Thursday, January 26, 2012

Loving the Unlovable

The camp my family serves is situated in a beautiful lake setting about 30 minutes from town.  Since we live and work here, “running to the store” is something we actually have to plan into our day.  Today was just such a day. I headed out this morning and had several quick stops to make before taking on shopping at the super center grocery store.  You know which one I mean.  These trips can often be overwhelming since I try to get much done in one trip to limit the time and expense spent on the road.  But today, I rather enjoyed the time shopping, smiling at strangers, chatting with the employees.  On the way home, I sang loudly, offering praise to God, which I do only when I’m alone in the car.  God thinks I’m making a joyful noise, but others, not so much.  And I’m okay with that.

As I turned on the last county road nearing home, I came upon a man going only 40 mph.  Since the posted speed limit is 70 mph and I was in a safe area to pass, I gave my signal and started around the man.  Much to my surprise, he sped up.  I gave it a little more gas thinking he must not realize I was passing.  Boy was I mistaken.  Not only did he realize I was trying to pass him, it was his mission to make sure I was unsuccessful.  When my speedometer read 60 mph and he was still gaining speed, I slowed a bit to get back behind him.  Now, I would like to tell you with my best Christian attitude that my wonderful day continued on. But it didn’t.  I became angry and was tempted to call 911 and report him for unsafe driving.  Then I scratched that idea and decided I’d follow him and when he reached his destination, I’d give him what-for on his rude and dangerous actions.  But my safety monitor kicked in and I had visions of getting shot or stabbed.  Nix that idea.  “Keep thinking, Traci.  You’ll find a way to put him in his place.”

While vengeful thoughts swirled in my head, his blinker came on and he turned into the parking lot of his liquor store/bait shop/home.  In that moment, all the anger left my body and I was overcome with pure grief for this man.  He lives just a few miles from me and unfortunately, this is not the first time our paths have crossed.  This man is perhaps the most miserable human being I’ve ever met.  I’ve never seen him smile and just his presence can drain all happiness from a room.  I honestly think I’d rather have dinner with Ebenezer Scrooge than this man.  I thought of how his life must be suffocating with hopelessness and I wonder if he knows Jesus.  I think he probably does not.  My heart was saddened to think of living life with no hope and apparently, no love.  In that moment, I thought to myself, “Take away my job, my home, even my family, but please don’t ever take away my Jesus.”  And I began to pray fervently for this man.  And I prayed for forgiveness for my ugly, sinful thoughts.  I asked that God will give me the courage to share the love of Jesus with this man.  Not just verbally, but with my actions.  I’ve heard many times the ones who need love the most are those who are the most unlovable.  I don’t have what it takes to love a man like that on my own.  But through the Holy Spirit living in me, I can love the unlovable.

But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.  If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.  ~ Matthew 5:44, 46-48

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Creating Cuts

Can worry and faith co-exist?  In my feeble mind, they can.  But God’s Word tells us they can’t.  In James 1:6 – 8 we read, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man; unstable in all he does.”    As I learned from A Confident Heart, by Renee Swope, worry is just a coat that doubt wears well.  When I worry, I’m doubting – doubting God.  

It’s like a movie – you can’t play and pause it at the same time.  It seems my life is lived that way.  When life gets stressful and I begin to worry, I hit the pause button and turn to God.  I tell myself to trust Him.  I read His promises and I believe them.  I instantly feel safe and secure in Him.  Until I hit the play button – and all the faith and trust disappears as the worry and doubt creeps back in.  

In making a movie, there are thousands of pauses; the director says “cut” for countless scenes. The backdrops are moved, costumes are changed, and lighting is adjusted.  The editors then splice together these scenes to create a continuous flow of action for the finished film.  When we, as the audience, watch the film, there are no ‘cuts’.  We don’t see the hundreds of splices in the film.  It’s almost as if they don’t exist.  But they do – they are just so frequent and small that we don’t even notice them. 

So how do I move my life from the pause/play effect to a finished film with continuous action?  Instead of my morning devotional and a “pause” every few days when life gets crazy, I have to create these countless “cuts” in my daily life. 

  • ‘Cuts’ when I send a quick prayer up to God to help me in this moment. 
  • ‘Cuts’ when I walk away for 30 seconds to ask God for patience or temperance. 
  • ‘Cuts’ when I look out the window and praise God for the majesty of His creation. 
  • ‘Cuts’ when I stop talking (and thinking) long enough to hear the small, still voice. 
With ‘cuts’ throughout my day, I can continuously live my life trusting in God.  And the need to press pause for long periods of time will fade.  My life will be lived turning to God with frequent and small periods of time throughout the day.  People around me won’t even see my ‘cuts’.  But they will see the expression of them in the way my life is lived.  My prayer is that God would be evident in even the most seemingly insignificant tasks and the joy of my salvation contagious to all those in my life. 
“Pray continuously” ~1 Thessalonians 5:17

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Are You A Gamer?

I’m not a huge fan of video games, although I do adore one in particular that stories two brothers racing through a world of magical clouds and mushrooms to save the distressed princess.  And from time to time, I enjoy exercising through virtual sports.  But that’s about the extent of my video gaming.  No, I’m not a gamer. 

My husband on the other hand, loves video games of all sorts.  One of his favorites features a hero I call Ted.  That’s not his name; he just looks like a Ted to me.  Ted is in search of artifacts of great value and importance.  He begins his trek with only a cryptic map and his physical skills.  Unfamiliar with the territory, he must rely on his own intuition and deductive reasoning. 

Along the way, Ted collects trinkets that have no monetary worth, but they are invaluable, nonetheless.  These trinkets equip him for challenges and perils he will face on his journey.  Without them, Ted can’t continue forward and often dies.  The trinkets are required to survive but they don’t come easy.  They are often hidden in a crocodile infested swamp or among savage natives.  No, they don’t come easy, but with each small victory of obtaining another trinket, Ted is better equipped and more experienced to conquer the greater challenges that lie ahead. 

I’ve seen my husband play this game countless times and I’ve had no interest at all.   Why would I spend time as a cartoon man traveling an unknown land of great danger for a fabled treasure?  But just today, I’ve seen the game in a whole new light.  I relate to Ted.  We’re a lot alike.

As a Christian, I too am traveling through a world that is foreign to me.  I don’t know what lies ahead but I know there are challenges that I’m not yet equipped to handle.  So God has me on a journey of collecting trinkets.  They can’t be bought but they are indeed priceless; faith, wisdom, hope, forgiveness, love and patience just to name a few.  How do I discover these trinkets as I travel through life?  Well, just as Ted has a map, so do I.  God’s Word gives me all the direction I need, if only I’ll follow it.  Each small challenge I face in life allows me to gather these trinkets in greater measure.  And as they increase, I will be better equipped to fight the dangers of this world and take hold of the prize that lies before me. 

While Ted and I share a great deal in common, there is one major difference that makes this story worth telling.  Ted is chasing after a treasure that may not even exist.  And if it does, it’s only temporary; only valuable in his world.  The treasure I’m chasing – it’s eternal.  It’s worth fighting for.  And worth dying for. 

Today, I look forward to the challenges I will face.  God has equipped me for this day.  Today’s victories will prepare me for tomorrow’s journey.  So when I face a difficult situation that I’d rather not deal with, I’ll remind myself “I can handle this.  I’m a gamer.”