Submitting an unholy trinity to the Holy Trinity

“Me, myself, and I” is an unholy trinity we must remove from its centrality in our lives.  If we truly seek to follow after God, the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—must supersede us.  There is no room for self-worship and self-promotion.Violet

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'” Matthew 16:24 NIV

Jesus’ command is for all believers—that means you and me.  If we desire to follow Jesus, we must weigh the costs. If we are right now living according to the dictations of our wills and cultural norms, these costs will be great indeed!  Thus, assessing the goal of our wills is a good starting point.

Let us re-evaluate our life goals.  Truly, if our goal for a good life is our well-being at all costs, we will be unable to follow through on Christ’s command to deny ourselves.  We must first combat the lie that our best interest is met only through ensuring we get our own way. Following this lifestyle only leads to resentment and bitterness as people and circumstances inevitably prevent us from leading the happy fulfilling life we idealize (James 4).  Just as the Acts 20:35 attests, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” so also living for the profit of others and God will truly bring the most fulfilling life.

For instance, if you live with another, whether it be a roommate or a spouse or a relative, and you strive to make a home for yourself in the manner you envision, sooner or later the organization you prefer will be a disarray, the cleanliness will not be pristine, the laundry will appear in undesirable locations.  This will lead to an unhappy home if the value is placed on maintaining it your way.  Rather, if you aim to make the house the home the other desires, you will find greater success and happiness.  Removing your expectations removes opportunities for frustration and resentment.

Furthermore, when our objective is the betterment of others and God, the costs of following Jesus are joys to bear to that end instead of hindrances to our aspirations.  I have been convicted recently of the need to change my outlook in this way.  If I am to live for others, my day’s to-do-list needs to be re-prioritized.  However, I don’t mean by re-prioritize what is typically understood in our culture today; I don’t intend to figure out how to be the most efficient or productive.  Rather, it’s starting the day asking, “What can I do today to bring joy to God?” and “What can I do today to bring joy to others?”  The answers to those questions should be the priority of the day’s accomplishments.  When those are complete, often I’ll find the question, “What can I do today to bring joy to me?” will be met incidentally.  That joy will be good and life-giving.  I will have purpose even if perhaps not as much pleasure.  It’s a way I want to live my days instead of asking myself, “What do I need to do today?” and “How productive was I?” at the close of the day.  In this lifestyle, the joy-eating feelings of resentment, defensiveness, guardedness, antagonism, and bitterness will have little opportunity to dominate my emotions.

The cost to following Christ begins with denying ourselves.  It is a sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that has a reward both earthly and eternal.  The cost of the alternative is far greater.  Let’s begin today to bend our wills in submission to God’s will, and we will find that in losing our life, we find it, and far greater one at that.

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My Mother

Gentle strokes through my hair—felt love.  Even with my eyes closed, I knew the presence of mother in those drifting moments before sleep overcame me.  The sweeping tips of her fingers tenderly speaking her love drove the fears of night away, reassuring me of her unconditional love.  Moments like these are my first memories of my mother.  As a little girl, she would tuck me into bed at night, sing a song, and stroke my hair until I was peacefully resting. Eventually there came a day when this no longer happened.  I didn’t need her physical presence to know I was safe and loved before falling asleep.

I still needed her in other ways.

My mother was my teacher.  She taught me life skills—how to clean, cook, sew, garden, set a table, be a woman always seeking after God.  She also taught me school for a number of years.  She sat for hours patiently helping me grasp the spatial concept of volume and then later of probability.  She gave me my love for research and encouraged my creative and musical endeavors.  Somehow she succeeded to not only teach me to work hard and do my best but also to know that my best was good enough.  I was pushed yet always affirmed.

My mother is also my best friend.  Those lonely years of pre-teens and teens, my mother was my main confidant.  She listened untiringly to my fears, hurts, hopes, and thoughts on life, faith, and boys.  She never made me feel foolish for anything I thought, but always pushed me back to scripture and truth when I was misguided.  When I went off to college we talked every week, and some seasons, every day.  She got me through the heartbreaks and disappointments, sometimes sitting in silence on the other side of the phone when I just needed to cry.  She still is pretty good at this today!

