Monday, August 25, 2008

With one look...

"See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure." 1 John 3:1-3

The power to transform our lives comes not from doing, but from seeing. Another simple thought. But commonly overlooked. How many times have I read these words before? How many times have I not understood. As the love of the Father heart of God has transformed my heart this summer, I have found myself returning to the word with a renewed excitement and vigor. So many days I wake to find simple yet profound truths jumping off the page to melt into my heart. I doubt I can portray the depth that these words have penetrated into my soul, but I can't help trying nonetheless.

When we see Christ we will be like Him. How many years do we spend striving to change the way that we are by our own efforts, when the answer lies in a simple shift of vision? When we see Christ coming back in all of His glory we will be fully like Him. The day of our perfection will come. But even now, the extent that we become like Him in the midst of the daily grind of life is directly proportionate to the extent that we see His true heart.
God is wholly unlike man. When we say He is good, our finite minds perceive the best goodness this world has to offer as a taste of God. But the truth is that God is everything good that is missing from this world. We cannot imagine His goodness. He is fully everything this world is not. Yet our hearts are capable of seeing this in a distant glimpse. And when we do, we are forever changed. I have been. This summer I saw his love unfold to me like never before. I thought I knew what the love of God was like. I didn’t. I still don’t I am sure. But I know slightly better. Not in my head, but in my heart. I will never be the same. He peeled so many misconceptions about Him away from my eyes these past months. It has changed the way I live, the way I think, the way I feel, the way I study, the way I play, the way I see others. I did nothing to coerce my behavior to change. My actions have not been a fulfilled Biblical responsibility; they have been a heartfelt response. I am becoming more like Him, because I am responding more fully to a truer picture of His being. I love the last line of those verses as well: “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” My hope is that I will see Him and be like Him. As I wait, I have, not the duty, but the privilege of purifying myself. My sanctification is already assured in Christ, but my heart is so eager to be with Him and become like Him, that I rush to become so even now. Rules, expectations and obligations fade away in a sweeping rush of desire to be with a God who is so beyond what my heart can conceive. One taste of His true nature and the heart is left with no excuse, no desire to refuse. We see Him and our hearts are so captured by His being that we want nothing else. The rest of life’s details tend to take care of themselves.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Rapids

Yearning, aching, longing, coursing thru my veins and my heart. Making my insides throb with desire. I want to know how to live this life well. And not just for the sake of knowing, but for the sake of living.

Today I went white-water rafting… and it made my soul come alive. As I was coursing thru the water with the surrounding Tennessee mountains and the open sky as my witness, I couldn’t help but sense that this feeling within my soul was God’s idea of the way His children should experience walking with Him. There I was on the edge of my seat, bracing myself with expectancy for whatever the water would bring my way, and loving every minute of it. A thrill was in the air. Movement. Balance. Action. Danger. Teamwork. Immersion. Beauty. Laughter. Life. None of us cared where we were going, but we were enjoying the journey for everything it was worth. And we were doing it together. A spirit of camaraderie was present. Whatever we did we did together. Sometimes we went at the oars with everything we had. Sometimes we rested and let the river carry us. Sometimes we were allowed to relax and play, and other times we had to be serious. At all times we listened to our guide. In one tough spot Jill fell out of the boat. With a fierce determination that gave me more strength than I knew I possessed, I reached over and pulled her back out of the waves into safety. I loved every minute of the trip down that river. It was wild and dangerous and made me feel alive. Tonight, something within me is hoping, screaming, and searching for the determination to believe that there is a way to live all of life in this manner. To live all of life being alive.

My heart is aching for this life, because just a mere few hours after the ride on the river I came upon a rut. My feet are prone to slip into this rut and even now I feel are inching towards the edge. While my day began with adventure, I fear it ended in complacency, with too many hours sucked away in front of an entertaining screen. We traded action for immobility, passion for apathy, relationship for entertainment. Yes, I was with friends. Yes, we were finishing out the day together. Yes, maybe you say I should be content with any amount of life I was able to obtain and not worry about the rest. But I cannot. My heart is dissatisfied. It aches and longs for more. Was I created to be alive for only parts of days? Or was I created to never stop living for a single moment? I want to live. And I want to live to the fullest ability that my heart, soul, body and mind can withstand. I don’t want to be satisfied with half-rate existence. I want it all. And I want to believe that its possible.

