Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When a Lizard Falls in Your Favorite Pot

What if a lizard falls into your favorite clay pot? 

“And these are unclean to you among the swarming things that swarm on the ground: the mole rat, the mouse, the great lizard of any kind, the gecko, the monitor lizard, the lizard, the sand lizard, and the chameleon. These are unclean to you among all that swarm. ...And if any of them falls into any earthenware vessel, all that is in it shall be unclean, and you shall break it" (Leviticus 11:29-31, 33).

Break it, really? That pot belonged to your great-grandmother. It's irreplaceable. Certainly a good scouring will suffice. Who will ever know?

It would have been so easy, it seems, for the Israelites to hide some of their seemingly small sins--so easy to break these specific, odd laws without anyone ever knowing. Mildew spots on the wall of your house? A mysterious sore on your arm? You could cover these up, at least for a while.

And I do. I downplay my sin; I consider it so minor it doesn't really need to be confessed. I hide and rationalize. I look at others, comparing myself to them instead of to Jesus, and think I'm doing just fine. But I can't live by my standards, or the world's standards--I'm called to live by God's standards. And even if I don't understand *why* something is a big deal to Him, it has to be a big deal to me anyway.

The NIV Worship Bible offers this helpful prayer in the margin next to Leviticus 11:
"Clean and unclean animals, ceremonial law--what was the point, Lord? Was it just to keep Israel distinct and separate? Was the ceremonial law a symbol of something else to come? Even when I do not understand Your ways, help me, Lord, to treat seriously what You consider important. Help me to discern the substance and truth in what You demonstrate. Help me to observe the details of Your call to holy living in Christ. And help me to pay careful attention to the things that matter to You, even when they seem to be harmless to me. Teach me to live by Your standards, and not by the standards of the world."

Monday, April 29, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 281

I am really out of practice around here! A Monday out of town plus a Monday spent catching up from being out of town means it's a while since I've counted gifts on the blog. Further, I was out of sorts and not using my book all last week--and it showed. I don't know if I had a crummy week because I wasn't counting and preaching to myself and staying organized with tasks, or if I was not doing all those things because I was in the doldrums; probably both, in a gross death spiral. At any rate, I was reminded of how much my visual journal contributes to my sanity and well-being, and how important it is to keep it out and open, constantly re-orienting myself throughout the day, as opposed to taking five minutes once a day to scribble a few gifts.

I've had much to be thankful for these past couple of weeks--most notably, a trip to Wisconsin for a women's retreat and some family time which I hope to blog about soon! Meanwhile, a few scattered gifts from the last several days--thanking God for...

4890. a walk on the greenway with a friend
4891. Jude and her little girl holding hands
4892. Jude pouting when his friend didn't want to hold his hand anymore

4893. Elijah zooming ahead of us on his balance bike, closer to putting pedals on
4894. blue sky with white clouds so puffy and perfectly spaced, it almost looked fake

4895. Jude giggling wildly when I gave him underdogs on the swins
4896. fresh strawberries
4897. dinner on our card table out on the back patio
4898. the men and women who fought to abolish slavery
4899. Jude asking me to sing "Sweet Baby Boy" to him

4900. evidence of His grace at work in a friend's heart
4901. time to catch up with another friend, long overdue
4902. boys watching This Old House with Daddy
4903. boys dancing and singing "Hakuna Matata"
4904. Steve reading to us from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing

4905. theology discussions with Steve
4906. Jude asking to listen to "Hey Jude" and then saying, "That's my song!"
4907. freedom to abandon mediocre books halfway through
4908. a dinner that looked like a disaster turning out surprisingly enjoyable
4909. Jude happily pounding down THREE small paleo "tacos"

4910. Steve building a raised bed for our front yard
4911. him taking the boys to Lowe's, helping them plant seeds

4912. tornado siren at 8:15PM, not in the middle of the night
4913. a safe, warm, dry house in the midst of torrential rains
4914. women being honest about not having had a good week

4915. purple toenails
4916. Elijah watching me paint them, fascinated, and commenting: "Maybe my wife will paint her toes."
4917. a righteousness I did not, could not earn
4918. His Spirit in me, gradually helping me become righteous in practice

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Steve and Amy: A Love Story (Part 6)

Oh dear. Where were we? Somewhere along the way I ran out of steam. Almost three months later, picking back up the saga...

