7. NOW and LATER

30 03 2017

Chapter 6: Cracked Teapots

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 7 of 13 posts)

The story of Lazarus is perfect. He is the “average person” going about life when he gets ill. His sisters call out for help, but help doesn’t come in time. Lazarus dies. Everyone is devastated. Jesus arrives, but too late. Everyone thinks, “If only He would have come earlier! Why didn’t He?” Jesus weeps too, seeing how troubled they all are. Then Jesus approaches the tomb and commands Lazarus to come out. Wonder of wonders…Lazarus is raised from the dead! It is an incredible miracle! More than anyone could have hoped for!

What happened next?

Lazarus died again.

There was probably a lot of living in between, but ultimately Lazarus died again. The “living” part was not permanent. Jesus didn’t cure Lazarus of death, in fact, Jesus didn’t cure Lazarus of life! Do you think Lazarus never got a cold again? Never suffered a wound? Never had a business deal go south? Never had an issue with a friend or neighbour?

In this chapter of the book Edith points out that we can be healed from one ailment but still not have perfect health and certainly not everlasting life. Our path, while living in a broken and suffering world, will never be smooth. We see this when we study God’s Word. We see this if we study the lives of our ancestors. We would see this if we looked around now with more honest eyes and we ought to see this in our own journey and not be surprised!  As Edith points out, you may  have a lovely home for one part of your life and be in a concentration camp the next (121). Don’t be tempted into thinking anything else.

As I read this chapter I thought about how we need to be careful about what we set ourselves up for in our “hopes and dreams.” We should not live lives of pessimism and fear, certainly not! But we also must not “put on God” the expectation that He will make our lives now what they can only be when we are finally with Him. We should never demand what we can not have in this life…

“The ‘house’ which is our body will be perfect one day, even as the ‘mansions’ which God is providing and preparing for us will also be perfect. However, perfection is not promised immediately after we become the children of the Lord in this life. Sometimes people take the verses in Isaiah 53:5 — ‘with his stripes we are healed’ — to mean that right now in this life the suffering which Jesus went through, as He was beaten and then died on the cross, will heal us of our diseases in this life. As we read the whole Bible, we come to understand that God is not making that promise. Therefore, He has not broken a promise when Christians suffer accidents to their bodies, become very ill, have crippling strokes or develop polio or heart disease. Indeed, the day is coming when our bodies will be perfect. Indeed, Jesus died to make this possible, and He rose again and walked about the earth for forty days in His resurrected body so that we could know what a resurrected body is like. We will be perfect, but not yet.” (121)

A while back I was talking with some friends about how Believers used to hope for heaven a lot more. In church gatherings hymns were sung, sermons were taught, people looked forward to a day when they could put down the burden of this world! What has happened to that conversation? What happened to looking forward to what’s next?

I think the conversation died when we decided that now was better than later. That is our mentality these days isn’t it? We have slipped into the age of entitlement and the message coming at us constantly is that we DESERVE everything our heart’s desire now: loads of happiness and the perfect Facebook timeline. We have the means now to have satisfaction in what we have, more than ever before, because we don’t even have to save up for it! We can put a life on credit and “have the dream” we can’t actually afford.

So we live and breathe the illusion that it is ours and that it is good. We have technology that allows us to get around without getting lost, constant entertainment to keep our minds buzzed, we can divorce our spouses and get a better one without anyone being at fault, our grocery stores have EVERYTHING from every part of the globe, we have mobility, and medicines, and in Canada soon we will have legalized Marijuana so that we can live in a fog and not even worry that we are

“…still living in the midst of the ongoing results of the spoiled world, with the abnormalities which have come after the Fall…” (122)

We honestly need to recalibrate. We need to stop this. We need to step back and take one hard look at our terrain. We need to strip off the lies of this world, the seduction of it, and live the Truth: this is not our home. This can never fulfill us. We can cram in every decaying thing we think we deserve between the beginning and the end and what will we have stored up? Will Jesus say, “Way to go! Those acquisitions are sure impressive!”

We should be aware we are waiting for a better “later” while we are in the “now” so we don’t think that “now” is where it’s all at. When we have that straight, the amazing thing is that Jesus actually offers us a better “now” no matter our present circumstances if we will follow His lead!

When we intentionally walk with Jesus, He will show us a more pure pleasure now.

