I'm just a wife and mother who earnestly desires to grow in my faith and it's demonstration. DISCLAIMER! I have absolutely no problem with women in the clergy. As a matter of fact, I have several female pastors who I consider friends. In my home, the pastor is a male so the pronouns I use to refer to a pastor tend to be male. This is not a statement of any kind. Just a reflection of my every day life!

Archive for July, 2011

Counting the Cost

“The loss of transcendence has left in its wake the flotsam of distrustful, cynical Christians, angry at a capricious God, and the jetsam of smug bibliolatrists who claim to know precisely what God is thinking and exactly what he plans to do.”  (Ruthless Trust, page 81)

Have you ever been be driven to your knees in breathless awe of God’s transcendence?  Not sure I ever have.  I know that I have heard many sermons and Sunday School lessons on God’s justice, the growth of the early church, the Great Commission, the stories in the Old Testament . . . you get the idea!  But my memories of sermons or Sunday School lessons which focused on the fact that God is so beyond me as to be undefinable and uncontainable?!  I have very few (if any) which leads me to believe that perhaps there has not been as much attention paid to this issue as there should have been.

According to dictionary.com, capricious is defined as “subject to, led by, or indicative of caprice or whim; erratic”.  I think I can safely say that God is not capricious.  He does not manipulate our lives to suit his whims.  We are not merely here to provide some measure of amusement for him.  His actions are certainly not erratic.  We may not always understand why things happen the way they do, but that doesn’t mean that God is erratic.  The simple fact is God does not owe us an answer for why he allows certain things to happen in our lives.  He may occasionally allow us to see his purpose but he is not obligated to do so.

As for those who try to claim that they have a good handle on what God expects of us, that is arrogance at best and a blatant flouting of scripture at it’s worst.  In Isaiah 55:8-9 we read, ” ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ ” If God’s thoughts and ways are higher than man’s, why on earth would ANYONE assume that they can explain God?!

So how do we avoid the arrogance of assuming we fully understand God or the frustration that comes from believing him to be erratic?  We seek a better understanding of His word.  We dwell on verses like the one mentioned above and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the “bigness” of God.  It’s time to allow ourselves to dwell on exactly what scripture tells us of God’s character and what the gift of Calvary really entails and then allow all of that to drive us to our knees. 

I’ve been asking God to blow my mind with a better understanding of just how far beyond me he really is.  I want to be blown away by how very poor my understanding of him is and will be this side of glory.  He is my Abba and I am so grateful for the intimacy that term implies.  But he is also Yahweh and I want to function in an awareness of just what the name means, just how beyond me he is.  It’s not that I seek to think that I am too far beneath God to matter; instead, I seek to understand how far above me he is and be grateful that he still seeks to have a relationship with me!

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Moralism and Legalism

In my copy of Ruthless Trust the chapter entitled “Infinite and Intimate” is full of highlighted passages. The entire book was the beginning of a major paradigm shift for me and this particular chapter was quite possibly the most powerful part of that motivation.  The following passage stopped me short and I re-read it multiple times:

“Moralism and its stepchild, legalism, pervert the character of the Christian life.  By the time young people enter college, they have often abandoned God, church, and religion.  If they persevere in religious practices, their need to appease an arbitrary God turns Sunday worship into a supersititous insurance policy designed to protect the believer against God’s whims.”

Manning purports that the church’s failure to dwell on God’s transcendence has resulted in a rather self-absorbed focus on how we are behaving and how we are “feeling”.  We worry about how happy we are, how fulfilled we are and we relegate God to the role of divine regulations overseer.  Children in the church are taught that God cares about their external behaviors – everything from whether or not they wash their hands eating to sexual purity.  While it’s true that our behavior can be an outward expression of what is going on in our hearts, it is also true that people can maintain a certain level of behavior simply as a way of pleasing others.

You probably could have called me a “goody-two-shoes” during my school years.  I never got into much trouble mostly because I lived in a very small town and my father was the pastor of the only church within the village limits.  I should probably also mention that my grandmother was the secretary to the Superintendent of the school district.  Everyone knew who I was and who I was related to so any bad behavior on my part would have gotten home before I did.  My conduct was acceptable.  My motivation was anything but.  I wasn’t doing the “right thing” because I was motivated by the overwhelming realization of God’s love and glory – I simply wanted to keep myself from getting grounded!! 

When we ignore God’s glory, his transcendence, what then motivates our actions?  An awareness of how undeserving we are of God’s love combined with an awareness of just how great that love is will in turn motivate us to obey – to do the “right thing” – because we want to, in some small way, return the love we’ve been shown.  We stop seeing God as a cranky being just waiting to nail us for screwing up and begin to see that he is passionately pursuing us as a bridegroom who cannot wait for the day when he claims his bride!

