Why Does God Let Me Stay So Weak?

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I hate weakness. I don’t like being weak. And I have so many weaknesses as a husband, father, and pastor. I want to have it all together. I want to be a strong leader, a loving husband, a wise father. But I’m so weak. I fail so often. Why?

Why does God let us stay so weak at times? Why is it so hard to put sin to death? Why do we struggle and fail so much? Why are we so often weak in our faith?

The apostle Paul knew about weakness. And he didn’t like weakness in himself – at least not initially. Paul had some kind of “thorn given him in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” that harassed him. Some believe the “thorn” was Jewish persecution; many believe it was a physical ailment or disease that affected his eyesight. They believe this since he dictated his letters, and he said it was because of a “bodily ailment” he had originally preached the gospel to the Galatians (GA 4.13). He also said the Galatians would have plucked out their eyes and given them to him (4:15). Also when he was rebuked for calling the high priest a “white-washed wall” Paul said he didn’t know he was the high priest. Yet Paul was a Pharisee who would certainly have recognized the high priest if he could see him.

Whatever his affliction, Paul struggled with it. He didn’t like being weak. He sought the Lord on three occasions about it and finally God gave him some insight into why he didn’t remove Paul’s weakness.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 CO 12:7-10

As Paul sought the Lord about his “thorn” God showed him some things.

First, it was to keep Paul from conceit and pride, having received great revelations from God. Knowledge puffs up. When we have strong gifts or incredible talent it’s easy to become proud. When we have some serious success it’s easy to forget that all our gifts and success is from God. How many gifted teachers of God’s word have succumbed to pride and fallen into sin. How easy it is for us to judge others out of our strengths. How easy it is for parents whose children are doing well to look down on those whose children are struggling or rebelling. So weakness humbles us. Failure keeps us from becoming conceited. And since pride comes before a fall, weakness can keep us from stumbling.

The second reason God let Paul stay weak was to make Paul rely on Christ’s grace – “My grace is sufficient for you.” Pride leads us to rely on ourselves; weakness drives us to our knees to seek God’s grace. Strength can lead to self-sufficiency. Weakness makes us depend on Christ. Weakness sends us to the throne of grace for mercy and grace in time of need.

The third reason God kept Paul weak was to reveal Christ’s power through him – “my power is made perfect in weakness.” The more we realize our weakness, then when anything good happens through us, we know it is the power of Christ, not us. When we have tried again and again to conquer a sin, become aware of our own weakness in the battle, then finally conquer it, we know it was by Jesus’ grace and power. Then Jesus receives the glory. We won’t think we did it by our own willpower but by Jesus’ grace.

Paul got to the place where he was content with weakness! He could be content with insults, hardships and persecutions. And even with calamities! Because he knew that all these things would reveal how weak he was, and the power of Christ would shine through him.

To be content with weakness doesn’t mean we give up trying to put sin to death. It doesn’t mean we quit trying to bear fruit for God. But it means that when we fail, when we realize how weak we are, we won’t despair but turn to Christ and ask him to give us HIS power. HIS strength. HIS wisdom. HIS grace.

Do you feel weak? Confess your weakness to Jesus. (He won’t be surprised). Confess your sins. Confess your failures as mom or dad. Tell him how much you need his grace not to get angry. Tell him you need his grace to love that brother who it’s so hard to love. Ask him to give you the grace to rejoice in your pain and be content in your trial.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 PE 5:6-7

Ted Kluck’s Best Fighting Techniques, Productivity Hacks, and Other Happy Rant Topics

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Face it, you desperately need some happiness in you life. I’m happy to say, I’m serving up a red-hot dish of happiness right now, in the form of yet another episode of The Happy Rant. In this episode, we talk about:

  • Ted’s recommended fighting techniques, including his key punching strategy.
  • The debut of Johnny Manziel
  • Whether or not we use any productivity “hacks”.
  • Our best systems for writing.
  • And a whole lot of other stuff

Here’s what you need to do:

Four Rules To Simplify Christian Dating

Is it just me, or has the whole Christian dating / courting / dorting thing become really, really complicated?

