Thursday, August 30, 2012

Niiice


 

“Well done my good servant!” his master replied.  Because you have been trustworthy in very small mater, take charge of ten cities.” Luke 19:17

Most people I know are grateful for a “well done.”  While it may be enough to know that we’ve given a project our all, it is still nice when someone gives us that little pat on the back.  It shouldn’t be the motivation for doing things well. We should be working to please God but it’s nice when that work gets noticed.

I spend a lot of time with a little girl who is the personification of the word encouragement.  Those of us who know her well tease that she will never have to take a spiritual gifts assessment. Her gift is very obvious. My little angel, Brianna, came into the world with what some people see as a disadvantage. Brianna has Down syndrome. What she also has is a heart that never stops looking for ways to hearten and promote the people around her. Whenever she sees someone do even the tiniest thing  well she responds with a “Niiiice!” More often than not she includes the person’s name. “Niiice Trish.” That is often said to me when I’ve accomplished some stellar task like handing her a drink or reading a story.  At our physical education time the room resounds with Brianna’s voice.  The last few weeks we’ve been bowling.  Whether her friends hit one pin or ten she yells, “Niiice!” Even that isn’t enough for our precious cheerleader. She usually adds a “good job” as well.
Thinking about Brianna I realized that is exactly how God works. Like many people I’ve thought that when I get to meet my Father it would be great to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)  Why wait? If I listen carefully I bet I can hear him say it just as often as Brianna does.
Our Father is so pleased with us when we do exactly what he asks us to do.  Consider the day you were so kind and went out of your way to help, not your friend, but that person who for whatever reason just gets under your skin.  I bet there was a “well done” that day. 

Scripture says whatever we do to the least we do for God (Matthew 25: 34-39). When we do something large or small can’t you just imagine that like my friend Brianna God is saying “Niiiice!” While hearing “well done” at the end of my life is a great goal,  I also want to strive to please my Lord daily.

Never one to be outdone in generosity I know that whatever gift God may give to one of his children, he possesses in much greater measure. He blesses us all with special gifts and talents. He has blessed Brianna abundantly with the gift of encouragement. Thinking in terms of my sweet friend then, I have to believe that God encourages me even more than Brianna does. The difference is he isn’t quite as forceful or loud. Calling me to listen, as always for that still small voice and be grateful when I hear it.

 

 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bullying


The day of the Lord is near for all nations.

As you have done, it will be done to you: your deeds will return upon your own head.  Obadiah 1:15

 My day job is in a public elementary school. One of my duties occurs at the end of the day when I stand outside with a few other people as we attempt to get all the students home safely.  Today a co-worker of mine followed after a boy accused of bullying.  This is not some power hunger teacher who was out to prove her authority.  Her name is Beth and she is an extremely lovely and kind person who claims Jesus Christ among her friends. Her purpose today was to stop trouble before it got started. As she walked away I was thinking how glad I was that it was her and not me. I can’t stand bullies in general and this boy in particular, has rubbed me the wrong way since he was a first grade student.

Beth followed him and I got busy with some other children and didn’t see if she had to intervene or even speak to Peck’s Bad Boy.  I saw her walk behind him and I saw her when she came back. I wondered when I saw her returning what she could have said to him if in fact she had caught him in the act of harassing another child. We are not allowed to mention the name of Jesus anywhere near our school. How then do you convince a kid with a chip on his shoulder to be kind and respectful?

Everything I know about kindness and respect comes from Scripture.  In the Word we are taught to love one another (John 13:34), to be kind to each other (1 Thessalonians 5:15, Ephesians 4:32) and to treat each other as we want to be treated. (Matthew 7:12) That last one is referred to as the Golden Rule. I suppose Beth could have used that if she didn’t tell the child that it originates in Scripture. Unfortunately without noting its origins a lot of what we say ends up sounding clichéd and the children in question stop listening. For the most part all that we know about love, respect and compassion is off limits for conversation in public schools.

So we raise children in a society that says second place is the first loser. We teach them to assert themselves without explaining the boundaries between assertive and aggressive because, again, to do so might mean using some of those Bible words. We imply at the very least, that each individual is the master of his or her own destiny and then we say, “No bullying.”

To which the more naturally aggressive or mean children respond, “I’m not bullying. I’m just telling him the truth. I wasn’t being mean. I’m just trying to get ahead.” The list of excuses goes on and on but nowhere does it reference the idea of being our brothers’ keeper.

