Monday, June 27, 2016

Who am I?

    I remember, it was just too blasphemous. No way could I accept that statement. I put the book down... and picked it up and read it again. Three times. No, this wasn't true. I put down the book and went inside the church, only to hear a guest speaker say the same thing. I just couldn't get away...

     If you know my story, you know that the statement I'm talking about is the radical doctrine of substitutional, vicarious atonement.Crazy that I grew up for ten years in evangelical churches and still didn't know what that was, but it's true. That's why 14 year old me was reading a book that dared speaking of me as the bearer of the righteousness of Christ and I had to put it down.

     For those of us who grew up being taught the Bible, we know who we were. Particularly Baptists (where I grew up) are known for repetitively hammering who we were by consistent teaching on sin and vice and so on. Simple Christian theology dictates that we know who we were... we were sinners. Maybe we realized as a child that we've sinned before and so we require forgiveness before God; maybe we were older and realized to a greater depth how great our depravity is before God, that our entire nature and disposition runs counter to God. In any case, one part of the gospel I definitely got was that I was messed up on my own.

     Who I was was pretty clearly and often spoken about. We were sinners before God, guilty, black, rebellious. We were the ones who nailed him to the cross. We were the ones who fell short of God's design, His perfect plan for the world.

     But what was never addressed is the new question: who am I now? Who am I now? I know I was a sinner before. I know I was a rebel. I know I was worthy of damnation. I know all that... but who am I know? Am I the same person with a new, fresh slate to draw my new identity out on depending on what I do? Am I the same sinner, but with the past grudgingly forgiven so I can slink into heaven just as the gate is closing, forgiven but still evil?

     This new identity... do I have one? Am I the same person, just forgiven, like a murderer who murders but is pardoned and the whole world knows he's still a murderer, just not a punished one? That was the lie I fell for for years. I got that I wasn't going to hell, but that was the extent of who I was in my new identity. My new identity was "forgiven sinner". I was just as evil as ever, I just wouldn't be punished for it. God was the cosmic benevolent old man, who saw the grandson break his favorite fly rod but didn't do anything about it.

     "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."

     "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

     "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified."

     "For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." 

     A new creature? Old things have passed away? Grace may reign? Become the righteousness of God? Perfected for all time?... Does that sound the slightest bit blasphemous?

     In Jesus, we have an entirely new identity; in fact, I'm a new person. I'm not who I was before, and the new me is clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I am no longer a sinner. That is not my identity any more, no matter how much I may sin while clothed in my new identity in Christ. Every sin is washed away by the blood of Christ, nothing staining my new identity as the righteous child of God made right with Him through Jesus Christ.

     I am no longer a sinner... I am a saint who still sins. Yet even that sin is done away with, washed away, removed forever, by the never-ending supply of the blood of Christ my Savior. I am not anything to be despised or disgusted with anymore, because I am a child of God made new, completely new in Him. I am not the same person I was. I have an entirely new identity in Jesus Christ, not merely a cover-up or a facade to camouflage my old one.

     Who am I?     I am radically loved by my Father.
     Who am I?     I am a child of God, His by adoption and fully His child.
     Who am I?     I am justified, no longer under the wrath of God.
     Who am I?     I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ, lacking nothing before God's throne.
     Who am I?     I am no longer a sinner, with no vestige of the guilt and the stain left upon me.
     Who am I?     I am an entirely new person, complete in every way in Jesus Christ.
     Who am I?     I am a transformed being, from a dead son of Adam into a living son of God.
     Who am I?     I am a co-heir with Christ, one who has been glorified and made beautiful in Him.
     Who am I?     I am one who has been bought with a great price.
     Who am I?     "My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I
                             have done nothing to earn it or deserve it." (Brennan Manning)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Cry of Anguish... and a Song of Praise?

    So I've been quiet over here for a few weeks... I try to be pretty open about my struggles and who I really am, so I'm not going to lie about why. The last few weeks, I have been almost completely apathetic in regard to my relationship with Christ, and I've been struggling with being angry with Him. A friend has been going through a very hard time, and a few weeks back I let my frustration over that friend's suffering get the better of me, and let it lead me into apathy, anger, and some darkness myself. Thus the silence on here... it feels hypocritical to write others about God when I am not in a right relationship myself.

     A couple days ago I admitted to myself where I was and started taking some steps toward pursuing Christ again. Ironically, it was the very friend I've been angry for that sent me the references I'm talking about tonight: Psalm 13 and 22.

     Psalm 13 opens with words that really spoke to me right where I have been, "How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou forget me forever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?" I've read enough psalms not to be surprised by what came next, but it still stuck out to me... David closes the Psalm with the words, "But I have trusted in Thy lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation, I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me."

     My plan was to look at 13 first and then go check out 22, so I didn't spend long thinking about that. I was going to spend more time on it when I came back... but 22 caught my eye too. Before I even started the chapter, it was clear the course the psalm would take. Under the title of Psalm 22, the NASB has printed, "A cry of anguish and a song of praise." Honestly, I didn't get any further than to breeze through the psalm to verify that yes, that is exactly what Psalm 22 is.

     My mind stopped there. A cry of anguish and a song of praise. Wait, what? How? Why? Who does that, I guess was more my question. A cry of anguish, a cry of heart-wrenching grief... followed by a song of praise. Mixing grief with praise, deep sorrow with a kind of joy... this should be something that clicked before.

     Several weeks ago, I arranged a sermon on the book of Job to keep in my back pocket if the need arose. In Job 1, after Job loses everything, he says something very strange in v. 21. "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has given away." This I understand. He poetically draws a parallel... he came into the world with nothing, he leaves the world with nothing. It was God who blessed him... it was God who know cursed him. Pretty standard stuff here... until the end. "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

     A cry of anguish... mixed with a song of praise. Raw honesty enough to admit being crushed and vulnerable, but real faith enough to see past the momentary anguish and see the sovereign and good God that presides over it. Anguish and praise... Anguish in my present situation, praise in looking past it and seeing the God who is there and who is good in it and sufficient through it.

