The Benefit of the Doubt

A prudent question Christians should ask themselves today is whether we live by suspicion or by grace in our interactions personally and professionally. It really does boil down to two paradigms doesn’t it? There is an option to take the information we have and go down a path with a predisposed cynicism or we can embark on the road less traveled and believe the best in people. And yet this second path while fluffy and pretty with its dressings, is not so easily accomplished.

Part of growing as a Christian is learning how wretched man is and how sinful our hearts are. So how then are we to look upon others and extend grace? We know that Christ extended grace to us by dying on the cross for us and that we are to be Christ-like. We know that the Epistles are filled with assertions to embrace and cultivate unity. And yet there is a little hiccup when we attempt to apply this to our daily lives. Frankly, we’ve all been burned a time or two. It is hard to erase the damage that “unfairness” and betrayal have on us. Thus we are left with a mode of operation in our relationships to qualify trust, have trust and respect earned, etc… Some of us will even lean on Matthew 10:16 (Wise as snakes), to make a case for our hesitance for trust. But doesn’t it seem like the tail wagging the dog when we let our past damage determine our future constructions?

I will admit that there are an ample amount of corridors which this topic could go down. As a father, am I to tell my daughter to give the benefit of the doubt to a seemingly shady guy asking to give her a ride? As a professional, am I to take a deal my instincts shout “No!” to because they promise its a good investment? Hardly. It is important for us to recognize the difference between being a good steward with what is entrusted to us and granting someone a graceful benefit of the doubt.

When we read the parable about the talents (Matt 25), we learn that the Lord expects us to multiply the value of what He has entrusted to us. And considering that we are to do all things to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31) and also test all things (1 Thess 5:21), we can surmise that there is a clear responsibility for us to take care about the decisions we make. So, I am left with a big task here to reconcile in my heart. I am clearly shown Biblically that I must extend grace, turn the cheek, project love, and cultivate unity, but I am also shown that I must take great care in my decisions and work to the glory of God. I think these two points are reconciled and flow together seamlessly when we recognize what is a talent versus what is our pride/personal position. When it comes to things that have been entrusted to me (my daughter, my work, my dwelling), I must take great care to do everything I can to glorify the Lord with my choices. This is the prime directive. This is the most important thing above how it affects myself, others, and opportunity. Glory of God, first. Then secondly, when it comes to myself, my personal position, my pride; then I must realize that it is better to consider others in greater position than myself (Phil 2:3) and give them the benefit of the doubt.

We need to live like people that have been entrusted with great things that are not our own. If we live like this with our own position and pride diminished, then we will live grateful thankful lives, not dwelling on the dangers of being burned but rather making careful decisions while giving others the benefit of the doubt.

The Danger of Assumptions

Assumptions. We all make them. Lately I’ve been thinking about the effect assumptions can have on our lives. Now, most of us when we think about assumptions will of course think about them being negative. These are the ones I am talking about. Of course not all assumptions are bad. We might just change our terminology with other types of assumptions in order to keep them away from the detrimental ones. For example, if my wife falls asleep on the couch while we are watching something I picked on the tv then I can assume that it may not interest her and I should change the channel. But I may rather say that I should be “sensitive” or that I should be “aware”. I make this pause because it can be a cop-out to just say that all assumptions are bad and then shake our heads with a “tsk…tsk”.
Concerning negative assumptions, I find myself like a refugee out of a battle worn country. The effect that bad assumptions have had on my spiritual walk with Christ, my personal and work relationships, and simply my running thoughts throughout the day, is staggering. It always starts out small. There is some issue or rather something that is important to me that “seems” to be threatened in some way. Boy, that sounds dramatic…I mean to say that it could be as pithy as waking up 15 minutes late or finding out about an unexpected bill. A whole book could be written on the causes and effects of assumptions (see Pursuing Wisdom), but in the meantime I think it is valuable to have a short thought on the topic that can be applied today.