[continued from part five // start here]

During our first semester of college, Steve and I emailed back and forth occasionally, and even talked on the phone a couple of times. I of course agonized over the girls Steve was meeting. Once he mentioned that some people in the band (he spent one year in UC’s marching band before deciding that was NOT for him) were trying to set him up with “some baritone chick.” I writhed in fear and frustration, but needlessly so; Steve was uninterested. True story: a few years later, that “baritone chick” would become my sister-in-law. Yes, Steve’s older brother briefly attempted to set Michelle up with Steve before realizing he liked her himself, and eventually marrying her!

I missed Steve and Kaleb like crazy, and when we were reunited during school breaks, my feelings for Steve were as strong as ever. Here we are on a ski trip that Christmas break:

But as the year went on, Steve began to fall from the pedestal I'd put him on.

Let me back up and explain that my freshman year of college was pretty brutal. I was utterly unprepared for the adjustment; I mourned the loss of my childhood. After two years of senioritis and "I can't wait to leave this dumb small town behind me forever," after all my smug superiority about not going to the local university where ten percent of our class had enrolled together, I had to eat a huge helping of crow. Homesick? Big time. I was excited and blessed to be at IWU, but I was miserable. It seemed like everyone else had taken a seminar on "How to Make Friends Instantly"--and I was absent that day. So, so lonely, and so embarrassed to be so lonely and not thriving at college.

The upside to my misery was the spiritual growth it occasioned. I learned to lean into God that first semester because I had no one else to lean on. I would never want to repeat that time in my life, but I also wouldn't trade it for anything; God used it to drive His Word deep into my heart, to teach me about prayer, to reveal Himself to me as Comforter and Refuge.

And as time went on, He was so faithful to answer my desperate prayers for close relationships. In fact, when I read back over my journals from that time, I have to laugh at how abundantly He provided. I begged for just one friend--and it boggles my mind to think back on those four years of college and the crazy number of awesome people He put in my life!

Anyway. You can see why this series is stretching on endlessly...all kinds of rabbit trails. I have a point, I promise.

Freshman year was a year of incredible growth for me, but it wasn't so for Steve. He wasn't in the nurturing Christian environment I enjoyed, to say the least. He didn't walk away from the Lord or anything, but it's fair to say he stagnated--just didn't get plugged into any campus fellowship or look for opportunities to learn and grow spiritually.

He was also terrible about keeping in touch, and some insensitive things here and there really hurt me. Plus, for the first time in our friendship, it felt like Steve and I were no longer at the same point spiritually. We'd been so much at the same maturity level, so much on the same page, but now I was sort of leaving him behind.

Add to this the fact that I was at a Christian university--so I was surrounded by dozens and dozens of Christian guys. In other words, I saw that there were other fish in the sea :) Suddenly Steve wasn't the only handsome, talented, Jesus-loving potential husband in my world, and his appeal diminished a little.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Costly Sacrifice, Revisited

In my earlier reflections on the cost of the Leviticus offerings and how over-the-top they might seem, I neglected to look at it from a critical angle: the seriousness of sin and the depths of our depravity.

"As has been done today, the LORD has commanded to be done to make atonement for you" (Leviticus 8:34).

God commands all this bloody slaughter not because He is greedy or bloodthirsty, and not merely because He is testing us. He commands it because "without the shedding of blood there is no forgivness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22). Sin is heinous, and someone has to pay its consequences. It can't just be overlooked or forgiven simply. Tim Keller illustrates this concept in his book King's Cross (recently released in paperback as Jesus the King):
When someone really wrongs you, a debt is established that has to be paid by someone. It can happen at an economic level. What if a friend of yours accidentally smashes a lamp in your apartment? One of two things can happen as a result. Either you can make him pay--'That will be $100, please'--or you can say, 'I forgive you, that's okay.' But in the latter case what happens to that $100? You have to pay it yourself, or you have to lose $100 worth of light and get used to a darker room. Either your friend pays the cost for what was done or you absorb the cost.

