Escape from Monkey Hill

Monkey Hill

It has been three years since Allyson and I honeymooned in New Orleans. We had a great time eating our way through the French Quarter, learning to drive in a city of only ways, and forgetting that real life existed for only a few days. But as the exhaustive planner and lover of my wife, I decided to really go all out and take her on Allyson’s All Day Animal Adventure. See, Allyson loves animals and the zoo. If she could, she would go every day. But in New Orleans, you can buy a day pass and go t the insectarium, aquarium, and zoo for a discounted price. This is a top notch zoo with live exhibits where you can see and even touch the animals. We’re newlyweds and so of course poor. But this, I’m all over this; Day 3 of Husband Jay is going to kill it.

We arrived, only to wait in line for our passes to get stamped. Now we weren’t in line for a long time, probably fifteen minutes. But it was summer and the humidity was getting to all of us in line as we patiently stood in our Purgatorial Sweat Box. As Allyson and I are joking and kidding around, I saw the family in front of us. It’s a typical touristy family parents, two kids, and a grandparent; our fellow members of the sauna like queue. But about halfway through the line the older child began getting fussy. He was probably no more than six or seven. Now would I say that he was acting bad. He wasn’t throwing a tantrum or crying. He was just a bored, hot, child ready to get in to see the animals. So he’s hanging onto the dad, and just complaining. “How long is it going to be? I’m bored? Are we almost there? It’s hot today? What can we see first? Can I play Angry Birds?” You get the idea. But then he said the thing that really piqued my interest: I just want to go to Monkey Hill. Please can we go?

And he repeated it. For about two minutes straight.

Now Monkey Hill is actually quite famous. They built it in the 1930’s so that kids in New Orleans would know what a hill looks like. There’s a five story tree house, a wading pool, and kids often roll down the grass of the hill. It’s been there forever and kids of all ages still go ape for it. It is right in the middle of the zoo and so for parents it’s a great midway point to rest while kids play. However, after a while the dad had grown impatient about the Monkey Hill subject. Then he said it.

This father bent down to his son, mustering up all the kindness and tenderness in his voice. He ruffled his hair and said, “Brandon, I’ll tell you what. If you’re good, we’ll go to Monkey Hill.”

My heart sank. Not because this guy is a bad father. I don’t think he is. I’ve heard many parents say similar things. I get that I don’t get parenting decisions because I’m not one. That wasn’t my issue. But because in it I heard the legalism I had so often struggled with as a teen and younger adult. I heard all the legalism in that moment of “quid pro quo”

I think so often, I view God as this type of Father: one who looks at me and says, “Now Jay, if you act right, then I will come and save you. But you have to make sure that you have your act together in order to get the reward.” I struggle with viewing God from a place that if when I sin, He’s coming after me and mine to get me back. Or He’s causing bad things to happen because I wasn’t as faithful as I should’ve been. So then, what do I do? I try to grit and grind my way to holiness. I study the Catechism more, I sing out of the Psalter, I make sure that I’m listening to religious podcasts. But not out of a heart longing to know God or to worship him, but because I have to make sure I’m crossing things off my list.

When I was at CBC, I made sure that I had whatever new book I was reading at the time in my backpack and read before class. Not because I just loved reading, but because I wanted people to see my Older Brother self reading it. I wanted people to go “that Jay Sawrie is just so dedicated”. I made sure all of my tweets were deep theological truths, because that’s what I thought would be God pleasing. That was the deal. I was good, so I get to go to Monkey Hill. I was good, so now God doesn’t have a reason to ditch me when I sin. I was faithful and pious, so God now owes me to never leave.

But God’s faithfulness to us isn’t “quid pro quo” but rather “it is finished” faithfulness. God’s promise to keep us is based on nothing that we have brought, are bringing, or will bring to the table. Christ died for future sins too; so that now whatever we do wind up bringing is still going to the trash heap. Our Pharisaical righteousness doesn’t earn us our place or earn our keep. We don’t get in by faith and stay in by faithfulness. When God looks at us, He sees Christ. He actively obeys and then gives us His obedience for our disobedience. He works, we get the reward. He takes the spanking, we get to go outside and play. Any attempt to add to the works of Christ by our own bootstrap pulled attempts, really just scream “Eh I’ll do it myself”.

