September 17, 2011

Complete Surrender, Selfless Faith, and Perfect Freedom

 This summer was incredibly freeing for me, challenging, but freeing.

We live in a world that offers many fa├žades of freedom.  Our world claims that if you have more money, a slimmer figure, more friends, higher grades, more touchdowns, more time, more power, more drugs, more drinks, more food, more pleasure, more relationships, or alternatively, fewer rules and restrictions, you can be free.  The simple truth, however, and one that I have experienced personally, is that there is nothing permanently and truly freeing outside of a relationship with Jesus.  Everything else, everything, will invariably disappoint.

The paradox about the true freedom that we are offered through Jesus, however, is that it can only be experienced through complete surrender.  Only when we lay down our idols, only when we cast aside everything for the sake of our Saviour, only when we acknowledge that God and his grace are all that we need, only when we offer our lives completely, then, and only then, can we experience that glorious freedom in full.

The world's false promises of freedom lead only to a temporary sense of escape and ultimately leave us shackled and our attention diverted from our loving Father.  For me, this led to the sin of idolatry.  I am not suggesting that I have taken to worshipping golden calves, but I am confessing that my search for freedom has frequently unseated Jesus from the throne in my life.

In Exodus 20 God commands his people saying, "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below."  As I alluded to previously, the intentional creation of false objects of worship is not a tremendous struggle for me.  That being said, at the heart of this law remains the truth that God is a jealous God who despises anything that rivals him for our attention, affection, and direction.

It is pretty easy for me to identify the idols in my life, that is, when I am willing to look.  I simply ask two questions:

  1. What commands my attention?
  2. What drives my behaviour?

These questions are ones that God very clearly challenged me to ask myself this summer.

There is an inexhaustible list of potential idols in the world in which we live.  Some idolize relationships, others their body.  Some celebrities, others family.  Some academics, others athletics.  Some drugs, others money.  Some power, others love.  Some possessions, others position.  Some the opinions of others, others individuality.   The commonality that binds most of these "modern" idols together is that they stem from an idolization of the self.  We put ourselves on the throne; I put myself on the throne.  This self-idolization is something that I have struggled with tremendously.  The god commanding my attention, the god driving my behaviour has been my own comfort.  This has led to a life lived largely to maximize gratification and eliminate fear.

Scripture is painfully clear about idolizing or valuing the things of this world.

1 John 2:15-17 says, "Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its  desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."

In Matthew 6 Jesus explains, "No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."

Jesus calls us to surrender the things of this world, to relinquish control of our lives and abandon all to his direction and his lordship.  He calls us to surrender these idols and experience freedom through him.

This leads me to the passage I spent the most time in this summer - Genesis 22.  This is the historical account of God testing Abraham.  God instructs Abraham to take his promised son Isaac to the region of Moriah and to offer him there as a sacrifice.  I think that it provides some very clear application points for what complete surrender looks like.

  1. Abraham listened for God; when God spoke Abraham responded.

Too often I ignore God.  Frequently my prayer involves asking questions with no intention of waiting on God's response.  Frequently I credit coincidence for convenient happenings in my life rather than crediting the sovereign and relational God I serve.  If I want to live a life of complete surrender, I must first allow God to reveal the things that he would have me surrender.

  1. Abraham set out immediately, without delay.

Scripture says, "early the next morning Abraham got up…" Abraham then completed the preparation necessary for the task that God called him to.  As soon as the preparation was complete, Abraham set out.  I like to think that Abraham realized the truth that procrastination does not make surrender any easier.  In fact, I believe it breeds fear and resentment.  Surrender is best done immediately as a response of obedience.  Sometimes God's call does require preparation.  That preparation is not, however, something that I can use as an excuse for delaying the act of surrender.  Too frequently, I tell God (though not explicitly), "Sorry God, I can't do that now, I'm preparing!"

  1.   Abraham withheld nothing, not even his son.

This is the most incredible thing to me.  God, in Genesis 17, had promised Isaac to Abraham.  He had promised to make Abraham the father of many nations through Isaac.  If anyone had the right to refuse surrender, it was Abraham.  But Abraham didn't.  He willingly acknowledged God's provision and surrendered his promised son.  If Abraham was willing to surrender his son's life, his God-given promise, who am I to withhold anything?

