Self-Examine? Yes! Self-Hate? No!

Self-Examine? Yes! Self-Hate? No!

In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul writes: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” The Corinthian Christians have professed that they have placed their faith in Christ. But does their life match their profession? “True profession should issue in a life characterized by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22). From all appearances, the Corinthians, on Paul’s return, will be found wanting on virtually every count.” (See here.) Telling others that you are placing your faith in Christ is not equivalent to actually placing your faith in Christ. As Jim Hunter has taught me, “intentions minus actions equals nothing.”

Healthy, God-filled, in-Christ self-examination is good because good fruit grows out of its soil. In the light of God’s presence, be examined by God. But do not hate yourself. Self-hatred is not of God. Why? Because God loves you.

As strange as this may sound, history shows that self-hatred has at times been religiously engaged in as a good thing to do. For example, in the news yesterday we read that Pope John Paul practiced self-flagellation. He beat himself to get (he thought) closer to Christ. The CNN article reads: “Pope John Paul II used to beat himself with a belt and sleep naked on the floor to bring himself closer to Christ, a book published Wednesday says. The late pope had a particular belt for self-flagellation and brought it with him to his summer residence, according to the book, “Why he is a Saint: The True story of John Paul II.” “As some members of his own entourage were able to hear with their own ears, both in Poland and in the Vatican, Karol Wojtyla flagellated himself. In the closet, among the cloaks, a particular pant-belt hung from a hook, which he utilized as a whip and one which he always had brought to Castel Gandolfo,” the book says.”

Don’t do that. I do not doubt that John Paul did this. I have a friend who is a Roman Catholic priest who, when he was in a monastery, wore a “cilice.” A cilice is “a small, light, metal chain with little prongs worn around the thigh. The cilice is uncomfortable–it’s supposed to be–but it does not in any way hinder one’s normal activities and there’s absolutely no Da Vinci Code gore.”

I am sorry my friend had to wear this, and that the Pope physically whipped himself. In many ways John Paul was and remains a man I admired. But I do not admire this behavior, and would not want it emulated (which undoubtably will happen). Self-flagellation comes, mistakenly, from something Paul write in 1 Corinthians 9:

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Paul here is speaking figuratively. He’s not actually training to run in the Olympic Games. His training is spiritual. Paul didn’t literally beat his physical body. See here Dallas Willard’s excellent writing on what it means to enter into the “spiritual gymnasium.”

Self-examination is tricky, since it is easy to be mistaken, because we bring our own self to examine our own self. I remember, years ago, speaking before a group of medical students in Michigan State University’s Medical School. In dialogue with them they told me that they were cautioned about examining their own selves and would do well to get an outside opinion from another doctor.

With this in mind, I think as we examine our own selves to see if we are in the faith, attached to the Real Jesus, we should take care that such self-examination does not morph into self-hatred. Here is where a spiritual coach/director can be helpful; viz., someone you trust and who loves you and can discern the deep waters of your heart. (Proverbs 20:5) When we discover sin in our heart we are not to climb onto the cross, nail ourselves to it, and die for our own failures. Jesus has already done that for us, and his sacrifice is enough. Don’t beat on yourself to get closer to Christ. Christ has already allowed himself to be wounded, all for the sake of reconciling us to God.

On Not Judging Your Own Self

On Not Judging Your Own Self

In Matthew 7:1-2 Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” I can see the truth of this in two ways.

#1 – The judgmental-person-as-faultfinder-and-accuser-of-others will receive their own unfair share of retributive judgment heaped back on them. Waste your time picking out the faults of others, and many of those others will waste their time picking out your faults. The big bang of your judgmental words creates an ever-expanding universe of judges, all skilled at finger-pointing. Surely it’s not true that everyone who gets “judged” judges back. But when most feel feel judged the thought comes into their heads, “But you, also, are a failure.” One wants to attack back, unlike Christ responded.

