Thursday, April 24, 2014

Matchmaker, Matchmaker......

   Online dating has become quite popular over the past few years. We've all seen the ads, promising all of the lonely single people of the world that becoming a member of their site will lead them directly to the man or woman they have been searching for all of their life.

   "Looking for your soul mate? They're right here waiting for you!!" They boldly exclaim.

   Some of these sites are more thorough than others in their effort to find the perfect match for their customers, asking them to fill out very detailed questionnaires about their personality traits, likes, dislikes, religious beliefs, hobbies, you name it.

   I don't know how successful these sites are, but I would imagine that having all of the details about who we are as individuals sorted through and matched with those who are most like us would be a more successful approach than sitting in a bar waiting for that perfect man or woman to walk into our lives.

   What I do know is that it's very big business. In 2012, an estimated $1.7 billion was brought in by these sites. Yes, that's "billion" with a "b."

   Why are these sites so very profitable? The answer is an easy one. Nobody likes to be alone. The vast majority of single people out there would love to find that one person they can be comfortable with. Someone to share their lives with. Someone they can love deeply and who will also love them. It's an enormous draw that seems to be hardwired into us.

   I wrote last week about the creation story, and how apparent God's love for us is due to the way He created everything we see just for us, but if we look closely, we can see a subtle change in how He spoke about His creation after creating man and woman and placing them in the midst of it.

   In Genesis 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, & 25, we see God creating everything in the universe. After creating each item, He reviewed His handiwork and then exclaimed that "It was good."

   He then created man and woman. In Genesis 1:31, we read that He once again sat back and reviewed all that He had made, but this time He doesn't call it "good." He calls it "very good."

   After He had created all things, He created us, and we were the crowning jewels of His creation. He could've created us in a way that procreation would have been accomplished by a simple act with no emotional connection, but He didn't. He created man and woman in a way that the differences between the sexes - when celebrated and encouraged - makes the unity of the two far greater than the sum of their parts. He created us in a way that made us long for that close, intimate relationship.

   This was His gift to us. He loved us, and He desired that we love each other.

   The person we choose to spend the rest of our lives with will have a more significant impact upon us than any other relationship we'll ever know. This impact can be positive or negative depending upon who we choose to be with, but there can be no denying the power of such a relationship.

   If that was all there was, it would still be amazing. But there's far more to it than that. As history continues from that point, God then tells us that the relationship between a man and a woman is symbolic of how our relationship must be with Him.

   In Luke 10:26. Jesus was asked what the greatest of all the commandments was.

   "He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"

   If you have been given the gift of having somebody in your life who you love like no other, or if you're single and would truly love to find that "soul mate," Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment we've ever been given is to love God even more than we love that other person.

   Why? Because that's how much He loves us. That's how much He loved us before we even knew Him. That's how much He will always love us.

   It's not a natural thing to love a God you can't see in that way. It's difficult to truly grasp that. We can't do it on our own. But if we pray, asking God to teach us how to do that, He will. It is His ultimate desire for us, and unlike most human relationships, it is a love that will never disappoint us, never fail us, never leave us, never abuse us, and never leave us regretting the pursuit of such a love.

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's a Boy!......And a Girl!

   A young woman sits in her doctor's office awaiting his return. Her mind races as she wonders what news he will bring. She and her husband had been trying for a number of months, and due to some changes she had noticed in her body recently, she suspected that she might finally be pregnant.

   "Good news, Mrs. Jones!" The doctor announced with a smile as he re-entered the room. "You're gonna be a mom!"

   Filled with excitement, she leaps from her chair, gives her doctor a big hug, and rushes home to tell her husband the news. He too is thrilled beyond words, and they immediately begin to plan out the room they'll prepare for their new family member.

   Over the next 8 months, they find great joy in picking out various items for the baby's room. They want it to be perfect. They want their baby to be safe, warm, and comfortable. They buy a crib, a changing table, blankets, and colorful items to hang on the walls. Once they learn the sex of the baby, they begin to buy baby clothes and paint for the walls.

   Every single action they take is filled with absolute love, hope, joy, and expectancy.

   Finally, the day arrives. The baby is delivered at the local hospital, and after a couple days of recovery, they bring their little bundle of joy home, lay him in his bed, and allow him to rest in the perfect environment they had created for him.

   The love they feel for this child cannot possibly be described in words, and for as long as they both live, they will always love him. They will always be there for him. They will always cherish him, protect him, and nurture him.

   When I read the creation story in Genesis 1, I see God doing the very same thing for us.

   He perfectly created the heavens and the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars. He filled the earth with plant life, fruits and vegetables. He filled the seas with fish. He covered the land with livestock. He filled the air with birds.

   He did all of this with one thing in He created an entire universe, perfectly designed so that it might sustain us.

   After all of this work had been done, He created man and woman, and set them in the midst of this beautiful, perfect world He had created for them. Furthermore, He didn't just drop them there and leave them. He walked with them in the garden. He lovingly showed them everything he had created for them.

   I can only assume that He felt the same sense of love, hope, joy, and expectancy when He was creating all of these things for us that new parents feel as they decorate their baby's room knowing that the baby's arrival is coming soon.

   So how should we respond to this? With a profound sense of gratitude, love, and thankfulness toward our loving God who provides all we will ever need.

   Every time we eat a meal, watch a sunrise, take a walk in the woods, or breathe in fresh air, we should see God's presence. We should acknowledge the fact that it is His love for us that makes all of these things possible.

