be hopeful... but instead, I feel burned out and discouraged. Why can't I just be a normal person who gets pregnant the way normal people do?"

Do I know about "the gap"? Sure, I do. I've been in it for two years now. Every day I pray for hope renewed. Why is it harder this month? 

I started to do something I'm not sure I've ever done during a sermon (yeah, during worship, but a sermon?). I started to cry. And not like little, cute, lady-like tears. Fortunately, Brad was almost done and was inviting people down to prayer, like every Sunday. And I am one of those prideful people who doesn't like to go down for that--I'll just pray on my own, thanks. 

But as soon as the service was over, Hal pulled my arm--we need to go. My sweet husband who has seen it all in these last two years and who knows what I need better than I do sometimes and who loves me and lets me be just me. Tears spilling over, Kleenex in hand--I couldn't even talk. Hal gave the short version, and the couple started to pray for us. My tears were quickly full sobs. I couldn't believe it; I was sobbing in church.

"Just trust God." "Just keep trusting God." "Wait on His timing." "His timing will be perfect." Oh, the things people say. Really? Just trust God? Oh, okay. I hadn't thought of that. I'll start now. Why do comments like that irritate me so much? I know people mean well...and so I braced myself for grace, in expectation, as the couple began to pray. 

But the couple who prayed over us was different. She didn't pray any of those things--and she didn't even pray for us to get pregnant. She prayed for my heart. She prayed for my disappointment. She prayed for hope. She prayed for everything I needed to hear. 

Afterward, her husband spoke a word over Hal--over his father's heart. And then they prayed for us again--as parents. 

Today is a new day. I cling to Lamentations 3--that because of His great mercy, we are not consumed. Sometimes I feel consumed. But in His great mercy, He saves me. Again and again and again. 

Yesterday, Brad said that faith is not imparted; it's implanted. I choose to keep my heart soil fertile, to let His word nourish deep, to heal the disappointment, to renew hope. I choose, and I know this.

I have learned to trust in His goodness, to breathe deeply in His peace--that I can trust Him because He is good, and I say it to myself over and over: He is good. Again. He is good. Again. He is good--and I can trust Him.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stepping out of my comfort zone!

"For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out 'Abba, Father'" (Romans 8:15). 

I think it's so interesting that the contrary spirit of adoption is the spirit of bondage to fear. Adoption says, "I am yours. I am accepted. I am complete and secure and made whole and safe and satisfied in You alone." Fear drives insecurity, intimidation - the exact opposite of adoption.

Being in a new town, a new church, with new friends -- all my insecurities and intimidation are only heightened. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than this week: helping with VBS. When Pam asked me (repeatedly), I felt fear literally creep into my heart. I wanted every excuse not to help: But I don't have kids. But I don't have time. But I don't know anyone. But that's not "my thing." And in the end, all I had were excuses. So, reluctantly, fearfully, I said yes. (She's awfully persistent, too. :))

I have never volunteered for a VBS -- the mere sound of VBS makes my anxiety levels rise. I am introvert, so something like that -- lots of kids, lots of people, knowing no one -- that stresses. me. out.

But, as an introvert, I am learning how to embrace who I am and all that God has called me to. There's nothing wrong with being an introvert--but there is something wrong with using that as an excuse to walk in fear and insecurity and intimidation.

So, I said yes. And for the first twenty minutes or so, I was incredibly uncomfortable: in a room full of women and volunteers and volunteers' children with no "task," knowing no one. But you know what? Uncomfortable is good because uncomfortable is where I get to challenge head on whether I will choose acceptance and adoption or fear and intimidation. 

In the end, I was so blessed. I got to work in the kitchen, which is the perfect place for me. Make snacks? Pour lemonade? Serve and play hostess? Clean dishes and throw away trash and wipe down tables? Sure, I can do that. Gladly!

