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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Gospel Life Disconnect in the American Church

A friend posted a great quote on her blog:

“No amount of activity in the King’s service will make up for neglect of the King Himself.”–R.M. M’Cheyne

What a great quote. It kind of reminded me of this passage of Scripture:

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42 ESV)

But it also reminded me of these two passages:

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23 ESV)

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)

Anyway, the quote got me thinking about something that has been on my mind a lot. Often (in America at least) we preach a truncated gospel. We preach about creation and the fall, that every person is a sinner, that none of us can pay the price of our sin, that we need saving from the consequence of our sin (in particular eternal death), that Jesus came to pay the price of our sin, that through trusting Jesus (believing in Him and following Him), we can be saved (in particular from eternal death). And then we often stop here. And from here, many times a person becomes a Christian and then is groomed to focus the rest of their lives on sharing the gospel with others who do not yet know and trust Jesus. The result can be a joyless and awkward performance-driven striving to live “on mission”.

There is a hugely obvious missing link here. The key lies in this question: What relevance (beyond evangelism) does the gospel have in the life of a Christian after he or she is “saved”?  In other words, what does life with the King Himself look like?

The truth is that the gospel has implications in the life of a Christian beyond being saved from eternal death. We are not just being saved from eternal death, we are being saved to eternal life with our Good and Perfect God of the Universe! He is the God of love who created us. That life starts here on earth. We get to enjoy fellowship with Him and with His people, and He by His Spirit is transforming our hearts and character into His likeness. He is in the process of leading us into our new identity in Him as children of God and co-heirs with Christ. He is leading us into freedom from the things that have been bondage to us—like our sin and the sin committed against us. He has promised to not leave us as orphans. He has promised that all of the things that He is doing and allowing in our lives have a glorious purpose that He is bringing us to that makes everything worthwhile (and that is saying a lot considering the type of suffering there is in this world!). This brings comfort and joy in this life that supersedes (and often defies) our life circumstances. The more we meditate on Him, learn about His character and promises in His word, the more we communicate with Him through prayer and song, the more we fellowship with His people, the more we feel and experience the reality of this comfort and joy in this life. And we live in tremendous hope beyond this earthly life because we are promised to one day be with Him--finally unburdened by sin and suffering and completely free to enjoy our Creator in whose presence “there is fullness of joy” and at whose “right hand are pleasures forevermore”. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

The Bible has much to say about this aspect of our salvation.  We see in books like Romans and Ephesians where the first section focuses on how God saves sinners and then the books transition into how the reality of this good news affects the life of a believer in community within a family, in a workplace, in a church, among neighbors and as citizens of a government. We are exhorted to live out of the reality that God so scandalously loved us while we were His enemies that He sacrificially gave of His life to rescue us and that He continues to love us scandalously by graciously transforming us from one degree of glory to the next in this life time. This has profound implications for the life of a believer! We are not left on our own to deal with our sin and wounded-ness alone, but rather God by His Spirit helps us by teaching us truth and empowering us to change as we behold Him and His character and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are equipped to help us with the unique gifts God has given them for the purpose of loving and helping others in the Body of Christ (and we have the privilege of using our unique God given gifts in the same way)! We are called to forgive others as God has forgiven us and to love others as God has loved us. We are called to participate in the unity of God the Father and God the Son through God the Spirit, alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we live by the Spirit in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, the Spirit grows us and transforms us and produces in us spiritual fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. We become disciples of Jesus.

Interestingly, this concept is contained in the Great Commission itself (the foundational text for the “missional” life):

“’Go therefore and make
disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”(Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

This life of abiding in Christ and experiencing the realities of relationship with Him and His people is the life of a disciple--it is the point of being saved! EVERY CHRISTIAN NEEDS THIS! There are no super-Christians. It doesn't matter if you have been a Christian for decades or whether you are unusually gifted or whether you are in leadership or whether you are famous. There are no self-sufficient Christians. Every human being is wounded by this life and its trials and sorrows. Every human being is wounded by their own sin and by the sin committed against them. Some appear more “needy” than others, and yet we all are in great need.  The truth often is that some are better at hiding and denying their neediness, or white knuckling, or being distracted through life than others.

But so many times, God’s people are taught to believe in Jesus and then to go and make disciples without really even learning what it is to be a disciple, to live a gospel saturated life, to live in gospel community, or to grow in the knowledge of Jesus through studying the Bible! Of course the result is often joyless "obedience" or walking through the motions, performance-driven despair, and even an agenda-driven awkwardness at best and lack of love at worst.  Sharing our faith becomes more like selling a product. It feels like one of those awkward pyramid scheme pitches. Church becomes a big business of producing converts who in turn produce converts. And all the while we secretly feel condemnation because we do not know joy, we do not feel brotherly affection, and (although we are quick to say that we want to live for the glory of God) we have no idea what the glory of God is! Sometimes we feel "used" by God and His people (in a negative sense) because we are so focused on "doing" rather than first experiencing the riches of an ongoing relationship with God and His people. We are slower to open ourselves up to one another and we are slower to humbly listen to counsel from one another, preferring our independent lives or engaging in “community” so long as it is the warm and fuzzy conflict-free type.  We live in fear and hide our true lives (especially our weaknesses and sins and struggles) from each other.  As a result, we are quicker to part ways when disagreement and conflict arises because we do not invest in living out the gospel in safe communities where we image God to one another in humble, persevering, and sacrificial gospel love.  Our definition of “success” becomes the numbers of “converts” we have, rather than actually experiencing and showing others how to experience the riches of knowing Christ and growing in things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control by His Spirit!

