Thursday, July 18, 2013

Running to Your Arms


“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you, saying, ‘Destroy him!’” Deuteronomy 33:27

 On Sunday as we pulled into a parking space at church I saw a young boy, thirteenish, running toward one of the Sunday school buildings. I do not have a teenager and so, have no idea about the teen programs at church. The boy could have been running for any number of reasons. Perhaps he was excited to see a friend. Maybe the leader/teacher brings donuts and he wanted the “good” one. Maybe those classes start a bit earlier than the service and he was actually running a little late. Those are all fair conjectures but in reality I have no idea why he was running. What I do know is the impression that I had when I saw him.
He was a slight boy, well-dressed and carrying a Bible. And running, with a huge smile on his face straight toward….. and that is where my knowledge ended and my impression took over. Running, I perceived, straight toward Jesus.

I’ve never met this boy or even seen him before. He may be on fire for his Savior but as I supposed above, he might have a totally different motivator. For whatever reason I saw him as running straight to Jesus. Then my husband and I went into church.

As we sat waiting for the service to begin, watching the videos, hearing some church news I kept thinking of that boy, of the pure, unhindered joy on his face... Running!

Shouldn’t we all look like that as we approach our Savior? If we’re in right relationship to Jesus, then he should be our nearest and dearest friend.
It was Sunday morning. Sunday mornings are a paradox for me. Some weeks I wake up and feel so joyful. It’s Sunday morning, which means church. On those weeks my heart, if not my body, runs toward the worship, the fellowship and the obvious presence of Jesus.  Other weeks I wake up with a heaviness I cannot explain, one that often starts during the night as I attempt to sleep.  Those weeks I start some very directed prayers before I even leave the bed, in a way that is not anywhere near running. My approach those mornings is more of a parched castaway dragging myself toward the refreshment of the Holy Spirit.

This particular morning was somewhere in the middle, an oddity as the extremes usually prevail. Seeing that boy changed my perspective. His joy, regardless of my lack of understanding thereof, sparked mine.

Then the service started. A few, very few compared to most weeks, musicians came out. Turned out they were visiting, filling in for our amazing worship team, a team that does not leave big shoes but huge, enormous snow boots to fill. My joy, I’m ashamed to say, lost a little glow. Then they began to sing. First one of my favorite songs, then another favorite but beyond that a message straight to my heart. It’s called “Forever Reign” and includes the words, “I’m running to your arms, I’m running to your arms. The riches of your love will always be enough.” Well, hello Jesus.

As we sang I saw that smiling boy in my mind and I saw him as a precious example of how we can and maybe should, always approach Jesus. In good times or bad, on the light mornings and the dark ones, when we feel it and when we have to remind ourselves that we are beloved and saved, we need to RUN to Jesus. We need to run, to fall into his embrace or at his feet. Everything we could possibly need is there.
I speculated on the reasons the boy was running, a friend? A treat? Tardiness? But the reason doesn’t matter. The boy’s friend might have stayed home. The teacher may have forgotten the treats. His watch might have been fast. It truly is unimportant. The destination is the only important detail. When our destination is Jesus we will never, ever be disappointed. His arms are open, waiting and everlasting.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

To Be Set Free

“I am the vine and you are the branches. If a man remain in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

The past few weeks have been extremely enlightening. I have learned so much and I doubt that I can do it justice in these few small sentences. Reading those words you might think I’d been on a mission trip or doing intense Bible study. I have not. What I have been doing is simply living my life but with a huge amount of help and the gift of vision, from the Holy Spirit.

First let’s talk about struggle. The other day I was on the fringe of a conversation about finances. I heard a woman say that she and her husband struggle. That struck me as odd because they have far, far more than they need. This was not a conversation about poverty, about trying to provide food and shelter. No, this was about paying for the third car, the nicer home, the extras.  Later the Holy Spirit poked me with her words. She does not struggle but I’m sure she believes that she does, as have I at times.

 I suppose it could be said that both of us struggle, if you think in the sense of the American version of what you should have and how you should maintain it. Yet, neither of us has ever gone hungry. Neither of us has ever even lacked the luxury of  choices. While we may both have said, “There’s no food in this house.” That has never been true. It is once again the perspective of plenty that sees a pantry and refrigerator at least half-full as “no food.” The same principle can be applied to the “nothing to wear” statement.
Both of us have had times where it was difficult to pay all the bills with the income available but we’ve always had more than what is necessary to live, even to live comfortably. We’ve both always had a home, at least one vehicle, food and clothing. Most of the time we’ve also been able to enjoy a few perks. We’re not at a level where vacations are a given or where we can pay all the bills without a second thought but neither of us lacks a single thing that we need.  So while she may struggle in a sense, she does not struggle to survive and neither do I.

During the time frame in which the conversation took place I was also made aware of a different type of struggle, beyond that really, to a of a true form of poverty. That is the poverty of living without Jesus or at the very edges of connection to Him.
Over the past few weeks I’ve encountered not one but several people who would, if asked, respond that yes, they are Christian. I suppose those words are spoken in the same vein that a toddler will tell you that he can read based on the fact that he recognizes his name in print. It’s a very thin thread.

While these people wholeheartedly believe that they are in fact, connected to Christ, their behaviors, words and attitudes suggest that they are not. It is important to say here, that these are not nasty or unkind people. Most of the people in my mind as I write this are quite likeable. Some are generous. A few are charismatic and entertaining but one thing they all have in common is a God shaped hole that remains empty.
In light of my new perspective on the word struggle I see them as people who struggle every day, who fight against a force they can neither identify or defeat. Why? Because they are fighting alone, in human power or worse, not fighting at all, accepting the status quo.

While the people to whom I am referring are quite pleasant and likeable, with one glaring exception, they are also tiring. There is so much effort involved in simply living through the day. There’s the need to be affirmed, to be liked, to be seen as knowledgeable and there is the weight of sadness and negative emotion, whether open or veiled. All of that makes a person, though lovely and delightful in many ways, hard to handle for a long period of time.
Far from making me feel superior, these revelations have humbled me. It is easy to look at my financial status or that of my “struggling” friend and think that while in comparison to people in third world countries we are filthy rich, compared to a lot of Americans we do struggle. Then I look at my spiritual status and I have to ask, why me? Why am I blessed to know that I am not alone, ever? Why do I get to walk with Jesus? How is it that I can see the reality of a glass half-empty and know that it does not matter because my God is greater than any circumstance?

The answer is grace. As I said, far from making me feel proud of my oh so intelligent decision to follow Christ, I felt humbled. He chose me! Yes, I responded. Yes, I seek His face and spend time with Him, getting to know Him and His ways but all of that is a result of unmerited favor, of grace, mercy and love. I cannot take any credit for my faith. It is pure gift.
The best news? That same life, that same spiritual status is available to everyone.  Not everyone can be a huge financial success but everyone, everyone can call God, friend. The proof of that is shown in a Scripture that begins with one of my favorite phrases, but God. “But God demonstrated his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

My friends, if you are standing on the edge, just reading that one word, take the leap. Read all the words and believe them. The changes are significant. The struggles don’t all magically go away but they do have to take a backseat to the Truth and if you know the truth it will set you free! (John 8:32)