Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Why being perfect doesn’t matter to God

Does your brain ever grind to a screeching halt? Where it simply refuses to think one more useful thought? It’s like your mind hits a brick wall and the only thing it generates is an overwhelming desire to eat chocolate and watch Doctor Who. Maybe that’s just me. =)

I didn’t used to need to write anything down. I could keep track of everything in my head. Then I hit high school. Then I hit college. And after that? Well, everything changed. Let’s just say I realized yesterday that I’m going to have to start keeping track of everything I do in a notebook because my brain just can’t keep up.

Why? Because I missed something. I forgot something. I misplaced something important. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s going to be a huge pain in my backside.

There’s too much going on. I’m trying to simplify, and it’s helping. But kind of like cleaning your room, you’ve got to make a bigger mess before you can really start organizing, and I feel like that’s where my life is right now. And that can be really depressing if you think about it too long,

Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Psalm 94:17-19.

Unless the Lord had helped me,
    I would soon have settled in the silence of the grave.
I cried out, “I am slipping!”
    but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me.
When doubts filled my mind,
    your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.

Life is busy. Everyone is busy in some way or another. If you aren’t, I’d love to know your secret.

Being busy is good as long as it doesn’t take you away from the things that really matter in your life, like your relationship with God and your family. But no matter how hard you work, no matter how much of a perfectionist you are, you’re going to screw up.

You will. Don’t argue.

That’s not an excuse to underperform. And just because you know you aren’t perfect doesn’t justify not even trying. But I know I get so wrapped up in dotting every i and crossing every t that sometimes I don’t even want to take the risk that I’ll screw up. And that’s not how we’re called to live.

We aren’t called to hide in the shadows for fear that we’ll make a wrong move. We aren’t called to hunker down in our safe little bubbles and cover our heads so we make sure we never fail.

We are called to be warriors. Conquerors. More than conquerors, actually. And with God on our side, there’s nothing we can’t do. With God on our side, there’s no fall we can’t pick ourselves up from. That doesn’t mean we should plan to faceplant, but when we do, we shouldn’t let it throw us.

Like the Psalm says, God is there to help us. If not for Him, we all would have been destroyed years ago. God’s love is unfailing, which means that even when we don’t perform at our best, God loves us anyway.

God’s love isn’t dependent on our performance. Aren’t you glad for that? Can you imagine having to do a song and dance to keep God happy? I know some people live their lives that way, and I couldn’t do it.

We don’t have to pay God off. We don’t have to get straight A’s in school or make it through a month without a speeding ticket. We don’t have to keep perfect records or walk on eggshells. God’s unfailing love supports us no matter what. And we should take comfort from that.

If you’re in the same place today that I was yesterday, that should cheer you up. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to know all the details. I don’t have to get everything right. God loves me in spite of all that, and He is going to help me get through it.

That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try my best. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t aim to do the best job I can do. But it does mean that on the days when I don’t get everything right, when I forget something, when I make a mistake–He isn’t going to drop me. He isn’t going to forget about me. He isn’t just going to walk away because I’m too much trouble.

When you have doubts, when you start making mistakes because life is too busy for your brain to keep up, remember who God is and remember what He’s promised you. His unfailing love will support you. No, it may not look like what you think it should, but since when did real love look exactly like you expected?

So stop being so hard on yourself. Do your best, but don’t beat yourself bloody for missing a step. God doesn’t hold it against you. So you shouldn’t hold it against you either.

Barney the Beefeater, our "ambassador" at the Tower of London, London, England

A different perspective on being an ambassador

Ambassadors are everywhere. We just don’t think about them. I mean, when I think of ambassadors in general, I think of government officials who travel to other countries to represent their home country. I think of politics in general. The term ambassador conjures up all sorts of political symbols and hierarchies that I learned about in high school. But if you think about it, an ambassador can be anyone who represents someone else.

