Friday, January 24, 2014

Diamond Disaster

I used to spend a lot of time polishing my wedding rings. I liked looking down and seeing the shiny stone on my finger in a setting of gold that reminded me of the love of my husband and the joy of our marriage. Somewhere in the ensuing years I lost some of that cleaning zeal, although I would still polish them up on special occasions. The morning of our 33rd anniversary was one such day, and I decided as well to don the necklace that now bears the initial diamond from my engagement ring.

Early on in our marriage when my husband had a new stone put in the ring, the jeweler wisely advised him to have that first gem placed in a necklace setting, knowing that any wife would want to keep that first token of love from her prospective husband. He was so right. And so now even when not worn around my neck, it lies treasured in a little silver box with an abalone shell lid, hidden in a corner of my jewelry box.

On this particular morning I went to get the necklace, only to find it gone! The little silver box stood empty among the other earrings and necklaces surrounding it. Initially not too alarmed, I reminded myself that I sometimes remove my jewelry in a hurry at night and put it in a little cup on the bathroom shelf before heading to bed. But a quick check of the bathroom cabinet didn't produce it, either. Now seriously worried, I looked in all the likely places once more, as well as every corner of my dresser and even the floor in front of it in case I had somehow laid it there and then later carelessly brushed it off. In a panic I cleared off the bathroom shelves, hoping to find it pushed in a corner somewhere. No luck. Disgusted that I had been so careless with my treasure, all I could do was hope that it would turn up somewhere when I did a more thorough cleaning of the entire house.

Sadly, the scenario above too often describes our marriages themselves even more than the rings and gems that represent them. In the early days of our married lives we are focused on the relationship with our spouse and do all we can to keep it alive and thriving. We willingly adjust our attitudes and actions for the good of our life with our wife or husband, and the state of the marital union is given top priority in our thinking and activities. But as the years pile up, so do the distractions. Soon there are kids and cars and jobs and money issues that always seem to demand our immediate attention, and tending to the spousal relationship sometimes gets pushed to the back burner of our busy schedules, if it is not lost altogether.

Eventually something happens that triggers the memory of how life used to be. With regret we realize that the spark that initially marked our relationship has grown dim, and we go looking for that which we once had, to restore it to its former glory. Lost somewhere in the clutter of our lives, it can be hard to find. While some couples successfully fan the flames of love again, others just hope the passion they once felt for each other will turn up again somewhere along the way, perhaps when life gets less busy. Others decide that it is simply gone, and give up hope of every experiencing it again. They regret that they didn't treat their relationship with the care such a treasure deserves.

If this can happen so easily with the people we bump into on the way to the bathroom in the mornings, how much more can it happen to our relationship with God? The early days of our relationship with Him were so filled with excitement and enthusiasm that He was foremost in our thoughts, conversation, and activities each day. We grew ever closer as we read His Word, talked to Him in prayer, worshiped Him in song, and spent time with other people who knew Him. But as the years pass by it is easy to let time pressures and life issues slip in and steal our attention and focus away from Him, until one day we likewise wake up spiritually and realize that our relationship is not at all what it used to be.

Thankfully God's love for us does not disappear nor diminish over time, despite our neglect of the relationship between us. He is ever ready to take us back and begin again, pulling us to His heart once more with His ongoing care and affection, teaching, guiding, and talking to us to the extent that we make ourselves available to Him. Past experience reminds us us to treasure the opportunity we have to spend time with Him, and we take care not to let this most treasured possession slip from our grasp again.

It is with similar joy that I report that my diamond is back in my possession once more! How fitting that I eventually found it on another necklace, hanging alongside a charm of two interlocking gold hearts. At some point I had put the two together, as God did just now in illustrating His point: when we polish our love relationships daily with our actions, attention, persistence and prayer, they will never lose their shine.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
(Matthew 6:21 KJV)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Baggage Claim Blessings

My best Christmas moment of the season just past occurred when I watched an online video of an elaborate surprise one Canadian airline planned for the passengers on a particular flight. WestJet Airlines set up a large video booth at the flight gate, and while travelers waited to board the plane, they were invited to scan their boarding passes at the machine. Suddenly Santa would appear on the monitor, address the person by name, and ask what they wanted for Christmas.

While the travelers chatted to Santa, a whole army of people was standing by behind the scenes to make their dreams come true. Santa's helpers were listening in and taking notes on each conversation. Then, while the flight was in the air, these troops went to work, madly shopping, wrapping and delivering gifts to the destination airport. The flight landed and the passengers gathered at the baggage claim area. But when the bell sounded, the lights flashed and the conveyor belt began to move, rather than the suitcases they were expecting to come out of the carousel came gift after perfectly wrapped gift, each bearing the name of a person aboard the flight.

Looks of bewildered surprise turned into expressions of incredible delight as the people began reaching for the gifts bearing their names and tearing them open on the spot. “Santa” and his “elves” were present, enjoying the moment every bit as much as the passengers themselves. Some of the travelers cried, they were so touched, while others just stood open-mouthed in disbelief.

Sadly, someone put a damper on the good feelings in a comment posted under the video, saying the money spent on the project should have been given to the poor and needy – that that is what Jesus would have done. The statement echoes one found in the Bible after a woman opened a jar of expensive perfume and poured the contents on Jesus' head. The disciples were incensed at the seeming waste of money. Yet Jesus described her actions as beautiful (Matthew 26:10).

Surely the poor shouldn't be forgotten. It should be noted that when WestJet Airlines posted the video of the event online, they then donated free flights to needy people based on the number of views the video received. But God is present in every expression of love, and we can worship Him by loving on His people, whether they are in need or not.

Afterall, isn't that what God does? He promises that He will supply our needs. Yet He goes beyond that, blessing us simply for the joy He receives in doing so. He reminds us in His Word, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11 NIV)

The key word in that sentence is found near its end. God simply wants us to ask. Surely there were those on the flight who didn't bother to spend time in front of the video booth, and thus missed the opportunity to receive a specifically-selected present when the gifts started rolling out at the end.

I noted while watching the video that every person got exactly what they asked for. The boy that asked for the android tablet got an android tablet. The man who asked for nothing but socks and nothing but socks and underwear. Yet the couple that honestly stated they wanted a big-screen TV for Christmas – never dreaming it would come to them in such a way – got exactly that, to the cheers of everybody in the area!

Far from suggesting that God endorses greed on our parts, it's the principle in the story above that He wants us to grasp. He wants us to dream big dreams and then ask Him to bring them to pass. As we grow in our relationship with Him, our wish lists change from simply material desires to spiritual ones. The longing of our hearts becomes for things that money can't buy and for God to move in situations in ways that we simply can't. It is these requests that He wants us to put before Him, believing that He is able to do the impossible. Yet we are sometimes hesitant to do so, mistakenly believing that His generosity is limited by our unworthiness rather than loosed by His inherent goodness. And so we ask for socks and underwear spiritually speaking, when God is longing and able to move in big-screen TV ways.

Surely there is a reason during His time on the earth that He asked people so often, “What is it that you would like me to do for you?” Perhaps God's hands of blessing are tied to the size of faith of the believer, as expressed in the framing of the request. The Word says, “As you have believed, so shall it be to you.” What we ask for is a reflection of what we believe about God and who we are in Him. The truth is that we get little because we ask for little. God is daring us to expand our faith, to dream and ask as sons and daughters of an all-powerful King and beloved children of a benevolent Father, that He might pop our eyes and wow our hearts with what He is able and longing to do for us...not just for our delight, but also for His.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
(Matthew 7:7-8 NIV)
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