REFLECTIONS

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written by Elder Mike Hosey.
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Failure Is Not An Option

Throughout my Christian journey, I’ve struggled with a lot of different sins. A few of them I seem to never completely defeat, and so I must return to the battlefield over and over again. Lust, selfishness, pride, laziness and a fear of failure periodically conspire to set back my spiritual growth – or at the very least – retard it.  When I first truly began pursuing a spiritual life, I thought lust was my greatest sin. Of course, no sin is a minor thing, and lust certainly is no small force. It is dangerous and intrusive. But as dangerous and intrusive as it is, it isn’t as problematic (for me) as a fear of failure. Sins like lust, selfishness, pride and laziness dampened my relationship with God and made it harder for me to talk with him, but fear of failure kept me from actually fulfilling Godly goals and spiritual duties. The other sins slowed me down, but fear of failure kept me from properly leading in every area in which God had graced me with leadership responsibilities.  It blunted my talents, killed my enthusiasm, kept me from trying, stunted by growth, and made me ineffective. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Fear of failure always denied me the first step. If it was my duty to lead my family, or my coworkers, or my friends in a particular direction, I would sometimes cower at taking the initiative. What if I fail? I will look like a fool. I will be mocked, and so will my family, my coworkers, my friends, and maybe even God! I had failed enough in life (or so I thought) that I knew firsthand the pain and the risk.

And that is the problem with the sin of a fear of failure: it is ultimately just like all other sins of fear. It is a sin because it is born from a lack of faith. Faith and fear exist in an inverse relationship. The greater faith one has, the less fear one has. The greater fear one has, the less faith one has.

This is precisely why it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).  Faith produces behavioral results. If you don’t have faith, you won’t do those hard things God sometimes asks. A lack of faith is always accompanied by a proportional abundance of fear.

The truth is that a Christian cannot fail in anything he or she tries (Romans 8:28-29).  The only failure is not to take Godly initiative. Even if the intended goal is not reached, a Christian has learned, become more resilient, and his or her character has improved.  For the Christian intent on following Jesus, failure simply isn’t an option (Romans 8:31-39).

It’s a Dirty Word for Some . . . 

Submission is both an unpopular word and concept. No one really likes it, and many fear it.

In fact, in certain strains of American feminism it is as close to a dirty word as one can get.  Much of this feminist unpopularity comes from a terrible misunderstanding of a verse where Paul commands wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). Because they are predisposed to see men as monsters who lord themselves over women by mere virtue of their male gender, feminists believe submission curtails female freedom and well being. This rejection of submission is not limited to gender specific arguments. The same difficulty that feminists have is the same difficulty that everyone has. It is a fear that whoever or whatever one submits oneself to will be unfairly controlling, and ultimately harmful. It is a fear of giving up control.

But while everyone hates the idea of submission, everyone also recognizes that it is necessary.  Submission is simply to yield control to a superior force, or to the will or influence of another. We yield to both traffic, and traffic lights.  We yield to our bosses. We yield to the laws that govern us. We instinctively know that a world in which no one yielded would be a world in which no one would want to live. Ironically, we also frequently yield to those things that control us in ways that are tragically harmful. For instance, we yield to ourselves in our sins.  We yield to bitterness, unforgiveness, alcoholism, pornography, lust, hate, lies we wish to believe, and laziness – to name only a few.

This hatred of submission is what prevents non-believers from becoming believers.  And it is what prevents people who follow Christ from becoming more Christlike. It prevents them both for the same reasons.  Unbelievers don’t want to give up their sinful states. Believers don’t either. Lack of submission is a lack of faith. For feminist wives, it is a lack of faith that husbands will be good.  For unbelievers, it is a lack of faith that God will give them something better than their sin. For believers, it is a lack of faith that God is trustworthy.

But if we don’t submit to God’s way, then we can’t live in peace.  Just like if we don’t submit to our communities laws, then we can’t expect to live with a true peace of mind in our communities.

Who Am I To Judge?

