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Selfish Philanthropy May 26, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep.
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I was driving home yesterday and passed some young adults who were standing on a street corner holding Red Cross signs.  I saw one of them stop a passerby so I’m assuming they were canvassing for donations or something.  I started to think about what would motivate them to spend their time in such a way.  Yes, I’m sure its important…but it seems so far removed from the people that will actually be helped…such a small piece of an enormously big picture.  And how important is it really…in the long run…to gather a few donations for a service like Red Cross…?

And then I abruptly realized the nature of my own thoughts and hung my head in shame (well…internally at least since I was still driving).  I don’t know if this is true for any other Christians, but I know for me, I have evaluated where I invest my time in helping other people on the basis of its eternal significance.  If its not going to help connect people with God, I don’t value it nor do I see it as worth my time or contribution. 

No wonder people view us Christians as hypocrites.  Clearly I don’t just love people and want to help them in any way I can, to make their lives easier, to meet simple (or big) needs.  I love with an agenda…and that stinks.  And at the same time I somehow view my motivation, my contributions as more valuable than those of people like the young adults I saw standing on the corner.  How arrogant and self-centred can I be???

Whenever I walk through the student centre at Mac, there are groups of students raising money for this or that cause, promoting awareness about this or that social concern.  And I’ve trivialized it all…in fact I’ve scorned such activities as a waste of time…because they didn’t measure up on my eternal significance yardstick.  And yet my guess is that God is applauding their concern for others, the way in which they are obeying their conscience despite not knowing the ‘truth’. 

And me?  Well, today he’s challenging me that I need to learn to love…not work to advance a mission, fulfill an agenda and slap the label ‘love’ on it…but truly learn to love…everybody.

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Reduntantly Unique May 26, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep.
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Here’s a question that has always puzzled me…

There is something in the heart of mankind that longs to be needed, longs to do something that will make a difference, to feel fulfilled. In many ways we speak of being a Christian and bringing the kingdom of Christ to earth as our ‘mission’ and we talk of purpose and destiny…we compare being a Christian to being on a great adventure like Frodo in the Lord of the Rings. We emphasize how God has made each one special, gifted them, and placed them for ‘such a time as this’. All of these analogies and descriptions serve to feed this deep need to be significant.

And yet, we also are quick to say that if we don’t do what God has called us to do, if we don’t speak to that person God placed in our path, or take advantage of the opportunities before us…well, God will raise up someone else.  Somehow, God’s plan will go forward with or without us.

So…are we unique…or are we redundant?  Which of these truths (or perhaps parts of both) are solidly based in Scripture, and which are formed from our own reasoning to try and make us feel better?

Fulfillment May 14, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep.
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Today as I was going into the store to pick up my pizza, a man stopped me and asked me for change.  I said no, as usual. I’ve never felt comfortable responding to requests like this cuz I feel I don’t know enough to discern whether they genuinely need the money or are just looking for alchohol or something.  And I’ve always felt guilty about not responding.  He then stopped me on the way out as well and this time I ignored him.

As I got into my car I felt horrible. And something in me said that this time I should respond.  I felt like I should go back and give him $2.  That was the number that popped in my head.  So…I parked my car again and went back and asked him what he needed the money for.  When he said ‘food’, I gave him the money.  I then got back in my car and drove away.

And felt foolish the whole time.  I think some of it is that I feel for the person, how degrading it must be to ask for and be given small change.  And I felt silly giving him $2 when I’d just passed by him with a pizza. And should I have made more conversation…asked him more about himself, his situation…found out about his need?  I don’t know.  I’m praying God will teach me more.

But the main point of this post is a thought I had as I was driving home.  If I had felt impressed to go out of my way to provide him with a meal or arrange for him to get temporary housing or something more substantial than just giving him some small change…would I have done it?  Would I have responded to the prompting or dismissed it due to how inconvenient it would be?

And then I thought about how I would feel afterwards if I had done such a thing.  Sure, I might have felt a momentary irritation, but in the long run I would have felt like I had done something meaningful with my time, made a difference in a life.  How often do we complain about not being fulfilled, about our lives being too mundane and boring, about never having the opportunities to do something significant for God…and then we walk right by the potential opportunities he places before us because they come at an innopportune time or don’t look the way we anticipate?

Father forgive me for being so hypocritical, so willing to justify my inactivity and disobedience and for having the nerve to then complain about the consequences.  Teach me to respond to you, to trust you for discernment, to look for opportunities to touch lives even in small ways.

Awwww! May 14, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Life.
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I was driving home today and saw the cutest sight.  There was this field of long haired cows (they are funny looking).  And just along the side of the fence that ran along the rode, there were two tiny calves that were playfighting.  It was adorable.

I call special animal glimpses like a beautiful bird or a chipmunk…or this cute scene…my God smiles…cuz they feel like a gift from God just to make my day.

 Have you any cute or breathtaking animals or scenery this spring? What are your God smiles?

