Wednesday, July 4, 2012

When Faith Fails Us

  People who pursue a relationship of belief in God are often forced to revisit their understanding of ‘faith’ and what that concept means. If we are truly engaged in a relationship of believing in God, we must accept that it is dynamic, fluid, and continually changing: not because God changes, but because we do. The understanding and perception we possessed as children has matured and become fuller, we gain insights and grow stronger. Exercising the tenets of our beliefs makes us more resilient, more solid; we believe in God’s promises because we have seen them fulfilled in our own experience and in the lives of those we fellowship with. We are confident, self-assured, smiling……..and it happens.

 The bottom falls out, the world is upside down, we are wrecked. The diagnosis is grim and unexpected. The career is lost. Our surety and foundation lie in a disheveled heap like the remnants of a Midwestern town after a tornado. We profess that we are okay and we put on the brave face but inside we have questions and doubt. ‘How can this be happening?’, ‘Why has God allowed this?’ ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ If we are honest we can all remember a time or times when upheaval has put us on our heels and caused us to lament ‘Why, me?’ Thankfully, God anticipated our need for order and answers and assurance and he gave us Job: the gold standard for enduring loss and destitution while still clinging to the belief that we serve a God who loves and cares for us. The problem with Job is, the deeper you delve into the story, the less comforting it becomes. The element of God allowing Job to be placed in the crucible seems unjust and callous to us in our understanding of God and how He should operate. How is it that mature believers can get swept off their rock of faith by a sudden deluge of pain, discomfort, or change? What stirs indignation and self-righteousness in our hearts when we have been subjected to an event that challenges our understanding of faith and relationship with God?

 What has happened is that our faith has failed us. The problem is that ‘our faith’ has become misplaced. We have gotten away from believing in God and His promises, and we are believing in ‘our faith’. We have slipped into a comfortable place in which we have placed our confidence and trust in the fact that we believe. We have exchanged the infinite love of our Father who has redeemed us, for a very weak and devalued currency of ‘our faith’. If we consider God’s word and the instances where He speaks about ‘our faith’, we will realize we place much more value on it than we should. How many men had their faith attributed to them as righteousness? How often did Jesus declare, “I tell you the truth, I have never seen faith such as this in all of Israel!” See, when God determined that we needed a Savior, He did so because ‘our righteousness is as filthy rags’ and we cannot muster the minute faith of a mustard seed! We, in and of ourselves, are sheep. We bleat and stumble, fall off precipices, set ourselves on fire, and run looking for wolves to invite to dinner at every turn. But in ‘our faith’, we are rams with sure feet and steady eyes, capable of traversing the treacherous cliffs, leaping over the gaping chasms.We become insured in our salvation, and we become assured that somehow 'our faith' is sustaining us; that somehow we are playing a part in the relationship, that we have earned a box seat with benefits befitting someone of our proximity to God by 'our faith'. Satan has stood quietly beside us and whispered, "Did God really say?", only this time he has helped us to understand that 'our faith' has made us acceptable and right with God.

     In His Word, God is clear about our ability to 'be good enough', 'be righteous', ' be faithful'. We can't. What we can do, and do really well, is ascribe motives to circumstance, take pride in our minuscule attempts at faithfulness, and place entirely too much emphasis on our place in the equation, giving our 'faith' a value that is astronomically disproportionate to the value of Jesus love.  While it is incumbent upon us to believe, it is essential for us to always understand that the source of our salvation, provision, existence is the benevolence of God, without whom we would have no hope, no life, no joy.  Pride and lies are from the darkness; humility and truth come from the Light. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Deeper into Easter

In the rattle and hum that constitutes life today, it is easy to miss the magnitude of God's love and to have a surface level appreciation of why Easter is significant. The secularization of the church and culture's co-opting of faith based holidays work together to separate the hearts of  the casually religious from understanding the true  significance of the crucifixion and resurrection. Even diligent believer's can be challenged in grasping the implications of our God inserting himself into our lives to rescue us from sin and death; it is a gesture of love that is beyond our comprehension. Several years ago, Mel Gibson delivered a wrenching visualization of Christ's atoning love in 'The Passion of The Christ'. If you saw the film you were mortified by the brutality of Christ's final day as a man. It is possible that you wept uncontrollably as I did. Maybe you struggled to stand at the end, weakened by what you 'experienced' in participating in that portrayal of our Savior's condemnation and death. Easter might have changed for you after seeing that film but the real question is how have you changed for Easter's sake?

In acknowledging our sin and the need for Christ to come and die for us, we necessarily have a perspective that is focused on our debt, our culpability, our guilt. We respond with sorrow, brokenness, and gratitude for the incredible love that allowed God's Son to bear our sentence and redeem our lives and for most of us that is it.
We have been saved, our record is expunged, eternity is assured...what's for lunch? We are barely capable of grasping the majesty and mystery of grace so we tend to rest right there, huddled amongst fellow believers, waiting. This Easter was different for me and to be transparent, it was well into the following week before the realization came to me. Some circumstances gave me pause, and in the reflection that followed I realized how one sided and single minded my perception of Easter has been.

In considering Christ's mistreatment, maiming, and death for our sins, we are aware of the physical agony that He endured. We are physical beings and we can understand the excruciating experience that His flogging and crucifixion surely was. We recoil at the violence and abuse that He was subjected to. If we would attempt to understand the mechanics of His atonement, we realize that there was another type of suffering when the most holy one, sinless and guiltless, was smeared with our corruption and vileness. The light has nothing in common with the dark, the east and west can never meet, yet his perfect righteousness was forced to accept the totality of the world's evil, bitterness, and venom. Without fully knowing how God made that transference we can still surmise that the pain of that burden would surpass the physical torment of the cross. The measure of God's love and that of his Son is difficult to understand but we can grasp that He died because He could not endure our separation and condemnation. We are able to understand that because being made in His image, we would die to save the life of a spouse, child, or friend. What we miss is that Jesus died for everyone, for all mankind and that means He willingly submitted to that suffering for people who would reject Him, revile Him, and resent Him. Consider the hurt when someone you love denounces your concern and compassion and realize that Jesus knew those people who would reject Him before their conception. What does the weight of loving people who will refuse your love feel like on the scale that our Lord experienced it? How big is God's hurt when the ones He created to have fellowship and relationship with, reject Him?

In the epistles we learn that the apostles counted it joy to be persecuted and suffer for Christ because they were 'found worthy' to have shared in His suffering. We should study their example and strive to be worthy as well. Our burden, our hurt, should be for the prodigal and the lost, for those who through ignorance or deceit have not found the Father. We should share in the pain of loving others, even if they will revile and despise us.

2 Peter1:2-6

 2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

I have been trying to discern what this verse meant for some time. The divine nature? I did not know what to do with that. I did not know how that looked or if I was supposed to figure it out or if that  applied to me?
Our redemption is huge and its scale and scope can take a lifetime to assimilate. Is that enough time?
Relationship is collaborative and conflicting, embracing and recoiling, losing ourselves and gaining another.
This is what Easter means for me now. Having a heart that hurts for those who need God, regardless of the cost, irrespective of their response. Caring enough to say something, instead of huddling up with other believers and waiting.