Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Out of Gas?

A number of years ago, a beautiful float in the Tournament of Roses parade suddenly sputtered and quit. Frantic technicians scurried about to see what was wrong. No one could be sure. It appeared that all mechanisms where properly connected, and there was no perceptible reason why the motorized cart should not move the float. It was a mystery...until. Until someone asked the obvious; “Is the float out of gas?”

To everyone’s chagrin, it was. The whole parade came to a grinding halt while someone fetched a can of gas. What makes this story even more ironic—and embarrassing—is that the float was sponsored by the Standard Oil Company. With this company’s vast oil resources, it’s little truck ran out of gas!

While I try to be careful in drawing out spiritual analogies to such stories, I can see some applications to our Christian journey here. Let me suggest two. First, as children of the sovereign King of the universe, there are vast—infinitely vast—resources at our disposal. Too often, we allow our own human limitations to dictate our responses to any given crisis. And, we are limited, weak, and broken. Paul reminds us however, that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:8).

Second, and I think this is Paul’s point, we must learn to rely on—tap into, if you will—the power of God rather than our own perceived abilities. Only then, can we experience Paul’s conclusion, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Through any hardship and trial, God’s grace is sufficient for us. If we don’t learn to make ourselves open to it, however, we, like Standard Oil Company’s float, will simply run out of gas.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Living On Purpose

In one of his Far Side cartoons, Gary Larson depicts a chalkboard, two thirds of which is filled with a long, complex mathematical equation complete with Greek letters, plenty of parentheses, and a healthy number of brackets. The sum total of this contorted symbolic expression is a big fat “zero.” Two middle-aged, “nerdish” scientists are looking at their joint effort with stoic satisfaction. The one to whom the caption implicitly is attributed stands with his hands on his hips. The caption reads: “No doubt about it, Ellington—we’ve mathematically expressed the purpose of the universe. God, how I love the thrill of scientific discovery.”

In Larson’s own unique way, he was able to capture visually the contradiction between arrogant rationalism and the primal recognition—and need—we all have of something (someone) that is larger than ourselves. While the scientists gloated over their nihilistic theory expressed mathematically, God was just as easily—and enthusiastically—evoked and, ironically, praised for the accomplishment.

As I reflected on this cartoon, God put on my heart the words of Isaiah: “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:7). Our human rationality is good, for it also comes from God. It becomes bad when Satan twists it for his own evil purposes. There are many in our world who, like the fictional scientists in Larson’s cartoon, believe that there is no ultimate purpose to the universe and, therefore, to their own lives. From this perspective, we are nothing but a fortuitous combination of molecules in a world of evolutionary confusion. Such a thought inevitably leaves us empty, longing for something else.

As humans, we bear the imprint of God in our souls. We have been created in his image. Despite the loud voices of radical rationalism, we intuitively sense that God exists and, somehow, engages us. And, as Isaiah reminds us, our ultimate purpose for living is to glorify God with soul, body, and mind. May we never forget who we are...and WHOSE we are!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Humilty and Self-Love: Mutually Exclusive or Mutually Essential?

I don’t know whom they were talking about, but it was obvious that he was in deep trouble. Apparently, this guy had been a real “jerk” to one of them, and these teenage girls wanted his head on a platter.

I observed this scene while at a mall in Georgia where I used to live. They were huddled together, hands on hips, making those head and eye gestures that teenage girls do so effectively. Taken together, their body language said, “He’s disgusting, and we’re going to make his life miserable!”

As I walked past this angry gathering, I overheard one of them say above the din, “Yeah, he’s in love alright...in love with himself!” “Whoa,” I said to myself as I strode down the mall, “He really must be a jerk.” Like those irked teenagers, I agreed all-too-quickly that loving self is intrinsically narcissistic and, quite frankly, disgusting.

To buttress my conclusion, I quickly called to mind several biblical passages that place a premium on humility, and warns against thinking too highly of oneself (cf. Lk. 18:10-14; 1 Pet. 5:6). Yet, as I was mentally dismantling this obviously-insensitive guy, another passage nudged its way into my thinking. “Love the Lord your God... and your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).

“Love your neighbor as yourself?” Doesn’t that statement imply that we should love ourselves? In fact, doesn’t it imply that without a healthy love for self we cannot adequately love others. It appears, then, that the Bible makes two, mutually-exclusive demands of us: (1) humility; and (2) self-love. How do we reconcile the two?

In response to this apparent dilemma, C.S. Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters: “[God] wants to kill [humans’] animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy...to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own.” I think Lewis was right. In the biblical sense, love for self does not suggest a self-centered arrogance. Nor does humility demand a self-deprecating, devaluing of our own self worth.

Taken in tandem, these two biblical principles bring our view of self into proper focus. An humble, self love means we will delight in our own accomplishments—and those of others—as the marvelous work of God in our, and their, lives. As the Holy Spirit develops these biblical traits within us, we truly will “love our neighbors...as ourselves!”

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Don't Waddle When You Can Fly

Soren Kierkegaard, a prominent theologian of the 20th Century, tells a parable of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church to hear the duck preacher.

The duck preacher was in rare form as he quacked eloquently—and compellingly—of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. “With our amazing wings,” the duck preacher quacked with conviction, “there is nowhere we ducks could not go; there is no God-given task we ducks could not accomplish.” With the rhetorical skill of a master orator, the duck preacher ended on a high note, “With our powerful wings, we can soar into the very presence of God Himself.”

The duck congregation was caught up in the preacher’s words. Shouts of “Amen, brother, Amen!” were quacked throughout the duck assembly as they contemplated the possibilities that existed for their web-footed species.

At the end of this most moving service, the ducks left, quacking about what a wonderful, inspiring message they had heard...and waddled all the way back home. This humorous story packs a powerful punch, doesn’t it? God’s word is replete with messages about the possibilities that exist for His people. Hear just a few...

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26)

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20)

Wow! What possibilities! God says we can soar. There is no God-given task that we could not accomplish. Now the question is: Are we going to settle for waddling, when we have the power to fly?