Monday, June 22, 2015

Blessings Amidst Trial

I once heard an analogy that went along the lines of this:

There once was a girl walking through the jungle. Suddenly a tiger jumped out and began chasing her. She ran until her path abruptly ended at a cliff. With nowhere else to go, she jumped and grabbed onto a vine on the way down. Temporarily out of harms way, she breathed a sigh of relief and looked down to see how far the cliff went. On a ledge below her stood a second tiger, snapping up at her feet while the one above stared down at her.
"At least the vine will hold," she thought before noticing two mice, one black and the other white, gnawing at the vine.
The tiger above represents the past. The one below, the future. The mice are day and night, the uncontrolled passage of time that brings us ever closer to our end. But this isn't the whole picture. For before the girl on the vine is a bush of strawberries growing out of the side of the mountain. She plucks one and eats it and how sweet it is.

"What's the point of this story?" you may be asking yourself.
The point is simple. Sometimes we are too caught up by the fear of our past and future, or the anxieties of the day to day life that we fail to notice the blessings placed right before us.
This is more common than you'd realize. In fact, there's a story in Genesis 21 that shows a similar sort of point.

The beginning of the chapter shows Isaac being born. As the chapter goes on, we see some tension between Abraham's family and his wife's maidservant, Hagar, and her son. Feeling like her son's inheritance might be in jeopardy, Sarah tells Abraham that she wants Hagar and Ishmael to be sent away. God promises Abraham that He will take care of Hagar and Ishmael, so Abraham does as Sarah wishes and sent them off into the desert with some water and food for their journey.
When the water runs out, Hagar and Ishmael begin to sob, knowing they would soon die in the harsh desert air if they couldn't find any water.
Verses 17-19 say this:

God heard the boy crying and the angel of God called out to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid, God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand for I will make him a great nation."
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

Just like in the tiger analogy, Hagar didn't notice a blessing right in front of her (the well), because she was too busy grieving over their apparent demise.

I think the key to noticing these blessings is praise.
Too often, our first response to poor circumstances is fear and despair. But in our fear, we forget who God is, what He has done for us in the past, and what He can do for us in the future.
But when we find ourselves afraid, the best thing we can do is bring our fear to God. Don't resist it, just say to your Father, "I am afraid," then remind yourself of who He is.

Someone who has seemed to have mastered the art of praising God through the trials is King David.

Countless times in his Psalms expresses his deep fear and anguish only to turn right around and start praising God despite his present circumstances.
But David isn't the only one who I've seen be able to do this on more than one occasion. Just recently, a good friend of mine released a book of poetry entitled Flowers In The Darkness where she does just what David did in his Psalms.
It's refreshing to read Davidic Psalm styled poetry about life, God, struggles, and beauty from a current and relevant voice. From someone living in my day and age, facing similar trials as I have.
We all could learn from David just as Denica McCall has.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Their Path vs. My Path - Destructive Comparisons

Three months ago, I began a long trek through the gospels. At one chapter a day, I have finally finished. My method was simple. Read through the chapter, underline things that stick out, go back through the chapter with a journal and write down the underlined bits and thoughts/comments/cross referencing.
What better way to wrap up my journey through the gospels than with my favorite chapter in all of the gospel narrative? If you have never read John 21, you really should. It is packed full of awesome stuff. From the way people react to difficult situations, to trust. From what it looks like to actively follow Jesus, to insecurity. The sheer number of things this chapter alludes to is enough for me to spend several blog posts dissecting, but I shall only focus on one.

When most people think of John 21, they think of the all too familiar passage where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him in verses 15-17.
There are many speculations about this passage. What Jesus meant by "Do you love me more than these?" in the first verse could mean a variety of things. Did Peter love the Lord more than he loved his fellow disciples? Did he love Jesus more than his fellow disciples loved Jesus? (For Peter often claimed to have devotion that outweighed the others.) Or maybe, did Peter love Jesus more than he loved these things (his job and his fishing gear)?
Whatever it is Jesus exactly meant by the question, we don't know. Maybe Jesus wasn't specific on purpose. Maybe he phrased it the way he did so Peter could bring to mind whatever he might be putting before God in his mind. Whatever the case, I do believe the threefold question was designed to stand in contrast to the time just a week or so before when Peter denied Jesus three times.

While this is a good passage, people often don't know that the third time Jesus says, "Feed my sheep," isn't the end of the conversation. In fact, it's not even the end of His thought. Within the same breath of saying, "Feed my sheep," Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."
As explained by John, who was both listening to this conversation between Peter and Jesus and lived to see Peter's famous upside-down crucifixion, Jesus said this to "indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God."(v. 19)

As you read on, Peter looks back over his shoulder while he and Jesus are walking and talking, and sees John following them. Why John followed them, he doesn't say, but Peter does seem concerned as to what God's plan is for John as well. He asks, "Lord, what about him?" (v.21)
There's some history between John and Peter you should know. Basically it goes like this. Jesus had about 70-80 disciples. The Twelve were his closest. The others would follow most of the time, but the Twelve rarely left his side and were with him during most of the most important things. There were three of the Twelve who were even closer than the others. Simon (who Jesus called Peter, which means "the rock"), John, and his brother, Andrew. Not much is said about Andrew, and, honestly, I think that's because he got it better than John or Peter ever did. If you notice, Peter and John were always trying to prove which one of them was the best. They both wanted to be Jesus' favorite. It kind of makes you wonder if the reason John refers to himself as "the one whom Jesus loved," as he did countless times through out his writings, was because he felt left out after Simon was given a new name by Jesus.

So naturally, with all this competition going on, Peter wanted to know what the Lord had in store for John. Just like Peter, we often look at what God is doing in other people's lives and wonder if God is handing us the short end of the stick. I mean His will in their lives looks so much better than what He's doing for me.

Sometimes, I think, we get so distracted looking at God's path for someone else that we stumble off our own and get lost in the woods around us. According to Jesus' reply to Peter's concern, He seems to hold similar sentiment as I do.

He says, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?"
Jesus wasn't saying John would live forever or anything like that, but asking Peter if he would still trust and love his Lord even if His will was for John to live forever while Peter died.

What I think this all comes down to is whether or not you trust God's will in your life. Yes, His will for someone else's life may look more exciting, fun, or glamorous, but each path has it's mountains, struggles, and pitfalls. We just don't always see that in another person's life because we're looking at it from the outside.
If the answer is "Yes, I do trust God's will in my life," then you shouldn't worry about whether His will for someone else is better than his will for you. 
We just must stop comparing our lives to other's and start trusting God's plan with wonder and faith.

Your path may seem narrow and rocky, but God has some glorious things to show you along the way.