Why Loving The Creator And Not The Creation Is Not Just Wrong, But Impossible

I’ve heard Christians say before that they don’t love other people. I’ve been one of them. As an introvert, I don’t get excited about parties and meeting new people like extroverts do. As someone who has struggled with judgmental tendencies, I’ve found myself frustrated with humanity when people knowingly do things detrimental to themselves with no apparent benefit. (Case in point: Joseph Randle, a Dallas Cowboys player recently arrested for shoplifting $123.50 of merchandise. Randle makes $495,000 a year.)

Yet how am I supposed to react when I hear things like this? When I hear of people complaining of how unfair it is that they slept around, but got pregnant or caught an STD? When I hear about people bashing “the system” or “the man” when they work only hard enough to not get fired?

With love.

Always with love. 

And the reason is simple: God loves us, even when we’re that foolish. You can pridefully say you’re not, that you haven’t stolen anything, that you’ve taken few risks and accepted responsibility for the ones you’ve taken, and that you work hard every day. All of that may be true, but none of that matters. Every time any of us chooses ourselves over God in any way, we’re at least as foolish as anyone we tend to point our fingers at. How else could we choose to harbor a grudge even when our mountain of sins has been forgiven? How else can we explain getting angry with God over His refusal to give us what we want?

It’s impossible to be angry with someone to whom you don’t feel superior in some way. A little humility, however, in realizing that we’re all fallen, lost, and, yes, foolish, will take out all that sense of pride, which is probably the most foolish thing we can have.

I’m no better than anyone. Were God to look at me and Hitler side by side, without taking into account Jesus’ sacrifice, we’d be equally worthy of Hell, just as Moses, Peter, and Daniel would be.

If you want to love others, first realize that you’re no better than they are. 

Second, remember what God has saved you from. Imagine for a moment your greatest fear, and then your second greatest fear being added to it, and your third. For me, this would be something like being on a tightrope stretched across the Grand Canyon, with scorpions all over me while being lit on fire. Then multiply the pain and agony and fear as far as you can in your mind and imagine that this is no mere nightmare, but an eternal torture that will never improve, never slacken, and that you’ll never get used to. You still won’t be close to what Hell is like because we can fathom neither true hopelessness nor eternity. We can’t fathom knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is a God more glorious than we can imagine, but Who is not coming to our rescue because we’ve rejected Him.

And yet, while we are still on this earth, we have the ability to choose Him and not just be spared this torture we earned countless times over, but be allowed to spend eternity in God’s presence, glorying in Him. Streets of gold, never dying, no night, no sickness or ailments – absolute perfection in all things forever. All as a gift for us, all of us who believe in Him, regardless of our pasts.

Third, know Him. Even though we’re created in God’s image, you can’t learn that much about God from spending time with people instead of Him. But by knowing Him, you’ll learn His heart for other people because you’ll learn His love for you.

You cannot have His love in you without it flowing out of you toward others. Just like a pitcher must be filled with clean water before it can pour out clean water into glasses, you must be filled with God’s love for you before you can love others His way. It is impossible to be full of this clean water and pour out dirty water or nothing at all.

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5 Reasons to Forgive

I’ve been working again on forgiving people. I find that when I’m stressed about my life, I look for people to blame for my current situation. Sometimes, it’s God, though that’s not very common anymore. It can be others for certain things, but it’s usually myself. I’ve made many poor decisions over the course of my life. I neglected to invest in Apple, Amazon, and Google when they were relatively cheap. I did invest too much in a stock I thought I understood, but which plummeted. I was often difficult to be around during college and my first two jobs. I hurt so many people along the way, and none so deeply as myself.

There are a few things I’ve realized, however:

1. I can’t change the past by dwelling on it. I can learn lessons, I can apologize, and I can make amends, but I can’t go back and make better investment decisions. I can’t take missed opportunities or shut my mouth at certain times. What’s in the past is done; it’s only the future that I can change. By dwelling on the past, I waste my future as well.

