Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why Do I Feel Like Such a Failure?

Do you?  I'll bet if you're a woman, especially if you have kids, you feel like a failure a lot.  Am I right?  Every day?  Many times a day?  You may not even be sure what The Standard is that you're trying to achieve, but every day you feel pretty sure - even convicted, perhaps - that you haven't reached it.

Well.  You feel like a failure because you are a failureAs am I.  You see, the first two people created, Adam and Eve, were created good and put in a beautiful garden.  But then they ate the fruit that God had told them not to eat - the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  By choosing to decide for themselves what was wrong and what was right, Adam and Eve put themselves and their children at war with God Himself.

God is the ultimate expression of all that is Good and Perfect, so, like our first parents, you and I are at war with all that is Good and Perfect.  Only, it can seem mixed-up and confusing because the tree Adam and Eve ate from was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We've all learned to be socially acceptable as well, so we humans don't completely wipe each other out, so from the outside it looks like there's a lot of good in us... until there's an all-out war, when human nature is seen in the raw, minus a lot of that "social acceptability". (Think the Rwandan civil war, the Holocaust in Europe, or any number of present-day conflicts such as the war in Syria and even the riots in indebted countriesin response to "austerity measures".)

Anyway, so being at war with what is Good and Perfect makes us failures, with some good bits thrown in here and there.

But wait, there's good news!  By ourselves we are failures, but Jesus paid the price for that failure.  In Roman times, the crimes committed by a condemned criminal were nailed to their cross when they were crucified.  Jesus hadn't done anything wrong, so your sins and mine were symbolically nailed to his cross (the "handwriting of requirements against us" - the Bible still talks about sin after Jesus was resurrected, so it wasn't the law that was nailed to the cross, otherwise there would have been no such thing as sin any more! "Sin is the transgression of the law").  By repenting, being baptised and having hands laid on us to receive the Holy Spirit, we start to become something new.  No longer a failure.

Of course, we won't completely shake that "failure" part of ourselves until we are transformed.  We'll still feel like failures often.  But no longer hopeless failures!

In just two days is one of God's appointed Holy Days, known to the Jews and many others as Yom Kippur.  It is a day of recognising our human failure and the depth of our need for Jesus Christ and God our Father.  Physically, it's not an enjoyable day, since it means fasting for a complete 24 hours - no food or water in that time.  But spiritually it is a celebration of the fact that Jesus has paid for our weakness and sin.  It's a celebration that failure is just a temporary state - if we truly accept the price that Jesus paid.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What Is Love? (It Suffers Long)

Today, I'm writing as a tribute to a lady who truly suffered long.  Through years of suffering and pain, she considered others and was truly a shining light.  In the last weeks of her slow and agonising death, she wrote letters of encouragement and gratitude to many people.

And this is what I have just "gotten" recently - " suffers long and is kind..." (I Corinthians 13:4)  It's not just the "suffering long", but the kindness at the same time.  We live in a world that tends to make heroes of people just because they suffer.  We call it courage when someone who is suffering goes on doing the things that they enjoy most.  But that's not real courage, it's just common sense.  It makes sense to spend lots of time with your family and friends when you're in agony - it will probably (although not for everyone, admittedly) get your mind off the pain.

Agape (remember that word for the love that God is?) is another whole level.  It's being kind to people who don't necessarily make you feel good (while suffering).  It's being kind to people who are contributing to your suffering (think of Jesus' crucifixion.. remember, God is love, so whatever Jesus did was love).

Agape suffers long and is kind.  That means it's relentlessly kind, not just for a day or two, or even a year or two while the world is watching.  Agape is kind for twenty years of pain and suffering.  Which is what makes Agape so completely different from our human definition of love - it's impossible.  And yet, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).  Yes, you and I will stumble in this life, but if we have the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do the impossible - including being kind when we suffer... for a very long time.

Want to understand more about the Holy Spirit and how it can change your life?  Try reading The Holy Spirit: God's Power at Work from the free Good News Magazine.

Monday, July 8, 2013

What Is Love? (More Than Self-Sacrifice)

God is love.  That's what the Bible says.  But hang on, let's take a step back.  When I say "love" I don't mean the warm, fuzzy feeling that you feel towards a good friend you can trust.  Nor do I mean the emotional rollercoaster of being "in love".  I don't mean the overwhelming protectiveness we feel for our children.  I mean something much bigger, wider, and deeper than all of those.  I mean something that is outside and beyond feelings.  Sometimes good feelings come with the love I'm talking about, but sometimes it feels absolutely rotten because it means giving up what I want for the good of others.

So I'm going to stop calling this thing "love" and call it by it's Greek name "agape".  Not because it makes me feel all fancy to be using Greek words, but because it's so important to make a distinction between the love that is God (agape), and the pale human shadow of that Great Love.

So, God is agape.  In other words, to fully know agape, we have to fully know God... which we won't in this lifetime, but let's see if we can get a little glimpse of what agape truly means.

In I Corinthians 13 of the Bible there's a whole chapter about love. Early in the chapter it says something really interesting. It goes something like this:

"Even if I give away all my stuff and am willing to be burned to death, if I don't have agape, I'm nothing." 

Wow, right. So being really generous or being willing to die for other people isn't (of and by itself) agape.

That means (among other things) that if we sacrifice our comfort and well-being for others, it isn't really love unless it's for their greater good.  Too often, we try to please our loved ones (especially children) now - because we want to see them "happy" (and that makes us "happy") - at the expense of their future.  It might make my kids "happy" to eat lollies every day of their lives, but, considering the cost to their future health, it's certainly not agape.  Agape wants what is best for people, not what will make them feel good (of course, sometimes what makes people feel good is what's best for them, but we can't assume that making people feel good is agape all by itself).

So sacrifice and generosity aren't agape all by themselves. And that is just barely the beginning... More another time.