Reprise: Sin Is Not The Problem

_A_volcano_on_the_Yemeni_island_of_Jabal_at-Tair_erupts_in_the_early_morning_hours_of_Oct._1,_2007Well, of course, sin IS the problem, but believing that sin is the problem has become a greater problem.

Western culture paints the belief that people sin in the worst light: If only oppressive religion didn’t make people feel so guilty. If only we realized our real potential. If only we weren’t so critical and judgmental. If only we looked for the good in others.

It all sounds so nice, so kind.

And it makes religion—Christianity in particular—seem so repressive, so intolerant, so blameworthy.

Yet no one holding this view seems concerned with what ought to be an overriding question—where did the first act of intolerance come from? How did the whole round of judgmental behavior get started?

Christian and non-Christian alike recognize that we all are not perfect. Yet somehow, the problem has become our feeling guilty for the wrong we do, not the wrong itself. The problem has become our judgment that others do wrong, not the wrong they do.

And we wonder why the lost world doesn’t want a savior.

Simply put, our culture has removed the need for a savior. Because, I’m OK and you’re OK. Not lost. And certainly not sinful.

The only people that ought to feel guilty are the ones pointing out sin. Shame on them for making the rest of us feel bad (not sinful—We Do Not Feel Sinful. To feel sinful would be … well, wrong).

So you see, our culture no longer believes sin is the problem.

It seems Christianity has played right into this deviation. No more fire-and-brimstone preaching! We don’t want people to hate coming to church. We have to bring them in with a good marketing strategy. Make church sound like fun and Christianity like the solution to whatever problem you are experiencing.

That’s not the way the preachers in the Bible went about speaking. John the Baptist called his audience a brood of vipers. Peter told his listeners they had killed the Messiah. Stephen called his audience stiff-necked and accused them of resisting the Holy Spirit.

And of course they died martyr’s deaths.

Many of our forefathers died the same way. But somewhere along the line, western Christianity got comfortable. Now we have rights and feel affronted if someone says something mean about Christians.

And more and more, we’re becoming silent. We don’t want to offend others by our “radical” religious views. So we’ll keep the peace and concentrate on lifestyle evangelism, because surely, just as people can see God when they look at nature, they can see Christ when they look at my life. Can’t they?

Why does it seem more and more that sin is not the problem as much as my willingness to say sin is the problem?

This post first appeared here in February 2011.

Published in: on October 7, 2015 at 6:32 pm  Comments (2)  
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Reprise: My Deceitful Heart

CO_21_NB_reassurance_sign,_Colorado_SpringsBack when I was in college, I would spend the summers with my parents in Denver. One year we took a couple short road trips on consecutive weekends. One was an hour’s drive north, the other an hour’s drive south.

The next week a family we knew came to visit for several days. During that period, their two teens and I decided to go to a popular movie they hadn’t seen yet. I told them I knew this particular movie was playing locally because I’d seen it at a theater we’d passed the previous weekend.

My dad helpfully looked up the information and gave me the exact freeway off ramp exit number. I took the directions, though I didn’t think I’d need them. After all, I’d seen the theater clearly from the freeway, so I knew we couldn’t miss it.

Off we went. Before too long, however, I noticed that the exit sign numbers were not advancing toward the particular one I was looking for.

No problem, though, I thought. I knew I was going in the right direction because I’d seen the theater with my own eyes. Perhaps, I reasoned, the numbers would reverse their order once we left the city proper.

My guests were amazingly patient, even as time and miles piled up. Even as the exit numbers continued to flip past in the wrong order. Even when that pattern didn’t change once we left the city. And even when we didn’t see the theater from the freeway.

I couldn’t understand what was wrong. Perhaps the information my dad had found was wrong or maybe he copied it incorrectly or … and then it hit me. I had indeed seen the theater, but not the previous weekend when we had taken our trip north. I’d seen it two weeks ago when we headed out of town going south.

Here’s the point, I learned that day how unreliable I am as a determiner of truth. I had the information my dad gave me, the exit numbers on the freeway signs, and a missing theater, but I still trusted my own idea of what was true. I even rationalized the differences and persisted when every indicator said I was wrong.

I’ve had to re-learn that lesson multiple times, but that one incident stands out as an illustration of how easily fooled my hard, prideful heart can be, and conversely, how much I need the authoritative Word of God to serve as the sign posts of life.

