You of All People

Today I was reading a scripture that leaped out at me in a way it never had before. Maybe it is because I have been reading a lot of headlines, twitter feeds, and Facebook posts. Maybe it is just that I am tired, both mentally and physically.  Or maybe it was because God was speaking to me through His word, like He never fails to do.

I can imagine God looking down on us from the Heavenly throne, with a heart that is heavy. I can imagine Jesus Christ, shaking His head and weeping copious tears for His church, His bride, His body. We Americans who call ourselves Christian are losing our way and becoming more and more like the people he came to set free. We are becoming legalistic, self-righteous, political, and judgmental.

Before you start calling me out, please understand that I do realize there are Christians out there who love and serve Jesus with all of their heart. I hear their voices and see their acts of service and their love for God. I know there are Christ followers out there who have compassion for the unlovable, the poor, the orphans, and the widows. There are servants who speak the truth of God and live it out daily.

But what I see a whole lot more of is people like me. Lately I have been taking a hard look at who I am and how my faith plays out in my life. I like to think I am a good person, but man, sometimes looking in that mirror of the soul is painful.

I am  the person who would rather not get out of her comfort zone if it means leaving her preconceived notions about how life should be. I am the person who would rather sit in judgment of someone who does not agree with her opinions than hear where they are coming from. I am the person who has tried to find peace and worth in what others think of me, my career, and my accomplishments.

I think the church of America is on a slippery slope and becoming very similar to Jewish leaders in Jerusalem that Jesus wept over. If you bristled at that statement, maybe you are even closer to that slope than you think. I have watched Christians who equate their politics as their Christianity. I have watched Christians cover up for leaders caught in sexual abuse because it would “hurt the reputation of the church.” I have watched males (and females) become increasingly belligerent and feel threatened when a woman steps outside of her “traditional” role into gifts God has given her.

It is time for us to all do a self-exam of our relationship with God. If we continue to be stiff-necked and proud, prone to legalism and self-righteousness, Jesus is weeping over us.

 “But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.  ‘How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.'” Luke 10:41-44 (NLT)

YOU OF ALL PEOPLE. This morning this verse really got to me. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way of peace. But now it is too late.”

Lord,  Help me never to be too late to understand the way of peace that only comes through knowing you. Help me to see your truth and leave behind all of my prejudices, false idols and self-righteousness. Help me to always recognize you when you visit me. Amen

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Welcome Home!

This morning when I opened my facebook, I saw a picture of my friend’s parents when they were much younger. The news was both heartbreaking and joy making. Nita Hargrave had gone home to her heavenly father and to those who had reached heaven before her, including her husband.

My heart aches for her children and grandchildren who will miss her dearly. But my heart also rejoices for them — because they have the privilege and joy of knowing she loved God and them with all of her heart.

I met the Hargrave family when I was a young 17-year-old college student. I roomed with their daughter, Debby, for many of my young adult years. I do not think they will ever know the full impact they had on my life.

Watching the Hargrave family interact was a whole new experience for me. The first time I shared a dinner with them, it was sheer chaos, with lots of teasing, laughter, and love. Seeing Don and Nita hugging their kids, laughing and joking with them, and telling them “I love you,” made me envious for what they had.  The richness of their faith, the willingness to embrace others, the wise counsel from Nita–all of it made me a better person and showed me an example I had never seen before.

Nita had no qualms about making me a part of the family during my young adult years, even including me in their family vacation to Branson one year. I learned so much being around them. Just watching the way they incorporated their faith into every day life and their joy in knowing Jesus, gave me an example that impacted my life.

I grew up in a tight knit family and knew I was loved, but there were no prayers together, no hugs and no “I love you” until well into my adulthood. While my mother taught me good values and work ethics, I had no role model for a godly mother who was totally in love with Jesus. Nita gave me one.

Nita taught our “Christian Womanhood” class (and yes, there was such a thing back in the early 70s), but more than that she cared for the women on the campus of our college. Her kindness and caring (and sometimes gentle chastising) made an impact on the lives of everyone who interacted with her. She loved Jesus and she was never shy about proclaiming him in her words. But she mostly proclaimed him in her deeds. And for that I am most grateful.

So welcome to your reward, Nita! I can only imagine your homecoming and seeing you hugging the Savior you served so long.

