Friday, January 29, 2010


Church history has given a special place in the ranks of the saints to martyrs. To suffer and die for one's faith is considered by many to be the ultimate act of loyalty. Martyrdom is painful to be sure, but it's also glorious. It seems especially noble for Christians considering that Jesus himself sacrificed his life to God's will. American Christians don't currently run a high risk of being killed because of our religious beliefs, but we can become martyrs in other ways. Many of us make great personal sacrifices for our faith, and we may even endure significant abuse (sometimes physical but more often verbal or emotional) because of our beliefs.

Martyrdom is not at the top of some kind of righteousness list, however. While God does expect dedication from all of His servants, He does not ask all of us to be full-blown martyrs. There are many other ways that we can demonstrate our love for God. We don't exist on some spiritual scale that will reward us in proportion to our suffering on behalf of God. God's ultimate goal is to completely remove suffering from our lives so that eventually we will live together in harmony and there won't be any contention left to be martyred over. So before any of us gets too carried away with the idea of becoming martyrs for God, I have a few points to offer.
  • We shouldn't actively be trying to get martyred. It's not like suffering and sacrifice are going to get us extra credit, so we don't need to go out of our way to find trouble. We'll encounter plenty of obstacles just living our faith with sincerity without purposefully stirring up any hornets' nests. Jesus and the apostles frequently ran afoul of the leadership because of their preaching, but they didn't seek out the leaders to pick a fight. They refused to be silenced, but they also went about their work without actively seeking confrontations. 
  • Being a martyr isn't the only way to show our loyalty to God. God doesn't want all of us to turn ourselves over to terrorists and get shot in His name. If we did, who would be left to share His  message with the rest of humanity? We have work to do for the good of the world that goes beyond proving to God that we love him. Focusing on suffering can actually make us become self-centered, forgetting about the needs of the rest of the world. 
  • Sometimes it's better to live to fight another day. We should never renounce God, of course, but we don't have to engage in every battle that comes along. We don't have to do all the work of God all by ourselves and work ourselves to the bone until there's nothing left of our personal hopes and dreams. Keeping ourselves healthy inside and out makes us able to maximize our service to God. If we burn ourselves out by sacrificing everything we care about and sentencing ourselves to a life of austere toil, we might not end up being very effective servants.
  • In the end, we need to do what God calls us to do. God will call some of us to sacrifice things we care about in order to do His work. He may even call some of us to stand up before the world and lose our lives as a testament to our faith as Stephen did. But even as God called Stephen to martyrdom before the corrupt Jewish powers, he called many other disciples to a life of quiet service and evangelism, drifting under the radar of the establishment. God has a job for each of us, and we don't have to go to the extreme of martyrdom to be faithful servants. All we have to do is follow wherever the Holy Spirit leads us.
Sometimes I look at my life and I think I ought to live a less comfortable life. I feel like I ought to give away as much of my time and money as possible to prove that I am faithful and grateful. But I cannot pay for the grace I have received from God, and it's pointless for me to try to obligate myself to act out in this way. I should do the things that I am called to do, but I shouldn't just pile on extra activities and burdens so that my life doesn't seem to easy. God will make sure I stay busy and that I have plenty of opportunities to help others if I just follow Him. I don't have to make up tasks and challenges for myself—God's already got plenty in mind for me.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010


    Reconciliation can be one of the most powerful parts of a Christian life. It is a reminder that love truly can conquer all, that it's never too late to heal a relationship. The Bible gives us beautiful and moving stories about reconciliation, and we can see that God truly believes in reconciliation. God sent Jesus to Earth and led him to the cross because He believed that it wasn't too late to restore His relationship with humanity, even after all we had done. We could never pay for our own sins. We can't even muster an appropriate amount of sorrow and shame for the ways we have broken God's heart. Still, God decided to reconcile with us and to do whatever it took to move forward in the relationship.

    I am only beginning to understand the power of reconciliation. There have been times in my life when there seemed to be insurmountable obstacles between me and people I loved. Sometimes I've worked for reconciliation, and sometimes I've given up. Until recently, I don't think I even really understood what reconciliation was really about. It too  often seemed like reconciliation meant offering a good enough apology or being visibly sorry. I thought that after I wronged someone, I had to somehow make up for it in order for the relationship to be restored. I am slowly learning that reconciliation isn't about reparations or contrition at all. It's about love, plain and simple.

