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It’s Not About Me: Part 2

If you didn’t catch the previous post, read It’s Not About Me: Part 1.

Max Lucado’s book It’s Not About Me calls into question the human tendency to believe the universe revolves around us. “We’ve been demanding our way and stamping our feet since infancy,” Lucado writes. “Aren’t we all born with a default drive set on selfishness? I want a spouse who makes me happy and coworkers who always ask my opinion. I want weather that suits me and traffic that helps me and a government that serves me.” 

The book demands honest re-evaluation of both self and God, but what particularly spoke to my heart was the chapter on life’s struggles. Lucado makes the case that even our sufferings are not about us.

When his friend Lazarus fell ill, Jesus said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). Instead of immediately going to his friend’s aid, Jesus waited. He stayed where he was until Lazarus died. How could he allow such suffering? Because he knew it would bring greater glory to God if Lazarus not only recovered from illness, but returned to life.

At another point, Jesus and his disciples came across a man who had been blind since birth. The disciples assumed his blindness was punishment for sin. Jesus then replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

If Jesus could use the suffering of Lazarus and the blind man, then Lucado asks, “What about your struggles? Is there any chance, any possibility, that you have been selected to struggle for God’s glory? Have you ‘been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake’ (Philippians 1:29)?”

By Rennett Stowe from USA (His Light Shines on Us Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Rennett Stowe, Wikimedia Commons

One of the most difficult arguments against Christian faith is: If a good God exists, then why does pain? Suffering leads us to question God’s character. If God is loving, then he must not be almighty, otherwise he would prevent tragedy. Or if God is almighty, then he must not be all-knowing, because only ignorance can explain his blind eye to grief. Or if God is both almighty and all-knowing, then he must be indifferent. 

Lucado responds, “Your pain has a purpose. Your problems, struggles, heartaches, and hassles cooperate toward one end–the glory of God.”

It may appear like the world is full of senseless pain, but God uses it, bringing good out of evil. He does not waste it. Sometimes it’s used for God’s discipline. Sometimes he’s teaching you to rely on him and not your own strength or ability. And other times the testimony of his people under suffering brings more children to him than could have been saved by a prosperity gospel.

Lucado encourages his readers to discover how their problems can be used for God and his glory. But I would add that we should not be content with saying, “It is God’s will.” I don’t believe it is God’s will for anyone to suffer. Pain is a derivative of evil. We suffer because we are separated from God and live in a world that has been corrupted by sin. Jesus won over evil at the cross, but the war wages on with the world caught in the crossfire. Because suffering will continue until Jesus vanquishes over all, we should turn suffering in God’s favor, as an opportunity to reveal him ever more to this world. At a funeral of a loved one, we can show other people our assured hope of life after this one. When bed-ridden by illness, we can display how we trust God for his comfort and control.

What sacrifice are our temporary sufferings when we have an eternity to look forward to when there will no longer be grief or pain? Revelation promises, when God is finally reunited with his people, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (21:4). The Apostle Paul adds, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

As long as we have God with us through these painful days, what more can we ask of him? Contrary to popular belief, he owes us nothing. The reverse is true; we are the ones who are indebted. What right do we have to complain when life really isn’t about us?

We are like the child who just begins to feel the hunger pangs before dinnertime. He complains to his father, crying that he will die of hunger. The father knows better. Can anyone blame the father for making his child wait half an hour until dinner is served? The child may at first think the father is cruel. But if the child trusts his father, he might go outside to play with the neighbor kid while he waits. And he might tell that kid, “I’m hungry now, but I know Dad will call me for dinner soon.”

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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Books

 

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It’s Not About Me: Part 1

Sometimes I imagine myself as the star in a movie about my life. I’m the main character in a novel of adventure and romance. I’m the heroine, the protagonist, the leading lady. No one can steal my spotlight, because this life is my story.

The funny thing is … God thinks this way too.

If you study the Bible closely, you’ll realize the primary goal of missions is not about saving people. Salvation and redemption are secondary motives that contribute to the first, which, believe it or not, is about God. The Great Commission commands us to spread the gospel so that God may be known and worshiped. God wants everyone in the world to hear about him and praise his name. 

When I first heard that God’s highest priority is his own glory, I rebelled. My immediate thought was, God’s a narcissist. I admit it: the idea repulsed me.

But God isn’t the narcissist. I am. 

