Monday, March 30, 2015

He Thought of You and Me

As you read this poem, I hope you will know deep in your heart that Jesus really did die for "you." It was not the Roman guard or the religious leaders that caused him to be on that cross - it was your sin and my sin. It was not the nails that fastened him to the wood, but his steadfast love for each of us. And it was not his own fate he pondered in his last hours, but ours. May you be blessed this Easter week with the joy and victory Jesus died and rose from the dead to give us. Rejoice! Even as we commemorate the deepest betrayal and horrendous, violent death of our Savior--Rejoice! For He Is Risen!

You Thought of Me
With every wicked word they cast on you,
You stood in silence,
your thoughts on me.
In every flesh-tearing sting of a whip meant for me,
each crushing blow of the rod rightfully mine,
beyond the painful torment,
you thought of me.
Each drop you bled under my crown of thorns,
each agonizing step
you struggled to drag my cross
and when one more step you could not take,
in your resolve,
you thought of me.
You willingly climbed upon my cross
and pictured my face
as they drove each nail.
Every pain-filled scream declaring your love,
Each disgrace endured to remove my shame,
and in the silent stillness of a tomb,
you thought of me.
Meeting the dawn of Easter morn
You rose to shut death’s ominous door.
Strolling away from the grave’s embrace
A heavenly smile.
A victorious stride.
Your eyes gleaming with eternal love’s light
and your thoughts are of me.

Monday, March 23, 2015

My Choice

I’m a little melancholy today. This coming Friday is the anniversary of my son’s death. Seventeen years ago his life here on earth ended and so did mine—the life in which I was blissfully ignorant of the true cost of love. The life in which I still had the illusion of control or at least some influence on what my life would be like. The life where I would raise my son to be a kind and gentle man who would go to college and become a successful business man or lawyer or musician. Then a few years later he’d find the love of his life and they would marry and I would be a grandmother before I knew it. But none of that happened. He never grew up or went to college. He never met the love of his life and I will never be a grandmother.

I heard once that “people die, not relationships” and if the ache in my heart is any indication, then the saying is true. My son is dead but the love in my heart for him isn’t and it will never die. And it’s the love I have for my son which has and will affect every moment of the rest of my life. Someone reminded me today of something I learned long ago. You never get over the death of your child. You just learn to live with it. But how I choose to live with it is up to me. Will I honor him in the way I live today? He would want me to be happy and to share that joy with others. He had a big heart, always helping others when he thought no one was looking, and I know that he would want me to give the hugs I want to give him to others who need to feel love.

Seventeen years ago this coming Friday, my son began a new life with Jesus and so did I. From the rubble of my broken heart, God planted and grew a seed of new life that broke through the surface of my consciousness a year later and that flower of faith and discipleship is still growing and blooming today. It’s God who gave me the strength to survive, endure and then thrive. He gave me a new purpose in life and most importantly, God gave me himself, his Son, his love and his grace. For that reason alone, I choose to celebrate today and the rest of this week with love, laughter, probably a few tears, and the hope that is Christ in my heart and my life.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Now What?

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12-16 (NIV)

Every morning I receive a “Scripture of the Day” email. I like to read it before I get out of bed. I figure that I can use all the help I can get in starting my day. (I smiled when I saw the above verse this morning because it is part of the Scripture read yesterday in worship. Wonder if God is trying to tell me something?!)

I know what the words convey—they express the way in which God’s people (that’s you and me) are to interact with others for the sake of and in the name of the Lord. We are to treat others in the same manner that Jesus is with us. God is compassionate towards me as I face the day hindered by sinful human limitations by reaching out to me in love despite my failures and outright defiance. He supplies my needs even though I don’t deserve and often do not ask for his compassion or kindness. And there is no denying that Jesus was and is the model of humility I am to emulate and so often fail at miserably even if I try. Gentleness is another way of saying “Handle with care.” We are all fragile at times and need to be handled with care even when it is an inconvenient time. And speaking of patience—I like to think that I am a patient person but when my patience is spent, I am less than patient with everything and everyone.

Okay. I’ve read, thought about and applied it to my life—Now what?!

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8(NIV)

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2(NIV)

If I stop there with my study of the Word, then I’ve just done the equivalent of spitting out my food after I chew on it a little. I get a taste but it doesn’t really nourish me. If I don’t allow God’s Word and wisdom to absorb into my life and empower me, it cannot change me and I must change if I am to be made like Christ.

So now that you’ve read this little thought for the day—now what?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Light a Candle So You Don't Sit in the Dark

It’s been a long, full week and decided to treat myself to Chinese take-out Sunday afternoon. My fortune cookie yielded forth the following bit of wisdom:  It’s better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. I laughed out loud when I read it because this tiny slip of paper so elegantly summed up what God taught me through the adversity I faced last week.

