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Posts Tagged ‘perfection’

freedomInteresting. In today’s world, how often does a person use as their defense, “I didn’t know” or “Nobody told me.” And as a result, they believe this lack of knowledge absolves them of the crime. You’d think we’d get over it. After all, the “I didn’t see the stop sign” defense does not work in court, nor does “I didn’t know the speed limit” prevent an officer from giving us a ticket. And yet, we still say it and claim it and believe it.

 If anyone commits a sin by violating the directives I have given you—even if he was unaware of it—once he realizes it, he bears the guilt and must still accept the consequences. [Leviticus 5:17, The Voice]

The law works differently than grace. The law is immutable and enduring. The law has not gone away because of grace, it still exists; it is only our relationship to the breaking of law that has changed through Christ. For this reason, “. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23] Sin still exists. Intentional or unintentional, blatant or secret, repeated or isolated, sin happens. Mistakes happen.

mercy on meInitially, I wasn’t fond of the centuries old Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” because I didn’t see myself as a sinner. I saw myself as foolish perhaps or selfish, but honestly, it wasn’t like I had killed anyone. (Why killing seems to be norm for being a sinner, I don’t know, but most people who say this phrase, use that act as the litmus test.)

During Jesus’s ministry, he called his disciples to the highest plateau of faith by telling us to walk the paradox line: love enemies, go the second mile, enter through the narrow gate, turn the other cheek, and so forth. And then, he tops these off with the ultimate impossibility: “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect!” [Matthew 5:48] What? Absurd. That’s inaccessible. No one can do that. No one can be even close to the perfection of God. And I can just imagine Jesus smiling: “Yep. That’s the point.” And apparently, anything less than perfect is sin.

Sin is part of life. But how do we respond to it? Do we yield to sin and its backlash (as they say, “Karma is a bitch”) or do we call on the power of the Cross of Christ to stand between? It is the point.

sacrificePeter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” [I Peter 4:8] But Christ’s love covers ALL sins. We are encouraged to model our behaviors after Christ and practice love so that we can learn to be more generous of heart to one another. But there is only One who covers them all, from small to large.

Own up to the sin. But even better, own up to the sacrifice of blood that protects us all from the kismet of life’s choices.

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You are Holy

Photo by Ed Rybczynski

It’s a song, a litany sung by the over-comers of this world, who fight the good fight, who stay the course, who keep the faith. And what is the essence of the song? God is holy. If we could understand the full meaning of holiness, we might also prevail.

Revelation 15:4
Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.

Sacred and pure. Perfect. Incorruptible. Transcendent and immortal.

Only One is all of these things.

On the earth, we are sustained by a single sun and yet there are many suns and stars in the Universe. We know so little and yet claim so much. Humans can be so prideful. And yet, in the big (and I mean really big) picture, we are tiny, even miniscule.

And yet, we are given an opportunity to connect with and be part of Holy.

Even John, who had been given some of the most amazing access to all things holy: friendship with Jesus, witness of the transfiguration, caregiver for Jesus’s human mother, prophecy and miracle, leadership and humility, and finally, visions of a space outside of time. This John, in the presence of Holy, fell down as though dead [Revelation 1:17], so overwhelmed.

Holy is not something we can take lightly. Holy is the essence of God. And when we praise and sing and lift our hands crying out, “holy, holy, holy,” it is not God who needs to hear us, it is we who need to embrace the truth of it.

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Never say never but don’t hesitate to say “always” and “continually?” Doesn’t seem quite fair but there it is. In this section of Thessalonians, Paul gives a long list of instructions, straightforward and direct but how do I follow them? Can’t. So what is my appropriate response?

I Thessalonians 5: 16-18
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I guess it’s important to know the ideal and the perfect, but it also makes the difference between me and that goal so expansive, so blatantly unreachable that I’m a deer in the headlights.

This is where the Christ stands in the gap.

And yet, just because there is One willing to pray when I stop or rejoice when I give up does not mean I don’t have a responsibility to pursue the “always.” In fact, it’s the opposite. I have to want it. I have to want the manifestation of perfect through the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit. How else do I become mindful, or conscious, or intentional about transforming?

Is anything perfect? Is nature perfect? Is the sunset or the waning moon or the waves that crash on a beach day in and day out perfect?

“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” [Romans 8:20b-21]

We’re in this together. You, me, earth and all the rest.

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The goal is the prize but it’s not the finish line. In human terms, that may seem illogical, but it’s important to remember that God doesn’t operate on our human terms. Our “template” for the ultimate prize is revealed in the Christ.

Philippians 3:13b-14a
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me. . .

One of my favorite movies is Forrest Gump. At one point in the early part of the movie, he is chased by bullies and his little friend, Jenny, tells him to “run, Forrest, run.” And as he does run, the braces come off and he becomes stronger and stronger with each step. And soon, running becomes a testament or symbol of who he is and who he can be throughout the film.

Paul is telling us the same thing: to run, to run the race with perseverance, and to keep our eyes on the future, for tomorrow is full to the brim of prizes and surprises.

Part of running the race is developing a sensitivity to the paradoxes of life in Christ. In Christ’s universe, the tortoise can beat the hare, the weak can outlast the strong [II Cor 12:10], and the barren can have more children than the Duggars [Isaiah 54:1]. The rule of perfection is a different measurement. It all happens within.

Of course, my outside behaviors and decisions are imbued by the presence of the Holy Spirit, but the prize is not there. Like the voice of God that Elijah sought on the mountain, it was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the stillness.

Life is not just a carousel where we strain to pluck the brass ring to get the prize. It’s a life in conjunction with the Holy Spirit who is perfection. [Matthew 5:48]

The goal/prize is captured in these loaded phrases: to live IN Christ, to live IS Christ, to be found IN Christ, and to know Christ.

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Perfectionism, in and of itself, is a bane. So, why in the world would Paul lay this mandate on the Corinthian churches? Of course, Jesus did the same thing in Matthew 5:48, “be perfect.” It must be internal excellence then and not external behaviors.

II Corinthians 13:11b
. . . Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

In other words, aiming for perfection within is a good thing. And how do I do that? It’s what we’re all supposed to be about.

Christ within, the ultimate perfection, illuminating the path. Isn’t that the point? Becoming like Jesus is first and foremost about the interior life which then transforms the exterior–our behaviors respond to our thoughts and spirit. Where we make mistakes: sin, judge, and break basic commandments, we are given insight (hints) into the kind of work that must be done inside.

Until the “why” of my choices is understood and healed, my conduct will fall back to habits.

My college age daughter does not drive a car. She is afraid and anxious and these feelings override any desire she might have to learn. Something has to change within before she will make this leap. I have been saying to her to keep practicing; her fears will dissipate the more she drives. But then, she had an accident in a parking lot and before that, a tire blew out when she jumped a curb. Her practice alone is not working.

This is really no different from any of the behaviors I want to see reconstructed. I tend to judge others. Oh, I can say that I will not judge today. I will practice not judging. But what is making me judge? My own insecurities? My pride? My fear?

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear . . . [I John 4:18a]

I love the Christ whose Spirit is within me. That same Spirit of Christ is within others as well. How can I love my personal version and not the one outside myself?

Perfect: conforming to an ideal.

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