The Gospel Challenged Woman
"The Gospel Challenged Woman" was the name I chose for a women's class I taught a few years ago. Though I prepared studies from Ephesians 1 for the class, the study was really for me because I often live with unnecessary guilt and a sense of never being quite good enough. For years I would go to bed thinking through my day and remembering all the undone tasks or the temper tantrums (that I had), losing my temper with my teens (who now have kids of their own) or crying over the fourth cup of spilled milk (actually orange juice on the floor is what made me cry the most). Compared to my energizer bunny girlfriend whose house is always ready for company and answers every phone call and doorbell with a southern style hospitality in her voice and face, I am pretty sure I'll never measure up. I would often conclude I didn't have a good day because I didn't have my "quiet time" or spend enough time praying or, well, you fill in the blank. Are you with me on this thinking? If so, we often conclude we failed because we didn't "do" the right thing - God punished us. But did we? Did He?
One Thing Against You
I started this as a personal study, in response to one of my husband's sermons from Revelation 2 and the Church of Ephesus. Jesus tells this congregation they are wonderful in so many ways, and yet He has one thing against them. They have forsaken their first love. The passage struck a cord in my own soul. I thought about the well-known story of Mary and Martha and how Jesus told Martha that she was so worried about so many things (good things like preparing a meal and hospitality) but that Mary had chosen the better thing - sitting at the feet of Jesus. Could Jesus' words to me be similar? I was pretty sure Jesus wasn't telling this congregation to spend more time in Bible study or their devotions or to be busier. This was a busy church, doing all the right things. I bet their spiritual mothering program was the best in the neighborhood! But they were missing something basic.
Repent, Remember and Repeat
Jesus tells them to repent, to remember and repeat what they did at first. Whenever Jesus calls us to repentance, there is hope. There is hope because Jesus gave up His life for ours, made a way for His children to experience forgiveness. When He calls us to repent (to turn away from something toward something else) that means we have a choice. And we have confidence that Jesus has already equipped us to obey Him because of His eternal love for us. This call to repentance indicates that the Ephesians had made a conscious choice to forget that first love. He tells them to "remember" and in order to remember, they needed to review what that first love was. But here is the amazing thing: When He tells them to "do what they did at first," He isn't telling them to add more programs to their church or to pull out their how to be more disciplined study or their to do lists. His call is not laced with shame but rather an invitation to experience once more His Hesed Love, to rest once more in His unfailing love.
Instead of wallowing in self-imposed guilt, I learn to repent, praying, "Lord, I know I didn't walk by faith every minute of today. Forgive me for those times I chose self, when I lost my temper, chose not to respond with mercy to a hurting person, made myself more important than those around me. Thank you that because of your unfailing love, you didn't stop loving me when I failed. You continue to hold me safely in your grip. Thank you that tomorrow is another day and I can face it with renewed desire to show others the same kind of Hesed love you show me."
Remember: What About that First Love?
How many sermons or Bible studies have challenged you to "love Jesus more" with guilt as the motivation? That might work for a little time, but typically, guilt as an action motivator is short lived and definitely unfulfilling. Obedience out of guilt did not work for me. I went on a hunt to understand that first love - what was it? I discovered that Jesus wasn't piling more guilt on them, as in, "You need to love me more." His way of blessing is so much simpler. He exhorts them and me to remember God's love for them, for me. Remember what drew me to Jesus in the first place. Travel to the foot of the cross, look up into the eyes of Jesus as He carries my sin. Let His agony wash over my soul and wonder at he unfathonable eternal and unconditional love that God has for me, proven by the sacrifice of His only Son. ("Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! Ho unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" Romans 11:33)
How does remembering this immeasurable love change my response to daily life?
During our class we heard Gospel challenging stories from women who battled cancer, lost children, watched husbands betray them. (Browse the Help and Hope Warrior Woman Stories on our MARKINC Ministries website.) Each one confessed that their only source of real hope was God's love and the love letters of His Word. Guilt could not compel them to trust God with their daily lives. Only His unfathonable love could do that. Their lives are not easy, yet they glow with the joy of daily experiencing His promises and looking to His Word for truth. His Word is sharp and living and with them, we, too, hear God's instructions and comfort and wisdom as we soak in His truth. Ephesians 1 reminds us that we are citizens of Heaven when we are "in Christ." How can this be when we are traveling on a pathway through earth? We live as visitors, not as citizens. We have two existences: we are in Bear, or Newark, or Maryland, or Middletown, or Russia, or Germany, or Scotland, etc. This helps me better understand my struggle with guilt and wrong choices when I start each day hoping to "do better."
I am in Christ. I have two natures. I am two people at one time. If you love Jesus, you and I are in the same battle. Paul says in Gal. 2:20, "I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me." This is a conflict, even to ourselves. I am a spiritual woman, eternally transformed by the grace of God and yet I am a natural woman, still in this world. I still sin, yet because I am a spiritual woman, I feel guilty. I carry with me that old natural woman, a woman living in me who does not like the new me! Paul declares in Gal. 5:17, "The flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh." Yet, I have confidence that I have been transformed from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son (Col. 1:13). I now have two outlooks. In a sense, I have been "beamed up" into a spiritual realm. Because of Easter, because of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, God sees me as perfect, though I still live in a sinful body and world. Practically, I see the world as others see it, but I also see it differently. Paul declares,
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved."
Because of His Hesed Love, I can start my day with, "Love, your love is bigger, deeper, broader, wider than anything I can imagine. Your love compels me to find new ways, and maybe old ways to love others with that same kind of love. When my children disappoint me, love them through me. When I lose my temper, remind me of how you never lose patience with me. When I am tempted to lie or refuse to take responsibility for mistakes, teach me humility so that I start to resemble the spiritual woman you have made me rather than the "woman of the flesh" that wants to rule my days. Thank you, Lord, that you never give up on my, that I am firmly in Your grip."
I am a foreigner, visiting this world, on my way Home. The older I get, the more frequently I need to be reminded that I don't belong here. That God's love is drawing me to a better place, to a Home where the battle between the two "me's" will be over. As I approach Easter, Resurrection Day, I take great hope in Hesed, the unfailing love of Jesus that compels me to walk this pathway by faith, trusting Him to use the circumstances of my life to continually turn my heart toward Him.
I am a Gospel challenged woman. My prayer and hope is that the closer I get to my ultimate destination, I accept the challenge of my Savior to remember my first love more an more. In so doing, that love compels me to respond to life through the grid of His love, reflecting His redemption to those traveling this same pathway.
Blessed Easter - He is Risen!