Get to Know Yourself

Do you know yourself? Note that I did not ask, “What do you think about yourself?” A world of difference languishes between the two, awaiting the intrepid individual with courage enough for self-inventory. Some refuse bold introspection because they fear a result something like the opening lines to Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from Underground”: “I am a sick man….I am an angry man. I am an unattractive man….I’m sensitive and quick to take offense, like a hunchback or dwarf.” The lives that matter are the ones who dare to say “I am a sick man,” then quickly turn to the Physician. In the words of Yiddish author Shalom Aleichem: “When you die, others who think they know you, will concoct things about you… Better pick up a pen and write it yourself, for you know yourself best.”

Many of us whittle away our days stumbling over ourselves. Lacking clarity, we fail to see the trees for the forests that loom nearby. “No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it” (Barbara Brown Taylor, “An Altar in the World”). Forests are unique to the individual, but each holds potential for revealing trees if we know where to look and are willing to look long and hard enough. We are all tempted to busy ourselves with forests of good things, but lose ourselves in the mix. How long has it been since you reflected on important questions like: “Who am I?” “What is wrong with me?” “What is right in me?” The only real difference between those who ultimately navigate the narrow way and others who meander aimlessly down side roads is that the former are able to contain their fear long enough to filter from the chaos what is true about themselves and what their Creator can do to make it right. Communing with the Creator is a regular necessity, but there is also need for people to take communion with themselves. 

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:5, 8 NIV)

Self-Forgiveness

It is hard to believe that Christmas has come and gone and that a new year is here. New Year’s Day can be the most excruciating day of the year for me. Forced to access performance professionally, I carry the spirit of evaluation into more personal areas, more-often-than-not a painful exercise. Finding it difficult to confine appraisal to the immediate year, thoughts frequently drift back over a lifetime and herein lies the rub. It is far easier to lament failure than to celebrate progress. Disappointment looms large when moping over a big picture that encompasses missed opportunity, impotent decision making, intentional disobedience, and insufficient courage. Shadow boxing with the worst of me, I am in danger of ending up with jaded expectations of what lurks in the fog ahead. Thankfully, God offers a better way.

“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.” ~Henry Ward Beecher

Actually, a New Year holds incredible potential as a rich time for evaluation as well as prayerful planning. There are plenty of dissonant voices sounding off against resolution-making, but I relish the idea of new beginnings. Perhaps it is because I know what it is to live with regret, but I enthusiastically approach this fresh reset for righting wrongs, pioneering efforts, and course correction. “Forgiveness is the giving, and so the receiving, of life” (George McDonald). We are not created to live in reverse. Our bodies face forward; our lives should as well. Each of us has reason to occasionally crane our head around to look behind, but the greater portion of our time should be spent scanning what lies ahead. The horizon spreads before us, not abaft. Our past is forgiven and our future guaranteed. Regardless of how you look upon such things, I encourage you to carve out time this week and next for ample reflection, prayer, and more than a little self-forgiveness.

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 3:13-14 | NRSV)

This Day

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6 | ESV)

Knowing how to end is one of my biggest challenges in writing. The ‘when’ of finishing usually works itself out; it’s the quality of closing that remains in question. The same may be said of human existence. These days I find myself face to face, face to back, and face to knee with my own physical decline and inevitable mortality. Just last week I was down on my knees installing cement pavers around our new home, complaining to my grandson Josh how I had shortened the lifespan of my knees by wasting my childhood pretending to be a horse. He promptly suggested I would be walking with a cane by the time he was his brother’s age (that will be in only five years), then added, “if you’re still alive.” There’s nothing like the brutal honesty of a child to set one to thinking. Frankly, I understand better now more than ever why my mother said so often that she wanted Jesus to come again so that she wouldn’t have to die. She was secure in her relationship with Christ; she simply preferred to bypass the finality of ending. I wish that she could have done so and to be honest—so do I.

I can truthfully say that it’s not the dying that disturbs, it is the fear of not fully living while I’m still alive. “We must be careful with our lives, for Christ’s sake, because it would seem that they are the only lives we are going to have in this puzzling and perilous world, and so they are very precious and what we do with them matters enormously”(Buechner). There is not much I can do about the weakening of my knees or the chronic catch in my lower back, but I do have within reach the ability to write my own epitaph. What happened or didn’t happen yesterday pales in significance with what I do right now. According to Sovereign God, every breath is taken in “the fullness of time.” This life does count, and this very moment matters. The living of this day should consume each of us, not remorse over the past or fear of failing to have tomorrow; the only way to know we will end well is by fully living for Christ right now.

Abiding

Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:31-33 | ESV

I heard an aged preacher say, “When you get to the end of your rope, you dare not let go.” Painful as it undoubtedly is, it is a gift from God to be allowed to come to the end of myself. Stripped bare, raw, exposed as entirely inadequate—in unrehearsed moments of excruciating enlightenment we learn anew Jesus Christ alone is sufficient. More than that, He is the desired beginning and end of all things, and the joyful substance of everything in between. Grasping “God is love” ignites a spiritual chain reaction of loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. How could a pauper express anything less to his redeemer King? The Lord is teaching me much these days, and the absolute joyful necessity of abiding in Him is front and center of what I’m both learning and being reminded of.

