Saturday, August 7, 2010

What Completes You?

Why are you looking for love
Why are you still searching as if I'm not enough
To where will you go child
Tell me where will you run
To where will you run

Yes...two blogs in one day. It's been a blessing to have a day of physical rest and spiritual refreshment. The last two weeks have been largely a blur and work has been demanding as usual. With all the pitfalls that technology has brought with it, I really do appreciate the benefits it can carry. I saw a tweet from Tenth Avenue North today as they were driving in a van from Birmingham to New Jersey. They mentioned they were listening to Tim Keller's "The Struggle for Love" and being blessed by it. I thought it must be an audio book so I checked Amazon (to add it to my wish list) but it wasn't there. Upon further searching, I realized it was the name of a sermon he gave a few years ago. So, I downloaded it, free of charge, and took in 45 good minutes of Keller teaching.

What I really liked is that the anchor verses were Genesis 29:15-35. My Old Testament knowledge is lacking in relation to the New Testament so it's always good to get teaching from the OT. The first part of the sermon is how so many of us try to find our meaning in the perfect relationship...that one special person that can make us whole. This is what Jacob was looking for in Rachel. Remember, at this point Jacob had nothing in his life. His father was dead, he was broke and he had to flee from home because he took Esau's blessing and his life was in danger. He ends up with his mother's side of the family looking for something, anything, that will bring him hope, meaning and significance. He finds Rachel.

Of course, things don't work out as he hopes because Uncle Laban realizes how desperate his nephew is for Rachel so he deceives him into marrying Leah and gets him on the hook for another seven years of labor. Interestingly enough, Jacob is furious at first when he realizes he has been deceived but quickly backs down. Keller points out that Jacob probably realized at that moment that what had happened to him is exactly the same thing he did to Esau. His guilty conscience took precedent.

Then we have Leah. The older sister but clearly nowhere near as beautiful as her younger sister Rachel. She was looking for the same thing as Jacob. She just wanted this man to love make her feel special, complete and whole. So what does she do? She bears a son and names him Reuben, which means "see", as in "Jacob, won't you stop looking through me and see me now?" Then she bears another son and names him Simeon, which means "one who hears", as in "Jacob, won't you finally listen to me?" Then she bears a third son and names him Levi, which means "attached", as in "Jacob, won't you please find favor in me and be my love forever?"

Of course, this story isn't just about those of us, married or unmarried, who believe that being with or finding the perfect person will be the final piece of the puzzle that allows our life to make sense and our joy to be complete. It's ultimately about putting our final hope in anything but God. That never ends well. If you are expecting perfection from anything or anyone in this world you will be disappointed every time. No relationship is meant to hold up under that kind of expectation. No job, no possession, no earthly pursuit can be that final piece of the puzzle.

But what I found interesting is the fact that while Leah, on one hand, was attempting to find validation and love from Jacob by giving him three sons, she is also calling out to the Lord at the same time. In fact, the Bible uses the capital letter LORD to indicate that Leah knew God's intimate name of Yahweh. This is the name that God uses when he enters into personal covenants with people such as Moses and Abraham. Most Jewish people used the more general term Elohim. But not Leah. She somehow had personal knowledge of God and seemed to be battling between putting her hope in Him and putting her hope in Jacob.

Sound familiar? The spiritual battle hasn't changed much in thousands of years. Finally, she bears a fourth son and names this son Judah, which is the Hebrew word for "praise". She says, "This time I will praise the LORD." Leah learned where to place her hope. It wasn't in Jacob or what she could be for him. It was in the One who in verse 31 saw that she was unloved and so opened her womb. Now that she had placed her ultimate hope and joy in God she stopped having children. She found freedom in the God who never disappoints us.

This is a great gospel message as well. Leah didn't earn her way up to God. God came down and intervened in her life. He comes to us to complete His purposes. In this case, the Messianic line continued through Leah. This also reminds me of Eldredge's assertion that a man can't take his question to a woman...namely, "Do I have what it takes?" It is not the woman's job to answer that question or to make him a man. If I am waiting for a woman to complete that part of me then I will never be truly ready for a healthy relationship. That is a question that must be taken to God.

It is worth reflecting upon...What or who are you chasing that you think will make everything better? There is only One in which you can place your hope and joy and not walk away bitterly disappointed.

What's Your Motivation?

I am re-reading "The Prodigal God" by Tim Keller. OK, I only got through half of it when I read it about a year ago but it has been sitting on my coffee table mocking me so I figured my recent trip to Denver was a good time to start over. In recent years, I have made a point to carry a book while traveling that can act as a conversation starter about God so the title of this book worked well.

