Saturday, September 15, 2012
Only God is able to appreciate the value of a person. We cannot appreciate or understand even our own value. God is the only being in the universe equipped to appreciate the value of an eternal life and the loss of an eternal death. And thus, God's joy is bound to be greater than any other human being's.
But so too is His pain.
Value is an important concept, both biblically and beyond. We value value. We love eBay, don't we? And Craigslist. And who can resist a going-out-of-business sale? A few, sure, but not most. No one likes to overpay; we all want the maximum bang for our buck. We understand the concept of value.
Consider with me two factors that have a determinative effect on value.
Number one: the prince someone is willing to pay. One person's value is another person's rip-off. Value, then, is largely subjective. I once saw a men's sport coat that cost $4999.95. It wasn't made of gold or Kevlar. It did not have any personal rocketry attached. It was, in fact, rather ordinary looking. One hundred percent wool. Leather elbow patches. Sharp, sure, but not worth even one-tenth of the asking price.
To someone else, however, it's a whole different banana. Someone else may think it's a fair price, or even a good price. And then, slowly, it dawned on me (this is usually how things dawn on me: slowly), if this jacket is in this store with this price tag on it (there were actually several of them in different sizes), presumably, then, people come in here and buy these things. How simple and how profound: the value of an item is determined by the one who is willing to pay the price.
And God bought you.
At what cost?
"You were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold...but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18,19).
That is, with the blood of God--with God's own life.
Now ask yourself this question: What is God worth? What is His value? I mean how much money would it take to buy God? Stop laughing. Or swearing. The point is made: God, of course, is infinitely valuable. But wait...His life was your price.
What, then, is your value?
Infinite. Priceless. Immeasurable.
Don't think so? Don't take this the wrong way, but it doesn't really matter. What really matters is what God thinks about your value. And He has spoken. In fact He has done far more than this.
He has died.
That you might live.
But consider now a second factor that is determinative for value: quantity. My friend Stevan just bought a new car, a nice one. He paid $27,000 for it. He tells me it was a good deal and I believe him. What he means by that, naturally, is that he got a good value for his money. The car is a 2009 Volkswagon Jetta. Diesel. White. Station wagon. Now I don't know how many Jettas Volkswagon made in 2009, but let's say it was 25,000. Now here's the point: the value of that car is directly tied to quantity, as in how many of them there are. With cars, like most things, as quantity decreases, price increases. Consider a limited edition 1968 Porsche Roadster (I don't even know if there is such a thing, but just bear with me, Car and Driver subscribers, OK?). Let's say there are only five of them that remain in excellent to mint condition. Is it worth more or less than the Jetta?
Sure it's a better car, but there is more important factor: quantity. And behind quantity lies the real issue: access. There are only five, so access is limited. You can't go down to the local car dealer and pick one up. Not gonna happen. So what's it worth? $500,000? $750,000? Now imagine there are only three. What's it worth now? $1,000,000? You know where this is going.
Imagine there's only one.
What's it worth?
Now the application. There is only one of you. But that's not even half the story. You are not only the only you there is; you are the only you there could ever be. No other person could ever be you. You are it. In fact, not even God, with all of the resources of omnipotence at His disposal, could make another you.
I'm not kidding. Not even God.
Here's why: you are, as we have learned [read the rest of the book to learn what he means there], a composite of the free decisions you have made throughout your life. Those decisions are yours. They are not mine. They are not your husband's or your wife's or your dad's or your mom's. They are yours. And when you make those decisions, you are both creating and crafting the person that you will be.
"For better or worse, we irreversibly become the decisions we make. . . .Self-determining freedom is about what morally responsible contingent beings choose to do on their way to deciding what they are going to permanently be." --Gregory A. Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, p.189.
Think of it this way: if God (or anyone else) somehow made those decisions for you in a coercive way, then they wouldn't be your decisions, would they? No, they would not. Do you see the beauty of genuine of self-determining freedom here? Surely, you must. God has made you and give you to you so that you can make you into who you want to be. (Say it five times fast.) Surely, then, He is worthy of your praise and gratitude, yes?
So not only are you the only actual you; you are the only possible you. What, then, is your value? Your worth? Your price?
Like the ever-legendary "vase," you are irreplaceable. Even by God.
Your salvation, then, is God's eternal treasure.
And your condemnation would be His eternal loss. In fact your loss, heaven forbid that you should be unsaved, will be far more painful to God than you. You'll be gone. Dead. No more. The pain is for those who are left. And since God knew who you were--and what you could've been!--best, His pain would be the sharpest and achiest and keenest.
God in pain.
And such need not be the case with you. Decide right now that it will not be!
But mournfully (this is far too weak a word, but that is because all words are too weak for this), many will be lost forever.
Their pain would have been momentary. God's, at some level, will be eternal.
For He will always know what could have been. Is He joyful for the many who are saved to be eternally with Him? Joy is also far too weak and feeble a word, but yes, yes, of course He is! "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7, ESV). And yet, the one saved cannot replace the one lost. For both are irreplaceable.
"Scripture repeatedly affirms that God does not want any person to be lost (1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10; 2 Pet. 3:9). But is also states in no uncertain terms that multitudes of people will, in fact, be lost. From this is seems reasonable to conclude that if God could have designed the world in such a way that all would say yes to Him and no one would be lost, He would have done so. The fact that He did not suggests that He could not have done so. The possibility of saying no to God must be metaphysically entailed by the possibility of saying yes to Him." --Gregory A. Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, p. 53.
