Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Digging in the Dumpster

I remember the first time I saw a homeless person. As a college freshman, I was required to participate in some sort of outreach, and ended up spending most Saturdays in inner city Chicago, encouraging families to visit our church on Sundays via our bus fleet. It was not uncommon to see people on street corners, carefully guarding the entire sum of their worldly goods contained in a few shopping bags or beat up grocery cart while keeping an eye out for the next available treasure. Often we'd see them in the alley, routing through someone's trash or a dumpster behind McDonalds's, in search of anything they could salvage for themselves.

I can't imagine anyone sinking so low that they need to look through trash to maintain their very existence. The smell alone would be enough to turn me away. But you know, that's what I find myself doing from time to time. Digging in the dumpster. Sometimes I find myself reaching into my past, digging up old or painful memories and rehashing them. Other times, I catch myself retrieving the burdens I've laid at Jesus' feet, choosing to shoulder them again, in spite of the heaviness of the load. In my eyes, my actions make sense. I seek comfort in my burdens and solace in my problems. However, God has redeemed me and made me victorious through His Son. I want to feast at His table of grace rather than choose to wallow in the garbage of the past.

Psalm 113: 5-8 Who can be compared with the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high? Far below him are the heavens and the earth. He stoops to look, and he lifts the poor from the dirt and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, even the princes of his own people!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

But I Do Believe In Miracles

I felt the need to add some clarification to a previous post. The quote from John Maxwell was primarily geared towards changing our own attitudes and becoming people who can effectively influence others.

I do believe in miracles. I absolutely believe in the supernatural power of God. I also have been known to sit around and wait for God to supernaturally intervene when I could be taking action. When I needed to just obey what I already knew.

For example, ever since our church began talking about small groups over a year ago, I've been hoping my husband and I could join one. But that's all I did - hope. What was I waiting for? A personalized invitation? My husband to see a vision? I didn't talk to him about it. Didn't pray about it. Didn't make any inquiries. A few months ago, I finally began to pray about it. I made some inquiries. I talked to my husband. And hopefully, we'll be involved in one very soon.

I know, that's a really simple example. But that's just where I am in my own life. Learning to obey God in the simple, everyday things. Giving thanks for things I really don't feel thankful for. Lifting up things to Him in prayer throughout the day. Turning and greeting the stranger in my row at church.

Monday, February 20, 2006

What's in a Name?

On a forum I visit less and less frequently, one of the discussion topics this week was "why we call ourselves ___________ (a particular denominational movement)." I don't belong to the group and it's a good thing because I wanted to just shout back my response, which probably wouldn't be a good idea. So I'll blaahhg it here instead and please bear with me!

Last summer I spent a few months reading through the book of Acts. One verse that jumped out at me was chapter 11, the latter part of verse 26: "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." Wow. From the commentaries I've read, it is not clear whether this name was given by their enemies, themselves, or other citizens. But it occurred to me that it really matters not what I call myself; what matters most is how others see me?

I used to explain to others my "stand" on certain issues, my avoidance of certain vices and my generally different lifestyle with a blanket declaration: I'm a Christian. In recent years, I've come to understand that people aren't really interested in what I call myself. What matters is how I live. Calling myself a Christian makes me no more like Christ than calling myself another nationality. When others see my life, does it reflect the name of Christ? How do I respond to pressure and negative situations at work? Do I reach out to those whom I know are struggling? Can I get out of my comfort zone enough to think about what others may be going through?

It's been said that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. The same could be said for our Christian witness as well. I don't think they care what we call ourselves so much as that how we live bears our our calling.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Waiting for a Miracle

"Never wait for a miracle. Go after your dream. Do your part to the very best of your ability and ask God to make up the difference. He won't act until we step out in faith." John C. Maxwell, Becoming a Person of Influence.

