July 24, 2010

Proud of the Pigpen I’m Splashing In

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , at 8:11 pm by Tamara

Have you noticed how cool it’s become to talk about what failures we are?  Hypocrisy is bad, and honesty is good.  But I’m starting to think we’ve gone a little too far.  Too often we’re like pigs in the muck, happily splashing and saying “Look at me!  I’m sinning left and right!  I’m a total mess!  It’s okay, I’m no better than you, so you don’t have to be offended by me.  Come try this Christianity thing!  The muck’s great!”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Popular Christian attitudes seem to swing like pendulums.  It’s very hard to find the middle–something I know very well, being extremely drawn to the black and white.  I think this pendulum swing has come from our reaction against a mask-like Christianity that acts like we have everything together, and once you become a Christian, everything will be hunky dory for you, too!  Of course, this hypocrisy is not only harmful but ridiculous.  So we realized, rightly, that it was time to add some more honesty to our Christian dialogue.  After all, how could people see the healing, transforming, redeeming power of our Redeemer if we never admitted there was anything for Him to heal?  We also realized that one function of the body should be accountability–we need to admit our failures so we can help each other out of them.  This are good goals and beautiful results of true humility.  But, our enemy is smart, and of course he hates true humility.  So he twists it.

We’ve maintained, mostly, the part where we talk about our sins and failures.  But somehow we’ve forgotten the POINT of that.  When we talk about our struggles, it’s too often not because we’re broken-hearted over sin, it’s because it feels good to admit we’re sinning and have everyone else just nod sympathetically.  It takes a burden off our shoulders, makes us feel like maybe this sin isn’t so bad after all!  But true confession is not about just telling the story of our failure (and being proud that we’re humble enough to admit it).  Confession means agreeing with God that what we did was wrong, and that our sin is something deadly that He takes very seriously.  When I say “I’m really struggling with______,” that’s a good time for me to examine whether I’m really STRUGGLING against that issue, or just passively floating in the shark pool.

And why has it become “cooler” to talk about personal failure than to express faith and hope that God is powerful enough to help us out of any situation?  Eric Ludy says in his book The Bravehearted Gospel, “Oddly enough, the only people whom we trust any more in Christianity—the only people whom we consider to be real, honest Christians—are those who come right out and testify not of the power of Christ transforming their lives, but of their own sinful indulgences, lusts, and indiscretions, and their complete inability to cease from a single one” (p. 137, emphasis mine).  When did we forget the power of our God?  When did we forget that the point of a Redeemer is that He redeems?  Why do we act like there are some issues that are just too big for Christ’s blood to cleanse, so we may as well just sit around and tell each other “It’s okay, don’t worry about it?”  And why should anyone want to join us in the Christian life if we ourselves have no hope of change, healing, and life?

My challenge to myself:

  1. If I’m admitting my failure, I’d better make sure that I realize how serious that sin is, that I’m broken-hearted over it, and that I’m consciously telling God, “I agree with you that this is sin, please help me!”  If I can’t say any of that, I probably need to stop talking and start praying that God will help me see my sin the way He does, otherwise I run the risk of just encouraging someone else that the sin isn’t that big of a deal after all.
  2. When someone else admits to me that they’re struggling, I need to not only tell them “I understand, and I have the same struggle,” but also tell them “There’s hope!  God is strong!  He cares about this, and He’s given us the life of Christ so we can conquer this.  We don’t have to be defeated!”

July 18, 2010

Human/Sex Trafficking

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , at 11:19 pm by Tamara

I’ve started doing research lately on human and sex trafficking.  The knowledge that children are forced into slavery and prostitution not only around the world, but in the UNITED STATES, shocks and infuriates me.  In fact, Atlanta, Georgia, just a few hours from here, is one of the top three cities for sex trafficking in the world.  Statistics show that there are more people in slavery today than ever in history, and yet we act like this ended with the Civil War.

I don’t know yet what I’m supposed to do about this, but I know I’m supposed to do something.  We’re commanded to “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17), and that command is just as real today as when it was first spoken.  So for now I’m researching, praying, and planning to speak out what I learn–and praying for courage to do whatever God tells me to do next.

“ Tolerate not evil against humanity.  And when thee is powerless to do anything else, speak with vigor.  Protest!”

