Friday, March 30, 2012

Beloved: Reflection on Remembering Who(se) I am

Deuteronomy 33:12
About Benjamin he said: “Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.”

I am a recovering sin addict.  Though I was created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, sin entices me daily and I chase after it like a druggie begging for another hit.  The “good deeds” I do are marred by bad motives that reveal them to be the filthy rags scripture calls them.  Apart from Christ’s sacrifice I would be spiritually dead.  I am prideful, self-worshiping, distracted, lazy.

I am beloved.

So often I remind myself of my sin, wanting to combat pride, wanting to understand more fully the grace shown to me on the cross, and while this is good, it often makes me forget my true identity.  Genesis says that we were created in the image of God, Psalms says we were knit together in our mother’s womb, Ephesians says that we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”.  I, we, the Church, all need to balance the hard truth and the baffling one: we are more sinful than we could ever believe, but we are also more loved than we could ever imagine.  We are the beloved of God.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hunger Games in Review: Twilight Part 2?

Dystopia or just another emo teen drama? 

I’ve heard both ends of the spectrum and have been contemplating it myself a lot lately.  Is The Hunger Games a true satire of dystopia or is it just another stupid love triangle that feeds a young girls fantasy of being fought over?  There certainly is a bit of a love triangle woven through the pages of the novel and many young women have turned the two male characters into another version of Jacob and Edward in the Twilight series by forming “Team Gale” and “Team Peeta” groups, but in truth, the love story is rather peripheral in terms of purpose. 

As a reader myself, I was much more consumed with the greater elements of the story, such as the horror faced by the families and their children, the condemnation of entertainment at another’s expense, and the overindulgence of our own society mirrored in the attitude of The Capitol than I was with the love story.  And while this is most likely due to the fact that my major in college was English and I love writing and analyzing literature and art, this does not take away from the intention of the author.

The more I’ve thought about the book and movie and the questions surrounding the two, the more I realize that questioning the purpose of the book is really not a valid question at all.  The topic, the content, everything about the story lends itself to good discussion and consideration, and there is value in doing so.  Rather than questioning the books intentions as the writer of the article above does and honing in on the reason its audience (mainly Jr. High and High School aged girls) actually reads it, we as parents and mentors should really be encouraging discussion.

In the article from the NY Post, the author argues that the youth reading or watching The Hunger Games do not view the situation as horrific and rather see it as a grand adventure with the opportunity for fame and glory.  This is one of his main reasons for criticizing the story.  Maybe he’s right, maybe this is the way youth read the story, maybe they read and simply miss the point (for the record, most of the youth I’ve spoken with were fairly discerning about the content), but that can be true of just about any novel or work of art.  In my opinion, rather than bemoaning the fact that the point has been missed, as parents and mentors we should be encouraging discussion and challenging any shallow view the youth in our lives display. 

If our purpose on this earth is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then His work of redeeming His creation is our work as well.  I’m not, of course, saying that everyone should read or go see The Hunger Games; it’s not for everyone and it’s definitely not for younger viewing audience, what I am saying is that we can and should use this as an opportunity for good conversation and discussion.  Let’s learn how to be good debaters and conversationalists, let’s strive to flee from the emotionally driven and illogical conversations that pepper the comment sections under articles on the internet.  Don’t follow the mob, take a beat and respond rather than react.

P.S. Especially in light of this post I welcome good discussion on my blog and really don’t just want to hear the sound of my own voice.  Don’t just comment if you agree, I want to hear if you disagree or see things from another perspective.  But keep it cool and appropriate or I will delete you. 

Little Things...

Easter is a dark time for little bunny foo foo...

Serving size: 1/2 rabbit

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lessons from a Vending Machine: Reflection on Church Discipline

Romans 6:1-3
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

At my office, out in the shop, we have a vending machine.  It carries Coke, Diet Coke, Dr. Pepper, Root Beer, and a few off brand soft drinks that I can’t remember right off hand.  When I first started working at my company, I was pretty excited about this, especially since two in the afternoon is my greatest enemy and a Diet Coke would be just the thing to cure the slump.  I soon learned, however, that the machine has a glitch.  When I press the button for Diet Coke the absolute worst thing happens; I receive a Root Beer.  Now, if you know anything about me, you know that I abhor Root Beer.  I think it is the second most vile soft drink on the planet, coming in just a hair behind Pepsi, and during my afternoon slump this does not go over well. 