2. I will make worse decisions if I can’t let go of my bad ones. There are lessons to be learned from my past, such as not letting my employer work me 60 or more hours a week, but if I focus on my bad decisions, I’ll believe I’ll only make bad ones in the future. That will lead me to procrastinate, causing me to miss more opportunities, or give up and pick the easiest option under the assumption that no matter what I pick, I’ll be wrong. I can make the best decisions when my thought process isn’t getting its information solely from my past.

3. I can’t believe what God says about me if I can’t forgive myself. The Bible says I’m a child of God, that I’m forgiven if I believe in Him. I reject my identity as His son if I don’t believe I’m forgiven for my sins. This means I can’t have confidence, which in turn causes me to seek a sense of self-worth elsewhere, which will inevitably end in failure, perpetuating the cycle. Only by forgiving myself can I end this cycle.

4. I reject God when I refuse to forgive myself. This one sounds harsh because there are a number of Christians who still harbor grudges against themselves, but if Jesus died to forgive me, what right have I to say that His death wasn’t enough? In the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-15, Jesus tells His disciples that if they don’t forgive others, they won’t be forgiven. It’s not just a quid pro quo statement, it’s a matter of faith. If I don’t believe that His death was enough for not only me, but for everyone else who believed as well, then it’s not enough for anyone. It’s the ultimate all-or-nothing deal. I can accept that His forgiveness covers all the sins of everyone who comes to Him, or I can reject it for myself.

5. My mistakes don’t matter that much. This life is but a blink compared to eternity. The things that we think matter so much don’t. A big house is nice, but at best, it’s a comfort for a few years compared to a mansion in Heaven for untold billions of years. I’d love to have my dream job, but it’s still just the tiniest fragment of time compared to what I’ll have when I die. Even my relationship with Leah, though I love her passionately, would not mean much if her value was just in the good times we share together or in help through the bad times. It’s her value in helping me draw closer to God and serving Him better that really makes our relationship worthwhile. In all things, the cares of this world and even the needs of this world pale in comparison to the slightest treasure in Heaven. I have to stop judging my life by my successes or failures on earth and instead judge it by the two things that matter most to God: how much I love Him and how much I love others.

Shortsighted

A couple weeks ago, Leah and I spent the better part of the day going to the Dept. of Public Safety, then to the county tax office, then back to the Dept. of Public Safety to get our vehicles registered and our drivers licenses. We are officially Texans now, as our licenses came in the mail last week. But on both of them, there’s a restriction: we can’t drive without contacts or glasses because we’re both shortsighted.

In planning, we’re far more shortsighted than our eyes could ever be. According to the world’s terms, we’re probably doing well with our long-term plans. We have a timeline to buy a home and to start a family. We have two basic plans on how to invest to save for retirement and a rough idea of how much money we’ll need.

Yet we sometimes sacrifice our long-term plans for short-term happiness. Tomorrow, my first order of business is to get on redbox.com and reserve a copy of Spiderman 2 for Leah. It’s only $1.29, but strictly speaking, it hurts our long-term goals. We sometimes go out to eat or buy presents for each other or get other things we don’t actually require. We’re usually pretty good at denying ourselves in this way, but certainly not perfect. I also spend too much time doing things other than work. I try to limit internet and game time during the work day, but I could be better.

What we have largely lost sight of in this, though, is that both long-term and short-term goals for accumulating stuff or achieving life goals are nearly worthless when compared to a plan for how to serve God. Leah and I were working to this end, yes, but we had no plan and only a few vague goals that had no timeline.

We’re supposed to be laying up for ourselves treasures in Heaven rather than treasures on earth. Our planning to this point has been almost entirely of the treasures on earth variety. It doesn’t matter too much whether that planning is long-term or short-term; it’s still focused on getting the wrong type of reward. Our focus should primarily be on how to serve the kingdom of God, not on how to serve ourselves in this life. And to do this in the most efficient way, we felt we needed a plan.

Now, we know we can’t plan out exactly how God is going to work. I’m sure Joseph didn’t have a “go from prison to being the Pharaoh’s right-hand man in 7 years” plan. Still, he probably did have a plan for managing the resources of the prison and he definitely had one for getting through the 7 years of famine.

