Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jesus Christ is Born

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21

I love music. I say that my life has a soundtrack because for every event, major and minor in my life, I attach a song. Now the Christmas season is here and with the Christmas season comes Christmas music, which I love. Every year one song becomes my favorite, the one I have to hear over and over again. Last year it was a tie between “Sing Mary Sing” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” Whether it is my current favorite or last year’s fave or just one I really like a lot, all of the Christmas songs speak to me. We’re not talking Jingle Bell Rock here, I mean the ones you’d sing in church.

Earlier tonight I was listening to Christmas CDs as I prepared some food for a gathering at work. During that time in the kitchen I heard two different versions of “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” As I listened I kept hearing, make that hearing, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ. I listened to what is referred to as Christian music so it isn’t unusual for me to hear the name of Jesus being sung. Still it hit me, over and over again, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is born.

A few minutes after listening to the second version and noticing again the name of Jesus, I heard my absolutely favorite version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It’s the Third Day version and it is beautiful. That’s when I realized why the singing of the name of Jesus was calling for my attention.

I grew up Roman Catholic and I was born in the late 1950’s which means Mass was in Latin and while we heard, about God, we didn’t hear much about Jesus. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I ever had a conversation about Jesus. I knew about him of course, but for most of my childhood he was a figure who showed up twice, on Christmas and on Easter. I was aware in that vague kinda’ sorta’ way that the act of receiving the Eucharist had a lot to do with Jesus. Again, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I began to understand in any real way, the importance of Jesus Christ. We did not speak his name as easily and comfortably as we do today, the relationship that allows us to do so was not encouraged in my growing up years, at least not in the RC church.

Today, while I would happily and eagerly talk about Jesus Christ all day long, the social and political powers would very much like me and others like me, to shut up. I can speak Jesus’ name but not at work, in the public school where I am employed and not in any public place where people are gathered who might take offense. To them I say…. Get. Over. It. And that is why while singing along with the words, “Jesus Christ is born” I felt that nudge that God sometimes gives me.

It is the Christmas season, although in liturgical churches it isn’t. It’s Advent but everywhere else this time before Christmas is considered the Christmas season and that somehow makes the name of Christ acceptable. For the next twenty-five days, Christians and non-Christians alike will hear and sing about Jesus. I love it!

I would love to go tell it on a mountain, in a valley or anywhere else that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world. It would be wonderful if Christians were allowed the religious freedom for which our country was founded. It would be better still if we were allowed the same freedoms that other religions are afforded. Maybe one day, if we make enough waves, we will be. For now, enjoy with me, the fact that Jesus Christ is being sung everywhere you go and shouldn’t he be? It’s his season after all.

Clothes Don’t Make the Faith

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

At church this morning our pastor spoke about appearances. It was a small part of a bigger message but it really hit me. He showed a picture of some Amish or maybe Mennonite people and a picture of Catholic nuns. Though he didn’t use these exact words, his point was, clothes don’t make the faith. We are not wholly based on how we dress or what emblem we plaster on our vehicles, backpacks etc. We can wear the t-shirt, have the bumper sticker and wave the flag without believing one single word or living out the ones we do believe. He is right of course, although I do believe that the habits worn by the nuns are more about purity than anything else. Anyway, I was quite taken with the sermon and especially with that part of it because of something I was thinking about yesterday.

I work in a public school. Every day I encounter a woman who wears a hijaab. Make no mistake, she’s Muslim. I know this not because she has ever spoken to me beyond what is absolutely necessary but because she wears that hijaab, with her jeans, t-shirts and very American designer handbag. It irritates me. I tell myself it shouldn’t. I get aggravated because it does which was what I was confessing yesterday, for the umpteenth time.

