Saturday, January 9, 2016

To the Christian Rich - Consider Your Wealth A Weakness

Material riches are a considerable temporal advantage, and a considerable spiritual barrier; an anchor dragging one down to hell.

For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. 
James 1:11

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.
1 Timothy 6:9

You say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. . .
Revelation 3:17

Friday, January 1, 2016

God Over All: Meditations on Job's Hope

"Is there anything I can do for You, is there anything I can do?
For all the things You've done for me, is there anything I can do?

Is there anywhere I can go for You, is there anywhere I can go?
For all the places You've been for me, is there anywhere I can go?

Is there anything I can be for You, is there anything I can be?
For all the things You've been for me, is there anything I can be?

I'm willing to be used dear Lord whatever the price may be. 
So if there's anything I can do for you just make it known to me."

I grew up singing to God the lines above, normally at youth group events. I meant the words. I believed I had something to offer; that there was spiritual work to be done, by me, for Jesus.

I was arrogant. I was foolish. I was neurotic, and largely spiritually blind. I made promises I couldn't keep and held expectations I couldn't match with performance. I was terrified of failure and too ignorant to succeed. I wanted to exert strength for a God who was calling me to embrace my weakness. But men don't naturally value weakness. We hate weakness, especially our own.

I read my Bible a lot. And being a son of Adam, I was unwittingly drawn to its commands and to its "heroes." At 15 I committed myself to pursue Christian ministry as a vocation. I led the religious clubs in my high school and was awarded the "most-Christlike" award by my youth group. Apparently its members were also blind. But I understand. I played the part well, in some measure because I was sincere, and I think I was actually a Christian, meaning I had faith in Christ to cover my sins and get me to His Father. But I regularly functioned like a Pharisee, guarding the Law I couldn't keep and imposing my version of it upon others. I was sinfully hard on people, and generally merciless. I hate that guy. But I can't seem to kill him. So in this life, repeatedly wounding him is my lot. After high school I gained a religious studies degree at university and then off to seminary for the MDiv. That's the normal course for a fellow like the me of then.

But God is patient, and merciful. He has been content to take a lifetime to shatter the idols and images of self. His work continues. If 2015 hasn't been about that then I don't know what to make of it.  In an effort to keep this post on the brief side, I want to mention (with little explanation; maybe I can expand that in later posts) only two hard lessons from this past year of the divine scourge (Pr 3:11-12; Cf He 11-12).

1. God the Holy Spirit's work of sanctification might be more about teaching weakness than it is about instilling righteousness. By my best and most generous estimation, I am not a better man than I was 365 days ago, or twenty years ago. But I am more aware of my own profound weakness. And I am learning that any progress in holiness is necessarily gained through that weakness. And I am now sure of my all-engulfing need for God to act on my behalf. I cannot produce what He commands. I cannot, in the ways that matter most, change myself, improve myself, help myself, provide for myself, or sanctify myself. This fresh awareness has been shaping what I expect of myself, and others. From the first man Adam to the model of faith Abraham to King David to the Prophet Jeremiah to the Apostle Paul to us on this first day of 2016, the aim of God for His people continues to be our humiliation, not our glory (See Php 2, for example).

2. We are too weak to have recourse. This, like lesson 1, runs throughout the Scriptures and is written over every life. And it is a further comment on the one above about needing God to act on our behalf. Perhaps it is seen most clearly in Job's life. When the horrors of our existence are discussed by those given to philosophy, the old dilemma is often restated - that either God is good but not powerful, or powerful but not good - otherwise He would not permit said horrors. I have never heard of anyone suffering as Job did; yet, he doesn't seem to wrestle with his miseries in the usual way. He actually affirms God's sovereign power and God's comprehensive justice. He would say, I think, that God can do anything He wants, and that all He wants is right; and that's his struggle - the absence of recourse. What can a man do with God? How can a man move God? How might a man wrestle with God? Who can make a case against God? Job cannot. We cannot. And when we learn this in our distresses and pressures and losses and pains, perhaps we will behave as Job did when he prayed:

"I loathe my life; I would not live forever.
Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.
What is man, that you make so much of him, 
and that you set your heart on him,
visit him every morning and test him every moment?
How long will you not look away from me,
nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit?"
Job 7:16-19

When we take to heart that unless God acts, and in Job's case relents, we have no recourse, we might
request that He simply leave us be, and make the argument that we are not worth His emotional energies and divine activities toward us. Apparently Job didn't think much of himself, or even of humans in general. It appears he didn't consider himself worth God's attention in bringing good or evil upon him. And I think I hear the desperation in his plea - God please, please, "look away from me," and let me die and thereby gain relief. Why so much bother with me? Please, "leave me alone."

This reminds me of 1 Kings 19 where the prophet Elijah, in the distress God had brought upon him, prays It is enough O Lord, take my life. The divine beat-down is a soul-crushing, body-breaking,  overwhelming horror, designed that we might "learn not to rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead" (See 2 Co 1:8-10). God is impressed with His Son, not with me. And while I have longed to be impressive to Him, my gross failures have been good medicine. And they have caused me to become more impressed with Christ, who has Himself never failed and who has Himself been crushed by the full weight of the wrath of God for all of my sin. Isn't it astounding that He never tires of forgiving us. Clearly He is more committed to me than I am to Him.

I no longer make promises or pledges to God, in song or otherwise (which means I remain silent through many contemporary musical compositions). I quit that nonsense years ago. And I have given up on being spiritually impressive. Because when I look in a mirror, I do not see an able man, but a weak one. So the lyrics have changed, the song rewritten. Now it goes something like this:

Is there anything You will do for me; is there anything You will do? 
Since I have nothing to offer You, is there anything You will do? 

And is there anywhere You will go for me, is there anywhere You will go? 
Since I can go nowhere for You, is there anywhere You will go?
And will You be what I need today, will You be what I need?
Since I can't help myself today, will You be what I need?

I'd like to be used dear Lord, but I am frail and weak.
So if there's anything that You want from me, "Please grant it" is my plea.

"What a help You are to the weak!
How You have saved the arm without strength!"
Job 26:2