Musings on Christianity 31

Musings on Christianity 31

What is Love?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

“If you love me … “ It’s a phrase many people hear and say. The question of “if” introduces a lack of faith to begin with. If one has to question love, then one already doesn’t feel love. Perhaps one doesn’t feel loved regardless of its presence. After all, God’s love is endless. He sent his son to die for us.

And that, readers, is the message of this chapter. Love, ultimately, is sacrifice. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).”

In the verse quoted at the top of this chapter, we see several examples that also prove the theory that love is sacrifice.

Love is patient. Love means denying what you want now (patience). Sacrifice your immediate desire for a greater treasure later. This is most holy when sacrificing your immediate desires to honor God, but it works great in Earthly relationships, too. Maybe I give up an hour of video games to watch an episode of TV my wife likes. It shows her love in that I’m willing to wait. She’s not even asking me not to play video games, she’s just asking me to wait.  The last chapter focused entirely on patience, so I won’t dwell on it here. I just wanted to draw the connection between patience as an act of sacrifice, which ultimately shows love.

Love is kind. Kindness is giving. A simple Google search defines kindness as being friendly, generous, and considerate. To be generous means to give. What would one possibly give but something one already has. The degree of sacrifice might be high or low, but any act of giving is at least to a small degree an act of sacrifice. I must note here though that the giving must be joyful (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

It’s not kind to give someone any gift and mutter about what it cost or complain about how you had to work to obtain it. You’ve sacrificed nothing and, therefore, gave nothing. That sort of act isn’t generosity, it’s self aggrandizing. What is consideration if not the act of letting one’s offenses pass over you (Proverbs 19:11)? And what is that if not the sacrifice of your pride?

Naturally that leads back to the idea that we should just live and let live. However, letting people jump off cliffs because it’s fun isn’t love. It might be fun, but when they die, the fun is over. Patience against a personal offense will indeed lead to glory. But those who sin against God are doomed. It can’t be loving to not even offer wisdom. I personally won’t cause an argument to try and “make” you see wisdom (fear of the Lord (Job 28:28.))  There’s a balance, but there is absolutely a difference between not becoming sinfully enraged at another’s sin and just letting folk do whatever they want. I might not be willing get into a fist fight over what is a sin and what isn’t (the Bible is clear on sin), but I also won’t pretend that sin isn’t wrong. Nor will I endorse it. 

Back to the subject at hand. We constantly want others to “get over” our mistakes, but if we want that sort of behavior (forgive and forget), we have to be willing to do the same. The instant you’re not willing to let go is the instant you can’t then get made at someone else who’s equally unable (or unwilling) to let go. However, each time you do this, you do this to your glory.

Love does not envy. You cant love someone if you covet what they have. If you look at a happily married man and then want his wife for yourself, you’re taking. More loving is to let go of your desire so that couple may live in peace. That would require the sacrifice of your love (or lust).  To hold onto that envy only leads to sin. This is because seeing leads to coveting, which leads to sin, which is demonstrated in hiding what you’ve taken because you’re aware it was wrong (Joshua 7:21).

Love does not boast. This is because boasting makes something about you. I touched on this when I talked about kindness. To give so you can show off how “generous” you are is only a way to boast and bring about attention to yourself. This is the opposite of love because any act of self is by definition selfish.

  I’ve spoken about these few things mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 because they prove that love is sacrifice. This is true because anything that leads to personal gain or attention is the opposite of what love does. Having offered a few examples, I want to skip over examples of what love does not do to return to the things that love does.

Love rejoices with the truth. So what does one give up with the truth? It depends. Truth reveals. Truth exposes. We use lies to hide (so we appear better). We use lies to fool (so we can dupe others to give us what we want). To have truth means to risk people truly knowing you. Is there anyone in your life (other than our all-seeing God) who knows everything about you? If not, why? If you’re like me, your answer is, “because I don’t want them to think less of me.”

Everybody has secrets. I do, at least from some people. But the secrets I keep (and I’d argue the secrets you keep) are because you refuse to give up the esteem you have in the other person’s eyes. While I can say I know that holding those secrets denies a person the chance to show their love for you, I won’t be hypocritical enough to say I haven’t done it. What I can do going forward though is to show more love. The easiest solution is to not do anything that would lead me to shame. If I think I’d have to hide an action from others because they’d think less of me, the best thing to do would be for me to not take that action. This shows love because I’m denying myself the sinful action I’m considering and because it shows that I love the person I’m thinking about more than the action I’m tempted to take.   

