Tag Archive for human nature

Overcoming the World: Part 3–Living by the Spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against these things!  Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

 

I am a very task-oriented person.  I am all about the to-do lists.  I get pleasure when I check something off, and I get stressed when I get to the end of the day, and there’s still 12 more things on my list that I didn’t get to.

 

Because of this, I have a tendency to turn almost every facet of my life into a sort of mental to-do list.  Everything feels like a competition or a performance to me, in which I will emerge as either a winner or a loser.

 

Most of life really isn’t supposed to be that way, though.  I am learning that it’s actually OK to simply live life as it comes and to appreciate moments as they’re happening.  I am learning that it’s more important to start each day with gratitude than to finish it with a gold medal.

 

So what is it about us that we keep wanting to go back to the things that we know didn’t work the first time?  Are we just addicted to futility?  Or is this just part of the natural state of being human?

 

I think that the problem lies in our tendency to define ourselves by what we do or by what we fail to do.  If I win, then I am a winner, but if I lose, then I am a loser.  Nobody wants to be a loser though, so we do everything we can to win at life.  And if we find we can not win, then we start doing things that are truly ridiculous.

 

Some people try to downplay life’s natural consequences by attempting to eliminate the concept of winning and losing, a concept that I call the “participation trophy” mentality.  You’re a winner just for showing up!  And if you didn’t even show up, we’ll try to find an excuse for you, so that you won’t lose.  After all, you deserve to win!

 

Then there are the “glory days” people (I tend to fall into this category).  These are the people who used to be the best at something, but then they either went somewhere else where there were other people that were better, or maybe they just got old and weren’t as good as they used to be.  If a person like this is focused on the winning, and he isn’t winning anymore, bitterness takes over in a hurry.

 

A person in this kind of a rut can’t let go of the past, can’t be happy for anyone else who wins in the present, and is bleak about the future that he sees for himself filled with nothing but losing.  Because if you lose, then you’re a loser.  But you can’t be a loser, because you used to win.  But now other people are winning, and keeping you from the victory that is rightfully yours.  So if you can’t beat them, then you have to tear them down, so that you can be on top again.

 

Both of these misguided worldviews lead to the same error—trying to put everybody else on earth at the same level so that we can feel good about ourselves, either by having no distinction of greatness, or by declaring ourselves great by attrition.  Both of these philosophies fail, because they are both built on the foundation of defining our worth by what we do, rather than who we are.

 

God gave us a better way to live.  In the Bible, Paul calls it “living by the Spirit.”  This is a churchy way of saying “getting out of your own way and letting God do His work through you.”  Living by the Spirit isn’t about checking things off of a religious checklist.  It is more about being aware of God’s influence in our lives, and allowing ourselves to be led away from our own plans and deeper into His.

 

Notice in the verse at the beginning that it is the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit in our lives, not us.  We don’t overcome the world by accomplishing all nine of those things on our own.  Rather, when we yield to God’s leading in our lives, these fruits are the natural result of the change that He works within us.

 

 

(So what does that look like?  Come back for Part 4—Keeping in Step.)

 

 

 

 

 

Overcoming the World: Part 1–Peace

I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you have oppression; but cheer up!  I have overcome the world.  John 16:33 (WEB)

 

Ever have a day where it seems like the world is just coming down on you and everything seems hopeless?  Ever have about five months in a row like that?  I did.  That’s why you haven’t heard from me in a while.

 

It isn’t that anything traumatic happened in my life in this stretch of time.  I just ran into an extended dry spell where my faith wasn’t keeping up with my circumstances.  Election years in general do that to me, and this has been the worst one ever.

 

In times like these, we Truthseekers need to get a grip on ourselves (and each other) and simply remember just Who it is that’s really running the show, whether or not we are aware of it.

 

God’s goal is never to confound us, but to bring us peace.  Another way to word that would be “confidence.”  He wants us to rest assured that He is not only bigger than whatever comes our way, but that our circumstances are all a part of his plan.

