Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Redeeming the Image

My prayer lately has been that God would begin to break my heart more and more for those who don’t know Christ—that it would be something real and something deep, something that really impacts the way that I love people and live on a daily basis; and I believe that it is happening. I believe that God is hearing and answering. This past Sunday I sat in church and, near tears, realized that God was not only breaking my heart for the lost, but that He was breaking my heart for the church—His Body.

This week I returned to the States after a brief jaunt to visit my fiancĂ©e, Mark, in Europe; I arrived at the coffee shop/bar that I work in several nights a week, only to find myself faced with the heart-breaking reality of Christian evangelism at its worst. As I sat and listened to a man talk for an hour about why he’s not a Christian and about all the bad examples he’s run into over the course of his lifetime, I began to realize the depth of scarring and pain that hypocrisy can have on those in our circle of influence. I began to realize that the way we live our lives as followers of Christ really does impact the lives around us and I began to understand that our lives really are on display. We proclaim to follow Christ, and people are watching to find out if we really mean it. They want to see if our actions match our words, and when they don’t, all it does is reinforce the picture they have of God as a distant and disconnected “Someone” who really doesn’t change us, and it ends up pushing them to a self-made morality—pulling Truth from various religions and philosophers, and denying God of the glory that belongs only to Him.

This man told me about a group of guys that had come into the bar while I was gone and who were, as a “tag-team,” trying to “save” those working and relaxing in the bar. They would huddle in the corner and strategize, then come back to see how their plan played out. I can only imagine their surprise, when, *gasp*, their efforts were met with bitterness and resentment, instead of interest and acceptance. I get frustrated every time I think about it. What makes us think that by going some place, whether it’s a bar or another country, and throwing the gospel in someone’s face without first building a relationship and establishing trust, that it will make them want to change the way they’ve always lived their lives? What makes us think that the gospel is more than just empty words without a life of love and grace to back it up? 1 Corinthians 13 says “if we speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump!’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.” (vs. 2—The Message). It says that love is patient, kind, and not arrogant—that it doesn’t act unbecomingly (vs. 4-8). Jesus’ second greatest commandment was to love others, and I’m ashamed to say it, but our lives don’t always bear that image.

We have the chance to give love and grace as freely and wholly as it is offered to us. It is given in abundance to us, and yet we hoard it like there’s going to be a famine. What would happen if we allowed ourselves to be generous with our grace, with our love? If we truly believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in us—the Spirit of a God that IS love, then why, as His followers, wouldn’t we want to embody that as well? I feel like we have taken a faith that God intended to be relational and have turned it into a formula—bullet points of “do’s and don’ts.” Somewhere along the line, Satan has been able to take these bullet points and has made us believe that this is what it means to be Christ’s disciple. That it’s more about the doing than the being. When we point out the “sins” in peoples’ lives—the things they are doing “wrong”—they begin to associate Christianity with doing rather than allowing it to be a change agent in their lives that works from the inside out. Somewhere along the line, we’ve missed the point, and it has cost us.

I know that God is bigger than our lives and can and has worked through broken and misguided individuals all throughout history. I know that ultimately it is His Spirit that changes people and that He can speak, even when we fail to speak words of healing and love and grace. I also know that there are many individuals out there who are living lives that clearly and passionately bear the image of Christ. I believe that God is doing dynamic things in and through those lives, and that He will build His Kingdom through many more like them who are willing to surrender to His call to follow Him.

I believe He is doing something in His church right now—deepening the desire in His people for a community that reflects His glory as He has always intended. My prayer is that we would embrace that call and allow the world to see a people whose lives reflect a God who is jealous for our hearts, yet loves unconditionally those who aren’t quite there yet. I pray that we would redeem the image of Christ that has been painted for so many and let our lives speak as loudly and boldly as our voices.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A Grateful Heart

I recently began a journey with Mark—it was July 23, 2004 to be exact—knowingly making a commitment to a man who, in a month, would leave for an around-the-world trek, and with whom I would have minimal communication for a total of six straight months. Now, six months definitely is not an eternity, and is a manageable amount of time, but when you’re newly engaged and have just come off of a summer of not seeing each other for two months (which of course was our first chunk of time apart), six months felt like an eternity before we’d even begun.

