Wednesday, September 26, 2007

SOUL-SANDING: More on Pain in the Christian life

From time to time, I do a little bit of wood-working, whether it be
building shelves for my office, fixing the front porch, hanging new
trim in the living room, or making a footstool in my basement...

So over the years, at various points, I've needed to use Sand Paper
to remove unwanted material, or to smooth out rough spots in the piece
I was working on...

Sand paper, of course, comes in many degrees of "grit", referring to
the size and quantity of the stone-like, abrasive "flecks" on the surface
of the paper. The lower the grit, the larger and more rough the
flecks are, the higher the grit, the smaller and finer the flecks...

When I want to remove large amounts of unwanted material, and do so
with maximum effect from the effort I will be putting into the sanding
process, I'll buy a 60-grit, or an 80-grit; 4 or 5 passes with this
kind of paper -- depending on the toughness and resistance of the
thing to be sanded -- and I will have achieved the effect for which
I bought that grade of sand paper... A higher grit (finer) paper
simply would not get the job done...

It's not hard to see how this is analogous to the Christian life;
James 1:2-4,12 teaches us that going through difficulties and trials
should be a JOY to us, specifically because of the Change than can
result; in other words, when Life -- or God Himself -- pulls out
the 80-grit sand paper and starts to go to work on us, sure, there
is PAIN involved, and a lot of us tend to cry out to God, asking that
the Pain or Trial be removed...

But if God's primary goal for us is Transformation, and
our own Sin and Rebellion and Stubbornness and (even) Stupidity
make it necessary for Him to use the roughest grade of paper to
"SAND" our Souls, isn't that, ultimately, what we WANT, as Believers?
Is perhaps our deepest sin that we don't passionately WANT to glorify
God by BECOMING what He wants to make of us?

We should perhaps ask ourselves, then, what the possible "Sand Paper"
in our lives looks like... Is it a critical, argumentative, selfish
spouse? How about an unfaithful, belligerent, condescending spouse?
A rebellious, self-centered teenager? An immature, irresponsible
co-worker? Poverty? Physical ailments? A death in the family?

C.S. Lewis wrote,
"God whispers to us in our pleasures,
speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains:
it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

So let's accept the Pain as being usable by God to "sand" away
those parts of our character that are not in line with the
masterpiece He intends to make of us; let's re-engage those painful
relationships in our lives, recognizing that since God's primary
VALUE system cherishes the person next to me, I should
submit to the hard work of Loving that person, too...

It's often very difficult!! Indeed, the process sometimes drags on,
involving a great deal of PAIN (and frustration, disappointment,
headache, heartache, and failure), but the Character change that will
almost certainly result is what profoundly pleases the Divine Woodworker.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

This is only gonna hurt... well, a lot

If any of us have the notion that the Christian life
is primarily about blessing and comfort and prosperity
and ease, then perhaps we have been sidetracked from
the process of Transformation and are running after a
false Gospel...

It's critical to come back to the reality that this process
is mostly one of pain, and of hardship, and of suffering,
which begins with Jesus Himself, "a man of sorrows and
acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53). While most of us may
not experience physical persecution, every single Christian
is called into the process of metamorphosis (Romans 12:2),
and that process is described throughout the Bible as one involving
a great deal of pain:
    Hebrews 4:12, 13
    The Gospel message rips bone from marrow, metaphorically,
    exposing our every Thought and Attitude to God... OUCH...

    Proverbs 27:17
    One man sharpens another... Ever used a steel file to
    sharpen something? Ya think the thing being sharpened
    enjoys the process? Oh man, that's gotta hurt...

    1 Corinthians 9:27
    Whether or not he actually beat himself with his own fists,
    Paul implies here that he pounded the *!@#@!* out of his
    Old Man and made it his slave, regularly... BAM...

    Luke 6:27-36
    Now the heat is REALLY getting turned up! What??? We are
    supposed to BLESS those who abuse us? We're to DO GOOD
    to those who hate us? Gosh, does that mean a selfish
    spouse? A rude, unkind Co-worker? A cynical, blasphemous
    neighbor? A sanctimonious, judgmental Believer? YEP!

    James 1:2-4,12
    We're not supposed to pray for Trials to be removed from
    us; instead, we're to -- get this -- count it a JOY to go
    through tough times! OUCH!

    Luke 9:23-26
    Here's Jesus himself saying that our day-to-day walk begins
    with a little "funeral" -- dying to self -- and then taking
    up our crosses (imagine the pain there!) to follow Him...

    Mathew 5:24
    This is perhaps the most PAINFUL one of them all! We're told
    here to STOP with the Religious stuff and GO MAKE PEACE with
    someone with whom we have some issue FIRST! Wow, now THAT
    is some major SAND PAPER for the SOUL!!! Double OUCH!!
There are, of course, many more passages in Scripture that should
present the TRUTH about the pain and agony we are called to go through
in the process of becoming sons and daughters of All Mighty God;
perhaps nobody in modern times has put it better than C.S. Lewis,
who describes it like this, in his talk, "Man or Rabbit":
    "The people who keep on asking if they can’t lead
    a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is
    about; if they did they would know that 'a decent life'
    is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are
    really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the
    Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us
    to be gods, intends for us something in which morality
    will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made.
    All the rabbit in us is to disappear — the worried,
    conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and
    sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of
    fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find
    underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined:
    a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant,
    wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy."
So how about it? Ready to start, or get back to, this painful Journey
sometimes known as Sanctification?? Ready for a piece o' Jesus?
He's going to hit us with more than we bargained for,
and MAN, this is gonna hurt...

But, through God's strength and relentless work in us, if we don't quit,
we WILL be glorfied, and find enternal JOY in what He
will have made of us...