Perspective on Problems

Huffing and puffing up the mountain trail, every stride had been shortened to a mere foot, just enough inches to keep making a bit of progress without the lungs giving out. Every large rock in the way was to be avoided or surmounted by the aid of a handhold and arm strength. Finally, huff-puff finally, we broke out on top and looked down. Wow! What a change in perspective! From the top, those huff-and-puff hills looked like mere berms. From up high, vehicles look like toy cars, moving people like ants or, as the prophet Isaiah put it, like grasshoppers.

It is He who sits above the vault of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. (Is 40:22-23)

This passage is intended to give hope. The bad news was that the nation of Israel was going to be disciplined severely by seventy years of exile in Babylon. The good news was that the Lord would deliver them. So when the time for chastisement came they ought not despair but take comfort in God’s will and ability to deliver them at the right time.

How could they believe this? From the perspective of Israel, the Babylonian empire would appear to be an invincible giant. So God wanted them to see it from His perspective. He is so powerful and vast that He not only made all of creation, He sits above it. From His vantage point men appear to be mere grasshoppers. Could any mighty emperor, being a mere grasshopper, prevent God from carrying out His divine plan? How silly! “He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.”

Perspective shapes our understanding of reality and, therefore, of trials. It molds our hopes and prayers. From ground level, the troublous weeds of living in our day can look immense, shrinking hope and erasing praise from prayers.

I don’t know about you but I too often see difficulties from a grasshopper view. I’m too quick to magnify my problems bigger than they are to God. That’s why I wanted to focus on this passage awhile and ask myself some questions.

So whose perspective of reality is accurate?

All we see is an eye-level view and at that not even all the details. It is God who sees reality with perfect perspective and, therefore, God’s viewpoint that is accurate.

How do we attain God’s perspective?

Our problems can seem larger and more difficult to surmount than Mt. Everest. We need to read in the Bible God’s view of trials so that we can look down upon our troubles rather than up at them. Rather than believe our feelings or experiences, we choose to believe what God says about troubles and about Himself. Rather than doubt God’s goodness we remember His love. Those who follow Christ may be as small and insignificant as grasshoppers, but God loves us and will take care of us and one day make all things right. Christ loved so much that He came and endured the ultimate suffering to pay the penalty of sin on our behalf. Rather than imagine that the world is out of control we believe the Bible’s message that God is in control. One way to renew our minds is to memorize and meditate on passages like Isaiah 40 and others than magnify the greatness of God. Easy? No, but the hard work of changing our perspective to match God’s produces rest and joy.

How might this apply to trials in our lives?

Consider, in light of how big God is, how big can the problems of a grasshopper be? In light of eternity, how long do they last? In light of His power we can stop trying to control and instead trust God. In light of His immense love, we can submit to the trials He lovingly ordains for us. We can cooperate so as to bring Him glory. In light of the joys of seeing Christ in heaven, we can shift our gaze from the hardships here below to the beauty of Christ.

James 1:2-3 says to “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” When we see trials from God’s perspective we can count them a source of joy. We can assume the best of Him, that He is good and has a good purpose for this trial. We can commit to endure with attitudes and behaviors to glorify Him. That means putting off self-pity and putting on words of gratitude and actions of obedience and service. We can set our mind’s eye on the hope of being with Christ in heaven.

How might this apply to prayer?

Trials can discourage prayer. We don’t know what to ask. We ask for selfish things. Prayer seems futile. We let ourselves be discouraged from praying at all. But if God “sits above the vault of the earth” and is able to reduce rulers to nothing, we can choose to pray with faith. “He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20). We might pray that we would see our problems as He does and that we would trust Him despite our lack of perspective. God sits above the vault of the earth, stretched out the heavens, yet inserts Himself into earthly history and overturns the declarations of kings and judges who think to rule the earth. With His greatness and our smallness in mind, in the midst of our trials we can trust Him and pray, “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…forever and ever” (Eph. 3:21).

