in praise of not having it all together

…they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”

2 Corinthians 10:10

Tim Gombis’s book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry is most helpful, and possibly even groundbreaking in giving us a view of Paul, pre and post conversion, and how that affected Paul’s service to God. And how that might speak to us today, even those who are in the trenches in ministry, and yet doing so in a way that is often more like Paul before his conversion to Christ, completely flipped after that conversion.

Too many of us have taken on the worldly attitude that we are out to sell something, have a big impact on our communities, be successful in terms of numbers: growing and growing, and just be the epitome of success inside and out. Win, win, win is a big part of that, being winners. Or having just that image that people imagine is good, maybe even Christian, and perish the thought: even like Jesus. After all, some have compared Jesus to images contrary to the “love your enemies” cross bearing picture given in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

We ought to not only much prefer, but accept nothing but honesty to God and to each other. And while we should pray and do our best to present the truth in Christ as fully as possible, faithful to Scripture, to what we’re hoping God has given us, that should be done in utter humility with a willingness to be ourselves, to be vulnerable, maybe to trip over our words some. That might encourage the kind of church the New Testament envisions in which everyone is a participant. We’re not out to impress each other, but to seek God together, and be faithful together in God’s covenant in Christ.

We need to get rid of the notion once for all that we’re to have it all together, whatever that means. What we do desire is to be growing together into the image and full maturity of Christ. Nothing else matters. What we need to see is not us, but Christ in us. No pretense, all real, honest, even when raw and most often with the sense of falling short. But God’s grace in Christ making the needed difference. In and through Jesus.

learning to rest in God

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:1-2

Yes, Christians in too many places in the world are being persecuted. And people of other faiths, also. For us followers of Christ, the enemy which we struggle against is spiritual (Ephesians 6:10-20). We love all human enemies, while seeking to live in wisdom both for them and for ourselves.

Much of our struggle is tied both to our own weaknesses as humans and to the cosmic, spiritual conflict that is waging. So we need to see our troubled thoughts and troubles in that context. And we need to learn to rest in God. God is the One to whom we need to run and hide. God’s provision is in God’s Presence and with that comes our protection. I’m not referring to experience, that we have to feel that. Those feelings thankfully do come, but they also go. And sometimes they’re hard to come by at all because of our fears. This is simply something by faith which we do. Something we want to learn to be accustomed to doing. Where we want to live.

Notice the rest of the psalm (click link above). What we see is that God takes care of it. We’re still present, our faith active in complete dependence on God. The promise is that God will see us through trouble.

In the meantime I want to learn to rest more in God. And in that to truly learn to be at rest. In and through Jesus.

accepting what’s unacceptable

…but [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Life is full of problems and possible dangers due to our human limitations as well as bad decisions. There’s no end to that. I love this passage, definitely one of my go to passages, because it opens the door to accepting what in and of itself is not acceptable. And that only because of God’s grace. 

Notice that it’s for Christ’s sake that we’re to accept weakness, not for our sake. We live for Christ, and find our joy in that. And we find Christ’s power resting on us as we do. Something hopefully that I can more and more accept and settle into. In and through Jesus.

 

God’s grace is enough

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9: MSG

I believe we’re not on this journey alone. Not only is God with us in Christ by the Spirit, but we in Christ are in this together, or we’re meant to be. Oftentimes though it seems like we’re more or less all alone. Paul experienced both. He had rich fellowship with the churches and that encouraged him in his own faith as he tells us in his letter, Romans. But he also felt abandoned at times, all alone.

We really need each other in the church, in all our weakness, because we have plenty of it. When we can share our struggles and burdens, then others can come alongside of us and pray. And we can offer our weak hopefully heartfelt prayers by the Spirit for others.

I keep coming back to this. God’s grace is enough for us even in all our weakness. God is present for us. It is actually hard to live a life in weakness. Just ask Paul. Or read the passage above (click the link). It wasn’t easy for Paul, but he found God’s grace and strength in ways he would not have without the weakness. To the point that Paul learned even to delight in weaknesses. That way Christ’s power could rest on him.

A problem within the church nowadays is the idea that we should look like we have it all together. And that feeds the lie that this should be so in our lives. But in this present life we’re often going to feel weakness. We need to be present for each other. And we need to accept our weakness, believing that Christ will be with us in a special way in it. I believe not only true for us as individual believers, but for churches as well. In and through Jesus.

learning to feel good when feeling bad

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10; MSG

Yesterday I quipped to someone that I was learning to feel good feeling bad. And though I look up to him, he said he does the same. For me the dam broke then, and a peace eventually flooded my heart, taking away the angst and deadness which had me down for a couple of days. But getting home, something came to my mind, another problem, and by and by I was submerged in something of the same fear.

I turn back to the same passage, which has become go-to for me. And the part when Paul accepts the Lord’s word to accept his weaknesses, even that “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan.”

