Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

Month: June, 2015

If You Want To Be Taken Seriously About Homosexuality…

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Christians talk a lot about same sex marriage.  As such an important discussion in our culture and in the church; Christians should be engaged in it.  Especially today and for the next few weeks, there is going to be a lot of heated debate.  There is a lot of anger and heartbreak surfacing right now.  There are a lot of important things that Christians need to be saying, and will be saying. But there is a difference between saying true things, and being taken seriously while you do it.  Before writing all over Facebook about this issue, make sure you provide some incentive for others to take you seriously.

Get the log out of your own eye.  Now, I believe that Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” is one of the most over quoted and misused passages in Scripture.  But I think there is some pretty good application when it comes to the way many conservatives address homosexuality.

If you are not willing to follow the Lord’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, you don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to addressing homosexuality.  If you are having sex outside of marriage, even heterosexually, you better focus on your own purity before anyone else’s.  It makes me cringe when I read about the “sanctity of marriage” or the “Biblical definition of marriage” from someone who is, through divorce and remarriage, fornication, or adultery, rejecting the Biblical definition of marriage.  Hypocrisy kills your credibility and influence.

Don’t make this your only sermon.  This seems to be the primary hobby-horse of many.  If we cannot get through a sermon, blog, conversation, or tweet, without harping on this one sin, we eventually begin to lose some credibility.  Our motives look artificial.  It looks like you sincerely care about degrading one group of people rather than sincerely care about souls.

So ask yourself the question, who are you attempting to help by this?  Is it a soul, person, or community you care about?  Or is it some political ideology?  Or are you just angry and want to be heard?  That’s understandable, but not always helpful.  There are plenty of sins in the world to rebuke and plenty of groups to chastise.  There is also much encouragement to be given in a world as lost as ours.  The Bible covers a whole host of topics, not just modern political issues.

Have some compassion.  Please try not to demonize people with whom you disagree; especially not people that we are supposed to love and try to save.  I know of no conversation where this is helpful.  Think about what you are asking another human being to do.  You are asking them to deny their feelings.  You are asking them to deny a critical part of who they are.  You are asking them to deny any foreseeable future happiness in marriage or family.  You are asking for radical self-denial.  This is not wrong; Jesus demands radical self-denial.  He requires us to pick up our crosses and follow Him.  But let us never lose compassion or respect for those who sacrifice much for the cause of Christ.

I have had heart wrenching Bible studies with heterosexuals who have come to realize that because of their divorce, they have no right to be married again (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  I hate these discussions.  They hurt me and they hurt others.  But sometimes Jesus asks us to do extremely difficult things for the kingdom (Matthew 19:10-12).  So teach the truth, but teach with compassion and remember you are talking to a fellow human being, not the incarnation of evil.

Make a better stand.  This is not an argument that will be won with anecdotes, insults, or slurs.  To those who make their stand against homosexuals by withholding tips, refusing to hire, bullying, insulting, or persecuting; shame on you.  Not allowing them in church buildings, making rules that we will allow funerals for anyone except homosexuals, and general cruelty, will not only hurt us, but will give ammunition to everyone else.  Even if they are your enemies, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).

Persecuting them does not help anyone or anything.  It makes them the victims, and us the aggressors.  It makes us look prejudiced and ignorant.  And it certainly doesn’t make us look like Jesus.  While He never approved of sin, you will be hard pressed to find Him advocate cruelty or mistreatment of the sinner.  Let persecution be our burden and no one else’s.

Be honest about your worldview.  If we are honest, our primary stand against homosexuality derives from Scripture.  Sure, we have some social studies and historical arguments that we put forward.  Plus there are some blindingly obvious inconsistencies in the arguments of those in favor of same-sex marriage.  But really, if the Bible was in favor of same-sex marriage, we probably wouldn’t stand so firm against it.