  1. Abraham kept listening for God.

All I can imagine is Abraham failing to hear God's instruction of, "Do not lay a hand on the boy".  I picture, (metaphorically of course since I have no imagination), Abraham slaying his son and altogether missing the ram caught in the thicket.  I think that this is because of my own tendency to ignore God after I hear his initial call.  I forget to let God be a part of the entire process.  I fail to listen for his confirmation and/or redirection.  For example, when I arrived at university I was convinced that my program was where God wanted me to be.  Rarely, however, did I ask him what I should do while I was there.  Now my time there is almost done!

  1. Abraham was blessed for his faithful obedience.

Abraham will forever be known as a man of faith. In fact, a little over a quarter of Hebrews 11 is devoted to Abraham's testimony.  I am thankful for that.  God really challenged me with the phrase "self-less faith" this summer.  I had no idea what it meant or what it looked like.  The historical account of Abraham has helped me figure it out.  Self-less faith is complete surrender.  To live a life of self-less faith I must abandon all the world holds dear, I must cast down my idols, I must present myself as a living sacrifice.  Then, and only then, can I experience the full freedom that is mine in Christ!

June 04, 2011

A Spirit of Courage

I have a terrible case of cowardliness.  It is a rather debilitating illness that I have wrestled with for some time.  Actually, come to think of it, I haven't wrestled with it at all.  I have slowly allowed it to steal away my ability to impact the institutions I am a part of and the people that I interact with.

You see, while some cower at spiders, I cower at the thought of confrontation.  While others shy away from heights, I shy away from challenges that I may not conquer.  While many steer clear of snakes, I steer clear of vulnerability.

While I do suffer from ornithophobia (an intense fear of birds) it is far from being my most hindering fear, particularly when considering my desire to make an impact wherever God has me at any point in time, my greatest fear is my fear of experiencing pain.  Again, I find myself convicted to revise, I dislike discomfort of any kind.  Such a fear is unacceptable for one who wants to lead.  It is ridiculous for me to pursue leadership only to the point at which I experience pain because it is at that point that true leadership begins.  If I am unwilling to speak the truth when it hurts, do the difficult tasks when the reward is small and recognition none, and share my thoughts and opinions openly, I am not truly leading anyone.

Suffering is an inevitable part of leadership.  I cannot expect to reap rewards if I do not first experience hardship.  A study of Romans led me to this revelation.  Though I am reluctant to compare the lesson I learned (which I believe to be true) to the lesson Paul communicates, it was the source of my inspiration and so I feel compelled to share it nonetheless.  (I apologize if anyone feels that this is terrible misuse of scripture.)

"The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.  Now if we are God's children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." - Romans 8:16-17

Because I am a coward, God has been teaching me about courage.  I am always amazed at how consistent God is.  He faithfully teaches me lessons at the time I need to learn them.  Some may call this serendipity.  I know it to be sovereignty.

One thing that I have been convinced of, though I have known it for some time, is that courage is not an absence of fear.  Rather courage is the presence of action in the presence of fear.  In the book Spiritual Leadership J. Oswald Sanders reminds us that even Paul, a courageous servant of God if ever there was one, experienced fear.  In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul writes,

"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." - 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

This leads me to the second thing I am learning about courage; the Spirit is the only adequate source of it.  He gives it freely when  I do not suppress it.  This past month I have been reminded continually that, "...God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, or love, and of self-discipline." - 2 Timothy 1:7

The difference within the disciples following the gift of the Spirit demonstrates this power.

My problem is that I frequently quench the Spirit and I think that it is partly out of fear that I do so.  The Spirit is powerful.  I have experienced that power, and as I mentioned in my first post I am not one who likes to relinquish control.  I find myself continually quenching the Spirit.  I quench the Spirit through sin, not necessarily in my direct breaking of the Law, but in my general rebellion against God.

