Saturday, June 30, 2012

Honorable Mention

It isn't enough to just be willing, you have to want it, desire it, strive for it.

What? Love, life, joy, success?

Yes, but maybe measured by different terms, maybe love, life, joy, and success measured by suffering, hardship, and the possibility of trials and death. 

And Paul was willing, was striving. Reading through the book of Acts, he's so willing to face trial after trial, to suffer, and to die for the name of Jesus Christ, for the truth of His gospel, for the greatness of His righteousness.
Over and over his friends beg him not to go dangerous places where people want to kill him because of his faith and preaching. They plead with him, yet he will not listen. Again and again he speaks of his willingness to go, willingness to die, willingness to suffer and be beaten and put in jail for the name of Jesus.

Paul is so ready and willing to die for Jesus it is almost as if he's asking for it!

And maybe he was. Maybe it's not enough to just be willing. To be resigned to being "okay" with dying for Jesus. Knowing that Jesus is worth it, and being open to the possibility, being willing to suffer, but all the while hoping that won't be our path. I know I do it. I tell Jesus I would suffer and die (and trust that in the moment He'd give me the strength and courage I know I don't possess), but still I admit to Him I'd rather not have to die, rather not suffer any physical pain. Mental and spiritual hardships, okay, but please no physical pain.

I'm willing...but I don't want to.

But in James we are told to consider it pure joy to suffer for Jesus. Pure joy. Not just to settle for it, not just to be willing, but to be joyful.

After Paul and Silas were in prison, after being beaten within an inch of their lives, probably hungry, cold, wet, and generally miserable, I would have been impressed if they'd just prayed and thanked God for their lives and then prayed to get out. I mean I would probably have been crying, asking God for comfort and strength, and not really have been in the happiest of moods. But Paul and Silas don't just continue trusting God, praying and asking for deliverance or at least comfort, no, they sing and praise Jesus from their jail cell. Far above and beyond the seeming "call of duty."

So maybe the call of duty isn't what we always thought it to be. Perhaps we aren't just to be willing to go, maybe we're called to actually go. The gospel isn't about thinking, believing in our hearts, it's about action, going into the world and spreading the good news, no matter the cost to us. And being so full of joy and passion for this gospel of truth and grace that we will do anything for it, and do anything with pure joy, total abandon, as we spread the good news of a love that is far bigger and greater than ourselves.

Maybe Paul wanted to not just spiritually give his life to Jesus, but physically too. He wanted the joy of suffering for Jesus, perhaps considered in an honor to die for His Name.

It's like in times of war, when men (and women) go to fight for their country, considering it an honor to fight and die for the people and place they love. Maybe we're called to consider it great joy and an honor to live, love, and die for One far greater, holier, more beautiful, majestic, and powerful than we could ever imagine.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

This is why...

This is why I am passionate about adoption. Because there are an estimated 200 million orphans in the world (according to UNICEF). Because millions of those children will go unloved, will remain abandoned, because millions of those children have no hope. Because no one should be deprived of love. And while I cannot love every one of the 200 million orphans, I can at least love a few, and hopefully inspire them to love a few as well. And if I can change the lives of at least a few of the lost, abandoned children, then I have made some sort of difference.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Call To Action

There have to be challenges to grow. If you're training to run a marathon you can't stick with an easy one mile a day, you have to push yourself and hurt, run really far, cramp up a lot, and slowly and steadily grow stronger and stronger. A year ago I couldn't imagine running more than two miles, till I got pushed and ran five. It hurt, it was hard, but I'm a better runner for it. 

It's like that with everything in life. If things are easy, well, they're easy. You settle into a routine of easy, never changing, never being challenged. It's no way to grow. You can't get stronger if you don't eat healthy and lift some weights. You can't get faster if you don't swim, bike, run, or whatever you do.

And that's how it is with the gospel, with living for Jesus. The book of Acts contains story after story of the new Christians suffering for Jesus. With total abandon of self, they preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, seeking to show that He is the son of God, that He did die, and most importantly, that He did rise from the dead on the third day. 

They are beaten, bruised, and broken for their beliefs, yet they never stop. 

I'm not saying it wasn't hard. I'm sure leaving their families, being flogged and thrown into prison, being uncomfortable, out of place, and probably pretty hungry and dirty a great deal of the time was less than desirable as a living style. But somehow from the words of Acts, I don't get the sense that they were unhappy. Rather, they were filled with total joy, the joy only Jesus can give. 

