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COVID-19: Faith in Uncertainty

…we acknowledge our uncertainty while holding onto faith in a brighter future..This isn’t foolishness or wishful thinking, but a rejuvenating source of power in the face of powerlessness. .

In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, news headlines and social media platforms have lit up the internet with many megabytes about what is now known as COVID-19. The World Health Organization and other medical authorities around the world have urged many governments to create sanctions that for many have changed the way we live at this time. Concerns over the spread of this disease and its risk to the immunocompromised are legitimate, no matter how they compare to other infections.

Legitimacy aside, I have heard of reactions of panic by some that sound like descriptions of pandemonium. What has resulted are shortages of commonplace grocery items hoarded by shoppers preparing for an undetermined lock-down, newfound paranoia that ordinary surfaces or passersby pose communicable threats, and a general fear that the virus is worse than has been reported. Still others, seemingly stoical, have gone about their lives unabated by these goings-on. Perhaps this is a guise to mask complacency. Perhaps not. While the majority of the population does its diligence to comply with new regulations to self-isolate and practice social distancing, simultaneously there exists so-called scientific expertise that opposes the necessity of these measures. Some in the medical science field seem to suggest these are of little use to combat or eliminate the virus’ hold on us.

Alas, the proverbial pendulum swings.

Floating on Winds of Uncertainty

At the very least, the major concern arises by the fact that we won’t truly know the full impact of COVID-19 until the wave of infection has ebbed. Certainly, if medical science cannot agree whether social distancing is the right approach, the general public has no way to know. We can only wait to see how far our efforts will go and for how long we must make them. We must wait in uncertainty.

However long this uncertainty, we can be certain of the impacts we are experiencing already. Businesses, unessential services, schools, community programming, religious institutions and international travel are all disrupted as social distancing has become high priority. There are projected ripples in the global market, including a recognized economical decline (with an anticipated further decline) while the broader workforce is at least slowed at this time. Government stimulus packages have been either dispensed or being prepared in order to alleviate the economical strain. Of course, this will impact the state of any nation’s deficit. Then there is the fear that hospitals will be overrun and will be met with shortages of medical equipment. Our feelings of uncertainty surrounding these effects only make any existing fears more grave, and imagined outcomes more bleak.
But life goes on each day while this virus spreads and hoards of people adjust their lives to accommodate a new normal. By this we have become agents of uncertainty, leaning on a hope that our old normal will soon be reinstated.

Uncertainty Yields Faith

B. C. Forbes, the founder of Forbes Magazine penned,

He who has faith has… an inward reservoir of courage, hope, confidence, calmness, and assuring trust that all will come out well – even though to the world it may appear to come out most badly.

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Forbes seems to agree here with Hebrews 11:1, which informs us that, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (New Revised Standard Version).

What this means is that faith is a product of hope in the face of uncertainty, a choice despite an apparent lack of evidence.

Of course, the human spirit in its fallen state is uncomfortable with this. We like to know what is ahead of us, especially in times when our well-being is at stake. But the fact remains that we just don’t know how temporary this new norm is or how permanent this coronavirus’ effects will be.

So, we can acknowledge our uncertainty while holding onto faith in a brighter future, not giving in to panic or disillusionment. Like the writer of Hebrews, we must be sure in what we hope for, though we don’t know for how long. This isn’t foolishness or wishful thinking, but a rejuvenating source of power in the face of powerlessness. Deaf-blind American author Helen Keller once said, “faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.” That light is the assurance that we have a Sovereign God that holds the world in place and has benevolent intentions in mind, though we cannot understand them.

The Old Testament Jeremiah wrote (NRSV),

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

Faith in a Certain God

Amid all the uncertainty that seems to fill today’s news feeds, those who put their trust in the God of the Bible know Him to be a God of certainty, “never at any uncertainty within himself.” Though people are often riddled with self-doubt, or of “two minds” about some things, God’s “thoughts are all working towards the expected end, which he will give in due time,” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Jeremiah).

Throughout the Bible, we are told that though there any many evils in this world, God’s will is to turn what is evil into good. We see this ultimately in the person of Jesus Christ and His Atoning works of salvation for humanity. Though the governing officials in Jesus’ time and region saw him as a threat and lawbreaker and sentenced him to a criminal’s death, Jesus submitted to these powers in order to fulfill God’s plan and become the sacrifice for our sins to bring us back into fellowship with Him (John 10:14-18).