When we abide in Christ and the application of the gospel in our lives every day, sharing our lives and our faith with others becomes a bi-product of our love for God and our love for people. We want to share about who God is because He is revealing marvelous things about Himself to us! And we want to serve and bless people who know Him and people who don’t because we start to see God’s creation through His eyes of love. And the Holy Spirit births in us sincere, authentic, and unforced love for others. And we find ourselves even loving those who are difficult to love or those who have hurt and betrayed us. Living “missionally” (aka a life of efficacious love that demonstrates the gospel to others) becomes an unforced outflow of the gospel life of a disciple.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Few Great Quotes From the First Couple Chapters of "No Ordinary Marriage: Together for God's Glory" by Tim Savage

“No Ordinary Marriage Together for God’s Glory” by Tim Savage.

“We all know that one of the greatest social scourges of our day is the failure of marriages, and not just marriages that collapse in separation and divorce, but also those which, while remaining “intact” become severely strained and emotionally scarred. One recent study reveals that nine out of ten marriages are ‘filled with dissatisfaction in every dimension of the relationship’  Nor is this just a modern malady.  Marital unhappiness has been a blemish on every age. Martin Luther, the great sixteenth-century Christian Reformer whose own marriage became a model for generations of German partnerships commented on the absence of good marriages in his day: ‘When I see a husband and a wife who are at one I am glad as if I were in a garden of roses. It is rare.’ ” p 16-17
“…we would expect God’s glory to be the most treasured ingredient of marriage. Most often, it is not.  We treasure other things far more—rings, sex, babies. But this is because we understand divine glory only in part. We imagine it to be exceedingly brilliant, even blinding, causing our spines to tingle and our breath to be stolen away. Emanating direction from God himself, we suppose it to be matchlessly beautiful, utterly awe-inspiring, and somewhat terrifying.  Beyond that, we find it difficult to quantify.  For most of us, the glory of God remains an abstraction cloaked in a mystery.  Yet divine glory is more accessible than we might think.  According to King Solomon, the whole earth is filled with Gods’ glory (Ps. 72:19).  That means everywhere we look, from the tiniest molecule to the largest ocean, we see evidence of God’s glory.  Woven into the fabric of every bird of paradise, every polished agate, every towering sequoia, every emerald lake, every microscopic atom, and, especially every human being—woven into every visible component of the physical world is a breathtaking display of the glory of the One who fashioned those components. And not just the visible world, but also the invisible universe—or multiuniverse as astral physicists now name interstellar space. In the words of King David, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’ (Ps. 19:1)”  P. 20
“’[For this cause], a man shall leave his father and his mother and [be united] to his wife, (v.24)’ Naturally we want to ask, For what cause shall a man be united to his wife? The context supplies an answer: because of everything God has done to form this union, be-cause of his involvement at every stage of its development, be-cause of the heavy allotment of glory he has invested in this partnership. We marry, not primarily for our own benefit and pleasure, nor principally for the comfort of mutual own benefit and pleasure, not principally for the comfort of mutual affection, nor ultimately for the joy of bearing and raising children—we marry be-cause in a work of unparalleled glory the Lord built this union.  We marry because of his glory.” P. 23
“The blessings of a union cemented by God’s glory are manifold.  First of all, such a marriage will be invulnerable to the vacillating circumstances of life.  For many couples, change threatens marital harmony.  When time steals away the youthful features of a wife or produces hormonal swings and unpredictable emotions, husbands may be tempted to look elsewhere for more attractive and predictable companionship.  When the stresses of work erode a husband’s self-respect and diminish his capacity for sensitivity, a wife may be tempted to look further afield for her encouragement.  But this will be the case only if partners focus on the oscillating drama of feminine beauty and masculine strength.  If, instead, they cling to the glory of God as the rope that secures their union, the fluctuating circumstances of life will, far from destabilize their marriage, provide grounds for a deeper bond.  This is because the glory of God is stronger in its capacity to bind than circumstances are in their capacity to divide.” P. 25
“…when spouses fix their gazes on the glory of the Lord, they need never despair over apparent incompatibilities. While it is always important before marriage to assess the compatibility of a potential  partner, the matter becomes moot after marriage. No alleged incompatability will ever be able to break apart a husband and a wife, who focus on the glory of God. Differences are inevitable in marriage: one partner may be quiet and deliberate and the other excitable and spontaneous; one may prefer directness and the other withdrawal.  But such differences will never become ‘irreconcilable,’ a line of thinking too convenient for husbands and wives today.  Even the most disparate partners will be unified by the glory of the Lord, because divine glory is more able to bind than incompatibilities are to divide.” P. 25

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Neediness in the Family of God

The audio from my husband, Kristian Ellefsen's, sermon on the "Children of God" from August 5th is available here: http://www.thecoramdeofellowship.org/resources/sermon-audio/Kristian preached on how God calls us to be needy.