Anyone into Mary Kay cosmetics? I know people who are. Your Mary Kay consultant is an ambassador. And how about the Boy Scouts? Going door to door selling popcorn? They’re ambassadors too. Car salesmen. Customer service representatives. Anyone with a face to a potential customer is an ambassador.

It’s kind of overwhelming if you think about it, especially when you let yourself realize that as a follower of Christ, we are Christ’s ambassadors. We are here to represent Him to the world.

Barney the Beefeater, our "ambassador" at the Tower of London, London, England

Barney the Beefeater, our “ambassador” at the Tower of London, London, England

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 5:20-21.

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

The first thing I think about when I read these verses is what a stunning responsibility this is. To be Christ’s ambassador? To be Christ’s voice to a world that doesn’t know Him? That’s huge. That’s intimidating on a level beyond terror. If you have chosen to trust Jesus for your salvation, that means you are His voice. You are His representative to the people in your life.

Scared yet?

It terrifies me. That’s a lot of responsibility. That’s a lot to live up to. Because when people see me, they’re supposed to see Christ. When people hear me speak, they’re supposed to hear Christ. When I interact with people, they’re supposed to know that Jesus loves them and that He died for them and that He wants to have a relationship with them. And that’s a tall order from a girl who prefers to hide in the corner at social events.

And that’s where my brain goes automatically. How on earth can I meet those expectations? Well, no, let’s be honest here. My brain goes instantly to wondering how I can exceed those expectations. Merely meeting expectations has never been good enough for me; I have to blast the roof off people’s expectations or I feel ashamed of myself. So because my focus is exceeding the expectations (the rules, the regulations, etc.), I start plotting and planning how I can manipulate a circumstance or a situation so that I can control the outcome.

I’m focusing on my performance. I’m focusing on my actions. I’m focusing on what I need to do to make God happy with me. Anyone see my performance-driven perfectionist self rearing its ugly head anywhere in this?

Well, here’s something I realized today. Granted, it’s something I’ve always known, but it hit home with me today on a level that I hadn’t understood before. I am God’s ambassador.

Yes, news flash, I just said that above. But in my mind there are two perspectives to being an ambassador. One, you have to be careful and watch what you say and how you act because you represent an authority in your life. That’s true. That’s 100% true. But that’s not all there is to it. If you are an ambassador, you were chosen for the job.

Now, before you religious scholars get up in arms, I’m not going to get all theological about this. I could. But the purpose of this blog is to provide a place of encouragement, not only for me but for anyone who is searching. And I don’t intend to start a theological discussion about Calvinism vs. Armenianism vs. any-other-isms that are floating around in the world.

What I’m trying to communicate here is that Christ-followers have been chosen to represent Jesus in the world, just like ambassadors. You don’t get to be an ambassador just because you put on a fancy suit and can give pretty speeches or you have a good handshake. No. You apply for the job, and you’re selected for the position. Why? Because your authority, your boss, has seen the potential that you have and wants you to be his representative.

If you have accepted Christ, God calls you one of Christ’s ambassadors. You have something that you can use to reach out to the world and tell them about Jesus, and it’s not something that anyone else can do. So to all you performance-driven perfectionists out there who are running yourselves into the ground trying to make God happy with your list of accomplishments, this is the heart of what I learned today: Stop. God has already given you the job as His ambassador, so stop treating Him like you’re applying for the position. Stop stressing yourself out over whether or not you’re good enough. Stop worrying yourself bald over what you’re going to say or how you’re going to say it or what other people are going to think about you.

Just do the job. Just live for Him. Love for Him. Help others for Him. And stop worrying about whether you’re going to do a good enough job or not. Because it’s not about you. It’s about Him.

Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Good enough

Being a good person makes me happy. How about you? But how many good people do you know? I know quite a few myself. Good people are the kind of people who always do the right thing, who never overreact, who never get in trouble, who never do anything to hurt someone else intentionally. I’m not lying. I do know people like that. I’m not one of them. But sometimes when you’re that good I imagine it could be difficult to remember that you’re not perfect.

