No Pain, No Gain

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
(Proverbs 27:6)

As many of you know, I’m in the editing phase of a novel I hope to have published. The setting is dystopian – either our own world in the future or one enough like it to be almost familiar. It’s meant as an extended parable for sacrificial living and the potential to use or abuse our God-given gifts.

I belong to a critique group, which was a pretty brave act for me. Through them, I’ve received a lot of great feedback. But there’s this one guy…

He never hesitates to ask questions about what is confusing, to point out continuity issues or passive voice or a myriad of other mistakes. In fact, my submissions often come back from their time under his scrutiny riddled with comments and dissected sentences.

I could ignore his emails. I could collect a handful of people who love my writing as is and say very little. But in the long run, I would be the worse for my refusal to hear difficult truths.

As it is, I love the criticism. Not because it feels good to have your rough draft sliced and diced. It doesn’t. I love it because he pushes me to work harder, to tighten and refine and grow as an author.

Naturally, a part of me adores glowing feedback, but the reasonable part of me knows it’s the criticism which drives me to exert my mental abilities and strive toward a better product.

Similarly several years ago, my family took judo under the instruction of a dear friend (whom I often still refer to as Sensei though it’s been ages since I stepped foot on a mat or took a fall). Every time he would praise a technique I’d done correctly, I would blow it for the next 15 minutes. I finally told him, “I think I just work better with criticism.”

He believed me, and lo and behold, I did improve.

My point?

I have been reading the Word of the Lord daily for many years. Studying, memorizing, and reflecting on it are all parts of my average day. I also spend no small amount of time reading works by other Christians.

None of this is to my own credit, mind you. This desire for the Word is a gift from God; one I requested early in my walk with Him and one He happily granted.

Anyway, the more I become saturated with the Word, the more I realize that often it’s the things I want least to hear that I need to hear most.

In today’s American Christianity, there is an abundance of shelf space advertised as “Christian.” But mark my words: Just because a thing speaks of the Lord or quotes Scripture does not mean the teaching is based on sound doctrine.

In an act of audacious irony, our ancient enemy quoted Scripture to the Word made flesh (see Mark 4:6). And believe me, his kisses are profuse. He loves to keep us snuggled in such comfort we overlook the bars of our cozy cage. If I wanted, I could easily surround myself with nothing but heartwarming sentiment.

But then I wouldn’t grow.

I’m certainly not knocking encouragement – God knows every one of us needs it, and He offers it in due time. But we need an equal balance of rebuke and reproof. We need the sharp prick of a goad now and then to remind us to stay on the narrow path that leads to life just as we sometimes need a word to lift us out of the pit to soar on wings like eagles’.

Friends, the Christian walk is not one of self-indulgence and earthly pleasure. We are promised joy, but it is joy in the presence of the Lord. Pleasure at His right hand. This means that our joy will often come not in lieu of suffering but in spite of it.

And to achieve this state of “joy anyway,” we need a full complement of both correction and encouragement. Of discipline and strengthening. We need the wounds of a friend who has the long term as a goal. If we are to become more Christlike, we must also be willing to endure Christlike suffering.

To compete so as to win the prize, we have to put in the hard work of training if we are to run our race well. But the Prize will be well worth our effort!07

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:13-14)

How about you? Do you tend to gravitate towards what I would call “easy button Christianity?” Or are you equally open to hearing hard truths which require some sacrifice or painful confession in order to grow in Christ-likeness?

 

 

Tuesday Prayer: Gratitude

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
(James 1:17)

Father of Lights, today we give thanks to You for the amazing gifts You have given us. Often as we approach the holiday season, we are so caught up by our own frenzy of purchasing, cooking, celebrating, and giving that we forget about the gifts You have already bestowed on us. It’s no small irony that when we celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving as we will next week, we tend to become so enmeshed in the details of the day that we fail to truly offer You more than a cursory murmur of thanks.

Yet You are the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Lord, forgive us when we forget that.

Today we intentionally set aside some time for mindfulness of the astonishing gifts You have given us. Let Your praise be on our lips today and let us give thanks to You, for all You give us is truly good. Thank You, Lord, that we can celebrate with a feast next week. Thank You for food, shelter, family, and friends to celebrate with. Or if we celebrate alone, thank You that You are our portion and we can still be satisfied in You.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
(Lamentations 3:24)

Not only that, but we thank You for the often-overlooked things. Thank You for family even when being with them hurts because in working through strained relations and miscommunications, we grow.

