Monday, April 28, 2014

Be the Church

I am an extreme introvert which means that being “out in the world” constantly being bombarded by a plethora of stimuli and being among people (even people I love being with) all week can be very exhausting. The only way to recharge is by seeking refuge in peaceful solitude – thank God for weekends! This past week was fun-filled and busy, so it was no surprise when Sunday morning my introverted nature refused to let me walk out the door to go to church. As I wondered what to do with my “recharge” day, a thought from earlier in the week resurfaced:  don’t just go to church—be the church!

Let me back up for a moment. For the last month, my small group has been discussing “The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church” by Reggie McNeal which has us discussing what it means to be the church. Last Monday, (the day after Easter) I saw a church sign on my way to work that read, “A Blood Donor saved my life.” Obviously, it was making a statement about Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross, but it also sparked an idea—giving blood is one way I could be the church and the church I work for was having a blood drive yesterday. I decided right then that instead of going to church—I was going to be the church by donating blood. Unfortunately, I found out later in the week that I am ineligible to donate blood at the moment.

So back to Sunday morning—what was I going to do with the beautiful day that God gave us when the nature God gave me prohibited me from going out there to enjoy it with everyone else? I didn’t want to sit around watching reruns on TV and I’ve read so many books in the last month, my eyes hurt. After some deliberation, I decided to clean out and purge my sewing room, closet, and storage area giving me the solitude I needed and the opportunity to give of myself to others by donating a car-full to Goodwill.

Now I realize that this is just a small step towards being the church, made smaller in my estimation because I actually got some chores done in the process, but it’s a start. It’s got me looking at things just a little differently and thinking about being the church. After all, being the church isn’t about gathering together so much as going out into the world to share God’s love with those who need it. Through my many struggles, God created in me a heart of mercy so I have the love. I just don’t actively seek ways to share that love with the world around me yet. I’m not looking around me and asking how can I help? My hope is that this small step is just the first movement down a road of being mission-minded in the ordinary moments of my everyday life.

Monday, April 21, 2014

How Lent Has Changed Me

It is the day after Easter I am asking myself, “Has this past Lenten season changed me and my relationship with Jesus?” This has been a rather unusual Lenten season and Easter for me. A month ago, I had routine surgery and spent most of this year’s Lenten season laid up at home recuperating. Between preparation for my medical leave from work and the time off, nothing about these last couple months has been “normal” or routine.

While I am usually very busy and involved in church activity during Lent (being a church secretary and for the most part, a regular church-goer), this year, I spent much of my time doing nothing. Nothing that is but thinking about my faith journey…where I am in it, what my part in God’s plan is, what I need to do differently and where the Spirit is leading me now as I continue to strive to be a faithful disciple. I remembered how deeply moved I was when God opened my heart to understand and receive him and realized how flat my daily living seems now in comparison. I wondered why and when the heart had seemed to go out of my prayer and study time and Sunday morning worship.

For a long time I thought that it was because I was now a “mature” Christian and that’s just what happens after a while. My commitment to Christ is in many ways comparable to a marriage commitment and I thought that like the typical marriage, after a while the newness of the relationship wore off and as they say—the honeymoon was over. The romance quieted down to day to day commitment. Sure we celebrate a couple of special dates each year. What couple doesn’t? There’s His birthday, the day He expressed His undying love and commitment to me (on the cross), and let not forget the day He offered me more than the moon and the stars—He offered me heaven and eternal life! (Really, what girl could turn down that proposal?) Please don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that a marriage is in trouble if the couple is in that “comfortable” stage. I’m saying that I expect more from a relationship when one of the two people in it is God!

Now before you start planning an intervention, let me assure you that my faith is not shaken—Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth fully man and fully God to teach us about the Father’s love and desire to be in relationship with us and then, to redeem his beloved children, died on the cross in our place for our sins and rose from the dead on Easter morning to invite us into everlasting communion with him.  To the very core of my being and with all my heart, I know this to be true. No my faith is not shaken, but God has been doing a little stirring of my faith with these questions. I know that he will not leave my faith unsettled for long and I will wait as long as it takes for him to show me the answers.

I wish I had an answer, some neatly defined conclusion to all this musing, but I don’t. I can tell you that it has led me here—God has something in mind for me—some new adventure …a new understanding and appreciation of his glory …a new unimaginable, unknowable step forward and deeper in my discipleship, and he’s about to help me see it and to help me move forward into it and that fills me with joy and hope and it makes me smile. Come Holy Spirit. Lead the way.

How has Lent changed you and your relationship with Jesus?

Monday, April 14, 2014

For Me, Holy Week Is Personal

Many years ago, I had a son – my only child. I loved and cared for him with all my heart as any parent would. I sat with him when he was sick, played with him when he was bored, and cheered him on when he was up at bat. I fed him, bathed him, read stories to him, helped him pick up his toys and disciplined him when needed.

