Beyond what you can bear (audioblog)

My life is driven by my own world view which is driven by the truths of Scripture (as I make the time to reflect). Over time, I wrestle with some ideas around the nature of our world, our God, and how our existence meshes beautifully with the goodness of God. However, there are tough life experiences that call our understanding of God into question. These questions can then lead to a deteriorated (or invigorated) relationship with our God.

This is my first audio-blog which was recorded on a long drive when I was visiting my mom as she was undergoing surgery. If you are going to take the 14:19 to listen to this audio-blog, take the time to read through some of the passages of scripture and ideas that I’m going to wrestle with in this recording. Please enjoy the background music and the noise of the car ride.

Verses:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
  • Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Ideas:

  • Sin of commission: is to know something is wrong, and do it anyway; deliberate disobedience to the known will of God
  • Sin of omission: sins of failing to do what we should have done
  • Temped: being compelled to sin (to act in a way that not in complete alignment with the will and nature of God and His goodness)

Audio-blog: Beyond what you can bear

Worship – Evangelical or Catholic or what

I spent like 3-hours today listening to a Presbyterian theologian on a topic about worship. It was quite intriguing as he went into explanation about church history, liturgy, and worship/praise. The coolest thing was the fact that he contrasted Catholicism with contemporary Evangelism. What I liked was the fact that he stated that Catholicism stuck to the roots of striving to have the congregation experience the magnificent and presence of God whereas the contemporary Evangelical church generally focuses on the comfort of its members. More explicitly stated: the Catholic Church has a focus on God and the Evangelical focuses on man’s comforts. However, I don’t think that these distinctions are so easily discerned or evaluated. So, it was cool to contemplate the fact that Evangelicals (myself included) may have “thrown the baby out with the bathwater to some degree.” But, there are so many ways to interpret the Word of God and I do see as God manifesting Himself through the same words different to each of us simply because He isn’t somebody/something that can be understood completely or fully-known. So, there’s a tip of the iceberg on some theology of worship – so much more to be contemplated.

Examining life – selfish ambition and vein conceit

Philippians 2 – 1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

What does this say to me? For me it requires that I question myself on every decision that I make. What does “selfish ambition” or “vein conceit” really mean? I’ve pulled together some references, but it’s very clearly anything with selfish motives (even if they are “good” and can seem God-glorifying).

I think of this song by Mainstay, Take Away, where the artist says, “Ruin my agenda, holy as it never was.” I know that I try to claim that my plans and agendas are holy and of God, but they are only me attempting to fool God and manipulate Him into my agenda. For some reason, I like to set forth on things that most people will think are good and godly, yet I know that I’m only doing it for their praise and that my God isn’t really all that trilled at all.

I also think of those preachers who only want to grow their church just because bigger is better – it’s somehow validates their worthiness as a pastor. Vein conceit comes to play when I think of people that manipulate others in some way. It’s this idea that my idea and way is better and I don’t respect your idea as on equal footing as mine. It’s this conceit rooted in vanity (or pride) for whatever reason – age, intelligence, physical abilities, etc – just our abilities. I consider those (our abilities) vain – only because everything is given by God out of grace. For we deserve nothing and have nothing except by the grace of God. We are no better than anybody else because we simply can’t weigh the value of traits because all of them are given at His discretion; who are we to judge value?

James speaks of “selfish ambition” as earthly, unspiritual and demonic “wisdom” (James 3:13-16). The Lord himself warned against seeking first place (Matthew 20:26-27), desiring power, prestige and wealth (Luke 14:10). Jesus called his disciples to a life of self-sacrifice that gives priority to God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

From The Complete book of Everyday Christianity

As a work of the flesh, selfish ambition is present when we define ourselves by our achievements, rather than by our character. For many men, and increasingly for women, the choice of career represents an “idealized fantasy of who one is or might become . . . the medium through which these dreams are enacted and judged” (Ochberg, p. 3).

Symptoms of this selfish ambition are relentless striving with an inability to rest, discouragement at the lack of recognition obtained for one’s hard work, predatory competition (even in Christian leadership), use of the present situation (and people) as a stepping stone and an “endless itchiness for other possibilities” (Schnase, p. 17). The Bible leaves little room for exalting human achievement and constantly points us in the direction of exulting in God’s achievements. But our motives are always mixed, and a theology of grace accepts humanness just as it is. At the same time it points to something better. Because ambition is not uniformly evil, it is a risk worth taking.

Somehow, I need to check my motivations consistently and have my friends relentlessly question why I live my life the way I do. I’ll have to agree with Socrates when he says, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” So, I invite you to examine my life each and every day. For, I give myself too much slack. Plus life is way more fun examined and alongside great friends.

Identity and Character – God’s individual focus

So, there are some stories in the Bible that seem very telling of identity in Christ. For instance, the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-30, Luke 18:18-23) [which I am thrilled to continually reinterpret in wonderful new ways]. What is it really about? We have a guy say that he has kept the commandments of the Jewish law asking how he can have eternal life and then Jesus says, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Does this make much sense? Not really. I mean, why should he have to give up his riches? Riches aren’t bad or evil. There is nothing wrong with money and power in his youth.

So, if that’s not it, then it’s got to be something else. And as I see it, it’s very clear that Jesus simply asks for the man’s full identity to be rooted in Him alone. It wasn’t commandments/obedience that were keeping him from eternal life, but it was his security he derived from his status, power, riches, and expected longevity.

