Monday, December 5, 2016

As Much as It Depends on You...Live at Peace (Again)

I wrote this blog a couple of years ago and while considering Peace, the theme of this Advent week, I was reminded of it and hoped you wouldn't mind if I shared it again. Enjoy!
My second marriage was only six months along and we were still all learning to get along and be a family at the time of my son’s death. As you might expect, my husband and my son were having a difficult time interacting with each other and I often felt stuck in the middle. One of the greatest gifts (besides redemption) God gave me was a last phone call with my son a few hours before the accident. We had all been on each other’s nerves the night before and Bryan and I reconciled in that short five minute conversation that ended with both of us saying “I love you” to each other. This memory always takes me immediately to Ephesians 4:26-27—In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. It’s so easy to let little differences get out of hand and in the way of living a life that honors the Lord. When I think about how that phone conversation could have gone, I thank the Lord. We could have continued arguing and three hours later I would have a regret in my heart I couldn’t have lived with.

Two years later, on a late summer Thursday evening, my husband came in the house after mowing the grass, sat me down on the couch and told me he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. The days and weeks that followed were unbearable. I had just given my life to the Lord the year before and now this man I vowed to share my whole life with was divorcing me. I was devastated and at times wanted him to know the pain he was causing me, but instead I prayed that God would help me show unconditional love and forgiveness to him. My husband was not a believer and I knew that how I treated him would be a reflection of the God I served. My first real courageous act of love for Jesus and my last act of love for my husband was to do my best to show him a glimpse of God’s undeserved grace and forgiveness.

It was during this time that a pastor friend of mine gave me a prescription for handling relationships—Romans 12:9-21
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

From my experience I can tell you that this isn’t easy to do. It’s impossible sometimes…for me, but not for God. To live out this kind of love, I need God to live in and change my heart. I need to keep reading this “prescription for life” and saying it until God’s definition of relationship is etched on my brain and engrained in my lifestyle. And I need to do it not because if I don’t, it might be too late tomorrow but because it is God’s command and his way. I know that I’m not always going to succeed at living in harmony with everyone. However, if I really try to live at peace with others and they refuse, I haven’t failed. I only fail when I refuse to try. God’s way is simple—Love God and love others. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

Monday, November 28, 2016

About Hope

Yesterday was the beginning of Advent and as a symbol of that we lit the candle of hope on our Advent wreath. Hope, along with salvation and eternal life, is the greatest gift given to me by God. Before Jesus came into my life and heart, I lived decades in utter hopelessness. Not just the kind of hopelessness we talk about when we talk about a heart separated from God (which is not to be thought of lightly). I’m talking of a hopelessness that exists when all the hope is squeezed out of an innocent child’s heart from years of verbal abuse and molestation. That heart is then made infertile beyond the ability to nurture even a bud of hope in the years of mental, physical and sexual abuse that follows. Lastly the heart itself dries up when the last good thing—the love for my child—is violently ripped away from me in a single moment. That is my picture of utter hopelessness.

But now with God’s grace I am a lighthouse of hope shining into the darkness. Hope emanates from me like the rays of light from the lighthouse. God took the dead heart inside of me and made it come alive again like he did with the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. He has healed my life and restored in abundance all that was taken, beaten out of, and stolen from me. I am strong in his power and have been placed in my community to shine my light of a life miraculously renewed.

I stand as God’s symbol of hope to anyone who has been hurt, abused, or afflicted with depression or grief. The hope that God pours out of me has it foundation in my own experience and the glory of God’s grace and blessing. Hope is the energy that keeps me going in the tough times and fuels my celebration in the good. Hope is the legs I stand on—the certain hope of God’s promise and his presence in my life. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Root of Gratitude

It's times like these when I am amazed at how many different ways preachers can preach the same basic message every year around this time. How many different ways is there to express how we are to be thankful to the Lord our God for his inconceivable grace? That's the question I put to God this week. Below is his answer. Apparently there was at least one more. Enjoy!

The Root of Gratitude
Touched by your Holy Spirit,
Hope swells this humble heart in
Admiration of your selfless generosity.
Nothing compares to your extraordinary
Kindness—for in your compassion you look beyond my
Sin-ridden soul and lavish me in the
Grace of your own sacrifice.
I can’t comprehend, nor ever repay you for, the wondrous
Victory your cross and empty grave confer on me.
I can never fully express my gratitude. 
Not a moment passes when I am not in awe of my
Great Redeemer, God and King.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Me, God, and Politics

While I speak about political matters in this post, this is not a political statement or argument, but rather a deeper look at me and my relationship with God in the midst of all the political controversy.

