Thursday, April 07, 2016

An Example

As Christians, we are exhorted to be examples to others.  Christian parents teach their children to be examples to others -to younger siblings, to peers in school, etc.  But it raises the question... an example of what?

"Well, we are to be a light."

Okay, I agree.  But a light to what?  To whom?  This needs to be fleshed out a bit more, I think.  Otherwise, we can easily run the risk of being an example of something other than we intend.

I've talked to young teens who are raised in wonderful Christian families who feel the pressure to be an example to people, and they have struggled because they have thought this means that they never laugh at inappropriate things, they never complain, never show any negative emotions, etc.  They almost feel as though they have to be perfect, and while they are very sweet and well-meaning, it can sometimes end in a result they don't want.  It can just make peers feel bad.  They aren't pointed to Christ.  They aren't encouraged.  They flip-flop back and forth between feeling like they aren't good kids, and aren't good Christians, because they aren't "perfect" like this peer of theirs.  Or they wind up just feeling awkward around this friend, not being able to put their finger on why, because it seems like their friend cannot relate to real life... at least not to theirs.

"Ah.  But that's just because they are young in their faith.  And plus, teens... they tend to be a tad insecure and compare themselves to each other too much, anyway."

Yes, I agree.  But it doesn't stop with our youth.  It is found in our adults, as well.  That same feeling of alienation is felt by people who join a Bible study or women's group and are met with people who, honestly, try a bit too hard to keep up appearances.  Rather than being able to reach and encourage people who may need genuine help and discipleship, these folks who seek to be a godly example just wind up making them feel bad or pushing them away with what appears to be fake religious pretense.

"But maybe they should feel bad."

This is what I sincerely question.  A person should experience repentance over sin, but that is not necessarily the same as feeling "bad" or ashamed simply because you don't fit in with people who act like their life is perfect and they have it all figured out.  Feeling excluded because you don't fit the mold of this nebulous, quasi-artificial, culturally informed idea of "Christian righteousness" is not the same thing as repentance at all.

So it brings us back to the original question.  What are we to be examples of?

We are to be examples of people who love Jesus, who live by the Gospel, who blow it but have the humility to admit it and trust in Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit to cleanse us and bring us to glory.  We are to be examples of daily repentance, of humility, of love.  We are to be examples of people who have a living hope.

This doesn't mean we make all of our private business public knowledge.  We don't need to go around talking about all of our deepest sins and personal problems to everyone who crosses our path.  But being an example of the grace of God in our lives fundamentally means that we don't shut people out and hide behind a mask of artificial perfection, either.  Holiness, at the end of the day, is primarily about faith and dependence on the grace of God.  That is where the fruit comes from.

It isn't easy.  As honest and humble as we seek to be, we will still be labeled, "no fun" and "fake" by some and "not Christian enough" by others.  I guess it's a good thing that we stand before the Lord for ourselves, only. :)

Worse than You Think

When a fellow believer tells me how disenchanted and depressed they feel because they fell and did some bad things or don't even seem to have a heart for God anymore, I hope I can always remember to tell them this:

"Cheer up.  You're much worse than you think."

The only thing that happened is that you discovered a little more of what already resides in your heart.  But God has seen it all the whole time and still delivered up His Son for you.

The power of the Gospel is not in it's ability to make us feel good about ourselves or minimize our sin.  It is in its ability to slay the old Adam with the truth of our foolish condition and create in us a man of faith, who doesn't live for himself but for Him who died and rose from the dead for him.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Deceitful Heart - More Social Media Wisdom

Sometimes, I want to gently pull aside some of the people who write things like the meme to the left and ask them if they ate paint chips as a child.  You don't need a PhD in Biblical theology to recognize that this isn't even common sense.

When has doing the right thing ever been the easy thing?

How often has doing the right thing been the thing that is the most interesting or alluring?

Here's an experiment.  Observe your kids to see what kinds of things grab their interest most... the thing they ought to be doing, or something that is shiny and fun?

Want to know why people sin?  Because it feels good.  Sin is fun.  It is exciting.  Temptation is temptation because of how alluring it is.  It makes us feel good, like we can forget our problems and finally enjoy ourselves... like we deserve it, even.  Sin feels good... for a while, at least.  But eventually, the blinders come off, and we realize how deceived we have been.  And then we turn around and look, and there is a wake of carnage trailing behind us.

"You know you are on the right road when you lose interest in looking back."  Tell that to Lot's wife.  She was on the right road.  She looked back, literally, and turned into a pillar of salt.  Oops!  Lot's wife illustrates my point -nine times out of ten, being on the right road is hard, and you will absolutely feel the pull to look back.  However, if you're on a road that is easy, then maybe you need to check yourself.

