Monthly Archives: May 2014

An Epic Life

I was driving home from church on Sunday, which means I was driving through the mountains, back down the hill towards Denver.  And, because of the time of year, the mountains are actually green.  This time of year is so pretty.  The mountains are like a girl in a new pretty dress – she wears it and feels pretty in it and shows off a bit in it, twirling and just glowing with the knowledge that she’s pretty and people are noticing.  The mountains are that way in late spring: full of vibrant green grass and trees and bushes.  It’s gorgeous.

And as you drive through them, especially when the morning is cloudy and slightly misty with rain droplets as it was Sunday morning, it feels like you’re in the middle of Middle Earth, or Narnia, or Damar, or someplace epic.  If you have any sort of imagination at all, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that you might see a centaur, or a faun, or an elf, or a hobbit, or a warrior-woman, or a man in a kilt, on the mountainside as you drive by, if you look hard enough.  When it’s misty, and the mountains are green, there is an air of epic-ness.  Something major, something world-shaping is bound to happen.  It’s just gotta!

And I realized today, as I drove through the story-inviting mountains, that something in me is drawn to the idea of epic-ness, of living a life story that is heroic, that is different, that is bigger than myself.

And I think that’s not only me.  It might be only a cushy-culture thing.  Maybe I live such a safe life in this Western culture that does not require a day-to-day striving to survive, that the inner strength that God put in me to get through times of survival, turns into a longing for an epic, larger-than-life story.

Maybe it’s only me, and I need to look into how I’m living my life.

But I don’t think it’s just me.

There are too many people out there who love epic stories, whether in movies or in good-ol’ paper-back form, for me to believe that I am the only one who longs for an epic life story.  There is something about a story with a supremely-evil, definitely-can’t-be-defeated, draws-you-in-and-then-kills-you villain that battles a little know-nothing, toothpicks-for-arms, just-woke-up-on-the-farm this morning good guy who doesn’t stand a chance.  There is something about a story where the good guy has a couple close friends who encourage him and who help him do battle (though, of course, he must do the hardest, most dangerous, impossible part himself) that calls to something within (I’d wager) each human.

We were made for something bigger.  Something in us deeply longs, more intensely than we can even realize, for a life story that is larger than our routines or jobs or love lives or furniture.  Some people just dismiss the longing; others silence it (or try to).

But if you listen to that longing, if you listen to that still, quiet urge that you were created for something larger than iced coffee drinks (it’s okay, I love them too), than your life is never going to be the same.  Because that voice is God, calling you to a life lived that isn’t spent completely or even mostly on you.  That voice is the Holy Spirit in you, reminding you of your part in this redemption dance.

So listen, and follow.  Who knows where it might lead? To green misty mountains, to the dumps in the Phillipines, to a camp in Ecuador, to the red light district in India, to your wealthy self-focused school, to the apathetic, comfortable people in suburbia America.  Who knows?

Listen!  And follow!  After all, no matter how hard you try, this life does not have to be your own.  It is so much more enjoyable when you give it away.

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In the Still Of The Morning

Morning Reflection by the Lake

 

This last Sunday I was up early, and so had the time to sit out in the backyard, drink tea, and just soak in the early morning sun, the fresh air, the bird songs, and the general quiet.  I never seem to do that sort of thing enough, and yet when I do, I am always aware that I need to be doing it on a much more consistent basis, and just how very good it is for my mental and spiritual health.

When I am quiet, still, and listening, when I am purposefully spending quality, enjoyable time with my savior, there is something deep within me that awakens.  I am healthier.  I am bolder.  I am gentler.  I am more patient.  I am so much more aware of the needs of those around me, and so much more willing (and able) to enter into that need and minister as I may.

So, I guess that’s my challenge for you and for me this summer.  Regularly spend quiet time*  with the one who created you, with the one who loves you better than anyone else, the one who knows you better than anyone else, the one who stretches and protects you.  Spend time listening to Him, quiet in His presence.  See where He takes you, what He does in you!

* By quiet time, I do not mean spending 30 minutes reading the Bible.  Do that too if you want, and certainly have it nearby, with, perhaps a journal, but spend the time simply being quiet, praying with words only if you must, and listening. 

