Thursday, March 31, 2011

UnConditional: The call of Jesus to Radical Forgivenes...

  For the past week or so I have been reading the book “UnConditional: The call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness” by Brian Zahnd (which you can get for free as an EBook on both and  Honestly I picked up the book as a challenge for myself….I am not the most forgiving person ever…and since I honestly do want honor God in every area of my life and become a more forgiving person… I figured a book like this might start me off in the right direction.  So I tried to be as open as possible as I read each chapter and tried to glean as much as possible from each page…and let me tell you, there was a lot of great stuff in there.
  In the first Chapter the author shares a story, taken from the book “The sunflower” by Simon Wiesenthal, about a Austrian Jew imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War two, who is brought to the bedside of a dying SS officer to hold his hand while he confesses all the horrible things he has done and then who asks forgiveness of him.  “The sunflower” goes on to share the responses of 53 prominent thinkers of what they would have done in that position (would they forgive or not)…but Zahnd’s point, which he shares in his book by giving his own response to the question, is that Forgiveness is the foundation of Christianity…but not just forgiveness….rather the reconciliation, restoration, redemption that comes through it!
  Using the back drop of the sermon on the mount and the crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus Zahnd shares how in the world we are taught a system of revenge…an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth….and how we all seek justice on our own terms.  Yet God calls us to a new standard….to take up our cross and as Christ did on THE cross, “Forgive”.  He talks about how the pardon of the cross is scandalous in a society where payment or punishment is required for wrong…and how because of this radical forgiveness of Christ we are to become people who, unlike society, offer that same extravagant forgiveness to others.   This book is full of stories of people who were truly wronged and had no reason to forgive, but did….people like Pope John Paul who forgave his shooter and the Amish community that forgive the man who shot up their school house killing five young girls….and in so doing makes the point that forgiveness brings an end to the cycle of revenge!
   The author also talks about the idea of justice and how we all seek justice from our own point of view and at times what might seem “just” to you will seem “unjust” to me and thus ultimately true justice can only come from God the father.  He shares how forgiveness is not “forgetting” the past but that “forgiveness, when done as an expression of faith in God, allows us to have a new perspective on the past”.   It’s quite powerful stuff actually (although I can’t articulate it nearly as well as he does)! 
    Although I wish I could say that after reading this book I no longer struggle with forgiveness….that upon reading the last chapter I’ve just let everything go for good….but that’s just not reality.  Instead I’ve been holding onto a quote Zahnd made early on in the book that “...Forgiveness is an act of will and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart"....and I find myself each day, sometimes each moment, coming before God and asking Him to help me to forgive and to understand more fully how much I have been forgiven so that the overflow of his forgiveness would run through me to the others in my life (Lord hear my prayer).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Matters of the heart...

  The other day I was sitting in my room trying to have some quiet time when I kept finding myself stressing over how utterly frustrated I am with certain relationships I have in my life.  I want to be the kind of person who loves unconditionally, but honestly, sometimes it seems that the best I can do with some people is straddle the line between love and hate. So I decided to do a little study and looked up all those verses in the bible that talk about how we are to treat “one another”.  Verses like…

*Love one another (John 13:34, 35; 1 John 3:11, 23; 1 John 4:7, 11)
*Be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
* Live in Harmony with one another (Romans 12:16, 1 Peter 3:8))
*Stop passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13)
*Accept one another (Romans 15:7)
*Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
*Bear with one another (Ephesians 4:2)
*Be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 5:21, 1 Thes 5:13))
*Encourage and build one another up (1 Thes 4:9; 1 Thes 5:11)
*Spur one another on (Hebrews 10:24)
*Offer hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
*Carry Each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)

  ….what I realized is that not a single one of these verses (there’s more than just what I listed) talks about the other person’s actions or attitudes….instead each and every single verse focuses on the attitude of your own heart!  So often it’s easy for me to think about how somebody else acted or came across or what they said…as if that justifies me in however I respond.  But the reality is…on judgment day, when I stand before God, I will not responsible for others, but rather for myself….so it doesn’t matter if I feel like someone else is being a jerk, is too arrogant, rude, hurtful, etc.  What matters is that I chose each moment to live for God and honor him through my actions.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Success means Never,Never Giving Up...

