We Will Not Live in Tents Forever

The apostle Paul was likely one of the finest Old Testament scholars of his day, and sometimes draws on existing imagery to make a point.  One example might be Proverbs 14:11-12, where the second verse is more widely known than the first, but not unrelated:

The house of the wicked will be destroyed,
            but the tent of the upright will flourish.
There is a way that seems right to a man,
            but its end is the way to death.

Physically, it seems obvious that a house is far more durable than a tent, but these Proverbs tell us not to judge by appearances.  Looks and reputation may suggest otherwise, but it is righteousness that determines eternal destiny, specifically acceptance of Jesus’ righteousness.

In 2 Corinthians 5:1-3, Paul gives an example of why we should focus not on what “seems right”, but instead focus on the unseen things that matter for eternity, drawing on the tent image:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.”

Photo by Hendrik Morkel on Unsplash

Paul, defending his apostleship to the Corinthians amidst his suffering while other false apostles lived in ease, knew that an upright tent was better than a wicked house in God’s eyes, and therefore being less comfortable was entirely worth it, since there was an eternal reward waiting in heaven.

Commenting on 2 Corinthians 5, Warren Wiersbe notes that “Heaven was not simply a destination for Paul: it was a motivation.  Like the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, he looked for the heavenly city and governed his life by eternal values.”[1]

When frustrated by your earthly limitations, or frustrated by discomfort in this world, know that we will not live in these tents forever.  For His faithful, God is preparing an eternal dwelling for us.  While it “seems right to a man” to think a house is better than a tent, every tent and house in this world is temporary.  Hebrews 1:12 says of all creation, the earth and all the heavens, that:

like a robe you will roll them up,
            like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
            and your years will have no end.

Do we long for our new, eternal heavenly dwelling?  Does this longing motivate us to live for God?  Let us keep Driving Toward Morning today!

[1] Wiersbe, Warren.  Be Encouraged (2 Corinthians) (1994).  P. 69.

A Wonderful Counselor: What We Need For Christmas…Part 2

According to James Boice (see last post in the series), if you asked people to honestly describe their needs, they might describe one as: “We have minds. So we have a need to know things rightly, to understand. We need wisdom.”  In Isaiah 9:6, Jesus, the Christ of Christmas, is described as our Wonderful Counselor, who meets our need for wisdom.

But what is wisdom?  Wisdom is about taking the right action, not about being book smart, or accumulating facts.  You don’t need to be brilliant to have wisdom.  Wisdom looks forward.  It is proactive and specific to you.  Nobody else’s situation is your situation, and nobody else has the same history, relationships, abilities, and resources. Your path is your own.

Why do we need wisdom?  Because our inner conscience is not one, clear voice with the right answer.  It is a jumble of influences and desires, which I’ve described as a multi-voiced “Moral GPS.” How do you even choose from among your own wants?  Everyone is limited by time and resources.  Also, what if your wants conflict with each other?  “I love junk food, but I want to be healthy.”  Also, how do you decide what is “good” to do?  Who decides what is “harmful”?  What if someone else’s desires harm you?  Can you tell them their desires are wrong, or even disagree on what “harm” is, in a world where everyone just lives by their own messy conscience?[1]

We are never truly free.  Absolute freedom is not good, or even possible, and therefore we need a reliable filter and that is what wisdom is.  Wisdom enables us to choose the best possible path from among the many choices before us.  This is especially tricky as multiple paths may look “true” or “best” to us, and most paths have ripple effects we can’t possibly anticipate.  In our world information is more readily available than ever before, but many people just seem more overwhelmed by it all.

Only someone who knows us perfectly, who knows every possible consequence of our choices on us and on others, and who loves us with our best interests in mind is qualified to be our Wonderful Counselor and worthy of our trust.  Others can provide incomplete guidance – parents, teachers, ministers, writers, philosophers – but each of these also needs its own filter.