 

There are so many ways that we can learn from adversity.  Sometimes it’s a course correction if we are going a way that we should not be.  Sometimes it’s to find out that we are really stronger than we thought we were.  But sometimes it’s the opposite of that.  Sometimes God allows us to walk through difficult seasons as a means to get us to STOP relying on our own strength and to rely on His instead.

 

That sure sounds like the right thing to say from a spiritual standpoint, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when you’re going through it, does it?  I really admire people who hold unswervingly to their faith when going through things like extended illnesses or financial hardships.  I am one who wants things fixed, and fixed NOW, so I can get on with my life.  Trials and tribulations are an obstacle to my plans.

 

If you think this way, as I often do, that’s the indicator that you’re getting off track.  Because if you’re most concerned about your own plans, then you’re not in submission to God.  He knows what’s best for us, and more importantly, He knows what’s coming next.

 

Maybe it’s just part of being American, but I can get so bent out of shape over my first-world inconveniences.  I can count the major trials I have had in my life on one hand.  They are significant, but they are not a daily occurrence.  We get so spoiled in this country that we forget all too easily that troubles are a normal part of a normal life.

 

The world can be frustrating.  The people in it can be REALLY frustrating.  However, it is pointless to allow ourselves to be mastered by our frustration.  There will be things in this world that we can not conquer, but Jesus has already conquered everything that ultimately matters.

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 4–(Un)answered Prayers

All prayers are answered.  Sometimes the answer is, “No.”—Bono

 

 

One of the pitfalls of the Christian life is how easy it is to backslide from “highly favored child of God” to “spoiled brat.”

 

We have seasons of life where everything seems to be going our way, and we give God the glory for that.  But then life throws us a curveball, and the whining starts.

 

“Why isn’t God answering my prayer?  He said He’d give me anything I ask for.  Haven’t I been ‘doing it right’?”

 

The truth is that God does answer prayer, but not always in the way that we expect.

 

Sometimes we get excited and run up ahead when He needs us to hold back and notice something He wants to show us.  Sometimes selfishness creeps in and the “desires of our hearts” become more like the cravings of our appetites.  And sometimes, we simply don’t recognize the answer for what it is when it comes.

 

God is not a vending machine or an ATM.  We exist to serve Him, not the other way around.  For this reason, the point of prayer isn’t primarily to address our own needs.  Jesus explained it this way:

 Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them.  Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants.  Then all your other needs will be met as well.  (Matthew 6:31-33 NCV)

Prayer is your Out box.  When you put something in your Out box at work, do you pull it back and put it in your In box again?  No, you put it in the Out box because you are finished with it.

 

Whatever it is that you are praying for, God has a plan for it.  It may not be the plan you would have scripted for yourself, but think for a minute.  Who’s smarter, you or God?  Don’t you think it might be possible that Father knows best?

 

There’s more to it than that though.  Logic alone will tell you that God is bigger, more powerful and more able to meet your needs.  The question is, “Do you TRUST Him to do that?”  Do you believe that He not only knows what’s best for you, but that He WANTS what’s best for you?

 

How you answer that question will determine how you respond to His answers.  If you really believe that God’s way will lead to a better result than anything you could have come up with, then it becomes a lot easier to roll with the changes when they do come.

 

(But what happens if we don’t?  Come back for Part 5—Unstable)

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 2–Ask, Seek and Knock

Ask, and you will be given what you ask for.  Seek, and you will find.  Knock, and the door will be opened.  (Matt 7:7 TLB)

 

Sometimes, that seems too good to be true.  God really gives us anything we ask for?

 

If that were the case, then it would be all too easy for us to make selfish requests of Him.  Just as James and John asked to sit at Jesus’ left and right hand, it seems logical that being tapped into the greatest power source in the universe could make us a tad greedy and ambitious.

 

So why does Jesus tell us to ask then?

 

If you think about it, when do we ask anyone for anything?  It’s when the one we are asking either has or can get something we want but don’t have.  When Jesus tells us to ask, He is simply giving us permission to do so.

