Thursday, October 19, 2017

So Quick to Criticize

Raise your hand if you have ever put your foot in your mouth.

Raise your hand if you were ever at a loss as to what to say to someone but felt you must say something and did the best you could, in utmost sincerity for the other person’s well being.

Raise your hand if you have ever insisted that you were right, and later, most likely when alone, realized that you were, indeed, incorrect.

Raise your hand if you have ever griped at your kids, made a sarcastic remark toward your spouse, evaded a neighbor in the grocery store, or made a judgment about a person or situation without having all the facts.

Raise your hand if you wish that every above instance committed by you was not only published on the front page of every major newspaper, but dissected, speculated upon and re-examined for days afterward.

My hand was raised for the first four scenarios. I kept it down for the last one.

It’s embarrassing enough to make a fool of one’s self, be it intentionally or unintentionally (and really, does anyone intentionally make a fool of themselves?), among co-workers, friends or family.

It’s tough, if not impossible, to always know the best way to navigate family and friendships in a way that pleases everyone.

But to have one’s every move magnified to the nth degree by people who weren’t even there, or who were there, but in schadenfreude and an appetite for gossip, or because they operate out of a habitual critical spirit or identity politics, interpret and relay the incident incorrectly.

Or, they simply did not approve of how someone did things, so, feeling jilted, they lash out in scornful commentary to anyone within earshot. (Notice, too, that the disgruntled will rarely, if ever, voice their attacks directly to the person they are at odds with).

It seems that no one is immune from poker-hot appraisals and sallying slams that ad-lib first, and never even get to the part about “think later.”

Scripture asks,

“What good is a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?"

I would also ask,

“What good is a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits the soul or reputation of another?”

The world gained by the hysterics of half-baked town-crierism is drama.

The theatrics of offense, microaggression, entitlement, us vs. them, and shouting down the other guy impart an intoxicating, but temporary, boost to one’s affirmation-obsessed psyche. Short-lived because it is built on sand, this mental state must be constantly fed with new grievances, affronts, rants and outrage.

Like I said, no one is immune from being the target of such venom.

This past weekend I had the privilege of hearing Pastor Tony Evans preach. His subject was grace.

“Grace,” he said, “does not mean taking license.”

But that is what we do: the world’s increasing sense of individual self-assurance has become our license to believe what we want to believe without any perusing of original sources or soberly asking fact-filling questions.

I don’t know who to cite for the quote, 

“You can be sincere: sincerely wrong,”

but it sums up the trouble with basing our worldview on how many likes our “what-if thinking” and strong-willed opinions rack up on Facebook, or the accordance one finds in a favorite television political pundit.

The tendency today is to mouth-off; very few are speaking credibly, with integrity (the latter, by the way, is grace).

The next generation will suffer for the lack of leadership in how to think, and thus, speak, well.

When it comes to social discourse, much has changed just in my life time. But the admonition for Christians to “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19) has not changed.

Only when we stand in the affirmation of Christ, taking seriously His Word to not bear false witness against our neighbor (Exodus 20:16) or bite and devour one another (Galatians 5:15), will we be able to stand before God, and others, with a clear conscience.

Jesus is the revealer of every heart’s condition when he states,

“For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34b).

Thus, our daily, sincerely-desired prayer to God, asking,

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
 Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

The sin of offense, the sin of thinking too highly of oneself, the sin of vengeance, the sin of wanting to be right (and the pride in sometimes actually being right) are encumbrances which so easily ensnare us—that take our eyes and our hearts off Jesus.