Judgmentalism is an ugly reality in our world. It is everywhere and it hurts everyone. Its poisonous fingers infect human relationships so much that it causes us to put away something that is good and just, namely judgement.  In fact, judgmentalism has caused humans to abuse and misuse one of the most well known sayings of Jesus. In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus tells us not to judge others or we will be judged. He then tells us to remove the giant board from our own eye so that we can go and remove the spec that is in our brother’s eye. Notice that?  The passage is actually a command for us to judge, and not a command to refrain from judgement. Unfortunately, the hypocrisy and judgmentalism of some people has caused many to use this saying of Jesus as a justification for never pointing out error, and never critiquing with needed truth.

Judgmentalism is partly the problem.  Judgmentalism is a kind of hypocrisy. When you are judgmental, you think of yourself more highly than you ought.  You think of others as lower than you because you believe that you haven’t committed the same sins they have. It is a state of pride and a lack of compassion. It is the sin of the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Judgement, however, is simply holding a person to a standard that everyone agrees to be good. Judgment is choosing better over worse, or making a distinction between right and wrong. Think about it.  It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would ask us not to judge. Judgment, good judgment, is necessary in life. How could you choose one religion over another without judgment? How could you choose a good spouse? How could you choose a good social circle?  Those choices require that you judge one potential mate as better than another, or one group of friends as better than another.

Read the words of Jesus carefully in that passage. What he is commanding is for you to judge yourself. If you don’t, he warns, then you are going to be judged too. He is teaching that when you harshly judge your neighbor for sin while you are committing that sin yourself, then you will experience the same judgment with the same intensity.  For instance, judging your friend for his alcoholism and his inability to pay his bills because of it while you are having a difficulty paying yours due to a gambling addiction is a form of this hypocrisy. You are both committing the sin of gluttony. You will be judged by your friend, and probably his friends, and certainly by God.

Jesus tells us to straighten up our own life, then once we can see clearly, we are commanded to compassionately help our brother straighten up his. Judging and fixing ourselves first can give us a great deal of compassion for that task.

Cutting Yourself with Unforgiveness

The man’s anger burned against his sister. He could feel it all throughout his body. Every time he saw her enjoying herself his chest would tighten at her good fortune. His face would scrunch up ever so subtly. Sometimes there’d be a less subtle eye roll. Whenever he heard her voice, he’d feel the anger flow up his neck causing the hairs on the back of his head to prick and his face to flush. All of his friends thought her voice was beautiful, but to him it was like the squeal on a chalkboard or the annoyance of a child’s whine. He found nothing good in it. And he couldn’t stop thinking about what she had done. He had every right to be angry. She had harmed him and his reputation with her lack of consideration. “How can I get her back, how can I harm her,” he thought to himself. In a stroke of what he thought was genius, he decided to cut himself with a jagged knife everyday. “She’ll feel horrible,” he thought to himself. But she never did. In fact, she never even noticed. He had taken great efforts to avoid the sight of her so she never even knew. In the one moment that she had suspected his self-inflicted harm, she felt pity for him and prayed. The only effect his daily behavior had was to cause him more pain, and to remind him of how he had been harmed. Even in moments when he wasn’t consciously thinking about his sister, he now felt pain.

This is what unforgiveness is like. When a person chooses the path of unforgiveness, he or she chooses self-harm, mental anguish, and a lack of peace. For a human being there is very little good that comes from unforgiveness. Forgiveness, however, is liberating. It may not rid you of the pain of the original offense, but it will rid you of the ongoing pain and mental anguish that results from obsession with another person’s wrongs. Here are some ways that forgiveness is better for you than unforgiveness:

It May Cause a Change in the Other Person: Romans 12:20-21 tells us to overcome evil with good, and that being kind to our enemies will heap burning coals on their heads. Perhaps, they’ll be motivated to change.

It Is Glorious: Proverbs 19:11 says that forgiveness is good sense, and a kind of glory.

It Puts us In a Better Standing with God: Matthew 6:14-15 tells us that God rewards those who forgive, and denies those who don’t.

