Perspective

Perspective is a hell of a thing.

What we may perceive as small is actually an illusion created by our relative position to the object. This kind of illusion applies to many places in life, not just visually. Sometimes when we are distant from a person we tend to underestimate the big affairs going on in his or her life.

Sure, we may see the problems, clearly even. But because of our distance from the situation we may interpret what we see as a small issue. We may even think “we could handle that, why don’t they seem able to?”

But we don’t see how big the problem truly is to the person standing right under its power.

The only way to truly see how big the troubles are in someone’s life is to get closer to them. Spend time with them, talk to them, maybe share some of your big struggles with them to encourage them to bring up theirs.

Remind them that with time and distance problems always seem to shrink. What seemed big last week is now a tiny speck on the horizon of memory.

Of course this also should remind us all that what appears to be a little problem way out there in the future may end up quite large by the time we confront it. Small problems grow to big ones if not taken care of.

Don’t let your perceptions fool you. “Small” is not always small.

Thankfully “big” isn’t always big either.

Is It Wrong To Want Things?

Sometimes you just have to scrap an entire blog. My original title for this was “Happiness As a Goal”. But I’ve renamed it and rewritten it. And then rewrote it again. And then renamed it again.

So here it is, after a ton of editing:

I have struggled with the concept of wants and needs for a while. God gives us everything we need, so everything we don’t have we don’t need, right? And if God doesn’t give it to us and we don’t need it, it’s sinful to want it, right?

For a long time I felt that contentment meant being completely satisfied with what you have. This means that any desire for something one doesn’t have is discontentment and therefore sinful.

This was my train of thought: It is a sin to be discontent, to be content means you don’t want anything, you are satisfied with what you have. Therefore to want is to be discontent, therefore to want is to sin. Furthermore, God gives us everything we need, if we don’t have it we don’t need it. If we don’t need it we just want it, and wanting anything is a sin.

From the last three paragraphs you can see why my life has become kind of messy. I have shoved down a lot of desires and drives mistaking them for sin. This has made me a bit of a limp noodle. If wants and desires are inherently sinful what’s the point of trying? After all, you’re going to get what you need.

But then I realized that the Bible clearly talks about wants.

“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James 4:2b-3

James does not condemn his audience for asking for things.

In 1 John we read this:
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

One only asks for things if one wants something. Since asking is not condemned, wanting is not condemned. I was wrong to think merely having wants was sinful. God clearly wants us to want things that are in accordance with His will and to ask Him for them. Asking is encouraged, and we are to do it with confidence.

Ultimately I don’t have to feel shame or guilt for wanting things (or experiences, or good feelings). But I do have to ask the question “is this in accordance with God’s will?”

Probably the easiest way to determine this is to ask the questions “Do I want this purely for selfish gain? Does my desire ultimately serve others and/or bring glory to God?” If the answer to the first is no and the answer to the second is yes then I am free to ask and to pursue what I want.

This whole train of thought has further implications, obviously. This is me after all. I can’t keep anything too simple. Keep checking back and I will try to further expound on these thoughts in other posts as I get to them.

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Killing Ourselves

“Except for rare, cult-related occasions, suicide is something done in private, outside of community, outside of immediate counsel… aside from rare situations, suicide is something that causes the actor to feel shame, regret, and sometimes anger, and to express hopelessness or helplessness.”

About a week ago, a pastor known for speaking about mental health issues committed suicide the very day he led a funeral for another suicide victim.

Of course my Facebook lit up with all sorts of polls and opinions about this topic. The quote above struck me pretty hard.

He went on to say:

“The body of Christ has to redefine what it means to live in community. My personal opinion is that community needs to be invasive. We don’t meet in homes anymore. Most protestant denominations don’t follow the example of post-reformation parish priests who spent all their daylight hours visiting everyone. The task could take weeks, and when everyone had been visited, he started over. Instead, we have church life and home life playing “hide and go seek” until someone gets volunteered for home group host…. we now face mental illnesses that could not have thrived 100 years ago, perhaps even 50 years ago. That calls for a newer, more intense level of care from the entire church community, and it calls for more genuine and invasive fellowship that cuts shame, regret, and anger off at the ankles.”

This comment got me thinking about the time I admitted having suicidal thoughts to my pastor. There wasn’t a lot of investigation into why I had these thoughts. It was just “you know you shouldn’t.” While it felt good to have someone to tell, and it slightly lessened the feelings, the thoughts never fully went away. The underlying problems were not taken care of.

There was no invasive fellowship. There were no investigations into underlying sin issues or other triggers in my life. Just an attitude of “let’s pray about it. Keep in touch.”

Community is something that I strongly long for. I believe part of the reason it is so hard to consider my home of twelve years to be “home” is that it has been difficult to find real community. Sure, it’s fairly easy to find acquaintances in such a large city. But real friends? People who will be that invasive into your life?

Pastors don’t make circuits anymore. Neither do elders or deacons for that matter. How many lay people do you have in your home any given week or month? Who do you know well enough to share your deepest darkest fears and shames?

