Saturday, September 27, 2008

Image is Nothing, Thirst is Everything. Obey Your Thirst

This morning as I was getting dressed and ready for the day, going through the paces of my daily "beauty regimen", all of a sudden the old Sprite catch-phrase was floating through my head: "Image is nothing, thirst is everything. Obey your thirst." This was one of the stranger things to enter my thoughts in recent days. It wasn't a passing thought, either. It has been inside my head all day.

I haven't seen a Sprite commercial for... ages, and I haven't seen this particular one for years. More than that, I can't remember the last time I even saw, let alone drank, a Sprite. But this was in my head. Immediately after this popped into my head, I began to think about two different Bible verses:
"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled." Matthew 5:6
Being woman, body image is very important to me. It baffles me why, when, and how exactly this became true of me. I wasn't raised to be so focused on and worried about my appearance. My parents raised me in such a way that beauty, while a good thing, was no where near the center of my focus. I was raised to be an independent, self-confident and capable woman, not relying on my appearance but my intellect and cognition.

This is why I am baffled over and over again why beauty and the whole physical appearance thing are so prominent in my thought life. I have been told that this is part of the way that women are generally wired, that this obsession with physical beauty is something that is almost always floating around in the back of our minds (or sometimes front and center and seemingly unavoidable and impossible to ignore). And most of the thoughts that surface concerning physical beauty, at least for me-- I don't pretend to speak for all women-- are ones of insufficiency and dissatisfaction. These thoughts of course lead toward a kind of uncomfortable consciousness about myself.

This consciousness is somehow inexplicably linked to a deep desire to be loved, and a doubt that if I don't live up to the impossible standard of beauty the culture sets, then I will not be loved. The desire to be the object of a real love is like a voracious, nearly unquenchable thirst. I know that if I were to seek in the world for that thirst to be quenched, my mouth and my soul would grow dustier and drier for the trying. So where does a girl go to have her thirst quenched from its very depths?
"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David." Isaiah 55:1-3
But this morning, as I thought about Sprite, I was reminded that my appearance does not matter to the One who loves me the most. In fact, I was almost dancing as I thought about following my thirst to the source of the River of Life where I can drink freely and deeply. Rejoiced at the thought of being filled and brought to a blessed disinterest in my physique because all my attention would be not on my beauty, but caught breathlessly up by the beauty of the One who is the Beginning and the End.

"He said to me: 'It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son." Revelation 21:6-7
I pray God's blessings to all of you who read this post. May you "Obey Your Thirst" and be filled with the Living Water that is found alone in Christ Jesus.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Nights In

It's almost 9:00 on a Friday night. I have just slowly (reluctantly) made my way back upstairs after the ending of our Mladez meeting (older youth group, comparable to a "college group" in the US), and have greeted a dark, empty apartment. This sets me to wondering what I would be doing if I was at home.

If I was living in the US, how would I be spending my Friday nights? Certainly not bemoaning my lack of activities on my blog! A year ago, during my final semester as a university student, I spent nearly every Friday night playing Husker Fight Songs and other pep tunes at Misty's restaurant in Havelock. Okay. I'm sure there were any number of Friday nights when I was at the U when I stayed in and did homework. There was one semester when I went to Navigators' meetings on Friday nights. I never did the bar scene; if you are surprised by that, then you don't know me at all. I know I spent a lot of time with friends, just hanging out in the dorms on Fridays. There was also a period of time when I would have spent the majority of my Friday evenings with a boyfriend (that may be a surprise, too). Of course in high school there were the football and basketball games to keep everyone occupied on Fridays.

And now?

I guess I could go to bed...

Other than the mladez meeting, Friday night is the same as any other for me. Catching up on my ever growing list of blogs which I am "following, " listening to back-broadcasts of Issues Etc. podcasts, and reading my Google News feed to find out what's going on in the world, in the States, and in the election campaigns. I could do some lesson planning for next week (that's the same thing as doing homework on Friday night. Blech!).

Maybe I'll go read my Bible and pray. After all, at our mladez meeting we talked about spiritual growth and how busy-ness often prevents us from dedicating time to God as we ought. I'm not busy now... maybe I should spend my Friday nights in with the Best Friend I will ever have.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gain the World, Lose Your Soul; Forsake the World, Gain Eternal Life

In the last two days I have finished reading two books. The first, Revolution in World Missions by K. P. Yohannan, was about modern Christian missions throughout India, China, and southeast Asian nations. The premise of the book is to persuade North American Christians to support native missionaries in these nations for several reasons. The book was very thought-provoking and has awoken me to the need for native evangelists to be helped by westerners in carrying the Gospel to their own people. The book made many assertions that I didn't necessarily agree with (and some that I did), but I was glad to examine my own assumptions on the basis of the challenges leveled against the way that I-- and western Christians in general-- seem to think about God's plan for missions and for bringing His Gospel to the nations.

