Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What Looms on Your Horizon?

Have you ever noticed how in-tune we are with our geographical location? Maybe I'm just an anomaly in this, but it hit me yesterday when I was thinking about Virginia Tech. It's 129 miles away, 2 hours and 13 minutes from my house. I felt shoulder to shoulder with my neighbors in Virginia when I heard the news that there were two people killed, then more news poured in that the numbers had soared to 31, then 33. Thirty-two people were massacred, not including the killer, on a college campus just two hours from my house. Blacksburg, VA, looms on my northern horizon.

Does it loom on yours? If not, then you need to pause for just a moment and get your bearings. Stop and think about it for just a moment. Where are you? Where is Blacksburg? Is it east of you? West? North? South? Think about it for just a moment. The geographical position of Blacksburg, VA, in relation to you isn't really what's important, though. What is important is that you take pause and realize that these folks are your neighbors, that Blacksburg's horror and loss really does brush shoulders with you.

And while you're pondering that, take a moment to ponder some of the even greater tragedies that happened yesterday. Think about the scores of people who were slaughtered yesterday in Sudan. Think about the thousands of people, men, women, and children, who saw their homes and loved ones washed away in the floods in Mozambique and Bolivia two months ago.

But they're a world away. That's a different continent. Several different continents. That doesn't affect me.

Yes, it does. It should.

We must all realize the senseless loss of such tragedies, whether we're 10 minutes away, or 10 hours. Whether it's a college student turned psychotic shooter or an Islamic regime trying to exterminate those who possess a different faith and a different skin color, whether it's a hurricane that ravages our continent's southern coast or heavy rains that wipe away entire villages one continent over, it does affect us. We must all come to terms with the fact that sometimes bad things happen without apparent explanation. We must face the fact that we don't always have control of our surroundings. That we are vulnerable. That our children are vulnerable.

How does that make you feel? Kinda scared, huh?

That's the reason why most folks choose to ignore the tragedy of loss in our world...until it gets too close to our homes. Until it looms on our horizon. Until it's in your face and you can't ignore it anymore.

It's time we expand our horizons. It's time we felt others' loss. It's time for us to shake off our slumber, come out of our protective cocoons--realize that those cocoons are just an illusion--and come to terms with the fact that we're all in this world together.

Now let's step back from that vista for just a moment and take a look at our horizon through God's perspective. He loves every person who died yesterday in that massacre. He loves every person in Darfur, in Somalia, the women and children imprisoned unjustly and executed in Iran, the American soldiers in the midst of civil war in the sands of Iraq.

I heard a very interesting statement yesterday on Focus on the Family: that you love Jesus Christ only as much as you love the person you like the least. I think that's true of our compassion for those who suffer as well, that we only love Christ as much as the person in need for whom we've prayed and felt compassion the least. Jesus himself said that what we do for the least of these we do for Him, and what we refuse to do for the least we refuse to do for Him (Matthew 25).

It's easy to feel grief over Blacksburg and to lift prayers to God for those involved in the Virginia Tech massacre. And it should be. We should each pray fervently for those directly affected. And we must deal with the realizations this tragedy brings to the surface about our own personal security and safety. But it should be equally easy to feel grief and lift prayers for those who suffer in Sudan, India, Honduras. You get the picture.

Now, what looms on your horizon? Feel Blacksburg, to your north, your south, your east or west. Stop for a moment and feel Blacksburg. Then expand that horizon just a little.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Sin in the Camp

This week is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It started Monday at sundown and will continue until sundown of next Monday. This is the week that God commands us to remove all the chametz, the leaven, from our homes and eat only unleavened bread. This is, of course, a physical representation of what we should be doing spiritually. In scripture leaven represents sin. So as we remove the leaven from our cupboards, we should also be searching our lives, removing the sin from our hearts and minds.

Father has been showing me a lot this week about sin, and how insidious it is, and I'd like to share one such experience today. I washed a load of baby/toddler laundry yesterday. At the last minute, I threw in Ahava's new sundress, a navy blue affair with white polka dots. I had a second of hesitation about it, thinking that the color might bleed onto the other clothing, but shrugged it off and decided it was probably colorfast. Boy was I wrong.

