Monday, September 23, 2013

Letting go of goals....

Source

It's interesting the way a movie can move me, make me introspective and pensive.   The Horse Whisperer was one of those movies.  And not for the way that it would seem.  Sure it asks the question about love and choosing love and do we even choose who we fall in love with.  What is the moral decision for the heroine to make?  When trying to decide between two good men, is there a wrong decision? (Actually, there IS as it will have a dramatic effect on her family)  But that's not what got me thinking.

The scenery in the movie is breathtaking.  But what is equally awe inspiring is the contentment with which the family lives their lives.  Into their routine, seemingly mundane ranch lives comes this very cosmopolitan woman.  A woman of obvious breeding.  Well traveled.  I'm sure, to their untraveled eye, she looks and seems exotic.  Maybe a bit of a fantasy.  But in reality, it is this visitor who longs for what this family has.  She appreciates, as do I, the contentment they enjoy.  Sure, they have imaginations and longings for travel and the unknown.  Dreams of visiting exotic places.  Who doesn't?  But it doesn't drive their lives.  They are content to live their lives with a simple appreciation for what God has given them and an equally simple but moving realization that their ARE those less fortunate.  And you can't help but get the impression that when they meet those less fortunate, they are quick to help, even if it costs them.

Source
I've referenced this quote by Conrad Hilton, because it seems like that's how we are encouraged to live our lives.  Both in the family of God and without.  Constantly driven.  Driven to pursue our dreams.  Driven to build something great.  Do something great for God.  Keep moving forward. Do something that has eternal impact.  It can be exhausting just reading through inspirational quotes that keep driving us forward, ever forward.  We're admonished never to settle.  We EXPECT the best because we DESERVE the best.   And we're led to believe that contentment only comes as the reward for accomplishing something not simply taking up space on this planet.

But everything in me rejects this the way my body rejected some bad meatballs I ate a couple of months ago:  almost violently!  I find that I want to RUN from this kind of thinking.  I'm tired of goal setting.  Of believing that my life has to MEAN something for me to find meaning.  That I have to DO something great.  That my very existence must be justified and my oxygen must be paid for by my relentless intentions and purposeful actions.

We tend to overlook those in the Bible who lived a quiet life.   Who worked with their hands, minded their own business and loved their brothers and sisters.  Rather, we are prodded by our church leaders to make a difference.  To be driven by a purpose and to live our lives with a purpose.

And what is the purpose of our lives?  From everything I've read from the Bible, our purpose is simply to love God.  With all our heart. With all our mind.  With all our might.  And how does He say to do this?  He says, "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."  I think it's just LOVE (as if there is such a thing as JUST love!  What else is there besides love?).   Loving those whom God moves through your path.  Loving those who are mean to us.  Showing kindness to everyone, most especially the ones who seem to deserve it the least.  Loving the life God has given us and living in gratitude for what we have not working our tushes off for what we don't.  Of seeing the value and the beauty in the lovely act of BEING a child of God and realizing that in that alone our cup runs over.

So, today, I am content.  I'll say to myself tomorrow, "I am content".  And the next day and the next.  I'm entering into the rest that my Savior promised me.  I don't need goals.  My gifts aren't made for goals, but for the delight of my father and the needs of my neighbors.  There is no success.  There is no failure.  There is a simple rest, delight, comfort and contentment just in BEING.  Godliness (which my husband reminded me that God takes care of) with contentment (my resting in the first part) is great gain.  (Read)

Peace!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Permission

Yesterday, my husband said one of the nicest things he could possibly say to me.  He said, "You know, if you don't want to go to church tomorrow, I understand.  It's going to be really crowded and if you want to stay home, that's cool."  BINGO!  Permission!  I find that I'm someone who feels like they need permission for just about everything.  Wearing white in the winter?  If I can find a fashion expert who's done it, that's my permission.  Not enjoying "church" (well, I don't need permission to feel what I feel, but I guess I look for permission to act on it)? I'm thrilled when I read or hear someone confidently speak about their faith AND their issues with "church".  So yesterday, I had that much longed for permission NOT to participate in something that I'm not excited about AND kind of feel like a hypocrite attending.