The book is a deeper teaching of "The Parable of the Prodigal Son" or what Tim Keller believes should be more aptly called "The Parable of the Two Lost Sons" from Luke 15. The way most Christians think about the parable revolves around the younger son. He wanted his father's inheritance and once he had it he went out into the world where he engaged in immoral behavior and recklessly spent every penny. He reached rock bottom and decided to return home in hopes of being able to make things right once again with his father. His father sees him coming from far away, runs out to meet him and graciously celebrates the return of his son. We focus on this part of the parable...that God loves us unconditionally and there is nothing that we can do that God will not forgive...that He will welcome us back with open arms if we repent with a humble heart. Don't get me wrong. It is a wonderful message of this parable and one on which we should certainly focus. But there is more.

The entire time the younger son was gone, and well before, the oldest son was dedicated to his father. He stayed at home, worked diligently and was involved in helping take care of his father's affairs. His outward behavior was exemplary. Anyone observing from the outside would be impressed at this man's son. But his heart was laid bare upon the return of his younger brother. His anger and indignation at his father's warm welcome to his brother was compelling evidence that his motivations for being the diligent son were not pure. His problem was the same as his younger brother but in a much more subtle way. Each son's primary desire was for what their father could give them. The younger son's method was just much more obvious - demand it and take it. On the other hand, the older son's method was to do everything he possibly could do for his father so his father would owe him what he truly desired. Neither son wanted their father because he was their father. Their motivations were selfish to the core. Yet, while the younger son finally found a repentant heart after hitting rock bottom the parable ends with the older son continuing to be separated from the heart of his father.

So, this got me to thinking. What is our motivation for not sinning? I think there are a few obvious motivations and likely many more beyond these:

*Wanting something from God - This is the elder brother mentality. God, I am going to be a good person for you, and in return, I expect my life to go well and for you to bless me. This is the motivation that is shattered when you are trying to live a life pleasing to God and tragedy strikes. Your reaction will very likely be anger at God for not holding up His end of the bargain. Even a minor incident like a flat tire when you are on your way to teach Sunday School can cause resentment.

*Duty - This is the mentality where you just keep your head down and walk the straight and narrow because it's what you are supposed to do. Your heart is not engaged. You become almost robotic in your day-to-day activities, just trying to get through until heaven arrives. There is little-to-no passion or desire. It's a mentality that often leads to despair or egregious sin as your own will power can not sustain your perceived perfection.

*Fear - This is the mentality I hear from a Catholic friend of mine..."I won't have an affair because I don't want to go to hell." Well, it's good that you won't have an affair but is this really the proper motivation? (Of course, it's terrible theology as well.) While we should fear the One who can take our soul, we shouldn't be living in constant fear of our Heavenly Father who not only calls us His friends but His children. Have you seen what happens to children who live in constant terror of their father? There is no real relationship intimacy. It is an existence in which you simply wait for something to go terribly wrong.

*Pride - This is the mentality that says I am going to be a good person because then I will feel good about myself. Of course, it usually goes a step further to not only include feeling good about yourself but feeling superior to others who can't seem to get their lives in order and live up to your moral code. There is a deep denial here about the need for God's grace since they have already justified themselves. There is also a lack of desire to reach out to others in love and grace because if I have gotten things together on my own, why can't they? They must not care enough or just aren't trying hard enough.

Recognize any of these in your own life? I think I am susceptible to each at different times. But there is only one true and right motivation: LOVE. Look at these verses: Joshua 22:5, Nehemiah 1:5, Pslam 119:88, Daniel 9:4.

Jesus says over and over in John 14, "If you love me, you will obey me." (verses 15,21,23,24). He doesn't say, "If you obey me, you will love me." None of the aforementioned verses put it in that order either. Love doesn't come out of obedience. We won't truly open our hearts to someone from a sense of obligation. But if you truly love someone, you will want to obey them. You will want to delight in them, to respect them, to give them a sense of joy and happiness. This is to be our motivation in not sinning against a holy God. Not out of fear or pride or duty or expectation...but out of simple, yet all encompassing love.

Why is this so difficult for so many Christians when it should be so simple? Maybe it's because we don't truly believe that God loves us completely. But I will save that for another blog...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Matthew 6:21

Your heart will follow your treasure
That is the only true measure
Of what you most desire
Of what takes your self higher

But beware that which looks gold
Can soon turn your heart cold
And leave you unable to stand
In a dark and dreary land

Set your sights on what is above
For there we find true love
An escape from demons below
Where true passion freely flows