#2 – The non-divine judges of all the earth suffer something even greater, which only gets exacerbated by the human judges who lash out at them. Most judgmental people I have met in my life waste a lot of time being critical of their own selves. The people who hate and punish others hate and punish their own selves. These are people who are self-perceived failures. They arrogantly weigh the deeds of other people, measure their hearts, and pronounce their “guilty” verdicts. I have personally found that, when I have felt inwardly inferior, I am more susceptible to judge others. But I’ve also pointed my big critical guns at my own self. The skilled, cynical critic of others is just as skilled and cynical about their own self. The one who hurts others is themselves a hurting heart. It’s the old “hurt people hurt people” thing, which I think is mostly true.

The antidote to this whole wasted mess is to find and experience the love of God for one’s own deep self. Be loved by God, not just in theory but in experience, and the result will be things like greater compassion towards others.

Love God.
Receive God’s love for your own self.
Stay connected to Jesus and ecperience, in relationship, his love.
Love one another.

(More) On Not Judging Others

(More) On Not Judging Others

I am asking God to fully free my heart from judging the hearts of others. Increasingly, I do not want to spend the hours of my life doing that. What about judging behaviors? Of course we can do that, and will do that. We can make judgments about a lot of things without being judgmental.

But note this: one cannot make a reasonable judgment without first understanding. It is foolish to judge without understanding. Here’s where it gets really tricky when it comes to the hearts of other people. We barely understand the complexities of our own heart. How can we think we have access to the inner workings of another person’s heart and mind? Yet this is precisely what the judgmental person claims. They say, “I know what you are thinking!” Or: “I know why you did that!” Which makes us want to respond by saying, “And just who are you – God?”

Strive to understand others and be understood by them. I have found it true that, when understanding is the goal, judgmentalism often morphs into compassion.

Time spent judging the hearts of other people is wasted time, for the following reasons. First – our judgments can be wrong, and are probably incomplete. Second – judgmentalism has no redemptive value. The point of judging others’ hearts is simply: to judge others hearts. There is an intrinsic circularity to judgmentalism. Third – we can’t change peoples’ hearts anyway, so why waste time judging them? Years ago God spoke to me and I wrote these words in my journal: “John, why are you trying so hard to change other people when you can’t even change your own self?”

Speaking personally, because I have put too much “judging time” in towards other people, I find it non-redemptive, non-edifying, and hateful. I am sorry to say that I have judged people falsely before (even in my own home) with the result being, not corporate household transformation into truth and love, but a deformed loveless heart inside of me.

Spend time, yourself, with God today.
Ask God to search out your own heart.
If God reveals to you some truth about another person’s struggle, thank him that he has entrusted you with this knowledge, and begin praying for that person.

On Not Judging Others

On Not Judging Others

Jesus tells us to stop judging other people. (Matthew 7:1) Here are some thoughts I have about this.

