Tuesday, April 28, 2015

God's heavenly solutions

I had a moment like this today, minus the broom and the pink shirt.

Anyone who knows me well understands that I enjoy pushing the envelope from time to time, and I like getting under peoples skin and watching them react.

My bad habits as a columnist have caught the attention of angry parents or administrators from time to time, and in turn, my publisher. I've been called into the little conference room at our office on a number of occasions, and each one has been thrilling in it's own right.

Once, we discussed my accidental reference to an administrator's coworkers as "cronies." Later, we talked about how my coverage needed to be more comprehensive. A few months later, I was informed of a different administrator's attempt to ban me from campus and have me arrested -- for which we threatened a lawsuit.

The top such incident came after a column critical of game day operations that resulted in an irate parent emailing the CEO of our company, suggesting that I be reigned back to simply reporting box scores and occasionally using words like 'slam dunk,' and ended by saying, "I merely ask that your publication NEVER pay him for anything ever again."

Needless to say, my publisher threatened to fire me if I wrote about the cheer team again.

Also needless to say, when he asked me to step into the conference room with him today, which is more than a year removed from our last private visit, I was convinced  -- a little sarcastically -- that I was headed for joblessness.

I didn't get fired, I was given a raise.

Remember how I wrote a few weeks ago about clearing my head of earthly solutions and giving God room to work miracles?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Communion's questionable timidity

There's such thing as too much, but I think we're too timid as a Church.

I often ask myself this during church services -- and communion, especially.

Why are we so quiet and reserved? Why are we so timid? If we are celebrating the DEATH and RESURECTION of Jesus, why do we sit silently and think with our minds instead of jumping and shouting for joy?

I think some of this frustration comes from God beginning to change my heart and my walk from an intellectual one to an emotional one. Our relationship takes pondering and meditation, don't get me wrong, but how many times in the Bible did we see characters react to miracles by quietly bowing their heads and solemnly closing their eyes?

I've come to understand that -- and this seems a little obvious, at first -- Bible characters are just people. There's nothing special about Paul, other than his education and ability to teach. The apostles didn't have super powers. They're just some guys with God-given gifts.

Because they're people like us, they wade through the same issues. It takes a little time to build up trust. Even the Bible characters made bad choices early on. They had doubts, they struggled and they made mistakes. Thomas doubted Jesus' resurrection, and the disciples feared for their lives in the boat during the storm.

Look at Abraham, for example. Long before we read about his example of trusting God with the life of his son, we read about how he and Sarah decide to jump the gun and jump the rails of God's plan to make a nation of Abraham. Their impatience -- a lack of trust -- leads to some nasty family business, and it's only years later that Abraham has grown in faith to the point that he's able to trust God with the life of his promised and belove'ed son.

My point? Abraham was human.

So was David, and David praised God by singing and shouting and dancing -- sometimes clothed, and sometimes not. And while I won't condone worshiping in the nude, I think the important lesson to learn is that God is an EMOTIONAL being as well as an intellectual one, and I'm frustrated with how hard it is to let go and worship God in an emotional way.

I'm also not saying that communion should be replaced by jumping up on the table and acting like monkeys, but it'd be interesting to examine how we go about such a service. There's an element of self-reflection, but we can't forsake the jumping and leaping and praising God part of it, either.

The people in the bible were humans just like us, and they made mistakes, just like us. But if  they were human and they worshiped undeservedly, then why don't we?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reflections on the faithfulness of God

This is my happy place, in my favorite corner with my headphones blaring weird music.
As has been typical over the last several weeks, a night off calls for hitting the road to St. Helens in search of inspiration, a green tea -- or should I say, iced grande, no-classic green iced tea -- and a quiet corner at the only Starbucks in Columbia County.

A quick glance at this afternoon's schedule immediately reminded me of my forming habit, one which has brought about several chances to jot down notes on how God is beginning to shape me a little at a time, and how I've grown over the last few years.

Normally, a thought will strike me early in the day before I get a chance to write. It generally comes to me as I'm showering before work, and I'm able to turn over the idea in my head for a few hours. Today, I came home from a brutally long stretch at the office with my fuzzy, over-worked brain a little burnt out. 

Maybe I would write about a thought I'd had last week contrasting redemption and salvation? Maybe I could finally complete a post I'd started around Easter about my frustrations surrounding exactly how conservative churches are. Maybe I could read back through old posts and wait for one idea to out-shine the others.

Being a little lazy and off my inspiration-game, I opted for the third path and perused the entries from my final few months at Starbucks and first few months working for the Spotlight, my current place of employment.

What I came across was fairly fascinating, and something I've seen from God in the very recent past. I documented financial struggles two years ago, and was able to look at how my reactions have changed when some tax issues hit me a few months back. It was a major testiment to God's work in my heart.

Two summers ago, I was in the midst of having been turned down for a job at my hometown newspaper, the Molalla Pioneer. Even at the time, I noted how I was able to handle the 'rejection' much better than expected, and I looked forward to other opportunities God would have for me. I was frustrated with Starbucks and felt like I was ready to move on to something new.