The Paradox of Infinite and Intimate

Many people today – Jesus followers included – tend to view God as loving, caring father figure.  They say he is completely loving and longs to give us good things.  All of that is true.  We only need to look at passages like Matthew 7:11 which reads – “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”   And then there is John 15:15 – “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  In other words, scripture backs up the attitude that God is loving and personal


But we fall short if that is where our attempt to understand the character of God comes to an end.  This same loving God is also completely “other”.  He is the same God who refused to let Moses actually see him.  God wasn’t being mean.  He just knows that we, in our limited, finite form, cannot handle seeing God face to face.  I don’t mean it would be difficult for us – I mean it would kill us!  In Exodus 33, Moses asks God to show himself.  God agrees to walk by and let Moses see his glory after he has passed.  God’s reason for this is clearly stated in verse 20 – “But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”  I don’t believe there is anything else in all of creation that would kill you with simply a glance.


If we limit our “understanding” of God to those characteristics that we find comforting and loving, we cheat ourselves and prevent ourselves from truly drawing close to him.  As Manning states in Ruthless Trust, “We pay a price for steering clear of transcendence and unknowability.  The loss of a sense of transcendence among believers has caused incalculable harm to Christian spirituality and to the interior life of individual Christians.”  That’s a strong statement, I realize, and that’s one of the reasons it caught my attention when I first read the book.  But I believe he is right.  When we ignore God’s transcendence, we cheat ourselves.  We set ourselves up to worry that there may be some situations he cannot handle.  We fail to feel a sense of awe that the transcendent God is truly interested in us.  


The challenge for any believe is to see God as both personal – invested in the lives of those who love him – and transcendent – holier than anything we can possibly fathom this side of glory!

Kabod

I learned a new word while reading Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust.  That word is “Kabod”.  It’s the Hebrew word in Scripture that is often translated as “glory” and is used in reference to God.  As sometimes happens in scripture, we fail to catch the full grasp of what Kabod actually means; translation has lost some of the subtleties of it’s different uses.  It has been used in scripture to represent something of great importance, a description of majesty, and a representation of rank. It eventually came to be associated with the glory of God appearing as a light so brilliant that God himself could not be seen for it’s glow.  Victor Hugo once described God as “a divine and terrible radiance.”  Many Bible scholars, Manning included, seem to think that this is a fairly accurate way to describe the response that a serious meditation of Kabod Yahweh is meant to bring out in us. 

When trying to get his reader to understand that God is both personal and majestic – or as the title of Chapter 6 in the book says, “Infinite and Intimate” – he has this to say:
“Kabod is not a safe topic.  It induces a feeling of terror before the Infinite and exposes as sham our empty religious talk and pointless activity, our idle curiosity and ludicrous pretensions of importance, our frantic busyness.  The awareness that the eternal transcendent God of Jesus Christ is our absolute future gives us the shakes.”
I’ve had many moments in my life when God has been the source of comfort I have so desperately needed.  He has been my loving Abba who has allowed me to, in a metaphorical sense, climb up in his lap and tearfully point out all the bumps and bruises that life has handed me.  But I’m not really comfortable with thinking about his “divine terrible radiance.”  Focusing on the transcendence of God is intimidating at best and terrifying at worst!  
But there is this:  if my Abba, the King above all Kings and the Lord above all Lords, is the same God whose glory is so beyond what I can conceive, how much  more of a privilege is it to call him Abba and have the privilege of coming into his presence whenever and wherever?!  
I’ve said it before and I’ll state it again here.  As frightening as it can be to spend large amounts of thinking about Kabod, thinking about God’s transcendence, I do not want to serve a God who merely makes me comfortable.  I do not want to serve a God that I can explain and understand.  If I, a flawed human limited by my finite existence, can fully explain and understand God, then how great can he really be?!  But if his character and Kabod are so far beyond me as to leave me a little shaken, then he is truly God and there is no other.

An Act of the Will

Everyone faces heart-wrenching difficulty at one point in their lives.  For most of the human race, difficulties come more than just once.  How do we cope?  When we don’t see any answers or reason, how do we keep going?  Difficult situations hurt and they can even make us ask God “Why?!”  He doesn’t have to give us an answer to that question.  Sometimes he does.  Sometimes he does not.  And both responses are good because he cannot be anything BUT good.

But that doesn’t answer the question of how we keep going.  In his book, Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning touches on the very human reaction to painful times in the following quote:  “Harriet Beecher Stowe understood the depths of the human struggle when she wrote these words to a heart broken friend:  ‘When the heart-strings are suddenly cut, it is, I believe, a physical impossibility to feel faith or resignation, there is a revolt of the instinctive and animal system, and though we may submit to God, it is rather by constant painful effort than sweet attraction.'”

That’s a side of trust that many of us don’t like to think about much less discuss.  But we’ve all been there.  Those dark moments when we cling to God out of a desperate need to cling to something.  We are raw and hurting and really wish it all made sense.  When we cannot do anything else we make the “painful effort” Stowe referred to and we trust out of sheer need.

