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A compass and a companion

B-17-Jesus-pilot2014 is coming to a close!

I would be remiss if I did not reflect on the lessons that I have learned this year. If I could sum up the past 12 months in one quote, I would borrow the wise words of Thomas Edison: “I haven’t failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

I didn’t have any goals or resolutions in January. My resolve was to go with the flow. The problem with my course of action is that it did not include an objective. So I was distracted and consumed by what was going on in everyone’s life and trying to act accordingly (often times falling into various sins such as coveting).

Naturally, I was all over the place. I realize now that when you don’t know where you’re going, you either wander (ramble without a definite purpose or objective) or become stagnant (inactive). I found myself in both positions. Some days I wandered aimlessly, going nowhere fast. And other days, I felt stuck. It was depressing to the say the least.

The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 400 years. God was trying to take them somewhere (to the Promised Land), but they were stuck in the past. They lamented:  “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted.” In essence, they were praising their hardships (remember they were enslaved to Egypt) instead of glorifying God for their newfound liberty.

As a result, many of them missed out on an opportunity to enter Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. The generation that was able to inhabit the land became corrupted over time. They forgot about God like their ancestors did and bowed down to other idols. Subsequently, God allowed for King Nebuchadnezzar to deport them to Babylon and hold them captive for 70 years.

In my wilderness experience, I longed for the good old days. King Solomon advised, Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions (Ecclesiastes 7:10).” I get it now. Longing for the past is an indication that you don’t trust God with your future. It also demonstrates your resilience to learn and grow from your downtime. Trust the process of trials because they serve a purpose. 

In my stagnant position, I envied the events going on in my peers’ lives. I was no different from the lame man at the side of the pool. He had been there for 38 years all the while watching others like him get into the water (stirred by an angel from time to time) and become healed from their disabilities.

When Jesus learned that he had been in the same position for such a long time, He asked the man, “Do you want to get well?” If you carefully read the text in John 5:1-9, you will notice that Jesus was not asking the man if he needed help getting into the pool. That’s because Jesus was trying to show him another way to the blessing. Sometimes, what works for others, may not work for you. You have to be open to taking an alternative route, especially if God is leading. Otherwise, you will become stuck in doing the same things over and over, and expecting a different result.

There’s a lesson to be learned in the Israelite’s history. Struggle and Success are one in the same because they can either make you or break you. In the former, you should be humbled by God’s grace. In the latter, you should be humbled by God’s favor. In either case, you should never forget His goodness.

Emotions have a way of robbing us of our memory and leading us astray. They are indeed a bad life compass. In 2015, I am determined to draw near to God when it rains and when the sun shines.

In the final analysis, I will always be in need of His covering; I need shelter from the storm and shade from the heat so that I may always be mindful of His sovereignty. But most importantly, I will always need Him to be my compass and companion on this journey called life.

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Spiritual Growth

A Divine Potential

remodeling

I admire people who can make something out of seemingly nothing or, who find value in another person’s trash. Sadly, I am not one of those individuals. You may never find me making crafts or shopping for used items at some yard sale. Call me spoiled or uneconomical, but I take pleasure in purchasing quality items and paying the full price (unless there’s a sale).

However, lately, I have noticed a lot of DIY projects on Pintrest and Instagram that has got me feeling like I missed out on one of God’s greatest giveaways – an abundance of creativity. Apparently, my friends have a lot of it to spare.

One gal pal in particular found four old, broken chairs behind a restaurant. She loaded them up in her car and took them home since she was in need of a dining set. She took the seats apart, sowed new fabric onto them, sanded the wooden frames and painted them gold. After attaching the seats back to the bodies, she had brand-new fancy looking chairs to call her own. What I would have considered a lost cause, she deemed priceless, figuratively and literally.

It dawned on me that when she discovered the chairs, she didn’t just see a big mess; she saw potential just as God did when He created the world.

Contrary to the Big Bang Theory, the book of Genesis makes it clear that God created everything and everyone. It states, “In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate” (Genesis 1:1-2).

After God made the skies, land, plants and animals, He decided to create humans. God took dirty, loose soil and made a man. Then he took a bone from man’s rib cage and created the woman (read Genesis 2:7, 21). God was pleased when He looked down at everything He had made. He saw potential in a dark space and created perfection.

