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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Guarding the Temple Doors

I've stated before that my faith life keeps me far, far away from the politics of the church. Mostly, I'm blissfully ignorant of the issues that agitate and irritate and flair up in Annual or General Conference in my denomination, the United Methodist Church (UMC). My information generally comes from NPR, which hardly ever reports such things unless they involve LGBT issues. On that subject, I feel at least somewhat informed.

What concerns me far more than the big theological or doctrinal issues, however, is what happens to the individual sheep in the fold as a result of faulty theology or doctrine. When is the church as an institution becoming an agent of hate rather than of love? I recently learned, for instance, that a large UMC congregation in our community asks couples who are divorcing to leave. The pastor proudly declares that he will not tolerate divorce in his congregation.

What? The motto of the UMC is Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors. But divorced people aren't allowed in this particular church? Seriously?

Apparently, some churches that have zero-tolerance policies on all sorts of things, with deacons or pastors formally asking members to leave for "sinning." (I thought we all are sinners.) There are pastors who preach that "good" Christians should cut out family members who are gay, who are pregnant out of wedlock, who get tattoos, who drink alcohol, who cuss, who read Harry Potter. They reference Bible verses to support their arguments for ostracism and puff up with pride that these "good" Christians are following the Word.

Never mind that the Word also demands that we forgive others seventy-times-seven times.

Never mind that the Word also tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Never mind that the Word also tells us to love one another as Jesus loved us.

Never mind that the Word also tells us that we are blessed to be a blessing to the world.

How can we be a blessing when we're so busy guarding the temple doors to keep the riff-raff out? How can we love when we're so busy judging? Do we really want others to ostracize us for our sin? Are we so perfect in righteousness that we never need forgiveness?

I must be a bad Christian. I sin every day. I fall short. Every. Single. Day.

A pastor once described the horrific conditions of children dying in a famine, and then he deliberately dropped the f-bomb. His point, well taken by some and condemned by others, was that some people were more outraged at his use of that word in the pulpit than the fact that children were dying of starvation.

Which makes you angrier? Have purity laws become more important for you and your church than caring for the least of us? Are you the priest walking past the beaten Jew dying on the side of the road because you're worried you'll get contaminated, or are you the Good Samaritan? Are you guarding the Holy Altar when Jesus' death tore the curtain in two and opened it for everyone?

As we judge, so shall we be judged.

That's the scariest verse in the Bible.

What happens as a result of all this judging and condemning and ostracizing? Individual children of God are cut off from the community of Christ. Sheep are not lost...they are actively thrown out of the flock to fend for themselves against the wolves. They are sacrificed on the altar of self-righteousness for the glorification of a religious institution and its priests, not for the glory of God.

And the King shall answer and say unto them, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Maybe I'm being melodramatic here, but I don't think so. When the law becomes more important than the love, when sheep are actively kept from the Shepherd, we all need to sit up and take notice. In just such times did God become Man, our Shepherd Jesus, to show His sheep how to live as a blessing and to open the Kingdom to everyone.

We're all sinners, but God loves each and every one of us and He wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us. He wants us to be conduits of His Love in the world, not executors of His judgment. We aren't qualified to judge. We are qualified to love.

If you're feeling broken and ostracized, if you've been asked to leave a church or bullied out of one, if you've felt God's people reject you, please keep looking for a Christian community that is full of us bad Christians. Such churches are out there...I attend one. We sinners know exactly how it feels to fall short in the eyes of God, and we know exactly how it feels to have God's mercy and forgiveness and love flow over us each and every day. We need Him, and we welcome you to be a part of His community.

Let's stop being guards at the temple doors and turn into greeters. Let's bring the sheep to the Shepherd so they may grow and thrive in the Life given by Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What God Requires of Us


Original Source

The full verse reads...

He has shown you, o mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly, and to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

Yesterday, George told me about a video he saw of a woman stealing a foul ball from a little girl at a baseball game. The woman had fumbled it, and it flew right into the little girl's hands, so the woman snatched it away from the girl and high-fived the men behind her to celebrate.

Act justly.

What does it mean to act justly, or as the translation in the photo says, to do justly? What is just?

The Old Testament gives us a lot of law. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, and then expanded His law in more detail, including what animals His people could eat and how to treat slaves. When Jesus came, he was born into a world where the Law had taken on incredible levels of specificity and severity, a world in which the Law had shifted from being a blessing from God to man and become a burden and barrier between man and God. The purity laws alone were crushing.

