This Present Anguish

Being in nature, we are provided with persistent reminders of God’s word and its significance to our lives. Working on the land, there are seasons where the thistles and weeds dominate the landscape if left unattended. Once the weed has flowered and gone to seed, it is said that another 100 years of weeds will be sown on the wind – spreading across the surrounding landscape. To engage in the exhausting work of pulling out weeds by the roots year after year leads to the establishment of a pleasant and productive landscape for all to enjoy. In the bible, weeds are indicative of a problem in a persons’ heart – what lies in the heart often comes out in their speech and behavior and grows to become evident in the person’s character, their public and private life.

Listening deeply to another person’s heart takes some effort, patience and resilience when caring for others. Importantly, it is not acceptable to weigh and judge the words of others but to examine our own hearts by listening to God’s voice. You see, the unresolvable questions and burden of unpleasant experiences, if left unchecked can cause a contagious illness to spread among the hearers. This illness is described as ‘bitterness’ in the bible and is like a weed in the good soil, with the potential to destroy the crop or harvest.

Take a look at the verse in Hebrews, how the context of this verse shows that bitterness may prevent us from living in God’s grace due to unforgiveness, it destroys peace, is a barrier to living a holy life and can corrupt those around us.

Hebrews 12:14, 15 – ‘Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.’

For an excellent article on bitterness, I’ve chosen two articles, one from a woman’s perspective and one from a man’s perspective. I like Erin’s concluding sentence, indicating that we cannot dig up the weed of bitterness ourselves. For, it is only God who can cleanse our hearts and revive our communities.

Erin Davis – ‘4 Ways to Spot a Bitter Root’ on the Revive our Hearts: True Woman blog.

https://www.reviveourhearts.com/true-woman/blog/four-ways-to-spot-a-bitter-root/

John Piper – ‘What is a Root of Bitterness?’ on Desiring God, 1 April 1997.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-a-root-of-bitterness

We see the fruit of bitterness in people’s lives; anger, malice, slander, gossip, grumbling – it steals our joy, stunts the growth of the fruit of the Spirit and can even change us physically over time.

Recently, reading ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Dostoevsky, spending over 400 pages in the mind of a bitter and tormented man who longs to know God and the love of another; I found this interesting summary of what it is like to live in anguish… (emphasis mine)

“He kept tormenting himself with these questions, even taking a certain delight in it. None of the questions was new or sudden, however; they were all old, sore, long-standing. They had begun torturing him long ago and had worn out his heart. Long, long ago this present anguish had been born in him, had grown, accumulated, and ripened recently and become concentrated, taking the form of a horrible, wild, and fantastic question that tormented his heart and mind, irresistibly demanding resolution… Clearly, he now had not to be anguished, not to suffer passively, by mere reasoning about unresolvable questions, but to do something without fail, at once, quickly. Decide at all costs to do at least something, or… ‘or renounce life altogether!’ he suddenly cried out in frenzy. ‘Accept fate obediently as it is, once and for all, and stifle everything in myself, renouncing any right to act, to live, to love!’ (43)

‘He was pale, his eyes were burning, all his limbs felt exhausted, but he suddenly seemed to breathe more easily. He felt he had just thrown off the horrible burden that had been weighing him down for so long, and his soul suddenly became light and peaceful. ‘Lord! He pleaded, ‘show me my way; I renounce this cursed…. dream of mine!’

In spite of his weakness, he was not even aware of any fatigue in himself. It was as if an abscess in his heart, which had been forming all that month, had suddenly burst. Freedom! Freedom!” (57)

We are all subject to torment and anguish, we are all exposed to unpleasant experiences – though some more than others. It is a consolation that ‘no temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’ 1 Corinthians 10:13.

When we consider the character of those who have been a voice for the oppressed and led the way for change throughout history, we are strengthened in our own difficulties, no matter how small they may seem in comparison. For example, the words of Nelson Mandela speak of triumph over evil and sin, his relentless self-examination to root out any bitterness towards his oppressors is the true source of inner freedom. His selfless act to speak out for the justice of many, regardless of the consequences, leads to growth in character and opportunities for a nation’s people to be given the right to act, to live, to love – in freedom.

‘It is in the character of growth that we should learn from both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.’ – Nelson Mandela

‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’ – Nelson Mandela

What can be done to save the harvest as it is so susceptible to weeds, besides guarding our own hearts and bringing our burdens to God each day for his grace, mercy and forgiveness? We can be a gracious and merciful listening presence among others who experience this present anguish and the torment regarding the difficulties of the past. We can speak out as Christ’s love compels us, to challenge evil and oppression, the abuse of power and be a voice for the vulnerable. God’s love is revealed to others when His people come alongside another person in their life’s journey, as we pray for one another, asking God to show us the way.


