Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Blink of an Eye

This is my last night here in the greater Tampa area and right now, I can't describe how I am feeling. Back in May, I felt this summer would drag on and it would take EONS to get back to Gainesville. Instead, it has flown by in the blink of an eye. I feel like I am leaving part of my heart here and going to find the other part of my heart in Gainesville. There's an overwhelming feeling of "a lot of lasts." My last time in my bed tonight. My last day at work. The last time I wouldn't have to dial 813 before a number on my phone. My last dinner with my mom....I think that's part of the reason I feel so sad. For the first time in my adult life, I have an actual relationship with my mom. Where she seeks my advice and I seek hers....where I respect her and she values me. Where I am not afraid to tell her what I'm feeling or simply say "I love you" for no reason.

This summer, God taught me how to love unconditionally, even when the object of that love has no desire a) for that love or b) to love you back in return. When I was 15-17, I burned so many bridges with my mom that she cared very little if the relationship was to continue in any way, shape or form. Callouses had formed on both our hearts and the wounds from years past had turned into deep, seemingly inpenetrable scars. While God has done a magnificent work in my heart these last 3 years, I had never had the opportunity for my mother to see that-for her to see the gospel at work in my relationship with her. I am often frustrated by my parents views of Christians and the church, and it is with a sorrowful cry that I realize that I also am the cause of their opinons. You see, to me, if my parents told me "No, you can't go to church tonight" I thought they were wrong. In my twisted and sinful mind, it made more sense to be at church than to honor and obey my parents. So my middle teenage years were spent lieing and fighting to do what I deemed to be "good" things. What a greater witness it would have been if I had done the greatest thing and simply obeyed. I can't explain why my theology of parent/child relationships was so off, other than it all comes in God's good and perfect timing. So my parents saw a hypocrite-an wonderful child at church but then a sinful rude girl at home.

God is sweet to have given me this summer what both my mother and I have always wished we had-a best friend relationship. But now, I am moving on. It's as if I'm having my senior summer all over again. Then, I was going to miss my friends. Today, I am missing my family. I hung out with my friends very little this summer, which is weird. Friends have always been so important to me, and if I'm not focused on the Lord, can at times become an idol for me. Instead, this summer was spent with my family-and shocker of all shockers, I ENJOYED that time!! My family is wonderful!

My little brother is my favorite person in the entire world. He is 18 years old, 6'2'', and seems to be too cool for words. But the other day I walked by his room and heard the soundtrack to Evita just blaring away. This 18 year old man is still the compassionate and tender little boy I grew up with.

My dad is a character. That's the only word to describe him. He longs for nothing more than to enjoy each day as it comes. Material things matter very little to him-he would rather spend $80 on a nice dinner than $80 on a bill if it means the family is going to be together, conversing and loving one another.

My step-dad is smart-smart isn't the right word. He is business savy beyond anything. When I was 7, we had no cable and shopped at Goodwill and drove a truck with no air conditioning because he was starting his own real estate office. Now, 13 years later, he is one of the number 1 brokers in the country. My parents own 2 boats, are building a lake, and own 8 or 9 homes. His one office has turned into 8 across the Hillsborough County. I say this not to brag, but to say that he is the most determined and driven man I know, and our family has clearly been blessed by these gifts of his.

My mom. I don't know. I guess I was like one of those horses growing up. I had these blinders up on my eyes and I couldn't see anything in my peripheral. I just saw straight ahead and straight ahead was me. I don't know if she has always been this way because I was blinded, but my mom is at heart a provider. The other day she brought home the Publix sale flyer and it had a bunch of "buy 1 get 1 free" deals. She told me to look through and see what I wanted because she'd go get it so I could take it back to Gainesville with me. Two days later, I look in the pantry and see 2 olive oils, 2 ketchups, 2 oatmeal boxes. It seems so simple, but it's so real. My brother needs to barely utter the words "Mom, we're out of Gatorade" and the next day, the house is stocked with enough Gatorade for an army. She meets people's physical and practical needs better than anyone I have ever met.

But I know that it is time to leave. I am 20. Gainesville is where I am called to be and in the same way that this has been a sanctifying summer, I know the sanctification is no where near completed (and praise God for that!). But the thing is, I'm 20! I graduate next August. This is my last summer as a kid at home. Everyone is getting married and moving and soon, the Brandon that I miss will no longer exist, it will simply be a distant memory. So I soaked it in this summer...I cherished simple conversations with Wade and Ricky. I reveled in Wednesday Night Breakpoint at Bell Shaols. I served Victor with every ounce of my being as often as I could. I ate dinner at home as often as possible. I took my time and breathed with each step I took so that I could remember each face, and each embrace, and each moment of grace.

