[re-truh greyd] (ret·ro·grad·ed, ret·ro·grad·ing.)
[re-truh greyd] (ret·ro·grad·ed, ret·ro·grad·ing.)
by Terry Powell,
– Ron Dunn
An incident in Jack Murray’s life showed that weakness is not a hindrance to usefulness in God’s kingdom. His son, George, told this story in chapel while he served as President of Columbia International University.
Jack, a traveling evangelist decades ago, was coming off back-to-back weeks of meetings in local churches. He boarded a plane, headed to yet another week-long engagement. The intensive delivery of messages and constant interactions with people had depleted his mental, physical, and emotional reserves. Craving a nap so he could recoup, he was delighted to hear that seating was “open” rather than assigned. Since the plane was only half-full, to signal his desire for privacy, he sat by a window, placing his coat and hat on the two adjacent seats.
Surprisingly, a sharply-dressed business woman asked to sit in the aisle seat next to him. She tried to engage Jack in conversation, but he cited the exhausting week behind him and said he needed to rest during the flight. He pushed the seat-recliner button, closed his eyes, and leaned his head against the bulkhead. That’s when someone else started talking to him.
“Jack, there’s a woman sitting next to you,” whispered God’s Spirit.
“Yea, I know. And of all the places she could have selected, she sat next to me!”
“Don’t you think that’s significant?” asked the Lord.
“But Lord, You know how tired I am!” Jack countered. He contended with the Lord for several minutes, then yielded to His wooing. After asking forgiveness for his attitude, he pushed the seat button, sat upright, and opened his eyes. Immediately the lady blurted, “Oh, are you feeling better?”
A casual conversation ensued. When she said she lived and worked in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jack mentioned a friend of his: Henderson Belk, then president of the Belk department store chain, headquartered in her city. Excitedly, she announced that she worked for Mr. Belk in the corporate office. “Have you noticed anything different about your boss lately?” Jack inquired.
“Oh, yes. Everybody is talking about him. He ‘got religion’ or something,” she said. That’s when Jack explained how Mr. Belk had recently put his faith in Christ. He shared the gospel with her, and her heart began to melt. She wept, revealing a broken heart over dysfunction in her family. She didn’t pray to receive Christ on the plane, but Jack made her promise to ask her boss about what happened to him. Within a week, Henderson Belk cultivated the soil where Jack had planted a seed, and led his employee to faith in Christ.
When Jack was at the end of himself due to physical frailty, he and the woman were at the beginning God’s grace. Instead of stemming the flow of God’s power, his weariness merely created a dependency on it.
We have the gospel message in fragile earthen vessels. But we’re still candidates for usefulness, for God puts His word in weak vessels, “so that the surprising greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:7).
When has God surprised you by using you in ministry when you felt weak, needy, or burdened? That’s when we’re more likely to praise Him and give Him the credit, rather than assume our experience or gifts explain the fruitfulness.
Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical depression and other mental issues.
The gospel is a profound mystery that has been made quite simple. A little child could grasp it. We have the deep sense that it is quite complicated, but it is really straightforward. For years, day after day after day, I have tried to jump high enough to attain a semblance of peace, but to no avail. After a long period I finally realized I couldn’t make it work. If God was going to save me, He was going to have to personally intervene. I just didn’t have it in me. The simplicity of our faith needs to be declared; too many believe it is unattainable. C.S. Lewis once wrote about this simple gospel:
“We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. … That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.”
–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Over time I realized, (actually it was more like a lightning bolt) that it wasn’t how high I could jump— but how low I could go. The ‘good news’ is designed for the simple; not for the spiritual athlete. We must become as “little children to enter the kingdom of God.” There is no other way. Jesus has made it clear. I simply can not attain salvation by my own merits, rather it is given out to those who can’t arrive at some vague legal standard.
“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
We are a people who are engineered for achievement. We value those who have ‘arrived.’ But what if the opposite was true? What if it wasn’t greatness, but ‘smallness’ that opened heaven’s doors? Would you qualify? I ask these questions not to demean you, but to reassure you. I would only suggest that you reexamine your faith. It is only prudent after all.
