Friday, August 12, 2011

You Have Limits, You Really Do! Pt.3

You Have Limited Power
Suzy comes home from her second grade class one afternoon and says, “Mommy, I have to wear a party dress to school tomorrow.” Mom asks, “Is it someone’s birthday?” “No,” Suzy answers, “We were on the playground and my friend Anna told all the girls that we have to wear party dresses tomorrow.” Just two months into second grade, and a girl named Anna is already acting out of a delusion of self-sovereignty. Little Anna has set herself up as Queen of the second-grade playground, basking in her place at the center of her own little universe.

Yes, we all tend to like to be in control. But accepting that there’s actually very little in life that we do control is a very important spiritual step. If you buy into the delusion of your own self-sovereignty, if you live committed to some grand plan of your own making, with the belief that you have the independent ability to pull it off, two things will happen. You will not submit your life to the plan of Another, and you won’t seek the rest that can only be found in the assurance that God rules over all things for your sake (Ephesians 1:22–23).

Think of the factors that have shaped your life that you had nothing to do with. Think of the location of your birth and how profound an effect it has had. Think of how different things would be had you been born in the jungles of New Guinea, or in the desert of Saudi Arabia, or on some tiny South Sea island. Think of the influence your family has wielded over who you are and how your life has unfolded. You
didn’t choose your mom, your dad, or your siblings, yet each has had a huge effect on you. Think of how profoundly your community and the economy shape your life, when neither operates under your control. Think of how you’ve never had any actual control over the people in your life. Yes, you can influence them for good or ill, but you can’t make them do what you want. Think of how little control you’ve had over your own spiritual life. Yes, there was a moment when you had to exercise faith in the sacrifice of Christ, and you’ve chosen to live as his follower. But you couldn’t have written yourself into the circumstances that exposed you to the things of God, nor could you have opened your own heart to the truth of the gospel.

James calls us to accept the limits of our power with these direct and pastoral words:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you don't even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You're a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
—James 4:13–17

My security isn’t to be sought in the degree to which I’m able to control the people and situations in my life. No, I can accept the smallness of my power because I’m the son or daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s in control, I’m not, and that’s exactly as it should be. There’s one more important limit to recognize.

You Have Limited Righteousness

Does that statement bother you? Actually, it needs to be strengthened. You and I have no independent righteousness at all! All our righteousness has been given to us by Christ. He is our righteousness.

It’s important to accept the fact that there’s never a day in your life that isn’t somehow stained by sin. Sin rears its ugly head in what you desire, choose, think, say, and do, again and again and again. Nothing that emerges from you is perfectly righteous. You simply aren’t pure in the true sense of the word. Yet we’re all tempted to buy into the delusion of our own righteousness. Even when our conscience plagues us because we’ve done something wrong, we try to take ourselves off the hook. We’ll tell ourselves that the news about someone that we just “shared” with a friend wasn’t gossip, but a prayer request. We’ll tell ourselves that that jealous thought wasn’t as envious as it seemed, but was simply a desire for God’s blessing. We’ll tell ourselves that a selfish play for personal power was really just an expression of our commitment to use our God-given leadership gifts.

If you don’t accept your ongoing struggle with sin, if you entertain the thought that your greatest problem in life exists outside of you and not inside, if you try to convince yourself that you’re more righteous than you really are, you won’t seek the forgiveness and righteousness that can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

You Have Limits, You Really Do Pt. 2

Three Inescapable Limits
So let’s take that big laundry list of limits from the last post, plus all the ones I didn’t name, and bring them down to something a little easier to recall. Every human being is essentially subject to three foundational limits. We are limited in wisdom, in power, and in righteousness. It doesn’t take a great deal of humility to agree with this statement, does it? Think of it this way. What would it mean if, in any one of these areas, you weren’t limited, but unlimited ... infinite? You really would be the fourth person of the Trinity!

Knowledge and acceptance of these three limits is essential to productive living in this fallen world. What a testimony to our foolish pride that we have any trouble accepting them!

You Have Limited Wisdom

There is so much you and I don’t know. There are so many mysteries of the universe that are not yet opened to us. There’s so much we haven’t figured out and don’t yet understand. There's so much we think we understand that will be corrected in the future. Our personal field of research and experience is so small.

Almost every day we’re bombarded with thoughts, philosophies, perspectives, opinions, viewpoints, explanations, and analyses. Yet we can never make enough time to sift through all we’re hearing and experiencing in order to boil it down to what it actually means to distill knowledge into wisdom. Although we never really stop thinking, because of our limited wisdom our moments of greatest insight are frail, tiny, and imperfect. Paul speaks to our finite understanding when he says, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Paul is saying that if God were capable of being foolish, his most foolish moment would be infinitely wiser than your moment of greatest, deepest, fullest insight!
God’s understanding has no limits because he has no limits, and he perfectly understands himself. As soon as we acknowledge that our understanding is less than perfect and complete, we acknowledge its smaller than his to a degree that can’t be measured. Our finiteness is infinitely smaller than his infinity. However much larger than zero our wisdom may be, for all practical purposes its still nothing when stacked up against his.

In what ways is your understanding limited? In practical terms, its limited by your experience, your God-given gifts and abilities, the places where you have and haven't lived, the people who've mentored and influenced you, and much more. We all simply need to admit that we probably don’t know as much as we think we know, whether we’re talking about facts or the wisdom to apply them. And we all need to commit ourselves; to not only to seeking to know more, but to work to deepen and correct our understanding of the things we think we know. We should all be aware and afraid of the pride of knowledge. None of us should give way to the smug assurance of arrival. We should all be living as students, desiring to be truly wise. And we would all benefit from the commitment to listen more, study more, question more, learn more, and speak less.

