Christian Life ...

Christian Life ...
Christian life is meant to be a life of bearing much fruit. What does that look like? How do we get there? This blog will record thoughts and meditations about living a life striving to be a fruitful branch.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

3:16

For the last few years, I have been employed as a customer service representative. Let me tell you, the Customer Service day can be a lot of things, long and mundane, but it is not uneventful. Answering about forty to sixty calls back to back is an exhausting thing to do. Still the most exhausting part of my job isn't the talking, the frustrated callers or the repetitive questions. What really does me in the two computer monitors that take up nearly two thirds of my visual field. Even with the blue light inhibiting lenses on my glasses, my eyes still feel drained by mid-morning. Anyway, the point of this post is to share a simple but unique Holy Spirit experience which took place inside of those monitor screens, that has proved to be a very valuable to me.

Through the course of the day while taking calls, those energy sucking screens in front of me are filled with numbers: dates, identification numbers, group numbers, phone numbers, digital clocks and timers. The observation, or phenomena of note is that in the last few months I have repeatedly seen the numbers 3 & 16 paired together. People with dates of birth on March 16th have come to my attention far more than should be expected based on probability, and my eyes continue to fall on little ticking timers as they fall upon 3 minutes and 16 seconds. On the clock, "3:16" tells me that I have an hour and forty five minutes left of my shift. While that last example is pretty compelling on it's own, 3:16 has greater significance. It is, of course, the reference to one of the most well know verses in the bible:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16
I learned this verse when I was three years old. Fast forward now and I'm 27 with about two decades of legitimate academic and emotional understanding of John 3:16 and it's relation to my world view and identity as a human being. I admit, I felt somewhat patronized by this simple spirit nudgings towards the most fundamental of verse and it left me kind of puzzled. 

To explain some of the gravity of this observation some context to my life in the immediate is important to share. And it's very good news. It so happens that few months ago I got engaged to my best friend, which has given me a base line state of carefree joy. Over the past few years, my battle against negative thoughts, which is quite evident from past post on this blog, resulted in seasons of my life where I didn't have joy even remotely like this. In those seasons I found decision making to be so difficult that I frequently didn't make any decisions until I had no other choice. Since finding Elizabeth, my bride to be, I've gotten a lot better at this. I purchased a car, and planned for and organized events months before hand. These are mundane accomplishments but they marks of big changes for me. However the change was more than joy. I always had joy. It was just complicated by mental and spiritual struggle with negativity. Once I became set upon proposing, and especially after she said yes, that I found myself filled with this foreign feeling of clarity. At first I didn't recognize it. It was exhilarating, but I was uncharted territory. I don't recall a time when I felt so comfortable jumping into future planning. So, in this carefree joy that sprung from this clarity, my fiance and I dove right into planning our wedding and preparing for our life together. It's wonderful. But in the unfamiliarity, my spirit got a little lost for a number of weeks.

This is when the 3s and 16s showed up. Was this some supernatural take over of my computer screen? No. Is it as grand and expansive as another shocking appearance of 3 & 16? No. But it was a beautiful little example of how the Holy Spirit can work. The numbers in front of me are no different than they've always been, but God pointed out the 3s and 16s to me as if highlighted. At first I took the repetition of seeing the numbers of the reference of this famous reference to be a reminder to take it easy on myself. I saw it, smiled, giggled a little bit, took a deep breath and moved on. I am loved. Simple enough, right? But when I kept seeing it is when I started to feel somewhat patronized.

But the more I thought about it, it called me deeper. God doesn't patronize. That's not how the spirit works. Upon further thought, I found it to be a terribly simplistic view to see John 3:16 as only confirming God's love for me. God's love described in John 3:16 is for everyone. It's not just about me. The scope is so much greater. While, that was a good conclusion it didn't satisfy for me. That was too simple a thought for the pure oddity of these numbers coming to my attention over an over again.

