Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Strength - Not Necessarily A Virtue.

I nearly got myself into a bit of a pickle on Friday night.

I was mistaken for an RAF brigadier by a bunch of drunk Welsh tourists in the pub where we had met after work. I really didn't have the heart to tell them that the RAF don't have any brigadiers... especially as one of them was incredibly large and had been kind enough to buy a complete stranger like me a drink (using a suspiciously half inch thick wad of crisp £20 notes).

But that's not why I nearly came a cropper.

Somehow, all our conversations after work, seemed to stray into "every" taboo topic you aren't supposed to talk about in social gatherings. It's probably my fault because I honestly don't understand that principle. The subjects that are frowned on (politics, religion, morals and ethics), I find are the most revealing about a person's character and the most interesting way of learning about other people's world views in relation to your own. Honestly... how are we to learn how to live with other people's diverse attitudes if we are completely afraid to discuss them?

Anyway, we ended up talking about Thatcher. I'm not a fan... but a couple of other people are. One person commented that she admired Thatcher because she was a strong woman. It was at this point that I came across as a misogynist because I questioned whether that was a good thing. What I was addressing was not gender issues... but the dangers that surround the force of personality.

What I actually meant to get across was was that I didn't consider that being a strong person, was a good thing in itself. The most abominable events in the entire history of human civilization have often been put down to the decisions of strong minded individuals or groups, who used sheer willpower and confidence to sway the weak, uneducated or apathetic.

They still do.

Curiously enough I went to a preaching seminar last night and the guest speaker - Roger Morris, touched on the subject of strength whilst preaching on the tough passage of Revelation 16. He referred to an American politician who said the following words in the wake of 9/11:

"American power is the most important part. When it is brought to bear in great and terrible measure, it is a thing to strike terror in the heart of anyone who opposes it. No mountain is big enough, no cave deep enough to hide from the full fury of American power."

Those words were spoken by Senator John McCain.

You've read his words...

...now mark mine. America walked that road before and where did it get it? Will that nation repeat the decisions of yesterday and reap the same hardships for it's reward?

It seems to me in America that some potential leaders are going out of their way to appear strong... at the expense of demonstrating the qualities of wisdom that is equally, if not more important in the role of governing a nation.

Not that the USA is by any means the sole example of this. Every nation is just as easily sold down the river to the bravado and charisma of the strong, or the seductive words of cunning knaves.

For the Christian it boils down to whether we let our fear of men or our love of God, govern our decisions. In the Bible there are plenty of times where the nation of Israel either trusts in its own power or flocks to a foreign ally... and finds in the long run it costs them dear.

When we respond to fear, we march to the beat of this world's drum. When we look to mankind for ultimate security, we will always find it lacking... or discover to our horror that it has metamorphosed into something far more distasteful.

Have we forgotten that God calls us to march to a different tune?
The tune of his unconditional love. The love that defies logic and flies in the face of human assessment:

"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him."
1 Corinthians 1:27-29

God's love often appears irrational in the world's eyes... but that would be an inaccurate description. I think that superrational is a better term, albeit one that still carries a certain degree of limitation.

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength."
1 Corinthians 1:25

The world says crush your enemies.

The Lord says love your enemies.

The world says if we love our enemies, we appear weak and they might overrun us with their culture and all will be lost.

However, Jesus Christ came into a world where the culture of his nation was already overrun by conquerors. He didn't raise a sword against them. He didn't muster an army. He even let his enemies kill him.

In the final analysis, Rome's victories were temporal and the glory of that empire faded... as is the way with all empires eventually; Christ's victory was eternal and the glory of God still shines out today in people's lives.

It is still true today. We don't need to look to the temporal for our security...but the eternal. In the West we've had it far too easy, far too long. We seem to think that it is important for Christianity to hold temporal power... but God's most powerful works are often revealed in times and places where Christians hold little or no power.

The apostle Paul found himself burdened with a "thorn" that caused him to be humble in the face of the great things that God was doing in his life. Three times he pleaded with god to go easy on him... and this was the response:

"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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
2 Corinthians 2:9,10

What a stark contrast to the McCain quote we looked at earlier.

It comes down to a simple choice... but one we must constantly make:

Temporary power, or permanent grace...

What will it be for you?

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