Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lettuce Encouragement

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:19-25

I am a big fan of salads. Especially salads with honey French dressing, shredded cheese, croutons, grilled chicken, cucumbers, etc. I’m an iceberg lettuce kind of gal, in spite of the nutritional value of the greener leafy veggies. Lettuce and other vegetables are an essential element to keep our bodies healthy with adequate nutrients and vitamins. I realize I ruin the nutritional value of my salads with that honey French dressing, but at least it has honey in it, right?

These verses prompt us to do a whole bunch with lettuce. LETTUCE draw near to God. LETTUCE hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. LETTUCE consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. LETTUCE not give up meeting together. LETTUCE encourage one another. Like I said, lettuce is a really, really important vegetable.

There are occasions in my walk with Christ and with the church during which I feel particularly encouraged, and there are other moments where I find myself feeling alone and deserted. Usually it has a lot more to do with where I’ve positioned myself than where God is or where the people of God are. These verses emphasize what WE should do as a community of believers—draw near to God, hold unswervingly (that’s without changing course) to the hope we profess, consider how we can urge one another on toward love and good deeds, meet together, encourage one another. There aren’t any “you’s” or “me’s” in these verses – it is a collective agreement between me and all y’all: US.

There are a lot of other elements to salads, all of which keep things tasty and interesting. Just like our walk with Christ, there are a lot of things we can add in to keep it fresh and fun—conferences, concerts, Christian music, blogs, books, etc.—but without the sustaining power of community and relationship with other believers to encourage us in our walk, all we’d have is a pile of cheese, croutons, cucumbers, and dressing. The kind of community that is demonstrated in these verses is an intimate, vulnerable, challenging, loving community. It is essential. We need lettuce.

Oh, look at that… lunch time!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tackling Fear and Discouragement

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“He said: "Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's.” (2 Chronicles 20:15)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.” (2 Chronicles 32:7)

The three verses above both talk about fear and discouragement. Do you ever find yourself gripped by fear or discouragement? Like the wind has been sucked out of your sails and you are stranded in the middle of a huge lake with no oars? Fear paralyzes us, blinds us to the path that God has set before us. When I am discouraged by my circumstances, I find myself fixated on my circumstances and my emotions. I want to shout out, “I’m afraid! I’m not going anywhere! I am stranded in this phase of life and YOU haven’t shown me any way out!” Our personal “vast armies” could be a dead-end job. A monotonous stay-at-home life. Unruly children. Infertility. Miscarriages. Trouble with your marriage. Difficulty finding a spouse. Feeling without purpose. Mounting stress at work or in class. A sick family member. A personal illness. Those vast armies circle, aim their arrows, and prepare to take us down.

But God makes three promises in the verses above: He is with you. It is HIS battle, not yours. He is more powerful than whatever it is you are facing. In the face of fear and discouragement, God commands us to be strong and courageous. How can we do it? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). One of the comforts I have rested in is that I do not need to understand the battle, I am called to trust and acknowledge God. That’s all. I’m not called to solve every problem – it is HIS battle. He will make my paths straight. I need to trust his path-paving and believe that He has a plan and purpose for me, even if it looks different than what I expected or takes a lot longer than I want to be accomplished. Jeremiah 29:11 promises that God knows the plans he has for us, plans to prosper and not harm, plans to give us a hope and a future. Our hope and our future may not look the way that we had expected. But what matters most is that He is with us. He is more powerful than what we are facing. And it is His battle.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

For Freedom

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

Freedom is a big deal in America. In our Declaration of Independence, the forefathers declare that freedom—liberty—is one of our unalienable (universal, moral, natural) Rights, along with life and the pursuit of happiness. If you look up “liberty” in the dictionary, every one of the definitions begins with “freedom,” freedom from rule, freedom from control, freedom from captivity. We care a lot about freedom.

It seems, too, that God cares a lot about freedom. I like that. Way to go, God, I’m all about freedom... that is until I look around at the world and wonder whether things have gotten a little out of hand. I’d like God to just take control over me, my circumstances, the suffering in the world, and just fix it all. Force love and obedience. Clean up the mess. Isn’t that what we ask of Him when our circumstances turn ugly, or when natural disasters strike, or when bad things happen to good people? Fix this! Look at this mess you’ve allowed to happen! What kind of a God are you??

But freedom is a double-edged sword. We choose to be good, and we choose to be selfish. We choose to feed the poor, and we choose to ignore the poor. We choose to embrace people, and we choose to put people in concentration camps. In order to fully embrace freedom and to understand to a somewhat greater degree the way God works is to recognize that if God compromises one part of freedom, the whole thing would fall to pieces. Being only a little bit of a slave is still being a slave. So God grants us freedom, recognizing that He’s taking one serious risk, that we will not choose Him, and that we will choose to remain a slave to our selfish nature.

Being a slave to our selfish nature sounds so baaaad, and I feel like I can kind of write myself out of that formula, like checking off that I’m not really into bestiality so I must be okay. But I think one of the freedoms we gain from Christ is clarity—outside of Christ, the choice between good and evil is often hazy. As a nonbeliever, I often felt directionless, confused, disoriented, unsure, and worried… about pretty much everything. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is sometimes difficult to discern what is real and true and good and beautiful. This, for me, is one of the yokes of slavery – the yoke of floundering around trying to find my own way outside of Jesus.

In Galatians, Paul is addressing a group of people who have said that Jesus is not enough for salvation, for freedom. They set up a Jesus+ system. But it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, not so that we should continue carrying around a burden of guilt, misdirection, wandering, etc. All of nature and humanity is bound by laws, but within those boundaries we are granted freedom. If we choose poorly, we pick up the yoke of slavery and are bound by the consequences of those choices. If we follow Christ, we walk lightly in his freedom.

So, believer, what are you beating yourself up over today? What are you carrying around as your Jesus+? Maybe a little of what Paul personifies in Romans? “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:14-15, 24-25)

Hey soul sister, it is for FREEDOM that Christ has set you free! Lay it down before Him, whatever “it” is. Sure, ask him to cleanse your spirit, to strengthen and guide you, to lift that burden of sin you still carry. You will surely stumble along some more as he who began a good work in you carries it on to completion. But rely on him, rejoice in his freedom, and praise him for the good gifts he has given you through the holy spirit – like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. All of these are given you through the Holy Spirit.

Praise God for freedom in Christ!