Repetition Deepens Impression

•February 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Jesus said in Luke 6:32, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”

Christianity is filled with words that are profound in their true significance, yet are over simplified for various reasons. Some of these reasons are valid and need no chastisement. More often than not though, these over-simplified definitions, good for sabbath school classes, doctrinal teaching, and evangelistic sharing, at times lead us to stop digging and thus stop discovering. Jesus has pushed our minds on a word such as this in Luke 6 with the word “sinner.”

Here Christ describes a sinner as someone capable of love. A sinner loves people. People who are estranged from God CAN love, and Do love. As the Lord goes on, we learn that a sinner is capable of doing good and in fact does do good. A sinner lends to others, even other sinners. This seems to fly in the face of our “total depravity” approach sometimes in trying to get people to see that they are sinners.

Indeed, I, having been on the other end of the gospel message, remember how pounded it felt to hear some of the things preachers would say to “convict,” my soul of sin. But the painting of their preaching colored something that seemed foreign to my own experience.

They painted a portrait of humanity that I found untrue to some extent in my own life and the lives of others. I loved my mom. I would die for my brother. I unselfishly gave to my best friend. (And maybe someone will be quick to say, “there are too many “I”‘s in those statements…that’s the problem…) I believe that even in evangelistic outreach we run up against souls, who see their need of Jesus, but just have that nagging itch inside that says, “but I’m not at that place of desperation.” We will be quick to play the “you’re resisting the Spirit” card or “walk while you have the light” card. But I think this nagging stems from a failure to acknowledge what even Jesus acknowledged: Sinners love. Sinners do good. Sinners lend.

But, what makes a sinner a sinner is not that he or she cannot love, lend, or do good at all; it is who a sinner will not love, not lend to, and not do good at all. Their enemies. Those who hate them. Those who persecute them. Those who despitefully abuse them. Those who mingle among them for mischief and mockery. The talebearers of their vices and failures.

A sinner cannot love them. A sinner will not. Ask your unbelieving friend(s) who has hurt them the most? Who despises them? Who has gossiped bitterly about them? And then say, “You should love them.” “You should lend to them hoping for nothing in return.” “You should do good to them.” “You should be merciful.”

Then you will see a sinner. Not a loveless being. But a love-ish being. Someone who can only love those who love him. Some will rush to say, “conditional lover.” I concede to this title as the text suggests that everyone a sinner loves, does good by, lends to, has the same to offer her and indeed has offered it and given it. (One would think sinners would have no problem loving God for that matter! But that is for the next blog post.)

Jesus says that God is not a sinner or even like them. The Most High is kind to the unthankful and evil. Those who do not love Him back, or do Him good, or lend anything to Him expecting nothing in return. Thus, a sinner is a soul that does not love as God loves. A son of Adam, alienated by his own nature, who has forgotten how to love as He was created to love. A sinner is not a non-church member, or someone who just breaks the rules or transgresses the law. A sinner is someone who simply loves those who love him. The evidence that we have passed from death to life, from sinner to saved, from wicked to righteous is our ability to love those who do us no good, give us no love, and lend us only in hopes of return.

Indeed, this is what makes the cross defining. Defining in its revelation of God. Jesus died in the place and at the time when most human beings around Him hated Him, despised Him, abused Him, and did Him no good. The cross reveals to us that we are sinners. That we are reverent at his death but repulsed at repeating it. Repeating it when we take a gift to the person who abused us while they rot in prison. Repeating it when we embrace the father that was never there and honor him. Repeating it when we speak well of the friend who back-stabbed us so effortlessly and without remorse. So much so that if souls in the church or outside did not get it on the cross in the bible, they will get it through our lives. And repetition deepens impression.


Missing the Reubens

•March 4, 2012 • 4 Comments

In Genesis 29, we read of the painful account of Leah’s lot of lovelessness.  It was not only felt by Leah, perhaps appreciated by Rachel, committed by Jacob, but also observed by God.  The Lord does not sit idly by as He painfully gazes upon a soul devoid of the love that is its due. However, He also doesn’t move in the way one would think.

One would think that God would invade the mind of Jacob as He did when his pillow was a stone and encourage him to love his wife.

One would think that God would wrestle with Jacob as He would when he would fear for his life upon reunion with his estranged brother, to submit to loving his wife.

But God often does not do what one, or two, or millions would think.

Instead, God opens the womb of Leah.

I hope you are as confounded as myself.  God does nothing in the life of the one withholding love, but only in the life of the one without love.

If we think of those who we feel have robbed us of the love owed to us (parents, friends, siblings, and fellow believers), perhaps we might be shocked to find divine activity in our lives, and not theirs.

