Friday, March 30, 2018

The Perfect Life

Perfect is an ideal that many strive for.  The perfect house.  The perfect body.  The perfect life.

What motivates that desire for perfection?  Many are seeking happiness.  Others long for peace and tranquility.  Others hope for acceptance.  

A word used 98 times in the King James Bible, perfect often carries the idea of coming to maturity or completion.  Other times, it corresponds with the notion of “blameless,” as in Deuteronomy 32:4,

“He is the Rock, his work is perfect: 
for all his ways are judgment: 
a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”

I contend that if what God does is said to be blameless, then—to avoid being practical atheists in our Christianity—we must embrace that word and live daily in its truth.

And yet how easy is it to blame God when something happens that conflicts with our notion of perfect?  The perfect house gets hail damage; the perfect body becomes afflicted with some unable-to-be-cured malady; the perfect life of peace and harmony is threatened as untruths spread over the Internet or a prayer seems unanswered for years.

Yet if God is working a good work in His children (Phil. 1:6) and His work resonates as blameless, then should we not rather place ourselves under His mighty hand in times when perfect seems a far cry from our reality?

In the little things that disrupt a “perfectly normal day”—like when the soup you’re taking to an ill friend spills all over the back of your newly cleaned car or you find that you’ve accidentally locked yourself out of the house when you’re in a dreadful hurry.

And in the bigger things—like when the faith you envisioned a reality through prayer is still only the “substance of things hoped for” or when that loved one continues to lie in a hospital bed after the chaos of unpredictability, misdiagnosis, and a rise-and-fall recovery.

Life this side of Heaven brings to our attention the fact that sin is real; the Fall has corrupted much; and nothing brings satisfaction but Christ.

However, instead of escaping our far-from-perfect world by distracting ourselves with beautiful Pinterest landscapes that offer lush beauty in a world of mud and ugliness, we can turn those seeming setbacks into sources for surrender.

The surrender of praise.

God calls that sacrifice.

He says in Psalm 50:23, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.”

Glorifying God.

Now isn’t that the actual goal of every child of God?  To bring our amazing God eternal glory and praise?

This verse tells us that a sure way to do this is by responding to the reality God gives us with praise.

When “perfect” becomes a far dream from what we experience, many blame God, calling Him unfair.  Others take matters into their own hands, perhaps even spreading malignity about others. 

But our God receives glory from those who choose instead to praise Him no matter what.

So what does that look like?

While this verse has riveted my attention for over a decade, when I read it again this past month in my morning Bible reading, I was struck with the thought that this message is one I haven’t quite mastered.  So, like the baseball that once unfortunately drove right into my brother’s face when I connected bat to ball back in my elementary school days, it hit me—this truth that to glorify God means to praise Him in every uncomfortable situation that threatens “perfect” any day, week, month, or year in any number of ways.

Praise affects my responses to hurtful things.  After reading this verse, my spirit experienced true liberation as I asked God to bless all those who had spoken hurtful words, believed untruths, or made decisions that seemed to lack His wisdom.  I praised Him for His providence and the bedrock truth that He is good, no matter how life might appear, for He says to give thanks “in all things” and “for all things.” 

I don’t quite understand it.  I know He’s not happy with sin in any of our lives but, at the same time, He’s called me to praise.  And, by His grace strengthening me, that is what I have determined to do.

Praise affects my natural desire for comfort.  Then it happened at other little junctures, like when I awakened after not having slept quite long enough and felt a bit like I’d rather continue enjoying comfort than anything else.  Just like my dog who grimaced when one of us kids stepped over him as he slept under the wood stove in my parents’ kitchen, basking in the warmth, I too wanted to grimace at the reality of the minutes after the wake up.  But God reminded me that praise is becoming to the upright.  I can turn my clouded mind into a factory of praise.  And, with His enablement, I obeyed Him, cherishing the tired moments as opportunities to walk by faith and live in the reality of His strength.

Praise affects my relationship with every person.  The attitude of praise affects every person in my life as I thank God that He allows me to intersect pathways with this person today, this moment, this week, or at any point during my lifetime.  In little areas—like when someone misplaces an item yet again and needs my assistance in finding it—I can joy that God allows me to serve the people He has created in any number of ways.  I can delight in fellowship He creates with others.  I can joy in the fact that, although others may intend to hurt me, He loves all and cares magnificently for every person—and so can I, regardless of their words or actions against me and others.

Praise affects my attitude toward life.  After a day is over, I’ve often been one to analyze, looking back to see if I could have done anything better.  When I first view the past first with praise, I come face to face with this amazing truth—every day is a good day.  Even if I was slandered.  Even if my church was spoken against.  Even if my loved one's motives were incorrectly judged.  It’s ok.  Because no matter what happens, God’s lovingkindness trumps my life.  His mercy is unchanging.  His love is better than any reality that may exist about me.  

And His way, after all, is perfect.

Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee"--Psalm 63:3.