Often when I see her I think, what can I wear that screams look at me, I’m a Christian? Yesterday, not for the first time, God answered me, my attitude. Granted I can wear a cross and I do, I have several lovely ones. I can wear other jewelry that reminds people of Jesus but much like Miss Lady’s hijaab it’s just stuff. Miss Lady’s attitude says, “I have no time for you. You are beneath me and my children.” This is not a nice woman, not an approachable woman. I’m not saying that is because of her religion, I’m just stating a fact. A fact that begs the question, what does God want my attitude to say? The answer is simple. He wants my attitude to say, not, look at what I’m wearing or even look at who I am but look at what I have. And what do I have? If I’m relying on my Father I have another thing our pastor mentioned today, a peace that passes understanding. Peace like that ought to show, don’t you think?

As Christians we don’t have a uniform. Even most nuns have stopped wearing habits. What we have that other religions do not is on the inside. We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that ought to shine out of us for all the world to see.
Years ago I was getting out of my car at the Post Office as a woman coming out approached me. I smiled and said hello. She smiled back and then stopped. She heard the music coming from my car, where my teenage children were waiting. She looked at me and said, “I knew you were a Christian, I could just tell.” That made my day, my week, my month and writing it now it still makes me feel good. That’s what I want to hear. That is what I want people to see.

I’m not sure who Miss Lady in the hijaab is actually representing or why she chooses to represent that faith but I do know who I serve and I want that to be brilliantly apparent.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Believing

Immediately the boy’s father answered, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

Boy can I relate to this guy! For years I have thought that this verse was about not having enough faith, believing deeply enough. It may be, but today I am wondering if all these years I’ve gotten it wrong. The man has just asked Jesus to heal his son, “if you can.” To which Jesus replies by repeating the, if you can and telling the dad that everything is possible for people who believe. Which elicits this famous, to me at least, response, that he does believe but maybe not enough, or as I’m seeing it today, maybe not in the right way.

I believe in God. In fact I’m fascinated by the arguments of people who don’t. I find it remarkable that they can’t see the holes in their theories. Believing in God is easy. There are signs and evidence of His existence everywhere we look or in the fact that we exist and that we can look. That part is quite simple. I believe God can do anything He chooses to do. Further I believe that what He does, whether I like it or not, is right and best. So what’s the problem, right? I believe in God. I believe He can and will for other people. What I’m not sure is that I believe He can and will for me.

Please understand, He has already done so many amazing things for me. So many of His promises have manifested in my life and I know they are from Him. Now, I wonder if perhaps He is tired of my neediness, which I know intellectually cannot happen. I do believe but I need help in my unbelief. I believe in God. I just don’t know whether I believe Him or in other words, trust Him.

I suppose this could be a crisis of faith. In some ways I can see that it is. In other ways it isn’t terribly disconcerting because I believe that Jesus came to save me. I believe that I am going home at the end of my days here. What I’m not sure I believe, or believe deeply enough, is that God is in my small stuff.

One day, many years ago I was the father in this verse, begging for my son’s deliverance, begging for his healing. The result? God healed him. My son is a grown, wonderful, crazy intelligent guy. Thank you Lord! After a miracle like that, one might believe they’ve used up their credit with God. The thing is God doesn’t work that way and in giving me so much more, so many other miracles and blessings He has shown me that He isn’t that way. My unbelief, and maybe the dad from Scripture felt the same way, comes from viewing God as finite and human. God is eternal. Better than that, God is eternal love. I do believe and I am praying for grace and strength to overcome my unbelief.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4

There is no school today or tomorrow or the next day…. For which I am extremely grateful. I’m so blessed to have a job and I’m thankful for that as well. The job, however, is a bit stressful at times and very tiring. It is also incredibly rewarding. Still, it’s just lovely to be home, to sit with my Father and not have to check the clock to be sure to leave on time, to sip my tea and to look over the hours in front of me knowing they are all mine. Today is Monday, this is my day. Tomorrow afternoon three of my grandchildren will arrive for a sleepover that puts them in position to help Grammy and Uncle Paul in our annual Thanksgiving prep. We are all quite excited about that, as usual.

Right now I am just happy to have this time to be able to think about all the things for which I am thankful. On Thanksgiving I will pass around our family notebook in which each person writes what he or she is thankful for. All the men will groan but they will do it. The children will happily do it and my sweet ladies will be very thoughtful about what they write. It’s a great tradition and I’m glad we have it. Even though everyone writes something we don’t even scratch the surface of the things that make us thankful.

I could give you my list of people and things for which I am grateful but honestly I don’t think you would care. What I can tell you is what I know today, on Thanksgiving and every day of the year. God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

Each night before I go to sleep I write at least three things for which I am grateful. Some days it doesn’t take much. Other days, the hard days I struggle, or I used to until I realized God was in each difficult moment. He stood by me in my pain, fear or humiliation. He held me, even if I couldn’t feel it at the time and at the end of the day I was there, able to see, think and write with a pen so, if nothing else came to mind, there were three things right there. Of course every day has something in it for which I can give thanks.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday by far. I love it. It just saddens me that far too many people have to be reminded to be thankful and that so many have no idea who they are thanking. Some may be able to get to “I’m thankful for” but not as far as “I’m thankful to.” On this Thanksgiving and on every day of our lives to God be the glory and the thanks.

And… to all of you who are reading, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my faith and my experiences of that faith with you. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Being Myself

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48


I’m one of those people who is always reminded of songs. Any word or phrase, circumstance or situation can remind me of a song. Earlier, thinking about Thanksgiving, I found myself humming that old Sly Stone song, “Thank You (for Letting Me Be Myself Again).” Which was spelled, Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin. As it hummed through my head I started laughing. It seemed so ridiculous. I get his point, he was a bit out there, showing us all his non-conformity and he was giving kudos to the people who were letting him do it or as we say to today to the people who “got” him. To me it just was hilarious to have that in my head because I spend a portion of my prayer time every single day praying for God to change me. I see my faults, well, some of them, I know there are more I don’t see, and I want them to change. No, thank you I prefer not to be myself. In fact the lyric was thank you for letting me be myself ….again~~~~~~~~ UGH! No, no, no! My song would say thank you for helping me defeat myself again.

God is so good. When He allows us to see a sin or fault He is there to help us change and grow. We are called to be perfect as He is perfect and He knows we can’t do it. He knows we are lost, human, and incredibly fallible. In fact fail I am quite familiar with, victory often evades me. This is not a poor pitiful me stance. It is the truth.

So, in this week as I prepare for Thanksgiving in the usual way with my sous chef and his three assistants aka my son and three grandbabies, with music playing and silliness abounding I do not want them to let me be myself I want them to call me to growth. I want to thank God that He encourages that growth and enables me to attempt it. I thank God for always being Himself and allowing me access to Him through our precious Jesus, a gift I may never fully appreciate.

While writing this I was reminded of my young friend Joanna. A few years ago during a vacation together she and her friend exhorted each other to “act natural” as they attempted some sneak attack on Joanna’s mom and me. It was the culmination of a silly night with all kinds of borderline funny jokes and random conversations. “Act natural” has become our little tagline. We sign cards and messages to each other always adding, “act natural.” I guess you could say we’re ascribing to Sly’s way of thinking. Joanna is one of those gifts for which I could never forget to be thankful. She certainly lets me be myself but knowing she is observing me is one more reason to want to be a better self.

In this season of Thanksgiving and every day we need to be thankful that God allows us to be ourselves but invites us to grow into who He created us to be as well.

Monday, November 21, 2011

“It Duddn’t Maddah”


“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father know that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:31-34


A few years ago I met a little boy whose smile could light up the darkest room. In the first few minutes of knowing him, he asked me and then two other people if we knew Jesus. Maybe that doesn’t seem terribly remarkable but at the time that boy was ten years old and he has Down syndrome. Still upon meeting a new person his first thought was to ask about Jesus.