What is just? That which arises from fairness, honesty, compassion, kindness, and generosity. I used to believe that capital punishment was just...a life for a life. But then I learned that most of the people on death row are African Americans from poor backgrounds. A white man from a poor background has a far lower chance of being executed than an African American who commits the same crime, the same level of horror.

That is not just.

Now, I oppose the death penalty, not because I think those who kill do not deserve to die, but because I no longer naively believe that our justice system is, itself, entirely just.

When I was in Madison, I noticed more homeless people than in any previous visit. It feels wrong to walk by them and not respond to their requests for money. I am blessed. I have a home and family and comforts in excess. Many people feel scorn and contempt for the homeless, and believe that they get what they deserve, that they could get back on their feet if they really wanted to and clearly they don't really want to so why help them anyway. If it weren't for their bad decisions, they could live normally.

Love mercy.

So many of the homeless are mentally ill. Of course they make bad decisions. You try making good decisions when there are voices in your head telling you strange things or you think the government is out to kidnap you for bizarre experiments or you are crippled by addiction. Helping people with mental illness is crushingly difficult, crushingly expensive, and crushingly sad. We know so little that truly helps, but we also know handing them money is probably not a good response either. In our helplessness to lift up, it's easier and more comfortable to look away...or down.

Others are homeless because they lived on the margins, in poverty because of birth or lack of education or lack of opportunity, just one disaster away from losing everything...and then the disaster hits. Our church is part of an Interfaith Hospitality Network. We house homeless families for a week at a time while public and private services work to get them back on their feet. The program works for many families. But they still live on the margins, one disaster away from living in churches again.

Love mercy.

Beth Moore tells a story of being in an airport and seeing an old man in a wheelchair. He had incredibly long, messy hair. Moore heard God tell her to brush the man's hair. How in the world does a woman approach a total stranger in an airport and offer to brush his hair?

By walking humbly with her God.

What does it mean to be humble? It doesn't mean thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. It means putting God always before you, not just during an hour of worship on Sunday. It means putting others' needs ahead of your own. It means paying attention to those needs and meeting them when you should...even if you don't want to or it isn't convenient. It means obeying God even when you don't understand. It means keeping your mouth shut when you'd rather make others listen to you.

Do justly.

Love mercy.

Walk humbly with your God.

Micah tells us to focus on these three things, for they are certainly difficult enough to be the work of a lifetime.



Reflection: Think of times you've succeeded in each of these three things, and of times you've failed. How might you learn to overcome the failures and step out in faith?  

 

Friday, September 5, 2014

My Perspective, for What It's Worth

If you don't read my other blogs, you might not know that George and I are currently in Madison, Wisconsin, so he can do the Ironman race on Sunday. Read about it on Questioning my Intelligence if you dare.

On a religious note, I'm reading a lot of righteous indignation regarding the Victoria Osteen video. I try very hard to ignore theological controversies because I'm too busy trying to follow the red parts of the Bible, which is really difficult because people will annoy me and I will find myself wanting to dope slap them, and Jesus definitely tells us not to dope slap people, no matter how annoying they are.

Anyway, you have no idea the lengths to which I go to avoid the ugly, divisive underbelly of contentious Christianity, even within my own denomination, so I will confess right here and now that I had never heard of "prosperity theology" before learning of this particular controversy. I have no idea if the accusations of heresy being hurled at the Osteens are valid or not, and I am glad that we've come a long way from the days of the Inquisition so they need not fear for their lives at the hands of the righteously indignant.

I believe that, mostly, we're all just trying to find our way through this life as best we can, and we seriously need to love one another because that's what Jesus said for us to do. Love one another and don't dope slap people.

It's in the Sermon on the Mount, I'm sure.

I love Jesus, and because of that, I don't plan on wasting His time by praying for winning numbers for the lottery. Generally, I ask Him what He wants me to do and not what He can do for me. And when I go to church, it's most definitely to worship God because I'm actually perfectly happy sitting at home on Sunday morning in my jammies sipping coffee and pinning stuff on Pinterest.

So I'm going to share my perspective on this issue with a quotation from C.S. Lewis (so you know I'm not alone in my opinion).



We're Christians. Let's choose to focus on Christ, on the red parts of the Bible, on loving-kindness and compassion.

Peace, love, and harmony coming at you from Madison.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Outward Appearance

Source


We spend so much time and attention on our outward appearance. We buy make-up, deodorant, perfumes or colognes, stylish clothes, shoes with ridiculous pointed toes or high heels...all to make an impression on people we meet. We dress up to appear wealthier and more successful than we are, or to identify with a particular group of people, whether it's a gang or a fraternity or an employer.

