Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Decided

Yesterday I attended a funeral. It wasn’t a normal funeral.  Of course, as I age, I realize there are very few normal funerals anymore. A normal funeral is when an elderly person passes away and his life is celebrated. People are a little sad, but they are able to focus on the good memories more than on their sadness. These days, I just don’t attend very many like that.  Maybe it’s because as I experience more of the changing seasons of life, I have started to identify with the people who are left behind after a funeral. I just seem to feel more of their pain. Maybe it’s because, of the funerals I have attended in the past two years, none have been normal. As a matter of fact the one I attended yesterday was a former student, a young man. I listened as his father spoke about his family’s love for his son, and about the devastation his loss is leaving behind. This father was clinging to his faith in God in the absence of anything else to cling to. Completely broken, he eloquently spoke of “Our Boy Ben” as his talk was titled. He demonstrated a deep, deep strength as he, without trying to make sense of his son’s death, spoke of the emptiness they all felt in his absence. We wept. I think we all wept at some point. And then we went home. We went back to our jobs. We went back to our children. We went back to our houses. Yesterday evening, we went back to our kids’ ball games. We went back to our school functions. We just walked away and went back. Our world just inconsiderately kept spinning.  Last night as I drove home after work, tired and ready for sleep, I thought about my week. I thought about the things my mind often drifts to, like complaints about various things. My mind complains about the weather. My mind complains about the traffic. My mind complains about the slowness of the McDonald’s line. My mind complains about the length of time a traffic light takes to turn green, and my mind complains about a million other insignificant, meaningless things that go on around me every single day. I thought of these things with the funeral of a young man in the backdrop. I thought of these things while the sound of his father’s voice rang in my ears telling us how much he didn’t want to let his son go. I thought of these things knowing I was going home to my children who are strong, healthy, happy, smart, beautiful, and most importantly, with me. That’s when I decided. I decided that, at the minimum, I would no longer allow my mind to complain.  I will no longer focus so much on things that are meaningless and insignificant. That’s what I decided. So I rolled my windows down, turned my radio up and just I drove home on a beautiful spring night with the radio up and my hair blowing in my face.
This morning I thought about that beautiful drive and I wondered how many opportunities I had lost like that because my attitude was negative? How many drives home, late at night could have been just as beautiful, but I missed them because I focused on being tired, or working too much, or the stoplight, or whatever, instead of focusing on the moment I had right in front of me to enjoy? Then I thought of all the other moments I let slip by. Instead of being frustrated at the lady in the post office line with 17 eBay packages to send and 13 money orders to buy, maybe I could have actually looked for an opportunity to brighten a day for someone else in that same line. Instead of asking why (over and over) I always get the slowest line at Walmart, and why they always seem to need a manager right after I commit to the spot by placing my first item on the conveyer belt, and then actually taking the time to post my displeasure with my Walmart line choice on Facebook, how many times could I have used the opportunity to pray for a friend or send a text of encouragement, or to glorify God for the money to buy what I need at that store. There are probably a million other moments I have missed: thousands of opportunities I’ll never get back. But I have decided. I have decided that if my world is to keep spinning, that it will spin with a little more consideration. If my world is to keep spinning, it will spin with a little more love for the strangers around me. If my world is to keep spinning, it will spin with a little less selfishness and a little more gratitude. And if my world is to keep spinning, it will spin with a little more thought given to those moments that were so meaningless to me…before I decided.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Early and Latter Rain

