Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Metaphor for Life?

What I'm listening to: Nickel Creek's This Side

I was visiting my very good friends in Wyoming last weekend and they are going through "The Purpose Drive Life" for the second time at their new church. And my friend had a revelation for herself that I am still thinking about and pondering - yes, it’s that good.

What is your metaphor for life? Rick Warren asks. Is life a journey? A test? A bowl of cherries? [Insert obvious Forest Gump quote here. I always hated that movie.] The first time my friend went through this, she decided that her metaphor was "Life’s a roller coaster". And she hates roller coasters. The unexpected drops and turns … the feeling of completely helplessness … the huge peaks and valleys … a huge sense of dread. She realized she approached her life with a "what now?" kind of attitude.

Me? I love roller coasters. But I’ve also never considered my life like that either. I’ve never read "The Purpose Driven Life" and never had an occasion to think about my metaphor for life. I’m just trying to get through it the best I can with tools I’ve been given. It isn’t easy, it isn’t tough. It’s just life. A series of lessons learned to make me become more like Christ.

But the great thing? She now realizes life is not a roller coaster. It’s a test. One God has given her all the answers to – "an open book test". A huge burden was lifted; I could see it in her face. I’ve known this friend almost my whole life and I never felt she had a defeatist attitude. But I could visibly see in her a change that made her happier. So I asked myself why now, all of a sudden? After all, she’s known her whole life that God’s been there with her, so why is it now this burden is lifted and given her this extra joy?

I’m a firm believer that God will show us lessons when we are ready to really hear them, but it takes (sometimes) a long journey to get there. No matter how long it takes, the journey to get there is always worth it to me. It’s the extra reinforcement I need to learn the lesson well. [Insert lyrics from Godspell here.]

I’ve seen so many times in my life that where the big lesson happened only after I learned all the little ones leading up to it. It’s like a puzzle. Abstract enough that you have no idea what the big picture will be, but the more pieces that fit together, the clearer the picture becomes. And when the last piece is snapped into place is when I can finally go "Oh, I get it. It makes perfect sense – now." All the baby steps and puzzle pieces (which if you read my other entries, you’ll see pretty clearly take place) are absolutely needed to prepare my heart for the big lesson.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Sanctification/Restoration

What I'm listening to: Gretal's Unreturnable Dirt and Grant Lee Phillips's Virginia Creeper

What is the process of sanctification? Simple. The process we go through to become more like Christ. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death". (Romans 8: 1-2) This is the ultimate message of grace. We are not meant to live out lives as though trapped by sin. Paul goes on to later say in the same chapter another very simple message in verse 37 "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." The process of sanctification is a promised success, not failure.

There are many ways the process of sanctification manifests itself.

Scripture knows nothing of an isolated model of sanctification which takes place apart from human relationships. I find that fascinating. Here's why.

Would we need restoration without human relationships? Would sin exist if we were all islands? Or more importantly, can we become holy without love? And can there be love if you are an island?

I don’t want to confuse how I’m viewing the words “restoration” and “sanctification”. I think they are distinctly separately yet uniquely tied together. The process of becoming holy is a discipline. Not just of actions, but of love and emotions in both the spirit and the soul. (When I’m referring to the spirit and soul, I’m referring to the spirit as our communion with God and the soul is about our heart.) But I see restoration both starting and ending with the heart.

The fact the sin has battered down our soul is the reason restoration is necessary. God wants us to experience life fully, and without restoration, life cannot fully be experienced. Here’s the rub: This cannot be done without others in your life.

Though the people in your life may not be the reason you sin, they contribute to the pain. The pain sin affords.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m off the mark here or I’m missing a connection. I know that people are not the reason we sin. And I know they are not the only reason we need restoration. But there’s a connection here. A connection between the reason we need restoration and how that reason is only what can help heal us. It seems to me it’s appropriate to quote Nietzsche (blasphemy!) That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Everyone Else is Talking About it

'End of the Spear': missions buffeted by U.S. culture war

There is much controversy in the Christian community concerning the movie End of the Spear . (I will carefully note this is all happening just after the movie is released in theaters, and the most crucial money-making time for the studio and distribution company.)

The movie's been panned by critics, glorified by many Christian leaders who don't yet know about Chad Allen's sexual orientation, and boycotted by some Christian leaders and lay people who do. I remember Chad Allen when I was a kid. He was on the cover of every Teen Bob and Tiger Beat magazine for a time. He was the latest heartthrob for teenage girls to pin to their walls. I never thought much of him as an actor; he was mediocre in talent as far as I could see. Not that he had many great roles, but still. And sure I thought he was cute. I was 12.

