Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fridays @ 8: Remember To Live

I have discovered one of the great benefits of getting old. I can hide my own Easter eggs. Jon-Mical and I were hiding plastic eggs in the house on Thursday, eighteen of them. By the time we finished hiding them I’d forgotten where most of them were. It was a real ego booster to hear a 3 year old say, “Poppy C, remember to look under the pillow on the couch.” He would lead me around to find the last half dozen or so. Then we’d do it all over again. (Or at least I think we did.)

Forgetfulness is not limited to the aging. All of us from time to time forget to return a phone call, forget to do our homework, forget where we put our car keys. We are human. We forget. Sometimes we forget on a spiritual plane as well. We forget to acknowledge the grace of God in our lives. We forget that we are redeemed and forgiven, free from condemnation. And we forget the price of all of that.

Easter is a time of remembering. Once a year we remind ourselves of the passion and suffering of Christ, not because we are some masochistic religion that likes to dwell on pain and agony but because we need to remember. This peace and forgiveness that we enjoy did not come without cost. The promise of life, abundant life, while free to me was incredibly expensive to the Jesus who pleaded in the Garden, “Father, if there is any other way, let this cup pass from me.” When we sit together at a Seder Meal on Thursday, weep in the bleakness of a Good Friday service, it is to remember the ultimate sacrifice that was given so that we might live. On Easter Sunday we celebrate the Risen Lord to remember that He overcame sin, death, and the grave for each one of us. Since I am so forgetful I need to be reminded often. He paid a debt He did not owe so that I might have a life I did not deserve. Now that is some worth remembering.

In some ways, Romans 8 is all about that. From the very first verse Paul repeats over and over again. Old way…death, new way…life. Natural path…death, Spirit path…life. Life in the flesh…death, life in the Spirit…joy and peace. Come on. How many times do you have to tell me? Do you think I would forget something like that? Well, apparently so. Here in verse 13 he says it again, “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.” Got it. Wrote it on my hand. Tattooed it on my forehead. I won’t forget that one. Live the old sin way and I will die. Thanks for the reminder.

Then Paul gives us the second half of the equation, “But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Do you notice a slight turn here? “Put to death the misdeeds of the body.” In the verse before we almost overlooked the phrase, “We have an obligation.” For twelve verses and fifteen weeks we have been talking about grace, freedom from performance, not having to “do something” to earn the love of God, and every bit of that is true.

But now Paul introduces the idea that there is some kind of responsibility on my part, that I do act a certain way and follow some code of behavior. We have an “obligation.” We put to death the “misdeeds,” those things we have been doing wrong. After all of these reminders that His grace is free and we don’t live by the law, this verse and the one before seem to hint at a moral and ethical commitment to a different kind of lifestyle. As one who lives life in the Spirit, not in the flesh, I am called to live differently. Does that go against the “freedom from the law” thing? Not at all.

I believe that God calls me to live a holy and Godly life. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” Ephesians 4:1 says, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” And later in Romans Paul will say, “Present yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable before God.” Over and over again in Scripture we are confronted with the call to living and acting in a different way because we are Christ followers. But here’s the key, not in order to earn our way into His good graces but as a response to and a reminder of the Spirit life that He has so freely given us.

When I clean up my vocabulary, get rid of some nasty habits, spend time helping the poor and underserved in my world, when I change the way I live, it is not a return to the law. It is a reminder that Christ died for me willingly, saved me freely, and dwells in me gracefully so the least I can do is try to live for Him completely. I remember that every “good and perfect gift” in my life comes from Him and I live accordingly, out of gratitude, not duty.

Paul says, “But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will have life.” And you will also remember. It’s like living Easter every day, being continually engaged in remembering that His death changed the way we live forever. Too often we get caught between two extremes. On the one side is a legalistic, performance based faith that makes lists of rules, and checks them twice to see if we’ve been naughty or nice, (those are the words from a great old hymn of the church.) The other side is a reaction to that that says we are under no obligation (there’s that word again) and any suggestion of moral responsibility is a return to the “old ways,” life under the law.

Not true says Paul. We are free from the law because of Christ. We live by the Spirit, not by the law. But, as a result of that we make every effort to live pure, holy, Godly lives. It is our loving response to Easter and it helps us remember. Remember what you ask? I’m so glad you did. Next week…we are sons (and daughters) of God.

Until then, have a blessed Easter. And don’t forget where you hid those eggs.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chaos, Fridays, and Being Out Of Control

Chaos, Fridays, and Being Out Of Control

It doesn’t seem like that hard a task. Write a short devotional thought about 1 verse in Romans 8 each week and post it on Friday morning. Writing comes pretty easily to me. Romans is certainly full of great material. And now I have both Jon-Mical and Jakson to tell stories about. Surely I can do this little thing. We are 15 Fridays into the year. I have posted 11 “Fridays @ 8” and half of them have been late.