Of course, I have to believe what the signs say rather than rationalizing away what I don’t like or don’t agree with.

    Love your neighbor? Sure, I can do that … except, not that family with the really loud, late Saturday night parties and the noisy motorcycles (besides, their kids are probably involved with gangs).
    Speak the truth in love? Sure, I can do that … except, I don’t want to offend the people in my office, so I’ll just let slide their Bible-bashing (they probably wouldn’t change their attitudes even if I stuck up for the Bible).

It is so easy to find excuses to trust my own foolish, willful, wayward heart rather than the sure, authoritative, unchanging Word of God.

But you know what God says about my heart?

The heart is more deceitful than all else/ And is desperately sick;/ Who can understand it?
– Jeremiah 17:9

God goes on to say that He knows the heart and He gives “to each man according to his ways.” But here is His assessment of our ways:

– Rom 3:9b-12 (the all caps are in the original and indicate quotations from the Old Testament)

Original sin? You bet. My heart so fools me, I’d believe in an instant that I’m good, if I could. In fact I tried. When I was very young, probably in first grade, the Sunday school teacher told us we were all sinners.

Not me, I thought. And I set about proving it. I figured if I could find one, even one person in the Bible who wasn’t a sinner, then I could be like that person. Jesus, I understood was perfect, but He was God, so I needed someone else.

I finally set on Moses and asked my mom if he wasn’t perfect. No, she said, he sinned. How? I asked. For starters, he committed murder.

Then how about David? No, he stole another man’s wife and had him killed. He wasn’t without sin either.

OK, I reasoned, if even the Bible people sinned, then it must be true. All sin, even me.

It wasn’t until years later I learned about my nature to sin, and I actually discovered that myself, when I was reading John 3:18. The problem isn’t sins I commit; the problem is my rejection of God. That’s the nature I have—one that wants to believe in myself, wants to choose my own way, wants to trust me despite the evidence and God’s witness that my heart is deceitful.

This post originally appeared here in September 2010.

Published in: on October 2, 2015 at 6:16 pm  Comments (7)  
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Mercy, Justice, And Abortion

Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoChristians are often accused of being judgmental. I tend to think the people making the charge are reacting to a lack of compassion. It’s not that others think judging is so very wrong. They themselves are actually making a judgment when they say being judgmental is wrong.

Rather, it seems to me, people see Christians as unwilling to give a guy a break. Come on, they say, wait to have sex until you’re married? Give a guy a break! Or, You mean a guy can be faithful, a good father and provider, but you say he’s a sinner because he’s married to another guy? Come on, give him a break!

There are multiple problems here, the first being the notion that Christians are making the rules. Believers are not the ones inventing the no-sex-before-marriage standard. Or the no-homosexuality standard. Just like we didn’t come up with the no lying, gossiping, murdering, dishonoring of parents standards, either.

The second issue is that we can’t give a guy a break. We aren’t his judge. We get accused of being the judge because we report what the Judge has said about the matter of sin, but just like we don’t invent the rules, we don’t invent the punishment.

Third, we ourselves are under the same standards and don’t come out triumphant. We are no different when it comes to sin than anyone else. James says this clearly:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (2:10-11)

In short, there isn’t a single person who doesn’t fall into the category of “guilty of all” because we have all stumbled in one point, or more. If it’s more, we aren’t any more guilty of all than if we stumbled only once. Either way, we’re guilty of all.

So Christians are not better than abortion providers or those in the business of selling fetal tissue. At various times, when listing different sins, the Apostle Paul would add, And such were some of you.

This is true of women who have had abortions. I know women, and have heard about women, who have had abortions, only to embrace Christ and renounce their past actions. Take Norma McCorvey, for example, the “Jane Roe” in the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the US. She is now a Christian who stands for life.

Norma McCorvey is just like the people Paul addressed: “such were some of you.” But so am I and so are we all. If we haven’t committed the particular sins in Paul’s list, we’ve committed others. There simply is no one out from under the burden of sin.

Is that admission hateful or judgmental? Hardly! It’s the first step toward escape. When we admit our sin, we can embrace our Savior.

Then as people who have been forgiven, we can extend forgiveness and compassion to others.