Instead, let us repudiate these sin reactions and instead “run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

Copyright Barb Harwood

“Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.” Psalm 19:13

“Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” 
Psalm 51:6

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” 
Psalm 51:10

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Commonly Missed Part of the Equation: Repentance

Frederica Mathewes-Green, writing about repentance in her book, The Illumined Heart:

     "The first time Jesus appears, in the first Gospel, the first instruction he gives is 'Repent.' 
     From then on, it's his most consistent message. In all times and every situation, his advice is to repent. Not just the scribes and Pharisees, not just the powerful--he tells even the poor and oppressed that repentance is the key to eternal life...
     Talk of repentance makes modern-day Christians nervous. We are embarrassed by the stereotype of old-fashioned preachers hammering on sin and making people feel guilty. We rush to assert that Jesus isn't really like that, he came out of love, he wants to help us. He knows us deep inside and feels our every pain, and his healing love sets us free.
     This is one of those truths that run out of gas halfway home. The question is, what do we need to be healed of? Subjectively, we think we need sympathy and comfort, because our felt experience is of loneliness and unease. Objectively, our hearts are eaten through with rottenness. A hug and a smile aren't enough. 
     We don't feel like we're rotten; if anything, we feel like other people treat us badly. One of the most popular myths of our age is that if you can claim to be a victim, you're automatically sinless."         
                                    Frederica Mathewes-Green

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

When Personal Change is Not Accepted

When a politician “flip-flops” and we find out that they were for abortion before they were against it, a common response is to say that they are “lying” or “manipulative” in their current stance. We don’t trust that their views on abortion, or anything else for that matter, could actually have changed.

When a person makes a mistake, and apologizes, people may say that they are only apologizing because they are “embarrassed” or, distrusting sincerity, accuse that person, again, of “lying.”

When someone does something in their 20’s that they later acknowledge and disown as a previous behavior done in a less mature and enlightened mindset, other people often react by continuing to hold them to that previous behavior to this very day.

It’s the “Yeah, but...” syndrome: “Oh sure, Pete is a great guy now, yeah! But you should have seen him in college. I mean, it’s tough to forget that, and that he won’t revert back at some point.”

Does this describe us? Do we hold someone else to a standard that we don’t hold to ourselves? Do we allow ourselves to change but not others?

I, for one, back in my college, pre-Christian days, was for abortion. That was 34 years ago. You don’t honestly believe that my thinking on this could not have changed in 34 years?

I have made mistakes at work, with society, at home and with my family. Can a person honestly believe that, if I wasn’t sorry for those mistakes then because I didn’t see any problem with them then, that I am sorry now, have said so and made sincere attempts to not repeat those mistakes?

I have done and thought things in my twenties, thirties and forties that I can’t fathom doing or thinking today, in my fifties.

Do we honestly believe that every person on this planet must be held accountable to a few years in their past for the rest of their life, regardless of what kind of person they have since become?

Maybe people change so infrequently that, as a society, we have come to not trust it when it does happen.

Or, although we do concede that people can and do change, perhaps our resistance to it is because we don’t like it when it happens. Our self-interest is often served by change denial. In that way we can continue on in victimhood, cold-shouldering, being a control freak and not having to be vulnerable with family and friends.

A perfect example is found in the situation of a spouse who wants “out” of a marriage. Let’s say it is the wife. She signs up for counseling having already settled the matter in her mind that her husband is beyond the ability to change.

I have seen this first hand in my work in marriage ministry.

What inevitably transpires, however, over the weeks of my husband and me meeting with the couple is that the wife’s husband does begin to change. He implements the communication strategies, checks off the wife’s required boxes of things to do at home, apologizes for past incriminations, etc.

This is the point at which the ball bounces into the doubting wife’s court: will she now accept, and work within, this irrefutable change?

The answer is often “No” because this wife doesn’t actually want her spouse to change because it means that now she, too, has to change.

The wife discovers, much to her surprise and chagrin, that she is, in fact, part of the problem in the marriage. This can be too much for her pride to handle, and so, unable or unwilling to acknowledge that her spouse can become a better person, and to avoid any accountability on her part, she leaves the marriage anyway.

It’s a very stubborn defensiveness. And it is what we lob at family members, co-workers and politicians every day.

What about the reaction to those who have died to an old life due to being born again in Christ? For us, especially in our early years of learning to live as Christ—and all the “hypocritical” offenses we rack up—we quickly become, if not peculiar, then a laughing stock or offensive stench to those who are outside of the life of Christ who cannot comprehend or willingly accept a redeemed life.

There is nothing we can do about them, but there is everything we can do about us, and that is simply to continue to grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord, and continue to become Christlike.

Now, I support and acknowledge that trust in change must be earned.

So, for example, someone who has used drugs and alcohol, and declares them self “clean,” must prove it.

I agree that spouses must each be intentional about long-term transformation in their own persons and in the marriage.

I agree that we do not become pushovers and enablers in accepting someone’s newly turned over leaf.

But to continue to find fault with someone ten, twenty and thirty or more years after they have committed some act or held some attitude and have since acknowledged, repented of, and turned away from it transfers the fault onto the blamer’s heads. They are now the guilty party of un-forgiveness and self-righteousness.

How would we feel—how do we feel, when people will not consider and accept who we are today versus who we were back when?

The outcome of this refusal sabotages relationships and, in a social sense, the ability to work and cooperate together.

I live in a community in which I have lived for 20 years.

I came here as a non-believer, with a drinking problem, and lugging strong opinions that were a mile wide and an inch deep.

I continuously run into people from that (thankfully) receding past who haven’t had the privilege of observing my transformation over the last 15 years. To them, I’m sure I am still the jerk I used to be.

And then there are those who I’ve met recently who have no idea of what I have ever been nor I, them. I find these folks refreshing and encouraging because my relationship with them is current: it is based on who I, and they, are today.

I include in this latter group my husband, who, although he knows everything about me, the shadows of the past don’t haunt due to our both being regenerated in Christ, meeting God’s new mercies every morning. Our relationship today is based on who we both are in Christ today.

I take no credit for the regeneration and clearing-of-the-slate of my person and worldview. That is all Christ.

It is His redemption—the washing away of the worldly, secular and human over the last seventeen years. The melting, day by day, of pride.

Today, I don’t recognize or know the person I was twenty years ago: she is a complete stranger and enigma to me. And I can’t thank Christ enough for pulling me out of her and bringing me to this new personhood in Christ.

Redemption is possible for everyone. It is real for some.

We do well to sober our strong convictions that people (including ourselves) can’t change their opinions or behavior as time goes by, or at the hands of Christ.

We do well to stop pointing the finger at other people’s explanations and stated motivations for the change we see in them and ask ourselves why it is we are so reluctant to give them their due, to accept that the evidence does, indeed, point to a metamorphosis?

And to ask ourselves, “Who are we to hold that positive reality against them?” If we accept it in ourselves, then we accept it in others.

 copyright Barb Harwood

“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions.” Galatians 6:3-4a

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:25-27

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” John 3:1-3

“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:19-21

“Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God always concerning you for the grace which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

“For the word of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11

“But by his doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,” 1 Corinthians 1:30

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12

 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old has passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Colossians 2:9-14

“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:4-5

Monday, October 9, 2017

Oswald Chambers: Beware of Human "Holiness"

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest:

"I cannot save and sanctify myself; I cannot make atonement for sin; I cannot redeem the world; I cannot right what is wrong, purify what is impure, or make holy what is unholy. That is all the sovereign work of God. Do I have faith in what Jesus Christ has done? He has made the perfect atonement for sin. Am I in the habit of constantly realizing it? The greatest need we have is not to do things, but to believe things. The redemption of Christ is not an experience, it is the great act of God which He has performed through Christ, and I have to build my faith on it. If I construct my fatih on my own experience, I produce the most unscriptural kind of life--an isolated life, with my eyes focused solely on my own holiness. Beware of that human holiness that is not based on the atonement of the Lord. It has no value for anything except a life of isolation. It is useless to God and a nuisance to man."

"We cannot do anything pleasing to God unless we deliberately build on the foundation of the atonement by the Cross of Christ."

"Beware of the human holiness that denies the reality of the natural life--it is a fraud."

Friday, October 6, 2017

When We Stop Sinning Only to Sin Again

Many, if not all of us, have experienced the audacity of our ability to slowly but surely slide back into a bad habit that God has previously corrected.

At that time of our disobedience, we were overcome with Godly sorrow and conviction, and relieved at the clarity of new direction His punishing discipline provided.

For me, it isn’t the so-called “Big-with-a-capital-B” sins, like drinking, that I am here referring to. That nemesis, thankfully, has never again been a temptation.

I’m talking about the sins we perceive as “lesser-than” that seem to be the more difficult to permanently shake off.

Perhaps it is due to their not even actually being a sin at a certain level. It is only when crossing a line that it becomes a sin. And that line can be denied, re-configured and made squiggly by our scheming self-interest.

Take shopping, for example. We all have to shop. But there is a difference between shopping for necessity and shopping for emotional assuagement or to feed some inner lack. And what about sheer material lust? That would be shopping in an idolatry of stuff.

Redeeming the time is another one that does not always have clear boundaries: what is relaxation and what is wasting time? How much leisure is too much? What is the quality of our leisure? Is it healthy leisure or detrimental to our body, mind or soul?

Although the Bible talks about both of these activities (Ephesians 5:1-18), at first glance they are more open-ended than a simple “though shall not” with clearly established precepts.

So it is easy for us to repent for our shopping or leisure habits when we’ve been called on them by God, but it is also easy, once we’ve been “good,” to, over time, take a little bit of liberty here and there—without any repercussions initially—until we are back to where we originally started, or even worse.

That’s when the consequences appear, either familiar or new. That’s when we know we again went too far, abusing and ignoring God’s previous teaching and grace.

I find this happens to me with the commodity of time.

I can wile away an hour just like that, reading inane internet articles, or following some news story about a crazed murderer, when I could be outside weeding, writing a letter to a friend, going on a bike ride, praying, or reading one of the zillions of books lying about my living room.

But since how I use my time does not hold the death knell of perceived “greater sins,” it is nothing at all to cut myself some slack, figure that God approves, or make up some excuse as to why I really must do whatever it is in wasting my time at the present moment.

Once these rather benign—to our minds—habits begin to be our main accomplishment outside of normal work hours, or if retired, our main accomplishments period, and God has already pointed it out once before, then we need to lift up our heads and remember why God corrected us in these temptations in the first place.

I currently find myself in the position of re-committing how I spend my time to God for His approval, fully cognizant that while I was doing really well in this area back when he first highlighted my misuse of it, I have since digressed.

And the Godly sorrow and conviction that I am feeling all over again, leading to repentance, has once again ignited the desire to get right with God, not just in these lapses, but in everything.

Romans 2:4 sums it up well:

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”

God’s previous addressing of my fixations and unwieldy preponderances has always resulted in the above-mentioned repentance.

But what then?

I see now that for these more wishy-washy transgressions, I have shown contempt to his kindness in guiding me out of them by sticking my hand back in the cookie jar, hoping He won’t notice, or care.

But He does notice and care, because He loves us. And so He hands down His assessment and there we are, sheepishly wondering how we ever got ourselves into such straights all over again. And we repent.

The question now staring me in the face, and which I journaled upon this morning, is, will this cycle repeat? Is one repetition enough? Do I get it now? Will I remain right with God, agreeing with Him the rest of my days that this proclivity will never creep back into my daily life?

It is my prayer and plan of Scripture reading to make it so—to sincerely desire rightness with God and a clear conscience before Him above, and even instead of, everything else that may beckon.

Only time will tell if I redeem it well.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a new heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:1-12

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

The LORD performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on
those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
To those who keep His covenant
And remember His precepts to do them.” Psalm 103:1-18