And I still got to serve and love on others the way I  prefer: one on one, not in front of a group, not in a crowd. I talked to a sixteen-year-old girl off and on for three hours; every time we were alone for a few minutes, she'd pick up where she left off, telling me her story. And when a little four-year-old was brought to the kitchen because they could not get her nose to quit bleeding: yep, I can handle that, too. I know a lot about nose bleeds. So, maybe out of my comfort zone but in my own way, the Lord let me hold this little girl and encourage an older one in the way that I prefer.

In faith, I stepped into the uncomfortable, and He graciously gave me comfort.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Trust that Sustains: Faith in His Goodness

"You are good, and do good." Psalms 119:68

You are good, and what You do is good, and if I really believe that at my core, isn't that the key? When I lose heart, when my faith withers, isn't it really a doubt in Your goodness? Could You still be a good Daddy, even in the face of a "No"? Could You really be trustworthy to hold all my hopes and fears and dreams and longings? Or do I need to settle those for myself?

Faith and humility are the counterpart, the antidote, to pride and unbelief. 

Unbelief says You're not really all that You say You are -- You're not good, and I can't trust You. And so, in my pride, I'll believe instead I can somehow do better on my own.

But open palms and a heart surrendered says, Daddy, I can't do it. I can't and shouldn't and don't want to write the story that only You can write. The one that is already penned and perfect. Faith and humility says, I am not enough, but You are. You are good, and what You do is good. And I can trust You because I believe that deep down.

When at the core of me, I believe -- really believe -- You are good, then I am safe and secure. When, from my depths, I trust You deeply and fully, then I am free.

When we don't give thanks in all circumstances, we are faced with either our selfishness that forgets to pause and ponder, to acknowledge His grace that rescues us over and over, despite ourselves, or our doubt: Can I really thank Him in all things, for this? -- even this! And we begin to wonder, is He really good? Is He worthy of my thanks, He who allows this?

And so, if we thank Him at all, we thank Him despite this, rather than for this. But when we thank Him for it all, it's an expression of our faith, our gratitude, our humility, and our trust -- in His inherent goodness, despite all that we see and feel.

Eyes closed. Head bowed. I thank Him for it all: the blessings and disappointments, to find joy in every trial. The dark cloud leaks a ray of light -- the trapped glimmer of hope. I see it through the rain: a picture of His grace.

My trust buries deeper and deeper still, like the roots of our pecan trees in search of water -- and life and all that sustains. If I really plant my trust deep down, then I am free, I am released. I am safe to thank Him for it all because I know -- yes, I trust -- He is good.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Choosing Joy!

As of Saturday, we have lived in Plainview for one month. It is a little crazy to think about how quickly the time has passed, especially considering how many months and months (10 to be exact) we spent praying and waiting for God to move on our behalf. God's hand has so clearly been in everything that has happened--from the smooth closings, the available funds, the moving process, and even unpacking.

I will be honest, though... Our first month in Plainview has been a little hard. We have had a few bumps in the road, some unexpected problems, namely our plumbing, which quit working the day after we moved in, and even now, one month later, is somewhat fixed, but we still don't have 100% functioning.

What I wasn't prepared for was the emotional battle my heart would face. Here God has blessed us with this beautiful house we hoped and prayed for and a five minute drive to my work, and He has provided all that we asked and needed to get us here.

And yet, within a week of living in Plainview, I suddenly felt very lonely and vulnerable. I missed my friends and family in Lubbock, especially on the nights Hal traveled, and I was acutely aware that I had no social life. At the same time, I felt so overwhelmed to live in this kid-ready house with a playroom and a swing set and access to a community pool. Everything reminded me that I'm not pregnant, we don't have kids, and I'm still just an outsider looking in.

For weeks I have had this battle in my heart--and for weeks, I felt like I've been losing.

But this weekend the Lord reminded me that He is for me, not against me. I know He called us to Plainview. I know He gave us this exact house for an important reason. I know He has a plan.

Friday night, we got to hear Dr. Ben Carson speak. Among his many other accomplishments, his life story and all that he has had to overcome just blew me away. He repeatedly talked about personal choice, saying, "The person who is most responsible for what happens to you in life is you."