In learning how to love others who are hard to handle, we are forced to confront the places where we are prickly as well. Thank You that in conflict, we learn to humble ourselves and to forgive. In extending grace to others who may not deserve it, we see how little we deserved Your grace. For this, too, we are thankful.

And thank You for the little things, Lord! Thank You that You made food to have flavor when You could have made it merely nourishing. Thank You for our senses, and when one or more fails us, thank You that we are thus made more dependent on You. Thank You for good health and poor health alike, for we know Your word teaches us to give thanks in all circumstances and we trust You enough to do it.

Thank You for the seasons. For color, birdsong, laughter, and music. Thank You for making us in Your image and for being patient with us when we do not represent the Divine image well. Thank You, Lord, that You truly do work all things for the good of those who love You – even our mistakes and our pain.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8:28)

Thank You that it is Your glory we are made for and not our own because in You, we find a glory worth dying for, a perfection worth imitating, and a goodness worth every ounce of our being and so much more.  And thank You, Lord, for Your Son and for our salvation through Him. Thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit, our comforter and guide. It is in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we offer up our gratitude today, amen.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
(Luke 11:13)

Tuesday Prayer: Communication

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
(Colossians 4:6)

Mighty Creator God, You fashioned mankind after Your own image, bestowing on us the blessings of creativity, of sight and hearing and speech so that we may see Your good works, hear Your voice, and lift our voices in praise to You. Yet we have fallen. From the first man down through the generations and spanning the billions of lives in human history, we have all fallen and soiled Your glorious image with the dirt of this earth.

All men but One, that is.

Your Son alone walked this earth as a man, redeeming mankind and presenting the perfect Image of God. He was Man as mankind was meant to be, walking in humility and love, honoring the Father and obedient to His will. It is through Him alone that we  can cover our rags once more in the resplendence of the Light of the world, the spotless garment of righteousness offered us by our King.

All of us who are in Christ now bear the privilege and the responsibility of bearing Your image well; of representing Your name and Your Kingdom accurately to a lost and dying world. For this reason today, Lord, we ask that You will set a guard over our lips and keep watch over the door to our mouths.

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
(Psalms 141:3)

In all our communications with others – verbally, over social media, via body language, in our commute, around our tables, in our homes, in the marketplaces, or wherever we find ourselves – teach us to use gracious speech. Where firmness is needed, show us how to be unyielding and yet gentle as we not only proclaim Your truth but exemplify it in our lives.

Lord, when controversies arise as they so often do in this era of information overload, remind us that the Lord’s servant is not to be quarrelsome but kind to all, able to teach, and correcting those in opposition to Your truth with gentleness.

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…
(2 Timothy 2:23-25)

Instead of seeing people with viewpoints that oppose Your truth as our enemies, remind ourselves who our true enemy is – the accuser and father of lies. As we wage war against his forces on this earth, remind us to do battle with humility, always leaning on You, the Lord of Hosts who fights for us.

Remind us, too, to pray for those who are ensnared by the devil so that they may be set free by Christ. And as we pray for them, remind us to pray that we do not become entangled in sin ourselves but instead pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with a pure heart, amen.

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
(2 Timothy 2:22)

Gentlemanly Disagreement

Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.
(2 Timothy 2:14)

Is it just me or do my fellow countrymen in the US seem to be increasing in verbal combativeness and anger? Even a casual perusal of social media will reveal at least one vitriolic argument delivered with such vehemence that the reader raises a reflexive hand to ward off the virtual spittle.

If only such disagreements would stay buried among emojis and uppercase fonts. But I’ve seen an increasing number of public lashings-out as well. Not only shootings but aggressive driving and other hostilities seem to be becoming more and more pervasive.

It’s our new normal, somewhat infamously (and embarrassingly) highlighted during each new political rally for local, state, or federal elections.

But Christians, we have a calling and it is NOT to take part in vicious debate. In fact, we’re expressly told to love our enemies and respond to their acts of hostility with kindness and to overcome evil with good (see Matthew 5:38-45, Romans 12:21, et al).

We are called not to argumentativeness, but to truth.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.
(2 Timothy 2:15-17a)

Not only are we to uphold an unashamed adherence to truth, but when it becomes necessary for us to correct, we do so with gentleness. Not trying to fight fire with fire, but cooling the heat of the moment with the genuine love and humility modeled so excellently by our Lord when He asked, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:24).

