Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cynicism, Satan, And You

Satan answered the Lord, 'Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven't you placed a hedge around him, his household, and everything he owns? . . . But stretch out Your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse You to Your face."
Job 1:9-10a, 11
Job was a good, righteous man. God loved him. Satan disdained him. Listen to the accuser's words,  as if he says, "Sure he loves you, God. Sure he serves you. Who wouldn't? You've bought him off with love, blessings, and protection." Satan stands in the court of Heaven, knowing the greatness, grace, and power of God and proves himself the ultimate cynic.
Cynicism is the "inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self interest." It is a state of mind that's dominated by mistrust, and many who serve God are at risk of developing it. Some call it "healthy skepticism." After thinking about Satan I'm questioning that skepticism can ever be healthy. 
Life tries to steal optimism, and people are the ultimate thieves. We think the best about new jobs, new friends, and new marriages and then people happen. We believe the grass is greener, and then find it's just as full of weeds as our current lawn. Our reaction to the failure of people is crucial. Satan had seen thousands of so-called believers question and curse God when things went south. So, in his arrogance he thought he was sufficiently wise to judge the heart of Job. Don't we often do the same? 
Call it healthy skepticism if you want, but cynicism about people is just a small step from cynicism about God. God calls us to take a leap of faith in Him. Satan calls us to take a step of doubt. While he accused Job, he was really accusing God. He believed no one would worship and serve God simply because God is worthy of worship. You can almost hear him say, "You're just like me, buying people off so they will love you."
We have been disappointed, even betrayed. We've witnessed selfishness and self-motivated behavior. We know people don't measure up. In a section of Romans where Paul was dealing with Christians who were questioning the motivation of others, he wrote this, "Why do you criticize another's household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand. For the Lord is able to make him stand." (Rom. 14:4) Do you believe "the Lord is able to make him stand"?
What will you do? You can take the Satanic step of doubt, or the leap of faith, not in man, but in the master of man. You can believe in the sufficiency of God's worth, or you can believe only in the selfishness of mankind.
Maybe I'm cynical, but could it be that this attitude has far less to do with others than with ourselves? It could be that when we take an honest look into our own hearts, we see the residue of self-motivation and wonder if we ever really serve God from pure motives. We remember that when the trial came, we did not stand up in faith and say with Job, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, praise the name of the Lord."  We've failed, so all others must be failures, too. Cynicism could be nothing more than an attempt to drag all of humanity down into the mediocre pool of lukewarm faith. And, behind that is the real secret. We don't speak it, but if we did it might sound like, "Well, God, I trusted in You and you haven't done much to change me." 
Satan is miserable. He doesn't trust God or man. He sees the worst, because he is the worst. He is beyond redemption, because he believes only in himself.
We are not beyond redemption. God is able. God is sufficient. We can love and serve Him simply because He's worthy. When we do, we are delivered by His great grace from great skepticism, the cynical belief that we ourselves cannot change. 
Do not become a Satan. Guard yourself against cynicism. All people are sinners, and God is able to redeem all who call on the name of the Lord. Job lost everything and still praised God. He hurt. He questioned, yet in the end he stood. He stood because God was able to make him stand. He is able to make the worst stand, even you. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Weed Or Grass?