  • We will see gifts from our Good Father that we never saw before, would not have recognized.
  • We will value relationships in such a new and freer way: less jealous, less comparative, less biased, less racist, less bordered, less fake, less judgemental, less competitive.
  • We will marvel at Creation when the Creator Himself points His work out to us.
  • We will age well with less hang-ups, less anxiety, less denial about it all.
  • We will serve well because we don’t need to be served.
  • We will have more peace and contentment.
  • We will do good things we never thought we would just because we are listening better and trusting more.
  • We will have the joy of participating in supernatural things, things that moth or rust cannot destroy.
  • We will have a worship for God in us that we don’t even need to work at, because we know Him so much more intimately.

And when we suffer it won’t be soul-destroying! We will feel a lot of things, but we won’t be put under by naive thinking and false expectations. We will hurt, but we won’t hurt without hope. We won’t grasp at the empty things of this world, wishing for what we don’t have, and we won’t despair! We will lock eyes with Christ and walk through it with Him to whatever end He wills and even in that we will see His faithfulness. We will experience what the Bible promises, an astounding truth: steadfast joy.

And because of all that we will pray in a new way and act on those prayers in a new way because we will be free from formulaic thinking! We won’t think 1+1 ought to be 2 in God’s economy, and why isn’t it?!? As if God is just going to jump and do what we ask in exactly the way we ask it because we are so wise in our own eyes! We will trust Him to do what is best! Is His best to heal us or remove some discomfort? Or to work out some good through us not being healed and to have us remain in a hard place knowing He is concerned about “now” but He is also very concerned about people’s “later.” When we are freed from the stranglehold of the world, know our view is limited and His grace and strength is sufficient, this becomes a viable question for us.

And another thing comes into focus that Jesus is blunt about: it is what He needs us to do in the “now.” Through our own lessons in affliction, suffering in others will come into focus for us and will call out to us to respond in a new way. Jesus already tells us that not everyone will receive a healing…

“Visiting the sick means that there will always be those who are sick. Feeding the hungry implies a personal involvement with someone who needs human and individual loving care, not just campaigning for a change of the political setup…” (123)

Both for the person suffering, and for the person extending compassion and care, the Will of God is being carried out when we are freed up to respond, carrying the “gifts of the Spirit” with us to help and encourage those in need. Who knows what God is up to in those situations? Maybe our role is just to help that person overcome against the Enemy who wants them to turn on God! While we do pray for a change in circumstances, for relief, for healing

“There is great danger that an emphasis on healing can make some people hardened or insensitive to the gentleness and thoughtfulness and imaginative care they are meant to be giving to someone.” (123)

Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  Can’t you see yourself, loaded up with all of this and going out into the world to see where you might distribute it as a part of being a light, spurring one another on, and helping each other to be steady in our faith?

“We are to have no other opportunity of visiting Christ when He is sick. Does this hit us with a hard shock? He is not saying ‘Heal the sick.’ He is talking about visiting with the idea of bringing comfort and love…We should check up on ourselves sometime: “Have I sent the Lord a card or a letter or a bunch of flowers in His sickness this week?…Have I failed to care for the Lord in some person’s need when offered that opportunity?” (123)

When we begin to think of God’s PURPOSES in everything, the puzzle He is fitting together, we won’t see what God has done one time for someone, and expect it will be the way He will do it for us. Again, we can not see what He sees. As Edith says,

“We rejoice when we read or hear of what God has done directly in answer to His children, but we are not to demand a recurrence of an event in someone else’s life or of an exact combination of situations.” (121)

As Edith says over and over in this book, God is up to something, let’s follow Him.

So we will persist in prayer, becoming more and more familiar with the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and we will not let any false thing embitter us against God’s ways. There is something we will know and that is

“Any answer to prayer that we have in the material realm is also temporal, and our situation can change. We do have a continuous unbroken thing — and that is our communication with the Living God and our access to His ear at any time.” (122)

The chapter refers to us as cracked pots, and this is what we are now, let’s be honest.  The Potter is holding us together until we get to our new place.  Until then, we must not “lose heart,” no matter what our present circumstances look like. No matter what happens, we will not be destroyed, we will not perish because of the powerful work of Christ for us and in us!

O Saviour, wondrously show us Your marvellous and amazing lovingkindness as we take refuge at Your right hand during all of the circumstances that rise up against us! (Psalm 17:7 paraphrase) 

And while we wait for later, let us fully engage with today because something is stored IN US  that changes everything about the now:

 

We have this TREASURE in jars of clay
TO SHOW that this
ALL-SURPASSING POWER is from GOD 
and not from us.
— 2 Corinthians 4:7

 

— Teresa Klassen

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1. “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer

4 01 2017

img_9655Preface — “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978

(Part 1 of 13 posts)

A Preface to the Preface

A friend of mine recommended this old book, written in 1978. I found it used, online, and it arrived with an appropriately musty smell; I am pretty sure it was sitting in someone’s basement for the past 30 years. I knew in the prologue, this was going to be an important book for me and I knew in the last chapter, I was going to have to blog on it. I have underlined many pages, written notes all over it, spilled coffee and tears on its pages and even though I have finished the book, the book isn’t finished with me.

