Sunday, August 31, 2014

No Filter


 

Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time. Hebrews 4:16

 
How many times have you heard it said of someone that he or she has no filter? My granddaughter Madelyn is the personification of that statement and she gets that quality straight from her mother. My daughter Laura is an adult now and as such has tamed her wild tongue a little bit. Madelyn, who I lovingly call Mim, has not. Mim says whatever she’s thinking. It pops into her head and she says it. Just the other day she told me that she’d seen an old picture of me with blonde hair. “Hey Grammy, so I saw a picture of you when you used to have blonde hair.” She looked at me, cocked her head, gave me the quirkiest little look and said, “Yeah, keep the red.” See what I mean? No. Filter.  And quite frankly we all love it, for now, because Mim is six years old. Eventually she’ll have to find a filter. Although knowing her as I do, I suspect it will be a tiny one. She reminds me of my Gram who never really got that concept either. She just learned to pseudo whisper her comments.

          Maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Mim says what she wants, to her family, her teachers and to God. She isn’t afraid to express herself. In prayer, Mim approaches the throne of grace with the confidence of the beloved child that she is.

          In several places in Scripture we are told to become like children, to interact with God with the pure and simple faith of a child. Hmm… maybe those filters are overrated. I’m not advocating speaking your mind at all times. Feelings get hurt that way, damage gets done. We are also advised in Scripture to be quick to listen and slow to speak. (James 1:9) Reading the verse above and thinking of Mim, I realized that yes, in our human interactions we need to follow James’ advice and to have a filter but when we are speaking to our Father in heaven anything goes, with respect of course. Our Father is available always to hear our hearts. He already knows what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling. Sometimes in an effort to spare our family and friends we don’t say what we’re thinking or feeling. With God we can. We can whine, cry, laugh, vent and beg and we can do it with confidence, confident in the fact that His feelings for us won’t change.

         

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Open Endings


 

 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again: he was lost and is found. Luke 15:31

The story of the prodigal son has been a recurrent theme for me for years and recently it’s been a fairly constant companion. On close inspection and upon serious delving into it, I find that I am and/or have been every one of those three characters many times. I desire to be the Father. That is the kind of heart I want to have and to share. During my time with the story I’ve been able to identify a few places where I have been successful with that, with having and giving a version of that open armed, unconditional love. That is great, considering that being able to live life with that attitude is the goal.

          I’m a person who hates the end of books, not because the story is over but because I have to give up the characters. Well written, richly developed characters draw me in and when the story ends I want them to stay. I want to know what happens to them next. The three main players in the prodigal story, father, son and elder brother are extremely rich and deep characters. I am very drawn into the drama that is illustrated in Luke 15. Then it ends. Kid’s home, dad’s thrilled, older brother is….well, he’s not thrilled, that’s for sure! Then what? Read the verse again, that’s the end. No! I need to know what happened next.

          The father says to the older brother, everything I have is yours. Does the older brother then begin to live with the confidence of one who is loved and has all the provisions that he needs? Does the younger son truly understand the magnitude of what his father has done for him? Does the father recover from the betrayal? Is he able to build and sustain a new relationship with both boys? I want to know!

          It’s a good news/bad news thing. I can know, at least in my own life what the outcomes are whenever I see myself in the story. The bad news? We are not characters in a parable intended to enlighten and guide. We are real fallible human beings.

          The prodigal sons come back but do they embrace the fathers? Is there always a sense of accountability? Do they always see the hurt they’ve brought into the father’s life? No.

          Some father’s run, just like the one in the parable. Some stand back but open their arms when the son shows up. Some allow the son the exact thing he came over to get, a place on the staff.

          The older brother? If he gets it is the happiest of men. He is loved! No striving, proving or working necessary and yet those things are always applauded by the father. If he doesn’t get it and instead holds onto his bitterness, as my dear friend Bella would say, “poor him!”

          I love the parable and I’ve learned so much. It has blessed my life in ways I could not have imagined. Unfortunately I’ve also come to realize that it is open ended, not just in the Bible but in life. All of us, sons, brothers and fathers alike have free will. I still want to know the rest of the story and hopefully one day, when I get Home, I will.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Great I AM/Dear Friend


 

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

“I no longer call you servants but friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

 
Which aspect of God is more familiar to you? Do you spend more time revering and feeling in awe of Alpha/Omega, Almighty God or with Jesus, who calls you friend? We realize intellectually that they are one in the same but having a deep and true understanding of that is much harder, if not impossible. It is after all referred to as the mystery of the Trinity. Somehow in order to be a close and sane follower of Jesus we have to rectify the two ideas, God omnipotent, holy, unique and mysterious and Jesus, relatable, close but also holy and unique.

