NOTE: Following is an update on a previous post.
Does holiness provide refuge or bring condemnation? Gary Thomas in The Beautiful Fight says, “A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people.”
The world needs holy men and women because it needs people transformed by God.
Isaiah 32:2 says, “Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.” Thomas writes the following:
A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people. When the winds of turmoil hit, such people become shelters; their faith provides a covering for all. By their words and actions, by the ways they listen and use their eyes to love instead of lust, to honor instead of hate, to build up instead of tear down, holy women and men are like streams of water in the desert, affirming what God values most. When the heat of temptation threatens to tear this world apart, godly men and women become like the shadow of a great rock. These God oases carry Christ to the hurting, to the ignorant, to those in need. They will be sought out–and they will have something to say. 48
Right now, if I am honest, I am not sure.
From Gary Thomas’ The Beautiful Fight
”Having faced the personal misery and relational pain of doing things my way, having experienced the futility of living life to be noticed, and having carried the heavy burden of making pleasure my idol, I’m far more willing to pay the price for transformation. I may as well embrace the pain that leads me to God instead of suffer the pain of being drawn away from him.
So I hope you’ll take these words as an encouragement. Pain in this world is a foregone conclusion. The only question is whether we choose to live a life of redemptive pain or of self-destructive pain. I pray you’ll choose redemptive pain.” 200
I am coming to the end of The Beautiful Fight by Gary Thomas and he has increased the challenge in these last chapters.
“Pain in this world is a foregone conclusion. The only question is whether we choose to live a life of redemptive pain or self-destructive pain.” 200
He is saying that there will be a cost if we move towards the transformed life in Christ. The only alternative is that we move away from God and Thomas warns that we will pay a cost for rebellious or disobedient choices. He writes,
“Having faced the personal misery and relational pain of doing things my own way, having experienced the futility of living life to be noticed, and having carried the heavy burden of making pleasure my idol, I’m far more willing to pay the price for transformation.” 200
Putting it another way, he says, “When I refuse to face the pain of transformation, eventually I must endure the misery of my immaturity.” 199
He explains what he means by paying the price:
“It means we need to start learning, listening, and surrendering. Don’t waste your physical ills; learn from them. What does it matter whether God causes them or merely permits them. . . . Don’t run from social frustration or relational confusion; be humbled in the midst of it. Learn how to love in the messiness of human relationships–confronting, forgiving, and asking to be forgiven. Don’t make a hassle-free life your primary pursuit; instead listen to God to discern how he is using these interruptions to cleanse your soul and purify your attitudes. ” 207
Thomas says that the process (and he really emphasizes that this is a process) of transformation requires a fear of God, the virtue of humility, surrender, perseverance and gratitude. He concludes his 14th chapter with these powerful words.
If I recognize that I am not like Christ, that I am proud where he is humble, that I am selfish where he is sacrificial, that I am greedy where he is giving, that I am lustful where he is pure, then mustn’t I be broken before I can be remade?
Of course I must. And so must you.
The breaking can be painful, even excruciating. It hurts to die to certain dreams and desires. It sometimes feels as though we’re being ripped apart when we let something go. But the pain is a good pain, the difficult journey is a good journey, and the Beautiful Fight is still a beautiful fight.
The second major section of Gary Thomas’ The Beautiful Fight is called New Spirit, New Bodies and in it he discusses the transformation that God does in our eyes, mouth, ears, minds, hands and feet and hearts. I have now read “Eyes that See” and “Mouths that Speak.” If the “words” of email fit under the category of “mouths that speak,” it has not been a good week for me. And I read this chapter last week! Plus, my wife led a Bible study on 1 Thes 5:11 ff on how we are to encourage one another which is a passage that Thomas uses to show “particular uses of the tongue.”
What happened? It is ugly pride raising up its ugly head once again. I have been frustrated in my inability to stay on top of all that I am supposed to be doing. A couple of times this week, I noticed that I was angry and irritable–for no apparent reason. Well, late one day (already a danger signal), I responded to yet another email hoax someone sent me with a harsh, sharp and pride filled email that was sent publicly to all the members of the email group. Basically, I was saying, “how could you be so ignorant? Don’t waste my time.” I later apologized but the damage was done. Why do I keep reverting to this type of behavior?