  • We can, and will, make “judgments” in life. This is unavoidable, and is not the thing Jesus warns us against doing. Consider this judgment: Killing people for fun is wrong. I judge that to be “true.” I am not called by God to stop doing this kind of thing. Every day we make hundreds of judgments ranging from moral judgments to “This cup of coffee is too weak.” When Jesus says “Judge not” he is referring to judgmentalism, which is different from making judgments.
  • A “judgmental” person is one who weighs in on the hearts of other people and pronounces, like a trial judge, a verdict. Such as “guilty.” Or: “That person is bad.” A judgmental person places themself in the world court of law as both judge and jury over people. Judgmental people feast off making moral and spiritual judgments about the motives of other people. Judgmental people see the worst in others irregardless of evidence to the contrary. Judgmental people will make their pronouncements without any evidence at all, or in the face of counter-evidence, or even on the basis of manifestly false evidence. When this happens judgmentalism becomes the bedfellow of gossip and slander.
  • Behaviors can and should be judged. But the human heart is difficult to assess. If someone steals from you it is not wrong to say, “They stole from me; stealing is wrong; therefore what this person has done is wrong.” But why did they steal from you? Here’s where caution is advised. Because you do not have access to the human heart. Judge the behavior; refrain from judging the person’s heart. How many times I have been either positively or negatively surprised when a person’s true heart becomes evident. Which leads me to say…
  • I have, many times, assessed the heart of another person incorrectly. I have ctually done this to my own children! When my assessment has been negative I have found myself building a case against that person. That’s neither good nor helpful. It breeds bitterness. I have made mountains, not out of mole-hills, but out of no-hills. Consider Proverbs 20:5, which says that “the purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters.” You and I lack epistemic access into the deep waters of another person’s heart. I can’t at times even figure my own heart out. How then can I expect to accurately read the hearts of other people? If you wonder why someone did something that affects you negatively, why not ask them rather than put them on trial in your own mind and even before others? And if God reveals to you some negative aspect of another person’s heart it is only so that you can pray for them or, with permission, help them. God doesn’t entrust such privileged information to judgmental people.
  • In John 7, in one of his confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus asks them to “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” They have, again, misjudged Jesus. This is because what is seen with the eyes is not equivalent to what lies in the heart. It may “appear” to me that a person has just given me a nasty look. I should not conclude from this that they have a nasty heart. Maybe, maybe not. Many years ago, when Linda and I were dating, one of her friends told Linda that it appeared I did not like this friend because of the look on my face. Linda assured the friend that I did like her, and by the way that’s how my face normally looks. This is not necessarily good. In the past few months I have become good friends with a metalhead who is covered with tattoos and piercings. I discovered that, beneath it all, there lies a very good heart. And then there’s Susan Boyle, standing before judge Simon Cowell…
  • I personally think judgmental people are fearful people. Judgmentalism works as a barrier erected to ward off self-scrutiny. If I deflect attention away from my own sin and failure and get people to look at the surface-appearance of sin and failure in someone else, I can breathe easier. Here’s where the tabloid-media comes in and gets an entire nation of people judging what’s going on in the heart of a Tiger Woods. Instead of crying out “Search me O God, and know my heart,” the cry becomes “Judge them, O God, for I know their hearts.” Probably not.
  • It’s hard work being the judge of the world. I have in the past spent too many hours trying to figure out just what the heck is going on in the brains of other people. Now, consciously, I am more and more giving this responsibility to God. What a relief! He calls me to love others, not judge them. I will do very well if I focus on that. Jesus says to me, “John, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” And in Matthew 7 Jesus adds: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
    God is able to speak into the hearts of all the people I find myself wondering about. In the meantime I will do well to allow him to speak to my own heart, and leave the judging to him.

God Is the Architect Of Our In-Christness

God Is the Architect Of Our In-Christness

(Me, in Bangkok)

Last night Linda and I went to the home of Bryan and Tera Shaffer, who are the Young Life Directors for Monroe and Lenawee counties. The occasion was a Young Life leadership meeting – some worship, sharing, prayer, and then I shared out of John 14-16 on what it means to “abide in Christ.” As Linda and I left their home we agreed that it was good to be with these young leaders who are passionate about Jesus. We are so thankful for them, and for the excellent directorship of Bryan and Tera. They incarnate themselves in the lives of high school kids, meet them where they are at, and introduce them to the Revolutonary Jesus. Being at this gathering reminded us of our days in campus ministry at Michigan State University.

Now – more on “abiding in Christ.”

The “open secret” of how Jesus said what he said and did what he did is found in John 14:10-11, where Jesus tells his disciples: “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” The worship song “Breathe” expresses this well: “Your holy presence, living in me; Your very word, spoken to me.”

