Statues of God

First, I’d like to apologize for my (word-of-the-day alert) reticence. Working two jobs with 50-70 hours a week plus the occasional class cuts down on my available time significantly.

That said, a thought occurred to me on my way home that I feel led to post. 

It’s amazing to think that the same God that created the Universe created you and I and even considers us to be His greater masterpieces. We are in His image. The Universe isn’t. The elephant isn’t. A virus isn’t. Neither is a redwood or a whale. You are. 

Then God tells us to not worship images of gods. I don’t know anybody who bows down to Baal or Zeus, but there are many versions of gods out there. For a lot of people, money or status is their god. Some may do anything to get that next high. Some want relationships, and in this is an especially dangerous trap.

I love my wife more than I love anyone else. Yet if I fall into worshiping this image of God instead of God, I do both her and God a great disservice. I dishonor them both by honoring them outside of their proper order. And I do myself a great disservice because my relationship with both of them is damaged when the priority of them has gone awry. 

Leah, for all her wonderful qualities, cannot teach me how to love unconditionally. It’s simply not in her of herself to do so. Even with the love of God flowing through her, that can show me what that love looks like, but it cannot teach me to love that way. And I need to love her (and others as well) that way if I am to honor God, grow in Him, and treat them as they both deserve (as children of God) and as He desires me to treat them. 

And when I love her more than I love God, when I worship the gift instead of the Giver, then I pin my hopes of happiness on her, which means she has the power to hurt me deeply with her actions or words. It enslaves me to her because I want that happiness and I have viewed her as the source of it. Instead, we ought to be slaves to God, a God who will never, even unintentionally, do anything that is not in our best interests in the end if we love Him and serve Him.

Idol worship is not just about the ancient gods or money and fame. It can be as close as the person in bed next to you at night. Love that person, but guard against loving them too much, for when you do, you love them less than you should.

Lesson from a Worm

Leah and I watched a sitcom last night in which one character, born and raised a nerd, was being taught how to fish. The woman teaching him told him to put a worm on a hook, so he did, draping the worm over the hook instead of spearing it on the hook.

And that got me thinking about us and God. In fishing, we take worms out of the ground, impale them while they’re still alive, throw them in water (in which they may drown), and hope they get eaten. Why? Did the worms do anything to us? No. Did we have some deep-seated hatred of all worms from a bad childhood experience? Probably not. We don’t have anything at all against the worms, yet we treat them brutally so we can have a relaxing time with a few friends. And we don’t have any problem treating them this way because they’re so far below us. They’re nothing compared to us.

Yet when things happen to us that we don’t like, what’s our response to God? “Why is this happening to me? What did I ever do to You?! I thought You loved me!” And it doesn’t seem to cross our minds that we’re closer to the worm than we are to our Creator. When we go fishing, we don’t give the worm a choice, neither do we owe it one. Likewise, God doesn’t need your approval to let something happen to you. He could let hell on earth happen to you like He did with Job and He would still be worthy of our honor and respect because of who He is.

And I’m as guilty of blaming Him and yelling at Him as anyone. None of it does any good. It doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t change His mind. It doesn’t improve my situation.

What’s more, God, though He has every right to do with you or me whatever He sees fit, actually looks out for our best interests. He doesn’t impale us, drown us, and hope we get eaten so He can have a relaxing Saturday afternoon. He actually loves us and the trials we have are either punishments or lessons, and often both.

Being Thankful

It’s the week of Thanksgiving here in the United States. It’s one of the holidays that I wish was celebrated around the world, though naturally, different countries would pick different days to celebrate it. There’s something innately wonderful about being grateful for what you’ve been given. It helps you to live outside of yourself for a moment, to remember that life isn’t all about you, and that others in your life have remembered that life isn’t about themselves long enough to bless you.

There’s always something to be grateful for, even if that is only that your tough times won’t last forever.

I’m not going to urge you to list things for which you’re thankful. There will be thousands of posts in the next few days that will urge you to do that more poetically than I could. Instead, I’m going to urge you to actually thank those who have blessed you, whether they’re coworkers, family, boyfriend or girlfriend, teacher, or someone else. Just as it helps you to be thankful, it helps others to be thanked, to know that their efforts are not wasted or ineffectual. It helps to know they’re making a difference, especially if they feel like nobody’s noticing.

And be sure to thank God as well, for it is Him from Whom all the truly good things in your life come.

Bought at a Price, Part 2

So, how does being free from the world’s expectations of you change how you’re to act to it?

Well, in one of those signature “exactly the opposite of what the world does” moves, a freedom in Christ makes you able to subject yourselves further to people. When we’re good to people while still caring about what they think of us, we want something in return for our kindness. We want acceptance, or at least a reasonable facsimile of it, in order to keep giving. We get what we’re looking for, we continue to give; we don’t get what we’re looking for, we leave or get frustrated and/or desperate.

