Friday, May 28, 2010

He Knows my Weakness

"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear." (John 16:12 NIV)

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Cor. 10:13)

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust. (Ps 103:13-14)

Jesus knows what makes me weak; he knows, in every sphere, my breaking point - that point at which I will lose heart, lose hope, or even lose my grip on sanity or my tentative hold on fragile physical life. Jesus knows what overwhelms my will, what would cause me to despair, what temptations are uniquely powerful for me. He knows my weaknesses with food and lust, He knows my twisted familiarity with self-hatred and shame.

What does Jesus do with this knowledge?

Our awareness of someone's weakness might cause us to want to exploit it, especially if they are a perceived enemy. Other times we are ashamed of someone's weakness and run and hide from them lest their weakness expose our own. At our best, we enter into each others' weakness so that we can lend strength and journey together. This is a faint glimpse of what our Savior does.

He provides over-abounding grace to meet me in my weakness so that it does not become a place of ultimate defeat, but of defining intimacy. He gives sufficient grace (2 Cor 12) so that weakness and handicap can become world-conquering strength. But it never becomes the kind of "worldly" strength that is measured in visible power and success, the kind that will receive acclaim from the Donald Trumps and Dr. Phils of this world; it is an inner power flowing from the indwelling Spirit to a new self that is increasingly free from the opinions of others, the trappings of success and the shame of failure. Our weakness, soaked in the grace of Jesus our tender Savior, becomes a point of light to those trapped in darkness; it becomes a pool of refreshing water to those made desperately thirsty with the dry sands and hot winds of religion; it becomes a source of strength to those who are ready to give up, to give in, to give over.

I need Jesus; I am weaker than I ever thought possible, in more ways than I thought possible, and my weakness continues to broaden and deepen the older I get. May his grace be exposed through my weakness, so that others might find in Him peace, solace and ever-flowing love and strength. May the Pharisees who despise weakness give no thought to me; I am content to bear his reproach, for this too is weakness. May the broken who know their weakness find fresh hope in a Savior who loves to dwell with the weak and broken, even passing by the favored, strong and rich of this world, those "have-it-all-togethers" who have no need of a broken Savior. He has no need of them either.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Blind Side

We finally saw Sandra Bullock's newest movie, The Blind Side, and it sparked a few thoughts for me.

First, I am drawn to movies that are based on true stories. It seems to have more meaning for me. The themes of redemption, adoption and sacrificial love were all the more powerful for me knowing that much of it actually happened.

This movie is an amazing picture of how God redeems us from our own "hell" and places us in his family with all the rights of firstborn sons. It also stresses the fact that we have choices in the process, God invites and we come.

With how often Christianity is bashed these days in the media, I was delightfully surprised to see it portrayed simply and beautifully as a faith worked out in love.

On a lighter note, I was glad to see Kathy Bates in this movie. She's made at least one other football movie destined to be an all-time classic, "Waterboy." During the football scenes I was totally into it, esp. since I used to play the same position on the line in High School (Tackle). As players were being crushed beneath Oher's power, I was hearing Bobby Bouchet's trademark, "eeuurrrrr!" and loving it. I could hear Kathy Bates saying, "Now, you go play your foosball, big Mike! Have fun with your friends!"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Lord is my Shepherd (past, present, future)

Psalm 23 (ESV)
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

As I read this Psalm I was aware of what I was bringing to it: grieving over the past, anxiety over the present, and dread for the future. I heard the Lord respond to all three in different ways. The Psalm definitely focuses on David's present experience of God's sweet care, but the past and future are there too.

The past is assumed in the affirmation that God "restores my soul," implying that the past has left me weary and fragmented and in need of healing and restoration. The past has left me hungry and thirsty, in need of life-giving waters and green grasses.

The present is David's primary focus as the arena in which we experience the grace and lovingkindness of God; the present is the context in which we live, though we try to live in the past or future at times, to our detriment. I cannot receive grace for living in any other place than in the present moment.

The future is particularly in mind with the beauty of the last verse,
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

As God restores, cares for and leads me in the present, I can look toward the future with seeds of hope that the future is not filled with dread but with the pursuit of God. Not primarily my pursuit of God, but the far more important story of God's pursuit of me. By his grace, may the dread dissipate in the glory of the light of his love.

This verse is also eschatological, pointing me to the final reality of living free and fully in the unmediated presence of my Abba. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Suffering is Lost on Some People

This quote got me thinking recently about the different effects suffering has on different people.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

“Christ says to those who seek deliverance from pain and sorrow, ‘It is enough that I love you.’ . . . Most Christians are satisfied in trying to be resigned under suffering. They think it is a great thing if they can bring themselves to submit to be the dwelling-place of Christ’s power. To rejoice in their afflictions because thereby Christ is glorified is more than they aspire to. Paul’s experience was far above that standard. . . .

When really weak in ourselves, and conscious of that weakness, we are in the state suited to the manifestation of the power of God. When emptied of ourselves, we are filled with God. Those who think they can change their own hearts, atone for their own sins, subdue the power of evil in their own souls or in the souls of others, who feel able to sustain themselves under affliction, God leaves to their own resources. But when they feel and acknowledge their weakness, he communicates to them divine strength.”

Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, 1973 reprint), pages 287-289.

When I hear that a person has suffered something deep and/or tragic, I often begin to assume they are a "safe place" for fellow sufferers. "Safe place" meaning a refuge for those who also suffer, someone who:

- is quick to listen, and (very) slow to give advice
- embraces the mystery of processes involved in life (life is messy and not easily figured out!)
- has a deep tenderness that is rooted in the Father's mercy (2 Cor 1:3-4)
- continues to pursue God even in (especially in) darkness and pain
- owns their own brokenness and weakness
- shows patience with strugglers and questioners

But more often than not it seems, when I encounter a believer who has suffered a devastating loss of some kind they are NOT safe people for fellow sufferers. The way I usually find this out is to share a bit of my story to "test the relational waters" to see if it's safe to wade in; I often receive advice and/or a harshness that makes me want to jump out and quick! I always leave encounters feeling discouraged, confused and even a little betrayed.

Now, I quickly learn to pursue those friendships with brothers who have proven themselves to be safe, and I count these as a deep blessing. But it makes me wonder why some Christians don't ever seem to become refuges for fellow sufferers though they have suffered deeply themselves. Perhaps the more they suffer the more they believe that they are "owed" something in return; perhaps they don't go deep with their questions, but only remain as deep as necessary to maintain a semblance of control. Hodge's comments above suggest that it is because they are "resigned in suffering" and not really seeking to go deeper with God. Thoughts anyone?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Gap between Experience and Truth

I often feel the painful gap that exists between what I believe to be true, and my experience of that truth. I have been trained well in "rational belief" through our modernistic approach to education in our conservative Seminaries. When my experience (my day to day emotional and spiritual experience) falls short of what I know to be true, I often falter and lose heart, especially when it seems all the church has to offer is more of the same "rational belief" kind of stuff. Feeling depressed? Read Romans 8 and Ephesians 1 for the cure. Not cured? read it again, this time with faith.


This approach is flawed in several ways - first, in the way we understand ourselves as human beings, and second, in the way we read, understand and appropriate Holy Scripture (I will deal with the former in this post, and perhaps the second point in a later post). If I were a computer needing the right download, correct information and belief would be enough to fix me (maybe after a virus scan?). But I'm a unique creature made in the image of God with far greater capacities for knowing and loving than any computer can ever come close to. This "gap" is what the books of Job and Ecclesiastes are all about. Let's be honest Christians, and acknowledge that often we don't know what the hell is going on.

I find that what fills this gap is the mystery of the person of Jesus, particularly the suffering Jesus on the cross. I say mystery because his presence, though pointed to by rational belief, is not bound to it, meaning that there is sometimes no direct correlation between what I know to be true and what I experience of God at the time. I may affirm my belief in Romans 8:28 (and I do), ["And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,"] but not yet see it yet in my own story - and YET I am allowed to experience the grace and oftentimes silent presence of God in the gap.

In his mercy, he transcends rational belief categories and meets with me in all the broken places where life doesn't make sense (though not in ways that oppose rational belief in what is revealed in Scripture; what may be called supra-rational, but not ir-rational). The truth of Romans 8:28 will be revealed, but just because it hasn't been revealed yet doesn't mean I should force my story to fit into a "nice redemptive ending." This was the mistake of "Job's Friends," and the mistake of many Christians since. The truth of Romans 8:28 will only be finally revealed when I meet God face to face and experience the goodness of God's providence throughout the journey of my life.

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