Leah and I talked this morning about what we want our long-term goals to be and this is what we came up with:
1. We want to get a book finished between the two of us every year. That means written, edited, and published, whether traditionally or self-published.
2. We want to get plugged into our church (when we find a good one, which we may have done this past Sunday) or a regular ministry. We don’t want to simply take from the church; we want to give back and love our neighbors.
3. While we don’t want to measure our success by numbers, we want to have measurable goals for certain things, like number of readers on our blogs. This wouldn’t be to verify the worth of our efforts, but rather to keep us doing these things on a daily or near-daily basis. For my part, I’d like 150 readers by the end of this year.

Then we talked about small, weekly goals. You can’t drive from Vancouver to the Florida Keys without a plan that includes many different roads. Likewise, you can’t simply say you want to accomplish a major goal within a year without daily, weekly, or at least monthly steps to keep you on track. For me, for my blogging, my goal is to have at least 3 posts a week, preferably 4 or 5, and to comment on at least 3 other blogs daily. Also, sometime this week, Leah is going to show me how to plug into various Google+ communities and post there.

I don’t know how God will bless or change our plans (we’re certainly not locked into them because we can’t control His will in any way), but it’s good to have a plan on how to serve Him. It provides clarity and direction.

As Certain as Death and Taxes

As a first note, I want to thank those who prayed for me last Friday. I did quite well and everything went smoothly.

My wife and I watched Meet Joe Black last night. If you haven’t seen it, Death takes over a body and follows an aging billionaire around for nearly a week, learning about what it means to be human.

One line that comes up is the phrase, “as certain as death and taxes,” and this, coupled with the movie’s overall theme, got me thinking that there is perhaps another reason we try so hard to prove our worth: to earn our ticket to Heaven.

The best thing about Christianity is that we don’t have to be good enough to enter into God’s presence. We only have to believe, and it is the power of Christ that makes us worthy in God’s eyes.

It’s easy to get into the mindset that we have to be good people to get to Heaven. We hate earning things in a way, but we hate receiving gifts more. We’d rather earn it because then we feel entitled to keep it and like we don’t owe anybody. The problem is that salvation is one thing you can’t possibly earn. You’ll never be good enough. You’ll never feed enough starving children. You’ll never help enough homeless people, lead enough people to Christ, or bite your tongue enough to get to Heaven. You can’t do it.

And, thank God, you don’t have to.

How to Improve Your Self-Esteem

The Bible is full of things that don’t make sense to us: God loves us despite our rejection of Him. We’re to turn the other cheek when people mistreat us. Many who are last will be first. God exalts the humble. And a good many more.

One of the things that makes the least sense on first hearing it is that to improve your self-esteem, you must remember how worthless you are of yourself. We keep trying to build ourselves up through our accomplishments or we hold on to relationships tightly or we try to look a certain way so that others will look at us a certain way. We want to be seen as confident, smart, successful, and likable. 

But achievements in any of these areas are actually self-defeating, for they drive home the thought that to attain self-esteem, one must be good at something. To be valuable, you must achieve. 

True self-esteem begins at the same place true Christianity does: with knowing that all the good in your life comes from God and not one bit of it is deserved. Whether you agree with God’s mandate that only those who know and accept Jesus go to Heaven (and I don’t know about children or those who haven’t heard; all I know is that for any of us to go is a blessing we don’t deserve and that God will do what He sees fit to do), it doesn’t matter. According to His laws, you have transgressed and are worthy only of eternal damnation. Becoming a CEO or marrying the person of your dreams or writing the next great novel or having six-pack abs won’t make you more worthy of Heaven. Nothing will.

You, of yourself, are nothing. And that is a wonderful place to be.

It’s wonderful because it means that none of the good in your life has come from you. None of your worth comes from you or what you do. You may enjoy some of the things you do have and got outside of His will, but true blessings, things that really improve your life by drawing you closer to God, all come from Him. The best part of this is that if you are worthless of yourself, if you can’t earn anything, then you can stop trying to earn it. You have value because God loves you. You have salvation, should you accept it, because God loves you. You have access to everything God wants you to have…simply because He loves you.

Improving your self-esteem begins with knowing your rightful place. It is only when you understand how little you deserve that you can accept God’s love without trying to pay it back or earn it. And what is your rightful place? In Heaven, as the bride of Christ, the son or daughter of God, an heir to Heaven, and the beloved friend of your Savior. You can’t earn it. It’s about time you stop trying.

