Wednesday, August 5

Sweat, blood and our tears....

“The Lord disciplines everyone he loves. He severely disciplines everyone he accepts as his child." Endure your discipline. God corrects you as a father corrects his children. All children are disciplined by their fathers. If you aren't disciplined like the other children, you aren't part of the family. On earth we have fathers who disciplined us, and we respect them. Shouldn't we place ourselves under the authority of God, the father of spirits, so that we will live? For a short time our fathers disciplined us as they thought best. Yet, God disciplines us for our own good so that we can become holy like him. We don't enjoy being disciplined. It always seems to cause more pain than joy. But later on, those who learn from that discipline have peace that comes from doing what is right.’ (Hebrews 12:6-11 GW)

“One word more before Mr. Drew comes,” Mr. Polwarth said to the young Thomas Wingfold, “are you still thinking of giving up your curacy?” Thomas Wingfold is the main character in the story George MacDonald wrote called The Curate’s Awakening. It is based on the Church of England. Wingfold is challenged by an atheist about his faith and finds himself on a journey to define and realize that faith’s truthfulness or the folly of his profession. The crippled Mr. Polwarth becomes his spiritual mentor and it is near the last third of the book that he asks this question of the curate.

“I had almost forgotten I ever thought of such a thing.” Wingfold replies, “Whatever energies I may or may not have, I know one thing for certain; I could not devote them to anything else worth doing. Indeed, nothing seems interesting enough but telling my fellowmen about the one man who is the truth. Even if there be no hereafter, I would live my time believing in a grand thing that ought to be true if it is not………….I will go further, Polwarth, and say I would rather die believing as Jesus believed than live forever believing as those that deny him……I will teach that which is good, even if there should be no God to make a fact of it. I will spend my life on it in the growing hope, which may become assurance, that there is indeed a perfect God worthy of being the father of Jesus Christ.”

As I sat in church this Sunday past the pastor challenged us to make the right decision when we face our moment in Perga, as John Mark did in this important city of Pamphylia on the Asiatic mainland. (Acts 13:13), where we can choose to follow God or give in to our fears, sorrows or even desires of the sinful nature. As is the usual case, Pastor Jim Combs challenged me in a personal way…..for I’m sure the sermon enticed others in their own stories to ‘man up’ to God’s calling for them….but the realization since having the vision of missionary pastorship in the ‘wilds’ of Australia first planted its roots in the fertile soil of my faith came to me as I listened to a truly passionate and pursuing man of God speak His words to me. I had reached my “Pamphylia” and was packing to go home… turn my back upon the uncertain and fearful future of God’s purpose for me.

I have half-convinced myself that I am not visioning this grand and impossible dream for the right reasons or the right way…that to presume that God would call me to the pastor profession to be used as a mouthpiece of His Word is preposterous and foolish. After all, the Church has made its decision some years ago and continues to agree with its verdict with each appeal after appeal. I am more exhausted by the bruising of coming against the wall of this rejection than I am doing the work He has set before me. After all, who am I? A redeemed sinner who seems to fall more than he walks, who holds to the lifeline given by the gift of salvation with the passion of a drowning man who is being pulled under by the weight of his old nature’s life; finances, home, relationships and so on….all a struggle to maintain, let alone to bring them up to a ‘normal’ level. Who, in the midst of the battle, would dream of another field in which to engage the enemy…..even my pastor seemed a bit surprise that, in the midst of the struggle of the past week with my children and their mother, that I would still want to sit down with him and discuss his overseas adventures for God. Even the words of my brother in Christ, echoed for so long in the time we’ve walked this road together, seem to lose a bit of their vigor and conviction as they are uttered again. Can one work themselves out of a job with God? Just like Wingfold, I’ve thought about whether that ‘call’ to ministry was simply my way of dealing with the complexities of life and an effort more to find a comfortable position in which to coast along.