Nelson Mandela on character, Foreign Correspondent’s Association’s Annual Dinner, Johannesburg, South Africa (21 November 1997). Source: From Nelson Mandela by Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by R. Pevear and L. Volokhonsky, Penguin, 1993.

Featured Image: Spear thistle (UK)

The Gospel According to…

God’s word is powerful, it spoke the universes into existence and all that is seen and unseen is held together by His powerful will and word.

We are created in God’s image and can act in accordance with His will or our own. We can act like we are the master of our universe and attempt to orchestrate the people and things in our lives for our own purposes.

All the things we say and do have consequences for ourselves and others. It is a basic right to be able to speak the truth freely without fear of retribution. When we are wronged, we would like to be able to say so, to be free to admit to our own wrongdoing without being shamed or humiliated for doing so.

Our speech and actions inform others about our values, our ethos and our purposes in life, whether directed towards the Creator of the universes, or as a master of our own making.

We hear the word ‘gospel’ used for all sorts of things, just as there is a ‘bible’ available for all sorts of hobbies and pursuits. These words try to impose an image of right-thinking or right-acting on the person or work when it ain’t necessarily so.

A ‘gospel’ that is holding fast to an outdated English version of the Bible, that aims its message towards less than half of the world’s population because of the gender they were born.

It ain’t necessarily so.

A ‘gospel’ that denies the legitimacy of young people, older people, frail people or ‘those people’ to a calling or vocation in the name of the ‘gospel’ because it was not first ordained by a crooked stick.

It ain’t necessarily so.

A ‘gospel’ that decides that all people who visit a certain type of building on Sundays (or Saturdays) are not ‘covered’ by God’s grace and mercy like those in a particular ‘chosen’ flock.

It ain’t necessarily so.

Perhaps those who wear fancy robes or speak in flowery prose are too old school to be considered part of the updated, renovated plan of the ‘gospel.’

A ‘gospel’ that excludes. A ‘gospel’ of conditions and revisions.

It ain’t necessarily so.

God’s flock is much greater than the people in your midst or on your friends’ list. The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is the servant and sacrifice for all humanity. He calls us to follow His voice, to love and serve all people – especially the lost, the weak and the poor. Who do you serve? Who or what do you pray for? Is this God’s desire for our lives, is it God’s image we reflect, or our own to which we aspire?


Loving God, you are the author and sustainer of all things, including us. Help us to truly know your grace and mercy in our own lives and to reflect your image, Your glory, to others in all we do and say. Open our eyes to the worldwide fellowship of your church who acknowledge the Gospel truth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

sheep-herds-around-the-world-20

 

Image Credits: Sheep in Kerry, Ireland – Little Black Sheep

A Monotone Monofaith in My Salvation

The message of many Christian evangelicals is one of personal salvation by faith in Christ. This is perceived to be the essence of our belief in the one true God, who sacrificed His Son so that ‘I’ may be saved. This message, while correct, is only a portion of the message, yet it appeals to our desire to be seen as acceptable – in God’s sight and in the sight of others. It comes with a bitter pill of accepting that without God I am unacceptable, I am a sinner, my life before Christ was full of sin and I must repent of my former ways and become completely new.

This is an uncomfortable message of a mini-gospel – The evangelist who first shares this message with a non-believer earnestly wishes to see whether their persuasive words take effect in that person’s heart and mind so that they can imagine another notch on their belt of salvific works in partnership with God. They have thrown another soul into the lifeboat of which they are at the helm. We look out onto the sea and there are so many souls bobbing around if only they would accept our offer of God’s help and be saved. If they do not, they are not wise, but foolish and will deny it at their own peril.

We can look out to a sea of lifeboats, all of various shapes and sizes and colours, with completely different people at the helm. Some will make the lifeboat as comfortable and attractive as possible, knowing that passers-by will simply climb onto the rope ladder hung over the edge. Others do not allow just anyone in; they must be tested and drilled for their knowledge and beliefs first.  Some make the soul survivors recite special words, like an entrance test before they can be deemed acceptable to join the lifeboat. While some will not accept anyone who has been in a different lifeboat and jumped out when they were starved or mistreated – such people will be treated with suspicion as to why they ‘jumped ship’.

This analogy is not at all biblical. Yet it is such a common lived experience of the Christian life that perhaps it has become normalised and is no longer challenged. Its prevalence has been growing steadily for the past 500 years, though it is as old as the Church itself.

If we were to take a bird’s eye view of this scene, how does this look like a family, a Kingdom of God, a bride prepared for her groom, a body consisting of many parts?

