Monday, August 27, 2012

Religion vs. Godliness

I believe we’re living in the last days. At least today is the last day I’ve lived. It might even be the last day. Jesus might come back today. But in the meantime, I can look around and see the signs. One of the signs is that people act religious but aren’t godly. That’s probably been a problem in the church since the beginning, but I know it’s a problem now. There are people who claim to be Christians but don’t “walk the walk.” I really want to be godly, but I wonder how much of my life is just religious.

In this passage, Paul makes it easy for us to tell the difference. He gives Timothy a list of behaviors of faux religious people and a list of godly behaviors. Here’s my summary.

Faux Religious People:

love only themselves and their money
boastful and proud
scoffing at God
disobedient to their parents
consider nothing sacred
unloving and unforgiving
slander others
have no self-control
hate what is good
betray their friends
be reckless
be puffed up with pride
love pleasure rather than God

Godly People:

Accept the power that can make them godly

Okay, that was a trick list, but it simplifies the Christian life in a lot of ways. In order to live a godly life, all I have to do is accept the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, let Him do it in me.

The problem is that there are some behaviors in the religious list that sound awfully familiar. I spend a lot of time acting religious instead of godly. Or to be more accurate, I spend a lot of time trying not to be a hypocrite – fighting those behaviors because I know they’re not pleasing to God.

It’s a losing battle.

The only way to win is to accept the power that can make me godly.

The only way to win is to submit to the power of the Holy Spirit.

The difference between acting religious and being godly is God. Duh.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Point of View

I usually don’t like novels that have multiple points of view. When I’m absorbed by the story, jumping to another character is an interruption for me. I know that authors use this device to give their readers information that the main character doesn’t have. But the primary point of view has to come from the main character. 

Jesus told His followers not to see things from a human point of view. As the Author of creation, He knew that God’s point of view is the one that matters because God is the main character.

But in this case – real life – the main character knows things that the rest of us don’t know. We’re not the readers; we’re the minor characters. With our limited knowledge and personal biases, God’s point of view sometimes appears pretty radical. I’m sure it wouldn’t if we knew the whole story. As it is, we have to accept what the Author tells us.

God’s Point of View: The big event in the story was Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection.

Human Point of View: That can’t happen. The main character doesn’t die and what is this talk about resurrection?  The minor characters don’t believe because they don’t understand who Jesus really is.

This is the point where the Bad Guy is introduced. It turns out that the human point of view is really Satan’s point of view. The minor characters not only lack faith and understanding, they don’t even have original ideas. They get them from the Bad Guy.

But the Author moves the story forward, calling all the minor characters over to share God’s point of view. He wants them to understand the main themes of the story.

The minor characters are asked to turn from our selfish ways, take up our crosses and follow the Author. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as important characters. He wants us to accept our roles, which include suffering and even death for others. He draws a contrast between His point of view and that of the Bad Guy, who disguises himself in the World.

The World’s Point of View: Try to hang on to your life; live for yourself and ignore the future even though you know that in the end you’ll lose your life. 

God’s Point of View: If you give up your life for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 

World’s Point of View: The world is attractive and it’s something to strive for, and don’t worry about your soul.

God’s Point of View: The world is worthless if you’ve lost your soul. Your soul is what has value.

World’s Point of View: Jesus and His message are embarrassing. The other characters will think you’re weird or will persecute you if you proclaim it openly.

God’s Point of View: What God thinks matters more than what those around you think. So tell others about Him.

Point of view matters. But what’s more important, is understanding Whose point of view matters.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Matter of Choice

Christians in every place and time have a cultural blind spot. We accept some things without question because they are so integrated into our lives, even though they may not be Biblical. I think the concept of freedom is one of those blind spots for American Christians. We expect to have a voice in every decision that affects us. We expect to have the freedom to choose.

There’s a strange dynamic around choice in this passage. God chose and the people chose. Each got what they chose, but there was an order to it. First God chose, then the people chose. 

God chose the Jews to be a light to the Gentiles. The Jews chose to reject the message. But they were still a light to the Gentiles. They got what they wanted (or rather didn’t get what they didn’t want), but that didn’t cancel God’s will.

