Friday, April 15, 2016


But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!” As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God! (Psalm 40:16-17)

I have often reflected on, and been asked about, the tension between acknowledging our sin and neediness before God and the reality of celebrating the grace, mercy and strength that we know in union with Him. There are times when I feel the drag of the first or the jolt of the second. But is it right to live in such tension? Should my experience as a child of God be different?

Well if Psalm 40, penned by David, has anything to say to us, then it seems the tension is real and to be expected in the life of the believer. David begins the Psalm by recounting his deliverance by God (vv. 1-3). He then shares his euphoria at being delivered by the Lord along with the delight that he has in knowing the Lord; giving testimony to it in the great congregation (vv. 4-11). Then in the very next breath David seemingly despairs of himself saying, "For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me. (v.12). The final stanza (printed above) again captures the tension — May all who seek you rejoice ... I am poor and needy.

Looking at the life of saints like David, like Paul, it seems that the tension is real, and even to be embraced. Identifying too much with either side of the equation could be unhealthy. If one has an over-awareness of sin and no sense of deliverance and new life in Christ, it is questionable whether one really knows the joy and life in the Spirit that we are promised in places like Romans 8. On the other hand if one’s life is a seeming uphill climb marked by victory after victory in Christ and there is no awareness of sin, weakness, or need — then I would be concerned about the ability to discern the heart and the inner life, for like David, a man after God’s own heart, we too struggle with remaining sin.

In all this we are encouraged to keep our eyes on Christ. As the author and finisher of our faith, he endured the depths of hell to give us the heights of glory. It is his life in us that keeps us from despair and brings us joy. It is the life of the already, but not yet. With John we say, “Lord Jesus, come quickly!"

Friday, April 1, 2016


Sometimes it is difficult following these high celebrations (Easter) to come back to the reality of physical pain, relational tension, financial uncertainty, unrealized expectations and political turbulence. Sometimes the incongruity of the “already but not yet” takes hold and we slip into the doldrums.

One of the major reasons for this is that we forget that brokenness and suffering are part of this world’s experience. Remember Jesus’ words, “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” Or even the description of discipleship that we are invited to in which we “take up our cross and follow him (Mark 8:34).” 

Grappling with the idea of suffering/cross bearing is crucially important both for our own mental/spiritual experience as well as for the testimony we would share with a watching world.

Diane Langberg, a counselor/author with solid theological moorings and over forty years of experience says this:

We have been clearly told in the Scriptures that suffering is part of life in this fallen world. Most of us work hard to push that truth back and live as if it is not so or will not be for us. When it comes it can take the breath away and certainly rock the foundations of a life and a family. *

While the observations from the Word and those that work with the suffering may be obvious, my fear is that many of us have more deeply imbibed at the wells of Westernism than we think. Specifically, the Western mindset that we have adopted is that obedience in following God will lead to an absence of suffering and the presence of (material) blessing in our lives.

One can readily see the disappointment and frustration this will cause personally if we find suffering where we expect its absence. But it goes even deeper, for it is not only our personal perception that is at stake, but also the perception of those that would evaluate the plausibility of the Christian faith. Listen to these words from Ed Shaw reflecting on the importance of embracing suffering as a part of our discipleship:

But, for some reason, in our generation, following Jesus is no longer about our sacrifice and suffering. Western Christians have, by and large, stopped denying ourselves—we now talk more about our right to be ourselves. Our Christian lives are more about self-gratification—seemingly denying the existence of Jesus’ words here. They are a continuation of our previous lives, with a thin Christian veneer: just being nicer to a few more people.

The crosses we bear are the small annoyances we haven’t yet managed to rid ourselves of (a dodgy knee, our interfering mother-in-law, a bad boss at work), rather than any significant suffering we intentionally embrace because we are following Jesus and want others to follow him too. We’ve chosen to ignore the fact that Jesus is here calling his disciples to make a conscious and costly decision to sacrifice ourselves, to say ‘No!’ to things we might want, even deserve or need, because that’s what it means to follow his example.**

Shaw’s point is that as we embrace suffering in our own lives we can begin to help people make sense of the suffering of this world, and so that we can “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

Which brings us to the nine chapters of a minor prophet named Amos. It is a message coming to Israel during a time of prosperity, a message that was frankly unpopular and stepped on a few toes. It was a message that said success and prosperity may not be where the life of God’s people should be, and identifying with the poor and needy, suffering, is a mark of godliness. But ultimately it was a message flowing from the heart of the lover to his bride. Over the next several weeks, we will look at this little book in detail, starting this week in Amos 3:1.

* “Suffering and the Heart of God. Interview with Diane Langberg” in By Faith magazine, March 2016.

** Ed Shaw. Same Sex Attraction and the Church, p. 117