Hoping to grow wise.

Rob Maupin


Posts Categorized as: hardship




The Power of Wisdom and Grace

Caveat: This is a complicated post and might be boring to some readers…. fair warning.

Discouragement

It can be discouraging times for a Bible-believing Christian if you look around at all. The Charleston massacre, racism, the vitriol about Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner’s issues, the decision by SCOTUS on gay marriage, the Pope and ISIS. If you are like me, you might be wondering, “how in the world will we ever be a nation that pleases God?” If you look around a little further, you’ll see the church at odds with itself. Facebook abounds with lazy, ad hominem attacks on why the church has failed (x) demographic and how it has missed (x) teaching of Jesus. I have some smart Christian friends who are avidly anti-gun and other smart Christians who are equally pro-second-amendment. Even the Christians who are trying to do some good tend to take shots at each other regarding justice, poverty, loving your neighbor etc. And, if you’re like most people, this discussion goes at the national or regional level even if you have never met the people involved, or researched the issue at hand. We have, at times, become a church at the mercy of the media. The only vetted purveyors of truth are those self-proclaimed prophets with the fastest internet or the shrillest voices.

Now, in all fairness, this is nothing new in principle. Gossip, rumor, personal attacks and intentional misinformation have been around since the dawn of mankind (e.g. Adam and Eve’s deflection of blame in the Garden). Empires, both old and new, have used these techniques. Mussolini’s first weapon was the newspaper he owned; Hitler had Goebbels. And, while the press has also been a force for truth, freedom and democracy, the issue here is that we have a new platform (internet and social media) but the dangers involved are the same. The biggest change with the new platform?—no editors and no pushback. Anyone can throw out anything they want and escalate things as fast as they like. Passions flare, calls to action abound and clear thinking becomes difficult.

This tends to create camps, groups, and labels. Negative attribution begins to thrive and we start developing a strong sense of who our enemies are. A former student of mine has announced that he’s become “a champion of justice and a defender of gay rights.” according to a social media post. Regardless of your beliefs on gay rights, this person has set up everyone who is not on his side as an enemy. Against whom is he actually fighting? We have turned into a society that demands that you endorse our opinions and feelings. If you don’t, you’re a bigot and,…well, you better watch out because my righteous team is against your evil team. This kind of emotional pain makes us myopic. Our own pain (real, imagined or borrowed) makes us stop thinking about anything other than our wounds. Our “camp” becomes our form of communal sharing of pain. And, when we feel our camp might be threatened, we all tend to get defensive and a little aggressive.

Better Pathways

What pathway do we take to find hope for ourselves and assist in healing? How do we engage the suffering we see around us, actually love our enemy (esp if we’ve never met them personally) and do good work in the world today? How do we address racism and white privilege without separating into camps? How do we love the gay community and still pursue holiness? Who can show us how to address poverty, terrorism, domestic violence and hyper-capitalism?

John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (NASB95). Grace and truth—here is our secret and hope.

Some of us err on the side of grace—we say that there is no room for the church to judge anyone, ever. If we’re not careful, sentimentality becomes our new standard. Statements like “love has no labels” creep into our dialogue. Feelings tend to become the indicators of rightness and anything that hurts emotionally becomes the work of the evil one. We can also err on the side of truth and simply let broken people go on their way and smugly judge them. We fight hard to address things as they really are (e.g. love really actually does have labels) and then let the bodies fall where they may. Over the last few years as a teacher, leader and pastor, I have seen most of my students gravitate toward one side or the other. It is very difficult to walk in both grace and truth. It’s a very, very messy pathway. But I’d like to suggest that the grace-and-truth-way gives us several forms of leverage for the world we live in.

