REFLECTIONS

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written by Elder Mike Hosey.
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Looking At My Sins With Jesus

One of the most liberating things I do in my life is to admit my flaws. Acknowledging that I am imperfect isn’t always easy, but it takes a lot of weight off of my shoulders because it frees me to recognize that I’m not in control of everything. More importantly, though, it prompts me to honestly look at where I need improvement. Not conceding a flaw means that I don’t have to look at it, and of course, ignoring it means that I can’t work toward fixing it. Considerably more liberating – and considerably harder – is admitting that I am an active sinner, with an actively sinful heart. Confession of sin, if done rightly, is uncomfortable, and even painful. This is because you’re not just passively recognizing a flaw, you are owning up to poor choices that you knew were wrong, or should have known were wrong. You are taking responsibility for damaging your relationship with God, and perhaps even other people. You are granting that there is a predisposition in you toward evil that requires regular attention.

But if we don’t experience this pain by admitting our part in sinful decisions, then it is evidence that we don’t know Jesus, which in turn means that we don’t have him to plead our case before a just and faithful God – a God who is faithful to punish our sins, or to forgive them (1 John 2:1Matthew 7:21-23).  Just like when we don’t admit to a flaw, we are doomed to keep the sin and not make improvements.  On the other hand, admitting our sins allows Jesus to shine his light into our lives and expose those things to us we’d rather not touch. Doing this allows him to cleanse us, and helps us to know that we belong to him (1 John 1:5-10).

Recognizing, confessing, and turning from sin in our lives is vital to Christian growth and maturity. I realized this some years ago when I took a careful inventory of my life. I realized that I had ignored God’s desires for my life, and that I had a terrible penchant for pride, lust, laziness, and even selfishness. I rarely looked at the places in my heart that harbored these evils. And I rarely considered how these evils hurt the people around me that I said I loved. Don’t get me wrong, I still battle with all of these (and others) – often on a daily basis.  But I am more inclined to win those battles now than I’ve ever been.  This is because in my Christian journey, I have learned to take a personal inventory not every few years, or months or weeks, but multiple times a day. This allows me to catch the sin as quickly as it has happened — sometimes even before it happens. This humbling exercise liberates me from the grip of those sins that separate me from my God, and hurt the people around me.

Darkness Defeated by Light

A couple of thousand years ago, spiritual darkness covered all the places where men lived. There were a few glimmers here and there that kept men from walking off of sin-high cliffs or into sin-hard walls. These glimmers were the law that God planted in the hearts of everyone, along with the scriptures and the prophets (Romans 2:15Psalm 119:130Amos 3:7Hebrews 1:1-2). These three worked in concert to speak the words of God. But men mostly ignored them because their hearts were evil (Jeremiah 17:9).  Then one day, a great light entered the world of men (John 1:1-5John 1:14). The light was a man, and he lit by his example the places where they lived. His name was Jesus. His light shined brightly, and people fled their darkness and flocked to him.  Their minds were changed. Then their lives were changed. The whole world began to glow with his light as the people who followed him began to both reflect him, as well as become like him.

Then, as suddenly as he entered the world, he left it. He was murdered by men on a criminal’s cross because they hated what he had to offer. They loved their darkness more than they loved light (John 3:19). The world seemed cold and dark again. People who knew him mourned. They had seen the good of his light and feared they would not see it again.  But they were mistaken. His murder had been the fulfillment of a prophecy.  He had been crushed for our sins (Isaiah 53:5). He had been killed for our love of darkness. God had placed on him all the wrongs of the world of men, and allowed them to be destroyed when his body was killed (1 Peter 2:24).  But those who loved darkness more than light could not understand the brilliance of his final moment. He had modeled love (John 15:13). He had given his life so that others could live. He had engineered a light that could never be extinguished because people would always remember his love.