The difficulty is that Biblical arguments are not going to work well at changing American laws.  A politician who argues all his positions Sola Scriptura will not be taken seriously.  But remember, our primary concern is not modern American law.  God’s kingdom is infinitely more important than the temporal American kingdom.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in this country.  Well, that is wrong and unscriptural.  Just as wrong as any homosexual practice.  Whether it is legal or not, whether “married” or not, the Bible condemns the sin.  The world will do what the world will do.  American law is not our priority; the gospel of Jesus Christ is our priority.  Regardless of what laws our country passes, we can still practice Christianity and Biblical morality (even if under persecution).

Christianity did not originate as a world power, but as a persecuted religion.  Yet it managed to change the world.  The divine mandates of Christianity were not given to govern countries but to govern lives.  Rome did not follow Christian morality and neither does America.  But our responsibility does not change.  If every law is against you, do not fear as long as God is with you.  We change lives, countries, and the world by living and teaching Jesus.  It’s not hopeless, and we don’t need government approval of our message.  We need conviction, zeal, perspective, sincerity, patience, faith, hope, and love.

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What to Expect as a Christian

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Being a Christian is not all daisies and cupcakes.  It’s not always easy.  It’s not always friendly.  What should you expect as a Christian in this world?

Persecution from the World:

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Persecution is a fundamental part of Christianity.  There are Christians in various parts of the world who are suffering intense persecution now, even to the point of losing possessions, freedom, and life.  This history of persecution can be traced back to the beginning of the church.  Early Christians were both persecuted by the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman Empire.  Many of the great Christians you read about in Scripture were executed for Christ.

While many modern Christians face very light persecution, and sadly many try to overplay or invent persecution stories, actual persecution really does exist here and now.  It is nearly impossible to have a discussion about any relevant moral issue once somebody finds out you are a Christian.  Your motives are attacked, you are insulted, and productive communication ceases.  Christians are often judged as being judgmental, called ignorant by the ignorant, and hated for being hateful. The hypocrisy of those who call us hypocritical is blindingly obvious.  Yet, this is one of the many ways we carry our cross while following Jesus.

Animosity from Family:

“For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me…” (Matthew 10:35-37).

Now, there are some, myself included, who have been greatly blessed as to have the majority of their physical family also be in their spiritual family.  What this means is that their family rejoices with them in their conversion to Christ. This is not always the case, however.

If you turn your life to Christ, be prepared for your family to resent you for it.  To see you as “holier than thou,” “pious,” or “judgmental.”  They might think you are throwing your life away.  They might see you as drifting farther from the family, joining a cult, or losing your mind.  This is often the initial reaction, sometimes it remains, sometimes it does not.  But this can be an extremely heavy cross to bear.

Frustration from Brethren:

“So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16).

One of the saddest truths about Christianity is that many of our biggest critics are other Christians.  Brethren divide over the most pointless and derivative minutiae one can possibly imagine. Hateful words are spoken about those who preach “grace” and about those who preach “obedience.”  Lines of fellowship are drawn over semantics, schools, political parties, evangelistic methods, and church budgets.  Commands for unity, patience, and tolerance are neglected in favor of “that time Paul rebuked someone by name,” while some brethren will condemn anyone who rebukes anyone for any reason.  And as a result, brethren drift farther and farther from each other, and the teachings of Jesus.  Even Christians will not always act like Christians.  This cross will break your heart when if you try to carry it.

It to be Completely Worth it:

“the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

There is no better life in this whole world than that of a faithful Christian.  If you really let the teachings of Christ radically change your life, you will become a better spouse, parent, friend, employee, and person.  It’s impossible not to.

The best people I have ever met are faithful, loving Christians.  They don’t get a lot of publicity. The headliner is when Christians fail, the pastor has an affair, or the church sign says something hateful.  But behind the terrible news stories, inflammatory rhetoric, and bitter vitriol are people.  Godly, real, imperfect, generous, loving, forgiving people.

I love my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I love our fellowship.  The relationships formed by the blood of Jesus far supersede any persecution from the world, criticisms from family, or immaturity from brothers in Christ. There is no comparison.

