Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Question


Question

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith..
1 Peter 5:8-9a

The other morning my granddaughters were watching a cartoon while I made them breakfast. As I walked into the den to get them I heard a line from the show that stayed with me. A character of a young boy is speaking to what I gathered was some kind of evil genius. “Why would we want to do something that would lead to our own destruction?” The boy asked in response to a request I hadn't heard. The request was not important. The answer was what stuck with me.

Why would anyone want to do anything that would lead to his or her own destruction? It's an excellent question and the more I thought about it the more I wonder why we don't ask that question of the evil in our own lives, that being that attempts to steal our joy, ruin our families, demolish friendships, churches, anything that is good? I suppose the answer is because unlike the cartoon genius the evil one in our lives doesn't make his requests as obvious. Instead he makes them much more attractive.

For years I have wondered what makes people overindulge in alcohol knowing that it will make them ill. Isn't one morning after enough to learn your limit? Apparently not. While I cannot understand that, I have a few self-destructive traits of my own that though I know will end badly, I try again hoping for a different result. Why don't I stop and say, “why would I want to do something that will lead to my own self-destruction?” I don't ask and I dare to say you don't ask, the alcoholic, addict of whatever kind, none of us ask because we don't want to know the answer. The activity, food, beverage, substance, person is too tempting and so we say yes, without a thought to what will come next.

I believe this is what Peter is referring to when he talks about the roaring lion, what John is referring to when he speaks of the thief (John 10:10). We are to beware, be on guard, ask questions, look out for our own best interests. By that I mean, look at what God has in mind for us. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. The enemy wants us to just grin, nod and go along, just like the evil genius in the cartoon. Our Father wants us to seek first His wisdom and His way. He's in the construction business, always available to build up not destroy.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Friday or Sunday


 

But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Acts 2:24


It is the day after Easter. We've just been through the sadness of Good Friday and the victory of Easter Sunday. This year I attended two Good Friday services, one at my daughter's church, one at my own. At my daughter's church the pastor said, more than once, “Yes, today is Friday but Sunday is coming.” Later that evening at my own church our pastor led a Tenebrae service. During that service it gets progressively darker, a reminder that the world, was without the Light of Jesus for that time between Friday and Sunday. We left that service in reverent and frankly sad, silence. We're just visualizing but what would it have been like to actually be there? We wonder about that as we approach our cars, our lives, noise. As I thought about the readings we'd just heard, the increasing darkness, I thought of the statement from earlier that day, “Sunday is coming.” In the midst of my serious reflection I just had to smile. Once again, the world gets it wrong.
Joel Osteen wrote a book entitled, “Every Day A Friday” all about how our attitudes are lighter and we're more positive on Fridays. Like him or not, the man makes his point. I work in an elementary school and if I had a dime for every time I've heard, “Is it Friday yet?” I would no longer be working in an elementary school. Oh no, I would be basking on my private island. We all want Friday to come. Why wouldn't we? It's the start of the weekend!

Now go back to Jesus, to Holy Week. For Jesus, for the people of His time, when Friday came, He was taken away from them. He was tortured and killed on a Friday. We call it “good” because it means salvation for us but when we read through the events of that day, it's horrific. We shudder but we know that Sunday is coming.

Sunday is my mixed bag day. Sunday means church. It means worship with fellow believers. It means time to spend with my husband and sometimes our children. It also means that the next day is Monday. The day I most often hear, “Is it Friday yet?”

For those of us who believe there is no mixed message about Sunday where our faith is concerned. Sunday is victory day. Sunday is our “I told you so” day. Sunday shuts Friday up in a huge and undeniable way. SUNDAY!

So why didn't Joel Osteen write a book called “Every Day A Sunday”? Shouldn't that be our perspective? It should and once a year it is but God help us we're all human and we love our weekends. We know Sunday is the big news day. We are grateful that the one awful Friday came and that through it we have freedom, not just for a weekend but for eternity.

Yes, Sunday came but it couldn't have come without Friday so maybe it's okay for us to be Friday fans as long as we keep our eyes on Sunday and truly understand that every day, every single day from that “Good” Friday until we are called home, is a gift. If we do remember that and thank Jesus for it our attitudes would be more positive and our hearts would be lighter regardless of the name of the day.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Suffering, Neat and Sort of Clean


For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted. He is able to aid those who are tempted. Hebrews 2:17-18

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. Mark 8:31

There it is again, that nasty word, suffering. Oh how we love gentle Jesus meek and mild. We also love righteously indignant Jesus turning tables over and calling things as he sees them. (Mark 11:12-19, Matthew 23) It is easy for us to look at and talk about miraculous, loving, strong Jesus but what reaction do you have to the garden and the Cross?

Certainly I can’t speak for anyone else, although when I have confessed my feelings relating to the suffering Jesus, I have encountered similar reactions in others. Still, I do not presume to know how everyone reacts to the events in the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry or the events that led to His death. I do know how I feel.

