Friday, May 27, 2016

Taking The Steps

Once we began to see ourselves as eternal spirits housed within temporary flesh and we start to recognize some of the forces the flesh puts on us, we can began to make decisions that free us from the bondage it would put us in.

So many modern-day Christians--in an effort to make sure they stay true to the Reformation idea that we can do nothing to earn our salvation, which, from what I can discern, is a reaction to abuses related to buying and/or earning our salvation, and is another topic for another time--are scared of talking about "my part" in salvation. Lest any of my readers forget, I do believe God is ever working in me to accomplish His good will. I do not think I am out here on my own bringing myself to salvation. That's ridiculous and impossible.

But back to the forces we feel and the decisions we must make...

One of the first forces I recognized was related to my sense of worth. I would be interacting with people in one way or another and the thought would come to mind, "You are not as talented as she," or "You are not as smart, as pretty, as organized or as successful..." I would feel that sinking-heart feeling, that depressing sensation that I was less valuable.

What do we, as Christians walking after the spirit, do with thoughts like that?

Well, first of all, I immediately recognize that those thoughts are self-focused. They are not about focusing on the eternal welfare of others--a Christian concept we followers of Jesus want to have flowing from our hearts. When I speak of "self-focus," my mind immediately makes a connection with the flesh. The flesh, in its independence, has no thought for anything or anyone but itself.

So, I see those thoughts as the flesh putting its force on the real me. The real me, my eternal spirit--given over to the will of my Maker--wants to focus on others and their eternal good. I therefore ask myself, "What does my Maker say about my worth?"

Oh, what joy! He says I don't have to be the best pianist, the prettiest female, the smartest human, the most organized or successful. He says if I will just place myself in His hands, He will make of me something useful and beautiful.

So, I dismiss the thoughts of how I compare to others. I dwell on His view of me. It's powerful reality! It's "if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!"

That's how this understanding works in my moment-by-moment living. Once I embrace God's perspective and refuse to accept the flesh's viewpoint, I can then seek His approval, pray for wisdom as to how He wants to use me, and focus on the eternal welfare of others as I go about doing whatever I understand to be His will for me at the moment.

Does this mean that my flesh will never suggest that old depressing thought again? Of course not. However, the longer I live and the more I embrace God's perspective, the less those kinds of suggestions affect me negatively.

I pray this helps at least someone who reads!

Have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Walking After The Spirit

The Apostle Paul refers to "the spirit" and "the flesh" in several of his letters. I specifically refer (in this post) to his letters to the Galatians and to the believers in Rome. He admonishes them to walk after the spirit--which brings life and peace, rather than walk after the flesh--which brings death. (Romans 8:13)

For years, I saw "spirit" capitalized in my English version of the Bible, and I thought Paul was always referring to the Holy Spirit. I didn't realize that in the Greek, spirit is never capitalized. When I thought spirit always referred to the third person of the trinity, I was sometimes left with a cloudy understanding.

From what I presently understand, sometimes Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit when he uses the term spirit, but often he is referring to the forever aspect of us which is being made into the image of Jesus as we trust and "walk after" Him.

The flesh is that physical part of us which is dying. It is not evil, it is just independent and will go its own way, do its own thing, unless something is done about it. It gets hungry and says, "Give me something to eat." It gets lonely and says, "Somebody hold me." It gets bored and says, "Give me something fun to do." It sees something it likes to look at and says, "I want to see that." On and on its demands go. If we follow its demands, if we do not subject every one of its requests to the understanding Jesus has given us, and ask the question, "What is pleasing to Him?" we will follow the flesh to our own destruction.

At various stages in life, the flesh demands different things. Our children are subject to forces of the flesh that we sometimes forget we dealt with as youngsters. Depending on our gender, the desires vary somewhat.

As long as we live, we are trapped in this flesh; we have to deal with it. Paul gives us the Christian answer to our dilemma. "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus," he states, "have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Gal 5:24 NAS)

When our flesh puts a force on us to do something, to feel something, to think something, to gaze at something, we have the responsibility to prayerfully examine and crucify, in our own mind (or die to) what is not Christlike. We do not have to give the flesh what it wants.

Getting a better understanding of these two concepts has been life-changing for me, something to sink my teeth into! It's real and exciting, and it works! It's not spiritual-pie-in-the-sky, empty terminology, but it is a way of life that makes everything change for the better! It makes Jesus's teachings, as well instructions from the other New Testament writers come to life! Every situation, every thought, every word, every attitude, every deed must be examined in the light of this reality.

