Friday, July 29, 2011

No Fear

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

“Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:32-34


For the past few weeks I have been not so gently invited to fall into fear. This invitation of course comes from our enemy. It started out with things from the past. Those almost did me in and fear did take hold for a few brief hours and thanks be to God for the brevity of that time. Then because the past couldn’t get to me or at least not well enough the battle moved to the future. There wasn’t even a hint of victory there. I’ve wasted far too many days worrying about next week, month or year and therefore losing that day. I was not about to fall into that trap again. The truth is, sorry Annie, tomorrow may never come. The sun may not come out tomorrow if the Son shows up tonight. Today is really all I have for sure. Oh, I know you’re ahead of me here. Of course that is where the current battle is taking place, in the current day, each day for the past several days. I have woken up with the poke, poke, poking of little demon thoughts. Thanks again to God and to my dear friend Karen I’ve remembered to shut down the poking and praise God before my feet hit the floor. That is certainly unacceptable to the opposition so those long, cold, pointy, far reaching fingers of a championship meddler start in on the rest of my day. Things that normally happen in an instant and then are forgotten are hanging around to poke away.

A couple of very firm, very comfortable relationships in my life now seem a little shaky. Every where I look there is something I need to accomplish, fix or finish and no time in which to do so. I hear a sharp tone in my voice far too often and feel the quiet grip of fear grabbing my intestines in a way that hasn’t happened in quite some time. In the clasp of this cold and ugly manipulation I keep reminding myself that perfect love drives out fear. I seek my Father’s face and there it is. I call on my Savior and he answers me.

Somewhere up ahead I must be going to need more strength or more trust because my Abba is allowing this manipulation, this questioning of self, and this discomfort. He is not allowing the fear. I know it because when I realize that fear is my motivation or that fear is holding me back I feel guilty. I admitted to my husband the other evening that there is one great fear in my life that I have yet to truly turn over to God. I give it to him only to take it back again somewhere down the road. I’m pretty sure that makes him a little angry with me.

I also know that fear is not a part of God’s plan because when I do realize its presence and go to God to overcome he enables me to do just that. There have also been odd little blessings all indirectly connected to my worst fear. I believe that is God’s way of encouraging me to hang in here with him and to trust him.

The words from 1 John coupled with the words from Luke state quite clearly that fear has no place in the life of a child of God. It comes down once again to trust. Do I truly believe that God has my best interests at heart? Do I believe that my Father loves me enough to want what is best for me? Oh, there’s the rub. Too often we let a human image mar our understanding of a perfect God. I was raised by a father who wanted what was best for him, not my sisters and not me. I don’t trust him. Fear was an important component of our relationship. It has taken me a long time to truly place my trust in Father God. For some people it is a once for all event. They may struggle in other areas but their trust in God never wavers. I still have a lot of work in that area. I believe it comes down to embracing the Scriptures above as well as Jeremiah 29:11. Our loving Father has plans for us, good plans, blessed plans, eternal plans. He also loves us with an everlasting perfect love and that leaves no room for fear.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What’s in a Name

The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. John 10:3

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:12-13


I grew up in a city divided, not by angst or law or water but by nationality. While most of the teasing was lighthearted and there weren’t any real problems, still the city was clearly defined by section. The Irish, the Polish, the Italians, etc all had their own little niche. During my growing up years I was defined by nationality and religious denomination. It never occurred to me to find that odd. We were Irish first, Catholic second and oh yeah, American. I certainly saw myself as Irish more than American even though both of my parents were born right in that same city in Upstate New York.

Years later while teaching a sixth grade religious education class I said something to the kids about being Christian. One little boy got very upset with me. He insisted that he was not a Christian. He was a Catholic. I laughed and tried to explain it all to him. The next week he came in with a note from his mother asking me to please not tell her son that he was Christian. He was a Catholic and I was confusing him. It stopped being amusing right there.

For the last week I have wrestled with a problem that involves a person I have known all of my life. He is an older man and he would tell you quite proudly that he also is a Catholic. He might also become offended if you referred to him as a Christian. In speaking to my prayer partner about this situation she referred to the Bible passages that talk about dealing with believers and non-believers. In her understanding this man is a believer. He has after all spent his life in a church. Knowing him a lot better than she does I remembered my little guy who was not a Christian. I believe this man would say the same. He isn’t a Christian. He’s Catholic and to him those are not the same thing.

