Monday, February 28, 2011

Restoring Joy

Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4


The other day I observed a large group of people and noticed a general gloominess of attitude. It bothered me because I was fairly sure that my attitude was in the same neighborhood. One of the core convictions of our church is that we all have issues that require tissues. I know that’s true but I’m usually a fairly joyful person, until lately that is. There seems to be a thief at my door these days who would love to snatch my joy from me, who has unfortunately been fairly successful. That has put me in prayer, asking why? I know the problem is never with our loving and unchanging God. That means the problem is me. A day ago I would have told you that God was not answering any of my questions. It seemed as if He wasn’t even hearing those queries. Then in the simplest way, He got my attention.

Yesterday our pastor, Sam, shared a tiny bit of information about his childhood church. He said that though they stressed the importance of joy, it didn’t seem terribly joyful to him. I was raised Roman Catholic. I was a child in that church when the priest still had his back to us and spoke in Latin, which at the time I hadn’t learned. Talk about a lack of joy! And yet, that was not the image that came to mind.

As Sam spoke I felt myself thinking about the nuns I knew as a small child. From first grade to twelfth I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Before they were my teachers many of them were my friends. My mother was the housekeeper at the convent and before I started school she took me there with her. I started my days seeing the sisters off to school and in the afternoon, after going home for a nap, I was there when they arrived home. I saw them in an environment most children don’t see. When they came in, the ones who had chores went to their chores and the ones who did not, went to the chapel, a.k.a., my favorite place in the whole house. I watched the sisters interact with each other and with my mother. They smiled and laughed. They spoke to each other with love. There may have been arguments among them but I never heard them.

Years later, many years later, a nun shared a story with me that I have never forgotten. She told me that each night as she was getting into her bed she felt the presence of her dearest friend, the most beloved person in her life, enter her room. She said that he came to her, bid her goodnight and tucked her in, wishing her sweet dreams. “I can’t see him,” she told me, “but I know he’s there. Every night he comes, my Jesus.” To be honest I found her, and her nightly routine, a bit odd at the time. I was barely in a relationship with Jesus then, still more church less Christ of a Christian.

When Sam’s words reminded me of the nuns all that came back to me, their joy, their profound love of Jesus and the calm in the convent and something clicked. The grim faces I saw, my own lack of joy, the sad state of too many churches, finds their origins in the same place, by giving Jesus a spot in our lives instead of making him the center. The sisters’ lives at home, at school, weekdays and weekends were devoted to the service of their Lord. Nothing they did was separate from their love of God. Most of us do not live that way. Jesus needs to be, as we sing in church, our all in all. He is that. He is our comfort, our strength and our joy, even when things look really bad, Jesus is pure good.

I’ve learned so much from Sam over the years that it seems fitting that with a few words, tossed in his sermon without any real purpose, he could remind me, that when the gloomy days come it is faith, trusting in God’s love for us, that will restore our joy.

Not Ashamed

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes. Romans 1:16

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, the we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.
Daniel 3:17-18


The other day my granddaughters, Faith and Madelyn, wrote letters to my nephew-in-law, who is currently in Afghanistan. Jeff is their hero. In their words, “he is in the war, keeping scary guys away.” It is important to them to lift Jeff up in prayer and to send him notes and gifts. To them Jeff is a defender of their faith. They understand, to the best of their ability, at five and three, that somewhere out there is a threat. I do not have the heart to tell them that the threat is much closer to home.

The paradox for me, is that everywhere you look you see “Christians.” Just the other night at the end of the Super Bowl, the young man being interviewed immediately said, “To God be the glory.” After answering a couple of questions he repeated that phrase. My first thought was good for you! My next thought was, please don’t show up in the media a week from now for having done some awful thing. I don’t know that young man, of course, but in the moment he seemed sincere. I hope it wasn’t just for that moment. He had a great platform. His team had just won the big game. He was allowed to say whatever he wanted. This is America after all. We are all allowed freedom of speech. Or are we?

Too much emphasis is placed on political correctness. We have all been asked to, if not bow, at least bend, to certain other gods. Don’t do it! When we bend, when go along to get along, when we shirk our beliefs for the sake of political correctness or polite behavior, we do not bring glory to God. No, in those moments we show that we are, on some level, ashamed of the gospel.

