Wednesday, November 24, 2010
People that know me well know that I really like comic books. I know, I know -I am geek. I like them because they often have themes of self-sacrifice, endurance, and personal growth which relate well with our Christian walk. One of my favorite characters is Adam Warlock because he is constantly caught in difficult situations that seem far above his capability to overcome.
Adam often has to wrestle with his own struggles and come to grips with his personal weakness. When fighting against the his arch enemy the Magus, Adam is quite literally wrestles with himself.
What do I mean by that?
Well his nemesis the Magus is actually a evil counter part of himself from the future. I now it sounds pretty ridiculous but stick with me. The Magus is basically the dark and evil side of who Adam is. The Magus is what Adam himself could become if he were to go down the wrong path. So for Adam Warlock the saying “I am my own worst enemy” rings all the more true.
What I really like about Adam is that he has to duel against an evil counter part of himself and comes out as a more holistic person. It seems that before we can really become the whole beings that God intends us to be we must first own up to our greatest weaknesses, struggles, our inner “demons” if you will, and allow Christ’s working power to overcome them.
I have time and time again heard people say that the most difficult thing that they had to face on their mission field was themselves. On the mission field, right in the midst of all of the culture-shock, language barriers, team conflict, support issues and so on, we are easily blindsided by our own sins. Without realizing it our greatest fight becomes the fight against ourselves.
This fight is one that we all must face. Paul talks about this internal war against ourselves when he says, “When I want to do good, evil is with me... waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.” All of Romans 7:13-25 is about this internal war. Really, the entire gospel is about this war, because when we come to Christ we become a whole new person. We put the old person to death so that Christ might truly live within us.
”You took off your former way of life, the old man that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds, you put on the new man, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.” -Ephesians 4:22-24
I hope and that you can overcome your personal struggles so that you can fully put on the likeness of Christ. This is my prayer so that you can become fully mature, whole, and complete, the "you" that God intends you to be. To undergo this process is the very story of the gospel being lived out. It is the story of Adam Warlock, it is Paul’s story, and it is our story as well.
Peace and Blessings,
Gary Ford II
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Trials tap into the stockpile of every filthy word you’ve ever heard. They invite you to indulge your favorite acceptable vice for comfort or escape. They drive up stock in Kleenex. They make it really hard to find a reason to get out of bed or take a shower. Trials are a relentless hurt.
And strangely enough, a Christian going through trials may at times find very little encouragement by church services, reading the Bible or even prayer. They appear to be on the verge of insanity, rifled with poor judgment, weak in their faith.
Fortunately, we’re not working on a pass/fail premise here. But if we were, this is one time in which it’s more beneficial to fail!!! It’s in the failing that you recognize what’s lacking, what God is seeking to cultivate within you. Trials give you a look in the mirror and a chance for an extreme soul makeover. It’s encountering His strength in your weakest, most vulnerable state.
The insurmountable “Why, God?” will always beg for answers. And sometimes there’s just no good reason to be found. Incredibly painful and unjust things happen in life. But searching for meaning within the trial is different than searching for its reason.
James refers to “trials of various kinds” because lots of things put your faith on trial besides persecution - things that test you and threaten to bring out your worst.
- grief – divorcing the person you made vows with, mourning a tragic death.
- financial straits – seemingly inescapable debt, losses due to economic recession.
- health concerns – facing cancer, tackling autism, making peace with Alzheimer’s.
- loneliness – being orphaned, aging alone, single people searching for community.
- homosexuality – confronting attractions to the same gender presents a major crisis of faith for so many brothers and sisters in Christ.
- depression – the uncontrollable sadness and loss of interest in livelihood, loss of vitality.
But don’t be too quick to dismiss your situation if it’s not on someone’s list, as if it weren’t difficult enough to be considered a trial. Granted, a trial is more than just a bad day, but never underestimate a gnawing chronic state of dissatisfaction at work, a loveless marriage or the stagnation of a passionless existence. Some trials damage by lingering until they penetrate and mar the soul.
And though it may feel like punishment or judgment, God takes no delight in your wounded spirit or seeing your hurt. God isn’t up there poking you with a really long stick.
Instead, God offers to redeem any season of adversity by developing something that’s not yet present in you. It can help you grow up in the faith and shed your childish skin that craves selfishness, impatience, laziness…
To “get there”, it takes living in the spiritual realities of life, being aware of unseen truths. And the truth is, God’s crying with you. With furrowed brow, tender eyes and outstretched arms, His embrace waits for you.