And we judge others based on their outward appearance. We are quicker to trust those who look like us, and to fear or look down upon those who are different.

But we can't fake it for God. He sees the truth inside of us, no matter how we decorate the outside.

This is either a very scary thought or a very comforting one, depending on how you look at it. I choose to thank God daily that he doesn't judge me on my shoes or muffin top or mom jeans or sagging skin. Because I know He sees my heart and pours His love onto me and into my heart, I am humbled and comforted and want to share that love with the world.

I hope you are humbled and comforted by this verse, too.  If, however, this verse makes you worried or scared, I encourage you to pray, to find a friend to discuss your fears. No one is perfect. Everyone is a sinner, flawed and selfish and petty and small. Yet each and every one of us is a child of the Living God, a Father who wants us to know Him and follow Him in love.

With God, it's always about the love...His undying love for us and our love for Him and for each other.

Amen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Consider the Fruit

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23

A man I know once asked his pastor how we can distinguish between God's will and our own. How do we know, he wondered, when what we want to do is really God's plan for us or merely our own will at work?

The pastor, Dr. Mark Shimer, considered the question and replied, "Consider the fruit."

In other words, who will benefit? How will they benefit? Is the fruit of your labor sweet and healthy, or is it sour and poisonous? Will God be glorified or vilified? Does the action you're considering make the world a better place, or does it make the world a better place just for you at someone else's expense?

When you bring forth good fruit, you spread love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If what you want to do doesn't bring about these fruits, then it isn't of God.

When an impulse to do something, to say something, to encourage someone comes upon us, considering the fruit helps us stay true to the kingdom path. At times, considering the fruit is pretty straightforward. Other times, it's tough and conflicted and we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that God wants what we want. For examples, think of historical justifications for slavery, or think of recent justifications for threatening a mosque in Tennessee or for pulling sponsorship of starving children worldwide because World Vision decided to allow married gay people to work for them.

What is the fruit of that deed? Will it result in love? Or will it foster hate? Will it bring peace? Or will it bring war? Is it kindness? Or is it cruel? Does it inspire faithfulness? Or does it drive people away from Christ?

Consider the fruit. Good fruit draws non-believers to God. Good fruit fosters community and understanding. Good fruit brings God's kingdom closer to fruition.

How's your harvest?


Have you considered your fruit? Has there been a time when you realized your fruit wasn't good? How did you respond to that awareness? When have you produced excellent fruit? What were the results of that? Did the experience change you?

Monday, August 4, 2014

10 Random (and Occasionally Silly) Observations of a Mountaintop Experience


The fountain view outside my dirty hotel window

1. It's easy to see how Jesus could have stayed up all night praying. It's impossible to go to sleep when you're high on God.

2. That is, until the sleep deprivation catches up with us mere mortals, and we crash. Hard. Unfortunately, I didn't crash until 1:00 last night.

3. Prayer partners are miracles. Mine is Althea, and meeting this sister in Christ has made the mountaintop feel like home.

4. There's a LOT of paperwork on the mountaintop.

5. My Stephen Ministry team at home gave me greeting cards to open while I'm here. Linda's card included this delightful watercolor painting. I'm carrying it around for Show-And-Tell, and everyone loves it as much as I do. When you look at it, don't you feel like Jesus is giving you a hug?


6. After just one full day of training, I'm in awe of what our two Stephen Leaders have done and continue to do. In an ideal SM group, there would be at least six leaders to spread all the work around. We have had just two leaders for over five years. The complexity of the task is astounding. I appreciate in a whole new way the hard work they've done and the depth of faith with which they have done it.

7. I've used about a quarter of the tissues my SM friends gave me. The trainers keep springing touching videos on us, and I'm sharing tissues with my table mates. Sniff, sniff.

8. I am an enthusiastic appreciator of music, but I fought an impulse to apologize to the people on either side of me after we sang a praise song this morning. Poor people, having to stand near me, singing! Perhaps I should give them tissues to stuff in their ears. Or just lip-synch like Milli Vanilli. That might be kinder.

9. "Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2 This verse has two sides: sometimes you're the subject doing the bearing, and sometimes you're the object whose burdens are being borne. If you can help someone, do so. If you need help, let others be a blessing to you.

10. I'm crashing. Hard. Have a blessed night.

The view of the flag outside my dirty window



Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Road Beginning with Gratitude

Years ago, when our pastor's mother gave a presentation on Stephen Ministry, I felt called. As this woman described the process of becoming a Stephen Minister and then a Stephen Leader, I knew that God was calling me to follow in her footsteps.