Someone I love treated me with complete disregard for my well-being for their own selfish personal gain last week. I was angry and hurt. Now I’m just angry. (If you are worried that you may have somehow done this terrible thing to me without realizing it…don’t. It’s not you. Unfortunately, this person will never realize nor understand the transgression.) Before you start taking sides, you must know that while the encounter may have been shrouded in conflict, a most worthy and ultimately greater purpose was at the heart of the whole matter.

I was and am angry at being subjected to this injustice and because of the relationship—having no recourse but to endure it instead of walking away or placing my own selfish attitude above theirs. So I turned to God and spent a lot of time in prayer last week asking God to take my anger and help me to do the right thing. Even though I may have been right to be angry, that doesn’t mean I have to be. If I am to follow Jesus’ example, who has every right to judge and condemn me for my selfishness and transgressions and yet sets aside his anger and hurt on a regular basis to extend to me his perfect love and undeserved grace, I must do the same.

When we have been wronged, we may not have control over the circumstances, but we do have complete control over how we will respond. Will we lash out in retribution? Will we hold a righteous grudge? Or will we, like Jesus has done for us through the cross and on a daily basis, choose to let go of the offense and reach out in love and grace? Don’t get me wrong—this is hard! It’s near impossible. But it is what Jesus did and what he calls his followers to do. No, Jesus doesn’t want us to be doormats. (He never was.) What Jesus desires is that we take the light of his Presence in our hearts and our lives and radiate that into the darkness of evil and sin. The power of sin is strong, but not invincible for just as darkness is defeated by the light of one single candle, so sin has been forever and is now defeated by the light of God’s love and grace through Christ.

But wait! Didn’t I admit to still being angry. Well I am and admitting it is a healthy first step to letting it go and moving on. When I think about it and the enemy tempts me to hold onto my anger (allowing it to fester inside) I run to God in prayer asking him to take the anger from me. I picture in my head molding that anger into a ball and holding it up to Jesus. He then takes it from my hands, and replaces it with a masterpiece of his light, love and grace of his own making to share with those who have offended and hurt me. I determine to do this every time I feel the anger towards another human being until God has changed me in the process giving me the power to pray for the good of the one who has hurt me. Now I don’t do it perfectly and more time than I like to admit, I refuse to give up my anger. It’s mine and I have a right to it!! But, then I repent and begin the process over again until God’s grace defeats the ill-will in my heart. Why do I keep trying? Two reasons: 1) In following Christ’s example, I must and 2) how else will the evil men and women of the world see the light of Christ if not in me.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Church of Tomorrow Starts Today

This is my last chance. I’ve known for about five years now that it was coming and all of a sudden it is here. This is my last chance to change my ways to ensure (as much as any of us can) that my twilight years are healthy ones. My family is riddled with adult onset diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease because we are, in a word, fat. I can’t blame all of it the American obesity issue. I’m half Italian and that side of my family has always been full of girth. But I can’t use that as an excuse either. I am at the threshold and what I do now will for the most part determine the kind of life I will be living in 10-15 years.

Because of genetics and my love of food, I have already begun needing medication for high blood pressure. However, if I could lose the weight, I might still be able to reverse that. My back and feet are almost always hurting in some way or another and losing the weight would most certainly help in that area as well. Even though I know what I need to do and the result it will bring, I honestly don’t want to do it. I like the way my life is right now. I like being a couch potato. I like ice cream, chocolate, French fries, and potatoes in general (thanks to my Irish heritage) and let’s not forget pizza! But if I continue in this way, this way I like to live will disappear with the repercussions and I will be living a life I didn’t want.

I tell you all this because I believe the American church is facing a similar choice right now. We are at the threshold and what we do now will determine the life and vitality of the church in the coming years. With the freedom of religion that we have which we personally did not have to fight to get and therefore take all too often for granted, the American church has morphed into an institution that caters to its membership first and the community second. It is generally quicker to judge than to extend mercy and grace. Too much of the church is yearning for the old days like a lonely old widow and the rest seems to be pushing the limits to see how far it can go before it is reprimanded like an adolescent testing his boundaries.

If the American church is to be a vital part of the local and worldwide community in the years to come, we have to make the changes now that will make it possible for us to be the essential force of good we hope to be in the future. There must be a shift in the church culture—we must re-envision our image of what church is if we are to be the hands and feet of Christ in the future. Now I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t know what that means exactly. I do know that we need to stop judging and fighting amongst ourselves (which we seem to love to do much more than wanting to chance for the future) and start reaching outside ourselves in love and grace to the lost and hopeless in our community and in our world.

So what could the American church of the future look like? Church ministries and people will be out in the community. Those ministries will focus not on trying to bring young families into the church to sustain the church but on bringing the church out into the community among all peoples—families, singles, elderly, men, women, the abused, the grieving, the hungry, the sick, etc. to sustain the community. And we’ll do it out of love for our Savior and in love and grace for those he created. How will we get there? By taking the necessary steps towards spiritually healthy living now, we will be healthy and vital in the future.