It’s been a long devastating week for me. But for you to understand why, I have to tell you about the events leading up to it. I have long been disappointed by the leaders of this country. In my mind, even if a rare person of integrity took office, the system has been so perverted by human pride, greed and the pursuit of power that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Standing firmly by my personal policy—give me someone worth voting for and I’ll vote—I never registered to vote. That all changed when Mr. Trump won the Republican Party nomination. Something inside of me was violently adamant that he could not win. I felt I had to vote against him to know I’d done all I could to prevent his winning the election. To be transparent here, I voted third party because I believed my candidate to be a person of integrity and I also find Mrs. Clinton almost as reprehensible a person as Mr. Trump.

I spent weeks researching all the candidates and their platforms because if I was going to vote, I was going to do it the right way—I was going to vote for someone and not against someone. When I woke up last Wednesday morning to find that Mr. Trump had won the election, the news hit me so hard I became physically ill. The next few days, I talked with a mother who, because of the election results, will be losing her family’s health insurance next year. I heard from friends from the African-American and the LGBT communities feel threatened by the outcome. A teacher pointed out that the President-elect is a bully and asked how she is supposed to explain to her kids that bullying is wrong when their president is one. I’ve heard from women who have been sexually assaulted who feel as though they have been assaulted again by the outcome. After some soul-searching, I realized that Trump’s self-absorbed, narcissistic personally directly mirrors that of an abuser from my past. When I looked at or heard Trump’s voice, I was seeing and hearing this person from my past. The thought of someone like that once again having some kind of control over my life terrified me.

I took all of this to God. How do I get over the hurt that’s been rekindled? I admitted to God all of my unkind, un-Christ-like thoughts and feelings about our President-elect. First God released me from the chains of abuse I unknowingly put back on these last couple of months. Then he reminded me that even at their worst time, the Israelites who were in exile in Babylon had hope—For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13. My hope for the future doesn’t lie with Mr. Trump or any other government official. My hope is in Jesus. No matter who is in the Oval Office, Jesus loves me and is looking out for my best interest. He has plans for me to deepen our relationship and work through me to bring his message of hope and grace to the world. He also reminded me that it my responsibility to pray for the leaders of my country, whether I like them or not—First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4. I have seen prayer change hearts—those praying and those being prayed for. I may not like personality of the man who was elected, but God loves him and Jesus died for him. The least I can do is pray that he Spirit move in him.

To all those who have been disappointed with the election outcome— Mr. Trump is just a man. God is still God. He still rules and is still on your side. Lean into God’s loving embrace and know the security of his grace and power.

Monday, November 7, 2016

More Important Than Voting

Is anyone else worn down and frustrated by all the political bickering that has occurred in this last week before the election. The hype would have us believe that no matter who we vote for, whoever wins, we will end up being swindled out of our livelihoods and led down the path of destruction. Candidates attacking each other and twisting facts to make themselves appear the better choice and their opponents seem like immoral, greedy, self-serving crooks—is it any wonder I’ve lost complete faith in the leaders of our state and country.

Despite all of this, we are going to vote tomorrow and someone is going to win and someone is going to lose and I’m praying. I’m praying that God’s will be done. I’m praying for the candidate who wins that he or she would be blessed by God with wisdom, patience, courage, and with a clear sense of responsibility to and for their state/country and the people who reside within those borders. I’m praying that God will work through our newly elected leaders to facilitate peace in a world at odds with itself. I’m praying because it is the most powerful and positive thing I can do in this election and in the days to follow and it is God’s will:  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Please consider praying with me that God will bless our leaders with integrity, a sense of responsibility to the people they represent, and the courage to face and overcome the shady side of bureaucracy and self-interest that they will encounter on a daily basis. Remember that they are not God. They are not our saviors. They will make mistakes and they will be give into temptations just like we do. They are the human beings that God has allowed to be in office in the coming years and they need our prayer support even more than our votes.

Monday, October 31, 2016

I Am In the Cloud

Yesterday was All Saints Day when, in the Christian tradition, many churches will honor those in their congregation who have joined the Church Triumphant in the past year. God is celebrated and they are honored for the excellent way in which they modeled for us what it means to live out our faith. They are an extension of the cloud of witnesses that Hebrews 11 talks about in its wonderful Hall of Faith walk through Old Testament history. And we are part of that great cloud of witnesses too.

I thought about those whom I look up to and admire in the faith and why. It’s because they really are doing their level best to live their lives in submission to God. They are not just making the hard decisions but truly are engaged in the work of the Spirit wherever they find themselves. God’s mission to reach out and love every single person he created is a part of who they are, not just something they do. I really want to be like that too. I work at it but I’m not there yet.

In chapter 12, Paul tells us: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” I guess Paul saw me coming.