The spiritual bond of the church makes everything else worth it, but fellowship with the Lord Himself is my greatest joy.  In this relationship I have grace, forgiveness, and acceptance.  I have a mighty Friend who no enemy can overcome.  I am granted freedom from my past, unfathomable joy in the present, and access to God for eternity.  That is what you can expect as a Christian.

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”

2 Corinthians 4:17

A Name that Remains: Jerome

(c) Nottingham City Museums and Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

This will serve as the first of a series of posts that will sporadically appear on this blog entitled “A Name that Remains.”  When Hector asks Achilles why he is in Troy, he answers, “they’ll be talking about this war for 1000 years.” Hector responds, “In a thousand years the dust from our bones will be gone.” “Yes, prince.  But our names will remain.”

There are some names that reverberate throughout history.  They are remembered for their great impact over time.  Some good, some bad, but usually a mixture.  And it is these names, these men, and their impact that largely shapes who we are today.

Jerome’s Life:

One of those names that remain is Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius, or more commonly known as Jerome.  He has been honored as a “Saint” in many religious traditions, and as one of the four most eminent “Doctors of the Church” in the Middle Ages.  A “Doctor of the Church” is one who has greatly advanced the Church through their teaching and understanding of doctrine.

Jerome was born around AD 347, in Dalmatia, to wealthy Christian parents and given a great education.  He was baptized as a teenager, and mastered Greek and Hebrew, learning Hebrew under a Jewish convert.  Even the renowned St. Augustine desired Jerome’s grasp of Greek and Hebrew.

Jerome spent several years of his life with an ascetic group living in Aquileia, probably in his 20’s to early 30’s.  He then became an ordained priest in Antioch, before furthering his studies in Constantinople.  Eventually he made his way to Rome and for 3 years held the prestigious position as secretary of Pope Damasus.  Jerome was commissioned by Damasus to use his language expertise to translate portions of the Bible into Latin.

While in Rome, Jerome made some enemies.  He was quick tempered and did not mind letting people know exactly what he thought of them.  After several years of living an ascetic lifestyle he repudiated the luxury and grandeur of many of his fellow clergy.  He claimed they cared only about their clothes and their beards.  “If there is any holiness in a beard, nobody is holier than a goat!”  Needless to say, he did not endear himself to their hearts.  When Pope Damasus died in 384, Jerome was passed over to replace him.

In response, he left Rome and made his way to Bethlehem with a wealthy female supporter named Paula.  He lived in a monastery and resumed his life of study and asceticism.  He was difficult to get along with, and had very few friends or supporters.  In artwork he is nearly always depicted with a lion and a skull.  The skull depicts his focus on his own mortality; he writes that he would make trips to crypts and catacombs as a reminder of his mortality.  The lion is seen as his only friend in the world.  Tradition has it that while he lived in the monastery he pulled a thorn from a lions paw, and the two formed a unique friendship.

In this monastery He completed his translation of the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament into Latin (the Latin Vulgate).  He also completed most of his commentaries and writings on theology and history.  Primarily he wrote to oppose heresies and to promote monasticism as the superior Christian lifestyle.  He died in Bethlehem the September of AD 420.

Internal Conflict:

While in Antioch, shortly after his time with an ascetic group in Aquileia, he had a dream where he was dragged to judgment before God and condemned for loving Cicero more than Christ.  Jerome loved Christian literature but he also loved reading classical pagan and Greek literature.  He vowed after this dream to never again own or read pagan literature.  This vow did not last.

Jerome was a man who was torn between worldliness and asceticism.  Living as a monk did not come easily or naturally for him.  While devoting himself to monasticism, he struggled to remove worldly desires from his heart.  He writes of being in a monastery, seeking purity, but still dreaming of the dancing girls of Rome.

Great Works:

Jerome wrote a massive amount.  He wrote, translated, edited, and copied countless documents.  For this reason, Jerome has been honored as the Patron Saint of Librarians.