One of the difficult places I’ve discovered as a Christ-follower is that dangerous place where you learn how to keep all the rules and follow all the traditions, where you find that careful balance between obeying the law and still saying that you trust Christ. Not saying we shouldn’t obey the law. The law is good. God gave us the law to establish order and peace, and–well–many of the Ten Commandments are moral law too. It’s just a good idea.

But where it becomes dangerous is when you convince yourself that you can be good enough. And for a little while, you’ll be okay. Because if you’re a good enough person, you can be a good enough Christian in comparison to others, but what happens when you screw up?

Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:2-4.

Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!

There’s a lot happening in this section of verses. Too much to really go into in a brief morning devotional, but what is important to understand is that during the Early Church, there was a group of people going around who believed people had to do certain things in order to be saved. Honestly, they weren’t much different from the church leaders during Jesus’ life. Honestly, they aren’t much different from the religious experts in any time. There has always been and probably will continue to be people who believe we have to earn salvation.

Paul is basically calling them on the carpet here. What he’s saying is that those people who believe you have to do something in order to be saved are trusting in their own accomplishments and not in Christ. Thsoe people are trusting in what they can do rather than in what Christ has done. And I find it ironic because our world and even the Church is still full of people who believe this. I know tons of people who talk about how Christ has saved them, yet they’ll turn around and tell everyone how they’re supposed to dress, live, eat, drink, speak, etc. in order to be right with God.

Watch out for those people.

There is no human effort we can make that will make us right with God. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. If there were, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to do what He did. So is Paul saying that we shouldn’t strive to “be good”?

That’s not the case at all. Part of having the Bible is knowing how to live. The Bible is a roadmap to life. It’s a guide that explains how we should make decisions and why. But the trouble comes when you take the lifestyle that the Bible promotes and turn it into something that redeems us. No lifestyle will redeem you. No dress code will make you perfect. All following the Law does is show us that we aren’t good enough.

Yes, being a good person, doing what I know is right, does make me happy. And it should. It should make everybody happy when you do the right, even though sometimes doing the right thing isn’t pleasant. But take a minute to scrutinize that happiness the next time you do something right. Are you happy because you did the right thing? Or are you happy because nobody else did the right thing? Are you comparing yourself to other people?

You can’t be good enough. Neither can I. Trusting your future entirely to your behavior is the quickest way to be disappointed, because even if your conduct is spotless, there will come a day when you screw up. And you’ll fall into a tailspin. When you spin out of control because you made a mistake, you have two options: You can compare yourself to someone else and tell yourself that what you did isn’t as bad as what they did. Or you can compare yourself to what the Bible says and recognize that you screwed up and that God forgives.

Which do you think will make you happy? Maybe at first glance, you’d think comparing yourself to someone else. Because after all admitting that we’re wrong won’t make us happy, will it? You should try it sometime. It’s funny how much a relief admitting wrong is.

Wearing the burden of perfection is exhausting. Take it from someone who has been there. You can’t be perfect, and even if you could, it wears you out. Trying to be perfect doesn’t bring happiness; it just bring weariness.

So do what’s right. Obey the law. But don’t trust your future to it. Because you’re not good enough. The one person who was is Christ, and He took care of it. So trust Him and let the rest go.

Pine cone on stone steps - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Being good

There’s an old saying. “God is good all the time and all the time God is good.” Have you ever heard that? I think I learned it in Sunday School, or maybe my parents taught me. I can’t remember. Usually people recite it back and forth to each other. It’s one of those stoic old formulaic things that really rubs me the wrong way … except it’s true.

But what does it mean to be good? Do we really grasp that? Because none of us are good. I mean, there are some of us who are okay. I don’t consider myself a bad person, but then, what is bad? What standard do you use to judge good and bad, right and wrong? If good is perfect, none of us are good enough.

