Monday, December 28, 2015

Return Another Way

I’ve made it through another Christmas. As an extreme introvert and a church secretary, the whole Christmas season can be challenging—Twice as much work to do in half the time, lots of people everywhere I look, and to quote the Grinch, “Oh the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!” But every year I look forward to it and join in on as much of the fun as I am able because, even though it can be difficult, it is so worth the moment I see my mother’s eyes light up when she opens the gift I spent two weeks making for her, receive a heartfelt hug from my niece or nephew, or talk over childhood memories with cousins I was too old to play with when we were young. And now that it’s all over, I can get back to my quiet, uneventful daily living with the warmth of new memories that make my face break out in a smile. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? For a brief moment, I thought so too. But then I looked at the calendar board in my office and saw that Easter isn’t that far off!! 

I can’t help but to replay in my mind a line from Ann Weems poem “Holding” which was read at our Christmas Eve worship service just a few days ago:
On our way back from Bethlehem
sometimes we forget
what we’ve been warned about in a dream:
to return another way.

Looking forward to getting back to my quiet, uneventful daily living…isn’t that like returning the same way in which I went to Bethlehem? After traveling through Advent to the manger in Bethlehem where our God and Savior did the unimaginable, unexplainable, impossible feat of pouring himself into the confines of humanity as an infant—how can I go back to my daily life untouched and unchanged by what I have seen. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23

I’ve gone to humble surroundings of a manger to see with my own eyes, worship, and give my gift to my God, my Savior, my King—Jesus. Even as I celebrated “God with us” I couldn’t overlook the shadow of the cross that fell upon the manger. God came to be with us, to love us, teach us, die for us, and live again for us. He came to save us and I can’t look at the babe lying on that hay bed without appreciating why he was among us – to redeem us and reestablish relationship with us.

The celebration of Christmas might be over, but God being with us doesn’t end and that’s what I want to take with me every day. As I head into the new year, I will journey away from Bethlehem with the intention of leaving by a different route than I came. Wherever I go, I know that God came into this world to be with me and he is with me.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Love Again

Originally posted in 2011....

Last week I was sure I'd have plenty to say about love. This week, I'm not so sure. It's just...what do I say about love that I haven't said already in my blog through the years. As I was thinking about what I've been writing over the years, this poem wrote itself:

What Can I Say about Love?
Love is a choice, 
a way of life, 
a sacrifice. 
It's a connection that can't be broken, 
a purpose, 
a light.
It's not about me and all about you.
It's your strength in my weakness.
It's a treasure 
and truth.
Love knows and accepts me 
for who I am
and inspires me to be better,
to be more, 
it's why I wake 
and what my heart beats for.
It's our greatest desire,
a need to give and receive.
It's a sharing, 
a gift, 
between you and me.
It's not just a feeling that warms our hearts
though warming it does
Love is going without that I may give
Love gives its own life that its beloved may live
Whatever you think love is
It's so much more
when our love is His
our lives redeemed,
our minds renewed, 
and our hearts restored.

The truth is that songwriters, poets, theologians and relationship gurus have been writing about love since the beginning and all of that writing together can’t really explain or define God’s love. Maybe God’s love isn’t something a human being can comprehend, explain, or describe. Maybe it’s just something we recognize and accept with open arms and thankful hearts. God’s grace is the greatest love story of all time and I am so blessed and humbled that He chose me to be a part of it. I pray you find yourself a part of this great love story as we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child, the fulfillment of a promise made in God's love and possible by God's grace, this Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Joy Again

This was originally posted in December 2011. I considered rewriting it because, while I will always feel a little melancholy this time of year because of my son’s absence, I don’t feel as sad as I did when I wrote it. In the end, I decided to keep it as I wrote it because it is the message of joy I hope to share today.

----------------------------------

At the beginning of the week, I had this whole blog planned out. I researched the traditions of the advent season – why three purple and one pink candle? Why some churches use all blue instead? When did the observance of Advent start and why? Why the weekly themes of peace, hope, joy, and love and which order do they really belong in because it seems to change year to year. Traditionally, this week’s theme is joy as you can see from the title. But to be honest, I don’t feel joyful. I feel completely opposite of joyful in fact.

I’ve been missing my son. My heart feels like someone has rubbed it raw with sandpaper and all I really want to do is hug Bryan. Tell him I love him and I miss him. I can’t seem to stop crying which really gets in the way of doing all the things I normally do. It’s too bad this week’s theme isn’t love….then I’d have something to write about. But how can I possibly write about joy when my heart is breaking.

Mercy Me sings a song called "Homesick" – the chorus has been running through my head a lot:  I close my eyes and I see your face. If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place. Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow. I've never been more homesick than now. That’s exactly how I’m feeling right now – homesick for Bryan. I look around at all the Christmas decorations everywhere and I turn on the radio and hear all those familiar Christmas songs and instead of feeling joyful, I want to cry.

Why do I tell you this? It’s not to entice your sympathy.  It’s because I’m not the only one missing someone this Christmas and if you’re missing someone too, I want you to know you’re not alone. And because I really felt it was necessary to share where I am right now so that you understand that I really mean what I am about to say. It’s not a greeting card sentiment, but a truth to be taken to heart.

