Monday, April 19, 2010

Surviving Nairobi

I had never been so miserable in my entire life. My family and two others from my congregation had been traveling on a mission trip to Tanzania for nearly two days, and we'd finally landed in the airport in Nairobi, Kenya. I don't think there's a single chair in the entire Nairobi airport, and I know there's not a single restaurant. My brother and I were both dehydrated and throwing up. The theme songs from "The Brady Bunch" and other old TV shows were playing over the loudspeakers. It was without a doubt the weirdest, most excruciatingly agonizing twelve hours (that's right, TWELVE HOURS) of my life.

After a short plane flight, however, we finally reached the Kilimanjaro airport. Within the hour, we were on our way to a restaurant, a hotel (a bed! a shower!), and, though I didn't know it yet, the most incredible two weeks of my life. We were still in the van on the way there when my little brother looked out the window in amazement. "Sissy, sissy, look!!" So I did. Words can't even begin to describe what I saw. With the Milky Way as a backdrop, a million pinpricked stars stretched out across the sky. It's cliche, but I've truly never seen anything so beautiful. My brother then said, and I quote, "This is the best trip ever! I love Africa!" And he was right. All the "blood, sweat, and tears" we endured to get to Tanzania were eclipsed by all the amazing things we experienced once we got there.

Life is like the Nairobi airport. Granted, unlike the Nairobi airport, it can be wonderful at times, but most of us would agree that life is no picnic. It can be really hard. However, we can get through the Nairobi experience through the knowledge that someday we'll finally get to Tanzania; we can make it through life by the knowledge that someday we'll finally get to heaven. Let's take a look at the words of Peter:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold, which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:3-7)

As Christians, even at the deepest, darkest part of our lives, we have hope. And it's not just a passive "Oh, I sure hope this happens" hope-- it's a LIVING hope. It's active. We get our hope through Christ's resurrection, through our Christianity and faithful walk with God. What is our hope? To obtain an eternal inheritance: heaven. Read Revelation 21. (No, seriously. Go read it and then come back.) As wonderfully beautiful as these descriptions are, they are just the earthly manifestations of what heaven will actually be like. We just can't even comprehend with our temporary minds how wonderful heaven will be. Note Peter's word choice in the passage above, too: "FOR A LITTLE WHILE... you have been distressed." Two days of agonizing traveling was just a fraction of the two weeks I would spend enjoying my trip. In the same way, our earthly life is only an infinitesimal speck in comparison with eternity (James 4:14).

Too often we feel like it's too hard. Like we can't go on. We feel like giving up on heaven. Does it make sense to give up on getting to Tanzania just because the Nairobi airport is awful? Of course not! Even though trials can bog us down, we can never, NEVER give up. Instead of discouraging us, trials should make us want heaven all the more-- they should be another spur toward our eternal goal.

You might have heard the old song, "Heaven Will Surely Be Worth It All":
Often I'm hindered on my way,
Burdened so heavy I almost fall.
Then I hear Jesus sweetly say,
"Heaven will surely be worth it all."

Heaven will surely be worth it all,
Worth all the sorrows that here be-fall.
After this life with all its strife,
Heaven will surely be worth it all.

Many the trials, toils, and tears,
Many a heartache may here appall,
But the dear Lord so truly says,
Heaven will surely be worth it all.

Toiling and pain I will endure
Till I shall hear the death angel call.
Jesus has promised and I'm sure,
Heaven will surely be worth it all.

"We also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)

~green eyes :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dancing with God

(Note: This post will mostly be applicable to teenage girls. I'm sure you can find application even if you're not a teenage girl, but that's my audience.)

Girls are always looking for Mr. Right. That's why we love chick flicks (or chick books): there's always a seemingly perfect man involved. It was true in the 1800s when Jane Austen wrote about Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and it's true today, in the age of Edward Cullen and Jacob Black. There's a longing inside all of us girls for that one special guy, the perfect guy who loves us unconditionally and treats us like a princess. The one we can talk to about anything. The one who can solve all our problems. Wanna know a secret? That guy exists. The problem is, we're looking in all the wrong places. We look for the perfect guy among imperfect people.

