We all have troubles that come our way; they are a part of life in this fallen world. I tend to draw into myself when troubles arise. I focus on solving the problem; I worry over the problem, and I lose sleep thinking about the problem. If the problem is long term, I eventually fall into despair. Then I enter into that dark cavern of self-pity. Once again, I have succumbed to the trap of inward focus.
You’d think I’d know better, but alas I find myself caught again. In this state, I don’t pray for others, I’m not very kind, and I don’t have time for others. Inward focus makes me useless to those I love and not very pleasant to be around. When I finally come to the end of myself, I cry out to the Lord, “Save me!”
The lord, in his patient and kind way, reminds me that I need to trust my troubles to him. He redirects my focus to the needs of others, and I begin to look outward. To my amazement, life becomes brighter, and my troubles become less important. By putting my troubles in the hands of the only one who can do anything about them, the burden is lifted. I can actually become a nice guy.
Will I fall into this trap again? I hope not. The “pit of despair” is not a nice place.
Why are you down cast O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
I found out that Praising God is the first step out of the trap.
I love to revisit the story of creation in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Envisioning God’s fresh creation delights my heart. Genesis 1:31 reads, God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. The creator stepped back, looked over what he had made, and concluded, “It was very good.”
Today as I continue to be awed by what God created, I see elements that were not there at the beginning. Death and decay are at work in the creation. What God created that was “very good” has now deteriorated. Good now has a counterpart, evil. How did evil get into God’s creation?
When the first man and woman walked the earth only good existed. They had no special awareness of good because it was the default of their world. There was no contrast to good. In the garden, where God put them, was a tree with the knowledge of good and its contrast evil. God warned them not to indulge in this knowledge for it brought with it death. They chose not to heed God’s warning.
Why is our world filled with death and decay? The answer is obvious. We had to know about good and evil. Well, now we know. I think we could have gone without knowing. So in hindsight, when God says not to do something, we probably shouldn’t.
To conclude what I‘ve been writing about the Kingdom of God I’ve written a short story. Here is the first part.
In the beginning, the Great Ruler established a new kingdom within his realm. He loved this new kingdom and enjoyed visiting with his new subjects. He saw to it that they had everything needed for a blissful life. However, one of his other subjects rebelled against his rule and decided to take over this new kingdom.
Through deception and lies, he convinced the inhabitants of the new kingdom to join his rebellion. The new kingdom then came under a curse of death and destruction. It became a dark place full of evil. The rebel leader delighted in this for he himself was evil.
His rule over the new kingdom went on for many years. Finally, the Great Ruler had enough. From the very beginning, he had a plan to regain his new kingdom. It was now time to implement his plan. His plan was kept secret, and he caught the rebel leader by surprise.
The great Ruler sent his Son to the new kingdom, but he came not as a ruler but in the likeness of the humble people. Later, the son began to announce that the Great Ruler’s kingdom had come. This disturbed the rebel leader, so he began to figure out how to stop this challenge to his rule.
The Son showed the power of the Great Ruler’s kingdom with many signs and wonders. The people began to follow the Son because they were intrigued by his teaching and the miracles he did for them. They were also drawn to him because he had power over the rebel leader’s soldiers.
Many of the people desired to enter the Great Ruler’s kingdom, but there was a problem. All of them had indulged in the evil of the rebel leader. They could not enter the Great Ruler’s kingdom without first being cleansed. The rebel leader knew this so he was confident that he would keep his subjects. He thought, “I’ll get my subjects to kill the Son then I’ll for sure have the victory.”
Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
There are two wills at work here in creation, God’s will and man’s will. God’s will is that there would be harmony in his creation, that we would love one another. Man’s will has brought about what we experience daily. We are subject to man’s will because God gave us free will. We each one get to choose. The ultimate goal is that we would, of our own free will, choose God’s will.
In Matthew 23:37 Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
I am in tears as I hear the heart of God in these words. How much the words, “but you were not willing,” sting my heart.
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.
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.
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.