Today is a "big day" at our church.   A huge crowd is expected and I couldn't be less enthused.  Even this morning as I lay in bed reading, I could feel a twinge of guilt.  How could I not be over the moon excited to see "God at work"?  How could I not want to be a part of that?  What will people think that I'm not there?  Lemme just park it here for a minute.  That last one is really the biggest deal for me, if I'm being totally and completely honest with myself and everyone else.  What will my fellow church members think when they see my husband there and not me?  Will they feel bad for him that his wife "not with the program" or not on "fire for God" (how I loathe that phrase)?  Will they see me as a potential ministry?  Will they question whether or not I really have "got it" in terms of salvation?  I wish I were at the point where the opinions of others don't matter to me, but I'm not there.  I'm ashamed that I'm not there, but there it is.

But the more I lay in bed and read words of grace by Robert Capon, the more I felt permission.  In fact, the more I GAVE myself permission.  Permission to just be me.  Permission to feel what I feel and not over analyze it or even analyze it at all.  Permission to freely admit the truth about me TO myself.  Permission to NOT smack on my "church" face and get with the program.

The fact is, I can/could get bitter.  I can (and sometimes do) ruminate on my life in fundamentalism and it can really piss me off!  And that being pissed off can turn to bitterness.  I taste in my present church a flavor that I tasted in fundamentalism.  If you've ever tasted the distinct bite of cilantro (an experience that puts senses taste and smell simultaneously) then you'll always recognize when a dish contains it.  That's what I sense in my church experience now.  It's a flavor of fundamentalism.   Unlike cilantro (which I LOVE), it's making me turn up my nose like someone just boiled eggs.  It evokes memories of sermons admonishing me to "Do something great for God!!" or "Get on fire for God!" and all the fear and self loathing that came with that.  Because, (and I am almost scared to type this), what if it doesn't matter to me to do something great for God?  (Did I really just survive typing that?  No bolt of lightening?)  What if, after so many years of squinting my eyes and bearing down real hard like I'm trying to give birth, I just can't make myself understand what it means to be "on fire for God" or "sold out for Jesus" or "all in".  Those phrases make me painfully self aware E-VER-Y minute of the day of what I'm doing or not doing.  What I'm feeling or not feeling.  Am I being spiritual enough?  Should I like watching that show?  Should I really be spending my time like this?  Would Jesus laugh at that joke?  And it just makes me NUTS!

I don't want to get bitter. In fact,  I REFUSE to get bitter!  And, oddly enough, permission seems to play a part in not heading down Bitter Boulevard.  My church doesn't need to change for me.  It doesn't need to change to suit me.  The pastor doesn't have to alter his message or direction or anything else to placate me.  And the flip side to that is that neither do I.  A pastor (any pastor) isn't the final say on God's word.  And neither am I.  And maybe we're both right or maybe we're both wrong.  But God will sort that out in His time.

This getting permission FOR me FROM me is a new thing to me.  Honestly, I've never really trusted my thoughts.  The fear of being wrong seems to plague me.  And so I tend to look to the confidence of others.  There are so many people that just seem to be certain about so many things, and I (foolishly at times) tend to trust their certainty over my doubts.  A trait that has not really served me well.  This whole permission thing is uncomfortable for me, but maybe with practice I'll become more comfortable in acting on the things and trusting the things that I hold dear.  As my kind husband says, "It's a process...."


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Would Jesus tweet?

I've been feeling a vague sort of stress for the past few months.  I couldn't put my finger on it, but it wasn't like a circumstantial stress, but rather a dull ache that is ever on the periphery.  It's become so much a part of my every day life that I almost feel like I've just adapted to it....like a lingering injury pain that one accommodates.

But this morning, as I was thinking about the noises that fill my environment (sales people, service people, blogs, Twitter, Instagram, etc..); the source of the stress became  clearer.  You see, I was all set to write about the voices, being accosted at the mall every few steps with someone trying to sell me something.  Or purchasing an item in a store and the clerk continually trying to upsell me.  But unfortunately, it doesn't stop there.  It's on my Twitter feed.  On my blog roll.  My Instagram.  Email.  Pinterest.  There is just NO END to people wanting to influence me, in one way or another.