Somehow in our embracing of the sincere belief that modern man has evolved to such a greater degree of wisdom than our primitive and somewhat foolish ancestors, we have also evolved ourselves right out of the art of gentlemanly disagreement.

In our quest for Nietzsche’s “superman,” we’ve run roughshod over the man of honor, trampling him and cursing him for slowing us down in our frantic hurtling down the broad path. We’ve forgotten that path leads to destruction. Indeed, the track is littered with the detritus of its destination. Not that we’ve time to stop and take notice, of course.

Yet it wasn’t so many years ago that men could agree to disagree. Two men I know of went so far as to be the greatest of friends despite the absolute opposition of their ideologies.

G. K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw were fabulous friends, yet their viewpoints could not have been more opposite. Chesterton was a Catholic, a prolific author, and from all accounts filled with a boundless joy. Shaw epitomized atheistic viewpoint and had some sympathies for communistic society.

Both men never ceased their attempts to convert one another to his own way of thinking. Both men frequently engaged in a hearty and heartfelt sparring with words.

But each of them respected the other, often praising his opponent’s clarity of thought or well-turned phrase even while rejecting the philosophy behind it. When Chesterton reached the end of this life – an end Shaw firmly maintained was his friend’s grand finale – Shaw, knowing that his long-time rival and colleague wasn’t the greatest money manager, he wrote to Chesterton’s widow:

“It seems the most ridiculous thing in the world that I, 18 years older than Gilbert, should be heartlessly surviving him. However, this is only to say that if you have any temporary bothers that I can remove, a line on a postcard (or three figures) will be sufficient.”

In 1936, three figures represented quite a sum of money. To put the gesture in perspective, it helps to realize that the average annual income at the time was less than $2000.

For the sake of the God we serve, for the sake of bearing His name well, and on the off chance any Shaws in our lives may be persuaded by the kindness of the Lord expressed through us, His body, let’s try to tone down the anger. Please? Let’s ramp up the humility and start jabbing those furious fingers into the face in the mirror.

Then, perhaps, we can see how ridiculous we look all hopped up and blotchy with rage. Then maybe we can enjoy a laugh or two at our own expense, and get back to the business of telling the world of the marvels Jesus Christ has done for us.

Starting, just maybe, with the marvel of how He worked in us a desire to remain in tandem with His Word of Truth as we reach out to others in love, patience, mercy, and unwavering faith in a God who is worth suffering a little shame for.

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth…
(2 Timothy 2:24-25)

Tuesday Prayer: Because He Knows

Bit of background on today’s prayer:

As some of you know, I have been studying Biblical Hebrew with the goal of someday being able to read the Bible in both Hebrew and Greek. The reason? I just plain love the Word that much; both the Word who was in the beginning and the Book. For real.

At any rate, I was working through a portion of Exodus 3 and came to the end of verse 7 where God says, “I know their suffering.”

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings…  (Exodus 3:7)

The Hebrew word translated “I know” ( יָדַ֖עְתִּי) is transliterated yadati. The root, yada, connotes several concepts, among which are to discern or find out, to know by experience. It is the same word used metaphorically for carnal knowledge (as in “Adam knew his wife”), which in my mind implies a very intimate knowledge.

Then it hit me. God truly does intimately know the suffering of His people. He even knows suffering by experience, because He experienced suffering as one of us.

By the hands of those He came to save, He endured flogging and blows. By the mouths of those He supplied with the ability to speak, He sustained mockery. By the act of one of His closest companions, He faced betrayal. Upon the wood of a cross made from a tree He created, he bore our shame.

And because He did these things and more, we who are in Christ have a great High Priest who intercedes for us before the Throne of Grace. When we turn from our own way and submit our lives fully to Him, we receive grace. Because the One who never sinned became sin for us, we become His righteousness when we, though faith, become His.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:21)

So today, I raise my plea to Him:

El Roi, our God Who sees, we praise You for the simple yet profound fact that You do see us. You see us in all our afflictions, in each celebration, and in every mundane moment in between.

Nothing done in the darkness is hidden from Your sight and no evil passes without Your noticing it. Not only the wrongs others commit against us but also the wrongs perpetrated by us – all alike are noticed by You and wrought for the good of those who love You. For this, our hearts overflow with gratitude and praise.