My mother isn’t perfect, nor am I.  We’ve had our battles of wills and words, but always there is forgiveness.  Through all my memories one thing has always remained—the overwhelming truth that my mother loves me forever and ever, wholly and completely.  Because she loved me, I love her.  Her love teaches me of God’s love: “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 NIV

Thank you, Mom; I love you!

Ideology & Hermeneutics

Have you ever read the Bible and come across a passage that ruffles your feathers?  Are there things you wrestle with in the Bible? I do.  It’s a clashing of cultures and wills.

We come to the text with our own ideology separate and apart from scripture.  Our daily experiences, our family norm, our society’s agenda, our education have all formed an ideology by which we operate.  Ultimately it comes from a culture and day-in-age that the Bible was not written to, yet that doesn’t mean the Bible is irrelevant to it.

The Bible was written to an audience who were accustomed to a patriarchal and hierarchical society.  That was their perception of “normal,” and they didn’t necessarily perceive it as “bad.”  This is not our world today.  No, rather, our American society professes the value of rights and freedom.  Anything infringing on those is bad!  Our moral obligation is first to ourselves–then to others.

So when we come from our American, cultural worldview and read scripture, there is expected conflict.  It appears to be a conflict that one can’t resolve.  Thus many people facing this dichotomy have to choose which side to take.  This often leads to us ignoring any parts of scripture we can’t reconcile with our culture’s measure of right and wrong.  It’s far more comfortable to side with the majority.

At this point, it is helpful to take a step back and remove ourselves from our present circumstances and point of view.  In the scope of history, the cultural norms have evolved. What is right has been steered by different guiding philosophies over the course of time and in various cultures.

Our culture has evolved out of these, leaving a morality that’s golden rule is “what is right for you is right.” This sense of right and wrong is based on a relative truth, for what is right for me may be in direct conflict with what is right for you.  This is illogical and means that one of us will be victim to the other’s moral discretion.

When we are deciding on how to approach God, should we be founding our faith on something so volatile or something unchanging, firm?

I’d certainly prefer the solid foundation of an unchanging truth–here the Bible has the leg up! It has remained the same for centuries.  In a gamble, it offers far more promise for dependability than the values of our world today.  In a hundred years, society’s moral compass will have changed from where it points to today, but the Word of God will stand unchanged!

Now you may be thinking, “Becky, you’re not comparing apples with apples.  You can’t read the Bible without interpreting, and haven’t interpretations of it varied over the centuries too?”  True. When we come to scripture, we are always reading in light of our earthly experiences.  We are apt to look for what we want to see in scripture.  However, simultaneously, as believers we come to the scripture with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit–our Teacher promised to us by Jesus himself (John14:26).  He is a far trustier guide than any celebrity I’ve seen.  Even with Him guiding us, we can come into tension with our own human perceptions.

So how can we resolve this conflict?

First, we need to approach the text without any sense of superiority.  It is wrong for us to lord over it with a sense that we are on the better side of history with greater knowledge of what is right.  This means if we encounter a passage we feel is wrong based on our experience, we need to take a step back.  We don’t want to be fools who “find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)  Instead, we need to look deeper.  Why, because as believers we attest that this is God’s infallible Word, and we believe God is good and sovereign.  Any pretense that we know better is blasphemy.

A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21:2)

Second, when we meet a conflict in scripture or we get up in arms, we need to reflect on our perception.  Ask: Why do I see it is a problem?  Can I look beyond my perception to see the greater context surrounding the text in question? Can I see the problem being resolved if my starting point isn’t the world’s directive for morality?  What did this mean to the original audience? Finally, the most important, can I trust that God has it right?

