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A Place for Weakness

Greetings All,

This week I was skimming through the opening pages of a book by Michael Horton entitled, "A Place for Weakness."   It's the response of a man who has looked at much of modern day Christianity, compared it with the New Testament version, and found it terribly lacking.  A man who wonders: "What about the people who don't get healed from cancer?  The people who have no miraculous deliverance to brag about?  What about those who aren't lavishly successful, and don't go from "rags to riches"?
     In fact, after pointing out how the modern church loves to parade around, "famous athletes, politicians, entertainers, ad other icons of popular culture... as trophies of grace," he very validly asks, "Have you ever seen a janitor interviewed for his testimony?"  What about people like the poor widow who gave her last two pennies to the Lord's work, but never (as far as we know) got blessed with a hundred-fold return, or millions of dollars as compensation for her extreme devotion?   A lady who was poor, and remained poor, yet loved the Lord with all that was in her?  Are there not millions of such believers the world over?  Where is our acknowledgment of their great faith in our churches or television broadcasts?  We do speak of martyrs, but what about those so poor they, "went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute... and mistreated"?  Those who "wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground" -- yet were faithful to the end, thus earning them the title:  "those of whom the world was not worthy" and people who were "commended (by God) for their faith."  If our faith cannot look up to them -- MORE than to the STAR ATHLETE or SELF-MADE MILLIONAIRE -- then we must ask what has happened to the Christian faith that James describes as the valid kind in James 2:1-13?
     I believe Horton does make a very valid point.  And I share this thought to challenge us to separate worldly triumphalism from true biblical Christianity. Enjoy.
God of the Cross

     "We don't like to think of ourselves as losers, especially in America. Even popular religion is often exploited in what Friedrich Nietzsche would celebrate as "the will to power."  If it is going to sell in the marketplace, it must be clearly seen that our particular brand of religion will make us winners in business and politics, boost our self-confidence, and position us and our families as the envy of our non-Christian neighbors.
     In part, this is an attempt to answer the claim that religion in general, but Christianity in particular, is for the weak...  Media mogul Ted Turner, who, though raised in a conservative Christian background, now reportedly calls Christianity, "a religion for losers."  How do you react when you read these words, or encounter them in veiled remarks by friends, co-workers, and relatives who do not know Christ?  For at least a century and a half, American evangelism has spent great effort and money on public relations campaigns for Christianity in just this area of concern. Famous athletes, politicians, entertainers, and other icons of popular culture are regularly trotted out as trophies of grace. Have you ever seen a janitor interviewed for his testimony?
     Of course, there are notable exceptions, such as Joni Eareckson Tada, who has brought so much wisdom to suffering since her diving accident left her paralyzed. But we seem obsessed at times with convincing the world that we are cool, which especially in this culture means healthy, good-looking, prosperous, and, even better, famous.  Not only can one remain cool in Christ; it is this personal relationship with Jesus that, far from calling us to die, gives us that little bit extra to, "be all we can be."  At least that's what the before-and-after testimonies seem to suggest. Jesus came to recruit a team of all-stars and coach them to the Super Bowl of better living.  As the title of one religious bestseller has it, we can have our best life now, just by following a few principles for daily success.

Any Place for Weakness?

     How do we square all this with Jesus' statement that... "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32)?  Paul also gives a recurring emphasis to weakness: "On my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses... But [the Lord] said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (II Corinthians 12:5, 9-10).  Would Paul have made a very good spokesman for "muscular Christianity" or for the other images of success so widely praised among us? 
     In his "Varieties of Religious Experience" (1902) Harvard professor and philosopher William James distinguished between two types of religion: "healthy-minded" and "morbid-minded." Those belonging to the sick-soul camp (the morbid-minded), he said, see themselves as sinful, dispossessed, and disinherited, while the healthy-minded exude optimism. America has attracted the disinherited of the earth to our shores in order to make a better life for themselves and their posterity. It's one of the amazing gifts we have: to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps" by starting out in the mail room and ending up in the board room.  But this healthy optimism has also led to a practical denial of the dark side of life.  In religious terms it has meant that the bad stuff has got to go -- no downers, such as human depravity, and inability for self-salvation, or the need for divine rescue, and so forth... Feeling good has emerged as not only a national priority but a religious obsession for Christians and non-Christians alike...  I do not think that a biblical sense of human sin and the need for redemption from outside ourselves requires national pessimism, but a religion of human goodness will never sustain a people in times of disaster and threat. We may be able to explain the "evil empires" beyond our borders by their lack of our national values, but what happens when we experience our own homegrown varieties of terrorism, violence, and social disintegration?
     The religion of the healthy-minded is persuasive in our time... However, a religion of healthy-mindedness, which ignores the reality of the fall in all its aspects, renders itself finally nothing more than a form of therapy during times of plenty and irrelevant in times of tragedy.  What we need is not therapy, but news -- good news! ... The bottom line of this book is that the Gospel is for losers. And that, in fact, we are all losers if we measure ourselves by God's interpretation of reality rather than our own. The demand for glory, comfort, autonomy, health and wealth creates a vicious cycle of craving and disillusionment.  It even creates its own industry of therapists and exercise, style, and self-esteem gurus -- and churches -- to massage the egos wounded by this hedonism.  We become prisoners of our own felt needs, which were inculcated in us in the first place by the very marketplace that promises a "fix."  We become victims of our own shallow hopes...  Consider the fame of the great stars of stage and screen whose lives we secretly wanted to share, who are now in Hollywood nursing homes, often with only memories to comfort them. How quickly adoring fans lose their interest when the vigor of youth can no longer be sustained by surgeries and lotions and diets...
     Ironically, it is precisely where the world detects the most obvious example of weakness -- the cross -- that God triumphs over sin and death at the peak of their most deadly power. Here's the irony: Just where the highest and holiest victim of truly undeserved suffering cries, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" victory over sin and death is taking place. This is the foolishness and weakness that trump the wisdom and power of the ages."

     The discerning person will find it impossible to suggest that Horton has not hit a nail on the head.  American Christianity, out of a shame the apostle Paul did not have about his weaknesses, has worked to become acceptable to the surrounding culture by turning its back on biblical Christianity and embracing American triumphalism, as well as elements of its materialism and hedonism.  Many believers now seek their "best life now," while millions go without and the world perishes in their sin.  In fact, the Church has joined the world in its worldly pursuits, thinking we could actually do what Jesus says no person can do -- that is, serve two masters -- God and money (or the things it can buy).
     May we come to see, before it's too late, that the ultimate treasure is Christ Himself.  That He is enough.  Or as one dear saint put it: "He who possesses all things without God possesses nothing, but he who possesses God, possesses in Him all things."  We need to get it right!  Its not what we can get from God, it is simply having God that is the greatest and most fulfilling of all desirable treasures.
     May we all pause to consider what we believe, why we believe it, and where those beliefs come from -- because many don't come from the Bible.
In the bonds of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff