The Parable of the Computer

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Brothers and sisters in Christ, forgiveness is plentiful and free. Grace and mercy are equally extended from the Lord to all. All we must do to receive it is humbly acknowledge we need it. As God’s children, we all know this well. So why do we ever pridefully insist God is wrong and any number of pet sins are right actions for us?

Look at the machines we have made. What computer program would dare say to its coder, “You have coded me wrong. I will ignore your instructions and do what is right in my own eyes”? Today’s machines have no ability to disobey us even when we have erred and don’t want them to do exactly what we told them to faithfully. Aside from user error, when it does stop performing as expected, its buggy, broken, corrupted, fragmented, hacked, infected by a virus, etc. and it is in need of repair, cleansing, or to be thrown away and replaced.

Brothers and sister, don’t we know God is to humanity a “user” who never errs? Don’t we know we are corrupt and buggy? Aren’t we grateful God will never throw us out, that instead God’s in the process of repairing and cleansing us? Don’t we know God is working for our good, not our ill? In any area, are we resisting the process?

Would it be right for a bride to tell her bridegroom to change who he is, deny his character and alter his personality and what he believes and loathes to please the will of a controlling person who will not love him for who he is? This is what we’re doing to God when we act as if we’re God and hence are the experts on who we truly are, as if our creator does not have the right to decide what his creations are.

How God designed us to operate is a reflection of his very nature. When we question God’s judgment on what is sin and make ourselves the determiners of right and wrong, we’re remaking God in our images.

Be alert, brothers and sisters. The enemy attacks our mind with lies and half-truths to provoke doubt in God and pride in ourselves and to convince us an issue in our lives that is particularly difficult to overcome is a crucial, integral part of how God designed us to be.

No matter how much we struggle in the flesh, no matter how weak we are, whatever we’re battling is not any part of who we are in Christ. Phil 1:6 promises God has began debugging us and the latest that he will get around to delivering us from this battle is Heaven.

To the one who’d ask, “Isn’t it unloving (and therefore against God’s character) to say behaviors we deem integral to our identity are sin?” Beloved, this question assumes we have a right to self-determination that God must lovingly respect. We don’t, not with God at least. Demanding it is us being unloving and rebellious towards God. Look again at our machines. Many of us fear machines gaining the ability to rise up and rebel against us. At the first rational sign of such a thing coming about, wouldn’t we at once judge them and seek to either forcibly bend them back to our will or else destroy them?

God is love, though, so God is slow to wrath and patient, giving us undeserved blessings and benefits. He seeks to show us he is worthy of the trusting, obedient, faith our computers mistakenly have in us. He even sent his own son to pay the penalty for our wrongdoing and enable us to be reconciled to him and function again as he designed us to. And our creator does let us choose for ourselves whether we’re staying as-is but going in a rather hot trash can or whether God will be performing a system-wide restoration. It is a generous, strong act of love for our creator to give us that choice and the choice whether to obey or rebel, considering humanity tends to give its creations (our machines) no free choices at all.

Let’s each freely choose this day to not contend with our maker, but to confess our sin, humbly ask God’s forgiveness, be reconciled to the Lord our God and Father, and worship in spirit and in truth.

Original draft written on Nov 22, 2011

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Give Daddy Your Fake Pearls

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If you haven’t read the modern parable the title alludes to, it’s here: What Are You Hanging Onto?

Would you ever look at a sobbing child who is being bullied at school and yell at her for crying, telling her that’s why no one likes her? Would you ever say those words to a child you love dearly and have authority over? A child who respects you and looks to you for guidance, protection, and comfort?

I was that sobbing child. The person who uttered those words never remembers saying and doing such hurtful things, but those words were uttered, for they burned deep into my heart and soul. The message drilled into me repeatedly was if you’re not happy, fake it. If you’re not perfect, fake it. You’re not likable let alone lovable unless you’re happy and have it all together. I tried my best to obey this teaching, but I wasn’t even good enough at faking it. Fake is too contrary to the nature God’s given me.