Eventually, I resolved to look at John 3, to try to come to a greater understanding of this all-so-familiar verse by looking at its context. That pointed me in a far more compelling and applicable direction that jives right a long with the concept of this blog. Take a read:

John 3:1-14 
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Here's where I want everyone to put a star or some symbol of **ALERT** as a note in their bible.  There's no end quotes! Jesus keeps talking! And goes right on to the words of John 3:16. And if it wasn't for the pesky heading below there would be no option but to group these two sections together.

For God So Loved the World

16 “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Thinking about John 3:16 and the verses after it on their own is okay. These verses are dense with theological value and spiritual significance. But connecting them to what Jesus said to Nicodemus adds some other wrinkles. What does it mean to believe in Christ? What does it mean to be "born again"? Since those are the operative actions Jesus mentions to gain eternal life and entrance into the Kingdom of heaven we really ought to know how that works right?

When Christ talks about being born again he talks about being born of spirit and water. What is water but something that is life giving? Think about Christ's context. In an arid climate like Palestine water was life. Consider next how the new testament Greek word for spirit pneuma and the Hebrew word ruah, add context to this understanding (See definition of spirit in full at www.biblestudytools.com). In summary, The Hebrew word's "use almost defies analysis but some emphases are discernible" ranging from wind, to breath, to feelings, vital power, life force, God's creative power of life, or the human will. The new testament greek word pneuma more specifically relates to intelligent being, psyche and the part of a human's personality that allows them to interact and relate with God.

If water is new life and spirit is feeling, vital power, psyche and that what is in me that allows me to interact with God, being re-born in those sounds like entering into a new state of mind. When we become followers of Christ we live in this odd duelist reality. We have sinful temporary bodies that are not going to be renewed on our own. From dust to dust is how this iteration of bodies on earth will progress for every human for all time. We can't go back to being babies. We can't start over. We can't undo our sin. We can't be born again physically, but when we first believe in Christ and accept His Lordship upon our lives we are given access to the wonderful counsel of the Holy Spirit.

The story of Nicodemus hits me pretty deep. While I don't even come close to rivaling this respected Pharisee as a religious scholar, I identify with him. He's seeking and he wants to know more. He want's to know so much that he's sneaking around at night just to try to figure out more about Jesus. I understand Nicodemus' perceived indignation, when he comes all of this way, presumably to ask some specific questions, and even before he asks anything Jesus suggests the impossible, especially since Nico was living in a pre-pentacost world where the Spirit behaved differently on earth as it does now.

Jesus loves to flip things upside down. Christ is telling us to love him and be dependent upon him in our spirit. The idea of being birthed again in spirit is a representation of God in the role of mother, which is pretty cool. Being born again of spirit and water, this implies a relationship. Let us not forget that. Birth creates the first relationship any human has. That child-mother bond. When things are good, I want to talk to my mother. When things are bad, I want to talk to my mother. As I physically and drawn to communicate with my mother, I must remember the level of respect, familial intimacy and closeness in that mother child bond creates is how my spirit should bond with the spirit of God. Here's where I notice I'm like a spirit toddler.

I wish we got a look at Nicodemus' response to what Jesus says here. Did he go away frustrated? Did he get it?

Like Nicodemus, I like to think that my intellectual efforts will get me through. I like to think I can think my way through everything. Lots of time, that just leaves me frustrated. I think I get it all and then the Spirit of God flips things upside down.

As a man of God, clarity is something I need. But I know that for me to be the Kingdom worker that I want to be, Christ must be the center of my life. If I want to live with the energy of eternal spirit life that I have been born again into, I have to be intentional. In my celebration and new found vigor for planning after engagement, my disciplines faltered a bit. My spirit got lost in desires and efforts of the flesh, good desires and good efforts of happy exciting flesh, but still flesh. This opens my eyes fragility of my spirit and the human spirit in general. For years I prayed for clarity and direction, and then when I find it, I find that even it can pull we away from my spiritual unity with my savior. How telling is that.

Because of the life renewing power of grace, we can born again in the living water of Christ that washes our inequities away and by this grace our internal self can be born again of spirit so that it looks like Christ. Christ spirit in the maturity of a newborn, within a suborn, sinful, adult, human body.