 

Along with asking, Jesus tells us to seek.  He tells us this to let us know that God not only can be found, but He WANTS to be found.

 

For this reason, Jesus also tells us to knock, not just once, but persistently and insistently.  Jesus is basically giving us carte blanche to be a pest in seeking out God and petitioning Him with our requests.

 

He is telling us that we aren’t going to wear God out or bore Him to death by bothering Him with our concerns.  This is because God wants us to see Him as someone that we can approach.

 

But really. . .ANYTHING we ask for?

 

It is clear from the context that it isn’t so much the substance of our entreaties to the Lord as our motivation for asking that is more significant.

 

Remember, we are not God’s spoiled brats, but His adopted children.  He chose us for His family, but we also had to choose Him as our Father.

 

The very nature of the relationship that Christians have with God is one of complete submission.  We ask of Him because He has not only the power and authority but also the WILL to give us what we ask.

 

However, the more we are in submission to God, the less likely we are to ask for something selfishly.  If our primary motivation is to please Him, then we would be more likely to ask for the kinds of things that He would want us to have.

 

(So what kinds of things are those?  Come back for Part 3—The Desires of our Hearts.)

 

DN=: Part 16–Hypocrisy

 

 

I find it interesting that the Greek origin of the word “hypocrisy” comes from the theatre.  You may know that ancient Greek plays were performed by actors wearing masks.  These actors were called hypocrites, not because of any character deficiency, but because they were literally “pretending under a mask.”

 

This meaning makes sense when you think about people whom you may have considered guilty of hypocrisy.  What they are doing is showing the world one face, their “mask,” while pretending to be something they are not.  One of these masks is self-righteousness.

 

 Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but not notice the log in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when you have the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite!  First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother’s eye!  (Matthew 7:3-5 CJB)

 

Jesus’ warning against hypocrisy from the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most humbling passages in scripture.  However, as is so often the case when people use the Bible as a defense mechanism, many of us want to put a period where God put a comma (or in the case of the translation used here, a semicolon).

 

Notice that Jesus did NOT say, “You hypocrite!  First, take the log out of your own eye” PERIOD!  There is a “then” after the “first” and a “so that” after the “then.”  The purpose of taking the log out of your own eye is to clear your vision.  And the purpose of clear vision is to successfully complete the task of helping get the splinter out of your brother’s eye.

 

Jesus is clear in noting that the fault does not lie with the person giving correction, but with the spirit in which it is given, namely that people with issues of their own ought to address those before pointing out someone else’s.

 

Nowhere in the passage above does it say that it is OK to have a splinter in your eye.  It also does not state that one must be perfect to remove a splinter.  After all, no human was ever perfect besides Jesus.  And since He is clearly advocating the removal of splinters from eyes by people who are less than perfect, it should be equally clear that imperfect people, under the right conditions, are qualified to remove eye splinters.

 

IMPERFECTION DN= HYPOCRISY

 

Have you ever tried to be perfect or maybe felt that you wouldn’t measure up if you were anything less than perfect?  It’s stressful, isn’t it?

 

Many Christians fall into this performance trap.  Sometimes we get the impression that in order to be worthy bearers of the name of Christ, we can’t slip up, lest the onlooking world should accuse us of hypocrisy.

 

I would like to do my part in helping break this cycle by saying that it’s actually a good thing for the world to see us fail.  It doesn’t seem so at first, when we are enduring the taunting, the ridiculing and the finger pointing, but when the dust settles, we have a unique opportunity.

 

We have the chance to publicly demonstrate personal responsibility by swallowing our pride and owning our fail as well as the consequences thereof.

 

In other words, we can take off our masks and show the world what’s underneath.

 

He turned now to his disciples and warned them, “More than anything else, beware of these Pharisees and the way they pretend to be good when they aren’t.  But such hypocrisy cannot be hidden forever.  (Luke 12:1b TLB)

 

The few of you who have stuck with me during the LONG pauses between posts in this series may have wondered what the delay was all about.

