Thursday, May 17, 2018

Three Kinds of Faith--Growing through suffering

Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 by [Willard, Dallas]I've been devouring Dallas Willard's newest book, Life without Lack.  It was compiled after his death from a Bible study he held with a small group from his church.  Dallas is DEEP--he was a philosophy and theology professor at Berkley--but this book is so down to earth it's worth the dive. 

One of the many gems he brings out is that there are three types of faith:  faith of propriety, faith of desperation, and faith of sufficiency.  Dallas uses the story of Job to show us how God pulls us through each of these in order to grow us into full relationship with Him. 

Propriety means what is right and proper.  The Faith of Propriety means trusting God through doing what He wants.  Dallas says, "Job trusted God to be good to him if he lived a proper and upright life."  This is a great place to start and shows a trust in the character of God to be good and fair to us and God recognizes Job's faith and praises him to the accuser. 

Even though this type of faith is genuine, Dallas points out that it is superstitious and religion based.  It's like a codependent agreement with God:  "I'll do what You want me to do so that You will be good to me."  It's a faith mixed with the fear because it trusts in our ability to please God--and we are not always able.  It also tends to want everyone in society to get it right with God so that all of life in that society will be blessed, which can get bossy.  As you might guess, this faith is tested severely tested when trouble comes.

The Faith of Desperation is a bit harder. Job's friends tried to get him to admit that he had messed up and all his losses were a result of his own failure, but Job knew better.  He had remained blameless and God was still good even in suffering.  Job chose to trust God:  "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." (Job 13:15).  Not everyone makes the transition to this kind of faith right away--or even at all.  They pout and fume at God for the perceived injustice of their cause.  Job challenges God about his pain but trusts that God will rightly judge on his behalf. Dallas points out that, "The faith of desperation--trusting faith--digs in, holds on, clings tight, and says, 'I don't care what's going to happen, I am holding on to God!'"  In their moment of need, they continue to trust God, regardless of the circumstance. Job asked really hard questions of God, but he didn't run away. 

Image result for faith in suffering
And God will answer--always, but not always quickly.  God's answers to Job were not the most comforting or empathetic.  They weren't really answers at all.  God's presence led Job to an understanding of his real worth and significance, which wasn't much!  With all the focus on "self-esteem" in our culture, you might think that God's response wasn't very helpful but that couldn't be farther from the truth.  Job was more than satisfied with God's answer because he had a better perspective and could grow into a deeper trust.  Job recognized that God didn't have to answer to him, but He had and Job was humbled and in awe at the answer. 

This is the Faith of Sufficiency.  God is more than sufficient and can be trusted because He is God and I am not.  Job stopped trying to get God to make everything right and let go of his desperation.
Dallas also points out: "Keep in mind that God did not say that Job was wrong in what he said, but that he did not understand what he was saying...Teachers know what it's like to have have a student who has the right answer, but does not have the foggiest idea what he is saying."  Job recognizes that he doesn't get to say what is good or bad.  It's above his pay-grade.  Part of the faith of sufficiency is an understanding of our scope--we are not God.  It's ok to ask for understanding--knowing that it may not be possible for us to understand and we may need to be ok with that.

Dallas also points out that when we look at what Christ did for us on the cross, there are are few things that matter in comparison.  God--the God of the Universe (!!!)--chose to suffer on our behalf.  What is our suffering in comparison?  When we behold the greatness of God, the scope of His sacrifice for us, and the depth of His forgiveness, everything we face seems petty and insignificant.  That doesn't mean we stop hurting, but when we see Him as God and sufficient for all things, it provides a much needed perspective.  "We cannot truly see ourselves until we see God, but as long as our eyes are fixed on ourselves, we cannot see God...Faith requires vision, and a fuller faith requires a fuller vision."

So what about you?  When life is good, a faith of propriety might work and might even please God.  When life is hard, a faith of desperation moves God to show Himself and act.  Are you desperate yet?  Have you moved beyond desperation to a full trust in God's sufficiency?  Have you seen Him as enough yet?  Where can you push your own faith to the next level?

Friday, April 6, 2018

God is...Eternal!

Rev. 22:13  "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."

Tonight I feel very finite, but it is an illusion.  My grin is large and my heart is full but my body is very tired and a little sore.  My energy, my days, my body-life may have limits, but my God doesn't.  He has been from before time and will continue to be throughout time.  He created time and isn't bound by it.  He created sequence, and remains outside of it.  He starts things and brings them to a conclusion but is, Himself, without beginning or end. 

I quoted my life verse last night: 

"He has set eternity in the hearts of men, but they cannot fathom the scope of it from beginning to end."  Ecc. 3:11 (my paraphrase)

Like God, we are also eternal, or at least semi-eternal.  We have a beginning but our end is in Him and therefore has no end.  Billy Graham said of his own death, "Some day you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don't you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now."  Still, death remains a valid shock.  Every person you have ever met, prince or pauper, will outlast the stars themselves.  C.S. Lewis said:

"There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors."

