Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who is the Master of Your Fate?

I read a post this morning on facebook. A dear friend wrote, "[I'm] not the master of my fate, nor the captain of my soul. And I'm very, very OK with that!" She also put a smiley face at the end of it because that's how she rolls.

The phrases "master of my fate" and "captain of my soul" come from a poem entitled Invictus, written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley. At the age of 17 Henley's leg was amputated just below his knee. He refused to let this hinder him and lived an active and full life. Invictus, which is Latin for unconquered, is his manifesto, his explanation of his refusal to be defeated by illness. He writes:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

As a follower of Christ I find Henley's words both admirable and heartbreaking. There is much to admire in a man who refuses to be defeated, a man who rises above hardships and tragedies and overcomes them by the sheer force of his will. I want to be a man like that. I want to rise above.

But my life proves to me that I can't. Certainly there are things I can overcome. Certainly there are adversities that I can face and declare that they "shall find me unafraid." But at the end of the day I cannot declare that I am either the master of my fate or the captain of my soul. The reason is that I do not possess an unconquerable soul. My soul was conquered by mankind's greatest enemy--sin. Sin possessed me, overwhelmed me, ruled me and lorded over me. I was born into it and I embraced it. It was my identity, my purpose.

The wonder of my life is that my soul has been conquered once more. Not my by sin but by the One who gave His life to free me from my sin. The One who is truly master of my fate and captain of my soul. King Jesus has conquered me. He has drawn me irresistibly to Himself, He has taken my sin and my shame and my wickedness and my wretchedness on Himself. He has borne the just and right penalty my sin earned. He has taken it away and remembers it no more. Before such love, before such splendor and eternal majesty, I am conquered.

And because of this greatness I can face the "bludgeonings of chance", with my head "bloody but unbowed." I can stand with hope and joy, I can be unafraid to stand before a holy and just God because the One who conquered my soul has cancelled the record of debt that stood against me with its legal demands. He has set it aside, nailing it to the cross.

I am not Invictus; I am not unconquered. And I am very, very okay with that. For I have been baptized into the One who is, the One who conquered my soul with His greatness. I glory, I rest, I exult in the fact that Jesus is the master of my fate. Jesus is the captain of my soul.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Power of God's Word

This past Sunday I was reminded once again of the power of God's word. We've been working our way through Mark's gospel since May. This week we were to begin chapter 4, where Jesus begins teaching in parables. After the first parable recorded (Parable of the Sower), the disciples asked Jesus why He began teaching with parables. To me, this was a logical place to begin the study of the parables; before we dove into them we needed to understand why Christ used them. To that point He hadn't used parables-why the change? And so we studied Mark 4:10-12.

Now that text may not ring a bell in your mind. It didn't in mine either. I've never preached from that text. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever heard a sermon preached from it either. Here's what it says: "And when He was alone, those around Him with the 12 asked Him about the parables. And He said to them, 'To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that 'they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.'" Not exactly one of those "wow" passage of scripture is it? No, "for God so loved the world", no "for by grace you have been saved", not even "while we were yet sinners". But that was the next portion of scripture so we dug in. We studied why Jesus taught using parables.

And here's the remarkable thing; it was an incredibly well-received sermon. Several people told me they had been blessed, one man told me it was the best sermon he had heard me preach. And I don't say that out of pride or anything like that; I say that because those words completely reaffirmed to me the power of God's word. There was nothing in that text that seemed to leap off the page. There didn't seem to be much there that was useful for teaching, reproof, correction or training in righteousness. But that's precisely what happened. People weren't blessed because of my masterful exegesis or my impressive homiletic skills. People were blessed because the word of God was presented.

There is immeasurable power in God's word. And so often where I fail as a teacher of the word is that I don't lean all my weight on the scriptures. I worry that maybe what I say won't be relevant, that what is said on Sunday won't matter much on Monday. And that's a wretched, wicked sin because it is a declaration of the insufficiency of scripture. God's word is sharper than any two-edged sword, every word of it is inspired and useful. And when I am faithful to present it, people will be blessed.

Fellow teachers/preachers of God's word, may we never stray from the text. My opinions don't matter, my viewpoints don't matter--they can't change hearts and work the work of repentance in the hearts of sinners. But there is supernatural power in God's word. When we are faithful to present it, God is faithful to bless it.

Father, thank You for the incredible blessing of scripture. May I never present what I think to the world; may I never present my opinions. May I only preach Your word; may I ever rest in the sufficiency of it; and my I trust You to give the increase. Amen.