Two Questions

“Who is this guy?”

”Do I trust him?”

These two questions sat at the heart of our service today. They were talking about God and Scripture. Discovering who “this guy” is through the Word and asking us where we have stepped out in faith. Where we have trusted Him. To illustrate this, the woman speaking shared a story from her own life when she found herself trusting in a group of strangers.

And as she spoke I felt conviction about this lie that I’ve treated as truth for so long, I didn’t notice how it had entangled me. This lie that said I can’t be trusted.

It is rather unfortunate that I’ve been through some pretty dark seasons. Seasons that most often involved me looking at a boy or man and believing I knew him and I could trust him. And then being proven very wrong. Although I have forgiven them and found healing around those things, today I realized I hadn’t forgiven myself. After discovering over and over how wrong I was about so many people, I started to believe I could not be trusted with my own well-being. That if someone wanted a relationship with me (dating, friendship, etc) it was because they were deeply broken. And if I was attracted to someone, it was a sure sign to run. Literally. All sirens went off internally and I would flee.

Ultimately though, this story isn’t a story about me, but about God and God’s desire to redeem, restore and reconcile. A God of Truth certainly cannot abide this lie I have been somewhat unknowingly agreeing with.

When I began to seek God, one of the first things I discovered (and one of my favorite attributes) about God is how available God is to me. God gives me complete and total freedom to explore who God is, to know God’s past and future. To seek God not because God isn’t already here, but because the breadth and depth of God is so vast that I am able to become totally “lost” with God.

God and I have been through some good times and bad, but the characteristics of god I read in the Bible are present in our relationship today. I am confident I can trust God.

But I couldn’t trust me. I couldn’t trust the people around me. I couldn’t take that risk because I thought my judgment was impaired. It wasn’t. The problem was that I had tried to discern through my own humanness, my brokenness, my wounds rather than through the Spirit that God gives me and the wisdom God blesses me with both through our relationship and the Word.

So I repent. I repent of believing that God could not equip or protect me, of not trusting that God would continue to shepherd me. And I bless this space, that I would move forward confident in that I am covered in the armor of the Lord, who is my stronghold and my rock in difficult times. I pray that the rest of my story would be a testimony to the kind of Love God extends to each of us. I pray that I would be able to step with the confidence of one who is led by the King of Kings. Amen.

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A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Three)

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out Part 1 and Part 2 first.

Chapter 4 looks at ‘becoming,’ and that doesn’t mean that this transforms into one of the many self-help books that Americans seem to love to read, talk about and then move on to the next book. It’s about becoming the you that you are meant to be, because that is a necessary element to a successful relationship. Why? “Truth is, your relationships will never be any healthier than you. Here’s why. And this is important. Relationships are never stronger than the weakest link…The stronger, more mature, more secure person in a relationship is always forced to make up for, defer to, or fill in the gaps created by the weaker person.” (57) I know, I know, this sounds uber harsh. But it’s also accurate. Think about the relationship problems you hear couples talk about. Is the issue really their relationship?

Let’s back this up a little. I think we all recognize that our lives are often richer, fuller, more joyful lives because of the relationships we have. And it doesn’t stop at the emotional, social and spiritual support that these relationships provide. It gets physical. God also gave us sex. Sex that feels really great. “If God created and gave us the capacity for satisfying relationships, it’s reasonable to assume God knows a thing or two about how to prepare for and operate one.” (59) This makes sense, right? Who knows how to operate something better than the designer, the creator, the originator of that thing? God actually teaches us this in the New Testament, and it lines up with what Andy Stanley writes about with regards to focusing on ‘you becoming’ versus ‘you finding.’ “…if you approach the New Testament asking, ‘How do I find the right person?’ the text is silent. But once you muster the courage to ask, ‘How do I become the right person?’ the text comes alive.” (61)

Ask yourself what happens to the ‘right person myth,’ after marriage. Does it dissipate? Or does it linger? Do people with that attitude, upon facing challenges and difficulties, end up questioning if they are with the ‘right person’ because things aren’t all good? It’s stunning how often we see people insistent on changing the person they are with. “‘If I could get my spouse to act right, everything would be all right.‘ Odd thing, these are the very couples who married assuming that they had met the right person to begin with. Turns out, the right person doesn’t always act right.” (62) This is another reason to focus on ‘becoming.’ If you are a person who just searches for the right person, your focus will always be on making them right, and not on yourself. Conversely, if you marry someone who believes in the right person myth, then any issues that arise would rest on the idea that you are not, in fact, the right person.

