Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Your grace is sufficient

Entering the workforce has made me realise how performance-driven our entire society is, and just how much I've bought into it. Even though I was ill and given a whole day of medical leave by the doctor, I only took half a day off work because I had already taken two days off work last week, and I thought that there was just no way that I could miss any more work. (I have been stricken with the most stubborn sinus-throat-infection ever - I am currently on my sixth day of antibiotics). Even though my absence didn't really affect the productivity of my division (I'm still learning the ropes and we're in a bit of a lull period), I just felt that I had to show up at work. My worth as an employee is entirely determined by how I perform.

More often than not, we think that our worth as a human being is entirely determined by how we perform. Even the starting point of our relationship with God, our personal profession of faith, seems to be entirely in our own hands. And so, when we find ourselves in doubt, we either start to panic or we deny it entirely, ashamed of the weakness of our own faith. At times like these I always think about this sermon that I heard Tim Keller preach some months ago in New York, The Fear of King Herod. In it he talked about how we are saved, not by the quality of our faith, but by the object of our faith, which is Christ himself.

Sometimes, the gospel is so counter-intuitive that we fail to grasp just how revolutionary it is. The grace of God, his freely unmerited favour, his unconditional love, extends all the way down to the foundations of our relationship with him. Faith, and its continued sustenance, is entirely a gift of grace (and here perhaps I betray my theological leanings). It would seem almost impossible to produce and sustain faith all by ourselves.

One of my favourite stories in the Bible can be found in Mark 9. A father comes to Jesus, beseeching him to heal his demon possessed son.

Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"

"From childhood," he answered. "It [the demon] has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."

Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again."

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

Jesus did not wait for the father to possess an unshakeable conviction and a rock-solid faith in his power to heal his son. A half-profession and a humble plea was all he needed. Perhaps this expression of doubt requires an even deeper faith - not in ourselves at all, but in God and God alone.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-11

Your grace is sufficient for me
Your strength is made perfect
When I am weak
And all that I cling to
I lay at Your feet
Your grace is sufficient for me

written by Martin Nystrom, performed by Shane & Shane (Clean, 2004)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Love Song

We had a rather amusing conversation about whether a bunch of Christians singing karaoke could be considered "godly", especially if one was karaoke-ing instead of fasting and praying. How could gathering together to sing a bunch of secular songs about romance be "godly"? But of course, enjoying the company of others is one of the most amazing blessings that a radically relational God has given us. Lately, I've also been thinking about how if we are truly in Christ, then that would touch every single part of our lives. God created everything - and all the world speaks to us of him in all its beauty and brokenness. Even secular pop songs about romance. Maybe especially secular pop songs about romance.

Recently, I came across the brilliant, brilliant words of Philip Yancey in a book (excerpted on the Christianity Today website) that I hope to buy.

LYRICS FROM THE LOVE SONGS broadcast on pop radio stations tap into romantic yearnings but promise more than any person can deliver. "You are my everything." "I can't live without you." Sexual desires and romantic longings are a kind of debased sacrament. If humanity serves as your religion, then sex becomes an act of worship. On the other hand, if God is the object of your religion, then romantic love becomes an unmistakable pointer, a rumor of transcendence as loud as any we hear on earth.

...Romance gives intriguing hints of transcendence. I am "possessed" by the one I love. I think of her day and night, languish when she leaves me, perform brave deeds to impress her, revel in her attention, live for her, even die for her. I want to be both heroic and meek at the same time. For a time, and only for a time, I can live on that edge of exaltation. Then reality sets in, or boredom, betrayal, old age, or death. At least, though, I can see in it a glimpse of God's infinite capacity for such attention. Could this be how God views us?

Charles Williams, a colleague and close friend of C. S. Lewis, wrote that romantic love gives us a new vision of one other human being, an insight into his or her "eternal identity." For a brief time, at least, romance gives us the ability to see the best in one other person, to ignore or forgive flaws, to bask in endless fascination. That state, said Williams, gives a foretaste of how we will one day view every resurrected person, and how God now views us. Romantic love does not distort vision but corrects it, in a very narrow range. The Bible uses explicit romantic images to describe God's love for us: What we feel in passing for one person, God feels eternally for the many.

Excerpted from Rumors of Another World: What on Earth Are We Missing?