I’ve come to a good resolution in my struggle but along the way I did consider my friend’s words and that led me to this message. The crux of our faith has to be the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We must be Christians first and fill in the denomination second. This is not an issue seen solely in the Catholic Church. I know many lovely Baptists, Lutherans, Anglicans etc who have yet to commit their lives to Christ.

Jesus came to die for us while we were still sinners. He is the temple. It says so in Scripture. It also says that our bodies are to be temples, temples for the Holy Spirit. We are called to live our faith not to practice it on Sundays and the occasional mid-week service. That faith is a living thing that needs to breathe, to be active twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Where do you go to church? When you are sad, ill frightened or lonely is the answer to that question your comfort, support or strength? Now answer this, is Jesus Christ the focus of your life? If the answer is yes then it follows that he is the one you call on in times of distress and disease. No building or congregation, lovely though they may be, can be there for you at all times. Only our Lord and Savior, he alone is with us no matter what. He alone will never leave us or forsake us or let us down. He never, ever, ever disappoints. I’ve changed churches during the course of my life and I have changed denominations. I have never changed gods. There is no other than the one true God. In my church travels I have met nice people and not so nice people. I have felt at home and like an alien. But one thing remains, in every place I’ve visited or joined that housed his people; Jesus has always been there.

*Romans 10 is a great companion to this message.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Vashti’s Disrespect

But when the attendant delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.
Then Memucan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes.” Esther 1:12, 16


If you don’t know the whole story here, I suggest you read it. For one thing, this message will make more sense, but mostly because it is a great story. The Queen Vashti part isn’t terribly long but it sets the scene for the entire book of Esther. Xerxes is mad! His wife has embarrassed him and the story goes on from there. It seems a small moment but it has huge consequences.

I love the book of Esther and have read it a few times as well as doing a couple of Bible studies about it. No matter how many times I read it I am struck by the level of disrespect Queen Vashti shows to her husband. He sends for her, asking her to come to him, so that he can show his friends his wonderful, lovely wife. And she says no! What is that?

God created Adam and seeing that he needed a companion he created Eve. The relationship was meant to be mutually supportive. There was a role for the man and a role for the woman.

First of all it shows that she has no idea what role a woman plays in a man’s life. Now, wait, before you get all mad at me, let me explain. If we lived in man/woman relationships the way God intended before we brought our lovely free will to the table and messed things up, life would be a lot nicer. I see Vashti’s disrespect in direct contrast to one of the nicest marriages I have ever been privileged to observe. That is the marriage of my friend Mary’s parents. Mr. and Mrs. Kouides were my neighbors for many years. Mary, has been my best friend since we were ten and that gave me a very close up look at her parents.

Never, in a million years can imagine Mr. K asking Mrs. K to greet his friends and getting a negative response. Of course they had disagreements, every couple does, but never did I witness disrespect between them. Once when we were darling teenagers Mary made a not so nice remark about her mom, nothing awful just sassy. To see her dad’s reaction she may as well have cussed her mother out. We both got a lecture on respect. You might think that I would be aggravated to be included in that talking to, but I wasn’t. I was just impressed with how quickly and completely Mr. K. defended his wife. Why was he so good to her? That answer is simple, because he received love and respect from her.

Respect is missing from a lot of marriages these days. We see far more Vashti and far less Mrs. K. behaviors. We also see far more of divorce, bitterness and emptiness. Just one more example of how badly things go when we choose our own way instead of the way God intended.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ripped Open

And every heart,
And every soul,
And every body
Has got a God shaped hole

“God Shaped Hole”
Audio Adrenaline

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26


Do you watch medical shows? I do on occasion and I remember fondly the days of Marcus Welby, M.D. when they didn’t show things in such living color. The producers of the current day medical dramas want us to believe that we are watching real surgery and they get as close as they can to looking like the actual event. It’s graphic and it’s gross.

