Monday, February 23, 2009

Staying Connected

I was having trouble staying connected... to the internet that is. So I viewed my "available wireless networks" and it said I was connected. But when I tried to post something, it said I wasn't connected. So I clicked the "refresh" button. Then I was connected. But I tried to post again and lost the connection. So, I tried the same steps again. I viewed the wireless network to see if there was a connection- there was. But I still couldn't post, so I refreshed the screen.

I kept trying the same thing over and over again to no avail. Finally I looked under "tools" and noticed I was "working offline." The connection was there, but I had inadvertently opted to work unconnected. Ok, so I don't know how that happened... but as soon as I unclicked the work offline option I was able to stay connected. In other words, I could post something and get a response. I could interact.

This got me thinking about the fact that sometimes I feel like staying connected to Jesus can be a frustrating cycle. I try over and over again with no real holding power. It can feel like I'm talking at dead air. By the time I stop foolishly doing the same old steps, I realize that I have been trying to connect to Jesus on my own power. As if I can be "good enough" to merit some supernatural interaction with the Lord without his intervention. But without the Holy Spirit, without the Word of God, without an honest two-way conversation with God- there is little meaning in it all. My "spiritual disciplines" simply become ritualistic practices. For all intent and purposes, those are the times I am "working offline."

The thing is that just like the internet, working offline- ignoring the Holy Spirit- can be so subtle... it feels as though one minute I'm happily plugging away, then the next I'm suddenly disconnected... offline. Most of the time, I don't even know how it happened! And in all honesty, it is never that quick. God's grace has held me on many occasions that I have let go.

Connection is an intentional choice. A predetermined decision to act. Of course there is no real connection power when I try to connect by myself. Connection, by default is a two-way proposition. A relationship. And I need to choose to utilize the proper power Source and depend on that Source to stay connected! Because my strength is not enough to create the connection I desperately need with God.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not
know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.
Romans 8:26-27 (NIV).

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Believe - Help My Unbelief

It’s raining- actually, it’s pouring- as I sit at my desk and write in my journal. I pour out my thoughts and emotions to God. I know he is attentive to me. I don’t actually come out and literally ask him for a “sign”… but it is the sentiment I convey between the lines.

I know that I face this difficult time in my life with God’s continual presence. I know that God is for me. I know that he promises to work all things to the good for those who love him and are called by him (see Romans 8).

I know, I know, I know. But at the moment… it is hard to “believe.” I mean, if you really believe something, it changes you, right? I want to believe God because only he has the words of real life (John 6:68). He came so that I could have a full life (John 10:10). I want to be open to that life. That requires God’s ongoing transformation in me. And I want to come out of this experience better than I was going in.

So I let God have it. All my questions, doubts and fears. All my anger, pain and suffering. I know- no, I “believe”- my God is big enough to handle them all. And as I pour out my heart to him, I acknowledge that I feel vulnerable and weak. That I need to believe he is really with me… right now… in this moment. I ask the same thing that the possessed boy’s father asked of Jesus in Mark 9:24:

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.

A flash of color catches my eye. I look out the window and notice a prism. The splash of color can only be described as the tip of a rainbow. “Hmm… that’s strange,” I think to myself. “The sky is dark and laden with storm clouds. How can there be a rainbow visible?” I go to investigate further. As I step out onto my front porch, I am met with an amazing view.

Amidst the still pouring rain and dark sky all around… there before me is an unexpected break in the clouds. Brightly lit by the unseen sun is a complete rainbow! Its reflection hovers just above the tree line affording me a ringside view of its full colorful arc. I stare in wonder at God’s gift. His glorious presence with me is an almost tangible thing. Such a personal, gracious love overwhelms me. I bask in the beauty and wonder of the moment… a “sign” from God. He is with me. All I can do is worship him.

Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. Eze. 1:28 (NIV).

After what feels much longer than the 5-10 minutes that have passed, the clouds close in. They engulf the rainbow, hiding it from view- as if it had never been. The sky darkens once more. I find myself back in the reality of the storm. Gone is the beautiful vision that God allowed me to witness. But its promise lingers. I am left with the notion that it is still there- waiting for the storm to pass and the sun to shine its glory once more.

And such is the personal storm in which I find myself. It is as if God in his mercy, has given me a memorable illustration of what is to come. Yes, I must face head on the challenge of this dark hour in my life. But I know- I really believe- that the firestorm will pass. I can assuredly envision that beauty will arise from the ashes to shine brightly in my life again.

Part of really “believing” that God is with me involves asking the “why?” question. Why must I go through this now? If God knew I was going to face this problem, why didn’t he make it happen sooner when I was younger? Even though I am not over the hill, it is easy to feel that my time is running out in certain respects. This trial “should” have happened earlier so that I could move on more “easily,” right?

