Monday, December 31, 2012

A Story Worth Sharing

Last week I received one of those "God story" emails - the kind that tells of God putting someone in the right place at the right time to help or comfort someone in need. I love those kinds of stories because it is a reminder to me that God is still very active in our everyday lives. Too often we get caught up in the message of what Jesus has done for us through his birth, death on the cross, and resurrection and we forget to share the stories of what he is doing in and through our lives every day. Yes, the Good News of redemption through Christ is the most important story, but when we end the story there, it's no wonder non-believers think God is dead. They need to know God is active and working today in their lives before they can see past today's pains and concerns to eternal possibilities.

Non-believers aren't the only ones who need to feed on the stories of God's everyday presence. As believers, we don't share enough with our Christian brothers and sisters what God is doing in our daily lives and we risk our faith becoming supported more by knowledge rather than experience. I don't know about you, but I can always be tricked to doubt a fact I know and never be convinced to disbelieve my own experience - you can't tell me something didn't happen when I lived it.

I admit that for a long time now, I've been needing to reinvigorate the awareness in my heart, mind and soul, that God not only created me, loved me enough to die for me, was powerful enough to raise from the dead to bring me into eternal relationship with him, but is actively sharing in my life now. I need to be more intentional about looking daily for God in my life and to share the stories of what he is doing in and through me with others. So I asked a friend to join me in a 30-day challenge to share with each other on a daily basis God's miracle stories large or small. The response I got was rather disappointing. It seems my friend is an ENTP (Myers-Briggs) and therefore usually doesn't remember what happened yesterday to share what God has done in everyday life. It saddened me that my friend's memory would never fails to remember the accomplishments of children, spouse, extended family and self but assumes that God's wonders would be completely forgettable the next day. Okay, maybe that's a little harsh. But the point I'm trying to make is that God is real and alive, living and working in us every minute of every day and we're missing it!
I don't want to miss it anymore. That's why I'm challenging myself and anyone who will join me to look for and share what God is doing everyday for the next 30 days. Share with your friends, family, neighbors and church family the everyday miracles of God in your life because he most certainly is alive and active in this moment and the next - and that is a story worth sharing.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Following the Christmas Star

Merry Christmas! Today is Christmas Eve and the festivities are about to begin. We’ve wrapped our gifts in anticipation and are about to embark on our journey through the Christmas holiday. We have searched far and wide to give the absolute perfect gift to those we love and anxiously await the joy of seeing them open this token of our love.

It is okay to have fun and share joy and love in the chaos of family gatherings and dinners and gift giving. It’s okay to be happy amid the torn wrapping paper and discarded packaging as we share our love and joy with our friends and family. But, let us remember this Christmas to honor the One who taught us to love, the One who came to earth from heaven that first Christmas - God's great gift of love to us.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” …They went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

How far will you travel to worship Jesus and what do you bring with you?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Lantern in a Dark World

 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

Friday was a pretty good day for me. The office was quiet and I was able to get a lot of good work done. The sun was shining and the world from my little isolated spot on the hill was a joy, but elsewhere, that was not the case. I’ve cut myself off from the endless streams of media that seem to invade this world with its sensationalism and critical analysis of every move we make. I just don’t have the stomach or the desire for it. So I was unaware of the terrible atrocity that had taken place in Connecticut until much later when I chose to check in with my Facebook friends as I grabbed a late lunch. There I found the news plastered in numerous pleas for prayer by most of my FB friends and the righteous outrage of others. I consider it a blessing from the Lord that I didn’t learn of this until late because at my slow introverted pace of digesting information, the entirety of the news didn’t hit until Saturday morning when I was alone and able to deal with the grief that had surfaced in me in empathy for those mothers and families that had lost their children to tragedy. Though I can never know the depth of their pain, I do have some experience at losing a child to tragedy.

I was careful to limit my exposure to the ongoing retellings, updating, and just plain prying into the lives of those who needed our support and prayer rather than our curiosity and badgering. What I noticed among those pleas for prayer and the lists of names of those killed was a very obvious omission. In all those pleas and lists was missing the name of the shooter’s mother, who was killed just before in her home – clearly the first victim of the day and of course the shooter. The first time I saw any mention of praying for the family of this person who did this horrible thing was in a report on CNN’s website on Sunday morning from a victim’s father who “offered his condolences to all the families affected.  ‘This includes the family of the shooter,’ he said. ‘I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you, and I want you to know that our family, and our love and support goes out to you as well.’”

