Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wanting to be me: thoughts on Joy and Faith

I do not seek to be existential, or at all philosophical, but yesterday I experienced the odd, yet thrilling sensation of being nameless face in a sea of strangers. It was a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. And though I have been many times, each visit is eye-opening and profound. My Facebook status later that afternoon read, “trip to the art museum= a long walk among perfect strangers and dear friends.” Am I crazy, or did I just equate paintings with my close companions of flesh and blood?

It is both an honest and perplexing observation. Looking back, I imagine that being something Anne Shirley would say—a romantic view of a plebeian past-time. But what does that say about me? Or our society for that matter? How is it that I could be situated within such a space of beauty and inspiration, and feel no camaraderie for my fellow museum-goers? I’ll take a stab. It could be that many such patrons were simply there at the bidding of a loved one—for I saw no love of art in their eyes. Or it could be that I would have nothing worthwhile to say (Doesn’t the art demand silence and reflection?). Yet I believe the reason is far simpler than that.

In an era of social networking and an ever-shrinking world, I desired to just be me. And I choose to fully encompass that role in a place where I felt most comfortable. I wish I had a name for this type of place. Because I believe we should all go there more often. I, as much as anyone, am plagued by the constant inclination to be or act as someone I am not. Yet that is not who God made me to be. He made me to be me (a reflector of His image). Odd isn’t it. If I had not felt this straining tug at my heart, I might not have sought a remedy for this madness, but to the art museum I went. I went to immerse myself in that which is created (made to reflection Creation, I believe) and experience the full range of beauty, grotesque, pain, and rebirth.

In a strange way, this makes me think of faith. I’ve been learning and relearning quite a bit about that small word this week. From Abraham to Esther to David, to Jesus—wow, those guys knew about faith in God. We (and they knew this too) cannot be who God created us to be without recognizing our identity as God’s beloved, and following Him in faith. He is sovereign. We are not. Without resting in that fact, joy cannot be ours. Sure, we might have happiness, we may even feel ecstatic at times, but Scripture says the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

So when I am driven to the point of an “art museum excursion,” I humbly choose joy. What more can I do for the Man who got down on His hands and knees to wash His disciples’ feet? (John 13:1-17) With a towel around His waist and perfect blood running through His veins, He who created mud took it all on Himself and washed His creation clean.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Love: a discussion subsequent to Valentine's and present in Lent

During Advent I created a special blog to record my thoughts and daily devotionals. But for some reason, Lent does not seem to merit the same type of reflection. Perhaps it’s because there is sorrow and sacrifice associated with the Cross. Yet for believers, there is nothing more beautiful than the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.  At the cross we see perfect love. Love that, in 1 Corinthians 13 is described as patient and kind; not envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, or easily angered. It is a love that keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil, but rejoices in truth. This love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. It never fails.

Living near Loyola University, I am surrounded by the Catholic traditions of Lent. Yesterday I saw many foreheads marked with ashes. Countless Facebook statuses declare what my friends are “giving up” for the season. Some will abstain from certain foods, others have chosen to unplug their televisions, and still others say they will not log onto Facebook until Easter Monday. I’m sure this Friday I’ll be able to smell the scent of frying fish.

But what does it really mean to abstain for the Lord? I have often wondered this as I fast during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Fasting, whether from food or pleasure, means nothing unless it is done with the right heart attitude. So before you congratulate yourself for getting through one week without carbonated beverages or cable TV, check your heart and see if those things are really being replaced by a deeper devotion and love for Christ.

I love when God uses irony. One might consider it a coincidence that my small group is studying the life of King David, while at the same time my Sunday night Bible Study is going through the Psalms.  But I know better. God uses repetition to get our attention—an especially useful tactic for us self-centered “sheep.” Anyway, this last Sunday we read Psalm 22. This psalm of David is often expressed as the Crucifixion Psalm. It is prophetic in nature, speaking in great detail about the death of One who suffers and the joy of the Lord’s sovereignty.  Being Valentine’s Day, it was a perfect picture of Christ’s love—that God’s Son would suffer and taste the bitterness of death for us. Just as John says in chapter 15, verse 13: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

May this be our vision as we walk through this season of Lent. Allow God to speak to your heart as He draws you closer to the Cross.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

So I guess I am fighting a battle

Do you ever feel like your life is stagnant? That all you’re doing is keeping time?

Two weeks ago I was reading 1 Samuel 17 (you know, the part where David kills Goliath) in preparation for my small group Bible Study. And God spoke some powerful words. Little shepherd boy David was not looking for adventure. He was not looking to be a hero. He was not looking for victory. But God brought him right up against a giant and said “fight.” As I have experienced with God’s voice in my own life, He did not audibly decree that David kill the giant, but He prepared him for that moment. David had all the tools he needed. He was strong, he was courageous, but most of all he trusted in the Almighty God. He was equipped with all he needed for the task. And that was enough for there to be victory that day in the Valley of Elah.

With this in mind, and fully believing that Scripture is the Living Word, I set out to not look for adventure, heroism or victory. And guess what God did? He dropped three possibilities of further employment into my lap. Now I’ve heard it said, “when it rains, it pours,” but this was a little unprecedented. I went from praying earnestly for God to release me from the grips of retail to praying for discernment about which path to pursue. If nothing else, He has a sense of humor. 

So I guess I am fighting a “battle” (oftentimes with myself and my worries). It is neither with sword nor sling, in fact, I am not even sure what it is against. But I do know the Lord does hear, and He is moving. Even though things feel stagnant, I know the Lord is preparing the way for whatever is to come.  This past December at the Urbana missions conference I heard Patrick Fung, the director of OMF say, “God’s work, done in God’s will, will never lack God’s supply.” Such true and powerful words!
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