Monday, October 19, 2015

When You Work for the Gift You've Already Got

Remember the fort/blind the boys built this summer for all their fall hunting adventures? Well, apparently a blind isn’t complete without certain hunting accessories. And this year for his birthday, Zach asked for all manner of them.

Every time we went to the store he’d point them out. When they were on sale, he’d let me know. He’d tell me which store had them cheaper and when the shipping was free.

But I kept saying, "No."

He got tired of asking and waiting, but he was unwilling to spend his own money.

So he decided to make his own.

He ransacked our garage and collected cardboard, paint, Styrofoam, dowels, and tubes. He stripped two motors from remote control cars that supposedly no one played with anymore. Then he went to work making a Mojo Decoy on the work bench.

Three days later, he emerged from the garage with his finished product.

I could not believe my eyes.

While I was floored by his commitment to economy and the project, I also felt a little sorry for him because the thing didn’t work as well as the one at the store. 

I also felt a little sorry for him because hiding upstairs in a gift bag was the “real thing.”

I almost felt like the surprise was ruined now that he’d already made his own. And because I am an EXPERT second-guesser when it comes to parenting, I wondered if I should have saved him the time and effort and told him not to bother.

Thankfully I didn’t.

I thought of all he had learned through the process about trial and error, about painting and mixing colors, batteries and electricity, effort and economy.

His work was valuable, even if he received the end product as a gift.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “work” we do as we walk with Christ. The apostle John wrote that if we claim to know Christ we must walk as He walked. (1 John 2:6)

But that is hard work. 

In fact, much of what Jesus did was hard. 

He loved the self-righteous leaders who tried to sabotage his God-given work. He accepted invitations from them and extended invitations to them.

He loved a backstabbing traitor in such a way that his disciples were befuddled trying to figure who in the world Jesus was talking about when he said, “One of you will betray me.”

He even loved his pretentious disciples who were jockeying for His own position in the Kingdom they couldn’t even comprehend.

Have you ever tried loving those kind of enemies? The ones who play on your team, work in your office, attend your church, ride in your car, eat at your table, or sleep in your bed?

It is hard to walk like Jesus walked when I bump into people I don’t like and stumble over my own sin. When I compare my life to His, I can’t help but notice the “product” doesn’t function like His.

I need Someone to gift me the thing I’ve been working on.

And this is the very reason the gospel is good news.

With an apologetic heart I can bring Him my jumbled pile of sporadic obedience, selective love that tires easily, and hard work that didn’t work out.

And do you know what he gives in return? His own perfect walk--His long obedience in the same direction.

He never stumbled, or got off track, and always went towards His Father. His life is like the gift from the manufacturer that works perfectly. A life of perfection that’s been lived for us, and is ours to receive.

I might be tempted to think the magnitude of that gift renders my work worthless. Perhaps I shouldn’t have bothered working to walk like Jesus walked.

But on my limping walk of half-hearted love, foot-dragging obedience, and begrudging duty I learn to honestly talk with Him. I begin to lean on His strong arm when I tire of loving like He did. I become increasingly aware of my inability, and appreciate His great ability.

As I talk with Him and increase my dependence on Him, I discover I don’t merely need Christ.

I’ve actually grown to love Him.

And all that hard work is valuable, not because I earn something by it, but because through it I discover the gift that was there all along.

Christ’s work in exchange for mine. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

It's the gift that can't be manufactured or earned. 

It must simply be received.

Monday, October 5, 2015

When Freedom Means Giving Up

It seems like I’ve mentioned my love for music recently. 

As a word-lover I especially love meaningful lyrics. So when enjoyable music and thought provoking lyrics bump into each other, I swoon. 

This week as I was buzzing around my kitchen with my Ellie Holcomb Pandora station playing, I heard All Sons and Daughters singing Dawn to Dusk and I was smitten with one particular lyric:                              

                                                        Tomorrow’s freedom is today’s surrender.

Lovely. Profound. And counter intuitive. After all, doesn’t surrender mean captivity?

In war, yes. 

In sin, yes. 

In Christ, no.

Ironically, I keep applying this profound truth to what seems like mundane and annoying facets of life. 

My steady two-year weight gain for example. Yikes. Did I just say that? That was embarrassing. 

But now that it’s out, it’s a reminder that tomorrow’s health, is dependent (in part) on surrendering thoughtless, excessive eating today. Whoah! That was awkward. NEXT…

My kids keep hearing me sing those five words but what they don’t know is that I’m reminded to apply it in parenting as well. Certain behaviors are easy to ignore when I consider the time and effort I’ll have to surrender in order to deal with them. But tomorrow’s freedom, for me and for my kids, is dependent (in part) on my surrendering the time and effort it takes to address it today. Big sigh. 

And then there is that pesky issue of my cherished sin. The little sins I love to indulge, just a bit. An appetite for gossip. Creative insults. Lashing out. Hating rude people. “Acceptable” sins.

But cherished sin is dangerous, because the more I feed the little creature, the more it grows. And next thing I know, I’m not holding its leash anymore. It is holding me. Demanding to be fed more and more, and I become enslaved to a master of my own making.

Surrendering excess, time, and “acceptable” sin seems constraining and hard. But we don't surrender because we are gluttons for punishment. We surrender because on the other side of surrender is freedom. 

How do we get there? We endure a little discipline. Sometimes even self-discipline.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)

It’s painful. Or at the very least, tiring.

Perhaps the first step is recognizing the creature that’s secretly been holding us captive. Then, for those who train--repeatedly exerting the emotional muscle that resists the weight of excess, or apathy, or “acceptable sins,”--later on, it produces peace, righteousness, and ultimately freedom.                           

it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Gal 5:1)