I am so grateful for this woman, her presentation, and that call.

Several prayerful years passed, and I joined a Stephen Minister class with one other student, a woman named Barbara, and an outstanding teacher, our Stephen Leader Karen. Karen and I were already close friends united by many common threads and mutual respect for our differences, but Barbara and I were strangers at the beginning of training. Very quickly, we became wonderfully close, and now Barbara is one of my dearest friends and closest confidantes. She is an incredible treasure in my life!

I am so grateful for Karen and for Barbara.

Several more years passed. Our Stephen Leaders decided to hold a Small Group Peer Supervision Leadership Training Class so we would have more than two SMs qualified to run peer supervision. Linda and I took that class with the excellent Karen teaching us. It was another wonderful growth experience.

I am so grateful for Karen (again!) and for Linda for a rich afternoon of learning.

One day, my sister-in-law Angela and I were talking about Stephen Ministry, and I mentioned how I wanted, eventually, to be a Stephen Leader. She asked what was holding me back, and I told her that the boys were still too young to be left alone for an entire week while George worked. She immediately offered to watch the boys while I went to the training in Pittsburgh. I hated to impose, but she got downright pushy about it. "Give me the dates."

I am so grateful to Angela for giving me the freedom to go earlier than I ever expected.

After Angela's offer, I approached our other Stephen Leader, Zandra, and told her that I was interested in attending the Pittsburgh course in August. Zandra enthusiastically approached the church leadership, asking for the funding to pay for my attendance. The church said yes.

I am so grateful to Zandra for supporting me and to First United Methodist Church of Springboro for making the money available.

At the last SM meeting before my training class, the group gave me an enormous basket of goodies to take with me. Hand warmers (for the cold conference hall), pens, pencils, post-its, notebooks, a book on prayer, hand sanitizer, snacks, book marks, a key ring, a pin, and--best of all--a stack of cards from all the SMs for me to open during my week in Pittsburgh.


I am so grateful to my SM group for their encouragement and support.

Tomorrow, I leave for Pittsburgh in an adorable red VW Beetle...my rental as my own car is repaired. As silly as it sounds, I cannot express how totally cool and unexpected that little car is!

I am so grateful to Enterprise for running out of four-door sedans.

Finally, my immediate family has put up with my absence for SM training, for regular twice-monthly meetings that sometimes run late, and for emergency phone calls and meetings relating to Stephen Ministry. While this coming week's absence has been turned into a fun vacation by Angela and her husband Mike, my husband and children will be without me, and I will be without them.

I am so grateful for George, Nick, and Jack in their support of my time spent in God's service elsewhere.

The road leading to Pittsburgh as been long and blessed and wonderful and challenging, and there's just no better way to begin than to acknowledge with deepest gratitude all those who have made it possible for me to serve God whole-heartedly through this amazing ministry.

I rejoice! My heart overflows with gratitude! Thank you, God, for these many blessings!

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What Matters

I've been thinking a lot about distractions lately. It's hard to stay focused in a world determined to overwhelm you with minutiae and panic. How do we filter? How do we prioritize? How do we dig out from the avalanche of paper (junk mail, school papers, and virtual paper in the form of emails, spam, pop-ups)? How do we notice what is important amidst so much that is ridiculous, frivolous, banal, or downright harmful to our well-being? How do we hear the voice of God in the cacophony of modern life?

A few years ago, a family in our church dealt with just about the worst crisis imaginable: a baby with aggressive cancer. Little Lincoln fought for over a year. His family gratefully accepted help from our church family during most of that time, but occasionally, his mother would tell me, "We're circling the wagons."

That was code for "Back off. We need to focus on Lincoln now, on fighting to keep him alive. No distractions."

After a few weeks, Lincoln's mother would call, ready to accept our help again. I so admired her ability to ask for what she needed...whether it was privacy or help. She blessed our whole congregation by welcoming us into her family's need, and she protected her family by keeping us out when they needed to circle those wagons and let God do what only He could do for them.

Amazing grace is all that functions well in the midst of deeply troubled waters, and life-or-death crises have a way of focusing our attention rather dramatically on God.

For many of us, thankfully, the waters are not so troubled, yet somehow that makes it harder to figure out what really matters. We allow minor issues to blow into major squalls, but we fail to see that by tacking slightly to starboard or port, we have clear sailing. A minor adjustment of attitude is all it takes, a quiet prayer, a moment to listen and reflect and focus on what really matters.

Why do we find even small adjustments so difficult? How can we find guidance to make those adjustments that bless our lives with peace, purpose, and love...even in the midst of suffering?

