Monday, December 31, 2012

Patience 101

Maybe I'm just a slow learner, but it seems that God continues to repeat his lessons over and over again. I think I've learned the creed, the principle and then God challenges me again and I begin to wonder: why do I need to keep being taught the same thing? God, don't you think I understand it by now?
His answer is always, no. There is more to know, more to learn - room to grow. His favorite lesson is Patience 101. He brings situations about that require my utmost patience if I want to remain obedient and faithful, spiritually speaking. If I lose my patience I separate myself from God and that has dire consequences. I can immediately tell when I have traded patience for frustration. Instead of feeling peace I feel anxiety. Instead of an overwhelming sense of calm, I end up with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Sometimes I fail the test. I give in to the human failings in me that want my way in my time. Yet, God is pushing me to the end of myself and the end of my human desires. He is asking me to abandon my preconceived notions of how life "should" be in return for the promises of contentment, peace, and salvation that are only found when all trust is put in Him.
For years my patience has been put to the test. I must admit that I was an utter failure in the beginning. I would cry, lament, moan, complain - you name it, I did it. My patience was miniscule and was entirely based on my circumstances. But God broke me. He challenged me to give up on my own way and trust that His timing was better. He wanted me to believe that He knew best, even if through my own human eyes I couldn't understand all the details. Through tears I relented. I remember one night in particular that I laid in bed, feeling that my body had come to the end of itself and could give out at any moment. I laid in my bed and cried out to God, telling Him that I was His to take or His to save. If He let me suffer I suffered for His name's sake and if He healed me then He healed me for His glory. I released my tight grip on my future and let Him have His way. Within moments I was asleep. God had given me a calm and a peace that I couldn't manufacture on my own. He had to do that work in me and that night He did just that.
I woke up the next morning knowing that I was being sustained not my food, a doctor or my own will. I knew at that moment that I was being sustained by God's almighty hand. He had been carrying me all along but I had been reluctant to allow myself to fully grasp what that meant. I wanted to keep a hold on the situation when really, I never had a hold of it to begin with. I never had the power to sustain my body through the health trials, low weight and sickness. God did all that.
Since that morning I've been faced with more circumstances that require my patience and my trust in God's providence. My trial has lasted for years now and I don't see an immediate end in sight. But I don't need an end to know that God is in control. He isn't obligated to provide a date at which this whole ordeal will be over. He could let it go on for the rest of my days on earth if that is His intent. He doesn't owe me relief. But I do owe Him my life. I owe Him my trust, obedience, commitment, faithfulness and patience. He has saved me from my sins when I was deep in the midst of worldly living. I didn't deserve and couldn't obtain the forgiveness that He provided. Without my asking for it He sent His son so that I could enjoy the freedom of a life not run by sin and satan's power. All I had to do was accept the gift. How could I ask for anything more? He has given me the greatest and most precious gift I could ever imagine. Health, wealth, happiness - they are all fleeting in comparison to the salvation found in Jesus that promises eternal life in Heaven.
No matter what I suffer here on earth, it is temporary. There is no reason to have anything but patience. Life here is just a blink of an eye. It is not my forever. My eternal home is in Heaven. There I have a life of health and endless praise to the God who has sustained me earth side. Until I get there I will keep asking God for more of His will for my life here on earth - even if it requires much more patience.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Value of Life

This world in which we live becomes all the more distressing with each passing day. Friday morning twenty children and six adults were shot in cold blood in an elementary school. This kind of tragedy is horrific and beyond human comprehension. It is the most unthinkable of evils being perpetrated on the most unsuspecting and innocent. What the parents and families of those deceased must be going through is more devastating then words can describe.
The small, idyllic community of Newtown, CT has become a hotbed of media attention, overtaken by swarms of news reporters, TV cameras, journalists and ambulance chasers. Not to mention the investigation teams and federal officials who are now burdened with the task of trying to make sense of the senseless. Every news station is a non-stop reel of videotape that shows kids being escorted from their school building with looks of confusion and terror, parents pacing in the parking lots of news conferences and families holding on to each other for dear life.
Where have we seen this before?
The days following the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, the days following the shooting in Tuscon, Arizonia that shot a House of Representatives member, the weeks after September 11th, and the days after the Virginia Tech school shooting. Each produced  similar results: mourning painfully displayed on every TV station, magazine cover, newspaper article and internet post. The grief and pain is shown in brilliant color for all to see. But what can any of the viewers or readers do? Can we comfort these people or lend some kind of emotional support? Other than prayer, we are at a loss. We have nothing to offer and nothing to give. These people don't need or want our money. They want their children back. They want their husband, wives, brothers and sisters back. Yet, with each tragedy comes another media storm and we all watch in numb frustration. We have seen it before and the utter devastation of the evil is undeniable. Yet we become immune to the true pain it is causing because it feels like a repeat of the last tragedy.
I don't mean to sound callous or insensitive. What happened yesterday and in all the other cases of mass killings is beyond horrific and tragic. I cannot even comprehend the loss each and every one of those families is dealing with. Death is never easy, especially when it is unexpected and especially when it befalls the innocent by violent means. Everyone, it seems, questions why and how? How could someone do something so evil? Why did this happen and how could it be avoided in the future?
While I ponder these questions like most, I have a whole other set of questions rattling around in my mind. Such as, why are we surprised that this has happened? Just look at our culture. We have taken the act of an abortion and made it into a simple choice, a realistic and acceptable option in the course of a pregnancy. We have deemed the taking of innocent life in the womb as nothing more than a woman's right to make a decision, yet the killing of children out of the womb is a tragedy. We are right to call the killing of those kids a tragedy, don't misunderstand me. But we are wrong to assume that the ending of life in the womb isn't just as tragic. It is a travesty that is being carried out across America each and every day. Over a million abortions are performed in the US alone every year. Where is the outcry over such a massive loss of life? Where is the mourning for each child that never got the chance to even begin kindergarten in the first place?
The value of life is not ours to pick and choose. We cannot decide that just because we can't see and hold a baby it does not have value. That is not ours to determine. If God has given life it is never ours to take away. Most people realize and believe this when they can see, touch and feel the person in front of them. Somehow, when that person is still in the comfort and security of its mother's womb many people struggle to see the value of the miracle being formed. Millions of people don't see that the human being that is growing every day in the womb is actually a living being. They want to devalue the life by calling it a "fetus." But it is not some alien being that deserves a foreign name. It is a person with lungs, kidneys, fingers, toes, skin and physical characteristics totally and completely unique to that special and precious child. Someday, if given the chance, that child will go into the world and attend school, make friends, be in the Christmas play, learn to read and play on the playground. That isn't a fetus. That is a child in the earliest stages of development. That stage isn't unlike all the stages to come. The only difference is this: the earliest stage of development happens in the comforting and protective environment of a mother's womb.
But one million + babies will never get to develop any further. Their lives will be cut short by the choosing of the one person who is supposed to protect and nurture them at this critical time. Their mother will allow their life to be cut short.
We condemn with rage and anger the actions of a gunman who bursts into a crowded school, taking the life of the innocent, yet we protect the mother who ends the life of a baby in her care. How do these two coexist? How can we have a world where we pick and choose when life is precious and when it is disposable?
The answer is this: when we, as a nation, decide that we hold the value of life in our own hands, we devalue it greatly. We take something sacred and make it a matter of opinion, just another matter to be legislated and debated. It takes a work of God and makes it a work of man. And what man creates, he has no trouble destroying. But what God creates and sanctions is holy and sacred. When that is the value put on life we will see a world much different, and far greater, then the world we see now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thy Will Be Done

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Amen.