I can’t forgive someone’s sin against God, however. I don’t have that power. I can’t acquit someone who has committed murder though he seeks forgiveness in the blood of Christ. God alone can forgive sins against Him. And He does.

He gave a great picture of the way this works when He ordained a religious ceremony with the Jews which required the release of a scapegoat. One goat would be sacrificed as a sin offering, depicting the fact that sin requires the shedding of blood which Christ freely gave, but another goat was released into the wilderness after the priest had laid hands on it, transferring to it the sins of the people and depicting Christ as the sin bearer who takes away the sins of the world.

God in Jesus Christ has made forgiveness available to all who believe.

But to those who don’t believe? They aren’t forgiven and we shouldn’t pretend they are. At the same time, they aren’t enemies. They may come to a realization of their sin later in life the way Norma McCorvey did. They are people for whom we should feel compassion. And empathy. Because we were such as they before we met Christ.

The difference, simply put, is Jesus. Without Him, deserved justice. With Him, unqualified mercy.

We who have received such mercy, how can we not extend mercy to others? No, we can’t wipe away their sins, but we can love them the way Jesus loves. We can forgive them their offenses against us, we can serve them and pray for them and refuse to write them off as a lost cause. No one is a lost cause. God alone gets to separate the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats. And He is perfectly just as well as perfectly merciful.

Published in: on September 2, 2015 at 5:33 pm  Comments (14)  
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What Are We Believing If We Believe In Jesus?

reading-the-bible-835822-mThe Bible says in John 3:16 that whoever believes in God’s Son will have eternal life. Jesus Himself spoke those words.

The Gospel writers sprinkle evidence throughout their books that Jesus was that Son. Consequently, we would be accurate to say that whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life. But what exactly are we to believe about Jesus? That He existed? That eternal life is in Him? That He is God’s Son?

Perhaps we should start by saying what this phrase does NOT mean.

We are not to believe that Jesus was a good example. Yes, He was, and we are to follow Him, to live as He lived, to obey what He said. But doing all that is 1) not possible apart from supernatural power; and 2) not going to give us eternal life. We know this from the totality of Scripture.

Let’s use a sobering example. Say a married man is unfaithful to his wife just once, but in that one act of infidelity, he contracts a venereal disease. No matter how faithful he acts from that time forth, he will not cancel out his faithless act. His fidelity is what he owed his wife all along, and giving it to her before or after his adultery does not scrub out the faithless act or its consequence.

So too, if someone says he believes in Jesus as a model for how to live, good for him. If he could actually do so, he would now be living as he should have all along. But this new behavior would not scrub away the life lived in contradiction to Jesus’s example. In other words, living as Jesus lived cannot bring that eternal life John 3:16 promises.

Believing in Jesus also does not mean believing that He will make this life more comfortable for us or that He will fix our heartaches, keep our loved ones safe, help us to get a better job, or make us better wives or husbands. He may do those things. But the truth is, He wants to do more.

Two missionary couples were killed some years ago by Somali pirates. If their belief was in Jesus making them happy, they must have been sorely disappointed when their yacht was captured. I suspect they were not, because their chosen mission was to distribute Bibles. I suspect, therefore, they believed the Bible and knew that their lives were about more than comfort and ease.

Not long after, an LA fireman who died in the line of duty was buried, his funeral televised for all the area to see. His pastor, among others who spoke, gave a stirring testimony of this man’s faith — not in Jesus who would give him a comfortable life, but in Jesus who assured him of eternal life.

Believing in Jesus is also not taking to heart His teaching. Like the challenge to live as He lived, this one is also impossible and insufficient.

What, then, does it mean to believe in Jesus?

First it means to believe in who He is — God’s Son, the promised Messiah, the suffering Savior, the risen Lord, the soon to return King.

Second it means to believe in what He has done — while we were yet sinners, He died for us, bearing the punishment we deserved for our wayward hearts and willful rebellion; then He rose again that we too who were dead in our sins could be alive to God. We also must believe that His sacrifice as our substitute is sufficient to reconcile us to our Holy God. That, after all, is the point and purpose of the promise — eternal life means life with God enjoying his abiding love and fellowship and presence, here in part, after this life in uninterrupted fullness.

Published in: on August 20, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Does Anybody Have A New Recipe For Manna?

