Humility and How I Achieved It … ???

Many have pointed out that humility is the essential virtue that we cannot “work on.” Think about the fictitious book, Humility and How I Achieved It. It’s a joke, right? If you’re writing a book about how you achieved humility, how much humility do you really have? Humility by definition does not focus on its own presence or quality. This is what Paul had in mind as he wrote his Philippian friends about how to live together:

“… complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Because humility is a supremely Christlike virtue, we often find in the Christian community the oxymoronic attempt to act humble. The reason is clear; we wish to acquire the respect that comes with being perceived in the Christian community as a Christlike or humble person, while at the same time enjoying a very hefty prestige based on this “humility.” How odd. This is especially present among long-time, well-churched Christians. It is a spiritual malady of the “mature.”

How should we respond then? Since we can’t “cultivate” humility like we would certain other virtues, is there any hope for us to actually grow in it? Good News: There Is! Christlike humility is attempting to spring up within us all the time.  It is growing through the only means possible in a pride-saturated world—humiliation. Interestingly, our culture treats the idea of humility as a virtue and the concept of humiliation as a vice, even though they come from the same root. Nobody in western society, tutored as we are in the gospel of self-esteem, embraces humiliation in any form. We are nagged relentlessly to “stand up for ourselves,” “demand respect,” “fulfill our potential,” and “get our best lives now.”

Humiliation is the acquisition of genuine humility through the most honest means available. It need not be public humiliation, or even very severe for that matter, but it is the piercing, conscious awareness of specific failure coupled with a sense of needing and receiving grace from the Lord. It is one of the essential ingredients in what the Bible calls repentance, the first step into eternal life. But it’s not just the first step, is it? Do we not learn to walk in this humble repentance always? Is this not walking in the Spirit? (Gal.5:25-26).

Let me suggest that true humility is actually growing in us when the Lord arranges for us to be sinned against, slighted, ignored, embarrassed, or in some way hurt by others. At moments like these, when angry self-righteousness so naturally erupts, we might ask ourselves the same question God asked Jonah, “Do you have a right to be so angry?” What would our reaction be if we really didn’t care about our reputation or prestige and only cared about the truth, the needs of others, or the will of the Lord in the situation? In other words, what would it be like if we thought like Jesus on the subject at hand?

I have heard Christians seriously teach that, “It’s a sin to allow anybody to sin against you,” which would mean of course that our Lord is the worst sinner of all time (!). Do we have to let others sin against us in every case? Of course not. Justice is also a virtue. But as Christians we have the right and the power to let others hurt us unjustly without retaliating. And the exercise of doing just that is the one way we can cooperate with the growth of humility in our hearts. How else could our Lord teach and demonstrate his famous instruction to turn the other cheek (Take a moment to look up the following verses: Matt.5:38-42; Romans 12:14-21; 1 Peter 2:19-25). Jesus saved the world by doing precisely what he instructs us to do in strategic situations—let pain and humiliation happen to us. The result in us is a true selflessness, a relief from the burden of appearing perfect, of living up to the unbearable weight of our own reputation for maturity. Under the grace of the Lord, we will sense the love, joy and peace—the relief—that comes from simply loving and being loved by the Lord himself (See 1 Cor.13).

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick

Is Jesus Really the Messiah?

A pastoral letter by by Rick Booye
So, you ran across an article on the internet in which a Jewish fellow outlined what he believed were reasons that Jesus of Nazareth can’t be Messiah. Interesting. Let me share why literally billions of people over the last 2000 years have believed that Jesus is the Messiah.However, before I do that, I’d like to clarify something.

