Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Remind, Refresh, Remember

This week the study was on 2 Peter. It's truly a remarkable book for study, and we're just getting started. As I have found to often be the case, you start somewhere moving in a direction and end up taking these little side journeys ending up in completely unexpected places.

The first few verses were no exception for me. It wasn't a big portion of the study, but it has certainly stuck with me more than any other.

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

--2 Peter 1:12-15

In the first few verses (it only takes 11 actually), the foundations of salvation are outlined. And before we go any further, one point gets emphasized three times in three more versus. The point is that everything that's been laid out, the entire gospel of salvation, the charge of the Christian walk, everything we need for life and godliness are things we already know.

Isn't that just the way it is with most of life? We know what we need to know. We know what's needed to be done. We know how to move forward. We just don't really want to.

We procrastinate and rationalize and whine. But rarely do we just roll up our sleeves and do the work. I see this all the time in my work, and even more often in my personal life. And yes, I mean in myself as well as others. Which is probably why this stood out so clearly to me right now. I've been struggling with motivation a lot lately and watching those I love also struggle with their determination.

Sometimes I think it is not enough to just know what is needed. We have to believe, we have to have faith too. Which is why I think this pit can be a hard one from which to climb out. Intellectually, we can understand the steps. Emotionally, I want to believe myself to be strong of faith. And realizing that what I need most to move forward is an exercise of faith, brings in sharp relief how miniscule and ineffective is my faith. Before I can even get that far, my mental gymnastics steer me off to other more obvious answers to protect myself from facing this harsh reality. Since I don't want to believe my faith is too paltry, I concoct other reasons for my inability to do the needful.

The self-conviction in this post is just rank and overpowering. To have such a clear example of how easily my inner selfishness defeats my reason, my conscious desire, and my supposed wisdom is humbling in the extreme. Good thing Peter faced this first so I'd have his letters to instruct me how to un-stick things.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Show Me The Money

If you could understand the What or the Why, which would you choose?

In this small town parking lot carnival we call life, we are faced with the choice to be ignorant, absurd, or happy everyday. Do we down two chili dogs and hop on the spinning octopus or head straight for the zipper? If that ridiculous relationship that is so clearly a Very Bad Idea is the carnival equivalent to riding the Gravitron after cotton-candy, why do we always ignore our better senses and jump right on?

Recently, I've had an opportunity to reflect on this conundrum and completed a small study in the Word which gave me new mental fodder on which to chew. My current position then, is this:
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
- Matthew 6:21

That was the support for my conclusion, let me elucidate a little.

My thinking is that we focus to much on the What and not enough on the Why? We know what we want, we don't consider nearly enough why we might want it. Whether we are considering our own stumbling, or the ramblings of others, we too infrequently seek after the deeper motivation.

Back to the carnival and the bumper cars: we tell ourselves we enjoy the rush, the excitement, the feeling of freedom as we climb onto a rusty death-trap that has been assembled during the night by a chain-smoking, minimum wage worker who lives in the back of a truck. We do this again and again, only stopping to stuff ourselves with sugar, lard, and reconstituted meat-products. We pay for the privilege to risk our safety, to teeter on the brink of unleashing a technicolor yawn all over the shoes of strangers, and we do it with a smile and laugh.

Is it that we'd rather pursue happiness than just be happy? Or perhaps we don't really know why we do it, we just know we like it. We don't probe into the why, we just fixate on the what.

So what about when we are making rational choices? Weighing the pros and cons, making lists, and all that boring passionless stuff we usually deride each other for doing? In my experience we can be just as logical and reasoned about a what as we can be passionate. Just because we're thinking clearly doesn't mean we're asking the right questions or basing our decisions on sound foundations. Let's be honest, we can justify almost anything if we want it bad enough.

If you can ignore the sweeping generalization, we like the idea that ignorance is bliss. The world is frightening, and the secret plots and schemes of our inner minds even more so. I know as much as most about how disturbing it can be when I finally realize the real reason why I've done a thing.

