Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mow your own lawn

It’s said that we should take caution when we point the finger in blame at someone else because there are four other ones that point back.  I wish I remembered this more … not the words of the saying, but the spirit of the saying.

I had an apt reminder this week while reading through Job 15 – 21, Psalms 52 – 58, and 2 Chronicles 22 – 28.  Yet another passage in the amazing book of Job.  Specifically, in chapter 19 … Job is responding to another well-intended but misfired bit of feedback from his friend Bildad.

Then Job spoke again:  “How long will you torture me?  How long will you try to crush me with your words?  You have already insulted me ten times.  You should be ashamed of treating me so badly.  Even if I have sinned, that is my concern, not yours.  You think you’re better than I am, using my humiliation as evidence of my sin.  But it is God who has wronged me, capturing me in his net.

As people in general … and yes, as Christians as well … we spend a lot of time picking apart the shortcomings, failures, and SIN of others.  Conveniently, we tend to forget our own.

It’s true that it’s a target-rich environment.  Let’s face it, there is an abundance of sinfulness and bad behavior out there … and some of it belongs to others, also.  And then top it off that we are presently in a culture (not just the US, either) that encapsulates some of that sinfulness and bad behavior as “choices,” “orientation,” “rights,” etc.  When it all comes down to it, it’s easy to begin to cherry-pick others and point out their failures.  And when you consider that we’re all equally messed up, it seems relatively logical that we’d look away from ourselves and at others if for no other reason than to make ourselves feel better about our wrongness.

It’s a lot like we have an overgrown, weed-laden, gopher-ridden lawn, but we spend all our time pointing at our neighbor’s lawn complaining about it.  We should just mow our own lawn.

Look at how Job rebuts Bildad … he says, “You should be ashamed of treating me so badly.  Even if I have sinned, that is my concern, not yours.  You think you’re better than I am, using my humiliation as evidence of my sin.  Wow.  I have to confess, I spend an awful lot of time and energy taking pock shots at the sin of other people.  Let’s face it … we all do.

Driving on the freeway … I complain about the “idiots” that either drive too fast, too slow, too close, or too something.  How about my driving?  I get mad about how unreliable some people are.  Or, people who don’t tell the truth all the time.  Or, people who complain all the time.  Or … any number of things for which I point my finger at others.

Job’s point is right on.  We really should be ashamed of ourselves for picking on the sin of others.  We should be concerned about our own sin.  After all, we’re accountable to God for our sinful behavior, not the sinful behavior of other people.  When we berate someone for his or her failure, while ignoring our own, that’s the height of shamefulness in my estimation.

Now, this is not to say that we don’t lovingly counsel those within our sphere when they legitimately are sinful and falling short.  But the key is to check our motives in doing so.  Being a know-it-all, judgmental, or imbalanced in our criticism doesn’t help anything or anyone, and certainly isn’t loving in the way the Lord instructs us to be.

As Christians, in particular, we can spend a lot of time denigrating others in the name of promoting repentance.  All we accomplish is conveying knowingly or otherwise that we’re better than the other person.  Well, the fact is, God doesn’t grade on a curve.  ALL have sinned … there is NONE righteous … the Bible is clear on these things.  So guess what … we’re not better than anyone else.  All sin is wrong.  Someone else’s as well as ours.

There are no sins that are worse than others, despite our tendency to try to point out certain things that we think are worse than others.  Sexual sin is somehow declared worse than lying.  Homosexuality is somehow worse than adultery.  Murder is somehow worse than lying on our tax returns.  There are a number of other potential examples we could come up with.  But I think it’s a long stretch to argue that there is any Biblical basis for this assertion.  We all have the same terminal disease (sin) and we all need to One and Only Cure (Jesus).  Period.

If we’re going to worry about someone’s sin, let’s worry about our own.  All sin is sin.  We all have it.  We all have plenty of work to do on surrendering our own behaviors to God’s standard, with His help.  To point at the shortfalls of others without pointing at our own is the height of hypocrisy.  And by the way, hypocrisy is NOT something Christians have a corner of the market on these days … hypocrisy is alive and well in both Christian and non-Christian circles.  Anyone asserting otherwise is not being intellectually honest.

This week, let’s ask the Lord to convict us for our sin, and to convict us for any areas of anyone’s life that we’re quick to point out without taking the opportunity to see our own disobedience.  By all means, we still need to call sin, sin … even when it’s the sin of other people.  Just because someone else’s sin belongs to them doesn’t mean we don’t identify it as sin.  Just because WE sin, doesn’t cancel out or nullify the sin of others.  As my mom used to say when I was a kid (modified slightly) … “Two wrongs don’t make a right … but they do still make two wrongs.”  The key, remember, is to check our motives in all this.

