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Matthew Bauer
 

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You are here:  blog  >  August 2012  >  The Ripping

The Ripping

ripping“Come, let us return to the Lord; He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us.” (Hosea 6:1)

Nobody likes to be ripped. It’s a terrible feeling, but it seems like that’s what life is all about sometimes. Broken families, divorce, unemployment, economic crisis, orphans, widows, natural disaster, drought, cancer, unanswered prayer, repo men, car repair, fights with your spouse, never having enough – it’s all around us; it consumes us at times; it overwhelms us.

At the time of Hosea, it was no different. Their government had been overthrown six times in just 25 years, their land was in ruin, their economy in shambles, marriages were little more than ceremony, and the people’s cries to God seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Perhaps the worst thing we do in life is give in to the idea that this is all there is. We give in to the idea that this ripping, this tearing to pieces, is just how life goes, and we fall victim to our own beliefs, never allowing God’s healing to come. In Hosea 7, God talks of wanting to heal Israel, but they stood by their own strength and would not acknowledge Him. And if we aren’t careful, we can miss what this is all about.

You see, Israel was a mess, for sure – we’re a mess sometimes. And though this harsh ripping sounds a lot like punishment, burning from God’s anger toward His people, there is much more to the ripping than first appears. Chapter 10 in Hosea talks about how the people’s wickedness increased with God’s blessing, and how they ran farther from Him the more He called to them. No, God’s love shown through favor would hardly do to bring Israel around. They needed far more, and so do we.

When I look at ripping, I see eight things that it accomplishes in our lives; eight reasons why God should choose to love us through the ripping:

1: Ripping Reveals Priorities

It’s hard to tell what really matters in life until it’s taken from you. In my life, I’ve had a lot of things. I’ve had money, success, and notoriety. I’ve known what it is to live in the blessings of western society, and I’ve known what it is to lose it.

By age 19, I’d been working for a few years already in the technology field, but when I got the offer to work for IBM, I thought I’d made it. 19 years old and already in a top career; ahead as I thought I could be at that point in my life; making good money and living a good life. But after only a year, working 80-100 hours a week, living off caffeine, and watching the lives of my coworkers crumble into the meaningless grind of obsession with their jobs, I quit. Immediately, my life took a dramatic turn. Thinking that I would be moving into a much more comfortable position, with a lot more money, I was optimistic. After I left IBM, I took a big vacation, enjoying the spoils of life before making the transition to something even better. I came back, rested and relaxed, waiting for the next step, and that’s when it came.

Late one evening, God spoke to me, and said, “Matthew, I want you to pack just what you can fit in your car, and move to Detroit.” Let the ripping begin. After arguing with God for a month, I finally submitted, and with just my most important possessions, I moved to Detroit with no home, no job, no anything, and I stayed there for 19.5 months. During that time, God ripped from me everything I thought I had built for myself. He even stripped Himself from me, leaving me dry and weary, wanting, thirsting for His presence, for His favor, for His blessing once again. My priorities had changed. When all I had was taken from me, I realized that all I had was nothing to begin with. From my loner lifestyle, not having a friend since the early days of grade school, I began to cherish my relationships with others. Without the distractions of a money-bought life, I learned to lean on God, to make His presence and His word and my love for Him my highest priority. When I finally had all my idols ripped from my hands, only then did I realize what – or who – was truly important in my life.

And while I hope and pray that there are other ways to learn this – maybe from example; from good parenting; from a church that lives what it preaches – a counter-cultural church that lives outside of the lusts and greed of our society – I do know that there is hardly a more effective way to learn this lesson than through God’s ripping.

In 1 Kings 3, we find the story of King Solomon, a man who had everything, and yet who counted it meaningless; a man whose greatest wealth was his wisdom; a man with many faults, but who found favor with God through his priorities. In the story, two women appear before him for judgment. Both of these women were prostitutes, and they were roommates. They had both born children, and during the night, one of the children passed away. Now, in what was likely a very Jerry Springer fashion, they came to Solomon fighting over whose son was left alive. Of course, they didn’t have DNA testing back then, so it was left to the words of these two harlots.

