Friday, February 25, 2011

Only God Is Perfect

There are people who constantly belittle themselves and respond to every compliment by stressing their flaws. And there are people who seem so sure of their infallibility that they take personal offense at the tiniest correction. It's hard to say which type is more annoying.

Most of us are one or the other to some degree--even as we relate to God. Many people claim to be praying for forgiveness when they're effectively trying to explain to God why what they did wasn't that bad; many others fall into "I'm totally worthless for doing this so much and I don't know why You would ever think of forgiving me" groveling. Either way, it comes back to expecting ourselves to be naturally perfect--a quality found in God alone.

Don't try to convince God you're infallible nor expect Him to hate you because you aren't. It is possible to be humble and still remember He has compassion on our weaknesses.

You who hate yourselves for failing,
Sure each stumble means disgrace,
Know that only God is perfect,
And compassion fills His face.

You who hate the least correction,
Sure you stand above the crowd,
Know that only God is perfect,
And He surely shames the proud.

Know that only God is perfect.
Great or small may be your sins--
Come to Him in humble weakness,
And learn where true strength begins.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Out of Our Control

Many religions preach that everyone is, quite literally, a potential god, or at least part of a God that is defined as the sum total of all that exists. While the idea that we are the real God's equals is anathema to orthodox Christianity, many sincere Christians imply almost as much: "You'd be healed if you just trusted God enough." "God would never let my plans fail, not when I'm doing His work." This is risky thinking not only because it implies we know as much as the Lord, but because it puts us in danger of completely losing faith in Him when--as happens to all of us occasionally--He fails to "deliver" what we expected.

Are you capable of looking directly at the thing you fear most and saying, "If this should ever be Your will for me, Lord, I will accept it with joy even if I don't understand it"? If the idea makes you shudder, don't feel too guilty; I don't claim to be particularly confident in that area either. Perhaps thinking too much about what God might ask us to give up isn't that good an idea to begin with; it has a way of feeding worry instead of dissipating it. If we regularly got our minds off earthly things, and concentrated on God and God alone, we might find it easier to fall so completely in love with Him that we could say with St. Paul, "I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage" (Phil. 3:8). Incidentally, Paul's dismissing his earthly gains as "garbage" is even more radical than it sounds in translation; the original Greek word is a coarse term for "excrement."

Not that Paul's primary goal was--or that anyone's primary goal should be--hating earthly things for the sake of hating them. His purpose was to stress how much more God is worth than "all [other] things [combined]"--something few of us find easy to accept. All our goals, our dreams, our attempts to control our own lives are manifestations of the idea that we know what we must have. And since there is no absolute guarantee we'll be able to hold onto anything, most of us are ruled to some degree by the fear of loss.

The only way out is to surrender completely to fear of the Lord: a terrifying leap into what seems like utter blackness, a complete loss of control.

Which, of course, is the point. The only people who know true security are those who trust God--rather than themselves--to control every aspect of life.

There are those who would have us believe
Fate is held in our hands alone—
“What you think is what you will achieve”—
That you sit on your own life’s throne.
“All it takes is the power of a thought.”
“All you need is within your soul.”
But in truth, that can all come to naught:
Things can spin out of our control!

Illness even can come to the fit;
Even healthy eaters die young;
And some positive thinkers are hit
By disasters that life has sprung.
Yes, however well-laid are your plans
And however firm-set your goal,
Things may slip away out of your hands,
Life may go out of your control!

Friend, the God Who can do everything
Shakes His head at our human pride:
“Come and taste of the life that I bring;
Set your human-based plans aside.
For the ones who place all in My care
Are the ones who are truly whole.
I relieve all the burdens you bear,
If you just let Me take control!”

Like the poetry on this blog? Inquire at about purchasing the book ($10/copy) Where Light Dawns: Christian Poems of Hope for Hurting Hearts.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Look in the Mirror

A 2010 book published by BBS/PublicAffairs (author: Francis Wheen) bore the title Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Age of Paranoia. One wonders if that "Golden Age" really ended a generation ago. You can still hardly turn on the news or visit an e-zine without encountering something along the lines of "20 Signs of Possible Terrorist Activity," "15 Signs of Drastic Climate Change," or "7 Warning Signs of Cancer." And, of course, the rumor that the world as we know it has less than two years to live, not unlike that Christian favorite, "Reasons Christ's Return Must Happen in Our Lifetimes." (Or as another recent book put it, "10 Prophetic Signs That We Are the Terminal Generation" [Can America Survive? by John Hagee].) 

Too much of this sort of talk can leave anyone convinced that everything from our next-door neighbors to the forces of nature is out to get us in the worst possible way. What may wind up getting us first is the strain of living in fear. Small wonder that the Mayo Clinic advises hypochondriacs, "Don't spend hours researching health information or looking up vague symptoms.... Skip disease-of-the-week stories.... Resist the urge to continually monitor your pulse or other vital signs or to check your body for signs of disease." Those inclined to paranoia have a habit of zeroing in on the worst possible options; once they hear that one symptom of kidney damage is severe back pain, the slightest ache in that region feels "severe." 

