Time to Clean the Filter
Filters

Been thinking about filters this week. Especially since the first of the month is when I switch out the main air conditioner filter.

For the past several years, I’ve had my home’s air conditioning system serviced semi-annually. And I’m compulsive about cleaning and changing the A/C filters.

It all started a few years ago when the A/C unit began leaking—in the house. The A/C technician responded to my frantic call. Turns out nothing was wrong with the system…that is, nothing that couldn’t be corrected by cleaning the filters once a month. The A/C system had to work too hard to pull the air through clogged filters, causing algae to build up in the drainage pipe. Yup, we brought it on ourselves by not changing the filters.

This week I also cleaned the pool filter. The first time I did that years ago, the filter actually changed color as I hosed the sand and dirt from between the accordion folds. Yucch! As the dirt flowed off with the water, I wondered why I waited so long. And also wondered how much dirt was still in the pool because the overloaded filter couldn’t capture any more dirt. Lesson learned. Now the pool filter gets cleaned regularly.

And of course, we even set up spam filters on our computers to protect us from garbage emails and viruses.

Hmmm. Now I’m wondering about my life filters. Am I waiting too long to clean my own filters?

Have I gotten casual about what I read? Is the content of that novel I picked up for some light beach reading really what I want to fill my mind?

Casual about what I watch? Are summer television programs merely fun “escapism,” or are they another way to clog my filters?

What are my filters, anyway?

When I think of filters, I’m reminded of an old children’s song, “Oh Be Careful Little Eyes What You See.” The first stanza repeats the title, with good reason. Images stamped in our minds’ eyes often originate through our physical eyes. When Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22), He may very well have been speaking about a filter.

This same children’s song also includes a stanza about our ears. Words and music are powerful influences. God spoke the world into existence with His Word. Jesus is the living Word. The words I listen to nestle deep in my soul and influence me in ways I may never fully realize.

While the first two stanzas of this song speak of what we take in through our eyes and ears, the remainder of the song speaks to what we do. We need to be careful of what we say, how we use our hands, and where we go.

What we take in through our eyes and ears affects what we say, what we do, and where we go. Ultimately, it touches the state of our hearts. Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) tells us,

“Above all else, guard your heart, everything you do flows from it.”

And Proverbs 4:23-27 (NIV) reminds us of the relationship between the state of our hearts and what we see, what we say, what we do, and where we go:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”

Hmmm…sounds a lot like that little children’s song, doesn’t it?

The cleaner we keep our filters, the less dirt we’ll need to clean out of our hearts.

Now if you’ll please excuse me, I have some filters that need attending.

How clean are your filters?


 
Fairness, Entitlements, or Grace ?
Life is not fair...and that's a good thing.

I deserve this.

                     I earned it.

                                            It’s my right.

A sense of entitlement. We see it in political debates about whether certain government benefits are a “gift” or have been earned.

It shows up in marriages and other relationships as individual people focus more on their rights than on the relationship.

We see it in our culture as people promote their own “right to privacy” over the sacredness of someone else’s life.

We even see it in our relationship with God, although we don’t always admit it.

But a sense of entitlement isn’t a new wrinkle in human development. Way back when the ancient Israelites left Egypt, their sense of entitlement was as strong as ours today. First they complained about a lack of food. Well, okay, I can understand a desire for daily sustenance in the middle of the desert. But after a year of God miraculously providing daily food in the form of manna, they complained about a lack of variety!

That account started me thinking. How often do I carry a sense of entitlement into my relationship with God? Of course, I don’t call it that. Instead, I say things such as:

It’s not fair!

                  Why did this have to happen to me?

                                          When is this suffering going to end?

Fair? Where did we get the idea that our Creator and Redeemer is fair? Think about it. Innocent animals died to cover Adam and Eve’s sin, pointing to the time when the perfect, sinless Son of God would die in our place for our sin. If a relationship with God were based on fairness, we would not have a relationship with Him at all. Instead, our future would hold nothing but judgment.