The Lord's Prayer is a traditional church reading. In contemporary churches it is becoming a memory, one of those rituals lost to the modern culture of emotional worship. But the Lord's Prayer is so much more than a jumble of words repeated in monotone voices, echoed from a stiff and uptight congregation. The Lord's Prayer is the inspired Word of God. It is a mandate from the Lord himself. This is how you are to pray. It is the blueprint for communication with Holy, Father God.
Still, when it is spoken in church it is often simply glossed over and rushed through as nothing more then a doctrinal ritual, a task to be crossed off the list. How often are the words really meditated upon, pondered and contemplated? Do we even know the gravity of the words we are speaking?
As I was reading through the Lord's Prayer today I was struck by the simple phrase, "Thy will be done".... It is so basic. It is a sentence that, upon first glance, doesn't shake the earth or stop the reader dead in their tracks. At least it didn't do that to this reader - until today. It was not until today that I realized the importance of those words that I have prayed a thousand times. Since I was a young child I've repeated this prayer and yet I have never been so impacted by its words.
Each time I've prayed that prayer I've asked God to do his will. I didn't ask him for my own. This prayer isn't about the requests of the flesh or the personal desires of the human heart. No, this prayer is about fulfilling God's purpose. It doesn't seek to know what that purpose is, it simply trusts that God has a will and a plan. That plan and that will aren't always going to be revealed to us in our own timing. In fact, more often that not, it will feel like a great mystery that we wish we could unlock. But God doesn't work in the ways of his children. He doesn't give them answers when they think they should have them and doesn't chart out the path they expect or might think they want. He has his own plan and it is always better than our own. 
Maybe by human standards the path God takes us on will look twisted and confused. By earthly standards it might seem to be a complete mess or at least undesirable. God's will might not include a fancy house, luxury, good health, physical comforts or honor in the public eye. God's will might mean persecution, sickness and struggle. But we must remember what we prayed for. "Thy will." 
God's agenda is not our own. His agenda is not that his children have earthly gems and worldly success. His agenda is that his kingdom be glorified and magnified. Sometimes, in order to achieve that end, suffering must enter in. Jesus is the ultimate picture of this. He came to earth solely for this purpose. His entire life mission was to die so that others could know God personally and intimately. He lived so that others could be freed from the burden of sin that trapped them in a life separated from their Heavenly Father. He had to come as a baby, be raised in a world full of human failings and ultimately had to die the worst death imaginable: a slow, painful death on a cross. And this was all God's will. 
Why? How? If God loved Jesus and if he loves us how could he possible let us suffer? So that his kingdom can spread. So that others can be brought into fellowship with him. In our eyes this might make little to no sense. It doesn't fit into our neat little box of "logic." And good thing, because God doesn't want it to. He doesn't want to be understood in earthly terms. He is so much greater, that our earthly understanding doesn't do him and his power justice. 
This side of Heaven there will be many circumstances and situations that we don't understand. But God does. He understands them because he orchestrates them if we allow him to have that power in our lives. If we earnestly seek him and sincerely desire his will, he will lead our lives down a path of righteousness for his name's sake. Not for us. Not to glorify or magnify ourselves. Not to lift ourselves up. No, we will be humbled, persecuted and tried in this life. Yet, even in the midst of that suffering, God can be glorified. It is in these times when God can be glorified higher then in any other. When life is humming along with little resistance and no struggle it is easy to forget to look to God and to see him working. Instead we become lost in the comfort of an easy life. When things get tough and the road becomes bumpy we can see God at work. We see him in the peace he gives, the circumstances he can engineer, the lives he can touch and the hearts he can change. 
His will is not our own and still we pray for it.  We pray that it will be done in our lives and on this earth, just as it is in Heaven. We pray for his will so that his kingdom can come. We pray for his glory and his power, for ever.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Childlike wonder

I am often reminded of the innocence of youth. Having ten nieces and nephews affords those kinds of constant reminders. There is something sweet and precious about a childlike wonder that kids epitomize. The world can be dark, evil and uncertain, yet to a child those matters are as far away as Pluto. What takes center stage to them is the latest American Girl magazine, upcoming holidays and newest addition for their Lego collection. The politics of the day, the dreaded "fiscal cliff" and the crumbling of moral values in society don't make it to their radar screen.
This is cute when you're a kid. Not so cute when you become an adult. Ignorance is not bliss - especially once you pass the age of obtaining a drivers license, and even more so when you have the legal right and responsibility to vote in elections. When an adult shows a lack of understanding or concern for serious matters that shape and influence the future it is labeled as pathetic, not endearing.
Yet, here we are in a world full of the pathetic. Adults, like young children, don't seem to understand that what happens in their government, community and society ultimately affects their own lives. I am constantly hearing people on the news show their lack of knowledge and understanding when it comes to issues that directly effect their very lives. The health care bill? Ask people on the street and I doubt many could give you three solid facts on the law. How about the nation's debt, which each and every citizen is carrying around (whether they realize it or not). I doubt many people could give even an approximate dollar amount. And even if they could, would they understand the true meaning of $16+ trillion? That means over $51,000.00 billed to YOU. Yes you, young thirteen year old worrying more about a break out on school picture day. Yes you, Grandma recovering from hip replacement surgery. Yes you, college graduate with student loans from here to eternity and a job that barely covers the basic bills of food and shelter.
But people don't get it. They choose to live with their eyes shut tight or, even if they are open, they stick their head in a cloud. Either way the result is the same. They are missing reality. They are missing the stark, cold, hard truth of the world in which we live.
And this is when I want to be an innocent kid again. Wouldn't it be nice to escape, even just for a day, into the world of a child? How relaxing and refreshing it would be to truly slip into the innocence of youth. I can only imagine how their minds are turning - not with thoughts of responsibilities or concerns for the future - but with thoughts of which toys to play with next and the newest game to create with the kids in the neighborhood.
When we get older we lose this innocence and we lose the right to it. Instead, it becomes our job to protect that innocence for the young so they can enjoy it as long as we did. We are given the responsibility to protect them from the burdens of adulthood so they can revel in the joys of youth. If we abdicate this responsibility we rob them of a gift they will never be able to possess again. It is a one time opportunity that, once lost, can never be regained.
I know that I can never go back to the days when I didn't think about the seriousness of the world and the problems it faces. I can't go back to not understanding moral decay and Christian persecution. I can't go back to the days when I believed in Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny. At some point, all of those fantasies come to an end. Reality hits. You can't rewind. All I can do is pray for the innocence of my ten nieces and nephews to be protected. I can pray that they enjoy a peaceful and happy childhood, just like I had. I can uphold the Christian values and morals that I hope they too will carry into adulthood and throughout their lives.
I can't go back to being a kid. But I can protect the kids in my life. They shouldn't have to grow up any faster then is necessary. Let them write wish lists to Santa for as long as they can because a day will come when they understand that Santa was actually Mom and Dad and that elves didn't make a single toy that showed up under the Christmas tree. That is a sad day for every child and for every parent. Until then, we can embrace the children in our lives and help to ensure that each day they spent in their blissful stage of youth is a memory worth cherishing. We can only do this by stepping up to the plate and taking hold of the responsibility of adulthood. If we don't arm ourselves with knowledge and the understanding of those serious matters facing our lives and world, we don't do the innocence of the young any favors. We only ensure that the world they will some day inherit will be fraught with problems that we didn't want to face. Is that the legacy we want to pass on?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Growing Pains

All around me the holiday season is gearing up and before you know it the sounds of Jingle Bells and Marsh-mellow World in the Winter will be in every store. The Christmas tunes will be inescapable and the cheer will be in every store window and on the lawns of houses throughout America. I love this time of year. The season kicks off with a hearty dose of thanks and then the joy rolls on through the celebration of the birth of Jesus and tops off with a welcoming of the things to come in the new year. It is a whirlwind of excitment and activity. What's not to love?
I find it appropriate that the whole parade of holidays begins with Thanksgiving. It is fitting, don't you think? It puts our focus on what is important - an easily forgotten truth when the sales abound at the mall and shopping threatens to take over every spare moment. But on Thanksgiving we aren't worried about the stores (unless you happen to work at Wal-Mart or Target this year - but that is another matter). For most, Thanksgiving is a day set apart. It is special and sacred. It puts our thoughts on the blessings we enjoy. In this world it is easy to get caught up in what we don't have and our Christmas wish list but not on the last Thursday in November. On that day we look at all we have and thank God for it.
In anticipation of this day I have been mulling over what I am especially thankful for this year. Each year at Thanksgiving dinner every member of the family writes down on a scrap of paper what they are thankful for. We keep the papers anonymous and throw them all into a bucket. Then each person draws out one of the papers and reads it aloud so the rest of the family can guess who was thankful for that particular blessing. Sometimes it is silly like "The coin shop" (I can see my brother Danny writing this) and sometimes they are serious, such as "God's forgiveness" (my pick two years ago). I love this tradition. I think my niece came up with it or maybe it was an adult. I don't remember. Nowadays the kids in the family spear head the tradition.
So, what will I write this year? This is a big decision. I only have one scrap of paper and I need to make it count. But narrowing down my options is proving difficult. How do you pick one single blessing to be thankful for above all else? Every time I turn on the TV I realize that I have a million and one things to be thankful for. The world around me is full of turmoil, sadness, destruction and unrest; yet my little world in Erie, PA is so comfortable and peaceful. Sure, there are uncertainties and circumstances that are less than ideal but when I take account of my life I find that I am overflowing with blessings and reason for thanksgiving.
Thank goodness I don't need a million scraps of paper to give voice to all the things I have to be thankful for. I have a computer.
- I am thankful for Pippy. She gets me up and out, enjoy nature and the great outdoors.
- I am thankful for my bed. Hands down, the most comfortable bed: EVER.
- I am thankful for fuzzy slippers. I just looked down, saw my sheep skin, Acorn slippers. They keep my feet toasty no matter what the temperature.
- ....a warm cup of coffee....
- ...a book of witty humor and quirky remarks.... (thank you Lisa Scottoline)
- ....Oswald Chambers....
-.... Parkside Church....
-....American Thinker (website - check it out)
- .....a house full of books - from history to humor to Christian inspiration and a host of magazines, our house is a library....
.....
My list could go on but I've already decided what will be written on my scrap of paper this Thanksgiving.
I'm thankful for the past 3 years I've had to spend at home. It seems silly to say, but I wouldn't trade these 3 years for anything. This isn't how I expected my life to go. I thought I'd do the 4 years of college thing like most others I graduated with, but that wasn't my path. To be honest, I couldn't be happier about the road I've been taken on. I've been given experiences for spiritual growth that I would never have had without the trial of ill health that has forced me to add patience to my faith.  Without this time of struggle I wouldn't have been given the opportunity to spend countless hours with my Mom; crying when times were tough, traveling around the country for answers to the health mystery and simply enjoying each others company over thousands of lunches and too many good books to count. I cherish the time we've had together.
This Thanksgiving when my family is mulling over their multitude of blessings, considering which to write on their scrap of paper, I will have mine prepared and ready. It hasn't always been easy to be thankful for this trial I've faced, but in the recent months I have been given eyes to see the wonderful gift it truly is.
You don't grow when things are easy. You grow when you are stretched. I guess that is why they call them growing pains.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Five Days