Depending on the circles you run in, there’s a lot of talk about love as a verb.  This means that rather than love being driven by feeling or chemistry, love is demonstrative action. This is found all over the New Testament, but not so often in our romantic comedies, which tell us that action is driven by the feeling of love. As an example from the New Testament, consider Matthew 5:44, where we are asked to love our enemies. Certainly if they are an enemy, you’re unlikely to find emotion to be a driver to act loving. Rather, we are being asked to demonstrate love for those who come against us! What this tells us is that relationships are built on choice rather than chemistry. “Great relationships are built on good decisions, not strong emotions. Again, falling in love is easy; it requires a pulse. Staying in love requires more. Specifically, embracing love as a verb.” (63) Remember, again, that this is not what society tells us. It says that you get what you give, it demands people to ‘get what they deserve,’ as long as you do your part I’ll probably do mine (unless something better comes along).

Where does this land us? Many of us (ahem) have experienced it firsthand: “The results are fragile relational contracts built on conditional agreements that leave both parties focused on the behavior of their partner…they are relationships built on ‘mutual distrust.'” (64) The end result of this is that each person expects the other person to carry the weight of the relationship and the expectations in it; failure to do so is a failure to meet the contractual requirements and confirmation that the other person is not, indeed, the right person. Disappointment, blame, and moving onto someone else become a continuous cycle for all parties. But then there’s this alternate path available to us:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 “The Greek term translated new in our English Bibles connotes strange or remarkable.” (65) Something about what we’re being called to in love is remarkable from what love was before! We’re supposed to love like Christ did: sacrificially. What does this look like? Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Yeah, I know. Submitting. This can be a hot topic but I want you to hang with me here, okay? Let’s really understand what’s being said.

Paul is writing about what Andy Stanley calls mutual submission. “…Paul wasn’t calling for an unequivocal unilateral abandonment of personal independence. This is a one another thing…mutual submission doesn’t work unless it’s mutual. It only works when both parties work it.” (67) This is not the way the vast majority of people operate, and that’s why Paul points us back to our reverence for Christ. Why? Because we are meant to be inspired by Jesus’ example and use it as a model for our own relationships. Ephesians 5:22-5:25 says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord...Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The emphasis is added to highlight the mutual submission that is inherent in this verse. This is the kind of relationship we are called to, but it might all just sound a little too good, right?

“The alternative is to invite fear into future relationships… While your reservation is perfectly understandable, it’s entirely unnecessary and counterproductive. You were created for more than guarded relationships and ‘I will as long as you will’ love. Truth is, you hope that’s true, even if you’ve never seen it or experienced it.” (68) I John 4;18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Don’t we want that? Aren’t we called to that?

At one point Andy Stanley was fundamentally asked if he believed that having a two-headed home (instead of the man being the head of the household) was like a two-headed monster; if he believed the man should basically be the head of the household. He replied:

“Before I answer your question, imagine you’re married to a man who genuinely believes you are the most fascinating person on the planet. He’s crazy about you. You have no doubt that your happiness is his top priority. He listens when you talk. He honors you in public. To use the old-fashioned term, he ‘cherishes’ you. He’s not afraid to make a decision. He values your opinions. He leads, but he listens. He’s responsible. He’s not argumentative. You have no doubt that he would give his life for you if the need arose. You never worry about him being unfaithful. In fact, to quote an old Flamingos’ song, he only has eyes for you… Would either of you have trouble following a man like that?” (70)

And if you read that, you’re answer was probably no, I wouldn’t. In fact, you probably said, “Where do I find that guy?” Why? Because that sounds like a really amazing guy, a man that is easy to follow because you are confident that they have your best interests at heart. You don’t have to fear it or fight it. “Stand-alone submission is dangerous. But mutual submission? That’s different. A relationship characterized by mutual submission is the best of all possible relationships. It is a relationship worth preparing for. It is a relationship worth waiting for.” (71)

I also thought, as I read Andy’s description, am I a person that ALWAYS listens when other people talk? Do I honor those I love in public and cherish them? Am I responsible and not argumentative? Faithful? I think that the answer to most of these are yes, but there are certainly ways I could grow in order to make these characteristics stronger and more frequently demonstrated. I believe that taking those steps will help me prepare for whatever it is I’m waiting for.

Want more? Check out A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Four)

Stepping into the “Unknown”

I recently finished an exegesis on a different part of Philippians (posted here somewhere), but another group of verses came to mind as I went through my last day at work, re-telling people time and again with a smile and a chuckle that “Indeed, time sure does fly… No, nothing lined up yet… I’m sure everything will work out fine… Yep, something more faith and/or community focused… Yeah, I’ll be spending a week in prayer and reflection trying to understand my next steps…”

Knowing that Jesus is countercultural and doing something counter to your cultural are two very different things. It can feel isolating, and yet I know I’m not alone.