In the years we spent together I tried to make sure that somewhere on my person I had a necklace, earrings or a pin that was a cross because each day he would look me over, searching for one. His eyes would light up and he would say, “Oh, it’s my Lord!” His mind may not be terribly sharp but his spirit is as bright as all the stars in the sky combined. Unfortunately he also had a naughty streak. His behavior often caused him to be miss out on treats and/or special events. Thank God there were other people around to discipline him. Left to my own devices I may have spoiled him way past rotten! In any case as he would realize that he was once again being left out he would come to me and say, “It duddn’t maddah.” My heart would just crack. He never threw a tantrum nor demanded the reward. He simply took the consequences.

Once on a particularly hard day he could see that I was upset. He put his arms around me and said, “It duddn’t maddah.” Then it didn’t. His little face with the crooked grin, his love of his Lord and his sweet presence reminded me of what does matter.

Many of my colleagues and I have picked up that expression. We quote our little angel when things get stressful or just irritating. One of us will look at the other and say, “It duddun’t maddah.” It is very precious especially since he has moved on to another school so we never see him anymore. He left us a little gift, a reminder of what is important and what is not.

The other day I heard a sermon that used the same words although spoken more clearly. It doesn’t matter. The situation may look bleak. It may even seem hopeless but then God shows up, and guess what? “It duddn’t maddah.” It doesn’t matter how supposedly terminal the illness, how deep the financial hole, how empty the life or how debilitating the depression. All of that changes when God is invited in. When the power that created light, life and everything else shows up nothing else matters. Even if the situation appears to remain the same the presence of the Lord causes changes that our eyes cannot always see. It is that peace that we can never quite understand.

The next time the enemy attacks you on any front, just look him in the eye and tell him, “It duddn’t maddah.”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Sinner is a Sinner


Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Psalm 20:7


Earlier today I was listening to some songs that have really touched my life and enhanced my faith experience. They are performed and were written by an amazingly talented young woman who according to her songs, has great faith. She is also a sinner. She made her sin a very public thing a few years ago. Before that we, in the world, knew nothing about it but she was painfully aware of it, all too painfully aware. Her songs take on a richer, deeper meaning to me when you know of her struggle. Other people find them invalid because of what she has done. If you are one of those people stop reading right here because while my sins may be very different from hers they are still sins. That makes me a sinner and if you can ‘t appreciate the perspective of one sinner, you most likely won’t appreciate the perspective of another. The difference between that woman and me is that I am better able to keep my sins hidden.

The songs I love the most are the ones where she speaks of herself as God’s daughter. She asks in one song if knowing her sin He will accept her back into His heart. Truth is, she never left because God’s love never fails. She sings about redemption and wanting to please her Father. She sings about the ridiculousness of trusting in anything other than God Himself. She speaks of Jesus and Peter as her brothers. She speaks from a heart filled with faith.

I said the difference between us was in the variety of our sins. The similarity is in how we’ve both wrestled with our sins. We have both mourned our choices, asked for mercy, leaned on God’s understanding and patience and trusted in His holy name.
Romans 3:23 says that we’ve all sinned. That’s the truth, more to the point it’s the Truth. The question is once we’ve realized our sins and repented what will we do with them? God wastes nothing and neither should we. If we can put our struggle in words for a huge audience or even for one person we can make the experience mean something. We can save it from being simple, selfish sin. We can use our own brokenness to help others around us heal.

I’m so glad that that young woman didn’t let guilt keep her from writing her songs or singing them or recording them. I appreciate her willingness to let us crawl into her wounds in order to find a way to mend our own. God is faithful and just. He will hear our prayers and He will love us even when large numbers of people are pointing judgmental fingers our way. In Him we find redemption and mercy, even when we can’t find it anywhere else.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Testing

Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.
Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
Galatians 6:4-7



I spoke to two different friends about this verse yesterday without even realizing that this was what I was talking about. We were talking about a common acquaintance I’ll call Nancy, and how obtuse she can be about her own behavior. Before you judge me for judging her, let me say, she is what I would consider an acquaintance but I treat her as a dear friend for many and various reasons. This is not a person I hold in any kind of contempt. I love her, exactly the way Jesus advises us to love. I get a lot wrong but with her I believe I get it pretty close to right. Back to the story…. This woman was extolling the oddities of a person we often observe, none of us knows her at all we are just in position to see her actions. So there was Nancy going on and on about how bizarre this woman’s behavior seems to her. Everything in me wanted to scream, “you act just like that!” But I didn’t. It is not my place to point fingers. It is my place to look inward which is why I was talking about it with my friends.

