Tuesday, April 16, 2019

WHAT IS SIN? Some Surprises and Counterfeits

Small Steps in Understanding Grace, Seminar #2

Review of First Seminar: What is a Christian?


First, let's review our first seminar for those who were not here. That topic was the question: What is a Christian? This seems simple, but most people who say they are Christians, aren't. We looked at the confusing passage where Jesus declared that to be his disciple one must deny oneself, pick up one's own cross, and follow him. We discussed the possible options. I had thought of four, but Kevin added a fifth. These five are:

1.    Deny one's physical life and die physically—following Jesus to physical death on a cross.
2.    Deny one's tendency to disobedience and die to unwillingness—following Jesus into willingness to always do what is right.
3.    Deny one's tendency to rebellion and die to being uncommitted—following Jesus into commitment to always do what is right.
4.    Deny one's human desires and die to having human desires—following Jesus in always having only God's desires.
5.    Deny one's own righteousness as good and die to life and identity in personal righteousness—following Jesus into His righteousness, receiving a new identity as righteous in His work, and be given the call to proclaim as He did that righteousness is perfection. 

The first four are in some way about behavior and in some way deny what it means to be human. My question was: Why can't following Jesus be about Jesus? 

My conclusion was that being a Christian was all about God and His goodness. God is good and created the universe good. God allowed an intruder into the universe to be a voice distracting Adam and Eve away from dependence on God's goodness. They fell under the condemnation of their own conscience as well as under God's judgment. It is good for God to provide a good way of resolution for His fallen universe. The only good way honors both the call to the details of goodness and the call to be faithful to the details. Since goodness includes freedom from moral imperfection, and humans have no ability to be free from moral imperfection, the only good hope for humans is for them to be free from obligation to goodness. Since God is good, it naturally follows that He would in a good way free His creatures from the obligation to be faithful by carrying that burden Himself. This means that substitution is the only good way for Him to do this. Since God is good, He naturally will provide a good way for His image bearers to have a good relationship with Him. That good relationship is called being a Christian. 
The good way into becoming a Christian is personal and non-manipulative. 

Jesus is the way, truth, life, peace, holiness, righteousness, redemption, light and more for a Christian. He is both the way into the new relationship and the way of life once in that new relationship. Since God is good, all of life is His responsibility to provide and maintain. Therefore, a Christian is a person who has a good relationship with God—a relationship that is good in all aspects. A Christian is alive in God's goodness—God's righteousness—God's faithfulness—and is free from the pressure of his own righteousness, his own faithfulness, and his own goodness. Again, God initiates and maintains this relationship. It is beautiful to be in a good relationship with God. So being a Christian is a real experience with God's goodness—a continuous experience of righteousness as perfection and as a gift. Aren't you glad that all the pressure is on Him?

TODAY'S TOPIC: WHAT IS SIN?


Our topic for today is the question: What is sin? We Christians have a good and simple way of defining sin. What have you heard or said? Sin is missing the mark. You may have even explained sin as an archery term for missing the target. Is it always obvious what sin is—what the target is that a person is not hitting? Since we Christians sometimes argue about sin, I suspect that this is not always obvious. 

Satan is a Counterfeiter


We here all believe that Satan is our enemy and that he seeks to trick us into believing his lies. How does he trick us? Does he come right out and boldly declare that he is going to trick us? Does He tell us that stealing and murder are good things and that therefore we should do them as much as we want? If he operated this way, we would almost never buy his lies. In the real world he seeks to deceive us by first counterfeiting some point of God's goodness. Then he shows us the counterfeit in some deceitful way so that we will think that it is the real thing. Then, if we think it is real, we will operate in life as if it were real. Do you agree that life is a spiritual battle and that it is easy for us to get fooled by the world's counterfeits? Do you think that Satan desires us to be at least a little bit confused about everything? 

Is There a Counterfeit of Sin?


If Satan wants us to be confused about everything, then do you think he would seek to counterfeit bad things, too, like laziness, legalism, worldliness, or sin? In other words, is there counterfeit sin that we need to be alert to avoid? This seems a little strange at first, but if Satan wants us to be confused, then he would want us to be confused about what is bad, too. If there is a counterfeit sin, then we should evaluate what we think or hear about the target. Does Satan have a counterfeit target that he wants us to focus on? If so, how can we discern it? First, we need to remember that a counterfeit looks very much like the real thing. Therefore, counterfeit sin looks very much like real sin.

A Counterfeit has no authority


The difference between a counterfeit and the real thing is authority. US dollars are backed by the authority of the US government. We properly trust these dollars for financial transactions. In the past some counterfeit dollars looked exactly like the real ones, but they were still illegal because they had no authority. But some people were tricked to trust them. 

