18 September 2009

Cutting off the ladder

As I went through my professional training, I was often struck by the tendency to see one's place on the ladder of professional development as the standard of competence, yet to cut off the rungs immediately beneath saying that those below did not belong or were not welcome in the field of neuropsychology. As someone from a less than optimal background (counseling, rather than clinical, psychology), I merely hoped for a chance to demonstrate my ability, rather than be judged by what I too often presumed to be my second-rate credentials. Once I "made the grade," I discovered in myself a tendency to treat others as second rate if they did not come up to my standard based on some pseudo-arbitrary identifier, even if they had met what our field deemed a standard of competence.

What is even more profound is that we also do this as "Christians", don't we? We hope to make the grade and then once we assume that we have, we cut off the ladder beneath us from those who do not meet our standard. You know who I am talking about--the girl in church who you know sleeps around, that guy at work who pushes off his work on anyone he can, that gay kid at the coffee shop--we all have someone who doesn't make our grade.

But what about God's standard? According to Romans 3:23, every person fails to meet His standard and God has every right to cut us off from Him, but instead, He sent His son Jesus Christ to reach down His hand to anyone who wants help in the climb (Romans 6:23).

As you climb, remember the folly of cutting off the rung beneath you because we all fall short of the standard. Instead, spend your effort on helping people up the ladder into the arms of Christ.

John 1:12-"But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name; He gave the right to become children of God!"

17 September 2009

Who is in control?

I am normally pretty even tempered, but I was downright frenetic. I was pacing around the house without purpose, unsure of how to proceed. I had happily volunteered to write the brochure for our church's capital campaign because I am good at such things. I have always seen myself as a "go to" guy, but right now, I was falling fast.

I spent the better part of an hour engaging in a random string of the following behaviors: I would sit down at the computer to type, move to the table to write, sit in my recliner to read, pace around the house--over and over When I realized I had written nothing, my pacing essentially took over. I then began to consider the deadline impossible to meet and to wonder what I could say to the team, how could I tell them that I had not fulfilled my duty.

I finally reached my breaking point. I sent out a request to the team asking them to pray for God's divine guidance in writing. More imporantly, I got down on my face and prayed to God from my brokenness that I felt completely unable to complete this task and that I needed Him.

Within about five minutes, I was reminded by two Godly women (Debra Holmen and my wife) that my focus was wrong. They gently reminded me that I could not write this on my own, but needed to seek God's wisdom. Debra shared with me Ephesians 3:20--"Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope." My first thought was, "duh" followed briskly by "Father, forgive me for not seeking Your wisdom from the start."

I sat back down at the computer and the words flowed. Within a matter of a couple hours, I had the entire thing done. I was again amazed at God's unbelievable power and yet more amazed that I consistently forget about it and true to do life on my own.

Just a day or two later during my quiet time, I was reading Jeremiah 32:27 and I think God brought me to this verse to try to set this in my mind a little more firmly. The verse reads, "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?"

I am fully aware that it was through God's abundant goodness that the brochure was written, yet I am also fully aware that I will probably forget this again the next time around, and the next. I just pray that God remains patient with me as I learn to trust in His perfect providence.

06 September 2009

Judge one another?

Over the past several weeks, I have struggled with understanding Christian judgment or perhaps more accurately, loving correction. There are reasonably clear admonitions against judging one another, most memorably (to me anyway) in Matthew 7:4 "Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?" and Luke 6:37 "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned." I understand this admonition. What I have trouble figuring out is when, and how, are Christians to lovingly correct one another. Here are some things to keep in mind:

God is our Judge. He loves His people, but make no mistake, He will pass judgment on all. Ecclesiastes 12:14 tells us that "For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil." In fact, in reading through the Old Testament, we frequently see evidence of God's judgment. It is only through Jesus' sacrifice that we are washed of our sins. So God the father is a righteous judge, but what about Jesus?

Considering that the Father and the Son are one, Jesus clearly has a role in judgment, which is evident in Revelation. During His earthly ministry, though, He stated that His role was not to judge, but to save. John 12:47-48 "If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day." With that said, He did not encourage people to sin freely. Consider the woman at the well. After all of her accusers left, "Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more'" (John 8:10-11). He acts with incredible mercy, but does not let her off the hook to continue in a sinful lifestyle.

