Friday, March 16, 2018

Being diligent...motive is key.

Being thoughtful, careful, diligent, obedient, disciplined etc are all good and important things in themselves, not bad.

Though "obedience" can be legalistic and in fact often is, it does not have to be nor is it necessarily (true love driven faithfulness/obedience is never legalistic).

The question is why are we diligent and obedient. What is our motive/reason for being diligent, careful and thoughtful etc? 

Motive is the only difference between true God honoring behavior and feigned legalistic "obedience." Otherwise on the surface we can't tell the difference; they can look exactly the same.

There can only be one of two reasons (motivations) for external obedience. Detecting the reason however, is not at all easy because we rarely know our own heart and the true motives behind our behavior. 

And what are those reasons? 

1.     To honor and bring attention to (glorify) God out of love and awe for him.
2.     To take care of myself. 

Everything we do, is done for one of these two reasons

Mixed motives

We complicate things however because our motives are mixed (being mixed doesn't mean there is a third motive, it simply means these two can be intertwined. They are still distinct nevertheless). Rarely do we do anything with a pure (singleness of) motive. The question is which motive is primary i.e. leads/predominates. 

Self interest, good or bad?

Plus desiring both things (God's honor and our best) in itself is not necessarily bad. It's ok and in fact normal for us to desire our best. Christ assumes self interest (not condemn it) when he tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves or care for (love) our wives as we care for our own body

In fact the appeal of all the promises of God is to our best interest. The promise of eternal life is made to who? To me, to myself i.e. a promise is a direct appeal to my self interest. I want life, not death and so do you. 

There is nothing wrong with our *wanting what is best for ourselves. Why would God appeal to it otherwise? It is no more wrong than it would be for God to want what's best for himself. Does God ever do anything that is ultimately against himself? It may appear so short term but never long-term.

Gods glory and our best are not at odds 

The issue is how is our best achieved. Is it the fruit of honoring God (which is legitimate) or the result of our **direct and independent pursuit of that best (which is not legitimate, since it involves trust in self as one's best provider instead of God who is; the only true provider and sustainer of all things)? 

The ***mystery of life (life as God originally designed it to be) is that pursuing and experiencing God, is in fact the best thing we can do for ourselves. 

Yet this is not the primary reason we are to pursue God. We pursue him simply because he's most glorious and worthy of our total pursuit. And because he is, our greatest joy is found in pursuing and knowing him. This is the "natural" (originally designed and intended) outcome of who God is and the way we are. To go contrary to this not only dishonors God, but is against us; our best interest and well being. 

To say it simply, desiring and pursuing God's highest glory is our greatest good and joy.


*For an engaging article by Kyle Strobel (Professor of Spiritual Formation at Talbot Seminary) on whether self love is valid or not click here

**If pursuing a specific objective is honoring to God then we can and are to pursue it with all the energy God gives us. In this instance this would be a direct pursuit of something but it is something that God has told us to pursue. And since it is, that direct pursuit is obedience to God and therefore also honoring to him. Some examples would be to "go and disciple all nations" or "love God with all our heart soul mind and strength." Faithful obedience/direct action is the only legitimate response to these directions.

***it is a mystery in the sense that it goes contrary to our fallen nature and therefore is not obvious, but mysterious to us in our present fallen condition. Who we were designed to be and who we presently are (due to our fallen state of rebellion) are contrary to each other.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

How can God love the unlovely?

First we must be lovable i.e. there must be something about us that God cherishes (loves) deeply. While at the same time, there is also something unlovely about us that God opposes. How can this be? How can there be both? 

What does he cherish?

First and foremost he cherishes himself, for he is the greatest, wisest, loveliest, most powerful and beautiful being in the universe. There is no one more glorious, significant or powerful.

And we are like God. And because we are, we are able to glory in and enjoy who he is and to reflect back to him and out to others his greatness in a way no other created being can. Our capacity to appreciate, enjoy and reflect the infinitely valuable God gives us value; makes us valuable. Valuable both to others as well as to God himself.

What does he oppose?