It is time to stop thinking of what holding onto our faith and professing it will do to our circumstances and begin to live from the position of what denying it will do to our relationship with God. Going along to get along doesn’t sound bad. In some cases, think husband and wife, co-workers, boss and employee, it’s almost a given. We don’t always agree with those closest to us and so we compromise. If that compromise is about something innocuous, that’s no big deal. If it involves our faith in the one true God, that is different.

We think of it as submitting to the authority of the government, which even Jesus did at times, (Matthew 17:24-27) but we have to be very careful. When submitting means contradicting our Christianity we cannot submit. In that case compliance becomes unacceptable compromise. When we think of it in terms of being “ashamed of the gospel” it takes on a much more serious tone. The men of God in Scripture were literally tortured for their beliefs. At the present time the worst case scenario in front of me is possibly some trouble at work. We say that God is most important to us. We applaud those Christians who have sacrificed their lives for their beliefs. We all need to be willing to sacrifice and yet we sometimes balk at the idea. It could cost us friends, jobs or even family members but God will never leave us or forsake us and we more than owe him our loyalty.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Faking It

Show me your ways, O Lord,
teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
For you are God my Savior.
Psalm 25:4-5


There is a young woman I know who has been in and out of my life for years. For a brief time I would have referred to her as a lovely young woman but not today. If you met her today and saw her behaving the way she does most of the time you would see a bitter, controlling selfish young lady. But once for a short span of time I would have described her as fun, easy going and caring. For that small expanse of time she wanted something and behaved in a way that she believed would best help her get it. She did get it and now she neither appreciates it nor cares to keep it. Now as I watch her and hear about her from others, I wonder where that other girl went, the girl with the good qualities. I guess she was pretending to get what she wanted. Even so, she is capable of better behavior. I’ve seen it.

Years ago when I was a young woman myself trying to learn who to live out my faith a friend of mine told me to “fake it ‘til you make it.” At first that made no sense to me. Wasn’t my Christian walk supposed to be real, pure and meaningful? Of course it was, it is, but my actions weren’t going to change overnight. My habits weren’t going to change overnight. If you want to be a disciple you have to learn discipline. For many of us that is not our natural state. I certainly didn’t spend hours reading my Bible or studying the Word. So, following the advice of that lovely woman, I began to do things differently but also to act differently. I may not have been a new creation yet, but God was working on me and I truly desired His favor.

No one likes a phony. When behaviors are used as manipulations that will show themselves as such and when they do, as in the case of my young acquaintance the people being manipulated will be even less likely to want a relationship. The change in behavior cannot be a temporary means to an end. When we “fake it ‘til we make it,” it is more in the nature of learning to speak a new language. I stand in my room and practice that new accent until is becomes natural. In the same way I learn to carry myself as the child of a king rather than the poor beggar I believe myself to be. I’ve spent quite awhile faking it. As soon as one skill is mastered another comes looking for renovation. When I conquer one sin or selfish desire in the name of Jesus, another comes to fill its shoes. I am not perfect, far from it but I know enough to put on Christ, to imitate the One who is perfect. I will fake it until I make it, not into someone’s good graces, not into the new job or the new friendship but all the way home, to the arms of my Father. He will then take those attitudes still under construction and turn them around.

When we see friendship with Jesus not as a means to an end but as the end itself we are well on our way. Jesus is the Way and when we attempt to walk like him, talk like him and act like him we will have to fake it to some extent for some period of time. Faking it to get a desired result from another human being is deplorable. Faking it because we don’t quite have the grace to do as Jesus did but boy do we want to, is admirable. If you are currently struggling in some area of your character fake being a better person until you become that better person. Just like I can see the hard heart of my young acquaintance God can see the yielded heart in all of us. He loves us and the more grace we seek the more He will give.

New Sight

He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not I don’t know. One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see!” John 9:25

“I was blind but now I see.” This simple statement is amazing. When we read it here in John, knowing the whole story that Jesus saw this man by the side of the road, this blind man and gave him his sight. That is certainly noteworthy. For this physically blind man, sight was a once for all miracle. Jesus is not one to waste anything. None of his miracles are just what they appear to be on the surface. Surely writers of prose, poetry and songs have used this line from scripture, “I was blind but now I see.” It suggests a before and after scenario. Often it is used to delineate the time when we had no relationship with God and a new time where we view Him as Lord of our life. I agree with that but I don’t think it ends there.

