It's All About Me - Not!

I took my mother back to Buffalo this weekend and today when I was making my way home several things happened that inspired the idea for this post. One of the first rest areas I stopped at in Ohio was filled with summer travelers. Some of these were families trying to get their vacations in before school starts again. Others were moms and dads taking their students off to their first semester at college. Still others were families in flux, moving themselves and their belongings from one location to another. I haven't seen so many trucks and trailers filled with furniture and mattresses as I did today.

As I was walking back to my car I noticed a young lady walking into the building with a sunny yellow tank top on. Emblazoned on the front in white and silver letters her shirt read, "It's all about ME!" The first thought that ran through my head was the typical mom thought, "You might think it is honey, but good luck with that." Ha, ha. After scolding myself, I thought, there is a sad reality to the statement that graphic tee was making.

Our world, our society, our town, our family and yes even myself are all about ME! We want, we need and when we get, we want and we need more. We take pride in temporary fixes. I did this, I did that...We thrive on being at the center of life; my car, my clothes, my house, my job, my kids, my husband. We even own God....my God...whether said in vain, or said as a form of worship. Where exactly does it say in God's word that we are the center of the universe? God created us, we did not create Him.

When I got back into my car to continue my journey I mused over this idea. When I was in college at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, I joined a drama team. One of the dramas we performed was titled King Me. This short little skit showed a variety of characters all absorbed in themselves. Each individual would point to themselves looking quite pleased and say, "Me!" A couple was fighting, each pointing to themselves angrily, shouting, "Me!" A little girl with pig tails and a large lolly pop twirled her hair, licked her pop and said, "Me!" After the group had reached a sufficient decibel level, all self consumed in their me-isms, a light flashed and they all froze in place, stunned to silence. In walked God. He touches one of the frozen individuals and they awake seeing Him for the first time. "You!" Suddenly, the one begins running to all of the others shaking them out of their self induced comas and pointing to Him, "You! You!" 

 Pixabay

Pixabay

When I got on the Ohio Turnpike just past Cleveland, traffic became a clogged, slow moving mess. After about an hour of barely moving I passed a multi car accident. Tears came to eyes as I saw the extensive damage; a semi truck, a small car, a mini van were just a few of the vehicles damaged, crushed and even on the cement partition that divided the highway. The idea that it really is not all about me hit home. There were people in those cars. Maybe even families on vacation. Someone may have died. Someone, who was waiting for their loved ones to arrive would be getting a phone call. I felt sick.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
— Philippians 2:3-4 (NASB)

In a world that is saturated with self we need to look at what we are all about. Are you all about you? Are you impatient, demanding, and consumed with getting your own way? It doesn't matter who you are, what you do or where you are from. We all struggle with selfishness. Even as a parent, when our children do something wrong, are we upset because we want what is best for them, or are we upset because we look bad? 

Paul said to do nothing from selfishness. Nothing! Wow. I don't know about you, but I need to look at my life, my thoughts, my actions and so on and ask God to show me where I need to stop being selfish. This quote from George Bernard Shaw sums it up. 

This is the true joy of life: the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clot of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
— George Bernard Shaw

(An update that I saw later in the evening said that 10 cars were involved in that accident and a young girl was announced dead at the scene, while others were injured and taken to hospitals. Some were life-flighted. If you think of it, pray for those involved: the family of the girl who died, the truck driver that started the chain reaction and those others who were injured. It really isn't about us, is it?)

The Cherubim and the Flaming Sword

When I think of the word memorial my mind fills with images made of stone: buildings, statues, cement benches, large rocks and walls engraved with names and dates of people who are no longer with us. Memorials are built to help us remember. They are there to remind us of lives sacrificed for ideals or to bring to remembrance great men and women who changed our world for the better because of their ideals. Popular memorials include The Lincoln Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A gravestone is a memorial and so are the vast faces of Mt. Rushmore. In the Bible memorials often took the form of altars that men such as Noah, Moses and Abraham set up to worship God.