God chose for some Gentiles to believe. The Gentiles chose to accept the message gladly and thankfully. They got what they wanted which was what God wanted.

In both cases, God’s will was accomplished. In both cases, the people chose.

At this point I could write about freewill vs. God’s sovereignty, but I’m certainly not qualified to say anything profound about that. It’s more useful to think about the choices I make and whether they please God.

I know I don’t always make choices that please Him. When I don’t, I’m rejecting Him and what He offers me. I’m like the Jews who were jealous of Paul and wanted the praise he was getting. I want to be front and center. Even so, He has still chosen me and He still uses me for His purposes. 

When I do choose Him and all He offers me, it’s because He has chosen me. My response is thankfulness that He has chosen me to receive salvation. All I do should be done with humble gratitude.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4: 9-10 (NLT)

Friday, August 3, 2012

My First Love

I’ve always sort of dismissed verse 4 because I was five when I was saved. Although I remember the event clearly, I don’t remember a passionate excitement about it. I’ve always loved God so I can’t look back and point to a “first” love. But recently Pastor Tim preached from this passage, encouraging us to return to our first love. At the same time, I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to lectures and reading books about doctrine. I love it and it’s intellectually satisfying, but I’ve felt a little something missing.

So I’ve looked back to see what I loved about God when I was young. As a child, I loved the Bible stories. David and Goliath, Daniel and the lions den, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace, Jonah and the whale . . . So my very first love was the story of God’s interactions with His people.

When I was in high school I made a commitment to read the Bible every day. I had already read it all the way through once (unfortunately so I could boast about it), but now I read a chapter a day and tried to learn from it. It was during this time that I fell in love with the words. As a kid I had memorized all the well known passages: the beatitudes, Psalm 23, the Lord’s prayer, the love chapter, the fruit of the Spirit. So the rhythms and poetry of the words were familiar and comforting. I discovered more passages to love: Psalm 1, Romans 8, Romans 12, Philippians 4, all of I John.

I started reading these passages for comfort and inspiration, but I also picked up my Bible when I had free time and read them for the sheer pleasure the words brought. In college I got a Harper Study Bible in the Revised Standard Version. I went through my old King James to find my favorite passages and underlined them in my new Bible. And as I read it, I used the cross references to find more amazing passages. I really was in love.

So I do have a first love to return to. I still love the Bible and study it every day, but I want to go back to the days when I just read it for pleasure, for joy.

Today I’m reading in the King James version – and you are too if you’re following my links - because those were the words I fell in love with. Here is one of those beloved passages from Psalm 19.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise
the simple.
8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dress for the Day

I used to be an advisor to student organizations at a large public university. I helped them navigate the university bureaucracy when they planned parties. I also attended the parties as a chaperone and go-between with the staff of their venues. The parties were quite an eye-opener for a missionary kid like me. At 10:00 pm the guests were just arriving and the dancing didn’t really get started until midnight. If they served alcohol it was in a separate room where id’s could be checked, but many of the party goers left the venue to drink and then came back to dance. Most drank heavily before they arrived. One night I saw a group head straight for the bathroom when they arrived, but one of their party didn’t make it and stopped to throw up in a trash can. That’s what I think of when I read Paul’s words about wild parties and drunkenness. 

Something else that amazed me at the parties was the clothes worn by my students. Girls that were fairly modest when I saw them in my office, dressed in skimpy tight dresses and incredibly high heels for the late night parties.

I don’t think the behavior of these students was unique and I’m sure it probably wasn’t even wild by the secular world’s standards. During the day these party goers were hard working students and leaders of their organizations. They cared about others and fought for admirable causes.

Paul knew that everyone has evil desires. That includes me. But unlike my non-Christian students, I shouldn’t find ways to indulge them. 

Even back in Paul’s time, night was for immoral living, drunkenness, sexual immorality and wild parties. Daytime was for decent living. It’s still true. I need to remember the difference. I need to always remember that I live in the day, and not do anything that should be hidden by darkness. 

That means clothing myself with Jesus’ presence.  I should wear Him so that everyone can see Him. 

That means loving the way God loves. (I John 4:16-17)

That means dressing for the day, not for the night.