Friday, March 30, 2012

#10 Proverbs 11:18 "Does My Work Count?"

"The wicked man earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward."

Today I had the privilege of attending a fundraising luncheon for an organization that raises money for scholarships for underprivileged inner-city students so they can realize their dreams for a college education.

During the many speeches given from the podium this afternoon, a few people were recognized for their work in education and mentoring. These were extraordinary folks who went the extra mile and helped their students turn their lives around in profound and lasting ways.

Are you like me, when looking at such exemplary educators and civic leaders, secretly think, "Wow...compared to them, I've done nothing good in my life...."?

I know, I know...I shouldn't compare myself to others. And yes, I also know that recognition doesn't necessarily mean you've accomplished God's work...and the lack of recognition may not mean you haven't done His work, either.

Looking at Proverbs 11:18, I am not focusing on the wicked man and his deceptive wages. What God has brought to my attention is the latter half of the verse: the righteous and their sure reward.

In our earthly lives, "reward" usually brings a couple of things to mind. One is financial or material reward. We expect those who work hard and do the right things to be paid a fair wage and to live well. The other reward we think of is recognition...the pat on the back, the round of applause, the trophy or plaque, undying appreciation, the thank you note for your tax-deductible donation.

When you receive very little of these things, it is easy to think you've done nothing good. Or, at the very least, what little good I have done is nothing compared to the fruitful and far-reaching ministries of those around me.

But, look again at what the writer of Proverbs says, "...he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward."

What does this mean, to sow righteousness? Well, to sow is a farming term. It means to scatter or plant seed over the soil for the purpose of growth. In our lives we all scatter seeds, metaphorically speaking. Our seeds are many and varying. It can consist of our resources, our time, our influence or our talents. It can be our personality, our message, our love and loyalty.

Do we scatter seeds of love, encouragement and hope? Do we sow God's love and salvation, or do we sow seeds of discord and selfishness? The seeds we sow may turn into a large plantation, such as with the founders of that wonderful scholarship program I heard about today. Or...our seeds may be sown in a small, well-worn flower pot. One batch of seeds might reap a large harvest from its plantation that will feed thousands. The other, may yield a single blossom that might provide joy to one lonely person.

God reminds me that it is not the size or the magnitude of the work we do that is important. God tells us in Prov. 11 that what we sow is more important than how much we sow. That is where the "deceptive wage" comes in. The ungodly might sow seeds that yield earthly recognition and reward. And the corrupted lives of some of the rich and famous is practically a cliche.

But, the seeds of righteousness, of God's love and compassion, will reap a sure reward. And just what is this "reward"?

Unfortunately, I don't really know. Sometimes, the godly will receive recognition here on earth. I saw evidence of that during today's luncheon. There is nothing wrong with this. I applaud our efforts to commend others who are doing God's work.

But, I suspect that most of us will have to wait until we reach heaven before we see our reward. This earthly life is not always kind to us. Sowing seeds of righteousness is usually its own reward...for now. I may not see the results or the impact of what I do in this world. Much of what we do is invisible to most of society. But God has reminded us that He is watching. He sees what we have done. No good work is invisible to Him.

My work may not move mountains. It may not even move any molehills. Maybe I only have a teaspoon that I can swirl around in the dirt. But for those whose lives are in the middle of that soil that I move with my teaspoon, what I do is important.

And, praise God, He thinks my work counts.

Monday, March 12, 2012

#9 Galatians 5:14 "Love Myself as My Neighbor...?"

"The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' "

If ever there was an important command, this is it.

Not only does the verse itself tell you how important these words are, they are repeated several times in the Bible. In Leviticus 19:18, Moses gave this command from God to the children of Israel. Jesus cited this command in Luke 10:27 (and other places in the synoptic gospels). Paul quoted this command in both Romans 13:9 and here in Galatians. And then, James mentions this same command in James 2:18.

So, okay. I get it. If we seek to implement this principle, to love our neighbors as ourselves, we will be doing right. Simple, right?

Well, for me... not so simple.

There are a couple of words in this command that I struggle with. No, it's not "Love your neighbor." I think I sort of get that. I think I can understand that loving my neighbor does not simply mean loving those who live near me. My neighbor is anyone I come in contact with and whoever God leads me to interact with.

And loving my neighbor means doing right by others. This can include anything from not holding grudges (as Leviticus mentions) to being a "good Samaritan" at great personal cost to myself. Yes, I am working toward understanding this part of the command.

What I struggle with, believe it or not, is loving my neighbor as I love myself. Yes, I struggle mightily with loving myself.

There is no easy answer to this. Loving oneself is not simply a matter of boosting one's self esteem, or repeating positive, biblically-based messages to oneself throughout the day. It isn't a matter of hearing (and believing) a good sermon or bible study on the topic, or getting down on my knees and "repenting" of my bad attitude and lack of faith in God's unconditional love.

I won't go into all the grungy details of my inner psyche, my childhood issues or my personal wounds. Those specifics are not important for this discussion.

What is important is that I know I am not alone. Many of us struggle with having a healthy self-love. We have been given messages throughout our lives that we are flawed, that we are not good enough. Little girls, especially, are taught to be invisible and low-maintenance. Many of us in the Japanese-American culture were raised in a shame-based culture, with personal shame and self-belittling seen as virtues, not mental health concerns.

Even in the church, we are given double messages about self-love. Sometimes self-love is portrayed as selfishness or vanity. We are told, "It's not about you!" Yes, I know...sometimes it ISN'T about me, but it usually feels like it is NEVER about me.

So, how can we grow in "self-love"? How can we minister to ourselves in ways that really matter?

Today, as of this writing, I don't have an answer. And that's probably okay.

You see, what I DON'T want to do is offer an easy answer.....a pat, Christian-like solution or a quickie sermon message that's supposed to fix everything. It won't work, and it wouldn't respect and cherish the hearts out there who are hurting and struggling.

As I said before, there is no easy answer. But I do want you to know that I am a fellow struggler. And guess what? It's okay to struggle.

I remember a great man who was also a struggler. His name was Jacob. He was a memorable guy in Genesis 32 who wrestled with God, in a wrestling match that lasted all night long. And he got two significant things from his struggle. One, he was given a hip injury, which resulted in a life-long limp. And two, he received a blessing. "You have struggled with God and with men and have overcome. (32:28)"

I may not overcome this anytime soon, but the struggle is worth it. After all, God has commanded us to love ourselves. I will struggle with this, possibly for the rest of my life, but God understands. I will have my days when I struggle more than other days. I will become discouraged and will let it turn into depression.

But I won't give up the struggle to learn to love myself. Because I know that it is not just for my own sake (and my own personal happiness), but it is part of the sum of God's entire law.

That makes the struggle worth least for me.