The problem with starting over and the hope of redemption

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In the past weeks I’ve heard nearly the same quote from every weary person I’ve encountered, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.” Today, the sun rose on 2021 and death, disease and evil are still among us. Even in us.

New years bring with them an idea that we can wipe our lives free of all the wrongs the previous year produced and start fresh with a clean slate. The problem is every new year brings with it the scars and thorns and weeds of the previous year. And I think more than any other year I’ve lived through, 2020 seems to have left us with a hope that maybe now that the calendar says 2021, we can all start over and things will be better.

We all have a desire to be whole. To be complete. To be healthy in our mind and body. To be happy and fulfilled. That desire is insatiable and drives us to look for something to help us get it. I’ve seen it in my own life and in the lives of those I love, the attempt to achieve wholeness by starting over with a new calendar year or attempting to wipe the slate of our lives clean by purging ourselves of difficult relationships. But it doesn’t work. The problem with that plan is we throw babies out with our dirty bathwater. We live in a broken world and even if the world around us was wiped clean of its brokenness, within us the same seed of brokenness is germinating, ready to spread its strangling seeds everywhere we go.

My teenage son, in his struggle to believe this message of Jesus dying for his sins, has asked me, “Why doesn’t God just destroy everything and start over? Why is he leaving us like this?“ He asks the question we’re all asking every time we try achieving wholeness with a new year or relationship, job or routine. 

God proved that wiping the slate clean or wiping the world clean of the evil we do to each other won’t rid the world of evil unless there are no people in the world. In the book of Genesis we read the flood story. God rid the world of people, save Noah and his family, but Noah and his family gave birth to corruption and people who gave birth to the evils of history we all are aware of.

I love a good purge. I like to clean, put things where they go, and make ideal lists and goals. The problem is… life and me. Relationships and the rhythms of our lives are impacted by the brokenness in all of us. Trying to make things better is good. But we can never start over.  

So what am I to do in my quest for wholeness? Redemption and resurrection is my only hope for wholeness. 

The idea of redemption is that something broken is purchased and made good or whole again. The Bible tells me that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection purchased my broken life. I now live in that regenerating truth. No matter what happens, Jesus will make all things work for me to make me whole, like Jesus. 

I believe in the resurrection. I believe Jesus is the life that has overcome death. And I believe his resurrection life lives in me.

There’s an image in the Bible that always helps me capture this hope of resurrection. The tree. In the Bible, God’s people are depicted as his plantings, as trees whose roots go down deep and wide into the rich soil of God’s grace, mercy, truth and love. This tree is growing in us through a seed of faith in Christ. And it’s becoming a tree so big and massive, with a root system so wide, no weed, no storm, no disease can choke it out.

What about justice you ask? Shouldn’t we try to make things better and get rid of disease and abuse and corruption? Yes! Yes we should. But the way to do it is through redemption and hope in resurrection. It’s not through vengeance. It’s not through killing off evil with another abusive evil. It’s through Christ’s redeeming love. It’s through a subversive hope. It’s through planting yourself among the thorns of this life, sending your roots deep down into the love of Christ. Do this and your life will plant seeds of faith all around you and spring up new life in that same soil, choking out the poisonous weeds among you.

It’s a vulnerable life Jesus calls us to. In contrast to the self-preserving life that throws babies out with bathwater and wipes slates clean and cuts people off- it’s dangerous and even deadly. But it is the only way. It is the way Jesus is making all things new.

 The hope for our wholeness and the world is not a flood, or vaccine, not a new president or technology. The hope for the whole world and our wholeness is not marriage or singleness or a better local church or routine. The hope for our wholeness and the whole world is Christ’s redemption and resurrection. If we live in his redemption nothing is in vain- no evil, no pain, no suffering, no sin, no loss, no destruction, no disease. If Christ is our resurrection one day His tree of life will choke out all the weeds.

Christ will redeem what seems like will never happen

man walking on road with orange bag surrounded by trees
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Tonight after 13 hours at the hospital, I walked out my back door with my dog Lukas, and we made our way, as usual, the half acre back to where the chickens and goats were already roosting and chewing their cud under the stars. While I was filling up their empty water buckets, despising the fact that it’s still 95 degrees at 9 pm (this summer seems like it will never end), I found my thoughts drifting toward hopelessness.