Fair is not the same as good. God is good. He is perfect. And He is sovereign.

One of the names of our great God is Adonai, the sovereign Lord. It means He is in control. Because I’m a Christian, He is not only the sovereign Lord, He is my sovereign Lord.

Each time I complain about my circumstances, in effect I’m saying I know better than He does about what is best. That’s a bit arrogant on my part, isn’t it? My finite assessment versus the viewpoint of the infinite, sovereign Creator of the universe.

I may claim to trust God’s leading and provision, but I’m ashamed to say, too often I allow my situation to distract me from remembering His faithfulness. Like the ancient Israelites, I grumble and complain, not because I don’t believe He is Lord, but because I don’t like the circumstances my Lord has engineered for me.

The sense of entitlement I criticize in others is just as ugly in me.

The demand for my rights to be honored is just as conceited in me.

Worst of all, every time I complain about what the Lord has allowed in my life, I become arrogance personified.

But demanding what I deserve is not really what I want. Because if God were to give me what I deserve, it would mean living without the assurance of His salvation through Jesus Christ. The result would be spiritual death and eternal separation from Him. It would mean living without His indwelling Holy Spirit, His love, and His guidance, and everything else He provides to His children.

I may be foolish at times, but I’m not stupid. I don’t want what’s fair. And I don’t want what I deserve. Thankfully, in God’s mercy and grace, He doesn’t give me what I deserve. And that’s just fine with me.


 
Is Forgiving Yourself Biblical?
I can't forgive myself.

“I know God forgave me. I just can’t forgive myself.”

Perhaps you’ve said those words. Maybe you heard someone else say them. But is forgiving yourself a biblical concept?

Christians know faith in Christ as Savior and Lord provides freedom from the eternal penalty of sin at the end of our earthly life, as well as freedom from the power of sin now. We understand we are no longer slaves to sin, as Romans 6:17 tells us. We have the power to say no to temptation.

But that doesn’t mean we always make right choices. While we don’t have to give in to sin, there are times we do it anyway. If not in actions, then in words or thoughts. There’s truth in the adage, “Old habits die hard.”

When that happens, the Bible tells us to confess our sin, knowing God is faithful to forgive and cleanse us (I John 1:9). And because we have been much forgiven by God, we are to extend the same forgiveness to others. Jesus included this truth in the pattern of prayer He taught His disciples: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

We ask forgiveness from God because our sin if first and foremost against Him. King David understood this when he wrote in Psalm 51:4, “Against You and You only have I sinned.” When David committed adultery and then compounded it with murder, he wasn’t saying he didn’t offend or harm other people. He was saying the primary offense was against God, because sin is ultimately rebellion against God Himself.

So when we sin, whose forgiveness should we seek?

First, we turn from our wrongdoing and ask God’s forgiveness. God promises this forgiveness for every Christian who trusts Jesus because of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for us. And, as we’ve already noted, God promises to forgive.

We also ask for the forgiveness of the person we have wronged (Matthew 5:23-24). Unfortunately, while the Bible calls us to forgive each other (Colossians 3:13), this doesn’t always happen. A recent Barna study revealed that almost “one in four practicing Christians (23%) has a person in their life who “they just can’t forgive.” While we cannot force someone to forgive us, we can live in a way that shows them the authenticity of our request.

But what about forgiving ourselves? Where does the Bible say we are to forgive ourselves? It actually doesn’t. And that’s where Christians can take a wrong turn.

The issue is not whether we forgive ourselves. The issue is whether we truly believe God has forgiven us. Do we take Him at His Word? Because if we did, the matter would be settled. We become presumptuous when we think forgiving ourselves is also required.

