The University of Wisconsin-Madison enjoys trying new things. They pride themselves as being “a catalyst for the extraordinary” (according to their website). Their guiding principle is that “education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom” (again from the website). In keeping with this principle, they have tried to influence their students thinking on how cultures relate to each other, taking stands against violence, rape, and racism. Some of their programs have been lauded. Others have been ridiculed.
Last fall, they began a new program, building on the foundation of these values and influences. They called this program, “Men’s Project”, answering the question “What is masculinity”. You can find information at https://www.uhs.wisc.edu/news/campus/mens-project/. They hope to explore all the many expressions and types of masculinity. Sam Johnson of UW says, “We know that men are underrepresented on campus when it comes to campus leadership roles and getting needed medical and mental health services. They’re also overrepresented in acts of violence and use of drugs and alcohol. With this program, we want to find out why this is and how we can change that culture campus-wide to encourage healthier expressions of masculinities.” She insists that there is no rule of how a man is supposed to be. Therefore, the cohort will explore each other’s experience to create awareness about unhealthy interaction and how perceptions of masculinity “impact the student experience, including gender-based violence on campus, alcohol, vulnerability, media sexuality, and relationships.”
I applaud the University of Wisconsin for trying to change culture for the better. They see needs all around them, and they do what they can. However, their efforts are misguided and could produce more harm than they think.
What is masculinity? According to Merriam-Webster, it is the “qualities appropriate or usually associated with a man.”
Well, this doesn’t help us much. What are these “qualities appropriate” to a man? What makes a man masculine? The answer to this question has changed over the years. In the past, a man was someone who was strong, authoritative, who was a provider, who didn’t show unnecessary emotions. He led his home and his country, but didn’t mind taking some time to smoke and drink with his peers. Later, men were asked to become more in-touch with their emotions, but they were derided as not able to be good leaders in home and society. They were “all that is wrong in this world.” They were playboys, not able to keep their desires in check. They were irrational, not able to make good decisions about children and education. They got in the way of advancement.
Both past and present cultural expectations were wrong. Now, universities around the US, including the University of Wisconsin, are calling for masculinity studies to counter the harm that has been done in cultural expectations.
Unfortunately, each program insists that there are no rules for what is masculinity, but everyone who identifies as male can build their own masculine legacy, as long as they are not violent and they make good citizens. This is false.
There is a standard for masculinity. There is a rule for the “qualities appropriate” for a man.
This rule is found in the Bible.
The Bible is very clear on masculinity and femininity. There are standards that must be kept for a man to be appropriate. Unfortunately, there are too many to be discussed in a short blog post. So, the list has been drastically shortened.
Micah 6:8 (NIV)
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah bemoans the fact that of his sin, that he has nothing to offer God for his past life or for the sins of his nation. There is nothing that God would accept, because they have not acted as men and women should. The standard God has across the board, not just for women, but for men too, is that all would have a relationship with him and that this relationship would affect all aspects of their lives. By humbling ourselves before the Creator of the Universe, admitting our need for Him (through the blood of Christ), we enter into an amazing relationship, that shows us how to act with justice in all situations, and to love extending mercy to all that we can.
A man is one who walks with God, and allows this relationship to make him strongly principled, and tenderly merciful.
1 Peter 3:7 (NIV)
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
I am not going to touch the concept of wives as “the weaker partner”, except for this: God made men and women different, in order that they would fill needed roles in society and in family. Men need to realize that women are different, and they need to interact with their wives according to that fact, with consideration and respect.
Paul, in Ephesians 5, compares the man to Christ in the marriage relationship. As Christ has loved the church and died for the church. The husband is supposed to give himself for his wife, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This is a high calling. Women don’t have this calling. Only men.
A man is one who dies to himself that his wife might live, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, realizing that she has been designed by God as different than him.
Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Men have a duty to train their children to walk with God and to have that relationship affect their lives, according to Micah 6:8. Unfortunately, all men, even those walking with God, have a propensity to mess up. One big way is to “exasperate” their children. In our zeal to teach truth and justice, we forget to “love mercy”. And, we drive our children away from ourselves and our faith.
A man is one who actively passes on his faith, both in knowledge and application, to his children, taking care to treat them with love, mercy, and understanding.
Though the last two verses seem to be only applicable to married men, all are useful as one, whether single or married, seeks to have “qualities appropriate” for a man. These qualities do not come naturally, but must be practiced continually.