“How long?” was turning into, “It’s never going to happen.” At that moment I remembered Joseph. I wondered if he felt like it was never going to happen that he would be lifted up and his brothers would bow to him. I wonder if he thought it would never happen that he would get out of prison.

And then I remembered that it did happen. And I remembered that Jesus did raise from the dead. And I remembered that redemption always happens for the people of God. Nothing is for nothing in Christ. Christ is redeeming all my pain, all my loss, all my long days and short years. Christ is redeeming what seems like will never happen.

For 26 years I’ve prayed and pleaded with God to give my husband a heart for Jesus. And for 16 years I’ve pleaded he would give my sons a heart for him too. Two years ago, my youngest son professed his faith in Christ and was baptized. A week ago Sunday my oldest son confessed his faith, and on the eighth, I’ll baptize him. Like the first little buds of spring after a long winter, or the first fresh breeze of fall after the dog days of summer, redemption is busting up out of this long tear-soaked ground. Redemption is coming!

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits…
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy – Psalm 103:1-2

Oh for Shalom

group of people sitting on white mat on grass field
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Oh for understanding each other
for accepting our differences
no, embracing them.

Oh for fulfillment
when we can serve others
and not feel depleted.

Oh for contentment with
our status
no striving for what’s our neighbors.

Oh for a deep breath
for rest
for no resentment.

Oh for a joy that
blooms in our hearts
and doesn’t depart.

Oh for shalom-
for feeling finally
at home.

Sojourner

man person walking field
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Do you know my home?
You look at me blank, you don’t understand
I speak a language foreign
I try to explain
point
use my hands
but your wrinkled brow
answers my reason.

Do you know my home?
I’m looking for kin, longing for
another who knows our tongue.
I’m young in the language
our Brother taught
Love means
patience
truth
and faithfulness.

Do you know my home?
I’m looking for a companion
to walk this ancient road.
It’s covered with weeds and thorns
neglected by
those who didn’t know.

Our mother
wayward as she was
told us the way.
Ammi to her Husband
she nursed us in hope
repentance
and redemption.

Do you know my home?
Will you walk with me?
I’ll tell you a new way
where free means
you can bend your knee
wash feet
give dignity.

Do you know my home?
Won’t you walk with me?
There’s a way upside-down
where high is low
and lost is found
where least is greatest
and the King serves us.

Come with me friend
I’ll motion and sign
I’ll walk slow
and if you need to stop
I’ll take the time.

Come with me friend
I know you’ll see
the goodness of walking
this road with me.
And when we get home
our Brother we’ll meet.

Living from a gospel-transformed identity

pexels-photo-262399.jpegI’ve been wrestling with how to put to words what God has been teaching me about my identity from John 13 for the past year.  Yesterday I found someone with the words I’ve been looking for.

In the Preparing our Hearts for Easter: A Lenten Devotional, day 38 titled, “The Washing” the author writes reflecting on the passage in John 13:

“Often when we consider loving someone, we think in terms of actions and behaviors.  We ask ourselves, ‘What’s the loving thing to do?’ But Jesus’ unexpected, self-effacing act of service leads us to ask the antecedent question, ‘Who am I?’  Without first asking this question, we can unknowingly place limits on our love because we are not operating out of a gospel-transformed identity.  For example if we functionally see ourselves as orphans needing to look out for ourselves instead of as God’s beloved children, we will limit our generosity towards others out of fear of not having enough.  Likewise, if we think we are righteous by our own hard work, there will be boundaries to the way we are willing to serve others because pride keeps us from serving those who ‘aren’t deserving’.”

A thousand times yes!

Last year around this time I was walking through another fiery trial in my hard marriage.  One I didn’t think I could endure without ending the marriage.  But when I read John 13 I felt this conviction that if I knew who I really was; if I knew my “gospel-transformed identity”, I would be able to walk through it in a redeeming way.  In John 13 the Bible very specifically points out four things Jesus knew about himself in the hours before his betrayal. The Bible says he knew where he came from (John 13:3), where he was going (John 13:3), the authority he had (John 13:3), and what he was here for (John 13:1).

As a Christian my identity has been transformed by the gospel.  The old me has passed, and the new me is being developed day by day.  The old me was dead to God, a slave to sin and not able to serve anyone out of the riches of my freedom.  The old me was only able to do whatever I did, even what looked like service, to protect myself, build myself up and hide from the ugly truth that I was rotten on the inside. But the new me is alive to God.  My eyes have been opened by the gospel to the beauty and worth of Christ and I love him!  Even though I’ve never seen him!  And this Jesus I’ve never seen has transformed me from the inside out so that I can function in life from a position of knowing that nothing, no sin, no suffering, not even death can separate me from being an heir of all that is Christ’s (Romans 8:17). Because of Christ, I can know where I’ve come from (1 Peter 1:3), where I’m going (John 14:1-3), the authority given me (Matthew 28:18-20), and what I’m here for (John 13:34, Galatians 5:13).

We’re about to enter Holy Week.  The week when we remember the sufferings Christ walked through to atone for our sins and make it possible for the Holy Spirit to take out our old, insecure, dead-to-God hearts, and make us alive the way we were meant to be when he made us in the beginning.  But we would skew the redeeming message of the Holy Week, and turn the gospel into a sin-enabling, victimization of an innocent man if we fail to recognize with Jesus that no one took his life from him (John 10:18).  He laid it down willingly.  And he took it up again.

This Jesus who was about to face a humility and suffering no one has ever known was able to take the position of a servant and wash the feet of his disciples who misunderstood him at best and betrayed him at worst. He was only able to do that because as the Son of God he knew nothing that happened to him here and no low position he took could take away the life that was about to burst forth from his brokenness.  We are not very God of very God, but we are, by miraculous grace, sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ. That position is unshakable.  And from that position we are called to follow Jesus’ example in humbling ourselves here, serving others and exposing sin with the desire for reconciliation.

How does this apply to walking through a very hard season in my marriage? It applies in how to forgive sin and not ignore it, how to submit to one another and not be an enabler, and how to live the way redeemed sons and daughters of God live in relationships with others.

Jesus’ example in John 13 leads us not in just doing some acts of service and ultimate self-denial so that we can be seen as holy or godly.  He leads us in knowing who we are so that we our acts of services and temporary self-denial can lead to redeemed resurrection life.

Taking up our cross and following Jesus in serving others and dying to ourselves from a position of knowing who we are in Christ will produce gospel fruit and redeem lives. It’s the promise of God. But like our Forerunner, we will be accused of being a victim or enabling sin or defying authority.  The key is to not actually fall into doing those things.  And the difference between actually doing them and being accused of doing them is a matter of knowing who we are.  I think this is why 1 Peter says if you find yourself not growing in the character of Christ it’s probably because you’ve forgotten who you are (2 Peter 1:9).

The riskiest thing humans do is get close to other humans.  It’s risky because people hurt us, betray us, misunderstand us.  The only way this risk is worth taking is if nothing others do can diminish our identity as beloved children of God.  If we have the heart of God beating in us, we can loose even our lives serving others and it will never be for nothing.  When we’ve been transformed by the gospel we can walk through hard things in our relationships, humbling ourselves, exposing sin like Jesus did with Peter and Judas, leading by example as a servant, because we aren’t victims we’re victors (Romans 8:37). We aren’t enablers we’re ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. -John 13:12-15

 

April fools, Easter, the Prodigal and my son

 

pexels-photo-897296.jpegI wonder what the son who betrayed his father’s love and provision, left home squandered it all and came back seeking restoration was like the years before he decided to leave.  I wonder if he resisted his father’s love and discipline.  I wonder if he threatened that as soon as he was of age, he was out of there!

Obviously I don’t know.  And I’m sure scholars who know these things could give me a better historical idea of what a father and son in the ancient Middle East might have typically been like in their culture. But I thought about the prodigal the other day when my oldest son, who will be 15 on Easter Sunday (which also happens to be April Fool’s day) scowled at my every instruction and resignedly breathed out a, “Yes, mom” instead of an argument.

He is the spice of my life and is also the reason I have so many frowning wrinkles in my forehead.  My April Fool’s day baby has been testing the boundaries and seeking a thrill since before he turned one.

As an infant, he wouldn’t be held and cuddled.  I bought a rocking chair while I was still pregnant with him, but the only time he was still in my arms in that chair was when he was nursing.  Once I tried to hold and rock him and he squirmed and wiggled and strained to raise his head. I laughed and starting tickling him and within minutes he was asleep.  This boy didn’t want to be rocked to sleep he wanted to be tickled to sleep. Before he turned one he managed to figure out how to escape his crib.  And when we decided to put his crib mattress on the floor for his safety he wouldn’t stay in his room at night.

