A DAY OF HUMBLING

Yesterday was a day of humbling.  I made a big mistake at work, had to fudged a little on a recorded time, and to top it off, when the left turn lane started to move on the turn arrow, I started forward from my straight lane.  Catching my error, I slammed on the brake.  There I sat in the middle of the cross walk in my driver’s instruction car for all to see my error.  The haunting realization came over me that even under my scrupulous vigilance I can’t attain perfection.  The illusion of perfection was no longer possible to maintain.

I’m a perfectionist!  I live under that faulty idea that I need to do all things perfectly.  How imperfect is the pursuit of perfection?  To think that I can do anything perfectly is ridiculous -not to mention it’s hard work.  I’m reminded of the guy on the Ed Sullivan show twirling plates on top of poles.  He had to run from plate to plate to keep them spinning so they wouldn’t fall.   In my yesterday’s experience, plates fell.  One fell then another.  It was a disaster.

So here I am, in the aftermath of humiliation, trying to make sense of it all.  I ask myself,” What causes me to be a perfectionist”?  My answer is twofold.  First, I am created in the image of God, who is perfect.  It’s inherent in my nature to want things perfect.  Secondly, I have a sinful nature, so I’m full of pride.  I inherently want to be better than the next guy.  I also don’t want to be criticized by the next guy.  Perfectionism can also set me in a place where I judge others as less than me.  How ugly is that?

I now rejoice in my day of humbling.  It brings me down from the throne of superiority and places me right back where I belong.  I will continue to give my best effort at work and in all my endeavors because it is the right thing to do, but I will also make every attempt to keep a humble place and avoid letting my desire to do good work tempt me into a prideful place.  I will trust God to give me days of humbling when I need them.  After all, I am a sinner in need of a savior.

HE IS THERE FOR US

I have been reading through the book of Matthew in “The Message”.    Matthew has always been a compelling book for me, but I must confess that Jesus’ teachings and parables are frequently disturbing to me.  In chapter 19 verse 25 the disciples ask a question that frequently reverberates in my mind, “Then who has any chance at all?”  The question was in response to what Jesus had just said to them, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom?  Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.” 

I, like the rich young man in Jesus’ teaching, find it impossible to qualify for God’s kingdom.  I can’t keep the entire list.  I fall short every day.  What can be done?

Jesus’ answer to the disciples question shocked me from my self-imposed state of worry.  He replied, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself.  Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”  As I thought through this passage, I realized that Jesus, ever aware of the sacrifice he was about to make, was drawing us to himself.  His teachings and parables all point to our need for him, our need for a savior.  His teachings aren’t meant to condemn us, but to show us that though we can’t do it on our own he is there for us.

RESTRAINT

It is a tendency among us humans to want to throw off restraint.  From the very beginning, when we had only one restraint, don’t eat from this tree, we have chosen to see restraint as a hindrance to our freedom. The story in Genesis chapter 3 shows us clearly the fault of throwing off restraint.  We gained freedom but suffered the consequences. 

Restraints do hinder our freedom, but they are often good for us.  When driving down the freeway, we are restrained by the speed limit.  Speed limits are for our safety.  They are good restraints.  When the patrolling officer gives us a ticket, we suffer the consequences of ignoring restraint. 

When I was a vice principal in charge of discipline, I used to say to offending students, “You can choose to exercise self-control, or I will apply external control.  Self-control is much easier for you and for me.”   We are either restrained by internal restraint or external restraint.  Self-applied restraint, self-control, is always the better choice, and in the case of receiving a speeding ticket much less expensive. 

The only way we self-centered humans can manage in society is with laws and rules that restrain us.  As Americans, we have a great deal of freedom.  We should be thankful for our freedom and respect the laws and rules that keep us in line.  I find this difficult don’t you?  I always want more freedom.  This gets me in trouble.  There are always consequences when I step beyond the rules.

Isn’t it incredible that Jesus paid the price for my renegade behavior?  He took the consequences for me.  What amazing love and compassion he has shown me.  I should be constantly humbled with gratitude.  Yet I still want to throw off restraints.

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

My wife and I recently went to see the movie “The Shack”.  One of the stirring elements of The Shack is that it gives us insight into how God views his world.  Like many we had read through the book twice and were apprehensive about what the movie might do with William P. Young’s beloved novel.  The movie was a refreshing delight.  Directed by Stuart Hazeldine with the screenplay written by John Fusco, the movie omitted very little of the original story.  We both felt that the movie shared the full impact of the book’s message.