The solution to a right hermeneutic requires the unthinkable to our culture today–admittance that our way isn’t necessarily the right way.  Paul exhorts this message to the Corinthians, “Those who think they know something, do not yet know as they ought to know.” (8:2) We are only human–fallen, finite humans at that.  We have only lived and experienced life in this world for a breath of the time it’s existed. How is it that we have the guts to suggest we know better than the God who created it–the God who sees the beginning, middle, and end–the God who is infinite?  What arrogance!  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7)  Right understanding of God comes with right understanding of ourselves.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Matthew 7:13-15 NIV

Longing

HorizonWe aspire—so many directions to go, so many people to become, so many careers to pursue, so many places to travel.  We hunger for fulfillment.  We look behind us, sorrowful at the loss of the way things used to be, while also clinging to a driving hope that the future will hold what is better.  Either way, we are discontent in the circumstances of today.  Solomon laments the meaningless of life and its pursuits in Ecclesiastes.  Nothing in this world satisfies our longing.  It pushes humankind to great lengths of earthly achievement or terrible woe.  In the end, we die without realizing the “aha” moment that validates our life.

On the surface, this is a rather sobering and discouraging lot to swallow.  What’s the point of even living this life?  Solomon’s answer? “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Eccl. 12:13) He elaborates on this further in Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied.” (Pr. 19:23) Fear of the Lord—a right regard for who God is and who we are—brings us to the place of satisfaction.

In John 4:14, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Thirst, the most recognized longing in humans, is the analogy for our souls’ yearning.  Jesus promises to satisfy it wholly and thoroughly in himself.  The Psalmist prays, “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.” (Ps. 63:1-5) The same request follows in Ps. 90:14:

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

Clearly there is hope for satisfaction in this life.  It is found in the love of Jesus and our abiding life in his.  While we still hunger in this world, we can taste that promised eternal satiation with Jesus even now.  Think about the swell of wonder you felt at the last baptism you witnessed or the tears that struck when you led a friend to Christ.  Remember the inexplicable peace that wrapped around you in that troubling time, testifying to God as its source.  We must fight the worldviews that surround us in our culture.  They lie that our fulfillment can be found in that better body, that better job, that better location or house or car or family.  Solomon smacks those lies in the face. None of it will satisfy.  Those days when you feel stuck in the rut—feeling purposeless and hopeless—remember there is eternity with Jesus.  When that comes, our hunger will be fully filled; our thirst will be no more.  Savor your time with Jesus today, for though he promises to fill our thirst, in this life we must drink of him daily.

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” – Ps.119:103

 

May this be our prayer:

“As the deer panteth for the water,
So my soul longeth after Thee;
You alone are my heart’s desire,
And I long to worship Thee

You alone are my strength,my shield;
To You alone may my spirit yield;
You alone are my heart’s desire,
And I long to worship Thee

You’re my friend and You are my brother,
Even though You are a king
I love You more than any other,
So much more than anything

I want You more than gold or silver;
Only You can satisfy;
You alone are the real joy giver,
And the apple of my eye”

by Martin J. Nystrom

Lesson from OUR Lord

I have been convicted recently of how much my thoughts circle around me.  (See even this post starts with “I”.) Consequently, while pondering the Lord’s prayer, I took special note that it includes no “me” or “my” or “I”.  It uses “us” and “our” and “we”.  The Lord Jesus taught his followers to pray collectively, not individually.

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13, NKJV)

How different my prayers would be if I avoided the singular pronouns in favor of the collective.  This practice combats forgetting the truth that “we” are the body and bride of Christ, not just me.  We need to be united with each other both in our prayers and lives.

Welcoming Weakness

vesselsIn different ages and continents, societies have been categorized as shame-based, reward-based, etc.  I’m sure there have been similar evaluations of our American society today by experts who performed studies.  I am not one of them, but from my own observations and life experience, I would argue that our society is strength-based.  We have an aversion to weakness.  Yes, we are suckers for the underdog victory, but not because the underdog is weak. Rather, it is because the underdog finally proves its strength.

