Monday, June 5, 2017

The Last Post

God has called me to so many wonderful ministries over the years. Each time I had clear sense of call that I couldn’t ignore beckoning me into action and I’ve learned so much about myself, my relationship with God and others along the way. I went into each call to service not for my own edification, but wanting to bring glory to God and be a blessing to others. Yet each time God overwhelmed me in blessings which have deepen my awareness of God’s presence, grace, and love in my own life.

God doesn’t just call us into ministry but also away from those ministries. Maybe because we’ve given all we can and it’s time for a rest. Maybe because he is preparing us to serve in another way. In my own life, when that time comes, I feel unsettled, relieved, sad and excited. Leaving behind something I’ve put my heart into is hard. Not knowing where I’m going next is both uncomfortable and exciting.

The Parable of My Life began as a spiritual discipline—a way for me to seek and recognize God in my everyday life. When I first started this blog eight years ago, my only intention was to share that discipline with whomever God brought to it. God was blessing me abundantly in understanding and I just had to share it. I have been amazed right alongside you at some of the beautiful poetry and insightful stories God has inspired me to write. What started as a spiritual discipline has blossomed into my own personal ministry for the last eight years and I have enjoyed sharing my heart with you. But for a while now, this ministry has for me ceased to be a discipline and become an obligation that is less about God and more about putting words on a page. God and you deserve more than that so this will be my last post. I have enjoyed our time together and I hope our paths will meet again offline.

Blessings to you all!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Another Look at The Savior's Sandals

An ordinary pair of worn leather sandals
scented with the odor of sweat and dirt
from a thousand miles walked.
Not the offensive smell one would expect,
but the sweet fragrant offering of
His duty, love, and determination
to sit among and to save His children.
The straps torn and mended in many places
by a loving mother or dedicated disciple,
or perhaps by His own calloused hands.
His very footprints molded into their soles 
from years of service in walking His path.
Day after day, they laid themselves down
upon the rocks that would slice His heel
and the burning sand that would grind at His feet
as He traveled where ever the Spirit led Him,
perhaps even to the foot of the cross.
Oh that I could walk the way of His sandals.

This post started in the strangest of places – with a prompt to write a poem about a pair of sneakers. Since Jesus didn’t own a pair of Nike’s, I wrote about his sandals instead. As I was writing the poem, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between my life as a disciple and the position his sandals held.

The sandals Jesus wore were nothing special. You couldn’t pick them out of a display of first century sandals if your life depended on it. What made them noteworthy enough to merit a poem was that they belonged to Jesus. Where he walked, they went. Often, I make a joke about being just a secretary or just a high school graduate and therefore nothing special. However, in my service to Jesus, I am uniquely special. He chose me and walks with me daily, guiding me along the path he wishes me to travel through life. It’s his presence alone in my life that makes me acceptable in the presence of a Holy God. And of course, it is always good to remember, that like everything else on earth, the Father has put me under Jesus’ feet.

As you know, my life has been torn apart many times and each time God has mended and renewed my life. He made me new in his power, by his will, sometimes through the actions of those he put in my life. As I journey through life with Jesus, he is molding me every day to be more like him – through the situations I encounter, the people I interact with, in the study of his Word and in prayer. As his disciple, I am called to emulate him and as his child, I am growing to resemble him more and more each day. I’ve given to him my heart and my life and he accepts my service in the offering. My desire is to serve him as he wills me to, even to the cross.

Here’s the catch – it’s so much easier to express and even intend the kind of commitment we as children of God are to have than it is to actually live it. His sandals didn’t wake up some mornings and say, “Today, I just don’t feel like doing it” and then force themselves to go with Jesus. I, however, do and because Jesus continues to give me the ability to say “no” so that my “yes” means that much more, I struggle in my desire to always follow Jesus. Perhaps the struggle itself is what makes my “yes” such a cause for rejoicing in heaven.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from ourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10

Monday, May 22, 2017

What I Learned at the Zoo

A couple of people have mentioned to me that they had or were going to the zoo which brought to mind my own visit several years ago. I went back to read the post I wrote and felt it just as applicable today as it was then. I hope you enjoy this look back at some of the similarities I found between being an animal at the zoo and being a Christian. Enjoy!

While looking through the pictures I took there, it occurred to me that there are many similarities between the zoo and my life as a Christian. At the zoo, the animals are in their own engineered environment that looks and feels a lot like their native habitat even though that might be thousands of miles away. These habitats will never match the beauty or afford the freedom to the animals of their native habitats. Still, these animals have adapted to their environment and go about daily life as if they were in Africa or China, or the North Pole. While they may seem to be self-sufficient in their habitats, the animals must ultimately rely on zookeepers and veterinarians to care for them and provide for their needs. Throughout the day, the animals are constantly being looked at and watched by hundreds of curious people who are on the other side of a protective wall wanting to learn more about these strange and exotic creatures.