This is where the danger lies.  Despite our semi-eternal nature, we treat our own existence as a frantic rush from here to somewhere out there.  We forget the part that we play in building up or tearing down the rest of our immortal race.  Lewis goes on to say: 

"The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.  It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations."  

That thought is rightfully intimidating, but take heart!  God takes our life formation as seriously as it demands even when we forget.  We may rush about, but He never does.  We forget the context of eternity but He never will.  The character we build into our heart's will is what we take with us into forever and it is too precious to be treated lightly.  You can curse and moan about the trouble you face, but it is that very trouble He is using to craft you into your eternal shape.  Paul tells us, "And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns." (Phil 1:6) 

How have you honored your neighbor's glory today?  Did you push them toward Christ, imprinting His image on them or did you drive them away?  What can you do tomorrow?

Thank You Father for the way You so carefully tend our eternal hearts.  We have no idea how precious You have made us to be.  We trust You to make us like You and to use us to build others up too.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

God is...Absolute

Ps. 147:5 "How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
    His understanding is beyond comprehension!"

This month, the scripture writing exercises all look at the Attributes of God.  Every day, my bullet journal has a different Bible Verse for me to write that highlights one of God's attributes.  Today, the word was (theoretically) "Infinite" and in several versions, this verse focuses on that word.  

But today I need a God who is Absolute! 

I love that His zero is truly zero.  His One means one, single, alone, solitary.  I love that He encompasses all the numbers through to infinity and beyond.  I love that He has my past through to negative infinity.  His white is white and includes all the colors of the spectrum.  His black is black and includes none of them.

He Is.  

Because He Is, He has made me to be.  Because He is, all the laws of the universe function as He set them out and do not stray.  Gravity works--I don't have to go chasing my drink around the room in tiny balls, but I am also aware I can't just jump off a balcony.  I feel comfortable flying in a plane because gravity and air-flow and a hundred different laws of the universe are consistent and repeatable. 

Right is right and wrong is wrong and how I feel about it makes no difference whatsoever--wow is that a relief!!  I'd make a terrible god.  Even more amazing, He notices how I feel about what goes on in my life and stoops to comfort me, correct me, and restore me.  

For brief moments, people may want to discard the absolutes of the universe created by God because they disagree with them, yet without Him, there is ultimately no purpose to existence.  There is no good to be honored for and no evil to be reviled if there is no one that has the authority to say what is good or evil.  All pass from existence as a vapor with even less impact.  

God has "placed eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom the scope of it from beginning to end." (Ecc 3:11)  We instinctively know this is not all there is.  We catch glimpses of a world that is far more real than the one we tangibly experience and are left speechless in awe.  We recognize the darkness where His presence is thin, just as a fish recognizes when it is out of the water--and gasp for his goodness in the face of that darkness.

Thank You, Father.  You anchor us in reality and show us Yourself beyond it.  I am amazed.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Suspending skepticism

Hidden Berries--Peter Wood
"Our culture has cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes...(yet) We are required to 'bet our life' that the visible world, while real, is not reality itself."--Dallas Willard.

I ran across the quote above last night and it brought home to me the profound gulf that exists in our society between the skeptical and those who believe.  The skeptic is elevated to the highest positions of thought in our culture.  All statements must be backed up by multiple corroborating sources and hedged in tightly by arrogant doubt alongside the caveat that more research should be conducted. Once, when I said I could see both sides of an issue, my husband responded, "but which side are you on?"  I love his clarity. 

As a consultant, I need to see all sides of an issue.  As an engineer, I have to make a decision and rely on it.  I have to recognize that I will never know everything I want to know about an issue and choose to believe some things and disregard others.  Having a life with God is contingent on recognizing skepticism and intentionally choosing to let it go. In the Amplified version, Hebrews 11:6 tells us: 

"Without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek Him."

Ironically, our "prove it" culture has a macabre fascination with the supernatural--as long as it's not related to God.  So many see occult practices as innocent and exciting while God is boring and confining. We can revel in meditation or astrology but a belief in God would require something from us, not the least of which could be giving up our right to be our own god.  

So where's the problem?  The problem is that there is real power in the unseen and a war that is being waged for the unseen souls of mankind. Those who are dead to it are easily robbed in their blindness but could never recognize what has been stolen. Those who dabble in spiritual matters are like toddlers playing with loaded handguns. The battlefield is only measurably safe for hardened, trained soldiers, yet we are born into that battlefield and casualties surround us all.  

Dallas goes on to say, "God's spiritual invasions into human life seem, by their very gentleness, to invite us to explain them away...We are hindered in our progress toward becoming spiritually competent people by how easily we can explain away the movements of God toward us.  They go meekly without much protest.  Of course God's day will come, but for now he cooperates with the desires and inclinations that make up our character, as we gradually become the kind of people we will forever be.  That should send a chill down our spine."  