The Latin Vulgate is Jerome’s greatest contribution to church history.  Completed in AD 406, this translation reigned supreme for over 1000 years.  John Wycliffe’s English translation (AD 1382) was based on the Latin Vulgate.

It is called the Latin Vulgate because it was written in the common or “vulgar” (Vulgate) form of every day Latin.  It was Latin for the commoners.  I always find it ironic that church leaders, who condemned men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale for translating the Bible into the “vulgar” English tongue, were using the “Vulgar Latin.”

Jerome wrote 14 homilies each on Jeremiah and Ezekiel, 39 on Luke, and numerous others.  His commentaries included: Jonah, Obadiah, Isaiah, Zechariah, Malachi, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah (unfinished), Philemon, Galatians, Ephesians, Titus, Matthew, Mark, and portions of Luke, Revelation, and John.

He wrote myriads of letters against fellow teachers of his day.  Many of these letters were arguments in favor of monasticism against those who denied its superiority.  He also wrote theological books which argued against heresies like Arianism, Originism, and Pelagianism. He wrote many histories of earlier Christians like Lives of Illustrious Men.  He was a strong supporter of Trinitarian theology.  Jerome wrote countless letters and most of his ideas have held sway in Catholicism and many religious traditions since his time.

View of Scripture:

Jerome was both a Hebrew and Greek scholar.  A deep grasp of Hebrew was rare for Christians during that time.  Most Latin translations of the Old Testament were from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), but Jerome was familiar with Jews from his time learning Hebrew, and he translated and commentated directly from the original Hebrew.  That being the case, he argued against the inclusion of the Deuterocanonical (or Apocryphal) books in the Christian canon.  He favored of the Jewish canon over the Catholic canon.

He believed in the inspiration and infallibility of all Scripture, and that it should be translated for the church to understand.  He felt it necessary to make Scripture understandable in Latin, while at the same time honoring the original meaning of the Greek and Hebrew.

A Name that Remains: Jerome

In short, Jerome was a Trinitarian theologian who believed that the best way to honor God was by self-denial and asceticism.  He sought to convince others of this view through his writings.  He was viewed as difficult and contrary and did not conform to the expectations of his day.  He was extremely well read in both Christian and pagan literature and used both in his innumerable theological and historical writings.

He is commonly honored in the artwork of Renaissance painters, revered as a “Saint” and “Doctor of the Church,” and is still read and studied diligently nearly 1600 years after his death.  His “Latin Vulgate” was his largest contribution to church history.  And his internal battle between worldliness and self-denial is something with which every Christian can sympathize.

How is Jesus Equal to the Father?

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Jesus was condemned by the Pharisees “because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18).

That’s a pretty major accusation: the capital crime of blaspheme.  During the days of the Roman Empire several of the emperors fancied themselves equal with God.  There have been radical religious figures throughout history who have called themselves equal with God.  I think I’ve even seen a few people in my day who considered themselves equal to God.  However, the truth is that no mere human can ever be equal to God.  He is greater than us in every way.

So why did Jesus claim this?  Well because Jesus was no “mere human.”  Jesus in fact was equal to God.  There are many passages we use to illustrate this, but I think Jesus’ response to the accusation is pretty clear.  He did not deny it, rather He explained the ways in which He was equal to God.

He begins with an illustration about fathers and sons (John 5:19-20).  Children learn what they see from their Father.  Jesus was a carpenter; Joseph was a carpenter.  Many things I’ve learned only because I saw my father do it.  Because fathers love their children, they want to teach them and show them what they are doing.  In this way, sons are equal to their fathers.  Jesus lists 3 major ways that He is equal to God.

