Apr 18, 2009

More on relationships

I need to learn so much more about relationships--how God designed them and how sin distorts them. Relational sin is a huge struggle for me right now. Relational sin is the product of looking for what I can gain for myself in my interactions with others. The emotional and spiritual consequences are surprisingly detrimental to all areas of life and especially in my most cherished relationships with those I love deeply and strive to love biblically. As you may have read from the previous post, all relationship is designed and given by God. To regard such gifts as opportunities to advance my own agenda and well-being is theft from the gracious giver of all good.

I realized this, and have spent the past weeks praying for guidance on how I can transform a dysfunctional and unhealthy pseudo-friendship in to a redemptive relationship that glorifies Christ. I have begged for a different answer than the one I knew was the only right response.

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul exhorts the young pastor:
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

Though Paul is referring to the selfish pursuit of money before this passage, I believe it may be biblically applied to any sort of selfish pursuit born out of discontentment with what God has provided--including relationships.

So, how do I flee such things and pursue righteousness? I must "throw off every weight" which includes severing ties in broken relationships that only lead me to sin instead of sanctification. To a point, this had already been done, but I needed to make it complete for the time being as the temptation to go back is too great right now as the emotion is too potent. I still have hope and confidence that one day, the Holy Spirit may restore and redeem this relationship if he so chooses. I hope they know I will be here if a time comes for restoration. I will pray for them at the Spirit's prompting. But until then, I will pursue righteousness and life without reproach as I know they will as well.

The rain outside seems to bring clarity. Thank you Father for your cleansing rain and redemptive work! Please transform me into a woman worthy of your name!

Apr 15, 2009

Redemptive Relationships

Lately, I have been considering what exactly “redemptive relationship” is. I must confess, I have difficulty in relationships. I do not trust, I do not love, I do not sacrifice my agendas or desires for the benefit of the other person and the glory of Christ. As a result, most relationships, whether intimate or casual, lack depth and authenticity. I am selective with whom I share my struggles, desires, dreams and fears. Very few people are allowed so close. In contrast, the relationships with those who somehow gain my trust tend toward dysfunction as I tend toward selfishness. Though the extent of disclosure varies, all my relationships lack redemptive quality and I sought to understand why.

Redemptive relationships are marked by a singular focus: Christ. He is the means, the end, the motive, and the strength to live in messy relationships with flawed people. A redemptive relationship is a synergism of two broken people being transformed—sanctified—into the image of Christ. The synergism, redemption, sanctification does not occur without love. Love is the mark of a Christian, it is the very character of God, and it is the foundation of my salvation so its importance in relationship is quite logical. And yet, so many of my relationships suffer from a severe lack of love.

Love is a wholly selfless decision to place the needs and desires of another person above my own. It seeks to encourage and understand. It offers affection and compassion, sympathy and empathy, and honest desire to meet in the horrible circumstance with the desperate desire to do whatever it takes to help. A billboard along my usual drive to school simply states, “Love eases pain.” Indeed it does, yet it goes beyond easing pain; it searches out the source for total restoration of hope, joy, peace, beauty. Love is impartial, not differentiating between friend and enemy, lovable and unlovely. Love must be received to be reciprocated. Love is not content to tolerate sin; it works to sanctify, purify. Love holds tight to the promises of future grace, seeking the Glory of the Father here and now while longing for the Glory yet to come. Love is an incarnation of the character and presence of God. Love is necessary for redemption.

As I read and sought to better understand this beautiful concept, God’s word convicted me. The theme running through the relationships of Christ on earth, of God with his people, of the apostles with those they were seeking to save is love. I thought I understood love as it pertained to missions, as it pertained to friendship, as it pertained to marriage. Obviously my understanding did not broach the depth and importance of love in relationships for the redemptive work of Christ. I am devoid of compassion and full of selfishness which is in direct opposition to life I claim to live, the God I claim to serve. I discovered the truth that every relationship is God’s. He orchestrates and arranges the entrances of people into my life and blesses me with opportunities to reflect his Glory, his fame, his goodness, his mercy and his truth in darkness. He allows me to participate in His relationships. How foolish I have been! I wrote about this realization in my journal a few days ago:
I am a relationship thief. I view relationships as my own, as experiences I control for my own purpose. The reality is all relationships are God’s, designed by God for the justification and sanctification of his people. Every relationship is designed and intended to be redemptive, bringing all parties closer to the heart of Christ.

How can this be? How can I, a very sinful girl, participate in redemptive relationships? By being an “imitator of God… walk(ing) in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

As I follow Christ, putting on his character, incarnate his love, I take part in the redemptive work of Christ through the cross. Such relationships are for my good and His glory, but they will require a sacrifice of my agenda and selfish desires. They require constant communion with Christ to protect me from sinful response. Every interaction must be tempered with love, dependent on Christ’s leading and with the goal of drawing others to worship Christ.

In conclusion, I must apologize to those I called friends and yet failed so severely to incarnate the character of Christ, becoming an antagonist to his redemptive work in your life. As write this, specific people come to mind and I must beg their forgiveness. I hope you know that I will not always succeed. Selfish Mandee will still surface quite frequently. However, I will not take what is not mine. I will continually press into the heart of Christ so that you might be close to it as well.

