Sunday, October 24, 2010

What do you want?

In middle school I once heard a sermon about Solomon; a remarkable story really...God willing to give Solomon anything he asked, Solomon then asking for wisdom and knowledge.

I don't remember the sermon, and I don't remember the speaker's point. I do, however, remember my reaction.

I was slightly jealous. Why should God give Solomon that chance and not anyone else? Then a question popped into my head. It was so strong an idea I couldn't ignore it.

"What are you praying for?"

I remembered everything that I had recently prayed. They were good things too. Health for my mom; good test grades; things of that nature. Definitely nothing wrong with that. So my thoughts once again turned back to Solomon.

Why Solomon? He didn't ask for riches and glory, victory or fame; he asked for wisdom. But surely, if I were in the same position, I would have done the same. Why didn't God ever ask me? Again the question:

"What are you praying for?"

Again my reply: "Good health for myself and others, peace for those discouraged...all good things."

Suddenly I realized, Solomon didn't ask for health or peace, victory or fame; he asked for wisdom and knowledge. There were no limits to what I could request. I could pray for ANYTHING I wanted yet I was only praying EXTERNAL needs. I was certainly praying for good things, but I wasn't asking for anything that changed ME. I wasn't asking for something deeper; I wasn't doing what Solomon did, although I had the same chance Solomon had - I could ask for anything.

I decided to find something I wanted; some trait I was going to request from God for the rest of my life.

I read the New Testament. There I found the fruits of the spirit. But there were NINE of them - too many for someone like me to obtain. I had to find something else.

I read the gospels and discovered two traits that Christ always showed: love and wisdom.

Those were the traits I was searching and wisdom, and I have prayed for those two things almost everyday of my life.

Find a trait you want and pray to receive that trait daily. Ask God not only for the external things you need but also for the internal things you need. He is waiting to give you more than you ever thought possible, by MAKING you more than you ever thought possible.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spiritual Warfare: Matrix Style

If this life is a battle then the question arises 'How can we possibly win?'

The answer: WE can't.

We are fighting an enemy with vastly superior intelligence; he has thousands of years experience tempting Christians. He can both outmanuever and outgun us. He has better weapons and better tactics. We can't possibly beat him.

At least, not by ourselves...

Suppose that I am going to play chess. In fact, suppose that I am going to play a chessmaster. But not just any chessmaster, the greatest chess champion ever to grace a tournament. That is my opponent.

Now, unfortunately, I've never been good at chess, so this guy is going to wipe the floor with me. He is going to trounce me, to beat the stuffing out of me, to rout me badly. He could let me capture all his pieces except for his king, and then beat me with that. He is going to run circles around me. There is absolutely, positively no hope that I could ever beat him in any way, shape, or form.

At least, not by myself...

But there is one hope, one possible way that this contest may end in my favor. Sitting next to me during the game is an advisor. He is a far better chess player than the champion who is my opponent. But not only that, he knows that champion better than I do. He knows exactly what moves my opponent will make before he even has thought of those moves himself.

If I try to play the game myself, I have no hope of winning. But if a listen to my advisor, the champion has no hope of winning.

We as Christians, have an Advisor. His name: the Holy Spirit. If we refuse His advice, if we reject His aid, we have no chance of winning the spiritual battle, and we will be soundly defeated. But if we walk in the Spirit, if we listen to that still small Voice, we are the ones that can't be defeated.

This is much like Neo in the first Matrix movie. At the beginning, he didn't stand a chance against the agents. They would beat him every single time. They were too fast, too powerful, too cunning.

But in the end, he COULD beat them. He was the one that was faster and stronger, and they were slow and weak. He was the undefeatable one, and they couldn't help but lose to him.

So it is with us. Without God, we can't win. With God, we can't lose.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Prenatal Sibling Rivalry

I have a great love of analogies. They help keep things real and remind us of those things that are sometimes far too easy to forget.

Let us suppose we could watch two twins in a mother womb. As we watch these twins we notice, to our absolute horror, that the twins appear to be fighting. Like two siblings in the same room, they seem to be arguing and bickering with each other over the small cramped confines they find themselves in. Pushing, shoving, trying to get every last bit of space in order to stake their claim to as much as possible. Their silliness seems almost reprehensible.

