Sunday, July 20, 2014

Proof is in the Pudding

CS Lewis wrote that for us to say we love our neighbor, but then to avoid them, is not love at all.  If we are to truly love our neighbor, we are to act in accordance to what love is.  Active, engaged, sacrificial.  He goes on to say that when we begin to discipline ourselves to behaving AS IF we loved them, we will soon discover that we have truly come to love them.

Lip service is what we are most comfortable offering to people.  What we are most comfortable offering to God.  Telling your spouse, "I Love you" is easy.

But the words do not make it true

Affirming with words all the truths of Christianity is easy.

But it doesn't make you a Christian.

There is a funny little truth about the way we are wired.  Actions drive our feelings.  Feelings rarely create consistent action.  When the butterflies of new love wear off, we are left with nothing but the decision to either, by an act of the will, continue to live in love, or, to not. 

When we wait until we "feel" like something to do something, those feelings and those actions become ever more spaced apart.  Consistently applying the will to act in accordance with the behaviors we know to be true and right, develops the feelings and allows them to grow over time.

This does not mean "resigning" oneself to misery and obligation.  A willful act of love is actively aligning your heart with you behavior.  Begrudgingly forcing something grows resentment.  Engaging the whole self towards acts of love changes us from the inside out. 

Christian's are not called to have feelings about God.  But to live in accordance to the truth about God.  Life is messy.  It can be tragic, and broken.  There are times when our pain and frustration will cause us to say, "No more, not today, I can't do it." 

These are the most important times for our internal(and eternal) development.  When the deck is stacked against us, how do we respond? 

"The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves such as have a broken spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him from them all."
- Psalm 34:18-19
 
I bet you missed something when you read that. 
 
It doesn't say WHEN deliverance will come.  The act of Christian faith is to not to always have the answers RIGHT NOW, or, to have an easy care-free life, but to be rooted in the hope we have in the promise that is found in the Cross. 
 
And that takes a daily act of the will. 
 
Our hope cannot be based upon some previous feelings of bliss and heart racing palpitations of early love.  Because those things fade.  And if that is all you hoped in, you will be crushed when difficulties arise. Instead, in the person of Christ we have a promise that doesn't erase the struggle today, but points to the hope of every tomorrow.  When we begin to be shaped by this, it changes our behaviors today. 
 
Let me challenge us in two ways....
 
1- Are you waiting to feel good about God before you hope in God?  That will get you no where.  Make a decision to actively seek Him even when it is not easy, and you will find your hope. 
 
2-  This is about us as people living with people as well.  What relationships are you struggling in right now.  Can you begin to stop trying to change how you feel, but change how you act?  Your relationship doesn't need jump started feelings, but a new way of loving.
 
 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Freedom to Change

In my house we don't say "stupid".  By that, I mean, we don't let our kids say it.  It is just an ugly word in the way it is often used, and so it is one of our "no-no" words. 

Problem is, I say it alllllllllll the time.  And I get called out on it.  By a four year old.  If I cannot rein in my own tongue it can cause some real problems for those who I am trying to teach.  When we don't deal honestly with our own shortcomings and problems, we invalidate ourselves.

Freedom is a wonderful thing.  A wonderful, dangerous thing.  A wonderful, dangerous, and worthy to be defended thing.  Rules do not change people, freedom changes people.  All the groundings in the world will not make my son truly love his sister(and not hit her).  The freedom to love and be loved will change his heart.  You generally do not change yourself internally by externally doing things.

Take a moment.  Think through what you believe the general public understanding of what modern Christianity in America is focused on........

Let's compare lists...here's mine:

1- Sex
2- Rules
3- Judging
4- Anti-Science
5- Anti-Women
6- Money

If you know me at all, and have read anything I have written, you know I strongly disagree with this list.  But whether or not I disagree with it, it is what it is.  Ask Joe or Jane Public on the street what they think about Christianity, that is generally what they will respond. 

So how do we combat it? 

Well, here is how we DON'T combat it...

By arguing point by point each of these false perceptions and attempting to make a watertight case for why those points are not really representative.  The way we attempt to do that actually reinforces that perception.

How?

Take the "sex" conversation....Someone is complaining that Christian's should just stay out of peoples bedrooms.  A typical response is to say, "no no no, we aren't trying to control your life at all....God designed us to experience that.....BUTTTTTT only like He prescribed, and when we ignore His instructions we only hurt ourselves...I am just trying to HELP you!".........That person says, "Well, I don't feel like it's hurting me, so shut up!"

