Handicap Parking

These past few months, I stumbled upon a very dark side of my heart, a side that displayed faithlessness and anger. I realized just how imperfect my heart and life was, and saw how subconsciously I was acting out in so many sinful ways. I kept looking back to God, asking for Him to to help me find my place again, to pick me up and give me a shove in the right direction. I did not know if I had feet anymore, I felt handicapped, almost even in an emotional state. I tried to find what went wrong in the past year, where I slipped and became incapable of living, and honestly, I still have yet to find the answer. My time now is to reside in prayer to God and to ask for renewal, an uplifting of the spirit.

I take a step back and glance at the spectrum of my years and estimate the exact time my slip occurred, but something kept telling me that it was a blind search, that I was never going to pinpoint the place where my life slowly crumbled from a boulder to a petty stone. I try to ask my good friends around me if they notice a change, in behavior and heart, but they cannot tell either. So what is this? I try to search within to see if my faith is founded upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is. I try to see if my worship of both life and music is rooted in loving God and loving others, and here I see an interesting issue. My worship through life has stumbled in loving others the way God loves them. I recognize that my heart has not been able to look upon those around me with a love that knows no bounds, and I am near tears thinking that I have come such a far way to see that I ended up where I started. I picture a younger me just in negative awe of how much I’ve tripped up, how little control of my life I laid before God. My true faithful self would have told me to offer everything to God, and not hold anything back. I see my struggle at the moment. It is not necessarily an issue of faith, but of applying this faith, living this faith out.

I see how much I’ve let off the leash around me, that I’ve passively played the role of a leader these past few months. I know that I need to find my feet, and ask God to pick me up once again and give me strength to run to the goal. I need to understand the meaning of being made alive in Christ, being active in the Gospel, and living entirely for His Glory.

But please pray for my journey of finding the road where I’ve strayed from, and that I would not grow weary or prideful in the process. God’s Love and Grace extends with open arms, and I need to finally see this and take a firm hold. For God is the sole purpose of living, and the sole reason  for seeking purpose.

Thoughts from Chapel (10/19/09)

Natalie steps onto the court to the applause of thousands of onlookers. It is game 3 of the Blazers-Mavericks series in the 2003 NBA Playoffs, and Natalie has been chosen to sing the national anthem in front of thousands of fans. At thirteen, she is doing what most people don’t even have the skill to do, let alone the opportunity. This is her chance. The crowd inside the Rose Garden hushes as Natalie begins to sing:

Oh, say can you see,
By the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed,
At the star’s light…

Natalie stumbles at the end of that last line and stops. She realizes that she has the words mixed up. For a moment, it seems as if all the air has been sucked out of the stadium. Natalie has failed…now what?

What would you do if that had happened to you?

What do you do when you encounter failure?

In 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about dealing with a “thorn” in this flesh. It isn’t clear exactly what this thorn is; what we do know is that it causes him suffering and keeps him from “becoming conceited” (12:7). It highlights his weakness. Suffering, failure, embarrassment–these are all things that deflate our ego and make us feel really, really small. And that, I think, is where God wants us to be, because it is only then that we have enough room for Him and other people around us. Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

When we are humbled, we realize how much we need God. It is then that God’s power is most fully and gloriously manifested.

So, going back to Natalie, what did happen next? Watch this to find out:

Maurice Cheeks, coach of the Portland Trailblazers, walks up to Natalie and helps her finish the rest of the anthem. He stands by her in her weakness. Isn’t that a beautiful picture of how God stands by us in our suffering and failure?

As Christians, we know that things aren’t as they should be. We believe that failure and suffering are the result of living in a world broken by sin. We aren’t masochists though. Suffering itself is not good. Don’t embrace your failures; embrace the humility and the weakness that come with those failures. When we are humbled, we are made open to God and others, just as Natalie experienced an openness that would not have been possible had she nailed that anthem.

God’s grace is sufficient for us, and his power is made perfect in our weakness.

Praying for Others…

Kind of what I picture...