Nancy is totally oblivious to her own oddities. We are not talking sin here, it really is just idiosyncrasy. Listening to her, even at one point teasing her a bit that she might have a touch of the same behavior, which she denied, I couldn’t help but wonder how she missed that tendency in her own life. Walking away from the conversation I began the mental check list, first with the behavior that was discussed and truly I am not like that. The thing that is so important to Nancy and the oddball is not at all important to me. But something is…. Somewhere in my life there is something I do, repeatedly and then complain when I see someone else do it. I’m sure there is. If there weren’t it wouldn’t bother me to see and hear Nancy or anyone else berate someone for doing exactly what they themselves do.

As I write this I am still searching for the answer. I guess it falls under the heading of what your good friends won’t tell you because the two friends I confided in shed no light. Although we did all agree that the problem might be that we all share the same oddity and therefore see it as normal.

This issue is tiny, it’s weird but tiny. No one is getting hurt and no sin is involved although taken to extreme it could turn into sin. Sin is insidious and most of us are very clear eyed when it comes to other people. We can see their sin but our own, hm, well, we have good reasons for why we do the things we do, sin or otherwise. Paul says, “Each one should test his own actions.” It’s great advice and I want to follow it. I will fail sometimes and pass others but the important thing is to keep looking and not suppose that I am fine while the rest of you…….

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Noah and Timing

So Noah came out together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All of the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on the earth—came out of the ark, one kind after another. Genesis 8:18-19

Do you know about Noah? I’m sure you do. Noah is a fairly illustrious guy. I’ve read his story a few times in my life including earlier today. What hit me during this reading was timing. Noah sent out the raven…. not yet. Okay, then he sent out the dove. Nope, still not dry. Then he sent the dove again, and received signs that the land was drying up. After that he still had to wait for God to say, “okay Noah, now get out of the ark.” That’s patience and a firm reliance on God’s timing. Not my strong suit.

A year or so ago one of my favorite Christian bands released a new CD. The first song from the CD was all over the radio. I never listened to the whole thing. I would hear a few bars and decide that oddly enough, I just didn’t like that song. This band has a lot of CDs and of all of their songs there are maybe one or two that I don’t love. So this was strange, to have no interest in listening to the whole song. A few months later I heard a different song from that CD and liked it. Eventually I bought the CD, again odd because I usually get this band’s CDs as soon as humanly possible. Even after buying it I didn’t listen to the whole thing. Then a few weeks ago I turned it on and started from song one listening, really listening to the whole thing. I’m sure you are way ahead of me here and know that one of my current favorites is the one I thought I didn’t like. It has brought great comfort and hope to me during a very odd, sad and confusing time in my life.

What you may be asking does this have to do with Noah? Let me explain. Noah listened to God. He heard God and did exactly what was asked of him as far as the whole ark project went. He went in when God said go in and came out when God said come out, not sooner, not later. Noah fully relied on God’s timing. He trusted that God knew best. Sometimes I am good about God’s timing and other times I tend to be a lot more like Abraham and Sarah were with Hagar. God in His incredible wisdom and mercy knows that and so sometimes takes things out of my hands.

I believe that my current favorite song did not appeal to me at first because God wanted it that way. Knowing me He knew I wouldn’t wait to hear it until I needed it most. So He distracted me from it with other songs, other things. Then when it was best in His time, He showed it to me.

I wish that I were more like Noah and would just sit and wait for God’s nudge. I don’t. If I had been captain of the ark we would all have drowned, getting off way too soon. Patience may be a virtue but it is one with which I am not terribly familiar. Even in my immense weakness God lovingly leads me. God’s timing is best. God’s will is best and God’s mercy is endless. That is a great deal for us because our timing is often off. Our wills are often misguided and I don’t know about you but my mercy has serious limits.