Posted in Adversity, Christian Living | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Visitor’s Guide to Hell

One doctrine upon which almost all religions agree throughout history is hell. They may not agree about the details, but they agree that there is a hell. In A Visitor’s Guide to Hell: A Manual for Temporary Entrants and Those Who Would Prefer to Avoid Eternal Damnation, Clint Archer describes what we can know about it.

I’ll say up front, I don’t know how to do this book justice. I had started writing a review while reading it (aloud to my husband). Then last night, after the last chapter and conclusion, my husband and I were speechless for a couple of minutes. You need to read this book! But please don’t read the end first. At only 141 pages in eight short chapters, you won’t have to wait long.

To write about hell, Dr. Archer bases his observations on the Bible, not ideas from philosophy and religions. He reasons that Jesus is the Authority on the topic. No one else has the knowledge or resources to know what they’re talking about. A few people claim to have been there and come back, but Jesus said that once you’re there you can’t escape. So we have no eye witnesses on earth, not in all of history. In contrast, Archer quotes verse after verse from the Bible to back what he writes with the testimony of the One who made hell.

Dr. Archer treats this hot topic respectfully while applying a few cold packs of humor to cool and lighten the atmosphere, at least for the reader on earth, starting with the table of contents. Here is a sampling to ignite your interest:

  • Introduction: Raising Hell
  • To Hell and Back: Who Has the T-shirt?
  • Downtown Abyss: Learning the Lay of the Land
  • The Gated Community: Hell’s Population
  • Dead-End Streets: How to Go to Hell
  • The Great Escape: Rescued from Hell

Starting with Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, Archer then weaves that story throughout the book. It effectively engages the reader personally and practically. The rich man was surprised that he landed in hell. He couldn’t get out. He couldn’t even warn his family. What a cost for his lack of understanding about hell!

Archer mentions some common misconceptions about hell. One is that Satan is the head honcho there. What does the Bible say about that and other misconceptions? If you don’t know, Clint provides quotes of Scripture for you so you can see for yourself what the truth is.

All people begin life on the road to hell but, like the rich man, most don’t believe they’ll arrive. How do they think to avoid or escape it? In most cases, people take one of three avenues, all of which lead to the same surprise the rich man received. We all like to think we’re the exception. To find out if you’re on one of those “Dead-End Streets” read the book.

For those who want to avoid the heat, Archer tells you the Bible’s solution. How is God’s grace applied to us? Only Jesus is perfectly righteous and only He can rescue the sinner from hell. How? Read all about it in “The Great Escape: Rescued from Hell.”

Finally, there is a chapter on heaven and it is…well, heavenly! One Person especially makes it so. What a bright reprieve that chapter is. I hope that all readers of this post are rescued in “The Great Escape” so as to arrive safely in heaven.

My husband and I read A Visitor’s Guide together. Of all the crazy things to do, we read it at bedtime. Just before you close your peepers for sleep may not be the best time to scorch your mind with hell, but do read the book. It provides an unearthly tour from the horrors of hell to the heights of heaven and back. As you travel, you keep bumping into the poor rich man. Consider what he says. Don’t be in a hurry. Let each chapter simmer in your thoughts.

Finally, read chapter 8 and the conclusion in one sitting. The contrast is profitably sobering.

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A Visitor’s Guide to Hell: A Manual for Temporary Entrants and Those Who Would Prefer to Avoid Eternal Damnation, Dr. Clint Archer, 2014

Barnes and Noble:  A Visitor’s Guide to Hell
Amazon: A Visitor’s Guide to Hell
Christianbook.com:  A Visitor’s Guide to Hell

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Christian Living, Salvation | Tagged | Leave a comment

No Wiggle Room

Boston Herald sports headline, Sunday, July 24, 2016: “Suspension rules leave little wiggle room for Tom Brady.” The article discusses whether NFL quarterback Tom Brady will “keep his sanity” during four weeks of suspension from his team. He is supposed to have no contact with the team. No going to the stadium. No practicing passes with teammates. No discussions with teammates. Some have been hunting for loopholes, but there seems to be no wiggle room.