But here’s the ironic thing. As we made the turn in the zoo and approached the Hill, right at the entrance was the sign: Monkey Hill Closed for Repairs. No one got into Monkey Hill that day. The promise of legalism is so empty, that even when we strive and work so that God will delight in us, all we find is the broken promise that this wasn’t the way after all. Legalism only leads to tears and disappointment. Because then we feel cheated. We believe that God now owes us something in return for all the merit that we brought Him. But God has not promised us anything that He has not already provided in Christ.

So then, let’s keep looking to Christ. Let us see Him and taste of Him in the Sacraments. Let us run to Him by faith. Keep hearing and believing the Gospel.

From a “Worthless” Evangelical Woman: A Response to Robert Truelove

From a _Worthless_ Evangelical Woman

Within the past week, Robert Truelove has posted two articles, the first of which is entitled “Why Most Evangelical Women are Worthless.” (He wrote a follow-up article called “Why Most Evangelical Men are Worthless” and my Late Night Theology colleague has responded to that article here.) Well here I am, a potentially-worthless Evangelical woman, sharing my reflections on his article.

Pastor Truelove begins by calling out the problem of women who feel unfulfilled and empty. They then turn to women’s ministries for answers. The answer given by women’s ministries is to become MORE involved in women’s ministry (and perhaps even start one’s own women’s ministry). He explains why he thinks this is a faulty answer: 

“A Christian woman should be taught to find her calling first and foremost IN HER HOME. The domestic duties of the home are her sphere of Christian leadership, for she is to be a ‘keeper of the home’. Her first ministry is to her husband and children as she loves and serves them as a Christian wife and mother. This is WHO the Christian woman ought to be!…When a Christian woman seeks to ‘find herself’ outside of the home, it is not piety but rebellion. Such women make poor wives and mothers.”

In other words, if women would faithfully fulfill their duties in the home rather than looking outside the home for joy, they would naturally come into contentment and fulfillment.

I have three issues with this article. First, is the title. I think it is extremely problematic to refer to any human as “worthless.” Even though Robert here is referring to a woman being worthless as regards to her natural function, I think we must be very careful about language that could seem to attack the doctrine of Imago Dei. When people begin to believe that others are worthless or worth less, we get things like slavery, rape, and murder. So no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to refer to women (or any person or group of people!) as worthless, even for the sake of a clickbait title.

My second issue is that Pastor Truelove’s conception of gender roles seems more cultural than biblical. He envisions a household where the woman takes care of the children and the cleaning and the cooking, the husband works to provide for the family, and the wife is not involved in either ministry or the workforce. The problem is, I don’t see this model mandated by Scripture. In fact, there are both Old Testament and New Testament examples of women who were involved in ministry AND the workforce. In the Old Testament we have the Proverbs 31 woman and in the New Testament we have Lydia. The Bible seems to allow for more flexibility than Pastor Truelove in how families provide for themselves and in the ways that they are involved in ministry. To me, it seems much more appropriate for each couple to decide what works best for them (for their personalities, needs, and cultural context) with regards to both providing for their family and taking care of their household.

My final critique has to do with the concept of fulfillment. That anyone would try to find fulfillment in either working in the home, in ministry, or in vocation is problematic. Every Christian’s sense of deepest fulfillment and contentment needs to be rooted in Christ, and even that will be imperfect until Heaven. A person feeling unfulfilled COULD be a result of shirking their duties, but it could be evidence that they are not yet glorified! I realize that Pastor Truelove likely did not mean that a woman should find her ultimate satisfaction in keeping her household, but I think it’s an important clarification to make! (I think it would even be appropriate to remind women NOT to find ultimate satisfaction in their duties at home or at work or in ministry.) But even if we’re talking about a lesser fulfillment, I think that both men and women can find fulfillment in a whole host of things including marriage, family, friendships, work, service, nature, and rest.

In conclusion, I affirm the dignity and worth of men and women. I recognize that the strict gender roles emulated by Robert Truelove are highly encultured and largely not biblically prescribed. And finally, I wish to urge the finding of joy in many aspects of life, while knowing that ultimate joy is found only in Christ. ❤️

~Hannah

Check out some of my other articles here:

Why Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel are Different Manifestations of the Same Thing

Why “Be Strong” or “Buck Up” is the Wrong Response to Suffering…

Grace for the Worthless: An Open Letter to Robert Truelove

Gracefortheworthless

Dear Robert,

Holy crap. I get trying to come out strong with your new blog; but wow. Two articles in two days about how Evangelical women and Evangelical men are “worthless”. Now, I’ve read both of them (multiple times) and my first reaction was stunned silence. Seriously, I just sat back in my chair and chuckled. Not because what you said was funny (cause it’s not). But because laughter is my  go to response when I’m both frustrated and confused. I know that a chuckle isn’t the best response, but it’s my natural one. Ask my wife.

