LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: spirituality

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.

satisfied

satisˌfīd

adjective, contented; pleased: satisfied customers | she was very satisfied with the results.

As I finished my 10K and Half Marathon, I felt “satisfied.”   Not proud, not elated.  Satisfied.  Throughout the run I felt many things – pain, exhaustion, thrill, “this is cool!”, joy.  But in the end it was satisfaction that won out.

 

Crossing the finish line of my first half marathon

Crossing the finish line of my first half marathon

Thousands of runners surrounded me those warm mornings in August, each with their own stories and reasons for running.  Some, I am sure who just love running and the events, driven by the endorphins.  Some though had personal journeys of overcoming.  I saw a few who wore signs on their backs explaining how earlier in life they could not walk, or they were in chemo, or…  Their stories were of triumph.  Still others were running for a cause, for a sick friend or family member.  In memory of one perhaps.  But we were all running and as we crossed the finish line I hope they each felt the satisfaction I felt.  It was palpable.  I have been pleased before in a job well done, but this was an over-the-top level of “satisfaction.”

Perhaps because of the depth my journey had taken me.  Perhaps because I was so exhausted, I had no energy to muster anything else.  No, I did, and satisfied was the right and full feeling at the moment.

Throughout the run I was amazed at the power of encouragement by total strangers.  Disney had arranged for school marching bands and cheer squads to be all along the route.  The Angels Stadium was seriously full of scout troops, clubs of all kinds, friends of runners, and more.  Hundreds of people brought out their classic cars and lined the miles of the route.  They sat by their cars ringing bells and cheering us.  Occasionally some of the “strangers” would see my name on my bib and say something like, “Good job Len, keep going.”  Others would see the St. Jude singlet I was wearing and thank me for running for that cause.  In all this I found strength to keep going.  And then near the finish line I saw my wife and friends who where there for just for me – their yells and cheers drilled deep.  I became emotional as I got closer, crossing the line I raised my arms in celebration!

This gave me new context for the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews!

Throughout this entire journey I have learned so much about running – this experience in particular about the right salt intake and hydration needed, how to navigate the amount of fellow runners, pacing myself, and more.  I have learned about weight loss and exercise.  I have more importantly learned about resolving my “issues.”

But most of all I have learned and experienced deep spiritual lessons.

Disney had great medals.  It doesn't matter how fast, finishing = winning!

Disney had great medals. It doesn’t matter how fast, finishing = winning!

The imagery throughout the Bible of running the race, finishing well, is so much more real to me.  Metaphors and illustrations make so much more sense when you can relate to them.  I am discovering to greater degree that God satisfies my soul.  That His grace and trusting in Him is “enough.”  That along the run (of life), I will pull a muscle or tire out, but the cheering crowds can bolster me to find the strength to go on and finish…well.

I can with greater confidence and contentment say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  I am content, not wanting for anything else.  Satisfied.  Pride, joy, celebration, these are all great feelings when we accomplish a life well lived in God.  But I have discovered the power of being satisfied, and to me that is so much more powerful and fulfilling.

 

Dear Father, I pray for every reader who passes over my words here to know and experience the satisfaction that only you can offer.  You truly are “enough” and may we all come to experience that.  Amen.

 

Following God’s Leading or Forcing Our Plan?

I come from a faith tradition that celebrates the big steps of faith, the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, the denial of self and the exaltation of God. I suppose that should be the approach of all faith traditions, but the pentecostal “brand” takes it to a different degree.  I am not criticizing this in any way, just offering context for what I am about to say.  My nature, however, is to be a bit cautious and measured in my steps.  So the dance of discerning what is God’s leading and what is my plan that I am forcing God into is a hard one.  I suppose this to some degree is the age-old question, “What is the will of God?”  Each of us have those moments when we desire to honor and follow God’s leading, but are unclear if it really is His will or just our good intentions and plans.

When seeking God’s will I have generally relied on one passage that David wrote in Psalm 37:4, 5

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

Major emphasis is on the delight in the Lord part and not on the desires of my heart.  I am of the belief that when I delight in Him, my desires conform and are transformed to His desires.

But there are those times when specific plans come into play. Big life decisions.  BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals).  In those moments, are they God-lead or just my crazy plans that I step out in and expect God to show up?

I am in the middle of one of those right now.  We have decided to sell our home, which in and of itself is not a big deal.  People do that all the time.  But human wisdom says, don’t count your chickens before they hatch, which in this context means, don’t sign a lease on your next home until you sell your last one.  Which of course we have done.  So come the first of the month we will have a mortgage AND a rent due.  I knew from the moment I agreed to this it was crazy and unwise in my thinking.  But I also “knew” it was God’s leading.

I have been sensing a growing intensity to shed stuff, to downsize, to let go of the weights that hold me down.  Instead I have a growing desire to also be more generous with God’s provision, to fund projects which grow His kingdom, to be a blessing to others.  This is clearly a God-honoring posture to take.   Where we live the rental market is very tight and there was only one location we would even consider that would make it worthwhile to sell our home.  These locations rarely open up and when they do the competition to get it is fierce.  So when one opened up and it “happened” that the owner was a parent of a church member and they felt a confidence to choose us, we felt this was clearly of God’s arrangement.  So sign we did and quickly moved to put our house on the market.  All of our actions were also strongly affirmed by our growth group, pastor, and other people we trust – people who I would have expected to say, “Len, you are crazy putting yourself in a position to pay a rent and mortgage.”  Instead everyone has said your home will sell, you are not pricing it too high, this is a good decision.

Now I am only a week and half into this, so we will see.  But the storm clouds are out there.  The first of the month is not too far away.  And my “faith” is having moments of concern.  Am I forcing God to “show up” or did God say to me, “Step out and watch what I can do”?

I feel a little bit like the disciple Peter who stepped out of the boat and then sank.  But the guy got out of the boat!   He took faith steps and I think that is good.  I have no doubt that my/our heart and intentions have been nothing but pure in this.  I am certain that I felt the prompting of God.  And even if I crash and burn, even if I sink and drown, I will believe that we did this in all sincerity.

I heard recently something to the effect, “God showed me that if I take responsibility for the failures, I will take credit for the success”.  (Not sure if that was Andy Stanley or Craig Groeschel, but am sure it was said at a Catalyst Conference).   I want to see God in action, I have no desire to say that my wisdom led me here and in any way take credit should this turn out great.  But if it doesn’t, I don’t want to get in a place where I blame God for the results of forcing Him to rescue me from poor wisdom either.  I hope I don’t have to wrestle with that one.

Until then, my posture is this; “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

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