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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It's About Trust

This past Sunday, my pastor spoke about Jesus' temptation by Satan in the desert. Satan tempted Jesus three different ways, and Jesus had an answer from the Word for each temptation. But what all three boil down to, and what all of our temptations boil down to, is trust. Do you trust that God cares about you? Do you trust that He is concerned if you have financial trouble and don't have enough to eat or a place to live? Do you trust that He has your best interests at heart, and if you follow His lead, things will go well for you? Do you trust that God wants to see you in Heaven with Him one day? Pastor's point was that every sin we commit in some way comes back to a lack of trust that God loves us and cares about us. If we don't trust Him, we'll try to do it ourselves, and that's where sin comes in.

I think we can take that idea a bit further, though. I would submit for your consideration that there is nothing else we can trust in except God. We certainly can't trust in other people - people are very complex creatures, and every one of us lets someone down from time to time, despite our best efforts. We can't trust things that aren't alive, either, things like financial market forces or things that occur in nature like weather patterns or medical facts. There are certainly patterns at work in all of those things, but they are so complicated that they are beyond our comprehension, and they can be affected by things we can't foresee. Heck, I live in Oklahoma... I can tell you that you can't even trust it to be cold in the wintertime and hot in the summertime.

You may think that you have one thing you can trust: yourself. If you think that, you are wrong. You can't trust your own memories, for example... any psychologist can put you in a situation where you are absolutely positive you remember something that happened, and you are absolutely wrong. Witnesses to crimes get details wrong all the time, not because they are lying but because they don't remember just right. When a witness is being questioned, the interrogator has to be extremely careful not to provide information for the witness that he will later be sure he supplied himself. We can't even trust our own judgement, because sometimes we just don't have a complete enough understanding of a situation to choose wisely, and sometimes there are factors we weren't aware of.

To be completely honest, you can't even trust your own eyes. Have you ever had a fever and hallucinated something, and it seemed completely real? Have you ever been on medicine that gave you weird visions, or had a bit too much alcohol and saw something that wasn't there? If our bodies get the least bit out of whack, or have even a tiny bit of any of a huge variety of chemicals introduced into them, we get all messed up. It might not even take something that extreme to throw you off course... try not going to sleep for two or three nights in a row and see if you still have a clear picture of what's going on around you. Even eating the wrong kind of food, even legitimate food that is good for your body, can make weird things happen given the right allergy or in combination with something else. Your brain is a huge chemistry set, and if the wrong chemicals get in there, you definitely cannot trust your own five senses.

There is nothing in this world that you can trust 100%. The only thing in existence anywhere that is trustworthy is God. If you choose to put too much trust in anything but Him, you're setting yourself up for trouble, disappointment, and ultimately, utter failure. But if you do put your trust in Him, you are setting yourself up for a life where success is not only possible, it is probable. Or, dare I say it? If you put your trust in God, success in your life is guaranteed. It may not look like what a man on the street thinks means success, but you will obtain success that you know in your heart is the best kind of success there is.

Trust God today. All the way, without reservation. See where it gets you!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

ESV Study Bible FREE on the Web!

In celebration of Bible publisher Crossway's 75th anniversary, through the month of November, you can get access to the ESV Study Bible online for free! All you have to do is visit and follow the instructions there. I've talked about the ESV Study Bible a number of times in the past (check them out here, or if you just want to view the start of my ESVSB journey, this is my first post about it)... it's an incredible resource. And you can have access at no charge! What's better than free? NOTHING!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Loving Blindly

During the day I often have an MP3 player running on random shuffle - it's fun (and sometimes jarring) to hear different songs from 30 years of accumulating CDs jumbled in together. A few days ago this song by 4 Him started playing, and one single line popped out at me every time they sang it:

The line that bothered me is the line that says that one of the basics of Christianity is "a love that is blind". The reference in the song is of course that God's love does not consider someone's looks, or social standing, or race, or anything else in order to determine whether to love them. But I think this is a dangerous phrase to use to describe that idea.

The phrase "love is blind" is generally used to describe the idea that someone who has fallen in love seems to think the one they love is perfect. "A person who is in love can see no faults or imperfections in the person who is loved" is how it is summarized on Wikitionary, and that seems to be an apt definition. But that's not actually "love," not in the way I believe the Bible describes it. That kind of blind love is only the first stage even of romantic love, and I would more accurately call it "infatuation." And that kind of love isn't for strangers, anyway.

I don't think real love, the deep kind that comes from God, the kind that loved each of us so much that it came to Earth and died to save us, is ever "blind". If it's real love, it is exactly the opposite of ignorant blindness to the faults of the one being loved. True love means that you can see the faults of the other, usually in perfectly clear high definition, and you choose to love that person anyway. Jesus wasn't ignorant to the faults of the people around Him. Very often He told them to "Go, and sin no more",,, I don't see Him saying "Go, and I'm so glad you're already perfect!" He had no problem bringing up the sins of individuals when they needed bringing up. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true” He said once. He was even known to tell his disciples off in no uncertain terms if they weren't doing right. When Jesus was on the Cross, He both forgave someone who was being executed alongside Him (and who confessed his own guilt willingly) and forgave those who had just put Him there, even though He would have to have been massively blind to not notice the sins being committed in both cases.

