Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Creating Reality

Posted by Michael

Imagine for a moment that someone you know was in a horrible accident and suffered damage to their brain. They are rushed to the hospital where they are fortunate enough to see a very skilled specialist. After your friend is examined, the doctor reports that the damage was limited to one small area of the brain. She will be able to live a completely normal life but for one small exception, the damaged area of her brain will cause her brain to wrongly tell her that 24 hours a day, every day, it’s raining. Even when the skies are blue and the sun is shining, you friend will believe that it is raining outside. It would be a very odd exception, but you would be grateful for her health and safety nonetheless. Over time you would see your friend leave her home each morning ready to battle the rain she believes is falling. She would be wearing her rain boots and have her umbrella perched over her head even on the sunniest of days. Her flowers would die when she neglected to water them, after all, she is sure it rained on them just that afternoon. Her deep belief that it is constantly raining would create a response in her behavior. She would live her life as if in a constant rain shower.

Life does this to many of us every day. Perhaps you have been told that you aren’t smart enough, or pretty enough, or talented enough. Sometimes we hear these words from our parents, teachers, friends, or our spouse. Other times the words aren’t said, but we are treated as if we are not important. It doesn’t take long for us to believe the messages we hear and soon we begin to live as if we are unimportant.  We make decisions as if we are not as smart as other people. We choose relationships as if we are not beautiful or interesting. We settle. How many job opportunities were missed because someone convinced themselves that they never had a chance in the first place, and so never applied? How many abusive relationships have been endured because someone believed that no one else could ever possibly love them? Our beliefs affect our reality, and our beliefs aren’t always honest. So, wherever you are at today with whatever beliefs you are struggling with, I pray that you will find the courage to drop your umbrella and risk the rain. It could be that a beautiful day has been waiting for you all along. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Alive and Dead

Posted by Michael

Jesus had the uncanny ability to cut to the core of truth with a simple, short statement. Those brief sayings seem really obvious at first glance, but upon reflection become deep and either soberingly frightful or incredibly hopeful. Jesus made such a statement while trying to help his disciples understand what the end of his life was going to be like. Jesus said, “And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process?” (Mark 8:36, New Living Translation) There are two parts of us that are alive, our physical bodies and our souls. Jesus is saying that there are things we can chase in our life that won’t harm our physical bodies, but will cause our souls to begin to fade and wither. There are decisions I can make that will make me less sensitive to beauty. There are pursuits in life that will cause me to hunger less for justice. I can live life in such a way that I forget about the people around me who are in pain. It’s possible to be fully alive on the outside and empty and dead on the inside. Jesus was telling his disciples that avoiding his upcoming death at the hands on unjust men would keep him alive physically, but it would cause him somehow to die inside, and that wasn’t a trade he was willing to make.

His statement created a lot of questions for me, maybe they are questions that will help you on your journey as well:

Are there things that I watch with my eyes that make me less aware of true beauty when it comes along?

Does the pace of my life make it hard for me to be heartbroken for those who are suffering around me?

Am I more focused on my physical life than the life of my soul?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Justice and Forgiveness

Posted by Michael

A large chunk of the New Testament is correspondence from an early church planter named Paul to various infant churches he helped found. We have two letters that Paul wrote to a church in a town called Corinth. The second of which found the small church struggling with internal strife, betrayals, and persecutions. Times were hard and only growing more difficult for the Corinthian people, they needed both encouragement and direction. He told them that Satan was outwitting them, and causing them to turn on each other and treat each other horribly. The way they were being outwitted was simple and devastating. They were carrying grudges and refusing to forgive each other. Satan’s main goal wasn’t to tempt them to sleep around, start a cult, or build a casino. It was to tempt them to withhold forgiveness from each other. When forgiveness fails everything else crumbles.

