Some amazing men I meet with weekly fell into a conversation around my kitchen table this morning. We were comparing notes on what we have learned about loving our wives through the years. There were tears, wonder, laughter, confessions, prayers and insights flowing between us rapid fire!
One of the things I shared was how, as a young husband who was trying hard to "please God", I felt like I was failing Him and Terri if she ever had a problem. This drive to "fix her" was rooted in my immaturity, idealism and insecurity, but that was all neatly covered up with a thin veneer of self-generated "wisdom" and "compassion". I was going to be a "great leader" to her and make sure she was perfect and happy. I didn't give her safe emotional space to express her pressures or griefs in the way she is wired by God. Terri is a verbal processor who also needs freedom to craft emotional poetry as she gets her burdens out on the table. But I was always there to "help" her express her problems more accurately and precisely! I thought I was following the Golden Rule to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", but I was obeying the rule on my terms rather than hers. Actually, I took it all too personally. So I would put on my "lawyer mask" and demand her to at least be accurate in describing her situation.
Fortunately Terri continued to love me patiently and the Lord gradually got through to me and helped me to mature out of my hidden insecurities. I discovered that being "right" is the booby prize of life and I learned to relax in God's love for me. The more it soaked in to my soul, the more I have been able to empathize with her when she hurts and when she rejoices ... which is her major mode these days!
“My son, do not despise the Lord 's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:11-12
In Hebrews 12, when this proverb is quoted, the last phrase is translated "whom he receives". As a result, I have never tuned in to the angle we get from the Proverbs 3 passage, "in whom he delights".
Most of us do not make a strong emotional connection to the fact that our Heavenly Father (our true Papa) brings correction into our lives in the fundamental context of delight and atmosphere of joy. He trains us for greater things because he delights in us!
Wow! This event and promise is revolutionary. Christ's peace is a presence, not an absence, of something...something heavenly upon the earth. It is powerful and substantial - a manifestation of His resurrection life. His peace is an ongoing ripple effect of this resurrection and a ramification of His ascension up to this present day. He left us physically, but He left us His pervading peace, by the Holy Spirit. His peace has the strength to negate anything that troubles our hearts or causes us to be afraid. Jesus distinguishes the peace He provides from the lesser kinds of "peace" that the things of this world temporarily impart. This is transcendent peace that outshines any competition. It is indomitable in nature. It can literally scare the hell out of the people and environments around us. It is in the next verse that Jesus tells his followers that He is sending them out to all the world to represent Him. What would we be like if we didn't have any fear? If nothing could trouble our heart? Though troubles and fears are in the air all around us, He says that we do not have to let them in by staying more aware of His presence with us and the satisfying peace that attends it.
Peace be with you and with us all this day, my friends. Feel it. Drink it in. Relish it. Revel in it. Embrace it. Breathe it in. It's all around us and within us already. I feel it in my bones this morning as I write these words!
Today I am pondering before God and praying about the scope, heights and depths of all the pains, traumas, sufferings and sins of human experience across the planet throughout history and up to our present day. In a way it feels like its above my pay grade to attempt to consider. What is the measure of the told and untold toll that evil has had upon human lives? The brutality of war. The horror of murder. The shame of rape and incest. The shock of genocide. The fallout from megalomaniacs in power. The violation of robbery. And this is not to mention the multiplied griefs and sorrows that flow from more subtle and/or gradual evils? The breakdown from addictions. The ripple effects of greed. The oppression of pride. The betrayal of lies and deceit. The damage of gossip and slander. The heartache of broken promises. The marks of false accusation. We could add to the list. Without doubt, as Saint Peter says in the passage above: We have inherited a "futile way of life" from our forefathers. Moreover, upon examination, we find that we ourselves have sometimes, in various ways, contributed to the pain of our fellows...and even ourselves.
The human spirit yet cries out in agony for an answer. The broken human heart laments and longs for a solution. Is God to blame? Isn't He loving, good and all-powerful? Why doesn't He do something about it all? Is He able or willing to design a sweeping one-stroke solution for the problem of evil in our world? Is there a way for Him to detox humanity from all the multiplied pain and sorrow of life on this planet? Is He able and willing to redeem us out of our misery? If He did, what would it look like? How would we lay hold of it?
Everything in the Bible points to the fact that God has indeed already done something to completely mitigate the problem of evil in our world....and its fallout. But it hasn't come in the way that we would have scripted the story. It centers upon God literally coming to be with us in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. He is Immanuel - God with us. All that He is and all that He has done is the key to the door of freedom. It was indeed a "sweeping one stroke solution" and it has come to us shrouded in mystery, wonder and beautiful irony. One main feature of this is that God does not force His wondrous solution upon us. Rather, His Holy Spirit is wooing us, beckoning us, to see past our presenting pains, sorrows and inherited futile ways long enough to look into the Face of True Love and humbly receive the priceless rescue and redemption that Christ purchased for us with His vicarious suffering and death on the cross and...His subsequent comprehensive victory over all sin, death and all the powers of darkness through His resurrection and ascension.
The Bible is full of narratives, parables, proverbs, warnings, promises, encouragements and exhortations aimed at empowering us to trust in God. A lot of intellectual assent is given to the idea of trusting God. But, developing trust is like developing a muscle in our body. It can only grow in strength and mass by being exercised, tested and put in situations that stresses it. Here is a simple list of 7 ways of life that can help us grow in a genuine trust in God at all times and with our entire being.
