Monday, 28 January 2013

Reflecting Him Part 1

This post was written after a tiring week, but I don't know when it will go onto my blog.  As for some background, at New Year's, my primary vision for 2013 was that in good times, and in hard times, God's grace and strength would be reflected in my life.  This post is a look at my week and what I learned through it. (I have been non-specific about some things to keep some aspects of my life/work more private.)

*  *  *  *  *

I go to bed earlier to catch up on sleep I missed the night before.  Monday went alright, but I know I have stresses and long days ahead of me yet.  I need the rest and energy, and I pray for a good night.  I fall asleep quickly, or at least I think so.  The next thing I remember is various thoughts going through my mind.  I'm in a half-awake and dreaming at the same time.  I begin to shake underneath my blankets.  No, I can't get sick now.  I have an important meeting today.  I wonder if I will have to call in.  I've never had to do that before.

Wondering how much time I have before I have to get up, I turn over to look at the alarm clock.  It's only 11:22.  I still have over six hours.  I push the covers back and head down to the bathroom.  There I continue to shake violently.  This happens all too often to me.  I try to relax my shaking body, then go to the kitchen where I measure a spoon of antacid into a glass of water.  I drink the bubbling mixture, hoping it will work quickly and I will be able to sleep again.

Shortly hereafter, I make my way back to bed, only to come back down to the bathroom several times.  I try to vomit, but am not successful.  After being up for about two hours, I drift off to sleep.  In the morning, I pull myself out of bed, force some breakfast down, take a Gravol and go to work.

*  *  *  *  *

I have been praying about this meeting for weeks.  I have feared it.  I stare out the window watching scenery and traffic go by and pray again.  I know we'll need it.  Afterward, I walk out confused.  It went totally different than expected.  Better than expected.  I want to thank God, but I'm so confused, I only wonder when the next attack will come.

Why do I do this? Why is it that when things go better than expected, I either think I was worried for no reason, or that something bad is yet bound to happen?  I pray for weeks about something, and then when it goes well, I don't even give credit to God.  Why do I strip Him of the praise He deserves?

*  *  *  *  *

I come home late.  It has now been 14 hours since I left that morning.  Another fearful meeting has gone better than expected.  I'm very tired and hungry.  Nothing is prepared for me.  I pull out a carton of almond milk and Cheerios.  This is as much supper as I can handle half an hour before bed.  Must try to get 8 hours of sleep tonight, because I have the same kind of day ahead of me tomorrow, although likely not quite as late.

*  *  *  *  *

I drive myself to another meeting.  It's an hour to my destination.  I can follow Christian radio stations for the whole drive, but I'm looking forward to getting past the next city where the traffic thins out.  These are moments I'm thankful for.  After the meeting, I make a similar drive home, although slower than usual with the snow in some areas.  I arrive home earlier than last night.  I had noticed pork chops thawing on the kitchen counter that morning and looking forward to something close to a real supper.  There are, however, no pork chops left.  I cut a bagel in half, push down the toaster, and pull a jar of Cheez Whiz out of the fridge. I don't even like this stuff, but I crave it occasionally and don't want butter again.  How does that work?

*  *  *  *  *

So there's snippets of a few of my days.  What did I learn from all this?  Although I was busy, tired, and had little time to think or focus on anything other than work, I can never shut my mind off completely. Some of the things I have described are common for me.  Others perhaps not so much.  What I saw though is that when I desire to reflect God's strength, my circumstances don't always change.  God doesn't always sugar-coat things for me or smooth out the road.  Life is still hard.  I still get tired.  I still feel sick during nights I really need sleep.  I still have to get up and go to work when I really don't want to.  So how do I reflect God's grace in all of this?

Response.  That's what it comes down to.  I can whine and complain, or I can invite God into my circumstances.  The difference is in how I respond.  And to be honest, my response is generally to complain and get irritable with people around me, to mope in my self-pity.  Perhaps that's largely what I've been doing in this post.  

When I look back on this week, I can't identify a moment where God's strength was incredibly evident.  But I do recognize where I had peace that I normally would not have.  I have recognized meetings that went better than they should have.  And yet, my first instinct wasn't to praise God and give Him credit for these things, although I had prayed significantly about them.  I know I'm not the only one to do this but why do we do that?  Why do we dismiss things and say that maybe we were just overreacting or getting worried for nothing when things go better?  Why do we try to credit our own strength when we can go to work when we don't want to, when we can speak with confidence and peace, when just the thought of something half an hour earlier terrified us?  It's something I don't entirely understand.

