Friday, November 5, 2010

Despair or hope; what do you see?

I had the privilege of a long talk with a good friend yesterday morning at Olivers delicatessen. Our conversation ranged across many topics, not the least being the recent political struggle for senate office in Colorado. A host of predictions and possible forecast about our country's future ensued, some positive and others not so positive.

As I drove home I began to think out loud before the Lord, and specifically about how easy it is to become disheartened at times with the political maze of injustice, squandering and manipulation. I then felt the Lord impress on my heart:

JOE, MEN HAVE DESPAIRED IN EVERY GENERATION. MEN HAVE ALSO HELD UNSWERVINGLY TO HOPE IN EVERY GENERATION. THE DIFFERENCE IS WHERE THEY'VE PLACED THEIR TRUST. Immediately Psalms 147:11 blazed in my mind, "The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love."

Those who fear Him, i.e. consider Him with awe, wonder and in submission in all their decisions - those find a special place in His delight. Furthermore, their hope is in His unfailing love; there is no power - even unto death - which can withstand the power of Love. It is mighty, it dispels darkness, it causes the weakest to become the strongest warriors and invigorates the strongest to live, and if necessary die, for a cause far greater than themselves.

My wife and I were also reading from The Lord of the Rings trilogy last night... There is a solemn part early in the The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo (our young and unlikely hero) realizes that he must bear the responsibility to destroy the evil ring of power and save the world of Middle-Earth from the ugly aggression of Sauron. He turns to his elder counselor and companion in Gandalf and says, "I wish that it need not have happened in my time". Gandalf responds, "So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

Later in the book, Frodo reaches a safe place - at least for a time - and a great counsel of revered leaders has convened to discuss what must now be done with the ring of power. Finally a resolution is reached to destroy the ring, but it must be done in the mountain of fire from whence it first came - a perilous and almost certain destruction for those upon whom the task is laid. One of the leaders remarks that the plan is most assuredly one of despair. Galdalf, the old wise one, again speaks. "Despair or folly? It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope."

Once again my mind turned to the many generations of upright and brave people who have face perilous times in history. I thought of the million man invasion on the shores of Normandy in WWII... every one of those men having a family - a mom and dad, possibly brothers and sisters, or a wife and children of their own. All sent on the hope of defeating Nazi Germany and ridding the world of the evil power that existed there. I thought of sons and daughters, young men, fathers, farms, and all that was risked in America's Civil War for the hope of bringing the dreaded practice of slavery to an end in these United States. I thought of the many families that loaded their lives into tiny boats on European shores to cross uncharted seas and face a harsh new world of perils, all for the hope of beginning a new life, free to worship and conduct their themselves in way that reflected the values that they'd come to share. I even thought back to a group of men in Jerusalem whose dreams and lives had been given birth to and then suddenly destroyed through the body of a young itinerate preacher. A few short days later there was a knock at their door and a couple of women told them that all of their hope had not been in vain, in fact their hope lived!

Then I thought back to the circumstances that surround us now in this generation. And though at times I feel like Frodo, wishing that many of these times had not come to us... I remember Galdalf's words, and realize that though to others our hope may seem as folly, and though we do not know the immediate outcome of every battle we'll face, this one thing we know; our hope is in His unfailing love. The very reason that His love is "unfailing" is because it has never failed. It cannot be defeated. Our hope is sure.

We may see unclearly now (I COR 13), but He is working all things together for the glorious end, and thereby beginning, a world made new - deplete of evil powers that roam and raze the good place that He once created. Let us then stand, in every circumstance and precipice to which we have been called to stand in this - and every generation - for the great glory and hope that is in Christ Jesus. For to this, we have been called.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Faith...Phew, It Worked Again.

I have come realize that faith, in the end, is entrusting yourself to the character of God.

For many years I have been taught and heard and yearned to be a man of faith and walk in it as one approved by God. I have studied and prayed and continually asked for more faith, and while seeking to exercise it, have often been disappointed.

