Good Friday- Understanding Christs’ Humility

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I have visited many cathedrals and grand churches in many countries around the world.  And no matter the location I  am always in awe of their grandeur and decadence.  I usually end up rendered speechless by their overwhelming size and opulence.  And while I always appreciate the aesthetic beauty and the sheer accomplishment of creating somethingIMG_1294 so grand and monumental (especially considering most of these churches were built before the existence of modern machinery), I also typically feel a little uneasy.  It seemed so strange to me to think that the church in those time periods would build something so grand, so expensive and so elaborately coated with gold while there were people starving in the nearby villages and cities.  It never set well with me.

It didn’t seem like the churches back then really understood the point of Christianity.   As someone who grew up as a non-denominational Christian I have often had a hard time understanding these grand traditional views of religion that is based on hierarchy of man and full of man-made traditions.  It always seemed so formal and distant and not at all consistent with the Jesus that I knew who fought against a deeds based/ self glorifying concept of righteousness. I often wonder what he would think of these palatial cathedrals.  The Jesus I know didn’t grow up in a palace surrounded by gold.   He was born in a stable. He was real and probably dirty and smelly in comparison with current social norms.   His hands were most likely rough and callused by years of hard work as a carpenter.   He lived a life of true humility and loved everyone without judgment.  He, who was fully man and fully God, was the only one worthy of glory and honor and yet he received none.  IMG_1294

I was thinking all of these things as I entered into St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg Russia.  I was instantly struck  (and I say struck because it hit me like a two by four to the stomach) by the beauty of the church.  I stepped inside and I couldn’t move or breath for a moment.  I know I talk often about being overwhelmed by beauty, but this time I literally was.  I just stood there in the entryway with my mouth open not really able to take in the grandeur and extreme beauty and over the top decadence that was displayed on every inch of this magnificent cathedral.  It hit me more than any other cathedral I had visited before.  And I began to wonder that if I feel this in awe of this place, how overwhelmed will I be of Heaven.  That is when it hit me…..I understood something about cathedrals that I had never understood before and for the first time I had an emotionally spiritual moment in one of these grand churches.  The below video captures what I was thinking and feeling.

After that video I went into the holy prayer room.  There I truly communed with God in prayer and worship.  I thanked him for all he did for me.  I thanked him for choosing an ugly humiliating death on a cross instead of the life of decadence he deserved.   I thanked him for loving a sinner such as myself and allowing me,  even with all of my imperfections, to glorify him with my life.  Then I just sat in reverent worship of Him and His perfect and beautiful plan for the salvation of man.

IMG_1297When I left the prayer room it was amazing to me to see how just being in the very presence of God through prayer and worship transformed my perspective of the church.   The building that had before seemed so striking seemed dull and insignificant in comparison to the glory of God.   I suddenly saw it for what it was…a beautiful building that will one day waste away.  However, God’s glory is eternal and the only thing worth our adoration and praise.  And one day when I have been cloaked in the complete righteousness of Jesus, I will be able to enter into His very perfect and indescribable presence and behold Him in all of His glory, not because of what I have done, but because of Christ had done for me.  And in that place, because of the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice on a cross,  I will be able to abide and dwell in God’s presence and worship Him forever and ever.   That is worth my worship and honor and praise….not a building made of stone.

Spain: All in God’s Perfect Timing

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.24.23 PMSpain.  Just the word alone elicits an almost Pavlovian response from all of my senses.  Suddenly, I smell the oranges of Valencia and hear the pounding of the Flamenco dancers under palm tree lined pavilions in Seville.   Spain.  My mouth waters for the taste of olives, jamón, wine and paella while my soul aches for the creations of Gaudi’s genius and my heart yearns for Madrid’s ocean of culture.

It took me a long time to get to Spain.  In retrospect, it was a trip almost 10 years in the making.   My obsession started in 10th grade when I took my first Spanish class.  I worked harder in this class than any others.  I vowed to one day live or study in Spain and therefore I worked tirelessly to learn the beautiful Spanish language to the best of my ability.  Oh- How many nights did I fall asleep at the wee hours in the morning going over another deck of Spanish flashcards!?