Three words: Please, say yes.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
The heavy wooden door swung wide. Bright eyes peered around corner, and dark hair fell into view. A little girl, rosy-cheeked and barely able to reach the brass doorknob, had pushed her way into the room.
She slipped in and let the heavy door go, not even turning to watch it thud shut. The room was lined with high bookcases filled with books of every description, color and size, yet she paid them little heed. Her attention was fixed on a large desk in the center of the room, with a single book on top.
She toddled to the huge chair, and by some calculated contriving, managed to clamber up onto the plush seat. Standing on tip-toes, she reached her little hand out for the book in the center of the desk. She drew it near. Thick brown covers, sturdy but beautiful pages, and gold leafing on the front: it was a jewel. Eyes sparkling, the little girl pushed back the cover and began to look at the pictures in the book.
The pictures were beautiful: filled with rich color. A beautiful golden ink seemed to be everywhere on the page, and yet nowhere to be seen all at once, giving the pictures so much more life and sparkle. Some hours passed this way.
But then, when the pictures began to seem the most life-like and realistic, the chapter ended. As if eager to continue, the little girl tried to flip the next page, but found it immovable. Not a bit would it budge. Sighing with disappointment, she slid from the chair and padded back out of the room, pausing a moment to consider the book on the desk before shutting the door.
Again the door swung wide, but this time with more strength. Bright eyes peered around the corner, and dark hair fell into view: the little girl again? Yes indeed--and yet, so much taller! Her head reach far above the doorknob now, and she entered the room without the hesitance of before. The door fell closed, and she crossed the room with a skip and hop, and plumped down into the plush chair. Pulling the book close again, she opened to chapter two.
The girl seemed to actually read the words now, as if she understood them. She often would pause to consider the pictures as they passed, and almost looked disappointed with each passing one. The rich color was fading, and the bright golden ink more and more sparing. While still lovely, the pictures were far from what they had been at the beginning of the book. Still, the girl read on.
Then suddenly, she recoiled in horror. Tears welled up in her eyes as they traced the words that came next, and she sat back in the chair, almost appearing to not want to continue. The pictures on this page had changed: now they were black and white, with tiny splashes of color here and there. The lovely golden ink could be found nowhere on the page. It was indeed dismal to look at, yet the words seemed to carry far more pain than the ruined loveliness of the book. Something seemed to pull her back and she read still farther, fists clenching, jaw tight, and tears dropping onto the pages, staining them for time and eternity.
The chapter was a long one, and she did not finish it til many, many hours later. By this time the tears had ceased. She lifted her bleary eyes from the page and stared at the bookcases around the room. Then she looked back at the page. A little frown crossed her forehead, and she tried to turn the page--to no avail. It was stuck fast.
Rising from the chair, the girl looked around the room almost as if fearful of it. Then she lifted her chin, squared her shoulders, and marched from the room, letting the heavy door slam behind her.
Hollow creaking filled the empty room as the door swung open again. We wait for the bright eyes to peer around the corner, but there are none. Instead, the door comes open all the way, and in its void stands a tall girl, dark hair braided and face impassive. Her eyes hold no warmth, none of the light and brightness of the times before. She steps into the room, and shuts the door behind her, this time locking it securely before crossing the aging carpet and approaching the desk and the book on top.
Stiffly, mechanically, she sits in the chair. Staring at the book without expression, she pulls it close to her and flips to chapter three. Then she bends over it and begins to read again, eyes hard and unfeeling.
The pictures and words pass by, and the look on the girl's face begins to change a little. The black and white pictures are suddenly seeming to have more life; more color. Still, though, we see no traces of the golden ink that had graced the early pages of the book.
Pages continue to flip, and as we look at the girl's face, the hardness is gone. She seems to have softened. Her head drops into one hand as she reads, her expression melting from cold ice to the warmth of summer. Her entire posture relaxes, and as the chapter ends, she exhales long and deep. She sits back in the chair and stares into space a moment, the faintest glimmer of a smile tinging the edges of her eyes and mouth before she rises, lets the cover of the book fall again, and then quits the room, walking a little softer and seeming, in a small sense, liberated.
Light gleams under the door as it opens once again. It swings wide, and in steps a young woman, eyes wide and searching. She takes a deep breath and walks across the room to the desk, seating herself with measured grace. A hand pulls the book closer; deft fingers flip past the well-known chapters until the fourth is reached. Then she bends over the book and begins to read.
The pictures are slowly changing colors as the pages pass by. They're becoming more rich and vivid again, and at long last, the golden ink can be seen gracing corners and lines. A smile creases the young woman's face as she flips another page.
Suddenly, the whole page is alive with color and beauty. The pictures here are nearly dazzling, and almost seem to have a breath of their own. Gold shimmers on the pages, even more lustrous and bright than at the beginning of the book. A little gasp escapes the girl's mouth as she continues reading, and tears fill her eyes. The little smile from before becomes radiant, and for a moment she drops her head on the desk, weeping in what we take to be joy.