Well, University of Wisconsin, will you add these standards to your program?
Recently, I met Bernard Wilson. Those who live in my area may recognize him as the author of The Book of Life. He knows that I do not agree with him or with his book. However, he graciously gave me a copy of his book to read. I read it and wrote this review, which I will be giving him.
Bernard Wilson has seen a lot of life. He has seen the world change in his lifetime. He grew up in the depression and saw his dad lose his farm during that financial crisis. Later, Wilson joined the US military during WWII. There, he experienced the effects of war and seemed to ponder the causes. He married during the war and raised two girls afterwards. After sixty years of marriage, his wife died. The cause is not listed in the book. Throughout the book, he seems to be yearning for the life of his youth, before the pain of war and the pain of life had touched him. He asks, “Why is it we never see the bright blue sky or feel the pure fresh air… as it was in the 1930’s?” (page 66). Whether the reader believes the thesis of the book, one cannot deny the experiences Wilson has gone through, making him want to recreate his childhood and to guard against pains he experienced early on. Unfortunately, to do this, Wilson twists Scripture and denies the foundation of Christianity throughout this book.
Wilson insists that due to humanity’s misuse of the earth and each other, the earth will soon be destroyed by global warming. The only way to stop this catastrophe would be humanity’s acceptance of the Lord’s plan, as related by Wilson, the self-proclaimed Messiah and special messenger of God. This plan of the Lord is the abolition of money. With a money-free society, all economic and environmental problems would be solved, along with the extinction of immorality, crime, war, and poverty. This is the salvation of the world, resulting in eternal life as humanity works together to heal all diseases.
There are many problems with these claims. The first and biggest problem is his view on the Bible and inspiration. He does quote 2 Timothy 3:16 (though he misspells the reference as Timothy 1:3), “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” He admits that “all scriptures are true” (page 4). However, he does not accept the fact that God inspired the entire Bible as a cohesive unit. He believes that the Bible was not meant to be read consecutively, but “here a little, there a little” (page 4). He quotes Isaiah 28:10 for proof. However, this verse relates the people of Ephraim mocking the teaching of God. The result of their mocking is judgment by God through confusion. Not really the best verse to use as the instruction of God for how to read Scripture.
Wilson doesn’t stop there. Not only does he believe that Scripture should be read in piece-meal, but he believes that only the one who has been led by the Spirit of Truth can know how to arrange the puzzle pieces of the Bible into the plan of the Lord. He believes that the Lord, even though He inspired the writers of Scripture, actually hid the truths of Scripture from all of humanity since Creation (Page 61). Only Wilson, the chosen of the Lord, taught by “the Spirit of Truth” (which was never defined), knows divine knowledge.
Wilson claims that he is the only one who knows the Spirit of Truth (page 61); that he is the chosen Angel, as seen in Revelation (page 4); that he is Elijah (Elias) (page 4); that he has lived 6000 years (page 66); that he is the brother of Jesus (page 47); and that he is the Messiah (page 17). How can he claim all these things? Sometime in the mid 1990’s, a women appeared to him in the middle of the night, looked at him without saying anything, and then disappeared. This was the sign of him being chosen as the vessel of the Spirit of Truth. He verifies his knowledge with three main predictions: 1) a major earthquake would hit the world around 2012, causing a major catastrophe like the volcano in the Canary Islands to fall into the sea (page 13); 2) Wilson would start looking younger, beginning with growing a full head of hair (page 47); and 3) That he will be raptured before the rest of the world as a sign for the truth of this book (page 48).
Unfortunately, for any prophet, the proof of their veracity is if what they say comes to pass. So far, all three of Wilson’s predictions have not come true. The Bible is clear, if a prophet predicts something that does not happen, he should not be believed. He is a false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
If Wilson was a prophet, having special knowledge from the Spirit of Truth, he would speak consistently from what has already been revealed. Wilson admitted that all Scripture is true (page 4). However, he contradicts Scripture in the name of the Spirit of Truth.
Wilson claims that God is only human (page 7). However, this contradicts Jesus who stated “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Wilson claims that Jesus was not the Messiah, though He did come to earth, die and rise again. He even states the Jesus is part of the Trinity (page 62). If Jesus was not the Messiah, why did He come to earth and why did He die? What was the purpose?