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.27.09 PMThe opportunity was never right in High School, but I told myself I would student teach in Spain.  This was something that I planed for and pursued all four years of college.   My senior year I was accepted into the international program at my school and I was on my way to Spain at last!  However, something fell through at the last moment and my placement was cancelled.  I was devastated.  Spain had been my plan for the past seven years and suddenly it was gone…like a puff a smoke.  I sobbed that night.   Spain was taken from me and I didn’t understand why.

We say,  “Things Happen for a Reason” often in our society.  This gives us something to say to those who have had disappointment in their life.  We say this when something happened/didn’t happen the way we really wanted it to go.   We say this to sound humble and gracious, but it takes a lot of grace to actually KNOW in your heart that things happen for a reason; God’s reason.  Sometimes we never know why things truly happen, but God has a perfect plan for our lives we just have to have faith and humbly know that that He who created the universe and He who IS and WAS and IS TO COME may have a better grasp of what is good for us than we do.  In this case, however, I have the unbelievable gift of knowing why Spain was “taken” from me.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.35.40 PMGod, in His infinite wisdom had more planed for me than my impatient heart could have ever conceived.   Instead of spending the last semester of my college experience off campus, He gave me one of the most rewarding semesters of my life.  I was able to host a comedy show call Friday Night Live, I fulfilled my duties as a VP for Student Government, and I was voted by my classmates to be IWU’s Senior of the year at graduation.  If I had been in Spain I would have missed out on all of those blessings and I would have peddled away so many precious “last moments” with my dear friends on a campus that I LOVED.

photo-14_2More importantly, God’s choice to not send me to Spain allowed me to say goodbye to my grandfather.   My pops, a man who more closely resembled Christ than any other man I have ever met, fell very seriously ill the last month of my college career.   He truly lived a life of love like that described in First Corinthians 13:4.  My pops was patient and kind. He did not envy, and did not boast. He was not proud, self-seeking, nor easily angered.  He did not keep a record of wrongs.  He did not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.    Pops was a farmer.  He loved the land, and worked hard everyday to glorify God and live a life producing all of the fruit of the spirit.

Because I was not in Spain, I was able to be there when he got sick.  I can still feel the whiskers on my cheek from when he kissed me goodbye for the last time on this earth. I cherish that moment above any other in my life so far.  That last kiss on my cheek from him means more to me than any study abroad experience ever could.

I could praise God and His wisdom for that reason alone.  But God is even MORE faithful than I could ever imagine.  I may not have been able to student teach overseas, but instead God blessed me with the opportunity to spend 8 incredible weeks in Spain.  This was God’s plan, not mine.  And as always, His perfect plan was infinitely more superior than the one created by my limited human brain.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.27.45 PMThe summer after my second year of teaching I got the opportunity to live with a family in Madrid in exchange for a few English lessons. Instead of six weeks of stressful student teaching, defined by me yearning to explorer the city while being held captive by grading and lesson planning duties, I spent two beautiful, perfect, unrestricted months soaking up every ounce of experience and culture possible.  I spent my days blithely wondering around the city of Madrid, observing life, reflecting and growing.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.31.56 PMSpain changed me.  It was an incredible experience, for numerous reasons in which I hope to share in future posts, but most importantly it demonstrates how faithful our God is.  He knows.  He Cares.  And He is continually weaving together a stunning masterpiece that is my life.  Our God is so faithful and in control and if we patiently seek Him and His will, sometimes we get to see the intricately beautiful ways He mends and molds our threads together to create a masterful work that glorifies Him and His unending goodness.

**** Side note:  11 is my favorite number and Spain ended up being my 11th country.  It was the 1st of 11 countries I visited in 2011. (11 in 11).  This post randomly ended up being my 11th post. God is just so good and just so clever sometimes!