The Bigger Picture

“Do not blame Caesar, blame the people of Rome who have so enthusiastically acclaimed and adored him and rejoiced in their loss of freedom and danced in his path and given him triumphal processions. Blame the people who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of the ‘new wonderful good society’ which shall now be Rome’s, interpreted to mean ‘more money, more ease, more security, and more living fatly at the expense of the industrious.'” – Marcus Tulius Cicero

That about sums it up. I’m sure everyone is tired of all the turmoil and gnashing of teeth that’s gone on during this 2012 election. I know I’ve avoided it like the plague. While I made sure to be in tune and aware, I didn’t wish to engage in pointless fights. While I have many opinions and concerns – dear Lord, I hope most of it is unfounded – I will share with you one conclusion. Perhaps this is more of an insight as to the condition of the human heart: We are short-sighted and care only about instant gratification – not about the future consequences or bigger picture.

This is true regardless of who we put in office. People tend to vote selfishly. Regardless of these being troubling times for some and happy times for others, let us remember that the victory doesn’t belong to Obama or to the Americans who put him there. It belongs to Christ. He has already won. Place your faith and expectations in Him, not on who’s in office (yes, that IS important and I’m not belittling it). His “Change” happens in the hearts of men and women. He will save and has saved His people – His nation. We may not see it here on earth, just as the disciples and others expectations of who Christ was and what He was going to do looked vastly different in their minds. They thought Christ was going to save them from Rome, from taxes; that He was going to sit on an earthly throne. Praise the Lord that He sees past our fading and frail plans. Go “Forward” with that joy, foundation and hope.

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The Danger of Believing You ARE Because You SAY

This weekend, at the Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas, I saw Max McLean perform The Screwtape Letters, adapted from the original book by C.S. Lewis. It is about a head demon (Screwtape) giving advice via letter correspondence to his nephew, Wormwood, seeking to advise him in ways to corrupt the faith of a human being who becomes a Christian.

Chris, Max McLean and I outside the backstage entrance after the show

I have yet to read that book, but after hearing the one-man show of it, I am eager to delve in. Of the book, Lewis says, “If I didn’t enjoy writing I wouldn’t continue to do it. Of all my books, there was only one (The Screwtape Letters) I did not take pleasure in writing.”

Lewis went on explain: “They were dry and gritty going. At the time, I was thinking of objections to the Christian life, and decided to put them into the form, ‘That’s what the devil would say.’ But making goods ‘bad’ and bads ‘good’ gets to be fatiguing.”

He pointed out, even in his day and age, the problem with the church. How you can go to church with Joe, the grocer, and not really care to know him outside of that building because he’s not your type. Or even how we pay our dues/tithes to the church, but don’t care to do more than that or give/invest directly into the community around us. This almost “paying” the church to perform for us – both in the leading of worship and in doing service/sending out missionaries – then living vicariously through the church and sharing in a glory that is not ours.

C.S. Lewis was once asked: “Do you feel, then, that modern culture is being de-Christianized?”

To which Lewis replied: “I cannot speak to the political aspects of the question, but I have some definite views about the de-Christianizing of the church. I believe that there are many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say, ‘Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.’ The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.

The case against Christianity that is made out in the world is quite strong. Every war, every shipwreck, every cancer case, every calamity, contributes to making a prima facie case against Christianity. It is not easy to be a believer in the face of this surface evidence. It calls for a strong faith in Jesus Christ.”

Speaking of church, tonight one of the pastors taught on Matthew 6:1-4 – totally missed the entire point of the passage, but my dad always taught me to take something away from a message. I did like how he briefly contrasted 6:1 with 5:16, on doing good works to be seen by others vs. letting your light shine before men. One is about US and the other is about HIM. I also have to watch my heart and to not puff myself up in that “judgement.” God isn’t powerless and can use anything to and for His glory and in the hearts of people. But during the message I skimmed down to a verse I’ve memorized in the past, but that stood out to me in a whole new way. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:7-8). I thought back to my own despair at how I feel like I don’t sound good when I pray aloud anymore or have much to say. Then I realized that desire that seemed “good” and “holy” was really about my pride, how I appeared and it was, in fact, also keeping me from praying more to the Lord.

This all reminded me of a method Screwtape encouraged his nephew to use on his patient (Christian) – to use something “good” and make it bad. Shame is a powerful weapon. There is a difference between grief that leads to a godly repentance and grief that is rooted in pride and has us miring in shame and distracting us from the grace found in Jesus Christ.