That is the troubling thing. Suicide occurs alone, in the dark. It is an act of shame. And rightfully so, it is a tremendous act of selfishness. The times when I felt most alone in this world (and when I was behaving the most selfishly otherwise) were the times the temptation was strongest.

But reaching out is hard. Largely because it seems that no one wants to hear about your struggles. But also because it is shameful to be attacked by such temptations. Many Christians who have never experienced mental illness will just chalk it up to “not enough faith”. Or they will be like Job’s friend and assume your struggles are because of some unrepented sin in your life.

That is why we need people who know us. Really know us. People who aren’t afraid to point out sin but are also slow to blame every trouble of life on it. We need friends who will hear the good and the bad and offer love and care in both.

We are supposed to bear one another’s burdens. We are supposed to confess our sins to one another. How can we accomplish that without community? How can we accomplish that without seeing each other more than once a week, and in a more intimate environment than a large gathering?

I have yet to figure out this community thing, but at least I know what’s lacking now.

Diversions

Ooo, shiny!

We live in an insatiablely intolerable world at times. Life is a messy, dirty, steaming pile of excrement some days. There is no escaping the to-do lists and the schedules and the ever growing piles of bills. It almost makes me jealous of the people of old who lived short miserable lives. At least they were short…

I’ve never been able to drown out my worries with diversions. I hear of people escaping their troubles and woes with movies, music, video games, or even alcohol. Perhaps I’m just not a focused enough person to forget my cares and immerse myself in numbness or fantasy? I can only be so distracted before my mind wanders back to the struggle of the day.

Painting, writing, playing Pokémon GO with my kids and wife. I enjoy these. But none provide any forgetfulness. Stress is always right there making it hard to find forgiveness for not accomplishing everything on that to-do list. “Why are you taking a break when you should be doing this?!”

Will it ever change? Maybe. Maybe one day my cares will be few enough to drown out with frivolity, at least for fleeting moments. Until then I’ll just continue distracting myself half-heartedly.

Lies, Pernicious Lies

Lies are ugly. Lies are literally everywhere around and in us. Our own hearts are deceitful. The world feeds us half truths and outright fabrications all day long. It gets so thick that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish falsehoods from reality.

I was saddened to hear about the death of Rachel Held Evans. I disagreed with her on so much, and her style was highly grating to me. But every death is a sad event, and every death should give us pause. I saw people celebrating, calling her a heretic, saying she spread lies and her young death is a judgment of God. Perhaps she did say some false things and promote some outright sinful things, perhaps she wasn’t the most orthodox of Christians, but how many of us are free of lies?

I don’t know the state of her soul. I do know she has now met the God whom she wrestled with for so long in her short time here on Earth. I hope that meeting was a good one. I know her glaring errors, but who would make it to Glory if we had to have perfect doctrine? Who would be saved if we had to know perfectly every jot and tittle of the Scriptures and exactly what each meant?

She led a lot of people astray, and I hope she repented of that before meeting her maker. But she did claim the name of Christ, there is reason to hold out hope for her eternal soul.

There are loads of false Gospels out there, and many false laws as well. The pitfalls of man’s depravity are too numerous to count. But can unorthodoxy on secondary and tertiary matters be elevated to heresy status?

If we believe in Christ crucified, buried, and risen, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness on the elect then we are not believing a false Gospel.

However, if we add to it extra commands and laws and expectations of perfect sinlessness on the part of the elect, we are believing a false gospel. Modern day Judiazers are everywhere. Christians should be careful to avoid them and avoid becoming them.

I don’t know if I can judge the state of anyone’s soul based purely on how well they hold to certain laws or matters of conscience. I do know that if perfect knowledge and adherence to the Law was the only way to Heaven, I would be damned indeed.

I am grateful for a Savior who is patient and forgiving.

Cautious Optimist

Fortunes change for better or worse, sometimes changing as frequently as the wind. One never knows what tomorrow will bring. Recently we have been under a bit of a shake-up, a stressful change in fortune which leaves the stomach in knots and the eyelids droopy from lost sleep.

But it’s turning out. Slowly….

All the anxiety is turning into fruitful action. We are doing, instead of just talking. We are stepping up instead of just teetering on worried legs.

We are moving ahead.

Even though the thought of change is a terrifying thing to a comfort lover like me, I’m excited to see what this next chapter brings. I’m cautiously optimistic that our decisions, as unconventional as they may be, will turn out for our benefit.

Keep reading, I’m hoping these next few months will be an explosion of new growth and material.

Check, Arminians

As I mentioned the other day, Calvinism is one of the managery of topics that has been pinballing around my head the past few days or so. This is probably the shortest stream of thought, so it’s going to be the first topic I cover.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with a lot of theology this will probably not make much sense, I’m writing to an audience that I assume knows the subject matter. If that isn’t the case I would recommend you do some research before boring yourself with me.

I was going to post a screenshot of the conversations I had over the weekend with some very angry anti-Calvinists that sparked the whole thing, but for some reason the guy with the original post has disappeared. Kinda suspicious methinks.

Anyway, the post was basically something along the lines of “Calvinism makes God into a monster!”

I of course took exception to this. The Doctrines of Grace do not make God a monster. Quite the contrary, they put particular emphasis on the grace of God. The fact that God saves anyone should humble us.

