The Blessings of a Long Battle, part 4

boxing3

In thinking about this final installment about how God can bring much good out of our protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or a problem, it dawned on me how important it is to see the Big Picture. In some ways this post reiterates truths in part 2 of this series, but also adds important new dimensions to those truths and explores new territory.

When a soldier goes through boot camp, it’s crucial for him or her to see the overall purpose of his training–the Big Picture. He or she is being pushed and tested in different ways to the extreme so that they will be prepared for any situation on the battlefield, won’t crack under pressure, and will be a team player.

In the conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, the nation of Israel experienced many victories over different hostile nations. However, Judges 3:1–4 says that God did not allow the Israelites to completely triumph but left certain enemies in the land (e.g., the Philistines) so that his chosen people would learn warfare.

When we became Christians, God could have put us in a cocoon of protective grace where we would be insulated from our three primary enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil–but he didn’t so that we would also learn warfare.

If he would’ve sheltered us from the battle, we would end up like many “trust fund babies,” who, because of their vast inherited wealth, never have to work a day in their lives. They’re protected from the toil and struggle of life and never have to worry about paying the rent or the electric bill.

Often there is something profoundly missing in their lives: many are spoiled, shallow, and have not been battle–tested. Perhaps God designed an existence where we battled the world, the flesh, and the devil so that we would not end up becoming spiritual trust fund babies.

Macarius was a great monk who composed the Macarian Homilies in the 4th century. He was convinced that, if after becoming Christians, we were protected in a cocoon of grace from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, many of us would soon become conceited and fall as Satan fell. Instead of a three steps forward, two steps back grind that life often is, we would have a series of unbroken successes and become lifted up in pride and fall like Lucifer did.

In seeing the big picture, nothing is more important than understanding that God the Father through the Holy Spirit has been preparing a Bride for his Son in a Marriage that will span eternity. He wants you to be a part of that Bride. The Father wants the Bride to fervently love the Groom.

There is no love without free choice. If we would’ve been protected from the enemies of our soul, and choosing the Groom was exquisitely easy or even automatic, where’s the love that has been tested in the furnace of affliction? Like any spouse, Christ wants to be chosen. If we were automatons or even semi–automatons, where’s the love in that?

When we are in a long struggle with sin or weakness, it is because we have become over–attached to some created thing. Addiction is over–attachment in the extreme (e.g., overeating, alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, power, work, shopping, etc.)

Christ the Uncreated One wants to be chosen over all the created things. Christ the Groom wants to stand in the midst of all his competitors–i.e. created things–and have the Bride choose him. One of the blessings then of a long battle is this: it’s the vehicle whereby we choose Christ as our Groom, as our only lover.

Does that love somehow go away if you’re a Christian who is up to your eyeballs in sin, addiction, and weakness? If anything God loves you more after you fall, because where sin abounds, grace abounds more. And as the old religious cliché tells us, he loves us in our sin and loves us too much to leave us there.

 *

Jonathan

Check out Jonathan’s own site at http://www.openheavensblog.com/.

 

The Blessings of a Long Battle, part 2

brutal-boxing

 “Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it; where there is no struggle, there is no virtue.”   John of Kronstadt

Part 1 of this post highlighted how God can bring good out of a long struggle with a sin, weakness, and/or problem by helping the Christian make the transition from putting their faith in formulas (e.g., “Do these three things and your problem will go away”) to a restful trust in Christ. Again, no sane Christian advocates habitual sin but the benefits of a protracted battle are numerous:

(1)  After a long battle, in making the transition from formulas to faith in God, a new brokenness develops in the believer. They’ve come to the end of themselves, run out of “self–effort fuel”, and are beginning to learn what Christ meant when he said, “…apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

(2) During a long battle with sin or weakness, there is a pattern of falling down and getting up. Proverbs 24:16 says that a righteous man falls seven times but keeps rising again. In this process many Christians report that a new intimacy has emerged in their relationship to God. They’ve come to know the God of mercy and compassion as never before because they’ve been repeatedly forgiven after their many stumbles.

(3) “He who is forgiven much loves much.” Along with a new intimacy, a greater love for God can also develop, after a long battle, because we’ve been forgiven over and over.