I get to choose. I choose what my attitude will be. I choose whether or not I'll have joy or sorrow. And when I don't choose His promises or all that He has for me, I am letting the enemy rob me of my joy. When I don't choose thankfulness for all that He has provided, I am letting the enemy steal my testimony.

So, we don't have kids... So, I don't have a lot of friends (yet). I have a lot of other blessings in my life, including an incredible husband, who is my best friend. And the friendships I do have are far richer in quality than they would ever be in quantity. (I mean, how many friends will spend 14 hours in one day helping you paint--and get back into the house you've accidentally locked yourself out of!!)

My God has abundantly and richly blessed me, and if I will remember that He is my provider, my sufficiency, my security, and my hope, then I can change the attitude of my heart and in exchange, receive His spirit of joy and grace and thankfulness. I may not have the full picture. I may  not see His full purpose for us in Plainview, but He does. And if I really believe in His goodness, if I really believe in His faithfulness, then I can trust Him, beyond my circumstances, beyond my emotions, that He is still working on my behalf, that He is still with me and for me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Righteousness and Justification through Faith

Romans 1 – 4

1:18 – 3:20

It is important to look at these verses in context. I have known for a long time that the Romans 1 chapter was the “homosexuality” chapter, and many point to this as the confirmation that God sees this as sin even in the New Testament. But I noticed a few insights today:

  1. God gave them over to their wickedness. The phrase “God gave” is in vs. 24, 26, and 28. God is still in sovereign control here, but this is also a great picture of the free will He has given us: the will to choose Him or not (whether we have knowledge of Him or not—vs. 21). 
  2. That said, the point of Paul’s introduction was not to condemn those practicing sexual immorality (among other sins). They are not his audience. His audience is born-again believers in Rome, primarily Jews. 
  3. So, Paul begins by painting the worst picture of sin (sexual immorality) (Ch. 1) only to bring to light that the Jews are as guilty as the Gentiles (Ch. 2). He is setting the scene for Ch. 3—that all fall short of the glory of God. 
  4. The statement “There is no partiality with God” (2:11) becomes key here. Both that Jews and Gentiles are equal, but also that the sins of each group—those who do not know the law and break it, and those who know the law and break it—are likewise equally judged by a just God. 
  5. And finally, to set up the fullness of the impact of Chapter 3, Paul again raises the point both that God is not partial and that their Jewish traditions were not what would save them or exempt them from judgment. We already know they have broken the law, but then Paul goes one step further—now their circumcision likewise will not save them. 

In other words, the message for Chapter 1 and 2, for Jews and Gentiles, for circumcised and uncircumcised, is that all are equally condemned under the law. In short, all have failed—all are under sin.

The law provides knowledge of sin (3:20). But the law does not provide righteousness.

3:21 – 4:25

Only God is righteous, apart from the law. And through faith, His righteousness is revealed to those who believe. Paul notes, “There is no difference” (3:22).

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23)!

It’s only through Jesus that we are redeemed; we are justified.

Here is the key, though, to the Jews who think they have followed the law (but are equally guilty):

  1. God sent His son to justify us to demonstrate His righteousness, to show the gap that had existed all this time (v. 25-26). 
  2. In the past, God had passed over the sins that were committed, in his forbearance (v. 25). This word suggests not just His patience or His longsuffering, but also His tolerance. And even if we think of the picture that the first Passover creates whereby the Jews put blood over their doorposts so the Angel of Death would pass over—even then, this is a picture of tolerance, of excused sins. This is not justification; this is not an impartation of righteousness. 
  3. In the present, now, God sent His son to justify and redeem our sins to demonstrate His righteousness, “that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26). 

These words are so contrary to what the Jews likely knew and believed. Paul is telling them that even though they have the law, even though they are circumcised, they are guilty under the law. They are not righteous; they are not justified on judgment day.

And if they think they were or are righteous under the law, they are wrong. They have fallen short—and all this time in the past, God was merely tolerant to “pass over” their sins and unrighteousness—as God’s chosen people.

