New Year’s Resignations

Well, it’s January 8 and you know what that means? Yes it means it’s Hump Day again, but more than that, statistically speaking it means most of us who made any sort of New Year’s resolutions have already failed at most of them. And some who haven’t failed are already finding sticking to their resolution to be a struggle and frustrating and you are questioning why you are even bothering.

Maybe you resolved to make healthier choices with food or drink. You resolved that what you eat and what you drink will not be your source of comfort and joy this year. You will show self control. You won’t become one of those self-righteous sticks in the mud who can’t enjoy a good meal or dessert or beer or glass of wine, but you will enjoy them as gifts from God, not as lifelines.

But then there’s the invitation to a friends house and you don’t want to be rude. And there are all those cookies and candy and you don’t want to be wasteful so they HAVE to be eaten so that you can get them out of the house and start your resolution in earnest. And now you’re feeling like your resolution is pretty much a failure.

Or maybe you resolved to have a little more unconditional love in your heart. Maybe toward your wife or maybe toward your children. A little more patience, a little more compassion, a little more empathy and listening and less talking and correcting and screaming and ignoring. The problem is that conditions aren’t always that optimal for unconditional love. Sometimes it’s too early in the morning for this conversation again. Sometimes it’s too late in the evening to listen to them. Sometimes they are acting like CHILDREN. Sometimes he is so frustrating. Sometimes she is so cold. And you fall and you fail and your resolution didn’t get you anything except, if you told your family what it was, a dirty look or critical comment.

You tried. You meant well. you fell flat. Now what?

For half of us, we will resolve more better. Dig in your heals. Do better. Try harder. Take that hill. Move that barge. You thought you were resolved, but you ain’t seen nothin yet. Grab those boot straps and get up!

For half of us we will resign. You tried, you failed, but who could possibly succeed surrounded by these sinners? You don’t know my wife. You don’t know my husband. You don’t know my children. You don’t know my circumstances.

Or, worse, you realize you failed and it is entirely your own doing. You resolved. You were earnest. You were sincere. You wanted to do good, but the more you wanted to do better the more there was something there pulling you back down, tripping you up, tempting you to give up or give in.

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand (No, not in your spouse or your children or your pantry, but right there in your own heart). For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin.” Romans 7.21-23.

“I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Romans 7.19.

What is there for resolvers and resigned alike? What hope do you have if you couldn’t even make it through the first seven days of 2014? Wretched person that you are, who can deliver you from this body of death? (Romans 7.24)

There is Christ. There is always and only Christ. Christ for the resolvers so sure that their sins only exist in response to other people’s sins. Christ for the resigned who are certain that they have blown it for the umpteenth and final time.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 7.25-8.1

If you are going to resolve this year, resolve that you will know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Resolve that you will not take even one step away from total and absolute dependence on Christ for your deliverance. Resolve to remember that if grace were something you deserved it wouldn’t be grace. Resolve that the gospel not be something those annoying sinners in your life need but something you need this year, this day, everyday.

If you are going to resign this year, resign yourself to the fact that you are indeed the worst sinner in your life and God loves you and sent his Son to die for you and He does not condemn you anymore, so neither should you. Resign yourself to understand that if grace were something you could earn it wouldn’t be grace anymore. Resign yourself to absolute and utter dependence on Christ and His work this year, this day, everyday.

Resolve to know Christ and Christ alone. Resign to need Christ and Christ always. And enjoy the journey.

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Drinking Songs

Guess What Day New Year’s Day is…

Well, it’s January 1.  That means it is another first day’s shot at reading through the Bible in a year (maybe less).  I’ve seen many blogs on reading schedule choices (Here’s a great blog with many choices).  I decided to go simple this year.  My bible has 1042 pages in it from Genesis 1.1 to revelation22.21.  Divided out over 365 days that comes to 2.85 pages.  I know that I will have less regularity over the weekends than I wish I would, so I upped it to 4 pages.  4 pages a day and you can read the entire Bible in a year even if you only read on weekdays (yes, I know smarty-pants-with-the-calculator-app, that’s only 1040 pages, but my Bible has 3 blank pages between the New Testament and the New Testament).