Matthew 1:1 says that Jesus is the Messiah. He came so that we might have life in His name (John 20:31). Wilson claims that the problem with society is money (page 7). If all of society moved to a money-less system, all crime, immorality, global warming, poverty, greed, wars would end. Life would be peaceful. However, Wilson chooses not to believe Romans 3:23, which states that all are sinners, to the depths of our person. Even if money were taken out of the equation, humanity would still be proud, greedy, angry, immoral. We need more than a check on our actions, more than a band-aid for this Earth. We need a savior for our souls.
Wilson claims that salvation for the Earth is a communist system with no money. Everyone shares everything in common and everything we need, from food to vacation, is free. We’ll be able to solve our own problems of global warming and disease by pooling our resources without compensation (pages 40-42).
This is not the salvation the Bible speaks of. Paul was asked: “What must I do to be saved?” He answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Humanity needs saving from their sins and their desire to sin, apart from money. Jesus came to earth so that he would die, taking the penalty for our sins. Everyone who believes in Him will be saved. Upon believing in Christ, the believer receives the Spirit of Truth, so that each will be able to know God and Scripture (1 Cor 12:13).
Once someone places their faith in Christ, their names are written in the Book of Life. Wilson claims that the only places “Book of Life” is found is in Revelation 20:12,15 (page 3). However, the phrase is also found in Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; and Revelation 21:27. Each of those passages refers to a believer’s name being written in the Book of Life. This book, according to Scripture, is the list of those who can enter into Paradise with God, through the saving work of Jesus Christ. This is directly opposite of what Wilson teaches in his Book of Life.
I can see that Wilson is responding to pain in his life and that he has a desire to restore that which he has lost. However, if Wilson truly believes that Scripture is true, He would not contradict Scripture so much. Unless Wilson accepts the gift of Jesus Christ, aligning his beliefs with the Bible, his name will not be written in the true Book of Life, and he will be doomed to an eternity apart from God. At that point, all he wishes to keep will be lost. I pray that he will accept Christ.
Last week, a legend died. John Glenn, the first man to orbit the earth in a space craft. He orbited three times. I sometimes wonder what it was like, to be the first and to see what he saw. Was he afraid of what might happen? Did he expect to not see his wife again(They were married a total of 73 years)? Did he have time to enjoy the sights? Or was he too busy fixing all that went wrong that flight? Would traveling around the earth change his view of the origins of the universe? There is a big debate between science and the Bible. After seeing space and the full earth, which side won in his mind? No matter the answer to my questions, John Glenn must have loved space, for he opted to fly again, when he was 77. He became the oldest man to enter space. Did I mention that he was a hero of mine?
John Glenn was a strong Presbyterian. His trips into space merely strengthen his already solid faith. He said: "To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible." He did not believe that there was a contradiction between the Bible and science.
Other astronauts say the same thing. I've had the privilege to hear several astronauts and NASA engineers talk about their experiences. Most that I have met insist that space and creation validates the existence of God. They also claim that Christians don't have to fear science, for there is no disagreement.
Creation does show the existence of God. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of his hands" (Psalm 19:1). Since God created the world, like any good artist, he left his signature all over it. Romans 1:20, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made." There are many who try to turn a blind eye at the existence of the evidence of God in creation. Unfortunately, to do this, they have to deny scientific laws and rules of logic.
Science and faith are not irreconcilable, for science shows the glory of God. The intricacy of the atom, the complications of the eye or the reproductive system, and others, all scream an intelligent designer. This world is so detailed, but it is limited. It needed an eternal, all-powerful, non-material Cause to have jump-started its existence. That Cause, that Intelligent Designer, is my God.
John Glenn tried to share his experiences with others and let them know that science strengthened his faith. Instead of shying away from science, may we embrace the story that it tells of our God. Instead of embracing science as against the way of God, let us use it to proclaim His glory.
On Monday, November 28, we read the brutal story of an eighteen year old college student who used his car and his knife to wreak havoc on the campus of Ohio State University. We don't know why this student chose to spend his Monday after Thanksgiving in this way. We don't know why he chose to seek to kill those students, teachers, and policemen. All we know is that he acted, and that his action is not alone.
He is now part of a statistic. A statistic which relates a story of school shootings, police killings, riots, and senseless murder. Week after week, for the past multiple years, with increasing frequency, our eyes have been bombarded with the stories of these atrocities. Many of us are confused. Some are angry. All are saddened by the wanton misuse of human life. We do not understand how someone could willingly do these things. These emotions often bring hopelessness.