The countdown is on. Five days to go. Five days left to grin and bear the onslaught of election rhetoric and ads. Only five more days of polls and pundits calling the election for "so and so" before polls are even closed. Thank God, only five more days of this election cycle.
This election has consumed my thought life. No longer can I park myself in front of an evening of sitcom reruns or goofy reality TV that follows brides down the aisle in dresses that cost as much as my car. Music with lyrics that repeat over and over just bore me. Fluff reading can't hold my attention. My every thought is consumed by the decision that will be made by our country on November 6. I know that giving it my entire attention does nothing to change the outcome from a practical point of view. I am not calling voters, designing ads, knocking on doors, driving voters to the polls, running a registration booth, or busing college students to the nearest polling place (like some political parties are apt to do). But I am reading and becoming more informed. The more I read the more I feel that I must read. The more I listen to about the campaign the more I am drawn to listen longer and harder. And what is the result of taking in all of this new - and sometimes much repeated - information? I am reminded to pray.
I wake up in the morning with one thought on my mind: November 6. And I remember to pray. I turn on the TV to Fox News, hear the lies spewing from the Obama campaign and I am reminded to pray for the truth to win out. I go on the internet and check my email. The daily news updates come pouring in from Life News and the Daily Caller. Both remind me that the issues that face our country are of utmost importance. Life News reminds me that this isn't just one political party against another. This is a fight for life. This is a fight for the most fundamental of moral principles: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Without these bedrock beliefs, our country can never thrive. It is doomed to utter decay and ultimate destruction.
It is a favorite phrase of the a-political to say that, "The election won't affect me" or "All politicians are the same" or, even more common, "All politicians are liars". But I believe those are misguided traps of ignorance that threaten the liberty this country is so famous for. When you stop believing in the function of your government and the ability of it to have true influence, you give power to someone else. Who is that someone else? That someone else must be someone who is looking to gain power. That is the trouble with the direction of our country. So many have abandoned the political process with the lame excuse that it doesn't matter; while others have abandoned principles for emotional rhetoric and uninformed opinions. The gap that they have left behind is being filled with power hungry politicians who aren't seeking office for the betterment of our country, but are looking to further their own agenda and personal egos. Americans have stopped holding politicians to the standard of civil servant. Instead they have become the servant to a political ruling class.
They may call this the land of the free and the home of the brave, but with each election that we fail to take ownership of the principles of this country we give away more of our future as the United States of America. We degrade this great country because we have stopped truly caring about how exceptional it is. Have the American people forgotten how unique an experiment America was and continues to be?
This country was built by people who were so invested in being free and having the right to pursue a better life that they risked everything in order to gain the liberty they couldn't find anywhere else. No other country afforded them the opportunity to pursue their dreams and worship their God.
Now that is all on the line. One person wants to control every aspect of the American life - from craddle to grave. For starters, he wants to control health care. What could be a bigger power grab? Giving control of the physical body over to a governing, ruling class is asking for trouble. It is singing over your right to yourself. Is that what this country was founded for? I think not.
The other person running for office wants each individual to have the freedom to pursue their own life and their own success. He wants people to be able to take risks, make a name for themselves, choose their own future and enjoy the promise of liberty.
So, do you see why I can't get my mind off of November 6? The decision that will be made is one of utmost importance to the future of this great nation. I want the country that our founders fought for and designed with great care. I believe that America is unlike any other place on earth because it values the individual and the unique attributes each person can bring to a community. I believe America is great because it was created to respect the rights of each and every person. I believe America is great because it values each life as special and worthy of opportunity.
If November 6 comes and our country goes down a road foreign to the Constitition and foreign to its founding principles it will be a very upsetting day in our history. Yet, I know that no matter what happens on election day our God in Heaven will protect his own. He will not abandon us - he never has and he has promised he never will. The days ahead may be bleak and feel dark and isolated under the oppression of a government taking control of our lives, still God will be a protector and father for those who seek him and trust him. Will that mean we will be immune to the evil and corrupt ways of the government? No, we will suffer along with those who voted them into office. But God never, ever forgets his own.
We must remember that God allows each elected official to take their place of power. Some times it is because the people need to learn a lesson the hard way. I pray that this country has learned lessons from the past four years. I earnestly pray that they see the corrupt direction this administration has taken our country and wants to continues upon; and I pray that we, as a people, want the original America back. I pray that transforming this country will not be the intent of the voters on November 6, but that their intent will be to uphold the greatness of our founding.

Monday, October 29, 2012

LIFE

....the mortal will be swallowed up by life....

This morning I opened my Bible to 2 Corinthians 5, the chapter in scripture that accompanied my Oswald Chambers devotional. Even though I have done this same devotional for the past three years I am continually struck by the unapologetic truth Chambers brings forth in his short writings. He never ceases to bring forth the truth of a scripture in a way I hadn't seen before. He doesn't sugarcoat the difficulty in the Christian life and he doesn't dance around the tough truths. He tells it like it is. And I need that.


But this morning it wasn't his words that struck me so deeply. It was the simple picture laid forth in the scriptures: the mortal life will be swallowed up by life. What a beautiful picture. This life, so temporary and fleeting, is just the mortal. True, eternal life is still ahead. Right now we know only this earth and the life we lead here. But it is just a temporary dwelling. While we are on this earth we are away from our true home and true life. While we walk on this earth we will encounter struggles and trials. These are all characteristics of the mortal.
Thank God it doesn't end there. The mortal is a blink of an eye. It is here today and gone tomorrow. We, those who have put their faith and life in the hands of God, have something marvelous to look forward to: life. This mortal condition we experience now is going to be swallowed up by life! That life is going to be so amazing and glorious words won't be able to describe it. We will be taken out of this flawed world. We will be united with God in Heaven. Can your mind even take that all in? It defies my comprehension and leaves me in utter awe.

As for this life, this time spent in the mortal, I find 2 Corinthians 5:4 freeing. This life is just a blip on the screen. It isn't even really, truly life. The true life is still to come. That fact makes this life and all its struggles much less significant. Instead of being caught up in demanding my own way, this scripture frees me to endure the trials of this life, knowing that everything I am experiencing is fleeting. I don't need to feel the pressure of having perfection here on this earth. Instead, I am called to live a life devoted to Christ, walking by faith and carrying my cross daily. That is the command for this mortal life.

I look forward to my heavenly dwelling. Who wouldn't look forward to perfection? . Until I get there, I am here living out my life with my eyes on Christ. I don't know how long he will have me here or what plans he has for me on this earth but I do know that no matter what my circumstances I am to be fixed on him. As I do that, I am preparing for the life ahead where each and every day for eternity will be spent in celebration of God as I praise and worship him face to face! LIFE is something I am looking forward to with great anticipation!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