This miracle is a continuous one for me. Perhaps I am alone in this but I doubt it. All of us are learning as we go. At some point most of us were not conscious of the presence of God in our lives. Some of us knew about him, knew he was around but did not focus on him. Others had no idea about him until he called them to his side. In those dark days before receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit I was blind. The sight I have been given is a miracle, a huge one, one that never ends but that blindness, that darkness has cousins. They show up when I think I can handle a situation on my own. I am blind to my lack of ability until overwhelmed I turn to prayer and then I see.

Selfishness, self-centeredness, low self esteem, and self-righteousness are all variations of blindness. We get blinded by our selves, by our commitments and by life in general. We become obsessed with independence and we forget that our very breath is a gift from God. We see our trials as darkness and sometimes they are but sometimes we are just too blind to see that God is using that trial to help us become better people.

I have never experienced physical blindness but I have experienced spiritual blindness. I have chosen to ignore the sacred and opt instead for the commonplace. Once I realize how dark things have become I call to Abba for mercy and he restores my sight. I can say with the famous man from Scripture “I was blind but now I see.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Forgiving

“And when you stand there praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

“Forgive us our debts also, as we forgive our debtors.” Matthew 6:12


“No one can teach forgiveness like the forgiven.” I read this statement a few weeks ago in a book written by Beth Moore. I knew as soon as I read it that I would borrow it from her eventually. I just didn’t know what God would have me say. In looking at it again today I realized that I know a lot about forgiveness from the perspective of the forgiver and the forgiven. I learned some very profound truths from my pastor and friend, B.E. Palmer, many years ago. Recently I learned some very basic truths from my granddaughter Madelyn.

B.E. taught me about the continuousness of Biblical forgiveness. He explained that the words used in Scripture find their roots in words that are not finite but continuous. To say that he delivered bad news with that teaching is an understatement. I was in the midst of something incredibly painful. I had forgiven and forgiven and forgiven again, all without a word of apology or even explanation from my offenders. I wanted to see an end to it. The teaching that B.E. shared was not going to allow an end. As long as I draw breath I have to be forgiving toward those people. The teaching was solid and I knew it. Why? Because B.E. is one of those people of whom much has been forgiven. That made me him an excellent teacher on the topic. He did give me some tips to keep me sane and to keep me on track, but many times I’ve wished I hadn’t been taught so well.

Although she is amazingly well spoken for her age, Madelyn is not an eloquent speaker. Madelyn is three. She likes to get her way and when she doesn’t she throws a little fit. (Little being a vast understatement. The girl could scream down a large building!) A week or so ago she and her sister Faith spent the night with us. Madelyn got in trouble and missed both story time and the movie. When I saw her a few days later she assured me that next time she will be good. At the mention of the story she reminded me that she missed it. “I was not eat my dinner and then I was naughty and screaming. Next time I eat and not do naughty things. I’m so sorry!” This statement was accompanied with hugs and kisses. The child can work a room! I assured her that she was forgiven and that I hoped she was sincere about next time. She isn’t. The next time part is a pipe dream. Next time means nothing to Madelyn. Forgiveness means everything. She doesn’t want the people in her world irritated with her. She is quick to forgive because she wants quick forgiveness. She lives that part of the Lord’s Prayer very well.

Forgiveness is not leverage, as some assume. It is not an instrument of control. It is not the means to an end. Forgiveness is a gift. It must be freely given without thought to how it will be received or even if it will be received. When our Father in heaven showers forgiveness on us, (and when doesn’t he?) he expects us to shower it on our offenders as well.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mistaken Impression

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6


How do you feel about first impressions? Do you think they are accurate? I usually find that my first impression is fairly accurate although I often take a circuitous route to get back to it. When someone is introduced to me I get an immediate feel for him/her. Then I am given someone else’s opinion and/or I see their actions. Often I waver from my original reaction only to find after a time that I was right in the first place. Maybe that is because in those first few minutes I wasn’t seeing with my eyes but with my spirit, receiving rather than perceiving.

