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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What Would Jesus Do?

This week, I have been reading In His Steps, by Charles Monroe Sheldon, which I happened to find for free in a Kindle download a couple of months ago (it is now $0.99 again; well worth it).  This happens to be the first time I've ever read the book, but I realize that it has in some small way shaped my whole life until this point.

The central question, which directs all the characters in the book and all the radical changes they make in their lives, is "What Would Jesus Do?"  They had previously gone through their daily routines doing what they thought was right, separating their daily working lives from their Christian, or church, living.  Suddenly, that was no longer enough.

I think the main point of Sheldon's work was to get Christians to think about what they are doing.  That's a good goal.  In fact, I think it's the chief aim of this blog.

How a Book and a Bracelet Changed My Life

So, what do I mean when I say this book (which I've not finished yet) has shaped my whole life?  Previously, I didn't know about the book, or that it had any connection to a bracelet I won in a Bible trivia contest at my grandparent's church.  Remember the WWJD jewelry craze of the 90s?  This was early in the movement, and I was a kid in junior high.  Other kids would have chosen the candy out of the basket of prizes, but something made me pick up a little green ribbon bracelet instead.  It wasn't even pretty, and even my family couldn't understand why it was important to me.  Still, I chose the bracelet, and it changed my thinking.

The popular thing, according to my peers, was to wear that WWJD bracelet at all times, so that's what I did.  I wore it to bed, and saw it, first thing, when I woke up.  I wore it to the grocery store and to school events.  Pretty soon, it was so much a part of my routine that you could say it had become a part of me.  To me, the letters on the bracelet summarized all of Scripture: love what God loves and hate what He hates, obey Him sacrificially in love, and stand (alone, if necessary) on His promise of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.  I thought of the bracelet as a fulfillment (in my life, at least), of the words in Deuteronomy 11: 18 (NIV), "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads."

 What does the Bible say about choosing friends, or doing what your friends tell you to do?  What does it say about academic conduct, or your shopping habits?  What does it say about the words coming out of your mouth or the stuff you read and you watch?  These are pretty deep questions for a kid in braces, but they did come up, at least in part because of the bracelet.

My WWJD bracelet made me think, quite a bit, about what I was doing, and why.  It prodded me to do a lot of searching in the Bible to try to answer that question, and when I found answers that showed I needed to change, I did.  This radical decision to honor boundaries I felt God had laid out for me, rather than live with guilt, has caused me to lose a lot of friends and make a lot of enemies over the years.  Maybe they just didn't understand why I made those choices, or maybe they just didn't agree. I'll never know.

Maybe the WWJD bracelet is corny, but it was necessary to get my mind on this track.  I don't regret it a bit.

The Wrong Questions to Ask

Returning to the old WWJD question has reminded me of a bunch of questions I discovered were the wrong ones to ask.  I mean to say that they are similar to WWJD but are not interchangeable with it, though we would like them to be.  I thought I'd share the list to save my readers some time, should they decide to take the WWJD challenge:
  • WWPD?--What would my parents do?  Although I hope that your parents are modeling Christlike living for you, it's important to remember that they are fallible.  Sometimes you discover a point on which you differ with your parents.  If you do what is right, it might spur your parents toward a purer form of godliness, but on the other hand, it might not.  This is about the way you live, not a new technique at manipulating others through your lifestyle.  Jesus was in this situation Himself, but He didn't have a holier-than-thou attitude about it (Luke 2: 46-51).
  • WWMAHD?--What would my academic hero do?  Too often, children are taught that whatever the teacher (or later, the professor) says is golden, and should be followed without question.  After all, this academic hero went to college and got a degree in it.  Having gone to college and gotten a degree myself, now, I realize that much of what passes for superior knowledge is a collection of beliefs and opinions that change as new research emerges.  Teachers aren't more righteous, or less fallible, than the rest of us (Matthew 5: 19-20).
  • WWBB/BSD?--What would big brother/big sister do?  It's a flattering thought (as a big sister), but often our older siblings are not much better than our peers when it comes to moral guidance.  Sometimes they are the worst example we could choose (Genesis 25: 30-34).  Better to cut out the middleman and just be honest with God, without excuses.
  • WWRD?--What would reverend (pastor) do?  The pastor, having spent a lot of time in the word, is trying really hard to do what Jesus would do (or so I hope).  However, just like anyone else, he can get trapped in the minutia and lose sight of what is true.  We hear about church scandals all the time.  We can't base our faith and life on what the pastor does, although it may be a good starting point for the basics.  Even the religious leaders can lead us wrong (Nehemiah 9: 33-35).
  • WWMCD?--What would my countryman do? This is so close to WWW/MD? (What would my fellow man or woman do?) that I am not going to separate them.  Every culture, and the two sexes within that culture, has a set of rules in which they operate.  They have taboos (forbidden things) and also things they call acceptable, kind, or good.  That doesn't mean they are drawing the line where God would.  In fact, such cultural beliefs about righteousness are mostly made up by people who don't know God and actually reject Him.  Be careful not to put cultural practices and standards in places where godliness would draw a tighter line (Jeremiah 2: 22; Luke 10: 25-37).  Godliness is a higher standard that all cultures will be held to at the end.
  • WWSSD?--What would Savvy Sheep do? I am adding this one in here, because I've recently become aware of a small following, and want to share the perspective of someone who is being "followed."  Please, please don't make me the voice of your conscience.  Your conscience will sound annoying enough when it makes you feel guilty about something you formerly loved to do, but if it sounds like your friend, you will probably lash out at this person without realizing what upset you in the first place (Proverbs 27:14).  If you hear my voice in your head, correcting you all the time, I'll end up losing you as a friend, and that makes me sad. So, please, let's not fight!  (1Corinthians 3: 5-7; 2 Timothy 2: 23-24).
Well, that's my list, for now.  Have you ever read In His Steps or owned some WWJD jewelry?  How has it affected you?  Did it push you towards something that made other people angry with you?  I would love to read your comments!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Weekly Snippet: Refuge

This week I watched a series of season and series finales on television (it's that time of year again), and for some reason they all were crime drama type shows--you know, the kind where the police solve mysteries all evening. Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate what our public servants do, but these television shows left me with two lingering impressions: (1) The world is really messed up, and (2) Sometimes death is a lot closer than you may think.

Both messages are really true, and extremely sad.  I went to bed last night thinking about that.

I can't do anything to make the cold realities of this world seem smaller. I can't hug away the evidence, and chocolate isn't going to bring hope. Smiles don't reverse crime and a new outfit doesn't undo the hurt from a broken relationship. So, what answer do I have?

Jesus. I know that answer is considered trite, naive, and over-used in the general population.  I just have to say, don't knock it until you've tried it.  The world is hopeless, but Jesus gives you hope. The world is unsafe, but Jesus can rescue you and protect you. He's not just a fairytale--He is real. So, if you are without hope, talk to Jesus.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. --Psalm 9: 9-10 NIV

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Since I'm not Good Enough, Let Me Boast in the Lord

I can think back over the past week and recall a million things I failed to do in the past week--unfulfilled promises, duties that others were relying on me to discharge, neglectfulness and selfishness.  Frankly, if the world depended on me being perfect, it would fall apart very quickly.  We should all be glad it doesn't!

Too often I've put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect so that other people around me will see the example and follow it. I'm not saying that setting a good example is bad, or that being obedient to the Lord and on good terms with your fellow man is something we shouldn't pursue. The problem is the notion that my own good behavior can somehow transform those around me, as if by being righteous, I can save the world.

The problem with this thinking is fairly easy to see.  I can't save even myself by being righteous. If the world relied on me to save it, it would be completely lost.

So why should I try to obey God and hold myself to a strict standard of righteousness? Obedience is a form of worship and submission to God, acknowledging His authority to make the rules that govern my behavior, and testifying before Him that I believe that His way is good. The more I obey now, the less confession and repentance has to come, later on (1 Samuel 15: 22). In short, my obedience is focused on God, and is part of my personal relationship with Him. It is not about other people in the first place.