This works at levels beyond the economic, too. When someone robs you of an opportunity, robs you of happiness, of reputation, or takes away something else that you'll never get back, that creates a sense of debt. Justice has been violated--this person owes you. Once you sense that debt, again there are only two things you can do.

One thing you can do is to try to make that person pay: You can try to destroy their opportunities or ruin their reputation... But there's a big problem with that. As you're making them pay off the debt, as you're making them suffer because of what they did to you, you're becoming like them. You're becoming harder, colder; you're becoming like the perpetrator. Evil wins.

What else can you do? The alternative is to forgive. But there's nothing easy about real forgiveness. When you want to harbor vengeful thoughts, when you want so much to carry out vengeful actions but you refuse them in an effort to forgive, it hurts. When you refrain, when you forgive, it's agony. Why? Instead of making the other person suffer, you're absorbing the cost yourself. ...You are forgiving them and it is costing you. That's what forgiveness is. True forgiveness always entails suffering.

...If we know that forgiveness always entails suffering...and that the only hope of rectifying and righting wrongs comes by paying the cost of suffering, then it should not surprise us when God says, 'The only way I can forgive the sins of the human race is to suffer--either you will have to pay the penalty for sin or I will.' Sin always entails a penalty. Guilt can't be dealt with unless someone pays. The only way God can pardon us and not judge us is to go to the cross and absorb it into himself. 'I must suffer,' Jesus said.
We have violated the laws of a holy God; we have ignored and despised the One we were created to worship and instead have declared ourselves sovereign. For us to receive forgiveness, a price must be paid. Here in Leviticus, bull after bull, ram after ram, dove after dove will pile up to atone. And as the blood runs down the altar perpetually, we are to see in the mess what our sin costs.

Our holy, holy, holy God cannot simply overlook our sin. In the sacrificial system He gives us a tiny, dim glimpse of what our sin deserves, the death it brings. And then, finally, He brings His own sacrifice to the altar--Only Beloved Son, infinitely more precious than a million spotless lambs.

And God did not say, "What a waste. Think how much My Son could accomplish if I didn't allow Him to be killed in the prime of His life! His life is too valuable to be thrown away even to purchase a billion wretched sinners." No--He counted the cost and He poured out His love; He paid an unfathomable price in order to demonstrate love for wicked men and women and draw them to Himself.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul
What wondrous love is this, O my soul
What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul...

So as I read about these sacrifices, let them sober me. Let them penetrate my hard heart, awaken me to the gravity of my sin. And then may they direct my attention to worship Jesus, who paid in full the cost of my grievous, countless sins.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Costly Sacrifice

I'm at that point in my Bible reading schedule where you come to Leviticus. In other words, the point when so many well-meaning Christians fall behind in their plans to read through the Bible. All those skin diseases and offering specifications...it can be hard to slog through. I can’t say I look forward to Leviticus, but I want to trust that God can and will meet me here. This is, after all, part of His Holy Word--equally as inspired as Romans or Ephesians, John or Psalms.

So as I read last week in chapter 1 about bringing a bull as a burnt offering, I tried to slow down and envision the scale of what’s described. This was not a tiny, neat and clean, no-big-deal sacrifice. Cattle weigh well over a thousand pounds full grown. At the farm where we buy grass-fed beef, to buy a whole one would give you 400 lbs. of beef—and cost you more than $2500!

Think how many people that would feed, for how long! And yet in the burnt offering, it’s all reduced to ashes. You don’t pour out the blood and then carry off the rest for a barbecue. Not even the priests get dinner from it. Every bit goes up in smoke.

“And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD” (Leviticus 1:9).

