Friday, May 29, 2009

Thickets and Thorns

Recently I visited a friend who lives on a farm and they have quite a bit of land. In the morning we went on an epic hike through pastures, meadows and the woods. It was fun! And also a bit arduous. At one point we were going through thickets filled with thorns and brush. There was no way to avoid the thorns as we made our way through. We just had to plunge through. Thankfully I was wearing a fleece, jeans and sneakers so I did not get scratched up. But the others with me had sandals on and their ankles and feet got scratched up in the process. Finally we made it through these thickets and emerged in a clear wood where the walking was easier and more pleasant.

Those thickets impressed me, though. There was no way to avoid the thorns.We tried to take the best path but even then the thorns still stuck out. Is not this true of life? On this side of Heaven there is no utopia where there is no temptation, no difficulties and no pain. It is everywhere and it will effect us, no matter what life we are living. The most diligent, productive Christian life will contain these temptations, difficulties and pain. So what do we do? Do we stand there waiting to be translated upward? Do we turn and run? Do we dig a hole? No, we plunge right through. God has given us tools and armor so that the thorns won't hinder us. The covering of His protection and the Armor of God enable us to keep marching in the Christian walk. I did get pricked a few times, and there is certainly pain in everyone's life. After all, Jesus experienced more pain than anyone. But we have the shield of faith to protect us and the constancy of Christ's presence that we can ever move forward. By faith, Jesus conquered and in the same way we conquer. Whether in the thorny thicket or in the wooded vale, we press on. We move forward covered by His hand and leaning on His promises, by faith

Monday, May 25, 2009

Silly Cat.......Silly Humans?

I love my cat Belle. I think she is beautiful and amazing. But she is silly. She can be such a scaredy cat. Belle loves to sit in my open window at the screen for hours at end. She cranes her neck to see birds in the tree outside the window. She paws at bugs that land on the screen. She will also sit by the screen door which goes to the back deck. By all appearances she would love to escape through the screen and enjoy the freedom of the great outdoors. But whenever I pick her up and move 4 feet out the screen door to sit in a chair on the deck with her on my lap she freaks out! She whimpers and whines pathetically, struggling to escape my grasp and run back in doors. Her observable behavior is deceptive. She looks like she would love the outdoors but it is not so. And it is disappointing! I would love to have a contented kitty cat on my lap as I sit enjoying the sunshine. But it seems that this will not likely happen for a long time if ever.

Are we like Belle? Would someone observing us come to conclusions that aren't actually so? Do we talk up who we aren't? Are we fascinated by lives we would never have the guts to lead? What about those professing a Christian life? I am reminded of a quote that goes something like, nominal Christians read mission stories but real Christians live mission stories. We live in a world that is all about entertainment but rarely about experiencing life. We watch others experience and expressing life. Think reality TV, think movies, think sports, think many books. But what are our own lives? Are we so entranced by what other people are doing that we don't do anything ourselves? Are we really living life?

Belle is missing out. She could feel the grass under her paws. She could look up at the big blue sky and watch the birds swooping above her head. She could be sniffing bugs and plants which her little nose has never experienced before. Her fear is holding her back in what she could see and what I could show her.

Is God disappointed with us? Is our fear holding back from what He is able to show us and do through us?

Belle has nothing to fear because I would be with her the entire time she would be outside. Likewise, we have nothing to fear as well. The Creator and Sustainer of the Universe is at our side. What are we afraid of?

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.
Deuteronomy 31:6

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Weather of our Hearts

This past Sabbath afternoon as I came home the sky was dark and dreary. Rain was to be expected and rain it did. In fact, it stormed. I was reading on my bed with my cat Belle nearby. Her ears expressed concern at the sound of the thunder. I comforted her fears and continued to read. A little while later I noticed that Belle’s ears were no longer concerned; she was fast asleep and the room seemed visibly lighter than it had been before. I glanced out the window and indeed the mood was greatly changed. The sun was out and the blue sky was displayed around fluffy white clouds. Wow! What a change. Soon I found myself perusing the adjacent fields before settling under a tree to examine violets, watch the birds, ponder life and pray. The lavender of the lilacs, the green of the new leaves and the brightness of the blue sky all combined as a beautiful landscape set against the sound of the breeze and the serenade of the birds in the trees around me.

Isn’t it interesting how weather can dictate our behavior? Should the sky be stormy and thundering, we most likely will not do lawn work, clean the eaves or wash the car. We’re more likely to curl up with a cat on a bed or clean out the cupboards in the warm, dry and predictable indoors. Minus a tree falling on the house, those plans would be able to be accomplished with no hindrance by the storm. However, if the weather is bright, sunny and warm we are much more likely to tackle some landscaping or just sit and bask in the sun.

What is weather anyways? According to my Encarta encyclopedia “weather” can be described as “the state of the atmosphere.” Weather is certainly an external condition which we are all used to. But I think there is a valid comparison between the external weather and the internal weather of our hearts. What is the “state of the atmosphere” of your life? Are we like Tennessee a few weeks ago where one day was 80 degrees, the next 50 degrees and then it was stormy for a week straight? Or are we predictably pleasant like a stretch of summer in the Northeast?

