Monday, June 22, 2015

When Love Doesn't Look Like Love

Near my bed sits a yellow legal-sized piece of paper, crudely-formed ABC's strung together to read, "I Love Mommy Because."  Numbers fall down the page's left margin beside a list of whatever my youngest son could dream up that fit the bill.

I've held onto this love letter for almost two years now.  On those days when my children just don't get how everything I do is an act of love for them, I pick up this page and remember back to my oldest son sobbing on my sofa while younger siblings peeked around corners or stood on the steps below to hear his complaints about how this mommy didn't love him as much as she loved the twins.

Even the walls listened that day as I snuggled him close and began to list everything I had done that week because I loved him--I washed his clothes so he wouldn't go naked, I forced him to drink his milk so he would have strong bones, I allowed him to go to Oma's house so he could have be loved by his other family, I drove to the library and checked out more books so he could open up entire worlds through reading...

When the tears stopped, he went merrily along his way as if nothing had happened, and I wondered if he had internalized anything I'd said.  But a few days later, the yellow love list appeared, a testament that the son who had been listening in the wings had understood.

Much like my children know I love them, I know God loves me.  Sometimes, though, if I'm really honest with myself, God's love doesn't look like love to me. In fact?  It looks and feels a lot like pain and maybe even a little like punishment, even when it's nothing of the sort.   

While my Bible study had nothing to do with the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus this past week, that's where I found myself stuck....on the tiny, insignificant word So:

"Now a man was sick, Lazarus, from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent a message to Him: “Lord, the one You love is sick” (Jn. 11:1-3).

It's the word "so" that demonstrates Mary and Martha's faith in Jesus and in His ability to heal.  "So" can be translated "therefore" or even "consequently."  According to Thayer's Greek Lexicon, it's a word "indicating that something follows from another necessarily."

In other words, Because of X.....then Y.  Because Lazarus was sick (X).....the sisters sent for Jesus (Y).

That use of "So" makes perfect sense, demonstrating the sisters' faith in Jesus' power over illness.  Please come...

But Jesus didn't.  

In fact, after Jesus heard the message, Scripture includes a really odd phrase "Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus" followed immediately by the words "So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was" (Jn. 11:5-6).

In the Greek, it's the same word found in verse 3.  "So"--consequently.

Because Jesus loved Mary and Martha (and maybe even Lazarus?) (X)....he didn't go heal Lazarus (Y).

Imagine Mary and Martha waiting...expectantly waiting, turning with eager anticipation each time they heard footsteps in the dust outside the house.  Or perhaps their faith was even greater and they waited expectantly for Jesus to simply heal from afar as He had done earlier with the nobleman's son (Jn. 4:46-54).  Either way--the waiting for a miracle that just never happened must have been heartbreaking....Lazarus' death seeming to be such an unnecessary disappointment.

Honestly, someone having the power to help but choosing not come to my aid when I call to them for help--that just doesn't look like love to me. 

But that's what Scripture says: He loved; consequently, he waited.

Jesus explains His actions to the disciples by saying, " I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe" (Jn. 11:15).  In essence, Jesus was telling them that He loved them enough to allow pain and heartache in their lives, all so that their faith would be strengthened. 

When Jesus finally made it to the three-day-dead corpse of Lazarus, Mary and Martha both seemed to question His love, each woman repeating the same phrase, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died" (v. 21, 32).   

Even in their grief, though, they spoke faith in Jesus' ability.  That had not changed.  But Jesus loved them enough to desire to show them even more of Himself in order to increase that faith.

When Martha is disturbed at Jesus' request to open the tomb, Jesus says just this: "Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" (v. 40). 

This act of love in showing His power over death did more than a simple act of healing could ever do.  What's more, it not only increased Mary and Martha's faith but increased others' faith as well.

