Friday, August 29, 2014

Inward Oppression: Compassion over Usury

Nehemiah. Yes, I know what you're (hopefully not but) likely thinking. How many times is he going to draw devotional posts from the book of Nehemiah? I thought that maybe since we hadn't heard from it in a while, we would be safe from hearing about it again.

In answer to your (potential) question, as long as the Lord continues to speak to my heart through it, I will continue to share some thoughts about it.

By now, you are all familiar with the chain of events in the book of Nehemiah. The wall of Jerusalem is torn down, and the people are in great affliction. Nehemiah mourns. Nehemiah takes his emotional burden to the Lord in hopes that the Lord will provide him an opportunity to rebuild the wall. 4-5 months later, Nehemiah still visibly saddened by the trial is given permission by the king to go to Jerusalem and work to rebuild the wall.

Nehemiah heads to Jerusalem; Sanballat and his team of evil villains mock the wall, knowing that it will not come to anything. Sanballat and his team start to become fearful as the wall's rebuilding is progressing remarkably better than they had presumed. Sanballat and his team unsuccessfully try to cease the work on the wall.

Encouraged perhaps by Nehemiah's success in defending from the outward threats, the people come to Nehemiah regarding the persecution they are receiving from within.

And the story progresses, but I will be ending my detailed, yet brief summary of the book here, as this internal oppression is what I would like to talk about today.

So, prior to the events of Nehemiah, the people have undergone some trials and tribulations. During a time of famine and want, the people have been forced to take desperate measures to be able to so much as eat. Nehemiah 5:1-5 explains,
"And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live. Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth. There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards."

This of course is a distressing situation. Yes it would likely have continued had the wall never been torn down because there seemed to be no compassion on the parts of the nobles and rulers of the land.

On the contrary, the nobles and rulers were a large part of the reason the people found themselves in this particular situation. They had begun to work to charge interest upon the people to the point where they had to sell their children in order to pay their debts, taxes, or just to eat.

It's the typical greedy "Capitalist" who forgets that the people with which he is doing business are actually, you know, people. Instead, the nobles and rulers have begun to see them as means to a particular end. Their needs aren't important; what I need to do is to make sure that I use them to serve my agenda.

Thus, when the problem is brought before Nehemiah, he is touched, he is angry, he shakes his lap because apparently that's a thing (literally refers to the shaking of his garments), and he rebukes the nobles and rulers in his typical bold way. We see simply in Nehemiah 5:8-11,
"And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer. Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury. Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them."

Nehemiah has rightly critiqued these men according to the works that they have done. But do we ever do the same thing. Sure, we're probably not going to force anyone to sell their children into slavery due to our business practices. But let's just take this to be a bit more relatable.

You're running for some sort of elected position in your school. Suddenly, you start to talk to people more openly than you were before, because each person who likes you is a vote for you in the election. There are obviously other examples, but time does not permit me to discuss them right now (read: I didn't care to think of any additional ones).

So we shouldn't follow in the footsteps of the nobles and rulers. People should be people, and we should care about their needs and work to supply them. What does that look like?

I think Nehemiah shows us quite well. Nehemiah was governor of the Jews at this point in time. Lawfully, he had the authority and liberty to tax the people to take from them some food, so as to furnish his own table. Yet throughout the entirety of his time as governor, he exercised grace on the people, forgoing this particular opportunity.

Even still, Nehemiah went out of his way to consistently host a 150 people at his dinner table daily. He saw the needs of the people and went out of his way to both passively and actively seek those needs.

That's what we should do too. Let's not view people we interact with as objects to further our own agenda. Let us instead look to heed the words of Philippians 2:3,
"Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Don't Nominate Me! I won't be Pouring a Bucket of Ice Water on Myself Anytime Soon

I am not the person most in touch with social media hype, so it comes as no surprise to any of my friends that prior to a few weeks ago, I had never heard of the ice bucket challenge. But my ignorance was pushed away as I watched one of my fellow freshman drench himself with ice water from his trash can.

It would be a week or so later that I would learn that this ice bucket challenge was formally called the ALS ice bucket challenge as it was intended to raise awareness to those suffering from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly called, Lou Gehrig's disease. The challenge is doing a phenomenal job of awareness, ain't it?