The really hard thing in all this is the perseverance that’s required. Trials don’t have expiration dates, so we never know if we’re days or decades away from freedom. Even when the need continues for a long time, we retain the practices of trusting and never giving up, praying even when it feels futile, banking on the promises of God, remembering his goodness and mercy. Nietzsche calls it a “long obedience in the same direction.”
Perseverance is more than a mere gritting your teeth and bearing it. It develops a disciplined lifestyle and inches us closer to maturity.
So, if it boils down to a tremendous opportunity to grow closer to Jesus and become more transformed into his image, you have to ultimately decide if that’s worth it to you. Because it’s some HARD STUFF. Difficult moral dilemmas.
Is God worth it?
If you conclude that He is, discern His truth for your path and cling to it for dear life, because it’ll be challenged over and over and over again.
But if you conclude that He’s not, that God doesn’t care about your suffering… God won’t hold your grievances with Him against you. He just loves you. After you commiserate with David’s rants in Psalms, God loves you still!!! And you’ll never be separated from that love.
Keep on keeping on,
AIM 1991, Portugal
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
“I am the true vine, and my father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit…abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” John 15
Our great God, The Vinedresser, is always busy tending and nurturing His olive tree. His process requires the utmost patience, moment-by-moment attention and a careful hand. If you’ve ever split the roots of a plant or pruned a plant so as to cause it to grow then you know the meticulous effort and painstaking work involved in the process. Thank God He loves us enough to wound us to make us more fruitful.
Had you asked me at eighteen I probably would’ve told you that I thought Jesus’ words in John 15 likely referred to the harvest of lost souls and the tireless effort of those involved in it. Little did I know. From somewhere and somehow I came to believe that God was primarily concerned with my production of ‘fruit’ in the form of teaching others who would teach others. It took a little while for me to realize that I was gravely mistaken and on a serious road to burnout. Not only that, but I was completely missing the point about what it means to be deeply loved by my creator. As I struggled in those early years -- learning to walk –- the belief that I wasn’t producing enough ‘fruit’ was overwhelming. As the great vinedresser tended and nurtured me, I discovered His true vision: the growth of the ‘fruit’ of His spirit made manifest in my life. And as we should all know, the fruit of the spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience and the like. (Gal 5) This, of course, meant a significant shift in my expectation of myself and of others. I began to understand God’s plan for me in the context of a loving creator and Father instead of a distant taskmaster whom I feared. I believe this process completely natural; Solomon told us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. I love the idea that God desires more peace, more joy, and love from us. These are remarkable things to attain to that, in great irony, make us better and more effective proclaimers of the gospel. Healthy fruit is aromatic and pleasing to the eye – just ask Eve.
This, of course, is not to say that God is snipping, clipping, and awaiting only a celebration to be born from our hearts, though this has definitely occurred in me at times (and is highly recommended); He is also very concerned with the less popular matters of faithfulness and self-control. Painfully, this is where the great vinedresser tends to draw upon more stringent measures to inspire us.
Romans 11 is a rich passage that uses the Vinedresser imagery to describe God’s tending of Israel by breaking off the natural branches of the root of His olive tree (unbelieving Israel). This seems like a drastic and destructive thing for our Gardener God to do but is explained as the mechanism that would bring ‘riches for the world,’ allow for the gentiles to be grafted into the rich root of His olive tree and ultimately inspire natural Israel’s jealously and ultimate repentance. I think this is a beautiful picture of God’s courage and wisdom to do what is necessary to save as many lives as possible and even enrich His cultivated olive tree with a bunch of wild olives like us. For the last 2000 years this olive tree/mustard tree kingdom has been growing aggressively and pressing against the gates of Hades. Thanks be to God!
When I have faced significant trials that test my resolve and bring me to frustration, I am reminded of God’s severity and willingness to do whatever is necessary to prune me for His purpose. I am learning to view this severity as His great love for me—though it’s always hard. And if YOU have ever born fruit, He WILL prune you again and again. “…and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit.” If you are a fruit-bearing branch of “The Vine,” Jesus Christ, then you’ve been blessed to experience this at The Vinedresser's hand. “…abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.” As he clips and prunes – sometimes severely – we are forced deeper into the vine for sustenance and the restorative power of Jesus. We reach into his Heart for the strength and character to be be reborn with new growth, stronger tendrils, heartier leaves, and healthier, more delectable fruit.
As the Lord loves you severely into His holiness, may you consider it pure joy and be fruitful again and again bearing ‘fruit that will last,’ ‘much fruit,’ and so prove to be His disciples.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” Rom 11:33
Nathan D. Myers (Aim Alum, Russia 95)
Monday, November 1, 2010
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