Have We Erred In Sin Pt 2 – We’ve Got to Get ‘Em Educated

Having served in a capacity as a school teacher for 6+ years, as a discipleship coordinator at a church for 3+ years, being the son, nephew, cousin, and brother-in-law to a number of teachers, education has played a significant role in my life.  Teaching math was my primary subject of focus.  What I often saw was that if a student was struggling with a concept, I often had to teach them (or refresh with them) to help give them some direction.  I found mixed results.  Yes, I am sure it helped many students become more successful in my classes than they might otherwise have been.  Education allows us to do things we couldn’t before.  As an example, our learning of the galaxy has allowed us to do things previously unimaginable such as landing on the moon.  When there has been something we weren’t able to accomplish, time and more extensive learning would lead us to accomplish anything and everything.  Let me be clear: “Ignorance is a serious problem, and the dissemination of information is important.”  The question is, what effect has it had on sinful behavior.

When I think about this discussion, my mind naturally gravitates to the issue most often discussed in these terms: sex.  “A case in point is sex education and AIDS curricula.  Never have so many known so much about sex, its options, and its consequences.  Public education touts the methodologies of ‘safe sex’.  The theory behind the billion dollar campaigns is that people are getting diseases and getting pregnant because they don’t know how to avoid the results of promiscuity.  Now that theory has been tested and it has been found to be a very expensive error.  Education doesn’t change sinful choice.  In fact, history demonstrates that the more educated people become, the more deadly their choices become.”

In the realm of warfare, we have certainly progressed in unbelievable lengths having gone from killing with a spear or club to being able to kill an inconceivable number of people with a nuclear weapons.  This advancement in technology has not solved the problem of self-assertion and aggressiveness, it has simply made killing more efficient.  Does anyone think this new education has led us to a better place?

The reality is that more often than not people sin full well having some understanding that they are seeking to live selfishly rather than for God.  We likely even understand some of the consequences, but we rarely can foresee how deep the consequences of sin will run.  One of the biggest issues of ignorance is related to how well we understand Scripture.  It never ceases to amaze me how children and adults justify behavior and may even belief things that they call “biblical” even though they are not in the Bible and may even be in direct conflict with a teaching in Scripture.

Any expert target shooter understands the concept of a projectile launch point – the direction we are pointing a gun when the bullet leaves the gun.  If the gun is point a fraction of an inch off target, it will cause the bullet to miss at a larger distance when it arrives at the target.  If we are off target with understanding what sin is, then we will be way off with understanding what salvation is.

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Have We Erred In Sin? Part 1

About 7 years ago I was introduced to a book that would forever change my life.  That following fall, I was blessed to have the opportunity to share several hours in the car with the author after picking him up from the airport when the church I was a member of brought him to Michigan for additional teaching.  Although he did not focus on the specific chapter I want to reference from his book today during his trip, it is a chapter in the book that speaks as relevantly today (if not more so) than it did when it was published way back in 1996.

When seeking to understand is wrong with the human race, God has invited us to engage the truth using our intellect.  In Isaiah 1:18, He issues an appeal to every person’s mind: “Come let us reason together.”  This passage is in reference to sin.  Do you suppose God wants us to think deeply about the issue of sin since it is one area of life people tend to think creatively about anyway?

One of the interesting things about the nature of sin is that is easily visible and easily invisible at the same time.  That is to say we are all experts at spotting and pointing out sin that is present in those around us.  However, as easy as it can be to see sin in others is how easy it is to  be blind to our sin, even if the sin we profess to be blind to is the exact same sin we see in another person.  We tend to cloud the issue of sin when it is present in our own life.  In fact, our actions often reflect the belief that it sounds prudish, puritanical, even judgmental to call it sin.  Instead, we creatively make up other definitions for what we do.  They are nothing more than excuses…however we have convinced ourselves that they are true in the way we operate our life.

Today, we will look at just one way we try to justify our sin. It is when we seek to identify our sin a result of victimization.  The culture of victimization has spread all over our world.  Underlying this idea is the premise that I can’t (and shouldn’t) be responsible for my behavior because of the way I was treated by others.  While there are certainly cases where people are truly victimized by others, it is alarming how we have such a strong tendency to justify our own wrong behavior on the basis of what others have done or said to us rather than taking responsibility for our own actions.

Let’s face it, if my sin can be seen as being the result of someone else’s fault, then there is no reason for me to change.  This fosters the mindset that “I can’t help the way I behave.  The problem doesn’t lie with me, it is the someone else’s fault.” It becomes easy to say “I have been damaged and programmed by the family system  in which I was raised and by the people who have surrounded me in my life.  If I could just go back and understand how I was ‘damaged’, I would then be able to make new choices to break hold of the past.”  Blame provides a great cover to continue living in sin.  More and more people are using this model as a convenient way to avoid taking responsibility for their choices.

There are times in life where other people do hurt us in real and significant ways.  However, more often than not we should be reminded that the only thing we can have control over is the way we respond to others.  Let us take responsibility for our role in the sins we commit rather than seeking to rush off to blame another.

 

Our First Love

One day, a spider, who had found his way to the top of a barn, determined that this was the perfect spot for his web.  He dropped down with a line from the peak that was designed to support the weight of his soon-to-be made web.  He began spinning a small web at first.  Each day, he added more to the web.  He realized that the bigger the web, the more incredible it appeared and the more efficient he could be at catching his food.  The bigger the web he created, the more pride he took in all that he had accomplished.  One day, after a considerable amount of time had passed since he had arrived at the barn, the spider decided to take a journey back to the peak to look out.  As he climbed up the line to the peak, he suddenly found himself wondering why there was this seemingly useless strand was hanging from the peak.  It certainly wasn’t adding to the beauty of the web.  In fact, it seemed out of place to the spider, so he decided that it needed to be gotten rid of.  He climbed to the top of the line and cut it.  What followed was that the gigantic web, his greatest pride, collapsed to the floor of the barn taking the spider with it.

Have you accomplished anything in this life that you take great pride in that has perhaps caused you to forget the reason you were able to accomplish these things?  It can be easy at times to be so focused on the lives we weave together out of what we perceive to be our own intellect and ability that we can forget about the foundation that holds all things together.  Just as the spider forgot his first love of the site he picked to build, so, too, can time and distractions cause us to forget our first love.

Father, I pray that in every thing we do, in the decisions we make, in the way we relate to one another, in the way we operate our lives, that we let Christ be at the center.

Current Reality: Charting A Course

I am TERRIBLE with directions.  It has taken me a long time to get comfortable driving around Sioux City.  It is still difficult for me, at times, to determine the best route to get from point A to point B.  For a long time, this meant I would have to only use the few roads I knew to help me get to point B.  This inevitably would add substantial amounts of time to my drive.  To make it worse, I discovered that the GPS I had always relied on was very good at directing me to the wrong location every time I tried to drive some place new in the city.  Needless to say, I had to be willing to grow my spatial awareness of the city through success and failure, in order to be better equipped to get around.  There have been numerous times where I have been lost, turned around,  or uncertain how to get where  I was getting. Yet, each time I was willing to set out in search of a shorter route, I would eventually learn a little bit more about the layout of the city even when the trip seemed like a failure.  Each time I learn something new about the city, I celebrate that I can get around easier from place to place.

Emily and I have moved 4 times since we have been in Iowa/Nebraska. We have lived southwest, northwest, and now southeast of Sioux City.  Why is this important?  I have found that living on all sides of the city has forced me to see many of the different perspectives of the city.  It has caused me to view the city, and the routes I take, differently.  It is always been obvious that knowing where you want to go is not enough to arrive at a destination.  You must first address where you are currently.  Having numerous perspectives on the city has equipped me to become better at connecting where I am to where I want to be.

This process of learning through practice, both successful and failure, can be used in our personal lives, work life, and church life.  Some questions that can help you better understand your current reality are: Who are you? What is it you value?  If you had to describe yourself to someone else, how would you do that?  If your closest friends or spouse were to describe you when you were not present, what do you imagine they would say about you?  The more voices you are willing to listen to you that know you well, the more accurate your understanding of who you are will be.

The central point of discover is: Who is the real you?  We often wear so many different masks and work diligently to try and conceal our faults that others are left spinning trying to figure out what really makes you tick.  We can easily become so adept at wearing our masks that it may even lead you to a place where the real you is replaced by a “false” you and it could become difficult to distinguish one from the other.  If you could dream your life up all over again and have a fresh start, what would aspects would you repeat and what would you change?   What is holding you back (as you currently find yourself to be) from pursuing the life that God desires you to live?

Where ever you find yourself in the present, after all of that honest reflection, is your current reality.  I remember 5 years ago, I was relatively pleased with my current reality.  I figured that if I tried to do what I have always done, my current reality would always be the same.  Over the last 5 years, I  have many physical marks that remind me that this is not the case.  I have to be more thoughtful about what I eat and how much more  important exercise is to be me than it might have seemed 5 years ago.  I am not in the same place I was 5 years ago…none of us are.  Some of the change I have experienced was good and some not so good.  Similarly, organizations and businesses need to constantly be aware of how their current reality relates to where they are headed.   A successful organization doesn’t rest on their laurels and they are able to  constantly adapt to the “market” that they need to reach in order to be profitable while maintaining their values.

Thus, it is important, when evaluating where you currently are, to understand what values you are unwilling to change because they represent your true self.  Self-examination (or organizational-examination) is critical in this process to consider whether the values we wish to exhibit are being seen in our individual and corporate practices.  What, if any, practices have actually blurred, or not been consistent with, the values we wish to exhibit.  Often, when a business is going through transition, simplifying can be helpful in seeking to figure out how to best proceed going forward.  Honest, open and authentic dialogue and a willingness to actively listen to others is absolutely CRUCIAL in this time.

There is an old saying that goes like this: The only thing constant is change.  We all experience change through a variety of circumstances in our lives.  We often want to rush through the uncertainty of the unknown to a place we perceive to be less threatening.  However, if one doesn’t take adequate stock of where they are currently, they may arrive at a place they didn’t intend or they may miss out on what God wants them to learn during this season of reflection.  One way I have sought to be different in seasons of transition is to be more intentional about celebrating those times when life seems to be chaotic and uncontrollable.  When we recognize the many uncertainties in life, we can dwell on them and become depressed, or we can understand that God is providing us with an opportunity to grow.

I pray that God will give you peace in whatever aspects of life seem to be out of your control or are causing you to feel anxious.  I encourage you to try something a little differently in response to whatever it is you are facing in your current reality: take time to celebrate in your own way the fact that God is providing you time and space to learn and grow in many ways.

 

 

 

Cleaning Up Your Mess

It was 8:00 pm on a Friday, and Tony was just leaving the office.  He climbed into his Cadillac and took a moment to reflect on the day.  Much of the afternoon was spent with his boss, Mike, crunching numbers.  Sales were down and Mike wanted answers.  Needless to say, Tony was stressed to the max!  Mike, who had a reputation as a man you didn’t want to cross, had been especially confrontational today.  Because of past interactions with Mike, Tony had made a silent vow to try and avoid him as much as possible and to keep things as light as possible the times where Mike couldn’t be avoided.   However, today couldn’t be avoided, and Tony knew it by the constant churning he had felt in his stomach and the intense headaches he had.  He had wrestled with thoughts all day about how he could go home sick to avoid any conflict.  However, he knew that doing this would only delay the inevitable, so he had chosen to stay.

At 2:00 pm, Mike marched promptly into Tony’s office and, without waiting to hear from Tony, lit into him about how Tony wasn’t doing enough.  Mike was never one to mince words and he, very forcefully, made it clear to Tony that the reason that business was going so poorly was that Tony wasn’t working hard enough or long enough.  This was not the first time Tony had heard this Mike use this line of reasoning.  In fact, over the last year, Tony’s weekly hours had gradually crept up from 40 to 50 and now to over 60.  As a result of the anxiety at work, other aspects of his life had been affected.  He found that he was often instigating conflicts with his wife.  He was distant from his kids, often feeling unable to leave the office to go to their activities and be an active part of their lives.  He would place blame on Mike and work for distancing himself from his family.

When he was at home, he would often leave a mess all over the house. He would go home and essentially become a log on the couch justifying it as “relaxing” while expecting his wife and kids to shoulder the burden of responsibility for what he wouldn’t do.  He would then blame them when things didn’t get done.  He recognized his faults, but often felt at loss for words to seek to deal with the mess he found himself in.  He became very dissatisfied and depressed with his quality of life.  Part of him wanted to fix this but he wasn’t sure how to deal with the events that seemed to be inevitable in his life along with the fact that it simply felt less exhausting to  just blame others.

As he pulled his car onto the road, he felt his phone buzzing in his coat pocket.  He reluctantly pulled it out to answer the call.  He heard the automated voice say “Call from  Mike.”  He wanted to throw his phone down, but suddenly he felt a gentle urge from within to answer the call.  In a slightly annoyed voice , he said, “Hi, Mike.  What’s up?”

Mike replied, “I wanted you to know that I am sorry for the mess I created between us tonight and I would like to clean it up with you right now.  I’d like to be frank with you.  I have had a lot on my plate recently.  My wife and I are in the midst of a divorce and messy custody battle and it was easy to blame her. I recently found out I have cancer and it was easy to blame it on bad luck.  You know things haven’t been going well with our company and it was easy to  blame you.  I realized tonight that I have a problem placing blame on other people when I am feeling anxious.  It took lashing out at you again today for me to realize that there is one thing in common in all the messes I am facing in my life: me.  However, I have decided to make it a goal to try a stay connected to people around me and to first check what my responsibility is in situations when I am feeling anxious.”

Tony was stunned as he struggled to respond.  Finally, he uttered the words, “Mike, thank you for your openness and honesty.  I, too, deal with many of those same issues.  Sometimes, when I feel anxious, I try to over function by taking on the responsibility of others just to try and make things ‘feel right’.  Instead of going to you when I felt a rift between us, I chose  instead to try and avoid you.  I think your willingness to  be authentic with me has allowed me to see how I played a role in allowing this mess between us to grow.  Let’s meet on Monday and talk through how we might be able to try and deal with the issues our company is facing together as a team.”

As Tony got off the phone, tears trickled down his eyes.  He pulled onto the shoulder of the road to reflect on what had just happened.  Mike’s call had awoken something inside of him.  He realized that in many aspects of his life, he had been responsible for creating messes.  He considered his relationship with his wife for a moment.  He began to see how some of the things he had said and done had fostered an environment that had caused those messes to grow.  He also began to see more clearly things that circumstances had occurred in those messes that were not his fault that he took responsibility for just to “smooth things over.”  He also saw instances  where he intentionally pushed his wife’s buttons just to get a response.  However, it wasn’t until this moment, that Mike’s call had born witness to  a new way…a new life.

A few minutes later, Tony pulled into his driveway and walked in and kissed his wife.  He spent the rest of the evening sharing with her what had happened and how the events  of the evening had caused him to better understand his role in their marital discord.  Some of the barriers that they had consciously, and subconsciously, built began to come down.  Reconciliation had begun.

Thanks to Mike, Tony was able to be present to the reality that was his life.  He began to understand that when he felt burning in his chest or he began to have a bad headache, they were often symptoms of anxiety.  He was anxious at work, anxious in play, and anxious at home.  He also began to recognize some of his responses when he felt anxious.  He sought to blame others, was quick to get others not directly involved to “see his side”, and his responses were often made quicker than normal and with less thought when he felt anxious.  He knew that this change would require practice…and lots of it!  Mike’s story reminded him that there is so much going on in the lives of those he came into contact with that he wasn’t even aware of.  He realized that other’s experiences have helped shape them just as his experiences shaped him.  He was beginning a journey towards trying to take ownership of that which was his responsibility and to let others be responsible for theirs.  It was a journey of faith trusting that God would lead him into a new way of being.

Just as Tony set out in faith that he would show up differently the next time chronic anxiety showed up in his life, so to do we have times where we haven’t responded the way we wish we would have.  We all have stories we could, and should be, telling as an encouragement to others as well as a reminder that we all have “blind spots” in our lives that cause us to respond in a way we wish we hadn’t.

(Preview: In my next blog, we will learn about how the current reality that Tonya felt herself in led her to realize that change was crucial.)

 

 

Feel the Vibrations

This past fall, I was driving my daughters home after work.  I pulled up next to a police car at a red light.  I could sense my heart start to pound.  As the light turned green, I moved my foot onto the gas pedal and started to drive, acutely aware that the policeman was slowly maneuvering into my lane behind me.  My stomach started to tighten and the heart pounding became more rapid.  Suddenly, the police car’s flashers turned on.  I gradually pulled into the nearest parking lot as my mind began to race wondering what I had done wrong.  My body began to shake…to vibrate.  I rolled down my window and pulled out documentation as the officer came up to my car.  He informed me that I was driving without a front license plate. By now, I was shaking uncontrollably…my anxiety was causing me to vibrate.  I was vibrating so intensely that even the officer noticed.  He asked me if I was okay, to which I replied “I am fine, however, I vibrate like this whenever I get pulled over.”  Upon returning, he informed me to make sure to replace my license plate and report the other as missing.

Not many people know this about me, but there has been a correlation between chronic anxiety and the police.  I have often wondered why that was.  Any time an officer has pulled me over, it was deserved.  Every time, they handled it with professionalism.  I happen to personally know a number of great police officers who are terrific public servants and yet I  find that the anxiety remains.  I can find myself driving under the speed limit, but every time I see a police car, the same internal responses return.

Anxiety is a very interesting thing.  On one hand, acute anxiety is what God wired into us that causes us to quickly chase a child without thinking and grab them if we see them beginning to head towards the road and save their life.  On the other hand, chronic anxiety causes us to fear something that is either imagined or distorted.  When we are anxious, it causes us to have physiological changes whether we realize it at the time or not.  If you don’t shake, feel your heart pound, or feel your stomach tighten like I do, what are the signs of anxiety in your life?