 

I knew that I was going to be closing out my series exposing the hypocrisy of the “=” movement by talking about hypocrisy itself and how those who bring that charge the most strenuously seem to be the guiltiest of it themselves.

 

Then I looked in the mirror one day and saw the log.  So I’ve been spending the past several weeks trying to figure out what to do with this log in my eye.

 

You see, the thing is, I’m a wanderer.  I guess we all are, because we are all susceptible to sin in general and the sin of pride in particular, but I’ve been doing quite a bit of wandering lately.  I can totally relate to what Paul was feeling when he wrote this to the Romans:

 

 I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I do what I don’t want to—what I hate.  I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can’t help myself because I’m no longer doing it.  It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things.

I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned.  No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right.  I want to but I can’t.  When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.  Now if I am doing what I don’t want to, it is plain where the trouble is: sin still has me in its evil grasp.

 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned;  but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  In my mind, I want to be God’s willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin.

So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin.  Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in!  Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature?  (Romans 7:15-25 TLB)

 

I think at some level I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to finish this without dislodging my log.

 

But then I considered the question that ends the passage above.  Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature?  Well, duh.  Jesus already did.  I’m still working on my wood-vision, but at least I’m aware of it.  The fact that I want the log out of my eye is the evidence that it is possible.  Especially when I consider the alternative:

 

If anyone sins deliberately by rejecting the Savior after knowing the truth of forgiveness, this sin is not covered by Christ’s death; there is no way to get rid of it.  There will be nothing to look forward to but the terrible punishment of God’s awful anger, which will consume all his enemies.  (Hebrews 10:26-27 TLB)

 

The unfortunate fact that I am prone to wander from the Truth does not make the Truth any less true.  Therefore, it is not hypocrisy for an imperfect messenger to deliver a perfect message to someone that would benefit from it.

 

For these reason, I will press on, and continue doing what I have been called to do.

 

Because falling down DN= falling away.

 

DN=: Part 14–Equal Opportunity

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .

(Declaration of Independence)

 

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. 

(George Orwell—Animal Farm)

 

“Equal opportunity” is another way of saying that everyone has the same chance to succeed or fail.

 

However, instead of designating an equal chance at success or failure, “equal opportunity” has become synonymous in our culture with entitlement.  Success is now assumed, and if a person does not succeed, well then that person has been denied “equal opportunity.”

 

But if equal opportunity in the true sense means the same as fair play and justice, then it would make sense that everyone already HAS equal opportunity.  If justice is universal, then so is opportunity.

 

Oh, but wait a minute.  Justice also means getting what we deserve.  So we have equal opportunity to make our own choices, but we also have equal responsibility to own the consequences of those choices.  Sometimes, those consequences are not favorable.

 

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY DN= EQUAL RESULTS

 

 

So it should be plain by now that the “=”movement is not really about equal opportunity at all.  What the “=” community is really after is a life and a world that is free from consequences.

 

The irony is that if the “=” community actually got what it wanted, then it would be UN-equal, since having freedom from consequences would set it apart from the justice that everyone else would receive from making the wrong choice.

 

“=” DN= EQUAL

 

Let me pause for a moment here, because I know a lot of you are wondering: “Why does he keep saying ‘the “=” community,’ when he’s obviously talking about the LGBT community?”

 

The answer is that gay marriage isn’t the real issue here.  Sure, the media and our politicians would like to make it the issue, but in the big picture, it all comes back to a problem that plagues everyone, gay or straight—self-righteousness.

 

Paul makes it clear in his letter to the Romans that homosexuality is not the disease, but merely one of many symptoms:

 

What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives.  They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life.

Worse followed.  Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either—women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men.  Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love.  And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.

Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose.  And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing.  They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating.  Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers.  Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags!  They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives.  They ditch their parents when they get in the way.  Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded.  And it’s not as if they don’t know better.  They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face.  And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!  (Romans 1:21-22, 26-32 The Message)

 

Now that sounds awfully harsh, particularly in the Message paraphrase, but can you deny the reality of that in 21st-century America?

