Tuesday, November 19, 2013

That's The Point

Regina: Focus. Concentrate.
Emma: It's kind of hard when you're talking in my ear.
Regina: And when the wind blows, or it's raining, or someone's shooting arrows at you. Yes, concentration's hard. That's the point.

--Once Upon a Time, 'Ariel' 

Alright, I'm going to attempt to combine some of my favorite things here...a tv show and the Bible...the secular and the sacred...Brace yourselves! 

But in all seriousness, my favorite tv show these days (perhaps of all time) is ABC's Once Upon a Time. I love the reinvention of familiar stories and characters. I appreciate the depth and complications because it feels like real life...you know, minus all the magic and dragons and sword fights. The emotions are real. 

And when I use my 'theory' skills that I learned as a lit major (the art of using a lens, so to speak, when watching a film or reading a book that highlights a particular theme/value/concept...i.e. marxist theory, feminist theory, etc) I can't help but find gems of Truth embedded in the show. Now, I'm in no way saying that Eddie Horowitz and Adam Kitsis, the creators of the show, have set out to make this a religous or Christian show. But that doesn't mean that God doesn't still have His fingerprints in it. I think if we're looking we can find the Sacred all over the place in the secular world. Not everywhere...because God is holy and He won't be associated with true darkness/evil...but He has overcome the world...and we'll find him when we're looking. So my personal faith becomes a filter for finding God's Truth in the show. Call me crazy, it's okay. I feel a little nutty and kinda weird blogging about a tv show as if it is important.

But maybe a tv show can be important if we're able to glean something valuable from it. And judging by the rather extensive list of topics/themes in the notepad app on my phone...maybe there's something more to learn from Once Upon a Time than what life would be like if fairy tales were real...

And so let's get back to that quote I shared...it's from an episode a couple weeks back. And I didn't really notice it when it happened. Instead, this quote came back to me as I was praying a few days ago. 

I've been reading a book by Mark Batterson called The Circle Maker (highly recommend it, good stuff). And the idea is circling your dreams and your fears in prayer. Or maybe it's circling your prayers in faith. It's kinda both. And so I've been thinking very intentionally about what my biggest dreams and strongest fears are, and trying to put circles around them. To declare to God that I won't move from these prayers until He's answered them as He's promised to do. 

Frankly, that's easy to do in the middle of the night when I have my quiet time. Because...it's quiet. In the middle of the night, I can concentrate and be sincere and profound and righteous and it's awesome. It feels great. But in the middle of the day...in the chaos and the noise of having a strong-willed eighteen month old who can't tell me what he wants/needs/feels...it is hard. And all those wonderful feelings of 'I got this prayer thing down!' just flies out the window, taking my sanity and stability with it. In the middle of the noise, all the promises I circled, all the prayers I prayed, everything I asked for, everything I committed to do...just disappears. 

And so I said to God, this is hard in all the noise. 
And he said, that's the point. 

If it was easy, I wouldn't need prayer. I wouldn't need my Bible, His Word which brings clarity, truth, perspective into my life. If it was easy, I wouldn't need Him. 

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.--John 16:33

Living the life isn't easy, it is hard. It takes faith, it takes trust, it takes commitment. It takes perseverance. I have many quailities, some of them even good or godly...but perseverance is not in my wheelhouse. I tend to give up when the going gets hard. But Mark Batterson says in his book that too many times we give up when times are hard and we forfeit the miracle. And he uses 'counterfactual' history to make his point...what if Daniel hadn't prayed through? What if Elijah had given up? Major miracles would've been forfeited. 

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.--James 1:12

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.--Galatians 6:9

So in my quiet time now I ask God to give me a promise to circle, something to stand on from His Holy Word. His word never comes back void, it always produces fruit, it always makes a difference. And the only way to achieve my biggest dreams (incidentally, my biggest dream is to be a blessing to my husband and a godly mother to my son) is being infused with His strength, power, and hope in my biggest moments of trial and weakness. So the first night I asked for a promise...this is what I was given:

He is the one who gives you power to be successful in order to fulfill his covenant...--Deuteronomy 8:18

And the next night...

Your pattern of worship will change.--Deuteronomy 12:8

God's covenant is that I am an overcomer because Jesus has overcome the world! I am made new in His image by the daily renewal of my mind, my heart, my soul, even my body with His redeeming power. I have strength that isn't mine to propel me through the noisiest, most chaotic moments. And when I realize that true worship is living a life that is pleasing to God, not just singing on Sundays, then my pattern of worship will change. I worship with my whole life, my whole heart, mind, body, and soul. And it all somehow works together to glorify God. 

