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.

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.