When looking at the world, an observer might deduce that violence is getting more and more prevalent. Is this really true? I don't know. The author of Ecclesiastes wrote, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." The methods have changed over time as humanity moved from clubs, to swords, to arrows, to guns, to explosives, to whatever the next generation will invent. With the spread of information, we know more about each event that happens around the world, than any other generation knew. Is violence more prevalent, or do we just know more that is happening? I don't know.
What I do know is that violence, hatred, pain, anger, and hopelessness have been staples in humanity's existence since Adam and Eve left the garden. The perfection that was at the beginning was lost when sin entered the world. Relationships were broken. Miscommunications abounded. Jealousy grew. The broken emotions festered, and then boiled over as Cain committed the first murder, showing that humanity had the ability to take the life that God graciously had made. This is seen as the depth of man's depravity. That first murder was joined by a second and a third, and innumerable more. Because of broken relationships, humanity does not have the ability in themselves to break this cycle, to live in peace.
We seek peace, but that peace is no where to be found, because we seek it in the wrong places. We look to each other, hoping that some man or woman could teach us how better to live. Unfortunately, no teaching of humanity can change who we are or our brokenness. We look to someone or something to give peace to our situation, but there is no peace to be had. Before we can have peace in our world, we need peace in our hearts. Only one person can change us.
True peace is found in Christ. Israel sought a savior that would bring peace to their situation. They lived in the middle of violence and riots, under an oppressive, racist government that cared more about lining its pockets than actually helping the poor and weak. In the middle of this chaos, Christ came as the one who would usher in a new regime, one of love, care, and equality. One of peace. But he ushered in this regime by dying. And, before he died, he promised that we wouldn't have peace on this earth.
How does Christ bring peace?
Where is this peace?
As Christ was at the Last Supper, he said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." While we live on this earth, we will be surrounded by trouble, because humanity is still suffering from sin and broken relationships. We have hope though. Christ promised that He has overcome the world, and one day that promise will be realized. He will come again and bring justice to those who have not followed Him. And, He will bring an eternity of peace to those who have trusted in Him.
Though we will keep getting more reports of violence, and though it feels like the world is spinning out of control, one day, in the Day of the Lord, we will finally have peace. This gives us hope in the midst of pain around us.
The day before Thanksgiving, my wife and I were watching one of our favorite television shows. One of the characters made the observation that all across the United States, on Thanksgiving, families were gathering to spend an awkward time around their table. In this country, this is the day where family differences are supposed to be set-aside, so that we can all celebrate ways that we have been blessed, while gorging ourselves on turkey. Unfortunately, the modern day of Thanksgiving is much different from the original day. Our celebrations of Thanksgiving have lost their spiritual fervor over the years.
History of Thanksgiving
In 1620, one hundred Brits stepped off a small ship, not knowing what their future held, and ill-prepared for whatever this new world and life would throw at them. They received a rude awaking that winter. Half of their number died of cold, sickness, and starvation. They didn't have enough provision for everyone, nor did they have adequate shelter from the cold and storms. In the spring, those left who were strong enough began to plant crops, as they knew how. However, their skills were not enough for this new world. Thankfully, by God's sovereignty, a local Native American knew English and had compassion on these settlers. He convinced the tribe he was living with to "adopt" these Brits. They taught the English how to plant native crops, how to fish, and how to hunt. That Fall, they had a harvest that would last them through the winter. They wouldn't have the mass death again.
After harvest they invited the Native Americans to celebrate how much God had blessed them. Ninety from the tribe showed up, bringing five deer. In addition to the deer, they had plenty of corn, fowl, fish, and other provisions. They feasted for three days, talking and playing games with the family and friends who had not died, and with the new friends that God had provided. God had been merciful, and they wanted to celebrate that.
Two years later, in 1623, the Brits celebrated Thanksgiving again, as ordered by their Governor William Bradford. They had been experiencing a drought. They had fasted, asking God for rain, which he sent. After fourteen days of rain, the governor called for a day of Thanksgiving, making this the first civil recognition for a day of Thanksgiving in the New World. They wanted to celebrate God's mercy in the midst of suffering. Later, many other colonies adopted yearly celebrations of Thanksgiving, giving thanks for all that God had carried them through that year.
In 1789, Washington called for a day of Thanksgiving, the first nationally recognized holiday under the Constitution. He called on the nation to give thanks to God for his mercy to them throughout the previous war and for his guidance in building a new government. The nation eagerly followed Washington's lead.
