Saturday, October 23, 2010

On rest...and focus

You know, I've realized in my many many years on this earth (Soon to be 24 of them) that there are a few things that Christianity just doesn't do well.

We are absolutely terrible at learning from those we disagree with.

I've went through life cursed with an overabundance of confidence. I frequently joke that my left brain killed off my right brain shortly after birth. I don't have a whole lot of respect for an argument unless you can make it logically, and from a sound premise.

Unfortunately, Christians allow ourselves to fall into a pretty deep pit...every theological or moral discussion we enter into starts with "God says" or "The Bible says."

I'm waiting for that last sentence to sink in, and just checking to make sure that I haven't offended everyone to the point that they quit reading...yet.  Maybe there's still time for that.

I think that every time we start an argument with our interpretation of the Bible or of God...God winces just a little bit. I think that our reliance on our religion's truth being an accepted and foregone conclusion for everyone isn't an endearing little's a dangerous flaw.

To explain that sentence, let me be a bit more blunt. When we assume that we're talking to people that believe that the Bible is true, that there is an Absolute Truth, and that there is a God...we're subtly implying that we can't prove these things.  Worse yet, we're implying that we can't make an argument for what we believe unless you agree with our perceptions of God, the Bible, and Truth.

That gives those that aren't already Christians free license to ignore us as a marginalized, irrelevant oddity that will go away in time if we're only ignored and patronized for long enough.

I'd like to propose something different.

The Bible is God's Word. God is Truth. Truth is the most important thing we have, because it leads us to a right relationship with our Creator.

If we really believed those three statements, then shouldn't Christians be leading the charge into Scientific inquiry, logical argument, and passionately (and respectfully) debating facts? Shouldn't we be the most assured, the most logical, and the most fearless investigators of all things Truthful?

Paul went to Athens. He found an altar with the inscription "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD."  Rather than dismiss the Athenian beliefs as wrong and sinful, he set out to show them that he knew exactly who that unknown God was. Rather than run from understanding those who disagreed from them...Paul sought to understand them, and explain how their own experiences and beliefs led to the God of the Universe.

How often do we seek to understand those we disagree with? How often do we dismiss them as being wrong, sinful, misguided, or simply stupid? Shouldn't we, as loving children of God, be the first to seek to understand and sympathize? If we are to effectively love our enemies, shouldn't we understand them first?

I realize I started talking about this from the perspective of my own experience, being Science and Logic. But what about that insensitive person at church that just keeps grating on your nerves? Do you really understand where they're coming from? What would they say about you, if they were to be asked what they really thought? If you don't know, then you haven't made anywhere near a decent effort to bridge that separation. The Church needs to stand unified, and we can't afford your petty squabbles to get in the way of the greater Work of God.

As a society, I think Americans severely undervalue peace. We've become accustomed to having our secure borders, our victorious armies, and we like being able to assert our will. We were shocked and appalled when the two towers crumbled on September 11th...and we saw it as only fitting when we started a war on two different fronts to punish those responsible.

We've taken that national perspective, and we've gotten very good at creating a nation of individuals. We've created a Church filled with individuals...which has resulted in a group of individuals gathered in a church building.

Subtle differences, but they are there.

We devalue peace, so we assert our will.  When things don't go our way, we try to arrange those around us to fix the issue. We never stop to realize that we're attempting to arrange other peoples' lives to make ours more convenient. We've lost the art of compromise.

The old phrase goes: "Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater." I think that we've strayed one way or the other. In convincing the Church in America that we have let some of our moral boundaries slip, we've become obsessed with keeping the baby in that the expense of the fetid pile of sludge the kid is now sitting in.

It's time to change the water...clear the air...relax and let things go.

To quote a movie, "To let that which does not matter...truly slide."

If you are not being sinned against, why hold a grudge? If someone is doing something in a different it working well enough? Then why not let it be?

Let the chips fall where they may.
Focus on what matters.
Pray more.
Read your Bible.
Care for others...
           ...more than yourself.

Friday, October 22, 2010

On Individual Purposes

Jesus says,
"I know you because I formed you. I knit you together in your mother's womb. Your life has a great purpose. Though you are unable to see what I have in store for you, it is great. My plans are far more astounding than you have ever thought or imagined. The only stipulation is that you stop trying to out-do me. You know better, my child. You have seen me provide for you, protect you, preserve you over and over again. You have been thrilled with my work, so you must stop worrying. 

