Monday, September 10, 2012

When I am nothing, then I am worth something...

I had always heard the preacher's stories. You know, the ones where the star athlete makes his priority sports instead of Christ, and God takes his ability to play away through some injury. And as I listened to those stories, I always wondered what happened to the smart people? Can God take away intelligence?

The class was college physics with calculus applications. It was mainly designed for engineering majors but I was in it for the physics. In this class was a student; an utterly arrogant student. The problem was, he really WAS smart which made it even worse.

He enjoyed understanding things more quickly than most of his fellow students, and he made sure he reminded them of his intelligence as often as he could. It was one of the crudest displays of pride I have ever seen. But one stopped.

It was one of the most remarkable events I have ever witnessed. He LOST his ability to understand. It simply was GONE! He just didn't seem to have the capacity to grasp highly complex concepts like he used to, and seemingly not at all! He was understandably frustrated and upset. He lashed out, blaming teachers and fellow students. He eventually dropped out, and I have no idea what happened to him.

But that's not why I tell this story. I tell this story because of the effect it had on me. I realized I had never given my analytic ability over to God. I hadn't ever used it wrongly, nor tried to belittle others, but I had never truly given it up.

And honestly, I didn't want to. Surely God understood. This is all I had to offer Him. This is the only ability that counted for anything. I couldn't play sports, I wasn't real popular, I couldn't speak to millions, I had no money; the only thing I had, the one thing of value, the only thing that I could give 'to the cause', was my ability to think. That's it. Without it, I was nothing.

I enjoyed my ability to think. To play with concepts in my head. Why would God want to take that from me? What could my purpose possibly be without it?

But over and again, that still small idea came back. "But you haven't given it over. And what you haven't given over is still yours, not Mine."

It was hard...very hard...most likely one of the hardest things I've ever done. I cried tears; many, many tears. But in the end, this is what I decided:

I'd rather have Him than my ability. I didn't know what I could possibly do to help others, or to help Christianity, without it, but if He took it from me, I would be satisfied. It didn't matter, because I would have Him. Without my one talent I would be talent-less and useless, but if that was my place in the universe, if that was what I was designed to be, if I was to be the one who people looked at and said 'at least I have more ability than him!', if my place was to be last, so that others wouldn't have to be last, then so be it. This is what I would be. I would not deny God's plan for me, even if that plan took everything I had, and left me encouraging people only though the lowness of who I was, then I would do that, and I would settle for nothing else.

I think this may have been one of the most important decisions I ever made.

I don't like to tell this story, mainly because it sounds so arrogant in my ears. 'Look at the decision I made'. I hope this hasn't come across that way. Because it isn't me. It is all Him.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Get rid of childishness, but never lose any childlikeness

As children, we watch Winnie the Pooh with wide-eyed wonder: a story involving a group of cute cuddly creatures doing random things. How could this not attract young active minds? But most importantly...the story is SAFE. We, as children, trust that the story will turn out okay. In the end we are trusting the AUTHOR to do this although I'm fairly certain no child thinks that deeply on the source of their trust.

So why leave? Why do we 'grow out' of such a protected environment? Eventually we realize that these stories DON'T match reality. Our childhood dreams are TOO safe: to do good means sacrifice, and sacrifice means pain and the possibility of loss. But to make the story 'safe' Winnie the Pooh can have none of that. There can't be a REAL sense that Piglet will suffer terrible loss when searching for Kanga or the story would not be safe. Granted there are SOME difficulties in these tales but nothing to the extent that must be dealt with in real life.

And would we have it any other way? Having a story with characters that do good without any type of difficulties arising at all is not something an adult would read or watch on a regular basis (although occasionally perhaps). Reading a story, watching a movie, hearing a tale of how tragedy was turned to victory, how crisis was evaded, how someone rose above their circumstances...THOSE are the truly inspiring stories. But those stories involve not only REAL triumph but REAL loss.

So we leave childhood behind as unrealistic and we 'grow up'. But must ALL of our childhood be left behind? Was it all for naught? A memory of what was and is no more? Indeed, we need to become more mature; Indeed we must understand that anything worth doing is worth working and hurting for; Indeed we must grow to realize that with the possibility of success comes a possibility for failure, that unforeseen events can ruin our plans and reshape our lives. But need we leave all our childhood trust? We trusted the author of our childhood dreams to keep the story from ending with much more should we trust the Author of our lives to do so.

You see what He has given us? A chance to be in a truly moving tale; not a silly childish fable, but a story with REAL good and REAL evil and REAL hurt and REAL joy, all the while promising that the end will be alright, that all the parts of the story, no matter how malicious, will turn out for the good.

And in heaven, I'm fairly certain that all the pain and hurt caused to us in our story here will seem as harmless as the very small difficulties Pooh-bear suffered while searching for the Heffalump.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What do you want?

