Tag Archives: Conscience

Honor, Challenge, & Letting it Go

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
1 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)

Along my faith journey I’ve encountered a whole lot of silliness as it relates to fellow believers’ attitudes and beliefs. I’m reminded this morning of the sweet old woman who was dead-set that the King James version of the Bible was the only true version. “If it’s good enough for the Apostle Paul it’s good enough for me,” she said.

Um…ma’am…oh, never mind.”

We’ve been talking a lot about the word “honor” among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. The word picture that always accompanies that word for me is “to attach worth” to someone or something.

In today’s chapter Paul addresses an issue that was relevant to the followers of Jesus in first century Corinth, but rather a strange notion in the modern world. Corinth in 55 A.D. was a major trade hub for the Roman Empire and there were a lot of travelers from all over the known world passing through. As such, there were a lot of pagan temples in town. When animals were sacrificed to a Greek or Roman god at one of the local temples, the meat was first used to provide food for the priests and priestesses of the temple. Any excess was sold in the local market as a source of revenue.

This raised a hot moral debate within the new Corinthians believers. It it okay to eat meat that got butchered as a sacrifice to Apollo or not? I can imagine at least one person claimed that an Apollo pot roast was “of the devil.”

Paul makes it clear in his letter that there was nothing wrong with eating the meat, but he made one major addendum for mature believers to follow. If you know that a fellow believer in your midst gets the spiritual heebie-jeebies from eating Apollo pot roast and considers it personally reprehensible, then you should honor his/her belief (literally attach worth to what you consider a silly, worthless superstition). Don’t cause a “weaker” fellow believer to go against their own conscience. In essence, it’s not my job to convince someone they are being silly. That’s Holy Spirit’s job. My job is to extend honor, love and respect for a fellow believer’s sincere belief.

This morning I’ve been taking stock of my own track record on honoring fellow believers who have a very different conscience than mine. On the whole, I’d like to think that I am, and have been, an honoring person. That being said, I realize in the quiet this morning that along they way I’ve sometimes made distinctions between those Paul would call a “weaker” brother or sister in his/her immaturity, and a brother or sister who should have matured and needs to be challenged to grow up. I’m not convinced my discernment between the two has always been correct.

And then there’s the old lady whose convinced that the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians in the Medieval English of King James.

Sometimes it’s best to just let it go.

Love Trumps Freedom

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
1 Corinthians 10:24 (NIV)

Wendy and I have friends and family members who represent a broad spectrum of generations, backgrounds, beliefs and social customs. When we get together with people we are aware that others have very different thoughts and feelings about all sorts of human rituals and behaviors. From saying a prayer of thanks before a meal to whether it’s acceptable to consume alcohol to choice of appropriate words/topics to the appropriateness of a cigar after a great meal, there are many different considerations.

That’s the crucial word: consideration. When it comes social settings with others of very different beliefs, my behavior is determined largely by whether I consider my beliefs or others beliefs more important to me in that moment.

Paul was dealing with exactly the same situation among the followers of Jesus in the first century town of Corinth. Some of the community felt passionately that it was inappropriate to buy or consume meat that had been sacrificed to one of the many pagan temples there before it ended up in the market.  Others felt just as passionately that it was silly to worry about such things. The result was one of many conflicts that had come to full boil among the diverse community of believers.

For the past three chapters Paul has been addressing this controversy. Yes, he agreed, there is nothing wrong with eating the meat. Those who felt such freedom of conscience were not be convinced otherwise. At the same time, Paul urged those who experienced such freedom to be considerate of those who held different beliefs on the matter. In other words: relatively insignificant dietary rules or beliefs of religious/social propriety are subordinate to the great commandment Jesus gave: Love those who think differently than you do. When you are with them, Paul urged, consider their conscience more important than your freedom. Freedom of conscience is subordinate to the law of love.

As I ponder this principle, I am aware that at times I am admittedly guilty of putting my pride and freedom ahead of others whom I make uncomfortable. I am reminded this morning: Love trumps freedom. Consideration of others trumps the freedom of my conscience. A good thing for me to embrace and apply as I press on with my journey today.

It is Well

Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.
Deuteronomy 12:28 (NRSV)

Thinking back to childhood, there stand out a few examples of when I chose to blatantly do what I knew was wrong. For example, there are a couple of instances of petty theft on my pre-adolescent rap sheet. One of the forays into criminal conduct resulted in swiftly getting caught and punished. You could say that I got away with the other instance, though the lingering pain of a guilty conscience and the self-recrimination may have been worse punishment than if I had simply been caught in the act. I eventually chose, of my own free will, to come clean and pay my debt.

Those early experiences taught me that there is a peace of soul that comes with simply doing what is good and right. No one is perfect. I have my blind spots and I make poor choices — willfully and regularly, I’m afraid. I have learned , however, that life is certainly less anxious when I daily endeavor to live, speak, and act out of a respect for others and a desire to do the right thing. Sleep comes more easily and the day is experienced with a greater fullness of joy when my conscience is clear.

In today’s chapter Moses urges obedience to God’s commands “that it may go well with you and your children.” While I certainly believe that God blesses His children, I also recognize that there is a natural “going well” that occurs simply as a consequence of doing the right thing.

I cannot control all of the circumstances of life around me. I cannot control what others think, say, and do. I can, however, control my own thoughts, words, and actions. And, if I do things the right way then life, for the most part, tends to go well.

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The True Spiritual Test

 

English: Nathan advises King David
English: Nathan advises King David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
2 Samuel 12:13a (NIV)

 

When I was five years old, while on a Christmas Eve sleepover at my grandparents’ house,  I stole all of my siblings’ gift envelopes off of the Christmas tree and hid them in my suitcase. I watched in silence on Christmas day as grandma racked her brain to figure out where those envelopes went. Then, I promptly forgot that my mom would be the one unpacking my suitcase when we got home. I was totally busted. My butt cheeks were rosy from the spanking that quickly followed, the cheeks of my face were quickly stained with tears of remorse as I called grandma to confess my heinous crime and to ask her forgiveness.

 

I learned early that your sins find you out. Having said that, let me readily I admit that it didn’t stop me from sinning. I’ve made plenty of tragic choices since then. I make them on a regular basis, in fact. Along the way, however, I’ve come to realize that hiding, concealing, obfuscating, blaming, and excusing my wrongdoing is both delaying the inevitable and stunting my spiritual growth and development. The further I get in the journey the more readily I’ve embraced my fallibility and shortcomings. I might as well cut to the chase, admit I blew it, and allow everyone to move on.

 

In this morning’s chapter, David is confronted by the prophet Nathan and his illicit affair with Bathsheba, his conspiracy to murder Bathsheba’s husband, and his attempt to conceal his paternity of Bathsheba’s child is revealed in dramatic fashion. David’s response was to quickly confess his wrongdoing and seek God’s forgiveness. It’s a fascinating contrast to David’s predecessor. When the prophet Samuel confronted King Saul of his wrongdoing, Saul excused his behavior and refused to repent of his actions.

 

We all make mistakes. We all make selfish choices that hurt others. The true spiritual test is in how we respond to God and others in the ensuing guilty conscience, or when when we are confronted and exposed.

 

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 16

HDR @ the DMV
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The right! The right! Pursue only what’s right! It’s the only way you can really live and possess the land that God, your God, is giving you. Deuteronomy 16:20 (MSG)

I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day, and he related an experience from his day. Standing at the teller of the local office of the County Treasurer, he was registering a used car he’d just purchased. When asked how much he’d spent to purchase the vehicle he had a momentary mental struggle. If he simply gave an amount that was a few hundred, maybe a thousand, lower than what he actually paid, he would have to pay less tax to register the vehicle.

“Truth wins out,” he heard inside his head, inside his heart. And the struggle yet ensued. There were, I’m sure, all sorts of arguments for being dishonest. It’s not a great amount, no one would know, and who really cares if the government gets a few dollars less on a registration tax in the grand scheme of things. “Truth wins out,” his conscience whispered. Or, perhaps it was Holy Spirit.

He gave the true amount of the purchase, paid the proper amount for registration, and slept much better that night.

I thought of my friend when I read today’s chapter. Little white lies and small dishonesties are easy to get away with. We think very little about them, but perhaps we should heed the challenge in today’s chapter to actively pursue what is right. Little dishonesties have a tendency to grow in unexpected ways and require further deception. Doing what’s right in the little things clears the conscience and paves the way for doing right in much more substantial life matters.

Indeed, “truth wins out” in many ways.

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 56

Good night, sleep tight. "God's Message: "Guard my common good: Do what's right and do it in the right way…." Isaiah 56:1 (MSG)

Along the journey, I've faced certain crossroads at which I had to make a difficult decision. Often, the decisions were difficult because the consequences of the choices I made would be relational and or financial and the impact of the decision would follow me one way or another.

Part of the decision making process for me has been to ask "What's the right thing to do?" With it, I tend to ask myself "What decision will allow me to sleep better at night?" There is something to be said for a clear conscience. To sleep peacefully at night knowing you've done things right and in the right way.

Looking back, I know that I haven't always made the best choices. But, as I progress in life's journey I like to think that my batting average has improved. I've learned that the choice which immediately satisfies my pride and hubris is usually the one that haunts me in the wee hours of the night. The choice that forces me to humbly submit, follow Jesus, and take the narrow, more difficult terrain (a.k.a. the high road) is ultimately the path which afffords me the best night's sleep.

Sleep tight.

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 48

Sleep better. "There is no peace," says God, "for the wicked." Isaiah 48:22 (MSG)

The pizza joint was packed after a high school basketball gang and I was there with a bunch of my friends. I was the youngest of the group of teen boys. It was loud. It was smokey (you could smoke anywhere in public in those days), and it was extremely busy with teenagers and families celebrating the basketball team's victory.

I don't remember there being any discussion. In the midst of the din, the eldest of my group of friends looked around and said "Let's go." We got up and followed him out of the restaurant without paying the check. I still remember the look on his face and his laughter as the group reveled in pulling one over on the restaurant. We all laughed as we sprinted towards my friend's house, but underneath the laughter my conscience had already kicked in.

I remember hating that night. Guilt and shame have a way of magnifying paranoia, anxiety and fear to ridiculously huge proportions. I spent the night at my friends house in utter fear of police raiding the house and hauling me off to jail. I can still remember the panic in my head each time I heard a police siren in the distance.

There is no peace for the wicked.

It was about four years later that I stopped by the pizza joint after school and asked to speak with the manager. I still remember his confused expression as I explained what I'd done and handed him money from my paycheck to cover the old debt, and then some. The look on his face told me he thought I was crazy. I'm sure people walk out on checks regularly, especially teenagers, and it's all part of the daily routine of the restaurant business. Looking back now, 30 years later, I laugh at the silliness of it myself. But it taught me a good lesson.

Do the right thing. You sleep better.

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