Monday, November 30, 2009

Setting stones

"Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I've come."
-Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

So, to give credit where credit is due, this entry is greatly inspired by last night's service at Lifepoint. To start, here is a bit of a contextual preface from 1 Samuel 7:1-17. Here, Israel is in mourning, as they have once again turned away from God. (This happens quite often; I'd be frustrated with the Israelites if their lives didn't mirror my own so much.) Here, Samuel says "If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and He will deliver you out of the hands of the Philistines." While it is generally well-known, it is important to note that it is pretty common for the Israelites to create manmade idols and worship foreign gods instead of the one true God. (Who, I can only imagine, must perform an epic facepalm every time His chosen people stray.) The Israelites then gathered at a place called Mizpah and fasted, poured water out before the Lord, and confessed, so that Samuel may intercede with God. Those darn Philistines heard about this and, seeing it as a moment of weakness, decided to be total jerks and launch an attack. When the Israelites found out about the attack, they prayed even more fervently, and made a burnt offering to God. Here's the crazy part; When the Philistines drew near, "The Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites." The Israelites then proceeded to chase them down and own them.
So here we have an incredible story of repentance on behalf of the Israelites, and of God's mercy shining through, as well as His awesome provision. But here comes the crux of the story. (Well, at least for the purposes of this blog.) After the Philistines were defeated, Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen. "He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far has the Lord helped us.'" This may seem insignificant, but it's pretty crucial. Samuel is setting up a monument, a reminder of sorts, to always show how the Lord has provided. And it makes me think; I go through life with a cycle of crises, always praying for God's help with one thing, then switching to another once He's taken care of it. In the midst of all my asking of God, it is a rare occasion that I actually stop to just thank and praise Him for the amazing things He's done. I look back at some hard times in my life, which at the time seemed hopeless, and seemed so desperate. Often, I could never see God working; I'd scream at Him to show up, but He was already taking care of things, a realization that only comes with hindsight. Sometimes, you have to get some distance from your problems before you realize how puny they are compared to God. This past January, I was pretty bad off. I was close to a level of clinical depression, due to many things that would take too long to type up, and I really didn't know where God was, nor could I see Him working. Looking back, I see some of the amazing things He was doing in me that were right in front of me. I see how the situations I was put into and the people I've been around have molded my life into what it is, and I am thankful for that. God isn't always immediate; He can be pretty sneaky/subtle sometimes in the ways He works in people.

So onto the big thing, which is giving Him thanks for this. What can I do to place Ebenezer stones in my own life? Well, there's the hope that God will work in others through me, and that me helping them along the path to God is a tribute in itself. And isn't that the core desire of a follower of Christ? To experience His love, and to bring others to experience it? There are other stones I think I leave. As a musician, my songs are worship to Him, and in that aspect are very much commemorative pieces to Him, much like the stones. They illustrate ways that He has spoken to me, and how that has changed me.

There isn't a whole lot of deep extrapolation here. Mainly, I just wrote this as a way of recognizing just how far God has carried me, even in the short span of a year. It is incredibly encouraging to look back and see just how easily God has dealt with some of the hardest parts of my life. It gives me a lot of hope for Him working in current and future struggles. After all, there isn't really any problem too big for Him too handle, and He's proved that time and time again.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Trust, grace, and other meditations/realizations