Treasure Hunting

As I said yesterday, it’d be nice to have a bit more money. Ideally, I want a good-sized house with a golden retriever chasing squirrels in the fenced back yard, with enough money to start a family, save for their college and weddings, and still be able to take Leah on a castle tour of Europe. I don’t need millions (though I wouldn’t exactly say no if they were offered), just enough to live how I would feel comfortable.

And yet I still have a problem: I want this life. I just started a tax prep course yesterday as a first step to attaining this life. Even though I’m doing better about trusting God to provide, there’s a significant part of me that is concerned with what He provides for me on earth.

My focus should instead by on piling up treasures in Heaven, as Matthew 6:20 tells me. The riches of this world will fade or can be taken away. No matter how much we have when we die, not a cent will come with us to Heaven. Our house down here won’t matter anymore. Two hundred years from now, it’s not likely to exist anymore. Whatever books we sell are likely to be forgotten. Generations down the road, our progeny won’t even know our names. Even with Leah, one of us is likely going to have to bury the other.

We can enjoy our treasures on earth while we have them, but for how long will we have them? And if our life is but a fleeting second, as ephemeral as a mayfly, when compared with eternity, why should we spend this brief sojourn worrying about how to make it more comfortable?

When you rent a car, do you take it in for a paint job and put in a new stereo? No, even if it’s a horrible color and the stereo is broken, you put up with it knowing that the reason for which you rented the car is more important than the car itself.

We sometimes speak of having a lease on life, yet we don’t consider what that really means. We get caught up in the day-to-day management of life, especially the part about making ourselves and those we love comfortable. In an average day, how much thought and effort and time are truly given to amassing treasures in Heaven rather than treasures on earth?

I won’t speak for anyone else, but for my part, I know it’s not nearly enough. My time here is short, my time in Heaven is long. And it’s about time I went treasure hunting for those things which will last.

God’s Love Letter: The Price of the Promise

God always has a plan for what He does. He has a plan for what He allows, too. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, everything was perfect. No sin, no sickness, no death, no financial worries, nothing. And God could have kept the forbidden fruit out of the garden, making it impossible for them to sin. Yet He planted that tree and allowed them to eat of it, knowing that death would follow.

Why? Because God has a greater plan. It’s easy for us to say that it’s cruel for Him to allow us to die and go to Hell when He could have prevented it, but we have no right to judge Him. We have no right to argue against what He does to or for us. As Creator, it’s His right to do with His creation whatever He wants, much like you have the right to cook a seven-course meal and throw it in a dumpster. 

God’s plan, though, is better than throwing us away and He’s not arbitrary. We’re judged by our hearts. Do we accept Him as our Lord and Savior? That’s what He’ll look at when He judges us. And for those who do accept Him, there’s an eternal reward in Heaven.

And that’s the point: Eden wasn’t close enough for God. Adam as His son wasn’t a strong enough bond. The garden was perfect in what it was, but not good enough for us in His eyes. He wanted something better. Eden had plants and animals that needed tending; Heaven has streets of gold. In Eden, God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day; in Heaven, we have eternal access to His unfiltered presence. In Eden, Adam was God’s son and Eve His daughter; in Heaven, we are His children and the bride of Christ.

The Bible is full of stories of people who walk away from God. He punishes some, but redeems all who return to Him. More than that, the Bible is the story of humanity itself, running after its idols – whether stone and wood or subtler versions like sex and power – and His never-ending love for us.

I find it very interesting that Jesus didn’t come to earth to conquer it and be our eternal High Priest and King on earth. He could have. He has the power and the right. Instead, He came as a sacrificial lamb, humbly going to His death for us to satisfy God’s justice.

God is omniscient, so He knew that we would walk away from Him before He created us. Adam and Eve didn’t surprise Him, neither have you with any of your actions. He knew…and in knowing this, He knew that His justice and holiness would demand a terrible price to pay for these rebellions: death and separation from Him. Yet His love is so great that He was willing to not only promise us something better than what we’d thrown away, but pay the price for that promise.