Archive for the 'Human Good' Category

Making a Difference

I was reading Rush Limbaugh’s website today, under the transcript portion titled The Ignorant Can Make a Difference, where a woman called in to say that rather than take her children out of California public schools she was leaving them in and hoped that they — and she — might make a difference. She had just been voted president of the PTA and was considering running for office, etc. Then she encouraged other parents to seek to make a difference also.

After the call, Rush said he found the phrase she’d used — wanting to “make a difference — to be a minor irritation, for it was one people use constantly these days. He recalled his recent experience judging the Miss America contest and thus interviewing many of the young women:

You wouldn’t believe the interviews the number of contestants who came up and said, “I want to make a difference,” and I’m sitting there thinking, “Well, Hitler made a difference.” You know, what is this “I want to make a difference” business? It’s become a cliché. What it means is, “I want to help people, I want to improve things,” which I totally understand. But it’s also become a way of saying something about yourself when you don’t say anything.”

Later one of his friends emailed him that “I want to make a difference” really means, “I want to matter. I want to matter.”

And that struck me. Because I think that is indeed what it means. The environmentalist group snags people with this lure — join our cause, save the planet, make a difference! I see it in the seemingly weekly running events around Tucson, where people tie their hobbies to some charity, thereby making their run that day “matter.” They are making a difference. At least in their minds. There are even cards for kids drives so people can make greeting cards and send a gazillion of them to ailing children and their families, thereby cheering them and making a difference. It gives them purpose. They feel like they matter. At least in their own eyes and possibly in the eyes of the world.

It’s a reasonable goal. We all want to matter. We all want purpose and direction in life. But to me it has become empty. “I want to make a difference” seems to be the watchword of young people starting out today… 

I’ve heard Christians use the same phrase.  Writers hope the books they write will “make a difference in the lives of those who read them.” Publishers often express the same hope. Others want to transform a city, make a difference in a community by transforming it. It sounds good, but is it? Is the Christian life really about us making a difference?

Yes. And no.

And do we “matter” because of what we do for others?  And if we do, then doesn’t that make our motivation for doing for them rather self-absorbed? I’m doing this because I want to matter…

Except… for the Christians anyway… we already do matter. We matter enough to God that He’d send His son to die for us so we can be with Him for ever. We matter enough to His Son, that He’d agree to do it. And when we believe in the work His son has done on our behalf, God gives us His very own righteousness, puts us in union with His son, seated at His right hand and comes to indwell our very bodies. We, in the church age, are royalty. The very Trinity indwells each of us.

So how can we say we want to matter? We already do matter, tremendously. I submit that desire is not from the Spirit but from the flesh. It’s the flesh that wants to matter. It’s the flesh that wants to be recognized, appreciated, thanked for “making a difference.”   To feel significant and worthwhile. And often the only way to do that is by achievement or receiving the approbation of others.

But the plan of God is not about us, not about our works, us making a difference. It’s Christ who makes the difference. It’s God’s word that makes the difference. It’s His plan that matters. Our task is to recognize what we already are — precious in His sight. Rich and powerful beyond belief. We have only to believe it, and to claim — and live in — the wealth and power we already possess.

Is Self-Discipline Overrated?

This exploration of self-discipline I’ve undertaken lately is a work in progress. I used to think understanding is straightforward — that you suddenly understand, all confusion is removed, you’ve finally found THE answer, and can apply with ease and confidence.

It’s more like going over and over and over a subject, grasping a new bit of it, trying to apply it, seeing that it doesn’t quite work, going over it some more, dropping it altogether, coming back for another Eureka! moment only to fall flat on your face and conclude that you have no idea what it’s about and never will… then getting hold of a new tidbit that shifts the whole picture again… There is much doublemindedness and blundering about.

So it would probably be better not to make such things the subject of blog posts until you’ve finished with all the blundering and have some solid conclusions. Or at least have some idea that the conclusions you’ve come to seem to be working out as correct. But that would mean I’d write a blog post only about every two years, so I’ll stick with this.

