Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

Dreams.  Such a small word that can mean so much.  To some a dream is only the unconscious firing neurons, to others it is a message to be deciphered, others still it is the haunting word that measures how successful they are in adulthood.  Whatever connotation you give the word dreams, they have this impact on our lives like water has on rocks, even the smallest dream changes our shape a little.   

When we were children we dreamed of conquering the world, being famous, becoming a life saving doctor, and some of us have been able to realize those dreams.  But somewhere along the way to adulthood we learned that dreams are for the lucky and the strong.  That is until the month of December hits and we are faced with another year over, but a new one just about to begin.  We challenge ourselves with resolutions – to get fit, to spend more time with the family, to get a better job.  We think Santa will bring one of these in a nicely wrapped red and green box and solve all our problems.  The problem is, that is not how dreams work.

Dreams are for the lucky and the strong because they are willing to fight for them.  Those that realize their dreams are those that were specific in them and more importantly, took the first step in action.  For me, in my dreams of life I have worked hard to take action at every turn and believe that someday soon my dreams will be realized.  But, sometimes I need an extra push. 

Sometimes our subconscious pushes us to get the courage we need to take the next step.  For me, it was a nightmare, really, of the past in the present.  Things that had once happened appeared in the present and in the dream I fainted.  Now, in my very little research of dreams fainting seems to mean two things.  First, you are about to get sick and second, you need to face a problem in your life.  For me, I think it meant both. 

I actually did get sick after the dream, sick enough to seek medical advice.  But in thinking upon the adventures of the past month, I realized there was something I was avoiding.  The dream alerted me to a problem with a friend of mine and gave me the courage to address it.  Well, either that or the sickness took over and I went crazy!  (For my sake, let’s stick to the former). 

Although this dream was subconscious, I think it acts the same as our conscious dreams.  The thought of a dream means nothing unless you are willing to go for it, take action, and make change.  Sometimes those dreams are nightmares that just encourage you on to better things.  Dreams are not meant to be stored up and never realized.  They are meant to be impactful, just like every one of you. 

This Christmas remember that Santa may not bring your dream to you wrapped up in buttons and bows, but there is someone who will help you realize the desires of your heart and show you how amazing you truly are, that your dreams really can come true.  I encourage you all to enjoy the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  If you have forgotten Him, that’s ok, a great place to get reconnected is telling Him your dreams and then remembering that He gave up everything so you could live an incredible life.  Merry Christmas friends!  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Your a Mean One Mr. Grinch

Christmas bells are ringing on the street, on the radio, and in our hearts…weather we like it or not.  We are in the midst of the most stressful and most anticipated times of the year.  It is this very conundrum that we find the highest suicide rates and the most giving.  I wonder why this is?  How can we be so depressed we kill ourselves and yet this time of year is deemed the most happiest time of the year?  

With a little thought it is not hard to understand why.  As adults, just as kids, we surround ourselves with expectations; the only difference is the expectations themselves.  As children we awaited the gifts, we expected the best present, and hot chocolate and cookies, and warm fires.  Our expectations were simple.  Today, as adults we expect much more of ourselves.  Instead of focusing on what we will be receiving at Christmas we try to out do each other in giving, we remind each other that someone just got married, or had a child or got a raise and use this as a time of competition and one-upping the other instead of the simple miracle it was meant to be.  