As a Christian, I too am a stranger in a strange land. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, but my home is heaven. However, there is love and generosity, kindness, empathy and respect to be found here on earth just as in heaven. God is God and Jesus is the Savior anywhere on this planet as in heaven. His Spirit in my heart and his presence in my life enables me to adapt to this earthly residence and live my everyday life as if I were home. I can love God and love those around me here, as I will in heaven. But someday when I go home, I will know a freedom that I cannot experience here and now.

I work to earn money to buy food and clothing and secure shelter and transportation, but I rely on God to provide for my needs. It's because of God that I have a job (literally - I'm a church secretary) and that there is food to buy, and so on. I rely on God to care for me. When I feel lonely, I know that I am not alone because he is always with me. I turn to him when I am sick or when my world turns upside down. He teaches and guides me. He loves and nurtures me.

There are many non-Christians that I encounter in my daily living who pay attention to my actions trying to learn more about how and why I do things. This relationship with God that I have is unfamiliar and foreign to them and they want to learn, so they observe how my relationship with God makes my life different from theirs. Some are mildly curious and just gawk at the differences without trying to understand them. Others are very interested and, trying to understand, ask questions.

Many of them do this from behind an invisible protective wall that they've erected (This God-stuff is okay for you, but it's not for me. All religions are the same. If God is so good...). Sometimes the wall is put there by me (I don't have time. I don't want to get hurt. That's not my spiritual gift.). The Bible says that we are not to be of the world, but we are to be in the world. So I guess that means that the walls need to come down. Can you imagine that at the zoo? Complete chaos and fear. And in that scenario, Christians are the dangerous animals. That might explain the hostility we see toward Christians in many parts of the world.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ordinary Everyday Triggers

This last week has been bittersweet. The week of Mother’s Day usually is. This day set aside to celebrate our mothers affords me the opportunity to make a special effort to tell the woman who raised me that I appreciate and love her deeply. It’s also a smack-in-the-face reminder that all that are left of my mother-son relationship are the fading memories. Sometimes, ordinary things will trigger a memory so vivid I am transported in my mind back to that moment. The "My Mom is the Greatest" teacup he gave me one Mother’s Day over twenty-five years ago brings me back to the five year old that wanted to see me use it. It’s been used and washed so many times that the words are now faded, but the memory is as clear as the day he gave it to me.

Scarecrows in the fall remind me of his twice-a-day, every-day-for-six-months fascination with the Wizard of Oz and how expertly he had copied the Scarecrow’s song and dance complete with hay (Easter grass) falling from his shirt when he fell. Sometimes it’s so real, I laugh and cry at the same time.

I started to wonder if there are ordinary things in my life that “trigger” a realization of my relationship with Jesus. I thought of rainbows that remind me of God’s promise that he will never give up on me. When I see a mother cradling her baby, I feel the love and security of being God’s beloved child. Butterflies trigger a sense hope and of being a new creation in Christ.

So this week, I’ve decided to search for all those precious ordinary things in my life that trigger a sense of God’s presence.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 
Jeremiah 29:13

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Stories They Will Tell

When [the Ephesian Elders] arrived, [Paul] said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace."
Acts 20:18-24

Yesterday I heard of two young adults from my community whom I never met that died last week. I listened to stories about them from people who knew them. It occurred to me that these two people, without trying and without knowing it, made an impression on the people telling the stories. We all do. Day after day I go through life doing what I do, most times just trying to get by, and whether I mean to or not, I am making some kind of impression on the people around me. I decide what that impression is by the way I interact with them. With that in mind, I started wondering what people will say about me someday. What stories will they tell about me?

Now I’m not planning on leaving this earth any time soon, but my son's sudden death has taught me that all I have for sure is this moment, right now, to make that impression. What do I want my life to stand for? I want people to say about me that I loved Jesus and shared that love with them. I want people to be able to say that I inspired hope, love, and grace. If that’s really what I want people to take from my life, then that is how I must live my life. Each moment loving Jesus, loving them, sharing grace and spreading hope.

No matter the situation I find myself in, I need to filter my reaction through this focus—love Jesus, love others, share grace and spread hope. Not just in my calling but also when I’m running late or stuck in the slowest moving line and even when someone cuts me off in traffic, my demeanor needs to exude “love Jesus, love others, share grace and spread hope.” When someone I love hurts me or life just seems to be going against me, I need to hold onto and live out “loving Jesus, loving others, sharing grace and spreading hope.” That’s a hard thing to do moment to moment let alone for an entire lifetime. But it’s something I’m willing to put time and effort into because God taught me how to love abundantly and I have to share the love I have for him or I feel like I’ll burst. Jesus is the love of my life. He gives my life purpose and fulfillment. My relationship with him has made me who I am and I need to share with you this gift of life, of love, of hope and joy.

Jesus isn’t a silent partner in all of this. He will shine through my life despite my less than Christ-like moments.  I’m going to forget or selfishly disregard this personal mission statement at times. My prayer is that these times are few and far between and that these lapses in judgement won’t do too much damage to impression I desperately want to leave with each of you.