In the gift of Jesus as Wonderful Counselor we can satisfy one of our deepest needs: “To know the truth! Jesus Christ is the truth, and he is for us a Wonderful Counselor.” (Boice)

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

As God, He has no gaps in his knowledge or biases and therefore His words to us are not an inadequate abstraction or wishful thinking.  He alone is perfectly trustworthy.  He does not want to scold or punish you, but to guide you in perfect wisdom that only He can provide.  He does not magically tell you everywhere to go, holding up signs, but desires a relationship.  To walk with you and guide you to life eternal. He wants us to invite Him into our lives, and He is Wonderful.

This is the first gift of Christ in Christmas.

[1] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  This paragraph draws from Chapter 5.

What We Need for Christmas…Part 1

What do we need for Christmas? We think a lot about what we want, but what do we really need?

James Montgomery Boice, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, says:

“Suppose…that we should conduct an opinion poll to find out what men and women feel they most need. Suppose we should ask, ‘What do you feel are your greatest needs?’
‘Well,’ people would say, ‘we have minds. So we have a need to know things rightly, to understand. We need wisdom. We also have wills, and because we have wills, we want to achieve something. We want our lives to make a difference. To do that we need power. We are also individuals, but we sense that we are not meant to be alone. We want to belong somewhere. We need satisfying relationships. We are also conscious of having done wrong things. We need to be forgiven. We need somebody to deal with our guilt. Isn’t that what we would find if we should poll people and analyze their basic experiences? Aren’t those the things we really need?”[1]

Photo by Tina Vanhove on Unsplash

Whatever mess we find ourselves and the world in, Christmas is a reminder that God has not given up on us and on the world.  Boice quotes from Isaiah 9:6, a prophecy from around 700 BC concerning the Christ we celebrate each Christmas:
“And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

To meet our deepest, most significant needs, this Christ is provided for us.  Over the coming weekends until Christmas, I’ll be posting Christmas messages inspired by Boice’s framework about each of these 4 names, and how they are “the greatest gifts that anybody can give or we can have, and they are all in Jesus.”[2]  They are better than anything under your tree (or lost in the supply chain until after Christmas) and were delivered over 2,000 years ago.  Therefore, you can receive and open them at any time!

[1] From “May 10.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).
[2] Ibid.

Help! There’s a Log in My Eye! (Part 2)

Dear fellow travelers,

Yesterday’s post started to discuss Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:3-5 – “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Jesus was telling His followers that they should help each other move closer to God, but only to remove specks from others’ eyes after dealing with their own logs.  The first lesson, covered yesterday, was to make sure our motive is right.  The second (today’s topic) is to learn from our own experience fighting the logs in our own eyes.  When I think about these logs, and really try to remove them, I realize it’s a lot harder than I might assume about specks in other people’s eyes.

First, being told I have a log in my eye might be counterproductive.  The hardest logs to get rid of are the ones we already know are wrong, and possibly because we know they are wrong.  Paul gives an example in Romans 7:7b-8a, saying “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”  Being told my log is a sin isn’t necessarily going to get it out of my eye.  It might make things worse.

Second, the most stubborn logs might be there because I’ve decided, at least subconsciously, that I am better off with the log than I am without it.  Until we are perfected in heaven, part of us wants to listen to “the woman Folly,” who cries out that “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” in Proverbs 9:17.  Even though Wisdom offered a feast of meat and wine in Proverbs 9:2, our flesh is drawn to the bread and water because they are “stolen” in “secret.”  Whatever “bad” the log does to me, I sometimes prefer it to the “good” represented by the alternative.    Being told my log is bad for me might not overcome that.

Third, I know that Jesus said, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye,” and I’m tempted to think the log in other people’s eyes give them no right to be judgmental.  As noted yesterday, for some, the lesson of Jesus’ words is about how to identify a hypocrite.  For others, the lesson may be that people should mind their own business.  Of course, once I think that, I’m trying to remove a speck from their eye, judging them and saying their behavior should be changed.  Maybe in writing this, I’m being judgmental myself.  Avoiding being judgmental is perhaps the hardest thing for a person to do, while graciously accepting the imperfect love of a brother can sometimes be harder.

