Thursday, June 28, 2012

Shine Baby, Shine

In the same way, let your light shine before men
that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:16

Every morning before we go our separate ways, my husband and I pray together. Almost every day one or the other of us asks God to shine his light through us. Of course we want to be beautiful reflections of the love and light of Jesus. Here in this verse from Matthew, however, Jesus asks us, no, tells us, to let our light shine.

Each of us has been given gifts and talents. Those were given to us to use for God’s glory, for his kingdom purposes. We are not to hide them, bury them, ignore or minimize them. We are to use them, let them shine. Why? To draw attention to God.

When I give gifts I spend a lot of time on them. Whether it’s a purchased gift or something homemade, I think of the recipient. I try to give a gift I know they want or need, something they will use and enjoy. I get very frustrated when after spending time and/or money I never see the fruit of the gift. I’m not talking about thank you notes here. I’m talking about seeing the gift in use. Let’s use the example of a lawn mower. Suppose I saved, researched, shopped and finally purchased a lawn mower for my son. Then week after week drove by his home to see his lawn growing shaggier and looking totally neglected. Add to that, my son’s complaints. “I hate how my lawn looks! Man, I wish you’d help me with that. It looks awful!” What am I thinking? “Really? Really? I gave you a LAWN MOWER!” It’s a goofy analogy but it works. I’d be thinking, “Come on, kiddo, mow your darn lawn.”

What talents and gifts has God given you? What light is within you that God wants you to shine? We all have gifts and talents, every single one of us. Is yours sitting on a shelf?

I’m a feeder. I love to feed people and I’m pretty good at it. That isn’t boasting, that’s my gift. God blessed me with the ability to cook and bake and I’m not afraid to use it. I do wonder at times though, if I’m missing other gifts. I tease that I have very few talents and therefore I use the ones I have as often as possible. And yet, I pray that God will push me farther. If I have other talents, other spots of light, then I want to use those as well.

I’m getting older. Who isn’t right? As I get older I become less timid and I’ve begun to take some risks. It can be scary but I like it. I’ve flopped and I’ve soared. It’s great, as long as I’m listening to God.

Jesus said, “Shine your light.” We all know that light is a gift from God and we should not be afraid to use it. It will make you feel great and much more important show appreciation of and to your Father.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Stop Tolerating

Judge not, that you not be judged.

Matthew 7:1

Tolerance…. It sounds like a good concept, doesn’t it? After all who I am to say anything? Live and let live right? Wrong! That attitude is what is causing great pain, sin and sickness in this world. God does not call us to tolerance. He calls us to love and sometimes love means exposing sin. This verse from Matthew gets twisted and tangled, used and abused. “Don’t judge, it says so right in the Bible.” “You call yourself a Christian? Then why are you judging me? ‘Judge not!’” Oh help!

It does say, “judge not” that much is true. It does not say ignore bad behavior or don’t say anything about that blatant sin nor does it say tolerate anything. The cousin of tolerance is acceptance. We have to accept people for who they are. True, but in good conscience, do we allow them to stay there? No! That is hateful. That is not love. That is allowing them to experience the sickness, the emptiness that is a byproduct of living in sin. We are called to love our enemies and our neighbors. If we love someone we should want the best for them and living a life steeped in sin is not best for anyone. We all sin and we all feel the sting of that but to live day after day embracing sinful behavior is a different story.

On the other hand, we cannot go around passing judgement and that is what this verse, this section of Scripture (Matthew 1-6) is talking about. In judging we pronounce a sentence. “If you keep living like that then [something bad] is going to happen.” I have no idea how God is going to deal with that woman I know who cheats on her taxes and neglects her kids. I have no idea what God is doing, has done or will do with the homosexual couple across the street or the terrorist in Iraq. What I do know is that I am called to do what God tells me to do and that is, when given the opportunity, speak the truth as gracefully and lovingly as possible. To literally hate the sin but love the sinner.

It is an incredibly fine line and one that is very hard to walk. The very best way I can do that is to live as God directs me regardless of my audience or situation. In all circumstances I need to be the child God created me to be. He did not create me to pat someone on the back for his/her sin. Neither did he create me to judge that sin. That is his job.