So what is the difference between the self-control produced by the Spirit and the self-control produced by the flesh? Because there are definitely two categories. My dilemma springs out of the fact that if it’s supernatural, if it’s a fruit of the Spirit and the Spirit produces it, then I must not do anything to produce it. Like trying to be “self-disciplined.” On the other hand, we’re commanded to do things that do require forcing oneself to do things one may not desire to do…

Like sit in Bible class, be quiet and pay attention to the pastor as he teaches, for one.

So… which is it? Or is it both?

And what exactly do I mean by self-control anyway? In my last post on this subject I mentioned the blog post by Aaron Swartz about being more productive, from which I followed a link to an article on “Why Self-Discipline is Overrated: The (Troubling) Theory and Practice of Control from Within.” It’s written by Alfie Kohn, who is an educator, something of an academic and a liberal. A fair amount of what he had to say I disagreed with, but some of what he brought out was quite illuminating.

First was a picture of what human self-discipline looks like — and how it can be a system of bondage. This is not helped by the fact that our culture lauds self-control and treats it as invariably wonderful. Self-control is good and admirable and virtuous, whereas impulsivity is not. This dichotomy is communicated especiallyclearly in schools . Good students are well-mannered, do their work right away and pay attention and are thus admired; bad students throw spit balls, distract everyone with their antics and drive the teacher batty, and are problems that need to be solved.

Part of Kohn’s intent in his article was to challenge this unquestioned value system and to do so he used the findings of research psychologist Jack Block. Block defined “ego control” as

“the extent to which impulses and feelings are expressed or suppressed. ‘Those who are undercontrolled are impulsive and distractible; those who are overcontrolled are compulsive and joyless…’ It’s not just that self-control isn’t always good; it’s that a lack of self-control isn’t always bad because it may ‘provide the basis for spontaneity, flexibility, expressions of interpersonal warmth, openness to experienced and creative recognitions.'”

I think that was the first time I ever read something in support of “lack of self-control,” but again, I saw the truth in that statement as soon as I read it. I experience those impulses — to give someone a hug, to go look in a book, to call someone, to do something other than what I’d planned — and often they turn out to be the guidance of the Spirit. So clearly there is an element of self-control that has to do with the flesh trying to control things, and that’s not the kind we want, though that is the kind that most people in this world have (being unbelievers; or believers not operating under the power of the Spirit) and laud.

“Overcontrollers tend to be complete abstainers from drug use, but they are less well-adjusted than individuals who have lower ego control and may have experimented briefly with drugs, [while] a tendency toward overcontrol puts young women (but not young men) at risk for development of depression.”

He goes on to illustrate the point with the example of a student who always gets her work done right away. Superficially this seems laudable, but inside, what is her motivation? He points out that it may be the reason she isn’t doing the things she’d prefer to do over homework is because the intense discomfort that comes from having an unfinished task hanging over her drives her to do it. “She wants — or more accurately, needs — to get the assignment out of the way in order to stave off anxiety.”

A clear, clear picture of the sin nature producing what appears to be self-discipline but in reality is just the knee-jerk function of a slave hopping to. Until she gets the work done the master inside her is going to flog her with guilt and anxiety. I can totally relate to this illustration.

Kohn suggests that in many cases self-discipline may actually be a sign not of health but of vulnerability, reflecting the “fear of being overwhelmed by external forces or by one’s own desires that must be suppressed through continual effort.” This is the poor person who is relying upon self and not upon the power of the Spirit and the word…

Then he said this, and it blew me away:

“In his classic work, Neurotic Styles, David Shapiro described how someone might function as ‘his own overseer, issuing commands, directives, reminders, warnings, and admonitions concerning not only what is to be done and what is not to be done, but also what is to be wanted, felt and even thought.”

We can do this with God’s plan for our lives, again, not in the power of the Spirit but solely through the function of our flesh. It’s yet another example of legalism. From reading the Bible we see all these things we should do and be and want, and how easy to just take it upon ourselves to see that we carry out those demands. Of course, the end is going to be failure, because we’re fallen and it’s not going to work. And even if it appears to work externally, inside there is no peace, no joy, no capacity to love…

He goes on to point out that an extremely disciplined person often sees everything as a means to an endand can’t “feel comfortable with any activity that lacks an aim or purpose beyond its own pleasure and usually do not recognize the possibility of finding life satisfying without a continuous sense of purpose and effort.”