Modeling the grace, love, power and forgiveness of Christ to the world around me is impossible if I am trying to do it on my own without receiving guidance and power from the Spirit. And yet it seems so often I barge ahead without consulting him. I have the bible to sustain me and guide me in my walk but it can’t do any of that if I don’t open it up and read it. Every week we have the rare privilege in this country to join together with our brothers and sisters, who are also part of the great cloud of witnesses, to celebrate the Lord, to confess our sinfulness and be assured of God grace and pardon. We sing his praises and approach his throne room to ask for his grace, wisdom and intervention in matters of great concern. And too often I treat it like a chore or disregard it altogether.  I am not being a good example to those around me and to future generations. I want to do better and with the Spirit’s help, I will.

Praying, meditating on scripture and gathering with other Christians as the Church to worship our God are the ways I “fix my eyes on Jesus.” If I keep my eyes on Jesus by making these disciplines THE priority, then the worldly things I’ve filled my time with instead will have no power to distract my focus from the author and perfecter of my faith. With my eyes firmly fixed on my Savior, I will be the example of faith I want to be. Not because I think it would be neat if someone years from now might say they admire the way I lived my faith but because I love Jesus and I want to show the world how much by the way I live my life.

Monday, October 24, 2016

How Do You Find a Word in the Dictionary If You Can't Spell It?

I hope you enjoy this post from the past. It's exactly where I am at right now.

A friend asked me if I knew the correct spelling of a particular word. I said yes, turned to my computer, phonetically typed the word and clicked spell check when the red wavy line appeared. I hit the change button and spelled the word for my friend as I read it from my screen. Before word processors and spell check, people used a book called a dictionary when they needed the correct spelling or definition of a word.

When I was a child, I remember asking my mother how to spell certain words. Her immediate response was, “Go look it up in the dictionary.”

Now this was disconcerting to me because I knew that she knew how to spell these words. It would have been faster and much easier if she had just answered the question I asked by spelling the word for me.

I’d whine to her, “How am I supposed to look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” Because, let’s face it, you really have to know how to spell a word to find it in an alphabetical listing!

She’d answered, “Sound it out. What’s the first letter? What letter sounds like it comes next?” I’d answer and then she would say, “Okay then. Start there and go look it up.”

I’d, of course, storm off to my room, pull my dictionary off my bookshelf and half-heartedly look through a few pages and then march back downstairs and announce in a frustrated tone, “It’s not in here!”

She’d take the dictionary from my hand, rifle through some of the pages, and then guide her finger down the list of words on a page. When she found the word in question, she’d close the book, hand it back to me and say, “Yes it is. Try again.”

Often, I would have to start at the beginning of a letter section and work my way through hundreds of words to find my word. Sometimes, I had to look through the whole section several times because I’d miss it the first time. I should note here that my mother was right – the word I was looking for was always in there – I just had to search until I found it. As I look back on this experience now, I realize how much I learned in the process. I didn’t just find the spelling of the particular word I was looking for. The spelling of words I knew was reinforced and I learned new words every time I worked through the familiar alphabetical listing. Perhaps this experience also kindled my passion for writing. It at least gave me the tools I needed to not only pursue my passion, but to communicate with the world around me. The time spent as a child with my dictionary has also helped instill in me a drive and the confidence to work through those little challenges I encounter each day.

Okay. This is where I compare my childhood experience with my mother and the dictionary to my faith life. Let me just first say that I’ve reached a point in my Christian walk where I’ve read the Bible enough that often, it’s a little too familiar to keep my attention. Yet if I needed to find a particular scripture, it’s not familiar enough for me to be able to locate it in a reasonable amount of time. I’d rather turn to some one who knows God’s Word better, let them give me the answer I seek, and be done with it. As a result, I’ve let my regular reading time become sporadic and too often, I find myself half-heartedly reading to fulfill some imaginary quota instead of searching for what God is saying to me in those familiar words. This is a challenge I’ve been facing for a while now.

My experience is that God hardly ever gives me the easy answer. He guides me to work through the challenge at hand and usually, it includes going to a book – the Bible! What I know from my experience with the dictionary is that if I keep searching for a particular verse, or story, or concept in the Bible until I find it – I will find it. And in that search, I will find much more. I will become familiar with what I read through on my way to what I’m looking for. It is in the search for God’s wisdom in his Word that my passion for God’s presence in my life is kindled. The tools to interact with the world around me are contained in its pages. Also, as with any endeavor, the more I work at it, the more confident I will become in the process and the better equipped I will be to face life’s challenges. So tonight, I’m going to sit down with my Bible and read. Not because I should, but because I really need to if I’m to be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.