Today I Saw God
"Every morning, I ask God to make me a blessing to someone today." says my friend, Dave. Over the ten years I have known him, I have seen ample evidence of God answering his prayer in the affirmative.
Make me a blessing. A simple prayer. A curious prayer. Even a bold, adventurous or risky prayer.
Blessing is defined as "the act or words of one who blesses" or "a thing conducive to happiness or welfare." Another definition of blessing says it is "something good that one feels grateful" or "lucky to have." We offer someone our blessing when we give our permission, support or approval for something. Whichever of these definitions you apply, blessing is a gift of grace and generosity in word or deed.
Counting my blessings from God is a spiritual discipline I have long practiced, because a habit of gratitude makes sense to me on every level. I am more likely to see God's hand at work in my life when I am actively watching for it. Gratitude is a choice to open my eyes and expect to see God's presence.
Yet the idea of actively looking for ways to BE a blessing, a practice inspired by my friend, is a relatively new intention for me.
My Bible tells me God wants to give us blessings. In fact, God delights in giving good gifts to his children. When I count my blessings, I am often overwhelmed with gratitude by the abundance I discover. Counting my blessings is good for me and brings my heart closer to God. Yet, I sometimes get frustrated by the use of the word blessing among people of faith, as if God is handing out party favors to his favorites. I get squirmy with the implication we somehow earned a prize by signing up for the right club. I cringe a bit every time I see the hashtag #blessed.
By contrast, I am energized and challenged by the idea that I am blessed in order to BE a blessing, the Kingdom of God in action. God's pouring in requires, invites, and equips my pouring out. As we begin to watch for opportunities to be part of God's blessing brigade, we find the possibilities are endless.
"God, make me a blessing to someone today." I dare you to pray this prayer and watch what happens.
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com.
Did you see the movie, The Shack?
The book just blew me away. Reading it a few years back, I marveled at the creative expression its author, William Young, used to tease out the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and their unique rolls in ministering to one of their beloved when tragedy strikes. The thing is, for me, reading is rarely believing. It may inspire me, but that doesn't last long. But if you engage my other senses with sights, sounds, camera and action, things get real-er.
That's what I was hoping for when I shelled out the small fortune to see The Shack on the big screen. And man, that scene at the lake didn't disappoint. Even though I know what is coming, I am praying it won't happen. And when it does, I feel it in every fiber of my body.
It's amazing how this happens when we empathize with characters on the screen. Our bodies react physically as if it were happening to us. The tragic scenes evoke this for me; then I'm hooked. I'm right there with Mack Phillips in his rage, his pain, his depression, and his plight. This is no longer simply a story or a performance by an actor, it feels real.
Now, the tone is set for God, in three Persons, to do what only God can do. The novel did this magnificently. I'm expecting big things from the movie. I'm pulling for Mack and the transformation I know he has coming to him. With him, I sit at the crossroads of perhaps the #1 question we all have for God: why? Why, do you let terrible things happen? With everyone else in that theater, I'm waiting to be convinced by a good answer.
But honestly, I am not.It seems to me (and I'm no film critic) that main character, Mack Phillips, has reverted to human husband and father, actor Sam Worthington. And Sam, asked to forgive the unforgivable, just can't. Who could? He delivers dialogue asking the right questions, demanding answers and explanations, and confronting God for the truth, all as I surely would. I believe him. But, in the pivotal moment, he tosses down his backpack (apparently symbolic for giving up the burden he is carrying) and complies. I just don't believe him. His facial expression and his body language are just acting, way more like a teen tantrum than a surrender to God.
I'm so disappointed. I had hoped this movie which had drawn accolades in pre-screening for Christian crowds could reach would-be believers with the sure message that a compassionate and just God dearly loves them and can be trusted, even in the face of terrible injustice. I had hoped people on a spiritual quest for God would leave affirmed on their journey. Instead, it felt like the main character was still doubtful.
Thank you for the important reminder, Papa God, that we can't just pretend to have faith and expect people to believe us.
"If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved." ~ Romans 10: 9-10
And I guess we shouldn't be relying on Hollywood to do the job we're meant to do. If we don't believe in our hearts before we profess with our mouths, we're just actors, and all the world's a stage.