What would we think about these two? How would we end these amniotic arguments? What would our advice be?

We would tell them to stop. "Don't you realize? Don't you understand? Once you are born everything is so much more real, so much more important, so much different. The very highest position you can achieve in the womb will seem so trivial when compared to even the lowest and most mundane of pleasures after you are born. In fact, NOTHING before you are born can compare to ANYTHING AT ALL after you are born. Nothing but the injuries you are causing to your twin will matter in the least. After having lived for 30 or 40 years, it won't matter which one of you had more space, which one of you had more power, which one of you was 'better off'. Will you even really remember?"

This is good advice for those two troubled souls. Fighting over so little as if it were so much is nonsense. But shouldn't we turn this around on ourselves? What do you think the 'great cloud of witnesses' would say to us? What would those that have gone on, those that understand more now than they ever did in life; what would those people say to us?

They would tell us to stop. "Don't you realize? Don't you understand? Once you are in heaven everything is so much more real, so much more important, so much different. The very highest position you can achieve on earth will seem so trivial compared to even the lowest and most mundane of pleasures after you are gone. In fact, NOTHING in this life can compare to ANYTHING AT ALL after death. Nothing but the injuries you cause to your fellow man will matter in the least. After being in heaven for 30 or 40 million 'years', it won't matter which one of you had more money, or a better car, or more entertainment. Will you even really remember?"

When we read of the martyr's we tend to feel as if their lives were cut short. A twenty year old being burned at the stake seems like such a loss. And so it is. I do not here mean to belittle their great sacrifice in the least. But after billions of years of eternity, will the fact that we ourselves lived 60 or 70 more years really be such a big deal?

We know that the eternal is more important than the temporal. We know that people are more important than things. But it is a daunting task to REMEMBER when everything else seems so 'real'.

We must ALWAYS, every second of every day, keep this eternal perspective.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lessons from the dragon

I watched Eragon for the first time since I saw it in the theater. Although (pardon the opining) not as good as Narnia and certainly not even close to Lord of the Rings (nothing ever will be), the movie was definitely quite enjoyable.

Several things challenged my thoughts. In particular this quote from the movie:

"To have courage there must be fear."

I have been contemplating the hope that gives to us all.

We struggle against so much, internally and externally. Life continually barrages us with difficulties and trials. The spiritual war we face seems incredibly daunting.

Throughout it all we face our own fear, our inner thoughts of failure and fatigue.

And then comes the lie; one of the most cunning lies ever faced; the lie that if we were truly brave, truly courageous, we wouldn't have such thoughts of fear. We wouldn't want to retreat and give in. We wouldn't have every ounce of our being screaming at us to stop, give up, and go home. The thought that the difference between us and the true heroes is those heroes never faced the same self doubt we do; that they simply and automatically were brave. This lie compounds our feelings of failure and inadequacy.

But here's the trick. How can that be called courage? Can courage really EVER come without fear? A man who walks into hardship, whether physical or spiritual, should fear the path he treads. He would be a fool not to. We are not masochist, hurting ourselves for our mere pleasure. When we hurt, IT HURTS; and we don't like it.

And neither should we like it. A man who rushes headlong into his own pain for his enjoyment is not, if ever that man existed, to be considered brave. Foolhardy would be a more apt title than courage for one such as he. He does not do painful deeds of sacrifice for the benefit of others but for the benefit of himself.

How can that be courage? How can a selfish act of hedonism, if not masochism, ever be on equal terms with the truly brave actions of a soldier, a mother, a friend, a knight, a hero? If the great heroes of old had no fear, then they had no courage; just as we, without fear, could not be called courageous.

When we continue on despite our own internal misgivings, those misgiving do not prove we have no courage; in fact, quite the opposite. Without those misgivings we could not be called courageous at all.

To be courageous we must have fear, and we must overcome that fear. Our desire to do right, no matter what the personal sacrifice, must win over our desire to avoid our own pain and suffering.

Isn't that what Christ did for us?

What lesson did he teach us if not personal abandonment for the sake of the truth, for the sake of others, for the sake of Him?