The plan I have for you life is completely unique. You are not meant to live in another's shadow or follow in someone else's footsteps. Look to me. Hold tightly to my hand. Sink deeply into my arms and you will not be led astray. Yes, your path may seem strange at first, even to you. Others may criticize you or question you, but remember Noah and Moses and remain faithful to me. 

In the end, after we have taken every road you never would have anticipated, through the bushwhacking, the low visibility, the rough terrain, the blue skies, and the sunsets, we will have reached the top of one of the mountains and you will see WHY. Breath in the glory around you and take me with you tomorrow." 

Monday, October 18, 2010

On the Beauty of a Woman

Jesus says, 
"I created you.
I had a plan and a purpose for you life even before you were a dream in your parents' subconscious. 
You are beautiful. 
You are wonderfully made.
I knit you together, stitch by stitch, placing every limb, every bone, every organ, exactly where I wanted them. 
I make no mistakes. 

When I was forming the land and the sea, 
the birds and the fish, 
the sun, moon, and stars, 
the animals and plants, 
I wanted to save the best for last.
I created man in my image, but I knew it was not good for him to live on his own
Though Adam knew no different, I knew he would not be complete without a counterpart. 
Together, the two would more perfectly display my qualities. 
He would be strong. 
She would be sensitive. 
He would rule with power. 
She would reign with grace.
They would fit perfectly together and, in my image and because of the capacity I gave them to love, they would be given the ability to create life. 

And so, I created you. 
As a woman, you came from man, because the two of you were made to be reliant and inseparable.
You were given my image, my glory. 
It is in you that I display my breathtaking beauty. 
You are the crown of creation. 
And only then did I say, 'It is very good.'

Yet you reject the very body I created. 
You look in the mirror and ignore all that is perfect and look only at what you wish to change. 
You see flaws. 
I see unique beauty. 
You complain. 
You believe the lies Satan whispers in your ear, telling you how ugly you are, how you are too fat or too skinny, or how you'd be better if only you had that jean size or that cup size or that hair color. 
And the more you listen to his deceit, the more difficult it becomes for you to hear my gentle voice. 

I weep when I see you degrade yourself. 
I am saddened when you don't trust my Truths. 
I make no mistakes. 
I made you wonderfully--exactly as I intended. 
What right does the creation have to question the wisdom the Creator? 
Believe me when I say I take great delight in you. 
Embrace my all surpassing love. 
Know it as yours and float in it." 

And today I offer this prayer for each one who knows the lies all too well. 
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. 
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—
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

--Learning to embrace my beauty,

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On Loving Others

Sometimes I mess up. 
Sometimes I know I really messed up. 
I let my emotions get the best of me.
And, even worse, I take my negative emotions out on others. 
It's a sad and embarrassing story. 
But true. 

The world would not judge me for the way I handled myself today. 
After all, I was completely justified in my reactions--
I had been been with teenagers since 6pm Friday. 
Said teens were at our house until 11:30pm and many stayed the night. 
I had to wake up at 4:45am.
I had to leave home at 6:00am with 8 teens in a 3 car caravan. 
No one was communicating. 
Everyone was making different decisions that I would have made (a.k.a. they were making the "wrong" decisions.) 
We got super lost. (And it might have been my fault.)
The people in charge were keeping things from running timely, according to my standards. 
Everyone except me loves eating at Taco Bell. 
I HATE eating at Taco Bell. 
OUR street was closed due to an accident. 

And so on and so forth. 

Yes, most people would understand my frustrations, my attitude problems, and my impatience. 
And many would even excuse my bad behavior. 

Jesus was disappointed in me. 
He watched as I let my temper loose on my loving husband. 
He was saddened when I didn't smile out of the joy that should have been made evident through every hardship I experienced. 
I didn't consider those irritating situations to be opportunities for growing in grace. 
To consider it pure joy to face such trials--in order that I might gain perseverance and that much closer to being mature and complete. 
Nope. I made the wrong choice and stepped further from the way Jesus laid out for me.
He gave me plenty of opportunities to let my conversations be seasoned with grace

I believe you don't want me to dwell on my failures.
You sent your Spirit to encourage me.
You wish to bring to light what desires to be kept hidden in the darkness of my shame and despair.
I want to learn. to change. to grow. 
To show you that the motives of my heart are of unswerving love for You,
and out of that abundance, my love for others will overflow.
Help me, Jesus, to recognize opportunities for maturity--knowing full well their challenge. 
I want to be different
I want my love to make YOU evident to those who wouldn't otherwise believe. 