This I do understand.  We reflect God's grace and strength in how we respond to circumstances.  We reflect His grace when we give Him the credit that's rightfully His.  We also reflect Him when we intercede for others in our own hard times.  

But that's too much for this post, and I will continue my story later.

To be continued....

Monday, 21 January 2013

King's Letter from Birmingham

Today, Americans remember the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  And although I'm not an American, so do I.  A few weeks back, a young woman posted King's letter from a Birmingham jail on her facebook page, quoting from the letter "But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here."  This was posted days after making the move to a different city to give herself fully to pro-life work.  I have taken the time to read the letter and it left me crying.  I would like to further share my thoughts here.  You can read the letter or watch this video that shares the letter.  It is lengthier, but well worth it.

This letter was written from a jail in Birmingham after King had been arrested for parading without a permit.  It was in response to criticism from clergymen about his non-violent activities to protest against segregation.  It's one of the few times he responded to the criticism he often received.  He begins by explaining why he is in Birmingham, since he was previously in Atlanta.  He was invited, but more than that, Birmingham was a place of grave injustice.  So he went where he was wanted and needed.  He went to where the injustice was, instead of staying in Atlanta.  Not once did he say that the injustice in Birmingham wasn't his problem.  He recognized that injustice in one city directly or indirectly affected the entire nation and he didn't shrink back.

In order to fight injustice in Birmingham, King and those who worked alongside him had "to undertake a process of self purification."  They had to prepare themselves, ask themselves hard questions, and evaluate whether or not they were willing to bear the cost of their actions.  For King, it ended up meaning going to jail.  He was willing to disobey unjust laws and accept the consequences "to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice...." 

In his letter, King addresses some of his disappointments. One of his disappointments was the white moderate.  These are the white people who would rather sit on the fence about segregation and desired to keep the peace instead of speak out against injustice.  They were the people who thought they needed to give it more time.  Time, however, as King made clear, would not change anything. 

Another one of King's disappointments, the one that really caught my attention, was his disappointment with the church.  "I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership."  He goes on to acknowledge some exceptions.  "But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church."  This man was not speaking out of criticism, but out of love.  He was a minister of the gospel and dearly loved the church.  Here was a man who had been expecting support from the church, and was finding that people in the church were some of his greatest opponents.  For them, the issues of injustice had nothing to do with the Gospel.

This really made me think.  How many people within our nation or around the world would say this about the North American church?  We are not living up to our calling!  But King doesn't stop there.  He goes on to explain how the early church was different.

"There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed.  In those day the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.  Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."  But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man.  Small in number, they were big in commitment.  They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated."  By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.  Things are different now.  So often, the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.  So often it is an archdefender of the status quo.  Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are."

Here I broke down crying.  I cried over how far the church has fallen.

". . . If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.  Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust."

What I'm about to say in the next couple paragraphs I say to myself as much as to my readers.

These words were written 50 years ago, and what has changed?  It sounds hardly any different from the church in North America today.  This ought to break our hearts.  This ought to disturb us, deeply.  Instead of the church shaking up the world, the world is shaking up the church.  And we are silent.  We are silent as our government allows the killing of millions of children.  We are silent as children are sold for sex.  We are silent as same-sex marriage is legalized.  Many who bear the name of Christian are active participants in the injustice and immorality.  Sure we may speak about these things amongst ourselves, but do our politicians ever hear about it?  Are we having any affect on public opinion?  Or are people just looking at our churches in disgust, as social clubs with no meaning?

It's time to speak up.  It's time to shake our nation.  It's time to stand for truth and for justice until we start receiving some opposition, which may perhaps come from other believers.  It's time for the church to hear again "These people have turned the world upside down!"  We need to return to the power of the early church.  Yes, there will be a cost.  Jesus told us so much.  Have we experienced the extent of the cost He described?

I was told recently that it only takes 3 percent of a population to shift culture.  If that be true, why aren't we doing it?

Where are you at?  In what ways to you need to disturb the peace around you?  Where do you need to stand for truth? 

Find the answers to those questions and go turn the world upside down!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Why Pro-Life?