In middle school I once heard a sermon about Solomon; a remarkable story really...God willing to give Solomon anything he asked, Solomon then asking for wisdom and knowledge.

I don't remember the sermon, and I don't remember the speaker's point. I do, however, remember my reaction.

I was slightly jealous. Why should God give Solomon that chance and not anyone else? Then a question popped into my head. It was so strong an idea I couldn't ignore it.

"What are you praying for?"

I remembered everything that I had recently prayed. They were good things too. Health for my mom; good test grades; things of that nature. Definitely nothing wrong with that. So my thoughts once again turned back to Solomon.

Why Solomon? He didn't ask for riches and glory, victory or fame; he asked for wisdom. But surely, if I were in the same position, I would have done the same. Why didn't God ever ask me? Again the question:

"What are you praying for?"

Again my reply: "Good health for myself and others, peace for those discouraged...all good things."

Suddenly I realized, Solomon didn't ask for health or peace, victory or fame; he asked for wisdom and knowledge. There were no limits to what I could request. I could pray for ANYTHING I wanted yet I was only praying EXTERNAL needs. I was certainly praying for good things, but I wasn't asking for anything that changed ME. I wasn't asking for something deeper; I wasn't doing what Solomon did, although I had the same chance Solomon had - I could ask for anything.

I decided to find something I wanted; some trait I was going to request from God for the rest of my life.

I read the New Testament. There I found the fruits of the spirit. But there were NINE of them - too many for someone like me to obtain. I had to find something else.

I read the gospels and discovered two traits that Christ always showed: love and wisdom.

Those were the traits I was searching and wisdom, and I have prayed for those two things almost everyday of my life.

Find a trait you want and pray to receive that trait daily. Ask God not only for the external things you need but also for the internal things you need. He is waiting to give you more than you ever thought possible, by MAKING you more than you ever thought possible.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spiritual Warfare: Matrix Style

If this life is a battle then the question arises 'How can we possibly win?'

The answer: WE can't.

We are fighting an enemy with vastly superior intelligence; he has thousands of years experience tempting Christians. He can both outmanuever and outgun us. He has better weapons and better tactics. We can't possibly beat him.

At least, not by ourselves...

Suppose that I am going to play chess. In fact, suppose that I am going to play a chessmaster. But not just any chessmaster, the greatest chess champion ever to grace a tournament. That is my opponent.

Now, unfortunately, I've never been good at chess, so this guy is going to wipe the floor with me. He is going to trounce me, to beat the stuffing out of me, to rout me badly. He could let me capture all his pieces except for his king, and then beat me with that. He is going to run circles around me. There is absolutely, positively no hope that I could ever beat him in any way, shape, or form.

At least, not by myself...

But there is one hope, one possible way that this contest may end in my favor. Sitting next to me during the game is an advisor. He is a far better chess player than the champion who is my opponent. But not only that, he knows that champion better than I do. He knows exactly what moves my opponent will make before he even has thought of those moves himself.

If I try to play the game myself, I have no hope of winning. But if a listen to my advisor, the champion has no hope of winning.

We as Christians, have an Advisor. His name: the Holy Spirit. If we refuse His advice, if we reject His aid, we have no chance of winning the spiritual battle, and we will be soundly defeated. But if we walk in the Spirit, if we listen to that still small Voice, we are the ones that can't be defeated.

This is much like Neo in the first Matrix movie. At the beginning, he didn't stand a chance against the agents. They would beat him every single time. They were too fast, too powerful, too cunning.

But in the end, he COULD beat them. He was the one that was faster and stronger, and they were slow and weak. He was the undefeatable one, and they couldn't help but lose to him.

So it is with us. Without God, we can't win. With God, we can't lose.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Prenatal Sibling Rivalry

I have a great love of analogies. They help keep things real and remind us of those things that are sometimes far too easy to forget.

Let us suppose we could watch two twins in a mother womb. As we watch these twins we notice, to our absolute horror, that the twins appear to be fighting. Like two siblings in the same room, they seem to be arguing and bickering with each other over the small cramped confines they find themselves in. Pushing, shoving, trying to get every last bit of space in order to stake their claim to as much as possible. Their silliness seems almost reprehensible.

What would we think about these two? How would we end these amniotic arguments? What would our advice be?

We would tell them to stop. "Don't you realize? Don't you understand? Once you are born everything is so much more real, so much more important, so much different. The very highest position you can achieve in the womb will seem so trivial when compared to even the lowest and most mundane of pleasures after you are born. In fact, NOTHING before you are born can compare to ANYTHING AT ALL after you are born. Nothing but the injuries you are causing to your twin will matter in the least. After having lived for 30 or 40 years, it won't matter which one of you had more space, which one of you had more power, which one of you was 'better off'. Will you even really remember?"

