Saturday, September 23, 2017

Our Neuroses Don't Make Us Special



Many people, including myself, currently or at one time have operated out of the thinking that our mental faults or attributes somehow make us special: i.e. unaccountable and forgivable for our attitudes and actions.

Thankfully, I consider myself in the category of “who at one time” did this. Humorously, it could be granted that in this I am perhaps deluding myself! It is the risk one takes when one declares any level of victory over a personal dysfunction.

As it is, I do believe myself free of the moniker “special” for past addictions and past and current personality disorders.

And I have a Christian friend to thank for that.

It was to this friend, several years ago, that I was reciting the seriousness of and damage done by my past drinking. It wasn’t the first time the poor woman had to hear this.

In response, she said something I wish I had written down and kept, not only because it stunned my thinking, but because it was a perfect demonstration of Ephesians 4:15 which teaches that we are to speak the truth in love so that “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is Christ.”

My friend said something to the effect of, 

“Barb, your struggle with alcohol isn’t any greater of a struggle than anyone else has experienced.”

Wow.

I mean, to most people that would be a slap in the face—a secular counselor’s first rule of what not to do when “helping” someone.

But this woman—and it’s important to note that she and I had an established friendship—spoke in a firm but loving tone and manner—at a time when I desperately needed to hear it—Gospel Truth.

Her words were what the Bible itself actually teaches:

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

I felt the golden nugget of conviction at her words.

Yes, I had overcome an addiction through the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.

But the fact that I had struggled, along with all of the reasons behind it, had begun to control and infect me and thus, my life, relationships and attitudes.

I was indulging in an interpretation of my struggle as being singular in importance and effect.

In addition, I was holding myself accountable to a past accomplishment only, ignorant of the work that remained to be done on underlying and newly emerging issues.

In this, I had anointed myself a special case: a Joan of Arc in the successful battle with egregious transgression, and now a martyr to that very victory.

This was my high-minded condition when my friend spoke her prophetic words and brought me needfully low.

It’s moments like these for which relationships, I believe, were made.

Yes, we can commiserate, listen to and comfort one another. All are necessary.

But a real relationship gains strength and is tested by loving honesty.

It is this honesty from a sister in Christ that opened me up to the Truth of Christ about myself and away from my own, and the world’s, estimation that I was justified to wear my past drinking on my sleeve and disavow myself of any further progress.

I could no longer idly blame the drinking, and the reasons for it, for every dysfunction in my personality and behavior. Nor could I continue to simply ride triumph’s coattails.

Only when my friend had the guts to point out that, um, I wasn’t really special, in fact, not special at all in what I had been through and overcome, was I enabled to measure myself as the sinner that I am, right along with everyone else.

Additionally, as a repentant Christian, I have been redeemed from all sin, also right along with every other Christian. Any victory in Christ is equal to others' victory in Christ.

Romans 3:23 doesn’t mince words when it says,

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

So we can’t claim uniqueness in that.

But Romans 3:22a, appearing just before the above verse, is also clear:

“...righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe...” 

So we are not to stymie our maturity by wallowing in or clinging pridefully to past unrighteousness or the overcoming of it.

Instead, we proceed down the avenue of 2 Corinthians 5:17:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”

In this, I—along with any sense of being special in the struggle or the overcoming—am healthily humbled.

copyright Barb Harwood



“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24


“Not that I have already attained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things...” Philippians 3:12-15a





Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Bad Tree Bears Bad Fruit and A Good Tree Bears Good Fruit



I’ve often asked the question, 
“How can I help me if I am the problem?”

It follows that, 
“How can I help others if I am the problem?”

Biblically, this is found in Matthew 7:15-16b:

“Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”

(And remember, Scripture teaches us that only God is good and the author of all good: Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19; James 1:17).

What, then, is a good tree but the tree that is rooted in Christ? And what is a bad tree but the tree that isn’t.

I ended yesterday’s post with a distinction: to believe Christ, not in Him. 

Many, many, people say they believe IN Christ, or if not in Christ, then in a generic god (that they may even interpret as Biblical).

James 2:19 says,

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

And Romans 1:21-22, and 1:25:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”

“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Jesus has a word for those who co-opt Christ for social justice or charitable acts, or merely verbalize a rote belief in him:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

What is the “will of my Father who is in heaven?”

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:40).

This verse uses the terminology “believes in him.” But as the Matthew 7 verse imparts, there is more to believing in Christ than simply belief in Christ. It requires knowing Christ in personal intimacy, within the truth of the entire Gospel of Good News, which Christ came to deliver individually to each and every one of us.

How does this all tie in with yesterday’s Luke 12:48 verse?

We established in that post that God has already given us the Kingdom.

We see that the Bible makes it clear that belief in Christ is not to be undertaken lightly, that much will be required and demanded of us who have been given, and who have received, the Kingdom--been given and received Christ Himself. That is the “much” that we have been given: God in Christ and His Holy Spirit.

So when we choose to seek and enter the Kingdom, saved by Christ alone, we no longer perceive, respond and act in the old earthly way. What is demanded and asked of us, per the Luke 12 verse, is to grow more and more like Christ. 

That means that, as our love for the Lord our God increases with all of our heart, minds, bodies, strength, soul and spirit, we are driven to please Him. And we do it freely, in the joy and life that He Himself stated He came to fill up in us (John 10:10 and 15:11).

So, no longer can we keep ourselves in charge.

No longer can we take offense when Jesus says that people took offense at Him first.