Information comes to us through many venues. We hear stories, we see one isolated act or we catch one bad or one very good day. At that point we believe that we have knowledge of a person we may in fact not have. We do the same thing with God.

As one piece of information about a person can change our opinion of them one piece of Scripture can form our perception of God. It saddens me when I meet people who learned in childhood one facet of God that shapes their understanding of Him in a negative way. They put God in a box marked Do Not Touch and they leave him there. They do not explore all the many words written about Him, about Jesus and about the Holy Spirit. There is a danger then, of not seeing God as a driving force, of not seeing Jesus as loving Savior and of not seeing the Holy Spirit as wonderful counselor because we’ve already named them something else.

The other side of the coin has people viewing God as sweetness and light. God has been good to them and they have been taught that He is good. Then one day they mess up and God allows them to walk through the consequences of their actions. Suddenly God is not sweet and kind but harsh and demanding. They wander away sad to have been proven wrong.

Neither the harsh judging God nor the sweet giving God is the whole God. God is a complex being; one we will never understand this side of heaven. He is unchanging but our view changes and so we misunderstand who God truly is. Just as seeing another human being in only one circumstance, one light is not a true representation, neither can we pigeonhole God.

Get to know as much as you can about God. Invite Him into all of your life and truly begin to experience Him, then from there form impressions of other people and situations. It is a much better, much broader view.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Shadow of Doubt

Be merciful to those who doubt. Jude 22
He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Luke 24:38


A dear young friend of mine shared with me a moment in her life that was terrible. It was frightening. She felt an emotion she never wants to revisit. My heart broke for her a bit, not just because of what had happened but because of what will happen. She most likely will experience that same emotion. This morning I read a passage from a book by an extremely well respected pastor. He too expressed concern about his feelings. He and my sweet friend labeled them differently. She called hers anger/hatred. He called his fear but they all find their life’s breath in the same base emotion, doubt.

My sweet friend desperately wants a certain miracle. I am confident that she will receive it, in God’s time. She is too, most days. The pastor has the weighty privilege of preaching and writing to an enormous audience. It is a privilege, his ministry, and he sees at such, most days.

“The devil is in the doubt” is a cliché I have heard for as long as I can remember. As a child it made no sense to me. As an adult it makes way too much sense! The story of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection are believable only by faith. Those of us with faith share that story through the eyes and words of our belief. Of course it happened the way it says it did. We know this based on Old Testament prophecy being realized. We know it by reading the Word and by circumstances in our own lives that are things that only God can do. Taken from the viewpoint of an atheist or skeptic it is fairly easy to see why they have trouble with the story. It is impossible!

So most days those of us who believe go along content in our faith. When we have problems, we leave them with our Father. We are victorious and we give Him the glory and praise His name. Then the day comes when we are just bold faced disappointed, heartsick, fearful and we wonder, is it true? Some of our circumstances confuse us. If God is love then why am I so miserable? Why did that one over there who never even speaks to God get the blessing and I did not? (If you’re expecting an answer to that stop reading, I don’t have one.) It seems that perhaps all of this miraculous stuff we believe might not be as substantial as we thought. Then we get angry or hateful. Then we get hurt and say things we regret to God who we know never forgets. Fortunately we also know He is eminently forgiving.

For my young friend, her hurt brought out anger and hateful feelings. She focused on the hate. The real demon was the doubt. She so dearly wants God’s help and when it looked as if He were mocking her desire she found that impossible to take. If God is love, as she believes, then her situation makes no sense. The devil jumped all over that doubt. Thanks be to our precious Lord she was wise enough to share her feelings and I was blessed to able to walk her through.

For the pastor, his fear is recurring. He wonders on occasion, as he writes and prepares to preach, if he is in the company of snake oils salesmen. What if the God he preaches, the Gospel he preaches, isn’t all it appears to be? He knows better. That God and Gospel have been his sure foundation for years.

