Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What Others Think

Should you care about what others think?  Though some disagree with this, the short answer is... yes, sometimes.

It is popular to have a "F*** YOU" attitude toward others and do whatever you want with no regard for what others think of you.  It feels... independent, strong, though probably a cover for deep feelings of rejection.  Though there is a grain of wisdom found in this, minus the "screw you" attitude, it is missing one important thing:  reputation really does matter.  This includes our own reputation but also the reputation of others relating to our actions.

For example, I don't post personal things on Facebook.  There are a few reasons for this.  One, I don't want to present myself as an immature drama queen (because reputation is important to me).  Two, I have children who are on my Facebook, and friends of those children, and other people who otherwise personally know or know of some of the situations and individuals I would be writing about.  I would not want to hurt them or embarass them or tarnish their reputation in anyway.

The bottom line is that certain actions make us (and others) look like fools while certain actions (or the absense of certain actions) shows us to be conscientious and stable individuals, and it is good to recognize this.  A good reputation is something worth pursuing.

"A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold." (Prov 22:11)

But why?  What makes a good reputation such a good thing?  Here are three big reasons I can think of.

1. Devotional:  Your actions before others to a large degree reflect upon what (or Whom) you claim to believe in.  You bring glory to the God you claim to know by being known as a person of integrity and love.  Conversely, you shame God's name when you act like a fool or a liar before others.

2. Practical:  In general, acting with integrity and love leads to a good reputation, which gains the respect of others.  You become a person "looked to" and listened to, trusted.  This means you have more influence to do good, to help and love others, and to pass on good values to others.  People are more likely to partner with you, either when you are helping them or when you need their help.  Conversely, people are less likely to rely upon you in the long term if your actions show you to be a fool, regardless of how "wise" you may sound at first.  They are also less likely to give you help when you truly need it.

3. Social:  With a good reputation you become a jeweled crown to your family and friends, someone they can be proud of knowing and belonging to.  You give glory and a level of status to those closest to you.  Conversely, you set a dark cloud over your family and friends when you are known for being selfish, immature, deceitful, or impulsive and foolish.

As a general rule of thumb, act in such a way that your children would not be ashamed of you if they found out what you were doing.  There are a handful of things I've done in the past that do not comply with this rule, but I still believe it is a good one.  It is one I take to heart.

But of course, there is a sense in which we ought NOT to care what others think.  When it comes to doing what is right and sticking to what you know to be right and true, it is better to stand your ground than crumple under the weight of others' opinions.  When it comes to doing what God sent you into this world to do, let them whine and complain and insult you.  You'll only be joining the long line of people before you who stuck with the mission and identity God gave them and suffered for it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Radiant

Self-affirmation is the key to happiness and success, as it would seem.  But is it really?  I don't think so.  Though it is extremely popular, I believe the enemy loves this notion.  Why?  Because we still lose.  We don't really convince ourselves that we are great.  And to the degree we do, it borders on self-preoccupation and pride.

And why is that?  It is because the enemy's real goal is to separate us from the Father.  Jesus said "I do not testify about myself... My Father testifies about Me."  Everything Jesus did was out of connection with His Father.  Everything.  The Father testified of Him. 

But with self-affirmation, is that out of connection with the Father?  No, and the enemy has won again.  He has got us self-reliantly testifying about ourselves, trying to affirm ourselves out of the pit of nothingness and self-emptiness.  But it is a trap.  Divide and conquer.  Divide us from the Father, into self-reliance, and we may convince ourselves we are all good... but it is a trap.  Now we fall and are devoured.

And why would we prefer the self-reliant path?  Well, I'll give you one good reason.  Suffering.  We do not share in the glory of the Son without also, to some degree, sharing in the suffering of the Son.  It is in living in the real world, facing the real pain and anguish from living in this broken place, that we can suffer with the Son and thereby know His connection with the Father as our own, thereby sharing His glory.  This, however, we do not like.  We want to be able to control it, to have it be won happily and by our own steam.  We are lovers of the theology of glory, not the theology of the cross.

It is through suffering, suffering entered and drank with Him, that we know ourselves, and know ourselves in connection to Him, and become radiant -not with the temporary and fleeting and false radiance, but with a radiance like that of the moon, reflecting the rays of the Sun.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Failure

We all fail.  And we generally hate failing.  When we see that we blew it, that little voice inside us starts tearing into us:  "Nice going. How are you ever going to [fill in the blank] when you keep doing this?  You need to figure out a way..."

But failures aren't all bad.  In fact, they are both inevitable and necessary.  So, having a good and true attitude toward failure is one of the key things we can learn in life -both practically and Biblically.

Here are five inter-related facts about failure that I believe are essential to know:

1. Your failure is no surprise to God.  You fell into a particular sin, again.  You blew it with a relationship.  You let someone get the best of you... again.  And now you feel any combination of guilt, anger, and self-hatred.  Frustration mounts.  "Why does this keep happening?!"  And if you are a Christian, you might even feel guilt before God.  You might feel like you need to hate yourself because you blew it before God -like you failed Him and now there is this cosmic rule that says you need to torture yourself for some undetermined amount of time.  But you don't.  God already knew you were going to blow it.  And though you may hate that you keep falling into this, it's God's job to do punishing -not yours- and He has already put it on His Son.  So, get a grip and read on...

2. Your failure is an opportunity to rely on God.  Failing keeps you humble.  It shows you that there are things outside of your control -that you are not God- and that you cannot "fix" everything by your own steam and self-reliant brainpower.  Contrary to popular belief, both theological and secular, there is something more desirable than being "perfect" (in the sense that we conceive of it), and that is having a close, intimate relationship with God.  Being a partner to God, throwing up your hands and letting go of your illusion of self-sufficiency and control, is something far more precious in God's sight than going through the week "without any major failures."

3. Your failure is an occasion to see where God is taking you.  Rather than seeing your failure as a reason to beat on yourself, see it as God gently revealing something to you ... something He will be working out within you.  Let it become an occasion to thank Him for showing you this area so that He can minister to you in it and walk with you through it.

4. Failure is part of suffering in this world, and suffering is what perfects us.  Now, we don't like that idea one bit.  We don't like that suffering perfects us, and I think there are two reasons.  First, nobody wants to suffer.  We want to say, "Ok, God.  Isn't there another way to do this?"  Second, we don't like it because it is something that happens to us, without our input and control.  We want to believe we have total control of our own destinies.  We want to believe we are the sole captains of our own souls.  We want to believe we can fix ourselves and make ourselves awesome.  After all, that is why we hate failure so much and beat on ourselves so much because of it.  Failure reminds us that we aren't God.  We can't just fix ourselves and be perfect.  We can't "go it alone" in this world.  We don't like that.  So God says to us, "You are a part of it, indeed.  It doesn't happen while you sit idly.  But it is still something I do in and through you, not you."  In other words, has it dawned on you that perhaps God had actually called you to fail in that particular situation so that He can perfect you into the person He wants you to be, for His name and glory and for your everlasting joy and thankfulness?

5. Failure is an occasion to evalute what is really important.  If you are pressuring yourself and beating on yourself to be so awesome at something, maybe it is a good time to ask yourself why.  Why is it that important?  What is it you are demanding to have control of, and is being awesome in that particular are really as important as you are making it?  Does this situation reveal what is really driving you and maybe what needs to be prayerfully re-evaluated?  See #3.