When You Cannot Walk – A Gait Trainer Faith

Our daughter, Gwendolyn, cannot walk. She cannot even sit up on her own for very long. However, we have a device called a gait trainer to help her practice walking and strengthen her legs and torso. It has a saddle and a wide, chest belt to hold her upright. There are supports to keep her legs in line and rests for her arms. Finally it has wheels that make motion possible.

Last night I was helping her walk. I push her gait trainer along as she moves her feet and holds some of her weight. She is pretty good with her right leg, but she usually lets her left foot drag. Normally, she walks between the foyer and the kitchen, but we tried something new. We walked to her bedroom, which is down a fairly long hallway with a turn. She started giggling as we made it about halfway. She seemed to be excited about the journey. She did a good job of trying to keep her feet moving and holding up her weight. I was so proud of her that I gave her claps and kisses and cheers. Why? Because she did it all on her own? No, because she did what she could. I understand her weaknesses, and I want to help her along.

That made a Scripture come to mind: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus, our high priest, is well-acquainted with my weaknesses. Weakness, in the original Greek, is astheneia. Helps Word Studies defines it as “an ailment that deprives someone of enjoying or accomplishing what they would like to do.” For Gwendolyn, her mitochondrial disease deprives her of mobility (among other things). Spiritually speaking, my weakness is sin, and it deprives me of the life I really want to live.

Jesus did not come to mock my weakness or to leave me in it. Instead, He came to walk me through it, with the power that He can provide. I certainly have my part to do, but, similar to Gwendolyn, my ability to walk the Christian life is severely hampered. I must have help. Thankfully, the indwelling Holy Spirit is there cheering me on: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). I may not even understand why I am struggling, but the Spirit knows exactly how to set my feet for the next step I need to take.

A gait trainer is designed so that the person using it may gradually walk on their own. Supports and restraints can be removed. The wheels can be loosened from a single direction to allow movement in all directions. However, it may also remain to allow for a degree of movement and freedom that someone like Gwendolyn might never achieve on her own. Paul saw this same dynamic at work in his faith. When God would not remove the “thorn” from his flesh, He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul, instead of wallowing in his weakness, proclaimed: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul is not boasting about sin as his weakness here, yet, I think the principle still applies. It is when I accept God’s help with my weakness that I can fully understand (and proclaim!) His powerful grace toward me.

Disease and weakness are part of our world for now. And, they are actually important factors in shaping our faith. But, for the believer in Jesus, there is an even greater hope — resurrection: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (I Corinthians 15:42-43). Gwendolyn and I will both be able to walk unaided in God’s presence one day!

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Hidden Gem: Finding Wisdom at the Impasse

Have you reached a point where you don’t know what to do? Does God’s will seem misty? Are there competing voices on all sides of an issue? Do your circumstances seem to indicate that God might be asleep on the job?

By chapter 27 in the book of Job, we are at an impasse. Job has lost his children, his wealth, and his health in a series of devastating blows. He curses the day of his birth (ch 3), but pleads for God’s explanation. Job’s friends, after three rounds of debate, have concluded that he must be a wretched sinner because of these troubles. Eliphaz, who gave Job the benefit of doubt in his first speech is convinced by the time of his third and final one: “Is not your wickedness great and your iniquities without end?” (Job 22:5) Bildad, the last to speak, (Zophar has apparently exhausted his explanations and doesn’t even offer a third rebuke) generalizes and leaves all of us in the dust:
“If even the moon has no brightness
and the stars are not pure in His sight,
How much less man, that maggot,
and the son of man, that worm.”  Job 25:5-6 (Note the contrast with Psalm 8!)

Job, totally disgusted with his comfortless friends, maintains his innocence, but blames God:
“As God lives, who has taken away my right,
and the Almighty, who has embittered my soul…
far be it from me that I should declare you [his friends] right;
till I die I will not put my integrity from me.
I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go.
My heart does not reproach any of my days.”  Job 27:2, 5-6

The arguments of men cannot resolve the dilemma. Is Job innocent and abandoned by God or has he earned his fate? Into the impasse comes the serene poem about wisdom in chapter 28. Some translations punctuate this as a continuation of Job’s discourse in chapter 27. However, it has changed from a first person rant into a third person hymn. Job’s first person speech continues in chapter 29. Therefore, some commentators have decided that this is an unwelcome and later interruption of the text. A more careful analysis, though, shows that this is actually a masterful insertion by the author. Instead of an intrusion, it is the narrator’s reminder. It is a chorus that concludes the cycle of speeches and prepares us for the revelations yet to come. This hidden gem of Scripture asks and answers a question of great importance for us today.In fact, the poem is divided into sections by this key query: “Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding?” (v12, repeated in 20)

Man’s ingenuity and risk cannot unearth wisdom (v1-11)

The author marvels at the risks and effort that were expended by the miners of his time. For the sake of wealth or power, they would brave the dark and depths of the earth to bring out its treasures. Listen to this marvelous line: “They hang and swing to and fro far from men” (v4). at great personal risk, humans will hew channels through rocks and dam up streams to uncover hidden wealth. We will search where no one has seen anything until we find something. The implication, though, is that not even that kind of effort can reveal wisdom.