As a woman in our culture today, I am very aware of my own insecurity at being perceived weak and the need to prove any misogynist wrong.  I am strong!  This is why when I read 1 Peter 3:7, my feathers get ruffled:

“Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

The weaker vessel! Yes, physically I may be weaker (though not necessarily, I’m sure there are exceptions), but not necessarily even emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or professionally.  Oh it makes me burn!

Here though, I am frustrated.  Why am I incited by a verse which is a call to love and respect women?  It declares us equal heirs in Christ! There is so much good toward women in this verse.  So again, why am I incited? Well, because our society mandates strength, and, if we accept weakness, we lose value.

In response to my ire caused by this verse, which I know is wrong, I decided to do a study on what scripture says about weakness.  I will disclose my presupposition going into this:

I believe my placement of value on strength over weakness is misplaced.  It is a lie propagated by our culture.  I do not believe Peter was devaluing women in the above passage.  Thus, I presume my study will reveal a message contrary to the world’s.  I believe I will find that weakness has its place and can be a good thing and isn’t intrinsically bad as our culture would have us think.

The number one passage you think of when I say think of a Bible verse on weakness is most likely, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  This, of course, comes from the larger passage of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  This passage doesn’t leave Paul in weakness, but it is his very weakness that makes room for God’s strength and power in him.

The first thing I find scripture saying about weakness is that it is an opportunity for God to manifest his power in us and equip us with his strength.  Let’s not stop there.

  1. Weakness can lead to sin.

Most passages in scripture that caution against weakness surround weakness of the flesh—the sinful flesh of the old creature.  This weakness leads to sin.  As humans, we easily cave to our fleshly desires, we lack the resilient self-control to stand fast.

Take for instance, Matthew 26, where Jesus is in the garden praying before his arrest.  He tells the disciples to keep watch, but when he returns to them, they are sleeping.  He rebukes them, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Weakness in flesh leads to weakness in spirit later as they were not protected from temptation and fear—to the point of denying Christ in Peter’s case.

Even though this weakness is negative, it can be redeemed through Christ who is not “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)  Furthermore, Paul writes in Romans, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  God has a way of taking our weakness and turning it around in his power and by his action.

 

  1. Weakness in others isn’t something to look down on, but an opportunity to be like Christ.

The Bible has a lot of instruction on how the faithful ought to approach and act toward those who are weak.  That weakness may be physical, social, spiritual, or emotional.  No matter what weakness it is, the scriptures are clear that the weak are not to be devalued or condemned.  Rather listed below are a sampling of the right responses to the weak:

  • Give justice to the weak (Psalm 82:3)
  • Help the weak (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
  • Show patience to the weak (I Thessalonians 5:14)
  • Do not quarrel with the weak (Romans 14:1)
  • Welcome the weak (Romans 14:1)
  • Bear the failings of the weak (Romans 15:1)
  • Become weak to win the weak (1 Corinthians 9:22)

I ordered these passages this way to show a progression of command that goes from just acting rightly towards the weak to giving to them to giving up of oneself for them to actually give up one’s strength for them.  I love what Paul says in the 1 Corinthians passage, for beyond just the merit of obedience, these actions have a greater purpose of winning souls to Christ!  Our behavior, reflecting Jesus’ own, is a compelling testimony of the gospel.  Thus, it is again in weakness that God’s work of salvation is made manifest—this time through human to human interaction.

 

  1. Instead of devaluing, we actually should value weakness.   

Paul illustrates this in 1 Corinthians using the human body as comparison to the church body.  He writes, “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.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,  that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”  What appears to be weak and potentially less essential, is not the measure God uses.  He has purpose for weakness in the body, for earlier in that letter, Paul writes, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”

Again in a society that values strength, it can be hard to admit weakness.  However, it is weakness that makes room for God’s strength, and God’s strength is far greater than any human strength.  So as the strong need to be weak to win the weak, the weak made strong can win the humanly strong.

 

  1. Many people who were weak in their own right were use by God is his might.

The writer of Hebrews beautifully sums up illustrations of this in the hall of faith: “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”  The writer may have run of time, but I want to go further and look at Gideon.  He is a perfect demonstration of how God takes the weak, makes them strong, uses them to humble the arrogant, and bring him glory.

