Thursday, May 26, 2011

Appearances (Fear, part 4)

Perspective (Fear, part 1)
Naming my Fear (Fear, part 2)
The Eternal God (Fear, part 3)

March 13, 2011

Max: I'm just going to play this piano for a minute. [Max sits and starts playing.]
Me: Oh, do you take piano lessons?
Max: No. I'm just good.

Kids are seldom inflicted with false modesty. They have an honest appraisal of themselves and speak what they see and feel. Too often I worry about appearances. Sometimes I even wonder if I desire the appearance of a virtue more than the virtue itself.

Last year when I was given a new car, I remember a good friend of mine saying, "You are so worried that someone will think you are materialistic." I wanted to retort, "Don't you mean, 'I admire your determination to avoid the trap of materialism?" But in time, I came to realize the truth in her statement. The appearance of humility (driving an old car with no air conditioner) had become my pride. I was worried about how others would perceive me in a new car.

In a sermon at Ozark Christian College a few years ago, Professor Kenny Boles said something that has floated in my memory ever since. He said, "We don't want to be holy as much as we want to be viewed as holy." Ouch.

So how do I change my desires? How do I become childlike? How do I gather the courage to step out from behind the lobster tank?

Trust. Community. The answer seems to lie in those two words.

Though we're strangers still I love you
I love you more than your mask
And you know you have to trust this to be true
And I know that's much to ask
But lay down your fears
Come and join this feast
He has called us here
You and me

("Peace" by Rich Mullins)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Eternal God (Fear, part 3)

Perspective (Fear, part 1)
Naming my Fear (Fear, part 2)

March 11, 2011

"I am God, the God of your father," he said. "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again." (Genesis 46:3-4)

This morning I read of Jacob's encounter with God in Beersheba. It was in this very spot that Jacob's father, Isaac, built an altar, pitched his tent, dug a well, and called on the name of the Lord. It was here that Jacob's grandfather, Abraham, made an oath of peace, exchanged seven ewe lambs, planted a tree, and called on the Eternal God.

Jacob, you deceived and were deceived. You ran, worked, and wrestled. You were given a limp and renamed. Forgiven. You started a family that would become a nation, each of your sons a tribe. You lost your beloved wife and believed your son devoured by a beast. Famine brought hunger. Grief wrinkles your skin and grays your hair.

But now you stand, an old man on the same plot of land as your father. You stand by the well that brought forth water from the ground; dried, blistered, and cracked though it was. You stand beneath the shelter of a tree planted by your grandfather; the promise that his seed will take root and bless the world.

Do not be afraid, Jacob. The God of your fathers is the Eternal God, and he is faithful. He is your God, and he will not leave you until He has done what He has promised. There is still water bubbling beneath this barren land. Go to Egypt and prosper. Lie down in peace. Your seed has much to suffer yet, but he will thrive. A deliverer is coming. Do not be afraid.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Naming my fear (Fear, part 2)

Read Perspective (Fear, part 1) here.

March 10, 2011

"Always use the proper names for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."

Naming my fears: asking for help, talking on the phone, wasps, inconveniencing/bothering others, not being able to play sports, disappointing people, being alone, not having a family of my own, that I'm nobody special, losing a loved one, failing in front of people, my failures will hinder God's work, people won't like me because I'm not insightful enough, hard-working enough, kind enough, etc.

Many of my fears have to do with how others perceive me. I am fearful of being rejected by others. Could this be because I am seeking my redemption from people instead of from God? Others of my fears have to do with not living up to a certain standard. Could this be because I am trying to get redemption by works instead of faith?

God, save me. Help me trust in you alone for redemption.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Perspective (Fear, part 1)

This past Lenten season, I committed to forgo fear. Each day, I scratched down a few of my thoughts in a journal. Throughout the next few days, I will revisit some of these journal entries. My posts typically sit simmering for many days before they are crafted into a meal and served up here. These next few entries will be raw. But I offer them here in hopes that you will not feel alone in your fear. I pray that together we may die to what once bound us; that we may become like Christ in his death so that we may also join in his resurrection.

March 9, 2011 (Ash Wednesday)

"You are dust, and to dust you shall return. And God loves you anyway." ~ Jonathan Rogers

"I am nothing, but the angels sometimes whisper in my ears." ~ Pierce Pettis

"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I'll be healed." ~ Jill Phillips

This shell of a body will one day be no more. The world is aging, time passes, things deteriorate. I feel it in my bones. My knee aches. Creation groans. Life is but a breath. I am but a speck no bigger than Horton's. And I am loved.