One last page, and she's finished chapter four. The colors still brilliant, the gold still as lovely, she reads the last paragraph, and a little frown darkens her eyes. A tear of pain slides down the curve of her cheek, and she brushes it away. Lifting her chin, she stares off across the room, and lets the book fall closed. She stands to her feet, pushes the chair back in, and leaves the room: but not after looking back at the book on the desk with a beautiful smile. The door closes.
Time will pass. She will return to read chapter five. But what will she find therein? Perhaps little, perhaps much. One thing is certain...the book has not been finished yet.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
I had no other thought than working. None.
But, as usual, God had other ideas.
Melissa messaged me: "Can you go through the spreadsheet plans and assign a theme for upcoming magazines according to the Bible lessons in the respective magazines?"
Wow. Quite the mouthful. Okay.
Since most of those Bible lessons weren't written yet, that required me to go through the chapters in the Desire of Ages that correlated to each lesson. And I went in fully intending to skim them.
I ended up reading them. And having my eyes opened like never before.
What really struck me the most though, wasn't Jesus agony in the garden...although I almost choked at that.
It wasn't the nasty treatment of Jesus...
It wasn't the mean words, the hateful spirits, the cruelty and insane madness that possessed the priests and rulers...
It was Judas.
As I read, I saw what Jesus had done to try to help Judas. This man had not even been called or chosen to be a disciple--he'd pushed his way in. But Jesus did not refuse him. Instead, He placed this stubborn, arrogant man where he would be under the influence of Christ's own spirit every day, in every way.
Really, Jesus gave Judas the greatest advantage ever given to any human soul. Ever.
...All the while, knowing that this man for whom He was laboring would betray Him.
There was one thing, however, about Judas and Jesus' treatment of him that hit me like a speeding train, laid me flat on the tracks, and then backed up and ran me over.
I'm serious... it was that bad.
In the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus has just battled with the worst death any of us could ever face. He'd nearly died because of the sin laid upon Him. He'd stained the ground with His blood for our sins, He'd been left alone to agonize while His disciples slumbered in blissful and painful ignorance, and now He was facing a mob, Roman soldiers, temple guards, and priests, all armed with weapons and lanterns. And right out front stands Judas. This man that Jesus has labored for three years for. This man that Jesus loves...He loves him, with a love deeper than any of us can know. This would be enough to break anyone's heart.
But get this... Judas steps forward, pretending to have nothing to do with the ill-meaning crowd behind him, places a hand on Jesus' shoulder, and kisses the face of God. A kiss of betrayal. A kiss of denial. A kiss of treachery.
Anyone...and I mean anyone... would've beaten a person like that away from them.
But Ellen White specifically states that Jesus accepted Judas' kiss. He accepted it.
He allowed it. Received it as though nothing were wrong, as if Judas hadn't sold Him for the price of a common slave, as if he wouldn't go out and hang himself later that day. As if everything was alright.
I couldn'tve done that. Ever.
A kiss is possibly one of the closest acknowledgments of closeness between two people. In our world today, that gift has been perverted, true, but it still remains a symbol of love, warmth, friendship, trust. To even imagine allowing someone who had betrayed me to come that close again is unthinkable.
Yet I found my eyes filling with tears as the picture changed, and in Judas' place I saw myself, stepping forward to kiss the face of God, pretending that I had nothing to do with that great and terrible event so long ago...
Judas is looked upon as the worst man in Earth's history by many Christians.
I have to shake my head.
It was my sin just as much as Judas' that put Jesus on the cross. It was my faults and shortcomings that shed innocent blood... my deeds that crucify Him anew.
I separated Jesus Christ from His Father.
It's not Judas...
I'm the traitor.
Yet, there's hope.
Jesus accepted Judas' kiss, even though it was a betrayal. Jesus still loved Judas, up to the very moment that he hanged himself. Jesus still loves Judas today, even though there is no hope for him....
And Jesus still loves me.
I may fall, I make mistakes... I forget, I worry, I fail. But through all of that, one thing I can know for certain.
Jesus loves me.
I'm a traitor, yes.
I sent Him to His death.
But by God's grace, and His grace alone, the kiss of a traitor can become the kiss of a faithful child.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Flicking mosquitoes away and trying to smash them before they got to me, I listened. I felt like a fuel stop; and I wasn't appreciating the nasty marks they were leaving on me. I was ready to be rid of the miserable beasts. Even so, I began to think about Pastor Skeete's point...
How many people have I influenced for the good? How many people have I reached out to and made their lives better? How many times have I been a source of life to someone who so desperately needed what I, through Christ, could give them? How many people have come looking for fulfillment by me; and how many times did I turn them down the wrong road, or crush them altogether?
I've often felt like being a source of life to someone else would drain me dry. It would sap every last bit of that vital current from inside me and I'd shrivel up, unable to do anything--without even the will to live. I feared that. I didn't want the marks of service to others to stain and scar my soul. Those kinds of scars hurt, sting, itch, and burn...
Do you get where I'm going yet?
Being a source of life can leave marks.........
The glow of my cell phone screen lit up my corner of the room as I lay in bed, face nearest to the open window. A cool breeze whispered through the mesh screen and lightly kissed my cheek with sweet relief from the heat of the room. And that's when I heard it... Buzzing.
I looked over at the window. Two mosquitoes buzzed back and forth in front of the screen, vainly trying to get in. I grinned. The screen was brand-new; no holes could be found in it that would fit a mosquito. I gloated in the glory of safety from becoming the buffet once again, and then forgot about the unfortunate creatures.
