"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Chutes and Ladders

There is a well-known board game that involves ladders and slides. At any point in the game you are at peril of landing on the top of a slide and ending up at the bottom of the board again. You literally have to start over.

When we experience setbacks, we people have a tendency to say things like, “I just went back to square one.”  I like to remind myself (and others) that it is really not possible, short of a brain injury, to lose what you have learned. You might lose sight of it for a while, you might temporarily forget it, or you might go through seasons of doubt, but you cannot really “unknow” a thing you’ve learned. This is especially true when the Holy Spirit teaches us something. It is there to stay and he will remind us if we are listening to him.

So it is important to learn to sort between what we feel and what we believe. I might feel discouraged or frustrated about my lack of progress in a certain area, while still believing that God will finish his work in me

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 1:6)

So, on tough days, I acknowledge the feelings, I express them to God through prayer or letter writing, and then I choose to focus on what I believe. We see this pattern in the Psalms. First, David describes a seemingly hopeless and incredibly unfair circumstance. Then he concludes by saying, in effect, but I know I will praise God again for his undying faithfulness. Even emotional, passionate David eventually turns back to his faith in the trustworthy nature of God. The result is that his emotions follow his faith.

The hard-hitting book of James demands that we walk the talk. The overall theme of it is “faith without deeds is dead” (2:17,26). But even James allows for our humanity when he says: “We all stumble in many ways.” (3:2).

 In Romans 7 Paul speaks of his ongoing struggles as a Christian, saying that he knows what he should do, but finds himself doing the opposite. His only hope, he concludes, is in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who empowers him to do the will of God. He concludes in Romans 8:1:

 “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”

So, we see in Scripture the dual theme of doing our best, empowered by the Holy Spiirt, while accepting God’s grace. I believe this applies to holiness, personal growth, and ministry. Both the Old and New Testament say that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The word used in these verses in the New Testament is “agape”, the word for grace- centered, Holy Spirit inspired love. When Paul used the derogatory term “lovers of self” (2 Tim. 3:2) to describe the attitude of people in the end times, he used a different word, describing human affections (phileos.)

If you want to know what God’s love is like, look at the life and sacrifice of Jesus. Paul wrote that the way we know the love of God is to realize that while we were still reveling in our sin, Christ died for us. (Ro. 5:8).

So practically speaking, what does this mean? It means coming from a foundation of grace in our relationship with God, others, and self. It means meditating on and claiming Scriptures that affirm that God is not going to give up on us, and that he understands our human weaknesses.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” Ps. 103:13-14

We all stumble in many ways. James 3:2

If we confess our sins, God is just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

When we hold ourselves to a different standard than we would another person, or when we refuse to accept grace for our failures or setbacks, we come (unintentionally, I believe) from a place of pride. It’s as if we are saying to God, I know you forgave me, but I have a higher and better standard than you do.

I love attending recitals or events where family and friends are watching kids do their best, nerves and all. In the eyes and ears of those who love them, it is the best performance ever…they are so proud of the honest efforts of their kids. Of course they are not professional musicians, but who cares—That’s my boy! That’s my girl!

I think God sees my efforts through the same loving eyes. Very few people when attempting something new, do that new thing perfectly from day one. The only way to learn or do something unfamiliar is to get in there, make some mistakes, deal with some setbacks and keep plugging away.

This is the kind of attitude described as agape love in I Corinthians 13, where it says that, among other things, love always believes, hopes and perseveres. Love never gives up and love never fails. This is the love God wants us to walk in, to bask in. The blood of Christ is effective. His grace is sufficient for our weaknesses. In fact, Paul learned to rejoice in his weaknesses so that the power of God could shine through. (2 Cor. 12:9-10):

“But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient
for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10) That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So on a difficult day, sorting between faith and feelings, I might say to myself:

“Today I am feeling discouraged and, I feel like giving up on myself. But I believe Jesus will never give up on me. I know that he will complete in me the good things he has started. My feeling will change again and again, but Christ never does. And I know, the more I nurture my faith, my feelings will follow.”

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Aristotle

Hebrews 12:2-3

“Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3) Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

No comments:

Post a Comment