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Friday, July 13, 2018

Love One Another

I get mad at other drivers, especially the bad ones.  Drive slow in the left lane. Pass me, then get in front of me, then start going slower. Are you kidding? I get impatient when meetings run over. I get frustrated at slow walkers. Actually, you do you- be a slow walker. But it's much like slow drivers, get over so other people can pass.

I can go on but I believe you get the idea but probably not my point. You see, I spend an absurd amount of my day having opinions about various things, feeling irritated at someone doing something. Feeling accomplished at what I get done. Feeling dissatisfied for the things left unchecked. I'm up, I'm down, I'm all around.

Frustrated. Frustrating. This hard thing called life. These crazy people of earth.

But with all my opinions and frustrations, I find my vision to be small. It's like I'm hiking focused on my feet instead of enjoying the view.

"By this everyone will know that you are my  disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35.

It's simple. Despite my good and/or bad motives, despite my emotions, my intolerance, and all other various behaviors, it's simple. Love others.

And sometimes my decent motive is real. I do think there's not enough honesty in our world and the people that really love us should help us be better people. And that's true. But am I pointing something out because I'm irritated or because I love you? Does love take priority?

If the people around me could describe me would the first thing they say be that I love them? Or I even care about them? Or would it be something more about me like my accomplishments, my intelligence, etc.?

There's nothing wrong with doing well in a career. Or having a lot of money. Or passing someone on the highway. But first, love. Care about people and things outside yourself. It's the only way to really live. Or so I'm working toward everyday.


Monday, July 02, 2018

Answered Prayer

I've been thinking a lot about prayer. Having been a Christian for about 30 years you'd think I'd be better at it. That's the thought, right? Or more predominantly in my case, I throw a little prayer up and instantly want to take it back, of sorts. Something more important may come along that I'd rather have.

Silly- right?

As though God's some genie? Like you only get a certain number of "yes" prayers and as the day goes on you've used up your allotment. Or he's irritated, like I would be, for your wishes and is now teaching you a lesson to ask better or for better things. Stop bothering him, he's saving people from real things.

Super silly.

"But Gideon said to him, 'Please my lord, if the LORD is for us, then why has all this happened to us? And where are all His wondrous works which our fathers told us about when they said, "Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?" But now the LORD has abandoned us...'" 

I believe in God. I believe He can do mighty things and is all-powerful. I believe He did everything the Scriptures say and I believe He's so big our imaginations can't contain all His ability. But when you're reading scripture and you're exploring the hundred or so years of slavery, the decades of servitude between judges, and the pretty silent period between the Testaments, it can feel like God does abandon His people, or those are the clips of life I feel like I live in.

Because life is about me, right? How I got along today. How people treated me. Depending on my mood the slightest thing can stress, a glance, a tone -especially a tone- or a perceived slight. And it's not because of self-grandeur but selfishness. It's a coping mechanism, a defense system.

But it doesn't work, really. I can assure you of that. It's a stopgap that won't last and won't work.

We need only seek Him until we're confident we've found Him. He's always there. A-L-W-A-Y-S. But since we're mostly about ourselves we have to wade through all the false emotions, pressing on toward Him. If you fail to reach Him each day, and I mean each day, you've missed out on what He was offering you that day- peace. joy. calm. truth. love.

And He'll help you wade through and He'll fight the battle for you- you need only be still, ask or really, simply accept it.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Grandfather

I often think, as much as I hate to admit it, that I have a very wrong picture of God. You see, one of the ways I let the world in is letting parts of its definition of God creep into mine. He's this grandfatherly, Santa Claus-like figure sitting high up in heaven waiting on me to do things and then blessing or cursing them, not always for a good reason- not to mention the world is so big he's often doing other things and not even helping out with the chaos.

And while the world says this (although it's increasingly less shameful about not acknowledging a god at all), it seems pathetic.

God either exists or He doesn't. And if He exists where do we get His definition or parameters? Society and life have rules necessary to its existence (hello, constitution) so it's reasonable to conclude God-following must too.

But a big wonder of mine about the world is whether the few remaining people that even occasionally acknowledge there's a god believe in a little-g one that's really a figment of the imagination to keep the boogeyman away, to feel more confident, to get what we want, to push away the horror.

And about half the time these fleeting pleas of breath work (law of averages and all) and we've gotten so used to the feeling of chaos that while it's sucking away our lives it's an inevitability so c'est la vie. After all, god might make our lives harder if we don't throw up a prayer, right?

Wrong. He loves us more than we can possibly imagine. And He forgives us. He loves in spite of who we are and what we do. He created a world knowing He would have to slaughter His own child to save us, how far do you think He's willing to go to save you?

"Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them...They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses."  Judges 3: 1a,4

This is not cruelty or trickery on the Lord's part. This is cleansing. And it's tough stuff. It's gut-wrenching and life-taking. It's the refining process where the Potter (God) shapes the clay (us, His children) in order for something better to emerge. 

He's not sitting atop the chaos wondering whether the Israelites will or won't obey. He's the author of life, in every detail but loving us enough to grow us to obey His commandments so that our lives may be fuller. The Israelites chose wrong most of the time, as they did just 2 verses later. But we don't have to find ourselves in slavery, we need only ask Him to be free and our powerful God will rescue us. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

O Holy Night

I'm a fan of Christmas songs, carols really. I can't get enough of them in December and am sad sitting here thinking about how we only get a handful of Sundays to sing them in church (because we're not crazy people who put up their lights at Halloween). Kidding. Kinda.

I'm also a fan of good listeners. And I try to be one, honest. But I have the same problem with it all- I hear something, get stuck on its significance and I can't move to the next phrase. Thus, I need a 7-seconds-back button for life like my tv remote gives me.

How does this all fit together, you ask? Welcome to my brain. But as I sung arguably my favorite carol on Sunday, I was so struck that I couldn't remember the rest of the words later that afternoon, only repeating this one line.

"'Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth."

You know the song, it's "O Holy Night."

Worth. Isn't that what we're all searching desperately to find? To be found special. To be found worthwhile, unique, worthy of love and respect. We search in our relationships, in our education, in our jobs, in our volunteer work, in our money and stuff. We search. We search harder. We do more, we get more. We search harder. We think just around this corner I'll find true happiness, true contentment and joy. This corner being a new relationship, a better job, a respectable amount of acquired stuff.

It won't. It'll never be enough. It'll never make you feel the feelings you're looking for. Maybe for a moment, perhaps quite a while without the spark of anything better. But it certainly won't last forever.

But if you're lucky enough, the Lord Jesus plants that spark. And your life of chasing what other people think and feeling inadequate doesn't evaporate but evolves. You see, Jesus shows us that our problem is not that our dreams and expectations are too high, it's that there too low.

When He appeared and the soul felt its worth. We aim for this unattainable earthly perfection in families, jobs, houses and various other things like clothes and electronics. And what God wants from us is to find our satisfaction in Him and put the measure of these wonderful things in perspective. To trust His plan in them. To feel the weight of His decisions of our worth.

We shrink ourselves down every time we try to find our worth in what other people think about us or in what we have. God wants so much more for us than what we're reaching for. Our value and worth are found in His plan and only in our surrender to it will we find that joy and peace we desperately seek.

And as the song rightly proclaims, "Long lay the world in sing and error pining, 'Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices."  And all we should do is, "Fall on our knees."

What an easily accessible God we have. Quick to love us and always willing to offer His view of us if we only ask. His view of our souls' infinite worth.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What's Important?

I'm plowing through the Gospels at the moment, feeling sometimes like I'm reading the same passage over and over- ha, because I am! But when God repeats things multiple times, like he does with the synoptic Gospels, it means we're supposed to pay special attention- sorta like you saying very, very.

So I've been thinking about Jesus going off alone to pray and how He constantly asked people He healed to not tell anyone- a true lesson in humility and priorities. Speaking of priorities, I read a few paragraphs just now so rich in importance that it's too good not to simply quote directly:

"Prayer is a kind of priority that lies at the root of all the others -- at the root of life itself. It's a lot like eating; if we rarely eat, our physical health will suffer. We'll be weak and sick. It will affect our ability to carry on the activities of life. In a similar way, if we rarely pray, our spiritual life will lack vitality. We'll approach the challenges and successes of life on our own, as though we're not totally dependent on God even for life itself.

"Without prayer, we begin to take credit for the good things in our lives, chalking them up to our skill, knowledge, wisdom and hard work. We begin to forget that all our skill, knowledge, wisdom and hard work are gifts from God -- He gave us the mind, body and circumstances of life that enabled us to have and develop those attitudes.

"On the other hand, without prayer, we fall into fear, anxious worry and even despair at the failures, frustrations and bad events in our lives. We become unsure of God's love for us, unsure that He stands with us in our problems. We feel alone and afraid, doubtful about our ability to cope with what life is heaping onto us.

