Monday, August 26, 2013

Not Home


 
But our citizenship is in have. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord, Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20

Have you ever driven by a church and seen the sign that tells you how many people were saved at the last service? I have seen those signs numerous times and frankly, I’m a bit skeptical. Just as frankly, it’s none of my business. Those decisions, real or not, are between God and the people making them. But, that is one way that churches assess their value, measure their effectiveness, weigh their fruit.
My husband and I have been visiting/attending the same church for about seven months now. We like it but still have some questions about whether or not it is home. Everyone has a different idea of what is important in a church. For some it’s size, for some the children’s or youth opportunities. For my husband it’s the teaching and for me it’s equal parts teaching and music.

I’m not sure what criteria the leadership of this church uses to assess the success of their ministry but there is no sign out front denoting the number of souls saved. There is occasionally a mention of the number of baptisms that have taken place and such numbers are mentioned with great joy. That’s a good thing. We should feel joy when souls chose Jesus.
This Sunday something occurred at church that I hope brought enormous joy to both Shane, the pastor and Dave the music pastor. The message was on Revelation, always a complex topic and Shane handled it well. He walked that tightrope between too little and too much information (for the time frame) with simple but effective grace. He opened doors and made a gentle invitation for all of us to take a closer, more personal look at that particular book of the Bible.

As I said, the music is just as important to me as the message and Dave and his group of talented musicians, has never disappointed me. Some weeks I am less excited about the song choices but no matter what they choose the music is always exceptional. This week the music was a mix for me, until the last song.
Just before the close of the service a young man, normally just one more critter in God/Dave’s choir, took center stage.  I suppose he was expected to have a verse or two to himself before we joined in but I’m guessing he was okay with what actually happened. That precious young man began to sing a song titled, “Where I Belong” and within a very few bars the entire congregation was standing, singing along.

Maybe I’m alone in my thinking but that far outweighs any sign of any kind. The spontaneous response to a song that reminds us that this earth is not our real home, which speaks to our longing for heaven, is real fruit to me. Somewhere in Shane’s messages and Dave’s music the truth that there is something far better waiting and that the way to get there is the Way, Jesus, has gotten out.
I have no idea how many of the saved souls we see advertised are truly committed to Christ and again it’s not my business. What I saw Sunday was a church full of people who long for home. Today I remain uncertain as to whether this will become “our” church or not but I do know that something wonderful and right is happening there.

We are temporary residents of earth and if we know the truth then the words that young man led us in singing, “all I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong” should ring loud and strong in our hearts.

 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Maturity


If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead. Luke 16:31

We hear a lot of talk about spiritual maturity and what that looks like. It’s one of those things that cause division within the Christian community. Some people think that a mature Christian always says yes. This is the person who is part of every ministry, every committee and is in involved up to and over his/her head in the lives of the people closest to them. There is the school of thought that says Christian maturity limits behaviors. A mature Christian doesn’t_____________.  Fill in the blank with anything because the details vary.

Personally I have struggled with this concept. After thirty plus years of a serious, deep relationship with Jesus Christ I would hope to be a mature Christian but then I meet that person who condemns something that I do and I wonder. That is my own insecurity talking of course but what does it mean to be mature in Christ? That is not to say that the work our Father is doing in us is finished but to suppose that we have reached a certain level of commitment.

Today I read a message that included this line, “I fill the emptiness within you with my love. I supply your yearning for answers with My Word.” Your yearning for answers…. Ah, perhaps Christian maturity is about trust. When one can stop asking why, why, why like a three year old and simply accept God’s will, that seems like a huge indicator of maturity.

We’re human and we’re going to have doubts but when we can say, “not my will but Yours” and mean it. When we can say it without searching for a reason why, then we may be a bit mature.

Reading that line I had a quick flash of the myriad times I have supposed I knew what God was doing. Faced with something unfathomable we try to put a spin on it that makes it easier to digest. When bad things happen we scramble to find a reason why God would allow it. Conversely when good things happen we call them miracles and move on. Why did God give us a miracle? Easy, He loves us.

