Pressure

But we have this precious treasure [the good news about salvation] in [unworthy] earthen vessels [of human frailty], so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of the power will be [shown to be] from God [His sufficiency] and not from ourselves.

We are pressured in every way [hedged in], but not crushed; perplexed [unsure of finding a way out], but not driven to despair; hunted down and persecuted, but not deserted [to stand alone]; struck down, but never destroyed; always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be shown in our body.

(2 Corinthians 4:7-10 Amp)

There’s nothing like pressure to reveal weakness. I was very tired recently and grumbled loud and long about not being able to stay home and rest, but despite my physical weakness God used me to encourage someone when I grudgingly went out. It always surprises me when that happens. I guess part of me still thinks that helping someone is the result of my pseudo-superhero strength of character and somewhat flimsy appearance of righteousness. It’s not. It’s definitely not. Thanks for the reminder, Lord.

People given to shows of religiosity sometimes forget that it is God working through them that makes a difference in the world. I think God uses fragile people to carry his message of salvation because he needs us to quit making objects of worship out of anyone but Himself. It happens so easily. And then our “idols” fall because either the elevated person or his or her worshippers need to be reminded that God alone deserves all the praise.

The truth is our bodies are weak and our egos are fragile. Jesus knew what it was like to live in a body subject to fatigue. The night before he was crucified, he experienced physical weakness under huge pressure. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he conceded when his disciples couldn’t stay awake to pray with him in the garden. He understands.

Paul told the believers in Corinth that sometimes life could be tough. He and his companions had questions. They were pressured and perplexed like we sometimes are. They were hunted, persecuted, and struck down, but they were not crushed, not driven to despair, or deserted, or destroyed because God was their source of strength. He was doing something wonderful through them. These “fragile vessels” carried the living resurrected Christ. How amazing! Substance before style! It’s so opposite of the way the world operates with its public relations media machines and style before substance.

Our weaknesses keep us from claiming credit when the credit belongs to God. He is teaching us to trust him under pressure. “Under pressure” is where the rubber meets the road.

Carrying the precious message, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is about His sufficiency and not ours. Soli Deo gratia.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Pressure

“Come and Talk With Me”

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“You’re not doing it right.”

Okay, those are not the exact words. Most controlling people are slightly less direct, but that is the essence of the message they feel compelled to convey.

“There is a right way and a wrong way to do Christianity and you, my dear, are doing it the wrong way. I will tell you how to do it right.”

This was the theme of the class of religious leaders who opposed Jesus Christ. In those days they were called Pharisees. Today they have many names, but mostly they like to call themselves “right.” They have the scriptures, they have the rules, but somehow they have lost sight of the point of grace and end up putting barricades in place that block people from having a closer relationship with God.  Instead of building highways and bridges they build giant speed bumps.

Years ago I broke my leg. (That’s a strange expression right there because it was not my intention, I assure you.) More accurately, in the process of rescuing two little boys whose mittens tangled in barbed wire held them captive to a fence, I fell on the ice. I heard the bones in my leg snap. That’s not a sound I wish to hear again.

The news of my mishap was not something the director of the opera, in which I had a lead role, and which was due to open in less than two weeks, wanted to hear either. I had no understudy. She had to figure out how to re-block the entire production for a Countess who couldn’t walk. Amazingly with one or two creatively re-written lines, she changed the Countess into an invalid (another strange expression) thus giving the philandering Count  more motive, means and opportunity to follow up on his temptations (not an unrealistic scenario.) It worked.

I chose roles with care. I wouldn’t be in a play or opera that promoted evil. This opera had an adult theme but there was a clear difference between right and wrong, and right won. It was based on a morality story that criticized the accepted practice of not holding the noble class to account for sexual abuse of servants and other vulnerable commoners. It was about the misuse of power.

I was resting, leg propped on cushions while I memorized recitatives, when an “expert” in the ways to appease God paid a visit. This person told me God was punishing me for singing secular music. He broke my leg to teach me a lesson. He made me a temporary cripple so I would learn to praise him properly with church music, and not that show-off worldly stuff.

Now God moves in mysterious ways, but I have since learned that breaking people’s legs to get them to give him what he wants is more of a Mafia don’s technique than the ways of the one who sent his only son, Jesus, who was willing to lay down his life for me in a demonstration of love.

These harsh words could have been water off a duck’s back. They weren’t. I was stricken with guilt and shame and questioned my square peggish-ness yet again. Until that point I had known a lifetime of being told “There is a right way and a wrong way to appease God, who is currently deeply disappointed with you. And you, my dear, are doing it wrong – again.”

It took a while to realize that the scenario in my living room that day was another version of the misuse of power story. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time on earth, and the privileged nobles of Mozart’s time, some of the “experts in the ways of God” in my own time have tried to manipulate others to meet their own need to be in control. (Not all, of course. Not even most. Don’t hear what I am not saying.)

I had never learned to listen to God for myself. After years of being manipulated by guilt and shame because not only did I feel I had done something wrong, but that fundamentally I was something wrong, I abdicated the authority Christ had given me as a daughter in his royal household. I allowed people who handled their own anxiety with a desire to feel in control speak for him and tell me how to respond. It became a fictitious conversation I didn’t even need to attend. Gradually I stopped showing up.

They didn’t invite me into a closer relationship with Christ, who made a way for me to experience God’s love and affection. Instead the accumulated experiences of years of being told I wasn’t doing it right led to feeling I needed, like Adam and Eve, to cover my shame and hide myself in the trees. When God called me to come and talk with him, I hid.

I didn’t find God. I knew where he was. I was avoiding him.

Then he found me.

I was told God could not look upon sin and it was my sin that separated us. I was taught to be ever mindful of being a sinner prone to wandering and that I was a continuing source of grief to him.

But in my less-than-perfect state he pursued me, he allured me, he loved me unconditionally. In his kindness he drew me into the desert, away from the control of religiosity. When I gave up trying to be good enough he taught me that his grace is enough. He is the saviour and sanctifier. When I allow him to come close enough he writes his thoughts on my heart.

He is still demonstrating how he sees me as a unique delight and that living in his presence is not only for the experts who seem to do religion right. It’s about having an ongoing vibrant relationship with a Person. It’s his goodness and kindness that allows me to respond to him with love and not fear. He is teaching me to see myself and others with his eyes.

The one thing I ask of the LORD—
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
delighting in the LORD’s perfections
and meditating in his Temple.

For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
he will hide me in his sanctuary.
He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
above my enemies who surround me.

At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
singing and praising the LORD with music.
Hear me as I pray, O LORD.
Be merciful and answer me!

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.”

(Psalm 27:4-8 NLT)

Is he calling you to come talk with him? What is holding you back? The reward Jesus died to give to the Father is you. You are his delight.

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