Vicarious Winning May 12, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Life.
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Yesterday I get a phone message from a party store in St. George saying I’ve won a balloon boquet for my mom for mother’s day and to call them and pick it up.

First…I never entered a draw.  Second, I don’t even know where St. George is let alone been to a party store there.  Huh???

Then I find out that my mom was in a store next door to this party store yesterday doing some scrapbooking.  The owner of the party store came over to ask someone else to do the draw for her, but before they did, she had my mom and the other lady present put in the names of their kids…so we could potentially win for them.  And then when the other lady drew a name…it was mine.  My mom was so excited…she won something….sort of…cuz well…I won it.  She’s even picked out the balloon she wants even though she wasn’t allowed to pick it up (actually she left me a choice between two apparently).  So now I have to go into St. George to pick up this boquet that I? won.

It made for a rather amusing tale…ha ha.

Does anyone out there have any really unique or special mother’s day traditions…beyond just getting together with family for dinner or something?  My mom’s birthday and mother’s day always fall wihin a day of each other and so it ups the ante of what I should do to make the day special…and I’m often stumped.

Homecoming May 8, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep.
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This Sunday, two of our young people came home from Bible school for the summer and they were asked to come up and share with the congregation how their year had gone.  I have to admit I had a jealous moment…how come they get to share about their year, and I, who’ve been working just as hard but has been home, don’t get to.  Then I thought, well, that’s just the point…I’ve been home.  But as I thought about it more, I think it has more to do with the Bible school thing, in particular Elim, than it does with just being away.  And that got me thinking some more….(lots of thinking going on here…ha ha).

I was talking with a friend the other day about my struggle to settle on the idea of heading towards graduate school.  I’ve got this concept of ‘ministry’ that makes all the time I spend studying seem like a non-fruitful endeavor.  She encouraged me that I am running the race just like Paul instructs us to, but I am running a cross-country race rather than a 100 metre dash.  The rewardss of the short-distance races are immediate and there’s always a crowd cheering the runners on.  But with cross-country, the reward is a long way off and no one sticks around to watch the runners.  That helped, but I still struggle. I find it hard when people ask me what I’m up to and when I say I’m still in school they kind of look at me like ‘oh…still…when are you going to get on with life’.  Maybe they aren’t actually thinking that…but thats what I feel.

No wonder those who feel called to minister in the marketplace get discouraged and feel like they aren’t understood.  How can we celebrate all that people do for God…not just the typical ‘ministry’ type things?  For example, what about having different people share each week, not just the returning Bible school students.  Could we celebrate with the accountant whose been walking with integrity despite pressures to compromise, with the janitor whose been praying over the offices where he works, the soccer coach who wants to instill in his team a sense of team work and accomplishment, the teacher who struggles to offer encouragement to her students in the midst of strict regulations about what she can and cannot say…and on and on?  Missionaries come and talk to us about all they are doing to serve God at their post…and while there is usually something about preaching and salvations, often there is a lot about building projects, playing with orphans, the daily grind of finding food, fixing automobiles, navigating relationships, dealing with government agencies, etc.  Somehow their mundane stuff seems grand…all sacrificing for the kingdom, but the everyday stuff of those who serve hear, who are building the relationships and the testimony of their lives here in order to prepare hearts for the gospel…just seems…mundane.  Why?

I’m not saying that we should honor Bible school students and missionaries less…I’m just saying we should honor all the others who fill the ‘pews’ of our churches just as much, recognizing the daily investment they make in building a highway for our God wherever they work and play.  We sometimes complain that the layman doesn’t see themselves as a minister of the Gospel and puts more weight on the pastor to do the ‘work of the kingdom’.  I think changing that mindset is going to take a certain infrastructure change in how we operate as churches…we can say a layperson is a minister all we want, but as long as we are only externally valuing canonical ‘ministry’ acts, the attitude that the majority of life is just drudgery and not kingdom living is going to persist.

Washing Feet May 8, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep.
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I was reading John 13 the other day – the passage about Jesus washing the disciples feet before the Last Supper and a verse struck me that I don’t think I’d thought about before.  When Peter asked Jesus to wash all of him, Jesus replied “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean…”  Then later he instructs them “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

While some think Jesus was actually instituing a ceremonial practice, typically this story is seen as exhorting us to serve one another, to be willing to do even menial tasks in demonstrating our love.  That’s a good thought, but I wonder if there’s additional meaning that can be pulled out.

The disciples would have cleaned up for the feast, taken a bath, whatever. The only thing that would be dirty is their feet from having walked to the house where they were celebrating.  Let’s think of clean for a moment, not in terms of sin, but in terms of the grime picked up from travelling through life, trudging through the fields, bumping into filthy things, getting bogged down with issues (I’m hoping you can follow my metaphors here).  For the most part, especially in our Western society, we are clean. We have enough food to eat, decent jobs, relatively good relationships, etc.  But there are always things we are carrying with us, a road weariness just from living here in a fallen world.