As adults we have polluted the beauty of Christmas by culturalizing it.  As a scholar of cultures, I usually find it helpful to integrate into the culture to understand them.  But I have found that in doing so, we sometimes loose the beauty that is difference.  You see, we have take a day that was meant to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and commercialized it – not just in the giving of material possessions (thank you Happy Honda Days) but have made even that a competition with mythical saints (thank you Apple and Best Buy).  
Where are the simple joys of childhood in a world wrecked by wars and recession?  Where are the simple joys in saying, you know what, it is not about a gift, or what amazing things happened this year that you can bring up to compete with others. It is about a God that loved so much He gave.  WE did nothing.  Nothing to deserve it.  Nothing in aiding it.  Nothing.  Yet we expect.  We expect ribbons.  We expect tags.  We expect packages, boxes, and bags.  When that is not enough, we expect raises, and bonuses, we expect boasting, we expect to be set up to look the best.  I think it is time to admit we are all a little bit of a Grinch.  
I know I am at fault too, perhaps the worst culprit.  I find myself ashamed sometimes of what I do, that it is not good enough for the circle of friends I have.  I read the Christmas cards as boasts instead of salutations from friends afar.  I have taken the joy out of my own Christmas.  So, I guess I wonder when did this happen?  But more importantly, how do we change all this?
What can we do to stop this cycle that is plaguing this most glorious and celebrated holiday?  How can we be a Who who just loves Christmas a lot?  What will it take?  Volunteering for the less fortunate?  Baking some treats for your coworkers and not putting a name on it?  Taking away presents all together and remembering what it means to just spend time with the people you love?  How does one humble themselves?
This season, I ask you to think on these things, as I will and do.  As you come up with ideas or you have some traditions that you think help you, please post on my page so we can all learn from your wisdom.  Merry Christmas everyone!  God Bless! 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Stop Talking About It and Start Being About It

Stop Talking About It and Start Being About It

We often limit our ability to do good and make change out of fear.  We fear the circumstance is too big and we are too small.  We make excuses to rationalize our in action, “I have homework,” “I’m just a kid.”  We forget that God is not bound by our label of small, outcast, or loser or our idea of ourselves.  Throughout the Bible God uses some pretty crazy characters to do His work and show His love including murderers and adulterers.  God loves us so much that He wants to use us to help show His love to others. 

In Judges Chapter 2 we see the Israelites had begun to worship and serve other gods and so, God was leaving Israel’s enemies in their land to test them.  Where this may look like God is punishing the Israelites, in reality we see the consequence of their choice to live in sin. 

What we are going to see throughout this book, in fact what we see through the Bible, is a cycle of God’s chosen people sinning in selfish destruction and crying out from their circumstances.  God hears their cry, raises a judge up to save them, and when the judge dies the people return to their selfish destruction.  BUT don’t let this discourage you.  What we continually see in this book and throughout the scriptures is God’s persistent perusal of His people, His ultimate grace and His desire to use US to accomplish His will. 

You may say to yourself that he can’t use you, perhaps you have sinned too much, don’t know enough about Him or even are too much of an outcast to make a real difference.  But God continually uses the least of these to be His champions.  Today, we will look at three such examples – Othneil, Ehud, and Shamgar. 

Turn with me please to Judges 3:5. 

“The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.  They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons and served their gods.

“The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals (with means Masters) and the Asherahs.  The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject to (or enslaved to) for eight years.   

“But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up from them a deliverer, Othniel, son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 

“The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war.  The Lord gave Cushan-Rishanthaim, king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 

“So the land had peace for forty years until Othniel son of Kenaz died.”

We notice some interesting things in this passage.  First, the people FORGOT their God. This is important as it is the only place in Judges where the people do not ABANDON (turn their backs on) God.  Reading this, I could not imagine how one could forget their God, so I looked up the meaning. 

FORGET means to cease or fail to remember; to omit or neglect unintentionally, to fail to think of.  Then I remembered how easily I do this.  But to put it into perspective let me tell you about my eldest brother Jason who is almost a decade older than me.  I idolized him as an eight year old watching him enjoy the coolness of high school driving, dances, and parties.  But when he moved out, I saw him less and forgot about him most days.  Until one day in high school he called me to apologize for something and told me a story, similar to Othniel’s.

Now Othniel was the YOUNGER brother, which today does not mean that much, but in that time period it was huge.  Not only that, but his older brother was the leader of Israel at the time.  Think who would be Obama’s younger brother today.  During that time, the eldest brother got the blessing of the father, in today’s terms the inheritance, the family business and the younger sons got very little.  If you recall, in Genesis this is what Cain and Abel fought over when Cain sold his blessing for some soup after hunting.  Being the younger meant less respect, less inheritance…well, less in general.  But God used Othneil.  He was a deliverer of Israel, he saved them in war.  What does this mean?