Man’s wealth cannot purchase wisdom (v13-19)

No matter what treasures man has unearthed or collected, none can purchase wisdom. Its value exceeds them all. Wisdom, therefore, should be pursued above any earthly valuable: “And the acquisition of wisdom is above that of pearls” (v18). But how can it be obtained?

Only God can reveal wisdom (v21-28)

Death and destruction have heard of wisdom, but cannot reveal it. However, God is the Creator of all from the beginning. He has both established wisdom and searched it out. And He reveals it now to us: “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding” (v28). (The author is surely indicating the end of this long first section by echoing his description of the upright Job from 1:1 – “fearing God and turning away from evil”)

The difficulties in our world and in our own lives leave us grasping for help. The wisdom of the world leaves us at the mercy of “friends” who do not comprehend. If we are polite, we might just agree to disagree. Then we stay undecided and divided, with no conviction to move forward. Or, if we are more insistent, we shout louder to drown out those who disagree. This can even escalate to violent disagreement.

If we would seek God’s revelation of wisdom, then we could see clearly.  We have to acknowledge that God knows better than we do (fearing God). Then we have to act on what He has revealed (turning). With this hymn to wisdom, our author has prepared us for the further revelations to come in Job (keep reading!).

In another posting we can explore how to pursue this revealed wisdom from God. However, let me suggest three things briefly:

Scripture. The Scriptures reveal the character and plan of God. Wisdom can be found here.

Spirit. The Holy Spirit also guides us to true wisdom. This can be a personal revelation of truth for our specific need.

Community. The Spirit also speaks through His community, the church. Gifted teachers, pastors, friends, and counselors can be His voice.

In what areas of life do you need wisdom? How has God revealed His wisdom to you?

Focus on the Cross – Psalm 22 (Psalms Project)

Do you have struggles or pain today? Do you wonder where God is in the midst of it all? Has He forsaken this world? Today is Good Friday, and it is a good day to face these questions.

The disciples of Jesus recorded seven sayings of Jesus from the cross. Probably the most famous is “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” While there are some staggering theological implications in this cry, it is foremost Jesus quoting from Psalm 22. One thousand years before the crucifixion, David wrote this psalm that so vividly describes it. As the gospel writers recognized, it is one of the clearest evidences of fulfilled prophecy from the Old Testament. While David certainly could have experienced some of the anguish depicted here, its description moves beyond the events of his life and points forward to the cross. Watch how its focus unfolds and challenges us to a new focus.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

David starts focused on himself and his pain and suffering. He feels forsaken by a silent God and restless. Have you been there? Have you wondered where God is in the midst of your pain?

David quickly moves to his knowledge about God. He addresses God directly assuming He is listening. God is holy; He is present in worship. He has answered His people in the past. Their trust was not in vain. However, David is not yet accepting this truth for himself.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Here is where it gets so interesting! At the cross, this is precisely fulfilled by the people, the thieves crucified with Jesus and even the religious leaders. The leaders quote this section of the psalm as a taunt to Jesus on the cross. (see Matt 27:38-44) They miss the irony of how Jesus is going to exactly fulfill the rest of the psalm. The focus doesn’t stay on despair, but moves to trust.

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

David’s focus has now moved off his own anguish to his personal experience with God. In his own life, he has been able to trust God. He calls on God to do what He has so often done before. Are you so aware of God’s work in your life that you will trust Him to do it again? Even when the circumstances are extreme? Listen…

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

Was there ever anyone who experienced this more than Jesus on the cross? Surrounded by evil doers, tortured and disfigured, physically drained and dry, despairing to the point of death, an object of ridicule. Where would your focus go? What would your cry be?

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

The last phrase is actually a one word exclamation: you-have-rescued-me! God’s saving power has come. After such a deliverance, it is surely time for a rest and some private gratitude, right? This is where the whole psalm turns and challenges our normal selfish focus, even after God has acted.

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!

