Thursday, December 17, 2009

Disillusionment is a Sign of Misplaced Trust

Earlier this year, I found myself disillusioned, and only had myself to blame. At the same time, though I knew that rejoicing in Jesus Christ is always possible, always desirable, and always justifiable, I had a hard time really experiencing that joy like I generally do. In the front of our church sanctuary, there were banners that had Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! on them, and I would ponder, "Am I experiencing joy? How do I rejoice always? How can God expect that from me even now?" Usually my faith is a supernatural high for me, but for that season, the high was nowhere. Joy was something I had to reach hard for. I don't think my struggle was at all unique to humanity, though it was unusually dark for me. Life is full of things that can drag us down, and of course the enemy is always aiming to do anything that will pull us down and keep us at our worst. In spite of this, we need to remember that our hope, our joy, and our strength is not in the things of this earth. Sometimes it is too easy to forget; it would be easy to suppose our hope, or our joy, or our strength might be in people, or money, or circumstances. We might think it's in acclaim, or other forms of human successes, or in merely being treated generally well. In all those cases, we would be wrong. God wants us to rejoice, no matter what our circumstances, our disappointments, our sadnesses. We are to be joyful in the midst of it, in spite of it. How can we do that? It's because all of what we rejoice in should not be here on earth, but we can rely on the promises of heaven that are so beyond our understanding and especially our deserving. They stand firm, they are sealed away for us. No human being can come between us and what Jesus has done for us. Our sadnesses and sorrows have nothing to do with any fault in the promises and truths of God; they are in a separate category, untouchably holy and perfect; His truths and promises are ever-reliable. We should rejoice and exult in the goodness of God; focusing on that instead can help to draw us out and away from present circumstances, and we can glorify Him even in the processing of our pain.
I don't often find these lows, but this year has been full of them. Though I've oftentimes been disappointed by people, usually that disappointment was from people in whom I never really had put too much trust, and so it didn't bother me so much. I think my problem this year was in trusting a human being too strongly, which God warns us against doing.

We could think that people who don't trust other people are cynical. I don't think this is true; I think when we don't trust people, and we do place all of our trust in God, we are walking in obedience. We tend to want to trust people because they are here where we can see them; we feel that we know them because they are so physically present to us. The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly tell us not to trust people, though, and I feel that God has been pounding that into my head just lately. There is actually more kindness in not putting our trust in a person; when a human being lets you down, it is just because it's the way our flesh is made; trusting in humanity puts too much responsibility and pressure on a person, and no human is infallible. The Scriptures say,
Psalm 40:4 How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust, And has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood.

Psalm 116:11 I said in my alarm, "All men are liars."
Psalm 118:8-9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.
Psalm 146:3 Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.

Proverbs 29:25 The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.
Jeremiah 17:5
Thus says the LORD, "Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength, And whose heart turns away from the LORD."
Actually in the writing of this, I was looking only for two verses I've quoted here, but found the others I listed, and included them because they too emphasized the need to trust in God and not man. So it isn't just a couple of verses; God reminds us again and again to trust only in Him. Jesus didn't trust mankind, either, as He walked the earth; and He made us!
John 2:23-25 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

I know that I am not reliable. I would not want someone putting their trust in me to the point that I could ever disillusion them or cause them to stumble in their faith. While we are very fallible and weak, God never fails us.
2 Timothy 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25 For, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever." And this is the word that was preached to you.

Another thing that I learned in the midst of these struggles was just how loving and gracious God was to illuminate the Scriptures all the more brightly when I was feeling the greatest darkness. I know that a random reading of the Bible is not generally the best way to really plumb the depths of God's goodness, but oftentimes I needed to just open my Book and see what God's seemingly random message was for me that day. Once at 2 a.m., unable to sleep, I came downstairs and opened the Psalms with fumbling fingers and bleary eyes--turned at "random" to Psalm 4, and I knew in reading it that God's hand was there for my assurance. The message of that Psalm, in my own paraphrase, is, "I have everything under control. Now go to bed, rest your mind, and sleep. Trust Me." It wasn't because I was so very continual in my reading, or praying, or obeying...not that I was very neglectful either, but I definitely wasn't excelling. God just knew my frame, and my need, and always, stunningly, had the right Psalm for me, always had the right consolation, the right perspective readily available. He didn't have me turning to anything of judgment or correction or condemnation, though I know there are passages that could easily have seemed to express those things to me. It wasn't because I was so good, or right, or at all perfect. It was in spite of my frailties and because of His goodness; it certainly wasn't because I didn't have plenty of areas that need correction; it was because of His supernatural Word that performs His will so perfectly, and because there are times when He stands close to comfort His own, and to be the very Heavenly Father when we need Him the most.
So the key is to love and not trust others; follow others as they follow Christ; turn from following their path when they don't follow Him, and speak up to them when they stray from the path. It isn't to be cynical, but just to remember Who it is who can be trusted, who we all are who can't be trusted, and to love people, remembering the frail humanity that we all are. I think trusting rightly in the Heavenly Father, who loves all of us in spite of our frailty, brings that joy that was so hard for me to grasp for that season.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No Matter What we do, the Meaning of Christmas Shines Through