I went to see End of the Spear the weekend it opened. I loved the book "Through the Gates of Splendor" and didn't know Steve Saint's story - a powerful and redemptive story of forgiveness which the movie reveals in an unexpected way - often how God will teach us life lessons. The way we don't expect or even want.

But I don't really want to talk about the movie. I've told everyone I know that I enjoyed it, it's worth going to see and the story itself is moving. After all, a son not only forgives the man who killed his father, but now considers this man a grandfather to his children. The two now work together to share Christ with other tribes in the Amazon. You can't deny that's powerful. You simply can't deny God worked in the hearts of both men to change their lives forever.

What bothers me is that Chad Allen's sexual orientation is now overshadowing the message of the movie. I admit I was surprised to learn a movie that's about Christian missionaries starred a gay man, but so what? Once again, the fundamentalist Christian right is managing to muddy the waters of what could be a clear evangelistic tool - a movie that shows forgiveness is possible no matter the sin or depth of hurt. That mercy triumphs over justice. Many can relate to that message - Christian or not. What it does is open all kinds of great discussion and opportunity. But if all anyone can talk about is the personal life of one of the actors in the movie, those opportunities might be lost.

I do, however, appreciate that so far the bigger names (i.e. men who many uninformed Christians consider their word gospel instead of forming their own opinion) have remained silent on the issue. Names like James Dobson and Jerry Fallwell. But there are still others speaking out in an attempt to prevent Christians from going to the movie in the theater so that the company that made this movie might loose money. That's why this is happening now - the critical time when the studio needs to make it's money to recoup costs.

There are so many other issues to be discussed about this movie - both negative and positive - but I choose this one. Don't ruin the message because you despise the messenger. After all, Jesus was despised, yet his message spread. Let's not put God in a box and claim that only a few chosen are "good enough" to spread the gospel. Let's stop putting actors on pedastels and take responsibility for what we tend to idolize. But most of all: Let God do his thing. Let him use this man and this message to redeem. God knows way better than us anyway.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Space Between

What I'm listening to: Santus Real's Fight the Tide

I remember the first time I heard a Dave Matthews song. It was well before they were mainstream and I was standing in line at the cafeteria and two people I knew were singing: What would you say/If you a monkey on a string/If you a doggie on a chain/What would you say. I have no idea why this memory stayed with me; it was probably 10 years ago. It's weird that I would remember something so insignificant, but I remembered it. Today.

So it couldn't be more ironic this is how I first heard DMB in light of what I'm writing about now. Today I read the following sentence: There is a space in between us on the journey that we both contribute to.

Years ago the following song was quite popular, and it's hard for me to forget because it was on the radio when a guy smashed into my car (with me in it) with his pickup. Every time I hear that song, it's followed by the sound of my blue mercury tracer going "crunch". Since then, I'm not so much a fan of DMB.

You cannot quit me so quickly
there's no hope in you for me
No corner y’could squeeze me
But I’ve got all the time for you, love

The space between, the tears we cry
Is the laughter keeps us coming back for more
The space between, the wicked lies we tell
And hope to keep us safe from the pain

Will I hold you again?
These fickle, fuddled words confuse me
Like will it rain today?
We waste the hours with talking, talking
These twisted games we’re playing

We’re strange allies
With warring hearts
What a wild-eyed beast you be
The space between, the wicked lies we tell
And hope to keep us safe from the pain

Will I hold you again?
Will I hold you...

Look at us spinning out in the madness of a rollercoaster
You know you went off like the devil in a church
In the middle of a crowded room
All we can do, my love is hope we don’t take this ship down

The space between, where you smile and hide
Where you’ll find me if I get to go
The space between, the bullets in our fire fight
Is where I’ll be hiding, waiting for you
The rain that falls splashed in your heart
Ran like sadness down the window into your room
The space between, our wicked lies
Is where we hope to keep safe from pain


Actually, this song always meant a lot to me because at the time I had a huge space between my best friend and I. Grand canyon level. A friend I had known for two short years at the time. The first friend I made when I moved back to Nebraska. Now? That canyon is twice the size. I hate that my life has become a series of failed friendships.

The space between my former best friend's heart and mine is getting closer. At least on my end. But this sentence that I read today "There is a space in between us on the journey that we both contribute to" was written by a different former best friend. Coincidence? This same person was also one singing "What Would You Say" in the cafeteria line all those years ago. Spooky. Ironic, actually.

So my space is closing in. Maybe my other friend's is also. Maybe it's time.

Time to contribute.

I miss my friend. That much I know. Maybe I don't need to know anything else.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Birth Order Predictor

What I'm listening to: Music Inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia


Huh. Interesting. I have two much older brothers. So I guess I am an only child in a way. The rest of it is nearly dead on.




