Month: April 2015

Legacy

theAverageJen_Legacy

In light of current events, we need to consider what side we’re on…the side of love, or the side of hate. Either way, we’re leaving a legacy. What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

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Where to Go When You Just Can’t Stop

Blog_HelpAfter multiple times telling my daughter to shut down her video game, I was beyond exasperated. “If you don’t shut it down, I’ll do it for you,” I warned, hand poised to take control of the computer mouse.

“Would you please, Mommy?” She pleaded, hand glued to the mouse. “‘Cause I can’t STOOOOOOOP!”

The scene reminds me of all the times I’ve felt powerless to change apart from divine intervention. My attention is so easily divided, my affections so quickly diverted. It’s like the Apostle Paul said of his struggles, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

The good news is that change is possible. With Paul, we may cry, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” But God has promised to rescue us from the hand of those stronger than we are. In other words, those habits we hate yet can’t escape—God is able to set us free.

Just as my daughter recognized her inability to let go of that which so gripped her attention, and just as she asked me for help—we have a God who sympathizes with our every weakness, and gives us power to change. If we need help, all we have to do is ask.

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ my Lord.” (Romans 7:25)

Gone in an Instant

Tornado Aftermath from Google ImagesThe camera panned in as the funnel cloud tore through the subdivision across the street. I don’t know what the neighbor was thinking, standing by her window, videotaping the storm outside her door. Her hand was so steady, her voice so calm. If it were me, I’d be running for cover, even with the funnel cloud moving the opposite direction. But she seemed oblivious to imminent danger.

It must have been surreal, watching the world as she knew it come crumbling down before her eyes. Did she fear for her own life? Her own family? Her own house and things?

This tornado hit down about an hour from where I live—closer to home than any twister yet. For the woman behind the camera, it was inches away. Did the reality hit her as hard as it hit those across the street?

We see videos of hurricanes, tsunamis, typhoons, or tornadoes and are struck with the horror that faces the victims along with the fleeting thought of what if it happened to me? The thought washes away as quickly as the storm as we return to our daily lives. Are we ever sufficiently gripped with the reality that much of what we labor for could be gone in an instant? Can we honestly say what we invest our time, energy, and resources in is worth it if it can be so easily be destroyed?

I once watched a video of the Indonesian tsunami’s aftermath, and was taken by all the stuff floating through the water—stuff people had once invested their lives in…gone. More recently, I spoke with a woman who lost everything but her family to a fire. All she and her husband labored for…ashes and soot.

How easily we convince ourselves that material things are worthy of our labor, while the important things slip away unnoticed until tragedy strikes. The storms are ever closer, bidding us to open our eyes. Live for what’s important. Live for what truly matters. Live for what lasts. Don’t waste precious minutes fretting for that which is destined to fade. Stop. Now. Consider what’s truly worth living for.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

He Didn’t Die for This

Blog_PhilippineCemetaryHave you ever come face to face with death? I did, once—at a graveyard in the Philippines. There, the bodies are not buried six feet under, but in cement enclosures above ground. To reach the burial site for the funeral we were attending, we had to walk through a maze of these cement enclosures until we reached the back wall. There, the poor rent slots for their deceased loved ones. Because they can’t afford a permanent resting place, the remains are often tossed on the ground once the rental agreement is complete and the space is needed for a new occupant. While navigating the maze of tombs, it’s not unusual to encounter skeletons with skulls full of withering hair. It’s a sobering encounter with the reality of our own mortality.

A walk through life can often feel like a walk through that graveyard—every day surrounded by news of suffering. Even worse is a much-anticipated visit to a place meant to bring hope, only to find a mausoleum of death. It’s beyond unfortunate when a church feels like a mortuary—a place of meaningless ritual, passionless preaching, and meaningless tradition. Really? Is this what Jesus died for?

Reflecting on my journey through that maze of death, I realize one glaring truth. No man dies to live among the dead. No man lays down his life so others can live as zombies. And, to be honest, that’s what empty religion can do to a person. We appease our conscience with a weekly (or yearly) visit to church—stand up, sit down, repeat memorized phrases in droning monotone, and leave unchanged. And I must ask again…is THIS what Jesus died for?

There is much to be said about what Jesus DID die for. Still, we neglect to consider what he DIDN’T die for. And we can be sure he DIDN’T die so we can show up once a week in a pretty dress or snazzy suit, impressing others with a façade of pious humility. He didn’t die so we can drive up in our sleek sedan, drop a few coins in the bucket, and return after that miserable half-hour to a life of self-indulgence. He didn’t die so we can stand in a room full of strangers, together mindless robots repeating phrases that mean nothing to us. Believe me, NO man would die for THAT.

What is it that so moves us to go through the mindless motions, week after week, year after year? Why do we settle for infinitely less than what our Savior died for? Why do we live bound to our comfort zones and safe houses when he left his comfort and security behind to suffer and die that we can have LIFE that is truly LIFE? There’s a vast difference between walking dead while awaiting resurrection, and walking dead unaware, desiring for nothing more.

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8)

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Why Do You Look for the Living Among the Dead?

Empty Tomb from CrossCardsWhen hope dies, it’s hard to believe life can prevail.  We remain at the burial site—gazing upon what we’ve lost, unaware that something greater is destined to arise from the ashes.  Helen Keller once said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”  When Jesus died on the cross, those who had followed him closely were unaware that His death was only the opening of a greater door in which God was about to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that [they could] ask or think” (Eph 3:20).