So, why did he allow that awful thing? I don’t know and all the speculation in the world does not make me feel better. Perhaps letting go of my need for understanding and simply saying, “He loves me” is sufficient.

Maturity is incremental and I don’t know where I am on that spectrum. I do know this, it is much, much more peaceful to let God be God and trust His actions than it is to scramble around for answers.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Praise and Pray


Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Psalm 118:29

You do not have because you do not ask. James 4:2b

My dear friend Bella and I were talking about gratitude, about having a grateful attitude and I told her that for years I have kept a gratitude journal. I explained how and why I do it and she adopted the idea for herself.
The other day we were talking about it and she told me how much she has learned from it. Then she made a point that has stayed with me and I hope will continue with me for a long while.
She said that she also keeps a prayer request journal. While I don’t do that as frequently or specifically as I do the thanksgivings I certainly have a few places where my requests or pleas are written down.

Bella pointed out how much easier it is for her to write those requests than the thanks. That surprised me as she is easily the most gracious and truly appreciative person I know. But as we talked I knew exactly what she meant.

We see so easily what we don’t have or the challenges in front of us. We see them so easily that often they obscure our view of the blessings. We can’t see the forest for the trees, as the saying goes.
As we walked down the hall together, both walking, no wheelchairs, canes or other aids necessary, we spoke easily, no trouble breathing and we both acknowledge how many, many blessings we take for granted.

God invites us to ask, (James 4:2, see also Matthew 7:7) and he encourages us to give thanks. (Psalm 118:29, Thessalonians 5:18 and a host of other Scriptures) He wants us to bring our every need to Him but He also wants us to see what He is already doing in our lives.
Walking with Bella another thought occurred to me. In dealing with people, I have a huge problem with asking for help. I have no problem being the helper but I loathe asking for help. On the other hand, I am pretty grateful. I am aware of the blessings given to me by the people around me and through God’s grace, I’m quick to thank them and show appreciation for them.

Far from feeling condemned by that I realized that my Father has given me the gift of gratitude, toward others and more and more toward Him. Like Bella, I want to see my gratitude journal grow and my request page shrink but that’s a human reaction. God just covets our prayers, our need for Him. Whether we are praising and thanking or asking and seeking He is available and so happy to speak with us.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Scars



 
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

 

Years ago before I knew him, years before I would ever meet him, my husband had his appendix removed. He still has a scar, a very small, very faint scar. I hate it. It really is faded and small but every now and then I notice it and it makes me feel a flash of sadness, a little flicker of nausea at the thought of the pain he went through. He’s told me the story and it was a bit of an ordeal. Still, it was years ago when he was a teenager and as I said, I didn’t know him but because I love him and hate the idea of anything painful or even uncomfortable happening to him, I hate that scar.

I was reminded of that today while I was watching a worship music video. To illustrate God’s deep love for us the maker of the video used an image of Jesus on the cross. His head is dropping forward. He is covered in blood and of course his arms are stretched beyond what seems humanly possible. I felt no small flash of sadness, no tiny flicker of nausea, instead my stomach rolled over and my eyes immediately filled with tears.

Certainly it isn’t the first time I’ve seen an image like that. It was the juxtaposition of the words describing the huge, eternal, amazing love of Jesus and the image of what that cost him that just broke my heart. In an instant I was overwhelmed with equal measures of gratitude and grief.  The idea that Jesus literally laid down his life for us is beyond my ability to appreciate and at the same time there is the truth of the matter, which is, I put him there.

This is all very hard for me because at heart, I’m a fixer. If someone I love is hurting I want to make it better. Just hearing about my husband’s pain for so many years ago makes me want to do something to comfort him. While logically I know he isn’t in pain now, it’s just the way I react.