Here is my latest book review on Why Pro-Life?: Caring for the Unborn and Their Mothers by Randy Alcorn.  This is a short, informative book that the average reader could read in just a few hours.  In it Randy covers a lot of the hot and difficult questions surrounding the abortion issue.  Is the fetus really a human?  Is the fetus alive?  Is he part of the woman's body?  What makes human life meaningful?  Do we get to choose what happens to our bodies?  Do we get to choose whether a baby lives or dies?

He not only covers these topics, but also discusses the effects of abortion on the woman afterward, and the effects it has had on our society.  He doesn't shy away from the circumstances where some believe abortion is justifiable due to rape or extreme medical conditions.  He also shares the salvation and forgiveness a mother can receive if she has had an abortion, as well as suggestions for what people can do to get involved in helping the unborn and their mothers.

Randy keeps his chapters short and concise and his arguments based on medical evidence and research.  It's a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about abortion and the pro-life view, or to become equipped with answers to the frequently asked and difficult questions that arise with the topic.  I definitely recommend it.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

He Likes Me!

What does God like about you?  This is a question that came up when studying Alien Love by Kevin Abell with a group of believers.  At first, the only thing I could come up with was God likes me.  To be honest, I didn't like the question at first.  It sounded kind of conceited.  Who am I to say what God likes about me?  I don't know what He thinks.  I was afraid to put words into the mouth of God.  Also, asking what God liked about us sounded kind of cheap, like we were downplaying His love for us.  However, as I began to think about it, I became very thankful for this question.

At first "like" sounded like a cheap word when we consider God's love for us.  But it isn't.  God isn't immature like we sometimes are.  He doesn't say "I love Margaret, but that doesn't mean I have to like her."  Imagine if God was like that, if He only loved us, but didn't like us.  Every time I feel compelled to say "I love that person, but that doesn't mean I have to like them", it's always because I feel like I have to love them, that I'm obligated to.  I have to love them because God commands it, not because I want to.  I'm glad God isn't like that.  He loves us because He wants to, not because He has to. 

It's much easier to think about what God doesn't like about me.  After all, there are a lot of things about me that are not desirable.  It's almost as if I'm so used to focusing on sin in my life, my faults, things I need to change, that I forget about the good.  As I mentioned, I was afraid of putting words into the mouth of God.  I think it's harder to say what He likes about me specifically, because His Word doesn't tell me.  I can go to His Word and see what sin is in my life that doesn't please Him.  I can go to His Word and see that He loves me and created me for His pleasure.  I can go to His Word and see what my position is in Christ.  I can say I'm a saint, and that I'm His bride, because the Bible says I am.  The Bible never tells me what God specifically likes about me, Margaret.

However, we as Christians are quick to point out things in each others' lives, and perhaps even in our own lives, that don't please God, even when the Bible doesn't specifically say so.  I can say with confidence that it would not please God if I spent all my free time watching dirty movies and playing video games.  The Bible never specifically says I shouldn't do that.  But the Bible does say we are supposed to redeem the time and that we are to put no vile thing before our eyes.  The Bible gives us general guidelines and we come up with our own specifics.  Sometimes this can be dangerous and other times it can be beneficial.

If we can do that with things God isn't pleased with, then why shouldn't we be able to do the same thing with things that God is pleased with, on the condition that we are using His Word as a guide and not coming up with ridiculous ideas and claim God is pleased with them?  After all, His Word does give us indications of many things that do please Him, even if it doesn't tell us anything about our lives specifically.

So what does God like about me?  I started by looking in the mirror.  God likes the way my eyes squint when I smile or laugh.  (He likes it when I smile or laugh.)  It may sound silly to some, but my eyes are a facial feature a lot of people notice about me.  And since God delights in the way He made me, I think it's safe to say He likes that about me.  God likes the way I share my heart with Him, no matter how dark, fearful, painful or sinful.  No, He doesn't like everything I think and feel, but He does like that I don't hide those things from Him, but trust Him and lay them bare before Him.  He knows anyway, but He still likes when I talk to Him about it.  God also likes how I write to share with others what I'm learning and what He's doing in my life. 

I also think that perhaps God likes some of the same things about us that the people who love us like about us.  When I ask people for things that characterize me, I get various answers, but there are some things people mention that I believe God likes about me.  How I take risks, do things to make a difference even when I may not be guaranteed results, how I'm not afraid to share what I believe, even when others might not like what I have to say.  I think those are things that God likes about me as well.

This has been a good question for me to think about, and I encourage you to think about it as well.  You can drop a comment to share your thoughts. 

What does God like about you?