Sunday, December 5, 2010

Broken Bones

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. My thoughts are in red.

Let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Psalm 51:8

I must admit it it; I have a low tolerance for difficulty. I am a project-oriented person, so I tend to have an agenda for every day. I know exactly what I want to accomplish and what a successful day will look like. I don't want to have to deal with interruptions or obstructions. I want the situations, locations, and people around me to willingly participate in my plan. All of this means that it's counterintuitive for me to view difficulty as something beneficial. I've little time and tolerance for "broken bones."

I identify with this mindset. I like to be able to schedule things in my day so all goes smoothly – at least in my view. I don’t like surprises. I don’t like things to be unpredictable or up in the air.
   
My problem is that my Redeemer is the redeemer of broken bones. Maybe you're thinking, "Paul, what in the world are you talking about?" "Broken bones" is a physical metaphor for the pain of redemption. In case you've noticed, God's work of delivering you from your addiction to self and sin and molding you into his image isn't always a comfortable process. Sometimes, in order to make our crooked hearts straight God has to break some bones. I gotta confess, I don't like broken bones.

It is so much easier when we yield willingly and without a fight. Recognize what’s wrong, agree with God and accept the grace which brings change. But it’s usually not that way because we enjoy our sin even when it’s messing us up.

I love the way the prophet Amos talks about this (Amos 4). It's a bit of a disconcerting passage until you wrap your brain around what the prophet is saying about why God is doing what he's doing. Listen to the "broken bones" phraseology of this passage:

"I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and lack of bread in all your places."

. . . . . . . . . .

"I also withheld rain the from you
when there were yet three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city ..
one field would have rain,
and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
to drink water, and would not be satisfied."

. . . . . . . . . .

"I struck you with blight and mildew;
your many gardens and your vineyards,
your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured."

. . . . . . . . . .

"I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils."

. . . . . . . . . .

"I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning."
Amos 4:6-11

Too bad many people stop here and blame God for their problems and accuse Him of not caring about what is going on in their life. “How could a God of love let this happen?”

Now, you have to ask, "Why would a God of love do this to the people he says he loves?" Well, there's a phrase that's repeated after every stanza of this scary poem that's the answer to this question. Pay attention to these words: "yet you did not return to me." These acts that seem like the product of vengeful anger are actually acts of redemptive love. You see, in doing these things God is actually fulfilling his covenantal commitment to satisfy the deepest needs of his people. And what is it that they need most? The answer is simple and clear throughout all of Scripture; more than anything else they need him!

This is what we need to keep in mind every day: everything that God does and allows is designed to pull us to Him. If we remember that, the difficulties we encounter will be easier to accept.

But this is exactly where the rub comes in. Although our greatest personal need is to live in a life-shaping relationship with the Lord, as sinners we have hearts that are prone to wander. We very quickly forget him and begin to put some aspect of the creation in his place. We very soon forget that he's to be the center of everything we do, and we put ourselves in the center of our universe. We easily lose sight of the fact that our hearts were made for him, and that deep sense of well-being that all of us seek can only be found in him. We rapidly forget the powerfully addicting dangers of sin and think we can step over God's boundaries without moral cost. So, God in the beauty of his redeeming love will "break our bones." He'll bring us through difficulty, want, suffering, sadness, loss, and grief in order to ensure that we are living in pursuit of the one thing that we desperately need—him.

I have to admit that many times or most of the time it takes something BIG to get my attention. I may feel God’s hand on me but it isn’t until the sound of the crack and the pain of the break that I am aroused from my slumber. Pain has a way of getting our attention. Sad to say, many times people refuse to respond to God’s loving call. For them Proverbs 29:1 speaks: He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.

It's time for us to embrace, teach, and encourage others with the theology of uncomfortable grace. As long as sin still lives inside of us, producing in each of us a propensity to forget and wander, God's grace will come to us in uncomfortable forms. You may be wondering where the grace of God is in your life, when actually you're getting it. But it's not the grace of release or relief; no, you're getting the uncomfortable grace of rescue, relationship, and refinement.

How many times do we try to alleviate the pain in someone’s life that is there to help them? It may be through welfare, drugs, misplaced sympathy or words that help cover-up what is going on in their life.

So, if you are God's child, resist the temptation to doubt his goodness in the middle of your stress. It's time for us to stop thinking that our difficulty is a sign of his unfaithfulness and inattention. If you are God's child and you still recognize the battle of sin within, then those difficulties are sure signs of rescuing redemptive love. God isn't withholding his grace from you. No, you're experiencing uncomfortable grace, grace that's willing to break bones in order for your heart to be true. This grace is unwilling to give up. This grace will not turn its back. This grace will not accept the status quo. This grace will not compromise or grow cynical. God hasn't forgotten you. He loves you with real love, and he's giving you real grace. And he'll continue to do so until you're finally free of your propensity to wander away. Now that's real love.

We can understand this because we see how God acts in Scripture. It’s dangerous when we let the messages of the world crowd out God’s message. The solution is daily washing in the Word.

A question from the meditation:

What is God doing in your life right now in order to draw you more closely into a more committed relationship with him?

People I love are in bad situations that I can do nothing to change. I pray for the will of God to prevail in their lives. I pray for them to respond to God’s loving grace that can bring rescue, relationship and refinement. I know only God can fix what’s wrong.

Philip

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