Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tests of Faith

I hardly know where to start. The past couple of weeks have been a roller-coaster. The time with the people at St Jude Church was an incredible high. The Presence of our Lord was palpable. The people were so gracious and affirming and responsive. Our hosts were delightful beyond description. Libby and I came home in the joy of verification from the Spirit that our unexpected and, to many looking on, puzzling journey is not some “bunny trail” (or again, to some) abomination. The week following the mission was as low as the previous one was high. Sharing just a bit of our joy within our closest circle brought, from some, deep criticism and even attack.

This initiated a week of deep prayer and reflection. Being maligned by some of those closest to you is unsettling. Either they do not understand or we have followed a wrong leading. All Libby and I know for sure is that we are seeking God and are honest before Him as much or more than anytime in our lives. If we are not seeing something that is wrong on a cognitive level it is not because our hearts are being disobedient. Again, we are embracing a spirit of obedience beyond anything ever before.

It is almost amazing how Scripture can be used to attack. To some I am a “fool” because Paul described people as professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.... It does not matter that we, in contrast to the context of Paul’s indictment, are seeking — with all our mind and heart — to glorify him as God [and give] thanks to him (Romans 1:21,22).

I have thought a lot about what it means to claim to “know God.” First of all, Christians know we can claim such a thing only through Christ, who has both revealed God and, through his death and resurrection, made it possible for us to be friends of God instead of enemies. Based on this, “knowing God” begins to bear the fruit of becoming “like God” as Christians are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ through his Spirit. The effect of this is the “fruit of the Spirit,” and again, every day I pray for my life increasingly to be marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Those who interact with me daily — my children, my closest friends, and especially my wife — say they see this, and have seen it growing intensely over the past few years of this most recent phase of my faith pilgrimage.

Knowing God.... Who would claim to know and model the fullness of God’s Truth?! Also in his letter to the Romans, St Paul exclaims: Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who has ever been his counselor? The evidence of knowing God is not that we all have a common understanding of the nuances of doctrine. The evidence of knowing God is not that we all have the same experiences. The evidence of knowing God is not that we all practice our faith by focusing on the same forms and practices. The evidence of knowing God is that, in turning our hearts to Jesus, we are becoming more and more like him.

This past week brought much of this into focus for me through the lives of two men in my past. One had been involved in vocational ministry and was retired with his wife of more than forty years. His confession of faith was always about “being clothed in the righteousness of Christ” (in contrast to saying much about piety and personal holiness). The other was a family man who, over the past fifteen years, had responded to a crisis with a young-adult daughter that has left her permanently handicapped with severe limitations. Over the past two years he himself has fought an aggressive cancer. This latter man grew in grace over the years, confessing a trust in our Lord that was being tried by the fires of tribulation and, in that, modeling a joy of heart as he served his family. Most recently, that trust and joy was even more evident as he fought the specter of encroaching death.

The latter man died yesterday with his family surrounding him and as I looked on. Some of his final words were “I am not afraid.” The first man, on the other hand, has left his wife for another woman. I do not know but what his theological confession is even part of his rationalization — that we are so sinful there is nothing we can do but be forgiven.

Jesus said, By their fruits you will know them. I know that my prayer — my hunger and thirst — is to be like my Lord.

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