Throughout Acts we see Jesus' people suffering for His name, we see Christians living with such passion, their lives completely dedicated to His work, and we see the church growing by the thousands daily. Suffering producing growth, challenges producing change, living for Christ saving lives. 

Jesus promised it wouldn't be easy, He said it would be hard, but He also promises that living for Him is absolutely worth it. His love never fails, His provision and faithfulness are endless, He is worth our lives and so much more. 

I read about the new believers in Acts and I feel longing for that lifestyle. Longing to live with utter abandon, focused on Christ and nothing else, giving up friends, family, and comfort for the sake of His great name. 

Maybe that's our problem now. Maybe we've stopped really living for Jesus. We've stopped fighting for Him, seeking to share the gospel with everyone. 

We've stopped seeking God to fight our battles for us, and started trying to fight them on our own. And Jesus lets us, He lets us mess up our lives because we say that's what we want. Like in the Old Testament when the Israelites want a king, though they already had God as their perfect King. Samuel doesn't want to grant their request, he knows it isn't right, but God allows the Israelites the king they so deeply think they desire, and Saul really wasn't such a great king after all, leading the people to disaster and ruin in many ways. 

God is all we need, but so often we think we need more, and God grants us those desires often, and we (hopefully) learn from our mistakes, running back to Him. We can't fight the battles on our own, we are not strong enough to do life by ourselves. One of the hardest things to do is be weak and admit to it, but that's what we are called to do so we can rest in Him. 

So we fight our own battles, don't let God fight for us, and stop fighting for Him. And at least in the United States, we rarely go to jail or truly suffer for Jesus. Maybe we face ridicule, lose friends, but we don't lose limbs, we aren't maimed, we don't die (physically at least) for Jesus. 

And churches aren't growing the way they do in countries where people are daily challenged and face death for Christ on a constant basis. Our faith becomes something personal we explore behind closed doors. We aren't loudly proclaiming His name and His love from the rooftops, we are whispering about it with other believers. 

It's like the Fall Out Boy song, "I want to scream I love you from the top of my lungs/But I'm afraid that someone else will hear me." 

That should not and cannot be us about Jesus! We can't live such passive and inactive lives and hope to see His kingdom come. We can't sit on the sidelines and assume someone else will play the game. We are the players, this is our game, and we must get out there and score the points. 

We're on earth for a reason, and it isn't to sit idly by and grow on a personal, inside, never shared, inactive level in our relationship with God. There's a place for that, and yes, growing a beautiful and close personal relationship with Jesus is incredibly important and absolutely essential, but it cannot stop there

We are not here for ourselves. We are here to glorify Jesus and make Him known, to share the good news of His beauty, grace, and love. It's time to start screaming "I love you" from the top of our lungs, and pray the whole world will hear it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Maybe It's Okay To Be A Little Abnormal

When you have very strong feelings about something but not a lot of factual, statistical, or informational knowledge about it, things can get a little complicated. Or you can just generally feel a bit uninformed and like your beliefs are shallowly rooted in nothing secure.

That's how I often find myself feeling about Jesus. I believe in Him so strongly, so fully, so completely. There is not a doubt in my mind about who He is, what He did, and whether or not He existed. I know these things based on what I've learned from the Bible, from who I've gotten to know in the years of my relationship with Him, through the stories I've heard from other believers, the books I've read, and my own feelings and experiences.

But sometimes I feel like I should know more. Sometimes I feel silly and dumb, like a schoolgirl who has a crush on a pop star because they're hot, not because of any real admirable qualities or knowledge about the individual.

I've had numerous conversations where people are genuinely surprised I'm interested in anything theological or rhetoric/debate-related. I guess my piercings, tattoo, and the rather pale shade of my hair mean I'm too dumb or shallow to actually think through my beliefs?

But that's a whole 'nother issue to be dealt with at another point in time...anyways.

So while I have thought, read, and reasoned as well as prayed, felt, and experienced my way to the beliefs and ideals I hold today, I've always felt a bit theologically off-balance. Like I missed some of the "key" information that most other kids raised in Christian families got.

While I know what I believe, I couldn't really classify by denomination or theological terms the beliefs I hold. I'm actually not entirely sure what the beliefs of all the various denominations are, though I know some generalities, primarily the differences between Catholic and Protestant.

