Today’s post was written by Amanda Wen, a dear friend whom I met while in worship ministry at our church. She is an amazing cellist as well as having the ability to write beautifully! We had the first three of our children within months of each other, which made it even harder when they moved away from us. She is wise as well as funny, which is a beautiful combination. I know you will enjoy these words from her heart.
I am spending this week waiting on our newest little one to arrive, so enjoy this old post edited from the archives and pray for a safe and quick labor and delivery, please!
There is a paradox in God’s dealings with us that I have trouble understanding.
There is this:
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5.8
And there is also this:
The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. ~ Zephaniah 3.17
This is a hard paradox for me to accept: I am loved and delighted in by God AND I am why Jesus had to come and die.
It is all too commonplace around here for me to hear a thud followed by the cry of one of my little ones. Most often the culprit is a sister, who stands triumphantly clutching some coveted toy.
As I ask for wisdom to know how to teach my children how to love, I wonder how I can possibly teach my children this very thing that I don’t understand. How can I teach them that God created something wonderful when He made them while at the same time helping them to understand that their hearts are ugly with sin and they desperately need Jesus and His grace? How can I teach them to be confident and humble at the same time?
One without the other brings disaster.
If I teach only that they are beautiful and wonderful and children of the King, they become arrogant and self-centered, entitled to the best.
If I teach only that they are sinful and ugly in their hearts, they become depressed and mired in self-pity, losing all confidence in themselves.
How do I teach both humility and confidence?
I must learn it first.
Paul says this in Philippians:
…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. ~ Philippians 3.9
…filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. ~ Philippians 1.11
I am loved by God and He does delight in me…because He made me.
I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ~ Psalm 139.14
I am pure and clean before God and He does see me as righteous…because of Jesus’ blood.
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. ~ Romans 3.22
All is gift.
Seeing the One behind my righteousness creates humility.
Seeing the cross in front of my sin creates confidence.
All is grace.
I turn and see my eldest giving my littlest one a toy and then a kiss. I smile, knowing that God is teaching their hearts and mine what it means to live a life of both confidence and humility in and through Him.
You have said that You will pour out Your Spirit.
You have said that You will pour out Your Spirit on us.
Have I ever experienced an outpouring?
I know that Your Spirit dwells in me.
I know that Your Spirit speaks to and dwells in me.
Do I have any idea what that truly means?
When You pour out Your Spirit, we will prophesy.
When You pour out Your Spirit, we will prophesy and have visions.
Am I missing out or is this promise for a later time?
If the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in me,
If the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in me and gives me power,
Then why do I fail so often?
If You have given Your Spirit to all who belong to Christ,
If You have given Your Spirit to all who follow and belong to Christ,
Please teach me what it truly means to live by Your Spirit and not by my flesh, because I do not understand.
“Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”
And the people chose Barabbas.
I’ve always wondered why.
Why would they choose a murderer over a savior?
What would push them into making the choice of one who steals life over one who gives life?
We could talk about mob mentality; we could point out the way they lived under the sway of priestly authority.
We can never know for sure.
One thing we can know for sure, though:
They made the same choice that Jesus would have made, if the choice had been up to Him.
Jesus would have chosen to give Barabbas his freedom and his life, knowing that it would cost Him His.
It is what He chose for us.
It is hard to understand both choices: the choice of the crowd and the choice of Jesus.
Yet to understand both choices is to understand the gospel.
Frederick Buechner put it well when he said that to grasp both of these decisions is to “grasp what the New Testament says about Christ being our Savior and about people badly needing to be saved.”
God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I sit at Panera, laptop open in front of me, staring out the window at snow drifting down.
I come from a morning full of harsh words and impatience, full of angry attitudes and frustrated responses.
I watch the fat flakes piling up and am struck by the beauty of the view, struck by the sacredness of a dirty world turning white.
I sift through my memories of this morning and wonder why I am unable to also see those parts of life as sacred.
It is easy to see the sacredness of snow. It is difficult to see the sacredness in a child’s anger.