     Anguish will come... but don't let the anguish control. In the anguish and the silence of God, praise. Blessed be the name of the Lord, in the giving and the taking. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Good Song

         I've been becoming more and more a fan of Michael Gungor's music. "Us for Them", "Vapor" and now "Hurricane" have become some of my favorite Gungor songs in the past few weeks. His style is just one I really enjoy.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

I Will Not Fear

    I've been quiet here for the most part for a while now. That's a combination of school, some time consuming extra-curriculars, and working on two different posts that required more study and thought than just sitting down with my Bible for a couple hours and putting something together. Tonight I wanted to address something that's been on my heart for a few days.

     I'm looking into the future, my plans, my dreams, my hopes... and I'm coming back with one major feeling: fear. No one warned me life was quite so complicated or quite so demanding. I don't mean that in the whiny "why didn't someone tell me" sense, simply in the sense that I'm caught off guard with the demands of life right now and the uncertainty of the future. As any young person looks forward (and for that matter, I have no doubt older people do too), it feels like doubts and fears on every side. Who do I marry? What do I do for work? What does God expect of me in this situation? Any one of those questions has a thousand sub-headings... will she want to marry me? Will I be a good husband? How do you know when you're ready for marriage? Is there a right or a wrong to finding God's will for my life's work? What if there is a wrong and I pick wrong? What if I feel called to the ministry but I see the immaturity in so many areas in my own life? You get the point... the fears are everywhere.

     Maybe your fears are larger: will I survive this cancer? Maybe it's seemingly smaller, I don't know. I don't think it matters. Honestly, we are bombarded by fears in this life, and at this place in my life, it's a new feeling. The uncertainty and the fear, for myself and those I care deeply about, wears me down and leaves me sitting here going, "What on earth happened in the past year that changed me so drastically?" Hint: I grew up.

     Suddenly, your fears aren't somewhere off in your future. They're in your face, staring you down when you're awake and staring you down while you lie in bed at night. For so many years, "I don't know" was a reasonable answer to those pressing questions regarding what you were doing after high school. Suddenly, that uncertainty is pressing down on you every moment. The future, your choices, and all the ways you can screw those two things up that will affect you and your future and those involved with you in the future can be choking.

     There are excellent works on finding hope in God and strength through Christ in suffering. Reading Job, listening to John Piper, and other things have been immensely encouraging the past couple weeks. But to be honest, I'm not in the mood for that level of depth tonight. I'd rather just look at two verses that just grab me and shake me in the midst of my fears.

     "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." 

     What's striking to me here isn't that Jesus provides for our peace by leaving His presence in the form of a comforter (mentioned the verse previously). Maybe I've just heard that enough that I get that now. It's that He specifically identifies His peace is very different from the haphazard security of the world. It is a very different kind of peace. It's a peace that doesn't avoid tragic situations or dangerous places or hazardous predicaments. The peace is not based in any way upon situation but upon God.

     The world's way of gaining peace is removing obstacles and difficulties. By smoothing the road, the lack of difficulty results in peace. When Jesus is providing for His follower's peace, His route is not to smooth the road for them; in fact, looking forward to the end of their lives, we can see smooth roads and lack of obstacles and difficulties is the opposite of their fate. There's was not a situational peace but a personal presence of God that transcended the situation and told them that no situation mattered if an almighty God was with them and sovereign over all things. The peace He leaves with them is not contingent upon the ease of our path but on the greatness of the glory at the end and His own presence at our side.

     "The Lord is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me? The Lord is for me among those who help me; Therefore I will look with satisfaction at those who hate me."

     I like this verse a lot. Like, a whole lot. There's a defiant nature to this verse that just shouts out reckless confidence in our God that appeals to me and, at the same time, intimidates me. It doesn't say that God will make our situation rosy and make everyone like us and remove all our conflict. It says that if I align myself with God... it doesn't matter what people say or think. I live, quite literally, for an audience of One. If the One is pleased, then I have no cause to be afraid of what anyone else will think or expect.

     If we're honest, isn't a lot of our fear very man-centered? This verse I like so much because it removes the man-centered dimension of fear by declaring that when I am right with God, I can smile at the people who hate me and are yelling at me. There is no intimidation, no fear, no being bullied when we are right with God. This psalm is so clear... if God is for me, I have no reason to fear anything. Nothing that happens will pluck me from His hand or push me past the reach of His grace, and with God on my side, what people think or say does not matter.

    It means a lot to remove the aspect of fear that involves pleasing other people. Part of being right with God is being in a position of respect under our authorities, but it doesn't mean recoiling in fear lest I hurt their feelings or they dislike some part of me. It means that under Christ, I am who I am, and while I pursue holiness, there is no cause for me to be afraid.

     There is no fear! Not specifically what the verse is addressing, but "I will not fear" is a pretty broad and easily applicable statement. Do I fear what other people may think of me? Do I fear messing up or failing? Do I need to fear the future? I will not fear. Even if the future is still as uncertain as it was before, the basis of my hope is as solid as a rock. My identity and eventual future is solid in Christ Jesus, the Savior who secured my redemption, my status as His child, and my eventual home with Him. There is no fear. There is no call for fear. The uncertainties are still there, but the results are in God's hands and I can trust Him.

     I will not fear. I will follow after Jesus Christ, and I will not fear. Even if all else fails, that way I gain a far surpassing joy and pleasure. He is my audience of One, the only One whose opinion will count. And under His grace, I will not fear.