Not only do You see us, but You know us far better, even, then we know ourselves. Before a word is on our tongue, You know it. You even know the number of hairs on our heads. But perhaps the most poignantly, You know the suffering of Your people because You also lived and suffered as a man.

Thanks to Your compassion and grace, we can trust You in the intimate way You see and know us. Because of Your love, this knowledge does not beat us down but instead inspires us to keep pressing forward, lifting our eyes off of ourselves and our sorrows and onto the Man of Sorrows who is acquainted with grief.

It is Christ’s experiential knowledge of suffering which allows us to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence. Because of what our Lord Jesus did in his time on earth, we have a high priest who has suffered in every way we have yet did so without falling to sin.

So it is today, Lord, that we as Your church humbly approach You and ask for a filling of Your mercy and grace. Please supply us with both in ample supply that we are enabled to serve You with fierce effectiveness, bearing much fruit for Your harvest – fruit that will last and that is rooted in mercy and grace as we share Your truth with others, amen. 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrews 4:15-16)

Analog Interaction in a Digital World

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
(Romans 12:4-5)

Because my time is short, today I hope to give you the nickel version of a topic which deserves much more time. Much more. I want to talk about church membership and why it is important to the believer.

I know, I know, I’ve heard it before. Truth be told, I’ve even said it before: I don’t need the church to worship God. I can worship Him in private. Et cetera.

When I was a young Christian, I believed that with all my heart even though I never did actually stop going to church. But as I’ve walked in some dark and frightening places with the Lord, He has shown me otherwise.

Because, friends, those dark and frightening places were not out there in the world but right here, in my own heart and soul.

I’ve walked with His light shining in the darkness, exposing sin and I’ve learned to call it what it is. My sin. My selfishness and self-protectiveness and approval addiction and other ugly features.

But I’ve no wish to focus on those things today. Many have been dredged up and removed, and while I’m sure there will be many more dead and decaying things dredged up in the future, today I want to focus on the Lord. He is the reason to be a part of a church, because the church is His body.

And you need it. And it needs you.

Friends, here’s the thing. If we are truly the body of Christ, we don’t really get to choose. It’s God who makes the body and He’s the one who gets to decide where the pieces go, what they do, and how they work together to achieve His purposes.

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
(1 Corinthians 12:18)

If we take the arrangement of the body into our own hands – even choosing our own part to play – we invite chaos and disaster. In such a case, not only are we taking on the role of the Creator, we are also rebelling against the authority of the Head – a body made of parts with no control center, running amok and doing as they wish without a central purpose or direction.

And if you think of it in those terms, it’s more than a trifle ludicrous.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
(1 Corinthians 12:14-15)

It’s also somewhat mutinous. Just think of your own elbow deciding it would much prefer to digest food than be a hinge. Ew. Or your heart imposing a preference of beating on the outside where all can see his might instead of dutifully thumping away in a cage.

Or what if the heart bore a grudge against his bony housing and decided he would not beat at all as long as the ribs remained in their place? That would not be a healthy body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
(1 Corinthians 12:21)

Aside from that, there’s a simple fact we cannot afford to ignore. It is not in spite of the church’s fault but because of them that we need it.

By learning to be rejected and overlooked, by having our toes stepped on and stepping on the toes of others, by being burnt out or just burnt; in short, by belonging to a group of redeemed sinners in various stages of sanctification, we strive together and grind against one another and wear on one another.

We grow to be more Christlike because we learn to endure mistreatment like Christ. We see how far we are from being Christlike because we are forced to see how we mistreat others. Our pride is exposed and humility begins to take its place as we learn to submit to the Headship of Christ together.

In putting aside jealousy and self-importance, we learn to celebrate others’ success and mourn others’ losses as if they were our own. We become a single Body, living and breathing and worshiping no longer for self but for the eternal glory of our Head, Jesus Christ our Lord.

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
(1 Corinthians 12:26-27)

And as much as I love the blogging community, I also realize the limitations of digital relationships. There’s zero chance of an awkward encounter on the web. We aren’t forced to get through relationship difficulties on the internet; we can just unfriend,  mute, or ignore. Even delete. And we can’t blurt out something accidentally offensive. We have time to read and edit.

That is why in this day and age, we need to foster our face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder relationships, growing together and building one another up in love.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
(Ephesians 4:15-16)

For more on this topic, check out: Hurt by Church? Me Too. Let’s Chat.