Now, it is important to teach righteousness to others, and if you do so, you should hold yourself strictly to the standards you teach.  This may seem to contradict my previous statements, but it doesn't.  Parents and others in authority have a responsibility to teach (and yes, to model) righteousness and obedience for those in their care.  However, the child or follower's salvation is between them and God; they cannot be saved by someone other than Christ (John 14: 6), even if that person seems to be absolutely perfect in every way.

Ultimately, modeling what is right is a personal act of obedience to God, by carrying out the extra responsibilities God has put upon us.  It is no different than the act of obedience in obscurity.

So, where does that leave me?  First of all, I feel relief that I don't have to save the world, because Jesus did.  When I'm doing my best and still I see others around me disobeying God, I realize it is wrong to condemn myself and say I have failed to save their souls or that I have condemned them to destruction by my own inadequacies.  They only need one Savior.  The reason why I obey is not to save, but to submit to what I have been taught.

Secondly, I can put my sins and failures in proper perspective now, as things that come between me and God, and not between God and others.  When I sin, I need to repent, or I will be punished.  If my sins discourage others in obeying God, I do hope they will be strong enough in their faith to obey without me (and despite me).  Their obedience is their own responsibility, as mine is my own.  The same God who can help me repent and turn from sin can help those around me as well.

Lastly,  when I boast about deeds of righteousness and obedience, I know that I can boast in the Lord rather than myself, and never be ashamed of it or have to admit I've gone too far (1 Corinthians 1: 30, 31).  I have failed in being good enough, wise enough, truthful enough, and perfect enough, but Christ has not.  Don't look to me for an example; look to Him!  I cannot save the world or even one person in it, yet He has.  Don't depend on me; depend on Him!  In that, I can rest.

Monday, May 7, 2012

When Wisdom Is Not Enough

The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. --Proverbs 12:15 NIV

People have called me wise before, and I've had people come to me seeking advice about just about everything, including things I really knew nothing about. I can admit, without feeling any extreme amount of pride in myself, that I've seen many people prosper after taking the advice I have given them.  I could list some success stories here, but that detracts from the point I'd rather make about me: The secret of all my wisdom is that none of it actually comes from me!

"The wise listen to advice," the Proverb at the beginning of this blog states. That means my wisdom came first from an adviser.  There is no adviser I hold higher than the Bible, and behind that, informing it completely, God.  In fact, I believe that there is no real wisdom aside from the wisdom of God, and I've tried always to measure the advice I received (and passed on) against this highest source. I am merely a mouthpiece, and it doesn't hurt my feelings at all if you go above my head and seek wisdom from the Source. In fact, I wish you would.

With all of that said, I can add that there are times when wisdom doesn't seem like enough. Sometimes, knowing and doing what is wise seems too hard, and other options seem better, or even "wiser." Choosing wisdom (the wisdom of God, that is) sometimes means walking away from what you and others want most desperately, turning loose of dreams and hopes, and depriving yourself of what seems fun or free.  Sometimes doing what is wise means doing it alone.

I wish at times like this I could offer another answer, which could be both wise and easy.  I haven't ever found one. It seems that the alternative of taking wisdom's answer to our problems is striking out on our own, blazing our own trail.  Yet, that doesn't seem very wise, because we've already been told the outcome to that process.

The Bible has a corollary to the Proverb at the beginning of this post; it reads, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14: 12 and 16: 25 NIV).  That death is like being lost and alone in the woods forever; it is the end result for choosing paths other than the one blazed for us by our best Adviser.  In light of that picture, it seems wiser to take the path that leads to deliverance and a good outcome, rather than one that leads to destruction, no matter how painful the journey might be. 

So what am I saying? Only that, when wisdom isn't good enough for us, the only other alternative is punishment, and we don't want that.  It is better to choose wisdom, even if it hurts sometimes. It isn't without its rewards. Wisdom leads you out of the woods; it frees you, prospers you, sustains you.  Wisdom blesses you with more than you had before, and brings you out of aloneness into fellowship with God and with others who know God.  Wisdom is the very breath of God.  There is never really a point when it is not enough.  Choose wisdom!