When My Best Isn’t Good Enough

As a Christian I admit I have often struggled with what to do when I sense that my best isn’t good enough. Yesterday I made a few choices and later in the day I felt like they were the wrong ones. I had done my best but it wasn’t good enough. I had even prayed, however, in the end I thought I had let myself down and I had let God down.

I’ll tell you what it was. I put a purchase on a credit card with the intention of paying it off over a period of months. I did not have the cash at the moment to pay it. At the time I thought it was the right thing to do because I found just the item I had been looking for. But when I got home I suddenly second guessed myself. It was not like I committed some great sin, but maybe I got it wrong.

For Christians, Christ is set before us as a standard of perfection. In the Bible we are called to perfection, to holiness. How do we do this? Is this even possible? And if not, do we end up in a state of constant disappointment and even discouragement over our failure?

I have heard Christians get around this one by saying that God’s grace covers all of our sin–past, present and future. Does this mean, then, that I no longer need to concern myself with whether what I am doing is good enough?

In the Old Testament (the first section of the Bible before the record of the life of Jesus begins) we read that God’s chosen nation, the Israelites, were given the “law” by God to instruct them about right and wrong. In the New Testament Jesus said that basically all that was written in the Old Testament could be summed up as, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

While this may sound simple, Jesus also taught that no one is good, except God. He told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone to enter the kingdom of God. His disciples asked him, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ response was, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27.

Jesus set an example of how we should live. He set an example of true, sacrificial love when he died on the cross. And he came to do the thing that was not possible with man. He came to forgive sins. He actually demonstrated that he had the authority to forgive sins. When Jesus forgave a paralyzed man of his sins, religious leaders challenged his authority to do so, saying that only God can forgive sins. His response was, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Jesus then healed the paralyzed man and demonstrated that he had the power both to heal and to forgive sins.

Before Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him that Mary, a virgin, would bear a son and he was to call him Jesus, because he would “save people from their sins.” The angel earlier told Mary that she would give birth to “the Son of God.” Jesus, the Son of God, came to save us from our sins. To forgive us.

It grieves me when I fail to live up to the standard Christ set for me. It seems as though Christians live in a constant state of depravity. Are we not “empowered from on high” by the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and is this not sufficient for us to no longer fail him? Apparently not.

Martin Luther, the great Reformer, struggled so intensely with the issue of sinfulness that he almost had a breakdown. Finally he received a transforming revelation: “The just shall live by faith.” This verse was penned by the apostle Paul in the New Testament and we also find it in the Old Testament, in the book of Habakkuk, chapter two verse four.

I looked up a few different translations of the verse and noted some interesting variations below:

“I, the Lord, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.”
Some people’s desires are truly audacious; they don’t do the right thing. But the righteous person will live honestly.
Behold, he that is unbelieving, his soul shall not be right in himself: but the just shall live in his faith.
This message cannot help those who refuse to listen to it, but those who are good will live because they believe it.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. (Scriptures from Bible Gateway.)

The above verses reveal our tendency to be proud, unbelieving, and dishonest about our condition, rather than humble, faithful and obedient.

The gap between who I am and who I want to be, is a consequence of my humanity. I am not a ‘god.’ I cannot be god-like without help from God. Simply said, it is pretty much arrogant to think I can live rightly on my own. I need to be “instructed in the way of righteousness.”

I find it humbling to have to face my inadequacy every day. But I can draw a little bit of comfort from the above verses which seem to indicate that humility is a necessary posture, one from which I can move forward, by faith.

When I turn my face from my failure to God’s faithfulness and forgiveness I find my heart suddenly filled with hope and joy and gratitude. I feel like a child who is let out of “time out” and is free to run and play again. Until next time.

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Love letters

I think the central message of the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world….”

On my walk this morning I noticed the new leaves of Spring beginning to open on the trees. My thought was, every leaf, every flower, every blade of grass is God’s love letter to me.

I often meditate on his intricate design and what that means to me. I think about the fact that man has not been able to reproduce even one blade of grass, or one seed that will grow. But God has given us an infinite variety that will fascinate us for a lifetime. What can this be but love?

Why would I want to be a Christian in 2013?

Happy New Year! As a family we held hands and paused for a moment to pray in the new year. I thought about the fact that no matter what the year brings, we have the assurance that God will give us the grace to go through it, and, one day when all of this is over, we will be united with Christ for eternity.

Why would I want to be a Christian in 2013? For me this is best explained by looking at the alternative.

Christianity tends to be misrepresented both by those who believe and those who do not. This saddens me because it keeps people from accepting the best gift they could ever receive.

When I was in my late teens I decided to turn away from God. At the tender age of thirteen or fourteen I went forward for prayer. after the showing of a BIlly Graham evangelistic movie in our junior high school, and publicly committed my life to following Christ. I remember the sense of relief and the feeling of peace and joy that I had afterward.