I think part of this is because my youth group at church was very ministry and outreach based. It served a lot of kids from broken homes who didn't know much about Jesus at all. Youth group was more the basics of believing in Jesus, rather than going deep into theology or the more complicated, debated, or sometimes controversial issues of the Bible. My small groups were more relational and how-to-get-through-high-school-and-be-a-Godly-girl focused, you don't discuss theology at girl's group - you talk about boys! (Jesus included)

And while I (usually) listed in church, they didn't put labels or classifications on the theological concepts preached, probably because there was a base understanding that if you were there, you knew the tenants of Presbyterianism and the theological ideals it was based upon.

And I think my parents just didn't think to teach me that kinda stuff. They taught me about God, the Bible, and raised me with good values and morals, same as I'll do with my kids.

So to be honest, sometimes, actually a lot, I've felt rather insecure about this. Until recently, when I realized that, as so often happens, our insecurities and struggles are blessings in disguise.

I was talking with a friend about reformed theology, and realized I actually had no idea what that entailed. I know I sound super dumb right now, but bear with me! As she explained some of the differences, I found myself camping out in no-man's-land with my own ideology.

For example, she explained reformed theology (which I grew up in at New City Fellowship, a Presbyterian church) teaches predestination of man and the absolute control and sovereignty of God. And while I haven't figured out the whole predestination dealio, I'm pretty on board with a totally sovereign God.

So then I guess whatever the opposite end of the spectrum is grounded in free will, experiencing God, feelings, and a more spiritual approach. And I believe in free will and the few times I've truly felt God's presence and heard His voice have been the most beautiful, precious moments of my life.

It reminds me of this book I'm reading. There are five "qualities" and at a certain age, you choose one. The Abnegation people are selfless, the Erudite intelligent, the Amity peaceful, the Candor honest, and the Dauntless brave. As with any good story, of course there is someone who strays from the ordinary and therein the story lies. Normally people are automatically drawn to one of these camps and when they're old enough they take a test that helps determine where belong. A few people's aptitude tests fail to place them, these people could pick from a number of the groups and fit in just fine, they are called the divergent (also the name of the book, incase you wanted to read it. I liked it, it's a lot like the Hunger Games).

I feel a bit like that, divergent. I couldn't pick one of these theologies as where most of my beliefs and ideology fit. For a second, I felt down about this. Typical me, not fitting in, what's wrong with me? Why is something always wrong with me?

Until I realized, that actually this is better. I wasn't told what to believe about God, I figured out what I believed for myself. Like if you didn't know the names of the vegetables, so you didn't know which was broccoli, which were peppers, or the color of a carrot, so you figured out if you liked broccoli on your own, rather than deciding you didn't like it simply because so many other kids don't.

I believe in a sovereign God who has power and control, who does things in this world. I believe God plays a part in our lives, I believe He calls us to certain lifestyles and choices, guides our steps, watches out for us, picks us up when we fall. But I also believe that as much as there is a plan, we choose whether or not we are going to follow that plan. I believe we make choices about where we go and who we are, we decide whether we want to be who God wants us to be, or who we want to be, and that the best situation is when we want to be whoever God wants us to be and our hearts collide. I believe God loves us. I believe He wants us. I believe He cares and provides for His children. I believe He knows best, even when we often think He isn't even looking, much less actually watching out for us.

I don't believe in one theology. I can't classify my thoughts. I don't fit in one mold. I believe the Bible. I believe in adventuring and exploring life through God-lenses and a Jesus-perspective. And most of all, I believe in love, grace, brokenness, and a beautiful, awesome, powerful, great Jesus.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lies and Miscommunications

We all do it. A few words here, a few words there. Spoken in slightly lower-than-normal tones, possibly behind a few backs. Just a few words, they won't hurt. A few words turn into monologues, novels, but still, what harm can a few words really do. No one will know. It's just between me and you. 

I've gotta get this off my chest. I've got to tell someone. I can't believe this happened, they did that, they said such-and-such, I can't keep this knowledge, these thoughts in my mind any longer. I'll just tell one person. And it'll stop there. 

We've all said that. We've all done it. We talk and slander, go behind backs and say things we don't mean, or share secrets that we should never have even known. And the words go round and round, circling and growing with each re-telling. Like a giant game of telephone, the message changes with each person. 

And people get hurt. No matter how many times we loudly proclaim it'll never get past this person, it does. Someone misunderstands, doesn't know it was a "secret." Or feels that the information, however private it was, is too important to keep to themselves. Or what you thought you said someone interpreted differently, negatively, and that message is transformed as well. 

