Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Even if I'm Right...

In my sinful heart, I get frustrated when others don't understand what I'm trying to say. Maybe I say it another way. Or repeat it. Or say it louder. But the truth is that when I'm unsuccessful, for whatever reason, I tend to get frustrated. Why?

As I finished the book of John, I was convicted by Jesus' loving, thoughtful response to Thomas. Thomas missed Jesus' first appearance to the other disciples after the resurrection. He didn't run to the tomb to check things out. Maybe he was like Eeyore: "If it is a good morning, which I doubt." He knew Jesus died and that was that. He didn't expect change. And he wasn't going to take anyone else's word for it.

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:24-25)

Instead of chiding or correcting him--"Didn't you hear me say I would rise again? What did you think I meant when I said..."--Jesus met him in his doubt.

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-28)
And I hear my voice--the frustration, the condescension--then I look at Jesus' example. He knew Thomas' struggle. He was s-l-o-w; sensitive, kind, patient, and he didn't wait for Thomas to ask, He willingly offered the only proof Thomas would accept. Jesus wasn't threatened by Thomas' doubt. His focus wasn't Himself, it was Thomas. And that's where I get it wrong. I think I have to prove myself...or prove my point, or get it done now, or get it done my way--and the focus is clearly on me and my plan. How dare they question my intentions, my words, my idea, etc., etc.? What I need to do is, like Christ, trust God with what is best, give up my agenda, and love others selflessly.

The only truths to hold fast to are God's--and He doesn't need my help protecting them. In fact, an argumentative attitude does more harm to God's reputation than a gentle, loving response. So I must examine my heart as I think about how to respond when others question or misunderstand....and love them instead of convincing them I'm right (and they're wrong).

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

Friday, February 10, 2017

When Life Happens

Lest this blog get sin-heavy, let me be quick and sure to say that life happens. Suffering happens. There is no escape. It isn't always tied to our sin and it's not necessarily a consequence.

James 1 comes to mind when I think about "life" happening. Chapter 1, verse 2 says, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials..." It's written to Christians, "brethren," and it says when you fall, not if. I looked up"fall" in Greek and it means: "to fall; to encounter."


Think Mr. Magoo. He walks along, minding his own business when, BOOM! he falls in an open manhole. In the same way, trials appear in our path. We don't see them coming. We don't "deserve" them. They just happen. I find that both comforting and beautiful. I didn't plan it, but God did. And it's part of a bigger, better plan. A plan for my good. God knows. He sees the future--inside out, forward and backward. He is at the end before the beginning, and He's not One to waste anything.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:2-7 ESV)

As I fall into unexpected trials, based on James 1:2-7, I have started to ask: Am I leaning on Christ or myself? Am I asking for help? For wisdom? Am I growing in trust and patience? This trial is intended to make me steadfast; perfect and complete. Am I fighting God and my difficulty or submitting to Him?If I'm doing it right, it's not my job to fix the problem, make it go away, or figure out the end. The joy is in knowing that God will use this present difficulty to make me more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).

It's also a good reminder when I see others suffering. Their difficulty or situation may not have anything to do with their personal choices or sin. It could be something they "fell" into--just like I do, by God's grace. God's hand is not removed from the situation--it's all over it.

When you and I "fall into various trials," we can stop and look for Jesus. In that hard place, we can have joy. Jesus fell into suffering--and look where He ended up!

...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NKJV)

When Sin Explodes

Sin doesn't "just" explode. Let me rephrase--sin explodes, and it seems spontaneous, but it isn't. Solomon captured it well. After describing a naive young man's journey through town at dusk--and the woman of the night's many preparations--"all at once" he finds himself in trouble. All at once he is "caught fast," not knowing it will cost him his life (Proverbs 7:22-23).

The truth is that he ended up on that street at that time of day by placing one foot after the other. He had thoughts--or failed to reign in thoughts--of pleasure and desire. He made choices to turn right, then left, one step at a time.

Sin is like that. It wasn't our plan to end up in a pit of despair, under financial burdens, gasping for air in strained or broken relationships. We didn't know it would feel like this; that it would be like this. The end result wasn't our choice--but we would have to admit it is the practical end of a series of choices.

How do we escape? What do we do when sin has exploded and  our world is full of shrapnel? In that case there is a hard word and a good word. The hard word is that consequences are consequences. Our sadness and regret doesn't remove suffering. The good word is that God is always ready and willing to forgive. When we come to God in brokenness, willing to do life His way instead of ours, we can get on right terms because of Jesus. By faith in His death and resurrection, we can give up our "rights," be reconciled and come near to God. In His death, Jesus became our substitute. He took our punishment and exchanged our sin for His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In turning back to God and away from our desire to sin--read, "do it my way instead of His"--God will give us the power that raised Jesus from the dead. He wants us to live victoriously! (Romans 6:4) We are free from guilt and shame. We can take our thoughts captive, overcome sinful desires, and put God first. And on and on it goes, asking for grace to make choices that please Him; to live life differently (2 Corinthians 5:15).

So how I turn it around before it explodes?The apostle Paul says we reap what we sow. Looking back--step by step--that young man "sowed" a path that led to trouble. We can choose, right now, today, to sow seeds of the Spirit (God's way) or seeds of the flesh (my way). I can obey and trust God or manipulate people and circumstances to get what I want. Planting spiritual seeds comes in the form of prayer--living dependently on God instead of myself--loving others instead of using them, serving instead of expecting to be served, listening instead of talking, giving instead of taking. It's living in a way that looks more like Jesus than myself. Seeds are sown in kind, gracious words, a heart that is tender and sees its own faults.

Sinful choices bring gut-wrenching, destructive, deadly fruit. Godly choices result in untold blessing and a clear conscience. We choose what we sow, but we can't control the fruit. Once filled, the head of grain is what it is. The choice was made over time, step by step. The consequences are out of your hands--for better...or for worse.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:1-10 ESV)