This sermon got me thinking about a lot of things. One of them is church culture.

By “needy”, Kristian is not talking about being demanding of others to meet our needs. He is not talking about idolizing people or allowing or expecting people to fill a role that only God was meant to fill in our lives. He is not talking about an obsession with self or an unhealthy introspection. He is not talking about selfish excuses not to love and humbly serve those around us. He is not talking about laziness or suggesting we do not seek to work hard and excel in the things that we are called and equipped by God to do. Rather, he is talking about a humble posture that acknowledges that we do not exist apart from God’s sovereign hand. We need Him for everything. We were created to need Him. And an important way that God administers His grace, love, and help to us is through each other!

Being needy tends to be a negative term in our culture and even in churches--especially the longer you are a Christian and especially if you are in leadership. It is just one of the ways the church has borrowed secular business principles in a way that is not consistent with living as the family of God. Drive or ambition that is funneled through self-sufficiency and individualism is something that is prized in the business world and the competition that it breeds often leads to tremendous innovation.

And yet, the Bible presents a radically different way of living where we are called to humility and an acknowledgment of our dependence on God firstly, but also we are told that we were created to rely on one another as we image Him to each other and administer His grace to each other. While at times our “achievements” and feelings of independence in life can deceive us into thinking we are self-sufficient, Acts 17 tells us that we depend on God for even the most basic human act of breathing! And 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4:10 are examples of how we need each other in the Body of Christ.

In church culture, sometimes we look down on those in the Body who appear “needy” or “high maintenance”, as if those who need are somehow less spiritual or have less faith than those who are “put together” or those who have learned to “feed themselves”. (Interestingly, the people Jesus hung out with during His life on earth were what we could recognize as needy!) Sometimes we ignore our neediness because it is too much for us to do deal with--either because it is too painful or to wearisome to ourselves and others. (If we tire of our own selves, how much more will we tire the "friends" around us.)  Sometimes neediness is figuratively beaten out of people in churches through “tough love” measures. Sometimes we distract ourselves from our neediness (knowingly and unknowingly) with so many things that we become blind or apathetic toward our own great need. We even get distracted by good things like leading and serving others.  Sometimes we are deluded into thinking others are more “put together” due to a church culture where we hide our sin and mess from each other out of fear of looking bad or being rejected or shunned by the Body. And in particular for men in the church, there is sometimes an over-compensation against the sinful passivity of men in the church where now the pendulum has swung the other way and “Biblical” masculinity is presented more like a caricature of tough, emotionless, sports-loving, meat-eating, testosterone pumped “dudes” rather what we see in Scripture (for example, Scriptures that address men specifically--like Ephesians 5:25-33 or 1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Titus 2—or Scriptures that talk about the fruit of the Spirit in general, or even Scriptures that point us to the example Jesus modeled (!). In Jesus, we see such strength and tenderness, such power and humility, such emotion and sharpness of mind, and such a strong dependence on the Father. Interestingly, these traits are treasures in women too!). And yet men in the church are often shamed out of acknowledging or displaying neediness of almost any kind.

I have noticed that the Christians who have most impacted me with their faith-backed wisdom and example are Christians who are aware of their brokenness. Many of these Christians have walked through circumstances of suffering or struggles with sin or weaknesses (much like the “thorn” that Paul references) that have taught them of their own need. Frequently (but not always) they are Christians who have walked in faith for much longer than I have. These are Christians who have such a strong and beautiful glimpse of the great sacrificial love and grace by which the God of the Universe saved His rebellious creation (i.e. all of us!). They are slower to judge those around them for this reason and are quicker to show compassion and tenderness without compromising truth. These are Christians who live out and out of the grace they have experienced in Christ and in their need of Him. These Christians are like a breath of fresh air. Instead of pointing me to themselves or to the law, they point me to the freedom and hope that they have found in Christ. They point me to the heart of love that my Heavenly Father has for me without sugar coating my sin, minimizing the pain in the struggles of life, or making much of themselves. They are not full of platitudes or Pharisaical and self-righteous remarks. They are not characterized by boasting or self-deprecation. They are not afraid to share from the messiness of their lives. Rather, their brokenness and awareness of their need before God has produced a quiet and steady confidence and hope in God that is grounded in humility. As they have acknowledged their need before God, God has filled these Christians with His love—both with His love for them but also with authentic affection and love for those around them—even those of us who are the most inconvenient or hardest to love. God uses these Christians to show His love and grace and to create an environment where others feel safe to express their need too. One of these dear saints in our lives frequently tells us “I am not going anywhere”. This friend understands steadfastness and perseverance in love. And in doing so, this friend has imaged God’s love to us in such a beautiful and powerful and life impactful way.

I pray for God to mold me and mature me like this too!