When Josh Harris wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye, he had good intentions. He was reacting against the casual, recreational, aimless dating that had come to dominate the American landscape. He was trying to help young men and women stop hurting each other through the endless hooking up, breaking up, hooking up, breaking up, etc. Like I said, good intentions, good impulse. I’m grateful for Josh.

But, as we are so prone to do, we took good principles and distorted them and distilled them into a series of unhelpful / legalistic practices. Dating / courting has turned into an elaborate set of unwritten rules which must be followed to the letter, no matter what the circumstances. A guy must ask a girl’s dad first, then the guy must ask the girl, then the girl must say yes, then the couple can start seeing each other IN GROUPS (!). If things go well for the first eight months or so, the couple may or may not be allowed to spend semi-unsupervised time together and possibly even (GASP!) hold hands. Once the young man has firmly established himself financially and is sufficiently godly, he can ask the girl to marry him. Of course, he again must ask the dad first. Both families, as well as lots of church members, must be involved in the entire process, from start to finish.

Now, is there wisdom in some of these practices? Of course. But the reality is, you can’t slap these practices on top of every relationship and expect the relationship to go well. There are so many variables in each relationship: the age of the couple, the spiritual maturity of the couple, whether or not both sets of parents are believers, how long the guy and girl have been a Christian, the ethnicity of the couple, and on and on. To take some variation of the practices above and arbitrarily slap them onto a relationship can actually end up harming the relationship.

And here’s the kicker: believe it or not, the Bible doesn’t actually say a whole lot about dating/courting relationships.

When we place our practices above Biblical principles, it’s a recipe for disaster.

I want to suggest that we can make this whole dating thing a lot simpler and less confusing by simply holding fast to the clear, relatively few principles spelled out in Scripture. What are those principles?

Christians Pursue Jesus Above All

This is the overriding principle which must govern every relationship. Loving Jesus first and foremost means seeking him above all else and obeying his commands above all else. To love Jesus is to obey Jesus. Once this is set firmly in place for both individuals in the relationship, many of the other details will fall into place. Obedience to Jesus is the filter through which every action must pass.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

If we are committed to obeying Jesus, than that necessarily rules out dating unbelievers. There’s no such thing as missionary dating. Missionary dating is simply disobedience dating.

Christians Pursue God’s Wisdom

When it comes to dating, God’s wisdom is desperately needed. There are so many issues which aren’t explicitly addressed by Scripture, and therefore require wisdom. Is it sinful for a couple to drive to a deserted area at night just to “hang out”? No, but it might not be the wisest thing. Is it wise for a young man to talk to a young woman’s parents about dating/courting their daughter? Sometimes. It depends on whether the parents are Christians, how old the woman is, and a host of other conditions. Does a young man need to have financial stability before he can get married? Not necessarily, but it is wise for him to think through his financial status.

The good news is, God loves to give wisdom.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

Christians Pursue Absolute Purity

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

This is definitely a tough one. Here’s why: part of this is principle and part of this is practice. The principle stands firm: absolute purity. The practices, however, may differ from relationship to relationship. Obviously, premarital sex is out of bounds. Making out in the bedroom is off limits, as is all sexual activity. But there are certain things that may be tempting for some people and not others, like holding hands. This is why we need to be careful about laying strict, absolute practices. Life has so many hues, and each person is so different. Wisdom is an essential component when thinking through this issue.

Men and women must pursue absolute purity when dating. Each individual must wrestle through exactly what this looks like in practice.

Christians Pursue Community

This principle applies to dating couples, just like it applies to every other Christian. As Christians, we are part of God’s family, and we allow other believers to speak into our lives. Dating couples are called to let other Christians speak the truth in love to them. This doesn’t mean that they hang out exclusively in groups, or only in the context of their extended families. It simply means that they open their lives up to other believers.

Christians pursue Jesus, pursue wisdom, pursue purity, and pursue community. These are the firm biblical principles. The practice of these principles will look very different in each relationship. Let’s simplify dating by being committed to these principles, rather than a set of extra-biblical practices.

When Jesus Was Absolutely Despicable

God made him to be sin

The most beautiful one in the universe was made vile in the sight of God and man for you and me.