Sound familiar? I'm not sure how much I've actually captured here on this blog, but I feel some of that still. The job here in Scappoose has been a major blessing, but I'm somehow unable to shake the looking-for-something-bigger-and-better compulsion. It's interesting, though, that every time I've been turned down for a job, there's been something better waiting around the corner.

God kept me at Starbucks a little while longer until something opened up that I couldn't have imagined. It was one of those non-earthly solutions to a problem that I've been thinking about quite a lot over the last few weeks. Maybe the same thing is in store for me this time around.

For me, it's important  that I continue to throw my shoulder to the wheel, no matter where God has placed me. I'm not sure how long he has me in my current position, whether it be two months or two years.

At the end of the day, it helps to look back at my life and see the times that God has come through with the best possible solution for me. God doesn't change his character, and so I can trust that I will be well cared-for in the future.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Dominoes and an impolite Jesus

Sometimes change isn't comfortable. God never promised you that you would be.
At the very end of the post last week about grown up decisions, I had origonally written out a paragraph about feeling as though God had set up a number of dominoes and was simply waiting for the right time to knock them all down. I ended up deleting the graph because it didn't quite fit with the rest of the post, but it stuck with me.

The phrase came to mind again this afternoon during a conversation with a fellow churchgoer after today's service -- there are pieces God has been setting in place in readiness for some big change.

The music team met and, for really the first time, discussed bettering what we do on Sundays. The teaching today was a little awkward at first, but raw and powerful and honest. It was transparent, and began to break down longstanding barriers of fear.

I've no idea what the dominoes will look like when they fall, but I think back to a few days ago when I asked God to clear my mind of earthly solutions to problems and instead work wonders that I couldn't imagine. The Lord provided for me that day, and in a way I hadn't really considered.

I find it interesting that there are bricks being laid for a new foundation at my morning-church in the same way that the Lord is laying bricks for a new foundation in my life. Perhaps the biggest lesson I've learned over the last few weeks is that I can relax and allow myself to focus on growing in Christ instead of attempting to force sin from my life.

I've always been reminded of the song that begins, 'Come, just as you are, to worship.' For a long time, that phrase seemed like it had to do with what you looked like Sunday school. It's taken on an entirely different meaning for me.

I can't allow sins and struggles to keep me from letting God speak into my life. If I spend too much time focusing on being better and on erradicating bad habits and bad choices, it becomes really easy to drown out God's teaching.

Think of it this way: don't be so busy rowing that you forget to raise the sails.

It's always stuck in my mind to ask God to fill me so full of himself that there isn't really room for anything else. All the bad things, the habits, the additions, the wandering thoughts -- all those things are gone, not because I forced them to leave and was left empty, but because I swapped them for the things of Christ.

There's no gap, and no waiting period in between the two. God isn't polite enough to ask for a nice, clear space in my heart, and I hope that I become more aggressive in asking God to take my heart by force.

In that same breath, I hope to continue -- or to be more transparent, begin -- to ask God to be so present in my life that I cannot ignore Him and the things he does. It's something I found scribbled on a piece of paper when I cleaned out my trunk a few days ago, and I think it captures a longing I had years ago for a time in which I would grow and prosper.

That time is now.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In which, I make grown-up decisions

I woke up this morning with taxes on my mind, and the thought of exactly how hard the next few months might be. A few hours later, after paying more money than I'd like and pressing send, I collapsed at the foot of the bed, weighed down by the reality of the position I'm in.

I've written a few times in the last several months about an issue with my taxes costing me a fair amount of money, and a fair amount of money that I don't have. I'd done the math and in theory, it seemed like I would just scrape by. Today, I actually felt the pressure and wilted under it.

After some tearful moments of desperation, I asked God to clear my head of all the plans I'd made to stay afloat until next year's tax returns (as in, 2016) arrive. I'd come up with all sorts of ideas, things ranging from donating plasma or finding a roommate to finding a higher-paying job, but for those few minutes, all those things seemed worthless. I didn't want my earthly solutions.

I had a quick breakfast, and stepped into my daily thinking-place for a shower. Then a thought hit me.

I'd always heard about how the apostles celebrated in the hard times and during persecution, and while 1 Peter 12-14 doesn't relate perfectly to the words that popped into my head this morning, I have a better understanding for what it means to rejoice in tribulation.

The greater the challenge, the more I will have to praise God for once he's brought me through it.

Sure, I've painted myself into this corner, and I get that -- like Paul says in Galatians -- we aren't supposed to mess up in life simply so that more of God's grace is poured out. But at the same time, I find myself less filled with dread and more filled with excitement to see what plans and little miracles God has on the path ahead of me.

At the least, these next few months will teach me a great many things. It will teach me about how wasteful I've been, and how much I can afford to NOT have. It will also serve as a reminder that my money doesn't belong to me, and that any and everything I have comes from the Father.

I can't help but wonder if it all goes back to finally being willing and brave enough to ask God to take away the things I didn't need to serve him. It seems as though, and I've mentioned this before, there are a handful of puzzle pieces being amassed in my heart simply waiting for God to piece them together.

