Monday, May 30, 2016

Celebrating Love

Today is Memorial Day. Today is a day to celebrate love. What?! Isn't Memorial Day about remembering those who gave their life to protect and ensure our freedom and liberties? What's that got to do with love? Think this through with me. All those men and women who gave their lives--why?

Why do sane people leave behind their families, their lives to participate in the violence and chaos that is war? A sense of honor, duty, to protect those they love, to ensure the freedom they hold dear continues to exist. Some willingly go. Some conscripted. All fearful for their own lives, the lives of their comrades, their families and for the innocents they go to defend and protect. That's why they do it but what motivates them? What is the power that drives them into violent, unstable parts of the world? What keeps them moving forward when their entire being begs them to go back?

I believe it is love. Love of family. Love of country. Love for the American way of life, however flawed it may be at times. I've heard POW stories that consistently claim that it was love for their families that gave them the strength to endure, survive, and overcome. Love for a brother-in-arms is the only reasonable explanation why one man would trigger a landmine or step into a stream of artillery to sacrifice his life for his friend's.

As Christians, we have a unique understanding of a love that leads to a similar kind of sacrifice. I leave you with this poem I wrote about love.

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.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How Would I Answer?

In Mark 10 we hear the story of Blind Bartimaeus calling out to Jesus and being healed. Here is someone who understood who Jesus was and despite discouragement from those around him, called out to Jesus expectantly and Jesus answered. Calling Bartimaeus to him, Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus asked for his sight and Jesus told him to “Go. Your faith has healed you.” Now Bartimaeus had his sight back. He could do all the things he ever dreamed of doing. He was no longer an outcast, a sinful beggar in the eyes of his community. He could work to earn his keep and have a chance at a full, rich life. Instead Bartimaeus followed Jesus up to Jerusalem.

As I read this a thought hit me so hard, I felt like I had been slapped. If I were to encounter Jesus in person right here, right now and he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” what would I say? It almost sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Why would God ask me what I want him to do for me? After all, I’m his creation, his servant. I should be asking him what he wants me to do for him. Yet when we approach God in prayer—that’s exactly what Jesus says to us. I feel like the answer to this question should be big and really holy like world peace or the end of hunger and disease. [This is starting to sound like a beauty pageant.] But that’s not the answer Jesus is looking for. He really wants to hear what is on my heart and mind. He wants me to bring my everyday ordinary, not necessarily holy, thoughts and feelings to him.

When my son was little, I used to listen to him tell me some of the most boring, mundane, silly nonsense. I did it because he was my son and I loved him and if it was important enough to him to share with me, then it was important to me. I did it because I knew that someday, he was going to need to talk to me about character-building dilemmas and life-altering decisions and every daily chat we had was confirmation during those moments of fear and doubt that he could trust that I’d be there for him and that he could tell me anything. I think God works the same way. He is genuinely interested in what I think and feel because I am his child. When it comes to big things in my life, I may be hesitant to bring them to him in prayer but I have years of evidence that God will always be there listening to me and responding in love and with grace.

So how would I answer his question, “What do you want me to do for you?” I guess I would have to say, “Just give me a little of your time. Let me tell you about my day and share a little of myself with you.” If Jesus were right there in person in front of you at this moment asking, “What do you want me to do for you?” what would you say?

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Gym, the Church, AA, and Discipleship

If someone were to describe me to you, they would most certainly include, if they were being truthful, the fact that I am overweight. I’m about 60 pounds overweight. I know that I need to correct this now if I’m to have a good quality of life in my retirement years so I am working hard to lose that weight. I know I can’t do it alone. I’m going to need lots of encouragement and help. I’m going to have to change the way I think and do things. However the one thing I won’t do is join a gym. Why?!!!! Because I would feel like I was being judged by the skinny, fit people there. I’d suspect the sincerity of anyone who said an encouraging word and I’d feel embarrassed asking for help with the equipment. Most of all, I’d see judgement and disgust in the eyes of the fit people around me as I struggle with learning to be a healthier, skinnier me. Now I know that most of these things are a projection of my own thoughts and feelings onto the strangers around me. But there are fit people out there who hate me or at least my inactive lifestyle and feel I deserve their scorn and I’d most certainly run into more than one of them at the gym in the time it takes me to lose enough to camouflage myself as one of them.

That’s the way non-church people see church people. They feel judged from the moment they walk in the door. They suspect the sincerity of anyone who greeted them and would feel embarrassed to ask anyone to explain the churchy concepts they are unfamiliar with. They know we know they don’t belong and feel targeted by stares of curiosity or disgust at their “unchristian-like” (read “unchurchy”) fashion style and mannerisms. Now like my gym argument, most of that is a projection of their own thoughts and feelings on “church people.” And like my gym argument, there are plenty of church people who hate non-church people’s lifestyles, choices, and general unchurchiness, even while they are self-righteously “loving the sinner.” In the U.S. that’s what non-church people understand the Church to be. Even if they stuck it out and learned to use the churchy terms and eventually blended in, they still wouldn’t feel like they belong. How and when did the Church start being perceive as this elitist club?