Everything you do today will leave an impression on the people around you. What is that impression going to be and is it the one you want to leave with them?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Holy Spirit Word Study 1 Cor 2:4-5

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

I always find it amazing when God chooses to reveal his message, his nature, his plan for salvation and his desire to be in relationship with us through the most unlikely people. For example, I’m sure you’ve seen one of those social experiment videos that show the selfless generosity of a homeless individual who is given a sandwich and shares it with others. I am in utter disbelief that someone who has no idea if and when their next meal is coming would share the little food they have with another. I’d like to think I would do the same, but I don’t know that I would.

God has a history of picking the most unlikely people to work through in his mission and ministry to reconcile us to himself. I’m reminded of Moses who was a murderer with a speech impediment whom God called to be his spokesperson and lead God’s people into a future where integrity and submission to God’s will were the foundation of their nation’s identity.

Too often as humans, we look to the well-dressed, articulate, well-educated professional as the source of all wisdom. I’m not saying God doesn’t speak through well-dressed, articulate, well-educated professionals. I’m saying that we too often let our perceptions dictate who is creditable and who isn’t. When it comes to matters of faith, that criteria can be detrimental to our growth as disciples and God’s ministry through us in our world.

So how do I know who is creditable and who isn’t when it comes to statements and actions that challenge my understanding of faith. I go to the source—Jesus who is the Word of God in flesh. I go straight to the bible with an open mind and heart to see if this new idea that is challenging my faith is in line with who the bible says Jesus is. I ask the Spirit to reveal to me how I am to consider this new-found understanding. I discuss it with my inner circle of faith friends to look at it from other points of view. Ultimately, I rely on God to help me see the ideology, statement, situation, etc. in question for what it really is and ask his help to reject if necessary or accept and integrate it into my faith life as his truth.

God created me as an intelligent, creative human being with free will. I can’t be the unique woman he had in mind if I’m believing blindly in a religious platform because someone who has human credentials says I should. I also can’t be against something because some unlikely person is the source. If my faith can’t be tested and come out a stronger, more mature, more intimate understanding of who God is and who I am to God then it’s a faith not worth having.

Monday, April 24, 2017

What Do I Really Believe?

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15

The term “Statement of Faith” came up three times last week prompting me to ask myself, “What is it I really believe?” So for fun and as a discipline, I wrote my own statement of faith.  I gave myself three guidelines:  1) I wanted to avoid the “I believe…, I believe…,” format, 2) as much as it was possible, I wanted to avoid churchy words and 3) I didn’t want to regurgitate the well-established creeds of the church. I wanted to write a truly personal statement of what I believe, why I believe it, and how it has affected who I am and what I do.

This exercise has turned out to be an important and necessary step in the renewing of my spiritual fervor which I feel I have been lacking in for a long time now. If you’ve never taken the time to write your own statement of faith or haven’t done so in a while, I highly recommend it. If nothing else, it reminded me of how magnificent God is and how blessed I am that he loves me. It’s reminded me why I am a follower of Jesus and why I want to be more intent on my faith journey and in my relationship with the Lord.

My Statement of Faith (April 24, 2017)
I know there is one God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—because he has revealed himself to me in so many ways—through his inspired word the bible, in prayer, in fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters, in dreams, through worship and other disciplines of faith. 

God is the source of all that exist—the universe and all that is in it. In his own limitless power, God stepped out of his glorious existence and into humanity in the person of Jesus Christ to communicate his divinity, his nature and capacity of unending love for us in a way we could comprehend and then took upon himself the consequences of all sin, even mine, with Jesus’ death on the cross. God’s justice being satisfied, nothing, but our own free will granted to us by God himself, stands in the way of God’s love and mercy or his desire to be in relationship with every individual including me. Christ’s resurrection makes it possible and promises that we are able to enjoy that relationship forever. 

Before recognizing his supreme sovereignty and dedicating my life to his service, I was broken—a sinner, a hopeless, helpless human being apart from his mercy and grace. Yet he gently and relentlessly pursued me in love and softened my heart with his kindness. He healed the deep wounds of my past and gave my life value and purpose. He redeemed all the neglect, abuse, and grief of my past and transformed the brokenness of my life into a beacon of hope. He nurtured within me a deep compassion and empathy for those who are hurting. He’s developed in me the gift of creativity in its many facets to share the Good News of his grace and mercy with the world. I’m still a sinner but I’m made right with God by Christ’s sacrifice. As a child of God, I am no longer broken, hopeless or helpless. It is my great joy to share my life and my love for him with those around me. 