Understanding God's love versus man's love requires us to stop and view things from God's point of view.
  • As painful as our sufferings may seem in our humanity, in God's economy, NOT healing a person can be an act of love. 
  • In God's economy, the sufferings of this life that seem to last an eternity are actually less than the blink of an eye in comparison to the true eternity. 
  • In God's economy, it's not just about me and my faith being increased.  It's also about those around me and their faith being increased as well.  
No matter what our emotions tell us, let us constantly look at our circumstances as proof of God's love for us, saying as Paul did, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Viewing the Law through a Child's Eyes

Ask my children the rules of the house, and they're likely to give you a list of negative "No's."  No running inside. No slamming doors.  No drinks outside the kitchen. No shoes left outside the cubby. No standing or jumping on the furniture.  No dirty clothes outside the hamper.  No wet towels left to mildew on the floor.

I've read the parenting books about not phrasing every request as a "no" to your children, and so I say "Use your walking feet!" instead of "No running!"  But honestly?  No matter how positively I spin the request, my children still just hear one word: "NO!"

And no matter how many times I try to explain how the house rules are for their good, all my trio sees are restrictions that limit their freedom and fun.

As a result, I'm often labelled the bad guy, the enforcer, the law-giver (insert little girl eye-roll).  But when I think of how I, too, have spent much of my life viewing God's laws as "negative," I realize my children and I aren't that different.

Listen to anyone say "the law" in reference to the Old Covenant, and it's usually in a tone that makes it sound more like a curse word than a blessing. Too often, Christians categorize the Old Covenant of "the law" as bad and the New Covenant of "grace" as good.

Law--bad.  Grace--good.  Old Covenant--bad.  New Covenant--good.

But it's not that simple.  While the Old Covenant founded on obedience to the Law of Moses could not save mankind from his sin, still, it wasn't intended to be a curse.  The law of the Old Covenant was given as a blessing.

What's more, our 21st century view is definitely not how those men and women under the Old Covenant viewed the law. 

Before his death, Moses told the Israelites, "And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day" (Deut. 6:24).

The law is shown here as "for our good always."

Even David said, "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.  The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.  The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Ps. 19:7-8).

Does this sound like a man who considered the law to be a curse?  Absolutely not!  The Law of Moses was liberating, not enslaving!  No, it did not give man the capability to obey the law, as would the Holy Spirit of the New Covenant, and it did not lead to salvation but unto death.  But the law was a demonstration of God's grace and it did give man freedom by guiding him in knowing how to please God.

In John Walton and Andrew Hill's A Survey of the Old Testament, they write,

"We are used to drawing a sharp contrast between law and grace.  This would have puzzled the ancient Israelite for whom there was hardly any greater display of God's grace than that demonstrated in his giving of the law.  In the ancient Near East, gods were not known for their consistency.  Worshipers were left to guess what might please their god or displease him, and this could change from day to day.  That doubt and uncertainty led to constant confusion...The law changed all that for the Israelites.  Their God had chosen to reveal himself and to tell them plainly what he expected of the Old Testament the Israelites are not heard complaining about the burdensomeness of the law.  It was a great example of God's love for them that he would communicate to them in this way.  They considered themselves fortunate to be able to know what God required of them.  The law was viewed as a delight rather than drudgery, as freedom of revelation rather than fetters of restriction" (p. 175)**

Imagine serving a god whose likes and dislikes changed like the seasons.  You would never know from one day to the next what would please him or call down his wrath upon you.  Instead of requiring His people to wonder, our God had mercy on His children and gave them the law to guide their steps--for their good always!

Even Paul said, "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (Rom. 7:12).   Again, to Timothy, Paul said, "the Law is good" because it directs a sinner's path away from sin and illuminates one's need for a Savior when one realizes obedience is impossible without the Holy Spirit's guidance. (1 Tim. 1:8).

God's lists of "do's and don't's" in Scripture aren't meant to rain on our parade.  Politically correct or not, His law is an act of grace, making it clear to us what pleases Him.  

Let us stop rolling our eyes and spitting out the term "law" like little children.  Instead, let us see the law with fresh eyes as a demonstration of God's divine love for us.

