"The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things,
and the God of peace will be with you."
-Philippians 4:9

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In Pursuit of Perfection

WARNING: This is the hashing through of some things God's been working on with me. It is sometimes a bit disjointed. Welcome to the chaos that is my brain...

What is sin, really? How we define it determines how we address it in others - and how we view God's take on it and on us. All of my religious life I've been taught a basic rule: Obedience equals righteousness equals love; disobedience equals sin equals hate. Simple. So I can measure if I'm righteous (pleasing God, measuring up, really love Him) by if I'm being obedient. But I'm not always obedient. In fact, I'm disobedient quite a bit. Which means I'm not measuring up. Which means I'm backslidden. Which means I don't really love Him. Which means I'm guilty. Which means I am condemned. Just ask me; I can tell you that my heart is telling me I'm not good enough - ever. The condemnation is nearly a physical presence. And it's all a logical following from that view of sin based on the proof verses that have been given; primarily the verses that say "If you love me, keep my commandments" and "to obey is better than sacrifice." But...

What if that understanding of those verses is wrong? What if they mean that my love for Him will manifest itself in acts of obedience, not that I need to self-examine and determine to will myself to obey, thereby *proving* my love? What if, in fact, obedience is simply an outgrowth of a loving relationship, a by-product if you will, rather than a self-willed act predicated on my understanding the will of God and turning away from "sinful disobedience" and toward "righteous obedience." Doesn't our very understanding of love recoil at the thought of having to "prove ourselves" to our lover? Doesn't love accept you for who you are and seek mutual service, not some series of hoops through which you must jump to gain its favor? Does love really say "if you don't do what I want you do to, you must not really love me"? If we saw a human relationship run on that understanding, wouldn't we call it "unhealthy" at best or "abusive" at worst? Yet we attribute this to God...and we transfer it to our parenting techique. IF YOU LOVE ME YOU *WILL* DO AS I SAY, AND IF YOU DON'T, YOU PROVE THAT DON'T LOVE OR RESPECT ME AND YOU WILL FACE MY CONDEMNATION.

If I was incapable of offering a perfect sacrifice of blood, how in the world can I be expected to offer a perfect sacrifice of obedience? I'm set up for failure and condemnation by this rule. How does that fit with the verses that say "there is none righteous," or "the Law was added so that trespass might increase"... does that mean that God sets me up for failure? That doesn't seem to gel with Who He says He is or with the whole of the rest of Scripture. Although it *does* make a convenient mode through which large numbers of people can be manipulated into furthering a certain person or group's ambitions or goals. Obey the Spiritual chain of command, voila! You're good enough. Disobey it? Tut-tut... you need to get right with God or get back into submission to His will (as revealed through said chain of command, of course.) And I'm thinking that it leads to the reproduction of lots of "whitewashed sepulchres" who are polished on the outside, but whose hearts are centered on self and whether self measures up rather than on God and loving Him.

However, what if sin's definition is what I read on another blog recently:

"Sin is falling short of perfection. Since we are not perfect, everything we do falls short. Thus, everything we do is in some way sinful....Debating forever about whether something is sinful or not is indeed long and tedious."

What if sin is, indeed, simply the missing of the mark of perfection. What if that military term is what it means, pure and simple - nothing more, nothing less. Just slotting your arrow, aiming as best you can at the target, drawing back the bowstring with all your strength, retaining as steady a hand as you can manage, letting fly,... and missing. What if, before the foundation of the world, the Creator *knew* that the creation couldn't hit that mark. What if that's why the Lamb was slain BEFORE THE FOUNDATION? This seems to gel better with Who He says He is and what He says my relationship to Him is. He says that apart from Him I can do nothing. He says that all of my righteousness is as filthy rags. He KNOWS that I can't hit perfection to save my life. That's why He saved my life for me. That's why He sacrificed Himself from the beginning. That's why He says that sin was in the world already before the Law (we didn't measure up before we ever realized that we didn't measure up.) That's why He sent the Law to reveal my need to me and the Messiah to fulfill the Law for me. That's why He says that there is no condemnation in Him; what is there to condemn? I just can't do it on my own - the created cannot attain being the Creator. No condemnation there, just truth. I'm good, but I'm not *that* good. And He doesn't *expect* me to be. What He wants - what He desires me to obey - is that I love Him for Who HE is. That I accept that I can't be Him, relax in being who I am, and let Him provide the lack. That our relationship bind us together as one, He the undeniably stronger partner, and that I rest and revel in that love, returning it as I am able through doing what would please Him rather than trying to *compete* with it and prove that I can be as good as He can.

