Thursday, January 28, 2010

Defined by Love

What’s a definition? If you’re like me, a definition is something that I seek when I lack understanding. That’s because a definition gives meaning, context and substance. When we say that we are defined by something then, it means it creates meaning, context and substance in our lives. In other words, if you want to understand someone, seek to understand what defines them.

In His Scripture, God is generous with descriptions of Himself. He is “love”. He is the “way, truth, and life.” He is a refuge, shield, and fortress. He provides these descriptions because they help us finite creatures, begin to understand an infinite God. Just like a dictionary’s definition, they engender meaning, context and substance.

Scripture is also very clear as to what should define Christians. “They shall know your disciples by your love.” In other words, if you want to make meaning out of a Christian’s life – you should be able to do so through the love they have for other believers. The context of a Christian’s life –the overall atmosphere in which they operate – that too should be characterized by love. The substance, i.e. the nature, of a Christian’s life should be actionable service demonstrated through love. Love should be what defines us, not only in our own hearts, but in the eyes of everyone who encounters us.

Loving like this is not easy. However, as a former boss used to say, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Let us be defined by love, and in doing so may we be more like the One who is love.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Disappointed with Disciples

Ask a hundred people who grew up going to church why they stopped attending, and you might hear a wide variety of answers. However, throughout your inquiry, you will in all likelihood consistently find one theme – at some level or another, they abandoned their institution of organized religion because of some type of disappointment with others who claimed the same religious beliefs. Usually this accusation falls under the headline of “hypocrisy” and the outcomes of this charge can often be severe. After al, if you can’t trust those who you regularly attend church with to be consistent in living out their beliefs, whom can you trust?

The answer of course, is Christ, for He is the One that our trust should be in to begin with. As much as the Bible calls us to love and to serve other believers, it is also clear that we are only to rely on and trust them in as much as they follow Christ (See I Corinthians 11:1.) When they don’t, we should pray for them and encourage them but our commitment to our Savior should not be vanquished. Followers are not the Master and when we treat them as one in the same, it is a guarantee that disappointment will soon follow.

It’s amazing how quickly we make this distinction in other parts of our lives. I, for instance, am a Dallas Cowboys fan (much to the chagrin of many in my family.)  Whether it's Romo inexplicable botching the hold for a field goal kick, or a player being arrested…again, my affection for the team isn’t contingent on how one individual member of the team performs. In the same, but much holier, way, neither should my dedication to Christ. My faith is in Him alone, and that’s a faith that will never disappoint.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Good Gifts

We’ve just wrapped up in the penultimate season of gift giving. A common discussion after Christmas is reflecting upon what we have received with others. We compare our gifts with what we hope to receive and contrast them with the gifts we gave. Perhaps one of the reasons we do so is that we want to see how much reality reflects our hopes – whether the items on our “wish list” actually made it into our living rooms.

James 1:17 tells us of the gifts that God gives – or more specifically the types of gifts that God bestows on us. “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” writes the author, reminding us that nothing we have received which is good comes from any other sources. God gives good gifts and for those of us who have grown up in the church, acknowledging Him as the giver of that which is good is fairly common practice. It is the reason why we pray before meals (or at least it should be) and the reason we exclaim, “praise God” when good news is received.

It is however, important to recognize that the gifts that God gives are good beyond just their inherent worth. They are good, because they reflect some part of God’s character.  Reflect back on the gifts that you’ve recently thanked God for. Do they not reflect His mercy, His forgiveness, His love or His generosity? Isn’t there some part of Him that is reverberated through these blessings?

Similarly, when faced with bad situations, these circumstances not only often compel us to seek our Father and therefore drive us into a deeper relationship with Him, but they also remind us of the pain, despair, and destitution of live without God. They too are a reflection, a reflection of what we’ve been saved from.

May we continue the practice of regularly thanking God for the gifts He’s given. And may we do so not just because we enjoy or delight in the gift, but because they demonstrate the holy character of the Giver.


Thanks for the Reprimand

My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves,  as a father the son he delights in.  - Proverbs 3:11-12

In the syllabus I give to each of my classes, there is a section called "student responsibilities." Under this title,  I remind every individual in my class that they are responsible for the choices that they make, and for accepting the consequences of those choices prior to making their decisions. For example, if you plagiarize in my class, you receive a zero on an assignment and the administration is notified of the violation to the academic honor code. If you miss class, you are unable to earn participation points. Because I tend to be a planner  (and because I've been through several semesters of teaching), included in the syllabus is a pretty thorough list of the choices that students might make and what will happen as a result. The reason I do this, and enforce the policies I've outlined, isn't because I am mean. It's because (as I tell them) I want them to realize that it's better for them to learn that there are consequences for their actions in the relative safety of school, then when it "really counts" in their career. In other words, I do it because I care about their future and who they become.