When Jewish folk (and others as well) deny that Jesus is Lord and Messiah, they seem to expect Christians to “prove” Christ’s identity from the perspective of their own skepticism. In other words, they say, “You must prove Jesus is Christ without any reference to the Christian eye-witness documentation about him, which we don’t accept. You must prove Christ’s identity beyond a shadow of doubt (How many truth claims can be thus proven?) to a determined skeptic, using nothing but the Old Testament and assuming all the skeptical presuppositions.” This is illicitly stacking the deck against the Christian claim, completely discounting the positive evidence laid out by the Jewish disciples of Christ in the first century and in the generations that followed. It’s like the Holocaust Denial groups today that simply refuse to accept the eye-witness testimony to the atrocities of the Third Reich during WWII. They say, “Prove the holocaust happened, but we won’t accept any of the actual research, documentation, testimony, or witness of anybody who was there or believes the people who were there.” It’s a profoundly dishonest way to argue. What the rejection of Jesus as Messiah amounts to in these sorts of articles is basically a statement like, “Jesus of Nazareth can’t be Messiah because he doesn’t meet my/our interpretation of the criteria for Messiah.” This is not a profoundly persuasive refutation of the life and work of Jesus. “He’s not what we expected.” Well…obviously. He didn’t meet the Jews’ expectations at the time they crucified him either. But he did do a lot of other things that indicate that he is who he claimed to be. And don’t forget that all the converts to Jesus Christ in the first generation were Jews, some (like Saul of Tarsus) highly educated and profoundly skeptical prior to their conversion.
With that being said, let me lay out what I believe are three good reasons that a Jewish skeptic should take a second look at Jesus the Messiah. In order of importance, as related in the main Christian documentation, the reasons for trusting Jesus as Messiah are as follows:
1. He came back from the dead. This fact was the cornerstone of Christian witness concerning Jesus’ identity as Messiah and remains so today (Acts 17:31; Rom.1:1-4; 1 Cor.15:1-8). If it is true (and it is) this achievement by itself serves as the primary proof of Christ’s person. We agree with the Jewish perspective, based on the Bible, that God alone has control of life and death. If then a man accepts the testimony of his closest friends that he is truly Messiah, then comes back from the dead, one should be inclined to listen to him (See Matt.16:13-17:13). The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth has very firm eye-witness testimony and solid textual support. This amounts to a small avalanche of historical evidence that has been thoroughly sifted, tested, attacked, and denied, yet still stands. Many books have been written about the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, none of which have been refuted, though they have been summarily denied by skeptics. But remember that simply denying something is not the same as disproving it. I would recommend renowned New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright’s recent and exhaustive work, The Resurrection of the Son of God. But also older books like Josh McDowell’s, Evidence That Demands a Verdict and Frank Morrison’s classic, Who Moved the Stone will provide compelling argumentation in favor of accepting the crystal clear testimony of Jesus’ closest friends and associates that he did indeed come back from the dead and did explain how the Old Testament is about his death, burial and resurrection (see Luke 24:25-27; 44-47)

2. He has replaced the Jerusalem Temple. The Temple is no more. In biblical Judaism the temple, along with the priesthood and the sacrificial system, forms the only way to approach YHWH in covenant. The reason for the temple and its program is that there had to be a sacrifice for sins (Lev.17:11). And Israel always had that temple, from the initial construction of the tabernacle under Moses, to Solomon’s Temple, to the Second Temple built by Zerubbabel and remodeled by Herod the Great. The only time Israel was without its temple was during the Babylonian Captivity, a seventy-year period in the 6th century BC during which the Lord disciplined the nation for its apostasy. But in that case he warned them over a period of several generations through the prophets (see especially Jeremiah). He sent them away to Babylon, but promised that they would return and rebuild the temple, which they did (Jer.29:10-14). The point is that God always used the temple to connect with his covenant people in grace. So, how is it that without any prophetic voice or warning the Lord lets his temple, the center of his personal relationship with Israel, get destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD? That’s a colossal oversight in God’s dealings with his people, unless he provided some message that explains it.
Interestingly, if you for a moment take seriously the material in the gospels, you find an Old Testament prophet (John the Baptist) prophesying judgment on Israel again, and bearing eloquent witness to another man whom he refers to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (Jn.1:29). That man is Jesus of Nazareth, who in the next chapter of John’s gospel refers to his own body as the temple—the meeting place of God and man (Jn.2:18-21). You also find in the gospels a prediction by Jesus regarding the fall of the Jerusalem temple (Matt.12:6; 23:37-39; Lk.21:5-6), a prophecy that came to pass exactly as Jesus predicted. Jesus healed people by the hundreds, raised some of them from the dead, cast out demons left and right, made food out of practically nothing on more than one occasion, walked on water, stilled the storms with a word, and came back from the dead himself after three days in the grave. What do people want?! So, on the one hand you have the destruction of God’s personal Old Covenant temple and system, and on the other hand a prophet who points to Messiah who in turn does all these amazing things. Hello…!! If John was not a true prophet, and Jesus is not Messiah, why did God let the temple go away? How is the Holy God dealing with sin today if not through the man Jesus?
3. He does fit the Messianic bill. The Old Testament describes Messiah in terms that fit Jesus, and only Jesus. The material about this is vast and well documented in books like the ones I just recommended, so I will not review it here. But suffice it to say that the themes of Messiah in the Old Testament, notably in passages like Isaiah 9:6-7 and chapter 53, fit Jesus of Nazareth perfectly if you take seriously what he says about himself, the fact that he was a miracle worker who was resurrected, and that he will return to judge the world. But again, you must come to the texts of the New Testament with some sort of an open mind in order to come to these conclusions. If you refuse to take seriously the actual documentation written by Jesus’ contemporaries and their friends, then of course you can postulate reasons not to see Jesus as Messiah. This is what skeptics like the one who wrote that article rely on. They reject the New Testament out of hand, and then point to the fact that Jesus therefore cannot be Messiah. It’s an inverted kind of circular reasoning.
So, I would not let skepticism of this circular sort shake your faith in Christ or in his friends and family, all of whom bear eloquent witness to his identity. These people sealed their testimony with their own blood. There is every reason to trust what they say—and every reason to trust Christ Jesus as Lord.