The truth is, people are always going to let us down. Don't get me wrong, this doesn't mean we shouldn't love people. We should. But people are imperfect. To expect perfection from imperfect people is unfair to both sides, and it's only going to leave us disappointed. So what are we supposed to do? If this is true, all hope is lost, right? The perfect man isn't out there, and all our Prince Charming hopes and dreams are shattered... right? WRONG!

If there was ever a master of perfect, unconditional love, it's Jesus Christ. If there was ever a man who treated his bride like a princess, it's Jesus Christ. If there was ever a man we could talk to about anything, it's Jesus Christ. If there was ever a man who can solve every problem, it's Jesus Christ. See, Jesus is that perfect man, the one we've been looking for, our "Mr. Right." And yet, we find it so hard to be content with him until we find our earthly "Mr. Right." Why? It doesn't make any sense!

You might have heard the expression "Dance with God; He'll let the perfect man cut in." I love this analogy-- it's so perfect. Think about it. The dance is like life. Think of it like a waltz; the guy leads, and the girl follows his lead. If God is the guy in the dance of our life, we will follow His lead. We will submit to His will for our lives. 1 Peter 5:6 says, "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time." His plans are better than any of our plans could ever be, and if we'll only let Him work it in our lives, it'll be better than anything we ever dreamed. To be a good dance partner, we can't "step on God's toes", so to speak, and try to put our plans before His. But let's go a little deeper. Would you want to dance with someone who was dying to dance with somebody else? Something tells me that wouldn't be too enjoyable. If we're not content with Jesus, we can never be happy, and I can't imagine He likes that too much. Now, I'm not saying romantic love is bad, or that we shouldn't fall in love with an earthly person. God certainly doesn't think it's bad-- He's the one who instituted romantic love in the first place! But right now, we're dancing with God, and He needs to be the focus of our heart. If we look into His eyes, someday He'll say, "There's this guy I know that would be great for you." And introduce us to the man that's right for us. Of course, this is where the analogy falls apart, because our dance with God doesn't stop when we meet our earthly Mr. Right. A relationship without God will ultimately fail no matter what; but if a relationship between two people is centered on God, it is the strongest relationship possible. "A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." -Ecclesiastes 4:12

Here's the clincher: whatever relationship we're in, it all comes down to the fact that we're dancing with God. It's up to Him to let a man step into our lives, and He is to be in control of our lives no matter what. Until then, we're to be content in Him and leave our lives up to His plans.

"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith." -Hebrews 12:2

~green eyes :)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Using Your Barriers

At my church camp, we play a game called the Flour War. It's basically Capture the Flag, but with a little twist: each team is given "flour bombs" (tissues rolled up like sleeping bags with flour inside them) to throw at the opposing team and "kill" them. Oftentimes there are cars parked all along the battlefield, some belonging to the Blue Team (or the winning team) and some belonging to the Green Team (the losing team). Before we started last year, our Blue Team general told us to use the other team's barriers against them. While they set up their cars to hide behind and defend themselves, we can use the cars offensively to sneak closer to the enemy flag.

Obviously, our war with Satan is much more serious than a church camp Flour War, but there are some similarities. First, there is a war, and as Christians we are soldiers of Christ. We don't get involved with the sins of the world because we want to please our "general", Christ (2 Timothy 2:3-4). The other "team," Satan wants to win just as bad as we do; he is not a passive enemy. He can sneak around in the woods of our lives just as easily as a person playing capture the flag, so we have to be on the lookout for him (1 Peter 5:8). God has given us both an offensive weapon, His Word, and defensive armor in the form of faith, truth, righteousness, and salvation (Eph. 6:10-17). And just like in the Flour War, we can use the Devil's barriers against him.