For example, I have a habit of defaulting to television when I do not have an urgent matter to take care of.  Though I do not watch anything that people of my generation would find morally reprehensible, when I watch my thinking does become increasingly conformed to the patterns and values of the world.  Such distraction from a God who loves me, seeks me out, and longs for my attention is shameful.

Though in no way do I mean to say that media is sinful, I do think that it "lulls me to sleep".  It quenches the Spirit as my mind strays from whatever is true, honourable, just,  pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.

My view of sin is too narrow.  I do not frequently take stalk of how my thoughts, attitudes, and actions differ from the holy God I so long to honour.  God is changing that and I am thrilled.  I have been captivated lately by Psalm 19 in which David expresses his desire to be blameless.

12 But who can discern their own errors?
   Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
   may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
   innocent of great transgression.
 14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
   be pleasing in your sight,
   LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:12-14

I cannot boast a prayer life in which I ask God to reveal my hidden faults.  In fact, I am quite happy keeping those faults hidden from myself.  God is stirring within me a new desire; the desire of David.  Only through the Spirit can I bear my unseen sin.  Only through the Spirit can I find the courage to speak truth, seek out hardship, and lead those God might entrust in my care.  I truly believe that if I allow the Spirit to work I will be able to courageously lead in the midst of fear.

Finally, on a strictly practical note, my fear is directly related to my level of preparedness.  I need to spend more time in preparation.  As Sanders notes, "The Spiritual leader must be ready and able to teach."  This readiness, I believe, is a combination of preparation and willingness.

Please pray for me,  that God would make me a willing, ready, and courageous servant and that I would be overcome by the Spirit of God within me.

April 16, 2011

Why???

Why?  The question seemed to be the irreplaceable title of my first ever blog post.  Quite simply, it summarizes the thoughts I have been thinking ever since my wonderful friend Hannah told me to begin a blog.  To be honest I am still not sure that I understand the purpose behind this "blogging" phenomenon that I have fallen victim to.

One of the most annoying aspects of my personality for other people is my incessant need to know precisely why things happen.  In my search for understanding I tried to search Google for "the purpose of blogging".

(You may have noticed that I did not say "I Googled the purpose of blogging".  As a business student I am well aware that it is perfectly acceptable to turn nouns into verbs.  I opt not to though.)

My search turned up many reasons for the blog, each of which seemed inadequate.  For example, one site suggested that a blog was a way to share my thoughts.  Though my thoughts will be shared, I refuse to believe that this is a sufficiently substantial purpose.  My thoughts are far from brilliant and are undoubtedly about things that other people could care less about.

Another site suggested that a blog can serve as a communication tool with people you care about.  This too seemed ridiculous to me.  I am highly educated in communication. (Yes Hannah, I do know that I fail miserably at implementing my knowledge.)  My education, coupled with common sense, has taught me that communication is two-way.  Blogs are not. George Bernard Shaw once said, "The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place."   I think that, for the most part, people who believe that they are communicating through blogs fall victim to Shaw's observation.  Besides, I cannot foresee people actually reading this.

A final site on my journey to enlightenment suggested that a blog is a good way to differentiate yourself from others.  This may be helpful for some people.  I, on the other hand, happen to already know that I am different.  In fact, different is probably a serious understatement in describing my quirkiness.

So why blog?  This investigation left me still searching for an answer.  Some of you may be wondering why an answer is so important to me.  A second annoying aspect of my personality is my infatuation with purpose.  If I cannot identify a purpose for an activity I am unlikely to participate.  (I suppose this partially explains why I think it so ridiculous to play a sport without keeping score.)

Thankfully, Google does not contain more information about me than I do.  I was able to uncover three reasons why I ought to blog.

  1. I am commitment averse.  I need to develop my self-discipline and this provides a means of doing that.
  1. I (and I think that this generalizes to most of society) do not spend sufficient time thinking.  This blog will force me to think and hopefully encourage others to do the same.  That being said, I guarantee I will never suggest to anyone that they ought to read my blog.
  1. A very good friend asked me to do this and that ought to be reason enough.

So here you have it Hannah...a brief glimpse into my mind.  Feel free to share with anyone you feel may be interested, entertained, or simply needs a pointless rant to put them to sleep each night.