Friday, February 27, 2015

A Study on Perfection: Seeing True Beauty

Lately I've been working hard trying to get into shape for summer. Swim suit weather will be upon us before we know it, guys! And as a result I am feeling myself slowly transform, but can’t see the results much yet. If you are a human being whose been on this planet for longer than thirteen years, you probably can sympathize with how frustrating that is.

It makes me wonder, though, why it is I’m not entirely happy with the way God made me. It’s not that getting in shape is wrong, but I think part of it is motivated by the feeling that God didn't quite make me perfect. Which is totally ridiculous, considering “perfect” is a fluid concept in today’s world and “beautiful” is almost unattainable without Photoshop and a paint brush. Then why do we, as human beings, fall into this trap? Why are we plagued by constant discontentment when it comes to how we look? Is there something wrong with us?

Well, yes, there is. It’s called sin. Sin festers inside, making us feel gross and unhappy, which oozes out of us into what we see. Even if we are Believers saved by grace, we've had that old self rotting inside of us so long we still see it when we look in the mirror. We still have to fight to transform our brains to the way that God thinks. And that’s like climbing a mountain backwards- it goes against our nature (the “natural” or sinful man), and gravity (the “World” or society) fights to pull us down.

Think about it. Everywhere we look “beautiful” women and men grace the covers of magazines, are used in advertisements, and act on television. It’s only been recently that “imperfection” has been touted as a desirable trait. And I think it’s because people are tired of trying to measure up. So instead of working our tails off to look like a runway model, why not use models that look like us? Why not idolize the actors that have imperfect teeth or a plus size body? If we force that to be our idea of beauty, then we’ll all be beautiful.

The only problem with that is we really aren't- at least not on the inside, in God’s eyes. If we lower our standard of beauty so that we, too, can be beautiful it makes it that much easier to squash the little voice that’s been telling us we aren't good enough. And we need that voice. We need it desperately. Without it, we don’t realize just how much we need Jesus.

But in the end, maybe seeing the imperfect as beautiful could be a good thing, too- as long as we transform our minds to see as God sees. Everyone knows the verse in Psalm 139 that says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” But I think the last half of verse 14 is often overlooked.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
(Psa 139:14)

“Wonderful”. The King James Version uses the world “marvelous”, as in “something to be marveled at”. Synonyms for that would be: an awesome sight, amazing thing, sensation, miracle, or phenomenon. Or, as I like to think, perfect. Perfect are your works.

Who are we to tell the Artist of the World that his work is less than amazing? Who are we to think that we can “improve” upon it? If I was born with a turned up nose, how can I say it isn't as beautiful as someone else’s? If I have a scar, how can I call it ugly when it’s what God chose to give me? How can I dishonor His marvelous creation like that?

That’s not to say we shouldn't exercise or remove a cancerous mole, but the reasons why we do these things are very important. Just like our motives for changing our inner selves need to be Godly and pure, the reasons for changing the outer need to be the same. The outside reflects the inside, after all.

So how do we change how we think about ourselves? How do we make sure our motives please God?

This next part just blows my mind. Read verses 17 and 18 of the same chapter:

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

Notice how this section comes immediately after the one that talks about how God created us and our lives. Now, I know I may be stretching a bit, but consider this: how often do you look at your garish freckles or too thick/thin body and think, “I wonder what God thinks about this”?

Often I've thought in terms of “what does Scripture say on this subject” but for some reason actually asking myself what God thinks about something isn't a habit for me. In fact, the mere thought of what God thinks is too much for my mortal brain to handle. It produces the same reaction that the Psalmist has in verse 6. It is too wonderful for me. It is too high, I cannot attain it.

What God thinks should be something we consider all the time. We should meditate on it, prize it. Instead of distancing ourselves from problems by thinking in terms of “Scripture says”, we should be up close and personal. We should ask, “What does God think?” (Which is found in the Scriptures so don’t abandon them!) A simple change of words can transform the way we see the world.