Later, I looked back at that with mixed emotions. To a mosquito, I am a source of life. They're not really being bad--they're just doing what they need to to survive. I possess what they need to live: and while I'm not the only creature on Earth that has it, they still need it. In fact, without it, they will die. And thus, they try to get it wherever they possibly can.
In the same way... and in a way that's so exact, I wonder if this wasn't the express purpose for which mosquitoes were created... I am also a source of life to humanity.
How many times have screens...walls...kept out hungry souls in need of a Savior? How many times have I kept people at arms length, unwilling to share the blessed message I have? How many times have I kept the doors locked, unwilling to spend and be spent for the good of someone else? How many times have I opened my heart to someone and pointed them to the Savior through my actions, my life, my love? How many people have I turned away empty? How many people have worn themselves out trying to penetrate my indestructible fortress: and how many have been crushed or swatted away in cold-hearted rejection if they manage to get past at all? How many times? How many people...?
It is my God-given duty to help those He puts in my path. I possess the saving knowledge of a come-to-Earth, crucified, risen and interceding, loving Redeemer. It is my duty to share that with those around me. God has imbued me with talents--encouragement, prayer, friendship, simply loving someone--and it is my duty to use those talents to benefit OTHERS. Not myself. Others.
I think a few things need to change. A few walls need to come down. A few people need to receive an apology. A few more lives need to be touched; a few people reconciled with. My attitude needs to change. The heavy-handed smack of rejection needs to change to an outstretched hand of love and friendship. The high walls need to be torn down, and a garden built instead of a garrison. The life-giving power God has given to me...entrusted to me... needs to be shared.
Without partiality. Without favoritism. Without bias.
It just needs to be shared.
Suddenly, the mosquito bites on my leg look a little different.
No, I can't say I'll be letting blood-thirsty insects drink me dry.
But I can say that the hum of a mosquito will never sound the same again.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
I knew I looked perfectly calm and sedate on the outside. Yet inside, the real me cringed and cried. Was I witnessing the death of someone dearly beloved to me?
No. I was alone.
Over-reaction. Total over-reaction. You're shaking your head now, wondering why you ever started reading this post in the first place. There she goes again...feeling sorry for herself. Blowing things way out of proportion.
You may be right.
But I may also be right.
I'm far less experienced than I wish I was. I know far less than I've tried to make myself believe in the past. And yet, I've seen what being alone can do to a person.
I've watched as people I knew and loved shed tears over being alone. Sobbed their hearts out; sometimes in my arms. I've watched tears roll down many a cheek---just because they were alone.
I've watched as others that I loved turned into furious monsters over just the thought of being left alone. I watched damage being inflicted on innocence because of someone's burning desire to not be left alone. They couldn't bear it; the thought of "alone" filled them with such terror and dread that they were ready to do anything to keep from being sentenced to that fate.
And I've watched still others, when left alone, retreat into shells and become impenetrable. I've watched them withdraw from everything...just because they felt alone. I've watched them lock themselves up inside; watched them throw the key away and dare anyone to try to break down the door. Some do--often it's in vain.
We're all afraid of being alone.
All of us.
Over the years, I myself have been guilty of every last one of the above-mentioned actions. I've hidden myself in a corner and cried...because I was alone. I've fought and inflicted damage on others...to avoid being alone. And I've withdrawn from the world; locked myself up and thrown the key away...to keep the pain of being alone at bay. I've pretended, faked, feigned and remained impassive to retain my image, yet the truth still remains.
I hate being alone.
It continues to happen, though.
And while it hurts, there's got to be a reason for it.
Being in pain is one of the best places to be. Really, I said that. You can be in no better place than pain, for pain turns your heart Heavenward. To God. To the One who loves you more than life itself. To the One who gave more than life itself to allow you the mere chance at eternal life and eternal bliss.
No pain. No sorrow. No tears of agony.
No more "alone."
Yet, Heaven isn't here or now. It's still coming: a not-so-distant, but seemingly receding reality. We still cry, we still hurt, we still feel pain.
And we are still left alone.
But are we really?
Am I really alone? Are you really alone?
Look up... Look up. To the horizon. Look at the sky. Hear the birds singing. Feel the gentle breeze in your face, and the warm glow of the sunshine. Soak it all in...
Now tell me, with a God out there who created all of that for you...are you really alone?
Friend, you're never alone. Never. Though no one on Earth stands by your side: though no one agrees with you, though no one understands, though everyone refuses to see how you see... You are never...never... alone.
God is there. If you look for Him.
And you will find Him. If you truly want to.
Warm summer sunshine, soft morning dew
the Earth is alive with wonder anew
Light falls around, beams shifting through
God's call is simple--it's from His heart to you.
Don't ever forget that no matter the test
No matter who loves you or who could care less
No matter if you stand alone in the world
No matter how many harsh insults are hurled
No matter the pain, or how alone you may be
You're never alone...
And if you're tempted to forget, just remember Me.
Take courage weary soul. The end is in sight.
You're never alone.
Friday, June 1, 2012
I watched the words appear on my little screen: sentence by sentence, I took them in, trying to devest my mind of self in order to enter the world in which my friend lived. They spoke of hurt, of pain; of denial and fear. I could sympathize. I knew those emotions all too well.