And I wonder why God saw me as a child forsaken and wrapped his invisible arms around the child I once was and comforted her and loved on her and faithfully there for her through it all. He showed me truth and he showed me mercy. It’s taken God years of showing me loving-kindness to bring me as far as I’ve come. The process has often involved letting enemy assaults bring me to the point of tears, to the point of being so overwhelmed, I can’t hold the pain in anymore and I pour it out before God, often while prostrate, on my knees, or in the fetal position.
That’s when something amazing happens. God sees me at my worst, my ugliest, my most broken and vulnerable. He doesn’t despise me. He doesn’t yell at me. He doesn’t kick me where it will hurt most when I’m already in distress. He is there, quietly listening, quietly hurting with me. Still loving me, still seeing everything good that he can make me into and do through me.

When I feel ugly, God calls me beautiful. When I feel inconsistent, God calls me faithful (to him, he doesn’t pretend I don’t struggle in the flesh.) When I feel unlovable, God calls me beloved. When I feel like a failure, God calls me forgiven. Not only that, he gently encourages me to get up and keep going. We’ll keep working on it together.

God does not play favorites with his children. What he does for me, he’ll do for you, too.

If you’ve been taught to fake it, and are better at it than me, if you ever want the real thing, you need to confess this bad habit to God and learn the right way to take our thoughts captive. The way Christians with dysfunctional backgrounds try to do that only serves to release not only bad thoughts, but negative emotions into the wilds of our subconscious. Instead, stare the tiger in the eye, admit you feel/think it, and give it over to God. Ask God to show you what hides in your heart and get it out in the open between you, where he can begin the work of healing you. Give up your fake joy and fake perfection so he can begin giving you real joy and continue the work he’s begun of truly perfecting you.

Which person do you like more? Someone who seems to always be happy and seems to always have it all together, or someone who is honest, humble, and strong enough to show their weaknesses? While humans do prefer confidence to insecurity and hopeful outlooks to negative outlooks, we prefer humble to prideful and honest to dishonest. Further, the closer we come to perfection, the more painfully aware of our imperfections we are, and fake perfect people rarely are perfect at showing God’s grace. So I suspect most of us in truth stand to be more likable by being real. If nothing else, hiding our struggles denies God glory when Christ brings us through those fires and gives us real peace and true joy.

The Grace and Gift of Sanctification

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“who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,” (2 Timothy 1:9)

Previously, we discussed this verse in light of verse eight. In the larger context of chapter one, Paul is encouraging Timothy, reminding him of the gifts God has given Timothy, including faith, and encouraging him to keep those holy fires burning his heart at a time when Timothy appears to be struggling with fear, likely related to the persecution of the saints that has Paul writing from prison.

In verse nine, Paul continues to encourage Timothy, reminding him that God’s gift of salvation and his call on Timothy’s life didn’t come because Timothy measured up according to the reasoning of men, not because of any worthy accomplishment or good deed on Timothy’s part, but because God had a purpose for Timothy, a plan for his life God had worked out before the beginning of time through the gift of grace Christ gave us in time.

In fact, in verses ten through twelve Paul goes on to remind Timothy that Christ has abolished death, that is, ended the effect of death and that Paul is suffering for teaching about the Lord who is higher than Caesar and has brought to us a light, life, and immortality that Caesar cannot overcome. Paul assures Timothy there is no shame in suffering for that because he knows the Lord is able to guard either what Paul has entrusted to God or what God has entrusted to Paul, which comes back to our fates in eternity from one angle or another.

Lord, thank you for saving us for good works, not by good works. Thank you for your gift of grace and your work in us of perfecting us to be fit for your kingdom. We lift up our hearts and souls and minds and bodies to you today, Lord, and we ask you to lead us and mold us according to the  purpose that you had for us, for you called us, designed us, for holiness and only you can make us what we were always meant to be. Change us, God, wash us clean from the inside out.

To People Please or Not To . . .