In the interest of full disclosure...I make it sound great, but I'm not there yet. The leap from rhetoric to reality is much larger than the spaces between the words. Every day has the possibility of failure as well as success. But as one of my favorite bands puts it I am 'free to struggle but I'm not struggling to be free.' You see, I may still be struggling to become that blessing to my husband and a godly mama to my son (among other achievements I pray for) but because the Spirit lives in me, I have been set free from the consequences of sin. I don't have to struggle to be free from sin's claim on my soul, just its grip on my habits and mindset. 

So yes, it's hard to concentrate on the promises in all the noise. That's why intentional quiet time is so important. It lays the ground work. And the daily input of promises will build a wall, layer by layer, day by day, to help shield me from the arrows, wind, and rain that breaks my concentration. Perseverance in prayer and in deed is a must. Regina is right, concentration is hard, practice is essential. That's the point. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

What's The Story, Morning Glory?

What do you think stories are for? These stories are classics. There's a reason we all know them. They're a way for us to deal with our world. A world that doesn't always make sense.--Mary Margaret/Snow White, Once Upon a Time, Pilot

Do you know why Peter Pan would fly to the nursery window of the Darlings' house each night? It was to listen to the stories. In fact, this is why Peter brought Wendy to Neverland with him in the first place. He wanted to hear her stories. Wendy even spends some time on the Jolly Roger regaling Captain Hook and his pirate crew with her stories. The most dastardly of villains and the most impish of boys both softened by stories. 

In the book A Little Princess Sara Crewe becomes the most popular girl in her boarding school. Not for the many lovely gifts her father sends her, but for the stories she tells. When Sara loses everything upon her father's death Sara copes with her loss and her poverty by spinning marvelous stories to believe in. Her stories give her hope and comfort. 

Everyone favorite red-headed orphan, Anne Shirley, (did you really think I was going to say Annie, puh-lease) survived lonely days and lonelier nights with stories. A voracious appetite for reading and a verbosity only a lonely little girl can have made Anne a masterful story-teller. Anne could even imagine away her carrot red hair and her plain name. 

And many of us have fallen in love with their stories. We all love a good story and lean in close to soak it in. Stories are our common language. Like music, stories cross cultural barriers and give us a common experience. Even the simplest stories tackle something of the human condition. 

Hope, grace, redemption, faith, commitment, second-chances, true love, rescue...this is the stuff of good stories. From Cinderella to Les Miserables, from The Brothers Grimm to Charles Dickens, stories are full of emotions, fears, and desires we can relate to. This is why we love stories, we see something of ourselves. Or something we hope to be. 

Our church recently started a series called 'The Story'. The concept of this series that there are two stories constantly taking place, the Upper Story and the Lower Story. The Upper Story is God's plan for all of creation, his utmost desire for us, the ultimate goal. The Lower Story consists of the individual narrative for each of us. We all play a part in God's plan, whether or not we acknowledge it or cooperate with him. Even in our rebellion, we are never out of his story. The Bible tells us, and I believe it to be true, that the best way of living is in tandem with God's plan, aligning my story with His story so that we're telling the same story. 

This idea of 'The Story' is an appealing concept. After all, who doesn't love a good story? And maybe this is why God thought it was fitting to relate to us through stories. He knew that we could understand a story and that we'd come back to it time and again. His Word is full of stories, I believe true stories (yup, I'm one of those evangelical fundamentalist kooks, you caught me!). Stories of loss, worry, fear, and failure. Stories of hope, faith, adventures, and fulfillment. Every story lined with grace, redemption, and second-chances. No one falls too far, too hard, or for too long for God to save them. The only people who are truly lost are the ones who harden in the light. The Bible is full of the human condition. There isn't a single aspect of human life that isn't addressed in some way. Oppression, vengeance, retribution, forgiveness, liberation, loss, loneliness, hatred, exile, victory...

Who knows better the human condition 
than the One who created us? 
Only one. 
Emmanuel, God With Us. 

Literature is full of heroes--Byronic heroes, tragic heroes, super heroes, ordinary heroes, unlikely heroes, even heroines. But only one Hero can really save us and only one Story really tells his tale. 

We all love a really well-crafted and expertly told story. This is what drew Peter Pan to Wendy's window, gave Sara Crewe her friends, and allowed Anne Shirley to survive. It's what packs movie theatres, tunes DVRs for that "can't miss" show, and fills bookshelves. And it's what makes the Bible the number one bestseller of all time. Of all the stories in all the world, it's the one that rings most true (because it is) and brings the most hope. Its Author is our only hope. 

"For I know the plans [the story] I have for you," says the Lord...--Jeremiah 29:11

Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith...Hebrews 12:2
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