Not only is David declaring the praise of God in front of everyone; he prepares a meal for the poor as a demonstration of his gratitude. This is not limited to David, though. Hebrews 2:12 quotes this part of Psalm 22 as being fulfilled in Jesus. He is the one declaring the praises of the Father to his brothers and sisters. Jesus did not focus on His own suffering. He chose it as a fulfillment of God’s greatest plan – the plan to offer salvation to all. Somehow David glimpses this in the triumphant conclusion to Psalm 22:

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

To all nations and generations, Jesus has proclaimed deliverance. He has proclaimed it from the cross. God has not truly forsaken us or forsaken the world. His arms are still stretched wide for all who will raise their focus off of their own pain and embrace this One who bore all our pains. It is finished! He has done it! Will you focus on Him today?

My own poem for Good Friday, “We Call it Good?

Daddy Gotcha!

Lincoln (age 1) and Daddy

My youngest son, Lincoln, turned two this past week. He is a delightful and expressive little guy. We have a new phrase to describe some of our adventures – “Daddy gotcha.” It started when I was holding him over the sink to wash hands. He was feeling a bit afraid of falling and was protesting and fussing a little. I said, “Lincoln, it is OK. Daddy has gotcha.” We were able to finish washing hands.

Later I was helping him put on his clothes. I said, “Lincoln, lean on Daddy. Daddy has gotcha.” He leaned his full weight on me and we finished getting his pants on.

Just yesterday, I had him up on one of those restroom changing tables at the circus. He wanted to sit up or stand or something seemingly dangerous. I said, “Lincoln, you need to lay down and stay still.” He said, “Daddy gotcha.” That’s when it hit me.

“Daddy gotcha” is his statement of absolute trust in me. He can lean on me, let me hold him precariously, or expect me to catch him before he falls. He has complete faith in Daddy’s love and protection.

Shouldn’t we have an even greater confidence in our heavenly Father? Read these familiar words again, and realize how safe Christians really are:

“Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you. Therefore, we may boldly say:
The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

Daddy gotcha!

God’s Overthrown Heart for You

One of the most emotional and theologically stunning chapters of the Old Testament is Hosea 11. Hosea pictures the 8th century northern kingdom (Ephraim/Israel) as a wayward child. Although God, as Father, has loved and raised him, the child (nation) has just kept going further away. In fact, he has broken faith with God and deserves destruction. Listen to the chilling threat of judgment from Moses almost 800 years earlier (c. 1500 BC):

It shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, ‘I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.’ The Lord shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, … Now the generation to come, … when they see the plagues of the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it, will say, ‘All its land is brimstone and salt, a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and in His wrath.’  All the nations will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?’ Then men will say, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt.’ Deuteronomy 29:19-20, 23-25

Israel deserves to be overthrown and destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. They have turned their backs on God, worshiped false gods, formed unwise alliances with pagan nations, and committed despicable crimes against each other (see Judges 19-21!).

But wait! God’s message through the poet/prophet Hosea reveals another side of God’s passion:

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
I have had a change of heart;
My compassion is stirred!
I will not vent the full fury of My anger;
I will not turn back to destroy Ephraim.
For I am God and not man,
the Holy One among you;
I will not come in rage. Hosea 11:8-9

The word translated “change” here is the same root verb as “overthrow” (hapak) from Deuteronomy. God’s heart has been overthrown by His fired up compassion for His people. Thus, he will not overthrow them to destruction. Do you think He could have the same passionate love for you, despite your sin and guilt? The answer is a resounding “yes!” The Holy One has compassion for you.

Is God turning back on His justice here? Is he backing away from His own law? Certainly, if God is the Creator and Law-Giver, He can freely act however he may choose. He has divine freedom. But, God is not overthrowing His holiness and justice. Paul explains how Jesus fulfills both God’s justice and love in Romans:

But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.  God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26

In His love, God passed over sin until He took on its full penalty on Himself through Jesus’ death. His justice is upheld, but we are not destroyed. What amazing love our Savior has demonstrated to us!

How will you respond to this God whose heart is overthrown for you?

2013: The Reading List

Our family uses the new year as an opportunity to set goals for the next year. I assess my reading list, too, to wisely plan my scarce reading time. I am publishing this here as a way of building accountability and starting a discussion of these (and other) great books. Here goes:

1) Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels – Kenneth Bailey. I freely admit that I am a Bible geek. I am always intrigued by historical or cultural studies that aim to shed more light on the Scriptures. I don’t remember how I came across this book, but I put it on my Amazon wish list and received it for Christmas. I can’t wait to start this one.

