Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A tale of two Christmas concerts

Tis the Christmas season and my church has had its share of events to celebrate the Advent of Christ. The two big events I look forward to each year are the Christmas concerts. One with adults and one with children. I loved both concerts but for very different reasons. Each allowed to me reflect on the Lord but from opposite perspectives.

With the adult Christmas concert there is a sense of Awe. The stage is packed with singers and musicians. This year a stage extension had to be built just to compensate for all the performers. The concert is big in scale and well rehearsed as the singers and musicians perform with meticulous precision.

As I sit in my seat I meditate on God's immensity, creativity, perfection, and beauty. My senses can hardly take hold of all the glory of the performance. I just sit there and let it wash over me. There is a purity in the high quality of it all.

A week later I attended the children's concert. Dozens of children, ages 5 to 12, crowd the stage. During their performance there are imperfections. Wavering voices, flubbed lines, wardrobe malfunctions (a young girl spent most of her stage time trying with great futility to keep her donkey ear from hanging in her face.)

There is another purity here. Purity in the truth of who these children are. When they sing it's from their hearts. Children haven't developed the skill of masking all their emotions the way adults do. You see their frustration, joy, confusion, personality. I love it. Their families sit watching and soaking it all up like the last portions of a winter soup. They adore their children just as they are, imperfections and all. Purity of the real.

This made my heart meditate on the shadow of how God views us. We're His children. We're flawed. He sees our hearts intentions and motives. He loves and adores us. I am grateful for a heavenly Father such as Him.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bloodless Martyrdom

Over the summer I realized that as a single man in my mid 20's I am presented with a conflicting set of agendas for my life. One popular opinion is that I need to take full advantage of my singleness. Travel, pursue goals, go back to school. Figure out what I want out of life.  These are not bad things. They are great things. These may even help me to reach my life goals of marrying a godly woman and having a family of my own.

However, I'm also told that getting married and having a family will reveal to me and others the depths of my selfishness and pride. I could wait until that possible day to discover those elements in my heart but I was a Boy Scout and our motto was "Be Prepared". The hope then is that I rid myself of as much of my egocentrism as I can and to live for others now. Where I see the problem is that the life I'm being told to live now is not helping cultivate the life that I seek to flourish in later.

I set before me the same challenges that Christ presented His disciples. Pick up your cross and follow me. Die to self.

One way in which I sought to grow the virtue of selflessness was to volunteer. I had done a lot of this at my church but because I also work there the line felt too blurred. I wanted to be stretched. Careful what you ask for.

Thanks to a friend of mine I found out about an opportunity to serve an organization called Giving Children Hope, located in Buena Park, CA. This NPO sends unused medical supplies around the U.S. and world to locals that are in need. They also fill backpacks for homeless children in the L.A. and Orange counties. 

You hear people say all the time that volunteering feels good. I wish I could say that I naturally felt this euphoria, especially as a christian. But I'm selfish, and volunteering 4 hours of my day off, getting up earlier than I do for work and doing unglamorous hard labor in a warehouse did not illuminate my halo. Another false idea I had was that I'd be with very friendly, selfless people who loved serving. In reality many of the men I was working next to were court ordered to be there and talked about how much they didn't want to be there.

After a couple of months volunteering once a week, I arrived at GCH to find just myself and one other guy. The warehouse manager, a former street fighting Romanian, told us were were going to be doing some cleaning. We moved large, heavy tables, cleaned up trash, swept, mopped and waxed the floor. It was quite the operation.

It was while I was crouched down scrubbing a wall with a sponge that I really felt all my resentment bubbling up.
"Why am I doing this? There are so many better things I could be doing. This work is for people being punished. This is beneath me. I have more to offer than scrubbing walls and mopping floors."
 The thoughts tasted bitter. "So that's the real me." It made me sick. Then I heard my answers. Not easy but true. "This is why you need this. This is when it really begins."

If it had all been easy and fun what would I be gaining? That wasn't my goal, though inwardly it's what I wanted. My own glory. Picking up crosses and dying clashes with my self preservation and entitlement.

I am convinced now, more than ever, that the path to my goal of selflessness will not end before my heart does. But I look to Christ who daily set the example and lived a life of obedience and love for God and for others. May that be the prayer on my lips every morning and the reflections of my heart at night.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

we are the clay, and thou our Potter, III

In my last post I discussed the importance of Plasticity in clay. The quality that allows the clay to be easily molded to the form of the Potter. I too must be flexible to the ways in which the Lord is sanctifying me to His greater and mysterious purposes.