While we never escape feeling the forces of the flesh in this life, we can say with Paul, "I [will] die daily." And we can share in the promise that "if [we live] by the [s]pirit [we] are putting to death the deeds of the body, [and we] will live." (Rom 8:13 NAS)

Thanks be to God who has made a way for us to become His sons and daughters! Do I realize what that means?! If the Bible is true, and we really can become heirs of God, it's too amazing to fully comprehend, but I'm certainly going to keep pursuing the path!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Master’s Monday: Humility

 “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

I have had several opportunities to think about humility lately, both in more personal and in more “intellectual” contexts. I find the above quote so helpful for working through this concept, and I think it offers great insight into how we can best cultivate this Christ-honored virtue in our individual lives.

As soon as the topic of humility comes up in any conversation, one of the first questions that seems always to rise to the surface is that of “false humility,” namely, is humility really just self-deprecation, or as C. S. Lewis puts it, “pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools”? I think the answer to this question is a resounding “no,” not least because I believe the God who calls us to cultivate humility also values truth so highly that He identifies himself with it, as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

In fact, false humility (or self-depreciation, or whatever else you want to call it) is really just another form of pride in disguise—in sheep’s clothing, if you like. If pride is a too-great concern with one’s own worth in the eyes of others, it can take many different forms. On the one hand, arrogance can be seen as an overly inflated sense of one’s own worth, and an insistence on the recognition and the positive valuation that others can give. On the other hand, false humility is just as determined as is arrogance to pin one’s own worth on his or her accomplishments (or lack thereof) and to insist that others either agree with or try to pull one up out of his or her chosen, “lowly” status.

By contrast, true humility does away with all these artificial questions of worth. In the imitation of the One who placed such high value on every individual that He came to earth to offer each one the opportunity of eternal life, the humble Christian has no need to worry over precisely where he or she stands in the valuation of others. Another way of thinking about this is to say that true humility is, at its core, about the direction in which one’s mind’s eye is focused. We are not looking down upon others in order to raise ourselves. We are not looking down at ourselves in order to force others to lift us up. Rather, we are looking both outwards and upwards in love and trust, “not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.”

~ LaRae ~

Monday, May 9, 2016

Master’s Monday: James on Temptation vs. Sin

Picture from the Oxford University Facebook page

Sometimes I think Christians have a tendency to confuse temptation with sin. And I do mean myself included! However, I was just looking again at the first chapter of James today, and I was amazed at how explicit he is about the difference between the two.

Sticking closely to the Greek, James 1.13-15 goes as follows:

“Let no one, when he is tempted, say, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with bad things, and He Himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted by his own desire, being lured out and baited (by it). Then, when desire has clasped and been clasped, she gives birth to sin, and sin, when it has fully grown up, gives birth to death.”

If you notice, everything here starts with our desires—desires for food, health, love, security, status, satisfaction—the list could go on and on. James personifies desire, at first as a stealthy hunter who lures us out and dangles his bait before our eyes. Surprisingly, though, sin has not yet come into the picture. As insidious as desire appears, there is no sin attached to the experience of that desire per se. Desires are fundamentally untrustworthy, and clearly here can lead us into sin, but the experience of being baited by some desire or other is simply what James calls temptation.

The Apostle Paul tells us elsewhere that our response to these natural desires is what really matters to God: we are to make them dead to us, to “crucify” them, along with the various emotions that so often accompany them. Happily, as this image suggests, when we refuse to legitimate the power of these desires over us, they have a strong tendency to die away, or at least to diminish in their effects on us.

Returning to James, however, the final sentence shifts from the metaphor of a hunter into that of a seductress. Notice that it is when desire is embraced that she also grabs hold of the one who is clasping her, and that is the moment when sin is conceived (it’s a bit difficult in English to capture the graphic picture described in the Greek). Again, it is our response to temptation that James sees as the determining factor in whether we have fallen into sin. The experience of a natural desire or emotion is not sinful in itself, but rather, our immediate reaction to that experience. Do we allow our desires to draw us out, luring us with their bait; even more, do we reach out and take hold of that desire, simultaneously allowing it to clasp us to itself? This is the action that grieves the heart of God, the action that Jesus Himself—the sinless One, yet “tempted in every way”—never took.