This is good advice for those two troubled souls. Fighting over so little as if it were so much is nonsense. But shouldn't we turn this around on ourselves? What do you think the 'great cloud of witnesses' would say to us? What would those that have gone on, those that understand more now than they ever did in life; what would those people say to us?

They would tell us to stop. "Don't you realize? Don't you understand? Once you are in heaven everything is so much more real, so much more important, so much different. The very highest position you can achieve on earth will seem so trivial compared to even the lowest and most mundane of pleasures after you are gone. In fact, NOTHING in this life can compare to ANYTHING AT ALL after death. Nothing but the injuries you cause to your fellow man will matter in the least. After being in heaven for 30 or 40 million 'years', it won't matter which one of you had more money, or a better car, or more entertainment. Will you even really remember?"

When we read of the martyr's we tend to feel as if their lives were cut short. A twenty year old being burned at the stake seems like such a loss. And so it is. I do not here mean to belittle their great sacrifice in the least. But after billions of years of eternity, will the fact that we ourselves lived 60 or 70 more years really be such a big deal?

We know that the eternal is more important than the temporal. We know that people are more important than things. But it is a daunting task to REMEMBER when everything else seems so 'real'.

We must ALWAYS, every second of every day, keep this eternal perspective.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lessons from the dragon

I watched Eragon for the first time since I saw it in the theater. Although (pardon the opining) not as good as Narnia and certainly not even close to Lord of the Rings (nothing ever will be), the movie was definitely quite enjoyable.

Several things challenged my thoughts. In particular this quote from the movie:

"To have courage there must be fear."

I have been contemplating the hope that gives to us all.

We struggle against so much, internally and externally. Life continually barrages us with difficulties and trials. The spiritual war we face seems incredibly daunting.

Throughout it all we face our own fear, our inner thoughts of failure and fatigue.

And then comes the lie; one of the most cunning lies ever faced; the lie that if we were truly brave, truly courageous, we wouldn't have such thoughts of fear. We wouldn't want to retreat and give in. We wouldn't have every ounce of our being screaming at us to stop, give up, and go home. The thought that the difference between us and the true heroes is those heroes never faced the same self doubt we do; that they simply and automatically were brave. This lie compounds our feelings of failure and inadequacy.

But here's the trick. How can that be called courage? Can courage really EVER come without fear? A man who walks into hardship, whether physical or spiritual, should fear the path he treads. He would be a fool not to. We are not masochist, hurting ourselves for our mere pleasure. When we hurt, IT HURTS; and we don't like it.

And neither should we like it. A man who rushes headlong into his own pain for his enjoyment is not, if ever that man existed, to be considered brave. Foolhardy would be a more apt title than courage for one such as he. He does not do painful deeds of sacrifice for the benefit of others but for the benefit of himself.

How can that be courage? How can a selfish act of hedonism, if not masochism, ever be on equal terms with the truly brave actions of a soldier, a mother, a friend, a knight, a hero? If the great heroes of old had no fear, then they had no courage; just as we, without fear, could not be called courageous.

When we continue on despite our own internal misgivings, those misgiving do not prove we have no courage; in fact, quite the opposite. Without those misgivings we could not be called courageous at all.

To be courageous we must have fear, and we must overcome that fear. Our desire to do right, no matter what the personal sacrifice, must win over our desire to avoid our own pain and suffering.

Isn't that what Christ did for us?

What lesson did he teach us if not personal abandonment for the sake of the truth, for the sake of others, for the sake of Him?

This must be our commitment: to keep going no matter how badly we wish to give up, no matter how long we must endure, no matter how great the trial.

Courage can come from anyone of us. Greatness can come from the least likely of sources. Even the foolish can confound the wise, if only we can hang onto God and keep doing right despite the agonizing injuries we must face along the way.

All will be right in the end. There will be rest and peace.

For now...we must fight.

"Vivere miltare est. Fac fortia et patere." (To live is to fight. Do brave deeds and endure)

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Life's Outcome Statement

I have found that, as a teacher, paperwork is a major part of my life; due mainly to the bureaucracy involved with government. One concept stated numerous times on forms and files is an idea called an 'outcome statement'. This outcome statement ensures that teachers think in terms of results. 'What do I want as a product of my actions?'

I have decided I want an 'outcome statement' for my life. One simple yet profound explanation defining the goal of my very existence.

I believe I have found that statement.

Screwtape Letters, one of my favorite books, is a fiction book containing 'letters' from an older demon (Screwtape) to a younger demon (Wormwood) on how to tempt Christians. This book is filled with insight and many great quotes but a particular quote repeatably causes tears every time I read it.

This quote epitomizes what I want to be...all I want to be. If I accomplish this, and nothing else, then I have accomplished more than I could ever hope for.

"Be not deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him {God} seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."