  1. Giving Life—John 5:21, 26. Both present eternal life and in the final resurrection, Jesus gives life to mankind.  He learned this from His Father.  Just as God raised the dead and gave them life, Jesus also “gives life to whom He wishes.”  Jesus gives eternal life to the one “who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me” (John 5:24). Jesus is equal to God because they give life.
  2. Judgment—John 5:22, 27, 30. The Father has always been seen as the Judge, but He “has given all judgment to the Son…He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:21, 26).  Judgment, which began with the Father has been handed to the Son.  The Son judges based on His Father’s will (John 5:30).  Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was not to judge, but to save.  But the words He spoke will certainly judge mankind (John 12:48).   Jesus is equal to God because He was given judgment.
  3. Honor—John 5:23. All the honor that God deserves is also deserved by the Son.  “All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).  As the one who gives life and judgment, Jesus is worthy of honor, glory, worship, and praise.  Jesus is equal to God because they deserve the same honor.

So, when Jesus was accused of calling Himself “equal with God” (John 5:18), He does not deny it.  He explains it.  A father gives his son the attributes and abilities that he has learned.  God gives Jesus life in Himself to bestow it on whoever He wishes.  God gives Jesus the authority to judge mankind.  This is so that they will be equal in honor.

What Words are we Allowed to Say?

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About a year ago I polled some people that I know.  I polled preachers and elders, Christians and non-Christians, old and young, male and female.  The poll consisted of one question and it was this:

What type of communication does the most damage to the church?

  • Foul Language (bad or offensive words)
  • Gossip (talking about other people’s business)
  • Cruelty (saying mean things to or about others)
  • Negativity (always complaining: politics, worship, others, etc.)

The results were interesting, but kind of expected.  Some people said gossip, some cruelty and others negativity.  Not a single person said that the church is most harmed by “foul language.”

Now, if you’re anything like me, you have probably heard gossip, cruelty, and persistent negativity.  If you’re anything like me you’ve probably engaged in it yourself.  These are pretty hard to avoid.  Even at church.  Who hasn’t heard a “prayer request,” which is just an easy way to open the door to gossip?  Who doesn’t think that Ted is an unscrupulous jerk?  Really, when does negativity not arise in the form of “constructive criticism” about the government, a boring preacher, or a clueless song leader?

But very, very rarely have I ever heard one of the main “bad words” uttered at the church building (I did hear an F-bomb dropped in the middle of a Bible class once).  If you did hear a loud profanity, it would no doubt be followed by a long, loud, united, congregational gasp at the shock and horror of it all.  But the others forms of sinful speech, the more damaging ones, often seem to roll by unnoticed.

The Love of Lists:

Why would we be more shocked and appalled at the thing that probably does much less damage?  It’s difficult to know for certain, but it might have something to do with a list.

It’s easy to avoid things when they are on a list of “Dont’s.”  If you give me a list of 5-50 words (depending on the list maker) I’m not allowed to say, then I can just memorize those words, find synonyms, make the appropriate substitutions, and communicate normally.  Lists make things easy.  And with “bad words,” it’s easy to make a list.

We love making lists of rights and wrongs.  Need to become a Christian?  I got a list for you right here!  Need a sermon?  Here are your 3 points.  Want to know what words to avoid? Here is your list of “bad words” and here is your longer, more detailed list of “euphemisms.”  The problematic part is that definitive lists are rarely given in Scripture (although it’s great when they are!).  But there is no Biblical list of “bad words.”  So we use our brains, reasoning, our culture, and the MPAA and we list it up!  A lot of profanity is pretty obvious and simple to identify.

It’s much more difficult to make a “gossip list.”  Gossip, slander, and negativity just flow naturally along the twists and turns of a conversation.  You are in it before you ever saw it coming.  We struggle with things that are not on lists. It requires too much “paying attention.”

Make your own List:

So what are we to do?  When it comes to language, keep your list.  There is nothing wrong with a good list.  Keep it and abide by it.  But realize that there are other lists also and not all of them will match up perfectly.  When you talk, you should really try to be considerate of other people’s lists.  In fact, be more concerned with their list than your own.