Here, of course, we stray into some of the stuff I take issue with. I’m not sure anyone is truly comfortable living a life without purpose, and that’s one of the wonderful things a relationship with God gives us. But all these descriptions I’m setting down refer to the function of man in the flesh. And the flesh can base all its worth and satisfaction on achieving stuff. (One of Solomon’s eight experiments, written about in Ecclesiastes; and not one of those experiments produced the desired result of happiness) The purpose in the above quote refers to a purpose you can see, not something you must take on faith. The control freak has to see the purpose in what he’s doing or it’s not any good. “I’ve wasted the whole day dinking around with cards,” she wails, “and didn’t get anything accomplished! I’m a BAD girl.”

A few years ago when he was standing in for Pastor Bob who was ill, Pastor John Farley taught this:

“Guilt can arise from perfectionism. This is an unbelievable insult to God: I’m going to live by my standards and everything that’s good or bad is going to be decreed from the court of my soul. If I said I did a good job, I did. If I said I did a rotten job, I did. I don’t care what God says, it’s rotten. Everything is you and your standards. You’re living in the old man, letting the old man say what’s good and bad. Instead of saying, “I know I’m rotten. I’m going to let God change me. I’m going to live in His freedom and let Him be the arbiter of what’s good and bad, let Him take me away from that old man and let me live the way He wants me to live and… I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT IS!!! There is no standard, no expectation about your future destiny in Jesus Christ. You haven’t gotten there yet!”

And with that, I’ll leave off with this for now. There’s more, but once again my post has grown way too long.

Secular Legalism

So, to continue my analysis of where I’ve been, the day after I wrote the journal entry I posted yesterday I got up early — about twenty minutes to 7 and went into the office, got focused about 7:20am  and worked for 45 minutes. Then I went to Wikipedia to find out about the Year of Jubilee and from there began reading Chuck Norris’s website. There was a link to it. Apparently he has a “Friend of the Jews Man of the Year” Award, and that’s what caught my eye. It had nothing to do with anything I was doing, but I’ve been a Chuck Norris fan for decades — used to watch all his movies, and even Walker, Texas Ranger until it got too cornball to watch.

Ahem. So. I got distracted. Most likely because though I read through all my notes and cards, I ended up more confused than ever. All I seemed to do was generate more questions and arrays of possible answers, as I detailed in an earlier blog post. That’s really okay, and really pretty much the way it always is when I’m writing, but I tend to forget that. Instead of waiting patiently for things to open up, I get agitated and start blaming myself. Instead of relying wholly and moment by moment on God, it becomes  my responsibility to wrestle all  this stuff into order and come up with a solution. And because I’m spending my time on that and getting nowhere, home duties are undone and now I can condemn myself for those as well.

It’s all a big… test? No, more of an obstacle I think. God’s withholding progress for His reasons, which are good and are not all about me,. But the withholding is also a form of training.  To remind me to see all deviations from what I had planned or hoped as coming directly from God’s hand, reminding me that it’s not My plan or my kingdom but His. That He is God, not me. I’m the servant. I’m reliant on Him.

And it’s when I have to wait that I forget that. (okay, I probably forget that even faster when I don’t have to wait). I think I’m not reliant on Him, but that He’s relying on me to do my part. (yuck!) He is not relying on me. He’s either doing this book or He’s not and I must await his direction. Patiently, without agitation, anxiety or self-flagellation, fully confident He has all under control. Including me. It will come when He’s decreed and all my thrashing and turmoil and self-condemnation won’t change it.

Recently in Bible Class we were warned against the cosmic systems’ attempts to insert legalism into our lives/souls. Satan’s prowling about like a lion, looking for someone to devour in this way. Legalism is where you want to do it your way. You have your own plan and you’re going to follow that. I would say there’s a lot of legalism and religious tendencies in all of us that He has to reveal and strip away. This whole fixation I have on working and accomplishing, not wasting my time, on making the right choices, being disciplined… plus the cloud of frustration and guilt that comes over me as a result of it all… It’s disgusting. It’s debilitating. It’s certainly not freedom. I believe it’s secular legalism… It’s not God I’m really striving to serve, it’s my idea of what is “right.” Working and accomplishing and not wasting my time and making right choices, being disciplined all seem right. But they’re mostly about me. And they’re very much about slavery.

