Monday, February 17, 2014

Do unto others...

"I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves." - Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

The Ender series of books by OSC is by far my favorite fiction series. I reread the entire thing recently (some 8 or 9 books in all) in anticipation for the new movie that came out a few months ago. This is one of my favorite quotes. There is something about it that just feels true, and like a faint echo, I am always reminded of Jesus's words in Luke 6:31.

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31 (ESV)

I have spent some time thinking about this verse off and on over the last 9 months or so. Really, it has been a bit a paradox for me. One of the things I value most highly is truth. I seek, I uncover, I ponder, I want desperately to understand. One of the ways I apply that is that I want to know the truth about where my life doesn't measure up to the standard in God's Word, where my thoughts and actions do not honor Christ. So many times, it is extraordinarily difficult for me to see unChristlikeness in myself, and so I value immensely those around me having the courage to point it out to me. And therein lies the paradox for me.

Nearly every fellow believer I have ever known does not appreciate having their own failings exposed to the mirror of God's Word with the straightforwardness that I crave. No matter how true, no matter how necessary, no matter the intention of the messenger's heart, all they see and feel is the inevitable pain inherent in facing one's own shortcomings, and the messenger is proverbially slain. And so, for the longest time, I was left wondering "What do I do, then, with Luke 6:31? When I do for others what I want them to do for me, it nearly always turns out poorly, coming across as unloving and not gentle."

A pastor I met recently (a different one than the one I mentioned two posts ago) was able to see some things about me and relay that to me in a way that was exactly what I needed, and yet would have likely crushed and/or angered most people. I thanked him for it after the fact, and he shared an interesting bit of insight about his thought process behind it all. He said basically two things, one, that it felt unloving (in a general sense), but that two, he sensed that saying it as directly as he did was the best way he could show love to me, specifically.

There was a lot of Spirit-lead wisdom there, and it has helped me to see a bit more clearly a principle God has been working on in me from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

19 Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. 21 To those who are without that law, like one without the law—not being without God’s law but within Christ’s law—to win those without the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. 23 Now I do all this because of the gospel, so I may become a partner in its benefits.

Paul is saying here that he made himself whatever other people needed him to be in order to present them a life-saving message, namely the gospel. He did not want there to be any obstacle to his message in his methods. He kept his eye on the goal of sharing the gospel and endured whatever process was necessary to make that happen.

In being so direct with me, this pastor, who admitted that such potentially hurtful directness is definitely not the norm for him, made himself what I needed him to be in order to convey a message he knew I needed to hear.

This paradox of Luke 6:31 is not so unclear any more. It will take some time to work it out in practice, but I am beginning to understand that its not about the method; it is about the message. What I want others to do for me is to love me enough to not leave me as I am. I would hope that all believers want this from others as well. The key as I see it at the moment is to know them well enough to understand how it is they receive love. For me, it is simple, direct truth: "This is what I see, this is what God's Word says, and this is how you need to change." For others, as I have "learned" the hard way, it is going to be different. I must learn to love others enough to become whatever they need me to be so that a life-changing message is not hindered by imperfect methods. 

3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Godly wisdom

1 Corinthians 1:26-31
26 Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. 27 Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. 28 God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, 29 so that no one can boast in His presence. 30 But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord.

Where is my wisdom?
Where is my understanding?
I despised the Lord and pursued my own glory.
I boasted in my strength.

What do I have that you have not given me?
Did I breathe life into my own lungs?
Did I fashion the thoughts of my mind?
My life has been a foolish pursuit of worldly gain.

But You have saved me from the depths!
You protected me from the wages of my folly.
My destruction was certain, but You are my rock, my shield.
I abandoned the God of my youth, but He searched and found me!

Praise be to the God of Israel; His wisdom reigns supreme.
His steadfast love endures to all generations!

- November 20th, 2008

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I want to want...

I want to want only what You want and only for the reason You want me to want it.

13 Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. 1 What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. James 3:13-4:3

1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. 3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:1-4

After speaking with a pastor I met recently, one who has been teaching and shepherding for 50+ years, he asked me to consider this question about myself: "Why are you so impatient with imperfection?" He also asked me something to the effect of "What is it that you are striving for?" Both of those questions have been haunting me for nearly a week now.

I don't know that I fully understand the answer to either of those questions yet, but I have come to realize that distinguishing between that which is objectively wrong and that which is subjectively "sub-optimal" is a lot more difficult that I ever imagined, and far too often I place entirely too much in the first category when it belongs in the second, or even in a third category of "different, yet equally as good". And the ugly truth of the matter is that I have placed some of what I have in the first category because of an attitude of rivalry and conceit, of "you shouldn't do it that way because I can do it better."

In recognizing that God has given me gifts that He wants to use for His glory, I must also realize that when, where, and how they are used are up to Him as well, and even whether or not they are used at all.

God, give me a heart of true gentleness, wisdom, and humility. Teach me to truly submit to Your will whenever it may be, wherever it may lead, and however it may look.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Long time no write

The last half of 2013 was a rough time for me. A lot of small things and a couple of big things worked together to the point where my wife and I had to leave our church. It would be foolish for me to claim that my own actions did not play a significant part in how bad things had become, and now on the other side of it all I am left with a lingering question: What was the point of it all?

A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.
Proverbs 16:9

I know, Lord, that a man’s way of life is not his own; 
no one who walks determines his own steps. 
Jeremiah 10:23

Who is there who speaks and it happens, unless the Lord has ordained it?
Lamentations 3:37

What is it that God wants me to learn through all this? Why has He brought us through this season in our lives? 

God has been bringing this verse to mind often here of late: 

23 But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. 24 The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, 25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. 
2 Timothy 2:23-25

Something really stood out to me today, that from one perspective, "able to teach" seems out of place in verse 24. "Reject stupid disputes, they just bring about unnecessary arguments. Don't engage in these arguments, but be gentle and patient with everyone." That would seem to make more sense at first blush, so I really took notice of "able to teach" here, and I think the principle is this:

Teaching is not quarreling, and quarreling is not teaching.
They are mutually exclusive.

Anyone else who reads this may be thinking "Well, duh!", but really, it is rather humbling for me. I spent a lot of time quarreling the last 6 months I was at my former church, and honestly, at the time I really thought I was teaching.

In a sermon I heard recently, the pastor speaking said something to the effect of "Show me someone who is passionate about what he believes, and I will show you someone who has conviction in the face of hardships." He was drawing this from Peter's willingness to give God glory for his escape from prison even while knowing that he could be recaptured and probably killed at any moment (Acts 12). Even as I affirmed the truth of what the pastor was saying, God showed me something else as well: It is far too easy in my sinfulness for passion to become persecution and conviction to become condemnation.

God, please shut my mouth when all I want to do is quarrel.
Teach me to be patient and gentle with everyone I meet.