Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Good News! (A Conclusion to "The Juxtaposition")

The moment I clicked "Publish Post" my phone rang.  Dear Hubby on the other end asked how I was doing, to which I promptly answered, "Sinful, Hopeless, in need of Christ."  I went a whole day after that feeling convicted, like a failure as a Christian, knowing that I, to refer to my own pen, would never "really want holiness."  I am a failure.  I am, dare I say?, a black-hearted sinner.

As I chose, almost 24 hours later, to really confess this to my Savior, it hit me - The Gospel!  This is The Gospel!  Not that I would reach a holy state of my accord and effort, wanting with my whole heart to serve Him, "but [that] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them," Ephesians 2:4-10.

The truth is, I will never totally serve the Lord with a pure heart this side of Glory.  I will never count it PURE joy to suffer.  In fact, any joy in suffering comes directly from His Joy in accomplishing His will and purposes in and through me.  I am saved by grace.  I am not saved by grace AND my efforts to be a God-worshiper.  Any good in me is Him.

Therefore, since sin is so woven into every fiber of our being, we are unable to separate the wheat from the tares - inner man being sanctified by the Holy Spirit and outer man rotting away with sin - it's no wonder Suffering is just that - suffering; pain.  There's no way for the Great Surgeon to cut it out of us without us feeling something.  We are attached to our flesh.  It hurts when wounded!

But this truly is THE GOOD NEWS!  The Good News is that even before the foundation of the earth God provided a means of reconciliation to Himself - One who IS Perfection and Holiness to pluck us out of the race to destruction, out of our sin and misery and regenerate our dead estate to life and Peace with our Creator, just as Adam had in the Garden before the Fall.  

Paul starts Ephesians 2 by saying, "You were DEAD in your trespasses and were by nature, children of WRATH."  There is no way as a dead person that I can do anything to reach up for help.  Instead, God (being rich in mercy....) reached down to me, to us, saving us from His wrath by breathing His Spirit within us, through Christ dying on the cross, taking the wrath and hell for us.  Why?  So that "no one may boast."  We can only boast in our Savior, Jesus Christ!  We can be truly grateful for salvation!  It is not our doing or cleverness - we were dead!  How can we be good or clever when dead?   If we truly understood how sinful we are, how entrenched we are in darkness, how depraved, how wrapped up we are in it all, wouldn't our gratitude for Christ abound?  Wouldn't our joy in suffering abound?  Wouldn't we in gratitude have grace and mercy with others?

The Juxtaposition - Suffering and Joy.  Yes, if we were able to live purely, without sin, we would have opportunity to rejoice fully in God's surgeries that come in the form of trials - physical, emotional, circumstantial.... - but we are fully entrenched in ourselves.  We are being renewed spiritually, yes, but living in the now (on fallen earth) and the not yet (glory), we can't separate ourselves fully from the effects of sin.  Nor are we meant to accomplish this by our own efforts, which are indeed feeble, at best.  This is God's work.  Thanks be to God!

The joyful mystery is, that as we CLING to Christ to walk through the sufferings with us that He has ultimately ordained for us, He brings joy as His purposes are accomplished in us.  His purposes are to purify His bride: infusing His character within us, giving us His mind, causing us to persevere to the end!  So, yes, the pain is real in suffering, the joy is real in sanctification through suffering.  Suffering and Joy, these mysterious companions, living harmoniously juxtaposed within me.  Soli Deo gloria!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Juxtaposition

As I lay here with my son at 5:30 in the a.m., cuddling a wide-awake three-year-old back to sleep, my mind is flooded with friends' cyber comments and blogs about profound discoveries through their trials throughout the recent days and seasons of their lives.  I hearken back to one of my blog entries regarding how wimpy my generation is and think about how struck my friends and I are with the audacity of Suffering taking up residence in our homes.

The many Facebook comments I read from other moms about the challenges of parenting, my Facebook comments about the challenges of parenting, other friends posting about profound trials and struggles, and even the many who admit they are surprised by God's sovereign plan in those trials, take me aback with shame for my generation's narcissistic outlook. Yet, the fact that God is not leaving us to our narcissism - that He is changing our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, exposing our hearts to true joy by wounding our spirits - is comforting.

The juxtaposition of Suffering and this a new idea?  Perhaps for my generation, yes, it is....but then...didn't Christ teach this?  Didn't the apostles write about this?  So....why is this new to us?  Or, maybe more accurately, why don't we believe the Bible regarding this topic?  And, may I submit, why is this not taught to us at our churches?  Has the "Celebration Service" replaced the "Lord's Day Refreshment to Your Souls" service?

Have I spent my whole life dodging Suffering?  Ignoring Suffering?  Scoffing in Suffering's face?  Have I spent my life trying to find alternate uses for scripture?  Or trying to apply scripture innovatively, as if there's something new under the sun and I am a one-of-kind girl?

James 1:2-4 says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  Is this merely a good suggestion?  Because this is certainly not my attitude, nor anyone else's I know, when a trial - life-altering or momentarily pesky - threatens my entitlements.  Pure joyPure. 

I suppose if I really desired sanctification I would be rejoicing in, even seeking, Suffering to be my companion, in order that my faith would be steadfast, that the dross which covers me would be burned off, that God's gold would shine more completely.  But I would rather hold on to my sinful entitlements, my ease and creature comforts - my idols.

Thankfully, my Lord does send Suffering to take up residence in my home.  Thankfully, our Lord desires a pure bride in His people more than we do.  He will accomplish His purposes to purify us, His bride, and cause us to persevere to the end.  I suppose if our purposes reflected His will, we wouldn't really experience Suffering at all.  We would gladly wear His robes of meekness and humility, losing our lives willingly, that we might find true life.  In fact that which looks like Suffering, might actually not appear that way to us if we readily rejoiced in God's purposes to transform our sinful states into holiness.  If we really wanted holiness, we would rename Suffering! Calling her...Joy.

My son is finally back to sleep at 6:30 a.m.  Alas I am wide awake.  I suppose I can choose to look at this minor inconvenience as suffering for lack of sleep, or joy in the fact that more dross is being devoured in the Holy fire.