Part of that is because of my perfectionistic tendencies when it comes to telling a story. I don’t get hung up on telling the story perfectly but I do want to tell the right story to convey the message of the gospel. Do you know how hard it is to get a 3 year old to do just the right thing each week to illustrate the deep theological truth of St. Paul’s most profound letter? Another thing may be that my MENtoring group on Thursday gets bogged down in the details of God working in their lives and fails to come through with some amazing insight each week to flesh out the devotional.

The primary reason that I have a hard time getting this done however, (okay, the only reason), is a lack of discipline on my part and my ability to let life get out of control. I have such great intentions on Monday but by the end of the week I am behind on paperwork, there are phone calls to make, and I am 10 miles overdue on my running schedule. Life just gets out of control, not occasionally but on a weekly (make that daily) basis.

We live in an unbelievably fast paced, information society. With texting, emails, and Facebook I am in constant contact with almost everybody. Some of that is good but it also means that there is very little down time. We are expected (either actually or an internal pressure we put on ourselves) to be always available and immediate in our response to others. It also means that when we get behind, we get behind fast. Those emails pile up relentlessly in my mailbox, the digital reports cram into my Outlook To Do file, and the cell phone voicemails line up on my Inbox like impatient voters at the polling booth. I can never catch up. I am always under the gun. And chaos seems to be the new normal. I’m not complaining. I’m describing your life too.

So how do we stay on top of the crowded confusion of our computer noise life? How do I make sense of the chaos and focus on the things that really matter? Romans 8:12 says, “Therefore brothers (and sisters), we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.” In The Message it says, “So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent.” Another way of saying it is “we are in this world but not of it,” a rough translation of John 17:16. Maybe chaos is the new normal. Maybe full speed ahead is the only gear our world has. But that does not mean that in me, deep in me where it really matters, I cannot be a person of peace, living in the quiet focus of His presence.

Tax forms are going to pile up, the laundry basket is going to overflow, the phone will never stop ringing, and deadlines are going to keep coming at us, but that is not the world that we are obligated to. Oh, we live in it, we have to deal with it, but we don’t owe it anything. Our true allegiance is to the One who stepped into our hectic world from a place before time and said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled. Do not be afraid.”

I am trying to learn to live life that is focused on the Father, centered in the Son, and scheduled by the Spirit rather that giving in to the pounding pulse of a never-be-satisfied world. I still have to pay bills, go to appointments, schedule meetings, and mow the grass but my sense of who I am is not dictated by my ability to multi-task. It comes from knowing that I am His and He holds me in the palm of His great big, steady, quiet hand.

Maybe it would be helpful to hear a few things I am trying to put in place to accomplish this. First, I am trying to remember to begin and end well. I have very little control over the middle of the day stuff. Life just happens and the only thing I can be absolutely sure of is that I will be interrupted with the unexpected. But before I leave the house in the morning and before I go to bed at night I am still in charge (well, as much as Doris lets me be). I am learning how crucial it is that I quiet my heart, hear Him in His Word, and allow the Spirit to set the agenda for the day.

Secondly, I am learning to escape often from the clamor and the chaos to that secret space that only He knows about and refocus my attention on what matters. It takes just a second or two, literally. A whispered prayer, a breathed praise, a single word of centering. “Help me Lord.” “Father, this is yours.” “Jesus, come.” In an instant I am back on track, remembering who’s I am and what I am really obligated to. The more I do that the better I get at it.

Finally, I am trying to learn to surround myself with serenity by passing it on to those around me. Taking the time to smile at the Starbucks girls. Turning my face and really listening to the incessant chatter of my grandson. Asking the guy in the cubicle beside me how he is and really paying attention to his response. These things all build a presence of peace in my world. They not only slow me down but they create an atmosphere of His joy in which I can reside for a moment.

Now having said all of that, my life is still out of control. I am still way behind on my writing and here it is Friday again. But you know what? That’s okay. Because while I live in this activity I am not obligated to it. My life is in the Spirit. If you’ll excuse me, I think I’m just going to sit here a minute….peace.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fridays @ 8: Jacob Doesn't Live Here

Jacob doesn’t live here anymore. Today is his birthday and he turns 25. He is as fine a young man as I know. He has an incredible heart for God, a deep compassion for people (especially the hurting), and a fire for life. He knows and loves music and is giving himself to that passion. And he is bright, a profound thinker. But he doesn’t live in our house anymore.