  1. Canceling Revenge: Grace, together with truth stops the revenge cycle. Here’s what I mean—It’s easy to say “you should forgive” if you’re not the one who feels hurt. This is part of the issue of the racism arguments. Truth calls out the evil, the sin, the injustice and takes the brokenness out into the sunlight where we have to address it. However, left by itself, the truth demands action—usually punitive. Our problem is that we all tend to think that we are the judge of what equality should look like. Grace allows us to let God be the judge. We get the chance to forgive, to extend to others the grace that was extended to us. Grace without truth in this situation is a terrible option…we expect people to “get over it” and just decide they shouldn’t be hurt anymore. This just escalates the hurt and the sense of injustice. Grace and truth together give us the chance to address the “Stockdale Paradox”* and still choose to not be chained to revenge. Only then can we move forward. Grace accepts the true debt owed and then cancels it; there is no more need for revenge.
  2. Thinking Clearly: The combination of Grace and Truth helps us to stop and think a bit. Revenge will scream at us but truth tends to whisper. Allowing ourselves to step back from the issue and think a bit gives us a chance to practice Covey’s habit of “seeking first to understand…” Proverbs 18:17 is applicable here. There are two sides to every issue (or more) and truth helps us see clearly what’s going on while Grace allows us to resist judging motives or intentions. When we stop for even a moment, we can start to see that there are more opinions than just ours. This helps us not be afraid. The Gospel turned Rome upside down and has flourished in far worse civilizations. When we think clearly, we see that God is still in control and we have to pay attention to him.
  3. Humility: This awareness of the power and sovereignty of God allows us to genuinely manifest humility. We all tend to think we’re geniuses and prophets. Everyone seems to think the answers are obvious. But grace and truth allows us to partially remove our biases, address our weakness and ignorance (and we are all of us, very ignorant indeed) and see that we are both part of the problem and part of the healing. Very few people belong to actual hate groups. Most of us are just weak and afraid. When we humbly admit our fears as well as our bias, we can look for truth, through a lens of love for others that cannot come outside of Jesus. Truth tells us that we are not the judges or creators; we are derived from the One who can see all things. Grace shows us that while we are limited, we are loved and cared for. That’s what humility looks like.
  4. Courage: When God told Jesus “no” in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was forced to trust God through the worst things imaginable. He was forced to walk through the hatred and violence. He had to trust that God the Father was going to repay him (Heb 12:2). He was an example of suffering unjustly (I Peter 2:21) that we can follow. Trust in God starts with picking up your cross…your death to self. This has never been easy and will not get easy until we have practiced it over and over (Luke 9:23). Courage comes from knowing what really is happening and realizing we can love the messy people around us anyway. And, when action is finally required, we know that grace and truth accompany us as we go.

Grace and truth is what came through Jesus into this world. Law was the option before Jesus and most people are still trying to live by law…only they set themselves or their “community” up as the arbiters of that law. Woe unto those who break their law…

If you would live a life of both Grace and Truth, there are a couple of suggestions I have that might be of help.

Next Steps

First, read a chapter of Proverbs every day and try to think clearly about what’s going on in the text. You’ll begin to see parallels immediately in the culture around you and this will give you a rubric to think more clearly about our issues. I’m not kidding about this one… if you want to think well, you need a teacher. Start here.

Second, take a season and stop listening to social media about the issues and get involved in serving locally. I suspect you’ll find that there are plenty of complicated issues right next door to you that require grace and truth. We all tend to want to have our voices matter on the national (or global) stage but the truth is that what makes the news is probably our local context writ large. If you ask God to open your eyes to the needs around you, he is faithful and will do so.

Next, read wisely. Read Stephan Bauman, or Jud Wilhite, or John Perkins, or Eric Metaxas, or Thomas Sowell or Dallas Willard or… well, you get the idea. Read good history. Read widely—especially books that have been vetted by other thought leaders. What you’ll find as you read really wise books is that our generation is addressing the same problems that have faced humanity since the first day.

Lastly, work through Matthew 5, Habakuk and I Peter to think about how we love those who are against us. Think deeply about what it means to suffer unjustly and yet be pleasing to God in spite of our pain. It doesn’t take much to love the people who look like you or agree with you. It takes nothing less than grace and truth to love your enemies. In fact, you should practice this with the people you work with daily. Let them win….

It can be extremely discouraging if you pay too much attention to the world today. But take heart! God has not left us! The response from the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after the shooting in Charleston has garnered the amazement of millions—grace and truth is being manifested in power. Thanks be to God, grace and truth still are being made real every day. We can be honored that we have a role to play in this era! You can be part of that same power and process.


*I refer here to what Jim Collins discusses in his book “Good to Great.”


Miracles and Dark Days: Review and Reflection

Dark Days Indeed:

Several of my readers and students have asked me to address some of the recent social issues that are plaguing our world today. I have hesitated to put my opinions about these issues into print because of the current climate of volatile dialogue. You and I live in an era where making any kind of statement instantly labels you: bigot or activist, hateful fear-monger or hateful defender of the status-quo. I recently read that we are in an era where people don’t want freedom of speech, we want freedom from speech (that bothers us). One person warned me that if I didn’t say something, my silence on these issues implicates me on the side of the bad guys… what’s a teacher/pastor to do?

