Friday, October 21, 2016


Noticing Human Failure

When you look at yourself, other people, or the world in general, how do you deal with the failure you observe? Do you get disappointed, depressed, impatient, frustrated, or even angry? What do you do with these reactions? Do you wish you could stop having them? Do you wish that the people would change so that your life wouldn't be so troubled? Have you ever tried to not care so that then you wouldn't feel so hurt?

Let's approach this situation from a different angle. We have all failed morally, and more times than we notice.  Have you ever been surprised at your failure, wondering how you could possibly have done such a terrible thing, or done it again? Have you ever wished that you had tried harder so as to have avoided failure, or at least to have not failed so greatly? Have you ever found yourself surprised at the failures of others: your wife, your children, your friends, fellow saints, or even pastors? Why were you surprised?

God Notices Human Failure

God is never surprised at your moral failings or mine. It is good for us to always love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And it is never good to compromise those standards. God always loves perfectly. Since He is responsible to resolve all issues in the moral world, He notices every violation of perfect love. Perfect love doesn't pretend sin away, but rather deals with it in a righteous way--always--and sends it away. Read about the first failing of our first parents and see if you can notice any surprise, impatience, frustration, or anger on God's part. It isn't there. Adam and Eve sinned and hid in fear from God. But God didn't hesitate to draw close to them. He went to them and spoke to them like a kind father to bless them with words of a promise of hope, even while explaining the curse resulting from their sin. Have you ever wondered why God did not seem bothered by their sin? I suggest that it is because God's goodness is full of surprises and that this is the biggest surprise.

All Sin Converges at the Cross

All the sin committed from Adam to the cross was left unresolved by God in anticipation of the cross. God saw this from before the creation of the universe (1Peter 1:17-23) and desired to reveal His goodness in a glorious way. Read closely Paul's declaration in Romans 3:24-26 that God passed over ALL sin in order to reveal His righteousness at the proper time--at the cross. Notice that God both is righteous and makes righteous all who are persuaded that Christ's faithfulness is their only hope. David killing Goliath didn't reveal the seriousness of Goliath's mockery of God. The flood didn't reveal the seriousness of the world's sin. Sodom being consumed by fire from heaven didn't reveal the truth about their sin. Certainly these events hinted that sin was terrible, but only the cross reveals the seriousness of sin. The cross reveals that only the death of God Himself can overcome sin. Read Romans 1:32 in several translations and notice that God has written into the conscience of every person that every sin deserves death. Paul declared earlier in the chapter (verse 18) that we humans suppress that knowledge. Today we live in the light of the cross, looking to Christ as the one who 1) in His death and resurrection is our freedom, peace, and satisfaction in a broken world, and 2) in His future coming to bring physical recreation and make public to all His good judgment--that goodness is a seamless whole, that violation of it deserves death, that He gladly took the death all people deserve, that He offered as a gift life in goodness free from the pressure of personal performance, and that those who rejected His goodness will receive the full weight of His good judgment on their self-righteousness.

God is not Surprised at Human Failure

Notice the theme in the following three passages from Isaiah. "Lord, you will establish peace for us, since you have also performed for us all our work." -26:12 "The Lord is well-pleased for His righteousness' sake; He will exalt the law and make it glorious." -42:21 "By his knowledge my righteous servant will make many righteous, for he will bear away their transgressions." -53:11 Here it is again 100 years later in Jeremiah 31:14: "'I will fill the soul of the priests with abundance, and My people will be satisfied with My goodness,' declares the Lord." God is not surprised at human failure because He delights to be the provider of all we need. He has made His goodness to be our satisfaction. If God thinks this way how could He possibly be disappointed or surprised by human failure?

Your Surprise at Human Failure

Your surprise at human moral failing results from only one thing: not viewing the world in a good way--through perfect love--through the goodness of God being the satisfaction for His people. If you are a Christian, then God has declared for all time that His goodness is your satisfaction. Do you see how all encompassing that is? When you fail and get upset at your failure, you have two problems. When you see a fellow saint fail and you get upset about it, you simply have more of those same two problems. If you see a non-Christian fail and you get upset about it, you have those same two problems nuanced from a different angle. Here are the two problems.