Adopting the world’s attitudes is not surprising. We are saturated by her presence. She makes her presence known by everything we perceive. It is the basic environment that surrounds all that we do or think. Jesus’ gospel asks us to rethink some basic things:
We ask these questions, not because they are somewhat profound; we ask them because they are basic. Yet so much rests on each. We must clear away the world’s confusion, in order to grasp each question. We must become like little children, again. When we start to ask these questions— we are on our way.
“It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.”[ 19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.”
Hebrews 11:17-19, NLT
The faith of Abraham is understood by believers everywhere. This simple man followed God to a obscure mountain in Judea. He came fervently, and yet logically to the command of the Lord. Abraham’s confident assurance would carry him to Mt. Moriah were he would sacrifice his son. He would prefigure God’s own sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His only Son.
There were many steps Abraham had to take: the knife, the rope, the firewood, the donkey. There was a dozen details to arrange. Abraham would have had to plan ahead of time to prepare. I’m relatively certain he had ample time to consider what he was doing. The enormity of it all would’ve been staggering.
Hebrews reveals that ‘faith’ was what enabled Abraham. It was faith followed by a dozen little obediences that strengthened him to follow God’s instructions. Abraham would obey God, through faith, by doing many little things. All would lead up to the ‘big thing,’ the offering up of his only son.
I believe that no act is too small. Heavy doors swing on small hinges. Tiny obediences make for big ones. And sometimes we can’t tell them apart. It seems that several times during our daily grind we face little choices that often determine a far greater meaning. I’ve been told that there are flowers in alpine valleys that no man will ever see. Their sole beauty is visible only to God. Obedience is often like this. But the Lord knows.
Hebrews 11 is known as the believer’s ‘hall of fame’. In its verses we’re pounded by the idea that the faith is visible only through obedience. What we do is as significant as what we believe. It has always been so.
“…but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.”
Daniel 11:32, NKJV
Little obediences prepare us for big ones. If we won’t obey in the small ones, how will we in the big ones? The prophet Daniel spoke of a remnant that would do astonishing things, and that the core of their fame would come from knowing God. This is faith made visible. The ‘great exploits’ spring out of a faith in a strong God. To be regarded in this way would be wonderful, but faith needs those little obediences to be able to do the great ones.
Being heard is not the same as having influence. Believers must reconsider the issues of being salt and light in a pagan culture. We have tried a myriad of approaches in our evangelism, and we are not succeeding. We have been maneuvered to the margins of society, and I fear that is where we will stay.
Several years ago, a believer directed a high budget movie, The Passion of The Christ, which shattered box-office records and sparked interest in religious films when it came out in 2004. It was compelling and disturbing. We saw Jesus beaten and whipped, but the splattering of blood did not translate well into spiritual change. If perhaps anything, it inured people to a higher purpose– salvation.
We must use everything that is available to us as people to broadcast the gospel. Art, both fine and popular, music and theater, movies and sports. We need to squeeze out every venue, in every media to share the good news. Creativity is not a gift of the Holy Spirit, but it’s close.
But this is not enough. We are engaged in a heated, spiritual struggle for truth and hope. I believe that our methodology will consistently fall short of our ideals. In the time of ancient Rome the only time Christians were in the limelight were as martyrs. And the lions of the Coliseum made quick work of their witness. But man, they succeeded in reaching thousands, and the pagan empire was brought to Christ, en mass!
Perhaps martyrdom will be our path to reach America with the Gospel. The New Testament word for “witness” is martyr. It very well may be that our blood will be the seed for a new generation of believers. Church history would support this view. It should come as no surprise.
I remember witnessing once in UC Berkeley campus. It is a very challenging place in a stronghold of intellectualism. The people I encountered were bright and engaging. But as I got ready to leave, I met a university professor. He looked at me in his tweed jacket and sweater vest and said something I will never forget. “Too bad we can’t feed you to the lions”. It was a flat-calm statement; stark and frightening, because I knew he meant it.
In this enlightened campus, there was a coldness and a bitterness that I never encountered in the “drug and sex” neighborhoods of San Francisco. In contrast, this incident in Berkeley was a brazen and committed calculation against the Gospel. Perhaps persecution by core intellectuals will fuel this martyrdom to come.