A Story of Grace

Once upon a time there was a wealthy and generous businessman.  He had a wife and a small son.  Since his wealth enabled him to pursue personal interests, he put his mind to improving the lot of those less fortunate.  In his research he found a tribe of cannibals in the Amazon jungle that was suffering in a stone-age culture.  He decided to go and see if he could help them.

 He moved his family to the area, made contact, learned the language, and slowly moved into the outskirts of the village.  Things seemed to work well for a time and he thought perhaps he might be able to teach these people about farming, medicine, and other beneficial practices.  But the tribe never really accepted him or his family and one night they surrounded his hut, attacked and slaughtered his wife and son in front of him.  Miraculously he escaped to his riverboat and was able to return to civilization.

 Against all odds and still wracked with grief, the generous man re-provisioned himself and within a few weeks sought to re-enter the tribe.  He talked to the leaders who were so surprised at his return that they didn’t kill him.  Again he set up camp on the outskirts of the village and began to seek relationship with the people.  They all pushed him away, threatening his life.  So he decided to chose one particular family and make it his mission to care for them in a special way.  He did this through gifts, which were at first refused.  But as time passed the family was wooed toward him by his gracious deeds and gradually they completely turned around in their attitude toward him.  Though they were not able to convince any other villagers, they themselves began a loving and close relationship with the man.  He taught them a new way of life and gave them the benefit of his wealth, his position, and his name.  They even moved into the man’s hut, which was expanded to accommodate them.  In addition the man promised to bring his new family to his own land and country, where there would be a wonderful place for them to live according to the new things they had learned from him.

The tribe continued in their stone-age behaviors, all the while looking with suspicion and hatred on the man and even extending that hatred now to the family he had befriended.  Though the doors remained open to any who would enter a personal relationship with the man, none did.  And he did not pursue them.

As the day drew near for the man and his adopted family to return to his country a very volatile situation arose.  Angry village residents, men, women and children, surrounded his hut.  They intended to kill him and his new family.  As the tension rose, the philanthropist stepped out the front door and demanded an explanation from the tribal council for their threats and impending attack.

The tribal leaders angrily responded by charging the man with being unfair to the rest of the tribe by not taking them with him and blessing them in the same way as the family who had turned around.  The leaders were so incensed by this unfairness that they had decided to kill everybody in the man’s hut and burn it to the ground.

Questions:

 

  1. If you were the philanthropist, how do you think you would respond to the charge of being unfair?
    1. Did the philanthropist owe the tribe anything before he went there?
    2. Did he owe them anything after they killed his family?
    3. Who among the cannibals did the man not treat fairly?
    4. Did anybody in the tribe not get what they really wanted?

 

  1. What are the most amazing things in the story?
    1. Not that he did not initiate a relationship with all of them, but that he initiated one with any of them!
    2. Not that the man went in the first place, but that he want back!  That he didn’t just wash his hands of the tribe completely, reject them all.

 

  1. Should we deny to God the sovereignty over his mercy that we ourselves would insist upon if we were the philanthropist in this story?
  1. If I were among these cannibals offered a pardon and a new destiny in Grace, how would I respond?