It Makes us More like Jesus: 1 John 2:6 says that if we are Christian, we are to walk like Jesus. And Romans 5:8 says that while we were still harming God’s honor, that he died to make a way for us to be forgiven.

Spiritual Truths in the Aftermath of a Hurricane

I saw some spiritual truths this week as I feebly ministered to people in the wake of hurricane Michael’s fury.

Every road I’ve traveled down this week, and every building I’ve entered, and every person I’ve met has reminded me of the frailty that exists in almost every thread of our lives. We are guaranteed very little. Almost anything we have can be taken in a moment – in the blink of an eye. The wind can blow and the rain can fall and the waves can crash. If your life doesn’t have a good foundation then the experience of your loss, and the reality of your loss can be very great. Houses without good foundations or good  building codes do not stand in the storm. What I have seen this week illustrates this spiritual truth in ways that only people who have survived a storm can truly understand. People who have Jesus as a rock and foundation – or a building code – have a life that stands after the strongest storms.

As I walked through one woman’s back yard I was constantly tripping over vines. They hindered my ability to remove debris, and to help her right her yard. I cursed the vines because they were in my way. But then I realized a spiritual truth. Satan uses sins and attitudes and rebellion to grow vines in our lives that make it harder for the Holy Spirit to move through our hearts and to right our ways. What if we allowed Jesus to grow vines in our lives that made it harder for Satan to move through our minds – vines like love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness and self control. How many of these vines might grow if we simply served Jesus by serving others at least as much as we serve ourselves.

I pray that we can all learn these truths without the storm.

Don’t Take The Bait

A fisherman baited his hook with raw pieces of bloody meat.  He dropped the hook into the water, and as the bait splashed beneath the ripples, the blood invisibly dispersed among the eddies and currents that meandered and swirled peacefully beneath the boat.  In curly, fingery wisps it found its way to the nares of a nearby fish. Once inside, it triggered the fish’s sense of smell, and his forebrain lit up and crackled like the fireworks that children play with. He sensed food. His body was designed for food, and as the firestorm in his brain raged, he swam toward the smell. The closer he got to the bait, the stronger the smell infected his brain, and the more he craved the taste of whatever it was he was smelling. In a single, swooping pass he chomped the bait.  He was unable to see or smell the hook, and it pierced the inside of his mouth and tore his flesh. Instantly, another part of his brain electrified. Realization, fear, panic, and swarms of chemical signals twitched every muscle. He struggled to get away, swimming with all of his might, but the struggle was in vain. The more he resisted, the the stronger the hook grabbed. The fisherman reeled in his catch, took it home, and ate the fish at a wooden table next to a warm fire blazing on a brick hearth.

The fisherman used bait to entice the fish.  He put something attractive to the fish into his world.  In fact, there was nothing inherently wrong with the composition of the bait.  It’s sole purpose was to lure the fish and to conceal a hook. This is a picture of temptation.  In almost all instances, temptation is comprised of something (at least in part) that we are designed to receive or use in some way.  However, the bait is wrapped around a sinful hook that is designed to entrap us and pull us away from where God would want us. That hook is usually a simple lie.  For example, a young man (or woman) may be enticed into sexual intimacy before the commitment of marriage with the lie that there will be no emotional, physical, or spiritual consequences for the intimacy.  Humans are made for intimacy, and so intimacy is highly attractive. Satan takes this attraction and places it in deceptive contexts, and it can be difficult to resist.

There is nothing wrong with feeling anger. Because we are made in the image of God, it is an emotion that we share with him. It is designed to help us recognize and right the wrongs we experience in the world.  So when we see something wrong, we are lured to a state of anger. Satan will wrap that emotion around the deceptive hook of revenge, and try to lure us away from love and into bitterness or some other element of our sinful natures.

So don’t take the bait unless you want to be eaten (1 Peter 5:8).

Did Jesus Encourage Dishonesty?