Today I asked God what I could possible write about joy in the middle of my grief. He surprised me with a simple but wonderful statement that renewed my mind, filled the pieces of my broken heart with hope and brought me comfort. He said that joy isn’t a feeling. Joy is an attitude and it is the way he has created me to approach each moment of this life. Even through my tears, I can still joyfully praise and serve and love the Lord. I can choose to joyfully anticipate the day of his coming when He will wipe every tear from [my] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…(Revelation 21:4) His joy is in me because the Lord Jesus came to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve. He came to bestow on [me] a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. [I] will rejoice in [my] inheritance and everlasting joy will be [mine].(Isaiah 61:1-3, 7 selected)

So this coming week, no matter how busy or sad or frustrated or whatever else I become, I choose to rejoice in the Lord as I eagerly await his arrival – both the Christmas celebration of his birth and the great and wonderful day of his glorious return.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Peace Again

Originally posted in December 2011

Yesterday we lit the second candle of Advent, the candle of Peace. As I contemplated the word peace, I found I had a hard time defining it. At first I could only say what peace isn’t. For instance, peace is a lack of conflict in a person’s life, or a lack of war and aggression between nations. That didn’t seem right to me – that the whole definition of peace should be a lack of non-peaceful circumstances. While my dictionary offered little better, I did find a few words tucked away in a list of things peace isn’t that seemed to adequately define it for me – a state of security or order or mutual concord. It’s a subtle difference, but important because when I say out loud that peace is a lack of war and conflict, I don’t feel peaceful. But when I say that peace is a state of security, order, and mutual accord, a feeling of peace seems to surface.

So then I turned to my Bible to see what I could find on peace and I found many references, mostly talking about peace-offerings and the lack of peace or the return of peace in the Old Testament and lots of people greeting each other with peace in the New Testament. However, several lines of Scripture in the New Testament grabbed my attention and as I put them all together on one document to meditate on, I found this seamless message which I just had to share with you as I read it:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9) “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mt 10:34) “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Lk 12:51) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27) “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:32-33) For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:19-20) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Rom 5:1-2a) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phi 4:6-7)

On the night of our Savior’s birth, the angels announced this from the heavens: “On earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Glory to God, who in his infinite love and grace, made peace possible between his own holiness and his rebellious creation. And praise the Lord for creating those he has called to bring his peace to a violent, sinful, suffering world.

At first you may think that Mt 10:34 and Lk 12:51 don’t belong, but they do.  Jesus tells us in Jn 14:27 that there are two different kinds of peace – the peace of man and the peace of God. Just as there is a difference in defining what peace isn’t as opposed to defining what peace is, there is a difference in the peace of man and the peace of God. Jesus did not come to bring man’s peace. No, Jesus brought disruption to man’s temporary security, order and mutual accord to make way for God’s everlasting, unfailing, miraculous peace.

In Jn 16:32-33, Jesus is talking to the disciples on the night of his arrest, but don’t we all have moments when we desert Jesus. Moments when we deny we know him and run away from his presence in our lives. So how wonderful is it to know that Jesus does not withhold his peace from us even when we reject him. Again, he speaks of trouble in this world – disruption, aggression, disorder, but in the same breath has assured us that he has overcome sin and the world and offers his peace to every person who will take hold of it.

Jesus was not and is not a messenger of God. Jesus is God incarnate, and as humans we will never be able to truly comprehend or explain it. But we can accept it with a childlike faith and find peace with him and in him through his selfless sacrifice on the cross and receive everlasting life with him in his resurrection. The peace we have with and in God through Jesus beckons us to cry out to him, to bring to him all our anxieties, our needs, and desires and his peace in us will stand in and against and overcome and outlast all chaos and disorder we find ourselves facing.

So this week as I look for God’s peace, I will be looking for the security that comes from knowing that Jesus is my Savior and God’s grace has redeemed me and brings me into the presence of the Lord with thanksgiving and praise, not in fear and under condemnation. I will be looking for God’s order in the chaos that is my life and the mutual accord that is between him and me and between me and his children throughout the world. No matter what I face this week, God’s peace is what I will seek and what I know I will find even amid the craziness of the Advent/Christmas season.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Hope Again

Four years ago, I did an Advent series on Hope, Peace, Joy and Hope which I'd like to share again this year. Enjoy!

This holiday weekend was a very good weekend filled with family, friends, food, and tradition. In my family, the women all gather the day after Thanksgiving to shop ‘til we drop together. This year, as we went from place to place, we made a conscious effort to thank and compliment every employee who helped or waited on us. Amid the frenzy of Black Friday consumerism, we wanted to be the calm of the storm, the light peaking through the dark clouds letting each person know that they mattered and someone noticed their frustrations, their tiredness, their needs. It was great! It’s amazing the joy a small word of encouragement and a good portion of patience and understanding can bring to a weary individual.

Despite the fact that we spent all day Friday and half of Saturday Christmas shopping, I was completely unprepared to walk into church Sunday morning and see the Advent wreath. As we lit the first candle, I felt a whiplash of confusion. How could it be the first Sunday of Advent already? I should have known it was coming. I had plenty of clues. As a church secretary, I spent the first half of the week preparing a worship guide with a cover that prominently displays a single lit candle. Thanksgiving had come and gone. Christmas music was playing everywhere. Christmas is coming fast and I’m not ready. Then I realized that Advent is the time of preparation – four whole weeks to prepare for the coming of the King. Advent is a time of preparation – a time to ready myself for the coming of the Christ child. Yes Christmas is coming, but Advent gives me the time and focus I need to prepare for the celebration.

Traditionally, the lighting of the first candle symbolized hope, the hope that is ours in Christ, the hope that is Christ. Hope, not in the water-downed sense of the word where it mean nothing more than a wish, but hope in the sense of knowing that the God of the Universe came to earth as a human child for the purpose of expressing his indescribable love for me to me. I heard a missionary in church today say that a man he once encountered from an unreached tribe in Africa told him that “his god speaks his language” and that’s exactly what Jesus did – he came to us as a man to communicate with us and show his love for us in our humanness. My hope in Jesus is assured by his love, his power, and his desire to be in relationship with me.

This week will be about hope for me. Where do you think I’ll find it? And where will I find myself being the bearer of hope? Christ is coming! Happy first week of Advent everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2015

God Bless You!

God bless you.
No I didn’t think I heard you sneeze. 