Here’s a quote from a class from several months ago that I recently found: 

Unrealistic expectations toward self invariably produce frustrations that distract us from the word and destroy the true focus of the Christian life: occupation with Jesus Christ, NOT self.

And another. 

Never put yourself into a position where you feel you have responsibility and accountability toward man.

And “man” includes self. I do this all the time. I make myself responsible and accountable to my self. My goals. My standards. And half the time those goals and standards are ridiculous…

So how do I get out of this? I asked the Lord. Do I just have to wait for you to do the work?

Yes. But I believe He has been doing it.

And this post is already way longer than I’d anticipated, so I’ll save the first of the two articles He led me to for tomorrow…

My Kingdom Versus His

Things have been happening, lately; mostly inside. I don’t mean inside my house, but inside my thinking. Since I haven’t really been able to get a handle on it, I haven’t been writing about it. But last Sunday I read an article that really blew the doors off, so much so that, though I felt freed, I was not really sure how my newly acquired perspective fit into everything. Nor was I sure it was going to last. I’m still not sure, but things do seem to be falling into place.

For awhile now I’ve been wrestling with the sewer. The icky feeling. The self-condemnation for being slothful, undisciplined, impulsive, distractible. I’ve written about it here. I didn’t really know why I kept having this issue and finally asked God what was wrong with me.

I think He answered, but it’s been a process. He was already showing me even before I asked. Thus I’m going to go back to an entry I wrote in my journal last week .

29 March Monday 9:09am  I’m in the sewer again. All anxious, condemning myself, confused, frustrated. I’ve put myself in a damned if you do/damned if you don’t situation. As I set this down, I see that I”ve had wildly unrealistic expectations for this day. I wanted to get up, make muffins, clean the house and work on Sky, all before I leave at 10:20 to take Mother to the Oncology Center for her treatment. In each of those scenarios, I imagined myself as relaxed, pursuing the objective without distraction or worry, as a believer in Christ should. But I was also, I realize now, imagining them all happening at the same time. Get up, do the morning routine while making the muffins and cleaning the bathroom, one giant integrated process whose separate steps were intermingled… or maybe it was just an alternate dimension thing where things were just happening simultaneously.  

The reality is, there isn’t time to do all that. My morning routine ensures a limited amount of order and cleanliness, but it seems when I make that my priority, the writing doesn’t get done. Conversely, when I make the writing my priority the routine doesn’t get done, the house grows very dirty, laundry and ironing pile up and suddenly I have even more that is demanding I do it. Which is kind of where I am now. Today, just to catch up with the routine I have sheets to fold, clothes to iron, the floor to sweep, vacuuming, clean the bathroom, wash the muffin tin and hang out the towels (all of which have been put off and put off). I also need to go to the store, preferably before noon, since this is another task that was put off and now I don’t have food for lunch. After all that, I’ll be too tired to write and will just dink around again. If I write now, though, I’ll be too tired to do the housework when I get back — or at least too tired to make myself do what I won’t want to do. And the piles will just get bigger

So I have defined the problem. Both the house and the writing are important. How do I decide? If I go with emotion, I’ll pick writing and be upset about the house. If I go with “responsible thinking” I’ll pick the house and be upset about another day of no progress on the book. So what do I do, Lord?

Hmm. It’s arrogance that wants to control everything, isn’t it? Arrogance that wants my way even though that way is delusion. It’s me seeking MY kingdom instead of His.

And in my kingdom, one is required to do two things at the same time, be in two places at the same time and violate strictures of time and space. My kingdom involves the magic of traveling 100 miles in one hour while driving at a constant speed of 50 mph. In my kingdom you must do all required things, or disaster will befall you. What that disaster is, you aren’t allowed to know, only that it’s coming. Also, you must choose the correct thing to do if you insist you can only do one thing at a time. Choosing the wrong option leads off into that blank space at the end of the map where dragons will eat you.