In times of drought and famine, captivity, exile and suffering, persecution and disease, the Bible certainly tells us just how God’s plans yielded good in the face of evil. Although His people often doubted God’s plan for good during these times, as many do now in the face of this pandemic, those who remained faithful (“faith-full“) to God have the confidence that God certainly perceives all evils from an eternal perspective–knowing when they’ll begin and when they’ll end–and that God’s certain will is to bring about good. God never wavers from this will, otherwise He would be uncertain and therefore untrustworthy.

But God’s certainty and benevolence makes Him trustworthy in the face of a pandemic. God is the source of all power, all knowledge and all goodness for all time. In Him there is no fear because He is also the source of perfect love, and perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). In light of this, nothing in all human history can outweigh the security of those who put their faith in God. Certainly no pandemic.

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“Self-Absorbed” and Giving God Glory

For the Christian, the identity of Christ [must] overtake the identity of the sinner-turned-saint. This means a surrendering of my rights to hold onto my own perspectives of myself.

Just the other day I experienced ill feelings toward a coworker because of a supposed critique I heard he shared about me. It was a petty and truly unwarranted emotion to have against someone for something I only heard from someone else.

Nonetheless, my inward thoughts toward this person involved developing criticisms of his character and personality that I might use in my own defense. But more than that, these criticisms I was generating were rooted in the desire to hurt his ego, because really my ego was hurt. My own thoughts and ideas about myself were undermined and my natural response was to protect my ego, considering hurting his reputation in order to do so.

Continue reading ““Self-Absorbed” and Giving God Glory”

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Weighing the Cost Pt. 2: The Four S’s

Paul recounts the measure of commitment it takes to follow Christ with an authentic heart…[T]he authentic believer will weigh the cost of following Jesus.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “ For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (New International Version). Considering his long-term ministry, which included tortures, stonings, illness, starvation and imprisonment, among others (see 1 Thessalonians 1:21-17 for a list of sufferings he endured), this is a remarkable conviction to hold.

I think Paul was able to write this way because he understood 1) the impact of the Gospel in his life and 2) the measure of commitment it takes to follow Jesus with full devotion.

Unfortunately, the understanding that Paul displays, I think, escapes most who promote the Christian faith. For the most part, our devotion stops at our carnal natures. For some “would-be” Christians, pride in what they know (or think they know) about Christ, rather than esteem for Christ Himself blinds them from the Truth of the Gospel. Others ascribe to the notion of being a “good person”, considering this a mark of salvation.  Still others justify sinful living, excusing themselves because they hold to a Christian (or “Christian-esque”) worldview. Instead of coming to the Throne Room of Christ in humility, too often we take snippets of the Truth and cut and paste them how we see fit, reducing Jesus to a caricature, and discipleship to a formula.

Paul recounts the measure of commitment it takes to follow Christ with an authentic heart in Philippians 1. This cost is rarely communicated and more rarely accepted. Regardless, the authentic believer will weigh the cost of following Jesus and commit to the following:

Surrender

This is not something that our western world wants to believe. Quite the opposite actually. We are bombarded with messages about how we are due what is owed us or how we should hold to our individual rights. The problem arises when we hold to these values, and then confronted by Christ–who commands His disciples to deny our very lives to follow Him (see Luke 9:23-24)–we are required to surrender, to succumb.

Paul wrote in Romans 6:2-4 (NIV),

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

We must remember that Christianity is not about making Jesus our Lord and Saviour. It is acknowledging the Lordship of Christ over us and surrendering to His Will, and giving up rights to our own. Surrender is God’s call to the sinner, a call that Michael Beck states is “to those who are still fighting His rule.” Yet, the believer’s life is one that reflects surrender by “put[ting] up no residual battle once we have fully accepted the reality of the Holy Spirit’s control,” (P. C. Walker).

Submission

Where surrender is to succumb to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, submission is our allegiant response to it.

For many in our society, submission is a negative term, denoting some kind of tyrannical force is at play. Rather, to submit under Christ is to concede willfully to Him, while remaining free to rebel just the same. Submission is the call to the saint to obey even when logic, emotion or the empirical counteract.

In short, understanding submission as obedience when it doesn’t make sense can be summed up in one word thematic in Hebrews 11–“faith”. Faith to obey in the goodness of God is a choice that bears much fruit. For beginning believers, submitting in obedience will be harder than for those who have walked with the Lord for longer. This is because, as we become more familiar with the goodness and loving character of God, the experience we gain is something on which we can rely. Therefore, submitting under God’s rule becomes more natural.