This morning I went back to the basement to work on laundry again. I emptied jeans from the dryer, then started pulling baby clothes out of the washer and tossing them in the dryer. I pulled the dress out first, then other clothes. Sure enough, blue stains were all over Ahava's new summer clothes! I muttered, "Oh, no! It's all over everything!"

And God said, "Just like sin, it affects everything it touches." Wow. That was profound. That's how I know it was God, because that wouldn't have just come to me.

You may think you can isolate one sin, allow one little indulgence, but know this: that sin affects everyone and everything it touches. According to Paul (1 Cor 5:6), "A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough." A little sin ruins everything else. And just like those blue stains, after sin has entered, it's sometimes very difficult to remove completely.

I pulled all the clothes (except the dress) from the dryer and rewashed them with lots of stain treatment. And I thanked God for the lesson. I'm back at the drawing board today, searching, asking God to show me places where I've been complacent about sin in my life and in the lives of those that I've allowed to influence me. Unwise associations, some of which I've foolishly sought out myself. I think it's time for me to take another scriptural principle to heart, one spoken of frequently in Proverbs, that we should be selective of the counsel that we keep.

Just like a plague or an infectious disease, sin spreads from person to person. We sometimes unwittingly infect ourselves with the hands we shake, the communal air we breathe...the company we keep. No wonder God was so adamant about removing the sin from the camp, about isolating the unclean for seven days, then re-examining it to see if it was still unclean. Perhaps we, the body of Christ, should apply this principle to our own lives and to the church in general.

Have we become complacent about sin? Have we winked at sin, allowed ungodliness in any measure to enter the body? If so, we've leavened the whole body. After all, a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.

It's time that we remove the leaven, that we search our hearts and ask God to do the same, so that we might see clearly and remove speedily any impurity that keeps us from reflecting His likeness. Yes, certainly there is grace, and we should extend that grace to others. But as Paul said (Rom. 6:1-2), grace is not an excuse to sin. A little sin infects the entire body. As we extend grace, we can also stand firm in our convictions and refuse to allow sin in the camp. The two can go hand in hand...grace and purity. Mercy and godliness. For we see a perfect combination of the two in Christ. His purpose was not just to show us mercy and grace without limit, but to cleanse us of all unrighteousness so that we could stand pure and spotless before God.

A precious friend and I were talking today about what happens when you are faced with sin. You must deal with it. Sin that is not dealt with grows, multiplies, spreads like a cancer. A gut-wrenching example of this concept is King David's failure to deal with the sins of his firstborn son, Amnon. Recorded in 2 Samuel 13, the repercussions of Amnon's sin and David's inaction were felt for years, throughout the land of Israel, and included a national revolt and much bloodshed. One sin unchecked infected all of Israel. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. So what should we do? Get the sin out of the camp.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Know thyself

Okay, so I finally did it. I sent my first ever query letter to a literary agent today. I clipped the envelope to the mailbox next to my front door and waited most of the day for the postman to pick it up, because he comes at different times every day. And when he finally showed up, I nearly ran outside and snatched the letter from his hands. But I managed to contain myself and let him take the letter away to its destiny...my destiny.

I'm trying to find a perfect balance of optimism and realism. The odds are that I'll get a rejection letter, that I'll get multiple rejection letters. In fact, the odds of ever getting my book published are against me. But thinking like that never benefited anybody. So I've decided that I may very well be the first author to find a literary agent with just one query letter. I may very well be the first author who is published by the first publisher who read their work. I may make history! My book may be a #1 New York Times bestseller, at the top of the charts until my second book bumps it to the #2 slot. Publishers might scramble to sign me on for a sequel (which is already written, by the way). My book may very well start a revolution, changing the way folks think about God and their relationship with Him. Folks might line up outside bookstores, hoping for me to autograph their copies of my book. It could fly off the shelves by the hundreds. Stores could have a difficult time keeping it in stock, because the demand is so high. Fan fiction sites could start popping up (that made me laugh out loud!) based on my characters.

Hey, it could happen!

No matter what happens, though, I know that I am an author. I know I'm a writer. I know who I am. And although that might be validated by seeing my work in print, my identity will not be deleted by a rejection slip. "Know thyself." I know myself. Do you?