Month: December 2014

Higher Aspirations

There was a popular song that got a lot of attention last year. I heard it for the first, second, and third times on various morning shows on which the band (The Wanted) was performing. And it was catchy. It was. I bought it, I listen to it, and often I sing along. But if I really listen to the lyrics, I find myself challenged. They read:

 “When my time is over, lying in my grave
Written on my tombstone, I want it to say,
‘This man was a legend, a legend of his time.
When he was at a party, the party never died.’”

Really? You want that to be your legacy? That you were the life of the party? I feel like we can do better. We can hope for more. We can aspire to more. If I could choose what I would be remembered for, the list would look something like this:

 

  • Loving God
  • Loving my family
  • Serving others
  • Inspiring others
  • Caring for and giving to those in need
  • Forgiving those who have wronged me
  • Making a difference in people’s lives

 

I could go on, but it would take a long time for me to get far enough on the list that I would add “being the life of the party” to it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have a purpose on this earth. And I think that for each of us, that purpose is big and meaningful. It will look different for you than it will for me. And sometimes, each of us may feel unsure about what that purpose is. But I think that, if we are going to find that purpose, we need to have higher aspirations than the world has for us. We must refuse to settle for anything less than our life’s calling. With New Year’s upon us, now is a great time to reflect on what having higher aspirations might look like for YOU. And then make your resolutions accordingly. I know I will.

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

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Journey

I originally wrote this week’s entry back in February…yes, it’s another that I wrote before launching this blog. But I felt like it was appropriate for this time of year, with Christmas and New Year’s resolutions.

Jeremiah 29:11

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord,
‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

For probably 15 years, I’ve been holding onto an empty picture frame. It quotes Jeremiah 29:11. I guess I’ve been waiting to fill it because I was waiting for that promised “future” to arrive. Never mind that, over that time period, I’ve earned two advanced degrees, met and married the man of my dreams, and welcomed two beautiful children into the world. I’m not sure what future I’ve been waiting for. I suppose the future just doesn’t feel complete yet. But it occurred to me recently that the “plans” God has for me unfold along the way to the future He’s promised. They’re snapshots, moments in time—and they are all designed to prosper and not to harm, and to someday transpire into the ultimate future and hope. And the part of the plan I am experiencing now is not the part of the plan that I will be experiencing five years, or even five months, from now. But that’s the beauty of picture frames—you can change out the photos!

So today, I climbed up into our dusty attic, dug around through my box of picture frames, and pulled that frame out. It now holds a photo of our family enjoying our Christmas vacation in snowy Michigan.

 

Winter Family Photo-Journey

 

As God’s plans for us change, so will the photo. Perhaps the background and scenery will change; or perhaps our family will grow. We pray, just as Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10) did, that God would expand our territory, in whatever way He chooses. But we also pray that God would make us content in our current circumstances, knowing that His plans are being fulfilled in His time. And, of all the ironies, I realized that—in the largest print on the frame—it actually reads, “JOURNEY.” How did it take me 15 years to figure out what was there in front of me from the beginning?

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

For today’s post, I’m digging back into my files for a memory—one that I originally wrote about in February of this year. If you were reading my posts via Facebook before I officially launched my blog, you may have read this one. I was reminded of the post recently when Laredo joined me on the couch one night to reenact the scene. So I wanted to take a look back at what I’d written all those months ago. And I want to give you a glimpse into that same memory….

 Psalm 139:14

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

 At almost 15 months old, Laredo still seldom sleeps through the night. And often, when she gets up for her mid-night snack, she will lay on the couch with me for the next few hours (if not the rest of the night). I miss the extra sleep, but I cherish the time together.

The other night as Chris handed her to me, through the dark I saw her huge smile, and her arms outstretched toward me, eagerly and excitedly. It felt good to know that she wanted to be with me, near me. And then, as we were lying there, her on my chest, she did something she hasn’t ever done before. With her tiny and delicate little fingers, she started playing with some folds of skin on my neck that I had never realized were there. My first instinct was one of insecurity. Should I be adding this to my list of personal imperfections?

I quickly realized that this response could easily rob me of the joy and contentment brought by her presence with me in that moment. She wasn’t trying to point out ‘flaws.’ She doesn’t even understand that it’s a flaw. It reminds me of how, when I was young, I would sit on the laps of my parents and grandparents and use my fingers to trace the veins in their hands and arms—which became more pronounced as they got older. But they didn’t respond self-consciously; they embraced the time spent together.

And now, it’s my turn to set that example of self-acceptance for my little girl. Whether she becomes a young lady who despises, obsesses over, accepts, or embraces her physical features will depend largely on the example I set for her. In turn, I will greatly influence her confidence, as well as her actions and attitudes toward the imperfections of others. I confess, I have a long way to go, but on that night, I chose to embrace the moment, and the little girl in my arms.

Bj Nov 2014 1

For Granted

Luke 12:19-21 

“And I will say to my soul,
‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come;
take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’”
But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you;
and now who will own what you have prepared?”
So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

 

DPP_0057
On Tuesday afternoon, it was 65 degrees and sunny here in central Texas—a perfect day for a walk. We took one of our regular routes and passed a car that is often parked outside of a house that we walk by. It reminded me of a similar walk past that same car that we took shortly after returning home from our summer visit to Minnesota.

“I want the top down on that convertible,” Tijge had declared. His comment made me think of how I can probably count on one finger the number of times I’ve seen a convertible with the top down in Texas. Not so in Minnesota. Even over a short visit, I would need many more hands than I have to count the number of convertibles with their tops down. Shoot, if it hits 50 degrees and it isn’t raining, you can pretty safely wager that my dad will have the top down.