So that's where my head was going, but then I couldn't help but think, would Paul use social media if he were alive today?  What about Christ?  Would He tweet deep thoughts about law, sin and love?  Would the apostles use social media to "get the message out"?  As I was following this line of thought, I thought about Paul writing to the churches.  Churches with whom he had a relationship.  Then I thought of Jesus.  Jesus, taking to the hills and teaching those who wanted to hear; but also, even more so, His apostles, men with whom He had a relationship.

And that's when it hit me!  That's what's going on!  So many people are vying for my (and your!) attention.  Wanting to influence me to buy this or to believe that.  But the problem is, I don't have any kind of relationship with them.  And so these messages don't come off as concern, they ring in my head as noise.....a constant dull clamoring for my attention or time.  If my husband or children or sister or dad or friend says something to me, the words are precious.  And even if it's a disagreement, it's a balm to my soul because there is genuine care there.  But these quotable quotes that pepper Twitter, even from the most well meaning sources, become brain confetti.  They're like having 50 parents all telling me what to do, what I should think, feel, buy.  How I should behave, dress, talk and evangelize. It's exhausting and it's stressful.

No one, but I, am to blame for this.  I control my social media.  I decide who and what gets in most of the time.  But thinking on this has really made me check myself.  Do I take shortcuts to influence others?  Am I more interested in the influence than I am the relationship?  Have I found it easier to tweet than to listen?   Even the wisest words often amount to nothing if they are said where no relationship has been planted.

Our world today is filled with minor celebrities, and the pull to be one is always there.  We have websites that measure our "influence".   There are specialists who will tell us how to get more "followers" to our various accounts.  But are we side stepping actual relationships and fooling ourselves that our influence lies in our quips rather than our actually caring?  

As I'm writing this, I'm coming to the conclusion that I can't really see Christ using social media to get His message across.  He truly didn't seem interested in "numbers", but rather went person to person and getting to know them.  And the people whose lives He touched went further than any tweet ever could.

I'm about ready to turn off the voices, to quiet the din.  I'm also about ready to spend more of my time focusing on up close and personal relationships and then letting my "influence" fall where it may.  If it's genuine and worthy, it'll move forward.  If it's not, it needs to be stopped in its tracks anyway.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sometimes, we can't relate.....and they know it


She was a pretty girl, (I don't remember her name, but let's call her Joan) walking down the street on a hot Texas afternoon in the town's poorest neighborhood.  I got out of the car to talk to her about Christ and invite her to church.  Joan was SO receptive and so kind!  She said that she'd be glad to come to church and we gave her a ride to her home so she could get out of the heat for a few minutes.  It wasn't much of a home.   She lived in a tiny converted gas station with the abandoned pumps right outside her front door.  We dropped her off and told her we looked forward to seeing her the following morning at such and such time.

Well, Joan didn't answer her door the next morning and never came to church.  I followed up on her a few other times after that; but the closest I got to speaking with her was another Saturday afternoon when I knocked on her open door and was "greeted" by a room full of people.  The only thing I remember seeing in the room, as I stood in the open doorway with people spilling out onto the stoop,  was a bed to my left and people sitting everywhere.  Some on folding chairs and some on the bed.  They were all just hanging out and weren't a bit rude but not necessarily friendly either.  I told them I was looking for Joan and a large older woman pointed to a figure on the bed.  Joan was sprawled out on the bed sleeping in the middle of the day in front of all these rowdy people!  She roused slightly and when I asked her if she wanted to go to church the next day, she mumbled something incoherently and then dropped her head back down.  The heavy woman laughed bawdily and said, "Honey, she ain't in any condition to go ANYwhere!"  And everyone laughed knowingly with her.  It was like a private joke had been told that I wasn't privy to.