Many evangelical Christian faithfully rote-learn passages from the Bible, especially from Romans, but it takes regular prayer and reflection to examine the context. Here in Romans 12:1 we are given what can be perceived as a ‘do or die’ message. This is the way many live their faith, it is honourable, we make sacrifices, and we sacrifice our own wellbeing and sometimes our friends and families for the sake of the ‘gospel’. Yet, this is also a message fed to us by the world – that our own plans and purposes (for work, for achievement, for accolades) are more important than relationships with others. I contend that God’s will is – good pleasing and perfect, and our will is not. The will of the world is one of selfish ambition and it can creep into our lives, our faith, our ministries and families on a daily basis. Our personalised mini-gospel is too small for God’s kingdom purposes.

A Living Sacrifice

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

God’s View of Gospel Church

It is no accident that the following verses of Romans 12 set out exactly what God’s will for the Gospel church looks like (ps. there is no notion of individual lifeboats floating on an ocean of drowning souls):

Humble Service in the Body of Christ

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your (the) faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, (or to provide for others*) do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Romans 125 collage

What is the image of a Gospel-shaped faith that seeks to love God and one another in all of our lives? A chorus of voices proclaiming the Gospel to every nation in many languages, inspiring hope in salvation for all God’s people for His purposes for eternity. A lived faith in God as our Creator, Redeemer and Helper for the sake and salvation of the world.

 


*Notes:

  • Rom 12:8 – the one who leads (προιστημι) has a sense of direction, protection, ‘to care for’, ‘to help’, ‘to assist’, ‘to join with’. – Strongs Greek #4291

 

Image Credit for  Photo Collage:

Sunset family on beach – Photo by Stuart Vivier on Unsplash

Mountain hiking group – Photo by Kevin Delvecchio on Unsplash

Faith heart woman – Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

Bible verses and notes from bible.com

© Lisa Haynes 2018

The Hands of a Surgeon

We put our lives in people’s hands every day. Pilots, train drivers, medical staff, even those who prepare our food at restaurants, these are just some of those skilled workers who are entrusted with the lives of others. We often do not think about this trust we place in people who are complete strangers to us. We would never think to check or questions the qualifications or experience of the airline pilot or aircraft maintenance schedule before checking in our baggage at the airport.

When things do go wrong, we must also trust the integrity of those investigating the problem, that the problem will be identified and corrected.  The potential problem and the identified disaster are all invisible to our eyes, yet we feel the consequences deeply – either personally or on the news or social media. These hidden problems and their impact affect us all.

What about our own hidden problems, are they so easy to hide and deny also? To whom are these defects evident, whose responsibility is to fault-find and rectify problems? Who ‘mops up’ the consequences when our faults in the framework of our character rise up and cause collateral damage in our lives? Who can be held accountable for these things, is it that loud person standing at the complaints department who is to blame for the disruption to the peace?

It is a painful process to look within and decide that there needs to be an adjustment in our behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. It is common practice at this time of New Year to do a systems check on ourselves and our relationships from the previous year and decide upon inner-change in some form or another. Most often it is the physical aspect which is decided to be unhealthy, with resolutions to stop smoking and drinking and start exercising as the perceived way to be a better person in the year ahead. This might make us look and feel better about ourselves, it might even make others look upon us with admiration or even envy for a trim physique.

What if our true need is much deeper and the symptoms harder to identify in us? Have we been putting off the comprehensive health check that involves our temperament and behaviour towards others on a daily basis, at home, work, school, in our neighbourhood? There is a heart to this problem – the will is at work and is not easily identified as it is also our will that glosses over it. There is only one person who can see within us and search our hearts and minds and wills to determine what problem exists and rectify it.

It is the Maker who is also the Judge of our condition. God is a skilled Surgeon and can excise a wound or cancer in our character and repair and heal the damage. Sometimes what is required is a full heart transplant in order to restore us back to full health. Putting ourselves into His care and attention will require full trust in His diagnosis. We must bring ourselves to Him, remain in His presence, be still and trust in His knowledge and wisdom. To put ourselves on the operating table we need to be at rest and peace, rejoicing in the outcome of the restored body, tending the wounds from the excision with care and patience.

It is God’s purpose as the Creator of everything to ensure its good and right order, to restore us and change us to become more like His Son, Jesus – who is for us the perfect model, a blueprint for humanity, He made a way for us to be redeemed and made new, to become more and more into the likeness of Christ.

‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’ Titus 2:11-14

Lord, search us, cleanse us and change us by the work of your hands that made us, shape us into the likeness of your Son, Jesus Christ. Give us clean hands and pure hearts to live with honesty, humility and gentleness in community with one another. (Psalm 24:4)

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

surgeon-heart-hands

Heart Hands image source

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