Today has been an odd and difficult day for me. I’m feeling quite uncomfortable but I have listened to the words in my new favorite song and followed the advice therein. I know my Jesus is right here by my side. I know my Father has great plans for me and I hope that I will patiently wait until He reveals them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Courage

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous, do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9


Sometimes terror is the only thing that wants to register on our emotional radar. All those phone calls that bring bad news, from family members, from friends, from the doctor or the police, terror is sometimes our first response. Sometimes it shows up right after shocked disbelief has gone off to look for a new victim. In all of it our Lord counsels us “be strong and courageous”. Those words repeat several times in the first chapter of Joshua. The Lord begins by promising Joshua that He will never leave or forsake him but He does not promise a bed of roses.

Neither does He promise us an easy road. It is a common mistake among new believers the supposition that once we have given our lives to God He will make it all smooth sailing. He promises to be our strength, our hiding place and our refuge. Why would we need all that if life were without trials?

So what does it mean to be strong and courageous? I think it means to hang on in faith when the circumstances indicate trouble. I think it means to believe that God is good all the time when we are in the middle of heartbreak.

The words be strong and courageous are repeated again in 1 Chronicles. We aren’t to take them lightly. Our strength and courage in hard times bring great glory to God and enormous grace to us.

I was sitting the middle of an incredibly painful time when the Lord brought me to those words in Joshua 1. At first my despair grew larger. How could I be obedient? I couldn’t possibly be strong and courageous. Then I remembered the words of Psalm 91, “He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in times of trouble.” The strength I was being asked to demonstrate would be provided for me if I would put my faith in Him.

The events that broke my heart that morning, eight years ago, are not fully resolved. There are days when God calls me to continue to be strong and courageous but in it all He has never asked me to do it on my own. When troubles come and they surely will, remember the last five words in Joshua 1. “Only be strong and courageous.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Past

Forget the former things: do not dwell in the past.
See I am doing a new thing.
Isaiah 43:18-19a


One day I am going home. I have no idea when that will happen but thanks to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ I know that I am going home eventually. In my prayer time this morning I realized that the last thing I want to do is bring my dirty laundry.

Twice today I heard or read messages about letting go of the past. Sounds simple, but then we read that God allows some suffering in our lives for the benefit of others. My most intense suffering is in my past which means I would have to remember it, relive it, in a sense to help others, right? Lately I’m beginning to think the answer is no.

What happened to me, what I have experienced has defined my personality and my choices. I can help because I understand. I can bring empathy to the situation without revisiting my past. I can encourage and offer support because I know there are brighter days, better opportunities ahead.

Our Father offers us freedom from our past. He does not want us to carry that burden. We should learn what we can and move on. More important we are called to live in the moment. Many of us have worries about tomorrow based on experiences from last year.

Besides painful experiences I also have many pleasant memories and I don’t believe that God wants me to give those up. I don’t think He wants me to allow them to become idols either. Whether we are caught in the negativity of past embarrassments or failures or trying to relive our glory days or replay the highlights of our lives, our past can have a hold on us that becomes unhealthy.

Each day we are given a new chance, a fresh start. We can accept that gift and make the most of every day or we can live in fear or disappointment. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34 ) and based on the, “each day has enough trouble of its own” I think he would want us to leave yesterday behind as well.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Clean Up

Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine of nakedness or danger or sword? Romans 8:35

While I was praying for a friend one of our students came to my mind. In any study of child development one is taught that a child is never bad. His actions may be bad but the child himself is not inherently bad. To those who penned that teaching I would say, “You’ve never met Stevie.” But that would be facetious because while the better part of Stevie’s behavior is beyond bad and straight into deplorable, Stevie is not bad. He is a product of other people’s bad choices. Stevie came into the world with more than three strikes against him. When I am praying for him, when he is finished terrorizing the people around him and has given himself over to tears and when he is sleeping or sitting quietly I can easily remember that his behaviors are not his fault and for that I thank God. That knowledge, that merciful view of Stevie gets me through the moments when he is literally kicking and screaming. I am able to feel at least a smidgen of compassion even as he is hitting and spitting because I know he did not choose the circumstances with which he has to deal. The firestorm in his brain is not of his own making. As bad (sorry, it’s the best word to use) as he is, Stevie has brought grace into my life.