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Living in a material world

On Wednesday, I was sitting in the last class I would have of a course, (yay!  Summer is here!)  and we were talking about volunteers in churches, or more accurately, problematic volunteers.
This particular discussion was about what to do with volunteers who cause pain and division among a congregation – because, unfortunately, it happens.  People want to serve in the church for all sorts of different reasons, and often, those reasons are selfish or poisonous (not that the volunteer realizes this, or has even taken the time to reflect on why she wants to volunteer).  We joked about how it would be so nice to have a list of the people who moved from church to church, causing destruction (because that happens), or how maybe we should warn whatever church they are going to next (assuming they tell someone – which they usually do), or how we should maybe call their previous church to see what their impact was, before allowing them to serve in our church.  Like, actually having references (and checking them) in order to volunteer with your church…or maybe even join the church.
Someone in my class likened it to sexual predators, saying that if they knew the person was a sex offender, and was going to another church, she’d warn the other church.  And everyone in the class seemed to agree.  But, everyone quickly followed up, only warn the other church THEN.  Not if the volunteer was causing spiritual or emotional pain, or even a split in the congregation.  You can’t warn the next church congregation victim of the destructive volunteer is the volunteer does ONLY spiritual or emotional damage to their previous church.
WHY IS THAT?
I mention this because I think it shows a fault in our physically-aware Western culture.  If someone is going to harm the physical side of another person, we do everything we can to stop it (as we should).  But if someone is known for causing spiritual harm, or emotional harm, well, the victim should just toughen up.  Distance themselves, if they can, sure, but often we Christians encourage them to stay in the painful, awful situation.
SERIOUSLY?
By saying that, we are saying that the physical part of a person is the most important, or most valuable part.  At least, that’s how I see it. Protect the physical part of people from those who would do harm, but if we know of other harm – our hands are tied.
GAH!!!
Assuming you believe in an afterlife, than you probably believe that physical body is not the part that lives on.  It is not the most important part of you.  Is it important?  Sure.  Are all the facets of who you are (physical, spiritual, emotional, mental – just to name the big ones) somehow intertwined with your physical body?  Yes.  If a man rapes a girl, is he somehow also harming her emotionally, spiritually, and mentally (despite the fact he’s only touching her physical body)?  More than likely – yes.
We put so much emphasis, so much importance, on the physical world.  On our bodies, on our possessions, what we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell.  We call this physical world Reality.  But the thing is, this Reality, this physical world, it’s not going to last.  Look around, decay is everywhere.  Western Culture’s Reality is crumbling, and crumbling quicker by the day.  And yet we cling to what our physical bodies can experience, ignoring the fact that God created us with other, more long-lasting parts.
Why is that?
We get so trapped up in this immediate world, that we forget to prep for the next.  We forget to protect the spiritual and emotional parts of us and of others.  We forget (or get too lazy) to stretch the mental parts of us.  The parts of ourselves that we can’t see, we forget matter.  And so they sit, curled up in the fetal position, in the corner of our existence, starving to death with skeleton-like faces and twig arms, too emaciated to even cry out.
Something needs to change.  Our priorities need to change.  The way we see the world, the way we experience the world, the way we view ourselves, needs to change.
Only God can change our perspective.  Only He can help us remember that the world we live in is more than a physical one, that who we are is more than a body and a mind.  But the change of perspective, the realization that this physical world is not the only layer of our existence, is vital.  It needs to happen.  Has to happen.  So pray.  Pray that God will change how you see yourself and others, and that you can be an influence in changing what others think is most important.

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Dear Jesus, Can I have a pretty pony?

I read an article the other day about Christian persecution in the Middle East.  The stories presented were rather horrific.  I’m not going to describe the stomach-wrenching horror I read, just know that if I didn’t know better, and the language was slightly less-modern, I would have guessed that what was being described was in pre-Constantine Rome, when Christians were fed to lions or crucified, or used as human lanterns in gardens.  Now, I don’t know how trustworthy the site was, and it could be that everything was greatly exaggerated.  Or it could be absolutely, God’s-honest truth.  Human cruelty never fails to surprise me; I would rather believe that people are really good at heart, or that only the incredibly sick and twisted do awful things.  But that’s not really true. We’re all capable of atrocities; we just don’t want to recognize that fact (and we don’t have to face it in our comfy Western world, because it’s easy to keep the awfulness in our souls hidden here ).  But whether nor not this particular article was telling the whole, unbiased, untainted truth about the persecution of Christians is not really the point.

The point is not even that it could be. But the point is somewhere along the lines of if it IS true, and if Christians in places throughout the world are being brutalized (which we know they are), than where does that leave me?  I have a pretty comfy, not-at-all-physically-persecuted life.  In fact, I would call my life cushy.

So what if?  What if our places were reversed, and suddenly I lived in a place that mocked and despised my faith?  What if someone held a gun to my head and asked me to renounce my faith in Jesus, or die, would I do it?   I like to think that I would stick to my faith, that I would have that kind of courage.  And, honestly, I’d take a gun to my head any day over most of the brutality I read about.  A bullet to the head is usually pretty short and quick.  But some of what I read left Christians suffering for a long, long time.  So, what about then?   Would I be tortured for my faith?  I hope so.  I hope I wouldn’t rationalize myself out of it.  But I don’t know.  I’m not sure I ever will know, until faced with it.  It is a good reason to know why I believe what I believe…and to realize that in a moment like that, rational, scientific arguments aren’t going to do anything to convince me.  It’ll be my life experiences and the stories I’ve heard that might help me look my persecutor in the eyes and say, “I can’t.  My God has done too much for me.  I believe in Him, you can’t change that.  Do what you want with this body.”