My heart breaks for the families who can no longer hold their children in their arms and who will be struggling to celebrate Christmas in just a few days amid the unopened presents of those who have been taken from them. But the family of the young man who did this have lost a daughter, sister, wife, mother and yes, a son, brother, nephew, and grandson. They will have to live with the stigma of those few moments Friday morning when all hell broke loose at the hands of their loved one. They won’t receive the kind of support and love that the other survivors will. At the grocery store and doctor’s offices, in their neighborhoods and clubs, people will see them as the family of the shooter instead of a grieving family. I am asking you to put aside your outrage and pray and support this family too.

Over the next few weeks (unless some other unbelievable atrocity occurs) we will most likely hear all kind of conjectures of why this happened. We’ll hear stories of bullying and family issues, shyness and maybe someone will even explain how this young man’s place on the spectrum of autism played a part in it all.  According to CNN, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Police stated that “detectives will certainly analyze everything and put a complete picture together of the evidence that they did obtain, and we're hopeful -- we're hopeful -- that it will paint a complete picture as to how and why this entire unfortunate incidence occurred."  Already, the ever incessant debate of gun laws has reared its ugly head. There will be no end to ‘if he didn’t have access to guns…’ and ‘if the adults in the school had had a gun…’

This is a dark world we live in. From the very beginning, the Evil One has manipulated and deceived us in his rebellion against of the Lord. You may not feel comfortable talking about Satan or demons and spiritual warfare, and believe me, he loves that! He takes great joy in humans taking ownership of and explaining away his evil devices as we try to rout out, and thereby in the future control, the psychological, sociological and physical aspects of the human mind and will that he so expertly and quietly manipulates from behind the veil of the spiritual realm. He thrives on the chaos he creates and he loves that we take the credit for it because if we credited him, we would have to admit that the spiritual realm and warfare is very real and very much beyond our abilities. We can’t control it, so we take the easy way out and deny it. But if we are willing to admit the root of evil that devised and undergirded the terrible violence that took place in Connecticut, then we are identifying and able to stand against the real enemy of innocence everywhere. I’m not saying the young man isn’t responsible for his choice and actions. I’m saying he was another pawn in Satan’s war against God. If we openly recognize the devil as the source of violence and chaos, we could stand against him in the power of God and run him out of our homes and our communities in the name of Him who has already secured victory – Jesus Christ.

I recognize this atrocity as the work of the evil one and ask Jesus to step in and crush the head of the one he has already defeated in his death and resurrection. I know Jesus will bring light, hope, joy and peace to a broken world shattered by the sounds of crying mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, especially in a little town somewhere in Connecticut that I never heard of until two days ago. You think the enemy would have learned his lesson the first time he tried this - When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." Matthew 2:16-18.

Joseph was warned of the danger (like a gunshot echoing through a hallway) and escaped with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. Innocent babies and toddlers were slaughtered all in an effort to extinguish the Light of Heaven before He cast out the darkness through his life, death and resurrection. Jesus was born, a helpless babe, at night into a dark world bringing with him the hope, peace, joy and love we celebrate during Advent. He is the Light of God we worship on Christmas Day. To the normal human eye, Jesus looked like just any other innocent child, but to those whom God chose to reveal the mystery, those able to see through the veil to the spiritual realm, they saw the angels and the face of God in a manger of that little town.

As my intent is always to offer hope in this blog, I will offer the hope I have. Amid the grief and tears of empathy this week and in facing the darkness of this world in the coming year, I choose to focus my eyes on the Christ Child, the Light of the World, Jesus – the very same Jesus who lives and rules in my heart and who will shine the light of love and grace in and through me…and you, if you ask him to.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Play My Drum for the One Who Saved Me

In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the  widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. (Acts 9: 36-39)

It’s two weeks before Christmas and everywhere I go, I hear the old familiar Christmas carols – The First Noel, Deck the Halls, Silent Night, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and The Little Drummer name just a few. Every popular musician, secular and Christian, has at least one Christmas album filled with their musical version of these songs that have been around for generations. My favorite version of The Little Drummer Boy is actually by a children's Christian band called Go Fish. In their rendition, they've inserted a rather catchy bridge repeating "I play my drum; I play my drum for the One who saves me." The first time I heard this, the message of the song finally came alive for me in a way I'd never heard it before.

The song is about bringing what you have to the Lord as your gift, your act of love and obedience. A poor drummer boy doesn't bring gold he doesn’t have and wise men/kings from afar wouldn't dream of bringing nothing but a song. Last week I wrote about expressing love for God by loving others. I'm not talking about the extraordinary gestures too many of us think we need to offer to please God - giving away all you money and living on the streets, or giving up everything and moving to a leper colony. There are some whom God calls to these extraordinary tasks just as the wise men brought the most rare, expensive gifts to the Christ child. However, the birth of Christ was also announced to shepherds who had nothing and they were not hesitant to go and offer their admiration to the King, nor were they turned away when they arrived empty handed. Perhaps they gave Jesus some wool. Like the drummer boy in the Christmas carol, they gave of themselves from what they had.