It’s time we mow our own lawn.

Better yet, let’s ask the Master Lawn Mower to mow our lawn.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Time flies ...

Have you ever thought about how, when you were a kid, 30 years from then seemed like an absolute eternity?  If you’re old enough now, think back 30 years (or 20 if you’re not old enough) and consider how amazingly short that time feels ago.  Somehow, when we look back, time feels like the blink of an eye, but when we look forward it feels like forever.

Time flies. 

But we think we have a lot of it ahead of us, but when we think about it after the fact it isn’t much.  Huh?

Time is described in interesting and often quite plain ways in the Bible.  One such example arose this week as I was reading through Job 8 – 14, Psalms 45 – 51, and 2 Chronicles 15 – 21.

It’s during a discourse between Job and his friends, Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar … a discourse that goes back and forth through most of the book.  In this case, in chapter 8 of Job, Bildad is trying to get Job to acknowledge that Job’s plight is a consequence of some sin somewhere in Job’s life.  He’s basically telling him, life’s too short to be holding on to your pride … if you acknowledge your wrong, God will faithfully forgive and restore you.

The preciousness of time in this exchange is intriguing to me and supplies us with a really important reminder about the context of life.  In Job 8:5-10 …

But if you pray to God
and seek the favor of the Almighty, and if you are pure and live with integrity,
he will surely rise up and restore your happy home.  And though you started with little, you will end with much.  “Just ask the previous generation.  Pay attention to the experience of our ancestors.  For we were born but yesterday and know nothing.  Our days on earth are as fleeting as a shadow.  But those who came before us will teach you.  They will teach you the wisdom of old.

Now I won’t say that how this moved me is in complete alignment with how Bildad was trying to move Job.  Either way, I think God oftentimes can speak to us in ways we believe are probably unintentional, but I also don’t think God is unintentional about anything.

And so … what is it that He could be trying to tell us in this.  “For we were born but yesterday and know nothing.  Our days on earth are as fleeting as a shadow.”

The older I get the more I realize how fleeting life really is.  When I turned 47 a couple weeks ago, I did the inevitable math and noted that I’m probably well past the halfway point in my life, if the Lord tarries.  That means, crudely, that I’m closer to going home to heaven than not.  I remember being a kid and calculating that I would be 33 when the year 2000 came about.  That sounded ANCIENT and yet, man, would I love to be and feel 33 again.  Yeah, a bright and cheery message this week.

But what’s more important than the morbid reality in this is the opportunity this reality presents.  I think there are a few really good nuggets in this.

First off, realizing that our life isn’t promised to be long, or to even be until tomorrow, helps us value the days we have all the more.  I often remind people that we should live life in smaller and smaller increments.  That is, take every moment and cherish it for what it’s worth.  If we measure our lives in lifetimes we can get lost in the details.  If we measure our lives in years, we’re subject to the big-picture events around us dictating whether we’re joyful or not.  Even if we measure daily, I think too many conflicting scenes in the day can overwhelm and confuse us.  Take it minute by minute or moment by moment.  Thank God for this minute … this moment … this breath.  Have you ever thanked God for letting you wake up in the morning?  Try that.  Or, maybe thank Him for every hour He lets you get through.  We could all benefit from a little of that perspective.

Secondly, thank Him for the aggregate life wealth He’s let you amass.  Yeah, life wealth, not financial wealth.  There are things we gain from just living and growing.  Think of how you came into the world … unclothed, unable to talk, unable to take care of your own basic needs, unable to walk.  Now think about the person you are … no matter who you are, you’re successful, wealthier than the substantial majority of the planet, healthier than the majority of the planet, and so on.  Only by living through life do you get to that point.  Though time’s flown by, without that we wouldn’t be where we are or have what we have.

Finally, we have lots to give back to others.  Experiences.  Stories.  Knowledge.  Wisdom.  Those ONLY come with the passing of time.  The more time that passes, the more of that wealth we get to share.  It’s not that we have GOT to share, it’s that we GET to share.

We can think of the passage of time as what makes us feel old and rickety, or we can think of the passage of time as what gives us value.  Value to notice things more by living in smaller increments.  Value to take stock and inventory of the myriad ways we’ve been given great life wealth.  Value to share.

But time flies, so don’t wait to do these things.  If you take your time in taking time to heart, you may lose your chance.

I don’t know about you, but I am not going to blink and miss it.

