Friday, February 25, 2011

Where My Hope Lies

When I was five, my parents arranged a surprise birthday party for me. I couldn’t have been happier as I walked into the house to hear a living room full of friends shouting “SURPRISE!” and cheering. I was having the time of my life. That was until we got to the games.

In one of the games, each girl was to pick and pull one of a bunch of long strings. Each string was tied to a gift hidden around the corner in another room. The excitement grew as each girl pulled her string and a wonderful prize appeared from around the corner. Then it happened. At the end of one of my friend’s strings was the doll that I told everyone I wanted for my birthday. How could she? That was supposed to be my doll and she stole it! I burst into tears. My mother tried her best to console me but nothing would make up for that girl walking around with the present that was supposed to be mine. Are you laughing at me yet? I am!

Then my mother pulled me aside and told me that the present that she and Daddy got for me was a bigger version of that doll with all of the clothes and accessories a five-year-old could want. At the news, my happiness returned and the party was a big success.

As I look back on this moment, I can’t help but feel that my childish greed cheated me out of a greater degree of joy in the celebration. The surprise of opening the gift of the bigger doll (a mere token of my parents love) was lost. Decades later, the joy of that moment in my life and the memory of it are still tainted by my selfishness.

I hope to always remember this when faced with a disappointing situation in life. Maybe I won’t get something I’m hoping for or perhaps I’m unable to accomplish something I really wanted to do or I lose something dear to me. I need to remember that, from my limited perspective, I can never see the whole picture – but God can. He knows what he has planned for me and how and when it is to unfold in my life. I need to trust that he knows my desires and what I need and that the plans he has for me are nothing less than the fulfillment of his great love for me.

When dealing with those unrealized desires, I must choose to not despair over that something of value lost. I must choose to let go of the wants and needs I didn’t get, and grab hold of the truth that I just don’t know what God knows. Even when a bigger payoff (a bigger doll with all the stuff) doesn’t come, I don’t have to be disappointed. If I remember that my hope is not in the things and accomplishments in my life, but in God – then how can I be disappointed? My hope is never wasted or lost or unfulfilled when it is placed in God.

About the pictures:
Phipps Conservatory (May 2009)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Who Am I?

I am a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past redeemed, my present makes sense. My future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor in power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turn back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up, for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till he comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me; and when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me – my banner will be clear.
Anonymous African Pastor from Zimbabwe

I encountered this quote at a leadership gathering this past weekend. As I read these words, I felt I could hear the man’s passion, and could sense the joy he had in the Spirit and the confidence he had in these words he so elegantly articulated to those listening. I pictured an antagonist standing up in the crowd and asking this man, “Just who do you think you are to be telling us that this God of yours is the one true God” and the Christian pastor replying with this impassioned statement of who he is and why he is the man he is. There is no doubt remaining of this man’s devotion for and commitment to God nor of his intention to live into to this incredible picture of who he is.

I started wondering – who am I in Christ? What does God expect of me and what do I expect of myself? As God would have it, this line of questioning continued in my mid-week small group when we looked at the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Great Requirement.

The Great Commandment – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)

The Great Commission – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

The Great Requirement – He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

We were asked to consider what God expects of us in light of these scripture passages. Again, I found myself asking, “Who am I and what is expected of me?” It seems that I’ve been asking these very same questions all of my life, but now it’s more important for me to answer, not only for myself, but for the world of people around me. It’s been uppermost in my mind and my meditations this week. While it’s by no means my final answer, I have come to an understanding that will let me put this line of questioning away for awhile.

Who am I in Christ and what is expected of me? I am a unique creation of God tempered by the fire of pain and abuse, depression and grief – a gentle, joyous woman gifted with a heart for mercy. My arms ache to embrace the brokenhearted and my heart is full and overflowing with love and compassion for those who are hurting. I am a servant to those in need, a teacher, a leader, and always a friend. I am a beloved child of God Almighty, devoted servant of Christ Jesus, and faithful student of the Holy Spirit. God would have me to earnestly desire him to grow Jesus in me until I can see Jesus in every moment of my life as clearly as he sees Jesus in my heart. I expect me to let him – to let him work in and through me until that glorious day when he brings me home into his loving arms.

As I have been challenged this week, so now I pass the challenge onto you – Who are you in Christ and what is expected of you?

About the pictures:
North Park (May 2010)

Friday, February 11, 2011

He Gave Up God for Me

I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. (Romans 9:1-4, NIV)

Paul says something incredibly unbelievable here. He would give up his eternal relationship with Jesus Christ – he would trade his salvation – if that meant his countrymen would then know the grace and peace of a relationship with Christ. That begs the question, “Is there anyone I would give up my relationship with Christ for that they might in turn have a relationship with Christ?” Not just a chance at redemption, mind you, but an actual true and honest relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I have to admit, I’m not as good a person as Paul for I can think of no one that I would willingly give up Christ for, not even for their own salvation. Don’t get me wrong – I love you all with the love Christ has given me and I love my family and friends deeply and would give up everything else I have for them, but not my relationship with my Savior.

Why would Paul say such a thing? How could the Spirit have led Paul to write such a thing? And what about Jesus? What would he have said to Paul? Would he have reprimanded him? Told him that their relationship is too precious a thing to give up or consider giving away? But wait – Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did? Didn’t he leave behind his unique relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit to come to earth? And didn’t he, as he hung on the cross, give up all connection with the Father and the Holy Spirit so that I would have the opportunity to draw close to God if I so chose? As he called out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” he experienced the emptiness and hopelessness that exists in separation from God and it must have been intensified by the fact that he had known perfect communion with the Father and Spirit, and yet, willingly let it be ripped away so that you and I might one day enter into God’s grace and redemption.

All I can say is, “Praise Jesus, my Lord and Savior!” Thank you Lord for your sacrifice and for the grace and love I now enjoy in our ever deepening relationship.

About the pictures:
Camp Crestfield, Slippery Rock, PA (January 2011)

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Gospel According to Chain Email

While checking my email this morning, I was gathering my thoughts trying to discern what God was trying to teach me through the events of this week. After reading two emails received from a friend, the light went on and I knew that this is what God wanted me to share today.

The first email was full of Ponderables, some of which I have included here for your amusement:

1) If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?

2) If a cow laughed, would she spew milk out of her nose?

3) Why do croutons come in airtight packages? Aren't they just stale bread to begin with?

4) Why isn't the number 11 pronounced onety one?

5) If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn't it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?

6) If it's true that we are here to help others, then what exactly are the others here for?

Then I opened the following email about two horses.

There is a place in the countryside with a field that has two horses in it. From a distance, each horse looks like any other horse. But if you stop your car, or are walking by, you will notice something quite amazing.... looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that he is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him put down, but has made a good home for him. This alone is amazing.

If you stand nearby and listen, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to the horse's halter is a small bell. It lets the blind friend know where the other horse is, so he can follow.

As you stand and watch these two friends, You'll see that the horse with the bell is always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse will listen for the bell and then slowly walk to where the other horse is, trusting that he will not be led astray. When the horse with the bell returns to the shelter of the barn each evening, it stops occasionally and looks back, making sure that the blind friend isn't too far behind to hear the bell.

Like the owner of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we have problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need. Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives. Other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way. You may not always see them, but you know they are always there. Please listen for my bell and I'll listen for yours.

I guess we just found the answer to Ponderable #6.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:8-10, NIV)

About the pictures:

Blackwater State Park (May 2010)