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Friday, January 25, 2019

Up

    It’s only one sentence, only one line, just a brief statement. But coming from the pastor, speaking to the congregation on a Sunday morning with all the authority of his pastoral office, it carries a lot of weight. And it reflects an evangelically-correct attitude that should be strenuously denied by our leaders, not encouraged.

    “A Christian is always up!” Exclaimed with energetic fist pump and great enthusiasm.

    I can’t look at the friend sitting next to me. We’ve had this conversation too many times before. The one about believers denying that they feel any pain. I know that if our eyes meet, it will trigger a reaction that would be noticeable to everyone around us. I’m not in church to dispute the pastor’s words openly and publicly. I don’t have the kind of relationship with him where I could diplomatically question his comments to his face. But I will blog about them here in hopes that evangelicals everywhere will recognize this statement for the false teaching that it is.

    How will we reach a world that’s hurting if we deny the fact that we, too, can hurt? How will we minister to Christians who are suffering if we keep telling them that they’re always supposed to be up? Is it any wonder that we’re not reaching our culture? Is it any wonder that younger generations are leaving the church? They see the lie taught by many evangelically-correct Christians. Why are we so blind to it?

    Isaiah describes Jesus as being “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). Was He up in the Garden of Gethsemane as He agonized over His coming sacrifice? His words to His disciples were, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Doesn’t exactly sound up to me. And we certainly can’t argue that He wasn’t being a good Christian by not being up. Or that He had a temporary lapse from His usual perfection by failing to be up. If either of those were the case, there would be no Christianity. Jesus, Who was perfect, Who never ever failed, was not always up. Why would we teach that His fallible followers must be?

    Was Paul up when he wrote to the Corinthians “out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears” (2 Corinthians 2:4)? Was he wrong to grieve over the difficulties the church was experiencing? Should he have just smiled and said, “Don’t worry, God will fix it”?

    “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Does someone who’s up need to be comforted?

    “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Isn’t Paul recognizing here that Christians will mourn? And that it’s okay? Rather than teaching that we should always be up, isn’t Paul saying that our souls should be in sympathy with both the joys and the pains of those around us? This verse wouldn’t exist if Paul’s theology proclaimed that a Christian should always be up.

    David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Yet some of his psalms express deep sorrow and suffering (e.g. 6, 13, and 22). And have you ever read the book of Job? Check out chapter 3, where he goes to great lengths to express his regret over having been born. Yet God Himself describes Job as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8).

    Please, pastor, don’t ever say that again. Let the members of your congregation hurt when they’re hurting. Walk beside them in their pain. Let them be honest about their sorrows. That is what, in time, will bring healing. Our God is a God of truth. If we’re to follow Him, we must be people who value truth. Including the truth of how we’re feeling inside.

Friday, January 4, 2019

God's Inefficiency

    Inefficient providence. Those were the Bible teacher’s words. Paul spends the last six chapters of Acts imprisoned, on trial, shipwrecked at sea. Is that really the best use of his time and talents? He relates the story of his conversion twice within five chapters, after we’ve already read about it in chapter nine. Why give so much space to telling the same story three times? It seems so inefficient. Of course the teacher wasn’t saying that God is in fact inefficient, but it got me thinking.

    I’ve always valued efficiency. Doing as much as possible as well as possible in the least amount of time possible. Completing one job efficiently, then moving on to the next task on my list. It’s the American way. It’s important. Wouldn’t the best god be equally efficient?

    God seems most inefficient to me when I’m suffering. Sick in bed. Injured in an accident. Grieving the loss of a loved one. How can I use the gifts He’s given me at times like these? Like Paul sitting in prison, unable to travel around the Mediterranean world spreading the gospel and strengthening the churches. I can see how God uses Paul even in his confinement, but I have a hard time seeing the same thing in my own life. God could do so much more with me or through me if my time and energy weren’t so limited.

    And yet He has ordained periods of inefficiency in all of our lives. Take sleep. Why on earth are we required to spend so much time unconscious and inactive? Doesn’t God realize how much more we could accomplish for His Kingdom if we put those hours to better use?

    I struggled with this when I was in college. I had a serious case of suicidal depression in the days before antidepressants were widely known. After a couple of years, I’d found that certain aspects of self-care, including sleeping nine or more hours each night, helped reduce the symptoms temporarily.

    But the evangelically correct around me were appalled. No college student has the time to indulge in such a habit. It can’t be God’s will. It must be laziness. Proverbs 6:10-11 states quite clearly, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.”

    It was a great blessing to discover Psalm 127:2 in the King James Version that I was using at the time: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” A new revelation for me—sleep is a gift from God to those He loves. Shortchanging ourselves on this necessity is usually the result of vanity rather than following His will. God-ordained inefficiency.

    And what about the Sabbath rest revealed to Moses in Exodus 16:23? Why does God command us to rest from our labors when there’s so much work to be done? Yet He stresses the importance of keeping the Sabbath by including it in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11).

    Why does God not only allow, but actually promote, such inefficiency? As I struggle to compose a simple blog post, spending endless hours writing and editing and proofreading, I realize that part of it is the curse. After Adam and Eve sinned by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17). All our various kinds of toil for the necessities of life became painful at that point. Work will never be easy or efficient.

    Another part of it is a message that I need to hear repeatedly, one that counteracts our American drive to succeed: life is not all about doing, accomplishing, achieving. It’s about having faith in Him. In the time of Moses, basic survival often required long hours of work every day of the week. To take one day out of seven to rest was scary. In our cushy American lives, we don’t realize how radical this was. What if they ran out of water in the desert? What if their shelter needed repairs to keep out the weather and the wild animals? In requiring a Sabbath rest, God was saying, “Get your focus off yourselves and trust Me.”

    His ordained inefficiency also gives me an opportunity to sacrifice. In an inefficient body that requires sleep and food and protection from the elements, it hurts me when I miss out on those things. Sacrificing for others means willingly accepting that pain in order to meet someone else’s needs. If we were all totally efficient there would be no way to follow God’s example and communicate our love for others through sacrificial giving.

    Recently, a real-life situation emphasized my inability to see the whole picture regarding efficiency. In efficiency mode I try to do as much as I can with as few steps as possible. Literal, physical, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other steps. Save time. Save energy. But as I age, my bones are getting weaker. Walking, running, moving builds them up. Taking extra steps. Even when it seems inefficient. Maybe God’s inefficiency is something like that. What appears to me to be a useless waste of time in one area might actually be building me up in another.

    But I still sometimes chafe under the frustration of my limitations. I could do so much more! I could serve You so much better! I imagine myself following Moses in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, spending the Sabbath glancing up at the sky every few minutes wondering if the sun is ever going to set, impatiently tapping my foot and making a mental to-do list for tomorrow, worrying about all the little necessities that aren’t getting done, rather than praising God for supplying my food and water and shelter and for providing a much-needed rest.

    Help me, Father, to rejoice in Your wisdom as You work in this world with an efficiency that exceeds my finite observation and imagination. Help me to follow as You lead, resting when You know that I need to, trusting Your love to meet my needs, sacrificing in response to Your will—without resenting every seemingly inefficient moment in my life.