Then something that startled me popped onto my screen. My friend, in talking about past happenings, had mentioned that they had lived in close proximity with others for the mere thrill of doing so. Their close relationships only served as thrill for them. I knew the words were spoken in a negative way, and I could definitely see what they meant.
However, as I stared at the words still popping up on my screen, I began to think.
Surely not all thrill is bad, Lord?
I continued in the coversation; it trailed to another topic. But the thought of what had been said still lingered in my mind.
Is it really a bad thing to get a thrill from a friendship? I understand it being bad if you are focusing only on and living only for the thrill, but is getting thrill from a relationship that is God-focused and God-given a wrong thing?
In my morning devotions, I read a verse that seemed to confirm the eventual conclusion I arrived at the night before. Luke 21:34 says "And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares."
It was the "cares of this life part" that caught my attention. Jesus is saying, essentially, that we shouldnt be so caught up in the everyday, normal, good things of life that we are unfitted to receive Him with joy when He comes in the clouds of glory. He didnt say that the cares of this life were evil or that we should shun them; He said to take heed, and be careful of becoming so absorbed in them that we lose sight of Him.
Thus, my question stands: Is it wrong to experience thrill from a friendship?
No. Not if my interpretation of this text, of God, and of His character are correct.
And yes. If the thrill is the only thing you focus on; if thrill and feelings are what your friendship is based on.
Too much of a good thing, you might say.
As I write this, Im on my way to work. Sitting in the car--and in my lap is a sprig of lilac. I picked it just before we left. The smell of lilac with fresh rain drops on it must be one of the most heavenly smells ever created by the Lord. And Ive been enjoying it thoroughly. But suppose I became so enamored with the smell of lilac that that was all I lived for? All I spent my money on? All I thought about, talked about....?
Ridiculous example, I know, but stay with me.
Lilac is a beautiful smell; I cant think of anyone who doesnt like the smell of real, fresh lilacs. However, when you take a deep draught of that scent, and let it wash over you, and you smell again and again, you start to notice that the smell diminishes. It isnt as strong anymore. Often this might be the end of it and you'll either walk away from the bush or throw the flower down. But really, the only trouble was that your nose got used to the smell of lilac. You smelled it so many times right in a row, trying to get that lovely smell, and as a result your senses became almost deadened to it. Momentarily, understand.
See any connection?
The solution for this problem really is simple: back away from the bush and take big deep breaths of regular, run of the mill, thrill-less oxygen. Then smell the lilac again.
God created the thrill when we smell lilacs; the tingle you feel when someone dear to you pats your shoulder or gives you a hug; the warm glow when you get a note from someone "just because". God created it. Therefore, of itself, it cannot be bad.
Its what we do with it.
I'll admit: Ive had friendships in the last 19 years of my life that I've kept for the thrill. I've made mistakes. I cant deny it, nor would I try. And I've had friends who have stuck around only for the thrill. It never ends up being a win-win situation. It winds up a win-lose: the devil wins, you lose. Friendships that are grounded in unhealthy and excessive feeling and emotion are bound to wind up in the ditch.
But that doesn't mean that God didn't create humans to love and be loved; not just by each other, but more so by Him.
It doesn't mean that every friendship you form needs to end up in the ditch.
And it surely doesnt mean that a God-given thrill at the wonder of friends is a bad thing.
But it means that with all of the friendships I am entrusted with, I need to hand them right back to God... And let Him do the steering.
The thrills wont be constant that way.
But Ill be safer.
So will my friends.
And then the thrills that do come will be worth far more.
Father, I ask You to teach me the true meaning of friendship. Teach me how to be a true friend. Give me the patience, the love, the perserverance and understanding to truly make an impact in someones life. Embue me with Your spirit.... Teach me how to be a friend.
Are you game?
Give God the reins.... And trust Him with your all....
And then feel the thrills He gives you....
And give Him every last bit of glory.
Monday, May 21, 2012
It was awhile ago now that this revelation presented itself to me. While I was working, no less.
I guess you could say it was one of those "Oh wow. Duh" moments, and I had to completely stop what I was doing and think about it.
That famous verse, Matthew 17:20, where Jesus said, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed" had popped into my head. And it suddenly dawned on me what He meant.
I thought of how many times I had seen the proverbial hand outstretched above the pulipt, cradling the tiniest of tiny seeds, and heard the text recited and explained. "If your faith was only as large as this tiny seed--if you only had this much faith--you would have enough."
I took it for granted that they were right: after all, it makes sense, does it not?
I used to ponder that, and then look at my own life. I felt certain I could move no mountains, perform no miracles, not walk on water. Therefore, my faith must be non-existant: because the pastor just said that if my faith were as large as that little seed, I would be able to do all of that... I must not have any faith.
I think for just about anyone, that would bother you alot.
It bothered me.
But then, what could I do about it?
So when this text jumped out at me at work and a new meaning presented itself to me, I started. Jesus said, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed". I imagine Him holding up a few in His hand and showing the disciples, and then gesturing to the full-grown mustard plant growing nearby. If ye have faith as a grain of mustard.........
The text doesnt say "If ye have faith as large as...". It says, "If ye have faith AS...."