According to ALSA, the sponsors of the ice bucket challenge, ALS is,
"a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons  die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed."

The ALSA could also work on their sentence structure a bit. But I digress, primarily because it is something of far more importance that the ALSA should really be considering changing than just the way that they are able to bring awareness to the disease.

The ALSA funds research for the noble cause of researching this disease to look for treatment, but they do so by use of embryonic stem cell research. Yes, there have even been cases where these embryonic stem cells have indeed come from victims of abortion.

Those familiar with the history of this blog will immediately call to mind that I had previously started another website specifically geared to attacking this process as it appeared in food and pharmaceuticals. The boycott method (though not through my efforts) was effective in this area, but it's difficult to boycott specific research mechanisms such as this.

That is why my Human Scavengers website was left stagnant. But that never changed my opinion on the subject. I don't care if you participate in the ice bucket challenge. I don't care if you nominate me to do so. It doesn't matter because I won't do it.

For no cause, no charity, will I compromise my Christian principles for the sanctity of life. I will not promote an organization that would be willing to utilize the parts of a murdered baby as if it were nothing more than a machine. I will not pour a bucket of water on myself to support research with aborted fetal cells. Who will stand with me?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Internet, Iron Man, and Indebtedness

I get to write this blog post from the comfort of my desk in my dorm room. That shouldn't excite me that much, but let's just say it took going to the Tech Help desk again to get that rolling. Let me tell you, I didn't think it was possible to go anywhere with inferior wi-fi to that of my house. I was wrong.

Still, it has given me a greater appreciation for the internet in general. Knowing that much work was put in place by the Technology personnel to fix the internet connection on my computer has given me an appreciation for how I should use this particular benefit appropriately, and not waste time playing with my lanyard in front of an open blog post. The internet was worked for, and so I must take the advantage of it.

But this magical bit of internet I have here from the comfort of my desk is limited in comparison to some of the other gifts that have been worked for on my behalf. You know, there are many things that happen in life that change us directly and just make us have to respond in a different way.

For this internet's purpose, it is a small change in my life. I desire to be more responsible and not waste time looking at social media (I'm on a fast as of writing this anyway; it will be over by the time I publish it though). But for other gifts, it can be more significant of a change.

Take, for instance, the great hero Tony Stark. In the movie Iron Man. Mr. Stark is fatally injured and should very well die. Through the surgery of one Yinsen, Tony's life has been saved. Stark and Yinsen plan a daring escape from their imprisonment (by the way, they've been imprisoned), and in the process, Yinsen dies. His last words to Tony are simple.
"Don't waste it. Don't waste your life." 

Tony's life has been spared twice by the man Yinsen, and the last words seem to have an effect on Tony. He understands that he is greatly blessed, and responds accordingly. In an important point of the film, he tells Pepper simply,
"I shouldn't be alive... I'm not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do. And I know in my heart that it's right."

I know the deepness of what I'm about to say is going to blow your mind, but here goes anyway. Jesus gave Himself to give us a blessing far greater than Tony's. Instead of having a chance at happiness in temporal life, Jesus died to give us guaranteed happiness for all eternity.

Tony responded to his blessing with a changed outlook and different behavior choices to pass on a better world to those around him. We as Christians should respond to our blessings with a different focus in life, and a strong desire and great boldness to better people's eternal (and temporal) situations.

But do we? Are we truly living lives that express gratitude to God for saving us? Are we trying to serve Him in all that we do? Or does our every moment become occupied with thoughts of work, fashion, culture, or community?

Not one of those four things I mentioned are bad, but my goodness is there more in life! I think we've all heard this quite clearly a gazillion times, but just think a moment. When I got my internet fixed, I set to work on getting tasks I needed to do done. When Tony's life was saved, he wasted no time turning his life around.

But do we react the same in response to our great blessing of eternal life? That's really all I want to challenge you with today. Look at your response to the almighty God's most gracious gift. Is it living a life of gratitude or do your actions say you just don't care?

I leave you with a quotation from C.T. Stubb,
"If Jesus Christ be God, and He died for me, there is nothing too big for me to do for Him." 