Use me. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Bearing with the Bothersome

My thoughts are flowing right alongside Kevin's
Ever since I had to do some serious conflict management on Sunday morning (and night), I've been thinking about how God wants us to live at peace with everyone.
This does not mean to shove things so far under the rug that we forget about them. 
Because in doing so, we're actually fostering bitterness.
And bitterness not only tears us apart from our core, but it lies dormant until another sliver gets shoved into our fingertips, and then another and another, until we are so full of ache and pain and anger that we explode on the last person who offends us. 
This is not how we are to live. 
Jesus, via James, addresses this issue when he says, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from the desires that battle within you? 
You want something, but don't get it."

Most of our conflicts are rooted in selfishness. 
And that selfishness may not be evident, but I believe it's selfish to shove the issues under the rug. 
It's selfish to "fake the peace."
It's also selfish to blame the other person for your pain and suffering.

We must approach the offender with LOVE. 
Explain our feelings, the way we interpreted their words and actions--not condemning them, but revealing our own hurt. 
Prayerfully, they will see where they felt wronged and where they acted out in sin. 
Forgiveness is requested and granted. 
And though the situation may still ache for a while, because true forgiveness has been granted, each party is able to leave with a clear spirit.
And eventually..move on. 

Yes, conflicts may divide even the closest of friends for a time, 
but the other issue is simply that we don't always get along with certain individuals. 
They get under our skin and irritate us to the point of frustration and anger. 
We can NOT let this happen. 
The New Testament reminds me often that we are to "bear with one another."
We are commanded to lovingly put up with those who bother us, those who just don't get it, those who start arguments because they have nothing better to do.

We will never reach the level of forgiveness God has bestowed on our lives, covering ALL of our sins, 
so we might as well suck it up and keep forgiving.

On Conflicts...and long-suffering

Recently, I've been reminded of how Christians tend to be. Unfortunately we're not all that different from everyone else when it comes to how we handle conflict. I think the sheer number of denominations (and non-denominational churches) in America should stand as a pretty fair witness to our inability to resolve serious conflict.

But rather than pine over a solution I'm not likely to find, I want to talk a bit about what I've been thinking about...personal conflict.

Matthew 18 shows us the way to handle this.  First one-on-one, then taking along another (uninvolved) party, then take it to the church, then just let it go and move on. The Bible says to treat him "as a tax collector."

Rabbit Trail: How do you treat the IRS?

I wonder how many church splits Matthew 18 could have fixed. What if Christians actually bothered to take the Bible's 'guidelines' as mandates that we are REQUIRED to follow? See we Americans tend to look at the Bible as a list of suggestions that we can pick from, like an all you can eat buffet. We take heaping piles of God's promises of prosperity, and virtually ignore the meat and potatoes of Christianity...Forgiveness and Service.

God says that if we don't forgive our brother, we won't be forgiven.
God also says that if we don't Love our brother, we don't really Love God.


Beyond that, 1 Corinthians has some interesting things to say about conflict. The Corinthian church was having an issue of lawsuits between believers, so Paul wrote to encourage them, saying "Why not rather be wronged?" Interesting thought. How many of those 'big deal' conflicts that we get into inside (and outside) the church could be solved if we were to simply let go of our sense of entitlement when it comes to how other people 'should' treat us?

Now I'm not saying you never mention it to them, but say I go to my friend Tom, who's been a terrible jerk to me. I tell him that I've been offended by how he has treated me, and I ask him to stop. He says to shove off, because I was a jerk to him first (which I obviously would disagree with). Instead of getting into an argument about who was more wrong...why not apologize for whatever we did to offend him, restate that we would like him to change...and then move on without demanding an apology on the spot.

Lets look at that situation from their point of came and said they were wrong...they get to say you were wrong...and you apologize immediately. Then you politely ask that they be nicer, or stop whatever it was that made you feel bad in the first place.

You're a whole lot more likely to get somewhere with them if you're nice, eh?

But even if Tom doesn't get the point...and he's horribly stubborn. It's still better to let it go. You could demand that he change, and spend your time being frustrated by it...or you can be patient and let it be water under the bridge. Either way, you're unlikely to get him to change his behavior, so why not decide to focus on other things? As Christians, we're more effective when focusing on what we can do for others rather than on what we wish other people would do for us.

Stop being selfish when you're just leads to more fighting.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On All Things for Good

This afternoon, Jesus reminded me of his everlasting promise--
To be completely realistic though, I have been learning and recognizing that lesson over and over again in recent days. 
He cares about the tiniest details.
He uses our most mindless mistakes to bring Him glory. 
He patiently moves us from our lack-luster plans into His unimaginable greatness. 