Gathering mannaBoiled manna. Fried manna. Mashed manna. Manna a la quail. Manna sauteed. Baked Manna. Raw manna. If there’s a way to prepare manna, my guess is, the people of Israel figured it out. After all, they had a steady diet of the stuff for forty years.

The people themselves didn’t take long to start complaining.

We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Num. 11:5-6)

Nothing to look at. Only manna.

Apparently it didn’t occur to them that without manna they would have had nothing. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to them that their “free fish” in Egypt required them to be slaves.

So it is today. We seem so rarely contented. Rather, we live life for the next thing, and the next after that. We want the vacation to Tahoe until we hear about our friend who is heading off to Italy. So we add that to our “Bucket List,” which is nothing but a glorified “I want” list—I want this, I want to do that.

When we own our own home, we complain about the property taxes. We enjoy amazing technology, only to long for the newest gadget now out. We love our cars but can’t wait to trade them in for the upgraded model. Our jobs provide us with the money to pay for food and clothing, but we can hardly wait for the weekend so we don’t have to work. Or for vacation.

Life has become one big stress.

Or has it? Maybe life is not the stress, but we are looking at manna—or life—with dissatisfaction because we want something God hasn’t given us.

We take for granted God’s provision and we even diminish its value because we’re longing for something else—something we had in the past or something we think we’re entitled to in the present.

We replace gratitude with complaining, appreciation for disgruntlement. We disdain the security and constancy God provides in favor of something risky or edgy.

I do anyway. I hate to admit it. God is so faithful, and yet I grow complacent—so unlike Abraham. He considered God’s promises and “did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20b).

I have ample reason to give glory to God, but I tend to think more about what He did not give me rather than what He has given me.

The crazy thing is, some of the things God withholds become things I’m so thankful later on that I haven’t been burdened with. Who knew? Good things can become burdensome.

Let’s take books, for example. Every writer wants above all else to publish her book. But publishing only leads to the need to promote the book and to follow it up with another and another. In short, the very good thing of having published a book grows into a larger requirement, a burden, even.

Perhaps God withholds that good thing—a published book—because He wants to spare that writer the burdens and responsibilities that would come with it. I’m aware, for instance, of a writer who did not receive an expected book contract. While waiting, though, a family member contracted a serious illness which required a great deal of family involvement. How would it have been possible for this writer to navigate the waters of publishing at the same time as meeting the necessities of family life?

Of course, it’s so easy to say, Why didn’t God give the book contract and withhold the illness? No one can answer that for someone else, and sometimes we can’t answer it for ourselves. God simply hasn’t disclosed all His plans. But then, He doesn’t report to us, does He. He isn’t required to check in with us or get our approval to exercise His will.

In reality, He knows precisely what we need. And sometimes it’s not fish. It’s more manna.

We Don’t Have What It Takes

Mountain climber
Recently on Twitter a Christian with some standing in the writer world tweeted this: “We all need to be reminded more often that we have what it takes. It’s true. You are enough.”

I’m sorry, but I don’t know what world this individual is living in, but in the real one, none of us is enough. We wouldn’t be around if our parents hadn’t seen us through that awkward stage called infancy! We weren’t enough in those early years.

None of us is growing our own food and making our own clothes and pumping our own water that I’m aware of. We aren’t enough in the day-to-day business of providing for our basic needs.

Someone in the writing business ought to be aware that none of us is enough. Writers need editors (or friends willing to read over our work for mistakes) and cover designers and Amazon if we want to do the simplest, most basic kind of publishing. Even if we decide we will put our work up on our blog, we are not alone in the endeavor. We not only need the blog platform, we need the computer and the software and the Internet connection. We simply are not enough.

But of course, our inadequacy is most evident when we look at spiritual matters. Our pride would like us to believe we’re enough. Satan would like us to believe we’re enough. The world, and now this professing Christian, tells us we’re enough. But God says we aren’t.

In fact God says our righteousness doesn’t cut it, that salvation is “not of ourselves” (Eph. 2:8-9), that it is found in no one except Jesus Christ (“There is salvation in no one else . . .” – Acts 4:12).

Quite honestly, I’m baffled. I know this “look to the power within” movement, a very Zen idea, is quite the rage these days. But really? Power to do what, precisely? Do we cause the sun to rise? The tides to swell or withdraw? Can we stop the rain from flooding or bring it to drought-ravaged land? Do we “have what it takes” to force our boss to give us a raise? Or cure our friend of cancer? Do we have what it takes to force ISIS to stop killing people or the Boko Haram to stop kidnapping and raping Christian girls in Nigeria? Is it in us to bring an end to the Ebola virus?