—Daniel Anthony, father of Susan B. Anthony

July 13, 2010

Bandwagon of My Own Uncertainty

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , at 11:53 pm by Tamara

This video cracks me up, and it’s so true!

I know I’m very afraid of offending people, particularly over what I believe about Jesus.  Sometimes the easiest way to avoid the embarrassment of someone getting mad at me is to speak with a shrug of the shoulders and an “I could be wrong…” attitude.

I really believe, deep in my soul, that God is worth going out on a limb for.  But I have a very hard time going out on the limb of “They might be offended.”  I want to talk with grace and humility, but I think too often what I call “humility” is just speaking with doubt.  It is not humble to be wishy washy about what the God of the universe has said, yet, somehow in the church we’ve become proud of our doubt.  Proud to say, “Look how humble and honest I am!  I’m not really sure about this God stuff, either!”  Rather than crying, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24), we’ve become quite satisfied with our doubt.

I’ve been reading a book which talks about this:

We are so afraid of sounding overly certain and confident in our beliefs that it has almost become…an unwritten dogma that it is actually more godly for us as Christians to be unassuming in our expectations of God.  It’s now more spiritual to be uncertain of how He will perform on our behalf than to confidently proclaim what both we, and a dying world, can expect from the God of the Bible (Eric Ludy, The Bravehearted Gospel, p. 146).

It was doubt that kept the Israelites from moving into the land God had promised to give them, and Hebrews doesn’t mince words about what God thought about it:

Who provoked Him when they had heard?  Didn’t all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?  And who was He angry with for forty years? Wasn’t it with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  And who did He swear wouldn’t enter His rest, but those who were disobedient?  So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief!  (Hebrews 3:16-19, emphasis mine).

God certainly doesn’t get warm-fuzzies about our “honest doubt.”  My favorite line in the video is when Mali says we talk as though, “I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions; I’m just, like, inviting you to join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty!”

Why would anyone want to jump on that bandwagon?  I’d like to say, loudly and with conviction, that I DO have “something invested” in what I believe.  In fact, I have everything invested in it.  And it’s not just my own opinions (that would be arrogant)—it’s what GOD HAS SAID.

The newborn church in Acts turned the world upside down with the Gospel in just a few years, and Acts is peppered with the word “boldly.”  They weren’t afraid to tell people about Jesus because they knew, without doubt, who He was.  Peter and John were threatened with their lives if they didn’t stop talking about Jesus, and they responded “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).  Paul asked the church in Ephesians to pray “that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should!” (Ephesians 6:19-20).

I want to talk about Christ in a way that is gracious, honest, and open–but I want to talk with conviction and power.  Because the story IS powerful!  God-forbid that I make it sound any less earth-shaking than it is.

July 4, 2010

If This Doesn’t Give You Chills….

Posted in Water Droplets tagged , , at 4:18 pm by Tamara

My Aunt Lois posted a link to a video of the Dubai Fountain, and I was absolutely entranced.  Who knew waters could dance?  I found myself thinking, I bet things like this will happen in heaven.  After all, the Bible says that creation is longing and groaning for the day it will be set free (Romans 8:19-22).  What would a “set free” universe with no sin and no bounds look like?  Will it spontaneously erupt in beauty just to praise the Lord?  Why not?  I can’t see much purpose for a sunrise other than to shout “God is glorious!”—and that’s just what it can do NOW; think about what it will look like when God sets it free!

I went and did a little digging and found this passage:

Psalm 98:4-9  “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth!  Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises…let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy before the LORD, for He is coming….”

So, thinking about that, I went to see if there were more videos and found this one.  Now, imagine if the water was spontaneously leaping like this to praise God, and if the music in the background was the MOUNTAINS SINGING!  Oh my heart!

Oh, and, by the way…the words to this song just happen to be the Lord’s Prayer. Chills!  God is glorious!

(A link to the video if this doesn’t work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_GQYI9brGs)

The Dubai Fountain

March 17, 2010

The Fifth Gospel

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , at 8:59 pm by Tamara

Today I felt a little palpitation of panic for no good reason.  I’d left my book in clear sight on the breakroom table, with “Christian” loudly printed on its cover for all to see.  I had to deliberately resist an urge to flip it over as I headed for the microwave.  My workplace is not exactly a haven of Christianity, in fact it seems to draw the loudly liberal.  There’s one regular customer who’s particularly hostile and has told me repeatedly that he hates—yes, hates—Christians and Republicans (“You know why Republican ends in ‘N’?” he asked me,  “It’s for Republica-nazi.”)