Wikipedia defines the word memorial:

A memorial is an object which serves as a focus for memory of something, usually a person (who has died) or an event. Popular forms of memorials include landmark objects or art objects such as sculptures, statues or fountains, and even entire parks.
— Wikipedia.org

Over the next few weeks, I would like to look at some Biblical memorials. What I refer to as a memorial may be my own interpretation of the word. The point I want to try to make is a memorial should be a "thing" that makes us remember. Obviously, when you look at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, if you know your history, you remember what a great man and President he was and what he did to end slavery and bring unity to our Nation. The large carving in stone brings to remembrance the blood and sacrifice of thousands of men we do not know. Some were brothers by blood. Some were brothers by faith, but all of them believed they were fighting for a higher purpose. We should remember that.

In the third chapter of Genesis, we read about the fall of man (and woman) from God's grace and their subsequent expulsion from paradise. God had given them freedom to enjoy any of the delicacies in the garden, except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. From that one tree they were instructed to not eat. If you read the story here, you see how crafty the serpent was. He was and is a master of manipulation. He came to the woman, possibly because she is relational. She had no qualms about talking with the serpent, who happened to be very beautiful. Adam, may have just hit it over the head with a shovel for skulking about the garden. But Eve, she spoke with the beautiful snake. What I am curious about here is why Eve misquoted what God had said. God had told them not to eat of the tree, but she goes on to tell the serpent God said, "You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die." I am not going to spend time in this post discussing how that came about, but what happens thereafter has affected us all. The serpent manipulated and the women ate, and the man ate. They disobeyed and they were driven from the garden.

Tree

We can sit here and think, why did they do such a stupid thing? It was paradise! Perfect weather, sunshine, blue skies, green grass, no mosquitoes....I am just believing that part. But we are all guilty of not being satisfied. We all struggle with pride, thinking, I got this! So where does the memorial fit into all of this? Read on:

So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
— Genesis 3:24 (NASB)
Fence

I think the cherubim and the flaming sword are a memorial of sorts. They were put there, according to the scriptures to guard the way to the Tree of Life. Life was no longer being offered, now only hardship, aging and death. Obviously, in our day and age the garden of Eden no longer exists. There is no cherubim with a flaming sword sitting outside some garden gate in the Middle East. But at that time I think the cherubim and the flaming sword were a sign; a memorial that this could not be undone. Sin had come into the world and no one was allowed to go back. The beauty and perfection of the garden had been given over for the selfishness and pride of the flesh. That angel and his flaming sword were a memorial set up so that all who passed by could see and remember. They could see that this was once the place where God walked with His man and His woman. They could know and remember that it was no longer possible, at least not for the common man, until the cross. 

Why is this important for us, as Christians to remember? Because this is where we came from. This is our heritage. Yes, you heard me. Sin is our heritage. 

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—
— Romans 5:12 (NASB)

We really don't like to talk about sin. It make us uncomfortable. But so do memorials. Memorials remind us that someone gave their life so we might live. In the same way, Jesus gave His life so we might live. The cherubim and the flaming sword remind us why Jesus had to give His life for us. And praise His name, there is hope. 

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
— Romans 5:19 (NASB)

No! We cannot go back to the garden. That way has been closed, but a new way has opened up. And there is no angel with a flaming sword standing in front of that way, but a Savior with open arms. 

A Personal Story of Growth

Between my freshman and sophomore years at college, I had an internship with my church's youth pastor. He took three of us college age adults and offered a summer of intensive training as co-leaders of our youth group. I knew I wanted to serve God, but I was not sure what that was going to look like, so I was excited about the opportunity to learn and grow under Pastor Dave. Our tasks involved working directly with the youth, planning and implementing activities, as well as speaking and leading our church's midweek prayer services. Not only that, but Dave met with us weekly as a mentor leading us in prayer and memorization of scripture. This was a time of phenomenal growth and excitement as a young person.

church

However, God has His own way of causing growth in our lives and His ways are not always pleasant. About mid way into this summer adventure I began having pain under my left armpit. After a few days large red lumps developed. Not being one to hurry to the doctor, my mother had a two volume set of medical diseases put out by Reader's Digest. In another day or two, when the red lumps painfully erupted, I knew I had a case of boils. An armpit in the heat of summer is not a pleasant place anyway, but throw in some oozing, festering lumps and you can be sure I wasn't a happy camper.

