The Lord handed over Israel because of idolatry: “You have not obeyed my voice… .” How had Israel erred? By worshipping Baal and Asherah.

Gideon is beating out grain in a winepress to keep the wheat hidden from the Midianites, who were taking by force whatever food the Israelites produced. He was working in secret. Living hand to mouth made Gideon shrewd and resourceful, yet the angel did not appear to him in the first year but the seventh year. Why did God wait to rescue his people? Apparently, both Gideon and Israel had some lessons to learn:

Disobedience opens the door to oppression. God gives us boundaries to create the best kind of life for us. When we outsmart ourselves and try to live life apart from him. We settle for less.

An angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, and speaks, “The Lord is with you…”

[Have no fear. The Creator God stands by your side.]

“…O mighty man of valor.”

[Remember who you are—a warrior. Claim your identity. Live in the truth of God’s power that resides in you. I gave you not a spirit of timidity but of power and love and self-control.]

The angel calls out in Gideon what God has already placed inside of him. He resituates Gideon in the truth: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is above all gods. His children have nothing to fear.

Gideon wrestles with the angel’s words. He even questions God’s faithfulness:

“Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?” But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6)

Gideon falls into the worn trap of blaming God for his suffering and that of his people. Why do we suffer if God loves us? If he performed signs, wonders, and miracles in the past and delivered his children from oppression, why has he abandoned me in this pit? If he is all-powerful, why won’t he soothe my pain, save my marriage, resurrect my sweet child from the dead?

The angel offers no answer. God gave Job no answer. I have a hunch that God will meet our balled-up fists banging on his door with similar silence. The answer, I think, is complex and only available to us in part. As revealed in Christ, our suffering becomes our glory. The cross we take up becomes an avenue of sanctification. I also think that we live in the world that we have created. We chose life apart from God. We rebelled. We broke trust, and now we live in a broken world that breaks us. We point the finger at God rather than at ourselves. 

Peace is proactive

April 9, 2009

Scripture is full of our agency, our walking and working.

God does not call us to idleness or to frenetic activity. He says both, “Be still and know that I am God,” and “For we are God’s fellow works.”

What does that look like—grace in action, activated grace?

Paul talks less about specific vocations or schedules and more about the fruits of the Spirit, which are our fuel and our destination.

Paul writes that humility, gentleness, and loving patience put the right swing in our gaits. We do not walk too fast or with an inflated sense of self-importance. We are not too focused on our pace or what others say when we seem to slow down. In fact, we have to slow down to notice the countryside or a lonely person who could use a brief conversation and a smile.

Yet, we must walk with eagerness, with bright and peaceful urgency, because we open our arms to unity with the Spirit at every step. Christ walks with us, yet we also journey to meet him face to face. The Prince of Peace glues everything together; peace preserves the unity. You can’t be too concerned with winning arguments and sue for peace at the same time. You can’t make signs of peace with a closed fist. You cannot talk about Sarah’s unscrupulous boyfriend on Saturday night and greet him with a holy kiss in the sanctuary on Sunday morning.

Peace is proactive.

Fullness in Christ and the ability to speak truth in love that comes with maturity depend on how we walk, rather than how far we walk.

We build the kingdom of God through grace activated in humility, gentleness, loving patience, and peacemaking.

Faith hurts

February 1, 2009

praying_mantisI wish someone had told me ten years ago that faith hurts. I must have missed the seminar when more mature Christians sat down the babies in Christ and said, “Listen….”

Somewhere I picked up this idea that a healthy, vibrant, authentic faith was one that had no problems. When a relationship ended or I suffered some disappointment, whenever I discovered that I was not as emotionally resilient as I thought, I turned to Jesus and prayed the equivalent of “Okay, I’m ready for you to fix me now.”

I remember walking around Lipscomb University’s campus in Nashville, Tennessee, with my friend Taylor during one of our marathon conversations. He had received the same misinformation because part of our conversation was his recounting how he prayed for God to fix him, over and over again. If God is the potter and we are the broken potsherds, then why doesn’t he do his job and put us back together, make us whole?

I thought that was part of the promise. He calls Himself the Great Physician and Healer. In Ezekiel, He can put flesh on the dry bones. He can bring the rotten corpse of Lazarus back to life. He can resurrect the Messiah. He can cleanse the old heavens and old earth and make a new existence out of the ashes. He can create something out of nothing.

So why doesn’t He fix me? Why do I feel like such a wreck all the time? Why doesn’t she love me back? Why did he die? Why didn’t God protect her from sexual abuse? Why can’t I love people the way I mean to? Why am I so damn selfish and self-absorbed?

Why is the world so broken and where is the light of redemption? Where are the pierced hands and bleeding side and new, incorruptible body of Jesus in this world starving for love and peace?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but this past Advent season I remembered the promise of God-with-us. My problems won’t go away. They may change and evolve, but my life will never be perfect. God’s promise to us is not that He will fix all our problems and make us feel good about ourselves. God is no guidance counselor.

God promises to make us holy. Jesus promises never to forsake us even to the end of the age. We have the Holy Spirit burning inside of us. God assures us that we can never go anywhere without bumping into his love. We can never travel outside of his love.

God promises to meet us in the midst of our problems, to walk with us, to love us back into health. Divorce, poverty, hunger, genocide, rape, ignorance, nakedness, greed, sexual slavery, and disease: this is the world we have created. After Jesus saves us, we wake up to the same old problems with one difference: hope.

I await with eagerness the fullness of the kingdom of God because I am the worst of sinners and Jesus is in every person I meet. My job is not to protect myself but to point the way to new life. Faith hurts because we must die before God can resurrect us. Baptism, rebirth. Baptism, rebirth. Baptism, rebirth. This is now my story. Now that I know pain is a part of it, I don’t feel like I’m failing at faith.