Philippians 4:10-13 “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

I am startled at how much I related to this today. The two years leading up to this? Oh man! How I struggled. To let go of money being the thing I put my trust in and my property defining part of my identity. I asked, “What is the value of a life directed towards the pursuit of happiness?” For me I discovered it wasn’t much and it rarely brought me happiness.

No, I think God tells me that a life pursuing a meaningful purpose has the side effect of joy and happiness. Every life is worth the same, but what of the value that every life creates? We exist in a society that often idealizes selfishness, perhaps thinking the key to happiness lies within that trait. And yet the more selfish we become, the fewer friends we have per capita, the more isolated we are, with higher rates of anxiety, depression… Oftentimes we can’t even gain a sense of our own identity anymore.

Yet here I sit in a place with God where, when I talk about where I am it clearly stirs up anxiety in the hearts of some people; it makes me realize how good God is that he brings me here to this place to sit in this struggle and grow with Him. A man called Father Mike posts videos on Ascension and in one of them he talked about the difference between patience and rushing towards the next thing. He used the example of building a shed. They had put a foundation down but it wasn’t level and his answer was to just drill all new holes for the shed but the man leading the project insisted they do it right so they disassembled, leveled the foundation, and easily assembled it so it was built right.  This is how God sometimes operates.

I went down a path for 14 years that excluded God from the equation and God, in His graciousness, has torn so many things down to the foundation so that we could make sure it was built right in my life. Now what He’s building is good and I can trust in His work and lean into a vision even when I don’t understand it. This is the goodness of my God.

 

Prayer for Steadfastness

Abba, Father, Creator of all that has been and will be, how great and holy are You? I praise You that in the midst of all creation, You pursue so faithfully a relationship with us, Lord. You are all good and Your Kingdom is a Kingdom filled to the brim with the fruit of that goodness; our separateness is the fruit of our disobedience, not proof of your faithlessness. I pray you help me and my community to become more of a reflection of You, and that we bear fruit as you would have us do. You answer my prayers over and over again, Abba, and You provide for me in all ways and I give thanks for it. When disbelief in this creeps in, I pray you protect me from it. Remind me of Your steadfastness so that I can be more steadfast in my love to You. Help me to receive, Abba. Amen.

Reflections on 2 Corinthians

2 CORINTHIANS
While it is debated whether 2 Corinthians is a single letter or a collection of letters, one thing we can know for sure is that it is a treasure trove of spiritual wealth and knowledge; in it Paul provides a defense of cruciform ministry and instruction on the lifestyle of the apostle. “…he argues – sometimes gently and politely, sometimes aggressively and acerbically, but always compellingly – that cruciformity is the mark of apostleship, grace and the Spirit.” (Gorman, pg. 291)

 

We learn through Gorman that Paul starts not with his usual Thanksgiving but with a Jewish blessing that then begins to set the stage for the rest of the letter “…life in Christ is about suffering and endurance, affliction and comfort, partnership and mutual care. It is about an ‘abundant life’: experiencing the abundant presence of God in the midst of abundant tribulation.” (Gorman, pg. 294) I love the words that Paul leads with in 2 Cor 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction…” because it reminds us that it is not God who afflicts us but who is compassionate towards us, who suffers affliction and encourages us when we persevere in our afflictions. This is why we can only agree with Paul when he states in 2 Cor 1:7 “Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.” For our God is with us in everything.

 

We are reminded in 2 Cor 1:10 “He rescued us from such great danger of death, and he will continue to rescue us; in him we have put our hope [that] he will also rescue us again…” This must inspire us. When we examine this perspective, how can we not hope, for why would God go to such lengths to rescue us if he did not intend to save us? He is surely faithful to us. We are reminded again, in 2 Cor 1:20 “For however many are the promises of God, their Yes in in him, therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.” As Gorman explains, each of God’s promises is always a yes, although the timing of this promise is not assured.

 

The next part that really stuck out to me was what Paul wrote about the offender who had been punished by the community, the one who had hurt Paul and the church. By extending charisasthai kai parakalesai, or grace and comfort, they are showing love not just for the individual but for the community as well. “Therefore, I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Cor 2:8) The community with which we share our suffering as Paul alluded to earlier in the letter offered both punishment and forgiveness, sharing the burden of suffering.

