The Practicality of Being Genuine

Simplicity can be therapeutic, especially when we are hurt or angry. In our dramatic human natures it can be very tempting to build things up and then blow up. And yet, in the end, we are the ones more hurt than the one who afflicts us and worse, we will likely bring our loved ones down with us. I wonder if sometimes, in our dramatic responses, we detach ourselves from the fundamental vulnerability of what we actually feel. When someone hurts our feeling, we need to be able to simply say, “My feelings are hurt.” When we are angry, we need to simply say, “I am angry.” And most importantly, since this is at the root of it all, when we are scared, we need to be able to say, “Jesus, I am scared.” For, when we attempt to resolve these emotions without this simple acknowledgement, it is so easy to slip into an “I Must Resolve” mentality where we believe that it is up to us to fix it. And this is such a slippery slope. When we are not genuine about what we feel, we are simply working our way towards self-dependency, building up agendas and masks of behavior. This is not the way the Bible outlines Christ-centered dependency. If we are going to, in anyway, live on this earth as tools for the Kingdom of God, then we have to put ourselves out there and be genuine. We have to risk being vulnerable and risk being burned. So let me encourage you with four buzzwords to remember when you face the temptation to spin or to back-peddle:

1)      RELAX! There is nothing wrong with taking a moment to step back or away from a circumstance to “Be still and know that [HE is] God.” (Ps 46:10)

2)      EXAMINE your most basic emotions in the circumstance. Look within and ask yourself, “What am I really feeling?

3)      ACKNOWLEDGE verbally these emotions you are feeling. This doesn’t have to be an announcement to everyone in the room. Make the declaration in prayerful openness to the Lord.

4)      LAY your burden before the Lord with an honest and vulnerable prayer for His peace that transcends all understanding. (Luke 12)

Be Real! Be Genuine! If life is complicated, it may be because we are spending too much time on the issues and not enough time on our hearts. Remember, the Holy Spirit is within us. He is our Counselor. What does that mean? Who is the Holy Spirit to you? What role does the Counselor play in your life? How honest and open are you with the Lord about how you are feeling? Don’t think that His Omnipotence means that your acknowledgement is unnecessary. The Bible so clearly asserts that we confess our sins (1 Jn 1:9) and also that we cast our cares on Jesus (1 Pet 5:7). It is vitally important that we be genuine Christians

The Potential Freedom of Freedom

Do you feel chained down? Strapped? Confined? Bottled up? With all of the stresses in life and the many decisions we all face every day, there are few who can say that they don’t, at some point, feel this way. And it can be very confusing to go to church, listen to praise music, or even the advice of loved ones telling us of our freedom in Christ; only to find that, daily, we end up facing the restraints of our circumstances and relationships. Why are so many of us stressed when we know that we are supposed to be experiencing freedom in Jesus Christ? There are so many resources, biblically, to draw from concerning this freedom we are meant to have. And yet, if you have spent any time in Christian fellowship, then you likely are well “versed” in these references. The most direct is from our Lord Jesus when He says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). Another very helpful reference is Christ’s teaching about anxiousness in Luke 12. Properly, any good Christian Brother or Sister should point to these in order to reroute us in our stressful, confining, human ways. But I think that we are meant to do more than receive this sage advice. We have an obligation to be poised and ready for it.

Today, there are many distractions in our lives which may lead us to either not listen to what the Bible tells us or to quickly forget it when the next arrow comes. To be specific, we have to get out of our own way in order to receive the guidance of what Jesus so clearly tells us. Praise the Lord that we are not alone in this. The Holy Spirit works in us and molds us. He is our given counselor. And yet, we still have choice. So, the question is, what can we do to prepare ourselves, amidst the chaos, to be receptive of the Lord’s guidance? Here are three tips:

1)      Sanctification properly carries repentance with it. We must always keep with us the repentant acknowledgement that the reason we live in a fallen world is because of sin. Our repentance must accompany our desire to grow in Jesus. However, if repentance becomes self-loathing, then there is no freedom in Christ. Therefore, we must make great efforts to constantly live with hope while never forgetting where we came from as mere men and women.

2)      We must acknowledge that we are not a finished product. We are a work in progress and that involves going through the hard times in order to be sanctified. Simply recognizing this can take such a distracting burden off of our shoulders because it is extremely hard to see straight when we are always looking behind us, lamenting that we are not perfect.

3)      Feeling better may sometimes come as a result, but it cannot be the purpose. When simply feeling better is our goal then our development in Jesus Christ is not what we are after. We are seeking after our own benefit. When anxious, we must acknowledge and know in our hearts that God has a plan, He is in control, and all things will work to His glory (which is to our good too!)

In closing, let us remember that freedom exists not simply in the ability to choose whatever course we want, but it is the ability to exist securely knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:35-39).

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.

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.