Yesterday was Pentecost—the birthday of the Church. Over two thousand years ago, a small group of Jews shared their experience of Jesus with others. Wanting what they had, those others from all over the world joined them. Sometimes, I think that the Church of the first century was less like the Church of today and more like Alcoholic Anonymous. Rarely will you meet a more welcoming, supportive group anywhere—they know how to disciple. What is discipling but helping someone with less experience learn and grow. In AA, people lean on each other and support each other. A person on his first day of sobriety is just as loved and accepted without prejudice as one on his two hundredth day. And a person on his two hundredth day is seen just as vulnerable to temptation as someone on his first day because they are all acutely aware that no matter how many days sobriety they have, every one of them are alcoholics and it only takes one drink to undo it all. And it doesn’t matter to the group if it’s your first Day 1 of sobriety or your 5th Day 1 of sobriety—they welcome and support you as you work towards Day 2.

The original disciples weren’t theologians. They weren’t any different than the common people who came to worship in the Temple that day except that they had an encounter with Jesus. And with the Holy Spirit, they had the courage and ability to share that experience. Then those 3000 from around the world, who were baptized and who received the Holy Spirit that day went out to share their experience with their friends and family. That’s what discipling is. Sharing your experience of Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit and passing on what God has taught you in your faith journey with those around you.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Facing the Wind and Flood of Change

For much of my life fear dominated my life. It decided my abilities, my limits, my every step. My biggest fear—fear of change. For me, change was a tornado whipping everything around me in a chaotic and unpredictable manner with a tsunami simultaneously rushing in to destroy and wash away everything I knew and held dear. Even in the worst possible situations, I was afraid of change because…better the devil you know. As bad as it was, in my mind, change could only make it worse. I’ve learned that life’s only constant is change and how I react to it is what determines whether it is good or bad. Well now I get to test my new-found wisdom and confidence because there’s a big change coming in my life. It’s not one I sought but it is one that I’ve known was coming for a while. It’s not one I want, but it is one to celebrate.

I’m not saying that I’m going to find it easy. Maybe it will be an adventure. Then again, maybe it won’t. Only God knows what is to come. So how am I going to face it? I can’t stop the changing world around me but I can sink my anchor into the one rock that will never move, never change, or give way—God! Let the winds of change come, the tides roll in and wash away what is. Even as the waters rush over me and the wind picks me up and throws me around, my God will never lose his hold on me. He will set my feet on solid ground and walk with me to discover the unexplored terrain of the future.

Scripture tells us that God is immutable. He is who he is and he is unchanging. His holiness, righteousness, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, his love and grace will endure forever. And whatever the future holds, I am precious to the one who hold it in his hands. He will not let me be blown away nor will he let me drown. He has a hold of my hand and my heart and he will never let go. Does God change? No! Do I believe it? I’m about to have the opportunity to prove to myself that I do.

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed." Malachi 3:6

Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:2

Monday, May 2, 2016

Worthless and Yet Priceless

As we celebrated communion yesterday in worship, the minister caught my attention while issuing the invitation to the table. He said if we hear a little voice telling us that we don’t deserve to come to the table—that voice is right! Not what one might expect to hear, but oh so true. I don’t deserve God’s grace. Never have and never will. He went on to explain that we are incapable of earning a place at God’s table but that this is the reason we celebrate—because God gave his Son over to death to ensure a place for each one of us at his table.

It would be too easy to let myself wonder down the path of regret when I think about how inadequate and undeserving I am of God’s grace. There are things in my life that I could never make up for in a hundred lifetimes. Too many Christians live their faith out in sadness for their imperfections. I see too many people of faith trying to balance the scale in their favor with good deeds. They spend their days in futility trying to work off their sins in an effort to get in God’s good graces and someday into heaven. But Christ’s death and resurrection tipped the scales in our favor for all time. We don’t have attempt the impossible feat of being righteous enough for God because he is righteous enough for us. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice we are already in God’s good graces. And yes we are still going to sin for we are imperfect, sinful people and that still cannot tear us away from the place God has set for us at his table.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

God loves me and even though I can’t comprehend or explain the depth of his love, that doesn’t negate the enormity of it. I am a sinner but God’s love for me gives me worth. Value.  I am his unique handcrafted Maureen. One of a kind, never to be reproduced or replicated. Our relationship is priceless to him and in his heart my salvation was worth all he had. If God who knows me completely thinks I’m to die for, then I probably should stop thinking so little of myself and learn to value myself as the Lord’s beloved daughter.