Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 3: 12-14
So often, advertisements allure us with images of those who appear to have arrived: the guy rich enough to buy three of those cars with a bikini clad girl sprawled across the hood, the singer who is engaged to that actor whose face on a massive billboard by the train seems to have no wrinkles.
It’s easy to look at these snapshots in time and feel jealous in the moment – especially if you’re walking in the cold and having a bad hair day. We forget that attainment is an illusion that doesn’t last. That singer is getting wrinkles in a few years – even if plastic surgery seems to take them away, the change is only skin deep.
The change Christ offers is penetrating, profound and lasts for eternity. The catch is that it doesn’t happen in an instant – this whole becoming a new creation thing takes a while.
Advertising touts the appeal of consumerism – we feel of personal power when our money can buy something shiny, beautiful and sexy. For a moment, we experience aesthetic transfusion as we rev the engine of an exquisite automobile or stare at our transformed, shimmering face. We may have used money to buy our way to beautiful, but only lasts until a prettier face pulls up in a newer, shinier car.
God calls us to something so much more substantial. When the gains we made for ourselves have long faded, the work Christ has wrought within our hearts will remain.
In a land where we are constantly bombarded by images of the here and now, God reminds us that the intangible work of His kingdom is the only thing that will outlast this world.
Lord almighty, help us not to live our lives in vain. Make clamor of the present bow to the call of heaven as you draw us to yourself.
Alicia Leonardi writes for communications at McCormick. She’s learned that mascara that doesn’t run is really hard to remove.]]>
One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. – Psalm 27: 4-5
In a culture where the swipe of a card purchases dozens of products in seconds, it’s easy start accumulating things. Sometimes, those of us in the lowest tax bracket want to think we aren’t materialist because we can’t afford the top of the line. It is a lie. Even small extravagances can derail one’s focus if they become obsessions rather than accessories.
I might not go to bed dreaming of BMWs, but I’ve certainly spent time this week chasing material things that I don’t necessarily need to survive: staring at the Starbucks menu pondering how I can get the most caffeine for the least money or driving back to the Goodwill with visions of those pink flats I left behind last time.
I might not have spent much money, but I did spend mental space congratulating myself for finding a decent drink under two dollars or kicking myself because someone else is walking around in the sparkly shoes I wanted.
During Lent, we have the opportunity to deny ourselves tangible pleasure so that we can draw closer to the Lord. In years past, drinking Diet Coke before morning class because I gave up coffee made me remember Christ’s sacrifice because I was making a small sacrifice of my own. I also yearned even more for a resurrection body that doesn’t need some kind of kick to get started in the morning.
Though we aren’t exactly becoming ascetics, extra measures of self-control at this time can prove that the state of our hearts matches the words of this psalm. It’s more real that I am asking for one thing – to behold the beauty of the Lord and dwell with him – when I’m not ordering a latte.
Merciful God, honor this time that we break from the daily addictions that help us to carry on. We need to trust you God – because you are sovereign and we are not. Establish us according to the psalmist’s promise as sincerely seek you God. You are certainly more secure than anything we crawl toward on our own.
Alicia Leonardi writes regularly for McCormick. She loves God.]]>
But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?
- Romans 9:20-21
Many people who are currently serving in ministry testify that they tried to escape this particular path, but finally decided to stop fighting God and accept the call. They say they cannot deny what they were made to do. Ministry is certainly a special calling. The tricky part is that specialness – and the life experiences that cause it to be revealed – is not always appreciated.
Though it is a blessing to have seminary training, it can sometimes be hard to abide in the simple joy of life in Christ because there is a lot of theology in the way. After a couple preaching courses, it was extraordinarily difficult for me to just listen to a sermon at face value. I would think of ways the speaker focused on a less integral portion of the text or made something simple too complex or something complex too simple.
Since I was trained in a denomination that does not ordain women and haven’t had too many chances to actually use my sermon skills in a non-academic setting, for a time I simply resented the ecclesial system and rejected the importance of theological training.
If I wasn’t going to be invited to preach anytime soon, why did I toil to understand exhortation? Couldn’t I just go back to not knowing anything about the importance of original languages and actually enjoy receiving teaching? Why did God make me a special vessel if that meant I got shoved on a shelf somewhere because those around me with power thought I was too breakable?
Romans reminds me that God does have a plan. There are times, I wish I was shaped differently in the days of the womb so that I might be used differently by God in the present day; but the Lord knew what he was doing then and is still at work in my life today.
Sometimes I wonder what life would look like had I chosen a different school, but no matter where I was or what I was doing; I would still have the same soul God gave me. Mine is a soul that wants to help people and use God’s words to do so.
Medical doctors use entirely different means to heal bodies than ministers use to heal souls because they were made differently by God to fulfill different roles? Who am I to wield a scalpel when I’m meant to carry a sword?
God help us to be thankful for the unique manner in which you have made us. Allow us to be grateful for each intricacy of the way we are made. Stop us from slandering what you have made to be good. Dear Lord: remind us of who you are.
Alicia Leonardi was always the artist in high school biology. She writes for McCormick now.]]>
Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains. – John 9: 39-41
The miracles of modern medicine certainly influence the way I read this parable.
Though my friend, Amanda, could function before the surgery with glasses, life became much richer when her sense of sight was heightened through Lasik surgery. She was so in awe of the simple beauty of trees that she got an intricate trunk surrounded by swirling branches and leaves tattooed across her entire back. Before the surgery, she said all trees pretty much looked alike. After Lasik, she could see that each leaf had its own shape and texture and reflected light in a unique way.
Though I’ve personally always had 20-20 vision in a physical sense, I know that God has graciously been peeling away layers of spiritual and emotional blindness from my life time and time again.
From my days as college freshman who spent one summer on an urban mission project and came back convinced suburbanites were obviously clueless to my first year at seminary when I thought every opinion without a bible verse attached to it was an invalid opinion; there have been many times when I was certainly convinced that God had opened my eyes so that I could enlighten others. Obviously they needed to be reminded of the error of their ways and think and act more like me! I wasn’t particularly open to the thought that I might be the blind one.
Now, I am a recent seminary graduate who has learned the hard way that Christians – even those in academia who are training to be pastors – aren’t perfect and are hypocrites if they pretend to be. The reality of God’s grace toward me and my fellow sinners has clicked in a way I could not fathom before.
Though this new insight came through pain and disappointment, I praise God that He’s allowed me to see that each Christian is a unique creation that reflects God’s grace, mercy and goodness in a slightly different way than the rest. Our creator not only crafted the trees in each forest, but also every single splendid leaf.
Holy Lord. Thank you for giving us give us true sight when we are willing to admit that we have been looking at life without you and our vision is flawed. Thank you for being a God for the small details as well as the big picture. Thank you for the gift of growth as you refine us and we share our stories with one another. You are good. May we never forget You. Amen.
Alicia Leonardi writes for McCormick from Colorado – home of the majestic Blue Spruce.]]>