What is it God Requires of Us?

Every so often I will get these emails, texts, random articles or funnies pulled from a Dilbert calendar from my dad. I treasure all of these things, because dad and I are in that group of people (you know if this is you) who love being thought of in these small ways; and are moved, be it tears or laughter, by the heart behind the gesture and word content. I love it when my dad shares his heart with and confides in me, or just wants to vent to me. This is one email that I had to share with everyone:

I want to share a quote from John Owen from his book, Grace and the Duty of Being Spiritually Minded.  I think it is powerful, searching, shocking, frightening.  Perhaps, this is because I have just about finished reading through it and I know the context of this quote.  I hope no one will read it and dismissively say, “Yep, I know that.”  Or, I hope no one will read it and say, “What a legalist he was!”  However, I have no doubt many will want to argue with Owen, both because of the rigor of his Christianity and the unrelenting way he searches our heart.  In our undoctrinal, antinomian age where superficial knowledge of the Scriptures abound and deep, careful analysis is discouraged, I would only ask one thing of those who will disagree with him:  On whatever basis one disagrees with Owen, he or she must bring forth a biblical, exegetical argument that is equal to and refutes what Owen says.  It is of no account for someone to disagree with Owen, who was perhaps the greatest theological mind of any age, just because they do not like what he says.  If they say that being spiritually minded is not what Owen says it is, let them show us from Scripture what it is then that we may prove ourselves by their standard.  Let them disprove him from Scripture.  Here is the quote:

To “walk with God,” to “live unto him,” is not merely to be found in an abstinence from outward sins, and in the performance of outward duties, though with diligence in the multiplication of them.  All this may be done upon such principles, for such ends, with such a frame of heart as to find no acceptance with God.  It is our hearts that he requires, and we can no way give them unto him but by our affections and holy thoughts of him with delight.  This it is to be spiritually minded, this it is to walk with God.  Let no man deceive himself; unless he thus abound in holy thoughts of God, unless our meditation of him be sweet unto us, all that we else pretend unto will fail us in the day of our trial.

In his book, he is expounding Romans 8:5-6:  “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit the things of the Spirit.  For to be fleshly minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace….”  Understand, Owen is drawing a sharp and eternal distinction – as does Paul in this passage – between those who are fleshly-minded and thus unsaved and those who are spiritually minded and thus saved.  Owen’s point is that to be saved is to be spiritually minded, which means that our thought-life will be much engaged in meditating upon God – His person and His works – if we are spiritually minded, i.e., saved.  Being “spiritually minded” for Owen is no passive, inert idea or abstract status.  He argues (rightly, I think) that being spiritually minded refers to the actual exercise of our minds as renewed by and under the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  He uses Paul’s teaching of “spiritual-mindedness” as an intensely practical test of our profession of faith.  He asks some pretty straightforward questions like, “How much of your time do you spend thinking about/meditating on God/Christ?”  In the last sentence of the above quote he is reiterating a point he has often made in his book that no matter what someone says or does they are deceiving themselves as to their standing in Christ if they do not “abound in holy thoughts of God” and “our mediation of him be sweet unto us.”  Owen’s Christianity is muscular, rigorous, intensely challenging, humbling.  And, I must add, right on as far as I can tell.

Making the Man Show His Cards

This clip shared on Facebook by one of my dear friends, Ashlee Glock, reminded me of the sweet fellowship I shared last night and questions my small group girls and others (myself included) ask and wrestle with — this dilemma and fighting cultural standards and “modernism” in the way relationships work. Here’s a clip from Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, answering the question: Should a woman pursue a man?

Some of my favorite quotes from this clip:

No, but she can tell him to get off the pot.

Too many Christian guys are cowards. That’s why so many non-Christian guys pursue Christian women, because those women are waiting for any men who will initiate leadership and courage.

So many guys say, “Well I don’t want to be rejected.” Well you know what? Being rejected is part of being a man.

Live Before You Leap

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” – Shakespeare

In the span of a year, I have had many “firsts” – so I only thought it befitting to continue the theme. I’ve never blogged on a Leap Day in a Leap Year. Ok, that’s not really the reason I was prompted to blog, but I thought it a fun circumstantial bonus.

Earlier this evening, before I embarked upon my four-mile run on the Katy Trail, I posted a status on Facebook that mentioned that the month of February, and I don’t have a good track record and how I couldn’t wait for this month to just be over. The mind is a beautiful thing – how my thoughts string together – especially when I’m running. I think it’s one of the reasons I love the times God gives me to go for a run. I get alone with Him, my music and my thoughts.