It’s Thanksgiving week and I’ve been thinking a lot about how blessed I am and how grateful I am that God would lavish such attention on me. Yesterday I heard a wonderful sermon that reminded me that I am blessed to be a blessing and it started me thinking. What if at the Thanksgiving table this year, we each recounted not only a blessing we were grateful for but a blessing we have given?
As Jesus followers and God’s children, we have the ability and responsibility to bless others. It isn’t reserved for special people or for certain times—blessing another is for everyone all the time! I am fortunate to know a few exemplars in the practice of blessing. There’s the woman who tells everyone she meets, “Blessings on your day!” as she leaves their presence. Then there is the man who will often stop everything just to pray for and with you. The one whom I am most blessed by is my father. Every time I say goodbye to my father, he wraps me in his arms and says “God bless you” with such a raw authenticity that I feel his blessing surrounding me like a warm blanket. What he is doing is placing me in God’s hands until we meet again. Is there any better expression of concern and care than that?

What does this strange little word mean—bless? It’s one of those words we all say, but I’d be hard-pressed to define it if someone asked me. Bless mean to make holy (to set apart or to respect greatly). That’s why we bless things—to set them apart as God’s and treat those things with the respect that God’s personal property deserves. Bless also means to praise or honor as holy. That’s what it means in Psalm 103 when it says Bless the Lord, O my soul… (RSVP) It also means to ask divine care or protection for, to make successful or happy, or to provide for freely. God blesses others through our words, actions, and sacrifices. He acknowledges their existence and says to them, “You matter to me!” when we, in the name and power of Jesus, bless another person. That’s a lot of punch for a little five-letter word! 

So this Thanksgiving week, give some thought not only to how blessed you are, but how much of a blessing you are. Most likely, you will realize that you are much more blessed than you have been a blessing. Don’t worry if the two lists are unequal in length because no one, absolutely no one, can out-bless our God. But it just might give you the incentive to be more intentional in your practice of blessing. I know that it is certainly motivating me.

God bless and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Law of Your Love and Grace

This week's news of the terrorists attacks in France has touched me deeply. So deeply that I just couldn't express my thoughts today. As deeply as it affects me, it breaks the heart of our Father even more which reminded me of a poem I shared a few years ago. Enjoy!

The Law of Your Love and Grace
How sad it must be for the Father above
To watch us hurt and kill
instead of love.
To see our self-righteous pride
reject and destroy 
the blessings He gave  
all for the sake of the sin we crave.
Before the beginning
He set in his mind
to share of Himself,
His love and His grace,
and carefully crafted this human race.
Brothers and sisters 
we all are in His name
bonded in Spirit
through Christ’s blood – 
reclaimed.
For God’s Word went out
proclaiming His love and His grace.
The Voice that spoke the heavens 
and earth into being
has spoken forgiveness 
and my sins are erased!
We all want to know joy
to be loved 
and secure 
a longing created by God to bring us near.
A desire distorted by sin with
regret, shame and fear.
God’s Word is not about perfection 
but love and grace.
Condemning my brother 
would be my disgrace.
No matter the hardships
I may face in this time 
and this place
I pray my faith stay firmly set
in the law of Your love and Your grace.

Monday, November 9, 2015

My Name Is...


My Name Is...
My name is Israel—
he who wrestles God.
Struggling with my will, 
my way, 
with the words I pray.
Rolling round on the ground,
kicking up the dirt.
Yes, I am one who wrestles
until, my God, he blesses me.
And limping away
I follow his lead.
My name is David—
one after God’s own heart.
in my arrogance and pride
I take another’s bride
and think nothing of it,
when my sin might be revealed,
her husband’s life I steal.
My sin and guilt disguised,
but from the Lord I cannot hide
and my heart breaks.
Crushed by my sin, I cry.
In His name alone I’m justified.
My name is Paul,
once known as Saul—
one who knew the word
but didn’t know His voice
when my name He called.
“Why persecute Me?” He said.
“Let Me set you free
and send you out
among the nations all
to preach and teach
My love, My grace
and how in My Name
all can know 
the Father’s embrace.”
My name is …
and though I am a sinner,
in the power of Jesus’ name
His love, His grace
I will proclaim!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Our Best Investment

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells a story of a man who, going on a journey, entrusts all he owns to his servants. He gives most of it to one, a smaller portion to another and to a third he gives the smallest portion. The first works hard investing all he’s been given and doubles the investment. The second does the same. The third allows his personal concerns and fear to determine his actions and locks away everything the man entrusted to him. The man comes back and sees how the first two have increased his fortune by their hard work and expresses his delight by praising and promoting them. He chastises the third and fires him for not even safely investing his smallest portion in a low-yield savings account. Okay, so I took a few creative liberties, but if you read it yourself, you’ll find I’m not that far off.
Very soon we will be feasting on way too much food in celebration of all the blessings we so often take for granted. According to the Global Rich List, if your income is at least $32,400 (net annual salary plus benefits, pension, and student loan) you are in the top 1% wealthiest people on the planet, so it’s safe to say that we have plenty to be thankful for! But like the workers in the story, we don’t own our wealth. We are stewards of God’s riches which he has left in our care. Everything we possess, all our skills and abilities, every last breath and tick of the clock belongs to him and is only ours to care for wisely until we see him again. 
Some day we’re going to have the opportunity to tell him how we invested the gifts he bestowed on us. We’re going to have a few success stories but if you are like me, most likely you are going to have a lot of times when…well let’s just say—the market crashed. And we had to pick ourselves up again and start over and that is going to mean a lot to him. So this November, I’m taking stock of all the wondrous gifts he’s put in my charge and being thankful by investing those gifts in the reaching out to others in his name. 
As I was pondering all of this I realized that I’ve seen so many people giving me examples of how to do this and do it well. Here are some of those examples:
  • A nurse who developed a chronic, sometimes debilitating disease, can no longer work because of her illness. She started an after-hospital care ministry at her church in which she calls/visits people that first week after they are discharged from the hospital to make sure they have everything they need and often uses her medical knowledge to help in their recovery.
  • A print shop owner provides all the paper his church uses as part of his tithe.
  • A man who enjoys woodworking makes beautiful doll beds and his wife makes sheets, pillowcases and quilts for the bed. They got together with a couple who buy American Girl dolls and doll clothes which they then give to underprivileged girls at Christmas. They also provide $100 per brother so the parents can make sure the boys also have a happy Christmas morning.
  • A quilt shop owner provides free community service quilt kits for people to sew quilt tops and return and holds community service days at her shop several times a year where quilts are finished and stuffed bears are made to give to community outreach programs and hospitals.
  • When a successful business owner retired, he became the business manager of his church.
  • A retired couple offer rides to medical appointments to those who need a ride or just need company.
  • A woman who enjoys quilting makes and donates quilts to charity organizations to auction off.