If some Christians say something on your list of “no-no words”, realize they might see things differently, not be offended by that word, or even know that it is offensive.  As time and culture changes, so does language and communication.  Youths often use words that the elderly might not like (usually because they are vulgar or inappropriate) and the elderly often use words that offend youths (usually something seen as racist or extremely impolite).  Realize that different times and cultures have used words differently, and not everyone will have discovered your exact list.  Just try to be conscientious, polite, and forgiving.

A Suggested List:

But, for more dangerous topics like gossip, cruelty, and negativity, ask yourself the following “list” of questions before you speak:

Am I using someone else’s name?  Why am I using their name?  Would I say this if they were standing right next to me?  Would they want me to say this? Would I want someone to say this about me?  Would I want others to know that I said this? Do I really know what I am talking about?  Do I have any proof of what I am about so say?  Even if I have proof, is it necessary to say it?  Is it my business?  Is it the business of the person I’m talking to? Is it nice?  Is it uplifting?  Is it positive?  Will it reflect well on the church? On others? On the Bible?  On Jesus? On God?  Is it worded gracefully as though seasoned with salt?

You might be thinking, “that list is far too long.  It would take forever to sit quietly and think of answers to all of those questions.  If we take your advice we will all be sitting quietly and hardly ever saying anything!”

True. And what a wonderful world it would be.

James 1:19: “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”

A Tradition to Help your Marriage

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Since I have been married, every night before going to sleep, I take my wife (Lauren) by the hand, I say a prayer, then give her a kiss.  We always mention several things during this prayer.  We always thank God for our marriage and pray that we continue to grow in our love for each other.  We thank God for the church that we work with and pray for growth and strength in the congregation.  We always pray for Lauren’s sisters and their spiritual wellbeing.  We pray for several by name who have fallen away. And we thank God for the hope and salvation we have through Jesus.  These are staples in every nightly prayer.

We also add various things as they come up, prayer requests, concerns, blessings to give thanks for, etc.  But this is one of the most important traditions in our marriage.  It has helped our marriage in many ways and I would encourage any married couple to do this.  Especially the husbands.  Take the initiative.  Take your wife’s hand. And lead her in prayer.  Here are a few reasons why:

It Reminds You of Your Priorities

This reminds us every single night what is most important.  Sometimes we are tired.  Sometimes we are busy.  And believe it or not sometimes we have arguments.  But we always make this a priority.  Do you know what helps solve an argument faster than anything else?  Taking your wife by the hand, thanking God for her, your marriage, your common salvation, and then giving her a kiss.

Do you know what the important things are?  Your faith, your relationship, your marriage, your family, your hope, and your salvation.  These things are far more important than some point you are trying to prove.  We don’t go to bed angry (Ephesians 4:26).  We go to bed thankful.

It Strengthens your Marriage

Not only does this prayer help in conflict resolution, but it will strengthen your marriage in many other ways.  Because of this prayer, we go to bed at the same time (nearly) every single night.  We also communicate, both with God and each other about the most important happenings in our lives.  From what I have been told once or twice, communication is somewhat important in a marriage.  The best form of communication in a marriage is when you talk with each other, and then talk with God.

My wife sees me praying for her and her family every night.  She sees me praying for our marriage, our faith, and our church family.  She loves me because of that.  And I love being able to lead her in that prayer.  I know that she supports everything I am saying and is praying to God through my words.  That is a big responsibility, but it makes our marriage strong.

It Solidifies your Faith

Prayer has a lot of benefits. It is encouraging and relationship building when I know someone is praying for me. It relieves stress to be able to formulate into words my thoughts and struggles and offer them to God.  But the greatest benefit of prayer is not what we do while praying, but what God does while answering. God answers prayers.  One of the best ways to test that is with a consistent and persistent prayer life.

He often does so in ways that we could never predict or imagine.  Sometimes even while He is answering them, we don’t see it.  Then years later, we look back and realize, “Oh, I see what happened there.”  If you are not a Christian, that might sound extremely cliché or corny.  But if you are a Christian, you know what I am talking about. We have had prayers answered. It has strengthened our faith and our confidence in God.  God really does listen and really does care.  Taking advantage of that fact alone will help any marriage.