It's SO AWESOME when we recognize those moments--
those times in our days when something cool happens and then a light goes off--
this was God. 
He cares this much more me

I encourage you to take notice of the small joys in your life. 
Some good things may be realized quickly. 
The song on the radio. 
The friend you bump into. 
Other blessings may take months or even years to come full circle. 
Meeting a new friend in choir.
Sharing just one semester with her. 
One year later, she discovers you live down the road. 
Two years later, she's become the friend you needed. 

All things for the good. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On the Foresight of Jesus

As I opened my favorite devotional (Jesus Calling) today, I read these words that went straight to my heart:

"Be willing to follow wherever I lead. Follow Me wholeheartedly, with glad anticipation quickening your pace. Though you don't know what lies ahead, I know; and that is enough! Some of My richest blessings are just around the bed: out of sight, but nonetheless very real. To receive these gifts, you must walk by faith--not by sight. This doesn't mean closing your eyes to what is all around you. It means subordinating the visible world to the invisible Shepherd of your soul."

Oh, Jesus, how perfect those words fit into my spirit today. 

By now, you may have noticed the trend in the words I've used to describe my life. I'm giving up my rights. I'm following Jesus no matter what the cost. (Or at least I'm striving to do that wholly.) I'm no longer letting myself get bogged down with the demands and expectations this world has for my life. I'm listening closely and looking intently at Jesus as He leads me down this path for His name's sake.

Today Jesus reminded me of these things...
...that He knows exactly what's coming and because of that, I don't have to even think about it. I can just follow along for the ride. And along with that, my heart was convicted--to live in this present moment--not for what may or may not come in the future. But the best, most glorious promise I was met with today was that what is awaiting me is an extravagance I cannot imagine. God has some of his richest blessing waiting just ahead. 

My job? To focus on the life He brings to me today. To be specially attuned to His voice so I don't miss a turn. To be joyful up the mountain side when I could give in to fear, and then when I can see His plan clearly to be perfectly content and truly thankful.  

And really it all begins with thankfulness. 
I am thankful for this new day. 
Thankful for God's omniscience. 
Thankful for His faithfulness. 
Thankful for His peace. 
Because when I pray for His peace, I'm not asking for Him to become what I need Him to be. No, I should be thanking him for being Peace and asking for the grace to experience what He has been to me all along. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

After some prompting...

...Mel has convinced me to put all my devotional thoughts in here, so we can have one spot to point people to if they want to read up on all things where Kevin's brain and Jesus cross. Have mercy on our souls. =)

That said, today Jesus taught me about faith, crisis, and priorities. (I'm also starting to make a conscious effort to say Jesus instead of God...makes it a bit more pointed...Jesus is a person, and God is too easy to translate into some abstract idea.)

This morning, I read Genesis 22. Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his only son.

I can't imagine how it must have felt hearing God ask you for the one thing that you value above any other.
Knowing that you have to obey...when it costs you everything in this world that's important to you.
How do you think Abraham felt when Isaac looked at him and asked "where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

Abraham's soul was probably torn to shreds when he had to hear his son say those words. But because of that sacrifice, God promised to bless all nations through Abraham's descendants. Jesus came through Abraham's faith. God had a plan.

For those of you that watch Glee, the show has some awesome music. If you like solid vocal performances, it's got the best vocal music on TV. Tonight, they had an episode where one of the characters (can't remember the guy's name) was convinced that God was answering his prayers that he was offering to a grilled cheese with a picture of Jesus burned into it. (affectionately dubbed 'grilled cheesus') While this is going on, another character, who was an avowed atheist, was going through the struggle of a father who was in a coma.

As comical as the first situation is, it's almost as sad as the second. These two characters needed to get together. The first needs a dose of reality, while the second desperately needs Faith in a God that matters.

The bright spot in this episode wasn't the music or the amazing name of 'grilled cheesus' that I'm going to use and abuse for at least a was the reaction of many of the students on the show that had Faith in God. They rallied around their friend who didn't believe in a Loving God...and they showed him God's love by caring for him and his dad.

So because I'd like to pretend that this is a nice polished blog, I'm going to try (hopefully not in vain) to tie these two ideas together in my head. I wish I were more like those students that effectively shared God. Why can't I offer Jesus to my friends? or even acquaintances?

I think the answer is that I'm afraid of what it will cost me. I'm taking classes to become a pastor, and I've done some really crazy (or maybe even stupid) things because I believe Jesus called me to. I've done a lot for Him, and left a lot behind. But there's always something more Jesus wants to call me to do...and I'm constantly finding myself reluctant.

