Monday, March 25, 2013

Obedience or sacrifice?

One day a couple months ago I was out taking a walk in a park and saw an elderly woman crying on a set of stairs.  She was alone but I didn’t think she was in trouble or pain.  I passed by her not wanting to intrude on what could have been a moment of reflection for her.  As I walked I prayed about what God would have me to do for her. 

He told me, “Tell her I love her.”

I walked around the circle and back to her with a hope I could tell her what I thought could brighten her day.  She was no longer sitting on the stairs but was now up a hill and walking toward some neighbors.  I started up the hill after her.  At that point I began to plan how I would tell her what I had heard God say.  To express love in Portuguese verbally is a little tricky, especially from a foreigner talking about God.  So, I started to formulate my own plan.  Any time anybody starts to add or subtract from what God is saying it leads to a mess because what’s going on is pride and pride and God are mutually exclusive.

Pride has ingredients and here’s the short list:  rebellion, arrogance, willfulness and stubbornness, stiff-necked and hard-heartedness, disobedience and a refusal to be corrected or taught.  Those things are poison to all growth with God.  In that short walk up the hill I began to descend a slippery slope.  I decided to give her Ten Euros along with God’s message to her. 

I was adding to God’s message now.

As I caught up to this fast walking, Portuguese, elderly lady she was now standing with two other women.   They also thought she was in some sort of distress and they were talking to her.  The message I was told to deliver to her got a whole lot more serious.  To tell a stranger with my shaky Portuguese that God loves you, while she’s crying on a park bench, was easier in my head than to say it in front of two more people.  The thoughts of their reactions intimidated me.

If I was gong to say or do anything, I should have obediently done what I heard. Instead, I reached for my wallet and asked if either of these women could speak English?  All heads nodded, “No.”

I tried to make them understand that I wanted to give this distressed woman what “I” thought she needed to make her day better.  I tried to hand her the Ten.  At first the woman looked at me with confusion and then suspicion and finally outrage.  I had completely offended her.  The women around her looked at me completely baffled by what this creepy foreigner was attempting to do.  I struggled to make them understand but it just escalated into more confusion.  Finally, I apologized and walked away leaving the three of them shaking their heads and dismissing me as a whacko.  I had so screwed up a simple assignment I couldn't really add, 
"Sorry for making your bad day worse but by the way, God loves you."

After the train wreck I caused, I had to take my failure to do exactly what I was told to do before God.

It was ugly.  Mountains of past failures based on the same, self-willed decisions washed over me.  I was still stinging from embarrassment and now I was being corrected and examined by God.   These “small” self-willed decisions are not small.  They are actually the infections in the soul that we can examine in a smaller dose, like a toxic slide under a microscope.  The poisons of pride, of rebellion, of self-will, and an independence from the plans (any plan) of God, is rebellion and the idolatry of self; it is a proof positive that there is a sickness that is rotting in the soul that needs to be radically dealt with.

My initial reaction to this woman when I saw her was emotional.  She was crying but she wasn’t bleeding or in pain and she didn’t look like she needed help.  I just wanted to help her so maybe I would feel good about my day.  So, I was actually going to use her distress to make me feel better about being me.

If I hadn’t asked God for what to do it would have been okay.  The lady was just having a bad day.   But since I did ask, He told me what to do.

When I decided that I would do what He told me I felt great but then I failed to obey. I added my own plan, to hand her a Ten.   That wasn’t at all what I heard from God.  As I returned to where she was, she was no longer there.  She was up a hill and talking to some neighbors.  What God had told me to say to her was now not in the privacy of just me and her but two other women.
As I climbed the hill I thought about how to say the simple words, “God loves you.”

Afraid of what they would think of me, I went to my plan and reached for the bill in my wallet.  Giving money is always a good thing, right?  No, actually obedience is always a better thing.

So, disaster unfolded.

When I got home I told my wife and she bit my head off because of the cultural, as well as the spiritual implications, for what I did to that lady. Later on that day my friends laughed in horror at my story.  I got zero sympathy.  I didn’t have any coming. 

What I got from God was correction (thankfully) in an arena of testing to reveal something to me in a smaller, controlled setting.  I had disobeyed God when He gave me a simple thing to do and I recognized it and admitted it.  I prayed that I would do better next time and to fight the lies in any area of my life that says: God needs my help, I can handle things on my own or I know what I’m doing.  I made a decision that afternoon to prepare my mind and my will to understand and to do exactly, exactly, what God wants me to do and that is where I am in my life now; pressing on in spite of the failures.

I really didn’t need to do anything for that lady.  
But, since I asked, I heard.  
If I had just done what I had heard I could have provided a message that we rarely hear when we're in distress in this world, "God loves you."  Those three words can give comfort and peace that no amount of money on this earth can compare with when you need to hear those words.

If I had just stuck to the direction from God and said that it would have been obedience and obedience to God is greater than anything I can come up with on my own.  


Monday, March 4, 2013

The Pope. (part 3 and final post)

The Pope.  

Years of consuming and regurgitating youtube conspiracy theories mixed with God’s message of the end of the world ended suddenly when I was confronted with a God that I had never imagined.  The universe cannot contain God but in my clever pride I thought I could cram Him into tidy comment boxes of 60 characters or less.  When God showed up I was leveled with a terror I cannot describe.  A person can believe whatever they want to believe about themselves as they type away in chat rooms but don’t think for a second you’re faking God out.

