Saturday, October 31, 2020

Where Friendship Blooms

 




In “Made for Friendship,” Drew Hunter reintroduces us to the often-overlooked importance of friendship:

• Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil the Great were early church fathers and well-known theologians. But they were also best friends. Their friendship endured through distance and even significant relational challenges. Gregory once wrote to Basil, “The greatest benefit which life has brought me is your friendship.” He also wrote, “If anyone were to ask me, ‘What is the best thing in life?’ I would answer, ‘Friends.’” We know the Reformation-launching Martin Luther, but his friends also knew him for his “table talk”—his lively doctrinal discussions around the dinner table.

The Apostle Paul also appreciated the joys of friendship. I would imagine that his attachments had enriched and even enabled his ministry:

• Indeed [Epaphroditus] was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. (Philippians 2:27-28)

We feel uncomfortable about such expressions of friendship lest it might be perceived as a homosexual advance or attachment. However, Hunter points out that many giants of the faith had no such problem with this:

• We might think of John Calvin pondering great thoughts at a lonely desk, but “a close study of Calvin’s career reveals that friendships were the joy of his life.” Addressing two of his closest friends, he wrote, “I think that there has never been, in ordinary life, a circle of friends so sincerely bound to each other as we have been in our ministry.”

However, today there seems to be an obvious lack of such intimate and sustaining friendships. Numerous surveys have noted the growth of loneliness and its dire costs. According to a recent survey, most people do not have an intimate confidant. Why? A consensus emerged that it was largely about shame. People are ashamed to open up and to be exposed, but why would this now become epidemic?

Earlier studies have indicated that this kind of alienation has never been so prevalent. It seems that it is harder to now accept ourselves, and therefore to allow others in. Instead, we are now more likely to wear an impenetrable fa├žade, which we only expose to the friend-substitute - our psychotherapist. We cannot bear the thought of others seeing us the way we really are.

What has changed? Don’t we now live in a society that is more accepting of weaknesses and differences? Well, I have a theory about this. I think that we now have a greater difficulty in accepting ourselves because we have abandoned the love and acceptance of God. Without Him, we are now left to fend for ourselves. We are therefore burdened with the task of loving and believing in ourselves. However, this generally means that we have to lie to ourselves – to deny the dark side and to inflate the good.

We are in hiding, even from ourselves. We resolve our disagreements by always concluding that the other guy is wrong. Instead, of receiving the all-defining affirmations that come from the love of God, we are in desperate need of the affirmations that come from others and from our “successes.” We also become social justice warriors to fill the emptiness.

If we are so needful of these affirmations, how then can we allow our brokenness and shame to be seen!

As a result, the fertile seedbed of friendship has been cemented shut, and transparency has become an endangered species. If we cannot be real with ourselves, how can we be real with others! Our defensive masks remain in place, and it is difficult to relate meaningfully and comfortably to a mask.

To fill the emptiness, we join meetup groups, but our mask remains unmovable. We also become workaholics and seek out non-threatening distractions.

Pastors are particularly vulnerable to loneliness. Their congregation regards them as almost god-like, and they feel the burden to keep up that image.

We can no longer be vulnerable and broken. However, once we believe that our brokenness is beautiful in the eyes of our Savior, our brokenness can begin to be beautiful even to us:

• The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:18-19)

There is also a subsidiary benefit. Once we can accept our own brokenness, we can also begin to accept the suffering of others.

BROKENNESS IS BEAUTIFUL

 




Brokenness is a necessary part of the Christian life (2 Corinthians 4:10-11), but it is also beautiful before our Lord, so beautiful that it draws Him to us like steel shavings to a magnet:

Scripture invites us to believe that He so favors the broken-hearted that He has chosen to dwell among us:

• Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2; 57:15)

How can our feelings of failure and inadequacy be beautiful to anyone, let alone to the Creator and Sustainer of this entire creation?

• The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:18-19)

Why is our Lord drawn to us broken, sin-ravaged people? For some inexplicable reason, He loves us so much that He died for us even when we were His enemies (Romans 5:8-10). For another reason, He hinted to us of His surpassing love for us by creating us to be like Him (Genesis 1:26-27).