So what does He think? He thinks you and I are marvelous. Who are we to say otherwise?

What areas in your life do you need to reconsider from God’s point of view? Have you been distancing yourself from God by using the wrong terms? Would changing them make a difference in that situation?

Think about it.

P.S.- I just wanted to leave you with some verses to reflect on how marvelous His Works truly are. I hope they encourage you!                                                                                                                                                                                                      
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!
(Psa 92:4-5)

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
(Psa 104:24)

O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
(Isa 25:1)

"As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.”
(Job 5:8-11)

He is wise in heart and mighty in strength --who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?-- he who removes mountains, and they know it not, when he overturns them in his anger, who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; who does great things beyond searching out, and marvelous things beyond number.
(Job 9:4-10)

Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
(Psa 98:1-3)

The stone that the builders rejected (Jesus) has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
(Psa 118:22-23)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
(1Pe 2:9-10)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mastered: When Loneliness Threatens to Control Your Life

Have you ever been lonely? Maybe you’re single, like I am, and your heart yearns for someone to share your life with. Or maybe you are married and know in your head you should be happy, but feel disconnected from your spouse. No matter where we are in life, everyone feels the dreaded thorn called loneliness at one time or another.

For me, loneliness is my Achilles heel, my Paul-like thorn in the side. Even as a child I felt isolated and different, and then as a teenager I left behind all my friends when I moved to Europe. Now, as a young adult, the pangs of loneliness continue to remind me that the one thing I don’t have is a soul mate. The last five years have been a major struggle against depression. I’ve felt lost, alone, and unwanted even by those I would call friends. So believe me when I say I know a thing or two about loneliness. And I hate it.

The thing about loneliness is that it’s not something we can categorize simply. For some, it may be the idol of marriage in their lives that needs to be torn down. For others it may be justified because they literally have no one to turn to, including friends and family. But for others, like me, it may not be so black and white. There are so many reactions to this type of loneness. Those who have been through it, sympathize but don’t know how to comfort. Those who are happily married try to pair you up with someone. And those who have never felt it say, “You have God. You shouldn’t be lonely.” As a result, we struggle to not think about it and push it away, sometimes wondering if it’s a sin or if it’s alright to feel this way.

Honestly, I still don’t have the answer to that. But from my many years of study in God’s Word, I tend to lean toward the latter. As I state in my blog post Shades of Gray: On the Subject of Emotions, often times in Scripture people feel and express powerful emotions yet God doesn't condemn them for it. (If you read that post, this is basically an expansion on part of it.) One such person is someone we are probably all too familiar with- David. If anyone can identify with loneliness, he can. With a father-in-law that chased him around the country for years wanting him dead, I think he might just have a right to feel a few strong emotions.

Recently my devotions led me to Psalm 145, a Psalm I had never paid that much attention to. Listen to this:
The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
(Psa 145:8-9)

The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.
(Psa 145:14-19)

Does this sound like a God who would condemn you for feeling lonely? Does it sound like he’s not going to listen to you because you are not “satisfied in Him” (as some people would say)? No! This sounds like a God knows who knows exactly what you are- a human being in need of human connection. But it also sounds like He has provided a way to sooth that desire in the mean time: “The LORD is near to all who call on him.”

So next time I am assaulted by my thorn of loneliness, I will lift my face to God and remind myself of four things.

  1.  The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works. So He must have a plan for my current singleness (or, for those who are married, feeling of singleness).
  2. The LORD is near to all who call on Him. This means I am never truly alone.
  3. The LORD fulfills the desire of those who fear Him. My life is in submission to Him so He knows my desires and they are probably not wrong. If they are, He will show me because I fear Him.
  4. The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. He also hears their cry and saves them. I will not be abandoned to my loneliness because He is loving and faithful.

