Finding “Myself”: A Journey Back to the Creator

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Just look at that beauty! I love to see God show off his creativity, especially when it’s in Texas!

In the world, we are pressed to “be ourselves.” Phrases have even been coined to encourage this mentality – “keep it real,” “you do you,” “speak your truth,” and so on. What happens when we adopt this way of thinking into our churches and walk with God, though?

Over the last couple of months, I have had a lot of time to think and learn about myself. I think awareness of self is a good thing; it is important we know what our strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and backgrounds are. The uncontrollable events in our individual lives have somehow come together to shape “who we are.” Culture, hobbies, career paths, social groups, surroundings, family background… it all is said to mold what we call personality. Isn’t it interesting that these have nothing to do with us? They are just the external factors that we take on as “ourselves,” though we have no control over who we will actually become (if we base self solely on the events that happened or are happening to us). We are the passive subject in a chaotic life, but by assuming the occurrences that we have experienced, both good and bad, we take ownership of it, then control it by calling it “me.” Personality is fluid (a shifting sands, if you will), so how are we supposed to know who we really are if our view of identity is temporal and ever-changing?

Our personalities bow to God, not the other way around. Over the course of the last few months, this did not hold true for me. After hearing about all of the personality tests out there — the enneagram, the Myers-Briggs, the DISC test, OCEAN, even dumb ones on Buzzfeed like, “What Candy Bar Are You?”, I began to grow more infatuated with what made up “me” and how to perceive others through these lenses. I want to preface with the fact that for some, personality and the study of it can be healthy and balanced well. I know for myself, delving deep into what makes me “me” proved to be a stumbling block. I started to view the personality test as a way to further sanctification, a means to understand myself, thus be more refined by the Lord. Do you hear it, though? How many times I have said, “me,” “myself,” and “I” in this paragraph? That was the problem. I saw the world through a self-centered lens – one in which personality alone equaled identity, a means to a more insightful and enlightened end. So if you are an INTP or a Type 8w7 or anything in-between (or have no idea what that even means), I have some news for you. That is not all you are. In fact, Jesus desires so much more for us than how we see ourselves. He has given us a “new self,” designed to imitate His likeness.

Come, Let Us Make Man in Our Image

Our original design, our humble beginning, was to display the splendor of our Creator. In any painting, song, writing, or work of art, the artist’s traces can be seen in the beauty of their masterpiece. They have a distinct voice, technique, or style that is easily noted by an observant audience. Claude Monet and his original impressionism, Whitney Houston and her mastery of melisma, Dr. Seuss and his use of made-up words and rhymes – the hand of the artist can be seen in the art itself.

In Genesis, it says that we are made in His image – the image of Father, Spirit, and Son. We were originally designed to walk with God in perfect harmony, just like Adam and Eve. We were meant to have a relationship with Him and through Him, to depend on Him alone, and to see ourselves through His eyes. If we were created in His image, that means that we were made to reflect Him. Human beings were made to show the goodness, beauty, and greatness of God.

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness

-Genesis 1:26

Of course, we know when The Fall happened, this became a much more difficult task. Because sin now tainted the humans and the earth, reflecting God became more difficult because self was now involved. Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to their own fleshly desires, and that was put before God. Though created for fulfilling communion with their Creator, they traded His image for the image of individuality, instead.

It’s as if the art got up, walked away from its designer, and made a life apart from the one who breathed it into existence. Impressionism told Monet it was original, melisma told Whitney Houston it is its own artist, rhymes of made-up words told Dr. Seuss that they now spoke for themselves. Mankind told God that His image was not enough.

Come, Let Us Make a Name For Ourselves

With sin on the scene, God’s original design became less and humanistic ways of thinking became more. If you read anywhere in the Old Testament, it is easy to see the ways in which perfect creation turned sour. This is where we find ourselves now, in a fallen world, trying to get back to our original design. However, the trickeries of the world and the ways of man bring us to a halt on our way back to Him. Fine-sounding doctrine, temptations, sin, insecurities, desires unaligned with God’s – these all cause us to slow our zeal to find Life again.

In one specific instance, Genesis 11, the people are blinded by the desire to become great. With bricks and prideful hearts, the people, who were meant to display and worship God, build a tower to exalt humanistic abilities instead.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

The people here are determined to build a city, with a tower high enough to reach the heavens at the heart of it all. They are high off of their own capabilities, now fully (and ironically) powerless to see anything past themselves. They spent time, money, and energy on building a place to boast of their splendor, with the sole purpose of making a name for themselves.

Is this the tower of Babel all over again, seeking to make a name for ourselves based on our own individuality and uniqueness? The letters and numbers that encapsulate our very essence of individuality – could this be our Babel? In Shinar, the people come together to make a name for themselves, united and strong with each other. I argue that the opposite is at hand, now. Instead of a people gathered with one purpose, we are individuals, gathered to construct our own Babels. We shout, “Come! Let me make a name for myself, hiding behind the bricks of personality and personal strength, finding refuge in the comfort of ‘who I am’ as an answer to my desire to be known.” We seek to be known by something else. If it’s not a personality test, then it’s something that is even more “our own,” a distinct trait unlike anyone else. Because if I’m not set apart, then who even am I? We demand to be unique, different from the other towers, better than the other self-made fortresses. It is not enough that we have an identity in Christ, we must be known for something other than Him.

Come and Lose Yourself 

C.S. Lewis said in “Mere Christianity,”

” It is no good to be ‘myself’ without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact, what I so proudly call ‘myself’ become merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop.” 

So if the basics of “who we are” don’t define us, what (or who) does?

First, we must come to terms with the fact that whatever identity or image that we try to create will not prevail. If it is of human origin, it will not last (Acts 5:38). We were not designed to define ourselves, we already came with a deeper purpose. If we go on trying to find ourselves, it will only confuse us more. Why? Because we seek a Truth by going to everything but. We must understand and humble ourselves to see that we are meant to reflect God. That’s it. That is our image, our beautiful design. The self is not involved in the purpose of man.

If we are to return to our original design, it will mean death to ourselves, losing ourselves.

25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

-Matthew 16:25

Though it sounds drastic, that is what must happen for “new self,” a new creation, to exist. They cannot cohabit with each other, one must be forsaken. In the words of Scott Hubbard, “In our culture of self-help and self-realization, of individuality and independence, of ‘you do you’ and ‘follow your heart’, Jesus’ call to lose ourselves stabs at the very heart.” This means that our identity is no longer in the expression of ourselves or even who we perceive ourselves to be. Our old self – everything and anything that would define “me” in the world – must be abolished.

Who will I be if I hand over ‘self’ to the Lord? Won’t I be like a robot if I don’t get to acknowledge my personal attributes? Does God seek to destroy my idea of self and create clones of Him? These are valid questions that death to self may bring up. My argument is not that we lose ourselves and become gray and mundane. I am saying we must lose our tendencies of self-glorification and rather than look to other means of self-definition, look to God. If we believe that God created us and formed us in our mother’s very womb – that he knows the number of hairs on our heads – then shouldn’t we believe that our idea and understanding of ourselves is limited (Ps. 139:13, Luke 12:7)? God knows us better than we do. Losing ourselves is trusting that God knows us deeper than we know ourselves and that who he says we are is more authentic than our own self-conception.

We must believe that dying to ourselves is the way back to the “true me.”

Come Unto a New Self

Jesus does not seek to obliterate our personalities, rather He desires to open our eyes so we may see the greater purpose beyond them. The fact of the matter is, yes, we are different people. We don’t have the same experiences, outlooks on life, temperaments, interests, or desires. This should be celebrated but within the context of celebrating the Creator of this diversity, not worshiping the differences themselves. It is so easy to see that God is not a god of the mundane. Just look around at the oceans teeming with a variety of life, the earth spotted with wildflowers of vibrant color, the collision of uniformity and randomness to create a complex, beautiful world.