So many wonderful examples of how to invest and increase what God has given. So what has God given you and me? And how can we invest it for his glory?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Patience, Grace, and Forgiveness

This week God worked hard to give me the wonderful gifts of patience, grace, and forgiveness. It would have been so much nicer if I had been the recipient of these extraordinary blessings (and I probably was many times in many ways) but the gifts he worked hard to give me this past week were not for me, but for me to give. I had a crash course in learning to be patient when I didn’t want to be, giving unsolicited grace when I wanted to prove how right I was instead, and letting go and moving on (forgiveness) to take hold of the even more wonderful gift that comes when God gets his way instead of me getting mine.

I love how God does that. When I am weak, his strength is evident and more than enough. And when I am stuck in a place I can’t get out of, all I need to do is give the wheel over to God and he drives me straight through it to the place he wants me to be. It sounds so simple doesn’t it? Actually it is. It’s just hard to do. If there is one thing I like, it’s being in control, knowing what is going on and having a plan in place to get me through a situation. The allusion of being in control is powerful and I feel safe but it’s not real. I’m not really in control even when I trick myself into thinking I am. God is in control and when I stop grabbing at the wheel, when I stop insisting on my way, he guides me through the hills and valleys and tunnels of life.

Receiving patience, grace and forgiveness is such a humbling and moving thing. But giving them is so much more so. It’s hard work, but so worth the effort of passing on these priceless gifts and watching them grow and spread throughout the world. Imagine a world filled and overflowing with patience, grace and forgiveness. God already has and that’s why he started the work towards spreading these incredible blessings through his people. And this week he gave me the opportunity to spread it just a little bit further.


That’s the thought I’m going to hold onto when the enemy and my own pride try to trick me into picking back up and holding onto things I’ve chosen to let go of, when my patience runs too thin to stand on and when judgement tries to overcome the grace already given.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Only God

Only God
Only you Lord God
Can give me what I need:
motivation,
dedication,
revelation.
You give me purpose;
A reason to move,
to live,
to give.
You fill my heart
Your Spirit drives me
revives me,
inspires me.
It’s You I look to—
teach me to pray,
show me the way,
sustain me today
You are the righteousness I seek
My strength when I am weak
My joy from valley to peak
How fortunate I am
Your grace showers me.
It overflows in me,
And frees me
to love and serve Thee.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Faith and Left-Handed Knitting

When I was 10 years old, my mother went back to work for a craft company. She’d organize parties at people’s homes and after a hands-on craft lesson she would take orders for the craft kits sold by her company (much like the old Tupperware parties). She taught me how to do all the crafts and took me along with her to teach the craft at the party. My favorite part was when Mom started the sales pitch: “Now ladies, if my ten year old daughter can do you, you can.”

I learned and taught needlepoint, cross stitch, crewel (embroidery), rug hooking, macramé, and stain glass. I also learned crochet from my grandmother. Later on, I learned to sew and eventually was bitten by the quilting bug. I taught myself jewelry making, scrapbooking, and silk flower arranging as well. Now I’m teaching myself to knit. Being left-handed, I needed to find special instructions because like most everything else in the world, knitting is generally a right-handed craft. I’ve been able to find some basic left-handed instructions, but for the most part, I will have to reverse what I see and read in books and videos.

When I think about my faith, it has a lot in common with crafting. Faith is modeled and taught to us. We see and imitate from someone who has already learned the faith. And then braving the next step we take what we see and try to do it ourselves. As we are still learning the intricacies of how to be faithful, we are teaching others along the way. We are going to make mistakes. Even the most experienced crafter makes mistakes.

In any craft, you have to learn the basics first. With knitting it is how to hold the needles, how to get the yarn on the needle to start, the motions required to create the knit stitch and how to take the yarn off the needle properly so the work doesn’t unravel. In faith, we have to learn the basics first as well—Our Holy God and Creator loves us so much that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead so that through his grace and his action, we sinners could be forgiven and in relationship with him for eternity. When we turn to him in acknowledgement of this, he gives us his Spirit to guide, comfort, teach, and empower us. That’s it. That’s all you have to know to live a life of faith. That life of faith grows, deepens, expands and blossoms as we learn more and live more into our faith. Because we are sinful human beings we are going to make mistakes along the way. Sometimes in crafting, we have to make the mistake to learn exactly what not to do. We have to undo and redo and sometimes we have to start over before we learn how to create a specific stitch. At first it may seem unnatural, but in time, after repeating it over and over again, the individual aspects of living out of our faith will be automatic.


Now a thought about being left-handed—A right handed person will never understand the way I see and interact with the world. They can’t. The world is set up for being right-handed. There is no frame of reference. I’ve had to learn how to do everything I do in a world slanted for right-handed people and I’ve had to do it left-handed. Being a Christian in the world is kind of like being left-handed. We aren’t meant to be apart from the world but living in the world while still maintaining our faith and our Christianity. That’s just my two cents.

