Monday, November 8, 2010

The One with the Inside Scoop

I was thinking about ipods the other day. More specifically, I was reflecting on my first eighty gig classic ipod purchase and how everything for several days seemed to revolve around how I could organize my entire music library perfectly for this new gadget. After days of tireless laboring, I had a fully furnished and elaborately categorized itunes library. Several years down the road with this ipod and it seemed that I hadn’t even engaged in the project.

You see, my ipod has a lot of space. It’s not the newest model and doesn’t even boast the best features of the currents apple gizmos. However, its eighty gigabyte storage capacity is quite sufficient to stash my music: I have all of my tunes within a pocket's reach and unlimited access to all the music I have owned since Jars of Clay came out with their self-titled album in middleschool. Really, that’s just it: I likely haven’t used ninety percent of what’s available on there. How sad to have access to all of that and not be able to use it all, even if I wanted to!

Then it occurred to me that much of my life has been lived this way in the past. I go out and gather all my information, my resources, my materials, and then I horde them into a massive pile of information, much like a squirrel gathers nuts for the winter. Then when I’ve successfully accomplished all this, I am ready to move on with life--to tackle all that life throws at me. However, it’s not so easy to move on when I am lugging a hibernation-size pile of preparation in my knapsack. I don’t know if you’re similar in this but I’ve always sighed with relief when I feel that I am prepared. However, I’ve been finding lately that I have quite a bit more than I need to adequately face the challenges of life. And therein lies the problem.

I’m reminded of Jesus telling the disciples to go out and not take anything extra with them. Everything was to be provided along the way. What excitement there must have been (if not a little anticipation) to not know where your next meal was coming from or if you’d have enough money to cover your expenses to live! However, there was always enough. God always provided. Remember the feeding of the five thousand with just a couple of fish and a few loaves?

And so I’m reminded of my own journey. How often do I form an extensive itinerary of what I think needs to be done in order to ensure survival? Do I really need to spend days on my itunes library of life, something for which I won’t even access the majority of in the future? Or do I trust the great counsellor to tell me what I need to (or what not to) pack for the journey?

I know that since coming home from Australia in July, things have looked different for my journey than I expected. I really didn't foresee coming home that soon. However, I felt God was leading me home, and therefore the path was good. How I would have prepared differently if I had known this change and move would come so suddenly! I'm convinced that living "lighter" and less attached to the stuff of life during that season in Australia would have made the transition smoother and the time there even more rewarding. You know, all the "to-do" lists, the jobs, the events, the various extras that get chucked into the mix and tend to complicate things. But with God's hand upon this change and an extra seasoning of grace, I'm in a new and beautiful season, one offering new perspectives and insights on the journey thus far.

And so in this new season, I am reminded that perhaps the holy spirit can see what I need a bit better than I can. In trusting him with my schedule, day, and priorities first, he will tell me what is truly important for that day, month, year. Then when I need to access the itunes library of preparation, I will have just what I need when I need it, for I have packed according to what my all-knowing guide has prescribed for the journey.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

We are heroes

I've been thinking about stories lately. Stories inspire, they quicken, they connect, and perhaps most of all, they allow for reflection.
I wonder if we realize that we, too, are in stories of our own? Something I've been reflecting upon lately is how much I've been relating with epic movies and more particularly, with the stories within those movies. I just recently saw Clash of the Titans and afterward I was thinking, "Wow-- I really relate to Perseus's struggle with all of these seemingly impossible obstacles." Similarly, my recent experience is one of trial and I have found that trial births a warrior spirit--something which one finds in tales like this. And if we do not yet relate to such a tale, it is at least the starting point for how we can come to long for a story like this.
What I have been continually reminded of is that we live in a world that is at spiritual war. And we are all cast as the main character in each of our stories, whether we want the part or not. However, it is up to us whether we act upon that or not. In The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo complains that he wishes the ring had never come to him at all and that none of his journey turned out the way it had, Gandalf replies, "Such things are not for you to decide. All that we can do is decide what we will do with the time that is given to us." Simply ignoring the fact that we play a crucial role in our story or choosing to believe that the world is not at spiritual war does not excuse us from the battle nor does it land us an excuse for an "escape from jail free" card. No, it is very important to realize what is going on around us and see things as they really are, as John Eldredge relates in his book, Waking the Dead. Similarly, it is crucial we learn how to fight in this war.
I relate to the characters in these stories because they have all gone through a test which has brought them out transformed on the other side. This is one such thing I have been learning in this season. I have found that we all have giants to slay and that not one person is left without them in their journey. Some might not fully realize what those giants may be, but they are there, no doubt, and they need to be slain! The enemy wants us to think they cannot be defeated. They can and will. Let us not forget David and Goliath.
An element that recurs throughout stories such as Gladiator, Clash of the Titans, and Avitar, is that the main characters have been transformed by their trial into being the hero they now are. No place of honor comes without a price tag, and this is exactly who we are meant to be in this spiritual battle: honored warriors.
After a season of trials and giants to be overcome and conquer, I found myself smiling with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment as I realized why I could relate to these heros in these movies--these stories. God was actually using those very challenges and circumstances in my life to fashion me into the weapon that he would use to destroy the enemy seeking to devour me. Although I still face and will continue to face many more giants, I take confident assurance in knowing that God alone is my strength and rock, the lifter of my head and that it is he who trains my hands for war (Psalm 144:1).
If we find that we cannot relate to the characters of these tales of great exploits and triumphant victories and the slaying of great giants and foes, let us examine at the very core of our being why this is so and then move away from simply desiring to have a similar story and step with courageous faith into the deep waters of trust and obedience as we seek to leave the biggest place in our lives for God. As we do this with self-abandonment, we find that the giants take greater notice of us and march our way. But we also find that we have armour, sword, and shield, and the one who forged it walks with us in the midst of the fight. In this preparation and confidence, let us run into the battle!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A summary of finishing seasons and new beginnings