In the last post I did a short meditation on the significance of Adam’s one bite of forbidden fruit. for the smallest infraction, consequences both now and for eternity are enormous and certain. God leaves no wiggle room. Nor is there but one means of salvation that would grant eternal life; it has to be accomplished God’s way. But we don’t like the the terms. What are common loopholes we try? Following are common responses I have heard from both myself and others.

Good Deeds

Many people say something like, “I agree that sin deserves punishment, but I do a lot of good deeds. I’m a basically good person.”

By whose definition? According to God Adam was originally “very good”– which is much “gooder” than you or I. Yet when he ate (a merely normal activity) of a forbidden fruit, he was no longer good but corrupted. (It wasn’t even junk food.) If so, then how much worse for us.

On the Final Judgment scales, one sin far outweighs all the good a person does. If you’ve broken the law in one point, you’ve broken the whole (James 2:10). Paul said, “No one does good.”

“But I…”

“No, not one.” Not even you. Read it in Romans 3:10-18. Not one “good” deed done by a person outside of Christ is acceptable to God. Rather, every good deed is to Him filthy, like a reeking filthy rag (Is. 64:6). We cannot bifurcate our deeds from ourselves, and our selves are not good.

Not That Bad

“But really, I don’t think God would condemn me for one white lie, especially when my intentions were good.”

A lie with an adjective attached is still a lie. The adjective proves our lack of goodness. Rather than admit the truth, it seeks to avoid conviction and minimize the offense. It holds a low view of God’s perfect holiness.

While there are degrees of sin and punishment, when it comes to life or death a sin cannot be measured on a qualitative continuum as if a bank robbery is condemnable but taking a forbidden cookie is no big deal, as if vicious lies deserve hell but a white lie should be excused. No sin is insignificant because the issue, even in the smallest of offenses, is that God is King and we reject His rule.

Messing Up

“But everybody messes up.”

Proverbs 16:2 is right, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes.” We justify ourselves rather than looking at it through God’s eyes. What we call “mess up” God calls “sin.” Sin is a violation of God’s command, either actively or passively, either overtly or inadvertently. Leviticus 5:17 says that even unintentional sin merits guilt. Any failure to do absolutely everything God commands exactly in the way He commands it is a sin.

Faith

“But I have faith.”

The demons believe and yet do not know God. Of the Ephesian Christians Paul wrote, “By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9, emphasis added). Oh, what right have we to boast about what is a gift? Would we thereby steal even faith? See the deceitfulness of sin!

Sincerity

“But I’m really sincere about what I believe.”

A suicide (homicide) bomber is as sincere as you can get, fatally sincere, murderously sincere–and sincerely wrong. Sincerity is not the standard for heaven, holiness is. Jesus said, “Be perfect as My heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). God’s standard is 100% perfection and not a thousandth of a percent less.

So when it comes to our culpability before God, there is no wiggle room.

Hope

The good news is, God provided for salvation from eternal punishment. It is abundant salvation and is gained by one way only–Jesus the Christ. One act of disobedience was so abhorrent to God that it required a curse on all men, but one act of obedience by Jesus gave much more. Jesus’ obedient self-sacrifice on the cross paid for not just one sin, but for all the sins of all the men who would trust in Him. One sin cursed all who are in Adam. One sacrifice overruled that curse and abundantly blessed all who are in Christ (Romans 5).

We commonly seek loopholes from guilt and escape on our terms. Impossible! Dear reader, trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone–no wiggle room.

Examine your own life. 

  • Do you consider yourself to be basically a good person who means well?
  • Do you paint your sins white?
  • Do you redefine sins as mess-ups?
  • Do you have faith in your faith (or in some profession you made back in the day)?
  • Do you take comfort in your sincerity?