In 1863, Lincoln called for a day of Thanksgiving, in the midst of the horrific Civil War. He acknowledged that God had been merciful to them, even in all the bloodshed. He had shown compassion to many injured, he had supplied crops, he had built peace with other nations, he had allowed for babies to be born. In the words of the proclamation: "No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."
God gives blessings and shows mercy in the midst of tragedy. The American Thanksgiving was built on this amazing truth.
Paul taught about Thanksgiving. He said, "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Life rarely goes as we plan. In spite of our best efforts, we experience loss, grief, tragedy. However, in the midst of that suffering, we see God's mercy surrounding us in so many different ways. If we open our eyes, we can see it in all circumstances.
In Psalm 9, David tells about his enemies who are trying to destroy him. But, he begins by reciting all that God has done. He acknowledges God's mercy in this midst of his trouble. This is the hope that carries him through.
David's and Paul's perspective is not easy. It is not natural for us. However, with practice, we can rejoice and give thanks to God for His mercies in our tragedies. Let us go back to the original intent of Thanksgiving: Blatantly acknowledging all God's mercies that can be seen in our suffering.
So, as you think about Thanksgiving and plan for next year's, take some time to share with your guests the real reason you are thankful. If the gathering is already awkward, go ahead and make it more so.
There is an apple on top of a pile of books. That apple would not be where it is if the books were not supporting it. However, the apple probably does not realize that fact.
We all go through life with messages thrown at us. We slowly grab random messages, apply them to our lives, and move on. Unknown to many of us, more messages are affecting our lives than we realize, just like those books are affecting where the apple is.
Proverbs 4:23-27 says, "Above all else, guard your heart for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep you foot from evil." What we let into our mind (or our heart) effects our mouth, our eyes, our decisions, and our path in life.
These messages which could control us come from many different sources: Facebook, video games, movies, TV shows, YouTube, Twitter, news stations, friends, etc. None of these sources are bad. In fact, a lot of good can come from each of these sources. However, each of these sources are created and maintained by broken humans. Consequently, a lot of bad can come from these sources. Many times, these movies, games, shows, etc, have messages that are not blatant. They are "undercover." If we are not careful, we will let those messages influence us without realizing it.
Every source of information, no matter how entertaining, conveys messages which could either take us closer to God or farther from Him. Even if a movie is "Christian", it could be dangerous. Even if a movie is "secular", it could be safe. Therefore, each message, no matter the source, should be filtered in light of the Gospel.
So, how do we filter the messages that are thrown at us?
First, we need to understand what the message is. Everything has messages. Many of them are subliminal. We need to be able to listen to a song, or watch a movie, or see a clip of a video game and be able to say what the message of the author is. Nothing is truly entertainment. Everything has a message.
Second, we need to evaluate the message with our worldview. We look at the world in a different way, because we are followers of Christ. We have the Bible and the Gospel as our standard. The world has Satan and his message as its standard. So, once we understand the message given to us, we can ask: Is it true? Is it consistent with the Gospel? and Is it consistent with the life of love Christ has called us to live?
If the message is true, consistent with the Gospel, and consistent with Christ, we can accept it and use it for our maturity and encouragement. If the message is not, we must disregard it and caution those in our sphere of influence against that message.
If we go through these steps, we will guard our minds and hearts from evil. If we do not go through these steps, many messages that are thrown at us will influence our minds and hearts in a negative way, often subconsciously. We should take care to weigh everything we listen to, watch, or read. Messages are thrown at us everyday. Be aware and filter.
We all have feelings that run wild. Some of us are stoics and we don't like to admit our rampant feelings. Whenever one tries to break loose and reveal itself, we squish it down again. Others of us are emoters. We don't just embrace our feelings: our feelings control us.
Both extremes are wrong.
God has designed humanity to have feelings. These feelings are thermostats to the condition of our hearts, to the state of our relationships with God, and to the state of our relationships with each other. Those of us who are stoics are denying how God has made us, and we are refusing to use a valuable tool He has given us.
However, because of the Fall and the subsequent depravity of man, we cannot fully trust our hearts or the feelings that come from them (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19). Our emotions will lead us astray if we allow them to control us. Those of us who have a tendency to be controlled by emotion, need to temper that emotion with truth.
So, how do we use emotions correctly?
