Saturday, August 6, 2011
Let’s face it. We turn a blind eye to texts that confuse us or refute our beliefs. Some texts are hard, not because they are saying something we can’t understand, we think them hard because they don’t fit our pre-molded interpretation. They are difficult to press into our systematic theology. So we hasten past them in our Bible study hearing more of a “yada-yada-yada” instead of the actual words.
But the Bible says some pretty plain and offensive stuff. The Bible doesn’t always clearly present our church’s position on doctrine. Texts that explicitly refute our dearly held convictions cause us to go into theological panic attacks when they are forced beneath our eyes. Time for us to do some courageous looking.
Hebrews 12: 4-17
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
At Gethsemane, Jesus strove so hard against temptation that great drops of blood flowed from his skin. He sweat blood. Here, the author of Hebrews is telling us that in our struggle to obey even amidst a flood of seemingly irresistible temptation, that we should not think ourselves doing something great. Until we have done what Christ did and have come to the point of shedding our blood in fighting the Devil, we should not think we have done enough. Time to get very honest with ourselves and confront our temptations. Are we doing what is necessary to empower ourselves with God’s grace so that we may resist it?
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."
Ouch! Who wants to read this.... ? Discipline, punishment from God? Not so politically correct....
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
We have been told to sit back, relax all we need is faith and nothing else matters.
if righteousness is imputed, covering us rather than actually changing us, why would we need discipline? This text doesn’t fit with that theological worldview.
The inspired author is telling us that we are being trained for holiness and righteousness. And it seems to entail rebukes and punishment.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Gulp. You meant, Mr. author-of-Hebrews, that Jesus makes the effort, not me, right? That it is His holiness I access by my faith and I don’t need actual holiness to see the Lord, correct?
Unfortunately, the author is telling us to have courage, be strong and be healed! WE are to “make every effort” to be holy and that without holiness, we will not be able to stand before a Holy God. Holiness is mandatory. And it is the reader who is admonished to endeavor for righteousness, for why even bring it up if it is a passive gift? The author would be expressing the joy and comfort of Christ’s efforts and not ours if we had nothing to do but be at ease and appreciate what Jesus did for us.
See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.
How does this fit in with the doctrine of Sola Fide or faith alone? This doesn’t really sound like the God I was presented in my years of listening to a Baptist Ph.D apologist and expositor of the faith (in church).
God does have some expectations of us, who have given ourselves in submission to Him. Not that we are earning salvation, far from it. But once we have entered the Kingdom of Heaven, there is some tough love awaiting us in the form of discipline from Our Father.
The good news is that, if we could see the end from the beginning, we would see the brilliance of Holiness and eagerly submit to His merciful grace through discipline. He promises that, even though it will hurt for a moment, the righteousness we gain is eternal.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Through the years, I have come to recognize this distracted spiritual agitation as God trying to get me to unearth and confront a sin in my life. The months of unconsciously avoiding this needed repentance, repair and reconciliation between God and I is due to the extreme pain it is going to cause--like pulling a huge embedded sticker from my heart. It means some deep, tedious, reflecting analysis of my actions and why I am behaving in such a way. It is time consuming and laborious work--Dorian Grayish.
The other day, my husband came home and didn’t want to watch Netflix or Real Catholic TV or EWTN. He just sat there quietly and that is when I felt it, the unsettled white noise. I started to cry. Might as well get a head start on the tears as I knew this was the beginning of the suffering.
This time I discovered something I didn’t expect at all. I am hoping that my discovery will help those of you out there or I wouldn’t mention it.
That white noise in my soul, that pain of inner reflection scrambling my thinking, was there when I needed to see the bad in me--- but also--- to my surprise-- the good.
Did you realize that it is just as painful for us to face God’s love for us, our lovableness, as it is to face our un-acceptableness to God? It may sound weird but, in the end, we find that once we endure the full impact of our pride, arrogance and wickedness, which we as Christians expected-- that we then cannot endure the discovery of the depths of being loved.
My purgatory that evening was to walk through the fires of God’s passionate love for me and to let it purify me in a new way--to accept that I am good, that there is something noble and magnificent inside me placed there by God and He gets tired of my self-hatred. (And I wasn’t even aware of my self-hatred.) In fact, He commanded me to fully accept His love.
When we are shown our similarities to the Devil and our similarities to God we look away, it is just too dark and too bright. But God wants us to gaze upon both--for it is when we do that we can fall at His feet and live in His glory.
Monday, August 1, 2011
This is based upon true stories.
Tom could hardly see the long country road, as it was the middle of the night and the dust was kicking up in front of the car’s headlights. His wife had been taken suddenly ill during a vacation and he decided to drive her home. Their young daughter was asleep in back and had not been too disappointed about abruptly ending the vacation, as she had lots of plans with her girlfriends that summer.
The road ended with a sudden, violent impact on the passengers side which tossed and rolled them into the fields.
Tom groggily awoke in the hospital to the devastating news that a teenage boy (whose girlfriend had just broken up with him) had set out that black night on an unsuccessful 110 mile-an-hour suicide attempt. The boy would recover from the serious injuries he sustained, but both Tom’s wife and little girl had been killed.