Monday, August 18, 2014

I'm Ashamed of my Quality Education

God can use anything and anyone for his purposes! We all know this to be true. Indeed, I wrote in my last "Ethics" post proclaiming that true humility is being comfortable with your own weakness because it is not your ability, but the Lord's that does all the work.

I have grown up my entire life hearing about how God uses the people who are weak specifically to show His strength all the more. The implication created by this was that the Lord can get more glory out of Joe Schmoe, a high school drop out, than with Dr. G.I. Feelbetter with three Ph.Ds and an IQ off the charts.

This implication is just flat out wrong! Yes, it is totally true that since all that is needed to serve the Lord is submission, the Lord will get glory out of a submissive Joe Schmoe. But it is nonsensical to say that a submissive Dr. G.I. Feelbetter would not meet the same end.

You see, the way I understand it, submission is all that is needed to serve the Lord, and a weak education has nothing to do with it.

Now I know some people here are thinking that I'm crazy for making this a blog post. After all, isn't it obvious that education is not a hindrance to service? One would think so, but I see in some of my Christian circles a startling rejection of education.

Though certainly not universal, when I was starting to work deeper to further my education through means such as debate, or even heading here to Cedarville University (it's pretty swell here by the way), there was limited support not for me as an individual, nor for my particular ways to further my education, but for the whole process of education in the first place.

I'm seeing a society emerge in the church where true education is simply unnecessary and dangerous. But I never see the Lord tell us that we need to be ignorant in order to be used by God. I cannot find one verse in the Bible that can even be misinterpreted to mean that the Lord wants us to be stupid. Such a verse does not exist.

Indeed, if we look to one of the greatest men in the early church, we see clear evidence that God can and will use the educated - the great apostle Paul. Paul had, of course, what we would consider today a secular education. Trained as a Pharisee, he understood the ins and outs of all the reasons why some Jews would not accept Christ.

Rather, than being an impediment to his ministry, his education was able to greatly increase it. Along his journeys, he had to deal with several belligerent Jews and answer their arguments accordingly. Thankfully, the Lord had equipped him to do so with his formal training.

Paul was even able to communicate formally to several government officials and actually have them listen to him. Now if government officials were anything like they are today, that is quite an impressive feat! If Paul hadn't been educated, God certainly could have used him still, but not in the same way. Perhaps Paul would have had just as much of an impact, but it wouldn't have been the same impact.

It is important to note that Paul's education was God's equipping tool, but Paul understood that he still needed God to wield it correctly. Paul wrote several of the verses we quote to remind us that God's is whose strength we need. Take a look at some examples:
"For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." ~II Corinthians 12:8-10
"This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." ~Galatians 5:16 
"For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." ~Philippians 3:3-8 

As if Paul wasn't enough, we can take a brief glimpse at the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel follows the lives of "Daniel and his fellows" (specifically, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nago) from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to that of King Darius of the Medo-Persians. Through this, there are many stories that show God's strength and protection.

But let's remember one thing - not one of them was likely to happen had Daniel and his fellows been poorly educated. Look at Daniel 1:3-7,
"And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes; Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego."

Note from these verses that Daniel and his fellows were placed in their position because of natural beauty, yes. But also because they were "skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science... and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans."

The Lord orchestrated that these four would have these particular positions, so that we can have the message about "purposing in your heart" from Daniel 1, the story of the fiery furnace in Daniel 3, even the story of the writing of the wall in Daniel 5, and of course, the story of Daniel and the lion's den in chapter 6. Had these men not been educated, the book of Daniel would have looked completely different.

So yes, God has used the uneducated. But no, God does not only use the uneducated. Submission is all that is needed for one to serve the Lord, and if that takes you to getting three Ph.D.s, fantastic. I will be scared to speak with you, but it's still pretty fantastic. If submitting to the Lord causes you to drop out of high school, hey, that's pretty fantastic, too!

Let's not be caught in a delusion either way. Let's not focus so much on education being unnecessary for serving the Lord that we consider it a detriment. If used for the right reason, it can pay great dividends in our service to the Lord.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Effect of Sin upon Emotions

From one young king in the last few years of Judah's freedom to the other young king of Judah, that is where we are heading in relation to this blog as we go from last week's post about Joash to this week's post on Josiah.