On second thought, don’t do that. You’ve said enough about why she’s terrible as it is.

Now, we can talk about why clickbaity titles are pretty cliche. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but come on. Let’s ignore the fact that it’s just a petty way to get readers. It’s just lazy. But I’ll just give you that one for free. Shock value is so good for building a brand. It’s edgy, it’s masculine. Hell, next you’ll move to Seattle, sport a faux hawk, and start preaching in Tapout shirts and vests.

But let’s deal with your content about why  men are worthless. Best as I can tell, you’re premise is this: men are worthless because they don’t lead and love their wives well. Here’s the thing: I don’t disagree with your frustration. I get it. There is an epidemic of a lack of male leadership in the church. Yes, by and large men fill the offices and hold the titles. But you and I both know that the title doesn’t make the man. So yes, I agree, there’s a lack of male leadership. And leadership is hard. There is a fine line between passivity and domestic despotism; blessed is the man who can tightrope it.

But then you lose me. Because you blame this failure of men at the feet of women and Feminism. You said

“Every time men try to put their heads out there and lead, it gets whacked off. Too many evangelical women with strong Feminist leanings lament the lack of strong men while living out a worldview that emasculates men.”

and also

“It’s very telling that when a man does actually speak out against feminism, most of the responses from other evangelical men are nothing more than virtue signaling for Feminism. Too many men are infected with Pansyism. The guys have joined the girls, but fellas, the dress doesn’t fit nor flatter you.”

So let’s talk about this. I’m assuming that you’re talking about Third Wave, hyper, xym/xyr, shaved head, fishmouth, campus feminism. And yeah, they’re batty. You don’t have to tell me twice, that’s some crazy stuff. Postmodernism has never been more alive and well in the culture.

But the Church isn’t the culture. And look, maybe I’m misunderstanding. Maybe when you say most Evangelicals, you’re talking about Mainline liberal denominations. But you didn’t say that. In an attempt to be clever, you weren’t clear.

Because what you’re describing, I don’t see. You’ve said, “‘submission’ has come to mean the husband should merely lead the discussion but the wife has veto power over any decision.” I asked my wife when that’s ever happened in our short time being married. We couldn’t think of any. Now she’s pushed back on things. She’s by no means a doormat. If I wanted a doormat I’d buy one. If I wanted to just have someone who always obeyed my commands without any hesitation, I’d just get a dog.

You’ve said “Feminism lives out in the church in various ways.” Now you don’t list those ways. You just say that it happens. If you’re going to make the claim you have to prove it. But I think you’re just building a straw(wo)man out of “Evangelical Feminism”. I get it, it’s the in thing to do if you’re a white American male. Cause honestly I too hear the rhetoric and go “man I don’t think I’m as awful as they say I am”.

But I don’t think we can lay the fault at the feet of Feminism, rush off and form an Evangelical version of the Proud Boys. Yeah maybe it’s a symptom. It’s not the disease. Becaus this isn’t a new issue.

We’ve been doing this since the Fall. It’s not feminism’s fault men don’t lead well; it’s Adam’s. Sin came in the world through one man (Rom 5:12) and from that point forward, we’ve not been leading well. Now you may take this and run with it and say, “Yes but Feminism is the result of the Fall and that’s totally what I meant to get across” but that’s not what you said. Again, you were clever; but you weren’t clear.

So sure you’ve not taken it so far as To suggest that I should put my boot on my wife’s neck physically or even emotionally. But by calling us worthless, and holding up this legalistic approach to marriage, you’ve certainly asked me to do it spiritually. Because if, according to you, I am to find any worth as a Christian, then my home better be immaculate. My wife better do what I say the first time. Because Feminism has ravaged my home and the Church.

But Robert, I think I’m going to pass on that. Rather, I’m going to love my wife by trying to find SnoCaps for her. I’m going to love my wife by taking on some chores when she’s had a rough day. I’m going to love my wife by pointing her to Jesus as best I can. By leading not to despotism, but to grace.

And if I’m honest, I’m going to fail. Like every husband that’s come before me, I’m going to fail. And when I do, it won’t be becuse I’m worthless. It will be because as much as I am a saint, I still am a sinner. But the way to press forward isn’t by wrenching my stones away from Feminism and demanding obedience, but by looking to Christ; the true and better Husband.

Sure Robert, that’s probably what you meant to say. You probably meant all of what I just said. You just didn’t say it. You were being clever; not clear. But when we put extra law and an impossible standard up for where our worth is, we fail. When we put the blame on Feminism, instead of looking at the sin in our own hearts, we fail. When we fail to rest in Christ, we most certainly fail.

So Robert, I’m going to just tell you. I’m not going to kill my wife and my marriage on the altar of “masculinity”. I won’t lead perfectly. But, Christ died for me and my failure to lead- there’s grace for that. I’m not worthless, but I wish I could say the same about your article.

To the rest of you: if you’d like to hear Hannah’s push back about Women Being Worthless click here

 

 

When Your Sin is Exposed, Run to Jesus

When Your Sin is

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
– Hebrews 4:12-16, NIV

Every pastor has a pastor – someone that they can talk with and go to for spiritual advice. If you’re a pastor, and you don’t have a pastor, then get one. You’ll go insane. At the very least, get a therapist. I don’t really recommend that option because therapists tend to charge by the hour and ask you about your feelings in a very unfeeling way, but I digress.

I was listening to a recent sermon my pastor (which can find at this link), and he briefly expounded on Hebrews 4:12-16, and I wanted to share with you my take away from his exposition.

Notice, first of all, that our passage tells us of the sharpness of God’s word, and how it is that sharpness that tears into the root of our being. And what is it that is at the core our being? Sin. We’re sinful, and the word of God exposes that sin before a holy God. The same holy God before whose presence Isaiah feared that he might die because he was a man of unclean lips. So, if this is the case, then what hope is there for us?

Our hope is that Jesus is a faithful high priest who has taken upon Himself the sins of those who run to Him for light and life. Because He always lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25), we are able to approach the throne of grace and receive mercy in the time of need. And when do we need mercy? All the time, especially when we see our sin exposed before Him, and do you know what? We can rejoice because it has all been laid on Christ.

“Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid”
– Keith Getty & Stuart Townsend

“And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
– Revelation 5:9-10, NIV

Jesus paid for you, and He continually intercedes for you. Go in peace.

I Still Need the Sacraments

Sacraments

Growing up, I dreaded the first Sunday of each quarter. Every time during the evening service we would have Lord’s Supper after the sermon. It was clockwork, without fail. I dreaded these services because they seemed to always have the same emphasis: if there is any sin in your life, you need to repent or not take the cracker and juice this time. Like a self barring of the table. Every instance I took communion, but if I’m honest; every time I just seemed to be reminded that I’m a sinner. It was a parade of guilt and pleading.

Flash forward to today. I am not looking forward to work this week  I like my job, but the weekend has rushed by far too fast. It’s been like that for years. Everything moves faster as I’m starting to get older. There are demands for me to always have my best foot forward. Everything must be regulated and perfect. You must always think that I’m strong and never know I’m a sinner. But every Sunday, for just a brief few minutes I can stop and openly, publicly confess that I’m not strong. That at the end of the day I am weak. When it comes down to it I am sloppy and sinful. Through the Sacraments, you and I are invited to publicly proclaim that we do not have it all together. These visible signs and seals of the Gospel aren’t dead rituals that we perform. They are not there for those who think they are worthy. Christ does not call His people to clean themselves up before they come to the font or the table. But rather, He invites us, saying “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink”. We still need the sacraments.

Because We Are Sinners…and Saints

Week after week I find myself still sinning. I still speak too harshly to my wife. I still hate that guy who cut me off in traffic. I still lie about if I’m angry. I still get angry about things that don’t matter. I still fight my wandering eye, and I still do the right thing with a bad attitude. Sanctification is progressive and slow. Laying at bed from time to time, I am faced again with the fact that I just can’t get right. I am reminded of past failures of arrogance and pride. But it is vitally important to remember the sacraments. We have every grace to look back to our baptism in faith and see once more that God has promised us: I will be your God. I will wash you. I will make you clean. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.” (1 Cor 6:11). God promises us through baptism that we are, by faith, truly forgiven.

That promise is extended again to us in the Lord’s Supper. In this sacrament he nourishes with His body and His blood. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life…Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6) If we are Christ’s, He calls us to come to the table and feast. Not because we are perfect or have it all together, but because we don’t. Not because we are worthy, but because He is gracious. Not because we are in some way righteous, but because He has given us His righteousness.