But Paul’s words are not to condemn but to speak truth that only through faith in Jesus can we be justified; only then is God’s righteousness revealed; only then do we receive His righteousness through faith.

His righteousness must be through faith because if it were not, not only would we be in the past phase where God was merely tolerant of our sins (and passed over them) according to our obedience to the law, but also it would mean righteousness comes through the law and thus, through works.

Abraham’s faith was accounted to Him as righteous (Ch. 4) not because of his works or the law—but because of his faith to believe in the unseen, to believe in the promise of God, to believe despite his circumstances that God would do what He said He would do (4:18-22).

God’s promise to Abraham was through the righteousness of faith, not the law, because again, if our heir-ship is of the law, then “faith is made void and the promise has no effect” (4:14).

So—again—the law provides knowledge of sin, but the law does not impart righteousness.

How then could we be made righteous? Only by faith are we made righteous; only by faith are we justified.

Paul’s purpose in Chapters 1 – 4 is not to condemn but to make the Jews (and Gentiles) understand that their righteousness is only through faith, not the law, not circumcision. I believe God wanted to humble them, which is why Romans begins by recognizing the sins of the people in that particular culture and that particular time—so that they might know apart from faith in Jesus, they are not justified; they are not righteous; and as such, they, too, are as guilty as those they judge.

For the Church today, we live in a culture and among a people where sin is rampant. And like the Jews Paul addresses, we seem to judge those sins as if we were sin-less. We, too, seem to forget that under the law—which provides knowledge of sin—we, too, are guilty, we who think we are righteous, according to the law.

And in our judgment, we have forgotten that all fall short; our justification, our righteousness is only through faith. It is not through the law, it is not according to our deeds, it is not by works.

How then can we boast? In what can we be proud? From what of ourselves do we have the right to judge if we, too, are guilty under the same law?

It is “the goodness of God that leads us to repentance” (2:4)—in other words, it is the revelation of all that He’s done despite all that we deserve (His mercy that doesn't punish us for what we deserve; His grace that offers us what we don’t deserve). Let us, in our humility, remember this, lest we boast or pridefully believe ourselves to be better than they who have not yet received the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ, our redeemer in whom alone we are justified.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The certainty and security of what we know and don't know

In 2002, Donald Rumsfield made a controversial comment about what we know: "There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unkonwns--there are things we do not know we don't know."

Among other things, Rumsfield was criticized for his convoluted use of language--and this post has nothing to do with the politics of his statement. But I think he raises a good point in terms of what we know about what we know or don't know. And I wonder if the categories of knowledge may look more like this:

  1. We know that we know.
  2. We know, but we don't know that we know.
  3. We don't know, but we know that we don't know.
  4. We don't know, but we don't know that we don't know. 
Or, maybe there's only three categories that matter:
  1. What we know for certain
  2. What we think we know (but may or may not actually know)
  3. What we don't know (whether we know or don't know that we don't know it)
Before I lose all my readers, I promise I'm making a connection soon... :) Some of you know, we have been on a "house journey" for about 6 - 8 months. We feel God is calling us to live in Plainview, and we've been trying to sell our house since October. In this process, God has taught us so much about trusting and walking in faith. And I was thinking this weekend about these levels of knowledge, and I was thinking that what I know for certain, and what I think I know, and what I don't know have all been so tested in this season to the point that some days, all I can do is declare: 
"Lord, I don't know what you're doing in all this. I don't know what your plan is, but here's what I do know..." 

In this journey, I've learned so much about the false security of the immediate--what we think we know and can take control of, which can, in fact, be easily changed. Our circumstances change, both good and bad, but His character, His attributes--these are things we get to know that we know for certain. 

Here is what I know: He is good and faithful. He is for me and with me. He will not fail me; He will not forsake me. He never changes. He is my rock, my refuge, my safe place. He is sufficient. He is my hope, my security--I have all I need in Him. And He is Daddy; He will provide for all our needs. 

