Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Christmas in January

I wouldn't say I'm a "listen to Christmas music in January" kind of girl, but I am a "too lazy to change my Spotify driving playlist" kind and most definitely not a "skip the Nat King Cole song" kind.  That's how I ended up listening to O Little Town of Bethlehem tonight somewhere halfway between Carmel and Elwood.

Let me set the scene for you... Last week was Summit, which is sort of IWU's semester-ly "revival."  I genuinely enjoyed the band and the speaker, and I learned quite a bit... but I wouldn't say I felt God draw particularly close to my heart during that time.  Fast forward to today (Sunday), and between a cold and being home for the weekend, I skipped church, instead opting to stay in my pajamas until well after noon.

Anyway, I'm making the drive back to Marion and thinking about (I'm ashamed to admit) boys and all the homework I'm putting off, when the song comes on.  Nat King Cole sings to me from my small bluetooth radio: "Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.  Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."

As I round the corner of the single lane country road I pass a powerplant I must have driven by a hundred times.  For some reason, tonight it seems different.  I notice it as a slow at the bend; on the side of the building there is a huge Christmas light star.  Immediately, I wonder at the coincidence.

My soul stills for a moment as God draws close.  In a nearly audible whisper, I hear the truth.  Tonight much more closely resembles the moment my Savior entered the world than any Christmas I have ever celebrated.  I am halfway in everything-- somewhere between one home and another, between the start of college and graduation, not yet who I hope to be but certainly not who I once was.  I didn't attend any special services in my nicest dress or hang up any commemorative decorations.  The revival speaker has packed up and moved on, and by this point Nat King Cole has switched into Imagine Dragons.

But just as Christ once came on a silent night in a little town in the middle of nowhere and was met by the most unexpected and varied welcoming parties, so He has come to meet me in my car tonight.  He has chosen to show Himself most strongly in a moment and place that otherwise would be insignificant.  But the holiness shows all the more for it.

So how do I react to this?  What should be my response?  In that moment, the words I read in a book someone recommend to me come flooding back.  It is the prayer of Frederick Buechner, but tonight, it is also my prayer.  I hope it may be yours as well...

"Thou God in Christ,
      There is no ground anywhere that is not holy ground, for in the cool of the evening thou hast walked upon it and in the heat of the day thou hast died upon it, and at the coming of dawn thou hast returned and art always and everywhere returning to it and to us who walk upon it too, this holy ground, though heedless of its holiness.  O make us whole.  Set us free..."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Price Isn't Right

Recently, I had a friend ask me how many boys I had dated.  It wasn't the question itself that got to me, it was the context of how it was asked-- as though my answer would reveal something of how successful I was.  My gut-reaction was a feeling of unworthiness, and an inflammation of insecurities I often refuse to acknowledge even exist.

But the more I thought about the question, the more annoyed I became.  My value should not be determined by my dating history.  My refusal to accept this led me to ask some further, deeper questions over the course of the next few days.  How do I define my value?  Am I successful?

I could define myself by a number.  The paycheck I get every few weeks, the number on the scale, my percentage on a test, social media "followers" or "friends"... it's easy to get hung up on these things.  I often find myself measuring the success of my blog by the number of viewers or the number of successive posts.  Numbers are a quick and easy way to compare things, but do they accurately measure a persons success?

After all, how much is enough?  At what salary do you reach the title "successful?"  At what weight do you stop trying to shed a few pounds?  How many likes does it take to be a worthy person?

Or, should I avoid numbers all together?  I am often tempted to find my worth in others opinions of me.  If she thinks I'm nice or he thinks I'm pretty, doesn't that make it true?  But once again I find myself in a place of endless striving.  If you find your worth in people there will always be one more judge to impress or one more smile to earn.

And then, in the midst of all my insecurities and self-doubt, I remembered a verse that I found in middle school.  I used to read it again and again, but over time it had faded from my mind and other things had pressed forth.   Now it silenced those questions of value and worth with an answer of it's own: 

"Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you and peoples in exchange for your life." -Isaiah 43:4

I had found my answer.  I had been declared worthy long ago by the God who gave up His Son in exchange for my life.   Just as no action of mine could earn that worth, I also could not diminish it.  It was a fixed point, not a number or a changing opinion, but a love far beyond my greatest imagination.  