Reading the accounts in the Gospel is hard enough but pictures are the worst. Recently in the church we attend we’ve been studying the life of Jesus. Each week there is a montage of the life of Jesus from birth to resurrection. That of course takes us through the beatings and the crucifixion. I have literally turned my head or closed my eyes to avoid one picture in particular. In it Jesus has fallen to the ground (and the liturgical child in me hears, “Jesus falls for the third time” ) and He looks awful. Awful is actually a mild word. He looks exactly as He was, tortured. His mouth is distorted. His hands are outstretched, searching for some support, some comfort. Just writing that makes my stomach roll over.

For our own sensibilities sake we’ve cleaned up the suffering. For years we’ve looked at a still strong man but with blood on his face from the crown of thorns, some cuts and wounds but nothing terribly visceral. He suffered, yes, but He was God after all so it probably wasn’t that hard on Him. I think that is the message we are comfortable hearing.

Wrong! Jesus was God as well as man. We know that. His suffering however, happened to His fully human body. A week or so ago I watched as someone very dear to me suffered through some unavoidable pain. It was a necessary means to an end. I knew that the outcome would be worth it but that change my desire to take the pain away. Jesus' suffering was a necessary means to an end, the end being that we could have eternal life. He already had it all. He gave it up and suffered so that we could also have it all. In these days of Holy Week, think about that. That horrendous suffering happened to buy you life and protection, grace and mercy.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Marriage

 

This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;”
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife
and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:23a, 24


In the Quest study Bible there is a margin note that says “Interpersonal chaos would result from unrestricted, random and casual pairings. The cohesiveness that the family unit offers society would dissolve. To provide a solid basis for the family, God set up this lifetime commitment and relationship between a man and a woman. God intended that the fullest and most satisfying expression of two becoming one flesh would be found in the marital covenant.”

I am often accused of being narrow minded when it comes to marriage. I hear a lot of “not everyone has to be married.” True, I would not argue with that. Marriage is not for everyone. However, that does not mean that it is okay to enter into a pseudo marriage. That logic covers someone who chooses to remain single. It is not the argument to use to defend a situation where a man and a woman live as if they were married but just don't “bother” with the formality of getting married.

The other argument of course, is for same sex couples. Due to the fact that I am a strong supporter of marriage, I hear that I am “not fair” to homosexuals. First of all, to same sex couples and to heterosexual couples who just choose to live together may I say, not for the first time..... I agree with the rule. I honor the rule. I, however, did not make the rule.

Second, to the same sex proponents I would add, I was vehement about this long before that debate started. Years ago, when one of my own dear ones chose to move in with his girlfriend I became a bit unglued. It's just not right.

Does this make me narrow minded? Yes. But as I point out to that challenge, it's a narrow path. The Bible is the Truth. Again, I didn't write one word, one letter, in it but I love it, agree with it and try to honor it.

Reread the words from the Quest margin. “The cohesiveness of the family unit would dissolve.” Can you really disagree with that in 2016 America? If you can you haven't been in a school lately. There is a whole new vocabulary. Step-parents, baby mama, baby daddy, my dad's girlfriend, my mom's wife etc. etc. And who suffers the fallout? The children. Then again, not only the children but they are the innocents in the picture.

True commitment is a thing of the past in far too many ways. In that sense, I would say, God bless the same sex couples who at least want to say in some tangible way, “I'm choosing you.” It's preferable to “You're okay for now, but let's not get too crazy.” Or too comfortable or too secure. If the adults in a relationship aren't secure, aren't protected by a covenant made before God and man, then where will the children involved find their security?

Let me make sure to say this is not an indictment of any individual or group of people. Grace is not mine to dispense or withhold. As God floods my life with grace, I am called to be gracious to others. This is not about any person or people group. This is about agenda, the agenda that says traditional marriage is an antiquated concept. It is not! It is an ageless institution mandated by God, not by a government or a group of fanatics.

Family first is a slogan we see all the time and while circumstances like death or the unavoidable divorce can alter how that looks, the makeup of the basis of a family, one man, one woman, married to each other is not a choice. Chaos is resulting. It is our responsibility to pray that it stops.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Keeper


 

Do not judge others or you too will be judged. Matthew 7:1


There is a song I sing in my head when I'm tempted to put on my Judge Judy robe and bang my gavel at the actions of another person. The song is by the late Rich Mullins and is called “Brother's Keeper.” On being our brother's keeper, the chorus says, “I won't despise him for his weakness. I won't regard him for his strength.” Sounds great right? It is. We should love people, just love them. Based on? That's where the rub comes in.

Think of your very best friend. Why do you love that person? Now, your worst enemy. Why do you despise that person? Hm.... I bet you just thought of some strengths and weaknesses didn't you? Don't feel that I'm judging you, I do the same thing.

Ask me to describe my friend Mary and I'll tell you she is amazingly loyal. She is fun and beyond that she's funny, as in she has a great sense of humor. She's beautiful, physically, all that noble Greek influence. She is beautiful on the inside as well. She appreciates life. She rejoices with others and mourns with them, just as Scripture tells us to do. (Romans 12:15) Beyond all that, she's been my friend for, gulp, 48 years, so I love her in part, due to our shared experiences. I do not despise her weakness, I try to shore her up when she needs me, but I do regard her strengths.