If I had to pick a favorite New Testament book, I think it might be James. James is so “call it like I see it” with his letter to the early Christians. He simply does not mix words when it comes to his way of writing. His book is basically a list of important concepts that mature Christians should follow and understand. But in his presentation he uses a very convicting and direct tone with his readers. There are a couple of places in his letter, however, where he takes a tone of encouragement to hold on in the face of trials, discouragements and persecutions. He does this in chapter one and again in chapter five. In chapter five verses 7-8 he breaks from a very convicting part of his letter to say, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See [how] the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (NKJV emphasis mine)  As I read this, I began to wonder what he meant by the early and the latter rain. I found that the phrase is also used in Deuteronomy to describe how God will bless the Promised Land of Israel with the “early and latter rain.” God was talking to the Israelites about making a transition from Egypt where the farmers depended on a river for their water with practically no rain, to a land where the crops were watered almost exclusively by rain. This is significant because in Egypt the hardest working farmers had a better outcome. Those who spent countless hours digging irrigation ditches and hauling water from the river had better crops. But with that culture probably came a very prideful mentality.  Each farmer is the one who created a successful outcome. It would be very easy to say, “Look what I did” because they were in a land where hard work definitely paid off.  I’m sure self sufficiency was the norm. However, these people were transitioning to a very different kind of land. This land had springs that flowed out of hillsides, and through the valleys, and, unlike Egypt, it had rain. There are basically two rainy periods in Palestine, one in the fall (the early rain right before planting the winter grain crops) and one in the spring (the latter rain that allowed the final growth and maturing before the harvest of the grain.) Without these two periods of rain, the grain crops which they would come to depend so much on would not survive. If God did not bring the rains, their entire culture would be ruined. One of the biggest differences between Egypt and the Promised Land came down to self sufficiency versus dependence on God.
When I lived in “Egypt”, I was able to work hard enough to make something happen in my life.  I prided myself in my hard work. I felt a sense of satisfaction that I was able to accomplish things, both in my walk with God and with my life in general.  But when God transitioned me to the “Promised Land” I had to learn to depend on Him, much like the Israelites had to depend on Him for the rain which watered their crops. If I’m honest, at first, I really missed Egypt. I liked knowing that I could make the crops grow with my hard work. It was satisfying to look at my beautifully tended fields and be able to recount all the blood, sweat and tears that went into making them grow. I liked my self sufficiency. But then God did something in my life. He moved me out of Egypt into a different kind of land. This is a land that is unlike anything I had ever known, and unfortunately, to get there I had to go through a period of storms and trials, much like the Children of Israel would have faced in the desert as they transitioned to their new home. God had to take me to a place where my hard work and self sufficiency were worth very little. He took my family through a storm that we could not have survived without His mighty hand holding us. Each day, He met our needs, and we could easily see that those needs were met by divine provision.  People showed up with things we didn’t expect that were exactly what we needed at that time. Our financial needs were met out of people’s generous giving. Most importantly we had enough physical strength and mental energy for each day, but they were enough for that day and that day only, much like the manna eaten in the desert-there were no reserves. None could be saved for tomorrow in case tomorrow ran short. Each day we had to depend on God’s provision again, and each day He was faithful. The storm that transitioned me from “Egypt” to the “Promised Land” was the most difficult season of my life, but it prepared me to receive the greatest gift I could ever imagine and that was entering into the abundant life God has for each of us. It is a place where total dependence on Him is coupled with the joy and abundance found in a truly intimate relationship with our Father.  Dependence on and a complete trust in God to show up every time we need Him is almost impossible to achieve without the desert experience. The storms of life show us that God is faithful, that He sees us and that He knows the very intimate details of our lives. If He simply moved us from “Egypt” to the “Promised Land” without the desert experience, we would spend so much time worrying if the early and latter rains were going to come, that we would fail to see the abundance and beauty of the inheritance God had promised us.  We would not be able to rest, simply trusting that in the due season God will show up and the rains will come.
My question today is, “How much do you depend on God?” Are you in “Egypt” still self sufficient, making your own way, trusting completely in your own ability to make the crops grow? Are you in the “desert,” with no crops and no hope of any crops, just waiting (with no reserves from yesterday) for God to show up with today’s manna? Or are you in the “Promised Land,” that place of spiritual and emotional abundance coupled with complete dependence on Him? No matter which land you are living in, there are seasons that are dry and extremely difficult, but if you truly embrace the gift God has given us, you will walk through them doing as James suggests, establishing your hearts, because you know that the coming of the Lord is at hand.  He will be faithful and when you need it, in due time, He will bring the rain.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Just Getting Started

I recently read a book of Beth Moore's where she said something like, "If you feel compelled to share everything God shows you, you may be a teacher." I guess you could say I fit into that category. I can't help but talk about what Jesus does in my life. As I begin to spend more time sharing my journey, I hope you can learn from my time spent in study, from my experiences, and most of all from my mistakes!