If you want another example of the posture of godly neediness that I am talking about, a great book to read is “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence. Here it is on amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Practice-Presence-Brother-Lawrence/dp/1475289812/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1345010134&sr=8-2&keywords=brother+lawrence


To go directly to Kristian’s sermon on neediness, click here: http://my.ekklesia360.com/Clients/sermonaudioplayer.php?CMSCODE=EKK&siteid=2806&sermonid=439463&useSkin=skin_plain.xml&CMS_LINK=http%3A%2F%2Fmy.ekklesia360.com




Acts 17:24-25 ESV “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”         



1 Corinthians 12:12-27 “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say,“Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

1 Peter 4:8-11 ESV “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Treasure

image courtesy of google images
All I have to do is open my eyes.  Whether I am watching my television, browsing Facebook, or stepping out my front door, it beckons to me…awakening a desire that ironically has less to do with what is outside of me than what is within me.  A healthy and attractive body, a great personality, a meaningful and interesting occupation, a secure income, a retirement plan, a loving and appealing spouse, 2.5 healthy and obedient kids, cool and engaging friends, a comfortable home filled with beautiful and innovative things, experiences that appeal to our physical senses, the praise of others…it’s the American Dream.  Add going to a “successful” (read: large, hip, program-rich, entertaining church) and participating in a satisfying ministry and the Christian American Dream is not much different.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things.  To the contrary, all of these things at their best are simply good gifts given by a gracious Heavenly Father. When received with the grateful, God-focused heart, they are blessings.  When sought after with a ravenous, lustful, insatiable, idolatrous, apathetic heart, they breed bondage and discontentment.

As fallen humans, we turn at least some of these things into distractions from our true purpose as children of God, either because: 1) we are so satiated by these things that we no longer feel our need for God and we no longer live for what is beyond this life--the hope of glory—a life where we will joyfully experience the presence of God with no limitations; or 2) we lust after these things more than we hunger after God and His kingdom; or 3) we wallow in our self-pity when we do not have these things; or 4) we are driven by and for these things and so we order our lives based on the pursuit of these things.  Most of us have struggled in all of these ways.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend about how our lives did not turn out as we had expected or planned.  We were talking about how much of our expectations of life had more to do with our own comfort than it did with the fact that God is preparing us for something that is so much more than this life.

Today I listened to this sermon from John Piper: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/when-a-lover-of-good-thinks-about-evil

This section really spoke to me:

O how easy it is to slip into a morose pity-party that our little heaven on earth is becoming a hell! We were never promised that earth would be our heaven before Christ returns. And you are preparing for yourself a great disappointment if you try to make it so.

“We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). “In this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” — joyful patience (Romans 8:24–25). “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

I am reminded that this life is not all that there is.  As I once heard a friend describe it, we are in the middle! This life is not an end, but rather this life is a means to an end.  It is leading us somewhere.  For those who belong to Christ, all the things of this life—the good, the bad, the easy, the difficult—all of it is being used to conform our character to Christ’s character and to transform us from one degree of glory to the next. 

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30 ESV)

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

Believing that there is a God who is greater than anything we can imagine and believing our life has a bigger purpose than what we see around us on a daily basis, leads us to the following:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)

The things we treasure above God are often so subtley interwoven into our lives and motives that we do not even conciously recognize them.  How can we know where our treasure is? 

            What occupies our thoughts and why?

            What occupies our time and why?

            Where does our money go and why?            

            Where does our energy go and why?

            What makes us happy and why?

            What makes us depressed and why?

            What makes us feel desperate and why?

            What could we not live without and why?

            What makes us feel insecure or confident and why?

            How do we define success?

Oh Lord, teach us to sing from the depths of hearts along with the Psalmist and to live out with our thoughts, plans, actions, and affections the following:

            How lovely is your dwelling place,
                        O LORD of hosts!
            My soul longs, yes, faints
                        for the courts of the LORD;
            my heart and flesh sing for joy
                        to the living God.

            Even the sparrow finds a home,
                        and the swallow a nest for herself,
                        where she may lay her young,
            at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
                        my King and my God.

            Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
                        ever singing your praise! Selah
            Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
                        in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

            As they go through the Valley of Baca
                        they make it a place of springs;
                        the early rain also covers it with pools.
            They go from strength to strength;
                        each one appears before God in Zion.

            O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
                        give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

            Behold our shield, O God;
                        look on the face of your anointed!

            For a day in your courts is better
                        than a thousand elsewhere.

            I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
                       than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

            For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
                        the LORD bestows favor and honor.

            No good thing does he withhold
                        from those who walk uprightly.

            O LORD of hosts,

                        blessed is the one who trusts in you!

(Psalm 84 ESV)

           

           

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Learning

(thank you google images)

It has been so long since I last posted and even longer since I last wrote something for my blog. I miss blogging.  I miss the structure of having a space where I can process what God is teaching me, bringing me through, and bringing me to.  My mind and my heart have been on overdrive in this season of life.  My energy has been focused on putting one foot in front of the other. So, this is my attempt to ease back into blogging.  J

A Few Things That God is Teaching Me in this Season: 

1)      My identity and self-worth is grossly misplaced.  (See details below)

2)      As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." -Cost of Discipleship.  The Bible says, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39 ESV)

3)      A fruitful or “successful” or “productive” life is a life lived in love—living out of God’s love for us by loving God, loving His Church, and loving all people. I can be a gifted speaker, a prophet, a brilliant and wise person, I can give up all that I have and do all sorts of daring, innovative and incredible things, but if I don’t love, everything I do is pointless! (1 Cor 13).