What a joyful and beautiful world we can all experience as we choose gratitude for everything our gracious Father allows into our lives!  In His perfect will, our Jehovah God, the I Am—the God of my present tense—allows us to meet with occasional (and even ongoing) rejection and hurt from others, prayers that seem unanswered, and setbacks on the road of life.  As we experience these challenges, He begins to grow our confidence that His grace is more than enough.

How grateful I am to this God of Heaven Who, as my Abba Father knows my needs, remembers I am but dust, and knows how desperately I need His perfect perspective to infiltrate my mind and heart. 

To overcome me with a spirit of wonder and thanksgiving in the midst of situations that appear far from perfect.

So, as challenges in life arise, I can rest confidently in the fact that His way is perfect as I offer to Him a sacrifice He longs to hear.

The sacrifice.

Of praise. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Self Sufficiency or God Dependency?

 “Pull yourself up your own bootstraps.”
“You can do anything you put your mind to.”
"Believe in yourself."

These little sayings, so familiar to many in our culture, evidence an unrealistic philosophy of life.  In a word, they are little motivations that promote self-sufficiency.  Independence.  Living one’s own way by sheer determination and perseverance.

But our God reminds us in His very personal name Jehovah just Who He is.  He is the “I Am,” the Self-Existent one, the only Self-Sufficient One.  Any cute saying that foregoes this reality fails to factor in the overwhelming reality that God Alone is self-sufficient.

A dear woman I know emigrated from a Communist country, using her wits to escape the regime in which she was undesirably employed.  She managed to find a way to the United States and carved out her own existence when she arrived.  That was years ago.  Now she enjoys a somewhat comfortable life and sees the source of all goodness not as the Self-Sufficient God but her own independent spirit.  The American dream worked for her.  God?  Not so much.

Another man I met totes a similar story.  He had nothing when he left his home in Russia; but now, in his sixties, makes his living as a well-renowned architect.  His designs, magnificent and distinguished, demonstrate exquisite artistry in the field.  As he scrolled through multiple photos of his work, he bragged, “Who did this?  I did.  Not God.”  For him, God is a non-reality, a Player who seems never to enter the stage of his life which, from his view, has been self-created and self-propelled.

And so we expect the unsaved to live, without recognizing their absolute dependence upon an Almighty God who created them.  But centuries ago in this great nation, such was rarely the case.  Even the unbelieving Ben Franklin, America’s well-beloved Poor Richard, yet put his eye toward Providence.  It was the 81-year-old Franklin who, in the sultry days of the Constitutional Convention, viewed the mammoth task of forging the documents for a new nation, saw the deadlocks between the states, and addressed the Convention thus:

“I have lived . . . a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

Franklin requested that the meetings begin with prayer, that God be consulted in the affairs of men.  For, although he had refused the pleadings of George Whitefield to surrender his soul to the Almighty, he recognized this truth—ultimately, God reigns.

Such trappings of spirituality yet exist in our nation.  Prayers at inaugurations and governmental ceremonies.  “In God we trust” placed on our money.  “Under God” stated in our pledge.

But today, Americans—even those who profess to know the name of Christ—too frequently fail to wait upon God as the only Self-Existent One.  As the sun burns in the sky, affecting every living thing upon the planet, so our God infuses life into every dimension of life.  He needs nothing from anyone and yet He speaks through His Word, beckoning believers to take of Him, learn of Him, wait on Him, and live in Him.

How does one live in this Self-Sufficient God?  By yielding to His rulership in life.  By submitting to His authority.  By placing oneself under His dominion.  By saying “yes” to this Eternal King.

Practically speaking, what does this look like?  For a man named Mr. Pulsford of North Devon, England, in the early 1800s, that looked like willingly moving to a town for the specific purpose of winning souls to Christ.  But Pulsford knew he couldn’t do it alone.  Calling out in prayer to Almighty God, he went forward on his knees.  In 1820, a Baptist church formed and converts from the town were baptized.

“I will not rock the cradle of the devil,” Pulsford was known to say.  Apathetic Christians?  Not in his place of ministry.  Ones committed to fulfilling the Great Commission?  That was his challenge to church members.  Is it any wonder that, from his small church, ten towns became systematically reached with the Gospel—all under ministry conducted, not by paid preachers, but by Commission-oriented church members?  Twice a month, preacher boys from his congregation had opportunity to preach.  Eventually, five church members dedicated their lives to spread the Gospel as full-time preachers, a result of this Great Commission mindset.

For believers today, the call of Christ has not wavered.  Self-sufficiency is inability.  God-dependency stands counter to the methods and means of postmodernism.  Great Commission believers, saturated by the truth of God’s Word, living in dependence upon the Spirit, and walking forth in faith to open their mouths with boldness—this is still God’s plan to grow His church, to affect our world, and to reach this nation with the Gospel.

As Franklin acknowledged that a kingdom could not be built without God’s aid, so we must embrace the reality that nothing short of God’s intervention in our lives can build His church His way.

Let us commit ourselves to following Him, opening our mouths to speak the truth of His glorious Gospel, and watching Him change our nation and the world.

One soul at a time.