One of the most confusing parables of Jesus is the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-13).  Smart people have been dissecting it since Jesus spoke it. There are a number of elements that make it difficult to understand.  For instance, every single character in the parable is dishonest. And Jesus appears to encourage us to imitate dishonesty by setting up the example. In the parable, a master discovers that his chief steward is wasting his money.  He calls the steward to account and threatens to fire him. The steward, who is not able to do physical labor, and is too proud to beg, decides to call in the master’s debtors.  He dishonestly slashes their debt, and they unhesitatingly agree to the deception of paying less than what they actually owe. He thus makes friends with his master’s debtors, so that when he is kicked out of the master’s house, he has somewhere to go. Surprisingly, the master then commends his manager for his cleverness and cunning. But even more surprising, and also quite strange, Jesus argues that “the sons of this world” are more shrewd than the “sons of the light,” and then remarks that we should use unrighteous wealth to make friends, so that they can welcome us into their eternal homes. Very Strange.

But not really when you apply some serious thought to his next words.  To paraphrase, Jesus said, “he who is faithful in little will be faithful in much, and he who is dishonest with little will be dishonest with much.” The shrewd (or dishonest) manager exemplified this. He was faithful to serve himself by wasting his master’s resources, and he was faithful to serve himself even more when he dishonestly lowered what his master’s debtors owed. Any dishonesty present in his wastefulness was compounded by an order of magnitude with his self-rescue mission.  It paid off, and he had the reward of being able to live with the dishonest debtors.

But Jesus is not encouraging us to be dishonest. He is simply using the example to teach the principle of faithfulness.  God has given you many gifts. One of those is money. While money is neither good nor evil, it is an integral part of an unrighteous world — so much so that loving it is the root of many evils (1 Timothy 6:10).  Jesus wants you to hold the money loosely and wisely use it to advance his kingdom. Jesus is arguing that like the shrewd manager, our time in the world is limited, and we should use the resources that God has given us to make friends so that we will have greater treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).  If we are faithful with the little that he has given us, then we will be faithful with the greater spiritual gifts that he has for us as we mature.

Ironically, Jesus’ audience included religious leaders of the day (Luke 16:14-15). They had not been faithful with what God had given them, and like the wasteful manager, were about to be fired from their jobs.

GRACE, MERCY, AND YOUR LOCAL WAITER

We humans are frequently and horribly self-serving. Consider how we handle things that we don’t deserve. When our lives are assaulted with things we believe we don’t deserve, we usually return disfavor to its source.  For instance, I have noticed that when a store clerk, a waitress, or some other service person makes a mistake on an order, humans are very quick to dish out contempt for the server. This is often true even if the mistake is the fault of the chef, or the manager, or some other person in the chain of events, and not the server.  If the server greets us with coldness, we often scorn him or her without even considering what might be contributing to his or her immediate behavior. It never enters our minds that someone may have died, or a marriage may have been lost, or that spiritual forces may be at play for the soul of a person who is acting disfavorably toward us.  Our return disfavor is expressed in our own verbal tones, or body language, a call to the manager, or perhaps, even in a direct verbal strike.

On the other hand, if we are met with undeserved favor, we can be  quick to assign that favor to something good about us. Instead of recognizing the good favor as undeserved, we tend to lift up some portion of our lives that we believe to be righteous as the reason for our blessing. Rarely do I see a person who finds a $20 bill passing a portion of that grace on to someone else who also doesn’t deserve it.  Instead, it is mostly used for immediate gratification.

Grace is favor that is not merited or deserved. It is a central element of the bible.  And God expects us to be changed by it. In fact, he expects us to allow it to flow through us into others (1 Peter 4:10). In the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35) Jesus tells of a man who owes his master a very great sum of money.  He begs the master to spare him. The master cancels the debt, but the forgiven man finds a fellow servant who owes him comparatively much less debt. Ironically,he has that fellow servant punished for his inability to pay. The unmerciful servant had not been changed by the gracious mercy of his master. The grace of his master had not found its way into his heart.