One;  The Christian statement is not FALSE.  It is just unhelpful.

Two; Even Solomon recognized that people who do things that are wrong will often still get good things....and it can be frustrating!!  You can't say "Don't do this or bad things will happen"  Because, if bad things haven't happened yet, they won't take you seriously.

Three;  Are you realllly trying to help them?  If all mankind's destiny is the same, to stand before a Righteous and Just God, then whether or not someone did or didn't have sex outside of marriage isn't going to be the main point of contention.  When your friend has a gun shot wound, take them to the hospital, don't offer to give them a makeover!


Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?  -Romans 2:4

Here is what you and I need to get real about.  The Gospel is not a series of hoops that we jump through to achieve Holiness.  Paul's words here are not very gentle.  Do you show CONTEMPT????  When we boil the Gospel into a series of behaviors were acting towards God with contempt. 

What changes people?  God's kindness.  Not people's goodness.  The kindness of God is not predicated upon the receiving individuals personal behavior improvements.  But entirely rooted in the character of God.  When we reverse the direction to being kindness received upon goodness, our behavior is contemptible. 

Change comes from the freedom found in being loved.  Not forced behavior and punishment.  We inadvertently present ourselves to a watching world in a destructive and false way.  They(non-Christians) act sinfully and we(Christians) act righteously.  It makes us out to be hypocritical liars, because we DON'T act righteously.  Our hope is in God's goodness, not ours.

When I talk to my son about his behavior, he is going to have more and more reasons in his life to notice my own shortcomings.  If I present the rules to him from the perspective of "Do this, be good like daddy!" He will soon catch on to my "lies". 

Yesterday he said, "Daddy, you said stupid"


I said, "I am sorry buddy, you are right.  Daddy wants to do better because it is good for us to speak kindly.  Thanks for telling me, I want to keep working on it, just like you!"

Get honest with ourselves and others.  We are not that good either.  But God is!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Compromising Compromise

Compromise is the name of the game.  The rules are; If you are going to be a good person who isn't criticized by others, you must compromise your position to accommodate someone else's perspective. 

Politicians are criticized when they refuse to compromise.  Regardless of how far apart a position may be from yours, the fact that you won't bend your idea/conviction to mesh with an arguably diametrically opposed position you are an "obstructionist".  If you are part of a Church or religious organization that boldly states "This is in alignment with Biblical truth, THIS is not" you are fundamentalist wackos that hopefully will implode and cease to exist. 

Rarely is there every a thoughtful interaction with the position you are refusing to compromise on.  By virtue of your lack of compromise, you are to be discounted, mocked, criticized and ostracized. 

When we are kids we learn about this concept in a much more negative context.  We call it peer pressure.  And, peer pressure is rarely used to describe a positive influence.  Instead, we teach our kids that regardless of what other people say, you need to stick to what is right.  You know the cliché....if all your friends jumped off a bridge......

As we age we morph the negative connotations of peer pressure and dress it up as the virtue of "compromise".  Oddly, compromise rarely indicates raising standards, but lowering them.  You never hear about peer pressure that forced some poor teenager into doing their homework.  Or, a compromising politician who leaves some aspect of abortion "rights" on the table for the sake of compromise.  It nearly always requires moving from higher moral and ethical standards to lower ones.

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?   -- 2 Corinthians 6:14

What does it mean to be unequally yoked?  Does it mean to completely disavow a relationship with unbelievers, to ostracize them, to cut them off from fellowship?

No.

It indicates that we are not to give "equal" footing to that which is evil(darkness) with that which is light(God's truth).  Compromise demands that we treat all opinions as equally valid, therefore, it should be completely acceptable to give a bit on your position because, Hey, there is no real difference. 

If someone had a position that they wanted to kill you, and your position was to not be dead.  What is the compromise that you should find?  That only your arm is shot?  Don't be obtuse.  There is no compromise in this scenario.  What that person wants you to accept(being dead) is unacceptable regardless of the circumstances.

Compromise is too often nothing more than peer pressure with facial hair and a 401k.  If something is true and right, don't compromise.  Stand for truth.  

PS---Clearly there are scenarios where compromise is good.  For example;  My wife wants Chinese for dinner, and I want Mexican.  So we compromise by getting Chinese......When I talk about compromise here, I am referring to moral and ethical issues, not where you are going to eat tonight. 