   Of course, the best part is this: He still walks with us wherever we may go. He still shows us everything He has given us. He is always there for us. All we have to do is reach out to Him.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Beautifully Broken

   The carpenter gets out of his truck and gazes at the building before him. He knows that his task will be a daunting one, restoring an old building that had suffered from decades of neglect. Most of the locals viewed this building as nothing more than an eyesore, a long ago abandoned pile of rubble incapable of being transformed into anything beautiful. But the carpenter sees something very different as he looks once again at the blueprints of it's original construction. He had spent a great deal of time researching the history of the old building. More than that, he can also see how the years of neglect had weathered the materials that remained intact in a beautiful way.

   He steps inside and stands still for a moment, allowing his eyes to take everything in. Within a few minutes, he begins to see the magnificence of how this building was originally created, and how he can build upon that original foundation to create something far more beautiful than any casual observer could possibly imagine.

   He is, after all, a master of restoration.

   He begins the job with a clear vision in mind of how it will look once the work has been completed. He brings in a crew of contractors, each one an expert in their field. Excitement builds within his soul as he sees the progress that's being made from day to day.

   Before long, the locals begin to notice a change in the old building. The reaction is very mixed. Some are thrilled to see something being made of this old landmark, while others openly mock him for believing that this heap of rubble could ever become something beautiful. The carpenter pays little attention to them. He simply continues his work.

   The seasons pass, each one bringing it's own set of complications, but the work continues.

   Finally, the work is completed, and the carpenter finds himself standing in a building that is beautiful beyond words. He admires the way the old, weathered elements blend so beautifully with the new, creating a complete picture far more beautiful than the original construction. At the same time, the older elements give it a beauty that could never be created using only modern construction methods.

   This is what happens to us when we reach a point in our lives when we come to Jesus Christ for the first time, giving Him His rightful place of Lord over our lives, asking Him to speak to us, guide us, and direct our lives in the way that He would have us go.

    "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17

   Of course, while we have become these new creations, we still maintain many of the elements of who we have always been. We were, after all, created in such a way as to be perfectly capable of doing the work that God created us to do. In other words, the elements of our original construction remain, but Jesus, the master carpenter, builds upon these elements in ways that are far too beautiful to describe. He sends other contractors into our lives from time to time - brothers, sisters, friends, pastors, etc. - to assist us in this new construction.

   Seasons pass, and people notice a dramatic change in us. Some will see these changes as being something very beautiful. Others will mock and ridicule us, claiming that nothing beautiful could ever possibly become of the mess our lives once were.

   What we need to be keenly aware of during this process is what we believe about who we are in God's eyes. Will we continue to see ourselves as piles of rubble incapable of ever becoming anything beautiful, or will we see ourselves as being beautifully broken in ways that were absolutely necessary to complete the final masterpiece that God wants to create in us?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Living Outside The Box

   I've recently found myself in a peculiar situation. I had spent a good amount of time and effort decorating the home I had been living in, and was then allowed to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor. While some of you may have chosen a different décor, I was very happy with how everything looked. But as a little bit of time had passed, I was finding myself far less impressed with all of it.
   Don't get me wrong, my tastes had not changed. I didn't suddenly feel as though I needed to start over from scratch with an entirely different décor. I simply began to realize that as nice as it was, it brought me no true sense of happiness whatsoever.

   During the preceding months, I had been giving a great deal of thought to the complete and total emptiness of "The American Dream." My generation was taught that our main goal in life was to work hard, buy a home, fill that home with nice things, raise a family, and if we found that we had accumulated too many nice things to fit within our homes, we should then buy a bigger, nicer home.

   Within all of this, I couldn't ignore a profound truth that had been rising up within me like a tidal wave. It was all meaningless. None of these "things" were adding anything to my life or the enjoyment of it. In fact, I was experiencing quite the opposite. In reality, it had actually been taking away from my quality of life due to the stress of having to keep it all nice, clean, and safe.

   As I considered these things, the following verses continued to ring through my mind:

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21

   This explained where I was, and why everything began to feel so empty. My heart was wrapped up in my treasure, and my treasure was here on earth.

   Feeling completely overwhelmed by the weight of trying to maintain this status-quo, I finally prayed, asking God to please release me from all of it. Within 48 hours, somebody offered to buy my home. They wanted to be in it within 30 days, giving me very little time to decide what to do with all of my "treasures."

   My final decision was to simply give all of it away to those who were in need of it. I do not say this to pat myself on the back or to give any of you a false belief that I'm some incredibly generous man of God. It simply was the only path that made any sense to me. It was the only path that gave me peace.

   I took what I felt as though I needed, and moved these belongings into my sister's home, who along with her husband had graciously offered to let me stay with them until I feel a true sense of where God might lead me next. Since arriving here, I've all but disconnected myself from the massive media onslaught of television and internet. I'm praying, studying, and asking God for His guidance on where the next step may lead. Then sense of peace and calm I now feel can't truly be described in words.

   I write these things for one reason alone: To show you a living example of the truth of scripture. There are countless bible verses that speak of how the pursuit of God will bring more peace and comfort into our lives than anything else we'll ever know, and how the pursuit of material possession will bring nothing but emptiness, stress, discouragement, and disappointment. I'm not suggesting that all of you need to give away all of your earthly possession in order to truly seek God. I only know that, for me personally, it had to be done. And having done so, I'm truly experiencing the truth found in these words:

    "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Phillipians 4:6-7

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that 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, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:25-34
   I have no idea where all of this will lead. I don't expect that I'll do everything perfectly or make all of the right decisions. All that I know for certain is that, for now, I'm exactly where God wants me to be, and nothing could possibly be more valuable.