Character

Spirit of Sound Mind

Who am I to be weighing in on the global debate surrounding the Coronavirus?

  • True, I’m a doctor—but the philosophical kind.
  • I’m also a mother of two who takes pride in the value of “building up immunity” by allowing contact with the germs and dirt of this world.
  • And I’m a planner who has therefore thought of contingency plans for a range of crises, including those of pandemic proportions.
  • I’m a Christ-follower, and one who’s been chomping at the bit to get to heaven…like, my whole life…as in, I have to remind myself regularly that “to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21)…as in, I believe so strongly that God has set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11) that I felt it necessary to start a blog about it. I. LONG. FOR. HEAVEN. PERIOD. I also firmly believe that God is forever on His throne—and that includes now, today, and in the months from now. All that is to say, I have no cause or inclination toward fear or anxiety over the thought of death as a result of this virus.

So I suppose it could be argued that I have no business at all throwing my two cents in on the topic.

BUT….and this is a big but…

Between Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon of this past week, over the span of 24 hours, I experienced a drastic shift in perspective about the so-called “Christian” response to this virus.

It’s based on the ideas that we should be “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves,” (Matthew 10:16), that we should “look to the interests of others, and not only ourselves,” (Philippians 2:4), and that “God has given us a spirit of sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7), to name a few. But again, I’m NOT an epidemiologist. I’m NOT a virologist. I’m NOT a public health expert. So take what I have with a grain of salt…but hopefully with a grain of light, as well.

A couple of days ago, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t quite get it. I felt like maybe we were all overreacting just a bit. I mean, I wasn’t out licking subway polls, but I thought, “Of course I’ll go to church,” and, “Gosh, I really want to see the ‘I Still Believe,’ movie coming out next week.” But a few things intervened that caused me to begin wrestling with those thoughts.

First of all, I saw the responses of my friends living literally all over the world—Italy, Poland, France, Australia…they were responses of proactive caution, not panic or hysteria, but also not complacency or (God forbid) arrogance. I also saw the responses of the epidemiologists—yes, plural epidemiologists—that I know personally, and read the accounts they shared about how responding earlier as opposed to later might well shorten the length of time that we need to take these more severe measures. Doing so might also keep health care facilities from becoming too overwhelmed to provide needed care for those who become very ill, and by extension may save lives. And finally, I saw the responses of my friends who were adopting the attitude that all of the closures and cancellations we’re now facing are somehow tantamount to “extra vacation.” Well, at that I felt like I was looking into a mirror at my own calloused heart—and I didn’t like what I saw. I was disgusted—not with them, but with myself—and praise God, I was repentant.

Of course, we Christians have freedom from fear—but does that mean we should flaunt it? Does it mean we should cavalierly take others’ lives and eternities’ into our own hands by hastening their suffering, or their deaths? “By no means!”, in the words of the Apostle Paul (Romans 6:2). If even one life or one soul can be saved by our actions, then isn’t that worth the inconvenience that comes from a little bit of social distancing and a few (okay, a lot of) changed plans?

You see, when my epidemiologist friends warn that school closures do not equal additional vacation, that this is not the time to visit the zoo, the museum, the park, the movie theater…not the time to have block parties or social gatherings of any size…I want to believe them. They are the experts, after all. Their math is far more reliable than mine will EVER be (says the qualitative researcher who only dabbles in statistics when it is ABSOLUTELY necessary). We MUST heed their warnings. We can’t wait to act until there’s “at least one confirmed case locally.” By then, it will be too late. Besides, if we stand with Moses in praying that God would “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” (Psalm 90: 10-12), and recognize that their entirety is but a handbreadth (Psalm 39:5), then what’s a few weeks of “lost time”?

Please don’t get me wrong, I applaud the Christians of the early Church, who according to Dionysius,

“showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and
ministering to them in Christ….Many, in nursing and curing others,
transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…”

And rest assured, if and when the local healthcare facilities call on laypersons to start doing field triage, I will be the first one to put myself in harm’s way for the sake of my neighbors. However, it seems that for the moment, the better part of wisdom and godliness is to help keep that demand under control in the first place, by practicing prudence (aka social distancing).

Certainly, as in Esther’s day, should we fail to act, “relief and deliverance…will arise from another place.” But who knows? Perhaps we have been brought to this place, to our positions, “for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Lord, let not one death from this virus be on our hands—be it directly or indirectly. Guide us in your ways and give us YOUR wisdom. Amen.

 

Withholding Good

The Bible is pretty clear about God’s intent that we help others. For instance, Proverbs 3:28-29 says:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
when you already have it with you.