You Need Some Self-Control

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I know a guy who drives me crazy.  No one can get me more upset than him.  He makes me sick.  I refer to him as “Past Travis.”  He’s a lot like me, only he’s not here anymore.  He has turned into “Present Travis.”  Let me tell you why he makes me so angry.

Do you know why I don’t have washboard abs?  Because “Past Travis” was too lazy.  Wondering why I don’t know French, German, Italian, or Latin?  Ask him.  Guess why I don’t have more money?  He would rather fritter it away on his worthless impulses!  He has set me up for failure in so many ways.  I could be so impressive if he just would have taken some initiative.

Now, let me tell you about someone who I can’t wait to meet. He is going to be smart, athletic, and remarkably interesting.  He will be fluent in many languages, eat right, be great with money, and probably be in the NFL.  I call him “Future Travis.”  I’m supremely confident that he will be amazing!

But here is the problem I’m beginning to realize. In order for Future Travis to be amazing, Present Travis needs to get busy.  I certainly can’t rely on Past Travis…lazy jerk.  And since Present Travis needs to get busy, that means I need to get busy.

To quote Daniel Gilbert, “The things we do when we expect our lives to continue are naturally and properly different than the things we might do if we expected them to end abruptly…we do each of these things in the charitable service of the people we will soon become.”[1]

So what do you want your future self to be?  You better start acting on it now.  Just do it.  DO IT!  DOOOO IIITTTT!  Shia LaBeouf will beat you up if you don’t.

The key to being able to set yourself up for the future is self-control.  To be who you want to be, you need to change who you are.  If you can control your desires now, it will be a major boon to your future happiness and well-being.  No one flosses for the momentary joy of bloody gums and spitty fingers.  You do it (or should!) so that your future self can have healthy teeth.

On the flip side, no one wants to be a drunk, drug addict, of massively overweight in the future, but many people want alcohol, drugs, and waffles now.  You don’t want skin cancer, but you want to tan now.  No one wants to wants to be a murderer, but people want to be angry and take revenge now.  King David did not want to be an adulterer, but in the moment he did want someone else’s wife.

When we act based on our present impulses to the detriment of our future selves, we are neglecting self-control.  The Bible describes “self-control” in a number of ways.  It uses the words “self-control” (Galatians 5:23), Self-denial (Mark 8:34), crucifixion (Galatians 2:20), saying, “No” (Titus 2:12 NIV).  Each of these are ways that we control our present selves in order to be the people we want to become.  Or much more, the people God wants us to become.

Christians must exercise self-control, not only to be fit, smart, and wealthy in the future, but because it’s impossible to be the person God wants you to without it.  You will not be benevolent, sexually pure, with a tame tongue, positive attitude, and evangelistic fervor, without a lot of training and practice.  Training your present self in order to shape who you become is a great definition of self-control.

Want to protect your future self?  Take steps now to control your spending, eating, and spiritual well-being.  Practice disciplines like fasting, prayer, study, and meditation which help you master your mind and body.  Set your “Future Self” up for success by being the “Present Self” you wish your “Past Self” would have been.  Like walls that protect a city, self-control protects your future.

“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls”—Proverbs 25:28

[1] Gilbert, Daniel. Stumbling on Happiness. New York; Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

Confronting the Sinner

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Jesus gave up His life for the opportunity to forgive those who have wronged Him.  That’s pretty remarkable.  Our desire as followers of Christ should be to act like Him.  We should want to forgive, be kind, and speak well of those who harm, persecute, or hate us.  When someone has wronged you, Jesus gives a step by step process about how you should attempt reconciliation.

 “If your brother sins” (Matthew 18:15)—translations and manuscripts differ about whether the phrase “against you” should be added.  It is in verse 21, but might or might not belong in verse 15.  Either way, is the beginning point.  A sin is committed and you are either a witness to it, or negatively affected by it.