One evening, shortly after his twelfth birthday, my son was riding his bike home for dinner. Being a bit of a daredevil, like his father, he pedaled hard down the hill of his friend’s back yard and picking up speed, jumped, pulling the bike up into the air, to soar over the three-foot tall weeds by the side of the road. He cleared the weeds and flew right into the path of an oncoming SUV. After hitting the front of the car, bouncing up onto the hood, and then down to the ground, my son lay motionless in the middle of the road. 

In hysterics, the woman driving the vehicle called 911 and then called the church she and her children were on their way to, asking them to pray for my son. He hadn’t secured his helmet and even though the vehicle was going only twenty-six miles per hour when they collided, the impact was enough to induce instant coma. He was taken by helicopter to Children’s Hospital but the head trauma was too great and my little boy was pronounced brain-dead the following day.

The woman driving the car and her church prayed diligently for me as I began the unthinkable task of learning to live life without my son. In fact, many people told me that they were praying for me, but being an atheist, I really didn’t understand what prayer could do. 

A year later, Jesus reached into my brokenness and my grief. Through the reading of his Word, he opened my mind and my heart to his love and grace and I received him as my Lord and Savior. A few months later, the Spirit led me to attend a local church and then to become a member of that church. The day I became a member, a woman approached me and introduced herself as Jane (not her real name) and told me that she was the one driving the SUV that tragic day. As I stood there shaking her hand and hearing her words, I was filled with an overwhelming love and compassion for her. I smiled and couldn’t help but hug her. God had led me to the very church that had prayed for me - the very church where Jane and her children were traveling to on that fateful day.

I’ve shared this exact story before in April 2011 as I explained how my life is a story of miracles. This is a week when we look at the greatest miracle of all – God’s redeeming grace in Jesus on the cross and his gift of everlasting life with our Risen Lord outside the empty tomb. Love never looked so repulsive as this horrendously archaic, torturous death and yet so powerfully resplendent before. And hope never looked so hollow as the empty tomb and yet so immense it could not be contained!

The anniversary of my son’s death was just a few weeks ago. It was a time to reflect and remember the love I had and have for my son and the pain of his absence in my life and yet, I can never fully despair because that day lies in the shadow of Easter morning! Jesus’ resurrection is his victory over death and also his commitment to mine and my son’s resurrection when the time comes. As we go through this Holy Week, I will be remembering that what God did 2000+ years ago isn’t just history, it is our future together with the God who loves us that much! May God bless you in your journey through this Holy Week 2014.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Don't Want to Be Like the People in the Bible

Have you ever read the bible and felt completely inadequate? Sometimes I read my bible and wonder how I could ever compare to the giants of faith found in Scripture whose examples I am to follow. After all, I'm no one special—No one is going to read about my exploits thousands of years from now and think to themselves, "How can I possibly be like her?"  Sometimes I have a tendency to revere these saints of the Word to the point of putting them on pedestals that are dangerously close to being even with the throne of God and then I berate myself because my faith isn't as grandiose as I imagine theirs was. But then I look for the humanity in them and I can see more of myself in them than I like to admit. As I look at these giants through the focus of their humanity, I see that they were everyday normal human beings who lived life one day at a time, often times screwing it up royally, just likes me.

For instance, God chooses Noah and his family to carry on the human race after the flood because he was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. Genesis 6:9 And what did this righteous man do right after God saved and blessed him and his family? He went right out, planted a vineyard, got slobbering drunk, and passed out naked. This doesn't sound very “righteous” to me. 

How about the highly revered Abraham? Abraham chose in obedience to believe God's promise and God credited Abraham's belief to him as righteousness. But then Abraham got worried that maybe God wouldn't protect him on his travels through foreign lands. He feared the foreigners would kill him to get to his wife so he lied and told his wife to lie about them being married. And after years of waiting for God to come through on his promise of a child, Abraham and Sarah got a little impatient and came up with their own plan—Abraham slept with a servant to get her pregnant so he and Sarah could have a child. Even as he followed God to the promised land, this pillar of faith lied more than once putting his wife in some very sticky and dangerous situations, he forced himself on a servant with the intention of impregnating her, and then abandoned her and her child when God's promised child, Isaac, was born. Again, not really the kind of person I want to be.

The point is that it is so easy to idealize these biblical saints, thinking they were super human or even "sinless" in their faith journey, and we would be so wrong. Sin is in our spiritual DNA and only in continuous reliance on Jesus and his act of love, grace and atonement on the cross do we even have the ability to approach God's throne in repentance with hope. Being a disciple, a follower of Christ, a Christian (however you want to name it) isn't about being sinless and perfect. (Only Jesus is sinless and perfect.) It's about realizing how sinful and broken we are and falling on God's mercy and Christ's sacrifice again and again to be forgiven and healed and in our showing others, in love, what it looks like to continuously seek and be forgiven so that they will then become an example of God's grace and forgiveness to others.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)