Friday, June 3, 2011

In Praise of...

I can't imagine having a hot, saucy, extra-cheesy pizza sitting in front of me without eating it. Sausage, pepperoni, maybe onions and mushrooms if I'm splurging! But that's just me. I have a nearly irresistible urge to eat a freshly-made pizza.

Food seems to have an open door policy for many of us. We diet and swear off of many things, but put our favorite foods in front of us and the diet begins anew "tomorrow." Funny people, we are. It's difficult to stop eating something we like so much.

If there's one thing I can learn from a good pizza it is this: if we collectively desired to serve God as fervently as we down our favorite foods, we'd certainly change and things would begin to change around us.

Matthew 5:14-16
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

First, let's frame the discussion: "You are the light of the world." You are the antithesis of the darkness. You are the difference-maker. And why? Because God has desired for you to be placed on a stand - to give light to everyone around you. . Knowing that changes the way I wake up and the way I go about my day. Knowing that changes my mind-set, my thought processes. God has lit a light for all to see. What am I doing with that?

Second, let's consider the goal: ".. and praise your Father in heaven." The ultimate goal is that the world, so impacted by the light would ultimately praise God. The lamp's purpose is to be lit. But a lit lamp in an empty room is useless. The purpose of lighting the lamp doesn't end with giving light - it ends with what the people see once the light is lit.

Third, let's consider the process: "...let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds..." Phrased another way: we are imparted with a certain light that dispels darkness whose ultimate goal is bringing praise to God; therefore, we are to do good deeds. We are not to do good deeds so that we get the light, or retain the light, or get a better stand. We are the light, we were placed on a stand. Now, we are to do good deeds. We are to do good deeds with the express intent of bringing praise to our Father in heaven.

Fourth, a question from the passage. The last verse states, "...your Father in heaven." In all the good deed doing, it is nothing if we don't acknowledge and credit our Father in heaven. We will have missed the goal. How do the ones impacted by the light know that there is a Father in heaven? We tell them. We tell them at the beginning, or tell them at the end. We make it overt or quietly tell them when they ask. Each situation is different, but you have to tell them, somehow. Ultimately, those impacted by any good deed we do must see that it is done for and to the praise of God. Don't forget the goal.

For me, the next time I see my favorite food, I'll consider - have I desired to serve God as much?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Irrational Fears

I started climbing, in part, because I was afraid of heights. Not so afraid that I wouldn't go close to the edge, but I felt uncomfortable - that the structure or ground might just give way and I would plummet to my death. I started climbing because I no longer wanted to be a slave to irrational fear.

How is that fear irrational? It's irrational not because one shouldn't have a healthy fear of falling - so as to take precautions, to think, to be sure of one's next move. No, irrational in the sense that two people standing side-by-side on the edge of a cliff are equally as safe, yet one may feel safe and the other may feel afraid.

Fear is related to not fully understanding the gear and systems that keep a climber safe. The more one comes to understand how the equipment is made, what is made out of, how it is tested, and how it performs on an actual climb, the more one comes to trust that it will hold a fall.

Fall is scary, but the first fall is the worst. It's difficult not knowing whether the equipment will hold. Will the rope break? Will the metal come undone? Will the safety backups fail? But after a fall one finds that they hold just fine. The second fall is not as scary. The third, the fourth, it begins to come naturally. A fall, a catch, start climbing again. In fact, the more one falls on the equipment, the more one trusts it!

I think that the adventure of climbing and overcoming of fears is a physical manifestation of what happens in our relationship with God. Consider the following verses which speak clearly of God's provision for us:

"Then Jesus said to his disciples: 'Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable are you than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?" Luke 12:22-26

Have you been trapped in a state of fear - wondering where provision would come from? Have you spent hours or days - even weeks, months or years - worrying about the outcome of certain events? Have you frantically made decisions in the last hour weren't sure how God would come through? I have!

At the end of each of those thoughts is the issue of faith and root question: are Jesus' words true or are they not? And if they are true then it is contrary to faith to also be afraid. Faith and worry are related: the more faith grows, the more fear and worry recede. Find yourself worrying? Cultivate faith.

Two people can stand on a cliff and one can be afraid and the other not, though both are equally safe. Likewise, two people can trust in God, and one will worry and the other will not.

So consider, how often have you recognized God's provision in your life? Sure, you've "fallen" - sometimes due to your own decisions, sometimes because of circumstances out of your control. We all have experienced that. The common thread in the one who is less afraid, less worried, is that they have recognized and given credit to God for "catching" them. They have experienced falling and seen that God still provides. The more times God provides, the more their faith grows.

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith." Luke 12:27-28

If God's words are true, then he takes care of us. And if he takes care of us, then we have no reason to worry or be afraid. If you believe that, then cultivate faith in the midst of worry.