This past week or so has been one where God has alternated between complete silence and practically shouting things at me that I've been ignoring to a lesser or greater extent. I've been noticing lately that He often has to frustrate me to the point of breakdown until I realize something, which certainly says something about my stubbornness. He's shown me a lot of ways that I've been guarding myself, a lot of ways that I have not been accepting His grace, and even some places in my life where I still haven't fully learned to trust Him.
The hardest thing to face that God has shown me recently is that I still haven't learned to trust him in my interpersonal relationships. (This, of course, extends all the way from interactions with strangers to friends and more than such.) As someone who strives to follow Christ in all aspects of my life, it was terrifying for me to realize that I was letting things get in the way of that. Relatively insignificant things, at that. I guess, to outline this, I'll just start small and end with the heavier stuff. Being a leader in a Christian organization, and just a general follower of Christ, I am called to be evangelical, to "go and make disciples," to quote the man himself. Problem is, I lack the social graces for speaking with strangers about anything, especially my faith. I naturally avoid conflict, and have this innate fear of rejection, and this somehow results in the paranoid ideation that everyone I talk to about God who doesn't already know Him is gonna want to get in an argument with me, or that I'll say something that just hits them wrong, and they'll end up shutting me, or worse, God out completely. While these fears seem rational to my introverted mind, they simply aren't. Not to say that I won't ever face conflict in this; there are some people who simply do not want God, which I should be prepared for. Still, I am called to reach out to people, because that is how people come to know God. And as for my fear of speaking, Romans says that God fills us with His Holy Spirit, which speaks through us and gives us wisdom. He has it under control; why do I need to worry?
The second tier of my interpersonal distresses comes from my inability to say hard things to people I'm close to. Again, this is a simple case of conflict-avoidance. I am terrified of burning bridges, and it's this fear that shuts me up even when I'm on the verge of exploding. It's this fear that has kept me from telling some friends how they have really hurt me or aggravated me, in ways they may not even realize or intend. It's this fear that has kept me from screaming at certain friends and family who are destroying their lives with drugs and alcohol, who have completely disregarded the care of their friends and family for the comfort of the substance. I have always been able to show them grace, however frustrating, but I have never been able to break down and say the hard things, because my mind tells me that it is better to live with a problem than it is to risk making it worse to fix it. But then, expressing my concerns or problems out of the same love for these people that keeps me from rocking the boat may sometimes be the only way to make them realize the weight of the situation. These situations desperately need to be addressed, because silence only exacerbates the problem. You think it will go away if you ignore it, but it really just stews, maybe going dormant for a bit, and it just keeps getting worse. And it's only recently that I've realized that I don't fully trust God to remedy these situations, or to rebuild these bridges. Which, of course, is ridiculous. God is a healer and restorer of relationships, and we are called to address conflict or sin in a godly manner with the individual. Heck, there are even specific guidelines to confronting a person about conflicts. It's pretty clear, judging both from scripture and from God speaking directly to me, that He wants me to address these issues, and that he's gonna have my back when I get the guts to say what needs to be said.
Lastly, a good deal of the part of my life where I still have not learned to fully trust God results from things that have happened in my romantic life. I know stuff like that is silly, and we often either overdramaticize or downplay the power of romantic hurts, but the effects are always there, to a lesser or greater extent, and can cause significant distress. My walling up in this area is explained pretty simply: I have dated 3 people in my life, all of whom cheated on me and severed all contact. I certainly don't condone emo-ranting, but at the same time, the psychological impact of something like this cannot be ignored, and there was a lot of hurt wrapped up in that. After all of that, I've just started avoiding those connections. That isn't to say I don't desire that kind of close relationship with somebody, but that there's just this ingrained fear that leads to me not fully trusting God in leading me to healthy relationships. I've realized that I've had a lot of bitterness from this, and have detached myself from a lot of things.
So what's the basic overview? What have I sussed out in the course of this little mental dialogue? Basically, sometimes all you can really do is take a plunge and trust God to keep you safe. Yeah it can have varying degrees of fear associated with it, but God is a protector; He loves us, and he is with us in EVERY situation, even those that make us most antsy. He has a plan for us to prosper and to have a future. It is my nature to avoid all forms of conflict, all situations that my worst-case-scenario mindset can take hold, even to the point of detaching myself from the situation. I have to trust God in everything, no matter how nervous it makes me. He is the God of my whole life, not just parts. I want to surrender completely to Him, and to trust him enough to make the necessary leaps, knowing that He is going to catch me. Also, God didn't just throw these convictions in my face without encouragement; in the midst of my worrying, I found 2 Corinthians 7:10, which says "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." It was God saying, "Well Matt, you aren't perfect (gasp), but at least you are worrying about the right things, and I love you regardless." I will close this rather lengthy post with Psalm 62, and the prayer that I would trust God in every aspect of my life, and that He would be the God of my whole life, not just the parts I feel safe enough in.

My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault a man?
Would all of you throw him down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?

They fully intend to topple him
from his lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Lowborn men are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie;
if weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.

Do not trust in extortion
or take pride in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong,

and that you, O Lord, are loving.

Surely you will reward each person

according to what he has done.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

My own language

So in paying close attention to my own speech, it was difficult for me to notice words that I say particularly often, since I don't really say much. I did notice that I say "man" at the end of many statements, which could be one reason that people often take me (mistakenly) for a stoner. I've also noticed, to an extent, that I will occasionally use musical terminology to describe certain aspects of everyday things. For example, the other day, I commented on a persons voice having a particularly strange timbre. I've also noticed that I will reply to various statements with a muttered "meh."Apart from quoting the movies Friday and Anchorman on an almost daily basis, I can't really think of many more phrases or words that I use regularly. Well, at least none that are worth commenting on.