Forgiveness reminds us that our guiding principle when interacting with each other is grace not justice. When we refuse to treat people with grace, we become obsessed with a fairness that does not exist. Fairness does not exist in relationships because life is not fair and at our core neither are we. We tend to either, devalue others and elevate ourselves, or we worship others and hate ourselves, and neither of those extremes lead to fairness. When I give up my obsession with things being fair and choose to forgive instead, it releases the person who has wronged me, but more than that it declares that no evil exists that can crush me, because I always have the freedom to choose to forgive. Evil is not overcome by strength and power, but by humility and forgiveness. Forgiveness is my reminder that it was never my job to keep score. I’m a lousy scorekeeper, and to be honest, so are you.  Trying to punish myself for the wrongs I’ve done, or punish someone else for theirs is exhausting. Forgiveness is letting go. It’s not giving up on justice, just admitting that justice isn’t really our job. Forgiveness is the only food that will adequately nourish our souls.  

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: "And The Mountains Echoed"

Post by Michael 

I adored Khaled Hosseini’s “Kite Runner”. It was packed with emotion and beauty that I feel sets it apart as truly great literature. When I am able to find a book I love, I am always hesitant to grab the subsequent books of that author. I guess I’m afraid of the let down, of being disappointed. So, when Hosseini released “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, I avoided it. It may very well be a great book, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. In May of this year, Hosseini’s latest, “And The Mountains Echoed” hit the market and I impulsively grabbed a copy. I am extremely glad I did. It’s an examination of the beauty and heartbreaks of familial relationships. The book is layered with several smaller stories that overlap and intertwine in spots, which allows the reader to deeply connect with any of a number of characters that mirror their own experience. It spans questions like, “How do we continue to love when faced with betrayal, physical separation, and abandonment?” Much like in “The Kite Runner”, Hosseini does not feel pressured to offer trite or forced resolutions to the stories, but allows you to steep in the emotion and power of the relationships laid out on the page. “And The Mountains Echoed” is a beautiful book and is well worth reading at a slow and leisurely pace. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Pointless Quest for Predictability and Control

posted by Michael

Less than two months before, they were serving as slave laborers in the scorching Egyptian sun to make bricks for the Pharaoh’s building projects. Now for the first time in hundreds of years the people of Israel were free. Life in Egypt had been miserable because slavery was miserable. Men and women worked all day to build structures they would never use or enjoy. Every day, every month, every year passed in the exact same way. Saddest of all, they woke each day knowing that their children would spend their lives enduring the same pointless existence. It was at that moment, just when all hope seemed forever lost that the unthinkable happened. The vulnerable and defenseless men, women, and children of Israel were allowed to walk away from Egypt. The most powerful army on the planet was crushed. Their God had given them a military victory that they could never have won for themselves.  And now, God was taking them to a home of their own. He would guide them to the place that He had picked for them,  and He would even feed them along the way. The instructions from God to the people were simple.  “I am going to send quail each night for your families to eat. Each morning you wake up there will be feathery bread spread on the ground like dew. Take all that your family can eat during that day, but don’t worry about extra because it will only rot. I’ll provide the same again for you tomorrow. On the sixth day of the week, take enough for two days, because I want you to take the seventh day off to relax and spend time with Me.” When night came the quail came just like God had said. The next morning, God came through again and left bread all around the camp.

Inexplicably, several of the people gathered more than they needed, and some even tried to venture out on the seventh day of the week to gather in bread, even though they already had enough. I suppose it’s not totally inexplicable, I feel I do the same thing all the time, and maybe you do as well. I work when I should rest, I try to be self-sufficient when I should simply trust. God was doing more than just feeding the people as they made their way to their new home, He was seeking to be a part of their daily lives.  That’s what they needed most of all. That’s what you and I need too. When I allow God to provide for me, I am aware of Him all through the day. When I have needs or am uncertain, I look to Him for hope. When I have peace and happiness, I thank Him. The desire to take my life into my own hands to control things and make life more predictable is always in the back of my mind, but God's hands are much more capable than mine.