The truth is that God loves my sweet friend much more than I do. The truth is that the Truth is real. Jesus died, rose from the grave and is coming back for us. Both my sweetie and the pastor know that Truth. They both live in light of it. They believe but then they doubt. Sound familiar? It does to me. I go there far too often. I took great comfort from the fact that a man I respect and from whom I have learned so much, has his doubts. I was grateful to have experiences to share to bolster my young friend. If the idea that they believe but doubted sounds really familiar to you it’s probably because you read it somewhere. Check the last few lines of the gospel of Matthew. The shadow of doubt is dark and cold but it isn’t lonely. Many, many, I dare to say most, Christians have stood in that shadow. The Light that dispels it is unique. His name is Jesus and he and his story are very real.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Overcoming Darkness

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1:4-5 (NIV)

Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:4-5 (Holman Christian Bible)*


In the past few days I have had many reasons to consider why certain things happen. I’ve read a bit about the reasons we suffer or are tested, here on earth and my faith has been challenged. It would be great to say that I have passed my recent tests and met my challenges with grace and aplomb but that would be a bold faced lie.

Sadly at one point in the last week I knew that my thoughts were a disgrace to my Father. I knew as well as I know my own name that more was expected of me and I failed. I could explain the whole scenario and trust me I have to a few of my nearest and dearest, but the details aren't that important. As for my dear ones, their opinions fall on two sides. Some are quick to point out that I did in fact fail miserably but the others are quick to prop me up. The latter group has not patted my head and told me I was right. They have simply acknowledged my humanity and their own. Was I wrong? Yes. Would they have handled it the same way? Yes and some have said they would have done worse. That soothes my humanity but the shame I feel at disappointing my Father, the affront to His spirit and my own remain, or at least they did until this morning.

This morning I was still feeling the sting of guilt, still wanting to find a loophole that says my behavior was excusable. I didn’t. What I did find was forgiveness. You see, there is a project I believe that God has assigned to me. I’ve been working on it and researching it but when my behavior was so abhorrent I immediately saw myself as unworthy. The problem is this is something that I really want to do. So, I asked. I took my sorry little self before the throne and asked if I were still the kind of person that God would use? His answer was a resounding yes. I felt it. I knew and then on my way to work I saw it.

My drive to work is not through the country. I drive on fairly busy roadways, except for one. The last stretch of my drive takes me on something of a side street. On one side it is fairly woody. This morning, after speaking as honestly and openly to God as I possibly could He answered me. After giving me a reassurance that I truly felt in my soul, God sent one of His creatures literally across my path. There just before I reached the school where I work was the most adorable little deer leaping across the road. He (?) didn’t look frightened or startled. He simply leaped across in front of me, pure beauty. It took my breath away for a moment. I am not a nature lover. I do not bird watch, camp, nature hike or anything of that ilk. Yet, the sight of that deer, that deer that pants for water, that deer who is dear to my Father was a simple confirmation. It was as if God were saying to me, “Look, I will give you delights, even when you feel worthless and unworthy.”

It may not seem like much to some people but to me it was just lovely. My discomfiture is over. My shame is over. My Father knew that I would not pass the test this time. Unfortunately I know that means I have to take it again! He also knew that failing it would break my heart just as it broke His. His forgiveness was ready and waiting. My challenges are not over and many trials remain in front of me but I know that pass or fail, my Abba will love and forgive me.

* I added this translation because I love the wording. “The darkness did not overcome it.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Loving Preparations

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there it prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:2-3

Last night my daughter-in-love, Erin, told me something very nice about my son Jeffrey. Erin just had a baby and Jeffrey had gone home, cleaned the house and prepared a place for the new baby as well as sprucing up the rest of the house for Erin. “Jeffrey was so sweet.” She told me.

Now to put this in context you have to know that Jeffrey and Erin have a great relationship but both of them have a wide sarcastic streak and a biting wit. They say things about each other, in jest, that would offend other people but to them it’s all in good fun. They tease. Erin has complimented Jeffrey before of course but I could see in her face that she was very impressed and pleased with his efforts. His reaction, when I shared it with him, was matter of fact, of course he made it nice for her, he loves her.

This week I have spent a lot of time thinking of my friend Karen who lives in one of the rooms in Abba’s house. She has seen what has been prepared for all of us. I wonder what her reaction was when she arrived. I think about it in terms of Erin’s reaction to Jeffrey’s preparation and I can only imagine the enormity of Karen’s delight.

My son is a lovely guy. He loves his wife and children. During the few days I spent with Isabelle and Samuel I was pleased to hear them talk about their mommy and daddy. These are children who are secure in their parent’s love for each other and for them. Certainly Daddy would get things ready for new baby, Abigail and for Mommy. Still, my son is human. He can be self-centered. He can forget important events. He can disappoint his loved ones. Jesus cannot.

Our Lord and Savior will never forget us, never fail to hear our cries and never leave us. He went ahead to prepare our eternal home. He paid a ridiculously high price for us. I think what Jeffrey did for Erin is an incredibly precious imitation of what Jesus has done for us. It thrills me to know that my son is a good and kind man. It also reminds me of how little we understand the love of Christ. Erin was pleasantly surprised when she went home but I bet Karen was far beyond surprised. I bet Karen was amazed beyond words I can use to describe it. Many of us do our best to imitate and reflect Christ’s love which is admirable but Christ’s love is truly unique.

I am excited to see what Jeffrey did for his girls and that reminds me of how excited I am to see what Jesus has done for us all.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Renewal

Taste and see that the Lord is good:
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8


A year ago today I celebrated the birthday of one of my dearest friends, Karen. Charlene and I, along with her family and a few other friends, gathered at a hospice center to be with Karen, on what would be her last birthday. Karen would shed her earth suit one month to the day later. While we did not know the exact date, we all knew, as we sat with her that we would never celebrate with her again, this side of heaven. As this week began my thoughts continuously went to Karen, to that day, that Wednesday, one year ago.

Yesterday, on Wednesday, my daughter-in-love, Erin, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Abigail Claire. Abigail was not born on Karen’s birthday, which leaves February 10th as Karen’s birthday in my mind. No, in His gracious kindness, God sent us little Abigail on the Wednesday I had been regarding as a very sad day.

One year ago, on Wednesday February 10th, I would see my friend for the last time on this earth. In the remaining month of her life I was privileged to speak to her a few times but we were never physically together again. On that day, by His amazing graciousness, our Abba gave Karen a great day. She had quite a bit of strength for her condition. She enjoyed her birthday. She teased and laughed with us. It was not our normal celebration but it was definitely a celebration.

Yesterday, one year later, on Wednesday February 9th, our Abba in His perfect kindness placed into our family and into my arms a little bundle of preciousness. Abigail’s arrival came without complications or incidents. Early on the doctors expressed some concern to Erin and Jeffrey about Abigail’s development. Well, she’s here and she developed beautifully with ten fingers, ten toes, no syndromes or diseases.

This week had sad overtones to it for me and for my friend Charlene. We know, of course, that Karen is happy, celebrating every day with her dearest friend Jesus but we miss her. We want to hear her tell us to walk faster or put down that cookie. But God (two of my favorite words!) in His mercy, sent new life to brighten our sad days.

Abigail is evidence that in Christ all things are made new. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18) She is a reminder that though weeping comes in the night, joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5b) In his perfect nail scarred hands Jesus takes our brokenness and makes it whole. To God, to Jesus, to the Spirit who gives us life, be all the glory.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Germs

Submit yourselves then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:7

If you know one of the people with whom you come in daily contact is ill do you avoid them? I don’t mean cancer ill or chronically non-contagious ill. I mean put you in bed for a week highly infectious ill. Do you avoid them? Or at least take more precautions after coming in contact with them? I do which is actually harder than it may sound. Keep in mind, I work with small children a.k.a. germ mobiles. These children put their fingers in places where fingers should just never go and they love dirt. Further they love to share, especially their germs. We haven’t quite achieved the cover your nose and mouth goal nor have we truly mastered that pesky hand washing skill. I’m not really a germaphobe but I feel like one when I’m in that room. I love my kiddos and there is no way I’m getting from one end of the day to the other without touching or being touched not to mention heads bent together to read books or do a simple task. Their germs far too often become my germs. I want to somehow avoid the germs but not the carriers.

