I CHOOSE GRACE

Why does God choose to work in our weaknesses rather than in our strengths? Does God want to show us who is boss? Does God have a pride problem? Does God perhaps want to humiliate us for our sin? Is God himself weak?

No. It’s because God cannot develop a relationship with his creation if we think we are strong enough to succeed by ourselves. That’s what happened in the Garden a long time ago. And it’s what happens whenever and wherever humans build their own egos (their territorial walls) against the love of another, in this case God.

God wants to love us and love is best enjoyed when neither lover is a bully or egotist.

God has already demonstrated his own weakness and vulnerability in Jesus. That’s what the incarnation is all about. Not only does God live with us but God loves with us and suffers with us in order to give love a fertile ground in which to thrive. See, God’s grace can only flourish in weakness. It’s the law of God’s universe and God’s salvation and restoration of humankind. And while much suffering is unthinkable and unbearable it is the only path of love in this world and God wants love enough that God gives freedom even to evil and greed on this journey. Certainly God can work all things to the good for those who understand this but unfortunately not many do. And God will not force his love on us or coerce us to love him. That would be abusive and meaningless.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God tells Paul that God’s love is sufficient/enough for Paul’s needs in the midst of Paul’s own suffering. And through it Paul will develop more understanding of God’s love in this world. It will be the kind of love that will develop community and form a bride for the living Christ. And through Paul’s own suffering God will develop a character that God can trust with his powerful love and restoration of this creation.

It’s as though God is letting the EGO of this world be ‘lost’ in order to be ‘found’ again.

There are a great many trees in our contemporary Gardens of Eden. And if we could we would choose them over God and make our own way. But creation doesn’t work that way. It is been arranged that we NEED each other. We love each other. We care for each other. And without suffering there would be only self-sufficiency.

Fortunately the tree is now inaccessible and unavailable try as we might to find it or grow our own.

Before the tree there was only love. Now through Christ love, eternal love, has been restored. Through the poverty of Christ our lives have been enriched. There is a choice now: self-sufficiency or grace. I CHOOSE GRACE.

God in our Sufferings

Martin Luther once suggested that the deepest revelation of the character of God is in the weakness, suffering and death on the cross.

This is the exact opposite of where humanity expected to find God. Even today some Christians expect to find God in the success of economics or the victory over such enemies as the leaders of North Korea.  Such was the expectation of the people of God in the first century. But it was not to be, at least not with Messiah Jesus.

Two verses stand out to me. One is where Paul tells the early church that most importantly he wants them to know “Christ crucified” 1Corinthians 2:2. And I am thinking of the other place where Paul, in the midst of his own suffering, hears from God, “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness” 2Corinthians 12:9.

So it got me to thinking. We are looking in all the wrong places for answers to our own suffering, for making sense of our sufferings and even our weaknesses. Christ on the cross is in the sufferings of the world. Look how the prophet writes it, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah 53:4. Stop there. Christ on the cross is literally carrying within himself the sorrows of the world and not only that but also our sins (in the next verse). That whole chapter is filled with the sufferings of the Christ and it’s in those places of weakness that Christ is in most intimate contact with us and we with him.

The prophet even writes at one point that what was seen was a Messiah being despised and rejected, not a victorious King. Even in the book of Revelation when Christ is referred to as the Lion of Judah, John turns and sees not the King of Beasts but rather “a lamb that appeared as though slain” (Revelation 5). This is the Christ who identifies with this suffering world.

And I believe that the Christ who suffered is the Father, Son, and Spirit all uniting with the world in its suffering, even now during these devastating hurricanes and their aftermath. It’s in the pain of the world that our Lord bears with us. We cannot speak of the ‘glory of the Lord’ without the ‘Christ crucified’. Love, the feeling as well as the knowledge, is most manifest in weakness. It’s what unites Christ with us and we with him. Certainly there is love in joy and happiness, and lots of money (just kidding). But look what happened to Christ on the cross as he died. He surrendered his soul, his spirit to his Father. “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit” Luke 23:46. And the Revolution and Restoration of the world began. God working in the rubble of the tragedy of that day in the most loving way our God chooses to work.

The other day I was in what might be called ‘existential despair’. In other words, I was feeling crappy about life, things that were happening or not happening. My wife could tell, probably by the way I walked past her with my head hung down and muttering to myself. Well, the next morning upon awakening I prayed fervently just to surrender to God with the sense that my life was in God’s hands. I got up with a sense of connectedness to God and later got a big hug from my wife and life seemed different, better. C.S. Lewis writes that while God whispers to us in our pleasures, God shouts to us in our pain. I guess that means that we are more open to God’s voice in our sufferings although I think it was Elijah who most clearly heard God through a ‘whisper’. (Elijah was in a dark place in those days.)