Love bears all things. The word “bear” is such a deceptively small verb. It implies to carry or support. Imagine that. Love means carrying others. Love means supporting others. How would one be able to do that unless they are willing to set down other things? Husbands, did you ever, just for a moment, resent your wife for that time you couldn’t go fishing, or play video games, or finish that book? We husbands carry the hearts of our wives wherever we go. If we remember that, then we should realize we set those hearts down to chase after whatever other pleasure we choose. Does this mean you can’t play golf on Tuesday? That’s not what I said. What it means is if you start to desire golf more than your wife, you should really take a look at your priorities. To bear anything, we must have hands free, and that is only possible if we let go of what we might otherwise hold on to.

Love believes all things.  Here again we must let go or sacrifice our own preconceptions. Is this saying we should believe whatever we hear? Not exactly. A loving heart is trusting. A loving heart believes that what is right will come. Most importantly, with God’s love, we can believe all His promises. Here on Earth, we can believe that those you love aren’t trying to hurt you. That belief could be false. Unfortunately, several people are abused by people who claim to love others. However, we can use this list as a way to verify love.

The short test, if the person you’re looking at is completely unwilling to sacrifice anything for your sake, he or she doesn’t love you.

However, one who consistently sacrifices to some degree or another is at least showing you some love; therefore, you can trust and believe in that love. Naturally each time that person is unloving, that trust is damaged. This is why we need forgiveness on Earth just as God offers it through Christ in Heaven. We need to be able to forgive so that love can overcome and take it’s place where hate and resentment would otherwise live.

So we can also have hope, the sacrifice of despair, because the love we have shows us that the things we want to happen will come to pass. Why would anyone want to hold onto despair? I don’t know, but we do. We don’t trust that the repentant person who’s sinned against us won’t do it again. We don’t trust that the goal we’re pursing will come true. This might be because the person who’s sinned against us had committed this sin seven times before. This might be because we’ve been chasing this goal for five years. We have the best hope when we have the most secure love. This is why God is our greatest hope because he’s never failed to show his love for us.

Again, this isn’t an endorsement for one to stay in an abusive relationship. First, one who’s willing to injure for any reason has already shows murder in his heart (Matthew 5:22). Second, I leave it to you to determine if a person is loving or not. I can’t know your circumstances. What I am saying is that if you hold fast your hope in love, you will have more peace than if you don’t. Our highest hope and faith should be in God, the ever-living, who always provides (Matthew 7:11), who is slow to anger (Nehemiah 9:17 among many others), and ultimately gave up His Son so that we might live (John 3:16).

Of course any other hope in any other person bears risks. They’re human! I would only ask that you weigh the sins of another against the sins you’ve committed to see if they are unworthy of love.

Love endures all things. What has God endured from us? How often do we stray? How many sins have I committed? Are there enough stars in the sky to compare? Are there enough sands on the beach? How much has he put up with me? How slow has his anger been for me? While we were enemies of God, sinners living in our own lusts, God sent his Son to die for us.

On Earth, how wonderful it is to endure our trials. Maybe you and the wife are in a rough patch, but you endure that trial in hope that things will be better. The reward is a marriage that’s stronger, tested by fire and proven true by patience and sacrifice. Anyone can quit if something isn’t fun, but to endure suffering or fear is to show how much you love the person for whom you suffer. Most people think that’s easy. We causally say, “I’d do anything for my son,” and then shout at him when he interrupts our TV show.

We say, “I love my wife more than anything,” and then grumble when we have to take out the trash in the middle of the game.

Those aren’t even comparatively real trials. How much more sacrifice comes from the wife who endures her husband’s cancer treatment? How much more sacrifice comes from the father who endures his son’s special needs? As we endure trials with those we love, our love becomes strengthened. Who wants to suffer alone? However, who wants to suffer at all? Therefore, if you find someone willing to suffer with you, hold fast to that person, for his love is readily apparent. 

All these words are descriptors of the ultimate form of love, which is sacrifice. Let go of yourself. Let go of your wants so others may have. Sure, you might have less on this world than you could have, but God promises that what treasure we deny ourselves here is piled up for us in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).

For our panel: Why is it so hard for man to sacrifice for others? Is there a point where we would ever be justified to stop loving (and therefore sacrificing) for another? If that’s the case, doesn’t that mean that there is indeed a point in which God is also just to deny us his love? Is it only love if a person is always willing to sacrifice, any unwillingness or failure means an absence of love? What is the greatest form of sacrifice?

Musings on Christianity 30

Musings on Christianity 30

The Importance of Patience

The military trained me to be decisive. I learned problem solving. I learned how to take action. What I didn’t realize was how quickly my patience was eroding away. I think sometimes people equate waiting as not taking action. We don’t want to be lazy, but we can’t lose our perspective to such a degree that we become frustrated or angry that things don’t happen.

Maybe we have a co-worker who’s not as skilled as you, and so takes longer to complete a task. Maybe your children are being disobedient or acting out. All these test my patience. However, I can’t fail those tests. And that’s the topic of this chapter.

Patience is love (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).  Patience is wise (Proverbs 14:29).  Patience shows faith in God (Romans 8:25). Patience is better even than victory in war (Proverbs 16:32). Patience is a show of strength (Psalm 27:14). Patience is Godly, for he is slow to anger (Psalm 103:8).

As the world progresses to more and more immediate satisfaction, patience is eroding away from society.

Look at debt. I have $50 a month to spend. I could wait and buy that $400 TV eight months, but for those who want it at that moment, they go into debt, paying perhaps as much as $1,200 for a $400 TV because they wanted it that moment rather than waiting.

As parents, we tell our children constantly to wait. “Dad is working!” “Mom is making dinner!” “It’s not your turn!”

But how often are you willing to wait? Do you slow down and stop at the yellow light or do you step on it to be sure you don’t have to wait at the light? I’m guilty of all of these follies, but the important thing is to recognize them as folly.

This isn’t the same as not working diligently. In fact, I’d argue that working diligently for years is a demonstration of patience. After all, anyone can quit if they don’t get the raise they’re looking for or the weight-loss they’re trying to accomplish. 

As a Christian, my lack of patience is a serious issue in my life. I ask that people pray for the Lord to help me be more patient. At this point, I’m humbled to see how often I lose my patience. I’ll be the last to point and mock at anyone who loses their cool, but each time I loose my temper is a failing on my point.

There are some hints to how to improve your patience:

Be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19).

Overlook an offense, for it is to your glory (Proverbs 19:11).

Don’t resist discipline (Proverbs 3:11).

If I try to see why I struggle with patience, the answer is because I struggle to do all of the list above. I let offenses bring me to resentment. I don’t like being told I’m wrong. I usually want to be the first to talk.

This is tough. At least, I struggle with it every day. The first step is recognizing when you’re focusing on yourself (your pride, your offense, your desire to be heard) and when you are being more thoughtful of others.

We’ve already talked about rebuking those who sin against you, and that’s perfectly holy so long as your goal is reconciliation.

Another thing you can do is practice self denial. If you want to play one more video game, turn the system off. You have every right to play a game, but turning it off is a way to tell your brain that you are in charge. If you want seconds, even if you’re skinny, deny that temptation. These little self denials are ways to put your body and heart under control. Avoiding debt is another way to do this. You can have that $400 TV, just make yourself wait the eight months and pay for it in cash. Delay gratification to avoid becoming enraged when you are denied gratification.

Again, it’s hard. Especially when you have the means to obtain things quickly, but the more you work on this, the more patient you will find yourself becoming.

For our panel: Why is patience so hard to maintain? What are some other ways to practice patience? When we find ourselves losing our patience, how do we hold fast to it? What are some of your favorite verses about patience? Why is patience referenced so often in the Bible?

Musings on Christianity 22

Musings on Christianity 22

Is Anger Sinful?

Someone new to faith or someone who’s misguided may instinctually feel like any anger of any kind is sinful in and of itself.

Let’s challenge that assumption by looking to scripture. If God is Holy and perfect, and anger is inherently sinful, then the LORD must have never been angry. However, if there is a form of righteous anger (since God is indeed righteous), then we’ll see examples of God Himself becoming angry.

“Even at Horeb, you provoked the LORD to wrath, and the LORD was so angry with you that He would have destroyed you.” (Deuteronomy 9:8)

“‘Now then, let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make you a great nation.’ Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, ‘O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?’” (Exodus 32:10-11)

“The Lord has swallowed up; He has not spared all the habitations of Jacob in His wrath He has thrown down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; He has brought them down to the ground: He has profaned the kingdom and its princes.” (Lamentations 2:2)

Those are just three examples of God becoming angry. So you see, anger can’t be sinful in and of itself. However, before you start calling people fools and shouting at every person who ever does the slightest thing to you, consider for a moment what angers the Lord: sin.

