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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Why I Resist Community

A very dear friend of ours (who is not a Christian) gave us the cross in this picture. It hangs on our wall and is the very first thing you see if you walk into our house and look straight ahead. I love this cross for many reasons, but one my reasons for loving it I only discovered recently...this cross looks like it has arrows pointing up and out from it. It reminds me of something I am starting to see in the Cross of Christ-- and that is Christ's death on our behalf enables fellowship with God and with the worshippers of God. This is part of our great salvation.

So why do I resist this?.....

Last night with some friends, we were talking about whether we would have made the same decisions as Adam and Eve to rebel against God with the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or whether we would have grumbled and turned to idols like the Israelites wandering in the desert. For me, I know the answer is unequivocally “YES” because I do the same thing now. Because of selfish ambition, fear, and shame, I resist community with God and others. Because I do not seek community with God and His people (who point me back to God and enable me to honor God by imaging Him in community), I chase idols to satisfy the constant need in my heart for God.

To understand this, I need only go back to Genesis:

1) We are created to image God who is the Triune community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Genesis 2:26-27 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

2) God is a good God who genuinely and tenderly loves us and seeks to bless us.
Genesis 1:28-30 “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day."

Genesis 2:8-9 “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

3) We are created for unfettered community with God and with others, and we image God in community with others:
Genesis 2: 18-24, "Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

4) Things quickly go wrong as we stop believing that God not only exists, but that He also rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). We believe the lie that God is not good and that He does not want our good. We are suspicious of the fact that God wants to be in relationship with us because of His love. We start to believe that He is holding out on us. Accordingly, we take matters into our own hands. We seek idols—things that we think will satisfy us because we no longer believe that God can satisfy us or that God even wants to satisfy us.

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. "

5) When we step out of community with God and with others, and give sin its opportunity to deceive us. We disbelieve God and the result is fear instead of faith; selfishness instead of love; and shame instead of freedom. We break fellowship with God and with each other.

Genesis 3:7-10 “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ 10 And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’"

HERE IS OUR HOPE.. HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS: Jesus came to restore fellowship. He came to restore relationship between us and God, and He came to restore fellowship between men. Here it is in 1 John 1:

1 John 1:1-10

“1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

If we do not want fellowship with God and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, then heaven has no appeal for us. Fellowship with God and fellowship with the family of God is what eternal life is all about.

Knowing all of this (and even wanting it desperately), I resist it. For all my talk of community, there is a part of me that doesn’t like it. Selfishly, I do not want to give my time and energy to others when it could be used to gratifying my own desires and ambitions. Also selfishly, I do not want to give of my heart in vulnerability and love because I know my heart will be bruised and broken. Fearfully, I do not want to be known and rejected—by God or by others. Fearfully (and selfishly), I do not believe that God or others want “good” for me. In my frenzy of fear and shame, I do not want to walk in the light. I do not want my ugly sinfulness to be exposed to God or to others. The only antidote for this is to know God’s perfect love and forgiveness and to believe it.

1 John 4:14-18 “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

I need to believe the love that God has for me, rather than being suspicious of it because it seems too good to be true…

Is it really true that there is NO condemnation left for me (Romans 8:1)?! Isn’t God a little bit mad at me because today marks the 5 millionth time I have committed the same sin?!! Is it really true that God has no wrath left for my sin and it was all spent on Jesus (John 3:36; Romans 5:9; 1 Thes. 1:10; 2 Cor 5:21)? Is there any point to going to Him in prayer? Is there any point in reading His Truth in the Word, when I see His Perfect Purity and wonder how I could possibly stand in His presence while I feel the filth of my sin? Is it really true that through Jesus, God has not only forgiven me but CLEANSED me from ALL my unrighteousness so that I can be with God (1 John 1:9; 2 Cor 5:17-19)!? Does ALL really mean ALL—like I am clean from EVERY little and big thing in my past, present, future? Is it really true that because of Jesus that I can approach the throne of grace with CONFIDENCE? (Hebrews 4:16)?! Isn’t God a little bit disappointed in me? Isn’t He going to tell me to just stop it already now?!!! And what will I do then, since I can’t seem to stop on my own? Aren’t I screwed? Is it really true that God will help me and not devour me when I go to Him and that I will find mercy and grace to help in my time of need? (Hebrews 4:16)? Isn’t there anything I can DO to become BETTER? Is it really true that I am no longer under the law but I am under grace (Romans 6:14)? Is it really true that God promises not to leave me “as is” in my struggle with sin, but He promises to use all things to conform me to the image of Jesus FOR MY GOOD (Romans 8:28)?!!