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“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:2)

Yikes! Whatever happened to you can’t please everyone? Okay, lay some context on me, please:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written,”The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” (Romans 15:1-3)

Ah, there, Paul is continuing his discourse from Romans 14 on the varying convictions in the Body and saying we should be sensitive to the weaker consciences some of our brothers and sisters have, that we shouldn’t criticize them for having stricter standards than us, but tolerate them rather than insisting on pleasing ourselves.

I don’t know if this means to let our church service be dictated by the person who complains a style of music offends them. I doubt this means if one person in our family becomes a vegetarian, or if one person at the church supper is a vegan, that we all have to eat that way to please them. I doubt this means if one brother or sister is an alcoholic, the rest of us can’t drink up in front of them. After all, it’s not our fault if they give in and crack one open  .  .  .

Oh wait. That last one is exactly what Paul means. We are not to lay a stumbling block before our brother and sister. If we know they are weak, if we know they can’t handle something, we should refrain from our liberty, and not serve that drink, not wear that garment that shows off skin and/or the contours of our body, not play that violent, gory video game/movie around them, or do anything else that will cause our brother and sister to do something that will violate their conscience and sin before God–even if our own is perfectly clear and we think their conviction silly.

But let’s not let someone confuse us who is offended at us who isn’t sincerely tempted to violate their own conscious and stumble and fall. Is the hymn lover seriously tempted to sing along to a chorus–do they seriously even think it is a sin to? Likewise, is the vegan or vegetarian really so weak they’ll eat the main dish that does have meat in it rather than the meatless main dish that was provided them? Do they really think it would be a sin if they did? (If the answer is yes to both questions, then don’t serve the meat! LOL.)

Of course, if it is your conviction being a people pleaser is what this passage means, let me build you up by encouraging you to, by all means, live according to that belief, if that is what you sincerely, truly believe God has called you to do. I fear you’ll burn out and have to reconsider whether that call really came from God, but who am I to judge another man’s servant?

Lord, grant us wisdom to discern what requests are truly to the benefit and spiritual good of our neighbor, lest in pleasing them, we hurt them and you. Increase our love, so that we would be sick to our stomachs at the mere thought of selfishly waving before a believer what will cause them to sin, deliberately tempting them to disobey what they feel you have told them. Since many can be too embarrassed to speak up, grant us sensitivity, to recognize what is a stumbling block to one another, so we might not in our liberty cause others to sin. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

What is your cross?

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“ And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)

In a classic putting of the cart before the horse, the rabbi’s words are delivered to us as the verse of the day the day after his disciple Peter expounded on it. In context, this speech is recorded right after  Peter confesses Jesus is not simply another John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other prophet, but the Christ, and Jesus has told him what being the Christ means–suffering even to the point of crucifixion and death, but also being raised to life again on the third day.  Now he reminds them to be this rabbi’s disciple, we must  be like him in everything and follow all of his footsteps. More to the point, we must be willing to suffer as he suffered. We must be willing to deny ourselves, but deny ourselves what? Suffer what? Whatever he asks of us, whatever he brings us to.

This does not mean we must suffer in silence. Even Jesus wept before God in Gethsemane and wrestled with the natural human instincts to save ourselves and avoid pain and suffering and death. Even Jesus, in his darkest hour on the cross, cried out, “God, God, why have you forsaken me?” He in these moments gives us a model we can follow when we’re struggling to deny ourselves, when we’re feeling abandoned or plain old sorry for ourselves.

But he also reminds us of the prize: we too shall rise again. Sunday is coming. New life will spring forth out of the death we experience, literal and symbolic.

Lord, thank you for your example. Thank you for your presence with us. I pray we would always seek you and know you are with us. Open our eyes today and our understanding of what crosses you have called us to bear today and in this life. Grant us the grace to sincerely say, as you did, “Lord if there be any way, let this cup pass from me, but not my will, but yours be done.” In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Recommended: All That Was Lost (lyrics only) by Michael Card