Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

When's the last time you surrendered yourself completely to Christ? Your talents, your hopes, your dreams, your failures, your uncertainties? After days and weeks in which I've lived completely in my own strength, everything just seems so tense and difficult. My head and heart race off ahead and leave my will faltering in the dust.

We weren't meant to approach surrender like camels approach water, just drinking every once in a while. Camels can go days and weeks without water. We simply cannot go days and weeks without the water of surrender. Exhaustion steals on us quickly.

I'm learning the simple, yet hard truth of surrender. Every day. To Christ. Trying to live for God does not substitute for complete and total surrender. It's like walking on hot concrete without shoes. The hymn comes to mind, "turn your eyes upon Jesus". The Word reminds me "come to me", "take up your cross and follow me". "Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will preserve it".

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I love the way certain themes seem to thread themselves through the events of a day. I'll read something in the morning that comes up in a later conversation and then gets confirmed by yet another conversation. It's as if someone wants me to learn something. I think you've probably had a similar experience.

Well today one of those threaded themes was choosing Christ. In the interspersed events of the day this theme kept finding its way to the surface, slowly working its way into my mind and heart. Sometimes I think the Lord works this way because I'm too stubborn and inattentive to notice something unless He reminds me several times. By the end of this particular evening, though, I finally realized that the message I had been sent was centered around the daily choice I make, whether to sacrifice myself to Christ and be under his lordship, or to choose to live by my own wisdom and understanding.

I needed to be reminded about this choice, because it had lost its sharp edge in my heart. Choosing Christ each day should remain something that my heart is sensitive to, not something that I either don't think about or put off to do later. That's the "sharp edge" that I need to have in my heart. Sensitivity.

"Choose you this day whom you will serve; as for me and my house, we shall choose the Lord". This decision I make has such vast and far reaching implications on the rest of the day, yet how many days do I go where I don't even think about it? If I'm honest, most days I take myself too seriously and don't take God seriously enough. I'm all too ready to dive into the challenges of my day, but when it comes to surrendering myself to Christ in order to seek His direction first, well, that's something I need a lot of help with.

Thankfully it's not something to get discouraged about, but is something to be encouraged about. Each day is new. Each day affords opportunities that will never happen again. And even when I'm fumbling around, unable to choose Christ, He always prevails. It's because of his love that I desire to surrender myself to him, and this helps me remember that this whole "choosing" business isn't about outward action but is instead focused on my inner heart of hearts. It's in these moments that I realize what a patient Lord I serve. And this gives me new hope for today.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Learning to live without

I was browsing google's fastflip news source when I came across a U.S. News article about things we Americans are learning to do without during this recession period. The author lists 21 things that we've learned to curb or do away with altogether. I identified with a lot of items on the list and I think you will too. It's good for a laugh, too. I think cultivating creativity is one of our most important calling as Believers, and this includes employing creative measures to curb poor spending habits.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fragrance of Christ

It's powerful what a certain smell can conjure in your memory. Whenever I smell an orange being peeled, I immediately think of track season, because all the track moms would bring us orange slices to eat in between events. Other smells bring back more specific memories, time-bound memories, and bring crashing to mind the intensity of that moment. They can be positive or negative associations, too. A scent can repel you from something or it can draw you in and put you at ease.

I was thinking about this when I came across Paul's metaphor of us as fragrances in 2 Corinthians 2. In this little snippet of Scripture he says that we are a "fragrance of Christ" to the world around us. A sweet smelling fragrance in the midst of the stench of death and hopelessness.

I don't often feel like a sweet smelling fragrance of Christ. I would not compare my life to the latest Giorgio Armani fragrance, and most of the time I wonder if people can even tell that anything is different about my life. But Paul's reminder is that I don't have to go around wondering what kind of fragrance I'm putting out, as if one day I can produce stench and the other day something intoxicatingly beautiful.

Instead, Paul simply says that I am a fragrance of life among a fragrance of death. This gives me tremendous hope, realizing it does not depend upon my effort. I don't have to try to be a different kind of fragrance, I am a different kind of fragrance already. Christ has done the work.

Our lives tell a story, and our lives give off a fragrance. In Christ we are assured that both are redeemed and given new dimensions. Just because our effort doesn't determine the goodness or badness of our fragrance doesn't exempt us from doing something, however. We are called to go into the world, to bring that fragrance to the world.

So while we don't have to go around wondering what our lives are smelling like, we are commanded to go and bring that fragrance to other lives. Which turns everything outward. It exposes the lack of trust we have in Christ to actually bring about that sweet fragrance. It's easier to ponder how we smell, trying to produce a "better" fragrance, than it is to simply trust that Christ makes us sweet smelling fragrances and that all we need to do is walk by faith.

"Cease striving", the Psalmist reminds us. "Come to me", says Jesus. "Seek first the Kingdom". If we reorient our lives around Christ, He will take us where we need to go. He will guide our steps and take us to the places that desperately need the fragrance of Christ. What a good thought, that we don't have to try so hard on our own. All we have to do is follow Christ, placing our complete trust in Him, and submitting our lives to radical obedience. He will show us the way.