Part of the problem is that there's hardly a sign of serious trouble--at least in the abbreviated descriptions found on most "what to watch out for" lists--that something harmless can't mimic. If we took too literally the admonitions to "see a doctor immediately if you notice these symptoms," many of us would spend 90% of our time--and money--at clinics.

But why are even Christians--who should be living in the confident attitude of Heb. 13:6--so easily caught up in the idea that "something awful is bound to happen if you let your guard down for a second"?

Like it or not, the answer is usually that we're harboring the attitude, "I know I could never cope with this or that, and I don't have faith God will keep it from happening." We really shouldn't have that sort of "faith," which usually travels at high risk of being wrecked on the rocks of disappointment. With few exceptions, God doesn't promise believers any specific material forms of security--however desperately we want them.

But there's another tripwire in the attitude above: the word I. "I could never cope"--the truth is that no, you couldn't. The fallacy is assuming that the responsibility is yours to begin with. God never tells us to have faith in ourselves, any more than in material circumstances. He calls us to have faith in Him, to believe that He can handle anything--and that, through His strength rather than ours, we can as well.

There's a reason why the aforequoted Book of Hebrews (in 13:5) also links trust in God's constant support to the refusal to trust in things. Everything except God is highly fallible.

Even us.

If you feel blue and discouraged,
If life seems too hard to take,
Don't blame it on circumstances:
They may be ones you helped make!

If everything seems against you,
If life just looks gray and grim,
Don't blame what's called "luck" for your trials;
Consider your thoughts toward them.

Some say we control our own lives
By the power of how we care,
But don't think you can set things right
Just by whining they aren't fair.

If your life's too much to handle,
And you feel about to crack,
Consider it's not God, but you,
Who laid that weight on your back.

If you know just how things should go,
And will brook no change of plan,
Remember just one God exists,
And you can't know all He can.

It's human to take things easy,
It's human to crave control,
But you can't win by playing God:
You must let Him set the goal.

If you feel blue and discouraged,
If life just looks gray and grim,
You may just be neglecting God:
Stop, and give it all to Him!

Friday, February 4, 2011

It Is Written

Despite the seniority of the spoken word (God, after all, used it to create the world), and its universality (as opposed to the limited reach of literacy), the written word has greater authority on its side. Once you put something in writing, especially above your signature, it's no longer easy to pretend you never said it. Which is why, long before e-mail, people were advised not to send an emotionally charged letter without first cooling down enough to reread it objectively. And why movie producer Samuel Goldwyn is said to have quipped, "A verbal contract is not worth the paper it's written on."

In the Bible (NIV 2011), the phrase "it is written" occurs 72 times, 63 in the New Testament and most often to explain how the work of Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures. The best-known use of the phrase, however, is when Jesus uses it to refute Satan's temptations: "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Mt. 4:4, 7, 10.) Christ's followers are well-advised to follow His example when tempted; the devil is a match for any human argument, but recoils from the Word of God.

It's worth noting, though, that not every Biblical reference to "writing" means literal writing with pen and ink. In Jer. 31:33, God declares that when His people's sin in ignoring the original Law is fully punished, when it comes time for the New Covenant under which His people will truly know Him, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts." Hebrews 8:10 later quotes the verse, noting shortly after (v. 13) that the materially written covenant was made "obsolete" by the death of Christ. Not that the written Scriptures are any less valuable, just that by themselves they no more benefit the reader spiritually than reading a carpentry manual will drive one nail into a house's framework. And in truth, many "Bible-believing Christians" have the Bible in their heads but not in their hearts, using it as a club to batter "godlessness" without feeling a drop of God's compassion for those trapped in sin. Some even look down on fellow believers who, for whatever reason, read and memorize Scripture less often.

Thank God that we don't have to know the whole Bible by heart before He accepts us. He can write His real law on any heart regardless of literacy, intelligence, or memory skills.

It is written in the heavens,
In each star that decks the night;
It is written in the flowers,
Hued in endless colors bright;
It is written through Creation,
In each wonder we behold:
"God Almighty is eternal,
And His works are manifold."

It is written in the Scriptures,
Penned by saints who knew God's voice;
It is written by the Prophets,
Those who see Him and rejoice;
It is written in the Gospels,
Words from those who saw God's power:
"God Almighty is our Father,
And He keeps us every hour."

It is written on the spirits
Of the ones who know the Lord;
It is written in the actions
Of the ones who hear His Word;
It is written in our worship--
Let us now our voices raise--
"God Eternal rules among us:
All Creation, sing His praise!"

Like the poetry on this blog? Inquire at about purchasing the book ($10/copy) Where Light Dawns: Christian Poems of Hope for Hurting Hearts.