Likewise, James 4:17 admonishes, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

But for whom? For whom are we to do good? The verse above references a “neighbor.” And like the Pharisee, who—trying to justify himself—asked of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, we also tend to draw boundary lines on our goodness. But Jesus’ answer doesn’t allow for these artificial boundaries. Instead, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, wherein

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” (Luke 10:30-35).

Through this parable, Jesus taught the lesson that neighbors are not just those closest to us, but also strangers, and even enemies. And in Deuteronomy 10:18-19, we see that we are to “love those who are foreigners,” just as God himself “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” I don’t recall whether I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. There is a Mennonite saying that goes like this: “If I have two coats and my brother has none, then I am stealing from my brother.” This tracks with James’ instruction to the Jewish believers of his day (2:14-17):

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Paul echoed this by instructing us to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13). So then, from whom may we withhold good? Enemies? Strangers? Foreigners? Friends? Family? I’ll let Jesus answer for us (Matthew 25:41-45):

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
I was a stranger and you did not invite me in,
I needed clothes and you did not clothe me,
I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,
you did not do for me.’

The least of these…who in your life, your path, your sphere of influence, is the least of these?

Lord, may we find them, and do the good we ought.

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Train Up a Child

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 NIV

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home
and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

“What about your kids?” I often hear this upon mentioning to people my desire to donate a kidney. It’s an interesting question. One motivator for those who ask this question tends to be 1 Timothy 5:8 (NIV): “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I greatly value this verse. Growing up in relative disadvantage, my childhood was fraught with insecurity and uncertainty. I have always vowed to honor Paul’s command here, to protect my children from those feelings to the very best of my ability. In fact, the desire to hold tightly to this guidance is the main reason for having delayed my donation for these past 8+ years. But now that my kids are 8 and 7, and relatively independent—but more importantly, followers of Jesus! – I believe that they are in good hands, regardless of my short- and long-term outcomes as a result of donation.

Besides this, though, as I look at the totality of Scripture, I believe that the commands given throughout with respect to childrearing point to support of this decision, rather than opposition. For instance, Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV) states, “Train up a child in the way they should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” What is this way in which they should go? The way of Christ, of course….of Christ, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV). For this reason, Paul urges believers, “….in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3b-4)

I can think of no better way to raise children in the way they should go than by showing them God’s love in action, His compassion in action. As Psalm 127:3-4 (NIV) says,

“Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.”

Sara Groves wrote an amazing song, entitled, When the Saints. It enumerates some of the great saints from the Bible times and also from more “recent” history. There are so many, but in this context, I’m especially reminded of her reference to Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed by members of the Huaorani tribe in Ecuador. Of him, she sings, “I see the young missionary and the angry spear, I see his family returning with no trace of fear.” And indeed, they did. His daughter, Valerie, was 10 months old when he died, and less than three years later, she and her mother, Elisabeth Elliot returned to live among the Huaorani for another five years. Valerie Elliot Shepard continues to live out the legacy that her father and mother began so long ago—like an arrow in the hands of a warrior!

What a privilege to instill such a legacy into future generations. It is my hope and prayer that my kids will be able to say the same of me, that I trained them up, through my example, in the way they should go.

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Hearts and Words

I’ve always been one of those who has said that I am more patient with my kids than most, that I yell at them less than most. And granted, that has a bit to do with the miracle of modern medicine, but that’s beside the point. It’s beside the point because I’ve come to realize that it’s not enough. It’s not enough to be able to say that I am usually patient or that I’m usually respectful. You see, it has come to my attention that they don’t necessarily hear, remember, or believe what is most frequent.

Instead I believe that they hear, remember, and believe what seems most authentic. And what seems most authentic? It’s what comes out under the greatest pressure. Sadly, that means that what they may be internalizing is what I say that is most negative—when I’m in a bad mood, when they’ve been difficult, when circumstances haven’t panned out as planned. One unkind word, one hard day, one fight—it can cancel out a month of good times.

How do I know this? Because I’m the same way. I don’t believe your fair-weather words and accolades, if they don’t hold when the pressure is on. It doesn’t matter if we’re friends, family, colleagues. What matters to me is what I believe to be authentically you. What do I believe you really think about me? How do I believe you really feel about me? That is what I will believe. The question becomes what to do about it. I think what we do depends on whether we are on the giving or receiving end of others’ words.

As a speaker and actor, the Bible has a lot to say about how WE should treat others:

Psalm 141:3
“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

Proverbs 12:18
“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Proverbs 15:1
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Proverbs 15:4
“The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”

Luke 6:45
“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

Likewise, when it comes to the words that others speak to, about, or over us, the Bible tells us that we should find our worth and value in what GOD declares to, about, and over us.