New ad, new low

Alert to the American people: the office of the Presidency and his political campaign have reached new lows (I know, who knew it was even possible?) Have you been assaulted yet by the latest of the Obama rhetoric? This time it comes in the form of a morally bankrupt TV ad that is sweeping the internet and blowing up the blog world.
From the very start Obama's ads have been morally depraved, focusing on lies and covering up the truth of his own record, votes and opinions. Instead he has taken the office of the presidency to new lows by telling bold faced lies on network television and then making them into ads to make himself look like a hero. If this doesn't make any sense to you, don't fret. Pure evil and deception shouldn't make sense. It should cause us all to run - sprint, actually - in the opposite direction.
But back to the ad. This ad goes beyond lies, deceit, false-truths, twisted numbers and cut and pasted sound bites. This ad takes a sacred act, designed and given by God, and turns it into a benchmark of teenagehood, a simple step along the path to growing up, an act of pure pleasure and "fun". Yes, I'm talking about sex. His newest campaign ad focuses on sex and a girl's "first time". Apparently, to the Obama campaign, a girl losing her sacred virginity is the equivalent to voting for Romney or Obama on November 6th. This is the campaign's deplorable attempt at raking in the female vote.
Where to begin? Let's start with the degrading view the ad takes of women. This is what we care about? Having mind blowing sexual experiences while keeping up on our daily birth control pill courtesy of the US government? Is this truly of utmost concern for the female population? What about jobs, the right to life, the security of our country from foreign attacks? I care more about four Americans killed in Libya, at OUR embassy, then I care about some teenager getting birth control so she can sleep around and hope the pill is working so she doesn't receive any of the "consequences" of her actions. Obama must think women are so dimwitted that all we care about is our reproductive organs. Wrong. We are not objects, we are not the sum of our physical parts.
Even worse, this ad campaign erases all consequences of sex. Liberals tout Planned Parenthood as their savior for the women of the world (Notice - not just our country. Thanks to this President and his funding of abortions in Mexico, we can now say that his Planned Parenthood agenda reaches beyond the borders of our sovereign nation.) The Democrat agenda has been obviously pro-sex, yet against the very life that sex creates. Their health care plan gives women free birth control. AKA: have as much sex as you want! Free of charge! Then, if by chance that 1% failure rate of your pill strikes with the natural results of a child (gasp), just make an appointment at your local Planned Parenthood and they'll take care of that in a jiffy. Twenty weeks along in the pregnancy? The answer is still the same. Just schedule an appointment. They wouldn't want you to actually have to birth the child that you brought onto this planet through your actions. The official Democrat platform makes it clear that it should be a right of all women to get rid of their child at any point in their pregnancy. And Obama, in his own personal opinion, believes that even after the child is born there is still wiggle room as to whether or not that child needs to be cared for. If, lets say, the women had an abortion yet the child survived and lived to full term, Obama thinks it is okay to let that child simply die ONCE IT HAS BEEN BORN.
But voting is just like sex, remember?
There is only one way this logic makes any sense to me - and you'll see it put into action on November 6. The American people voted for you - they engaged in the activity. And now, we will remove the consequences. We will vote you out of office. You deserve much worse. You deserve to be prosecuted for the lies you have told - too many to count and far beyond what we as an American public are aware of. If for nothing else, you deserve to be behind bars for your inaction in saving American troops on September 11, 2012. And that, I'm sure, is just the tip of the iceberg of your corruption.
You have caused enough damage to this country. You and your administration have taken the constitutional principles of this country and replaced them with a Socialist agenda in which Communism reigns supreme. But there are people in this country who believe in something greater and far more powerful then your evil schemes. We are a people founded on the principles of God. We believe that life is special and sacred. We believe that freedom is something worth fighting for. You may have fooled enough people with your promise of free stuff and a rosy picture of hope. Well, fool us once and shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. I'm praying, trusting and believing that you won't get that second chance.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Savor the season

Are you in a quiet place in life? Is it so silent that you could hear a pin drop? Can you hear the rush of wind through the trees?
Do you feel like all the world is rushing by but you are at a stand still, just waiting for a green light - or even a yellow one? But, alas, you are stuck on red. You are a ship without its rudder.  A car without an engine. You have been grounded, delayed until further notice. It is as if someone has put your life on mute. You can watch the rest of the world make noise but you have been hushed.

Maybe you didn't choose it. Maybe your silence has been thrust upon you like a child at their very first day of kindergarden. They don't want to leave their Mom but they have no choice in the matter. Kicking, screaming, crying - all do no good. They are stuck in the classroom till the last bell rings and Mom is back at the door, this time to whisk her child away (only to repeat it all again tomorrow). You may be long past kindergarden and matured past all out tantrums on the schoolroom floor, but your heart may still be aching to break free from the hushed circumstances of your current existence.

When you look outside and see the rest of the world enjoying the noise and commotion of activity it is easy to grow melancholy in the stillness you find yourself surrounded by. You may question why you are sequestered while the people around you are not. Why the isolation? Why the deathly, eirie quiet? How did you get locked into this box while everyone else seems to be enjoying a sort of freedom that isn't open to you? When, if ever, will this change?
Your thoughts may be those of doubt and impatience. Just like a child you yearn for what your peers have. You don't see the precious value of what you possess. Instead, you are caught up in looking at what everyone else seems to be enjoying. Without even realizing it, you have come to wallow in your own condition. The grass must be greener on the other side.

Or is it? Have you stopped to consider the blessing that is in this stillness? Have you completely overlooked the splendor of a quiet season? Have you forgotten how beautiful the wind blowing through the autumn leaves can sound?
The rest of the world can't hear what you can hear. They are too busy. They are too surrounded by the clatter and racket of life. Their ears are filled with sounds coming from every direction, of every pitch - causing too much distraction. They miss what you enjoy.
They miss the soft rain pattering against the roof in the early morning hours. They miss the first birds of spring and last of fall. They miss the hum of dimmed lights and the soft simmer of water on the stove. They walk but don't hear the crunch of autumn's foliage under their feet and the soft swaying of leaves in the afternoon's breeze. The pleasures of the quiet life may be simple, but they are a marvelous creation easily missed and too often taken for granted.
But you are being blessed. You have the privilege of soaking in the presence of these beauties. Your life is not too loud. You do not miss the hushed tones of the uninterrupted life. You have been given a gift.
Your quiet time in life might last longer then you ever expected. A year, two years... maybe even more. Not one of those moments, days or years is a waste. It is not just biding your time. Each one of those precious moments is bestowed upon you to grow you closer to the wondrous God who created the quiet and the beauties that accompany it. He has let you remain in the quiet. He, himself, is in the quiet. And he wants to share it with you. God is waiting in the silence, yearning for a deeper walk with you. Will you join him?
How will you use this time? Will you wish it away? Or will you savor it? Will you use this time to grow intimately closer to God - fostering a relationship unlike any other? He wants to get to know you better. He wants you to know him better. That can only be done through time spent in the company of one another. How important is your relationship with him? He is giving you time to show him just how much of him you want. He has already shown you how deeply he desires you - sending his son to die for you, separating you from the rest of the world to fellowship with you, alone. Will you meet him there? His invitation has already been extended. It is written in the silence.




Monday, October 15, 2012

What will you pursue?

Dreams, plans, aspirations, hard work... they all sound good, don't they? Not only do they sound good but they sound logical. In fact, they sound like the kind of thing your Mom and Dad would have applauded and encouraged. In school these were the principles that students were to aspire to. It has been engrained in young minds that these are the actions of the successful. Just think of the quotes you find printed on mugs, t-shirts, and banners in the school cafeteria: "Dream big"..."Reach for the stars"..."If you can dream it, you can do it"..... These are the sayings our society loves to quote and live by. No wonder it is common place for adults to ask students what they are planning for the future. It is assumed that everyone should be focusing on what is coming next.

Would you like to know what I think of all those sayings and that entire mindset? I have come to see that it is pure silliness. We can try to plan and plot for the future, striving to reach a goal and become a success at something or be successful in some relationship. Our lives can become defined by what we are attempting to accomplish but in the end all of it will amount to trying to grasp the wind: we will come up empty. Sure, maybe by the world's standards we will look like we have it all together but don't be fooled. Looking good to the world is often deceiving. The world has expectations and standards that are far from Biblical and often in stark contrast to the things of God. What is a slam dunk in this world's eyes is often a major fail in God's.
This leaves us with two options. One, we can work to gain the things that our society tells us we should want: money, friends, success, fulfilled dreams, fun experiences, security... These, among many others, are what our culture and our human nature puts value on. Our aspirations become molded around what is comfortable and most enjoyable. We become caught up in attaining that which will make us successful from a worldly perspective. That usually involves money and a title - a degree, a job with a fancy description and bold letters with big words that no one fully comprehends. These are the things that tell the world: I'VE MADE IT!
But what does God think of that? If we've hit all the milestones to be a success here, on this earth, does that translate to success in God's eyes, on the OTHER side of this earth?
Romans 12:2 tells us, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Clearly, God isn't caught up in the successes of the world. He doesn't seem to put much stock in the things that our human flesh falls prey to. He is calling us to something bigger, higher, greater - he is calling us to his way of thinking.
I've been challenged and convicted to change my own thought process. This morning I woke up with a word from God: Until you pursue me with your whole heart, you will never have full health. In a nut shell God was telling me to stop running after the things of this world. Stop getting caught up on earthly aspirations. Stop looking at all the meaningless, trivial distractions that are so plentiful in this world. Pursue HIM. Look to HIM in all things and all ways.
Is success sinful? I don't think so. Are relationships inherently sinful? God created them so I would assume they are not. Is hard work against God's will? Of course not. But all of these things can become road blocks between us and an intimate relationship with God if they become our pursuit in life. Our pursuit should be after the heart, character and mind of God. Getting into his word, fostering a deeper relationship through prayer, soaking in the presence of his spirit, learning through study and reading - all of these practices grow our most important relationship: the one with our Savior.
To put our focus on any earthly thing or any earthly goal is only a lousy replacement for a deep, lasting relationship with our father God.
He wants our undivided attention. If we give it to him, he will take care of the rest. We do not need to stress ourselves out trying to map out our future or plot out our five year plan. If we are rightly focused on God he will guide our steps and gradually reveal to us HIS plan. He will open doors and direct our steps. He will show us where to put in the hard work and what opportunities to pursue. But there is only one way to receive this kind of guidance and instruction: pursue him first. It is only when we are pursuing God first that every thing else in life will fall into its proper place.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Walk it off