Apparently, Leah’s womb was not open before and thus out of 2 marriages, Jacob came away with 2 infertile wives.  The stigma of barrenness, so well portrayed in the experience of Sarai, and the desire of a son seem to paint the back drop of this Divine decision.  A son, was the promise to Adam, the joy of Eve, the game-changer for Enoch, the comfort in Noah, the burden of Abraham, and the 20-year prayer of Issac.

And now, Jacob, by the woman he does not and perhaps refuses to love, receives a son.  The firstborn.  The powerful message is truly in the name she gives, Reuben.

It means, “See, a son.”  Leah’s conclusion: “Now therefore, my husband will love me.”

Reuben, she thought, would help her win the love of her husband.  His name was a constant reminder to Jacob of her worthiness of his love.  See, a son.  From me.

I believe that we all have Jacobs in our lives. People who love us less than we desire them to love us.  And what “Reubens” do we present before them?  See, a degree.  See, a witty comment.  See, a lot of money.  See, a sign that I have grown beyond my previous failures.  And, probably, they are missing the Reubens.

Reubens are those things that we do, say, own, present, pursue, and demonstrate that we think will earn the love we have neglected to receive.  The things we thought that once we obtained or showed, the attitude of our Jacobs would change toward us.  The things we thought were or think are the hindrance in a broken relationship.

I also believe wholeheartedly that there are “Leahs” in our own lives, presenting their “Reubens” before us to earn our love, and yet we are missing the Reubens.  Perhaps it is a spouse, mother, friend, co-worker, church member, mentee or whatever.  We must pray that God helps us not miss the Reubens.  For Reubens are the visible expression and attempt of God to bring us to love those whom we have failed to love the way He expected us to all along.

Lastly, there is probably no one as under-loved or loved less than God.  There are many who profess to love Him, as Jacob professed and promised to love Leah at their wedding, but, similarly, it lacks substance and follow-through.  Could it be, that on the cross, our under-loved Father, was presenting His Reuben?  Could it be that the Father was saying in Christ, See, a son?

Thus, the issue surrounding our relationship with God, is not His love for us, but our love for Him.  This totally undermines any attempt at righteousness by works.  For, we need not present Reubens to God in order to get Him to love us, as His Reuben made the issue as one regarding our love.  May we be careful not to turn our devotions, acts of service, sacrifices, tithes and offerings or what have you into reubens we present to God as to why we are worthy of His love.  He has already given it.

We may miss the Reubens presented by others perhaps because we miss the Reuben presented by God.

The Wounds of a Faithful Friend

•March 1, 2012 • 2 Comments

After having just arrived at the camp in Maryland, an emotionally disturbed youth, asked if I could speak with his friend.  His friend, nameless here, felt that he had committed the unpardonable sin.  That he had blasphemed the Holy Spirit.  Thus, he thought, he should pursue pain in any form to re-awaken his spiritual sensibilities.

I took the phone hesitatingly.  Early signs of fall loudly brushed by as the afterglow faded.

Me: Hello?

Nameless: Hey.

Me: What’s going on bro? I heard you were supposed to come, but decided not to.

Nameless: yeah.  I’m unreachable.  I’m too far for God to reach me.  (such and such) thought that it would be good if you and I talked.  I don’t know why, but I figured I have nothing to lose.

Me: You think you committed the unpardonable sin?

Nameless: Yeah.  I’ve been fighting God for a long time and now I feel nothing.

Me: But you feelfar from God though?

Nameless: Yeah.

Me: Then you didn’t commit it.

Nameless: (Silence.) What do you mean?

Perhaps you’ve never engaged in such a discussion, but sadly I have.  The sense of far-ness from God transcends culture and geography.  This has led me to pry into this subject with greater interest.

The primary text cited for this unforgivable sin, is Matthew 12:31-32.  It is described as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  Contextually, Jesus makes this statement after the 2nd instance (first is in matthew 9:34) of the Pharisees stating that He casts out demons by Beelzebub.

By is important to our discussion.  The pharisees do not deny that Jesus can cast out demons or that He hasn’t cast out demons.  They simply deny that it was by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus, clearly says in verse 28, within a conditional statement, that He casts out demons by the Spirit of God.

Hence, prior to this enigmatic statement regarding the unpardonable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, is Jesus laying out that they, the Pharisees, are attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil.

It was by the Holy Spirit that Jesus had casted demons out, but Jesus also guides us into all truth and convicts the world of sin by the Holy Spirit.