But what about us? Admittedly, that whole plank-eye thing is pretty convicting, yet we are also called to sharpen, confront, even rebuke, one another (e.g., Proverbs 27:17, James 5:16, Titus 1:13). Jesus instructed His followers "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment" (John 7:24). So we are called to "judge", but how do we do that? I think Jared Wilson provides two worthwhile recommendations (p. 134):
  • We're responsible for our brothers in Christ, to bring discipline and conviction to each other in the hopes of making the body of Christ holy as God is holy.
  • We have no business judging people who are not Christians.
So how do we "bring discipline and conviction to each other"? I shared my difficulty processing this balance with one of our pastors who said to me, "well you know Micah 6:8 right?" Ummm....no. It turns out that Micah 6:8 tells us to "act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." I read this to mean that, if we feel the need to confront a Christian brother or sister, we should examine ourselves and our motivations, humbly and prayerfully seek God's guidance, and only then mercifully correct, recognizing fully that we too are sinners completely dependent upon the grace of Christ.

(I liberally consulted the chapter "Jesus the Judge" from Jared Wilson's Your Jesus is Too Safe in writing this post. I would highly commend the book).

05 September 2009

Reading Christians

I suppose I could have gone in several directions with this post. For example, I could have written about the practice of discerning or understanding other Christians, about Christians who read, or about reading things written by Christians. Although all worthy blog fodder in their own right, it is this final point I am interested in right now.

In the past several months, I have ramped up my reading, always hungering for more. In a desire to know more about God and His will for me, I spend much of my free time searching out and reading books, blogs, and articles about God in addition to His holy word. I have become increasingly aware, that despite my frequent encouragement by Christian writers, I am too often frustrated by what I read, so I started asking myself why.

I have pinpointed a few things that have contributed to my annoyance. Fundamentally, I often forget that, unlike God's word, Christian writers are fallible. Even those attempting to elucidate God's word with the utmost care are fallen sinners who write with error. In today's information age, anyone with Internet access has a pulpit, without a requirement that they actually think or analyze scripture (I say this, fully recognizing the irony that I am writing this in an un-reviewed blog). In ages past, writers faced scrutiny by their peers and if their writings did not pass muster, they did not persevere, if they even managed to see the light of day. I also see evidence of people pursuing worldly agendas before God's will and subsequently bending God's word to fit their desires.

I initially came up with several rules to circumvent my annoyances:
  • 1) Read only books put out by Crossway publishing company--Crossway is the primary publishing portal for such thinkers as John Piper and Mark Driscoll, dubbed the leaders of New Calvinism. They write in a refreshingly direct way, leaning strongly on the Bible, which they recognize as inerrant.
  • 2a) Avoid any book written or endorsed by Brian McLaren--McLaren is a leader of the emergent movement and is most recently notorious for his decision to celebrate Ramadan this year to demonstrate solidarity with the nation of Islam.
  • 2b) Avoid any book with "emergent" in the title--See point 2a above. There is a tendency, I believe, for the emergent church to place a strong focus on re-interpreting God to be cool, hip, and relevant and in the process, twisting the Gospel.
  • 2c) Avoid any books published by Windblown Media--Windblown Media is most well known for publishing The Shack, a piece of Christian fiction which has exploded with massive readership and has led people to say such things as "this book has been life changing and caused me to re-think God." More recently, Windblown has been recognized for their book So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore?, which suggests that the Bible does not recommend involvement in any kind of institutional church (for those who agree with this, I would encourage reading the New Testament).
  • 3) Be selective in which blogs I read and never read the comments--There are many Christian blogs out there with no editorial oversight (you are now reading one). Some of them show deep thought, some are political soapboxes, and some are just poorly written. Even worse, the comments often demonstrate no humility or wisdom, but much venom.
As I pondered these "rules," I believed they had some merit, but are mostly absurd. Rather, I think a different approach is beneficial.

First, the Bible should be pre-eminent as it is the inerrant, infallible Word of God. We need to read the Bible first and read it most. It is to be our primary source of information about God and our lives in Him (2 Timothy 3:16). Use a literal translation (e.g., ESV) rather than a paraphrase (e.g., The Message) for most of your Bible study. Second, pray for spiritual discernment (Ephesians 5:6-11), seeking to understand what is consistent with the Bible and what is not.

I like how John Calvin described how to deal with the world (including its writings) in his Institutes:
  • For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.
In other words, we are to use God's word as a lens through which to view our world, including the things that we read about God written by others. Put another way, we should act as the Bereans who "received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (Acts 17:11).

In sum, I believe there are worthwhile Christian writings out there, but I also believe that we need to carefully consider the veracity of what we read, consistently praying for discernment and regularly checking what we read against the scriptures.