 

One of the saddest things that I have yet seen is when churches water down or discard this message.  It is not a church’s job to provide a safe place for sinners of any kind to come together and “be who they are.”  A church’s function is to bring people together to find out who they are in Christ.

 

Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.  (Galatians 3:28 CEV)

 

That’s right.  The Truth is that we all have an equal opportunity to be equal in Christ.  We have always had it and always will.

 

Sounds simple enough, but ah, there’s that pride thing getting in the way again.  The problem with this simple solution is that it involves surrendering your will, and it is not in our nature to want to do that.

 

So what is left then for those whose pride prevents them from humbling themselves before God and admitting their failure?

 

They find someone else to attack.

 

Christians.

 

Since there is no Truth or common sense in their argument, based as it is upon their own self-righteousness, then the only avenue left to them is to tear down Truthseekers in order to maintain their perception of superiority.

 

And since PC code words are their forte, they have come up with the ultimate man-made nonsense word.

 

(And for that, you’ll have to come back for Part 15)

 

DN=: Part 6–Judgment

 

Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

 You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.

 You’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, God’s fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you—Real Life for those who work on God’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!

 If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Jew won’t give you an automatic stamp of approval. God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.

 If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

Romans 2: 1-13 The Message

Sorry for the long quote there, but I wanted to point out two phrases in the very same passage: “Judgmental criticism” and “righteous judgment.”  Both phrases have forms of the word “judge” in them, but they are very different.

 

It should be clear from the context that righteous judgment belongs to God alone, for God alone is righteous by nature.  Because of His unattainable righteousness and holiness, He alone has the authority to judge in the sense of meting out justice for our sin.

 

As we have talked about in Part 3, righteous DN= self-righteous.  The only way that a person could attempt to judge another’s destiny would be from a position of self-righteousness.

 

But as we have also discussed, self-righteousness is unrighteousness.  How then can the unrighteous judge anyone?  Indeed, they have already been judged themselves, not only for the sins they themselves have committed, but by the greater sin of attempting to push God out of the Judgment Seat which is rightfully His.

 

This is the difference between judgment and being judgmental—it’s all about who is passing the judgment.  God is qualified and has the authority to judge sin.  We aren’t, and we don’t.

 

EXERCISING JUDGMENT DN= BEING JUDGMENTAL

 

Although self-righteous, judgmental criticism is a problem for all people, the distinction between God’s judgment and man’s judgmentalism is relatively clear.

 

What is not as clear as it needs to be, however, is the difference between judgmentalism and exercising sound judgment.

 

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion. Proverbs 3:21 NIV

 

One of the complications of the English language is words with multiple meanings.  “Judgment” is one of those.

 

God will sit in judgment of us all; therefore, we should not stand in judgment of one another.  Yet we are to preserve sound judgment?  How does that work?

 

It’s really not that difficult when you stop to think about it.  If your judgment is toward a person and stems from motives of criticism and self-righteousness, then you are being judgmental.  This is the bad one.

 

However, if your judgment is focused toward an action or situation, and is based upon wisdom, common sense or sound reasoning, then this is the good kind.

 

Where the problems arise, is when a spirit of offense prevents the person being judged from distinguishing between the two.

 

If someone attempts to shame you for your sin, make you feel like a bad person, tells you you’re going to Hell, calls you a name, places a group label on you, or blames you for something for which you are not directly responsible because of your association with that group, then that person is being judgmental, and your offense is justified.

 

If, however, the other person is attempting to help you correct your behavior respectfully, sharing from his or her own experience a bad result from their having done something similar, calling you by your own name, looking you in the eye, emphasizing the solution instead of the problem, but most importantly, is focusing on the behavior without attempting to analyze your motives or your character. . .then you need to work past the emotional reaction of offense and listen to what you are being told.

 

Chances are this person knows something you don’t.  And they are exercising sound judgment, without being judgmental, by telling you that.

