Sunday, December 29, 2013

Running the Race (soap journal #8)

S) I have not yet reached my goal and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize...I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. (Phil. 3:12-13)
O) I can't forget that I am going towards something--I am not just aimlessly living life. It is a daily purposeful thing--a struggle--to allow God to use everything to bring me closer to Him. Keep looking forward, don't think about past failure.
A) This is another scripture to memorize. I am not perfect (duh) but I am in Christ's hands. If I'm willing, then He's taking me towards the goal.
P) Lord, I know nothing else matters except finishing this race. Help me focus. Thank you for your work in me. (written 7/10/07)

As always, when I write these old journal entries on here, I go back to the scripture and read it in context. Some Bibles use headings to summarize the chapter's theme, and the heading for this chapter was "No Confidence in the Flesh". Seems an odd explanation for a chapter talking about having determination to run a race, doesn't it?

This is one of the most frustrating round-about teachings of Christianity. On one hand you are told that there is nothing you can do can earn your salvation. No good deeds, no rule following or self discipline will ever be good enough to earn you favor with's only by grace you can be saved. Then, almost with the same breath, your told you need to do good deeds, follow the rules, and "run the race" so you can get the prize. And what is this prize we are trying to achieve? God's love? Heaven when we die?

Regardless of my beliefs when I wrote this, the struggle was obvious to me. "To allow God to use everything to bring me closer to Him". I wasn't thinking about making it to heaven, or earning God's favor...I was thinking about transformation. What does it mean to "get closer to God"? When we say that, we know we are not looking to find a literal throne where a big man with a beard is sitting so we can try to get close to Him. We know it's something that happens within us. 

And so Paul is describing this transformation as a race, because it needs to be finished. He describes exactly what he's trying to achieve:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

There it is--resurrection from the dead. Not making it to heaven when you die, but a transformation just like Jesus had. I know...nobody wants to think of salvation that way. Most Christians just want to think, "Jesus died for my sins and purchased my free ticket to heaven." But how can we just ignore what Paul is saying about "becoming like him in his death"? 

It's so very hard not to think of heaven as where we go when we die, though I'm not saying I don't believe in a realm that is hidden from us that will be opened to our understanding once we die. Jesus went somewhere when his physical body fact, the story is he went to hell to set the captives free. But that story aside, when he rose from the dead, he came back here...and he was changed. I know what your all thinking, "Yeah, but that was JESUS. We are not to ever think we can be like him! He's the only son of God!" But listen to what Paul is saying:

the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Everything under his control? Here is the Young's Literal translation:

who shall transform the body of our humiliation to its becoming conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working of his power, even to subject to himself the all things.

Not only is Paul saying we are to be transformed, but he is also saying that Jesus has the power to eventually "subject to himself the all things." (wouldn't that be people too?) But how?

Back to the "no confidence in the flesh" part. If you look at this chapter, you will see Paul is once again at war with religion. He describes in detail what he means by having confidence in the flesh:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

We cannot be transformed by following rules, but for some reason that is always where we come back to, isn't it? Am I following the right rules? It seems to me it's what Christians are always arguing about; who is breaking what rule, and how it proves they aren't really a Christian. We've been running a race alright...the race of religion, and it's gotten us nowhere but destruction. 

But I have to believe it will change...we will change. It's the power of God--LOVE--that will someday get it done.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fearlessness (soap journal # 7)

S) I sleep and wake up refreshed because you, Lord, protect me. Ten thousand enemies attack from every side, but I am not afraid. (Ps.3:5-6)
O) David has a lot to worry about; yet he says he "wakes up refreshed", which is quite remarkable considering his circumstance. What amazing trust.
A) I may not have enemies attacking, but I have plenty I fret about, especially concerning the kids. I can relax knowing they are in God's hands. Even when situations are scary, I don't need to be afraid. 
P) Help me not think about the bad things that "might" happen. Instead, help me think about how you are our protector. Help me find peace and rest in trusting you. (written 10/11/04)

Even though I wrote this, the truth is I struggle with this idea that we are to be fearless because we know God will protect us. The reality is, we can die at any moment; and any manner of bad things could happen to us at any time. Believing the right things or following the right rules does not change that. Christians talk a lot about obedience. If you want to prove you love God, you need to obey. Though, it seems to me, much of the rule following has more to do with fear and trying to stay safe than it has to do with love. And as much as Christians want to point out how we are to obey God's commands, they are particularly bad at following the two word command that is asked of us the most in the Bible..."fear not". 