Exodus 14:14
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Psalm 62:5-6
“Only God gives inward peace, and I depend on Him. God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe, and he is the fortress where I feel secure.”

Psalm 73:26
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

2 Chronicles 20:15
“The battle is not ours, but God’s.”

Ephesians 2:10
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

So, in either case, perhaps the first step is to begin by meditating on HIS words, and by letting those become the inpouring and outpouring of our hearts.

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For Such a Time as This

Esther 4:14 (ESV)

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

If you read the last entry on my blog, you will have read my mom’s adoption story, from her perspective and in her words. This week, I’d like to add a bit of my own commentary, having watched her adoption story, even more as an outsider than I realized. I say this because I remember always feeling like it wasn’t fair that my mom was adopted, only to be relegated to housekeeping chores and other responsibilities beyond the purview of a child.

Adoption, in my mind, was supposed to be magical, joyous, and all the rest. But so often, as I looked on, I saw it as a burden for her. Granted, in seeing what was, I was unaware at the time of what might have been—mafia ties and the like, which appears now to have been the alternative.

Over the years, I think my mom found solace in her parents’ need for her, reasoning that their physical and tangible needs were the reason God placed her in their home. But in my view, that’s only part of the story. Ultimately, we all have physical needs, and we find ways of having them met. But I think that watching my mom’s selflessness, day in and day out for 35 years, made a lasting impression. How do I know this?

Just this past summer, I learned of the day when my grandparents were ageing and in failing health, and my mom sent her pastor to visit with them, and to tell them about Jesus. After the visit, the pastor told my mom that both Grandma and Grandpa had accepted God’s forgiveness and were now secure in their eternal salvation. It seems odd that a virtual stranger could walk into their home and find such accepting and receptive hosts.

And yet, in a way, it’s not surprising at all. It’s not surprising because this stranger was sent by someone who had lived out the mission of Christ in their midst for all those years…she had served them sacrificially, loved them unconditionally, forgiven them repeatedly and undeservedly. Just. Like. Jesus. And I believe that with each act of selflessness, each load of laundry, each Sunday visit (and so much more), they were seeing Jesus. And if you ask me, it wasn’t each of those moments that were God’s purpose for placing her there. It was the moment when each of them said yes to God’s offer of salvation. And I believe that God was watching, thinking of my mom, and whispering to her soul, This. I placed you here for such a time as THIS.

And in truth, God continues to use her in times such as these…to serve a neighbor in need, to reach out to a disheartened coworker, to impact a school child in her care, and on and on. I know that the mundane of her day to day isn’t always glamorous, and that she often feels like she’s still waiting for her calling. But I believe she’s living it every day. So many times, God must be whispering to her soul, I placed you here for such a time as this…and this…and this. Oh, that we would all be willing to live our lives as a reflection of Jesus, and to recognize those times when He has divinely placed us here or there, and for such a time as this.

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Holding onto Manna

Exodos 16:18b-20a

“Everyone had gathered just as much [manna] as they needed. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.”

Proverbs 3:9-10

“Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty And your vats will overflow with new wine.”

So, at my most recent checkup, I learned that my blood work was all out of whack. Namely, my white blood cell count was up and my iron was low (and getting lower with every passing month, I guess). Follow-up labs showed elevated double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). The first thought—Lupus. I was devastated at the possibility. Not because it is debilitating and incurable, although it is. And not because the number one cause of death among sufferers is kidney failure, although it is. To be sure, those thoughts were disappointing and discouraging. But the thought that most often brought me to tears was that such a diagnosis would constitute a permanent medical deferral from donating a kidney, which as many of you know has long been on my heart as one of God’s calls on my life.

And in my layman’s understanding of the disease, I reasoned (rightly or wrongly, I still don’t know) that, had I only donated soon enough—before Lupus attacked or infected my kidneys—someone might be alive today as a result. Meanwhile, delaying my donation might well cost someone else their life, along with my own. Two kidneys wasted, when at least one might have been salvaged. My mind kept going back to the story of the Israelites in Exodus 16, where God supplied their daily needs through the provision of manna. You see, God gave each person and each family enough for one day, and if they tried to save any for the next, it would rot overnight—and in a very unpleasant way according to Scripture. This was done to teach the Israelites to trust and depend upon the Lord.

And I believe He wants the same from us. No, God doesn’t provide physical manna nowadays. But He provides, and He calls us to trust Him. This concept is found throughout the Bible, namely that we aren’t to honor God out of what is left, but out of our first fruits (Proverbs 3:9-10). But it seems like many of us are waiting until…or saving for…some point in the future.