The most welcome challenge to my way of thinking was the one which called attention to the affluent way in which so many of us live. The book powerfully showed how so many American Christians hold on so tightly to their possessions and their money, as though these things actually belonged to us, and as though God had given them to us for our own pleasure. The truth is that everything that we "have" is not ours, but a trust from God. He blesses us so that we may be a blessing. He gives good gifts to us so that we may serve our neighbors, not so that we can collect a mountain of worldly goods. The money we have is not ours to stockpile; we can't keep it anyway. We would do well to remember that we ought to store up our treasures in heaven and to give away our treasures in this life for the good of our neighbors, and especially the advancement of the Gospel. After all, what will please God more for us to do? Buy another new car or a bigger house or a more expensive, cutting edge electronic toy OR "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Mark 10:21) I am reminded of the parable of the Rich Fool (check out Luke 12:13-21).

The second book that I have just finished is The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The overall thesis of this book is the extremely set-apart life of the true disciple of Christ. The disciple of Christ, in responding to His call, gets up and leaves everything in his previous life completely behind to follow Christ. Bonhoeffer reminds his readers of the intensity and extremity of the Christian life. We have died to sin and to the world, living now only in and for Christ. This book, like Yohannan's, challenged my reliance on and attachment to my worldly comforts. I have to admit that usually this kind of challenge would make me uncomfortable, and I might even be tempted to turn on it with a deaf ear. But lately, some very deep part of me has been longing for this completely revolutionary, intense life in Christ. I don't want normal, I don't want easy, I don't want comfortable. I want to be challenged and to rely on Christ's provision for the strength to meet the challenge.

This post is another Reading Rainbow post: Don't just take my word for it, read it yourself-- especially the Bonhoeffer book.
"A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15b)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away

This morning I had a wonderful, dual privilege. I played my trumpet at a wedding. I neither met nor spoke with either the bride or the groom, but I got to witness, along with many others, their union before God. The ceremony was brief-- a long 20 minutes-- with very little pomp and circumstance compared to the roughly 20 weddings in the US I've attended. Many things about the ceremony were very different from the way weddings are done in America, but that wasn't the thing on my mind as the marriage miracle unfolded as I looked on from the balcony.

What was on my mind was what marriage is to be a picture of. Many times in the New Testament, the relationship between Christ and the Church is described as the relationship between a groom and his bride. The thing that I think that many people, including me, miss about marriage is that Christ and the Church are the real thing, and that marriage between a man and a woman on earth is a type of that eternal Marriage. This is evident in how the relations between husband and wife are described in Ephesians 5. It says that wives are to submit to their husbands since the church submits to Christ. It says that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and laid down His life for her. It does NOT say that the church submits to Christ because wives submit to their husbands, nor does it say that Christ laid down His life for the church because this is how husbands love their wives. That is absurd.

I am beginning to think that part of the reason that marriage is deteriorating among Christians at the same rate as it is deteriorating in the culture is that we have forgotten which marriage is the rule. When we look around at how human marriages are, we begin to let failing, selfish marriages be our standard, our measuring stick. But as Christians, the example, the rule for marriage is not the way other people are executing this covenant, but rather how Christ and His Bride carry out the Covenant. This is a much higher standard, and maybe in our disposable culture, it is "too hard" for people treat marriage the way the Christ does. Christ doesn't call His followers to ease, there is no where in His covenant with us an escape clause. Christ's marriage with the Church will NEVER end, no matter how many marital problems they have. No matter how unfaithful the Church is, no matter how many other lovers she runs after, this marriage never ends, it's for forever.

For the man and woman who wed this morning the marriage picture is now complete, they have been made one flesh. They have gone off to their wedding banquet with all of their guests to celebrate their feast. I hope and pray for them, and for all men and their brides, that their marriages will be in the image of the Christ and the Church. I pray that the brides will submit to their husbands as to Christ and that the husbands will love their wives as Christ, giving himself up for her, loving her as he loves himself.

Some day soon, the picture of marriage will be complete for the Church too. On that day, a trumpet-- one that doesn't sound anything like the brass instrument I play-- will sound and Christ will come to take His bride home to her wedding banquet. And then Christ and His church will enjoy union for the rest of eternity. Maranatha Jesus!