There is a season for provocateurs and prophets. I used to think that I was someone who played both roles. As I’ve grown older, I don’t think I have either the wisdom or authority to do so. My roles of husband, Dad, pastor and teacher have more than enough challenge.

It is true. We are plagued by some really difficult issues today: Injustice, Trafficking, ISIS, War, Political disasters, Racial divides etc. It can be easy to be completely discouraged when your personal life is hurtful and the society you live in seems to disintegrate around you. What we need is a miracle. Thanks to God, there is a great new book about this.

Background:

Recently, I received an invitation to be part of the launch team for Eric Metaxas’ new book, “Miracles.” Once I accepted, I got a free book and an introduction to a well-organized group of fellow readers. I was unable to read the entire book in one sitting but, when I finally finished, I was determined to write a review that would encourage others to read this book. As I was reading the book, I began to realize that God was giving me a way to respond to the darkness of our era. Rather than opining on particular issues, this was a chance to bring encouragement and healing rather than more division. I want to start with a quick review of the book. Here are a few things that I want to share with you that I liked:

Review:

  1. This is a readable book. Make no mistake, it’s well-researched and full of complex issues but it is written in a way that a broad audience can enjoy and grow from this book. He does not shy away from some very difficult issues but the tone is never one of speaking down to someone.
  2. The key elements in understanding the big issues of miracles are dealt with (check out the subtitle on the pic above). Metaxas discusses the nature of miracles, the reason they happen, how to determine what a miracle is, why they sometimes don’t happen and discusses miracles in the Bible. Then he gives a series of miracle stories from real people. This leads to my next point:
  3. These are stories from Metaxas’ own life or people he personally knows. This allows the reader to see the experiential aspect of the topic. The stories are amazing and so moving! No hagiography here; just real people with real miracle stories.
  4. Chapter six could be seen as the fulcrum for the whole book. I’m saying this as a Pastor. As a professor, I liked chapter two the best because of the tight logic and good research about the ontology of miracles. However, almost no one I love gives one hoot about the word “ontology,” let alone what it means. What almost everyone wants to know is this: what will God do for me? We don’t mean to be myopic but pain in life does that: we don’t see the peripherals (even if they’re important). This chapter addresses the difficult questions that apply to our personal experience with miracles.
  5. The book is a harbinger of hope. In our world today, there are myriads of people bashing the church, pointing out where the strong ones fail, critiquing models of ministry and decrying the deterioration of society. Few voices are shouting that God is still active, still powerful and present. This book give hope in a tangible way and I loved that.

Current Reality:

We all want God to do miracles in our lives. I think this is normal and should be expected by those of us who believe the Bible is true. Every day I am praying for miracles to happen in my life…I’m not kidding. When I pray for Kate’s legs or Shannon’s healing, I ask God to miraculously heal them. I am extremely urgent in my prayers for my house to sell. I call out to God to help my Mom with her Alzheimer’s. Yet sometimes the long days and unanswered prayers can extinguish the fervor of faith. So, on top of just asking for miracles, I want to encourage you to keep your eyes open for the miracles that God has already done for you and for others. This book is a good part of that!

When I do this in my own life, I think of my son-in-the-faith, Kevin.

There are no geographical, historical or logical reasons that we’re so close. Nonetheless, God has healed the social and racial divide that would have separated us. God has made us family! His entire life is a miracle and I thank God almost every day for bringing him into our lives…Kevin remains on my daily prayer list.

I also think of how God urged us to move to Texas. We did not know that Kate needed a more accurate diagnosis when we felt Him tell us to leave. I marvel at the doctors God has brought into our lives. I think of how God has used our local church in NE to help my Dad during these dark days… the list of miracles in my life goes on for a long, long time. Even though God has yet to answer some of my prayers, He has lovingly given me a great amount of large and small miracles! The give-and-take process of asking for miracles and then counting the ones already given has helped me have a more robust faith in God despite my sorrows and heartache. Metaxas said it well, “True faith is not a leap into the dark, it is a leap into the light” (pg14). It is in this tension that we walk—it is the already and not-yet. The light shows that God has not left us alone. He is still acting despite all the evidence being heaped up against peace.