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick

Feeling Thougtful

Some years ago I sat in my study with a middle-aged, moderately successful, single Christian man I’ll call Mitch (not his real name of course).  He had made the appointment to discuss his frustration with life in general and his confusion about God’s guidance.  He was articulate, outspoken in his faith, regular in attendance at an evangelical church.  He was also a veteran of several marriages and affairs.  As we talked I asked him if he was sleeping with his current girlfriend (whom he recently met at church by the way, because he wouldn’t dream of dating anybody who wasn’t a Christian).

 “Yes,” he said, slightly surprised at my blunt, personal question.  “We know others might disapprove, but sometimes one thing leads to another and, well, you know … it’s a part of life.”

“Hmmm,” I murmured.  “So, why did you make this appointment with me?”

“Well, I need some perspective on where this relationship is going,” he said.

“Which relationship?” I asked.

Mitch frowned slightly but pleasantly with that Haven’t-you-heard-a-word-I’ve-said look.  “The one with Phyllis, of course.” (not her real name)

“Oh,” I responded.  “I thought perhaps you were wondering about your relationship with the Lord.”

“No,” he said. “That’s fine.  I’m wondering if the Lord wants me to marry Phyllis.”

“I don’t think so,” I said flatly.

His eyes widened as he sat back in his chair.  “Why not?” he asked.  It was obvious that my role in this conversation was to affirm his strong walk with the Lord and his deep desire to marry yet again, which, being God’s primary purpose for his life, would make him supremely happy … finally.

“Well, you’re not very good at marriage,” I said.  “You’ve had three, in between your girlfriends, and have not seemed to get the knack of it.  If a pilot who had flown several planes into different objects asked me if he should buy a new flying machine, I’d advise him to take up jogging.  He’s not a pilot; he’s a wrecker of aircraft.”

Mitch was speechless for a moment.  “But,” he exclaimed. “What shall I do about dating?”

“Stop,” I said simply.

“What?!” he exclaimed, leaning forward across the table.  “I have needs for companionship, intimacy.  What about that?”  He was becoming agitated now.

“I don’t think there is a biblical mandate for you to date,” I explained.  “And you’re constantly falling into evil when you get emotionally involved with women.  There is a mandate about that.  So, I’m advising celibacy instead of marriage for you.”

You would have thought I had suggested amputation (It crossed my mind actually).

“Well, I’ll have to pray about that,” he said.  He sat still, hands flat on the table between us, eyes down, scanning like a line of lights on a computer with too much data to process.

After many seconds of silence, I suggested praying.  He nodded blankly.  I prayed.  He didn’t.  He shook my hand and thanked me for my time.

I heard several months later that Mitch had married, but that things were not well.  They were seeking counsel, Christian of course.

How can a person be so well conditioned to church life that he seeks advice from his pastor, but live so immorally that the idea of celibacy seems utterly foreign?  It’s about what we consider real knowledge.  The tip-off to Mitch’s mind-set, his worldview, was in the first part of his conversation, when he essentially excused his sexual evil by assuming that this was “a part of life.”  It may be a part of life in a sense, but is God’s will not a part of life?  Apparently God’s word was not as ‘factual’ a part of Mitch’s life as his own need for intimacy.  He obviously ‘knew’ that his needs were paramount and must be met.  But God’s instruction was not quite so convincing, so ‘factual.’  Why is that?  Because Mitch’s mind has been trained in the ‘fact’ of his psychological needs, but is deficient in the perspective God presents on these needs.  He simply didn’t believe God’s view of relationships.

People always do what they truly believe, and they tend to believe what they think most about.  Thinking and believing eventually blend to form the mind.  Which is why Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”  It does not say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of faith, but of knowledge.  The presence and power of the Lord is apparently a fact God wants us to put at the front of everything else we call knowledge.  Mitch had relegated his faith in the Lord to the area of feeling, opinion, while firmly grounding his life-choices in the ‘facts’ of his needs.

The mind is the central organ of faith.  J. P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, points out that the Bible says more about knowledge than it does about faith.  He’s right.  But the statement sounds strange to our ears because most of us have been taught since we were young that vibrant faith and factual knowledge are two different things.  With our hearts we “feel and believe” and with our minds we “think and learn.”  It becomes possible then to ‘think’ one way and ‘believe’ another.  Jesus didn’t think so.  In Matt 22:37, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, he says we should “… love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind.”  He is equating these three, not dividing them.

