Thursday, September 19, 2013

Embracing Obscurity: Defining Ourselves

"Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. Let your soul be filled with a sense of the excellence of Christ." - Robert Murray M'Cheyne

When you think about the deeply narcissistic age in which we live and how much we are tempted and encouraged to be focused on ourselves, M'Cheyne's words still echo in our ears down through the corridors of time. We need to take them to heart every single day.
~ Alistair Begg & Sinclair Ferguson, Name above All Names (37)

I look at myself too much. Not necessarily in a mirror, although that is probably true. Throughout the day, I look at myself constantly - internally grading my performance at work, mentally patting myself on the back for my efforts to care for my family, silently berating myself for not keeping our home as clean as I'd like, congratulating myself for any number of trivial things. There is no end to how often I think of myself. Is it any wonder I don't have time to take ten looks at Christ?

Chapter 2 of Embracing Obscurity challenged me to think about the way I define myself. Do I seek to be known by my accomplishments, the number of children I have, my career, my church service? In some ways, I believe these things all define who I am. They are what make me, me. But the question is, how much of my value do I find in them? How much do they cause me to look to myself, instead of Christ?

Just as we use a dictionary to define words, we who are believers in Christ should use the Bible to define ourselves. Carefully contemplating Scripture puts my preoccupation with myself in perspective. As the Apostle Paul knew, believers have but one reason to boast. (Galatians 6:14)
[Paul] refused to live for any of the things that people usually live for. He did not boast about his popularity, intellect, influence, appearance, income, or job performance. Nor did he boast about his circumcision (or about anything else in his spiritual record for that matter). Paul absolutely refused to take pride in any of his abilities or accomplishments at all, which was strange, because those are exactly the things that people usually do take pride in.
~Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians (274)
May it be true of me, Lord. May it be true of me.

This Autumn I'm blogging through Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God's Everything. Find out why here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Starting on the Path to Obscurity

In a world of endless self-promotion obscurity may seem enigmatic, foolish, and futile. From the moment the serpent enticed Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, mankind has been trying to supplant God; each of us has become the center of our own little universe. Perhaps we want to put God in His rightful place, but we have no idea how to start.

We must first understand what it means to actually embrace obscurity. It's "...not about wiping ourselves from existence but rather, voluntarily, becoming nothing in light of everything God is and has promised us. Why? So we can bring Him greater glory. It's about making Him, not ourselves, look good." (p. 3) Now that we understand the purpose of living a life of obscurity (or, as I call it, a quiet life), we can begin to think about what it encompasses.

Modern technology has certainly reduced the size of the world. News satellites, the internet, and social media put information and relationships at our fingertips. With all of this access to others, we might be lulled into thinking that we live in a small world. Yet this is hardly true. I recently spent a day at an amusement park surrounded by thousands of people I've never seen before and - in all likelihood -will never see again. A day of walking, riding, and people watching, and I didn't recognize a single person.

We live in a big, big world. Considering the number of people alive on the planet today, the amount of space each of us occupies is infinitesimal. Our lives are of little consequence by the world's standards, yet every Christian has the opportunity to live a life that magnifies the One True God. What an amazing privilege!

Of course, doing so may mean that we never see our names in bright lights. The Bible gives many examples of faithful servants without ever giving their names. The widow who gave her last mite. The woman at the well, who shamelessly proclaimed she had met the Messiah who knew her past. The boy with the fish and the loaves, who gave his meal that others might eat.

"Would you be willing to remain nameless, offering up your meager portion to your Savior, with no promise of return or guarantee of notoriety, but in complete obedience to allow God to work His miracle through your small 'lunch'?" (p. 13)

As I think about this question, I find myself wondering how much of my service to the Lord has been a thinly disguised effort to gain praise and recognition for myself. Jesus calls us to just the opposite (Matthew 6:1-18). In order to embrace obscurity, I must seek to serve Him without expectation, without making a fuss to call attention to myself, and with a heart that is passionate to make His Name - and His Name alone - great.

This Autumn I'm blogging through Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God's Everything. Find out why here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thankful Thursday

Praising the Lord this week for:

~birthdays of family and friends I have the honor to call mine

~a long weekend full of productivity and rest

~LaColumbe coffee in a pristine white mug

~the rhythms of everyday life

~this reminder and encouragement...
What a privilege to have God as our God! What a happy condition when nothing can hurt you! If one loses his name, it is written in the book of life. If he loses his liberty, his conscience is free. If he loses his estate, he owns the pearl of great price. If he meets a storm, he has a harbour; God is his God, and heaven is his heaven. If God is our God, our soul is safe. It is hidden in the promises, in the wounds of Christ, and in the decrees of God. If God is our God, then all that is in God is ours. How happy is he who not only inherits the gifts of God, but inherits God himself! In his wisdom, he is ours to teach us, his power shall support us, and his mercy shall save us. God is an infinite ocean of blessedness, and there is enough in him to fill us. He gives us peace in trouble, and when there is a storm without, he will make music within. The world gives trouble in peace, but God gives peace in trouble. ~Thomas Watson (source)
Blessings all mine, with 10,000 beside!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Autumn Blogging Project: Embracing Obscurity

Hello, Melissa.

We were in a shop at Disney World. I was eight and I'd never seen this man behind the counter before. How did he know my name? I was not young enough to think it was magic; I thought it was creepy. I knew I wasn't in any real danger. After all, my parents were beside me. In fact, when I demanded to know how he could call me by name, they erupted in laughter. I didn't understand. This was not funny. I was on the verge of tears.

When Mama realized how upset I was, she prompted me to look down. The day had been so full that I'd forgotten my name was embroidered across the top of my peach-colored shirt. As we left the shop I feigned laughter at my own silliness, but deep down I was unsettled.

The world has changed considerably since 1976. Our names are emblazoned on practically everything, our pictures online for the entire world to see. Far from being creeped out when strangers call us by name, we have made them privy to our innermost thoughts. We live our lives in public, calling attention to ourselves at every turn.

As I continue to ponder a quiet life, I've been thinking about how an increasingly narcissistic society encourages me to exchange God's glory for my own. The quest for celebrity and importance - the lure of being somebody - has undeniably shaped how I've conducted myself online.

There's also been the trickle-down effect on my relationships. I've become so accustomed to consuming information about family and friends as news in a Facebook or Twitter feed that I have devalued the importance of oral communication. I've told myself that social media and texting are an acceptable and more efficient use of time, as opposed to genuine conversation. But the truth is that life is far less messy when reduced to pixels and text messages. It's much easier to tell someone I'm praying for her or offer birthday wishes on Facebook than it is to pick up the phone or send a card. And using social media has the added bonus of making my concern and love public, thereby encouraging others to think highly of me regardless of whether they actually know me.

I have fallen into a dangerous trap and I need to escape. No more relying on social media to know what's going on with my family and friends. No more employing it as the main source of information about my own life. If a friend wants to know what I'm having for dinner, where I've been (and with whom), or what's going on my family's life, they won't find out via Facebook. I am purposefully going to live less publicly, to stop being a voyeur and start being a participant in the lives of those closest to me, and to have more meaningful - even messy -  relationships. I want my life to publicize the holy, righteous, and perfect God; not the sinful, self-righteous, and imperfect me.

It will be an ongoing battle, perhaps a never-ending process. I have to start somewhere, so I've decided to begin blogging through Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God's Everything. I pray I can learn to put into practice what the title of the book suggests.