We are in God’s hands. Obedience is a die-cast, deliberate decision we must make ahead of time. We can’t just hope to make it work, unless we change. “Die before you die, and your dying won’t be death”, the old preacher wrote. This could very well be our cue. Get ready. And “watch and pray.” And die now.
Post art from The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904)
“You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
4 Trust in the Lord always,
for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.”
Isaiah 26:3-4, NLT
Life is chock full of mysteries, so much is unknown. Early in my walk, over 40 years ago, I concluded that I would be able to acquire all the knowledge that I could ever want. I was on the short track, going up of course. It was a glorious thing, it took me some time to realize I was very ignorant of so much.
I think we need to work through this, for most it is a minor tweak. For others who still think that their life consists in how smart they can become, it is trouble. I believe that the Word of God, read and meditated on is an exceptional thing. “All scripture is God-breathed…” The Bible communicates truth, not facts.
As I age, I start to understand that things are much more enigmatic and unfathomable than I ever dreamed they would be. It is a step of faith to accept truth when their are still a lot of things that are still vague. Mike Mason wrote, “You say you have faith to be healed, but what about the faith to be sick?”
That is a penetrating question, indeed. “Why are some healed, and other are not? Why do I have eternal life, and my friend does not? Why should AIDS sweep through poor African villages when I live in a very comfortable suburb in the US?” I have many other questions like this, but I won’t bore you with them. (You probably have them too.) And there are thousands like this.
And I’m not making a whole lot of headway here. Reasons and facts are not there. Life becomes more mysterious and inscrutable. But there is a word we must know–it is the word “trust”. It is a faith that assists us through the landscape of impossible questions.
As a struggling, mentally ill Christian, many (even in my own church) create more questions for me. “Therapists, psychiatrists and daily medications are really good, but do you really need them?” or “Did God create in you the need for lithium and Zoloft?” and ” How can you follow Jesus when you have all of these depression issues?” And here is a humdinger, “Where is your joy?”
But it is precisely these issues that help me be a disciple. I’ve been slowly learning you see. And my weaknesses are becoming my strengths. They lead me to exercise my feeble faith. I trust in Jesus; my faith helps me trust. I find it interesting to note that the Book of Psalms for the most part, was written by “a broken believer” like David– a king and a rascal.
“People with their minds set on you,
you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
because they keep at it and don’t quit.
Depend on God and keep at it
because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.”
Isaiah 26:3-4, The Message
These nebulous areas have only increased, but ironically my trust has only grown. I have more questions then ever before, but my faith in him only gets stronger. I suppose I will never, ever be a gleefully upbeat, cheery person. But I am learning “to trust and obey, there is no other way…” He himself has taken up the chore of teaching me to walk, again. Just one thing, keep trusting.
It strikes me this morning that we live in a ‘coarse’ age. I meet so many who don’t seem to enjoy life at all. They seem to view things without ‘seeing’ them. There is mystery all around, and yet we seem to lack the faculties to perceive it. We probably would rather play X-box than write a poem, paint a portrait, or gaze through a telescope.
The older I get, the more life astonishes me. There is so much mystery saturating my life: nature, the night sky, a tiny baby, and my hands– all just ‘skimming the surface.’ When I consider the multi-layered complexity of life, I tend to ‘short-out.’
“We wake, if ever at all, to mystery.” –Annie Dillard
God reveals Himself as, ‘the God of wonders.’ When I consider our phenomenal universe with more than a million, billion galaxies I start to lose it. Once I camped on a remote beach in Mexico. There wasn’t any electrical, so at night it really got dark. Lying on my back I saw the ‘Milky Way’ for perhaps the first time. It was magnificent! But I also got somewhat scared as I looked into it’s depths. I actually ran back to my tent terrified. I guess I got ‘overloaded.’
“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?”
Psalm 8:3-4, NKJV
For the freshly awakened believer, it is almost beyond belief to see so many people ‘sleepwalking’ through life. The somnambulistic masses move through life with nary an inkling of what it is all about. They are completely oblivious it would seem; they are unable to see the wonders of creation, much less the Creator. The enemy blinds so many to God’s presence and His redemption. The darkness is almost palpable.
“Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.”
“You are the God who does wonders;
You have declared Your strength among the peoples.”