To those who know Nancy and me, here’s where I am presently. The following is derived from an e-mail to my daughter Ari in answer to her inquiry.
Nancy’s ConditionShe seems to have aged 20 years in the past two months. She appears to have decided that if she must live among geriatrics, she'll be a geriatric. I doubt it's that simple, but that's what it seems. Sometimes I see the old(young) Nancy in her smile or laugh, but the fact that it's just sometimes breaks my heart. Due to a stroke, I assume, she can't consistently say what she wants, and when she does talk some of her words are so slurred that I can't understand her.
Even so, she continues to bless me and those around her in Immanuel Lutheran Home. Nancy is an incredible woman who has fought the good fight so long she’s tired of fighting. She and her ex brought two amazing children into this world, and when he bugged out she raised them as a single mom. That takes the kind of spunk most of us only dream about, or admire in others.
She is the first to admit that she’s not always followed the wisest course, and some of her present straits are the fruit of what she sowed. Yet, she’s taken her stripes like the good sailor she is, and her beautiful heart continues as strong as ever.
My Place“I'm too young to be married to an old woman.” That is in quotes because it isn’t my sentiment, but that of my carnal nature.
At times I just want to get on with my life, but the "my life" part is the problem. If I am to crucify myself(Not as a martyr, but as God’s obedient child.), I must walk this path. "Death to Self" seems like Mission Impossible, and without Christ's Spirit, it is exactly that.
People tell me how noble, self-sacrificing and wonderful I am to stick with Nancy. Though I try to credit the real Hero, and tell them I'm personally just another y-chromosome-brain-damaged, insensitive jerk, the temptation to revel in their praise is powerful. I’m almost glad they don’t know how wrong they are.
But, what do I get out of all this?Some valuable lessons!
I begged God to make me more Christ-like. At the time I didn’t realize that was as risky as asking for more patience. Yet, he has put people in my life to both challenge and support me through the process.
I prayed, “Let your love flow through me.” He sent Nancy, to teach me how he loves, and to gently force me to actually pass his love on.
Through all this I’ve discovered the one prayer that, if sincere, he will always answer: “Give me your love for ______.” Whoever prays that prayer had better mean it!
The MessageIf I never achieve anything else with my life, I want to convince other Christ-followers that self-sacrifice isn't God's suggestion for the "Truly Spiritual" among us. Rather, it is his command for his church. Most believers never have that mandate pitched so forcefully into their laps, so they conveniently overlook the ministry(service) opportunities surrounding them.
Why do so many miss those blessings? God’s church is saturated with the world’s philosophies, a world that will never understand the dear price Christ paid for our freedom(1 Corinthians 6:20 and 1 Corinthians 7:23). As his people, we must learn the difference between standing up for Christ, and standing up for ourselves.
Tragically, while the world can’t understand the truth of our belonging to Christ, neither does much of today’s church. And I don’t say that smugly, as one who has mastered it. If anything, my sin is greater, as I know its truth, but so seldom live it.
Apostle Paul, wise as he was in Christ, put it like this:
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.(for motivating self-control) 17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.(because the law made him aware of his innate sinfulness) 18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.(sound familiar?) 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.(Some take this as permission to sin, but we are not the “sin that dwells within” us, and we are personally responsible for our sin.) 21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil(impulses, temptation) lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, (as do all committed, religious folks) 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.(also true of committed, religious folks) 24Wretched man that I am!(Join the club.) Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!(the only solution to this conundrum) So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.(which is why we must stop living for the flesh) Romans 7:16-25 ESV
If we are to observe Romans 7:16-25, we must first fully know Romans 6. By “fully know,” I mean not only having it memorized, but studied, meditated upon, and understood.
A Caveat on God’s WordIn this writing I have relied heavily on passages from the Bible. While theologians have authored cumbersome, technical treatises defending and defining God’s word, my understanding is somewhat more simple; I firmly believe that God gave us his infinite mind through mortal men in their fallible human language, and without his Holy Spirit’s intervention, the Book is little more than ink on paper, an ancient literary work to be dissected and critiqued by “scholars.” But through his Spirit, when taken in its entirety, it is God’s eternal truth.
Of course, that is not to say God won’t use passages taken from it to build his eternal concepts in our minds and bless our souls. While “rightly dividing” his word, however, we must not commit the sin Jesus condemned in Revelation 22:18-19, of teaching our interpretations of Scripture as inspired parts of it, and teaching excerpts of Scripture as God’s complete truth.
SummeryNo, I am not writing this on a summery day. I just wanted to get the attention of those who can spell.
I needed Nancy in my life, if for no other reason than to motivate me to seek Christ-likeness. Carnality so naturally fills my being that I simply do not have it in me to do that on my own. I am not a nice man; I am a natural man, afflicted with all the attendant faults.
Though we’d all love it if it were, nature is never an excuse for sin. There is, in fact, no excuse for sin, which is why Christ Jesus gave himself for our redemption. If we are in Christ, we are new creatures; the natural is gone, replaced by the supernatural (my paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:17). I pray that God will make that ever more true in my life, and yours.