What should the state of the atmosphere of our lives be?

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you,” – Isaiah 26:3.

This world is going out of control. It can be a blinding wind and a blur of confusion. Like the weather, our lives: our minds and hearts can become so muddled and confused. But God’s desire for His people is to live in peace.

As I sat under that tree and thought and prayed, the simplicity of the Christian life came in to my mind.

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man,” Ecclesiastes 12:13b.

Trust God. Obey God. Be at peace. That is it. He will take care of His people. My mom experienced this this past week. She was nearly in an accident but God took care of her. He takes care of His people. We have nothing to fear if our faith is in Him. Our minds and our hearts can be as calm, clear and serene as a warm, sunny summer day. :-)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What I Learned At College

One of the most amusing things I liked to do randomly these past years was to call up my dad and say something along the lines of, "Hey, I learned something today! I learned _____." To which he would respond somewhat sarcastically, "Well I certainly hope we're sending you to college to learn something!"

Now that I have actually graduated from college, I am finding myself reflecting on these past four years. I have grown and learned a lot. As I think about it, much of what I have learned is hard to pin point to specific things. I did not learn a trade. I did not learn calculus or how to build a house. I have learned to write well. I have learned to critically think and do research. I have learned to work with people. Much of what I have learned at college does not necessarily revolve around facts and figures. It is based upon the experiences I have had and the people I have met.

1. People are who they are for reasons.
Everyone has a story. Do not judge. One of the more profound concepts I learned when I was first came to college was in a Marriage and Family class I took. I remember distinctly thinking, "I am 18 years old and know more about families than at least 1/2 of the countries population." The cycles of families is something which impressed me greatly. If you are from a divorced family, the probability of you getting divorced goes up tremendously. You parent the way you were parented. It makes sense. It the same with addictive behavior and medical conditions. If your dad died of a heart attack the predisposition toward such a medical condition is likely in you. Breaking cycles of abuse and dysfunction has to be intentional. Healthy relationships have to be intentional to make them work. That having been said, people are the way they are for reasons. If a person is controlling, there is an underlying issue. If someone cannot communicate, there is a reason. If someone is a basket-case, there is a reason. Too often we take people at face value and say "that is just how they are." No! Oftentimes behavior is a cry for help and also a symptom of a deeper issue. We as Christians cannot be judging people but when faced with difficult people need to pray to God that we can see the heart of the matter and help people. The breakdown of the family is an epidemic in America and the greatest cause of violence and the vast majority of problems in America. Things like: the percentage of people in jail from single-parent families is staggering. (end of that soap box)

2. We are called to service
Some of my greatest experiences of college were in extracurricular activities. For several of my classes we were required to do community service hours. Also with the clubs I was in we were involved with service activities. I volunteered at a school. I volunteered at a day care. (And was asked if a 3 year old was my child.) We went to nursing homes. We went to missions. We went to government housing. I was able to be involved with a lot of outreaches and this stretched me and was the source of great joy. Eventually I joined the Bible Workers Club and was involved in a Bible study which I think ministered more to me than to the lady. They were all great experiences! There is certainly blessing in serving others. It opens our eyes to the needs around us. It will be my challenge to look for these opportunities wherever I am and find what God has in store for me to help others in specific ways.

3. We are called to study
I admit it, I loved school. I honestly can't think of a class which I particularly did not like at all. Certainly there were some that I preferred more than others but I learned every class and gained something which is useful to life. From Shakespeare to Greek to Biology, it's been a joy! God wants us to take advantage of the resources and opportunities we have. The more educated we are the more diverse people we are able to reach for Him. While certainly the Bible and inspired writings need to be the heart of everything we do, we need to be well-rounded people and be interested in the life around us. I don't ever want to stop learning about people and the world which God has created.

4. We are called to be responsible
One of the burdens of school has been group work. When looking at a syllabus for a class and discovering some group project I would inwardly groan. Inevitably someone in the group would not do their work and usually someone like myself would take it upon themselves to do their work. It was always such an ordeal. I was responsible in school. I wanted to do my best in whatever I had to do. I don't want to lose that. However, there are other areas of life which my responsibility lacks. I can be extremely lazy and unmotivated when I have no accountability. By God's grace, I will overcome these areas and learn to be responsible in all areas of life even when it seems no one is watching. Cause, after all, He is.

5. We need relationships
Some of the most profound insights to myself and people in general are the results of relationships: whether male/female or friends. We are all so different. Whether personality types or backgrounds. I admit, it can be a huge struggle to understand some people. But I think in doing so, we discover so much about God. We are made to be together to reveal Christ's character together.

I have certainly learned more than just these points. I could talk about social norms, neurons in the brain, Daniel 4, different religions, history of native americans, yadda yadda. But I think these 5 points transcend the specifics. God has been so good. I am so grateful.