Pre-Dawn

I awaken to find you there again, ready to greet me Lord. You know all about me, every part of me. You are not interested in my talents or my strengths. You are not looking where I have it all figured out.

No, that’s just not it. That’s just where I don’t get it.

It’s that scary place. When the lightning and the thunder roared so loud and the house shook as if it might fall to the ground. When I was a child that place made me tremble like a skinny leaf. That’s when I looked for you. When I cried out to you.

Now I’m old and the thunder doesn’t scare me so much. Now I’m hardened with thick scars. Am I not strong? Just look at me and see how strong I am.

Yet in the stillness before the dawn you offer me what I can not give myself. You offer to heal and restore me in places I can not. The places where I am weak and still tremble at the storm.

Take this little boy’s hand. Heal this little boy’s heart. I cry out to you again.

For when I am weak, then I am strong.

. . .

2 Cor 12:10

98 pound weakling

I always hated when a job or school application asked me to list my strengths and weaknesses. It was like asking me to lie. How many truly dig deep down and take a sincere inventory? “I’m a hard worker, honest, responsible, intelligent, blah, blah, blah…” Even bigger lies hid among my supposed weaknesses. How long I toiled over these to make me look good. “I procrastinate (but I perform best under pressure!)” Or “I’m too hard on myself sometimes” meaning “Look how humble I am!”

Remember Charles Atlas? He promised to make me a real man. How many times was I tempted to order his “free” book and be transformed into the “Hero of the beach”? I wanted so much to be strong.

We focus on our strengths. We cultivate and display them. But a good coach looks for his athlete’s weaknesses and works on these to make a champion. Sometimes strength and weakness might even present themselves in the same circumstance. How many of us feel compassion? I do. When I see someone suffering I feel bad for them. I wish better for them and this is good.

What happens though when it is someone who I dislike or whose priorities and principles stand against mine? When things go wrong for them how do I react? Yes, compassion floats slickly on the surface, but deep down what do I feel? Happiness? Or perhaps more precisely, satisfaction. Do I think, “Well they deserved it,” with a sense of self-righteousness? How odd that I can feel these opposite sensations at the same time. But, like the job application, it is a lie. Because the compassion I feel is false. It is a crafty disguise to let me fully enjoy my self-righteousness. How sad. So I end up being the one that needs compassion instead.

The apostle Paul wrote that in his weakness he finds his strength. He knew that strength keeps Jesus out of our lives. Our strength is a fortress against Christ’s healing grace. Our weakness –be it a wound, illness, addiction, denial, apathy or pride – this is the door to our salvation and it terrifies us. It is the light shining upon our nakedness before God revealing truth.

How afraid we are to be free.

Set aside your strength. Let your weakness be exposed to God in heaven. Let Him enter this door to heal you. To cleanse you. To free you. Let Him make you a champion.

Giant Killer

Are you facing giants in your life? Is there a big ugly monster standing between you and where you want to be? How do we face down the giants? You gotta have attitude… the attitude of a giant killer.

A giant is something bigger than us. It scares us. It makes our gut wrench in fear of defeat and failure, maybe even death. Yesterday in church the giant grabbed me by the entrails and twisted hard.

“Little man,” the giant growled, “let’s just play nice now. Forget about all your hopes and dreams. It’s all too much for you to handle. Look at me. Look at me I said! Do you really want to go toe-to-toe with this badness? Just keep quiet and keep to yourself. You are making a nuisance of yourself and kidding yourself. This thing called faith? Yes, it sounds all nice and cozy, but in my world, the real world, you better have something more substantial than a fairy tale. I will chew you to shreds, little man. Be smart. Don’t make me hurt you.”

The fear and intimidation choke you. You want to run away, far away from a calling that has led you so far in the wilderness that you stop suddenly in panic trembling, and say almost out loud, “What in the world was I thinking? What in the world am I doing here in this strange land?” Bills piling up, kids’ needs, taxes, grocery bills, the yard overgrown, paint chipping off the walls, they don’t understand, the rent due, car maintenance, a city of violence and protest and hate, this is not how it was supposed to be, everything black, everything wrong,  the world crumbling down around me…”

So there I am, in church with my wife and kids and suddenly I am so very alone. In God’s house, how can this be? Is it all just a lie, some crazy mix up? And the giant grins, “Yes, that’s it. Just hand that thing you call faith over to me, and I won’t bother you any more.” This sensation penetrates to the very core of my soul… it tries to poison that most sacred place. Of near infinite force and depth it produces a genuine physical discomfort. The temptation to embrace it and let it close in on you is tremendous, as the accuser seduces you with an exit so inviting. Stop believing in Jesus and His promises. Let it go already. You’ve had your run, now just stop. Insanity.

My eyes remain fixed upon the giant. He mesmerizes me, and I know I must pass this test. And then I do what I know I must do… let it go. Fall back. Fall back on my knees and huddle under the wings of the Giant Killer. In His presence I am strong again. Let it go again like so many times before into His loving arms. Those strong arms that lift me up upon my feet and say… “You, yes you, are the giant killer. Take him down.”

Every Christian engages in this battle against our weakness, our doubts, our defeats, our fear, our shame and our sorrow. And it is exactly through that door, the place of deepest fear, where the Lord enters and seals His victory. Against a world that supplies us with limitless alternatives all juicy and enticing and all so dead. So I go forth again. Into the breech of the battle to lay the enemy low. The giant’s knees buckle with a single stroke of the weapons of the Spirit… the Word of God, the Shield of Faith. Christ’s victory cry: This is My Body, This is My Blood… Take. Gods’ love in these instances is so very intense, it burns you, it consumes you.

Take your giants down. Take them out. Fear not, for you have a mighty Giant Killer that goes forth before you.

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JHR