When life is beautiful, when I gaze at spring flowers or at a little girl reading to her sister, I have no trouble in seeing God.
It is when my children fuss and yell, when they shove each other and bang angry fists on the piano and Mommy hollers back in return, that God seems to vanish.
Yet if I truly believe that there is no separation between sacred and secular, if I believe that the fullness of life is sacred, if I believe that there is no difference between kneeling before God in prayer and kneeling in service before a dirty toilet…
Then there is sacredness even in my child who is storming away from me in anger and frustration.
There is sacredness in a fussy toddler, in a stubborn preschooler, in a huffy elementary school child.
It is easier to react with impatience than to see God in these things. It is easier to speak harsh words in response than to pause long enough to search for the sacredness and speak words of Love in answer.
I am trying to figure out how to hold on to the truth that there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, between the body and the soul. I am trying to figure out how to hold on to the truth that God made this world and made this life and uses every piece of both to bring me to Him.
I am trying to figure out how to “become more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”
(Barbara Brown Taylor in An Altar in the World)
It is this, this living of real life in the real world while focusing myself on God, that will change me, change my life, change the way I live my life.
Which, in turn, will bring me closer to God.
And that is indeed truly sacred.
Why is it so difficult to allow people to come in close?
I enjoy having friends, of course, but I still want to keep everyone at just a bit of distance.
Even my husband and my children. I will let them in closer than any others, but there is still a part of myself that I hold in reserve.
Why do we do this? Why is it so hard to be completely vulnerable with anyone?
Fear, I think, is the most simple answer.
We know how ugly our hearts can be. For myself, I know the arrogance and rage that can live inside and I want people to still like me.
We want everyone else to think well of us, so we let them in enough to show that we are human, but not far enough in to let them see how very human we really are.
We don’t want to see the shock and revulsion on their faces were they to hear the thoughts that go through our minds. We want others to like us.
It is often even hard to let God in.
Logically, I know that He already sees the deepest, most ugly bits of me, but I still have the desire to make everything look pretty before I show it to Him. You see, I want God to like me too.
Not just love me. Like me.
Love seems to be a choice, a way of treating someone. Liking, though, seems more enjoyable.
Love is what I do even when it is hard. Liking is what comes naturally when I enjoy spending time with someone.
Yet God went to extraordinary lengths to be with us. He tells us that He wants to sit with us over meals, that He sings over us and He wants to wipe away our tears. He calls us friends.
Such amazing grace this is.
If only I could believe it completely, I would have no trouble at all in letting others in.
God, help my unbelief.
Art credit: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt
There is a sneaking suspicion that lurks in the back of most of our minds.
A suspicion that colors the way we look at ourselves as well as the world around us.
It is the suspicion that sin has completely undone the goodness of Creation.
It is the suspicion that sin has broken our world and our bodies so thoroughly that there is nothing left to it but the ugly.
And if we view Creation through these dark lenses, we will treat it with contempt and shame. Even more, we will increasingly view the world, including our own bodies, as though they have nothing at all to do with God.
We will fall in line with our culture’s idea that we can live perfectly well in this world without ever thinking about how to consider with our lives the glorious reality of God’s Creation.
Without beginning our salvation story with Creation itself, without including in the gospel the amazingness of God-in-flesh, we are left with a hollow salvation, one that does the bare minimum to get us through the gates rather than one that accomplishes abundance upon abundance of redemption.
When God the Son died and resurrected, He redeemed not just our souls, but our physical bodies and the entire material world around us as well.
The stuff of creation is what God the Son redeems through his becoming flesh, bearing our sin, enduring death, and rising to life. When we have a truncated doctrine of creation, we have a truncated understanding of salvation. ~ Jonathan Wilson, theologian and author of God’s Good World
Romans 8 speaks of creation in the same terms it uses to speak of men. It speaks of creation as waiting to be redeemed, as yearning to be set free from bondage, as groaning as it waits in the exact same way that we groan as we wait for our own redemption.
We groan indeed. We groan as we labor through the pain of childbirth, we groan as we struggle to live life well and fail over and over to obey, we groan as we age and approach death.