Even though much of God’s creation today has been marred by sin, He doesn’t obsess about the broken fragments of our lives. He’s God and He’s pretty creative. According to the author of the Book of Hebrews, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).

Simply put, we are no longer a lost cause because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. And because we are not a lost cause, we shouldn’t interpret difficulties as a sign to quit. In knowing this, we should look at the circumstances in our lives and see them the way God sees them – with potential.

When the Israelites were released from captivity in Babylon by the Persian king, Cyrus, not many of them returned to Jerusalem. The small group who did, found the city in ruins. Under God’s command, Cyrus was committed to restoring the region to its glory days by rebuilding the Temple. The people participated in this project using materials that Cyrus provided them with. Although the task was daunting at times, the people persevered and completed the Temple (read the Book of Ezra).

The damage done in Jerusalem represents the obstacles that we all face in life. It is interesting to note that God did not get entirely involved with the rebuilding project by performing miraculous deeds as in former crises. He let the people do it themselves which is a clear indication that God does not give us success on a silver platter.

Much like rebuilding a city or taking on DIY projects, getting over a divorce, dealing with health issues or overcoming a financial calamity takes a lot of faith, patience and hard work – all of which are developed through the sight of potential.

It’s hard to see the beauty in difficulties, but they are in fact gifts from God. Through them, we are able to grow and propel to greater heights of perfection which can only be found in Christ.

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Courage to Start Over

          starting-over-road

Starting all over, either by force or by choice, is tough for anyone, young and old.

I remember when I had to attend a new elementary school at the age of eight. I was very upset about leaving all of my friends and relatives at Dillard Elementary School where I was a student for three years. I really felt like I belonged because the student body was very diverse and the faculty and staff were culturally conscious. We explored the world around us through lively and interactive presentations in our special classes and at our school assemblies. I didn’t want to leave all of that behind (this affected me a lot emotionally), but I eventually found the courage to adapt to the new faces and curriculum at my new school.

Many years later, when I left home for college at the age of 19, I quickly learned that my past experiences could not prepare me to adjust to my new environment in Tallahassee. Aside from now having to live in a slow-paced (and sometimes too friendly and scary) city, I had to pay my own rent, buy groceries and prepare my meals, nurse myself back to health when I was sick and deal with other issues without the help of my family. When the hurricanes blew through during that period, that was especially hard for me because my dad was not there to make me feel safe.

Reading the Bible, which appears to have a ‘starting over” theme weaved through all of the stories, helped a lot reminding me that I was never alone in life transitions.

After the Jews were taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar II, they spent 70 years as prisoners in Babylon. Prior to their exile, the Jews had already experienced slavery and deliverance in Egypt and made a life for themselves in Jerusalem.Yet, they were distressed because they lost their city, homes, pride, Temple (a symbol of their faith) and most importantly, the Ark of the Covenant. It was hard for them to get comfortable in the homeland of idolatry where the Babylonians bowed down to anyone but God.

When they had served their time – their captivity was the result of their sins and God’s subsequent judgment – King Cyrus of Persia sent a decree allowing the Jews to return to their land with the blessings of the Persian Empire. However, not many of them were willing to leave Babylon because they had already settled. The few that did return to Palestine had to start all over because all they found was rubble in the place they once called home. After many years of opposition, they were able to successfully rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. A revival was held in celebration of this feat in which the prophets read books of the Old Testament and gave the Jews a renewed sense of hope.

Babylon represented chaos, but the Jews turned to God, who encouraged them to keep calm: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity” (Jeremiah 29:11-14). Zion, the land of Judah, to which the Jews returned represented God’s spiritual kingdom. In retrospect, when the Jews went back home, they also returned to God’s unmerited favor.

In life, we will all experience change (both good and bad) and each one will feel like the first time — like we have been taken out of God’s goodness and held captive in a strange and chaotic environment. If we are not careful, we will settle in our broken places and miss out on our breakthrough. Instead of returning to God and rebuilding our shattered dreams, we will revel in pain, anger and bitterness and become sluggish.

That is not the purpose of God’s judgment or grace. He wants us to grow in the hard places in preparation for a fresh start. And if that seems like a daunting task, we only need to remember His promises to Israel through the prophet Isaiah: “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

 

References: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:20