Tuesday, November 1, 2016

What is Your Life?

“yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
‭‭James‬ ‭4:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The truth is, I want my life to be substantial. When I am asked the question, "What is your life?" I want the answer to be one filled with goals accomplished, plans made, and futures secured. Don't we all? But James doesn't give me much room for this substantial kind of life. He couches the question "What is your life?" between two realities that I cannot escape: I don't know what tomorrow will bring and I am a mist. No matter how I might plan, and goal set, no matter how brightly I paint my world; those two realities rule. In fact, there is not a person on the planet who does not live under these two realities, no matter how hard we might try to pretend otherwise. I have not for even one single day of my life ever known what tomorrow brings. Truth be told, I don't even know what an hour, a minute or a second from now brings! The truth of James words brings my 'substantial ' life crashing down around me. I am not the "captain of my ship" nor the "orchestrator of my world." I don't by the force of my will bring forth anything at all. All my plans can be quickly trumped by what I do not control, which in reality is everything.
     On the other side of this question, there is another reality: I am a mist. Now there's an encouraging thought. A thick fog might look substantial from my window, but one step outdoors quickly reveals that it is not what it appears to be. Even the densest fog, though it can obscure my vision, quickly succumbs to the wind or sun. Suddenly, the thing that appeared so substantial, simply disappears. My 'life' is in reality a mere wisp on.the screen. All my planning, all my future securing activity is a mist that quickly vanishes.
     So, what is my life? Should these realities cast me into despair? When this light shines on me, the foolishness of boasting certainly becomes clear. No matter how 'substantial' the plans and secured futures appear from this side of the window, my inability to even know if I will even be here tomorrow to enjoy them is humbling. Yet, oddly, it is also freeing because against this backdrop, James sets another truth: What I ought to say is "If the Lord wills...." My misty plans are not what I depend on at all. It doesn't matter that I do not know what tomorrow brings! I am in the hand of the One who knows, and who wills, and whose plans never fail. He takes my misty, planning without knowledge life and sets it in the backdrop of His work: eternal, unchanging, never failing.
     He loved my mist. He planned for my future. He set in place the means by which I which stand before him. This is substantial, it is real, it doesn't blow away or disappear with the heat. The goodness of the gospel, the fullness of His grace is again seen through new eyes. What is my life? What is your life? It is passing, yes. It is lived without knowledge of the next minute, hour or day, yes. But it is also purchased, planned for, and precious in the eyes of the One who wills and whose will cannot be turned or changed. We boast in Him.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Looking for Substance in the Shadows