This is why I love the gospel. It’s always about give up everything; lay it down; forget yourself, your money, your past, your future. Jesus goes on to say only a few verses later “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” Basically, I see Jesus saying that we have to give up things of great value – even things that seem like very good and beneficial things – to fully devote ourselves to him. (But when? How? What does that look like?)

I wonder about the “rich young ruler” some more. Why didn’t Jesus tell him to throw a big event where Jesus could preach? Or why didn’t Jesus say that he should have the man use the money to build a trust and support the church movement? Or a bunch of other good things that could advance the gospel? And, I believe it’s because this man’s security (identity) was wrapped up in his riches. But, I take it a step further to his achievements. He had achieved an abundance of money and power at a young age and to give them up was unreasonable [Jesus is generally pretty unreasonable, but somehow the nonsensical lifestyle is always full of adventure, abundance, and joy]. Maybe using them to enhance the kingdom would be reasonable, but I bet the man would just find security in doing what looked good and advanced the reach of the gospel message. Rather, Jesus cared about His character more than how many Bibles the rich man could distribute (yet another thing derive security/pride).

I see character as what is most important to God throughout the Bible – not achievement of God-type things. I wonder why Moses wandered for 40 years, why Jacob had to wait 21 years for Rebecca, why Abraham was told to slaughter his only son (whom the promise was to come through), why Joseph was in jail for 7 years, etc. God could have just given them their goal immediately, but he didn’t. Why is that?

Then, this same God not only wants to develop our character, but he also tests us. Why does he test us? I wonder. I mean, God knows everything, it’s not like God needs to find out something about us (Does God wonder, “I wonder how he’ll handle this?”). So, maybe the only reason for a test is so that we can see our true character plainly. For when Abraham passed the test to kill his son Isaac, it was counted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:9). But, God knew Abraham’s heart beforehand and what he would do. But, I bet Abraham doubted himself – if he would actually follow through and fully trust God. But, after he put his faith and God and saw that God was faithful, how much more confidence does Abraham have in God and himself?

So, Jesus tested Philip with the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:5-15) – He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do (John 6:6). Again, why? So that Philip would see his own lack of faith. Then we look at Jesus tempted. I wonder about this at times, for these would have been very tough tests that Satan put before him. For, Satan basically told Jesus that he could save the whole world from Satan’s domination if Jesus would only worship Satan. Wow, that is exactly Jesus’ goal – to save the world. There is a small nuance difference, but both routes achieve Jesus’ goal to save the world. It’s just what is “good and right” as I see it. There is the “good and right” way to achieve the goal and the seemingly straightforward and immediate way. Jesus focused on the eternal perspective and knew that immediate gratification (no matter how tempting) is not the way of righteousness (aka God).

Where do I find my identity? How do I handle seeing the results of the character tests God places before me (both success and failure)? Am I willing to give up everything to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousnesses (what is good and right)? Do I trust him over these things I’d love to find security (money, job, intellect, physical abilities, charisma, health, youth, status, etc.)?

What to do next

There is the awful predicament that I am consistently plagued – questions about the future. What do I do next? How do I handle this impending situation? What is God’s will? What is best? What is good and right? How will I know? What’s the deal – oh frustration.

James 4 – 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

Isaiah 55:9 – As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Interpretation: We are incapable of determining God’s thoughts through human reasoning; therefore, we are dependent on divine revelation.

These verses tell me that I can’t plan for tomorrow and that I can’t even imagine that I can come up with what my tomorrow should even look like. How depressing. What am I supposed to do? How do I deal with topics like:

  • Retirement savings
  • Emergency savings
  • Decision to go back to school or not
  • Moving or getting a new job
  • Changing my longer-term commitments: girl, friends, family, organization, activities, leadership

When I read through the Bible I get even more confused. There are some really rich people in there and some really poor. There are people that gave up everything to follow a calling (but how can we be sure something is that “calling”?) and people that did great things in their positions (jobs). There are people who are well-learned and those with no education.

I guess I get frustrated at God’s creativity. For, I’d love to just be able to figure things out easy on my own. I’d like be able to apply analysis and logic to situations in my life and figure out what to do. But it’s not that simple, simply because God doesn’t want us bloat with pride by using the abilities he has given us to avoid Him. So, it’s cool in the end that I must go back to Him. I must not have pre-conceptions of where my future is going that I’m unwilling to release. I must constantly check-myself.

How do I check myself? Well, I generally ask myself these questions when coming on a decision. Of course, I’m not so objective or perfect that I always allow myself to admit the full truth, but it’s definitely a start.

  • Am I rationalizing/justifying my actions? (Are there excuses or self-assurance with sensical reasons?)
  • Am I scared to do it and it is in alignment with God’s truths (probably should take the risk)?
  • Do I have peace that after (and usually before) that I’ve acted righteously and in complete and utter humble submission to God?
  • Is this good and right?

Does this resonate?

Lust: What’s the big deal?

So – lust right? I feel like this is an issue that is generally brought up pertaining to men (kind of like eating disorders for women). It is assumed that men are going to lust, look at porn, and are otherwise much weaker in the area of sexual temptation. I’m curious if this is something that women deal with a lot as well or if it’s less of a common occurrence.

Does openness to lust potentially stem from one’s views on when sex is appropriate, the meaning of sex, what love looks like, etc? I feel like it does. I was having related discussions this weekend on the topic. And what came out of each of them (from me – so potentially inaccurate) is the notion of honor. What is love? Continue reading Lust: What’s the big deal?