Submission is a requisite of the surrendered life. For by submission, we are moving toward holiness and away from rebellion. It is functional faith–the doing of our belief in Christ as Lord.

Sacrifice

Once more, the words of Paul chime, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship,” (Romans 12:1, NIV).

The sacrifice is the most humble method of worship as it is the giving up of something valuable in order to give worth to something else. To worship anything is to proclaim its worth (worship worthship). This is certainly a call of the believer and it is certainly not without cost.

The authentic disciple will learn to live sacrificially, esteeming Jesus Christ above all, whether materials, relationships, beliefs, even principles. Living sacrificially does not necessitate that we forfeit such things.  However, we are called to value Christ to the point where we would forfeit materials, relationships, etc. in light of the worth Christ has in our lives (see Matthew 10:37-39). A simple way to know how much worth we ascribe to Christ is by evaluating our willingness to forfeit all other things we hold dear in exchange for Him.

Suffering

One thing, in my experience, that makes western Christians squirm is the biblical calling to suffer, as Paul continues in Philippians 1. He states, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,” (Philippians 1:29, NIV).

Suffering is to lay down our own well-being or self-interest in order to bring God glory.

A. W. Tozer once regarded sanctification (the process of becoming godly) as suffering:

In human experience [the self] is made of living spiritual tissue; it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole beings consist, and to touch it is to touch us where we feel pain. To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus, and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free.

Yes, the call to suffer for Christ involves the continuing pain of exposed sin and repentance. As the Holy Spirit convicts us, we must learn to relinquish those things that we have worshiped, loved and on which we have become dependent that take God’s place as Lord. These could be the things as mentioned above, but also the carnal patterns in our lives that God regards rebellion.

We are called to remove these things that have become normal in our lives. When they are removed abruptly, it is as unsettling as a sliver removed from under the skin. But this is the suffering that occurs when we are committed to godly living.

It is when we are responsive to suffer in this way that we can take on the suffering as stated in 1 Peter 4:1-2 (NIV):

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

Weighing the Cost

We as Christians must weigh the cost of our life under Christ’s rule by consider the 4 S’s: Surrender, Submission, Sacrifice and Suffering. For by weighing these things, others can truly know where our allegiance lies and will not wait for us to confirm nor deny our position with God. It will be clear by our lives that the Gospel has impacted us and that our response is to follow Jesus with full devotion.

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Weighing the Cost

In His mercy, Christ bids us to weigh the cost to follow Him. However, those who respond to the free gift of salvation are those to whom Christ beckons to consider how to respond.

Jesus challenges His disciples in Luke 14:25-34 to weigh the cost of following Him, making sure to warn them with an illustration in verses 28-33 (New International Version):

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

I have a sinking feeling that many so-called Christians in our culture take little consideration of the calling that is the Christian faith. In many ways, it seems, Western Christendom (is that still a thing?) is treated more like a worldview, perspective, or philosophy, than it is a devoted, long-suffering commission. (Reducing anything to a mere worldview nullifies any real significance it has, making it one of many “options” among the plethora of competitive frameworks. This is a grave mistreatment of the promise of salvation through Christ Jesus.)

Christ calls us to discipleship, a calling to lose anything and everything that stands in the way of our devotion to Him. Twentieth century german theologian and martyr, Diedrich Bonhoeffer, once wrote, “[t]he first Christ-suffering which [everyone] must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old [self] which is the result of [an] encounter with Christ,” (Diedrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, italics added). [Click here to read where else I use this quote.]

In His mercy, Christ bids us to weigh the cost to follow Him. This isn’t to say that we choose our salvation. Christ won salvation for all that are called by God. However, those who respond to the free gift of salvation are those to whom Christ beckons to consider how to respond. Those who respond in humility and lay down all else for the eternal gift of salvation commit to abandon earthly things (sin and anything that competes with God). These are chosen by the Heavenly Father and united in eternal fellowship with Him.

Christ is recorded in an earlier passage in Luke, speaking to this.

Luke 9:22-26 (NIV):

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

So what does it mean to forfeit one’s self? A common english definition of the passive verb “forfeit” is “to lose or to be deprived of something, (have something confiscated) out of consequence of wrongdoing.” So, Christ’s warning is to those who refuse to come under His Lordship and give up the things that claim allegiance in their own lives, in place of Him–the rightful claimant of their allegiance. These are the ones who shame themselves in the end and are rejected by Christ, as a consequence of rejecting Him.