Now, no one called me “unfair” or a “killjoy” when I called the repairman to come out and try to fix it.  The machine was created for a purpose, for our use and enjoyment, and it’s not functioning properly.  In fact, most people would consider a call to the repairman a fairly logical act and if I did not do so, I would be thought of as somewhat stupid and or lazy. 

This incident (still in progress, by the way) reminds me of the Christian life.  Just as the glitch causes the machine not to fulfill its purpose properly, so our sin hinders us from fulfilling our purpose in life.  We were created to love God and enjoy Him forever, yet in the garden we made the decision to rebel against Him and stop functioning as we should.  I don’t need to point out the havoc this has caused; we all see it every day as our own attempt to live for ourselves backfires and hurts everyone around us; we see war and famine and murder.  The world has a glitch and while we try and blame it on society and politics and even on the rain I think deep down we know the truth.  Humanity screwed up and it needs a savior.

I’m not going to go major cheese ball and call Jesus the repair man, but He did come and He did suffer our punishment for us.  The thing is, He didn’t just save us that we might be free from sin in the future, He saved us that we might fight sin daily, that we might begin to live free from its reign!  This is another reason why He gave us the Church, and why He set up discipline within the church.  If we continue in sin, we are not living as those who have been freed of it.  Our church families, our close friends, love us by helping us fight sin.  It hurts sometimes when we’re confronted, it feels unfair, but the fact is, we so desperately need that accountability.  It would not only be completely illogical and stupid for our Churches to ignore our sin and do nothing about it, but rather it would be unloving and lazy on their part. 

This should obviously not be something done lightly or with any amount pride, but it should, in fact, be done.  I pray that God will give me the humility and strength to both hold and be held accountable, I pray that the church will seek His guidance in such difficult matters, and that slowly but surely we will all begin to function as ones who have been set free to live as we were created to.   

Monday, March 19, 2012

Little Things: Reflection on God's Sovereignty

Luke 12:24-25
24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life[b]? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

I feel like I learn this lesson over and over again, and I will probably continue learning it until the day I die and become fully aware of its truth: God is sovereign, even over the little things.  I had an important phone call I was waiting for, one that gave me some stress and anxiety and drove me to my knees in prayer.  It was scheduled first for Tuesday evening and rescheduled due to the epic stomach bug/strep that has been taking the Houston area by storm, then it was rescheduled Wednesday due to the unexpected for Thursday evening.  During this time, I was, of course, being very careful to charge my phone just in case it decided to die before the call came, thus causing a rift in the time continuum (what?  I saw ZZ Top in concert last week and Back to the Future is on the brain).

Well, Thursday morning I get a text asking if I could reschedule to have the call a little earlier.  At lunch I got the call and not two hours later, my phone died.  It's a little thing really.  I have a work phone and so it might not have been the end of the world, but it certainly would have been one more thing to be stressed about.  God was taking care of me even in that tiny little thing.  It was just a silly little phone, one silly little time adjustment, yet His timing was perfect.  I can only see a little piece of it, that one hours span of time in which certain things had to fall in place, but it reminds me that His timing is always the best, and He takes care of me.

God takes care of the ravens, the lilies of the field, and He even condescends to take care of me.  How had He taken care of you in the little things?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Unclean: Reflections on the Outcasts

Mark 1:40-42
 40 A man with leprosy[f] came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
 41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

I’ve read this passage many times over the years, but it recently struck me just how shocking Jesus’ actions truly are.  Leprosy made a person “unclean”; they could not enter the temple; they were cut off from worship; if you touched someone with leprosy, you were considered unclean as well.  Jesus, God in human form, touched this unclean man.  He didn’t have to.  He could have simply said “Be clean” and not taken that extra step, but instead, He touched him.  That was earth shattering, unthinkable, amazing.  Holy God touching unholy, unclean man and making him right, making straight what had been made crooked.