"Prayer is the grease, we might say, that keeps the gears and wheels of life in good working order. Without prayer, we see ourselves as alone against the world, left to fend off the storms of life on our own wits and brawn. It is in the course of prayer that we learn to see the true state of things -- that we are creatures within a creation, creatures dependent on our Maker and on all the other parts of the creation, and as such, never alone."
-Excerpted from Grace Communion International -- gci.org/bible/mark1j

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Old Testament God

“Ezra was praying and confessing. He was crying and bowing down in front of God’s Temple. While Ezra was doing that, a large group of the Israelites—men, women, and children—gathered around him. They were crying. Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, spoke to Ezra and said, “We have not been faithful to our God. We have married the people living around us. But, even though we have done this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make an agreement before our God to send away all these women and their children. We will do that to follow the advice of Ezra and the people who respect the laws of our God. We will obey God’s law.”
‭‭Ezra‬ ‭10:1-3‬ ‭ERV‬‬

Not that I'm choosing, because it's an entire book,  but I must admit I find myself drawn more to the Old Testament than New. "What? Why?" I'm glad you asked. You see, the Bible is this simple, straightforward message wrapped up in deep complexity, baffling stupidity and general unfairness (if that's a word). And the Old Testament even more so for me and I'm drawn to it. The Old Testament covers more time, more people. It addresses more issues and breaks open more completely all the uncomfortable things to reckon with of our loving, gracious, giving-good-things-only God.

You see, God is love. He is slow to anger and quick to show mercy. He does forgive us wholly. But he also asks us to be holy- to walk according to His ways, to spend time with Him and with others trying to be like Him to figure out how to do it better. He asks us to give ourselves wholly and to willingly submit to Him- to have faith in the things unseen and an open mind that the things we can't understand -whether because of cultural or personal bias- are things He understands and He's shaping for our good.

He asks us to see beyond ourselves, feel beyond our human bodies and hormones, think beyond our culture and upbringing, and all the while to not grow weary doing it. He asks us to understand the brevity of the covenant we make with Him when we accept His free gift of life forever with Him. Just as these men in the Book of Ezra are becoming holy in order to be in His presence as prescribed by their covenant, he asks us also to be holy in our covenant's order.

Don't hear me sugar coating this passage because by of my culture and my feelings- it's hard to swallow. But I find the things I have to really chew up to get down results in one of two paths, both leading to the same end. The first, makes me think about my biases, my mistruths and the ugly things of this world that went on then just as now. And in my life, just like this story, the Lord protects His people. The second, I'm called to submit to the Bible's teaching- to believe it's a map of God's great love for me and an opportunity to get to know the real God- the loving but equally and at the same time all-powerful and relentless to carry out His plan for His people God.

We like to ignore many of the Old Testament stories, really any story that doesn't fit with the peaceful, prosperous life we think of as connected to God. But He's Ezra's God. And He's the God of Exodus 11 and many other hard to let sink in passages. But this is when we need to see the simple, straightforward message amongst the complexity- It's because being in right relationship with Him is top priority and nothing, absolutely nothing should ever get in the way of that. And when in right relationship He will show you your right path so that you may walk in it.

And while you're washed in the blood and made white as snow, completely and without need of anything but that faith, the journey along the washed path will be one of cleansing power and hard to understand things, but filled with great opportunity to submit and choose faith in the comfort of being within His great love.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

So Much Like Sheep

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:1-4 ESV)

Today I was reminded about the Lord being my shepherd. You see, I didn't get a job that I thought was a done deal. But nothing in this life is really a done deal- am I right?

We people are often compared to sheep in the Bible. Sheep- incredibly dumb, aimless and unteachable animals destined to die. Literally. And Psalm 23 has great insight into God's plan for us sheep. Sheep are skittish creatures. They won't even drink from water with loud noises like a stream. Skittish.

But God leads us beside still waters so we don't have to feel anxious.

A shepherd's rod was used to fend off predators and his staff's cruck to pull the sheep back when they got caught in a thicket or went off the path- these things can hurt but they comfort us.

And the only, only time a sheep lays down is when it feels completely safe- no storms, predators, sickness or anything. Anything. And considering that "anything," isn't it amazing that He goes to great lengths to make everything safe so I can lie down in green pastures and not want?

These skittish, lost creatures would literally die of thirst standing by a stream. They need constant leading, just like us.

Have you seen one of the popular drawings of Jesus with the lamb around his shoulders? When a sheep disregards the shepherd over-and-over-and-over, the shepherds used to, in their gentle guidance, break one of its legs and put the sheep around his neck. He walked for the sheep and in the process of healing they got to know each other intimately. They learned to trust and love each other. And once the leg healed a bell was tied around that sheep so the other sheep would follow this one as it would forever stay close by the shepherd's side.

Amazing, huh? So whether you're being pulled by His staff back on the path, He's calming the waters so you don't feel afraid or He's really had to break you, He has a promise for you:

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever." (Psalm 23:6 ESV)