Much time has passed since my last post, and its about time that I gave an update. In the whirlwind of October and November, I suddenly found myself walking across the stage for graduation from my first year of Bible College. Shortly after graduation, I moved into my new flat with a handful of amazing Christian young men. There are six of us total and what a group--every one of us represents a different nation!

A week after moving, I boarded a plane to Auckland, New Zealand--my mission to get a new visa. This would allow me to work in order to save up for another year of College. After making my financial needs known to friends and family and asking for their support in prayer, I felt that getting a working and holiday visa was the best option to continue into the new year, and that it would allow me to take ownership in supporting my dream. However, just days before I boarded the plane, I received news that family friends from back home had supported me with enough finance to pay for my first semester's fees and tuition! After praying and seeking counsel for my next year with this new development, I decided it would be best to continue along my original plan to save finance for the span of the whole year, and therefore put this gift into savings. What a blessing this was as were the other financial gifts that began to appear. It appeared that God was reminding me of his favor over this season and assuring me that he was with me during a time when it was easy to lose sight of the goal and get tossed around in the often frequent storms. How grateful I am to these family members in Christ who have valiantly and boldly offered their support in prayers and finance for this kingdom-building journey in which I find myself!

And so returning from New Zealand's North Island to Sydney, Australia, I have begun to work full-time at an Organic Health Food Cafe. My goal is to save enough finance in the next five months to be able to pay for the second semester of college and, God-willing, squeeze in a visit home to family and friends. This latest move has been a step of faith, and I love my job, although working full-time has proved challenging with health that has been shaky, at best, with adjusting to a new and full schedule. However, God has used this time to really cause me to rely on him once again, yet in new ways.

Through this season of transition, perhaps one of the greatest lessons that stands out to me is found in Proverbs 19:21... "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." I have found that during this time, I have made all these arrangements and created options and formed plans for the future just so that everything will work out for the dream I feel God has called me to. However, it is through all these plans that I have found myself striving to make them work out and sadly, this has disguisedly become more about me than even about intimacy with the Father.

Suddenly, I feel more stranded than I have in this desert of self-effort and more lonely than I can recall in a long time. The rain pours from the heavens, bursting in great drops on the ground below my twelve-story apartment, serving to remind me that as I surrender to the grace of the father and recognize my own limitation in weakness, his grace and strength become manifest in my life. And so tonight I come back to center, back to home base and repent of my own striving and give my efforts back to God and in his timing alone. And do you know what? For the first time in months, I feel refreshed. All of the things that have tried to take the place of God like fun, friends, relaxation, education, ambitions, plans, and even dreams, have now come under the proper order, and as a result, peace arises.

So this reminds me to continually go to our refueling source--the Father--for the world does not know Him nor of the life that He brings. But he is our Father and when we neglect his place in our lives, we foolishly run in circles and clutter our lives with noise--noise which is both uneccessary and harmful. And its not that its bad to make decisions and step out in faith. I believe that this is very necessary in our journeys to maturity in Christ. But stepping out must always be preempted by an absolute abandonement of self to Christ in complete humility and surrender. And so, as these are a few of the things I have been learning and reflecing on, it's my hope that they might be of some encouragement to you in you journey as well.

Every blessing!

Ian Ashton