We can’t be so afraid of God that we refuse to draw close to Jesus, to accept the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet, we can’t be so comfy with our good pal Jesus that we forget that He is God, holy, unique, omnipotent and mysterious.

Listening to two different songs in church yesterday this concept was so obvious to me. In one there was a deep, reverential, awestruck tone. The other was lighter, friendlier, spoke of close familiarity. Same God, same faith, same me. So how does that work?

It reminded me of a young friend of mine and me. What my friend and I have in common is lovely but vastly flawed fathers. The father of my youth was not a nice man. Suffice to say he lacked respect for the personal space and well being of the people who should have meant the most to him. In his later years he realized his faults, to a point, and attempted to make some changes, not amends, just a few new behaviors. Through both stages of his life he was and is a likeable guy, charming and funny. Which just doesn’t seem possible given his heinous actions.

My friend’s dad is the opposite. A lovely and involved dad in his younger days, he reacted to the stresses of life by becoming weak and selfish. How is that possible? He was such a strong, loving, courageous man. Just as my father’s slight turn for the better does not negate the damage of his early years, my friend’s father’s early kindnesses do not excuse his latter selfishness.

What my friend and I have in common is that we want to love those men and give credit where credit is due but we have to reconcile that with the dark sides that were so bitterly harmful. We can’t compartmentalize. We have to love the whole of each of them, while acknowledging that they were in fact,  deeply flawed human beings.

That gave me a little insight to the awesome God/ friendly God. They are one in the same but in His wisdom God knows that we can’t quite get that. That is why the aspect of God’s character that we know as Jesus is approachable in a friendly and comfortable way. We chat with Him as we do our other friends but with an underlying respect for His sovereignty. When we are deep in reverence of the person of God the Father we are not too intimidated to pray or praise because of the humanity of Jesus. Aren’t we smart? No! We’re empowered by the Holy Spirit. If we will yield to the power of the Holy Spirit we can cope with the things we can’t understand or reconcile. We can worship in spirit and truth and we can love even those who’ve shown us in spotlight, neon letters, glaring fashion that they are not who we would want them to be.

 

 

 

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Measure of Success

 
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7b
God has placed me in a certain small group, not like a study group, more a social thing, that has given me a great glimpse into what He sees as important. Off and on over the years I’ve seen this but just recently a series of events has turned a spotlight on subject.
               Through my experience with this group I’ve come to know which people I can rely on and which ones I cannot, which ones will take responsibility and which ones will shirk. I like them all and find most of them fun to be around. If you asked me to rank them in terms of worldly success I would have a pretty clear picture. If you asked me which of them is closest to doing the will of God, the picture would get a little fuzzy, not because of who they are but because of a world/human view as opposed to a spiritual one. It’s hard to decide because on paper a few look pretty good and one or two are a bit sketchy.
               The other day I was asked to do a favor for someone not connected to the group. I was happy to do it but it was a bit beyond what I could handle alone. I asked the group for help and help came from the ones who seem most obvious to me as helpers but to the world might look a bit less accomplished to the rest of the world. I was right. They came through for me with flying colors and helped me achieve the goal. They did it without asking for recognition or applause, out of the kindness of their hearts. This is not to say the rest of the group is uncaring or inconsiderate. They just have different priorities. The ones that did help however, are the ones the rest of the crowd would hesitate to ask because they don’t appear to be big on follow through.
               Looking back at it today I realized that is what is meant by seeing the heart of a person. Are these detail people? No! Can they organize well? No. Are they prompt and efficient? No. Yet, they are always the first ones there when there is a true need. They may be late for the party, so to speak, but they are never late for the project. These are people who have disappointed and frustrated me on occasion but never when it’s been truly important.
               It warmed my heart to see this and made me realize that these people have hearts that are usually in the right place. It’s the execution of their own plans that derail them at times. God looks at our hearts. He sees our intentions and knows what is behind them. There was no desire to gain favor in the actions of my friends. Their behavior was motivated by a sincere desire to help and bless.
   On paper I don’t look like a great success but it is my intense desire to please, bless and glorify God and through this example I understand a little better that He knows that. He knows it even when I cannot follow through or simply don’t for some reason. He knows that I’m human and fallible but also devoted. God does not measure success as the world does. He measures it by our love for Him and our neighbor. The reminder of that blessed my heart and I hope it blesses yours as well.