It's hard to be on the receiving end of these situations. It hurts to hear people talking about you when they think you can't hear, or find out they were from whoever they were talking to. It's hard to have your own words misrepresented, or words you shouldn't have spoken passed along, causing pain and confusion. It hurts when someone you thought you could trust to keep things private passes them along, resulting in conflict and feelings unintentionally hurt. Unwanted drama ensues, just as undesirable as the pain and complication. 

All these situations have taught me. It's taught me to guard my tongue, I've learned what it feels like and how I could potentially be hurting other with words I haven't thought through, gossip I have failed to tame. I've felt the betrayal and the pain, experienced the drama, the whispered words and spoken secrets. 

It's that last one that has been teaching me the most recently. 

When someone near and dear hurts you, it's like those cuts with a knife so sharp it doesn't even hurt at first, the gash made so quickly, till you realize what just happened, blood starts to seep from the wound, the pain causing tears and a scream in the back of your throat. 

But you love that person. This is no ordinary fight with a semi-good friend or acquaintance that isn't worth the fight to fix, so the relationship ends and you're hurt for a few days and then it's okay. There's a scrape, that takes time and bandages and Neosporin to heal, but no lasting scars, the bumps and bruises heal and you're okay, stronger, in fact. No. This is someone you can't lose, can't just be mad at, yell at, ignore, and be done with. 

You have to fix it. Things must be made right, betrayal forgiven and love cover the pain and heal the wounds. And while this in and of itself is hard, it's possible with talking through the issues, maybe fighting some more, maybe some yelling, but eventually apologies and forgiveness and trust rebuilt. Hard, but possible, not easy, but doable. 

But when there's no sorrow on the part of this person near and dear, or worse no inclination to even admit to having wronged you...well, hard just became running a marathon on a sweltering day with no water. 

Let's say you get through forgiveness. Maybe that wasn't even hard. You aren't mad at them, just hurt, and you've forgiven them though they didn't say sorry like all our parents taught us to do when we were young. 

But let's be honest here, it's still hard. Or at least it is for me. I can forgive, I won't stay mad for too long, but I'm hurt. Part of me wants to be the sad, kicked puppy with big sorrowful puppy eyes who mopes around, being the "bigger person" who forgave them, but still desperately wants them to apologize, to recognize what they did to me, and eventually to make wrongs right. 

I had a friend years and years ago who hurt me very deeply. For a number of years I just hated her, I'm ashamed to admit it, but it's the truth. Eventually I said I'd forgiven her, but when I thought about her the anger rose up again like bile in my throat. Finally I did forgive her, at least I think I did, but I still wanted her to know she'd broken my heart, ripped away my ability to trust friends, that I'd felt alone and abandoned for years because of her. I couldn't let go of that. I just wanted her to know, hoped she'd say sorry, but at least wanted her to know what she'd done and feel some sort of remorse. And looking back, I think desiring that meant I hadn't really forgiven her.

That's the hard part. Forgive and forget. Move on and truly love that person despite what they've done. Actually be the bigger person by not only forgiving, but also putting aside your own pain and reaching out and loving that person. 

And that's how I've been learning more about grace in the past week. 

I wanted to stay hurt, to show my pain, to just explain how hurt and betrayed I felt, to say I'd forgiven, but I wasn't ready to forget. But I realized I needed to just move on, to pretend nothing had happened and keep loving, keep serving, put my own interests aside and care instead of continuing to nurse my own cuts and bruises. And as I thought more about it, I realized how hard that was, and the word that came to mind as I thought about it was "grace." 

Forgiving and forgetting. Giving someone more than they deserve. Loving when I hadn't been loved, serving when I'd been betrayed. 

Sound familiar yet? 

That's what I am given every single day. Grace, a beautiful, free gift of love I could never deserve. I receive care, love, provision, even when I'm gossiping, prideful, selfish, angry, false. Even when I'm unwilling to recognize my failings and sin, unwilling to confess, repent, and change, I am loved. I am loved. I am not condemned, I am not punished, I am not greeted with sorrowful puppy eyes and a refusal to listen and love until I say sorry. I am loved. Freely, beautifully, perfectly, gracefully. 

And that is what I've been learning about grace. It's been freely given to me, and I shall freely give it to others. And I will fail as I try to love others freely, and I will be selfish and prideful and wounded puppy, and I will be forgiven, given grace myself, and the strength and ability to go on loving, to ask forgiveness when I sin against someone and give them forgiveness when they sin against me. 

"My grace is sufficient for you, my power made perfect in your weakness." 

