Monday, June 27, 2016

Playgrounds and Baseball

Tis the season of playgrounds and baseball! The weather has been beautiful for most of the lasts few weeks and I’m seeing children swinging on swings, climbing on monkey bars and sliding down slides in the local parks and playgrounds. Those not on the playground are on the baseball diamonds on every municipal field in sight. It’s wonderful to see kids out and playing.

It reminds me of my own son in his baseball cap swinging with all his intensity to hit the ball. I know in his mind’s eye that ball was sailing over the fences even if in reality it never made it past the infield. He wasn’t a superstar and if he had lived I’m sure he would have never become a professional baseball player. He was an average player—no outstanding stats one way or the other. He once received a trophy for being the boy on his team who loved the game the most. As his coach pointed out when he handed Bryan the trophy – “no one loved the game more than he did” and that thought makes me smile.

It also reminds me of the day that my then ten-year-old Bryan broke his elbow by falling off a slide on the playground. In trying to relay the seriousness of the injury, the orthopedic surgeon described it as "the worst kind of break a kid could have." Bryan had two metal pins, four inches of stitches, and a hard cast for a month. The day the surgeon removed the pins and the stitches, I held my son still and watched as the doctor yanked the metal pins out of my baby’s arm with pliers and then rip the stitches out in one long drawn out agonizing tug, all without the aid of a pain killer. Bryan was screaming. I’m usually a non-aggressive person, but I’ll tell you, my blood was boiling and I nearly punched the man in the face for hurting my son.

The surgeon told me that he was unsure of how much mobility Bryan would have when it was all over. The toughest conversation I ever had with my little boy was to tell him that there was a chance that he would never play baseball again. As tears welled up in his eyes, he asked me if he worked really hard at the exercises the doctor gave him, would that help him be able to play. All I could tell him was that there was a chance, if he worked very hard, he would be able to play ball again. But if he didn’t work hard, he absolutely wouldn’t be able to ever play baseball again. Not the encouraging answer I wanted to give him, or the one he wanted to hear, but it was the truth and he needed to be told.

Bryan held onto that hope of "a chance" and worked as hard as he could. His elbow had healed and stiffen at the 90-degree angle it had been casted in. One of the rehab exercises consisted of me applying pressure on his arm to help him straighten it. I remember him pleading with me to push down harder as tears streamed down his face from the pain. It took all I had to push harder and inflict more of the healing pain he needed to recover his mobility.

As I loved Bryan, so God loves me and even more. As my Heavenly Father, He loves me with a fierce devotion even greater than the one I had for my son. He loves me as I am. Even if I don't stick out in the crowd, His eye is drawn to me. When I’m hurt, He hurts and rushes to comfort me. When I’m happy, He shares in the joy. There is an unbreakable bond between us that goes far beyond responsibility and emotion. 

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

He will always reveal the truth to me, even if it is something I don't want to hear. He loves me so much that He will do whatever is necessary, even if it is allowing painful circumstances in my life, so that I may receive all the good things he has planned for me.

When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. John 16:13

 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11

As I look back over the past few years, I can see a time or two in my life where His heart must have broken over the painful circumstances he allowed to occur in my life. I can imagine Him feeling my pain as if it were His own so that I could have what He wants most for me – a better understanding of who He is, a greater love for Him, and an ever deepening relationship with Him. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Fair Lady, New Diet, The Royal Couple and Perspective

One of my favorite lines from My Fair Lady—“If you can’t appreciate what you’ve got, then you should get what you can appreciate!” Professor Higgins says this to Eliza when she tells him that he is rude to her and she wants him to treat her better. It always sounded so logical to me. If you don’t like your smartphone, car, house…get a new one that you will like. If you hate your job then get a new one you will like. If the love of your life becomes disagreeable then get a new one. That’s how we do things. But that isn’t God’s perspective.

I admitted a couple of years ago that I am 60 pounds overweight and made the decision to lose it while I still could and before the extra weight did any real damage to my health. Let me stop here and ask you a question. Five birds are sitting on a fence. One of them decides to fly away. How many birds are left? If you said four you are wrong. There are still five. Deciding to fly away and actually flying away are two entirely different things. I made the decision two years ago, but I didn’t work at losing the weight until two months ago. I didn’t start this process hopeful at all. I know that women lose weight at a slower rate than men. I’ve seen countless people go on diets, lose the weight, hated the lifestyle of diet and exercise and gain it all back plus more. I was afraid of failing and even more afraid that I was going to have to give up some things I absolutely didn’t want to give up—pizza or chocolate for example. Thinking you would probably fail at something still allows for the illusion of possibility and is preferable to knowing by experience that you failed.

 Last week, I lamented to a friend about how slowly the process was going. I mentioned that even though the scale proves my new lifestyle is producing positive results, when I look in the mirror, I can’t see any difference and that was disparaging. My friend’s answer:  Get a new mirror! The weight loss is noticeable. I laughed. And a first it sounds like something that Professor Higgins might say. I thanked my friend and promised to enjoy the change I could see (smaller numbers on the scale) until my mirror began reflecting the changes already happening in my life. There it is—perspective! I broke through the frustration and disappointment to grab hold of joy rather than succumb to temporary frustration by running around looking for a warped mirror that might reflect what I can’t see right now.

Last night I had a strange dream. I dreamed that a royal couple was throwing strings of beads, thin plain necklaces, and other small trinkets into the crowd of people around me—enough for everyone to walk away with a dozen items each. We were herded into a jewelry shop where we handed over our booty to be bagged and returned or we could turn in what we were given for one item in the glass displays. Many opted for the jewelry shop gems that looked like the crowned jewels and had the large price tags to match. Now the dream switched scenes where the royal couple was sitting on their patio. A third person said to them that they looked sad. They replied that they were. They had tried to give away millions of dollars’ worth of jewels to the crowd, but so many of them turned in the priceless pieces to the jewelers for the imitation junk that sparkled in glass cases. It made me wonder when I woke up how often I threw away God’s priceless gifts of ordinary-looking miracles for the sparkling gleam of passing fancies. It’s all about perspective. If I could see what I have from God’s perspective, how rich and overjoyed I would be.