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

There is Always Another Hill to Climb

The most exhausting part of life is that it keeps going.  What you did yesterday, you have to do today.  Every hill you have conquered will have to be conquered again.

Sadly, we often fail to rise to the occasion.

In today's modern western culture we have this exaggerated sense of self-worth that demands we are "owed" something.  We want to rest on yesterday's success and use that as a barometer for the entirety of existence.  There is even a very interesting and insightful article here that explains these delusions more eloquently.    Yesterday was hard, I don't want to have to do that again today....or...tomorrow. 

This plays out in a variety of situations and relationships.  We work hard once, and try to ride that single success into the sunset.  And while a singularly great moment can carry you for a while, it only goes so far.  When I was in financial sales I would have months where I made gobs of money(relatively) but if I stopped working, within 4 months I would be broke again.

A correlating effect of this attitude is that we try to make everything we do become the "NEXT BIG THING".  It isn't enough just to do your job, keep your nose clean, and keep plugging away.  Swinging for the fences is what it is all about.  And we exhaust ourselves with this behavior.  We only apply ourselves to something huge, and let the little steps drift away. 

Think of the places you see this play out...

The husband who was a hopeless romantic when you dated, but now comes home from work, sits on the couch until he falls asleep and doesn't remember that this weekend your mom is coming to visit.

The athlete who had a great year, and comes back from the off season 40 pounds overweight and unwilling to listen to his coaches anymore...because he knows better!

The church that did things in a certain way 20 years ago and grew rapidly.  And so today, they keep doing that same thing, and are confused and frustrated that the young families they used to reach no longer visit them and stay. 

The parent who was really engaged with their son when he was young, but don't know the name of their teenagers best friend today.


What got me thinking about this is from studying Exodus.  It starts with this reminder of Joseph and his brothers and then says, "Then a new king to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt".   And thus began the downfall.

We don't know the particulars of the Israelites experiences post Joseph and Pre-Slavery, but that is an important line for us.  It would seem to indicate that the successive generations were quite willing to ride on the coattails of Great Uncle Joe.  And when his impact was no longer relevant and contemporary, they were on the outs. 

They didn't make a name for themselves on "This Day", they let yesterday do their work for them. 

Life is a series of repeats.  Every day you have to climb back up that hill.  Carry that torch.  Do your job. 

Where are you today?  Are you willing to put in the work you did yesterday?  Or, are you coasting?  You might think coasting is the easy option.  But let me tell you that is a lie.  Playing catch up is always more exhausting than just doing a little bit of the right thing every day.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Is Jesus' Execution a Moral Act

My son has a strong sense of justice and fairness.  Most 4 year olds do.  When it comes to things related to his little sister everything has to be "fair".  Even if his concept of fair is a bit off, it has to be fair, ACCORDING TO HIM. 

The other day his little sister was upset about something and as a loving and caring big brother he suggested that some gummies might make her feel better.  What a sweet boy!  So as I was getting her a packet he thoughtfully said to me, "You know, it wouldn't be fair if she got gummies and I didn't.  You need to give me some too....."

I'm on to you kid.

As we age and "mature" we don't really change that much.  Our sense of fairness can be very self-centered.  The struggle is found in our inability to evaluate FAIRLY all the circumstances of an event that is affecting us.  There are blinders placed upon our perception of what is occurring that are fundamentally shaped by our ego-centric view of the world. 

If you don't agree with me, let me ask you this.  Have you ever felt angry and offended by how another car is driving on the highway?  Did you yell something at a driver who just cut you off while being self-assured that they are possibly the worst person on the planet? 

Did you ever cut someone off?  Don't lie....you have. 

Everything that happens to us is generally not very far removed from what we have at least one time done ourselves.  But but but, when we did it was an; accident, justifiable, one time, deserving, etc.

The murkiness in evaluating fairness and justice gets quite confusing when we start to evaluate the condition of our hearts and inner selves.  Especially in relation to the God revealed in the Bible.  At the heart of our disagreement in the revelation of God's righteous judgment against sin is the unstated belief that we really are not that bad and what we have done is not too terrible in the first place.

A big sticking place for many people is the Crucifixion of Christ.  Christian theology teaches us that Jesus' act of sacrifice was a necessary response to our sin and God's justice.  Often the self-assured criticism of such an act is that God must be some sort of abusive tyrant that He would demand death for my little white lies. 