  • We’re called to serve, but we’re waiting until we have more time.
  • We’re called to give, but we’re saving just in case.
  • We’re called to trust God, but we rely on ourselves.
  • We’re called to step out in faith, but we choose to remain where it’s safe.

We’re holding onto our stuff—our comfort, our convenience, our control. But God is more concerned about our character than any of these. And that’s why, when we refuse to let go of our stuff willingly, God may very well pry it out of our cold dead fingers (consider Lot’s wife, and Ananias and Sapphira, and several others). Whatever God is calling you to, don’t wait. Don’t waste the gifts and talents and resources that God has blessed you with. Honor Him with them TODAY, lest you wake up tomorrow to find them gone.

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Dear Younger Me

I recently saw a post to a Facebook group I’m part of about a 20-year high school reunion. I glossed over it, figuring that the post was for another graduating class, because I’m not that old—but then it dawned on me that I AM that old! My 20-year high school reunion is supposed to be THIS summer!

Well, a lot of people have been posting pictures and life updates to the group, but one in particular brought up the fact that she was hesitant to attend a reunion because she was treated poorly in high school and didn’t really want to see those same people. Her post set off a number of responses (78 at last count), many from people with the same experience. Then there was one response from a girl who was hesitant to attend a reunion because she had been one of the ones doing the mistreating and felt a lot of regret over it. The proposed theme of the reunion is now “Kind is the New Cool.”

All of this is to say that I wish we could all have gotten along better back then, done great things in school, made great memories, and avoided the regrets that so many seem to have. And then I figured, now might be a great time to pen one of those “letters to my younger self.” What would I say?

  1. Own who you are. There’s no point in pretending to be someone you’re not. If people don’t like who you really are, then they don’t really like you anyway.
  2. Portray confidence. If you do, it will translate into REAL confidence. How? I’ve found over the years that three things help: smile, eye contact, and posture (and it also helps to know and accept your identity in Christ!).
  3. Develop your strengths. Try out for the debate team, or speech, or apply to work for the school paper. Stop lamenting about the school plays or the Concert Choir you weren’t chosen for, and find something you excel at.
  4. Go for it! Don’t just go to a week’s worth of cheerleading training—actually try out for the squad…Or for the fast pitch softball team…Or swimming…or cross-country running. And if you don’t make it, it’s not the end of the world. At least you’ll know, instead of always wondering whether you could have made it.
  5. Look outside of yourself. Instead of feeling alienated from others (usually the popular kids) who don’t want anything to do with you, forget about them. Instead, befriend someone who looks lonelier than you. Be the answer to someone’s prayers for a friend. And when all is said and done…
  6. Forgive. I can’t imagine any of us made it through school without ever getting hurt. Someone, whether intentionally or not, will have said or done something unkind or thoughtless or insensitive. Remember that kids don’t always know better. And when they do, it is sometimes a symptom of something else that’s going on—consciously or otherwise. We may never know someone else’s whole story, but we can respond with grace and compassion. Forgiveness is a freeing thing—don’t let bitterness and resentment control and imprison you, or steal your joy. Let the past go and start fresh.

As I continue to reflect on the advice and wisdom I would give my younger self, I’m sure I’ll come up with many more nuggets. In the meantime, how about you? What would YOU tell YOUR younger self?

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Feet and Ashes

John 13:5-9
After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

I didn’t grow up observing Lent, or Ash Wednesday, or any of the traditional liturgical calendar really. But our church home of the past six years does observe these “holidays.” And each year, I’ve attended the self-guided contemplative service that is offered on Ash Wednesday. But I have always bypassed the actual ashes. On the surface, that is because it feels to me like one of those rote rituals that loses its meaning in repetition.

But as I’ve reflected on it more this past week or so, I’ve realized there is more to my abstention than that. First, there’s a bit of my own rebellious spirit. I tend to buck the system, oppose authority, and dig my heels in at every chance. I like to think of myself as a rebel for God’s cause, but sometimes it’s just me being contentious. And Proverbs 13:10 warns that contention is born of pride, and as we all know, pride goes before destruction.

Pride also opposes humility, and I’ve come to realize that this too is lacking in me as I decline to receive the ashes. At a safe distance, I can hide my flaws. Someone may not notice if my bangs are full of cowlicks, or if my forehead is greasy, or if my breath smells. But up close, that’s another story. Every part of me that’s out of place or imperfect is magnified and on display. But to hold back and keep my distance on account of these imperfections exposes a pride deep down, doesn’t it?