Josiah was 8 years old when he began to reign. Unlike Joash, he didn't have one single counsellor that he relied upon solely for his life and decisionmaking. Still he successfully served the Lord from the outset of his reign. The Bible even goes so far as to say that he "declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left."

It all starts at the age of 16. This is when the Bible explains that Josiah truly began to seek the Lord and comes closer to Him. After he has developed a personal relationship with the Lord, Josiah turned his attention to the sin of the people. At the age of 20, he went around Judah to crumble all the idols and altars for worship of false gods into dust.

Finally, at age 26 with a pretty stellar resume of service to the Lord already established, he ordered that the Lord's house be cleaned up and brought to a state of usefulness once more. In the process, the Law of God is found.

When Josiah heard the words of the Law, he had a most emotional response. Let's listen in on II Chronicles 34:18-21,
"Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king's, saying, Go, enquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this book."

Even with the awe-inspiring works that Josiah had done in his life, when he read the book of the Law and realized that he and the people were simply falling short of the standard God had put in their lives, he rent his clothes in anger. His sin and the sin of the people put a heavy burden on his heart, that he couldn't just ignore.

So how does our sin weigh on us? Do we examine our sin as if it's no big deal because God has already forgiven it? Do we claim that because of all the other good we have done our sin in x area is meaningless? I certainly hope not!

Josiah had done much for the Lord through his young years. But that didn't change his reaction when he learned some of his actions were actually sinful. Despite all the good Josiah had done, he looked down on himself and was angry at his own sin. That also should be our response.

We can't just treat sin as if it's no big deal. When we do, it is allowed to grow and fester. Our sin needs to bring us to our knees to confess and ask the Lord to forgive.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Legitimacy of Iraqi Bombing

Last political post, I used the situation in Ukraine to demonstrate that the United States should intervene in foreign conflicts only to protect national security. Had I not already laid this groundwork then, I would not likely be bold enough to write this post today. It's time to use those principles as it pertains to President Obama's decision to bomb Iraq.

The situation in Iraq is depressing. A full out civil war is in place as radical muslims begin to persecute Christians and other non-muslim minorities in Iraq. This situation changed President Obama's typical hands-off approach to a more interventionist mentality as he ordered bombing on these radical rebels in Iraq.

Naturally, all Christians need to have compassion for the plight of these Christians that are being persecuted there in Iraq. Compassion is a great motivation for individual action in the world, such as the action taken by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. However, compassion should not impact foreign policy decisions.

I know, I sound like a heartless jerk. But governments are amoral entities which need to follow the contracts that they are created for, and charity is not one of those purposes. Last political post, you all probably agreed with my rationale as it pertained to the situation in Russia and Ukraine, but now because Christians are being persecuted, things begin to change.

I get it. I hate what is happening in Iraq as much as you do. But if there is one thing I've learned, it's this - it does no good to have principles if you don't follow them universally. Otherwise, you follow them only when you deem it convenient, and you mise well not have principles at all.

So we can't change the way we view politics just because we have more compassion for the situation that is brought in before it. Indeed if you remember back to Davy Crockett's "Not Yours to Give" speech, you will find that that is the very argument he uses to say that all charity is outside the bounds of the Constitution. It would be far too easy to declare that some crony cause is necessary for humanitarian purposes. It becomes far too easy to manipulate the system to serve your own interests.

That's why despite my sympathy for this situation, I have to stand by and say that United States actions in Iraq are not legitimate.

Please join me in praying for the Christians in Iraq, and the continued United States involvement that I'm sure will come despite my feelings of illegitimacy.

Friday, August 8, 2014

How not to Respond to Jehoiada

My post today will be shorter than usual, and that's saying something, since all my devotional posts are intentionally short.

Joash is the youngest King of Judah. Taking the throne at age 7, Joash could easily have found himself immature and not ready for such a huge role of leading the nation of Judah But he was wise enough to come to his uncle Jehoiada the High Priest for advice all through Jehoiada's life.