In the biblical worldview God presents real knowledge, which we should absorb mentally and use to interpret everything else in life.  Wisdom (the ability to live faithfully and well) grows organically out of God’s revelation in His word and His world.  Scripture sees no distinction between the mind and the heart, like we assume when we say things like, “My mind is telling me one thing but my heart is telling me another!”  Or, “Don’t think about it, just do it – follow your heart.”   These statements reflect not a difference between feeling and thinking, but a conflict between desire and virtue.  The mind is very active in all such decisions.  The only question is whether it is thinking faithfully, based on God’s wisdom, or crookedly based on fallen presuppositions.

So, we must think and feel like Christians.  To do that we must treat God’s word as factual in a way that puts all other knowledge into perspective.

When a person says, “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I ask, “Is that a fact …?”

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick

Of Rocks and Stones

by Rick Booye

            They were rocks, just plain old rocks lying in the dirt, all relaxed and laid back. The rain washed them. The sun warmed them. The dust covered them. Life was as they hoped, utterly stressless, utterly useless. The rocks loved it. But it didn’t last.

Rock-life ended the day a man came by and picked a few of them up. His hands dug down around their dirty undersides and pried them out of their comfortable dust. He brushed them off, viewing them from different angles, and took them home.

At first the rocks were quite pleased with all this attention and somewhat excited to belong to a real person. After all, it’s not normal for a rock to be considered valuable enough to belong to a living being (though they secretly think they are quite important).  Certainly, it seemed that their rock-lives had taken an enjoyable turn for the better now that the man had gathered them and made them his.

The journey to their new home was pleasant enough, even if rocks are not accustomed to being carried very much (they prefer to think of themselves as self-motivated).

Once inside the house however, the rocks experienced several new sensations.  First, they were scrubbed thoroughly with water. This offended them since a certain rocky dirtiness had always been admired among them.

Next, their new owner placed them into a large cylindrical steel can. Once inside they felt a cool, thick, gritty liquid poured over them. It squished down between them and filled the cylinder past the half-way mark. Good thing rocks don’t need much air. Then a cap was screwed tight to the top. They felt the whole container tipped on its side as their new owner placed it on a motor-driven roller. He flipped the switch and the motor hummed to life. Over and over it turned the can, slowly, relentlessly. The grit scrapped their skins. They tumbled end over end.

Well, they didn’t enjoy this at all. Rocks don’t like being lumped together in close quarters. They prefer open spaces where they can imagine that they are the only ones that matter. Neither do they appreciate the implication that all rocks are basically alike in most ways, and that none is inherently better than another. Being all bunched together hurt their pride. And they really hated the friction and constant movement. They were all rolling around together, bumping, scraping, rubbing each other’s rough spots. Even when they tried hard not to rub another the wrong way, it seemed the can would turn just so and the friction would sand edges off both of them. All this was quite painful, especially at first. (Many began to think how easy life was when they were just lying around on the ground.)

The process also took a lot of time, which is something rocks usually have plenty of, but in this case they resented.

Finally it ended. The man lifted the cylinder off the motor, unscrewed the cap and tumbled the rocks out of their rolling prison. Interestingly, they had begun to roll together rather smoothly by the end of the ordeal. So many of the rough edges had been removed that the whole experience took on a new dimension. The rugged individuality that had once caused so much trouble was reduced to a very smooth surface, which retained the original shape but allowed movement and cooperation. They had become more than ordinary rocks.

As the owner rinsed them all (this last washing was quite enjoyable) he smiled his approval. They were now stones, polished and beautiful, each unique, yet fitting together perfectly. Each had a luster and depth all its own, reflecting the owner’s light in a different way, bringing a special beauty to his home. And yet, together they seemed to be more beautiful than as individuals. There was a harmony of the colors and shapes, a glorious blending of the uniquenesses.

All the former roughness was forgotten now. The stones enjoyed touching each other and belonging to their owner. They began to realize that somehow in the polisher there had been a profound change in their basic essence, something much deeper than the shine alone. They had begun to live … like Him.

Looking back now the stones view it all from a new perspective. They had never realized how dead and alone they were before the Master picked them up. Somehow, they had convinced themselves that they were not in need of polishing or change or any other life than the one they were “born” with. But now they knew the truth, that there is a life infinitely beyond the ability of a rock to understand.

They also understand that the process of grinding, scraping, and polishing was purposeful, effective. At the time it seemed inefficient and needlessly painful. All they wanted was to get out of the can and on with the program. But the can was the program.  The shine they needed was developed in the process they hated. Far from being a waste of time, the despised polisher was miraculously effective in transforming the character of the stones, which turned out to be the real project all along.

