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)

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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.

Be Who You Are — Free

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My grandparents’ piano – now only used occasionally by my talented mom who can manage to play a song on this out-of-tune instrument. Also, it makes for a pretty picture:)

Picture this:

The scene is a musty old prison, and in one cell sit two inmates. They have committed different crimes but are still sentenced to the same punishment – the death penalty. There is no hope for someone to bail them out; instead, the captives sit in their warranted guilt. As they await the day that death will come, the torment of confinement eats away at them. Bereft of salvation, all that is left to linger is inevitable fear and psychological torment. The four peeled walls around the convicts are all they know. Incarceration is the new normal, hammered into their corrupt minds.

One day, as the two inmates pace their enclosed space with increased anxiety, a man whom no one had seen before walks up to the cell and unlocks the door. With the click of the latch, the detainees are free. Though they are at fault for multiple felonies, they are liberated from the prison cell. No charge or fee. No loopholes. Free at last from the confines of the jail they were held captive in. One inmate bursts forth, rushing out of the stale room with overwhelming eagerness to begin a life of emancipation. The other inmate, though, shows hesitation in escaping the room he had grown fond of. Freedom was enticing, but not as comfortable as the prison that he has inhabited for years.

The image I have tried to paint is somewhat related to my recent studies of Romans. I have only read up to Chapter 7 at the moment, but there is still so much to unpack from these few pages! If you haven’t figured it out, this story was meant to show a small representation of Jesus’s offering of freedom. Yes, we are the captives and Jesus is our rescuer, saving us all from certain and deserved death. And what a thing to celebrate! Can we just sit in awe of that for a second?

In Romans 6:18, it says that we have been set free from sin and made slaves to righteousness. The lock has been broken, the door is wide open, and we should dash out from the hold of death and into a life of grace! This seems so simple to me – freedom should result in joyous liberation, far from the cell that held us in for so much time. And maybe some of us have done just that. Still, others remain inside, more comfortable with the life that leads to death rather than an opportunity at a fresh start. Of course, it’s sad to think that the gift of salvation is in front of some, and they still choose not to be released, but let me paint you another picture.

Remember the first prisoner, who ran out the door at the first chance he got? Well, he chose freedom, as many of us have (AMEN), but the thing that many people don’t take into account is that though he is unbound from the shackles of death, the freed man still has the mindset of a prisoner. Just because fatality is no longer a threat does not mean that the first inmate’s mind has transformed. The habits of freedom aren’t ingrained in his new life of liberation. Yet.

As you read further on in this book, though, this is what Paul talks about in Romans 6:11-14 – how to live a transformed life of freedom! This is how God transforms our prisoner minds to that of a freed man.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Let’s unpack this, shall we?

“Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Just as God counts you alive in Christ Jesus, count yourself as such! See your identity as God sees it. One way I’ve noticed that Satan can get a foothold is to convince others not to count themselves as alive or free. Although we are delivered by the grace of Christ, Satan can fog over the truth with warped lies, attacking our view of ourselves with falsehood. Our identity is victory in Jesus, and the Enemy wants nothing more than to distract us from the fact that he already lost. We already won because Jesus won. Before these few verses, Paul talks about how we are able to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through baptism. If we have died with Christ, then we live with Christ. And if Jesus defeated death, so have we. Paul, in this sentence, is saying “Hey, look at that. Who you are is free, now BE free.”

“Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness…”

Your mouth, your eyes, your ears, and EVERY part of our body should refrain from fighting in favor of evil. They are weapons, and we must choose to utilize them to disable sin, not encourage it. Offering ourselves to the Enemy is offering ourselves to our own destruction and the demolition of others. The wages of sin is death, and letting Satan use a part of us for his evil purposes only results in ultimate devastation. We are to abstain from being instruments for the losing side.

“offer yourselves to God…”

It is not enough to take away the weapons from sin and wickedness, but now we must offer them to God. Our bodies are now enlisted to services of righteousness. A good example of this can be found in Exodus 29:20, in which the sacrificial blood of a ram is applied to the ear, thumb, and big toe of the person offering up the sacrifice. This blood on the various parts of the body were meant to show that these members belonged to God and were to be used for his glory alone. In the same way (though definitely not literally!), we are called to offer our body as a living sacrifice to God.

“as those who have been brought from death to life…”

When I think about offering myself to God as someone who has been resurrected, immediately I think to myself what all this entails.

  • This means we are made new and declared/seen as such.
  • Naturally this would bring about an overwhelming sense of gratefulness for new life, leading to genuine worship and giving thanks for liberation.
  • Along with gratefulness, humility would be present. Nothing we have done has freed us from the bondage of sin and death. Only by the grace of God are we able live anew.
  • And I’ll say it again so the truth will be rooted in your hearts – WE HAVE A PROMISE OF VICTORY. We are able to share in a victory that Jesus won over death!

If we really believe in this victory, we will act in accordance to it. We will not be the prisoner who stayed back behind bars at-will and neither the man that was stuck in the ways of a prisoner’s mentality, even after physical escape. Instead, we will reflect Romans 12:1-2 as warriors of truth and righteousness, living in God’s glorious light.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.