To refuse to tolerate sin can be quite simple. It means to say no to certain invitations, to stand up for what I believe is right and to defend the Gospel when I see it being challenged.

Judge not but be aware. It is an incredibly fine line that runs between tolerance and judgement but we are called to walk that tightrope with a grace that beckons others to Christ. Walk in integrity and love, not judgement or tolerance.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

New Creation

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
the old has gone: the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17
The Scripture above is very special to me. I absolutely believe that it is true. I am privileged to live with a man who everyday, is evidence of the veracity of those words to me. It is my sincere hope that someone somewhere will see the truth of this verse in me. This verse really came to stay with me on Monday morning, when I received a very sad phone call. Since then this verse has gone over and over in my head.

Nine years ago I was blessed with a friendship that began almost immediately, grew incredibly fast and remains steadfast and precious today. The person who is the other half of that friendship is Charlene. Shortly after meeting her, I was introduced to her husband Clem, a sweet man of great integrity. I met a man who adored his wife, was crazy about his children, but first and foremost loved Jesus Christ and was only too happy to talk about him. Monday morning Char called to tell me that Clem had left us to go and be with our Father in heaven. That is when this verse began its refrain in my head.

In the getting to know you process Char shared some stories about her life with Clem and about his life before her and before Jesus. The man she spoke of bore no resemblance to the man I knew. A few years later I was sitting in an amusement park with Clem and Char when he shared some of his regrets about his life before Christ. It broke my heart to hear that dear sweet man’s voice break as he spoke to us. I could see how deeply he regretted the hurt that he had caused.

When we are young no one can make us understand how our actions will carry on into the future. Clem was living a selfish, sinful life; the kind of life that most people think cannot be changed. Those lives cannot be changed unless the person allows the healing love of God to change them. Unless one is truly humble before God, the change will not take place. Thankfully for all of us, Clem heard the call and answered in great humility.

The verse says “if anyone is in Christ.” We have to choose to join with Christ. We have to accept the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and live according to his purpose. Then behold, the old has gone. Clem was not living against his nature. He traded in his old, dirty tattered and torn nature for a bright, new beautiful nature, the nature of Jesus. (Phil. 2:6-11)

Some of the sin of Clem’s life has left slimy tracks like those left behind by snails. They cannot be erased. Some of them cannot be forgotten. Some have left tracks on innocent lives but none of that matters now. What does matter is that Clem saw a better life and reached for it. He made amends directly where he could and lived his new life serving God in a manner that brings another Scripture verse to my mind. “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

That verse came to me as I began to pray for my sweet friend Charlene and her two precious children. I know that Char takes great comfort in knowing that Clem is home and as I thought of that it occurred to me that Clem has now heard those words that most of us hope to hear.

Today I attended Clem’s funeral service and heard both Scripture verses referenced over and over again. Clem personified the first, (2 Corinthians) and has received the second (Matthew 25:21). That tells me that Clem will live on, not just in our memories but as a shining example of what happens when a person truly submits to Christ. Today a few people shared stories of how Clem touched their lives and now in his name, they will reach out to others. And once again for Clem, the old, the tired, aching body has gone and the new perfect body has come.

Monday, June 11, 2012

To Conquer Fear

Greater love has no one than this,
that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 13:15

I am suffering today. It isn’t constant. It’s more intermittent. For hours or even days I can go along as if all is well because I feel as if all is well and then it hits. Something has been taken from me through literally no fault of my own. Yesterday morning while praying I realized that even if it is returned to me it would never be the same. Beyond that I realized that I really am an innocent victim and that reminded me of Jesus. This suffering of mine is infinitesimal in comparison to that of Jesus Christ but one thing I share with him is innocence. This loss is truly a punishment, that part has been made quite clear to me. What has not been made clear is why I’m being punished. As I go over and over it I can see that there is no offense, which is why I cannot get an explanation. I am suffering. It hurts and it’s sad. I see no good resolution, which is sadder still. Yet, there is a blessing.

This suffering has been going on for quite awhile now and through it all I have experienced more closeness with God, more peace and even more joy. Just this morning when I was thanking God for showing me the connection this gives me, however thin, to Jesus in his suffering, our Father in his merciful love taught me even more.