God loves each of us, even though He knows about our faults better than we ourselves do. That's the kind of love that is a basic of Christianity. In fact, I think that if we are actively listening to the Holy Spirit, we will actually have a sharper view of the shortcomings of others, because He will tell us things we couldn't know otherwise. But if we are actively listening to the Holy Spirit, He will also be telling us how much God loves each person, and inspiring the same love for each of them in us.

Blind "love" is the kind of thing that ignores children's misconduct because it is uncomfortable to discipline them, ignores a friend's path of alcoholism or promiscuity or dishonesty or whatever because it seems like it's "not my place to say something to him", ignores signs that a friend's wife is being abused because "my buddy's just not like that." I once knew a lovely older Christian woman who always tried to look at the "good" side of everyone's conduct, even when that conduct was clearly wrong, and even malicious. That kind of "love" is at best ignorant and dangerous, and at worst, it is selfishness. This woman was often taken advantage of by people because she wouldn't let herself see that they were likely to do something bad to her; she even seemed to think that the bad things that happened to her were somehow her own fault. I guess, in a way, since she refused to see the proverbial freight train coming down the tracks and get out of the way, she was partially right.
God's love does not ignore sinfulness; God's love confronts it. It confronts it at the right time and in the right way, but God's love does not leave sin alone. Because if a sinner is left with his sin, that sin will ultimately destroy the sinner, and injure everyone around him.

I think the 4 Him lyric probably makes perfect sense to Christians in general. We aspire to love others despite how they look or act. I think the lazy adaptation of the cliche "love is blind" without maybe totally thinking it through was unfortunate, because I think it could be misunderstood, but the concept is true: God's love does not reject people. God's love is always ready to accept another person, no matter what they might look or sound or smell like. That's the takeaway from that one line in this one song. Don't be blind, though; be completely, 100% aware, but be completely, 100% accepting.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Too Rational

Last week I posted two things I had previously shared on Facebook - here's the first, and here's the second. This is a third discussion I posted a day or two later.

Still thinking a little bit about the discussion several days ago about Christians, our actions and our motives...

The other day I heard a friend say that the way she deals with someone treating her badly is to tell herself "Maybe he's just having a bad day." (This is not someone I know on Facebook, BTW, so don't think I'm talking about you!) Apparently that works for her, and I think that's a strategy employed by a lot of Christians. But I DON'T think that's God's best way.

Here's why. When you rationalize someone's behavior that way, you may defuse the anger inside of you, but you're doing it under your own power. You're "white knuckling it," as I think I said the other day, tricking yourself into acting the right way. You're not acting in the power of the Holy Spirit. And what if you then discover that the person who is wronging you is having a GREAT day, and they just hate your guts? What if they make it perfectly clear that they wronged you from pure malice? What if they honest to goodness just WANTED to be mean to you? What if you assume they are a nice person having a bad day, and you find out they are actually a mean person who is perfectly willing to hurt you again, on purpose? How do you rationalize that into "they're a nice person and I'll be nice back?" I've seen people try to do this... it just winds up making you look gullible and act like a doormat.

I know in some comments yesterday I also cast an unfavorable light on the whole "WWJD" thing*, but in this case, what DID Jesus do? When He was on the cross, put there by people who had planned literally for years to get him killed (and even tried it unsuccessfully several times), Jesus did not rationalize. Jesus did not assign a positive motive to them. "Father, forgive them, because they're probably just having a bad day." No - Jesus saw the situation for what it was. He looked into their hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit and saw the sinfulness there, but he also saw the ignorance. He didn't invent a motive for them; he saw the reality. And THEN He forgave them.

I think as Christians, our forgiveness should never be based on rationalizations. I don't think we should assume that someone is nicer than they seem, or they didn't really mean to hurt us, or whatever. Because maybe they AREN'T nicer than they seem, and maybe they really DID mean to hurt us. As the children of God, we can trust the Holy Spirit to show us the reality of every situation, and how to react accordingly. Then we can react in love AND appropriately. We can forgive with God's forgiveness, not by ignoring the problem and hoping it will evaporate. "Turning the other cheek" is not the same thing as "turning a blind eye". God does not want us to make ourselves ignorant. God wants us to have the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, see things for what they are, and react to them by His power, not under our own steam.

* Here's what I had said (in a comment) about WWJD:

The whole "WWJD" thing always made me feel a little uncomfortable, not because I disagree that we should act like Jesus, but for some other reason I couldn't define. But I've realized that the reason is that I don't think we should consciously be thinking about whether what we are doing is what Jesus would do. I think that we should allow Jesus to transform our lives until we *automatically* do what Jesus would have us do. It's not a matter of me acting like a good boy because it's what God wants; it's a matter of me *being* a good boy, because Jesus has made me one. The actions proceed from the sanctified person; the actions do not sanctify the person.

What do you think of "WWJD"? Ignoring people's actions and assuming there is a rational reason behind them? Turning the other cheek? Sound off by clicking the "Comments" link below this post!