Assassination of Self

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh…
…For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:11, 17-18)

The call to homeschool is a call to sacrifice.

No, wait. It’s been on my mind lately as I’ve found myself advocating for a troubled young lady. But there’s more to it. Hmmm, maybe –

The call to be a parent is a call to sacrifice.

No, no. Not there yet. To be married? Single? To work? To stay home with your kids? Be a missionary? Be a friend? Be alone? Write? Eat? Breathe?

Ah, yes. It’s all of those and more.

The call to follow Christ is a call to sacrifice.

Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated it:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our  lives to death… When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.  (from The Cost of Discipleship)

Let me speak frankly here, my friends. The more I walk and talk with my King; the more I read His word and put it into practice, the more I surrender to Him and learn to trust Him, the more I see the beauty in sacrifice. In death.

Last week, I wrote to you about a confession of my own sin and of the good which came of being hurt by church. Today I can tell you I still feel free from the taint of bitterness. But it was not a process either quick nor comfortable. It was long and terrible, for the root of bitterness was wound tightly around not only my heart, but around everything else as well. And it did not begin with confession – it ended there.

In some ways, it was nothing short of spiritual open-heart surgery. Or, if you will, circumcision of the heart. It was painful. It was bloody. And it was completely worth it.

And there’s the thing – no matter what the King of kings calls us to give up in this life – even if it’s hurt feelings or pride or selfish ambition – it is worth it. Not only will it be worth it for the next bazillion years, it will be worth it here and now.

An image comes to mind here from one of my pastor’s sermons. He spoke of putting to the sword any temptations, selfishness, envy, pride – literally anything which distracts you from the Lord.

Guys, let’s be real here. These are not vague words encompassing ideas of “bad stuff” to avoid. These can even be good things. Praise music. Family visits. Fun times. Entertainment. Anything which has become an idol for us and merits more attention than the God who gave them to us must go. Anything. 

(…and a quick aside for the record, I am not advocating putting your family or your movie collection to the sword! Just the idolatrous misplacement of our own affections…)

Whatever it is which entices us away from the Lord’s best, from growth and humility and Truth, we need to put it to the sword – the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

Let’s think about the use of a sword for a moment. To put anything to death by the sword, there’s a necessary intimacy. A gun is cold and impersonal; the slight pressure of a single finger and the deed is done. I can shoot from the relative anonymity of a passing car or a window. I can put a neat bullet hole right into a skull without ever seeing the face of the one I robbed of life.

Not so with the sword. To put a person to death with a sword takes proximity. There’s some degree of effort involved, as even a sharp blade will not penetrate far into muscle, bone, and tendon by accident. There will be pain. There will be blood. There will be screams of agony and it is likely I will see the eyes of the one I destroy – the windows to her soul.

Look in the mirror, Soldier. There’s your target. It’s time for the assassination of the old self. But it has to be personal. You have to mean it.

Even when it hurts. Even when it’s embarrassing. That’s just the death throes of our pride, friends. Bloody, messy, agonizing, horrible to endure, but so, so worth it in the long run.

Lord, may we all be willing to let You show us what must die, then give us the strength and trust to put it to death. Forgive us for clinging to what we believe are good things when You truly do know best. No matter how painful or shaming, expose them in us. We yield them to You to rip out, and we take up the sword in cooperation and obedience to You, our King. 

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
(Romans 6:6-7)

 

Good Friday Reflections: Doing My Duty

To my dear blog friends, I have been overwhelmed lately with working on a book, tutoring, counseling, parenting teens, home repairs, and other bits of life. I’ve managed to read a scattered few of your posts and I continue to keep them for some fantastical future day where I will magically have time to read 84,302 posts by my fellow bloggers. 

But until that day comes, here is a repost of an old blog of mine which is appropriate for me on this Good Friday. In the near future, I hope to make a public confession and share what God has done through the situation I wrote about years ago. For now, a flashback:

“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Luke 17:10

I don’t know about you, but I find it far too easy to fall into what I can only call the “appreciation trap.”

In my head I long to serve God with pure motives and an undivided heart, cheerfully and humbly industrious, motivated by love of my King and totally free from any selfish ulterior motives.

That describes what I want. What happens in actual, real life is sometimes quite different.