This boy ripped out his first tooth gnawing on a bar stool before he could walk.  He fell down a flight of stairs when he was 2 because he was curious about the door we had told him, “No” to.  Everywhere we went I worried that he would run in front of a car, or jump in a pool of water or fall off a cliff because he had no fear and boundaries seemed to say, “Come here and test me!”

As I’ve watched my son’s personality come to light I laugh at God’s timing in making April Fool’s day the day he would be born.   No mom wants to call their son a fool, but I’m pretty sure that the 15 year old, impulsive, curious, pubescent, strong-willed boy is pictured in the dictionary as the definition of fool.  And to be fair, right behind it is the 15 year old, shallow, silly, emotional, pubescent, self-focused girl (that was me at 15).  This child loves to make people laugh.  He seeks thrills, often without thinking first.  He’s curious, especially when there are boundaries. He opens his mouth and at least 5 minutes of senseless arguing about E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G comes out before being corrected for the offensive nonsense that just spilled out or he stops himself and walks away.

I worry about him.  I know worrying does nothing to help him or me, but I can’t stop the downpour of stomach acid and tears that come with my daily interactions with this young man I would endure years of obstinance and resistance for.

The other day he looked me in the eye and said, “All I know is as soon as I’m 18, I’m out of here!”   He was angry.  He’s tired of running into his parents boundaries.  And he’s not ready to willingly bend his knee to God or his parents.  He’ll acquiesce.  He’ll do what we ask after lots of resistance, for now.  But the will to run hard into a wall is strong with this one.

That’s hard on a mom. And a dad.  But I think it’s hard on a mom even more.  I think the dad can let the resistance increase his resolve a little easier than with the mom.  With the mom, well, “…a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.”

I do have hope though. I have hope for the fool because I have been, and still show myself to be, the fool.  God broke through my foolishness and gave me wisdom and a heart to love him.  He’s done that with many an infamous fool.  Nebuchanezzar. Jonah. Paul. Peter…

It’s fitting that April fool’s day is Easter Sunday.  Before Christ rose in our hearts and we saw a glimpse of his worth and pledged our hearts to him, we were foolish, stiff-necked, rebellious, children of wrath.  We thought we knew better than the One who made us and we were going to do life our own way, thank you very much! Psalm 107 poetically tells what some of us did with our lives when we gave our Maker the finger and set off to do life better than He. We found ourselves ruined and He brought us to our senses like the prodigal son.  Then we turned to him, receiving lavish unearned favor and love.

Before my son was born I sought God, asking Him for a scripture that I could cling to and pray over his life.  The verse that resonated with me was Psalm 119: 73.

Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Psalms 119:73

This little sentence has been my hope over the years for this strong-willed son of mine.  He didn’t make himself.  God did.  And although right now he has no understanding and is like a brutish and ignorant beast (just as I was) before God, the same God who made him is able to give him understanding.  He is able to take our foolish ignorance and make us wise.  He’s able to make us actually love God’s boundaries and embrace his ways as beautiful.

Before the prodigal left home and chased his self-loving pleasures, he probably spent years chomping at the bit to do so, much to his father and mother’s grief.  But the love of the father brought him to his senses.

I don’t want my son to go through ruin.  But I do want him to see the love of God in Christ for himself.  I want him to want to submit to this God who gave him life.  And so, I must trust the one who made him- who knows how to save him.

On Easter Sunday, lots of fools will gather in buildings around the world to worship the one who took them from being brutish and ignorant beasts of rebellion, to fools for Christ’s sake.  We, who once gave God the finger with our lives, now fall prostrate in awe of the one who calls us sons and daughters.  We came to him filthy and defiled like the prodigals we are and he embraced us and set a new garment of acceptance and worth on us and has called us his own children.  A bunch of fools in love with this Jesus we’ve never seen. A bunch of fool’s taking up our crosses daily and following him.  A bunch of fool’s turning from the temporary pleasures of sin and enduring suffering for the glory that is set before us in being united with the Father who has graciously forgiven, restored and loved us.

This is the foolishness this mom is called to.  Somehow, in God’s wisdom, to take what is foolish to a strong-willed son and endure, trusting in the one who takes the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.

‘We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. ‘ 1 Corinthians 4:10,12-13

‘For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; ‘ 1 Corinthians 1:18,20-21,25,27