“You have heard that it was said to those of old,‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. -Matthew 5:27-30
I have been reading a booklet over the last few days by Jay Adams, entitled, Temptation: Applying Radical Amputation to Life's Sinful Patterns. Some of the ideas I am sharing here are discussed in that booklet, but some of the ideas I am sharing in this post were discussed at the counseling conference I attended last week. One of the things I took away from the conference was that when we counsel others, we should always strive to get to the root of a behavior, rather than just dealing with eliminating the outward manifestation of that behavior. Many times, if you can determine what the person is really wanting, you can then determine how to rethink about the issue in a Biblical way, and help them to demolish the idols in their own heart. The other idea I took away from the conference is the idea that repentance is much more than words. It involves not just the "putting off" of sinful behaviors, but the "putting on" of right behaviors. In other words, a thief stops being a thief not just when he quits stealing, but when he becomes generous. A liar quits being a liar not just when he quits lying, but when he decides to be truthful. And sometimes, in order to grow in godliness, "spiritual amputation" is necessary. But what does that mean, you ask?
"Spiritual amputation" is what Jesus is talking about in the opening verses of this post. Matthew 5 is what I consider one of the greatest chapters of the Bible. Basically Jesus is teaching in his "sermon on the mount" about how the kingdom of God is supposed to work. He starts with the beatitudes, which are diametrically opposed to how most of the world's kingdoms operate. In God's economy, the greatest people are the most humble, the meek, and basically those who have come to a recognition that they are poor in spirit and need God to equip them and enable them to do His will. The most blessed are those who are hungry for God's truth, because they recognize that they are insufficient within themselves to be a reliable standard for righteousness. In God's kingdom, the most blessed are those who are persecuted when they have acted righteously on God's behalf, by loving others at cost to themselves.
Jesus has bigger fish to fry than merely toppling political regimes, like the Roman government. No, instead Jesus is interested in toppling idols within human hearts. At this point, he goes on to say that his followers are to be salt and light in a dark world. He continues to expound on his points with examples, illustrating that the righteousness that God requires is more than mere outward behaviors; the truth is that these outward behaviors, like adultery and murder, are sins because they are an outward manifestations of the human heart. He's wanting his listeners to understand that what they need are not just to ACT holy, but to be MADE holy by God, on the inside. And it's at this point in his sermon that Jesus says the verses I have listed, and he tells us that it is better to cut off a part of yourself, and go to heaven, than to remain wholly intact and burn in hell.
Jesus isn't speaking literally here, but figuratively. For the past few days, I've been reflecting on this concept and how it ties into Biblical repentance. The word repentance means to stop and go in the opposite direction. It encompasses so much more than just feeling bad or guilty for doing wrong; it entails agreeing with what God says about sin, and then aligning our thinking with His thinking. It means becoming wholeheartedly committed to crucifying the flesh and its attempts to be on the throne of our hearts.
Sometimes, in order to do that, "spiritual amputation" is required. In this passage, Jesus is indicating how extreme the change might have to be, when he uses the "right eye" and the "right hand" as examples. Most people are right handed, so it would be a much bigger deal to lose the right hand, or dominant hand, than the left one. But sometimes, in order to overcome sin, we have to be willing to "handicap" ourselves, so to speak. For example, in the movie Fireproof, the main character Caleb (played by Kirk Cameron) struggles with a pornography addiction, and at one point in the film, he becomes so determined to overcome his problem that he actually takes a baseball bat to his computer. This is what I am talking about when I say "spiritual amputation." When I am struggling to overcome any sin, especially sins which are steeped in habitual behavior patterns, one of the ways I can wage war on sin is by making it very difficult for me to sin on "autopilot." And that's where spiritual amptutation comes in. I am willing to deprive myself of something I consider convenient or that makes my life easier, if it means it will make it very difficult for me to engage in sin without consciously thinking about it and having to make a larger than average effort.
I am praying that God will help me have wisdom to apply this Biblical strategy to my own life, in the battle I am fighting, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit's work in my life, to manifest God's victory in my life over sin. I do this, not to earn my salvation, but because I have already been accepted and redeemed by my Savior through his life, death and resurrection as an atonement for my sins, and forsaking those sins is the only reasonable response to this great love that was bestowed on me. My desire to please God is so great that I am willing to sacrifice convenience and/or comfort in order to be more like Christ. I am not always there yet, to be honest, but that is the goal. That is where I want to be. The idea of progressive sanctification, of Overcoming sin, should be one of the expected consequences and fruits of every believer's conversion.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. -Phillipians 4:8-9
I have been thinking on this verse the last few days. The last week I spent at a Biblical counseling conference in Indiana, being trained to help both myself and others to think biblically about their life and problems. And I have also been considering the way I try to reach out to others, and how effective those things I do are. One of those things is facebook.
Now, I am not trying to bash facebook. Facebook is not good or bad, of itself. It's like the internet; it's just a tool.. And people can use tools for good or evil. What God has been reminding me of, though, is that I want to, as the verse above says, think on things that are “true.” That means not just seeing the side of something that people want to present, but the whole picture. It means seeing the best in someone, but also being able to see the painful realities in a way that edifies and uplifts the other person. It means being willing to weep with those who weep, and laugh with those who laugh. I think there is a tendency on facebook, because of the way the medium works, for people to show only their best moments, and not to be honest in sharing their struggles or real hurts. Again, I am generalizing here, because there are certainly exceptions. And I think this is a tendency for all of life, not just facebook, but because of the way that facebook is shared in status posts and short snippets of a pictures of someone's day, it seems to be more vulnerable to this being the case than other methods of friendship building. The end result of this is that instead of getting an accurate picture of the whole person, we get a one sided view, that at times neither edifies or uplifts anyone.