I especially dislike the heart scenes where they pry open the chest, which we see and hear leaving, for me, no comfort zone. These are not the shows to watch while eating popcorn or, heaven help us, salsa. I doubt very much that real heart surgery includes the banter about who’s dating who and why someone else is getting divorced. I certainly hope that true medical professionals keep their minds on the task at hand. I do think the breaking sounds and puddles of blood are probably pretty accurate. Think about the words, open --- heart --- surgery. There it is the life force of your body, exposed and bleeding. I can’t imagine what goes through a person’s mind when they know that is in front of them.

That cracked open chest, fully exposed heart is exactly what God wants from us. The guys in Audio Adrenaline say it so well, “and every body has got a God shaped hole.” We do, all of us, every body. So how do we fill it? With God? No, not right away. Most of us try many other things before we turn to God. We try busy work, books, friends, food, drugs, alcohol and sex, to name a few things. None of it works. When finally we recognize that the hole is built only for God we wait hoping He will just slip in quietly. He can’t we’ve shoved too much junk into his space.

So how does he get in there? Open Heart Surgery It’s the only way. He rips our hearts open exposes the poisons for what they are and then begins to lovingly heal and fill the space that was his all along.

Even those of us who have invited God in forget that we have stashed away some habits that take us so far from the will of God. We give our time to projects that do not bring glory to his name or worse indulge in practices that disappoint God and harm us. We feel empty and alone because we’ve taken God out of his rightful place.
Let the Lord of the universe perform open-heart surgery on you. It’s painful and messy but well worth the aggravation. If we open ourselves up to God, He will truly set us free.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Faith like Faith’s

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3

To become like little children… Isn’t that kind of the opposite of what we tell our children day in and day out? We say, “grow up” “don’t act like a baby” and things of that nature. Here, Jesus is not advocating throw down tantrums or pouting. He isn’t saying that we should all walk around grabbing what we want and saying, “mine!” No, what he is saying is that there is something enormous in the simple faith of a child.

My granddaughter, appropriately named Faith, taught me a lesson the other day that I will not soon forget. I had received a very sad email from my dearest friend Mary. The contents of the message just broke my heart. Mary is over a thousand miles away from me right now and I felt at a loss. How could I help? Then I realized that at that moment I had two very young, very pure hearts, available to pray with me. I went to Faith and her sister Madelyn and asked them to say a prayer with me for Aunt Mary. What came out of Faith’s mouth was so beautiful it literally made me cry.

Faith prayed from that sweet heart of hers in a way that I have heard before but never from one so young. She prayed for peace and healing. She prayed for Mary’s extended family, who I had not mentioned. She prayed with eloquent simplicity and some childish phrases. At one point she asked, “Pretty, pretty please Jesus.”

When she was finished praying I asked her who taught her to pray like that. It wasn’t me. I’m guilty of the “God bless” and “thank you Lord” variety of prayer with the girls. When I asked she looked at me, shrugged and said, “Nobody. I just said it.” When I told her grandfather he asked her the same question, to which she replied, “It was just in my mind.”

Just in her mind to plead, innocently but with total confidence and conviction. She asked me afterward why I was crying. “Are you so sad for Aunt Mary?” I said of course, but that I was also so proud of her. That seemed to puzzle her a bit. She didn’t see herself as having done anything noteworthy.

Faith is only five years old. Her life of late has been riddled with uncertainty and disappointment. Her tender heart has been broken in ways that she cannot understand. For such a young person she knows intimately what betrayal and abandonment look like. And yet, her heart remains open. Her desire is for God. As her gram, who cannot make her life perfect, I was so grateful for a glimpse of how close she is to God, how deeply He cares for her. No one can pray as Faith did, with such deep sincerity, without knowing God.

To become like little children…. Here I have been thinking that I need to set a good example for Faith and all my other grandchildren, and now I see that in some ways, I need to look to them. Faith like a child, faith like Faith’s, is unhindered by how tos and have tos. It is simple and lovely and quite frankly I want my faith to look just like that.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Eye Opener

“As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt
The servant fell on his knees before him, ‘Be patient with me’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go”
But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denari. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.”
“Then the master called the servant in. “you wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’”
Matthew 18:24-28, 32-33


The Scriptures may have been written a very long time ago but some situations seem to be pulled right out of those verses.