Sometimes the shapes that the Potter is forming can stretch the clay thin. In these moments the quality that is critical is Strength. The clay must be able to hold it's own and not collapse in on itself or tear. An overly fragile piece of pottery is not very useful.

How often do I find that my integrity is being tested? That the stretching and bending of my soul and character are being all at once strained by outside forces and yet conditioned by my Father. One of my favorite verses in scripture, one that I cling to often, is Joshua 1:9. Following the death of Moses, Joshua is faced with the incredibly difficult task of leading the people of Israel into the promise land which in addition to flowing with milk and honey is stock full of "giants" and enemies to be conquered. Lands, homes and treasures to be wrestled from the opposition.  Joshua was anxious. We know this because of how many times God has to give him the following command from verse 9.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
Several more times in the following verses God emphasizes again and again that Joshua is to have courage and be strong.

I have never had to battle armies and cities the way that Joshua did but I have feared the tasks before me; college, career, dating, travel, change.

I often feel completely incapable of dealing with all that lies before me. However, God's encouragement is the same to me as it was to Joshua. "Do not tremble or be dismayed", and I love why, "The Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

Regardless of circumstance or my ability there He is, to lead and to guide as the loving Father.

The apostle Paul gives this advice in the face of adversity. Ephesians 6:10 reads:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
 I am to be strong in the Lord and His might. Paul says to do this by putting on the armor of God. There is enough there for several blog posts.

Joshua was a warrior and would have known the importance of being properly equipped for battle. There is effort on my part. I must put on the armor but God is the giver of each piece. Will I beseech Him for that which I need so desperately. He is generous.

Father, in result of my own stubbornness and pride that keeps me from being moldable,  I find myself in over my head in anxious panic. I quickly come to the realization that I am finite and weaken easily. By your grace and strength alone with I stand the onslaught of life and spiritual dark forces. Teach me Lord daily to be Strong and Courageous, trusting solely in the strength of your might. Clothe me in your armor that I might remain secure to stand at the end of the day for your purposes. Your name is a strong tower and I ask this in the matchless name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

we are the clay, and thou our Potter, II

Previously I discussed the starting process for throwing clay on a potter's wheel. Just as the clay must be centered on the wheel so must we too be centered in God's will to be formed into the right shape. So what makes for a good throwing clay?

Possibly the most crucial aspect of good clay is it's Plasticity. This is what determines how easy it is to mold and shape the clay. If you are working with a clay that is low in plasticity you will have to press hard and struggle against the clay to work it into the form that you are hoping for.

What does it look like for me to bear the characteristic of plasticity? I ask myself  - Do I resist correction? Am I teachable? When things aren't going my way to I fight the change or try to adjust my expectations and desires to align with truth?

I wish I could answer with an unabashed Yes! On the contrary I find that I am quite stubborn and filled to overflowing with my own expectations for my life. I am that two year old in the store who is throwing a fit; red, swollen face and wailing to wake the dead unless I get what I want.

Now if you are working with clay I hate to disappoint you but no matter how much you ask the clay to be more cooperative nothing is going to happen. But where we are truly blessed is that we can ask our Father to increase our plasticity. How could our great Potter be anything but delighted to answer our prayers for transformation away from selfish stubbornness into gentle submission under His omniscient guidance. How much greater would my life be if I could relinquish my pride and humble myself to the greater good that my God has for me?

This isn't easy, not by a long stretch. Not only am I not naturally inclined to this condition but I don't often want to be. In my final post in this series I will attempt to make sense of why I should even desire the characteristics of good clay and how to pursue that end.

All powerful, yet gentle Father, work your hands on my condition. Would you break me of my prideful stubbornness that seeks only it's own will. Please change the state of my heart to quiet itself before authority and wisdom and to know it's proper place before you. I ask you to give me a heart, mind and soul of high plasticity in your hands. May I be willing to follow the squeezing and stretching that you sovereignly bring in my life. Thank you for being patient with me. I know that I am safe in your hands. Amen.                                   

Monday, September 26, 2011

we are the clay, and thou our potter

This post is going to be the first in a series I want to do on pottery and the characteristics of clay and how hopefully help us meditate on this verse from Isaiah.

But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. - Isaiah 64:8
A few years ago my friend Julie was taking a pottery class at Biola. I stopped by to visit her in the art studio. She was working on a project for class wherein she had to use a potter's wheel and throwing clay. I watched as she tossed a misshapen ball of clay on the wheel, wet her hands and set the wheel spinning. Her hands carefully and methodically guided the clay up and down forming a cylindrical shape.