Both problems are related to forgetfulness. First, God is not a God of second chances. Rather, He is the God of one chance and a new creation. If you had a zero tolerance for sin like God does, and you never forgot this principle, then you would never get upset with anyone who sins, no matter how great the violation. You may wonder at this point, "Then why is God's anger mentioned so often in the Old Testament?"  I plan to write on this topic, but for now would suggest two teaser questions.  In my observation the first mention of God's anger or wrath is toward Moses at the burning bush--2500+ years after Adam. I suggest that there is a surprise in the larger context that helps answer the first question: Why was God angry at Moses? I suggest that there is one event during Moses lifetime that precipitates the regular expression of God's anger that continues all the way through Jesus' preaching. What is that event? Notice the expressions of anger and work backwards in context to the point at which they disappear. 

Back to forgetfulness. it is a big deal--far bigger that we tend to think. Again, if you are a Christian, then God's goodness is your satisfaction. The only reason that you would not have an active experience of this satisfaction is because of your forgetfulness. You entered into the beauty of that satisfaction at conversion and have been called to grow in the understanding of it and remembrance of it. When you observe sin in self or others, the pressure is on to forget or get distracted from that true satisfaction. Certainly it is wrong for any person to do evil. But there is no satisfaction from God's view in a person stopping or not doing a specific evil action. The alternative to doing one evil action isn't doing that one thing right, rather it is doing all things right--perfectly right. Learning and remembering this is the spiritual battle. You get upset at sin because you forget that God has a zero tolerance for sin, and you forget that the goodness of God is your satisfaction, the satisfaction of all other saints, and the only hope for satisfaction for all non-Christians. The world preaches a counterfeit satisfaction, but God never honors that pretense. 

The Surprise of Grace

What is the opposite of grace? Is it some form of unkindness, meanness, or harshness? I suggest that the surprising and simple opposite of grace is law. The world sees grace as some form of niceness, kindness, or a second chance to be a better person. But heaven sees grace as total freedom from law--the obligation to do what is right. Even more surprising is the realization that to live in grace does not mean living free from performance, but rather living in the performance of Christ free from the pressure of personal performance. Living in grace is not living in a vacuum of no performance. That would be like buying a pet fish and laying it on the counter. A person rather puts the fish in a fish bowl full of water. A Christian is designed to swim and thrive in the performance of Christ. The performance of Christ is simultaneously a zero tolerance for sin and a full satisfaction in the goodness of God. Therefore, while you are mindful that you live in the performance of Christ, out of you flows a zero tolerance for sin and full satisfaction in the goodness of God--no matter how much people around fail. Mindfulness is the issue. When your mind is in the right place then your behavior and attitude will be in the right place. Practice setting your mind in the right place--on the performance of Christ in both of its aspects--and realize that your temptation is always to be distracted from that vision, and you might find yourself enjoying other people while they fail--even while they are mistreating you.   

Goodness includes both zero tolerance for sin and full satisfaction in the goodness of God. If we Christians embraced God's vision we might just be the happiest people on the planet.

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Discussion of Hypocrisy Builds Relationships

Hypocrisy is a common and humorous topic of conversation with students who stop by to talk or listen at the free book at USU. Our white board sayings seek to stir conversations and get people to laugh at themselves and think more deeply about life. Hypocrisy is a common criticism expressed to me about religious people or churches. It isn't the biggest complaint. Far and away the most common criticism I hear is judgmentalism. Both are hot topics and both easily and naturally lead into conversation of law and gospel. 

Students are generally very aware that hypocrisy is a bad thing and that it is a big problem in other people. We have an intuitive sense that it is bad, but in not thinking carefully about what causes it, we are rather insensitive to it in ourselves. When is the last time you thought or said something like, "Whoa, that was rather hypocritical of me."? Likely you have thought or said this about someone else, why not about yourself? Truth is truth, isn't it? This is common human experience and a good point for us Christians to identify with others and learn to laugh together at ourselves for our prideful reactions. Is it possible to escape these reactions? Does one even want to escape? The way of escape surprises those I discuss it with.