So. In seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness (which is sane and sensible, unlike mine), I have only to stay in fellowship and seek His guidance, choose whatever option I’m led to choose and forget  the others for now. Which, weirdly enough suddenly seems to be housework. Okay then. I will now ignore the clamor erupting at the back of my head about my calling and how I should be ignoring all the accumulated domestic tasks so I can work on the book. I will go with my choice and trust that God can set me straight if I’m wrong.

 Or at the very least pick up the mess. And definitely save me from those dragons at the end of the maps.

Tomorrow: the blog on how distractedness may not be such an awful thing for writing after all… And a spot on description of what trying to work on the book has felt like of late.

Happy 2010!

Hmm.  I wonder how we’re to say that? Is it going to be “Two Thousand Ten” or “Twenty-Ten?”  I vote for “Twenty-Ten.” First time we can actually say Twenty-something and make sense, plus it’s one less syllable.

Well, I’m finally back and ready to do a blog post. Or at least determined to do one, whether I’m ready or not. Truthfully, I have sat around for an hour or so, gone for a walk, sat around some more, read Drudge and Powerline and Victor Davis Hansen, waiting for the Lord to give me something profound and meaningful to say, but instead it seemed He said just go write.

So I am, doing so as I come off one of the most difficult and challenging holiday seasons I’ve ever experienced. There was no one major element that made it difficult, but rather a rash of small hits, insults, losses, obstacles, disappointments, inconveniences and just plain weird sequences of events, the timing of which, the interweaving of which, the seemingly tailored nature of which produced an unrelenting parade of Things That Must be Dealt With. Without sinning.

Well, I dealt, but not without sinning, alas. In the end I was reminded of the fact that it doesn’t matter if I fail. My failure is built into the plan. When I realize I’ve sinned, I have only to rebound (I John 1:9 If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.) And after that, keep taking in the word under the teaching of my Pastor, because that’s how God is going to change me. Not by me trying to do better, but by Him changing my thinking. All I do is expose myself regularly — daily — to the teaching of the word.

Yes, I do mean daily. First because real change occurs slowly, incrementally, over time  — way too much, in my opinion, but nevertheless, that’s how it happens. We focus on the Word, and it changes us. Then we can take no credit.

Secondly, we do it daily because we’re in a war and the other side is constantly assaulting us with an opposing viewpoint. God’s ways aren’t our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts.  The devil rules the world for now, and his thoughts abound — in the air, through the radio, TV, other people (most of them, actually) music, news, dramas, billboards… it’s a deluge. And with the sin nature happily sucking up all that worldly viewpoint (since it HATES God’s viewpoint) the only hope we have of holding fast to truth is to get it every day.

Many people think they already have truth. That it doesn’t take that much to find and hold onto it. But God’s word says otherwise. As a matter of fact, learning how to discern the truth, the right way from the wrong way, the difference between good and evil… was exactly the temptation the woman faced in the Garden. She had no clue she was even being tempted, being totally deceived. But what the serpent offered and what she desired was to be like God, knowing good from evil, being able to discern on her own, apart from His word, what was right and what was wrong. She thought, when she ate the fruit that she was doing the right thing. The good thing. The better thing. But she was wrong. Deceived.

Determining what is right and what is wrong, what God wants and what He doesn’t is not nearly as simple as the world would like us to believe. And even after we determine it, living in it is another matter altogether… The battle is all about thought. What thought system will we function under? And God’s is in the minority….

Gee, that was not at all the post I was expecting to write when I sat down here. But I think I’ll keep it, anyway.

So What is It?

flagstaff flowers 2If the Christian Way of life isn’t being moral or going to church regularly or acquiring Bible knowledge or resisting sin or being nice and sweet or performing good works, then what is it?  And how can one know if one is living in it?

The Christian Way of Life is a relationship with the God of the Universe through believing in the work and person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is a life of grace wherein we worship Him in Spirit (the filling of the Holy Spirit) and in Truth (true knowledge of God’s word and of His person and work and character circulating in our souls.) It’s a life where He does the work and we receive the blessing, where we offer our bodies up to the daily study of that word under the gift of the pastor teacher in order that our minds might be transformed from the thinking of the world and of the flesh to the thinking of God.