Just the other day I witnessed the reaction of a person who had received an enormous blessing, on top of a series of smaller but very significant ones. In this situation one might expect a sincere display of gratitude. The blessing to her came at a great price to the giver, a fact of which, she was very much aware. Instead of any real, heartfelt gratitude there was a mumbled thank you, in the midst of an entirely different conversation. Keep in mind, the giver was not looking for thanks. That was never his motivation. To an outside observer, however, some form of actual gratitude was called for but it never came.

In conversation with the benefactor I learned that he had originally planned to bless this same woman in a way that would have had an even greater impact on her day to day life. It wasn’t her lack of appreciation that stopped him. He’s used to that, I suppose. It was the fact that he observed her putting herself first, refusing to help another, in a much, much smaller, barely discernible way, just minutes after learning of the blessing in her life.

I don’t know if the woman involved learned anything from the experience but I know I did. Just watching it play out and listening to the sad disappointment of the giver I had a glimpse of how God deals with us.

We read it over and over again in Scripture. I gave a very short version of the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. That is as close an illustration as I could find to what I witnessed. It’s the give me, do for me, see my distress oh, but don’t expect me to show mercy, kindness or even consideration, school of thought. It is a total disregard of the blessing given.

I see myself as a fairly grateful person. I have many little ways in which I try to express my gratitude to my Father for mercy and love far, far, far beyond anything I could ever deserve. Still, watching that little scenario play out around me I wondered how many blessings I’ve missed because after receiving something I certainly didn’t deserve it wasn’t enough to just take the blessing for granted, I had to go farther to refusing to give anything at all the next time I was asked. I was appalled by the reaction of the woman receiving the gift but I did wonder how many times I have behaved that way toward my Father.

The parables in the Scriptures are there to inform and guide us but when we see one acted out in our very own lives it might just be time for some introspection. I’ve heard many people say that God doesn’t speak to us, like He spoke in the Bible. Maybe He does but we just aren’t listening.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sermons

Peter replied, “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off---for all whom the Lord our God will call. Acts 2:38-39

Many of the teachings I have read refer to this passage as Peter’s first sermon. In many of today’s churches only a certain few people are able to preach. We want to be sure that the Scripture reference used are accurate and that they aren’t going to offend anyone. The pastors of most churches spend hours upon hours creating and polishing the sermons they present.

Peter didn’t do that, exactly as evidenced by Acts 3:13. The members of the Sanhedrin saw him as “unschooled.” Peter didn’t pull out dissertations by learned men. He didn’t consult websites and he didn’t need a screen for his film clips. All Peter needed was a crowd willing to listen and his own experiences.

When the crowds gathered around Peter they didn’t look for a cleric’s collar or ask about his PH.D or his D.Min. The only degree Peter or his listeners were interested in was his TSJ (time spent with Jesus).

Too often we think that it takes all kinds of initials or pieces of paper to make a person an authority on the movements of the Holy Spirit and the character of Jesus. While I am certainly pleased to be taught by a pastor who has studied the Word and has the letters to prove it, his credentials don’t impress me nearly as much as humility and his openness to continued learning.

Peter was blessed to have spent time walking with Jesus during his time here on Earth. He was able to observe Jesus, to listen to Jesus and to look into his face. We do not have that privilege but we can get to know him very well by reading Scripture and living as closely to him as possible. When Jesus speaks to our hearts sometimes it is just for that individual but sometimes he gives us experiences or words to share with others.

Years ago my friend Judy’s husband used to tease her about her WOKs. She would spend time alone with God and pray and pray for His guidance. Many times He answered her directly with a word of knowledge, WOK. Jim thought it was just so funny to pick on her about it. There were times when Judy would go into her prayer closet (a literal closet, by the way) and refuse to come out until God met her with a WOK. She would then share those things she learned with the rest of us in her study group. She was extremely faithful and God blessed her faith. What if she hadn’t shared with us because her degree is that of an RN and not a ministry degree? We would have missed out on so many great insights.