Funny thing, when I googled Mr. Worthington, I found a brief interview he did about The Shack and his preparation for this role. He has a young family, and it is clear that the story cut him deeply. He also has a wicked-strong Australian accent. I felt a bit foolish falling for his portrayal as Mack Phillips, All-American dad. But that's his job; actors are trained to trick us into believing in them.
God's not like that, thank goodness. He/she/they are in the truth business.
Sometimes we have a clear understanding of what Jesus wants us to do. When the disciples asked Jesus, "Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?" Jesus was very specific, head into town, find a man carrying water and follow him. Then say to the owner of the house he enters, "The Teacher asks: where is my the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples." Jesus said the owner will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. The disciples did exactly what Jesus told them to do and they found things just as Jesus had said. (Mark 14:12-15)
Other times, we have the sense that God is up to something and it's not as clear. I imagine that the owner of the house might have felt like this. The Bible tells us that the owner had the large upper room in his house furnished and ready, this makes me think he was expecting company. But I wonder, did he know who his company would be? How long had he been waiting to welcome his guests? Were there times during the wait that he became discouraged, wondering if they would ever arrive? Did he ever doubt the need to prepare the room? Who told the owner to prepare the room?
I think in the owner, we see someone who was responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I wonder if maybe he just had "the feeling" or "sensed" that he needed to have the room ready. It's hard to be the owner. You don't have the same clarity as when you get a clear instruction from Jesus. But the owner is just as obedient as the disciples, maybe even more so. In preparing the room the owner welcomes Jesus Christ into his house.
Since October, a group of us have been preparing for recent college graduates to join us on an adventure called the Wesley Fellows. Like the disciples who followed the man with the water, these young people have spent time in prayer and discernment and are embarking on a journey that they feel called to be on. They have a vision and mission. Like the owner of the upper room, we have host families who have been prompted to share their homes, mentors who have agreed to walk beside these young people and employers willing to give them jobs. Like the owner, the details aren't clear, but the need to respond to a request to be part of this adventure is clear.
It is an exciting time for all of us. These next nine months we will journey together. Just like the owner of the upper room we will experience Christ in our midst and we will learn and grow together as we extend Christian hospitality to our Wesley Fellows. I can't wait to see what God is going to do with this first cohort of Wesley Fellows!
I was in second grade when the Disney version of "Beauty and the Beast" debuted in theaters. It was also shortly after this time when a girl in gymnastics class told me I was ugly. A more self-esteemed girl might have coughed up a nasty comeback, but I found myself paralyzed with this new truth. Up until then, I was fairly oblivious, but it was at this time that I realized that there was an appropriate way to look, and I was not it. A slew of Disney films in my childhood only solidified this new worldview. As I recapped my favorite movies"Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella," "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast"I realized that the epitome of womanhood was to be beautiful and loved by a man. Unfortunately as I looked in the mirror, I didn't see myself in any of these beloved images, and I realized that I might just not be pretty.
As a thirty-two year old woman, this is the moment when I am supposed to tell you how much I've grown since then. How I realized that there are so many parts of me that are beautiful and God wouldn't want me any other way. However, if I said that, I would be lying to you, because the truth is I'm not there yet. Instead, I'm going to say the thing that some women think, but we aren't supposed to say out loud after a certain age.
I don't like the way I look.
This is when many people rush in to give some sort of quick gushing compliment, as they assume my statement is a passive aggressive attempt at gaining attention and flattery. Nope. Not the case. It's simply my dirty inner secret. If you were to ask me what is beautiful about my physical appearance, I would probably stare blankly at you then quickly devise a joke to change the subject. Yet if you asked what I would like to improve about my physical appearance, I could easily list at least ten unsavory attributes in less than thirty seconds.
Before you all start rushing to find a therapist for me (don't worry, I have one), be assured that as it turns out, God is starting to work on me in this area a little bit. Recently I was asked to complete a project as part of a group I'm participating in. We were focusing on self worth, which is a surprisingly easy topic for me to preach to others or teach to the fifth and sixth grade girls I used to teach. "All of you are beautiful!" "Look at your gorgeous eyes!" "Girl, be proud of yourself let your light shine!" However, in a clever and evil twist, we were forced to examine our own self worth.