John 3 talks about this newness of spiritual birth. Reading it again put me in my place. It reminded me how much I need my Lord. It's good go remember that we are small. The mighty get low and the low get high is a reality in God's upside down Kingdom. The big shots like Nicodemus are told to become like a baby. Sometimes, in our successes we need to be reminded that it's not by our strength. What I have learned from this, is when I am well, I will seek God. When I am unwell, I will seek God. When I don't know what I am doing I will seek God. But I will seek the Lord in my clarity as well. Everything I have came from God and anything I can plan is subject to God's will for my life. He is in control. Let us, like toddlers, as we are in spirit, lift our arms to our heavenly Father/Mother, daily looking the way of our loving Creator. Let us keep our eyes on our Lord and brother, Jesus Christ who will guide us with His Spirit as we navigate this remarkable congruence of life on earth, that is the Kingdom of already and not yet. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My China Shop

Having read the entry for February 10th in Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest, I was struck by an idea of idolatry that before I had never completely grasped. Chambers' words always pack a punch when I read them. They always rattle around in my head like a bull in a china shop. Which oddly enough, in this case, is a good thing, and a metaphor I will return to later.

Here's the entry:

Is Your Ability to See God Blinded?





Is Your Ability to See God Blinded?


The people of God in Isaiah’s time had blinded their minds’ ability to see God by looking on the face of idols. But Isaiah made them look up at the heavens; that is, he made them begin to use their power to think and to visualize correctly. If we are children of God, we have a tremendous treasure in nature and will realize that it is holy and sacred. We will see God reaching out to us in every wind that blows, every sunrise and sunset, every cloud in the sky, every flower that blooms, and every leaf that fades, if we will only begin to use our blinded thinking to visualize it.

The real test of spiritual focus is being able to bring your mind and thoughts under control. Is your mind focused on the face of an idol? Is the idol yourself? Is it your work? Is it your idea of what a servant should be, or maybe your experience of salvation and sanctification? If so, then your ability to see God is blinded. You will be powerless when faced with difficulties and will be forced to endure in darkness. If your power to see has been blinded, don’t look back on your own experiences, but look to God. It is God you need. Go beyond yourself and away from the faces of your idols and away from everything else that has been blinding your thinking. Wake up and accept the ridicule that Isaiah gave to his people, and deliberately turn your thoughts and your eyes to God.

One of the reasons for our sense of futility in prayer is that we have lost our power to visualize. We can no longer even imagine putting ourselves deliberately before God. It is actually more important to be broken bread and poured-out wine in the area of intercession than in our personal contact with others. The power of visualization is what God gives a saint so that he can go beyond himself and be firmly placed into relationships he never before experienced.

"Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things…" Isaiah 40:26. The devotion points to a moment when the prophet Isaiah literally compelled the people of Israel to look away from the idols they were putting before God, and turn to God who created them, their idols and everything around them. There is such a tendency to look at the actions of the Nation of Israel and more or less laugh at their ineptitude for following a faithful God. Still, in so many ways, Christians today do the same things. 

James MacDonald's book, Lord, Change My Attitude Before it's too Late, is a study about the  grumbling attitudes of the post-exodus Nation of Israel that lead them to wander, stuck in the wilderness for 40 years. The concept is that these same attitudes are what hold us back today from "promise land" living, and leave us wandering in a spiritual desert. As the basis for this idea, MacDonald cites the Apostle Paul. Here is the section he cites in it's full context with some things that stand out to me in bold:

1 Corinthians 10:1-11   Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Warnings from Israel’s Past

Now I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea,  and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food,  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.  But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things became examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did.  Don’t become idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to play.  Let us not commit sexual immorality as some of them did, and in a single day 23,000 people fell dead.  Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes.  Nor should we complain as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as examples, and they were written as a warning to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.
These are quite the convicting words, and James MacDonald clarifies they mean we cannot take lightly God's judgement of the Nation of Israel's attitudes that ran contrary to God. Paul declares that these records of Israel's stumbling and God's judgement should be read as examples to us. Of course the redeeming love and sacrifice of Christ is where our redemption comes, but if we continue to live in these same attitudes (covetousness, complaining, criticism, doubt, & rebellion)  we will not live with kingdom freedom and spiritual fruitfulness, but we will shrivel and wither in the metaphorical wilderness. The payment has been made for us to live with the mentality of the Kingdom-of-God-reality that "already is but at the same time is not yet". But God's judgement is still true and still very real.