You Are Likely an Only Child



At your darkest moments, you feel frustrated.

At work and school, you do best when you're organizing.

When you love someone, you tend to worry about them.



In friendship, you are emotional and sympathetic.

Your ideal careers are: radio announcer, finance, teaching, ministry, and management.

You will leave your mark on the world with organizational leadership, maybe as the author of self-help books.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Being Watered

What's I'm listening to: Plumb's Candycoatedwaterdrops

I've decided that we're not that much different than plants.

A plant gives and gives oxygen. But if you don't water it, it dies.

I've been around the people who are constantly striving. Striving to be better, striving to be seen, striving to make their life better. But there comes a point when striving is more hurtful than harmful.

The very word "striving" has a lot of negative and painful connotations associated with it. It suggests the continuous, constant pushing of oneself. I picture a marathon runner at the end of the 26-mile stretch, reaching and reaching for the finish line. And I always picture a painful look on their face. But not all striving has to be painful. There are ways to push yourself without overloading yourself with guilt, fear, and critical thoughts. When striving begins to break your heart, beat down your spirit, it no longer is beneficial. But does that imply that pushing ourselves is a bad thing? No. Striving to be better is something I believe to be biblical.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 3:10-14

When striving begins to wear us down, not build us up, that's when striving is no longer a virtue. To be around someone who is striving is stressful, unpleasant. It's makes you feel inadequate, like you are not doing enough. Striving to be the person God intends you to be is something you should feel inspired to do, not obligated to do. It's not a job, it's a desire.

That’s where being watered becomes necessary. Find a way to replenish if you see yourself wearing down. Drink in the pleasure of life, allow the journey, not just the end result, to become part of "the joy that comes in the morning". Never allow the expectations of the world around you to drag you into the pit. Allow God to replenish and inspire your soul.

Hungry-I come to You
For I know You satisfy
I am empty but I know
Your love does not run dry
Broken I run to You
For Your arms are open wide
I am weary but I know Your touch
Restores my life

So I wait for You
So I wait for You

I'm falling on my knees
Offering all of me
Jesus You're all
This heart is living for

--from "Hungry" Vineyard Worship

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Reflecting Light

I've had such a surreal day... and sometimes the only thing that can truly express the way I feel, is someone else's words...

Sam Phillips - Reflecting Light

Now that I’ve worn out, I’ve worn out the world
I’m on my knees in fascination
Looking through the night
And the moon’s never seen me before
But I’m reflecting light

I wrote the pain down
Got off and looked up
Looked into your eyes
The lost open windows
All around
My dark heart lit up the skies

And now that I’ve worn, I’ve worn out the world
I’m on my knees in fascination
Looking through the night
And the moon’s never seen me before
But I’m reflecting light

Give up the ground
Under your feet
Hold on to nothing for good
Turn and run at the mean times
Chasing you
Stand alone and misunderstood

And now that I’ve worn, I’ve worn out the world
I’m on my knees in fascination
Looking through the night
And the moons never seen me before
But I’m reflecting light

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Being the Better Person

Every time I go to my small group, I end up feeling convicted about something. And it's driving me crazy.

I had a friend back in college who blew up at me once - and it was for something pretty silly. He was mad that the costume designer in the play we were both in wouldn't sew a button on his shirt. I was the messenger (I don't remember how or why) so I was the one who felt the brunt of her message. He yelled, threw the shirt back at me, and caused a big scene in the green room. This guy was a good friend, and how he treated me was inexcusable. I let him know that. And he stomped away.

The next day in the cafeteria a mutal friend of ours came up to me and said "I think you should say something to him." So my reply was, "Why? I didn't do anything wrong. He should come to me if anything." Our friend's reply was "Sometimes it's best to be the bigger person, no matter who's right or wrong."

I knew our friend was right, so of course I had no reply. But I was still my stubborn self and did nothing. That evening, I was apoligized to for the whole button incident, and I forgave him just like any "good Christian girl" (shout-out to Rebekah) would do. He and I remained friends - it was really no big deal. But I remember it to this day. Why? Because "Sometimes it's best to be the bigger person." Those words are still with me.

Oswald Chambers wrote about the importance justice plays in forgiveness. From Daily Thoughts for Disciples:

It would be an immoral thing to forgive a person who did not say he or she was sorry...I cannot forgive my enemies and remain just unless they cease to be my enemies and give proof of their sorrow, which must be expressed in repentance. I have to remain steadfastly true to God's justice. There are times when it would be easier to say "Oh, well, it does not matter. I forgive you," but Jesus insists that the uttermost farthing must be paid. The love of God is based on justice and holiness, and I must forgive on the same basis.