So to bring this particular Ferris Wheel full circle, I'll just say that if you want to throw up less, don't eat quite so many elephant ears. And if you must indulge, stay off the rides. The fleeting happiness you find won't ease the smell of puke from your pants on the car ride home.

If you need a lift, first consider what's keeping you down. Knowing why you are doing something is the first step towards influencing what you are doing.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

It Made Me Ponder

My fiends were getting married tonight. I've known them for years and
it was good to see them so happy.

The pastor who performed the ceremony was also a friend who'd seen
them grow even longer. His message was insightful.

"The thief comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy. But I have come
that you might have life. And might have it more abundantly." John 10:10

In our lives and especially in our marriages there are lots of
situations and people who will try and steal our happiness, our faith,
our integrity. Personally I strive to find the kind of partner who
understands this and works with me to make sure we are united against
these things.

Congrats to the happy couple.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Aftermath of a Deceit

How often do you find yourself at a crossroads? At a place where you must choose between two seemingly inviting paths just veering away into the distance. I for one find myself there quite frequently. But never so frequently as when I find myself deceived.

Along the walk that is my life, I find, like so many do, that walking with partners and friends makes the journey. . . well, more . . . livable. And as is the nature of people, from time to time, it is those partners that lead me astray. In reality, it is more often that I am the one leading myself right over a cliff all of my own accord, but from time to time it is another who holds my hand.

It is at those times of companionship that I've felt the more betrayed, even though the more serious and intentional missteps were surely of my own doing. Why the intensity I feel? Perhaps because of the deception involved. Now self-deception I'm no stranger to and forgiveness for it gets easier every day. After all forgiving myself seems to be an activity I practice daily. ;-)

But still it is when I've been led that troubles me most. When someone has held my hand and whispered words to soothe my soul and keep me walking, traipsing along the path they've laid out with their lie. As down the road we go, I lose my way. I lean more and more on the deception and wonder more and more where my way went.

Only the soft stillness of self-reflection orients me again. Finding time to delve the Word and find the Way again in what is Written. Because of one thing I am certain. Whenever I am lost, He is looking for me. Crook in hand, calling my name, tirelessly searching and longing for my return. If I simply stop and listen, allow the Father to find me, my path will be straightened. As it is written:

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.
-- Psalm 40: 1-3

This is the only way I know to handle the destruction from a deception. Or most anything really.

Just goes to show you that I'm a pretty simple guy really.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

When Is A Priority Not A Priority?

Have you ever felt you weren't a priority in the life of a friend? Have they ever told you they feel that way about you?

Figuring out where your real priorities lie is something you can only do indirectly. Like many things we might want to know about ourselves or others, we need to sort of sneak up on it. You can't very well just ask someone what is important to them. They might very well tell you what they believe, but that doesn't make them right. You can ask yourself these same types of questions and be assured you'll find a way to fool yourself often enough.

When it comes to understanding what is really driving us, motivating us, important to us, we can only look at our behaviors and actions to learn the truth. When we look at the choices we make, how we spend our energy, time, and resources, we are able to take the true measure of what we value.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
-- Matthew 6:21

When it comes to understanding if your choices are upholding your core values, it is worth it to first understand the impact of those choices. Are you impacting those around you in the way you want? Do you find yourself apologizing a lot? Do you find yourself on questionable moral ground?

When it comes down to it, we care about things we put ourselves into. Anything that isn't important enough to warrant changes in our behavior, isn't important. Those things that are not a priority enough to alter the choices we make with our time or attention, are simply not priorities.

Are you worried about making your faith a priority? Look for how much of your time is concerned with matters of faith? How many of your conversations come back to your faith? When you are making decisions, how often are the reasons for your choices based on faith?