I can’t know all the eternal or temporal ramifications of my life experiences… but this I do believe: God never allows his people to endure more than they are able (1 Cor. 10:13), and God’s timing is never too early or too late. Who knows? Perhaps the wounds would not have healed had this particular trial occurred earlier in my life. The scars may have changed who I am to the negative. I may not have been so spiritually connected with God to avoid lasting heartache.

What is certain to me is that God has graced me with his presence today in a way that I can carry through these turbulent times. I believe in his power and faithfulness to carry out his promises. I believe I will come out on the other side, not only a better person, but better able to help others. In the meantime, as I sing to the Lord- "I will praise you in the storm!"

… and I will bless you… and you will be a blessing. Gen. 12:2

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Better Way

A storm approaches. You have no life boat. You don't even have a life jacket. You are out in the middle of the turbulent, dark ocean. What do you do? Abandon ship and crew? Leave yourself vulnerable to the mercy of the unrelenting waves? Wouldn't the smart thing to do be to hunker down together, hang onto the most secure thing possible and determine to ride out the storm?

Here is what I think:

When life gets stormy, we can have the tendency to withdraw from the wisdom found in connection. Even though most of us realize that "there is strength in numbers," there is a strong urge to flee in the face of hardships. After all, connecting with people can make us feel uncomfortably vulnerable even without the added disturbance of problems. Feeling the need to make ourselves feel safe as quickly as possible, it seems almost natural to adapt an "every man for himself" perspective. But living a life of "watching out for number one" is the opposite of security and contentment. It will eventually lead to a life of disappointments, frustrations and stress.

Sounds obvious, I know. Living a life of love can sound obvious. Why then do we fail at it so often? It is not the easiest way to live. It is not the quickest way. It is definitely not the most comfortable way. Taking the risks of love can lead to difficult or downright painful experiences. However, taking the risks of not loving guarantees them. The difference? Choosing to love (live selflessly), builds a life of purpose and meaning. The things discovered beyond ones own perspective through connections with others. Choosing not to love (live for yourself), builds a life void of those meaningful relationships.

I'm speaking of relationships that are not pursued for our own sole benefit. The cause is to selflessly love, a side-effect is our own well-being. We may still suffer from harsh treatment, but we will not be crushed. I am not talking about staying in abusive or unhealthy relationships. I am talking about the ability to love. Sometimes you love someone that you can no longer trust. Two different things.

The point is that we will be better people for having loved the unlovable. Why? Because that kind of love comes from God. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom. 5:7-8 (NIV). The more like Jesus we become, the more fulfilled we will be.

The crux of the matter is that without first receiving and connecting with God's love for us, we will not be able to love others in the manner that will produce within us: character, endurance, hope, purpose and myriad other lasting traits. God is the source of ultimate love and truth. Connecting to that source through Jesus is the journey of our salvation.

Not that I profess to have arrived by any means. Afterall, I write these things to myself. But I take heart in the words of the Apostle Paul:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Phil. 3:12-14 (NIV).

Love may be the harder way, but it is definitely the better one. It is eternal... so we do get to take it with us!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Living Hope

I know someday, somehow God will use the pain I am experiencing at the moment for good. Perhaps then, I will have something to offer from all this.

I said the words to a trusted friend during this very trying time in which I find myself. A personally painful time. A seriously life-changing season. Yet I ask myself if I must wait until I have reached the other side of this trial to offer something?

I lift up my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Ps. 121:1-2 (NIV)

Is not the fact that I see the Lord's faithfulness now, in the midst of my suffering, of value? If I wail until I am "completely healed" from this wounded place, will I express the depth of its reality? The depth of His faithfulness to me? Isn't there something of worth to be gleaned at all times? Am I not still established in the Lord as he navigates me through this tempest?

When I reflect back upon these days I will see the hand of God more clearly. But the awesome peace of this living hope, the firmness of this trusting assurance, and the comfort of this faithful presence... all abiding within while I have yet to experience the outcome... well, these things must not be muted. His faithfulness must be heralded. Because my hope is built upon God's faithfulness, not mine. And he is as faithful today as he will be after this season's passing.

Personal peace amidst personal despair. Sounds like an oxymoron to me. But I'm okay with that. We can live in a brokenhearted world, among brokenhearted people while clinging to the one who calls us just as we are and came to heal our brokenheartedness.

My troubles are not greater than the one in whom I hope. If I have a living hope, then it must be lived in the present. Therein lies the tension: brokenness is the despair - his healing presence is the peace. I know that I can trust God with my brokenness. I know his grace and power are already healing me.

... Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. 2 Tim. 1:2 (NIV)