High-Kicking and Hugs

Today was my last day of undergraduate classes.  Everything is seeming sort of surreal, and I’ve been watching a lot of TV in the background while I work on a variety of papers and assignments, so I’ve started thinking of a number of things in terms of analogies, even more than usual.  For example, I recently submitted my 61-page thesis, on which I had gotten a lot of comments and indication that there was plenty of room for improvement (which there was) from my mentor.  Feeling somewhat badly about this, I said to myself, “That’s okay.  You were a little shaky on beam, but you’ll get it on bars!” as I prepared to do a practice defense.  (Clarification: The Paper is the Beam, the Defense is the Bars.  Yeah, well, things are crazy.)

Unfortunately for those who went to the theater with me, I recently saw “The Avengers,” which led to a deal of shouting “THERE HE GOES!” along with high kicking, walking unnecessarily dramatically, punching the air in slow motion, pretending I was about to fly away, having that pretend quickly ended by gravity, and occasionally, hollering, “THERE’S NO TIME!”

That last one has probably come to mind the most.  There’s NO time.  We’re at the end of my undergraduate career and I know that sadly, some of these people I’m not going to see again.  I was going through a bit of a rough patch and a conflict with a dear friend, and I remember thinking, “There is NO time to be at odds right now.  We got X number of weeks left and we need to be spending it the right way.  THERE’S NO TIME!”

Interestingly, I’ve mostly felt this way about my relationships.  That is, I haven’t been going to my professors and begging for more work because there’s no time left for me to keep doing undergraduate work, if that made any sense.  I’ve got five more years of study partying, so I think that bit’s covered.  I’m going to miss my current school, and I’m so disgruntled that some programs are starting that I’m not going to be able to participate in at all.  The time that I’ve got with this university and the amazing people at it is limited, and I desperately want to make the most of the week (AHHHHH!!!!) I have left.

It’s really a wonder that I don’t feel this way in general.  I think graduation snuck up on me- at least I’ve known for a good four years when that date would be.  But I don’t know when the endings of so many different things in my life will be.  I have no authority over when I might lose a friend, a connection, an object, an opportunity, or even my own life.  I don’t get to say, or even know, when this world will end.  It may very well be that there is no time.

We don’t need to go all Avengers and start firing imaginary bullets that never hurt anyone (I like feeling epic, but only with Nerf guns) while we holler things at our teammates who may or may not be actually playing along, wearing all black, and constantly getting new messages on our awesome-looking headsets.  There’s a battle going on, a serious one, but it’s for lost souls, not so much for physical territory.  And it is for that battle that we need to be aware of how very little time we have.

I don’t know how long I’ll get to see a certain friend on a weekly or daily basis, but I also don’t know how long I’ll get to share the love of Christ with certain people.  Sometimes I may literally have a matter of seconds.  It’s serious stuff.

The reason why this isn’t extraordinarily stressful is that it’s not all on me.  My strength and my purpose comes from Christ.  If I mess up, we’re not going to lose the planet earth to the Frost Giants.  We know for sure who the Victor is, and we just have the amazing opportunity to be a part of it and to prepare for Him to come back.

As Jesus says in Matthew 24, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

As for now, I’ll keep doing awkward little tumbles and kicks and giving out lots of good hugs, but I’ll also be keeping in mind that this is just one ending.  There are so many other stories that are only halfway through or are just beginning, or perhaps there’s another little scene coming after the credits, and I don’t want to slip off my guard for them.  I want to make the most of every opportunity.

Keep Watch.

There’s a group of people who say that the Bible says that the end of the world is coming on a particular day, specifically May 21, 2011, (though I’ve heard other dates from other groups).

Okay, I just have to address this.  I’m not sure what specific verses this group is referencing, but I believe, based off of Matthew 24, that we can’t predict what day Christ will return.  He could come tomorrow.  He could come in 50 years.  But we don’t know when the actual date will be.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father… Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” – Matthew 24: 36, 42-44

I’ve talked about “the end” on Parakaleo a couple of times in my posts “When I Reach the End” and “Saved!”.  Feel free to take a look!