Looking at the Cross, at Jesus on that cross, I cannot stand it I cannot fix it. The hardest part is that we all still cause him pain. We reject him. We choose other things, much lesser things instead of him. We hear his name thrown about as if it’s worthless and we don’t defend him. That is not fixing or comforting and when I saw the image of perfect love pierced and broken, accompanied by words saying how much he loves us I just felt ill.

We know that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins.  The scars on his body may have been put there by the people of his day but we are just as responsible for them as they are. My husband scar serves no purpose in my life but Jesus’ scars are a reminder of how much was given for me, of how safe, secure and blessed I am, we all are because of the love of Jesus Christ. I hate them but I am so grateful for all that they represent, the long, wide, high deep, truly unfathomable love of God.

 

 

 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Let’s Have a “Talt”


 

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”

Revelation 3:20

For years I have worked with young people who wear the label “special needs.” I get that as a description I suppose but sometimes I think a more accurate label would be special gifts. So many of them see the world in a way that we not so special people miss. Through the years I’ve heard people say with varying degrees of sincerity that they learn more than they teach when they’re with the children. I can say that with a great degree of sincerity because God has used so many of my little angels to illustrate his love and patience to me.
My dear friend Brianna has Down syndrome. She is a delight in ways that words cannot express. One of my favorite things about her, and in general, is when she says to me, “Let’s have a talt.” Now, let me note here that I am quick to make her stop and repeat the word talk correctly because I want other people to understand her as well as I do but I love “talt.”

We sit down for these talks, in a spot designated by Bri and they begin. There are three topics of conversation, food, her buddies or our “dates.” (Whenever we make plans they are referred to as dates.) The talks are all along the same lines so once the topic is established I know what she’s going to say. Boring, right? Wrong! It’s fabulous. I could listen to her description of her cheeseburger and dippin’ sauce or how much she loves her buddies a billion times and it will never get old. Yes, I know what she’s going to say but I love sitting with her and hearing her say it. It isn’t about the conversation. It’s about Bri, about sitting together and about listening to her heart. Those talks are great fun because I love her.

On the other side of the coin, when Brianna is with me and neither of her parents are there, I’m her comfort. When she’s hurt or frightened, it’s my lap, my arms and my words that she wants. Those times are few and far between thankfully, but they’ve taught me the same lesson as the much more prevalent, much more enjoyable “talts.”  Whatever the tone, happy or sad, it’s about relationship, not information. God wants us to talk with him. Yes, he knows what we’re going to say and if you are anything like me, he’s heard it too many times to count. Beyond that he knew what we were going to say before our first talk with him. Sometimes I tend to think that means he doesn’t need to hear it. He doesn’t need to but because of his amazing love for us, he wants to hear it, hear everything on our hearts.

Like me with Brianna, he wants us to talk to him about our mundane details, our food, our buddies, our dates and he wants us to feel comfortable enough to run to him with our problems, real and imagined.

I am so grateful to have a Father who cares for me in ways that are so far beyond my comprehension. I am also grateful that he shows me, through my love for others, tiny in comparison to his love for us, how much he enjoys the time we spend together.

This is the God of the universe we’re talking about. Brianna comes to me, a person with no title, no standing, no inherent expectation of respect, as if I were the most important person in the world. I go to God, truly the most important being to ever exist and the good news is that I not only can but that he wants me to and with an even higher expectation of acceptance and love than Brianna gets from me.

There are times when circumstances may force me to postpone or shorten a talk with Brianna but God always has time for us. My love for Brianna may fail. I may disappoint her, I hope not but it could happen. God will never disappoint me, Brianna or you. Go to him, have a “talt.” I know he’ll love it.

