Monday, May 26, 2014

Finding God's Joy in a Moment of Despair

A Moment of Despair
Consumed is my mind, my heart
with thoughts of a past long gone—
of a mother and her son.
Endure another moment—
take another breath.
I close my eyes to see him,
to cup his face in my hands
and live vicariously 
through the impressions 
of a decaying memory.
The memories are waning.
They live now only in a few faded photos
tucked away in a box on a shelf.
The years have taken with them 
all but a few remaining flashes,
echoes, really
of a life I sometimes dream I lived.
There is no weight as crushing
as a mother's empty arms. Aching to hold my child,
almost remembering the feel of his skin,
his smell.
I try to remember his voice, his laugh
while my vacant arms embrace the air.
Silent tears spill down my face
and the pieces of my broken heart 
collapse within my chest
as the hollow settles in.
Oh how I miss him.
Grief is a part of love and life. We all know someone who has died or has suffered the death of a loved one. It's part of living in a fallen world. Death and the grief it causes were not in God's original plan. We invited them in with our sinfulness. Even still, God does not leave us alone in our grief. My grief was unexpectedly triggered this past week—the pain of which was poured into the poem above. I'm sure it resonated with some part of your own experience. After all, not one of us can avoid the pain of loss. 
However, with God's help, we can overcome it. Even though I’m not quite through this particular moment of grief yet, I know that God is and will comfort me and carry me through to victory over death and all its consequences. My hope is in the Lord. Having faced the deaths of loved ones while he was here on earth and then dying himself on a cross for our sins—my sins—Jesus understands my grief better than anyone else. God reaches down into the pit of my grief and pulls me out every time, through the love and concern and action of others and through his Spirit's hold on my heart. 
God's strength and love have brought me through a tragedy—the death of child. My son was twelve years old when he was killed. God doesn't "give" me hard times, though he often allows difficulties into my life to shape and form me. It's the friction and resistance of my life circumstances that God uses to mold me into the vision of me he had in mind when he created me. And God created from the depth of my pain an understanding and empathy for others who are hurting. In bringing comfort and peace to my heart, and joy back in my life, God has also given me a great responsibility and the privilege of caring for those who are hurting. I've received the comfort I needed so I could pass it along to someone else who needs it now. That's an important job and he is with me to give me the strength and courage to love his hurting children as he loves me. God uses me as the lighthouse they are desperately searching for in the darkness and chaos of their pain to guide them to the Solid Rock upon which I stand, my foundation, Jesus Christ. 

The best advice I can give anyone who feels like the pain and trials of their lives are overwhelming them is to ask God to heal you, to help you overcome, and then watch him put that miracle to work for his glory in the lives of others. That is the secret to finding and knowing God's joy!

I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow," declares the LORD. Jeremiah 31:13 NIV

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV

Monday, May 19, 2014

What Does Jesus Do All Day?

This weekend, I attended a worship service where the custom of the congregation was to share stories of where they saw Jesus in their lives during the week. I was encouraged to hear how Jesus had provided safe travel, brought estranged sisters together, comforted the sick, and provided for the people of this congregation. As they took turns sharing, I looked back on my week and wondered where I saw Jesus. I know he was there because he promised he would be with me always until the end of the age. So why was I having such a hard time coming up with a God sighting from my week. Then an old story came to mind:

One day a man comes home from work to find total mayhem at home. The kids were outside still in their pajamas playing in the mud and muck. There were empty food boxes and wrappers all around. As he proceeded into the house, he found an even bigger mess. Dishes on the counter, dog food spilled on the floor, a broken glass under the table, and a small pile of sand by the back door. The family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing, and a lamp had been knocked over. He headed up the stairs, stepping over toys, to look for his wife. He was becoming worried that she may be ill, or that something had happened to her. He found her in the bedroom, still in bed with her pajamas on, reading a book. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. 
He looked at her bewildered and asked, "What happened here today?" 
She again smiled and answered, "You know everyday when you come home from work and ask me what I did today?" 
"Yes, was his reply."
She answered, "Well, today I didn't do it!" 

All of a sudden, it made sense why I couldn't pick out a specific moment from the previous week when I saw Jesus. I habitually take for granted what God does in my life. We all do. When something becomes routine, we hardly, if ever, notice it anymore. This morning I woke up! My heart beats and my lungs breathe without my even thinking about it! Food was abundant in three full meals (and a snack) with little to no effort on my part. Not to mention all the things I have and take for granted-a car, an apartment of my own and all the stuff I can fit in it, more clothes in my closet than I can wear in a week-the list goes on. I'm so blessed by what God does on a daily basis in my life. And then on top of the daily miracles of my routine life, he chooses to bless me abundantly with special moments of encouragement, comfort, hope, and love, through the actions of those around me and his presence in my day is hard to overlook. I can't find a moment in my week when God wasn't present.

