LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: freedom

The  Beautiful Paradox

Over the years I’ve heard from many who don’t understand why so many in the Church appear to have a “woe is me” mindset. I can see their confusion, because if anybody should be joyful, it should be the Christ follower!  And yet there is a paradox that exists in our faith.

In fact there are many!  We’re already saved yet are working out our salvation. We are at the same time both in eternity and yet also bound by time. We are righteous but know full well we are being sanctified. This last one leads to the what I think is the most beautiful paradox of all. It’s the place where mourning and joy exist in their fullest at once. It is in that state where grace is realized in such beauty!

The Sermon on the Mount is a powerful and core teaching by Jesus that can be found in Matthew 5-7. The first section has become known as the beatitudes and has challenged and transformed me as I have wrestled with what seems like an impossible way to live.  We know Jesus came to set us free from the “law” and yet at first glance this sermon calls us to a life even more severe. And so one is compelled to look deeper to reconcile the apparent contradiction.

The first section of the beatitudes is where the tone is set.

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Matthew 5:3-6 NIV

I used to think of each of the Blesseds like individual traits to attain.  “I like the peace maker, but mourning, not so much.”  Sort of like a buffet.  But I’ve come to realize it’s more like a 6 course meal.  It’s not a buffet, not individual attributes that we pick and choose from, but a layering, a building to become the person Jesus calls us to.  And the first is necessary to move on to the next.

When you are poor in spirit having come to the end of yourself, acknowledging you have nothing to bring to God, it’s then you mourn deeply for the reality of sin and it’s destruction in your life. It’s then that the power of meekness, the control of yourself is able to set in. The choosing of God’s control rather than sin’s.  And at that point one is spiritually bankrupt, desperately hungering, desperately thirsting for God’s righteousness!  The promise?  We are filled. God imputes, or puts in us HIS righteousness!  Then and only the does the rest of the sermon makes sense. Then and only then can any of us begin to live the sermon out!

For example, take the passages on murder and adultery (Mt 5:21-30). It’s easy in our righteousness to live a life of fidelity and never murdering someone. Most succeed in that!  But by age three we’ve all called someone a name in anger and by 12 we’ve all lusted.  And so in my abilities I am a failure. And if we haven’t come to the end of ourselves and realized we have nothing, we are nothing apart from Christ, then we will never live the life God has made available to us through Jesus.

Do I have a purpose and potential?  Of course!  Do I have gifts I bring to the table?  Absolutely!  Are they of any value?  For this life and the common good?  Sure.  But for eternity, no!  My righteousness is nothing and His is everything!  And in His hands those gifts and potential will become something wholly different, better.

So the beautiful paradox, the sweet spot…is being both mournful and filled with joy at the same time.  Not dwelling in ashes, but acknowledging my capacity and propensity to sin.  Not “woe is me” but most definitely full on mourning.  “Woe is me” is a self-focused declaration. The mourning Jesus calls us to is recognition of our sinful condition.

And the joy?  It can and should be full-on crazy celebration!  As I mentioned earlier, the sermon can seem like an even more severe life than the law. And here is what most fail to see and even when we see it, we find hard to experience. Jesus knows we can’t. We can’t live free of anger and lust and judgement and unforgiveness!  That’s why He offers us His righteousness. That’s why mercy is given. That. Is. Grace!

And until I come to the end of me and bring my nothing to God, there is no room for grace to be experienced. And so the dance of the paradox begins. Living in spiritual poverty and the riches of Christ together is the challenge.

If you’re like me, and you are, you begin to take credit for spiritual maturity at times. You take for granted the all-encompassing nature grace must have in our lives. The longer I live in Christ the more I realize how much I need Him. The dos and don’ts are easy, grace is not. It requires dying and mourning and spiritual bankruptcy. But then and only then do we experience freedom and joy.

By the way, this why we desperately need each other!  But that’s another post.

It’s a journey and one in which I hope you find joyful mourning.

I’ve been posting worship songs that reflected my heart to “yearn” for God, but there are just times you want to jump, shout, and be filled with an exuberance. That is where this song comes in. I rejoice that God, the “maker of the heavens knows my name”. My soul will ever sing His praise!

My Shortcomings or God’s Sufficiency?

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.  Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.  So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.  He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. Ephesians 1:3-8 (NLT)

How do you see yourself?  What is the tape that plays in your head?  What fears drive you?  What limits do you place on yourself?  Have you disqualified yourself from even trying to step out and trust God?  “I could never do __________ because _________.”

Here’s what I see in this verse.  God loves you and chose you!  He did this BEFORE _________________ (insert limit here).

He decided in advance.  He chose before.  He loved!  Before any of us did what we did.  And yet I still have talked myself out of trying sometimes.  As if my situation is the exception.  That somehow my sin or incompetence or fear or failure is the ONE that God can’t handle.  The ONE that causes Him to step back and say, “Oh, I didn’t see that coming.  You’re right, this doesn’t apply to you.”  The ARROGANCE!  God knew exactly what and who I would be before the earth was formed and He still loved, chose and adopted me – to be holy and blameless and part of His family.

He has showered His grace and kindness.  He purchased my freedom.  These are extravagant descriptions.  These are bold actions.  These are powerful declarations and the ONLY reasonable response is to praise Him.  And look at what it says, He did this because He WANTED to and it gave Him GREAT PLEASURE!  So what do we do?  We praise Him.  We give our lives to Him!

Am I holy? No.  Am I righteous? No! Am I anything special? No.  The answer is always no, IF it’s based on me alone.  But God loved and chose and decided that I was in fact holy and righteous and special and it gave Him pleasure to shower me with kindness and grace and freedom.  “And now I get to be what I got to be!”*  

But It’s not about ME!  It’s about who God is!  