When we come to church, we usually clean up, put on our happy face, and look like everything is great.  I’ve often bemoaned the fact that church seems to be a place of masks – no one really has a clue the battles being fought in people’s lives and homes.  But if we looked down for a moment, we might see that the person sitting beside us has dirty feet…they’ve been walking a rough path.  Are we willing to wash their feet – to inquire as to the stuff they’ve picked up on their journey that week, to pray for and minister into that, to not attribute the dirt and grime to some failure on their part but to see them as worthy of honor and to serve them?  Are we willing to go beyond the songs and the sermon to be involved in people’s lives?

A fictional example to try to make this clear.  Say I’m in church sitting beside someone and they look great…all made up, singing at the top of their lungs.  Do I just accept that and part from them at the end of the service thinking everything is fine?  Or do I stop, lay down my agenda, my impressions, and really connect with them?  Maybe they’ve actually faced a lot of insults at work that week and feel beat up and I could pray for them and minister God’s acceptance.  Maybe one of thier children has been acting up and inside they are just tired.  Do we know these things about our fellow church members?  Sure we’ll care about the crisis moments…but do we take the time to care about the little things, the things that build up as road grime on our feets just from travelling through life?  Do we step back from our business and stoop to serve…to wash their feet?

To me, this goes beyond being willing to do menial tasks for the church in the name of serving. Sure…we could usher, or take out the garbage, or clean the bathrooms…but we could do that without every having to care about people, to serve people.  I think encouraging us to be willing to do even the unglamorous jobs is a valuable interpretation of this passage, but perhaps Jesus meant even more. Just a different take on the story?  What do you think?

Character May 3, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep, God.
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I was writing in my journal the other day, listening to record what I felt God speak to me and I wrote this…

“I rejoice as you allow me to shape your character, the image of me in you.”

The last phrase hit me.  I know that I’m created in God’s image, but I’ve never connected that with my character before.  I’ve always thought of character development as a serious business…you know…discipline and all that.  However, what if our ‘character’ is primarily the result of how we view God, the image we carry of him in our mind’s eye.  If we view God as angry or a taskmaster, our character will have a hard edge to it, we will be defensive and strive to earn love.  But if we view God as loving, kind, always for us, and so on…we will be softer, more loving and generous ourselves.  Those life-giving expressions will just naturally flow out of us.  Hence the idea that we are to reflect God to the world…but we can only reflect what we gaze upon.  Thus if we gaze upon our falsely contrived image of God, we will reflect a false image.  But the more we spend time with God and learn his true character, the more we will reflect his true nature.

Thus, character development is not about a harsh regime of discipine…but about cultivating a love relationship with our Father.  Interesting twist, eh?

God, My Teacher May 3, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep, God.
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Have you ever had the feelling that God must get frustrated with how often he has to repeat a lesson or re-teach you something?  Do you ever wonder sometimes, on an off day, if there every might come a time that he’ll give up and quit, deciding that you are just to ‘thick’ to get it?  I do.

But then I had a thought.  I love to teach.  I get a thrill out of working one-on-one with someone to help them understand something.  If they don’t really care, then I quickly get frustrated and will soon quit, leaving them to their own devices.  However, if they really want to learn but are struggling, I have unlimited energy and enthusiasm to explain and re-explain until they get it.  I love the challenge.  I love the reward.

Do you think possibly, that might be a reflection of the God who created me?  Could it be that he sees my sincere desire to learn and to please him and that his heart thrills to the challenge?  Could he love to find new ways to teach me about himself and his love and his ways until I finally get it…deep down inside?  Could the Teacher himself have a teachers heart? 

I’m thinking its time for me to relax and stop trying to figure out the lesson ahead of time to try to avoid frustrating God (silly me)…and trust that my teacher is capable, committed, and infinitely patient.

Flaws May 3, 2007

Posted by amybeth in Deep, God.
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Okay…I thought of a cool analogy today.  I don’t know anything about real diamonds and how they are evaluated/refined so this may not be entirely accurate…but work with me, okay.

Pretend you’ve just been given a crude diamond and told it has 10 flaws. You were also informed that if the flaws are found and removed, the diamond will be worth a million dollars.  I’d imagine you’d get that diamond under a magnifying glass and a bright light and start searching right away.  Every flaw you found would be a cause for rejoicing.

Now picture God.  He knows what we are worth…we are priceless.  But he also knows that we are flawed.  So he sent his Holy Spirit – his magnifying glass and bright light – to search us and find those flaws so that he can remove them and shape us into the valuable gem that he knows we are. 

Too often I picture God shaking his head with disappointment when he exposes yet another flaw in me.  And yet, if this analogy holds any worth, he is instead rejoicing.  My dad once spoke of the joy of repentance and I’m guessing this is a part of that.  The exposure of my weakness or error is not a cause for discouragement but a cause for celebration because it means that God can get into that area and restore it.  He’s not looking at each exposure as diminishing my worth but rather increasing it, bringing it closer to the full value he knows is possible. 

Its a totally different perspective. And if we truly believed this, we would turn our face towards the light and welcome him to ‘search us and know us’ as the Psalmist said.