There are many reasons why we do not forgive. I have found that chief among those reasons is that we too often fail to see the grace that has been extended to us.  While we were still in rebellion toward God, he died so that we could be forgiven (Romans 5:8). That’s grace.

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (OR AT LEAST LOOKED LIKE IT).

Walled away from the beauty of Florence, Colorado’s striking blue skies and cool crisp air, Robert Hanssen ticks out the rest of his life in a supermax prison facility where he is serving 15 consecutive life sentences.  If you’re like most Americans, you are not familiar with his name, but he is easily one of the most damaging moles in American history. On the outside, he looked wholesome, clean, and all-American. He was college educated with multiple degrees, married, had six children, and has been described as actively involved in church and church organizations.  He was an FBI agent for decades, and later employed by the State Department. Between 1979 and 2001 he transferred nuclear secrets, strategic information, American counterintelligence activities, and untold numbers of documents to America’s then chief foreign enemy, the Soviet Union. At one point, he even attempted to recruit a friend of his, a Colonel in the U.S. Army, to join him in his efforts at espionage.

Because he grew up in America, looked American, acted American, and was involved in American life, he was mistaken by America to be a friend.  When he was sitting behind his FBI desk, he looked like every other FBI agent. In fact, he looked enough like a good FBI agent that he was given privilege, responsibility, and rank.  Of course, his fruits eventually bore him out, and as he grew more active with the soviets, what he was producing became evident to discerning people around him.

Jesus tells a very similar story in the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-20, Matthew 13:36-43).  In that parable, a farmer sows wheat, and while he is sleeping an enemy sows weeds among the wheat. The farmer’s workers discover it and ask if they should pull up the wheat.  The wise farmer orders them to let the two grow together rather than risk pulling up the wheat with the weeds. When the weeds and the wheat are fully mature, they will be easily identifiable, then they can be separated.  One will go to the fire, and the other to the Farmer’s barn.

What we look like isn’t a measure of our status as children of God.  Instead, it is what we produce as we mature that is a measure of our relationship (Galatians 5:16-25).

Planting Seeds

One of the potential reasons that Jesus used parables to teach people is because they make us think deeply about the principles he was interested in teaching us.  They carry more meaning than lists of facts or dos and don’ts.

Consider one of his most well known parables: the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-9, Matthew 13:18-23). In that story, he compares the spiritual growth process to a sower who casts seed.  Some of the seed falls along the path of the sower. Birds come and take it away, so it doesn’t produce anything. Jesus explains that these birds are like Satan and his demons who steal spiritual truth from people who don’t understand it. The sower then casts some seed that lands on rocky ground. This seed immediately springs up. But because it has no root, it dies quickly. Jesus shares how these are the people who don’t have good soil for roots to take hold, and so even though they respond well to spiritual truth, difficult times that surely come from trying to live it out, burn it away like the scorching sun. The sower casts yet another time, and the seed falls among the thorns. The seed grows, but is choked out by the thorns and weeds.  Jesus argues that these thorns and weeds represent the cares of the world that choke out spiritual truth and don’t allow it to produce fruit. In other words, cares about money, comfort, status, or safety keep one from living out spiritual truth, and therefore producing fruit. Finally, the sower casts seed on good soil. This soil is deep, doesn’t have weeds, and is well protected from thieving birds. It produces fruit in great volumes. Jesus explains that this soil represents people who hear the word and understand it. They then produce a great harvest of spiritual fruits like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

There is an overarching principle found in this story.  Certain kinds of soil grow things well. If you plant good spiritual truth in good spiritual soil, good things will grow.  If you take the time to be a sower, you can grow in some people an abundance of good fruit.

But the opposite may also be true.  If you plant weedy and thorny seeds in the right kind of soil they can grow to choke out good fruit. Whether you like it or not, you are a sower in someone’s field. Everyone’s field has been prepared to grow something. Are you planting seeds of negativity, doubt, bitterness, anger, greed, worldliness, self centeredness or strife in soils that are ready to grow it.  Or are you casting seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness and self control?

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