Clouds

Reposted from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, July 29:

In the Bible clouds are always associated with God. Clouds are the sorrows, sufferings, or providential circumstances, within or without our personal lives, which actually seem to contradict the sovereignty of God. Yet it is through these very clouds that the Spirit of God is teaching us how to walk by faith. If there were never any clouds in our lives, we would have no faith. “The clouds are the dust of His feet” (Nahum 1:3). They are a sign that God is there. What a revelation it is to know that sorrow, bereavement, and suffering are actually the clouds that come along with God! God cannot come near us without clouds— He does not come in clear-shining brightness.

It is not true to say that God wants to teach us something in our trials. Through every cloud He brings our way, He wants us to unlearn something. His purpose in using the cloud is to simplify our beliefs until our relationship with Him is exactly like that of a child— a relationship simply between God and our own souls, and where other people are but shadows. Until other people become shadows to us, clouds and darkness will be ours every once in a while. Is our relationship with God becoming more simple than it has ever been?

There is a connection between the strange providential circumstances allowed by God and what we know of Him, and we have to learn to interpret the mysteries of life in the light of our knowledge of God. Until we can come face to face with the deepest, darkest fact of life without damaging our view of God’s character, we do not yet know Him.

“. . . they were fearful as they entered the cloud” (Luke 9:34). Is there anyone except Jesus in your cloud? If so, it will only get darker until you get to the place where there is “no one anymore, but only Jesus . . .” (Mark 9:8 ; also see Mark 2-7).

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Unexpected Blessings

The last three years of my life have been…well, less than ideal.  At one time I had a certain anticipation of what I would be doing, where I would end up, what my life would look like.  Since graduating college, those visions were obliterated and now, three years later, my prospects of achieving those dreams are no closer to reality.

Today a number of decisions and trials caused me to reflect upon my station in life and all that has transpired.  While I never would have asked to be where I am today, I can still be thankful for where God has brought me.  Here’s a quick snapshot of some unexpected blessings:

MCC_Cook Auditorium

Past Wish: Attending traditional, perhaps even liturgical church
Present Reality: Attending modern, multimedia heavy church


Unexpected Blessings:

  • Participating in a church where attitude of love, unity is highest priority and lived out to fullest extent
  • Opportunities to get involved with or support countless ministries, missions
  • Ability to observe church growth strategies
  • Healthy social outlet built among many other young adults where I may not otherwise have found such treasured friendships

Teacher ClassroomPast Wish: Career in ministry, youth pastor or discipleship pastor
Present Reality: Career in education, school teacher


Unexpected Blessings:

  • Work in a Christian environment has expanded my knowledge of scripture and strengthened my faith
  • Teaching enables me to present Biblical truths on a daily basis while pouring into the lives of many students – same as youth ministry but with a more consistent schedule
  • Perhaps feeling more appreciated than in any other job/work environment

Monopoly ManPast Wish: Modest but comfortable income to establish independent lifestyle
Present Reality: 
Low income to require dependence on others and forced fiscal responsibility



Unexpected Blessings:

  • Multi-dimensional perspective to see, understand, even experience obstacles affecting those in poverty/impoverished communities
  • Necessity to balance and prioritize living expenses, professional development
  • Greater trust in God’s continued provision, whether in plenty or in want

Home OwnershipPast Wish: Home ownership
Present Reality: Living at home with parents



Unexpected Blessings:

  • Increased appreciation and love for family
  • Support in all the typical household tasks which I have been unable/set as a low priority
  • Ability to save, become better prepared for future independence

Fingers IntertwinedPast Wish: Steady relationship and/or marriage (with kids?)
Present Reality: Prolonged singleness


Unexpected Blessings: 

  • Appreciation for gift of singleness (unhindered focus on loving people/loving Christ, flexibility in schedule/commitments)
  • New eyes to sympathize with, understand emotions or trials of others who are single
  • Ability to learn about love and relationships, avoid some of the pain in sin and heartbreak by observing these through others
  • Numerous experiences to filter through good and bad counsel, to compare worldly models of dating with Biblical standards

So as not to misunderstand me, many of these desires are still very real and present.  Whether they are to be achieved soon or never, I put this list into writing to say I have a lot to be thankful for!  How could I imagine trading this life that God has blessed me with for a mere fantasy that I would have created on my own?  Granted, I am not where I want to be, not even who I want to be, yet God has placed me in a position where He could mold me into someone better than I was before.

True Love

Over the last few days, my wide variety of winter-break reading has included Robert Fulghum’s book True Love.  It is a collection of memories and love stories submitted to the Washington newspaper editor and compiled into a single bound manuscript.

True Love by Robert Fulghum

Fulghum himself admits that choosing a title to fit the diversity of stories contained therein was a challenge.  From my perspective, True Love is a slight misrepresentation.  Not all accounts are marked by selfless attitudes or sincere hearts.  Not all tales are even believable though they make for an interesting and light-hearted read.  This book is, unashamedly, entertaining.  I suspect this is part of the author’s selection process and design.  Some stories are wrought with anguish and drama.  Some are fantastic projections of a once possible but never materialized love affair.  Some are just comical and weird!