“The final secret, I think, is this: that the words ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us—loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us. He has been acquainted with our grief.” (Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember)

Saint or Sinner

Am I saint or sinner? When I lower my guard, I easily become confused as to who I am. If not very careful, I slip into thinking God is here to serve me—ensuring my health and well-being. Such line of thought could not be farther from the truth. I was not placed here for my own enjoyment or amusement, never intended for any self-centered pleasure. When I place myself at the universe I lose the heart of a saint and decline into the sad state of sinner. Sin is, by definition, self-seeking. But you and I were created to be saints, not sinners. A saint, by definition, is a Christ-honoring servant. The soul-stirring reality is that I am in this world simply to serve the Master’s bidding. What I want is irrelevant if it is outside the all-compelling desire to know Him and respond reflexively without thought or consideration of consequence. I am not here to leave a legacy or orchestrate memories centered around me. I am here these fleeting moments to reflect the image of Christ. Recall Christ’s depiction of the vine in John 15–the value of the vine is seen in the beauty of its fruit. Go and be beautiful so the world will know the worth of Christ Jesus our Lord. Be a saint, for Christ’s sake.

Dangerous Faith

While many comfortably retreat and debate the efficacy of security and correctness, will you join me in storming the gates of hell? Does not the indwelling Intrepid Spirit compel relentless assault against the kingdom of darkness so we may establish in its stead the Kingdom of Light? Plain and simple, you and I are called to lay our lives down if that’s what is required. The question should never be “how will I die?” but rather “how will I live?”

“I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live….” Galatians 2:20

At the very least, we must come to grips with the reality Christ’s soldiers embrace a dangerous faith and embark upon an epic adventure demanding unwavering allegiance. Make disciples, not excuses.

“If by excessive labor, we die before the average age of man, worn out in the Master’s service, then glory be to God, we shall have so much less of earth and so much more of heaven…. It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed.” (Charles H. Spurgeon)

Joyful Necessity of Abiding

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” (Thomas Paine)

I heard an aged preacher say, “When you get to the end of your rope, you dare not let go.” Painful as it undoubtedly is, it is a gift from God to be allowed to come to the end of myself. Stripped bare, raw, exposed as entirely inadequate—in unrehearsed moments of excruciating enlightenment we learn anew Jesus Christ alone is sufficient. More than that, He is the desired beginning and end of all things, and the joyful substance of everything in between. Grasping “God is love” ignites a spiritual chain reaction of loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. How could a pauper express anything less to his redeemer King? The Lord is teaching me much these days, and the absolute joyful necessity of abiding in Him is front and center of what I’m both learning and being reminded of.

“The final secret, I think, is this: that the words ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us—loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us. He has been acquainted with our grief.” (Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember)

Happy Birthday Oswald

Today marks the birthday of one of my spiritual mentors—Oswald Chambers. He was born July 24, 1874, in Aberdeen Scotland. His ministry of teaching and preaching took him for a time to the United States and Japan. The last six years of his life were spent as principal of the Bible Training College in London, and as a chaplain to British Commonwealth troops in Egypt during World War l. After his death, the books which bear his name were compiled by his wife Biddy Chambers from her own verbatim shorthand notes of his talks. “My Utmost for His Highest” has been pivotal and formative in my personal walk with Christ. I encourage you to check out his writings if you are unfamiliar with Chambers.

Focus

Have you ever endeavored to eradicate some unwanted habit, thought or emotion, only to find it still firmly fixed the next morning, a specter poised to pounce on any hint of weakness? I most certainly have. All too often these internal battles drain our strength and leave us demoralized and defeated. Why try anymore? If I will be the same wishy-washy man tomorrow that I am in my current weakened state, why exert the effort to change?

If these sentiments sound familiar, I offer a word of encouragement. What I have learned and am still learning is that the goal of eradication is achieved through the exact opposite approach—filling. Rather than straining to remove unwanted thoughts or behavior, strive to fill your mind, time and attention with love and adoration for Jesus Christ. Which is more effective to induce transformation—focusing on what is wrong in me, or beautifully obsessing over what is right and perfect in Him? By personal experience, I recommend the latter. I am not suggesting a laissez-faire or cavalier attitude toward failure, an easy way out. Instead, I am offering a way up. Set your sights on Him and the obsessions that threaten to rip your heart to shreds will loose their hold and drop like chains from a freed man. Precious liberty awaits those who come again and again to stand amazed in the presence of the Nazarene.

Consider this truth from lyrics to a hymn composed by Helen Howarth Lemmel in 1918, inspired by a tract given to Lemmel by a missionary friend of hers, Lilias Trotter, entitled “Focused.” The pamphlet contained these words: “So then, turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness.”

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace

Oh soul, are you weary and troubled?

No light in the darkness you see?

There’s light for a look at the Savior

And life more abundant and free

Through death into life everlasting

He passed, and we follow Him there

O’er us sin no more hath dominion

For more than conquerors we are

Oh turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:12-14 | ESV

Freedom

Freedom and independence demand a two-fold sacrifice—sacrifice on the part of those who secure and defend that freedom, as well as those who benefit by living free. Freedom is fragile, thereby requiring constant and courageous vigilance. All too frequently we disregard what is incumbent upon those who thrive in an independent state. Liberty is never a second-hand burden; it is a double-edged sword requiring individual responsibility. Rather than nonchalance and entitlement, choose gratitude and responsibility.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” – Ronald Reagan