From the beginning, he had in mind for me to join with my brothers and sisters in the faith to worship him and with the Holy Spirit to work together as conduits of his love and grace both in word and deed. The Holy Spirit is our companion and guide, instilling in us the wisdom and power to accomplish God’s will. One day, Jesus will return to earth, eradicate sin and evil and establish his kingdom. God will once again live among us and we will enjoy his presence as he intended it to be in the beginning.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hope Is An Empty Tomb

Hope Is An Empty Tomb
Hope isn’t a wish.
It isn’t a goal to work towards 
or reward when I get there.
It’s more than a belief 
or philosophy of life. 
Hope is an empty tomb 
and it is the foundation 
of my relationship with Christ—
that His death and resurrection 
redeemed and renewed 
every one of us 
forever, you and me, 
those before and 
those who follow. 
Hope is the ground beneath my feet 
when the floor gives way. 
It’s the air I breathe 
when caught in the vacuum 
of human inability 
and indifference.
This kind of hope is 
being absolutely sure of 
what I cannot know or prove. 
My hope rest in the One 
who redeems me, 
who started the good work 
of grace within me and 
who will finish the job. 
My hope is in the One 
who rose from the dead, 
who brings me out of the grave of 
my spirit-dead living 
into a fresh Spirit-filled life. 
This hope comes from knowing 
the One who created me, 
who died for my sins, 
and rose from the dead to 
live and reign forever. 
As long as Christ lives, 
so does the hope which 
lives within me.

Monday, April 10, 2017

What Is this Holy Week All About?

Someone said to me the other day in reference to the coming week, “Well this is the week that we live at church.” Christian churches in our country are gearing up for multiple worship services at the end of the week with record attendance. Choirs and instrumentalists have been working on Tenebrae music and special anthems to celebrate this most important occasion. Sadly, many of those who will make an appearance in the pews this coming Sunday won’t really understand why they are there beyond obligation or familial tradition.

Easter week affords us the opportunity enter into the Gospel story. We welcome our Savior with the waving of palms and the singing of his praises on Palm Sunday. We receive his mandate to love one another as he has loved us in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday. We deny we know him with Peter, shout “Crucify Him!” and see him beaten with the crowd. We watch him drag his cross and fall. We wail with Mary, John, and the others as Jesus is nailed to a cross, not for his sins for he is sinless, but for ours. We witness his agony and his death on Good Friday. We wait with the apostles and disciples on Saturday and celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning. We celebrate Easter week because it is the foundation of our faith.

“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

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.

God of Love and Righteousness is from Reflections, A Poetic Response to Psalm 119 by Maureen Profeta

Monday, April 3, 2017

Love Is... Part 4

Last week, I wrote about the implications of the first three words of verse 8:  Love never fails. This week I am looking at the remainder of the chapter. People in the Corinthian church were at odds with each other. Some people were prophesying and others were speaking in tongues. Still others were wise teachers. Then there were the majority of the people who were gifted with ordinary gifts of administration, generosity, carpentry, cooking, sewing, farming… The people of the church were arguing over whose gift was better, more distinguished, more holy. Paul calls their dispute and attitudes childish. In essence he is saying “You are behaving like children! What you’re really saying is Dad (God) likes me best because he gave me the cooler toy (spiritual gift). Like children, you’re boasting: My gift is bigger and better than your gift. Stop whining and grow up.”

Yes, we are children of the Most High God, and at some point we need to grow past the immaturity of a child. Children often covet the privileges older siblings or adults – staying up late, having their own phone, driving a car, etc. But privilege is the flip side of responsibility and you can’t have one without the other. In the spiritual sense, faith, hope and love are the responsibility. The way in which God chooses to implement that in each of us is the flip side. These things that the Corinthians were obsessing over are temporary in nature—like everything in this imperfect world, here today and gone tomorrow. When Jesus comes again, there will be no need for prophecy or speaking the Good News in tongues. We will have a full understanding and unveiled vision of Jesus as he leads us into the new heaven and new earth where faith, hope and love will continue to be the essence of our relationship with God and with others.

So why is love the greatest of these three excellent gifts and responsibilities bestowed upon us by our Father in heaven? My guess is that faith may be able to move mountains, hope is confidence in the promise, but love is the power by which forgiveness, redemption, faith, and hope are born from.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Love Is... Part 3

Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:8a)

Most people these days are under the erroneous assumption that love is transient. It comes and goes with the boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses who are in our lives one moment and gone the next. Google “falling out of love” and you will get an endless list of links to articles, quizzes and warning signs:

3 signs you are falling out of love with your partner
8 reasons women fall out of love
Are you falling out of love? A quiz on 10 warning signs
5 signs your partner is falling out of love

Even children believe this which may be why so many doubt or fear losing their parents’ love. Yet 1 Corinthians 13:8 says that love never fails.

Love as God is and created it to be between us never ceases, diminishes, or disappears. Love in its purest form is constant, steady, and foundational. Love isn’t an emotion though emotion may be part of love. Love isn’t the product of hard work but labor may play a part in love. Love is a choice made over and over and over again—a choice I can’t be counted on making every time because of my sinful nature but God will absolutely make each and every moment because of who he is. God is love and must be true to his own nature which is where my confidence in his love for me comes from. God must be God so God will love me always.

