Tag Archives: christian

Wrestling God (Again) – Genesis 32:3-32

670px-Thumb-Wrestle-Step-1

In the morning, Jacob will cross the Jabbok River into the Promised Land and face his estranged and violent brother Esau who may destroy him completely. All of Jacob’s family and wealth have already begun the journey. Jacob sits alone and waits in the dark.

God held astounding plans for Jacob, plans far too great for a man like Jacob who cheated people as a matter of character. How incredibly tempting is must have been for Jacob to think he had misunderstood God’s word – that he has the short end of the bargain this time. Jacob lay in the dark knowing God, knowing God’s promises, praying, but not knowing God’s plan.

Can you imagine the bone crushing doubt that kept company with Jacob that night? Do you ever feel the soul rending tension between God’s glorious promises and the olive press of your circumstances? Do you wait alone, naked of all conventional security, and in the dark?

In the middle of the excruciating waiting, a fight breaks out. Jacob wrestles with God – all night long. Nothing God does can sway Jacob. Nothing defeats Jacobs’s will. Jacob will not submit. Ultimately, God’s victory requires divine intervention and leaves Jacob crippled by God’s touch. But still, Jacob clings to his will and stays engaged: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”(Genesis 32:26 NRSV)

I don’t know about you, but I often wrestle with God, in the dark, and for huge stakes. Those battles seem to last forever. They hurt, sometimes horribly. Sometimes, like Jacob, I hang on even after I am thoroughly beaten and insist on my blessing. If this is where you are, “…take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12–13 NLT-SE) Know that your struggle will bless you as well as the cloud of witnesses cheering you on and those who look to your example to cast light on their own path.

Also, please know that trust, simple submission to God’s will, also leads directly to peace and joy.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Choose Great Suffering Part IV: An Outstanding Response

Book Shelf

A few weeks back, as I was wrestling with how best to parent my son, I sent out an email seeking counsel from the most brilliant Christians I know.

The request was phrased as a challenge from the perspective of a fictional young man:

“Christianity is boring. You know what’s not boring? Getting stoned and having sex with a new partner.

You know what’s exciting? Getting drunk while racing to the beach and listening to loud music that glorifies drugs, money, sex, and violence.

Working hard, getting the advantage, beating out the other guy, making lots of money, and spending it. Work hard. Play hard. That’s exciting.

You know what’s fun? Kicking back with the boys, drinking beer, eating pizza, watching football, and making fun of everything you disagree with and people who aren’t like you.

I’ve experienced those things. I know what fun and excitement are really like. I can’t stand reading so I have very little larger perspective on life, I’ve failed at everything I’ve tried to do within the conventional system. Two weeks is an incredibly long time, and the concept of positive authority has been ruined for me by too many people constantly telling me what to do (I have ADD). What does Christianity have to offer me?”

In short I was asking, what does Jesus have to say to our young adults lost in the lies of this world?

Here is one of the more powerful and insightful responses I received:

“In many ways I agree. Christianity is boring. Especially the way we’ve institutionalized it into a club where you either fit the mold or are “backsliding” at best. Our education system is similar. Reading is the most important skill for our little ones to learn. So what happens when ADD and dyslexia interfere? From an early age we set our children up for failure. The same is true with the model of Christianity we’ve set up that requires penance or right behavior. Heck, even reading the Bible is a requirement and so the kids that struggle in school will most likely struggle in Christianity.

This type of Christianity is boring. The world is fun. I don’t regret my party days but rather I often think of them with fondness (I doubt I’d admit it in church though). I think Christianity needs to stop competing. It can’t win.

So what if we offered something completely different? Something not based on fulfilling human expectations but something so deep that it actually changed the way we want to live? AND that by living that way we could make a difference in the world? I think that’s where social justice efforts come into play. When we see the brokenness in the world and that we can be a part of the healing we are compelled to act. Just like Jesus.

Christianity was created and used for control. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. Our systems are man made (yup, just masculine at this point) and therefore dramatically flawed. So what do we have to offer?

A safe place to land when he falls is THE most important thing I believe parents can offer their teens but it is often the hardest on parents because it means letting their kid fall and watching them get hurt, when you may have had the power or knowledge to stop it from happening – If they’d just listen right?

Your example (unconditional love, respect, boundaries, a soft place to land), though it doesn’t line up with what your son wants, is still the best thing you can offer. We often return to our family values later in life. At what point in your life did you realize you were beginning to act like your parents? Or better yet, when did you become okay with acting like them?

My grandpa who recently passed away once said “it’s every parents goal that their kids turn out better than they did”. He was an ass and so there wasn’t much of a challenge :). Still, eventually we learn both how we want to be like our parents and how we don’t.

I think the pain of watching your children fail is why Jesus often wept for Jerusalem. And this guy I know posted on his Facebook the other day that he wasn’t convinced suffering was such a bad thing :). So how’s does the suffering of watching your child fail, or be told they are a failure, or even think themselves a failure remind you of your walk with God?

We often react most strongly to the things in our lives we haven’t dealt with in ourselves. That’s something to think about for both you an your son.

This was supposed to be a more concise and pithy email. Instead you got me going. I feel your pain. I’ve seen it in many parents and students over the last 10 years. It gets better. Will you remind me of that in 20 years when I have kids?”

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Comparison

apples-and-oranges11

Comparisons damage us in so many ways.

When we want what our friends have rather than enjoying what God gives us we make ourselves miserable and take a step away from Him.

When we compare our behavior to a friend’s or a stranger’s we may devalue them or elevate ourselves based on what we perceive as our relevant standing. “…God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11). Conversely, we may find ourselves disappointed with our own spiritual walk because we walk differently than someone we respect.