This Christmas I have heard so many (meaningless) sources giving what they consider the "reason" or "meaning" of the season...things such as Santa, and food, and decor...all of which completely miss the point; you'd think even a secular person would realize how hollow those things would ring on their own. I was telling my neighbor Stacia how our tree has been up since around Thanksgiving and it still is not decorated. She was saying that Katie could help us when she gets home tomorrow; that's true and I'm glad for it. Still, if the tree were not decorated, if there were no presents, or carols, or cookies, or friends over, if there were no outward celebration of the holiday, still the goodness of Christ would remain. There would be nothing we could do to eliminate His goodness and hope, even if we meant to squelch it. The advent of that miraculous birth, that perfect life, that sacrificial death, and that marvelous resurrection all bring joy to those who would trust in the hope and enjoy the peace that come because of His momentous birth! The glory of that would sneak in under the doors, through the computer, through the phone lines; it would emanate from the sunlight coming in the windows. It would come in through things natural and things man-made. The quiet of the snow, the provision of the rain, the slipperiness of the ice all would sing glory to the advent of Christ.
So the performance of having everything perfect is not such a high-pressure impact on the joy of the season. I can do the things I love to do in order to celebrate; the traditions we hold make a continuity between years past and present; but it's not crucial to the "reason for the season." Without that pressure, the performance is pleasure, not pain. The remembrance of Christ, the little things that reflect His glory, should be a pleasure to implement. And so it is. I can make the cookies, the foods for feasts; buy the gifts, wrap them; decorate the all the things that anyone else will do; but if I am not joyful in the midst of it, or I'm despairing over a neglected tree, I've clearly forgotten the goodness that it all is supposed to represent. The goodness is there in spite of me.
The symbolism of each thing may be something of a stretch. Tim asked the other day what lights have to do with Jesus, and it seems pretty direct to say that since Jesus is the Light of the world, the lights should be symbolic of Him. Yet He is pure, which should be white light, and so many Christmas lights are colored instead. Our world doesn't perfectly glorify Him, but He shines in the darkness anyway. The candy canes have their legend too. I'm not sure that the tree is exclusively Christian; I've heard conflicting stories regarding the source of it. But since it only goes up for Christmas (at least in the context of our family's celebration), it also comes to reflect Christ in spite of its seeming obscurity. It doesn't matter that our Hindu neighbors also have a tree in their window. It just reminds us of their confusion, and that's a good thing. We need to keep people's confusion in mind and pray for opportunity to clear it up, for the words to speak at the right time. The increase in those opportunities is also a part of the glory of the season.
Christmas will come whether I'm with it or not. Joy will be there for the asking even if I get cranky and stressed and don't access it. Eternal life will be available whether we've ever celebrated a Christian holiday--it isn't because of what we do, but the Baby grown into the Man on whom we place our hope. Hallelujah! God is so good! Don't stress the little stuff; enjoy that cosmic event that happened on our little sin-flawed planet 2010 years ago. Merry Christmas!

There's a Fine Line Between Condemnation and Expulsion

In my Bible reading lately I have noticed that there are a number of instances where on occasion a believer is called to shun another who calls himself a brother, when his actions would seem to deny his faith. I'm sure that doing so could easily be mistaken for condemnation, and so in my mind this morning I was puzzling over the distinction since I know that God does not give us a place to condemn others. Eventually I came up with some symptoms that might indicate the difference. First of all, I need to capture the verses that prescribe this cutting off of fellowship for what we should hope would be only a short time. And for myself, I have never been in the position to specifically "shun" a brother; I see this as something that is done as a church discipline with the involvement of the church elders. Still, a lot of these distinctions have their more limited applications in various aspects of the Christian life on occasion, so I think that clarifying them is useful for all of us. Perhaps many of us experience condemnation at times (even through no fault of our own), and can see the usefulness in this clarification on that end as well.
1 Corinthians 5:1-13 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.
But actually, I wrote you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

