Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Conversion Experience

I’ve recently had a conversion experience that I simply must tell you about! All of my life, I have been diametrically opposed to a particular group and their followers. This group’s elite are often treated like kings, gods even. Many of their followers are quick to confront others confident that their special brand of enlightenment is far superior to everyone else’s. However, it was the kindness of a few followers who didn’t try to correct the error of my ways but who accepted me as I am that swayed me. Today I want to, for the first time, publicly announce that I have become a Steelers fan!

Yes it’s true. I’ve hated football all of my life. I considered myself above such juvenile barbarism and laughed at those who were taken in by its overpriced hype. I saw no intelligence or reason in the cult-like hold it has on its fans or in the bizarre superstitions that control their lives during the season. Nothing could be a bigger waste of time. I was sure that someday, scientist would prove that every game watched kills thousands of brain cells. I did however enjoy Super bowl Sunday because I knew that all the football fans would be glued to a TV set near them and I would have no problem finding a parking space at the mall or a great seat at the theater.

So, as hard as it is to imagine, especially here in the capital of Steeler nation, I’ve made it into my forties with only an infantile understanding of the game. This past Sunday, as I sat glued to my own TV set, I found most of what I was seeing and hearing confusing. When it comes to football, I have no frame of reference to comprehend what’s going on. Players were penalized for things I didn’t understand. There were numbers all over the screen and I can only guess at their significance, and for the most part, the announcers seemed to be speaking a foreign language. Still, I was drawn to continue watching. I cheered when my team scored and screamed at my TV when the other team intercepted the ball. I guess I’m going to have to rely on my fellow Steeler fans to learn what I don’t know about football. I’m going to have to ask a lot of “dumb” questions and I hope that they remember that they are dealing with a baby Steeler fan when they answer.

So what does this have to do with faith? Over the last fifty years society has systematically removed Christianity from everyday life and relegated God into the more convenient and manageable Sunday morning box. We have effectively produced a social environment where one in three Americans are unchurched and the average person doesn’t know Jesus. They may have heard of him, they may have even dabble in the occasional church service, but they look at Christianity in much the same way that I viewed the football phenomenon – with hatred or with no concept of its value. Some Christians feel compelled to win the God argument among the skeptical, to explain exactly how wrong the non-Christian is and how right they are. Instead of accepting the individual as they are and tearing down those walls, these misguided God-arguers build up even higher the walls that separate them. Yes, we are to reach out to the lost - in love.

Also, as Christians, we have the joy and responsibility of discipling our less experienced brothers and sisters in Christ. As we learn from those who are more mature in their faith, so we are to guide others. No matter how long we’ve been a Christian, every day presents us with new challenges, new questions. Whether you’ve never been in a church service before or you’ve been attending Sunday school longer than your pastor has been alive, there is much to learn and we are called to learn and grow together in love and in the Lord.
About the pictures:
Marshall Island, North Park (August 2009)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Makes Me Worth the Air I Breathe?

This week, I saw a story on TV about a little girl who has a serious illness that requires frequent blood transfusions. The story went on to say that less than five percent of Americans who are able to donate blood actually do. Her special circumstances have sparked a determination in her to make people aware of how important donating blood is, not just for her, but for the twenty-five percent of the American population who will need blood this year. When she isn’t in the hospital or promoting blood drives, she pours her passion into collecting new toys from local individuals and businesses to hand out to other children who are hospitalized. She is compelled to reach out to other sick children because she knows the healing that a toy given in love can bring to a fearful and hurting heart.

This story prompted me to think about how passion drives some people to reach beyond themselves to do amazing things. The entertainment industry is bursting at the seams with reality TV shows that showcase everyday people following their passions to sing, dance, or produce and market their own unique gizmos and gadgets. Then there is the woman whose passionate, yet often sensible approach to environmentalism has caught my attention and nicked my conscience. I also know many people in ministry whose passion for the Lord is almost contagious as they reach out to bless the community around them.

The next obvious question had to be, “Where is my passion?” I couldn’t let go of this question. What determines passion – is it a feeling? Is it the drive to make the most of natural ability? Or is it the heart’s unbridled response to life experience? I couldn’t rest until I found the answer. Finally, I had to stop and ask myself why this was so important. I realized that I wasn’t really looking for my passion. I was looking for my significance, my value. I needed to know – What makes me worth the air I breathe and the space I inhabit on this earth? Now that’s a question I can answer: But now, God’s Message, the God who made you in the first place, the One who got you started. I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you. That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you. I’m with you. (Isaiah 43:1, 3-5a, The Message, adapted) I only need to read Psalm 139 to be reminded of how intimately God knows me because he created me and he is with me always. 1 John 3:1 tells me that God loves me so much that he calls me his child and Romans 8:38-39 explains that nothing exist now or ever that can separate me from that love.

My passion exists in the words I write and the photos I take. It’s in the music I sing, the quilts I sew, and the worship I bring in my daily life. But my significance, my value, derives from being a child of God, wholly and dearly loved. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19, NIV)
About the pictures
Landscape - Marshall Island (August 2009)
Grasshopper - Toronto, Ohio (August 2009)

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Relationship Meant to Be

Today is September 11th. Please take a moment to pray for those whose lives were irrevocably changed this day eight years ago and for all the families affected by the war that came out of the senseless violence of that day. Pray also for the world’s leaders that they might be guided by God’s will and that his peace would be known throughout the earth.

Long before it was 9-11, this was a day of celebration. Forty-seven years ago today, my parents were married. You don’t find too many couple around these days who have been married that long. They worked hard and stayed committed to each other even through the worst of times and believe me – there were enough hard times and disagreements that no one would have blamed them if they had given up and called it quits.

I remember the first time I walked down the aisle. I foolishly ignored the subtle signs and had no clue that I was walking toward a man who had been lying to me and who had no problem with enforcing his self-indulgent, egotistic attitude with verbal and physical abuse. The second time I walked down the aisle was to a kind man whose desperate need to be someone’s knight in shining armor was seamlessly matched to my deep-seeded need to be rescued. Both times, I had made a lifetime commitment and both times, that commitment failed because it was based not on mutual love and adoration, but on lies and human inadequacies.

My relationship with God has a lot in common with a marriage. I’ve made a lifetime commitment to Jesus. With all that I am, I have promised to love and obey him. To be with him through whatever life brings. To willingly share my life with him. However, our relationship is far from fairytale bliss. We have our share of troubled times too. There are times when I’m angry at him. When I take him for granted. Sometimes, I’d rather do it my own way, not his, and when that blows up in my face, I want him to rush in and fix it for me. Frequently, I find myself having to sacrifice my own plans and desires because I love him and he asks me to. My relationship with Jesus takes a lot of effort on my part. I have to make him a priority in my life and spend time with him in prayer and in his Word if we are to have a solid relationship. I’m growing and changing as a person because of my relationship with him.

One huge difference between my marriages and my relationship with God is that this commitment will last beyond a lifetime. God loves me more than I can comprehend and his patience with me and his forgiveness of my sinfulness are as eternal as he is. He won’t ever call it quits. He is with me 24/7 and I always have his attention. This relationship was truly meant to be because he created me to be in relationship with him and nothing has the power to come between us.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (August 2009)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Thank You for Your Time

This story came in a friend's email today:
It had been some time since Jack had seen the old man. College, girls, career, and life itself got in the way. In fact, Jack moved clear across the country in pursuit of his dreams. There, in the rush of his busy life, Jack had little time to think about the past and often no time to spend with his wife and son. He was working on his future, and nothing could stop him.

Over the phone, his mother told him, "Mr. Belser died last night. The funeral is Wednesday." Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood days.

"Jack, did you hear me?"

"Oh, sorry, Mom. Yes, I heard you. It's been so long since I thought of him. I'm sorry, but I honestly thought he died years ago," Jack said.

"Well, he didn't forget you. Every time I saw him, he'd ask how you were doing. He'd reminisce about the many days you spent over 'his side of the fence' as he put it," Mom told him.

"I loved that old house he lived in," Jack said.

"You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man's influence in your life," she said.

"He's the one who taught me carpentry," he said. "I wouldn't be in this business if it weren't for him. He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important….Mom, I'll be there for the funeral," Jack said.

As busy as he was, he kept his word. Jack caught the next flight to his hometown. Mr. Belser's funeral was small and uneventful. He had no children of his own, and most of his relatives had passed away. The night before he had to return home, Jack and his Mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time. Standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment. It was like crossing over into another dimension, a leap through space and time. The house was exactly as he remembered. Every step held memories. Every picture, every piece of furniture...Jack stopped suddenly.

"What's wrong, Jack?" his Mom asked.

"The box is gone," he said.

"What box?" Mom asked.

"There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk. I must have asked him a thousand times what was inside. All he'd ever tell me was 'the thing I value most,'" Jack said.

It was gone. Everything about the house was exactly how Jack remembered it, except for the box. He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it.

"Now I'll never know what was so valuable to him," Jack said. "I better get some sleep. I have an early flight home, Mom."

It had been about two weeks since Mr. Belser died. Returning home from work one day, Jack discovered a note in his mailbox. "Signature required on a package. No one at home. Please stop by the main post office within the next three days," the note read.

Early the next day Jack retrieved the package. The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed a hundred years ago. The handwriting was difficult to read, but the return address caught his attention. "Mr. Harold Belser" it read. Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package. There inside was the gold box and an envelope.

Jack's hands shook as he read the note inside. "Upon my death, please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett. It's the thing I valued most in my life." A small key was taped to the letter. His heart racing and tears filling his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box. There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch. Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover. Inside he found these words engraved: Jack – Thanks for your time! -Harold Belser."The thing he valued most time." Jack held the watch for a few minutes, then called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days.

"Why?" asked his assistant Janet.

"I need some time to spend with my son," he said. "Oh, by the way, Janet thanks for your time!"

What a great story! Okay, maybe a little predictable, but perhaps that’s just because it is an issue we all face. Time doesn’t give or stretch. One minute will always be exactly sixty seconds – no more and no less. What we do in that precious minute is really up to us. We are all given a specific amount of time to do with what we choose. When I look back on the time I’ve spent, I hope that I will smile at what I see instead of wince.

The word “time” began to consume my thoughts after I read this story. I thought about the time I spent with my son and how that time has run out. Next, I thought about how the time I spend with my parents is growing shorter every day and I don’t want to waste a minute. Then I thought about last night and how I found myself at 11:00 p.m. wondering what happened to the evening. When I left work, I had intended to spend some time reading my Bible and talking with God about things in my life. Instead, I spent most of the evening playing with and figuring out a new electronic toy. Before I knew it, I had spent my time and as I look back on it, I’m not smiling. So now I find myself asking: Am I spending my time in such a way that Jesus will be able to say to me “Thanks for your time” when my time runs out?

By the way, I know that today's entry is a little longer than usual and I just wanted to take a minute and thank you for your time.
About the pictures:
Modern Art Piece - Oakland, PA (2009)
Clock Tower - North Park Boat House (2009)