"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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When God Gives You More than You Can Handle

It is often said, and believed to be a part of the Bible, that God will not give you more than you can handle. The idea is that each person has a breaking point, and that God, knowing where that breaking point is, withholds difficulties at a certain point so that the individual does not break. A few times when I have asked people where that is in the Bible, they responded by saying that they don't know but they are sure it is in there.

One of the better ways of finding what is in the Bible is to use an "exhaustive concordance." There are many out there and they are a good investment if you hope to know your Bible at all. You can take any word or phrase and look it up, alphabetically, and find it...If it is there, of course. You know what you won't find? A verse that says God won't give you more than you can handle.

At least 2 caveats exist in regards to this principle. First, there is a verse that says God will not allow you to be TEMPTED beyond what you can resist:

"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it"  (1 Corinthians 10:13).

This has to do with resisting SIN, a word not often heard in the general public or even many churches these days. To sin is to miss the mark, to fall short of the holiness God knows will bring you ultimate joy (sometimes through temporary self-denial.) So it means that will not lead you into temptation  (as in Jesus' prayer) that is more than you can resist, and he will give you a way out of any temptation. This is not a verse that proves God will not allow you to suffer more than you can handle.

The second caveat is that Scripture seems to teach, by principle, that God WILL give you more than you can handle. Hold on and let me explain. Paul teaches that God's strength shines through when we are beyond the end of our ropes:

7 ... Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he 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. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

How else do we get there except that God allows us to walk through what we cannot otherwise bear, empowering and enabling us to do what we cannot do without him? He has to allow more than we, in our own strength, can handle.  It is the gift nobody wants, but those  who have received it, looking back, would not trade it for wealth, beauty or a life of ease.

At the foundation of the belief that God will not give us more than we can handle are a couple of errors. One is that we are intended to go through life relying on our own strength. Did you catch it in Paul's quotation of what God told him? He said that his GRACE is sufficient. Those who are self-contained and self-sufficient are not in need of grace. Grace is for the weak, the broken, and the fallen. Defined technically as "God's unmerited (unearned) favor," grace rushes in where we are lacking and gives us strength beyond our own abilities. If you are a believer in Christ, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in you! What a waste it would be to rely on your own puny human strength to wage a spiritual war you cannot win without him.

Another error (even harder to confront) is that our lives are supposed to be comfortable, bearable, and most importantly, about us. A true follower of Christ, sooner or later, comes to realize that his individual life is about magnifying Jesus. Each encounter is to glorify Christ, by whatever means necessary. This causes you to see the temporary nature of everything else. Only Jesus remains. He will give you grace and truth, love and power--more than you can handle!


Monday, February 3, 2014

“And” is Better

A recent ad campaign brings this concept to us in hilarious clarity. “And” is better than “or.” Take sweet and sour chicken…what if it were only sour? What if a pee-wee coach were just loud and not clear? You get the picture.

Yet so often, in our theology and the way we do life, we gravitate toward “or.” I hear it in conversations; I see it in Facebook posts, televised sermons and the books on the shelves at local stores. We apparently think the message of Jesus is love “or’ judgment, grace “or” truth, mercy “or” love. By choosing “or,” we miss the beauty and mystery of “and.”

Most family therapists these days recognize the need for love “and” limits. Children who grow up without nurturance “and” boundaries become lopsided adults—either performance oriented to the exclusion of meaningful attachments, extremely insecure and needy, or entitled people who believe the laws and rules of society (and Scripture) do not apply to them. This is part of why our family structures are disintegrating before us, like a slow motion train wreck.

The way we view judgment is a great (but controversial) example. Jesus did indeed teach, “Judge not lest you be judged…by the same standard.” Paul, in a balancing “and” taught that we (believers) are to judge the conduct of those within the church, and discern (same Greek word as judge) truth from error. While we tend to see concepts in mutually exclusive spheres, truth and love are in fact concentric circles. The loving one tells a difficult truth for the sake of repentance, reconciliation (where possible), growth and maturity. In turn, it is part of a greater truth that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son so that all who believe in him would not perish. The coexistence of love and truth is what Paul alluded to when he said that, speaking truth in love, we will all grow up to resemble Jesus. And Jesus came in grace “and” truth, not grace “or” truth.

A major theme of Scripture is this concept that there is a Godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Repentance, in turn, leads to forgiveness, and forgiveness leads to freedom--from judgment as well as the sin that binds us. We have become so afraid of “and” that many mainstream churches will not talk about sin because they don’t want people to feel bad about themselves. So people cannot be brought to a place of repentance, and cannot receive the benefits of freedom or a real relationship with God through Jesus.

Jesus was indeed a teacher of love, but not a love without limits. He forgave the woman caught in adultery “and” told her to go and sin no more. He said more about hell than we are comfortable knowing, and he was flat out angry with the self-righteous. Some equate the “religious” with the self-righteous of Jesus’ day, and they have a point. The bigger problem is that most people today feel that they have no need to repent because they do not believe in sin. How is this not self-righteousness? It concludes that people are good enough for a relationship with God on their own merit. If this is so, Christ died in vain—his sacrifice was unnecessary if people are good enough already. People who are already good enough do not need a Savior. This is a delusion and a lie and represents what Jesus called the “broad path” the majority takes, that leads to destruction.

He dwelt among us in grace “and” truth. He taught repentance “and” forgiveness of sins. While we may feel better about ourselves in the short term if we believe in love without consequences, when it comes to eternity, maturity and real relationship with God and others, “and” is better than “or.”

Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. ~ Proverbs 3:3 (NKJV)