Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sorrow and Suffering: The 'Best and Strongest Guides' to the Kingdom of Love

One of my all-time favorite allegories is Hannah Hurnard's classic, Hinds Feet on High Places. The story is filled with truth and encouragement for those following Jesus into self-giving love.

In the story, the Shepherd is committed to taking the young girl, Much Afraid, to the high places of the Kingdom of Love where love rules. Much Afraid has crippled feet, so to get her to the Kingdom of Love at the top of the mountain, He is helping her develop hinds feet; in other words, she must develop the ability to overcome the difficulties along the way to the top of the mountain just as the mountain deer is able to scale difficult mountain terrain.

The two strong but mysterious helpers that the Shepherd gives Much Afraid are twin sisters named Sorrow and Suffering. He assures her that these are the 'best and strongest guides' to take her through terrain that she cannot navigate in her condition.

I've read this story many times over the years on my own as well as with others. It never gets old and I keep learning from it at different intervals of my life. In the recent season of affliction that I'm experiencing, I have read parts of this again with special interest in these two guides/helpers.

I'm identifying with Much Afraid's reaction to these two helpers - shock, fear, anger, doubt, confusion. As the story progresses and she slowly sees the benefit of their help, she gradually begins to appreciate them and to understand their language (which is different from hers). Later on she finds out what their other names are, but I'll let you read the story to find out...meanwhile, she is very reluctant for them to take her hand to help her in the tough places.

Chamois Deer
In pondering this lately, it has dawned on me that although the nearness of sorrow and suffering makes me feel weak and helpless, unable to do much, it is actually strengthening me and enabling me to climb the heights to the Kingdom of Love; it is teaching me to love more, and love is the greatest force there is.

I can't say honestly that I'm yet at the place of gladly grabbing the hands of Sorrow and Suffering, but I may have a bit more appreciation for their role than I did before and I anticipate understanding more fully one day. Meanwhile, like Much Afraid, with trembling I trust the Shepherd as He develops strength in me with the help of 'the best and strongest Guides'...

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Receiving Freely Leaves Us in Debt

Because of a leg injury I experienced recently on top of a previous injury in the same leg that had not yet recovered fully (see), my journey with pain and disability has stretched into a much longer time than I had anticipated. I had reached a place of relative independence from my first injury only to be thrown back into a state of much dependence on others once again.

I thought I had learned to receive freely the first time around but am discovering that the deeply-ingrained value of 'independence' and self-reliance is alive and well in me. My need for the help of others this time around has lasted longer, and one thing I'm discovering along the way is that one of the most difficult parts of all of this is to  realize and accept that I will always be in debt.

The many things that other people are doing for me is beyond my ability to pay back. I have family and friends who continually tend to my daily needs and have even had money given to me to help with expenses. I want to not owe them anything but am having to die to the idea that I can repay the debt of love that I owe and accept the fact that my present needs inconvenience other people.

I was raised to pay back financial debts and I will continue to do that; but I am learning  that there is one debt that I can never repay - the debt of love that I owe to God and to the many around me who generously serve in ways that I will never be able to repay.

Romans 13:8 (The Message) Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Antidote for Judgmentalism: Accepting that We Know So Little

 I Cor. 13:12,13 (The Message)  We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

According to the apostle Paul, we know so little about anything and everything. Truth that we believe we are so sure about is as clear (or less) as the scene in this picture. Because of this, it's wise to suspend our quick judgments on everything and everyone.

This doesn't mean we don't have opinions and convictions but they must be held loosely and without malice towards those who see differently. Paul admonishes us in three areas, saying that this focus will lead us incrementally and ultimately to full clarity: 1) trust continually in the Lord who sees clearly; 2) keep expectation alive in God; 3) love Him and others with all our heart. Paul punctuates his message by saying that self-giving love is the summation of how we gradually gain clearer vision until the perfect day.

In summary, I believe that an antidote for judgmentalism (which is the default response of fallen/fearful humans) is to step back and ponder seriously how little I know about God and myself and others and put my trust in God's clear eyesight, live with hope for all, and do whatever is in my power to love.

Prov. 3:5 (Good News Translation) Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Jesus' Ability to Lead: A Source of Peace

I've become aware over recent years that we Christians generally seem to be pretty uptight people. There seems to be an underlying anxiety about most things in our life: worries about whether or not I'm praying or fasting enough, or whether my prayers are fervent or faith-filled enough, whether I'm doing enough for others, whether I'm in the will of God, or whether I'm giving enough, whether I'll miss "God's best", etc., etc.