 

I also appreciate the contrast with which Paul compares the apostolic life to the life of the Romans, using the metaphors to frame up the cruciform lifestyle. “Paul claims that his life and message impact both those being saved and those perishing, functioning as confirmation of their life or their death, respectively (2:15-16; cf. 1 Cor. 1:18; Phil. 1:28). This, Paul realizes, is an awesome responsibility, such that ‘Who is sufficient?’ (NRSV) or ‘Who is qualified’ (NAB) is certainly an appropriate question (2:16).” (Gorman, pg. 298) What Paul helps us to see through his metaphors and questions is that we do not qualify ourselves but are divinely commissioned, and are held accountable to that commission.

 

This should lead us not to pride but humility in ourselves and confidence in Christ. As we often see with Paul, he pulls the old testament and new together in 2 Cor 3:3-5 “…shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God…” What I really appreciate is that Paul doesn’t devalue the old covenant; he gives thanks for the fulfillment of the temporary covenant and the deliverance of the new more grace-filled covenant that brought God’s Spirit with it. He goes on to contrast the two covenants, examining the suffering of death and the experience of glory as well as the veil over people who cannot see. This all points to the triune or trinity. “Ironically, Paul’s point is almost certainly that the Spirit is the Spirit of both YHWH and Jesus. The glory of Israel’s God is perceived only by seeing the glory of his “image,” the (crucified) Lord Jesus (4:4), like an image reflected in a mirror. In line with much ancient thought about God, Paul believes those who ‘gaze upon’ the image and glory of God are transformed into the divine image…” (Gorman, pg. 300) This translates life and freedom IN Christ THROUGH the Spirit by a God of Israel fully revealed.

 

While we understand this life and freedom promised, we look back at the original topic of affliction. “Paul senses the tension between a gospel of glory and a life of slavery and affliction. He resolves it by finding in the pattern of Jesus’ death and resurrection the pattern of his own life.” (Gorman, pg. 302) The metaphor that Paul uses this is beautifully described and is a salve to the soul in times of great affliction. 2 Cor 4:7-10 “But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” It is to tie our suffering to the suffering of Christ and our life to the life of Christ and, as Gorman described, be transformed into the divine image. This leads us to cruciform ministry, a life that makes the life of Jesus visible to others through ourselves; but not by our words alone. Cruciform love isn’t suffering AND love, it’s suffering IN love. The same is true for cruciform ministry, and it’s all in Christ, a reflection of Christ and the hope offered in the resurrection.

 

It is a fundamental thing to note that it is Christ’s love, not the love of Christ, which compels them. 2 Cor 5:14 “For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died.” This means that Christ died as an act of love for all, so that they would all die to themselves and live for God. This was an orienting act of Christ, but there is still an action to be taken, a response to be made on the part of the people: to choose God.

 

Paul writes of his experience in the ministry, establishing his integrity but also providing a framework for those to come for both what to expect and what to strive for. Additionally, it provides us context to understand the tremendous amount of endurance that Paul and his companions demonstrated during their ministry. 2 Cor 6:3-8 “We cause no one to stumble in anything, in order that no fault may be found within our ministry; on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance, in afflictions, hardships constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts, by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, in a holy spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech, in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the at the right and at the left; through glory and dishonor, insult and praise.”

 

Paul goes on to address many of the problems being faced, including those known as the “super apostles” who were anything but super. Although there is much to be said about these super apostles and so much more within 2 Corinthians, the final verse I’ll examine comes after Paul emphasizes what he ultimately seeks from them: obedience to Christ. Paul understood all the things the Corinthians were up against and warned them strongly in 2 Cor 10:3-6 “For, although we are in the flesh we do not battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” This is not a war of violence against the body but a call to repentance, peace and forgiveness. It is so easy to blame the flesh, the person, and to make their sin their identity but that is not who we are at war with; that is not who our enemy is. The enemy is sin, the enemy is whatever drives us further from relationship with God instead of bringing us closer and by recognizing that the enemy is sin and not the person we can bring freedom and the Kingdom to people who would otherwise believe there is no hope.

Prayer for Help

Abba, I am struggling right now. If this were a story of me stepping out of the boat and walking on water towards you, this would be the point of my sinking. I need Your hand lifting me up, Lord. I am lost in fear. I want to trust in You. I am surrendering my whole life to you, Father, and I believe. I know You are stronger than fear. I know these changes will bear fruit because it comes from a promise made by You and yet… the winds blow against me Lord. Speak into my life, Father. Make the path to career transition clear. Make the sale of my home smooth and successful. Show me where I should live and what that should look like. Give me greater vision, Lord. Let me be Your testimony and serve you. Amen.