So why do we struggle with accepting God’s forgiveness? I can think of several reasons, including:

  • We simply don’t believe God does what He said He will do. Do you really believe there’s no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1)? We would never call God a liar, yet our supposed inability to forgive ourselves is actually unbelief—a failure to take God at His word.
  • We’re stuck in a performance perspective – we think we have to earn God’s forgiveness, much as we often expect others to earn our forgiveness. But by definition, God’s grace is unearned and undeserved.
  • We beat up ourselves for failing. Somewhere along the line, we’ve established an expectation of perfection. And in the process, we refuse to accept God’s offer of forgiveness because we’ve failed our own standard. But this isn’t an issue of forgiving ourselves, it’s about understanding the reality of our relationship to God in Christ. He knows we will fail, but He forgives us anyway (Psalm 103:11-14).
  • We’ve failed to train our thought life. The Bible tells us to “take our thoughts captive” (II Corinthians 10:5). Philippians 4:8 tells us to focus on thinking about things that are noble, right, pure, and lovely, but the first item in that verse is to think about things that are true. So if we don’t feel forgiven, we’re dwelling on an untruth. But to take control of our thoughts requires help—and there’s no better Helper than the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).
  • Finally, by not acting as though God’s forgiveness is enough, we’re voluntarily placing ourselves back under the enemy’s kingdom, even though the Bible tells us God rescued us from the domain of Satan and placed us in the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13).

So the next time you’re struggling to forgive yourself for something God has already forgiven, ask yourself why. You just might discover your forgiveness is irrelevant…and unbiblical.


 
Justice, Mercy, or Both?

Look around. Listen to the politicians. Read the headlines. Talk to your neighbors and coworkers. It won’t take long before two themes emerge.

Justice and mercy. But rarely do these two words occur in the same sentence, or even in the same conversation.

There’s a lot of talk about justice. Criminal justice. Social justice. We have a keenly developed sense of what we think is right and wrong. We demand justice for ourselves and for those who need us to stand up for them.

Problem is, we can’t seem to agree on what justice looks like in every situation. What does justice look like for illegal immigrants? Or for babies developing in the womb?

It all depends on our worldview and the values we espouse. But if we’re honest, we have to admit that even if we hold a biblical worldview, we fall short in executing righteous judgment. Because there’s only one righteous Judge.

Then there’s the subject of mercy. I was challenged this week from the Beatitudes to consider what it means to be merciful. “Blessed are the merciful…”

Mercy.

I love the sound of this word when it applies to me. Who doesn’t want to receive mercy? On the other hand, not many of us want to extend mercy.

Most people, myself included, prefer to hand out judgment. You’ve wronged me? I want you to receive the consequences of your actions. My natural inclination is not toward mercy…unless I am the recipient.

Still, there’s at least one Bible verse that includes both concepts, justice and mercy, in the same sentence.

Micah 6:8 (NIV) tells us:

“What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

We’re to act justly. Not demand judgment, but act with justice. Consider the other person’s circumstances and respond with justice, despite our own opinions or preferences.

We’re to love mercy. Interesting, it doesn’t say extend mercy. It says we’re to love it. Some translations use the word kindness instead of mercy. Because mercy is meaningless if it isn’t demonstrated in a tangible way.

But there’s a third part: “Walk humbly with your God.” In many ways, this is the most important phrase in the verse—the phrase that ties it all together. If we have a right view of ourselves in relation to the God we belong to, then justice and mercy will flow out of our relationship in Christ, prompted by the Holy Spirit who indwells us. Will we be perfect in our execution? Not even close. But we’ll be moving in the right direction.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Still, there’s a hitch. The verse begins by saying this is God’s requirement for us. And the fact that it’s a requirement tells us it doesn’t come naturally. For if acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God flowed naturally, we wouldn’t have to be commanded to do it.

They’re not natural. They are intentional choices.

And perhaps, before we take on the problems of the world, we need to start closer to home. With our spouses and children. Our family and friends. The people we work with Monday through Friday and the people we worship with on Sundays.

What would life look like if we really did—intentionally—act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?

Let’s find out!


 
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