Do I have a future? Some days it is so hard to trust that there will be a life beyond what I'm living right now. It is taking all of my faith, and then some, just to believe that God is going to do something with me that will be of value. Right now, I couldn't feel further from that. Right now, I feel like a waste. What is my purpose? Why am I even here? These thoughts keep plaguing me and crushing my spirit. I don't have a job. I'm not enrolled in school. I don't have a life dedicated to volunteering. I'm not taking care of children. What is it that I am doing? What am I accomplishing? When I logically look at my life and my circumstances I know that my health has backed me into this situation. But why? Why did this happen to me? I almost never question it. I almost never raise this question at all. I usually just take it all in stride. I usually figure that God gives everyone a different lot in life and why not give me this? Why should I be spared difficulty?
But some times I succumb to the "why me?" mantra. I know it isn't right. I know I should trust God more than this. Yet, I give in. Depression overwhelms me and I quit fighting against it. I willing let a dark cloud settle over me.
I've watched my life be reduced to so little - and more than just a little weight. There is so little that I do with myself and that I accomplish. Each day I wake up - for what? What is the purpose? It wouldn't make a difference if I never got out of bed. I used to fall asleep each night thinking about my future and dreaming of the aspirations and hopes I had. Now I almost never think of those things. Yesterday, for the first time in months, I thought about the dream of working in DC that I used to have. But my mind didn't stay there long. My thoughts have once again slipped back to the day-to-day, unknown, uncertainty that is my reality.
I feel cheated. Other people my age are out in the world working towards something. Maybe they are only working for the next pay check or maybe they are studying for a degree - but most are putting an effort into something and seeing a result. I'm so discouraged that I can't even imagine being in their position, yet what they have I want too. I want to be in school. But right now, I can't do anything but pray that I get healthy. And right now, that feels like a stretch.
I wish I had a resounding resolution that would make all of this ranting better...but I don't. All I have is the aching pain of discouragement and a heavy weight that is crushing my spirit. I want it to go away. I know it isn't of God to feel this way. These are the tricks and tactics of the devil. He wants me to feel hopeless - he gets his kicks off this sort of thing. I don't want him to get any pleasure out of me though.

Enough wallowing in my own sorrow. I'm going for a walk.

When in doubt, walk it off.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

His beloved

"Lord, the one you love is sick."
I've read the story of Lazarus and his death and resurrection too many times to count but never before was I so struck by that sentence. It is at the beginning of John 11. Martha and Mary (Lazarus' sisters) sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was deathly sick. What is so amazing to me is not that they wanted to tell Jesus about their plight but how they told him. They referred to their brothers as the one Jesus' loved. They knew God's love was so deep for their brother that they could refer to him in such an intimate way. 
Jesus doesn't respond by saying, "Who?" He knows exactly who they are talking about. He knows Lazarus so personally that this kind of reference is natural. His response is that the illness won't result in death. Then he just sits where he is at.
Huh?
If Lazarus is going to be healed Jesus should probably get going to do some miracle work, right? But he doesn't go running to Lazarus' side. He loves him deeply but he stays put.
From the outside looking in, this doesn't make sense. How could a loving God not rush to the side of the one he loves at his time of need? Shouldn't he be there holding his hand and sharing in the suffering of his beloved?
It took two full days before Jesus began his journey to the town Lazarus was in. When he reached it, he was greeted by Martha who wasted no time in telling Jesus that his presence could have prevented her brother's death. I'm sure she was itching to speak those words! Can you blame her? She knew how powerful God was and how Jesus could do miraculous wonders in his name. I'm sure she was hoping for such a miracle for her own brother. Yet, even if she was discouraged, she didn't lose her faith in the Almighty. She went on to tell Jesus that she knew he could still do something wonderful, even after her brother succumbed to death. Her faith wasn't contingent on Jesus showing up when she would have liked him to be there. Her faith wasn't dependent on her own time table. She trusted God, even when circumstances looked like they weren't in her favor.
The story goes on and we see the purpose behind Jesus' absence and Lazarus' death. In reality, Jesus wasn't "absent" at all. He was waiting for the right moment to present itself so God could be glorified in the most amazing of ways. What could be more powerful then seeing a man raised from the dead? Jesus used Lazarus' pain to bring forth the ultimate testimony: one of resurrection.

After reading this scripture this morning I was moved on two levels.
First, by Martha. Her unwavering faith is inspiring. She was faced with a dead brother and still remained steadfast in her faith. Nothing could come between her and Jesus - not even the death of a beloved sibling. She had called on Jesus and it seemed that he hadn't answered but she didn't get angry or bitter. Instead, she continued to believe in the providence and limitless power of her Savior.
The second thing that struck me was Lazarus, the one Jesus loved, and how he was treated. Jesus let him die. How could he do such a thing to someone he loved so passionately and so deeply? What kind of "love" is that? Couldn't he have saved Lazarus the pain and suffering that accompanies sickness? He could have, I'm sure, but he chose not to. He allowed him to die so that, when given new life, Lazarus would be a walking, talking, breathing testimony to the one and only, all powerful God. If Jesus had healed his sickness days earlier it would have been a miracle and, I'm sure, it would have moved many witnesses to put their faith in God. But there was an even bigger plan. How many do you suppose were brought to faith through the resurrection of a dead man who had been in a tomb for four days? I can't even imagine the hearts that were changed by just this one single life.
God was never ignoring Lazarus and he certainly wasn't unaware of the severity of his illness and consequential death. He knew the most precise details of Lazarus' situation, yet he let him die so that glory could be brought to the name of the Lord Almighty. He bestowed on Lazarus an amazing blessing - the blessing of being a resurrected testimony to the power of God. That is no small thing. How many can say that they were raised from the dead? But God loved Lazarus so much that he blessed him with such a testimony.
Lazarus was truly the one Jesus loved. He was loved so deeply and passionately that God gave him the greatest testimony you can ever imagine. He once was dead, but then he lived all because of the incredible power of his Heavenly Father.
For four days it appeared that God wasn't there. But he was working in the silence and the death of his beloved. If he worked in such mysterious ways in the Bible, who is to say he doesn't work in that same way today? Even when it appears that God has gone silent, he is not absent. He is working in the still and quiet. The silent moments may leave us wondering and questioning: what the purpose is? Why isn't God acting when he could and when we'd like him to? Remember Martha. She knew Jesus could heal her brother and called on him in her time of need and he didn't come running. Still she kept her faith, knowing that God works in ways she doesn't always see or recognize. Her faith remained steady. When it seems like God is silent in our own lives, we too, must remain steadfast in our faith, knowing that God is still working even while he is quiet. He is working a plan bigger then we can imagine and more marvelous then our dreams can comprehend. While we remain faithful in the small and silent moments, he will remain busy working a miraculous testimony for his beloved.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Waiting Game

Growing up my best friend for most of those years was a a lively, outgoing, energetic girl named Chelsea who always had a creative idea of the next best thing to do. She was never idle. She was always going, doing, thinking, planning and plotting. We met when we were in first grade and were practically members of each others families during third, fourth and fifth grade. When I left the public school we both attended in the sixth grade, our friendship changed and, naturally, grew apart.
Like any relationship, I learned things from my friendship with Chelsea. I remember her Mom used to get frustrated because Chelsea was always looking for the next activity on the agenda. If we were at the mall she wanted to know what we were doing afterwards. If there was nothing on the schedule she was sure to come up with something that could fill the next available time slot. Her Mom would sigh an exasperated stream of breath and then let out these words, "Chelsea, live in the moment!" Chelsea just couldn't stop looking forward to the next best thing. She couldn't focus and enjoy the moment. She was always looking to the next moment. I used to think this was a problem only some people dealt with. I knew how to live in the moment. I knew how to enjoy life, right where I was at... or at least that's what I thought. But the truth of my flawed and sinful human flesh is becoming evermore evident to me. The gap between who I am and who I want (and sometimes even think) to be is bigger then I could have ever imagined. As my eyes are being further opened to my own flaws I am beginning to see that I, too, suffer from the inability to truly live in the moment.
Much of life seems to be spent waiting for something else to happen. Think about it - the engaged girl is waiting for the wedding day. The accountant is waiting for April 15th to pass. The nurse is waiting for her shift to end. The child is waiting for summer vacation. The snowplow guy is waiting for winter's first snow fall. Everyone is waiting for something.
All this waiting isn't sinful.  It is healthy to have a sense of anticipation and expectation. A pregnant woman in her third trimester undoubtedly has every reason to be excited as she eagerly awaits the arrival of her child. The college student in the final months before graduation has every reason to be hopeful, looking toward the future and making plans for what lies ahead. There is nothing wrong with waiting for the excitement of the future to arrive. The trouble comes when we become so focused on the future that we neglect to see the present.
It is easy to get so caught up in what we think is around the corner that we unfortunately miss the beauty of the journey itself. The pregnant Mom should be excited for the baby's arrival but think of all she will miss out on if she doesn't take the nine months leading to that blessed moment to prepare, pray, and enjoy some freedoms she won't have once her child arrives. The college graduate can be counting down the days till they put on a cap and gown while still enjoying their final classes and outings with friends who will soon be going their own way upon the graduation date.
I don't propose how each and every individual should go about "living in the moment." It will be different for everyone. Maybe for one person they will need to stop and close their eyes, take a deep breath and count to three when they are starting to live outside the moment. For others, that kind of ritual won't be necessary. Either way, we all run into circumstances and situations where we are jumping out of this moment and into the thought life of the moments to come.
Recently I've been guilty of not living in the moment. Shall I start in on my list of excuses or would that be a waste of energy? Probably the latter. No matter how difficult life's circumstances become, there is no good reason to live like life is only one big waiting game. I'm afraid that is exactly what I've been doing. Instead of cherishing this time in my life, struggles and all, I've been twiddling my thumbs with the impatience of a three year old. My thought life has been the equivalent of doodling during math class. Things are happening around me but I'm tuned out; my mind is elsewhere. I've stopped living in the moment. I've retreated to thoughts of what the future might be - what I hope it will be. I have let my current trial sap me of my joy for the present. I have willingly given over "living in the moment" to "retreating from the moment". Call it depression, sadness, or just plain emotional exhaustion - I'm calling it the waiting game. I have been deliberately escaping my present, simply waiting out my current life circumstances.
This isn't the way life is meant to be lived. Each moment is precious and allowed by God. He has, for whatever reason, let our current life circumstances come to pass. Maybe those circumstances are exciting and joyful. In that case it is easy to live in the moment. Who wouldn't want to live in a moment of pure bliss? It is the trials and tribulations of life that are harder to remain present and all accounted for. Those are the times we want to run and hide until the storm has passed. But God ALLOWED the storm. He knew it would come and said, "bring it on." He didn't fly us out of the hurricane's path. He didn't divert the storm on another track. When times get rough it isn't a surprise to God. He knew they would come. So, who are we to retreat from them? If God knew they were coming and could have changed their path, yet didn't, then who are we to run from them or ignore them? Who are we to overlook them, shut our eyes tightly while they pound down on us and just hold out for the sunshine?
I'm reminded of that quote by Vivian Greene, "Life's not about waiting for the storm to pass... It is about learning to dance in the rain." Whether life is in its bleakest moments or is pure bliss, it is a time ordained by God. If He saw it fit that we should be in our given moment, then we should give it our full attention - not seek to escape it or simply wait it out. The moment isn't here to be endured, it is here to be embraced. Maybe it is to grow us spiritually, bless us relationally, heal us emotionally or challenge us mentally. No matter what the purpose - don't miss it. Don't miss the blessings that can only be found by living in this very moment.