When all that's in front of me is doubt and confusion, I just have to go to what I know. If I focus on what I think I know, I am fooled, and if I focus on what I don't know, I am frustrated. But if I focus on Him, I am fulfilled. 

After a long journey (I'll spare you the full story, but the climax includes re-plumbing our entire house), we have a contract on our house, we have survived the option period, and, Lord willing, we will sell our house on May 29. But there's a reason James writes, 
"Come now, you who say 'Today or tomorrow, we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas, you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live or do this or that'" (James 4:13-15). 
And because of that--because the certainty of our move is really only in "Lord willing," the Lord even still reminds me to hide my heart in Him, to put my plans and the "what we think we know" in the sovereignty of His hands. 

And so I do, but still I am left with other "unknowns," chief of which is where we will live in Plainview. And I don't know whether the answer to this question lies in knowledge 2 or knowledge 3:
  • Do we know the house God has for us in Plainview, but we don't know that we know?
  • Or do we not know, and so we just know that we don't know?
I'm not sure. Our "house in Plainview" story is about as long as our "Selling our house in Lubbock" story, but here's the short version: Back in October, we found a house we loved; then we had to re-plumb our house in Lubbock, which knocked that house out of the realm of possibility  Then we found another house we liked, but the inspection report blew that one quickly out of the realm of possibility -and at about the same time, the price on house number one was reduced, putting it back in the realm of possibility. 

So now we ask: Was the first one removed because it wasn't what God wants? Was the second one removed because the first is actually what God wants? Or were both removed because neither are what God wants? 

All along God has told me that He will open the doors so clearly and fully. And He has also told me not to plan--not to think I know, not to try to figure it out. And as hard as it's been, I feel like He wants to keep me in two places of knowledge: 
  • What I know I know for certain: His character and attributes
  • What I don't know, but don't know I don't know: which keeps me trusting in Him
When we got the second contract on our house in Lubbock, we laughed; we were in complete shock. I told the Lord, it would be like you to surprise us and also to orchestrate it at a time when we have no plan for a house in Plainview. 

So, even today--approximately one month from our closing date--I just declare that I still don't have it figured out. I don't know, and I don't presume to know what God is doing or how He will work it all out. But what I do know, I get to know for certain: I am His and He is sufficient for me. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Breaking spiritual "entitlement" attitudes

With this weekend being Easter, I have been reflecting on the cross these last few days and the magnitude that this weekend represents. 1 Cor 5:21 says "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." I was wretched and full of sin and undeserving, yet He saved me (For more on this, you might read this older post). Because of His great love, because of the greatness of His goodness, His faithfulness, His mercy, and His grace--He sent His son as a ransom for all. And He adopted me and gave me an inheritance. Not because I deserved it. Not because I earned it. And certainly not because I was entitled to it.

I've been thinking about this idea of "entitlement" all week. From a personal standpoint, I think I pride myself on not taking "handouts," and unlike the common perception of 20-somethings today, I do not expect or feel entitled to anything. Fortunately, I was raised that if you want something, you work for it. If you can't afford it, don't buy it. You earn what you own.

When we think about not just the cross or salvation but our lives as Christians, this daily "walking out" of our sanctification, we find that the "work to earn it" mentality is no more accurate than an "entitlement" mentality. And while, for me, learning to see and accept salvation as a gift was hard, it was not impossible. My mind works very logically and analytically, and even on my "best" days if I put my "merit" on one side of the scale and the fullness of what Jesus did on the cross on the other side--there will never be a balance; the two could never be equal. His sacrifice, God's grace, would always outweigh any futile attempt of mine to save myself. It's illogical, impossible--there is no amount of work that could ever earn me the status of salvation.

And so I learned years ago to lay down that mentality. And since I didn't feel I practiced the "entitlement" mentality in the natural, I never imagined I was laden with this mentality in the spiritual. I believe our Daddy gives good gifts to His children; I believe His promises are yes and amen; and I believe He has told me to ask, to seek, to knock, and it will be given to me. But somewhere along the way, I forgot that I wasn't entitled to anything. At the end of the day, there's a certain amount of pride in thinking I can demand my way because I asked in faith and believed it to be so.