“You rolled over on your own son and now he’s dead!” “That wasn’t my son!”, the other one screamed. “Liar!”, screamed the first and so it continued.

After breaking up the scratching, biting, and hair pulling, Solomon calmly asks for his sword. “Cut the child in two,” he commands, “and give half to each woman.”

“NO!”, cried the first woman. “Do not kill him, but give him to my roommate that he might live!” The second argued and said, “Go ahead and kill him, so that neither of us may have him.”

Solomon awarded the child to the first, having seen a true mother’s priorities come through the ripping. The child’s life was more important to her than her possession of him. Only a mother could know that love. Likewise, in our own ripping, what is truly important comes to light, as everything else is torn away.

2: Ripping Prepares Us for Blessing

Joshua and Caleb knew all about the ripping. Ripped from their homes in Egypt to wander through the desert, they finally come to the land of God’s promise. Every blessing is there for their enjoyment. They taste it; they see it with their own eyes. But the people do not believe, and because of someone else’s foolishness and doubt, Joshua and Caleb are forced to wander the desert another 40 years, without any comfort, with hardly a good meal to eat, with the scorching sun on their backs day after day after day. Beyond that, they watched every one of the people they knew pass away, as they could never receive the promise God had given them. They had everything ripped from them, yet still they carried on toward the hope of God’s word being fulfilled in their lives.

But what of the ripping in their lives? What did it produce?

Most importantly, I think it taught them how to lead. Not only did God give them His law during this season and teach them how to live according to it, but He taught them how to lead and how to steward His blessing before they would receive it. Through Moses’ leadership and discipleship, through the experiences and deliverance of the desert, through failures and successes, through great loss and suffering, they learned how to lead God’s people into their promise. They learned how to follow Him when the commands didn’t make sense (like walking around Jericho to make the walls fall down). They learned to trust Him, to obey Him, to have compassion for His people, to fight for Him, and to let Him fight for them.

In Exodus 32, God said to Moses, “I won’t give you all your blessing at once, for it is too great for you. But I will give it little by little, so you are not overtaken and consumed by it.” Joshua and Caleb weren’t ready for their blessing, and so often neither are we. We cry out and beg for God’s blessing to come to pass in our lives, wanting to see it all, and wanting it right now. We have no concept of what we’re asking for, though, and God knows that through our waiting – through our ripping – He is preparing us for blessing far greater than we could realize in the moment.

In Detroit, I had no idea what was to come. I had no idea that I would soon be relying on God for every meal, every bill, and every gallon of gas through full-time ministry. I had no idea the blessings that were in store for me – I still don’t. But had He not prepared me for that before later calling me to Buffalo, NY, with just the possessions I could fit in my car, I never would have realized the magnitude of His promise that I’ve realized today.

3: Ripping Corrects Our Course

When I was working for IBM, I knew my call to ministry, but I had sidestepped it indefinitely to make a way for myself in this world – to build my own kingdom. I thought, “once I have my own kingdom, I’ll work on building up God’s kingdom.” Of course, how many of you know that we can never have enough of our own kingdoms? We just keep building and building, always lusting for more. And what of priorities? I had put God’s kingdom last to focus on the things that I wanted.

If anything, Detroit was a major shift in the course of my life. Though I went back into the technology business there and for the few years following, the direction of my life would never be the same. It may have just been the first step, but it played a major role in awakening God’s dream in me once again.

Jonah knew the same struggle through his ripping over a wicked city called Ninevah. Just like me, Jonah had his own idea of what life should be like. He was already in ministry, and those of us who have been in ministry know the feeling well, but it didn’t turn out quite like he expected. God had asked something too difficult for him (well, not too difficult, per say, but it definitely wasn’t part of Jonah’s own life plans). He didn’t want to go to Ninevah, because he didn’t want God to save Ninevah. So he ran.

