Saturday, February 12, 2011

Choosing the Moments of Life

Life is sum total of the choices we make. We are defined by our choices, by what we do, by how we respond to the circumstances that we face. It is not the circumstances themselves but rather our reaction to them, that determines the content of our character. If you have known me for very long it should come as no surprise to hear me articulate such truth. It has been a common theme of my life since high school, something I have spoken about, given speeches about, preached about, taught classes about, and even given ranger programs about. It is a common thread that runs through much of my life. And it is a truth I have been keenly reminded of in the past two weeks. 

We must seize the moments in front of us, to suck the marrow out of life as Robin Williams puts it in "Dead Poets Society." We must live our lives to the full. Many of you know that one of the verses that is dearest to my heart is John 10:10, in which Jesus proclaims that his purpose in coming to earth is that we might live our lives to the full, the way he created us to live them. This single verse and the implications in carries for not only the mission of Christ, but the purpose of creation itself has dramatically shaped my life. Christ came to bring us life. It is all about life. It is about making choices in our lives that embrace the mystery and wonder of life and bring us closer to the heart of God. There is no higher purpose, no better way to live. 

This principle has been the guiding force of my life for many years. It is why I decided to stay in Oroville and work in youth ministry instead of taking a full tuition scholarship to go to graduate school. It is why I left Oroville, quitting my job, and giving up my house to take a three month temporary position as a park ranger in South Dakota. It is why I picked up and moved to Washington, DC to work on the National Mall. It is why I am in Northern Virginia right now, believing that God has a plan, is directing my life, and has brought me here on purpose. 

Our lives our filled with moments, each one an opportunity to respond, to make a choice. Each choice determining as CS Lewis says, whether we are moving closer to or farther away from the presence of God and His mission on this earth. Each choice we make has connections to so many others and our lives become the sum total of the choices that we make. I am reading Erwin McManus' book "Chasing Daylight" with Alison and a few days ago read this statement; "While moments are the context within which we live, choices chart the course and determine the destination." Our choices chart not only our course and pathway along the journey but determine the destination itself. We define who we are and where we go in life. 

This truth has been keenly imprinted upon my mind in recent days. It is timely advice for me to be reminded of. I receive a verse in my email inbox every day. The one that arrived yesterday was Proverbs 3:5. Anyone who has been a part of Nazarene Caravans should know the reference immediately, but for those of you who have not sported the blue sash the verse reads, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." I received this verse by chance. It is one I have known since I was five years old. And yet it seemed as if it had been sent on purpose to remind me that our own understanding is not to be relied upon, that the only way to make the kind of choices that reflect the character of God is to give our hearts up unto Him and to lean on His understanding rather than our own. 

I have also been reading through the bible chronologically and a couple of days ago came to the passage in Judges that tells the story of Gideon, a man who God called to lead His army to victory, a man who faced a Midianite army described as being "thick as locusts" with camels that "could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore." With 300 Israelites (down from 32,000) Gideon utterly destroyed the Midianites because he trusted in God and leaned not on his own understanding, making a choice to move forward in faith when he could not see the path ahead. 
It seems as though God has been trying to tell me something of late, to imprint a message and truth upon my mind that it might be reflected in my own actions and choices. A timely message as I sit here looking into the future. 

I remain unemployed and still have no word about future jobs, but I have hope. I applied for 8 more park ranger positions yesterday, and have found out that I have at least made the initial cut for more than 20 positions including several in Virginia. While waiting to hear further word I am continuing to invest in the National Mall in a volunteer capacity, going in at least once a week to serve as a volunteer. A few days ago I was positioned near the Vietnam Wall. It was cold out and few people were out on the mall, but there were still people coming to the wall and I was able to help several people find a name or explain the way the wall is set up. Among the people I spoke with that day were two men, both of an age that made it immediately clear that they had lived through the Vietnam era as young adults. As we spoke I learned that both had served as doctors in Vietnam, one in the regular army and one as a Green Beret. It turned out that after the war the army doctor lived in Arizona and the Green Beret worked for ten years as a team doctor for various sporting teams at the school that would become Point Loma Nazarene University. Small world huh? Then the Green Beret told me of one of his high school buddies that he had signed up with, a pilot named William Schultz who had been shot down less than a month before he would have finished his Tour in Vietnam. I stood there with him looking at William's name on the wall and I suddenly understood why it was that I was standing out in the cold as a volunteer that day.

It was a divinely appointed moment. No one else was around. It was just me and these two men out in the cold. It was a moment in which a window opened in front of me and I saw something more clearly than I have ever seen it before.  I had shared much with these two men, explaining why the wall was the way it was and giving them historical context of why we were even in Vietnam at all. They had both visited the wall before but left that day with new meaning and understanding. They had lived through and served during Vietnam before I even existed and yet I had given them a new understanding of why it was that they had done so. But it wasn't just me teaching them. They had given me a new understanding of the meaning of sacrifice and of making choices to serve and honor God through that service. They had provided me with a picture of brotherly love and fidelity that will stay with me as long as I live. It is for such moments as these that I continue to go down to the mall even after the government has ceased to pay me to do so. 

We are defined by the choices we make. We are defined by the way we respond to the circumstances of life. We are defined by the physical manifestations of our trust in God. Can I see the way ahead? No I cannot. Do I know that there is a path and that God will reveal it to me as He knows I need to see it. Absolutely. Will I continue to seek to live a life that defined by a determined pursuit of righteousness, living in the aroma of the presence of Christ? Absolutely. Will I keep seeking to live my life to the fullest, trusting in God and His plan for my life? Absolutely. Will I continue to seize the moment and make choices that keep the son in my eyes? Absolutely. 

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