Change your mind: 

  • View yourself as God does, corrupted by sin and unable to be good enough to please Him.
  • View sins like God does–egregious, having cost the death of His perfect, innocent Son.
  • Label sins biblically.
  • Confess sins for what they are in God’s eyes and turn from them.
  • Trust in Christ alone for forgiveness and grace to follow Him.
Posted in Christian Living, Salvation | Tagged

It Was Only One Bite

In 1977 Wadi Haddad, a mastermind of terrorist hijackings, mysteriously died. According to Saul David in Operation Thunderbolt (and other sources) he ate some chocolates coated with an undetectable, slow-acting poison. A few weeks afterward he began to lose weight. His immune system failed and he died. The death process had actually begun months earlier. What a devastating result from a bite of chocolate!

Just One Bite

So also, for death to enter humanity by the poison of sin all it took was one bite. God had commanded Adam not to eat the fruit of a specific tree or he would die. Whether or not Adam ate the whole fruit, the first bite crossed the line. Romans 5:16 says that “the judgment arose from one transgression, resulting in condemnation.” That day Adam died spiritually even though the poison of sin took many years to kill him physically. Unless there was a way of redemption from the penalty, the ultimate death is eternity in hell. What devastating consequences from a bite of fruit!

Isn’t this a bit over the top? Why would one little bite of a fruit condemn a man for eternity? The reason I ask this question at all is because I don’t comprehend the sinfulness of sin. I don’t comprehend the sinfulness of sin because I don’t comprehend the holiness of God. Then, neither do I truly understand the value of the grace of God. I suspect I am not alone in this.

Offense Against Holiness

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.” The horrendous consequences of such a “little” sin ought to increase our realization of the holiness of God.

One sin blemished the holy work of God. God made Adam to bear His image perfectly and one sin tainted the whole image. Sin is so vile that it corrupted man’s desires, thoughts, conscience, intentions, attitudes, words, and behaviors. He could never again do anything in total purity of heart. Adam passed the same corruption to his children. “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Billions of humans–every human in history but One–were corrupted by just one bite!

One sin is rebellion against the Holy Ruler. Even one sin says, “God, I want my way and I reject Your right to determine the rules.” Yet all Adam did was eat, and of a health food, too. That eternal condemnation resulted from the most mundane of actions with something good makes the vital issue clear. No sin is insignificant because the issue is that God is King and we reject His rule. Treason!

One sin attempts to destroy Holy God. Since God rules despite our rejection, He stands in the way of our autonomy, and so we would get rid of Him if we could. Indeed, we acted on that intent. When Jesus came to earth in human flesh He, as God, demanded worship and obedience. Mankind crucified Jesus to get rid of Him and be free of His demands. The crucifixion of Jesus can be traced back to just one bite.

One sin redefines what is good and holy. When we do what we want regardless of God, we demonstrate belief that what we want is good and right. We reject what God has said to be good and right. We declare holy what God declares wicked.

One sin violates infinite holiness. In determining the extremity of the sentence against sin the issue isn’t the type or size or intensity or extent or duration of the sin. The issue is the holiness and infinitude of God. Even one sin is infinitely offensive because it is made against an infinitely holy God, and so it deserves infinite punishment.

If “the wages of sin is death” how great must be the holiness of God.

Wonder at Grace

And if even one sin is so wicked and people have done far more than one sin, how great must be the grace of God because He has made the way for forgiveness. It is just one way, and it is God’s way and not ours, and it is a glorious way.

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

While just one bite resulted in condemnation to all and completely incapacitated all men from saving themselves, just one payment is acceptable to God–a perfect sacrifice. Only God could provide a perfect sacrifice, so it was a gift. It was promised to Adam in the Seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). It was given in Christ, the Seed–“He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).

How great His grace! “If by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign through the one, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17, emphasis added).

Lord, teach us to see how evil is just one sin. Teach us to delight in Your holiness and grace. Teach us to rejoice in Christ the Savior!

Posted in Christian Living, Salvation

Tend Your Boss and Reap a Good Reward

As an avid gardener, my husband takes special delight in eating the first ripe tomato of the season. He can do so because he diligently tends his garden. He records monthly rainfall, past crop rotations, and the species of tomatoes he has planted. Each year, he starts planning before Christmas. He draws a sketch of his planting plan. He orders seeds, then starts the seedlings indoors. As soon as possible, he tills the garden, plants, fertilizes, and mulches. As necessary, he weeds and waters. He checks the garden every day. Soon, he takes me out to see the first flower, and then the first little baby tomatoes. He daily reports that they’ll be ripe “this week” or “maybe tomorrow.”