4)      Biblical love is not intuitive and does not look like what I see in the world.  Biblical love is selfless, sacrificial, risk-taking, protective, active, sincere, affectionate, bold, gracious, prayerful, and scandalous.   Biblical love is Jesus dying on the cross in the place of sinners.  Biblical love is Jesus, the King of Kings, washing the feet of his humble disciples, including the one He knew would betray Him to His torture and death!  Biblical love is Jesus standing between the woman caught in adultery and the self-righteous powerful Pharisees who would stone her.  Biblical love is Jesus weeping with His grieving friends, even though He knew that Lazarus would rise from the dead. Biblical love is given by the Holy Spirit who fills us with this love as we seek the face of God.

5)      Loving people by the Holy Spirit in the way that Jesus modeled, IS carrying our cross and does require at great sacrifice.  As we lay down our life in big and small ways and as we wash the feet of those around us, we step into the life God has for us—fruitful, joyful, kingdom life that is dependent on the God who is our Tender Loving Father and that is empowered by the same God who is Sovereign Almighty Ruler of All!

Today, I will focus on the first thing on the list I made above: identity.

My identity is as a child of Almighty God and a co-heir with Christ.  As someone who has grown up in the church and who has been a Christian for at least 26 years, this news is no surprise in theory.  What has been surprising to me is how much I place my identity and self-worth in things that are not Him.  I did not see the subtle and deep ways in which this has been true in my life.  My identity and self-worth have been intertwined with factors such as relational success, career, ambition, and appearance.  In the last five years, many of these crutches have been taken away in my life and have been exposed for what they are—crutches and lifeless idols. 


Relational success: I have always considered relating to people to be one of my strong points in family, in church, and in my career.  This season has been marked by trying relationships.  I have been overbearing and too quick to speak and too slow to listen.  I have struggled with bitterness and resentment.  I have been overcome with grief.  And I have succumbed to despair, apathy, and isolation. From others, I have personally experienced abandonment, betrayal, and false accusations.  I have also witnessed selfish ambition break fellowship in the family of God and lead to confusion, depression and challenges of faith in so many sheep in the flock of God.  I have been led by God to speak up and act in situations that have been uncomfortable and that have had great personal cost, including lost or strained friendships, lost income, and lost reputation (being liked/respected/associated with). The ugliness of sin in me and among God’s people has been disillusioning, even though it should come as no surprise in the sense that we are all fallen creatures in the process of being redeemed to what we were made to be as image bearers of Christ.
Career: In order to pursue becoming a mother, I resigned from a job I loved as an attorney in an exciting and fulfilling social justice field.  After years of trying, motherhood never came for me.  I am not sure if it ever will.  At the same time, it does not seem that the Lord is leading me to pursue re-entry into the legal field for now. This season of limbo makes me feel aimless and restless.
Ambition: This has a lot to do with the relational success and career for me, but in broader terms, I would say that the way that ambition has become an identity crutch for me is that I have always had a clear next step in life—whether that was college, law school, becoming an attorney, building my career, becoming a wife, being involved in various ministries, etc.  Now, my next steps are not so clear. My planned next step has been motherhood, and so far that has not come to fruition (and the clock ticks away). In the past, I was always “doing something”—being in school, being a part of a social justice movement, volunteering, being active in ministry, etc.  Because of the season that God has me in where I am doing a lot of reflecting and healing, I have scaled back on a lot of these activities from which I was deriving identity and worth.  Because of the brokenness I have been experiencing, many dreams/life goals have been put on hold.
Appearance:  This one may be the most embarrassing one for me to admit because of how shallow it is.  I am at my all-time highest weight. I feel ugly.  Nothing fits the way it is supposed to and I am not as energetic as I used to be.  Like so many women, I have struggled all of my life with attaching my identity and worth to how attractive I feel.  I find myself engaging in negative self-talk, focusing on how ugly and worthless I feel about my appearance.  These words are words I would never think about another person and would never say to another person who is struggling with their weight.  I get caught up in the cycle of striving, performance, failure, and despair when it comes to trying to lose weight. I have so much mental and emotional energy expended in this area of my life, and it distracts me from the things I want my life to be about.  When I die, I don’t want to be remembered as a “skinny person” or a “cute person”.  I want to be remembered as a daughter of God who treasured Christ and accordingly lived a life marked by joyful obedience, loving others as one who has been loved extravagantly by her Savior.  Sure, this vision ought to have implications on my relationship to food and activity, but food, activity and weight are not the point in themselves.
There are other ways (some known to me and others not yet known) in which I derive my identity and worth in sources that are not God. But these are some primary ways that God is exposing for me to see in this season of my life. While these things are not necessarily bad things in themselves (i.e. it is good to have harmony in our relationships, it is good to have plans and work toward goals, etc.) they become dysfunctional when they begin to define us in the place of Christ.   As these empty crutches are exposed and uprooted in my life, I find myself longing to say with Paul, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11 ESV)
My identity and worth is as an image bearer of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

