LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: maturity

The  Beautiful Paradox

Over the years I’ve heard from many who don’t understand why so many in the Church appear to have a “woe is me” mindset. I can see their confusion, because if anybody should be joyful, it should be the Christ follower!  And yet there is a paradox that exists in our faith.

In fact there are many!  We’re already saved yet are working out our salvation. We are at the same time both in eternity and yet also bound by time. We are righteous but know full well we are being sanctified. This last one leads to the what I think is the most beautiful paradox of all. It’s the place where mourning and joy exist in their fullest at once. It is in that state where grace is realized in such beauty!

The Sermon on the Mount is a powerful and core teaching by Jesus that can be found in Matthew 5-7. The first section has become known as the beatitudes and has challenged and transformed me as I have wrestled with what seems like an impossible way to live.  We know Jesus came to set us free from the “law” and yet at first glance this sermon calls us to a life even more severe. And so one is compelled to look deeper to reconcile the apparent contradiction.

The first section of the beatitudes is where the tone is set.

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Matthew 5:3-6 NIV

I used to think of each of the Blesseds like individual traits to attain.  “I like the peace maker, but mourning, not so much.”  Sort of like a buffet.  But I’ve come to realize it’s more like a 6 course meal.  It’s not a buffet, not individual attributes that we pick and choose from, but a layering, a building to become the person Jesus calls us to.  And the first is necessary to move on to the next.

When you are poor in spirit having come to the end of yourself, acknowledging you have nothing to bring to God, it’s then you mourn deeply for the reality of sin and it’s destruction in your life. It’s then that the power of meekness, the control of yourself is able to set in. The choosing of God’s control rather than sin’s.  And at that point one is spiritually bankrupt, desperately hungering, desperately thirsting for God’s righteousness!  The promise?  We are filled. God imputes, or puts in us HIS righteousness!  Then and only the does the rest of the sermon makes sense. Then and only then can any of us begin to live the sermon out!

For example, take the passages on murder and adultery (Mt 5:21-30). It’s easy in our righteousness to live a life of fidelity and never murdering someone. Most succeed in that!  But by age three we’ve all called someone a name in anger and by 12 we’ve all lusted.  And so in my abilities I am a failure. And if we haven’t come to the end of ourselves and realized we have nothing, we are nothing apart from Christ, then we will never live the life God has made available to us through Jesus.

Do I have a purpose and potential?  Of course!  Do I have gifts I bring to the table?  Absolutely!  Are they of any value?  For this life and the common good?  Sure.  But for eternity, no!  My righteousness is nothing and His is everything!  And in His hands those gifts and potential will become something wholly different, better.

So the beautiful paradox, the sweet spot…is being both mournful and filled with joy at the same time.  Not dwelling in ashes, but acknowledging my capacity and propensity to sin.  Not “woe is me” but most definitely full on mourning.  “Woe is me” is a self-focused declaration. The mourning Jesus calls us to is recognition of our sinful condition.

And the joy?  It can and should be full-on crazy celebration!  As I mentioned earlier, the sermon can seem like an even more severe life than the law. And here is what most fail to see and even when we see it, we find hard to experience. Jesus knows we can’t. We can’t live free of anger and lust and judgement and unforgiveness!  That’s why He offers us His righteousness. That’s why mercy is given. That. Is. Grace!

And until I come to the end of me and bring my nothing to God, there is no room for grace to be experienced. And so the dance of the paradox begins. Living in spiritual poverty and the riches of Christ together is the challenge.

If you’re like me, and you are, you begin to take credit for spiritual maturity at times. You take for granted the all-encompassing nature grace must have in our lives. The longer I live in Christ the more I realize how much I need Him. The dos and don’ts are easy, grace is not. It requires dying and mourning and spiritual bankruptcy. But then and only then do we experience freedom and joy.

By the way, this why we desperately need each other!  But that’s another post.

It’s a journey and one in which I hope you find joyful mourning.

Exchanging What Seems Right for What is Really Right

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Proverbs 16:25

I have heard and quoted this verse so many times in my life, but it really didn’t mean a whole lot to me because, first of all, I was already “saved” so it didn’t apply to me any longer regarding that.  And of course I was trusting God for the leading of my life – going into vocational ministry and all.

But this past few years, and especially this last, I have come to realize that I still was keeping control of so many areas of my life.  And in fact may unknowingly still be doing so.  I had developed deeply embedded coping skills to manage hurts and pains from my childhood.  And even though I would pray about it, “trust” God for His answers and help, I kept on my path thinking my ways were succeeding or enough.  How foolish and useless.  Cuz as Dr Phil says, How’s that working for you?”  My answer?  Not so well.  I still would find my responses were more like reactions.  Rather than truly dealing with issues, I would mask them or self-medicate with food.  It all seemed right.  I spoke the Christianese and I love God, so how could it not be?  But I found myself going round and round the same issues with no resolve.  For the longest time I wasn’t even aware I was even in need of some healing.  But eventually I did allow God to show me I had some issues, and once He did, I was ready to work some things out.

Praise God for His patient grace!  That we are in a process of change and becoming.  That He is wise and loving and knows we are frail and take time to made complete.  It’s easy to think we are disappointing Him and making Him mad and that He may get so frustrated with our (lack of) progress that He drop-kicks us away.  But that is most definitely not God.  He is long-suffering and His love never fails and He forgives and forgives and forgives yet again.  So if you find yourself struggling over and over with the same sin issues or patterns of behavior that don’t move you closer to God or find yourself saying, “Why does this keep happening?”, instead of beating yourself up, ask yourself, am I working my plan or God’s.  I can pretty confidently tell you it is yours!  But you need to own that and then figure out God’s.  For me it took more than prayer and Bible reading.  I needed outside sources to help me connect the dots and I needed to trust God enough to let others have that kind of access into my life, past, pains and psyche.  I think that is needed for all of us, cuz if we could figure it out on our won, we likely would have already.  But we are on our own plan that seems right.

