Thursday, September 24, 2009

Safely Home

One of my favorite authors is Randy Alcorn. I fell more deeply in love with God and his plan for the world and the new earth after reading "Heaven", a book that Alcorn wrote. He has also written a couple of fictional books, and since I loved his nonfiction so much, I decided to give one of his books, Safely Home, a try. When I sit down to read a book, I hope to fall in love with the characters, laugh out loud, maybe shed a tear, and generally be entertained. I don’t expect a work of fiction to change the way I think or feel about something as vital as my faith or how I pray. This book changed both my faith as well as how and what I pray for.

The book centers on two main characters and the relationship that they have with God and each other. Most of the story takes place in China as we see the unwavering faith of the Chinese Christians. Their fierce devotion to one another, to the Bible and to spreading the gospel is amazing. I won’t tell you anymore of the story because I don’t want to ruin it for you. The book, though fiction, is based on actual events that have happened to Chinese Christians living today and goes into detail of their amazing commitment to the Faith.

This book changed the way I pray. A big boast for a fictional story I know, but it’s true. I felt so moved by what the Chinese Christians go through and I sat there wondering if I could do the same thing. Could I wake up each day and ask myself, “Is this the day I will die for my faith”? Would I be willing to walk to church several miles in the middle of the night so that I could meet in a secret house church of believers? Do I love the Bible so much that f I was held prisoner I would survive only by meditating on the verses that I had memorized. I would love to say yes, and I hope I could, but I don’t know because I’m not in that position. But what I do know is that the Christians who are persecuted in various parts of the world, this very day, are desperate for a relationship with God. Brothers and sisters in the faith have faced death in 2009, because they refused to compromise their love for Jesus.

Safely Home has made me so much more aware of how fortunate I am to live in a free country, but painfully aware that I take that freedom for granted. Now when I pray I am asking God to give strength to the Christians who, that very day, are being tortured or perhaps even killed. When I get to heaven I long to meet some of the men and women who I’ve prayed for, the ones who perhaps died because they spoke out for my Lord.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Understanding The Prize

Did you ever wonder how Jesus was able to remain sinless? He was tempted like us in every way (“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” Heb 4:15). He endured scorn, loneliness, the burden of stress, and the shame and humiliation of all of our collective sin…yet remained perfect. I’ve been thinking about this lately. I know the answer to this and it’s so basic that I wonder why I haven’t seen it before.

Jesus knew heaven. He’d been there, and understood what it was like.

I think that’s it. Now, of course there’s more to it, but I believe that is the basic answer. Jesus had been in heaven before he came to earth. He had experienced its wonder, splendor, joy, etc. That’s why Philippians 2:5 is such an amazing verse when it talks about how Jesus was in the very nature God (and in heaven with God) but he left the glory of heaven to come to earth. That is a large part of the sacrifice that he made which we seem to often gloss over. He voluntarily came to this fallen earth, knowing his fate. But, he was able to endure because he understood what he was saving us for – and he had that goal of returning to heaven. At times, heaven and the goal of being righteous can seem a bit nebulous or overwhelming to me, maybe that’s why I struggle with sin sometimes.

When I lived in St. Louis I had a friend who was a runner. We were good friends and in order to get to spend more time together she convinced me to train with her to run a 5K. I agreed – although I knew it was no small task. We trained and had fun spending time together, but she constantly had to drag me out to train because I was not self-motivated. Then came the day we ran the race. We lined up at the starting line with 12,000 other people that first year - it was exhilarating. It was hard for me to finish and my time wasn’t exactly world record, but when I crossed that finish line…wow, it was great. I really felt I had accomplished something. The next year I happily signed up to run with her again. This time I understood the prize. I knew the feeling of accomplishment that awaited me at the end. That knowledge of the prize changed my motivation and desire. It was easier for me to train, to push myself and to sacrifice in order to do well in the race. I understood it.

Jesus understood it. He knew what he was fighting for – he knew what heaven was like and desired not only to be back there, but to give us the opportunity to be there as well and I believe that gave him the ability to endure more and push himself harder. I’m not trying to minimize his sacrifice at all, merely understand his ability to be perfect.

The past few weeks I have been struggling with a couple of things. I knew they were wrong – and yet I felt powerless. I had been praying about them for a while, yet honestly, still sinning. I confessed my sin to a friend (James 5:16) and asked her to pray for me and with me. Then I started thinking about Jesus’ understanding of heaven. I have studied more about heaven the past couple of years than I ever have before and I think I am actually aghast for not letting this motivate me more. I have begun praying that God will show me bits of heaven so that I can understand the prize I’m running for. I’m not caught up anywhere or having heavenly dreams, but I believe God is lifting the veil back for me little by little. This week when I was tempted to sin I started thinking about heavenly rewards, reunions with loved ones, walking through a field with Jesus, etc. It’s motivating me more to be pure-hearted.

Did Jesus want to bring God glory? Of course. Did he want to save the human race? Absolutely. He was able to do those things because he knew what was at the end. Jesus understood the prize – he’d experienced it before.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

If Jesus Were Me

It’s a dreary, rainy day so I’ve been relegated to my bedroom and off of my porch. The weather is really a blessing in disguise since I planned to do some badly needed yard work today but the rain has forced me inside. I’ve been going nonstop for awhile now and badly need this chance to relax and do some regrouping.

For the most part I have adjusted to being a single parent. I miss many things about being married, but overall I have a full and happy life and I don’t spend much time wishing my old life back. Wishing doesn’t change anything and it’s more helpful for me to remain in the present. This has been a tough week though. I have been overwhelmingly busy both at work and at home and have felt my patience and self control slipping more and more each day as my exhaustion increased. I want someone to hold me and tell me that I don’t have to do it all… but the reality is that I do have to do it all. My children need clean clothes to wear, food to eat and a clean place to call home as well as someone to give them a hug at the end of their day and make sure they are doing well emotionally, physically and spiritually. And so, I find myself on auto pilot half the time, drinking whatever caffeinated beverage I can get my hands on simply to remain somewhat functional. Last week in the midst of the madness, I read this during one of my morning devotionals:

What if for one day, Jesus were to become you?

It was the first sentence and it really caught my attention. In fact, I read the same chapter two days in a row. I can’t seem to decide…what if Jesus were me? I wonder how he would handle the daily situations that I find myself in. It’s more than wondering WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), the slogan that you see on bracelets and t-shirts alike. I am curious as to what he would do, but it goes deeper. I think God wants more from me than redirecting my actions all day long to align with some slogan. He wants me – my heart, soul, mind and strength to become like his. I want his heart – I long to handle things like Jesus did. I know there were MANY times that he was exhausted and pushed to his emotional limit. I wish so badly that I could see him in action and know how he did it – how he kept pushing himself when he was tired and weary - and yet perfect. Maybe sometimes he just put one foot in front of the other and kept moving. I’m sure that he was able to draw more strength from his intimacy with God than I have been able to.

So here it is, Sunday afternoon, and I’m facing a week that looks not quite as busy as last week, but definitely busier than what I enjoy. My prayer this week is to overcome, not to be overcome. I can’t do that on my own, so I will have to rely on God more and experience more intimacy with him and perhaps in a quiet moment he’ll comfort my heart and tell me I don’t have to do it all. That’s all I know to do.