This must be our commitment: to keep going no matter how badly we wish to give up, no matter how long we must endure, no matter how great the trial.

Courage can come from anyone of us. Greatness can come from the least likely of sources. Even the foolish can confound the wise, if only we can hang onto God and keep doing right despite the agonizing injuries we must face along the way.

All will be right in the end. There will be rest and peace.

For now...we must fight.

"Vivere miltare est. Fac fortia et patere." (To live is to fight. Do brave deeds and endure)

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Life's Outcome Statement

I have found that, as a teacher, paperwork is a major part of my life; due mainly to the bureaucracy involved with government. One concept stated numerous times on forms and files is an idea called an 'outcome statement'. This outcome statement ensures that teachers think in terms of results. 'What do I want as a product of my actions?'

I have decided I want an 'outcome statement' for my life. One simple yet profound explanation defining the goal of my very existence.

I believe I have found that statement.

Screwtape Letters, one of my favorite books, is a fiction book containing 'letters' from an older demon (Screwtape) to a younger demon (Wormwood) on how to tempt Christians. This book is filled with insight and many great quotes but a particular quote repeatably causes tears every time I read it.

This quote epitomizes what I want to be...all I want to be. If I accomplish this, and nothing else, then I have accomplished more than I could ever hope for.

"Be not deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him {God} seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

A Paladin’s Song

Dream, my child, dream
Of the searching eyes longing for hope
Of the wounded hearts that you help heal
Of the broken lives mended by your care

Enemies knowing fear will flee
Your pain, eclipsed by love
Hate gives way to friendship

Dream, my child, dream
Of a bastion of love in the sea of suffering
Of a lighthouse of hope piercing the cruel darkness
Of a warm home and a good meal

Hatred's rushing waves will weary
Your path, filled with turmoil
Death gives way to life

Dream, my child, dream
Not of fame or fortune
Not of romance or comfort
Dream to be a dreamgiver

Heroes fighting on will inspire
Your hope, changed their course
Emptiness gives way to love

Take the sword from the stone
Feel the Source flow through
And fight to defend the victims of hate

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Viewing Ourselves: The Final Frontier

We've now dealt with several issues: Gods love of us, God lack of need for us, the potential of others, and the potential of ourselves. We've dealt with humility and given some practical examples. In this, my final blog about viewing ourselves, I want to discuss what all of this would look like from the outside. If someone has these balances in their life, what should they 'feel' like if we saw them.

Again, I find that I must quote C.S. Lewis for the answer:

"Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call 'humble' nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is a nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what YOU said to HIM. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all."

Humility is not about denying our own talents. In fact, humility frees us to enjoy ALL talents, others' as well as our own. This quote is fairly straightforward, but the next one needs some clarification:

"Already the new men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognizable: but others can be recognized. Every now and then one meets them. Their voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, as I say, recognizable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very much like the idea of religious people which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves....They love you more than other men do, but need you less....They will usually have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognized one of them, you will recognize the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognize one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun."

When C.S. Lewis here speaks of 'new men', he is speaking of Christians. Some aren't recognizable because some aren't as far along in their Christian walk as others. Some are new Christians so the fruits of the Spirit are not as evident. But then he gives a description of the ones that ARE far along.

This is another description of a person that has balance in viewing himself. But I want to clarify one particular point.

When he says "They love you more than other men do, but they need you less" I do not believe he means it to sound as it does. In his book 'The Four Loves' he discusses about how every person has some need-love (something which I discussed in a previous blog). God is the only being with NO need-love at all. So when he says that these truly Christ-like Christians need you less, I do not believe that he meant to imply they don't need you at all. Let me illustrate:

Everyone has a need for food. So if a person, when hungry, sits down to a good meal, there is nothing wrong with that. No one would say that he didn't NEED the food.

Now suppose that we see a second person: a glutton. This person NEEDS food, but not in the same manner as the first. He is ravenous about his need. He must have the food, all he thinks about is the food, and his whole world revolves around the food.