Then comes the moment. He spots the plump, red jewel winking at him from under green leaves. He reaches out and picks it. Standing beside the plant, he rubs the tomato on his shirt. Then, he raises it to his mouth and…Yumm!

He who tends the garden will enjoy the fruits thereof. As Proverbs 27:18 says,

He who tends the fig tree will eat its fruit,
And he who cares for his master will be honored.

Wait! What does horticulture have to do with how you treat your boss (or literal master)? While this proverb sets “master” as equivalent to “fig tree” it isn’t suggesting that you literally fertilize and water your boss. That might get you fired. However, figuratively speaking, if you tend your boss you will reap a good harvest. That harvest likely won’t be figs or tomatoes, but it will be honor, and that is of no small profit.

How does one “care for” his boss? Here are a few ideas.

  • Don’t linger in the “shade” of the break room or kick back in your chair for “power naps.” Don’t indulge in extensive casual conversations or surf the internet. Pick up the hoe and dig in.
  • Don’t attempt to slide by with minimal exertion. Water your work liberally with sweat.
  • Fertilize your workplace with excellence. Do work well. For example, use spell-check. Pick up the paper clip from the floor by your desk. Pay attention to details and take care of them. Don’t leave the garden half weeded; complete the project. Complete the project before the deadline. Plan ways to improve.
  • Take initiative. Don’t wait until you see the plants wilting before you decide to water. Look for work before you have to be told. Anticipate what your boss might want or what might be best for the office or the company.
  • Take on new projects cheerfully. New varieties can spice up the garden.
  • Don’t allow problems to sprout up unaddressed. Pluck those weeds immediately so your boss doesn’t have to.
  • Work with integrity. Don’t pluck fruit that doesn’t belong to you. This applies not only to money and objects and other people’s lunches in the ‘fridge, but also to time and accolades. Deliver before the date you promise. Refuse undeserved credit and be generous in giving credit.
  • Respect your boss and weed out disrespect by discouraging complaining in your own heart as well as in conversation. Don’t pin fake fruits of flattery on the vine, but do speak well of your boss to others.

Those who fear the Lord will work well primarily to please Him. Meanwhile, God has also graciously instituted the principle that diligent work usually reaps earthly rewards in addition to heavenly. The arboriculturist reaps fruit, the diligent student builds knowledge, the excellent servant receives honor. Those rewards are legitimate motives in addition to gratitude to the Lord.

This principle is true in authority structures besides the work place, like toward church leaders, teachers, government officials, and in family relationships. Helping your authority achieve his goals reaps honor for you.

Posted in Christian Living, Proverbs | Tagged ,

Chemical imbalance? Points to Ponder Regarding Psychotropic Drugs, Part 2

The use of psychotropic drugs is so common these days that it is accepted as normal, unquestioned as a valid approach to all kinds of emotional upsets, thought obsessions, and behavioral problems. We ought not so easily accept that a need for psychotropic drugs is so often necessary. First, drugs affect both body and mind and can cause more problems. Unless there is some extraordinary need the saying fits, “Don’t fix what ain’t broke.” Second, taking drugs for emotional problems covers the pain with tylenol when it is an antibiotic that is needed. It misses the target, doesn’t treat the real problem. Third, it shifts blame and attention to what is not the problem; then the person doesn’t work on the problem. As any doctor knows, if we mis-diagnose the problem then it is unlikely that the right solution will be applied.

Part one of this two-part series presented nine points to ponder regarding psychotropic drugs. Continuing below…

10. It is not wrong to take a medication for a physiological problem. Christians need to be viewing problems in living, including their physiological effects, biblically. We need to apply discernment to our use of medications.