Well, remember Jason?  The night he called he told me about the story of David.  The younger son who overcame his station and God used, who was raised above his older brothers to do great things.  Naturally, I went to the story of David who became king of Israel after he defeated the Philistine Goliath.  Jason kindly told me he was actually telling me a prophesy that was given at the time my youngest brother, David, was born. 

This prophesy has begun to come true.  Growing up David was the peace keeper in the family, the one who could calm us all down when we wanted to tear each other apart, the one who’s wisdom kept us friends instead of enemies, and the one we sill look to.  David can actually help us understand Othniel a little better.  Both David and Othniel were the younger brothers of great men.  Yet, God used them anyway.  Much like my siblings and I, the Israelites accepted Othniel’s leadership.  They stormed into battle with him, and followed his direction in the face of death (though my siblings and I have yet to follow David into battle).  Also, much like David, Othniel and God were never bashful about the fact that he was the youngest.  They did not hide that secret (Othniel would have been well known, being the brother of Caleb).  David was so well known in my home town I remember being asked on more than one occasion if I was his sister…and I am the elder. 

You see, God is not bound by our labels.  He is not bound to work within our label of eldest and youngest, He uses all types.  This judge shows us God’s immense Spirit of Love at work.  He heard the cries of the Israelites and sends them a deliverer, He shows Himself by using the least of these.  He could have easily sent Caleb into battle, made Caleb the judge, but He used the least of these to show His power and love. 

If we continue on in Judges we read the story of Ehud, where God shows us He is not bound by the label of disability or handicapped. 

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and because they did this evil the LORD gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel. Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms. The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.

 Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite (or son of the right handed). The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a cubit long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way those who had carried it. But on reaching the stone images near Gilgal he himself went back to Eglon and said, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.”

   The king said to his attendants, “Leave us!” And they all left.

 Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.

“After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace.”  (They could probably have smelled the poop).They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.

“While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the stone images and escaped to Seirah. When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them.

 “Follow me,” he ordered, “for the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.” So they followed him down and took possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab; they allowed no one to cross over. At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not one escaped. That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.”
Now Jason, my eldest brother is a singer who God is using to show His love to millions around the world.  Let me let him tell you his story.  Follow the link to a short video that will shock and amaze you!

I remember the first accident watching my brother in a caged bed and listening as the doctors told us he would never walk again.  Looking at him, it was easy to believe.  He had no idea who I was, could barely speak coherently, and was in cast from head to toe.  his accident is actually what brought my brother back to God.  In his hospital room was a Gideon Bible.  He had not picked up a Bible in almost a decade.  He found the Lord when he couldn’t walk and had the mental capacity of a 2 year old. 
But this was not enough.  People say they remember the day the Twin Towers fell and what they were doing when they heard the news, and I do.  But I remember the night I learned my brother’s head was nearly cut off much better.  Where I was sitting, what I was wearing, and who I was with.  For the first time in my life, I thought I was going to know real loss, loss of someone I loved.  When the best doctor’s in the world haven’t seen an injury like that and don’t know if they can fix it, it is scary.  But they saved him.  After six months of doctors swearing he would never speak again, he did.  Today he has a paralyzed right arm, right diaphragm, and right vocal chord, but he singing to millions around the world, inspiring them to be what God has called them to be…great. 

Working on this lesson the irony that Jason can’t use his right arm didn’t escape me.  You see Ehud, son of the right handed, was probably paralyzed too.  I can imagine the teasing he got growing up, not being able to live up to his namesake.  I can imagine the bullying he got, the stolen lunch money, not being asked to play on the sports teams, the swirleys, he was probably an outcast.  Yet God chose and used him.  The irony is that if he did not have the disability, he probably would not have had the sword on him.  You see much like today, people were searched before entering the presence of the king, but the guards would not have been looking for a weapon on the right side.  The bullying he received growing up would have taught him how to face bullies, sharpened his mind to overcome the physical, and all of it would have increased his faith. 
But God is not bound by our label of disability, of wimp, of geek.  No, He uses those things that make us unique and our circumstances to show His immense love for us.  God works within our circumstances to bring us out of them into the glory He has planned for us. 