Everyone has much they can give to the Christ child. There are too many possibilities to ever form a comprehensive list, but in considering this for myself this past week, I came up with a few ordinary gestures of love most of us can offer to the Christ child this Christmas and in the coming year.
  1. Do you drive? Take a senior who can't drive to a doctor's appointment. Work during doctor's hours? How about taking them to church with you, or taking them out to dinner with your family when you go?
  2. Do you know how to read? Volunteer to tutor school-aged kids in the afternoon or adults in the evening.
  3. Do you like to crochet or knit or quilt? Be like Dorcus and bring hope to a dark cold corner of your community with handmade blankets, scarves, hats and gloves, sweaters, etc.
  4. Do you like to work with tools or do minor household repairs? Organizations like Hosanna Industries or Habitat for Humanity are just waiting for you. Don't have a whole Saturday to give every once in a while. How about an afternoon, fixing a widow's sink or fence?
  5. Still too complicated? How about shoveling the snow off of a neighbor's walk or driveway? Live in an apartment complex? How about cleaning the snow off of a disabled person's car?
You know what you can do and those things you love to do – perhaps you will take some time to look for a way to gift those skills and talents, given to you by God, back to God by using them for someone else's benefit. I would love to hear some of your ideas for expressing love and gratitude to God by offering love and grace to others. Please feel free to post your ideas.

May the peace of Christ be with you this week.

Monday, December 3, 2012

When the Alarm Goes Off

Last week I stated that I wanted to be more intentional and tenacious about setting aside time to rest and rejoice in the Lord's Presence. I've been feeling lazy in my relationship with God and apathetic toward my spiritual disciplines. To that end I confided in a friend who was very encouraging. He reminded me that every moment can't be a mountaintop experience or a carried-through-the-valley embrace. I'm okay with that. I like routine and I am quite satisfied with the quiet that comes with uneventful moments. I explained that I was more concerned by my overwhelming lack of interest in expending any energy in the spiritual disciplines through which my relationship with the Lord began and grew. I compared it to the lack of intimacy and despondency of both my marriages just before they fell apart. In a human relationship, both people contribute to the breakdown of the commitment but when one Person in the relationship is God and the other is me - guess who is the problem!

My friend reminded me of a spiritual exercise a group of us did years ago. We put a green dot on our watches for a week and every time we looked at our wrist watch, we saw the green dot which would remind us of God's grace and love. He suggested I find my trigger - my green dot - that would call me to a moment of living in God's Presence. The moment I hear the word trigger, I knew what to do. Years ago, my mother began a regiment of insulin. She had to be disciplined in eating and testing her blood glucose regularly. She was having a difficult time with keeping such a strict schedule - often eating hours late and forgetting to test her blood on time. To help her keep her schedule, I set alarms on her smart phone. When the alarm sounded, she knew she had to stop what she was doing and eat a meal or test her blood. It helped her grow into the schedule to which she must maintain to stay healthy.

So I found a great ringtone (Closer by Shawn McDonald) and picked three random times - one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening, and set the alarm on my phone. I expected to find me totally consumed within myself and "unspiritual" when the alarms went off. To my surprise this week, that has not been the dase. (This next part is very uncomfortable for me because I fell like I'm saying, "See what a wonderful person I am," but I know no other way to explain the wonderful thing God showed me this week.) What I discovered is that when the alarm went off, that majority of the times I was sharing God's love with someone in some ordinary way. I was helping a woman from another church reformat her newsletter, spending time with a lonely senior who just needed someone to talk with for a few moments, writing a note of encouragement, trying to help someone learn to use a computer, and oh, the alarm just went off a few moments ago while writing this blog. These are the kind of things I do on a regular basis and to which I never gave a thought. But when the alarm went off, I smiled because it was a reminder of why I do these things and whom I do them for - the God I love. Jesus tells us in the sheep and goats parable that whatever we do for a fellow human being, no matter who they are, we do it as if doing it for him. (Matthew 25:31-46) We express our love for Jesus by showing love and grace to others.

I was afraid my devotion and commitment to God was drying up. I was telling myself that I was slipping because I couldn’t see that my love for God has not diminished, but simply is being expressed in a more outwardly way then it did when I first fell in love with him. Our relationship isn’t dying – it’s growing! Still there is room for improvement. I would like to get back to some of that quiet one-on-one intimacy we used to share in my intense study of Scripture and long prayerful hours that defined our relationship all those years ago when I was veracious to learn all I could about the God who loves me. But now I understand that I need only to seek a balance of private and public expression of my love for the God who created me, saved me, and pursued me with love and grace until I couldn’t help but love him in return.