Optimism in a Falling World- Genesis 18:23-24, 26, 28-32

And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?
And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.
And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.
And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.
And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.

COMMENTARY

Peradventure there be fifty righteous: wilt thou not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? If I find in Sodom fifty righteous, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.

Sodom and Gomorrah was a place of intense wickedness, filled with a populace that had given up any pretense of morality or decency. When considering the destruction of those people, though, all Abraham could think of was the potential innocents that might be lost as well. His great concern was not about the guilty escaping their rightful punishment, it was about the guiltless being unjustly condemned.
And God readily agreed with Abraham’s pleas. For fifty good, for forty-five, for forty, for thirty, for twenty, for ten…He would regard the few righteous over the thousands of evil.
How often do we do the same? I think it is often easier to point to the other side of our political and social divides and describe the “others” as being all bad. All the rich are corrupt and should have their feet held to the fire. All the liberals are immoral and should be censured. And if any among their ranks are not actually guilty by action, we still make them guilty by association. We are very quick to call fire down on all the “wrong-thinkers,” with no regard for the innocent mingled in their ranks.

Give Thanks- Explanation

During the week of Thanksgiving I took an invitation from President Russell M. Nelson to give daily expressions of gratitude on social media using the hashtag “givethanks.”

I didn’t take the invitation right away, though. To be honest I was skeptical when I first heard about it. I was worried that the whole thing would be artificial and sappy. I didn’t want to do something that would feel contrived or insincere.

Which I think revealed a cynicism in me, and was an indicator that I really did need something sweet and enriching. As it turned out, seeing everyone else’s posts as part of that campaign created a wonderful sense of community in me. I came to greatly appreciate scrolling down my Facebook feed each day to see what my family and friends were sharing gratitude for. It felt like an advent calendar, where each day was its own happy, little bundle.

And I’m grateful for the discoveries that came to me when I eventually decided to participate. As I came to the end of my week of gratitude I decided I wanted to share those realizations with you, and I will be doing that over the several days.

I’d also be curious to hear what things you have found to be grateful for at the end of our turbulent year. Did you feel sheltered from the worst of the afflictions? Or did you build new strength by being full in the face of adversity? Or maybe you’re still unsure what God’s plan in all this has been for you. Even if that’s the case, what else is there that you will always have gratitude for?

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- 1 John 5:1-3, Luke 16:13, Revelation 3:15

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

COMMENTARY

We keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous
There are two types of disciples: those that are social disciples and those that are actually disciples. Social disciples maintain a connection to the environment of the gospel. They like the culture that surrounds it, but they aren’t very devoted to the actual doctrines being taught. They are afraid of judgment, and because of that try to keep the commandments, but have little love for them.
I have certainly been one of these social disciples. I was raised in a gospel-centric home, and that made it easy to take my beliefs for granted. Of course I was a Christian, it was all I knew, how could I possibly be anything else?
But then passages like this one from John stuck with me, because absolutely there were commandments that felt grievous to me. Since I was convinced that I was already best pals with Jesus, I didn’t feel any need to know him better. And because I wasn’t actively trying to know him better, there were all manner of vices that I was susceptible to.

No servant can serve two masters
I would thou wert cold or hot
For a long time I was too terrified to admit that I wasn’t really a Christian in my heart, just someone who happened to have a lot of trivia knowledge about Christianity. But frankly, once I was able to admit that I was “cold” in my discipleship, then at last I could begin looking for ways to bring my temperature up.
Furthermore, I found that God wasn’t disappointed by my admitting that I wasn’t following him very well. Quite on the contrary. He was already abundantly aware of my tepidness, and thrilled that I was finally ready to do some honest work.

Evolving Your Beliefs- Galatians 1:10, 1 Kings 12:6, 8

For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?
But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him.

COMMENTARY

Or do I seek to please men?
But he forsook the counsel of the old men and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him
We are social creatures, ones that crave the approval of our peers. Rehoboam preferred to be aligned with the men of his own age, and by that lost the kingdom of Israel. Paul suggested that if his desire was to please his peers, he would not be able to remain a servant of Christ.
I do believe that one of the greatest obstacles to letting go of our misconceptions is social. Most likely, if we are trying to accept a higher truth, we are close to others who still firmly believe the lower things that we once did. Those that drink socially have described how quitting the bottle was made all the more difficult by worrying what their friends might think of them.
True friends, of course, will still support one another in divergent beliefs. The things is, you’ll never know whether you have a true friend or not, until you see how they react to your boldly living a higher truth.

Knit Our Hearts- Summary

This study has been a very good place for my mind to dwell. Personal relationships with others is an element of my discipleship that has been lacking, and through this study I have been able to identify the reasons why. And knowing them, I have been able to choose practices that I believe will help me to improve.

Specifically I have committed to reaching out to neighbors around me on a weekly basis, whether to serve them or to just to share in a positive experience. Also I have begun a daily “forgiveness” meditation, where I reflect on the day’s frustrations, acknowledge those negative feelings, and then vocally forgive the perpetrator. Including when that perpetrator is myself.

If while reading through my study notes you had ideas and behaviors come to your mind as well, then I would encourage you to take those seriously. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these verses just as He has to me. Here are the core concepts that stood out to me from this study.

We are made for companionship

John Donne was correct when he penned the words “no man is an island.” We are designed to be social, to be connected to one another. I sincerely believe one of the greatest blights in our world today is how isolated so many of us are. And merely being in public places or attending group gatherings is not the same as having social connection.
All of us require personal, one-to-one companionship with others. We need someone to know us by name, by face, by heart. We are incomplete beings after all, there is no getting around that. It will never work to try and fill all those holes with by sheer force of will. Sooner or later we need to let another person complete us instead.
Genesis 2:18- And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
Proverbs 27:17- Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

Relationships Are Built On Sharing

Being lonely is unpleasant, and those in that state of being will surely try to escape it. But how exactly to do so can be a mystery. One might master the art of telling jokes and stories, go to a social gathering, be incredibly entertaining the entire evening, and all the while still feel hollow inside.
Having good manners and knowing how to “get along well” with others are good things, but they are not the things that real connections are made of. Vulnerability, shared experiences, working together for a common cause; these are the things that form true bonds between people. Each of them is uncomfortable or difficult in its own way, and everyone is tempted to find an easier path. In the end, though, how can we hope to have a meaningful relationship, if not by meaningful effort?
Amos 3:3- Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Closing the Rifts That Grow Between

Whenever we succeed in establishing a meaningful relationship with another, there will always arise an opportunity to end it. Whether one intentionally wrongs the other, or there is a misunderstanding, or even just a gradual drifting apart. Each of these situations sets a trajectory, one set upon dividing the two permanently; and unless that force is intentionally curtailed it will succeed. There must be a moment of turning back together.
We all know that we must repent of our sins and seek forgiveness from God, but every human relationship requires reconciliation as well. If we never learn how to both forgive and seek forgiveness, then we will never learn how to make anything that lasts. And isn’t that one of our great purposes here in life? To make bonds that hold through all things?
James 5:16- Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.
Matthew 18:15- Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault…if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.