Running is a great prelude to ripping, let me tell you. We all know the story. Jonah runs as far away from Ninevah as he can, and caught in a great storm, is thrown into the sea as a sacrifice to save the ship. Instantly the storm dies down, but Jonah is swallowed by a great fish. Real or metaphorical as that may be, it was a ripping moment for Jonah. Everything about him was ripped away in an instant, and he was left to rediscover his course in life. Crying out to God in the depths, Jonah’s life took a sharp turn in that moment, and God put him back on the path to Ninevah.

The ripping in our lives is a great way to get our attention. It’s not usually pleasant, but it sets a course for our lives that we would otherwise miss. Again, is there a better way to learn this lesson? I hope so, but if you find yourself in the ripping, pay attention to the direction of God in your life. He may just be leading you down a path you never expected.

4: Ripping Bears Witness to the World

People tell me all the time how my story bears witness in their lives. I hear time and time again how people are healed by sharing with me in the ripping and healing of God in my life, and I’m blessed. If there is no other reason for any of our suffering than that it bear witness to the world, we are fulfilling the commission of Christ. This is not, of course, to say that we cannot or should not bear witness to the world through our blessing, but the world knows how to survive in blessing (according to their standards, anyway). They don’t know how to live in the ripping. Seeing our peace amidst a storm gives greater witness to the world than most anything else, and makes a suffering world hungry for the God who turns our mourning into dancing and our sorrow into joy.

One of the greatest witnesses to the world through ripping has got to be Daniel. Ripped from his home and his family as a boy, Daniel was forced to serve a foreign kingdom, with different beliefs, different values, different customs, and a different god than he’d ever known. Through this ripping, Daniel was steadfast, not eating unclean foods or participating in unclean rituals. He always remembered his God, and it was evident to those around him. It was so evident that the king gave great favor to Daniel, but it made everyone else very jealous. And so, as Daniel acquired favor and riches and power from his ripping, even that was torn away from him in an instant.

Daniel’s coworkers and subordinates ganged up on Daniel and decided on a plot to kill him. They determined that Daniel’s downfall would be his worship of the one true God, and they convinced the king that anyone who did not pray only to him for the next 30 days should be killed. Daniel, however, heard the decree and immediately went to his home, opened the window toward Jerusalem, his home, and prayed aloud to God. Much to the king’s dismay, he could not recover his decree and had Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel had already made such an impact in the midst of his ripping that the king had faith in Daniel’s God to save him. But when Daniel, again, had everything stripped from him, with the jaws of a den of lions bearing down on him, God showed up.

Daniel’s ripping experience brought God’s glory through a powerful miracle. Because he was unswerving in his trial and persecution, Daniel changed the heart of a nation. His persecutors were made an example to the nation, being themselves cast to the lions, and the king made a new decree, that all must bow to the God of Daniel, for He is the one true God.

When we walk through the ripping with the grace of God, the strength of His hand, the courage of our faith in Him, and with surety in His truth, we bear greater witness to the greatness of our God than any amount of blessing could ever do. People understand blessing, for sure, but believe it comes from their own hands. But to see someone walk uprightly, undefeated, and even strengthened by the ripping in their lives, they realize it’s from something – someone – far greater than riches or self-determination or a good motivational speaker. It must be God.

5: Ripping Defeats the Enemy

“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘From where do you come?’ So Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.’ Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job…?’”

So let the ripping begin. If anyone knew about ripping, it was Job. His land, his family, his health, and all but his very life were stripped from him. And Job learned some very important things about God and about himself through it. But for what purpose was Job so torn?

This is the perfect example of a situation where the abundant blessing of God just could not do the job. It had to take ripping for this one, because it was the perfect way to defeat the enemy. God let Satan have his way with Job, tearing away at him to make him curse God, but Job would not give in to this tempting, and Satan knew that there was a force more powerful than circumstance, which would keep Job true to his God.

I can’t say that it’s the only reason for Job’s ripping, for at the end of the book (chapter 42), he tells God, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer me.’” And then get this next verse, because it sums up the lesson Job received. “I have heard you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see You.”

Job gained a new, deep, unshakeable, unmovable understanding of God that went beyond words. It went beyond what other people said about God. It went beyond the faith of his father and mother, his friends, and even his pastor. It went beyond just hearing about God, for now he had seen. Now he had experienced. Now he knew God, like never before.