Thomas writes, “Life changes when we live it in cooperation with God instead of just working for God.” 83 The level of frustration I have been experiencing in my position shows me that I have been doing more of the “working for God” rather than in “cooperation with God.” Thomas writes these powerful words, “Here’s the joy of the God-empowered life: we can cease expending energy trying to be impressive and instead rest in being used.” 85 Although it is not easy to admit that I have not been living a God-empowered life, the fruits are evident. God-empowered lives are not prideful lives because they know it is not about them and that very little of what they offer to people comes from them.
Listen to Thomas again, “It will help you more than you could know to realize how small (though necessary) a part of the process you really are–when indeed you are relying on God.” 84 I think what he is saying is that I still need to prepare, to pray, to listen, to do whatever but compared to what God does in any given situation my part is infinitesimal. Thomas says,
“Here’s the delightful spiritual irony: true biblical humility breeds confidence. Many people consider humility a sign of insecurity, but when we accept the Bible’s reality that God is already acting, already moving, and already directing the affairs of his world, we can rest in his capability, confident that he has made allowances for our own weaknesses, sin, limitations, and lack of gifting.” 85
This helps me to understand the cooperation involved in the God-empowered life and I think will lead to a lot less frustration and much more joy. I still regret that email I sent but I am grateful how God is using my failure to lead to what I hope is a greater level of transformation. To be continued . . .
Gary Thomas talks about the crucial importance of the ascension in the third chapter of The Beautiful Fight. Spent this morning reflecting on his powerful words, so heavy on me that I can hardly type.
“Celebrating Christmas gives us faith . . . Celebrating Easter gives us assurance . . . Celebrating the ascension gives us hope and points us toward transformation; it affirms that we can become more and more like Jesus is right now.” 36
“Without the ascension, we might look around and forget that Christ is the ruling Lord of this fallen, broken world.” 36
“We serve the ascended and reigning Christ. The world may mock our King. We may disdain his rule by our own sinful rebellion–but the fact is, he reigns. And we can participate in the spread of his kingdom, in the Beautiful Fight, not simply by imitating how he lived on earth but by surrendering to his dynamic, life-transforming presence within us, by letting him change the way we see, think, feel, hear, speak, and serve. It’s the life of Christ in us, continuing his work, exercising his reign, manifesting his presence.” 37
“Without, Christ, we have no power to change. . . Christ isn’t buried in history; he is risen and ascended. ” He reigns, acts, speaks, guides, and is building his church. The ascension can help to keep us from smothering the supernatural and the mysterious elements of our faith, recapturing the dynamic reality of Christ manifesting himself through us.”
“Sadly, like the biblical Esau (see Genesis 25:29-34), we sometimes feel pridefully tempted to sell this amazing birthright of Christ’s presence for our own presence. We focus on our work, our influence and our ministry. One of the biggest threats to incarnational living is pride. Instead of manifesting Christ’s presence, we want to showcase our own presence; instead of dispensing Christ’s truth, we want to spotlight our own opinions; instead of adopting Christ’s agenda, we want to accomplish our own five-or ten-year plans; instead of building Christ’s kingdom, we want to spread our own ‘ministry’.” 38
“Because Jesus reigns now, we have hope. Even though my eyes are weak and greedy and judgmental and lustful, there stands Christ, with eyes filled with burning purity, holy passion, and self-less love. Even though I sometimes speak with a hurtful tongue or blurt our unkind comments, there is Christ, with his healing tongue in perfect control. And here is where it gets really good. Jesus is not simply watching me, asking me to imitate him; on the contrary, he has released, is releasing and will release his Holy Spirit to help me see and talk just as he does. He will live through me. 43
“Let us discard the pride, the preening, the bloated arrogance of our opinions. Let us shun the small lives of desperate people who try to make themselves large through frenetic activity and modern gimmicks. Let us quiet our hearts long enough to experience the restful, amazingly powerful, and compellingly pure passion of Jesus, and changing what we see, tuning us in to what must really be heard, and helping us to feel what God himself feels. This is real human experience, exalted by divine impact, it is our birthright through the ascension–a sacred truth we need to hold dear. ” 44