Peering Forward

New Year’s Eve isn’t usually an abnormally great time of reflection for me, mainly because I’m constantly reflecting- I’m always thinking over why I did something a certain way, or why God did something a certain way, or what’s to come.

But here we are on New Year’s Eve- when we look back at the old year and try to look ahead at the new one.  I was thinking- I don’t know very much that is certainly going to happen in 2010.  At first I thought, “No, I know that Dawn Treader is coming out on December 10.”  (I’m excited.)  But that’s not certain either- the date could definitely move.  Things that we have planned or that we think are sure to happen can always be cancelled or missed.  All I know is that God loves me and He’s going into this with me, so I try to base any resolutions that I make off of that knowledge.

I typically like to make resolutions as I go along, and not just on New Years’ Eves, but here’s a few ideas I have for the end of 2009/beginning of 2010:

1.) Make a “Gratitude List.” Write down every last thing you’re thankful for (this may take some time- mine has over 200 things on it right now, and I’m not done!). As you write things down, let God know how much you appreciate them.

2.) If you’re a resolution-maker, make a resolution! Someone once told me that one of the most common resolutions, according to statistics, are to “lose weight” or “exercise more.” I challenge you to remember that “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8) Maybe set a few goals for your spiritual life this year- like trying to spend more time in the Word or inviting someone to church. It’s important to remember, though, that our relationship with Christ isn’t just about winning prizes or accomplishing man-made goals, so such goals or resolutions should be focused on growing in one’s relationship with Christ and glorifying Him.

3.) Pick a theme verse for this year. I have a habit- I’m not sure if it’s a bad or a good one- of looking back at how I made it through the past year, then turning to God and saying something along the lines of “Yeah, God! We made it! Bring on the next year and all that comes with it!” Not surprisingly, the “next year” brings a great deal of challenge, and probably quite a few tears, and some frustration, and the “bring it on” attitude is nearly entirely lost. When I do have such an attitude on January 1, however, I usually whip out some Bible verse that’s incredibly encouraging and empowering. Last year, it was from Psalm 27. “I am still confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” While that verse encouraged me several times throughout the year, I must admit that I completely forgot that those words were what I had kicked off 2009 for me. I wish I had jotted them down somewhere that I look often (as opposed to the place that I dug them up from to see what exactly it was that I said last year), because I know they would have lifted me up in the rough times that I was kind of expecting despite my “bring it on” attitude.

Regardless of whether you decide to share some of my end-of-year traditions, I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year’s Eve and Day and that God immensely blesses 2010 for all of us. It is my prayer that He will use 2010 to draw many, many people closer to Him. Happy New Year!

Time: The End and The Now

Well, we’ve arrived at the last of my posts on time.  =)

The Bible says that eventually, “at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

I once heard a speaker reword this a bit.  He said that God is going to be glorified through your life somehow… either through your success… or your downfall.  We have an opportunity to serve and help Him in this world, but if we don’t, it’s not going to phase His ultimate plan at all- we’re all subject to it.

That being said, we, as Christians, have a goal to work towards- a “chief end-“ to glorify God, by serving, trusting, and obeying Him.  We’re pressing on “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of [us].”  That quote comes from one of my most favorite verses in the Bible, Philippians 3:12, which I often cite when I’m struggling and truly need that encouragement to press on.  But right now, I’m looking at the part that reminds us that we will take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us.

We’ve looked at how we should be spending our time, and motivations for working to use our time wisely, but it’s also incredibly encouraging to remember what we’re working towards.  We’re not aimlessly working for a God who is just going to use us and dispose us- we are part of His family.  He loves us.  A lot.  And He took hold of us through His death and resurrection for a purpose.

It’s about the time of midterms, and general stress, and I definitely know (first hand) that it can be rough right now.  You may be wondering why you’re even taking these classes… or doing these extracurriculars… or filling out these applications… or setting aside time for a devotional.

“‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  Sure, everyone told you that verse when you graduated, but it’s just as true now.

Those plans to give you hope and a future are still in action, even when you’re struggling.  We have a prize to work towards. But it’s not just any prize- it’s a prize that has already been won for us by the most perfect, loving, glorious Best Friend we could ever have. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.”

Transcending Time

There is a song that was popular several years ago whose lyrics are as follows:

“I know today is taking me

Where I’m meant to be…

Life goes by; Who knows why?

I can’t wait for the world to spin, I can’t wait to be up again.  Oh, what’s it gonna take?

I can’t wait for my time to come and I’ll be shining like the sun… I can’t wait.”

I doubt that the lyricist is referring to anticipating eternity with Christ, but that’s what I think about when I hear this song.

One of the odd, yet interesting, things about time is that God is not subject to it, and because of that, I can know that today is taking me where I’m meant to be.  One image that has encouraged me immensely is the idea that when I’m struggling through one particular day, God can already see what’s going to happen as a result of that- He’s already in tomorrow, and the day after that, and after that, and after that…

For example, I was having a pretty rough day the other day.  I naturally consider life a musical, and therefore am a real-life example of those “Hold on, I’ve gotta go sing about my feelings”-type characters.  So when I’m having a bad day, I sing songs about bad days.  Interestingly enough, the two songs that I got stuck in my head were both songs that I was introduced to more than six years ago.

One song’s chorus goes, “On a day like today, all has gone wrong, and my life seems crazy- gotta hold on.  Smile on my face, ’cause I know the sun’s gonna shine my way. On a day like today, look up in the sky and know life’s so amazing and I know I will be okay. ‘Cause I know the sun’s gonna shine my way.”

I probably first heard and learned that song in 2001.  It’s exciting to think that God knew exactly what day and time I would “randomly” retrieve that song from my memory and let its message encourage me.  It’s this knowledge that often reassures me that I can trust Him.  It’s not as if He’s blinded by the constraints of time.

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own,” He tells us in Matthew 6.  “Seek first [your heavenly Father’s] kingdom and His righteousness.”

What a lifestyle.  Don’t worry about tomorrow… the homework that’s due, the conflicts that may arise, the upcoming assignments and stresses…  push all of that back and look first for God’s example.  It requires actively seeking and pursuing God’s kingdom.

The world often encourages us to pursue what we want by either doing nothing or doing a lot and worrying way too much.  God tells us to take that energy and direct it toward seeking His kingdom and His righteousness, which provides a number of benefits.

The main two that come to mind are, first, God’s kingdom and righteousness are lasting literally forever.  Second, God’s kingdom and righteousness overflow with love and perfection, providing peace, faith and hope, and those little tastes of how things are supposed to be, and will be soon enough.

I can hardly wait to be hanging out with the entire body of Christ in heaven for eternity.  It’s really difficult (and perhaps impossible) to wrap your mind around.  But when we seek God’s kingdom, finding bits of it in the encouragement and love in fellowship, experiences in nature, growth in Christ, and other experiences, we get little tastes of it.  Those little tastes are amazing.

And if I so enjoy those little tastes, I’m can’t imagine how incredible and awesome it will be when we’re all at the marriage feast together, transcending time with God, having made it together through that bit when He really knew all that was going on, and all that we often really knew was that we needed to trust Him.

Time… and Gifts

When you think about it, we have a terribly minimal amount of time on Earth.  The Bible is constantly reminding us that we are dust, we are a breath, and this life will fade quickly.

Now, if you’re like me, you might have initially experienced a bit of panic when this truly sunk in for the first time.  In the weeks leading up to one of my recent birthdays, I was stressed.  I was sad more than I was excited, because I was thinking, “I have been here this many years now, and what have I done?  What major things have I accomplished?  How have I changed the world?” … and nothing was really coming to mind.

Thankfully, a few encouraging conversations reminded me of what these years are supposed to be about.  God might not have put me on earth to end world hunger, or find a cure for a seemingly incurable disease, or to collect thousands of dollars for the homeless as a seven-year-old, but He did put me here with certain talents and capabilities.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it,” 1 Corinthians says in chapter 12.  “Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  Do all work miracles?  Do all have gifts of healing?  Do all speak in tongues?  Do all interpret?  But eagerly desire the greater gifts.”

I puzzled over the last sentence of that excerpt for some time.  “The greater gifts?”  What are those?  Surely they’re some of the awesome talents that I don’t seem to have.  But after carefully rereading the passage and its context, I think that the “greater gifts” the passage is referring to are “faith, hope, and love,” the greatest of which is love.

Right after we’re told to eagerly desire the greater gifts, the writer tells us that he will show us the “most excellent way,” and then launches into the famous 1 Corinthians 13 passage about love, ending with how faith, hope and love “remain,” and love is the greatest of the three.

So what does this mean for us?  Okay… I’ll spend my time loving people.  But I’m not sure it’s quite that simple.

First, I believe we need to develop the gifts of faith, hope and love.  We can’t desire something we already have, so at some point, we have to go through a process of obtaining these greater gifts.  That takes work!  We can’t ignore Christ’s example of these gifts, and ignore opportunities to practice these talents, and expect to suddenly become trusting, hopeful, loving people.  And we’re not only called to desire the gifts- we’re called to eagerly desire them.

So while this passage doesn’t give us a breakdown of how we should be spending our days, it does give us an idea of what we should be doing during that breakdown of our day.  I’d really suggest taking a look at your daily activities and seeing how you can spend your time developing and desiring the beautiful gifts of faith, hope, and love, and then acting on them!

I really believe that God has given each of us specific talents that we can use alongside faith, hope and love.  What are you good at?  One of my good friends is good at music, so she dedicates some of her time to playing for the worship band for some of the kids’ groups at her church.  She sounds great, and she’s acting in love towards those adorable kids and communicating her faith to them!

It can be hard at first to apply this idea to every single part of your day.  How can I grow in or act out faith, love or hope when I’m struggling through my homework?  When I’m driving home?  When I’m running late?  When I’m hanging out with my friends?  When I’m eating?  When I’m watching T.V.?  When I’m getting ready for bed?

As I said before, it will take (persistent) work, but I’d say it’s definitely worth it to learn to spend your precious time radiating the King of Kings.  Isn’t that why we’re here to begin with?  =)

Time

Today begins a multi-post discussion of time… how time passes, time management, time efficiency… and how to bring it all back to the key goal of glorifying God.

This, of course, comes from a girl who is typing speedily, stuffing her face with fruit, trying to decide if she should change, and printing a few pages to look over all at once. I want to write a series on time mainly because I don’t have time to do so. That might sound a little counterintuitive. But it’s when I’m feeling like I don’t have time to sit down and think about what needs to be done, how it should be done, and whether or not I’m glorifying God in it all that I need to do so. Crazy schedules in the past have made me realize just how important it is to STOP every once in a while and, as Mary did, just sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what He has to say.

Why rush somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going? You wouldn’t hop in your car to head off on a cross-country trip, take a look at the map, and then start your engine, take off, and ignore the directions for the rest of the trip! You’d need to make some rest stops, enjoy the scenery, eat some food, and make sure you’re headed in the right direction. You might be zipping along at 70 mph (though whether or not doing so is following the legal speed limit in this little metaphor is another moral matter entirely =P ), but that won’t help you if you wind up thousands of miles from your intended destination.

I am by no means an expert on time or time management (some people who have ever been a part of my schedule are probably laughing or nodding emphatically right now), but I’m willing to share what God has taught me so far. I hope you’ll share what God has taught you, and that through this series, we’ll be able to encourage one another to make the very most of every second that we have here on earth to glorify our wonderful Lord and Savior. Have a wonderful rest of the week!