When one is angry because of an offense to God, that person’s anger is justified and holy. If you’re just angry because your wife forgot to pick up milk on the way home, you might be overreacting. Why are you angry? What sin has she committed against God? When it’s your pride and your desires being denied, you’re using self-centered thinking. Don’t read this and think I’m not sinfully angry. I’m actually working on that very thing in my walk with faith at this time in my life. I get so mad when my schedule is thrown off. I get mad when my reading time is interrupted. I get mad when I don’t get my “me time.”

Some may say to themselves, “Who doesn’t get mad if they can’t get what they want?”  The answer to that question is people who aren’t thinking selfishly. A person focused on God is looking for ways to use his time to glorify God. I’m human, and sure, I like the chance to think in the quite for a time, but to become angry because I’m not getting what I want isn’t righteous. Being aware of this truth doesn’t mean I’m not guilty of this sin. I speak on it not just to show i’m not perfect, but to offer myself as an example of what not to do.

But when one sins against God, when a child dishonors his father or mother, when a husband fails to love his or a wife fails to respect her husband, those things will probably anger a person, and that anger in itself isn’t wrong. But what we do with that anger is another test.

“Be angry and do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)

Well how the heck does one pull that off? Jesus, our Savior provides us a few examples. I’d like to look at those for a short time in this chapter.

“And he looked around them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” (Mark 3:5)

That statement stemmed from a test the Pharisees set up. They wanted Christ to heal a sick man on the sabbath, showing that he’s “working” and therefore wrong. The problem was, there’s nothing wrong with doing good on the sabbath. The Pharisees knew this, but their pride and desire to see Christ (who was at that time healing the sick) fall, caused them to set up this horrible and elaborate trap.

But what did Christ do? He indeed showed the Pharisees their sin. He then showed them the right action to take. This pattern is one I like to see. In this case, Christ rebukes, shows the heart-wrongness (the sinful desires of the offending people), and shows the correct action. (Do good. Give to those who ask.)

This pattern is seen again in another example:

  “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’” (Mark 10:13-15)

Here, Jesus was indignant (a synonym for angry) at his own disciples. Again, he rebukes (Let the children come). Some may argue Christ didn’t show the heart-wrongness, but He did. You see, the disciples were trying to have the authority to decide who got to see Him and who didn’t. Christ showed them the heart wrongness by showing them (one of several times) just who has the most right to His Kingdom. ( .. for to such belongs the kingdom. This shows that the kingdom of God belongs to children.) God takes it a step further (teaching the right thinking) by explaining that those who don’t receive the kingdom like a child, shall not enter it. 

There are several examples of the disciples jockeying for authority and importance, and on many occasions, Christ turns their attention to children.

Anger can be Holy when your anger is based on the word of God and his commandments. However, that still doesn’t grant you authority to punish or rage. It’s certainly not the most used format Christ showed us.

Most used? Well, there was the time Christ made whips and chased a bunch of people out of the temple. (John 2:13-22)  Yeah, Christ literally made a whip and drove out the sellers and exchangers of the temple. Even in this, Christ rebuked and taught. Christ, the sovereign King of Kings, also used force. Still, He could have done much more. Instead, he drove them out of the temple. The offense was turing the house of God into a house of trade. This description of God’s house warranted a stricter rebuke. But he still showed them their heart-wrongness. Is driving them out with a whip the correct course of action?

Someone might say that. Remember, we’re still looking at God in the flesh.  Driving people out of a church is a Biblically-based doctrine. There are several reasons the Bible gives to do just that. However, if we take up whips and add our punishment, we’re still taking on a role and sinfully placing ourselves where we don’t belong. 

God may punish in his wrath. God grants leaders, government and world leaders, authorities, that privilege. But us normal folks? We don’t have that right. Vengeance belongs to God. (Romans 12:19)

  So before you start searching for good whips to use on Amazon, remember who you are and where your authority lies. Parents have authority to discipline their children (discipline, not abuse). Governments have authority to punish law breakers. Churches may cast people out (and should for some specific reasons). However, even in this, those churches aren’t granted corporal authority. 

