Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Misconceptions Can Hurt

Anyone who is a dog owner can relate to the fact that dogs do not see the world the same as we humans do. Recently I was reminded of this one day after returning from my morning walk with our dog, Pippin. Every day after our return, Pippin has a driving need to find Nancy who is usually in her home office. This accomplished she settles into her dog bed to "supervise" as Nancy works.The minute she goes through the door Pippin races to the office. If Nancy is not there she scurries around the entire house until she locates her charge and settles in to her duties of keeping an eye on things for the rest of the day. Upon those rare occasions where Nancy has gone somewhere while Pippin and I were walking, Pippin will settle for me as a substitute and curl up somewhere near me instead. I suppose in her mind we humans cannot be trusted out of her sight (a thought further supported by her over the top greeting of us whenever we return from being out of the house).

Well that is the routine, but this one morning Pippin was in for a surprising development. As we came in through the door after our walk, Pippin lit out on her search for Nancy. Upon not finding Nancy in the office, she raced to the sun room. Now our sun room is an addition at the back of the house, the entrance of which is through the original back entrance of the house—a glass sliding door. Pippin soon suffered from a basic misconception. Just because she could see through the door did not mean there was clear entrance through that door. In her haste, Pippin failed to clearly perceive reality with the result that all thirteen pounds of her slammed into a closed glass door before anyone could stop her. She bounced back dazed for a moment, and then barked at her unseen obstructer that was keeping her from her intended destination. Nancy, hearing the commotion came out from wherever she was, bringing comfort and for the moment all was right in Pippin’s world as she had no lasting hurt and was able to settle into her daily routine.

This was a learning experience for Pippin. Now, she approaches that particular doorway much more cautiously than before. But more than this it has gotten me to consider how we often make faulty judgments concerning the Word of God based on misconceptions, often those we have held over a long period of time. This came to me as I was trying to make sense of a passage in Luke as I prepared for this Sunday’s morning message at our church. Since it is expository preaching and I am committed to preach the entire Word I did not have the luxury of discarding this passage. Consequently, I was perplexed as I considered Luke 14:25-35 where Jesus stated conditions for being his disciple. It appeared that Jesus was putting conditions for salvation that are in conflict with what is said elsewhere in Scripture. I was about to crash as Pippin did into and unseen obstacle, but stepped back to reconsider and soon saw it was some basic misconceptions that distorted my perceptions of what Jesus was teaching.

Misconception #1: In the first part of this section of Luke Jesus said that unless we love Him and hate all others we cannot be His disciples. The misconception here comes from a failure to recognize a Hebrew figure of speech used to depict the preference of one individual over another. In Genesis Jacob is said to love Rachel but hate Leah when the clear meaning was that Jacob’s love for Rachel eclipsed his love for Leah. Jesus was not telling us not to love others, because if He did that would be in conflict with the rest of Scripture. However, our love for Him is to eclipse our love for all others with the paradoxical effect that such love for Christ enables us to perfect our love for others.

Misconception #2: If one is not Jesus’ disciple he is not saved. When Jesus said if we do not love Him above all others we cannot be His disciple, the literal sense is that if we do not love so Him, we do not have the power to be his disciple (or better yet--learner). In other words, without this love we cannot learn His love for us and we will not grow in Him. Salvation comes by believing and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ into our lives (Romans 10:13; John 1:12). Growth comes when we submit to His Lordship as we learn to love Him fully. Perfect love does not bring salvation, but as we grow in love we draw closer to Him. The words of Jesus then should not be words that discourage the believer who realizes his love is not yet perfect, but rather an encouragement to keep pressing on to the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14)”.

Misconception #3: In order to be Jesus’ disciple we have to take up our cross of suffering. This is perhaps the most difficult of all these misconceptions to dispel. Perhaps this is because it is so ingrained in traditional religious teaching that as Christ suffered for our salvation so do we. But that is not what is being said here at all. There is nothing we can add to what Jesus did at Calvary to bring us one step closer to redemption. The cross is a symbol of death. Jesus is referring to the fact that as He would die on the cross so each of us is to die on his cross—which according to Romans 6, is Jesus’ cross at Calvary. Paul said it this way in Galatians 2:20 “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” What Jesus as pointing out was that we are to die to self if we are to learn how to live for Him.

Misconception #4: We have to count the cost if we are to follow Jesus. In this passage in Luke fourteen two parables are given—one of a man building a house and one of a king preparing for battle. In both cases is the warning to take inventory before taking a course of action. In the context of becoming a disciple of Christ it appears that Jesus is teaching us to count the cost first before committing ourselves to Him. While there is a sense of truth in this there is a clue in the second illustration Jesus gave that gives us a deeper meaning. The king here takes inventory and realizes he cannot win so he makes arrangements for peace. Jesus is pointing out that to be a true disciple of Him is something we need to consider and when we do we realize we do not have it in ourselves to  make it on our own. We need Him. We can call on Him in the spirit of the man who cried, “I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.” Jesus is telling us what we cannot do, He can.

Stripping away the misconceptions that come from a long history of religious training, I found a message of hope rather than one of discouragement. Jesus saves. Nothing can keep me from that. Jesus enables me to  grow. He will provide all my need. I can call on Him to do what I cannot of myself. I choose not to crash into glass doors.

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