How do you pray and intercede for others?  My brother during our prayer meeting a few weeks ago shared these words that was like a refreshing reminder that

“…the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” -James 5:16

A few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to lead a prayer meeting, I learned a lesson about prayer that was a great reminder on my own personal way of praying.  As I was sharing and going through the list of prayer requests, I was humbled during a brother’s prayer as he asked God to move his heart in prayer… and to not see the prayers as just a list of things to be checked off.  Now I know the brother was not trying to address me or point fingers, but it was in his sincerity that I was greatly floored by this request.  Why?  It is simply because in that prayer, I realized that lately, I had been approaching prayers as though I am going through a list.  Partially due to the overwhelming number of people that were asking me to pray, but also due to my own forgetfulness; my prayers became life-less, monotonous!

It changed the very way I started praying.  I believe that it is important to keep a list, but it was not trying to go down a list as though I was checking each request off as though I paid my holy prayer dues checklist, but it was having the liberating feeling of being able to follow-up in prayer at all times.  It is about praying as though I am sitting beside the person and going through the struggles in their life with them. It isn’t praying as though I am Jesus (I AM NOT!) but praying as a fellow broken sinner that deeply needs Jesus Messiah, and praying for King Jesus to be revealed in their hearts.  It is coming alongside our brothers/sisters in their brokenness in much fear and trembling… pouring our hearts out for them.  For the ill, I have started to picture as though I am sitting there beside them holding their hands, and loving them in such a deeply personal time that I can’t help but tears start coming to eyes.  It is praying as though I deeply love and care for them…as though I would pray for my own family member that may be dying or ill.   It is praying for those struggling through difficult times as though I am sitting there on the couch with them crying with them as they go through those dark and lonely moments … questioning their faith in the midst of great suffering/job loss/self-worth/heart-break.  Haven’t we wished we had people beside us in those times?

Realize and recognize that those you pray for are not just words on a paper or names … but these are fellow human beings… people with souls, lives, hearts, emotions and they need God’s love!  Jesus died for them as well as for you and I.  We are not called to be psycho-therapists, counselors, psychologists… we are called to point them to Jesus who can satisfy their hunger and thirst… Jesus is that

“…bread of life; whoever comes to [Him] shall not hunger, and whoever believes in [Him] shall never thirst.” -John 6:35

Let us pray with all humility, great love and compassion … and let us consider to pray for God’s work to be done in their lives rather than our work.    Let us rejoice and praise the Lord in their moments of joy and happiness.  Let us cry and mourn with them as they come before the Lord in their brokenness.  Let us love them simply as Jesus loved them.

Endure: Thoughts from 2 Corinthians

The other day, one of my professors gave a short devotional before our discussion on the Symposium. What he said was directed towards students, but I think it can be encouraging for anyone. The venerable doctor began by reading the first few verses of 2 Corinthians 6, which I have transcribed for you here:

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. – 2 Corinthians 6:2b-8a (ESV; emphasis mine)

Too often, we try to grab the reward without the work. We want to live for God before we’ve died to our selves. Paul sets the record straight. Endure suffering, and the good things-knowledge, patience, genuine love-will come along with it. As the venerable doctor put it, “There is no free lunch in God’s economy; even salvation, which is free to us, came at a great cost to Him. It cost Him His Son.”

Now, I’m not saying that we can earn good things through pain nor am I saying that God’s grace isn’t sufficient. God can certainly shower us with blessings without us suffering first, and sometimes He does. The question is: “Why doesn’t He do it all the time?” Part of the reason, I think, is that we’re just not ready for it; we’re still too weak to experience God’s goodness point blank, no-holds-barred. Instead, being all-knowing and providential, God hands it out to us in measures, allowing us to suffer in order to build our character. The best things in life are the things that were the most difficult and took the longest to reach. It’s hard to remember that while the pain lasts.

So, maybe you’re stressed, sick or, like me, you’re in school and the paper that’s due soon seems decades away from completion–I’ve got a hunch (I can’t say how or why) that it’ll all be worth it in the end. And don’t forget, it’s not all bad! We’ve done the dying, but there’s also the living…but that, I’m afraid, is a topic for another day.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.