And for Dave, Kay, Debby, Dan and Doug–keep on holding out the light of truth, so richly taught to you by your Mom and Dad. Blessings on you during the days ahead.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:45 (ESV)

A Jar of OIive Oil

“Ordinary People – Extraordinary God.” That is the tag line for my website. Today as I was doing my morning devotion, I thought about what it means to be ordinary. Because quite frankly, the longer I live, the more I realize no one is “ordinary.” Each person has their own unique abilities and gifts, their own unique personalities, their own unique stories, and their own unique challenges and joys.

But so many people consider themselves ordinary. Even people I know who are highly talented and motivated, often look at themselves through a lens that shows them as ordinary or even lacking.

I believe that is when God can shine the brightest. When we may be at our lowest, or when we see our lack, that is the time that God can take our weakness and show his strength.

This morning I read the story of the widow’s olive oil in 2 Kings 4. She was a widow, an ordinary woman, who had creditors knocking at her door and threatening to take her sons as slaves to repay the debt left after her husband died. She went to the prophet Elisha and shared her story with him hoping for help. Strangely enough, after hearing her story, Elisha asked her what she had in her house. Her reply was nothing but a small jar of olive oil. No meat, no bread. Nothing else. But here is the amazing part.

He asked her to gather as many large jars as she could. So she did. She and her sons gathered as many large jars as people were willing to share. Elisha told her to pour oil from her small jar into the large jars. So she did. Amazingly she filled all the jars she had gathered. She had enough oil to not only pay her debts, but also support her and her sons!

God gave her an extraordinary gift out of an ordinary jar of oil. But the thing that strikes me in all of this is that the widow was obedient to what was asked of her. I think if she had scoffed and not gathered the large jars, nothing extraordinary would have happened. Instead she got busy and did what she needed to do.

After reading this story, I had to ask myself how many times has God asked me to do something from the little that I have (or the little I think I have) and I have done nothing? How many times have I lacked the faith to believe that out of my ordinary life God can bring extraordinary things? Far too many, if I am being truthful.

So what do you have in your house? My prayer is that God will help both you and me to recognize what we have in our house–even the ordinary–and let it be used in extraordinary ways for Him.

“Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” – 2 Kings 4:2 (NIV)

Dear Church Secretary

Week One

Dear Church Secretary,

I am so excited to hear that we have a new church secretary and want to be one of the first to welcome you on board. You will find that our church is loving and caring and we want you to feel like part of a family here. If you ever need anything, please feel free to call. My number is in the church directory. Welcome. Mrs. A

Week Two

Dear Church Secretary,

I am sure that after your first week you are starting to get settled in. You are doing a fine job, dear. I just want to mention one little thing, however. You need to make sure you are double checking the names when you type them. I noticed that you misspelled Caryn Jones’ name. It is spelled CARYN not KAREN like you put it in the bulletin. I am sure you will get the hang of things soon. If I can be any help, please let me know. Mrs. A.

Week Three

Dear Church Secretary,

I understand that there are many announcements that need to go in the newsletter, but I have to say I was extremely disappointed in my announcement regarding the VBS meeting. I gave you a very detailed announcement and noticed that you edited out most of it. While the basics were there, please remember the next time it really needs to go in word for word. Like I have said before, I am here for you if you need anything. Mrs. A

Week Four

Dear Church Secretary,

I saw that you changed the format of the bulletin from double fold to tri-fold. You really need to rethink that change. Everyone likes the bi-fold. I know you managed to spend some of the budget for a new folding machine, but the old one was perfectly fine, even though it did jam once in a while. We only had to fold bulletins by hand occasionally while it was getting fixed. I hope you take my suggestions in the spirit they are intended. I am just trying to be helpful and make your job easier. Mrs. A

Week Five

Dear Church Secretary,

I noticed last week that the prayer request list was not included in the bulletin, but was in a separate spot in the foyer. Even though they did announce in church that they are available to pick up there, some people might forget to pick them up. I just wanted to share some constructive criticism and let you know how disappointed I am with this decision. Mrs. A.

 Oh my, can you believe our new church secretary quit after only 6 weeks here? Young people these days just cannot stick with anything. Mrs. A

 

 Ephesians 4:32 The Message (MSG)

31-32 Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

 

A Defining Day

On May 16, 1981, I woke up with a great sense of excitement and a little bit of apprehension. It was cloudy and rainy, but I did not let that dampen my anticipation of the day. In some ways it seemed like I had waited a lifetime for this day, but in others it seemed wonderfully new.

