Saturday, March 26, 2016

Humility, Love, and Sacrifice

While perusing the latest issue of Discover magazine, I came across the single truest statement about science I've read in a long time. To start his article "A Cosmos, Darkly," Corey S. Powell wrote:

"Often in science it takes a long time to understand exactly how confused you are."

The more I thought about this sentence, the more sense it made...and not just for science.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem to hosannas and palms, the Jews had high expectations for the Messiah. He would be a military and political leader who would crush Rome and free His people. Expectation, however, is the mother of disappointment, and their disappointment made them yell "Crucify him!" just days later. The most horrible, humiliating death was meted out to the Messiah.

It's confusing when the truth isn't what we expect. What I see in scripture is a lot of people trying their best to understand God and repeatedly learning, sometimes over the course of centuries, that what they thought they knew, what they expected to be true, just wasn't so.

The Hebrews were thorough-going polytheists, but the Jews of Jesus' time ran into trouble with Rome because they had become thorough-going monotheists. Today, we see the polytheistic Hebrews as confused (they didn't think they were confused, though) and the montheistic Jews as seriously onto something.  The Israelites thought when Jerusalem fell to Babylon that their God had abandoned them, but He restored Jerusalem to them less than a century later. He is faithful, even when we are not.

Once Jesus died on the cross, everything changed, just as it changed when Galileo asserted that the earth rotated around the sun. Our understanding underwent a cosmic shift, but it strikes me as arrogant to assume that now, at this moment in history, we have everything figured out, any more than science has the nature of the universe figured out.

For now, it seems to me that God is leading us...somewhere. To His kingdom. Whatever that looks like. Our biggest step forward so far came on that cross, where expectations went unmet, where God surprised us spectacularly. On the night before He died, Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment for moving forward, one steeped deeply in the old commandments but made deeply personal for each and every one of us who believe in Him: "As I have loved you, so you should love one another."

Jesus loved us to the cross. This Easter, let us commit to humbly focusing on His new commandment and to avoiding the confusion of our times that seeks to distract us from that clear message with arrogant, politicized theology and divisive rhetoric.

The cross teaches us love, humility, and sacrifice. Where those lessons will lead us remains to be seen, but I, for one, trust my King. He said to love, and as often as I fail, I try, each and every day, to be an Easter person.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lenten Gratitude

Lots of people give up something for Lent, but in recent years, I've tried to add something. This year, I'm going to send a handmade card every day because telling people you love them with happy mail is a good thing. Also, I'm going to keep a Lenten Gratitude Journal.

A great way to show our gratitude for Christ's living sacrifice on the cross is to acknowledge all that He bought for us. Of course we have our sins washed away, our salvation bought and paid for. For me, right now, in this season, gratitude for salvation overwhelms me because I don't deserve it.

Which is the whole point, actually. Jesus loved us that much!

But in this 40 days of moving toward the cross and resurrection, I want to focus on celebrating those little, daily blessings and beauties and bounty that we too often take for granted in a distracting world, and also those challenges and difficulties that, through Christ, lead us to growth, to love, to victory.

Lent calls us all differently. This year, it's calling me to send cards and wallow in boundless gratitude. How is it calling you?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Be an Encourager


My husband, George, and I were discussing how worthless movie critics are sometimes when we need help deciding what movies to watch. Several times, movies the critics panned ended up being enormously entertaining to us, while critically acclaimed films left us groping for some vague semblance of pleasure. At times, it feels like the critics go out of their way to promote depressing, serious movies and tear down light-hearted, warm-and-fuzzy movies.

Of course, sometimes they are right, and not listening to them gets you fifteen minutes into Aloha and a wistful fantasy that the cable company will refund your $5.99.

When it comes to our relationships, however, criticism rarely helps. In fact, it often wounds, sometimes viciously.

I've noticed, too, that criticism is a contagious disease and can spread like mange over a whole community. Once it sets in, the best treatment is a healthy, long-term course of positive encouragement.

The other day, I had lunch with an encourager. I felt so lifted up, so capable and psyched and positive. That wasn't how I felt when we first got together. She brought about that change.

With encouragement.

She inspires me, and I am grateful!

What do you do to encourage others? Are you too often the critic? How might you shift your words to encourage rather than criticize?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

God Never Left

A few days ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw a picture captioned, "With God back in this country, we will succeed. Share if you agree."

I'm confused.

When did God leave leave this country?

This sort of rhetoric--not to mention the theology behind it--bothers me. The implication is that a vague and unnamed enemy ran God out of America, and, given that it's an election year, if we just vote properly, God will come back.

Is the Almighty truly such a powerless victim of a fickle electorate? Or is He the fickle one, turning His back on us when the best fundraiser of the bunch wins office?

I don't believe either of these things.

For the record, I'm a political moderate. I lean left on some issues and right on others, but my butt is usually firmly planted on the fence. Consequently, the primaries horrify me. The rhetoric on both sides inflames, divides, tears down, humiliates, rages, incites fear. Statements like that Facebook post show just how far we have been lead astray by angry rhetoric.

God isn't about politics. He's not an elephant or a donkey. He doesn't prefer red to blue or blue to red. He's not on anyone's side. He is the Great I Am. He is His own side.