If you have never experienced boils, I can only say, I hope you never do. They are extremely painful. For the most part they can be treated with warm compresses, topical antibiotic ointment and frequent cleaning. If a fever develops see the doctor. For me, there was no fever, just three or four very painful lumps that had to be cleaned and tended several times a day.

In the midst of this difficulty, on one particularly painful day, I cried out to God as I was attempting to clean my wounds.

I asked Him, "Why is this happening? What is it that I need to learn?" 

As if He spoke audibly He said, "Your attitudes are like these boils. You try to pretend things don't bother you, but your spirit is a festering sore waiting to burst. You have a sickness inside of you that you need to let me heal."

Wow! He was right! I had found myself over the course of those weeks becoming increasingly jealous of my co-workers at the church. I was not the dominant, funny, cute personality. I was the work horse. I also found myself frustrated with the youth. They were self absorbed and only ever concerned over having fun, rather than desiring Jesus. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. There I was acting just as immature as some of the 13 year olds and being a hindrance, rather than a help to my fellow ministers. 

Right there in my bathroom at home I fell to my knees and wept. I was letting God down and I was selfish. I confessed my jealousy, my impatience and my lack of love and asked God to help me to grow.

I kid you not, when I say, within a couple days my boils were almost fully healed; the pain, redness and lumps all disappearing as if they had never been there. I realize a skeptic could say, that the boils had run their course and with proper care were at the point healing could happen. I disagree! God knows me so well. He knows my need for pictures. I am a writer. He knows that pictures will stick with me forever and indeed they have. He knew the only way I was going to "get it" was to make me "feel it."

God does not always smack us up side the head to teach us something, but He does what is needed to implement growth in our lives. I grew in three ways that summer. 

First, I grew in a very personal way. It is not easy to be brought low and told that you are really messing up, but God did that to me. It allowed me, not only to see the depth of my sin, but the heights of His love. My mind grew as it realized that God does speak outside of His word. He speaks in very real "words" to our hearts. My emotions grew as I had to let God take the dross that had floated to the surface of my spirit and skim it off. 

 Photo Credit  Rebecca Trumbull

Photo Credit Rebecca Trumbull

I also grew in the area of my relationships. I shared my trial not only with my mom, but went to those I was working with, including Pastor Dave, and apologized for having a bad attitude. The use of "analogy" has become a way God allows me to help and understand others. Through other trials in life, God has brought me to a place where I try to think before I act and where I can have a genuine hurt for others who are in pain, physical or emotional.

And finally, God grew me in the area of ministry and community. I realized this wasn't a "one trick pony" show. We are all part of the body and we are all necessary to the body. It is always hard to watch others getting the praise and credit for their work and good deeds, but I have learned to be content (or at least I try) where God has placed me. Not everyone can be a brain or an eye. Some of us are toes and shins! Ha, ha.

God teaches us in very different ways, but He does it for our growth and benefit and for the growth and benefit of others around us. Don't be afraid of growth, even if it is unpleasant. It is just another way, an Almighty God demonstrates His great love toward us. 

It Hurts!

Suffering? Yeah, I get it. It hurts! Don't give me the platitudes that God won't give me more than I can handle, or that everything will turn out rosy, or that God will right every wrong. I have had more than I can handle. Things are not rosy and there are a lot of wrongs that have been done and thus far nothing has been made right. Don't worry, I'm not bitter. I'm too tired, too sad to be bitter. Sometimes the sadness wells up so fiercely, I feel like I will die crying, so I forbid myself to cry.

So what is the point? Why so much suffering? There are some, that say suffering always has a purpose and there are some who say, suffering doesn't have any purpose, except that we live in a fallen world. I must side with with a third party on this one. God Himself. 

and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
— Romans 8:17 (NESV)

When it refers to Christ's suffering it refers to all that He experienced as a man. He understood the limitations of the flesh; the need for food, rest and the need to get away. He touched sorrow, saw disease and death. The culmination of His own experience was humiliation, pain and death on a splintered cross.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
— Philippians 1:29 (NESV)

You see, everything about our lives, about my life, has to be viewed in relation to God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit. When I put my trust in Jesus as a twelve year old, I wasn't just trusting Him for life and light and all that is beautiful. I was trusting Him with death and darkness and all that was ugly. I didn't know at twelve, just what sort of ugliness would touch my life. But yes, I signed up for the whole deal, not just the good parts.