Because of Christ,


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Circumstantial evidence

Bruce Almighty is one of my favorite movies.  I think it’s incredibly clever and a poignant look at our attitudes toward God.  While I can’t claim I agree with all the theology suggested by the movie (I think it’s clear the movie isn’t attempting to convey theology per se), I think it’s an apt depiction of the way we all think at times.  As I was watching a little of it yesterday, it stimulated some thinking that connected with my reading this week.  It was the part before Bruce actually meets God as things are really beginning to unwind in his life.  Little by little, he loses his big shot at being the news anchor, his relationship with his girlfriend is falling apart, and to top it off he crashes his car into a pole just as he was asking God for help.  As many of us would, he loses it … he begins to yell at God, blaming Him for all that’s going on, and telling God that Bruce could do His job better than God was.

If anyone had reason to yell at God, Job did.  Reading through the first part of Job this week (chapters 1 – 7, as well as Psalms 38 – 44, and 2 Chronicles 8 – 14), I was reminded about the tendency all of us have to be selective in our expression of faith in God.  Recall from Job 1 that Job was a man that had it all … not just possessions but a great family life and strong faith.  So much so, that God presented Job to Satan as a strong example of blamelessness and integrity.  Satan, ever the accuser, contested that Job was such an example ONLY because God had blessed him and put a hedge of protection around him.  So God allows Satan to do his work, heartlessly stripping Job of his family (all 10 of his kids), his possessions and wealth, and eventually his health.  (I do it no justice running through it so briefly, but read it for yourself because it’s an incredibly heart-wrenching account.)

After Job goes through just the first element of monumental anguish and loss (that of his possessions and children), his reaction is both telling and inspiring … (Job 1:20-22)

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief.  Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship.  He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave.  The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away.  Praise the name of the Lord!”  In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.

As if that isn’t enough, after Job gets stricken with horrible sores and boils from head to toe, his reaction is also awe-striking … (Job 2:8-10)

Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes.  His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity?  Curse God and die.”  But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman.  Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”  So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.

At about this time, many if not most of us would go the way of Bruce Nolan … yelling at God, telling him “You should be fired, not me.”  Because at times we allow our circumstances to dictate our faith.

When God is moving alongside us, stepping in stride with our expectations (as we think He should) then all is fine and we exhibit faith that He’s doing what He’s supposed to.  Should deviation from our expectations and / or demands occur, we fall apart.  We blame God.  We let our faith wane.  Because our faith, we believe, should lead to our desired results.  That’s not how it works.

Job had faith.  He lived a life of faith.  Particularly when all was well.  In fact, even when things were great and his life was going the way he wanted, we’re told in chapter 1 that he still purified (prayed for and sacrificed for) his children, just in case they sinned.  He took nothing for granted.  Then, once the hardship hit, he was prepared.  It’s how we read in the first passage from chapter 1, where Job’s response to the pain was 1) tore his robe in grief and shaved his head, and 2) worshipped.  Huh???  Worshipped!?!? 

Yeah.  When it all came crashing down, we’re told that Job worshipped.  When it got worse, we’re told that Job remained steadfast … “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”  What a great question … for us.

Job teaches us two really important lessons that can help us remain faithful no matter what the circumstances.  First … give God the credit when things go well.  All too often, when things are going great, we give ourselves the credit.  During times of plenty, when all is well, be thankful.  Job was.  Because doing so puts us in the habit of thanking Him no matter the circumstances, and prepares us for the second point.  Which is … when we’re in the habit of praising God in the good circumstances, we’ll be in the habit of recognizing where all things come from, and that in all things, God is working to bring all things together for a blessed end that He intends (see Romans 8:28).  If we believe that and try to live by that, it doesn’t matter what happens, we’ll be able to withstand it.

Now that’s not to say that we can’t have grief when bad things happen.  God gives us emotions, and it’s one of the ways that we’re created in His image.  And, bad is still bad … and bad isn’t what God intended but is simply a consequence of sin that humans brought on through Adam and Eve’s original sin.  We can be sad, we can be hurt.  But like Job … let’s not sin by blaming God or saying anything wrong about God.

Bottom line, we can’t allow our circumstances to define our faith.  Let’s face it, anyone can believe when everything is going right.  Anyone can have faith when it’s all going your way.  That’s not faith.  It’s faith when everything is falling apart.  When you’re feeling like you’re going through the pits of hell and you still trust God.  As Job says later in chapter 13, “God might kill me, but I have no other hope.”  When we have faith, real faith, it should take us all the way.  It will take us all the way.  The great thing is, God doesn’t make us go it alone … He gives us the faith we need to trust Him.  All the way.