The preacher then turned the tables a bit with her sermon. She reminded us that we are the conduits of God's presence and his blessings to others in our homes, our community, and the world. I'm not in this world for me, but for God. He brought me into being and has work for me to do in his creation. There are people he wants to encourage, comfort, and bring hope to through me. He want to show up in their week and he plans to do it with me. That led me to wonder if there was someone in the world today who was able to report that they saw Jesus in their week through my love and obedience to the Lord's calling on my life. Was there at least one moment when anyone saw Jesus in me? 

How about you? Is there someone, somewhere in the world, who saw Jesus in their week because you offered a kind word when it was needed or shared your lunch with someone in need? Did you visit a sick friend or help someone at work with a project? Don't worry if you're unhappy with your answers. No one can ever live up to God's standard and we'll always have room for improvement. Rather, rejoice and remember that because of God's grace, we can start again, right now, to seek God's will more actively and to be the blessing to others that God desires us to be so that they may see him in us and know his love for them in a real and personal way.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Love isn't Love Until It's Shared

No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 1 John 4:12 (NLT)

For God, loving is easy—it’s who God is. The bible tells us God is love. That says to me that God would have to stop being God in order to not love someone. So why does God want to express his love for the world through you and me? Let’s face it—love is hard and humans aren’t very good at it. We have to be taught to share, to wait, to let someone else go first. We want what we want and we don’t like to inconvenience ourselves.

Love means putting aside my priorities, my needs, my desires, and sometimes even self-preservation, to take on another’s priorities, needs, desires and protection. Love is doing this whole-heartedly and without condition. It’s easier when it’s someone I care for and am in relationship with—family and friends, maybe even a neighbor or two. But God also wants to show love to those who are different from me and those who have hurt me. God’s love is encountered in the respect I have for them, the help I give, the encouragement and comfort I share, and the forgiveness I grant. Now that’s a lot of “I”s in one statement, especially when the subject is God’s love and that’s the point of the question—why does God choose to show his love for a world of people through me, especially when I’m so bad at it!

Maybe it’s because being loved is easy and takes no effort and therefore is not as rare and precious a gift as the gift of loving one another. Maybe loving others is one of God’s greatest gifts to me. Being loved make me feel good and valued. Loving another humbles me and shapes my heart and my life to be more like God and the person God created me to be. Being loved brings joy and hope. Loving others brings healing, first in me and then in others. Love isn’t something I can produce. It’s a grace and blessing God has planted and nurtured in me and love isn’t really love until that grace and blessing blossoms into the shared experience of God, me and another.

No matter who you are or when you are reading this, I want you to know that you are loved!!! And maybe someday God will grant me the privilege of sharing that wonderful blessing with you in person.

Monday, May 5, 2014

I Gotta Be Me

All of my life I have struggled with little to no self-esteem. I just couldn’t see my own value and, truth be told, it’s still a daily challenge. I look at the people around me and see how generous or magnetic or beautiful or adventurous they are and wish I could be more like that. This wish burrows into my mind and I begin to think that my lack of their outstanding quality make me inferior. Add to this that my own exceptional qualities (whatever they are) escape me because they’re in my blind spot. Before long I’m terribly unhappy with myself because I’m not more like the people I encounter. We’ve all felt this way and we’re wrong.

The bible is very clear on the fact that God made all of us uniquely to work together as one body towards his goal of bringing the Kingdom of God throughout the world in His Spirit through us (1 Corinthians 12-31). God made me the person I am, just as I am. Now my sinful nature has perverted God’s creation to a point, but I am who I am because this is how God envisioned me. He gave me many gifts that I often overlook because they are with me always. Years ago, I hung a piece of paper just inside my front door that says “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4) so that I would see it and remember it every day as I walked out my door and head out into the world. A couple of months ago, it came up in conversation with friends that I have that paper there but never see it anymore. It’s been there so long and consistently that I now overlook it as I head out the door. Then one day –there it was again—I couldn’t not see it if I tried. You see, my friend had covertly turned it upside down on the door. Now it stood out! Just like this verse on my door, my own gifts tend to escape my notice.

However this week, God turned them upside down, so to speak, through a book I was reading call Joining Jesus on His Mission – How to be an Everyday Missionary by Greg Finke which I highly recommend. I read the book because I saw myself lacking as God’s representative in my little part of the world and was trying to figure out how to become one. What I found was that I was, once again, overlooking what God was already doing through me and the special gifts he blessed me with in the mission field of my neighborhood, my workplace and my community. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement and growth – but who among us doesn’t need a little of that!

I have two brothers and growing up my older brother was the responsible, studious, intelligent one, my younger brother was the athletic, outgoing, charismatic one, and I was the emotional, creative, quiet one. We were like three puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly to form the picture of well-rounded person. But too often, I wanted to be more like them than myself. Imagine one of those puzzle pieces trying to be one of the other puzzle pieces. Not only will it fail to fit into the other piece’s place but it leaves its own place empty in its foolish attempt to be something it was never created to be. God created me to be me and when I face him in eternity, he’s not going to ask me why I wasn’t more like my brothers or my friends or those I admire. He’s going to want to hear what I did with the unique and precious gifts he gave me. What an awesome responsibility it is to be me. I want to please God so I better get started on being the best me that I can.