He has declared me free and all my internal exceptions are nullified.  I don’t have a case to not step into the plans God has for me.  I need to stop disqualifying myself and instead see myself as God sees me.  To live up to who He has called and allowed me to be and become.  

And instead of spending emotional energy focusing on my shortcomings, I need to spend it focusing on God’s sufficiency.  

Thank you God for your great love and kindness.  That no matter the condition I am in, you chose me in advance to become part of your family.  Thank you for purchasing my freedom!  Please forgive me for thinking that somehow I was the exception to your grace and disqualifying myself from being more available to your purposes.  Help me to focus instead on your sufficiency!

*I heard Steve Fry say this years ago and it has always stuck with me!

I knew He could, I hoped He would, I feared He wouldn’t!

I knew He could, I hoped He would, I feared He wouldn’t!  But even still I am amazed at just how God has worked out the sale of our home.  But honestly this is not really about a house sale.  That is important, but that is not eternal.  What has been worked out are kingdom issues or faith and trust and freedom to serve and be a blessing to others and I am immensely humbled and grateful.

From the beginning…

Perhaps, as I have shared numerous times, it’s mid-life crisis, but I have been feeling the need to shed the “stuff” – the stuff in the garage, the cabinets, the debt, the mortgage, the obligations.  I want instead to be free to bless others financially, to be free to go on missions trips, to be free to respond to God’s promptings without having to reply, “But God, I have too much stuff to…”

This led us to begin cleaning out closets and considering when and if we should sell our home.  But it was still just a thought as we pondered the type of life we wanted instead of our reality.  This led us to keep an eye out for a town home in an area near the church as the only option that would make it worth our while to sell, but even then we thought the Fall would be a more likely time frame.

But God…

Just before I left to take kids to camp we discovered a town home became available and it was an updated one and worth checking out.  The rental market here is crazy competitive and so we went to see it right away.  As we were walking through it we were excited because it fit our needs and likes really well.  But here is were the God-part comes in.  The owner is a parent of a church member and when they discovered who we were our app went to the top of the list.

So while at camp I get word we were accepted.  This is July 9 and we interpret this as God’s doors opening.  I knew it was crazy to commit to a rent before our house sold, but it seemed to us as being so God-led.  So we prepared to “step out of the boat”.

The week following camp was a whirlwind of preparing our home for sale, getting it listed, having a garage sale, moving personal and extra items out to storage, home inspections, and home repairs, all while planning for 2 weeks of Day Camps, preparing for a sermon, and Diane having some medical procedures.  And the entire time we are feeling still so led by God.  As I posted earlier, we shared our plans and impressions of God’s leading with many whom we trusted to be honest and everyone agreed with us.

But fear…

As the time neared for us to move and the reality of adding a rent payment to our mortgage payment loomed.  Fear began to set in.  I began to doubt, not in God’s ability, but in my ability to discern His promptings.  Had I injected my wishes into His plan for us?  But over and over through worship and prayer, through confirmation of others we were assured we were on the right path.  But the home did not sell the first weekend or the second.  I had some fantasy that the very first weekend we would get multiple offers and a bidding war would take place.  But it didn’t.  And of course we heard of that happening for other homes in our area.  So fear was taking hold.

During Day camp I had just about lost it.  I was trying to hold it together, but I had gotten my eyes on the “reality” that in just a few days we were going to have to pay money we didn’t have with no end in sight since there was no offer on the table.  Again, I shared my fears with others, they prayed, I prayed, we felt we were doing the right thing despite it seeming like VERY unwise stewardship.  And the day we were at the emotional bottom, someone offered us a bridge loan to help us.  It was humbling as that money they set aside is for a very special and dear purpose for them.  Yet they were willing to share it with us for a while.  So now I feel like God has given us a bit of a safety net, but without the home selling, taking the loan is still a great risk.  I am then in even more debt with no sign of relief.

An out…

The weekend before the move and the third weekend of open houses I was praying for God to rescue us!  I was feeling like perhaps it really was more my plans imposed on God than His leading, so my posture had become more of a plea for rescue and less of a confident stepping out in faith.  And the possible “out” came!  There was an issue with the rental contract, an honest mistake on the landlord’s part, but one that we could take as a way to walk away.  On Sunday afternoon, Diane and I talked and prayed and we reaffirmed that it was in fact God’s leading that started all of this and we were going to “step out of the boat” officially.  The move was happening Monday morning.  It was the final and real step of faith for us.  All steps up to this point were acting in faith, but this step was the step that sealed our fates one way or the other.

As I tried to figure out the possible scenarios of ways God’s plan could work out I shared with Diane that God allowed us the way out if our faith was weak, but now as we stepped out we would get multiple offers over asking price.  I was fairly sure it was just a fantasy, but it gave me hope to think about it.

Unbeknownst to us, while we were having this discussion, a buyer was touring our home falling in love with it.  On Monday just after we finished loading the truck and were driving off, we received a call letting us know they were returning to see it again.  That night they prepared a bid that they turned in on Tuesday!  And more so, it is over asking price, with no requests for repairs or upgrades, a truly “as is” sale.  The only drawback is that it is for a closing in October.  But the amount over our price is enough to cover the extra mortgage until then!

So today we sign to accept the offer.  Today we see that God has not just rescued us, but in fact has led us to the freedom for which we dreamed.  Even though I for a while got distracted from the storm clouds and gave into fear, God showed Himself mighty.  I am amazed and humbled and of course relieved.  But as I started out with, this is not about a home sale and more about learning to trust.  Experiencing not just God’s faithfulness, but God’s creative power to change realities.  In just a short time we will be free to honor God in new ways and I am excited for the possibilities to come.

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