Monday, October 5, 2015

God of Love and Righteousness

“The death of Christ is the wisdom of God by which the love of God saves sinners from the wrath of God, and all the while upholds and demonstrates the righteousness of God.” - John Piper

 For God took the sinless Christ and poured into him our sins. Then, in exchange, he poured God’s goodness into us! 2 Corinthians 5:21(TLB)

God of Love and Righteousness 
Only You know why Lord 
when You had no need of more 
You took upon Yourself the crafting 
of mankind – a largely thankless chore. 
For we do not give the praises 
that so rightfully belong to You. 
Nor do we faithfully live in gratitude 
for all the things You are or do. 
You created us in Your own likeness 
and breathed in us the Breath of Life 
You called us sons and daughters 
and talked and walked with us. 
You shone Your light upon us 
You provided our every need 
Yet in our pride and arrogance 
we renounced Your Divinity. 
Sinful, we hid from Your holiness 
when we should’ve fallen to our knees. 
Now You, the Lord, had a quandary – 
What’s a holy righteous God to do 
when the object of Your affection 
chooses sin and death 
over Your perfection? 
How can Your love allow us 
to answer for our crimes – to die? 
How can Your righteousness, 
without our deaths, be satisfied? 
Oh what a predicament You found Yourself in 
and what were You to do? 
You stayed Your hand of justice 
just for a little while. 
Long enough to arrange 
for Your miraculous arrival. 
In human flesh, yet sinless 
You came into this world You made 
and taught us to love and seek Your way, 
to rely upon Your mercy. 
You urged us all to repentance 
to receive forgiveness in Your Name. 
Then gallantly You took our place in death 
to satisfy Your righteousness. 
But death can’t hold the great I Am 
and victoriously You rose to claim 
those who rely upon Your sacrifice 
to take away their sin and shame, 
to restore in them Your holiness. 
You’ve redeemed Your wayward children 
O glorious God of love and righteousness. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Reeling in Moby Dick with a Disney Princess Fishing Rod

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4: 31-32.

This week, I was angry! I don’t get angry easily but when I do, it goes from mad to rage in seconds and it can last a long, long time. I’ve learned to compartmentalize my anger and put it aside instead of blowing up at unsuspecting people but sometimes my compartment breaks and it did this week.

Over the years I’ve developed some healthy ways of venting my anger to avoid the big blow up (which doesn’t always work as in the case of this past week). I do something physically active to expend the explosive energy fueled by anger. I write out the thoughts and feelings that play over and over again in my head like a skipping record and then try to let go and move on from them by destroying the paper in some creative way. I might share my thoughts and feelings with someone who isn’t intimately involved in the situation that set me off. Often the circumstance that caused the initial irritation passes by the time I do all these and the bad feelings dissipate on their own in time. But that was not the case this time.

I started wondering why God created anger in the first place. Especially after I typed “being angry” in my online bible search and found a multitude of warnings against being angry. After more research, I found that anger is a natural God-given emotion and in itself is not sinful. God created us so that when sensing a threat, our minds generates anger—the emotional energy we need to fight against a perceived threat of harm.

So why so many warnings against being angry in the bible? That same emotional response mechanism is triggered when the “threat of harm” comes in the form of emotional pain which occurs when one of our personally held standards, values or beliefs has been or is being violated by someone. A girl’s belief that she is worthy of love is violated when her boyfriend breaks up with her. An employee’s belief that he is an asset to the company is violated when he is passed over for a raise or promotion. We can become instantly incensed when we feel we are being treated unfairly because our standards tell us everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect.

Anger is power and powerful. It enhances our resolve, and makes us a force to be reckoned with. It is the armor that guards against attack and the muscle that strikes out in battle. Anger washes through you like a drug and like a drug can control your life behind your back. Venting takes the energy out of your anger momentarily but anger will build up again and blow up in someone’s face if you don’t diffuse it; if you don’t dig it out by the root. And what is the root? Pride. Our pride nurtures and sustains our righteous indignation. It our pride, and the sense of entitlement that comes with it which assumes that our standards, values and beliefs supersede all else.
The bible exhorts us repeatedly to deal gently with people, rather than in anger. We are clearly responsible for how we treat people in our anger. Too often we tell ourselves little white lies to minimize our responsibility like “He deserved it” or “I can’t help it.” This just give pride and anger a little stronger hold over us. Fear not. In Christ we can overcome.

So how do we overcome our anger?
  1. Admit to God that you are angry. Pour out all your thoughts and feelings to him. Admit that your own pride is at the root of your anger. Ask God to help you seek humility. Give up your worldly right to be angry and give back to God the job of judging what is right and wrong.
  2. Ask God to fill you with the Fruit of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control especially for and toward all those involved. Ask him to help you see the situation through his eyes and hear through his ears and respond with his heart in his grace.
  3. When you lose your temper, apologize to the person(s) involved for the hurt feelings your words and actions caused. An apology does not mean you are saying that others did no wrong. It’s you, in God’s grace, offering a balm for the emotional wounds your anger causes. It means you are letting go of the moment and moving forward in peace and wanting to bring them with you.

Don't expect it to be easy. Do expect to fail a lot. Forgive yourself when you do. After all, swallowing your pride and giving up your "right" to be angry is like trying reel in Moby Dick with a Disney princess fishing rod. That's why we need God in the boat with us.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. James 4:1-2

Monday, September 21, 2015

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

The other night, I had a dream—my family and I were leaving for a spontaneous weekend getaway and as we were loading the car, we all realized that no one had made arrangements to take care of the dog while we were away. Without a moment’s hesitation I said, “No problem, we’ll stop by my friend C___’s place and drop off the dog on our way out of town.” Down deep, even in my sleep, I know that if I had a dog and needed someone to take care of it on the spur of the moment, this particular friend would be there for me without hesitation.

God has gifted me with so many good and loving friends, I am almost embarrassed at how rich and full my life is. These people, for some reason I cannot fathom, enjoy being with me. They care about and for me. They share their lives with me. They enrich my life, enhance my faith, and fill my heart with precious memories. These people are all so very different. Some are outgoing and spontaneous, others quiet reservoirs of grace and strength, and still others somewhere in between. The one thing they all have in common is that they all willingly share their busy, messy lives with me. We talk and listen to each other. We laugh and cry together. We share in our hopes and disappointments with each other. They influence me and I influence them. That’s what friends do.