Life is not meant to be a spectator sport. With that in mind, I have decided to keep my facebook, but plan to be on there in a much more limited capacity. While there have been times facebook has been a valuable ministry and relationship building tool, more often than not it has been a timesuck in my life, and distracted and hindered me from building REAL relationships with people. Truth is, I love every one of my facebook friends, though I am limited by geography and time in expressing that love, as well as by the other person's willingness to receive that love. What I wish is that I could know each of my fb friends in a real, life transforming way for both of us. I wish I could have families over for dinner, and that I could talk with the ladies I know, individually, over a cup of coffee, and we could chat, and share our struggles, and if they had something that would help me in life, I would listen, and if I had something to help them in life, they would listen. And not just listen; that is unsatisfying. But that we would both be DOERS of the knowledge that would help us grow. And both of us would prayerfully change and grow. But that isn't what happens on Facebook most of the time. Many times I put things up, and instead of it being life transforming, as I long for it to be, it becomes another “soundbite”, another fragmented thought for people to argue over or examine, apart from the context of real relationship. And the fruit I see from that has been, frankly, discouraging. There is nothing more frustrating to me than sharing a thought that has really ministered to me, only to find that because the other person has not been in my life or heard that thought in the context of real relationship, the ideas become twisted and deformed from what I meant them to be, and meaningless, endless debating and arguing is the only result, it seems. I have very little patience with that sort of thing. I have little drive to force my beliefs on others, or to try to convince someone who has already decided they need nothing from me, but only wish to argue for the sake of arguing, or even to use my wall as a soapbox for their personal agenda. Respectful debate of ideas has its place in life, but it can also be pointless if the other person only wishes to change others, but never wishes to learn or grow themselves.
I confess, however, that Facebook used as another means to grow real relationships can be a wonderful thing. I have seen it do that in instances where it has allowed me to keep contact with old high school and college friends; for example, several college friends I had not seen in years even showed up at the hospital to see us when Joseph was at Vanderbilt last summer. I know that it can mobilize prayer for people. When we are lonely and people are real, it can be a tool to remind us that others are having similar struggles and we are not all alone. I have also enjoyed private conversations with friends on facebook messaging that have ministered and encouraged me. So I am not slamming facebook; if I were, I would be removing my account entirely. But I'm not. I am just hungry for more, and facebook isn't meeting my needs, or helping me to meet many of the needs of others I see who are actually the ones God has put around me, to build deeper relationships and grow in discipleship.
With that in mind, I believe I am entering a new phase of my use of facebook. I will be uninstalling my facebook app on my phone, and while this means that I won't be sharing pictures (the downside for me in uninstalling it, since I share to bless relatives who are far away), I am hoping it will work to aid me in limiting the amount of time I am on the internet. It's far too easy to click on my phone, in a spare moment, and surf my home screen on facebook, rather than to sit and engage in the world around me. I will also be removing my game apps, like Words with Friends, again, not because they are all evil or bad, but because FOR ME the times I use them are usually times that I could be seeking to be involved in what's going on around me, and I feel very convicted about that. At the same time, I am not just going to be limiting facebook and other internet. I am going to attempt to replace them with working toward intentional, deeper relationship building with those God puts around me. I am praying God will send me ladies to love in this capacity as well, both inside my church and out. I am planning to facilitate a book group/Bible study in my home on a monthly basis to have real, face to face interaction. I am going to be doing more regular date nights with my kids (I already do with Joe), and also some of that time I will replace with reading books on growing and counseling and helping others. I am also praying God will help me to more intentionally build relationship with my kids.
I will still be on facebook from time to time, but I will no longer be posting as frequently. I will continue to share links to my blog as I post, however, and lurking from time to time. Emails will be a more reliable form of communication, however. :)
Why am I sharing this? For a couple reasons. First of all, I want prayer, because I need discernment and discipline to be aggressive in doing the will of God in my life, and I don't want to miss divine appointments or opportunities. And discipline is one of those fruits of the spirit I am sorely lacking. Secondly, I want people to know that if they are feeling empty or disconnected, that they are not alone. Thirdly, the best thing I think we can do is take our focus off ourselves and be the proactive person to reach out beyond ourselves to others. It is all too easy to complain that others aren't being open and reaching out to us, but it isn't really helpful to making our situations better. And I would rather be open and honest about my struggles, and make a move toward someone that results in people rejecting me, but eventually I will find the people who will love me and walk with me, than be the hypocrite who complains that no one cares, but in effect I am doing the same thing because I keep myself closed off from others. And truthfully, I can say from my facebook wall, there are many, many other people out there who are open and honest and want real relationships. Some of them may be as lost as I am about how to achieve those kinds of relationships. But clueless or not, I am going to make the effort to try.
Hopefully, when I have achieved a better balance in my life, I will be able to return to Facebook in a larger capacity, posting again, without it becoming the behemoth time sucker that it has often been. Until then, if you are a facebook friend, and you are interested in possibly getting together to do a book club on growth/bible study once a month, then contact me by email and I will let you know when I have a date set.
Want to know the funny thing about the verse I shared at the beginning? If you look at the rest of the chapter, the context of that verse is relationships: our relationship with God first, but also, our relationship with others. The first part of the chapter immediately preceding the above verse says this:
I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.
Do you see that? We need our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ to be deep enough, authentic enough, that we are invested in each other's lives. And that won't happen, for me, if I am not willing to step out and open myself to other people, even their rejection. And I don't say that in a trite manner; I have known plenty of that in the past, and I am sure I will know it it in the future. But it's irrelevant to the calling God has on my life to love others.
Posted by Marcy at 4:02 PM