Friday, March 18, 2011

Oh, Happiness! (aka, Think Happy Thoughts)

“Oh HAP-i-NEEEEEESS!” Hannah and I rolled down the windows, turned up the stereo obnoxiously loud, and sang at the top of our lungs. Those of you who have sampled my music taste know that I like happy music, and this song by David Crowder Band is happy almost to a fault. And it's one of those songs that gets stuck in your head all day, too, and you find people giving you strange looks which makes you realize you have unknowingly been bouncing back and forth and singing outloud in the paper goods isle at Wal-Mart... But hey, some days there is that much to be happy about.
Yesterday was one of those days. Yesterday was the first day in five months that the temperature had reached 60 degrees in Fort Wayne, and the sun was shining in a blue sky, and the breeze smelled like spring. I’d just finished a fabulous “Shamrock Mocha” at our new favorite local coffee spot, and my allergies seemed to be settling down finally after a week of stuffiness. In many ways, the day looked very promising. But the smile on my face at that moment had nothing to do with any of this, and everything to do with the words in the song:
"Sound the church bells, let them ring, let 'em ring, for everything can be redeemed, we can be redeemed, oh all of us - oh Hap-i-NEEEEESS! there is grace enough for us and the whole human race!"
I love the word "redeemed." It has power. It means "bought or won back." As in, we were all God's in the first place, and sin messed that up a long time ago and seperated us from Him, and God's mission ever since has been to get all of us back, one at a time. He fights for us, goes to the ends of the earth for us, even has died for us, so that we could be his kids again. God so loved the world - on a mega- and micro- level - loved each person from each square inch of the globe. And he has never grown weary of his goal of redemption. His grace is in endless supply - he extends it as a free gift to every person in every nation. It is not based on color, social status, economic situation, religious background, or family ties. And everyone is free to receive it.
This truth makes me so happy when I apply it to my life here in Fort Wayne. Here, I am blessed with an incredible opportunity to live among people from all over the world. I love them, and when I pray for them, I imagine what it would be like to be in heaven with them... singing praises before God's throne as it is portrayed in Revelation 7:9, being so incredibly happy together because we have all been bought back - redeemed - and experienced the amazing grace of our Father.  
That's my motivator. That's how I understand the Great Commission, why Jesus thought it was so important to tell his followers to go and make disciples of all nations - from Jerusalem to the very ends of the earth... because the news is just too good and too big to keep to ourselves and our little social circles. There is grace in abundance overflowing! Redemption is God's goal, and he wants to use us to accomplish it! 
Yes, this song makes me happy - it makes me bounce and hum and roll down my windows and smile. But it also reminds me of God's big plan for all nations. It challenges me to live for that plan and find true joy in being a part of it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Heaven in the Real World

"To feel the embrace of grace and cross the line where real life begins
And know in your heart you've found the missing part..."

This song from Steven Curtis Chapman's 1994 album begins with a collage of news flashes about gang activities and drug busts... evidence of the lack of hope in our world and our need for Jesus. I listen to this song and reflect on the headlines that I've seen in the past days and weeks 17 years later - headlines about crises in Haiti, Egypt, Lybia, and now Japan... countries torn apart politically, economically, and geographically. Pictures show armed men on camels, tear-stained faces amid the rubble, and wide-eyed children with tattered shirts and no shoes. Desperation and hopelessness are rampant world-wide, and there truly is "a cry for freedom across the street and across the miles."

One of the first times I came face-to-face with the harshness of this cry was in 1999, when my church youth group went to Philadelphia for a week-long mission camp. We were there during the week of the Fourth of July, and assumed it would be a cool place to celebrate our country and our freedom. My team went out that first day to our project site - Malcom X Park - and I realized that, for all the freedoms we claim, so many people in our country are still in deep bondage. Prostitutes hung out on the street corners in the middle of the day, and drug dealers loitered at the park fence. Kids played barefoot among the broken bottles and needles in the park, and told us how their daddies and brothers and uncles had been shot in drive-bys and gang fights. Somehow spending our week telling these kids about the six days of creation didn't seem to fit or meet their needs. So we bandaged toes, acted as bodyguards, listened, hugged, and tried to love them like Jesus would.

