Faith

All Good Things…

Geoffrey Chaucer penned the phrase, “all good things must come to an end” in his poem, Troilus and Criseyde. Is it true? Say it isn’t so!

Juliet pined, “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow that I’ll say good night till it be morrow” in Shakespeare’s play. If only some moments were supernaturally longer, their sweetness enduring, putting off the inevitable. Can we just linger in certain days—just a little more, please?

Life ebbs, flows, and sometimes cycles. There is incredible beauty in the change of seasons. I love and am thankful for our four seasons in the Midwest. (Well, three of the four, really.) Truthfully, I’m really okay with expected change. The constancy of that kind of change is rather soothing. The sunrises I rarely see are balanced by gorgeous sunsets. Wet spring dries up and gives way to scorching summer, which relaxes and cools to flashy autumn. Winter just is. Dormant. Isolating. Requiring insulating. You get the picture. The only constant would be change.

There is other change. The unexpected and unpredictable. Have you been there and done that?

I’ve always known I couldn’t control some changes. Take the weather, for example. I might casually wonder if Disney® had a marionette named “Polar Vortex,” but I’m sure only One controls the sun and seasons, and “he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the LORD Almighty is his name” (Jeremiah 31:35).

What is most encouraging to you in the middle of unexpected change?

Today I’m living in some of these:

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 CEB

May He grant you your heart’s desire, And fulfill all your counsel. Psalm 20:4 HNV

Therefore, once you have your minds ready for action and you are thinking clearly, place your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:13 CEB

3 Don’t let loyalty and faithfulness leave you. Bind them on your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will find favor and approval in the eyes of God and humanity. 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. 6 Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. Proverbs 3 

This is where I am today. Humbled. Quiet. And quieted by his love.

~Jennifer

Holy Week Reflections: Faith, Trust, and a Blood-stained Cross

I’m pondering righteousness “by grace through faith” (Romans 3:22; 5:2; Ephesians 2:8). I usually steep in the grace in this space. I want to put the other word in neon lights today: faith. The connection is clear and direct. Paul’s writings in the New Testament emphasize that righteousness, right relationship with God, is his gift to us, by grace, through faith in Jesus. Our entire relationship to our heavenly Father hangs on that alone.

What is this faith?
Some translations use the word faith; others use trust. Whichever English word appears (it’s pistis in the Greek), the author of the letter to the Hebrews defines it.¹ Chapter 11 begins with

Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. 11:1 CSB

This is where confidence or assurance and not seen or not yet intertwine. How confident am I in the “unseen” and “not yet” parts of life? I make an attempt to be present in the moment, but faith encompasses that and so much more. The things yet to be seen test my faith and prove it. While it’s good to be in the present as much as possible, I want to be mindful of things I haven’t seen when it’s appropriate.

I didn’t walk Jerusalem’s narrow, dusty streets with Jesus. I didn’t witness the trial or weep during the agonizing torture. I didn’t shoulder the heavy, rough-hewn crossbeam. I didn’t cringe or reel when nails were pounded into his hands and feet. My ears didn’t hear him cry out Eloi, Eloi, lemá sabachtháni ?” (Mark 15:34). I didn’t tremble when the darkness came, the ground shook, and the curtain tore from top to bottom (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19). I didn’t carry his lifeless body to Joseph’s tomb to bury him hastily. I didn’t stand, dumbfounded, in front of the same tomb—empty. I trust these events happened. I place faith in the significant gift exchanged on a blood-stained cross with “It is accomplished!” (John 19:30 CJB). His life for my sin.

Faith is like…
Some compare faith to sitting in a chair. Seeing the chair, assuming it can hold you, is one thing. That’s like knowing the biblical stories and truths—maybe even speaking about them comfortably. Following through on the knowledge of the chair’s stability in faith would be putting all your weight on the chair by sitting in it. That’s like believing the Bible is unchangeable, inerrant truth and doing what it says.

Blondin’s Wheelbarrow

Some magnify the significance of faith by comparing it to The Great Blondin, suggesting it’s like choosing to cross Niagara Falls in a wheelbarrow on a tightrope pushed by a daredevil. Think about that for just a second: would you trust your life (whatever is left of the dash between the dates) to a man who says he can get you to the other side safely. The way looks long, frightening, and near impossible. Still, if you got in that wheelbarrow, you’d be placing the deepest trust in the man pushing it, wouldn’t you? You’re entrusting your life to him.

So, which is it—the chair or the wheelbarrow?

If I’m going to try to compare the faith we place in Jesus to something, I need to determine the importance or significance first. Is faith in Jesus like sitting in a chair or in a wheelbarrow over Niagara Falls? Does it matter either way? Maybe.