God's ways are backed by His authority. Satan's counterfeits have only an appearance of authority. Satan seeks to fool us into trusting that his counterfeit is the real thing. If we trust that it is real, then we will embrace it as a good way to function in life. At first glance a counterfeit seems good, but upon close inspection it can be seen as a forgery. 

Fortunately, my illustration breaks down at the right place. Currency is physical and thus counterfeits can be made that have an identical appearance to authorized currency. In such a case there is no way to detect bogus bills. The government has to work hard to stop the production of perfect imitations. Satan's counterfeits are not physical; they are about ways of thinking about life. Therefore, his counterfeit is always detectable upon close inspection. 

It is not good to be tricked or intimidated by counterfeits. Therefore, it is not good to stay naive about Satan's tricks. The way to not be tricked is 1) to become very familiar with the simplicity of God's goodness, and 2) to learn God's mark that is on all his ways and that is missing from every counterfeit. 

What is that mark?

Satan Counterfeits Goodness


How many of you have heard or thought that Satan wants you to do evil things, such as stealing, murder, hatred, gossip, slander, or envy? When we think this way, we have already been tricked to look at the symptoms of a problem and not at its cause. Satan and the world preach not that a person should do evil, but that a person should do good. God also calls us to do good. If God and Satan both call us to do what is good, then doesn't that leave us stuck in the middle of the war between them? It is not good for God to leave us stuck like this. Therefore, there must be a good way forward in discerning the difference between God's voice and Satan's voice. The door into understanding the difference begins with understanding that Satan counterfeits goodness. This is a huge step forward because Satan seeks to hide the fact that he is a counterfeiter. He wants us to think of him as a promoter of evil thinking and behavior. Mormons have told me that Satan would never entice a person to do what is good. This is in their Book of Mormon. I see in the Bible that Satan always starts with some point of God's goodness, then twists it subtly so that we think that it is still good, so that we might swallow his twisted version of goodness. The second important and critical step is to notice how he counterfeits goodness.

Satan's Counterfeit is Simple...Always Simple


Satan simply removes God's identifying mark. All of God's ways contain that mark and all counterfeits lack that mark. In a sense, Satan is always missing the mark as he hates God's mark and seeks to hide and deny God's mark. In First John 3:8 we read that Satan has been sinning from the beginning. This means that he has been missing the mark from the beginning. We Christians teach that Satan is always seeking to get us to miss the mark. In our archery illustration, and at first glance, Satan's target is identical to God's target except for God's identifying mark of authority. It seems that Satan wants to trick us to shoot at his target instead of God's. But reality is simpler and more subtle. Paul declares that we are transformed by the renewing of the mind. Therefore, Satan's real strategy is to stand beside God's target and point at it in such a way that distracts us from noticing God's mark on the target. The mark is there, but it is easily overlooked. I am convinced that Satan's total strategy is to get us to get so focused on various parts of God's target that we don't notice God's mark. And when we do that, we are in his trap. We all are called to become experts at noticing and remembering God's mark on the target. 

The target is God's vision for us of what is good in life in thought, word, and deed. So, in a humorous sense, we Christians sin and miss the mark that we are trying to hit—we have bad thoughts or behavior—because we are missing (lacking) awareness of God's mark on the target. We miss the mark because we don't have God's mark in view. God's mark is God's authority. It is a declaration that goodness is all or nothing—that it is good to do individual good things, but it is never good to miss any good thing—that only perfect goodness counts—that only moral perfection is good. This is what Satan seeks to distract us from. 

Goodness is a seamless whole. James declares that if a person does everything good and misses just one point, then he is guilty of wrecking everything. Satan continually tells you to do good things, but he never says that you have to be perfect. He even declares that we shouldn't worry about being perfect.

What is the The Mark?


God always declares that the mark that is to be hit is perfect goodness in all its individual points and in its wholeness. Satan always declares that the mark to be hit is some individual good thing. Individual good points are good, but wholeness of goodness is good too. Wholeness is the key ingredient to goodness. Satan never mentions the wholeness of goodness except to belittle it. When we neglect to consider the wholeness of goodness we are not walking in God's authority. And to not walk in God's authority is sin—missing the mark.

Jesus Died to Free Us from Sin—Two Kinds of Sin and Two Surprises


The New Testament states in various ways that a Christian is free from sin. John even declares that a Christian cannot sin. How is this possible since Christians do bad things every day? To avoid serious confusion, it is critical that we embrace John's teaching in 1John 5:16 that there are two kinds of sin: sin that leads to death and sin that does not lead to death. What is the difference?

Jesus did not die to make us robots. He died to set us free from both types of sin. But this freedom is about Him and not about us. This is a very difficult thing to grasp: your freedom from sin is not about you.

Every person is born in sin, which means that we all are born under the obligation to do what is good or face eternal consequences. It also means that we are born addicted to finding some goodness in ourselves rather than in our creator. Jesus died the death we deserve in order to offer us a new kind of relationship with God—one where we are dead to our identity in personal righteousness and alive in Christ's righteousness. Sin is violation of the law and every Christian is dead to the law. This means that every Christian has diplomatic immunity, which is freedom from obligation to keep the law.

