Barb's Space

Observations about life, family, church...anything else that is on my mind from the perspective that God rules, no matter what

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Location: Indianapolis, IN, United States

I am a 65 year young woman who has changed much in the last few years. I'm single again. I changed jobs twice (learned new skills), had a serious stroke in 2008, "retired" and after getting better started taking up new interests, and am continuing to get more fit. Some things have matured. I've enjoyed watching my three guys grow into men I respect and am proud of. One waited 11 years to have his first birth child. Today I'm a grandma of six (four boys and 2 girls between two families)! I have learned to love Jesus even more, and I have regained my sense of adventure. Someone said, "The best is yet to be."--I believe it, if I keep an open mind and heart and keep growing and walking with God.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Relationships: By the Book - Part 1 (OT)

Because God is emphasizing relationships in the Body of Christ as a means to help us grow and change into His likeness, it is very important to know in even more detail what healthy relationships look like. (For more on the subject, see the series on worship that discusses proper relationship with God, and the articles on God building His church regarding the importance of right relationships with one another.) As an effort to explore this topic further, I am beginning a series on relationships, the first subject being an overview of relationships in the Bible (called By the Book). It amazes me that in the midst of a society (or world) with very unhealthy relationships--sometimes "just" co-dependent relationships, sometimes abusive relationships, and the whole spectrum in between--He chooses to redeem us from that milieu and say, "Now I want you to learn to play well together." Not only that, He uses something that can be a means of very real damage and destruction, turns it on its ear (or inside out) and says, "Folks, this can be redemptive; after all, I was the Author of relationships--just follow Me" (while to the world who hasn’t received Him He says, "Just watch!").

So how does God take relationships, which are so frequently unhealthy at best and destructive at worst and turn them inside out, making them part of His redemptive plan? Let’s go to the Book He left as His record and guide to examine a birds-eye-view of the history of relationships, and where God wants to take them. In our search, let's look at first things first. To do that, we must begin with the Old Testament, since that's where God began. In there is a book (Proverbs) with very practical “get along” principles. There was also the law—which began to give pictures through ritual and traditions and types (the wilderness tabernacle and its furnishings, the different offerings, and the laws, statutes and ordinances of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers) of what kind of God we serve, and what kind of people we are. He was explicit about the fact that we all are “marred pottery” and “damaged goods,” but that we can be reclaimed.

Then there are stories of God’s relationships with people, His creation, before Jesus. Genesis tells of man’s fall into sin, and the struggles that resulted in relationships between God and us and between us humans. We see right away the hiding from God and one another, the denial of responsibility, and futher, the distortion of husband/wife relationships prophesied by God in Genesis 3 as being a consequence of sin, but not the pattern He originally intended for those relationships. Soon after follows the first murder and disavowal of responsibility for it and the murderer's sin in the relationship that prompted the murder (Gen 4:1-10). However, Genesis 3:14-15 is the first intimation that it will take a Person God sends to make this right…but there were “in the meantime” provisions even before the Law. God pulled a man/family out from relationship to a pagan nation to make a “new nation” to be in relationship with Himself, and demonstrate Himself through. He molded and trained them, and in doing so, began to reveal His ways-in-action as well as law.

In Deuteronomy and Joshua we see this nation stumbling and falling, but by God’s grace getting up again, learning more about relationship with this holy God and each other (see Joshua 6:15-21, 7:1-23) all the while. Judges tells us a historical story about what happened when this nation wanted nothing to do with a relationship with the God Who called them. It is a story of what happened when they “did what was right in their own eyes” making no pretense of following God—things got even more twisted and broken.

In the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, we see what happened when the people chose not to be led directly by relationship with God but wanted a king. He gave them what they desired, but Saul was a co-dependent/unhealthy ruler at best. We see the results of that, then the results of David, the first godly ruler in the generational line that would produce Jesus. Continuing after David was his son Solomon. Israel rose to her greatest heights at this time. Her temple was finally built; even the rulers of the day came to hear and see the wonders of Israel and her ruler. But sin and trusting other-than-God were still at the heart of the nation. Solomon brought idolatry (relating to false gods) into Israel by marrying foreign wives who believed in false gods and propagated those beliefs throughout Israel.

Reading on, we see continued refusal of relationship and disobedience of leaders and people which led to captivity in Babylon, even after repeated warnings by prophets God sent... . It was interesting that as soon as the discipline happened, the prophets spoke encouraging words to the people about seeking [relationship with] God and seeking the welfare of the place where they were taken captive, giving hope through the promise of future restoration.