Here is a bold statement:  Jesus is my friend. He’s my best friend. He gave his life for me and rose from the dead to bring me everlasting life with him. He pursued me and loved me and was patient with me. He wooed me and won me with his unwavering love. How can I say this with such confidence?
  

The Bible tells us that Jesus is a “Friend of Sinners.”  He ate and drank with them. He talked and listened to them and they him. They laughed and cried together. They shared their hopes and disappointments with each other. Actually it was the religious people of the time, we are told, who called him Friend of Sinners to discredit and shame him. They wouldn’t be caught dead on the same side of the street as these sinners and tried to imply that by hanging out with sinners, Jesus was just as undesirable and sinful as the sinners he befriended. But he wasn’t sinful and he was only undesirable to those who unfortunately couldn’t see their own sinfulness under the self-righteousness persona they paraded through the temple and in town.

My prayer is that I will aspire to be the kind of friend Jesus was then to the tax collectors, prostitutes, the blind and the lame, the poor and unfortunate, and the regular people who were just trying to live life as best they could. I want to be the kind of friend Jesus is now to me. He said that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friend. I may never be asked to give up my life for someone else, but I most certainly will be expected to give of myself wholly, with love and grace as he does. I’m not always going to get it right (remember I’m a sinner) but I know that his grace and forgiveness are there waiting for me when I need it.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Vitamins

I feel like I’m coming out of a fog that I’ve been in for the last four months. I was tired all the time. I’d go home from work and take a nap just to have enough energy to cook dinner. Or I would pick up fast food on the way home from work, eat, and go to bed to sleep for 10-12-14 hours only to wake up just as tired. Even when I was awake, I was too tired to do anything. I knew I was mildly depressed when my home started to look like Oscar Madison lived there. Then my neck and back issues began to limit me even more. Life just seemed to be gradually getting worse for no reason. I turned 48 last month and wondered if this was all part of getting older.

Then two weeks ago, I heard a vitamin commercial say that a very large majority of Americans don’t get all the nutrients they need from the food they eat. I used to take a daily mega-multivitamin until about six months ago. The company stopped making them and I had to choose another less mega-supplement to replace it. Well, I didn’t. Sometimes the first step to downslide is the choice to not make a decision. It’s usually followed by the second step of not putting action to a decision finally made. At first I didn’t know enough about the other brands to make a decision and then I found that there was nothing to really set them apart from each other enough to make a choice. Then after several weeks of indecision, I decided why waste money on them—clearly I was no worse off for not taking them. Finally, I just forgot about it. When I was reminded that I probably wasn’t getting all the vital nutrients my body needs, I wondered if that was why I was feeling so poorly and went right out and picked a multivitamin at random and started taking it. Two days later, I decided that my inactive couch potato lifestyle was probably adding to the lack of energy I was experiencing and I forced myself (bad back and all) to begin exercising again. It’s only been a week and already I’m feeling much better. I’m not overly exhausted anymore. My home looks like less like Oscar and more like Felix lives there. I’m not hurting as much and I am becoming more active in everything again.


Isn’t it funny how one seemingly insignificant decision can really be the game-changer in our overall health. When I think about some of the excuses I’ve made for not reading my bible, or putting aside time for prayer and devotion, or making it to worship on a Sunday morning, or not taking the time to reach out in love and grace to another human being, it’s kind of like the multivitamin thing. At first it just a little thing I don’t even notice—maybe even reasonably justifiable. I don’t have time. I’m not feeling well. There is so much else to do. I don’t know where to start. My inaction doesn’t seem to be affecting my spiritual health until one day I’m walking around in a fog wondering what happened because the lack of these vital nutrients to my spiritual well-being has taken its toll. And just like the vitamins, all I have to do is start somewhere—anywhere. I have to make a choice and put action to that decision, whatever it is…like taking 5 minutes in the morning to pray over the scripture of the day I find in my email inbox. And that decision might lead to another like reading a Christian living book. And then I can look up the Scriptures in sited in the book and dig into the commentaries gathering dust on my bookshelf to learn more that will bring up things to talk to God about. And then all of sudden I will notice that I God’s peace and joy are inside me pouring out again in today’s blog.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Who, What, Where, Why and How

I recently watched a movie that kept asking the questions:  Do you believe? And if so, what are you going to do about it? This sparked a whole lot of other questions for me—the who, what, where, why and how of my own Christianity. Who is Christ and why am I a Christian? Where am I a Christian and what does it mean to be a Christian and how does being a Christian affect me, my life and my decisions?

Anyone who is seriously considering the nature of Christianity, their own or others, must first ask who Christ is. The correct and widely accepted answer among Christians is God, the second Person of the Trinity, our Lord and Savior. But you know by now that I never stop with the rote answer to anything. I started with asking it another way. I am a Christian and as such am called to be a reflection of Christ in the world. So if I were to ask others who Christ is based solely on the reflection of Christ they see in me, what would they say? Would they say he is inviting, forgiving, loving? Would they see the great peace, hope and wholeness he’s brought into my heart and life for the extraordinary thing that it is and maybe even want it for themselves? Would they see that being in relationship with them and bringing the hope and healing that only he can bring is more important to him than religious rules and rituals? Would they see that where we lack in perfection and holiness, he more than makes up for in grace and acceptance in his sacrifice on the cross?

I’ve told my story before about how God found me in a department store and introduced himself to me through my own personal reading of his Word. For twenty years I floated between atheism and agnosticism. I’m sure I met plenty of Christians during that time. A few stand out in my memory as having that something special, that deep down overwhelming peace and joy, I so wanted but which seemed to be eluding me. When I began to read the bible, I found the peace, joy, love and acceptance I had been looking for all of my life in Jesus. It didn’t matter to him what I did or didn’t do and he couldn’t have cared less about my potential. He loved me just as I was sinfulness and all. He accepted me as I was and offered himself unreservedly to me as he was. My story is the narrative of why I am a Christian, but his unashamed, unhindered, unconditional love is the reason why I am a Christian.