The amazing thing to me is that a handful of people have retweeted this utter nonsense and an almost equal number have favored it.

What do these people think we have in us that “is enough”? Enough for what? And what do we have? What is the “it factor”? And what does it accomplish?

I can see people reading those words now, nodding, and thinking, Oh, so wise. Yes, I am enough.

It’s a bit of meaningless garbage, but it stokes the ego—which I assume is why people think it’s worth passing on to others, why they want to save it where they can find it and read it again some day.

As near as I can figure, ego stroking is all those lines accomplish. They are void of any substance and they are patently untrue.

I shouldn’t be surprised, I know. Satan is all about cutting humans off from God upon whom we must depend.

God uses a variety of metaphors to show us our connectedness with Him, our dependency on Him. He says we’re sheep and He the Shepherd will guide us to green pastures, quiet waters. Christ says He’s the vine and we are the branches, that abiding in the vine is how we produce fruit. He says He is the head, the brain, if you will, and we are the body. Paul even identifies the lack of connection to Christ as pride:

Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it. (Col. 2:18b-19, NLT)

Psalm 71 spells out our need for God, as opposed to an independent state of being enough:

For You are my hope;
O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth.
By You I have been sustained from my birth;
You are He who took me from my mother’s womb;
My praise is continually of You. (vv 5-6)

The Psalmist did not say, my praise is continually of myself for I have it within me. I am enough.

So I wonder, have we stopped reading our Bibles that we would be suckered into believing this platitude of the world’s philosophy? I have to admit—I feel a little shell-shocked. I mean, believers, or at least professing believers, writing something or agreeing with it and sharing it with others, that is so contrary to what the Bible says is true. It’s another instance of calling wrong, right, and even encouraging others to do the same.

Make no mistake, though. God does not reveal in His word that we have what it takes, that we are enough. He reveals that our best efforts, our righteousness, is dirty, grimy, muddy, slimy, unclean, mucky foul, squalid, sordid, nasty, soiled, sullied polluted, contaminated, unhygienic, unsanitary rags:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on Your name,
Who arouses himself to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us
And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:6-7)

So if by “we have it in us,” this individual means, we have the power of our iniquities in us, then OK. If by “you are enough,” this person means we are enough to cause God to turn from us because of our sin, then OK. I don’t think that’s what they were going for, though.

The reason this false teaching is a big deal is simply this: unless we see our need for a Savior, we won’t want one. Unless we realize we aren’t enough, we won’t seek the One who is enough. Unless we see our best efforts as God sees them, we won’t want the new life we can have in Christ. Instead we’ll be off trying to conquer mountains with what we have in us. Which decidedly isn’t enough.

Published in: on May 28, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (12)  
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Increasing And Decreasing

CBS logoHuman nature seems to push us toward selfishness as I noted in “The Scientific Discovery Of The Sin Nature.” If in doubt, watch CBS’s 60 Minutes video for yourself. Here’s an excerpt:

Lesley Stahl: Sounds to me like the experiment show[s] they [the babies who were the subjects of the experiment] are little bigots.

Paul Bloom [Yale researcher]: I think to some extent, a bias to favor the self, where the self could be people who look like me, people who act like me, people who have the same taste as me, is a very strong human bias. (emphasis added)

The Bible doesn’t equivocate when it comes to human nature. We are self-deceived and wicked at our core—primarily because of our bias to favor ourselves. We want to win, to be noticed, admired, loved and praised. We want our fifteen minutes of fame, and if we can stretch it out to a half hour, all the better.

The problem for the Christian is that when we push ourselves forward, we are actually stealing the limelight from God. He’s the star, after all, the One who deserves the accolades, who produces the show, who works behind the scenes to hold it all together, who assembles the cast, who writes the checks, and who takes center stage. So when the curtain comes up for the credits, for whom is the applause greatest? The actor playing the page who carried the king’s sword, or the king himself?

Clayton_Kershaw_(8664742364)We live in a celebrity culture. Consequently Christians often flock to “famous Christians,” like Tim Tebow or Jeremy Lin or Russel Wilson or Clayton Kershaw. And isn’t it a good thing when people of all stripe, even people of other religions or people of no religion, recognize a “famous Christian” for their talent and intelligence and good deeds?

