Sunday, September 21, 2014

You are what you do

Would you have sex for money?  What if it were only once?  What if it were a clean, healthy and attractive person, and the money was 100 million dollars?  And no one would ever find out about it? 

If you said “no,” then consider how high we might have to raise the price and how much privacy you’d need.  Would you do it for $4 Billion? 

Once you've said yes to this, congratulations: you are a whore. 
Now the only thing left is to negotiate your price. 

It works this way with other things, too.  For instance, if you would normally not steal, but you and your whole family is starving, and you see a chance to steal a million dollars without getting caught – you’re a thief.  Your personal situation and the amount to be stolen are just the price you’re willing to pay to become a thief. 

Consider this from the Greek Philosopher Epictetus:

The other day I had an iron lamp placed beside my household gods. I heard a noise at the door and on hastening down found my lamp carried off. I reflected that the culprit was in no very strange case. "Tomorrow, my friend," I said, "you will find an earthenware lamp; for a man can only lose what he has."

The reason why I lost my lamp was that the thief was superior to me in vigilance.
He paid however this price for the lamp:
In exchange for it he consented to become a thief;
In exchange for it, to become faithless.
(From the Golden Sayings of Epictetus, 1.1.XI - XII)

I read an article about a brain-study on dishonesty.  The author of the article about the study is a young journalist.  Her introduction was interesting:

 “What's the price on your integrity? Tell the truth; everyone has a tipping point. We all want to be honest, but at some point, we'll lie if the benefit is great enough.”

This woman has not only confessed to being a liar (which makes me wonder if I can believe her article) but she believes that everyone else is, too.  What she calls a “tipping point” is the price one is willing to pay to become a liar.  Does everyone have such a tipping point?  I don’t believe so. 

Most of us do have a tipping point, but it’s usually about different things.  I can’t imagine an event that would get me to deny Jesus, but Peter did it, and he had more faith than I’ll ever have.  As for stealing, my tipping point used to be pretty low.  But a man embarrassed me one day, and it changed me.  Stealing is no longer very tempting to me.  But I have other issues now.

This principle presents us with two challenges:

First, we should reflect on ourselves and our own weaknesses. 
What will you sell cheaply?  Are you so prone to loneliness that you’ll do anything that pleases others just to avoid it?  Are you so prone to depression that you seek excuses or comfort or other things to smooth it over?  Maybe your thing is greed, or power or image or physical appearance.  Or maybe it’s pride, arrogance and self-righteousness. 
Examine yourself.  Test yourself.  Find your weaknesses and go to work on them until they are no longer your weakest area … and then go to work on your new weakness. 

Second, we should reflect on others. 
Many people are just like the lying author.  They believe everyone lies, so it’s not that big of a deal.  We expect it of ourselves and others.  If you think about that, you may be tempted to be judgmental.  Or – you may be tempted to be proud of yourself and your successes.  This is where it becomes so vital to understand our Father and His Son.  They are perfect, yet offer both justice and mercy – in just the right measure, and at just the right time. 

Can you be merciful to others who have traded their identity for a price? 
Can you be just with them? 

Most of us tend to be one or the other.  Either we forgive everything or we condemn everything.  But learning to be exactly like Jesus – wow.  That’s a challenge. 

When we are born again, we become new creatures.  But sadly, we often carry a bit of Egypt with us, and eventually we sell our birthright for a bowl of soup. 

This first passage was written to tell a church of its responsibility to one another:

Strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and…
Make straight paths for your feet, so that which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
Pursue peace with all men [note: when the writer says “all men,” that’s a clue that he intends this to include outsiders, i.e., non-disciples – k.m.], and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.
See to it that no one [back to a church-specific command] comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.
(Hebrews 12:12–17)

Note here Jesus was speaking specifically to his disciples:

Jesus said to his disciples,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must:
·         Deny himself, and
·         Take up his cross and
·         Follow me
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?
Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
 (Matthew 16:24–26)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Thank God

God’s anger is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness….

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and … creatures.

God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

For this reason…
God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer…
God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful. 

Although they know God’s ordinances: that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
(Romans 1:18–32)

Paul’s words above have bothered me most of my life.  If you read them carefully, you’ll see that he describes a progression.  It’s a progression many (maybe most) of the people you know are going through.  It starts out small, but it ends up with people being depraved and just rotten.  But not only have these people become vile human beings, but they “give hearty approval to those who” do such sickening things.  You know these people – look again at the descriptive words, like “gossips” and “slanderers, arrogant, boastful, untrustworthy, unmerciful.” 

As if this weren't bad enough, consider that Paul wasn't writing about non-believers.  He was writing to a church about what can happen to Christians!  These are people who “know God’s ordinances,” who “exchanged the truth for a lie.”  These are Christians who have deteriorated into dreck. 

The reason this bothers me, however, is because of one simple and repeated phrase: “God gave them over.”  Those must be the most horrible words in all of scripture.  God gave up on people – He just let them go right down the drain.  If God lets you go, what hope do you have? 

Because this passage frightened me so much, I studied to understand how it could happen.  What is the thing that makes it possible for “good” people to go from a state of decency to a place where God gives up on them, and finally into the state of folly & depravity?  What causes this? 

  • Though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks
  • Professing to be wise, they became fools
  • They exchanged the truth of God for a lie
  • Worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator
How did this horrible process begin?  By a failure to honor God and give thanks.  

When we fail to give thanks, we are failing to acknowledge the many gifts of God.  When we are ungrateful, we become complainers and grumblers.  We are never satisfied, like God hasn't done enough for us.  We are warned many times about not whining, complaining, or grumbling. 

“Don’t grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”
(1 Corinthians 10:10–12)

Telling disciples not to complain is only part of it.  It can become merely another rule we feel we must obey.  The truth is that complaining is nothing more than the absence of gratitude.  It’s basically like shouting at God that He hasn't done enough. 

The people Paul mentioned who were destroyed were the same people God had brought out of Egypt, out of slavery.  But that wasn't enough. 
God gave them water to drink. But it wasn't enough
God gave them food daily, but it wasn't enough
God gave them health and clothing that never wore out, but it wasn't enough
God made them a nation of holy people, and gave them the Torah, but it wasn't enough
God was leading them to the land of promise, but it wasn't enough

What about us? 
Hasn't God also given you and me food, drink, houses, jobs and all sorts of good things?
Hasn't Yahweh healed us, rescued us from our sins and made us part of His Kingdom?
Hasn't He sent His only Son, so that we could live eternally?

Anyone who can read this, can read.  God has given us everything we need and promises us eternal life.  How can we not be grateful every single minute of every single day?  How can we not thank God continually? 

Only a spoiled, rotten little child whines and gripes and complains for “more.”  “I want” or “I don’t want to” are the expressions of ingratitude and they make God sick. 

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18)

Thank God.  
Thank Him all the time, “without ceasing.”  
Count your blessings more than once a day and realize how much God has given us.  

Gratitude helps us remember how blessed we are.  It helps us show others how great God is.  It builds faith.  And it will keep us from sliding down into darkness so far that God just plain “gives us over.” 

This is the love of God:
That we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)