How often does God use bad things for good? Look at the story of Joseph in Genesis. Joseph was sold into Egyptian slavery by his own brothers, then put in jail for a crime he did not commit. Personally, I can't think of many situations worse than that. However, the story doesn't end there. God used his awful situation to bring Joseph up to second in command in the most powerful nation in the world at the time. Look at Jesus' crucifixion. No event in history can possibly compare with the horror and agony caused the day men killed the Son of God. But through that event comes the greatest blessing we have ever received: forgiveness and salvation from sin! If we allow him to work in our lives, God can turn these bad things, things we would see as the Devil's barriers, into good things that we can use to work against Satan.

The first one to come to my mind is health problems. I have a very good friend who has a LOT of health problems and she's a teenager about my age. You have no idea how much I admire her. Personally, in her situation, I would have given up hope. I would have been mad at God for all my struggles. But my friend uses her health problems to reach people. Her joyful attitude alone is enough to make people wonder why she's different, giving her the opportunity to lead them to Christ. But she doesn't just take opportunities, she MAKES opportunities. When she's in the hospital, she goes to visit other kids who are sick and encourage them. She is the PERFECT example of using barriers for God and against the Devil.

However, not all of us have health problems. A more common barrier is technology. Now, I say "barrier"; but technology is in itself a neutral thing. Just like the cars during Flour War, its "goodness" or "badness" all depends on who's using it and what we're using it for. The first thing that comes to my mind is Facebook. I am a self-proclaimed Facebookaholic. Chances are you got to this blog by clicking a link on my Facebook page. Like I said, Facebook is a neutral thing, but how much time do we spend on it? Are we wasting valuable time we could be using for the Lord? Do we spend more time harvesting for the Lord, or harvesting our crops on Farmville? Do we spend more time "facing the Book" than on Facebook?* Not only this, but there are several quizzes and applications on Facebook that Christians simply should not be a part of. One in particular that bugs me is Mafia Wars. I'm not saying you're going to hell if you play Mafia Wars or anything, but it's a game all about killing and stealing. As Christians, can we really be okay with that?

However, we can use Facebook for such great GOOD in the Lord's church. I have 404 friends. That's FOUR HUNDRED AND FOUR PEOPLE that see my statuses every day (in theory). That's how many people I can potentially affect. Pretty awesome, huh? So if I post a Scripture on my status, 404 people will see it. Some of those 404 people aren't Christians, so I'm potentially reaching out to them. Some of those 404 people ARE Christians, so I'm potentially encouraging them. And all I have to do is type a few words. Like I said, pretty awesome. And not only do people see what we do post, they see what we DON'T post. If any of you have non-Christian friends, you've probably seen some pretty raunchy things on people's Facebooks. Non-Christian people are going to wonder why we don't curse, why we don't post inappropriate pictures, why we don't take dirty quizzes. And that gives us an opportunity to TELL them why-- because Christ has saved us and we're living our lives for Him. (My suggestion for friends who post dirty things on Facebook-- we don't need to see that. However, they do need to see what we have to say about God. Unless they comment on your statuses or post on your wall a lot, I would hide them instead of deleting them. That way, you don't have to see their inappropriate postings, but THEY can see the Scriptures you post and your example and you can potentially lead them to Christ.)

In a completely different way, hard times in our lives can also be barriers. However, when we're at our lowest, God is at His highest. These hard times in our lives, these tests of our faith, lead to endurance (James 1:3). We have to keep in mind at all times that WE'RE CHRISTIANS. Even during hard times. That means that God is going to take care of us as long as we live for Him (Matthew 6:25-34). Hard times are another opportunity to praise God and thank Him for His goodness and His care. It seems to me the times we need to rely on God most are the times we try to rely on ourselves, but we can't do that! The more we need Him, the more He takes care of us if we'll let Him, and the more reason we have to praise and thank Him!

Henry Ford once said, "Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal." The trick is to not see barriers as barriers, but to see them as assets to our faith and the faith of others. If we keep our eyes on God and our goal, Heaven, everything else will be okay.

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." -Romans 8:28

~green eyes :)