Here, there is more immediate evidence of the redemptive process. In the past, this post would have been filled with fear -- just as my terrified prayers were this morning. I've had plenty of blog posts similar to those few moments, but I find it incredible that I've grown enough to see things in a different light and see an opportunity for God to be glorified.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Love, you're doing it wrong

Music has always had a particular way of allowing God to speak to me, and a few weeks ago, David Crowder's Oh, How He Loves Us popped into my head -- no doubt a quiet prompting.

I settled on the phrase in the chorus in which the song focuses on the awe of God loving us. In conjunction with God being God, and everything I know about God, that didn't make any sense. If God is just and perfect, there's no reason for God to love us as he does.

John 3:16 says that God loved the world so much that He sacrificed his son so we could be with him. In that frame of mind, the love of God is great -- it's huge and immeasurable, by our human standards -- but God's love is still quantifiable.

In other words, it can be earned and it can be lost.

That's a scary thought. If God's love can be measured, it can be used up. And with all the sin in the world, it would make sense that God's love would eventually run dry.

There's a flaw in that thinking, though. John 3:16 doesn't talk about WHY God loves us, it simply states that He does. God's love is unconditional, and I've grown up thinking that God's love is unconditional because there's a whole bunch of it.

That's now how unconditional works, though. Unconditional means that love is literally outside of conditions.

God doesn't love us because of what we do, how we act or who we are. God loves us BECAUSE we are. 

Consider the relationship between a parent and a child. No matter what happens between them, the son will always be the child of the father. If the father's love is based on the fact that the son is HIS son, then it will never change. It will never dissipate, and it will never grow or diminish based on how the son acts.

That light makes God's love far more comforting, I think. There's nothing that I could do to change the fact that God loves me, because he doesn't love me for the things I bring or don't bring to the relationship. He doesn't love me because of my talents or my looks, and certainly not because of my faithfulness.

God loves me because he created me and because God is love, and I will always be his creation -- regardless of the things I do in this life. God's love is unrelenting, it's a wall or a wave. It's unbroken and unfailing and constant.

What an example, and what a fresh way of thinking! If we are made in his image and we are called to reflect him, then we are called to the same love -- love that it outside condition. That's why it doesn't matter how we're treated, and it doesn't matter whether or not we get anything back from the relationship.

I need to learn to love like that.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A look back at two years of progress

It's typical of me that I didn't realize it was Thursday until I'd finished writing.
When I started writing on this blog almost exactly two years ago, the original idea was to give myself a way to look back at the past and see God working in my life.

The first few posts were pretentious, at best. I think part of it might have been that I hadn't gotten into the routine of cutting needless information out of my writing, but it seems the very wording of the early topics is fluffy with the intent to deflect attention away from myself and my own issues.

They're filled with flowery language you might expect in some fancy bible commentary, and from my perspective, I did an awfully good job of pretending I was... something different. Take this next paragraph, for example, from the opening monologue:

"Now, that's not to say that we are not redeemed by Christ and signed by the blood of Jesus into the book of life, but though we are already saved, we are still surrounded by the sin we choose to participate in. The redemptive process, salvation, is nothing more or less than Christ's every day good work to make us more and more like the Father."

Uhm, what? Sure, I believe those words, but I feel like they were written by somebody else -- or at least with the intent to sound like somebody else. The next post, written about making plans without trusting God, is a little better, but there's still a strong sense of distance between myself and the reader. I offer two examples and analyze them as though I've come through hellfire and brimstone with some sort of higher knowledge, regardless of the fact that I was likely more mired in issues of trust than anyone who dared read my commentary.

It wasn't until a few weeks later that the current framework for the blog began to take place, beginning with a post about my thoughts, my fears and my concerns after finding out that I'd lost a job that was supposed to help pay for my newly leased apartment. Here, though it's brief and slightly isolated, I'm finally honest with myself. I finally capture something real: the fear surrounding where I would live and what I would eat.

That kind of fear has hit me several times over the last two years, including my first few weeks at my current job. I had to borrow money from a friend to pay for gas, and was living on two top ramen packets per day until my second paycheck arrived.

The fear hit once again when I was terrified that I'd managed to somehow strand myself in Finland without enough money to get home, and recently, fear arrived at my doorstep upon discovering that I was several thousand dollars in debt to the government after some mistakes on my taxes.

The Lord, faithful and true, took care of me and provided just enough to make it through having lost the job back in March of 2013. I got an unexpected care package of food from a family member that August to help me through those tough financial times, and God managed to barter down the price of a re-booking to get home from Finland so that I didn't have to borrow any money.

So as I struggle to wrap my mind around the next challenge, even after God blessed me a few weeks ago, I've never been more glad to have started this project and stuck with it, though spotty at times. If there's anything that I've learned through reading a few of the early posts, it's how God has developed a deeper honesty through my writing than I had before.

I'm better at threshing the wants from the needs, and I'm becoming a little bolder when asking for things. It's a process, and a slow one at that, but I feel as though God is setting pieces in place for a big move all at once.

Most of all, I see God's hand in all of this. It's an important reminder that God has taken care of me in the past -- and as God doesn't change, he will continue to care for my needs in the future.