I'm reminded that these are the same reasons that God is consistent with His discipline towards His followers.  His Word has clearly given us the directives for life, and just like Adam and Eve, we are without excuse when we choose to not follow the directions. The fact that at times, we suffer consequences for this disobedience is God's design of bringing us back to Him.  The hope, just like my hope for my students, is that we will recognize the error of our ways and return to make choices that honor Him.

(A quick note - this isn't to say that all bad things are punishment for our actions. For more on my take on the "problem of evil", please click here.)

Which brings me to the point of this little excursion, if the purpose of discipline is to bring me back in alignment with God, then when I recognize that I'm experiencing His correction, shouldn't my response be one of thanks? He could let me continue along my own, forsaken path, but instead, the consequences He allows, prompt me to return to Him? What is more evidence of His grace that even when I rebel, He desires to bring me back into relationship with Him?

Saying thanks when I receive a godly reprimand isn't an easy thing to do, but that doesn't mean it's not the right thing.

What tips do you have to rightly respond to God's correction?


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"I Am The King"

Recently, it was reported that Prince William and Prince Harry's first official painting had been unveiled. Looking at these two young princes, it is easy to see why they are acclaimed. They embody everything that we've come to expect about royalty from the tragic family, the youthful excess, to the life of privilege that few of us can relate to, let alone understand.

Although we may not be able to comprehend the life in which every earthly thing seems to be at our fingertips, it doesn't stop us from believing that we too deserve special treatment. Sure, most of us may not ever voice this claim, but it is readily apparent when we are bumped from "our" flight, when someone else takes the last chocolate we were craving, or when something, anything, doesn't go the way that we expected.

Yet, unlike Prince William and Prince Harry, our claims are unsubstantiated. And, despite their birthright, in truth, even the royal highnesses don't deserve the favors that have been granted. Because of our sin, we are entitled to nothing but death and discipline. The fact that God in His grace gives us good things on Earth is a representation of His character, not of our worthiness. We want to be granted special allowances, but the fact that God provided a way to restore our relationship with Him through His Son, is really more than we should really hope for.

In Southern California, there was a television salesman who used to proudly proclaim his dominance in his store's selection, by exclaiming, "I am the king." When I demand things of God - gifts that I think I'm entitled to, experiences that I desire, pains I want to avoid, my undue arrogance is similar to the television spokesperson. I am no more the king, than he is. There is only one King of the Universe - and my job is to rightly respond to the situations that in His wisdom He allows in my life, to lay my crown - my claim's of worthiness at His feet, setting aside every pretension to praise Him. Anything else, would be like taking the princes' painted crowns, and placing them on my own head thinking it means I'm royalty. Only One gets to rightly proclaim His supremacy, and to say "I AM the King."

How do you put down your crown and worship God?


Monday, January 18, 2010

True Ambition

In today's world, lives are characterized by the amount of activity in them. Think about it. The last time someone asked you how you were, how long did it take for your reply to center around what you were doing, rather than the nature of your being. If you're like most people, probably not long. We measure our lives by what fills up our calendar (or our PDA's.)

The reasons for this may be profound, and for each of us, there might be some variations. However, the central cause may be because we've come to measure our lives based on what we can accomplish. We praise ambition in our children, because we think it bodes well for them in life. We look for the empolyee who completes their task, completely, and on time and is looking for the next assignment. These are good characteristics, and employers and parents rightly cultivate these in their charges. They aren't, however, the characteristics that God looks act. Instead, He has one criteria for evaluating the Christian's life - how much are they reflecting Christ? Is the person more like their Savior than they were yesterday? Are they seeking to demonstrate love, joy, and peace to an even greater extent. This is the ambition that He is mindful of and as His children, so should we.

It is a wonderful thing to have dreams and plans for what we want to accomplish. It's even better to have a high view of why we are accomplishing those things. May our eyes be ever fixed on Christ - that more of Him in our life, may be the one ambition we also seek to fulfill.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Learning from Laundry

All of us have chores that we don't mind doing, and some that we wish we never had to do again.  For me, doing the laundry is one of the chores that fall into the latter category. I actually don't mind getting the laundry started - after all, throwing the clothes into the washer and then into the dryer isn't that difficult, but once the dryer buzzer goes off, I'll come up with all kinds of excuses not to finish the job. This really isn't a good idea, since eventually I always have to do it, but I avoid it like most people avoid the dentist.

My apathy towards folding our clean clothes has some interesting consequences. One of them is that I'm often forced to dry clothes a second time since they're wrinkled by the time I get to them. The other is that when it comes time to actually prepare the clothes for our dresser drawers, I'm apathetic about folding them in a proper and organized way. Instead, I'm much more likely to want to hurry through the process, so I can get back to something, ANYTHING, that I enjoy more.