There is no one grievous sin that God cannot or will not forgive.  It’s not sexual sin.  It’s not drugs.  It’s not murder.  It’s not hypocrisy.  It’s not even genocide or random snuffing of life.  It is simply the sin that is not confessed.

But one would ask, “Why would someone not confess?”  Either because: a) he refuses to admit he did anything wrong or b) he refuses to humble himself and confess or c) he is afraid and unwilling to face the consequences of confessing, for he anticipates harm, not forgiveness.

Nevertheless, confession, at its core, demands an acceptance of responsibility for transgression the law of God.  This sense of guilt, this sense of wrongness of action, this sensitivity and shame comes  by the Holy Spirit.  And if anyone attributes this work of the Holy Spirit, this  work of conviction, to the devil, then he/she will resist it as if it is the devil.

The zeitgeist is one that refuses to succumb to anything that brings guilt, conviction, or a sense of accountability to a greater moral order.  It is preparing people to attribute to an enemy the work of a friend.

Thus, when someone attributes the work of the Holy Spirit to that of an unholy spirit, he can never be forgiven, for he will never confess.

While many of us see ourselves as far from making this irreparable error, we are nearer than we think.  Our openness to counsel and rebuke show how far along the spectrum we are.

Think of yourself for a moment.  How did you respond the last time a godly friend brought a word of rebuke to you?  Do you get angry?  Did you criticize the way they came at you to simply divert your prideful response to the conviction the Spirit was bringing?  Did you argue?  Did you submit to the truth of the claims and humble yourself under the weight of Divine conviction?

We are in danger of alienating those who bring us the most honest reflection of our faults and their impact.  We would rather feel faultless, than submit to the process that makes us faultless.  This is utter self-deception(topic of my next post).

We often attribute the work of a friend to the work of an enemy.  Though the Bible says, “Open rebuke is better than secret love.”  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”

Jesus is our friend.  A true friend. A friend who’s wounds are faithful.  May we never call Him an enemy.  But perhaps there are people in your life who you have called an enemy, though they were doing the work of a friend.  Go back to them.  Acknowledge the truth.  And gain a brother.

Competence Extrapolation

•February 8, 2012 • 3 Comments

It’s been a few days since my last post, but this post has been no less on my mind.  This one’s a little longer than the others…494 words

Let’s build on the notion that humility is common sense, yet not common.

So, I know that I am guilty of this, but being the victim sometimes can be even more entertaining.

“This” is competence extrapolation.

For example, I  remember listening to someone tell me about the experience as an African-american male, though they were Jewish in their heritage and have absolutely no black friends or colleagues whatsoever.  As I disgreed with a few of his conclusions, I could sense that he was becoming irritated because he was a doing doctoral studies in diversity and cultural competence.  But I could not bring myself to sit silently as a Jewish scholar tell me what it’s like to be a black man…when I AM A BLACK MAN!

In other words because this individual was astute and his opinions widely sought after in his respective field, he felt that he could back himself on matters far outside his specialty or experience.

We are all guilty of it. Yet, if we are well-versed, studied, read, and astute in this one area, shouldn’t we logically then realize how much we don’t know about another area?

I mean, if I know that it has taken 10years for me to become vaguely familiar with all the genres of literature, shouldn’t I then expect to be humble about my knowledge in a field where I have barely spent a few hours reading up on?

True experts should then be more conscious of their limitations than others.

Clearly God could never be guilty of this, and thus Jesus telling Peter to throw out his net again was not competence extrapolation.  Since He was a carpenter and Peter a fisherman.

But even think of this in terms of the song that the 144000 will sing in heaven.  They are the only ones who can learn that song, because they are the only ones who have gone through such an experience.  As the hymn goes, “Holy, Holy, is what the angels sing/And I expect to help them make the courts of heaven ring/But when I sing redemption story/They will fold their wings/For angels never felt the joy, that our salvation brings.”

Angels would never engage in competence extrapolation. Even in song.

We could even think of suffering this way.  Clifford Goldstein, in God, Godel and Grace, already dealt with the notion that we all can only experience our own pain, and thus understand other’s pain through that lens.

But can you imagine someone coming to God, Jesus, about pain and suffering as if he/she is an expert?  It is often the case that we do not even understand our own pain, hence the need for counseling after traumatic experiences.

But when Jesus tells us about our pain, He is not extrapolating beyond His competence, for He felt it first.

Common Sense but not Common

•February 3, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Perhaps for centuries, we have grappled with this idea of common sense.  We talk about many things being common sense.

For instance, buying an article of clothing.  We all think of it as common sense, that you should try it on before you purchase it.  We would give the same counsel for a pair of shoes.

We could also go into the realm of food, home economics, relationships, and even religion.

Rather than boring an individual with a myriad of “duh” examples of common sense, I want to hone in on the one area I think is probably the least common.

Humility. Humility? You might ask.  Yes. Humility.

Now, if we were to sit down and ask ourselves which is greater, what we do know or what we don’t know?  Without much thought, or maybe a little hesitation depending on how deep the pride goes, we all arrive at the undeniable conclusion that what we don’t know far surpasses what we do know.

One more.

What if we asked this question: Which is greater, what you can do or what you can’t do?  Again, those running on “less than a quarter” in the humility tank may say, “if given enough time, I could learn to do anything.  Yet, when pressed with the present answer, if they must admit that what they can’t do far exceeds what they can do.

Isn’t this common sense?  Who in the world thinks that what they do know and what they can do is greater than what they don’t know and what they can’t do?

God: Me.

SB: Oh yeah…that’s true.

But for us, humility is common sense.  Yet…not very common.

The question is why not?  Perhaps it isn’t common sense.  Perhaps it is profound.  A truth that has always been there, but we never saw.  Or never wanted to see.



The Measure of a Man

•January 31, 2012 • 3 Comments

In Paul’s clear counsel to young Timothy on what qualities to look for in prospective spiritual leaders, the insight is quite staggering.

Surely, we would expect character to arise on the list.  Perhaps qualities that do not fall too far from biblical knowledge.  The issue of money also seems to be of serious consideration as well.

However, the staggering part for me is how much of the list deals with his home life.

1. husband of one wife (no polygamy, monogamous…apparently an issue at that time)

2. one who rules his own house well..i.e. having his children in submission with all reverence

The reason given is: “for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the Church(house) of God?”

In other words, in the eyes of God (this counsel is inspired) and thus also in the eyes of the church, a man is exactly what he is at home.

This is the measure of a man.  His usefulness for the work of Christ’s church is determined by his faithfulness at home with his children and to his wife.

In a generation obsessed with meaning, purpose, my lifework, and God’s will, one will quickly find an obsession with increasing knowledge (this is useful and noble), increasing experience (also important) yet no consideration for what a man is at home.

We want him to preach because he is eloquent or knowledgeable.  No regard, as Paul gives, for his faithfulness at home.

We would always disregard a drunkard but never disband an absentee husband or father.

We would unhesitatingly deny a money-loving mongrel, but eagerly a husband who spends not a cent on his wife.

We are subtly drawn away by testimonies of husbands globetrotting while their wives and children sit at home neglected of the attention given to strangers in foreign countries and distant districts.  We honor it as if it is a noble sacrifice and perhaps strive to emulate it.

There is so much against such a notion it is scary.  Even if your wife and children were the least of these, to not do it unto them is not to do it unto Christ.  Though he give all his goods to feed the poor and though he give his body to be burned and have not love, it profits him nothing.  In the words of EGW “It is the greatest and most fatal deception to suppose that a man can have faith unto life eternal, without possessing Christ-like love for his brethren.”

How much more his own wife and children?

Even as I write, I sense my own shortcomings.  I sense myself coming short of the measure of a man…at least in God’s eyes.

Wandering Stars

•January 28, 2012 • 2 Comments

(Sigh) The Sabbath, rest, affords time to think of God’s creation.  To be honest, I have always been intrigued by the heavens beyond.  Stars, Nebulae, Galaxies, “Constellations,” etc.  It is interesting how Bible writers use the stars to give us wisdom.

A quick search through the Bible will show that stars are used to symbolize Jesus, Angels, Men and arguably the Devil.

Stars are numbered and named by God.

They are to whom Jesus’ addresses His seven letters, though the churches are to hear what the Spirit says.

1 Cor 15:41 says that “one stars differs from another star in glory.”

One verse catches my attention for it is clearly observable phenomenon in the sky…Jude 13, “…Wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.”  The context gives this description to certain men who crept in the church, corrupting the faith.  Yet, in reflecting this Sabbath, seeing the stars, I see my story.  Your story.

Before we meet Jesus, we were all wandering, lifeless planets hopelessly motioning through an endless darkness.  Then we find Jesus. We have found our Sun.  Our center.  Our source of light and life.  As a planet we still move, yet in the gravity of our Sun.  All our motion now centers around Him and never apart from Him.

Yes, there must be activity.  There must be work.  There must be motion.

But all within the gravity of The Son. EGW sums it up best…

“Bring them[youth] in contact with truer beauty, with loftier principles, and with nobler lives. Lead them to behold the One “altogether lovely.” When once the gaze is fixed upon Him, the life finds its center.” It’s sun.