We are a part of Creation and we groan and wait and hope right along with all of this material world for the return of Christ and for the redemption and perfection of all that we know.
And we would be a bit more successful in living our lives more beautifully if we would continue to consider the ways in which Creation should guide us toward or away from different patterns of life.
The glories of Creation and the ways in which God continues to interact with Creation have the possibility of helping us to understand how a “well-ordered life in the body presents opportunities for glorifying God and enjoying Him forever by participating more fully in the glorious giftedness of Creation”. (Ken Meyers of Mars Hill Audio Journal)
There is not room in a blog to explore such huge ideas in any depth at all. I only hope to spur on thought and seeking and exploring. Share with me what God shows you?
Art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West
It is a cry that explodes from a pain-filled heart. It is a cry that whimpers from a lonely soul.
It is a cry that propels its way out of all who hurt in one way or another.
Why did my twenty-six year old sister-in-law have to die in such a horrible way?
Why did my Papa labor in pain to leave this earth on the very same day that that I labored in pain to bear my daughter into it?
Why do my friends suffer illness and miscarriage and even death while we still are young?
And yet I have to wonder: what would we get if we got an answer to our questions of why?
Would we gain satisfaction? Would it really change anything if God sat down in front of us and explained everything to our face?
We would still have to face the empty chairs. We would still be faced with the memories of pain.
Job asked why. He didn’t just ask, he demanded the chance to ask God why. He shouted for the opportunity to plead his case before God.
And God came.
He came not with reasons but with glory.
God didn’t reveal His ultimate plan, He revealed Himself.
God didn’t show the reasons for what happened, He showed His face.
Even covered with sores and ashes, he looks oddly like a man who has asked for a crust and been given the whole loaf. ~ Frederick Buechner
In answer to all of our questions, may God be gracious enough to give us Himself.
Due to holidays, sick children, a bad cold in my own head, and being eight months pregnant, I’m diving into the archives this week. May God grant you deeper knowledge of Him and deeper love for Him during this new year.
What is it about the word “new” that makes us so excited?
New life, new try, new baby, new piano.
I’m not big on resolutions, but there’s something about the start of a new year that makes me hopeful.
Some of you have had a really difficult year, full of sorrow and pain.
Others of you have had a wonderful year, full of laughter and beauty.
Either way, most of us are ready for new.
A new year. A new start. A new attempt.
There is much in His Word about what is God’s idea of new.
One of the biggest ideas is the new covenant.
I’ve always been struck by the ridiculousness of the idea that God would make any sort of a promise with us, that He would uphold His side of the covenant even when we fail to keep our own promise. It is a beautiful thing of grace that God would be faithful to His own covenant FOR us through Christ.
‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers…because they broke my covenant…’ declares the LORD. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ ~ Jeremiah 31.31-33
What is the new covenant that God makes with us, the covenant that is different from the one that we broke?
In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’ ~ Luke 22.20
Jesus. That birth we just finished celebrating leads to the new covenant drenched in His blood.
Hebrews 8 and 9 works through all of the fascinating details of the old covenant and how it foreshadows the new covenant. Towards the end, after explaining the system of sacrificing goats and bulls and using their blood to take away the sins of the people, the author of Hebrews says this:
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ…cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Gratitude swells for this new covenant that cost so much. This new covenant leads us around to another use of the word “new”: in Christ, we are a new person, a new creation.
Back in the Old Testament, God promises in Ezekiel 36:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you, I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
The fulfillment of that promise?
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! ~ II Corinthians 5.17
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. ~ Ephesians 4.22-24
Praise God!!! What mercy! What grace!
Again, gratitude swells, the beauty of it grows.
Because God was willing to make a new covenant with us when we broke the original one, because Christ was willing to spill His blood to seal this covenant, we are now a new creation in Christ, created to be like God!
And just think…think of the new that is still ahead of us!
Isaiah prophecies this beautiful thing in Isaiah 65:
Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind…I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years…my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.
We are given a beautiful glimpse of the future fulfillment of all of this in Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’