Christianity 201

July 9, 2019

With You There is Light

Today’s piece represents a return visit to the website ThinkTheology.org which contains a broad assortment of approaches to Biblical, theological and practical study. This one is by . Click the title below to read at source.

Life Sucks

Philippians 4:11-13 I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yesterday morning at our church staff meeting, the senior pastor asked all of us how we’re all doing. I answered pretty honestly by saying that I’m doing okay, and he answered back, “You know? Life sucks right now.” It’s funny, in hindsight, because later that afternoon a FedEx came barreling through our parking lot and hit our church building’s awning. “Hit” might be a little euphemistic; the entire building shook when she hit the awning.

All of us in the building went out to see what had happened, and we see the driver panicking, looking at the damage to her vehicle and to the church building.

It was bad.

The funny thing is that we had literally fixed this awning a couple weeks ago because another delivery truck had ran into the awning (and then another hit it in the same day.) As I’m writing this, I can’t help but just laugh at the whole situation. I mean, it definitely sucks, but it’s okay. The company will take care of the damages, and we don’t need to really worry about it.

It’ll be taken care of.

It’s a little annoying, but it’ll be okay.

And I don’t want to sound too spiritual, but I definitely think it was God trying to catch all of our attentions. It’s so easy to stick to the script of the day, to do things as they’re supposed to be done, and it becomes somewhat monotonous. Sometimes God uses sucky things to jolt us, to draw attention to what God’s doing, and to remind us that it’s okay.

I’ve been in a long season of trying to find contentment. And if all of us are honest, we’re all trying to find that sweet spot of contentment. We’re constantly going through ups and downs, highs and lows, mountains and valleys, crests and troughs, and we’re trying to figure out how to be stable. In an attempt to remind myself of this, I’ve gotten this idea tattooed on my body, so that I can see it on a daily basis. Life goes up and down, and it sometimes sucks.

Those of you that have read my little posts may tire of my references to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but he’s a spiritual mentor of sorts. The more I read him, the more I appreciate him. The more I study his life, the more in awe I become. This was not a man that said and wrote pretty things. Bonhoeffer lived out his faith in the real world. The things that he said in the classroom, teaching young students, he then had to live it out as he suffered in prison. In a way, his writing and reading became practice as he lived out his faith, a journey from the head to the heart.

“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison.

Bonhoeffer was just like Paul in this regard. Paul wrote a beautiful letter to the church in Philippi, not as an abstract description of being content, but Paul was actually content because he had communion with Christ. Philippians 4:13 is an often quoted verse about our capability to endure hardship and do what needs to be done. But what it actually is saying is that we can only do things through Christ. It’s a lovely little preposition, isn’t it? It qualifies the sentence. And what I love is that this preposition, ἐν, can say more than just “through.” Bill Mounce defines it “spatially: in, inside, at, among, with; logically: by means of, with, because of; of time: during, while.”

It’s more than just a simple preposition.

It speaks to the kind of Savior Jesus is. He is able to do all things, and we are in him. Life is always going to suck, but we serve a Lord that has accomplished all things in life, and death, and he is our rock and salvation. We find contentment in all the messiness and craziness when we remember Christ. When we go through circumstances, maybe it’s God trying to get our attention.

Let life suck. Let it be an opportunity to abide in the loving arms of God.

July 23, 2015

Struck Down, But Not Destroyed

Today we pay a return visit to Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog. He is working his way through 2 Corinthians; there are a large number of articles which precede this one, and no doubt several to follow in this particular passage. This is actually two posts from two different days. If you click the links and then click the banner, you can bookmark the site to return as he continues through these verses. (That’s okay, we’ll be here in a week when you get back!)

The first time someone handed me a Bible that was open to this passage was at a very pivotal time in my life. I have never forgotten what it was like to read these words in those circumstances.

2 Corinthians 4:8

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 2 Corinthians 4:8

There is a lot going on in these few words as Paul’s ideas were printed onto the parchment. The previous verse began with “But we have…” The verb was present-indicative. Now this verse has all of the clauses in a present-participle form. Thus, they are in apposition – “we have/we are.” Each of the articles in this verse respects inward conflicts, whereas each in the next verse will deal with external conflicts.

Also, in each of these clauses the idea is building upon the previous verse which noted first the “treasure in earthen vessels” and then “the excellence of the power…of God.” The first deals with the fragility of the created, the second with the power of the Creator. He is showing the superiority of the contents in the vessel despite the weakness of the vessel itself.

His first words “hard-pressed on every side” show their seeming inability to break away from that which is troubling them. And yet because of God’s power, they were “not crushed.” Despite the pressures, they were able to bear up.

Further, he says they were “perplexed.” The word indicates an inability to find a way out of something. And yet, at the same time, they were “not in despair.” In these last two words a paronomasia results. They are aporoumenoi and exaporoumenoi. It is as if Paul was temporarily tempted by a tasty treat of targeted tones in order to tantalize the ears of his readers. In an attempt to reproduce the original, one translator says “pressed, but not oppressed.”

Paul is showing that by living through the power of God, they were (and thus we are) able to bear up under the turmoil and trouble that constantly came their way. If we rely on our own physical make-up, we will surely see only defeat. But when we rely on the strength that is given by God, we will be able to bear up as the attacks come our way. As Paul says it elsewhere, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Life application: It is easy to read words such as Philippians 4:13 and say, “I will hold to this and trust in it.” However, it is much harder to continue to trust those words when the difficulties come. This is why we must memorize them and repeat them to ourselves again and again. We do this so that when the difficulties arrive, we will be prepared mentally to allow the strength of the Lord to take the lead.

