Wednesday, October 25, 2017

What must I do?

 I've been doing some in-depth study of the book of Mark for the past few months or so. This is a gospel that has many chapters and passages that I've read through multiple times since I was a little girl in Sunday School, yet I'm still finding lessons in it that are so applicable to my life today it's as if they were just written or I was reading them for the first time. That's the amazing thing about the Bible. It's lessons just never. get. old. Anyway, that's a sidenote of this blog. Today I read in Mark 10. In this chapter (vv17-22) is what's known as the parable of the rich young ruler. To summarize a young man approaches Jesus and asks Him, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?". Jesus begins by telling him to follow the commandments, which the young man promptly responds that he's done since he was knee high to a grasshopper (ok maybe not those exact words). I imagine this young man giving himself a mental high five that he's already been doing what he needs to do to live eternally. Jesus wasn't done yet. He goes on to tell this young man that there's something he hasn't been doing, at which point I imagine the young man's face falling and maybe his palms starting to sweat a bit. If he felt some anxiety in that split second before Jesus revealed what he was lacking it wasn't unfounded, for Jesus was basically about to ask of him all that he had. Literally--" '... go and sell all you possess and give to the poor... and come, follow Me.' But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property" (vv21-22). As I was meditating on this passage God reminded me that this young man had asked how he could secure for himself eternal life. I would consider that maybe the biggest existential question anyone could ask. This man felt he had found the one Person who could answer that question (and rightly so). Yet when he heard the answer he actually rejected it.  Y'all, REJECTED it. As in Jesus told him how to live forever and he turned it down because he was too rich.  I'm stunned at the audacity of this young man to turn away from his Saviour for temporary riches. After all, he seemed so genuine in the asking of his question, and even Jesus seemed taken with him (the text mentions that Jesus felt "a love for him ". That's mentioned right before Jesus gives him the bombshell answer that shook him.). If I were to be honest I have to admit my first reaction was to judge the man for choosing the temporary over the eternal. However, in my experience God doesn't let me get away with judging anyone for too long, even if it is a man in a story in the Bible. Instead He turns the tables (Ya know, the whole "if you point one finger at someone else you've got 5 pointing back at you" sort of thing) and begins prodding me to search my own spirit for how I may be like the one I've judged. I found God asking me how many times a day I chose my own agenda over that of His kingdom. How many times a day does He ask me to participate in the eternal work of His kingdom in being a representation of His Son to someone else and I opt for the very temporary activities of life (and that can be anything from taking a nap instead of making a phone call to someone needing encouragement to scrolling through Facebook in a few spare minutes that I could be praying; and that's just a couple of the many examples of how that looks in my life)? Thinking about this is sobering to me in much the same way Jesus' answer must have been sobering to the rich young ruler. Y'all I seriously thought I was past the point where this passage really applied to me.  After all, I've already chosen Jesus and His kingdom. Game over, right? The thing is God hasn't called game over yet. He knows I'm still in need of lots of transformation because I will so often chose the things that are temporarily satisfying (like choosing a McDonalds cheeseburger over a professionally prepared filet mignon from a Michelin star restaurant) over what He has planned for me on a day to day basis. I'm just grateful Jesus feels a love for me the way He did the rich young ruler as I keep turning to Him to show me a better way.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It's Time

I've decided it's time to get back to blogging.  It's been 3 years since my last post. Not sure why I stopped. More than likely a result of a ton of life changes--graduating grad school, moving, returning to an old job while starting a new career, meeting and marrying the love of my life, moving, starting a new job, and getting pregnant. Little one should make an appearance any day now so this may not be the best time to start this up. Thing is, I, like everyone, have things to say. Sometimes those things are actually helpful to other people, especially when I'm bold and say the things that other people might be afraid to say.  I think that's part of why I became a counselor. So I'm going to roll the dice and make a commitment to blogging in what will probably be the craziest of all life changes. Just wanted to let the blogging world know this so you can hold me accountable.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

It may or may not knock your socks off...

I'm doing an inductive Bible study on the book of Luke right now.  For those of you unfamiliar with the technique of inductive study, it involves reading and re-reading and re-reading again and then re-reading some more the chapters in a book of the Bible.  As you read you highlight key words and ask certain questions about the text to give you a deeper understanding of what is being said in it.  This morning when I picked up my Bible I decided to read chapter 4 one more time before I moved on. Ya know, in case I missed anything.  You can probably guess where this is going.  As I read I came to a particular verse and found myself wondering how on earth I had missed the wording of this verse before.  BLOGGER'S WARNING:  Before I share it, I'm guessing you're gearing yourself up for a verse that is profound beyond all meaning; one that simply knocks your socks off just at the reading of it.  Here's your warning....good chance that's not what's going to happen.  In fact, I'm thinking when you read it there's a slight chance you're going to think, "So?".  But stay with me as I talk about why it stuck out to me.  Now that that's out of the way, are you ready?  Here it is:
And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, "Is this not Joseph's son?" (v. 22)