What did you think when you read the title of this article? Were you thinking this was about marijuana, come on, were you? Or did you think it was about identifying a particular stray weed growing in your beautifully manicured St. Augustine grass lawn? Well, it's about the picture above.
It's a strange picture for a blog post. I took it when I was leaving a nursing home the other day. Here was this pretty, well-placed clump of Aztec grass, and right in the middle was a very healthy growth of Johnson grass. The Aztec grass is intentional. The Johnson grass is a weed. Someone needs to help their yardman recognize the difference, because he had clearly weeded around every clump and had clearly left the Johnson grass in place.
I'm sure the gardener felt great about the beautiful frond of Johnson grass that looks so much like the Aztec grass, but he is wrong. He cultivated the wrong thing, based on his best opinion, and if he doesn't pull it out it will take over and drive out the Aztec grass. Then he will have nothing but weed.
There's a lesson here. If you don't know what's good and what's bad, you may mistakenly cultivate what's bad right alongside what's good. Your life can be filled with good things and weeds if you don't recognize and pull out the weeds. And, the only way to know the difference is to consult with someone who knows the difference. And, the only one who knows the difference and can tell you authoritatively is God. And, He has done so already in His Word, the Bible. Paul spelled out the danger of a life lived by any opinion other than God's, "For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened." Romans 1:21
Live according to what you think, what the world thinks, even what good, well-intentioned 'Christian' friends think, and you could well be growing Johnson grass. While some of our decisions make sense to us, a life and a mind that is not informed by the Word of God will eventually become nonsense and darkened.
What you read, watch, think, say, post, and do . . . is it weed or grass? The only way to know is to know the Word of God. Doesn't matter how good it looks or feels today. In the end, only that which is of God will remain. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Grief, An Ocean Of Tears

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
(Isaiah 53:3)
I grew up and spent most of my life far, far away from any seashore. From reading, I knew a little about tides and shorelines, but a recent discovery of surf fishing has helped me learn a great deal more. I have learned that the tide comes in and it goes out. I've also learned that because of earth's relationship with its moon, some high tides are higher than others and some low tides lower than others. But, no matter how they change, they keep coming and going. 
Grief is like the tides. There are stages of grief like denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, but we don't really make our way through the stages to healing. When we grieve it's like we are standing out in the surf while grief ebbs and flows in and around us. Like the tide, it is sometimes more intense and sometimes much less so. Sometimes, like the tide, grief recedes so far that we find ourselves standing on dry land, feeling normal again.

When something happens to us - the loss of someone precious to us - we are not like a fisherman. We didn't choose to wade out into the surf. We were thrown into it. Other times, we do choose to wade out into grief. We choose it because a friend is there. We choose it because we know Jesus is there, too. He is near the broken-hearted, so we draw near the broken-hearted. He is the man of sorrows acquainted with grief, so we wade out with Him. He entered this world, not just to comfort, but to deliver. So, we wade out not just to comfort, but to be His hands and heart to help heal. 

Our goal is not to stay there, but to move gently and continuously closer to the shoreline. The goal is to heal from the loss. Christ did not remain the man of sorrows. He waded in, He laid His life down, and He took it up again so that we could grieve, not as others, but with hope.

If you find yourself thrown into the angry waves of grief, make it your goal to get to shore as quickly as you can. It will not be easy, but it is possible with Christ. There is a difference, I think, between missing someone and grieving their loss. To heal from grief is to move away from the pain of it, but it is not to forget the person or stop missing them. Grief is never fully healed until we are in the arms of Jesus. Even when we reach the shore, there will be days when memories will touch our hearts like a high tide that has reached our feet while we sit on the shore.  

If you are grieving, or you have waded out into the waves with someone who is, remember these four things: 1) You need Jesus. You need the one who is already with you. 2) You need help. You need someone else with you. Grief often causes us to lose our bearings. We need that person to be with us for comfort, but also to help us keep our bearings. We need them to gently and continually point us toward the shore so that we do not move further into deeper water, drowning in our sorrow. 3) You need to keep moving. Continually remind yourself to keep moving further away from the waves toward the safety of the beech. It's not enough to know you need to be healed. Healing from grief must be your goal so that you always keep moving toward it. Our love for people we have lost can lead us to believe that we should always grieve for them. You will not forget them, nor will you dishonor them if you stop grieving. Actually, you will honor them if you live. It is God's intention that we live, not that we be swallowed up by grief until we die. 4) You need more than any person can give. Only God can heal. So, fill your heart and mind with His promises and pray. If you are the one helping, you are not the healer. You are just the helper. Be there, pray, point toward the shore, but remember that God is the healer.