Here’s the cool thing—I can have God’s perspective. All I have to do is ask and the Holy Spirit who is with me always will make God’s perspective known to me. However, with a new perspective might just come the need to change, to let go of some things I hold dear now to hold onto those things that are priceless in God’s eyes. Worth it—even if I can’t see it right now!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Holy Spirit Word Study - Romans 15:30

Quick…fill in the blank: I urge you my friends in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the ___________ of the Spirit, to join me in prayer.  What word did you use to fill in the blank? Power? That’s the word I would have used but that’s not the word Paul uses in Romans 15:30:  “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.” He uses love. Why?

Since I’m not a theologian I can’t tell you for sure what the official answer is. But I’ve been thinking about it for weeks now and these are just some of the thoughts that came to mind. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem to deliver a monetary gift collected by the Gentile Christian churches of Macedonia and Achaia for the Jewish Christian church whose people were in desperate need. What an incredible thing was happening there!

Jews and Gentiles didn’t do things for or with each other. But in the name of Christ and in honor of the grace and salvation brought to the Gentiles through the Jews as God’s chosen people to whom Jesus revealed himself first, they collected funds for the Jewish Christians who desperately needed the aid. Let’s remember that at this time they were in the middle of the first church worship wars. Yes, even then, the church disagreed on the “proper way” to worship God. There were Jewish Christians who insisted that all non-Jewish believers must become Jewish (men be circumcised and Jewish rituals observed) or they weren’t really Christians. I’m sure they had some conflicting ideas on the music that was sung and the prayers that were said too. Putting all disagreements and racial distrust aside, those who had gave to those that didn’t.

Paul had never met the Roman Christians before but I’m sure that by then, they probably had at least heard stories of him. This letter was his introduction to them. Though they had never met, Paul asks them to join him in his mission by praying with and for him. And that is why I think he used the phrase “love of the Spirit” rather than the expected “power of the Spirit.” Love is a unique power that we have access to because God himself is love. 1 John tells us that we love because he first loved us. Grace is a product of God’s love for us and Jesus' love for the Father. The Spirit is a gift of love from the Father at Jesus request for all who believe. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance and companionship, we learn to hear God’s voice and grow in his likeness.

Love is the unbreakable bond that connects God to us and us to each other. Because God is love, I can love someone I’ve never met and in that love ask God to bless them. Because God is love, I can love someone whom society or even my own people deem unworthy or disagreeable. Out of love, I can offer what I have to fill their needs instead of rendering my judgement on them. I can ask God to bless them and be the blessing I’ve petitioned for because of the bond of love between God, me, and them. It’s the only love triangle that works because that’s how love was intended to be from the beginning.

Love is a power we can’t fully comprehend but know when we see it. And know when we don’t.  Paul has asked these brothers and sisters in the faith, strangers in reality, to share in this powerful bond. What a joy it is he’s asking them to share with him—that they would be with him in God’s work. He is inviting them to be a fundamental part of spreading the Gospel with him and blessing others.

I’m not sure that there is a bow to put on these simple musings except to say that I want to be a better prayer warrior. I want to love others in this way like I’ve never done before. That is my prayer. 

May God’s love overflow from him to me to you. Amen.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Do You Know Me? (Again)

Today I was reminded that God knows every little thing about me. I thought it would be fun to look back to the spiritual understanding God brought from a funny story I received in my email many years ago. Enjoy!

 In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” She responded, “Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a boy, and frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheated on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you’ll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.”

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?”

She again replied, “Why yes, I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can’t build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him.”

The defense attorney nearly died.

The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said, “If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I’ll send you both to the electric chair.”

I laughed when I read this story and then I paused. God knows me even more intimately than that. If I were to ask him, “Do you know me?” would I be able to endure the shame his answer would bring. There are so many things in my life that are hidden and I’m not just talking about the dumb things I did as a rebellious teenager or the greedy, self-serving offenses of my pre-Christian days. At least with those, I have the weak excuse that God hadn’t redeemed my life yet.

Even if God were to concentrate his answer on the years after I committed my life to Jesus, I couldn’t bear the encyclopedic volumes that would proceed from his mouth. Rebellion and sin are deep in my nature and that’s not going to just go away. I’m not going to wake up one day and never sin again. Yes, I am a Christian and my ambition and hope is to obey God’s will in my life, to become more like Jesus and less like the sinful human being that I am, but that is going to be a lifetime struggle.

So often in this world, a Christian’s sin is used as proof of “the deception” of Christianity. Non-Christians build their case against God with the sins of his people. They judge us self-righteous when we obey God’s will in our lives and hypocrites when we fail. How did any of us ever get the idea that “real” Christians are perfect all of the time? Real Christians are just broken people like everyone else. We are people who, by God’s grace, recognize our brokenness and in faith believe God has paid the price to redeem our lives. In gratitude, we offer our love and service to him, but we are still sinful human beings. God’s redeeming work is available instantly, but requires the rest of this lifetime to take root and flourish.

When I stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment, all of my sins will be illuminated and measured by his holiness. Though I am sinful, I’m not afraid of that day because, just as he is with me now, Jesus will be standing with me on that day blotting out every last one of my sins with his blood. It’s not a lack of sin that make a Christian different from a non-Christian. It’s a relationship with the Savior that makes us different.