And so, the point – I think really, the biggest question for me, right now, in my cushy life, is when was the last time I prayed for my Christian brothers and sisters who are being tortured for their faith?  Or for the girls who were recently kidnapped?  Or for any of the sex trafficking victims?  When was the last time I prayed for something that wasn’t related to myself, my friends, or even someone I knew?  When was the last time I took the time to even allow the knowledge of the suffering of others to soak into my understanding a little bit?  When was the last time I let that knowledge impact my self-focused, first-world-problemed life?  To my shame, I can’t remember.
I have been so wrapped up in my cushy-comfy life, that I forget about the world of pain and discomfort and want out there.  And I forget to pray for my brothers and sisters whose trials are far worse than anything I can imagine.  I forgot to pray for my fellow humans who need Jesus, who survive on less than a bowl of rice a day, or who don’t have water to drink.

I am so comfortable I forget.  And really, it’s not really a subject I like to think about, you know?  It’s uncomfortable.  Very uncomfortable.  But it is something I should be doing.   It is a place of discomfort and pain that I NEED to enter into.  It is the very least I can do for my brothers and sisters, for my fellow humans.  I might never be given the privilege to share in their suffering, but I can pray for them in theirs.

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Faces of God

I met with a Catholic priest this last week.
And for that to mean anything to you, you have to understand that while I have had a few brushes with Catholics (babysitting, amazing passionate roommates in college, awesome friends) I have never had a theological conversation with a Catholic priest.  I grew up in a Christian home, sure, but as I grew up my family always attended non-denominational churches…except for Christmas and Easter when we went to the Lutheran church my grandparents attended.  I don’t think I was ever of the opinion that Catholics aren’t Christians – like some people who grew up as I did.   I mainly knew Catholics went to “mass” instead of church, prayed to Mary, and had pictures of people with shiny, golden halos.  Obviously, I was rather uneducated.
And so, as an adult, to hear another member of the faith’s view of God, eternal life, and life in general, was pretty eye-opening for me.  To be taught a very little bit about how a Catholic views life and redemption and sins, was intriguing, encouraging, challenging.  The things that caught my attention most though, were the reverence and total commitment.  The wonderful man I spoke to had such a very different view of God.  This man was definitely committed to God; I sincerely doubt that he was in it for the money, fame, or glory (because, you know, there is so much money, fame or glory in true ministry).  There was just something … deep and solid about him.  And while I did not agree with all of the theological points he covered with me, I still walked away with a greater understanding and view of who God is.
books                I think this is important, and I think we do not do it enough.  We read books whose message we agree with.  We are friends with those who think as we do.  How often do we actually engaged in conversation someone, who while having the same fundamental beliefs as us, disagrees with our view of God.  How much of God are we missing out on because we think we understand Him completely and correctly, that we have no room for new ideas, or different sides of Him that we have never engaged?
For instance, I know that each of my friends brings out different parts of my personality.   While my foundational character never changes, the kids I work with bring out the goofy in me that some of my “grown-up” friends never see.  Not because I’m trying to hide the goofy side of me, but simply because nothing in their personality calls out the goofy in me.
I think the same is true of God.  It is imperative that YOU encounter Him in your life, engage Him with everything you are.  But also talk to other people about God – especially those you don’t see eye-to-eye with.  Learn how they experience God, learn what He has done for them, and HOW.
I often am a victim of my own experiences.  In that, because God worked one way with me, I expect Him to work the same way with everyone else.  But that’s not how God works.   He works differently through everyone.
And so, figure out how God works in someone else.  Talk to them about how they seem Him, and why.
Learn to see the different sides of God.  Learn to know God better, that you might love God better.

Now, it needs to be said while I am all for engaging different ideas, I in no way believe the whole “everyone gets to god in their own way, there are many paths, all religions talk about the same God” thing.  Nope.  None of that.  The only way to God is through Jesus.  He said so; incredibly clearly (John 14:6).  However, once you have the crucifixion, resurrection, and salvation as the foundation of your theology, there are many other less-important ideas that need to be discussed. 

Now, THAT being said, I am NOT saying, “Never talk to someone of a different religion”, because that’s not the case either.  Definitely talk to them.  Be friends with them.  We need that sort of friendship, and they do too.  

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