So, what is it that would please Him? Do I need to cull the Scripture for a listing of activities in which I must involve myself? Attitudes which I must adopt? Or did He really mean what He said: that the whole of the Law and the Prophets hangs on two simple things - Love God and Love People. Can it really be that simple? Can it be so easy to individualize to my own talents and interests? Can my relationship with Him be just that - mine - and not have to look like anybody else's who has different talents, interests, and strengths? Can He really be able to love me, and you, and everybody else, for who we are? Can He complete me where I'm incomplete, and you where you are incomplete, and accept our love in the ways that we can exhibit it? Even if it's different from one another? Even if it isn't perfect?

And can we pass that kind of love on to our own kids? Can we accept them for who they are, love them and help to fill in their gaps, without condemning them for being incomplete and in need of a Messiah, too? Can we be patient with where their gaps coincide with our own and we both need the intervention of our Creator? Can we accept the love they can give in the manner in which they can give it and not bat it aside as not quite as perfect as we'd hoped? Can we accept their obedience as an outpouring of their love rather than demanding it as a proof of it? Can we accept their disobedience as a sign that they're as much a created thing as we are ourselves? And can we use it as an opportunity to introduce them to the Creator who loves them and knows they miss the mark and provided for them before the foundations of the world?

Or will we continue the cycle of predictable failure? And predictable depression? And predictable turning away from a god they can never please?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Torn

I'm feeling terribly torn right now. I want to know but I want no part of it. I'm hurting for my friends but I don't want to take up offenses of others.

What am I talking about, right?

Some background:
I recently spent a little over a week in Texas with a dear friend and her family as they celebrated the marriage of their firstborn. It was a whirlwind of a time full of the event itself, prep, cleanup, visiting and laughing in-between, getting to literally live their lives with them for a week (how fun to get a glimpse -- and whew! I thought we were busy!!). It was such a blessing to be there. To get to talk to them face-to-face after two years of absence. To play with their kids. To share some of the joys and hurts they're going through. Loved the time.

But...it also held a few surreal moments for me. You see, it also put me in a position to attend the church that we left when we decided to leave full-time vocational ministry. My eldest son basically grew up there and was anxious to attend the youth group so he could see his old friends. When that possibility came up, the second son asked if they still had the AWANA program he had enjoyed. Son #3 didn't really remember much and has little to no interest in organized class settings, but the minute a playground was mentioned, he was up for going. The little princess is a social butterfly and wanted to go make new friends, too (it was so cute watching her play with some of the other "Hurricane Rita" babies - they're all so grown up now!). Of course, this was brought up a little more than an hour before said activities were to take place, so another whirlwind ensued getting everyone ready to go.

I was nervous at best. I didn't want to hold my kids back from their friends but I also had some serious reservations about going back to that setting. Would I be able to stand in the freedom I've found without becoming condemning toward my brothers and sisters in Christ who have remained in that organization? Would I feel like I had to explain myself? How would I answer the "so what church are you guys at now" question...or the "where's Dan ministering" question... it's easy with folks who haven't lived the history with us but these folks had. And some of them were a little unhappy with us when we left. Some of them had judged our motivations incorrectly, disagreed with our decision, and really didn't bother to take the time to know us well enough to realize the truth. Some of them I knew loved us and would take us as we were...but what about the others? Some of them I loved and would embrace freely...but what about those whose actions and words had hurt me? It's one thing to forgive a thousand miles away...would I find old grudges rising up in my heart or had the healing really been effective? I prayed as I dressed the kids, dressed myself, and headed out. Our God is awesome.

Ben, my eldest, sat in the front seat of the car with me. He knew I was nervous - and he knew why. We've had open conversations with him about things. Sometimes he's a pretty insightful kid. When we were almost to the church, he turned, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "Mom, listen. God's encouraging you. It'll be fine." I was puzzled but then realized he was turning up the song on the radio that I hadn't really clued in on. David Crowder's "I am free" was playing. Go God. And Go, Ben. Thanks, kiddo.

We went to the church that night and I was so blessed. Hugs and great conversations with old friends. Granted, a few sideways glances from some folks...the very ones I'd expected them from. But I found that the healing had indeed held true. I wasn't surprised by their coldness, I found my assessment of their take on things to be exactly what I had expected...but I wasn't personally hurt by it; I wasn't angered by it. I was a little saddened by it because there is no way I can possibly correct their view of myself and my husband. There is no way I can make myself acceptable to them or cause them to understand my point of view and agree to disagree. In the face of that knowledge, though, I was able to say "it is what it is" and move on and truly enjoy fellowship with some of the others there. When we returned for Wednesday service, I was able to fellowship with more of my family in TX and worship our Father with them. It is still not a setting to which I wish to bind myself again but I have found that when I am in it, I can freely love my extended family and freely worship my God. It's awesome to test the limits of His grace and healing and find them boundless.

So...why am I torn?

Since I've returned home, snippets of communication have come to my notice that prove that all is not well in that church. Hurtful things are happening to people I care about. I don't know the details. I haven't recieved any direct communications about it. It's just kinda swirling out there on the edge of things within my view. I don't know who is behind the hurt. I don't know specifically who all is targeted. But I know that people I love are being hurt. And the defensive, loyal, protective side of me wants to know who the culprit is, what exactly they've done, who has been affected, and set it all to rights. But I know I can't fix it. Deep down, I know that it's probably not good for me to know the details because my tendency would be not to pray for healing (at first) but to take up the offenses of the hurt party and sit the offending party down for a good talking-to. *sigh*

It is things like this that make me so thankful that I am free from living in that setting. Yet, it is things like this that make me want to still have some insight into what's happening in that setting so that I can help my friends. It is things like this that bring me to the point of decision...do I really believe that I can do anything more for my friends than our mutual Father can do? Do I want to surrender my freedom to become embroiled in the bondage of my past "for the sake of friends"? No on both counts. I find myself resigned to fight for my friends in this battle in the only way I know how: by lifting them up before the Father.

May He protect you. May He bind your wounds and be the balm of Gilead to you. May He guide your footsteps and keep you from falling. May He guard your tongue and keep you from being ashamed. May His love superceed your enemy's hatred. May you stand in the Truth and be kept safe from harmful lies. May you face battle with the Armor and Host of God Almighty and find respite in your Rock and Fortress. May you know, through it all, that you are beloved.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

It's a Personal Thing

The situation in Haiti has become of personal interest to Dan and I because of relationships with his co-workers. Some of you may not be aware, but Disney World is run with a large population of Haitian workers. It is so great a population that all employment documents are printed in 3 languages: English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole. The effect of this earthquake - it's devastation to entire families - is heart-wrenching. Disney has effectively offered amnesty to any Haitian nationals for days off of work; they are calling in daily and there are no reprimands at all as they try to spend their time tracking down family. Communications have been difficult at best.

One of Dan's coworkers has heard nothing about her family, but chooses to come in to work anyway rather than sit idly in her apartment worrying. Another has had her uncle call in for her every day since the tragedy because she is so distraught; her friend in Haiti was able to send her news that she has likely lost her *entire* family. Their apartment building collapsed and they can find none of them. Grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, neices, nephews, brothers, sisters - all shared 3 apartments in the same building and none can be found. To her knowledge, her only remaining family is the uncle with whom she moved to the United States. Hers is not an isolated incident. Those who have lost family have lost great numbers of family.

And the effects do not end there. Port-Au-Prince is the supply center for the entire nation. As its infrastructure has collapsed, the outlying areas find attaining food and fuel - basic necessities - to be near impossible. My friends, I find myself wondering what one person can do in this mess. Will the monetary donations make it into the right hands? If supplies are purchased, can they be delivered? What can be done?? And what difference will it make? I don't honestly know. I find myself remembering the words of another missionary in Kenya, Johnny Brooks. He says that he went there with big visions of ending poverty, changing the world. And over time, he realized that he could only touch one life at a time.

Can we fix it all? Can we make it all better? No. We can't. Not for everyone. But we *can* use the connections that we personally have, the resources that we personally have, and we can use them to help in the small place to which we have access. It won't fix everything. But it will minister Christ's love in the place He can use us. It may seem small. But think about the times when someone who could touch you helped in a seemingly small way. It made a difference *to you* didn't it? Maybe that's what it's about. Not one person tackling the whole big world of problems, but one person reaching one other person.

On that note, let me introduce you to the small place to which *I* have access:

Good Shepherd Ministries is led by a family - the Youngers - that I knew from my teen years on. I babysat their kids (and their pit bull who was such a teddy bear!), watched them train them up in the love of the Lord, and, along with them, heard many presentations from the organization they now lead in Haiti during my growing-up years. After I had married and moved away, they chose to become full-time missionaries in Haiti with the missions group that had presented so many times in our church. Good Shepherd has been operating in Haiti since the 1970's, providing schools, orphan care, medicinal care, and living the love of Christ. The Youngers were not in-country at the time of the earthquake, but you can read of their ongoing work there, ways that you can help, and the people that they already have on the ground at this time. There are far-reaching consequences to the entire country from this earthquake, and Good Shepherd is uniquely positioned to help even in out-lying areas of Haiti beyond the Port-au-Prince area.

Please be praying for the Youngers, their staffers, and their families. Take a look at their website and decide if maybe theirs is a ministry that you are led to support. Find the small thing you can do to touch the other life you can touch.