Sunday, October 27, 2013

Agendas



While Peter was still speaking these words the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. Acts 10:44

 
Years ago while leading a Bible study with my husband, I became involved in a very animated conversation about loving our neighbor.  There were both men and women in the group and most of the people agreed that it is easy to love our neighbor when that neighbor is a bit removed from us. It seemed that the closer a person was in either proximity or relationship, the harder it was to love them.  At the time I agreed with that opinion.

This morning, reading this piece of Scripture I realized that in some ways my view has shifted. In my very close circle of family and friends, there are several who are just breaking my heart. They are aware of this and continue to do it with no regard for my feelings and yet, I have no trouble loving them.
Taken out farther, by watching TV, reading any sort of “news” and simply listening to conversations around me, I’ve begun to realize that there are groups of people that I just simply do not love. I don’t like them or understand them. To be completely frank some of them just make me angry.

Looking at those feelings in light of this Scripture I realized that there isn’t one single person I know, that I have actually met and spoken to, who is a part of any of those groups, who makes me feel that way. Hm… So do I love my neighbor? Yes, the actual person, yes.

In this passage the people closest to Peter are shocked that those Gentiles (read that word dripping with scorn and distaste) are being touched by the Holy Spirit. (To be fair the “astonishment” may have been at the crazy huge power of the Holy Spirit but that’s not how I saw it this morning and given some of the discussions between Paul and Peter I think my assessment holds a little water. ) Those Gentiles. Now you fill your those people word, those dog owners, those hunters, those vegans, etc. etc. Most people have some group that just gets on their nerves. Frankly I have a few but it’s the group mentality, the agenda that irritates me, not the people.
It makes me feel better to realize that my aggravation is ancient. I have brothers and sisters in Christ dating waaaaay back who turned their noses up at a whole group. It’s fine to turn our noses up at an offensive agenda. We are called to discernment, to avoiding things and even people who would invite us to sin. I used goofy examples on purpose so as not to illicit angry responses but the truth is the agendas I hate are all things that go against God’s plan and will for His people.

It’s a version of hate the sin and love the sinner. I want to love my neighbor and to be fair, I want my neighbor to love me. I do not want to invite hatred but my very love for my Savior is a huge red flag invitation for people to judge me and assume they know me and all of my opinions without ever having shaken my hand or spoken a word to me. The whole idea takes on a different look when we place ourselves in the position of neighbor, doesn’t it?
It’s okay, even important, to rage against the things, the agendas, beliefs that offend God but as for the individuals, those people, every single one is our neighbor and like it or not, we are called to love them.

 

 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Don’t Get “Hitch”ed


 

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

Recently I had a conversation with friends about getting real with God. Many of us, I would dare to say most of us, want to put our best face on for God. We want to put our best foot forward, totally ignoring the fact that He has seen ever slip and fall we’ve ever taken. The saddest part is that the face we want God to see is often not our own face. We want to be like that person we see as “having it all together.” Big mistake!  Our Father knows us, inside, outside, upside down, while He certainly invites us to grow, to become more like Him, He loves us just as we are.

After thinking about that a bit I was reminded of a movie I really like. It’s called “Hitch.” I’ve seen it a couple of times and have a few favorite scenes. The one that comes to mind most often is the dance lesson scene. If you’ve seen the movie you know exactly what I mean and my guess is that you are now smiling if not chuckling out loud. It’s hysterical. The premise of the scene, and in fact the whole movie, is that being who we are, the real person, is not ever going to get you what you want out of life. Of course that premise is proven to be wrong and is made glaringly apparent with the outcome of the dance lesson.

After having jumped through a hundred hoops to change it turns out the two main gentlemen in the movie were perfect for the women of their dreams only when they were being real, living from their true center. The very things those men disliked in themselves were the qualities the ladies they wanted found most endearing.

I can relate to those men. There are so many things in my personality, my approach to life that I want to change and improve. Too many days I’ve given into the lie that life would be much better if I could stop something or start something, change appears to be what is needed. And yet, time after time, I see God using the very things about me that I don’t like to help or bless someone around me.

Last year a group of ladies with whom I work did a little exercise to boost morale. We wrote one word, one positive word, descriptions of each other. The words I received followed a definite pattern. A friend looked at it and told me that she told agreed, going on to compliment the one thing I really struggle with and am constantly trying to change. Hm… dance lesson? (But way less funny.)

Our Father created us, not only in His image but also in a way that He knew would best suit us to His purpose. We don’t have to dance, talk, walk or behave like anyone else. We need to be who we were created to be, uniquely and distinctively made.