Thinking of him this morning I also learned a little lesson, or maybe remembered is a better word. Among the contents in his bag of heinous behaviors is the lovely penchant for throwing things, big things, small things, containers full of things, all are fair game when the madness starts. Nothing on a table, shelf or counter is safe. In fact the tables and bookshelves are fair game as well. Once the fury wears down and Stevie is slightly more controllable we instruct him to clean up his mess. For the first few minutes Stevie works alone but after we have seen an effort most often one of us goes along side of him and either physically helps or at least offers encouragement.

That made me think of how God handles us. We make our mess and for awhile God watches while we attempt to clean it up. He gives us the tools and nudges us in the right direction but the cleanup detail is ours, for a time. Then suddenly there’s a shift. The load seems lighter. The work seems easier and we realize Dad is doing the heavy lifting. That is where my whole train of thought started and obviously went off the tracks.

I was praying for my friend to feel the presence of God, to know that if not today eventually He will do the heavy lifting. I’m sure at this moment she not only feels buried underneath her mess but alone under there as well. My heart goes out to her. Again, Stevie comes to mind. If I had to deal with his idiosyncrasies by myself I would be absolutely overwhelmed. I don’t. Not only are there three of us in the classroom but by God’s provision each of us carries His grace into the situation. Dad is right in there with us and that brings great comfort. I want my friend to feel the loving hand of God but more than that I want all of us to be aware that no situation, no person, no problem is ever greater than the love of God.

The verse I chose comes from Romans 8 where we are also told that if God is for us no one can be against (verse 31). We are told that all things will work for our good if we love and trust God. (verse 28) and right beneath the verse I chose in verse 37 we are told that we are more than conquerors. Stevie will make me question that, the conqueror part more than once today. In light of his needs I often feel completely inadequate. I am, but that’s okay. Dad will show up and help me. He will show up and help my friend and if you invite Him, He will show up and help you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fall Back

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages now and forevermore! Amen. Jude 24-25

Given my early life experiences it is no shock to me that trust does not come easily, when it comes at all. Today looking at these words “to him who is able to keep you from falling” I thought of that stupid (to me) exercise people do in various groups, self-help, youth group, mission planning etc. where one person is supposed to fall back trusting another person, positioned behind, to catch him. I hate it! The idea is to trustingly collapse into the arms of another person to illustrate how you can count on each other in other circumstances. It’s not a huge leap of faith really. If it were just the two of them in the room the one in back may or may not catch the one in front. However, in a group of people if you don’t catch the person you will look like a jerk, or as the exercise is pointing out, someone who can’t be trusted.

It is an activity in which I have never taken part, nor do I ever intend to take part. I am not a trusting person. In fact, trust, real trust, as I said, comes very hard to me. In that situation, regardless of who was behind me, I would be fairly sure that they wouldn’t catch me. It may happen by design, they can’t be trusted or they’re trying to be funny. It may happen by accident, they get distracted or we misjudge the distance. In any case it is my belief that if I were to try such an experiment I would end up on my bottom.

It begs the question do I trust that God is able to keep me from falling? I do. I believe that He is able to do it. What I’m not sure of is that He wants to keep me from falling.

We used to sing this doxology in church. In that song it is worded a bit differently. It says, “to him who is able to keep you from stumbling.” Well, I’ve stumbled and fallen enough times in my life to know that God is able to keep it from happening but He does allow it. Moreover He allows it for reasons I very often do not understand. I have figuratively and literally fallen on my face as well as my backside. It hurts and it is humiliating. Sometimes I can see that it is a learning experience but sometimes all I can see is humiliation.