Three Reminders to Combat Negative Assumptions:

1) Negative assumptions exist in the absence of grace.
When we make negative assumptions and it involves other people, not just circumstance, there is always the temptation to believe the worst in people. This is especially a problem for Christians because we know more and more in our sanctification, the depravity of man. We find ourselves increasingly confronted with how wretched man is. Thus, when we encounter potential threats, how can we not assume that people will react in ways that reflect this evil nature? And yet Paul says very clearly in Philippians 2:3 that we should count others more highly than ourselves. Philippians is very clear about our attitudes and intentions. But this has nothing to do with how they will be to us. The effort of extending grace to others is not one that expects reciprocity but is an effort in obedience to The Lord whether to the Christian or the non-Christian. I am not referencing all of the verses about grace because we are not talking about sin that has happened but sins we fear will happen in our negative assumptions. Therefore, knowing the corruptions of our mind and the clear charge to give people the benefit of the doubt, negative assumptions are best stamped out by removing this cynicism about individual’s sins and rather keep the depravity of man education applicable to ourselves for our own repentance.

2) Christians are not meant to flee from suffering but rather to embrace it.
I have to thank one of the ministers at my church for this one (Thank you Jeff Salisbury). Philippians 1:29 tells us that, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but suffer for His sake.” As Christians, we often are taught about the existence of suffering in the Christian life. And yet, it seems that we attempt to constantly flee from this or at least be distracted from it. A professor of mine, Dr. Ivan Spencer, made an excellent point about this when he related that all of our advancements whether technologically or for leisure have been in an effort to combat or distract from the effects of the fall of man. It is in our nature to flee from the truth of what we are as sinners. More so, our human nature fights against our calling as Christians to embrace the suffering we are meant to endure. The challenge is that there are so many distractions that really keep the majority of us in Western Society, especially, from the kind of suffering seen in the Bible. That, of course is not true everywhere. The are many, many Christians across the globe that are being persecuted and even killed for their faith even today. But how many Christians are actually exposed to that truth today? (By the way, there are great resources concerning the suffering of brothers and sisters in Christ. One of which is Voice of the Martyrs). But because so many of us do not experience that kind of suffering we are left with many pithy concerns. Nonetheless, for all of us there is an ever-present suffering we endure with our human natures and further more the attacks of the enemy (1 Peter 5:8). Therefore, whether big or small, we all suffer. It must be the effort of every Christian to accept this and not flee from it. Any effort to flee from suffering is rooted completely in our attempts to resolve our own circumstances and fears. For even if we have the best of intentions for someone we love and we fear for them, we are still doing so based upon our own assessments and assumptions. Suffering is meant to be met with surrender, not to the world, but to the providence and ultimate resolution of The Lord whether on the present earth or the eventual blessed one.

3) Christians are pre-disposed to think about what concerns man and not what concerns God.
Mark 8:33 is our Lord’s rebuke against Peter. He says to him, “But turning and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.'” We can all relate to Peter here. Negative assumptions are made because of fear. That fear exists because of an uncertainty of security in Christ. That uncertainty exists because of a dependency we place on ourselves to resolve our circumstances rather than our submission to The Lord. This is what man sets his mind on. He thinks on how HE can fix it or what HE needs from OTHERS to fix it. These are not the things of The Lord. In order to have a perspective where we concern ourselves with what matters to God, we have to accept that we are NOT in the know. We have to accept that there is, and there has always been, an ignorance of what is really going on it its fullness around us. We may have thought we have had a good grasp on things but in truth there are far too many variables to really deny the guiding force of the Creator. God has a plan and an agenda, our effort as Christians must be to get on His wagon. Prayer, time in the Word, and honestly submissive silence are the only options. In doing so, we will find ourselves giving people the benefit of the doubt, but accepting trials as they come our way, and having hope that God has a master plan and we are secure in Him.

Pascal on Automation

How much does automation, habit, affect a Christian’s belief structure? How much of our make up is reason versus habit? See what Pascal says:

For we must make no mistake about ourselves: we are as much automaton as mind. As a result, demonstration is not the only instrument for convincing us. How few things can be demonstrated! Proofs only convince the mind; habit provides the strongest proofs and those that are most believed. It inclines the automation, which leads the mind unconsciously along with it. Who ever proved that it will dawn tomorrow, and that we shall die? And what is more widely believed? It is, then, habit that convinces us…We must resort to habit once the mind has seen where the truth lies, in order to steep and stain ourselves in that belief…, for it is too much trouble to have the proofs always present before us… When we believe only by the strength of our own conviction and the automation is inclined to believe the opposite, that is not enough. We must therefore make both parts of us believe: the mind by reasons, which need to be seen only once in a lifetime, and the automation by habit…
(Pascal – Pensees)