However, the wellspring comes to those who, unlike the former, see the gain of surrendering to Jesus. I doubt this could be possible without them first truly understanding (and appreciating) salvation. This is of course is our undeserved redemption from sin and bondage, but also our inheritance into the Kingdom of God and position as His holy stewards on earth–set apart for His mission.

Those who realise the gravity of their sins and understand the impact of Christ’s grace over them are those who are not only capable to weigh the cost to follow Jesus, but acknowledge the worth in doing so. They, not unlike their counterparts, forfeit their lives as well, consequently. However, theirs is an active forfeiting–out of allegiance to Christ. A necessary consequence of honouring Him. They have concluded that the world is worth losing in light of gaining much more: the abundance of knowing Jesus Christ.

My prayer is that more in this world would come to grips with this and surrender what can only serve as a loss in the end. I know that I would rather suffer earthly death than to give up eternal life with the God who loves me and calls me His own. The weight of losing this marvelous gift is far more than I can bear.

 

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A Throwback and a Response

I have received affirmation time and again of God’s acceptance of me. This hasn’t come in some loud, thunderous way, but in subtle, gentle ways, deep in my soul.

Today, I was reminded of a past blog post of mine. So, I thought I might post an edited copy of it here and then respond to it. You can read the original post here, but I have included it below:


Over the duration of my life, I have dealt with a silent belief about myself that I have only recently decided to share with others. Part of the purpose of this blog is to come clean about it. My silent belief is this: I often feel that I am exempt of redemption and grace.

This is interesting, as I have thrived to convey the message of Christ’s Gospel. But I admit that I don’t think I have completely believed that the story of Christ’s love applies to me. This isn’t to say that I reject the Gospel, let me be clear. I guess it’s more like I haven’t felt as if I have been included in this promise despite being a proponent of the Christian faith.

It burdens me to know that there is a barrier in the way somewhere deep in my soul that prevents me from growing in the faith as I would like to. Of course this barrier comes in the form of the belief that I am unredeemable. It cripples me from advancing in my discipleship in the LORD and it can keep me in sins I wish to conquer, like sexual lust, pride and criticalness. So, with this insecurity comes the recurring failures to crawl out of the pit of mire (see Psalm 40).

Having thought about what has influenced this notion, I can’t help but recollect the experiences I had growing up. It seemed as though my personality never seemed acceptable by my peers. I could make friends from the start, but they never lasted and by the time I finished Gr. 8, I really had no friends at all. In fact, when new kids joined, they were influenced by those in the student body not to “like” me or befriend me because I suppose it was the collective belief that it was “uncool” to do so.  One’s reputation depended on deliberately not being my friend or appreciating me. Unfortunately, due to this experience, I still deal with these echoes of unacceptance.

In the context of my primary and middle school years, not many bothered to understand me or to find out what mattered to me; this included some of the teachers. To me it seems as if they merely judged me and wrote me off as annoying, even if they didn’t know that that’s what they were doing at the time. Now, let me be clear that I hold no disdain or resentment toward any of my middle school peers. In fact, after our years schooling together and having entered adulthood, I have seen some of those relationships strengthen and I really look to the lot of them fondly. None of those peers were tyrants in anyway. They just didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t understand the ramifications of their actions.

Nonetheless, I live and breathe today with the feeling that I am not quite accepted. This feeling followed me into highschool, where it manifested itself in the way I related to those peers. The same feeling followed me and manifested its way into my experiences in college as well. It seems as though few tried to dig beneath the skin of who I am, but merely acknowledged my social quirks as displeasant and moved on as if that was all there was about me. Sadly, this was all within the Christian context. If Christians couldn’t accept me, how could I be sure Christ would? I now feel as if this was an undergirding issue for me all along, and now it’s come to light.


My first impression of these words is that I must have been in a negative headspace during their composition. A second impression is I can still relate to the struggle of feeling accepted by God, but I have grown in my experience of God’s love for me as I have exercised communion with Him. I have received affirmation time and again of God’s acceptance of me. This hasn’t come in some loud, thunderous way, but in subtle, gentle ways, deep in my soul.

That last part being said, I have to say, though the exercise of communing with God is a discipline of the believer, my resultant growth is a product of God’s fellow communing with me. I cannot take the credit for ongoing change in me. I cannot say that I have truly done anything to influence this change, if I look back.