Pine cone on stone steps - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Pine cone on stone steps – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is 1 Chronicles 16:34.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
    His faithful love endures forever.

This is actually part of the chapter I blogged about yesterday, but I just couldn’t get this phrase out of my head. The text actually comes out of an Old Testament history. The Chronicles are the history of the kings of Israel and Judah with a little more detail. And this is during the time that King David is bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem.

Yes, the Ark of the Covenant really existed. No, it was nothing like Raiders of the Lost Ark. And, since Jesus is our Mediator between God and Man now, the Ark is no longer needed, which is why it’s not around anymore. Just FYI.

Just a brief bit of explanation: the situation with the Ark started back during the time when Saul was king. I can’t remember exactly, but he did something foolish and allowed the Ark to fall into the hands of the Philistines, one of Israel’s enemies. I don’t remember the verse, but it’s a somewhat entertaining bit of Philistine history. So as king, David decided that the Ark needed to be returned to Jerusalem. But his first attempt was shoddy and not according to God’s rules. That happens in 1 Chronicles 13, and one of David’s people ends up dying because he touched the Ark when he wasn’t supposed to. So David left the Ark halfway to Jerusalem for three months before he realized that he had done it wrong. He comes back in Chapter 16 to do it right. And this verse comes out of a song that David sings when they get the Ark back to Jerusalem.

As a child, when I read this story, I didn’t understand it. Even now, I still struggle with it somewhat. Because it seems to me that these peoples’ intentions were true. They wanted the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence, to be returned to Jerusalem where it belonged. And just because someone who wasn’t in the right “class” of people touched it, he was killed?

That sounds harsh to me even now. But the truth is, God had told them a specific way to move the Ark. And David thought he knew better. Yes, his motivation was true, but even if your motivation is true, that doesn’t excuse your actions if they’re wrong.

This story is just one indication that we really don’t know what “good” is. We can tell you our interpretation of good. We can tell you the “good things” we’ve done. But are our “good things” even good? If we don’t know what good really is, how can say anything we’ve done is good?

What is good? And what does it take to be good?

Only God is good. And He’s good all the time. So if you’re trying to define “good” you have to look at God.

Good is the opposite of bad. Good is genuine and real, striking a balance between a true heart and correct action. Being good requires perfection. None of us can be good. Period.

Random people on the street who’ve lived in sin all their lives can’t be good. People who’ve grown up in the church and have decided to do their own thing can’t be good. People who’ve grown up in the church and have never left the church can’t be good. None of us can be good. Maybe we can try, but I guess what I’m saying is that none of us can be good enough.

God is good. In every situation. In every circumstance. In every life. Even when you feel bad, even when you are bad, God is good. He can’t be anything else.

If we want to be good, we need to run our actions through the filter of God’s goodness. We need to ask ourselves if the choice we’re getting to make is based on our own selfish desires or on what God has clearly told us in Scripture. We need to ask ourselves if the way we’re treating people is based in anger or love.

Are we living like Jesus did? Are we living like God has told us? Whether that means addressing your thought life or your pride or your improper relationships, we need to change. And even those of us with the best most pure intentions need to re-examine our hearts. Because even if we have good intentions, we’re still not good enough. And our good intentions can easily become something that destroys other people if our actions don’t match up with what God has said is right.

Another reason this verse won’t get out of my head is the new Casting Crowns song that’s been played all over the radio recently. I embedded it below. It’s a little creepy, but all music videos are, so I suggest getting it to play and looking at something else while you listen.

Just remember that nobody’s good enough. We’re all just beggars that Jesus gave bread. And while we are supposed to help each other and keep each other accountable, not one of us is better than someone else.

Only God is good. The best we can do is imitate Him, but we can’t pick and choose His qualities to imitate. Like Scripture, it’s all or none. He is good and righteous and just; but He is also merciful and loving. It’s a hard line to walk. But that’s why He gave us the Holy Spirit. That’s why we have Christ’s example in Scripture.