accepting weakness

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

I keep coming back to this again and again. It’s probably because I haven’t sufficiently learned it for myself. It’s only when I simply accept whatever I’m experiencing, especially inwardly, but I suppose outwardly as well, that you might say, I find faith, and eventually God’s peace and rest.

And it’s important in this to accept the humility which comes with it. We are beset with weakness in whatever malady afflicts us, and in that we feel a dependency like never before. Maybe to some extent on others, but completely cast on the Lord.

This is where we’re to live from day to day. At times it’s especially acute, so that once again we have to accept it. It’s not wrong to ask God to remove it, but God may not. In Paul’s case, certainly unique in that he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and received astounding revelations (click link above to see that). But applicable to all of us who name the name of Christ. In and through Jesus.

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Bible stories which call us to radical faith

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

Exodus 14:10-18

We had a big Bible story book when we were growing up, along with Kenneth Taylor’s classic picture book walking children through the Bible. Of course those make great impressions on you as a child; my mother was faithful in reading them to us kids. What you take for granted as a child becomes a different matter when you grow up and become an adult, especially in today’s world. God is great and God is good, and we can depend on him and his word is replaced with the idea that it’s up to us, or at least that we have to do our part.

Contrast that with the message in the above Exodus event: to simply stand still and see the salvation of God. We struggle with that. Backing up a bit: not all the Bible is written to us, for example the book of 1 Corinthians. But everything from start to finish is written for us. So these stories telling of actual historical events are not just some kind of rare occurrence of the miraculous. They are that, but much more. They are present to encourage us in our own faith, into the same radical commitment that believes that come what may, God will save. That in a very true sense, we’re simply to stand still and see the salvation of God.

We have to get away from the notion and indeed the practice that we must take matters in our own hands. Instead we need to replace that with the commitment to leave everything in God’s hands and simply live by faith. Which means while it’s not like either that we’re automatons- although sometimes it will seem like God is carrying us, or that we never do a thing, after all the Israelites had to listen, believe, and move at God’s command through Moses, our dependence is not on ourselves at all, but on God. Neither do we depend on other lesser things than God.

We believe in the radical biblical way. Not just in a reciting of the creed, but through and through so that our faith carries through into all of life. That it’s first about finding God’s will and way and by faith living in that. Together as much as possible, while we endeavor to live there ourselves in and through Jesus.

life as a trial (test)

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

Deuteronomy 8:1-5

All of chapter 8 is good to see more of the context (link includes it), but this passage quoted above is easily sufficient to make the point needed. One important aspect of life is that it’s essentially a trial as in a test from God. Who likes tests? Not many, myself included. But good tests in a healthy academic setting can be learning experiences both of what we need to shore up on, and actually providing a stimulus for better understanding.

We off and on run into matters we just as soon would escape. That was so true of Israel in the wilderness. They grumbled and complained about the manna God gave them, missing the food they had in Egypt, even though their lot there had been abject slavery. Instead of going through the trial, trusting in their God who had delivered them, they failed the test, resorting to their own thoughts and devices or way of living.

All Scripture is written for us, for our learning and benefit (Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In this passage we learn that we can look at life in significant part as a testing from God, to help us see where we fall short, our dependency on God and God’s word, and what we should do and not do if we’re to trust God.

Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3 warn us against failing to trust in God and his word. When we’re up against it, in an impossible situation, and really in any and every circumstance in life, we’re supposed to trust God and in faith hold on to his promises. The testing shows both the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7), and where we need to grow. Something we may not like, but all for our good. In and through Jesus.

where is our attention turned?

Nowadays with social media we have everything good, bad, and in between at our fingertips. There’s no end to what we can access, and to the time we can waste on things that may not be bad in themselves, but are not the best.

Yes, we have certain hobbies, or interests which usually are perfectly legitimate in themselves. And actually we should enjoy such. But we need to beware lest we lose out on what is most important.

We need to turn our attention to God’s revelation in Christ, and to the Scriptures to see this. Yes, to Scripture, because it, the Bible, is God’s written word pointing us to God’s Word in Jesus.

This will make all the difference. Like as in light and darkness, good and evil, peace and unrest, hope and despair. Trying to grind through another day, or instead trusting in God, depending on him for all the help one needs. And to work one’s way through the difficult places of life. In and through Jesus.

the blessing of the hard places

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

No one likes hard places of any kind. In the text, outward circumstances which the Israelites disliked almost from the start, and came to contrast it with their familiar experience as slaves, yes slaves back in Egypt. It’s almost like they preferred slavery, although they had short memories. Rather than the freedom which depended on ongoing faith in God. God was indeed bringing them into unfamiliar, even hard places, to help them realize their own weakness, to humble them and teach them their utter need of God and his word.

All Scripture is meant to teach us. God does something of the same for us his people today. We experience circumstances or are in places which are not comfortable, or just plain challenging. And oftentimes we experience what’s been called inward privations. We are uncomfortable to say the least, with no peace. And sometimes horror. It’s like spiritual warfare when we’re up against the enemy trying to hold us down to take us out. That’s when we want to look to the pertinent passages in Scripture and pray. Committing ourselves to God as we claim his promises.