If we are Jesus-followers we are “in Christ.” Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:30 says that it is because of God “that you are in Christ Jesus.” Andrew Murray, in Abide in Christ, writes: “The whole Christian life depends on the clear consciousness of our position in Christ. Most essential to the abiding in Christ is the daily renewal of our faith’s assurance, “I am in Christ Jesus.”” Important to note is that “this is not of our own doing.” This is God’s doing, for us.

Murray cites Ephesians 2:10 in support of this: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It should give you comfort to know that God has effected our “in-Christness,” and that it’s not of our own doing. Speaking for myself, as someone who is not skilled in things like carpentry or tentmaking, I am glad that God has put this thing together and not me. It greatly increases the chances that this thing that God has put together will not fall apart when the storms come!

Stand amazed that you and I have now become partakers of this union “in Christ,” joined and fitted together by God himself. This is precisely why Jesus says “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

1. I am “in Christ.”
2. Christ is in me, the hope of glory.
3. The peace and joy that is Christ’s is, therefore, mine (because I am a “branch” connected to Jesus, the true Vine).
4. I can do all things in Christ.

As I write this my mind is saying…  cool.

I have not been able to get away from these Jesus-words for many months now. I am not only interested in the possibility of doing “even greater things” than Jesus did, but am also very interested in the doing of what Jesus had been doing. All of this, of course, not for one4’s own fame, but to the glory of God and the magnifying of Jesus.

Today remember your position in Christ.

Brandon Robinson comments on Murray ch. 6

To abide, means to know the Spirit.

There is something mystical to this, and that unusual quality should not cause skepticism. The spiritual is an expansive realm. And, though removed from our more comfortable modes of thought, our stereotypes, our Hollywood interpretations, the seeming ethereal or abstract nature of something as elusive as a spirit does not yield it irrelevant. The point is my identity, and I am more than a shell with a psyche befit for socialization and entertainment.

But I can only encounter that epiphany of identity by abiding. And as much as the epiphany of my spiritual self is deemed good, as much as I genuinely agree with it, I must acknowledge abiding—something alien to my self until I knew it—as also congruent to my being. And yet I didn’t invent it. I don’t have the blueprints for it. I haven’t charted its horizons.

Abiding is a provision from a life I share because that life encompasses and defines the existence I envision as myself. Thus abiding is ever-present to me though I have nothing to impart to its creation or continuation. I give myself to know it, as effected by the Spirit’s nature giving itself in this way of knowing.

The First Two Steps In Relationship Restoration

The First Two Steps In Relationship Restoration

Linda and I are always meeting with people to restore relationships. Whether its marriages, families, friendships, or working relationships, interpersonal strife-issues have not diminished. I suspect they are on the increase because of the “illusion of technique” (see Jacques Ellul; William Barrett) and its vast overratedness, underperformance, and essential misunderstanding when it comes to humanity’s tribal needs.

Are you in a struggling marriage? Here’s what to do – at least, the first two steps of relationship restoration:

  1. Get right with God.
  2. Be yourself searched-out by God.

Some thoughts on Step 2:

  • Few relationship problems are the fault of just one person. Yes, sometimes it is really just one person who “is the problem.” But this is rare. Stop here and note this: If you are in a struggling relationship begin by considering yourself to be the problem, or at least that part of the problem that you can influence. I find this important because it is common for people to talk about the “other person” rather than look at their own self.
  • You are not a “victim” of the other person’s behaviors. Yes, there are true victims; viz., people who are victimized/persecuted/etc. for essentially nothing they have done. A true non-victim has not been part of the dance at all. But this is rare. Stop here and note this: If you are in a struggling relationship the other person is not the cause of your bad attitudes and behaviors. Take responsibility here rather than blame the other. Your sin has no excuse. (Think here of what Jesus said as he hung on the cross.)
  • When, in a relationship such as, e.g., a marriage, both people turn to God and then allow themselves to be examined by God and take responsibility for their own part in the team failure, expect good things to happen, and God to empower this.
  • C.S. Lewis once wrote that the true Christian’s nostrils must be constantly attuned to the inner cesspool. Do not attune your nostrils to the cespools of others; your own inner pollution will be enough for you to handle in this life. Clean up your own act. Or, better, allow God to clean up your own act. The David-attitude of Psalm 51 is instructive here: “Create in me [not “them”] a clean heart O God. Renew a right spirit in me.” Psalm 129:33-34 says: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Note the six personal pronouns here. Me, my, me, my, me, me.
  • When God shows you things that you have said or done to contribute to the relationship failure, then: 1) identify them; 2) confess them to God and receive forgiveness; and 3) confess them to the person you have hurt (sinned against). When you confess use words like this: “I was wrong when I did/said ____________ to you. Will you forgive me?” When someone says words like this to you, forgive them, as Christ has forgiven you.