Both people, the hungry person and the glutton, need food. Both would suffer loss without it. But the glutton's desire exceeds rationality. I think most people would be tempted to say he NEEDS food more than the man who is simply hungry. But that is not the case at all. The glutton DESIRES food more, and is hurt by its absence more, but that is due to his unnatural addiction to it. What he really NEEDS is to stop desiring to eat so much, stop making that his entire world.

I think this is what C.S. Lewis really meant. It is not that these great Christian NEED others any less. They can actually enjoy their relationships much more than the normal person (just as the hungry man can actually ENJOY his meal, whereas the glutton barely tastes what he engulfs). Their desire for the people in their lives is not the ravenous devouring of companionship that we sometimes see in people. They love people, and need them, and enjoy them. Their need is healthy, not destructive.

I realize that I am attempting to clarify C.S. Lewis: a person that I respect as one of the clearest and most concise teachers of Christian truth ever. I do this with fear and trembling.

These two quotes summarize what a person with balance looks like from the outside: a person who can truly love and enjoy and need those people around them without destroying the other person with their excessive want; a person who can give because they are truly concerned with those souls that God has brought in their life, a person who understands how much God loves them even though He does not need them, a person who knows how incredibly special God has made them, and those around them; a person who can honestly reach out and bear the burdens of others, while still allowing others to minister to him.

This is what all of us should strive for; this is what a Christian ought to be: someone that can honestly and deeply love their neighbor as themselves.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Viewing Ourselves: Is it about good? Or is it about you?

I want to give some thoughts to clarify my C.S. Lewis quote-fest in the last 'viewing ourselves' blog.

There really are two aspects of humility. We need to enjoy our talents as much as we enjoy other's talents, AND we need to enjoy other's talents as much as we do our own. Both things need to be true. Although most people need to work on one or the other more, we all need both to balance ourselves.

To look inside ourselves at the talents that we possess and enjoy, and attempt to match that feeling when we see others' abilities; and also to look at others' talents that we appreciate and attempt to match that feeling when we see things that we ourselves do well.

Here is a test of real humility. Suppose you are on a sports team (not that I would know what that's like). You are by far the highest scorer on the team. You enjoy using your abilities to benefit the team, and there is nothing wrong with that. Remember, humility is NOT trying to deny your talents. But one day something changes. A new member joins the team, and that person starts to score more than you. What do you feel? How do you react?

This IS the test of your humility. Are you glad that the team now has ANOTHER good player, or are you jealous that you are no longer THE high scorer.

You see the difference? If your reaction is jealousy then you aren't using your abilities to help the TEAM. You are using them to help YOURSELF. Because if you really cared about the team, you'd be happy that someone else can help the team, whether or not YOU are doing it.

Do you see how that matches with what was said in the last 'viewing ourselves' blog? The key is to be happy good is being done. You're happy that you can do it, AND you're happy that others can do it. Either way is fine.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being competitive. But one must be careful. Are you being competitive to improve your own talents in order to benefit the team? Or do you just want to be number one? Pushing yourself to beat another person isn't wrong, as long as the focus is improving yourself for others, not improving yourself simply for your own glory.

Fine lines and hard grey areas, but this is where we live. So we must do our best to find balance. The alternative is much worse, and much harder: to allow ourselves to fall into a self-centered solipsistic world is to begin a slow and steady walk away from God.

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Viewing ourselves: Beautiful and clever, or ugly and foolish

The last four blogs were meant to show a balance between how we think of ourselves. We must realize that God loves us but doesn't need us, and we must realize that we have a extraordinary amount of potential, but others do as well.

I tend to be a very simple person, and these four blogs are entirely too much for me to handle. I can't keep that much information in my head all the time. So I want to summarize these four in a way that may help make the information readily accessible on a daily basis.

What does all this look like from the inside? What are we supposedly trying to be, and feel, and think on the inside? I think we could sum up all four of the previous blogs into one word: humility.

Again, I find myself going back to C.S. Lewis for the answer. This next quote is from 'Screwtape Letters'. And for those of you who don't know what that is, let me briefly explain to avoid confusion.

'Screwtape Letters' is a book of fictional letters written by an older demon to a younger demon on how to tempt humans in general and Christians in particular. So everything is written in reverse. The Enemy refers to God, and things that we would be horrified at, they love. The brackets will be my additions to help clarify.