That’s what the Bible seems to say. We are to let our light shine so that people see our good works (Matt. 5:16). It’s the last part of the verse that I think 21st century Christians seem to have trouble with: “… that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (emphasis added). The goal isn’t that they might glorify the Christian, but that they might glorify the God whom we serve.

John the Baptist articulated the principle well. One of his disciples was troubled that the crowds were leaving John and flocking to Jesus. Here’s his answer:

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:27-30)

In other words, John’s popularity was a gift from God. But he was not the Messiah. He was the second, the best man, the squire. Understanding his role, he rejoiced to see Jesus get all the attention. That’s what he lived for. To decrease, that Jesus might increase.

In some ways, it seems a person must first increase to get to the point that he can decrease. I mean, if John didn’t have a following, would he ever have been able to say, I must decrease?

But what about the widow who gave her last coin in the temple. She had no following, and she was still willing to decrease that God might increase.

I think our current Christian culture has it wrong. We should not be working to be known so we can make God known. That’s upside down. The widow gave to God because she knew God deserved her very last coin. As a result, God spread her fame down through the ages, to every tribe and tongue where the gospel is preached. She wasn’t after fame, but God gave it to her as a result of her willingness to decrease.

I think too of Boaz and the anonymous relative who could have married Ruth. In that day, a widow had no protection unless a relative of her deceased husband married her. She was also tied to the property her husband may have owned. So Boaz, wanting to take Ruth as his wife, first had to find out if the relative who was closer would step up and do the right thing.

Boaz started by asking the man if he wanted to buy the property which had belonged to the deceased. The relative said, sure. OK, Boaz said, but you know, of course, that means you’ll also have to marry Ruth. Oh, the man answered. Forgot about her. You know, on second thought, this marriage and property purchase isn’t going to work for me after all. It would jeopardize his own inheritance, he said—something about the child of their union would be known as belonging to the first husband, and his land reverting to that side of the family at the jubilee.

It’s a bit too legal and technical for me. But I bring it up because this man who wanted to guard his inheritance is no longer remembered by name. Boaz, however, and Ruth are both recorded in the ancestral record of the Messiah. The one who wanted to increase, didn’t. The one who cared for the widow, who served and protected a foreign woman in need, received recognition throughout the ages.

He must increase. And I must decrease.

My devious mind immediately goes to the idea that, yes, the way for me to get noticed, like the widow Jesus praised, like Boaz, is to put Jesus on display. But that misses the point. God can use even that wrong attitude, as Paul says in Philippians, but the right perspective is to see the way things really are: God, the high and exalted King; I, the servant holding the edge of His train.

Shockingly, this life is really not about me. It’s about God—serving Him, loving Him, listening to Him, abiding with Him, and above all glorifying Him. Seeing Him increase.

Discussions And Winning

Roulette_in_Las_VegasI’ve been on the Internet long enough to have involved myself in a good number of discussions. I’ve gotten myself banned from a couple sites for being contentious, and have had a fair share of mud flung in my direction.

From where I sit, having learned a thing or two along the way, I think people enter into Internet discussions for one of four reasons. Some people take part by dropping their explicit opinion without reading any other comments and without returning to engage any opposing views. In other words, they drop their opinion and run. They are like drive-by shooters.

Others want to be the wise professor, showing all the other peons, er, people, what they know.

Some percent of people care more about winning than they do what it is they are discussing. Consequently, if they are corrected or challenged in what they say, they must find a way to attack back, to gain points for the ones they lost.

Finally, there are some people who actually want to engage in give-and-take, to consider a subject from a different perspective, to learn even though they may continue to disagree. They may even discover they have far more common ground with those in disagreement than they had once presumed. In short, they are willing to engage in a discussion without the need to win.

I have to admit, I’m a fan of this latter type of interaction. I like learning new things. I like having my own assumptions and beliefs challenged. It forces me to examine where I stand and see if it’s actually firm enough to hold me up.

More often than not, I come away from those kinds of discussions with a firmer conviction. Sometimes I’m forced to do some homework—to search out answers to a question I hadn’t thought of before or know little about. That also is a good thing—a very good thing.

