Friday, March 13, 2015

Vulnerability is Your Shield

Pride, self-sufficiency and self-reliance are dangerous business for us Christians. That being the case, have you ever thought that, ironically, paradoxically, your weakness and vulnerability may be a shield of protection for you?

When Augustine sought to encourage a poor, suffering widow, he said this very thing. In his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Tim Keller recounts it like this (88, emphasis added):
"Augustine...argues not only that we can grow in prayer in spite of [our] difficulties but because of them. He concludes the letter [to a sorely afflicted widow named Anicia Proba] by asking his friend, 'Now what makes this work [of prayer] specially suitable to widows but their bereaved and desolate condition?' Should a widow not, he asked, 'commit her widowhood, so to speak, to her God as her shield in continual and most fervent prayer?' What a remarkable statement. Her sufferings were her 'shield' -- they defended her from the illusions of self-sufficiency and blindness that harden the heart, and they opened the way for the rich, passionate prayer life that could bring peace in any circumstance."
This is also the clear testimony of the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10): 
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong
One more reason to "count it all joy...when you meet trials of various kinds."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Armor-Plated Worldly Weaklings or Vulnerable Gospel Powerhouses?

I was in the coffee shop a little while back studying Isaiah. A guy walked in wearing black, sport-shades and a serious look. It started me thinking.

We admire the invincible. The tough. The survivors. We love to feel strong. We long to feel fearless.

Think of the line of sunglasses that companies like Oakley have been built on. They give us a look of Robocop sternness.

Think of Under Amour. Why has that company been so successful? Why do we love the look and feel of chiseled impenetrability? We become like what we admire (at least we try!).

Think of Ironman. A superhero because of a super-suit. What’s the appeal? Do we want to be more robotic? Or is it the seeming invincibility that comes from wearing and wielding the suit?

Here we are, wanting to be like, and looking more like, (powerful) machines. Why?

I think this simultaneously taps the inescapable image of God in us, and betrays the effects of the Fall.

It taps the made-to-live, eternity-in-our-hearts longing for immortality. And it betrays the we-all-die-and-we-hate-it, we-are-way-too-vulnerable-and-weak-and-we-hate-it reality we are desperately trying to escape.

In our fallen blindness, we respond by trying to cover and shield our vulnerability with robotic, synthetic, “armor-plating.” That will keep out the threats. That will ensure our fragility is not exposed. We will become more like machines. Yes. (Have you ever come away from talking to someone so emotionally guarded that they seemed more machine than human; more mechanical than relational?) Hard and impenetrable on the outside. It’s much safer that way. Because, after all, we want to “live.”

But do we live? Or does this pursuit of synthetic safety actually pose a greater risk? Listen to C.S. Lewis (from The Four Loves, emphasis added): 
Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as ‘Careful! This might lead you to suffering.’ … If I am sure of anything I am sure that [Jesus’] teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities.
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
Think of how the gospel leads us in the polar opposite path. The human path. The Christlike path. The risky, painful, strength-through-weakness, die-that-others-might-live path.

God the Son – the truly invincible – willingly and lovingly became violable, to break through the hard shell of our slavery to sin and make us alive in Him, forevermore. He became a weak slave and a victim of unjust trial and death, to free us from our slavish fear of death and powerless victimization and weakness.

The eternal, immortal, invisible, transcendent, sovereign, omnipotent God dropped into this space and time between the knees of a young peasant girl in a smelly stable. He willingly took on weakness in order to make us truly strong from the inside out. Strong enough to be honest about our weakness. Strong enough to risk our comfort and security to be vulnerable with others in the cause of love. Strong enough to risk the dangerous path to becoming truly human. We are not robots. We were never intended to be.

But we were made to live. And live immortally. The Son of God embraced human mortality in order that those who believe in him might not perish, but have everlasting, immortal, unkillable, invincible life.

Romans 8:31-39 
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Who Do I Thank For This?

Have you ever had an experience where you benefited from someone’s generosity and you didn’t know who to thank? Maybe it was a party with a delicious spread. You loved the food and wanted to thank the cook. Maybe someone paid, unexpectedly, for your whole group. How did you respond? You asked, “Who do I thank for this?”

Well…have you ever enjoyed anything on planet earth? Did you enjoy or benefit from anything yesterday? Is your heart still beating today? Are you still breathing air that you don’t own? Have you eaten food just about every day of your life?

And if you are a Christian, have you, undeservedly, been rescued from the domain of darkness? Have you been qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in light? Have you been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb? Have all your sins been paid for? Do you have a living hope that can’t be killed by anyone or any circumstances on earth? Can anything or anyone separate you from the love of God in Christ? Will God work all things together for good for you?

No wonder life should be characterized by "giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 5:20). For "from him and through him and to him are all things" (Rom 11:36).