"You must therefore conceal from your patient [the human] the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be....The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into a heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in and effort to achieve the impossible."

The idea C.S. Lewis is trying to get across is this: God doesn't ask us to believe lies. Where have we gotten the idea that humility involves denying your own talents. Where is that found in the Bible? That is like the servant who buried his talent. He was in denial.

"The Enemy [God] wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbors talents...."

The key is SELF-FORGETFULNESS, not self-deprivation; being able and willing to enjoy our own talents as much as another's. We should just be happy that GOOD IS BEING DONE. Who actually does the good, whether it is us or another, doesn't really matter. Just the simple fact that good has been done is adequate enough to make us joyful.

"His [Gods] whole effort, therefore, will be to get the man's mind off the subject of his own value altogether. He would rather the man thought himself a great architect or great poet and then forgot about it, than he should spend much time and pains trying to think himself a bad one."

Again, the central theme here is one of self-forgetfulness. That is what humility is all about. Not worrying about who you are so much as who He is and what you can do for others.

May God help us to be truly humble.

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Viewing Ourselves: So you think you're a super sized value meal do you?

So we now know that God has made us uniquely special. But should that fact cause arrogance? Should we consider ourselves all that AND a side of fries WITH a surprise toy inside PLUS a super-size drink.

Most certainly not! (I know, at least for me, I'm only the 99 cent cheeseburger with no onions. But at least I'm a SPECIAL order.) We must not become arrogant. Primarily because everything we are comes from God. But there is another reason. Although Christ would have died JUST for us, we must not think that He cares ONLY for us, that we somehow have a monopoly on His eternal and unbounded love.

1. God wants us to learn something from each person we meet. All those brought daily into our lives are destined relationships that have an eternal meaning. Those people that work with us and go to school with us and go to church with us are ordained by God to be there. They are not simply some chance assemblage of people. Of course, because of a person's sin nature, all can go horribly wrong. Their influence on us can be detrimental instead of Godly, and we may have to back away, both physically and emotionally.

But we must realize that each person is a beautiful creation of God, that we can learn from and teach both at the same time. We must constantly strive to learn some lesson from every individual whose paths we cross.

2. I find that I can never state ideas better than C.S. Lewis; so I won't attempt to:

" remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ORDINARY people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations- these are mortal, and their life to ours is as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, exploit- immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind....which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sin in spite of which we love the sinner...."

Think about the person you like the least, or the person that annoys you the most. Do you realize that if that person dedicates all that they are to God, if that person gives themselves totally over to Him, they will become someone with more beauty and strength and love than you have ever met? Do you realize that they can be a saint of God? These people that we insult and manipulate and ignore are loved by an omnipotent God. These people Christ died for.

All day long we are helping those around us along their heavenly or hellish path. We are leading them more quickly towards their own destruction, or we are pushing them along towards their sainthood. We are giving them life or death, beauty or ugliness, hatred or love. There is no neutral. You ARE affecting those immortals which are in your life. We cannot sit on the sidelines in this game. We must play on one team or the other.

Are you a fountain of love and life and hope, quenching their parched spirit, or are you a toxic well, slowly poisoning those thirsty souls who stumble along your path?

May God help us to understand who we are in relation to others, and what they mean to both us, and to Him.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Viewing Ourselves: Don't you realize how incredibly special you really are?

So God loves us but doesn't need us. With that idea as the basis for viewing ourselves we go on to the next relationship: that with our fellow man.

How are we to view ourselves in relation to others? We certainly SHOULDN'T view ourselves towards them the same way we view ourselves towards God. This is a great ploy of the Enemy, to take that natural understanding of what we are and aren't to God and attempt to apply it to man. Of course, all sin is that way. All sin takes something that is good and uses it at the wrong time or in the wrong place. This sin, the sin of self-deprivation (low self-esteem if you will), attempts to take the natural feelings that we have towards God and twists them to become our feelings towards man; feelings that they don't need us.

So how are we to feel towards these fellow actors on life's stage? As with our relationship to God, this involves a balance between two distinct ideas which we will tackle separately.