It seems that there is some mystery between asking what I think is of God, and hoping that He actually intends to answer my request. After enough disappointments and seemingly unreturned or unheard request...I often feel my faith is more like a stubbed toe on furniture in the dark than a clarion call as a Patriarch of Christianity.

If you've ever gotten up to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water in the middle of the night, then you know what I'm talking about. Somehow the inanimate furniture seems to have crept across your path and is waiting, bated with evil intent as you come clumsily along in the dark down a path that is seemingly well known. The next step is fatal - ouch! You run headlong into the coffee table, the corner of the dresser, or heaven forbid the doorjamb. Suddenly that which you thought you knew all too well comes to a startlingly painful end.

Remember the time after that time when you got out of bed in the middle of the night? Every step was painfully slow, every move calculated, muscles tense and aware of even the slightest shadow that may indicate a deadly blow to your toes. After a journey that usually takes fifteen seconds has now take forty-five, you finally reach the bathroom, flip on the switch and deeply exhale a well-earned breath of relief. You wiggle your toes and snicker just a little. All's well, no damage done, you've beaten the odds.

That is how my faith has often seemed for years. I set out to do what I believe is the path along His will. A route I presume all too simple and familiar - at least that's how it sounded in Sunday School and the other books I've read. Somewhere along the way I find an obstacle - a pitfall, a relationship, a conversation, something that says I've gotten it all wrong, and my belief suddenly feels train-wrecked against the iron circumstance at hand. Or if otherwise, having seen my request answered, I take deep breath of relief and let out a sigh...phew it worked that time.

I've been wrong.

Faith is not a matter of exercising enough sheer willpower to move things in the spiritual realm. Faith is yielded obedience to the character of God. I cannot trust hard enough. I cannot muster enough belief to bring about change. I cannot grit my teeth and slug my way to success. Oswald Chamber says of the human will in My Utmost For His Highest, "The preaching of today tends to point out a person's strength of will... The statement that we so often hear, 'Make a decision for Jesus Christ', places the emphasis on something our Lord never trusted. He never asks us to decide for Him, but to yield to Him." And what yielding to Him really means is yielding to His character.

God is not the finicky spiritual being we sometimes make him out to be. We imagine him totally unpredictable like a little child happily playing one moment and throwing a tantrum the next. Are we really to believe that the same God who set planets in motion so perfectly that we can predict their exact location a thousand years from now, is not so perfectly calculated when it comes to matters of responding to His own children?

Faith is confidence in the character of God. The more that we know God, the more that we ask of Him according to His character. The less we know of Him, the more our faith looks like stumbling around furniture in the dark - it's only a matter of time before we're severely disappointed. And the devastating outcome of that experience is that we move away from God in our hearts. Then, because we do not understand, we rationalize our experience and say something spiritual like, "well, God just moves in mysterious ways". No, there are reasons. There are always reasons. Our digress lies in one of two things; we do not know His character, or other circumstances are at play. But we must never allow ourselves to arrive at the conclusion that God is ultimately unpredictable, incongruent or otherwise temperamental in His ways. In fact He says that He has exalted His word (the consistent integrity of His creative power being released) even above His name. And those are the most predictable things in all of creation.

All of us have been met with disappointments in our faith, and usually our reasoning leads us to believe that we simply didn't have enough faith to begin with. But the emphasis is all wrong; while we're looking to amass a greater degree of willpower, He's beckoning us to meditate on the steady unchangingness of His character. While we cannot choose to mandate His ways or even understand - at times - the temporal outcomes, this we know; there is no one more pure, just, wise or good than He. In fact these are merely attributes that we're humanly acquainted with and then elevate them to the N'th degree and call them God. It is not true. He is wholly other and beyond even what those words can ascribe to Him.

Even when I do not fully understand - or even have the strength in my own mind or body to do something - I can still choose to yield to Him. And faith is yielded obedience to the character of God - even when we cannot understand His ways.

Lord Jesus, help me be renewed in the knowledge of my Creator - in His character and trusting in His wisdom and goodness. I want to walk in yielded obedience to you. Help me to know and obey you and to share in the sweet intimacy of laboring with you in your kingdom.