I didn’t want to hear that God’s primary objective isn’t about me. In my mind, Jesus was entirely loving and selfless for my sake. Jesus died to save me, right? Days before his crucifixion, though, Jesus declared, “But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” And a voice from heaven answered him, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27-8). Jesus was on a public relations campaign, amping up the masses to praise God. By his death and resurrection, he planned to honor God and show off his Father’s greatness. This is what he was all about. He didn’t come for my sake, but for the Lord’s. Jesus knew what I didn’t: life isn’t about me.

Mt2abpFmUTQCMax Lucado makes this case in his aptly titled book “It’s Not About Me.” He references how people used to believe the sun, stars, and planets all revolved around the earth. When Copernicus disagreed, no one wanted to listen. Lucado argues that our self-centered nature has not progressed much since. We admit we are not at the center literally, but our lives would say it’s figuratively true. “Could a Copernican shift be in order?” Lucado writes. “Perhaps our place is not at the center of the universe. God does not exist to make a big deal out of us. We exist to make a big deal out of him. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s all about him.” 

We are not the sun in God’s universe; his son is. Jesus is the star of the show. The rest of us are supporting roles. To resist taking center-stage, Lucado recommends less navel-gazing and more looking upwards. The universe is a massive expanse of solar systems and celestial bodies, and here we are, just pinpricks on an orbiting rock somewhere in space. If staring into the night sky has a self-diminishing effect, how much more does meditating on the greatness of God?

God is powerful where we are weak. He created the universe and maintains it. He exists outside of time and is unchanging; we are time-bound and fickle. God’s love saves us when we cannot save ourselves. His love is limitless; ours runs short. The appropriate response to such greatness, like when meeting a mighty monarch, is to bow down and praise him. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods” (1 Chronicles 16:24-25). 

If life isn’t about me, then how does that change the way I live? Lucado compares our role to the moon. We have no light of our own, but we reflect the light of the son. Everything that we say, do, and are–it’s all for God. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our message should proclaim him. Our salvation should praise him. Our body should honor him. Our struggles should magnify him. Our successes should exalt him. Lucado details in his book how each of these life areas can and should bring God glory. 

Lucado writes, “May God rescue us from self-centered thinking. May we have no higher goal than to see someone think more highly of our Father, our King.”

Jesus’ job on earth was for God’s glory. Just before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, he prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). If Jesus lived for God’s glory, and died for it, then why should I do any differently? If I claim to follow Christ, then I must live and even die as he did. My problems become insignificant, just tiny threads in the greater tapestry. My life is a subplot in God’s story. I am less than a single brushstroke in his masterpiece. I exist to serve his pattern, his plot, his vision.

Note: “It’s Not About Me” gave me so much food for thought that it can’t be fit in a single blog post. Keep watch for another post coming soon. I will zoom in on the idea that even our struggles are meant to glorify God. How does this work and what does it mean for how I bear my suffering?

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2014 in Books

 

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NaNoWriMo 2013: Another Month, Another Book

2013-Winner-Facebook-ProfileAnother NaNoWriMo has finished. I still feel crazy to have gone through with it, but the greater feeling of accomplishment pays off in the end. The resulting book has the working title of Foster, though I’m still brainstorming other options. A mother-daughter drama, the book covers broad themes such as identity, family, and the need to be loved.

This story begins in Spokane, Washington, a mid-size city on the border of Idaho. A 15-year-old girl named Angela comes home to find out she and her mother are about to be evicted from their apartment. Then her mother is arrested for drunk driving, and CPS picks up the girl to take her to foster care. Everything in Angela’s life depends on whether or not her mother, Cynthia, can take care of herself and her daughter. Angela tries to be independent and responsible for her own life, feeling forced to grow up early. But despite her façades, she still waits for her mother to grow up too and be the adult for the sake of their family. If Cynthia doesn’t, Angela may spend the last three years before legal adulthood in foster care, bounced from family to family, house to house, until she can live on her own outside of the state’s guardianship.

“The eviction notice wasn’t a surprise. I was used to moving. I couldn’t remember spending longer than six months in one location. Such a childhood makes it hard to ever feel settled. You have to stay on your toes. One tip: keep everything precious to you in a backpack. Then keep that backpack in your sight at all times. All times. You never know when you might need a quick escape or when you’ll come home to find the locks changed.”

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2013 in Books

 

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Bedtime Reading

Every night before I sleep, I pick up a little book a friend gave me over a year ago for a birthday gift. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is a year-long devotional, but I’ve continued to read it even after reading all 366 devotions. I have been caught by the mystery that no matter what kind of day I’ve had, the day’s devotion seems to speak directly to me and my circumstances.