What really got my blood boiling though was the accusation that Calvinists are preaching a false gospel. We are, I was told, “demonic” and “leading millions to Hell.”

There is a temptation in rhetoric to tell people that they simply don’t understand your position. I see it all the time and I have definitely been guilty of it. But I see it as a cop out. If your opponent doesn’t understand you, it’s probably because you (or your compatriots) have not adequately stated your position. So I avoided that strategy and instead inquired about what the true Gospel is.

For his credit he did state the answer correctly. But when pressed to tell me how Calvinism is preaching a false gospel he throws down the John 3:16 trump card.

It’s always funny to me when Arminians throw down John 3:16. Like Calvinists disagree with it or something. Apparently because we believe salvation is limited to the Elect, we must think that Jesus was lying when he said “whosoever believes will have eternal life.”

I do believe that “whosoever believes” will be saved. I just believe that only the Elect will be that “whosoever”.

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

Is not incongruous with:

“whosoever believes in Him shall be saved.”

Those who He foreknew and predestined are precisely the same people who believe. Check, Arminians.

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Persistence

“Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:2-8

Persistence pays off.

Giving up is easier, waaaay easier. But when you give up you gain nothing. Persisting, though painful, usually pays off in dividends greater than the sacrifice you made.

Think about some of the things where persistence is vital. Diets, working out, blogging, painting, relationships, and on and on. You make sacrifices for these things and after a bit of time and sacrifice you end up with returns far greater than the sacrifice.

At least usually. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you put in, you don’t always get everything or even anything back. Persistence in this world sometimes means you are beating your head against a wall. Of course that’s no reason to quit.

But in prayer, we have a guarantee that our persistence will pay off. There is no such thing as “unanswered prayer”, Christ assures us that justice will always be done when we are persistent in prayer. Even if we don’t get exactly what we want, we will always get what is just.

It may be easy to give up on diets or exercise, because they frequently fail us, it should never be easy to give up on prayer.

Daily Thoughts #45

There is a reason God gave us a day to worship Him. There is great refreshment in meeting with the Saints and raising your voices together in worship. Not to mention the wisdom that comes from those who have been living this life for a lot longer than you have. I need those consistent reminders that I am not sovereign and that despite my feelings to the contrary I am well taken of.

I lied. I like how yesterday’s painting came out. But it’s oil, so it takes forever to dry. And it’s too big for my scanner. So no one will ever see it.

This week is going to drag on forever. I know I have said before that absence isn’t a big deal. Well. This time it definitely has been.

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Music and Art Monday, August 6th, 2018: Culture and Christianity

How are Christians supposed to interact with culture? Are they supposed to ignore it? Avoid it? Yell at it?

A couple of things got me thinking about this topic over the weekend. One was a Facebook post complaining about Christians who watch Harry Potter or listen to Black Sabbath or appreciate other “things of darkness.” Another was an interview with Alistair Begg about the Beatles.

The first took the position that we are supposed to avoid all the “darkness” of the world. They quoted 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

The second took the position that we ought to know the culture we live in. We ought to be intimate with it so we can engage it with truth. We should analyze culture to learn it’s theology and understanding of humanity.

Which do I agree with?

Well, I do agree with scripture that we should not be unequally yoked. We should not marry a non-believer, we should avoid serving two masters, we cannot follow both the world and God.

But I don’t think that means completely shutting out the culture around us. If the separator is going to be completely consistent he would need to avoid working for non-Christians or even working with them. He would need to be like the Pharisees and wash up every time he came in contact with a non-believer. The whole world is dark. We aren’t called to hide from the dark or completely avoid the dark, we couldn’t do it if we tried.

We are instead called to be light in the darkness. We are to shed light on the lies of Satan. And we can’t very well do that if we bury our head in the sand and have no clue what lies are going around.

In his interview, Begg quoted John Lennon as saying that the lyrics to “Help” were a subconscious cry from his heart. But no Christian of the day was reaching out to him with truth and light. No Christian responded with the Biblical definition of love when “All You Need Is Love” came out either. It was a great opportunity to show what real love is but it was missed.

It’s much the same today. We would rather chastise the unsaved than respond to them with truths. We would rather wear our spotless robes of piety and keep our distance from the world than risk getting muddy with those in it. It’s easier to yell at the darkness and deride it than it is to correct it.

Jesus went to the world. He spoke to the worldly and the pious both. He was not afraid of being soiled by the darkness, because He always had the light of truth with Him.

As Christians, we too should not fear the dark. We should instead shine a light into it. In order to do that we have to see the darkness and know it well.

And that may mean we have to get our hands dirty. It may mean that we read books with certain uncomfortable themes or listen to the lyrics of songs that may make us cringe. We have to take every opportunity to show the love of Christ to an ugly world, and that may mean looking that ugliness right in the face. We don’t have to yolk ourselves to it and hold it in high esteem. We don’t have to embrace the lies in it. But when there is a shred of truth we should grasp onto it and expound on it. We should commend truth and correct lies.

Christians need to be involved in the culture. We need to shine on it and spread the Gospel into it. We can’t very well do that from a bunker.