And I sincerely believe this is absolutely okay with our Abba.  I don’t believe that it brings God pleasure to watch us walk through dark times.  Sometimes they are things he has allowed to happen because he needs to  work on us, to polish off some rough edges.  Sometimes they are difficulties that our own choices brought down on us and letting us suffer the consequences can be the most effective teacher.  And sometimes we are simply hurt by the fact that we live in a fallen world.  Whatever the cause, I believe that Abba hurts with us, cries with us, and definitely walks with us through all of it.  If my children are hurting and suffering and they throw themselves at me all tears and sniffles and anxious thoughts, I’m going to throw my arms around them and hold on until they don’t need me to hold on anymore.  Can you imagine our PERFECT Heavenly Father doing anything less?!

So the next time the clouds gather and the pain sets in, don’t feel obligated to slap on a happy face and pretend like everything’s good; don’t feel the need to fake having all the answers.  Throw yourselves into the arms of the Father and let it all out – the pain, the fear, the frustration, the pain.  Make the painful effort to choose trust and eventually the trust will become sweet once again.

Free to be Grateful!

I’ve often heard – and I believe that scripture REPEATEDLY backs it up – that one of the many things Jesus did during his earthly ministry was give us a glimpse of who God is.  In Jesus’ compassion for the lost, we saw the heart of God.  In the frustration Jesus’ displayed with the money changers in the temple, we saw God’s justice.  You get the idea!

At the heart of trust – as I am continuing to learn!  – is the acceptance of that revelation of Jesus that lets me see at least a glimpse of the character of God.  As Brennan Manning states “Uncontaminated trust in the revelation of Jesus allows us to breath more freely, to dance more joyfully, and to sing more gratefully about the gift of salvation.”

“Uncontaminated trust” – that’s an interesting description, don’t you think?!  One might say that trust is, as it’s very core, free of contamination.  But let’s be honest.  Circumstances can serve to contaminate our trust can’t they?  A job lay-off, a serious illness, a broken heart – all of these can make us turn to God with an attitude of “Are you paying attention?!  Seriously?!”  I would say that when life throws those curveballs at us, our trust will, for at least a moment get “contaminated”.

Have you been there?  Or are you, like me, living right now in a set of circumstances that is trying VERY HARD to contaminate your trust?  Then let’s try something together, okay?  Close your eyes for a moment.  Take a few slow breaths.  Just concentrate on the rise and fall of your breathing.  Calmed down yet?  Good.  Now I want you to think about all of the things that Scripture says about Jesus – what he said and did – and what those things tell us about the character of our Abba.

Jesus was called a drunkard and glutton by the religious leaders because he hung out with the “undesirables.”  Guess that means that nobody is “beneath” God.  When a group of angry, pious Jews brought a woman to Jesus because she had committed a crime that was punishable by stoning, he told those who had never done wrong to throw the first stone.  When everyone else walked away, Jesus told her to “go and sin no more.”  Guess that says volumes about Abba’s willingness to offer forgiveness and a second (third, fourth . . . )chance.    Jesus scolded his disciples when they tried to keep some kids away from Jesus.  No such thing as “the wrong age” for God.  Jesus had both men and women involved in his ministry and ministered to both Jews and Gentiles so gender and race don’t matter.

But what about people and their suffering?  Jesus wept at the death of a friend.  He felt even the smallest touch on his garment when it was motivated by suffering laced with a touch of hope.  He noticed people.  All kinds of people. And when he knew the end was near, he stood on a hill overlooking Jerusalem and wept for those who were too blind and deaf to understand what he was about to do and why.

I can’t tell you why bad things happen.  I cannot even begin to guess what the purpose of suffering is.  But I can tell you this – when you weep in frustration, Abba is there to throw his arms around and simply let you weep for a moment.  When you ask why, he doesn’t get angry.  He may not give you the answer but he will give you the energy and the courage to take one more step.

Then it happens.  In the midst of the difficulty, with no clear answers yet in sight, it will happen.  You will find a moment of calm.  And then a moment of peace.  Not peace with difficult circumstances but peace with the one who will give you the endurance needed to take one more step.  Friend, do not let anyone tell you that you must be happy in the midst of painful circumstances.  And don’t let them fool you that you will someday know why you had to suffer a particular pain.  God doesn’t owe us an explanation and there are times he won’t “tell us” why certain things happened.  But I am his, he loves me, and his kingdom will be expanded through my “dark times” and that alone is reason to trust.  From there, it’s a simply matter of drawing close to him so he can undo the damage that my circumstances have done to the trust I have in him.  Once my trust has been officially “uncontaminated” again, then I can once again “sing more gratefully about the gift of salvation.”

I’m back!

Actually, I didn’t really go anywhere. I’ve just been super busy and, consequently, super absent from this blog!! I’ve been diligently working on projects, though. Got one sister’s gift finished and making good progress on the gift for the other sister.

As I continue to work on gifts for Christmas, my brain keeps running of to other “Oooh! I could do THIS . . . ” type thoughts. Part of my brain even keeps playing around with the whole “could I make stuff and sell it?” idea. Not sure where any of that is going though!

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