Friday, July 15, 2011

The Reason Why

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don't they come from the evil desires at war within you?  You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can't get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don't have what you want because you don't ask God for it.  And even when you ask, you don't get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.  (James 4:1-3)  NLT

Have you ever wondered why things happen the way they do?  Many people walk around frustrated about the fact that this world is so unfair.  This one seems to have everything going their way while this other one can’t seem to get a break.  For some people, it seems that everyone is out to get them (including the IRS).  It’s easy to blame people around us or find twenty reasons for our mess that have nothing to do with us.  Circumstances can be complex and there are often several contributing factors.  This one should and that one didn’t and I wish they would have….  But, how much time do we spend actually looking at ourselves? 

If you’ve been through a divorce or a breakup in the last few years, in what ways did you contribute to the demise of that relationship?  You might be drawing a blank.  Most of us could talk at length about the ways in which the other party helped steer us toward the cliff relationally.  In fact maybe in your mind that person is completely at fault.  This mindset is very easy to understand in cases of abuse, infidelity, neglect, etc.  They crossed the line, you didn’t; case closed.  And while that may make us feel better about ourselves right now, we actually hurt ourselves long term going down that path.  This doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships.  This same principle applies to struggles wiith friendships, relationships at work, etc.

In this passage, James is asking us to take a good hard look at the underlying reason for our circumstances and how we’ve contributed to it (even in a small way).  In fact, he actually wants us to look deep within and understand what core issue within us causes us to act the way we act.  It doesn’t help us to live as if we bear no responsibility.  Whatever Fred’s failures were in his past relationship, he is doomed to repeat them in the next one if he doesn’t look honestly and see them for what they are.  Denial gets in the way of God’s agenda to make you the person he desires you to be.

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.  (James 4:7-8)  NLT

James says we need to humble ourselves before God.  Another way of saying “lack of humility” is “pride”, and we know pride is a sin that keeps us stuck.  Pride needs repentance so we can “purify our hearts” before God.  God loves us and wants us to grow, but we can’t do that as long as we refuse to acknowledge our failures and our faults.  When we see them for what they are, then we can take them to God and He will bring healing for our hearts.  Long before Michael Jackson showed up, James asked us to start with the “man in the mirror.”  If you can’t see clearly, go to a few people you trust and ask for wise counsel.  Let them be your mirror.  If you seek healing and growth rather than guilt and self condemnation then you will be on the right path. And God will come close to you as you draw near to Him.   

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Walking In the Light

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.  So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth.  But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  (1 John 1:5-7)  NLT

We have so many examples of people who did their best to keep things in the dark.  President Clinton was able to hide his indiscretions for a while but eventually darkness was overtaken by the glaring light of impeachment.  College football coaches are losing jobs, players are losing trophies, and schools are losing post-season eligibility and scholarships due to previously hidden dishonest practices and NCAA violations.  Numerous congressmen have gotten in trouble for sexual misconduct including harassment, groping, and explicit interactions with pages and other staff members.  We may be tempted to try it as well.  Many of us probably are doing things today we they don’t want someone to know about.  And yet Jesus calls us out of that life for our own good.

It’s not that we’re expected to never sin again.  John makes it clear a couple verses later that this isn’t the case.  God knows we will sin occasionally.  But we are expected to live a life that involves confession and repentance.  Confession keeps our sin in the light where it can be dealt with properly.  Not confessing (ie. hiding it) is in fact living in darkness.  The darkness seems to provide enough cover for us to be able to not only protect ourselves from being caught but to actually protect our sin.  Think about why we hide our sin.  Isn’t it often so we can keep on doing it?  We’re attached to our sin and we don’t want to let go of it.  If it hits the light of day, changes will have to be made somewhere.  But God knows that sin is bad for us and he wants to eradicate it.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.  (1 John 1:8-10)  NLT

Ultimately, being in the light boils down to our relationship with God.  If we are actively following, worshiping, and praying, then we will naturally gravitate to the light as part of that relationship.  It’s being with God relationally that gives us the desire and ability to stay away from the dark places.  God’s love in us drowns out the darkness.  Even strife within the church is an indicator that something is wrong with that relationship.

If anyone claims, "I am living in the light," but hates a Christian brother or sister,* that person is still living in darkness.  (1 John 2:9)  NLT

So for those of us who are following, it’s time to do a self diagnostic check.  Are you experiencing much darkness in your life?  Hint: if you are actively hiding something, it’s probably sitting in some dark place awaiting your return.  All of these dark corners just need you to pull the little string attached to the overhead light.  Just turn on the light and leave it there.  Our goal here is not energy conservation.  It’s important to have accountability of some sort so someone can partner with you as you work to break the hold these things have on your life.  For you, who is it that you trust as an accountability partner?  Who will support you, encourage you, and whack you over the head sometimes if you need it to get back on track? 

The good news is that when light meets darkness, the light always wins.  Light is where the power is.  Light is to darkness as Raid is to roaches.  And when the darkness dies, it takes with it the fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame the darkness created.  What can you do today to make light in your life a reality?  What long term changes are needed to make this a long term reality?