The important things in your life, are the things that are so prevalent you don't have to think about them. When there is enough time and attention that they are constantly in your thoughts. The first way you think to spend free time is among the things that are most important to you. The first person you want to call with good news is among the people most important to you. The same with the person you would call in an emergency. When you find a twenty in a jacket pocket you'd forgotten about, the first thing you think to do with the money is among the things most important to you.

For me this is a struggle because I want my priority on my Savior and my Faith. Which is where "Pray Without Ceasing" becomes a reality. If I spend all my thoughts on someone (or something) else, I can't very well say my faith is the most important thing to me. By disciplining myself to pray, I make a lame attempt to ensure my heart follows my treasure.

Or at least a close enough approximation that I can say I did my best.

When I want someone to feel they are priority, I make them the priority. I call them first. I pass up other people and activities to spend time with them. I work my schedule around being able to talk and be with them. If I can do this for others, how much more should I do for my Lord?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Fatalism of Cheating

One of the best parts of knowing so many people smarter than myself is that I get the chance to try out my thinking and have it corrected or validated quickly. This post has nothing to do with that. But I did learn something interesting by reading someone who is "book smart" and I wanted to share it.

I was reading a back issue of Psychological Science (from last January), specifically an article by Drs. Kathleen Vohs and Jonathan Schooler. In the article they discussed two experiments in which they observed the impact of determinism on morality. That sounds pretty heady but it's just big words.

In the first experiment, they had two groups read a two separate texts. One text encouraged people to believe they were the result of environment and genetics. The other was neutral. Both groups then took a math test that was rigged to allow passive cheating. The group that was told they were the product of their environment and genes cheated more.

In the second experiment, the texts had one deterministic and one endorsing free will. The group that read the deterministic statements actively cheated, the group reading about free will did not.

Now when I consider these results as applied to my personal world view it comes clear why I choose a doctrine of dual-responsibility instead of a the more Calvinistic extreme. Don't get me wrong, for practical purposes I usually align with the Calvinists. But like most aspects of my world view, I don't agree with the extremes they tend towards. Here's why:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. -- John 15:1-17

There are lots of other passages that speak to either grace or free-will. This for me is the clearest example of how they are to be reconciled in my world view. We are chosen, and we choose to accept and live with what is offered to us.

The notion of dual-responsibility is outside any of our social norms and you see how far outside we've fallen when you read about experiments like these. Just the suggestion that our free-will is gone, removes the guilt block and allows our true depravity to surface easily. Contrarily, suggesting we are responsible for our own choices increases the block and allows our better nature to come clean.

What was my take-away? Regardless of how I got here, spending time in the Word helps me stay clean and bearing fruit.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I Forgive You. Now What?

I have a friend who is one of those critical thinkers you wish you could emulate. Especially when it comes to matters of faith, he routinely challenges my thinking.

He had a recent post about Forgiveness which caused a stir in my thinking. Perhaps it was because my approach to the holidays was so different from his. Who knows what kind of craziness goes through my head. In any case, the thing that struck me so heavily was the last line:

I do understand that you don’t put an alcoholic in a bar during the first week of AA but is that what God does with us?
-- Thoughts on Forgiveness

Now I don't think I have any more to forgive than anyone else, if anything it’s the other way around, but this is something I struggle with like anyone. And usually I think I tend to be okay in how I handle these things in my life. And then the holidays hit. That whole "I'm okay"-thing goes right out the window.

I was struggling with bitterness, self-doubt, and resentment. These things were eating me away and worming their disgusting way into my thoughts almost daily. For someone who works hard at being deliberate and in control of my thoughts, that's a hard thing to realize.