What is Hypocrisy?

What exactly is hypocrisy? It isn't simply doing something wrong. A person can do all sorts of evil and not be a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is not a way of acting but rather a way of thinking. When I think of myself as a failure, hypocrisy isn't in the picture. But when I think that I am succeeding at doing what is good--what ever that means--then I open myself up to the possibility of being a hypocrite. Have I actually done what is good or have I lowered the standard so as to honor my performance and protect my reputation? In 1978 when in college, a Christian shared the gospel clearly with me. He told me that forgiveness was a free gift paid for by the death of Jesus. I revolted at the idea of forgiveness as a gift. I, an agnostic, told him in no uncertain terms that a person had to be good to get forgiveness, and "if I wasn't good enough then the line behind me was really long." I had been trusting that if there was a god, then I had succeeded at being good enough to merit his forgiveness. How did I know that I was good enough? My pride kept me from hearing my conscience and made me oblivious to my hypocrisy. My self-deception was multifaceted that day. Likely you recognize several aspects of it.

The word hypocrisy comes from the world of Greek theater and means play acting. This is fitting but ironic since in theater, play actors know that they are pretending to be something they are not, while in real life a hypocrite has fooled himself--and often only himself--into thinking that he is something he is not. We all know that we should be and do what is morally good. A hypocrite thinks he is succeeding when he isn't. The only reason he could possibly think he is succeeding is by deceiving himself--maybe with the help of others--into cheapening the standards of his conscience and of truth.  

Practical Conversation

In the last 20 years I have asked thousands of people, "Are you a good person?" Nearly all have said yes and many have expressed being confident of their answer. Such confidence is an open door to conversation. I generally follow up by casually asking how they have come to their conclusion. Nearly always people have calmly said that they simply compared themselves to other people. One woman said that she was good compared to everyone else. At this point I generally dryly ask what would happen if they were to compare themselves to Jesus. Suddenly people stop smiling and sheepishly declare that they would not be good. I have no memory of ever comparing myself to Jesus before that fateful conversation in 1978. When I have asked these people if they had ever previously compared themselves to Jesus, all or nearly all have said that they had never done so. Hmm... 

I was surprised a week ago when an agnostic, former-Mormon, student friend stopped by the free book table, read the whiteboard pictured above, and said that in the Mormon Missionary handbook, Preach My Gospel, is a statement that one should always compare oneself to Jesus and not to other people because the latter leads to competition. This seemed odd as I had no memory of a Mormon missionary, an active Mormon, or any other Mormon ever mentioning this except in response to my question. But this week two returned missionaries affirmed what this friend said when I asked about it. Why don't they follow their own handbook or volunteer this information? 

Lately I have intensified discussion at this point by asking people if they have ever been looked down on by others. All have said they have and then added that such wasn't good and they didn't like it. The conversations really open at this point about hypocrisy as I ask them how it is that they don't like others doing it to them but they freely do it to others. They say that it doesn't bother them to do it to others because it helps them feel good about themselves. They seem surprised by this contradiction and by having not noticed it before. I often ask if they like being hypocritical, suggest that it isn't difficult to escape hypocrisy, and quote my agnostic philosophy student friend who said, "If you judge by perfection it is impossible to be a hypocrite." This simple insight surprises people and they freely admit that by that standard everyone is a failure--we are all equal. I suggest to them that Jesus came to show us what perfect love looks like, that we should always compare ourselves and everyone else to Him, and that doing so will keep us from being prideful, hypocritical, or judgmental.  No one has fought when I have encouraged them to think this way. A few atheists who said that they didn't believe in Jesus, did agree that they should compare themselves to the voice of their own conscience which tells them to always do good. This has achieved the same end.

This is a wonderful lead in to the gospel of our compassionate creator God coming into a broken world marked of pride, hypocrisy, and judgmentalism, to honor goodness and die the death that all people deserve, to provide reconciliation, in order to call all people out of the darkness of self-righteousness under the condemnation of God's goodness and into the light and celebration of the gift of righteousness--a new identity in grace, free to love motivated by a vision of perfect love received, free from the pressure and pollution of obligation.