My identity and worth is as one who is loved by Almighty God. (Isaiah 49:15-16; Zeph 3:17; John 3:16; 1 John 3)
My identity and worth is as one who is chosen, made clean, being sanctified, adopted, blessed, redeemed, forgiven, given a purpose and a future and a hope and an inheritance. (See Ephesians 1: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-14 ESV)

Where is your identity?  What makes you feel worthy or unworthy?  What makes you feel content or discontented? Whose approval or affection or association or behavior or misbehavior makes or breaks you? What are you saying in your self- talk?  What insecurities occupy your thoughts and how does that measure up with what God says about you?  What thoughts and activities occupy your days?  What drives you? What do you want to be known for?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bono interview with Michka Assayas (copyright 2005)

As this is Easter week, I reflect on how different Jesus is--different from my flesh, different from my greatest earthly heroes, different from the worst I see in humanity.  He is different.  And yet, He identified with us, took on our fraility, and took on the consequences of our wandering hearts.  This week, I re-read this interview by U2's Bono and I am struck again by how remarkable Jesus is!

From: "Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas New York: Penguin Books, 2005

"Bono: My understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ. Christ teaches that God is love. What does that mean? What it means for me: a study of the life of Christ. Love here describes itself as a child born in straw poverty, the most vulnerable situation of all, without honor. I don't let my religious world get too complicated. I just kind of go: Well, I think I know what God is. God is love, and as much as I respond [sighs] in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that's my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try to live this love. Now that's not so easy.

Assayas: What about the God of the Old Testament? He wasn't so "peace and love"?

Bono: There's nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that's why they're so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you're a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.

Assayas: Speaking of bloody action movies, we were talking about South and Central America last time. The Jesuit priests arrived there with the gospel in one hand and a rifle in the other.

Bono: I know, I know. Religion can be the enemy of God. It's often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. [laughs] A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship. Why are you chuckling?.......
................

Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

Bono: Yes, I think that's normal. It's a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

Assayas: I haven't heard you talk about that.

Bono: I really believe we've moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

Assayas: Well, that doesn't make it clearer for me.

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.

Assayas: I'd be interested to hear that.

Bono: That's between me and God. But I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep s---. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.

Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there's a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let's face it, you're not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That's the point. It should keep us humbled . It's not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

Assayas: That's a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it's close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world's great thinkers. But Son of God, isn't that farfetched?

Bono: No, it's not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we've been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had "King of the Jews" on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that's farfetched
Bono later says it all comes down to how we regard Jesus:

Bono: If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s--- and everybody else's. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that's the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Heartbreak

I am both brokenhearted and a heartbreaker.

No, I am not a heartbreaker in the Hollywood sense, nor have I ever had a broken heart in the Hollywood sense.  (In fact, I have never been through a break up at all since Kristian is the only person I have ever dated.)  Still, like any married couple, Kristian and I have broken each other’s hearts many times by our sin against each other.  And in addition to breaking his heart,  I am also sad to say that I have broken many other hearts by my own sin (such as pride, selfishness, selfish ambition, fear of man, lack of love, bitterness, ignorance, apathy, judgmental-ness, overbearingness, laziness, etc. and etc.)  And like everyone else, I have also had my heart broken by others in this way.  

In addition to causing heartbreak to ourselves and others, our sin against one another and the resulting damage also grieves the God who loves us! 

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
(Ephesians 4:30-32 ESV)

In recent years, a major source of heartbreak in my life has been from brokenness in the Body of Christ.   This type of heartbreak in the Body of Christ is hard to handle because it seems that we should know better in that we have witnessed and experienced the most profound, amazing, other-worldly love—the love of God demonstrated in Christ!!   

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:34-35 ESV)

From this verse, we see that:

1) God calls us to love one another;

2) God has loved us;  

3) God’s love for us in Jesus is the model for how we are to love each other; and

4) The way that everyone will know that we belong to Jesus is by our Christ-like love for one another.

This an easily overlooked, but very profound and vital truth.  God calls us to love, not as the world loves, but in the way that He loves us—sincerely, effacaciously, affectionately, sacrificially and scandalously!  He demonstrated His love for us through great sacrifice even while we were His enemies!  He stood up for us against our accuser (and still does)!  And when we love with THIS kind of lavish other-worldly love, people will know that we are His!!

In recent years, I have witnessed and experienced conflict in the Body of Christ unlike what I have ever experienced before and it has caused my heart to ache in ways it has never done before—both because of my own sin and the sin of others.  I have seen and experienced abandonment, slander, false accusations, and friendships that have ended in angry lashing out or fizzled out in quiet indifference.  These things are caused by pride, selfish ambition, selfishness, apathy, fear of man, and a plain old lack of love—the kind of love that pursues, engages, forgives, blesses and sacrifices.   I know that this shouldn’t surprises us as we look at our hearts that still struggle with sin and as we consider that God is still patiently opening all of our eyes and gradually transforming all of us.  Yet, the more and more we see and experience the amazing ways that God loves us and calls us to love one another, the more we ache when we do not see this kind of love in ourselves and in other believers.   "For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling..."
(2 Corinthians 5:2 ESV)
My heart is so raw and heavy right now.  If there is anyone out there in cyberspace reading this, will you pray with me?