How much more does God want to use these beautiful characteristics within us for His will? Once we lose ourselves, we may be saved. The new creation emerges in place of the old self that was given up.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

-2 Corinthians 5:17

When we give ourselves up, God is gracious enough to replace it with something so much better – the image of His Son, Christ. He gives us the honor of bearing His name and His likeness, the Image that we were first fashioned for and fell so short from. What a good God! In his goodness, He restores us to the identity that mankind had in the beginning.

Not only does this “new self” bring about freedom from the ways of our flesh, but it continues to renew us, meaning that coming back to our intended identity is a process of God giving our “self” back to us.

18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

-2 Corinthians 3:18

With the increasing growth in the closeness to our “true self,” The Spirit alone transforms us. The image of Christ and “self” becomes one, using us in our unique set of gifts and weaknesses to show others the perfect image of His Son. It is a display of reconciliation between man and God, with full submission to His will, while we remain in our physical bodies.

…you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

-Colossians 3: 9-10 

When we draw near to God, our Creator, we begin to understand who we are. We have been given a “new self” and are being renewed in the sole act of knowing our Maker. When we know God, we begin to know ourselves more. Who we are in Him and what our purpose is according to Him reveal that our lives, our rawest identity, truly are hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3).

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

-Philippians 3:17

So now, our personalities are not buttresses for our identity, but simply a gift to enjoy from our kind God. Our social groups will not be restricted to those who “get us,” but expanded to the most unlikely of friends. We no longer find identity in our future or how focused on success we may be, but rest in the name Jesus gives us.

Even more than obtaining a new name and being renewed daily, when we submit to the identity that God has bestowed upon us, we not only get a new self, but we begin to think of ourselves less. We begin to discover that we become most when we forget ourselves and are consumed with Him.

30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

-John 3:30

Come and Use Your Gifts for His Glory

If we enjoy identity in Christ alone, then everything else that once defined us now becomes the gifts that God has given us. Our extraversion levels, our charisma (or lack thereof), idealism, logic, talents – they are all the cherry on top of the new creation we embody. This is where I got tripped up, as I mentioned before. I delighted in the gifts of God instead of the Savior Himself. I revered the little colors of personality rather than the One who gave it to me. I found myself in the gifts of God rather than God himself. The new identity we accept means that we are apart of something bigger than ourselves. His kingdom. His body of believers. His bride.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

-1 Corinthians 12:27

As a part of the body of Christ, my responsibility with the specific life He has given me is to build up his people in love and humility. Each one of us plays an intricate and vital role in the functioning of the body. This is where the beauty of diversity comes in even more! The function of the body is to live and to glorify God, but a body cannot operate properly with just hands or just feet. We need toes, ears, eyes, kneecaps, even hair! The multi-faceted personalities that God has put in us must be used to keep the body working smoothly. Only by staying alive and acknowledging all parts’ importance can the body accomplish the will of God to reflect His image. We don’t glory in the nose or ankle itself, but the important role that it plays in helping the overall whole.

I want to travel, teach others English, become a wife and mother one day. I would say that I am extroverted, I enjoy working with kids, and tend to have patience with others for the most part. Conversation comes easy to me, I thrive in creative settings, I love deeply. These things are not bad! They’re also not me. These traits (that I once believed made up who I inherently was) make up a concentration of how God can use me in the mission of His greater purpose. These are presents that God has given my heart to yearn for, but they are not me. I am His. My identity lies fundamentally in the fact that I’m a creature of God, with a nature that has a design given by God, meant to display the image of God. Even more, I have gifts (and so does everyone else) that may be used to accomplish the quest to find and know Life to the full, on earth (John 10:10). The unique gifts that God put in each of us are expected to be used for His glory, not our own.

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

-1 Corinthians 10:31

To reflect His glory with our abilities is why we are given these gifts in the first place. Even things such as our upbringing, our physical and mental capabilities, and geographical location are things given to us by God, the great and generous Father – all that we may turn to Him (Acts 17:27-28), find our source of Life, and come back to the Image we were meant to bear.

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My point is not to belittle the gifts and personalities that God has instilled in us. I think they are great when viewed with a healthy judgment. I don’t think that seeing and knowing how we operate is inherently bad, as long as it doesn’t take us over. For me, it did. The power of knowledge is an enticing one, even the first humans weren’t exempt from its charms. The flesh craves to be something apart from its modest meaning, to follow falsehood that whispers, “Take a bite from the fruit. You’ll know more, you’ll be more. Seek to find yourself elsewhere and you’ll really be fulfilled.”

I will reiterate, our identity lies in not who we are, but who He is.

“Just be yourself” holds no candle to becoming the person God made us to be. In fact, in embracing the “new creation,” we become more ourselves than we could have ever been on our own. So, you see, the Christian viewpoint of identity is not constructed or even inherited. It is given.  It is by knowing God and being known by God that our eyes are opened to our truest form of self.

Sarah’s Testimony

Being an adoptee, I have always struggled with my identity. Throughout my life I have worn many masks seeking love, validation, or getting a sense of just being wanted. Many adoptees struggle with an underlying belief that they are “bad” at their core, which is something I myself know very well. My identity has always been shame-based and deep down it’s hard to shake the belief that there is something inherently wrong with me.

When I became a Christian, I was so happy that God had rescued me from the slavery of the world where I no longer had to conform to the world’s way of living and being loved. Even so, I still battled the belief that there was something deeply wrong with me and, not that I had flaws, but I was a permanent flaw just simply in my existence.

The Word of God offered me so much hope and relief from this thinking, however, at some point in my journey, I began turning to self-help books and taking a psychological approach in order to understand myself. I believe these books can be beneficial and serve a purpose for certain season of life. The problem with my approach was that it became a compulsion to read book after book searching to understand my identity more. The more I read, the more I became fixated on my weaknesses and my brokenness that led me to feel increasingly overwhelmed and reinforced the insecurities that I am simply bad. I felt like if I could just gain more information and knowledge, then I could fix myself and then I could be more lovable. The problem with the approach I took was that I was completely missing out on the grace and acceptance of God. I was desperate to figure out how to love and accept myself through the world’s advice, which again, can be helpful in ways. But when I elevated what these books were saying about me, though it was always through a very narrow scope, I could only see myself in a narrow way —broken. How could I ever get better? The more I read these books the more despaired I became.

It wasn’t until recently where God was calling me to put down the self-help and psychology books and turn back to Him and His truth. He taught me that the only way I could really understand myself was through the reality of His truth, the only way I could love myself better was if I came to know Him better. Now, I am renewing my mind to turn to scripture and prayer when I am feeling insecure, or seeing my brokenness, because God is the only one who can heal. I wanted to be able to heal myself through more knowledge of myself, but I actually am more healed through the knowledge of God. It turns out the more I focus on myself the more depressing life becomes. It’s only when I focus on God the more joy and peace I have! I will never find ultimate answers outside of God, it always leads me to a dead and empty end. The more I know God and His love for me, the more I can see and love myself. The most beautiful thing is that I don’t have to fight to “get better,” I can simply rest in his His promises, His goodness, and His grace.

 

Special thanks to my dear friend, Sarah, for sharing what God has personally taught her about identity in Christ. I am grateful for your open heart and the ways God is using you!