As I showered and  dressed, I realized that my whole life was about to change. No longer would my decisions impact only me, they would impact us. No longer would I be able to take off and go somewhere without a thought for telling someone where I was going. No longer would I eat toaster pastries for supper and consider that a meal.

A little voice inside my head said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” No. Wait. Continue reading “A Defining Day”

Hallmark Moments

Think Hallmark movies are corny? You may be right but they may be truer to life than you think.

I confess. I watch Hallmark movies and right now the Christmas movies are out in full force. I have a friend who also watches Hallmark movies and I wait in anticipation of her pithy comments on each show. Here are just a few: “Tonight’s Hallmark tally: 2 more dead parents, 1 divorced and absent father. Mamas, don’t let your kids grow up to star in Hallmark movies.”Forty-five minutes in and the wife of the main character is dead. Seriously, why isn’t the funeral home the center of activity in these small towns? ” “Tuned in late for tonight’s Hallmark Christmas movie premiere. Never fear: we have one dead mother. The love interest really should be an undertaker.”

While I laugh at her comments and agree that most of the movies are just rewrites with different characters, the fact is, there is something that keeps people coming back to watch them. That is probably the improbable but happy endings and the thought that maybe, just maybe, no matter how bad life gets, there is hope. Continue reading “Hallmark Moments”

A Little Odor

Saturday morning I left my home to run some errands and when I came back and walked in the kitchen area, I noticed an unpleasant odor, not unlike that of a potato starting to rot. Investigating further, I decided that the odor was probably from the bag of potatoes in my pantry. They had been sitting in there long enough to start sprouting, and not looking any further, I threw them away. The odor lingered, but I assumed that it would dissipate fairly quickly now that the potatoes were gone. But it is a funny thing about odors. Sometimes when you are in them long enough, you do not even smell them anymore.

Sunday morning I left for church and when I returned home once again a slightly foul stench greeted me. Continue reading “A Little Odor”

Be a Difference Maker

We have them all around us–the lonely, the mentally ill, the disenfranchised, the bullied and the bullies. Sometimes they are almost invisible. Teachers see them every day at their schools, but there is not enough time nor enough resources to reach each one individually.

We see the patterns of individuals who isolate themselves from others, who have obsessions with violent video games, who have not been taught positive ways to deal with anger, grief, pain, and loneliness. And yet, we still do not recognize the signs until it is too late to save them and others from their own poor judgments. Continue reading “Be a Difference Maker”

What’s Her Story?

We all have them in our churches. Women whose lives are full of hurt and pain, who struggle with job loss, economic woes, health issues, parenting issues, and more. They sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday, trying to trust God with their struggles and frequently wearing a mask to cover their pain. We will never know their stories unless we make the effort to invite them into our lives and discover who they are.

A friend and I listened as a woman shared her story of a son who is struggling with paranoid schizophrenia. She lived in fear as she watched his hallucinations and bizarre behaviors become increasingly more frequent. The hours leading to his involuntary hospitalization were something I would never wish for anyone. My heart ached for her and her pain. We held hands as we prayed for her family. My friend and I both prayed that God’s healing hand would be on this family, but it was her prayer that made me cry as I truly saw the heart of a mother who loved God. Continue reading “What’s Her Story?”

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

d4d99c902daa5cbcb06a9bf93963714f-big-mirrors-round-mirrors-hallwayFor our recent annual writer’s retreat we rented a lovely, large home that had enough space for us to spread out and write. One of the first things I noticed when I arrived was a large mirror hanging on the wall at the foot of the staircase.

Now there are things in my life I seriously have love/hate relationships with–my computer, my car, and food, for example. But my relationship with mirrors? There is no doubt; I absolutely have a hate relationship with them! Can you imagine that?

Mirrors simply reflect the image in front of them (unless they are magic like in Snow White). When I look in the mirror, I see an aging overweight body, a graying head of hair and a double chin. The mirror reflects the reality of my aging self. And mirrors with a magnifying glass? Who needs that?

The tricky thing about mirrors is what you see is based on your perspective.  Continue reading “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”