Anything that diminishes the recognition of God's great glory/value.

Why does he oppose this? Because everything is from, through and to him. For him or us to conduct ourselves otherwise not only dishonor's who he is but is also to our harm. For use to value anything above God most high (most valuable) is to be mislead and to mislead others; it is to live a lie. This ultimately leads to our destruction and the destruction of others.

So if both of these qualities (lovable and unlovely) are within us at the same time how does God reconcile these two opposite characteristics? How does he love the unlovely?

He removes the consequences of our unloveliness by putting it on himself in and through his own son Jesus. Once the consequences are removed, thanks to our rightful suffering being placed onto Jesus, he is able to now focus in on who we are as his image bearers with the capacity to receive and give love, honor and glory and reflect him out to others. In short to make us like his Son. In Christ, God is now for us, not against us. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

overcoming addiction

What enables those who are able, to successfully break away from an addiction?

Is it guilt and shame? That may play a roll short term. But if the change is to be long term it must go beyond guilt and shame.

Long term change occurs only if *3 things happen:

1. We realize the consequences of an addiction outweighs the benefits; that the rewards for discontinuing the addiction are greater then the ones gained by it.

This often takes time i.e. the pleasure of an addiction is usually immediate, whereas the benefits of turning away from it often don't appear right away but **over time. The longer one continues addiction free, the greater the benefits become. The short term benefits of the addiction are no longer as great as the long term benefits. 

2. We come to see/experience something more satisfying that overpowers our addictive desires (or severs it's pull) i.e. when we find something more desirable than what we are presently addicted to, it draws us to it instead of the former addiction. 

3. A desire to honor God because we understand how he has honored us. And how has he? By giving something of great value so that he might have a relationship with us. This says something very significant about our value to God, does it not? 

For more on what motivates us to obedience click here

For more on our worth to God, click here


*We may experience short term change if the first or second occur. The greatest chance for long term change involves all three. Plus number 3 never stops growing. The more we understand what God has done for us the greater our desire to honor him and less likely we are to fall into addictive behavior. 

**Or maybe not at all. Maybe only the confidence/trust that the eternal benefits far outweigh the temporary loses are what we must depend on to break away from addiction. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

the fight of faith

The following are some thoughts by Tyler David (italicized in " "), from a recent message he gave (to listen click here), with elaborations by me following. Tyler is one of several teaching elders/pastors in my church.

"One of the most conscious and consistent ways you can love God is by striving (battling/fighting) to live for his will more (rather) then our own." 

"The constant for the Christian is the fight against sin (unbelief)."

"Faith does not make you sinless it makes you fight." 

Some related thoughts:

I would add that faith is the fight i.e. fighting to trust or not truth God is at the heart of the battle. 

The essence of sin is distrust in God.

When do we choose relief/self comforting (some temporary gratification to ease our pain) over the fight against unbelief? When we stop believing that what we are fighting for is a greater/better/more rewarding pursuit then immediate relief from the pain of that pursuit. Denying ourselves immediate gratification (taking up our cross) is painful. That's why it's a cross. 

To say this another way, when we believe what we are getting through immediate gratification is better/greater then what we are giving up long term we stop our pursuit of God.

"You should never be discouraged because you *always are in the fight, you should be discouraged (concerned) if you wish to no longer engage in the fight."

*Always being in the fight of faith is a common experience of being broken [untrusting] and living in a broken (unbelieving/rebellious) world. Expect it, don't be surprised by it.

The problem with indulging in our natural human desires is they only give temporary satisfaction and always have negative repercussions; if not immediately, eventually or in eternity.

1Pe 2:21 "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps (i.e. suffer with him). 22 He committed no sin, (he never stopped [broke away from] trusting God in his suffering), neither was deceit found in his mouth." i.e. not only were his actions right but everything he said was true, not misleading e.g....

1Pe 2:23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but (rather/instead he) continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (Christ never stopped believing his Father's goodness and that his Father always did good and right by him in all he called him to do or allowed him to go through/ experience).