Three days after Jesus had been murdered, he rose from the dead! A miracle of all miracles! It was perhaps the most beautiful moment in all of human time. People would no longer remember just his love, but they would understand it, and now remember his victory as well. Failure would no longer reign supreme (Romans 6:6).  In that beautiful moment he modeled for us victory over sin. The sins of the world did not keep him dead. And if you accept his power, your sins will not keep you dead, either. Allow your sinful self to die and follow Jesus.  He will raise a new you. The sin that both failed you, and caused you to fail, will be gone. The darkness that surrounded you will be pushed away with brilliance. Your life will be marked by victory and light. You will begin to be more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Fickleness and Faithfulness

An unfortunate quality of humanity is that we too often tend to be fickle. Fickle means to change frequently in regards to one’s loyalties, interests or affections. You can see this sort of thing with the public’s interest in pop musicians, movie stars, and clothing fashions. One year the public may be listening to the beats of one particular rapper spitting out his rhymes, or fawning over the beauty of one particular blonde starlet, or wearing skinny jeans to church. The next year, that same public is listening to banjos, worshiping the brunette curls of the next diva, and wearing retro-parachute pants and flip flops to church.

When it comes to life’s entertainment trivialities, fickleness isn’t that big of a deal. But when it comes to those things deserving of loyalty, fickleness becomes dangerously problematic. Imagine if husbands quit marriage when the next fine thing walks by. Imagine if mothers gave up parental affections when the newness wore off of their children. The world would be a greater hell than it already is. In fact, those places where the world is hell, are very often marked by people who have either misplaced their loyalty, or have allowed a fickleness to reign supreme in the ordering of their lives.

Believe it or not, this evil can be reframed in a positive light. Fickleness allows us to observe the quality of our loyalties. Consider the triumphal entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-11). As Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, crowds of people throw their cloaks and palm branches on the ground before him as he rides in, all the while shouting words of adoration and praise, and affirming his royalty by associating him with David, and recognizing him as a prophet. But just a few days later, when Jesus stands trial before Pontius Pilate, the crowds (likely populated by some of the same people from just days before), call for Jesus to be crucified, and for a notorious prisoner, Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus.

Any people who had changed their minds in that few days were never really devoted to Jesus to begin with, and their honoring of his lordship was false. True loyalty is, by definition, devoid of fickleness. True loyalty is tried and proven and even defined by hardship. It does not go with the flow. It may bend, but it doesn’t break. The truer it is, the more unchanging it is.

The true followers of Jesus were not fickle – even as they were martyred, they remained steadfast and faithful.

Who Do You Obey?

All people are obedient. Burglars, rapists, murderers, thieves, drug dealers, drug addicts, cops, preachers, cookie baking grandmas and Sunday school teachers are all obedient.  All of them.  We like to think of ourselves as rebels – either with a cause or without one. But that self-image isn’t entirely accurate.  You will inevitably obey something. And if you are obeying something, then you are submitted to that thing, and therefore not a rebel in regards to the thing that you obey.

In fact, Paul teaches this very idea.  In Romans 6:16-18, he persuasively argues that you are either a slave to sin, or you are a slave to righteousness.  And a slave obeys.

 

If you’ve ever been addicted to anything, you know this truth firsthand. The cigarette calls your name at work, and you obey its call. The bottle calls you into the club or bar, and you obey its call. The caffeine calls your name, and you dutifully amble over to the coffee pot. The sugary pastry calls your name, and you obey that call over and over again.  This is the case with all sin to which one has submitted oneself. And it also is the case with your larger sin nature – the nature that tells you to resist God’s calls or commands. To obey your sin nature puts you in rebellion against God.  To obey God, puts you in rebellion against your sin nature.

 

God has set up the universe in such a way that both of these rebellions have consequence. Consider, for instance, Isaiah 1:18-20, where the prophet tells Israel that if they are willing and obedient they will prosper, but if they resist and rebel then they will be consumed by violence. His statement is made within the context of describing their sin. God is telling his people that even though they have sins that are scarlet, he can wash them away if only they will obey his way. Not to obey, however, is to resign themselves to a world that will devour them. That Old Testament prophecy holds true for today’s Christians even more so than it did for those ancient Heberews. The spiritual connection is much more pronounced. To rebel against God is to step into a world where Satan is looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Such a consequence is hellishly undesirable. It will touch every life domain. However, to obey the gospel, and therefore rebel against your sin nature and a world that hates God is to set yourself free from the chains of sin and death. Every life domain will be freed (Psalm 107:10-14).  For if the son has set you free, then you are free indeed (John 8:34-36).