I've spent my life in the holiness and missions world and like many in that world, the emphasis on "finding the will of God" for many years left me with a nagging fear that I might miss God's "highest" and end up living as a "second class citizen" of God's kingdom. I believe these kinds of fears have their roots in religious ideas that set up spiritual hierarchies and that put the weight of our salvation and sanctification on us, rather than on God.

When I look at the characteristics of sheep (see here), I'm very impressed with the shepherd's love and care for the sheep and His ability to lead them (see here). My conclusion is that getting the sheep to a certain destination is much more about the shepherd's leadership than it is about what good followers the sheep are.

This is a source of joy and peace/relief to me when I start to go down the path of introspection, getting uptight and afraid that I'm not sufficient enough in this or that and worried that I've missed God's best or that I'm not going to make it in the end, etc, etc.  I can pause and look at the good Shepherd and how well He leads and how He is able to get us where He is taking us.

Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon yoke is easy, my burden is light..." I do my small bit of agreeing to be with Him in the "yoke", and the weight of getting me (along with all His people) to where we are going falls on Him. This should make us the most joy-filled and peace-filled people on earth!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Doubt or Devotion...or Both??

An observation I have been making in recent years is that one of the easiest things to happen to a Christian is to stagnate; we like to feel secure, and staying within the inherited theological boundaries that have provided a sense of certainty (see "Sense of Security") is natural to us. We unwittingly end up placing our trust in our certainty rather than in the Person of God in Christ who is infinitely larger than our systems of belief. Western Christianity of the past few hundred years contributes to this tendency to stagnate, because we've accepted the idea that being a Christian primarily means to adhere to a determined set of beliefs concerning God and that those beliefs should never change. (See recent post here.)  It's acceptable if we change within the boundaries of that prescribed belief system, but to venture outside of those boundaries in search for more truth is at best discouraged and at times punished.

I think there are two main ingredients needed for ongoing change and growth in God: 1) Sincere questions about Jesus and scripture, sorting through what really is needed and disposing of whatever is hindering the true knowledge/experience of God in Christ;
2) Sincere devotion to Jesus, always keeping focused on what the "sorting through" is all about and not getting lost in the sorting. Without the sincere questioning, we easily get stuck in what we have been taught and there is always more to learn (and unlearn) of Jesus; without sincere devotion to Jesus, we can easily make the "sorting through" the goal.

With this in mind, I recommend some books below, two for the "questioning" ingredient and two for the "devotion" ingredient; I recommend the wonderful (and at times frightening) adventure of finding a trusted follower(s) of Jesus with whom you can safely discuss anything and everything while keeping clearly in view the ultimate and ongoing goal of encountering Jesus in truth and consequently becoming like Him. Depending on the lens you are looking through, some of this material will stretch your thinking; the wonderful thing is that you don't have to agree with everything an author writes in order to receive truth from him/her.

Books to help with the questioning ingredient:
A New Kind of Christianity
The Sacredness of Questioning Everything

Books to help with the devotion ingredient:
God's Favorite Place on Earth
The Only Necessary Thing

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

What God Chose to Make Me...

 “I would rather be what God chose to make me 
than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for 
to have been thought about, 
born in God's thought, 
and then made by God, 
is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”  
 - George MacDonald -

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What if God's Way Really IS NOT by Might and Power?

I have always enjoyed good health and strength, but I fell and broke my right knee cap a year and a half ago and have been on a lengthy journey, struggling to regain the use of my leg. There have been complications and setbacks and most recently another fall has further hampered my ability to walk. Discouragement has been close at hand over and over again. It's been very hard to embrace the loss of strength in it all. This recent fall is causing me to ask the Lord more about how His kingdom works.

Theoretically, I have accepted that weakness is God's way of working as seen in Jesus' lifestyle and death; but internally I haven't accepted it. I don't know how to live this way because I am a product of a culture that highly values independence and self-sufficiency and practically despises weakness and neediness. I told someone who has been caring for me this week that one of the harder parts of this affliction is having to ask others for help for the smallest things.2530sam_frodo_mt_doom_hl1[1]

This week I received an offer for a young teenage girl who was born with physical disabilities and doesn't walk well to bring me something that has helped her with pain. I was deeply touched by this and have been thinking that this is a picture of how God's kingdom works - the weak caring for the weak. We are all desperately weak in one way or the other. But rather than concentrate on how to use our weaknesses to give life to others, we focus on covering up our weaknesses and promoting our strengths to serve God.