All I can do is reflect on where I was and where I am and give God the credit for the difference.

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Imperfect Me

To be imperfect is to be unfinished in time, like a photograph is a captured moment in the past. Any past progressive action captured in that image remains incomplete….This means I am still flawed, defective and incomplete, but am on the road to completeness.

A simple realization with which I have had to grapple is the fact I am imperfect. Of course, the notion of one being “imperfect” logically implies the existence of the “Perfect,” against which the “imperfect” is compared. Considering a common understand that no one is without their flaws, a contradicting belief within postmodern thought is that one can be good while maintaining he or she falls short of perfection. My experience has been that this contradiction arises when so-called “good” persons are confronted with their own shortcomings. My intention is not to dialogue on the goodness (or lack thereof) of humanity. I only digress to transition to the position I am taking on the imperfect believer’s soul.

There are two ways to understand imperfect.

Understanding 1: English adjective, meaning  “to be flawed, defective or incomplete.”

Understanding 2: Grammatical past-continuous tense, denoting a past action that was stopped or interrupted while in progress.

For the purpose of this post, I am taking some liberties with these two understandings. Not to say that the adjectival understanding isn’t adequate, it is just that its grammatical understanding is also useful to convey my thoughts here.

To be imperfect is to be unfinished in time, like a photograph is a captured moment in the past. Any past progressive action captured in that image remains incomplete. However, the moment of captured incompleteness may not be as incomplete as moments before. This is due to the progress toward completion, during which the moment was captured. The past may be incomplete in time, but it was on its way to completion, and so remains imperfect.

Thus is the believer’s soul.

Philippians 1:6 says,

I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (New Living Translation).

This is to say that no faithful believer on this side of Heaven is perfect, but remains in a constant state of progression toward perfection. Another way to understand this, perhaps, is that a faithful believer remains in constant progression toward the Perfect. Once more, allow me to direct toward the contrast between what is imperfect versus what is perfect. For there to be imperfection, there needs to be an ultimate perfection against which to compare, or progress toward.

Christians understand perfection as being fully in God’s presence, or to be fully transformed to His character. Likewise, the Perfect is Christ Himself, whom is referenced in Philippians 1. Therefore, any snapshot of my life (and the life of all faithful believers) between now and the time of Christ’s return is a capture of imperfection: being made complete, but not having reached completeness.

This means I am still flawed, defective and incomplete, but am on the road to completeness. Regardless of the criticism I may receive from others in the area of my deficiencies, I must hold to this view of myself. Likewise, I must recall that any progression toward perfection that I reach has nothing to do with my own efforts. Paul’s proclamation in Philippians 1:6 echos the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
    We are the clay, and you are the potter.
    We all are formed by your hand. (Isaiah 64:8, New Living Translation).

Because of God’s great love for me, He is forming me by His hands, for His purpose, just as a potter forms clay for one’s own purposes (see also Ephesians 2:10). Indeed, am incomplete, but I am in the process of being complete by the Master Potter, who is both Perfect and Good. He has a plan for my life and as long as I submit to His work, His molding, His shaping, I may be formed into the likeness He deems necessary.

Yes, I am imperfect! This is the most blessed status to be. So, I rejoice in the knowledge that the Perfect One is still not finished shaping me. Therefore, I will go on with great hope and great joy, calling myself “Imperfect Me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isaiah 64:8, “And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
    We are the clay, and you are the potter.
    We all are formed by your hand.” NLT

 

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I doubt it!

Doubt isn’t the same thing as unbelief, just as faith isn’t the same thing as certainty.

My personal faith journey can be likened to driving in a strange place, relying only on signage and direction. I have no idea where I’m going. There is no certainty that I will make it to my destination. I only have to believe that the directions I have been given are reliable, trustworthy and that I have been following them accordingly and faithfully. I can recount several times in my life, while actually driving, when I failed to keep my attention to directions or second guessed that I had and thereby doubted that I was heading in the right direction.

Christian faith is often like that.

Continue reading “I doubt it!”

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Throwing in the Towel

I want to learn to let go of the things I typically want to call out on people unfairly. I want to “throw in the towel” so-to-speak and submit to Christ. I need to surrender to the fact that I do not hold righteous status apart from God and need to allow His Word to impress upon me.