I have found that in such places I can have a new appreciation for prayer, not just for myself, but also for others. It’s almost as if God needs to submerge me into loss so that I can gain something I didn’t have before. In the midst of it all, God really does provide. And once we’ve come out of it, we can be better people because of it. Hopefully we’re deepened and matured. So that like Jacob, we walk with a limp, but are worshipers of God.

The blessing of the hard places. Not really where I ever want to go. But blessed so that we can be a blessing in and through Jesus.

 

 

simplify

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

As I get older I am wanting to and actually simplifying my life, not just making that attempt to do so, but gradually doing it, or at least so I think. That doesn’t mean one isn’t aware of and as necessary on top of so many responsibilities part and parcel of this life. That part never ends. How we approach all of that is another matter.

Mary in the story above had come to simply be devoted to hearing the Lord’s word, sitting at his feet and taking it all in. Martha was busy about, not actually having time to listen. Through this episode she ended up learning the lesson well, evident from the passage in John 11 on Lazarus’s death. She became open to the Lord’s word, but I’m sure continued to serve well, even if she pared down some of what she did.

Life itself doesn’t seem to get any simpler, maybe even more complicated as time goes on. We learn more and realize just how complex it all is, and how for so many problems in this world there are no easy pat answers. Except…

As followers of Christ we need to dial down as to how we approach all of this. “What is our calling?” is one good question we can ask. Our attitude and actions must follow. There are few things that matter, in essence only one. We must be immersed into our Lord’s teaching, into the Lord himself. Everything else can fall by the wayside in comparison with that because without that nothing else we do will matter. We won’t receive the blessing and be the blessing needed. What is needed given to us in and through Jesus.

the danger and folly of human anger

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James 1:19-21

Moses’s story in Scripture is fascinating. He did seem to have an anger issue. Though at a certain point it seems to have abated, or wasn’t a factor. He had killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave, and had to escape from Egypt. Then he was forty years in the wilderness before God appeared to him in the burning bush, and called him to go back to Egypt because God was about to rescue his people. In Numbers 12, Moses is called the most humble man on earth, not the meekest, though being humble is not far removed from meekness. Moses displays some anger; he broke the stone tablets when seeing the Israelites worshiping the golden calf. But by and large it seems like anger is not something which characterizes him. Until near the end, when in anger he strikes the rock, after God had told him to speak to that rock, the water coming for the Israelite community, but Moses himself barred from entering the Promised Land because of his disobedience of God’s command.

I think I’m much more helpful to myself and others when I largely avoid anger altogether. In this life there’s plenty of things to get angry about. We probably get angry about this and that throughout the day, small burst of anger, like when people sit at green lights probably glued to their phones. Or when machines are not running well at work. We might dismiss such anger as not only insignificant, but all well and good, or at least okay, no problem. But we might be missing the opportunity to discipline ourselves to avoid the more serious and consequential outbursts, which could bring harm to others, damage relationships, or just put us on a trek where we really aren’t seeing straight.

Nowadays in the United States it’s easy for people to get upset and uptight about this or that, usually this and that, with all that is happening in the political realm along with the deep division. As servants of Christ and the gospel, we as God’s people need to be different. We need to be meek as in gently depending on God, not self-assertive (see NET Bible footnote on Numbers 12:3). Anger means we’re taking the bull by the horns either in action or attitude. We think we have it. Refusing such because we’re trusting in God, not in ourselves, and realizing that we are limited is the route of wisdom.

Human anger does more harm than whatever good might be accomplished. When we are angry, we’re not to let the sun go down on it, in other words we’re never to harbor anger (Ephesians). In James’s words, we’re to be slow to anger. So it’s not like we’re to avoid it altogether. But it seems to me that it ought to be rare, so that we do well to sidestep it as much as possible. Vengeance is God’s, not our own. We’re to continue to love, even our enemies.

I find that when I speak out of the deepest convictions on matter with great urgency, too much anger is too often mixed into that. And it’s neither helpful for myself, nor the one I’m talking to. Rather, I could say much the same thing, but in a quiet, humble tone, which is nevertheless firm in seeking to stand for truth. But is dependent on God, and humble toward others in a kind of interdependent give and take.

Interestingly, though Jesus did get angry in driving out the merchants out of the temple, by and large I see the trait of restraint marked in his life. Being God as well as human, whatever anger he did have was purely righteous. Yet in exchanges with the religious leaders in John’s gospel account, I find time and again that he is most restrained, and probably so because he was so dependent on the Father. I do hesitate to point to Jesus, because even though he is the one we’re to follow, and we’re being changed into his likeness, Jesus as God has complete self-control in perfect wisdom. I doubt that we can ever say that about ourselves in this life, except when the Spirit markedly is taking over in a given situation, so as to practically carry us through.

At any rate, this is a lesson I am trying to learn and cement into my life. Beginning how I react to this and that, the small and larger things. In and through Jesus.