But why His intimacy with brokenness? As many verses inform us, He is repulsed by its opposite - pride:

• The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:14-15)

The Pharisees had been trying to justify themselves to prove that they were righteous. It was like telling God, “I don’t need you. I am good and deserving on my own. I don’t even want you.” It was also to live in the darkness of self-deceit where no light was allowed entry (John 3:19-20).

In contrast, the humble were in touch with their need and undeserved-ness and knew that they only deserved one thing from God - death (Romans 6:23). Therefore, they also knew that God’s mercy depended on His love for them, as little children know that their parents’ love does not depend on their deserving it:

• And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4)

Children are naturally humble. They know that their parents owe them nothing. They wouldn’t dream of telling their parents, “I don’t need you at all. I don’t even want you. I deserve better. You are nothing to me but an impediment.”

Instead, humility says, “I love you because you first loved me. I desperately need you.” This should be our attitude toward our Savior.

Our Savior is like a loving mother, hovering over her needy infant to nurture her in every way possible. We are those needy infants, sheep who desperately need their Shepherd. We are grateful that our desperate plight draws Him to us.

 

 

Friday, October 30, 2020

OUR NEED TO BE HUMBLED

 



Humbling is always painful. Humbling shows us that we aren't the good and sufficient people we want to be.

However, we need the humbling. As I am humbled, I marvel, all the more, at my Savior who loves me and provides for me despite my unworthiness.

The Apostle Peter was also humbled. He had denied the Lord three times. The Lord appeared to him a third time by the Sea of Galilee as they were fishing and miraculously filled their net with 153 fish. After eating, He asked Peter three times if he loved Him. This disturbed Peter, probably because it reminded him of his humbling threefold denial of Jesus.

Peter was humbled, and humility was a necessary ingredient for his glorious calling - "Feed My sheep." Humility would reach down to the most undeserving as humility has led Jesus to be born into the most humbling of circumstances, in a manure infested animal cave and dressed with burial swaddling cloths.

It had been humility that had led Him to be put to death by His enemies in the most humiliating and painful manner to prove His love for us.

However, humility invites dying - even martyrdom, as our Lord had promised Peter:

• “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, "Follow me." (John 21:18-19; ESV)

I want to follow Him, but I have learned that I do not have what it takes, but my Lord does. If He can grow His most fragrant roses with manure, He can use us!

SOCIALISM: THE COST




The essence of addiction is the choice of short-term comforts and pleasures for profound long-term costs. It’s also the essence of socialism, where the price-tag for temporary comforts is the long-term loss of freedom:

• This Truth Is Self-Evident “A government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And [America’s Founding Fathers] knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose.” (Ronald Reagan, “A Time for Choosing,” 1964)



The Justice of God



This might sound insensitive, but this world is God’s creation, and He has a right to set the standards:

• “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:1-3 ESV)

God even determines the required qualifications for those who can approach Him. However, God is also just, according to both the dictates of His own righteous character and even the truths He has inscribed upon our hearts and minds. Therefore, Paul rhetorically asks:

• But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? ( I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? (Romans 3:5-6)

Many had claimed that since God makes good use of our unrighteousness, He is partaking in unrighteousness, and this disqualifies Him from judging us. However, Paul assured us that God’s judgments are righteous. If He is not entirely righteous, He wound not be able to judge us. Before this, Paul correctly assumed that we all can agree with God’s righteous judgments:

• We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:2-5)

In speaking to the rebellious Cain, God also assumed that Cain was able to understand God’s just requirements:

• The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

Cain had no argument against this. Why not? He knew and understood the truth of God’s counsel, because he shared this knowledge with God, but Cain had no intention to live according to it.

Rebellion against God’s truths is rebellion against God, as Adam and Eve had also rebelled against God’s Word. They knew it but disregarded it.

God’s ways are just, and we know it. This forms the basis of our condemnation. What we love and surrender to condemns us:

• “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:17-20)

How are they “condemned already.” Their hatred of the Light of God’s truth and their embrace of the lie of darkness has condemned them.

If Jesus doesn’t condemn us, how then are we condemned? It seems that it is the implanted Word (Romans 2:14-16) which will condemn:

“If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12:47-48)

It seems that it is this very implanted Word that causes us to flee the Light of God to take refuge in the darkness of denial.

Israel blamed God for many things but never for their love of the darkness. God may surrender us to the darkness of our own desires (Romans 1:24-28), but He never implants these desires within us (James 1:13-14).