My last post about little things talked about looking for God's gifts in the small things. I believe this mentality turns our eyes to God. Reading this devotion from Oswald chambers is one of the moments I can look back on as a testimony to the living Word of God. Now while good old Ozzy's writing are not scripture, the spirit used this devotional to highlight this story in Isaiah of Israel's rebellious idolatry and the prophets call to "wake up".

Chambers' words hit me hard. "Is your mind focused on the face of an idol? Is the idol yourself? Is it your work? Is it your idea of what a servant should be, or maybe your experience of salvation and sanctification?" The idea that I could idolize my idea of what a servant should be, or idolize my experiences is incredible.

This resonates with me because I am overwhelmed with the idea of what kind of sacrifice it takes to serve God and not myself. There are times where my brain is bouncing between complications and fear and worry and potential error, about taking a step in the direction of the spirits nudgings upon my life. I'm overcome with doubt, and in that very attitude, I am rebelling against God. I am seeking comfort in my thoughts and comfort in my actions, instead of trusting that God's call is in fact good for me. I complain internally that I'm in the wilderness, moaning like the nation of Israel, when if I  would just look up, I can see how much more I have been blessed. My blessings from God are bigger than small. I am provided with extravagantly more that manna from heaven.

To be a fruitful branch in this world, to produce kingdom fruit, we must see God. The lies, these blinding attitudes that Chambers and MacDonald are pointing to, distract us from our God. The Prophet Isaiah calls the nation of Israel, and according to the Apostle Paul us as well, to wake up,  take off the blinders and look up. God want's our relationship. To see him we must look at the things he's created. We are imperfect people. Our perceptions on what is right service or what our experience of sanctification should feel like is flawed. God has more for us than what we can grasp in looking at ourselves. This is because of God's extravagant love for his creation.

In the words of Oswald Chambers this is the key: "Wake up and accept the ridicule that Isaiah gave to his people, and deliberately turn your thoughts and your eyes to God"

The key here is acknowledging when our minds are on free for all. My mind does this easily. We need to find a way to turn our focus to God. We need wake up calls daily. We need a spiritual alarm clock. For me, words like those of Oswald Chambers and the Apostle Paul can function as that kind of wake up call. My mind is delicate, and for some reason I've placed value upon the idea of considering every little thing and griping internally about every little sensation. I've built a little china shop out of my thoughts. I've adorned my intricate little thoughts, these doubts, personal complaints, fears, and meta-cognitions, with little saccharine decorations, meant to highlight their significance, their value. I've taken my fragility and put it on pedestal to display for others, so that everyone would know how tormented I am by my thoughts. I need let the bull in the door. Exulting and assigning value to my to my struggle is selfishness. Because of this, I didn't mourn the fact that the bull of Oswald Chambers' words turned my china shop into a pile of dust. My only struggle now is to keep it that way and let the wind of God's spirit blow it all away. Look up! Wake up and heed the ridicule of Isaiah! Read the context of Ozzy's quoted micro-verse. It is powerful: Isaiah 40:12-31

Father God,
As we look to you, let us see your love.
As we turn our eyes from lesser things, let us know more of you.
As idols fall to dust, as we surrender our will
give us vision.  

As we look at Your creation let us not forget Your might
As we feel Your power let us not forget your provision.
As we experience that goodness, each breath, each smell, each pleasant touch,
          let us in turn give thanks and sing your praise!   
Lord, in the past you have given the blind sight,
You will do it again now.
You have mended broke bodies,
You will mend wounded hearts now.


          Spirit of God, fall fresh again.