However, several times as I've been tempted to speed through the folding process, I've been forced to slow down. The reason for this is that I've been reminded that no longer are the clothes I'm folding only my own. Instead my wonderful husband's clothes are also being prepared by my hasty hands and I'm conscious of the fact that one of the ways that I show him that I love him is through the time and energy that I spend doing things for him.  If I do less than my best, what is that saying about the quality of my care and concern for my beloved? (A quick disclaimer - my sweet husband would probably never criticize even if I left the clothes in a big heap. However, his graciousness is not an excuse for my carelessness. :-))

As I've been prompted to take more time doing the chore I'm not fond of, I'm reminded that I owe the same commitment of care to Christ. After all, how often do I go about doing things for Him in a half-hearted manner? Do I read my Bible just to get it done or because I'm delighting in the opportunity to spend time with Him? If He puts a special call on my heart to love someone who's not my favorite, do I do so with grudging acceptance of the task, or do I look at it as a chance to display my love for Him and His love for others? Even the mundane things that God calls me to deserve my best, because it is Him that I'm doing it for.

I never thought that the laundry room would be a place that I could learn to love my husband more. I certainly never thought it would teach me about loving Christ. However, I'm grateful that God uses even the simple things to teach the profundity of Him.

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Expected Exception

Most of have probably heard the phrase "Life's not fair." Generally it's uttered when we want to levy an accusation of inequity - when we didn't get something that we thought we rightly should. The reason that generations of mothers have probably uttered these words is that, just like so many things our mother tells us, it's true. Life isn't fair. And the quicker we accept this fact, the better off our attitudes will be.

What's noteworthy to me, though, is that most people want life to be "fair" until fairness obtains them an outcome they don't like. Let me give you an example. In my class, I currently don't accept late assignments. When someone turns in an assignment late, and I tell them - "I'm sorry, but you won't earn any credit for this", they quickly want me to be "unfair" and accept their assignment contrary to the standards that everyone else has been held to. It's understandable - after all, who wants to forgo credit on an assignment just because they missed the deadline? - but it certainly wouldn't be "fair" to give out credit. It would be patently unfair to all the other students who had to turn the paper in by the due date in order to earn a grade.

It's not just college students who think like this though. How many of us hope and pray that the "crazy" driver gets a ticket, until that crazy driver is us? When we're talking to the police officer, we're presenting our case for why we should be the exception to the rule. In fact, in our pride, we often expect it. (And we degradate the police if they are so ludicrous as to not conform to our new-found sense of "fairness.") We expect to be the exception, but we sure hope everyone is consistent with the standards when it means someone else might benefit.

The wonderful thing about God, though, is that He didn't give us what we deserve. In the penultimate case of unfairness, the perfect Christ died for sinners, so that sinners would have His perfection counted towards them. Maybe if we appreciated this a little more, we wouldn't be so concerned with the misgivings that transpire on Earth. And maybe, in recognizing how grossly unfair this was, we'd be more than content to accept the outcome when we don't receive the exception we're expecting.

How do you deal with the fact that life's unfair? 

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Monday, January 4, 2010

New Mercies

At this time of year, it's common to make resolutions of what we hope to accomplish in the 365 days that lie ahead. Researchers tell us that few of us will keep these resolves for any length of time. We start out well-intentioned, and yet somewhere along the way, we fall back into our old habits, and making the same resolutions the next New Year's Day.

Although it seems trite to say, it's such a wonderful gift that God doesn't suffer from these same affinities. After all, when He makes to a promise, He is faithful at keeping it. Whether this promise is thousands of years old, like the one He gave Noah that He would never again destroy the Earth with a flood, or a promise that daily resonates with us, such as the fact that He is with us always, when God resolves to do something, He sticks with it.

In the same vein, one of the promises that God maintains is to provide daily what we need. In fact, Lammentations 3:22-23 says that God's faithfulness is demonstrated through the new compassions He provides every morning. Think about it! Did you have a rough day today? Tomorrow God has new ways that He will demonstrate His love towards you. Are you discouraged in your walk with God? In His great mercy, He has something that He wants you to learn about Him today that you didn't know yesterday. Every day, each day, God wants to pour out His love to you in new ways.

Reading the rest of Lammentations 3 makes this point abundantly clear. God's daily mercies are the reason that we have hope (v. 21), the source of our protection (v. 22) and everything that we need (v. 24). Let us rejoice in this, and as we face each day of the coming year, let us anticipate how God desires to display His compassion today.

How has God showed you compassion today?


Better Things Ahead: January 2010

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Better Things Ahead