By coming to Communion we are reminded that by faith in Christ we are already clean, already promised to make it all the way. When Christ says that through his flesh and blood we “abide” he seems to indicate that this sacrament is beneficial for our sanctification. By that, I mean that Communion is a God ordained means whereby He shows us repeatedly His Gospel promises. Through Baptism and Communion, we are pointed to Christ through them, and thus, looking to Him by faith, are brought into a more perfect relationship with Him. We still need the sacraments because God has given them for us to abide in Him.

 

So fear not, dear Christian, that you do not belong at the font or table. Run to them. Bring your children to them, let them see what’s going on. Do not let your failures in the Christian walk cause you to hesitate or doubt your ability to come. This water is for you and your children. This table is for you to sustain you by faith. Come to the Sacraments, not as a dead ritual that just signals that the service is coming to a close. But come to it as a God given necessity for the Christian life.

The Gospel for Cynics, Doubters, and Skeptics

GospelForCynics

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” – John 1:43-51, NRSV

I’m going to have the privilege of teaching over this passage in Bible Study at my church in a couple of weeks and the more I read this passage, the more I can’t help but think about the different personalities that come into play here.

Philip

In the passage, Philip is mentioned first. Jesus said, “Follow me” and that’s exactly what Philip did. Philip followed him without question or hesitation. Now, what does Philip do? He finds Nathanael, and he tells him that they’ve found the Messiah. We’ll touch on Nathanael’s response in a bit, but notice Philip. He seems enthusiastic about telling people about the Messiah. This same enthusiasm is a common personality trait of his. It’s why he’s able to be an effective witness to the Gospel of Christ.

In Acts 8, he witnesses to and baptizes a eunuch and in Acts 21:8 he is given the title of ‘Evangelist.’   I think it’s fair to deduce from what little the New Testament has to say about Philip that he is someone who is optimistic, and he’s someone that we might refer to as a ‘go getter.’

Personally, I can’t relate.

However, pay attention to what Philip says when Nathanael tries to argue with him – “come and see.” I think modern Christendom can learn a thing or two simply pausing and reflecting on this passage. Philip doesn’t try to argue with Nathanael, he just says, “Come and see.” He’s saying, “Alright, find out for yourself.”

You see ads all the time that have money-back guarantees and they say, “If you’re not completely satisfied with the product then send it back and you’ll get your money back.” Now, we know that’s not entirely true. Before you’re able to get your money back, there’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape that you have to go through, but what Philip says to Nathanael is better than a money-back guarantee. He simply says, “Come and see.”

Honestly, I think that’s the most effective way to evangelize. You not see a boost in church attendance by evangelizing like that, but that’s because we’ve defined success by the numbers, but that’s another blog post for another time.

Nathanael

I can relate to Nathanael. Notice his response to Philip – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Why would Nathanael say this? I would say that Nathanael is being realistic.

As we’ll see later, Nathanael is a student of Old Testament. There’s not anything mentioned about the Messiah coming from Nazareth. Nazareth was also a poor village and possibly known for its moral corruption. Usually poverty and crime go hand in hand so it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to think of Nazareth as such a town.

Nathanael is having a hard time conceiving the notion that the Messiah that he believed was going to be coming to bring political revolution to the Jews was going to be coming from a place like Nazareth.

When He sees Jesus, Jesus says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Before Nathanael fully recognizes Jesus for who He is, he’s probably thinking, “Alright, this guys is trying to sell me something so he asks, “Where did you get to know me?”

He wants to be sure that Jesus is really the Chosen One of God, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be sure. Notice what Jesus says – “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” This is where we learn about Nathanael being a student of the Scriptures.

Cultural context is important because things in Scripture aren’t always as they appear on the surface. When we read this without cultural we might, “Oh, Jesus had a vision of Nathanael chilling out under a fig tree.” It’s not that simple.

According to the NIV First Century Study Bible, ‘under the fig tree’ was a euphemism for studying the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus pointed out that Nathanael was a ‘true Israelite’ because he had been studying the Scriptures. We see this taken a step farther whenever Jesus mentions that they would see “angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” There’s only one other place in Scripture where that phrase is used and it’s in Genesis 28:10-15 where Jacob has a vision of a stairway going into Heaven and angels ascending and descending on the stairway.

In Genesis 28, after Jacob has the vision, God reminds him of the promise to bless his seed. Jesus was communicating to Nathanael the promise to bless his Jacob’s seed has been fulfilled in Himself. He is the stairway to Heaven between God and man.

Jesus

Finally, we come to the personality of Jesus. If I were going to fully talk about how Jesus is, it would take too long so I simply want to look at how He is portrayed in this passage.