So, in one sense a Christian can't sin because God can't count a Christian's sins. Jesus has died the death we deserve and if we are in Christ, then His death is ours, and His life is ours, too. It is not that we can't do bad things but that God counts our badness against Christ. This is the first type of sin and the first surprise.

In another sense, Christians do sin; we do bad things. The surprise is that the only reason we do them is because we forget our freedom. In Christ we are free to do as many bad things as we want, and we do as many bad things as we want. But when we remember the cost and meaning of our freedom in Christ, then we don't do bad things. You do bad things because you are not thinking about the wholeness of goodness and Jesus' good sacrifice that bought your freedom. And when you are not seeing this for yourself then you certainly are not seeing it for others. If you doubt me, then try an experiment. The next time you find yourself upset at someone, ask yourself what you are thinking about. You will discover that you are not thinking about God's perfection and Christ's sin-bearing love at the cross. Guaranteed. This is the second type of sin and the second surprise.

Good Works Flow Naturally 


Life is simple. We are too weak to resist God's goodness. When we think about goodness rightly, then goodness flows out of us naturally, and we don't forget to do any good works. James 1:25 declares this clearly. The goodness in our hearts sweeps us along into good works WHEN—and only when—we are properly focused on goodness. Doing good works is not about us but about His goodness in us. 

Christianity is not just a way to get to heaven, it is a new way of life based on Christ's faithfulness. We get into Christ by resting in His faithfulness—by being satisfied with His goodness. It is good to always be satisfied with His faithfulness, and so it is no surprise that we Christians are called to always find our satisfaction there. When we do that, we are free from sins of thought, word, and deed. If God is your satisfaction, why go back to seeking satisfaction in imperfect human performance—yours, mine, or anyone's? This is your temptation.

Have you noticed that you have only one temptation? But Satan counterfeits that one in order to trick you into fighting the wrong battle. Temptation is an upcoming topic.


Application


Thank the Father often that


  • He is fully satisfied with the finished work of Christ. 
  • Good works overflow naturally out of a vision of His goodness. 
  • Comparison to Christ's perfection is the only good way to evaluate life. 
  • Christ has already put away all sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 
Pray this often for yourself and often for other saints who come to mind—especially for those who rub you the wrong way.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

ARE YOU ABUSING GRACE? James Denney's Surprise

The grace of God is beautiful and glorious. Since it is not good to abuse what is beautiful, do you think that it is good to abuse God's grace? I suggest that this topic is full of surprises. Let's begin by making the issue personal.

  • Do you think that you have ever abused the grace of God?
  • If so, how did you abuse it? 
  • If you were only pretending to abuse grace, would you want to know?

I suggest that you were only pretending to abuse God's grace. Read on to discover what you were really doing when you were pretending to abuse grace.

The Abuse of Grace:  an Important Concern


Does the abuse of grace concern you? Have you heard anyone express concern about the abuse of grace? I have read this concern in books and heard it in sermons. Mostly I have heard it in my many hundred annual conversations about grace with non-Christians.

The Reason for Concern about the Abuse of Grace


When I have declared that a person's forgiveness with God is guaranteed by the the sin-bearing death of Christ apart from any personal works, my non-Christian hearer has more than occasionally responded with concern that such a guarantee would give a person a license to sin. We Christians commonly emphasize our point with non-Christians by quoting Paul's declaration "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faithand this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It is common for non-Christians to continue their objection and declare that guaranteed forgiveness would mean that God doesn't care about good works. At this point it is common for a seasoned evangelist to respond that God actually does highly value good works and indicate such by quoting the next verse, Ephesians 2:10: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." This has generally not persuaded my non-Christian hearers. After many hundred such conversations I have concluded that the critics of guaranteed forgiveness are not really concerned about good worksthough they declare that they are and I suspect that they honestly think that they are. But in listening closely to those who disagree on this point, it seems clear to me that what they are really concerned about is human effort. Since it is good to do good, they unwittingly think that good works are sourced in human effortin trying to do good.

Many true Christians have expressed to me a concern about specific non-Christians, Christians, pastors, or authorsthat these people are abusing grace. Have you ever wondered if another Christian might be abusing grace? 
  • Have you heard a non-Christian declare that Christians are abusing grace?
  • Have you heard a Christian express concern that some Christians are abusing grace?

Who is Concerned About the Abuse of Grace?


My conclusion from much reading, discussion, and meditation of scripture is that God is also concerned about the abuse of grace. Who do you think is the most concerned about this issue: you, me, your pastor, your favorite theologian, the apostle Paul, or God? 