A term of what Jesus does for us is "atonement".  Which basically means, to make payment for.  If the Bible is true, then ALL sin leads to death.  1 John tells us that God is light, and in God there is NO darkness.  There is no middle ground.  Either we are perfect, like God is perfect, or Death is the result.  What Jesus does on the cross is to pay the price of this reality on the behalf of those who can't pay it themselves.

Perhaps you have a philosophical problem with the connecting your "lying" to death.  It seems a bit too extreme a response to you.

Let me illustrate this with a reality that you will readily understand.

What would happen if you were angry at your best friend and you hit them?  Probably not much.  They might hit you back.  They might stop being your best friend.  But there wouldn't be much more than that.

What would happen if you were angry and hit a police officer?  You would be arrested and charged with the crime of assaulting a police officer.  Conviction would carry jail time. 

What would happen if you were angry and hit a child?  You would be arrested, not allowed near kids, and be treated as a pariah in civilized communities.

What would happen if you were angry and tried to physically assault the President of the United States?  You would most likely be shot.  If you survived that, you would be tried for treason and it may possibly be allowable to have you executed.

In each scenario the behavior you engaged in is essentially the same behavior.  But the context of the situation, and the role your target has radically changes the outcome.  Your best friend represents your best friend, the POUS represents an entire nation.  The crime "act" is the same, but the heart of the act, and the target of the act are exponentially different. 

While the person of the President is exponentially more "important" than that of your best friend, the person of God is INFINITELLY more important than even that of the President.  While the simple act may be the "same" what it represents is incomparable.  We logically accept the reality that hitting the President rightfully requires graver consequences than hitting your friend.  How much more so when the object of the affront is an infinitely Holy God, Creator of All??

Sin has no other outcome than death.  By God's very nature(LIGHT) all darkness(SIN) will be eradicated.  It isn't just a deliberate petty act to destroy sin.  But by the very nature of things, sin cannot exist in God's presence. 

When Jesus went to the cross He went as a logical response to the reality of Life.  Sin, ALL SIN, carries the penalty of death.  And it is a penalty that we are incapable of paying.  So in an act of absolute Love and Grace, God paid the price we cannot pay.   

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Seeming Contradictions and Beautiful Hope- AKA Why I'm Not as Good a Husband as I Wish I Was

I am not a perfect husband.  But I really want to be one.  I make a lot of mistakes.  But I want to fix them. 

Does this sound like you?  And are these statements that relate to much of your life, and not just marriage?  While the profound heartache of being less than perfect in my marriage is abundantly clear, I sadly admit there are so many aspects of my life that fall into the category of knowing better, but doing worse.

One of the ways I enjoy blessing my wife is by helping out around the house.  Though I still have a tendency to overload the washer and dryer I have been known to clean and fold a fair number of loads.  And I don't want to get to braggy about how many times I do the dishes or vacuum the house!  I know for a fact that when I do these things(without being asked....that's the key FELLAS!) it is a huge blessing to my wife. 

Last weekend my wife had to work in the ER(she is a nurse) both Saturday and Sunday for 12 hour shifts.  She works about an hour from where we live, but in the same town her parents live.  When she works back to backs she will spend the night at their house.  Before she left at 6am on Saturday she asked if I would get the house all cleaned up before she got home Sunday night.  I happily obliged. 

Seeing as I had two WHOLE days to get it done, I took my good ole time getting it done.  By Saturday evening very little had been accomplished.  And then the phone rang.  My wife had forgotten it was a back to back weekend and was almost home before she remembered and was just going to sleep at home and go back early again......

I panicked.

My poor, sainted mother, was visiting that weekend and I immediately put her to work.  Not only am I a great husband, but also a great son!  Like a tornado I ran around trying to make the house look like I had made at least some significant effort. 

I know without a doubt that the dumbest and most irresponsible thing is to put off doing something you are capable of doing right now.  And I knew that the more cleaning I got done, the more blessed my wife would feel.  I was a lazy bum.

Our lives are full of such absurdities.  We know the good we should do, but we will often choose to do something else.  What is wrong with us??!?!?!

In 1 John chapter 1 we are given a very clear standard that we have to come to terms with;

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.

While something silly like not cleaning on Saturday is not what one would classically define as a "sin" it really is only the tip of the ice berg.  Here is the standard of God:  Being perfect.  And when we look at ourselves with unflinching honesty we have to admit we are not.  The over arching testimony off the Bible is this; God is Holy, we are not.  God is Just, and are lack of holiness will get dealt with! 