All I could think as I sat down with my lunch and flipped open my book so you couldn’t see the cover was Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”  I could almost hear those words spinning around and around in my head, accompanied by a sad, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I’d never say I’m ashamed of the gospel, per se, but openly reading a book with “Christian” stamped boldly across the cover?  I felt like a scared, fleeing disciple, running away from my Savior in the night.

Where has the power of the gospel gone—how does it so easily slip out of my sight?  The next half of the verse is “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”  Really, power?  Yes, I believe—I believe it!  There is power in the gospel.  So why don’t I feel secure?

I think sometimes it’s not that I’m ashamed of the gospel, but that I’m afraid of my stuttering, ineloquent delivery.  If someone called me on the carpet for why I’m studying to be a Christian counselor, could I answer them?  Could I answer with the joy and security that I feel when it’s just me and my wonderful Redeemer, alone in worship?  Could I tell them why I KNOW that Jesus is the only balm that will heal those deep, deep wounds?  And why am I so afraid of the reaction—so afraid that my poor witness will be the thing that turns them away from Jesus instead of to Him?  What a delicious trick of the Enemy—make me so scared stiff of turning them away from the Gospel that I won’t even share it.

Ironically, the chapter I was reading opened with a quote: “There are five gospels of Jesus Christ—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and you, the Christian.  Many people will never read the first four” (Gipsy Smith).  I see my hostile customer several times a week, and I’m always glad to see him.  Let’s call him Mr. New York Times.  I know his name, I know which paper he always wants, I greet him with a big smile and—almost inevitably—listen to the story he’s about to read in the paper: one more professing Christian (usually a politician) who just got caught in a sickening affair.  He points to that story and says that’s the Gospel.  I pray I can show him otherwise.

Please pray for Mr. NYT!  Pray for me to cling bravely to the power of the Gospel, and send those seeds out wherever they land, believing in their power to divide soul and spirit.

I am not ashamed—Lord help my shame!

June 25, 2009

Beautiful Fear

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , at 9:55 am by Tamara

I’ve always been intrigued and a bit perplexed by the concept of fearing God. It’s all over the Bible, but…I don’t really get it. How to I balance fear with His love, grace, etc, and what does it look like PRACTICALLY to keep a healthy fear of God in my mind?

A few nights ago we had an awe-inspiring thunderstorm. Brilliant sparks of lightning flashed across the stars in tandem with ground-shaking crashes of thunder. I like thunderstorms; the combination of terrific force and equal beauty entrances me. And I don’t feel afraid watching them while safe in my house, cuddled on a soft bed in the cool of the night.

I read a quote by John Piper the other day that painted a beautiful picture of the fear of God. (Granted, I have more than a few problems with Piper’s theology, but I loved this quote.) He starts out saying to imagine that you’re on a glacier when a storm sets in that you’re afraid might blow you off the cliff:

“But in the midst of the storm you discover a cleft in the ice where you can hide. Here you feel secure. But, even though secure, the awesome might of the storm rages on, and you watch it with a kind of trembling pleasure as it surges out across the distant glaciers, Not everything we call fear vanishes from your heart, only the life-threatening part. There remains the trembling, the awe, the wonder, the feeling that you would never want to tangle with such a storm or be the adversary of such a power.
“And so it is with God. The fear of God is what is left of the storm when you have a safe place to watch right in the middle of it. Hope turns fear into a trembling and peaceful wonder; and fear takes everything trivial out of hope and makes it earnest and profound.” (Piper, John, quoted in Holy Available , p 148 by Gary Thomas, [emphasis mine])

What a vivid picture of the fear of God. My fear of thunderstorms is a beautiful fear, a recognition of their power but a feeling of safety because that power isn’t against me or going to hurt me.

I think I need to take God more seriously. Fearing Him requires really knowing Him deeply enough to recognize what He’s capable of, what He deserves, what I deserve. It would undoubtedly effect my obedience. What is my sin, if not a statement that I really think I know better that God? But the more I combine a realization of all God is (which should create a healthy dose of fear if I’m honest) with the hope He’s given me because of His grace, the more I’ll take His commands seriously and trust Him that He really does know best.