April 28, 2010

To Live is Christ — Trust revealed in words

Dishonest and unethical behavior is not limited to criminals. This morning’s news blasts the CEO’s of a large company for selling investments that they knew were going to fail, then making billions on the markets based on that knowledge. If that were not bad enough, they have “no regrets” or any sense of wrongdoing.

That scares me. A group of company executives can commit huge unethical acts of greed without it pinching their conscience. Can I also do wrong and be unaware of it? Of course. Such is the way of sin. The Bible always connects it with darkness. No one can see where they are going or what they are doing in the dark.

Since reading these verses yesterday, I’ve also been thinking about the whole matter of integrity. I’m not sure if those CEO’s had to take an oath before being questioned at their senate hearing, but lack of integrity can show up in oath-taking as well as other ways . . . 

But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:34–37)
This passage is about adding a “witness” to a promise, as if that is going to make something said more binding. The Jews did it so they could get out of the oath, claiming God’s name had not been used so their oath was not binding. However, the use of God’s name in any kind of expression other than prayer and direct reference to Him is called “swearing” or making an oath because this uses His name in an improper way.

My mind takes a leap here. I know that connected to this idea of adding some other object to an oath to give it more clout is the practice of using euphemisms. The Jews did it by swearing on the temple instead of saying “by the name of God.” That way, they substituted other words thinking that made their oath acceptable, but many other people also use substitute words to swear or make other kinds of oaths. Perhaps this is an assumption that their outburst is not offensive to God because the substitute words are acceptable. But are they?

I claim to trust God but when something happens that produces even a mild oath like “dratted” from my lips, this reveals that I’d had some personal expectations unrelated to trust. It reveals that I was banking on those expectations, not on the God who is sovereign. Had I been trusting Him, adverse circumstances would not be seen as adverse.

I’m thinking about words that could be called “Christian euphemisms.” These are not swear words by the normal definition, but they are either spelled similarly, or have a similar sound. Some examples: Oh, shoot. Drat it! Jeepers! Darn! Blast it.

While most people would not condemn these words per se, Jesus does condemn the attitude behind them. I might think that they are an “acceptable” way to express annoyance when I am not getting my way, but they reveal my attitude toward the sovereignty of God and His decisions — I don’t like it.

Most of this happens in simple life situations, like when I leave my keys somewhere and cannot find them, or a telemarketer calls while I’m creating a pie crust, or I forget to take meat out of the freezer for supper. It may sound like I’m annoyed with me or the telemarketer, but God is sovereign and in the details. He could change the timing or help me remember things.

To live is Christ means that I trust God with everything, even my memory or when the phone rings. This is a heart matter that ought to be so strong that adversity is not a shock or even a surprise that brings out sinful or selfish attitudes or words.

When Jesus was mistreated, He “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth . . . when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:22–23).

Jesus knew who was in control and committed Himself to His Father, no matter what happened. Because His heart was right, He uttered no words of dismay or said anything that even came close to sounding like He was upset with whatever was happening to Him.

I’m sure the tests will come. What will I say if I hit my thumb with a hammer or poke myself with a sewing needle? I am confessing my lack of faith because this is important. God wants a trusting heart when things go well or when life is tough, and even when the minor stuff isn’t the way I want it to be.

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