No matter the circumstances, let’s ask Him to help us stay faithful.  Good.  Bad.  Whatever.

In all things, faithful …


Sunday, July 6, 2014

A different angle ...

This week’s reading was particularly centered around obedience to God, the blessings He desires to bestow on us, and the consequences of disobedience.  It sounds like something of a rules-based or works-based type of relationship, but I think it’s quite different.  I think it’s more about changing our frame of reference.

Reading through Deuteronomy 28 – 34, Psalms 31 – 37, and 2 Chronicles 1 – 7, there seemed to be numerous reminders of God’s longing desire to bless His people … and a forlorn sense when His people disregarded His provision, His guidance and His love.  There is a rather unified thread through all this … from where we read in 2 Chronicles 1 about Solomon seeking wisdom above all in order to lead God’s people and the Lord responding by not only providing him wisdom, but providing him wealth, riches and fame.  Which leads me to the passage this week that moved me … it’s one that I’ve known for quite some time (my cousin Joey, a pastor in England, shared it with me years ago and it blessed me in the place I was at that time).  This week, there was a synthesis that I hadn’t noticed before.

Psalm 37:3-5 says …

Trust in the Lord and do good.  Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.  Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.  Commit everything you do to the Lord.  Trust him, and he will help you.

It’s really easy to look at these passages, and many similar to them, and (I think) wrongly internalize them to convince ourselves that if we only do things to make God happy, he will in turn reward us.  That is, above all, dangerous ground to walk.  By no means is that type of thinking unusual, including in Christian circles … it’s certainly the basis for many of the world’s religions.  It’s no less dangerous a way to think, though.  Why?

In this passage, particularly in verse 4, where David writes “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires,” there is in fact an if-then relationship.  But I think we have to look at the relationship from a different point of view, a different angle, as it were.  Most of the time, we look at something like that, as noted above, and think … “okay, if I just do such-and-such, God will do such-and-such in return.”  It’s if we make Him happy, we can convince Him to do what we want.  The different angle to it is not so much that we can make God do something different or something we want.  It’s akin to how Solomon (not so ironically, David’s son … interesting that David wrote this and Solomon – at least at the beginning of his reign – was a beneficiary of it) asked the Lord for wisdom.

As I look at the principle underlying the passage, I’m moved to think that rather than us doing something to convince God to change, perhaps we are the ones who need to change.  When David writes, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires,” I think he’s directing us in much the same path that Solomon took.  Solomon asked for wisdom, which most often people define / describe as “knowledge put to use” or something similar.  I would rather look at wisdom as seeing things God’s way.  Therein lies the connection … to “take delight in the Lord” I think tells us in a sense to delight in the things God delights in, or put differently, to see things God’s way.  In order to see things God’s way, we have to realign our thinking, not His.

Here’s the cool part … if we realign ourselves to the way God sees things, if we seek wisdom as so defined, then I think it’s very logical to expect that He will give us our “heart’s desires.”  How?  Because our heart’s desires will have changed to become His heart’s desires.  Again, we see this in the way Solomon asked for wisdom, and when he did, God gave him his heart’s desires, which were really God’s desires for him.

An accurate reading of the Bible, and a correct understanding of God will show that He wants to bless us, give us good gifts, and endow us with fullness of joy and fullness of life.  Too many people wrongly perceive God as this angry, fun-despising deity who spends all His time looking for ways to berate us and damn people to hell.  NOT SO.  Let’s get super simple about it and look at Jesus … was Jesus’s earthly mission to come down and put the Saturday Night Smackdown on humanity?  Not in the least.  Have a look at John 3:16-17, and at a whole bunch of the red letters in the Bible for that matter.  Jesus came to die in order to give us life.  God went the full distance to reach us, to save us, and to bless us.

Back to the point.  If we realign our way of seeing and thinking, and look to align our hearts to God’s, we will want the things He wants for us.  Even in those times of silence in response to our prayers, when we realign our thinking we’ll have the confidence and assurance that He is still there, still listening, still working, still blessing.  When things don’t go the way we expect, we’ll have the assurance that they DID go the way He expected … and intended … and in conjunction with His nature, it will be from His abundant love.

God longs to give us our heart’s desires.  We don’t have to do anything to earn it … and we can’t … other than change our perspectives, our foundation, our framework.  We have to delight in His ways.

This week, let’s seek God’s heart for our lives and our situations.  Let’s ask Him to open our eyes and ears to His desires … to change our frame of mind.  Then we’ll be able to see His work for what it is, the manifestation of immense love for us.

In His ways, and His love,