Being out of a job for six months, debt was mounting for Patrick. His desperate prayers seemed miraculously answered when a dream job (he was way under-qualified for) opened up. Then as the months passed at this new job, it was dawning upon him that he was being set up. He had been hired to be the fall guy for the company’s fraud. He had to do some serious scrambling to keep from being thrown in jail.
We all experience humiliating and agonizing injustices in life. Even if not as dramatic as the stories above, we encounter small injustices daily in the forms of insults, being misrepresented, ignored or patronized. As Christians we are asked to do the impossible, the supernatural. We are asked to forgive the unforgivable.
The natural man is programed for justice. From infancy, we all have an innate requirement for wrongs to be righted. We simply cannot deal with a world where the perpetrator doesn’t get his just reward and the victim isn’t defended. That is good. Justice is right.
So when Christ tells us to turn the other cheek and forgive our enemies, He is not telling us that He is unjust and the bad guy wins. Jesus tells us to forgive because He claims all acts of retribution as His.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. Romans 12: 19 (See also Hebrews 10: 30 and Deuteronomy 32: 35)
It is against all our instincts, our logic and our emotions to forgive premeditated acts of injustice. Everything inside us screams out in righteous pain to God that sin should not be allowed to go unpunished--punishment where WE can view it, now, so it doesn’t eat at us forever. Life doesn’t make sense when we must absorb the injustice.
And as unjust as it is; that is exactly what Christ calls His follower to do.
The Power of Sin
We don’t really take the time to analyze sin. There is no such thing as private sin. All sin sets in motion a chain reaction that continues like a wave, sometimes dying out in smaller and smaller ripples, but sometimes the actions of sin build and the ripples turn to waves and then to tsunamis.
As Christians we are asked to be like little Christs and stand up against the waves and absorb the impact of sin so that it cannot affect anyone else. We are asked, no commanded by God, to stand in the gap and allow the injustice to crash against us with all its force.
J.RR. Tolkien seemed to understand this as he wrote the scene in the Lord of the Rings where Gandalf the Grey, to protect his friends from the fiery dragon Balrog, ordered Frodo, Samwise and the rest, to cross the bridge. Gandalf drew the sword to allow the others safe passage and the demonic wrath fell upon him. Gandolf’s immortal declaration to the monstrous adversary, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” is exactly what we are called to do, even to the most seemingly trivial and daily transgressions.
When our spouse hurts us, instead of flinging the pain back in sarcasm or a biting remark or even quietly held resentment, we must absorb the pain through forgiveness. We actually bear the flaming arrow of the offense and allow it to burn us instead of passing it on to another. It is a gift of supreme self-sacrifice to take upon ourselves the effects of the wrongdoing and let it die there.
In today’s culture of rights, taking on the scalding effects of another’s sin, especially when we are the innocent victims, screams “injustice” and the searing unfairness of life. Mercy and forgiveness in the vast majority of cases seems to us as wrong, illegal, sinful. After all, we have rights!
The call by God to stand down against our fellow man and lift our sword against the real enemy, the supernatural dark forces that are trying to destroy our lives, our families, our communities and our nation is difficult. And to write "difficult" is the understatement of the century. It is impossible.
Yet, we are called as Christians to willingly take the impact and return love for hatred, and charity for those who spitefully use us.
Yes, it is impossible. But God does and will do the impossible in us as we lift up all the injustices to Him; as we become the conduit of mercy and pass on our pain to Christ. Our faith tells us that God will one day make all things right. We must then live that faith in our everyday lives and God will make us the heroes in many spiritual battles. For the battle Paul talks about in his letters is not allegorical, it is a real. Oh, if our eyes could see the forces of the demonic and angelic around us, we would not hesitate to allow our faith to work and work hard for the cause of Christ.
We are called to be Christ to our spouse, our parents, our children, our friends and our world. We are called to intercede, to connect heaven and earth with our very bodies and absorb the catastrophic injustices and humiliations and lift them upward as an offering of love to Christ. And through Christ all things are possible.
Power of Love
Tom’s reaction to hearing that the life of his wife and daughter had been killed by such an unthinking selfish act, made his body so violent towards the youth that he laid a plan to find out where the boy was, to sneak away from his hospital bed and murder the perpetrator. Vengeance, he felt, could not be left with the corrupt American justice system.
Then, the second powerful blow of that day. The doctor, in a compassionate whisper, related that the boy, lying a few doors down who had hit his car, was Tom’s son. Tom’s eldest child had stayed home from the family vacation because of his girlfriend.
Over the next few hours, Tom’s violent righteous anger and determination for justice turned inward and he suffered the agony of the situation in behalf of his son.
It was only through love of his son that Tom was able to forgive such a monstrous, horrifying act. He took the hit, the impact of the sin into his own heart, for love of his son.
You see, in the end, Christ knew that only love was powerful enough to forgive the unforgivable. It is only the miraculous power of love that can freely give mercy and pardon. That is why Christ told us to love our enemies.
Through a working faith, we are connected with a God who promises to make all things just and right in the end. And it is only through a faith-filled connection to God that the power of love can work its miracles.
Hang on for a little while, hang on and let faith, through love win out in your every day life. For Christ hung on for you. When you need the strength to absorb the impact of each sting and disappointment, look to the Cross, place upon Him your suffering and your offerings of forgiveness for others.
God is calling us to be the miracle of forgiving love.