 

(Coming up next, STORYTIME! Going to do something a little different for Part 7–Hatred.)

 

DN=: Part 5–Discrimination

 

 

Discernment is the divine enablement to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong.  A person with this gift can differentiate pure from impure motives, identify deception in others, determine authenticity of messages from God, recognize false teaching and sense the presence of evil.  (Paraphrased from “Network” by Bruce Bugbee and Don Cousins.)

 

In other words, discernment is God’s B.S. detector.

 

Have you ever known someone who saw something fake or sinister in a person’s character before anyone else did, and was later proven right?  Have you ever had a friend who told you what you were thinking when you couldn’t even explain it yourself?  This is discernment at work.

(Remember back at the beginning of this series when I talked about people talking in code?  I didn’t forget about that.  From here on out, we’re going to defuse political correctness one code-bomb at a time.)

 

Another word with a meaning similar to discernment, in the literal sense of having the ability to distinguish differences, is discrimination.

 

While discernment is a spiritual gift, given by God to whomever He chooses, discrimination is a natural skill that can be learned and developed by anybody through careful observation and judicious contemplation.

 

It would seem, then, that discrimination should actually be a positive thing, since being UN-able to recognize differences would be a sign of a lack of intelligence or observance.

 

Nevertheless, this word has gradually become associated with “bigotry,” even though those two words really aren’t connected.

 

 DISCRIMINATION DN= BIGOTRY

 

There’s a big difference between distinguishing the differences in people and treating people differently.  Paul wrote:

 

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. (Galatians 3:28 The Message)

 

And also:


[In this new creation all distinctions vanish.] There is no room for and there can be neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, [nor difference between nations whether alien] barbarians or Scythians [who are the most savage of all], nor slave or free man; but Christ is all and in all, everything and everywhere, to all men, without distinction of person]. (Colossians 3:11 Amplified)

 

In making these statements, Paul is instructing these early churches that although the Church is made up of all kinds of different people from different backgrounds, it is much more significant that Christ is our common ground.  Being the original Truthseeker, Paul discriminates by noting the differences, but does not show favoritism, because Christ does not show favoritism.

 

Looking at it this way, we can clearly see that bigotry is defined by emphasizing differences with the motive of boosting one’s own status over that of another based solely upon those differences.  Bigotry may START with discrimination, but it ends somewhere else entirely.

 

So how do you know when you’ve crossed the line?  In a word—labels.

 

Whenever you refer to another person with a label instead of their name, that’s a pretty clear sign that you are crossing over to the dark side of discrimination, because you are now seeing that person not as an individual, but as part of a subset of humanity, most likely one to which you do not belong yourself.

 

Once you have identified the difference and affixed a label to it, the emphasis of that difference comes naturally.  From there, it’s a very short walk to bigotry, simply because our human nature is to justify ourselves, and the easiest way to do that is to lower our view of others.  Labels just streamline that process.

 

So how does discernment fit into this?

 

From the definitions we have already discussed, discernment is essentially God-level discrimination.  But since we have already seen that God sees all of His followers as equal in Christ, then it should be obvious that the purpose of discernment is not to enable bigotry by labeling humans and dividing them into groups.

 

Discernment is not about judging character or outward appearances, but rather motives and the behavior that arises from them.  Which leads me to my next DN=.

 

(After vacation, I will return with Part 6–Judgment)

 

Doubt: Part 10–Religion

 

 

 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  19 You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:14-19, 26 NIV)

 

 

Even though I believed in God on that day in 1989, I had programmed myself for too long to be independent.  It was all I knew how to do.  The feeling of God’s peace, love, warmth and comfort only lasted a minute that day.  Obviously, I have never forgotten it, but a seed planted takes time to grow, longer if you don’t water it.  I didn’t.

 

Instead, I pushed forward, finished college, and entered the work force.  Full steam ahead, stick to the script.  Living the American Dream by golly!

 

Except my American Dream was a nightmare.  After failing at my first three jobs, I tried to start my own business instead, because obviously, the problem was them not me.