Todays reading covered Creation, the fall of man into sin, and ended with the birth of Noah.

First Songs and Implications for Drunkenness

In reading today I was struck by the first two songs recorded in the Bible.  One sung by Adam, one sung by a man seven generations removed from Adam through his son Cain, Lamech.

Adam sings in Genesis 2.23.  Sin has not yet corrupted man’s thoughts or desires. So what do we find in song on the lips of this sinless Adam?  A Hymn? No.  A song of praise? Yes.  About God?  No.  About his wife.

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.”

Though the song is not sexual, it does have sexual undertones.  Eve has been brought to Adam to be the perfect receptor of his love.  She alone perfectly completes him. Together they are the perfect culmination of creation.  Immediately following the song, they are spoken of as being wed fast together and becoming one flesh.  The chapter ends by stating that they were both naked and were not ashamed.

The implications about God’s goodness are profound.  Our father in heaven delights in the physical love between a husband and wife.  The only two places in Scripture where God endorses drunkenness and indulgence both refer to the physical love between a husband and wife. In Proverbs 5.19 the young man is instructed to be intoxicated with love for his wife.  In Song of Solomon 5.1 both the husband and the wife are encouraged, even cheered on, to be drunk with love for each other.

As with so many other good gifts from God, the greater the gift the greater the potential we have for destroying it with our sin.

The second song ever recorded in Scripture for us also, at first glance, does not seem to have any sexual implications, however on deeper reading we see the foundation laid in the destruction of God’s design.

In Genesis 5.23 we read a song Lamech sang to his wives.

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;

you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:

I have killed a man for wounding me,

a young man for striking me.

If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,

then Lamech’s is seventy.”

Lamech sings praises to violence.  He is pleased with himself for killing a young man who had offended him.  He puts himself in the place of God as Judge, and Executioner of this young man and as Defender of himself and his own actions.  Lamech is drunk on violence and satisfying his own cravings without one care about anyone in his path or in his wake

Where does sex enter into this song?  In Geneses 5.19 we are told, “And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.”  Lamech had done violence to God’s design and to other humans before he ever killed that young man.  Lamech had decided that God’s design and plan for marriage was not for him.

Many point to Scripture, especially the Old Testament, as proof that polygamy was acceptable to God at least at one point.  But you cannot find a description of polygamy in the Bible where a happy family life or happy ending is described.

When the union, which God went to such lengths to create and bless and grant incomparable delight for us, is broken – whether through adultery, or pornography, or emotional affairs, or neglect – violence has occurred.  Without repentance and repair and reconciliation, violence will continue.  Perhaps through bitterness or resentment.  Maybe through harsh words or avoidance.  Maybe even through abuse or further destruction.

Learning the Lyrics and Draining the Dregs

As husbands and wives we can be both encouraged and warned though these songs.  The warning is striking – sexual sins, all sexual sins, always overflow and harm far more people than you thought they would.  But there is a place where God designed for you to be not only naked and unashamed with someone, but where you are encouraged to be intoxicated and drunk on one another.

Those “drunk” passages come centuries after sin entered the world.  That kind of love between husband and wife is possible even in the midst of a fallen world, even in the aftermath of grievous sin against each other.  There is hope, because there is forgiveness, because we have a Savior who did not get drunk on love but got drunk on God’s wrath so that we could drink from God’s cup of blessing and find forgiveness and restoration and hope for all of our relationships.  After all we are called now the bride of Christ and the union between husband and wife was intended from the beginning to be a picture of the union between us and Jesus Christ.

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  -Ephesians 5.28-32

For my married friends – May 2014 be a year of wonderful repair and restoration and wonton drunkenness between you and you spouse.

For my unmarried friends – in the words of the most interesting man in the world, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

Hope for Hump Day, November 13

I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. I was struck by this sentence:

If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sin at all.

The way I heard one pastor put it was, we need to view our own sin with the judgement of sobriety and others’ sin with the judgement of charity.

