Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bearing Children and Fruit

"My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you-"
Galatians 4:19

Today my pastor used this verse during his sermon, and it got me thinking. Why use this analogy unless there is something about this actual experience that can teach us something? I have had five children and with that five different experiences regarding childbirth, however, the more I think about it, the more I realize how they have been pictures of my spiritual growth. Allow me to illustrate, without grossing you out too much ; )

My childbirth experiences:

With my first child I was in labor (from the time my water broke until she was born) 15 hours. I was determined to go natural so I tried every method I could remember to help bear with the pain. It eventually became evident that I had back labor. This means the baby is facing the wrong direction when going down into the birth canal, putting added pressure on my back. It also means that contractions are much worse, and the baby has to be turned while you are pushing so he/she can actually come out. 

My second child was unexpectedly born early during a stressful time of life. With her, I was in labor for 25 hours. I had to be induced and could not get out of bed due to some medicine they had to give me. This, of course, made it much more difficult to deal with the pain of the contractions. Just as I was ready to give up and get an epidural, she came down enough for me to push. 

My third labor, I don't remember much about. I do remember that I needed to push before being fully dilated. The doctors and nurses didn't believe me and left the room. I had to yell for them to come back in and literally pushed her out 15 minutes later. However, since they had not done much to help prepare me, I had a lot of tearing. Most unfortunately, I could feel all of the stitches they had to give me. Ouch!

The fourth labor was much easier. The pain of my contractions was all in the top of my thighs, so it was not as intense. While obviously, it was still somewhat painful, at this point I knew much more about what to expect and had good help throughout the process. Much easier.

The fifth was a breeze. Almost. My water broke before contractions began and from that time until birth was only 5 hours. Again the pressure was mostly in the top of my thighs, which allowed me to sleep most of the time. Yahoo! The hardest part was obviously pushing, which again didn't take long, and I had much better support.

All of them ended in the birth of a new life. Each one different in it's own way and each child was bigger than the last (except my second who was early, but would have been bigger than my first had she come on time). 

So what does all this have to do with spiritual growth? Oh, I can't wait to tell you!

The labor and birth of my first child reminds me of when I came to Christ. I had spent a lot of time using what I knew trying to handle the pains and problems of life my own way. I even tried to apply what I had learned about God's Word, but still was attempting to be strong and do it on my own. I had a limited relationship with my child while she was still in my womb, but my baby had to turn to face the right direction before she could take her first breath so she could really start living and have a living, breathing relationship with me. It wasn't until I turned to face the right direction, away from the world and the reflection of myself, toward Christ, that I was able to enter into a relationship with Him, changing my life forever.

My second child came at a stressful time of life, unexpectedly. It was a long, hard labor and just as I was ready to give up - she was born. This is a reminder to me of what I consider to be a major time of spiritual growth in my life. At that point, life had been stressful for awhile, and was only getting worse. And it all came crashing down unexpectedly. I had been trying, again, to work out my problems on my own, but didn't realize it this time. Just when I was ready to give up and give in, God worked. It was a one of those big peaks along my spiritual journey, that I will not forget.

My third experience with labor is a reminder to me of those times in life when we know we need help, but no one really listens until the last minute. By that time, growth is extremely painful. Relationships may need to be stitched back together afterwards, which also can be painful. Fortunately, as we learn forgiveness, the way God intended it to be, we begin to forget the ugliness of these times and just remember the growth that came from them, and what we can do differently the next time we find ourselves in that place, so that the growth doesn't have to be so painful.

My fourth labor was much different than the previous three, but also much easier. I had great support and didn't have to endure as much pain to bring forth life. As I have grown spiritually, I have learned, how to get the support I need, and to desire change so that it comes without so much struggle. 

My fifth labor proves what I just said. In fact, growth can come somewhat peacefully. Yes, there is still pain in the process as we have to put off sin, but we know the joy that will come in the end and look forward to it. 

Just as my labors got progressively easier, spiritual growth should also. Just as my children got progressively bigger, so should the fruit we produce as Christians. 

You may think this is a stretch, but I'm marveling in the beauty of how God uses my life to show me pictures of Himself.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fast food or a life?

This I have been wanting to write for some time, but have put it off and am now glad that I did, as I have been able to better formulate my thoughts. My goal here is to make more easily understood a common and devastating issue. I only hope this helps to clarify. I refer to this problem as Fast Food Christianity. Recently a professor in one of my classes I took this last week made a reference to “fast food Jesus” recalling to mind this very topic that I have been wanting to write. By now I’m sure you are wondering what I mean (yes, I am assuming you’re interest, haha), so let me create a picture for you:
Imagine you drive up to a fast food restaurant. Behind the microphone, Jesus greets you with “May I take your order?” You respond with, “Yes, I’ld like an eternal life in heaven with no commitment. And may I exchange my kingdom treasures for riches here on earth? Thank you!” You excitedly grab your bag at the window and drive away without checking to see if you even got exactly what you ordered, only to later realize that this is not what you received. You’re angry about not getting what you ordered, but decide it’s too late to go back, so you settle with what you got, false hope that is deep-fried and salted to disguise its damaging effects.
You may laugh at such an idea, but this is what many people believe about Christianity, and even worse what many churches are teaching about salvation. That you decide when you are going to go to Jesus, based on when it is convenient for you and not going to cost you much, to request your eternity in heaven (which sounds great in comparison to hell) and a life of peace. He, of course, is supposed to freely hand this over upon your request and allow you to go on your way, back to your life of sin and destructive behavior. 
For those who believe this, I have alarming news for you: JESUS DID NOT WORK AT MCDONALD’S!
This convenient, fast and easy-believism is not what Christ teaches in Scripture. Instead, He offers a far better alternative. Consider this scenario instead:
You receive a letter and this is what it says: “Dear [insert your name], I am your Father. You have rejected me ever since you were born, choosing instead to live in someone else’s house under someone else’s authority. I have sought you out because I love you. I want you back as my child. I will treat you as my child - caring for you and loving you, always keeping your best interest in mind, but also disciplining your disobedience. The one you now live with has allowed you to think you set your own path and steer your own course, because this is what you wanted. I will play no such games. I expect you to follow the course I have laid out for you. You see, I have already paid for you. You have been a slave and I had to buy you back. I paid for you with my own life, in death. I have come back from death to claim you. I am now inviting you to accept me as your Lord. Leave your life behind and come receive what I have for you."
This isn’t easy or convenient. Responding to this invitation requires sacrificing all that you have lived for to live for someone else. But on second thought, it also means you no longer have to go from pleasure to pleasure, trying to satisfy your desires. While it is entirely free, it demands a commitment. You have to be willing to obey, willing to live for the purpose of someone else’s pleasure. 
Hmmm... this is not an easy decision. But this is what Christ requires of us (Luke 14:33).  What we often fail to see is that the latter IS the better alternative. What do we gain by trying to use Christ as a side dish while we feast on this world? Nothing. What do we gain by giving over our lives in obedience to Him? Security. True love. A relationship. True peace. Hope for a future. Eternity in the presence of our Lord/Savior/King- A reward well worth the cost!