22 He committed no sin... i.e.  Jesus' thinking was I am going to trust the promises of God over the comforts/promises of sin even if that means suffering. Because Christ did this it enabled him to suffer well (endure) and not strike back at those who caused his pain i.e. Christ was long-suffering.

What is natural for you apart from God is actually contrary to what is best for you and according to God's design/will.

It is only natural because of our present state of rebellion...not because of our original design but rebellion to that design (and the Designer).

Our natural (fallen and broken) heart seeks to find life apart from God, when it's just not possible, simply because we are designed by God and for God and therefore can only find true meaning/fulfillment/ purpose in and through God. This is the only way, simply because it is the way we are made as bearers of Gods image..

That's not saying we can not find any meaning/fulfillment/purpose outside of God, just not lasting meaning/fulfillment/purpose and therefore not true meaning/fulfillment/ purpose i.e. whatever we do find is only temporary.

The immediate (comfort/relief/meaning) we are able to obtain seems to be true because it is what we are experiencing in the moment i.e. It is what seems most real only because it is what we are presently experiencing. Yet when the moment passes we find ourselves left still wanting and looking again, never truly or fully finding what we seek.

What comes natural to you and I leads to death. What seems most enjoyable and satisfying in the moment is usually what is most harmful/destructive long term.

What is actually best for us is contrary to what we naturally desire. This in itself is evidence of the power and deception of sin; our blindness and unbelief. That which brings us greatest relief in the moment is actually a means to our ultimate destruction.

Faith and trust in God is not what comes natural to us. Choosing God must be a conscious deliberate choice. A choice based on the promises of God. A choice that believes what God calls us to is better then what we are naturally inclined to. In our present fallen condition and without the Spirit of God revealing to us the beauty of God, we naturally distrust God.

We are so utterly blind to the love and goodness of God we choose to pursue that which results in our ultimate destruction instead of him who is life. The true nature of our condition is **we would not seek or pursue God at all if God did not reveal his beauty/loveliness to us.

And of course the opposite is true. What is often hardest and most painful, most faith demanding, is often what is best for us. Not short term, but long term; not in the moment but in eternity, where it matters most.

And this is where faith comes in. God tells us death to (or loss of) temporary pleasures ultimately increases our capacity and experience of life (God) in eternity.

So it all comes down to faith. What do we believe is best. Do we believe God and what he tells (promises) us is best or do we latch on to the immediate pleasure of sin believing it is best.

This was the choice presented to Adam and Eve in the beginning. They chose the latter, which we still follow to this very day.

The greatest source (generator/instiller) of trust in God's love for us and his desire for our good, is Jesus. If or when you are tempted to question the love and goodness of God, look at what Jesus did (and deliberately and willfully put himself through) to restore us back to our Father. Why would he do that? Why would he and the Father agree to do for us what we needed most and could never do for ourselves when we totally rejected him and the life he alone gives? WHY!!?? It is certainly not because God needed to or felt he had to to fix the mess he created (allowing man to make a choice to reject him, when he knew we would).

We would not truly be like God if we did not have our own understanding (ability to think/reason) and choice.

A most important prayer
God help me to see you more and more in all your beauty, goodness and love so that I might fall more in love with you and entrust myself more fully into your care so I might live more fully for your honor and glory.

Participating in God's love more fully

Often a main way God reveals himself more fully to us is in our acting by faith that he is exactly who he claims to be; God most beautiful, lovely and good even when we can't see it at the time.

Trusting God is exactly who he claims to be brings God honor and joy. Christ tells us if we are faithful in a little, we are given more.

Not just greater resources but greater responsibility. To him whom much is given much is required.

So when we step out in obedience by faith, we do so believing God is exactly who he claims to be, while also asking God to reveal who he is more fully.

We all must operate by faith

Everyone has a trust issue i.e. no one can operate without trusting someone or something. The reason is simple; we are not all knowing/wise or all powerful. We don't have all the information we need to know whether we are taking the best course of action and even if we did know, we don't have the ability (power) to act/execute according to that knowledge.

