Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Day

It’s Christmas Day, that’s no surprise;
It comes around each year.
And yet, we worry, “Much to do!”
Our hearts seem full of fear.

But why? When such a joyous day;
And one so full of love!
Have we forgotten that great gift
God sent from up above?

With gifts to buy and food to cook
And halls that must be “decked”,
It’s easy to lose focus
As we do what folks expect.

But as we scurry here and there
Preparing for the day,
We must remind ourselves again
Of what the angels say:

We bring good tidings of great joy!
A child is born today!
The Father sends the Prince of Peace --
Hallelujah and Hooray!

It’s Christmas Day! A wondrous gift!
Let’s celebrate again.
A babe was born, a precious child;
Salvation for all men!

Sue Wilson

Friday, November 5, 2010

Put it Away

I once heard a speaker say that the key to staying organized was simple: If you get it out, put it away. Simple, hmmmm, yeah. Simple to say. Not so simple to do. Especially in a houseful of people who think it's YOUR job to keep things organized. They just live there. And they're mostly kids, right? The job of kids is to be messy -- the job of parents is to clean up the messes, right? Well, I suppose that is the logical line of thinking for most kids. Unfortunately it's completely flawed, and the REAL job of parents is to remove flawed thinking from our children's minds. I hated having to clean up after myself as a kid. Every Saturday I had to dust around all those stupid little things that I had collected because they were so precious to me. I had to vacuum my floor, which meant I had to find a home for all the stuff that was "temporarily" residing in various corners and under the bed. There was no negotiating on this issue. I grew up in a house where everything had a place in which it "belonged," and if it wasn't in that place, it was out of place. My mother still has toys and games that my siblings and I played with as children, and guess what? They are in pristine condition, because they always got picked up and put away when we were done playing with them. We hated that we had to do that! But, wow! What a lesson we learned! So when I heard that speaker say, "if you get it out, put it away," I had to look twice to see if my mother had become a public speaker :)

I hate to say that I don't always follow that mantra so well now that my mom isn't here to hold me accountible. Sometimes it just seems so easy to think that I don't need to put it away right now -- I'll just put it in this stack of other stuff that I didn't put away and then "someday" I'll do it all at once. Sound familiar? Funny how that stack begins to grow into a pile and then it becomes a mountain and pretty soon it takes over an entire room. By that time, the thought of putting all that stuff away has grown into what feels like an insurmountable task. Then the thinking moves to a whole new train of thought: "Someday I will set aside a day to sort through this stuff and put it all away." Which is completely ridiculous because we all know very well that "someday" is just a figment of our imagination -- it never really shows up. And even if it did, who has a whole day free anymore? Our days are full with email, texting, surfing the web, playing on Facebook, etc, etc, etc.

I suppose it's no different on the inside as it is on the outside, really. If I pick up a judgmental attitude toward someone I don't really know, I should just put it back where it belongs -- in the garbage. If I get out my ego and wear it for all to see, I should just take it off and put it back in the center of humility, where it won't make such a scene, If I pull out that old grudge that I thought I had thrown out, I need to make sure it gets a proper burial this time, with lots of prayer.

So much of the life we live for all to see is a cover-up for the life we live when no one is around, isn't it? When company comes, we stuff things out of sight, do some surface cleaning and pretend it's all good. It's true for our homes; it's true for our hearts.Problem is the only person to whom it really matters can see it all. No matter how well we hide it from the world, God sees it all. The amazing part is that, even though He sees our good, bad and ugly, He still loves us. Most people, even if they deny it, judge us as they observe our inability to achieve perfection (according the their standards). God simply presents the perfect standard (Jesus) and gives us space to work toward it. He doesn't love us any less or any more based on how well we measure up. He just says, "Well done. I love you. Let me help you with that." Hmmmm, I'm thinking maybe that should have been the approach I needed to use with my kids. It sounds so much better than, "If you don't have this mess cleaned up in 10 minutes, you are grounded for the rest of your life!" The bottom line is, we all need praise from those we love; we all need to know we are loved; we all need help with overwhelming tasks. Well, that's it! I've just talked myself into getting started on that mountain of paperwork in my office! Better get to it! Anyone want to help?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Choose to Be Chosen

From a woman's perspective, I have often thought about what it must have been like for Mary to be singled out by God for the most extraordinary and important job of all time. In return for her acceptance of that job, she was criticized and ostracized by people who knew her. Her life was one of pain and heartbreak, yet she carried out her mission willingly. Was there any blessing in the midst of her sorrow? Of course there was! Reading the song she sings in response to God's request (Luke 1:46-55) reveals her great joy and humility, having been chosen by God for such a high calling. She knew she would be misunderstood, but she was willing to bear that shame for the God she loved and trusted.