Hand out the window,
Floatin’ on air.
Just a flip of the wrist,
And I am wavin’ you goodbye.
So long, so long. (Takin' my time, takin' this drive,)
So long, so long. (Wavin' this town goodbye.)
And I will leave under the cover,
Of summer’s kiss upon the sky.
I was certain that the season could be held between my arms,
But just as summer’s hold is fleeting.
I was here but now,
I’m gone. (So long, so long.)
I'm gone. (So long, so long.)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Stance in Grace

This summer, I have been going to a church ministry for college students. A few weeks back, during the sermon, a portion of the story of the Prodigal Son was read. I couldn’t tell you what the original point of the sermon was or anything else that the preacher said that evening. As the story was read, my attention was firmly in the Lord’s grasp and I feel like I had a sermon spoken straight into my soul. This is what I learned as I meditated on the Scripture that evening and into the next days.

Luke 15:11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

11And he said, "There was a man who had two sons. 12And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them. 13Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to[b] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17"But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants."' 20And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'[c] 22But the father said to his servants,[d] 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate.

25"Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' 28But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!' 31And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"

I have always read this and thought “Yay for the prodigals. Run home to your God.” But I have never identified with the Prodigal. I identify with the older brother. He says “What the heck Dad? I’ve been faithful. I have served. I have never really strayed. Where is all of this for me? Where is my celebration? Where are my blessings?” I back that. It’s like I’m saying “Yoohoo…God! Um, in case you forgot, my name is Jennifer Lorraine Romanski from Brandon Florida. I think you forgot to bless me today. I think you forgot to dole out that good gift that I so deserve.”

In a way, I have even been jealous of the Prodigal. Christ tells Simon in Luke 7 that he who has been forgiven of much will love much and he who has been forgiven little will love little. Is that my fault that I had little to forgive? Shouldn’t He love me more because I have always loved Him and have never strayed and have never played the harlot?

Again, what a dumb child I am. I am the harlot. I am the whore. I am the Prodigal too. I’m just a prideful Prodigal, in that I can’t even recognize my own Prodigalness! Luke 7 isn’t saying that God will love the Prodigal more. It is saying that the Prodigal will love God more then the brother because the Prodigal knows just how much he is dependent upon the Lord, whereas the brother is still stuck in his own independence and self-sufficiency. The brother still believes that he is somehow good on his own a little bit. The Prodigal knows he is depraved. The Prodigal knows TRULY what he was saved from. The brother thinks a part of him was worthy of love. The Prodigal knows how incredibly unworthy he was. How selfish that I would not want to celebrate my brother’s return or whatever else God is doing in their lives because I’m too worried about my OWN celebration (or lack thereof).

There are not levels of sin, and there are not levels of righteousness. One iniquity might as well be infinity iniquities. Once sprinkled with the blood, that’s it. I am not saved by grace and then kept by works. I am saved by grace and kept by grace.

I deserve nothing more or less than any of my friends. I don’t deserve to be a student at UF. I don’t deserve to live in the United States. I don’t deserve the amazing little brother that I have. I don’t deserve to worship God. But it is because I don’t deserve any of this that I MUST worship God-this is why I cannot hold it in and remain composed. Instead of focusing on what God hasn’t given me, I must remember that He has given me all that I could ever need. He gave me life through the Messiah’s death. I don’t need a party and a fattened calf. I am ALIVE!!

How sad that this is something I must REMIND myself to remember. What if this were on the physical level? What if I was standing in a field, and a man had a gun to my head and was counting down to the trigger pull and to my death. Then, all of the sudden, another man walks up and puts his child in my place and pulls me to safety. I’m pretty sure that every time I saw this second man, I would remember his son’s death in my place. I’m pretty sure I would remember that I was once seconds from death and now am living. But spiritually, I allow my pride to take hold of my heart. I forget that God killed his son for me and am instead spending my time frustrated because my eye make-up looks weird and thinking about the Braves play-off chances and wondering whether or not I’ll get to watch an episode of Lost tonight.

I need to be rocked. I need to have everything I know shaken upside down. I need to have a life-threatening event happen. I need to suffer. I need to be persecuted. My life has already been too blessed and too easy. Maybe then the Gospel will permeate my every thought and movement. In a sermon on the life of John Bunyan, John Piper says this:

Bunyan's suffering left its mark on all his written work. George Whitefield said of The Pilgrim's Progress, "It smells of the prison. It was written when the author was confined in Bedford jail. And ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross: the Spirit of Christ and of Glory then rests upon them."

The fragrance of affliction was on most of what he wrote. In fact, I suspect that one of the reasons the Puritans are still being read today with so much profit is that their entire experience, unlike ours, was one of persecution and suffering. To our chipper age (at least in the prosperous West) this may seem somber at times, but the day you hear that you have cancer or that your child is blind or that a mob is coming, you turn away from the chipper books to the weighty ones that were written on the precipice of eternity where the fragrance of heaven and the stench of hell are both in the air.