We had spent many pain-staking hours talking through every possible reason why he should or shouldn’t go, and in the end, we were faced with the inevitable reality that God had led us to this season, and that was all we could hold onto. We had spent our last month together, and the thought of separation was painful. Yet as we said goodbye, we were both gripped with an overwhelming sense of peace, and a confidence that God had something for each of us during these months that would better prepare us to be a team and serve together in the Kingdom.
It has been less than a month now, and already I have seen confirmation that this is exactly where we were supposed to be. I’ve learned so much already, and feel like God has so much more in store for this divinely-placed season of life. I talk to people almost daily who comment on how hard it must be to be apart for so long and that the time will “just fly by!” Some people even look at me with pity in their eyes, not really saying anything—sure I must be suffering—this poor fiancĂ© left all alone to fend for herself. Sometimes it’s rather amusing.
I’m not saying that it hasn’t been hard. There have been days that I have cried and days where all I can do is wish Mark was back home. I can say it’s been frustrating trying to make wedding decisions when a 30 minute conversation takes 2 weeks through email or questions go unanswered due to time commitments or miscommunications. It has been hard—I’m only human—and one that’s in love, mind you.

I could pity myself, too, but I have spent this last month living life in a community that is faced with needs far greater and more immediate than my own. I go to work everyday, knowing that every girl I work with is between the ages of 21 and 26, yet goes home each night to no husband and two kids. I see the results of their life choices, and as I reflect on my own life, all I can do is realize that I am more blessed than most people here could begin to comprehend. I have a great family, great friends, went to a great school and got a great education, and am engaged to a man that is far more wonderful than I could have ever dreamed up back in middle school J. I am more than excited about spending the rest of my life serving him and alongside him, and definitely cannot wait to be able to see him everyday!

I guess my conclusion is simply this: I could spend these six months mourning the fact that Mark is gone and that I am “left here all by myself,” or I can rest in the arms of a God that has given me a life here on this earth that is more than many will even begin to experience in 22 years of living. I can focus on my own needs, my own disappointments, my own saga, or I can focus on the needs of those around me and make it a priority to take the blessing that God has given me, and as Abraham did, bless others. Each day my heart is broken more and more for the lost, the poor, and the down-and-out. I honestly couldn’t think of anything more valuable to walk away with from this section of the journey than a grateful heart that overflows with thankfulness.

Image of Love

I just got back from working out. It wasn’t the best run I’d ever had physically, but I think it will turn out to be one of the most memorable experiences of this season of life. I had just finished running and was walking to cool down, when in my peripheral I noticed a slightly overweight man poised on the end of a nearby treadmill. He was balancing on the edges, so as not to step on the moving belt, and in front of him was his wife. She was a frail woman, slightly hunched over, unable to walk normal, yet bravely upping the speed on the treadmill. Her workout went in stages: first she would hold onto the handle provided, then she would utter something that only her husband could understand, and he would lovingly support her waist; as he did that, she would let go of the handle and walk with arms pumping furiously at her sides to keep up with the speed of the belt. A few minutes later, she would grab onto the handle again, and he would resume his position at the end of the treadmill, hands at his side.

This went on for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, I stood by trying to figure out why a chord was struck so deeply in my soul. Part of me wanted to cry, while another part wanted to smile, and somewhere deeper within, it made me want to worship. Not only was it one of the purest pictures of marital love that I have ever witnessed, but as I stood there trying not to stare, it was as if God was calling out to me—deep calling to deep, “Jessica, I love you this much.”

The depth of impact of those few moments took me by surprise. Then as I ambled back to my home, I was reminded of God’s words in Ephesians 5:25,29: Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole…no one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body (Message).

It’s in those moments where the treadmill of life doesn’t seem to stop, where it continues to roll on, full speed ahead, even seemingly upping the speed at times, that God is most present. It’s in those moments where we cry out to him, sometimes in words that only He can understand, as our frail bodies fight to keep the speed, and our arms pump furiously at our sides, that He lovingly and gently reaches out to support us and help us make it to our next stage of momentary stability. His love is one that is willing to walk into crowded gyms and uncomfortable situations in order to show us how much He truly loves us. His love is one marked by giving, not getting, and his love will ultimately make us whole.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

A first attempt at something

so this is my first attempt at blogging it. i'm not sure about anything right now--what i will write about or when. i do know that i enjoy writing and it's my goal to grow in that area, so this is one attempt to process thoughts, feelings, and ideas, while getting to communicate "it" (whatever "it" might entail) in writing. feel free to comment, encourage, or criticize. feel free to just drop by and read. know that i'm just seeking to understand life just as much as you are, and if we can do that together, it may turn out to be beneficial for the both of us. i'm always up for a good conversation or thought-provoking question. thanks for stopping by!