God is the source of the unconditional love our hearts long for. His love fills the need we have to be loved, accepted, protected and cherished. Every great expression of love is only truly fulfilled in him.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Love Is...Part 2

This foray into 1 Corinthians 13 started a couple of weeks ago when I made the assertion that my duty and joy as a disciple of Jesus is to love. It seems simple enough. But what is love? What does it mean to love? If I can’t define it, how can I do it? I opened up my dictionary app and looked up the word love. There were nine different definitions listed, a few with multiple sub-meanings, each highlighting a different facet of the word, none of which helped me put into words an adequate definition to help me move forward with actually “loving” God and my neighbor. That’s when I turned to 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

So to love God and my neighbor, I must be patient and kind, never envious or act out of self-importance. My words and actions must never dishonor or come from anger. I can never hold a grudge and or be driven by self-interest. To love God and my fellow man, I must not seek out or celebrate evil—but search for and revel in truth. I will need to safeguard those who are precious to God and never give up in my zeal for the Lord. Because of who God is, I will believe the unbelievable and count on what I can’t yet prove.

1 John 4:16 says “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”  So not only does 1 Corinthians teach me about how I am supposed to interact with God and others but it teaches me something about God himself:  God is patient and kind, never envious or acts out of self-importance. He never dishonor, acts out in anger, holds a grudge, and is never driven by self-interest. He does not seek out or celebrate evil, but revels in truth. He safeguards those who are precious to him and never give ups. Because of who God is, He makes the unbelievable believable and gives that which has yet to be credibility.

It seems love is hard work and a skill I will need a lifetime to master. It’s a good thing I have such a perfect example to follow in Jesus.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Love Is...Part 1

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Social media is filled with too many resounding gongs and clanging cymbals these days—So many people voicing their opinions about what is right and wrong. People arguing in the comment sections like it is their duty to explain to the “moron” who commented last how foolish and flawed they are in their thinking. I’ve seen it happen not just on controversial posts but in the comment section of completely unrelated, harmless items like a cute video of puppies or a condolence to a family suffering hardship and the celebration of a group’s achievement. It’s almost like we believe our condescending, harsh comments will make a difference, change a mind. But even if I am right and can prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt, blindsiding others with my righteous indignation only serves to push people further from the truth. As the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Yet it’s so easy to get caught up in one of those kinds of useless debates before I know it is happening. A few years ago, I got into a heated discussion with someone because I made the mistake of assuming that if I just explained my position, the other person would understand. To my surprise, she didn’t and having made the same assumption, she answered by explaining her position. The discussion quickly became an argument with neither of us listening and both of us desperately trying to “enlighten” the other. We ended up hurting each other in a way that led to the eventual end of our friendship.

Being a Christian isn’t about being right! Being a Christian is about recognizing how wrong we are without God as the center of our lives. It’s about loving God in response to the love he has for us and the grace his love for us has fostered. It’s about reaching out to others in that love with the skills and gifts God has provided and encouraged us to develop. God is and provides the love that is the glue that binds us together in our differences and it is the propellant that pushes us beyond our limitations to extraordinary actions of faith that can and do make a difference.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chapter 13 Love

A friend recommended a book to me called When Christians Get It Wrong by Adam Hamilton. I found it reflected my own sentiments when it comes to some of the hot topic issues and it was nice to read that I’m not all alone in my stance that my only duty and joy as a Christian is to love. With the social and political atmosphere these days, I really needed that affirmation. It seems simple enough—all I have to do is love and I’m good. But how am I to love? And who?

Do I even really know what that unassuming four-letter word means? I love my family and friends. I love sparkly jewelry and I absolutely love pizza even if it doesn't love me! I love poetry and music and often walk out of the theater exclaiming my love for the movie I’ve just seen. I love my new dark rinse jeans and I love even better how they make me look!! I love ideas and I love lazy Saturdays in my pajamas. I say it a lot! But for all that, I am hard-pressed to come up with an actual definition. The dictionary isn’t much help either as it provides numerous meanings making it difficult to pin down what love really is.

1 John tells us that God is love. God = love. That means that if I can understand love better, than I will know God better. This of course led me to that most famous bible passage on love—1 Corinthians 13. So over the next few weeks, I am going to take a closer look at this all too familiar passage and invite you on the journey. 

We often hear it read at weddings but this passage wasn’t originally meant as advice to couples on how to live together. It was advice from a pastor to his church. Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth teaching the infant church there, giving them a firm foundation in their faith to allow them to continue to grow and mature after he left, and in his absence, things had pretty much fallen apart. Cliques formed separating the church into factions. The Corinthians slid back into some nasty moral habits and their gatherings had less to do with worshiping God and more to do with attaining individual religious status and prestige in the pursuit of supernatural spiritual gifts. These words are Paul’s advice to a local congregation on how to interact with each other. 

The passage starts out in the last sentence of chapter 12 which says “and now I will show you the most excellent way.” That’s what I want—the most excellent way to interact with my brothers and sisters in faith and with every human. I want to know love well enough to be able to define it, because then I feel as though I will really grasp the meaning of the word that is the very nature of God whom I want to know and emulate.