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Photo credit to David Cohen, on unsplash.com

The thought occurred to me today, how often I must be projecting my own judgments on other people, and believing them to be justified. This habit, while unchecked, is in stark contrast to the emotions I have when others judge me unfairly. Yet, I habitually tend to practice freely the act of judging others in the same fashion.

The feelings I have when I understand people judging me unfairly are usually ones of hurt, anger, and regret, or any combination of the three. In receiving what I perceive as unjustified criticism, my common response is to defend myself, and not always well, nor gently. These responses often are impulsive, lacking reflection on what the criticism is addressing. Only later do I often come to reflect on the points of critique and try to determine whether they were justified or not. I have had to accept true, constructive criticism for what it is. Though, it is more likely that unfair judgments toward my character are fewer than I realise, I also know that my ironic tendencies to judge others the same way only place me in the same hot seat in which I place them.

I understand the words of Jesus Christ in Luke 6:41-42 (New Living Translation):

And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Jesus also says in Luke 7:23-35 (NLT):

For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.

So, what are these Scriptures saying?

I believe Christ’s words tell us that judgments can be placed unfairly, in two ways: if the one doing the criticism is practicing the same things, and if a judgment is not based on verifiable facts (a.k.a., a perceived “fault”).

I want to learn to let go of the things I typically want to call out on people unfairly. I want to “throw in the towel” so-to-speak and submit to Christ. I need to surrender to the fact that I do not hold righteous status apart from God and need to allow His Word to impress upon me. This means a few of things:


  1. Know what I’m claiming is legitimate

There are many times that I could count when I convinced myself of someone’s shortcomings, when I didn’t even know them or know their situation. There have also been times when my confidence in what I thought of a person was completely shattered when I was made aware of the exact opposite.

I should be asking things like: Is their behaviour, demeanour, or lifestyle based on some sin or carnal nature, factually? If one is abrasive or authoritative in nature, is it necessary to think he or she is trying to pull rank on someone else? If I perceive a person of legal age to be childish based on their behaviour and what I generally consider to be “childish,” does that necessarily mean that the individual is functioning at an underdeveloped level, in general? What if the given behaviours stem from some sort of emotional or psychological depth to which I am not privy. What right do I have to claim I know someone’s character when I don’t know them outside of a given environment or circumstance?

I really ought to abandon whatever possible misperceptions I may have of someone and look passed initial impressions to gain more acquaintance with my neighbour. This takes honesty, modesty and integrity. It also involves looking at others as persons under the same divine judgment as I am.

2. Reflect on my own brokenness

Recognising that I am under the same judgment as anyone I encounter should help me honour those around me. This is because of my brokenness. My brokenness is my innate inclination to rebel against God. Apart from the grace showered over me by Christ, I would be in the same state as those outside of grace, destined for an eternal separation from Him in a chasm of punishment. Therefore, I must remain humble, knowing that it is only because of Christ that I am in right standing with God.

Even though I am saved for eternal glory and sealed as a child of God (see 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Ephesians 1:13-14), I still struggle with my inclination to sin. I must recognise where I am susceptible to sin in similar ways as others I encounter and must suspend judgment against them. It is only until I have broken free from certain patterns through fellowship with the the Holy Spirit, submitting to His work in my life, that I am free to bring correction to another.

This ties into what I perceive as sinful or flawed behaviour in another person. I must ask if there is anything in me that allows for the same perceived behaviour or attitude. I must be introspective first before I act on my perspective of someone else.


The bottom line to all this, I think, is that the Christian mandate is that love shall undergird judgment.

In love, I must forego any rights I feel I may have to assume I am right about any judgments I make about another person. I need to first verify that my perspective is accurate and then come with an open heart to the person, prayerfully asking for God’s guidance in how to direct them away from a destructive pattern and unto Christ.

When coming with an open heart, I must remain open to the fact that I am just as broken as the other person and without the grace of Christ, in the same standing. This should preserve in me a hope that there is a renewable mercy afresh each morning (see Lamentations 3:22-23) and I can afford to come to the person with introspection, offering to come alongside them as someone else who is broken.

Even if the other person is unreceptive to all this, at least Christ was honoured and that is worth so much.

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A Passion for a Passion

LatelyLately I have been thinking about my passions a lot. Most recently, during a recent visit to Southern Ontario visiting my in-laws,  I had the opportunity to meet with a national organisation with whom I am associated. This organisation is predominantly involved in publishing news media and articles targeting the worldwide Church. I met up with the chief editor who affirmed my literary talent and encouraged me to hone them in the form of writing for print.