In my book, “Pursuing Wisdom: Unmasking Theology” I define a Mode as the behavioral response of a conscious or subconscious pre-selection of automation in reaction to insecurity or ambiguity. The idea is that in order to cope with the natural insecurities man faces in light of being disconnected with God by sin, there is a defense mechanism set in place within us to choose our own way to resolve this fear. Obiously man is powerless to create his own true eternal security. There is only the illusion, the shroud that can be pulled over in order to mask what is really going on. Therefore the most content human, apart from having salvation in Jesus, would be the true dualist or the pantheist who is so completely detatched from the existence of this insecurity that they experience an illusion of peace. The effort of my book is to assist in unearthing modes with the Christian so that he/she may engage in a deeper more genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.

Pascal’s words in the excerpt above provide a helpful insight into understanding that automation, in itself, is not bad. Automation, or habit, is a part of every human. The effort of trying to remove habit completely from our lives and live completely by constant choice in every situation would be quite disastrous. Likely, there would be emotional breakdowns in the grocery aisles as to which brand to buy and by the end of the day, if one made it that far, he/she would be a basket-case without automation. I think what Pascal is saying here is that automation can be a good tool when proper ideas of belief are “steeped” or “stained”. And yet I think that Pascal skipped over a danger here about the automations, the habits that perpetuate our self-dependency. The “modes” that exist in us usurp our efforts to engage in honest discourse with our Lord and in our fellowship. In growing up in a Christian home, I knew well how to put on Christianity. If someone in discipleship came to me and said I just need to give myself over to Jesus, then I would, of course, “do” that. But the true surrender is a heart issue. Therefore, while I completely believe that it is the Holy Spirit who does the transforming in us (Rom. 8:26-27; Jn 14:26), I also believe that He offers us opportunities to unmask these modes in our lives by deeply acknowledging where we have been dependent on ourselves not just in our daily choices but in automation as well.

Pascal’s advice is valuable because it takes automation and properly positions it as a method of firmly rooting our beliefs. Pascal was a rationalist who recognized that completely relying on empirical “truths” is not stable for Christian development. These “truths” are often subjective and this is proved by simply observing that many times fixed constants are actually unfixable variables (Pursuing Wisdom 108,138). If automation is used to ground the proper belief then we can move on in our sanctification. But if we don’t at least acknowledge that there can be faulty automation within us, then we will continue to operate in mode and thus taint our walk and the walks of those that come in contact with us. We must look within and pray that the Holy Spirit will unearth the foundations in us that are not rooted in Jesus.

Radical? My Thoughts on Pastor Marty Jacumin’s Sermon

Today I listened to one of the best sermons I have ever heard my pastor preach. His message was titled “Radical?” and it centered in on Mark 8:27-38.

His message was titled in relation with David Platt’s popular book “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream” seen here and available for purchase at any Christian book selling establishment. Pastor Marty added a question mark to his message title to suggest that while obedient Christian behavior may seem radical today, it is actually practical and clearly stated in Mark 8:27-38. Pastor Marty passionately expressed his desire throughout the message that what may seem radical needs to become the norm.

Click here to view Mark 8:27-38.

So why did I find this message so impacting on my spiritual walk? Honestly, I saw myself in Peter. I saw myself as a man who continues to daily toss up to God, irreverently, things that concern man while completely neglecting the things that concern God. In hearing the message, I began to think on how much of my daily thoughts are fraught with everything but the glory of God. It is amazing to me how tainted my world can be by neglecting this fundamental thought. Jesus makes it clear to Peter and to His disciples that the business of the Christian is God’s business. The concerns of the Christian are God’s concerns. And what concerns God?

His glory. Plain and simple.

How is that lived out? It is through the gift of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and offers eternal life to those that would surrender their life to Him and live that purchased life devoted to glorifying God. I think about Peter and John in Acts 4:19-20 who could not help but preach about what they had seen and heard.