First, Jesus is humble. Although His humility is not directly alluded to in the passage, I think it’s something that we can still deduce when we consider Jesus coming from a town like Nazareth. I already mentioned that the town itself was probably a ghetto filled with poverty and moral corruption.

It would’ve been enough for Jesus to put on human flesh and live on earth, but it wasn’t enough for Him. He knew the kind of life He was getting into. He chose to be born to Joseph and Mary. He knew they would live in Nazareth – that little podunk village that nothing good can come from. He chose that life. Jesus is of more value and worth than we could ever attribute to Him and yet, He chooses to live among the meek, the lowly, the humble, and the outcast so that those meek, lowly, humble, and outcast could see that He relates to them.

Second, Jesus is understanding. When Nathanael asks Him how He got to know him, Jesus doesn’t have to give Nathanael an answer. Jesus doesn’t him anything, and yet he understands Nathanael’s desire for an explanation.

Jesus seeks us out as we are, not as we’re going to be. He looks into our souls and He sees us – the real us, not the mask we put on for the others, but the real, broken, insecure us that has a an existential crisis at least three times a week at the most inconvenient times.

Jesus understands us, and that is why the writer of Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NRSV)

What Breaking Lent Taught Me

BreakingLent

Over the last several years, God has developed in me an appreciation for the liturgical calendar and some of the more “high church” traditions of the body of Christ, two of those traditions being Ash Wednesday and Lent.

This is the first year that I’ve decided to celebrate Lent and so I thought I would give up carbonated beverages since I usually have one of those with me at all times. It was hard for the few days, but it got easier – especially when I learned that the Sundays don’t actually count in Lent, but then it got harder again when I started having caffeine withdrawals. So, I became weak and I broke my commitment. As we speak, I’m sipping on a berry flavored Rip It that I bought at a local convenience store before work. Now that I’ve failed, where do I go from here? Do I just give up and try again next year? Someone might do that, but not me. After I finish this tall can of faux sugar, carbon water, and caffeine, I’m going to get back on the wagon and ride again, and with God’s help, I’ll ride it all the way to Easter this time. This experience was not for naught though. I’ve learned (or been reminded rather) of two very important truths.

1. I’m weak

Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few… When you make a vow to God, do not delay fulfilling it; for he has no pleasure in fools. Fulfill what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not fulfill it.”
– Ecclesiastes 5:2, 4-5, NRSV 

I get so mad at myself when I try to do something for God and fail. I tell God that I’m going to do something productive or important for Him and then I end up falling on my face.  Sometimes I get so frustrated I just hang my head and ask, “Why am I such a screw up?” And then after I’ve had my pity party and bemoaned my existence for a while, I realize that God often uses our weaknesses to keep us humble.

If there was anyone who had any right to brag, it was the Apostle Paul. He was educated at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a high-ranking and extremely official for the Sanhedrin. He was personally selected by Jesus to carry the message of the Gospel. He planted several churches, survived beatings and shipwrecks, preached before kings and other dignitaries, debated with the most intellectual of pagans on Mars Hill, and he wrote 2/3 of the New Testament. Yet, out of everything, he still had a “thorn in the flesh.” He had a weakness of some kind that kept him humble.

 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:6-7, NLT

Whenever we fail at keeping our commitments to God, He isn’t surprised or taken aback at us, but rather He looks on us with compassion because His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, took on weak and frail flesh to show us that He identifies with our weakness, and in our weakness, God is shown to be strong.

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength…  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:25, 28-29, NRSV

In 1st Corinthians 1, Paul addresses the congregation at Corinth and reminds them that they look weak to the world, and their Gospel message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ seemed foolish, but God uses what seems foolish and weak to show His wisdom and His power. His wisdom is Christ Himself, and His power is the message that Jesus came to save sinners. In our weakness, God is glorified because it reminds us that we must always depend on Him and not our own effort.

2. God’s grace is sufficient.

“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NLT

We should learn to be friends with the fact that we’re weak. Notice that I didn’t say that we should make friends with our weaknesses. Paul prayed for his “thorn in the flesh” to be taken away and so I think we should pray for ours to be taken away too, but if it doesn’t get taken away we should remember why it’s there in the first place.

God shows us His grace and His strength in the places in our lives where see weakness and frailty. We are insufficient to fulfill all the vows that we make to Him, but He is more than sufficient with a supply of grace to equip us for the tasks to which He has called us. To Him be glory, power, and dominion. Forever and ever. Amen.