I looked for her a couple of times after that, but never found her.  But here's what kept going through my mind.  She and I were from two different worlds.  Me?  I was white bread America and I was going back to my white bread home with my husband and four kids.  Everything in my world was "set up" for me to live a "holy" life.  To be separated.  To shun "works of the flesh".  And here I come in my skirt and comfortable shoes thinking that inviting Joan to church is going to change her hell hole life.  When I drop her off back home, I'm still dropping her off to her converted gas station.  To the men who would use her.  To those who probably sell her drugs, and possibly sell her FOR drugs.  In my mind I could imagine her saying to me, "What?!  Ok....yeah!  I'll go to church with you, but guess what?  I'm coming back to this mess.  I'm having to deal with these people.   You can't even relate to my life and I sure as hell can't relate to yours!  Is going to church with you Sunday going to change all THIS for me?"  And she would have been right.  I couldn't relate and going to church with me may even cause her more grief than help.

I'm in AWE of people who give up their lives to go and be a PART of the lives of the poor.  The needy.  The homeless.  The helpless.  Mother Teresa, who gave up physical comforts so that she could show love and relate to those poverty stricken in India.  I've wondered what it looks like to really minister to people in these seemingly hopeless situations.  It seems to me, we can't minister from a distance.  It's got to be personal and up close.  But that often means giving up what we CAN have top help others get what they CAN'T.

This isn't preaching.  I'm not there yet......

Friday, March 22, 2013

Woman caught in adultery....what if she did it again?

Most of us have heard the story of the woman caught in adultery.
8 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.]] (emphasis mine)  (John 8:2 - 11)
What if she did it again?

Seriously.  What if two weeks later, Jesus is at the same place teaching and she is brought before Him again.  Would His answer be any different?  One would think that after narrowly escaping being stoned to death that she'd become the earliest version of Mother Teresa!  But what if she didn't.....what if she messed up again.  How many times would she have to be brought before Jesus before He'd say, "You know what?  I'm done!  Give me a stone!  I didn't condemn you....I let you off the hook and you just totally took advantage of my kindness!  I've had it!  You deserve this!  Start throwing!!"?

I can't even picture Christ saying ANYTHING like this to her!  He showed her mercy when she didn't even ask for it.  Is there anything that He taught that would lead us to believe that He can get fed up with us?  That we can run out of chances to "get it right"?
  27“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6: 27 - 28)
It seems here that Jesus is instructing us on His own character.  He loves those who hate Him.  He forgives.  He doesn't hold grudges.  He doesn't get fed up with us.  In fact, even with the last bit of physical strength He had in Him, He asked forgiveness on those who were mocking, torturing and killing Him.

When we just keep sinning

But what about when we can't seem to get things right?  When we act just like the sheep we are?  Call it habitual sin (again, what is that??  ALL sin is habitual!), call it a big mess up, call it sins of omission.....of not doing what we know is right....not giving to those in need....not caring for the sick....not bearing each other's burdens....that stuff that we do every day.  When does He say, "You know what!  I'm done!  You're not taking advantage of my goodness any more!  You're just trying to make a fool out of me!"  I mean, that's what we would do, right?  We forgive someone a wrong they've done to us and they keep doing it, or they keep wronging us in some other way, how long are we going to put up with that?  But Jesus isn't us.  It's breathtaking how utterly and unabashedly good He is.  Peter wanted to know the same thing....
 21Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.(emphasis mine)  (Matthew 18: 21-22)
I picture Peter saying to  Jesus, "I mean REALLY!  How often do I have to put up with someone messing me over!?  I'll forgive him seven times and then I'm done.  Seriously Lord, at some point, shouldn't I stand up for myself?!"  And Jesus says, "No, I'm not saying that.  I'm saying seventy times that!"  Which, by my understanding, means infinity....always.  We forgive every time!  And interestingly, again, there's no mention of the offender ASKING forgiveness.  Apparently, they don't HAVE to ask our forgiveness for us to grant it.

So where the heck am I going with this?

It just seems to me that we're so quick to talk about what someone's life looks like after they've become a believer and if it doesn't look a certain way, then they just didn't get it.  But my point is, there is nothing about Christ's character or His actions that demonstrates that's the way He feels.  In fact, everything He teaches seems to teach the opposite.  

