Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nothing to be thankful for....

So you think you have nothing to be thankful for?  It's that time of year again when Americans are filling their kitchens with turkey, mashed potatoes, pies, cranberry sauce, and any other number of holiday food traditions associated with Thanksgiving.  Social media sites are loaded with anecdotes about thankfulness, with people using the twenty-some-odd day build up to the fourth Thursday in November to list, each day, one person or thing in their lives they are grateful for.  If you're one of those, who even in the cheery light of this season cannot seem to discover one thing to bring a smile to your face in the midst of your circumstances... it probably becomes tiresome.  There is probably a point where everybody else's overwhelming thankfulness twists into overwhelming vanity about their own happy circumstances.  "Look how great my life is!" they seem to say.  All you can think of may be "Good for you and la-tee-da!  My life sucks!"

I would challenge you that no matter your circumstances, your life is chock full of blessing.

There it is; the gauntlet is on the ground.  How can I possibly making such a sweeping statement when, you're right, I may not know you personally or be acquainted with those things that keep you up at night or too-readily pursue you into dismal dreams?  I can say this with confidence because of Ecclesiastes 3:11, a passage I have often quoted, which states:

"God has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."(emphasis mine)

"God has made everything beautiful in its time."  I've looked at the Hebrew in which this was written.  Everything has no caveats, no exceptions.  It literally means what it says: God has made ALL THINGS beautiful.  Why is it past tense?  Because God does not function inside our understanding of time.  For Him, all things that have ever been or ever will be have been simultaneously known to Him since before the dawn of time.  He Sees your misery and despair when people reject you again and again and again and you can't figure out why.  He Sees your frustration and grief when you fail at the same things over and over again and can't seem to change them or yourself.  He's there in the house with you when your mother or your father or your siblings don't love you the way they should and leave you broken inside.

But how can those things be beautiful; what can possibly undo what has been done?  That's a difficult question, you're absolutely right.  If we sat down together and you told me your circumstances... I probably wouldn't be able to give you a precise answer to what exactly about your particular circumstance is beautiful.  It would probably tear my heart apart to hear what you're going through, to know how much you are hurting.  But I can tell you this, we "cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."  God is so much bigger and so much more powerful and so much more loving and caring and wise than all the wisdom and all the knowledge of all humanity has ever been or ever will be.  We cannot grasp even a teaspoon of all that He is up to in the story of all humanity or even in your single life.  But He is up to something.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love himwho have been called according to his purpose." - Romans 8:28 (NIV)

In those horrible circumstances, God has promised to work, to be present, to turn those things that seem beyond redemption into something beautiful... something for your good and maybe the good of others far beyond yourself.  Trust this promise, and all the promises, God has made.  He is faithful to them; to you.  This is the God who created all things in all the universe and then gave it to you to rule over (Psalm 8.)  This is the God who did not spare His son, Jesus, but sent Him to this world to die the most gruesome, torturous death of the time period, in order to have a relationship with you (John 3:17).

My friend... whoever you are, whatever circumstances you are in... you have so much to be grateful for.  

"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." - Ephesians 3:17b-19a(NIV) 

Friday, November 16, 2012


Perspective... I think it's something we often live our lives without.  Yes, there are moments of clarity when we step back and look at this big, beautiful world in which we live, at the possessions that we surround ourselves with... and realize how blessed we are... but oftentimes I think our field of vision is much narrower than that.  We run through our days like a blinkered racehorse, able only to see what is right ahead of us, not realizing how short the race is in the great scheme of all that will be.

In this race of life... we get caught up in all the things we think we need.  We need more money, we need a better car, we need new shoes, to see the latest movie, to get the newest cell phone or laptop or tablet, to get the trendiest clothes, to have a nicer kitchen, a nicer bedroom, a bigger house, a cup of ice cream!  Maybe we don't process those as all the same level of importance at a conscious level, but how many times have you wanted one of the things on this list and felt upset, even "cheated," if you didn't get them?  I know I have.