“If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight. (Deuteronomy 25:1-3 ESV)

Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee. (KJV)

Jewish law limited a whipping to 40 stripes that the guilty would not “be degraded” or “seem vile” in the sight of his brothers. But the Romans who scourged Jesus would not have cared about Jewish law or sparing a Jew from being degraded or vile in anyone’s sight. Roman scourging was so horrific that Roman citizens were exempt from it. The one scourged was usually stripped and bent over or tied to a post, then beaten by one or more “lictors” who used “flagellums” or “flagrums” - whips with 2 or 3 leather strands about 3 feet long with pieces of bone or lead balls attached every few inches, which would shred the skin, exposing bones and organs. The lictors determined the number of lashes.  They weren’t generally supposed to kill the ones whipped, but often they died on the post or shortly afterwards. The loss of blood by Jesus was probably what left him so weak he was unable to carry his cross.

Jewish law limited the stripes so the guilty one would not be “degraded in your sight” or “seem vile unto thee.” Jesus was degraded and made vile in the sight of men.  But more significant, he was made despicable in the sight of God:

2 CO 5:21 says that God “made him to be sin,” the most abhorrent, disgusting, despicable thing in God’s sight.  In his perfect righteousness God will not even “look at” sin, or tolerate it in his presence, as he says in Habakkuk 1:3 “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong…”

When Jesus took our sin and our scourging, he was degraded both in the sight of God and men. Here’s why he endured such suffering:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

Jesus was made vile in the sight of God and man, so we could be made beautiful in God’s sight. He rejoices and exults over us with “gladness” and “loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17) and he looks on us who believe in Jesus as the apple of his eye, as David prays in Psalm 17:8 “Keep me as the apple of your eye”

Jesus was made vile in the sight of God and man, so we could be made beautiful in God’s sight.

God sees us who believe in Christ, clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and he is pleased with us and rejoices over us. All because Jesus was willing to be made despicable in God’s sight when he was scourged and crucified. What a glorious Savior we have!

Delighting in the Storm

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Let’s talk about the weather. Have you ever had a storm ruin a perfectly good day at the beach? Instead of sunning on the sand you sulked on the sofa, watching the last hours of your vacation drizzle away in a grey fog. Why doesn’t God make every day blue skies and sunshine?

But weather’s a funny thing. Have you ever had a sunshine ruin a perfectly good rainy day to stay inside and not mow the lawn? Okay, that probably hasn’t happened since you were 14 – but you can easily imagine a scenario where rain, not sun, is the desired weather condition. There’s Murphy’s Law, as it relates to weather: we wish for sunny days, and get rain. We hope for rain as a good excuse for inactivity, and get sunshine instead. “That’s the weather for you,” we say, and shrug our shoulders and move on.

But there’s a value system imbedded in the whole Murphy’s Law-weather conundrum. It’s so common and universal we almost never notice it. Subtly, unobtrusively, but persuasively, it says, “A stormy day is bad if it interferes with my plans; it is good if it furthers my plans.” Do you see the value system, the assumed point of reference? Me. My plans. This is my universe, and everything in it must bow to me!

Okay, that’s probably a bit extreme. Most of us don’t take our gripes about the weather quite that far. But the pattern prevails: I rank external circumstances – sadly, even people – by whether they serve me or hinder me. Don’t you?

The problem is that such a way of looking at the world will frustrate us (since we all do this, you have seven billion competitors all attempting to run the world to the beat of their own drum) and lead us to an empty, vain life. Actually, even that’s not the ultimate problem. The ultimate problem is that seeing the world through this lens puts us on a collision course with the One who does rule all things for his purposes.

There’s a better way, the way of the creature before our Creator. C.S. Lewis was learning this even before he became a Christian:

The first lifelong friend I made at Oxford was A. K. Hamilton Jenkin…He continued…my education as a seeing, listening, smelling, receptive creature…Jenkin seemed able to enjoy everything; even ugliness. I learned from him that we should attempt a total surrender to whatever atmosphere was offering itself at the moment; in a squalid town to seek out those very places where its squalor rose to grimness and almost grandeur, on a dismal day to find the most dismal and dripping wood, on a windy day to seek the windiest ridge… [to have] a serious, yet gleeful, determination to rub one’s nose in the very quiddity of each thing, to rejoice in its being (so magnificently) what it was.