Apr 14, 2009

Beautiful Scandalous Night

Go on up to the mountain of mercy
To the crimson perpetual tide
Kneel down on the shore
Be thirsty no more
Go under and be purified

Follow Christ to the holy mountain
Sinner sorry and wrecked by the fall
Cleanse your heart and your soul
In the fountain that flowed
For you and for me and for all

At the wonderful, tragic, mysterious tree
On that beautiful, scandalous night you and me
Were atoned by His blood and forever washed white
On that beautiful, scandalous night

On the hillside, you will be delivered
At the foot of the cross justified
And your spirit restored
By the river that poured
From our blessed Savior's side

Go on up to the mountain of mercy
To the crimson perpetual tide
Kneel down on the shore
Be thirsty no more
Go under and be purified


Apr 5, 2009

Performing with Grace

If you know anything about me, you may have realized that when I am overwhelmed everything suffers. I fail to perform to the level expected of me. When I have too much to accomplish, I accomplish nothing. When situations or people bring stress, I withdraw into myself allowing relationships to suffer. When I seem to lack strength for life, I wallow in my weakness instead of depending on the One who is strong in my place. When my performance suffers, I fall into depression or even apathy as I view myself as a failure for not performing with grace.

This past week proved to be such a time as I sat in my office, fighting tears, wondering why I ever decided to go back to school because obviously this was not for me. Did I misconstrue God’s leading and miss His will by following my own? Did I make this decision based on emotion rather than logic and true desire to glorify God? Did I do this for myself, for my family, for Alex and not for my Creator? Am I a disappointment? I must be because my failures outnumber my successes of late: I failed to teach Raman Spectroscopy to my students because I failed to understand it; I failed to be considerate of my mother’s emotions through this planning process and failed to make it enjoyable for both of us; I failed to be a friend; I failed to be a leader; I failed to be a student; I failed to fight for joy.

I know that God led me to this school, at this time. The decision to come was made after months of prayer and uncertainty, searching to know what God would have me do. His answer was so clear, how could I doubt it now?

I doubt because I view my performance as the only measure of my worth and therefore it must reflect whether I am obedient or not. Surely success is the mark of obedience! Surely depression is revelation of some intentional shortcoming in my life, some sin. Surely I cannot believe these inferences if I truly know my Savior!

Indeed, Christ did not promise success, he did not promise emotional stability, he did not promise ease in this life. Obedience is difficult; depression is the broken response of a broken person to a broken world; failure is a natural course for a fallen being. However, in my failure, Christ promised he would bring good things; in my erratic emotions Christ promised to be faithful, constant, sure; in my brokenness, Christ promised to bind me up and comfort me with his joy and indescribable peace. He will be my strength; He will be my joy; He will be Grace to me.

So how did I come to this place? I confess the fault is all my own. Instead of looking to the work Christ accomplished for me, I turned my attention to the work I attempt to accomplish for Him. It is a discouraging sight as my best efforts will never be good or glorious. I posses no grace or righteousness of my own, so even the work of my hands is the result of borrowed joy and vision. I saw I have naught to offer anyone. Instead of exulting in the lovely Grace and Mercy of God that he would bestow upon me all His very best, I shrank away. Why? I do not know—it must be the result of a depraved thought process.

There is great danger in this thinking. It not only affects my life tremendously, but it reflects a distorted view of the Cross and Grace of Christ. Yet, I find this way of thinking prevalent in my environment, allowing it to filter into my mind and heart to the extent that it prevails in me. I lapse into the belief that the value of my life is the sum of my parts, mainly my success as shown through performance: Did I earn the exceptional grade? Did I dominate my presentation? Did I please my parents; do I make them proud? Did I give Alex a reason to love me today; is he happy he chose me? Did I read my Bible and pray through the names on my prayer list? Did I prepare for and go to small group and Bible study? Did I reach my goal? Am I successful? Did I earn His love and grace today?

It does not matter.

The answer to those questions is irrelevant because the economy of God is based on capitalism but on his unimaginable generosity. He is Grace, Righteousness, Love, Peace, Joy and all I ever need regardless of my performance. Out of gratitude I long to serve Him as best I can, focused not on my work, but on the work that allows me to benefit from all that is good and glorious. I must preach the gospel to myself daily as the cross is not just my salvation; it is my sanctification and total redemption of my depraved state on a daily basis. Thus, when I preach the gospel to myself daily, I also preach it to my sphere of influence daily; the power of the cross is unleashed in my life to flow into the lives of the hurting, the hopeless, the proud and the apathetic I encounter. As a friend wrote,
“This is the very reason that the gospel is for all people, for all times. Simply put, we will forget the power of the gospel unless it preached to us daily---preached to ourselves daily---preached to each other daily. I needed to be constantly reminded of Christ’s great exchange so that my mind does not return to its default mode of performance.”

As I preach the gospel to myself, preach the gospel to yourself and we will see a shift in the church from unattractive legalism to a community attractive to the broken failures that inhabit this world; people like me.

Communities of Performance

* People talk about grace, but communicate legalism
* Unbelievers can't imagine themselves as Christians
* Drive away broken people
* The world is seen as threatening and 'other'
* Conversion is superficial—people are called to respectable behavior
* People are secretly hurting
* People see faith and repentance as actions that took place at conversion
* The gospel is for unbelievers

Communities of Grace

* People can see grace in action
* Unbelievers feel like they can belong
* Attract broken people
* People are loved as fellow sinners in need of grace
* Conversion is radical—people are called to transformed affections
* People are open about their problems
* People see faith and repentance as daily activities
* The gospel is for both unbelievers and believers
(from The Resurgence blog)

I want to foster a community of grace.