(4) And since God has extended his tender mercies to us over and over, we then can extend his mercy and compassion to others who have a protracted struggle with some issue. If our heart is right, a long battle can inoculate us from self–righteousness and judgmentalism in relation to others who fall over and over. How can we not extend to them the same grace that God extended to us?

In extending this grace to others, we may become a wounded healer to them. The healing we received from Christ during our struggle is graciously passed on those often struggling with similar issues. Healing emerges from your wounds just as resurrection emerges from death.

(5) After a war, the soldier of Christ often emerges battle–tested and wise to the schemes of the enemy. If a person has been pulled down into the dust 27 different ways by the devil, then, if he or she is paying attention, they’ve learned 27 strategies the enemy of our soul uses to try to destroy us.

In Twelve Step programs, one often hears the acronym H.A.L.T. mentioned in discussing relapse back into addiction. These four letters stand for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired and emphasize how these conditions create fertile soil for relapse.

If you frame the issue a different way, these are four strategies the devil uses to bring us back into bondage. How was this acronym learned? By people relapsing over and over when these conditions were present. Recovering people became wise through their failures in their long battle with addiction.

*

Jonathan

posted from http://www.openheavensblog.com/

How Things Happen

burst=fireworks

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Matthew 13:31-33, ESV

These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!

Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.

The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.

These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.

I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century.  I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)

The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,

“His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!”

Let it grow, let it grow! 

*

ybic, Bryan

kyrie elesion.

The Hidden Blessings of the Long Struggle

freelancing-struggle

by Jonathan Coe

It’s a familiar story. A person has become a Christian in recent years and is engaged in spiritual practices–prayer, Bible study, meditation, church attendance, fellowship, tithing, and/or the sacraments. They have listened closely to their pastor or priest and have developed some formulas that are supposed to help them overcome the problems, sins, and weaknesses in their lives.

They’ve heard sermons and/or read books that have titles that start with “Three Steps,” “Five Keys,” and “Four Ways,” that are supposed to lead them to the abundant Christian life. They see progress in their lives but are discouraged because they still struggle with certain sins, problems, and/or weaknesses. Some feel like they can’t overcome the very deep negative legacy from the unhealthy family they grew up in.

Church leadership would do many believers a service by teaching them about how God can bring good out of their protracted struggle. No, it’s not God’s will for us to habitually sin , but God, in his tender mercies can work redemptively in this long and frustrating battle against profound sin.

One of the first good things that can come out of a long battle with a character flaw or problem is deliverance from a formulaic Christian faith. “Do these three things and your problem will go away” you learn from a best–seller, but your problem doesn’t go away. The fallen human heart is a complex and formidable thing, and these canned approaches are a little like taking a squirt gun to a forest fire.

When people experience sustained adversity, their lives feel out of control, and they will often grab on to formulas to give them a sense of righting a ship that’s taking on water. Unfortunately, they end up trusting in the formulas more than God himself.

Faith in formulas will always eclipse faith in God.

The Christian life is more about a restful trust in a Person than embracing a set of principles (no matter how spiritual those principles may sound.)

The New Testament is clear on the centrality of faith (not self–effort or formulas) in the overcoming life:

When asked by his disciples what they must do to do the works God requires, Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe on the one he has sent” (John 6:2829). When describing the person who overcomes the world, the Apostle John said, “He who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (I John 5:45).

The failure of formulas is a good experience because it drives the believer to faith in the living God. In this faith, there is a wonderful exchange: I give Christ my pitiful attempts to live the victorious Christian life and he gives me his transforming power to overcome sin. However, this exchange may not happen overnight; it may be a process that takes years.

For those of you in a long struggle, please be comforted by the mercies of God that endure forever. If he can forgive a murderer and adulterer like David, he can forgive you and me. Please take the advice that Winston Churchill gave the British people during World War II: “Never, never, never, never give up ” or listen to the lyrics from a U2 song called “Miracle Drug” : ”There is no failure here, sweetheart/ Just when you quit.”

Even better is C.S. Lewis from The Business of Heaven:

“I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self–offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience, etc. don’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home, but the bathrooms are already, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and to give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of his presence.”