The promises and characteristics of God in Scripture do not make sense given the chasm between God's goodness and my sinfulness, but God’s Word says they are true! God’s Word says that God is truly THAT unbelievably loving! If only I could believe it. If only I could believe it, then God’s perfect love truly would drive out all fear in my heart that keeps me from walking in the light with Him and with others. If only I could believe it, I would have no reason to hide my sin and shame because I would know that my sin is paid for, God’s wrath against my sin has been satisfied by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on my behalf, I can stand before God now with confidence, and God wants to help me be free of my sin so that I can enjoy relationship with Him without carrying the weight of my sin around with me anymore. Yet, this is really the illustration of how I live: it is as if I have gone out and committed cold-blooded murder…went on trial…was convicted…was sentenced to death so that justice could be done…God served my death penalty and did my time for me…my debt to justice has been paid for completely and I am free…I get a second chance to live differently and moreover, God Himself gives me the power to live differently….and yet, instead of enjoying my freedom to be with God and to live differently, I insist on carrying the dead body I killed with me everywhere I go! It is a hindrance to me. It impedes my ability to enjoy God in relationship.

We have the audacity to treat others in the same way—with an utter disbelief that God could be THAT good and that grace could really be freely offered to sinners. We judge others. We condemn them. We look at their sin and think, “Wow, that really IS bad!” or “You’ve really messed up big this time!” or “Really?! You have gone back to your vomit AGAIN?!” We are disturbed and disgusted by them because of their sin. We withdraw from them. We tell them that they better get themselves under control, or at least we think it. We give them a list of things they should try so that they can change. We reject them, we abandon them, and we throw them away. We move on to people who are not “lost causes”. We move on to people we like better and who make us feel better about ourselves. We move on to people who are less work and more gratification. We spit in the face of the unbelievable gospel love that God has demonstrated to us. Indeed, we handcuff the dead body to these very people for whom God has died!

Does anyone else relate to what I am saying here???????
At the root of these beliefs and behaviors, I fail to understand the gospel and what it means that God loves me! This love is demonstrated in that He died for me a wretched sinner (and I need to know the depth and ugliness of my sin and the depth and beauty of God's righteousness in order to recognize the supreme love of the great exchange--that Perfect God would die for a wretched sinner like me.) His love is demonstrated in that He has forgiven me; He has given me free access to Himself; and He is removing every obstacle of sin that keeps me from enjoying Him and His people forever! This is what the gospel is. God wants me to believe and live the gospel. He wants me to live in the freeing implications of the gospel--a life of joy and transformation in Him, and a life of freedom and faith that no longer fears walking in the light because there is no longer anything of which to be afraid! He wants me to glorify Him by bearing His image by living in a gospel way with my brothers and sisters in Christ. He wants me speak to and relate to my brothers and sisters in gospel ways (loving, serving, blessing, forgiving, forbearing, pursuing, etc). He wants me to administer gospel grace to my brothers and sisters and He wants me to receive that same grace from my brothers and sisters. In the face of the lies we are tempted to believe and the deceit of our hearts and our sin, He wants us to remind each other that the scandalous truth of the gospel REALLY IS TRUE!! This is the gospel community for which we were made, to the praise and glory of our Great God!

Dear Heavenly Father, I am desperate to believe in your love! I am desperate to be rooted and established in the love of Christ so that I might have strength with all my brothers and sisters to know the breadth, the depth, the height and the depth of your amazing love that simply surpasses all my understanding (Eph. 3:14-21!) I want to know this love and be rooted in it, so that I can be free of the sin that weighs me down and keeps me from enjoying full and free relationship with you! I want to know this love and be rooted in it, so that I could demonstrate it to others—so that your love could flow into me and out through me to others so that they too would know that you love them! I want to participate in the perfect and beautiful fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I want fellowship with you and the community of those who worship you! I want to be able to walk in the light with you and with others so that I can receive help in my struggles. I want to be able to walk in the light with you and with others so that others may see that there is nothing good in me apart from you and so that they may see how amazing YOU are to love me, to change me, to work in me and through me. I want to be able to walk in the light so that I can help others to do so too so that they can be helped too and so that they can give you glory as your power is displayed in their weakness too and so that they can have joy (and we can have it together!). Please forgive me for my selfish ambition and all my selfishness. Please forgive me for my fear and lack of faith in you and what you have done and what you have told me and promised me in your Word! God, I have no hope of victory in this area of my life apart from you. I NEED you. I feel like I spiral in this area. I feel like I walk around in circles. Please give me whatever help I need in this. I do not know what help I need, but you do. Please provide it for me. I pray this for my brothers and sisters too. I pray that you would penetrate our hearts and everyday moments with the gospel. That we would really know the full gospel and that we would really believe it and live like we believe it, empowered by your Spirit and not our own strength and will power. I pray that we would truly display the gospel to the world and even the heavenly realms so that your name would be proclaimed (Eph 3:10). Pour your Spirit out onto us in increasing measure, that we might see your truth and believe it more and more everyday. Please bridge the obvious gap between my head belief, my heart belief, and my hand belief. I believe you are able to do abundantly more than all I ask for and think, by your Spirit. Please do it in me. Please do it in us. Please help us believe. I love you, Lord. In Jesus Mighty Name, Amen.

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