I find that framing issues in terms of questions helps me to notice my confusion. Let's go back to the beginning and apply some questions to the assumption that you weren't pretending but were actually abusing grace.
  1. Is it good to abuse grace? Yes or No
  2. Can you abuse grace?  Yes or No
  3. How can you abuse grace? Pause and write down your understanding of how grace is abused and how you have done it. If you are unsure then write down what you have heard other people say that it means. Note: Jude 1:4 may be the scripture you have heard used to explain this issue. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  4. What prevents you from abusing grace? Pause and write down what you understand or what you have heard. Note: Romans 6:1-2 may be the scripture you have heard used to urge people not to abuse grace. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  5. Are you meeting the standard you set in your answer to question 4? Write down the name of one or two people you think might be meeting those standards. Write out your understanding of the proper standard for evaluation of abusing grace or preventing the abuse of grace. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Who is Responsible to Prevent the Abuse of Grace?


If it is not good to abuse grace, then God must have a way for grace to not be abused. 
  1. Who is responsible to carry out God's way? Write down your understanding of who is responsible. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  2. Is God's way being successfully carried out by whomever you named. Explain if necessary. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
In all your pondering of my above questions, did you consider God as the person who might be responsible to prevent the abuse of grace? Let me ask the question more clearly.
  • Who is responsible to prevent the abuse of grace: God or humans? 

James Denney's Insight: God Guarantees that Grace Cannot be Abused


James Denney was a Scottish theologian and pastor. I. Howard Marshall called Denney the theologian's theologian. I find reading Denney to be like Jeremiah's experience of having his heart on fire while seeing the Lord as our dread champion (Jer. 20:9-11).  Denney saw all of life and theology to be about the sin-bearing love of Christ. In 1894 Denney gave a series of lectures at a seminary in Chicago. The lectures were promptly published as Studies in Theology. Currently there is one review of the book on Amazon Kindle. It is a very long review in which the pastor author declares: "I want to explore this point further to attempt an answer to a perplexing and disturbing question: Why has the evangelical church in America refused to embrace wholeheartedly this uniquely gifted pastor/theologian whose passionate expositions of the Gospel far exceed anything that has been written or preached in the entire twentieth century?" The author ends by urging saints to read Denney with an honest heart. 

Here is Denney's bold and surprisingly simple declaration that God is the only one who is responsible to prevent the abuse of grace and He does it perfectly. At the end of this post is the quote in a lengthy context that is full of light and life. 


"But in the death of Christ, and in faith laying hold of that death, we have the security against such abuses of the grace of God." page 146


Here are four explicit or implicit declarations in Denney's sentence. 
  1. God is responsible to prevent the abuse of grace.
  2. God guarantees, secures, and enables that grace cannot be abused on any condition.
  3. Thus it is impossible to abuse God's grace.
  4. God's way to perfectly prevent the abuse of grace is through the death of Christ, and the faith that lays hold of that death.
According to Denney, God's grace cannot be abused; therefore no human has any participation in abusing or preventing the abuse of grace. This should make us sigh with relief. Points 1 to 3 are equivalent statements that God makes it impossible to abuse grace. Point 4 summarizes how God does it. Is his meaning clear to you, even if you disagree with him?

Reading Denney takes some getting used to. It isn't that Denney uses too much academic language or lacks clarity of style. The exact opposite is the issue. We are the problem. First, we are not used to Denney's clarity. We are used to talking in circles and fooling ourselves into thinking that we are saying something useful. Second, we are used to using words in artificial ways that are disconnected from real life. Denney chooses his words so very carefully and roots them so deeply in the reality of life, that we feel intimidated. How can life be that clear and simple? Denney declares in the book "that the more we reflect upon it [the sin-bearing death of Christ] the more we shall be convinced that it is as simple as it is great." Wow! The great scholar declares that the atonement is very great and very simple. Can you explain how both are true?
  • Thank the Father often that grace cannot be abused.
  • Thank the Father often that the sin-bearing death of Christ is the door into freedom.
  • Thank the Father often that true faith lays hold of the sin-bearing love of Christ.

If Grace Cannot Be Abused, Then Why is there a Problem?


First, we need to notice our common confusion about grace. If grace means unmerited favor, then why do we so often use it as a synonym for kindness or leniency? My Mormon culture has much helped me notice my confusion. In my culture grace has two common definitions: God's help to keep the commandments and God's additional chances to keep the commandments. These are both moralistic and un-scriptural. Let's remove more potential confusion from unmerited favor by sharpening our definition of grace as a relationship of total freedom from merited favor. This clearly implies that there is zero pressure from any source of obligation, duty or rules. Unmerited favor is not like an empty jar that used to contain law, though for many years I was trapped in that confusion. Unmerited favor is like a jar full of the performance of Christ, which always honors the perfection of the law. Every true Christian is full of the unmerited favor of Godof the performance of Christ, which is the life of Christ. Have you been tricked to seek to live your old life better rather than to live the new life? Paul declared in Galatians 2:20 that "you no longer live, but Christ lives in you and that the life that you now live in the flesh [the realm of human faithfulness] you live by the faithfulness of the Son of God." 