Because we’re talking about how to be angry and not sin, I had to mention that for the sake of transparency. Focus more though on the technique and process Christ followed on many other occasions.

Our options when we are angry are to rebuke, show heart-wrongness, and demonstrate the correct action; or we can just let the offense pass.

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Proverbs 29:11)

“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11)

These are good things to consider the next time you start to feel your metaphorical pot beginning to boil. Stop for a moment and make sure your anger isn’t just a selfish expression causing you to want your way over another’s.

“ … or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;” (1 Corinthians 13:5) 

If your anger is holy, then you have to decide. Can you overlook an offense to your glory? If you can’t, then by all means, rebuke (tell them what they did wrong from a Biblical standpoint), show heart-wrongness (reveal to them how their sinful heart is tainting their actions), and demonstrate or teach the proper action.

For our panel: What are other times Jesus showed us how to righteously discipline a person? When we rebuke someone, should we be offended if they don’t repent? What are some ways one who has offended another may offer repentance? Does the Bible have any evidence of anyone other than God righteously punishing transgressions? How do we defend ourselves if we’re not guilty of the offense of which we are accused? How do we respond if we’re punished for something for which we are not guilty?

Musings on Christianity 9

Musings on Christianity 9

Scorekeeping Is Bad

When was the last time your wife frustrated you? When was the last time your husband said something rude to you? When was the last time your brother got on your nerves?

Do you keep a running tally? Have you ever said or thought something like, “You always … “ or “You never … “?

The thing is, the Bible doesn’t have anything good to say at all regarding holding grudges or being angry. The best thing it does is tell us that there is a distinction between righteous and unrighteous anger.

I don’t know about you readers, but this is a hard thing for me to do personally. I was raised in a sort of scorekeeping lifestyle. I did this, so now it’s your turn. You did this to me, so now I should be allowed to do this to you? I did this for you, so now you should feel obligated to do that for me. This sort of scorekeeping, trade sort of mindset isn’t Biblical.

When you hold on to anger in your heart, you’re feeding your spirit with the wrong sort of nourishment. There are several verses that warn about this.

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses,” (Proverbs 10:12). “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense, “(Proverbs 19:11). A

As usual, those who try to split the word of God tend to scoff at Old Testament scripture. (I’ve said they are part of a whole numerous times, but I am fully aware that those young in the faith or questioning of it try to create conflicts where there are none.)  So, with that in mind, here are some New Testament verses. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” 

And here we come to the crux of this chapter. The formula of Salvation is simple.

Christ’s death on the cross = sufficient for all sin. One death for all (Romans 6:10).

In that one, loving sacrifice, Christ redeemed all of our sins. Not just mine, not just yours, all the sins of the redeemed. Repentance for sin is the acceptance of that sacrifice and key for our Salvation. Those who don’t accept that salvation and repent of their sins aren’t covered.

But our human minds want that trade off. Our human minds want reciprocation. When we are hurt, we want those who hurt us to be punished. When we do something nice, we want something nice done for us.

Christians, Christ died on the cross for you? If your own human logic desires such reciprocation, why hesitate to die for him? This could be literal (as in being martyred), but in this case I mean in a metaphorical manner. Salvation is demonstrated by letting the old self die and taking up the life Christ gave for you (Romans 6:11)?

However, even then our salvation is a gift. Therefore, the forgiveness of our sins is also a gift, one given despite the number and severity of our sin.

Why then, do we harbor grudges? I understand my own shortcomings in this. I count everything. Not just what people do for or against me, but my own sins. I covet my sins and my transgressions, seeking to make up for the things for which I’ve already been forgiven. I haven’t yet learned to let go, and it affects my relationships.

Does it affect yours? The Bible is clear that I need a heart of forgiveness, but my sinful flesh, bred and nurtured on the concept of human payment, seeks more.

The only solution I can can consider is to hold fast to the word of God, and at my point in my development, this is a big cause. I have to hold fast to the fact that vengeance belongs to God (Romans 12:19). I have to hold fast that the price for sin has been paid through Christ’s death (gospels).

If you are like me in this, repent with me. Address your grievance or as forgiveness (Matthew 5:24) or overlook the offense (Proverbs 19:11).

For our panel: What are some ways for one who’s used to holding on to his anger to let go? Why do people hold onto anger in that way? What are the dangers for people who can’t let go of the guilt of offenses they’ve already repented for? What verses can one memorize to help with this problem?