If so many things are passing, what sticks? What lasts forever? Even faith and hope will serve their purpose and bow out gracefully. Only Love remains.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sunday Highlights

  1. The 4th grade Sunday School class studied Paul's letter to the Philippians. We talked about the call to greatness through humility in Philippians 2. We read Philippians 4 and talked about Paul's joy and peace in times of trouble. The kids shared stories of God's presence and provision during hospital stays, a house burning down, bumps and bruises, and the destruction of a home from the tornado. 
  2. Avery Jones (age 7) and Logan Ruzic (age 10) were both baptized this Sunday. I am thankful for the responsive and obedient hearts of the kids at RCC.
  3. During the worship time, Jonah, Caleb, and Lucas put their arms around each other, danced, and sang with joy. It's my prayer that the friendship these boys have will be just as strong (or stronger) 10 years from now.
  4. In small groups, we spoke of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. As such, his person and work can be described in Old Testament terms and imagery. Here are some of the posters the students made:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Creativity, Patience, and Generosity

Each week, I get to see God's work in the lives of K-6th grade students at Racine. Here are a few of the highlights from this Sunday.
  1. We braided lanyards to give to our mothers along with this poem by Billy Collins. Caleb was excited that he could now braid his sisters' hair and was anxious to try it out on the trip home. 
  2. In Sunday School, the 2nd-4th grade students discussed ways we can train to be patient. Here are some of their suggestions:
    1. Buy a candy bar and wait an hour to eat it.
    2. Wait for a train to pass.
    3. Tie a contraption to your head that dangles one of your favorite pieces of candy in front of (but just out of reach of) your mouth.
    4. Listen to your sisters singing in the car.
  3. Each week, the kids bring in money to help Effa and her family in Malawi.  Madison's letter, Jocelyn's homemade gift, and Lilly's bucketful of change are all examples of the compassionate heart and generous spirit displayed by many of the kids at RCC. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bread of Life

Four hundred years of back-breaking, brick-making labor. Blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and more blood. But this blood was the price of freedom. They stood, their backs to the sea and their faces toward the rising sun.

Across the desert they set out. Heat rose from the sand and scorched their sandaled feet. For 2 1/2 months, they trudged forward. Sure of what they were saved from, they could not yet see what they were saved for or to. Their stomachs rumbled and their mouths grumbled, "You have brought us out into the desert to starve to death!" Oh, for refreshment to come from above to cool their palates, quench their thirst, and fill their stomachs!
Then the Lord said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you" (Ex. 16:4).
The morning brought a fresh layer of dew upon the ground. When the dew lifted, white flakes flecked the earth. "What is it?" the people wondered. It was what they had been groaning for.


Fast forward 1,500 years. The Israelite people are slaves once again. This time their oppressors are not the Egyptians but the Romans. Crowds have gathered to hear the words of a miracle-worker who claims to be from God. Once again, the people are hungry. A quick survey of the crowd brings up only 5 small barley loaves and two small fish, a meager portion for a crowd so large. But it is enough. Jesus takes the bread, lifts it to heaven, and blesses it. Little becomes much. Everyone eats and each person has his fill.

The parallel seemed so clear to the Jewish crowd; a miraculous provision of bread and a prophet. Freedom. They rally to make Jesus king by force, but he slips away to a mountain haven. The next morning, the crowd finds Jesus on the other side of the lake in Capernaum, and ask him about the bread.
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (John 6:32-33).
Bread from heaven.

It is now Passover. Jesus sits in an upper room with his disciples. He holds up a piece of bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it freely, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."

That very night, Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is bloodied, beaten, and bruised. His broken body is lifted up on a cross where he hangs until, with a loud cry, Jesus breathes his last. His body is taken down, wrapped, and tucked in a tomb where it remains for three days. But on the third day, that lifeless body drew a breath. Light shot through his limbs and life entered his lungs. Through Jesus' brokenness, the world finds healing.

Do you hunger? Does your stomach long to be filled? Have you (like me) tried to quiet the ache with activities, good deeds, intelligence, attention from your spouse, or praise from your peers? This bread may slake your hunger for a meal but it will always leave you just as empty. Jesus offers you the bread of life, his body broken for you. Take and eat. Be filled. It is enough.
I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35).