Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lent

Easter seems early this year. ��

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent, which is a forty-day season many Christians use to prepare/renew their hearts for Christ. 

Traditionally people remove something from their lives (fast) and/or add something as a daily reminder to sharpen their focus on the True meaning of life (the Gospel of relationship and renewal). 

Giving up something (soda, chocolate, TV, unforgiveness, gossip, harsh words, or whatever piece of this world that may be taking up too much room in your heart) also helps people remember what Christ gave up so that we can have eternal life and be reconciled to Him.  (It could also reveal a 'serving two maters' mentality in your own heart.  Ouch! ��. Sometimes this world is very comfortable and enticing!  Just the mental evaluation of what you could and could NOT live without for forty days can be revealing.)

Adding something (prayer, meditation, Bible reading, study, charity work, or even more vegetables, water, or exercise) for this time can help begin a lifelong devotion of welcoming the good of the Lord into the routine of life. 

I know some Christians reject observing Lent because of its Catholic origin or legalistic look. I'd like to encourage you to look at the practice with an open heart and mind. Look at your own life with honesty to see if you could use any excuse to come together with other believers for a period of time to remove the secular, invite the holy and submit yourself more consistently to the transforming love of the Spirit. Would observing Lent cause you harm?  Would it draw you closer to God Who loves you so unfathomably?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mean People

The concept that hurting people hurt people is not a new one.  I have read more than one devotion teaching this idea—I most remember Joyce Meyer and Max Lucado.  Even so, I think it bears repeating.  This morning I read two blogs here and here that touched on the topic and how it relates to body image.  Both of these bloggers were speaking more specifically about how the marketed ‘ideal body’ doesn’t buy the happiness it promises.  They did a terrific job on that topic and I recommend reading both posts.

I’d like to focus on one point both articles touched on that they used to help explain that all the hate for heavy people has to come from somewhere—and it ain’t happiness!

This is important: if you are fielding ugliness from others, ask yourself why.  Happy people are typically too busy being happy to go out of their way to dump a heap of hate on anyone.  This makes sense because, like I said, hate comes from somewhere.  How can anyone with enough hate to spare ever be happy?  They simply cannot.  Hate is corrosive, it destroys the holder.  Why is this important?  Because it can help you know how to react most effectively; it can save you from perpetuating the hate.

Knowing the mean person is actually injured cuts through the chaos and affords you two invaluable pieces of information.  First, the obvious: there is someone injured in front of you.  That dictates a far different reaction than that of being attacked.  You can respond with compassion, and maybe even a little first aid.  This totally changes the balance of the interaction and it puts you in charge, instead of putting you on the defensive.

That leads me to the other piece of info: the crap they spew isn’t true!  Yeah, baby!  Read that again.  The hate and condemnation isn’t true AND… listen up!  It isn’t even about you!  Hate destroys the hater.  You don’t have any obligation to pick up what they drop.  Imagine injured animals.  They can get pretty nasty, but a caregiver would never imagine taking the snarls and teeth gnashing personally; they merely signify need.

So, next time some troll comes after you—on the internet or in the flesh, remember to keep your head.  This hater is carrying around poison as a constant companion.  That is sad.  Be compassionate.  Be kind.  Be different.  Just as important, don’t own any of that poison.  Look at what is doing to the hater! Do you want to turn into that?  I don’t think so!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent

Advent means ‘Coming’ and is the name of the church season just before Christmas, usually beginning with the fourth Sunday before December 25. There are Advent wreaths, candles, calendars and more to infuse each day with increasing anticipation. We anticipate not just the immediate Christmas Day celebration, but we also remember the first Christmas by reading about Zachariah, Elizabeth, the angels, Mary, Joseph, prophets, shepherds and wise men. The fullness of Christmas and Advent is realized when we turn our gaze to the future, when our risen living Lord will come once and for all. This is Advent: the preparation and anticipation of the coming Christ; past, present and future.

