Feng Shui and Ethanol

One of the fun things about being someone who loves to teach is that you can't help but see metaphors, allegories, and fables in everyday life. Today I found one coming to mind, and I wanted to share it because it speaks quite deeply to the type of person I want to become.

Before that, though, I should share a conversation I had with a friend the other day. We were discussing the way that you express yourself to people… sometimes it can be so frustrating, because you feel like you've misrepresented yourself or have been misunderstood. When that happens, people know you wrongly, and most don't want to be known wrongly.

The conclusion we came to is that, rather than be completely vulnerable –which is hard to do without being a self-centered burden- and rather than lie to people –which gives the wrong impression and makes relationships hard- a person should try to express their VALUES as clearly as possible when they relate to others. If you can clearly communicate what you care about, the value you place on things, and the way you approach life, people will have a framework for knowing you. When you do things wrong, they'll know that it isn't who you really try to be… because they trust your values. When you display unusual passion about something, they'll know you care because it's in line with your values. When someone lies about you, your friends will know it is untrue, because they trust your values. Your life will be an expression of what you love.

Keep that in mind.

The metaphor I wanted to share comes from an episode of, "The West Wing." In it, two presidential candidates have very similar schedules, and you get to see how similar they are as people, even though they're from different parties. Both are giving speeches in the state of Iowa regarding a gasoline additive made from corn products. Both believe that the policy is a bad one. Both spend the entire day arguing with their advisors, who want them to say that the policy is good to get more votes. In both cases, when the speech is about to start, the teleprompter has a speech saying it is a good policy.

In one case, the candidate looks at the teleprompter, hesitates, and then gives the speech, going against his own convictions. He feels terrible the rest of the night.

In the other case, the candidate looks at the teleprompter, hesitates, and then gives a speech detailing why he disagrees with the policy, standing on his convictions. He is likely to lose the state and possibly the election… but he stuck to his guns.

I've been having a hard time thinking about the future lately. On the one hand, I could just stay in the business world, making money, having a family, helping lead the church, and being a good citizen. Nobody would blame me, and some people think it's the best thing for me and for my family.

On the other, I believe God has called me to be a pastor. Getting through seminary and then going into a very uncertain and low-paying profession is a tough prospect. I worry about what impact it could have on my family, or how many people I would need help from to get through. It's a far less certain thing.

At the end, though, it comes down to a question of love and values. What do I value? What do I love?

I want to protect my wife and any kids we may have. I want to provide for them, love them, and nurture them. I even want to give them the most that I can come up with… if I had to choose between two jobs of equal value, I would take the one that pays better so I could give my family more every time. I want my life to show that I care.

The thing is, I love God more. It's hard to say, especially when no one person has impacted my life so fully or so wonderfully as my wife. She's given me everything, and it's hard for me to say that she's the second most important thing to me. It's the case, though. I love God, and I MUST pursue Him and the path He has set out for me. My values and my love dictate nothing less.

So as I face the fearsome choices that hold faithfulness to conviction in the one hand and safety in the other, I find that I must completely throw my trust at God's feet, praying and trusting desperately that he will love and protect my family in a way that I cannot. I have to believe that love for them MEANS love for God, rather than giving in to the temptation that says love for them is love for safety and economic success.

I want my life to express my values… I want it to show what I really care about. God requires a path whose only certainty is faithfulness to Him… it's in His grace and love that I must place the fate and direction of everything else.


The true enemy of Sin

I had a good conversation with a friend the other day regarding sin. Sin is a tough thing, because we tend to see it as a compliance issue- the authority figure sets the rules, and sometimes we mess up, and so we feel guilty and sometimes get punished.

That may be true, but there's a lot more to it. At its center, sin is about a complete break in a perfectly ordered, perfectly happy relationship. It's like if you lived in a place where EVERYTHING was just right, and you were always happy, and things always went the way they were supposed to… but you didn't just want happiness, you wanted to be in CHARGE, and so you chose a life of sadness and pain and want and loneliness because you thought you could do even better.

You turn away from God… why? Has he failed you? Oh sure, sometimes it feels that way. But has living for yourself ever made you complete? Has doing the right thing ever made you into a worse person?

One very sad thing about sin is that we tend to rate it, as if the measure of righteousness is the least number of "bad" sins. As long as our sins are just "small" ones, we tell ourselves, we're doing pretty well.

God is clear, though, that that isn't the case. Sin's insidiousness isn't in tempting us to do the really "big" things, and so mess ourselves up. Sin's insidiousness is bound up in the fact that even the smallest sin completely destroys that relationship with God. It hurts the relationship we have with Him, even after we've become Christians and had our sins forgiven.

I gave my friend (ok, it was Dave Cheng) this example;

For instance, let us consider two pastors working together at the same church. One is sincerely pursuing God, trying to love him, and trying to be a good leader. However, one night he starts chatting with a woman who stops by, and that night they commit adultery. The church finds out. What happens? Today, his career would be ruined, he can't get work anywhere else, and he is always looked down on by his friends and family.Meanwhile, the other pastor gets deep into pornography, but never gets caught. He serves as the leader of the church for years, with nobody ever suspecting what goes on behind closed doors. He never changes his behavior.Which is worse? Under our current system of "thinking it vs. doing it," the adultery is worse. However, I would argue that biblically, the second is significantly worse. Want proof? Think about the first two examples... now think of them as King David and King Saul. The one has a heinous one-time sin, the other has small things that systematically show that he is ignoring God, and lets the small stuff separate him from pursuing God with his life and kingship.

God is clear… He prefers broken sinners who pursue Him with their lives to the outwardly good who ignore Him inwardly.

This concept has been important in my own life. As I seek to follow God, it teaches me two things;

First, my sin is worse than I think. I need God's grace just as much as anyone else, because I choose my own glory over His just as much as anyone else. I need to be broken and humble, because I have NO reason to think I'm better off than anyone else.

Second, my goal cannot be avoiding "big" sins all the time… because my hidden sins will be there just as much, just as evil. Instead, I need to focus on knowing and loving God more and more… I need to make him my "heart's orientation," because that is the ONLY strategy that will help clear away the sin in my life. Only He can change me, and He will only do that if my life's gaze is fixed on Him.

I want people to see God in me. I hope, someday, that my life will show them a tiny piece of what He is like. That won't happen, though, by avoiding adultery and murder. Plenty of people in all sorts of religions can do that. Instead, my life needs to show that fullness and joy and completeness comes only from the correct order… God is who He Is, and I must worship him. Only then will he be glorified correctly.