 

What chains are holding you in slavery?

The Two Sides of Disobedience

Disobedience comes in two forms.  In one form God tells us things notto do, and we disobey when we do them. For instance, God tells us not to lie, and then we lie to save ourselves from some discomfort.  Or, God tells us not to covet our neighbors stuff, and we spend a great deal of effort trying to acquire things like our neighbor has. On the other hand, there are things that God tells us to do, and when we refuse to do them, we are in sin and (James 4:17). For instance, God tells you to be part of a faith community (Hebrews 10:24-25), but some prefer to avoid gathering with spiritual brothers and sisters.   Most people I know don’t have a problem understanding the things they’re not supposed to do.  And most of those people do a fair job of avoiding the big things that God has told us to avoid.  It seems we are programmed to know that we shouldn’t entertain lust, or that we shouldn’t steal, or that we shouldn’t kill, or that we shouldn’t lie.  But it seems harder, sometimes, for us to recognize the programming that tells us to do certain things.

One rather disturbing story in the Bible that illustrates how there are consequences for not doing what we are told to do is found in the character of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:1-8).  King David calls for the Ark of the Covenant to be delivered from the House of Abinadab. Abinadab’s two sons, Uzzah and Ahio, set out to do just that.  They place the Ark on a cart drawn by oxen.  At some point, the Oxen stumble, and Uzzah stretches out his hand presumably to steady the Ark. This seems like a good deed, but God strikes Uzzah dead.  The problem is that Uzzah had violated a couple of dos, and at least one don’t. God had prescribed for the Ark to be carried with poles by men (Exodus 25:12-14). Certain Levites – the sons of Kohath — were to be the ones who carried it (Numbers 4:15).  It should not have been on a cart. And of course Uzzah should never have touched it (Numbers 4:15). Interestingly, if Uzzah and Ahio had done what God told them to do, they would not have been in a position to do what he had told them not to do – which was touch the Ark.

If you are busy doing what God tells you to do, like worshiping with other believers, engaging in study of his word, attending to prayer, stirring others up to good deeds, or loving God with everything, then you won’t be in a position to do those things he has told you not to do.

The Evil in Good Intentions

Your good intentions can be quite evil.  Too often, they motivate poor choices. Most people grasp that truth well, but they still use their good intentions to rationalize their poor choices. What I hear most often is the statement, “God knows my heart.” The rationalization is that God knows you’re trying to do something good, so he’ll overlook it even though you’re doing something he has declared wrong. There may be some comfort in that rationalization.  And there might even be a smidgen of truth somewhere in it given some limited, specific circumstances. But Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is wicked and deceitful – which should give one pause regarding what God knows about one’s heart. It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Some have said that hell itself is roofed, walled and furnished with them, too. Because we are woefully flawed, some paths seem right to us, but in the end they lead to death (Proverbs 14:12).

Paul, before he knew Jesus, was a fine example of this. He tormented Christians and pursued them ruthlessly, thinking he was doing a Godly thing (Acts 26:9-11). But his behavior was sin. Some of the worst evils are done with fully good intentions (John 16:2).

Those are drastic examples, of course, but the truths they illustrate are not limited to extremes. If you are living outside of God’s will, and God’s way, regardless of your intentions, then you are in disobedience, and disobedience has consequences.

I won’t burden you with a long list of what God thinks is wrong. If you truly belong to God’s family, then you probably already have an idea as to whether or not you’re doing something that displeases God. And you probably already have a good idea as to whether or not you’ve employed the “good intentions” excuse.  That’s the way his Holy Spirit works. The bible speaks to every domain of human life. If you study it, you will find that God speaks to you through his living word, and that he can help you to figure it out much better than I can with my 400 words or less. Couple that with a committed life in a loving Christian community, and the wisdom of your leaders, and you’ll likely find the right path to follow.