Grace, beautiful grace.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Those Robes and Sandals Days

Total dependance. Absolute trust. No fear or worry. Hands open, life given up. Total provision. Absolute love. Never-ending faithfulness and care. This is how the new Christians in the Bible lived, and how they saw God respond.

I've been reading through Acts in the past month or so and remain so struck by the faithfulness, passion, and sincerity with which the disciples and Christians lived.

I read something somewhere that talked about living for Christ with desperation. I like the way that sounds. Being desperate for Him, desperate to do His will, further His kingdom, desperate to see His kingdom come. Desperate for His love, desperate for His grace. Desperate to be weak so He can be strong. Desperate for everything that comes with being His, whether it's in times of sadness or joy, desperate to be His, enveloped in His arms.

That's how the believers in Acts lived. With total abandon of self they sacrificed their time, comfort, and lives for their Jesus. They preached His love and His story no matter what. Unafraid of the repercussions, they knew that death was no end, simply a beginning. It wasn't a hindrance, giving up their lives for Jesus was the adrenaline pumping through their veins.

They didn't worry about food, comfort, house, clothes. They sought refuge in the homes of other church-members, their every need provided by God, often through the faithfulness of fellow believers. They cared for each other.

The chapters in Acts emphasize the importance of fellowship. They didn't just have church together, they had life together. Gathering to pray, they truly sought after God as one body, whole in their love, passion, and desperation to better know the One who had died for them. Through those times of prayer they grew closer together, knowing each other in a deeper, truer way, and getting to know God better too.

They knew what they believed in. They knew without doubt that Jesus had lived, loved, died, and risen. They fully believed in His power, grace, justice, love, mercy, and sacrifice. And because of this knowledge, they poured their lives into sharing those truths, to telling those in their world that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the One True God, the Holy One, the Deliverer, that He had come and gone and their salvation could be found in Him alone.

That's all that mattered to them, sharing this truth, telling this tale of love. They didn't care, worry about, or fear anything, because God was all that mattered, Jesus' love was the driving force in their lives.

Why can't we live like that? Why can't we live with such desperate abandon for the God who loves us more than we can imagine?

Why don't we pursue Him like that? Why don't we live in a manner focused wholly on glorifying His name, furthering His kingdom, making His love known?

Why do we define a "good life" as a monetarily rich life, when Christ says a rich life is one founded in Him, one funded by Him, one focused on Him?

We should be living radically, whole-heartedly, desperately, for Jesus.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Fading Dreams and Dropping Faces

Once holding tight
Knuckles white
Clenched fists
Letting go
There's only so
Much I can bear
Fading dreams
Dropping faces
Facade of okay
Wiped away
Letting go
Hands open
Learning to fly
Dropping dreams
Fading faces

Spiraling, Swirling, Swelling Sound

Sweetly gliding through the air, notes melting together, a continuous vibrance of sound. 
Musicians dancing from their seats, bodies pouring soul and spirit into the bows gliding across strings, thrashing through the air. 
Sticks pound down, keeping beat on the drums. 
Horns, flutes, tubas add sweet notes to the clamor. Strings plucked on harps, notes plinked on piano. 
Each sound melding together in beautiful harmony. 
So much emotion to be portrayed through the tones and notes. Sharps, flats, highs, lows, they draw tears and smiles. 
Throat constricts as the eery sounds squeal softly and gently fade into lonely silence.
Clashes of symbols and short, sharp notes collide as the anger rises, the emotions grow, louder, louder, crashing like waves on stormy seas, and again fade into that loneliest of silences, softly fading away as the music falls, the night wanes, the morning light rises. 
Hope, or solitude, to be decided as tears still glisten in corners of eyes and hands pound together to bravo the makers of such passionate sound. 
Heart and soul they pour into it, these makers of music. 
For some smiles dance gently at the corners of mouths, others stare with a ferocious focus on their pages and instruments. Heads weave, arms create an intricate dance of limb and instrument, or sit stoicly still, fully concentrated. 
Passion plays a different tune for each, yet so clear their adoration of this creation of emotion, the spilling of music from lips and fingers. 
Sounds swell, enveloping the audience with growing emotion, notes melting together as one, changing and shifting like the faces of the moon. 
Gently crashing like waves embracing the white sand of the beach, then suddenly swelling and breaking harshly, tumbling sand, shells, and sea. 
An intricate dance, a soulful song, weaving and melting like colors and paints swirling through water in a glass, spiraling, swirling, fading, flowing.