There are days when I don't feel like I am enough, but those are the days when I chose to take my self-worth and invest it elsewhere.  Those are the days that I find myself striving and pushing and fighting with everything, and still never measuring up.  But I can chose to invest myself in something greater, placing my worth in something infinite and eternal.  I am not a number.  I am not a list of achievements or a total of past choices.  I am part of the bride of Christ.  I am a child of God.  I have been declared worthy and any fear that tells me otherwise is simply a lie.

"This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'Only in returning to me, and resting in me will you be saved.  In quietness and confidence is your strength.  But you would have none of it." -Isaiah 30:15

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Masons, Money, and Men

"You are... members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord." -Ephesians 2:19-21

At first glance, this verse is very comforting, telling us that we are a part of the house of God.  For those who grew up in church, it might bring forth images of "a big, big table with lots and lots of food" or "a big, big yard where we can play football."  But other than being the inspiration for a peppy song and a comfort, we may not notice much else.

However, this verse holds a truth that is dangerous to some of our ways of life.  You see, we have all built our houses, brick-by-brick, with our own two hands.  Each wall is a well-crafted accomplishment, one any fine mason would be proud of.  Even the foundation is steady... we have been able to recite the teachings of the apostles and prophets since bible school age.

In fact, our home is quite near perfect.  Still, though, we can't help but feel as though there is just one thing missing.  We are so confident that we are even able to admit this, asking around to see if anyone can identify what we need.  It's not long before we realize... we have forgotten the cornerstone.  We have tried to make Christ a part of our life, but he is not the basis of it.

The problem with the cornerstone is, it can't be stuck in after the entire house is built.  In fact, in order to ensure it serves its purposes, the entire house must be torn down and then rebuilt around the cornerstone.  Many of us will go away sad when we learn this is what we must do.  Tearing down the lives we have worked so hard to build for ourselves and starting over in the light of our newfound Savior is just too much to ask.  We would much prefer a God who can simply be placed anywhere in lives... who will fit nicely into a box, who is just a simple brick.  But only with Christ as the cornerstone will our house be able to stand.

"A man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?... All these [commandments] I have kept since my youth.'  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, 'You lack one thing: go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.' Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." -Mark 10: 17, 20-22

Saturday, March 29, 2014

In Our Own Words

The poetry and prayers of David, also known to many as the book of Psalms, are some of the most well-read works of all time.  They relate across time and cultural barriers, tapping into those emotions and experiences which are common to all people.  But the art of Psalm writing itself has been lost.

Why?  Why not record our prayers and our thanksgivings in the same way David did?  Why not express so clearly our pain and our praise?  Encouraged by a friend who often rewrites Psalms and bible passages in her own words, I decided to try my hand at it.  I encourage you to as well... you may be surprised at how the Lord speaks when you meditate on His words.

A Psalm based on Colossians 3:5-11

Praise the Lord, who is mighty to save,
  who has declared war on death for taking captive those He loves.
He will rescue them from the grasps of sin
  and bring them into new life.
He will not see them for what they have done
  or from where they have come,
  but as those that His Son died to save.

He will see the new people they have become, people that resemble Him.

Therefore, we will set aside all of our old ways,
  for they have died in us just as Christ died in our place.
We will find, instead a new life--
  the Holy Sprit within us, convicting and teaching us
  so that we will become more like the perfect Son of God.
We care nothing for our old ways
  for they were the ways of death.

We are now on the path to life and have left our old ways behind us.

Praise God for sending us a rescue
  that we might come to know Him.
Praise Jesus Christ for defeating the power of death within us.
Praise the Holy Spirit for perfecting in us
  the ways of God and the ways of life,
  which are one in the same.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Issues of the Heart

Dear Friends,

Can I bare my soul for just a moment?  Grab a cup of coffee and sit down, it's time for a heart to heart.  I need to get these words off my chest.

I remember high school... the goal of dating was to just have fun.  Most couples were just looking for a good time and as a result, a culture was created that made a "long-term" relationship one that lasted more than a few months.  Certainly not the best of situations, but one I don't have time to address here.

Then, boom!  College!  All of the sudden, romantic relationships have an extra element, one that adds a little flavor to the mix-- the "M-word."  Marriage.  Suddenly, you're chances of finding your happily ever after increase, and it seems to make everything just a shade more interesting.  Because now, everyone is looking for that person to complete them.