Lately, I have been thinking about my passions a lot. Most recently, during a trip to Southern Ontario to visit my in-laws, I had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of a national organisation with whom I am associated. This organisation predominantly publishes news media about the global church. While there, I met with their chief editor who encouraged me to pursue one of my long standing passions: writing.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who comes across this blog that I don’t post a lot. In my past blog, I had mentioned this at least once as well.  The fact is I haven’t put a lot of effort into pursuing this passion of writing and I hope as the new year approaches I can turn a new leaf.

That being said, I want to be sure to use my passions (my core interests, not carnal inclinations) to serve God’s kingdom, including writing. In my life experience, I have come to realise no better purpose to living than to serve God and His passions.

1 Peter 4:10-11 (New International Version) tells us,

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

I believe God’s passions are for each person He created to know and to love Him. This we see from the Good News presented in the New Testament, whose pages point to our passionate God. We see that God’s pursuit of humanity was ultimately demonstrated on Calvary’s cross, when Jesus Christ took the punishment of our sins upon himself, releasing from guilt those who would put their faith in Him (John 3:16-18; Colossians 2:9-14).

The passionate, merciful love of God should be reciprocated through the service of those saved by Him. The avenue I believe I can best serve God is through writing, which has never been so unhampered before, with the internet so broad-stream and interactive. This blog is the best way I know to give God glory, while providing a platform for others to engage on the topic of God, faith, or spirituality–in a respectful manner.

The purpose of this blog, for me, is to stand for that which I believe brings Life, regardless of opposing values or worldviews. This, all in hopes to bring others into a closer understanding of the Living God I pursue.

So, I want my passion for writing to reflect the passion God has for His people. After all, the gifts, talents and interests I possess only pale in comparison to the heart of God and His pursuit of those who bear His image.

Truly, to Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

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The Measure of a Martyr: Stephen’s Witness and What It Means for Us

We can find ourselves with those sentenced to death or imprisonment, as we discover the immeasurable value of knowing Christ. We may walk in the footsteps of Stephen and echo the voices of our brothers and sisters the world over by contemplating the degree of commitment to Christ we take daily.

Jesus tells his disciples in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (NIV). But, when replacing the word witnesses with its original Greek word, we understand Christ saying, “…and you will be my µάρτυρες (mȃr-tū-rȇs)…to the ends of the earth.” This Greek word can be understood simply as meaning “Martyrs”.

The sincere disciple ought to face a challenge with this understanding, as it suggests a deeper commitment to following Christ: to be a martyr is to witness to the testimony of Jesus Christ first-hand, even under threat of suffering or death.

While our North American experiences have often watered down the call to martyrdom—as Jesus laid before us—we get a picture of martyrdom as it was first recorded in the story of Stephen in Acts 6:8-7:60.

Within Stephen’s record, we see the measure of commitment required of the Christian to glorify God in three characteristics.

Continue reading “The Measure of a Martyr: Stephen’s Witness and What It Means for Us”

Ordinarily Broken

[I]n the face of offensive people….I have the responsibility…to make allowances for the faults of others…In an emotionally charged [culture] this seems very alien, but an authentic Christian becomes more and more alien to the world as he or she continues to walk in step with Jesus Christ.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if everyone around you thought, acted and believed the way that you would like them to?  Wouldn’t it be a perfect world if everyone would align with how you feel and saw the world exactly the way you do? Wouldn’t it be great if no one could act in a way or say anything that offended you?

The answer to these questions for me is a resounding “yes” and has been for the duration of my life. For those who have read one of my previous posts, you will know that while I was growing up, I found many challenges fitting in with my peers and I was made fun of a lot. This has left me socially underdeveloped and emotionally unstable at times. To some degree, I am neurotic.

Why am I writing about this? Because the other day I was once again reminded how frail my sensibilities are.

Frail Feelings

In my very first post on this blog, I explain why I consider myself a broken saint and how I believe that God is transforming me into what He desires. He is making me into a new creation and transforming me into His likeness (2 Corinthians 5:17, 2 Corinthians 3:18), as long as I continue putting my hope in Him.

Nonetheless, I still struggle with frailty. I still feel insecure. I still doubt God’s care for me and easily get offended by others. Doubt is a big part of growing spiritually and in our understanding of who God is and how He interacts with the world. Certainly it is legitimate to be offended by others at times, especially when those others do or say things that are unwarranted or intentionally hurtful.