Read scripture. Worship in community. Pray. Serve God in the world and allow others to serve you in His name.

Jesus taught us these things. If we do them, attentively and carefully, we can stay focused on what God wants us to do, how He wants us to serve. Of course we will slip and fail, but God's love and forgiveness are there to catch us each and every time. We just need to keep reaching for Him until it becomes our habit, until we consistently see what matters.

It takes a lifetime, but it's worth it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Living Stones

video

We'll see if this works! I've never loaded a video to my blog before.

Our church is doing an Easter sermon series called Living Stones, and they asked me to participate in a video on what I want my children to learn, so I told a story of Jack's early education and how we learned that he was, indeed, learning the love, despite all the work that became a part of his life far too young.

I still can't believe that I made it through without crying.

Did you have a moment as a parent that helped you feel more confident that you were on the right track teaching your children? Please share!

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Brief Encounter (in Print) with Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

When thumbing through the May 2014 issue of Christianity Today, I encountered a paragraph that drew me in like the very best fisherman pulling in a fish. Ten minutes later, I knew I needed to read Marilyn Chandler McEntyre's book What's in a Phrase? Pausing Where Scripture Gives You Pause.

Let me share that paragraph from the interview with McEntyre:
Stories are not mere propositions. They invite ongoing interpretation. So much of the gospel is story material that you can keep revisiting and opening up in new ways. Instead of providing the closure of a rulebook, it invites you into a process and into a way, and you need to keep coming back and looking again. To ask, "What is this saying now? How am I being spoken to?"
I love this. Love. This.

McEntyre's approach certainly resonates with that wonder-filled call to a deep, personal relationship with Scripture as part of our much larger, ongoing relationship with God. We all know people (and may be those people on occasion) who tote out a Bible verse as an absolute rule intended to end discussion, to shut down thought, to close an issue. McEntyre's interview in CT offers up a rich alternative discourse, one that is, in her words, "faithful to the way the Spirit works."

I found myself nodding as I read the entire article in CT, and I've ordered What's in a Phrase? I'll review it when I'm finished, but in the meantime, I invite those of you who have read her work to share your reflections on McEntyre's writing and her approach to Scripture. She's the author of a number of books and an English professor at Westmont College. Please share what you think of the paragraph above, specifically, and of her writing in general. I'd love to hear what you have to say!



Personal Reflection: Do you read Scripture like a rulebook or for a relationship?

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Reflections

Last Sunday, we celebrated Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, palm leaves waving and children shouting hosanna. Yesterday, we celebrated Maundy Thursday, which honors the Last Supper and Jesus' new commandment to love one another as He has loved us.

Today, we stand at the foot of the cross as Jesus dies, and we call it Good Friday.

For non-Christians and a lot of Christians, too, this is one of the hardest ideas to wrap our brains around. God limited Himself to human form and allowed Himself to die horribly on the cross to excuse our sins? Really?

Sounds a little masochistic of God, don't you think?

But let's look at it another way. Holy Week teaches us the story of God's sacrificial love for us. For millennia, people believed that gods wanted their followers to offer sacrifices...firstborn children, firstborn livestock, whatever. Blood was almost always involved, so our God worked with that and began leading us to His Kingdom ways. Our God gave Abraham a ram to sacrifice instead of his son and made utterly clear through the prophets that human sacrifice was displeasing to Him.

Then, our God offered Himself made flesh as sacrifice, showing us that nothing we can do, nothing we can kill, nothing we can give, is ever sufficient. Only He is sufficient...and He loves us, wants us to participate in His Kingdom, wants us to be with Him eternally, wants to forgive us our weaknesses, wants to reward us all with feasts and the best cloak...as the prodigal son was rewarded. As Jesus dies on the cross, God tears the temple curtain and opens up the holiest of holies for all who choose to come. He ends the need for altar sacrifice, and instead He invites us to learn from Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, at the foot of that cross.

Jesus came to teach us how to live and love and die in the world to bring God's Kingdom into being here and now. Not just after death, although we certainly hope to be with God then. Easter teaches us that God wants us to do as Jesus did: to spread His love in a broken world, to let our lamp shine right now to show His glory even in the darkest moments of life, in the darkest places of injustice and horror.

The forces of darkness do not like the light of love and mercy and hope. That sight of Jesus on the cross, dying in pain, reminds us that God came down to be one of us, that God understands our suffering and our pain in real and direct ways, and that He is always with us, always turning even the most awful torture to His final, Kingdom good.

It is our task to be the Marys and Johns and Peters and Thomases and Pauls who continue to spread that light of love and mercy in the world even when darkness threatens to overwhelm us.