Amen

 



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Importants of the Small Things, the Little Blessings



A photo posted by Ricky Rubio (@ruuufio) on

The photo above is from Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio's Instagram. Over the past year and a half Ricky Rubio has experienced a lot of loss. Not only as a member of the Timberwolves, but in more consequential parts of life. First on October 25th 2015 his Coach and good friend Flip Saunders past away from Hodgkin's Lymphoma (A beautiful story about the life and impact of Flip Saunders can be read here via the StarTribune). A few months later Rubio also lost his mother. To add to the grief, just recently, in the middle of January, Rubio's grandmother passed away.

Loss is hard, but hard times offer opportunity for life refection. I saw Ricky Rubio's instagram post and I found it comforting to see a million dollar athlete who had experienced so much loss, sharing such an undeniably special moment with a child. When trial comes it's hard sometimes to see the good in the world. The little things are key.

In my personal bible study, I recently felt inexplicably drawn to read the book of Ecclesiastes. Based on my struggles with negativity, it seemed odd that I would be drawn to this book, but nonetheless it was enlightening.

The concept if Ecclesiastes in my assessment is the, "In everything turn turn turn", idea. There's a time for everything and in all things there's not much meaning. At first thinking of that seems hopeless. If everything is futile what is the point of anything?

But one of the most eye opening ideas in this book is the encouragement to be present. Because Solomon has seen the full extent of human ambition. Because he knows deep down that in the grand scheme of things he can't become big enough to rival the rest of the world or God. He concludes, in his wisdom that there is a lot of good in enjoying life:

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 The Message (MSG)

Make the Most of What God Gives

18-20 After looking at the way things are on this earth, here’s what I’ve decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that’s about it. That’s the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.

Life is God's gift. Everything in life is God's gift.

I have lived much of the last handful of years of my life stuck in my brain, fighting through the spirals and darkness of my thoughts. Within the toil, within the everyday, it is essential to find enjoyment. God is glorified when we enjoy the gifts he's given. He is honored when we acknowledge the small beauties of his creation.

Even when life is hard, when tragedy sets in, when there's pain and darkness, God's promises are sure and his gifts are good. Small things are not small in significance. The idea that "God deals out joy in the present, the now," is key to plugging into God. As people of Christ's body we must come to grips with the promises of God. He has been faithful, and our faith in the now must have that at it's foundation. I'm not certain if this is the rational for Ricky Rubio's focus on seeing the blessings of life, but or me, to be alert to the small things is to be plugged into the moment. This is when we see the gritty truths about the world. We see the realness within the people who surround us. We can see Christ in the face of a stranger. We can see a moment where we can encourage a child or make a elderly person laugh.

God's call doesn't forget the small. Sometimes following God seems like one big step and one that is too hard to do. In reality, it's a lot of little choices. I aim now, to enjoy life's small things. The subtle tastes I enjoy, the colors in the sky, the rich smell of nature, and the sensation of an embrace, are all gifts. Let us all enjoy them so that we can fully grasp the depth of the love of our God. Scripture tells us in 1 John 3:1, of "the great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 

Psalm 36:5-6  The Message (MSG)

5-6 God’s love is meteoric,
    his loyalty astronomic,
His purpose titanic,
    his verdicts oceanic.
Yet in his largeness
    nothing gets lost;
Not a man, not a mouse,
    slips through the cracks.

  
This is good. Let is live a life with eyes and senses open to the small things and the little blessings. If our eyes are open to those, shouldn't the great love God lavishes be that much more evident?

Dear Heavenly Father, 
         Sometimes you feel so far away from me. Lord, thank You for this renewed understanding of Your identity as a good Father who gives good gifts. Lord, open my eyes to the works of your hand. Open the eyes to the gifts that you give me daily. Father, I thank You for your faithfulness now, and I open my heart to receiving the Love you have for me that is made clear by the out pouring of little blessings.
                                                                                                      Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Stealing From our Creator

A while back now Pastor David Berge of City of Lakes Covenant Church, and preacher at Resurrection MPLS worship service at Aldrich Church in South Minnepolis, (pfwehw ... deep breath) began a sermon series on the ten commandments. I can assure you, that if this description of Pastor Berge's role leading my congregation leaves you as rooted as a helium balloon, please click the link and learn more about my church community.

The idea of a sermon series about the ten commandments, immediately makes me squirm a little bit. Am I going to sit here and have someone, even a good friend, tell me what I can and cannot do? The greatest thing about this series was that it wasn't that way at all. It wasn't a direct personal "do" and "do not", but a study on how God provided these Commandments as rules to freedom.

One week, Berge preached on the "Do Not Steal" commandment and one part of it really stood out to me. This was the idea of what it means to steal from God our creator. To preface my interest in this comment, I will first review a portion a previous sermon series in which Pastor Dave used a book by fellow Twin Cities Covenant Pastor, Steve Wiens entitled Beginnings as a guide. In that book, Wiens takes the reader though the Creation story in Genesis. In doing this he points out how God continues to create within us. He shares lessons and thought pieces from each day of creation, expressing the many ways that God continues to help us grow, embrace change and experience new creation and new life.

In the chapter related to the Third day of creation, Wiens speaks about the Hebrew word zera, or in English, seeds.  

God Spoke: "Earth, green up! Grow all varieties
          of Seed-bearing plants,
Every sort of fruit-bearing tree."
          And there it was.
Earth produced green seed-bearing plants,
          all varieties,
And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
          God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning--
Day Three.

-Genesis 1:11-13

In this passage, God gives creation the ability to create. He plants seeds that we grow plants that will produce fruit that will hold seed that will grow more plants. God created perpetual creation. He gave even the simplest of his creations the ability to create. We have the same ability, both physically to reproduce, and more generally to come up with new ideas and to inspire one another. 

In this chapter, Wiens tells a story about a fundraiser he participated in where he and a few other men ran all the way across the Grand Canyon, in exactly the kind of sweltering heat as you would expect. They did it to raise money for The Keziah Project, a organization that helps Ethiopian women escape sex trafficking. 

Steve's uncle Ed, who ran that day as well, described the action of running an actual marathon, twenty four miles down into and back out of the Grand Canyon, like passing "..through the womb of the earth" (Page 65). Wiens relates this to the idea of bringing something into the world. Birth is good. Birth is beautiful, but any mother would tell you that it's extremely painful too. Like how birth brings good into the world, God created us to that too.

Wiens mentions that the value of the fundraiser was more than what first meets the eye. It wasn't just the joy and satisfaction of finishing an impressive physical feat or raising a bunch of money for great human rights cause that struck him the most. In addition to all  that it was the feeling of doing something that brought people together. He explained it as "being in the center of a very wide group of people who loved me and who supported me as we did something redemptive together" (page 65-66).  He felt like it started something new in him like the planting of a seed. It brought forth new life. 

Going forward in the chapter Wiens talks about viewing people with the assumption that they have "something in them (that) needs to be born" (page 67). God gives us gifts. He has given each of us something that we are made to do. Something that is designed to bring good into the world. Something like a seed in us that will sprout forth with fruit that holds inside of it, it's own seeds.

I feel this way when I write. I feel this way when I spend time with youth and when I collaborate with other musicians. These things bring me joy.

Back to the main point of this post, it is hard to conceptualize how a person could steal from God, especially when God created everything and has, as they say, "got the whole world in his hands". The point of this however is that when God created us, he created us with gifts planted inside of us and skills and abilities that we were made to use for His glory and His kingdom. This is fruitfulness. If we intentionally refuse to acknowledge our gifts, or refuse to use them as he has called us to, we are in a sense, stealing from God.

That hit me pretty hard. I can't count how many times people have told me how great a gift I have at relating to youth. I have felt the daily urge to write. I've felt the itch to share music. But when I feel this urges I have learned to cut them down. I tell myself they are impractical, because they are not money makers. I fear that if I spend my time doing these things that I am called to do that they will come to nothing and it will all be a waste of time. Let me insist, both outwardly to any readers of this blog and to myself, that what is practical is rarely redemptive. Practical decisions are, by their very definition, to insure comfort, to save face, to take care of me, to captain my own ship.

God has planted these seeds in me. He has given me these gifts to write and to perform music, and he has made me uniquely gifted in relating to people, especially youth. In my worry about what is practical I have forgotten what is missional. In worrying about my bank account, I have forgotten that I can't take the currency with me.