At the price of what would be a false unity, we need to divide with those who are not following Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:19 For there must be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.
The symptoms of condemnation I came up with would be seen after you have done everything you can to turn the brother from his sin and it seems to have availed nothing, and you stop having fellowship, eating with him, or getting together with him for any reason other than restoration. The symptoms of condemnation might include:
1.) contemptuous and unloving attitude. Shunning the person from fellowship could be done either in a contemptuous and unloving way, or in a loving and caring way. If it is done without the goal of reconciliation, that will be obvious and will further alienate the person.
1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love.
2.) anger. James 1:19b-20 says, But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
3.) putting up hurdles to avoid reconciliation. Then lack of reconciliation is not their doing, but our own.
4.) lack of concern and prayer for the person. This expresses an unforgiving and judgmental attitude; we close ourselves off from engaging the Holy Spirit in reaching the heart of the person.
5.) unhappiness at any good that the person experiences, and rejoicing when they experience hardship (except with the hope of restoring them to obedience). Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
6.) a feeling of certainty or even hope that the person is destined for hell. This is surely not the place of humanity, but God alone determines who goes to hell.
7.) considering the person as dead even while they live. I have seen parents whose children embrace a homosexual lifestyle call them dead though they are physically alive; this is not what the Scriptures call for. They might well be spiritually dead, but they still need prayer, concern, and attempts made to reconcile them to God.
If we have a condemning attitude, we need to take care to avoid having condemned ourselves in the process, having the plank in our own eye as we try to remove a splinter from that of our brother. Rather, we should have an attitude like that of the Apostle Paul, not giving up but seeking restoration:
2 Corinthians 2:4-11 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you. But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree--in order not to say too much--to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
Galatians 6:9
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

Restoration and forgiveness should always be the goal of expulsion, continuing in prayer in hopes that the Spirit might bring it to pass:
Galatians 6:1-2 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Matthew 6:14
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
So there is the sum of what I came up with; I think it's clearer in my mind, and I hope if you shared my confusion I might have helped you also.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Can Christians Judge Others?

A while back, a friend of mine brought up the question whether a Christian should judge another Christian. It often comes up when someone thinks that you're treading on their toes, and sometimes people have a point, that you really have no place determining for yourself what their status is. I think there are times when you should, and times when you shouldn't, judge another person. The quote that usually is used, taken out of context, is Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge so that you will not be judged," which I believe is referring more to a condemning attitude that might be leveled toward your brother. Or then, John 8:7, "He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her." (And then Jesus, sinless, chose not to cast it.) This is also in the context of condemnation; the men were exploiting the woman as a manipulation to test Jesus' response. But elsewhere there are other references. You know, don't you, that you don't take one or two verses and make a whole theology on need to look at what's called the whole counsel of Scripture. Doing so gives a more balanced view, and sometimes there is a passage that sheds light on how those others are really intended to be applied. I think that the confusion that is so prevalent regarding judgment brings us all to stay more silent than we should, rather than helping one another where we may be weakest, and we might so need a little human intervention. I think we all need our brothers to speak up at us now and then!
So a couple of days later, I was reading with my son Tim, and just "happened" (as it so often happens) upon a verse that answered that question that my friend asked about judging others. Who appoints us to judge anyone? Why, God's word does, actually. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 says, "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people. I did not at all mean the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolators, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolator, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what do I have to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves."
We have to judge in many ways. We have to be able to discern and determine for ourselves how our own walk is, who we can imitate and follow because of their faithfulness to Christ, and who we must not imitate or follow because they aren't adequately following Christ. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses in their walk; everyone gets discouraged or distracted or confused at times. But when we judge that someone is straying, and we address it (in love, of course, 1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love...), then we have the capacity to strengthen the knees that are weak (Hebrews 12:12-14). In fact, addressing sin in a brother is, as I see it, how to demonstrate our Christian love for one another, in a potentially eternal life-saving way. James 5:19-20 says, My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. Of course we will be considered enemies of some when we do so, but that is just very much worth the risk when you consider the potential for good. One proverb has assured me through this, because more than once I have been thought an enemy before for being so judgmental as to speak up for wrongs I see being committed. It is Proverbs 27:6: Faithful are the wounds of a friend; deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. A Christian who lets a brother progress in the wrong direction unaddressed for fear of his response is not a friend, but an enemy. To whom are you most faithful? If you address a sin problem in a brother even to your own detriment and the end of that friendship, you have been a faithful friend not only of the brother, but of God Himself. If you don't address a brother's sin because you don't want to risk the loss of an earthly relationship, you are not being a friend of your brother or of God, but only of your own selfish desires.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Friday, December 04, 2009

23 Reasons it Seems God Shouldn’t Love Me (...and Don't Suppose There aren't More)

I was pondering some of the many reasons that it is strange that God could love me, because there are many ways in which I fall short of His glory.