But the “discussions” that devolve into gamesmanship in which one party cares more about winning than about considering both sides of a question, or about the people with whom they’re dialoguing, bring out the worst in me. As my family can tell you, I don’t like losing. I don’t like eating humble pie. I don’t like people calling me names or laughing at my expense. My instinct is to fight back, to prove I know just as much, can be as snarky as they, can take them down a peg.

In short, I’m tempted to adopt the “discussion is about winning” mindset.

It’s a temptation, sadly, because “everyone’s doing it.” The desire to win has become far too prevalent in western society. We want our sports teams to win (I sure do!) We want the singer we voted for to win. We want our political candidate to win. We want to beat the other driver in a race to the next red light, and we surely don’t want to let that jerk in ahead of us.

The bottom line, I guess, is pride. We want to come out looking like we did something (picked the best team, the best singer, the best candidate). We want to outshine the next guy, even when we don’t know that guy and will never see him again. It’s our own ego we are trying to satisfy.

Ego, I think, is what drove those teachers in Atlanta to cheat for their students. In fact, CNN reported that during former Georgia District Attorney Michael Bowers investigation, “he heard that educators cheated out of pride, to earn bonuses, to enhance their careers or to keep their jobs” (emphasis mine). Ego drives gang members to tag their turf and protect it. Ego drives businessmen to pull shady deals so they can climb over their buddy as they ascend the corporate ladder. Ego drives soccer moms to brag about their kids’ accomplishments even as they conveniently forget to mention the problems. Ego causes church leaders to play the number game—how many converts, how many baptisms, how many attendees.

And why shouldn’t ego be a growing factor in today’s society? From the moment kids can walk and talk, parents and TV and educators and most every other adult they come in contact with, tell them they can do whatever they put their little minds to. Unfortunately, “Just win, baby” actually hasn’t turned out to be much of a winning formula.

Some people believe it and spend their lives trying to get to whatever goal they desire and believe they deserve, regardless of the methods required to do so. Others who learn they aren’t the winners their parents said they were, live vicariously through their own children or through their favorite golfer or race car driver; others steep themselves in the gaming community and make all parts of life about winning. Including Internet discussions.

As long as we live with the idea that discussions are about winning, we doom ourselves in two ways: we will stop learning about other people and what they think—a dangerous circumstance in our ever shrinking world—and we will devalue compromise.

Once, in the US men of government were considered great statesmen if they could work out a compromise. If two sides saw an issue in opposing ways, a statesman was the person who helped both sides to come together and agree on something workable; though neither side got all they wanted, both sides got some of what they wanted.

Apparently we no longer value the role of a peacemaker. Rather, we want a litigator who can take the matter to court and WIN. Ah, there it is again. This passion to come out on top.

No wonder Jesus sounds so radical to our culture. He said things like, The last shall be first, and the first last. And, Love your enemies; do good to those who misuse you. And take up your cross daily, and follow me.

Our culture says things like, The one who dies with the most toys wins. But Jesus said, Store up your treasure in heaven where moth and rust can’t get to it.

I don’t think a person can turn on and off the desire to win. I think God needs to do something in a person’s heart to give life a greater meaning than just elbowing out the other guy. I think God needs to do a work in a person’s heart to make them care more for others. Even in Internet discussions.

Sin And The Human Brain

I once heard a comment that goes against common understanding—sin distorts Mankind’s thinking.

Most people agree that nobody’s perfect, but by this they mean, nobody lives a morally upright life all the time; nobody avoids making mistakes. The one thing that most people do NOT mean is that their thinking is flawed.

Rather, I suspect most people believe mankind’s ability to reason has become sharper over time, that we are out from under superstition and have honed deductive reasoning, can study evidence and make inferences more accurately than those who first lived on earth.

But why should that be true? If we believe the Bible, we know a few things about the earth before and after sin progressively took hold (some of these things became evident after the flood).

    1. Before — animals were not carnivorous (Gen. 1:30).

    After — even Man became carnivorous.

    2. Before — animals were at peace with each other and with Man.

    After — “The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given” (Gen. 9:2).

    3. Before — the ground yielded fruit abundantly.

    After — the ground was cursed and needed to be cultivated by the sweat of Man’s brow.

    4. Before — Man was destined to life.

    After — Man was destined to death.

    5. Before — Man apparently had the capacity to communicate with the animals.

    After — animals only communicated with Man when God opened their mouths (see Balaam’s donkey).