Next week: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Monday, February 27, 2017

Battle of Wills

Then [Jesus] said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23

My mother always encouraged me “You can do anything you put your mind to.” I’ve heard it thousands of times and it only took 49 years but I finally and truly believe her. The human spirit is remarkable. It can survive and overcome some of the most unthinkable assaults. It’s what gives us the drive to better ourselves, to stand up against injustice or succeed in our ambitions.

This same enduring human spirit is what tore us apart from God and what gets in the way in our relationship with him. We struggle in desiring our will over God’s perfect will. We want one thing while God’s will quietly demands something else. Bending our will to his never seems easy. Sometimes it feels as if we are bending so far we will break. Maybe we will and that’s okay because I’ve seen God work wonders with brokenness.

The problem however isn’t really the human spirit but rather what we desire. We say we want God’s will to be done here on earth as in heaven, but do we really? Honestly? What is it we desire? To the core of our being, do we desire God’s will above our own? If I’m being honest, the answer is no. I don’t. I want what I want when I want it. And like a two year old, sometimes I tell God so. That’s where God’s grace comes in and mops up the mess, bringing me back into pristine relationship with him.

So when my desires conflict with God’s will (which is almost constant) I can take courage in the fact that, like my mother always says, I can do anything I put my mind to. I can make the decision that even though I crave my own desires, I can choose his will over mine. I can deny my own longings in obedience to his will because he has freed me to do so. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Faith and Works

Is faith without deeds really faith? And are deeds alone evidence of faith? Faith vs. works has been debated since the 1st century. Last week, in a friendly conversation, I found myself explaining why I don’t “advertise” my Christianity which eventually brought these questions to mind. I don’t have a fish symbol on my car. I don’t wear those “witness” t-shirts with pithy sayings. In fact, I rarely wear jewelry bearing Christian symbols. I’m not ashamed of my faith. I’ve always felt that if I am to be known as a person of faith, I want it to be known by how I live my life and not by the symbols on my car or my clothing.

To the casual reader, the Bible seems to be self-contradictory on the subject.

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28-29

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Romans 3:28

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 28-10

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. James 2:14-26

The gift of faith in Jesus given to us by God is the key to our redemption and salvation. When we accept that gift we are changed by the presence of the Holy Spirit into something new. This absolutely cannot happen by any power or action other than God’s. Humanity cannot force it, re-create it, or cause it to happen.

Faith is a living part of us. It is a conduit by which God interacts with his creation—both us and those around us. Giving to the poor, helping someone in need, standing against injustice and loving the unlovable are actions of faith done, not to earn or prove something, but as a matter of interaction with and by God in this fallen world.

I do nothing apart from Christ and I am compelled by overwhelming gratitude to act in response to God’s grace, in the name of Christ, for the sake of those he loves. Faith must act because it lives and it lives because God birthed it in each and every one of his children.

You can have one without the other—but they will be weak and ineffectual to their purpose. Faith and works are not incongruous, but rather two integral intertwining parts of God’s plan to redeem his creation.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Love Changes You Revisited

 This week I celebrated my son’s birthday by going through some old photos and enjoying the memories they conjured. He was born at 2:33 AM and I spent so little time with him that before they whisked him away to count fingers and toes, etc, that I needlessly feared I wouldn’t recognize him later that morning when they wheeled him into my room. One photo of my then one-year-old son tickling my feet made me laugh out loud as I heard the echo of infectious laughter. And the photo of him sporting his happy meal tiger nose with a great big smile filled my heart with joy. My son will always be a huge part of my life even though he is no longer with us. Sometimes that will make me happy and sometimes it will bring me to tears. I may have given birth to him, but he gave me life and a unique understanding that I wouldn’t have had otherwise of who God is and who I am to God.

It was in experiencing the world anew through my child's eyes that God opened my eyes to the miracle of life all around me. And it was in caring for Bryan that God taught me selflessness and sacrifice. It was in coming to and knowing Jesus that gave that selflessness and sacrifice true meaning and purpose. Much of what I know and understand about my Heavenly Father, I learned from my relationship with my son. I know the all-encompassing love I had for my child and therefore can to some small degree comprehend the love God has for me. In forgiving Bryan's childhood indiscretions, I learned a little bit about the forgiveness of God–how he never stops loving me in my sinfulness but reaches out to me to embrace me in his grace. And it was in enduring the event of my sweet child's death and in living life now devoid of his presence that I can begin to fathom, at least on a human level, the great pain of separation that God knew when I was lost in my arrogance and rejecting his love for me and denying his rightful place in my life as loving God and Savior.

So many more things I have learned about God and about my relationship with him as his child through the relationship I had with my precious boy and I am so grateful to God for the twelve years Bryan was in my life. My son's presence in my life changed my entire existence. Perhaps that's the greatest lesson of all–love changes you. And the perfect love of Jesus changes me to the very core of who I am.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:9-12 (NIV)

Part of this blog was originally posted in February 2014.