They saw now how much they needed each other. Before, as they lay in the dirt, smudged and smug in their rocky individuality, they were completely unaware of their potential as a group. Closeness and cooperation were of no value. Unity (the kind they had now) was unheard of, unimaginable. But now they couldn’t imagine being utterly alone again. Their unity was their greatest advantage. They were so much more complete together, so much more luminous and glorious belonging to each other than they could ever have hoped to be on their own.

So it was all worth it. What had appeared easy and fun had turned out to be difficult and painful. But then, what had appeared useless and destructive turned out to be transforming and rewarding. The Person had used everything to benefit His stones and they were glad of it, all of it. And His purposes for them in the future? Who knows? Anyone wise enough to turn dead rocks into living gems can be counted on to think of something.  (I Peter 2:4-5, Rom.8:28-30, Eph.4:1-6).

Believing is Seeing

by Rick Booye

 In the gospel seeing is a form of deep, intuitive perception, not simply physical viewing of material things.  Physical or material sight occurs when our eyes catch a small portion of the light spectrum, transfer it through the optic nerve, which takes it to the visual cortex in our brain, which then processes the information and instantly gives us a physical image. This happens so fast and so automatically that we completely take it for granted (unless we lose the ability to see, of course).  But in the Bible seeing is a metaphor for perceiving things that we cannot actually take in with our eyes (2 Cor.4:16-18; Heb.11:6).  Material sight is not always an advantage to us in this regard.  In fact, physical sight can get in the way of spiritual insight.  This is what happened when Eve “saw the fruit.”  The problem wasn’t that she physically viewed it.  The problem was that she interpreted what she saw not by what God told her but by what the serpent told her.  So her visual perception, interpreted by the wrong voice, produced a disastrous mental impression.  Adam did no better.  Paul tells us that Adam did not believe that the fruit would benefit him (1 Tim.2:14), yet he ate it anyway. Why?  He too was looking, but not at the fruit.  He was looking at the beautiful creature handing it to him. She had already eaten and Adam did not want to be separated from her, so he ate as well.  The result was not insight, but horror.

Part of the new perception we receive in Christ involves letting our ears inform our eyes.  We listen to God’s Word (in Christ, by the Spirit, through Scripture), which interprets what our other senses perceive.  Jesus often said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matt.11:15).  God’s word enters the spirit of a person through the ears.  That sort of hearing becomes a way of interpreting reality.  We are familiar with the phrase, “seeing is believing.”  But for a Christian there is a sense in which believing is seeing.  This is why Paul describes our life as one of faith rather than sight (2 Cor.5:7).

Interestingly, if a person’s optic nerve is severed, so that their brain doesn’t receive the visual stimuli it normally would, their visual cortex re-directs its neurons to process auditory or tactile input.  So that over time the brain processes sound and touch with the same acuity that it would have processed sight if it were available.  The result is a tremendously heightened sense of hearing and feeling (to read Braille for instance).  Is it possible for the Lord to train our intuitive interpretation of reality in such a way that we think of life like he does and respond to it the way he would if he were living our life?  Is that what we might call walking in the Spirit?  It would seem so.

In our old life we had a congenital spiritual blindness to the things of God, coupled with an obsession with the visible world.  With the new life of the Spirit came a new sense, a sort of “hearing” that processes God’s word in our spirit, altering our intuitions so that we perceive new purposes and develop new character.  We do not become less material, but we do become more Spiritual (capitalized here to indicate the Holy Spirit’s presence).  We begin to sense spiritual, moral, and relational dimensions that somehow we missed before.  This new ability grows as we practice walking with God.  But we practice hearing this way, usually, only when something in our life forces us to close our eyes to the world around.  That something is almost always unforeseen, undeserved, unfair pain and trauma (Jas.1:1-4).  So pain and grief, what Jesus called tribulation in this age (Jn.16:33), is (oddly) a good friend of faith in the same way that the weights in the gym are good friends of my muscles.

