Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Why would you cut off your hand?

Imagine you contracted a deadly infection.  It started at your hand, and you had mere seconds to cut it off before it spread to the rest of your body, hollowing you out, killing you.  In World War Z, the character Segen is bitten on her hand by a zombie.  Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) immediately cuts off her hand, saving her life.  She was desperate, so Gerry did the unthinkable.  And while she no longer had a hand, she retained her life.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says something that we often gloss over:  "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away." (Matthew 5:29)

One sentence later, He utters another extreme statement: "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away." (Matthew 5:30)

His rationale?  "It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell." (Matthew 5:30)

If you're just reading this, it's easy to gloss over the extreme measures that Jesus says we should go to to get rid of sin.  Get rid of your eye?  Your hand?  And for most, it probably would have been their dominant features.

Some of us might hear it and think, "Yes, I'm going to be more moral."  Others might think, "That's dumb."  Both sides miss the point.

Notice Jesus' rationale again.  It is better to lose one part of your body than to lose your whole body to hell.  He's using a metaphor here.  It begs the question, when would you cut off your hand?  When would you pluck out an eye?  Much like Gerry Lane helped with Segen, you would do it when it was the only way to save your life.

Jesus is comparing sin (particularly lust) to a disease or an infection similar to gangrene.  Gangrene infects one part of the body, and if you don't kill it before it spreads, it eventually kills you.  Sin does the same thing.  Sin is in our hearts.  And if we let it reign in our lives, it will eventually deaden our senses, deaden our morality, and will destroy our souls.  But if we kill it, our lives flourish, because we stop the infection.

But how can cutting off our dominant hand or our dominant eye, improve quality of life?  It improves it by saving it from sin and death, and the fires of hell.  It may be extreme, and it may hurt in the short-term.  But it proves profitable in the long run.

So what does it look like to kill sin?

First, look to the cross:  The way to a new heart is not changing your behavior.  It's by receiving a heart transplant.  The Gospel not only saves us from hell, but it transforms us because it replaces a heart of stone with a heart of flesh.

Second, observe where you are tempted:  There are certain videos on youtube that I just can't watch.  They aren't explicit.  They aren't sinful in and of themselves.  But they contain language and images that sometimes are unhelpful and tempt me towards the road of sin, and influence my thoughts.  I need to observe these and other times where I might be tempted, so that I can do the next step.

Third, make a plan, and fight:  So think about when you're tempted.  Confess those to someone you trust (probably helpful if it's someone who is the same gender, if it has to do with sexual sin).  And get specific.  Download a filter, get rid of your app store, disable social media if you have too.  Refuse to watch movies with specific language or content (IMDB's parental guide is a great resource!).  Cut off anything that might lead to sin.

Fourth, see how God gives you life, and praise Him:  It's amazing, that when you stop lusting, you can start loving.  You can see people as souls, instead of objects.  You can praise Him for His design of life, and people, and attraction, and love.  Killing sin will be painful at first.  How could it not, if it's as extreme as cutting off a limb?  But it's so we might find more joy in God, and in His creation. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Maturity of those who Mourn

Back in high school, I was at a memorial service for the son of one of my former principals.  The officiant, I believe he was a rabbi, began to ask for good memories of the son, when the father's voice bellowed, "My son is dead, I don't need good memories." 

Pain and suffering often come, and our knee jerk reaction is to try and fix it.  As I've gone through the fire, people have given me the "silver lining" constantly. 

"At least your family wasn't hurt."

"At least you'll get a new kitchen."

"Be thankful for what you do have."

All of those things are true.  And I think, at times, those words were helpful.  But more often than not, I hated them.  It felt like an inconsequential, "look on the bright side," when all I could feel was sadness and frustration.  I wanted to weep, and I wanted to be wept with.

As I look at my own life, and how I've responded to those who suffer and are in pain, I wonder how frequently I've done the same to others.  It makes me wonder why I seek to fix the pain and cheer people up.  I can't begin to understand the hearts of others, but I can certainly discern my own.  And, if I'm honest with myself, I think I don't weep with others because it's too uncomfortable.  I want to escape the pain of weeping, so fixing it becomes the better option.  And if I fix the problem, not only do I not have to weep, I can pat myself on the back for being a good person! 

However, Jesus, the perfect and most mature man to ever walk the earth, knew that humans were more complex than that.  He would know after all, He was with God the Father in our original design.  In John 11 we see a captivating scene.  Jesus receives word that his friend Lazarus is sick.  Instead of going to him immediately, he stays an extra two days.  The text even says that Lazarus' illness was for the sake of God's glory, which means his delay was intentional so that God would be praised.

So, Lazarus dies.  Jesus then finally comes to raise him from the dead, four days after his death.   Martha meets him first, and Jesus tells her truth, that He is the resurrection and the life.  He shares what's true.  However, He doesn't do the same with Mary.  He gets to her and asks where Lazarus has been laid.  And when he goes to see the tomb, he weeps!  Jesus, the God of the universe, the one who knowingly let Lazarus die just so he could raise him from the dead so that he might be glorified, weeps!  Why? 

Tim Keller says it this way: "To show that He was a perfect man."  Keller added this afterwards, "In this we see that the most mature are those who weep, and those who weep with others."

This profoundly changes my understanding in how I love those who suffer.  While Jesus ultimately "fixes" the situation (which, He is the only one who really can when it comes to death), He doesn't neglect grief or mourning.  He enters into it.  He feels the anguish and agony.  Even when He knows the truth.  Even when He has the power to fix everything. 

May this be an example to those of us who don't have that power.

If I've learned anything through grief, it's that the most valuable and beautiful times are not when someone just tells me that good times are ahead, to be thankful for something, or anything else like that.  It's when someone has chosen to get into the pit with me, listen, and mourn.  It's then that I am far more open to truth and grace, because someone has manifested it in how they've approached me.

But, praise God, because even in our most imperfect attempts to love, there is a savior who embodied love to us.  He didn't just weep, but He went to the grave.  Even when we are loved imperfectly, we have a perfect lover who stands with us, and a perfect redeemer empowering us to become like Him to those who mourn.