I recently found out two friends also read this devotional as part of their daily routines. We read the exact same thing every day, but we never knew until now. But it gets stranger. One of these friends told me that the daily readings always have some application to her day. Even though my friend and I may have completely different days, we both can connect to what we read in Jesus Calling, and it tells us just what we need to hear.

It doesn’t matter what my day is like, this book leaves an impact, calling to those deep achings of the heart. Each devotion is written as if it is a personal message from Jesus, supported by Bible verses listed underneath. This format helps me to realize the Bible as God’s words transcribed for me. Instead of reading dry text, I start to hear his voice coming through, that whisper on the wind.

The devotions also emphasize God first, as the primary priority before my goals, work, and worries. Each day’s passage reminds me to refocus on Jesus and center myself on him, letting everything else weighing me down to fall away. Jesus Calling is about resting in the presence of God, the one who invites you into peace and joy. I cannot imagine a better comfort as I fall asleep.

Tonight’s devotion reads:

“Leave outcomes up to Me. Follow Me wherever I lead, without worrying about how it will all turn out. Think of our life as an adventure, with Me as your Guide and Companion. Live in the now, concentrating on staying in step with Me. When our path leads to a cliff, be willing to climb it with My help. When we come to a resting place, take time to be refreshed in My presence. Enjoy the rhythm of life lived close to Me.

“You already know the ultimate destination of your journey: your entrance into heaven. So keep your focus on the path just before you, leaving outcomes up to Me.”

Which devotionals do you enjoy reading? What time of day do you prefer to read them?

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2013 in Books

 

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Adopted by Our Abba

With Halloween over, that means NaNoWriMo season has begun. This is my second year participating, and I’m hoping to start a winning streak. As you might remember from last year, I bent the rules and wrote a nonfiction book of rambling essays rather than a traditional novel with characters and plot. The first week of writing is done, but I still haven’t got into the swing of fiction.

Each time I sit down to work on my book … well, let’s say we are not on good speaking terms. I have about half as many words down as I should by this point. And I still need a title. It’s a young adult book about a teenage girl who struggles for independence and control of her life despite living in state foster care. So far, I just call the book “Foster” for short.

I grew up knowing both foster and adoptive parents. I saw personally what it meant for the children they would take into their homes. The children had hard lives since birth, suffered abuse in many forms, and felt the pains of abandonment and loneliness. The parents I knew offered shelter, security, and the love of a family, blessings other children take for granted. Like I did. Not every foster care situation is healthy or beneficial for children, but when the parents genuinely love the children who are not their own, that is beauty in my eyes. It calls to my heart because it reminds me that I am adopted too.

If you are a Christian, then God has adopted you. He rescued you from abandonment and abuse, bringing you into his loving protection and care. Paul says, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father'” (Rom. 8:15 NLT).

My adoption by God is a more powerful truth to me than knowing he also created me. Adoptive parents struggle with difficulties unique from parents raising biological children. Children in foster care or adoptive homes do not come fresh out of the package. Other adults have already left their marks, even when parents take home a baby girl the day after her teenage mother gave birth to her. In choosing to adopt, parents have to recognize that their new child has been hurt and broken. The longer the child has lived in foster care or in bad family situations, the more apparent the damage from an unstable, unhealthy childhood. Parents with biological children cannot guess the faults of their children. But adoptive parents can see beforehand, and they willingly choose a child who may struggle with ADHD or self-destructive habits or a tendency to violent anger. They see the faults and choose to love anyway.

God does the same when he chooses us. He welcomes us into his family, knowing well our every wound and scar. He knows the faults and weaknesses that we try to hide or ignore. He knows every part of us and yet wholly loves us.

Paul continues, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39 NIV).

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2013 in Books, Other thoughts

 

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Reading Update: Time to Confess

Bus trips do offer many advantages. One of my current favorites is long, uninterrupted time to catch up on my reading. Another trip this weekend allowed me to finally finish 19 Gifts of the Spirit by Leslie B. Flynn and then devote my whole reader’s attention on Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels. While I didn’t ride the bus quite far enough to wrap up the book, I did get a good start and plenty to think about.

Too Busy Not to Pray, included on the suggested summer reading list, seems to cover every question you could have on prayer, as well as every excuse you have to not pray more often. Over 20 years after its first publication, this book is still popular among Christians and relevant to today. I felt challenged as I read it to devote more of my time and focus to thoughtful prayer.