God can and will speak through anyone He chooses. Whatever sermon you hear make sure it agrees with Scripture. Every one of us is a human being and sometimes we get it wrong, degree or no degree, collar or no collar. When God taps you to share His Word do it proudly and boldly like Peter before you. Remember God doesn’t choose the able. He enables the chosen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Without Sin

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing. Galatians 2:21
If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. 1 John: 1:10


A man I know is convinced that if we live well enough and try hard enough that we can lead sinless lives. I disagree and I believe that the Scriptures above back me up. This man is not alone. He has several friends who think the same thing. I don’t know all of them but I know a few. To me, the biggest sin I see among them is pride, the inflated sense of self that says I can do this thing if I try hard enough. To that I say, good luck.

Like many people I know, I still waste a fair amount of time trying really hard. Once in awhile something good will come of all that trying but mostly it breeds frustration and anxiousness. At its worst it breeds bitterness because I try so hard and where is God? I’ll tell you where He is. He’s waiting patiently for me to get a clue.

One of my absolutely favorite verses of Scripture comes from the book of Micah. It says, He has shown you o Man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 Nowhere in there does it say, try really hard, depend on your own strength, and by all means, get it right.

The argument of the man I mentioned and his cronies, is that Jesus was human and we are human, so we should be able to do this thing. They love to quote the be perfect verse. (Matthew 5:48) Taken out of context it is an excellent defense of their thinking. It does say, “Be perfect therefore.” However, it comes at the end of a passage about love. Is Jesus telling us that perfection, across the board of life is attainable without his sacrifice, on this side of heaven? No, at least not as far as I can see.

I believe that Jesus is saying in matters of how we treat each other, as far as loving each other is concerned to love, as our Father loves us, which of course is perfect. Even at that, we cannot love without God’s help, not the way Jesus lays it out in Matthew 5:43-48. We are told in that passage to love not just our neighbor but our enemies as well. It is the same passage where we are told that no, life is not fair. Jesus says that our Father sends rain and sun to both the evil and the good. When we see that sun shining on one we perceive to be evil while rain is pouring on our own head or the head of someone we see as good, how easy it is to live in perfect love?

To say that perfection is attainable this side of heaven makes Jesus a nice guy and a great role model but it also makes his sacrifice unnecessary. Just typing that makes my stomach turn a little. I don’t even like to think about who I would be or where I would be without Jesus.

There is a song that has been played in many churches for many years. It is called, “My All in All.” That is the truth. Jesus is our all in all. He is everything we need. John 15:5 says that apart from Jesus we can do nothing. My personal experience says that apart from him I am nothing. Be perfect, therefore, in love, not in pride and by all means understand that while it is the goal to strive toward, it is not attainable without the loving sacrifice of Jesus.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mercy

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-13

People talk about Scripture being alive, breathing. I like that concept. There are a few passages that are very much like dear friends to me. Micah 6:8, Psalm 23, John 1:1-2, Philippians 2:5-11, etc. etc. These two verses from James, in particular the last four words are the top of the heap. "Mercy triumphs over judgment.” I want my life to read like Micah 6:8 but I fall so very short! This one, this sentence in James however, this is an integral part of my life. That is not to my credit, really. I believe myself to be a merciful person yes, but only because so very much of God’s mercy has made its way into my life. Mercy flows to me all the time. Maybe it’s the same for everyone and I’m just more aware of it, in any case, I have several examples of ways in which I have received God’s mercy. Thanks be to God, I have a few examples of showing mercy toward others when I would much rather have jumped into the judgment seat.

Years ago a man we know fairly well fell from grace in a loud, ugly and extremely public way. My first thoughts were for his wife and children, children who weren’t babies, but were at an age where their friends would question them about their dad’s behavior. I could feel myself starting the climb to the judgment seat. How dare he? Jerk! Then, bam! I felt something putting the brakes on my attitude. There but for the grace of God go I. Was he stupid? Yes. Inconsiderate? In the extreme. Was it my place to pass judgment? No! From there it was so easy to feel a bit of his pain. How awful to watch not just your world, but the world around your family crumbling in a myriad of excruciating pieces. My heart changed. It went out to him and I sent him a card quoting that exact verse, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Now we have a friendly acquaintance style relationship which I don’t think would be possible had I chosen to sit in the judgment seat during his dark days.