Second, the apostles speak much about forgetting and remembering and the power of both. Let's use Peter's letters. In the first letter he commands his readers to set their hope completely on the unmerited favor brought to them in Christ (1:13) At the end of the letter he commands his readers to stand firm in unmerited favor (5:12). Every word in the letter is an explanation of the power of unmerited favor. In 4:1-2 Peter declares that unmerited favor frees a person from sinningfrom doing evil. "One who has suffered [experienced strong emotion with Christ] in the flesh [the realm of human faithfulness] has ceased from sin [rebellion against goodness] so as to live in this world for the desire of God." Let's be honest. Do you agree with Peter that unmerited favor frees a person from doing evil? If this seems unrealistic to you, then I suggest that you don't understand the simplicity and power of standing firm in unmerited favor. Christ's life is yours to live now, but Satan seeks to trick you to try to live your old life better. Read Peter's second letter and notice in the first chapter his triple declaration of the call to remember unmerited favor, which is the performance of Christ. Also notice that Peter declares that bad fruit is the result of forgetting unmerited favor. Can life really be this simple?

The Problem is Forgetfulness of Christ's Performance


You can't abuse unmerited favor, but you do have a problem. It is a problem of vision. Your every sin has been a natural result of disregarding Peter's commands to stand firm in unmerited favorto set your hope completely on the performance of Christto resist the devil by standing firm in the faith [which means Jesus' faithfulness] (5:9). When you expect a person to be perfect and for Jesus' sacrifice to be enough for that person, it is impossible for you to be surprised and upset by the person's failure to perform. But when you lower your expectations from Christ, you are on your own. You are seeking to manage or control life your way and God doesn't support that way. This is not your job and you should not be surprised by your bad reactions. Also, since it is wickedness to lower God's expectations, why do it? This means that all the sins of people result from the disregard of Peter's commands. Let's get over ourselves.

I have discussed this with many hundred people [Christians, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, agnostics] in the past two years. Recently I discussed these matters with an old Chinese woman who didn't believe in God. She had heard of the Bible and Jesus but knew nothing about them. She was surprised to hear that Jesus had never done evil. She said that she should always do good, never do wrong. She feels bad when she does wrong. We started there and laughed together much as we talked about the power of comparing ourselves to perfection and the evil of lowering expectations to control other people. By the end of the long conversation she was surprised to understand the reason for her bad reactions, the importance of always judging life compared to perfection, which is Jesus, and her need to be free from having to obey her conscience. It made sense that God wanted to take her place in death to free her to do good without pressure. She gladly took a bilingual New Testament and materials I have written on this topic. 

What Were You Pretending When You Thought You Were Abusing Grace?


As you began reading this article, were you worried that you might have abused grace? You may even have been a bit worried about God's reaction against your possible abuse, but God knew that you were only pretending to abuse grace, even if you didn't know. This should be a relief and comfort for you about yourself and about all other people. God has guaranteed that grace cannot be abused, but He hasn't guaranteed that grace cannot be forgotten or neglected. 

Pause to let that sink in. 

All evil has already been put away by the sacrifice of Christ (Heb 9:26). Why not embrace God's way of sin management? All evil is a result of neglecting, forgetting, or losing focus on God's way of managing life. Distraction from the simplicity and purity of Christ is Paul's great fear (2Cor. 11:3). Are you familiar with Paul's words here? Have you ever heard a sermon on this passage or matter? This is Paul's introduction to his description of Satan and his helpers as counterfeiters of righteousness. I suggest that we need imitate Paul and make his concern ours.

Context for the Quote from James Denney


James Denney's words are simple and piercing. They cut through human pretenses, discomforting our pride. But is it possible that you have some blind spots that you need help to notice? Below is some context for Denney's declaration [in green] that God guarantees that grace cannot be abused. The passage is multicolored to facilitate meditation. I plan to write soon a post on his last sentence about miserable theology.