My concern isn’t that I watched a couple movies with friends. My concern is that it always comes down to watching a couple movies with friends. It is what my college culture does. Even the college culture that steps to follow Christ. Being entertained isn’t wrong, but being entertained never leaves me feeling satisfied. I walked away tonight feeling dull. My heart had lost its edge and the connectedness between those in the room had faded since the time we had stopped looking at each other and started looking at a screen, a reality that didn’t even exist. This is not a campaign against movies, at least not directly. This is just the voiced longing of one person who wants to find more. Who wants to see more clearly, taste more deeply, and live more fully than anything she is experiencing now.

These thoughts leave so many questions coursing thru my mind. Questions about where to find the balance between these two ends of the spectrum. I know life can’t always be thrill and excitement and yet I believe every moment can be part of a greater adventure. Every moment does not have to be serious, but every day should be spent exploring the depths of the wonder that is God. My thoughts return to the river with the fine line of balance in our journey. We were there to live on the edge and to make the experience everything it could possibly be. Yet we also had the goal of making it thru each rapid in once piece. The balance of accomplishing both these goals was a careful dance on a fine line of discernment.

The questions remain. Do I stay to be with friends and watch the movie, or do I leave to find better ways to engage my mind and my heart? Is it better to stay and build what little relationship I can, or can it be argued that mindless entertainment doesn’t build relationship at all? How long do I wait for others to want more than what we are choosing? When do I move on? When do I say no? When is it time to be in the world? And when is it time to not be of it? How far am I to go to relate to others around me? When does my heart start to suffer from stepping down too often? Am I insane for feeling this way? Am I the only one who craves this depth we are missing? Or do we all exist within sight of one another, each too hesitant to voice their true soul’s desire? I want so much more. Why can't we talk? Why can't we worship? Why can't we open the word together? Why can't we go for a walk? Why can't we be real and honest? Why can't we struggle together and carry each other's pain and joy? I don’t care if I am being unrealistic. Abundant life is God’s reality. He did not come so that we could have minimal life. He came so that we could have life to the abundance. White, foaming, rapidly moving life coursing thru the veins of our souls. So I cry to the author of this life to teach me the steps to this awkward dance. I want to learn. I want to live. I want to live life abundantly!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Psalm 34

I have been chewing on this Psalm all week. Here are a couple of the nuggets I have found:

"I sought the Lord and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed."
vs. 4-5

Those who look to the Lord will never be ashamed. Think about it again. Those who look to the Lord will never be ashamed! Their faces are radiant. The pleasure of looking to God physically overflows from their countenances. Shame hunts all of us. When we look to the world we find shame. When we look to those around us we often find shame. When we look to ourselves we find shame. Because of this, our hearts have a tendency to expect to find shame when we look to God. If I've failed in the eyes of man or myself, then surely there is no way I could have not failed in the eyes of God. But the exact opposite is true. God is never disappointed with us. Something I gleaned out of The Shack by William Young (a must read!). God places no expectations on us. They are manmade contrivances. If He has no expectations (because He is sovereign and knows all already), then how can we disappoint him. Therefore it makes sense that all who look to the Lord will never be ashamed. It is often the place we most fear to look, but it is the place that will best heal and care for our shamed and wounded hearts!

"The Lord redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned."
vs. 22

The Lord redeems. He takes what is broken and makes it whole. He transforms the ugly into beauty, the bad into good. That is hope! None of those who take refuge in the Lord will be condemned. That is freedom! I will face no condemnation from the Lord. So many picture God as one who is waiting to slap us when we make a wrong move. Another skewed manmade perception. It is not His heart to condemn and those of us who have put our trust in Him can live without fear of His condemnation.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hope's Assurance

Evil is so pervasive. We find it all around us. It fills the news, destroys nations, ravages our families, and infiltrates our lives. We never have to look far to find it. Sometimes it is all we can see. It speaks loudly, so easily drowning out the good with its megaphone of doom. It can weigh so heavy until we feel overpowered under its weight.

Sometimes I have a hard time reconciling my heart with all that is not right. There are days when it is so easy to see only that. In those moments I can often miss the goodness and the justice of God in operation. The goodness of God speaks so much more powerfully than the voice of evil, but it is also less easily heard. The justice of God is in operation in our lives. But it often works quietly, coming upon us with a calm stealth. God is there, but we don't always feel Him because we don't take time to stop and sense Him.

The writer of Hebrews states that, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." When the world speaks of hope it speaks of wishful thinking. When God speaks of hope, He speaks with assurance. It is often hard to see how God is working to make the wrong things right in our lives, in our families, in our world. But we don't hope wishing that someday He will. We hope knowing that He is. He has been working, He is working, and He will bring about the final righting of all wrong in the glorious day of His return. There are days we can't see it. We can't feel it. We can't hear it. All we see is darkness. All we feel is pain. All we hear are the cries of injustice. But the light is there and our King is coming! He is in our midst even now. I want to train my heart to trust Him in those moments when I am overwhelmed with all that is not right. I want to learn to trust His goodness when I all I can see is wrong. I want to listen for His whisper of righteousness sweeping over my heart and my world. It is quiet, but it is there. It is pounding deep within His heart and I can sense it beginning to pound deep within mine. Let us listen for it together, waiting for it to swell and grow within our midst. The enemy has been defeated. Death has met its doom. Evil holds no power. And though these truths cannot be seen with outwards eyes, I want to live with the conviction that what cannot be seen is still there. It is real. It is more real than what I am seeing now. It is the reality of the coming of Christ. One day the entire world will see it for themselves. But I don't want to wait until that moment. I want to see it now. Father, give my heart the eyes to see your movements and your glorious acts of justice at work!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Warning: Bicycles at large!

This evening my mother and I enjoyed a brisk walk together around sunset while four of my younger siblings were riding their bikes in the general vicinity. For those of you who know the place we were traversing the first couple paved miles of Cowboy Trail by Ta-Ha-Zouka Park. It was a dangerous undertaking. Mother's instructions for the bikers to stay close resulted in their perpetual doubling back to zoom past my mother and I, followed by hairpin turns behind our backs and another surge of energy sending them pedaling off to test the limits of their invisible leash. I don't know if you have ever tried to walk in the middle of four bikers all under the age of ten, half of which are riding bikes too tall for them to reach the ground with their feet and one enjoying the newfound week-old freedom of no training wheels at the astonishing age of three and half. It is a hazard zone to say the least. Emilee, with her new-found freedom, has perfected the art of balance as well as any three and half year old possibly can. Needless to say she does quite well given an open sidewalk, no conflicting bicycles, and pavement swept clean of gravel. However, the path this evening was void of any of these luxuries and dealt its share of spills to the youngest bicycler extroidinare. Countless whines presented themselves. Ironically, it was never because of the pain of falling. Rather they were the indignant cries of her consternation that Stephen and Rebecca's bicycles had the nerve to happen to be in front of hers when she ran into them. While she may own the art of balance, the department of brake usage and steering could use some improvement. Couple these facts with the reality of four bikes trying to turn around, not crash into each other and pass my mother and I all on the same path at the same time and it created a recipe for my mother and I to stay quick on our feet. The grass became my friend on more than one occasion. At one point I tried to inform Stephen that the correct etiquette was for bicycles to yield to pedestrians. I'm not sure if he heard me. Even if he had I'm not sure he would have understood the phrase as my mother so graciously pointed out. What six year old knows what a pedestrian is anyways? Despite all this the most comical moment came when Aaron returned from around the corner with the rest of the children in tow to inform my mother and I that the path was closed ahead. He deduced this information from signs that read "do not pass" and "turn around". Upon further investigation the "turn around" sign was discovered to really be a curve sign. You know the kind: the diamond yellow sign with a black arrow warning of a curve in the path. The "do not pass" sign was just that. However it was facing the opposite direction to warn bikers not to pass each other going under the bridge tunnel we had just come thru. Needless to say I told my mother I was glad none of them were near the age to drive. We will have to work on their street smarts a little before then.

Overall the evening was a success. My mother and I managed to burn off a few calories and snag bits of pleasant conversation between threatening bicycle crashes. And the casualties of the evening only amounted to one clipped finger, one spill on the gravel, and one foot used as an instant brake device. Sorry mom. Oh yeah, and the berries the kids ate without asking. I guess they weren't poisonous since they went to sleep without keeling over or retching them up. All a day in the life of my family. There is never a dull moment and I love it!