Our hope is in the cross. Our hope is in Jesus. Because no matter how awful and terrible the darkness is right now, after death, He arose. He won. And He invites us to be part of His victory now and forever.

Thanks be to God!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Reflections on Proverbs: I Am Too Stupid

Today's verses come from Chapter 30 of Proverbs, which taken as a whole focuses on the need for humility.

Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
  I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
  nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. Prov. 30:2-3

I often wonder about the certainty with which believers assert their beliefs in terms of faith practice and judgment. Some people, for instance, fervently believe that homosexuality is a sin so despised by God that they will lash out in hate to inflict pain on innocent bystanders to make their point. Others believe that it's perfectly Godly to call in bomb threats to the mosque being built in their community. These people quote Scripture to justify their actions. They think God is on their side, that they are on God's side.

When is hate ever an act of wisdom? "Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do."

Over and over again, Proverbs teaches that wisdom comes from trusting God, from walking humbly in His ways, from being honest, faithful, and good, from sowing seeds of peace and harmony among family, friends, and neighbors. Think of the lesson of Ruth, who humbly trusted God by maintaining bonds of family, and came through hard times to a place of honor in the lineage of Jesus.

But we fail often, don't we? We think we know the mind of God and act out in certainty with anger or hate when we should be humble, leave justice and judgment to God, and share His love for us with the world boldly and faithfully. We are like the speaker in Chapter 30...we have not learned wisdom...or knowledge of the Holy One.

May God open our hearts with His eternal and unchanging love so that we are filled with that love to overflowing, and wisely share that love abundantly with the world.


How do you fail to be humble and wise? Do you give vent to hate or anger and seek to justify those feelings by invoking God? How can you move from stupidity to wisdom, and embrace being a beloved child of an infinitely loving Father?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

That Long Groove

As soon as I saw this on Pinterest, I nodded and thought, "Yeah. That's me." How about you?


Source

Thursday, March 13, 2014

No Shame


When I saw this on Pinterest, I immediately pinned it on my Living Faith board.

Source

A friend recently confided in me that she was starting to feel regret over a decision she made years ago. That decision, which certainly felt like the right thing at the time, now has her doubting herself. Should she have done it? Was she being weak or faithless? Did she sin? How did she hurt others with her choice?

These doubts can assail any of us. They are the what-ifs of our lives. And they are entirely pointless in our faith life.

When we know and accept that God loves us, completely and unconditionally and infinitely as only God can, we know that we are safe and secure forever. No one can shame us. No one can use our sins against us.

Of course we make mistakes. Of course we make bad decisions. Of course there are consequences for those decisions, and sometimes the consequences are dire. Consider the relationship of Jacob and Esau. Jacob lied to his father and cheated his brother. God still used him for good. Consider Judah's treatment of Tamar. He put her in an impossible position, forced her to sin and risk death by stoning. God turned it to good. Consider Saul's collusion with Rome against the early Christians. God turned him into a powerful witness. Consider the crucifixion of Jesus. God turned it to the greatest good ever known.

Over and over, God takes terrible sinners and uses them for His purpose. Over and over, God takes terrible situations of violence, terror, horrible cruelty, and transforms them to further his Kingdom.

Even when we try to live faithfully, we'll never be good enough, smart enough, helpful enough, generous enough, kind enough. Grace, God's grace, saves us. Completely. Utterly. Unfailingly. Every single time.

If you're feeling ashamed, if you're feeling regret, please pray. Please hand it all over to God, put it all at the foot of the cross. Because you are caught in His grace. Always.

Source

There is no shame that grace cannot cover...no sin that God cannot forgive. Fall before Him in repentance, and He will lift you up in Grace.

Thanks be to God!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Matthew 7:3-5 and Social Media




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, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

I have a friend who is forced by virtue of her job to participate in social media, and she doesn't like it. Too often, she sees the nastiness and ugliness and bullying rampant online. People she knows--well-educated, Christian grown-ups--post cruelty and meanness that shock her.

My own exposure to social media is overwhelmingly positive, largely because I'm highly selective and limit my involvement in healthy ways. I'm fortunate in my friends, too, but I will not hesitate to unfriend someone who gets nasty. In over seven years on Facebook, however, I've only unfriended one person.

During elections, I hide people who post political stuff and unhide them a few weeks after the election. It does shock me to see people post really vicious political rhetoric. How is this helpful? How does it further God's kingdom? What would Jesus say?

How would He say it?

The passage from Matthew quoted above gives us guidance.