Friday, October 5, 2012

You reap what you sow

We've all heard the saying, "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." This little phrase is familiar and a favorite among parents while rearing their small children. Kids want it all while giving up nothing. Opportunity cost is a foreign principle in their young minds. It is easy to see the flaw when the person is five and wants to have cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a lollipop for a snack. They are being unrealistic. They aren't thinking things through. They simply don't know what is best for them.
Unfortunately, this naive approach to desires and wants doesn't end with childhood - is plagues the adult population with a vengeance. Adults are just as guilty of wanting what they want, when they want it without thinking through the consequences, or admitting that the consequences even exist. It is the equivilant of feeding a child happy meals for every meal and expecting them to have the health of a farm fresh, balanced diet. You can't have both. You can't put in garbage and get back riches. You get what you put in.
When it comes to eating this principle seems simple enough. You get what you put in. But what about the rest of life? We are sucked into a culture and a society that is feeding on mental and moral trash yet we want a peaceful and prosperous world where love and kindness abound. Our TVs are spewing obscenities and moral degradation like it is no big deal. Sitcoms make sex into a pass time and partying with alcohol and drugs as just part of growing up. Our culture is defined by what is happening at home. When we are welcoming this depraved behavior into our living rooms, we are making it acceptable in the eyes of children and adults alike. The moral standard flies out the window when right vs. wrong becomes blurred on the TV screen.
And it isn't just on TV. Music is just as pervasive. The hot topic of popular music is either sex, alcohol, partying, hooking up or all of the above in one crazy night. And these are the lyrics that kids are singing, so many of them not even grasping the gravity of the words and their meaning. Yet the truth behind those words is permeating the innocent minds of a generation that is still being formed, molded and developed.
We are bombarded every day by these outside influences. If you walk into a store, drive your car, log onto the internet or turn on the TV you make yourself susceptible to the filth that has seeped into every corner of this culture. It feels unavoidable. It has taken over.
Still, we want the people in our society to be "good". This word has different meaning to different people. But it is safe to say that majority of people want a law abiding, kind, tolerant, accomplished society. We don't want violent outbursts, murder and fights in the street. We don't want drunken accidents and beer bottle lined streets. We want things to appear to be under control and all in order.
There is one major disconnect in this logic. We want the good things of this world while getting to "enjoy" (if you can call it that) the filth that we are offered. It simply doesn't add up. You get what you put into life. If you fill your mind with sex and partying through the TV it becomes acceptable behavior, or at least normal, in your mind's eye. If you listen to music supporting violence then chances are violent behavior will become dulled on your moral radar.
You cannot fill yourself with darkness and expect light to pour out.
You cannot ingest poison and expect a healthy, vibrant body.
You get out of life what you put into it.
Our society would like you to believe that you can ingest all the rotten sludge it has to offer and still reap love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It is just not so. If you put in sin, violence, perversion, lies and disobedience then that is precisely what you will reap.
But, if you sow the characteristics of Christ and the principles of upright, moral, Godly living then that, too, is what you will sow. This basic principle is simple. It is addition and subtraction in school. It is the ABC's in kindergarten. It is so fundamental that the need to spell it out is almost silly. Unfortunately, it does need to be spelled out. It needs to be shouted from a mountain. Our society has slipped away from the upright and righteous living that was once the common standard. Now there is no standard. Moral relativity abounds and right/wrong is a matter of opinion. There is no expectation for upright living. Every kind of behavior has become acceptable. What kind of world can we expect when this is the new standard?
How can we expect good results when we are feeding off of the equivalent of moral trash?
The short answer: we can't.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fraud spotting

How do you spot a fraud?
I'm not talking about Coach purses being sold on the side of a New York City street. If you don't know those are a fraud we have a problem. Coach is not creating a special line of purses to be sold on fold-and-go tables on dirty city streets by men in baggy jeans and a three day old shave jobs. No. Coach has different standards. If your "authentic" Coach purse/tote/i-pad cover/luggage came from such a vendor, I am sorry to inform you that it is far from authentic and 100% knock-off. Same goes for these "purse parties" that sell top of the line purses for bargain basement prices. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
I understand this concept when it comes to buying designer goods, getting work done on the house or buying electronics. You get what you pay for. If something looks the same yet costs a fraction of the cost there is probably something beneath the surface that is also only a fraction of what it should be. At first you probably won't miss it, but just wait a while. Sooner or later you will long for the fraction you didn't know you weren't getting and weren't paying for.
And that brings me to the deeper question, the one that goes beyond purchases and products. How do you know when a person is a fraud? How do you tell the true, genuine, authentic people from the manipulators, liars and downright two-faced?
This question raises some real doubts about who we surround ourselves with. Think about who you have dated in the past. You thought they were one thing but, turns out, they weren't all they were cracked up to be. Some people marry such characters. 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Obviously, somewhere along the line one or both of the parties involved wasn't what they claimed to be. Or maybe they just "changed" or "fell out of love". You know, the normal lines that every divorced couple leans on for a time being after they've signed on the dotted line, ending a union that was meant to last till death did them part. But something happened. Something wasn't what it appeared to be. Maybe someone was a full blown fraud.
Fraudulent people are harmful to more then marriage vows. They break business agreements and friendships. As president they can be downright dangerous. Given too much power, the fraud can pursue an agenda that is evil and corrupt while the innocent are taken for a ride.
How do you spot such a fraud and how do you arm yourself against them?

Google isn't helpful on this subject matter unless you are talking check fraud or a con artist. But I'm not talking specifics such as those - I'm talking general. I'm talking about the everyday variety liars and schemers. I'm talking about the real soul of a person. How do you know when it is truly decent, pure and good? And how do you know when it stinks to high heaven?

Is there a foolproof spot checking technique?  There is only one hope: be authentic yourself. Being a genuinely upright person is the only chance we have at gaining the discerning wisdom to spot those who aren't authentic themselves.
We can never be guaranteed that we aren't face to face with a fraud (unless it is a Louis Vitton on the side of Madison Avenue). We rely on our judgement and our senses. Unfortunately, those are often flawed, too. At the end of the day the best chance we have is to live an upright life in God's eyes. We are called to something bigger than even the moral standards of this world - which are bare bones to say the least. We are called to live in such a way as to win the prize. We are called to live by the grace of God, not by the power of our human flesh. When we order and dictate our lives by this standard the outside world looks a whole lot different. People look different; circumstances look different; and the truth becomes clearer. The fraud wears a big "F" across the chest much like a sacrlet letter. The truth is brought to light. The frauds lose their upperhand and masterful edge.
Will you still fall prey to a lying cheat in the office? Maybe. We are human - remember. That means we won't always use the discernment God is offering us and we won't call on His wisdom. There are times we will fall short in our own character and spirit which will render our fraud spotting skills ineffective. But, if we walk with God in authenticity and obedience, we will find that we are saved the heartache and pain inflicted on us by fraudulent people.