I do not doubt God for a second. I believe He is strong, willing and most certainly able. What I don’t believe is that I am wise enough, humble enough or trusting enough to receive it. The rest of the words in the doxology are about giving glory to God. I can only hope my lack of trust does not hinder my ability to glorify my God. Friends if any of this seems familiar to you, join me in a prayer to fully release ourselves to God, to give Him full control and to willingly fall back into His arms.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Blessings

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19


Some weeks are busier than others. I was in the middle of a particularly hectic week rushing home from work to make a dessert for a small group that was meeting in my home that evening when I got a phone call. It was from a member of the group just letting me know that she would be bringing some goodies for the meeting. “Oh bless you!” I said as I drove. As I finished the phone call I thought how truly I meant those words. If I were literally in the business of bestowing blessings, she would absolutely have been a recipient at that moment. She had just taken a task off of my hands that I didn’t quite have time to accomplish. It was a blessing to me and I wanted to return the favor.

I thought about it for quite awhile as I drove home, prepared dinner for my husband and got the house ready for the group. If we can bind and loose than can we bless? Further it brought me to the whole idea of how God treats us. God does not need a single thing from me. He is all, owns all and can do all. No phone call from me is going to lift a burden from His heart. Nothing I do is going to relieve stress from a being that is devoid of stress.

We love God because he first loved us. A friend of mine told me a story of her little boy’s answer when asked why he loved his mommy. He said, “Because she loves me.” In among the kindergarten answers of “she buys me stuff”, “she’s pretty” and “she cooks good” how precious it was to that mom to hear, “because she loves me.”

I really don’t think God needs our help. I think He allows us to help because He loves us. It is more evidence of His mercy that He allows us to serve and to feel useful. By blessing my day my friend made God’s heart happy. We are all able to please God when we bless His people. We are privileged to be His hands, feet, eyes, etc. in this world.

I hope my friend was blessed in at least the same measure that she blessed me. I’m pretty sure she was or will be. God is never outdone in generosity.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Church

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:18-19

The church my husband and I attend has as its subtitle, “the Church of Second Chances.” We have a set of defining and hopefully motivating values that we go over every week. It’s a lovely little church and the concept is great. The idea of being “the” church of second chances just struck me as odd today. Shouldn’t all Christian churches be places where people are given not only second chances but endless chances? Shouldn’t the tenets of forgiveness, renewal and mercy be a major part of any group that claims Jesus Christ as its leader?

With absolutely no malice toward my own church, a church I do appreciate, I wonder how far we’ve strayed from God’s original idea? When Jesus said to Peter, “on this rock I will build my church”, is what we typically see what he had in mind?

At our little church we have one Sunday morning service. If you don’t like someone there the best you can do is sit on the other side from them. At other churches I’ve attended, I have heard people say that they switched services because they didn’t want to see someone. I’ve been guilty of similar sentiments myself. What are we going to do in Heaven? Can you see that? “Um, excuse me but I need a cloud as far away from him as possible. Oh, but not next to her!” That won’t work.

The Bible is sometimes called Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Those instructions include, turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), forgiving not once but repeatedly, (Matthew 18:21-22), loving our enemies (Matthew 5:44), showing mercy (James 2:13b) and carrying each other’s burdens, (Galatians 6:2), to name a few. Micah 6:8 sums it all up for us, “What does the Lord require of you O, man? To do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.” In order to do all that wouldn’t we have to give people more than one chance? Wouldn’t we need more than once chance? I need more than a second chance, quite frankly. I’d hate to know what “chance” I am on.

God doesn’t deal in chances. Again, with no disrespect to my own church, chances are not in God’s programs. God forgives repeatedly, not by chance or whimsy. God is love. We aren’t taking chances with Him. His mercy is a given. In order to be like Him, ours should be as well.

I appreciate my church for saying, in effect, we aren’t here to judge you. We are here to love you. I just wonder why having called ourselves “church” we feel that we have to say that.