We must understand who we are. What God truly has given us. Now make no mistake, we are fallen creatures, and will destroy all around us if given the chance. But that is our old nature. God has given us a new nature: one of healing instead of hurting, creation instead of destruction, life instead of death, loving instead of despising. This is who we should have been if we hadn't fallen, if sin hadn't entered the world. None of the greatest of saints has ever reached their FULL potential, and neither will we. Our life's work should be to get as close as we can.

In fact, none, save One, has ever truly reached the heights that God can bring a man, and that One is Jesus. I think we greatly undervalue the statement, we are to BE like Christ. Of course, as Christians we hear that phrase used constantly, but have we grown deaf to its abundance of meaning? We think it means to love like Christ, and well we should. But isn't there something deeper? Christ affected every single person He every met by radically improving the lives of all those who would allow Him. Some people today disbelieve of His very existence, yet we still celebrate His birthday two thousand years later. That, my friend, is the epitome of the word 'influence'.

Of course, not all saints of God will be world renown. I am not here preaching a 'health and wealth' gospel. Dedication to Christ does not naturally lead to fame, but it does naturally lead to influence. To truly be a source of light and joy and peace IS to change lives, and all those who dedicate themselves FULLY to Christ will have such influence. Their very presence will do so. They cannot help but do so.

This is our potential, but only in an ambiguous way. Let me be as specific as I can in such a general forum. I much more like telling individuals the details that I see in them, but this attempted 'precise vagueness' will have to do.

You were made by the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE. You were indeed created, but more precisely, you were designed. You were designed by the same Designer that created the intricacies of nature. The same Designer that made the complexities of the DNA code, the beauty of a sunset; the subtle conjunction of myriads of laws all woven together to make a universe that is both simple yet complex, beautiful yet strange, predictable yet surprising. This great Architect of the universe made you specifically. This Being that has a million years to work on the marvel that is one atom, has told you that you, being a human, are the height of all His creation. It is much like being designed by a group of the greatest engineers of all time, who could all live forever working on the smallest part of the tiniest corner that makes up you.

Every part of you is there for a reason. The strengths, the weakness, ALL designed by the greatest Inventor ever. He has made you unique among the billions, someone different from all that ever were and all that ever will be. No one and nothing in the entire universe is like you. You are, by definition, 'special'. You cannot be replaced or duplicated. If you do not become who God has meant for you to be, then the light which you were meant to shine will never grace human history. That beauty will never be seen. And all humanity will suffer for it.

But all that is gone; what God has created you to be was destroyed by sin. The work of art has been defaced, the elegance has faded. However, hope is not yet lost. This radiant brilliance, this unparalleled marvel that was to be you, can be restored; the beauty returned and the ugliness erased, but only through Christ. Christ alone can repair the damage and bring back all that was and is no more. He can reset the clock on what that has been lost.

Never commit the sin, the travesty, of telling God that you have no talents, nothing that could help others, that you are indeed nothing to your fellow man. That is a slap in the face to an omniscient and omnipotent being, who has told you differently. It is an insult to Christ, who paid a tremendous price so that you can have yourself back, so that you could be all that God meant for you to be: a truly unique individual, capable of more strength and beauty, love and power, than you ever dreamed possible.

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Viewing Ourselves: The Greatest Love Ever

But God's love for us is not the only part of our relationship with Him that we must understand; for if that were the whole of it, one might be tempted to think too highly of humans. What a marvelous creation indeed, for God to love us so. This would lead to arrogance at the expense of God's love, and that must not be so.

The other aspect of our relationship with God we must understand is this: God doesn't need us.

We, as humans, don't add anything to God at all. He would be perfectly fine without us. To think that we could ever add to the completeness that is the Trinity is arrogance at its worst. We must realize that even though God wants us, He doesn't need us.

This isn't the way our love work at all now is it? A true good love on earth has both giving and taking aspects involved. If you every read love poetry with that in mind you will be shocked at how truly selfish that poetry can seem. Isn't it all about the lover and not the loved? Isn't it all about his need for her, or her need for him, instead of what he can DO for her, or her for him? Granted, there is also sacrificial giving involved. But even the most romantic ideas has both sides. For example:

Let's say that a man tells his wife that he would willingly die for her. That, by itself, is certain giving. But then he turns right around and tells her the reason he would perform such a brave act is because he couldn't live without her. As romantic as that may well be, it still demonstrates my point entirely. There is a need part of his great love for her as well.

