Friday, December 10, 2010

Splitting wood and splitting hairs

Got to spend the morning with Owen today. Kelly was in the Little Rock & the girls were at school so it was just me and my boy. And so naturally, we planned lots of manly things to do. Actually just one manly thing. But it was about as manly as you can get-we had to split and stack firewood. Since we had such studly, beastly chores awaiting us we needed to fuel up with a manly breakfast. So we went to the truck stop for a healthy serving of grease, salt, and pork fat (3 of the 6 man food groups, by the way). With our bellies full, we headed out to tackle the job ahead of us.

Now understand that Owen was crazy excited about helping. But after a few minutes of stacking his enthusiasm began to wane. So I, in my wisdom, knew a trick that would get his attention back-I let him chop some wood. Now before you report me for turning a 3 year old loose with an axe, understand that I didn't just give him a pole axe and let him run wild. I gave him a small hatchet, one that he could handle, and lectured him thoroughly about safety. After the lecture it was time for the fun. He set up his first piece and gave it all he had...and almost made a mark on the wood. So he tried again. And again. Seeing that his confidence was getting shaky I did the next best thing. I found a really green piece and told him to chop away at it. And chop away he did. He was having a grand old time. When he got done it looked like a rabid beaver had attacked that stick. And then I noticed he had started "splitting" wood again. And I put that in quotations because he really wasn't splitting wood-when faced with the difficult task of actually splitting wood, he changed the definition. Rather than try and split firewood, he took large pieces of bark that were knocked loose from the wood and chopped them into smaller pieces. Each time he did this he said, "Look Daddy, I did it!" And being the great dad I am, I encouraged him, gave him an attaboy each time.

Now what's the point here? I'm glad you asked. As I watched him redefine success I realized that we often do the exact same thing as we try and serve God. We see what God wants from us, we learn about what He expects of us. And we give it a try. But then we find it difficult. And so what do we do? Do we cry out to God for strength? Do we surrender to Him and let the Holy Spirit work through us to accomplish what we can't? Nope. We do something even better. We change the definition of success. Or more specifically, we split hairs. We call partial success (or even complete failure) success. Want some examples?

We know we ought to read God's word consistently, right? And many of us do. But how often do we spend the day acting on what we've read that morning? If you're like a lot of folks, you read scripture each day not because you want to commune with God, and not because you want God to show you something that you can do to bring Him glory; you read it to check it off your spiritual 'to-do' list. Jesus said the proof that we love Him is that we obey His commands. If all we do is read His word, and don't actually put it into practice, there's no reason to believe we love Jesus. James says that when we hear God's word and not do it, we deceive ourselves. Here's another example.

We know we ought to love others, right? And we say that's important to us. But be honest; nobody's looking or anything. How often do you really love someone and how often do you just fake it? Sadly we often fake it. We put on an outward, look all spiritual and Christian-y but inside we are thinking about how much we can't stand that person. And somehow we've convinced ourselves that this is what God expects of us. But if scripture teaches us anything, it's that God is more concerned with who we are on the inside than with what we do on the outside. If just being good outwardly were enough then the Pharisees would be held up as a standard for all of us. Instead, Jesus vilified them, calling them "white-washed tombs", i.e., pretty on the outside but full of death and decay on the inside. Jesus demands that we love each other. In fact, He says that the way the world will know we are His followers is that we love each other-not with an outward show but with an inward reality.

So what do we do with this? 2 things. First, don't try and change the definition of success. God is perfect, He is infinitely holy. And He calls me to that same kind of holiness. God deserves so much more than half-hearted effort and lazy attempts at holiness. He deserves my soul, my life, my all. May I never dishonor Him by arguing with Him about what He wants for me. He wants perfection. Second, I've got to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. The paradox of Christianity is that God calls me to a perfection I can never attain. And the natural response to that is to split hairs; to change the definition of success. To say, "I did it!" when I actually failed. The proper response is to rest in the work of Christ. To understand that His righteousness has been imputed to me, and that my good works aren't the grounds by which I'm made acceptable to God-the good works of Jesus are. And even though I can't always be who God has called me to be, God knew this when He saved me. And so I rest in Christ. I commit to serve Him, to love Him, to obey Him, to do all that He's called me to do-and when I fail, I cling to the cross, I receive the forgiveness that was made available by the sacrifice of King Jesus. We don't have to split hairs-we have to live in the realization that God has declared us to be righteous, based on the finished work of Jesus. So don't try and make excuses-embrace your weakness and rest in the One who loves you in spite of it.

Father, thank You for Your patience with me. Thank You for loving me not because of what I do, but in spite of what I do. Thank You for providing a perfect salvation in Jesus. Thank You for granting me His perfect righteousness. Help me to serve You with all that is within me; but help me to rest in the finished work of Jesus. Amen.

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