2) The One Year Christian History – Rusten and Rusten. Another Christmas gift, this is a daily devotional using events throughout history to demonstrate God’s character and interaction with us. So far, I have been reading this each day and enjoying it. Some of the stories are familiar (Jim Elliot and Auca people), while some are new to me (J. Gresham Machen). In the fall, I am hoping to be teaching a class on Christian history since the New Testament. This is just fueling the fire.

3) Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church – N.T. Wright. I was introduced to this book on David D. Flower’s blog, The Centrality and Supremacy of Jesus Christ. I realize that Christians are often lazy or just wrong in our terminology and vocabulary of heaven and the life to come. I look forward to thinking theologically through this. I expect it to add the inspiring works on heaven and the new earth I have enjoyed by Joni Eareckson Tada and Randy Alcorn.

4) Hosea, NICOT commentary on Hosea (J. Dearman) and BST commentary on Hosea (Kidner) – our LifeGroup is studying Hosea, Jonah, and Amos in the coming quarter. I have just started my study on Hosea. I have already been touched and educated about this difficult prophet by these two writers. Looking forward to more!

5) Not a fan – Kyle Idleman. Our church is going to be reading and studying this book together in February and March. I don’t know much about it yet.

6) Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis. While I do not enjoy science fiction as much as the fantasy genre, I decided to at least try the first book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy. I am about half way through this relatively short first book. I have been distracted with other reading (and getting some sleep!), but it shows promise.

So, what are you reading (or planning to read) this year? Are the books above worth the time? How will God use the books you read to change you?

2013: Contending for the Faith

What is your focus for 2013? I think God has revealed mine over the last few weeks and crystallized it through the study of the small, often-neglected letter of Jude. I taught Jude in my Sunday morning Bible study just before Christmas. (We finished a 13 week study of 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude.) Here is the part that has stayed with me:

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 3-4 NASB (emphasis mine)

I work with a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Mormon, a neo-pagan sympathizer, an agnostic, a young Christian, and some nominal Christians — coming from 5 different countries. That is just on my team! You should hear us discuss religion, philosophy, politics, or sports. There is a great diversity of opinions. How should a Christian approach such an opportunity? Sadly, I think many Christians are ill-equipped and frankly afraid to stand out.

But Jude was compelled to write and challenge Christians to “contend” for their faith against false teachers even in the church. What does it mean to contend? Type “contend” in the Google image search, and most of what you will see are pictures of athletic events (including lots of boxing gloves). Sometimes Google gets it right. The Greek word used in Jude 3 (epagonizesthai) was mostly used in reference to sporting contests in the stadium. It is the root of our word “agonize.” As Michael Green states, its use here emphasizes that defense of our faith will be “continuous, costly, and agonizing.” (172)

For what do we contend?

And for what do we contend? “The faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” There is objective truth. There is a historical basis for the facts of Christianity. The apostles (and others) were eyewitnesses of his death and Resurrection. We can’t water down the New Testament as some good ideas or interesting teachings or the life of a good man (Jesus). No! It is a testimony to the life, teachings, death, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus, the God-man. And it is His invitation to us to join Him in everlasting relationship.

Do we have false teachers today? Of course. There are all kinds of lists of false teachers on the internet. My goal isn’t really to create a list of them. However, there are some whose influence must be countered. As Jude says later, their presence in the church is like a “hidden reef” (v 12). They promise much but don’t deliver (“clouds without rain,” “autumn trees without fruit”).

What does contention look like?

For me, I think God is challenging me to use the blog as a platform for contending for the faith. The Bible is under attack. It doesn’t need my defense. It will stand as God’s Word forever, no matter what I say. However, we must contend for this faith revealed through the Scriptures in order to “have mercy on some, who are doubting;  save others, snatching them out of the fire;” (v 22-23) It is for people, whom God loves, that we must contend.

So, when New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman from UNC declares that most of the New Testament is a forgery and becomes an agnostic, it is time to step up and call him a false teacher, a wandering star, who reviles angelic majesties and rejects authority (v8, 13). Choosing the way of Balaam, his destiny is that of Korah if he will not repent (v 11). The New Testament documents are trustworthy and reliable. No matter what he says, scholars haven’t suddenly debunked the Bible. And there is reasonable evidence to back it up (much more on this later, I suspect).

But contention is not just a scholars’ battle with words. Just before Christmas, one of my coworkers asked to borrow a Bible. He is feeling the need to read it and seek greater understanding. I didn’t just let him borrow a Bible; I bought him one! And now we are set to discuss its truths and challenges as the days go on. I will argue for the truth, but I will also reach out to those who need to understand it. It will be costly and agonizing, but it is worth it!

How will you contend for the faith in 2013?

 

Source

Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude. vol 18 in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Intervarsity Press, 1987.