I can think of someone else who was likewise prideful: Peter. Now, don’t get me wrong—feet are definitely gross. And you wouldn’t catch me giving or receiving a pedicure…yuck. But as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He was setting an example of humility and servanthood, and one the disciples needed to see if they were to humbly serve others. But for Peter, it wasn’t enough to learn to serve others. He first needed to humble himself to receive his Lord’s service.

Even after Peter gave in and allowed Jesus to wash his feet, I expect he was uncomfortable. Humility doesn’t come easily. And I can tell you that tonight, as I approach the altar to receive the ashes, I will be uncomfortable. My heart will be pounding, my palms will be sweaty, I may even start hyperventilating. But I will choose to receive, as a discipline of humility.

Maybe you’ve thought about attending an Ash Wednesday service this year, but have resisted. Maybe you’re hesitating because you feel too unworthy, or too worthy, or too busy, or too hurt. Whatever your reasons for holding back, would you consider letting those go, humbling yourself before the Lord, and joining me in approaching the altar on this Ash Wednesday?

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Dust

Psalm 103:13-14

“As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.”

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Well, I finally got tattoo #8 yesterday. I’d been thinking about it for some time, but the logistics only just fell into place. Whenever people see a tattoo in another language, the first thing they ask is what it means. Well, in this case, the Korean symbol on the back of my ankle means “dust.” It isn’t the only symbol for dust in the Korean language, but this one means, “soil, earth, clay, dust, ground, terra.” And that seems pretty close to the meaning of dust in the Bible verse above. WE. ARE. DUST.

I think we forget that sometimes. We think we are greater than we are, more invincible, more in control of our own destiny. Or maybe we are constantly beating ourselves up because we aren’t as great as we think we should be; we aren’t as kind, honest, or righteous as we are called to be. We fail. We fall. We disappoint ourselves, and those around us, and presumably God. But the verse above suggests that our God is a God of compassion, understanding, and unconditional love.

We also need to remember that, just as we are formed from dust, so are the people around us. They will fail. They will fall—and the higher the pedestal you’ve put them on, the greater the fall will be. They will disappoint. They will betray. And God remembers that they, too, are but dust.

Now, does this mean we should throw in the towel and dispense with all the good we know we should do? Does it mean we should do away with our efforts to promote justice and righteousness? And does it mean we should try to avoid the consequences of our actions, or protect others from suffering the consequences of theirs? No, no, and no. Paul makes that abundantly clear in Romans 6:1-2: “What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? By no means! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?”

We should do what we know to be right and good. As Micah 6:8 commands, we must seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And as Jesus stated (Luke 10:27), we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Still, as hard as we try to obey God’s instructions, we will fail at least some of the time. And no matter how hard our fellow believers try to keep those commands, they will fail. And no matter how much trust and loyalty we place in our leaders, they too will fail. And maybe, just maybe, if the God of the universe—holy, righteous, and just—can show compassion toward such dusty creatures as you and me, then perhaps we could too.

The Greater Blessing

Hebrews 12:1-2a

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run
 with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

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If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you may recall how I feel about blessings and what it means to be blessed. Awhile back, our pastor described blessings in terms of a nearness to God. So it isn’t the material things (money, houses, cars) or even the nonmaterial things (health, longevity, family) that we so often ask God for that offer the greatest blessings. Rather, it is those things that draw us closer to Him, that force us to place our trust more firmly in Him, and that help us to fall ever more in love with Him.

I recently posed an argument that opportunities to become more like Christ would also fall under this definition of blessing, and I still believe that’s true. However, over the last week or so, God has begun to change my heart about what that Christ-like transformation might look like—namely, it will look different for each one of us.

Of course, we are seeking a likeness to the same Jesus, who is as unchanging as God the Father Himself. But that Jesus is made up of many more characteristics than one. And we each excel at Christ-likeness in some areas, and struggle in others. And God wants us to grow closer to Him along all of those dimensions. And that growth may look different for you than it does for me—in fact, it almost assuredly will!

So, perhaps God will grow my patience, while He grows your joy. Or my gentleness and your love. Or my self-control and your peace. These exercises will require different actions from each of us. God has convicted me to recognize that my way is not the only way, or the right way, or the only right way. It isn’t even necessarily the better way. Instead, each of us will find the greater blessing when we openly accept God’s invitation to draw most near to Him. It will come when we allow God to stretch us beyond our current strengths, and to grow us in our areas of weakness.

I pray that we would each be open to God’s leading and instruction: that we would read the Word with intention and conviction, taking from it the hard as well as the easy truths; that we would seek and discern wise counsel from among the many voices swirling around us; and that we would trust and follow the Holy Spirit. Godspeed as you seek the greater blessing!