Have I forgotten that "God is in Heaven; He does as He pleases"? (Psalm 115:3). Have I forgotten "God is unique and who can make Him change? Whatever His soul desires, that He does"? (Job 23:13). Have I forgotten, as Job did, that I was not there when He created the Heavens and the Earth, when He separated the waters from the land, when He commanded the sun to rise and set in His time. In short, have I forgotten not just His sovereignty, but His supremacy?

Last night, as I was again thinking about the cross and this weekend, I was reminded that God's gift of salvation is the greatest gift He ever gave. On top of that, He has blessed me with an incredible husband, a great job, friends and family who care for me, a house, a car, etc. If, for the rest of my life, He chose to never give me another gift, He would still be a good God.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't ask or that God would ever limit His gifts to His children. His nature is generosity, and He loves to bless us. He loves that we would ask and seek and knock; He loves to see our faith walked out. And I believe not only is He a just God, but He honors and rewards the faith of the righteous.

But I would be wise to remember that just as I did not earn any gifts He gives me, neither am I entitled to them. Anytime I demand my way or am offended with His plans, my pride is revealed, and I have forgotten my place. I need only change my perspective, I need only remember His work on the cross, to remember His grace is sufficient--I have all I'll ever need in Him.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Lessons from David

I feel like sometimes we read the psalms of David, and we think his hope and his faith in the Lord strong and secure—and yet, I think we miss the glimpse of his human nature: his doubt, his fear, his hopelessness. What David did so well to overcome those feelings is to speak truth despite how he felt. He declared the work of the Lord; He spoke of what he knew was good and true, even if it didn't line up with his circumstances or his emotions at that moment.

In Psalm 13, he begins by crying out to the Lord. These are not verses of hope or faith or trust. These are verses of honesty, of raw vulnerability before the Lord, of the truth condition of his heart, his flesh, his soul—every human component of his being. He writes, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemies be exalted over me?”

Those questions reveal his despair, his anger, his doubt, his fear. And yet, David does what he always does: he changes his attitude by declaring in faith, by changing his perspective. He ends the Psalm with a “But”: “But I have trusted in your mercy. My heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Did David’s circumstances change between verses 1 – 4 and verses 5 – 6? Likely not. Most likely, nothing in his physical circumstances changed. But when he writes “But,” when he shifts, something takes place in the spiritual. David learned this valuable lesson in prayer. I think we read the Psalms and are encouraged by the declarations of faith and God’s promises because David prayed in faith. He prayed despite what he saw and felt.

But what we miss is that he did see and feel the natural circumstances he faced. We don’t know how long he suffered in hopelessness before writing these psalms of declaration. That’s why I love Psalm 13. I feel a real connection to David’s words and to his courage to write them. I imagine him standing and yelling at the Lord as he writes them.

They resonate within me because they are truth conditioned to how my own flesh feels sometimes: overwhelmed, hopeless, forgotten. But may I learn an important lesson from David—to not stop there. He felt all his emotions. But he always knew how to encourage his soul, how to declare God’s truth in faith. He knew how to change his current attitude by changing his perspective from the natural to the spiritual. His circumstances may not have changed, but he knew how to stand in faith for the things he believed God would do, based on the things He had done in the past.

We are encouraged by David’s psalms because of the promises he declares, but may we also see the patterns of his prayer and take a lesson from his faith walk. He didn't deny his circumstances. He didn't deny his flesh or his feelings. He didn't hide his heart from God – ever. But he did declare God’s truth and His word.

I imagine he often didn't feel like it. I imagine it felt forced sometimes, maybe even fake—and yet, he declared it, and each time he did, God moved. Something in the spiritual changed; something in David’s heart changed—even if his circumstances never changed. Still he declared again and again: the Lord is good, the Lord is faithful, the Lord will rescue me, the Lord will comfort and bless me. Still he declared: I will wait, I will trust, I will hope.

And so, today, so do I.