 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Big, Big Plans


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Are you a planner? I am. I like to have plans. The problem is that often as I begin to plan all the obstacles run through my mind. I begin to think of the myriad ways that my plans might go awry. If the event or issue is important to me that is when worry rears its ugly head.
This morning as I was feeling such joy.  I was living the truth of Psalm 118:24. This was indeed the day the Lord made and I was fully ready to rejoice and be glad. Understand this was an ordinary weekday involving work, household tasks, the usual. I was not headed off on a trip, a retreat or a date with my hubby, just a regular day. As I was preparing to leave the house I felt a catch in my joy. The nasty little thought came to me that something in this day was going to steal my joy; something was going to go wrong.  I could feel my mind searching for similar days when for no earthly reason I’ve felt on top of the world and known that it was simply the joy of being a child of the King and suddenly getting slammed. I did recall a season in my life where I would feel instant fear when I experienced that level of joy because I just knew something was coming to steal it.

Well not today! I stopped literally mid-step and turned around. I sat back down with the Lord for a minute and thought about this verse, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 Of course! Only God knows the plan, the exact plan that He has for us but the enemy knows the second half, that God plans to give His people hope and a future and he wants to take it away. Our enemy wants us to be so consumed with worry that we miss God’s plan entirely.
I am not arrogant enough or foolish enough or delusional enough to think that my plan can in any way compare to God’s plan. Whatever I have in mind, no matter how great, fun, exciting or fulfilling I may believe it to be pales in comparison to what my loving Father would plan for me.

Look at the verse. It says that God knows the plan. Again, the enemy does not but it is in his nasty little mind that our doubts, fears and worries are born. Satan wants us to fixate on what can go wrong. He loves the rabbit hole of the negative what ifs. He’s a fan of the vague sense of unease that the joy of the Lord can’t last. He is so wrong.
Not only does God have plans for us but they are great plans. So superior to anything we can think or imagine. That reminds me my former student, Jon, who used to make “big, big plans” for his “big day off.”  His plans were rarely as good as what his incredibly amazing mom would plan for him. He might plan to sleep in and watch a movie only to find out that she was taking him somewhere fabulous or had arranged a day with his friends. I know Jon well enough to know that if his mom had said, “no, you aren’t doing what you have planned,” he would have been so mad. She didn’t tell him, ever. She let him plan and then surprised him with something better but because he was secure in her love for him, Jon always knew his “big day off” was going to be great.

I love to plan and daydream about those plans but I am more than happy to let God change those plans because I know His way is better than mine. Yet, I am as guilty as the next person of heeding the ugly little voice that makes me doubt God’s goodness. It works because it’s sneaky. My thought isn’t God doesn’t want me to be happy. My thought is what if something goes wrong? Things do go “wrong” sometimes, at least to our way of thinking but that is because our thoughts are not God’s thoughts.
Oh and today? Today was a beautiful day, nothing special or out of the ordinary. It was simply a day in which I lived secure in the love of my Father. It is evening now and my joy remains. Nothing came to steal or even threaten it and I believe it is because I kept my eyes on my Savior, on the One who has plans for me, big, big plans.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Just Taking A Walk


During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them walking on the lake.  Matthew 14:25

Family stories are so much fun. There are certain ones that we so love to remember that we tell them over and over again. The first one that came to my mind for my family is a time when my son Jeffrey was very young. He made what every adult involved heard as a sassy remark but truly he was just trying to identify his boundaries. He was so little and so darned adorable with his tiny eyeglasses and his slight lisp. On the face of it maybe it isn’t a great story but we love it, in part because there is so much more to it than immediately meets the eye.
This story from Matthew of Jesus walking on the water is the same thing to me. There is so much more to the story than the bare bones. Jesus walks out, calls to Peter, Peter takes a step or two and oops, sinks. We tend to focus on Peter. Why did he sink? How did he walk on water even for a step or two? Peter becomes the focus.