Get things right with God.
Let God get things with you.
Confess, as needed, to God and others.
God will be with you and the relationship as you do these things.

If God Made the Universe, What Made God?

If God Made the Universe, What Made God?

I have had, numerous times, persons ask me: “If God made the universe, then who or what made God?” How shall I respond to this? Here are some thoughts from J.P. Moreland’s The God Question.

  • It is true that all events need explanatory causes. But God is not an “event.” Therefore God does not need a cause. (Moreland, 63)
  • The question “What or who made God?” commits “the pointless category fallacy” (“the mistake of ascribing the wrong feature to the wrong thing”).” It’s like asking “What color is the note C?” Moreland says that “the question, what made x? can only be asked if x is makeable.” (Ib.)
  • If God exists at all, then God is a necessary being. A necessary being is a being that could not not exist. Moreland correctly states: “This definition is what theists mean by “God” even if it turns out that no God exists. Atheists and theists typically agree about the definition of what god would be if He exists. They differ over whether or not anything exists that satisfies that definition. Now, if that is what “God” means, then the question, what made God? turns out to be, what made an entity, Go, who is by defintion, unmakeable?” And to ask that question is to ask a nonsense question. Therefore the question “Who or what made God? is, fundamentally (logically), incoherent.

I Am In Christ Jesus

I Am In Christ Jesus

(Monroe, a half mile east of our house.)

Andrew Murray, in chapter 5 of Abide in Christ, writes: “The whole Christian life depends on the clear consciousness of our position in Christ. Most essential to the abiding in Christ is the daily renewal of our faith’s assurance, “I am in Christ Jesus.””

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 says: 

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.””

Here we see the core Jesus-Kingdom-idea about true greatness. “Greatness” in God’s Kingdom is not what it is in any earthly kingdom. It’s not about intellect or birthright or physical strength or economic power.

Recently I had the privilege of meeting with a simple (but not simplistic) man who has little money, no earthly fame, is not especially physically attractive, and speaks the English language in a very ungrammatical and syntactically incorrect way. As we were talking I sensed Jesus in him. This man’s heart’s location is “in Christ.” He’s older than I, and fairly recently has been rescued out of a life of drugs and violence. I could see the joy and amazement in his eyes as he told me his story. There was a simple, deep wisdom in him that is not about him but all about Jesus in him, and he in Jesus. This man knows his position in Christ. I may ask him to share his story to our church family.

As I left him I had a feeling that I’ve often had; viz., the feeling that, somehow, I’ve just had a meeting with Jesus. The truth is that, in a very real sense, I had met with Jesus. And Jesus met with us, because we’re both abiding in Him.

If there’s anything to brag about in this life, it’s just this: Thanks to God, I am in Christ Jesus.

Brandon Robinson comments on Murray, ch. 5:

To abide, means to walk in the Spirit.

Living on Earth, the planet, guarantees that some conditions will influence me. Gravity, for instance. Before my waking consciousness forms its first ideas for the day, it is taking gravity into account. My interaction towards mattresses, shower heads, stairs, toasters, briefcases, and tire friction all depend on gravity. This force is a fundamental quality in the space where I live.

