Friday, June 26, 2009

God Isn't Looking at My Clothes or Your Education

Three times in the last ten days, the subject of clothing has come up - more specifically the idea that if a person wears a suit, they are an intelligent, hard-working, righteous individual and that a person wearing casual attire is believed to be not as ambitious, sophisticated or respectable as their well-dressed counterparts. While I agree that a person's clothing may offer some small insight into their personalities, I don't think we can use this as the indicator of a person's work ethic or personal integrity or as a measurement of their faith commitment. These are things that we can know about people only after spending time with them. I can't say that I don't notice what other people are wearing, but I refuse to let that form my impression of them.

That said...I began to ask myself if there was something about people that would cause me to make an instant decision as to their character. I'm sorry to say that it didn't take me long to come up with something. I realized that a person's education has always led me to make an instant determination about that person. I graduated high school and took a few basic college courses, but was unable to continue my education. A college degree is a luxury I can't afford and can do without in my chosen profession. Still, among the seven adults in my family, we have a paralegal degree, two Masters and one Doctorate of Electrical Engineering, two Executive MBAs, one PA Teaching Certificate as well as a Bachelor in Secondary Education, and two members of the family who have more than two years of college each. So you see, education is very important in my family.

When I meet someone who has put the time and effort into earning a degree - I make the immediate assumption that they are somehow better and smarter than me. I know that sounds irrational. I can tell myself repeatedly that their education doesn't divide us into separate "classes" but I'm not sure I will ever measure up to them in my own mind. However, God doesn't see us that way and I shouldn't either. I guess I just have to keep reminding myself that in Christ "there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free..." (Colossians 3:11, NIV) In his eyes, there is no difference between you and me no matter what we wear or how much we have learned because he created each of us and loves us just as we are. So my clothes don't make me any more or less significant to him and neither does the extent of your education. Isn't that great news?
About the pictures:
North Park (2002)

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Day at the Zoo

Last weekend, I went to the zoo. While looking through the pictures I took there, it occurred to me that there are many similarities between the zoo and my life as a Christian. At the zoo, the animals are in their own engineered environment that looks and feels a lot like their native habitat even though that might be thousands of miles away. These habitats will never match the beauty or afford the freedom to the animals of their native habitats. Still, these animals have adapted to their environment and go about daily life as if they were in Africa or China, or the North Pole. While they may seem to be self-sufficient in their habitats, the animals must ultimately rely on zookeepers and veterinarians to care for them and provide for their needs. Throughout the day, the animals are constantly being looked at and watched by hundreds of curious people who are on the other side of a protective wall wanting to learn more about these strange and exotic creatures.

As a Christian, I too am a stranger in a strange land. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, but my home is heaven. However, there is love and generosity, kindness, empathy and respect to be found here on earth just as in heaven. God is God and Jesus is the Savior anywhere on this planet as in heaven. His Spirit in my heart and his presence in my life enables me to adapt to this earthly residence and live my everyday life as if I were home. I can love God and love those around me here, as I will in heaven. But someday when I go home, I will know a freedom that I cannot experience here and now.

I work to earn money to buy food and clothing and secure shelter and transportation, but I rely on God to provide for my needs. It's because of God that I have a job (literally - I'm a church secretary) and that there is food to buy, and so on. I rely on God to care for me. When I feel lonely, I know that I am not alone because he is always with me. I turn to him when I am sick or when my world turns upside down. He teaches and guides me. He loves and nurtures me.

There are many non-Christians that I encounter in my daily living who pay attention to my actions trying to learn more about how and why I do things. This relationship with God that I have is unfamiliar and foreign to them and they want to learn, so they observe how my relationship with God makes my life different from theirs. Some are mildly curious and just gawk at the differences without trying to understand them. Others are very interested and, trying to understand, ask questions.

Many of them do this from behind an invisible protective wall that they've erected (This God-stuff is okay for you, but it's not for me. All religions are the same. If God is so good...). Sometimes the wall is put there by me (I don't have time. I don't want to get hurt. That's not my spiritual gift.). The Bible says that we are not to be of the world, but we are to be in the world. So I guess that means that the walls need to come down. Can you imagine that at the zoo? Complete chaos and fear. And in that scenario, Christians are the dangerous animals. That might explain the hostility we see toward Christians in many parts of the world.
About the Pictures
Pittsburgh Zoo (June 2009)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Just Do It!

A few years ago, I was at a turning point in my life. I was coming up on a milestone birthday and realized that if I continued the not-so-healthy lifestyle I was living, I would most likely end up being a diabetic with high blood pressure and serious arthritic problems and at risk for some major heart concerns in a very short time. I’ve seen these health issues consume the lives of the previous generations of my family. If I didn’t change my attitude and my lifestyle, these diseases would be interfering with my life soon just as they did with my grandparents and now my parents. The problem: I was a content couch potato. I didn’t want to deal with my weight. I had convinced myself years ago that I couldn’t do anything about it even if I wanted to because exercise triggers my asthma and my lactose intolerance and sensitive stomach make it impossible for me to follow any of the popular diets available. Besides, I’d seen my father try what seemed like every diet known to man and if he was any indication – I knew that eventually, I was going to fail at it.

Then I came to the conclusion that "never trying" always ends badly – "trying" gave a spark of hope to avoid or at least temper the health problems to come in later years. If I want to live life to the full when I’m sixty and seventy – I have to put the effort in now. With that in mind, I walked into Curves three years ago convinced it was going to do no good, but at least I would then be able to say I tried. Twenty-five months later, and forty-two pounds lighter, I hit my goal weight. Not only did I learn to appreciate exercise (as long as I have my inhaler with me), but I also learned to make "healthier" choices with my food.

I had decided halfway through that I didn’t have to stop at my goal weight. If I lost an additional twenty pounds, I’d put myself in the appropriate weight range for my height and age. The plan was to take six months off from "trying" once I hit my goal weight to work at maintaining what I had achieved, and then I would work at losing the last twenty pounds. Over the six-month hiatus, I got lazy and stopped exercising. Oh, I came up with good excuses at first – I didn’t have to work as hard because I wasn’t trying to lose, just maintain. I don’t feel well, so I can skip today’s workout. I need to stay late at work. My church responsibilities are more important, so I need to skip the gym today. The healthy food went by the wayside as well – I don’t feel like cooking so I’ll order pizza. I don’t have time to go to the grocery store, so I’ll just stop in this fast food place. The result is that I’ve gained seven pounds and I’ve lost the motivation I once had to live healthier.

What can I learn about my faith life from this? Well, first, there was a definite lifestyle change that happened once I met Jesus. I gave up a few things and learned to look at other things differently. Each day became a new day to live and grow in faith, which requires that I put in some effort. And, as with the attempt at healthy living, I have slid into a low point in my spiritual life as well. I’ve started making excuses for why I’m putting off my quiet time with the Lord. I still check in with him, but I admit that I am doing most of the talking. Sometimes I tell myself that I am just too busy doing God’s work to be God’s work. I’m so busy doing things for the different ministries in which I’m involved, that I am not putting the effort into taking the time I need for him to grow and change me. Then of course, there are those ever-pressing errands I need to run and if I don’t take some time for my hobbies, I’ll never get around to them. I’ve unintentionally switched my priorities and time spent growing in our relationship has sunk way down to the bottom of the list. In the process, I’ve lost the momentum to get back into the disciplines I once enjoyed.

So what do I do about it? Well, I’m afraid there is only one answer – Just do it! Stop making excuses and put it back on top of the priority list. The motivation will come later. For now, I just need to take a step toward where I want to be. So I guess that means that tonight, I’m going to spend some time letting God talk to me for a change and tomorrow morning, I’ll be going to the gym before I do the other things I have planned for the day. That’s a start.
About the pictures
North Park (2002)

Friday, June 5, 2009

He Loves Me Like That

Today’s is not a lesson learned, but a lesson renewed. In yesterday’s edition of the Pine Creek Journal, there is a picture of a little boy dressed in his baseball uniform in full swing as the ball makes contact with his bat. The look on his face is priceless. It brings back memories of my own son who once received a trophy for being the boy on his team who loved the game the most. You can guess that he was no superstar and in fact, he was just an average player with no outstanding stats one way or the other. However, as his coach pointed out when he handed Bryan the trophy – no one loved the game more than he did.

My memories shift to the day that ten-year-old Bryan fell off a slide at the playground and broke his elbow. In trying to relay the seriousness of the injury, the orthopedic surgeon described it as "the worst kind of break a kid could have." Bryan had two metal pins, four inches of stitches, and a hard cast for a month. The day the surgeon removed the pins and the stitches, I held my son still and watched as the doctor yanked the metal pins out of my baby’s arm with pliers and then rip the stitches out in one long drawn out agonizing tug, all without the aid of a pain killer. Bryan was screaming. I’m usually a non-aggressive person, but I’ll tell you, my blood was boiling and I nearly hauled off and punched that man in the face for hurting my son like that.

The surgeon told me that he was unsure of how much mobility Bryan would have when it was all over. The toughest conversation I ever had with my little boy was to tell him that there was a chance that he would never play baseball again. As tears welled up in his eyes, he asked me if he worked really hard at the exercises the doctor gave him, would that help him be able to play. All I could tell him was that there was a chance, if he worked very hard, he would be able to play ball again. But if he didn’t work hard, he absolutely wouldn’t be able to ever play baseball again. Not the encouraging answer I wanted to give him, or the one he wanted to hear, but it was the truth and he needed to be told.

Bryan held onto that hope of "a chance" and worked as hard as he could. His elbow had healed and stiffen at the 90-degree angle it had been casted in. One of the rehab exercises consisted of me applying pressure on his arm to help him straighten it. I remember him pleading with me to push down harder as tears streamed down his face from the pain. It took all I had to push harder and inflict more of the healing pain he needed to recover his mobility.

The lesson renewed through this memory is that as I loved Bryan, so God loves me and even more. As my Heavenly Father, He loves me with a fierce devotion even greater than the one I had for my son. He loves me as I am. Even if I don't stick out in the crowd, His eye is drawn to me. When I’m hurt, He hurts and rushes to comfort me. When I’m happy, He shares in the joy. There is an unbreakable bond between us that goes far beyond responsibility and emotion. He will always reveal the truth to me, even if it is something I don't want to hear. He loves me so much that He will do whatever is necessary, even if it is allowing painful circumstances in my life, so that I may receive all the good things he has planned for me.

As I look back over the past few years, I can see a time or two in my life where His heart must have broken over the painful circumstances he allowed to occur in my life. I can imagine Him feeling my pain as if it were His own so that I could have what He wants most for me – a better understanding of who He is, a greater love for Him, and an ever deepening relationship with Him. About the Pictures
Niagra Falls (August 2007)