The stories Hybels shares are inspiring to the point of making me want to stop mid-chapter and fall on my knees. These are not only encouraging anecdotes on the blessings God bestows to people who diligently pray with faith. One section caught my attention in particular, and it had nothing to do with making requests of God. In chapter six, Hybels provides a basic pattern to help develop good praying habits. He says following the pattern as you pray is like using a fitness routine that balances your all-around strength and endurance. A good fitness routine will work out your core and leg muscles along with building up impressive biceps. Instead of only lifting weights, you also add various types of cardio to the mix.

In the same way, Hybels argues that beneficial and effective praying means more than presenting God with your wish list. To practice more balanced praying, he uses the ACTS pattern: adoration of God’s nature and character, confession of personal sins, thanksgiving for God’s blessings and answered prayers, and finally, supplication for help and intervention from God. Visit this blog post I found for more details on how Hybels explains the ACTS pattern.

What caught my attention, though, was what Hybels had to say about confession. Personally, I rarely hear Christians talk about confessing their sins or weaknesses. They usually tend to ignore them altogether, or at least won’t talk about their personal faults to other Christians. I think we Christians have too much difficulty admitting to other Christians (or even non-Christians) that we are still sinners. We think everyone else in our church is doing just great striving for holiness and would never slip up, let alone foster certain darling sins. Well, it’s about time we all admit we suck at obeying God. Please excuse the colloquial speech.

I’ll start the confessions and say I have trouble spotting my own faults. I don’t think this is unusual among people, but when I try to evaluate my sins, my mind goes blank. Don’t think I would ever call myself perfect, though. I know that I am a sinner and that God’s grace and Christ’s price gives me my only hope to live with God for eternity. As a young child, I used to ask God to forgive me for the sins I didn’t know about because I was terrified of forgetting to confess something I had done wrong. Now that I’m older, I’m still ignorant of the specifics on my rap sheet. My self-image is distorted and warped, like an imperfect mirror that fails to show an accurate reflection (1 Cor. 13:12).

Every once in a while, God gives me a nudge in the ribs so I will look away from the bad reflection. He often uses my close family members, the people who know me best and are not afraid to say where I come up short. Recently, one of these wake up calls told me that ignorance of my sins gave me a sense of humility and holiness, which really just masked the pride lurking underneath. Sometimes I struggle to stifle the pride, other times, I leave it be and neglect to name it for what it is.

So how do we fight pride? My strategy: confession. We ask the Holy Spirit to give us a better image of how we really are. We listen to those closest to us about the faults they see. We refuse to live ignorant of our faults, and then we admit the true nature of our mistakes and weaknesses. We say, “I am not a good person.” Compared to Jesus, such a person does not exist. We all come short. We all are sinners. Only then will we have the humility to see our true human state.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Books

 

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Movie Adaptations and the Real-Life Stories

Blue Like Jazz: The Movie

Last week, I watched for the first time “Blue Like Jazz: The Movie.” I only saw the trailer last spring, so I was surprised to find it already available in the grocery store Redbox vendor. If you have not heard, besides Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller wrote Blue Like Jazz, the best-selling book of “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality.”

I read this book for the first time after getting it for free at a college orientation fair. While the book pulls together several personal essays about Christian life and knowing God, the movie focuses on a particular section of the book concerning Miller’s experiences at intensely liberal, strictly nonreligious, Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Watch the trailer here:

If you have read the book, you may notice that the main connection between the book and the movie is the title. The movie follows a new, fictionalized plot based off of Miller’s real-life story. This means readers of the book may get confused at certain points and say, “Wait a minute. Back up there. That’s not how it goes.” At other points, readers may also flat-out declare, “That never happened!” And they will be right. Consider it a “re-interpretation” of the book more appealing for a movie audience. And it is very appealing. If you have read the book and don’t mind fictional spin-off, the movie is hilarious while dramatic, entertaining while thought-provoking.

If you have not read the book, you may wonder what the astronaut has to do with anything or why a rabbit is frequently seen chasing after a female carrot. The symbolism of either Don the astronaut or Don the rabbit may pass over your head. Readers could recognize these, however, as creative additions from the comic strips in Blue Like Jazz that Miller uses to illustrate his stories.

So while the movie did have its start in Blue Like Jazz, don’t skip your reading if you have a book review due for class. Both are thoughtful works of art that should be enjoyed separately, on their own terms.

On another note, my enjoyment of Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What has led me to consider writing my own book that takes after the personal essay style Miller employs so beautifully. I took a Creative Nonfiction Writing class last spring and received much encouragement to continue using that writing style, which somewhat resembles the posts of this blog. We will see where God takes this idea, and in the meantime, I will continue sharing my thoughts here. If anything does come of it, I only hope no one wants to dramatize my life story into a screenplay.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Books