Friday, January 30, 2009

A Divine Makeover: Becoming Our True Selves

You’ve probably seen some of those “before” and “after” pictures of people who, through the magic of modern cosmetology, are transformed from antiquated “plain Joe’s” to GQ potential. To boost self-esteem or to create a new persona for themselves, literally millions are spent on makeovers annually. While some attempt a physical renovation through the latest cosmetological techniques, others attempt a more profound—though equally self-induced—reconstruction.

In his book, Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey confesses his own self-deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction, whose outcome was ultimately unsatisfying. Embarrassed by TV programs like the “Beverly Hillbillies” and “HeeHaw,” Yancey attempted to disassociate himself from his Southern heritage. Vowel by vowel he worked to change his accent, succeeding so well that people react with surprise when they learn of his Deep South roots. Having read great books to remove all provincial blinders, Yancey felt that he had finally addressed—and conquered—his previous self, creating a “new man.”

Through more spiritually mature lenses, Yancey began to realize the limits to a self-constructed personality. Yancey writes: “In most ways important to God, I had failed miserably. I was selfish, joyless, and lacked compassion. With the notable exception of self-control, I lacked all nine of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5.”

Yancey not only recognized the limits to a self-directed makeover, he ultimately came to understand that his entire project of reconstructing his personality had been misguided. “God did not want to work with a wholly different personality. God chose me.”

The strong urge to be someone other than who we are actually opposes God’s purposes for our lives. Often these feelings arise from a legitimate dislike of our sinful natures. It is precisely here, however, that the gospel offers good news. God, through the working of His Spirit, is not turning us into a wholly different person. On the contrary, through the redemptive work of Christ within us, God liberates—not destroys—our true selves! In this regard, Yancey concludes; “The Holy Sprit coaxes each of us to be ourselves, flawed personalities in whom God himself has chosen to dwell. With infinite resources, God can assist every willing person on earth in that custom process. It begins with trust in God’s best for me, a confidence that God will liberate my true self, not bind it.” Create room in your heart for God, and let God show you who you truly are!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Living Through The Unexpected

In 2003, this unusual story appeared in a Paris publication (Reuters):

A French hunter was shot by his dog after he left a loaded shotgun in the trunk of his car with two dogs and one of the animals accidentally stepped on the trigger, police said Wednesday.
The man, from the village of Espelette in the Basque region, was admitted to a hospital in the nearby town of Bayonne Monday with lead shot injuries to the hip. "As he was driving along, one of his dogs accidentally set off the gun," said a police official.

And I thought that tragedies involving guns, moving vehicles, and dogs happened only in the rural southeastern United States! Obviously, this reported event demonstrates that human carelessness is ubiquitous, transcending all cultures.

This story reminded me that, despite our best efforts, or because of our negligence, unexpected reversals will occur. Of course, as in this story, we often invite serious negative consequences into our lives by our own irresponsibility. Obviously, loaded guns and dogs shouldn’t be kept in the same enclosed area.

There are times, however, when tragedies occur that have no clear human cause-effect relationship. Sometimes we face difficulties or hardships due to circumstances far beyond our personal control. Perhaps these are the most difficult situations to accept, especially for those who are attempting to walk with God. In those times, it’s good to keep three clear biblical teachings in mind. First, we live in a broken world that has been devastated by sin (Rom. 8). While our world continues to bear the marks of God's good, creative intentions it, nonetheless, has been twisted by the Fall. Since the cosmos no longer completely functions according to God's perfect will, including those who bear His image, bad things will happen.

Second, the forces of evil actively work to thwart the good will of God, and occasionally temporarily succeed (Dan. 10). Finally, by the resurrection of Christ, God has gained the ultimate victory over evil, and has secured the final vindication of His people (Revelation).

While I dare not attempt to predict specifics, I’m sure that, like every preceding year, 2009 will have its share of the unexpected—both good and bad. Further, though we can’t predict the specific outcome of events in our own space-time continuum, we can be assured of one incontrovertible truth: good (God) will prevail. This overarching truth provides tremendous strength for living through the unexpected.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Christmas Light

Christmas is over. Admittedly, I often experience a let-down after the Christmas holidays. The lights that once illuminated darkened streets, and garnished houses have been packed away for another year. No more "naughty food" that increases the belt size, and clogs the arteries. No more lazily sitting around table, laughing with family and friends. It's time to get back to "normal."

Unfortunately, "normalcy" often erases the memories of the good news of Christmas. We all-too-quickly forget about the promise of the incarnation, and live in the problems--and biasis--of our fallen world. Just as we pack up the Christmas lights, symbolizing the "light of the world," we tend to allow our own eyes to become darkened by our own self-interests.

In this regard, and old Hassidic tale summarizes much of what the world—and our churches—need so desperately today.

The Rabbi asks his students, “How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?”

One student suggests, “When, from a distance, you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep?”
“No,” the Rabbi answers.

“Is it when you can distinguish between a fig tree and a grapevine?” asks a second student.
“No,” the Rabbi says.

“Please tell us the answer, then,” say the perplexed students.

“It is,” says the wise teacher, ”when you have enough light to look human beings in the face and recognize them as your brothers and sisters. Until then the darkness is still with us.”

If you think about it, this rabbinical saying is packed with insight into the human condition. Typically, how we see or perceive a situation or individual determines how we feel. Our feelings in turn heavily influence how we respond. In the end, if our vision is blurred by prejudices or self interests, our reaction to others will be influenced accordingly.

Jesus had eyes focused by divine lenses. This resulted, not in a pious attempt to insulate his holiness from sin, but a tender compassion to counter their sin with his holiness. Where some saw sinners to be avoided, Jesus saw potential sons of God. Where some saw the need to shun disease, Jesus saw the opportunity to show deliverance. Where some saw trouble, Jesus saw triumph. Where most saw death, Jesus gave life.

With the coming of Christ, the long night of the kingdom of darkness gave way to the dawn of God's kingdom. As Jesus engaged his broken world so we are to engage ours. Faces and times have changed, but the need remains the same. May God remove the darkness and grant us eyes to recognize all humans beings as his special creation in desperate need of God’s love. In so doing, the light of Christmas will continue to illuminate our hearts.

Friday, January 02, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

This is the time of year where New Year' s Resolutions abound. We tend to make large statements about what "we're gonna do this year" and "really mean it this time." The list can be quite impressive and we set out to accomplish our resolutions. At least for a period of time.

Well, I know I haven't posted a blog since the summer of 2006. So, obviously, my New Year's resolution is to post more regularly in 2009. As the title of the blog suggest, I'm going to attempt a weekly post. I hope the things I muse about in writing will be a blessing to you.

I look forward to reading your comments and interacting with you on a more regular basis.

I pray that God will bless us all as we confront the global issues facing us during 2009.