Even more amazing, God’s word can set you free from disobedience, flaws, and failures, and give you strength to win the battles that the world, Satan, and your own flesh will send your way. That way, instead of just having good intentions, you can do actual good.

You Can’t Hear Until You Trust

God has graced me with the opportunity to counsel a lot of people. In those instances, I do my best to bring to bear whatever wisdom he has given me to their problems. Unfortunately, they often carry barriers that keep them from hearing that wisdom.

Literally. They can’t hear it.

Often that barrier is a lack of trust.  If they don’t know me, then they don’t trust me. If they don’t trust me, anything I say is suspect, and goes in one ear and out the other. But if I’ve done my part to get to know them, and they’ve done their part to get to know me, then a faith in my sincerity develops, and they begin to trust the process. After some time, they learn to hear the wisdom. Once this kind of relationship emerges, all I have to do is prompt them to trust me when I notice they’re no longer hearing me.

I can remember a time when a woman I was counseling was in a full rage after having been offended by the words of a peer. Screaming, yelling, gnashing of teeth, and a fear of bodily harm and property damage oppressed the atmosphere. I tried my best to speak wisdom into her situation. But nothing was getting past her ears. Finally, during a brief pause in her rage, I was able simply ask, “do you trust me?” For some reason, she thought about that question. I reminded her of past moments in our relationship where my sincere concern for her well-being had been displayed.  She relented to faith. She could then listen to the wisdom that I (and others) had to offer, and we navigated the morass in which she found herself.

Hearing God is very much like this.  If you want to hear him, then you’re going to have to trust him.  If you don’t, then instead of hearing God, you’re going to hear the voices in your own head. You’re also going to hear the voices of those things you do trust. Instead of hearing God, you’re going to hear what your comfort tells you.  You’re going to hear what your fear of losing something tells you. In fact, you can learn to trust in the certainty of your heartbreaks, your failures, and your flaws so strongly that they become deafening.

But if you trust God, you can listen to him. He’ll tell you a different story. One of love, and victory, and perfect renewal.

Hearing God in the Noise

Background noise will dampen your ability to hear specific sounds. In fact, this is so true that I often use background noise to my benefit.  One way that I do that is by running a fan or an air conditioner while I sleep at night. Doing so drowns out noises from the other side of my window.  It deadens the racket from my children’s play (or their squabbles). It can even muffle the “sounds” of my own racing thoughts. In a way, background noise insulates me from the noise I don’t want to hear. But background noise isn’t always beneficial.  Frequently, static keeps you from hearing things that are actually good to hear. As I sit here typing out this piece in the dark of an early Thursday morning, I can hear birds outside my window. I can hear my dog, Duke, breathing. If I train my ears on the distance, it’s even possible for me to hear I-75 through the trees and fields east of my property. But a few moments ago, I couldn’t hear any of it.  My son’s alarm was going off.  It wasn’t loud at all.  It’s a quiet, rather muted alarm clock, and whatever harshness it has, was stifled by his closed door. It was almost like a background noise. It beeped on and on steadily.  My ears focused on it instead of the more soothing sounds around me. I couldn’t hear the birds, or the dog, or even my own thoughts.

Interestingly, your brain and your ears have a remarkable way of working together to filter out background noise. If I had told myself to listen for the birds, my brain would have pulled up various memories of bird sounds, and guided my ears to tune into those sounds. They would have ignored the breathing dog, the humming fan of my laptop, my son’s chirping clock, and they would honed into the chirping birds in the overgrown hinterlands of my backyard. Of course, knowing what birds sound like makes that whole discernment process much easier.

Hearing God’s voice often works the same way. You either have to filter out or remove all of the background noise before you can hear what he’s saying.  It’s a matter of priority.  God often doesn’t raise his voice over those things you’d rather hear. It’s also much easier to hear his voice if you know the kinds of things he says.  When you study your bible, you are studying the voice of God.