"This suggests the last remark which I would make on the subject. Reflection on the atonement, a recent theologian has observed, has in our time proceeded mainly under two impulses: (1) the desire to find spiritual laws which will make the atonement itself intelligible; (2) the desire to find spiritual laws which connect the atonement with the new life springing from it. The legitimacy of these desires no one will contest. There is certainly work for theologians to do under both of them. It has always been too easy, referring to this last point first, to treat the atonement as one thing, and the new life as another, without establishing any connection whatever between them. It has always been too easy, in teaching that Christ bore our sins and died our death, to give conscience an opiate, instead of quickening it into newness of life. It is a task for those who hold such a doctrine of Christ’s work in relation to sin, as I have just been asserting, to show that there is a natural, intelligible inspiration to a new life in the acceptance of it, and that it cannot be lodged in the heart, in all its integrity, and leave the life, as it was before, under the dominion of sin. Even in New Testament times the gospel which Paul preached was accused of antinomianism; and so will every gospel be accused which makes pardon a reality. But in the death of Christ, and in faith laying hold of that death, we have the security against such abuses of the grace of God. To accept the forgiveness so won is to accept forgiveness which has in it God’s judgment upon sin, as well as His mercy to the sinful; it is to have the conscience awed, subdued, made tender and sensitive to the holy will of God, and the heart bowed in infinite gratitude to His love. It is not the law which can secure its own fulfillment; it is not by gazing on the tables of stone that we are made good men. It is by standing at Mount Calvary, and taking into our hearts in faith that love which for us men and for our salvation bore our sins upon the tree. It would be a miserable theology that by any defect in this direction gave room to think of Christ as the minister of sin." pp.148-9





Thursday, January 3, 2019

WHAT IS YOUR ADDICTION? HERE IS MINE.


True or False...

1.  I have blind spots.
2.  It is not good for me to have them.
3.  Blind spots lead me into confusion.
4.  It is not good for me to be apathetic about my blind spots.
5.  I can't see them and need your help.
6.  It is good for me to be glad for your help.
7.  It is good for me to want, welcome, invite and pray for this help.
8.  I am addicted to minimizing the seriousness of my blind spots.
9.  All humans are like I am on the above 8 points.
10. I am on a high energy search to discover my blind spots.

Are you with me on number 10?

Do you want to be honest about your addiction?


If you are interested in being honest about your blind spots, and becoming sensitive to your addiction to minimizing them, then I suggest a simple starting point for application. This will be painful to your pride but a real blessing to the people around you. Pray regularly variations of the following. The following is a bit long for effect, but short pieces of conversation with God are good. There is no need to be formal; simply talk to God as if he were right next to you. The point is to learn to become sensitive to you weakness and need for community--for God and others. Notice as you read the following if you hear a voice telling you that you don't really need this. 

"Father, thank you that Jesus is all my righteousness, holiness and wisdom. Thank you that Jesus has carried all my condemnation, shame and guilt. Thank you that my weakness is the place where your strength is made perfect. Thank you that Jesus is my new identity and that I don't need to pretend to be someone that I am not.  Thank you for helping me realize that it is not good for me to have blind spots because they lead me into confusion. Thank you that you are always with me even when I get tricked by my pride into confusion. Thank you for giving me other people to remind me of your goodness and to help me notice my blind spots. Thank you that critics are always good for me to help me discover more of my blind spots or to reveal my defensiveness or other character flaws. Thank you that critics are good for me even when they have a bad attitude or are completely wrong. 

"Thank you that you are my defender and you don't need my help. Thank you for declaring in the scriptures that a wise person always responds in love toward critics, even harsh ones, and that it is fools who have bad reactions. I admit that I am addicted to minimizing the seriousness of my blind spots. It seems that I often would rather be a fool than a wise person and would rather mistreat a person Christ died for than to doubt my own virtue or rightness. You have sent me saints to help me grow in wisdom and I have many times mocked them in telling them that they didn't need to remind me. I have many times been irritated or angry at your dear saints for criticizing me, even the ones I realized later had valid criticism. This is not good and is a huge blind spot. Thank you that even when I mistreat people you value highly, you never condemn me, shake your finger at me or stop rejoicing over me in Christ. Even when the critic is wrong, a wise person would have listened closely and been glad and thankful that the person cared enough to offer help, and risk getting rejected. Thank you for being patient with me and not treating me like I treat others. Thank you that you don't keep score on my critics even though I too often do. I wonder if some people have given up on offering me insight because I have been so dismissive or irritated toward them in the past. I am concerned about the blind spots of other people, and get critical that they don't seem to want to be honest about them. So why am I so insensitive about my own blind spots? Do I think I am above correction, or am I just afraid of admitting that I am weak and need other people? This is a big problem in my life and is hindering my relationship with others. 

"Please bring me some critics to help me notice some blind spots and especially to help me become sensitive to my prideful defensiveness about my blind spots. And please bring me one friend whom I can trust to be gentle so that I can invite that person to point out my blind spots. I would like to start slow, so please be gentle with me. But if I am so prideful that gentleness won't work, then please do whatever it takes to soften my heart. Thank you that your ways are always good. In Jesus Christ I pray. Amen."  