A book can be a mentor, and this is certainly one of those. I have listened to Edith for a few months now and by spending a little more time with her I think I will be able to remember more of what she said, and maybe it will serve someone else too.

Half way through reading the book I stopped and took out my journal and wrote a letter to her. She is no longer walking the earth, but I felt like I had been sitting with her for days and days and I was so grateful for the time she took to write these words for me and all the others. I was also thankful to pick up where she left off in praying for some things that matter, and people who matter, with a new picture of what those prayers mean historically. I pictured her as one of those witnesses the Bible refers to in Hebrews 1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” in my own quest for perseverance in the race.

Of the people I look forward to seeing one day, she is one.

If anyone happens to read this blog and the ones to follow, I hope some new strength is passed on to you for your journey. I know I won’t be able to translate all the book said, but hopefully the bit I do write on will serve a good purpose and maybe you will find the book somewhere and read it too. At the end of the book I wished I could have given it to my 20-year-old-self  so I would have better understood affliction, suffering and hardship as it came, but mentors arrive as they arrive and I can only assume that I wouldn’t have taken it to heart in the same way I do now. I probably needed a few dings and bruises to appreciate these lessons.

As it was written in 1978, the language is from another time and the Scriptures quoted are often written in King James Version. There was something about this that worked for me; it slowed me down as I turned the phrases around so I was viewing them and thinking about them differently. I relaxed about the Thee’s and Thou’s and saw a lot of beauty in the differences between that version and the NIV or ESV I normally find myself in. So, if you do pick up the book, be patient and don’t get hung up on 1978. As Edith said, there is “true Truth” that transcends the generations and the peculiarities of our eras. In our time, the phrases we used in 2016 rotted much more quickly.

So, beginning with the Preface we dive in…

In the opening paragraphs of the Preface Edith says, “When people try to live on the basis of erroneous ideas they have picked up about what happens (or is supposed to happen) concerning affliction when one becomes a Christian, it is apt to be like riding with a flat tire, trying to carry all the weight in one bag, reading by the light of a candle, or ‘seeing through dirty glasses.'” (10) The question of suffering or affliction is one of the big stumbling blocks of our generation that keeps us an arms length from God. Because we are so prone to believe we can figure everything out so that it makes sense to us (“Science” and “Reasoning” we call it), affliction and suffering does not compute when we also say that God is loving. We form beliefs around what we believe and Edith refers to these as flat tires. If we believe what we believe without gathering enough information from the Bigger, Wider, Perspective…are our truths true? When we insist on changing places with our Creator and decide for ourselves what is what, we buy into the oldest lie: “you can be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

The thing about affliction and our view of it is that as we are often in pain ourselves when we consider it. When we are in pain all our doubts and questions bubble up from the depths. When we have a plan for our lives and things unravel, where is God in that? When we hear of some atrocity, we are uncertain where to go with our indignation. When we pray, believing we can “ask anything” in the Name of Jesus, but the very thing we ask for does not come about, what then? Troubles large and small can throw us, turning our whole world upside down, anger and bitterness can take root or we can simply live in denial and settle for a weak, ineffective Faith and hold loosely onto a God we don’t entirely trust (I speak from experience).

There is an alternative and, I am learning, a victory in this if we are willing to stare at Affliction/Suffering for a while and step back to view the bigger picture of our existence to hopefully come to a place of joy — that place we cannot fathom which the Apostle Paul refers to when he says “but we rejoice in our sufferings” in Romans 5:3.

As to my role in this, don’t think for a second I have reached some “zen” place on the matter. To even pretend that I or anyone can, is to deny or displace the humanity God has given me and you. We feel. We wrestle. We live in the middle of. We cry. We question. We journey. We are not to be mystics, emptied of normal emotions in the middle of brokenness and sorrow. We are not robots who, if given the right programming, can walk stiffly through a battle. We can not look at the death of anything or anyone as if it is not our enemy.

What we can do is see better, think better, understand better and in gaining wisdom we can live with fewer “erroneous ideas.”

— Teresa Klassen