Plenty has been said about internet nastiness stemming from distance. Because we can't see the objects of our attacks, we lose all sense of propriety and kindness. We judge harshly based on a tiny speck of information, and we run with that in ways that show our hypocrisy, that reveal the planks in our own eyes.

Not long ago, an anonymous high school student started using social media to make our schools a better place by tweeting compliments and positive news. He or she also wrote the school board and administration encouraging them to have a Random Acts of Kindness week...an idea that principals in all buildings ran with. It was wonderful!

One school board member, however, was bothered by the student's anonymity and wanted him/her to reveal his/her name, expressing his request in language that was not entirely tactful and could have been construed as vaguely threatening. It's very hard for me to understand why he is so disturbed by the situation and why he would seek to make an issue of it in the first place.

I'm not alone in being baffled by his attitude. The rest of the board, the administrators, and many others in the community have lauded this anonymous student's transformation of social media into a force for good. Frankly, I feel that his or her anonymity is brilliant. It focuses attention on the deeds rather than the person.

We need more humility in the world.

The backlash on social media against the disgruntled school board member, however, has been unfortunate, disturbing, and deeply ironic. Last fall, I joined a group on Facebook that was created to inform people of good things going on in our community and schools, but the nastiness that has cropped up on that page as a result of this situation and others has turned me off. Personal attacks on the board member are inappropriate and unhelpful.

It's one thing to disagree with a person; it's another thing entirely to indulge in ad hominem nastiness.

We all have planks in our eyes, and if we've make honest attempts to remove them, we learn just how hard it is and how much it hurts. If we follow Christ's teachings and trust God through our own struggles, we grow in compassion for others and their specks. If we actually succeed in removing our planks (praise Jesus!), we should want to remove another's speck as gently and kindly as possible.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If we're ignoring the plank in our own eye while poking painfully and angrily at the speck in another's eye, we push God's kingdom of love further away, we judge without compassion, we make the world an uglier place. Spreading cruelty and viciousness by attacking this board member distracts from the good deeds promoted by the anonymous student. It turns social media once again into the bully-run institution the student is fighting.

Clear your own eye first. Then exercise compassion and kindness toward others. Eventually, we'll all see better.

How have you been a hypocrite? When have you seen others flaws but ignored your own? How have you worked within yourself to overcome this very human tendency? What other Bible verses help you adjust your vision to kindness rather than judgment?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reflections on Proverbs: A Glad Heart

A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance,
  but by sorrow of heart the spirit is brokenProverbs 15:13

Today, as I packed and addressed a birthday package for my niece at the post office, an older gentleman walked by. I glanced up, made eye contact, and smiled. He beamed back at me and quoted, "A joyful heart makes a cheerful face!"

We chatted briefly while he waited his turn at the window, and I commented that God blesses us daily. He said, "He does! I'm 78 and here walking around!"

He completed his business at the window and returned to me, saying, "I give one of these a day, and today, I just have to give it to you. My name is Chuckles."

He handed me this.



When I shared the story with George tonight, he said, "I know that guy! He goes to the Y." He described Chuckles and speculated that he might be a retired minister. Whoever he is, he spreads joy throughout our small town, and what a wonderful blessing he gave me today.

I knew the verse Chuckles quoted, but I didn't remember the second half of it until I looked it up tonight. "A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken." Verses in Proverbs often engage in this rhetorical reversal...mentioning one thing and then its opposite. Just two verses later, we read, "All the days of the afflicted are evil, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast." Proverbs 15:15

I thought about these two emotions--joy and sorrow-- and realized that Chuckles has the right of it, going out into the community to share his continual feast.

None of us can escape sorrow in our lives. Just think of the example of Christ. He wept. He knew sorrow and suffering and had his body broken on the cross as one of us for all of us. His pain became our salvation.

No one is immune to sorrow. At 78 years of age, Chuckles has no doubt known sorrow; his spirit has no doubt been broken...repeatedly. But by knowing his God, by trusting Him, by filling himself with that Divine Love, his spirit has also healed repeatedly so he can claim the name Chuckles.

I, too, have known sorrow, stress, anxiety, fear, brokenness. Judging from my massage therapist's comments on the tightness of my shoulder muscles, I am carrying some of those negative things around inside me right now. In the past few days, I've felt lost, confused, and profoundly worried. But despite all that, this morning, I smiled with a glad heart at a stranger in the post office, and God, through another glad heart, gave me candy.

Wow.

It's not often God smacks us in the heart so obviously, bluntly, unsubtly. When He does, we had best pay attention and be deeply grateful for the gift, the reminder, the blessing. How can we not be glad of heart when we know, especially in the midst of our earthly sorrow or stress or worry, that He loves us, will always love us, will feed us a continual feast?

