Tuesday, June 20, 2017

You are not special. Your children are not either. And that's actually a good thing.

“Special”

1. having a specific or particular function, purpose,etc.:
a special messenger.

2. distinguished or different from what is ordinary or usual:
a special occasion; to fix something special.

3. extraordinary; exceptional, as in amount or degree; especial:
special importance.

4. being such in an exceptional degree; particularly valued:
a special friend.

We are each of us, certainly unique, with our own sets of gifts, weaknesses, strengths, foibles, struggles and accomplishments, but none of us is special.  How do I know?  Because “all are alike unto God”.

He loves us each individually.  He has the exact same salvation available to each of us.  None of us can gain it by ourselves; we are all of us, totally dependent upon his grace and mercy.  And no one gets extra credit for needing less mercy or grace than someone else.  As a matter of fact there is plenty of evidence that needing more mercy is actually very helpful in our developing appreciation for Jesus’ atonement on our behalf.  (“Which of these, loved him most.”)  which appreciation is vital to salvation.

If you are trying to be a disciple of Christ and you are told you are special and you believe it, you are faced with numerous possible pitfalls.  Here are three of them.

  A.  If you are susceptible to pride you are a prime candidate for not only failing to be humble, but also for believing that you are an exception to the rules that all are required to follow, both on earth and in heaven.

  B.  If you are susceptible to being judgmental, you are a prime candidate for holding yourself to a higher standard than others and being constantly stymied and blocked by your own inability to forgive yourself when you are average, leaving you living a life battling an irrational discouraging sense of despair that you are not performing at a different level of competence than you are.

  C. If you are susceptible to being self-analyzing, you will be less able to relax in the company of others when you are not performing exceptionally well. And that will affect your ability to show forth love.

And of course, most of us indulge in pride, judgmentalism and self-analysis during our lives.  So why would we want to make ourselves more vulnerable to more negative courses of  action or thought when we do?

All of those courses of action or thought will make your discipleship path harder (and less pleasant).

So, keep being a disciple.  But drop the “special” (person, mission, calling, what-have-you) designation for yourself or those you love and wish to encourage.  Individual?  Yes.  Known? Yes. Loved? Yes.  Special?  Nope.

My observation and experience is that knowing that we are not special frees us to progress more consistently and to open our hearts more to others in love and confidence, and makes it easier for us to repent and forgive both others and themselves.  And that’s all very helpful in discipleship.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Romans 5:1-8, Paul on justification, atonement and faith, hope and love

Background: In chapter 4, Paul lays out the understanding that Abraham’s commitment to God and his faith and hope that God would fulfill his seemingly impossible promise (that he, and Sariah, at their advanced ages, would have a son together) and his determination to continue to work and live his life based on that, was sufficient to “justify” him.  

Justification is the state in which the things you have done wrong have been fully undone, or rectified, or satisfactorily explained well enough that you are exonerated by one responsible for judging you.  Previously, many Jews believed that you could only be justified by strictly keeping the law, which included offering sacrifices to try to atone for the times you had not kept it.  Followers of Christ began to understand that it was not strict law-following and sacrifices that would keep them justified before God, it was committing their lives to FAITH in Christ’s seemingly impossible offer of salvation and giving their hearts and lives to working with and serving him while living a continuously repentant life, depending upon his atoning sacrifice to exonerate them (justify them) in regards their sins .

So, onto the verses in chapter 5.

1. So we, living a life full of FAITH in God’s promises, are therefore, like Abraham, able to receive God’s justification.  What a relief being justified is to our souls.  And it is through Jesus and his atonement that this justification is possible for us.  What peace with God that creates in us!
2. It is also through Jesus and our faith in him that we have access to his empowering grace, and, having received personal experiences that grace, we are able to rejoice in HOPE of the glory of God.
3. Not only that, it also changes how we see tribulations: We are able to glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation helps us develop patience,
4. And patience helps us to develop experience.  And experience helps us to develop HOPE. [see verse 2]
5. HOPE makes us not feel so horribly ashamed of ourselves that we despair because, instead of despair filling our hearts, blessedly, as we open our hearts to HOPE, God’s LOVE is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which he has gifted to us.
6. We have realized that we do not have the power to undo or rectify or explain away our sins and stand justified before God, but Christ, in due time, atoned for the sins of all of us.
7.- 8. Being willing to die to save a righteous man is pretty rare.  Being willing to die to save a simply good man is even rarer.  But Christ died and atoned for us while were worse than that.  What an amazing manifestation of God’s LOVE for us that is.
 


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Have you the slightest idea what it is?

"Through his long experience of sorrow and loss Martin has learned how to give the one all-important thing that is necessary to a woman's happiness.  Have you the slightest idea what it is?  You will smile at the sentiment of women, and say 'Love, of course,' but it isn't love, at least it is not necessarily included in that term.  Many a man honestly loves his wife, and yet succeeds in making her miserable.  No! It is just a simple, homely quality without which the grandest of passions is incomplete!  Tenderness!  Tenderness means kindness and understanding and sympathy, and imagination, and patience--above all,  patience! When a man is in love he thinks a woman perfect, but she isn't, she is an irrational creature, inconsequent creature, whose mate will have need of patience every day of his life, and sometimes many times a day.  Of course there do exist paragons, calm, correct creatures, with smooth hair and chiseled features, who are always serene and self-contained, but then they are also independent of tenderness.  This grows complicated!  I'd better drop pretense and confess at once that when I talk generalities I really mean You and Me, the two people who are at the back of all generalities!"

Letter from Katrine Beverley to Jim Blair in An Unknown Lover, by Jessie de Horne Vaizey, 1913

P.S. Don't get tripped up by the "irrational...inconsequent" bit.  Please just allow this articulate fictional character to speak without foisting 21st century judgmentalism on her.  Annoyed judgmentalism just closes up and messes with your mind.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"Being not of this world" John 8

John, chapter 8, starts out with the story of the woman taken in adultery, dragged before Jesus,  and asked what should be done with her.  It is in this story it is that he utters the famous words, “let he who is without sin first cast a stone at her”, and they all, convicted in their hearts, depart, leaving her with him.

When Jesus asks her where her accusers are; whether or not there is anyone left who condemns her, she she indicates that she knows that there are none there anymore.  And he says, “Neither do I condemn thee.   Go thy way and sin no more.”

So, first in this chapter we see Jesus withstanding the temptation to condemn a woman who has committed a very serious sin or even enjoy the thrill of listening to the lurid accusations, and instead, makes it clear that he is not condemning her, though he does kindly encourage her to change her both her heart and her actions.

As his disciples, we should take note.  And certainly, that is what he discusses in the next verses:  “I am the light of the world, he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.  It seems that there is a real connection between choosing not to condemn and walking in life giving light instead of darkness.

My personal experience is that this  is so; that when  I condemn another’s behavior, my spiritual life is darker and more fraught with irritablility and  lack of progress, and that when I cease to indulge in condemnation, there is much more spiritual light in my life.

Next Jesus ties this sin of judging/condemning to the sin of failing to repent.  That makes sense.  Generally when we are focusing on another’s sins we are simultaneously minimizing or even totally ignoring our own.  And when  we minimize our sins or ignore them, there is no way we can turn our hearts to believe in Christ and his teachings, turn to God, and, repenting, change our ways.

As an aside, almost all of us have lots of practice in condemning others.   We lived in world full of the practice when we were in middle school, where the most common way of trying to deal with one’s own insecurity was to find  real or imaginary flaws in others so that you could feel better about yourself.  Most of us need decades of practice to fully repent and leave that sinful habit behind.  So if you recognize this sin in yourself, you have lots of company.

Next, Jesus explains that if we choose to live in the way that he is warning us against, “Ye shall die in your sins; for if ye believe not that I am he [who was sent from heaven], ye shall die in your sins…whither I go ye cannot come.”

In other words,if we are spending our time condemning the sins of others, which inclines us to spend little time turning to Jesus and repenting of our own sins, we cannot expect to be spending much time with him.  He couches it this way, “Ye are from beneath, I am from above.  I am not of this world.

It is really quite interesting to me that John then ties these two ideas, a) NOT condemning and judging others and  instead b) following Christ, as a consistently repentant and believing disciple,  to the definition of  “being not of this world.”

“Being not of this world” includes, in a very big way, avoiding the sin of condemning others and instead, leading a humble and repentant life; replacing condemnation with considerate, thoughtful and kindly invitations to others to also turn to and change.

So, the next time I hear the adage, “Be in the world but not of the world”, I hope I will remember that.

Sometimes people think that they must loudly and clearly condemn a person they know who sins, that if they don’t, the person will never change, and worse, others will follow them.

But Jesus’ pattern flies in the face of that belief.  Instead he speaks a thoughtful, simple, response to the ones indulging in condemnation, refusing to engage them in debate, but speaking truth briefly and then keeping his peace while choosing to remain.  Next he makes it clear  to the woman that he does not condemn her.

We sometimes hear the non-scriptural adage, “love the sinner but hate the sin”.  But He does not indulge in “hating the sin”.  Instead, finally,  having established himself to her as a true source of safety and help, he invites her to change; to repent, to, ultimately, turn towards God and to leave the sin behind.

So, what happened to the woman in this case?  What did she do?  The King James Version doesn’t say.  But the Inspired version states, “And the woman glorified God from that hour and believed on his name.”







Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Psalm 146 Whose priorities we embrace, what His work is, and what we are called to do too as we work with Him.

    Praise the Lord, my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live,

    singing praises to my God while I exist.

Do not look to nobles,
    nor to mere human beings who cannot save.
 When they stop breathing,
    they return to the ground;
        on that very day their plans evaporate!
Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
maker of heaven and earth,
  the seas and everything in them,
       forever the guardian of truth.
who brings justice for the oppressed,
    and who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord frees the prisoners; 
     the Lord gives sight to the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down.
    The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord stands guard over the stranger;
   he supports both widows and orphans,
       but makes the path of the wicked slippery.
The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, Zion, for all generations!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Judge righteous judgment, John 7:24

I have been thinking about the difference between appreciation and approval. I believe that approval is generally a favorable judgment about someone, or about something that has been proposed or done, due to the merits of that someone or something. Appreciation, on the other hand, involves gratitude for that person or thing, and does not have to include an analysis of the quality of that person or thing, but simply an understanding of the good motives, principles and vision, etc. in the effort, individual, undertaking or thing that is being appreciated.
I believe that all of us are a mixed bag of imperfections and so are not prone to approve of ourselves very often if at all. And we are correspondingly constantly tempted to disapprove of and therefore be disppointed by others or by the outcomes of their efforts. However, we live a far healthier life if we allow ourselves to appreciate ourselves and our efforts, and others and their efforts without, every single time, also encumbering our appreciation with grim shades of disapproval about the things that are less than perfect.
"Judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24) Righteousness involves the virtue of gratitude. And, if you think about the situation referred to in John 7:23: the healing of a man on the Sabbath,  appreciation and gratitude are exactly what the people mentioned in John, chapter 7, got called out on failing incorporate into their response to another's efforts to do good In a way that they deemed imperfect.
A life that has appreciation towards self and others, and gratitude towards others and God, woven throughout it is a sweeter, heathier life.

Monday, May 15, 2017

You came with a unique gift

Each person comes to earth with a unique gift.  As your life unfolds and you take on the work of this life, the task is to put that unique gift at the service of the good work you do.

Your gift doesn't dictate what kind of work you do, but it does play mightily into how you personally do it.

Therefore, resist the temptation to compare the nature of your performance in your good work with the nature of another's performance of a similar good work.   Instead, appreciate the opportunity you have been given to incorporate your unique gift into your good work,  appreciate the diversity around you as others do their good work around you, and enjoy the process