Yet, as you read this, there are children starving to death in countries all over the world who would gladly eat the leftovers in your trashcan.  There are people fleeing and dying under the rule of despotic rulers as their homes and livelihoods are burned to the ground.  There are women being brutalized who would give anything for one day where they could be certain no one would hurt them.  There are men desperately trying to find any sort of work because they have a family depending on them to survive.  What those men wouldn't give to have a minimum wage job at any fast food chain in the United States.

I am not writing this to make you ashamed of the blessings God has given you.  They are gifts from our Heavenly Father, and we should never feel ashamed of honest gain.  But I ask, first of myself but also of you... that we keep these things in perspective.  In Matthew 4, Jesus tells the "Parable of the Sower" about a man sowing seeds for harvest.  The seeds are the faith of people, and the soil is the type of environment in which the faith lives or dies.  In verses 18&19, "Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful."  

When we focus completely on the things that we desire of this life, we forget that we are living with an eternal perspective, that God has "set eternity in the hearts of men" (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Satan tries to take the things of this life and blind us with them, waving them before our eyes so we can see nothing else, and before long, we are dancing to his tune. 

So as you go through life, I encourage you to remember that God has set eternity in your heart, and though the things of this life may seem so crucial and so necessary and so absolutely important...yet Psalm 39:5b(NIV) says, "Each man’s life is but a breath."  Rather than be distracted by these things, which though painful last less than a breath, remember this from 2 Corinthians 4:14-18(NIV):

"We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.  All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dying to succeed....

When I was in high school - no... let's be honest - WHENEVER I was in school, I was one of those students.  You can pinpoint them a mile away: the walking-as-fast-as-I-can-without-running footsteps from class to class, the high-pitched anxiety voice at finals week, the dark circles under the eyes from studying into the night and getting up early, the has-no-social-life-because-over-committed schedule, and the over-analytical critique of every bit of homework or test returned with anything below an "A" written at the top.  That was me.  I remember lying in bed at night, unable to sleep because of my anxiety over a project that was coming due or an upcoming concert or sporting event that I wasn't convinced was perfected yet.  High school was even worse, as I climbed the "ladder of success" in the academic, music, and athletic worlds into which I immersed myself.  Looking back, I am admittedly proud of my accomplishments... but there's also a sense that I lost focus of those things that really matter, sometimes.

Now, what can I mean by that, you might wonder.  From the list above, it sounds like I was prioritizing all the right things.  It wasn't like I was spending time getting high or drunk or skipping classes to slum around town with friends.  But I've become more and more convinced that you can be doing "all the right things" and still be "missing the mark" of what really matters.  School, whether it was sports, music or academics, consumed my life back then.  I lost sleep over those things.  Those things were the focus of my life.  Yet, if we read Matthew 6:21&24(NIV):

 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also... No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

What does this passage have to do with school is probably your next question.  The word "money" in this passage is actually a Greek word that more directly translates "treasure."  The concept, then, is that you cannot serve both God and that which you treasure most highly.  When I was in high school and even college, as I said, my life REVOLVED around school and the success I felt I needed in order to move forward and be successful in life.  I was devoted to it.  I gave most of my time to it, my focus to it... even my health at times.  I was convinced that my future depended on my performance in school.  Do you see where I'm going?  I was trusting in academic/musical/athletic success to secure for myself a good future.  I should have been trusting God with that future, the God who died and lives for me, the God who created all things and is responsible for the continuation of all life in this universe, the God who has worked throughout history and every day in order to ensure that I will live eternally with Him. But I was trusting in myself, my success, and my hard work to take care of my future.  Within my own heart, I had dethroned the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (1 Timothy 6:15) and seated myself as Lord.

Now, I am not saying academic, musical, or athletic success are in-and-of-themselves bad things.  I'm not saying you shouldn't seek to do well in those God-pleasing pursuits you have committed to.  I am saying that we so easily put our trust in those things, in our ability to be successful in them because we so often buy into the expectations of this world that say we must be successful in these things to have a good life.  Remember that it is in God that we "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28a) and it is Christ that "was given authority, glory and sovereign power"(Daniel 7:14a) over all times and peoples.  Rather than fretting over the things of this world, simply do what you are able, and remember this passage, which has been central in my faith walk since I was young:

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?   Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
-Matthew 6:25-34(NIV)