If the majority of the book is entertaining, that still leaves a minority of the text that I find inspirational.  So many stories of love lost and found.  Divine reunions, sometimes even decades between encounters.  The common denominator between all of these inspirational stories is longing, desperation, and irrational, unrestrained effort.  I read stories of individuals torn apart, people who lost touch – if they ever spoke in the first place – who thought they would never see their lover again.  People who scoured the pages of their hometown’s phone book calling up anyone of the last name, just hoping they might be a relative who can make the connection with a long lost friend.  I am moved by these desperate efforts because there is a certain mystery behind the search.

True Love was only published 15 years ago and yet the personal stories sound as if they came from another era.  In a way, they were, and a collection of stories such as these may never be published again.  The difference between Fulghum’s publication date and today is the internet.  Social networking in particular.

In the age of computer technology, we might not see someone in years but finding them is almost effortless.  The business of private investigators is extinct.  We might not have spoken with a classmate since high school or college graduation but we can easily know what has transpired in the gap.  Well, sort of.  Actually, we know too much about a person but don’t know enough of them.  The real people who shared their stories with Robert Fulghum came to know their long-lost lover.

Today we have grown so accustomed to social media that we will think these stories to be fairy tales.  Perhaps they will be fairy tales for our children’s generation, the kind of stuff that Walt Disney turns into animated classics.  They will not contain magical elements as in Grimm’s tales, but they will, in themselves, be magical.  Maybe your story may one day be added to that collection!

Tangled

Just saw Disney’s CGI movie Tangled and it was fantastic!  This is an animated film with all the classic elements of a fairy tale but just enough of a modern twist to keep it interesting.

Tangled will appeal to children for the sense of wonder it evokes.  The scenery is fictional, taking viewers to an imaginary land, while similar enough that we can still understand its rules and design.  Among those magical alterations: animals respond to human dialogue, a flower can reverse the curse of aging, and excessively long hair can glow under provocation by a song.  Disney infused enough humor that adults will be drawn in, too and – I can’t believe I am saying this – it carries neither political messages  nor sexual overtones.

Probably the most admirable quality that Tangled presents is a spattering of practical lessons through story and art.  Rapunzel and Flynn Rider find genuine love under unusual circumstances, the sanctity of one’s home is maintained, and the viewer is advised “good things come to those who wait.”  How rarely is instant gratification suppressed in modern society!  Above all the main characters question in what person or object they will place their security and learn the consequences of their greed.  Even actions taken with good intentions cannot in themselves be completely pure.

And so it is in our experience.  In a world where love does not come easy, magical flowers escape our grasp, and hair must be cut, we are reminded: The Lord is our security.  Apart from Him there is no good thing.  He alone is our portion and our cup; He makes our lot secure.  (Psalm 16) 

Go rent Tangled or borrow a copy.  Arrange a family night, a date on the couch, or share some popcorn with friends.  As you recapture that child-like spirit of wonder and get caught up in an animated fairy tale allow your heart to be glad, your tongue to rejoice, and your body to rest secure.

Everyman Crusoe

Each summer my rising 8th grade students are given a reading assignment and accompanying projects for their literature class.  Ah yes, I remember those days when countless hours of the carefree summer months were robbed from innocent children by relentless schoolwork.  Errr…wait…  As a schoolteacher I still have this ‘homework’ only now instead of choosing one book from the list I get to read ALL the books.  (That’s why teachers get paid the big bucks!)

So one of the books my students may opt to read is Robinson Crusoe, the introspective survival tale of a shipwrecked man who lives in solitude on a remote island.  Personally, I think this book is a bore.  Three stars out of five.  It is difficult to read because Daniel Defoe writes almost entirely with run-on sentences, there are few characters, simplistic conflicts, and seemingly impossible situations.  Perhaps the literature teacher should not be advertising these things; I am not selling the book very well.

But what is remarkable about Robinson Crusoe – and I suspect what makes it a classic in the realm of English literature – are the themes that run throughout the book.  Robinson Crusoe wrestles with ethical questions of how to treat his fellow man, struggles with materialism, develops an attitude of repentance, and tries to understand what is “home.”

Just when Crusoe begins to feel comfortable on his island, an earthquake nearly kills him.  It shakes the foundation of his cellar but spares any destruction of property.  Immediately afterward, a hurricane blows on shore and sends torrential rain.  Crusoe is forced to move out of his makeshift home to build at a new location.

WHAT?!?!  Sound familiar?!!  In the course of just a few days, we Americans on the East coast have been shaken up by an powerful earthquake, followed by a hurricane that made landfall.

We all are Robinson Crusoes.  If you are reading this, I trust that you are not stranded on a desert island, yet our experiences might be similar to this fictional character and the themes certainly hold constant.  Our foundation has been shaken, physically speaking, and many are being reminded that our life on this earth is not as secure as we had once thought.  People are actuated to consider their spiritual condition and consequently ask themselves, “Where is my permanent home?”  This theme runs through much of Western literature and not accidentally.  We are all wanderers.  We are all Robinson Crusoes.  So as we go about our day-by-day affairs, we cannot escape the question of our ultimate end, with the hope that our regular activity leads us closer to home.

Scoop