Everything about the gospel and Jesus' teachings and example tell us that weakness and insufficiency is how the kingdom of God works. Most my life I've pictured God as having power reserves from which to draw in case He needs to use them. But what if God's weakness is His strength...period?! What if the cross and Jesus' way of non-retaliation to enemies is the only way of God?? What if God doesn't have power reserves for some future date by which He will make all things right?? What if He will accomplish it all through weakness and loss?? What if that is God's modus operandi now and in the age to come??

Last year I was struck by this article: When Frodo and Jesus Fail at Mount Doom. It touches eloquently on the weakness of God.

What if all the weaknesses we try to hide about ourselves are really what God uses to give life to others?? I wonder what it would look like for God's people to live in this way? I really don't know, but I pray for this for myself and all of us who are Jesus followers..

Friday, May 16, 2014

Geo MacDonald: What the Apostle Paul Meant by 'Adoption'

In a sermon on Romans 8:15, George MacDonald says the following about what he believes the apostle Paul intended to say when he speaks of adoption:

"The hardest, gladdest thing in all the world is to cry Father! from a full heart. I would help whom I may to call thus upon the Father.

"There are many things in all forms of the systematic teachings of Christianity to block such an outgoing of the heart as this most elemental human cry...(one) such cold wind is the so-called doctrine of adoption."

MacDonald proceeds to explain that the word "adoption" is a poor translation of what Paul is saying about God and His relationship to His children. It is a good word for human transactions, but the problem in using it with God is that it suggests that God is not our original parent or that He was our father, then repudiated us as children and then took us again. MacDonald contends that this kind of view of God's fatherhood gets in the way of our being able to cry "Father!" from a full heart.

So he goes on to say he doesn't believe that the word "adoption" was what Paul had in mind when using the Greek word huiothesia"...the word used by St. Paul does not imply that God adopts children that are not his own, but rather that a second time he fathers his own...He will make himself tenfold, yea, infinitely their father...He will have them one with himself..."

"(Paul) means the raising of a father's own child from the condition of tutelage and subjection to others to the position and rights of a son...The idea is that of a spiritual coming of age. Only when a child is a man is he really and fully a son...To be a child is not necessarily to be a son or daughter. The childship is the lower condition of the upward process toward the sonship. It is the soil out of which the true sonship shall grow.

"No more than an earthly parent, God cannot be content to have only children. He must have sons and daughters...His children are not his real, true sons and daughters until they think like him, feel with him, judge as he judges, until they are at home with him and without fear before him because he and they mean the same thing, love the same things, seek the same ends.

"For this we are created. It is the one end of our being and includes all other ends whatever."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Geo MacDonald: The Teacher's Job

In his book, Discovering the Character of God, MacDonald says:
"No teacher should strive to make others think as he thinks, but to lead them to the living Truth, to the Master himself, of whom alone they can learn anything, and who will make them in themselves know what is true by the very seeing of it. The inspiration of the Almighty alone gives understanding. To be the disciple of Christ is the end of being, and to persuade others to be his disciples is the aim of all teaching."
In MacDonald's novel, The Fisherman's Lady, Mr. Graham is a school teacher. In describing him, MacDonald says: 
"He would never contradict anything but would oppose error only by teaching truth. He presented truth and set it face to face with error in the minds of his students, leaving the two sides and the growing intellect, heart, and conscience to fight the matter out. To him the business of the teacher was to rouse and urge this battle by leading fresh forces of truth onto the field."

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Geo MacDonald: Light Is More Important than Knowledge and Opinions

The following is taken from some of MacDonald's sermons and essays:

"The man who holds his opinions the most honestly ought to see the most plainly that his opinion must change...If we held opinions aright, we should know that nothing in them that is good can ever be lost...It is only as they help us toward God that our opinions are worth a straw. And every necessary change in them must be to more truth, to greater uplifting power...My opinions, just as my life, as my love, I leave in the hands of him from whom all came.

"Why then is there such dislike to the very idea of change of our ideas...? It may be objected that no man will hold his opinions with the needed earnestness who can entertain the idea of having to change them. But the very objection speaks powerfully against such an overvaluing of opinion...

"Let us...beware lest our opinions come between us and our God, between us and our neighbor, between us and our better selves...The one security is to walk according to the truth which they contain. And if men seem to be unreasonable, opposers of that which to us is plainly true, let us remember that we are not here to convince men, but to let our light shine.

"Knowledge is not necessarily light. And it is light, not knowledge, that we have to spread. The best thing we can do that men may receive truth, is to be ourselves true...

"Above all, let us be humble before the God of truth, faithfully desiring of him that truth in the inward parts which alone can enable us to walk according to that which we have attained..."