However, many times my offenses, doubts and insecurities are unreasonable, stemming from my neurotic traits. As I grow older, I am understanding more and more just how often my interpretations of my experiences are exactly that: MY INTERPRETATIONS. This means that too often I come to conclude things based on preconceived ideas, understandings or emotions. Times like these require that I stop and gain perspective, rather than take an experience at face value.

Recognizing My Own Brokenness

daniel-tafjord-9p7nBsrcCt0-unsplash

A necessary perspective is to internalize my outward struggles with other people. I must be mature enough not to place blame solely on my offender. On the same token, it is not necessary to place 100 percent of the blame on myself either. There’s a balance. That balance starts at looking at each situation with an open mind and an honest heart, being courageous enough to own my faults and firm enough to resist any more than my responsibility.

One of the marks of an authentic Jesus follower is being in touch with one’s own brokenness. Too often, believers forget that our salvation doesn’t end at our accepting the Lordship of Christ. No, our salvation is ongoing as we walk with the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:18). At no point on this side of heaven is any Christian made complete or perfect. It would be irresponsible and a sign of immaturity if I objected to this truth. I need to recognize my own brokenness too.

When times come up when I feel irritated or offended by someone, instead of justifying myself and plastering all sorts of labels on the next person in my mind, I need to be mature enough to examine myself. Better yet, I should come to God and ask Him to reveal to me the things in my heart that are offensive.

King David did just that when he penned Psalm 139:23-24 (New Living Translation),

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

This involves, at the least, a belief in a God who intimately cares for me and, at the most, the willingness to let Him into my life. When I come to God in this matter, He will be faithful to answer. Whether it be gentle or more abrupt, I must remember that His will is always to bring me blessing. He reminds me that His work isn’t complete in me yet (Philippians 1:6). So, naturally I still have failings and imperfections that are expressed in the excuses I make for myself, my need for acclaim or to vindicate myself, and my expectations that others should fit my standards or ideals (realization: I probably don’t fit theirs 100 percent either).

Dealing with broken people

As stated earlier, there are times that there is some legitimacy to be offended. However, a mature mind recognizes that most people to some degree are insecure about something about themselves, and probably for reasons in their past.

As we navigate through life, each of us will encounter ordinary people with ordinary faults. I believe that part of our calling as Christians is learning how to navigate situations when we are offended by ordinary broken people. Apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:12-14 (New Living Translation),

 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 

Another thing we as Christians often live under is the illusion that our Life in Christ is purely a benefit to ourselves individually. We can get caught up in the mentality that our faith is meant just to be a private set of beliefs–a worldview. This runs contrary to what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that we are Christ’s ambassadors, serving on His behalf (more on this later).

jen-theodore-VHRACMD6KL0-unsplashSo in the face of offensive people, as a Christian I have the responsibility (Paul uses the word “must” here) to make allowances for the faults of others. This means laying my emotions and sensitivities down and taking up unnatural habits of mercy, gentleness, kindness and patience. In an emotionally charged “me culture,” this seems very alien, but an authentic Christian becomes more and more alien to the world as he or she continues to walk in step with Jesus Christ.

God loves broken people

I mentioned two typical Christian habits earlier in this post. One is the belief that our salvation stops at our coming to believe in Christ and the other is that our salvation is strictly about our own personal benefit, namely going to Heaven. Sadly, these are too narrow in scope of the entire work of Salvation. Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5: 14b-21 (NLT),

Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Forgiving as Christ Forgave Me

A powerful understanding of salvation is that God brought believers back to Himself through Christ and are expected by God to do something about it. This task is to reconcile others back to God by the spreading of the Gospel by word and by deed.

Paul’s words in Colossians and 2 Corinthians support each other. As a forgiven believer whose sins are no longer counted against me, I am Christ’s ambassador reconciling the world back to God in the appeal I make on His behalf. My words of God’s reconciliation must be accompanied by a life of reconciliation toward others. I must forgive as Christ forgave me by not counting others’ sins against me, but affording others their faults and relinquishing them of their guilt when offending me. In this way I am blessing them instead of charging them.

I become just another ordinary broken saint among a world of ordinary broken people meant for perfection.

Blame Goes Up and Credit Goes Down | Helping Churches Make Vision Real

Though I haven’t written on my own in a number of months, I thought I might share these inklings.

Give a read, maybe.

http://www.paulalexanderblog.com/leadership/blame-goes-up-and-credit-goes-down/#.XZTFJRivCyU