Questions for reflection


  • Can you remember a time when you attempted to offer someone a gentle suggestion and the person responded in a defensive way?
  • Did you appreciate that defensive reaction? Did you think it was good?
  • How did it affect you?
  • Think back to a recent time that someone criticized you. Did you welcome the criticism as an opportunity to grow in understanding? Or did you react defensively as if it were a threat to your security or rightness?
  • Would that critic tell me that he felt warmly welcomed when offering you his criticism?
  • Would that critic tell me that you made it easy or difficult for him to offer his insight?
  • Think back again, but this time as long ago as it takes to a time when you invited someone to offer you an insight or an opinion. Notice if you can even remember having this experience.
  • Can you remember asking a person for their criticism, insight or opinion when you were confident the person was going to disagree with you or point out your weakness?
Self-honesty is the point of these questions. Likely only God heard your answers. We all have room to grow in this area, but I suggest we each need to come to a place of embracing our need to grow rather than remaining unaware or apathetic about that need. It is obvious that we all do need to grow, and all do grow at some pace, even if we are unaware of it. The point of this writing is that it is good to actively embrace that need and become aware of our addiction to suppressing, resisting and hindering growth in this area.

Certainly those who are close to me would appreciate me gladly inviting their suggestions, insights, and criticism and asking clarifying questions instead of resisting and hindering such conversations. As mature adults we should be able to thrive on criticism. I read somewhere recently that only children take offense; mature adults don't. What does that say about your maturity level?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

LOVE: WHY DO WE REBEL AGAINST IT?

Do you ever rebel against love?

Do you think that it is good for you to love other people? How often do you think that God wants you to take a break from loving other people? Is it good to get impatient, frustrated or angry toward other people? Can you remember having a bad reaction toward someone in the past year? Why do you think you had that bad reaction? Ponder this a moment before reading further.   

Haley’s Conversation of Surprises

Recently Haley stopped by the free book table at USU and joined conversation with Kyle and me. Both spoke like active Mormons. I commonly get at our rebellion and our need for Christ by asking about a person's experience of struggling to love others. Here is the sense of our conversation that revealed to her surprises in her heart (understanding). This reflects very many conversations I have had the past 2 years. 

Read along as if you were Haley.

Me: Do you ever struggle in loving others?
Haley: Sometimes.
Me: Do you know why you struggle?
Haley: I am an imperfect person.
Me: That sounds like an excuse to me. I know why you have done every evil thing you have ever done. You know it too but don't realize that you know it. Would you like to hear what I mean?
Haley: Yes, I would.
Me: It is easier to understand this matter if we evaluate our experience. Theoretical conversation often leaves us confused. Here is a simple example that has helped me. 

The sun and moon illustration

Me: The sun and moon both light our world, but shine for different reasons. What is the difference?
Haley: The sun has its own light, but the moon only reflects the light from the sun.
Me: How much light of its own does the moon have?
Haley: None.
Me: Even though the moon has no light of its own it does a good job lighting our world. We get the benefit. The moon’s role is to be a reflector of light. The sun's role is to be a source of light. Isn't this what we learned in school?
Haley: Yes
Me: I suggest that this can help us understand our role in life. God is good. He is the source of all goodness and created the world in a good way to display his goodness. He created us in his image to be in a good relationship with him where we would live in his goodness and shine out his goodness in all directions. This keeps pride out of life. Do you like this illustration?
Haley: Yes, it makes sense to me.
Me: There is a difference between the moon and us. The moon is not a person. Light simply reflects off of its surface. The moon doesn’t think about it. But we are people who live from the heart. God’s goodness and love flow from our hearts while we are properly focused on his love and goodness. 

How do we shine out God's love?

Me: Here is how it works. Can you think of a recent time when you got irritated, impatient or frustrated with someone?  We all have these experiences.
Haley: I am thinking of one.
Me: Don't tell me about it. Just keep that experience in mind.
Haley: Okay.
Me: Let’s start simple. Do you believe in God?
Haley: Yes.
Me: Do you believe that God is love?
Haley: Yes.
Me: Do you believe that God showed his love by sending Jesus to die for your sins?
Haley: Yes.
Me: For all your sins?
Haley: Yes.
Me: So, all your sins are forgiven?
Haley: Yes.
Me: That is wonderful. Do you ever beat yourself up for your failures? 
Haley: Very often. 
Me: Is God's love only for you or for other people, too?
Haley: God loves everyone and Jesus died for everyone. 
Me: Did Jesus die so that everyone could be completely forgiven?
Haley: Yes.
Me: We are on the same page. Go back to your experience of being irritated. Does God love that person and did Jesus die to take away all that person's sins?
Haley: Yes.
Me: Are you sure?
Haley: Positive.
Me: While you were irritated at that person, were you thinking about how much God loved her and that Jesus died to forgive all her sins?
Haley: (with a surprised look) No, I wasn't, but I should have been.
Me: Everyone tells me that. They should have been thinking love but weren't. 

The experience of remembering Jesus' death for sinners

Let's say that one day you were praying for that person who gets under your skin and thanking God for loving her and sending Jesus to die to take away all her sins. And let's say that while you were praying this way, the woman came up to you and did the thing that often irritates you. While you were praying or thinking this, do you think that you would have gotten irritated? 
Haley: (in surprise) No, not while I was thinking that. But I might forget easily.
Me: Isn't that interesting. While you are thinking of God's love, you don't get irritated. I have asked many people about this and they all describe the same experience. 