When I read this verse those 2 little words "gracious words" hit me unexpectedly.  Gracious words.  Something about it sounded so gentle and loving.  I decided to take my study of this tiny phrase a bit deeper and looked up the word gracious in my greek translation Bible (basically has the original greek word and then a more in depth translation of it).  Here's the meaning I found for the word gracious:  joy, favor, acceptance, a kindness granted or desired, a benefit, thanks, gratitude; a favor done without expectation of return; absolute freeness of the loving-kindness of God to men, finding its only motive in the bounty and free-heartedness of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor.  Wow.  These were the kinds of words Jesus was speaking that caused His hearers to wonder.  Can you imagine having a conversation with someone and feeling joy, acceptance, kindness, and favor with no expectation of the same words in return?  Can you imagine feeling God's loving-kindness and a sense of the speaker's free-heartedness behind those words?  The verse says that these gracious words were "falling from His lips".  Can you hear the ease behind that phrase?  Can you imagine receiving these words from another and knowing that they were not only 100% genuine but also flowing from their mouth as naturally as it is for us to breathe?  Is it any wonder the people were a bit befuddled and asking, "Is this not Joseph's son?".  Isn't He just an ordinary man like the rest of us?  He's not of exceptional breeding or class, is He?  

I felt a great deal of conviction as the meaning of this very short verse set in.  While I'm not able to do exactly as Jesus does because He's infallible, I fully believe God expects me to try.  When it comes to this verse, I'm not totally sure when the last time was that I really tried to speak graciously in such a way that the hearer could sense that it was a natural out-flow from my relationship with the Giver of those words.  Of course, God had to up the ante on this and chose to remind me of some broken relationships in my life where there has been a great deal of anger and pain.  I could sense Him saying that I'm expected to have gracious words for those who hurt me as well as those who love me.  Should I be surprised?  After all, when Jesus spoke these gracious words He spoke to people who He knew would one day betray, abandon, and mock Him.  

I wonder what it would be like to have interactions with people who know me well and love me to respond to gracious words from me that were so of God that they could say, "Isn't this Amber?  The girl who was grouchy with me yesterday morning?  The girl who got a little too upset in traffic last week?".  Or to encounter someone who had never met me before, who was so struck by God's words to them through me that they had to wonder how it was another human was being so kind, when their normal experience of humanity has been one of selfishness and anger?  Kind of sounds like a fun experiment to me.            

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Betrayed Betrayer

There are moments in life where something happens or is said or done to forever change your perspective. These moments are usually so poignant because they come unexpectedly and almost covertly (or sneaky-like, if you will). For me, my perspective on communion will never be the same. I have recently had the opportunity to engage in communion in a couple situations where there was brokenness between me and those with whom I was communing. In the first situation I struggled greatly to sit at the table. How could I commune honestly with someone with whom I had betrayed by my sin and brokenness, and who had betrayed me by theirs? Wouldn't I be staining the Lord's table with my sin if I partook before reconciliation occurred? I shared this struggle with a respected friend, and was surprised by her simple, pointed response to my struggle. "Isn't this what Jesus did?", she gently questioned as I wrestled. Instantly I found myself envisioning the night when the Lord sat with 12 betrayers, broke bread with them, drank from the cup, and then served them by washing their feet. I was overwhelmed by the picture of Jesus supping with His betrayers. And this is why communion, for me, will never be the same. I will no longer go to the table refusing to join in this aspect of Christian fellowship because I have betrayed my brother or sister in Christ or even the Lord Himself. Instead, I will go with humility and gratitude, recognizing that the only One who was ever worthy of the table was Jesus Himself but Who still willingly invited his betrayers to join with Him in intimate fellowship at the table.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Crisis of Faith

It's amazing to me what I've decided should be my first post after not blogging for over 2 months. Truly there have been many things on my mind, many topics I felt stirred to write about. Either procrastination won out in preventing me to write until now or God was just waiting for the heart of all these other topics to come to the surface so I could just get to the point. It's a little irritating really. All these other topics made me feel more spiritual. This entry, on the other hand, is far more telling of my humanity which I most times disdain. Alas and alack, I'm committed to living up to the name of my blog. So here goes nothing.

The past few months of being in counseling has been in a word wretched. Slowly but surely God has been wrestling little bits of control from my hands; control that I had mistakenly thought I had given up long ago. But those control wars were really only the tip of the iceberg of the really big battle. "Do you think you do this in your relationship with God?", my counselor gently asked last week. We had been talking about struggles I have in trusting people and how it causes me to let them come only so far with me before I put up the big red stop sign with flashing lights. I foolishly(?) thought that only my human relationships fell victim to this particular road sign. Until my counselor asked this question that is. My first reaction was "No, of course I don't do this with God". That reaction lasted as long as it took to think the thought. Then I thought, "Well, it's possible I do this", followed immediately by, "Oh yeah. I do this". A sinking feeling in my stomach...I don't trust God. As if that sickening moment of realization wasn't enough the message was reinforced a couple times as the week went on. One such reinforcement came in my study of Psalm with a friend. The chapter for the week was 9 and as I read over it I came across a verse I underlined a few years ago in a time of depression: "Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you" (v.10). Reality check: I don't believe the Lord doesn't forsake us sometimes, I don't trust Him right now, I don't know Him as well as I thought I did.