Many concepts in this post were inspired by other writings such as:

“You Are Not You Without Him” by Scott Hubbard: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/you-are-not-you-without-him#modal-2364-jl7r1pld

“Don’t Be Yourself” by Greg Morse: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/dont-be-yourself

“A Christian View of Human Identity” by Michael F. Bird: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2018/10/a-christian-view-of-human-identity/

 

Prepare for Greater

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On the one day that it was 80 degrees in Iowa, my friend and I gladly skedaddled out of the house to spend some time on the lake. I fondly title this picture, “Social Fish-tancing.”

Are you prepared?

It’s the question that everyone is asking during this unfamiliar time. Is there enough food in the pantry and toilet paper in the bathroom? Is my bank account equipped to support a time of unemployment? Do I have a plan of action if things go south?

These uncertainties plaguing our nation beg the question: Are you ready? And people are eager to answer with action. It’s evident by the empty shelves in the grocery stores and the abandoned city streets that people are taking this seriously. Most of us find ourselves in quarantine –isolated within the walls of our own homes– in hopes that this may stop the spread of a virus that has so quickly stricken panic and anxiety into the masses. Preparing for the worst, we lock ourselves away from the outside world unless leaving is absolutely essential.

There is all of this worry and preparedness for a disease that we know so little about. Even CDC admits that there is much to be learned about this virus –no one has any definitive answers as to how to avoid such an undesirable fate. My point is not to say that we shouldn’t prepare for uncertainty, but if people are so eager to prepare for a worldly cause, how much more should we be prepared for an eternal one?

22 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

-Matthew 22: 1-14

If you think about getting ready for any formal event, especially a wedding, there is a lot of thought and preparation to be put into such an affair, even for the guests. The suits and dresses must be sized, bought, and put on before the event itself. It is a special occasion that deserves forethought and meticulous planning. With this in mind, imagine a man showing up in a t-shirt and shorts, sitting with the rest of the well-dressed guests. It would be insulting and disrespectful to the bride and groom. Even the guests would be taken aback.

That is what’s essentially happening here. The man walks in, tries to eat and participate in the festivities, all without taking the proper time to clothe himself appropriately. He wanted to taste the good while doing the bare minimum. The King even extends grace in asking why he has no wedding clothes, and still, the man says nothing. He didn’t even prepare an answer as to why he showed up in the wrong attire. In fact, I’d venture to say that this was an act of defiance –the man wanted to enjoy the fellowship and the bounty of food without committing to the identity of a guest.

I think the “wedding clothes,” which prepare us for partaking in a paradise of eternity, could be interpreted in a lot of different ways, but at the end of the day, eternal life and participation in the wedding banquet is knowing God. There are no strangers at this after-party, only those who are known are invited. Those who are known have the wedding clothes on. What can we do to ensure that we have the clothes on now –on earth– so that we may enjoy the banquet set before us in the future?

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

-John 17:3

In Greek, the word used for “know” is ginóskó, meaning to know, especially through personal experience or a first-hand acquaintance. Though repenting, being baptized, and doing good works are all apart of living the new life we are called, at the end of the day, eternal life is knowing God. Not just knowing of him or his word, but truly understanding the depths of his character, the heights of his love for us personally. Then, and only then, can we be prepared for the coming of our Lord. By seeking Him out and building an intimate relationship with Him, we can be assured that when He does come back for his people, that he will not say to us those dreaded words, “Away from me, I never knew you” (Matt. 7:21-23). So for us, to be prepared for the eternal would mean living as if it is now, walking with God daily.

And honestly, I believe God is reminding us of this spiritual reality through the worldly pandemic among us. He has brought us to a place where all eyes can be on Him again. We have nothing else to turn to, nothing else to do with our increased spare time. There are no worldly answers for the pain and confusion that this virus has caused –the only answer is Him. With forced shut-downs and everything coming to halt, couldn’t this be our wake-up call? Couldn’t this be yet another invitation that the King is extending to anyone who will take it?

In verse 5 of The Parable of the Wedding Banquet, there are those who reject the invitation because they need to tend to their field and business. Essentially, they communicated, “I don’t have time for the King; there is too much to do to make time for a party.” The same holds true today with us, even as followers of Christ. We claim that we’ll make time when it is convenient and we fail to see the gift of God’s presence because of it. “I’ll make time when I’m older… when I’m married… when I can commit fully…,” the distractions never stop. A gracious miracle can happen right in front of us, and we miss it because the fields and businesses are more important. Especially in this season of quarantine, I can just hear God pleading:

“I took away the distractions. I have done away with the ‘fields’ and ‘businesses’. The sports channel is gone. Your job is put on hold. Travel bans are in place. I’ll lock down almost all of the things that you put before me. Now that you don’t have these hindering you, will you accept the invitation? Now will you take time to know me?”

Many are invited, few are chosen. Not much has changed from the time of this parable and now. People still miss the presence of God because of worldly distractions and anxieties. They’ll still walk right past an invitation to eternal life, oblivious to the joy at hand. More than preparing for a possibility of increased shutdowns with transient essentials, prepare for The One that is guaranteed to come. Do not let this time in quarantine be in vain; let it serve to draw you closer to knowing eternal life.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

-2 Corinthians 4:18

 

 

Where Are the Other Nine?

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I fell back to my city-slicker roots when visiting Chicago a few weeks ago. Jaywalking across the streets and conceding to buy overpriced coffee gave me a happy change of pace from my usual small-town Iowa lifestyle.

Can I be honest with y’all real quick?  I hesitated with even posting this picture to my site. This picture of the Chicago skyline is more than an image I used to fill a space that could have been used to write. It is a metaphor for God’s grace and mercy amidst a heart issue of mine that recently came to light. Let me explain.

I am an adventurer, I like to think. I find so much happiness in discovering new places, meeting new people, and just simply being in a place that is so different from what I am accustomed to. My brain loves to learn and my heart desires to wander. Traveling (though it sounds cliche) truly is a passion of mine. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

I find myself stuck. Even using those words can tell you the status of my heart, through the lens of contentment. I have tearfully questioned God many times through the transition of 2019 to the new year about the same things:

When do I get to go to some other place with more adventure and living to do? Am I ever going to be married? Will I get to do something with my life that holds more meaning than what I see in it now? Are my finances always going to limit me? I want to experience new things and I’m stuck in a season of remaining where I’m at. You require me to stay put when I am saying, “HERE I AM LORD, SEND ME!”

Over a few months, God opened my eyes to see that these desires are not bad. In fact, it’s great to have dreams and goals to work towards. However, these aspirations of mine slowly but surely rose above God. They became Lord. You want to know how it became evident that my desires were Lord over Christ? I severely lacked gratitude. Everything that I had was still not enough. The things that I had begged God for, like a job and friends and housing, lost their value in my eyes. My heart was insatiable –“Yes, God, I have this, but now I want that.” Or even worse, I didn’t acknowledge the answers to prayer at all.

Take the story of the lepers in Luke 17…

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Here we see the account of ten lepers, cast out of society, loudly begging for pity from Jesus. Christ has more mercy on them than I’m sure they expected (how great is our God?!). Where they were only asking for food or money to sustain them for a temporary while, Jesus gave them a new life through healing. The world of sickness that they had come to accept was no more. They were healed, saved from a life of solitude and pain. They were free!

I’m sure they were ecstatic while they were on their way to the priests. I imagine their infected skin clearing, jumbled, joyous shouts of amazement arising as they looked at each other’s healed ailments and then to their own. And I’m sure all ten of them were grateful. How could they not be, even subconsciously? But only one comes back to Jesus to intentionally express his gratitude. More than an obligation, this man experiences an overflow of the heart and recognizes whom it comes from.

This Samaritan leper that returns goes out of his way, leaves the other nine to come find Jesus, and praises God with the same volume as when he cried out for pity in the previous verse. He is the only one that is accounted for as being thankful and the only one that receives something even more satisfying and everlasting than physical healing.