The goodness of God knows no limits. We pray to Him and thank Him for creation, but He is so much more then even those wonders. He is a fraud spotter. He sees people and things for what they truly are. He knew the hearts of the pharisees and called them out for their lack of faith. If He could do it in the Old Testament, He can do it today. And the amazing, glorious truth is that He is doing it right here and now. He is spotting the frauds and granting us the power to spot them, too. But there is only one way to get that: live a life filled with the Holy Spirit, walking in obedience to God by his grace, mercy and power.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ready for battle?

Yesterday I stood on the scale in the doctor's office and held my breath as the nurse moved the metal pieces up and down, side to side, to, once again, determine my weight. This is now my twice a week routine. At first I dreaded this moment. The number went up and down like a child playing with a yo-yo - a lot more downs then ups. After a few weeks of disappointing and unpredictable numbers I began to get used to the reality of this roller coaster ride I'm on. It isn't always pleasant and there are days I get frustrated at the lack of progress or absence of any gains whatsoever. But most days I accept that this is where I'm at and I'm okay with it.
What I've learned in the last few months, and really over the past two years, is that I am engaged in a battle for my life - and not just my physical life. When you look at the number on the scale it is obvious that there is a crisis of sorts taking place in my body. Many people have perished at weights higher then mine. A dangerously low BMI is anything under 16 or so. I'd love a BMI of 16. Right now I'm looking forward to hitting 15. That is the war on my body and the severity of its attack is extreme. It has ripped away from me my cushioning, padding and comfort. It has left me cold, weak, and tired. The physical toll has been dramatic. If you looked at me you would see only the outward struggles and the physical ailments that are plaguing me. Yet, the war that is being waged isn't really about all the physical that can be seen with the naked eye. In fact, the physical is the least of the battle.
The war being waged is truly one of spiritual proportions. The Bible warns us of this kind of attack. The Bible tells us that we will come under attack because there is a spiritual battle being waged for our souls. This battle doesn't stop at the spiritual - it hits us right where it hurts (literally). 1 Peter 4:12-13 says, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." There is no getting around it. When we are one with Christ we will be one with his suffering. When we give our lives over to him we are signing on to bearing a cross that won't always be pleasant and certainly won't be easy.
Satan wants our soul and he will use any and all tactics to grab hold of it. His desire to control our spiritual being cannot be separated from the physical. He attacks on the physical level to break down the spiritual. He uses the one thing we can't escape - our bodies - in an attempt to pull us away from God. He wants the very core of us. And he knows the physical body is a darn good way to get it. 
The battle that we see from the outside is just the tip of the iceberg and it isn't where the true war is being waged. If we fight as if all we are up against is a physical ailment or disease then we are certain to lose. We must first see our enemy for WHO he is: Satan; and WHAT he wants: our soul. He is alive and well. He came to steal and destroy. And he wants God's people. If you are a follower of Christ consider yourself a name on Satan's hit-list. 
Our only hope in a clear, concise victory is to enter the fight fit for a spiritual battle. The word of God, prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit are to be our go-to weapons in our arsenal. Blood work, surgery and medications just muddy the waters if we aren't grabbing the right weaponry first and foremost. Satan wants us to miss the true purpose of the attack. He knows that if we miss what he's after we are defenseless. But, if we see the truth of why we are under attack we will know how to fight. And more importantly, we will know how to win.
The key to winning in the fight for our soul isn't finding the right doctor or checking in at the right hospital. It is in coming prepared to fight for the spiritual. When we wear the right armor and carry the right weapons God will take care of the physical.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Life....liberty and the pursuit of happiness

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As Americans we love to quote these words with all the patriotism we can muster, yet the way we live and the decisions we make as a country poorly portray such principles and values.
The trouble arises with the pursuit of happiness. Everyone seems to be in agreement that they want happiness, although they disagree as to the best way to achieve it. Some believe government should provide safeguards and bumpers for the falls in life so that its citizens and residents don't have to suffer. Others believe that pursuing happiness requires that the government remains hands off, allowing people to pursue their dreams and aspirations without the threat of regulation, roadblocks and red tape that is associated with increased government intervention. As a country and a people we want to be happy but we don't always agree on the path to getting there.
Liberty is another matter of contention. Liberty is all about freedom. This is the word that embodies rights. This is the word that makes America purely American. But again, it raises argument and disagreement between Americans. Ronald Regan said it best: "Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty." Part of the country wants more power in the hands of the government while the the other part sees that as the slow degeneration of their liberties.
Trying to convince someone on the other side of the ideological aisle to see things differently is like trying to persuade a two year old to give up their candy: good luck.
These two big principles, although fundamental to our country, are nothing compared to the first principle in our patriotic mantra. They pale in comparison to the most basic, most essential value laid forth by our founding fathers.
Life. Without it we are nothing. Without the right to life... to be born... there is no possibility of enjoying liberty and there is no happiness to pursue.
If someone can choose to take away our lives we have a bigger issue then accumulating wealth or growing the entrepreneurial spirit. People need the security that their life is safe and protected to be able to move onto higher values and aspirations.
In Africa, genocide has run rampant. Men and women have been killed simply because of their family tree, residential location or skin color. Children have been seperated from their parents, orphaned and left searching for a safe haven. In the book, "A Long Way Gone," a boy from Sierra Leone experiences the burning of his town and the displacement of his family. He becomes separated from them and then is taken by the enemy to be a boy soldier. He is forced to perform acts that are horrifying and pure evil.  Escaping was inconceivable. He had no safety. Each day was simply another day to survive. He couldn't think about a future or accomplishing something of value. All he could focus on was living till tomorrow. It was not until he was rescued that he could begin to dream again. He needed to be secure and safe in the physical sense before he could concern himself with higher aspirations of liberty and happiness.
This security starts before a child hits a certain age or a certain mental capacity. People need this security and guarantee of a life before a breath can even be taken in this world. Life must be so valued and so sacred that it is put above all else from the very start. This is the way God created us. Before we were formed in our mother's womb we were created in the image of God. He made plans for us before we ever showed up on a pregnancy test or ultrasound machine. God values us and our lives so much that he planned ahead for it and prepared for it. Isaiah 49:1 says, "Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name." God acknowledges His children before they ever reach this earth. They are special and set apart before they even make their first cry of welcome into this world. 
God doesn't take life lightly. It is so precious to him that he plans and prepares long before the date of birth. If God puts such a high value on life, who are we to devalue it? Who are we to say that it doesn't matter until we can put a face on it? Who are we to say that a certain moment in the womb is "the" moment that there is actual life? God already named that person. God already made plans for that person! 
The time that life begins is not ours to debate and it is not ours to set. God already set the time. By the time we know about a pregnancy God knows about the life. He already set it apart and gave that person a name. Each and every person, created in God's image, is alive and forming while still in the womb. God is using that time to grow his creation. The formation of cells is no accident. They are all part of his handiwork to grow the person God already created. 
Life must be secured. It cannot be subject to human opinion and emotion. The security of life trumps all else. It gives us a foundation to pursue our dreams, enjoy our freedoms and find true happiness. Without life the rest is impossible.  A country that denies that first freedom to the most innocent and helpless of their citizenry deserves not the other two.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remember 9/11

Eleven years later and the news stations, local papers and political talking heads are telling its viewers, readers, and listeners that we aren't going to remember or take the time to care what happened on this day. I beg to differ. How could we, as a nation, forget?
Nine-eleven is engraved in my mind. I remember sitting in my sixthth grade class when an announcement came over the loud speaker alerting the teachers of a national emergency and asking them to turn their tvs on. We briefly watched the horror. I don't remember how long we watched or what specific moments I witnessed. But I do remember being in shock that this was happening in our country. That night at home my Mom and I watched the continuous news coverage. Mom ironed in the basement in front of the tv which was something she never did. I had never seen her iron in that room before that day and I've never seen her do it since. It added to the strangeness of that day for me.
I don't know if all kids were affected by that day the way I was. It has always stuck with me. When I see the time 9:11 on the clock my heart skips a beat. I couldn't possibly forget what this day means, what happened, and how many people were robbed of something that day. For some people they lost a person. Thousands died in the horror of falling buildings, crashing planes and attempted rescue missions. The loss of life was devestating and it impacted so many families. Others didn't lose a person but they did lose a sense of security that used to be fundamentally American. When that second plane hit the World Trade Towers the US watched that security go up in smoke. We all lost something that day.
When I opened the newspaper this morning I expected to find an article about the heros of 9/11. I was hoping for a unifying message that reminded this country how it came together in the aftermath of that tragedy. But that wasn't the message. Instead the article focused on how many people wouldn't take time to remember today or do anything special to commemerate the tragedy. Some of the people interviewed for the article sounded disgusted with fellow Americans for their lack of somberness on this day. The heart of the message wasn't unifying at all. Instead, it focused on the disparity of the American people.  A division between those who honor the day and those who ignore it.
I can't help but wonder if the article got the whole story right. Are we really that blind to the past? The author sites studies showing shockingly low percentages of Americans even reflect on the events of this day 11 years ago. I doubt the numbers are as low as they claim. That day shook this country to its core. No matter where you lived or who you were you watched what happened. It didn't matter if you knew someone in the towers or had never even seen the city before, your heart broke for the loss of life and devestation. Everyone was united in something: grief.
Now, 11 years later, the horror of that day is no less striking. What shakes me now is how far from that day we have come and how much we have forgotten about the unity that followed the attack. We were a country standing together against evil and injustice. We stood for something bigger then ourselves - no matter what our political party or beliefs. We were gripped by something bigger than politics.
Today we are in the midst of a heated election that could very well define the future of this country. The attacks now aren't from the outside; they are party against party, American against American. The United States of America couldn't be more divided.
America hasn't forgotten 9/11, no matter what the polls say. Those 3 numbers will forever mean something to those that lived through it. What America has forgotten is the lessons we learned that day. We learned that this country can come together and unite for a common purpose. We learned that there are forces outside the US that are against us. We learned that in the midst of terrible circumstances, people can show true compassions, heroism and goodness. We learned that who we are as a nation is not defined by social class, tax bracket or race. We learned that America is great because of the way we can band together, fight for the common good and rise about tragedy and difficulty.
The lessons of 9/11 are as true and relevant today as they were eleven years ago. We must not forget what this country was founded on and what has carried us through the most difficult moments of our nation's history. We haven't come this far by divisive meaures and internal attacks. We have become great because of the moments when we came together as a nation, pulled our selves up by our boot straps, and pushed toward the common good. It all started with our founding fathers who wanted a better nation for themselves and their families. It was once again proven to be the American way in the days of WWII and the unthinkable horrors of Hitler. Then, on 9/11, our generation witnessed American values in action once again. We came together as one. We united because that is who we were founded to be: These United States of America.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Spiritual Fitness