“To rejoice in its being (so magnificently) what it was.” I don’t know if Jenkin was a Christian, but that’s a Christian virtue. This world is God’s world, not ours. God delights in the windy-ness of the wind and the stormy-ness of the storm just as much as he does the sunniness of the sun. And he invites us to share in his delight – not to assign value to his creation based on whether it fits our plans.

That’s not to say you can’t ask for sunshine for your beach vacation. But here’s a thought. The next time the weather doesn’t cooperate, when the storm clouds ruin your plans, find a way to “rub your nose” in the storm, delighting in its stormy-ness. Then we can say with the psalmist,

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all” (Psalm 104:24).

Even the storms.

Photo by USFWS.

The Laziness of Againstness

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Some time back I wrote this article for WorldMag.com about defining yourself or your organization by what you are for rather than what you are against.  After considering being against (or “againstness” as I’ll call it) here are some further thoughts.

Againstness is lazy. It’s the easiest way to give a label to yourself or to your organization.  It’s the easiest way to position yourself. Except that it isn’t truly positioning yourself at all. It’s just floating off the shore of whatever you are against.  It doesn’t land anywhere it just avoids certain people/causes/attitudes/etc.  It is a pretend label that reveals very little and gives no direction as to what you are trying to be.

It is lazy because it doesn’t require work, just a little observation. All you need to do to be against something is keep an eye out for it and separate yourself from it while declaiming it as loudly as you please. This is true unless, of course, you are the more militant type of againster, in which case you follow the object of your ire around and attack whenever possible. This is no less lazy because you aren’t deciding what to do or where to go, you’re just being an unwitting follower of something or someone you reject.

It is much harder to pursue something, to set a goal and go after it. It requires serious thought to define the goal. It requires constant vigilance and judgment to determine if you are on the right course in the pursuit. It requires regular status checks to see what kind of progress is being made. It is constant motion, constant consideration, constant vigilance to be sure that nothing which you are against is deflecting you off course.

In my own life this is a constant effort. I find it so easy to just try not to be something – not be a legalist, not be a blowhard, not to be too conservative, not to be too liberal, not to be sectarian, and so on. But what am I after all that not being stuff? I need an aim to figure that out, a standard to which I can hold myself. Am I honoring Jesus? Do I love others? Am I doing good and not harm? Am I producing quality work that benefits others?

Pursuing a goal necessitates being against certain things, or at least having no part in them. But being against something does not need to be antagonistic or combative unless these things they threaten your pursuit of your goal. Even then to stand against doesn’t have to mean to tear down as much as it does to stand firm. And we must always remember that  these things which we are against are not what primarily defines us.

Lastly, againstness is equally as lazy and unhelpful in a work place as it is in a home or a relationship or a church or a school.  If I define my parenting by what I do not want to be I will be so much less of a father than if I aim at raising my children to be something great. It is easy to think “I will not make the same mistakes my parents did”, but if we don’t aim at something we will simply drift as parents. If I seek out a church primarily because of what it’s not I have settled lazily into the same parasitic pattern of againstness. Instead of being part of building God’s kingdom up we will be party to tearing it down.

Againstness is an easy place to land, and an easy thing to rationalize because there is much in this fallen world to be against. But it aims at nothing, takes us nowhere, and gains us little.  So aim at what is good, and don’t fall into the trap of just being against againstness

You Can’t Get Any More Secure Than This

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Years ago someone shared this truth that has often encouraged me:

Anything that comes to believers must first go through Christ.

Why?  Because those who believe in Jesus are “in” Christ.  He is our dwelling place, our refuge, our eternal home.

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms… DT 33:27

The uncreated, eternal, sovereign God is our dwelling place.  This means that anything that comes to us must first go through him. He determines the intensity and length of every challenge we face. Nothing takes him by surprise. No affliction can be an ounce heavier than God says. A trial can’t last one second longer than God has determined. God knows exactly what we need and exactly what we can handle by his grace.

The eternal God is our dwelling place. Satan can’t hurt us. He had to ask God for permission every time he afflicted Job and God set strict limits – “You can do this and this, but NO MORE.” And Satan had to obey. He can only do what God allows and God works all he does for our good.

The eternal God is our dwelling place. We may lose everything in this world, yet in the eternal God we are secure. The eternal God becomes our dwelling place now in this life, the moment we believe in Jesus. We don’t have to wait until we die to enter our eternal dwelling place. This is ultimate security, ultimate peace.