The implications for us today can sometimes be difficult to consider.  We don’t have the worship regulations of the Old Testament because of what Christ did on the cross; He’s made us clean, right before God (Acts 10:15).  But I do think our society has people that, in a way, are considered “unclean”.  It’s probably a bit of a stretch, and maybe not what you would assume, but bear with me.  These that we consider unclean, these people we try and disassociate ourselves from at all costs, are the socially awkward, the weird, the rude, the unintelligent, the annoying…the bigots.  Think about it.  Or rather, let me think about it.  Upon my high horse of either self-righteousness (in the case of the bigots and the like) or fear of being seen as socially awkward myself (in the case of the social outcasts) I do everything I can to separate myself from them.  I might snicker at a dorky comment, divert my eyes when they speak with me, gossip about a wrong they’ve committed, but whatever I do, I *do not* touch them.  After all, I wouldn’t want to be associated with *those people*, right? 

It’s ugly, disgusting, but very true.  I treat others as if they are unclean because I don’t want to become “unclean” myself.  But Jesus touched the unclean, He reached into their lives to make them right, to make *me* right.  God is convicting me a lot lately about this sort of thing.  It really hurts, but so does digging out a splinter.  I’m thankful for the work He’s doing and I’m praying that it will make me merciful and gracious to those who don’t deserve it and who may never show me kindness (or get a social clue ;-P).  I myself don’t deserve grace, but it’s been given to me, and that in itself should spur me on toward love and good deeds.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Anti-Folly Workout: Reflection on Patience

Proverbs 14:29
A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.

I made a mistake a long time ago; I asked God to teach me to be patient.  Well, let me clarify, I asked Him to give me patience.  What I didn’t quite realize was that this was a process, not a waving of a magic wand that suddenly makes me patient.  It means sitting in bumper to bumper traffic when I’m already late; it means the occasional slow internet; it means being stuck in a situation I don’t feel is “fair”; it means waiting on a desire to be fulfilled that I can’t believe with ever be…; it means realizing that I’m just a tad selfish…

Yeah, I know, I live a horribly deprived life (please hear the sarcasm coming in loud and clear).  The cool thing is that I’m learning that developing patience is kind of like working out a muscle; you can’t stick with the same resistance if you want to get stronger, you have to use heavier and heavier weight, and it hurts.  Right now I’m in a situation that’s really, really testing my patience, so much so that I’m somewhat physically antsy.  (Ok, so I’m totally physically antsy, but I’m trying to save myself a little dignity here)  I want so bad for God to hurry up and show me what’s going to happen, but I know the waiting is part of the process.  Without this part, without the building of my wimpy muscle of patience, I would be more prone to display folly…

At least now I’ll be able to hide it.

Seriously though, to all my readers, pray for my patience during this time.  Anyone else in a similar circumstance?  I’m more than happy to pray for you as well!

(Side note: Pretty beat after daylight savings time, love the sun in the evening, hate the lost hour…can I get an “amen”?)

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

When Things Fall Apart...

Might be time to go back to the Toyota place...

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Addiction: Reflections on Serving Worldly Masters

1 Corinthians 6:12
“Everything is permissible for me”-but not everything is beneficial.  “Everything is permissible for me”-but I will not be mastered by anything.”

Are you an addict?  I am.  24 hours without coffee and I’m a grouch with a head that feels the size of New York.  Caffeine gets me up in the morning and keeps me going in the afternoon.  It is part of my morning routine and pity the fool who gets between me and what I crave.  I waste money on it, money I could be saving for good things like healthy food and rent.  I will dig between couch cushions for change in order to scrounge up 50 cents for the vending machine.  Caffeine is quite often my master, and really, it’s not the only thing.  My hormones, food, my desire for comfort… all these things cause me to step on others, grow irritable, become defensive…forget my true purpose in life: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  If the very thought of having to give up something makes me squirm, makes me want to defend myself and my desire for it, then I am addicted to it; I worship it; I honor it above the Lord.