Freedom From Hypocrisy Heals Community

To reveal the practical value of judging by perfection I often inject into the above conversation what a North African Muslim student told me, "If all Muslims judged by perfection all wars would stop immediately because all would realize that they all are failures together in the same boat. And this would be true for other people also." The implications of this should be obvious. A community free from competition and pride, free from seeking to find hope in personal performance, free to see perfection as the only good way of life, free to love and bless as much as desired without the pressure of manageable standards--such a community would be beautiful to watch grow and mature. 

The above agnostic philosophy student, who is from a Mormon background, said to me on another occasion something like, "Mormons think that they are a light on a hill. They seek to keep their standards, preach their standards, and invite others to join them. And they are all a bunch of hypocrites." I agreed and suggested that such was true of most other religious people, too. He smiled in surprise. I then asked him what would happen if a group of religious people thought they were a light on a hill and preached perfection as the only standard. He said that they couldn't possibly be hypocrites, but would have to find another way to live because they couldn't live by that standard. The Christian with me then explained to this friend how grace is that way of life. Christian grace is not about living free from performance. The beautiful surprise is that grace means living in the performance of Christ every second every day--free from the pressure of my own performance.

The Choice That Excludes Hypocrisy

All people live life moment by moment with a mind set either on perfection or some manageable set of performance standards. God calls all people to honor His perfection by resting in Christ's finished work as the necessary and sufficient thing to fulfill all goodness. The first time a person does this is called conversion. Life doesn't end at this point, but actually just begins as the person is now alive from the dead morally (spiritually). God calls every saint to maintain that same mindset every moment every day in interaction with every person--while changing a diaper, watching a sporting event, eating breakfast, changing a tire, singing at church, or helping the poor. It is not a special thing to do in life but a way to thinking while doing all things--one moment at a time. 

As you read the Bible notice how often it calls the reader to completeness, fullness or perfection (ex: Deuteronomy 4:1-10, 6:25, 8:1; Matthew 5:48, 7:12, 22:40; Col. 1:9-12, 3:8, 4:5-6; James 1: 25, 2:10) "Therefore, preparing your minds for action, keeping sober, fix you hope COMPLETELY on the grace brought to you in the revelation of Jesus Christ...but like the One who called you is holy, be holy in ALL your conduct." -1Peter 1:13,15  This language of completeness is either an exaggeration or a real expectation on God's part. I am persuaded that God means perfection and that it is rationally impossible to obey this by focusing on behavior. Is it really possible for me to notice all aspects of my behavior simultaneously, or to think that I am noticing them honestly? But it is possible and simple to set my mind right now on perfection as the standard. One friend said recently that when the mind is in the right place then the behavior is in the right place. Could it really be this simple: that behavior flows out of mindset? It is important to realize that this contrast is not between wanting to do what is right versus wanting to do what is wrong. The contrast is between thinking that perfection is required versus thinking that some level of imperfect or manageable obedience is satisfactory.

God calls you right now to make the choice that excludes hypocrisy. While you are obeying that call, hypocrisy is excluded from your life. The apostle Peter declares that hypocrisy was excluded in conversion and that a person should keep it excluded while growing as a Christian.  "Therefore having put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes crave the pure milk of the word that you may grow in respect to salvation." -1Peter 2:1-2 The apostle calls us to grow in grace by craving the pure (without deceit, unadulterated) milk of the word. I am persuaded that the pure word is adulterated by the addition of manageable standards. Let's heed the call to see ourselves and all others through the eyes of perfect love in the present moment. When we lose focus the call is simply to look again to Him who is perfect love and has freed us to love with all His energy.

Therefore hypocrisy is always the fruit of a bad choice--the choice to mentally dishonor perfect love by cheapening standards to some form of manageability. Since a mind set on perfection (perfect love, perfect law) excludes hypocrisy automatically, how could it be otherwise?

Which will you choose?