In a way, it was a rebuke to the people at the time. In a way, it's a rebuke to us today. But in another way, its full of more hope than the textbook-pulpit version of this text. Let me rewrite it...
"If you had as much faith as this grain of mustard seed does..."
If we had faith... Like a mustard seed. If we had as much faith...as an inanimate SEED.
Ouch. And hallelujah.
But wait, you say, how do seeds have faith? They cant think or decide things.
No, they cant. And yes, they can. Every part of God's creation recognizes its Creator: when He comes again it is said that the mountains and hills will bow to Him. Creation knows from whence she came--and she reverences her Maker.
The mustard seed has faith enough to know that the God who created it will take care of it: food, water, sunshine, protection will be forthcoming, and the seed doesn't stress about its basic needs. It knows that it will be looked after and used as God sees fit, even if that use is to be harvested or eaten by an animal. The seed doesn't complain. Whatever happens to it is okay, because its Maker ordained it.
So. If I had as much faith as a mustard seed. I guess I don't have that much faith. But, in a way, that realization comforted me. Maybe I do have faith after all! Not as much as a mustard seed, but maybe I have some! The thought comforted me, and I proceeded to forget about it, planning on writing a blog post on it sometime. In fact, in the next couple of days, I decided that it wouldn't be such a terrible experience to die, even; something I'd been terrified of for years. I felt like it would be okay, since I did have some faith afterall.
And then one evening, after a long day at work, I got home and collapsed on my bed, rubbing my left arm. It hurt, and badly at that. I didnt know why: I hadnt done anything to it to make it hurt. Upon inquiry, I was told that often left arm pain is the only symptom of impending heartattack in women.
The lesson about faith and my relief at having some faith entirely thrown out of my head, I panicked. I wasn't ready to die. I didn't want to die. I couldn't!
In the couple of hours that followed while my dad got in touch with a doctor friend from church, I sat alone in the dark, terrified out of my mind at the thought of going to sleep, having a heartattack and not waking up. I thought of waking up in the second resurrection, not the first, because I wasn't ready...and it was enough to tear me to pieces. My mind didn't even return to the mustard seed or my decision of a few days before that it wouldn't be so bad to die if the Lord had me in His hands.
Finally, late at night, I was assured it was only a pinched nerve and I relaxed. I fell asleep, and then the next day, reflecting on it, realized that God had used that small happening to show me how little faith I really had.
Yes, I had some: but it was a mere pittance when compared with the mustard seed's faith. The seed that is willing to live or die as God sees fit. The trust of that seed, and my severe lack of faith in a simple test, led me to my knees to ask forgiveness... And for more of that faith.
All my life I have struggled with faith. Believing. Knowing. Trusting.
Perhaps you can identify.
I still have a long ways to go. We all do. But by God's grace, Im a step closer.
If ye have as much faith as a tiny seed...
"For such is the Kingdom of Heaven."
Friday, May 11, 2012
Yesterday afternoon proved me wrong. God is still speaking. Very loudly, I might add.
One of the tasks in my task list was from Melissa, superintendent-upstairs-office-buddy-friend. She handed me a small stack of unedited articles and stories and asked me if I'd type them into the computer for her. "We're going to use them in upcoming magazines."
Okay. No problem.
It was afternoon by the time I got to them, and I picked up the first one. It was a very old Youth's Instructor, from 1938 in fact. The story was called All Aboard for Happiness, and I started typing.
Finally, the story intrigued me so much I quit and just read it before finishing typing. What a tale!
A young man from the Marines comes to Wyoming to stay with an elderly uncle. He (the young man) is calloused and rough, but with a tender heart--a love and longing for beauty and peace. He has the soul of an artist, but the swagger and squint of an army man. He takes a position driving a school bus.
After a time, out of all the rowdy, loud, flirting girls and showoff guys in that bus, one young lady catches his attention. She's a Seventh Day Adventist girl, named Catherine Cooke. And Henry--the tough, calloused, and very unChristian young man--begins to fall in love.
He asks her to go to the theater with him, and is gently, but firmly refused. Catherine explains that she is an Adventist, and not only would she need to break the Sabbath to accompany him, but she also does not believe in attending theaters. Henry, in desperation, asks if he might call on her then. She agrees, and thus begins their friendship.
Henry's first visit to the Cooke home is strange, but wonderful. The whole family welcomes him and entertains him and he leaves not with the feeling of having been in the company of religious fanatics, but with truly amazing people.
All summer long Henry keeps company with the Cooke family. And as the summer progresses, he watches Catherine. He falls in love--hopelessly in love. Her every look and word and action speak of gentleness, pure joy, grace, and the love of Christ. She is the epitome of beauty and loveliness for Henry...and as I read his thoughts of her, I began to wonder.
He proposes...she refuses, though with tears in her eyes. She cannot marry someone who does not believe in God. She will not so endanger herself as that. Henry leaves for Indiana and home and throws himself into work to try and forget the beautiful girl he loves and has lost.
Over the course of time, he decides to pay a visit to an Adventist family nearby--and the love for Christ which bursts forth in him from the gentle and patient teaching of an old farmer and his wife results in not only Henry's conversion, but his whole family's. He sends a letter to Catherine...and one day receives a response. He leaves for Wyoming at 6 that evening on the train, headed into the sunset to claim the love of his life, with a deeper, more redeeming love for God burning in his heart.