Finally, you must belong to him. Last night, I sat in our church and could hear a group of people meeting in another room. With laser-like precision, I was able to identify various voices from a cacophony of human speech — even though I could not see anyone at all. I was able to do that because I knew those people. In a sense, I belong to them, and they to me because of our relationship. God is no different.  His sheep hear his voice (John 10:27).

Brief Tips on Hearing God

There is no reason to believe that God no longer speaks to men.  In fact, there is an established pattern from the beginning of the bible, all the way to the end, in which God speaks to his creation.  This is prime evidence of his desire to be intimate with us, and for us to know him. After all, without communication, there is no real intimacy.

Initially, he spoke to Adam and Eve through clearly audible words in a person-to-person kind of way.  After they sinned and corruption entered the world, that personal kind of communication diminished considerably. Sin killed our ability to be intimate, and therefore to communicate with him.  At some point, God began to talk to people primarily through prophets. Then he began to speak to them through scriptures. After the birth of Jesus, in his efforts to save us, God returned to intimate, face-to-face communication as he walked among us as a man. After his resurrection, he returned to speaking to us through scriptures, but also through his Holy Spirit. Interestingly, throughout all of it, God was sure to speak to us through his very creation so that we were never without want (or excuse) for hearing his word or obtaining intimacy (Psalm 19:1-4Romans 1:20).

It would, therefore, make sense that God desires continued communication today, as we have not yet been fully restored to intimacy. Many people share that they do not hear from God.  If you haven’t heard from him, consider the following:

Intimacy – Am I doing anything that hampers intimacy with him, and therefore prevents me from hearing him?  If we are doing things that are selfish, or that place us outside of his will, he could be screaming at us and we probably wouldn’t hear it. Broken humans tend to hear what they wantto hear when it comes to God.

Scriptures – How familiar are you with the word he’s already spoken?  He has told us so much in the Bible already.  Have you considered if what you are asking for is already addressed in his word?

Situations – God sometimes speaks to us through situations.  Consider the story of Jonah.  God tells the prophet to serve a people he hated. Jonah didn’t want to do it, and ran the other way.  God then spoke to him by engineering his situations, making life hard for him, and by physically directing his path. If you’re not hearing from God, pray, and take a look at the world around you to see if God is speaking to you through how he’s arranged it.

How to Lift Jesus Up, and Other Mysteries

We sing song after song about how we exalt God.  We sing  how we lift his name on high, how we will exalt him forever, how we should “lift Jesus up, lift Jesus up, for the world to see,” and so on and so on. You get the picture.

But from one frame of reference, this is patent nonsense, silliness, perhaps even rubbish. We simply cannot lift Jesus up any higher than he already is. He is seated at the right hand of God, and possesses the name above all names (Ephesians 1:19-21Philippians 2:9)! Nor can we exalt God. He is the God most high (Genesis 14:22Psalm 78:35Daniel 4:2Luke 8:28Hebrews 7:1).  There is nothing you can do with your weak and worldly, sinful nature to lift them up, and even if you could, whatever height you are able to lift them to is embarrassingly low.

But from a different perspective, there is one place where you can lift them up, and when you lift them up in this place, they are elevated in so many others. When this chain reaction occurs, the world in which you have influence becomes profoundly changed.  The one place where you can lift them up is in your mind. This makes perfect sense because we are told that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). It is unlikely, if you are human, that God inhabits the highest place in your mind.  A quick view of your priorities over the last few hours will likely bear this out uncomfortably well. The best way to lift God up in your mind is to pray.  Prayer is a focused mental and spiritual activity in which you prioritize communication with God. When creating this focus you are raising God up in in the hierarchy of your mind. And when God is first, so many other things fall into place. You will find that your will aligns with his. You will find that in your world, his will is being done in your life as it is being done in heaven.  You find that he will show you your shortcomings, and you will realize that he has the power to fix them. You’ll find yourself becoming more loving, more honest, stronger, and ultimately, more like Jesus.

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