In my arrogance I thought I had the whole Christian “thing” down.  Yet, I knew absolutely nothing.  Nothing!  God showed me a side of His Nature I knew nothing about and that Nature is Holy.  Against that understanding I saw my complete and total nothingness, my abject, spiritual ignorance and poverty, my hypocrisy and my total desperation before Him.  I was consumed with terror.  When my anxiety had gone on long enough with my fascination of global deterioration and as I was drowning in a pit of doom addiction, God mercifully began to correct me.  On that day in December, the television, web and every form of entertainment and distraction that kept me from God abrubtly ended.  The moment that correction began I was lifted out of a pit of absolute despair and spiritual blindness and into a place of honest and necessary fear before a God that I was casual and smug about. 

There is a reverent fear for God that is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth in any person that wants to follow Christ.  Humility is another neccessity and so is love.  I knew nothing.  I still don’t know but I am coming to God with my desperate need to know.  A knowing that requires a doing.
For years I traded God’s urgency to live and share Christ’s love in the real world with typing about dread and doom in a cyber one.  I could not get out of those places on my own.  God was the One that pulled the plug(s) on all of it and then began to deal with me as a son who had wandered off into serious danger.  Over a year has gone by now and I only occasionally turn the televison on.  I got re-sensitized and can barely stand it now.

Last week I turned the television on just as they were breaking in with the report about the pope’s retirement. I’m not Catholic but the story caught my attention because it made me remember years of my life following end of the world stories on youtube and disasters in the news while flipping pages in my Bible.

This is not in the Bible but there is a story going on around the net about an Irish Archbishop, St. Malachy.  The story goes that he had a prophetic vision in the year 1139.  In this vision he named all the of the remaining 112 popes in order until the last one.  Like all prophecies outside of the Bible, St. Malachy’s accuracy is reliable depending on whom you listen to.  According to his prophecy though, the last Pope, Peter the Roman who will be pope number 112, will take the Catholic Church through the destruction of Italy and the Vatican and a great assault against the church in the last days.  Pope Benedict the XVI was number 111.

When I heard the breaking news about Pope Benedict retiring I was making a pumpkin soup with my son and I turned the television on.  Like my mom remembering exactly where she was when President Kennedy was assassinated, I will remember that news report.  I will remember it because of all the certainty in prophecy and conspiracy videos that I viewed online years ago regarding 2012 and the calamitous events that would destroy the world and begin a new, horrific one.  All the events that were predicted online that never happened.

I shut the television off as reporters began to talk future scenarios of the Catholic Church. My thoughts went to the net and wondered what all of those people trying to figure out the timing of the end of the world will do with the story of the pope’s early retirement?  Does his early retirement mean the end is sooner than later?  Will Peter the Roman actually come from Africa?  A black pope from where, contrary to that restaurant conversation I had a few weeks ago, Christianity is steadily growing.  As it is also growing exponentially in China, Brazil, Latin America, Asia and India.  In our relative West, New Age spirituality and secularism may be outgrowing church attendance in numbers but Christianity will never end, until God’s predicted end.  An end which only He knows the day or hour.

God only knows if St. Malachy’s prophecy is true but if it is true it doesn’t change a single thing about what I am supposed to do with my life right now.  In fact, if it is true it only elevates what I am supposed to be doing with my life. I am called to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and love my neighbor as myself.  That is more than enough to occupy my mind, heart and time for every available second of my life.

In those years when I filled my head with endless searches on the net studying events that point to the return of Christ, and the not-so-secret plans of evil empires here on earth, I got trapped. I got trapped in a pit of lies and was distracted and discouraged by dread. I was worrying about things I can’t change instead of dealing with things I must change.  I foolishly missed so much precious, immediate life in the process.  There is an end coming according to Jesus and He revealed that it will be terrifying.  So terrifying that the last thing anyone should be doing is wasting valuable life looking for it with gratification online.  I was seriously wrong because I did just that.  The sad irony is that for all of my online arguments defending God, I missed God in the process.

When Christ returns the earth will be in such a horrific state that mankind will be on the brink of destroying itself.  The first sign Jesus speaks about in regards to that end is spiritual deception.  People will be seeking God but rejecting the only path to Him which is Jesus Christ.  The urgency connected to all the terror coming is for Christians is to get busy seeking God, getting right with Him and to love Him and love those who need Him. There is nothing in the Bible about food storage, survival camps, hiding in an underground bunker until things get better or arguing on social media sites with the CAP keys down.

This week I found this prayer and I’ll close with it.

But as for me, my prayer is to You,
O Lord, in the acceptable time,
O God, in the multitude of Your mercy,
Hear me in the truth of Your salvation
Deliver me out of the mire,
And let me not sink;
Let me be delivered from those who hate me,
And out of the deep waters
Let not the floodwater overflow me,
Nor the deep swallow me up;

And let not the pit shut its mouth on me.

Psalm 69:13-15

God is still reaching His hand out in love to pardon and restore lives back to Him. 
To deliver those who believe in Him from every pit they have lost themselves in.

Thanks be to God for His great and merciful love.  May it be on every soul that calls out to Him in their desperate need for rescue. 

A rescue that only God Himself can give.