As I read this it can send a shudder down my spine.  By God's very defining characteristics my lack of perfect Holiness precludes my ability to even be near Him.  Light in its very nature banishes the darkness.  I am dark.  I can rightfully expect banishment.

John continues

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us

We are told quite plainly that we MUST BE PERFECT to have fellowship with God.  And then we are told quite plainly that God WILL MAKE US PERFECT!  How is this done?  Through the finished work of Christ.  Our goal doesn't change, the conviction doesn't change.  The hope DOES.

The most difficult people in our lives are those who refuse to acknowledge their mistakes and short comings.  Honesty and humility are essential building blocks to healthy relationships.  I want, and work hard, to be a perfect husband.  I will never be that.  But I can be honest and confess my mistakes. 

The hope in Jesus is that while we keep falling short of the best us we deeply desire to be, He is there to pick us up and give us a fresh start.  The cross says over and over and over, "Lets try this again."

What in your life do you have to get brutally honest about?  Because the truth is that until you get honest with yourself and others, it is never going to get better.  The new life that we want is predicated upon confession.  Whether it is in your marriage, job, friendships, your faith, or, your family, you have to stop lying about who you really are.

This doesn't mean we ignore our darkness, we just stop denying it, and get to do the real work of shining a real light onto it. 

We need to be perfect.  We are not.  But when we accept that, then we have hope. 





Thursday, June 19, 2014

Who Do You Think Jesus Is?

One of the neatest toys from childhood is Mr Potato Head.  A simple little toy with hundreds of options.  When I was a kid my favorite thing was to make the potato head into a creature straight from a nightmare...Eyes where the arms go, arms out of the eyes, nose on top of the head.  It just wasn't as fun to just make him look normal.

That attitude of remaking everything to suit our own needs/desires is a pretty common one.  We try to remake our spouses, our friends, our jobs, our kids, etc.  Too often we don't want to accept things and people the way they are, we want to remold them after our own images. 

And this attitude influences our relationship with God.

God and Jesus have been through quite a makeover the past few decades.  Amazingly the makeover has less to do with God Himself, and more with culture.  The God of scripture has always stood over cultural trends and eras, but lately it would appear that an "evolving" society is tired of a God who draws us to Himself and out of our selves, but instead is looking for a god that will follow and affirm where we have already decided to go.

I was recently reading an article about someone's problems with the bible and church.  An actual statement was that the bible needs to be updated and revised to be more in alignment with our new society.  This is the sort of god that is no longer an "embarrassment" to those with more nuanced and modern sensibilities.  It is a god that is a fancy designer handbag to wear as a philosophical accessory.

The response by orthodox believers and the church has sadly been unhelpful.  It's not that they don't try to speak truth when issues arise, but that they are spending all their time running from fire to fire desperately trying to put it out, without ever addressing the problem of what is starting all of these fires.

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
                  Matthew 16:15-16

At the heart of all of these debates is that we are not asking and answering the fundamental question....Who IS Jesus. 

When Jesus becomes nothing more than an accessory to add and remove depending on our current whims, than we can manipulate him to fit into any box we desire.  Don't like what he has to say about sin, pop out that interchangeable part and pop in some "love" instead.  Worried that his statements about sex and marriage are too antiquated, pop that out, pop in some affirming philosophical mumbo jumbo that makes you feel better. 

If the answer to the question of who do we say He is, is that He is the Messiah, then all of that changes radically.  The son of the Living God, the King of Creation, the Risen Messiah, is not some childish toy that we manipulate and adapt to be more appealing to our current thought processes.  Instead of demanding He adhere to our standards, we are forced to recognize that it is us that must adhere to His.

Timothy Keller wrote that if the God we are following seems to always agree with how we feel, then we are not following God at all, just an idealized idolatrous image of ourselves.  If Jesus is the Messiah, than there is a implied correlating truth;  You are NOT the messiah.  This means that our own opinions and thoughts on a matter should be held skeptically.  The goal is not finding a way to shoe horn God's opinion into alignment with our own, but to be willing to submit our thinking to His Truth. 

As long as we do not address this fundamental issue, "Who IS Jesus??", we will always be putting out fires.  Should we speak truth in the face of falsehood?  Sure.  But if we do not address the heart of the matter, there will always be another fire to put out.