11/28/2013

A Thanksgiving Dive into Jesus

The kids and I have been making a list of things we're thankful for this month. They have things on their lists like, "Angry Birds", "Horsies", and "Cake!" But there are other things that make me pause. Stuff like, "Our shoes", "The (Holy) Spirit", and "the world". I think it's pretty cool that my five-year-old daughter is thankful for her shoes when they are tattered and used old hand-me-downs. That is, until we go to the shoe aisle and her shoes suddenly look less appealing.

The truth is, most of the time my kids aren't thankful. Most of the time they are your typical "first world" children who can't see anything they have when all they want is what is just out of reach. They mostly don't appreciate the value of the incredibly blessed life they lead. My husband and I give them the short speeches about starving children in Africa when they won't eat their peas, but it goes right over their heads. Sometimes we give to charity on their behalf and watch videos about kids in other countries and how they live. But when the complaining happens, I can tell they still have a very limited perspective on their wealth.

I understand how hard it is to be thankful when you have so much. It's almost as if we were all born rich in this country, just by being born American citizens. All of our creature-needs are fulfilled from day one. The hard part is trying to choose which brand to buy. If we were to be honest, the vast majority of us struggle more with how to organize and utilize all that we already have. Unfortunately the typical American is very poor in their soul because of all that their body has access to.

What strikes me lately are the simple things my peers say and post online that they're thankful for. I'm not judging anyone's "gift list" from God, I know I have some personal blessings, myself, that would mean a lot to me but very little to others. These days, however, I've been less inspired all the "small things" that tend to dominate these lists. "Hot tea on the back porch" and "Light streaming through windows" truly are beautiful things. Nobody's knocking appreciation for all that our five senses enjoy. But God has been taking me on a very dark and scary journey through a deeper truth about the human condition.

What are the things I'm most thankful for today? Existence, salvation, God's unfailing mercy to a corrupt creation. I look at all that I have and all the people in my life and I wonder where we would be without Jesus Christ's sacrifice. Thankfulness doesn't even begin to serve as an adequate word for what I feel toward a God who salvaged a doomed race of beings. We were so close to being wiped out! We owe our very existence to Him, and every breath. The little blessings He allows us to experience mean nothing unless they can be seen as the merciful gift that they are. Even those who don't know Him or give credit to Him are able to enjoy what He set into motion. This is a God who is to be praised and honored with all that we have. I read a quote today, "It is impossible to be grateful for what we feel we were entitled to." I don't remember who said it, but it rings so true. We are a haughty and arrogant people who feel like we deserve all the good we receive. It is my privilege to be in a position to see my unworthiness and my inability to save myself. I place my entire fate on the shoulders of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Happy Thanksgiving to THAT!


11/09/2013

Esteeming Myself

I've always felt uncomfortable with compliments. I used to think it was because I didn't have enough self-esteem or I was believing the lies about my worth. Lately I've realized that I was closer to the truth when I cringed at the kind observations. I knew then what I still know: I don't deserve it. If that sounds like an insecure little girl fishing for compliments, stop right there. I'm more secure now than I've ever been in my life. But my security isn't in my abilities, my talents, or any of the other gifts I've been blessed with. My security is solely in Almighty God.

Failure is one of the things I used to be good at. I would throw my whole heart into something with abandon, believing that I had it all figured out, and end up face-down in the consequences of my decisions. And believe me, I could rationalize anything. One of my gifts was investing into my own personal perspective. At times, I was even devoted to it enough to make everyone else sound like fools when they contradicted me. I'd convinced a lot of people that my plans made sense. After all, I had faith in my talents and my charm, and so did they. Life would just work itself out within all the good intentions of myself and the people who cared for me. Everyone talked a lot, including me. We lived lifetimes within our words until finally our actions stepped forward. Neglect and lack of focus made our words meaningless. The reality would set in and we would be left with fragments of goals and ambitions, and with little hope for success. Then I would surrender to failure, the ever-present shadow behind every one of my self-centered dreams. So it became my home-base, my starting-over point, and my sanctuary: failure.

You can go a couple of places when you're good at something like failure. You can become bitter and enraged with the "unfairness" of it all, or you can be humiliated and feel small and helpless. I suppose I fluctuated between the two, which made for very unpleasant company to say the least. But even crazy people can find others to wrap themselves in. During my bitter times I would find gentle people to manipulate and live vicariously through. With my amazing powers of insight I would dissect them and break open their illusions and feel powerful again. After I saw the damage I had done to those weaker than myself, I retreated into humiliation and shame. During those times of cowering and disintegrating I surrounded myself with powerful people I recognized who would reaffirm my weaknesses and subdue my dangerous impulses to dream. They kept me down for years as self-punishment for my time of reckless abandon.

You see, I don't deserve to be called "kind" or "beautiful" or "a good person".  I've looked on as my words tore holes in people that may never heal. I've stood by as cruelty raged and I could have done something to stop it. I've heaped shovel-fulls of sin, my own and others', onto the head and shoulders of the innocent. I deserve destruction, death, and hell. So do you, by the way. Put that in your self-esteem pipe.

Enter: Jesus, stage right. As I was staring at the gaping mouth of flames, I understood His love. When I was flat on the ground trying to hide myself beneath the falling rocks, I understood His mercy. While the desperation of my heart cried out in infantile wailing, I understood His powerful, sovereign grace. The more I see of Him, the less I think of myself. How do I esteem myself now that I've seen Him? Dirt, dust, nothing... and like Job I loathe myself.

You may see something more delightful in me than I see in myself. Good observation and thanks, but please don't give me credit for it. If I'd had my way I would have sold it to the highest bidder. Anything that only appears "good" in me will be burned away by His presence of perfection. Everything truly good in me is only Him and that's all that will remain in the end. The rest is my surrender and my obedience. If I'm truly good in any way now, it's because He made it so. It's not me, OK? Let me show you what I was without Him.

I was an empty shell of a person with no life of her own, gasping in the air He provided in order to act out my sin and rebellion. I was part of this obstinate creation, hell-bent on scraping my own worth out of this fleeting existence. I was gnashing my teeth at God in arrogant self-righteousness, telling Him how things ought to be. I was born into it, I bled it, I oozed it: SIN. Just like everyone else conceived in this realm. You're welcome.

It's only by God's saving act of mercy that I live. He purchased me with the blood of His Son. I have no right to myself, I never did. I was born for Hell until He rescued me for Heaven. All I can do is praise Him, wait on Him, and marvel at His work in me. I'm just along for the ride. But, thanks for the compliment anyway. It's nice to know my Jesus is showing.