Monday, February 6, 2017

God Is Faithful

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

As you may know, I started this blog as a faith discipline during a dry time in my faith journey—a way that to ensure that I would deliberately seek God’s presence in my life at least once a week. Over the years, it has been a blessing, a chore, a light, and on occasion, the only time I connected with God in my daily life. No matter what was going on in my life or in the world, my only goal was to seek out and share hope I have in God. Why? Because I lived in the prison of hopelessness too long to ever again take hope for granted. Hope is power—it’s a flicker of light in unending darkness, the assurance of a great emptiness being filled. Hope fills your lungs with the air of a cleansing sigh and makes the heart beat with anticipation.

I’ve learned through trial and error what not to base my hope on:  money, relationships, material possessions, government. I remember those first days of my faith journey when my trust had been broken beyond repair by those things I had foolishly put my hope in. I asked God how I was supposed to trust him to keep his promises, to not abandon or mistreat me. How was I to trust he loved me as he said? His answer may surprise you. He told me that he didn’t expect me to give what I didn’t have. If I gave him all the trust I had, no matter how little and fragmented it was at the time that would be enough. Over the years, he has proven himself to me beyond doubt. And from that unbreakable trust is born hope. Hope for all God has promised. It’s a deep abiding hope that cannot be diminished no matter life’s circumstances or the social and political atrocities we are witnessing on a daily basis. Why? Because this hope is not based on what mankind is or does but on who and what God is and does. God is faithful!

If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)

The glory of God’s faithfulness is that no sin of ours has ever made Him unfaithful. (Charles Spurgeon)

Don’t let headlines or personal challenges ever sway you from the foundation of our hope—God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Being Part of God's Solution

I am so disappointed with the new official stance of this country to turn away those who have survived the unimaginable and are in the most desperate need. These people have endured a lengthy process of impossible red-tape hoop-jumping and in the end won the coveted blessing of being invited to our great country to try to start their lives over only to be rejected and turned back at the border simply because their country of origin. And let's make the sad and ironic distinction that it really isn't because of the country they were born in but because of the very people who stole their homes and lives, who tortured and killed their family and friends and whom they narrowly escaped from with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Let's be bolder than that--If this were 1945, it would be like turning away Jewish refugees because they were born or lived in Germany or Austria and that's where Hitler and his Nazis where from. Or like turning away Rwandan refugees in 1994.

However, I am not hopeless. While our government has seemed to have forgotten why and by whom this country was forged, individual citizens have not. Mayors and other local leaders are standing up for what is right by welcoming the strangers among us. Individual are working together to feed and heal the unprecedented amount of poor and misplaced peoples of the world. Individuals are working together and with governments to ensure victory over human trafficking, that women all over the world are safe and respected as equals, that animals are treated humanely, and that the poor and starving have food and water. Medical professionals give of their time and skills to ensure safe health practices are learned and shared and medical assistance given. Last week I learned of an American teenager living in Turkey with her family who has taken it upon herself to help personalize the masses of refugees to the world by listening and relaying individual stories. She is showing these people who have been driven from their homes in terror and marginalized by the world that someone cares and that they matter. What a precious gift we can give to another person. (Check out the Hagar Project onFacebook)

Our government may have chosen an office code of conduct we cannot as God’s people agree with, but we are not impotent or unable to reach out to the lost and hurting wherever we are or across the world in the love and grace of God. I don’t need the permission or approval of the government to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord—love others, help those in need, and offer his grace to the broken.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Pharisee Within January Edition

I've seen so much in the news and on social media this week that makes me sad:  People verbally or physically attacking little children, women, men, liberals, conservatives, fat people, skinny people, religious beliefs, atheist, sports teams, athletes, coaches, sports fans. And most of this was done in the name of tolerance or the perceived lack thereof.

It seems that instead of being more tolerant and understanding, we are becoming a nation and a world of self-righteous, self-important intolerant noise-makers. I'm not saying we shouldn't stand up for what we believe is right. That is our right and our obligation as Americans and fellow human beings. But it's not healthy or in keeping with Jesus' example to tear down some so that others can be lifted up. We can stop this epidemic of self-righteous indignation eating away at our society and our world, but we have to do the one thing we don't want to do. We have to take a good look inside ourselves and reform our own intolerance and outrage--reject our own "righteousness." Only then can we live and act in the true righteousness of God in service, love, grace, and hope.