But there’s another factor we need to humbly accept. Our wisdom is limited by something far more significant than a lack of intellectual capacity. If our mental hard drives were ten times larger and faster, or fifty times, or a thousand times, we wouldn’t be ten or fifty or a thousand times wiser. Why? Because being made in the image of God, we’re not merely intellectual beings, as if we were some kind of flesh-based computer. We’re moral beings as well, and our moral capacity has been corrupted by sin. Where our intellect merely limits our wisdom, our sinfulness warps and degrades what small wisdom we may actually possess.

No matter how much we know, no matter how wise we are, sin can reduce us all to fools; it’s one of sin’s most destructive fruits. What is a fool? A fool is one who sees the world upside down and inside out. A fool looks at what is right and sees wrong, and at what’s wrong and sees right. A fool looks at what’s good and sees bad, and at what’s bad and sees good. A fool looks at what’s true and thinks it’s false, and looks at what's false and thinks it’s true. A fool looks at wisdom and sees foolishness, and looks at foolishness and sees wisdom. Sin does this to us all. We think our way is better than God’s way, that our rules are better than God’s rules, and that what we desire is better than what God has promised. Somehow, in some way, we all do it. We all step over God’s boundaries. We all take our lives into our own hands. We’ve all had to taste the bitter fruit of our own foolishness. Perhaps the bad fruit is debt, or a damaged relationship, or ill health, or spiritual immaturity, problems that are essentially the result of our foolishness.

When you accept the limits of your wisdom, however, you immediately do two things. First, because you can no longer assume you’re as wise as you need to be, you seek true wisdom in the only place it can be found. Here’s where Christianity makes one of its most audacious claims. We believe that wisdom isn’t first a philosophy or theology. No, we believe that wisdom is a person and his name is Jesus! (See Colossians 2:1–5). When I come to Christ, I’m brought into relationship with the ultimate source of insight, wisdom, understanding and truth. His wisdom is without comparison and without limits! Ultimately, you don’t get wisdom by experience and research; you get wisdom by relationship.

But there’s a second thing you’ll do as you acknowledge your limited wisdom. Humbly admitting that sin makes you a fool, you’ll seek rescue and protection. And you’ll accept that what you need to be protected from is yourself! You’ll seek the rescue of the ministry of the body of Christ, the rescue of sound worship and faithful biblical preaching, the rescue of good Christian literature, and the rescue of daily personal Bible study and prayer. You’ll not live as if you’ve arrived. Your embrace of your daily need for wisdom will open your heart. It will change the way you live.

Monday, August 08, 2011

You Have Limits, You Really Do! Pt.1

If you’re to live productively in this broken-down world, it‘s absolutely critical that you humbly admit your limits as a human being and then live within them. The limits on our abilities are extensive and profound. For one thing, because you're a physical being, your life is limited by the laws of the physical universe. The ramifications of this are huge.

You can only be in one place at a time. You can only be in one time at a time. You can’t propel yourself back into the past or launch yourself into the future; your existence is permanently anchored in the here and now.

You can’t think things into existence or alter what has already happened. You can’t remove a conversation from history or redo a disappointing day. You can’t know the details of tomorrow, let alone know exactly where you’ll be in five years!

You can’t decide you’re bored with gravity and choose to be free of it. You can’t make a personal commitment to do without oxygen and remain alive. You can’t read or reliably predict the thoughts of another. You can’t control the thoughts, desires, words, or actions of another human being. You can’t keep yourself from aging, as hard as some of us will try.

You can’t release yourself or your surroundings from the effects of the Fall. You can’t ensure that your body will be free of disease and sickness. You can’t independently free yourself or another from sin. You can’t reach in and alter the content of your own heart, let alone the heart of another. You can’t plant faith, courage, and hope into the soul of another person. You can’t ensure that your government will have integrity or that your community will be safe. You can’t make your acquaintances respect you, and you can’t ensure that your family members will treat you with love. You can’t keep yourself free from natural and environmental disaster. You can’t control the economic environment, making sure that it doesn’t alter your financial health. You can’t lay out a personal life plan and know it will unfold without interruption. You can’t ensure that your life will be easy and satisfying.

When you stand back and consider, you’re confronted with how little is actually under your control. When you stop and look, you’re faced with your smallness, your weakness, and your limits. But don’t get discouraged and don’t panic; reality is a healthy place to be. Think about it. Only when I humbly embrace my weakness, humbly admit my limits, and humbly recognize how small I actually am, can I begin to reach out for the help of the loving, powerful, and gracious Redeemer who is the true source of my strength, wisdom, and hope. Only then can I begin to function as an instrument in his powerful hands, rather than being in his way; because in forgetting who I am and who he is, I’ve been trying to do his job.

You don’t have to fear your limits. They were designed by the God who is the definition of everything that is knowledgeable, understanding, wise, and true. Your limits are not a flaw in his creative plan. They are the product of his wise choice and the fulfillment of his intentions. God made you limited, in exactly the way you are.

Yes, you’re dependent. No, you’re not independently capable. But be very clear on this: your limits are only dangerous when you forget them and try to do things you were never designed to do. When you stay within your limits, you’re exactly where God wants you; these indeed are part of their purpose. Your limits are meant to drive you in humble and worshipful need to your Lord for the rescue, restoration, wisdom, and strength only he can give you. And he’s promised never to turn a deaf ear to the cry of his children (Psalm 34:15). He’s welcomed you to cast your cares on him (1 Peter 5:7). He’s said that he’ll never leave you by yourself (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Admitting your limits is not a sign of weakness; it’s an essential ingredient of mature faith.