Because I am God's and he planted these seeds in me, the fruit that comes of them are His. In not using these gifts, in not acting upon the deep urging of my God given gifts, I am, and have been, stealing from my creator.

We have been created in the image of God, and are called as Christians to mirror Christ. In this way we are to be primarily merciful, sacrificial, self-giving, prayerful, relational, word focused, and creative people. In creating us he didn't make mistakes. He didn't put desires to create in my heart as a test so that I would learn how to choose more practical hobbies. He did not give me a heart for hanging out with youth so that I could only do that when it happens to come up.

God is a good Father and he knows how to give his children good gifts. He knows what makes me tick. He knows what things are "my jam" and what are not. He knows that better than I do. God doesn't expect me to build his Kingdom in ways that He's gifted somebody else. He desires for me to trust Him. Instead, I continually find a way to worry about the value of doing the things that actually give me vocational joy.

This is actually really good news, isn't it? Isn't it good that God has planted seeds in us that are made to grow fruit that in it holds more seeds? Isn't it great that he has given us unique gifts and promised to be with us?

I am learning how much I want to be good on my own. I realize that when I worry about being practical, and making the absolute perfect choice of what is best to do, I'm not trusting God, I'm clinging to my own safety. I'm like a child hugging a Christmas present that is too afraid to set it down. They are so afraid of losing it, that that they never open it. That steals from the giver. The child has to put down the pretty packaging and get to the actual gift inside.

I'm not planting the seeds that are inside me, at least not completely.

Once at a bible study retreat while I was a student at Gustavus Adophus College, a student from another school shared an memorable image. She said that she envisioned herself wrapped in heavy chains. However instead of the chains being locked, this girl saw herself clutching them. No matter how many times she had been convinced that God had graciously removed their burden from her, she eventually picked the weight of the broken chains back up again.

Let me state this clearly. This is NOT what it means to pick up your cross and follow him. We are not picking up a cross of judgement and following Christ, we are picking up a cross of redemption. This is an enormous difference.

Like that girl's vision, God intends to give us freedom. Freedom in exactly the way he created for us. One of the ways that he does this, is by planting these kinds seeds in us. By giving us gifts that will give gifts. This is good news. We have a God who created us out of the joy in His nature. His creation is built to continue to create. Actually, it's built to re-create. God has planted in us the seeds that will help grow the garden of re-creation. He's given us gifts that fit our vocation and our personal sense of recreation to lead to his re-creation of the world. God's redemptive purposes are in the works right now. The reconciliation of creation isn't passive. We, as members of Christ's vine, as parts of the body of Christ, His church, we are meant to be fruitful in our role.

I urge you. Listen to the desires of your heart. Listen inside of you to find the thing that makes you buzz. What excites you? What drives you crazy? Is there a way you are called, or people are calling you to work on those things that excite you or in opposition to those things that make you want to throw stuff?

One of the most remarkable things about God's law is that it is for our good. I am stunned by how much this idea of breaking God's law by stealing from him has effected me. It has shown me that the things that people have called out in me, the things that God has planted upon my heart are the things that give me real lasting joy. Not doing them, is stealing from God and stealing from my role in the redemption of the world.

Nonetheless, there is Grace for that theft. Only Christ followed God the Father's will completely. In him, God "made the One (Christ) who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Pray about those things. Pray for the Holy Spirit to provide you with wisdom and guidance. Ask the Lord if there are ways in which you are stealing from Him the goodness He has planted with you. Consider these words:

Forgive me Lord for the times where I have let what appears practical for my safety and comfort distract me from the gifts and inclinations you have placed within my heart. Gardener of Creation, nurture within me the seeds you have planted there, even some of them that I may not know yet, and use them for Your Kingdom purpose. Water them with your plans. As I look to you, remove from the soil of my heart the weeds that make it less fit for fruitfulness. Thank You Lord for your promises to work for our good. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit and Your living Word. Spirit help us to see in others, those things that must "be born in them". Give us vision. Lord, our strength is in You. Amen.