Even as the ground that I’ve gained in the effort of finances and securing a stable home for my family crumbles under my feet and the roads to chose from grow narrower and narrower…and neither is without cost to follow them, both shrouded in shadow so I cannot discern the correct one and the sheer impossible future that either presents settles forcefully upon my stomach enough to give me pain. Either I quit my job come this September so that I can maintain my current place of residence in Holly, which would be problematical since the very income I need to maintain it would be lost, or I move my family closer to work and family so that they can ‘share’ the burden of caring for my family….maintaining my job, for the time I can work there (its in the automotive industry). Unfortunately, I’m 78 points from getting a mortgage and 10,000 from having a family member buy the property and renting it to me until I can get my own mortgage. So, I’m in a rock and a hard place, neither promising a rosy future.

My Pamphylia is a fearful, dreadful place and all I want to do is to go home.

George of Worthy News Ministries sent out a devotional today regarding the faith of Abraham, referred to as the first ‘Hebrew’ (which means: one who crosses over) and the first man since Noah to ‘cross over’ from a idolatrous society and its polytheistic worship into a personal knowledge of the Creator God. He is referred to, in the hall of heroes, as the hero of faith. When God called Abraham to a land of Promise, sight unseen, and Abraham went, entering into a new level of spiritual truth, holiness and transformation. A mighty hero of faith and the father to all who hold to the promise that God gave Abraham, whether Jew or Gentile, as George shows us in the reference of the devotional verse “Abraham’s seed and heirs according to God’s promise” in Galatians 3:29.

Nothing is known of Abraham’s life before the biggest move of his life, though we can deduce that he was probably at least comfortable….for he moves not just his family but his entire house in accordance with God’s command. But, he moves on the vagueness of a promise….’to a land that I will show you.’ But, as he follows that call, that enticement into the unknown, we do know, as George points out, that he didn’t have a life of ease that was free of troubles or dangers. Sarah is a captive of Pharaoh’s harem, barren until old age. He is forced, because of his loyalty, to rescue Lot and his family at great risk to himself and his men. He follows the urgings of his wife and lays with Hagar, her servant, and begets Ishmael whom he is forced to send into the desert. And, what is known as the greatest test of faith, God seems to demand the very source of the promise as a sacrifice and Abraham comes moments away from giving up his own son, Isaac’s, life in obedience to God.

Yet, Abraham is considered the ‘father’ of faith (Romans 4:16) because of the movement and execution of faith that he made within these trials, not because of his actions. He doesn’t live life perfectly, nor does he always make the right decisions, but he is, according to the promise of God and the words within the testaments He left for us, the father of us all.

Why does it seem that the expectation within the western Christian culture is that God, in His full abundance and love, rectifies and promotes comfort, well-being and prosperity upon receipt of the tenderness of cries for the free, undeserved and personally unattainable gift of salvation? Whereas one, upon submission of their souls, lives and will, find themselves on easy street in the concepts of temptation, consequences of sin and as such are readily tracked as to their affiliation. Those who suffer tribulation, trials, temptation and other ‘warning’ signs are not of the family but merely posers readily gobbled up into the ‘mega’ Church to be patronized and pampered. The broken had better hide their struggles, otherwise eviction is imminent and assured. If you are in constant struggle, either with finances, relationships, job or even your faith, then you are ‘not of the blood’ and yet, it is those very leaders who live in million dollar homes, preach to thousands strong congregations in double-digit properties who are being discovered in blatant sin. That is why, I think, the church’s corporate body is lead like the helm of a business; an entity which feeds upon the livestock of its formation for its continued and ongoing substance for the appearance of lofty spirituality. Which is more Godly, the mega-church of thousands or the humble neighborhood church of a mere 100? Neither, if the flash and dash of their motivation lies in the comfort of the chairs, the visual cunningness of the audio/video or the personality of the Preacher. But if the intention is to restore, equip and shove out the door those who gather in…..then, I dare say, such are the bricks the church lives upon..

What did Christ come to this world to do? Simply to save mankind from the punishment of sin, or was there more to his sacrifice upon the cross of mankind’s evilness that he was set forth to attain for the purposes of God? There are those within the false, misguided and mistaken religious movements that haunt the western and eastern landscapes of ‘spiritual’ movements that would say, and I think truthfully so, that the demand of death for that is too much for the ‘crime’ and therefore it must have either entailed more or simply be a myth borne of mankind’s need to have meaning. There lies greater purpose within the sacrifice that defies the human heart to understand.........and such definitions as what have been offered in the most quickly growing movements don’t seek that understanding, but cast it to the side with the rest of the discards.