Shadows are hard to hang onto. You can see them, you can get a rough idea of what it is they represent, but even in their sharpest relief they are a poor facsimile of the real thing. The problem with shadows is that they lack substance and any effort that is made to grab them, hang onto them, and find sustenance in them is met with empty hands and empty bellies. No one tries to eat the shadow of a tomato plant or ride in the shadow of a car because there is nothing to bite into and no space to actually occupy. We all know this about shadows, of course. It seems silly to even belabor the point. Yes, yes, you are saying, no one expects a shadow to give to them what only the real thing can give, no one looks for a substance in shadows. Or do we?
It seems to be a common experience in evangelical circles these days that we do not find substance in our daily walk. There are many who in the deep quiet of the night wonder if there is anything real to this Christian thing. We do all the right things, of course. We go to church, we attend studies, we fulfill our duties on various church committees and give our dues. When asked why we do these things we will tell you we do them because we are Christians, but when we are pressed, or when the outcome of our lives is observed there is little substance to be found. Sin that has confounded us for years continues to confound us. There is little difference for us between our involvement in the Rotary Club and our involvement in the church. Our relationships in the church are not marked by love but by obligation.  Hopelessness seems to engulf us when we are pressed to speak about the internal substance of our daily walk. The promise of the Christian life, the greatness of being filled by Him in whom the whole fulness of the deity dwells bodily, of being buried with Him in baptism, raised with Him through faith, and of being made alive together with Him (Col 2::9-15) are phrases without substance in our everyday lives. Not only are these phrases without substance but they have become meaningless in any real everyday kind of a sense. Those are things for theologians and those thinker type people, we might say, not for us everyday folks. Those aren't things that anyone can really lay hold of or find real. You just have to do the best you can. Living the Christian life means doing and not doing certain things, it's what you eat and drink and what you wear. Christians go to church and work on committees. It means dividing up according to what kind of music we like and arguing about money. It means forming social groups where we can do 'Christian-y' things with something for every age and stage. When these disappoint we seldom wonder why our 'Christian thing' has failed but rather seek to do these things longer, harder and stronger; with more focus and with everyone on the same page.... In short, we strive after things that have the appearance of life but are of no value in the still of the night, or in the clamor of the day, or in the temptation of the moment. We have come to believe that the shadow is the substance and we teach others to believe so too.
To use Paul's words, this ought not be. The substance is Christ. He has come. He is alive in our midst. The life that is in Him and in us is not an impotent life. This Christ-life does things, it moves us out of bondage and into freedom. It not only promises us freedom from the sin that besets us, it can actually overcome it. It not only is the love of God to us, it gives to us the love that is to mark the believing church. This life gives hope in the dark days and encouragement in the storms. 
Sometimes you have to look at the result before you can understand the cause. The Christian walk is not supposed to end in a list of committees that we attended, rules that we kept, or forms that we upheld. These things are at best mere shadows and there is no life in the shadow! The Christian walk is supposed to end up in places where our hearts are encouraged, where we walk together with others with whom we have been knit together in love, and where we come to a rich understanding of God's mystery, Christ, in whom all the treasures are to be found. (Col 2:2-3) Anything less is a mere chasing after shadows and ends in places where we are taken captive by an empty deceit that is according to human traditions and elemental spirits of the world, but not according to Christ. Paul urges us to 'see to it that no one takes you captive.' May it be so for us and may the substance that is Christ permeate our walk that we might find life!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Living through to the YET!

I love Roman 8:35-39. It begins with: "Who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord? and ends with the resounding "NOTHING shall be able to separate us"...... There is that troublesome Old Testament passage that is stuck in the middle though.....the one from Psalm 44 that says, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered...." Having taught this passage a number of times, I have to admit that I have generally skipped over this reference, not really knowing what to do with it. Going to Psalm 44 has never been very helpful either....it is a Psalm that begins about all the wonderful works God has done for His people and their boasting in Him and giving thanks to Him....only to have the very next verse say, "But You have rejected us and disgraced us...." I want to always say, 'How does that fit, Paul? Why does this verse make sense here? Are you saying to us that nothing can separate us but God Himself?' Is it the same enigma we face when we read of Job who had done no wrong yet faced the loss of all that was around him? Or the man born blind of whom Jesus Himself says his blindness was simply to bring glory to God? Not many of us are standing in line to be the next Job or the next man born blind. In fact, most of us would quickly go the route of Job's friends and the disciples in looking for the sin that had resulted in this horrendous result in our lives. What kind of an economy is it where both nothing can separate us from the love of God AND we are being led as sheep to the slaughter all day long by this very same God?

Then it hit me. This is the issue, of course. It is the issue that keeps many from growing up in Christ and causes many others to have their love grow cold. It is the experience that all of us have in our earthly walk as we see the evil doers flourish and the righteous go hungry. The God we have created in our own image doesn't allow these things. He smashes evil doing and never lets the righteous suffer. He is the God who does things that match my understanding of what is just and fair. But the Scriptures shout to us of another God, the real God, the One who no one gives advice to and to whom no one gives sustenance. To truly know Him is to rejoice in the opportunity to be the life chosen to suffer that He might receive glory. It is to be a part of an economy where nothing in the middle of the experience holds a candle to the end. Where the opportunity to bring glory to this great God causes all other earthly experiences whether they be death, or life, or powers, or principalities, or things present or things to come to be rendered impotent because they are without the ability to separate us from God Himself. The greatness of the Romans promise is that nothing, though God Himself might lead us as sheep to the slaughter, will separate us from Him. Ultimately, of course, He was always the only one who could have caused that separation. That Christ has removed that possibility for all who are 'in Him' is a truth that takes my breath away.

Grasping this makes other passages suddenly rich and full instead of cumbersome and frustrating. It makes me look for the 'yets' of Scripture, the 'yets' that appear in passages like Psalm 66:8-12 which starts with "Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of His praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip." This promising start then goes to, "For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water." This, turn of course, seems much less desirable. But then, wonder of wonders, you get to the YET! ......."yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance." The critical point, of course, is to live through to the yet! It is fully grasping the reality that NOTHING can separate us and then living through all the things that seem bent on doing so with our faces firmly turned in expectation of seeing the 'YET!' It is walking through the things that God Himself sets in our paths with the firm conviction that the 'YET' will make all the trials in the middle to be 'momentary light affliction' in the light of what is to come.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Recognizing Unbelief

The longer I walk as a believing believer, the more I realize how infused the talk in our life together can be with unbelief. Not the kind of unbelief that blatantly denies the work of Christ or the truth of the gospel, but a more subtle unbelief that pervades our thinking in ways we don't even notice. Its the unbelief that shows up in how we talk about the presence of sin in our lives: "I know God is able to transform so and so, but you know how ingrained that is in her life, given the childhood she had you know...." It whispers to us in the words we use to talk about church: "All those things in the Scripture about church things sound so wonderful but given the fact that we have people in ours, this is probably all we can hope hope for...." If you think about it, you realize that what you are really saying is that the work of Christ is not adequate for the sin of so and so or that Christ is not able to form a church without spot or wrinkle as His bride. To use the scriptural phrase, we nullify the work of Christ. As my friend Patti would say, if you really want to know what you believe, pay attention to what you say after the 'but!" 
It is not easy to recognize the presence of this kind of unbelief in our lives, relying on what we can see and touch is after all the daily experience of our earthly lives. To live inside of our 'new creature in Christ' lives where the 'unseen' and 'hoped for' is definitive is a transformation that all of creation is waiting on tiptoe to see happen----the revealing of the children of God!

In the gospel of Mark we are told the story of the man whose son had an unclean spirit. He had come to the disciples but they were unable to cast the spirit out and he comes to Jesus with the words, "If you can do anything, have compassion on us and heal him!" How I identify with this man! After all, he had been through every earthly possibility he knew of and nothing had delivered his dear son from the torment that he lived in every day. But I am also taken aback at the response of Jesus to the man, “If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” It seems almost harsh and uncaring in the face of this man's reality. He had tried everything and nothing had worked, not even the disciples of this holy man had been able to help him! Jesus words reflect the greatness of what His coming meant for us all. He knew that the man stood before the incarnate Christ, if he could have but 'seen' who He was there would have been no 'If you can' in his mind or on his lips!
To live believing as a verb is to come to a vista that stretches out in front of us so wide and so high and so deep that we cannot find the words to fathom it! "All things are possible for one who believes!" Can it really be so? This is a promise so vast that I find myself trying to 'qualify it' or explain it away. I feel the 'but' coming to my lips and the words of this dear man seeking to grasp and believe the greatness of what stood before him come to my lips as well, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


The challenge to live as a believer who believes has captured my thoughts of late. I have been a believer for much of my life. I am a believer in the powerful work of grace found in Christ Jesus. I am a believer in the infallibility of the Scriptures. I am a believer in the power of the gospel to transform lives. But the transition from being a believer to believing is not an easy one. To live every day believing the Word is true, expecting God to act, actively waiting for Him to appear in my mundane, daily sameness is a working out of my salvation that is far more difficult than my passive life as believer. The journey from the noun believer to the verb believe is one that cannot be done alone. I am finding it requires a body of fellow believers who are learning to believe. Believers who pull me forward into active believing. This doesn't happen in the planned moments, but in the unplanned ones. It happens in the midst of worship together, in shared prayer, in testimonies of God's unrelenting presence in the life of His people. It happens while lamenting over the lost sleep a new baby brings and the terror of a cancer diagnosis. It is while we pray and live together that the verb believe comes alive among us. Life together, together in Christ, together in the fullness of His grace, life poured out by the work of the Spirit in others. Church at its best.