Physical fitness is pretty easy to test. I remember the days of elementary school gym fitness testing. I must admit I dreaded those days. I was never very athletically gifted - at least in comparison to my peers. The gym teacher would have us go through a series of tests such as the long jump, sprints, pull ups, and one of my least favorites - the sit and reach. Oh, how I hated the sit and reach! I've always had terrible flexibility. When other kids were sliding down into splits I was busy blaming the cut of my pants for my lack of bend-ability. From a young age I've been aware that athletic prowess isn't my thing. Oh well! Some people have physical fitness talent and others, not so much. I'm in the not so much category and I've come to accept it.
There is another kind of fitness that I'm not so willing to let become out of shape. Spiritual fitness.
I never thought about my spiritual fitness very much - especially in elementary school. Like so many other Christians, I suppose I assumed that having faith was enough and, if bad times every befell me, I would rise to the occasion as needed. I didn't worry much about preparation - "stretching" and "working out" if you will. Yet, just like with physical fitness, spiritual fitness takes work. It doesn't take the kind of work that focuses on how good you can be and how close to perfect you can come. It has to do with becoming in tune with God, learning to die to self, practicing the principle of obedience in the small things. The work we must do to grow our spiritual fitness has to do with learning how to draw on the Holy Spirit. That isn't easy for our human nature that wants to be in charge and has the tendency to focus solely on the "self". But the workouts we are doing (aka walking through life) are growing our ability to be God focused in all things and in all circumstances.

When life is good what are we praising? Are we praising God or are we forgetting that we are living in the midst of his blessings?
When we encounter difficult people how are we reacting? Do we forget God's love for people or are we resorting to frustration and a short temper?
When we make a mistake on the job what is our reaction? Are we just looking to place blame or are we humbly admitting our failure and seeking to correct it?
When it rains and our plans for a day outside are ruined what is our plan B? Or are we too busy complaining to even acknowledge that an enjoyable plan B even exists?

These small, seemingly insignificant daily life situations are opportunities to become more spiritual fit. If we aren't drawing on God's power in these exercises how will we ever draw on his power for the big race? Just like an Olympic athlete, you can't show up for the competition of a lifetime without spending some serious time training. Take, for example, Gabby Douglas - the Olympic gymnast who took gold this year for the US team. She had been training her whole life for that moment and even moved across the country, away from her family, four years earlier to train with a particular coach. She devoted her life to being fit and ready to compete with the best of the best. She had to sacrifice. Her life looked and, looks, so much different then most girls her age because of the intense training she choose to take on. Her life has been shaped by her physical fitness.
We have that option with our spiritual fitness. We can choose to live it out each and every day - making sacrifices, taking the road less traveled and having a life that looks far from normal. In the end it will all pay off. When the tough trials and true tests of our faith come, we will be ready. This is the only way to prepare for such a day. We cannot expect to know how to handle these difficulties if we haven't trained and worked our spiritual muscles.
Each day is a day at the "gym". Will you give it your all and push yourself to the limit by continually giving yourself over to God's power and living a life of obedience? Or will you trudge through the day on your own steam and stamina? Put into practice now the principle of drawing on God's Holy Spirit and you will face each day with the peace and security of having the ultimate power guiding and directing your life. You will be ready to take on the toughest challenges and walk with God's strength through the most difficult of circumstances. The training will not always be easy and there will be times when it will stretch you beyond what you thought you could ever handle. Push on, run the race, keep your eye on the power of the Holy Spirit. In the end, all your training will prove to be worth every ounce of blood, sweat and tears. It is all worth it when you know you are training for the glory of God.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Welcome the fall and the fruit flies

It is now officially September which means that summer is past and fall is ushering in changing colors, a bountiful harvest and freshly sharpened pencils. This time of year is nostalgic. It brings back the memories of school shopping and new beginnings in the classroom. I remember the days of standing in the front yard with my backpack in place, smile reluctantly plastered on my face as my Mom would take my picture on the first day of school. Those moments were filled with anxiety and excitement as a new phase of life began and the relaxing, lazy days of summer were once again just a memory until next June.
For me, the toughest part of school shopping was always finding the right pair of shoes. Funny, because now I have absolutely no trouble finding shoes. My problem is finding too many pairs of shoes. Shoes can become an addiction. Have you seen the women who has thousands of shoes in her closet and is now having to go to court over them in her divorce settlement? I think she may have a problem. Fortunately, I am no where near her level, although I think a problem was probably detected before she hit the 4-digit mark in her shoe collection. I'm safely still under the 3-digit mark. This is acceptable, right?
Don't answer that.
The memory is a curious thing because I can remember with detailed precision the difficulties of shoe shopping and the excitement of putting together folders, binders and an array of pencils, pens and highlighters. Those memories are imprinted on my mind. Yet, every time summer comes to a close and fall draws near, there is one thing that I am surprised by year after year: fruit flies. I don't know what it is about these little intruders but they just love the last three days of August and the beginning of September. They are in their glory. Every year they swarm in like a swat team on a mission to take out an assailant and still every year I am caught off guard.
All summer fruit flies are in too much supply for my liking. They may be small but they give me the crawling feeling in a big way. By the time fall comes around my skin is in a perpetual state of itch simply by walking near the kitchen. It doesn't seem to matter that all the fruit is put away and bananas aren't even in the general vicinity of the house, the fruit flies still abound. Bananas really do seem to be the worst (or the best, if you're a fruit fly) for attracting these pests. A banana in a mile radius seems to send the alert messages in the minute brain of the fly and sends them descending on the entire tri-state area. Maybe we should put a ban on bananas in the months of August and September. Come on people, it is for the good of the community at large! Okay, so maybe that is a little bit extreme. Just the last few days of August? Compromise?
Well, even if the rest of the town isn't getting on board - I'm not buying bananas till fruit flies have left the building. I'm sticking to it especially after reading what those little buggers do to the yellow fruit. The lady flies get under the fruit's skin and lay eggs. Can you say "yum"? My aunt has always told me that fruit flies won't kill you. "They just add protein," she says. I guess she's right. But I think I'll pass on that protein source, thank you very much. Some people are vegans or vegetarians - banning all animal proteins. Well, I'm a fruitfly-tarian (I'm working on the name). I don't eat foods that have been the breeding ground for fruit flies. I know what you're thinking: impossible. You may be right, but it is worth a shot! At least I can store my fruit in the fridge the moment it comes home from the store. I can be stringent on not leaving my produce out for even a moment. And lastly, I can wash and scrub EVERYTHING before I eat it. These are the practices of my fruitfly-tarian lifestyle.
When asked why the ban on all things fruit fly I can explain that the fruit has become a breeding ground for young fruit fly families. How do you feel about eating such a thing? Destroying a family in the process. This is the reasoning behind vegans and vegetarians eating habits, isn't it? The animals have feelings and so forth. Well, maybe fruit flies have feelings, too?
Or maybe I'm over reacting just a tad. Fall is a joy, really. Even with all the fruit flies. 
The beautiful changes of fall are in such abundance that a fruit fly or two (or a thousand) is actually a small price to pay. There is so much about fall to savor and enjoy. I, for one, count this as one of my favorite times of year. With the dropping temperatures comes thick sweaters that add a coziness and comfort to the season that is unmatched. Best of all is the fall foliage. Gold, yellow, orange, red - nature is in its glory and we are blessed to watch its stunning display. As bothersome as the fruit flies can be, they are worth the trouble for the overwhelming goodness that fall brings. So, come in fruit flies. Just be sure to bring the rest of fall with you and we'll get along just fine.