God is good to love me. God is MERCIFUL to love me. I must remember that God is about His glory. I will never be able to steal His glory from Him, but I am guilty of trying too. I must remember that I stand in grace, and only in grace. I must remember that grace alone has kept me and will keep me.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

PCUSA and the Trinity

I grew up going to 2 different churches because my parents were divorced. With my mom, I went to a Southern Baptist church. With my dad, I went to a PCUSA (Presbyterian Church of the United States of America). For those who are familar with denominational differences, you know just how different these two are. SBCer's are known for their resolute stand against women pastors, their declarations that homosexuality is a sin, as well as many conservative stands on most other doctrinal issues.

PCUSA have woman preachers (in my church, we had a female preacher for the last 10 years), the Session as a whole decided NOT to decide about homosexuality because it is too divisive of an issue, and as a pattern they take a liberal stand on most doctrinal issues. I am grateful for the marriage of these 2 denominations in my upbringing, because I learned solid biblical doctrine at the SBC church while getting a steady dose of reformed theology in the PCUSA church.

I have, at times, shaken my head in dismay by decisions of the leadership in both of these denominations. But the PCUSA assembly has just done the heretic. The PCUSA session passed a policy on alternate names for the Trinity. Now, I don't pretend to be an expert on the Trinity (for that I would recommend the teachings of Dr. Bruce Ware), but these names are tragic.

The allowed alternatives are:
1. Rock, Redeemer, Friend
2. Lover, Beloved, Love
3. Creator, Savior, Sanctifier
4. King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love
(The traditional "phrasing" is "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit/Ghost".)

Now, number 3, I really don't take issue with. I think those are accurate descriptions of the role that each of the entities plays. As for the 4th one, eh...Spirit of Love seems a little hokey too me, cause isn't the Father also the King of Love and the Son the Prince of Love?" The third one just plain doesn't make sense to me. Number 2 seems too small to describe my God.

Here are the “best” ones though. (And by best, I mean worse. Far far worse.)

5. Rainbow, Ark, and Dove
6. Speaker, Word, and Breath
7. Overflowing Fount, Living Water, and Flowing River
8. Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child, and Life-Giving Womb
9. Sun, Light, and Burning Ray
10. Giver, Gift, and Giving
11. Rock, Cornerstone, and Temple
12. Fire that Consumes, Sword that Divides, and Storm that Melts Mountains
13. The One Who Was, The One Who Is, and The One Who Is to Come

There is no distinction between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Number 13 seems reminiscent of the Sunday School illustration that the Trinity is like water. God is Ice, Christ is water, and the Spirit is Steam. The same element is all three. While this is true, water cannot be ice and water and steam at the same time. Along the same vein, God is and was and is to come. Christ is and was and is to come. Same with the Spirit. The same divine characteristics that apply to one apply to all. They are coeternal.

One reason the church gives for giving alternative names is that "Presbyterians should seek 'fresh ways to speak of the mystery of the Triune God' to 'expand the church's vocabulary of praise and wonder.'" The report even begins this way. Merely a way to further express the different aspects of the character of God.

Well, that motive in and of itself seems decent. BUT, there is of course more. Another reason for the change "...is that language limited to the Father and Son 'has been used to support the idea that God is male and that men are superior to women.'" While it is accurate that God is not male, that is the pronoun that God Himself refers to Himself as. That is how Christ refers to His Father.

The report goes on to say “…the church ‘should not insist on the exclusive use of the traditional Trinitarian names, lest we quench the Spirit and even foster idolatry. Such a view would insufficiently acknowledge the divine mystery, would neglect the freedom of God’s children to glorify God imaginatively with all our hearts and minds, and would diminish the joy of knowing God ever more fully.’”

These statements, coming from a denomination that places women over men in ALL positions of leadership are not unexpected. I think it would be easy for people to think "Eh, what's the big deal. So they are changing names. It's not REQUIRED. It's just an option and the motive isn’t really 100% wrong. Know this. The Presbyterian assembly that voted to pass this paper policy also "...sang a revised version of a familiar doxology, 'Praise God from whom all blessing flow'" that avoided male nouns and pronouns for God.
Praise God from whom all blessing flow
Priase Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Mother all creatures here below
Praise Lover above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Rock, Redeemer, and your Friend

(Note-This is just a proposed alternative version I came up with. I'm not saying this is actually what they sang.)

Perhaps men in the early church-Peter and Paul and Stephen-and wise theologians-Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, RC Sproul, and Al Mohler could refer to the Trinity in one of these ways and their doctrine be no weaker for it (although I think pigs would fly before any of these great men would do so.) But the issue goes much deeper than church leadership. It cuts right into the heart of the congregation and their view of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The lay person who refers to God as the mother is going to have an inherently incorrect view of who God is in His very nature. While people are not stupid, they are easily led by those they considered wise-church leaders are considered wise.

PCUSA leaders are conforming to the politically correct culture we live in. If God wanted us to know Him as our Mother, do you not think He would have referred to Himself, at least ONCE, as such? PCUSA leaders should not attempt to disguise their feminist gospel under the banner of understand the nature of God better. Seems like these line up more with the Brian McLaren and the Emerging Chruch than anything else.

No name will ever encompass all that there is to the Trinity. Our imaginations should not attempt to change that.