I say Amen.

ybic,

Jonathan Coe

&

Bryan’s note: Jonathan is a very old friend. He deeply loves Jesus. He is wise and he is aware. He is a writer, blogger, and a house-painter. (He is also a Dodgers fan, which I suppose he can find forgiveness for). I am made a rich man by knowing him.

Our (Eternal) Compulsion

eternal-view

Strangely compelling. This morning I found waiting for me a series of verses that link with each other. Together they are both irresistible and indispensable. Combined, they form and establish the eternal perspective for the believing Christian. And it is all very real.

Look for what links them. (All verses are from the New Living Translation.).

flourish1

“Because I am righteous, I will see you.
When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied.”

Psalm 17:15

“Your eyes will see the king in all his splendor,
and you will see a land that stretches into the distance.”

Isaiah 33:17

 “Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!”

John 17:24

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

1 Corinthians 13:12

“Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.”

1 John 3:2

“And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads.”

Revelation 22:4

Living forever, and being changed irrevocably is the sole privilege of the believer. It’s what we long for– sort of a (good) divine madness that continues to drive us; a splinter in our hearts that we can’t expel. But even if we could, would we?

Eternal life has already started for us; I believe far more awaits.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

aabryscript

The Blessings of a Long Struggle

falteringfaith

It’s a familiar story. A person has become a Christian in recent years and is engaged in spiritual practices–prayer, Bible study, meditation, church attendance, fellowship, tithing, and/or the sacraments. They’ve listened closely to their priest or pastor and have developed some formulas that are supposed to help them overcome the problems, sins, and weaknesses in their lives.

They’ve heard sermons and/or read books that have titles that start with “Three Steps,” “Five Keys,” and “Four Ways,” that are supposed to lead them to the abundant Christian life. They see progress in their lives but are discouraged because they still struggle with certain sins, problems, and/or weaknesses. Some feel like they can’t overcome the very deep negative legacy from the unhealthy family they grew up in.

Church leadership would do many believers a service by teaching them about how God can bring good out of their protracted struggle. No , it’s not God’s will for us to habitually sin , but God, in his tender mercies can work redemptively in this long and frustrating battle.

One of the first good things that can come out of a long battle with a character flaw or problem is deliverance from a formulaic Christian faith. “Do these three things and your problem will go away” you learn from a best–seller, but your problem doesn’t go away. The fallen human heart is a complex and formidable thing, and these canned approaches are a little like taking a squirt gun to a forest fire.

When people experience sustained adversity, their lives feel out of control, and they will often grab on to formulas to give them a sense of righting a ship that’s taking on water. Unfortunately, they end up trusting in the formulas more than God himself. Faith in formulas will always eclipse faith in God. The Christian life is more about a restful trust in a Person than embracing a set of principles no matter how spiritual those principles may sound.

The New Testament is clear on the centrality of faith (not self–effort or formulas) in the overcoming life:

When asked by his disciples what they must do to do the works God requires, Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe on the one he has sent” (John 6:28, 29). When describing the person who overcomes the world, the Apostle John said, “He who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (I John 5:4, 5).

The failure of formulas is a good experience because it drives the believer to faith in the living God. In this faith, there is a wonderful exchange: I give Christ my pitiful attempts to live the victorious Christian life and he gives me his transforming power to overcome sin. However, this exchange may not happen overnight; it may be a process that takes years.

For those of you in a long struggle, please be comforted by the mercies of God that endure forever. If he can forgive a murderer and adulterer like David, he can forgive you and me. Please take the advice that Winston Churchill gave the British people during World War II: “Never, never, never, never give up ” or listen to the lyrics from a U2 song called “Miracle Drug” : ” There is no failure here, sweetheart/ Just when you quit.” Even better is C.S. Lewis from The Business of Heaven:

“I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self–offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience, etc. don’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home, but the bathrooms are already, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and to give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of his presence.”

Amen.

ybic, Jonathan

Jonathan is a old friend of mine. He writes like I wish I could. You would do well to visit his site. http://www.openheavensblog.com/ –Bryan