Is my Christianity confined to a limited space on my calendar? If I were a secretary outside of the church, what part would my Christianity have in the secular work place? In the line at the grocery store? Or do I carry my Christianity everywhere I go in my heart, my mind and my soul, letting it seep in my actions and interactions, reflecting Jesus from my inside out. Is being a Christian about what I do and don’t do or about the attitude and sincerity in which I act? If I act with love, grace, and acceptance towards others though they are sinful, even if they are unrepentant, am I misrepresenting Jesus or am I treating others the way he treated and treats me? Hebrews 10:14 tells us that “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” This give me the freedom to treat my brothers and sisters with the respect, understanding and acceptance that his sacrifice and their resulting eternal perfection demands even as they are still being made holy in their ever deepening relationship with our God. We plant seeds of our actions wherever we go. My only question now is—what kind of seeds do I want to plant? Seeds of grace, love, joy, and invitation into relationship with Jesus or seeds of condemnation, religious elitism, unforgiveness and shame?

Monday, August 31, 2015

How to...Hospitality

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:8-11

When I was a child, my mother had this incredibly annoying habit of knowing someone everywhere we went. Every department store, every restaurant, anywhere we went. And it wasn’t just in our little township—she ran into acquaintances everywhere within a 100-mile radius of home. That woman was always talking when it was time to check out, give our order, or leave. I found it irritating and inconvenient because I wanted to be somewhere else doing something else and instead I had no choice but grow impatient waiting for her to say “goodbye” to them and “let’s go” to us.

What I didn’t see then that I recognize now is that my mother was practicing the gift of hospitality that God gave her. I used to think, maybe like you, that hospitality meant inviting someone into my home and giving them good dinner and dessert while we discuss trivial things or gossip about the neighborhood kids. But that’s not what it really means. Hospitality is about receiving friends and strangers into your life and heart and treating them in a warm and generous way wherever you are. What does true hospitality look like? Let me give you a couple of examples.

Mom and I both understand how important it is to intentionally connect with our loved ones regularly so for the last twelve years she and I have met for lunch at the same restaurant every Tuesday. She gets to the restaurant early to get a table since I am on my lunch break from work and my time is limited. While she’s waited for me over the years, she’s engaged in friendly conversation with a waitress who, now, always waits on us. Mom invited this woman into her life and her heart by genuinely caring for and about her. As time went on, we both became friendly with our waitress and now the three of us are friends, even meeting for lunch on occasion somewhere else so that the three of us can catch up uninterrupted or seeing plays together.


My family gets together every Friday evening for dinner at a restaurant that is close to my parents’ home. My parents will also stop there for lunch during the week as well. Again, over the years, she has become friendly with the whole wait staff but most especially with one particular woman who again is now their waitress every time they eat there. By extension, I have had the privilege of getting to know this woman. Last week, my mother asked our Friday night friend to join us for lunch on Tuesdays. I think it is going to be great to get to know her away from her workplace. Maybe our Tuesday friend and our Friday night friend will become friends too.


Hospitality is about opening your heart and your life to others, friends and strangers, getting to know them, and letting them get to know you. It’s about making someone else more important than you and your schedule. It’s about genuinely caring for and about someone else. Hospitality isn’t easy as it is a conscious effort to make yourself less important to you than others, even and especially strangers. But it is possible and even enjoyable when it is done in the love and grace of our Lord Jesus. Welcoming someone in his name and power is a profound experience for the receiver and giver. I never realized until now that all those years ago, when mom was forever making me wait because she was talking with someone else, that she was in fact teaching me something beautiful and holy—God’s precious gift of hospitality.

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Don't Do the Things" Gospel

A friend of mine share this little bible lesson he found posted on Facebook:

GENESIS
God: All right, you two, don't do the one thing. Other than that, have fun.
Adam & Eve: Okay.
Satan: You should do the thing.
Adam & Eve: Okay.
God: What happened!?
Adam & Eve: We did the thing.
God: Guys!!
THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
God: You are my people, and you should not do the things.
People: We won't do the things.
God: Good.
People: We did the things.
God: Guys!!
THE GOSPELS
Jesus: I am the Son of God, and even though you have done the things, the Father and I still love you and want you to live. Don't do the things anymore.
Healed people: Okay! Thank you!
Other people: We've never seen him do the things, but he probably does the things when no one is looking.
Jesus: I have never done the things.
Other people: We're going to put you on trial for doing the things.
Pilate: Did you do the things?
Jesus: No.
Pilate: He didn't do the things.
Other people: Kill him anyway.
Pilate: Okay.
Jesus: Guys!!
PAUL'S LETTERS
People: We did the things.
Paul: Jesus still loves you, and because you love Him, you have to stop doing the things.
People: Okay.
PAUL'S LETTERS PART II
People: We did the things again.
Paul: Guys!!
REVELATION
John: When Jesus comes back, there will be no more people who do the things. In the meantime, stop doing the things.

We laughed as he read it out loud and then we moved on to the next thing. But then it came back to me later in a less funny way. This is what too many people think the bible is all about:  Don’t do the things; We did the things; Stop doing the things!!! That’s what they believe religion and God is all about and that makes me a little sad. I used to think that this God thing was all about rules—the 10 big ones and all the ones the individual religious institutions add to them. But then something happened to change all that. I met Jesus and learned that it’s not about keeping rules, but the relationship I have with my Creator. It’s not about how pure or how much suffering I endure or even how many people I convince to come to church. It’s about loving God and wanting to be with him and share my life with him.