I decided to cheat and write it as a song. As I sat down with my guitar to write about my self worth (insert gagging noises), I strummed aimlessly for a few minutes, got up to pluck my eyebrows, came back, remembered that plant I never watered, then decided I should probably vacuum my pillows. After organizing my refrigerator, I finally ran out of distractions and returned to the empty pages. Why was this so hard? I realized that it was almost impossible for me to speak kindly to myself about how worthy I am because my self-talk is littered with repulsion and negativity. This is great for self-deprecating humor and entertaining the masses, but kind of terrible for self-esteem.
Luckily I remembered that there's this book that God uses to say nice things to us every once in a while, so I pulled out my laptop to Google Bible verses about self-worth. Lo and behold, there was Psalm 139 the Psalm that has been haunting me through various venues, devotions and sermons over the last six months.
"I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Wonderful are your works;
My soul knows it very well
My frame was not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
Intricately woven in the depths of the earth."
Boom. There it is. Thank you, King David, for giving me a hook for my new song. I realized that last line was begging for a melody. Finally I had a starting point and I weaved lines into verses, a chorus from the hook, and even settled on a decent bridge. However, I realized God kept pushing me to change a line that I did not want to. I argued, erased, rewrote, possibly rolled my eyes. Finally I relented and finalized my new chorus.
"Intricately woven in the depths of the Earth
I've adorned you with beauty and worth
Stop trying to hide who you are
Your shine is designed to exceed the stars."
God, let's be reasonable. I cannot sing that. Seriously, the whole line about beauty is justtoo much. It feels so wrong coming from me. "Your shine is designed to exceed the stars?" How egotistical is that? I kept trying to change it back to my original words, but God has this nagging habit of getting his way.
The unfortunate reality in writing this as a song is that it came with a melody, which then got stuck in my head. I found myself singing these phrases over and over to myself. Occasionally, it would even sneak its way in while I was busy criticizing myself over my appearance or a mistake I made. Over time, I realized this song was a gift for me from the Big Guy in an attempt to begin the process of healing.
If you are like me and you don't love your reflection, I hope that you will be a little kinder to yourself than I have been for the past thirty years. I have some ideas for you this coming month.
- Try to imagine what God would say to you. About how beautiful, delicate and awesome you are. Or if you're simply more programmed to respond to critical self-talk, imagine what God would say about you talking trash about one of God's fearfully and wonderfully made creations. "Not cool," God would say with a little tsk tsk.
- Each day for a month, look in the mirror and name something out loud that you like about yourself. It can be a physical characteristic, character trait or spiritual gift. However, make sure it's a different something each day.
- Research Bible verses on self worth and write your favorite on a sticky note. Slap that bad boy on your mirror so you see it each morning when you drag your slobbery morning self in to brush your teeth.
Sadly even after my song experience, I still don't quite see myself as pretty. However, the beauty of this crazy Christian life of sanctification is that I know someday I will. I'm going to personally try all three of these things for the next month and sing my little song to myself each day. This song will repeat until I scream, then God will replace it with a new song or affirmation. Then that will continue until eventually one day I look in the mirror and start to believe that maybe I am a beauty underneath this beastly low self-esteem.
Editor's Note: Last week 16 middle school students and fiveleaders traveled to Romney, West Virginia to participate in theJeremiah Project. The following is a blog post from one of the students on the trip, Charlie Miller.
It was my first year on a mission trip as well as my first year at Jeremiah Project (JP), and I wasn't sure what to expect. But as soon as I got there I was glad because the minute I entered everyone was so friendly and cheerful, including the staff. Oh, and JP has amazing food.
They divided us into teams for the work projects we were to do each day. The team I was placed in had only one other person from our church (our leader, Scott), but our team actually got along great!
One of our homeowners was Mrs. Hose. She told us that she had died twice and that dying was peaceful. She said that now she wasn't afraid to die and go back to God.
While we were working, she brought us some Cokes. When we were finished with the steps and she came out to check our work, the look of joy on her face made building those steps worth the while.