So as I do in times like that when it dawns on me how far in over my head I am, I went back to The Word. (If you can't tell that happens a lot.) In this case I was really only looking for how I was supposed to be handling things?. If I'm failing at handling these issues myself, surely there could be found some better instruction in His Word. And without fail I stumbled into more than I thought I needed. The first was in Hebrews:

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness. I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more.
-- Hebrews 8:12

Here it was, the first step towards letting go my bitterness. It wasn't just another example of how I don't measure up to the grace of my Savior. This illustrated the direct tie between mercy and forgiveness. The forgiveness was one thing, but then to show them mercy by remembering the sins no more. This I could latch on to. It seemed so unnatural, so impossible to just forgive and move on. But when I realized that the moving on is an act of mercy it began to be palatable. After all, I'm no stranger to mercy (everything I need a lot of I tend to learn a lot about!).

Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful.
-- Luke 6:36

So that clearly spoke to the issue Heitz raised. Our transgressions are in fact gone and that is forgiveness. But we don't just get forgiveness, we get mercy too. It's a package deal. The gift that keeps on giving.

The next couple verses in Romans are all about other aspects of forgiveness and how to forgive, but that was all I needed and more. I needed to recognize, acknowledge and be deliberate in my actions after offering forgiveness. Recognizing its relationship to mercy gave me keys to keep my Walk straight.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
-- Romans 12:18

Even with what I was struggling through, I still was seeking ways to make this true in my life. Inside I think I knew that most of my hang up was this feeling that I wasn't living at peace. It's like I knew I had forgiven but I didn't know what was next. And I just knew it wasn't right. It wasn't enough. It was never enough. Until I realized I also had to offer mercy. When you add mercy, it's enough. He is merciful, and He is always enough.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Please Make The Bad Man Stop!

Okay, this is getting ridiculous.

I understand about niche music and sub-genre's and so forth, but do we really need a specific set of CD's of Christian music designed for RUNNING? and WALKING?

Frankly this is why I distance myself from the mainstream community. It's enough to make me want to run through the temple overturning tables and scattering livestock...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Pray to Live, Live to Pray

Prayer is a large and important part of my life. Much of what I know about prayer is from my father who has always modeled for me how pervasive and impactful prayer should and can be in life.

These past few weeks I've been thinking about how I communicate about prayer. Specifically with those in my life who aren't particularly prayerful. Someone close to me was asking about this and I realized mid spew how incomprehensible and disorganized my thinking on the subject had become. So I went back to The Word to see if how it was written would help my thoughts untangle. As usual, I was refreshed and found a clear set of messages that stood out. This is hardly comprehensive, but sufficient for the salient point I was seeking.

One passage I came across was clearly about the benefits of prayer in your life. Not just as an element of our salvation, an obligation we incur for our salvation, or even what is necessary to keep us in the way we should go.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
-- Colossians 1:9-12
It doesn't really need to be stated more plainly than that. If you want to bear fruit in every good work, you need to pray. If you want to grow, you need to pray. If you want strength, endurance, and patience: pray.

It's all well and good to see this from a personal aspect, but it doesn't stop there. Relationships also require prayer as we see in 1 Peter chapter 3.

Firstly, Peter calls out a particular point for husbands and wives.

You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
-- 1 Peter 3:7
Pretty self-explanatory, but of drastic import. If you don't want your prayer life to be negatively impacted, then show honor and love to your spouse. Not as someone lesser but as a peer in salvation. This is definitely showing a correlation between how you are living, effecting how you pray.

Moving forward, he opens his directives beyond just the married folks to all believers. He calls us to live a life of love and compassion. To justify his statements, he quotes Psalms 34.
For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
-- 1 Peter 3:10-12
Once again, a clear connection between how you live and the efficacy of our prayers. This can be hard for some, because it can be slippery slope on the way to a doctrine of works but the point and applicability to prayer is clear.

Later in the next chapter, Peter continues his admonitions for how to live in the context of the our salvation. He lays out the path and imperative of our salvation and then draws out the relevance to our specific lives.
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. -- 1 Peter 4:7
The thread here from the first to last is the tight correlation between your life in this world, and your life in your prayers. Living better will help you to pray; praying well will help you to live better. It works both ways and they are inseparable.

If you are having trouble walking, try getting on your knees.