Many years ago, my mother’s entire family (all nine brothers and sisters and their children) decided to gather for what we thought then was going to be the last chance we were all going to be able to get together with Grandma. We had a whole day celebrating Grandma planned and I was excited to see some my cousins whom I hadn’t seen in years. But my husband was not as thrilled as I. In fact, he was being a sour puss about it. He didn’t really want to go and he was making sure I knew how big of a sacrifice it was for him to attend my family gathering. Before we left I told him to stay home because I didn’t want him to go out of obligation. I didn’t want him to “suffer” through it. I wanted him to want to be there and involved.


That’s the way it is with God. That’s why he gave us free will to choose. He doesn’t want us in a relationship with him because we have to be. He wants us to want to be in relationship with him and enjoy the time we have together. We are going to make some wrong choices, some accidentally and some deliberately. We are going to be flawed because sin is human nature since the fall. He is a holy God. Our sinfulness cannot exist in the presence of his holiness. So to make it possible for us to be together at all, his Son took our sinfulness in exchange for his holiness. This was a once for all time exchange which give us immediate welcome into the arms of our God always no matter how holy we feel we are or aren’t. Our holiness doesn’t matter as much as his does. He isn’t looking at what rules we are keeping –he is looking into our hearts to see our desire to be in relationship with him. That’s what God sees when he looks at us.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Be Still and Know

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

Be still and know that I am God. I’ve heard this many times over the past week in song and in prayer. I was trolling through my music library when I ran across a song I haven’t listened to in years called “Please Be Still” sung by Rush of Fools. It’s a beautifully haunting melody that stuck with me all week. Then during worship our pastor led us through a wonderful prayer experience where he said out loud “Be still and know that I am God” each time leaving off the last word like this:

Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know that I
Be still and know that
Be still and know
Be still and
Be still
Be

He left time in between these statements to allow God to speak to us as we listened for the Spirit’s voice. It was truly a moving prayer practice that I will likely do again myself. Although I have to admit that for the first half of our prayer time all I could hear was the lyrics of the song that had settled in my subconscious.

Come empty cup, let Me fill you up
I'll descend on you like a dove tonight
Lift your head, let your eyes fall into Mine
Let your fear subside tonight
Peace be still
Peace be still
Please be still
and know that I a God
Please know that I am God

The second half of this prayer experience, I was realizing how each new phrase seemed to be a whole new idea within the boundaries of the original sentence. Be still and know how deeply I love you. Be still and rest in my strong protective arms. Be still as I show you my glory. Be the loving, beautiful woman I created you to be. This got me to wondering—what does it really mean to “be still and know that I am God.” I think we could spend a lifetime learning what that means and yet we say it all the time like: been there, done that, next. Let’s not move so quickly from this yearning of God to show us his majesty and shower us in his grace and love, as his Spirit stirs within us. Enjoy these precious moments with God being still and knowing him. Let him speak to your heart, “Be still and know that I am God” in a new and personal way. It’s why he created us.

Monday, August 10, 2015

I Am Becoming

Last week I celebrated a kind of anniversary with my birthday. As of this last birthday, I have lived 30 years longer than I ever thought I would. While I don’t let it identify me anymore, I don’t keep secret the fact that I struggle with depression and have done so all of my life. I’ve already shared with you a couple of times over the years that I had planned to take my own life on my 18th birthday but God stepped in and saved my life. (Yes, if you do the math you now know I’m 48 years old. I’m proud of my age because I worked hard and earned every one of those years!) As I look back at all the struggles in my life and the challenges I’ve had to overcome just to survive sometimes, I feel tired, not old but not young, and so very blessed.

Yesterday in church I heard prayers being offered for the family of a 20-year old woman who committed suicide and for a young mother who is slowly and miraculously recovering from a devastating stroke and I guess the timing was right because unashamed tears of gratitude began to fall from my face for the precious gift of life I almost squandered so many years ago. I started to think about what I’ve done in those years. Have I lived my life in a manner worthy of the amazing gift that it is? By human standards, maybe not. I’m not, nor am I ever likely to be, a famous celebrity or entrepreneur. I didn’t and won’t discover a cure for cancer or some other terminal disease. I’m not saving the planet by any extraordinary means. I don’t even have a secret recipe for making those pounds fall off or wrinkles fade. To the world I’m just one of the insignificant masses. But finally I feel I can say without hesitation that I really don’t place any value on how others may assess my success in life. 99.99% of the people in the world don’t know me well enough to have an informed opinion of how well I am or am not living my life.

Someday I am going to meet Jesus face to face and there is going to be a whole lot of joy and celebration in that moment. And then he’s going to ask me what I did with the precious gift of life he gave me. Did I really live? Did I love? Did I encourage others? Did I use the time to share his love and grace with the person next door and across the grocery store conveyor belt? I’ve thought a lot about this—He already knows the answer so why is he going to be asking the question?
Then it came to me: Jesus asks the question so I will finally be able to see myself the way he has all along. I’m going see how all the moments of my life, the good and the bad, the successes and the failures, molded me into a woman after his own heart—the kind of woman I’ve always admired and wanted to be. The kind of woman I am becoming. That is a life well-lived and worth presenting to my Savior.

**********************************************************************

If you are suffering with depression and wonder if the world wouldn’t be a little better without you, think again. Tomorrow without you is such a sad thought. I promise that it gets better. Lean into Jesus—give him your pain and your tears. Call the national suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255) or go to the nearest hospital emergency room right now if you think you are going to hurt yourself. Get counseling. Talk to someone. Talk to me. Please hear me when I tell you that you are special—in the entire world, throughout all time, there is only one of you and I would miss you if you weren’t in my tomorrow.


For those of you not suffering from depression, chances are that you know someone who is. Depression is a dark and scary thing—don’t let your loved one go through it alone. Talk to them. Let them know they matter. Let them know it’s okay to be sad for a while, but that you want to celebrate the joy of life with them too. Show them how to not give up on themselves by not giving up on them. There are no guarantees. All you can do is love them and pray.