Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Manna from Monday: When I am weak...

What makes you weak? Overwhelming grief? Chronic physical pain? Emotional turmoil? Anxiety? Consistent disappointment? The weighty memory of tragedy? I have been thinking quite a bit about weakness lately, because frankly I have not been feeling as strong as I’d like. This got me to thinking about how the Bible addresses weakness. The Apostle Paul wrestled with what Marva Dawn calls, “A Theology of Weakness.” Here are a few things I’ve learned from Paul in 2 Corinthians 11-12 and especially from Marva Dawn who has helped me read him well.

1) Be bold in confessing your weakness.

“The work of restoration cannot begin until a problem is fully faced.”

“Too often we think sharing our weaknesses will cause us to lose respect. We think making our weaknesses known will cause us to lose the honor to be able to proclaim the Word of God in our congregations or our businesses. I no longer believe that is true … The more you tell of your own failure of character, the more God will use that for His purposes.”
Dan B. Allender

These words from a writer I greatly admire square well with the inspired words of the Apostle in 2 Corinthians 11-12. Paul understood the value of declaring boldly what is wrong with you.  False teachers had derided Paul to the Corinthians as foolish and weak and whose speaking ability left a lot to be desired. Guess how Paul responded to their criticism.

“I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness but indeed you are bearing with me” (2 Cor 11.1, NASB).

“To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold – I speak in foolishness – I am just as bold myself” (2 Cor 11.21, NASB).

Paul responded to the contempt of his opponents with a hearty – Amen! He boldly declared a certain measure of worldly foolishness and he boasted in his weakness. As Dan Allender reminds us, the initial step toward healing is to face completely the real problem. Sadly, religious leaders often only encourage what Ed Friedman calls “skin deep healing.” When a physical wound occurs two kinds of healing must take place, the connective tissue below the skin and the protective tissue, the skin itself. If, however, the protective tissue heals before the connective tissue, the healing of the latter will not be complete causing more serious issues to arise later. The wound, in its entirety must be “faced fully” for healing to occur. Just because the wound is no longer visible, does not mean it is no longer there. For reasons I am still seeking to understand Pastors sometimes facilitate skin-deep healing by working to only make symptoms disappear. What we are doing is just “kicking the ball downfield” so someone else will have to pick up the pieces at a later date. This often results in further and unnecessary pain for the “wounded.” Jeremiah confronted this poor leadership more than 2,500 years ago.

“They have healed the brokenness of my people superficially, saying, “Peace, peace,” but there is no peace” (Jer 6.14, NASB).

As those in need of healing and as those who are dressing others’ wounds, may we have the wisdom to face all problems in their fullness.

2) Be eager to receive power through weakness.

            Why does Paul encourage such a positive posture toward weakness? He offers at least two reasons. 1) Weakness pushes us toward true power. Paul says this. 

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for [your] power is [brought to its end] in weakness, so that the power of Christ may tabernacle in me (2 Cor 12.9).

Paul has just described three times God denied his request to end Satanic torment in his life. The reason God said no is because God’s power is most vividly displayed when our power is exhausted. This tells us that one of the reasons God allows us to be weakened is so that he can display his power. God’s power shows up when our power runs out. This is why Paul can boast about his weaknesses, because weakness can become a catalyst for the “tabernacling” of the power of Christ within him (12.9). Don’t run from weakness. Absorb it as a way to receive Christ’s power. 

            Furthermore, Paul has a positive attitude toward weakness because 2) the Cross redefines weakness. Paul is explaining to the Corinthians why Christ has proved powerful within their midst and the reason is because of Paul’s weakness. Did you catch that? There’s a connection between the power of Christ within a local church and the weakness of its leader.

“For indeed [Christ] was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you (2 Cor 13.4, NASB).

Paul endeavored to know nothing among the Corinthians except Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2.2). The cross of Christ shaped how Paul understood his own suffering and weakness. He understood all of life through a cross-shaped lens. The suffering of Christ revealed the power and glory of God. Moreover the suffering of Jesus’ followers will necessarily reveal the power and glory of God. This reality is what made Paul comfortable with his own weakness and suffering. Paul was not eager to pursue comfort. He was eager to make much of Christ among the Gentiles and this would be accomplished the same way Christ accomplished his mission, through weakness and suffering.

The world most of us inhabit teaches us to flee suffering and chase comfort. This world leads us to believe that the comfortable have all the power and the weak can accomplish nothing. The world in which Jesus and Paul dwell, however, proclaims that the greatest power of all is demonstrated when our power comes to its end and then the power of Christ dwells within us. When we have been emptied through weakness, the gospel promises to fill us with the power of Christ. When I am weak, God’s Word teaches me to be bold in confessing my weakness. When I am weak, I can be eager to receive God’s power through the very weakness this world teaches me to fear. What is making you weak? Don’t be too hasty in running away from it. Face it. Press on toward it. And may the power of Christ rest on and within you through weakness.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Welcomed Sinners Welcome Sinners

What do Zaccheus, the Woman at the Well and Mary Magdalene have in common? I can think of at least two things. 
  1. Each is a person for whom Jesus broke a rule in order to love. 
  2. Each is a person Jesus loved enough to set them free from their sin. 

The world is full of sinners. Our church is full of sinners. Jesus loves the sinners that populate the world and our churches and desires that his love would transform them.

We can sometimes create sad rules that prevent people from encountering the transforming love of Jesus that is found within our church. When we create silly rules that block “sinners” and welcome the “righteous,” we have ceased to follow Jesus, the Head of the Church, and the transforming love of our Savior is on its way out.

Paul teaches us the problem with us sinners is not our sin (see Romans 1.19-21). Sin is rather a symptom of our greater problem of not knowing God accurately. The greater problem of not knowing God is what needs to be emphasized. Furthermore, the God who is one loving community of persons within himself longs to be known within the community of persons called the church (see John 17.20-21). Jesus made room within his community for sinners like Zaccheus, the Woman at the Well and Mary Magdalene.  If Jesus welcomed sinners, and it is Jesus whom we profess to be following – If Jesus, who welcomed sinners, is the Head of the Body then we as individuals and as a church family should endeavor to welcome sinners in Jesus’ name, because we are sinners and he welcomed us. Sinner, you have been welcomed. Sinner, will you welcome other sinners? 

Jesus expressed a loving welcome to all he encountered. Will you do the same? Will our church family do the same?