What a message! Pastor Marty inspired me with his words today. He inspired me to realize that the message is practical. Jesus wants me to aspire for Him, to be on His band wagon. That doesn’t include me understanding everything about His plan, but it does mean that if I am surrendering my life, then I have to trust that He will guide me. It is sad that what is practical is in fact “radical” today. But, honestly, as one who complicates and “web-weaves” for my own glory, I have to say that I am refreshed when a pastor can get up there and say very simply, here are the watershed verses and they are practical. Obedience. What concerns God, not man? Lose your life in Jesus daily. Be not ashamed to spread the Gospel, but rather be compelled to like Peter and John because of the work He is doing in your heart. Wow!

In a season where there is so much emphasis on family, tradition, and unity in the secular world, there can be no doubt that there will be many opportunities to share the Gospel. Taking Pastor Marty’s advice, I am more confident that people will see the joy of Jesus in my eyes if I take the words of Jesus to heart in this passage and seek after what concerns God, and not what concerns man. Praise the Lord.

Pastor Marty Jacumin has been Senior Pastor at Bay Leaf Baptist Church for five and a half years. He and his family have been interconnected with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (where I attend) for many, many years. He not only teaches at the school but also works with the school in maintaining its biblical foundation and mission emphasis.

Hindered by a Headache?

Have you ever been floored either by a headache or maybe being sick? Its the pits. What is worse is that while we may not feel like doing anything, we are often still required to do things or we are still thinking a million miles an hour about things we should be doing. You gotta work? Take care of the kids? School? The malady is indiscriminate as to what facet it will subdue to its will. I think though, for the Christian walk, the attack of these restraints can have additional intricate struggles. I don’t know about you, but the most I want to mutter when I have a headache is a prayer of, “Help me, God!” I’m not trying to debunk the value of at least crying out to The Great Physician when we don’t feel well, but I do think it is interesting to note what we feel at these low moments where we can barely think straight. I think we find out who we are at these low moments. I think we find out where we go when we are broken. For me, I have to say that my initial reaction is to try and push through the malady to accomplish what must be accomplished so that I don’t have too many detrimental consequences I have to fix later. Oh, how it reflects my controlling, lazy self. Why lazy? Because I have to admit, I spend a lot of time in my day trying to rush to do things so that I can collapse at the oasis of “nothing is required of me.” What a life though (sarcasm). Wouldn’t it be better to live in the moment, thankful for where I am and what I am doing, so that the couch oasis and the labor of work were met with the same attitude? This relates to the headache or sickness because I think it is the tell for what we are really after. I want to be a man who gets sick or gets a headache, assesses my capabilities (with thanksgiving), and then performs my best in light of that assessment. Life is choppy and confusing when we are performing either less than what we are capable of or beyond what abilities we are allotted. How can we expect to flow continuously in our sanctification, if we are caught up in this muck of performance? We all have heard, “A man needs to know his limits.” As a choleric, my issue is controlling. For the phlegmatic, there is a tendency to not take action when they should. Whichever end of the spectrum we are on, I think it is important that we make engaging efforts to pause when we are affected by physical or emotional maladies and really assess what we can and can’t do with what performance we have to offer. The rest has to be left to the Lord. If we go beyond this, as the choleric, then we are living a works-based life seeking security in ourselves. For the phlegmatic, we would be putting our security in maxims and other people and not the Lord. So if you suffer from an ailment, I encourage you to pause and ask yourself how this affects your security in Jesus Christ.

If you are interested in learning more about the personality types that I described (Choleric, Phlegmatic, etc..) I recommend Florence Littauer’s book “Personality Plus”

 