    When Esau went out to meet Jacob, he wasn't concerned about his stolen birthright at all. He didn't ask Jacob to apologize for what he had done or even to pay him back. What Esau wanted was to celebrate being reunited with his brother. He wanted to get back to their interrupted relationship, to forget that they had ever been apart. Esau didn't want Jacob to make up for what he had done—rather, he simply wanted Jacob to be his brother again. Once the relationship was restored, the past injuries didn't matter anymore. Perhaps Jacob's sins weren't erased from Esau's memory, but they simply no longer impacted the relationship. This is how God reconciles with us. He wipes our sins away so that it's like they never were. Of course God remembers what we have done, but our mistakes don't matter anymore. The love in our relationship is what's important.

    Apologies and forgiveness are usually a part of reconciliation, but they aren't the focus. The point of reconciliation is to move forward in love, not to atone for the past. So often we treat forgiveness like an obligation or even a competition—the chance to be the better, more righteous person in the relationships. Instead, forgiveness should be about discarding harmful baggage and restoring love. If we don't forgive each other, then mistakes tend to hang over our relationships and get in our way. Apologies can help make the reconciliation process smoother because they demonstrate commitment to the relationship, but apologies are only one way to demonstrate our love. The point of reconciliation is to affirm that the relationship is more important to us than any hurt or blame.

    It's useless to try to buy love by paying for our sins or to try to win love by letting the people we've wronged treat us harshly in return. Getting even and keeping score aren't part of true reconciliation. Love isn't fair, and when we really love someone, we don't need it to be. Why should we give mistakes the power to deprive us of love and joy? When those mistakes are no longer the focus of our relationships, we are free to simply enjoy each other once more.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    Butterfly, Fly Away

    I have always loved butterflies. Their beautiful colors and seemingly carefree flight have always brought a smile to my face. As a child I was captivated by the idea that something as ordinary as a caterpillar could transform into a beautiful butterfly. Butterflies give me hope for the wonders God can work in my life. With that in mind, I would like to share a little song about butterflies.

    Caterpillar in a tree, how you wonder who you'll be.
    Can't go far but you can always dream.
    Wish you may and wish you might,
    Don't you worry, hold on tight.
    I promise you there will come a day—
    Butterfly, fly away!

    Butterfly, fly away,
    Got your wings, now you can't stay.
    Take your dreams and make them all come true.
    Butterfly, fly away,
    You've been waiting for this day.
    All along you've known just what to do.
    Butterfly, fly away!

    This is a simple little song, but it puts a warm glow in my heart because it reminds me what God has in store for me. This song was written about growing up, about finding the potential we dreamed of as children. And yet even as I grow older, I still struggle to put childish limitations behind me. God isn't through with me yet. Someday when this life is over, I will be perfected. Though I will crawl through my life on Earth as a caterpillar, in heaven God will make me a butterfly. One day I will be freed from my limitations and my sinfulness, and then like the carefree butterflies I love, I will fly away.

    I like to think that I was born to become this beautiful, perfect soul. Just as God designed caterpillars to become butterflies, I believe that He created me to become more than what I am today. God is constantly working in my heart and helping me to grow into the magnificent destiny He has prepared for me. When the day comes that I am finally freed from all my imperfections, I believe that I will know what to do. My heart will praise God and embrace joy as instinctively as a butterfly flutters away from its empty cocoon. Today I am but a mere reflection of what I will become. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, I was born to be a butterfly.

    (Now that you've finished reading this post, I feel safe in telling you that the song I quoted was sung by Miley Cyrus and Billy Ray Cyrus in the movie Hannah Montana. I figured I'd make my point about what the song means to me before confessing its rather fluffy source.)

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010


    Countless people, both young and old, have been captivated by the story of Superman. What would it be like to be the Man of Steel? How would it feel to be able to fly, to have superhuman strength, or to use x-ray vision? But most of all, I think, we want to know what it would be like to be indestructible, immune to violence and sickness. How would we live if we had no fear of getting hurt?

    The trouble is that we get hurt all the time. We are the victims of misfortunes great and small, of accidents, violence, and disasters. We suffer pain, and we can die. We'd much rather be indestructible like Superman. Many people will ask why God would leave us here so unprotected if He truly loves us. Why does God allow such painful things to happen to us? Why does He not protect His faithful servants from the pain and suffering of this world? How could God go on letting his beloved children suffer and die this way?