Faith in Jesus is like…a chair?
I have a completely different emotional response depending on whether it’s the chair or the wheelbarrow. How about you? Some passages in the Bible make me think of the comfy, over-sized, leather chair.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26 NAS

The same verse in another translation reads: “For in union with the Messiah, you are all children of God through this trusting faithfulness” (CJB). The word union is important, and it’s obviously and directly linked to trust and faith.

Other verses remind me God decides and provides righteousness.

He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:26 CSB

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, Romans 4:16 ESV

It’s easy to envision sitting in a chair when it comes to the adoption-sonship part of faith. Those who place faith in Jesus’ gracious sacrifice on the cross become children of God, “and if children, then heirsheirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17a,b ESV). Placing faith in Jesus changes our positional relationship with our heavenly Father. The estranged, wayward, runaway child relationship is exchanged for a close, dearly loved, embraced, royal heir relationship. It’s quite a transformation, and the chair is lovely! Maybe the chair suggests an image: beautiful, consistent, a place to rest.

Faith in Jesus is like…a wheelbarrow?
Why do Christians emphasize the significance of the decision to place faith in Jesus? Why the life-and-death urgency? Is placing faith in Christ like getting into the wheelbarrow over the falls and trusting a somewhat extraordinary man?  Yes. And no.

There are too many verses to include. Over and over, the Bible speaks to the significance of the decision and the reason for it.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

Because God is holy, the offenses can’t be ignored. The sin debt is infinitely beyond what we can pay, except with our very lives. Though we deserve death for offending holy God, he offered mercy and grace in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Given to us freely. We could never earn it! Jesus’ death satisfied the requirements of the debt.²

This single decision to trust Jesus with our life really is the difference between life and death. Right now we stand on one side of the falls (this earthly home). A whole other life is promised when we arrive on the other side, having crossed the harrowing distance on the rope in the wheelbarrow (our lifetime). Only one person can promise to get us there safely (Jesus). Eternal life only comes through faith in Christ, any other choice cannot remove God’s wrath (John 3:15-16, 36).

A bit long, and maybe requiring some deeper personal study, this passage in Romans indicates the tension between the law and grace, the need for righteousness through faith in Jesus, and the redemption we’ve been offered.

21 But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets 22 —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26 He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26 CSB

For those who have yet to sort out the trust-faith-Jesus “thing,” this is the crux of it all. And, as I said, this dense slice of Romans 3 may require a bit of study in order to grasp it more fully. Reading it in a few different translations may be helpful. Try that HERE.

Done and…done?
For those who have placed faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, there’s a little more to think about. Searching for God and deciding to follow him is the beginning. It’s trusting and following—meaning, we surrender the lead on decisions and humbly wait to know what to do. We acknowledge what we can’t see or don’t know, God does. We place faith in his wisdom and base our thoughts, words, and actions on his example or guidance.

Living out everyday life in response to that decision involves daily commitment and a million little choices. Does that sound a little long, challenging, or even crazy-hard to you, too? Romans reminds me I have the opportunity to live a life that honors God. Sometimes the following verse encourages me.

We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin. Romans 6:6 NCV

I’m thankful God’s character is good and loving. I’m really thankful he loves li’l old me that much! I believe (trust and have faith) that my God has provided a way to him through Jesus’ death on the cross (that I did not see with my own eyes). I’m trusting every one of the rest of my days (that I cannot count or predict) to him. I have faith he will take me into eternity with him.

So—the chair or wheelbarrow? Maybe I sit confidently in the chair daily…with daring, heart-racing, deep faith in the One who beckons me to the tightrope.

So, which is it for you, the chair or the wheelbarrow?

Hoping your weekend is full of gratitude and joy in the redemption.

~Jennifer

______________________

Scripture sourced from http://www.biblestudytools.com.

¹ Hebrews is possibly a Pauline letter, but is not certainly attributed to him.

² The polysyllabic terms are substitutionary atonement or propitiation.

Photo Credit: Christ image from http://www.morguefile.com.

Photo Credit: Butt, George, Blondin’s Wheelbarrow. Rights: Louis Toussaud’s Wax Museum (London). Source: Niagara Falls Library.

“Oops! I Blew It. Again.”

Photo by nacu

I’ve identified a painful area of weakness. You know the kind. It’s a hurt that led to an unhealthy habitual response. The more I think about it, there’s more in common with a hamster on a wheel than I initially thought. The thing about the cute, fuzzy, tail-challenged rodent on a painfully screechy wheel is that there’s a bit of cute factor to the critter, isn’t there? These days they even have some variety in appearance, too! You can still find the basic Golden Hamster, but now they range in size, fur length, color, and Arctic survival skills, I guess.

People are attracted to these adorable little furries. The hamster is one of the most popular pocket pets available—maybe for the sheer numbers in stores. Or maybe people like the fact that hamsters don’t have the creepy rodent tail some other critters have. There’s also a distinct possibility the numbers in people’s homes correlate with pet store employees’ questionable gender identification skill set.

The first thing I’d say about the hamster is that we have an attraction. We keep the little critter around and play with it.

14 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin’s power. 15 For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. Romans 7:14-15 CSB

Verse 14. We are captivated by the adorable, beady-eyed little fur ball! Our habits can be like a little pocket pet we walk around with, pull out, and play with when we feel like it, as if we’ve been “sold into sin’s power.” If you know you’ve got a pocket pet, admit it.

Oops! There it is.

These little fuzzy rodents are nocturnal. After the sun goes down, when I’m tired, that little beastie is just waking to his busy time. If you’ve had a hamster, you may have been wise enough to locate the cage as far away from the bedroom as possible, but if not, you learned quick! (I suppose some learn to sleep through it.) When I am tired and easily influenced, I have trouble doing what I should, and I’ll do what I shouldn’t (v. 15).

Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— Ephesians 5:15

When I have low energy, I have to be strategic in my choices. It doesn’t matter which area of life; it would be wise to consider whether I have what I need to respond to others, circumstances, or my own thoughts in a manner that reflects my genuine desire to be like Christ. This would be a good time to be wise! Pause and get some perspective.

Rather than blow it, breathe!

*S-S-S-S-S-SCREE-EE-EE-EE-CH*

Normally, the squeaky wheel gets the WD-40. (If only that weren’t poisonous to the fuzzy little critter!) Like fingernails screaming on a chalkboard, it’s a sound you don’t easily ignore. That metal wheel is the hamster’s expression of insanity. Round and round and round it goes, but going nowhere. It’s the same thing for hours. No change. Yet, that rodent pours all of its energy into this exercise every night. The pace vacillates between a walk and sprint (with appropriately matching sound effect), but it’s the same activity.

Look at Romans 7 again:

15 For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

It’s not hard for me to see the confusion, the insanity. There is no understanding. Paul does what he doesn’t want to do, even what he hates doing. I tend to think the hamster wheel is flying fast in that moment, the high-pitched scream assaulting the ears! But, what is that sound? Maybe that’s how we characterize the result of the conflict between what we know we should do and the wrong we do. The ear-splitting wheel feels like my soul’s agony either during or after the sin. (Does anyone else relate to this?)

I like how Paul puts it: “I know nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it” (v. 18).

And I do it, again and again, expecting a different result.

Stop the insanity!

There are only a few options:

1. Continue running on the wheel.
2. Get off the wheel.
3. Quit getting on the wheel.
4. Re-home the stinkin’ pocket pet!

Option 1 perPETuates the cycle. (Yes, I just typed that.) The other options are the equivalent of change. Since the definition of insanity is repetition of the same activity expecting something different, I’ll opt for sanity—but the questions I ask are Why? and How?

21 So I discover this principle: when I want to do good, evil is with me. 22 For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. 23 But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin. Romans 7

There is a given “principle” in my life: I will struggle with sin (v. 21). As long as my heart genuinely desires to follow Christ, I simply must choose to come down in agreement with Scripture; that’s my singular litmus test for every thought, word, and action (v. 22). My why becomes my knowledge of the battle in me: my mind and body could be taken prisoner, if I let it happen, and I just don’t want that. Ever. I don’t want my mind or body to be the tools my enemy, “the law of sin,” uses (v. 23). Reality is, I’m not different than Paul, the “wretched man,” and I know I need a rescue (v. 24)!

Verse 25 is my sweet, fragrant grace! I can be, by the power of Jesus Christ, “a slave to the law of God” in my mind. Since my mind is the greatest tool I have to control my thoughts, words, and actions, this is a big deal! My how just became limitless in power and loving beyond measure. Even to death.

One more thing:

Therefore, what conclusion should we reach? “Let’s go on sinning, because we’re not under legalism but under grace”? Heaven forbid! Romans 6:15 CJB

Whoopsie daisy, I did it again…

There is grace. Big, loving, endless grace. But, in our options above, we cannot perpetuate sin. We have to get off the wheel when we become aware. Over time, our goal is to avoid the wheel altogether. I think that’s when the pocket pet is finally out of the house!

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.  ~Ben Franklin

My goal is to get off the wheel in some areas. In order to do that, I’ll need to pause and recognize what’s happening. I’m going to celebrate every single time I get off the wheel. I’ll definitely breathe a big, happy sigh at that point. And, I’ll be thankful when I don’t get on it at all. Time to par-TAY in celebration of all that God enabled me to do! Even better when the critter is long gone! *Grin*

~Jennifer

______________________

Photo credit: www.morguefile – nacu

Photo credit: “Hamster on a wheel” from PhotoBucket sharing – Carol-JPP.

Note: I didn’t mention one other critter characteristic: biting. One reason I don’t have one!  *grin*