Identify the Feeling
First, we need to identify the feeling, whether it is anger, hurt, sadness, fear, anxiety, etc. Feelings are no use to us if we do not identify them. These feelings are a thermostat of what is going on around or inside us, or at least, what is perceived to be going on. These feelings are not wrong. However, these feelings can lead to sin. As Paul writes: "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Eph 4:26-27). Any feeling, if left unchecked and unresolved, can be a tool of the devil to cause us to sin.
So, we need to identify what the feeling is. By doing this, we are slowly bringing that feeling into control of Truth.
Race to the Root
After identifying the feeling, we can then explore why we have that feeling. Feelings do not happen in a vacuum. They come because a situation, whether in the present or in the past, has prompted them. Someone did, said, or insinuated something, or a circumstance happened that affected us in a specific way. This situation prompted in us a feeling and a reaction. If we don't understand the situation, the feeling, and the reaction, we cannot use the tool that God has given us as a thermostat.
Growing up, I would get angry at my siblings a lot. Sure, this is normal. However, I would sin through this anger. I allowed my emotions to control me, instead of using it as a tool. Looking back, I can see that my anger was due to not feeling heard by my siblings. I was the youngest. I wanted to be valued. Because I did not feel heard, I became angry. I would act upon that anger (yell, blame, make their lives miserable, etc.) and sin.
After identifying the feeling, we need to understand the situation (the root) that prompted the feeling.
Weigh the Truth
After identifying the feeling and racing to the root, we need to weigh the truth we are believing. Feelings are thermostats to what we believe. Often times, we are not believing truth (see Jeremiah 17:9 again). Our emotions are responding to a lie that we happen to believe. Other times, our emotions are based upon truth, and they prompt us to act righteously. Either way, the emotion is not the problem. What we believe is the issue.
When I got angry at my siblings, I was believing that my identity and value were based in my siblings' attention. If they listened to me, I would have value. This is a lie. My value and my identity is in Christ.
After we have identified what we are believing, we can then speak truth. This is an essential step. If we are believing a lie, we can preach truth to ourselves, furthering our maturity. If I had followed this process earlier in life, I would have understood my identity in Christ much sooner, and I wouldn't have sinned against my brother and sisters. My emotions wouldn't have controlled me: I would have used them as God designed them.
If we were believing truth, we should act upon our emotions correctly to speak truth to those around us. There is such a thing as righteous anger. But, that is another blog.
No matter if our emotions are based on truth or a lie, we should let our Christian community know what is going on. Even if we are believing a lie, our Christian friends need to know the feelings we are working through, especially if our feeling stems from what someone else has done. This is part of the process of reconciliation.
May we all use our feelings correctly, not stuffing them or allowing them to control us. May we use them as thermostats for what we are believing in different situations so that we can grow in maturity and so that we can build up the Body of Christ.
How many of you want to feel loved by those around you? Thank you for that show of hands.
We all have a desire to feel loved by our family, friends, even the random person that walks by us in the street. God has designed us with this desire. He has placed within us a desire for genuine community and intimacy.
However, even though we have a desire to feel loved by others, often times we are not willing to put in the work to love those around us. People are messy. They hurt us, whether intentionally or unintentionally. We hurt them. We get jealous at each other. We misunderstand each other. For numerous other reasons, people are messy, and often we don't want to put in the effort to see past that messiness, and love them.
So, how do we as followers of Christ look past the messiness and love the person who has "hurt" us?
Remember who we are
We are human. Because of our human nature, we naturally hurt each other. However, we have hurt more than just fellow humanity. We have hurt the Creator of the Universe. Ever since Adam and Eve chose the fruit of the tree over the Creator of the tree, humanity has been choosing their own desires over their Creator. We have hurt Him over and over again.
However, our God loved us in spite of all we had done. He loved us because He created us, saw value in us, and wanted to have a renewed relationship with us. The Father loved us so much that He sacrificed His Son for us. He died that we might live, and that we might have a close, intimate, loving relationship with our God. All glory be to Him!
We are imperfect people who were perfectly loved by a great God.
Remember who the person is
The human who has hurt us, no matter the level of hurt, is just like us. They have emotions; they have needs; they have hurts. More importantly, they are imperfect and they are loved by our Creator. In fact, He died for them. If He loved them so much that He would die for them, why would we not follow in His footsteps and love them?
Paul said it this way, speaking of the two groups of society that hated each other in his time: "For he himself [Christ] is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit" (Eph 2:14-18).