12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

– 1 Kings 19:11-13

Is this not a beautiful passage? I love this passage.

For those of you who are well versed in the Bible, you will know this passage, and you will know it is signifcant that God comes at the end in the form of a gentle whisper (NIV), or gentle blowing (NASB). But do you remember why this is significant? And just as importantly, do you listen for the gentle whisper of God’s voice in your daily life?

I want to start by focusing on the relationship between God and Elijah. In v. 11 God tells Elijah to go stand on a mountain and wait for Him. Elijah goes. Then in v. 13, Elijah approaches the mouth of the cave after hearing the gentle whisper. As he is about to meet with God, he pulls his cloak over him to shield his face.

Some questions come to mind when I ponder what I have just written. How does Elijah know that God is in the “gentle whisper”? Why does he pull his cloak over his face?

After some deliberation here is what I think:

1) Elijah trusts and obeys God. God tells him to go wait in a mountain so he goes and waits!

2) Elijah has respect and fear for God. The powerful wind is gone. The giant fire is gone. So there’s no need for Elijah to cover his face from ashes or dust or anything. He shields his face in God’s presence as an act of humility and reverence.

3) Elijah really knows God. The passage does not say, “an earthquake came and Elijah peeked out the cave to see if God had shown up yet.” It says simply, as if it were common knowledge, that the earthquake came but the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. The sentence structure implies that Elijah can recognize the voice of God.

If all these qualities of Elijah are true, then it follows logically how Elijah knew instantly that God was in the gentle whisper. Like God’s own custom ring tone on Elijah’s cell. Ok sorry that was a stupid analogy. But I think Elijah still had to listen very closely and carefully for God. Even if he knew God would be in a gentle whisper, or a rustling leaf, or some ripple in a pond, he would still have had to pay attention in order to perceive it. Why?

First, there was a powerful wind that “tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD.” This sounds more like a violent tornado to me. Basically pieces of mountain are coming off and rocks are flying at you like bludgers. I would find this pretty distracting.

Next there was a tremendous earthquake. So the earth. Quaked. I have been in a few earthquakes in my short lifespan, and they are by no means silent. Even the smaller ones have a powerful rumbling that causes your hearing and mental prowess to be disturbed. A large earthquake was probably deafening, especially in a mountain cave where everything echoes.

Finally we have a fire. If you live in the Conejo Valley area or Malibu or somewhere there in Southern California, you will know all about mountain fires. The ash will spread over a ten mile radius and no one will breathe properly for the next few days. I am imagining this occuring on Elijah’s mountain. Perhaps his eyes teared up, perhaps he coughed a little.

Despite all these catastrophes, in the end Elijah is still sensitive to the sound of a tiny wind. But he doesn’t just hear God in the wind. And after hearing it, he boldly leaves the cave! He didn’t fear any more natural disasters that might come again. Elijah’s faith in God, his yearning to meet with God, was so great that he left all worries of impending doom behind.

APPLICATION!

Maybe some of this analysis was a little dramatic. But you get the idea. So how should we emulate Elijah?

1) Closeness – As mentioned before, being able to hear God’s will really takes a close relationship with Him. Otherwise, on a mountain all by ourselves, we would surely be blown away by powerful winds or become lost in a fire.

Starting a new chapter of my life in college can really make me feel like I am standing on a mountain alone with wind and noise all around me. If I relied on my own strength, I would surely fail! But fortunately, God is there, and God comes to us if we just look past all the noise and listen.

I really believe spending time in prayer and alone time with God brings us closer to Him. And the best way to know God is to read about Him through the Word. Plus knowing God will give you more trust in God. Elijah never questioned why God wanted him to go on a mountain. He knew God and trusted God’s perfect goodness.

2) Submission/Acceptance – Once we can hear God’s voice, it’s possible He is telling us to do something that we are afraid of or that is not our will. But really God’s will is the perfect will.

3) Action! – Don’t just hear His voice and go back to sleep. Elijah was both anxious and eager to meet with God. No natural disaster could have stood in his way. And there ain’t no mountain high enough to keep him from getting to God :) So when we hear God, let us joyfully meet Him where He leads us!