And it is that final thought that makes me the most uncomfortable.  When did Christians start believing they need a romantic relationship to be completed?  When did it stop being "Christ makes you whole" and begin to be "Christ and your boyfriend" or "Christ and your wife"?  Doesn't scripture tell us, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness" (Colossians 2:10).

When did marriage become an idol?

If I'm even more honest, I would go further and say that romance has become an idol.  We have all bought into the lie that we must be romantically involved to be happy or else we should be at least searching someone.

Some may wonder at this point if I'm not bitter, and no, I'm not.  At least, not at dating or romance.  I'm simply frustrated with society... for making me feel like I am incomplete, for trying to distract me from trusting in God's plan, and for telling me that my happiness depends on anything other than God.

Because if you are reading this, whether you are single or dating, married or unmarried, that is the truth I wish to convey.  Our happiness depends on one thing and one thing alone.  As the old hymn puts it: "My hope is built on nothing less / Than Jesus' blood and righteousness; / I dare not trust the sweetest frame, / But wholly lean on Jesus' name." Christ is our victory and our prize, a gift kept safely in heaven, untouched and unharmed by our circumstances... whatever they may be.

"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Mark 6:20-21).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The End

It's a creeping habit that sneaks up on me when I least expect it.  It's not that I mean to do it, it's just that sometimes I get so busy that I don't have time to sit down and straighten out my priorities when they get out of line.  The next thing I know, I'm doing it again.

The distractions pull at the corner of my mind and stress begins to blow things out of proportion.  I need something to get me through.  I need someone to tell me it will be all right.  I need some guarantee that I can do this.

And then, I remember Him... the Big Guy Upstairs.  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  Great, thanks God!  But then I run into a problem.  So I pray.  And through the process of much prayer and divine intervention, things begin to work out.  Soon, I am faced with a tough decision and I ask for discernment, just to be certain I am making the right decision.

Consulting God and leaning on Him during the busier times in life is a beautiful thing.  But too often when this happens, I begin to notice a shift in my thinking-- one that is dangerous and needs to be addressed.

Because the more distracted I get, the more I begin to view God as a means to an end rather than and end in itself.

I see Him as the answer to my questions, the Almighty one who can use His power to step in when things get too big for me to handle.  In the meantime, I stop seeing Him for who He truly is, a beautiful and loving God who deserves more praise than I could ever dream of giving Him.  He is the Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End.

Just as it would be rude of me to treat a friend as a tool to reach my goals and get through the struggles of life, it would be rude of me to do the same to God.  And yet, so often I find myself doing just that.  It is in these moments that I take a deep breathe, set aside a few moments, and spend them in God's presence, reflecting on who He is and the fact that my problems pale in comparison to His beauty.

He is not a means to an end.  He is THE End... one so beautiful it leaves me wanting for nothing.

"Be still and know that I am God;  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." -Psalm 46:10

Monday, March 24, 2014

Precious and Honored

People are never wrong.

Beliefs can be wrong.  Expectations.  Dreams can be wrong.  Words can be wrong.  Morals can be wrong.  But people?  People are never wrong.

When did we become so hypercritical that we forgot the value of a human soul?

Perhaps if we saw each other through the eyes of God, saw how invaluable and hurting those around us were, we would not be so quick to jump to conclusions, not be so careless with our words, and not be so consumed with ourselves.

Instead, we allow our own insecurities to haunt us like devils.  We listen to the voices that tell us we are not beautiful, not worthy, not loved.  Guilt over our past and fear of our future are poisons we have learned to live with.  And because we question our own value, we also fear that others may be more valuable than us.

Comparison becomes an obsession and we learn that insults followed by "just kidding" are more socially acceptable but just as effective in tearing down.  Labeling others and searching for reasons to find them inferior to us become such a habit that we don't even realize that we do it.

But as we learn our own value in Christ, we should begin to see the value in others.  Christ didn't just die on the cross for me... he died for everyone.  If I truly believe that others are so valuable God would redeem them at the cost of His son's life, I would be doing everything in my power to show them this.

"Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you, and peoples in exchange for your life." -Isaiah 43:4