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.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Suffering and Identity

It's always a bit awkward bumping into someone you know that isn't involved in every detail of your everyday life.  I hadn't caught up with him in quite a while, so I really didn't know what to say.  Searching for subjects for small-talk, I fell back to the familiar things that had sadly defined most of our conversations: 

"I'm good, but lots of drama... " 

"Really?" he asked, concerned. 

"Yeah.  Dramaville."

Was there a lot of exhausting, emotionally-draining, spiritually-numbing drama going on that day?  Oh yes.  A lot... for the last few weeks, in fact.  But though I was feeling a bit tired and drained at the moment, the fact of the matter was that I've been really blessed lately.  So many things are going so well.  My marriage.  My job.  The kids.  Lot's of personal and private things we've prayed about have been un-knotting themselves right before our eyes.

The thing about suffering, especially something that has enveloped your life for a long time or that is huge in magnitude, is that in countless subtle steps it takes over who you are.  You become "that guy... the guy who all that bad stuff happens to and happened to."

It becomes what you fall back upon when you're in awkward social situations and don't know what to talk about.  "Yeah... I'm good. Just lots of drama, lately."

It becomes what you talk and pray and think about when you first get up in the morning, during the day, and even before you go to bed at night.

It becomes what you reach out to others about, when you reach out at all.  In the community of faith, you become one of those broken loner-types while others, who have been involved in the church for sometimes much less time, become active members who serve and sometimes gain small positions of leadership.

It becomes, in a very real sense, who you are.  It owns you.  It gives you a name.  It becomes the story that you tell over and over, the narrative that defines your life... that is, until you're ready to hang that story up for good. 

No matter what you've gone through and no matter what kind of chronic drama lingers on the fringes of your life, ready to cycle its way back in with one text message or phone call, you reach a point where you must make a choice.  Is this my life, or is this just a part of my life?  Am I a perpetual victim of an unfair world, unfortunate circumstances, and bad, mean, or crazy people who won't leave me alone, or am I a person who undergoes trials that can and will teach me, train me, and strengthen me into a better and more faithful man, a man who serves and gives out of those experiences rather than dwells, mopes, and makes his residence in Victim-ville?

Is it really that easy?  No, it isn't easy, but it is that simple.  It may not seem that simple at first, but by God's grace at some point you realize that part of you lives off of the havoc in your life.  Part of you gets something from it... a sense of identity or security.  It gives you something to hide behind, to set yourself apart with.  But it only holds you back.  Don't be "that guy."  Give up that yoke.  It gives you nothing good.  Maybe you cannot change your circumstances, but through repentance you can change the position these circumstances are given in your life.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Love Yourself Like Lucille Did - More Social Media Wisdom

One of the prevalent themes of our age is the notion of loving yourself.  You just ain't cool if you don't, and if you don't you'll be encouraged to... incessantly.  In a sense, I can understand why this is promoted as a cure-all for healthy living.  People do seem to commonly struggle with all kinds of self-loathing, self-destructive behaviors, and body-image issues, just to name a few things. 

But I wager that these problems are largely what you get when you live in a culture that treats pride as a virtue and elevates the individual to such a high level.  When everything is supposed to be about you, your rights, how good you look, what you were supposed to get but didn't get, when we idolize things like fame and physical beauty and getting attention and personal happiness, is it any wonder we are suffering the ill-effects of so many broken relationships and so much self-preoccupation?  This is not to suggest that we are purely the product of our culture, but there is definitely something destructive in the human heart that is drawn out by the idols of our society.

God's Word shows us that self-hatred is the sister to self-adoration.  They are two sides of the same coin of self-preoccupation, of pride.  The self-focus and self-elevation that we believe will help us and make us happy heaps an impossible burden upon us that we were never meant to bear.  It is exhausting trying to fill a black hole.  I posit gently that self-loathing and so many related things are the result of a fallen heart seeking to navigate a sinful and often cruel world on its own, self-reliantly, disconnected from God.  While pretty much all of us could trace our problem back to some previous wound (a wound that may indeed be very serious and very real), we only feed into the problem when suggest that the solution is also self-reliant, man-made, and involves focusing more on ourselves.

Here's one example I will give to illustrate.  It is suggested often that "you cannot love others until you love yourself."  In fact, it is suggested so often that it is taken as gospel.  But could it be that the real inhibitor to loving others is that, beneath our apparent lack of self-love, we are actually very painfully stuck on ourselves and whatever wounds we are carrying?  What if those things that plague you about yourself didn't matter so much because you were taken out of yourself -enraptured with the beauty of God, enamored by His grace and forgiveness toward you, and eager to think instead of others and how you can serve them?  I cannot think of a more wonderful and load-lightening thing than being free of the need to focus on yourself.

God's Word does not shy away from recognizing things like pain, abuse, oppression, and loss, which are all sadly a very real part of living in a fallen world, but it gives us a different direction, a different starting point or focus from which a good life can spring:

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prov 1:7)

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths." (Prov 3:3-6)