For the years of my childhood in the Episcopal church, Advent was a foregone conclusion. We observed it every year, with all the proverbial bells and smells. As a young married couple, my husband and I attended a non-liturgical church that didn't use the word Advent, but still enjoyed several activities to build anticipation for the coming of Christ. We supplemented their offerings with our own Christ-centered traditions.

This year, I asked my current church family members if they participate in Advent. Boy, the crickets were out in force!!  No one knew what I was talking about and no one seemed particularly interested in hearing about it.

I've been thinking about what happened since then. I may have asked the question poorly. I should have said, 'how do you celebrate Advent?'

The fact is, very few people living in America can escape Advent without making considerable effort. Christmas is everywhere from about Halloween to the end of the year. Songs, decorations, movies, shopping, parties, food, greetings...  Unbelievers are often as into the preparations as believers, so how can believers say they don't prepare for Christmas?  Why would they even want to say such a thing?

I know some believers shy away from certain forms of terminology, seemingly fearful of being mistaken for the 'wrong' denomination. But if there is a time for the Church to be united, wouldn't the celebration of The Christ's incarnation be a good one?  I would encourage all believers to educate themselves and learn some new words, because they aren't at all scary. If we know them, we can connect further with brothers and sisters in unified joy.

The big question is how do we show that we are anticipating the coming of Christ, rather than just the coming of December 25?  I mean, if Advent is all around us, we have the choice to be clear about just what it is we are anticipating with great joy!  Jesus said we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13).  John told us to not love the world or anything in the world, or we do not have the Father in us (1John 2:15-17).  James reiterated that if we are friends of this world, we are enemies to God (James 4:4).  Yikes! So if our preparations for a holiday central to our faith is formed by the traditions and impressions of this culture, consider if these are holy and acceptable forms of worship to our most worthy God and King.

I would encourage believers to set aside time each day of this joyful season to focus on the One worth our worship, Who brings peace to every heart that welcomes Him.   The fact is, you are probably observing Advent either way; why not be purposeful and righteous in it?

  We have a few traditions to help us remember it is Christ's coming that we anticipate. We most often begin with decorating the house to high-volume carols. We read one of the following each night: Jotham's Journey, Bartholomew's Passage or Tabitha's Travels. These are loosely linked stories of three young people adventuring through the month before Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, learning Truth along the way. We have a few favorite movies, including The Very First Noel. I like to go caroling, but we haven't managed it in the last several years. We do exchange gifts and play what we call the 'stocking game.'  We talk about how Santa Claus is a legend borne from the inspiring life of a man who loved God and others. We have an Advent calendar where we add felt pieces to a nativity scene and an advent wreath with candles we light during our story time. In my personal devotion time, I add several plans that take me through prophesies and the Scriptures detailing the first Christmas.  Among our most cherished traditions, we participate in several charitable activities.  I prefer to observe the admonition to not let the left hand know what the right is doing (Matthew 6:3).  But if you are looking for ideas, I invite you to check out your local shelters, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision and other organizations.  But charity doesn’t have to be only through large scale callings.  Be alert and prayerful so that you may see the needs you can fill in personal ways.

So, I put it to you. How do you observe Advent?  If it isn’t something you have thought much about, realize that our culture is already leading you through the season.  Maybe you can make some careful choices to permeate and persuade this world with love and light, rather than passively being invaded and occupied by all the things that Christ’s wonderful coming is not.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Flash

My darling husband was looking up the reviews to the new The Flash TV show. I thought he meant Flash Gordon. No. Then I wondered if that was the dude whose green shirt Sheldon often wears on The Big Bang Theory. No. So, obviously I don't know who the Flash is. I change tactics.

Is The Flash friends with Superman or Captain America? Superman. A-ha!!  I dig deep in my geek-only-by-blood memory. Who else is friends with Superman?  Batman?  Yes!  Wonder Woman? Yes!  I am on a roll!!