I usually reverse those. I have all sort of excuses and circumstantial extenuations for why I sin. It usually is closely related to other people’s sin. Do you ever do that? “Sure I’m not treating my spouse the way God directs me to, but he/she sinned first.” “Okay, I’m not treating my child with the dignity and respect owed him as human, but he acted so foolishly.” “Yes, I should not have spoken about that person the way I did, but did you hear what she did to me?”

In Ephesians 3.8 Paul says,

To me, though I am the least of all the saints, this grace was given

Here is the man who wrote nearly half of the books in the New Testament. And his view of himself is that he is the least of all the saints.

When I view your sin as worse than mine I will always have an excuse for withholding love or forgiveness or even mere kindness. When I view your sin as worse than my sin I have an excuse to sin against you, because it will feel like justice.

But when I view my sin as worse than your sin I will be quick to forgive because I know how much I have been forgiven. I will be quick to empathize because I know the temptations that are common to all of us. I will not withhold love from you because God does not withheld His love from me when I sin.

Is there someone in your life whose sin you are convinced is worse than your own? Is there a “lesser” saint than you in your life? What would your relationship look like if you were to view your own sin as worse than theirs? How would it affect your interactions, your attitude, your heart? What if you made as many excuses and explanations for his or her sin as you do for your own? “He was tired.” “She had a rough day.” “He’s really been under a lot of pressure.”

Brotherly love will find any number of extenuations for the sins of others, only for my sin is there no excuse whatsoever.

Galatians 6.2,3

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Enjoy the Journey.

Hope for Hump Day

Just a little note to offer you some encouragement on this dreary Wednesday morning.

Transmission Problems

Last month I was perusing Facebook and came across this status from my mother-in-law.

“Transmission problems…car will not reverse but hey, who wants to go backwards anyhow!”

Isn’t that the truth? Who wants to go backwards? To go backwards is to correct a course. To admit a wrong direction. To give ground in a stand-off. To go backwards requires more effort. I need mirrors and flexibility as I twist around to see where I came from. I need to move slower so that I don’t drive off into a ditch because, let’s face it, I’m not used to going backwards. To go backwards requires patience with myself, because if I have been driving full-throttle down the wrong road it may take a while to back up to the correct path again.

The Christian journey is often described as “two steps forward and one step back.” I suppose the idea is to offer hope to those struggling with the walk that, although the going seems slow, there is progress. But I wonder if from another angle the walk looks more like “one step forward three steps back.”

C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity pointed out:

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

You’re Going the Wrong Way!

I love the scene in the 1987 movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, in which Del (John Candy) and Neal (Steve Martin) are driving down the highway in the middle of the night—on the wrong side of the highway. Another driver comes up along side of them (on the other side of the median) and frantically tries to convince them, “You’re going the wrong way!”

Did you start the morning with yet another belittling outburst against your children? Are you stuck on a one-lane, one-way alley of irritation with and disappointment in your spouse? Have you damaged a friendship through neglect? Maybe you feel like you’ve been on this path for far too long. Maybe you can’t even see the fork behind you where you got off course. Maybe you feel like it’s hopeless since you will only get off track again at the next intersection. As a good friend reminded me recently, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” Hit the brakes. Grind the gears. Throw it into reverse. There are no cut-overs. There is no amount of religious winding that will maneuver you back to the right path.

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5.23-24

No amount of religious activity can make the paths we’ve taken away from one another holy and good paths. No worship, no offerings, no service replaces the simple yet hard work of repentance. Going backwards. Turning around The way forward is back. And is only possible because of the One who backed up first for us.

Reversal of Fortune

At the cross God turns around from the wrath intended for us, turns that wrath from us to his beloved Son who willingly took the punishment our paths held for us. In the greatest back up in History God reversed the effects of sin, raising His Son from the dead, so that we could have life in His Name. The great hope we have that we can back up quickly or even back up after a long wandering is that God opened the path back to himself through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And if we can back up from the path leading away from our heavenly Father, then we can back up from the paths we have taken from each other. Turn around. Christ has replaced your transmission so you can back up regularly, daily, early or late. What a picture of glory, each of us-arm on the backrest, head twisted around, front of the car fishtailing in the back as we fly down the road toward one another, glad for the capital ‘R’ Jesus has put in our gear box.

Enjoy the Journey!