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Archive for May, 2016

A Little Christian Experience?

May 31st, 2016

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart… (Psalm 119:2)

In terms of our Christian commitment, two dangers await us. The first danger is legalism, to believe that we must turn in some kind of performance to be acceptable to God. Legalism leans toward self-justification and away from grace-justification. It seeks to establish its own righteousness without any help from God. And it develops into a mean and nasty type of Christianity, especially avoiding the true matters of the heart. God saves us by his grace through our faith, and we do not become acceptable to God through any other terms than his grace and our faith.

The second danger is to think that our commitment does not matter at all. If it is by grace, then God does it all and I need not do anything. Many Christians I know want their “little Christian experience,” and are quite willing to do somethings for Christ in the church just so long as they do not inconvenience them too much.

But by its very nature Christianity inconveniences us - true faith in Christ requires not just “something” from us but everything from us and of us. To follow Christ every day demands of us total, radical commitment to him. Christianity is the treasure hidden in the field for which a man will give everything he owns to possess. It is the life of dying daily, of taking up our cross and following after Christ, putting aside all of our preferences for him. It is the life of seeking God without whole heart. It is the life of experiencing Christ every day - authentically, personally, intimately.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)

The Prophet Amos asked, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3) Our hearts will pull apart from Christ’s in any place where there is less than 100% surrender and commitment to him. Both legalism and uncommitted Christianity result in joylessness. But the life of faith in the grace of God in Christ is the life of joy and peace.  We are made for God and our hearts will remain restless until we rest in him.

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Dealing with Provocations

May 27th, 2016

A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty, but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both. (Prov. 27:3)

Haven’t we all been there? Someone who is bitter, angry, and negative provokes us, inviting us to a conflict. We feel ourselves being drawn into a dispute, one that cannot possibly bring honor and glory to God.  The wisdom of God is “Do not go there,” do not get into a conflict simply because someone has provoked you.

The chapter before in Proverbs says,

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Prov. 26:4-5)

The meaning is that there are some situations when we need to rebuke someone and some situations when we should avoid it. Mark Twain once said, “Do not wrestle with a pig; you get all dirty and, besides, the pig likes it.” We need the wisdom of God to know when to respond and when not to respond.

First, avoid the temptation to see the mote in their eye and miss the beam in your own. The first matter that we must consider is the danger of judging anyone. Each person must give an answer to God for himself, and we can never know every situation in another person’s life. There are always hidden factors, known only to that individual and God. God is gracious and fair, and we, as his children, should seek to err on the side of graciousness. We may notice that someone carries emotional baggage, is difficult to deal with, maybe even is judgmental of others, but we should avoid feeling that we are morally superior and they are inferior to us.

Second, consider that they may have a point to their complaints. It is easier to listen to the complaints of someone who is kind, considerate, and not conflicted within, but that does not mean that others do not have a genuine point. We are wiser to listen to their provocation and rather than telling them how bad they are, consider if there is some point we can agree with them on. Henry Kissinger once said, “Even a paranoid can have enemies,” and we can paraphrase that to say that even an obnoxious, embittered person can have a valid point.

Third, consider the power of love and compassion. The one thing that is universal among people is that we all need love, we all long for someone to listen to us and seek to understand us. If you want to get through to someone try compassion first. It is a very well observed truism that people do not care how much we know until they know how much we care.

Fourth, bathe the entire situation in prayer. This could be an opportunity for you to realize you need a deeper level of Spiritual growth, it could provoke you on to a closer walk with God.  Spiritual growth in our lives most often is preceded by a period, or even a single vent, when we realize our need to become more mature. Thank God for the awareness of your need and pour your heart out to God for him to strengthen you. Rather than the negative person annoying you, let them become an object of your prayer.

Fifth, ask for wisdom from God whether this situation should be dealt with directly. If you are in a leadership position you may not have any choice. In conflicts seek to deal with the objective facts and do not turn to personal matters. The other individual might do this - if they are a true “fool” as Proverbs describes they will often resort to personal attacks when discussing issues. But personal attacks do not help circumstances get resolved, and in fact, make the entire situation more difficult to resolve. It is better to “fix a problem” rather than to “fix a blame.” Be positive, kind, considerate, practical, and ethical - and trust God to lead the way.

If there is a point of confrontation and rebuke, then rebuke “with all patience” (2 Tim. 4:2). If someone is convinced that you love them, you will have won their hearts. Seek to love all, genuinely love them, and love them in Christ’s name and in his love.

The unbending, non-negotiables should be the love of God for all people, the moral and ethical resolution of problems, obedience to the Scripture and to the leading of the Spirit, and the growth of the kingdom of God.

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