Not your comfort, but His glory

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.   Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.   I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.   Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.   Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.  (2nd Corinthians 11:24-30)

I would say “I’m afraid my last post may have ruffled a few feathers”- but I’m not really afraid, I’m sure.  And I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable or bitter.  It’s just that there is a very important lesson to be learned here.

Our comfort, our temporal happiness, is of no value unless it brings glory to God.  Our success for the sake of success is useless- but our success for the sake of His honor is everything.  Our happiness for the sake of happiness alone is selfish- our joy for the sake of spreading that joy is worthy.  Possessions for the sake of status are idolatrous- wealth for the sake of upholding one another brings God glory.  And the list goes on and on.

Now, I ask this in all seriousness- who among us is so sure of their own value that they think that the Creator of All would deign to give them something for the sole purpose of their own temporary pleasure?  Now that question is double-edged, because I do believe that God takes great pleasure in our happiness.  After all, he’s painted sunsets that could shake you to the tips of your toes, he’s made fruit so sweet it makes your blood sing, he gave us SEX- obviously pleasure means something to God.  But pleasure for the sake of pleasure alone?  It’s empty.

The book of Ecclesiastes gives interesting counsel.  It says that all a man’s labors are a “mere chasing after the wind”, they will be destroyed by sun and famine and turn to dust.  So what are we to do?  Praise God when our cups are full, enjoy our spouses, take pleasure in what little good life has to offer.  And in the end, praise God, who pours rain down on both the good and wicked.

So is it all folly or not?  I find it interesting that Paul boasts not about his many successes, but that he does so ironically about his many percieved failures.  I wouldn’t think that being beaten, shipwrecked, and jailed would be the height of his career.  But yet he puts it forward as such- why?  Because it is in the fact that he has been beaten so many times and still gone forward, that he has been jailed and released, that he has been on the verge of death and still lived that God is glorified.

Think of Joseph, who was sold into slavery, falsely accused and jailed but through being so he managed to save his people.  Or Esther, that symbol of feminine strength, who had to trade her body for the queenship in order to save her people.  These are good, god-fearing youth that had to have gone through incredible pain in order to get to the point that they saw God’s will fulfilled.  Or Daniel, as another example, whose faithfulness was “rewarded” with a trip to the Lion’s den.  Shadrac, Meshac and Abednigo, who were nearly martyred.  Or the countless real examples of those who were faithful and died.

Should we curse God?

Heaven forbid it.  We should praise him.  Why?

Because despite his sending rain on both the good and the evil, he does care about us deeply.  Not about our temporary happiness, but about the deep and abiding joy that comes only from knowing that your life will serve a greater purpose.  Whether that life be “blessed” or cursed with bad fortune, either way you can live it as such that your life causes people to praise God’s name.

It may not get you a mansion and a porsche and a good performance review from your work- but leave those things for materialistic fools.

If I am to boast, I will boast of my weakness, so people can see God’s work in me that much more clearly.

Lessons from the Man Born Blind

But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” (John 9:9 revised)

Short Bunny Track:

I read the Bible.  Contrary to what some may think because of my apparently hedonistic views on some things, I do in fact have a Bible.  Three, actually.  One of which is in my handbag at all times.  When I am waiting for an appointment, I read the Bible.  When I get to church early, I read the Bible.  When I wake up in the morning before the kids, I read the Bible.  I usually have a schedule of reading it from start to finish at least once a year, re-reading Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and Revelations several times more because I just really like them.  (Psychoanalyze at will.)  Lately, though, I’ve found myself mired in the New Testament.

I tell you all of that totally unnecessary information to explain why, when my son woke up at 4:30 this morning and I couldn’t go back to sleep, I ended up reading the books of John and Acts.  Have you ever had the experience of reading something so familiar, and at the same time it seeming like wholly new text?  This is a rare occurrence for me, but this morning that was the case.  Perhaps it was my sleep addled mind further addled by an onion bagel and Pepsi, perhaps it was the sound of the birds and train at five AM, perhaps it was the way the light looks in early morning when there’s bound to be a storm before noon.  Whatever it was, I was feeling unusually contemplative.

My mind got stuck on the man born blind.  I’ve read that passage many times, too many times to count.  My brother preached from it once many years back.  I could remember his haughty and over-acted tone as he read the words, “he himself insisted, ‘I AM THE MAN.‘”  I could remember the laughter of the congregation.  But something in me this time said, “that’s not funny.”

Let me re-tell you the story this morning. (John 9 for those curious.)

Just coming off of an argument with the Pharisees in which Jesus said that the Father would be glorified through Jesus, Jesus and the disciples encounter a man born blind.  His disciples, ever curious, ask why the man was born blind.  See, the Jews believed that earthly misfortune, such as illness, was brought on by sin.  So they were curious- if a man was born blind, whose sin was that meant to punish?  Sins the man would commit, or sins his parents had?

Jesus, ever cryptic, responded that it was to show God’s glory.  So Jesus put mud on the mans eyes and told him to wash himself.  The man went and washed himself, and found that he could see.  Some might say that it was in that moment that God’s glory was seen.  But wait, there’s more!  When the man came back to town I’d wager that he carried himself differently.  That he was different.  So when the people saw him they questioned- is this the man born blind?  And the man insisted that he was.  So the Pharisees got involved.  The Pharisees were sure that it must be the Devil’s work, as Jesus offered healing on the sabbath (something they had decided was sinful) and the man went and bathed publicly on the sabbath (something against the rabbinical laws of the time).  Of course this causes a great deal of confusion.  The man born blind insists that it was through God that he was healed.

So the Pharisees say “you were mired in sin from birth!” and kick him out of the temple.

I suppose that was something that poor man heard a lot.  I’m sure he was constantly reminded that he was living out the punishment for sins past and present.  I’m sure that it would have been impossible for him to better his station in life, as he couldn’t work and other people wouldn’t want to bring an “unclean” man into their homes.  After his parents had died I’m sure that he lived a destitute life, saved only by the fact that the Jewish people were ordered to care for the poor.

“Mired in sin from birth.”

And what did Jesus do?  He did much more than heal a man’s sight.  He gave him a second chance, a new life, freedom from the curses that were constantly spoke over him.  He washed that man of the taint of sin and perception.  He raised him above the standard to which he had always been held.  Jesus radically changed the way that people had to look at that man and his life.  No longer was he under the curse of sin and death and the judgment of the law- here he was, a freed man.  A seeing man.  And proudly would he proclaim that he himself was that man!  All of the shame he had carried, gone in an instant, washed away with the mud that covered his face.  What a beautiful picture to hold in one’s mind, that mud dripping away, the man looking up.  Realizing.

But that moment was not the full extent of God’s glory.  God’s glory was in the townspeople and the Pharisees, gumming away at the problem, wondering.  If the judgment was gone, what did it mean?  Had the proper sacrifices been made?  Had reparations been meted out?  Had the sacrifice been accepted and blessed?

Jesus had asked not for sacrifice, but for obedience.

Can’t you just see the glory?  Feel it tingle down to your fingertips?  Taste it on the tip of your tongues?  There are moments where I think, “why was I saved?  What good am I?”

I tell myself, “you are mired in sin.”

But hear for a moment the pride in that man’s voice as he said, “I AM THE MAN!”  We are saved! God is glorified through Jesus.

It’s almost too much to hold in one’s mind.