Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Myth of a Painless Struggle: Pondering Genesis 12

Selected phrases in Gen. 12
'And Abram journeyed on...'
'Now there was famine in the land....the famine was severe'
'When the Egyptians see you...then they will kill me'

My guess is that when we think of Biblical heroes, we think of a picture of perfection, righteous fire from the womb, and a daily personal visit from God.

The reality is that all the heroes of the faith walked hard, painful, sometimes lonely roads full of pain and disappointment. These are men who are as marked by their failures as their successes. And these men spent decades WITHOUT hearing directly from the Lord.

The journey of Abraham is no exception. We think of his highlight, willing to sacrifice his son on the mountain.  We also think of Romans 4 where Paul uses his faith as an example- against all hope, in hope he believes.

But we also need to see Abraham in times of little faith. Was going to Egypt a step of faith? Was lying to save himself a step of trust?

Abraham's initial step to follow God's call is impressive. But there are some commentators who interpret the geneology of Genesis11/12 as possible indication of delay. God calling, but Abraham having to go through a development of circumstances before leaving on his adventure.

Here is an undeniable bottom line: all faith walks involve struggle.

We experience the intensity of this sometimes more from a parental perspective than a personal perspective.

I want my children to walk with Jesus- yet I grieve over any discomfort or pain they experience. I want them to know Christ and the power of His resurrection- but I quickly manipulate circumstances to provide painless protection.

Now, no loving parent purposely puts their children in pain - we don't wish the trials to come- but the Bible clearly says 'when various trials come' not 'if'.

But most quality growth requires discomfort and pain:
Children are born in pain
They learn to walk by falling
They learn righteousness through discipline
Painful experiences teach future safety

Thankfully, we don't always live there. Pain is a part of the curse of sin- but it pulsates. It ebbs and retreats. It often comes in sneak attacks and dreary days- but also can dissipate in the sunshine of music or fun.

How dreadful eternal pain will be! We have no comprehension of what that will be like. When we speak of the eternal pain under God's final punishment of sin and rebellion, it will be a pain that doesn't throb or pulsate- it is 100% on- and it never retreats.
As tough as our pain seems- it is still tempered in the day of mercy and God's common grace.
And if it takes earthly pain to avoid eternal pain....bring it on!

It is exactly at this point that many turn away from God. Remember what happened to Jesus? In John 6 Jesus feeds 5,000 offers Himself as bread- but links it in a strange way- He spoke of 'eating His flesh' and 'drinking His blood' as the access point to eternal life. A difficult faith step.

His disciples heard it and acknowledged- 'this is a hard saying" and Jesus said something even more interesting 'no one can come to Me unless it is granted by the Father (vs 65) 'and after this MANY of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him' (vs 66).

What do we do when the hard call comes? What did Abraham do? Eventually, he circumcised himself, fought for Lot, pressed back into God's providence, and was willing to offer his only son in obedience to God's request.

But it took a lot of falling and famine and fear to reach those points of victory.

Job is another great example- pain that leads to God's glory.

Remember how God addressed Job as he was suffering, full of questions? In the storm (whirlwind) God says 'Brace yourself like a man".

And ultimately what Job learns is that sometimes it takes great pain to get a glimpse of the Father that few understand. It is true humility.

When someone looks at suffering and says "I can't believe in a God like that" - it is a sign that their pride still has themselves on the throne of their life. It takes a 'god' to judge God.

And what does God say? I often picture Him saying 'Job suffered for a microsecond in the timeline of eternity and now he basks in my lavish love, adventure, and care.'

So think of Abraham:

He delays..... God says "Just wait, he will be the father of faith."
He lies..... God says "Just wait, his faith will bring me glory for over 4,000 years."
He fears.... God says, "Just wait, his faith will astound the heavens"
He stumbles.... God says 'Just wait and watch him get back up"

And that is how our Father cheers for us if we know Him. If He has drawn us to Himself.

And all of our pain and questions are ultimately answered in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Sometimes I wish there were an easier way to get there- but there are no shortcuts.
Our salvation is free. But it was purchased with great sacrifice and pain.

Our sanctification is filled with toil.

The myth of a painless struggle is perpetuated in a life of fruitless faith. And you know what the old puritans said? Faith that fizzles was faulty from the first.

So as we close our first chapter 12 of 2012- let us be challenged. At what point do we cease striving? At what point do we let go of the cross? Are we just the shallow rooted shoot that withers in the sun of adversity?

Please don't quit! It matters not if you try and fail and try and fail again- IT DOES matter if you try and fail and fail to try again.

You are not saved by your effort- you are not saved by your success- you are not condemned in your failure. That is the goodness of the GOSPEL!

It is so good, that it makes all the struggles of this life worth it. I struggle well as an honor- TO MAKE HIM LOOK GOOD!

And finally, as parents, we have to be steady in the storms our children may find themselves. Comfort- yes! Encourage, by ALL MEANS! Correct injustice? Of course!

But don't move heaven and earth to remove any instrument of adversity- teach them THROUGH the struggle and cheer them as they rise up and walk in pain. Praise them for toughness in adverse situations.

Remember Romans 5: 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Keep pushing on in 2012- it is so worth it!

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