The way we handle this is by dismissing the reality that there is design in the world. This enables us to justify not living according to God's will/design. If there is design, there is a right and wrong way to operate i.e. we should operate according to how things are designed to operate (i.e. with God, the designer). If we do, we are in harmony with how things operate and if we don't, we are not i.e. doing things a certain way matters. To not be in harmony means we are in disharmony i.e. conflict, discord, friction etc. this leads to destruction; our crashing and burning so to speak.

We may despise the battle; this fight of faith, but love the fruit i.e. a closer union with God. If we find the best way to obtain the fruit is in and through the battle we must learn to love the battle as much as we love the fruit.

** whatever seeking or joy we find/experience in seeking God is only because God has awakened our heart by his love.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cultural vs grace driven Christians

Broadly speaking there are two kinds of "Christianity" in *America:

1.     Cultural Christianity
2.     Grace driven Christians

The first is more a world view. The second is a status or state of being, if you will. 

A. Cultural Christianity recognizes certain fundamentals truths of the Christian faith. The most basic and common elements are...

·         Man has the capacity for good but is naturally inclined toward bad i.e. corrupt by nature.
·         There are moral absolutes i.e. there is right and wrong and it doesn’t change.
·         Man should be and will be held accountable for his choices and actions if not in this life, the next.

These are also very important and distinct from a none Christian world view which generally asserts or assumes

·         Man is basically good and corrupted by his environment (vs from within).
·         Morality is relative and subjective. What is right for you is not necessarily right for me or others.
·         This life is all there is so make the most of it. 

The fundamental differences of cultural Christianity are very significant when compared to a non Christian world view. As a result, how a cultural Christian approaches life is very different compared to a non believer. So holding these views is not insignificant. 

B. Grace driven Christianity is rooted in the good news that God did all that was needed to restore us to himself simply because we were not able to. It agrees with and holds to the same fundamental truths as the Cultural Christian but goes beyond these i.e. these cultural aspects will be a key part of a grace driven Christian's world view but is not the essence of what drives or defines them. 

This distinction is important for two reasons:

1.     Non Christians do not understand the difference and therefore lump these two into the same group. Why does this matter? Many attitudes and approaches to various cultural issues can be very ***different between cultural and grace driven Christians. As a result grace driven Christians are attributed certain outlooks the cultural Christian hold that they don’t necessarily agree with.

2.     Those who adhere only to cultural Christianity usually do not necessarily understand or agree with the message of grace and may in fact be Christian only culturally (the first 3 bullet points above) in how they view the world and are not in fact followers of Jesus as the bible defines it i.e. they may not be true believers.

So the differences are not immediately apparent on the surface to a none believer (or even necessarily for those who claim to be Christians). It’s not until you look “under the hood” that you see the difference of what drives these superficially similar yet very different flavors of Christianity. 

So is cultural Christianity truly Christian? Yes, in so far as it adheres to these fundamental principles but no in so far as ones standing before God as his child is based on God’s work, not our work or views. To say it another way, their views my be aligned with the bible and in that sense Christian, but this alone does not make one a Christian as defined by scripture. The bible is clear that one’s standing before God is based on the good news of grace (the work of Christ on our behalf) and accepting it’s offer, not in only adhering to a certain world view or moral standards. 

For a grace driven Christian these same world views are also held on to but are the fruit of their relationship to God, not the cause of it. It is only by grace we are saved. 

*and elsewhere though this appears to be more common in the western church and particularly in America

** there can be some blending of world views between cultural Christians and non believers but generally if someone adheres to one of the distinguishing fundamentals of their particular world view, they tend to adhere to all of them i.e. they all tend to hang together or not at all

*** "Cultural Christians" tend to be more rigid and unyielding in their approach to life.  Their emphasis is more about being right then caring. Grace driven Christians tend to be more patient, understanding and loving. They understand the key essence of how we live is based on loving God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves i.e. love is the focus.  Of course there are always exceptions

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

avoiding guilt and shame

Why do we avoid experiencing guilt and shame (i.e. acknowledging our shortcomings) with such great determination and energy? Because guilt and shame is crippling i.e. It makes us feel worthless. 