And so even Job benefited from his ripping, but the greater story, don’t forget, is about this dialog between God and Satan. Sometimes, just sometimes, our ripping is not about us. Yes, God will use it and redeem it within us. He’ll use it to reorder our lives, prepare us, set our course, and be a witness to others, but it may just be that the ripping you’re going through is the warfare being used to defeat the enemy of our kingdom. Satan’s goal is to attract to himself the worship that is due of God, and he’ll do anything to draw us away from the truth, so he can receive glory for himself. It is his greatest loss when we remain true through our ripping, and so God wields His mightiest of earthly weapons – us – against the enemy and hits him right where it hurts the most.

6: Ripping Reveals God to Us

In many ways, God’s ripping is our saving grace. But just as Job said of his ripping that it helped him to see God in a new light – to turn his hearing into knowing; his theological concepts into experience; his feeling into living – God uses the ripping to reveal Himself to us in new and life-changing ways.

I can’t begin to tell you what I learned about God during my time in Detroit. From learning to trust Him, to learning to love Him beyond my circumstance, to finding my security in Him even when He seemed so far away; from discovering His grace, to relying on His provision, and finding His peace in the midst of the storm; from glimpsing the depth of His love for me, to learning the depths of my love for Him, God revealed Himself in powerful ways that would leave me never the same.

Paul knew this revelation from his own ripping, in Acts 9. A persecutor of Christ, he spent his life – righteous by society’s standard – hunting down and killing anyone who called Jesus their Messiah. Until one day, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” Paul went to Damascus to bring his justice against the followers of Christ. Then came the ripping.

Everything Paul knew was ripped away, like a rug being pulled out from underneath of him. He was surrounded by light, encountered the living God, and his world was turned upside down. Everything he’d believed so strongly had been wrong. Everything he’d devoted his life to was based on a lie. And now, without his purpose, without his beliefs, without his friends and family (who would desert him for leaving their way of understanding), without even his sight (for God had blinded him on that road), Paul had to start completely over. Not only that, but he had to turn to those whom he’d spent his life persecuting to save himself.

Sometimes, God brings the ripping in our lives, because we need to wake up. And despite all the signs and all the opportunities we’ve been given to believe His truth, to know His way, to follow His quiet call in our lives, there are times when we just need to be shaken – to be torn – so that we will be willing to pay attention.

In Paul’s life, as through each of the many ripping moments in my own life, God had to break through the hard way. We won’t listen any other way, and so God gives us the spanking of a lifetime to get us to pay attention. And sometimes it works. Sometimes, we run even farther away, wondering why God could be so cruel. But if we have eyes to see (and it took Paul’s blindness to give him eyes to see) and ears to hear, we will find an even greater, more loving, more compassionate, more gracious God on the other side. We will come to see Him with our own eyes, not wondering upon the stories, but knowing God as we’ve never known Him before.

7: Ripping Demonstrates Our Love

Of course the greatest ripping I can speak of today is the ripping of Jesus. His flesh was torn for us to demonstrate His love; His very life taken from us so that we could live. And so our ripping demonstrates this as well. Now, my own ripping has as much to do with my stubbornness to follow God as it does my love for Him, but there’s no doubt that someone who endures all to follow God must love Him deeply.

But this is perhaps the hardest form of ripping to endure. Even Jesus sweat like drops of blood when He cried out to God to spare Him of this ripping. Not only did He have to endure the physical torture of the cross, but He had to endure the most difficult test any of us ever fear to take – God’s very presence was torn from Him as He cried out on the cross. Utterly forsaken and alone, abandoned by everyone He ever loved, He hung there, still able to change His fate, because He loved that much. Even when His Father left Him, Jesus loved. Even when we hung Him, Jesus loved.

