Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Weary of Doing Good

Maybe it's the plague of women... or maybe it's a personality type. But to all the Martha's out there - you're not alone, though more often than not, it can feel that way.

My sophomore year of college, I made an unexpected move into our campus apartments. I was placed with a group of girls I didn't know well, except for my roommate, and probably the hardest of all... we were all incredibly different. That year taught me so much about myself as a person, and I'm thankful for that, but for the first time in my life, I realized I was a Martha.

I quickly discovered that different people can live with different levels of mess, and not everyone appreciates a proper chore chart. At some point, I just gave up. No one was listening. They didn't share my values - they had their own values. So in order to scratch this "mom itch" I was developing, I started cleaning the apartment by myself - the kitchen, the living room and the bathroom. And believe me, I was bitter.

And I was tired.

So very tired.

It's easy to romanticize and turn yourself into a martyr/Cinderella type when you hit that place.

But in contrast to myself, there was another girl I lived with who was the epitome of a Mary. She was always compassionate, but never sad. Joyful, never discouraged. And she knew even less about pop culture than I did (an impressive feat, considering my ignorance). It was so incredibly bizarre to me.

When was the last time you read Luke 10?
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus[a] entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary.[b] Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
When I read this, the line, "do you not care that my sister was left me to serve alone?" stands out. That was my cry everyday. I felt overworked and exhausted. I wanted God to step in and give me the help I needed. I wanted him to change the people around me. But look down a little bit - "You are anxious and troubled about all these things," Jesus tells her, "but one thing is necessary."

He goes on to say that Mary chose the better option - to sit and listen at his feet.

That just... baffles me. Some days, I don't even know how to do that.

I was washing dishes the other day while trying to pray - it's become a goal of mine, to talk to God all the time - to pray without ceasing. But I kept getting distracted. The bitterness was creeping up on me again. It's been a battle since sophomore year.

But I made a commitment after that second year of college. I hated feeling bitter - it just ate at me and left me depressed. So I decided to change my motivation: instead of cleaning because no one else did, I committed to clean because I wanted to. To clean as a means of being kind. To clean simply because I could, and because I had the time. Oh and trust me, I was so much happier. I AM so much happier.

Still, I won't deny that I get tired sometimes. Jesus is supposed to refresh me, but I'm not so good at sitting at his feet. I'd much rather be busy.

Because of that, I hit a wall. At a certain point, I just couldn't keep up, and I felt like I was failing at every turn. Some days, I could wash a mountain of dishes, wash all the towels, and sweep and mop the floors - even clean the stove. Other days, I could barely care enough to wash my own dishes and whenever I went home for a vacation, I didn't have the urge to help there. I felt like such a massive failure.

But as a little kid, my parents liked to play Sunday School music for us at home. Those songs still get stuck in my head. One of them, is quickly becoming a favorite of mine - Steve Green's, "If We Don't Lose Heart." It's based off of Galatians 6:9
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
That was exactly the wall I hit. I was weary and I wanted to give up.

But you see... you can't do things by your own strength for very long and not expect disaster. Doing something on your own, for your own satisfaction, is exhausting. And it's a corruption of God's perfect intentions. Sometimes, you have to sit at the feet of the Father and replenish your exhausted spirit.

Jeremiah 32:27 reads, "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?" 

In him, we can do all things. But alone, we easily tire and become exhausted.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a clean apartment. A clean home. There's nothing wrong with wanting to take care of the people I live with. That is such a great ambition. It's good. But I have quickly found that I can't do it in and of myself. Not when I'm spiritually exhausted. Everything in my life falls apart when I'm spiritually exhausted. My academic work. My friendships. My home.

It's not my first inclination, but sometimes, I need practice being more like Mary, for as Jesus said, there is one thing that's more important than taking care of everyone, and that's sitting at his feet.

There's this great verse in Matthew 11, it reads, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Oh, how I wish that for you, my other Marthas - the do-ers. Somehow, you've found yourself doing it all and you're struggling. You're overwhelmed and bitter. You can't do it alone. Your ambition is noble, but your foundation is shaky. Set all your work aside for a moment and sit at Jesus feet. Let your bitter heart be mended by his words, and lean on his incredible strength. For only with him can you carry on.

And let's pray that we don't let so much time pass between our trips to his feet.

And that verse about reaping... Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap... you want to know something interesting about reaping? It's not for us. It's not about that gratification you feel when someone finally notices and appreciates your hard word. It's about something eternal.

When you washed the dishes... whose dishes did you wash? What was their day like? Maybe they just needed a little bit of extra help. In that moment, you were God's hands and feet, giving them the help they needed. Whatever you do for your brothers and sisters in Christ, it's as if you did it for God himself (Matt 25:40).

That's reaping... and it's a whole lot more satisfying.

But for God to use you... you have to sit at his feet. How else will you know what he wants to do today?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Defining "Goodness"

There are few books that truly rock me and shake my foundation - standing out as profound amidst the countless others I read. But "Saving Amelie" did just that, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

Have you ever truly considered the essence of humanity? What it means to be human? Or even deserving of such a title? It breaks my heart to think back on Hilter's Nazi Germany and realize that the real tragedy of what happened was the devaluing of one life over another.

Hitler decided that one variety of humanity took precedence over every other. He trained a generation of young people to believe that anyone who was outwardly "broken" was undeserving of life. "Life unworthy of life." It wasn't just Jews - though such discrimination against race and religion isn't any easier to swallow.