This goes against everything in us. We are not designed to feel worthless but are hard wired to experience greatness/glory (For more discussion in this see the links below).

It doesn't take much 

Guilt and shame is right below the surface of our feelings and easily exposed/surfaced with the slightest provocation. We are walking guilt and shame time bombs with a hairpin trigger. We see evidence of this with some of the items listed below. 

How do we avoid (or respond to) feelings of guilt and shame? Our options:

·         Lash out at those who cause them (play the victim...common today)
·         Avoid those who cause them (find a "safe space" which can be lonely since none of us are perfect).
·         Pretend they really don't exist i.e. It's all in our head.
·         Recognize and experience the removal of actual guilt and shame (not just the feelings) through the sacrificial death of Christ on our behalf (the only permanent and real solution).

For a further discussion of the cause and removal of guilt and shame click here.

For a discussion on the futility of indulging in guilt and shame click here and here.

For a discussion on our being designed for greatness/glory click here and here

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

socialism or capitalism?

The limits of Socialism:

Socialism does not work without production/productivity i.e. you cannot give away what you do not have. Distribution (socialism/communism) of goods or services cannot occur without something to distribute. This requires productivity first. Socialists themselves admit a productive economic system (i.e. capitalism) must be in place first before socialism (redistribution) can be implemented.

In order for productivity to occur, several things must take place. For example in the production of bread, someone must plant, grow and harvest the grain, grind it, bag it, mix it, cut the wood and heat the stove to bake it, pick up and deliver the bread, put it on the shelf for sale, have a place (a store) with shelves to put it on display for customers to see and buy it. The store must also be a pleasant place to visit if you are to see the maximum patronage (or another store might offer a better buying experience and you lose customers) etc etc etc. There are many levels of effort/labor that go into the final product reaching the consumer. 

Giving away resources to others cannot occur without acquiring (gathering), utilizing and processing raw materials (and of course raw materials must be available to process). This is why it's often described as a redistribution of wealth. It's taking energy/resources/wealth from somewhere and transferring it somewhere else...somewhere different from the origin of the energy that produced those resources. 

Since pure socialism/communism redistributes instead of actually produces, it is parasitical in nature and design. It can not perpetuate itself i.e. it must have a "source" (host) to draw resources from in order to distribute those resources. If it incorporates productivity, it is not pure socialism by definition. Why? Because productivity (capitalism if you will) is considered exploitation in a pure socialist or communist model. 

The challenges of Capitalism:

Productivity (capitalism) on the other hand, can result (and often does but not necessarily) in either abuse of resources, or abuse of others in acquiring them. The is not true capitalism but rather the exploitation of it. This is also referred to as crony capitalism, which is what we typically see today. This corrupted form of capitalism leads to selfish consumption and hoarding instead of sharing/charity. Productivity combined with charity is actually the model promoted in the Bible. What I prefer to call free market productivity and exchange. 

This corruption of true productivity however does not negate the necessity of production proceeding distribution. Though capitalism addresses the problem inherent in socialism (having goods/resources to distribute) it poses it's own set of problems. 

Socialism and Capitalism are both right and wrong

The solution however isn't to oppose or shut down productivity/capitalism (the goose that lays the golden egg if you will) but to reassess charity (what is the most God honoring way to use those "golden eggs" he provides through our *productivity).

When productivity is only about personal/private consumption and does not take into consideration the importance of charity (benefiting others) it is not honoring to God. The principle in scripture is to freely give what we have freely received. Fundamental to charity is recognizing our ability to generate surplus (wealth) is a gift

Deu 8:17  Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' 18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.  19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 

And since it is a gift we must heed the wishes of the Giver i.e. the source of life and all things. Who gave us our resources and why did he give them? Certainly at least to take care of others he has put under our care. But what about those who are not directly tied to us or dependent on us? God calls us to give as we have received. To not do so is to violate the very person and nature of God himself who is the overflowing, giving, sacrificial God of love who is always pouring out his goodness on others. To do so aligns us with the greatest commandment to love our neighbor as our self. 