Everything in this world is temporary.

Our physical bodies will get weak and frail and eventually succumb to disease or just wear out. We don’t like to think about it, but we’re regularly reminded that we won’t be here forever. Robin William’s tragic suicide reminds us. A truck accident claimed a life this morning in my hometown. I’ve done three or four funerals in recent months. Last week someone sent me a list of my high school graduating class, and a number of my classmates had “deceased” by their names. Gone. Their lives are over. Mine will be too one of these days. I’m so glad the eternal God is my dwelling place.

Underneath are the everlasting arms.

Therefore God will make sure we make it to the end. He will lift us up when we fall. And he will let nothing separate us from his love in Christ Jesus. Even at the end of our lives, even if we lose our minds, memories and consciousness his everlasting arms will uphold us.

My mother had Alzheimer’s the last 7 years of her life. When she was first diagnosed, she said to us, “I don’t ever want to forget Jesus, and I don’t ever want to forget you,” to which I said, “Mom, even if you forget us, we won’t forget you, and I know this – even if you forget Jesus, he will NEVER forget you.”

Have you fallen? Failed? Blown it? Don’t give up.

Underneath are the everlasting arms.  If you ask him, Jesus will restore you and lift you. He is upholding you and will never let you go.

Remember, anything that comes to believers must first go through Christ.  If you are in Christ praise him and thank him for opening your blind eyes and bringing you into this wonderful love and security. Things may look bleak in this world, but you have an eternal dwelling place and everlasting arms beneath you.  

Driscoll’s Version of Manhood, Homeschooling Vs. Public School, and Other Happy Rant Subject

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You need some happiness. Specifically, you need another episode of The Happy Rant. In this episode, Ted, Barnabas, and I talk about:

  • The Mark Driscoll version of manhood.
  • Why homeschool is better than public school. Or the other way around. Or maybe private school is the best.
  • Why so many Christians feel guilty about spending money.

You know the drill.

The Secret To Rejoicing In Every Situation

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Puritan pastor Matthew Henry was once robbed by thieves. This is what he recorded in his journal:

“Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not someone else.”

How could Matthew Henry rejoice after being hijacked? Because he didn’t derive his joy from his circumstances, but he took joy in the God of his salvation.

Paul and Silas freed a slave girl from a spirit of divination that had kept her in bondage for a long time. Deprived of their cash cow, her owners dragged Paul and Silas before the local magistrates and riled up a mob who proceeded to give Paul and Silas a fine Philippian pounding. Then they tossed them into prison, in the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks.

The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…(Acts 16:22-25)

Paul and Silas are chained up in a filthy Philippian prison and they’re singing!

I’ve never been stripped, beaten, thrown into prison and fastened in stocks. But if I were, I don’t know if my first inclination would be to sing “I Just Want to Thank You.” That’s not usually the first thought that comes to my mind when the kids put a dent in the car or the back porch ceiling starts leaking.

The reason Paul and Silas could worship in the blockhouse was because they didn’t derive their joy from their circumstances, but took joy in the God of their salvation.

For believers in Christ, the source of our joy is Jesus himself. He’s our fountain of life, our chosen portion, our beautiful inheritance. He’s our meat and drink. And he never changes, no matter how much our circumstances fluctuate. I once flew from Pittsburgh to Toronto. It was overcast and snowing in Pittsburgh, but when the plane rose above the clouds, the sun was blazing in all its glory. When we descended in Toronto it was grey and snowing again. I had a flash of revelation (that’s right folks, it had never dawned on me until that very moment) – no matter what it’s like “down here” in our circumstances, God is still shining like the sun above the clouds. He’s blazing with goodness and kindness and power and love for us. He hasn’t changed any more than the sun changes when it’s raining.

So where does your joy come from? Does it come from your spouse or your children? Does it come from having a nice home or good job? Do you derive your joy from your health or possessions? What if you should lose them all? Would you be able to rejoice?

If you have not yet called upon the Lord Jesus Christ to save you from your sins, and give you eternal life, I urge you to do so right now. If you do know Jesus, be glad and sing praises, no matter what’s happening “down here” in your life. Rejoice in the God of your salvation.