mulling it over

I’m mulling over this quote from Connecting by Larry Crabb.

Sin is any effort to make life work without absolute dependence on God.

Thoughts?

Advertisements

Peterson on Freedom

I was on the verge of returning this book from a shelf in my room to its regular resting place in the living room, when I started skimming one of the early chapters and again my heart said yes, yes, yes! Here are some of my favorite quotes from a man who has easily become one of my top 5 favorite authors.

We are born into a world that shows everywhere the signs of some great primordial catastrophe. There are vast beauties and breathtaking virtues in this present age, but nothing pristine. The sign of our birth is a scar. The world into which we are born is dangerous. The parents to whom we are born are flawed. The governments under which we are reared are corrupt. Are we free to live? Or are we only allowed a meager energy and a compromised space to cope?

Sin is the fact of separation from God’s presence and purposes, experienced variously as restriction, limitation, inadequacy and weakness. Every interruption of the will or impulse or desire interferes with freedom. And the interruptions are endless. Life lived under these conditions cannot be called free, even though there will always be unforced and spontaneous moments that preserve a sense of the possibilities of freedom. Sensitive and thoughtful persons are often acutely aware of enslavement. Paul’s explosive “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24) is archetypal.

The rescue is not from the world, and not from limitations or boundaries, but from sin, that which separates us from God and his purposed creation and destined redemption. And the rescue is God’s work. Nothing else will do for a beginning. If there is no rescue from sin, there is no point in talking about freedom at all.

Remembering the Joseph story, we realize that no pit or prison is inaccessible to the freeing, delivering, rescuing power of God, and that freedom, once established even in one person, extends itself into political and social relationships and cultural movements.

We never develop the freedoms of maturity and wholeness and strength on our own, but always through the shared life of others in the faith.

Fear is a normal response to the chaos around us, the threat of being overcome by hostile forces or of being ineffective or hurt or thwarted or fated to poor and mean and scrubby lives…

It takes a certain bold courage to receive freedom. The free life is a strenuous life. Living in freedom is demanding and sometimes painful. If security is our highest priority, we will not want to live free.

Eugene Peterson, Traveling Light

good girls need [a lot of] grace, too

I’m in the middle of a book called Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman. The subtitle is “letting go of the try-hard life.”

Let me tell you: this book resonates with me. I grew up “good.” I had a happy family life, PG-rated at most. I fell in with a sheltered crowd in high school and, as a homeschooler, I didn’t deal with the issues or temptations I would have faced at public school. As a teen, I never really rebelled against my parents.

In the book, Freeman writes:

This innate desire to be good indeed protected me from a lot of heartache and baggage. It protected me from teenage pregnancy and bad grades and jail. But it did not bring me any greater understanding of God. It did not protect me from my own impossible expectations (p. 26).

I don’t regret the happiness of my childhood. I do regret how I’ve felt about it.

I’ve been proud of it. I’ve been proud of myself for being “good,” for staying out of trouble, making decent decisions, and avoiding pitfalls. I’ve been proud of a “goodness” that wasn’t mine, that was soured at its core by pride.

This book, along with other things, is helping me see myself and my life in a new way. Although I’ve embraced grace already, I am beginning to understand it in a deeper way. I’ve tended to fall, again and again, into thinking that I have to work to become Christlike.

When we believe that God expects us to try hard to become who Jesus wants us to be, we will live in that blurry, frustrating land of Should Be rather than trust in The One Who Is. We will do whatever we believe it takes to please God rather than receive the acceptance that has already been given. We will perform to live up to what we believe his expectation is of us rather than expectantly wait on him (Freeman p. 32).

“…The acceptance that has already been given.” Yes. It’s done. God accepts me through Jesus Christ, and adding my own “good works” done with my own two hands to win his approval just doesn’t do anything for him. He is decidedly unimpressed by my attempts to impress.

What does that mean? That there’s no work involved? I should be free to do whatever I want, chasing my personal pleasures, because I’m secure in his grace?

No. There’s work involved. But it’s not my work; it’s his. It has to be – all his, or no good will come of it. Yes, I’m free to do what I want, to chase after the attractive butterflies of personal fulfillment. He won’t reject me…He never does. I’m the one who runs away. Always.

I’m learning a better way. I let him do his thing. Let him work inside me, even when I don’t understand what is going on. When I let go, he can live through me.

…Service is an act of faith. It isn’t me doing work for God, but it is me trusting God to do the work in me. That is what Mary [mother of Christ] did. She believed the angel, and then she offered herself as a servant. She didn’t pull herself up and get to work. Instead, she ran to her cousin Elizabeth and began to sing. Worship, not work, flows out of the hearts of those who believe (Freeman p. 63).

What a relief. I don’t have to perform for God. He isn’t scrutinizing my every action and decision. He tells me the truth about myself because he wants to heal me, but always extends his hand simultaneously to remind me that I’m accepted. I am loved.

Anything we do to get life and identity outside of Christ is an idol, even service to Christ. He doesn’t want my service. He wants me. And from that life-giving relationship, “streams of living water will flow from within” (John 7:38 NIV) (Freeman p. 65).

in the middle

I love this man’s writing. Here is a paragraph from the preface of the book I just began reading. It’s worth a good think.

People who live by faith have a particularly acute sense of living “in the middle.” We believe that God is at the beginning of all things, and we believe that God is at the conclusion of all life – in St. John’s striking epigram: “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 1:8). It is routine among us to assume that the beginning was good (“and God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good”). It is agreed among us that the conclusion will be good (“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth”). That would seem to guarantee that everything between the good beginning and the good ending will also be good. But it doesn’t turn out that way. Or at least it doesn’t in the ways we expect. That always comes as a surprise. We expect uninterrupted goodness, and it is interrupted: I am rejected by a parent, coerced by a government, divorced by a spouse, discriminated against by a society, injured by another’s carelessness. All of this in a life which at its creation was very good and at its conclusion will be completed according to God’s design. Between the believed but unremembered beginning and the hoped for but unimaginable ending there are disappointments, contradictions, not-to-be-explained absurdities, bewildering paradoxes – each of them a reversal of expectation.

–Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder

on time, and being grown-up: part 1

How is it already April 19th?

Why does it feel that time flies by more quickly now than it used to? Spring – the air, the greenery, the fragrant flower-perfumed breezes – always sends me hints from childhood. I can close my eyes and breathe, and feel the carefree childishness return for a moment…just for a moment. I am six or seven or eight again, filled with giddy excitement at the thought of taking a walk round the neighborhood with my mom and grandmother. We admire the dogwoods and the colorful azaleas, the latter ablaze with glory in orange and red and white. My head fills with dreams of summer days by the pool, splashing my feet in the water as our dog barks with excitement just outside the gate. I remember setting up a tent with my brother in the vacant lot next to my grandparents’ house, which is now my aunt and uncle’s front lawn. We spent an entire day there once, pretending we were encamped in the wilderness and had to find nuts and berries for our food. (Actually, Mom brought us some sandwiches.) Being outdoors, tasting the flavor of spring (complete with dusty yellow pollen), was exciting. Even thrilling. If I try to describe the feeling it gave me then – the feeling I still get in smaller doses, now – I would say that it made me feel alive.

What happened to me, that I can only now seize such feelings in scraps and pieces; hardly enough to fill my heart with throbbing gladness at the advent of new life, of spring? I’ve grown up, but why should that make a difference? Perhaps I’ve grown cynical. I know I have. Back then, life had a few bumps, but was mostly a beautiful world of adventure. My most pressing commitments were schoolwork and writing back to pen-pals, and I assumed that life would remain peaceful and happy. I trusted that it would.

I miss that. (More thoughts later.)

known

It is beautiful to be known. Known better than I know myself. Known and loved by a God whose faithfulness does not change from day to day, or year to year.

As the dew falls on the blade
You have touched all this fragile frame
And as a mother knows her baby’s face
You know me, You know me

As the summer air within my chest
I have breathed You deep down into my breast
And as You know the hairs upon my head
Every thought and every word I’ve said
Every thought and every word I’ve said

Savior, You have known me as I am
Healer, You have known me as I was
As I will be in the morning, in the evening
You have known me, yeah, You know me

Oh, and as the exhilaration of autumn’s bite
Oh, You have brought these tired bones to brilliant life
And as the swallow knows, she knows the sky
This is how it is with You and I
Oh, this is how it is with You and I

From the fall of my heart to the resurrection of my soul
You know me, God, and You know my ways
In my rising and my sitting down
You see me as I am, oh, see me as I am

And as a lover knows his beloved’s heart
All the shapes and curves of her even in the dark
Oh, You have formed me in my inward parts
And You know me, You know me, yes

Savior, You have known me as I am
Healer, You have known me as I was
As I will be in the morning, in the evening
You have known me, yeah, You know me
You have always known me
You know me, God, You have known me
You have always known my heart

–Audrey Assad

excuses

We are a culture of people who make excuses.

I am no exception. Given the opportunity, I can come up with a hundred reasons why I have not exercised all week, or why I have not worked on my book all day. I rationalize fear, laziness, lack of effort to communicate, and a neglect of showing love to others. I make these excuses internally to myself, and verbally to others, almost continuously.

Here it comes: I’m going to quote Eugene Peterson again.

Because of the ambiguities of the world we live in and the defects in our own wills, we will not do any of this [walking in the truth; making good choices] perfectly and without fault. But that isn’t the point. The way is plain – walk in it. Keeping the rules and obeying the commands is only common sense. People who are forever breaking the rules, trying other roads, attempting to create their own system of values and truth from scratch, spend most of their time calling up someone to get them out of trouble and help repair damage, and then ask the silly question, ‘What went wrong?’ As H. H. Farmer said, ‘If you go against the grain of the universe you get splinters.'”

This prompted my introspection and illuminated the daily excuses I make for not walking perfectly with my God, and for not perfectly loving my neighbors.

Peterson’s phrases about “keeping the rules” and “obeying the commands” appear to dance dangerously near legalistic thought, but they do not. He is not a legalistic Christian, and the rest of his book exemplifies a belief in grace and mercy, freedom and love.

He simply refuses to make excuses. There is no excuse for sin. That statement should never be mated with a pointing finger, but instead with a humble heart. There is no excuse for sin – no excuse for my sin.

When I make excuses for my lack of motivation, my lack of love, or my propensity for speaking unkind words, I am removing any chance to grow. Without admittance, without repentance, there can be no moving forward. Those weaknesses will remain with me, and I will make excuses for them again. And again.

The person who makes excuses for hypocrites and rationalizes the excesses of the wicked, who loses a sense of opposition to sin, who obscures the difference between faith and denial, grace and selfishness – that is the person to be wary of. For if there is not that much difference between the way of faith and the ways of the world, there is not much use in making any effort to stick to [Christianity].

I’ve been that person.

And I’ve done it in the name of grace. In the name of empathy, of lowering the bar to meet the common denominator.

It’s a tricky issue, because there is so much grace. And God is full of mercy, empathy, and tender love for every person who is wallowing in destructive thoughts and behaviors. He doesn’t look at me as a judge, and I should never look at my neighbor as a judge.

Yet as one who confesses Christ and has received spiritual rebirth, I am held to a higher standard. Not a law. An expectation. Like when your mom thinks you are the bee’s knees and expects you to paint masterpieces and write beautiful music and poetry, not so that she can be mad at you if you don’t live up to her expectations but because she knows you and she believes in you.

When I got in trouble growing up, my mom didn’t want to hear my excuses about why I’d hit my brother. There was no good reason, in her opinion, for me to hit someone. And she was right.

In the same way, God doesn’t want to hear my excuses. There are no good reasons for a critical spirit, for nurturing pride in my heart, or for laziness. It’s better if I learn not to excuse myself, which ultimately pushes Him away and prevents His renovating work. It’s better if I run to Him and confess, knowing that I am not a convict before a judge, but a daughter before a loving parent.