Friday, October 28, 2005

A Lost Coin and a Found Ring

"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is great rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Luke 15:8-10

I own a ring that I wear on an almost daily basis. The ring consists of two silver circles banded together at the base. It has a small cross on one of the bands, balanced by a small dash on both sides. From a purely material and profit perspective, the ring is not worth much at all. If I sold it I would be lucky to get more than a few dollars. However, to me this ring is priceless. It was given to me by my best friend in college as a gift for being one of the groomsmen in his wedding. He was going to dental school and took a jewelry making class and made the ring himself. He created it especially for me and everytime I look at it, it is a reminder not only of my friend and the memories we shared together, but also of all the good times and wonderful experiences I had when I was first in college.

The last 7 summers I have worked at a church camp in Wisconsin. Until this summer, I had always kept the ring at a safe place at home for fear that I would loose it amidst all the craziness at camp. This summer I decided to bring my ring along and wear it. After having worked at the camp longer than some of the children coming there were old, I knew it would be safe when I wore it and on the occassions that I would have to take it off I knew I could keep it in a safe place.

There was one day this summer when I woke up in the morning and I couldn't find the ring. I had placed it on the shelf the night before in the same safe spot as I had done almost every night that summer, but the ring was not there. I began searching all over the place. I looked in every bag and container in the cabin. Then I relooked. I made and unmade the bed three times. Later in the day I explained to my campers what had happened and they searched all their bags. We took every piece of trash out of the trash cans, but were unable to find it. We eventually gave up. The ring was gone, presumably forever. The next day I was still concerned and during free time began looking through my bags one more time. I emptied my laundry bag onto the floor. The day before I had done the same thing, but this time I felt every piece of laundry instead of just dumping out and searching through. During the search, I found the ring. Somehow it had fallen into a pocket on a pair of work-out shorts. I was filled with joy. I immediately told my campers when I found them what had happened and that night I gave a devotional on what had happened.

God loves us all and whether we choose to accept that or not, it is true. God rejoices over us and wants the very best for us. But many of us have no idea how much God loves us. We turn our backs against Him and despite his gentle words and kind touches, we turn a deaf ear. Even those of us who are believers and have accepted His grace, mercy, and love are no better. We know that in the long run sin is destructive and that it has consequences, but we love our sin and it makes us feel so good. God's heart grieves and groans over us when we reject him. Yet, God also rejoices over us. When someone first realizes their true nature and turns from their ways to Jesus, He rejoices! When we realize our sin and confess it to Him, He rejoices. Jesus rejoices in the same way that I rejoiced on the day I found my lost ring.

We are all sinners, tainted with the soul-sickness until we die. But, we can have an abundant and joyful life. So, if you know of the grace of God and how He has redeemed you, rejoice! And when someone who has never known Jesus begins to accept His gift and starts a relationship with Him, rejoice! Rejoice in the same way that the woman rejoiced when she found her coin and in the same way when I found my ring. God is rejoicing and so should we.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Curse of Odin

In Norse mythology, Odin was chief of the gods (Thor was his son). He was the god of both war and wisdom and it was said that there was none as wise as Odin (that's why he was in charge of war--war shouldn't be rushed into rashly). However, in becoming wise, Odin had to pay a price. He became wise from drinking from this fount of wisdom (the name mistakes me) but in order to do so he had to sacrifice one of his eyes. It was a painful choice, but Odin believed that the only way he could properly rule the heavens and the earth was if he was wise. He chose to give up one of his eyes. As a result, he was able to drink from the fount, but he lost an eye and for ages after, every now and again, his socket would burn like crazy.

Wisdom does not come easy. It comes with a price. This is something I am continually learning as I travel through life.

I know there are many much more wise and knowledgable than me. There is so much that I do not know. But I have gained some wisdom over the years and it has come with a price. The past couple weeks I have been doing a lot of reflecting. I've looked back on my life and seen some times where I could have made a decision totally different than the one I chose. No one (except perhaps God) would have faulted me had I made the other decision. These other decisions would often have been the more safe choices, the choices with the least risk, the choices where I could have had a lot more fun. But, these decisions would not have been the wisest decisions. Wisdom comes with a great price.