Much like the gentleman in “Hitch” we may see some success when we pretend to be other than what we were created to be but that will change quickly and for the worst.  We need to live according to God’s plan and when we do the successes may be a bit more subtle but they will certainly be more real and more enduring.

 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Always Invited


Always Invited

“All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned that king has but one law; that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend his royal scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.” Esther 4:11

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

 
The book of Esther is an amazing story of faith and courage. It is also a beautiful illustration of God’s love and protection for His people. Esther is chosen out of a large group of girls to be a replacement queen. She replaces a woman named Vashti who was foolish enough to defy her husband the king. Esther is well aware of how the king treats the people who don’t do exactly as he says. Still, her people, the Jews, are in deep trouble. They are about to annihilated if someone doesn’t do something. Guess who the someone is? Esther.
So she gets all excited, jumps up and runs to the king to talk him out of the plan, right? Not hardly! She fasts and prays. She asks her people to fast and pray and she listens to God. In complete obedience to her Lord she goes to speak to the king after telling her cousin Mordecai, “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16b Wow! That’s faith.

Esther knows she is the only hope for the Jews. What we know by fact, she could only know by faith, God will not let His people be annihilated. But Esther didn’t know if she would survive. She knew only that no one was welcome in front of the king without an invitation.
Then there’s us. Our King is not some egocentric, image protecting tyrant who allows people with deep personal agendas to control him. Our King is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, God Most High. Do we need an invitation to approach His throne? Not anymore. Not since Jesus came and made Himself a perfect sacrifice for us.

Jesus is our invitation. We can “approach the throne of grace with confidence” because of Jesus’ love for us, a love that caused Him to give His life.
Esther was willing to risk her life. Jesus faced certain death and not the swift death Esther was risking. No, Jesus faced a prolonged, torturous death. Esther’s people were solidly behind her. They prayed and fasted for three days. Jesus’ friends, for the most part, ran. Some of them denied Him, one betrayed Him in a spectacular display of selfishness and cowardice. Jesus knew all of that was coming. Unlike Esther, He had no thought of reprieve. And look at the results.

By the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ we can go to our King whenever, wherever and however we want. There is no reason to fear, no condemnation to face. When we approach the throne, we head straight into the arms of love.

Esther was born to face that risk and save her people. We are saved by Jesus, by grace and by the unending love of our Father and we were born to bring honor and glory to His name.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Where’s Waldo


 

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Have you seen those “Where’s Waldo” books? Little Waldo is the personification of a needle in a haystack. Somewhere in the pages of pictures, a sea of faces and crowded scenery there is an image of Waldo and the task is to find him. To do so you have to concentrate on the picture look at it so closely that every detail is discernible.
Last night I had a conversation with some lovely and amazing women I am blessed to know. We were talking about how easy, how painfully easy it is to get caught up in the world, to see and hear the negative. I shared a little of what I’ve learned about changing my focus, turning my thoughts back to God, back to the Word.

The world tells us that we are irresponsible if we don’t care about politics, government, the current news stories and the latest trends. Our innate desire to fit in encourages us to know who is who and what is what. Remember that the world is full of lies.

We are told that certain things are reality and that we have to deal with them. I find that in this world a lot of “reality” is transient and that it changes based on popular opinion and what is convenient. As the moral standards take a beating the “realities” of life get altered. We are admonished to tolerate abhorrent behavior in the name of progress. We are searching for peace while peering at the current state of the world and there is precious little peace to be found in the world.

I often quote my son Joseph, who as a teenager, sometimes caught in a lie would tell me, “Ma, you’re focusing on the wrong part of the story.” When we dwell on the problem, peer into the morass trying to find our personal “Waldo” we miss the Solution, the Savior, the One being who actually does have the answer and who can provide comfort.
It is the deep desire of our enemy that we focus on the wrong part of the story. While we cannot deny that the enemy wins battles, we can find our hope in the Truth that Satan loses the war. Ultimately, God wins. We give our enemy victory in battles when we accept defeat rather than fight. When we stare intently at a problem in our life we remember all the similar ones that have preceded it. We are quickly reminded of our inadequacies in facing the demons. We see the reality of our failures.
I can freely admit I have failed more than I like to think about. There are plenty of wounds in my life for the enemy to poke his fingers in and dig around. That’s reality but it isn’t the Truth.

John 8:32 says, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” That is lovely, pure, noble, isn’t it? I want to be free.
Next time the enemy wants to lead you down the rabbit hole of fear or self-condemnation remember Waldo. Think about how intently you have to look for him and how easy it is for your eyes to glaze over and your mind to feel overloaded in view of those pages. Then turn your mind and heart to the verse from Philippians and dwell in the Truth. Focus on the things that are praiseworthy and excellent. Know the Truth and let Him set you free.