  The first five minutes of any run are usually pretty hard for me.  I go through this major mental battle over whether or not I can actually run or go for as long as I want…..I doubt myself, think about all the times I’ve failed, and think about quitting a million times over.  But if I just keep going…just keep pushing through those first five minutes I can usually make it home again without stopping.  Well tonight my run started out in that same mental space....and even though I’ve run the same route I did tonight a million times over, I honestly doubted I could do it.  It’s funny though how frustration in one area can bring up so many other frustrations in different areas of your life….and that’s what happened tonight.  My struggle in trying to push through the mental game of running was starting to bring up all these other failures I seem to be struggling with right now in my real life…and before I knew it I was getting quite angry, upset and frustrated….and I was starting to feel like not just this run, but life in general, was this huge mountain in front of me that I had no chance of climbing….and then I remembered something….
  Two years ago I went to Los Angles and had an opportunity to train with some of the best trainers out there (along with some of the coolest people I know).  One day in particular we were brought up to runyon canyon (a portion of which is pictured to the right…and when I say portion…I mean portion…this is only the top half of the canyon) and we were told we were to run to the top of it WITHOUT stopping…in fact the exact instructions were you can run as slow as you want…but whatever you do…DO NOT stop running until you reach the top!  Honestly…I didn’t think I could do it.  The canyon’s trail had such a huge incline and although I was in much better shape than I am now and had been running a lot more then I currently am…I doubted my own ability.  Nonetheless I decided to try…and upon trying I made a decision NOT to give up!  I wanted to…believe me I did….Everything within me was telling me I couldn’t do it…but I did….and it was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life (sounds silly but yet so true)!
  Tonight I needed to remember that story.  In terms of my run it reminded me to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and I would make it home (which I did).  I don’t have to run fast….it doesn’t have to look pretty…I just have to not give up!  And in terms of life…it reminded me that no matter how big of a hole I feel I need to crawl out of….no matter how high the “mountains” of life are around me….if I just don’t give up I will get to where I want to be.  It seems so simple….”Success means never, never, never giving up”….but sometimes those words just seem like words…and it’s nice to be able to look back at my own life and see the proof of them! So here's to climbing new mountains...and not giving up...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Max O'Hartford 5k....Race #1 of 2011....

  So at the beginning of the year I set a goal for myself that I wanted to run 11 races in 2011.  At first I was doing really good preparing myself to reach that goal.  Throughout most of January I was at the gym almost every night training and was being much more careful about what I was eating.  But….by February much of that fervor faded and I found myself struggling to even want to work out…never mind being ready to run a race.  So about a month ago I did a little research and came up with a list of 14 different races I wanted to do this year (I came up with 14 just in case I missed a few…that way I wouldn’t be scrambling at the end of the year to find a way to accomplish my goal).  Well as you can see from the picture to the left, I have now officially completed one race (I have this list hanging up in my room so that every day I am reminded why I need to get out there and train)!
  Today I ran the Max O’hartford 5k and I have to be honest….for the past few days I have been so nervous about this race.  I knew I could do it….I just wanted to be sure to do it well...and well I wasn’t so confident that this would be the result!  Thankfully….this turned out to be a really good run for me!  I felt great the entire time (well minus the first two minutes when for a brief second I was wondering why in the world I was trying to torture myself like this)…and although we (my sister ran with me) did running intervals for most of the race…I felt like I could have run the whole time (kind of an amazing feat for my first race in five months)!  We finished with an official time of 39:20 (a pace of 12:40 per mile).
   One of my favorite things about this race though was getting to do it with my sister (and some of our friends)!  When I first started running two years ago I did all these races alone…and although I was proud of the accomplishment, there just felt like there was something missing.  Having my sister by my side and my friends around us (okay so maybe in front of us…hee hee) made this race so much more fun!  Watching my sister push through wanting to quit….getting to listen to her hilarious comments…and having someone there to keep me running (when on my own I might have quit)…is priceless!  Such a great way to spend a pre-birthday weekend! 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Back to the Basics....

  Over the past several days I have been flip flopping back and forth between reading “Reasons for God” by Timothy Keller and “Simply Christian” by N.T. Wright.  And one of the things I love about both these books is the continual reminder within each of them that the Christian faith is not based on anything we do but on what Jesus did on the cross!