The Pharisee Within
Why God?
Why are we so quick to condemn
the sinners around us,
all the while
overlooking the sin within?
How can we scour Your Word
to hurl condemnation,
stoning others with our interpretations,
loudly rejecting the very ones
You came to save,
in our self-righteous arrogance,
even as we shout Your Holy Name?
Why do we think this is what You,
who came to serve,
would want us, Your people, to do?
You came not to condemn us
But to save us –
to live and die and live for us.
You came as Healer
And Forgiver
Restorer of life through grace
And then asked us to do the same
through Your Spirit
and in Your Glorious Name!
Forgive us Lord, but especially me
for my self-serving part
in this sanctimonious game.
You didn’t meet me with fire and brimstone
but in kindness and love You reached out Your hand.
Not with condemnation
but with hope and forgiveness
You loved me as the sinner I am.
You brought light to my darkness,
not to judge but to save.
With joy You welcomed me in Your embrace.
You healed all my wounds
and removed my disgrace.
It didn’t happen all at once.
But over time I began to grow and change.
It’s a journey we walk together,
hand in hand,
with You guiding the Way.
Still I find myself in need of Your grace
from beginning to end
day after day.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Surrendered Heart

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., I decided to offer this poem I first posted in 2011. He was a man of paradox...fighting hatred with love, standing against aggression and violence with passivity and peace, dreaming the inconceivable and being the voice of the unheard masses.

The Paradox of the Surrendered Heart
I’ve fastened these chains upon myself
forged from egoism, failure, depression,
bound forever to imperfection,
evil’s possession.
To break these crippling shackles
I must relinquish freedom’s claim
and embrace the Servant’s name.

Hope for the future teeters on the edge
quivering between today and tomorrow.
Hope for things I want and need,
for the me I want to be,
for a world of peace and harmony.
Yet to gain its promise and security
I must abandon every ounce of hope I hold
to receive God’s assurance within my soul.

Oh, to be wise in a world of confusion – 
a worthy quest and commendable quality.
Knowledge of the ages available to me:
Science, History, Math, Philosophy
Economics, Psychology.
Resources all, in every decision
and yet, to gain the ultimate wisdom,
I must claim the title of fool – 
a student in the Master’s school.

Wealth and security are valid concerns
that compel me to greed and yet
all that I have I must give to gain more.
If I am to be rich, I may have to be poor,
give all that I have,
all that I am,
and live in the promise of blessings ensured.
To claim no possession, I’ll hold a great store.

How beautifully agonizing 
and yet 
agonizingly beautiful is the surrendered heart.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Paradox of Grace

God’s love for us is incomprehensible and even for a talented writer, indescribable. Not one of us is even close to being worthy of such a love which makes his sacrifice and companionship even more unfathomable. He created us to be in relationship with him, and he with us, but we walked out on that relationship in our arrogance and brought upon ourselves the disease of sin that eats away at us like a cancer. And still he fought for us and gave himself up to death in our place, took the cancer from our souls into his on the cross, dying in our place to rise again conquering death forever.

God is perfect and powerful and needs nothing from us. But still he saved us, not because he needed us but because he loves and wants us. He includes us in his work to bring all people to him, not because he needs us, but because he wants to include us—the messy, sinful, weak, and unimpressive human beings that we are.

Everything I have and I am is from him and because of him. What can I give him as a token of my love and admiration? The only thing he really wants—me. Not in spite of the messy, sinful, weak, and unimpressive person that I am but just as I am. For sure, I’m not good enough—I’m a $5 piece of shiny costume jewelry and God deserves the most precious diamond. But here’s the amazing news—God doesn’t want the diamond. He wants me just as I am—the best I can be and not more. And when in my sinfulness, I dull my shine a little I can be assured of his love and forgiveness. He has already done the work of grace and lavishes his grace upon me to help me back on my feet and to shine my light of his love and presence brightly again.

Interesting paradox—I never was, am not now, nor ever could be good enough for him and yet he wants me more than anything else I could give him which makes me, by his grace, good enough for him.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Next Stop Along the Way

When I was ten years old, my family went on a rare vacation to Disney World. We drove from Pittsburgh to Florida. It took us two and a half days to get there because my parents planned stops to see some amazing local points of interest along the way, among them—the tallest waterfall in country. We eventually made it to our destination and Disney was, as expected, a child’s heaven on earth, even way back in the 70s. In many ways, life is like that childhood journey to Disney.

My life here on earth is a journey with a much greater destination than Disney (no offense Walt). And like that childhood venture, my life is a series of stops along the way to experience amazing things. Instead of stopping at a place to see a tourist attraction though, I am hesitating in a moment of time to see the person I’ve become over a period of time. The New Year is an obvious stop on my journey.

When I look back to the start of 2016, I realize how much I’ve grown in some areas and perhaps neglected to grow in others. I’ve become a healthier person, becoming more active, exercising, eating better, losing weight, and putting behind me a toxic situation. When I started this particular part of my life journey (2016) I chose a word for the year—healthier. It was my goal, my destination if you will, my rally cry as I moved forward through the year.

So now it’s 2017 and I need to move towards a new destination. I plan to keep my goal of healthier because, while I’ve come a long way, I still have a long way to go. While my physical health has improved, my spiritual health has  suffered. That doesn’t work for me so while I continue in my efforts to become physically healthy, I plan to concentrate on becoming spiritually healthier in 2017. In one year, when I look back on where this new destination will take me, I expect to be surprised and amazed at where God has taken me on this journey to be closer to him and more actively involved in his work. That’s a journey worth taking.