Notice also that it is a “sin” that is committed.  People can be irritating, thoughtless, and stupid on a pretty regular basis.  But this passage is not about some brother who takes your seat with the better cushion, eats the last pizza roll at the potluck, or forgets to invite you to a birthday party.  It is about someone who is actually in sin.

“Go and show him his fault in private” (Matthew 18:15)—the first thing one ought to do it have a private conversation with the one who is sinning.  This is probably the step we struggle with more than any other.  It is uncomfortable and difficult, but Jesus says it is step #1. Don’t go to the elders or the preacher if you are unwilling to go to the individual sinner first.  Don’t tell your friends, call your mother, blather away at work, or post it on Facebook if you can’t talk to the one who sinned.  Also, keep in mind that you are the one taking the initiative to produce reconciliation.  You are not waiting on him. If you won’t do this, then you have no right to take any further action.

Matthew has a lot to say about those who try to do things secretly, privately, or quietly.  Joseph, as a righteous man, was going to do every possible to put Mary away “secretly.”  He did not want to disgrace her name.  Disciples are supposed to practice their righteousness “in secret” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18, etc.), for God to see rather than for men to see.  As much as possible, whether practicing individual righteousness or correcting our brothers, we should try to go the most secret route possible.  Keep it between us and God.  We do not want to disgrace our brothers, even those who are caught up in sin!

“take one or two more with you” (Matthew 18:16)—if he doesn’t listen in your private conversation, bring one or two more people with you to serve as witnesses.  This does not mean witnesses to the sin, but witnesses to the conversation and rebuke.  If it were witnesses to the sin, you could only confront someone if they sinned in front of multiple people.  Then you would have to ask around and begin a witch hunt about who all knows about this sin. In doing so you will besmirch the name of the sinner, which these first two steps are designed to avoid!

This step helps confirm the details about what actually took place and hopefully serves as more incentive for the individual to repent.  If the brother will not admit the sin in front of the witnesses, then it is simply your word against his, and the matter should be dropped.  These witnesses serve as a way to “confirm” every fact.  If the facts are not confirmed, then the process must halt.

“tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17)—if he will not listen to you, and you have several witnesses that confirm what he did and that he will not repent, then you can bring the matter publicly to the church.  This is something of a last-ditch effort with the hopes that maybe a whole congregation can help bring this brother to his senses.  Maybe when he sees how many people love him, care for him, pray for him, and desire his repentance and salvation, maybe that will open his eyes.  Maybe it can change his heart.  Maybe a brother can be restored.

The goal of this step ought never to be to harm the name of a brother.  It should never be to get “justice” and embarrass someone who wronged you.  And certainly it should not be to get attention or praise as one who is unafraid to rebuke sin.  It should never be to build yourself up or to tear another down.  Like every single step Jesus has mentioned, the purpose is the well-being and restoration of a person who sinned.

“let him be as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17)—the final step in the process, after speaking privately, attempting a small group confrontation, and congregational involvement, is to treat him as an outsider.  That is the removal of fellowship.  This ought to only be done with weeping and tears.

“I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20)—This passage is a true comfort to an individual, small group, or congregation that has just gone through this troubling process.  After this process is over, God reminds his disciples that these proceedings on earth, are also happening in heaven (Matthew 18:18).  And that when you have those two or three witnesses, who have confirmed every fact, made requests of the Lord, and have gathered together to do what is right, God in with them and on their side.

Several reminders: 1. If you cannot talk to a person in private, you have zero right to take the matter public.  2.  If the witnesses cannot confirm all of the facts, then the matter should not be taken to the church. 3. Informing the church is not an attempt to harm an individual or earn a merit badge, but an effort to help restore one who is caught in sin.  4. The removal of fellowship is also designed to teach a valuable lesson, and to encourage the sinner to come back home.  5.  There is no limit to how many times a brother should be forgiven (Matthew 18:22). 6. The goal of this entire process should be to reconcile with a person who is drifting from God because you love and care about them.

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