    There's more than one variety of indestructibility, however. Let us consider some other science fiction examples—namely Wolverine from the X-Men comics and Claire Bennett from the TV show Heroes. Wolverine and Claire are also indestructible, but it's not because they're immune to injury like Superman. Instead, they have regenerative capabilities that allow them to heal from practically any injury. They can be bludgeoned, shot, and stabbed, but they still don't die. Instead their bodies miraculously heal themselves leaving not so much as a scar behind.

    I believe that this is the kind of indestructibility that God offers us. We are not immune to pain and injury, but God has given us the power to heal from any wound, physical or psychological. I'm not saying that we're going to heal within 30 seconds like Wolverine or Claire, but eventually it will happen. Yes, we may live with lifelong suffering, and we may even die painful deaths. But death isn't the end. Our Earthly lives are just the beginning of a long and joyful existence, and when we get to Heaven, God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Whatever wounds are left unhealed at our death will be cured as we pass into eternity, and then nothing will ever be able to hurt us again.

    So to those who ask why God allows us to suffer, I would answer that He does not do so idly. After all, we let our own children experience life even though it means they're likely to get hurt sometimes. We are not callous for doing so, and we are there to comfort our children and take care of them when life's bumps and bruises come along. Likewise, God has not abandoned us to suffer in a cruel world. He is here among us to comfort us in our suffering and to help us heal from every wound that life delivers. There is nothing in existence that can give us an injury that God cannot heal. Like Claire and Wolverine, we will regenerate, even if it does take some time. Our souls are eternal, and God has made them indestructible.

    Monday, January 25, 2010

    Self Image

    Our self images are very important. We make choices about our lifestyles, our relationships, our careers, and our pursuits based upon how we see ourselves. Our self image is part of our self esteem and helps us see the ways in which we can make positive contributions in the world. In order to use our gifts, we must know what they are. Likewise, in order to live a life that is true to ourselves, we must know who we are. Not all of us are terribly introspective people, but we all have some sort of self image, and it guides much of what we do.

    I've discovered that my self image isn't necessarily limited to what I think about myself, however. Instead, it's often a compilation of what other people think about me (or what I think they think about me). There are both pluses and minuses to this approach. On the one hand, I can only see so much about myself from the inside, so it's helpful to have outside input to help me get a better picture of myself. On the other hand, no one else understands what it's like to be me so they won't necessarily be able to make appropriate judgments about me. In addition, I might not be able to get accurate information about what others think anyway, so using unvoiced opinions as part of my self image may be nothing more than a pointless exercise in creativity. I've been taught since childhood that God's opinion is the most important, but I don't always know what God is thinking.

    Sometimes my self image is a bit like an emotional mine field. One day I see myself as a smart, strong Christian woman. The next day I feel like a struggling weakling who can't seem to get anything right. Sometimes I see and appreciate my talents, and at other times I focus instead on my imperfections. Sometimes I want to know what other people think about me, and sometimes I resent their opinions. My self image is like a kaleidoscope, filled with different parts that shift around and come and go in prominence. Nearly everything I try to incorporate into my self image throughout my life has some element of truth to it. I am both the person I see and the person others see. I am both weak and strong, talented and imperfect, righteous and sinful. I can't boil myself down to a small set of attributes, but there's no way I can see and appreciate the entirety of my being at once. Only God can do that.

    God's opinion is the most important because only He truly knows who and what I am. My self image may be like a kaleidoscope, but if I allow God to be the one who turns it, then the pattern will make sense. When I get confused about the overwhelming amount of information and feelings I have about me, I need to ask God to help guide me. I do need a self image to help me make decisions about my life, but I may not need to know everything about myself in order to make a single decision. I need God to guide my focus to the relevant part of my self image.

    In the end, I think I must remember that the most important part of my self image is that I am a child of God. All the parts of who I am matter, but nothing matters as much as that one fact. No matter what God thinks of me, whether I am weak or strong or somewhere in between, God loves me. So when I feel discouraged about who I am right now, I should remember what I will become. Someday I will become perfect, and none of my present ugliness, weakness, and sinfulness will matter anymore. That promise will be enough to get me through the highs and lows of my personal kaleidoscope in the meantime.
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