As I have been reflecting, I know in my heart of hearts that the choices I've made and the life I have been leading has been the right one. I have no regrets. But, yet, I've been tempted. It would be much easier to live in ignorance and foolishness and in many ways it can seem that it would be much more fun. But, I would be lost then. Not only that, but even if I wanted to go back now, I can't because the knowledge is deeply rooted within me. I might be able to put on a good front for awhile, but I wouldn't be able to live very long with myself, let alone before God if I lived a lie. Once you put your hand to the plow there is no turning back. And in all honesty, I don't want to go there. I don't want to live like that. The life I know, one that is rooted in Truth and Wisdom, is the most abundant life I could possibly have. Yet, the temptation is there and the struggle for temperance continues in my soul. I'm tempted to look at this as the Curse of Odin. In reality, it is a blessing instead.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

On The Day After Seeing the Astros Kick Our Butt

Well, the Cardinals lost last night. I've never been so emotionally tied to a sporting event as I was last night. I actually feel down today. I so wanted the Redbirds to pull through. It would have made a great fairy tale story. It was, after all, the last season of Busch Stadium. Pujols historic home run in game 5 would have taken its place as one of the best hits in the history of baseball. But, alas, it is now over. They've already started tearing Busch up this morning. It'll be brought down piece by piece over the next 2 months. Pujols homer will be remembered, but eventually forgotten. And another wild card team will be playing in the World Series.

I predicted at the beginning of the season that it would be the White Sox and Cardinals in the World Series. I was wrong. The Cardinals only played 3 of the 6 games decently. The other 3 (including last night's game), the Redbirds didn't even bother to show up. Maybe next year.

I'm rooting for the White Sox to win it all (in 5 games). The curse of the Bambino is gone, it now should only be fitting that the curse of the Black Sox be erased as well. And just maybe, then they'll pardon Shoeless Joe and restore him to his proper place in Baseball.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Couple of Saturdays Ago....

This past Saturday was a very strange, spiritual, and surprisingly uplifting day. For those who don't know, I've been a fairly busy person lately. I'm student teaching, working on a very limited part-time basis, and was acting in a play. I haven't had much down-time, Tom-time as I like to call it. I've been in a state of almost constant movement, interrupted only occassionally by moments of sleep and stagnation playing a video game. I've only been reading and trying to meditate on one Bible verse a day and most of my prayer life has been these quick shout-up send-outs that are extremely heartfelt and sincere, but also very short. At the same time, I've haven't felt distant from God. I know that I've been doing the things I'm supposed to do. I know I've been following closely at His side, though He's had to lift me up and carry me a lot more than I would like. Things have been going well.

But on Saturday, I got mad at God. For starters, the play I was in closed Saturday. It's almost always bittersweet when a show closes (usually more bitter than sweet) and this past Saturday was no exception. My emotions are usually always tuned up on play days and on a final day even more. There was also emotions I was struggling with, concerning a girl (perhaps I'll write about tomorrow) that I was wading through, that I really didn't want to deal with. In the morning I was supposed to mow my family's yard only to discover that my brother had emptied all the gas cans and I had to drive 14 miles to the nearest gas station to buy gas to mow the lawn even though I haven't been able to afford putting gas in the car I drive to school and work each day. I was listening to the radio and the speakers were talking about the earthquake in Pakistan and my initial reaction was, "Who gives a f***. This is how it starts, the world coming to an end. What do I care if 10,000 people died in some earthquake 9,000 miles away. I just hope some of them knew Jesus." I couldn't believe the thoughts I was thinking and that's when I started to ball and hot tears ran down my face.