No longer can we self-righteously judge others when Jesus says that God will judge everyone and He will avenge—our job is merely to focus on the log in our own eye.

The call of God in Christ Jesus, the "much" that is required of us, is to (and Scripture provides many more teachings on How to live as Christ) do the following:

“...grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18a).

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:30-32).

Participate in the divine nature by adding to our faith:

“goodness; and goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1:5b-7).

And listed as the most important by Jesus Himself, because it is the way to the good tree that bears good fruit:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

And if we say we love Him, then it is required of us to love Him, and thus, to obey Him:

“If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15).

“Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:24).

We cannot “follow” some vague god of denominational devising that has been disembodied from the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We cannot conjure up a good “god,” or even a good self, from our fallen, sinful inner nature and hope to grow good fruit. These Godless acts will always be tainted with selfish motivation and pride, which is why God calls these sorts of personal deeds “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

Instead,

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7)

The difference between a life of belief “in” and a life that believes Christ and His Gospel is the difference between whether we will be a tree that bears good fruit or a tree that bears bad fruit in the sight of God.

Once we believe Christ and His Gospel, we are ready to examine and live out the “much” that is “demanded” of us.




copyright Barb Harwood





Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Is God's Kingdom About Material Blessings Only?



“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48b

When we look at this verse, especially without Biblical context, many are prone to think “material: whoever has been given much materially....and whoever has been entrusted with much materially or professionally...must give back materially.

Is that what this verse is limited to? Because if it is, this is what it means: to everyone who has been given many things--a house, car, clothes, food, water, birthday presents, televisions, computers and iPhones--much will be demanded.

We think to ourselves, “Okay, it must mean that since I’ve got so many things, then I must give many things in return.

Following that line of logic, wouldn’t it imply that we give housing, food, clothing, iPhones and cars to others? 

Understanding this verse in this way, do people actually do that on a regular basis? Do the people who insist on this quite popular and common interpretation of Luke 12:48 buy two iPhones, one for themselves and one for someone who cannot afford one?

See, the main problem with the above interpretation of this verse is that, aside from being interpreted entirely out of context and outside of a systematic Biblical theology, it is transactional.

It gets back to the age-old quandary of good enough: how good do we have to be to get to heaven? Mother Teresa good, or Richard Nixon good?

The same quandary applies when we co-opt these verses to our personal, (and let’s face it, often self-righteous) construct: how much is enough to give? If I buy a boat, who is the recipient of the gift boat? Is fifty bucks in the collection plate at Christmas enough?

For every item we possess, are we to give the same and equal possession to someone else? Are we to not gain anything new for our self until we have provided equal material gain for our neighbor?


If we look at what directly precedes these lines in Luke, we find three entire paragraphs filled with Jesus telling his disciples (that would be us) to not worry about what we are to wear and what we are to eat. He tells us not to worry about our material needs because “your Father knows that you need them.”

God knows everyone’s needs (and those needs are more than just material). 

He knows how to meet those needs: physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Here’s how: by instructing us, his disciples, to “seek his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.” And that means that when we seek His Kingdom first, those less fortunate will be the recipients as well. 

See, when we seek the material, and make faith and church about the physical provision and reception of blessings only, we are not seeking the Kingdom of God.

Luke 12 is pointing out that people are worrying about the physical and material. God says to stop that and to seek His kingdom. 

This Kingdom, by the way, is the very Kingdom God has already “been pleased to give you” (Luke 12:32). 

So we are to seek what He has already given us! It’s there! Not transactional: the gift of God’s Kingdom to us has already been given! 

It is we who are either seeking it and thus receiving it, or not seeking it and thus not receiving it. The transaction, if there is any, is upon us to simply go after it. God does not withdraw it: the gift of His Kingdom remains for us whether we accept it or not.

And as we shall see, this Kingdom is primarily not simply material. A faith that lives and breathes only in the context of material void or gain is not faith in Jesus Christ, and does not live in the Kingdom of God.

The actual interpretation of the Luke 12:48 verse goes much, much, deeper, to the very core of what it means to believe Christ, not just believe in Christ. 

I’ll write more on that in the coming week.

copyright Barb Harwood



“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” Mark 12:28-30





Monday, September 18, 2017

The "Problem" of Evil


From a concise, Biblical study of evil provided by GotQuestions.org:

“Rather than creating us as amoral robots or dooming mankind for our sin or condoning our sin by leaving it unresolved, God chose the one and only way to settle the problem. He created us with the freedom to choose our actions, and then extended forgiveness to us. Forgiveness is the Christian answer to the problem of evil.

Forgiveness is different from condemnation—it releases the condemned from punishment. Forgiveness is also different from excusing evil—it acknowledges that there is wrong to be made right. The basis of our forgiveness, the cross, is the intersection of God’s perfect moral character, 
love, and omnipotence. Since He chose to take our penalty upon Himself, all suffering and evil can be overcome. According to the Bible, the evil we experience in this life has already been defeated, and everyone has access to that victory.


Taken as a whole, as it is intended, the Bible describes evil as something God allowed, but never condoned, for the sake of our free will. All through history, God has taken steps to limit the influence of evil. And, most importantly, God Himself took the consequences of our sin, so every person can have access to forgiveness and salvation. As a result, all sin, evil, and suffering will someday be completely ended. Beyond the philosophical or theological aspects of this issue, Scripture in and of itself goes a long way to neutralizing the power of the 'problem of evil.'” GotQuestions.org



Read the entire article, titled, What is the Biblical Solution to Evil? here:

https://www.gotquestions.org/problem-of-evil.html