“No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  Matthew 6:24

What command of God makes you feel as if He’s just being stingy and unfair?  What do you cling to with all your might?  Is it something obvious like alcohol, nicotine, pornography, or money?  Or is it something a little more subtle; like caffeine, control, the approval of others, or even maybe social anxiety that so makes you want to separate yourself from someone that you belittle them?  We all have worldly masters, masters that want to enslave and destroy us along with our relationships with others.  Only one Master can make us free, and only He can break our chains.  Ok, cheesy metaphor, yes, but it’s also true.  Christ gave up His rights, did not demand what He deserved (true justice; vengeance), but rather broke our chains on the cross, declared us free in the record books, and by the power of His Holy Spirit we are enabled to fight the things that master us (John 16:7).

Examine your life.  What masters you?  Stop.  Don’t think about someone else’s addiction/master think about yours.  What “right” or even “freedom in Christ” do you cling to that might just be mastering you?  What do you need freedom from?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Broken: Reflection on Idols

Hosea 8:6
“This calf - a craftsman has made it; it is not God.  It will be broken in pieces, that calf of Samaria.” 

God is destroying my biggest idol, me.  Like Israel, I worship that which God created rather than God Himself.  It sounds horribly prideful, and you know what?  It is.  And the sad thing is it’s true.  For all my “insecurities” I claim to have gotten from elementary and adolescent hell, I ultimately see myself as a) the protagonist/hero of my own internal monologue and b) as pretty much the coolest thing since sliced bread.  Oh sure, I know how to play at humility, I know the words to use to alter others opinions of me, but ultimately, I worship me and I want everyone else to do it to!  Even now as I write I struggle with mixed motives and pride.  Do I sound like a horrible person?  Can I let you in on a little secret?  You probably do it too, maybe not to the same horrific degree that I do, but self-worship is still there. 

It started in the garden, really.  Adam and Eve decided that they wanted to be God, that they knew better than He did, that they wanted to decide what was right and wrong rather than allow Him to do so.  And they passed their genetic sin down through the generations.  We’re all born with it and it’s not just a sickness, it’s death.  Each one of us is a stillborn zombie under the distinct and ridiculous illusion that we are, in fact, alive.  I know because I’m the worst.

But by God’s mercy this idol of myself is being broken to pieces.  Years ago I would have admitted to self-worship, but the older I get the more true I see this to be.  The shine from my image fades and rusts daily as God makes me more aware of my sin, my weakness.  I’ve said before that my weakness is a benefit, and I’ll say it again.  The more I realize just how hopeless I am on my own, the more God is glorified in my life and the more useful I become.  My frustration with habitual sin shows me that I can’t conquer it myself, that I need His intervention, and it humbles me when confronted with the sin of others. 

It hurts, but I’m praying that God will continue to smash the idol in my heart and kick me off the throne that rightfully belongs to Him.  How is He doing the same to you?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Reading Now

Haven't done one of these in a while:

Review coming soon.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

A Kind Word: Reflection on Encouragement

Proverbs 12:25
An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.

This world is crooked.  Sin has marred the beautiful creation God has made and while He is redeeming it, making it new, it is still full of thorns and brambles.  As humans we scar each other.  Even those of us who would generally be considered “nice” or “good people” act selfishly, lose our tempers…get grumpy.  The situations we are in weigh down our hearts and exhaust us, sometimes leading to depression and despair, and that doesn’t even take into account chemical imbalances that seek to sabotage our daily lives.  Life sometimes feels like one long work out that barely leaves time for the lactic acid to build up. 

How sweet, then, is a kind word?  Your entire day has been one huge mess.  Your boss asks you to do something that feels so out of your realm of talent and understanding that it leaves you with knotted stomach, aching brain, and clenched jaw; at least five people have yelled at you for whatever reason, most likely because they are frustrated with something or someone else and you just happened to be in the line of fire; someone cuts you off in traffic; you go home to an empty apartment with upstairs neighbors who seem to enjoy tap dancing and next door neighbors who have shouting matches around midnight. 

Then someone has a kind word for you.  It doesn’t suck away all the pain of the day; you’re still maybe a bit disgruntled, exhausted, but your view suddenly brightens, your spirits are uplifted, and things really don’t seem as impossible or gloomy as they did before.  Challenge today?  Offer a kind word, an encouragement, and remind someone they are not alone.