I think it originated from Rick Warren, but at our church we say, “It’s not your position, but your direction that matters”.  And by that such amazing grace can be experienced.  Because none of us are in the “perfect” position yet, but as long as we are in the direction pointed to a desire to be like Jesus, then there should be no guilt or condemnation from self or others.  Because certainly there is none for our God.

That, however, is not license to just be a blob where you are at.  We do need to suck it up, put our big boy pants on, and lean in to being/becoming mature.  Don’t beat yourself up, but also don’t give yourself a continual pass.  Grace has no problem or conflict with effort.  The key being an effort working God’s plan, not ours.  One of the major lessons I have learned and hinted to at the beginning, is that even though I thought I was trusting God, I really had not been.  And even though God had broken open huge areas of my life, I still have not arrived.  So what else am I unaware of?  What more is God going to work out in me?  The more I trust, the more I see I need to trust.  The healthier I become, the more I see I need to become healthy.

Do I think everyone is unhealthy and has such issues?  Of course not.  But I do think that everyone has to mature and lean into maturing and that takes more and more trusting and less and less relying our ways that seem right. In that process perhaps we discover we were less healthy than we thought.  But most definitely we will all discover that we need to decrease so He can increase.  And that won’t happen until we let go of what seems right for what is really right.

Dance the Dance

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 NIV)

In recent years I have developed a strong bias towards being a practitioner of the faith of Jesus Christ rather than a studier of the Word. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in reading and studying the bible, but I have observed so many over the years who have spent hours on bible study and little time on application. Lives were broken and inconsistent with the bible they studied so much. Or I noticed so many who equated maturity with knowledge. And even worse I also observed so many who became pharisaical and determined their holiness by their knowledge.

But I also may have anchored to this view to cover for a bit of my own laziness and lack of deeper study. Being real here.

In any case, I still believe that knowledge without application or life transformation is selling God short. Jesus IS the word and therefore our interaction with the bible should be more about relationship than education.

The above passage struck me today as it compels us to add knowledge and insight to our experience. Why? It appears that our love, ability to discern what is best, and our righteousness are all linked directly to it. This is not surprising or new to me, but it does cause me to be careful not to swing to one extreme or another. It’s a delicate dance to balance study and application. To make sure we don’t see education, which is the American way, as our primary means of changing. But to also make sure that we don’t also just go out there and try to navigate the choices of life with too little information and insight of God’s mind and heart. We can’t just live on sermons of others, no matter how good they are. Remember the phrase, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing”? We need to get into the word on our own regularly so that we will not just know what God says to us on how to live, but so that we will know God.

I have heard too many times from people leaving their churches that they weren’t being fed. But I say, pick up the fork and eat yourself. God has a feast in His word for each of us. We’ve been invited to the dance. To rejoice in Him.

And because His word is alive, and again, is Jesus, we are “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” when our love abounds in knowledge and deep insights.

So dance today. Immerse yourself in His word, be transformed by being with Jesus. Seek the deep insights. And like me, try not to swing to either extreme.

No Room for Guilt and Shame When Growing Deeper

This weekend I found myself having a conversation with a wonderful lady who was “filled up” with the love of God.  She had shared though how during the week she struggled with yielding over trust to God in a situation and that it surprised her because she thought she had settled that issue.

I then found myself sharing something that I had actually never articulated before and I pass it on to you.  I too have been filled with shame and guilt and discouragement thinking that I too have settled issues only to be returning to them again and again.  I have come to see this differently.  Of course there are times when we actually return to the same issue as we don’t always really give it up and grow through it.  But more often we sell ourselves and the growth that God is actually accomplishing in us short.  Becoming like Jesus is a life long process and just like we can’t see a tree grow moment by moment, we do see it year over year.  We need to get a higher view of our journey and not judge ourselves in the moment.

First off guilt and shame are NEVER God’s desire for us.  So whether we are dealing with the same issue over and over or not, we need to find ways to react that lead us toward God.  He came to offer grace and freedom from guilt and shame.  Godly sorrow and the Holy Spirit’s conviction are more appropriate.  They lead us forward to change and growth.

But in addition to that, I suggest that what we sometimes interpret as discouragement from facing the same issues over and over may in fact not be the same thing at all, but a deeper level.  Here I am not talking about sin specifically, but the areas of yielding trust and faith to God’s control in our lives.  Every step of the way on our journeys is going to be met with opportunities to trust Him.  And they are not like going back to the fist step on our path.  I too wish that I was perfect in trust.  But I am not, and neither are any of us.  But that doesn’t mean that we are not maturing and growing.  And in that process we are digging into deeper layers of issues in our lives that need to be handed over to God.

Instead of interpreting your latest opportunity to trust God as a failure of having yielded yourself fully to God last time, see it as growing deeper.  At the last opportunity you, to the best of your ability and passion and awareness may have fully offered yourself over to Him.  But as He is working in you for His good will, He may be taking you to a deeper or different aspect of something familiar.

Keep leaning in to God’s heart and growth for you.  Don’t let your own guilt or shame derail what God is doing in you.  Instead, and again, let the godly sorrow and Holy Spirit’s conviction propel you to a deeper walk with Him as you become more like Him.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  Philippians 3:12-16 ESV

(Listen to Jeremy Riddle’s Sweetly Broken.  “At the cross you beckon me. Draw me gently to my knees.”)

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