The women who witnessed the miraculous were met with the question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). They earnestly came to Jesus’ disciples with news of the empty tomb, only to be met with disbelief.  It was as if they had come to a tomb of another kind—where hope itself was permanently laid to rest.  The disciples who’d walked with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry had mistakenly believed He’d come to set up an earthly kingdom.  He had been their hope of liberation from oppressive governmental and religious systems—a political Messiah.

When He died on the cross, their dreams died with Him; when they buried Him in the tomb, they buried their aspirations as well.  They did not understand Jesus’ destiny of suffering, predictions of death or promises of resurrection. They didn’t understand He had far greater things for them, an everlasting hope.

Many times we find ourselves in what appears to be a hopeless situation—a graveyard of disenchantment, surrounded by death.  Life has disappointed us; we have disappointed ourselves.  It seems that God has abandoned us to the grave.  We cry out for hope, but Heaven is as brass.  Alone in a graveyard of doubt and defeat, it seems that the promise of resurrection was nothing more than an illusion.

Yet it is when we have come to the end of ourselves that we are on the verge of finding true life.  When things seem most hopeless, we are closer to a breakthrough than ever before.  Why?  Because we finally come to realize that the things we were hoping in were not worthy of our trust to begin with.  They were incapable of sustaining us or providing the life we were looking for.  We finally seal false hope in a tomb—never to be revisited.  This is the beginning of resurrection.

When find ourselves at the entrance to life’s tombs, we have not come to a place of death:  we have instead arrived at the door that leads to everlasting life and hope.  Jesus’ death on the cross is an invitation to die to all our unworthy expectations.  His resurrection is an invitation to find hope that will never die.

(Originally posted by Jen on the Tears of Joy Blog)

To Infinity and Beyond

Blast Off from Google ImagesI thought I was finished. Actually, I never expected to even start. My initial plan was to post random quotes and verses on love for fifty days. That’s it. Nothing profound—just simple, everyday reminders of what true love is all about.

My journey took me further than expected. I originally thought I’d glean most of love’s definition from the most quoted passage on love—1 Corinthians 13. But the list of love’s qualities kept growing and wouldn’t stop.

My conclusion?

True love…is infinite.

It can’t be contained, confined, or defined. It’s greater than we can imagine, stronger than we can hope, and more powerful than we dare to dream. It’s safe, yet dangerous. Simple, yet profound. Beautiful, yet messy. Impossible…yet supernatural.

Love is so misunderstood, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a wonder we expect a small kitchen appliance to come with instructions, but we think such significant things as life and love come random and undefined. How do we expect to survive this planet if we don’t know what’s asked of us in the realm of love? It bears repeating that the extensive accomplishments of humankind are rendered meaningless if we fail in the mission of loving one another.

Do we really believe we’re stranded on this earth without purpose? Have we so suppressed the obvious order and design of our universe—all because we want selfishly to chase after fleeting satisfactions? Creation speaks loud and clear. We’re here for something greater. And we’re not gonna find it if we’re bent on selfish endeavors.

Love is the only worthy endeavor.

True love comes from an infinite God…who loves all he’s created without measure. He sacrificed so we can know and live in this love, for now and for eternity. So we can experience the infinite.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
 
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:15)
 
“We love because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
 
 “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.” (Romans 5:6-10)
 
True Love…is INFINITE (Day 51, #50ShadesOfTrueLove)

Victory in the Field of Broken Dreams

Sports Stadium from Google ImagesIt’s fascinating to watch the most stoic of sports fans erupt in various displays of emotion over their favorite team’s plays. Forget the game—I’d rather grab some popcorn and watch that typically passive guy become a drama king when the ref makes a bad call. The spectacle is far greater than the most exciting of sports competitions. And when the team wins? You’d think nothing could surpass the exhibition of sheer elation. And that’s for the pre-season games. Just wait until the play-offs.

So, the underdog team overcomes the odds and wins the big game. What next? There will always be another game, another season, another chance to win or lose. And believe me, emotions will be spent on those wins and losses.

What about the daily game of life? Emotions aren’t so readily displayed for the wins and losses encountered on a daily basis. If we’re honest about the latest news headlines, we see a lot of defeat. It can get pretty discouraging. Super Bowls come and go with different teams taking the ring, but still there’s news of unprecedented human trafficking centered around the event. The Final Four makes another round, yet would-be fans refuse to travel certain states due to bias and fear. Another team will take the NBA Championship this year, and still nothing can dispel the wars and rumors of war around the world.

I was around for the Chicago Bulls three-peat and four-peat and so on, yet in the years to pass witnessed different teams come and go. In sports, no victory is lasting. In life, the forecast seems increasingly grim. The world is a field of broken dreams.

What has the power to overcome the evil, fear, and hatred in this world? Martin Luther King Jr. once so eloquently stated, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Love alone has the last word, the final victory. As we celebrate Good Friday, we think of the words of the man who died on the cross for the sins of the world: “Father, forgive them—for they know not what they do.” Words of forgiveness. Words of healing. Words of love.

Words of victory.

Yes, this world is filled with unimaginable suffering. Most often, this suffering stems from the hardened hearts of men unwilling or unable to love. Yet in the midst of such suffering, consider these words of Helen Keller, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” And what is the one, lasting victory in this world of hate? LOVE.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

True Love…OVERCOMES (Day 50, #50ShadesOfTrueLove)