Out of my own hypocrisy

“So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:3-4)? God’s kindness is rich. God’s forbearance is rich. God’s patience is rich. Do we embrace this richness or treat it with contempt? Passing judgment on others while doing the same thing means showing contempt for these riches. Allowing God’s kindness to lead us to a change in heart and behavior is embracing these riches. In those moments when I seem to be stuck in sin, perhaps what I really need to do is spend time considering the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience. Same goes for the times when I am railing about sin in someone else’s life. A large dose of the riches of God can go a long way toward leading me out of my own hypocrisy.

Reminder

“Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home–these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 5-7 NIV).

Jude tells the church something they already know. Why? They need to be reminded. They must never forget. This information is vital to their walk with God and to the life of the church.

So what’s so important that it has to be repeated for emphasis?

The reminder is a double-edged word of warning and assurance: God knows how to deal with people. God knows how to deliver and protect people who want to live with God. At the same time, God knows how to hold people and even angelic beings who reject God and are self-willed.

Peter concludes a similar passage that includes angels, Noah, and Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:4-9) with these words: “. . . if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.”

I need this reminder. I don’t think I am alone.

I need to remember that God can and will deliver me. I am not on my own. My survival is not dependent on me alone. God is involved. God knows how to rescue. God knows how to deliver. God knows how to secure.

I need to remember that God can take care of punishing those who turn from Him. God can hold them. God can keep them. God can judge them. As much as I would like to throw the first stone in their punishment, that’s not my responsibility. The weight of the world rests on God, not me.

Dear God in heaven,

Thank You for all the times You have rescued people.
Thank You for all the times You have delivered me.
Thank You for watching over us.
Thank You for giving us security and assurance.

Sometimes we forget.
Sometimes we fret.
Sometimes we flail around.

May this reminder provide peace of mind and heart.

You and You alone are worthy to bring final judgment.
Thank You for reminding us.
Forgive me, forgive us, when we forget.
Forgive our burning desire to wrest control from You.
Forgive our judgemental spirits and actions.

May this reminder provide peace of mind and heart.

In Jesus’ name,
AMEN.

Assigning Motives

Do you find it easy to assign a motive to someone? To think you know why a person is doing whatever it is she is doing? To think you understand what makes her tick?

To those who said, yes, let me ask another question: when you assign a motive to someone, do you usually assign a good motive or a bad motive? Do you usually conclude that a person is doing something because he really means well and has the interests of others and the will of God as his motive? Or do you usually conclude that a person is being motivated by self-will and self-interest?

Truth is, we do not know another’s heart. We cannot know what is deep within the heart of another, motivating her to do what she does. God knows, but we don’t. And assigning motives is just another way we try to wrest control from God. Another way we try to play God rather than living out our humanity.

I need to, we all need to, embrace our humanity with its limitations, let God be God, and accept that we cannot know what motivates another. Further, I am blessed when I give a person “the benefit of the doubt,” as we say. That is, when faced with the fact that I am human and therefore do not know what drives another person, I assume the best when it comes to his motive.

But there is an even bigger problem as I see it. We do know God’s motives. God has revealed His heart to us. We know what motivates God. Has He not told us of His love? And yet we sometimes assign a different motive to God. We sometimes interpret what God has intended to be a gift of His love as something meant to harm.

We do not know the hearts of people, yet we assign motives to them. We do know the heart of God and we sometimes assign a motive different from what He has revealed to us.

For example, in Deuteronomy the people of God intepreted God’s loving and gracious act of delivering them from Egypt as something intended to hurt them. Did God bring us out of Egypt so we would starve and die in the wilderness? It sounds silly, but when I am honest, I have to admit I have done the very same thing — interpreted a gift of God’s love and grace as something very different.

God, help me to accept the fact that I cannot read the heart of another human. Help me to give them the benefit of the doubt. And at the same time, help me to realize You have revealed Your heart to us. And help me to interpret everything in light of what I know about You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Spirit’s Fire

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

Treating prophesies with contempt and cynicism stifles the Holy Spirit. Such suppression of the Spirit was a temptation in the first century prior to the completion of the canon of scripture and it is a temptation for us today. Just as surely as one could scoff at a prophecy straight from God presented in Thessalonica, one can scoff cynically at a message from God’s word presented in Jackson.

Have you ever been around somebody who specialized in “putting out the Spirit’s fire?” Somebody cynical about preaching? Scoffing at preachers? Sarcastic with brothers and sisters in Christ? Skeptical to the point they can find something negative in just about everything? Scornful toward God’s family? Mocking the body of Christ?

Some who have grown up in a suspicious church-culture have decided they have had enough. And they have reacted to the disdainful attacks they have witnessed or experienced by deciding that nothing is worth a fight. The absence of conflict at all costs becomes the supreme virtue. Angry sermons sown by bitter preachers reap a dangerous harvest.

No, we should not be arrogant, contemptuous, or condescending in stifling the preaching of God’s word. But neither should we be so gullible that we check our brains at the door while walking into the assembly. Evaluate everything, carefully test it. When your testing uncovers good, you should hold on tight. When you find anything tainted with evil, you should avoid it.

Testing is hard work. It would be so much easier for someone else to do your work for you and just tell you what to believe. But who is testing those who want to think for you? What are the testing standards of those so eager to tell you what to accept? Have they personally tested everything? Are they relying on hear-say or second hand testimony? And even if they rightly have reached their conclusion, does that excuse you from the examination you are called to administer?

Scripture warns against false teachers and their dangerous teachings (for a couple of good examples, see 1Timothy 4:1-8 and 2 Timothy 3:6-9). Remember, you can recognize false teachers by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-23). This is not an exhaustive list, but a way to get started. False teachers love to argue and promote controversies (1 Timothy 1:3-7, 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-15; Titus 3:9-11). False teachers disobey the commands of Jesus, specifically the command to love (1 John 2:1-11). False teachers deny the deity or humanity of Christ (1 John 2:22-23, 4:1-3; 2 John 7-11). False teachers contradict the teachings of the apostolic message, for example, teaching a “gospel” of works-based salvation that enslaves rather than a gospel of freeing salvation based on grace and faith (Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1-6, 5:1-6, 5:12-15) or abusing grace as an excuse for sinful behavior (Romans 6:1-14).

What does all this mean? Don’t stifle the Spirit with your cynicism. Recognize it is a serious matter to contemptuously regard a message claiming to be from God. Testing these messages is important enough to put forth the mental and emotional energy and too important to leave to someone else who is enthusiastically waiting to tell you what to think. Check fruit — false teachers and their teaching can be recognized. When all is examined, hold the good and avoid the evil.