God is not the forceful lover of a rape fantasy romance novel.  He respects us and waits for us to come to Him as free agents, of our own accord.  Even in the Bible, there are remarkably few times that God steps unveiled before the eyes of mankind.  He stopped Saul on the road to Damascus, but Saul honestly believed he was doing God's will, and an honest follower will be corrected.  A wandering dilettante will be allowed to meander.  

So what about you?  Is it possible to relinquish the need to know it all fully before being fully known?  Can you hear the still, unseen voice that pleads for your heart?  Interestingly enough, what has been seen and experienced cannot then be "unseen."  Suspend disbelief for even a moment and the spirit realm comes alive, like the gentle flutter of a butterfly's wings or sweet berries hidden behind lush foliage. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Special Type of Gratitude

20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Eph 5:20

This was the verse the Holy Spirit stopped me on this morning, so I began to thank Him for all He has provided:

  • the ability to work
  • my children
  • the clicking of Sally's nails on the tile as she follows me around the house
  • a Sophie ball
  • pain that shows me boundaries
  • healing that frees me to follow
This felt surprisingly empty.  

Then the Spirit stopped me and made me reread the verse.  Give thanks to the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This means thanking Him for what Jesus is thankful for not just for what I'm thankful for.  When I asked what Jesus was thankful for, the answers stirred my sleeping heart:
  • Friendship with God
  • the closeness provided by Your Spirit
  • growing peace
  • images to understand how You make all things new
  • eyes to see both Your work and how you work with us to create beauty
  • rescues through intercession
I could feel the gratitude of the Son welling up in me toward the Father and the Spirit for all they do.  I could feel the power of the Holy Spirit breathing new life into my praise.  What a grace!

Now you try!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Where's the Brakes????

There comes a time in every parent's life here in the US, when they have the task of teaching their budding youth the most primary task in our society:  driving.  (I can hear you all screaming with me).  Honestly, I've been looking forward to this.  I need help with the chauffeuring.  P.J. knows this so he has dreaded learning to drive and fought the process tooth and nail. 

Ok, so I get him out in a parking lot to practice.  This is where I discover the secret to the terror of driving lessons: 

I don't have brakes.

He now has the brakes.  I can tell him to stop.  I can scream in horror.  I can faint dead away, but none of this matters.  If he doesn't hit the brakes, the car won't stop.  Control over direction is nice, but when things are coming at you fast, it's the brakes you want. 

I have discovered that this is a profound observation.  It seems like this comes up as a constant issue in raising a teenager.  I can tell him "No" but it just doesn't have the same punch these days.  He has to make his own decisions and even if I scream at him about getting up at a decent hour or making sure that all of his assignments are turned in, he is still the one who has to execute.  I can't do it for him.  Letting go of that control isn't easy for anyone, but when you care so much about that person, it's ridiculously hard to let them do things that you know will hurt them.  At some point they have to learn for themselves and that means letting them make mistakes. 

This is one of the most amazing things about God.  The fact that He ever let us make our own choices astounds me.  It looks like the supreme misstep in all creation.  I understand that He is far wiser than I am, but wow--talk about giving up the brakes!  I know we couldn't truly love Him if we didn't have the choice to love him or not, but what a cosmic scale risk!  He endows us with His very own image--so that all of creation does a double-take when comparing us to Him, and then He lets us loose to run the show here on earth.  From the foundation of the world, He had a plan to handle our disasters, but how it must hurt the heart of God to see us make the choices we constantly, foolishly make.  Yet He still chooses intentionally not to take our free will back as some "What was I thinking!?!?!?" mistake. 

Yet, I hear Him whisper, "For every terror of a bad decision, I remember even more the delight of choices made that honor Me, reject self, and grow into the image I have placed on you.  Even more, I have given you the opportunity to rely on Me, and at that choice, I place My Holy Spirit within you so that you have the chance to complete My joy at your freedom in Me."

And I remember the joy I have at seeing PJ grow and succeed and those delights far outweigh the terror of our afternoon driving lesson--white knuckles and all...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Treasuring the lull between the years


This Christmas break has been fraught with sicknesses many and varied from all quarters that kept nearly all of our gatherings far smaller than they could have been.  I could bemoan missing so many people, but it has made the holiday much sweeter in so many ways.  We could have cleaned furiously so many different days, but we were sick.  We could have decorated to the nines, but didn't have the energy.  We could have gone to parties, hosted parties, gone shopping...but we couldn't.  I'm glad.

I missed family, but they're coming anyway--just later than expected and not all at the same time.  I missed overwhelming piles of wrapping paper on Christmas morning, but instead we had contented kids playing with the one major gift they received from just us--because that's all that were there.  We did clean a little each day, but nothing frantic or crazy. 

Last night, on New Year's Eve, I asked my Father again, in another one of those still spaces created by our minimalistic holiday, what the word for the year was to be.  You cannot imagine the peace that flooded my heart as he sweetly whispered:


You have enough.  You are enough.  You will have enough.  You will do enough.  You will feel enough.  You need no more.  I AM enough. 

Yep. He is enough.