It was a beautiful story. A story of how Christ can break through to people no matter where they are in life. But that wasn't what stuck out to me.
It was Catherine.
After all, I am a girl.
Her sweetness, her gentleness... How truly happy and filled with joy she was. Her "untouched loveliness"... How flirting and "soft" ways of the other girls in her class were nowhere to be found in her quiet, meek spirit. Everything about her which drew Henry in and made him fall hopelessly in love with her. She truly reflected Christ's love.
And I was forced to think... Could the same be said of me?
Sadly, I had to shake my head, though tears welled up in my eyes as I did so.
For I know that for most of my life, I have been molding myself into something God never intended me to be. For nearly 12 years I have fought against being anything that looked remotely like Catherine. I didn't want it. And yet, suddenly, when I read that story, something changed.
I wanted it. And I wanted it badly.
And yes, everyone is different. No one but Catherine herself could be exactly like her. I know I'm different...and yet, I needn't be as different as I've been for so many years.
As I sat in front of the computer with the papers in my hands, I stared into space and almost choked. I knew I wasn't like Catherine. I had been guilty of blending in with flirtacious, silly, loud and boisterous girls before. My spirit wasn't warm and gentle--all my life it had been rough and icy. Years before I had locked myself in winter, and yet, for some unexaplainable reason, it was thawing. The land, so gripped by frigid words and icy stares, loud avalanches and heaping snowdrifts, wanted spring to come.
I want it still.
But then too, as I looked within my heart, I found something surprising--startling even. More of Catherine's attributes lay buried in me than actually showed. More of her gentleness, sweetness, unassuming and open manners, were there--but covered with snow and ice. They, to all appearances, were not there, or irretrievably lost.
But I am forced to look at the seasons around us. When winter comes, the flowers are gone. The birds songs disappear, and the land is white and barren. Yet, the potential for spring still lies in the earth. Spring will come again...with more of the sunshine and loveliness of awakening life than the year before.
I must come to the conclusion that I, too, have the potential for spring.
And, if I am willing to allow the warm breezes of God's love melt the icy exterior, it won't be long in coming.
In the end, though the story didn't specifically say, I'm sure Catherine and Henry married. I'm also sure that though it wasn't "happily ever after" in the sense of no troubles ever again, it was "happily ever after" in the sense that they had each other and the God that had brought them together. And I'm sure that Henry never regretted his choice.
During those summer months, the author described her thus: "Oh, she was exquisite! A jewel, once won, to be treasured above all other things." Henry's pursual of Catherine...and by extension his pursuit for God...led him to the final climax--and it was worth it. Looking back, every heartache and pain and trial and obstacle was worth it. Catherine was worth it.
With little embarrassment, I'll admit: I want to be worth it. Someday, should time last, I want someone to look back over the course of his life and say, "Yep. She was worth it. Worth it a million times over." I want to be worth it.
How about you? Do you want to be worth it?
Are you seemingly dead in winter's grip? ...the potential for spring lies within, but only Christ can awaken it to the fullest extent of its true beauty and fulfillment.
So. Time wears away.
Lord, you can let the warm winds blow. This icy desert is ready for spring to come. This life is ready to truly live--as You would have it to. This warrior is ready to let refinement and gentleness sink into her soul.
I am ready... Ready to be worth it.
Monday, April 30, 2012
However, God had other ideas. He always does.
This was going to be the part of my day that I really wouldnt've minded skipping. I was home, I'd surprised my family and friends, gone to church and eaten potluck, and I was ready to go walking. Not go sing at a nursing home with a few elderly folks who were...well, different from most people. They were old. Not like me.
Or so I thought.
I sat against the wall in a chair, more bored than anything else. My voice started to wear out, I was getting impatient for the time to be up. I didn't want to help my friends sing the special music, so I sat where I was and listened.
After the girls sang their song, one of the daughters of a lady who lived there at the nursing home said that maybe in a little bit she could sing Amazing Grace for us. This suggestion was loudly supported by most of those in our group. I, however, said nothing.
Honestly, how could someone do that? That just seems a little vain to me.
After a little bit, the lady got up, and with the other girls as harmony, sang Amazing Grace. It really was very nice, but I still wasn't impressed. It seemed stuck up to my dulled perception.
We sang a little bit more, and then the lady who sang Amazing Grace suggested that Alice, a very elderly black lady in a wheelchair, sing a song for us. She seemed a little embarassed, but said she would, but she didn't know what to sing. One of the other ladies in the room called out, "Oh yes, Alice! Sing that song that I like so much."
Alice seemed to consider the request, and turned a little in her chair to look at the lady behind her. "You mean His Eye is on the Sparrow?" Somehow, her dark eyes, elderly bearing, and her soft African-American drawl intrigued me, and I sat up a little more.
"Yes, that's the one!" The lady behind her seemed pleased. "Sing it for us, Alice!"
Alice thought for a moment, and then looked up at the ceiling. "Try B flat."
I was surprised. B flat? This lady knew her notes better than I'd guessed. Jaime played the chord on the piano, and Alice shook her head. "That's too high. I don't think that'll work."
The thought of Alice singing had nearly died out when Jaime triumphantly held up a music book. "I've got that song in here! Let's see if it's in the right key."