Do we do that? Do we intentionally go out of our way to make sure that our praises are louder than our original plea, or do we instead beg God with a raised voice and thank him with silence? Much like the nine lepers in the beginning, do we beg from a distance and fail to come back with intimate praise at the feet of Jesus? Do we take time out of our blessed life just to come back humbly and say thank you?

I see myself in the other nine — too enthusiastic to begin the new life that I have been granted to remember or even give effort in to going back and accrediting the miracle of redemption to the one who gave it to me in the first place. Maybe the other nine seem to get a bad rep. They had faith. They cried out to God. They seemed to be humble and open to whatever Jesus had for them, and for that, they were healed. For that, they experienced a worldly salvation, if you will. But we all crave something more than deliverance from the struggle or inconvenience in our lives — something that will eternally satisfy. Coming back to God and thanking him fulfills us with what our hearts really yearn for. It creates deeper relationship with The One who loves us. Gratitude makes what we have enough. It makes us see that God is enough.

Even more than that, thankfulness is expected and an important component in our salvation. Jesus makes this clear when he expectantly asks where the other nine are. He expects them to come back, just like the one, to express gratitude. This is also made clear countless other times after the gospels in the New Testament. These are commands, not suggestions. Gratitude is our weapon to combat the lies told to us that we will never have enough.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2)

It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, so let it be thanksgiving. Let it be joyful praise for the good will of God, for his love, for the victory he has already given to us.

And so to bring it full circle, the picture at the beginning represents my desire to wander, not only my love for travel but my heart’s innate struggle in wandering from the goodness God has already shown me. Even if I had nothing in this world, God has already given me everything. How can I be discontent with that?

 

Little Glass Shards

This is not my usual kind of post, but I wholeheartedly believe that God can work through it regardless. In fact, what I’m about to share is very vulnerable for me, but I pray that others may read this and know they are not alone in suffering, especially on the account of another person’s mistakes or sin.

As we have all experienced pain at some point in our lives, I am now facing mine head on, years after the damage has been done. The unfair part, the thing that really tests me at times, is the fact that my pain was not brought about by my own sin. It was inflicted upon me by another person’s malicious actions.

It’s like someone threw a vase to the ground, watched it shatter, and then forced me to pick up the pieces of their mess. At first, I was reluctant and just let the glass shards remain on the ground. I would dance my way around the broken fractals, avoiding them at all costs. Then, over time, God softened my heart. He told me it was time to pick up the broken pieces. And so with his help, I did. I forgave. I restored relationship. I loved again.

I thought that was it – that it was safe to walk barefoot again. All of the noticeable pieces were gone, but the little shards still linger, though I don’t see them with my naked eye. My unsuspecting foot discovers the sharp, unseen slivers of glass, and they penetrate my skin. For awhile, I don’t pick any out; I know that removing them will be more painful than when they originally pierced through me. So instead of dealing with the few glass splinters, I let them add up until my foot begins to bleed and demand that I take care of the newly opened wounds.

And this is where I find myself now. Years later, after I got down on my hands and knees and picked up the glass shards, I am recognizing (to my dismay) that there are still little pieces I never saw. Even with the element of time on my side, I have still not healed completely. I find myself wondering at times if I ever will be fully okay again. The wounds that I thought were bound up and healed have reopened, and I find myself reliving the pain all over again, way after the initial damage was done. The lacerations are deep, layers upon layers of hurt and fear and insecurity all bleed out at once. I’m overwhelmed. And I ask God relentlessly, “When will I be done picking glass out of my foot?”

He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

After I have my cry sessions with my Father, he reminds me that I am not my own healer. I don’t have to pick out the shattered pieces; he wants to do it for me. Even as I wrestle and complain along the way, his goodness and stillness remain. IT’S NOT FAIR, GOD. He kneels down. WHEN DOES IT END, GOD? He lifts up my infected, glass-filled foot with his gentle hands. IT HURTS, GOD. He plucks out the brokenness one-by-one, comforting me as I scream, cry and whimper. IT STILL STINGS, GOD. He binds up my wounds and quiets my soul.

 

The Paradox of Perfection: Who Perfection is For (Pt. 3)

48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48

Alright, here’s that same verse again. As we read it, there is an implied “you” in this command, meaning the audience is “personal you.” YOU (*points virtual finger*) be therefore perfect, as your Father is.

We are not meant to take this on alone. I’ll say that now before any of you become overwhelmed with this command that we have been discussing. “Be perfect,” is directed towards an audience that is more than an individual– far beyond the capacities of you or me. I say this to encourage y’all. To let you know up front, before I go deeper, that this is not a single-person game. It’s multiplayer.

So a little backstory before I continue with our main scripture, here. I’m about to give y’all a mini Spanish lesson. I recently took two courses over the summer, and crazily enough, it opened my eyes to God’s word all the more! So get ready for a foreign language crash-course!

Image result for spanish vosotros pronouns

Okay, so you see here the translations for the subject pronouns. Now, let’s revisit that scripture, only shake it up a bit, in Spanish!

48Sed pues vosotros perfectos, como vuestro Padre que [está] en los cielos es perfecto.

Mateo 5:48

And do you see what pronoun is used when we look at it in Spanish? That’s right. Vosotros, meaning you (plural), or as I like to say, y’all. In our English translation, there is no difference in you (singular) and you (plural), so upon first glance in English, the assumed pronoun in this verse would be you (singular) or tú, in Spanish. This simple understanding of pronouns makes all the difference.

By ourselves, we fall short of the glory of God, but together, unified in faith and submitting to him, we can love with his love and be perfect. This requires each part to do its work, to contribute to the functionality of the body. We will all still fail, that truth is not omitted. However, even at a congregational level, God uses weaknesses like our individual and collective failures as access points to edify the body. Though our gifts and talents are ways that the body can be built up and show God’s perfect love, weakness is really the key to perfection of the whole.

I could go into the mechanics of how the body works and write a lovely analysis of the different moving parts and whatnot. But Paul puts it so much better than I would…

12 There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. 13 We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. 14 So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.

15 Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. 16 And suppose the ear says, “I am not an eye. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell? 18 God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. 19 If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body? 20 As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.

21 The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without. 23 The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care. 24 The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honor to the parts that didn’t have any. 25 In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.

27 You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.

-1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Right off the bat, Paul says it. The body is made of many parts —and so we are but a mere part of the overall body that is called to be perfect. Just because this is a command for a group does not mean that we as individuals are off the hook for not following God’s word. As you can see further on in the verse, working parts are absolutely necessary in the functioning of the whole. The two scenarios Paul mentions are important to note. There are ways in which we as parts of the body can cause dysfunction of the whole. One being insecurity, the second being pride.

As an arm or a finger or a nose — whatever body part you care to think of yourself as — we have a specific job. No finger can smell, no nose can pick things up, etc. You get the point. Yet somehow followers of Christ (myself included, though I wish not) manage to warp the irreplaceable roles of the unique parts into comparisons and competitions. Paul warns against both denying our part in the body of Christ and denying the part of others’ in the scripture above.

Denying Your Part in the Body of Christ

My church assignment is not significant, I am beneath others, my small part in the whole doesn’t make a difference. These are all sayings that are stated when the individual is feeling inferior in comparison to others in the body. Comparing is a dangerous game to play, and it risks the imperfection of the whole. Lemme explain more on that.

When one person’s assignment is to be an usher at church or pass out the communion trays, it may be tempting to think that their part is more expendable than the lead evangelist or elders. When these thoughts are entertained, however, we are embracing an unlevel view of others, therefore raising and lowering members of the body to false standards in our minds. Every role is needed. To think that our part is too small or insignificant is focused on self, therefore making it impossible to be a perfect whole, outwardly focused on others and the love of God.

Think of a cell in our bodies. The cell has a specific function, a designated niche, and must follow through with its job. If we personify this cell to be an insecure part of the body, fully believing that its role is not big enough to make a difference, then the whole body falls apart at the expense of the cell’s comparison. Truth be told, the cell probably had no idea how performing its job correctly affected the other parts. The heart was able to pump blood, the brain was able to make cognitive decisions and guide the arms and legs to do their proper work. Without that cell, the heart beat ceases and the brain stops, the body is no longer at work or moving. It is virtually paralyzed.

When God calls us to a place to serve, we should do it because we are doing it for HIM, not others or ourselves. If we are truly doing our part in the works of the body for the right reason, then no role should be too small or insignificant. God has chosen you. He has chosen me. Who are we to say that our part is not beneficial or valuable to the perfection of Christ’s body?

Denying Others’ Part in the Body of Christ

It’s one thing to deny our own part in the body, it’s another to deny someone else’s. Humility is key. We should not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3), but rather remember that we have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are all sinners, each of us on the same level as the next. If we continue to have this sober judgement of ourselves, then we cannot say that we don’t need a member. We cannot judge.

If we have the mindset of the eye and the head from the passage in 1 Corinthians, then we are not displaying the love of Christ. Instead, we are making our own selves the judge and stating, “You are welcome in the body as soon as you become stronger. Once you overcome your weakness and reduce your flaws you can become apart of us.” This is not what Jesus did. In fact, he died while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), and even then, loved us through our weakness. Competing and puffing ourselves up denies the love of Christ and therefore makes the body incapable of following the command to be perfect, to love like our Father loves.

The love of God shows strongest when it is extended to those who we wouldn’t believe deserved it. The alcoholic that keeps showing up to church. The woman who is struggling with the sin of impurity. The divorced couple that doesn’t want to work things out. Rather than condemn them, we love them with even more care and respect, just as the private parts of the body are treated. Just as our individual role helps in building up the body, so does theirs. We must not forget or neglect that fact.

The human body needs all parts to be present and doing their part. The fingers must grasp things, the eyes must see clearly, the legs must walk. If you really think about it, though, the individual parts, even if they are doing their fair share, can only do so much. It is only when they all work together that a car can be driven or a meal can be prepared. More than the simple existence and acceptance of all parts, they must cooperatively work together. In order for real action to take place, the body parts must depend on one another. The same holds true with the body of Christ. It is in the way of weakness where perfection is truly possible.

As I mentioned in previous posts, these concepts that I explored are all thanks to the awesome book that I had the privilege to review, “The Paradox of Perfection.” The link is attached below, I HIGHLY recommend reading it!

https://paradoxofperfectionbook.com/

 

 

 

The Paradox of Perfection: What Perfection Is (Pt.2)

So now we have established what God does NOT expect from us, when it comes to the scripture in Matthew 5, but if God doesn’t expect flawlessness or completion or some other saying that is used to substitute “perfect,” then what DOES he command of us?

Lemme put up that verse again, with a little context with it this time.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

The kind of perfection that Christ expected and expects his disciples to fulfill has already been described in previous verses. “Therefore” in verse 48 refers us back to 43-47. Do you see it? The perfection that is discussed is THE PERFECTION OF GOD’S LOVE. So the command seen here is not one of flawless expectation, too impossible to acquire, it is a command to love. Just as our Father’s love is perfect, so should we imitate that. But here’s the catch – this is not possible without Christ. We are to love completely and evenly, and in the flesh alone, this is not a feasible task. When we are filled with the love of God, only then can we love perfectly. Loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, loving the unlovable – these are ways in which Christ loves unconditionally and invites us to do the same. This is the rain that falls on the righteous and unrighteous, and how love can be made perfect in us through Christ.

Remember the two worlds I discussed in the previous post? The Realm of Ideal Forms and the Physical World, flawed and incapable of accommodating perfection? Well, enter Jesus. He literally bridged the gap between these two realms of philosophy. A perfect being, sinless and without blame (an IDEAL MAN, from a metaphysical realm), closed the gap by stooping down to an imperfect world, a place of impossible perfection. As Jesus walked this Earth and completed his love by giving up his life for sinners, we not only were offered the chance to be redeemed, but also an additional gift. Perfect love was made possible. The godly love, unchanging and atemporal and unembodied and flawless, was unlocked and given to a world that could never grasp such a lofty offering. Humans, loving with conditional and defective hearts, now had access to a way much greater than their finite and ever-changing feelings. A metaphysical, idealistic, pure love was now reachable.

Christ had access to unimaginable, divine power, yet he CHOSE to enter the Earth in the most dependent, vulnerable, weak form. As a baby, fully dependent on his flawed parents’ choices, his imperfect disciples’ support, and a distorted world’s temptations and disappointments, he became weak. He chose to embrace weakness and emulate it in his walk of life. A God, capable of great power chose to instead withhold it and walk in frailty. Why?

16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.17 Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.

Hebrews 2:16-18

He embraced humanity so he might know us in our own humanity. He chose to be weak so he could understand, empathize, and have compassion on everyone, including the weakest and the poorest. In this way, no one is beyond his reach. Jesus’ intercession on our behalf makes us able to love as he loved, thus enabling us to obey “be perfect.”

In order to join Him in this endeavor to love, we must first acknowledge our inaccurate language of perfection. This means overcoming disdain for weakness. Paul, in 2 Corinthians, exemplifies this distaste for “a thorn in his flesh,” and asks for it to be taken away. He wanted whatever was weakening him to be removed. And God does have the power to. But instead, a more powerful response from our Lord is given.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12: 9-10

Not only is God’s grace sufficient for salvation, but also for perfection. His grace is sufficient for us to love with godly, perfect love that we would otherwise not have. Additionally, his strength is made perfect– his love is made whole– through weakness. Because weakness is inevitable, they make us constantly dependent on God. We are forced, as flawed humans, to go back to our First Love, our Life Source, our Physician. In our physical state, we NEED a doctor. Our weakness demands a savior, and in that, Christ’s love has access to our hearts. If we continued with the perfectionist mindset in the world, then our minds and hearts would tell us that we have it all under control, that our own work and merit will be the way to God’s love, that when we fail, we are bad disciples of Christ. Instead of letting Christ in, we let guilt-ridden lies fill his place. Hating weakness denies Christ access to us. No longer! If weaknesses make me need the Lord and align me with his humility, then AMEN! I must be imperfect for Christ to perfect me.

Christ became the perfect being in an imperfect body, and because of this, we may become even with him. What do I mean by this, exactly?

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 11:29

  He stooped down from Heaven to become the lowest on Earth. He lowered himself from Master to servant, to be even with humanity. This is his gentle and lowly heart manifested in the world.

Christ now invites us to yoke ourselves to him. He is already lowered far enough down so we may be even with him, now we are called to be gentle and lowly in heart, too.

He lifts us up, makes our burden light. He offers to carry our burdens, thus allowing us to carry his. His only burden is love.

If you have never seen a yoke before, let me enlighten you (and also give you a break from reading so much!).

Image result for yoke picture scripture
Here we see the yoke in action. The rules of the yoke are simple: The animals must be alike (same breed, build, size, etc.), they must be right next to each other, and only one can assume the dominant role.

Hopefully this picture ties it all together. The same rules of the animals apply to our walk with Christ. I’ll trust that y’all will be able to put the pieces together and see the parallel. I encourage y’all, as always, to look more in to it yourselves.

But if that’s not enough, let’s take a deeper look in to a real-life example of Jesus stooping down, extending the yoke, and lifting the unworthy up.

but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap,in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Just imagine the woman– shamed and rightfully accused, shrinking back on the ground, naked before the Pharisees. Strewn on the dirt, caught in deep sin.

The teachers of the law – high and mighty with pride, looking down on her with their domineering stance. Blinded by their own perfectionist schema and judgmental ways.

And Jesus, stooping down. Stooping down again, to the level of a sinner. Out of love, he corrects both the prideful and the deprecated. And in that moment, where he is sitting evenly on the ground with the adulterous woman, he evens himself with humanity once more. He has every right to judge, every authority on heaven and earth to harshly rebuke such a person, but instead, he chooses to be gentle and lowly in spirit. He chooses to extend an invitation of a light and easy burden to the undeserving. That is the God who walked among us.

The trick in our walk with Christ is not to become yoked, per say. That’s actually the easiest part! He already did all the heavy lifting, we just had to accept the invitation. No, the trick is to STAY yoked. In staying even with Christ, we remain accessible to his love, and therefore his perfection.

______________________________________ Pharisees (puffed up with pride, self righteousness)

______________________________________ Jesus (remaining meek and lowly in spirit)

______________________________________ Sinners (deprecated by sin and guilt)

Consider this makeshift chart, if you will. Jesus, who remains consistently at the humble level, sets the standard for the yoke we draw to him. Sadly, however, it is impossible to stay even with him for long because WE unyoke ourselves from him when we sin and compare. In our weakness, (which as I stated before, is inevitable), we can detach ourselves from his connection. We tend to fall to the sinner mindset, in which we become self-deprecating and guilty (the adulterous woman before Christ) OR we can become prideful in our walk, in how much we know, and completely puff ourselves up above the call to love mercifully (the Pharisees).

This inevitable weakness may seem discouraging. I write all this and then conclude it with, “but you will not be yoked with Christ for very long.” Kind of a downer, huh? But that’s the perfectionist mindset setting in again. Here’s the thing: no matter how short-lived or brief our evenness with Christ is before we fail, in that time that we were yoked with Christ, WE WERE PERFECT. Not on our own accord, by any means. But in that moment, walking side-by-side with our meek and humble Lord, his love did abide in us, and THAT is to be celebrated. I believe God gives us little victories like that to encourage us, to tell us, “My child, this is possible.” In those little victories with Christ, we rejoice! In the times of weakness, however, we…

Also rejoice! That’s the more difficult thing to do, I know. Everything in us, in me, wants to be good enough, wants to avoid failure, so as to avoid hurt. I said it before, and I’ll say it again – that sin or weakness or failure leads us to greater love.

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2: 3-4

Christ yoking himself with fallen humanity, that kindness, is meant to lead to repentance. This is how we can break the vicious cycle of worldly perfectionism. We accept weakness as reality, strive for excellence in humility, and when we fail, repent and allow Christ to love us even in our worst; allow weakness as an access point for Christ to work. We rejoice that he is a merciful and patient Father, who allows us to become one with him once more, if we so choose. Then, we pick up his burden as he picks up ours, and are once again equally yoked in perfect love with our Lord, fulfilling the command to be perfect as our Father in heaven is.

Now this is a lot to take in; it is definitely one of my more lengthy posts, and I’m still not done! This command is not meant to be taken on alone. In the next post, I will go in to more depth about WHO this command is for. Keep reading!

The Paradox of Perfection: What Perfection is Not (Pt. 1)

eb81e621-5a0a-4154-90e6-049649a816df
Just look at God showing off! This Minnesotan sunrise took my breath away. In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus…and also this awesome display of my Father’s creativity and love.

I have recently agreed to write a review on a book titled, “The Paradox of Perfection: How Embracing Our Imperfection Perfects Us,” by Jeffrey S. Reber and Steven P. Moody. Many of the concepts that I will write about in this post will be from this book, so I definitely recommend giving it a read!  

https://paradoxofperfectionbook.com/

I entered the conference room, answers to the typical interview questions locked and loaded in my mind. I greeted the gentleman standing before me with a smile, firm handshake, and kind remark about his workplace. The interview went well, until the age-old question inevitably snuck up on me – what is a weakness of yours? I froze. What was I supposed to say to that? I work too hard, I care too much? I needed a response– a perfect reply– that masked my shortcomings and concealed my character blemishes with an impressive skill set.

At the root of unwanted weaknesses, puffed up strengths, and expected ideals is the language of perfectionism, ingrained in us all since birth. If you look around you can see it in the smallest messages in our society, the slightest remarks from family members and friends, and even our own unspoken thoughts. The introductory anecdote serves to show, in a metaphorical and relatable sense, how the world speaks the universal language we have all seemed to adopt, in one way or another. The language of perfectionism. 

48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  

Matthew 5:48

Even in the Bible we see the command to be perfect. Not only is the world pressuring flawlessness, but now it seems that God is, too.

If you think about this verse, it can be confusing. If we were perfect as commanded, we wouldn’t need God or his mercy, thus we would have no need for Christ because we would become Christ unto ourselves. On the other hand, if we don’t hold to this teaching, then we are breaking the command directly given to us, thus sinning our way out of connection with God. It seems that whatever way you look at it, this command ends with a severed relationship with our Savior. Why would God command something to deter us away from Him? Or something so unattainable that we fall out of interrelation with him? And there’s the paradox. Either our perfection separates us from the Lord, or our imperfection separates us from the Lord.

Before I go in to what this scripture really means, let me first discuss what it is NOT, in the form of common misconceptions that we tell ourselves and others.

“Perfection is a goal, not an expectation.” I have heard this common phrase before and I’m sure many others have, too. But that’s the thing. Perfection is an expectation. The Bible says “be perfect,” not “strive for perfect,” just as scripture also says “thou shalt not kill,” not “try not to be homicidal.”  If we go by this mentality that “be perfect” is only a mere ideal, then we must apply this to all commands. If we do not, then we are in danger of distorting the Bible and truth, giving way to the questioning of God’s scriptures.

“Come unto Christ and He will perfect you.” The problem with this statement is that we will keep sinning, even after we commit our life to God. How can we keep the command to be perfect if we remain imperfect, even with Christ? Usually, this conjures the response that perfection will come in the end, in the next life, but this only makes “perfect” a goal in this mortal life, falling back to the previous phrase we explored. Not only does it fail to acknowledge imperfections even as a Christian, it makes flawlessness the end goal and diminishes Christ to a short-term mortal placeholder until we can achieve perfection on our own in heaven. It assumes that Christ is only a temporary means to that perfect end.

“All we can do is our best, and Christ will take care of the rest.” I used to like this saying because, honestly, it was catchy and rhymed. But when we say “do your best,” the perfectionist schema sets in and translates this to “do everything right.” Even more than that, this saying suggests that our part in perfection is separate from Christ’s. If we take care of as much as we can physically handle (doing our best) and Christ will take care of his side of things (doing the rest), then perfection, according to this phrase, requires Christ and us to be segregated. And what is our side? Keeping commands that we are incapable of following on our own in the first place?

In Greek, “perfection” was never meant to describe humans or anything of this earth, but instead a metaphysical realm of ideals. The word was coined by Greek philosophers to describe a world that we would never be able to achieve, only imagine.

Realm of Ideal Forms 

  • “Perfection”
  • unchanging, unembodied, atemporal, universal

Physical World

  • inhabited by imperfect things; fallen
  • humans, subject to change and inevitably flawed

As you can see by my makeshift chart, flawlessness cannot exist in our real world. There lies an impassible divide between the realm of metaphysical ideals and of realistic imperfection. If perfection were to be applied to the world in which we live, it would be inevitably crushed. The two worlds contradict each other, therefore they cannot coexist.

Now that you’ve had a mini philosophy lesson, I can go on with why it was necessary to write about. The realm of flawlessness cannot be applied to us; we see this here. It is impossible. The problem? We try to do it anyway. The result of setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others is tantalization, the torment of being able to conceive the ideal self with the mind, but never being able to fully achieve it. (Side note: look up where the word tantalization comes from if you like Greek mythology! It makes the word more understandable than my short definition here!) Think about this for a second. We strive for flawlessness and when we don’t attain it, we become disappointed and haunted by the ideal that is barely within our grasp. Perhaps this is why we are never satisfied; the thing we are striving towards only resides in our minds.

So why, you may ask, is this language of perfectionism so fluently spoken among us? Because it hurts when we fail. As Christians, when we mess up or sin, we become regretful and wish we could undo the error. Our mistakes affect ourselves and others, and it is not pleasant. It feels unforgivable. So to avoid harming our closest friends and family, innocent bystanders, and even our own hearts and minds, we choose to do away with weaknesses altogether, in hopes that our ambition for perfection saves everyone from future pain. Knowing that our foolish or sinful actions have permanent consequences, it is easier to envision an ideal to strive towards than to accept reality that slip-ups will happen and take their toll on the people involved.

This cycle usually has another key component involved. Comparison. When we fall short of flawlessness, and we always do, then it feels like the next best thing is to look around at others who seem further away from excellence than we are. We console ourselves with the failures and weaknesses we see in our brothers and sisters, and use this to build up our own morale and security.

“Well today I struggled with               , but                is struggling with               .”

If this doesn’t sound familiar, honestly, I am happy for you! But I think many of us can relate to a similar mindset or dialogue. In order to make up for the guilt felt in not obtaining excellence, we puff ourselves up by comparing ourselves to seemingly weaker followers of Christ. This can lead to pride and self-loathing, all at once. It is a vicious cycle of falling short, tantalization, consolation with comparisons, and another inevitable mistake that repeats itself when we don’t apply the correct meaning of “be perfect” to our lives.

As I am writing this, I realize that this post has become lengthy, so keep reading Part 2 of this post to learn more about the true meaning of this scripture and how it perfects us!

 

Rest for the Soul

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Ever since it has warmed up, I have spent my leisure time outside reading a book. It has been a great way to relax, except the fact that Iowa can’t make up its mind when it comes to weather. Shorts one day, heated blanket and thermal leggings the next. Classic Midwest.

“If I were your enemy, I’d make everything seem urgent, as if it’s all yours to handle. I’d bog down your calendar with so many expectations you couldn’t tell the difference between what’s important and what’s not. Going and doing, guilty for ever saying no, trying to control it all, but just being controlled by it all instead… If I could keep you busy enough, you’d be too overwhelmed to even realize how much work you’re actually saving me.”

-Priscilla Shirer, “Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer”

Consider this. How many of your pressures, your obligations, your day-to-day tasks that must get done resemble slavery? Slaves work. Slaves don’t relent because they can’t. Slaves have no control.

I’m beginning to see the reality of something I like to call “The Full Agenda Idol.” This idol indeed takes the form of a booked schedule, but it goes beyond the tangible scribbles on a calendar. The Full Agenda Idol surpasses the urge to be busy and get things done, it seeps below the surface of a planner page and into our hearts. Suddenly, when things pile up, we find an odd sense of value in ourselves at the expense of rest. Or worse, when things don’t get done – dinner plans are put on hold, the household schedule gets all messed up, work goes late – the result is more stress than the original matter at hand. And whether things get done or not, we continuously feel a need to find more to add to our plate. Why? Because The Full Agenda Idol convinces us that our identity and worth are in the amount of things we can accomplish in a given day, week, year. It convinces us that “busy” is our new normal and makes us expect nothing less than a go-go-go dynamic. And the Full Agenda Idol does not discriminate. It will use whatever plans we have to drive us crazy and enslave us further. It isn’t limited to just wild parties and nights out on the town to bind us up – it is just as successful (if not, more) in using bible studies, church events, and good, pure things to exhaust us to the point of giving up. It’s not just our generation or society we live in, either. This idol dates way back to the time of the Israelites…

For four-hundred years of bondage and merciless mastery, the Israelites were held captive in Egypt as slaves to Pharaoh. Hard labor was a generational thing — it was expected that their inheritance be enslavement. The rhythms and demands of slavery had been internalized within them from birth. Whatever their taskmasters commanded they would do without hesitation. No arguing, no refusing, no resting. Day in and day out, work ingrained itself into the mentality and hearts of these people.

And then God sent Moses to free them. Just like that, the Israelites were liberated from the only label and practice they had known. I wonder if some grew fond of their lowly position, the only thing that had defined them since forever. Israel was free, but still had the slave mindset. God knew he needed to radically change their perspectives in order to help them embrace their new identities as an emancipated nation. And then came The Sabbath.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20: 8-11

The Hebrew word for Sabbath, shabath, really just means rest, but in a more specific sense, the desisting of doing work or exertion. Rest, in this sense, is the intentional resistance from laboring, choosing to take a day off no matter what things pile up on the ol’ agenda. What God commands in this passage is straightforward: take a day and don’t work. Seems simple enough, right?

But these people had never been extended grace as great as this. “Don’t work?” A foreign concept. Their whole lives had been built around the go-go-go, around the Full Agenda Idol, if you will. Resting was never an option.

You would think that this invitation to take a load off (literally) would have gone over well, that the Israelites would see the love of their God in the command to shabath. It should have been expected that this holy day, set apart from the rest of the work-filled week, would be welcomed with open arms, but the opposite proved to be true.

In Exodus 16, the Israelites directly go against the command of God to refrain from gathering food on the seventh day of the week. Why was it so dang hard for them to take a break? Same reason that it is for us. To some extent, as I mentioned before, we’re slaves just as they were. The reason this command feels so unnatural is because the peace-giving words of God fall on the ears of captives.

15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

Deuteronomy 5:15

God doesn’t want something from us, he wants something for us. Our value is not in what we do, but who we are. Nothing we do will ever be enough, anyway. We are mere humans, stuck in a sinful world with fleshly desires. But we’ve been redeemed, rescued out of the pit of slavery. Now it is up to us to rest in that as a new creation.

This Full Agenda Idol is exhausting. It tires us down and hinders us from seeing the gift of Sabbath, of a spirit-filled rest. The primary purpose of this day of rest is to diminish our devotion to things vying for our attention and refocus our allegiance to God. When we hustle by at one-hundred miles-an-hour, trying to get everything done, we fail to see the peaceful present that the Lord offers.

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Mark 2:27

So what does this look like practically? Is this something we should still observe in the twenty-first century? I think it really comes down to personal beliefs with this. If we are to observe the Sabbath, then we should be able to give our reason for it in full confidence. The same is true if we choose not to honor this. Now obviously, I am biased when it comes to whether or not man should rest on the Sabbath, considering I felt strongly enough to write and share about it. Lemme paint y’all a picture of what this looks like to me…

I work with kids all day long, five days a week at an elementary school. It has been eye-opening, to say the least. God has shown me just how alike I am to these kiddos in my walk with Him, one similarity being crankiness when tired. When the kids show up to class with fatigued and bloodshot eyes, I tell them to take a nap. I know they need the rest that they have missed out on, but the thing is, they fight me on it.

No, Miss Josie! I’m not tired!

I don’t want to!

I’m fine!

I know the truth – these kids need sleep – and so I beg and plead with them to go to a quiet place and just lie down. I’ll use logic and facts, persuasive words of compassion:

Please, (fill in name). You’ll feel better.

Kids need eight hours of sleep a night.

More often than not, they only respond to a terse, upfront direction.

STOP. GO SLEEP.

I can reason and beg with them all I want, but in the end, the kids just need a straightforward command – just like us. How many times do we fight God on the commands he puts in place? No God, I know I should take a break, but (fill in the blank) didn’t get done. I’ll rest when I can afford to. I’ll take a day off when I don’t have so much going on. Sound familiar to the kids’ excuses from above? We put it off, we refuse the gift, and get irritable and frazzled, and then we wonder why we feel so icky the rest of the week. God knows our earthly bodies need a break, a reminder of the eternal rest we will one day enter, and he tells us, even orders us, a prescription of what we need. Shabath.

To me, Sabbath is more than a day to take off and observe God’s deliverance and character, it is a sacrifice. Just as tithe is a tenth of our income, Sabbath is one-seventh of the week dedicated to the Lord. This day of rest is not adding onto the schedule, but taking away. It is a day that can be enjoyed because it’s not just another thing to cross of the to-do list. It is designed to remove the burdens of the week for a short while so we may live life with a mindset of peace and pleasure, practicing a true form of worship by giving up the things that would usually weigh down our task-oriented minds.

To me, it is saying, “Alright, God. I am going to stop what I am doing on the seventh day, admire you and love your law, and then trust that you will take care of the rest of the week and its obligations.” Of course, I can’t always just expect things to get done if I observe Sabbath and don’t make efforts throughout the rest of the week to accomplish my duties. Schoolwork isn’t going to miraculously disappear; the laundry isn’t going to fold itself. So along with a day of anticipated rest, I plan my week around Sabbath.

If I can’t do dishes on Saturday (my personal Sabbath), then that means I need to find time to do that some other time that week. Same goes with every other responsibility of daily living. And after I plan the week out, with meal-prep on Monday, schooling on Tuesday, cleaning on Wednesday, etc., then my week becomes centered on the anticipated day of shabath and even helps me manage my time better.

I’m not saying this is a fix-all solution, that life will get better in an instant if we apply this to our lives. I am definitely not preaching a prosperity gospel, here. The fact of the matter still remains – our lives are going to be turbulent and full of earthly troubles. That’s just the fallen world we live in. But to take time out of the week and intentionally make time to remember, make time to make it holy, that’s gotta be worth something. Right?

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 58:13-14

 

I could provide further commentaries for these scriptures that I included and share about the ways I see them prevalent today, but I encourage you, readers, to look into it yourself. As I mentioned before, Sabbath looks different for each person.

I have been encouraged by Simply Holy Living’s video posts on the Sabbath, linked below.

https://www.simplyholyliving.com/single-post/2016/11/26/Sabbath-Living

In addition, much of the concepts that come from this blog (especially towards the beginning of the post) are from Priscilla Shirer’s book, “Fervent.” Check it out if you want to learn more about strategic prayer and the reality of the spiritual battle among us!

Hoping in a Help That Never Came

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I don’t really play piano that well, but man, it sure is fun to come across one in a cute coffee shop and make believe that I can tickle the ivories.

My sister and I were cruising along on the highway, not a care in the world, until we heard a disastrous sound from the back of the car. Later, on the shoulder of a road in the middle of small-town Illinois, we discovered the reason for the disturbing sound. A blown-out tire.

My sister and I didn’t know what to do, at first. We were on our way to Missouri for a spring break getaway, still eight hours away from our destination, and this was the last thing we expected. Now we were stuck, on the side of the highway, unable to escape or continue on, in desperate need of help. In a silent panic, my sister dialed the insurance company, requesting roadside assistance. After an agonizingly long half-an-hour later, the insurance agent called back, telling us that it would take awhile for her to get through to AAA to see if we qualified for assistance. Our hope in that moment was in a flimsy promise from an insurance company that help may have been on the way. We would later find out that no help would ever come.

Cars flew by, each one shaking our tiny, stagnant sedan. Almost an hour later, our unexpected salvation arrived. A huge pick-up truck pulled up behind us and out stepped an intimidating man, inching closer to the driver’s side of the car. Complete with tattooed arm sleeves, a tight muscle tank (which looked rather small, considering this man’s muscles bulged right through the cloth), and a confident walk (the kind of stride that a cowboy would exhibit in an old western movie), I was scared. Two young and defenseless girls on the side of a highway had every right to be. But this man asked if we needed help. He was our answer to prayer, though I was still apprehensive about accepting it. After all, if roadside assistance was still on the table, then why would I need someone’s help – especially if he was slightly frightening and required more of a risk than AAA did?

Cyle Vance was his name. He was a gravedigger and gun shop owner and, needless to say, this did not add to my comfort in accepting his help. He made small-talk as he put on the spare, though it was not the usual Midwestern, friendly kind of communication. He cursed and mocked us and snickered at his crude jokes, but he still made sure we were taken care of. He was the only one that stopped to offer a hand, after all. Cyle, if you’re reading this, which I can safely assume that you are not, you reflected God to me that day.

Now obviously God did not mock me when he saved me from a place of despair, and that is where my analogy shows its flaw, but roadside assistance called later that day, telling us they were not coming. My sister and I would have been waiting on a help that would never have come. Just as God humbled me out to be vulnerable and desperate enough to accept help on the shoulder of a small-town road, God did the same in a much bigger way through Christ.

We were all stuck (maybe still are) with more than a flat tire, a completely dysfunctional engine, waiting for a help that would never arrive. It sure seemed like it would, too. The promises of the insurance agent seemed convincing, so much so that my sister and I put our hope for a way out in it. I hate to be dramatic in this comparison, but the agent kept us waiting in a place with no escape, just as The Enemy does. He loves prolonging and building on our suffering in keeping us in a desolate place, holding out hope in something worldly and fleeting. Lies bombard us daily, whispering that worldly things have the ability to save us from the side of the road. Sweet, empty promises. A relationship. A good-paying job. Other people’s opinions. Control of our lives. A doctor’s diagnosis. You name it, I’m sure we’ve all misdirected our hope and waited on it with anxious expectation. It can’t save you, though. It won’t. It’s going to call you up and tell you that help was never on the way.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.

Romans 5:6 (NLT)

This is the scripture that comes to mind when I think of the situation my sister and I found ourselves in a couple weeks ago. We needed a fix, not just a tow-away service to prolong our flat tire problem. We needed immediate help. Cyle Vance, though quite a character, personified Jesus to me.

He offered help when no one else would, going as far to meet us where we were at. He responded to our plea for desperately needed assistance. We reaped the benefits of his hard labor and sacrifice. He came at the right time, to a helpless people that needed a way out and a path to a place that offered full renewal.

I truly believe that people, God’s creation, reflect their Maker in their being.

It seems to be inevitable for the masterpieces of God to display His image, even if they are fighting against showing God in their nature. As a painter creates an image that portrays their unique individuality, or a sculptor chisels a statue in the likeness of him, God does the same. Now if these paintings and statues were to come to life and have a free will as we do, would they not still display their Maker? Easily a Christian or disciple of Christ (one who uses their free will to glorify their Creator) can demonstrate the character of their Designer, and I believe just as easily, it can be seen in those who are ignorant to who they really are spiritually. I believe that is what I beheld in Cyle that day – a piece of my God and his loving nature manifested in his splendid creation.

Thank you, Jesus, for showing up at the right time to deliver your powerless, stranded people from a state of hopeless brokenness. You offered a spare tire to get to the repair shop and a means of finding reparation in an undeniably damaged world.