Often I begin this way. I will set my hand to a task, working from an abundance of love and energy. Then the days grind on, my fervor lags, the joy in my ministry is replaced by a sense of drudgery, and suddenly I find myself wondering why I am not acknowledged for what I do or why I feel so invisible.

Without knowing quite how it happened, I find I am no longer working out of sheer love for God but have instead developed a desire for recognition and appreciation.

I suppose I could say that it’s just the sin nature and shrug it off. I could continue on, pretending that my motives are truly pure. I could quit.

However, if I am serious about my spiritual growth and truly “working out my own salvation with fear and trembling,” as Paul put it,  cannot shrug it off. Truth be told, regarding my sin with casual indifference, pretending it does not exist, or giving up are not viable options if I am to grow in Christ.

What I need at such times is an attitude adjustment; a reminding of who I am in Christ… and also of who I would be without Him.

In Christ, I am acceptable to God, forgiven and beloved, no longer a condemned and forsaken criminal under the death penalty. Not only pardoned, but wonder of wonders! I am adopted as His child! By grace, I am in the process of being lovingly reformed.

There was a price on my head, and Christ paid it with His life. Because of this undeserved gift, I can now approach the Throne of Grace wearing His righteousness to cover my shame.

That is no small thing, people. Not at all.

Without Him… well, I shudder to think of getting what I really deserve. Do I honestly want the recognition owed to me?  I think not, for I may be recognized not only for the trivial and paltry good that I have done but also for the appalling atrocities I have committed.

Suddenly, when I consider the matter of my meager service in light of my unmerited favor with God, I have to admit that my desire for acknowledgement is more than a touch ludicrous.

Is it not reasonable for the God who granted me reprieve, indeed who paid the cost of my crimes with His own blood to expect a grateful compliance to His wishes?

What’s more, even if He did not redeem me, am I not created by Him and for His purposes in the first place? Do I praise my cup for holding water? Ought I not to perform the functions He created me to do and that without complaint or need for acknowledgement from others?  Then I ought to do so doubly for sheer joy that not only did He shape me, but He saved me from my own poor choices as well!

Oh, Father! Today I thank You for humbling me when my pride swells. Forgive me for my sense of entitlement. Keep my heart humble and teachable, and never let me forget that my standing before You is undeserved. May I bring You glory and be willing to relinquish every shred of ambition and pride.  You must increase and I must decrease.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning,
Philippians 2:12-14

TBT – Midnight Musings

Hi, all! Due to a great deal of change and a busy summer, I’m finding it difficult to carve out time for blogging – either reading or writing. In light of my incredibly messy house and a small renovation project, I thought I’d just snatch enough time to borrow from my old blog today.

Here goes:

It is nearly midnight–a time I have only recently seen when a thunderstorm or nightmare wakes one of the children–and I am wide awake. Many thoughts have been careening through my head in the last few hours, and I am only just beginning to sort through them. Where do I begin? I suppose it would be best to begin with love. It was love that began me, after all.

When I speak so of love, I am not speaking of the rather clunky attempts humanity makes of the thing, nor do I mean to make a crude joke of the eros that was, nonetheless, certainly a fact of my beginning. I am speaking of Love as a Person.

It is written that God is Love, and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. So you see, Love began me long before my earthly parents met or were even born. My Father had already set in motion a staggering number of events that would eventually lead to the birth of the child that was me. Astonishingly, this is no less true for anyone, whether or not they believe.

In this same multitude of events, my Father had also arranged for the death of that child, just as He arranged for the death of His Son. Jesus died selflessly, bearing my sins. I died shamefully only when I began to understand the weight of what He had given for silly, selfish, petty me.

Today (or to be particular, yesterday as of two minutes ago), as I celebrated His resurrection with my blood family and my church family, I thought of Paul as he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

True, my body is not dead, but a person is more than their meat. The part that is me, the eternal part intended for fellowship with God but stuck in rebellion, is crucified–hanged by the sheer perfection of Love and my own unworthiness of it–and it is dying the slow death of crucifixion as each year reveals yet another area of separation from God and yet a deeper wonder of the merciful Savior who stands ready to receive me into life–real Life–once the sanctifying death is complete.

This Savior is the One without Whom I would have no chance whatsoever of seeing my way free of the absolute bondage of sin; without Whom I would not even see the chains.

