Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Children of the King

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In  love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.  Ephesians 1:4-5

 Several years ago my husband’s company painted a house for a woman who told him a very interesting story. While he was inspecting the house with her, making sure she was satisfied with the work, she told him about her son. Her son is a professional golfer who had been in England for a tournament. One evening he went to a pub. He was playing pool when another young man asked to join him. The young man introduced himself as Will and said that he was in the military. As the story goes the two played several games, talked about their girlfriends, their jobs, typical small talk. It wasn’t until much later in the evening when other friends joined them that our American golfer  learned the identity of his new English friend, Will, was actually Prince William.
When my husband told me the story my first thought was that his client’s son obviously didn’t have a sister. My sons would know Prince William but only because of their sisters crush, not to due to any international savvy. Then I thought how nice for William to be able to be just “Will” for an evening and I wondered how often that happens for him.

This morning reading about Jesus’ being his Father’s Beloved son and how because of that we can be called beloved, I was reminded of that story. Here are some details the golfer’s mother told my husband. Her son said that Will was very polite and carried himself with dignity that the golfer assumed came from being British and being military. Once he knew the other man’s identity our golfer was impressed with how unassuming Will was and how genuinely friendly. Apparently they shared some girlfriend issues and had chatted about that for quite awhile.
Today I thought about that in terms of how I carry myself as my Abba’s beloved daughter. I would like for people to say of me, that I was genuine, unassuming, pleasant and then attribute it to the deep security and warmth that comes from being the dearly loved daughter of the King.

Will did not flaunt his status. He hid it, not out of embarrassment but out of a desire to be accepted as a regular guy. I do not want to hide my status but neither do I want to flaunt it. I want it to be simply obvious. If I am truly the beloved child of God then it should show in my confidence, peace and joy. It should be obvious as Will’s breeding and manners were obvious to the golfer and it should be very attractive.

St. Francis said, “Speak the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Some people disagree with that because they feel that we should always be proclaiming Jesus. I think that is exactly what St. Francis meant. Open the conversation with your demeanor and attitude. Words are important. We have to put our mouths where our faith is but first we have to demonstrate the veracity and sincerity of those words, attract people with the grace that flows to and through us.
Additionally there is the personal benefit of living in that grace, confident of our place in the next world we can walk through this one, secure, joyful and always humble. We are royalty in a way that earthly royalty merely imitates. We are sons and daughters not of a king but of the King.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Spiritual Giving


Calling all his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Mark 12:43-44

Lately I have read and heard a lot about grace. I have also heard about works. Oh how people love to quote James 2:17.  It makes us all feel as if we have some stake, some control of our salvation. That to me, quite frankly, is laughable but it wasn’t always. For years I tried to think of ways to earn the favor of God and all I can do today is praise Him and thank Him for setting me straight on that one. So, the questions beckons, why do good works? I think I’ve learned that answer from three of my grandchildren, in particular my granddaughter Faith.

Last year our family, as a group, chose to bless the World Vision organization as a part of our Christmas giving. Everyone would contribute and everyone would choose gifts to purchase. We received the catalog and began immediately to put money aside. In an effort to really include the children, their Pop Pop and I gave them chores to do around our house and we paid them in coins. Whether the amount was less than a dollar or several dollars, they got it all in coins.

The first time we paid them I sat down with Joey, Faith and Madelyn and explained that this was their money and that what they did with it was their choice. They could put it all in their banks, all sitting on the floor in front of us, or put some in their banks and some in the envelope we had for World Vision. We talked about the children whose pictures were in the catalog and how their lives differ from ours. They asked questions and then began to sort their coins. Joey split his in half and began to put half in the envelope.  Madelyn immediately chose a few coins for the envelope and a few for her bank without seeming to note which pile went where. Faith looked and looked, first at her coins and then at the catalog, back and forth for several minutes. Joey sat with half of his coins still in front of him.  He and Faith began to talk about the children in the pictures as Madelyn and I sat by playing with some marbles. I saw Joey take a few more coins and put them in the envelope before putting his last few into his bank.

Faith then separated her coins into a sort of ninety/ten split. At that point I thought my then six year old granddaughter already understood tithing. Boy was I wrong! She slowly and carefully put one coin at time in the envelope, from her big pile. I couldn’t stop myself. My resolve to let them decide how to divide the money failed me. “Faithie,” I said, “you don’t have to give that much each time. You worked for that money.”

 “Grammy,” she replied, “I have three houses, here, my Grandma’s and my house. I have toys and clothes in all those houses and I eat all day, as many times as I want.” She gave me a sad little smile and a shrug picking up the rest of her coins and putting those in the envelope as well. “These kids kick around a ball made of garbage, they don’t have houses. They need these coins.” She told me. “I don’t.”

Wow! My heart burst with love and pride and my eyes swam with unshed tears. I hugged her close and told her what a sweet girl I thought she was. Faith knew then and knows now that she will always be taken care of because she has people who love her and can and will provide for her. Beyond that she has a heart that is already  directed toward pleasing God.

We don’t need works to prove our faith. We don’t need works to earn salvation. I know how my heart swelled with love and pride when Faith put her coins in the envelope out of pure Christian love and charity. I can only begin to imagine how that kind of behavior pleases the heart of God. That is what works are for, to honor our Father.