Can you imagine the era during the birth of Jesus—the Romans, the oppression, the injustice, the loss of hope? It was during the worst of times that God sent his Son to dwell with us; to suffer with us. In our own era of darkness, there is hope that God is still working. It might be quiet and hidden in a manger, but He is here and He sees us. I hope you are able to read this book. It re-ignites my faith and I think we all need that from time-to-time…especially during the Christmas season…especially if this season brings heartache. God is with us in joy and blessing, and in pain and poverty. He is with us now.

Blessings on you. Merry Christmas and may God give you miracles.


*I am not getting any reward or compensation from this review. I’m hoping that someday I might get to meet Eric Metaxas… but no guarantees…


Tangibility

Because my day job is being a professor, I am constantly inside a stream of competing ideas, philosophies and opinions (many of them highly educated ones…). It’s a lovely thing to be exposed to a great deal of ideas even though it often leaves me with more questions than answers. Truth be told, after getting a terminal degree and working regularly with local churches, I now have a real inner struggle I have to deal with! Inside of me are two realities.

The first is the one based on where I grew up. The ranch-hand, hard-knocks, figure-it-out-yerself, farm-boy, chores-hating, redneck has one cultural and familial voice that urges practicality, simplicity and an honest, “if-it-don’t-work-it’s-fake” mentality. During those seasons of my history, I was exposed to a black and white morality, a clear-cut theology and a practical way of living out faith that didn’t really demand a lot of questions as long as you stayed in the pattern of that life. Folks could tell how serious you were about God by just looking.

But over the years, I have been forced to see things from differing viewpoints. Much of that was due to the changing of context. I went from a small country-town church to a large middle-class church. I went from the farm, to Joplin, to Amarillo, to Chicago and then to Mexico City. And since then, as I have studied at both graduate and doctoral levels, I have realized that there is much more in heaven and earth than is dreampt of in my philosophy{1}.

Thus, the inner struggle comes out as I now engage with this dual nature: one side of me is eager and wanting to help in a practical way, through a simple teaching in a local church. The other realizes that even the desire to help others carries a hidden matrix of emotion and worldview. The fact is that even when it comes to understanding good and evil, the existence of God and a host of other thorny problems, it takes some real work to think clearly.

As I write this, Easter is tomorrow and I love Easter (for a host of reasons)! Family visits are a cherished part of this time for us. I have great memories of Easter celebrations at the various churches I’ve worked with or attended. I am delighted when I think of Christ’s victory over the power of death! I am renewed and hopeful when I think of how my loved ones will welcome me again one day to heaven! While all of those (and more) are reasons for me to celebrate, a part of what Easter brings to me is a solid answer to my most foundational questions.

Is God real? Can I trust the Words of God? Do miracles really happen? Is there anything beyond what we can see? — All of these questions are answered in the resurrection for me. I Corinthians 15 mentally brings this together for me and reminds me that this was God’s plan, according to the scriptures, and that this world is NOT all that there is, there IS a God and he made himself manifest so that we could see God with meat on. The incarnation is the starting point but we would never have had the solid proof of another world and another place if Jesus had not come back from the one thing that mows us all down eventually. Jesus raised from the dead is tangible evidence (think of Thomas here) that leaves an empty tomb and full hearts. No matter what the questions are, Jesus came back from the dead and ate with his disciples, gave them opportunity to touch his hands and side and used a human mouth to speak a human language that revealed a greater depth of reality than anyone has ever understood or dreamed. We could finally touch God.

What is fascinating is that Easter not only answers the basics for me, it also brings up more questions than I ever thought possible. Where is heaven and what does a resurrected body look like (or smell like)? What about some of the time-space questions etc…. The fact that He did rise from the dead shows that no law of physics can be over the one who designed them. Jesus is not limited by our same boundaries. What a great set of ideas to explore!

In the end, I find that God has been using both the simple faith of my farm-life and the exploring quest of good academics all along. The local church, and the academics that work with many churches, need each other to bring a practical expression to the basics of Jesus’ teaching. We also need each other to develop a humility large enough to ask tough questions without being defensive. When we work together, we wisely carry out both the Great Commission and loving out neighbor. We avoid foolish arguments and learn more about living a life of love. The hands and feet of Jesus work in conjunction with the mind of Christ. Thank God for the church! Thank God for Easter. Hope is availed to us on a day-to-day basis, and hope has more layers than we ever thought possible.

And, Easter was the event that led to Pentecost… but more on that later. Happy Easter. May Jesus’ love be something tangible for you today!


{1} I am here paraphrasing Hamlet’s bit with Horatio, scene 5. Props to the bard…