  I don’t know about you but when I do something wrong, I immediately want to make amends.  If it’s something I’ve said, I immediately want to take it back or try to cover it with even more words.  If it’s something I’ve done, I want to hide it away (or myself away) or do something else in order to make it better.  If it’s something I didn’t say or didn’t do, well then I try to say or do something else in order to fill in the giant hole I just created.  The thing is… matter how much good I try to do to make up for my wrong….the wrongs still there.  And even when other people have forgiven me, often times I struggle to forgive myself.
    In terms of my faith, growing up I believed in God, but I saw Him as a dictator in heaven who had all these rules and regulations I had to follow in order to be allowed entrance into his kingdom.  Over the years that turned into a belief that if I actually did all the right things and said all the right things then I would earn my spot.  That seemed all well and good for me until I committed what was in my mind was my first “unforgiveable sin”….after that came shame, fear, cover up….and more sin.  All of a sudden it became painfully obvious to me that I couldn’t do anything to make amends to God…and well since my faith was based on what I did…it  became harder and harder  to come to God at all.
  Then I had an experience with God unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.  It’s like I was standing in the presence of a holy, perfect God….broken, ashamed, afraid….and I felt loved!  It made no sense….and at times it still doesn’t!  How can a perfect, holy righteous God love someone like me…who parades around like I have it all together all the while knowing how much of a screw-up I am?!?!  None-the-less in that one experience, for that one moment, I actually understood what Grace truly was and that my faith isn’t about me and my ability to perform, but rather it’s set in the firm foundation of Jesus Christ, his perfection, and his ultimate sacrifice of giving His life to cover for my sin!
  Most days I still struggle with fully understanding this.  I worry that the next mistake or wrong thing I do will be the end all be all to my relationship with God.  But then I come basic to the basics….to the cross…to the understanding that I am saved by God and not by me.  And then this understanding of God’s perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).  So that’s my prayer for today….that I would continually go back to the basics and live at the foot of the cross.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I wanna be in the light....

  A few years ago now there was this church that put up signs all around where I lived with the message “No perfect People Allowed”.  I don’t know anything about this church or its religious stance, but I thought that was a pretty great way to advertise.  I mean if Jesus came not for the healthy but for the sick, then shouldn’t churches be full of less than perfect people?!  And what a comfort to think that you don’t have to have it all together to come to church!
  Unfortunately though, more times than not Christians (at least in my point of view) seem to come across as “perfect”.  They never seem to struggle with anything, always have a smile on their face, never get sick, never run out of money, always have the right thing to say, always have the right clothes, carry all the right beliefs, have all the right answers, etc.  Okay so maybe I’m exaggerating here…maybe I’m overly cynical because I spent years in my Christian walk trying to live up to this “perfect” standard I saw portrayed around me, and yet failed miserably.  But if Christians are after all human and not God, why is it that so many Christians put on that “I have it all together, even if I’m falling apart inside” front ….and why is it I feel the need to play along.
  This morning I stumbled across a verse in 1 John that truly grabbed my attention and sort of relates to this.  “But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin”.  Now I am no great bible scholar…but I tend to ask lots of questions of Scripture…and immediately after reading this I started thinking how is it that “living in the light” leads to “Fellowship with one another”.  I can see how being honest with God would result in that type of relationship with Him….but to one another?!?  It seems to me, even in the past few months, when I’ve tried to be honest with where I stand in my faith, the response of people has only made me wish I had never said anything to begin with.  And that results in making me want to pull away from the “fellowship” not draw closer to it.  So what could this verse possibly mean?!?!
  I’ve been thinking about it all day…and the only thing I can come up with is that when we live in the light of Christ we recognize that we are all “sinners saved by grace”….that there’s no dividing line….that there’s no I’m better than anyone else and no others being better than me!  We are all in the same boat…all on the same journey.  And if we are all in this together...all living under the blood…and all one….then that automatically leads to having a “Fellowship with one another”…and give us the freedom to be real….and the freedom to truly grow.  Then again...maybe I'm still trying to digest yesterdays sermon and thus seeing everything through that one set lens.  All I know is...I want to live in the light!