But where then, do we derive this concept of inherent worth? Is there even such a thing... I'll dare to challenge you that every time we abort a pregnancy because of down syndrome, deafness or blindness, we are practicing the very same principle of eugenics Hitler valued.

When we discuss inherent worth, Christians fall back on the fact that we're all created by God, regardless of flaws - which are a side effect of "the fall." But somehow, we've come to see flaws as outward. Flaws are something that's obvious, like your appearance or abilities. We even throw in so-called "BIG" sins - like murder - everything else can be explained away and justified.

Still... the reality remains that we've all lied, envied, hated, blamed, cheated and hurt. And once those faults come to light - or at least we're made aware of them - it becomes painfully clear that each one of us is broken. No one is righteous, not one - all have fallen short Rom. 3.

If that's true... that we're all broken, whether physically or spiritually... then by Hitler's estimation, there is no one who is deserving of life. Whether earthly or eternal. So where on earth did this concept of "good person" come from? Have we all duped ourselves into believing we know goodness? Is there even such a thing?

For many, all they know is this life, so they hope to leave a legacy, praying that those left behind will forget their inadequacies.

For others, who hope for the hereafter, they trust that their "goodness" will earn them a place in heaven. Like a scale, they pray their good will outweigh the bad.

And for many Christians - who self proclaim their eternity is secure - God is too holy to approach. Once they become aware of their own shortcomings, they back away from the throne of God, hoping to fix themselves (make themselves good enough) before they come before Him, ready for heaven.

Yet, if the standard for deserving peace upon death is "goodness" and not one of us are truly good - then all of humanity is doomed and there is no hope. We're all broken.

If you're counting on a good reputation, rest assured - your flaws will come to light when your children open their mouths.

And if you hope you life was lived more "good" than bad, then how are you to ever know? The mind is unreliable, and all the lies, unkind words and thoughts blend together into a fuzzy haze. Your friends are likely to be gracious - but inside, well, who's to know if you were MOSTLY good?

And for the Christian... God's standard is perfection. You stand no chance of getting yourself right before approaching the throne. You could never be righteous enough.

Don't you GET IT? We're all broken.

It's all written down in the gospel. Jesus didn't count the self-righteous priests as worthy. For all their outward "goodness" they were broken inside. They broke their own rules either in secret or in their hearts. Yet, in the years he walked among us, Jesus embraced the broken - the tax collector who robbed citizens by overcharging them; the prostitute; the fishermen who likely flunked out of entering religious profession. They were broken and they knew it.

When Jesus entered the house of the tax collector, Zacchaeus, he told the astonished crowd (who considered themselves to be more "good" than this cheat), "Today, salvation has come to this house, because this man too, is a son of Abraham. For the son of man came to seek and to save the lost." Luke 19.

It's humbling... It's so easy to place ourselves on a scale next to someone "more broken" and consider ourselves more worthy. More good.

But we're all broken - imperfect. Which entirely levels the playing field, leaving everyone in dire need of saving from death. After all, Hitler considered the broken to be, "life unworthy of life."

I'm sorry if bringing up Hitler's standard is shocking to you. It shocked me when I read Saving Amelie. But it proves a point.

In the book of Mark, chapter 2, Jesus encountered a man who is paralyzed. And before a crowd, he tells the man that his faults are forgotten (it says "your sins are forgiven," but sin means "to miss the mark" and forgiven means to give up claim... to let go... it doesn't matter anymore) When questioned, he tells the crowd, "Why do you questions these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins."

When you think of Jesus, who is he? He claimed to be God. So was he just a good man who said a lot of good things? But I have to tell you, either he was who he claimed to be, or he was lying. And if Jesus was lying, then we can't label him a good man, because he based his life off of that claim to be the son of God. In John 10:30 he says, "I and the Father are one."

Do you know what else he says in John 10?

He compares his people to sheep and himself to their shepherd. There's only one way into the sheepfold, and that's through the gate. Anyone else is a thief and a robber.

There's only one way into heaven. And you don't have to be perfect to get in, you just have to be his. For this reason, he laid down his life for the sheep. He placed himself between his sheep and the wolves, sacrificing himself to protect them.

Therefore, his own blood was shed to cover our imperfections, so that they might be forgotten when we stand before the Father. Instead, God sees the blood of his own Son, and counts us as His own. That is how you enter by the gate into the sheepfold.

There is not other way to be certain of your eternity.

Because we're all broken, and what is broken cannot enter unless it has been made whole by His blood. Made perfect by the sacrifice of the one who lived a perfect life and died for those underserving. But He didn't stay dead, he arose, conquering an eternal death. And it is only through him that we can have eternity.

Because on my own, I'm just not good enough, and no matter how hard I try, I can't be. I say all the wrong things and I make more mistakes than could be recalled. My goodness looks pale in comparison to perfection.

And so, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is LORD, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the Dead, you will be saved, for everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved Rom 10:9-13.

Some Christians sum it up as the ABC's. And trust me, it's not all that complicated in concept to trust yourself into God's care.

We call it the ABC's, because it conveniently stands for Admit, Believe, Confess.

A - Admit to God that You're a sinner and ask for His forgiveness 
B - Believe that Jesus is God's son and that He came into the world as Savior 
C - Confess your faith in Jesus as your personal Savior and Lord, because there is no other. 
It's really that simple. And you don't have to be perfect, you just have to be His. There are no other prerequisites, and nothing else with count in place.