Who do you trust with your eyes? Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

So, what’s the solution?  There may not be a magic formula, but in examining our own logs, we learn to approach others in loving service, not judgment, understanding what Paul said at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 10:13, that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”    Fighting sin is hard.  For all of us.  It requires overcoming our natural response to rules, requires trust that His way is better than ours (proof isn’t always possible), and requires relationships that nurture meaningful involvement – even around the parts of our lives that, like our eyes, we fiercely protect.  We won’t often let anyone near the speck in our eye who hasn’t proven their love by tangible acts.  People can tell when (or imagine that) our motivation is our own anxiety, envy, or anger.

Me First (Redux)
Immediately after the version of the speck and log story in Luke’s gospel, Luke records Jesus saying: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.  The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.[1]

I believe Luke puts this here because removing our own logs makes us more like a good tree that can produce good fruit.  Only by knowing and relying on God can we approach the specks in our brother’s eyes inspired by grace not legalism, concern not unwelcome intrusiveness, and love not judgment.

God, the only righteous judge, forgave us our sins by taking the judgment we deserved upon Himself on the cross.  Instead of fretting over evildoers, He sought to save them.  Knowing our Lord and how He approaches us in our sin as our Savior helps us see more clearly to help our brothers remove the specks from their eyes.  Only He can heal us, but sometimes He wants us to participate in His work.

“…first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

[1] Luke 6:43-45

Help! There’s a Log in My Eye! (Part 1)

Until we get to heaven, none of us can fully understand what God is telling us in the Bible, but I believe one particularly tricky passage is this one: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5

For some, the lesson is about how to identify a hypocrite.  For others, the lesson may be that people should mind their own business.  Some might think it has applications for the church’s role toward the sinners of the world.

While there might be good points to be made about those lessons, here I want to focus on what Jesus told those listening to actually do: 1) “take the log out of your own eye,” and 2) “take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  Jesus is definitely not saying His people should always ignore every speck and log.  His mission is to make His church holy, and we participate in that work.  Christians are supposed to help each other move closer to God.  However, there are right ways, and very wrong ways, to remove specks and logs.  He says do (1), then only do (2) afterward.

When saying “first take the log out of your own eye,” I think Jesus is offering two bits of advice.  First, be more concerned about your own sin first before dealing with the sin of others.  Second, take what you learn about overcoming your own logs of sin and apply it to ministering to others with their specks.  The cure for hypocrisy here is not to do nothing about the brother’s speck.  It is to remove our own log first, so we “will see clearly.”

This is a huge topic, but today’s post will briefly cover the first point, and tomorrows will cover the second point.  There’s definitely a lot more that has been, and can be, said.

Me First
By focusing on our own problems first, we might avoid three problems, the first being putting ourselves through endless anxiety about the sins of the world.  Psalm 37:1 advises “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!”  When God chose to love the world, He did so knowing that the world contained nothing but evildoers, and therefore advises not to fret about evil.  He has a plan, and that plan is not that we need to address or fix every problem.

Later in the same Psalm, verse 8 advises: “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”  This means that fretting over the sins of others leads us to wrong emotions and motives, particularly envy and wrath.  Referring back to verse 1, “be not envious of wrongdoers”, because we may be tempted to participate in their wrongdoing.  If we think they’ve done well by sinning, and that there was no negative consequence, we might persuade ourselves to join in out of envy for their “success”.  So, we add the speck in their eye to the log in our own, and everyone is worse off.

Third, if we see that wrongdoers are not punished, and are frustrated by it, we can be tempted to take it into our own hands to “correct” their situation by removing their speck.  In this case, we’re motivated by wrath, instead of a loving desire to do the best for our brother.  Also, others might see that we did this, got away with it, and be tempted to join in (envy again?), and so these 2nd and 3rd points can become a vicious cultural cycle within a community of believers.

In another post, The Desires He Delights to Give, I wrote about verses 4-6 of Psalm 37 and it would a good read for context here, but the summary is that when we seek to please God, we will learn to be less anxious about evildoers, and also feel less envy and wrath.

So, Jesus’ first advice before removing a speck from someone else’s eye seems to be to make sure we have the right motive – love.  Tomorrow, part 2 will briefly talk about how hard it is to remove the real logs in our own eyes.