My 16-year-old heart was overwhelmed. I simultaneously felt completely useless there, and felt a fierce need to defend and protect the little ones who were growing up in this kind of world. My safe and sheltered concept of showing up, sharing a Bible story, and leading a weekend revival was shattered and I started to realize how crucial it is to make Jesus personal, tangible, and relavent to people who are hurting and feeling hopeless. My ideas of evangelism began to shift from a neatly packaged "Romans Road" to a real story about a real relationship with a real Saviour. People don't need a three-step fire insurace... they need a Friend who really loves them and Healer who knows their hearts.

He is the hope, the peace, that makes my life complete. God, help me to be faithful in sharing this hope and peace wherever I go and whatever I do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Connie's Mission Playlist

I realized that this week is the one-year anniversary of my blog at this site. It was at this time last year that my mom and I came up to visit International House and I started thinking of life here in Indiana as a real possibility. At the time, I had no idea that I'd stay here for a year... Who in their right mind would choose to live in Fort Wayne in the winter? But I guess I've lost a little common sense in the past few months... taking risks and diving in to new experiences will do that to a person.

Hannah and I gave ourselves a project this weekend... we compiled a playlist of 15 songs that tell our story of how God brought us to this place in our lives. Some of the songs are old, and bring back memories of our first short-term trips and defining moments of decision. A few songs are fairly new, that we've discovered together and will forever remind us of the ministry we have here. I'm listening to the playlist right now, and I'm just amazed at God's plans and purposes.

I just finished teaching a 6-week study on Sundays about the life of Joseph. There were some lessons that were hard to get through, because the Bible doesn't give the God's-eye view of the situation. Joseph is thrown in a pit and sold as a slave... he is falsely accused and left to rot in prison... where is God in all that? It isn't until the end of the story that we really see the faithfulness of God and his control over the situation. "You did not send me to Egypt - God did... so that many lives would be saved."

Not that I can compare my life with Joseph's... no prison, no slavery, and my brothers are pretty awesome guys who I'm sure wouldn't stage my death. But I can relate to long periods of waiting helplessly, wondering why I have the disabilities I do and why God has closed the doors he has. I still don't really understand a lot of it, but that's because He's still unfolding the story. But it is good to reflect - to listen to music that makes me remember milestones in my life, turns in my path, that God's orchestrated to lead me here.

Maybe I'll write some posts telling the stories behind my songs on the playlist...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bieber Fever - (Part 3 of 3), aka, the New Normal

Thursday at 5:00, six teens and five "adult" chaperones scrambled to get seats together in the darkened theater during the last of the movie previews. I was excited to share this experience with my girls, but I was still skeptical about this teen idol of theirs... he's only 16! How can he possibly have lived enough life for them to make a movie about him? Most movies I've seen about music artists were made at the end of their career or after they were dead. This kid is just getting started...

The movie focused in on Madison Square Garden - the place where music artists long to perform, the place where they feel like they are truly successful. It takes most artists several years and a few hit records to get to that place. Justin Bieber performed at Madison Square Garden. At age 16. In the first year of his first album. And tickets to that show alone sold out in 22 minutes. He was sky-rocketed to superstardom, and because of his solid support team and die-hard fan base, no one thinks he is going to fade out anytime soon.

The thing that impressed me most was Bieber's passion and insatiable energy for what he does. He loves to make music, and he loves to make people feel happy and special. He is living his dream, and he's made major sacrifices to do so. At one point, when the pressure is high, he says he just wants life to go back to normal. His voice teacher sternly reminds him that this is the new normal in his life, for better or worse. Kind of the "with priviledge comes obligation" speech. Sure, you get fame and a thousand screaming fans, but you have to spend weeks away from your friends and family, take special care of your voice, and in some ways grow up faster than others. It's true, if you are very passionate about something and it is the most important thing in your life, you have to give up things that contradict or endanger it, and you have to receive other responsibilities that will improve and enhance your life.

And it made me wonder if followers of Jesus understand this. Do we have such passion and energy for serving Him?  When we commit our lives to the Lord, we have a new "normal" to live in - one that demands we throw of what "so easily entangles" and "run with perseverence" the race given to us. We are a new creation - we can't live for ourselves like we used to, and we can't stay passively on the bench. There will be lonely times, challenges and frustrations along the way. But those are meant to draw us closer to Jesus, to lean into him and depend on his strength, his joy, his love to see us through. And when we do, he reminds us that we are living the dream - we have life to its very fullest, we have a Father who loves us and will never leave us, and we have purpose.

If a 16-year-old Canadian music star can sell out Madison Square Garden in a way no one has before, what could God do with a 27-year-old girl in a wheelchair who has decided to live completely for the Lord?

What could He do with you...?