Through this we are conformed to the image of Christ and develop capacity for the blessings He wants to give us. It’s not something we do, it’s something He does in us. “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13)   The fruit is the Spirit’s fruit, not our fruit. Our minds are transformed — passive voice: we receive the action of the verb. We don’t transform them ourselves, which would be the active voice. (Ro 12:2; 2 Co 3:18)

Christ abides in us or is at home in us when our thinking reflects His thinking. When we are in tune with the Holy Spirit and guided by Him. Divine good is performed when we are filled with the Spirit and guided by His word which we have inculcated into our thinking so thoroughly we automatically live it.

Divine good, then, can be a thought, an attitude, a word or an act. God sees them all, and at the Judgment seat of Christ He will reveal to us which of them were which. ( I Co 3:13-15) Because the sad truth is, with our sick heads and deceitful, desperately wicked hearts we all too often have no clue what our real motivation is in any given situation.

It Feels So Good

Continuing on the subject of human good…

While the sin nature is the source of personal sins (So then no longer am I the one that’s doing it but sin which dwells in me. Ro 7:17) it also produces human good, acts that, while they spring from sinful motivation, appear on the surface to be good. Altruism, feeding the poor, helping others, and philanthropy fall into this category.

The sin nature also has areas of strength. For example, some people would never be tempted by the sin of homosexuality or drug addiction, whether believers or unbelievers. Others are extremely disciplined and capable, not at all given to laziness. They are naturally organized, emotionally controlled and they can be very successful in life. They can seemingly be very successful in the Christian life, appearing good and right to others. And it could all be done in the flesh.

Others are naturally loving and outgoing. They are emotionally warm, they connect easily with others, they are often sincerely complimentary and very sweet. In today’s spiritual climate with its emphasis on loving everyone as the pinnacle of Christian activity, these people are often viewed as very spiritual, very “godly”. Yet that, too, can easily be something done through their flesh.

I say this because I know unbelievers who are like this. I know people who are religious (but not Christian) who are like this.

Another complication of human good is that the people performing it feel good about it. Like Cain, who offered the works of his hands to God as a sacrifice, they think God will be pleased. And often, because those works are pleasing to them and pleasing to others they think God is, indeed, pleased.

The following is from a little e-newsletter I used to receive called The Daily Intake. It was written by David Grande, and based on the teachings (if not the actual notes) of our pastor, Robert R. McLaughlin.  Here’s what The Daily Intake had to say about human good:

“Satan’s main strategy is, of course, human good. It is his genius plan to counterfeit the divine good produced in God’s plan. Satan’s plan, the improvement of the world and of the human condition, is secured through the human good that God Himself rejects. In reality, what Satan puts to use is God’s rejection, buy hey, it works for him.

“It works for people too. People love to feel that they are doing their part and inserting their portion. [They love to feel needed and wanted.] This is antithetical to God’s grace policy, but it sure pleases the old sin nature. In God’s plan, the believer operates in his new nature and in divine power. That is the only avenue to the production of divine good.

“In Satan’s world system as we know it, man operates in his flesh, his old man, i.e., the old sin nature. And the reason it feels so right is because the flesh loves that which the flesh produces.

“This is greatly applauded by the enemy and his vast host of fallen angels. If they can get Christians wrapped up in producing human good, they offer no threat nor resistance to Satan’s endeavor. And this is exactly where most Christians function from… deep in the deceit of the devil’s strategies.”

 The word of God says that the devil deceives the whole world (Rev 12:9) and that includes Christians (2 Co 2:11; 11:3,4). Paul writes in 2 Co 11:15  that the devil sends out servants of righteousness to teach people how to do good, and in I Corinthians 3 that believers are not only capable of producing both divine good and human good but that they will ultimately be judged by the type of work they produced in life.

Even the unbeliever will be judged not for his sins (since all sins were judged on the Cross), but for his deeds according to Rev 20:12,13.

So in many ways, the issue in the Christian life isn’t so much our personal sins which Christ paid for on the cross and which we need only confess to be restored to fellowship, but whether we’re performing human good or divine good. And the difference between them can be difficult to discern.


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