Rejoice in the Lord always!


Has God ever smacked you in the heart with a blessing? Have you ever felt that gladness of heart at times of suffering, sorrow, or worry? What can you do to be that blessing of a cheerful countenance to others?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reflections on Proverbs: The Toils of Sin, Part 7

Finally! Here is our last post on the Toils of Sin. Whew. That took longer than I expected. Thank you all for your patience.


As a reminder, our verses for this series on the toils of sin are these:

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
  and he is caught in the toils of his sin. Proverbs 5:22

There are six things which the Lord hates,
  seven which are an abomination to him;
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
  and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
  feet that make haste to run to evil,
false witness who breathes out lies,
  and a man who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

Today, we're ending our reflections on sin with the final sin listed as an abomination to God: sowing discord among brothers.

I have found reflecting on this sin particularly difficult. I am a first-born pleaser who wants everyone to play nicely and get along. Peace and harmony are a priority for me, and in many ways, I surround myself with friends who do not sow discord. Perhaps sowers of discord avoid me because they sense that I'm not going to allow their divisiveness to affect my group.

In my personal life, this sin feels distant and hard to relate to, but when I cast my mind into the public sphere, it comes home. Politics has never been a place of harmony and niceness, but today's climate of polarized parties feels particularly toxic. This polarization seems true from local politics (our school board...oh, my!) all the way to global relations.

Discord among brothers happens easily enough without sinister forces encouraging it. When we see extremists on either side of the political spectrum manipulating the media, creating sensational stories without basis in fact, distracting the government, the media, and us with mirages, we need to be very, very careful how we react.

But how do we know the stories are false?

There's the rub. It's nearly impossible to know.

Another fact that confuses this sin is that sometimes, the sowers are not even aware they are doing anything wrong. I've watched threads on Facebook turn nasty in an instant when someone posts something inflammatory. One Facebook thread in our neighborhood group pops immediately to mind. Someone posted something incredibly nasty, and a number of people jumped in, shouting through their keyboards.

Once things had gotten out of hand, the originator of the thread actually stepped in and apologized. She said her husband pointed out to her that her language had been inappropriate and unkind. She hadn't meant to sow discord, but in her overly emotional state, she'd over-reacted. One could sense from her apology that she both confused and embarrassed by the result of her ill-chosen words.

This is where grace and forgiveness step into the picture. Her apology was accepted, others also apologized, and harmony was restored. And this is where we can see that sowers of discord among brothers may not always be sinister operatives in the shadows...they can be any one of us, over-reacting and venting unhealthily in a group, working against harmony, however unintentionally.

When we look at sowing discord among brothers this way, I am guilty as charged. Aren't we all at some time in our lives guilty as charged?

Fortunately, we have a framework for return to harmony as soon as we realize we've sinned. Apologize. Ask forgiveness. Pray for mercy, grace, and forgiveness. And when another needs our mercy, grace, and forgiveness, we give them freely. As they have been given to us.

Let he or she who has not sinned cast the first stone.



In Conclusion on Sin

Notice how all the sins God hates hurt others...individually and in community. Pride, lying, violence, conspiracy, hasty evil, false witness, and sowing discord disrupt relationships and communities. Getting along requires us all to behave, but most of the time, it's so much easier to see how others are sinning than how we ourselves might be guilty, too. 

But we are all sinners, all flawed, all separated from God by our pride and our self-righteousness. We live in a democracy where we are all equal in sin and all equally loved by God. Instead of making us feel bad or ashamed or unworthy because of our sin, God loves us through it all, forgives us each and every moment of each and every day. When we own our sins and acknowledge our unworthiness, we humble ourselves before an amazing God who washes us clean by His death on the cross, welcomes us into His kingdom, and crowns us as His beloved children.

It saddens me to think that there are people who wallow in the shame of their sin, who believe they are too contaminated to be forgiven by God or anyone else. I'm particularly sad when Christians encourage this shame and sow discord between others and God. No one has sunk too low for God to redeem. No one.

If you have not yet humbled yourself before God and asked his forgiveness for your sins, please let go of shame. Open your heart to His love and forgiveness. I promise you. It will change your life.

If you have committed yourself to following Jesus, don't slip into pride or self-righteousness...oh how easy it is to slip! Stay alert to your own sin, and remember to thank God for his blessings and share them with the world.  

Let us pay God's love and forgiveness forward in a world that desperately needs love and forgiveness.

Amen.