I want Abraham's Faith. I want his dedication. And I can't get them myself.
God, make me fanatical enough to sacrifice ANYTHING on the altar.
Don't let me hold back.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Who are we, anyway?

So many of you all know Mel and I quite well, and for those of you that don't...our personal blog links are on the bottom right side of your screen at the moment. Mel has a blog that's updated daily (if not more often, it seems) and mine hasn't been updated in a very long while.

Our lives have been turned upside down, inside out, tied in knots, and then used as a pinata. Not only that, but the pinata was then doused with lighter fluid and set aflame. But don't worry, it's a spiritual fire, and all that was just a metaphor. We're fine, I promise.

While we're working together on making this whole Youth Group endeavor work. Mel is the organized, individually caring, female nurturing half of the leadership...and I'm still trying to figure out what I do well.

I'm challenging, volatile (just look at my blog subtitle), vocal, and logical. I've been accused of being heartless, uncaring, a jerk, ruthless (sensing a theme yet), and mechanical.

One thing I've been learning lately is that God called us to serve Him in our own ways. I thought my way was to be a BioPhysicist and try to do research while helping out with Youth events at the church. Turns out that God just wanted me to throw caution to the wind and work for him.

Here's what I want out of this blog: I want it to get in your face and challenge you. I hope that after reading a few of my posts, you'll get the impression that I'm a ruthless, unselfish, cold, logical, fanatically devoted follower of God. Yes, I see each of those as strong points, not places where God is working on "smoothing me out."

I think I'm going to start a purely devotional blog of my own. One where I can just spew all sorts of thoughts on what I've been reading...on how Hagar was defended by God, and maybe that means that even the Palestinians in the Middle East are deserving of God's love...not just the Israelis. But all that for another day.

This is where I'll type up my running commentary on my relationship with God. This is where I'll put my musings, challenges, hopes, and dreams.

It all starts with this Youth Group.

God has given me a job...and I can't help but feel like I've been given the sword of the spirit, and it's now up to me to defend these teens from all the crap that life has been throwing at them. Girls have been told they're too fat, too skinny, or their noses are too big. If they're attractive enough, maybe they've just been called a slut. Guys have been told that they're lazy, that they're not expected to amount to anything at all, and that God doesn't have a plan for them.

That's not how it works.
God is better than that.
We are better than that.

Girls, you are beautiful women of God. The Bible says that true beauty is found in Him, and not in your pants measurements or bust size...or how much you're 'expected' to show them off. You want to catch the right kind of husband? Learn to love God, dive in your Bible, and get your sense of worth from Him. Hold your heads high, know God loves you, and give Him everything you have. He'll keep you safe.

Guys, God is your commander in chief. He's the one you want to follow. His jobs are not pointless. You are not incompetent. You have a job to do. People may not get this, but God and I know that you're looking for something to do in your life, and you want to fight for Him. Be righteous. Do the right thing. Protect the defenseless. Lead the charge against Evil, and don't tolerate evil in yourself. We are Righteous Men of God. It's time we stepped up and acted like it. The world needs us.

If you're reading this, and you're feeling like it resonates with something deep inside you, that's God trying to get your attention. The Bible says that we're supposed to throw off every single thing that holds us back so we can chase Him and do His work.

Lets do this.

On Following His Crazy Path

God has been working in incredible ways. 
I have never experienced Him so intensely in my life. 
But I don't think that's because because He's suddenly showing up as He never did before; no, I believe I'M the one who has changed. 
I have made the conscious decision to remain open to His Word, His whispers, His proddings in my heart. 
This contact was always there. 
My life was just too noisy. 
too structured. 
too selfish to notice. 
I deliberately ignored Him in the past. 
I pushed Him away, moved my heart far from Him. 
This was for my own "protection." 
It hurts to be moved, changed, altered in ways you never prepared for. 
But I've learned I'm learning that staying the same, living life according to my plans is what ends up hurting me. 
God's plan will always, always win in the end.
So why fight it?

I've given up. 
I'm no longer making plans. 
I'm experiencing God. 
Listening to His (sometimes frustrating) exhortations to do this or not to do that. 
I'm trusting that if I'm obedient to whatever crazy path He sets me on, He will provide. 
He always has, he always will. 
He is always faithful, always loving, always having our best interest in mind, always protecting. 

So why waste time living a life of endless striving and anxiety?
Just give up. 
And follow Jesus.