Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Love Letters

This is a sort of short-story I "accidentally" wrote last week. I was reading Ecclesiastes and felt compelled to write about how without God the gifts we have on earth are meaningless. Then it turned into how God pursues us, even as we do our best to ignore or shut him out. How we persevere through the race he's laid out for us, and how it tempers us to be more like Him. And that with Him, everything finally has a point. I apologize for the lack of editing, and hopefully it will be something I refine or edit better in the future.


You are going on a roadtrip from the east coast to the west. You are trying to find and see for yourself this person. He has contacted you repeatedly...he has sent many, many letters.

These letters, they'd always show up. At first you just threw them away. Then, you got annoyed enough to finally read one. The message inside..it was so tender, so romantic, so beautiful, but you were too jaded to realize that all the promises the letter contained were true.

But he kept sending them anyway. They read, with increasing urgency, to please come find him, see for yourself that the promises were true. He sounds like a conspiracy theorist, telling you of all the proof that he and his promises are real: "the roses you love? I made them, they were created especially for you," or "that Christmas bonus? Who do you think made it possible for the company to be so profitable and softened the bosses heart?"

You think he must be crazy. These things just aren't possible. And he sounds more than a little creepy. Always following you around - he seems to know exactly where you've been and exactly what you need and exactly when you fall and get into trouble. In fact, you get into big trouble. You're in a terrible place, and the situation seems beyond all hope. You're afraid, hurt, and completely alone. You're alone, except..you think just maybe, "If I call out, he'll listen. He'll help me." You think to yourself, "I know I've never wanted or needed your help before. But I do now, and if you don't show up, the situation is impossible to get out of."

And as soon as the thought crosses your mind, he has sent help your way. He made the impossible possible. You don't know what strings he pulled, can't imagine how he did it - but you now have this miraculous hope, that everything will turn out fine.

He keeps sending the letters. Only now, you're writing back.

First, you thanked him, asked him how he did it. You had more questions, would even occasionally ask for things. At first, you only asked for things for yourself, but then you found yourself compelled to ask things for others. You saw that they were in need, and you knew he was able to help them. He had taught you how to love. Finally, you were having a conversation with him, a relationship with him.

You long to actually meet him in person. This relationship has gone on years and years now. The letters always come: sometimes you're waiting by the mailbox for them anxiously awaiting a response. Other times, you fall away, you get busy and let the letters pile up, unread. But the letters always come.

Eventually, you decide to ask him, "..Can I come to see you?" He replies, "Of course, I've been waiting for you to ask!"

"But how do I get there?"

"I've been sending you directions all this time. First, you needed to want to come. As desperately as I've wanted to see you, you had to want to come to me. I'll keep sending you directions. My letters will find you wherever you go, wherever you are. Gather these letters, my words, then head west. It's not going to be an easy trip, it's hard to get here. And once you're here, you can't go back. People will call you crazy for leaving everything you know to find me, and for believing that impossible things are possible, because you know I can make them so. Please, I promise you... it will be worth it! The challenges and trials of the journey will perfectly prepare you; as you persevere, you will become more mature and complete, not lacking anything. You will learn the truth that sets you free from the chains of where you are now. Love others as I have loved you. You must do all these to make it through the arduous journey. The purpose at the end of the trip, being here, letting me finally hold you in my arms, and tangibly knowing perfect peace and love - it will all be worth it."

So you begin packing. There isn't much you need really, and he has promised to provide for you, as he always has. Your neighbors, friends, family, some do call you crazy. Some are crazy enough to want to go with you. You've shown them the letters, and they've started to write too.

You head out on this journey. Sometimes the company you're with changes, sometimes they have different directions than you do. You part ways and promise to meet again when you get there. Sometimes, the directions don't make sense at all. You're not heading straight there, as you once imagined you might. No, that would be too easy! He's leading you through the long, scenic route. Sometimes through the rough neighborhoods, sometimes in the prisons. He tells you what to do, what to say, and to not feel silly when you say, "He sent me."