1. I was conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). I have nothing good in me apart from Him (Romans 7:18).
2. I was an enemy of God (Romans 8:6-7; James 4:4).
3. I think like a sheep (Isaiah 53:6). That means I tend to be stupid and vulnerable, I wander off a lot, I can’t handle anything very complicated, and I can’t see things from a very high perspective. One kindness God has given us sheep, though, is the ability to recognize our Shepherd’s voice (John 10:3-4); another is that He lay down His life for us sheep (John 10:11).
4. I often fail to tap into the amazing power of the Holy Spirit Whom God has given to all who believe in Jesus Christ. This leaves me working in my own strength and acting as if I weren’t a believer at all. I am often, if not always, in some way prideful and God knows exactly what’s going on in my heart at all times (Psalm 139:23; Acts 1:24; 1 John 3:19-21), so it's nothing I can keep secret from Him.
5. I spend time, money, energy, and thought on things that don’t matter. (“It’s all gonna burn,” says our friend Ken Slaker. And he’s right, 2 Peter 3:10.) And not enough on things that do matter.
6. I have often remained silent when I ought to speak and spoken when I ought to remain silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7; James 3:8-11). And then when I speak, I often don't think it through properly first.
7. I often mutter to myself when I have a problem I’m trying to work out. Isn't that a sign of insanity, or mental instability? In that case, I'm insane or unstable. Sorry.
8. I am often inconsiderate and unloving, sometimes to those who I say I love the most.
9. I can be unforgiving and remember things I should have forgotten. This is not Christlike. Thankfully with enough time I tend to forget them, but not as soon as I should, and more because of forgetfulness than goodness.
10. I forget things I should remember (such as so many of the reasons that should be listed here that I forgot—but, that is likely a mercy to anyone who might read this!).
11. I have done evil things that probably any average person would say would be unforgivable, and that God wouldn’t forgive if it weren’t for Jesus Christ giving me grace and faith.
12. I often think of reasons why I shouldn’t help somebody who seems to need help, rather than reasons why I should help them.
13. I’ve left many disagreements unreconciled.
14. I am a pretty messy housekeeper, disorganized, and a packrat (sometimes just out of indecision or unwillingness to spend time on sorting them out). Sorting things out boggles my mind. Our yard’s usually a mess too. Our van usually needs washing, vacuuming, carpet cleaning, and decluttering.
15. I don’t have extreme money sense. Maybe for lack of extreme money; maybe it’s why the lack of extreme money. Maybe both.
16. I am frugal, and fight a tendency to being stingy. And sometimes I lose the fight for not fighting hard enough.
17. I am short, and overweight. Some people think being short in itself is a character flaw. At least I can't take blame for that one aspect!
18. I get PMS sometimes and get cranky without even being able to explain what’s bugging me.
19. My face sometimes breaks out, I sometimes have bad breath, and other such unappealing health facts happen to me. Ask Tim.
20. I’m a slower walker than tall people. Ask Vonna and Brenda.
21. I tend to leave a lot of projects unfinished. Ask my mom.
22. It’s hard for me to think outside of my own life to bring others into it for the sake of witness or fellowship or friendship.
23. I am dismally poor at convincing anyone of anything, even if it’s very true. So…maybe you don’t believe any of this list. Or, I have a feeling, this list will be the exception.

So. If God shouldn't love me, does He anyway? I believe He does. The evidence is in His word...He says He loves me (Jeremiah 31:3; Romans 8:35-39; Ephesians 3:16-19); He sent His Son Jesus to die (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 4:10), taking the penalties for my sin upon Himself (1 Peter 2:24). He has sent His Holy Spirit to let me know who He is, to change my heart, to understand His word, and to intercede on my behalf (Romans 8:27). Why does He love me? Because He is good, even though apart from Him I am not. He is kind to ungrateful and evil men (Luke 6:35, Matthew 5:44, 45). He gives grace. He takes a new believer and takes his hardened heart of rock and replaces it with a soft heart (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26). It's beyond explanation. I don't know why He loves me or how He originated this whole plan. I'm thankful though to be a part of it in spite of myself. Hallelujah! He is great beyond my understanding.

New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.