I like the way Paul sums it up. As The Message puts it, taking limitations in stride, letting Christ take over. The first part might be easier than the second, but it seems a prerequisite, meaning necessary for it. We learn to live well with our weakness, in Paul’s case it seems both exterior and interior. Paul’s list would include all the above.

Naturally we humans resist any of that. How easily we drift when all is going well inward and out. We want to avoid problems. But life is lived in the midst of problems, including weaknesses and limitations. It’s how we deal with that which is important. Where is our faith? Do we trust God to see us through? To work in those things for good, even for our good? To deepen us and help us grow in ways we haven’t and actually can’t imagine?

We need the Lord’s help for sure. We want that sense of the Lord’s strength in the midst of our weakness. His grace is indeed enough for us. We keep doing what God has called us to do as we read in Scripture, “in Christ Jesus.” Knowing God will help us in ways that only God can do. In and through Jesus.

when weary, keep going

Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it.

Judges 8:4

Gideon and his three hundred arrived at the Jordan and crossed over. They were bone-tired but still pressing the pursuit.

Judges 8:4; MSG

First of all, we read these passages today, all for our profit in some way, but not all are prescribing or describing how we’re to live as followers of Jesus. Much that is recounted actually was not good even in its time. So we can’t use this passage to sanction un-Jesus-like activity, such as violence, even when considering it just. We do see in what follows that Gideon sought to provide needed food for the men with him. So that’s indeed a good takeaway for us. We need to take care of ourselves, not just let the candle burn on both ends until we burn out.

But a good point for us to take home here is that when we’re weary, bone-tired, we need to keep doing whatever it is we’re called to do, or fulfilling the sense of calling God has given us. Yet remember the needed rest and sustenance, especially directly from God, both physically and spiritually.

We want to keep at it full bore, giving it everything we have, of course not just working hard, but smart as they say nowadays. Putting our full heart and strength into it. Even when we are so tired.

Rest is essential. But I’m talking about those times and days when it’s not easy to keep going, or you think you’re reaching the end of your strength. Remember that in our weakness the Lord’s strength is somehow perfected. We want to depend on the Lord, and look to God for renewed strength. We need that inwardly and outwardly, both. God will provide. We will make it through in all our weakness and imperfection, as we seek to follow the Lord, and what we know is good, right and true. In and through Jesus.

back to accepting/embracing weakness

You’ve forced me to talk this way, and I do it against my better judgment. But now that we’re at it, I may as well bring up the matter of visions and revelations that God gave me. For instance, I know a man who, fourteen years ago, was seized by Christ and swept in ecstasy to the heights of heaven. I really don’t know if this took place in the body or out of it; only God knows. I also know that this man was hijacked into paradise—again, whether in or out of the body, I don’t know; God knows. There he heard the unspeakable spoken, but was forbidden to tell what he heard. This is the man I want to talk about. But about myself, I’m not saying another word apart from the humiliations.

If I had a mind to brag a little, I could probably do it without looking ridiculous, and I’d still be speaking plain truth all the way. But I’ll spare you. I don’t want anyone imagining me as anything other than the fool you’d encounter if you saw me on the street or heard me talk.

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10; MSG

This is one on which I go around and around. It never seems any easier, but I think it gets shorter, because even though it’s taken me some time, I think I’m more and more getting it. When I feel completely weak, I also don’t sense God’s grace present. I think we can safely say that something like that was going on in Paul’s own experience expressed here. Paul cried out to God three times for the weakness to be removed. But then accepted the Lord’s word to him, realizing that though it certainly didn’t feel good or sit well, it was for his own good, and most importantly, so that Christ might be made known through him.

And so we must first accept it. When we do, we might even learn to delight in it. And that’s because God’s grace meets us as we accept whatever weakness it is that seems to hold us down, make us feel lost, or whatever. That’s when relief comes. But that doesn’t mean the weakness is removed.

It needs to be spelled out clearly here that when we refer to weakness, we don’t mean out and out sin. Perhaps temptation to sin is a part of it. But it’s more in line with what Paul refers to: “a handicap” as well as “limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks.” Perhaps what may have been a disease affecting his eyesight was in view here, but he adds more. So that will include whatever difficulties we experience, while seeking to remain true to Christ. 

Something I have to come back to again and again. A nice fresh rendering of it in Eugene Peterson’s The Message. The answer to help us through. In and through Jesus.

God works with imperfect, even broken people, people who don’t have it altogether

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby…

Luke 2:8a

I go to the famous Christmas passage, but just to consider one aspect of it, we could say pre-Christmas, and fitting well into Advent maybe in the sense that God’s coming may take us by surprise. Shepherds did move around, but their way of life was the same. They lived with their flocks of sheep, taking care of them, especially on guard at night. The group here who witnessed the angelic hosts proclaiming the Lord’s birth were surely just as ordinary as any of us. But they also were each and everyone created by God, loved by God, and each gifted by God. Yes, in humble work, but didn’t our Lord live in obscurity? Surely good in its place, but not anything extraordinary. Our Lord has been there.