If we, the hurt, are imperfect and loved by God, and the one who has hurt us is imperfect and loved by God, we are the same. We should love that person and seek peace with him through Christ.
Work toward Peace
Now, seeking peace (or reconciliation) is hard. Our natural tendency, ever since Adam and Eve, is to hurt someone as we have been hurt, whether it is active, by seeking vengeance, or passive, by putting up barriers. Either way, we must remember that God is the one who avenges, not us (Rom 12:19).
To illustrate the process of peace, I will use a fictional character: Uz.
Uz hurt me, and he hasn't apologized. However, because I need to love Uz as Christ loved me, I need to seek reconciliation. First, I need to remember who I am and how much God loved me. Then, I remember who Uz is and how much God loves Uz. Since God loved Uz that much, I need to forgive Uz and seek reconciliation. Remembering who I am and who Uz is, and praying for God's help, I can forgive Uz, releasing the right to seek vengeance.
I need to talk with Uz so that we can understand each other (Ephesians 4:15). I don't want to be the fool in Proverbs 18:2 ("Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions"). To show Uz that I have a desire to understand him and that I am not coming to hurt him, I keep the conversation away from accusation, focusing on my feelings and reaction. My goal is that he will know the truth, not that he will feel the hurt (Eph 4:25).
I would say something like this: "Uz, I felt hurt (or sad, or insecure, etc) when you said (insert comment), or when you did (insert action). This made me think that I am (insert possible truth). Could you help me understand what you meant when you said/did this." Then, I am quiet and allow him to speak (James 1:19).
I did not accuse him. I stated what I felt and what I thought based on what he said/did. I then showed that I wanted to understand him. I have given him enough information so that he can understand me. Now, I need to humble myself and seek to understand him.
It could be that I completely misunderstood Uz. Now, I have the ability to admit my wrong perception and be at peace with Uz again. Uz can apologize for unintentionally hurting me. Through this interchange, Uz and I can grow in how we interact with others in the future.
However, Uz might have intentionally hurt me. He might not want to have peace or admit his fault. My duty is to love and forgive Uz (Colossians 3:13). I need to seek reconciliation in whatever way I can. If Uz is a member of my church, I can bring other church members with me later to approach Uz (Matthew 18:15-16). Hopefully, this will bring reconciliation.
The Attitude of Peace
Through all this process, we need to remember that we are not here to hurt or to vent our opinions (Eph 4:26). Our attitude should be love, peace, and reconciliation. Christ has forgiven us so much. He has shown us so much love. He has reconciled us to Himself. Why are we so hesitant to seek reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Why won't we live in complete love?
So, you are a Christian. You've been following Christ for a couple months or maybe seventy years. You know that God has given his Holy Spirit to you to guide you in life, to remind you of all that Christ taught, and to convict you of sin and righteousness. You know that God is completing His work in you. You know that people are known by their works, whether good or bad. However, there is a sin that you just can't shake. Maybe, there are twenty sins that you just can't shake. Does this mean that you are not actually a Christian? Should a follower of Christ be sinless? How can we reconcile sinful humanity with the work of God?
I'm glad you asked.
The Character of God
First, we need to start with who God is. God is God. As God, He is good. He is righteous. He is holy. There is no sin or evilness in Him. There is no one else that comes close to His goodness. Our human minds cannot fully comprehend his complete holiness, because we are surrounded by a life of brokenness and sin. From the beginning of the Bible, to the end, His perfect character is attested to (Ex 15:11; Rev 15:4).
As a perfect God, He cannot have sin close to Him. This isn't because sin weakens God, but because sin is not able to come near God. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden, their relationship with God was instantly severed. They died spiritually, because they had introduced sin into the world. God, based upon His justice and holiness, separated humanity from himself for eternity. (Gen 3; Rev 20:11-15)
The Work of Christ
God loved His creation, though, and wanted to reconcile them to Himself. In the fullness of time, He sent His Son to die, taking humanity's punishment on Himself. He also defeated the works of the devil, and took sin away (Rom 5:1-11; 1 Jn 3:5,8). All who place their faith in Christ will be restored back into relationship with God, because of the work of Jesus Christ. That relationship starts at the moment of salvation, and continues throughout eternity.
All who have placed their faith in Christ have been made new (1 Cor 5:17). Their old sinful nature is gone. They now have the ability to live a life of good (Rom 6:18-23). This is because of the power of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, those who are following Christ should understand the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God to the extent that any action against His character would be shunned. Because of what Christ has done, I should not want to sin.