Lastly, God is not bound by our label of race and ethnicity.  If we continue in Judges, we get a brief glimpse into Shamgar. 

“After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.”

Shamgar, is an interesting name that gives us a very interesting insight into the workings of God.  Anath was the name of a god of the Canaanites.  Now, I don’t know about you, but if I am going to name a kid, it is not going to be for a God I don’t believe in.  Anath was NOT one of the twelve tribes of Israel, which means Shamgar was probably a Canaanite. 

But aren’t the Israelites and Canaanites enemies?  Yes.  But they had a common enemy, the Philistines.  Remember David and Goliath, the Philistines were thorns in the Israelites side for a long time.  The Philistines were at war with both the Canaanites and the Israelites, so they fought together against the common enemy. 
Jason has four children, two adopted and mixed race.  Now, I don’t know if you could tell but my family is white, so white in fact we were teased for being ghostly.  My grandfather is a self professed racist.  Well, when he found out about the little one, you can imagine how angry my grandfather was.  But God is bound by our label of race. 

Kids notice things like skin color about they time they are two or three.  Those children didn’t notice skin color differences till later.  Kids do not create stigmas that adults put on skin color, unless they are taught them.  So, watching how those kids love on each other was a testimony of God’s love to my family, but especially to my grandfather.  My family has learned to look beyond what we see into the deeper being. God is not bound by our label of race.

So, what does all this mean for us today?  God loves us, hears us, and wants to use us.  As Jeremiah 29: 11 says, “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.”  If we believe this, and we have seen evidence of it here in Judge where God continues to hear our pleas and sends a deliver for us, then we must be willing to go.  We must be willing to be an Othneil, and Ehud, and a Shamgar.  We must shed our labels and learn from these heroes.  I challenge you in this next week to listen and seek God.  Ask Him where He wants to use you?  Is it in school, on your basketball team, in your neighborhood?  Who is God calling you to love on this week?  Where is He asking you to step out of your comfort zone?  For as I Timothy states, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”  Remember, God is not bound by our labels, and with His help, we can do all things!    

One is Silver and the Other's Gold

Thanksgiving is a time full of friends, family, and who can forget the amazing food!  But, each year is a little different, at least for me.  Some years I am in my hometown surrounded by dozens of people and others are much more quite with only one or two friends or family members. 

This year I will be embarking on a road trip with some adopted family and can’t wait.  I will get to enjoy the celebration of life and overcoming of strife with some of the most amazing friends.  As I was thinking about this great opportunity, I was invited to visit an old friend of mine from college. 

I hate driving like someone hates hanging upside down for an hour.  But, I especially hate it when I have to drive at high traffic and by myself.  As some other friends were unable to drive with me, I knew this would be the case, and the weather was not looking too great either.  I almost called him and cancelled….again.  But I drove down to visit him anyway, and I am so glad I did. 

I learned what years of friendship do; it allowed the parties to be themselves.  All the niceties and civilities that happen with new friends as you figure out who they are, no longer apply.  Moreover, you know you don’t have to agree on everything and you don’t have to like all the same things.  The weekend was full of talk on all subjects, most things we agreed on, but some things we did not, and I learned it was ok.  We took an hour drive and were content to be in silence with each other, which usually means there is a problem or tension, but in this case it was just being ourselves.  There was no need to entertain, it was just nice to have company. 

In the course of the weekend he said something that I found to be true of all people. “As you get older you learn who your true friends are.  It is harder to make them, so you have to keep investing in those you already have.”  True words.  This concept got me thinking.

You see, we learn through friendship who we are, what we like, and what we want to become.  A true friend challenges your beliefs, life, and ideas not because he is argumentative or rude, but because he wants you to succeed.  A true friend is willing to disagree and push and challenge not because he has to be right, but because he wants you to have firm ground to stand upon as you decipher the world.  I learned I am blessed to have such great friends. 

I learned this weekend that I am most thankful for my friends – the new and the old.  As the song goes:

“Make new friends, but keep the old,
One is silver and the other’s gold.”

So, short and sweet, this Thanksgiving give a call to that old friend, say thank you for the things they do and set up a coffee date or watch the game together and just remember why you liked each other in the first place.