With the freedom that knowing our true value gives us, we can give as Christ did. You see, He served nearly everyone. Those who were sick got healed. Those who were lame walked. Those who were blind received their sight. Those who were demon-possessed were freed. Those who were lost found their Way. Even the Pharisees were taught, that both the people who had listened to the Pharisees might learn what the Pharisees really believed and that some of the Pharisees would repent. At the Last Supper, He washed His disciples’ feet, He who could command the host of Heaven to obey His every whim knelt down and cleaned the dirt off the feet of the faithful John, former tax collector Matthew, hotheaded Peter, and even Judas.

He did all this because, having been free from needing their love, He was able to love them purely, and having this pure love enabled Him to do things for people that no amount of self-seeking fake love ever could.

“So…I’m supposed to see myself as infinitely valuable, then allow others to walk all over me?”

YES! But it’s that attitude that highlights the difference. Jesus kept giving, even knowing what people would do to Him. He knew that most wouldn’t thank Him, that many would ignore or revile Him, and that He’d be crucified. He still gave. Willingly. And happily. Because He knew loved the people and because He knew His Father’s will was to bless them. Their rejection didn’t get Him down because He wasn’t looking to them to lift Him up.

Once you understand just how much God loves you and how little the opinions that others have of you matter, you will be able to love them with God’s love and finally be free…to serve those your Lord loves.

Bought at a Price, Part 1

1 Corinthians 7:23: “You were bought at a price, do not become slaves of men.”

Paul is talking about not being subject to the laws of men. The Jews of that time believed in the law of Moses and in circumcision. Paul tells new Christians that they are no longer under that law because it has been fulfilled for them by Christ.

This fact, though, doesn’t just free them from the law; it also frees them from living up to the expectations of those who are still under the law. 

Before you were a Christian, you were concerned about yourself. You were probably concerned with those whom you loved, but you wanted to serve yourself and be loved. You wanted to be valuable and worthy. That’s what the Pharisees believed that following the law did for them; they were worthy because of their adherence to the rules. Then these Christians come along and claim the law has been fulfilled, so the Pharisees get upset and try to bring the Christians under the law, the same law that justifies the Pharisees already, building them up over everyone else.

Jesus didn’t die so you could continue to be a slave. He did not purchase you from His law only to have you sell yourself into the hands of other people. And that’s precisely what happens when you let others determine your value.

Think about it for a second: what kind of things do we do so that others, many of whom don’t even know us that well, will like us? We go to the gym, dress well, spend time coaxing our hair until it’s perfect, and generally try to appear in public as though we have everything together. For our bf/gf (and sometimes, even our spouse), we hide uncomfortable truths from them because we fear they’ll get angry or be hurt. We let the opinions others will have of us control our actions on a daily basis.

There are responsibilities we have, such as a man to protect and lead his family, but these are responsibilities to God to be good stewards over that which He has seen fit to entrust us. Our responsibilities to others are summed up in the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mark 12:31), and that command comes from Jesus, not from a self-imposed enslavement to others.

Jesus died to set you free. You are free to follow Him regardless of what anyone else thinks of it. You are free from living your life to make others happy. You are His slave, not theirs. And so it is Him whom you should be obeying, not others. His commands are simple: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

In the next part, we will take a closer look at the differences in your actions that this means.

Bring on the Holidays!

Leah and I just returned from a trip to northern Illinois to visit my family. We won’t be able to make it for the holidays, so we went while we could. It was good to see them. Hugs all around, good conversations, gift exchanges, and just time with family.

I don’t know what your relationship is with your family, but we are fast approaching the holiday season, when most of us will get together with friends or relatives, enjoy meals that are too large and induce food comas, and carry on traditions that were started before anyone can remember.

This is meant to be the happiest time of the year, but for many people, it’s the saddest and loneliest. If you generally get sad or lonely, make an effort to be with someone. I don’t mean jumping into a romantic relationship (and certainly don’t mean carrying one too far), but be with your family and friends as often as you can be. If you’re not near them, go to a local church’s party. At this time of year, most people have at least a modicum of good cheer and are willing to make new friends.

If you are already happy enough, invite someone who isn’t to join you at some point. You don’t have to bring in a foreign coworker into your Christmas morning with the family time, but you can invite him or her to your Christmas party. You can also give small gifts that cost you $5 or less. It really is amazing how inexpensive it can be to bring a smile to someone’s face and brighten their mood for a week or more.

And, though retailers are opening their doors earlier seemingly every year, try to avoid the commercialism of it all. The best gifts aren’t the most expensive ones, or even the ones that you had to elbow the most people out of the way to get. The best gift in life is love. You’ve been given it freely, so if you accept it, you will always have enough to give it freely to others.

Gratitude

It is Veterans’ Day in the United States. I don’t know which other countries celebrate their veterans with a special day, but for me, this is a day of thankfulness. I’m grateful for all the brave men and women who have chosen to serve us, often for less pay than they could have gotten elsewhere. For all who have bear the scars from injuries received while defending this country. For all who have been apart from their families so I could be with mine in peace. For those who train daily to protect millions of people they’ve never met. For those who go overseas to fight for the oppressed. For the sacrifices of families who have lost loved ones in the military so that my loved ones could be safe. Thank you all for serving. I am grateful for all that you do to keep myself and this nation safe.