Today I stand surrounded by situations that once again are calling me to choose, mercy or judgment? I am sad to say I have chosen judgment way more often than I’d like to do. Thankfully, I can say that when I have accepted God’s grace and chosen mercy, the difference is amazing!

Of course I am not alone in life and some of the people around me are facing the exact same choices. Where I have been blessed to choose mercy I see where others are choosing judgment. I see it in their eyes, in their body language and in their stress level. I would never want to be an actual judge. The life and death, freedom or captivity choices are so huge. Yet, we do it on a small scale all the time. When I fail to show mercy I hold that person captive to my opinions. The interactions we have then, are based on what I think he or she deserves. How should I know what they deserve? Thankfully God does not give me what I deserve!

Mercy triumphs over judgment. Accountability notwithstanding, I say, choose mercy. It will go better for you and everyone around you as well.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ask If You Dare

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me if you understand.”
“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!”
Job 38:4, 40:2


Wow! I don’t know how you feel when you read those words but to be honest, they make me a little nervous. For all of chapter 38 and 39 God speaks to Job in the same vein. Todd Agnew has a song called “Where Were You” that is kind of the Reader’s Digest version of those chapters. The song makes me squirm a bit too.

Have you ever questioned God? If your answer is no, can you respond to this message or somehow find me and tell me your story? Frankly, I cannot imagine getting from point A, “God? Yeah, I’ve heard of Him” to point B, “My God and King” without asking questions but maybe that’s just me. All facetiousness aside, I would love to be more trusting, to simply let God be God. After all, He clearly doesn’t need my permission.

God is pretty blunt with Job. In the Scripture it’s all written so perfectly and worded so well. I think it boils down to, “look partner, I made the world and everything in it. I’ve got this and I don’t need you and your ‘why Daddy, why’. Got it?”

A little over a year ago my dear friend Karen, passed away. She suffered in the extreme but the worst part was that sometimes, she didn’t. Three separate times we were sure we were about to say good-bye and then she would rally. That was great except each time the next bout of illness was worse than the one before. (I know that isn’t an isolated story, it’s just one that is close to me.) One day, leaving her house, I called another close friend. I cried and cried, telling her, “Char, I can’t believe how bad this is. She’s miserable. Why is this happening?”

Why indeed. I still don’t know. Ten months later Karen was at my son’s wedding complaining about how thin her neck had gotten. She was happy, healthy and seemingly recovering, right up until she wasn’t and we went through the whole ordeal again and again. Why? I don’t know but I promise you I asked and not in terribly polite terms.

We read Scriptures like James 4:2b “You do not have because you do not ask.” Then wonder why, when we asked it seems that God said, “No.” Why tell us to ask then? I think the answer is in those chapters from Job, because as much as we can learn about God we will never know the whole story. Where were you when He was creating the world? Where were you when He set the patterns for day and night? Or created trees? Or decided to make some people lovely to look at and others hideous? Where were you when He created you?

God and God alone is responsible for the creation of…. Everything. We have the ability to question Him by His grace but we might not want to use it too much. Some questions are better left unspoken. The answer just might be, “Where were you?” And our answers to that are never going to be sufficient. Trust and obey, that’s our part and I, for one, would like to get better at doing just that.

Frightened or Firm

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire, he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2


Reading a book by Beth Moore, I fell in love with her description of two different types of relationship with God. In speaking of the Israelites she said, “Did they want a firm place to stand or an emergency room to visit?” Personally, I’ll take both.

My husband and I attend a church with a long and impressive sounding name. Our pastor, Sam, has affectionately nicknamed it “The Ship” for reasons that relate to Beth’s question. Sam told us this hilarious story of receiving a model of a hospital ship from his father, a doctor. He related his immense disappointment in the gift, as he would have much preferred a battleship. But, that day, as he told the story, he was thinking more in terms of healing and how desperately he wants to be a part of the healing process for those of us injured by life. This by the way is all of us, thus, the nickname The Ship. Sam would like our church to become something of hospital ship for those in need of spiritual healing. Of course there have to be some “doctors” there too or quite frankly the whole thing will sink in a less than glamorous, enormous, potentially dramatic way.

