Friday, September 30, 2011

Satisfaction Guaranteed

   If there has ever been a phrase that has been used far too many times, and which has led to a larger percentage of people who believed it to regret taking action once they heard it, this is it. Satisfaction Guaranteed. It's been used to sell everything from "Pocket Fisherman" to laundry detergent to vacation destinations. Some companies even take it one step further in declaring that if you're not "Completely Satisfied," you can return the item for a full refund.
   They'd have a tough sale with me on that one. I don't know about you, but I don't think I've ever been "completely satisfied" by anything I've purchased. I mean, sure, if my laundry detergent cleaned my clothes so well they all looked brand new, that would be great. But I wouldn't be completely satisfied. If it could also take my laundry downstairs, put it in the machine, then throw it in the dryer with a Bounce sheet, fold it nicely when it's dry, and have it waiting in my closet neatly pressed, we'd be getting closer to my being completely satisfied. If it then washed my dishes, cleaned my car and paid my bills, then yeah, I'd be good with that. But would I be "completely satisfied?" Probably not.
   But what if that were true? What if you saw a commercial on tv, and the salesman said "If you buy this, I will personally guarantee that if you use this product as intended, it will not only do exactly what we claim it will, but it will also do things for you that, while they might seem completely unrelated, they will all work together in a way that will guarantee you "true" success in whatever you do in the time you have left here on earth? What if he went on to say "Even when you believe you have failed from this point forward, this product will take those failures and turn them into success in the long term?" What if you were skeptical at first, but then saw people you know and trust who bought this product, and who swore that every word, every promise, was not only true, but that this product delivered far more than the commercial ever suggested? How quickly would you buy that product, no matter the cost?
   What we saw at church last sunday, and what we will see this coming sunday, are perfect examples of what I'm talking about here. Ben and Kristin Choitz (Mostly Kristin, of course) spoke of something they have bought into that comes with "Satisfaction Guaranteed." They want to permanently relocate to Africa to follow what they know with all of their hearts they have been called to do by God Himself.
   This coming sunday, we will hear Len DiCicco speak of what he believes with all of his heart that God has called him to do.
   In taking these leaps of faith, are they all experiencing moments of doubt? Fear? Lack of faith in their own abilities? Will they continue to experience those moments even after thay have taken these steps? Absolutely. Without question. Will they encounter moments when they believe they have failed? There's no doubt.
   But here's what we need to ask ourselves: What are they buying into here? What is this "thing" inside of them that is driving them to do things that very few of us would ever consider doing in our own lives? What is this "product?" It's a calling that they know without question God has placed in their hearts. That calling is different for each of us, but we all have one. And here's the beauty of it: The purpose for which they were called to do these things will not fail. How do I know this? Because God doesn't call people to fail. He calls people to be used by Him to accomplish His purpose, and in doing so, to experience a wealth of emotions intended to draw us more near to Him, as well as to draw others to Him by what they see of Him in us. Failure is impossible, because God does not fail.
   In the end, if we trust in Christ and follow where we are called, our lives will be more successful than we would ever have imagined. When our time here is over, and we meet our Lord face to face, we will be "completely satisfied."
   The best part about this product? It's absolutely free. All we have to do is ask for it.     