    6. Before — an “expanse” divided waters, some above, some below—apparently creating another layer of our atmosphere and providing protection from the molten lava at the earth’s core.

    After — the “floodgates of the sky” opened and “the fountains of the great deep burst open.”

    7. Before — Man lived for centuries.

    After — once the atmospheric protection was removed, his life span became much shorter.

    8. Before — Man communed in person with God.

    After — Man hid from God.

    9. Before — Adam and Eve were a perfect fit, naked and unashamed.

    After — they hurled accusations at one another.

    10. Before — Man spoke a common language.

    After — God confused Men’s language and scattered them.

I could go on, but I think I’ve said enough for the purpose of this post. To sum up, sin changed the world, the heavens, the way Mankind relates to creation, to God, to others. Why would we think Man alone is untouched by the effects of sin? We know his life span was affected, so why not other aspects of his life, such as his ability to comprehend the supernatural or to reason clearly?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that Mankind, with all the knowledge available to us, understands less about the world today than Adam did. Oh, sure, we know facts (and many of those prove to be incorrect at some later date), but we are reasoning ourselves away from God, not to Him.

It was Man’s observation, reasoning, and conclusions—well, woman’s, actually—that started the Fall in the first place: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (emphasis mine)

God had said … but she saw, and she went with her own observations and her own conclusions. In that respect, things haven’t changed so much over time.

This article originally appeared here in August 2012.

Published in: on April 30, 2015 at 6:08 pm  Comments (11)  
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The Lesson Of The Bee

Some time ago, I had a bee find its way into my bedroom. I don’t relish killing bugs, and less so bees, but this one was in my bedroom! What to do?

I ran through my options as I watched the angry little critter buzz to the top of the window screen, find no opening, and buzz back to the bottom. Again and again.

At last I figured out a way to avoid killing him. From the cupboard, I pulled down a goblet, then retrieved an envelop that fit nicely over top. I held the glass stem and approached the bee still bouncing against the screen in a futile attempt to zip outside.

In one quick move, I plopped the goblet over the wayward wanderer. As he flew into the bowl looking for escape, I slid the envelop between the screen and the lip of the glass. Got him!

Earlier he seemed mad. Now he buzzed with vicious frenzy.

Poor little guy, I thought. Wasting all that energy, so mad he’d sting me if I gave him the tiniest opening. Yet my only intention was to help him get exactly what he needed, the very thing he’d been looking for.

And then it hit me. So often I act just like that bee. I find myself in a mess of my own making and try furiously to free myself, often repeating the same futile steps over and over. Then, when things seem to get worse, not better, I rail against God, not realizing that He’s using the very circumstances I hate for my good.

How much simpler if I obeyed God and refrained from grumbling and disputing, if I trusted Him instead of blaming Him, if I turned to Him in dependence instead of away from Him in stubborn willfulness. After all, my buzzing about is no more profitable than was that little bee’s.

God, on the other hand, sees the big picture, knows what’s best, and has much more regard for me—love, actually—than I had for the miscreant I set loose from my bedroom.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:14 says. Now there’s a novel idea. ;-)

What does me in, though, is what Paul says next:

so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (v 15; emphasis mine).

By this one thing, refraining from grumbling or disputing, we will accomplish what Christ called us to do—serve as lights in the world, even the crooked and perverse world.

I’m thinking the first grumbling or disputing I need to eliminate is any directed at God. We’re so quick in our culture to say that it’s OK for us to rail against God. He understands. He forgives. He’s big enough to handle it. He knows what I’m thinking anyway, I might as well say it. We’re just being honest.

Actually, no. While God does understand and forgive, while He’s certainly “big enough” to handle my puny complaints, while He already knows my heart, it’s still not right for me to accuse righteous God of doing what is not good. And where in Scripture to we learn that God values our honesty more than our trust?

What I should do when thoughts of disgruntlement come into my mind, is confess them and seek God’s forgiveness.

Who am I to accuse God of wrong doing, or of falling down on the job, or of not keeping His promises? I’m really no different than an irate bee buzzing madly to get what I want, ignoring the hand stretched out toward me.

I don’t want to be that bee any more.

This post sans some small additions and revision first appeared here in August 2011.

Published in: on March 18, 2015 at 7:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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