So why is this? I mean, in Texas, we have arguably much better weather for a good bit of the year than they do up north. Sure, the summer sun gets a little too hot and a little too strong. But what about the fall, winter, and spring? In essence, it seems like people here take for granted the nearly ever-present option to put the top down. So they don’t need to do it today. They can put it off indefinitely, really. In Minnesota, they know that, in just a few short weeks, the top will go up and stay up for the next nine months. So they don’t take it for granted.

This same phenomenon helps to explain why people who live further from their families often spend more time with them than those who live nearby. It explains why, when we think to send a note of encouragement, we put it off until later. It explains why, when it occurs to us to do something nice for someone in need, we pawn it off on someone else. We figure, Hey, I can always do it some other time. But according to Luke 12, this isn’t the case. I’ll bet that Luke understood the parable of the rich fool better than most. As a physician, he must have often seen injuries and illnesses take lives quite unexpectedly. So we are never guaranteed tomorrow. Period.

In the traditional sense, to take something for granted means to use, accept, or treat it in a careless or indifferent manner. But what if we think about that phrase from another perspective? “Granted” can also mean bestowed, conferred, given, or granted as a privilege or a right. What if we started seeing those things that God has granted us for today as a priceless and treasured gift, or as a sacred trust to manage and care for? When I look at the phrase this way, there are a few things I want to start taking for granted. How about you?

Redeemed unto Reconciliation

That we as Christians have been given the ministry of reconciliation isn’t exactly news. After all, Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that God “reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” He also said that, as far as it depends on us, we are to “be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). But, if you’re anything like me, this is one of those things that falls squarely into the ‘easier said than done’ category. So I welcomed the recent sermon series that our pastor preached on this subject. While I learned a lot from the entire four-week series, I can also say that there were several “tweetable” tidbits (c/o @bradyherbert) that really spoke to me. I hope they will speak to all of you as well.

  1. When we look for God’s goodness in someone, it’s impossible to make them our enemy. And I would add that when we look for the good that God might be working both in and through that person, we are better able to move toward reconciliation. This concept reminds me of a strategy you’ve probably heard about before. When we pray for others (and more specifically, our enemies), we are drawn to them and God gives us a greater level of compassion for them. Of course, that means that we pray for God’s blessings in their lives. We pray that He would comfort, guide, and—yes—convict. But we don’t pray that they would ‘get what’s coming to them.’ We don’t pray that God would ‘smite’ them. We pray for God’s best for them. And in the process, we are changed.
  2. I can forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in me. This logic requires that we identify and acknowledge what I like to call our ‘Mother of All Sins’ (M.O.A.S). If you can’t admit that you’ve ever done anything inexcusable, if you can’t understand why Jesus had to die for your sins, this will be VERY hard—if not impossible—to do. Now, I know what some of you are saying: “No, that’s not right—all sin is the same to God.” And you’re right. But all sin is NOT the same to US. If you steal a pen from work, there is no way you’re going to feel a sense of grief over your sin. If you were to kill someone—and I’m not suggesting that you should—you would feel a much greater sense of remorse. So we, as finite humans, tend to rank sins from least to most egregious. Then we set a threshold beyond which sins are ‘worth’ Christ’s sacrifice. And each of us needs to identify and OWN whatever sin or sins we feel are worth that punishment. This can be especially hard if you’ve grown up in the church. Many ‘lifelong’ believers lament that they “don’t have a testimony” because they never joined a gang or got into drugs or what have you. But you MUST find your testimony. I believe that the best way to do this is to pray, humbly asking God to reveal to you your areas of weakness and sin, so that you can repent.
  3. If someone refuses to repent, “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18: 17). Our pastor, Brady, rightly pointed out how many of us use this verse as a license to wash our hands of another and throw them out of the church. I have to confess, that’s how I’ve always read that verse. But if you think about it, that’s not at all how Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors. He pursued them, he loved them, he sought reconciliation with them, and—lest we forget—he DIED for them. I find that I often judge nonbelievers less harshly than I do other Christians. I mean, Christians should know better, right? But if a believer is caught in sin, or is unwilling to reconcile, then we must conclude that something is keeping them from embracing the salvation that they claim. Thinking of it that way, I feel led to respond with compassion and sympathy, and to pray that they would be reconciled first with God, and then with the Church. And one more thing: we can never give up. I’ve heard of believing parents with children who have gone astray. They pray constantly for many years and they NEVER give up on their kids’ souls. That is the essence of the parables of the prodigal son, the lost sheep, and the missing coin. And our love and compassion should be as relentless as God’s.
  4. We must awaken the desire for reconciliation. The final message in this series offered a lot of practical tips to help us move from a place of knowing that we should reconcile, or believing that we can reconcile, to a place where we can honestly say that we want to reconcile. Here are some of the biggies:
  • We need to develop empathy and compassion for those with whom we seek to reconcile.
  • We need to avoid the temptation to morally ‘separate ourselves’ from the other person—essentially viewing them as inferior to ourselves. Instead, we need to find a common ground from which we can reach out in love, grace, and mercy.
  • We need to remember that we are all created in the image of God and are worth of being treated with human dignity. And finally,
  • We need to remember that we ourselves are finite beings and that God may be working an angle that we can’t see—or possibly even imagine.

So, when we think about all of these pieces in the puzzle of reconciliation, I hope that we are each prompted to take a step or two in that direction. And in that way, one small step after another, we will hopefully end up a lot closer to the peace that we are called to pursue.