Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Twisting Terms

Have you ever considered the ridiculousness of the term “self-made”? The notion of a “self-made” man or woman is a good example of how the “wisdom” of the world is really foolishness. I wonder how we can even say the term “self-made” without laughing at its absurdity. After all, not one of us created ourselves. Not one of us manufactures our own oxygen, or creates our own water, or provides all we need for ourselves without involvement from outside ourselves.

We all began as babies. We all were knit together in our mothers’ wombs, even if we have no relationship with our birth mothers subsequent the cutting of the umbilical cord. We are creatures created by the Uncreated One. Even if we deny God, we are still not self-made. And as long as we cling to the silly notion that we are “captains of our own ship” or “self-made” we cannot enter into the joy and peace of God’s love, for the key to such living is the recognition that we are utterly and completely unable to redeem ourselves.

Our recognition that we are completely dependent on God’s grace and mercy is a sign of humility. And, unlike the term “self-made”, the word “humble” is a truly powerful word that is misused by our culture. Many times, we hear the two terms used together, describing how a “self-made” individual rose from “humble” beginnings. Humility is the ability to see yourself realistically—making an accurate assessment of your weaknesses and your strengths, your inner darkness as well as your inner light. We’ve turned the word “humble” into a descriptor of something lesser, poor or plain. We take a word that is a key characteristic of a disciple, a fruit of the Spirit, a trait exemplified by Jesus, and turned it into a barrier to success that must be overcome. We’ve twisted what is wisdom and turned it into foolishness. We’ve taken an essential quality of faithful discipleship, embodied in Jesus’ strength and confident reliance on God, and turned it into a liability. And because we avoid being humble, we remain blind to our own reliance on God and live in weakness. No wonder Paul said this to the Corinthians: Don’t fool yourself. If some of you think they are worldly-wise, then they should become foolish so that they can become wise. This world’s wisdom is foolishness to God. As it’s written, He catches the wise in their cleverness. (1 Corinthians 3:18-19)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Divided Devotion

“Our friends there were too worldly and too clever at mixing the pleasures of the world with the service of God.”   (Story of a Soul, The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux)

Recently I read the autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who lived from 1873 to 1897.  What was most remarkable to me about Therese was her singular devotion to Christ from a very early age. Her observation about family friends was made when she was a child.

As I read her statement, I wonder if she might say the same of me? Am I too clever at mixing the pleasures of the world with the service of God? Is such “cleverness” what I desire?

Peter instructs his readers about such cleverness in 1 Peter 4:1-3:
Therefore, since Christ suffered as a human, you should also arm yourselves with his way of thinking. This is because whoever suffers is finished with sin. As a result, they don’t live the rest of their human lives in ways determined by human desires but in ways determined by God’s will. You have wasted enough time doing what unbelievers desire—living in their unrestrained immorality and lust, their drunkenness and excessive feasting and wild parties, and their forbidden worship of idols.

Human desires of unrestraint in food, entertainment, material wants, and physical pleasure—these sound a lot like the standard operating mode of our culture. Peter says that pursuing such things is a waste of time. Yet many of us who call ourselves Christians are right there, living in the unrestrained consumer mindset of our society. Maybe we are too clever for our own good, trying to live with such divided devotion. After all, Jesus observed: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6:24)

Do I really believe Jesus? Does my life show that I am singularly devoted or am I trying to live with divided devotion, serving two masters, which Jesus says cannot be done? I don’t want to waste time trying to do the impossible! 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wicked Advice

The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice . . .
                                                                Psalm 1:1a

Wicked is a strong word, and because of it, I wonder when we read it in scripture, if we discount its applicability to us. After all, if advice seems wicked to me, I doubt I’d follow it!

So what is wicked advice? If we are to be on guard against it, it must be more subtle than what might initially come to mind as wicked. I believe that wicked advice is any advice that contradicts the stirring of the Holy Spirit within us, any advice that discourages us from being who God created us to be.

Wicked advice could be advice that guilts us into acting when we know what we really need is to be still. Wicked advice might be the advice that tells us to be reasonable when what we really want to do is be generous with our resources. Wicked advice may tell us to play it safe, to think about the risks, when our spirit yearns to be part of a mission team to a third-world country, or a blighted neighborhood. Wicked advice could be discouraging one from pursuing a call to a particular vocation because it might not provide a lucrative salary.

Wicked advice can even come from our own self-talk, when we act because we are concerned about what others will think of us if we say no to some request (even to serve some good cause). Not every call to serve is our call to serve. Not every request is one aligned with our truest self and our area of giftedness.

The path to true happiness, which is the path to union with God, means that we must tend our soul with love and care, giving it what it needs to grow and minimizing those things that suck the life out of it. Discerning the difference between these requires us to be attentive to the stirrings within, which is not a practice encouraged in our society. True happiness is found in neither superfluous activity nor superfluous leisure, but in living a life that continually draws us nearer to the One Who created us and Who sustains us.