“…......Suppose that the design of God involved the perfecting of men as the children of God. Suppose that his grand idea could not be content with creatures perfect only by his gift but also involved in partaking of God’s individuality and free will and choice of good. And suppose that suffering were the only way through which the individual soul could be set, in separate and self-individuality, so far apart from God that it might will and so become a partaker of his singleness and freedom.” Our young curate proposes, “And suppose that God saw the seed of a pure affection…..but saw also that it was a seed so imperfect and weak that it could not encounter the coming frosts and winds of the world without loss and decay. Yet, if they were parted now for a few years, it would grow and strengthen and expand to the certainty of an infinitely higher and deeper and keener love through the endless ages to follow----so that by suffering should come, in place of contented decline, abortion and death, a troubled birth of joyous result in health and immortality ---suppose all this, what then?” As Greg Kouhl, Stand to Reason, quotes in his book Tactics a marine training axiom, “The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.”

There is more to Christ being nailed to the cross and taking upon the sin of all of us……..Wingfold says, “He cannot bear that you should live in such misery, such blackness of darkness. He wants to give you your life again, the bliss of your being…………Heartily he loves you, heartily he hates the evil in you……..[you] that already know yourselves to be sinners, come to him that he may work in you his perfect work, for he came not to call the righteous, but sinners ---us, you and me---- into repentance.” A process begins at the moment of rebirth that will complete only upon the attainment of God’s plan……the perfection of His creation….and its restoration to its place within the entirety of all of creation. Therein we find God, a God “large enough, grand enough, pure enough, lovely enough to be fit to believe in”, free from the trimming and folding of the sort of God that would be simply a measure of ourselves and lacking in sufficiency to sustain us for more than the most temporary of times. And, if we are seeking to emulate Christ, shouldn’t we do the same? Being unable to bear those who suffer, and re-suffer, and so move with deliberate intentionality into those lives….not to fix temporarily or to offer the briefest of contacts but to journey alongside them for the season we’ve been given strengthening and supporting their weakened muscles and sinew until they walk into His design?

How can we do that when we keep each other at a distance, afraid if they walk into our messy lives that they will condemn us for the things we struggle against, realized or unrealized? How can we expect leaders, born and breed upon the comfortable life of service who have borne no troubles, tribulations or (in their minds) sin lead those who struggle in the darkness? Did not Christ Himself become born of woman, from the beginning….as an infant…and grow for thirty-three years within the very world that we trod? Did He not face the typical temptations of childhood and show the perfect power of God… hate sin, reject its power and model a sin-free life? We walk as if we are in white clothes, casting our voice into the world so that we don’t get our fancy duds dirty…and cast our assertions of ‘theory, existence and personally invented ideals’ into a world that is jaded by such mythical things instead of jumping in without thought into the murky depths of another’s life and trusting God to provide both the provision and the strength to come away clean. It is when we are in up to our necks in the cesspool of life that we panic…and drown the very lives we are supposed to save.

In a few days, I have the pleasure of sitting down with my pastor and discussing the mission field…..his experience and thoughts about it and the trials, tribulations and joys of such work. I may never stand upon a stage or in front of a group and preach the words God would have me to speak…..maybe this is all that is allowed me, though the dream is in the blood like a parasite, urging me to struggle against the restrictions and find God’s open door to the vision’s fulfillment. Could be, as with Paul, I will spend most of my journey on this earth doing what seems to be small potatoes compared to that vision he had of Rome….the honor and privilege of bringing the truth to its councils and street corners……and at the end of his journey, being borne in chains to his very dream…..and dying in a prison. Still proclaiming the Word of God…despite the long journey of discipline….because in the end of it all, the training he had received bore him into the Father’s hands still proclaiming the Truth…despite the persecution that followed him, the beatings he took and even the transportation that bore him to his destination; no matter whatever was happening in his life, he first and foremost spoke God’s purpose for him into the lives of those who came into contact with him.

And that, my dear friends, is the purpose to which we all should attain….regardless of where God calls us; workplace, ministry, family or foreign lands……to speak without fear the Truth of God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

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