After 70 years was up (see the book of Daniel) it was time to seek God for the time of prophesied restoration. Even after captivity and during the process of restoration, (Ezra chapters 7-10), people were still refusing right relationship with Him by going against God's direction. After the captivity, people got smarter (or more devious)—they gave “lip service” to God, instead of out and out rebelling. Their thinking was to give Him what He wanted without giving their hearts. That is impossible, for a God Who wants relationship knows if they refuse to give their hearts, anything else they do is a sham. This resulted in self-righteousness and pride, and so we learn that law without heart or relationship is legalism. It turns on us and makes everything cold, twisted and distorted.

This is the context in which the Old Testament closes. Four hundred years later, the curtain again rises--on the New Testament dealings of God-with-us. In His continued dealings with His creation, we see that He will go to any lengths to bring His errant creation back into right relationship with Himself (which will also yield the possibility of right relationships between people). That is where we will pick up in part two of Relationships: By the Book.


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Friday, January 18, 2008

"I Will Build My Church" - Part 3

Note: I find it interesting that I started this article as a draft in March of last year. But it wasn't time for it to be finished. Through the months I have watched God begin to work on this area in a deeper way than ever before--both in my life and in the lives of others around me. I am watching with awe as God continues to get us ready. For what? I believe He is getting us prepared to walk as a mature church. He's working to build us as "living stones" into a "glorious church without spot or wrinkle." His command, "Let the Bride make herself ready," has gone out. Are we responding?

As this series develops, it seems that it is a group of thoughts like a pre-flight checklist. I know many of us are eager to fly, but we are understandably not eager to crash.—Some of us have crashed before, or else we've seen others crash and we want no part of it. How have we responded to those fears? We have wanted God, even hungered for Him, but at the same time we have kept Him and our brothers and sisters at arm’s length because of pride, unresolved anger or fear.

To allow God to build His church in our midst, we must hear His heart. There is a call going out today for God’s people to become “real.” We have kept Him and others at a distance by “keeping our masks on,” by not letting others in enough to know what’s really going on in our lives—and let’s face it—things are harder than they used to be…or the trials simply have not ended like we think they should have. They are either longer in duration than they "ought to be" (by whose standard, ours or the Bible's??), or they have ended "badly." In other words, God has turned up the heat, and things are not looking pretty.

One school of thought regarding not letting others in is that we need to “keep God from looking bad.” That theory maintains that we are hurting His cause when we are open and honest about some of the trials He allows us to go through. The thinking goes something like, “If I let on how hard this is, how badly I’m hurting, or that I feel trapped or cornered, I make God look like He’s absent or doesn’t care or doesn’t keep His promises.”

The answer to this is that God will go to any lengths to work with His people. He is not at all concerned with His reputation in that area. He can defend Himself. No, He doesn’t want us taking praise for what He does, but neither do we have to defend His actions and dealings with us. As a parent, He can take the heat!

The flip side of making God look bad, is that we don’t want to look bad, and if we are real, that can happen. When I am real, I am not only sharing the hard times I am going through, but I am also risking you seeing how I am responding to those hard times (and let’s face it, sometimes the way I respond stinks!). Adverse circumstances, by their very nature are designed to show up, highlight my weaknesses and flaws so that I will give them to God for Him to work on them. But many times I am too close to myself to see my reactions—all I know in hard times is that I hurt. However, my brothers and sisters in Christ can very easily see my flaws—if I am real. I have to trust they will not judge me but will confront me if I need confronting in love, will encourage me if I need encouraging, and either way will always pray for me.

In adverse circumstances I also see and get tested regarding my attitudes about God. When I don’t understand Him (which is often) and why He allows certain things in my life, instead of drawing closer to receive more of Him, I tend to draw back. I don’t want to acknowledge it, but in my heart I am accusing God of injustice (it’s not fair!) or not caring (if You cared You wouldn’t make me go through this!) or even betrayal (You led me into this situation, You knew how it would turn out, and You didn’t use Your power to stop it!). When I draw back, I don’t want to be near my brothers and sisters in Christ, because I know they will pick up my coldness, fears, and anger. When I am alone and see those things in myself (try as I might not to) I tend to draw still further away from my only hope and help. However, when I refuse that course of isolating myself and confide in the mature friends God has given me, they can pray for me, and help me take my sin to Him. With His help through them, I stop that hot/cold cycle and grow.

Brothers and sisters, God uses trials for many things on the road to maturity. He shows me where (or if) I’m loving Him because He blesses me—and what happens within me when things aren’t going well. When I see where I serve Him for gain, and repent, He strengthens me to say from my heart, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him,” as Job says in good old King James English. He confronts me with my conditional love for Him and calls me deeper, for He wants me with the help of the Holy Spirit to love Him unconditionally. That is the only way I will get where He wants to ultimately take me. The real question is, will I let Him take me through this process? Will I truly yield to the “instruments of death” (Romans 12:1-2) He has ordained for my life to conform me to His image? The ball is in my court…

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