I’m so glad that God mercifully in grace reveals himself to us, and works with us right where we are. One of the many lies from the evil one (Satan, the satan meaning the opposer) is that if we get out of line this way or that, God will no longer deal with us. That is a plain out old fashioned lie. Christ died for our sins. In him we are forgiven as we accept that sacrifice of love for ourselves. God certainly wants to help us do better, and grow spiritually. But God will not abandon us, the work of his hands both in creation and now in new creation in Jesus.

Of course again, I’m not talking about us living in out and out sin. Even then God will seek to rescue us in God’s deep love. But none of us have it altogether. We all have our weaknesses, and faults along the way. So glad the Lord wants to meet us there, right where we’re at. So that we can receive his blessing directly and through others, and be a blessing to others. Just like the shepherds of old. In and through Jesus.

just keep praying no matter what

Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’

“He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’”

Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”

Luke 18:1-8; MSG

If there’s one thing true about life it is that we’ll face challenges aplenty. In all kinds of ways from circumstances, and at least in our imagination from people as well. And as much as anything, and probably more, just from ourselves, or I can speak for myself, in my own weakness.

What we need to do is get in the posture of prayer and remain there. Not be moved, but keep on praying. With all kinds of prayers including just being present before God in the mess.

That needs to be developed and practiced as a way of life with us. Something we do when times are hard, and when they’re not. There is always plenty to pray about in this world. All kinds of concerns which have seemed to intensify this year. But no matter what year or day, we need to begin and keep on doing it.

None of us in ourselves by the way, know how to pray. We just determine to do that, and begin. Many times in silence. But in the noise as well. We pray, and look to God. That will make the needed difference in time, if we stay put doing that. In ourselves if nothing else, God making himself known. In and through Jesus.

against “success”

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

I wonder what Jesus would say to us today if he were present in person. We can leave that to our imaginations, and I’m sure many would just think that he would basically rubber stamp whatever agenda they’ve embraced. But would he? Wouldn’t we all have to face his penetrating gaze? Though we don’t really understand him all that well, if at all, he can see right through us.

I wonder if what we consider success nowadays would be seen as success by Jesus. It is often seen in worldly power, or the power of the state, pushing agendas through. Unfortunately when we major on that kind of power, it seems to me anyhow, that we’re clearly leaving behind what Jesus taught his disciples here, and what he would tell us today.

There certainly is a tension between wanting to see good laws and policies, and accepting and learning to live with the reality when what we consider less than good is in place. And of course no political power of this world is part of God’s kingdom in King Jesus.

I like to think that this is not my problem, but I do have a certain view of success which I need to question and bring to God in prayer. It may be good in some ways, and yet still fall short of what the Lord’s description of it would be for me.

It is set here in terms of taking up our cross and following Jesus, yes, to death. Success in the Lord’s eyes seems quite the opposite of success as the world sees it, or as we would naturally expect.

For Jesus it was a rejection of what the world holds dear. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not on his priority list. Peter must have expected the Messiah to meet messianic expectations of that day. To at least fulfill the prophecies of their Hebrew Scripture in something like was anticipated, an actual physical rule that put worldly empires in their place. Actually the Lord was going to do that, but in precisely the opposite way of what Peter imagined. It made no sense to Peter, but the Lord put him in his place in no uncertain terms. It was either the way of the cross, or a mere human, Satan-inspired way. There was nothing in between.  It was one or the other.

To the present, while I may not care about power politics where I live in the United States, and though I do participate in the democratic process here, I don’t think I have any desire to be a part of a dominant political party. I do have concerns in how the political process plays out, the impact it has on the world, on people, locally, nationally and internationally. I don’t think participation in such a process is necessarily contradictory to our Lord’s teaching, though it could be. It all depends both on what our goal actually is, and also how we think it should be achieved.

For me, success often looks like something I’ve more or less embraced all my life: working hard, providing for family, giving to the church, hopefully helping others, all good things in themselves. But just maybe the Lord wants me to pick up on some things which he considers success which are all but out of my line of vision. Maybe for me it’s more like giving up concerns and pursuits which might not be bad in themselves, but crowd out the better. And to quit thinking that it all depends on me, my effort, which deep down I know is all from God, since actually everything that’s good is a gift from God. Maybe in my pursuit for things which are good in themselves, I’ve lost sight of the greater things. Justice, mercy and faithfulness were called major priorities by our Lord (Matthew 23:23-24). Maybe I’ve seen success in too much of the way the world sees it, by my own effort and poor attempts at loving. Maybe I’ve lost sight of depending less on myself, and more on God. Do I really believe that I can do nothing apart from Christ? Do I make my relationship with him the priority it needs to be? Do I see my relationship with other Jesus followers as central to both their growth and mine, all of us being in this together? Do I embrace humility, and really value others as more important than myself?

Just some thoughts on a subject in which I feel like a mere beginner. But want to learn and follow Jesus.