That was the thought that ran through my mind the other day when my pastor made an analogy that compared Satan to a virus. He said that we should avoid contact with people who carry a demonic spirit inside of them. Now you and I might think that no one would want to carry that spirit but we would be wrong. Some people enjoy their negativity, viciousness etc. and they are to be avoided. I thought it was a great analogy because as much as I love my little ones when one of them is really sick, and yes they come to school anyway, the whole face wiping, hand washing, lotion applying, antibacterial gel use scenario, takes on comical as well as epic proportions. I avoid those all too obvious germs. Then I get flattened by the one I didn’t see coming.

It would be great if Satan would announce himself when he entered a room, situation or person. We could then make sure to avoid said room, situation or person but that isn’t how it works. Like the silent, symptom free germ that lurks in the noses and mouths of my angels there is a subtle but sinister spirit that lurks in some people.

We see Nancy Negative coming. We know it is in our best interest to avoid her and her nay saying ways. Maybe we’ve been burned once or twice when we’ve attempted to shine our little light into her dark day only to have her squelch our little light with her little pessimistic attitude. Then we learn and we make a large detour around her after that. The problem isn’t the obvious. It is the concealed.
It may well show up in the form of the good time Charlie, full of temptation, deception and pitfalls. Or it may slither in on the whines of the put upon. Poor pitiful Pearl who does so much for other people that she has no time for herself. Oh poor Pearl she is such a giver. Meanwhile she’s giving you not only a headache but a heart full of resentment and sin as you realize that in picking up her pieces to be helpful you’ve now taken on her put upon attitude.

These are most likely not the demonic spirits my pastor had in mind. I’m fairly sure he was talking about something much bigger, much darker and much more insidious. Still his analogy worked for me. I spend a lot of time avoiding actual germs but what about the germs of sin? What about the random piece of gossip or the nasty remark do I avoid those? Do I seek the opportunity to be helpful or jump at the chance to be lazy?

I am fairly diligent when it comes to avoiding germs and given my not so stellar immune system and my proximity to germs I do pretty well. I need to employ the same tactics to avoid the demons and those who willing house them. Certainly I want my light, that comes from the Holy Spirit inside of me to shine into the darkness of those infected people but maybe it has to be kin to the air hugs and kisses my students get when they bring their germs to school. I certainly want the love of God to rain on them through me but I want to stay high and dry away from whatever reigns in them.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Acknowledge God

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. 1 Chronicles 28:9
The other day I was in a meeting where the question was asked, “Do you feel insecure about your situation [job]?” And answered by the same voice, “You should.” These words were spoken, not in an attempt to intimidate the listeners but to educate them. There are changes occurring of which the speaker wanted the attendees to be aware. I was an attendee. The changes to which the speaker referred do not directly concern me, yet, but it is likely that they will before too long. I looked around at the people in the room and I saw insecurity on most faces. At that point I gave myself a little mental pinch. No, I wasn’t feeling insecure. My first thought was that I wasn’t taking the speaker seriously enough but I very quickly realized that was not the case.

The truth is that what she was referencing does not have a direct impact on me at this moment. The bigger truth is that my situation is most likely far less secure. I am truly a low man on the totem pole. My co-workers and I have already felt a deeper sting than those higher on the food chain. So, why wasn’t this unnerving to me? That answer lies in the biggest truth, Truth with a capital T. No one, no law, no change, no challenge, no directive, can defeat me because Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

They can whittle my job away. They can snip at it or downright chop it in half. They can even make it disappear completely but they cannot destroy me. My hope is not in my employment. The paychecks are much needed and I am very grateful to receive them. My work environment is pleasant and I have great companions there. However, at the end of the day it is a job.
All of these dire warnings come just a meeting or two after the meeting where we were told we cannot participate in any outwardly religious activity. To do so is to risk our employment as well as open ourselves up to legal action. To quote my younger friends, whatever!

It seems fairly obvious to me. If I stand for my Lord, He will protect me. If I accept the directive of some mortal man and hide my faith to keep peace I may not be able to count on God’s protection. We all balk at Peter’s flat out denial of knowing Jesus.( Matthew 26:69-75) The truth is too many of us are guilty of the same thing. I’ve heard, “well, they can’t control what I believe.” So what? We are called to do more than believe. We are called to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The call is very clear to me. This is the day I have to choose to trust Jesus or to put my hope in man. It is very obvious to me which path to take. I pray that my path is crowded with other believers who see it the same way.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Changing My Mind

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or see in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9


The last few days had been extremely disappointing. I had come to a couple of difficult and sad realizations. Thank God I have learned to take those disappointments and trials to the Cross and I’m even getting better at leaving them there. Having spent some time with God discussing my sadness I moved on into my day. As I was getting ready for the day this little song my grandbabies love kept playing over and over in my head. To say it is an annoying little song is a vast understatement. I asked God to replace it with something from Scripture. “Just put in my head what you want me to hear.” I prayed and the above verse came immediately.

My thoughts had been centered on sad things, things that are not right or noble certainly not pure or admirable. The little song is completely innocuous but it wasn’t helping me focus on what is right or lovely in my life. It was just irritating me. I was very grateful for the words from Philippians and I did feel the peace that is promised in the second half of verse 9.

Prior to allowing that verse into my head I was ready for an argument. Do you know that feeling? There isn’t anything specific to argue about, nothing really needs settling but you know that it wouldn’t take much to set you off. God is so merciful. He met me in that moment and refocused my thoughts. He directed me to see the things in life that are pure, noble and true. I was so grateful.

A few hours later I was with a large group of people including a couple of people who are at the core of my angst. It would have been quite easy to revert to the earlier pugilist stance. I even teased with my husband that God was testing my resolve. Once again I was to learn that God is more gracious than we could ever begin to know. As I was praying, fervently wanting to not react to the pinpricks of irritation I heard someone quoting this same Scripture. The words were exactly as they are written above but to me they began with, “Listen, here I am.”

That blessing, that confirmation that God is for us and is with us always, allowed me to be aware of the irritants without being irritated. I was so pleased, so grateful. I don’t know about you but I pray a lot for God to be with me in the moments. I know that He is there in my hours, days and years but it’s always the small things that threaten my faith. Time after time, incident after incident there He is. He stands beside me, He comforts me and now and again He even chastises me. The world is full of wrong, ignoble, impure and unlovely things but God is pure, noble and very lovely. To think in the way we are instructed here by Paul, removes a lot of pressure.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sleepy

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you sleeping? Could you not keep watch for one hour?”

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning a third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Mark 14:23-33, 37, 39-42


This same event is told in Matthew 26 in almost the same words. The point is clearly the same. Jesus is suffering the worst night of his life. He asks his three nearest and dearest, Peter, John and James, to come with him to pray. They go along, I’m sure with the best of intentions. They plan on praying along with him, keeping vigil, right up until they fall asleep.

In the verses just before the Gethsemane verses we read about the Last Supper. There is a lot of food and wine. The guys in this story are well fed and maybe just a little less than sober. They are at the very least quite relaxed. They sit in the quiet stillness of the night and most likely begin to pray. They have no idea of the seriousness of the situation. Soon flesh takes over and they are out. We read these accounts and think, “How could they fall asleep?” We are astounded because we know the whole story. We know what is in front of suffering Jesus. They did not. It is hard for us to believe that they let the pleasures of food, wine and sleep come before their dedication to Jesus! But ask yourself this question, how different are you from those three?

Too often in life Jesus asks us to keep watch with him, to pray alongside of him or serve in some capacity and we say yes but then we fall asleep; maybe not literally but in some sense, we drop the ball, fail to remain faithful. We look at the apostles and we say their stomachs were full and their minds were dull and those things kept them from serving Jesus. How often are our stomachs full or minds dull from too much world?

There are so many things that keep us from serving God or doing what we know we should be doing. Television, telephones, shopping, eating, playing, even working all get in the way. We say yes, Lord we will go with you, stay awake with you but something else beckons and we answer forgetting our first love.

Like the apostles before us we need to stay awake, keep watch and pray. We need to turn down the distractions of this world to focus on the next. We need to avoid getting too well fed, too dull or too tired to be of any use to God. There is an acronym used in 12 step programs, HALT. The people trying to break an addiction are to avoid becoming hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Perhaps we need to come up with an acronym to help us avoid becoming complacent, focused on all the wrong things and quite frankly, lazy. God instructs His people to pray as much today as He did that night in the Garden and truly we must stay awake.