Listen, who knows.  Maybe you are on the right road -that is between you and God.  But please entertain the possibility that you have lost interest in "looking back" because your heart is actually hardening.  Hmm... I tend to think that is not a good thing.  The Bible talks about hearts being hardened.  It talks about consciences being seared.  It talks about those things within the context of sin and God's judgment upon sin.  Not good, sorry.

I think this ultimately all comes down to a flawed and self-deceived understanding of the human heart.  Some think the human heart is a good thing that will never steer us wrong.  "If it feels good, if it feels right, then it must be right..."  How has that worked out for you?  Ask the single mother who has four kids from four different men how that has worked out for her.  The Bible, however, says that the human heart is "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9).  We're not all as bad as we could be, praise God, but we're not innocent, morally neutral beings.  Our heart is not going to steer us down the right road unguided.  It's going to ultimately steer us down the road of selfishness and self-deception.

"He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered." (Proverbs 28:26)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Our Obsession with Our Own Strength - More Social Media Wisdom

I don't get it.  I don't get the modern obsession with finding out how "strong" we are during times of trial.  Even during the darkest times in my life, as I was struggling to make it through one day at a time, I had people tell me how "strong" I am.  I thought, "I don't feel strong, but thanks, I guess."  I remember seeing memes on Facebook about how bad trials make you stronger or show how strong you are, as if part of our problem is that we are blind to some hidden strength within ourselves.  But I never found those helpful or encouraging then, and I still don't.

Why?  Well, there are two reasons.  First, I was never overly encouraged by those things because I never really thought I was "weak" to begin with, and that was a big problem.  I felt weak, but not weak enough.  See, even though I had struggles with self-confidence or whatever you want to call it, I increasingly knew that a big part of my problem was that I was too self-sufficient and relied too heavily upon my own strength.  My problem was that I didn't want to admit my weakness, let things go, and trust God.  I resisted my real powerlessness and held onto my precious illusion of control, and that is exactly what kept me stuck in a lot of situations where I may have felt like I was "weak".  My perception of feeling weak was a combination of emotional exhaustion, largely stemming from my white-knuckle grip on controlling out comes, and worrisome doubt -I would not believe that God could do something good, better than what I planned and wanted.

The second reason was that I couldn't find a single thing in the Bible that says anything like this to people who are going through trials.  We are never pointed to our own strength.  We are told, instead, that we are proud people who struggle because we don't want to trust God.  We are a people who don't want to admit our need.  Sure, we'll admit that we need help, but we want help from God to accomplish things our way and it is that insistence on having things go our own way that saps us of real strength.  Those who do find strength, real strength, don't find it in their flesh.  They find an alien strength, a supernatural strength that comes from Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.  How exactly does that make me strong when it is actually Someone else carrying me?  Hmm...

The Bible explains that God uses trials to refine us.  The metaphor of burning away the dross and impurities in a refiners furnace is used.  Rather than revealing to us some kind of hidden natural strength that we didn't know about, they squeeze things out of us that we didn't know were there -that, in all honesty, we probably didn't want to know were there- so that they can be brought to the light and burnt away.  They bring the impurities to the surface so that what is left is the work of God in us, the faith, strength, love, etc. that He has wrought in us with the expected result of "praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ". (1 Pet 1:7)  If our trials reveal any strength in us at all, it is the strength that God has worked in us by His grace.

But let's not lose the point, here.  Someone please explain to me why I would need to believe that I am strong in the first place?  How exactly does that help me?  If I know I have a strong God, whose hand is not too short to save, do I really need to know how strong I am?  And where in Scripture do we find this?  We don't.  In Scripture we find something quite the opposite.  We find the faithful being pointed to the faithful works of God, over and over.  During tough times, we are encouraged to remember the faithfulness of God in His works.  We are encouraged to find our hope in Him, even when all hope seems lost.  When going through a difficult time, is failing to believe in myself really my problem?  If there is any strength we seem to be blind to and have a hard time believing in, it isn't ours -it is His.

I do get one thing, however.  I get the need to encourage someone that they can endure a trial, come out on the other side, and have things ultimately work out better than we could ever have planned.  I understand how we want to encourage someone to "hang on" and that "they can do it," especially when they feel like giving up.  By all means, even in our natural, fleshly strength we can survive and endure quite a bit.  We see stories of this all the time on television, about the indomitable will of a certain individual to endure great obstacles and come out victorious.  We do possess a kind of earthly strength, indeed.  But I would be remiss to not harp on the glaring fact that our total reliance on our own strength, apart from God, is part of our ailment not our healing.  What I really need to know is that, yes, God has given me many natural faculties to navigate and endure this life (and those are good things to give glory to Him for), but ultimately my best source of strength and hope are found in Him.