Sunday, January 19, 2014

Coal or Diamond - Part 4

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“There is someone I love, even though I don’t approve of what he does. There is someone I accept, though some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive, though he hurts the people I love the most. That person is me.” - C. S. Lewis

I reshared that in several places, a couple of days ago.  If we're Christian, C. S. Lewis is familiar. And we understand the context of the statement.  A strong believer, disheartened by his inability to be 100% pleasing to God.  But the description could fit all humans, including those not walking with God.  It's the members of the Trinity that never fall short, not us.  There is a point, as we'll see, when it's possible to not even attain much of the utilitarian value of a lump of coal.

Romans 3:23 (KJV)  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

That couldn't be any clearer.  If we, somehow, find a way to excuse our flesh, we can always add Isaiah 64:6.  God doesn't think much of our flesh to keep us in or bring us back to obedience to God. We can be in one of several states.

  1. Having no relationship with God, believing ourselves to be sufficient unto ourselves.
  2. Having no relationship and recognizing we're incapable of changing that on our own.
  3. Having a relationship, but self reliant in trying to please God.
  4. Having a relationship and recognizing that only God can yank us out of the muck and mire.

Philippians 2:21 (KJV)  For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. 

I mentioned the nun who drew me into her love for Jesus.  I honestly believe that, at that point, I accepted the gift of salvation.  But there was a problem.  After I stopped taking catechism classes with her, there was no more real discipleship for a very long time, except training for my confirmation.  In the Roman Catholic church, confirmation was somewhat of a rite of passage into approaching adulthood.  And the training, at least as I remember it, was short and far more academic than appealing to my spirituality.

In this case, that verse in Philippians was for me, not the Catholic system.  If you recall, from past posts, I was shooting more for "cool" instead of spiritual.  And that's kind of the point.  As I headed through my teens, I didn't do much that was bad.  But I also wasn't doing much that was spiritually good.  That was pretty typical of Protestant and Catholic alike.

There are two ways of looking at the coal/diamond contrast.  One is to see ourselves, others, or both as having lower value than reality.  The other is to consider ourselves, others, or both too highly. Either one is incorrect and comes out of not correctly being aligned with the spiritual.

Romans 1:21-22 (KJV)  Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

There are enough verses that speak of God revealing Himself through the things around us.  And there is even more Biblical support for training and teaching from the Bible.  A couple of word searches in Scripture will make those highly evident.  But there were a lot of churches that slid into giving God Sundays and a few events, but forgetting the true vastness of who He is and the place He should truly have in our lives and schedules.  I'm not talking about willfully becoming anti-God.  A close look will show us a gentle, gradual slide away from Truth.  A tweak of one doctrine, here, a wording change there, and what's left being filtered through human understanding.  That not only effects our outward spirituality, but the way we think, live, and respond to the world around us.  Let's put that into a concrete example.

Physically, the world is a globe.  And we use a system of 360 degrees to navigate ships and planes or to travel across land areas where there are no roads.  The captain or navigator makes calculations of how to get from the starting point to where they want to go.  If that calculation is off by 1 degree, the difference may only be a few millimeters or small fractions of an inch, near the starting point. But, by the time the travelers get to where they think they should be, the end of the journey may place them hundreds of kilometers or hundreds of miles away from where they intended to be.  It doesn't take a huge starting error to get us far off course.

Galatians 5:9 (AMP)  A little leaven (a slight inclination to error, or a few false teachers) leavens the whole lump [it perverts the whole conception of faith or misleads the whole church].

Mix in slight changes, human understanding and we find ourselves not recognizing our spiritual destination.  Or, as that verse in Galatians points out, it doesn't take much yeast to change baking dough into leavened bread instead of unleavened.  Nor does it take much error to send a believer or a church sailing off in a totally undoctrinal direction.  Whoops!

That's the kind of spiritual navigation many of us grew up in.  People and churches started with premises that were close to right, but not exact.  And they built doctrines upon those concepts. Think of that in terms of building a building.

Let's say we construct a building using a measuring device whose units of measure aren't precise. Each layer of block, bricks or boards is going to be off by the amount our measuring device is off. And each level will not only deviate from the level below it, but even more from the starting level. When we get to the top and drop a plumbline, the bob will be a different distance from the building than the point it was dropped from.

That was the kind of spiritual structure being built in much of post-WWII America.  Going back to our example of the journey, if our calculations are just a teeny bit off, where our thinking ends up is not going to be where we should be.  Is it any wonder, then, that the focus has changed from God to ourselves?  And our basis of operation is "it's all about me"?  The spectrum shifts from self sacrifice to a sense of entitlement.  And we have racial and spiritual insensitivity clashing with over sensitivity in those areas.  While there is an appropriate middle ground, not many live there.

As I hit my teens and young adulthood, I was very good at finding extremes.  I may have been overboard in a lot of areas, but I think I reflected the spiritual illness of America.  I've said that Matthew 6:33 (KJV) is the foundation of everything I now do.  It says, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.".  But, if our spiritual yardstick is inaccurate, even that can be used to head in wrong directions.  When we pray, when we study, when we guide others, what is our basis?  Are we using God as our measuring stick or are we too attached to our own desires and understanding?  Just the fact that we're willing to ask ourselves that is a good sign.  I don't bring up those questions to put us all on a guilt trip.  We all have things that need a little adjusting.  The willingness to fix what needs fixing puts us on God's side, but we need to recognize what does and doesn't need to be fixed.

Next time, we'll take that bumpy ride through some of my extremes.  For now, consider what needs to be repaired in our lives.  And, while we do that, we need to be fully conscious of the reality that nothing is irreparable for God.  He can fix it, even making it better than the original.

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