Anxiety causes us to do stupid things.  It causes us to say and do things we often quickly regret.  It causes us to respond more quickly than we ought to which is one reason I believe we see so much vibrating between people over social media.  Something gets read, responses immediately get made and often the vibrating becomes magnified.  However, if we want to be able to begin to deal with our anxiety and how we respond in moments of anxiousness, an important first step is to become acutely aware of the chronic anxieties we  each deal with and how they  manifest themselves in our lives.  This means we must learn to take our “emotional temperature.”  When you go into the doctor’s office, they will often ask to “measure” the pain on a scale of 1 – 10.  This is the idea behind checking your emotional temperature.  When you are feeling anxious, and you recognize it, ask yourself how it shows up and what is the severity in which  you feel anxious.

(I will touch on symptoms of anxiety next time to help us be better equipped to be on the lookout for where anxiety shows up in our lives.)

 

A Faith That Works

Life in Balance
I recall going to the circus years ago and watching a tightrope walker performing his high-wire act.  As he slowly maneuvered his way across the wire, the tension in the crowd was palpable.  One misstep could throw off his balance and cause him to plummet to the ground.

I have had the blessing of watching my two daughters go through the process of learning to walk; to see them gradually understand the importance of balance.  I have learned to balance a checkbook, and to balance my work life and home life. In dealing with a variety of sports related injuries, I have learned how an injury to one part of your body causes the rest of your body to try and compensate for the injured part.

Faith in Balance
Our theology is also meant to be balanced.  The New Testament talks a great deal about the balance between faith and works.  Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us “For grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  This means we can try our absolute hardest to “earn” salvation through living a good life, doing kind deeds, giving generous gifts, or sacrificing our bodies, but it is not enough.  We’re sinners who can never redeem ourselves in God’s sight by our own efforts.

However, Jesus’ half brother James wanted to flesh out an apparent misunderstanding.  His letter provides a counterbalance by reminding us that although we are not saved by good works, we have been saved for good works.  Faith is the source of our salvation, but good works is the way we express the reality of our salvation.  James goes so far as to say faith without works is dead.  I believe that good works is the proof to answer in the affirmative about our faith with regards to the question “Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?”  We were never made to simply stand on the sideline with a sign that reads John 3:16.

Light of the World
An important question to reflect on is: “Do others see me through the framework of faith that I profess to?”  More and more people are leaving the institutional church in the name of looking for authenticity within the faith.  Simply put, they want to know whether  or not Christians live by faith when the rubber meets the road.  When tragedy strikes in your life or in the life of someone close to you, do you respond as someone who knows He who is in control?  As you sense the vibrating of all of the anxious Americans around you over the upcoming election, are you so worried…so anxious, that you are vibrating in fear feeling that if the “wrong” person is elected this country is over?  Even if the country as we have known it is over, the person elected will not be a surprise to God.  We are to be the light of the world, the beacons of hope, offering a life counter-cultural…a life focused on what truly matters!

Jesus has called us to be the Light of the World.  He plainly said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Because we want to be known as people of faith, it is crucial that we not forget “The world around us can’t see our inner faith, but it can see the good works that flow from our faith.”  It is because of this light that many orphanages have been sponsored, many schools built, food has been brought to those suffering from famine and disease in the name of generosity, child labor practices and the abolition of slavery in Great Britain were fought for.  It’s the influence of Christians in society that has built hospitals, halted infanticide, and discouraged the killing of unborn babies.

Jesus never meant for our faith to stop when we exit the doors of the place we worship.  We have always been called to be a people of prayer AND of action.  We are to live missionally…to cross boundaries that might have kept us from shining the light of Christ to others.  I recently came across a satirical story that brought the truth home for me about where  we find ourselves if we allow ourselves to stand detached from truly being a light in our world.

          I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger. I was          
          imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel in the cellar and prayed for my
          release.  I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I
          was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.  I was homeless and you /
          preached to me about the spiritual shelter of the love of God.  I was lonely and you
          left me alone to pray for me. Christian, you seem so holy; so close to God. But I’m
          still very hungry, and lonely, and cold...

Being On Mission

Being on mission means that each of us is intentional in how we show up in our lives.  Every interaction…every word, thought, and deed, is significant because they are said to, thought about, or done to someone who was made in the image of God.  God has designed us for a purpose, for His mission of restoring Creation.  It isn’t about what someone else is doing (or not doing) or how someone else is being  (or not being) intentional about being a light…it is about how YOU be.

Is there someone in your life that you need to be willing to engage with in a way you haven’t before?  How can you share the love of Jesus with those you come into contact with?  Others will know Jesus by the love you show before they will know Jesus because of the faith you profess.  God has called each of us to be a light to those who we rub shoulders with.  Go and be that light!