It was good, albeit hard, to be back on the trail after fighting off this upper respiratory infection that knocked the stuffing out of me. After limbering up, I was off. I’m trying to get a few runs in before running a last-minute 5K this weekend for the opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in downtown. In running, I noticed for the first time how EVERYONE I passed by was a couple (male and female) walking or running together. Let me walk you through my train of thoughts. First: “Seriously, Lord?” eyes rolling – 10 second pity party commences. Second: “Awww, I hope that’s me one day with a man who enjoys working out with me” attempting the positive. Third: “Weird. I’m the only lone woman out here tonight. Probably stupid.” thinking it through.

All these ponderings, the replaying of past memories and my Facebook status (mentioned above) brought to mind a recent happening that took place around dawn a few nights ago. I can’t really call it a dream…perhaps more of a revelation and out of body experience. It shook me to my core and made me despair and in my despair, I ran to Him and found hope. Ah, yes, the “revelation”:

Bad, haunting, vivid dreams hurt my insides, but I couldn’t escape them. My body yearned for rest, the meds were doping me up, my sinuses were excruciating – so much pressure and fluid in my head and ears – my body was screaming for relief. My nose was thankful for Afrin. Propped up on pillows I could feel my body tossing. “Go away!” my heart was crying to the dreams, and yet a sick part of me didn’t want to see them go. I suddenly awoke, almost gasping, hot and drenched with my covers cocooned around me. I realized groggily I left the floor heater on. I got up to switch it off and grabbed a bottled water from the pantry, gingerly feeling my way in the dark. Back in bed. I prayed for rest and to not be anxious about work the next day. I dozed off. Suddenly, I felt myself slowly awake with this realization I was suddenly 50 (waking up in bed as that age) and I couldn’t remember if I had kids, a husband, etc. Even worse, I couldn’t remember what I had done with my life or where it had gone. It’s like I was robbed of the years between 24 and 50, because I was in such a hurry to want God to find me a man, marriage, etc. As my senses become more alert, I heaved a sigh of relief and realized I was still 24 and in bed.

It caused me to realize more than ever about myself (I’m sure you can relate) that I either dredge up the past to either daydream or beat myself up, and I look ahead and am in a hurry to LEAP ahead to the future (yeah, I thought my use of “leap” was clever), thinking things will be better there. I’m in a hurry with my job, life ambitions, etc. I become caught up in them. Don’t get me wrong, having set goals and working towards them aren’t necessarily a bad thing – as long as I first go toward THE Goal (of the upward calling in Christ Jesus). It’s all about perspective and looking at life through His lens and not mine. Trust.

Bottom-line I realized: Live your life in the present. Enjoy every season to its fullest. It will pass by quicker than the twinkling of an eye. “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes” (James 1:9-11). I don’t want to be in such a hurry to LIVE that I miss LIVING. And not just “living” but LEVERAGING my life, right now, for Christ. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of your time, because the days are evil.”

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

Summing Up Your Identity

“Symbolism exists precisely for the purpose of conveying to the imagination what the intellect is not ready for.” – C.S. Lewis

What would you say if asked by a new Christian or an unbeliever, “What is the Christian life?” and you didn’t have time to give them a mini series or several sit-down sessions; yet you wanted to give them a solid definition for them to think about? I challenge you to think about what you’d say. Hey now, I saw you look down….don’t do it. ::raising eyebrows playfully::

Recently I was presented with a very helpful definition of the Christian life. It’s not original with that person but I do think it worth memorizing and mediating on. As all good definitions, it focuses, clarifies, sharpens and aids good thinking. While it’s hardly exhaustive, I can tell you it’s accurate.

The Christian life is the life of Christ reproduced in believers by the power of the Holy Spirit as they strive to obey the word of God.

I can honestly say that I didn’t have a one sentence answer nearly as good as this one. It will undoubtedly provoke further discussion (i.e. “What does the life of Christ look like?”, “I don’t understand what the Holy Spirit is or how He impacts my life….”, etc.) but I also wanted to share this with you all because most importantly it will help you. I also encourage you to comment on this post and share a one sentence definition you’ve used in the past or one you’ve come up with after reflecting on this one.

The best sermon and definition of the Holy Spirit was by JR Vassar: Experiencing the Holy Spirit. Great listen. I learned so much and my heart was blessed and convicted.

Here’s a short video clip of JR Vassar speaking on the Holy Spirit:

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke