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

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Grace: On Being Determined

This week I learned a precious lesson in the most unconventional, serendipitous way. I received one of those magnificent gems of truth served up on a blue plate peeking out of the marinara on a bed of spaghetti. That’s probably about as clear as crystal. Bear with me as I try to unpack this one. I’m sharing this because I think something genuinely applies to life (not just my own). Here we go—

I can be determined.

I mean, I can be really determined. The doggedly kind.

While persistence and diligence are two beautiful qualities, I need to examine them more closely in my life. My mind and heart can be set in a single, laser-precision focused direction with inflexibility. I paint this phenomenon with colorful words like—intentionality, integrity, focus, single-minded, whole-hearted, all in, loyal, truthful. It looks good, but is there something more to this? I think so.

James openly implores, “Do not be deceived” (1:16). He’s onto something. When I think about these character qualities, persistence and diligence, I can see the ugly caricature lurking, barely concealed, in the shadows. The problem isn’t with the determination but the object of it. An illustration may be helpful.

A little story example out of life—

I recently heard about two people in conflict. One unknowingly offended the other, and what’s more, never intended any offense whatsoever. A seemingly innocuous conversational statement was taken quite personally, and tension mounted too quickly. The escalation was surprising. The follow up conversations, intended to diffuse the conflict, seemed not only fruitless but more like gasoline on the fire. That’s my interpretation of the scenario.

I had a candid response I immediately wished I could stuff back into the box out of which it came.

“Someone is determined to be offended,” I replied, “I remember being a lot like that twenty years ago, before I was a Christian.”

Yes, I said that. And several hours later, the spaghetti and meatball blue plate special was served up with the gem in the middle. (Part of the gem is in learning the problem may not be far, far away in another universe.)

Another story—

Once upon a time a friend walked through terrible heartbreak as a result of others’ decisions and unkindness. What took place was certainly wrong. My emotional response was sadness and anger; I was offended. The problem arose when it was more than appropriately with but for my friend without right-sized perspective. My sense of justice went all “Dorian Gray” on me internally, and I lived in that grudge on behalf of my friend for much too long. Loving support is always right in a “weep with those who weep” kind of way (Romans 12:15), but something went horribly wrong.

The toll? An ugly bent toward my own calibration of integrity and justice, loosening my moorings to the biblical sense of both. Several relationships were wrecked and buried. I nursed friend loyalty into a “cause” that was inappropriate. Misplaced dogged determination has costs. I’m reminded the object and heart behind it all matters. (More small facets of the marinara-covered gem…)

Some comparisons are helpful to me. Maybe to you, too?

A young woman is offended by a gentleman’s dialogue because it sounds inappropriate to her ears on her own behalf and others’. There may be something to it. The conversation may contain arguably offensive words or tone. Is it possible to thoughtfully and lovingly evaluate the content with truth and grace? It’s paramount to know the heart of the speaker, in this case, then to evaluate the magnitude of the harm. Is this more like terrorizing hate speech or innocent ignorance on the spectrum? There’s a dramatic difference when intent is factored in.

Someone I know may be treated disingenuously. Is it possible to step back from the emotional, gritty response to size up the wrong; support the vulnerable, targeted friend; and respond with truth and grace there, too? Proper sizing of this situation means I understand the wrong, the hearts of those who have done it, and the harm done. Foolishness is not evil, but it sure can be painful!

We have biblical direction for a slower, methodical process in handling these things that reveals the potential offense and the hearts of both parties in conflict (Matthew 18:15-17). When the heart of the “offender” is found to be unwitting to the truth of the situation and genuinely repentant when brought to it, the response is grace. Regardless, the “offended” has the clear directive in the whole of Scripture to be slow, deliberate, and loving to the end. Even treating the offender as an unbeliever would yield a loving response. Period.

A current world event headline story—

More than two hundred Nigerian girls were abducted from their school dormitory at night by men with evil intent. The innocent who cannot defend themselves should receive strong, galvanized, unwavering support on their behalf. God’s heart for justice calls us to step up to find every girl and free her from her captors! I think we can be determined with laser focus there for as long as it takes. It starts with but is ever so much more than a hashtag:  #returnourgirls! As determined as those men were to take the girls, that’s how persistent and inflexible we should be to find them. Period. Another kind of truth and grace is needed here. Speed is of the essence when lives are endangered, too!

So, what does the gem start to look like as a whole?

I’m trying to size up the moments in my days a little differently the best I can. There is right, and there is wrong. I want to diligently pursue doing and supporting what is right. I hope to persevere unwaveringly when a wrong clearly opposes the heart of God, but I have to respond with the “right sized” determination in proportion to the harm and have the truthful, loving, grace-filled heart of God in the process.

Whew! That’s going to be tough some days! But the duration of the offense has a lot to do with how long I’ll carry a grudge. Lesson learned.

Grace isn’t always weak, dismissing, warm, or fuzzy. If I’m called to respond in grace, it’s super-important that I know what that means for each unique scenario. In conflict, grace decides the fault and charge, evaluates intent, and responds appropriately with biblical accuracy to the heart of the matter and the heart of the wrongdoer. Truth. Grace. Love. All in the right places and proportions.

And my final little tidbit buried deep in sauce: Romans 12:15 and codependency are two separate things. I’m probably just talking to myself there, though. Or not. *grin*

I hope you’ll find a little sparkly gem in this one for yourself.

Be blessed!

~Jennifer

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Questions to Think About…

Have you ever found yourself determined to be offended?

Of the three examples mentioned, which one might the right “size” for your situation?

What does grace look like in the conflict-offense scenario for you?

How can you free yourself from the relational tension rooted in the offense?

What steps will you take today?

What will you do differently to avoid inappropriately long-term conflict or “wrong sized” responses to offenses?

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All Scripture sourced from http://www.biblestudytools.com.
Images sourced from http://www.morguefile.com, but I’m not waiting to post with images for now.

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

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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.