Oh, and all this is just a mote–just a speck that I am struggling to put into words! This is the second time I have been flooded with a love that was far too exquisite to be human, far too immense to be my own. Along with that pulsing, cascading, aching sharpness is the certainty that it is also but the merest breath of True Love. So much love, so much life, so much mystery rushes through my mind. . .

How I love each of my brothers and sisters in Christ… not only as brothers and sisters, but as members of the same Body. . .

How I love the gifts and strengths of each and long to see them finally unbound from that which is crucified . . .

How I am torn by the weaknesses of each–my own included–and weep at the frailty of flesh removed from glory by sin. . .

How I am at once exhilarated and frightened by the depth of this Love that is both an unquenchable fire and a rushing torrent of water. . .

How I am captivated by the wonder of it all, wanting at once to be consumed by it and yet still clinging to the old self out of simple fear of the unknown. . .

How even now as I sit typing, groping for words, I know that this Story is too expansive to be contained by mere words. I can only communicate in terms of my experience with taste, touch, smell, sight, emotion. . . I am captive of my senses, and yet I have the distinct impression that even sensuality is only “dirty” because of the corruptive twisting of sin.

In contemplation of self or in love of others, it is often impossible to separate the sinner from the sin. My God, blessed be His name! does not share that problem, and in Him all things are plain, pure, undefiled, and Real.

A child understands such simple and complete love without the complications or nuances added by a decaying mind, for we are born into decay, and the corruption grows as our bodies grow, infecting us more and more completely.

It is only by opening ourselves to Love, by allowing the crucifixion of that which is perishable, that we can be raised one day imperishable. It is another seeming paradox. But what is paradox but a thing to show the fragility of human understanding? One breath of truth and it all comes tumbling gloriously down.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Death of an Atheist

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
(Romans 6:11)

Before I came to know and love the Lord, I was a self-proclaimed atheist… and a pretty angry one at that. If you had asked the late teen/early adulthood version of myself what I thought about Christianity or religion in general, I probably would have answered something to the effect that religion is just a crutch to prop up people who are too weak to face life without it.

Ironically, now that I have come to enjoy a relationship with the living God, I partially agree with my old self on this point. If I have learned nothing else in my forty-odd trips around the sun, I have at least come to realize that I am too weak by far to attempt to live life without God.

The only difference between the Heather who did not recognize this fact and the Heather who now does is that the old me was in denial of very obvious weaknesses (even though said weaknesses resulted in alternating bouts of sobbing, self-loathing, and self-medication with alcohol).

The old me held a firm belief that life was all about what you could get out of it. Yet each attempt I made to seize the proverbial day left me with nothing more than double fistfuls of wishful thinking and palms slashed with bloody furrows from clinging to the shards of shattered delusions.

Perhaps the realization that disturbed me most profoundly in my old life was that the more I lived for myself, filling myself with what I thought was good and fun, the emptier I seemed to become until the inner void was so great that I was certain I would implode.

I had become a person wandering on an endless search with no goal, traveling at great speed yet without direction or purpose. My life was a confusion of restless and increasingly frantic, but futile, activity. I was locked in what seemed to be a perpetual circle, forever following my own footsteps.

“What we all dread most,” said the priest in a low voice, “is a maze with no centre. That is why atheism is only a nightmare.” – G. K. Chesterton, from “The Head of Caesar,” a Father Brown mystery

Yet all the time, God was there waiting patiently for the day when I, footsore and disillusioned, would finally grasp the extremity of my need. But when I first realized that each broad and inviting path I took only led me back to a trackless wilderness, I became convinced that the answers lay beneath my feet, as if some clue to joy could be unearthed like buried treasure.

As I delved deeper and ever deeper, my subterranean quest did not diminish my need but merely increased my darkness. It was there, knee-deep in muck and covered in grime, that I finally saw my folly. Suffocated by despair, I collapsed.

The God I had once laughingly dismissed as a crutch found me where I had fallen, miserably entombed in the pit I had dug, lifeless and caked in mud. The sudden Light of his presence woke me and I cringed in anticipation of the wrath and contempt I deserved from Him. But He did the unexpected.

Rather than move on by, as I would have done, the One I had once scorned knelt beside me in the mire. Lifting my lifeless form, He carried me out of the grave and washed me clean. He removed my shabby tatters and covered my shame with His own spotless garment of righteousness. And He took my stone-cold heart and kneaded it until it became a living thing, responsive to His love.