We should focus on joining His side, not claiming Him for our side. His side isn't limited to the narrow confines of political ideology. His is the side of love, compassion, feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, housing the homeless, healing the sick, seeking peace with our neighbors, showing mercy to those who trespass against us, forgiving others as we are forgiven, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

And guess what? All of these good and wonderful things are happening in America each and every day. We are already succeeding with God. So many good, Godly acts happen all around us all the time, from small, unrecognized personal acts of kindness to government systems of support and care that may not be perfect but still do a lot of good.

How can anyone truthfully say God needs to "come back"? He's all over the place!

Sure, there are bad people doing bad things, and some of our systems are spectacularly broken, but that simply means we need to continue doing the good work God's already started of building a just, merciful, peaceful nation. We need to keep bearing spiritual fruit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And by we I mean each and every one of us as individuals and as a whole community, state, and nation.

God is in this country. He never left. God is in America because we are all His children and He loves each and every one of us, no matter how we vote or how ridiculous we are. And aren't we ridiculous to shout and yell and click "share" on Facebook to agree that we need to bring God back?

He never left.

Thanks be to God!!!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Teach Tolerance and Denounce Religious Bigotry

In all the media nastiness and hate, let's think about basic human rights and what God calls us to do in times filled with conflict and fear. Consider these two points:
  1. The Bible says, over and over and over again, "Fear not." 
  2. God is love, not hate. Jesus said to love even your enemies. Hate has no place in a Christian heart. No place whatsoever.
When we react out of fear, we are not honoring God. When we hate, we are not honoring God.

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." 1 John 4:18-20

In the words of Ronald Reagan, "We must never remain silent in the face of bigotry. We must condemn those who seek to divide us. In all quarters and at all times, we must teach tolerance and denounce racism, anti-Semitism and all ethnic or religious bigotry wherever they exist as unacceptable evils. We have no place for haters in America – none, whatsoever."

No place for haters in America.

I am a Christian. Do not judge me by the actions of Westboro Baptist, the Ku Klux Klan, the Lord's Resistance Army, and other hate-filled organizations that call themselves Christian.

My neighbors are Muslim. Do not judge them by the actions of terrorists who call themselves Muslim.

I will not be silent in the face of bigotry. I will teach tolerance and renounce racism and bigotry in all forms. I will stand against the forces of hate and evil. I will love God with all my being, and love my neighbor as myself. Because that is the right thing to do...the thing that God wants us all to do.

Let's honor the light of peace, hope, joy, and love celebrated this Advent season and reflect that light to all God's children. Only then will we truly have peace on earth, goodwill toward all.

Heavenly Father, we ask that you strengthen the fearful, give hope to the hopeless, and fill us with your perfect love that we may be your agents in the world, driving out fear and hate as we spread your love to the ends of the earth. Amen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bearing Burdens

Recently, I struck up a conversation with my Starbucks barista. Let's call him Bob. Bob and I are on a first-name basis, and he's quite the perfect person to be a barista...friendly, warm, kind, and a bit chatty. Just seeing him behind the counter makes me smile.

Parent-teacher conferences and appointments with the developmental pediatrician were on my mind, so I shared with Bob that our son has autism. Bob was so kind and shared his Christian perspective of love in the face of challenges. He also shared that his wife of many years suffers a number of challenges herself. He told me he'd been laid off a few years ago, just a bit too soon for him to retire, and that's why he worked at Starbucks.

As two caregivers brought together by a grande pumpkin spice latte, we understood each other and extended much-needed grace to each other in gentle words and kindness in Christ's name. I walked away from that moment lifted up and lighter. I hope Bob did, too.

Moments like this happen to me. A lot.

The world is full of us broken people who pull ourselves together in love for others, who know in our bones that we are loved by Love Itself, and who simply must spread that love around like double-fudge icing on a world that needs it.

Some days, though, life's exhausting. And that's why, when we're open and honest and real, these moments of kindness between and connection to others come to us as gifts straight from God.

We are not alone.

We are never alone.

God sends us others--in both small ways and large--to help us bear our burdens. Keep your head up and your heart open, and pay attention. Look for these gifts when they come to you; look for opportunities to give these gifts when you can.

And be grateful for each and every one.

Feel free to share a "gift moment" you've experienced. Who knows? You might give someone ideas!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

God Is Found

During Sunday worship, our congregation sang "How Can We Name a Love," and so much of this beautiful hymn by Brian Wren spoke to me. The last two lines of the first verse read:

Within our daily world, in every human face,
Love's echoes sound and God is found, hid in the commonplace.

Hid in the commonplace. That's were we find God. So often, we want the mountaintop experience, the voice from the burning bush, the whirlwind guiding us through the wilderness. But God shows up in our lives every day in the smile from a stranger, the banter of the barista, the gesture from another driver letting you go first at the intersection, the assistant returning your cart at the grocery store parking lot.

In looking for the whirlwind, we miss Love's echoes sounding quietly and consistently in our daily routine.

How might we feel if we mindfully awoke to life overfilled with Love unconfined to the mountaintop, but spilling out of commonplace moments of each and every day?

We might feel like sharing that love ourselves, reaching out in the commonplace, being the hands and feet and smile of Christ to others.

See the good. Be the good.

And life is good.

Thanks be to God.