Through this time I have learned that I can indeed do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13). God has a plan for me (Jeremiah 29:11). I can call on him and he will answer. (Jeremiah 33:3). He will work even this for my good (Romans 8:28) and in Jesus Christ I am more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). Those aren’t just great ideas or words in a book. Those are absolute facts. The veracity of God’s promise to love and protect me is what makes this unbearable situation bearable.

I am in the fire at times—being washed over by flood waters at others. I have felt the heat and gasped for air as the water splashed my face. Neither flame nor deluge, however, has consumed me. I am still standing. Standing, I add, in full confidence, on the promises from my Father.

When my legs wobble, he strengthens them. When my resolve wavers he comforts me. When the pain is all I can see or feel he reminds me of my many blessings and of his deep abiding love for me. Peace that passes understanding is a real deal.

Suffering is useless, unless it is given over to a loving Father who uses it as a teachable, growable, moment. I lose that peace when I try to see what’s next. When I give my mind to the when and how can this ever resolve, I lose that precious peace.

It is not my job to “fix” this situation. It is my privilege to know a miniscule piece of the suffering of Jesus. It is my responsibility to let go and allow God to resolve this in his perfect will. It is my job to trust him and not lean on my own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

What stops me from trusting God? What prompts me to let my mind wander and spin around possible outcomes, the worst of which is status quo? Fear, the answer to those questions is fear. To which God says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) And who I am to argue with that?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Don’t Fight Love

The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the
everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you saying,
“Destroy him!” Deuteronomy 33:27

My daughter Laura is an amazing young woman. We are blessed to have a great relationship. We’ve weathered some pretty big storms and rocky patches but we always end up in each other’s corner. Most of our angst has come when, being older, being protective and being Mom, I have tried to talk her out of something or shown my disapproval. In those times Laura has sought other counsel, the kind that she knows will agree with her. Hm, sounds like a lot of us, doesn’t it?

The other day she called me with a choice she was making and I disagreed. At first it went the same old way. I was honest with her and shared my thoughts. She defended her position and eventually ended the conversation not happy with me. Just as I was thinking that perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything, kept my mouth shut to avoid upsetting her, considering that it was her choice and didn’t impact me at all, she called me back. She called to thank me and apologize for getting edgy. She said, “You’re right Mom. It wouldn’t work out.” What?

When I got off the phone I felt so good. It wasn’t about the decision, although frankly, I was relieved, it was about the interaction. She asked, I was honest with her and she heard me, heard my concern for her wellbeing. It is a huge step for us and this morning it seems even bigger.

A bit earlier today I was listening to a song called “By Your Side” in which the lyricist talks about that exact dynamic. The words from Jesus are that he is by our side, wherever, whenever and he begs us not to fight him. I’m holding you, he says. Why? Our Father in heaven knows what is best for us. When we don’t turn to him we get in bigger trouble. The worse it gets the farther we go.

The message of the song is exactly what I’ve told Laura and her brothers over and over again. I want to help you, I want to hold and comfort you but I can’t if you fight me. You have to trust in my love for you. I’ve said it to them more times than I can count and our Father says it to us infinitely.

The similarity is that I gave my children the opportunity to grow up, to make their own choices and their own mistakes and face the consequences while still loving them and being willing to encourage and support them, just as God does for me. The differences are much bigger. First of all I don’t always know what is right and best and God does. He knows what will draw us closer and what will cause irrevocable harm. Second, in Jesus we have salvation. I can’t take on the sins of my children and make them my own. Jesus can and did. By his blood we are washed clean and invited to come home free and clear.

My beautiful, precious, amazing daughter did a huge thing the other day. Forget whether I was right or she was because honestly, it could have gone either way. There is a chance that she would have been fine. The big deal is that she apologized. She got a bit irritated with me but she owned that in order to make things better. It makes it easier for me to be by her side offering protection, advice and love. I can’t make her life perfect but I can help. Her willingness to be humble smoothed what could have stayed bumpy for days.

We need to trust in Jesus and his enormous love for us. I’ve made huge sacrifices for Laura but I cannot save her. My offerings to her pale by far in comparison to what God has for us and yet, I get aggravated when she can’t see that I just want what’s best for her. Our Father does not get aggravated but we do break his heart when pride keeps us from his love. He is begging us to accept his loving embrace. Why would we ever say no?