Imagine the faith this kind of offering would require. To believe that it’s worth it: How does burning up an entire bull really benefit God? You’d be tempted to call it a waste, when you thought of the food, the fortune it represented. (What about the poor, the hungry?) Can’t God just enjoy the smell while we cook it in order to eat it?

But He asks you to come and say—I trust You. I submit to You. I worship You. Everything I have is a gift from Your good and generous hand. You have provided for my needs, so I trust that You will continue to provide. I will obey You when I don’t understand, because I believe that You are God and I am not. I will do things that don’t make sense to me, because I trust that You are beyond the comprehension of my finite mind. I will give up filet mignon; I will forego steaks and ribs and oxtail because I am convinced that the joy of honoring You is better than the pleasures of eating good food. I will lay my savings account, my retirement plan, on the altar because I know that my security can only truly be found in You. I love You—I trust You—I believe You are good—accept my burnt offering. 

He no longer calls me to bring a bull and burn it all up at the altar. But He does call me to say and believe and live all these things. So I pray...

Father, help me to see all I have as undeserved gifts, as things You have entrusted to me and expect me to steward well. Help me trust that You will always, always provide—perhaps not what I want, but always what I need. Help me to agree with You about sin, to choose Your ways and thoughts when they are different from my own. Help me to submit to Your Word, not demand that it submit to my understanding. Help me to let go of the temporary pleasures I crave, believing that walking in fellowship with You tastes better. Help me to put my hope not in future circumstances, not in my own abilities, but in You, my Rock of Refuge, my Redeemer. Give me grace to love You as You have first loved me…to trust You…to taste and see Your goodness and know that You are for me.

And then He responds, through Sarah Young’s book Jesus Calling:
“I am a God who gives and gives and gives. When I died for you on the cross, I held back nothing; I poured out My life like a drink offering.” 
In other words...once again, the reminder that God does not ask anything of me that He has not first done Himself. The offerings, the sacrifices He requires of me are nothing compared to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross!

Monday, April 01, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 280

Thanking God this past couple of weeks (what is my blogging problem?!) for...

4847. a lunch date/playdate with preschool friends
4848. great conversation with a new friend
4849. Elijah's cheerful obedience
4850. Elijah: "God helped me obey!"
4851. Jude riding his balance bike

4852. forsythia bushes blooming
4853. tiny green leaves on a weeping willow
4854. early morning prayer with a dear friend
4855. a friend letting me tag along to Costco
4856. time to chat with her while our kiddos happily munched pizza

4857. Jude having another poop explosion at home, not at Costco
4858. a visit from Steve's parents, brother and grandma
4859. guys fixing our roof
4860. Granny & Sue doing my dishes
4861. Jude playing with and hugging a little girl at church

4862. Steve making frosting and assembling my birthday cake
4863. in-laws babysitting while Steve and I went out on a date
4864. extended time for uninterrupted conversation
4865. freaking amaaaaaazing pizza at Mafiaoza's
4866. seats right across from the brick oven

4867. man twirling stretchy dough
4868. late night card games
4869. birthday cake on my grandmother's dessert plates
4870. Jude spontaneously singing to himself: "Jesus luf me..."
4871. grace when I am a jerk to my kids

4872. new summer outfits and sticker books, gifts from doting Grandma and Great Granny
4873. "snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes"
4874. a new pack of my favorite pens in 20 gorgeous colors from the sweet girl I'm mentoring!
4875. Elijah not throwing a fit when he had to miss his preschool Easter egg hunt and party
4876. boys acting fine in spite of having fevers and coughing a ton

4877. Steve's patience when I'm in a funk
4878. no cavities
4879. free review copies of new books that friends have published
4880. Steve letting Jude help with house projects

4881. a dear friend's hospitality and encouragement
4882. her example of intentionality and pursuing others
4883. another friend serving outside her comfort zone
4884. opportunities to serve and encourage
4885. maple frosted donuts from the Williams County Fair, courtesy of my in-laws' freezer

4886. Steve climbing and playing with the boys at the park
4887. time spent exploring muddy trails
4887. games of Busytown after supper
4888. reminders that it is not about me
4889. He is risen, indeed!