We compare our circumstances to another’s and grouse about a lack of fairness, or we compare our abilities and feel unable to move where God would send us. “Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” Exodus 4:10

What we miss in all of this is God’s perfect ability to create us all uniquely and according to a plan that we can’t hope to understand. We also wholly discount the Holy Spirit and His ability to equip us for all tasks God sets before us. We completely lose track of the single minded focus on our relationship with God that supersedes and excludes all comparisons. When you focus solely on your relationship with Christ, recall his role in creating you and the people you’re comparing yourself to, and harken to his passionate commands to love others before yourself and feed his sheep. Things change. Peace, joy, and ready obedience replace all the shallow and negative things our earthly comparisons urge us to spend our energy on.

Love Christ. Look out for others. God will look out for you!”

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

In the Wake of Christmas

king_size_bed

Looking forward to the New Year, I invite you to reflect with me on two of my favorite Christmas verses.

“Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Hebrew 2;17,18)

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

Suffering comes to everyone in a unique way. How much we suffer and are tested depends on the contrast between what we are accustomed to and what we are experiencing.

Take a moment and try to grasp what “normal” is like for Jesus. Contemplate the scale of creation and recall that all things came into being through him. Spend some time. Soak it in. It’s Christmas after all, what’s your hurry?

Now consider that Jesus Christ emptied himself of all of that (his divinity). How else could he truly suffer, be sincerely tempted, experience dependence on the Spirit, and learn through obedience the joy of faith transformed into reality? “…like his brothers and sisters in every respect… tested as we are.” He bled, got sick, felt powerful anger, horrible want, crushing disappointment, and profound sadness. “Born in a manger” does not even begin to capture what Jesus went through.

Christmas leads inevitably to Easter and the astounding gift of salvation. However, we do not need to wait to open the gift of God’s radical humility. Today, wrapped in the pain of human existence and failure, we can boldly approach the throne expecting only inexhaustible grace from a God who shares our suffering, understands our weakness, and cries our tears. Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Prayer and Trust Are Not Sufficient

m9h359b maple blue

When I was growing up in Moscow, Idaho in the early seventies I wanted to play Little League baseball. So, my dad took me to the hardware store and let me pick out a bat from their small circular display. I choose a huge, blue, wooden beauty of a bat. It was way too big for me. I could barely lift it let alone swing it effectively. I have no idea why my normally wonderful and responsible father let me pick that one.

We played in our blue jeans and t-shirts.

I don’t remember a single thing my coach ever said to me.

I never got a hit.

But, I played baseball, and it was incredibly important to me.

This was back when I believed in God the first time. I had learned again and again that if I prayed and believed hard enough God would give me what I asked for. “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” (John 14:13, 14). Challenge accepted!

I prayed hard for us to beat the best team in our Little League, the widely hated Yankees. I prayed powerfully like only a foolish little kid who believes in a very literal translation of the bible can pray. I prayed and believed and prayed and told my friends that we we’re going to beat the Yankees.

After I recovered my faith a couple of months later, I prayed for something much simpler. I prayed that God would help me catch bugs and put them in the tent I had erected in our big front yard. I prayed and believed. Hard. Again, this was very important to me. Although, I must admit there was a bit of an edge to my faith, kind of a one eye slightly open, heart not wanting to get hurt again, believing but maybe not really able to believe all the way anymore kind of edge.

I didn’t catch any bugs, at least not any decent bugs. I was crushed.

I did what any rational person would do. I walked away and pouted…for about thirty years.

God let me pout. God let me do a lot of really ridiculous things, but eventually one of us decided I’d had enough. I started learning about praying and trusting all over again, but I never forgot about baseball and bugs.

I spent four years begging God to let me go to seminary (or God spent that time convincing me I could.). Two years later, after I had prayed, believed, and trusted my family, finances, and fitness to God I had ballooned up to 290 pounds (see “Should I be Mad at God for Letting Me Get Fat?). It was baseball and bugs all over again.

Me and God, we had it out, several times. I cussed, yelled, doubted, threatened, and pouted, the whole nine yards. God just chuckled patiently and invited me to a deeper faith that involved my active participation in his providence and my sanctification. Despite the fact that I had absolutely no time available after addressing family, full-time work, ministry, and full-time grad school I had to menu plan, shop, cook, and work out.

So, I choose a goal (this was about four months ago). I wanted to be able to jump up and casually run over to wherever I wanted to go. No big deal. I don’t need to look like Vin Diesel or play running back for the Ducks. I just want to be able to hustle. I want free and easy mobility.

Now that God and I are working together, things are going pretty well. I’ve dropped a ton of weight. But, you know what? My goal has been ripped away from me. My right knee is killing me. It used to come and go, but now it just hurts all the time. I can still walk, ride my bike, work out, and do all the things I need to do to get in shape. But, I can’t run or jump. Getting up is a chore. It takes time and it hurts.

What is going on with our wacky, all powerful, purely loving God? First, I thought it was pick a goal, pray, trust, and get blessed…Nope! Then I thought it was pick a goal, pray, trust, work with God, and get blessed…Yes, I’m far thinner, and that is wonderful, but no. Moving hurts and I’m less able to hustle then I was at 290.

So…finally…here is my point. Gratitude is hard. It requires flexibility.

This is not one of those weepy blog posts about how wonderful God and Christianity are if you’ll just “let go and let God.” It’s a heads up. Following Christ isn’t easy. Prayer and trust are not sufficient. You need to get in the game, and when you do you may not get to pick your own goals. You have to work consistently and despite pain to choose gratitude over bitterness.

Consider praying for awareness of the blessings God has already given you. Embrace the mercy we all float in rather than demanding justice. Accept God’s invitation to develop an understanding of faith as belief in the unseen, as hope and love without proof, and find astounding peace and joy exactly where you are right now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized