A milestone offers me the opportunity to give witness to God’s faithfulness. Fifty years ago today, I surrendered to Jesus Christ, actively received his salvation and indwelling Holy Spirit, and committed my life to serving him. This after six months of resistance following a sermon of invitation I heard in Seattle in January of 1970. The problem was pride, conceit, self-sufficiency, and fear within me, preventing me from trusting God with my life. But the pursuit was on, and finally I just gave up because God wouldn’t let it rest. I was in high school at the time, and new Christian friends came out of the woodwork to support my new faith. My appetite for reading the Bible was voracious, and I read the whole thing in six months (yeah, I ended up skipping Ezekiel because I just couldn’t get it the first time). From then on, through difficulties and triumphs, disappointments and serendipities, God has remained true to his Word, steadfast in love, and patient in correction.

I share this today because I want “young people” to know that the invitation to surrender to Jesus holds great import for your life, and that the Christian faith, which has stood the test of time historically, also is proven to be durable and strong and true enough to last your lifetime. My parents thought it was a fad and phase I was going through (and it’s true, there was a powerful surge of the Spirit in 1968-1970 that birthed a renewed charismatic movement), but this “phase” has lasted fifty years and appears to be going strong.

God has not always felt present—I have had a couple of “dark nights of the soul” during that time period—but I have only learned that God is pouring out blessing every day and some days it’s just hard to see. But that’s okay, so long as I do not lose heart or doubt God’s motives and purposes.

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us…” (Rom. 8:26). “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness,” (2 Cor. 12:9). “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). These are Scripture verses that make my heart sing.

God is good. What God does is good. My goal in life is to align myself to God’s will and Way in gratitude for what he has done for me.

Thinking back on significant influences, I remember an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship four-screen slide show that toured college campuses in the early 1970s, called “Lord, Lord!” — a challenge from Luke’s gospel (6:46), “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” It knocked my socks off when I first saw it at Stanford, and I have remembered it ever since. You’ll hear why! I was unable to acquire the video, but here is 14 minutes of the soundtrack. The voices you hear are John Stott, Samuel Escobar, and Tom Skinner. The folk singer is Linda Rich.

Why Do You Call Me Lord, Lord?

Many thanks to Scott & Donna Wilson for retrieving this recording from the IVCF-2100 archives.

As a teenager, I played the organ weekly for my large Catholic parish. Steeped in the rituals of Holy Week, my musical participation was the means for experiencing the events we were commemorating.

One particular year, after the demands of Holy Week had run their course through Good Friday, I came into the church on Saturday to practice my pieces for Easter morning. In the Catholic tradition, at the conclusion of the Good Friday service the church sanctuary is stripped of all ornamentation. The candles are extinguished and the Sacrament is removed from the building. Empty of worshipers on Holy Saturday, the one day of the year when Mass is not said, the place was desolate. I felt the vacuum and the question rose in my mind, “What if Jesus had never been resurrected?”

Sitting in the pew to ponder this idea, and having revisited the question annually since then, I could list several impacts on my life if Jesus had remained dead and never risen from the grave.

  1. Jesus would have been dismissed as a fraud and liar, never to be remembered again. His claims to deity would have been disproved. Even his teaching would have been discredited as untrue or unreliable (e.g. John 11:25).

  2. There would be no church for me to participate in, for the resurrection is the cornerstone of the church’s existence, as evidenced by the first sermons (Acts 2). The disciples, without the resurrection, would not have been able to sustain a witness and endure persecution without the presence of the Risen Lord.

  3. No one would be available to answer my prayers. Jesus would not be sitting at the right hand of the Father to mediate and intercede for me (Romans 8:34).

  4. I would still be guilty, under the burden of consequences of my sin, and alienated from God (Romans 5:1; 2 Cor. 5:17).

  5. The Father would not have sent his Spirit to dwell in my soul, enlivening and comforting me (John 14:25-26).

  6. I would be robbed of hope for Life after death (1 Cor. 15:20-22).

Imagine what life would be like if we had been left in this kind of emptiness. I have considered it a gift of time and space to meditate for one day on life without God. The equivalent exercise is to remember what it was like before I knew the resurrected Christ personally. And then to consider all that Jesus Christ has done for me (and not just me—the world) in the last fifty years since I surrendered to him. My life would have turned out entirely different—riddled with guilt, anxiety, selfishness, and fear of death. I shudder to think.

By day’s end, I will be ready once more to give thanks to God for the fact that Jesus lives and reigns forever and ever! Hallelujah! Christ is risen. Indeed.

Matthew 27:43-50

Good Friday opened with Jesus once again in the midst of crowds, only this time the voices were jeering and mocking. Romans and Jews alike were shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” and “Hail, king of the Jews!” The way to Golgotha was lined with onlookers taunting him with bad theology and sarcastic insults.

Matthew spares us any details of the actual crucifixion, but dwells on the reactions of spectators. Which one am I in that crowd?

Of the “seven last words of Christ” found in the gospels, Matthew records only one: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.?” I want to dwell on this statement today.

On that cross, Jesus was completely alone.

In every other crisis of his ministry, in every other challenge or forward thrust of his mission, Jesus always had the Father to lean on, to consult with, to rely on for guidance. But not here. Hanging by the wrists, slowing suffocating, Jesus bore not only physical pain but also the psychic pain of abandonment.

All Jesus knew at that moment was the weight of human sin leading to death. His death. Just as the high priest offered sacrifices for the sin of the people, laying a hand on the sacrificial lamb to signify the transfer of transgressions, so Jesus died with all human sin and its consequences on his head. No consolation was forthcoming. No help was rendered. Jesus was doomed to die alone, in agony.

But great good was accomplished in the death of Jesus. Jesus was doomed, but so was our sin that he bore! Jesus took the penalties we deserved upon himself, and when he died, we were declared free from sin’s bondage to death. The only one who could accomplish that feat was God incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth.

The emotional challenge was wrenching. For an instant Son and Father were alienated. The Father let his Son die. This temporary separation was necessary for the healing of the nations and the redemption of all people.

What can we say then, in light of this great mystery? Thanks be to God for accomplishing our redemption!

— § —

It is said that you can see what a person is really like when she is under pressure, and this is certainly true.

But one is also confronted with one’s true nature when alone. My self—in all its weakness and strength, sin and faithfulness—is always with me. I may ignore or mask my inner self when life is carefree and busy, when noise drowns out God’s voice within. But in silence and solitude, I am my own companion. If I don’t like the company, what am I to do?

Jesus of the Cross invites us to transfer our sin and waywardness onto his head, to seek forgiveness, and receive the gift of grace he has offered to everyone. When we do this, we invite him to reside in our hearts so that we are never again alone, but always have fellowship with the One who loved us enough to die for our sin. We can celebrate this reality even when distancing ourselves from each other during the pandemic. We are not alone! Jesus took aloneness upon himself, for us, so that in this challenging time we can experience relational closeness with God.

Matthew 26:17-30; 36-46

Holy Week feels like a new experience this year while living under “stay at home” orders. One day merges into another, and yet again, I forget what day of the week it is. Ordinarily I would be going to services for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and anticipating worship with the family of God on Easter Sunday. Alongside those expectations, I would be going to work and enjoying scheduled interactions at church or in the neighborhood.

But physical distancing—now three weeks for us—is stretching my introversion to the limit. Today I feel a bit depressed without the social stimulation that the extroverted side of me craves. The fact that introversion and extroversion reside in the same personality points to our need for finding balance between constructive aloneness and faithful companionship.

During Jesus’s last week on earth, and particularly on Thursday, his movements demonstrated the balance he achieved between fellowship with friends and being alone. It is a good Bible study exercise to comb the gospel accounts for those times when Jesus withdrew from the crowds for prayer. When the pressure on him was greatest, he would find a solitary place and commune quietly with his Father. If he needed that peace and solitude, then I do, too! And now I am getting it in abundance, as is most of the nation, whether it sees any spiritual benefit or not.

But Jesus also thrived among his friends—groups of three, twelve, one hundred twenty, and even five thousand—and drew from an inexhaustible well of self-giving love to meet and minister to people.

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus, knowing his time was at hand, felt the need to get together with his disciples for the Passover supper. They didn’t know it would be their last meal with him that week, but he did and wanted to prepare them for what was coming. During the meal, he instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper by which he and his sacrificial death would be remembered for all generations. The gospel accounts reveal different aspects of this supper time, emphasizing variously a teaching review, resetting expectations, modeling humility, and celebrating Passover in anticipation of the new covenant in blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins. The betrayer Judas and the denier Peter are identified; Jesus’s companions were not necessarily loyal friends. But they were together, and Jesus drew strength from them.

Then after dinner, they all took a walk out to the Garden of Gethsemane that overlooks the city of Jerusalem. In Matthew’s account, Jesus asked eight of the disciples to sit while he withdrew to pray (Judas had been dismissed). He brought along Peter, James, and John and privately shared his sorrow with them. “Stay here and keep watch with me,” he said, and then he walked farther to be alone in prayer with the Father. For insight into his emotional range during this prayer time, see a previous blog here.

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that there is a time for everything under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die (Eccl 3:1-8). Jesus showed that there is a time to be alone and a time to gather. He needed strength of togetherness and solidarity while apart, both in his life and as he approached death.

We too thrive with the benefits of being alone in quiet and together in fellowship. In this particular season of Covid-19 avoidance, the scale is weighted far more on the lone endeavors. So if you are feeling out of sorts, irritable, lonesome, unappreciated, aimless, or anxious, it is partly due to the fact that you have fewer people around you for the hugs and affirmations needed for emotional health. We need those three who will “stay and keep watch” with us, so seek them out and ask for their help. But don’t go overboard with the Zoom / Skype / virtual wine and cheese parties you have cooked up to bat away silence and solitude. Give God a chance to wean you away from the media or social escapism you employ and to reintroduce you to a balanced life.

Luke 19:45:48

Many of my readers are aware that in 2013-14, I faced Stage 3 lung cancer, enduring six months of treatment—radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery—and coming out the other side “cured” (my doctor’s word). Officially NED (“No evidence of disease”) for six years now, and yes, I am celebrating the success of all that effort.

Unfortunately, the fact that I gave up a lung lobe and developed asthma makes me “high risk” for serious complications if I were to contract Covid-19. I serve part-time as chaplain at a Level 2 Trauma Center that now has an Incident Command Center to deal with the coronavirus in our county. I wondered if it was advisable to work in the hospital while this crisis unfolds.

My husband and I drew up a pros & cons list. I did my due diligence—consultation with my doctor, Employee Health at the hospital, my chaplain colleagues, even an ethicist—to be sure I was weighing the issues appropriately. With difficulty and a fair amount of guilt (regardless of how I came out on the question), I came to the practical conclusion that I must self-isolate for now, while the hospital deals with CV-19 patients or until a system can be approved enabling me to contact patients by phone instead of face-to-face. While I experience twinges of guilt, I am staying out of trouble so that in a few weeks I will be able to dive headlong into the troubles of patients with calm strength.

Through the lens of the current pandemic, during this Holy Week I am meditating on the dramatic and humiliating events of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. Ever since Jesus turned water into wine at a friend’s wedding three years prior, his ministry was public. He preached the Kingdom of God and healed many people, showing mastery over physical processes as well as natural phenomena (storms on the Sea of Galilee, for instance). While his early years were lived in obscurity in Nazareth, once his ministry took off, his stomping grounds were in Capernaum on the north side of the lake. Crowds followed him, and he could command a gathering of 5,000 people on a hillside. His popularity among the hoi polloi was well documented in the gospels. He did not shy away from needy people or difficult situations.

Generally—though scholars differ on this point—Jesus stayed out of Jerusalem, because the religious elite of Jewish scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees was inhospitable to him. Was it jealousy? mistrust? scholarly doubt in his claims? In any case, because they were political hotshots, it was not expedient for Jesus to pull their chains and risk a premature shutdown of his ministry.

So he insulated himself from the seat of power in Israel. That is, until it was time. And then, rather than sneak in a side gate and meet with a few friends to talk scripture, he made a very public entry riding a donkey. The crowd of regular people recognized the symbolism and praised “the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” In a very real sense, Jesus was throwing down the gauntlet and opening himself to the dangers of powerful people who wanted his teaching discredited and him neutralized. As they tried to silence his fans, Jesus replied, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:40).

After Jesus’s public entry into Jerusalem, according to Luke, he went straight to the temple courtyard and disrupted the moneychangers and rebuked their corruption. He began to teach in the temple. But the tenured professors there plotted to kill him. It turns out Jesus’s concern about their reaction was not unfounded. Luke’s account follows Jesus to various encounters with those religious leaders, who schemed to trap Jesus theologically and personally on points of the Jewish law.

Why did Jesus go headlong into trouble, instead of keeping a safe distance? Given more time, he could have healed so many more people. He could have persuaded so many more to believe him. He could have expanded the scope of ministry to other peoples and countries. But no, it was the time to bring things to a head.

Jesus demonstrated that sometimes, after practical considerations and ministry strategies are fulfilled, the right thing to do is dive headlong into trouble. Because he believed that where trouble percolated there the power of the gospel was needed. Opposition to Jesus was not a reason for him to hide at this point, because—now that the common people had heard and many responded to the gospel of the Kingdom of God—it was time for the religious elite to have their chance to believe, too. For three years it was pragmatic to “stay safe,” in order to get the broadest hearing for his Kingdom message. But the time came to confront the resistance to his ministry and purpose. We know Jesus had not been a coward, for when it was time for his final saving work—sacrificial death for the sins of the world—he did not hesitate to ride headlong into trouble.

The trouble that awaits us, when it is time to confront it, will call out of us all the courage and stamina and resolve required to accomplish God’s assignment. If you, like me, are self-isolating during this time, let God develop strength and valor in your hearts and protection for your bodies, so that you can re-enter the world at the right time to help those in trouble.

A teeny-tiny virus that when magnified looks worse than ragweed pollen has made us cower. My county has restricted movement and assembly for twelve days now. We all hope this intentional isolation will work to curb the spread of coronavirus, and it is wisdom and prudence to stay home, stay disinfected, and keep one’s distance from others. It’s a gift we give to our neighbors and the world, to “keep our germs to ourselves,” as my mother used to say.

The great temptation we are facing these days is to go beyond prudence and sink into feelings of insecurity and —okay, paranoia.

I say “temptation,” because when prudence morphs into worry, we are in spiritual territory. If we are in a worried state, we may have lost touch with the faithfulness and goodness of God. It happens to the best of us. Martin Luther (16th century protestant reformer) came down to breakfast one morning to find his beloved wife Katerina dressed in black as if ready to go to a funeral. Luther asked her, “Who has died?” Katerina replied, “Apparently, God. The way you have been stewing in worry tells me that your Father is dead.” Ouch! She was pointing to the spiritual truth that to worry is to deny God’s power and protection.

On the other hand, we see people suffer daily and many even die. We ask, Where was God’s protection for them?

Psalm 91 [NRSV here] offers a set of promises that are quite remarkable and worth considering as we monitor our reactions to the coronavirus pandemic.

1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
4 he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

14Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
15 When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
16 With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

The psalmist acknowledges that there are arrows and threats and dangers in his world. We have not been promised (yet) a world without locusts—as they are seeing in Africa today—or terrorists or diseases. We do still bear the weight of consequences that date back to the fall of Adam and Eve. We are not even immune to coronavirus or cancer, as I have given witness over the last several years. So what IS God promising in Psalm 91?

God is promising his trustworthiness. God is our rock-solid refuge in times of trouble and he can be trusted.

He is promising deliverance from traps (the snare). Freedom from enslavement is ours in Christ Jesus.

Yes, in verse 3 God promises deliverance from pestilence. He will cover us as a mother hen protects her chicks. The result of God’s presence is that we will not fear.

God promises that we will not be destroyed or defeated. Our lives will outlast death.

God promises that he will be with us in trouble. Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

And by some mystery, because many people around the world and in history have died young, God says he will satisfy us with long life. Could this be eternal life?

As you can see, we have some elements of “now” and “not yet” in this psalm, no need denying it. Acknowledging the reality of evil and sickness and premature death, nevertheless we have hope because God says he is doing the work of deliverance, rescue, and peace within the context of our agonies and suffering. The Apostle Paul affirmed, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . .No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37).  Because we are loved by God, we have no need to fear. Nothing ultimately can defeat us or separate us from the love of God. If that is true, then no matter what is going on around us, the indwelling Spirit of God pronounces us “Safe!”

I’ve found that music helps to calm me when tempted to get anxious. Here’s a song I record in 1990, accompanied by Ken Medema, on my album On the Road to Eternity. The song is Michael Joncas’s “On Eagles’ Wings.” May the Lord bless you with peace as you listen!

 

 

The strongly-recommended “shelter-in-place” guidelines just issued in our county remind me of a season in the life of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. It would have been in the late 1970’s or maybe early 1980’s—can’t remember—and the pastor Walt Gerber decreed a six-week sabbatical for the entire church. Everything but Sunday worship was suspended because he sensed that the congregation (and he himself, I believe) were exhausted and needed deep soul-rest. Quite a bold move for a church in a period of rapid expansion and program development. Everybody needed adrenalin-withdrawal and blood pressure checks while reinforcing spiritual practices. My recollection is that this pruning bore fruit in spiritual renewal and creative energy.

We could see the strange situation we’re in now as an opportunity for “sabbatical” and make the most of it for the refreshment of our souls, our bodies, our minds, and—if we turn off the TV—our emotions. I am compiling my own list now of activities I usually don’t have time for, the unfinished projects, and the unsaid prayers that can fill these hours of “spatial distance.”  I don’t want to pile on more stress with this list, but I do want to enlarge my vision for unscheduled time beyond my Netflix queue!

Through this undetermined time span we have a new opportunity to stay or get in tune with God’s purposes and remain alert to the needs of our neighbors. “Social distance” can be transformed into “relational closeness” by all the wonderful means available to us. As we rediscover God’s reliability and faithful presence and our security in Jesus Christ, we might all be better equipped for life’s future hardships and challenges.

Hello readers, I’ve taken a look at my calendar of the next few weeks, and the crazy schedule is going to make blog writing impossible. I have placed higher priority on finishing a book, so that project is getting my best writing hours in the morning. Right now, as mentioned last week, my afternoon free time is taken up with various medical appointments—all routine check-ups— and procedures (including the removal of my vein access port, authorized last week by my oncologist). I just wanted you to know that my silence is for positive reasons, and that I am doing well and thriving.

I was walking the 1.5 miles home from my doctor’s appointment this morning, along busy Treat Boulevard, when I came upon a goose and her four goslings. Mama apparently wanted to take the kids out for a walk—water nowhere in sight—and chose to parade down Treat Boulevard. Two lanes of traffic were blocked by motorists either enthralled or frustrated with the slow-motion chase I was on. I tried to herd the birds back onto the sidewalk, but Mama was getting mad at my interference. I even called 911 for traffic help, but the dispatcher said, “We don’t dispatch police officers to help geese.” A kind-hearted gentleman in an SUV figured out a way to herd the gaggle with his truck, and we finally got them safely to a side street. But darn it! I saw them heading in the wrong direction toward danger, and all I could say was “No, no! Follow me! Don’t go that way!” One of the goslings fell down a drainage grate! We—a nearby construction worker and I—managed to rescue the other three before they fell in. But that pitiful squeak five feet down was enough to tug at anybody’s heart. We worked the grate free, lifted it heavily, and the man jumped down in to retrieve the baby. Family reunited and safely ushered out of harm’s way.

Mama was not too happy that someone (me) got so close and was so insistent on changing her route. She sounded a little like me when, before knowing Jesus, I was wayward. Following my own path, fiercely independent and self-satisfied, and not following directions I now know God was giving for my good. Or like C. S. Lewis, who described himself in Surprised by Joy: “the most dejected, reluctant convert in all of England . . . drug into the kingdom kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.” Sometimes we really do not know what is good for us.

Fundamental to our Christian faith is that God is good, and that he wants for us that which is also good. We say God is benevolent, having the desire to benefit us. The Scriptures are full of references to God’s basic good nature. My favorite (excerpts from Psalm 145):

8          The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9          The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
. . .

13         The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.

14         The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

15         The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.

16         You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

17         The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.

I circled all the adjectives describing God’s character in this excerpt, and doing so, I am overwhelmed that this God is looking after me! And yet, I sometimes live with the illusion that it is I who is protecting my little charges, my interests, and my future. When I get mad at God’s interference, I am only revealing how little I know of the Big Picture, which is God’s to know and mine to trust.

 

 

Every six months, I go through the medical surveillance that tracks the signs of health and/or disease in my body. Last Wednesday, I underwent the CT scan, and six hours later my oncologist called to tell me, “It looks great! No changes! All is well.” When all my testing is done next week, I fully expect the all-clear and won’t have to think about cancer for six months, heart disease for maybe five years, skin cancer for a year, colon cancer for five years, female cancers for two years, yada, yada . . .

But there is one dumb thing that plagues me and probably will until I die. On Ash Wednesday, February 9, 2016, I began a serious recalibration of my food intake to address my significant weight-gain during cancer treatment, plus the extra twenty pounds of “too much Mary” already present before that. It has been one year, two months, and twenty-three days of logging my meals, mixing protein shakes, chopping vegetables, carefully navigating through parties and holidays, and otherwise changing habits. I have lost about 38 pounds, and have four (or six) to go. I feel terrific and have experienced many health benefits along the way. I can even say I love the way my body has turned out! Please note that last sentence, because I don’t want you to get the impression that I hate my body or have a body/spirit duality thing going on here (that’s a theological position that says anything of the body is “evil” and everything of the spirit is “good”). But after all of this success, I am still frustrated—on a plateau since Christmas—about that last four to six pounds that keeps my body-fat-percentage above 25%.

I just got home from the weight-loss doctor visit, and am working out my frustration here. The other reason I am sharing this with you is that weight loss offers one of the best illustrations of the struggle most Christian face against residual sin. Those who have embraced Christ and received his forgiveness have, Scripture tells us, been made alive in Christ, are new creatures, and possess eternal life. The Holy Spirit has moved into our hearts to work out God’s purposes from within. The Christian life is a journey toward Christ-likeness, and discipleship helps us practice the new habits consistent with belonging to Christ’s household of faith. For some of us, the transformation is dramatic; for others more subtle. But in Christ, we are new creatures.

We have eternal life now, but we are still residing in this body, which—if I may stretch theology a bit—has a mind of its own. There are things that happen in our bodies that we did not cause: I think of my friend with diabetes who can have a perfect diet/insulin day and still crash in the middle of the night. I think of another friend who has ups and downs of blood pressure that are not correlated to stress in her life. How about the person, like me, with no risk factors present (family history, smoking, exposure to pollution) who gets lung cancer? No, really, our bodies represent great mystery sometimes, and no matter what we do, things still happen.

I cannot answer the question on the physical level, but what this struggle illustrates in the spiritual realm is important. Until we prevail over the Last Enemy (physical death), we are going to struggle with sin. The Apostle Paul gives us two insights, first by venting his frustration in Romans 7:

14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul is saying that there are forces at work within our mortal bodies, minds, and souls that oppose the good that God wants to do in us. We need the redemption offered in Jesus Christ! Our daily struggle reminds us of our complete dependence upon the grace of God.

Paul’s second insight helps us rest in God’s help:

7 . . . a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

I would be so happy if God would help me lose these last stubborn pounds, but at least I see the potential for blessing and spiritual fruit-bearing in the heat of the struggle. That stupid scale reminds me that I must remain vigilant against temptation. I must push back the human propensity to deceive myself. Who knows? If I reached my goal weight tomorrow, I might say, “Whee-e-e, now I can eat whatever I want again!” But that most certainly is not true. There will still be great need for discipline, healthful choices, and denial of self. Denial of self and life unto God are simultaneous dynamics that get to the heart of what it means to be a child of God.

So I accept the struggle and resign myself to my weakness, not by “sinning” but by renewed resolve to work with God’s purposes for me that include healthy discipline. God must be strong in me. This will be God’s work in his strength, and may my submission to God’s will be empowered by the Holy Spirit!