I realize that goes against everything that we believe about justice and fairness.  If we'd been in the company of Jesus when this woman was brought before Him, I've no doubt we would all have been humbled.  (Of course, we'd see ourselves as the pharisees, graciously condescending to show mercy (but you really HAVE to read this, by Jim McNeely....he's quickly becoming one of my favorite bloggers), but the reality is that we're the adulterous woman!)  However, if it kept happening, we'd start picking up stones.    But again, thank God that Jesus isn't us!

How does anyone ever grow to love God more if they constantly are afraid that they are running out of chances to prove that they really "got it"?  Is the gospel a certain amount of chances to get it right?  Or is it infinite mercy, forgiveness and GRACE?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Desperate to escape or desperate for God?

Some questions have been running through my brain lately regarding salvation.  "Salvation" is a key word in the Christian faith, but what does it actually mean?

Are we saved FROM something or FOR someone?

If there we no threat of hell, would that change God's love for us or how we feel about Him?

If the goodness of God leads to repentance, then why do we so often try to "scare the Hell out of people"....literally!?

Do I need the threat of Hell to be truly sorry for the selfishness inside me?

If I trust Christ, to escape Hell, am I really sincerely trusting Christ or am I just afraid of going to Hell?

If we get to Heaven and find out that there's no Hell (and never was), will we feel cheated?

If we get to Heaven and every human being that ever lived is there, will we be disappointed?

Are we so desperate to escape Hell, that it doesn't really matter to us if we spend eternity with God or not, as long as we don't spend eternity in fiery torment?

Does Hell matter at all?

Some of what has prompted these questions is my thinking on who God really is.  If God is Love (and I know He is) and the Creator of the Universe, the Alpha and Omega, the Great Physician, Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace....then isn't being His MORE than enough?  Isn't spending eternity with Him, starting today, the gift of ALL gifts?   How does the fear of Hell fit into that equation?  Does truly KNOWING this wonderful God of ours make His absence Hell?  If I love God with all my heart and soul and strength, then isn't His absence, isn't an eternity without Him more of a horror than literally burning forever?

If our greatest love is supposed to be God, then how can our greatest fear be our own suffering?  If I lost my husband tomorrow, I would grieve for his presence, his touch, his smell, his voice, his kisses, his laugh, his words.  I wouldn't grieve for the fact that I don't have his income, or that my standard of living just took a hit, or that maybe I don't get to live in the same home I've grown accustomed to.  My fear of losing him comes from my love for his presence.

If anyone out there has any thoughts on these questions (or questions of your own), I'd love to hear them.  I find that I've find God more in my questions than I do in MY answers......




Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why did God set the price so high?


I've heard all kinds of theories on why Jesus died for us.  Because He is so holy that only the holiest of sacrifices would be acceptable.  Because perfect blood is the only acceptable sacrifice for our sins.  I've even heard a pastor remark that the only thing greater than God's love is His justice.  A remark that I have come to vehemently disagree with.

But the fact remains that God is under no one's authority.  He answers to no one.  There is no force in the universe that sets rules for Him to follow.  So the fact that a perfect sacrifice was required to pay for our sins, was completely HIS doing and HIS decision.

I have always wondered, then WHY did He create a demand that only HE could fill?  And the only conclusion I can ever come up with is to show us how much He loves us.  And that, for me, changes everything.  He's holding no grudges toward me or you.  He set the rules, he took the punishment and he planned it that way.  We are the object of his love.  And when I think about what He put Himself through, so that I could GET how much He loves me, well, it colors my life in a completely different palette.

He didn't HAVE to set the price so high.   At the cost of Himself, humiliation, pain and intense suffering. He could have just given us a set of rules to follow or hoops to jump through.   But the fact that He DID set a cost and then pay it, tells me that He wants me to KNOW beyond a doubt, that I am more than His creation.  I'm His truly beloved child.   I can only love Him because He loved me first.  And weren't we created to love and be loved?