I watched her work for several minutes, my mind mesmerized by her slow and subtle workings on the clay. It wasn't long before this previously shapeless lump was beginning to take the form of a cup. Julie looked up at me,

"You want to give it a try?"

I chuckled but had always wanted to work clay on a potter's wheel and so I took her up on the offer. Julie sat me at a wheel and handed me my own ball of clay. I tossed it down on the wheel, wet my hands and started the wheel spinning.

Right away I knew something was wrong. As I began to try and mold the clay into a cylinder, I could not keep it inline with it's base causing it to be crooked. I looked befuddled at Julie. She smiled knowingly.

"If you don't center the clay when you toss it down you'll have a heck of a time keeping it straight."

I stopped the wheel, collapsed the clay, lifted it up and tossed it back down, aiming for the center. Not surprisingly it took my several attempts before I was able to get the clay in just the right spot so I could even begin to work with it.

Honestly, I wonder how many times my Father has had to do this with me as well. Though in His case it's not His fault that the clay isn't center. As the clay I'm often choosing to slide out of the center of His will. Making it harder for me to be shaped into the idea of what He wants to form me into.

Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil. - Prov. 4:27
 I must allow my Father to change my position with Him. If I am not inline with Him how can I hope to be used by Him? One of the problems with having to toss the clay back onto the wheel is that you can loose some of the shape from the impact. Shaping has to begin again. However once the clay is centered wonderful things can begin to happen.

All knowing and wise Father, when I stray from the center of your will would you continue to be gracious and place me back. I want to be the form of your choosing, to be used in the time and place that you see fit. Help me in my times of fear or stubbornness that would see me resisting your correction. Would you give me wisdom to know that without our relationship being aligned the changes in me are futile. Thank you for not settling with second best in my transformation. You have everything to see that I will end up the product of your powerful hands, according to your will.  Amen.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Why are you in despair, O my soul?

And why have you become disturbed within me?

These lines come from the writer of the 42nd Psalm. This evening, as on many previous, those words resonated deep within me.

I have been feeling anxious. Nothing all too new to me as I am nearly 12 years familiar with the dropping in my stomach, the icy hot tingling on the back of my neck and the feeling of dread and despair that quickens my pulse.

What has become frustrating is that I cannot think of any particulars of which I am finding myself fearful. It could be many things, walking about my current home seeing boxes of my roommates things as he prepares to move out tomorrow is certainly a reminder of life's inevitable changes. Which on the forefront I rarely take delight.

Could it be the stresses of looking for full time employment? The worries of never finding a loving spouse? The fear of failing the people to whom I have made commitments? Perhaps.

These thoughts plague the minds of many at my age but I cannot help but think it may be deeper. A melancholy that is scarred on my being. This fear that I am struggling to keep my head just above the water and that a large wave is all that is needed to succumb me to the depths. Occasionally the past seems filled only with guilt and sadness and the future looming with fear of pain and loss.

It gets overwhelming. Too often I seek to distract myself but inevitably I find myself alone in my room and on edge.

Loneliness has been an intense battle over the past 6 months. I feel that it contributes to much of what I find myself experiencing but will delve into those meditations another time.

What then, is the solution, relief, and comfort? If any?

A Godless world will tell us to look within. Which from all that I survey is what has actually gotten me into this tar pit.

The Psalmist declares to his own soul and ours.

Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God. 

 Hope. In. God.

Not myself, friends, family, work, healthy, money, spouse, home or any of the other countless things I too often turn to for peace of mind.

This hope is not in vain because I know the character of God. His faithfulness, trustworthiness, goodness, righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, grace and mercy for starters.

The psalmist says that He is our help and our God. I Love the possessiveness that God allows us to have with Him. I am His and He is mine.

The line "for I shall yet praise Him" tells me that this man's trials were far from over but that in the midst of them he would praise God. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:  

You can worry or you can worship but you can't do both.
I have found this to be true. When my foundations are shaking I must cling to the Rock that cannot be moved.

He is where I will seek rest. Refuge. Peace.

O' loving Father may I seek only you for my souls rest. May all other streams dry up and always leave me thirsting for the fountain that satisfies. Please use every minute of these trials to shape me more into that which is most beautiful to you. Teach me to bring my every burdened thought to you in humble prayer. Forgive me for placing hope anywhere but in you. Thank you for your grace and for meeting my greatest needs and being a source of refuge and strength. Hold my hand every step of the journey until we meet face to face and give me the wisdom and heart to encourage my brothers and sisters on our journey home.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Daily Bread. Or (How I need to learn to stop loathing grocery shopping.)