The road is both hard and easy, ugly and beautiful. It's hard because it's physically, emotionally challenging - and yet easy, because all you have to do is follow his instructions. The ugly parts are heart breaking, because he's showing you the broken, sad parts of the worlds in desperate need and poverty. But it's beautiful to see the faith that blossoms and the love that comes even to these dark places as shining lights. All of these take you closer to him, so you continue to dive head-first into whatever direction he provides. You rely totally and completely on him, even and especially when it would seem uncomfortable, impossible, or suicidal to do so. So you take the easy with the hard, knowing that you must do both to get to him. The impossible tasks simply provide an opportunity to watch him work and do the impossible.

You thoroughly enjoy this roadtrip. There's much to see and do, and he's taking you everywhere. You've become very rich in unimaginable experiences that only he could have led you to and through. You realize that if you didn't know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was a purpose and end to this trip, it would have quickly become tiresome. If there was no promise of something worthwhile at the end of the road, you would have left a long time ago. It would have all been pointless as chasing after the wind, and about as successful or rewarding. BUT. You're enjoying the little things he puts into your path and sends you, because there is a point to them, to the whole trip. Without the directions he's been providing, the whole trip would have been insane and pointless. You'd be driving around in circles, and there would be no ultimate point to any of the wanderings. None of the journey by itself would bring you closer to this man who sends you love letters.

When the journey gets too hard or seems pointless, he reminds you, "Blessed is the person who doesn't fall away on account of me." He reminds you that everyone gets their own, personal directions - and that sometimes these are hard or seem unfair. He tells you not to give up hope, even when he's leading you places that are especially hard and dark. Because you are never alone, he is with you always, and he greatly longs to be you in person.

So keep on, keeping on. Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, pressing on toward the ultimate goal and prize - to be safe in his embrace finally. You find strength through him, his constant letters, always finding you, still knowing exactly where you and your heart are.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Working for God is Easy

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." - Luke 10:38-41

When I first read this passage as a new believer, I was indignant. I was often that way when reading the scandalous stories of grace presented in the New Testament. I had immediately identified with the Martha in the story. I am the older sister, I am the one who's always the planner, the one doing all the work. I even had a little sister, who I of course thought of.. "my sister has left me to do the work by myself.. tell her to help me!".

Now, coming back to it again with a fresh experience as a visitor in someone else's ministry, I also have a fresh perspective on Martha.

The people of the ministry I got to visit tonight were without a doubt, passionate, driven, motivated to pour out on the young adults at the halfway house they minister to. However, Martha was in charge, not Mary. There were things to be done and keeping us busy, we were preparing a Christmas dinner for the house, the worship, the bible study, the gift giving. There was a well-planned agenda, and assignments, and handouts. Which by themselves aren't terrible things, these are useful in assigning tasks. But Martha was too busy being in charge to encourage others to speak, or challenge them to get out of their comfort zones and really talk to kids. There was another visitor to the ministry helping that night and she stayed in the kitchen the whole time, saying "I'm really more of a behind the scenes person." It seemed everything was too planned out. It almost seemed like a struggle against the Holy Spirit in the effort of sticking to 'the plan',

I do not dare to say that this was anything but a successful evening - however it was done, the Holy Spirit did move some kids ("That was nice of them.. they didn't have to come all the way out here to do this"). And it is my pride that I am trying to quash when I think to myself, "they could have done that better this way..". Who am I to judge what tool to use?

I completely confess to being a Martha myself. I can get possessive over my tasks, I want to control things to make sure they're done right, I want to plan to the nth degree. But I am trying desperately to be more like a Mary. Working like a Martha makes working for God very hard and tiresome. Working like a Mary makes working for God easy.

Instead of being possessive over my tasks or ministry, or even the success that I get to witness, God gets the glory. Being possessive over the work often makes you lose sight of why you're doing it in the first place. When it's only you completing the tasks (because you're possessive and don't let God help you), then of course the work is difficult and exhausting, because you are doing the work alone! When you let God own the work, however, it becomes easy.