The Arduous Effort of Gratefulness

It is remarkable how difficult it can be to maintain gratefulness. I’m not talking about courtesy. I’m not talking about the due lip service we give for things. I’m specifically referring to show-stopping gratefulness. The kind that makes you feel like you could live the rest of your days knowing that God took a specific interest in you and showed his specific love. One must know this gratefulness to be saved. And yet the ability to maintain this gratefulness is challenging. I am so easily distracted by the vain effort to secure myself and my family by my own power. And I’m not just talking about salvation. I’m talking about the fact that God just blessed us with a financial gift that ended up being what we would need for doctor visits and grocery needs, and yet rising within me is the anxious about tomorrow. It’s just ridiculous. Paul’s battle comes to mind Romans 7:15-25. It would seem to me that Jesus’s charge to us in Matthew 6:25-34 clearly reflects that when My planning for tomorrow starts getting me anxious, I have gone too far. But it’s so quick, isn’t it? It’s not like a slow growing thing. It’s like a flash fire. BOOM! I’m anxious, worrying about not what is happening but what could happen. I think that is why hope is so important. Our ability to dwell on what is to come, eternally, grounds us and drops the drama of our daily fears. We really have to guard our hearts and watch what’s moving into our eyes and ears. Make no mistake, I can act grateful. I can even fool myself into thinking I am. But the tell is the anxiousness. Gratefulness and anxiousness can’t be in the same room together. That is why it is imperative that I keep pouring into my heart the examples of gratefulness found in the Bible and then to add to that value, as I encounter brothers and sisters in Christ who exude that genuine gratefulness, I latch onto them and simply listen. Because I truly believe that genuine gratefulness is contagious, while “put-on” gratefulness or humility for that matter is nauseating. Boy it feels good to get that off my chest.

Proslogium – Anselm

How to properly read Anselm…

…building upon the idea that this proof of God’s existence was part of sanctification for the Christian and possibly allure for the on looking unregenerate seeker, Anselm’s first chapter sets the stage for the reader to qualify their assessment. If read coldly without reverence then one cannot remain on point with him. An example of such a qualification  from the introduction:

Be it mine to look up to thy light, even from afar, even from the depths. Teach me to seek thee, and reveal thyself to me, when I seek thee, for I cannot seek thee, except thou teach me, nor find thee, except thou reveal thyself.4 Let me seek thee in longing, let me long for thee in seeking; let me find thee in love, and love thee in finding. Lord, I acknowledge and I thank thee that thou hast created me in this thine image, in order that I may be mindful of thee, may conceive of thee, and love thee; but that image has been so consumed and wasted away by vices, and obscured by the smoke of wrong-doing, that it cannot achieve that for which it was made, except thou renew it, and create it anew. I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate thy sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe—that unless I believed, I should not understand.[1]

This prayer may be skimmed over to the academic who simply is looking for the argument the atheist would respond to. However, to the Christian who sees Anselm’s personal qualification it will become evident that there are considerations in humility to be observed before embarking on the argument deductively. It is the skimming of such a passage that causes the value of this work to be missed by the empiricist.


[1]               Anselm Proslogium 3

The Prince – Machiavelli

This is an excerpt of something I did for school about The Prince. Share if you have any thoughts.

It is hard to believe that today’s social culture would be so inspired by this work in its fullness. We may often hear references to people operating in a very “Machiavellian” way, but after reading The Prince, I am not convinced that it is possible. Like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, this work can be seen as a great reference to the efficiency of acquiring and maintaining power, and yet with the moral emphasis placed on ultimately every decision people make, the application is lost today. The fact is that in Western culture, at least, it is not a question of whether morality will be applied but rather how it will be applied. It is the Sophist versus the Rationalist today. It is the inductive mind affected by their swayed moral emphasis against the deductive mind that assumes based upon their beliefs. Therefore the utilization of Machiavelli’s work would only be to further the agenda based on the belief structure of either camp. Therefore, there is no relevant application for his work as a tactic for influence. From another point of view, however,  the work can be valuable as an assessment of what man could be like in the absence of morality and simply reliant upon the acquisition and maintenance of power. This would be valuable to study if anything for the recognition that natural law is very real and does have an influence. We have a distinct human nature and it is a self-seeking villainous thing. Emotionless? No. Much like reading George Orwell’s 1984, the reader cannot help but know that such a closed environment cannot last and it will be usurped for better or for worse by the emotions that use and abuse the morals that are written on all human hearts.

Introductory Shout Out

I am so thankful to have started a blog. I have been hesitant to attempt the endeavor mainly because I didn’t know if I could trust myself to be consistent with it and actually post regularly. But from stage left my Greek professor, Dr. Dave Black,  swooped in with some great advice about the personal/spiritual benefits. Dr. Black has a excellent blog with extremely helpful insights on the running thoughts of a man after God’s heart. His example is a gift from the Lord. His site is daveblackonline.com. If you read this Dr. Black, thank you sir.