Had I really become so calloused? Is this what I'm really like? Why was I thinking these things? I had to look deep inside myself and quite frankly, I discovered things I didn't expect to find. Without Jesus in my life, those initials thoughts are perfectly normal. If the universe has no purpose, if our lives are truly devoid of meaning other than to perpetuate the human species and not destroy the world as we are taught, then why should we care about human angst and anguish half-a-world away? Better them than us. Better 10,000 poor Muslim Pakistanis than 10,000 afluent Americans. Sin causes us to think these things, to sometimes feel this way, and every once in awhile to even act on these thoughts and feelings.

But I'm not really that way. I hurt just about everytime I see someone injured, just about everytime I hear about someone abused, just about everytime I talk with a student or camper who is hurting deep inside. Most of the time, I feel like John Coffey in Stephen King's THE GREEN MILE who talks about when he sees a person suffering, it makes his head hurt like shards of glass poking in his mind. That's how I feel most of the time. Most of the time when I look around at all the pain and suffering around me, I feel like there are shards of glass poking in my mind. There is so much pain. So much anguish. So much despair and suffering. And most of the time, I think that John Coffey (yes, I know he's a fictional character, but stick with me) was lucky. Coffey actually had the ability to heal people. He could touch people, to take their suffering inside of himself and exhale it like a quickly evaporating noxious gas. It reminds me of the Apostles and how Peter and Paul and Phillip and Thomas and Andrew and all the others walked around with the same suffering around them, but were able to bend over, touch the outcasts, meet them where they were, and say, "In the name of Jesus Christ, you are healed." Then those people were healed: the blind could see, the lame could walk, the deaf could hear, the lepers turned to normalcy. So often in my life I have begged God to give me that power. I see so much pain and suffering around me. I see so many people hurting. I just want to (and sometimes have tried to) lay my hands and cry out "In the name of Jesus Christ, the one and only son of the one and only God, be healed." I guess I don't have the faith of the mustard seed because as far as I know, Jesus has never physically healed anyone through me. In fact, I know more people I have prayed with and for who have died or gotten more ill or who have suffered more than people whose lives suddenly improved.

The revelation that hit me was this. Despite how far I've come in my life, despite the fact that I've walked beside Jesus since I was a child, despite the fact that I've seen God do some incredible things in my life and I have and do testify about those things, despite the fact that most of the time I think with and in the Spirit, I am still a sinner. There is still sin within me. No matter how long I live or how much work God does in and through me during this life, I will always be tainted with sin. Remember all those "just abouts" and "most of the times" I mentioned? Yeah, most of the time, I'm aligned with Christ. But, there are times (more times than I'm aware) when I'm not. Sin, which causes so much pain and suffering, taints my life just as much as anyone elses. Thus, grace truly is amazing.

After realizing this, I felt totally in despair. The hot tears continued to run down my cheek. I gave up the most reasonable opportunity I ever had to make a break in the motion picture business and all the dreams I ever had since I was a kid to follow God's leading into teaching. When He told me, "Follow me, Tom. I know how much you want this, but not in your time, in My time," I believed Him. I wrestled every night with God for almost 6 months, but I accepted. I chose the path I knew God was calling me down: one of service and sacrifice in a place where I could for the moment be most used. C.S. Lewis once said that we don't know what sacrifice is until it hurts and I have to admit that the past few months I've been sacrificing and it hurts like the dickens (it really sucks not knowing exactly what or when you're going to be eating each day) and I don't like the way it hurts, but because of all the pain and suffering I've seen elsewhere, my pain has been diminished. Through my outburst and the revelation I had, I was reminded that even though I am still a sinner and will always be tainted by that sin, God still loves me. Not only that, but even though there is so much horror happening in the world, the little things I do each day--the student I cheer up in my classroom, the outcasted girl in the theatre who I befriend, the small amount of grace I try to show before I eat my food, the dime I place in the offering which might not seem like much but actually does hurt me financially, these things do matter. I was reminded that I, we, should keep doing these things. Big things will come along some day, but if I am not faithful in the small things, I won't be very faithful in the big things either.

Then I mowed the yard and created the Internet. :)