Would that it were the same with supernatural love. The ground of faith is no less familiar with such a force. The space of abiding no less saturated than to luxuriously permeate my encounter with the world. And my first ideas, too often acknowledge themselves as traitors to the dwelling of my soul. My interaction toward relationships, obligations, social exchanges, job requirements, financial situations, personal hopes, etc. and etc. stands much to gain from the secret place of abiding.

That walking through a course of events would at first step be upon the way of life.

Pants (No Longer) On the Ground

Pants (No Longer) On the Ground

When Linda and I walked out of the theatre last Friday night a young man and his girlfriend were in front of us. He wore baggy jeans that were slung low below his posterior. As soon as I saw this a song popped into my head – “pants on the ground, pants on the ground, lookin’ like a fool with his pants on the ground.” I almost began to sing it out loud.

Mark this: on January 12, 2010, the baggy-below-the-butt-pants-look officially ended. Whereas prior to this date below-the-bottom-baggies (BBBs) made someone look like a “cool cat,” now, because of General Larry Platt’s song “Pants On the Ground,” the kid walking in front of me looks like a fool. More than that, he is a fool. And, if he had gold in his mouth and a hat turned sideways he would be three times the fool.

Platt’s “Pants” song is huge, and is going to get huger (pronounced “hue – jer”). When it becomes a cd it will rocket to #1 and stay there and rule until no more pants are on the ground. Then, it will hover over society making its presence felt just in case some kid decides to wear his pants real, real low. It has already become impossible to look at someone wearing BBBs and not perceive them as a fool. If you’ve heard the song, I dare you to try it. You are no longer able to look on someone sporting low-riders and not laugh out loud. The wearing of BBBs is now equivalent to leaving home in the morning wearing clown makeup complete with a giant red bulbous nose. The only people on the planet wearing BBBs today are those who don’t know what the word “fool” means.

Let’s go deeper. “Pants On the Ground” is now busy restructuring human consciousness. The way we perceive things is undergoing a paradigm shift. Behold the shifting paradigm, right before our very eyes! One rarely gets to see such a thing since paradigm shifts are subtle and go unnoticed by most, sometimes taking a hundred years from the initial paradigm-threatening anomaly to the final settling-in of the usurping paradigm. But last Tuesday night, on “American Idol,” the world changed in an instant. Former “cool cats” were instantly morphed into laughably clownish idiots.

Google “Pants On the Ground” and see everyone from Jimmy Fallon to Bret Favre singing the song. Behold “Pants” chewing up and spitting out an entire culture. BBBs have become the fashion equivalent of the mullet.

What Teens Think About Religion

What Teens Think About Religion

Christian Smith’s Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers was important for all of us trying to understand today’s teens. Now his new book Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults looks very good. Scot McKnight is reviewing it here.

McKnight bullet-points Smith’s conclusions re. “what emerging adults think about religion.” Now pay attention, everyone, as you read the following, which totally resonates with my little window as a community college philosophy professor.

The most commonly voiced themes are these:

1. Religion is not a very threatening topic.

2. The majority of emerging adults are indifferent to religion.

3. The shared principles of various religions are good — all good. In fact, they say religions share the same core principles.

4. Religious particularities are peripheral to what is most important.

5. The point of religion is to make people good — make good people — make people better morally.

6. Religious congregations, therefore, are elementary schools for morals — and once you’ve been through elementary school you move on.

7. A family’s faith evokes a sense of dependence; therefore, not good.

8. Religion is not the place of real belonging.

9. By and large, friends rarely talk about religion.

10. Religious beliefs are “cognitive assents” but not “life drivers.”

11. What seems right to me is what is right and authoritative.

12. Take or leave what you want in your religion.

13. Evidence and proof trump blind faith.
14. Mainstream religion is fine, probably.

15. Religion is personal, not social or institutional.

16. There is no way to know what is true — in a final way.