 

Then an interesting thing happened.

 

Many of my business contacts were Christians.  Not the robotic, going-through-the-motions churchgoers that I had observed growing up—these people lived differently, and they were like that all the time.

 

They reminded me that I really needed my Daddy, the one that my second-grade Sunday school teacher had tried so clumsily to tell me about.  Except this time, it felt genuine.

 

I heard miraculous testimonies and saw people living lives that I could not explain, except by one thing—remembering that October afternoon at the cemetery.  I had already been forced to acknowledge that God was real, but this was something new.

God was Abba, my Daddy, and he actually cared about me.  He wanted to protect me from harm, and he wanted me to lead my family.  And my spiritual maturity took a big leap forward.  But this is still not the happy ending.

 

You see, at this point I am in my mid-20s physically, but still a child spiritually.  I am cracking a Bible for the first time.  I don’t know anything about salvation except for the fact that it’s Jesus’ job.  I am going to church with my family now, and have us all baptized into the same religion, but I am still running the program of everything-depends-on-me.  I know there is a God and I know that He cares, and I am grateful for this, but I have still not acknowledged my dependence.

 

Sometimes when we won’t let go of our pride, God will use circumstances to knock us down to the point where the only place to look and move is upward.

 

Eight years later, my marriage failed.  I was going to church every week and was active in music ministry, but it was still just religion.

 

And all religion is is a churched-up way of repeating the same old pattern of trying to meet our own needs through our own efforts.

 

Sure, we wrap it all up in God-speak, but Jesus already called our bluff 2,000 years ago when He said to the Pharisees:

 

 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”  Mark 7:6-7, (quoting Isaiah 29:13) NIV

 

(To be concluded in Part 11–The Death of Doubt)

 

Deliverance

 

 

No, not THAT kind of Deliverance!
 

 

 

(Yeah, that’s more like it.)

 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation that seemed hopeless?  Did you pray to God for deliverance?  I have found myself in that place on numerous occasions.

 

God always answers prayers for deliverance, but sometimes it’s not the answer we were expecting.  We have a tendency to treat God like an ATM—swipe our prayer card, and out come the blessings.

 

But sometimes the answer is “no.”  And sometimes it’s “not yet.”  And sometimes, it’s “Yes, but not the way you’re thinking.”

 

God wants us to live life to the full; however, He is always more interested in our holiness than our happiness.  We would love for our deliverance from trials and tribulations to be as quick and painless as possible.

 

But more often than not, God’s plan is to deliver us through the trial, rather than from it.  And painless isn’t always part of the plan.  In fact, sometimes the pain is the plan.

 

The trials we undergo may seem like the end of the world while they’re happening, and yet, we always come out the other side, maybe not totally unscathed, but still standing nonetheless.  We may have some scar tissue, but we also frequently have a sense of liberation.  We got THROUGH this!  And it didn’t kill us!

 

Here’s the thing about deliverance though.  The process of being delivered through a trial is supposed to be a lesson about reliance on God’s strength when our own is failing.

 

After all, why did we cry out to Him in the first place?  Because we knew that we were at the end of ourselves and it was only His strength that could deliver us.

 

So naturally, what do we do first when the next trial comes along?  That’s right, we try to fix our own problems and rely on our own strength.  Again.  Although we know we should never take God’s deliverance for granted, we do it anyway, because it is in our nature to forget things like that.

 

Fortunately God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, anticipates this, and is always there to pick up the pieces AGAIN (and again, and again).  What a great thing it is to know that we can always fall back on His patience and mercy!

 

Still, I think we ought to make more of an intentional effort to remember why God delivers us in the first place—because He is with us, and He is for us.  If He was in our corner the last time we had a problem, and we know that He doesn’t change, then it makes sense that He will go to bat for us again the next time we have a problem. 

  

So instead of having a high-speed come-apart the next time life beats us down or backs us up against the wall, we should approach our trial with confidence, knowing that we will be delivered, and that we won’t have to rely on our own strength to get it done.