Ultimate Joy

Archive for February 2010

It started as a quick walk across a crowded parking lot and ended in deep theological thought.

I glanced at a metallic sticker on a white van.  Like so many touting breast cancer awareness or support for our troops, at first it didn’t seem out of place and I didn’t pay it much attention.  But the shape made it stand out.  It was a paw print and getting closer I could see a simple question etched on it.  “Who rescued who?”

“How funny,” I thought.  Then a split second later, my thought was, “How true!”

Rascal, my faithful canine companion, was a rescued dog.  At first, I wasn’t sure I even wanted her in our home.  She was big, a little skittish around new owners and at 80 pounds, certainly not the lap dogs I was used to during my childhood.

But she was gentle, kind, loving and very loyal.  And she grew on me.  When my beloved Diamond cat passed away, Rascal sensed my unhappiness.  Soon her attention and devotion to me made all the misgivings about owning her melt away and we became inseparable.  After her arthritis prevented her from climbing the stairs to my bedroom, she and I fashioned our own little ‘girl cave’ in the living room.

 When I ask, “Who rescued who?” it isn’t as simple as saying that I saved Rascal from the needle.  She gave me endless joy and beautiful companionship for many years; in many ways, saving me from loneliness and sadness.

But once this heartfelt memory of my beloved dog ended, the question begged to be asked about my relationship to God.  He rescued me from my sins by His death on the cross.  But, how often, do I treat my relationship with Him like He somehow needs my help?  In this era of instant gratification, I’m like so many others who want God to give them the answer to their prayers now.  And when I don’t receive the answer that I want, I shake my fist at God and wonder why He is so mean. 

How many times do I pray to Him asking His guidance on a decision…to quit my job, to volunteer for a new ministry, who to ask to church on Sunday?  How many times do I treat Him with the respect and honor that He deserves?  How many times is it evident, like it was with Rascal and me, that Rascal loved me very deeply and understood that I was her master?  How many times do I want to do life His way instead of my way?

Sadly, I’d have to answer “Not very many.”  That’s because  I make up a god in my head that is a cross between a kindly grandfather and Santa Claus…someone not to be feared and who grants wishes on a consistent basis.  I belittle His power and sovereignty. Insisting on doing things my way.  I cheapen our relationship in the process. 

There is only one answer to the question of who rescued who when it pertains to my relationship with God.  And that’s…He rescued me.  He loved me enough to hang on a cross and die for my sins.  My response should be utter devotion to glorifying Him with every minute of my life.

So, I ask you – in reference to your relationship God – who rescued who?

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It’s true for all of us.

There are days that try our patience, diminish our self-worth and make us feel useless.  They leave us wondering why we are even occupying space on this planet.  Life’s stress activates our self-pity receptors, kicking them into overdrive with disastrous emotional results.

That’s precisely the situation where I need to remind myself how much God loves me.  It sounds like a trite answer to a very complex issue, but I always feel better when I reorient myself back in the direction of God’s love.

Recently, I had a profound reminder of the depth of God’s love while visiting the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. There wasn’t one fish that I looked at and said, “God had a sense of humor when he created that guy.”  Not one fish, hundreds, maybe thousands.  Even above the water, there were plenty of laughs watching the antics of the seal lions and the penguins.  I reveled in learning some fish tales of the deep.

For example, did you know that male California Sheephead fish are quite territorial?  Each protects a harem of females.  However, if the male dies, the dominant female changes into a male.

Or that a shark’s liver is 25% of its body weight?  Maybe that’s why they can eat almost everything.

Do you know that there is a shark that prefers walking to swimming?  Epaulette sharks “walk” by wriggling their bodies and pushing with their paired fins.  Since they swim in shallow waters off Australia, if they get caught in a tide pool, they can survive without oxygen for several hours.

At the aquarium, there were millions of facts like the three I shared and that’s where I found God’s love…in the sheer variety of fish.  Genesis 1:20-21, states “And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”

God saw it was good that the ocean is teeming with living creatures.  He could have created one species and called it a day.  But He didn’t.  He created many species for His pleasure and “saw that it was good.”  

The variety, color, shape and habits of the fish delight God, but they also show how important we are to Him.  He cared enough about us and our earth to give the whales a song, dolphins a vocabulary, fish protection against the most poisonous sea anemone and playful sea otters to grace our harbors. 

None of this was an accident.  When I take the time to praise God for this gift to us, the worries of the day seem trite in comparison.  For the God that can create a fish that camouflages itself as a piece of coral, surely can handle my stress.  When thanking and praising Him for his creativity, my problems retreat much as a wave returns to the sea.

Often, it is impossible to avoid a storm. This week, Richard and I learned that as we hit a killer one during our trip to California.   From the west coast, it cut through a wide swatch of middle America with the triple threat of freezing rain, blinding snow and bitter cold.  There were only two options – face the storm or wait it out putting our dreams of California on hold.

Decisions like this are never easy.  The storms of life cause us to leave our nest of a comfortable spot to face fickle winds.  We have a choice – to fly or cling to our frozen, soggy nest.

Tenacity is an important characteristic when we’re asked to alter our course to meet our dreams.  It causes you to grow through discomfort towards your passion area.  In Oklahoma, we faced closed roads, treacherous, ice-covered open ones and downed power lines.  Literally we were left to our own devices amidst the blackness of an unlit prairie night.  We certainly didn’t feel like we were soaring like eagles (Isaiah 40:31), yet we also knew that God has not abandoned us, either (Deut 31:6 and others).

I sometimes feel as if God sends storms as a way to push up beyond where we’d push ourselves.  That’s the only place we see results.  The Holy Spirit leads us through the tempest; by the process, we become more refined.

Nervously driving through that awful Oklahoma night, I experienced the sovereignty of God in a way that I never thought possible.  He controlled the ice, the snow, the temperature and all I could do is revel or curse in His power.  That night in the car, these stirring words of Amy Carmichael comforted me, “Joys are always on their way to us.  They are always traveling through the darkness of night.  There is never a night when they are not coming.”

When my journey isn’t happening to my satisfaction, I stop, wait and consider.  Am I learning contentment, tenacity or patience?  Am I resting in the fact that God has me on a vastly different journey that anyone else?  And most importantly, is there rejoicing in the sovereignty of God to use the storms of life to refine me?