If I try to control things to make sure they're done right, what if I'm denying someone else the opportunity to pour out onto the needy, as I know I enjoy doing? I need to remind myself, it's not the task on earth here that's important, it's the relationship with Jesus. Mary was lauded for choosing 'what is better'. She chose to strengthen her relationship with Jesus instead of preparing a meal. Really, putting both into perspective - the food doesn't really matter, does it? It's an earthly need that will always be there. Jesus was not always going to be on earth - maybe Mary realized that as she poured out perfume on Him to prepare Him for His burial (John 12:7-8). Either way, she had clearly made her priorities heavenly, not earthly.

And when the Marthas want to plan to the nth degree, we are not planning on God showing up. We are in fact planning that He WON'T show up. What sort of faith is this?? James 4 reminds us that it is not our will that plans and predicts tomorrow, but "if it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." Our plans are silly. Why would we choose to rely on them, when we could be relying more faithfully on God to work out the details?

I keep coming back to: "But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made." Even though Martha had a very respectable purpose - preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples - her busy preparations were keeping her from actually knowing Jesus.

As we get into the holiday season, do we let the preparations of the holiday keep us from reveling in the purpose of the holiday? We celebrate Christmas to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Surely, our Savior could care less about plastic reindeer in the front yard and 20 colors of wrapping paper if it meant we were putting those things instead of celebrating and worshiping Him. Do these things, but only if they are not distracting you from the true and Godly reasons for our festivities.

I pray that I listen to the wisdom I am led to write - that I can hear the "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Ps 46:10). I pray that in my preparations for Christmas, I do no lose focus of why I prepare.

It is a crazy thing in this world to plan on God showing up. But, this is really the only thing we're called to plan.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

God's Timeline

"While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. "This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor." Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. "I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. Matthew 26:6-13

This verse isn't nearly as shocking as it should be to us. We readily accept Jesus's statement of "preached throughout the world" because that's exactly what happens today. I imagine that when Jesus first said it 2000 years ago, it was actually quite scandalous.

At that point in time, Jesus' ministry was relatively small. There were people in many towns, a few small countries, but only on one continent. How big did the people of Jesus' day think the world was? Certainly they must have guessed or known it was larger than the nations surrounding Israel. Today we know the world is huge compared to the relatively tiny amount of land that represented the sphere of influence in Jesus' earthly days.

The profundity of Jesus' claim that the gospel would be preached throughout the world cannot be understated. And today the Gospel is being preached throughout the world. What does this say about how God operates? Not only does He measure time in ways we can't comprehend - I'm inclined to believe that He has also provided us with the tools so that we are physically able to travel and communicate across the world to share the Gospel. As James 1:17 reminds us, "every good and perfect thing is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows". In fact, so much has changed in the world since Jesus's days on Earth. But has the Father changed? I find it comforting to know that He is the same God today as he was all that time ago.

So we are now remembering a woman who poured perfume over Jesus, in an act of adoration and faith in her savior. 2000 years later seems unimaginable to us that we are able to have this piece of history. In what seemed an impossible promise, Gods timeline and the way He works has made it possible for us to honor this woman.

If He can make this impossible promise come true for this unnamed woman, it seems to me that is quite capable to make the impossible come true for those of us who honor God as she did.

  1. She gave greatly to God. The very expensive jar of perfume she poured out was no doubt worth much. The disciples complain it could have been "sold at a high price".

  2. She gave and believed, even when it seemed senseless or wasteful by others. "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me."

  3. "She did it to prepare me for burial"This woman listened to what Jesus had been preaching, that he would be die and come back in three days, and believed that he spoke the truth. She was of great faith.

If we are to be the recipients of scandalous promises like the one of Matthew 26:13, we need to live our lives and our faiths as this woman did. We need to trust His timeline for us, even when we can't see for ourselves how He is working in our lives.