Our ripping can be one of our deepest, most profound acts of worship, showing God that He is worthy, not only of our praise, but also of our suffering. No one has any greater love than to be willing to lay his life down for another (John 15:13). And so our greatest love is determined by what we would sacrifice to keep it. Just like the mother who cried out to Solomon not to kill her child, even if she had to give him up. Just like Paul, who put his life in the hands of his enemy for love of God. Just like Joshua and Caleb, who, for love, wandered in the desert for 40 years. Just like Job who refused to curse God for his suffering. Like Daniel, who loved God more than his own life when he defied the king’s decree. Just like Jesus, suffering on a cross. And just like us, when we endure the crosses of this life – those ripping seasons that come against us all at one time or another – that’s when we show our greatest love.

8: Ripping Sets Our Will and Determination

Perhaps the greatest question of the ripping for me has been this. Am I truly willing to pay the cost for the call of God on my life? It’s a question of love, for sure, but it’s more than that. I’m sure that God’s love for me will not waiver if I follow a lesser path. I also know that the lesser path doesn’t mean I don’t love God. If anything, it means that my heart remains divided between God and my own life – my own kingdom.

But the ripping for me has always been a test of will. And so many times, my first answer has been no. At so many steps in my life, I’ve tried to hide from the call of God. It’s been too difficult. It’s looked too grim, too costly.

Just a short while before launching Journey to Freedom Ministries, I was really struggling with just this issue. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but I had been denying myself a greater responsibility to avoid a greater cost. I’d been so afraid of losing those parts of me that I’d been hanging on to – what I thought were the last bits of me I had left for myself. Maybe it scared me most because I’d felt that way so many times before – that I had nothing more to give – and I knew how far I’d come since those times, and how much God had given me to provide for my lack. But just how far does this rabbit hole really go? Will this really take all of me? Will I really have to give up everything?

It took the better part of a year of ripping to come to terms with the call; to really be able to give it all up to follow Him; to finally say, with all my heart, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” And for whatever that means, I know, beyond a doubt, what I’m called to do, and that I won’t rest while it remains unfulfilled. It’s not that I won’t enjoy life, or rest on the Sabbath, or take a nap every once in a while, but I won’t be satisfied with anything less than the life God created me to live. I won’t settle for anything below His best for me. And it took a whole lot of ripping to develop that determination.

Now again, I hope there are nicer ways to learn these lessons. The ripping stinks. It really does. But when I find myself there, and when you find yourself there, I hope you can find the lessons God has for you. I hope you can find new priorities, like Solomon; that you are prepared for even greater blessing and promise, like Joshua and Caleb; that you return to your true course, like Jonah; that you are a light and a witness, like Daniel; that you defeat the enemy, like Job; that you find more of God, like Paul; and that you find the deepest love of Christ, as you follow Him.

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But we cannot exclude the last part of this message. God does not stop at the ripping. It is not for our destruction, but for our healing. And so the Israelites cried out, “Come, let us return to the Lord; He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us.”

The very next verse tells of his healing. “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up (restore us).” We were dead, but we’ve been revived. We gave away our authority on earth, but it’s been restored to us – He’s raised us up. We’ve been given a second chance. This doesn’t mean that there’s no more ripping, but it does mean that we can walk through it in freedom; that we have a choice in how we live this life; that we do not have to do this alone (for He sent His Holy Spirit to live with us).

It’s not enough for God to leave us torn. He loves us far too much. And so He heals us. He redeems us. He uses the ripping for His glory and for ours; that we might be a new creation – stronger and better. And more than for our own healing, He uses these moments to bring healing to others.

For so long, I asked God why He allowed such ripping in my life – particularly the ripping of a child, who hardly knew better, who’s ripping was destructive and hateful and absent of life. But when He told me it was for the healing of others, the redemption of my ripping brought me joy. My testimony changed from the tragedy of life to the glory of God to heal me. And now, that testimony is for the healing of the nations.

God is weaving a far bigger story than any of us can see. And your ripping is a vital part of it, not only for you, but for all the world. You have no idea the impact your life will have, when you allow His ripping to transform you, when you can acknowledge His hand behind the ripping, and more so, when you can receive His healing, His strengthening, and His renewal that comes from it. May you have the strength, courage, and grace to follow Him always, and when you find yourself in the valley, may you have the wisdom to follow Him straight through.

Posted: 8/25/2012 4:33:07 PM by Matthew Bauer | with 0 comments
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