The Twins?  What twins?  I can't lose my streak, so I insist: Wonder Twins unite!! Brian p-shaws. No, no no.

What's wrong? 

They were only in the cartoon; they’re not real! 

…..

Just what exactly is your definition of real, Babe?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Christians Should be More Like Geeks and Bikers

We recently went to Ashland, Oregon to enjoy the Shakespeare Festival.  It was an extraordinary trip that we will long remember and cherish.  One of the first days there, my Whovian daughter just had to have this shirt.

Madi's dont' blink

 

 

 

 

You know I now have to include a picture that doesn’t boast of the shirt as well, but totally showcases her awesome bubble! Madi making bubbles

 

Anyhow, of course she wore the shirt the very next day and we went down to breakfast at the hotel.  In line for pancakes I saw another girl about four or five years older than my daughter check out her shirt and give a nod of approval.  “Great shirt!”  Immediate camaraderie was born. I watched the interaction between the two girls who were strangers with great interest.  I know a lot of teenagers who wouldn’t give a younger girl a first glance.  But this shirt put them on common ground. 

My husband has a similar geek shirt that plays on the Keep Calm theme.  His says “…and Stay Shiny.”  Diehard Firefly/Serenity fans just eat it up.  I can’t count the number of conversations this shirt has started for my husband. 

Driving to a different state gives you plenty of time to watch the road and do some thinking.  Have you ever seen bikers pass each other?  No matter the weather, the location, the speed, they always give each other a wave.  There is again this foundational camaraderie established between strangers.  A leather-bound dude sees a three-piece suit holding  a helmet and there is a connection.  I find it fascinating.  They talk … well, I can’t even make up what they talk about because I am not a biker.  They have a language and interest all their own and the passion acts as a ligament that brings two disparate people into association. 

And I wonder…

Why aren’t more Christians like that?  I do see it on occasion.  I have this cool purse that I have gotten ‘knowing’ compliments on.  But I also see Christians focus more on the things that divide.  You are a Christian?  Really?  Do you dunk or dribble?  Do you have priests or pastors?  What do you think about women in leadership?  I’d love to see us take a page from the geek handbook and just love that we love the same thing—the same One.  I’d like us to see another family member and know we are all undeserving but traveling the best and only worthwhile road in all of life.  How about a head-nod, wave and a ‘keep carrying on.”?

That’d be cool.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Comfort

That is just not my comfort zone, my area of expertise, or—if I wanna sound ├╝ber-holy—it’s just not my gifting.

These were my words. Whenever I didn't want to do something scary or new.  I would sometimes put on a brave face and do something I didn’t like.  But after consistently not liking it, I would declare in my most assuring voice that it simply wasn’t for me.  I was made for other ministry.

In theory there is nothing wrong with this.  I am a big fan of saying no to even good things to hold out for the best.  And I believe firmly that the Church has many people with many different gifts; no one person was meant to do it all. But this rationale only goes so far.  I can’t use personal discomfort as an excuse to disobey.

Jesus tells us with His own voice in the Gospels and with many voices throughout the rest of Scripture to serve, to love, to care, to heal, to give.  To whom shall we do these things?  Even if it weren’t explicitly spelled out (Luke 14:12-14 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment.“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” ), one can deduce that we are to serve those who don’t already have people doing stuff for them, love those who aren’t getting enough love, care for those who can’t care for themselves, heal those who are sick, and give to those who need something.  Anything else is rather nonsensical. 

That means we have to go and be in the company of servant-less, loveless, helpless, sick, needy people.  Generally speaking, it is safe to assume it won’t be a comfortable visit. 

My older sister is in a nursing home.  It sucks.  She is all of the things I listed and more.  She is high maintenance as she battles brain cancer that is attacking her motor skills, drugs that rob her memory and reasoning skills, lonliness that renders her needy and chemo that ravages all that is left.  The facility is understaffed and her family is busy with work and school.  Life goes on as she lies in a hospital bed hoping someone will visit.  Forget uncomfortable; it is a loathesome situation.

Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a teenager I used to visit people in nursing homes with my mom.  Boy, it was uncomfortable!  I had real intellectual and ethical tangles with how to care for needy people while maintaining their dignity and respect.  Ultimately I decided it just wasn’t for me.  Not my gifting.  Others did it better.  I wouldn’t want to screw up.

Now my sister is in a nursing home.  2,000 miles away.  I can’t do anything for her when she calls and asks me to come sit with her.  I chuckle and keep things light so she won’t get discouraged.  I send her verses and studies.  I record myself telling her I love her.  It isn’t enough.

Surely my Diane isn’t the only one in a nursing home who doesn’t want to be there.  And there’s the rub.  WHO on Earth WANTS to be in a nursing home??!? WHO would sign up for THAT?  Bed sores and having to ask to use the rest room, hospital food and the mind-numbing monotony of the same four walls for…how long? 

That is when I could no longer deny it.  Obeying Jesus isn’t about comfort, or natural gifts or skillsets.  Jesus said do it.  What we can’t pull off on our own, He is going to cover, right?  Or do we not actually believe Him to be God?

Think about His list: the widows, the orphans, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned…  What do all these people have in common?  Their choice has been taken away.  None chose to lose a loved one, to be hungry or disabled.  Even the worst criminal who deserves to be locked up for life has undeniably lost his choice to be where he wants to be.  And our amazing, patient and merciful God just adores choice.  It is central to the entire design of this universe and the life of every human being.  Without choice, there is no meaning to life.  God loves choice so much that He preserves it at an exorbitant price; many a man (and woman and child) has questioned if all the suffering in this fallen world is frankly too high a price for this gift.

When God sees people lose this gift of choice, He calls His people to go be, to stand in the gap, even if only to witness the loss. 

I guarantee my sister never chose to be in a nursing home.  I can no longer say that I won’t go comfort those who locally are in her situation simply because it is outside my comfort zone.  What about their comfort zones? I may not have the gift for caring expertly for people who are disabled, but I bring with me the Gifter of all Gifts wherever I go.  He’s got it covered.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Another lifestyle

Continuing on the theme from yesterday regarding the commitments we make that define our lifestyles, I’d like to include being a church on that list.  So, we have—in no particular order—homeschooling, marriage, parenting and being the church. 

I think we have severely limited the scope and range of churching these days.  So much so that it is reflected in our language.  We now go to church, clean the church, and like the ambiance of the church on that corner over there.  Most Christians know in their heads that church refers to people, not a location or structure, but our words reveal how we really think about it.  Church is there or here.  Today we are going to do such-and-such at the church tonight.  Youth group meets Wednesday in the sanctuary; Bible Study for ladies meets Thursday mornings; Men meet every month for prayer and doughnuts at the back of the church;  Sunday School for all ages is available between services in the classrooms.

I think we need to remember that we are the church.  If you are going to the church, it means you are approaching a group of people who love the Lord and are working as a unit to manifest Christ’s love to the world.  If you can replace the word church with the word family, you might be speaking more accurately.  “I am going to the church to ask for prayer,” doesn’t require a map or a key. And just like family, it isn’t something we can turn off, or check off of a to-do list. 

I do think church belongs on the calendar and should be visible in the check register, because church is important and deserves priority.  Similarly, dates nights and just-because-gifts should be regular occurrences to keep a marriage alive. Shoe shopping and game nights belong in our lives if we are raising kids.  But when we aren’t currently engaged in one of those particular activities, we are not less married, or less parenting.  We can never be less the church.  We always represent.  We always are the body, the hands, the feet…  Just like a wife can be a loving wife or a rude wife, she is always a wife.  We may be lousy hands, lazy feet, but we are always the church.