One of the most well-known statements made by Christ is, "...God so loved the world he gave…"  Jn 3:16

So the problem isn't being productive, it is being selfish. We are encouraging to be good stewards of the resource God gives us i.e. to use them as God directs. To put them to good use. Christ also said, "he who is faithful with a little is given more."

We can not assume (or condemn) those who seek to be productive do so solely for *personal consumption. That is definitely our tendency, but not necessarily the only motive or even the primary motive simply by virtue of someone being productive or having the desire to be productive. 

Institutional redistribution vs personal giving

Forced distribution is not the same thing as cheerful giving. An issue with socialism is it is "charity" at the end of the barrel of a gun, which is not true charity at all. This shuts down free association and free giving i.e. freely loving your neighbor. 

Redistribution of wealth is institutionalized "charity" versus individual or private giving/charity. It is using the power of the state to enforce "charity" which actually means it is no longer true charity. Some may not consider this as important as long as the person in need is cared for. But if dignity of the giver (as well as the receiver) is to be honored and maintained, both must freely participate. 

Difference in generations

How socialism is viewed has changed over the years. Many in the younger generations have little concept of lack that the generation before the Boomer generation experienced. The Boomer generation were closer to parents or grandparents who escaped communist or fascist oppression to seek life in "the land of the free and home of the brave." This was a major part of the "American Dream." Unfortunately over time, much of the material elements of that dream became more important than the familial elements to the point that with the Boomer generation both mom and dad worked and abandoned their kids to daycare, exhaustion and the like. This naturally produced a backlash. Kids born to the Boomers and even more so kids of Boomers rebelled to consumerism and saw the damage it was doing to family and the environment. Hence the rise of Bernie, socialism and environmentalism. In short the differences between generations is not that one generation is "dumb" and the other is not (as is often asserted by both sides of this debate). It's that the generations have a different value system, shaped by their individual experiences i.e. they value things that the other generation no longer value. 

The solution:

Since there must be resources (and the gathering, engineering and production of goods and services needed) before distribution can be made, pure socialism/communism can not work alone (some would argue socialism is the marriage of communism and capitalism). 

Since self preservation is bound up in the hearts of our fallen nature (resulting in not having a sense of or recognizing accountability to their Creator), focus on productivity alone will automatically lead to personal consumption and hoarding. 

So do we force those who are productive to share their resources with those who are less able to produce. OR do we encourage charity and seek to help man understand that all things are gifts from God and God gives to us in part, so we might in turn give to others. 

The latter is God's design i.e. to give because we have received. This is not something that government can or should implement. Government has proven to not be the best means of implementing charity. The same falleness that keeps private citizens from properly loving their fellowman also infects those in public life i.e. government. And in some ways even more so. As the saying goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

Caring for others is the role of the people who trust God and believe they will be held accountable for how they acquire and use all the things God entrusted to them. 

Even if one rejects God, most agree in the golden to others as you would have them do to you. 

The bottom line? 

Due to humanities natural (though fallen) inclination to take care of "number one" (self), there will never be complete utopia in this life (the goal of all economic systems).

This does not mean we should abandon loving others as we were designed to. However the only way we can be who God designed us to be is when we are fully connected to God, the source of life, love and all things i.e. The solution to the socialist/capitalist question isn't imposing or enforcing a particular economic model but is our being fully connected and aligned with God himself.

The solution is spiritual, not political or economic.
It is in first knowing God and then making him known; not just in word but in deed.

*We are clearly instructed in many places within the bible to be "fruitful." Most of these verses address spiritual fruit. However spiritual fruit translates into actions that often produce material fruit. In fact any action that produces material fruit should be driven spiritually i.e. by the Spirit.

For several posts addressing operating in the Spirit click here.

**There is nothing wrong with personal consumption by the way. Pursuit that is solely driven by personal (as well as excessive) consumption is our challenge, not simply consumption in itself. If we do not consume vital resources (water, food, shelter etc) we die.