I hate grocery shopping. Neigh, loathe it on many an occasion. I do. The store is cold, the lighting is awful, there is an overwhelming amount of food to choose from the majority of which is bad for me, and it's not fulfilling my purpose in even going. I go because I must eat but in order to do that I have to buy the food before I can eat it.

I often think that if I could just take a pill and never have to eat another day in my life I would do it. Part of the problem is that I wait until I have nothing but a bag of white rice in my pantry to go to the store and usually I haven't eaten since lunch and it's 9 o'clock at night and I'm getting cranky. Poor planning on my part. But then again I hate it, so of course I put it off.

Those reasons are mostly reasons that anyone might not enjoy going. They are very tangible and in some cases, things that I can correct or plan for accordingly.

As I found myself walking into the store tonight I did something I had not done before. I prayed. I asked God to help me in my shopping. I prayed that He would help my attitude, to course correct my spirit.

You see the other side of the of the coin is that I have grown weary of grocery shopping as well as many of the other tasks that as a single man are my sole tasks of responsibility. I don't like doing things just for me. If I were out buying food for friends, or a dinner party I would most likely be elated to browse the aisles with my guests in mind. Thinking about what foods will both nourish their bodies and delight their palates. But just me? Bleh, give me that pill.

I can imagine myself as an Israelite in the wilderness waking up to find manna all over the landscape and trying to fill a week's worth so that I don't have to do it tomorrow and I can spend more time flirting with the daughters of the tribe of Benjamin.

Well many of us know what happened to the excess manna. The next day it was rubbish. Like a lot of the food in my refrigerator.

God wants me in daily remembrance of Him. I can't fill my spiritual pantry on Sunday. I need worship, prayer, scripture every day. But like I do with my grocery shopping I usually wait until I'm tired, and long over due.

Jesus would get up before the sun to commune with God. Before a breakfast of fish and bread with the disciples. He knew what He needed to get through the day.

Daily. Jesus teaches us this in the Lord's prayer. Give us *this* day our *daily* bread.

I didn't have any incredible revelations while in the store, or an new sense of peace while wondering the aisles. I suppose I may have found inspiration for this post. Which is to say that God works in the mundane and will point us to Him if we ask for the eyes to see Him.

In the end I think what I've come away with the most is that I needed to pray and ask for my Father's help before going into the grocery store. That beyond the major themes and issues of my life that I desperately need His presence and peace of mind in small daily tasks. Asking Him to grow my faith in the ordinary, hum drum, needs that I have.

Father, you are patient, faithful and full of lovingkindness. Thank you for meeting our daily needs. Thank you that you can teach us in the midst of the routine. Would you root us in your truth and grow us in faith closer to the bright brilliance of your grace and beauty. That you are as near to us in the dairy aisle as you are in the sanctuary.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Someday my Prince will come

I'm a lifelong fan of almost all things Disney. As a child Disneyland was my vision of Heaven. I would get excited and prepare for months when I knew our family was planning a visit. I would watch the movies and sing the songs eagerly awaiting the days to be spent at the "Happiest Place on Earth". Our family recently took a trip to the park in March. We hadn't gone as a whole family in years which made this trip all the more special.

We were having lunch one day in New Orleans Square where there was a jazz trio performing an array of tunes. For their last song the played "Someday my Prince will come" from the Disney animated feature "Snow White". Several small children instantly recognized the song and made their way to the foot of the stage dancing in the carefree way that children do.

I watched as a father danced with his very young daughter. It looked like the perfect picture for a Disney brochure. I could imagine years from now when that little girl gets married and she dances with her father, hopefully a little more coordinated. He will twirl her in her white wedding dress as she begins life with her new husband.

I know that there are views that pose the opinion that all the Disney princess movies skew young girls dreams and ideas of romance. The idea that you sit idly by and wait for your prince to come and take you away to his castle for a life of happily ever after. Feminism stands in pretty stark opposition to such a thought.

But what struck me this time was the thought that I as a man am waiting for my Prince to come. My Prince is the Prince of Peace and He is preparing a place for us. A perfect kingdom filled with more joy, beauty and celebration than anything Disney has ever dreamed up.

We are like the princesses in bringing nothing to our salvation, in fact it was our action that caused us to need rescuing. Think of Snow White eating the apple or Princess Aurora touching the spinning wheel.

I now have a different perspective when watching these Disney classics. I see the greater love story unfolding. The one that is true and has a real Happily Ever After.

Now we just need some popcorn.