Thursday, February 25, 2016

Good Enough

When I discovered that the opportunity for free ice climbing was happening the same weekend as our youth retreat, the realization began to sink in.  God was providing a hands on illustration for the lessons we would be teaching.  Because He's amazing like that.

All my life I've struggled with the idea that I must try and try to be a good Christian, for I thought that only then would God turn His face toward me in favor.  Oh, I don't mean working for my salvation, (which comes only by faith in the work of Christ on the cross), but once saved, working to be an acceptable person according to the expectations of Scripture.  The bar was raised high and through discipline and self-denial I aimed to reach it. However, striving for goodness is harder than it looks, much like climbing ice walls.

Some students clamored quickly to the top, determined to conquer. And so it is with life.  The compliant or competitve personalities thrive under self-discipline.  Goodness seems effortless.  We dish out praise for a job well-done, when in reality, it is only a performance of natural strength.

Other students struggled.  They couldn't quite figure out how to dig their toe into the ice or didn't have the strength to thrust the axe such that it would catch the frozen surface.  And I thought about those students who resist being good.  Their adventursome personality must always push the buttons and test the limits.  Rules cause them to bristle and compliance is detestable.  Is Christianity all about outward conformity to a set of rules which we have determined are good?  I think not, and yet when we, as adults, hammer and pound for outward behavioral change, this is the message they often receive.

In reality, Christianity is about life in Christ, abundant and joyful. The heart is what matters, for authentic living flows only from the inside out. We can conform the outward person all we want, but until the heart is in the right place, outward conformity is temporary and results in either thinking less of ourselves in dejection, (failure), or more of ourselves in pride, (achievements).  Our own image then becomes the primary focus, an emphasis on self, which cripples our ability to overcome and thrive in love toward one another.

However, at the change of the seasons, every bit of ice, all our own goodness, melts away and comes crashing down. And where does that leave us?  At the foot of the cross, clinging only to our Savior, the bare rock on which we stand. His righteousness, not our own.  Most assuredly, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, and when God looks at us, He sees, not our filth, but the holiness of Christ.

There comes a point in life when the weight of all those expectations pushes us under and we are left helpless. The realization that we can never work hard enough and never be good enough sinks into our being and we cry out to Jesus.  He alone saves and sustains us.  He alone gives the power to live free.

I am so very thankful that in Christ, there is freedom, not bondage.  But this freedom comes only as I surrender to God's terms.  I know, it sounds, once again, like rules.  Yet, the difference lies in the attitude of my mind. No longer do I strive to attain a goodness which God will accept, but rather, I align my will to God's, and through obedience, work out in my practice what He has already worked into my heart.  I live by His strength, not my own, for He Himself says,"my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  (Matt. 11:30)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hearty Branches

I sheepishly raised my hand and looked around the room in disbelief.  Was I really the only one among 35 women who had traits of the lion personality?  As the leader went on to describe some of the not so desireable characteristics I wanted to crawl through a crack in the floor. Harsh. Direct. Was I really those things?

Most of the women fell in the nurturing golden retriever category, some among the fun loving otters, and the rest of them busy beavers. I found some solace in the fact that I also had strong beaver traits. Yet, as I thought about it, what could be more cold and uncaring than a lion/beaver combo?

I've always known that my nurturing was never high on the charts.  If the kids scraped their knee or threw up in the night, it was usually my husband who came to their rescue, not me. He always did the doctoring and consoling for the family.  And yet, over the last few years I've carried a deep desire to shepherd, to mentor and encourage, and so somewhere, there must be a smidget of golden retreiver in me.

Not long ago, I finished a study on the four gospels and one thing stood out to me.  Whenever Jesus faced the crowds, He was moved with compassion.  And I thought, "What is it that moves me?"  It was then I realized how often I am moved with a critical spirit, or moved with fear, or even pride. How many times have I been motivated to set things right, but done so in a prickly, harsh, uncaring manner?

With Valentine's Day in our recent memory, I thought it appropriate to write about my phrase for the year, and that is this: to be moved with compassion.  You may have noticed that this blog has been silent for a time.  This is because my energies have been spent elsewhere, but that is not all.  I felt some of my writing was sprinkled with judgment and carried a superior tone.  I thought that I dare not write lest I say the wrong things.

When a large truck parked in front of my house, it broke off some of the branches to my tree.  This branch sat on my yard all winter.  It was bare, exposed, and unsightly.  As I began to plan a Valentine Tea for our young girls, I needed an idea for table centerpieces.  With a little help from pinterest, it came.  I ran out to my yard and with great enthusiasm, snatched up that large branch, breaking off the smaller limbs.  I set them in decorated canning jars and performed some hot glue magic.  The transformation was amazing!  Those branches, so cold and dismal, began to pop with color!

It was then that the spiritual picture began to unfold before my eyes.  What I needed was not a change in my personality . . . but a change of heart.

I know you've heard the phrase, 'better to have tried and failed than to have never tried.'  It is so easy to let fear motivate our lives.  But "perfect love casts out fear."  (1John 4:18)  And so I do not hide in a corner, but rather, venture out into the great unknown, seeking to honor God with my life, even if that means I must be vulnerable and risk failure. And this, all because of love.

I don't want to be annoying in the lives of others, a clanging gong or a crashing cymbal. Yet, if left to myself this is where I fall.  And so this year my purpose, my goal, is to be moved with compassion, to let love motivate my thoughts, attitudes, and actions, to be a hearty branch plugged into the source of love, Jesus Himself.

And isn't that true for each of us?  Every personality has its strengths and weaknesses. Yet, God made us on purpose with our own unique temperment. Our life in Christ is not meant to squelch our personalities, but rather meant to work together with others so we might contribute to the whole. In this way, we grow and become balanced. Blessing results. Culturally, some are more accepted than others, but in God's eyes, each has a purpose and comes down to this one base denominator--love for God and love for one another.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal...And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love."  1 Cor. 13:1,13