In Judges 6, the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon while he is discretely threshing in the winepress.  He is hiding his grain from the Midianites who have depleted the food in Israel for years.  With this setting, it is thus ironic that the angel says to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”  Gideon is not so impressed with himself, for he questions God’s presence with him due to the circumstances and also his own standing in the people of Israel.  He says, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”  He is honest about his weakness, but the Lord responds, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”  The story goes on with Gideon asking for validation through multiple signs, to following the command to destroy the false gods (though under the cover of night), to leading an army which God whittled down to three hundred men, to God giving Gideon the victory by turning the Midianites on one another and fleeing in fear.

This story is a story about God using what was weak in a powerful way.  Gideon with three hundred men rid the country of the oppressor whom had taken their food for years and had not been challenged successfully.  Clearly, the point God made to the people of Israel was that he was the one who would save.  There was no way Gideon could rightfully claim ownership for that victory.  God got the glory!

In our own lives, we have weaknesses, and rather than hide, we need to acknowledge them.  We need to embrace the possibility that God has power beyond those weaknesses, that our value, our part in God’s plan isn’t hindered by our weakness.

 

Conclusion

This has been a very long post, so I will wrap it.  From what I see in the Bible, weakness of flesh—the old self which leads to sin—is bad if left alone, but it also shows our need for God’s salvation.  The law shows we cannot merit salvation, none of us.  Praise the Lord, this weakness is redeemed in the work of the cross!

Other weaknesses—physical, spiritual, emotional, social—are opportunities yet again to recognize our inadequacy and need for Christ’s power in our lives or opportunities to emulate Christ to others. Our weakness is not a value measure—sure, it may weaken our pride—but pride keeps us from God anyway.  Therefore, this weakness is good.  The more weakness we have, the more we rely on God and less on ourselves.

Back to the first verse.  Drawing from my study, it is evident that husbands are to emulate Christ to their wives by being gracious to their weaknesses.  To myself in reading this, I am called not to take it as a challenge to prove myself.  Instead, I can rejoice that any weakness I may have doesn’t have to hinder me or keep down, but that Christ by the Holy Spirit can turn my weakness into his great glory!  What a joy that would be and what an honor to have that approach be a seed to lead others to him.

Unexpected Christmas

This morning listening to Christmas carols, I was struck anew by Kari Jobe’s “Adore Him.”  We’ve grown up with the Christmas story.  It’s no surprise to us.  Of course, God had his Son born in a manger. Of course, shepherds came and saw him.  Of course, he wasn’t born in Herod’s palace… really, though, of course?

Jobe captures the true surprise this is in the first two verses of her carol:

Countless days on a journey that led so far
Endless nights they traveled to follow the star
They did not find a palace, just a humble village home
And searching for a king, but finding a child, no crown, no throne…

Expectation turned to mystery
For nothing was like anything they dreamed
Anticipating the royal and those honored by this world
Instead they gazed in the awestruck eyes of a lowly peasant girl…

Just think how quickly we feel hurt when we don’t get the recognition we deserve or when someone else gets the credit for something we did.  Here, the Creator of the universe came into the world and didn’t get any of the recognition a mere mortal prince receives.

Recently, I among my friends and family, babies have been or will imminently be born. In the anticipation, I have witnessed many people come together before the baby is even born to love him and give him gifts.  The celebration is natural, and everyone adores the baby.

nativityHow is it then, that the most special baby was visited by shepherds-the lowly-and foreigners?  Why, when the priests learned from the magi that their foretold messiah had come, they did not join the party to find him? Those that should have anticipated his coming the most had no share in the welcome.

How beautiful is our God?!  The scriptures are full of commendations to the humble, and our God exemplified that very characteristic.  The one due all glory clothed himself with humility.  His whole life is a testament to that.  All I can do is worship with gratitude–Thanks be to God!