The Reality of Humanity
However, we as humans, even if we are following Christ closely, still have a tendency to sin. Paul speaks of this in Romans 7 when he bemoans his own nature that does what he hates (Rom 7:15). In 2 Corinthians, he talks about a "thorn in the flesh" that tormented him and wouldn't leave (2 Cor 12:7). I believe this is a sin that Paul struggled with his whole life. We are broken creatures. Even though we have the ability to do good, and even though we are not slaves of sin anymore, we still choose to sin. We still choose to grieve our God and our Savior.
We will be broken until Christ comes again and ushers us into His eternal kingdom. At this point, he will give us glorified bodies like His (1 Jn 3:2; Phil 3:20-21). We will be made complete, and we won't have to struggle with sin anymore. That will be a glorious day.
God understands our nature. He knows that we are broken and have a propensity for sin. That is why He sent Christ to die. Christ's death paid the penalty for all our sin: what we committed in the past, present, and future (1 Jn 2:1-2). When God looks at us, even though we don't meet His standard, He sees the righteousness of His Son on us. This grace gives us hope and endurance for this life.
This grace should also cause us to think twice before sinning against the character of our God and our Savior. For, if we truly understood the seriousness of sin, the character of our God, and amazingness of His grace, we would be running in the opposite direction of sin.
Ok, so this picture is a little crazy. We don't normally see a grown adult male sporting a cape and a mask. I love this picture, though, for several reasons.
This picture reminds me of when I was a child. I would tie my security blanket around my neck. Suddenly, I was transformed into one of my heroes, either Davy Crockett, or Daniel Boone, or Peter Pan, or the Lone Ranger. I would go on all sorts of adventures with that "cape". The first adventure would be to find my mom and introduce myself as her "long-lost son". She would welcome me with open arms, calling me by the name that I had chosen that day. I knew that I was welcome no matter what name I had, for I was her son.
This picture also reminds me of what it means to be a child in God's family. He accepts us as we are (no matter how crazy we look), gives us security and confidence in Himself (see that big smile on this man's face), and promises to bring us to live with him.
In 1 John 3, John writes that God calls us His children. This is language of adoption. While there aren't many examples of adoption in the Old Testament, adoption was growing in popularity in the Roman world. It would grow to be so popular, that Roman emperors would start adopting grown males in order for the emperors to choose who would replace them. A Roman citizen could adopt a child of any age at any time. In fact, a Roman citizen could adopt a child after death through a will. Once a child was adopted, he had full legal status as a child of his new father. He was not a "second-rate" child. He was equal with any children born to that man. Once a child was legitimately adopted before witnesses, he could not be removed from the inheritance.
Paul and John both refer to followers of Christ as being adopted into God's family. John writes in his Gospel, "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God" (John 1:12-13). Paul in his letter to Rome states this: "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children" (Romans 8:15).
We, as adopted children of God, are not second-rate children in God's family. We are loved more than we can imagine. We have full access to God as our Father, no matter what. We have complete confidence that all the promises that God has made to us will be kept, for we are His children.
Our adoption is not based on what we have done. Truthfully, we cannot do anything to earn God's favor. We all have sinned, and we will all continue to sin. Nothing that we do can undo the harm we have done. In spite of all we had done to Him and each other, God looked at us with love, wanting to reconcile us to Himself. He made the first move, sending His Son to pay the penalty for our actions. After paying our fine, He adopted us into His family. And, just as the Romans couldn't disinherit an adopted child, God promises that He won't disinherit us. He promises that He will come again and give us new clothes, changing us to be like He is.
This is grace. Accepting us for who we are. Keeping us, in spite of who we are. And changing us to be different than we are. All this is not based upon what we do, but based upon our great God who proved His great love by adopting us.
We can have confidence that our Heavenly Father views us the same at all times. He loves us as His children, and He accepts us as His children. We can also have confidence that God won't leave us as we are. No matter what we have done in the past, or the struggles that we currently have, God will make us new. We will be like He is, because He has promised that. In expectation of that time, we should try to imitate our Father, just like a little child tries to imitate his dad. Just like that child never is able to truly be like his dad, we won't either. However, this is where grace comes in. God loves us and accepts us as His children. We can rest in this.
So, next time you see a child putting on cape, or an adult doing the same, see the look of glee on their face and remember what it means to be a adopted child of God.