Please pray for marriage! Pray that Christians would return to a faithful, sober-minded understanding of this covenant, that they would treat marriage like the eternal covenant that it is. Pray that couples wouldn't see marriage as a way to "prove their love" for one another, but rather as a way to mutually serve the Lord, to serve and love one another, and to nurture children, should the Lord provide them.

Pray also for contentment and discernment for unmarried people. God calls some people to marriage and He calls others to singleness. Pray that He would give wisdom and discernment to single people, whether they should marry or embrace life-long celibacy.

Note: The photo I've included on this blog is not from today's wedding, but from my brother's wedding in December. I took no pictures during the wedding today.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Back to School

Monday was the first day of school here. That's right, while America was enjoying its last day off with barbeques and other fun with get-togethers with friends, at the very least, a three-day weekend, we here in the Czech Republic were putting our noses to the grindstone. Okay, that is not be an accurate characterization of the first day of school here. We started our first day at 8:00 with an assembly in the school gym. All the students and some of the parents gathered to be welcomed, first by the president of the school, Bishop Piȩtak (the Bishop of the Silesian Church) and then by the director of the school, Mrs. Guňková. She also introduced all the teachers at the school. Then there was a very adorable little ceremony where all the new first graders were brought to the front and the ninth graders gave each of them a stuffed animal as a gift to welcome them to the school. The transfer students were also brought to the front, introduced, and welcomed. We had a few prayers, a few songs, and by 8:45 or 9:00 the assembly was dismissed, and the students all went to their classrooms. There they were notified of some of the rules and whatnot. The school was then pretty much empty of students by 9:30 as the tasks for the school day were over.

We had a teachers meeting at 10:00 and I finally learned some of the things that I will need to know about my responsibilities for this school year. I still don't feel like I know a lot, and I still don't know my schedule for the year, but I at least feel reassured. I didn't have to go to school on Tuesday or today, and probably not tomorrow either, as the schedule is still pretty fluid right now and things are just getting settled. By about next week, things for my schedule should be pretty settled. In addition to teaching 7-9th grade conversation, the teachers want me to teach them one day a week after school. They made noise that they would like it to be an English Bible Study. That's pretty sweet. At the preschool, one of the teachers would like me to come to her class for an hour one day a week. Another option for teaching, or more likely leading an after school English club, is open to me at a public school in Navsi, a neighboring town. In addition to all of that, I am still teaching my three evening classes here in Hutník (the name of the parish hall). I am looking forward to having a lot to do, so that I must use my time wisely for a change!

Last week, the final week of the summer, was our youth group retreat, with members of our youth group and some of their school friends. It was a wonderful week, and probably one of my favorite camps of the summer. Our discussion theme for the week was Love, Dating, and Marriage. This, I believe, was a wonderful topic to be discussing with the youth, and being a group leader, I was given an opportunity to speak from my own experiences, the good and the bad, in this area. Since we spent so much time talking about what real love was, we of course talked about the love of Christ and how all true love emulates Christ's love (for more information, see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). This was a great opportunity to share the Gospel, showing exactly what the extent of God's love looks like.

We didn't spend all of our time discussing love, however. We did a lot of playing. Some of the boys brought unicycles, and so many people learned to ride during the week. We tried to learn to play baseball and American football-- to almost no avail. That was actually one of my favorite parts of the week: watching kids who grew up without baseball trying to wrap their minds around the rules. I laughed a lot. We played capture the flag in the pitch dark forest one night, went on an early morning hike to watch the sun rise, spent all of one day at a swimming pool, had a massive scavenger hunt and a huge, impromptu water fight. It was wonderful. I learned to solve a Rubik's cube during the week as well (Look out world!).

God has been amazing me a lot lately. This morning I read Psalm 97 and was put in awe of what a glorious God we have.

Psalm 97:1-6:

The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad;
let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and consumes his foes on every side.
His lightning lights up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.

The rest of this psalm is great too, but I thought that this first half was particularly wonderful. I love how God reveals Himself here, and throughout the rest of His Holy Word. The way God describes Himself puts me in so much awe; the thought of how much more awe we will experience when we see Him as He is, face to face, in heaven is too much for me to fathom. Wow. Alleluia.

Please pray that:
-the needs, such as visas and support, of the other new LCMS missionaries would be filled soon so they may get to God's work in their respective fields. Pray particularly for the missionaries heading to Panama & Japan (support) and Hungary & the Czech Republic (visas).
-the Christian students throughout this area and I would be salt and light in our schools, bearing witness to the Gospel and making new disciples of Christ.
-the Gospel would spread throughout the Czech Republic. There is SUCH need here for people to know God and to be saved!