But eventually Jehoiada dies, and Joash loses his best counsel. It is a loss that could disrupt the good that Joash was doing and, and unfortunately, it does just that. The whole story can be found in II Kings 12 and II Chronicles 24. Since you know that I am not going to paste these whole chapters here, but I desire to ensure you know my information is accurate, I will be quoting one verse from each selection:
"And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest." ~II Chronicles 24:2
 "And Jehoash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him." ~II Kings 12:2 

Joash had an instructor in his life. He had someone who would help him be able to serve the Lord. But it would seem that once that instructor moved on (died is a form of moving on, right?), we learned that Josiah hadn't actually found any real love for God himself. He never became sufficient in God.

Hey, I understand that it is truly beautiful to have a mentor in your life. I have had my share and they have been greatly helpful. But you must make sure that you do not become sufficient in just the use of counselors, but instead truly become sufficient in God's love for you, and your love for God. I urge you today- don't misuse your Jehoiadas. Learn also to depend on God yourself.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Sufficient Grace: True Humility in Action

Humility. Immediately the word brings about some image in our mind. We think of someone who thinks that his talents are inferior to those of his peers. We think of the opposite of a guy who is so arrogant that he won't even acknowledge that anyone else is good at all.

Rick Warren (quotation is usually misattributed to C.S. Lewis) has a somewhat different take on humility. He states,
"Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." 

When I first read this quotation a couple of years ago, I was less than impressed. You see, from where I was coming, that would make humility nothing less than selflessness and then we didn't need another name to describe the same virtue.

But as time past, my perspective changed, and now I find this definition of humility to be the accurate one. You see, while we use the expression, "thinking of yourself" to express someone with a selfish tendency to not care about others, Warren is referring to something different when he uses that expression in his clever quotation.

To learn what, we will ask examine what the opposite of pride really is. Pride we all know to be the evil to which humility fights. Pride and arrogance are the tenets of man's feelings that make them think they just don't need any help from anybody, and that everyone else is inferior and not worthy to be spoken to.

Or that's what it can mean in extreme circumstances. Arrogance can also just come off in a little urge to prove yourself right, never admit to being wrong, and not accepting any reproof that you are given.

At its core, pride is just an overconfidence in one's own self. A time where yes, we are focusing upon our own abilities, and not those of the Lord or anyone else. Whether we experience this overconfidence in a small way or an extreme way, we know for sure that pride has significant consequences. The Bible admonishes us in Proverbs 16:18,
"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."

Pride clearly involves thinking too highly of oneself, and since humility is the virtue that is portrayed as exactly opposite this, we ought to assume that it involves thinking lowly of oneself and his abilities.

This is indeed fair. Humility does involve thinking lowly of one's own abilities, but that's hardly the end of the story. Simply thinking less of yourself will more than likely bring you into a state of insecurity than a state of humility.

Now you are not likely to think there's any real difference between humility and insecurity. To my understanding, humility is comfortable with the amount of talent one doesn't possess, whereas insecurity is not secure or peaceful about his lack of ability and is thus trying to build himself up.

The easiest way for an insecure person to feel built up is simply to bring others down. In my experience with debate, I found the teams that were elite would have good things to say to and about novices. They would see promise in these novices that perhaps the novices hadn't noticed in themselves.

The teams that wanted to be considered elite - that were close to that status, but just couldn't quite get there -  always seemed to be willing to brag about how much they crushed the same novices that the elite teams were just praising. These teams would be willing to hurl insults at how "novicey" these teams were without a hint of compassion in their voices.

You see, insecurity taught them the best way to build themselves up was to bring others down, to condemn them and to treat them in an arrogant way. Thus, insecurity is a precursor to prideful actions. Yet an insecure person definitely thinks less of himself than a typical arrogant person, how could he also be proud?

I guess it's easier to acknowledge the Nebuchadnezzar from Daniel 4, who puts his power above that of God, than to see the one who not being comfortable with his own power, starts to comfort himself by showing those who are weaker than himself, those who have even less power than he does. But they are still in essence looking to their power above God's.

My life since high school began has been one ginormous cycle. First I would be incredibly arrogant and trust in my abilities to work out particular situations. Then when my abilities completely failed me, I would be simply finding myself completely lacking in my abilities and became uncomfortable with how many abilities I lacked. Until I tore other people down enough in my mind to see that I truly wasn't that bad. And on and on it went.