One of Chamber's biggest faults in this line of thinking is that forgiveness means dismissing the act you are forgiving. I disagree. The very act of forgiving, whether the person asks for it or not, says "It mattered. It hurt me. But I need to move on and not carry that hurt with me anymore." If it didn't matter, it wouldn't hurt.

Where is my justice, as a forgiven sinner? My punishment is served, done, completed. My sin - not in part, but the whole - is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.

My conviction that creeps up every Monday night at small group? It's this conviction that although I've been wronged, I should be the one to be the better person. To take the first step. And I'm afraid that in taking that first step, I will be saying "Oh, well, it does not matter. I forgive you."

So should I or shouldn't I?

What I'm listening to: Death Cab for Cutie's Plans

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Avoidance

What I'm listening to: PFR's Disappear

Why in the world do we thinking by avoiding something the problem will go away?

Maybe it's a situation, a person, a sin we want to oversome. Something in our life that's a thorn in our side, something that makes life harder than it needs to be. And we avoid it - believing that maybe if we ignore everything about it, the problem will go away on it's own.

Why do we think it's easier to avoiding and wonder that to confront and get it over with? Oh, I suppose there are lots of reasons - if it's a particular sin, we aren't willing to take the time to discipline ourselves. If it's a situation, we might feel as though it's not that big of a deal and we hope it will resolve on it's own. If it's a person, we are probably afraid to look that person in the eye and open the hurt you have from what they've done.

While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the LORD came to him a second time: "This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it—the LORD is his name: 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.' For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says about the houses in this city and the royal palaces of Judah that have been torn down to be used against the siege ramps and the sword in the fight with the Babylonians: 'They will be filled with the dead bodies of the men I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.
'Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.'
- Jeremiah 33: 1-9

God's promise of restoration here is clear - so why are we so afraid to open the wound in front of the person who hurt us? Because we've put our faith in the person - not God. Because the person may be who we want the healing from, and there is no promise or guarantee in that. But there is with God's.

I spent my life learning to survive,
Walked down these roads
Hoping each one might lead me home.
I learned early on that trust can come undone
And leave your heart guarding it's deepest part.
Oh, But You got in through the marrow and bone
Shed some light where none had shone.

-PRF

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Love and the Church

What I'm listening to: Sarah Masen's The Dreamlife of Angels

I was just out of college and searching for a new church. The city of Colorado Springs was my new home, so I had plenty of options. I decided to start with what I knew: the Evangelical-Free churches. The first challenge was simply finding the building, one of which was nestled very quietly on the far west side of the city in the middle of a residential area. It was very nearly up in the hills at the base of Pike's Peak.

I remember a lot of things about this visit - I remember the sanctuary was about 1/3 full. A youth pastor was candidating and filling the pulpit for the morning and his sermon was entitled "24-7-365". I remember looking around at the other people and feeling very uncomfortable as they all stared at me - wondering who I was, what's my story, etc, etc. I remember the man that greeted me at the door; he spoke to me kindly, handed my a bulletin and pointed me to the sanctuary.

But more importantly, I remember the reception I received at this church. It was awkward enough, after all, I was by myself in a new place, and looking around at the congregation and was watched by everyone already there, wondering who I was, but no other person spoke to me. They spent a lot of time looking at me, but no one other than the greeter said a a word to me. Talk about awkward. Even when I stayed to have coffee afterwards. Awkward. Awkward. Awkward.

So, did I go back? What do you think? Of course not.

I was shown no love at this church by anyone other than the guy who opened the door for me. It was summer in Colorado, but there was a cold breeze rushing over me as they all stared at me, wondering who I was, what my story was, and what I was doing there.

The church is to be a place where broken people can heal. The family of believers that make up a church are commanded by God to share Christ with those who don't know him. Christ is there to heal those hurts, to restore and offer grace where it's neither deserved nor earned. And how does he first do that? By loving us.

Only through love will a person want to come back to a building where believers meet, for love is just another form of acceptance. And feeling welcome and accepted is all anybody wants. The church is not to be there for acceptance of one's sin, obviously, but rather acceptance that we all sin. And we can be redeemed and restored from the brokeness sin leaves in our hearts.

Is today's modern church more concerned with getting people in the building than what to do with them after they are there?

We live in a world today where, for the average person, there isn't much we can't get. So what does the church have to offer the average person who has access to anything? This is the question we should be asking ourselves. Unchurched people come to church for different reasons. They may have very specific needs or they may just be looking for acceptance. And how can we achieve that if we are afraid to speak to a visitor that comes through the door of a church building?

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1 Cor. 13: 1-2