As I wrap this up, I’d like to leave you with two final verses that have been of great encouragement to me in the last few weeks. Please, take some time to go over them slowly, word for word. Say them out loud, memorize them, or write them down if you have to. Do whatever it takes to ingrain them on your heart and feel the weight of them. Let them work their way down deep into your soul. 
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
(Psa 27:13-14)

Don’t let loneliness control you. Let the Master of the Universe control your loneliness. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel it, but at least you won’t be enslaved to it. After all, God sent His Son so you would be free! Don’t let His sacrifice become meaningless. Instead, “be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

Think about it.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The War Between Good and Evil

Good vs. Bad- one of the most popular themes of all time in comics, books, movies, and television. Usually the hero and villain are a fairly equally matched pair, although there are stories where technically the villain is more powerful. But always, always, the villain is defeated in the end after much struggle, sacrifice, and pain on the part of the hero.

Why are these stories so popular? You’d think after hundreds of years of the same basic plot we’d get tired and move on, but no. We stay. We read. We watch. And if the ending isn't a resounding victory for the good guy, we moan.

Today’s culture is saturated more than ever with these kinds of stories. Marvel is making a killing off their superheroes- even the lame ones. If there are guys in spandex with a super power of some kind, we’re at the theater without fail. Even a badly thought through plot line makes a killing because, let’s face it, we want to see good win.

One of my favorite super rivalries is that of Superman and Lex Luthor. On the one hand we have a morally upright, all-powerful being, whose sole purpose is to protect the world from evil and uphold justice. On the other we have a comparatively frail human being whose purpose is to find a way to destroy the hero, become the most powerful person in the world, and stop at nothing to do so. He’s as corrupt as they come. Superman is strong enough that he could easily destroy Lex, yet his morality won’t let him. (Even though Lex has done more than enough to earn him that destruction.) We, the viewers, watch their rivalry play out, always frustrated that Superman won’t defeat the villain once and for all, yet admiring his moral fiber. We would agree with our lips that what Superman is doing is right, but secretly we wish he’d just man up and squash him.

We’d never say that aloud, though. That would make us seem bad. I believe that, in our heart of hearts, we are desperate to be seen as good. And why is that? The World tries to tell us that the “deities” of good and evil are equal, so why are they not equally admirable? Why do we not esteem the thief as much as the police officer?

There’s a very simple answer to that: We know that evil will not win. You could say that we are socially hardwired that way, but I honestly think it goes much deeper than that. I believe that we are born with the knowledge of good and evil. After Adam and Eve’s “eyes were opened” upon eating the fruit in the garden in Genesis 3, we were cursed. Sin invaded our lives, rooting itself in our very beings, turning something that was created good into something evil. We were infected. And like a virus, it spread. Everyone has this evil in them.

I think our souls know they should have been good. Why else would we try to do good things? Do we think they will outweigh the bad things? If I add enough water to my dirt, won’t it eventually become pure? Won’t I eventually be able to leave all of my “Lex-ness” behind and be Superman?

Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?

Yeah, God thinks so, too. Just take a look at what the prophet Isaiah says:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
(Isaiah 64:6)

“All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”. Everything good we do is worthless- like a rag so dirty it’s only fit for the garbage heap. Have you ever cleaned windows with a dirty rag? As much as you try, you can’t. The dirt just smudges all over them. When we do “good” things, they are tainted by the evil that’s invaded us.

“Great. Thanks for the bad news. But where’s the good?” you may ask. Well, chin up, because there actually is good news! And the good news is…

Evil is not just going to be defeated. It already has been!

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.(1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.(-Jesus, John 16:33)

Sin. The World. Evil. It has already been defeated by Jesus Christ.

If you are a Believer in Christ, I hope the following is an encouraging reminder. If you aren’t, then let this be a challenge to learn more about Him and let it bring you a little bit of hope:

God has already won. Satan just hasn’t stopped fighting yet.

If I could pass one thing on to my future children, it would be this: Live like good will win because it already has. Don’t give into fear. It’s just the last ditch efforts of an enemy that knows he’s already lost.

Think about it.