Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"I Am What I Am"

'Paul's background was anti-Christian, and he could never get completely away from that. He had been the most hostile, brutal persecutor the church had ever known. After his conversion to Christ, he doubtless encountered families whose loved ones he had put to death. He was often reminded by people that he was not one of the original twelve apostles, and they continually called his apostleship into question. Writing to the Corinthians about these very matters, he says of himself, "For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."

What grounds for discouragement! How easy it would have been for him to say to himself, "What's the use? Here I am working my fingers to the bone, making tents and trying to preach the Gospel to these people, and look at the blessing God has brought them--but they don't care! They hurl recriminations back in my face! What's the use? Why even try anymore?"

But that is not what he does. The very next verse says, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect." Here we see Paul using the breastplate of righteousness. He says, in effect, "I don't care what I have been. I don't defend what I am. I simply say that, by the grace of God, I am what I am. What I am is what Christ has made me. I'm not standing on my own righteousness---I'm standing on His. I am accepted by grace, and my personal situation does not make any difference at all."

So Paul's heart was kept from discouragement. He reminded himself that when he became a Christian, he had put on the breastplate of righteousness. He never allowed himself to be discouraged by looking back. He always looked forward, to Christ.' ~ Stedman (Spiritual Warfare)

This man, once the accuser, the murderer, the self-righteous patriot, and where do I find him at the end of his life, after the storm of Jesus Christ. He is broken. He'd been beaten, flogged, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked. I imagine the men ripping open his shirt as they are about to whip him, only to see scars upon scars, some wounds still fresh, still pink. 

I see him at the end of his life, so broken in humility as to the wretchedness of his offense. So weak in himself, and so strong in Christ. This chief of the sinners. This rescued son, and I understand. I can look at any wretch and hear my own heart, "he's no more a wretch than me."

I see his friends urging him not to go to Jerusalem, even the prophets warning him that he will be bound and delivered over to the authorities, and still we have the record of his answer to their pleading, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in the Jerusalem for the name of The Lord Jesus." His leaving them hurts so much that the words used to describe his departure are here for us...."After we had torn ourselves away..."

I hear his heart in his words to the Church, "If we live, we live for The Lord, if we die, we die for The Lord, so whether we live or die, we belong to The Lord."

I feel his brokenness..."For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought." This man once respected, now despised, and yet not by his King. Only now is he remodeled into the weapon of God, now that there is nothing left of him. 'The Lord is a warrior...the Lord is His name.' I stood before a church on Sunday. I looked into their eyes. I felt the Spirit. I wept. Only by the grace given me...

I agree in my spirit with his resolve...."I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task The Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace." Even now as I write, a tropical storm is bearing down upon us. It is only fitting that the greatest storm of my life should come during the greatest storm of my life. When all else is stripped away, you see the marrow. You see what you're made of. Is it God that drips from you when you pull away the bark from the tree. Is the soft, tender fruit of the Spirit living there? Is the offering fragrant? 

It's when I fully know that I am what I am, I can hear with new ears a new sound. Moses knew who he was. He knew what he was. He didn't feel like he deserved to be God's instrument, even though God was calling him. God answered him by saying it simply. "I AM WHO I AM."

I watch the children working away at their school by the light of the kerosene lamp. I see that I am nothing more than this lamp. It's not I that burns so bright and gives such warmth and glow. I am only the wick. The dry and thirsty cloth soaking up the source of the real fuel. I draw Him up into me and He sets me ablaze, and when He goes out from me, there will be no more light to shine. It's not about us. Not at all. Not even for a moment. All that matters, all that this world comes down to, is Jesus.

This great and magnificent power already outside my window today. The rains pour and the heavens are opened. The palms are bending and swaying. The waves are crashing. Already every bucket and pot stands at the ready, stationed by my kids to receive the endless drip drip dripping. The tempest comes, and she is still a hundred miles to go. Such wrath, and yet my King will tell her how far she can go. Only by His grace can we rest in the midst of the storm. 

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