Monday, July 31, 2006

What's In Your Heart? (Part II)

Ok, so he's the Capitol One Viking guy. Still, I like it.

To pick up where I left off... two weeks ago... I believe my last big point was that our deeds do not make us who we are, but merely reveal what's already within us. That was essentially Paul's point in Romans 3 when he said,

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

Thus, God gives us His law not to make us perfect, but to reveal to us our inadequacy. (If I might digress, you can compare that idea to one of the tenets of Islam - that a perfect society will result if it obeys Sha'riah - Islamic holy law). Anyway, to drive this point of "revealing what lies within" home with a little more clarity, let's begin with James 1:2-7 & 12:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord;
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

James makes some simple observations that shouldn't strain the exegetical skills too greatly:

1. The testing of faith produces perseverance
2. Perseverance perfects us that we might not lack anything
3. If anything is lacking, it's wisdom
4. Wisdom is freely given by God, but only if it's requested in faith.

The concept of perseverance is literally in the Greek, "cheerful (or hopeful) endurance." It's a command to have an attitude of thriving (not just surviving) the hard times. So how does that work?

Look at how James qualifies faith. He says that perseverance in faith is to perfect us - that we not be lacking in anything. But if we lack in something, it's likely wisdom - which God will freely give. Of course, we have to ask in faith. In other words, faith and God's wisdom go hand-in-hand. You don't get one without the other.

For a better picture of what God's wisdom is all about, go to Proverbs 18:4:

The words of a man's mouth are deep waters,
but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

This is a description of two kinds of wisdom, Man's and Gods. We can understand the difference between these wisdoms by examining the visual image the proverb provides. That is, man's wisdom is like "deep water" (not necesarily an ocean - think more of a well or deep pool). Comparatively, God's wisdom is a "bubblnig brook". So what are the primary differences?

1. Water depth - Man's wisdom is deep. God's wisdom is shallow. Sounds a little odd, doesn't it? Yet consider the deep waters of a well. Darkness, murkiness, and a general lack of clarity characterize such water. By comparison, a brook is typically clear. It's shallow depth lets you see the bottom easily. The point? There's nothing hidden or vague in God's wisdom. The intellectual component is more often an issue of common sense.

2. Water velocity - Well waters don't flow. Brooks do. Simply put, God's wisdom moves - it requires or encourages action on the part of him who posesses it.

As an engineer, I have studied how water flows in channels. One of the primary principles that governs water flow is known as Bernoulli's Principle. In one form, it states that the depth of water is inversely proportional to the velocity of the water. In simpler terms: the deeper the water, the slower it flows.

By the contrast in his Proverb, Solomon was basically laying out Bernoulli's primary principle of hydraulic engineering several millennia before Bernoulli was born. But what that means to the everyday Christian is this: If you can't figure out how to deal with a sin issue in your life, it's likely because you don't really want to deal with it.

Thus, when the Godly thing to do when dealing with sin is the one thing we don't want to do, we try to think of another way... and think... and think some more. Soon, we suffer "paralysis by analysis" and we think so long that we never do anything. Hence, "the words of a man's mouth are deep (and stagnant) waters". Yet Jesus told us to cut off our hands or gouge out our eyes if they cause us to sin. While some would actually debate whether Christ meant that to be taken literally, it certainly doesn't present the idea to sit and give lots and lots of thought about what to do with your sin, does it? He was being dramatically clear - get radical and stop at nothing in combatting the sin in your life.

So how does getting radical with the sin in your life bring about God's wisdom?

Look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The important question to ask here is: Why is the message of the cross (which Paul later qualifies as "God's wisdom") foolishness to the perishing?

The answer lies in human nature - and the cross which seeks to destroy it. After all, it would be utter foolishness to destroy what so many in this world love so dearly, wouldn't it? Yet that's precisely the purpose of the cross - and the testing of our faith that James refers to.

Let me illustrate:

One of my favorite recording artists is Eric Clapton. In the 1970's, Clapton suffered a powerful addiction to heroin. He was discussing this addiciton in an interview and pointed out during the worst of it, he honestly believed he didn't have a problem with heroin - until he tried to quit. That is, as long as he fed his addiction, he was blissfully unaware of his enslavement. Only until he resisted his desire did his desire show him how truly powerful and far-reaching it was in his life.

That's what God's wisdom is all about. It moves us in a direction oopposite of our human nature. And when it does that, we start to see ourselves for what we really are - we see the sin in our lives for what it is and we understand how powerful it can be. Now, I'm not saying that by taking up an ascetic, monk-like lifestyle and obeying all of God's moral edicts we somehow become like Him. The Pharisees made that mistake in Matthew 15 and I've even heard radical Muslim terrorists say similar things. What I am saying is that when we respond to God's conviction about the way we live our lives and seek to correct it - not because we're afraid of getting caught, but because we truly want to be like God (remember the "cheerful endurance" James mentioned) - we see clearly the sins that enslave us - and others.

If you read Proverbs 20:5, you'll see this idea reflected in the "man of understanding". That is, a "man of understanding " is one who popsesses God's wisdom. Such people know the motives of other people's hearts because they have seen (and dealt with) those same motives in their own.

So... What's in your heart?

- Graffy

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