**Walton and Hill. A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd Ed. as qtd. in Moore. The Law of Love: Lessons from the Pages of Deuteronomy. Living Proof Ministries, 2012: 27-28.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Spiritual Amnesia: A Silent Killer

I would probably be hiding flame-colored cheeks could I remember how many things I have actually forgotten over the past 24-hours, much less over the course of my entire life.  There has never been a time that I was good at remembering numbers or (since I teach so many students) people's names.  But almost seven years ago when squawling babes #2 and #3 took up residence down the hall, my ability to remember even the largest of things became next to impossible.

Ever since then, the art of forgetting is something I have worked hard to master, as is evidenced by the dozens of lists that litter my desk, walls, fridge, doors, and most every other horizontal surface in the house. 

To not forget, I must actively choose to remember.

Before Moses' death, he examined this problem of forgetting; yet, whereas we may think of forgetting as typically being a mere nuisance, Moses warned Israel that forgetting was deadly.

As Israel listened to Moses' final words, the nation was placed at a major turning point between its past and its future.  Literally, only a few steps and a stream of water lay between "what was" and "what would be."

Behind their backs was the sandy boneyard of the Wilderness where their forefathers had lived and died in their unbelief.  In front of them lay the Jordan River, just waiting for thousands of sandalled feet to cross and claim life in the Promised Land.

Before they could move into this land of promise, however, Moses reminded Israel "The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers" (Deut. 8:1). 

Israel's success or failure in this land depended wholly on whether or not they obeyed God's commandments.  It was all about loving the Lord with their entire heart, soul, and mind.

Yet, Moses knew God's people well enough to understand how fickle they were, how fast friends became enemies, how quickly joy became grumbling .  And so, he warned them: "And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him" (Deut. 8:2-6).


Remember how God showed you the hard times to teach you that He alone provides all your needs.  Remember that He, alone, feeds, clothes, and sustains your very days.  Remember that apart from Him, you are nothing.  Because, you must follow His commands.

A few verses later, Moses reminds the Israelites again,  "Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (v. 11-14).

Twice....don't forget.

Moses warns in the verses above that the forgetting will be caused by one simple thing--pride in their self sufficiency.  With full bellies, comfortable houses, and wealth untold, Moses knew the Israelites would begin to rely on themselves...would begin to believe that they, not God, had provided this wealth by the hard work of their hands.   

In their proud minds, they tended the flocks.  They tended the soil.  They built the houses. They multiplied their silver and gold by the sweat of their brow....all the while forgetting Who provided the increase. 

Moses sums this knowledge up with another request to remember: "Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day" (v. 17-18).

You shall remember....forget....remember...forget--Moses foresaw this cycle of Israel forgetting to love the Lord thy God in their prideful self-sufficiency.  Then, when God would judge them by withdrawing His hand of protection and productivity from the land of promise, Israel would once again remember...only to forget again once they grew comfortable in their success.

Sadly, the end of the passage concludes not with a joyous remembering and unity, but with a forgetting unto separation and death.  Moses warns, "And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God" (v. 19-20).

For Israel, the end game of forgetting to obey the first commandment of God was certain, eternal death.  There was no middle ground where Israel could remember and forget at the same time.  It was either one or the other.

This side of the cross, there is still no middle ground.  We either remember to love the Lord with our everything or we forget to obey the first and greatest commandment. 

This side of the cross, the consequence for spiritual amnesia is still death.  While it may not be physical death that results from not obeying the commands of Scripture, there are equally damaging ways forgetting can kill.  

Forgetting the commandments to not commit adultery, to not lie, to not steal, to not murder (even if only in anger) can kill marriages, friendships, families, churches, teaching opportunities with our children, and one's witness.  Even something that may seem more innocent like forgetting the commandment to not covet can kill a person's joy, peace, and, ultimately, entire relationships when one is not content with what he has.

To be an effective light for Jesus in this world, we simply cannot afford to forget His commands, and yes, the forgetting and the remembering are something we especially must struggle with in our American (and, increasingly, world-wide) culture of self-sufficiency!  But, in the end, we can't blame our forgetting on our wealth, comfort, and prosperity. 

Remembering to obey God's Word as He spoke ever so clearly through The Holy Bible is a choice.

Remembering is a choice.