I don’t know what possessed me to make the decision to forsake God. It was not that I wanted the liberty to sin. I think I was testing the reality of God. I think I wanted to see how my life would be different without God.

As a child I never willfully disobeyed my parents. I valued the sense of well-being that came from knowing I had their approval. Now that I had turned from God I knew that I had distanced myself from his presence and he no longer smiled on me. I had lost his favour. This was one of my first thoughts.

From my Bible I understood that God allows individuals to choose whether to serve him or not and that those who refuse him inadvertently find themselves subject to the rule of the dark forces of this world. Those who honor God have his promise of righteousness and peace, while those who reject him are pursued by evil and succumb to death–eternal separation from God. We choose.

Strangely, I did not think of eternal consequences. Nor did I have an awareness of some evil presence. But it struck me immediately that now I was completely on my own. I felt a palpable emptiness and aloneness unlike anything I had known before. Desolate describes how I felt.

Comfort and hope were gone. I was cut off from my source of life and light. My future appeared dark and foreboding.

I experienced a kind of paralysis. I did not want to move forward in this state. Worst of all, I couldn’t even pray. Prayer had been a very important part of my life. I experienced God as a friend, someone who was always there for me, helping me.

There is a song that describes my earlier relationship with God. It begins like this, “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear, falling on mine ear, the Son of God discloses. And he walks with me, and he talks with me. And he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share, as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” I had known this unearthly joy. I desired to return to this intimate communion with God. I wanted it with all my heart.

For me it was only a matter of days before I once again chose the peace and joy I had known in my relationship with Christ. It was as though I had a taste of death. I have never once considered going back to a life without God.

The true meaning of being a Christian is to have the the love, joy and peace of Christ flowing through you every day. I make a practice of remaining in his presence and enjoying this continual feast. The 23rd Psalm declares, “He prepares a table before me, in the presence of mine enemies. My cup runneth over.” My cup of joy continues to overflow.

How does God’s love mix with his judgment?

As you read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, you will find accounts of God’s judgement. The first one is the flood of the earth destroying everyone and saving only Noah and his family in an ark.

Why would God do this? The Bible is pretty clear that it is because of the wickedness of the people. If you read through to the end of the Bible you will find many more places where God destroyed people who were bent on doing evil. He even brought enemy forces against his own chosen nation, the descendants of Abraham, when they turned from him and served idols.

Is this consistent with our concept of a loving God who is for us? Maybe not. But notice, I said, “consistent with our concept.” We say love shouldn’t do that. It makes us fearful. What if I mess up in some way? What will happen to me? Will God be angry with me and destroy me?

This is a heavy topic, but an important one. Why would I want to serve a God who becomes angry and destroys people? Some people try and solve this problem by ignoring the Old Testament, saying either that it is not true, or that it is irrelevant after Jesus came. I don’t think it’s that simple.

I’ll share with you my take on this, and you can think about it and agree or disagree. Try and picture God creating a perfect universe. Imagine you were God. You sculpted these creatures to rule your universe. You breathed life into them. You gave them everything they needed but they turned against you. Do you feel a little put out? A little angry?

I think the part that is difficult to understand is not that God destroys those who turn against him, but that he continues to endure this insolent behaviour through the millennia. There is something within his creation that is so precious and dear to him, that he keeps on searching for those few who will love him. Apparently it is worth enduring all the evil just for this.

Jesus, like Adam and Eve when they were first created, was perfect and did not sin. God was pleased with him and ultimately death could not keep him in the grave. Had Adam and Eve not sinned, they would not have died. Think of it. Their children would not have died. Generations to follow would not have died. It would have been heaven on earth, literally, with no sin and death.

This was God’s will for his creation in the beginning and it is still his will. Something has changed between the Old Testament and the New Testament, but it is not the character of God, as some people would like us to believe. What has changed is that God showed us that love is stronger than war. Laying down our lives is more effective than killing. And God set the example.

The most important thing

There are many laws in the Old Testament. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene the Jewish people were practically in bondage to their own laws. Jesus tried to simplify things for them. He told them that his yoke was easy and his burden was light. Even a little child could enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus taught that all the laws of the Old Testament could be summed up in two laws, love God with all your heart, and love people as you love yourself. In reading the Bible it is necessary to keep these two principles of life in mind. The Bible teaches us how important it is to love God and others. We keep seeing throughout the stories that are told, that this does not come naturally to people.

One of the first verses I ever learned as a child was, “We love him because he first loved us.” The most important message of the Bible is that God loves us. He created us. He designed us. He loved his creation then and he still loves his creation now. The Bible is saturated with the love of God. His love permeates every story and every teaching.