If He considers me worthy of suffering with Him, I will suffer. If I should not only believe but also suffer for His sake, I will suffer. This isn't about me. It's about Him. And how very awesome, magnificent and perfect He is. He allows me to suffer with Him. 

I know we live in a fallen world. There is sickness, and pain and death and evil in its purest form, but if I look I can see glimpses of Him, His glory, His goodness, His love. The sun shining after many cloudy days, birds singing, buds carefully pushing their way out of darkness into the light, a meal to eat, a blanket to put on....

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
— I Peter 4:19 (NESV)

Not everyone likes the idea that it is God's will that we suffer. But Peter stated it pretty plainly. That doesn't mean when we make a choice to sin that we are going to suffer according to God's will. Sin has it's own consequences. I believe Peter was talking about the times that we suffer and it just doesn't make any sense. Look at the life of Job. By worldly standards and our own Christian standards we would look at Job and think he was a pretty fine fellow. He was wealthy, had a thriving family, honored God in all he did, but then God allowed Satan to test Job. It didn't make sense.

Suffering often doesn't make sense. We always want to know why. Why is this happening? What did I do wrong? If you read through Job you will begin to see, it wasn't about Job. It was about God. Our lives here on this planet are about Him. No one wants to hear that. We all want to think we are the center of it all; that life is all about us, what we do, who we hang out with, where we go to school, what our careers are, who we marry and what purpose our lives have. But the truth is that we exist to bring glory to Him. He truly is the potter. I am the clay. If He chooses to crush me or whirl me around on the wheel, He can do it. But He doesn't do it vindictively. He does it because He loves us and He wants all to come to repentance.

Have I had more than I can handle? Yes, but He has been with me through it. Is everything rosy? No, but I catch glimpses of Him at every turn. Will He make it all right in the end? Things will turn out as He wants them and that may not look like what I thought it would look like. Suffering is God's hands, taking my face and turning me gently towards Him. 

As with everything, I have a choice. I can pull away from Him like a defiant 5 year old and run. I can become bitter, claiming that God has not been fair. I can turn away from Him and walk in the flesh causing the ripple affect of collateral damage, or I can fall into His waiting arms and let Him wipe my tears, pick me up and carry me through. Forgive me, Lord, when I have tried to do it any other way.

What is the Point of Easter?

We live in a day and age where sin is no longer called sin. We classify, categorize and explain it away; or we don't talk about it. It doesn't matter how we define it, what God called sin from the beginning of time is, in fact, still skipping around on planet earth, just like those dust bunnies lurking under your fridge. Sure you can sweep them away; suck them up in your Hoover, but before you know it they will be back, breeding and growing.

Easter Eggs

I mean, what is the point of Easter? Colored eggs? Candy? A new dress? All those things are great, especially in the context of family, but that is not what Easter is about. Easter is about Jesus. Christmas is about Jesus. One is about life and the other about the death that leads to life. Without Jesus there would be no Easter. So what was that all about? The blood sacrifice, demanded by God, paid for by His only Son....It was because of sin. There! I said it! It was because of disobedience. Jesus died and rose again because of anger, rebellion, pride, gluttony, murder, rape, gossip, addiction, adultery, bullying, incest and a plethora of others.

So today, in this month, when we think about, ponder and celebrate Easter, ask yourself, "Why?" I'm celebrating because I believe in a God who is so good, not only did He love me in my most pitiful, dark and sinful state, but He provided a way out of it.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6 - NESV)

 Photo Credit:  Rebecca Trumbull

Photo Credit: Rebecca Trumbull

Exclusivity? Absolutely. Show me a belief system that is not is some way exclusive. But in Christianity we are not able to cross the gap that came about because of sin and it separates us from God. Only Jesus can do that. That is what Easter is all about.