Friday, January 15, 2010

class, haiti, and

So much has been happening this week, both on a cosmic scale and a personal scale. I've been seeing 6am on my bedside clock every day this week, for starters. It was just a small part of the very odd rhythm that you get into when you take a two week class. The days start to melt together and you have to take each day one step at a time or all the pressure just slams down on you.

But this week was more than just about class. It was so bizarre, sitting in class next to my friend Joel who had been scheduled to go to Haiti for a mission trip this next week. We were both trying to keep up with the news while trying to remain focused on what the professor was saying. Every time we'd get a short break Joel would rush out of the classroom to get on his phone and make frenzied phone calls.

It was a week of too many assignments, but somehow they all got done. You can't do this sort of thing alone, and it was good to be able to study, laugh, and be frustrated with several other good friends in the class. It's the kind of week you don't expect to be able to learn anything, but you end up learning so much. Maybe the best word to describe this week is full.

The classes got under my skin, frustrating me while also encouraging me. You don't either love or hate classes like these, you kind of hold the love and hate in tension and end up feeling that it was really worth it in the end.

My favorite part of the week was this afternoon's wrap up session in racial reconciliation. It was the part of the class where we all went around and told about our ideas for being racial reconcilers in our current and future ministries. I love hearing from different perspectives when it comes to this sort of thing, and i was incredibly challenged and encouraged by the ideas my classmates presented.

I walk away from this week extremely grateful that it is over, but slightly sad at the same time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Clamor

The world is shouting at us. Voices competing for our attention, for our time, for our belief. The never-ending cadence just gets exhausting to listen to, yet it is so much easier to stay tuned in to its messages than it is to turn off the dial and listen to a different message.

You know how sometimes when you have been watching TV for a while it just gets hard to turn the thing off? It's sort of like that.

Meanwhile God is whispering, speaking, even shouting life-giving and hope-filling words to me that I miss because I am caught in the chasm of my own laziness. The Word doesn't need hours and hours of my time in order for it to be effective and sharp to my soul, but it does need time.

What things is God speaking to me today? I think this is the attitude I want to cultivate as this new year emerges and unfolds.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Call to Christian Community

I wrote this little essay last year.

I am absolutely convinced that I would rather live life in the raging storm of community than in the dull solitude of myself. I would rather be subject to the flaming fires of people’s unmet expectations than to be merely thought of as a good person. I would rather be exposed as the bumbling, stumbling coward of a friend that I am than to be looked upon with respect from afar.

In these endeavors of community there is an inevitability to the fact that the true person will be revealed. Oh, and what a good thing this is! Especially for the white-washed, too-proud believer, who needs the sunlight of community to expose those glaring blotches of blackness in our souls. I am here speaking of the result which occurs from living and striving for a common purpose in Christ. For the common purpose of ministering in Christ’s name manifests itself in so many different ways, yet flows from a single source: the awesome love of God. We are each gifted with various habits of ministry which show forth God’s glory in multiple ways. But we are thereby united through the love of Christ, and it is to that great beachhead that we hold onto so dearly. For we would quickly disintegrate into the chaos we see all around us if it were not for this single unifying force.

Therefore in all our endeavors we must remember what pulls us back together at the end of the day. Our disagreements in style might seem large to us, but compared to the vastness of God’s love they are but small matters. We should each seek to serve Christ as He has called us, always looking to Him as our source and encouragement, and should employ grace in generous amounts to our brethren who are involved in the same great task. We remember through it all that we serve the God who redeems us through grace, not the work of our hands.

We should recognize, then, that while differences abound, God’s love seen through Christ unifies more perfectly than our differences separate. We should see it as an honor to be so sharpened by our fellow believers, and I do mean sharpened, because sharpening involves pain. To be sharpened is to be cut, to be formed, and to be thus refined. In losing ourselves we truly see the beauty of Christ’s strength being made perfect in our weakness. And when we are weakened, we can begin to live in the awesome power of God’s strength. This is the place where we have the power to forgive those people who have deeply hurt us. This is the place where we have the fortitude to keep running the Great Race when all our energies are spent. And this is the place where we are transformed as agents and enactors of beautiful grace, able to bring hope to a world lost in despair.

That is why it is so important that we take the call to Christian community so seriously. For in showing grace and mercy to our fellow brothers and sisters we are learning the great truths of God. We are active participants in transformational redemption through learning to live with and serve our community. We become more like Christ when we choose to love others in spite of their mistakes and shortcomings. We absolutely MUST learn to let the love of Christ so rattle the foundations of our hearts that we become steadfast in encouraging and forgiving our brothers and sisters.

Christ’s call is not to dive deeper into oneself, but to fall headlong into the raging current of Himself, where love and mercy persist. It is through these holy waters that we must pass in order to come out purified on the other side. Our hidden weaknesses and our glaring imperfections must be brought to light in order that Christ would redeem them; and He does! Through this amazing, wondrous process we find the strength to live in community. We find the strength to struggle through the difficulty of loving our brethren, and we find enough grace to live each day as it comes. The task of Christian community is hard, but more important than ever. Let us bow before our Almighty Father in Heaven as we attempt such an endeavor.