Category Archives: Wisdom

Mrs. Owens and Satan… and Jesus

You couldn’t say the dog ate it because you didn’t have a dog.  Mrs. Owens, your third grade teacher, was scowling down, asking why you didn’t have your homework done.  When you couldn’t provide a sufficient excuse, her imperious expression changed to one designed to produce in you extreme shame and self-loathing.  She had practiced this face in the mirror and looked down as though you were something she had accidentally stepped in.

But here’s the question: Did her “shame on you act” work?  Did she inspire you do achieve greatness in the third grade?  Not likely.  That’s because shame or feeling guilty actually inhibits you and makes you less likely to do better.  Research on addiction has found that when people feel shame about their addictive behavior, they are more likely to repeat.  More likely!

 

Of course, there is a better way.  We can acknowledge we have messed up and, without wallowing in shame, figure out how to do better.  That’s what this line from the Bible means:

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

To paraphrase, when we mess up, God would have us change our thinking (that’s what “repent” means), recognize we did wrong, turn around and make a better choice.  That’s what “godly sorrow” looks like.  “Worldly sorrow,” third grade guilt, just makes us feel crummy and stuck.

Satan’s name means “accuser.”  He tempts us into doing wrong things and then turns on us, accusing us and making us feel shame. He knows in that condition we will be stuck.  Contrast that with the work of Jesus:  He took our shame and guilt to the cross, and encourages us to enjoy the freedom of changing how we think.  He says, “Go, and sin no more.”

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1)

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1)

 

Going Deep

Who does Paul think he is?  He sounds a bit arrogant, writing this to people he has never met:

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong –  (Romans 1:11)

But then, perhaps because he realized how uppity that last sentence sounded, he continued:

…that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.   (Romans 1:12)

Nice catch, Paul.  But, taken together, his thoughts reveal an important principle:  Bible study and prayer are sometimes best done first by yourself.  But if you really want to go deep, discuss what you have heard and learned with a good friend.  Getting together with another brother or sister in Christ to dig into the Word, can be a surprisingly wonderful experience.

A friend of mine stops by once in awhile, just to say “Howdy.”  We might head off for lunch or watch a game on TV.  But, sooner or later, one or the other of us will say something like, “You know, I saw something in the book of James I’d never seen before…”  And off we go.  Get out the snorkels boys; we’re going deep.  An hour or two will flash by as we are mutually enriched by the insights that come as we discuss together.  It’s not that either one of us is unusually astute but the combination of our different perspectives becomes way more than their sum.

Give it a go.  Next time you are chatting with another believing friend, bring up something that surprised you or puzzled you in Scripture.  Bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised…

Another Rule (for an unborn son)

Have you seen “1001 Rules for My Unborn Son,” by Walker Lamond?  If not, check it out; it’s worth many a smile.  Here’s a couple of my favorites:

  • Drive across the country. Don’t rush.
  • If you make a mistake, forgive yourself and move on.
  • Have a favorite song. It doesn’t have to be hip. (The best ones never are.)

Of course his rules aren’t all good.  For example, he says, “Men should not wear sandals. Ever.”  Or, “Men with facial hair have something to hide.”  Walker apparently hasn’t met some the men I know…

Here’s a rule I’d add to the list:

  • Look for God on your own terms; when you find Him, get to know Him on His terms.

Look for God on your own terms, because you can’t borrow or use someone else’s faith, not even your parents’.  Real faith grows from a fertilizer of healthy doubts.  Like an extension ladder, you need to check it and shake it before you get on.  If you only rely on what “they say,” you haven’t done that.  And, trust me on this: God can handle the quirky terms you have.  If you are really looking for Him, He will find you.

But when you do find Him, you’ll know it because you will be absolutely awestruck by His majesty and authority, His perfect goodness and love.  His invitation for you to get to know Him is thus logically accepted on His terms.  We do not dictate terms of surrender to Almighty God.  His terms are excruciatingly costly – you cannot afford them – and yet have already paid in full by His Son, Jesus.  Amazing Grace!  You already know the story.  Now go check it out on your own and see if it is true.

Think for Yourself

You never hear about a “lynch person;” it’s always a mob.  There’s a reason for that.  Mobs do things individuals would think twice about.  Even the individual driver in the recent assault in Charlottesville was motivated by the mob.  When Jesus confronted a mob about to stone a woman caught in adultery, he broke it up by speaking to individuals, not the whole group.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”   (John 8:7)

Conversely, when the priests wanted to get rid of Jesus, they did it by inciting the mob.

Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
“Crucify him!” they shouted.   (Mark 15:9-13)

It would have been interesting to interview people who shouted those words, individually, after a couple of weeks had passed.  My guess is it would have been hard to find anyone who admitted being there.  Because mobs do things individuals wouldn’t.

Be careful.  Back then, the mobs gathered in response to a bunch of loud-mouths.  These days you can gather a mob with a Tweet, a TV news story, or a post online.  As a result, we have way too much angry shouting.  Not enough listening.  Don’t join a mob if they are doing something you would not do on your own.

Consider…

This is for Democrats.  And Republicans.  This is for Fox News and MSNBC.  For Donald and Hillary, Nancy and Mitch, Chuck and Ted.  It’s for Rush Limbaugh and Kathy Griffin.  This is for you.  And me.

It’s something Jesus said in response to the critics of His day.  It was a different issue, but the truth He spoke is just as relevant and important in the context of our current situation.

He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.  (Matthew 12:25b)

Most of us feel like divisiveness in this country came like the rising waters of a flood,. We stood by, helpless and dismayed.  We’re not in places of influence and power.  We shake our heads, bewildered at leaders who don’t seem to recognize the damage being done.  But, there is something we each can do.  We can turn away, refusing to participate in the rhetoric and sarcasm, the distortions and misrepresentations.  Instead,  we can choose to work toward greater understanding, reach out, building bridges of peace.  We don’t need to stand by and watch this “kingdom” be ruined.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

Wait for It

Suddenly and unexpectedly slammed with grief, I prayed for comfort. God’s response was specific, clear and effective.  But it was not immediate.  I had to wait. I felt like the guy who prayed, “Lord, give me patience and give it to me right now!”  For whatever His reasons, God let me wait a bit.  When His comfort came, it washed over me in a sustained way.

But why would God delay, why make me wait?  It’s not as though comfort was on back order.  The All Sovereign Lord of the Universe could have responded instantly.  Why wait? Perhaps it is to help us build faith.

Peter wrote about waiting for God’s promises, saying:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  (`1 Peter 1:6-7) 
James wrote about waiting after praying for wisdom, saying:

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)  
As we wait for God confidently and then have that trust vindicated, our “faith muscle” is developed.  As our faith grows, our relationship with God grows stronger.

Perhaps God also makes us wait to give us time to be spiritually strengthened and matured. Isaiah knew about waiting.  He wrote:

“…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strengththey shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

Good comedians have a well developed sense of timing.  When one says, “Wait for it…” you know it’s worth the wait.  Better yet when God does.

As Good as His Word

When I watch basketball, mostly what I see are the shots and whether or not they go in.  The rest is a blur.  Players obviously are aware of more, but they too, in the midst of the hustle and bang, can’t really know what’s happening as a whole.  Coaches really “see” the game.  From their vantage point they can see things the players cannot.  From years of training and experience, they understand things about the flow of the game that are invisible to the casual spectator.  Beyond that, they know each of the players’ strengths, weaknesses and habits.  Coaches see what’s going on with  whole different level of understanding.

Jesus “sees” all of reality much more completely and accurately than any of us.  He sees all that is happening and knows all that has happened through the lenses of God the Father.  He understands the big picture as it flows from Creation to Perfection.  He knows all the “players,” our strengths and weaknesses and what has been happening in each of our lives.  How He understands reality therefore, is very different from us folks who can only see for a short time through a very limited knothole in the fence.  The way someone “sees” shapes his mindset and understanding of  reality.  This mindset or frame of reference is what Greek philosophers called one’s “logos.”   Our logos shapes how we understand everything.  You can see why logos gave rise to the word logic.   There is no good English word for logos.  It is most frequently translated as “word.”  Pretty clumsy, that.  “Word” does not come close to the full meaning of logos.  

That’s why this familiar verse is frequently misunderstood:

In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Instead of thinking, “word,” a combination of letters, think, “mindset” or “understanding of reality.”  And not just any old mindset, but THE mindset, God’s mind  God’s way of understanding reality as it really is.  Jesus, this says, embodies God’s true Logos.  In the beginning, before Creation, Jesus was The Logos.  That is to say, He existed with God in the beginning because He was God in the beginning.

When a coach calls a time out, it’s usually to give the players his perspective on what is happening in the game and instructions on how to adapt.  His logos gives them valuable insight as they head back out to the frantic action of the game.  In Jesus, God has called us to the sidelines.  He says, In all the hubbub of life, you’ve gotten a distorted idea.  I want you to really know what’s happening.  Here is My Son, Who has been with Me since the beginning.  Listen to Him; He knows; He has the right logos.  So much so, He is the Logos.

I give you My Word.