The Scriptures teach that Christ-followers have been transformed into a royal priesthood by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many allusions in the New Testament to this new kind of "temple service" in which we are now engaged...a "temple" that is not a physical building, but a personal and corporate "dwelling of God" within human lives and the believing community. This above passage offers us an amazing preoccupation for whatever else it is that God has called us to be about on a daily/hourly/moment-by-moment basis. Here is my interpretive paraphrase: Because of the reality of Jesus...all that He is, all that He has done and all He is doing even now...you can actually live and move and have your being, uninterrupted, in the presence of God, attune to His heart and attend to His desires. You are hereby enabled and empowered to relate with Him to all of life and declare His good nature over every person and situation you engage and encounter.
Connecting with God...Father, Son and Holy Spirit...holds forth the secret to the "original high" of human experience. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit came so mightily upon the first followers of Jesus that those who witnessed the outward effects of this fresh communal Divine habitation mistook the receivers' outward behavior as drunkenness. In Ephesians 5, right before he launches into the Jesus-style of engaging with our family and vocational commitments and communities, the apostle Paul says:
Eph 5:17: Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Once again we see people being filled with the Holy Spirit compared and contrasted with drunkenness. Why? Because when people are intoxicated they tend to give themselves over to uninhibited, communal and musical merry-making! Paul is picturing a rather stunning way that we are called to interact with our fellow Christ-followers when we get together - "addressing one another" with Spirit-charged words, expressions and songs due to the spilling over of the authentic and constant thank-filled melodies that fill our inner beings. We are attuned to a transcendent heavenly song of life because we are loved by and filled with Christ Himself. Our own hearts are at rest because, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" has become so real to us. It is in this joy-filled context that he adds the kicker - "submitting to one another" for Christ's sake.
Submit to other people...Whaaaat...are you serious? Indeed! The key to successful human relations, over the long hauls of life within our families and even in the marketplace, is to offer ourselves vulnerably to others...husbands, wives, parents, children, bosses and employees. We do what we can to appropriately address their specialized, truest and most profound needs while we simply keep trusting God to meet our own. We are so intoxicated with the Spirit, that we are inspired to actually put others first. Love is always sacrificial at its base. And...when you're even a bit intoxicated, you don't feel the pain so much anyway!
In the animated movie, The Prince of Egypt, there is a song that Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, sings over him called Through Heaven's Eyes that has always deeply moved my heart. It was a challenging time in Moses' life as he chose to renounce his princely position in Egypt and flee for his life. You can watch the clip below. I think of this song as I ponder Paul's autobiographical teaching in 2 Corinthians 12 about how he viewed his life. He learned the spiritual secret of viewing both his strengths and weaknesses through the lens of a good and great Father in heaven.
So what are "acceptable" human weaknesses that we can even "boast in" according to the New Testament? I actually think we all have our unique mix of both strengths and weaknesses. And from one season of life to another, they may even shift around a bit! In Paul's case, one weakness was an actual "messenger of satan (accuser)" that harassed him in some way or another. We do not know exactly how, but it was a direct spiritual warfare that Paul had to face and endure. He prayed to God for it to be removed, but apparently God was using this hinderance in Paul's life to keep him humble and more dependent upon His grace. Below are an expanded list of weaknesses that I believe can fall into this classification of being "acceptable". Maybe we can even come to the point in which we can "boast" in them by seeing them as landing strips for the power of the Holy Spirit?
I find myself writing about "weakness", but I'm actually unveiling a counter-intuitive pathway that will lead us to a release of the power of God's Spirit in and through our lives. In our world, people often refer to unacceptable sins as "weaknesses" and use this verbage to excuse attitudes and actions...lust, pride, self-righteousness, greed, and the like...that are beyond the pale of the kind of "weaknesses" to which I am referring. On the other hand, I find myself and others often spending way too much energy attempting to hide our "acceptable" human weaknesses due to a false humiliation and shame that bullies and drives us toward a man-made perfectionism. The terrible irony is that this is a sinful way of life! We are distracted and lured off course by this unnecessary and subtle demonic battle that skews our image of God, stunts our growth, quenches our love for Him and others, robs our hope and blocks our joy. It also relegates us to experiecing superficial relationships with our friends and even our families. Deep relationships are partially dependent upon revealing our weaknesses to others without shame or a fear of rejection. The apostle Paul went so far as to say that he "boasted in" his weakness, so that Christ's power might rest upon him. (2 Corinthians 12:9) Just what are such "acceptable" human weaknesses about which we may boast? More to say!
What a strange and paradoxical statement! The context of the perfection of God's power is smack dab in the middle of certain kinds of our human weaknesses. This is so different than we would imagine left to ourselves and our natural conceptions of what human life would look like if God really came among us in Person. We tend to be ashamed of our weaknesses and work hard to hide them so we can impress others with our strengths. The shocking news is that God did come in Person to our world in Jesus and he took on particular weaknesses of the human condition without shame - coming in total vulnerability as babe born under suspicious conditions, inhabiting a normal human body, exposing himself to temptation by Satan, needing daily bread (and using the toilet!), getting sleepy, tired, hungry and thirsty, embracing economic limitations, living in a messed up and violent culture, being rejected and misunderstood, being subject to emotional and physical wounding and even submitting to the cruelest of executions...as an unjustly convicted criminal. If I possessed the power of God, would I have chosen such a way of coming to the planet? But a part of the grand and marvelous nature of God is that He would do such a thing in order to cancel out the power of Satan and sin among and within us while simultaneously validating the value our our human lives that are yet challenged by ongoing "acceptable" weaknesses. And such weaknesses will not and do not hinder us from experiencing the power of God working within us and flowing out from us. More to be said.
A VOICE OF HOPE
Michael Sullivant's Blog
I am a child of God, husband, father, grandfather, spiritual father, author, speaker and hope coach.