How much easier it would have been for Beth, would it be for all of us if we could say, “Be kind.” And when asked why, respond with, “Because Jesus said so.”  That would not end bullying. Bullying has always existed and sadly always will. I don’t know how to end it or even lessen it. I do know this, it won’t happen without God and as long as we are not allowed to mention his name it will most likely get worse.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Subliminal Messages


The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7


From the day I learned to read I’ve been reading. I read voraciously.  There are books and magazines all over my house and in my car. You never know when you might get stuck somewhere, or have to wait for some reason. You should always have reading material at the ready. Some of the things I read are for educational purposes or spiritual growth and some are just fluff, fiction.  Today, proving once again that he can speak anywhere, anyway, any time he wants, God used a line from a book that is very much in the chick lit drama to get my attention.

In the book a man is dying and being very cavalier about the whole thing. As he is making jokes about his possible heart transplant his doctor warns him about how much worse it could get. “You’ll see taking a decent breath as a gift from God.”

My first thought was,  “Isn’t breath, any breath, labored or otherwise always a “gift from God?”  Of course it is. “For in him we live and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28a)

As I moved on from my first thought I couldn’t help but smile. I am a Christian, fully aware that things that some people see as ordinary, as a given in life, I see as blessings. I see them that way because they are blessings. What about the person who pays no attention to God but comes across that line in that novel she bought to pass time while waiting in the airport? Certainly she could pass right over it or maybe it gives her pause. Hm, breath as a gift from God. Or maybe she just hasn’t thought about God in a very long time and seeing his name in print jogs something in her heart.

Many times I’ve had conversations where someone has tried to make me feel guilty because I read fiction.  Sometimes it’s worse than that. Sometimes there is an implication that people of real intelligence don’t read for fun. I don’t care. I love to read and as long as the content does not offend my Father, I feel free to read whatever I choose. Every now and then I see a statement like the one I quoted that just makes me smile.

Watch television. There is subliminal message, after subliminal message. We need certain clothes, cars, products, to be successful. We need to be a certain size, have a certain job and the right friends. Alternate lifestyles are absolutely fine. BZZZZZ! That is the sound of the buzzer that announces, wrong! But those messages are there in full force.
How nice it is to stumble across the name of God, the hint of the power of God mentioned so casually as if everyone were aware of it. That kind of subliminal message is just fine with me.  I hope to see more of it. The people who will run far and fast from a televangelist or a person with a tract may not be able to resist the pull of the name of God, dropped oh so casually into their novel. There are many ways to reach people for the Lord and I think we should use and appreciate them all

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Beautiful Example




Only be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Deuteronomy 4:9  

Yesterday in church I saw something so sweet and it reminded me of how dear and tender our Lord is with us. Seated in front of me was a family consisting of a man and a woman, their teenage daughter and a son who looked about six or seven. I’ve never seen them before and so supposed that they were visitors. Sadly the service yesterday was bad. I don’t know if our pastor had a rough week or what was going on.  I do know that it was far from the norm for our church.  It was disappointing to my husband and me, regulars, but what must it seem like to a visitor?

Thankfully, at the point of the service where we greet each other it appeared that the family I thought was visiting knew a few people. I decided they must have been there before, perhaps in the last couple of weeks when my husband and I were out of town. Whew! They weren’t judging our church on its worst day.

Toward the end of the service the nursery worker brought in the youngest members of our congregation and the “little” family in front of me grew by four children, whose ages and varying races suggested that at least some of them were adopted.  As we sang the closing song the dad raised his hands in praise and three little people, somewhere around the age of three or four, looked up at him and raised their hands as well. Precious!

As I looked at them I thought, what a great example!  Too many children see and/or hear daddies cursing at the traffic, taking the Lord’s name in vain, being disrespectful to mommy, to themselves, to the world in general and that is what they emulate. How lovely it was to see these adorable little ones, hands raised to heaven. I had to wonder if they had any idea why they were doing it, beyond the fact that it was what Daddy was doing.

In that moment I wanted nothing more than to be just like them.  I wanted to do the things I see my Father doing.  Like some of the little ones in front me, I am also adopted, as is every Christian person. We are adopted by our Father in heaven and would be so wise to imitate him as closely as the little ones in church were imitating their daddy. How much nicer life would be if I could look up, see what my Father is doing and do the exact same thing.

We are told in Scripture to change and become like children (Matthew 18:2) and to come to Christ as children (Luke 18:16). When we do, we need to come as children willing to learn by example, as children well aware of how blessed we are to have been chosen to be a child of God. 




Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Drive Carefully

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to heave you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths you are there.
Psalm 139:7-8


Driving to work yesterday I received an interesting nudge from God.  The way I travel I drive down a road that has a twenty-five mile an hour speed limit. A little way down the road there is a field where police cars often park to, for lack of a better word, observe the traffic. Yesterday I was moving along just at the speed limit with the driver behind me just short of in my trunk. For quite a distance she was on top of me and suddenly she was a respectable car length or so behind. Are you ahead of me here? She slowed down inches before the field where the police sit to observe. 

Very quickly a thought flashed through my head. She obviously travels that way enough to know that in all likelihood a law enforcement officer is waiting right around the bend to enforce the law. With that knowledge in hand she slowed down. My guess is that on mornings when she does not have someone like me right in front of her she speeds her way to that point and then eeerrrrrrr slams on brakes to comply with the posted limit. Naughty, naughty girl. 

The whole thing made me laugh. I actually wanted to say out loud, “Yes Lord I do see the parallel.”  How many times have you heard someone say, “Don’t say that in church!” Or something like, “It’s Sunday. You can’t do that on a Sunday.”  If we’re in God’s house or it’s his day we have to behave, otherwise, apparently, he doesn’t pay any attention.

We all do it. While I may recognize the silly hypocrisy of the “don’t say that word in church” thing, I’m bothered much more by the idea of spending an hour or two of the morning in prayer and then an hour or two in the afternoon engaging in gossip or judgment. If I really believe and realize that God is always watching me then shouldn’t and wouldn’t my behavior reflect that?  I want my behavior to bring him glory after all.
My too close driver chose to obey the law only when there was a threat. She slowed down because someone was watching.  Did she not know that Someone is always watching? I know that I forget that sometimes.  I cut a corner or speak words I shouldn’t with no regard to the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in me.   

I was amused by the other driver’s effort to avert punishment but in her case she was able to pass by without incident. Those policemen are not omniscient.  They had no idea how either of us was driving before we entered their line of vision.  God knew. He also knew what both of us were thinking. A fact of which I was very aware as my amusement threatened to turn the corner to judgment.
God is watching over us. He watches out for us. He sees us always, all ways. If you are driving your proverbial car into someone else’s trunk, you might want to slow it down.  God isn’t waiting around the curb. He’s riding right along.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Papa, Wake Up






A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stren, sleeping on a cuching. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. Mark 4:37-39


The Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell this story as well. They tell it a bit differently, without as much panic in the voices of the disciples. I like this one. It reminds me of so many times in my own life, so many, maybe too many conversations I have had with God. “Hello! I’m drowning here. Can’t you see this? Don’t you care?” 

When I think about it after the fact it seems so terribly unfaithful. It is a lack of faith. Things may look, feel and even be scary or bad but if I believe, as I say that I do, that God is in control, then what is the problem?  In all three accounts of this event Jesus points to the lack of faith of the disciples. In Mark he asks, “Why are you so afraid?” Now there is an excellent question. Why indeed. My guess is that because, like me, they weren’t sure things were going to go their way.
Do I want the will of God to prevail in my life? Absolutely! As long as I don’t get soaking wet, or hurt, or humiliated, or sick, or abandoned, or broken, or whatever else makes life hard.

There is always that moment where I try to convince myself that it isn’t a lack of faith in God. Instead it is fear of the outcome. Stop laughing. I know, when you put actual words to it or see it in writing, it is ridiculous to think that those two things are different in any way. The outcome after all is in God’s hands. Therefore it is perfect and should not be feared and yet, oh there it is....lack of faith.

The disciples are freaking out. “Why is he sleeping?” “How can he be sleeping?” They’re looking at the storm seeing certain, watery death and Jesus is snoring.  That reminds me of a book the students in my class love and I strongly dislike. They listen to it on the computer and every few lines the boy yells, “Papa, WAKE UP!” It’s annoying but I can see Jesus’ disciples standing over him, yelling in that same obnoxious way, “Jesus, WAKE UP!”
Then he does. “What is your problem?” Looks around, with an “oh that” air and says to the weather. “Get over yourself! Calm down.” Then turning back to them asks again, “What is your problem?”  Kindness being his nature, he gives them the answer, “It’s lack of faith. Basically, you don’t trust me.” Ouch!

There in the disciples reaction, I see myself again, frantic. “Papa, WAKE UP!” And to my circumstances God says, “Calm down.” Unfortunately he doesn’t always say it when I want. He says it at what I often see as the eleventh hour. I don’t like it but that’s how my faith grows. The more eleventh hour rescues I experience the more I learn to expect them. Yes, he does know what’s happening and as soon as the time is right he’ll step in and fix things. Until then I can yell “WAKE UP!” as loud as I want but I’ll only regret it later. Better to say, “not my will, but yours.” Then I don’t have to repent later on.