Although he moved out 3 or 4 years ago I have to keep reminding myself of that. Partly because the walls still echo with his laughter, in quiet moments I can still hear him working out a chord progression on the piano or refining a bass lick in his bedroom, and partly because his junk is still all over the place. His bedroom (we still call it his bedroom) is piled high with extra guitars, Ohio State ski parkas, barely used college textbooks, and unopened offers for new credit cards. One side of the garage is dedicated to his baseball card collection, several dusty amps, and a chopped Harley Davidson that he only lets me drive in the neighborhood.

He doesn’t live here but we are a repository for the memorabilia of his past life and he frequents us often. He has an uncanny ability to drop by when his mother is just taking supper from the stove or a pie from the oven. Apparently he can hear our washing machine across town because he never fails to pop in and ask if he can throw a few things in since we are washing anyway. And he somehow can detect that short window of opportunity between when I put a prized take home box from my favorite restaurant in the fridge and when I get home at the end of a long day to finish off that morsel I have been thinking about all afternoon. (Do you know the pain of settling in front of the TV and opening an EMPTY styrofoam container?) He doesn’t live here but his past, the fun, the funny, the painful and purposeful, all of that is still here and he moves in and out of it, though less and less.

In Romans 8 verse 10 Paul says, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” If Christ is in you…your body is dead. Really? Shouldn’t it say unless Christ is in you your body is dead? Or before Christ is in you your body is dead? I mean what about resurrection, and life eternal, and “he who believes will never die?” What about all of the good stuff He promises? Peace. Never thirst again. Love. And don’t forget the all important, “blessings from heaven, good measure, pressed down, overflowing.” When Christ is in me shouldn’t I be driving a Cadillac, never have an ache or pain, make all A’s on my report card, and have my house stay supernaturally dust free?

But Paul says, “If Christ is in you your body IS dead.” No maybes or ifs. Just, your body IS dead. What is that all about? My body is not dead. I’m very sure of that because my aching knees speak to me every morning, and my waistline is growing like crazy. My body might be getting old but it’s not dead.

It seems to me, like Jacob and our house, this body of mine is not where I live anymore. Oh, my junk is scattered all over. The fingerprints of my past, both good and bad, smudge every window and every wall. Most of my possessions are connected to this earthly body somehow and I move in and out of it quite a bit. But I don’t live here anymore. This body, in fact this whole material space and place that we call life is just a temporary passing through spot. I have to drop in to check the mail, adjust the thermostat, and weed the flower bed. I still have to pay bills, take care of the office, and DVR American Idol. But this is not my house.

The song writer said, “This world is not my home. I just a passin’ through. The Lord’s prepared a place somewhere beyond the blue.” When Christ lives in me, as I grow more familiar with His voice and His movement in me, I become more and more aware that all of the things that used to seem so important are dead to me now. Not in a morbid, melancholy, macabre way. I still enjoy the maintenance and the memory of this world. In fact, I am probably enjoying it now more than ever. But my focus, my heart, my very life is somewhere else. Does that make sense?

Jacob brings so much joy to us all of the time. He is full of stories about work, dreams concerning Michaela, and rantings and ravings about things that no one can fix. He has a place here, in some ways a responsibility to his mother and me. But he is building a life, his real life, somewhere else apart from this house. And as bad as I hate to admit it, the older he gets the more real that life becomes for him and the less important this one is.

In the same way, since Christ is in me I am busy living a righteous life there with Him and less concerned with the mundane stuff of this body. That Spirit life becomes more real every day. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I get all worked up about this temporary place. How am I going to make the car payment? When will that neighbor get his trash can out of my driveway? What am I going to do about that balding spot on the back of my head? (Okay, that one IS important.) But when I really stop and think about it I remember that Christ is in me and that other body is dead.

The life that is alive, the Spirit life, it is so much better than that old body life I used to live. Paul describes it this way in Galatians 5, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control.” Sounds like a pretty good life to me. So I am still connected to the body and all that it is connected to, gravity, aging, rainy weather, worry, but that is not where I live. I live in the Spirit world and it is full of hope and possibility with no restraints or constraints. I live in Christ and He lives in me and there “I bear fruit.” (John 15) I keep my face fixed on Him and the life that He has for me and everything else, even Jacob eating my leftovers is just incidental. And the amazing thing is that Christ then gives life back to this old, dead body of mine. (But that verse 11.)

Well, life is good. I hang around in this body of mine but I live, really live, in the Spirit of Christ that makes all things blessed. And on top of all that, I have Jacob who drops in every now and then to remind me that I am not as smart as I think I am but I did begat one pretty terrific son. You know what, he’s right.