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.