Important topics that The Shack explores are why suffering and evil happen in God’s world, and the roll repentance and forgiveness play in dealing with them.  The familiar question, why does God allow such atrocities, can be answered as we delve into what Young was tells us. God allows this because he loves us, all.  There will be a final judgement, but God is patient giving everyone the chance to repent.

From the scriptures the Apostle Peter shares in 2 Peter 3:8-9 an acumen that correlates with this insight:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

God’s perspective is always guided by love, his love for all mankind.  He is love!

As Easter Week approaches, see the movie, kneel at the cross, and take some time to bask in his love.  Writing this has stirred me to remember how deeply God loves us, how he is no stranger to suffering himself, and how much he has given for our redemption.

WE ARE ALL WINNERS

The idea of winners and losers comes about because we humans operate in pride and self-preservation.  Pride and self-preservation put us at odds with each other.  Whether it’s a friendly game or an all-out war, we oppose our fellows.  The end result is a selection of winners and losers.  There is only one force that moves us beyond the pride and self-preservation mode.  That force produces all winners.

Now ask yourself, what would motivate me to lay down my pride and self-preservation?  What would get me to the place where I didn’t care about what I had to do or about what others thought?  What would cause me to give my life away?  Wouldn’t you agree that the answer is love?  I would throw myself in front of a bus to save my wife, or my children, or my grandchildren.  I believe I would even do the same for my students.  Why, because I love them.

Guess where we find the greatest demonstration of giving up your pride and laying down your life for others.  Yes, Jesus on the cross is the answer. When the one through whom all things were created humbled himself and gave up his life, everybody became winners.  Everyone is offered eternal life.  He saved us all because he loves us.

The challenge of the cross is before us.  Will we surrender our pride and lay down our lives for others?  Will we choose to love?  Will we help others to know the good news that they are winners?

WHAT SINS?

The other evening I was driving home from work feeling tired but happy.  The next thing you know, I began thinking about a past sin – one that brings me deep regret.  My good mood was being dashed.  Suddenly, I remembered that this sin has been forgiven and forgotten by God.  It is in the past, and I’ve surrendered it at the foot of the cross.  I have been set free by the blood of Jesus.  Dwelling on past iniquities produces nothing good.

Others might want to condemn me for past sins, but God doesn’t.  He forgave me.  I am reminded of what King David said in Psalm 51:4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned…”  Ultimately, though my sins have injured others, my sins are against my Father who is ruler of heaven and earth.  With love, he overcame the sentence of death that I earned by sinning.  He gave his one and only Son to pay for my sins.  This has been done.  Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

So why am I still haunted by sins that God has forgiven?  I seem to hold on to my guilt.  Perhaps my self-depended nature won’t let me forgive myself.  Maybe those sins that I think I’ve surrender at the foot of the cross weren’t really surrendered.  A touch of eternal reality might be needed here.  Psalm 103:11-12 reminds, For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Since God has forgiven and forgotten my sins, and he has set me free from the law of sin and death, the appropriate response would be to discontinue wallowing in them.  What good is freedom if I keep returning to the bondage from which I’ve been freed?

So I exclaim, “What sins?”

WWJD

The WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) movement was to encourage Christian to look to Jesus in our decision making.  I always felt that since Jesus is God, I was going to fall very short of what he would do.   In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus gives his disciples clear directions as to what they should do.  It is quite a challenge for us mere mortals.

Let’s take a look at verse 25, “If you decide for God, living a life of God worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether clothes in your closet are in fashion.  There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body (The Message).”  I find this quite challenging.  Living in materialistic America, these words cut to the quick.   The quick being where life happens.  But this is not a concern just for Americans.  Evidently, those in ancient Israel needed to hear these words.

In this whole section, from verse 19-24, Jesus is giving his disciples a new view of their life.  He wants them to refocus.  As followers of Jesus, we need to look at life differently; step outside of the social norms, and focus on what God is doing.  Jesus doesn’t want us to worry about the things of this world; he wants us to trust our Father in Heaven with them.  Jesus came to set us free.  This refocusing is a part of that freedom.

This sounds great doesn’t it?  So how are you doing with this?  I’m struggling.  My struggle is within and against my sinful nature.  That’s why WWJD bothered me.  I knew I couldn’t do what Jesus would do.  The Apostle Paul gives quite a dissertation on this struggle in Romans 7:14-25.

I am battling to refocus my life, but I am always relying on God’s grace and mercy.  Grace is not an excuse for sin, but it is God’s answer to our failings.  Jesus is in the battle with us every day.  He is our strength in times of weakness.  We are not alone in our struggles.