Now, my worst enemy (humanly speaking not, you know, THE enemy) who shall remain nameless. She's hurtful, deliberately. She's a liar. She's shallow and cruel. She's weak in so many ways. She's tiresome. Ugh! I hate making this list... Mostly I try not to think about her. Suffice to say, I do not see very much strength and I do, God forgive me, despise her for her weakness.

I'm fairly sure that there are people in my life who would use some of the words I used for Mary, for me. I know that there are people who would use the words I used for the other one to describe me. I am despised and regarded by the people around me but not by God. He created me. He loves me with no thought to the things I agonize about or the ones in which I take a little pride. That is so hard for me to understand. It is unconditional love, no judgment, no measurements.

In His generosity Abba has given me Mary, who sees me in a similar way to the way I see her. Beyond that, He has given me my husband who will tell me I'm beautiful when I'm in cleaning clothes with my hair sticking out in twenty different directions and not say a word after I've spent a little time attempting to look pretty. Sometimes he notices the cleanup efforts and says, “You look nice” more out of habit than an actual appreciation for the outfit or makeup. To Otto, I am his bride and what I wear or how I wear it does not matter.

In that, I catch a glimpse of what it means to be loved by God who simply loves without agenda.

The judge robe is heavy and uncomfortable but sadly, familiar. I would like to leave it off permanently and follow another line of that song, not taking away anyone's freedom but rather, helping them learn to stand.








Monday, March 14, 2016

Conformity...or Not


 

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2


The other day found myself fervently praying, not for the first time, to be different. It is one of my heart's deepest desire to make a difference for Jesus. It's not about fame or recognition. It's about not looking like everyone else, even those who claim to be Christian but live in ways that prove otherwise. I want to be different, to stand out, to be a bit odd but in a good way. There I was, praying it again and wondering just how I'd even know if that were happening, considering I live much of my life feeling like a square peg in a round hole.

That's when I realized just how amusing my prayer must be to my Father in heaven.

For years, years, I spent too much time, effort and prayer trying to fit in, worrying about being different. Think about it. As small children we just are who we are. No two year old gives much thought to what the other two year olds are wearing, watching, listening to or reading. They are simply who they are. Then elementary school hits and things start to change. By junior high the pressure to fit in is enormous. Oh kids talk about not conforming, of being individuals, all while wearing the “right” jeans, shoes and jackets, while having the same hairstyle and listening to the same music. If you told a teenager that she was just like all of her friends, she'd be insulted.

That need to fit in follows us most of our lives and far too often we make compromises to achieve it. So how odd that I am now praying not to fit in but in a very specific way. I accepted long ago that I don't fit in very well. I wasn't a “cool” kid and I'm not a “cool” adult. That isn't what I mean by being different.

What I want now is to stand out for my Savior, to look, act and truly be different. I want to be a fool for Christ, to take risks in His name, to go where he sends me even as my friends are calling me crazy.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Smile


 

Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Philippians 4:4-5


There are many writings and teachings about the power of positive thinking. Some people will tell you that those teachings are less than faithful, that it's a mind game. I don't believe that. Our attitudes, our thoughts, are very important. A positive attitude, a smile, a cheerful approach, those things do tend to make even the hard times a bit easier to bear.

Recently I saw a television show that included a young woman with an incredibly sunny attitude. As they did a flashback segment we saw her dealing with adversity, turning around the most humiliating moments as if they were nothing. In other words as life handed her lemons, no, make that, as life threw lemons at her head, most often leaving a big mark and sometimes causing her to fall on her behind, she continually jumped up, dusted herself off and made the best of things. In the flashback scenes we saw her time after time moving on to the next thing with the great confidence that this time would be different. Cockeyed optimism? Perhaps.

The flashback scene occurred because the young woman was worried, the first time her family had ever seen her about to give up, that no one would remember her, that she had in fact not left a mark anywhere. Then she read the messages people had written in her yearbook. Every single one noted her smile, her sunny attitude. She was remembered as the girl who made the best of the worst, who smiled in the face of sure humiliation and great adversity. She was told time and again, that her smile and her cheerfulness had eased the angst of another. Wow!

It may be just a silly television program but that was an amazing point, a huge lesson for all of us. I am certainly not opposed to being given a task for God that would leave a huge legacy. I pray to serve Him and to do great things for Him. Still, after seeing that show my perspective has changed. I want to be the person who smiled through the pain, the one who didn't complain about small setbacks, who trusted that the next attempt was the one that would succeed.

The girl on the show didn't seem to have a resource for her positivity. I do and so do you! We are children of God, drowning in lavish love. (1 John 3:1) We can look forward to home, to heaven. If the very next thing doesn't work out, if it causes embarrassment, if we look foolish trying, so be it. Every attempt we make here may fail but GREAT NEWS.... We're going home! When we get there, if we've done everything in faith, with confidence in Abba's love for us, He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”