I would even go so far to say we are encouraged to fear. Fear keeps us safe--keeps us from doing stupid, foolish things. We may talk about God protecting us, but the truth is we know there are no guarantees. 

For me, trusting God does not mean believing nothing bad is going to happen. It's more of a deep hope that because God is good, no matter what happens, ultimately it's going to be ok. The problem is, I wonder if this kind of trust makes me too passive. Does it make me less proactive in trying to make things better?

When I think about fear, a couple things seem clear. 1) Anxiety never makes anything better 2) People who have made the world better usually had to take a big risk, and taking a risk requires letting go of fear. 

When I'm fearful and protective over my life, in a way, I stop truly living. When I let go of my desire to be "safe", and risk failure, rejection, humiliation...then I find the joy in being alive. I wonder if this is sort of what Jesus is talking about when he says we have to lose our life to find it. 

I will end with a more recent journal entry, because it seems fitting.
(written 3/25/11)
S) Be anxious for nothing, but by prayer in everything, and by supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God, that is surpassing all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. (Phil.4:6-7)
O) Anxiety is not good for us. It is a condition of the mind--thoughts running wild. Prayer is the remedy, if we can believe in a God who always has our best interest in mind.
A) We do not understand the ways of God, but peace is not a bi-product of understanding. It is a bi-product of trust. I lay down my desires and needs with thanksgiving, knowing God cares and loves and is working on my behalf...and my thoughts are guarded against needing to understand why my prayers are not always answered the way I want them to be. 
P) I'm scared to talk with Jay and Kathy. Thank you for setting my mind at ease. Please keep guarding my thoughts. I cannot know how things will turn out...and that's ok. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Our brokenness is the wound 
through which the full power of God 
can penetrate our being and transfigure us in God.
Loneliness is not something from which we must flee 
but the place from where we can cry out to God, 
where God will find us and we can find God.
Yes, through our wounds the power of God can penetrate us
and become like rivers of living water to irrigate the arid earth within us.
Thus we may irrigate the arid earth of others, 
so that hope and love are reborn.---Jean Vanier

I'm not a big fan of loneliness. But the weird thing is, I don't mind being alone. (which is why I love backpacking by myself) So, I have to ask myself...if being alone is not necessarily the cause of loneliness, what is?

Lately, I've been feeling the sadness of being lonely. And I can tell you quite easily what makes me sad. It's the thoughts about how nobody really cares about me--that I'm not important or worth anyone's time.  And I can have these thoughts whether I'm around people or not; in fact, many times they are at their worst around a group of people. So obviously, loneliness is an interior state, not an exterior one. 

I like what Jean says here about loneliness being a good thing...a place to start our pursuit of God. We are to seek so we can find; yet at the same time, we are drawn by a force far greater than ourselves. Such a lovely mystery.

I never have to feel alone. I really believe that. But I do feel alone sometimes...many times.  And in that place of longing and need, the mystery of God fills my soul and tells me I am loved...that I have value, that I am connected, and I belong. And in understanding this, and knowing it has nothing to do with how I can manipulate or strive or maneuver myself into a place of value; but I just believe it...somehow I tap into this river of living water. In that place there is no loneliness...and oh, how I wish I could learn to stay there.

You should Google Jean Vanier; what a fascinating man. Jesus told us we would know people who really understand God by their "fruits". Paul told us that anyone who says they love God will love people. And so, I feel safe listening to what this man has to say about God. Therefore, I will see this current state of loneliness as my opportunity to become 'irrigated'; and through this grace become a blessing to others--as Jean is. Oh Lord, let it be so.