 Is it possible to physically see what appear to be random, tragic, even cruel, circumstances in our lives and trust that God is at work despite what things look like?  Should we believe that all things (especially the bad things) work out for the good of those who love the Lord and who are called according to his purpose (Rom.8:28)?  Should we continue to wait on the Lord this way long after others have given up?  Not only is it possible—it is absolutely crucial. The Lord Jesus lived this way and taught his friends to do the same (Jn.16:31-33).  In fact, every unforeseen and terrifying circumstance that presents itself to us is precisely an opportunity to think within the gospel and “see” the invisible (See 2 Cor.4:16-5:7; Rom.8:18-25).  It is an opportunity to trust that the Lord is doing something excellent that could be done in no other way than for us to endure the present, and yet quite temporary, darkness.  Does this make us grieve less or feel “happy” all the time?  No, we may still cry ourselves to sleep and wonder about our future in this age.  He loves us through our grief.  But it does give us a perspective on our trauma that enables us to navigate it in faith by what Paul calls the “eyes of the heart” (Eph.1:18-21). 

So, believing what the Lord says is a sort of “seeing” that goes beyond material sight and teaches us to live by Spiritual insight rooted in the cross and God’s love for us (Rom.8:31-39).  Believing the gospel and living in what the Lord says is seeing clearly for the first time.

Despondency

By Rick Booye

 But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”

Isaiah 49:4

 Life in this age can feel utterly devoid of purpose, hopeless, grievous, and empty.  There are times when all the color drains out, all the taste withers, all the joy dissipates, leaving us wondering why God has ordained that we continue to use up oxygen.  In this verse, nestled in the second of Isaiah’s famous Suffering Servant Songs, we hear the heart of the Lord Jesus himself prophetically expressing the despondency that touches us all sooner or later. He feels like a failure.  What a completely and universally human emotion!  The words “no purpose,” “vain,” and “for nothing” in the original clearly describe the sense of hopeless uselessness that descends on the human soul in times of desert and darkness.  

 It shocks us to see a prediction that the ultimately victorious Lord Jesus should experience such low moods as this.  Yet, it’s true.  On more than one occasion in his earthly life the Lord expressed grief and frustration in the face of the overwhelming devastation of sin and death.  And in the garden on his last night he is so torn up by the prospect of what lies ahead that he sweats blood.  He asks his closest friends plaintively, “will you not watch with me one hour?” By the following afternoon he is crying out “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me!”  This sharing of human misery under sin is why the author of Hebrews reminds us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb.4:15).  Apparently despair is not a sin.

 But despair was not the last word at the cross, and it is not the last word here. Despondency is no sin, but neither is it a permanent condition.  Jesus did cry out to God in desolation, but the last thing he said was, “It is finished.”  Something deeper than his feeling of despondency was happening and he trusted God in that.  In the second half of  our Isaiah verse he reveals what keeps him from utter and final darkness and points him toward hope—his faith in the Father’s goodness, favor, and fairness toward him despite his human feelings of failure and rejection.  He counters his internal sense of failure with this true statement: “What is due to me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” (See also Paul’s attitude in 1 Cor.4:1-5).  That means he trusts the validation that God brings by grace rather than the self-sourced confidence we so often crave.  This knowledge does not make his despondency disappear instantly, but it gives a perspective that makes it bearable.  This is true and honest faith.

 The bottom line here is this:  Feelings of grief, darkness, hopelessness, emptiness and futility often coexist in the heart of a believer with the deeper truth of God’s free and complete validation, grace and goodness.  In other words, faith in the Lord and his plan (Rom.8:28) lives side by side in our hearts with depression and despondency brought on by the hardness of this age and even by our own terrible choices.  We don’t need to be “happy” all the time to be faithful.  We can trust God completely and be thoroughly bummed out—simultaneously.  This is better news than it sounds at first.  How so?

 The fact is that he loves you, Christian friend, whether you’re depressed or not.  He does not source his love and grace toward his people in their attractiveness, their hard work, their ability to obey, their “stiff upper lip,” or their cheerful attitude.  The source of his love is his love itself (God is the eternal source of his own life at every level), permanently and graciously bestowed on depressed sinners who throw themselves on his mercy at the cross.  Oddly, one of the best ways out of despondency is to embrace it, to admit it and let it be, while at the same time letting God’s word continue to remind you that he loves you anyway and will do what is good and right for you forever by shear personal grace no matter how you feel at the moment.  The despondency we Christians may experience is real, but it is temporary.  The “happiness” that the world synthesizes in various ways to anesthetize itself is also real, but it too is temporary.  If I must choose, I’d rather be a depressed Christian than a happy pagan.