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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Some things just go together...

In this life, some things just have to go together. Most people would agree that a plain peanut butter sandwich is lacking. It needs something else to complete the picture. At dinner time, rarely do we pass the salt or the pepper alone- they get dished around as a pair. Mornings and coffee. Hot summer days and ice cream. Weddings and a white dress. The list could on with items that that are made complete by the addition of one other.

Around our house lately, the combination has been "sleep" and "pink blanket" for my two year old daughter. At her birth, she was gifted with literally dozens of wonderfully soft baby blankets. But over the last year, one in particular has become her special favorite. If we even attempt to put her down for the night with an imitation blanket, she can sniff it out a mile away. This can become problematic when the pink blanket is smelly and dirty and sitting in the washing machine, while Alyssa cries for her pink blanket. For her, sleep and her blanket are an inseparable pair.

You may know this already, but Jesus calls us to remember such a dynamic combination. When a religious man came up to him and asked, "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?", Jesus couldn't help but give two. The ideas were so linked together that Jesus couldn't quote one without tagging on the other. Jesus told him, "to love the Lord your God with all that you have and all that you are," and quickly went on, "and to love people around you as you love yourself."

This passage is reference over and over in churches and gathering of Christ-followers. It's what we base our faith on- loving God and loving others. Yet while we value this combination as a statement, we don't always live it out as a reality. You see, most people are convinced that if they simply grow in their love for God, they are doing alright. But I would contend that it is impossible to grow in our love for God without also growing in our love for people.

We may say, "My relationship with God is as deep as it has ever been!", but if we don't also find ourselves more compassionate and gracious towards other people, than I would question if we were closer to God at all, or merely enjoying religious sentiment and emotion. It is a false notion that we can grow closer to God without also growing closer to other people. Why? Because God is that way, and because God designed us that way. I have often heard people say something to the effect of, "I don't need church or other believers to help me grow in my faith. I am fine on my own." But God in his very nature shows us that growth towards him will always result in growth towards other people.

I'm not saying that the only way we know God is through other people, but I have been reminded that the greatest barometer of my love for God always has been and always will be my love for other people. The person who says in his heart, "I love God" but at the same time refuses to love another person proves that their love for God is selfish, shallow, and artificial.

As you grow close to the heart of the Father, may you find His love being directed through you to other people. Become a conduit of his love as you journey on. Together.

Nick

Friday, June 15, 2007

Cravings

I've always known that my obsession with good coffee held some spiritual significance. Erwin McManus recently confirmed my belief in his book, "Soul Cravings."

"Science is only now discovering the medicinal value of the sacred bean. If all goes well, it will soon be its own food group. I've never been pregnant (my wife volunteered both times), but I do know the power of cravings. Is my relationship to java a problem? No, espresso is a guilty pleasure, and I am grateful for my dealer...um...barista...
There are cravings within me, though, that pull on me like an addiction...
My soul craves, but for what I don't know...
And there I tell you is at least half of my problem. I've tried so many things and done so many things, certain they would satisfy my soul, but they never did."

I identified with this quote, because I know the craving, the restlessness I feel when I deprive my brain of caffeine. I find myself obsessed with fulfilling my desire for a good cup of espresso.

On other days, I know the restlessness that resides in my own soul, and it has nothing to do with coffee. I deprive myself of a real connection to God, and I can feel the longing in a tangible way. But unlike my addiction, er, craving, for coffee, I don't always know where to go to fill up my soul. I can always find a Starbucks around the corner to meet my espresso demands (thanks to their aggressive global marketing), but for some reason my soul gets lost in seeking God. It's as if God isn't interested in flooding the market with his label so that he's available at every corner store and market. It's as if God hides a bit, wanting to be found.

And so I, like McManus says, find myself craving the love and significance that only God can bring, but seeking it everywhere else. It is when I allow my soul to "come home" and rest in God that my craving can finally be satisfied.

"For Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee." St. Augustine

When you find yourself craving, may your journey take you to Him.

Nick

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Reflections...

I spent some time recently visiting our county jail to do pastoral care with inmates who ask to speak with a minister. Now, before you congratulate me for being servant-minded, you should know that this activity scares me to death. Not because I'm worried that a prisoner will try and hurt me, but because I feel incredibly inadequate and separated from the experiences they are having.

And yet I have a sense of feeling called to do this, and so every month I go and pray that God will give me the words to say. It's an incredible way to build my faith!

The last time I visited, I believe God reminded me of something. I spent several hours sitting in a small 6x6 room, separated from the inmate by a very thick piece of glass, as they sit in their 6x6 room and share their story. As one young man poured out his heart and his need for God (which was very cool in and of itself), I noticed that I could see my reflection in the glass. As the young man would look up at me, not only could I see his face, but my own distinct image staring back at me.

"We are not so different, you and I," I thought to myself. As I saw my reflection, I was prompted to consider how similar I truly am to the person on the other side. Sure, I am free and on the right side of the law, but our hearts our similar. As the prisoner shared his story, I could hear bits and pieces of my own. The only difference was that at certain critical junctures, his story went one direction and mine another. The kind of friends we chose in high school, the jobs we chose to pursue, the way we began spending our free time- where I had gone right, he had gone left.

I was reminded in this that I am here by God's grace. Within everyone single one of us lies the capability to be something we never want to be. I am more and more aware of God's hand on my life and his direction even when I couldn't see him. And this also fills me with compassion for the man on the other side of the glass, who, even though he has become what he never wanted to be, still has incredible potential to be who God is calling him to be.

I hope he finds that person within himself. I pray that God gives me the grace and strength to continue pursuing that in my own life. And I pray that you will, too.

Blessings on your journey-

Nick