Heavenly Father, Have mercy on us!   Father, we have not been good image bearers of you.  We have not loved you or others as we ought.  We have forgotten the way that you have loved us when we were your enemy, and accordingly we have not loved others with this kind of love!  Please convict us—convict your Church that we may see our folly!!  Open our eyes to the ways you are calling us to love with sincerity, with truth, with compassion, and with action!  Help us to see your love more and more—help us to be rooted in your love more and more deeply.  May loving others in this way flow out of us as we behold your love for us in your Word.  Bring healing and reconciliation to brothers and sisters in Christ, just as you brought us healing and reconciliation when our sin separated us from you!!  Our hearts are broken over this sin and disunity.  Bind up our broken hearts.  Be near to us.  Bring us comfort and help, we plead with you.  You alone are good!!!  In Jesus Name, Amen

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reconciled

I love the C.S. Lewis book, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe”.  Outside of the Bible, it may be the book that best illustrated to me what the gospel really means.  When Edmund betrays Aslan and the “deep magic from the dawn of time,” the price of that treason must be paid in order to preserve justice and goodness.  And yet out of goodness, love, and a heart to be in unhindered relationship with Edmund, the powerful, majestic, perfectly good Aslan, although innocent, humbles himself and willingly pays the high price of Edmund’s treason.  Aslan’s painful and perfect sacrifice defeats death itself and makes a way for Edmund to live and to be in relationship with Aslan.  Edmund and Aslan are reconciled.  This brings great joy and peace to Edmund.

The gospel is all about the fact that we, through the death of Jesus, are reconciled to our perfect and good God—in whom is our every delight! 
In light of this gospel, as Christians we should live with a heart towards reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.  Yet over and over again as Christians and as churches, how many times do we take the path of least resistance when conflict arises---allowing relationships to fizzle out, breaking off relationships altogether, self-righteously judging from afar, aligning ourselves with the popular majority, building walls around our hearts…rather than doing the hard work of love.  These are our instincts.  These are my instincts (most especially in marriage).  How this dishonors the gospel that saved me!
Love pursues, love engages, love acts, and love hopes…even if it requires great sacrifice (and it usually does).

Dear Lord, convict our stubborn hearts!  Open our eyes where we are blind.  Help us to see where we are dishonoring the gospel of love!  Fill us with the Spirit that we would have your eyes and your love for others, even those we find difficult to love and even when it costs us greatly to love.  Give us the power, courage and conviction to do the hard work of love.  May we be so rooted in your sacrificial and grace filled love that loving others in the same way becomes more and more natural to us.  In Jesus name, Amen

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sin in the Church

I am a Christian, and my husband can tell you with confidence that I still sin regularly!  By this I mean that I live, believe, and act outside of my identity in Christ and outside of the way I learned in Him.  Sometimes I do this unknowingly and in accordance with my natural instincts, and other times I do this consciously—quite aware that my thoughts and behaviors conflict with Christ’s character.  Our life (our thoughts, actions, inaction, etc.) flows out from our heart.  Yes, because I have sought refuge—acknowledged my sin and helplessness apart from Jesus, believed in Jesus and the penalty He paid on the cross for my sin, and I have given my life to Him—I am free from the eternal consequences of my sin (i.e. I am no longer separated from God, but rather I joyfully get to live as a daughter of the Almighty, Holy, Good, Loving God forever).  But still, as I walk on this earth, there are places in my heart that are still plagued with all sorts of things that have nothing to do with Jesus’ way--doubt, fear, bitterness, selfish ambition, pride, etc.   And yet, every day that I walk with Jesus, He is transforming my heart—setting it free day by day.  I still regularly go to God in prayer, confessing my sin, and confessing my struggles and the areas of my life that I find it so difficult to change.  I ask for forgiveness, I ask for God’s power—for His love to change me.  I look at the life of Jesus in the Word.  I seek prayer and counsel from my brothers and sisters in Christ who love Jesus and His Word.   I listen (not always well admittedly) to trusted friends who see destructive patterns in my life that I do not always see, and I seek help.  And God patiently and lovingly is changing me.  I love this verse:  “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)
I write all of this publicly because I have been set free from shame.  It does not matter if others find me foolish and weak.   I stand and fall before God not men.  And I am able to stand before God because Jesus is good and perfect and He paid for my sin. I do not want to pretend to be better than I am for many reasons—it is exhausting, I will fail, it is not truthful or real, it produces despair in the lives of others around me who are aware of their own struggles, and I will be exposed for my hypocrisy when I do fail.  Most importantly, I want the gospel to shine through me.  The gospel is the good news about God—that He is good and that He rescues!  The gospel assumes sin—we need rescuing!  As others see my sin and failure, may they also see the God on whom I rely!  May they also see the God who forgives greatly!  May they also see the changes that He is graciously making in me!  May they also see love that is not of this world—the love I have seen and experienced in Him, the love that has changed every fiber of my life!!!!  This is not “be nice to those who are nice to you” kind of love.  This is the kind of love that does not returning evil for evil.  This is the kind of love that forgives big and small things.  This is the kind of love that fights for the lost and for the oppressed.  This is the kind of love that sacrifices greatly in the interest of another.  This is the kind of love that gives even when there is no ability to return.  This is the kind of love that pursues.  This is the kind of love that makes a way for reconciliation.  This is the kind of love that humbles itself.  This is the kind of love that would drive the God of the Universe to pursue His wayward creation in love, to make a way to live in relationship with His Beloved but wayward creation that would not compromise His perfect justice and goodness!  This is the kind of love that would drive the God of the universe to pay the price of sin and rebellion Himself, by stooping down to come to this earth in the frailty of human flesh and to endure the penalty of sin—death and separation from God!

