Tuesday, July 16, 2019


Bea tweets, “If god hates gays why do we keep winning?”

Good question. It sounds an awful lot like a punchline with which marauding Philistines might have taunted Israelite farmers around 1070 BC in the midst of plundering their produce and livestock with impunity: “If the God of Israel really hates the practices of the Canaanites, why is it we are running roughshod over his people?

“And by the way, your mother wears army boots!”

Troops in Disarray

The answer would be that the people of God were in disarray. They were disobedient, confused, ill-taught and sinful. But they were still people with whom God had made an unbreakable covenant, and through whom he intended to glorify his name in the world. The Philistines were ... the Philistines, shortly to meet a guy named David, much to their chagrin.

In those years they didn’t brag quite so much about “winning”.

In point of fact, God has always done his work through flawed people. His masterful skill is evident in that he doesn’t need world’s most expensive paintbrush to compose his masterpieces.

Never is this more evident than in Luke 9, where we have three glorious highlights in the experience of Jesus’ disciples juxtaposed alongside a series of egregious failures. The ‘mountain peaks’ include receiving power and authority over all demons and diseases and being sent out alone to deal with them successfully, confessing Jesus as Christ, and seeing him glorified.

A Litany of Failure

In between, the Twelve manage to fail in virtually every way possible. Asked to use their newfound powers to provide for a needy crowd, they are forced to punt on first down. The Lord graciously steps in and does it himself. Offered the opportunity to see their Master in his glory, they first fall asleep, then trip over their own tongues in the presence of Moses and Elijah. Meanwhile, the disciples who did not have the literal mountain-top experience find out there are unexpected limits on their new demon-expelling powers. Again, the Lord is asked to step in, and does.

Immediately afterward, upon being privileged to have the future revealed to them, they not only fail to understand it, but cannot even muster the courage to inquire further. Then they promptly start bickering about who among them is the greatest (greatest what, one might well ask?), after which two of the disciples who had just seen the glory of Christ have to be rebuked for wanting to call down fire from heaven on a hostile village of Samaritans.

Perfect in Weakness

There are failures of performance, failures of mastery of body and tongue, failures of intellect, failures of courage, failures of charity and humility, and failures to comprehend and act consistently with the agenda and spirit of their Master. That’s all just in Luke 9. We know it gets worse. When confronted on the Mount of Olives by a crowd with swords and clubs, every one of the disciples takes flight and leaves their Lord to his fate. Moreover, if I were forced to recount all the disciples’ blunders between Luke 9 and Luke 22, this would have to be not one post but a new regular series.

Further, if we are ruthlessly honest, not only would you and I have done no better, but we can probably point to missteps in our own Christian walk at which the disciples themselves would politely chuckle. Believer, do you feel like you’re “winning” today? Enjoy it if you are, because the other shoe will probably drop shortly.

Amazingly, amidst all this apparent failure, Jesus Christ continues to do his work in the world. In fact, he delights to work through flawed instruments. “My power is made perfect in weakness,” he once told a discouraged apostle Paul, and nothing about his methods has changed since. When evil most looks like it’s winning, it’s because we are closest to the final victory.

The Fire of Heaven

Why do the enemies of God seem to keep winning? Why is their political agenda — for now at least — ascendant in the West? There could be many reasons. Christians may be failing to be salt and light in the world. We may need to learn humility and dependence, as the disciples did. Our own failure may be an opportunity for Christ himself to step in and deal with the things we can’t. If so, be assured he will do a perfect job of it.

Or perhaps the grace of God is being extended another few weeks, months or years to those who manifestly do not deserve it, much like that city of unwelcoming Samaritans who narrowly (and unknowingly) escaped judgment. It was not that the fire of heaven could not be called, or that the Samaritans did not deserve it to be called, but that by the grace of God, his time was not yet.

But be assured, Christ’s judgment on this world will come. When it does, nobody will talk blithely about “winning”.

Original photo: Jason Scott [CC BY 2.0]

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