Just yesterday, I saw a "crack of light" - a beginning to an answer to prayer. The thing about it is I've been sitting back wishing and waiting for something to happen and yet never took any action until just recently. I guess someone could say this proves that prayer really doesn't work, since nothing happened until I acted. I see it differently. I see prayer and faith and obedience working together hand in hand. Yes, God expects us to pray in faith, believing. I'm learning He also expects us to act on that faith. It's not my efforts that bring about the answers; it's my willingness to act in obedience upon the faith that grows as I pray and turn things over to His control.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Memories of Gram

Today being my Gram's birthday, her fifth since she's been in Heaven, it seemed fitting to share a memory here.

It was a chilly February morning when I picked Gram up for our weekly shopping excursion. It was always the same routine . . . swing by the post office, and then head to town ten miles away. But today she had an extra errand on her mind.

"My photo license came. Can we stop by the driver's license center while we're out?"

A response formed in my mind immediately. Gram had to be nearing eighty years old, and since she'd broken her hip the previous year, she hadn't been able to get around nearly as well. She really shouldn't be driving. I couldn't remember the last time she'd been out behind the wheel. Her 1969 Olds Impala sat in the garage, it's golden luster dimmed a bit by the winter's dust covering it.

"Gram, I'm not sure," I started to say. Then I bit my tongue. Of course, Gram knew she would most likely never drive again. The license meant more than permission to drive. It represented hope. It represented dignity. Most of all, it represented her identity.

I thought back to years before, when we'd be coming home from a trip to town. Gram would stop the car once we got on the gravel road leading up to her house. She'd slide over and motion for me to get behind the wheel. Then tentatively I'd slip it into gear and maneuver the old Chrysler down the road and up the path she called her driveway, coming to a stop right in front of the garage doors. She'd look at me with a twinkle of approval in her eyes. It was our little secret; if my sister knew, she knew enough not to tell.

Of course, Gram knew I was only fourteen, much too young for my license. But looking back, I think she wanted to give me a sense of confidence. She believed in me. Maybe she knew one day we'd trade places for good and it would be my privilege to chauffeur her around.

"Sure Gram, no problem. We'll stop at the license center today." I glanced over at her. The twinkle was back in her eye.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Cycle of Perfectionism

Recently, God has spoken to me about my perfectionist tendencies. No,not just about wanting to have the house in perfect order before I can have company, and not just about liking things a certain way and not being able to rest until they are just so. He's shown me that I'm caught in a cycle of perfectionism. What I mean by that is my inability to move forward in a certain area until ALL the pieces of the puzzle are perfectly in place. Needless to say, it's not often I move forward in any area of my life, because anyone who has been around for a while knows it's rare all the pieces are ever perfectly in place.

I'll give you one small example, a not so personal one. I want to redo my livingroom this year. I'd really like new furniture, but first I need to paint. But then we need new carpet too. And new carpet means new woodwork. But wait, do we want to stay in this house? Do we want to move? What kind of things to we need to do to this house before we move? How much new house can we afford? Will this mean I can't quit working? Well what if Iwent back to teaching? But I don't have my certification. And no one will accept my credits. So do I want to start over? But could we afford for both of us to be in school? Okay, some of this is a stretch but it illustrates the point - my livingroom, if I continue on this logical path, will remain as it is because I can't take that first step.

I'm convinced this cycle of perfectionism is a trap of the devil. See, I'm doing something. I'm investing my energy into making plans and pondering the accompanying obstacles. I can be exhausted, having done absolutely nothing at all! And that's just exactly what the devil wants.

What does God want? I think all He really wants is for me to take the next step. I can't see what lies ahead but this is where faith comes in. I think it boils down to just two words, which I've been repeating over and over to myself recently: "Obey Today." Sometimes I am so focused on figuring out the end that I neglect to do what I know. What's worse, sometimes I don'teven bother to pray about things because I've already convinced myself I know the outcome.

So this coming year, I hope to move forward where God wants me to move forward. I'm not going to fret about the unknowns or the obstacles (well, I probably will, but maybe less than usual). I'm going just try and take baby steps of obedience, day by day. And trust God to show me the next step.