Opening the book, Jaime played the first chord, and Alice hummed it under her breath before nodding. "Yes, I think I can do that."
After a very short intro, Jaime looked across the room at Alice. "Ready?"
As Jaime began to play the song, Alice began. She was quiet at first, and it was as if she was struggling. But the farther she got, the more confident she became. She closed her eyes, singing the words that were obviously so familiar to her in a soft, humble way that I'd never heard the song sung before.
I found tears filling my eyes. My thoughts of vain display were gone; all I could see now was Alice, as she must have once been.
"I sing because I'm happy...I sing because I'm free..." As Alice got into the chorus, her right hand came up, and, with her eyes still closed, conducted the music in a way that spoke of the glory of what had been years before. Her voice became stronger, louder, and she filled that room with the melody of her past. "For His eye is on the sparrow...and I know He watches me..."
The song swelled with that wonderful voice, the wind behind its sails: Alice giving it her own special variations to the tune that were so unique and yet so characteristic of African-American singing. I could see her, about 40 years younger, in a little white-washed church beside a dusty country road, dressed in a white choir gown and conducting an energetic group of black men and women singing the very same song that now rang in my ears from her voice. I could see her admonishing them to put power into their singing... "Sing it out like you mean it!"... I could see it.
And then it ended. From the heights of melodious song, Alice came down to softly land at the wrap up, as gently and quietly as she'd begun. The chords from the piano died out, and a sudden storm of applause took its place, accompanied by the gentle patter of awed "Amens" from every corner of the room. Alice's eyes opened again, and she looked as if she'd never given such a stunning performance in her life. Mike stood to his feet and made his way to the front of the room, almost shocked. "That was awesome, Alice!"
"It sure was! Alice, you're a wonderful singer!" The lady who'd sung Amazing Grace for us piped in with her encouragement.
Alice only shook her grey head slowly, looking absently at the table top. "My voice is gone now."
"No it isn't! Not at all!" The chorus of the aforesaid denunciation of her statement vibrated through the room, but I knew what she meant. The voice that she'd once had...the voice that had been the real Alice all those years ago... was no more. I found myself wishing that I could've heard her sing in her day of glory...and that as I walked out the door.
I was later told by one of the other members of our group that they had commended her on her singing, and asked her a little about if she used to sing when she was younger. I imagine she must've smiled before responding. "Oh, they once kicked me out of the church choir cuz I was overpowerin' the rest of the singers." I wasn't at all surprised.
Somehow, my perspective changed. I wasn't aware that a blessing was in store for me at that place where everyone wasn't like me.
Alice changed my mind.
Somehow, somewhere down inside each one of those elderly people, is someone just like me.
There's a song by Michael Card called Underneath the Door that I only recently discovered. The lyrics go something like this....
Sunday, April 22, 2012
You wake up in the morning, to a bright sunny day shining through the window, casting shadows on your pillow; to the birdsongs ringing through the spring air; to a life ready to be lived. Your feet hit the floor, and there's no turning back.
Breakfast is every man for himself, and then comes bread-making. Pounding the dough, letting it rise... Knowing that you're making something that the rest of your family will benefit from. Something that will give life and strength to those close to you--those you love. It's a good feeling.
Then you tie a bandana on your head, put your hair in braids and head outside to work in the garden with your favorite friends. (Actually, any friend is a favorite, aren't they?) You get delegated to finding stakes for the garden beds, and off you go, whistling "There is Sunshine in my Soul Today" into oblivion and beyond.
Eventually you end up on your knees in a garden bed, digging rocks out and tossing them over your shoulder, amid the golden beauty of the day and with those you care about. Digging that bed up is a challenge, but it's like finding buried treasure; and you know that once its done, you'll be able to bury treasure within the soft, turned-up earth: seeds that contain within them a little spark of life that will explode not to long from now. When you stand to your feet, there's dirt on your knees and hands, a twig hanging from your hair and a smudge of dirt on your cheek, and a radiant smile on your face. You take a deep breath...and remember the bread. Inside you go.
The bread gets put in pans and as it raises again, you dump a lot of assorted fruit and a good dose of soymilk into the blender and let it go. The rest of your family comes inside, and you all collapse on the furniture with a glass of cold smoothie and a happy sigh.
The bread comes out a little later, and the golden loaves are cooling on the rack at home as I speak.
Some days, you just have to wonder about yourself.
There's no reason for me to be so happy. No reason for this morning to have been so beautiful; no reason for this afternoon to be so full of promise of more beauty still. No reason...
Or is there?
I look back at this morning with satisfaction, with a full heart...and something else. Something deeper.
I think I'm falling in love.
Nothing could be more beautiful than summer as it tiptoes in on golden slippers. Nothing could be more full of joy and fulfillment than knowing that you're doing good, even in the midst of beauty. Nothing could've been more spine-tingling than realizing that I was apart of the beauty surrounding me...and I started to fall in love. With summer. With the beauty around me. With being needed and doing something useful.
And, most importantly, with the Creator of it all.
Today has been one big splash of beauty...and it's not over yet.
How about you?
Yes, some days you just have to wonder about yourself.
But it's the days when you wonder whether you're insane or falling in love that are the most fulfilling.
Are you falling in love? Have you fallen in love yet; with the beauty, the sunshine, the warmth, the summer.....
....and the God whose hands lovingly formed it all?