Saturday, May 24, 2008

Constrained by Grace

Freedom is a word that is highly prized in our society, and for good reason. When we look at countries whose governments unduly restrict freedom we realize the despair that can occur when control is consolidated in the hands of a few. Freedom gives people opportunity and in opportunity progress grows.

Despite our love of freedom, considered thought will demonstrate that we want some barriers to be in place. Even the staunchest libertarians usually argue for some laws for without them lawlessness ensues. True freedom needs boundaries, otherwise people's basest desires rules and anarchy consumes culture.

The acknowledgment that freedom begets boundaries does not provide a lot of comfort to those who struggle with Christ because they want to be in control of their life. A life lived in denial to oneself and in pursuit of Christ's will necessarily means that freedom is restrained. We are no longer able to do what we desire because we seek to do what He desires. In doing so, we give up limitless freedom in exchange for limitless grace.

Therein lies the conundrum that so many people find insurmountable. The freedom that is sacrificed is not sacrificed to a dictatorial god. Instead the boundless blessings of grace compels us to live a life that is subservient to Another's will. Just as many of us give up the freedom to do what we want to do when we go to work for another, the benefits that grace affords causes us to live a life that is no longer dictated by our desires. In our human relationships, we will go to sporting events, watch TV shows, and shop at the mall because the person that we are in love with finds these things enjoyable. By the same token, we don't life our live however we want because grace that has beget love prompts us to live according to the things that Christ enjoys.

Maybe Robert Robinson said it best in the words to Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, a classic hymn with renewed popularity:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

May His grace prompt each of our hearts to love the things He loves, and to pursue His kingdom eternally.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Lessons in Leaving

As some of you know, today is a day of transition for me. I am leaving one career to start another and the flood of emotions that I've experienced is something that is foreign to me. I'm very blessed to love my job so in leaving there isn't a feeling of release. Instead, I leave knowing that I leave something great for something that I also love and that I feel called to do. In that, I believe that this new adventure will also be characterized by greatness.

However, in leaving, there are many things that I've learned. As I'm accustomed to doing, I thought I'd share at least some of those lessons with you:

1. Everything you do creates an impression - even those moments that in your mind were fleeting anomalies. The reaction to frustration that seemed so necessary at the time rarely is, but its what people tend to remember. Respond in the way that you want people to remember you by. Let that which you want to characterize you guide your interactions.
2. People respond to departures in all sorts of way - laughter, denial, anger and sadness. Processing these varied emotions can be a challenge which is why its good to take account of not only your leaving but the entire time of your stay. A few days shouldn't be the memory that sticks with you - look at things from the entire journey, and assess your time accordingly.
3. Just like we tend to improve our house when we're getting ready to sell it, we tend to wait until someone leaves to let them know what they meant to us. This is silly. Next days aren't guaranteed in any aspect of life. Let people know how they've contributed to your life immediately upon recognizing it. Then, regrets will be alien and appreciation abound.
4. People never believe that you will stay in touch when you move on. If you do so, you have a friend for life because they know that your relationship is no longer a matter of convenience but a choice of considered action. People want to know that you're not leaving them even if your place of employment is different.
5. Loving what you do is a rare gift. Loving the people that you get to work with far rarer. I'm extremely blessed to have both be true.

To all those who I will no longer rightfully call "colleagues," it is my sincere desire to always call you friends.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Blessed Beyond Measure

It's been tradition for me to write a blog on my birthday. This tradition was neglected this year due to a crazy schedule. However, traditions last because there is value to them. So although this is a few days late, I still want to take the opportunity to write my thoughts on the previous 366 days. It a time to recall the lessons learned and the opportunities that lie ahead.

I believe that the word that most characterizes this past year is "blessed." Indeed, my life is an example of how gracious our Heavenly Father is because He has given more far more than even love would allow. The life of forgiveness and love that He bestows on me not only exceeds what I deserve, He's taken the punishment that is rightfully mine and given me goodness instead. Blessed is the only word that I think can adequately describe this exchange.

Lest anyone think that life has all been sunshine and roses for me this past year, let me quickly correct that misperception. There's been hurts and tears, pain and discipline. Yet in these blessings that He's given me so far surpasses these momentary inconveniences that as I reflect back its hard to remember what those hard. His goodness is far greater than any single event that can take place on this Earth.

And that's perhaps the greatest lesson I've learned. The things that happen to me now are temporary. Stressing over a bad time or a ill-thought word is scarcely worth it. The joy of what lies ahead is enough to compel me to forget these trivialities. A year later its hard to recall them even with effort. Learning to life each day with a recount of the blessings bestows puts all else in perspective. When looking at this life from Heaven's perspective, its difficult to be too concerned with the challenges that this world affords.

Instead, I look at my life, and I know that I'm blessed.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Righting Wrongs

One of the greatest roadblocks that face people confronted with the Gospel is if God is good why does He let bad things happen to good people? Of course, usually the person asking this question is thinking of a particular someone who they believe is good and didn't deserve the bad things that befell them. Attempting to comfort them with the fact that the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous usually doesn't work. They want to understand why their particular loved one had to suffer.

An attempt to answer this particular question has been made previously and I won't attempt to do so here again. However, a conversation that I had recently brought this question up again. Having tried to address the broader question, the conversationalist made it more specific; "if Jesus says we are to love our enemies, why did God command Israelites to go to war with their's? Isn't this a contradiction in God's character?" I faltered and my response was less than adequate, however I promised I would consider the question further. I knew one thing though - it wasn't a question of God's character, it was a question of my understanding. God's character is consistent, my understanding of it, not so much.

Having done what I promised, this is what I believe. Rebellion to God is rooted in pride. Pride considers oneself greater than others and so when we are wronged, we attempt to correct the injustice done against us. When we love our enemies, we are acknowledging that any sin committed against me is really sin against God and it is therefore His to avenge. When Jesus (and God) commands us to love our enemies His reminding us that we too were His enemies and it is only through His sacrificial love that we were able to have a relationship with Him and a place in heaven. Therefore, who are we to met out personal justice to others?

However, there are times that God uses us and bestows leadership upon others - in the form of government, church leaders, and other authority - to be instruments of His work and distributors of His justice. The Israelites weren't commanded to go to war in order to avenge the justice done against them; they were told to fight so that God's justice could be manifest. This is a rightly established process that God has established to get a society functioning. He places people in positions of authority to do His work. As followers of Him, we're to follow rightly and godly authority that He has established.

It hopefully goes without saying that a thousand clarifications could be added to this brief synopsis. We are not required to follow the acts of a despot just because they have hijacked a position of authority. Evil men are instruments of their own desires, not God's. But just because a godly system has been corrupted, doesn't mean that the principle, when rightly established doesn't stand.

The ironic part of all this is that we are more likely to fight against the injustice done to us personally than to correct the offense against God which permeates our world. The disparity lies in our character, not God's.

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Better Things Ahead: May 2008

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Better Things Ahead