I do not personally know one single Christian who has never visited that emergency room. God will certainly always meet us there, in our moments of need when we cry to Him but if we stop there we miss so much. Having experienced the saving power, the healing love of Jesus Christ, we can move forward in trust and in hope. We can believe that there is a firm place on which to stand.

Our church, The Ship, is a starting place. Much like that emergency room, when you come into our church and many, many others, you get a lift, a boost, if you will. I can’t speak for any church but the one I attend, but there, I know that on any Sunday there is great music, solid Scripture based prayer, a message that more often than not, amuses, affirms and challenges and a community of believers who take turns being doctors and patients.

Back to the quote from Beth Moore, my personal relationship with God has certainly given me a firm place to stand. I can look at my life today and see so many places where my feet used to sink or at least slide a bit, where now they are firmly planted. Still, I like knowing that when the cruel winds blow and the hurts become too deep, I can run to that emergency room and God will meet me there. I love having a firm place to stand and from that place I can nurse a person who is hurting. At times I still need ER care and when I do, I want to know that I have brothers and sisters in Christ who will nurse me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

If/Then

Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping. Job12:5

She sits in her big comfy chair, in her temperature controlled, nicely furnished and decorated home. She thinks of all the things she owns out right and how her few bills are quite adequately covered by her large income. She is surrounded by travel brochures given wide choices of how to spend her disposable income. She thinks of her wonderful family and her large circle of friends. Then for some reason her mind drifts to the conversation she had with her neighbor, the one who is struggling to keep her home. She remembers the day the mailman switched their mail and how many late notices there were in the pile for her neighbor. It’s been quite awhile since any of the neighbor’s children came to visit and goodness, the way the woman bent her ear the other day, she must not have any friends at all. She can’t help but wonder what the neighbor did to bring such circumstances into her life. But thankfully it’s not contagious. Her life is safe and secure. Her bank account is as healthy as she is. Weren’t some of the neighbor’s bills from doctors? Oh well, neighbor has never been too smart about money and those kids of hers, well, she could have done a better job with them. Perhaps, she should stay away from the neighbor, as it appears most people are doing. Wouldn’t want to get sucked into her problems.

Okay, so maybe that is a bit of hyperbole. But it is what the verse from Job is talking about and it is how we view things. When we see someone, a friend, co-worker, or relative fall on hard times it is so easy to list the fifty odd ways they brought it on themselves. Too many of us are quick to offer reasons why that person might be in that dire situation. Then the tables turn.

When it’s my mailbox full of bills, my body that doesn’t feel so well, or my phone that isn’t ringing, it’s a different story. Maybe I’m being tested or pruned. Maybe life is just unfair. Why is God ignoring me?

Sometimes we hit a rough patch in life and can draw a straight line to the behavior that caused our problem. We overspend and our bank account no longer meets our needs. We ignore our health and our bodies revolt. Clear enough. Other times, things just happen. Lovely, God fearing people struggle with illness, financial reversal and loneliness. Why? I don’t know but I am guilty of passing judgment at times.

The book of Job is a great illustration of an innocent man suffering. His friends, his good friends with good intentions are trying to get to the why so he can fix it and once again enjoy God’s favor. They, like us, see life as an if/then equation. If I act a certain way, making good choices, then life will go well. If life is going well, then somewhere, I must have screwed up. God does not have a black and white if/then plan. I shudder to think what my life would be like if He did!

It is very easy to point fingers when things are good in our own backyard. But when things go poorly we don’t want other people pointing fingers at us. God has a plan, for you, for me, for all of creation. Sometimes we think we get it but we never really know. Our best option is to do what Jesus directed, “Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Limp

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
For you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4


I’m walking with a limp these days. The limp is from an old injury, one that when I mistreat it, flairs up and causes me pain. This morning, limping through my den, it was a painful reminder, literally, of my spiritual walk. Praise God, I am not limping spiritually right this minute, but I was a little earlier and quite frankly, I do too much of the time.

The truth is I am not at all where I want to be spiritually, but I hope and pray that I am where God wants me to be for now. My spiritual limp comes from injuries as well. It comes from life, a life lived with other flawed human beings who because of their injuries inflicted pain on me. I in turn have caused pain to others. It’s a horribly vicious cycle and would be devastating to think about if it weren’t for the positive side.

For the past several months I have been working on my weight and on getting in better shape. I have a couple of exercise videos that I use. They certainly require me to use my feet and when my injury is bothering me it is quite uncomfortable. I still do the exercise however and that made me think about my spiritual walk.

When the limp in my faith flares up I don’t always adjust and keep trying. No, far too often I back down. Maybe God didn’t mean me. Maybe those promises are for people who get the whole faith thing better. Perhaps it would be easier to just not try than to keep failing. I don’t want to look foolish, after all. Believe me I know how weak those arguments are, but considering the whole exercise aspect it gets much worse.

Picture a giraffe on roller skates, now add the limp.... got it? That’s me doing the exercises. No talent, not much rhythm with a body that quite frankly needs work. Do I quit? No! Because I am determined to get better at the whole thing.

So where is that determination in my faith? Well, thanks be to God, it’s growing every day. Those Biblical promises are there for any and all who put their faith in Jesus. I’ don’t have to get it right the first time, or the one hundredth. I just have to keep my eyes on Jesus and do what I believe He is leading me to do.

When I begin to limp, physically, I know it’s time to rest my foot and to wear different shoes. I know that a little pampering is in order. My foot, since the injury, is never quite right. On the days when the pain is not there or barely there, I still experience a vulnerability that, I hope, keeps me from causing further damage. So it is with my spiritual limp. There are days when you wouldn’t be able to see it. Those are great days! Sadly there are days when it is so profound that only the loving supportive hand of my Father, propping me up that gets me through. Those days, though harder, are even greater than the good days.

On the days when I am nearly a spiritual cripple, my faith grows. I learn that nothing can keep from the merciful hand of God. I experience the truth of Joshua 1:5 “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” While gimping along I am uncomfortable and like a drowning person I may fight against the hand that is saving me, but in retrospect, I can always see the love that is in those hands.

Limping, crawling or strolling along easily, the Lord is my shepherd and for that I am tremendously grateful.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Gestures

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21-23

These verses are a little scary! When I read them I immediately begin to assess my relationship with God. Do I show love? Am I doing His will? I always end up in the same place, asking God to show me how to love and serve Him. That seems a tad strange to me even as I am doing it.

There is a conversation that I have had with my husband that I bet most people would find familiar. Whether you are male or female I think it would be safe to say that if you are in a relationship that’s older than a month or so you know this script from one side or the other. Something in the relationship goes a little south. Someone, usually the lady (sorry girls) has hurt feelings and someone, usually the guy (sorry guys) is clueless as to how to make things right. So the lady instructs him but is quick to add, “I shouldn’t have to tell you how to do this. You should know how to love me/make me happy/fix this problem.”

Being one of those ladies I know that it just doesn’t seem right to have to tell my husband what has to be done. Doesn’t he just love me enough to see and know what I want? The truth is yes, he usually does but when I get into that hurt feelings things the poor guy is too terrified of emotional land mines to take any steps. The mystery of my mood is beyond his understanding.

Let’s face it, we can study the Bible daily and never understand God. That isn’t because God is not straightforward in exactly how He wants us to behave. It is because of the same emotions and attitudes that cloud our marital conversations. God never changes but sometimes we want Him too. Free will is fine when it works for us but when we will ourselves into trouble we want that choice taken away. How much more do we want it taken away when we see someone we love free willing themselves into a hornet’s nest? God doesn’t take it away. We wander off the narrow path and then we aren’t sure how to do God’s will.

The problem is that when I have hurt feelings I need something from Otto to make them better. God doesn’t need us but He wants us the same way I want that sweet gesture from Otto. Sometimes it can be a small gesture, like a hug. Other times it takes a little more. Fortunately for us God accepts any effort or gesture that we offer to Him. We don’t have to be perfectly obedient Jesus took that burden away. We do have to do our best to stay in God’s will and to mean it when we call Him Lord.