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A tree is a tree

Somewhere in the deep woods, far away from human eyes, a seed falls to the ground. It's shell breaks open and tiny roots begin to work their way downward into the earth. A small shoot sprouts upward toward the sky. It appears to be rather insignificant when compared to the large trees surrounding it, but it grows just the same. It doesn't compare itself to others. It simply does what it's supposed to do. It grows.
   Over the course of many years, it becomes a mighty tree. Within it, countless creatures find a home. The birds of the air build their nests on it's branches. Spiders build their webs in the dark corners. Storms come and go. Some are exceedingly violent, others bring nothing more than a gentle, refreshing rain. Whatever the case, the creatures that have made this tree their home find comfort, safety and shelter in it.
   After living and growing strong for 75 years, a storm much stronger than the tree uproots it and sends it crashing to the ground. One might think that it's story is over at this point, but it's not. It's stature and position at this point have changed dramatically, but it's purpose remains the same. It becomes a place of shelter and safety for different types of animals, all of which prefer to live in shelter at ground level. As it rots and sinks into the ground, coutless insects feed off of it. These insects are fed by it's rotting wood and bark. Many of these insects eventually become food for larger creatures, who then become food for even larger ones.
   Even beyond it's death, the tree lives on within these creatures. It's contribution to the world around it can be traced throughout eternity as one creature who benifitted from it's existence becomes of some benefit to the next generation of creatures that follows.
   In the movie "The Lion King," Disney's writers called this the circle of life. But in reality, this is God's sovreignty. Nothing is useless. Nothing is wasted. Everything serves it's purpose, and no matter how insignificant that purpose may appear to others, it has purpose nonetheless.
   As Bob has been speaking on Psalm 121, a major theme he was following is that our lives begin the day we are born, and continue throughout eternity. The amount of time we spend here on earth does not determine the extent of the contribution we will make to the world around us. We will all make some sort of a contribution, be it intentiional or not.
   We will all pass from this earth at some point, but we will also live on for all eternity. While we're here on earth, the most valuable thing we can do is to keep an eternal perspective. To live for the God who gave us life, knowing full well that if we know Him, we will spend eternity with Him. The beauty of this is that if we keep this perspective, the memories of who we were while on this earth will also live on forever. Just like the tree in the above example, those who never knew of us will benefit from our being here. What we say to others and what we do for others can literally change the course of their lives. We can feed them, shelter them, and protect them from the storms in their lives. In doing so, we can cause them to also gain an eternal perspective, within which they will do the same for others.
   It's hard for us to see to whole picture when looking at our lives. Just like the tree, we see the sun rise and we see the sun set every day. We reach to the sky, wanting to grow as much as possible. We dig our roots deep into what we know will give us stability. But God see's the entire picture from start to finish. From the moment the seed falls to the ground until the last living creature is fed after it's falling, He knows it's purpose. From the moment we take our first breath until the last person alive benefits from what we've done here, God knows our purpose as well. He has placed each and every one of us on this earth for His purpose. His purpose is that we might know Him and spend eternity with Him, while living our lives in ways that cause those around us to see Him through us, and know Him also.
   Living our lives with this type of eternal perspective changes how we look at everything, and free's us up to live life to it's fullest, with no fear of how soon we might be called away. To live life abundantly, with a hope that doesn't die with our earthly bodies, but which instead lives on for all etenity.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Eye For an Eye

   Eye problems can be very annoying. A friend of mine told me recently that she was having a problem with her left eye. Everything was becoming increasingly blurry in that eye. She did all of the normal things we all do when our vision becomes blurry. She rubbed it, she closed one eye at a time and looked through each one individually, she used eye drops, etc.. Nothing seemed to help. After stressing out about her situation, assuming the worst, while still hoping the problem would just go away for a few weeks, she finally broke down and made an appointment with her eye doctor.
   The doctor had her sit in a chair, then leaned in closely and began to examine her eyes. He would occasionally let out a "Mmmm-Hmmm," or a "Huh." After a brief, but thorough examination, he stepped back and said "Well, I've discovered the problem." Expecting to hear some bad news, she quietly asked him what it was. He sat back in his chair with his arms folded across his chest, broke into a slight smile, and said "You put your contacts in the wrong eyes. The contact in your right eye was ok, because the contact in it was a stronger prescription. But your left eye didn't have a strong enough prescription in it, so it was blurry."
   Although she was quite embarrassed by this, she was also quite relieved to find out that nothing was seriously wrong with her eye. Of course, now that her contacts are being used properly, she can no longer burn holes in objects by simply staring at them with the "over-prescribed" eye. But taking the good with the bad, all is well in her world again.
   Last Sunday, Bob spoke on a fictional story by Max Lucado about a group of people who would go around placing "star" stickers on others who impressed them, while placing "dot" stickers on people who appeared to be less worthy. In the story, these people would walk around with either dots or stars on them, and in their own minds, the amount of dots or stars stuck on them would determine their value in society. The moral of the story was that it doesn't matter what others think of us, but what God thinks of us. Bob finished his discussion with what I thought was a great line. "It doesn't matter what others think of me, because God made me the way that I am, and God doesn't make junk."
   While I thought this over during the past few days, a very different side of that story occurred to me. While it's true that we tend to allow what others think about us to stick to us and shape our self-worth, we also tend to walk around with a bit of an eye problem when we look at others. None of us liked to be judged harshly or unfairly by others, but how often do we do that to them due to our own eye problems? How do our own "eye problems" shape our view of people we don't even take the time to know? How do they shape our view of our own towns, cities, states, country, our even our world?
   Maybe, just like my friend in this story, we have our contacts in the wrong eyes. Maybe we have "spots" on our eyes that cause us to view everyone with a sense of harshness or critical judgement that has no basis in truth whatsoever, but is instead based upon our own bad vision.
   Bob was right. God doesn't make junk. You are exceptionally valuable in God's eyes. But so is every single person your eyes will come across every single day of your life. Maybe the best thing we can do is to go to the "eye doctor," and ask God to show us the people around us "through His eyes"  instead of looking at them through our own critical eyes. If we can do that, we will go a long way toward being "God's people" in this world, not judging others unfairly, but instead giving them value they may have never even believed they have.