Friday, February 26, 2010

If I'm an Example, It's Not Because of Me...

My life is an example to many,
because you have been my strength and protection.
That is why I can never stop praising you;
I declare your glory all day long.
—Psalm 71:7–8 NLT

     You know you’ve survived something when a scripture like this speaks to you.

     What a profound thought exists in that first line. My life is an example to many. It is a strong reminder that we don’t live this life to simply please ourselves. Now, we might try to focus only on ourselves. Many people make excellent efforts to do exactly that, and nothing else—living lives of selfish narrowness in their efforts to please themselves. But this scripture reminds us that no matter how much effort we make to be selfish, we still have an effect on the people around us. Even if we don’t plan it, and frankly, even if we don’t want it. We simply don’t live in a vacuum. We’re always an example of something. And people see it.

     Personally, I think it’s good—wonderful, actually—that we live connected to and influencing other people. God designed our world to function best when we are in healthy, loving relationships that bring truth and light and joy and warmth to our lives. Those relationships give us room and sun and water to grow, and I’m glad for that.

     But this scripture also reminds me to take my responsibility. I am an example, whether I plan it or not. So, isn’t it a good idea to put some planning into it, and see if I can make myself the best example I can be? Isn’t it mature and wise to know people are watching me, learning from me? I want to be an example that people admire and want to imitate, not an object of derision that people want to avoid following at all costs.

     And yet…

     And yet, the rest of the sentence in Psalm 71:7 reminds me of the vanity of thinking I can turn myself, by the force of my will, into a valuable, admirable example…at least, not without help from outside of me...because it is God who puts the strength in me to accomplish whatever it is that makes people stand up and take notice. That’s what David is saying. David…who wrote hundreds of songs, a talented musician, skilled at war, a man who became king over a nation. He had so many bright gifts inside him that could make him an example to people. But ask him what makes him someone people can imitate, and he answers: God, who gave me strength. He is humble and smart enough to know he can’t do it all alone.

     This idea speaks to me so strongly right now, because I’ve been through a lot recently. In the course of a month, I lost a brother, suffered a major problem with my apartment that forced me to move, traveled to Nairobi for work when I barely had time to pack for the trip, got sick while I was there (typical traveler’s illness), and then returned home to begin thinking through some decisions I know I have to make this year.

     What I’ve been through makes me realize that if I’m an example to anyone, it’s because God has strengthened me. I don’t know how I would have survived the four weeks of January 2010 without Him. His help came through many avenues… the Bible, music, family, friends, coworkers… So many people have lent me their strength in so many ways, and so much of what they gave was at their own initiative because I was too tired and overwhelmed to even know what to ask for.

     I stand here, still amazed at how loved I feel, because of all these people. I know that God brought those people to me at the time I needed them most. I’m so thankful. I fully expect that as the days, months, and years of my life unfold, many people will be able to find something good, encouraging, inspiring in what I’ve been through. And when I am that example, I’ll repeat what David said in Psalm 71:8—“Don’t give me the credit. It was God that strengthened me. It was God.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Unofficial Olympics Coverage

I’m kicking off “Topical Tuesdays” today…pithy, light-hearted, sometimes random, sometimes humorous observations on the news of the week. (Or at least, the news as I see it…)

Today’s topic: The Vancouver Olympics and NBC’s Coverage

I recently watched a montage on NBC in homage to the U.S. ski team. The background music was the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. I find this an odd choice. Skiing and pirates just don’t go together. You can’t ski in the Caribbean. And none of our skiers looks like a pirate. Ken and Barbie, yes. Jack Sparrow, no.

This same montage is filled with shots of Ken and Barbie doing fist-pumps in the air whenever they finished their runs. Perhaps this is just a poor editing decision. But it makes our skiers look obsessed with self-congratulations.

Thankfully, this montage did not include Lindsay Vonn’s husband being carried off by men in white coats while screaming that all the other skiers are plotting against him and his wife, that they reshaped the mountain to mess her up on her ski run, that the government and the ET’s are all plotting to make sure Lindsay doesn’t get a gold… Classy!

Changing topics, is it just me or is there a whole lot of pairs skating and ice dancing going on? And is anyone else ready for it to end? I lost my patience after seeing the Russian pair doing their blatantly bad and inauthentic “aboriginal dance” in Maori costumes, culminating with the Russian guy grabbing his partner by the ponytail and dragging her around the ice in a way that even Fred Flintstone would have called sexist. I didn’t know you could insult another country, an ethnic group, your sport, and artistry so completely in under two minutes. Fantastically awkward and tacky. Wow.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

On Compassion...Thoughts on Kenya, Part 1

I'm back from my mission trip to Nairobi, Kenya, and this is the first in a series of posts about what I saw and experienced while I was there. I hope these thoughts are a blessing to you.

Compassion is a gift from God. It moves us to move toward others. It is the force that drives us to act on our do something tangible that can make a difference and make someone's life better. It's the driving force behind every miracle Jesus did. And it is a power that we can draw on daily to touch the people we meet right where we are at any given moment.

I realized the power of compassion in a new way during my January 2010 mission trip to Nairobi, Kenya. I am privileged to work for a ministry that allows me to travel with its medical mission team. I get to write about the trip, take photos, and blog...which I love doing. But it's also a privilege to go because I get to learn more about what the life of Jesus must have been like. This time around, I felt a little bit of what Jesus must have felt when he was surrounded by crowds of people who needed miracles to change the quality of their life. And I saw it in one person...a man named Martin.

Martin was among the first patients to be treated at the clinic in Huruma, one of Nairobi's slums. We arrived at the staging site early in the morning, but we didn't get there first. Martin beat us there. He was already waiting for the gates to open…and he came looking for a miracle. It was easy to see why. This grown man’s left leg was withered and rendered useless due to polio that afflicted him at age 5, and he can’t walk as a grown man should walk. He has to crawl on all fours. He has to wear shoes on his hands as well as his feet. I looked at him and thought, God never intended this.

The sight of Martin broke my heart in a way that doesn't often happen. My first impulse was to reach out and touch him, to heal him. No doubt Jesus felt the same way when He looked at hurting people. He must also have thought to Himself, My Father never intended this. That knowledge, plus love, is what led God the Father to reach out to us. It led Jesus to reach out. And it moves me to want to help people. I want to help Martin. I want to be available to God, so that God can help Martin.

A simple medical clinic isn’t nearly enough to cure this man. He really does need a miracle. In treating him, one of our team members, Dr. Tim, discovered that Martin had never accepted Jesus as Lord, so he told Martin about Jesus and then led him in prayer to give his life to Jesus. Afterward, Martin was beaming. Dr. Tim told him, “You’re smiling because you have Jesus now.” Martin leftthe clinic having enjoyed the greatest miracle of all—salvation.

The most amazing thing to me is that Martin's salvation isn’t a cliché. It's not a cop out. It's not "the best we can do since we couldn't heal him." Martin reminds me that physical healing alone isn’t a complete healing. People need to be healed in their hearts and minds too. And Martin has received what he needs most on the inside. He has joy. He has peace now. What a gift that is. And how often we don’t appreciate it. But Martin did. The compassion of God changed that man inside, where no one but God can truly reach.

I think I want more of that compassion to drive my life forward and lead me...