Heavenly Father, help me to not just memorize catchy verses from the Bible, but to sincerely take them to heart in order to prepare me for the day of battle. When the trials arrive, grant me that sure confidence that what Your word says really does apply, even in the most difficult or darkest moments. Help me in this Lord. Grant me the surest confidence in Your wonderful word at all times. Amen.

2 Corinthians 4:9

…persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—  2 Corinthians 4:9

Paul continues with his contrasts which began in the previous verse. Those previous contrasts were from internal struggles; these are from external ones. His imagery is as if a soldier in combat who is first “persecuted, but not forsaken.” The words have the intent of “pursued, but not abandoned” (Ellicott). As if they were soldiers being pursued by an enemy, Paul says that even in such a state the Lord is with them. This follows along with the wording of Hebrews –

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say:
‘The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5, 6

And surely this imagery is appropriate because the state which Christians find themselves in is a true battle. Paul discusses this in detail in Ephesians 6. His description includes this thought –

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

The second contrast is that they are “struck down, but not destroyed.” This again is the imagery of a soldier whose life is spared despite being wounded. It could even be of wrestlers in a bout of mortal combat. When Jacob wrestled with the Lord in Genesis 32, the match continued without either letting up, and so in order to end the match, we read these words –

“Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.” Genesis 32:25

Jacob was struck down, but he was not destroyed in the process. The Lord could have done so, but instead He humbled him and yet spared him. Paul shows that this is the state of the apostles as they strived to share the message of Christ. With their many struggles, both internal and external, they were able to press on because the Lord was there with them to ensure they would never falter or fail.

Life application: The Bible sys that the Lord will never leave His people and He will never forsake them. Paul was eventually martyred for his faith, as were almost every one of the apostles. Did the Lord break His promise? No! They have something that those who persecuted and killed them don’t have. They have the assurance of eternal life because of their trust in Christ. Truly, what can man do to one who is saved by the blood of Christ!

Heavenly Father, You have promised to never leave nor forsake Your people, and yet millions of faithful Christians have been martyred over the ages. Should we lose hope? Should we despair? No! We should rejoice that they were saved by You and they are saved by You. As followers of Christ, we have the absolute assurance that the blood has saved us. No fear here! Whatever happens to this earthly body is temporary, but an eternal glory awaits. Hallelujah and Amen!

 

March 7, 2011

Seeing Illness as a Blessing

Yesterday’s and today’s items here don’t have any specific scripture references.  I wrote this three years ago at an obvious low point, and thought it might be applicable to someone reading it today; maybe you are that person.  Readers may want to add a scripture verse in the comments that references one or all of the points here…

  • Illness forces us to slow down, and that forces us to do the things that really matter, and that forces us to decide what really matters
  • Illness forces us to ask God for help on behalf of ourselves, which seems selfish at times, so first we have to apologize for asking
  • Illness causes us to ask other believers to join in prayer for us, which can be rather humbling
  • Illness helps us remember others who are suffering, it helps us to identify and empathize with their situation
  • Illness – while not necessarily caused by sin -brings us to a wonderful season of self examination and determination to aim for greater holiness
  • Illness reminds us of our mortality; our material culture has forced us to cling to everything including life itself, but our lives have an expiry date
  • Illness has a mellowing, sobering effect on us – some things can become potentially more irritating, but some other things no longer matter as much
  • Illness forces us to ask bigger questions; Is God in control? Does He care about the details of my life? Will he intervene in a special way?
  • Illness brings into clarity other times we were ill, and reminds us that God brought us through that time
  • Illness helps us hear Christian songs differently; “I thank God for the mountains, and I thank him for the valleys…” Can I do that right now?

I’m sure there are other things, too. Most of the prayer requests in our churches are for issues people are dealing with in their physical bodies. Pray specifically for one another. If you are the person for whom this was for today, listen for God’s voice in the middle of all you’re going through.

July 14, 2010

Love Unknown: This Isn’t The Answer to Prayer I Wanted

From yesterday’s modern worship song, we flash back more than a hundred years for the song “Love Unknown” (the tune name, which I chose as the blog post tile) better known as “Oft When of God We Ask.”  And yet, there’s something very contemporary about these soul-searching lyrics, and approach to its theme: Trusting God in trials.   It’s almost out-of-sync with other hymns from the same era.  (Or perhaps, with the hymns that have survived with which we are now familiar.)    The writer is Thomas Toke Lynch (1818-1871).   I tried to find a video for this, but as you can imagine, this is a very obscure hymn.

Oft when of God we ask
For fuller, happier life,
He sets us some new task
Involving care and strife ;
Is this the boon for which we sought?
Has prayer new trouble on us brought?

This is indeed the boon,
Though strange to us it seems :
We pierce the rock, and soon
The blessing on us streams ;
For when we are the most athirst,
Then the clear waters on us burst.

We toil as in a field,
Wherein, to us unknown,
A treasure lies concealed,
Which may be all our own:
And shall we of the toil complain
That speedily will bring such gain ?

We dig the wells of life,
And God the water gives ;
We win our way by strife,
Then He within us lives ;
And only war could make us meet
For peace so sacred and so sweet.