My human heart, hard in comparison to the heart of God, wanted only to shower blessings on all three of them at that point. How could it not? I saw how they reacted to blessings. They all shared without counting the cost. I can’t think that God behaves differently.  No “good work” will go to Him without returning to us, bigger and so much better. When we, like my grandchildren, give out of love and not as a means to an end, we bring glory to our Father’s name and isn’t that why we’re here?


Monday, January 21, 2013

The End Result

“Do not let you hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you, I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:1-3

Over the last few weeks God has really been speaking to me about living in the moment. I’ve spent far too much time wondering, asking how I should handle situations, not moments that are occurring but things that are coming. This morning I was reminded of an event many years ago. I was facing a daunting task, one I felt God wanted me to do, no, I knew he wanted me to do it but the whole thing made me very insecure. It took me literally and figuratively so far outside my comfort zone that the mere thought of it made my stomach hurt. I prayed in that time that God would reassure me that everything would work out. If I could see myself at the completion of the task, successful and intact then I could do it. Talk about a lack of faith, right?
Since that time I have asked too many times for similar assurances. Oh if I only knew the outcome! God in his enormous mercy gave me the same answer over and over. If I knew the end result then I would manipulate events on the way. If I knew exactly where I would end up, then I would head straight there and miss so many opportunities for growth. I would miss blessings and most certainly would not increase my faith. I get that. I want to be faithful more than anything but my human heart wants security. I do not want to look foolish, be humiliated, get hurt.

This morning during prayer I realized how far God has brought me. My days of asking for the end result are few and very far between. I am learning to live in the moment. I have a long way to go but I’m learning. While I was thinking about it God blessed me with the sweetest assurance of them all.

He opened my eyes to the fact that I do know the end result. I’ve known if for years upon years. Home, home with him is the end result. Granted there are many unsure, unstable situations here in this temporary home but what do they matter? The truth is I will get hurt, fail, be humiliated, look foolish and just plain miss the point. I will also have great success, be appreciated, look intelligent and appear to know what I’m doing but none of that matters. It’s just a part of the bigger, much more important journey.

Today I will go to work. It may be a good day. It may not. Someone might insult me but someone might appreciate me. I may make a bad decision but I might make someone’s day. I have no idea. What I do know is that God is with me, Emmanuel. I know that no matter what happens today or any of the days I have left here, my worst failure and my best success are dust particles compared to what is in store for me in my real home.
Today I know that I’ve had the answer I wanted all along. I wonder how many other answers God has given me that I’ve been too blind to see?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

In His Image

In His Image

So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
I attend a small church in the South.  A few weeks ago our younger pastor made a comment that really made me think.  That in itself is not unusual, he is a provocative speaker. What stands out was that at first, it amused me. He said, “It’s not like God’s sitting around in an easy chair drinking sweet tea.” Sweet tea, the house wine of the South. It just made me laugh and then it reminded me of another quote. One from Blaise Pascal which says, “God created man in his own image—and man returned the favor.”

For many years now, I have lived in a Southern state but I was born and raised in New York.  It took me quite awhile to remember that if I wanted hot tea, that is what I had to order. When you order tea in the South the question follows, “Sweet or unsweet?” Um-hmm… So to hear our pastor refer to God sitting in the chair with his sweet tea made Pascal’s statement so true. It is highly possible that some Yankee pastor was saying, “God is not sitting by his fire sipping cider.” 
What does God look like in your mind? What does he do? Can you envision him in a chair with sweet tea? Is there a gun rack in his den? Or maybe he wears three piece suits and owns a luxury car? I’m being silly, of course. Most of us don’t literally see God in those very human terms but after my moment of amusement, the pastor’s words made me think, how much do I limit God by seeing him in human terms.

In one of his songs Steven Curtis Chapman says, “God is God and I am not.” Amen! Although I often measure my behavior or responses in terms of what I know, or think I know about God I can’t think or reason as he does. If I were to doubt that I only need to consult his Word. ( Isaiah 55:8) Yet, when I misstep, sin, and know that I am wrong, I picture his disappointment in me as I would be disappointed in my own child. When I feel that I’ve gotten something right I imagine that he is proud of me, again as I feel pride in my children. I think it’s fairly safe to say that I’m wrong on both counts.
The truth is our actions do not change the way God feels about us for the better or worse. God’s love never changes. He never compares himself to the other gods because there aren’t any. He never worries that someone will judge him by his actions because he knows that most people will judge him, whether they have a right to or not. (If you think that doesn’t happen think of the last time you heard or said, “Why did God let that happen?” That question and others like it open the door to judging God’s actions.)  He does not concern himself with how he looks or how we look. God may have created us in his image but we veer away from that a lot.

I still find our pastor’s statement amusing but it is also a checkpoint for me. How often do I try to make God or see God as less than he is? That is exactly what we do when we try to put our thoughts or behaviors on him. We make him less. We minimize him and when I see it that way it seems even worse than Pascal’s quote makes it sound.

God made us in his image. We should look at him and to him as the perfect example but we should never, ever try to make him look like us.