Then He hefted the full burden of my degradation onto His own shoulders and bore it because I could not. In those moments of His tender care and mercy, I finally realized what He already knew. I had been broken, lame, and dead long before that moment of despair. I just needed to see it.

To me, God became so much more than just a crutch – He became my reason to breathe, my motivation to wake. My life.

Oh, I can do things apart from Him. I can fail. I can be hateful. I can be selfish and stingy and all sorts of nasty. But I cannot be good apart from Him, for only God is good. I cannot be righteous – I can only wear His righteousness. Every moment, every hour, for every action and word, I need Him.

Yes, He is the One I lean on so that I can stand, but He is so much more. He is my Savior and gives my life purpose and meaning; the color to my world; my Master, Guide, Comforter, and King. May my lips always praise Him and may I never again try to venture out on my own!

He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!

(Psalms 40:2-4)

Under the Gun

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:10-12)

In the midst of a season where good cheer is often celebrated, it may seem odd to bring up warfare. Yet, truly, I cannot think of a better time. I have said it before and will likely say it again, but I cannot look at the Babe in the manger without recalling the Man on the cross.

Make no mistake: Jesus came to earth as a sacrifice, and as Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed in his excellent book, The Cost of Discipleship:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. . .  When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.

My brothers and sisters, therein lies the irony of Christianity — joy is found not in birth but in death, or more specifically, in rebirth; in resurrection. However let it not be overlooked that one cannot have resurrection without first experiencing death. It is not possible to resurrect that which is already alive.

Though I do not pick up my Bible each day under threat of discovery and imprisonment or death, still yet our enemy constantly seeks to draw our attention away from my God. He strives to distract, stirring up animosity or apathy or whatever he can to keep us from taking every thought captive to obey Christ.

The narrow path is not an easy one, my friends. We will be ridiculed and mocked. Broad and untrue generalizations and misconceptions will be circulated and enjoyed by unbelievers. However, over the course of this year’s election and its aftermath and now on into the battleground of the Christmas season, I have been reminded several times that I need not feel a personal slight or become indignant about such things. Jesus kept silent when mocked. Should I not do the same?

Not only that, but the unbelievers who ridicule or condemn are not my enemies.

Just a couple of days ago, I had this reminder driven home when an old childhood friend, an atheist such as I used to be, posted a meme on social media stating, “Don’t forget to hate refugees as you set up a Nativity scene celebrating a Middle Eastern couple desperately looking for shelter.”

Forget for the moment that the comparison is really apples to oranges — people fleeing their country because of persecution rather than people compelled to travel within their country to their ancestral home by decree of the governing power. Forget, too, that not all who set up a Nativity Scene hate refugees, or even dislike or are indifferent to refugees. Forget the sheer absurdity of the meme and look behind it for just a moment.

Though such nonsense may be inflammatory in nature, it is not my job to become enraged over it. Often comments like these are mere distractions; a way for the unbeliever to feel smarter, more modern, or perhaps as one having the moral high ground against what, to him, is a rather ambiguously defined and hateful group known as “Christians.”

Do the actual Christians in the unbeliever’s life reflect the hypocrisy he rails against? We cannot know. Often, he does not know himself, for the purpose of such posts and statements, if one is brutally honest, is to deflect attention from one’s own sinful state by pointing out the perceived faults of others.

I know this, because I once indulged in it.

I know this because I happen to be fond of the guy who posted it, and my heart sincerely breaks for him because I know that bears a weight of pain and suffering.

Naturally, suffering is a part of life, but we who are in Christ hurt and suffer with  hope. My old friend suffers in the agony of an unending nightmare, currently unwilling to accept that there is a narrow path of escape open to him. May my glorious King have mercy on him and soften his heart as He once softened mine…

As we engage in spiritual warfare, let us not forget that it is not the unbelievers who are our enemies. They are not the enemy, but captives of the enemy just as we once were.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
(Ephesians 2:1-5)

Although our faith may be under the gun, it is important to remember who we are battling, and the Christmas season seems to be a time of increasing volleys on both sides. This year, let’s not get caught up in the wrong battles but as good soldiers, fight the spiritual ones. We are at war, and our enemy does not call a ceasefire for Christmas.

But even in the midst of conflict, we can rejoice because our King has already overcome the world!

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33)