Trust me when I say this is one of the scariest moments in my relationship with God that I've ever had. I've tried to recover my own faith, remind myself of all the things I've learned about God in the past in times of struggle, tried to push myself back into a place of trust but I just can't. I know my attempts at this are only a tactic to make myself feel better and get out of the discomfort; attempts to feel in control of my own faith again. However, I've clearly come to a point where there is no turning back, no deceiving myself about there being something amiss in my relationship with God. The only choice I have is to continue forward into the crisis no matter how scary or out of control it may feel. As if these realizations weren't enough, some beautiful sisters in Christ have had the gall to give me permission to wrestle with God and rage on (oh yes, there has been rage this week) while they had faith for me, on my behalf, that God would bring me through. Again, this feels so wrong (because that leaves things in the control of others yet again) and yet I know I have no choice.

The formal definition of crisis is "a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point." I think this pretty much summarizes the current stage my faith is in. Here's depending on the faith of my sisters in Christ that the future trend is for better.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A little Christmas conviction...

My favorite Christmas hymn of all time is "O Holy Night". There is one verse in particular that stirs my heart. It says:
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise His holy name
Normally this verse just resonates with the passion of my heart for justice, people to be free literally from the people who have enslaved them (such as with sex trafficking) and on a figurative level as in the ways we are all in chains to something due to our fallen, broken human nature (whether it's drugs, overeating, or allowing ourselves to be distracted from the unmet longings of our hearts from hours of tv). Over the past month this song has brought a great deal of conviction to my heart. The past 3 years has been a time of God changing my heart toward Christmas. It has become a time of year where I think more about the people who don't have (be it family/social support or the basics to sustain life) and find myself desiring to turn away from the consumeristic approach of this season to one focused on giving where there is need. This year has been sadly different. I've found myself more focused on what I can ask for to fulfill a very superficial wish list. I can feel in my heart that I've been focusing more on asking for the things I don't need instead of on finding ways to give where there is true need. This verse from "O Holy Night" has been part of that process of conviction. The other day I began thinking of those words "Truly He taught us to love one another" and "Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; and in His name all oppression shall cease". I felt a twinge in my heart. This is what Christmas is meant to be about. I'm to use this time of year to love extravagantly and to seek out ways to break chains of my brother and sister who is enslaved and to be part of the process of ceasing oppression in His name. How sad it is that Christmas has strayed so very far from this focus...I feel that sadness for my own distracted heart this year.

There are so many different places we can give this year to help change our focus from materialism to be part of loving one another, breaking the chains of our brother and sister, and ending oppression. I thought I would end this blog by giving you some options if your heart is feeling any of the same conviction that mine is. They're just a few organizations that have touched my heart in different ways and for different reasons. There are many options locally and globally. These 3 are just special to me:

Loving South Africa--dedicated to ending the AIDS pandemic in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
ServLife--focused on orphanages and ending poverty in India, Nepal and other countries in Asia.
Center for Global Impact--an organization dedicated to addressing poverty, disease and injustice in Cambodia, Guatemala and Kosova.
Purchased--educating people about the issues of sex trafficking, human exploitation and abuse.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Glory and Depravity

Did you know for the past 12 years the weather on this day (Sept. 27th) has been exactly the same? I did. I know because the weather 12 years ago today will forever be imprinted on my mind. It is a memory of perfect blue skies, clear sunshine and pleasant fall temperatures that accompanied the most torturous 45 minute drive I had ever made from campus to my childhood home. It was not more than an hour before that drive that I was being pulled out of my physics class at IU by a campus policeman only to be led to a phone where my dad waited on the other end with news that my mom had died. It's still amazing to me how that morning is full of the dichotomy of glory and depravity that characterizes this life on earth. How could it be that just that morning I felt the glory of God as His peace filled me in my prayer of surrender to His will for my mom; that whether He chose to heal her body by restoring it to health or freeing her from it to be in His presence I would accept it? How could I make the very same drive back home gasping for breath, straining through tears as I felt the full weight of depravity in cancer taking my mom victim at a young age? How could God's glory be shown so clearly in the beauty of the weather that day while the depravity of death touched me to the core of my being with an ache I had never experienced before? Even today as I walked in the same perfect blue skies, clear sunshine and pleasant fall temperatures I was in the midst of that dichotomy of glory and depravity, as I processed the glory of His redeeming work in my story combined with the depravity of the broken parts of it that still remain. I almost feel that the way God recreates the same perfect weather every year on this very day is what the rainbow was to Noah. It is my promise from God that in the end His glory will always outweigh the depravity.