Wednesday, December 9, 2015

He Loves You So Much, He’ll Risk Experiencing Your Hate

I prayed for it. Patience. Integrity.

Literally, and in my own words, my supplications mirrored that of the famed poet, songwriter, musician and monarch: Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me (King David, Psalm 51).

I expected God to honor a request like that. I just never expected what was required to honor it.

Let’s consider: God’s ultimate plan is to bring us home. But we can’t enter those gates “as is.”

Kingdom-ready Christians experience tests of faith that authenticate the strength of their character. Because God so desires to have us with him, sharing in the eternal joy he has waiting, he will try and test us. Now this isn’t your in-a-queue-at-the-bank-on-pay-day kind of test (though some of us [me included] may find this to be a little “more than you can bear”).

When I asked God to refine my character, I was essentially giving him the right to do whatever he needed to do to fulfill my request. My reaction?

Tears. Frustration. Anger....

Omniscient? Really? Then how come, God, you didn’t stop this from happening?! If your plans are to prosper and not to harm, how come I’m so BROKEN and BRUISED and STUCK IN LIMBO?!

It would seem Job’s wife had the right idea. After all, what really was the point?

Then the thought struck me: what if God loves you so much he’s willing to risk experiencing your hate?

Experiencing my hate?

Yes. Because the tests are going to be heavy and painful. You will likely feel so broken you’ll wonder if there’s anything of you left to salvage. You will encounter darkness and loss, doubt and fear. And in all of this you will be asked to trust. Hating God won’t seem so inconceivable after all that.

On the other side of Jordan, hindsight provides perspective that often brings peace.

The crucibles are the answer to my prayer. Patience won’t be fully acquired just by experiencing rush hour traffic daily. The battle for integrity won’t be won by simply arranging to have a phone, left in a taxi, returned to its rightful owner. These are like pop quizzes for that course you’re always ahead in. The real tests of faith bring you to your knees, constant in prayer, totally dependent on God.

Should we, through our difficult experiences, recognize our truly awful state, turn to him for cleansing and ultimately turn our lives around, then it would have all been worth the risk. For that kind of response, God is prepared to face our fury.

At the end of the day, he wants to bring us home. And kingdom-ready characters are built by adversity.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
~James 1:12, NIV

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Fall and Rise

To the death. That was Peter's declaration. 

Was it feigned sincerity? I don't think so. Perhaps the following gives some possible insight into why this disciple's conviction later crumbled.

"Without the doctrine of sin, we are led toward being unusually optimistic about our humanity. We will refuse to face the viciousness of our capabilities and will trust our desires too much and fear ourselves too little." --Jen Pollock Michel

We make profound statements; create “foolproof” action plans; give ourselves ultimatums; because, like Peter, we strongly believe we'll keep up our end of it. In fact it's so palpable – this desire to do right, to be different – that you can almost feel the texture of it.

So when the ball drops from our seemingly steady hands, we are more often than not devastated.

We are unusually optimistic about our humanity....

I think we sometimes forget that even our most heartfelt convictions rise from a place that is "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9).

Hard pill to swallow. I've choked on that reality more times than I can count.

What then is our saving grace? 

“He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” Psalm 103:10

Literally it is the grace of Jesus Christ, made available through his death, which saves.

Let’s just admit that on our own we cannot do or be good. When Jesus said without Him we can do nothing – he meant it. Every day we must be in surrender mode. Because if we for one second believe “I got this”, we better prepare for some bruised and broken egos (Proverbs 16:18 puts it this way: pride goes before a fall).

As someone who has the scars as testament to that truth, I know how hard it is to let go of the I-can-do-it-by-myself-so-I-don’t-need-your-help attitude. I mean, who wants to feel like they’re wearing “trainers” when they’re grown and capable, right? But if I honestly assess my “grown-up capabilities” I’d stop talking tough and let God lead in every area of my life.  Because when I’m defiantly or unwittingly making a mess, He shows up with mop and broom to lend a hand or handle the job Himself.

Proverbs 24:16 reminds us that there is hope. “A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.”

Rises again….

Peter’s story quite likely would have ended differently had he believed himself to be infallible. He could have despaired so much over his decision to deny Christ that he opted for an “out” like Judas did. But he rose again with the knowledge that even though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” we “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

Just because you’ve messed up (again), doesn’t mean you can’t get up (again). Why do you think Jesus died? Of course not so that we can treat Him like a get-out-of-jail-free card; but because He knows on our own we are lost. And He wants us to accept the redemption He freely offers. 

Confess your mistake, believe He’s forgiven you, and go forward with Him knowing that “with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption” (Psalm 130:7).