If There Is Any Other Way

cup

“As we gradually come to befriend our own reality, to look with compassion at our own sorrows and joys, and as we are able to discover the unique potential of our way of being in the world, we can move beyond our protest, put the cup of our life to our lips and drink it, slowly carefully, but fully.” Henri J.M. Nouwen

Suffering is one of the only things that is guaranteed in this life. Some say that Christianity is a spiritual crutch that makes life more bearable. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christianity is not about making life easier. Christianity is about an eternal, unconditionally loving, intimate relationship between a Creator/Savior/Father and the created/saved/child. The price of this relationship is costly, for both sides of the relationship. In fact, the Christian life could by almost all accounts be considered unbearable (outside of God’s grace), especially when we look at the boundaries God has put in place for us with which modern society views as backwards-thinking and intolerant.

Many people feel free to warm themselves by the fires of all their desires. By contrast, Christians are called to acknowledge and see the good, God-given longings in these very real and sometimes desperate desires and then to be willing to lay them down if necessary in order to pursue a greater love, a higher truth, a more fulfilling calling. We are asked to do this daily, not to save us from eternal damnation, but to have the honor of walking the same road as Jesus did, so though we also share in His sufferings, we too can share in His inexpressible joy.

On the surface, especially from an outside perspective, a Christian’s life may look like self-inflicted torture.

On the contrary, a Christian is called to choose to live in God-inflicted grace.

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:36-39

Jesus pleaded not just once but three times in this one desperate evening for His Father to take away the suffering He had been asked to endure. Like Jesus, we beg of God to take the cup of suffering from us. If there is any other way to obey You . . . please, Daddy, let me have what I want, what I think I need . . . please, Daddy, don’t make me carry a grief I don’t understand . . . please, Daddy, there must be a different, less painful way . . . 

Like Jesus, we weep and try to say, but You know what’s best. You have my ultimate good in mind for me. Help me to trust You. Help me to follow through with what you want me to do. Jesus fully embraced this truth, and the reward was this grace: untold millions destined to enjoy an eternal intimate relationship with God and with those who love Him. 

Who knows what grace will come if I, if we, choose to follow the paths God has laid out for us, heartbreaking and confusing though they may be?

The cup of suffering I have been asked to drink has stifled my joy with nauseous disappointment. I have been holding this cup for nine months, tears dropping into what looks and smells like liquid death. This is not what I thought I signed up for . . . but this is what I have been given . . . cycles of grief and anger and death and acceptance and surrender . . . how can this possibly be worth it? Oh, God . . . if there is any other way . . . 

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1b-2

 

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Surrender!

“I have read the entire Koran and can find in it no guidance on how Muslims should live as a minority in a society. I have read the entire New Testament and can find in it no guidance on how Christians should live as a majority.”

While browsing news articles about the horrendous state of the world (not recommended), I came across a Christian opinion article by Philip Yancey entitled “Paris and Beyond.” As I skimmed through the article, which is about how Christians should respond to ISIS, etc. the profound quote from a Muslim scholar that you see above really stood out to me.

The fact is, I am a Christian living in the majority-Christian (well… at least culturally-Christian) South. So often, I have struggled with how my faith shows I am any different from the people around me who do not believe in Jesus.

Jesus says in Matthew 19:24, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

I do not believe the parable in Matthew 19 is primarily about how materially rich people have a harder time getting to heaven than materially poor people do.

In context, it seems to me that the difference between the “rich” and “poor” lies in a willingness to surrender. 

In the majority-Christian South (and actually, the entire U.S. is still considered majority-Christian) we have no concept of surrender. We who are never willing to lay down our arms are shooting ourselves in the feet.

In Syria, in China, in places where Christianity is persecuted or condemned, there is a stark difference between people who follow Christ and people who do not. Christians in such countries are not merely nominal. They are living New Testament truths on a day-by-day basis as a minority group. They are surrendering everything–their very lives–for the sake of the Gospel.

We don’t have many opportunities to surrender in the United States of America. Ingrained in the American psyche is the assumption that surrendering is always a cop-out, always weak and shameful. Jesus, who likes to turn all assumptions on their heads, spin them around, and show us just how wrong we are, tells us that surrendering is our primary calling!

In Luke 9:23, He says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

The very first step in discipleship is denying self: denying self-rights, self-freedom, self-obsession, self-condemnation, self-self-me-me-mine. 

What the heck does that mean for Christians like me, living in the majority-Christian South? How do I glean from Scripture how to live in a world where lines are blurred? Where atheists say they’re Christians and Christians act like God doesn’t exist?

I wish I had a clear-cut answer. I hate admitting it, but I’m still learning, folks, and I expect I’ll be learning it my whole life.

We can start by taking a moment–or many moments–to ask God to align our will to His will, which is good, pleasing and perfect.

Start with Romans 12.

A Living Sacrifice

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Humble Service in the Body of Christ

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love in Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love.Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor,serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.