Of course, this is all right and proper. A humans love always has a giving and needing aspect to it. C.S. Lewis called it 'gift-love' and 'need-love'. A child running into his mothers arms for protection is demonstrating a strong need-love. He loves her and needs her. It is not wrong for the child to do this, and is a natural part of our loves. We are not God and therefore are not complete without others.

But the child that runs to his mother also demonstrates an aspect of gift-love. He is giving his mother his complete trust. This is certainly a great and generous gift. So the boy is demonstrating both sides of love: gift-love and need-love.

But the mother demonstrates both sides as well. The parent may perhaps be showing much more gift-love than her son, but is there not an aspect of need-love as well? Is the consoling mother receiving NOTHING for the exchange? Is not the capability to protect her children a need for her also?

So if what we say if true, then are all relationships fundamentally selfish? Yes and no. It would be better to say that all human relationships contain an element of selfishness; or perhaps that even the highest human love always receives something for its great sacrifice. There have been relationships (far too few I suppose) where the individuals demonstrated a high degree of gift-love, but to say that the giver received nothing in return is foolhardy at best. Of course, I don't believe that any of this is wrong at all. Unfortunately we have run far a field of the subject at hand, so that question will be best left for another time.

Suffice to say that we don't know what it is like to be God. (Not that the previous statement holds a great shock for anyone but a few quite insane people.) We don't know what it is like to love a person without any need at all, and we don't know what it is like to be loved by another human without their needing something from us.

But God has no needs at all. He is the only being capable of pure gift-love. He doesn't need us, but He wants us. We will give nothing at all to Him that He doesn't already have. We add nothing to the overabundance that is His simply by being God. Yet He still pursues us. Isn't that in the end the greatest love ever? To be wanted yet not needed in the least? To be so loved by a Being that we will add nothing to?

This balance, this midpoint between ultimate worth and worthlessness, is something that can give us a correct perspective as we look at ourselves, as we try to find the compromise between arrogance and self-deprivation.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Viewing Ourselves: God could've ordered pizza

A couple months ago I was asked, by one of the greatest questioning students ever, to write a blog about how to properly look at oneself. I don't know if this series of blogs will answer the question well, but I hope it will.

I think to look at ourselves properly we need to understand two relationships each in two distinct ways. I want to write a blog on each and then maybe a couple more to clarify.

The first relationship that we need to understand properly is our relationship to God. And the first aspect of that relationship is how God loves us.

This really isn't a new concept, and anyone that has gone to church very much at all has heard lots about this: which is good, but makes me feel as if I am not giving anyone anything new to chew on.

But let me attempt to take a slightly different, and more philosophical, twist to this idea. In philosophy there is a concept called pure volitional freedom. This concept describes a certain level of freedom; the highest level.

When we say someone is free, what do we mean? Usually we mean that they are able to do what they desire. But is anyone truly free? Are we free to touch the clouds, or fly with the birds? Are we free to take a trip to the moon, or to explore the dark cold depths of the oceans? The answer is obviously no. Freedom when dealing with people means societal freedom. Freedom to not be stopped by someone, but we are by no means free in that other sense. Free to do whatever comes into our minds.

But this IS the freedom that God has. He is free to do what He wills. He has no boundaries or limitations. What He decides will occur, will occur. What He decides will exist, will exist. If He wants pizza, He's got pizza! No questions asked.

Let's think about that for a moment. A Being of pure volitional freedom, that could do anything He so chooses to do, decided that what He really wanted, was to reach out and love you, to make a myriad of pleasures and an abundance of people to enjoy those pleasures, to set a desire in our hearts to be a part of some great story and then give us the opportunity to do so. This Being who could have anything He wanted, decided that He wanted you. And He was willing to pay an awful price to have that relationship.

This is the first aspect of our relationship with God that needs to be understood in our hearts. May we never forget.

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