Finally, I realized what my ultimate problem was. When I forced myself into thinking about my flaws and weaknesses, I never found comfort within them, and was still thinking about myself too much. In both situations, I was still proud and hadn't found true humility.

Because you see, Rick Warren is right. True humility isn't just about knowing you're not the best person who walked the earth. True humility isn't just about acknowledging your own weaknesses. True humility is not just about thinking less of yourself.

Indeed, true humility is about knowing who the best person who walked the earth is. True humility is acknowledging that your weaknesses mean nothing in comparison to His strength. True humility is thinking of yourself less and God more.

Living a humble life is about being comfortable with your own weakness because you truly believe the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9,
"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

Friday, August 1, 2014

Filling your Soul with Good

I have been branching out a bit over the last few devotional posts. Although I have technically done devotional posts in the past that simply expounded on certain scripture, I feel most at home and comfortable when telling a narrative and bringing out the truths God revealed to me from it. But I have always said it's good to be out of your comfort zone every now and then, so here goes.

Today, we are going to discuss a little batch of poetry in the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes as a book stands to reason out where one can find satisfaction in life, declaring time and time again that all is vanity. We ultimately discover that the whole duty of man is to fear God and obey His commandments. 

While that is the main lesson of Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes also has a secondary theme that is developed throughout the book, especially the early portions of the book - everyone should enjoy the work that they are called to do and be content in the station that the Lord has placed them in. Just to list one example, this theme is referenced in Ecclesiastes 3:11-13, 
"He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God."

Like I said, this theme of enjoying the labor that is placed before us is seeded throughout a large part of the book; however, I would not like to bite off more than I could chew. Thus, today we will focus in on the theme only as it develops in Ecclesiastes 6:3-12,
 "If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he. For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other. Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place? All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled. For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit. That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he. Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better? For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?"

 Solomon starts his discussion here with a nice parable. A man lives two thousand years, and has a hundred children. He is the pinnacle of what man would desire in his life. Yet Solomon argues, that if "his soul be not filled with good," that he would be better off to have been still-born. That is quite harsh, there, King Solomon.

But how could this wonderful life not be filled with good? We've just discussed that he has everything that man desires in his life, so that nothing is lacking! But notice that this is not what Solomon has said.

Solomon never denies that this man's life is filled with good. On the contrary, his entire parable is centered on that fact. Solomon wonders whether his soul is actually quite filled with good. The consensus on what Solomon means on this (examining the context, I would have to agree) is that Solomon was discussing whether this man was enjoying his good, whether he was truly joyful about his circumstances.

Solomon is very gently reminding us that our joy is independent of our circumstances. If our circumstances are great, we may not be any more joyful than if our circumstances are depressing. The thing about circumstances in life is that they just don't satisfy our joy the way that God can.

It is of course much easier for us all to say that we believe this than to actually live our life that way. There can be a disconnect between what we profess to believe and how we actually live. As Orson Scott Card writes in his science fiction novel, Shadow of the Hegemon
"I don't know a soul who doesn't maintain two separate doctrines - the ones that they believe that they believe; and the ones that they actually try to live by. I'm simply one of the rare ones who knows the difference."

Of course, there is no easy way to bridge this gap, and going too far into that topic would branch me away from the thesis I am developing, so just acknowledge that knowing this is not the same thing as living it. (Also note that my use of this quotation does not endorse all of the psychology included within that particular chapter.)

So back to our main point, Solomon shows us the meaning of his parable by reminding us that many parts of life increase vanity. Thus, finding a way to better our own circumstances should not be our focus.

After all, with so much that just doesn't satisfy, how are we to know what is best for us? Now don't get me wrong. As a Libertarian, I still strongly believe that I know what's best for me more than anyone else on earth, and that you know what's best for you more than anyone else on earth. But as a Christian, I know that the one person who truly knows what's best for me is God.

Indeed God is the answer to Solomon's rhetorical question, "For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow?" You better believe the Lord does. Thus, we all should be glad that God hath "named already" that which is to happen unto all men. Why would we "contend with Him that is mightier" than us?

That is why our goal should be focused on being content with where God puts us. As Ecclesiastes 6:9 states,
"Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit."