Friday, April 30, 2010

Where Is Your Compass Pointing?

Have you ever really looked at a compass? I’ve never had a need for a compass before but I have one on my cell phone and thought it would be fun to play with it once. I opened the app, turned around until the compass pointed north and then watched as the dial slowly creeped from side to side. I was trying to sit very still, but just my shallow breathing was enough to move me and the compass needle a few degrees off north. So I thought if I put it down on a solid surface, I could move it around until it was at 0ยบ and it would stay there, but I was wrong! Perhaps, no matter how still I try to be, my position in relation to north is always changing slightly as the earth orbits.

This week was challenging for me. A dear friend had to once again point me toward Jesus as I dealt with some uncomfortable memories. I don’t know why, when I’m struggling, I find it so hard to remember to seek Jesus’ face. If I’m not looking for him in the hard-to-deal-with moments, I’m not looking in the right direction. When I’m not looking to Jesus, the enemy’s lies that I am worthless, unlovable, and invisible begin to seem like the truth. You know what I mean. Those lies that say "you did a terrible thing and God could never love you because of it" feel so real when you’re not looking into Jesus’ eyes, when you’re not seeing the scars that prove his undying love for you on his hands and feet. Sometimes we hide our faces, afraid that if we look for Jesus, what we will see is him walking away, abandoning us, while a small devious voice whispers, “Do you blame him?” See what being just a few degrees off in our faith journey can lead to.

As humans, we just don’t have an acute enough sense of spiritual direction to keep us on the right path. Even if we could stumble into Jesus’ light on our own somehow, life continues and that would be enough, even if we tried our very best to be still, to move us a few degrees off our path. We do have a spiritual compass, if you will, in the Holy Spirit. He dwells within each of us and, like the compass needle, will consistently navigate us in the right direction. He will always point us to Jesus. We need to open our hearts and our minds to the Spirit and he will faithfully guide us back into the full and glorious view of our loving Savior. He will direct us through the forests, deserts, and grasslands of our faith journey in the dark of night and the light of day, through the storm and the calm, until we reach the destination God has set for us. Where is your compass pointing today?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Desert Places

The material world will tell you that only two things are certain in life – death and taxes. However, when Christ is in his rightful place as Lord and Savior of your life, there are many inevitable things we can all count on like grace and forgiveness, miracles, hope, Christ’s return, struggles and desert places. It is the desert places that have been on my mind this week. By desert places I mean those dry, dull times in your life when God seems distant and you can’t remember the last God moment in your life. When we’re in the desert places, worship, prayer, reading scripture and even acts of service can feel empty – like we’re just going through the motions. What’s a person to do when she finds herself lost in the middle of the Sahara Dessert of her faith journey?

I asked some friends to tell me what they do when they are in their desert places and was blessed with a long list of practical ideas to share:

• I wait. Not a “sitting around” sort of waiting, but a “go about daily tasks” sort of waiting. I remind myself that God can be found in the ordinary and everyday things of home. So I make cookies. Drink a cup of tea. Go outside. And here is perhaps the most important thing: I remind myself that God’s existence and actions do not depend on my feelings, or on my knowing that God is near. God is there whether I can feel God or not. Sooner or later I notice God showing up.

• I pray. A lot!

• This is going to sound ironic, but I go to the wilderness to clear my head and listen to God's guidance. Nature is the place where I seem to be able to expedite the process of removing the distractions I have placed between God and me. The calmness and serenity that nature instills in my soul is like a hug from Jesus.

• I read and re-read Psalm 13 and Psalm 139. Psalm 13, because it is David's lament over feeling that God is ignoring him and gone off somewhere and ends with his determination to trust in God's goodness anyway. Psalm 139, because it reminds me that God has been with me from my conception, whether I knew it or not. This means (to me, at least) that he is with me even when I feel alone and separate from Him.

• I listen to worship music. That takes me back to the throne.

• I go to Luke 8:40-48. Sometimes I need to touch just the hem of His cloak, that is all I am worthy of or able to do. That is where I go when I feel like I am in the wilderness.

• I pray. Go to the Word. Talk to a friend. And hang on for dear life because I know God is hanging onto me.

A pastor friend of mine compared it to the Israelites’ forty years of wandering in the desert after God brought them out of Egypt: Time in the desert is both good news and bad news. The bad news - no one likes the desert. God does not take you into the desert for a good time. God leads you into the desert to teach you to once again turn back to him as your only source of hope. The challenge of the desert is to keep praying - to keep reading - to keep believing even when everything in your soul tells you to turn away. The good news? Even Israel was led out of the desert into the Promised Land. God doesn't leave anyone in the desert forever. The desert is about re-establishing your foundation.

The Gospels tell us that after Jesus was baptized, he was led by the Spirit into the desert. Even Jesus had a desert place in his journey. It occurred to me that there are some truths that we can take from his time in the desert.

1. Our desert time is finite. God has already planned our journey out.

2. While we may not know or understand why we are here, how we got here, or where we are going - there is a Godly purpose for our desert isolation. It is not a curse or reprimand from God, but a blessing.

3. We are not alone. The Spirit guides us into the desert, stays with us every step of the way, and guides us back out in his own timing. His attention never wavers from us. He stands ready to protect us. He will encourage us to accomplish what we can and help when we need it. (Read Psalm 139:7-12 if you doubt the Spirit is with you every moment.)

Here is the most important thing you can take away from today’s blog: You are not alone. Your heart might not feel God’s presence, your senses may fool you into believing you are empty and isolated, but the Spirit is in you and with you. He cares for you and protects you. He guides and teaches you even when you think you cannot hear his voice. God has a wonderful way of breaking through the silence without making a sound. You are not unreachable to him. He sees and hears you. He has not abandoned you and you will not slip through his fingers.

About the pictures:
North Park (2004)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Preaching the Gospel St. Francis-Style

I recently received an email that tells the touching story of a college-aged new Christian named Bill who attends his first worship service at a very conservative, traditional church wearing flip flops, jeans and a t-shirt with holes. His unkempt hair and less-than-casual attire draw the eyes of everyone in the crowded church. People are looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. Not a seat is to be found as Bill walks down the aisle getting closer and closer to the pulpit. Finding no available seat, and to the dismay of many, he just sits right down on the carpet in the aisle. The story goes on to tell about a deacon of that church who is in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, and is wearing a three-piece suit. He is a godly man, very elegant, very dignified, and very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this young man, everyone is saying to themselves that you can't blame him for what he's going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor? The church is utterly silent except for the clicking of the man's cane. All eyes are focused on him. You can't even hear anyone breathing. It takes a long time for the man to reach the boy. The elderly man drops his cane on the floor and with great difficulty, he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won't be alone. Everyone chokes up with emotion. When the minister gains control, he says, “What I'm about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget.”

While the story may be contrived, it is an excellent example of the kind of thing that Christ did throughout his ministry. In his love and compassion, he ate with the sinners, healed the sick, and gave hope to the desolate while the religious people of the time shunned the sinners, blamed the sick for their own infirmities and mocked the desolate. He gave his time and his attention to the outcasts and the forgotten. While the elite lorded their own traditions and rules over the less fortunate, the Lord reflected the heart of God in service to them.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he instructed his disciples to spread the good news to all creation and, as his followers, that is our call as well. We need to be in earnest prayer that God would shine through all we do each and every day. Our desire must be that in all we say and do, Christ is the impression that is left on the minds and hearts of those we come in contact with. God blesses us to be a blessing to others. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. Like the old man in the story, we may have to struggle to show Christ’s love and because we are human, we will often fail. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that we have the great privilege of being in a loving relationship with God Almighty and we have the extraordinary responsibility and joy of reaching out to the world around us in his Name.

"Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” -St. Francis of Assisi

About the pictures:
North Park (2009)

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Chocolate Bunny Love for Jesus

He is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed!

Wait a minute. That was last week, wasn’t it? You might be thinking I’m a little confused, but I promise you I’m not. Last Sunday, all Christians around the world gathered to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus and the incredible gift of forgiveness and eternal life he offers to all people everywhere through his loving act of grace on the cross. Many of us gathered in flowery sanctuaries to sing and praise His name for an hour and left with the church bells still ringing in our ears as we headed to the house to be with family. At some point during the day, children ran around their homes or their yards looking for the hidden Easter candy and presents and then gorged themselves on the chocolate bunny and jelly beans from their Easter baskets while mom cooked dinner. But this is the Friday after and life is back to normal now, even for those employed by the church. So why did I start today’s blog with the traditional Easter greeting?

Last Sunday, as I walked into my brother’s home, my ten-year old niece came running to the front door to greet me. “Aunt Maureen, guess what I got?!” The twinkle in her eyes and huge smile had me curious. What could she have gotten that was worthy of this much enthusiasm. You would have thought it was Christmas with as excited as she was. She ran back to her Easter basket in the kitchen and picked up a chocolate bunny and some chocolate coins and ran into the hall to show them to me. “I got a chocolate bunny and chocolate coins!” she sang as she jumped up and down. Now you may find this an odd picture for a ten-year old to get this excited over some Easter candy, but here’s what you don’t know. My niece has life-threatening allergies to eggs and milk. She doesn’t even have to eat it, just touch milk or eggs or someone else who has touched them for her to be rushed to the emergency room with an asthma attack or possibly in anaphylactic shock. It’s almost impossible to find the standard chocolate bunny that doesn’t contain milk or that was made and wrapped by machines that have not been used to make or wrap candy that contains these ordinary, yet deadly for her, ingredients. So now you understand her enthusiasm. This is the second year in a row that she has found a chocolate bunny in her basket just like her older siblings and her enthusiasm for this special Easter gift has not waned one bit.

When I saw her on Tuesday for lunch, she again, excitedly reached into her lunch box and pulled out a couple of the chocolate coins to show me. The gleam in her eye sparkled just as brightly as it had on Sunday. I asked her if she had eaten her chocolate bunny yet and she told me she had only a couple of bites. I had to smile. I knew that she was savoring every bit of this incredible gift – one she thought she would never be able to have and now is hers to devour.

It got me to thinking about the incredible gift we all received on Easter. Am I savoring it? Do my eyes sparkle like my niece’s when I talk about his forgiveness? Am I so excited, even days or weeks later, that I am compelled to jump for joy? God came to earth, shared with us who he is, spent time among us. Then he took on our sin and the death penalty that goes with it upon himself. When I read about his death on the cross, do I read it as just another piece of history, something that happened long ago, or do I see that every day I am given this extraordinary and beautiful gift of the Savior’s love and grace? Do I celebrate it only on Easter or each and every day of the rest of the new life he died and rose to give me? Well, maybe I didn’t in the past, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start right now. My hope is that from now on, I will start each day celebrating that He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

About the pictures:
Phipps Conservatory (2009)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What Was Jesus Thinking?

As you read this poem, I hope you will know deep in your heart that Jesus really did die for "you." It was not the Roman guard or the religious leaders that caused him to be on that cross - it was your sin and my sin. It was not the nails that fastened him to the wood, but his steadfast love for each of us. And it was not his own fate he pondered in his last hours, but ours. May you be blessed this Easter week with the joy and victory Jesus died and rose from the dead to give us. Rejoice! He Is Risen!

With every wicked word they cast on you,
You stood in silence,
     your thoughts on me.
In every flesh-tearing sting of a whip meant for me,
each crushing blow of the rod rightfully mine,
beyond the painful torment,
     you thought of me.
Each drop you bled under my crown of thorns,
each agonizing step
     you struggled to drag my cross
and when one more step you could not take,
     in your resolve,
          you thought of me.
You willingly climbed upon my cross
and pictured my face
     as they drove each nail.
Every pain-filled scream declaring your love,
Each disgrace endured to remove my shame,
and in the silent stillness of a tomb,
     you thought of me.
Meeting the dawn of Easter morn
You rose to shut death’s ominous door.
Strolling away from the grave’s embrace
     A heavenly smile.
          A victorious stride.
Your eyes gleaming with eternal love’s light
     and your thoughts are of me.

Maureen Profeta