My son Joseph used to tell me long stories of his exploits and sometimes a detail would slip out that he didn’t want me to hear. He’d then say, “Ma, you’re focusing on the wrong part of the story.” Certainly in looking at Peter we aren’t focusing on the wrong part but we do get stuck. Peter isn’t the only story and that is what I love about it.
I’ve given much thought to the other apostles part in this but today I was really taken by Jesus.  Jesus is, read it slowly, walking on the water. Walking. On. The. Water.  And look closely there’s no fanfare. There’s no drum roll or trumpet blast. He isn’t shouting, “Hey guys, check me out.” It’s not a big deal to him. He looks up sees that the boat is “a considerable distance from land” (Matthew 14:24) and further that it is “buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it” (Matthew 14:24) and still he just steps out.

Can you picture it? Jesus finishes his solitary prayer time and decides to rejoin the group. Hm, they’re out a little farther than he might have thought they’d be. There’s no panic. There’s not even an “oh darn” moment. No, he just walks out to them. Then because Peter attempts it too and fails, thus giving us so very many great sermons and lessons, the idea of Jesus walking on the water becomes somewhat secondary.
Well yeah, he’s Jesus. Fair enough, he is Jesus, fully God but also fully human. Can you walk on water? I can’t. I can’t even swim! It is an amazing truth that Jesus Christ walked across a lake and I know that most of us are aware of that. I just wonder how aware.

Does it just become one detail of the whole really great story? Back to my precious Jeffrey story. All four of my children were at the table that night with their grandparents and me. All four of my children were healthy at the time. Jeffrey had and still has glasses but otherwise there were no illnesses or injuries. We were sitting in our comfortable home at a table filled with food.  We don’t focus on those details when we tell the story because the focus is on Jeffrey, precious, quirky, adorable Jeffrey. Yet there were so many gifts in the moment and later still as the layers of the story emerged.
The Bible is filled with great stories. The Holy Spirit stands ready and waiting to shift our focus to a detail that has been right in front of us but that we may never have taken time to really see.

Jesus walked on the water.  How amazing is that?

 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Love the Sinner


“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:41-42

We’ve all heard the expression, “hate the sin but love the sinner.” At times I’ve felt that I understood that and that I was doing fairly well in a given circumstance. Like many other truths, it’s the fire, the hot button issues, the agendas that show us how we really feel.
In a conversation with a woman I’ve known all my life I came to the realization that she believes me to be a homophobe. At onset I find this amusing, given that one of my dearest, most loved and sadly missed friends was a homosexual. I most certainly did not hate him. I loved him. I cannot say the same for his lifestyle.

Moving on with the replay of my conversation I realized that her viewpoint comes from the fact that I hate the sin. I hate that it exists. I hate the foothold it gives to Satan. I hate what it does to families, to individuals and to the world at large. Suddenly sexual orientation is to be discussed, any and every sexual orientation. Decorum is as much a thing of the past as the rotary telephone, a few people may still posses it but very few actually know how to use it.
The Bible says a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife. (Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:7) A man and his wife. I do have issues with a man referring to another man as his husband or a woman referring to another woman as her wife. That is simply not possible.  Marriage is a bond between a man and a woman. Find different labels, use other terminology but do not sully the Biblical truth of marriage by borrowing terms that do not apply! Oh yes, I hate the sin.

Let’s look at a different angle. In my close proximity I know off the top of my head, eight different people, (not four couples, eight individuals known to me in various ways) who are homosexual. I like them all. I have great love and respect for a few who are closer to me. I do not hate the sinner.
Jesus calls us to check our own vision before we attempt to influence the vision of another. Amen! We have to know that our feelings, not the best barometer in the first place, come from our beliefs about the sin and not the sinner. After all we are all sinners. When I checked my vision I found that I don’t want to hear a man call another man his husband in the exact same way that I don’t want to hear about “our bed” in “our house” from any couple who is not married.

God made his expectations pretty clear. I don’t meet them and I suspect, neither do you.  Someone, somewhere is peering past his plank to see our specks.
Jesus, truly loves everyone. Look at the people he chose to be his nearest and dearest. Then look further to the people he healed, blessed and saved. Look no farther than the mirror. If that image isn’t too clear, maybe there’s a plank in your eye.