We need only open the newspaper to see that Christians and churches still sin in pretty horrific ways.  We are not called to hide our sin from the world, to lie about it, or cover it up (the effects of that can be ghastly and tragic—look at the sexual abuse in the churches that has been perpetuated by sinful cover ups!).  We are called to live out the gospel!!!  We are called to live in the light and in truth and in love, not to cower or throw stones from afar!  We are called to humbly confess our sin and to go to God and to each other for help!!  We are called to help our brothers and sisters who are in sin.  We are called to faithfully pray, to lovingly pursue, and to sacrificially act.  We are called to protect anyone who is being harmed or abused by another person’s sin.  We are called to live in the light so that the darkness, hiding, secrets, and cover-ups do not beget more sin!!  In this process, the gospel does its work!  In this process, the world can see the love that won us to our Savior. 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Walking in the Light and Getting Dirty

I recently read this terrific blogpost by my friend, Wendy:

http://www.theologyforwomen.org/2012/03/dysfunctional-but-cherished-church.html

To those who do not understand the gospel, the story of Hosea and Gomer in the Bible makes no sense. In it, God tells a faithful, godly, man to marry a faithless prostitute who continues to cheat on him throughout their marriage.  As the painful faithlessness continues, God continually instructs Hosea to pursue and forgive his wayward bride.  It is a pretty strange story if you think of it.  And yet, it is a powerful illustration of what God has done for His Bride, the Church.  Yes, the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, the Church---we are the prostitute in this story.  We rebelled against God.  God pursued and redeemed us while we were faithless.  And we continue to sin against Him in this life…we have tasted His grace and mercy, we (I) still rebel against His Holy ways in lots of ways, and yet He has paid the price of justice for my sins—past, present, and future.  He continually forgives me as I continually struggle with sin, and He continually changes me so that I am gradually being transformed by His grace!  That is the gospel—or good news!  Though I have been a Christian for over 2 decades, I need this good news still today!!! 

The gospel assumes sin.  The good news is that God pursues us in our sin and rescues us from our sin.  The Church is a mess.  We are a mess.  And yet, we are a beloved mess—beloved by the God of the Universe who paid such a costly price to save us!
As Christians, we are called to live out the gospel.  We are called to live in light of the good news that our God so sacrificially and lovingly stooped down to meet us in our sin against Him and pursued and rescued us—He forgave us and covered our sins.  I see two big ways that the Bible calls Christians to live out the gospel:
1)      Walking in the light—in other words, we are called to be humble, honest, and real.  We are called to confess that we sin.  We are called to confess our sin to one another.  We (Christians as individuals and also collectively as the Church) are not to walk around hiding the fact that we sin (often in big ways...anyone need only open a newspaper to see this!) or that we are weak and in need of a Savior.  If we do not  live like this, we are hypocritical, self-righteous, deluded pharisees (Jesus  actually called them white-washed tombs!)! Again, the gospel assumes our sin.  We allow the good news to shine when we admit that still, despite our sin and weakness, God has done and continues to do a good work in us and through us and despite us.

2)      Getting dirty—Jesus washed the feet of the disciples.  In His day, you can imagine the type of filth that was on the feet of people who walked around on dirt roads in open shoes in the heat without the benefits of modern sanitation and plumbing.  Jesus stooped down and got dirty.  He met these disciples in their filth and He lovingly washed them clean.  Jesus meets us in our sin and shame.  He meets us in the pain of our own sin and weakness and in the pain of the sin that has been done against us.  Scandalously, He even washed the feet of the one whom He knew would betray Him—Judas, a close friend until that time, one in whom He invested and loved and who would sell Jesus to His enemies for a cheap 30 pieces of silver.  Wow.  And then Jesus tells the disciples to go and do likewise!  We are called to get dirty—to meet one another in the messiness of life, to love one another in costly and sacrificial ways, and to even show sincere and scandalous love to those who hurt and betray us!  Are we willing to pay the price??  Are we willing to take up our cross? 

Oh, Jesus, help us to live like this!!  Give us this kind of love that is not natural to us!!  Give us this kind of humility that is not natural to us!!!  Help us to be honest and real.  Give us hearts that are willing to pursue those who are broken and hurting and even those who have sinned against us--depsite the price we often must pay to our pride, our reputation, etc.