11. The “mental health” field takes a medical-metaphor approach to non-medical problems. (Note the very label, mental “health.”) That is why they they speak in terms of “healing from emotional trauma” and avoid words describing sins and repentance. If “mental health professionals” believe that emotional problems are based in chemical imbalances, then it is only natural that their solutions require drugs.

12. There is no proof of a chemical cure to non-medical emotional problems (like depression or anxiety not attributable to a disease). A medically induced change does not mean there was imbalance at the start. Marijuana makes people feel better, but that does not prove there was a chemical imbalance in the first place. Energy drinks cause heightened alertness and energy; that doesn’t mean the energy level when off the drink is what is abnormal.

13. Psychotropic drugs are known to have some physiological effect and it is known that a body can adapt and become dependent upon a drug. This is why depression-like symptoms can return when the drug is quickly terminated, and then the person mistakenly concludes that she really needs the drug. This is also why it is unwise for a person to take herself off of psychotropic drugs without medical supervision.

14. Psychotropic drugs can elevate pleasant feelings so that a person feels better. This feeling can deceive a person into thinking that her problem was physical when it was really spiritual. If she feels better, she is less motivated to work on real change.

15. Medication doesn’t get you off the hook. Blaming “chemical imbalance” provides only short-term relief. If you take it, you are still responsible to face your problems and make changes.

16. Medication has neither the power nor wisdom to solve spiritual problems. It may chemically restrain the body, but the spiritual desires that generate the problems remain.

17. Scripture teaches that the real causes of problems in living (emotional, mental, behavioral, and relational) are the heart desires and the thoughts of the mind. The origin is the heart-mind (immaterial man), not the brain (material man). These are spiritual issues. They may cause physiological responses but are not generated by physiology. The brain is not the same as the mind.

18. Dealing with one’s own misunderstandings or sin is difficult, especially when being sinned against. But in any case, correcting the heart problem will correct the root cause of the emotional, mental, and behavioral symptoms. There is hope for joyful living, and that hope is found in Christ. Repentance and confession results in forgiveness and salvation. Then we get to know the Lord Jesus, learn His will in the Word of God, and obey by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the path to godliness and abundant life.

19. Change is not easy. It will require facing pride that we don’t want to think we have. It will require turning from selfishness. It will require work at resisting temptation, at putting off old ways of dealing with problems and putting on God’s ways.

20. Relief is not the primary goal for Christian change. The goal is bringing glory to God. Heart change will likely improve feelings. However, it may also make life harder, especially if others do not like the change and become more difficult to live with. The Christian woman will want to change her heart for God’s glory, even if she gains no relief from physical or emotional discomforts. She will say, “If I have to feel down-hearted then so be it. Rather than focus on feelings, I will set my heart to obey God no matter what my feelings tell me.” Then, even if she does not feel better, she will glorify God, and so she will achieve the ultimate goal. What a cause for rejoicing!

If you are struggling with unpleasant or out-of-control emotions, you are suffering much discomfort. It may complicate your life and your relationships to a degree you deem unbearable. You may grieve over your trials. Your best hope of permanent relief is to find the real cause and solution.

If you are trying to help someone who is taking psychotropic drugs, don’t focus on the drugs. The heart is the important issue. Show her how to have peace with God and how to obey the Lord and actively love others.

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Nothing in this post is intended to be medical advice. Use or termination of the use of a psychotropic drug can be dangerous, so it should be done only under medical supervision.

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For your own research:
Listing these links does not imply that I endorse any other opinions on these websites.

Stuart A, Kirk & Herb Kutchins, The Myth of the Reliability of the DSM
http://www.academyanalyticarts.org/kirk-myth-reliability-dsm

The difference between a medical diagnosis and a psychiatric diagnosis
http://www.cchrint.org/psychiatric-disorders/psychiatristsphysicians-on-lack-of-any-medicalscientific-tests/

David Kaiser, MD. Commentary: Against Biologic Psychiatry
http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/commentary-against-biologic-psychiatry

Posted in Christian Living, Depression, Psychology/Psychiatry | Tagged , ,