The experience of seeing people properly

Me: There is one other surprise about Jesus that helps us understand our experience of not loving others. Is it good for you to look down on me so that you can feel good about yourself?
Haley: No.
Me: Is it good for me to look down on you so that I can feel good about myself?
Haley: You should not do it either. No one should, but everybody does it.
Me: That is painful but true. Then how should we compare ourselves?
Haley: We should look up and compare ourselves to Jesus.
Me: That is good to do, but our pride doesn’t like it. Is it ever okay to lower the standard from Jesus?
Haley: No. We should never do that.
Me: I agree with you completely. Go back to your experience of irritation. While you were irritated, were you comparing that person to Jesus?
Haley: (in surprise) No. I was thinking about what she did wrong.

The experience of forgetting love

Me: You simply forgot that your place in life was to see that God manages her through love. The situation needed to be managed and you took matters into your own hands, lowering the standard and managing her through rules. It gets ugly when we do this. And we do this more that we realize. Our bad reactions always have this same cause. Jesus reveals the love of God through his perfection and death in our place. While we are remembering these two things, God's management through love overflows from our hearts. And it works this way for everyone else too.

Why is it easy to forget love?

Me: Here is the reason that we so easily forget God’s way. Go back to our illustration of the sun and moon. The moon shines brightly unless something happens. What can stop the moon from shining? 
Haley: When there is an eclipse. 
Me: For us the problem is different. No one else can block light from us. But we can self-eclipse. we can block the light from ourselves by forgetting our proper place of dependence on God’s goodness and love. We are made in God’s image and feel deeply his imprint that it is good to be a source of goodness. But that is his role in life. It isn’t yours, or mine or anyone else’s. We thrive when we are satisfied with our role as receivers of love and goodness. While we are satisfied this way, we overflow properly with his love and goodness to those around us, even while they are causing us trouble. But when we get tricked into forgetting our role, then we can have bad reactions.

The experience of self-condemnation

Let’s go back to something you said earlier. You said that Jesus died for you and that you are completely forgiven. Am I remembering correctly?
Haley: Yes, that is true.
Me: Has Jesus taken all your condemnation, shame, and guilt?
Haley: YesHH
Me: Has he taken all your beatings?
Haley: Yes
Me: It sound like you believe that Jesus is enough for you for all of life.
Haley: He is enough for me.
Me: I really like what you are saying. But if Jesus is enough for you for everything, and has taken all your beatings, condemnation, and shame, then why did you tell me that you often beat yourself up for your failings?
Haley: (surprised and embarrassed) I don’t know.
Me: (smiling) You forgot Jesus and in forgetting Jesus you tried to do his job. You were pretending to be God. This is really bad. Jesus took all your beatings and you believed the lie that there are some left for you to carry. Right?
Haley: (smiling) Yes

A testimony of how we experience change

Me: It is not good to believe this lie but we all do sometimes. I suggest that you are too weak to change, but there is hope because God wants to change you. Your job is simple—to trust him to do it by you remembering who Jesus is for you. The most natural way to remember is to pray without asking. Here is a testimony I wrote about my friend Pat, who was diagnosed with three mental illnesses and was nearly always super depressed. He read the Bible much and memorized many verses, but couldn’t escape his depression. He was so depressed that some people felt depressed just being around him. After many years of seeking to encourage him, in 2000 I gave him a piece of paper containing four Bible verses simplified into a prayer of thankfulness for who Jesus is for him. I told him to pray that daily. He said he couldn’t because it was too hard. But he somehow began to pray it. After five months he began to smile and now after 18 years he is consistently cheerful and seeks out discouraged people to encourage them. Please take a copy and follow his simple example. Pray as often as you want, thanking God for what you told me is true. Don’t ask for anything. Just thank God something like this. “Father, thank you that Jesus is enough for me for all of life. Thank you that Jesus carries all my sins. Thank you that Jesus has taken all my shame, guilt and beatings.” As the months go by you may notice that your mind more easily goes to what Jesus has done for you.

The beauty of self-honesty

Haley: I have been thanking God for my family, friends and church…
(beginning to cry) but I have forgotten to thank him for what Jesus has done for me.
Me:  Don’t beat yourself up. Simply start today thanking God for who Jesus is for you. He is enough for you for all of life.
Haley: Please may I take Pat’s story?
Me: Yes of course. You likely know someone else who struggles with self-condemnation, with whom you could share the story after you begin practicing it. We need each other. I am glad for our conversation. I am here on Wednesdays in good weather. Feel free to come downtown to Oasis Books inside the Great Harvest Bakery if you want to talk on other days.

Note: Haley left happy, with two books and Pat’s testimony.