It was the quietness on Golgotha that captured the attention of the world, when a ‘slain’ lamb changed our relationship with God. God was in ‘that Christ’ reconciling the world to God’s own being. I am pretty sure that God is reconciling the WHOLE WORLD but blessed are those who know it.

I am not a fan of weakness and sorrow nor is God. Perhaps that’s why Christ takes it into himself, not just once but until there is a new heaven and hearth. He is telling us of his love for us. He could not escape the tragic death of the cross because we cannot escape the sorrows of our own lives.

Pascal once wrote that Jesus would be in agony until the end of the world. That is so that every one of us can know that Jesus won’t rest as long as he is bearing in his own soul, the soul of God, our particular sorrows, sin and sufferings. We are ‘in Christ’ in the most organic and intimate sense.

 

Message for Roseburg

If I were a pastor in that little community of Roseburg, Oregon or any community that is connected to the people there here is what I would want to say:

Let’s stay with Jesus for a while. Let’s not hurry on even to a sense of victory. The resurrection is muted. We just need to stay with Jesus. Look at his body, the blood, his tears. See his weakness on that cross. Don’t turn away with some easy answer to the senseless tragedy. No, stay with Jesus. Each one of these lives, these precious souls whose death has pierced their loved ones hearts, belongs to Jesus, the Jesus who suffers with each aching heart.

Don’t rush to change laws right now. Don’t rush to blame. Don’t rush to judgment. Just stay with Jesus.

Don’t rush to revenge. Leave that to the Lord. There was none of that on Good Friday. They just stayed with Jesus, cried with Jesus, and something in each of them died with Jesus just as something in all of us dies with these young men and women, their families and communities right now. They stood for Jesus. Jesus stands with them. Their hurt is his continuing pain. Don’t rush to find the end just yet. Believe right where you are, right where your heart breaks right not. If you need to doubt or rage against heaven, go ahead because heaven knows how to bear our doubt, disbelief or uncontrollable anger. Heaven has been here before.

Just stay with Jesus right now. That’s right. Where their blood poured out it is mingled with the blood of Jesus. That word ‘Jesus’ right now is the only word we can speak.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, ONLY A SUFFERING GOD CAN HELP NOW. May each of our hearts find a place where that suffering God can rest for a while.

Christ at the Center

Bonhoeffer has a book by this title and I tag along to him by saying that everything in this creation has come through Christ. Christ is the victim and the victor and he calls us to be his followers. Those folks in South Carolina, centered in Christ, have found the ability to grieve and grief deeply while they witness to God’s love in Christ through forgiveness. Few of us can understand their grief but those of us who do know it realize it that there is anger and sadness in the midst of anything else we are feeling. We are not naive but at the same time we are not unfaithful. We know the weakness of God in Christ and we know the defeat of death through Christ. Those families and faithful ones in Christ through their forgiveness and their celebration of life know weakness and strength.
The church is to experience both. We are to live with Christ and we are to die with Christ knowing all the while that we are in Christ and Christ in us and not even Satan and all his legions can stop God’s children from marching forward.
I pray that the light of AME Zion churches and those who stand with them will know that God’s grace is always sufficient as well as ultimately victorious.
P.S. Hopefully through it all our nation and we as individual believers will be sufficiently humble to hear God.

CRACKED POTS

The author of the Cracked Pot story is unknown; yet the wisdom that it holds is displayed in our lives daily through God’s working in and through us!

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole, which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.’I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.’

The old woman smiled, ‘Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?’ ‘That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.’ For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.’

2Corinthians 4:7f (MSG paraphrase) “If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious message around in the adorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us….We’re not much to look at…but the life of Jesus is being revealed through us.”

Just so you know the context. Paul is writing about all the trials he faced. And it was through those trials and sometimes even the failures that the life of Christ shone through. I think that about us as Christians. We are not much to look at in the world’s standards. And sometimes it doesn’t look like we are all that righteous because if we did we might mistake shining the light on us instead of Christ. So we muddle along best as we can and discover that the precious life giving spirit is leaking through us into the lives of others.

I have a friend like that. She doesn’t always think much of herself and wonders at times about her righteousness but she always leaks out some of that wonderful Christ life into my life by her honest and her sincere desire for God.

So never discount that God is up to something in your life. Always, every moment, even while you are sleeping God is carrying your cracked pot and flowers are blooming somewhere.

 

cracked pot