God also chooses each of us to carry out His plan to reach all people with His love. He doesn't promise us that, in serving Him, we will receive happiness, health, wealth, or even popularity. In fact, if we look at the lives of people He has called to serve Him over the centuries, we will see that they were most often hated, misunderstood, and even abused -- many were killed. God's own Son lived and died surrounded by controversy and nonacceptance.

Why then, do we expect it to be any different for us? Why should we be surprised when the world rejects us or mistreats us, or says harsh words about us? God did not call us to be loved by the world, but to be obedient to Him. He called us to love those who hate us. He called us to be faithful in the face of adversity.

Does that mean our lives are void of blessing? By no means! On the contrary -- our lives are filled with blessings that only God can give. His wisdom, His peace, His love, His promises -- all this and more are poured out on those who trust in Him and are obedient even unto death. Mary's life was filled with the blessings of God as she cared for His Son, even while a sword was plunged into her heart, knowing that the world had no understanding or acceptance of who He really was. It was her devotion to God; her faithfulness to Him that gave her peace even in the worst of times.

In The Message version of the Bible, Psalm 1 puts a contemporary spin on the issue of God's desire for our faithfulness:
"How well God must like you -- you don't hang out at Sin Saloon; you don't slink along Dead-End Road; you don't go to Smart-Mouth College. Instead you thrill to God's Word, you chew on Scripture day and night."

God chose Mary because she was devoted to Him. Mary accepted because she knew that God was a God of love. She knew that she was blessed among women.   She chose to serve Him with all her heart even when it meant she would be misunderstood and mistreated. I have yet to suffer the kind of heartbreak that Mary suffered. I pray I never will. Yet, if God requires such suffering of me, I know her example will give me strength. I know I will always be loved by God even if the whole world should turn against me. I can be confident of this because He has promised it in His Word and because He has shown it in Mary's life and the lives of so many who have gone before me. Like Mary, I can shout to the world:
 I'm bursting with God-news;
 I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
 God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
 I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!  (Luke 1:46-47, The Message)

Monday, August 16, 2010

WGOD Traffic Report

Do you ever wonder why God doesn’t send us warnings so we can avoid the pitfalls of life? Imagine hearing something like this on your morning radio talk show:

“Good morning everyone, welcome to WGOD and another day in the Journey of Your Life. Before you get on the road, let’s go to the Big Guy up above for a traffic report. Good morning, Big Guy! How’s it look for our journey today?”

“Good morning to you down there! Well, it could be worse, but I see a pretty big jam-up at the intersection of Selfishness and Sacrifice today, you need to beware that you don’t get bogged down at that spot. You might want to take the bypass through Psalm 86:11 which will lead you around Brokenness and into Whole-Hearted Devotion. Be sure to watch out for the outbreak of Wickedness that will keep you swatting at your dark side near the off-ramp to Despair. You may need to slow down and refer to your map which outlines the Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. But if you shoot straight down Purpose 101, persevere through the curves of Corruption and pray over the potholes of Pride, you should be Home in no time!”

You’re probably thinking, that’s cute, but we’ll never hear anything like that from God. Well, guess what? We already have! Take a look at The Message Version of Proverbs 4:10-15. It seems to me that God makes a clear point -- life is full of trouble and we need to stay on the path He has outlined for us in His Word. We’ll probably still hit a few potholes because we’re prone to taking shortcuts, but the Bible is our road map not only for survival in this world, but to prepare us for the next one.

Proverbs 4:10-15:

Dear friend, take my advice;
   it will add years to your life.
I'm writing out clear directions to Wisdom Way,
   I'm drawing a map to Righteous Road.
I don't want you ending up in blind alleys,
   or wasting time making wrong turns.
Hold tight to good advice; don't relax your grip.
   Guard it well—your life is at stake!
Don't take Wicked Bypass;
   don't so much as set foot on that road.
Stay clear of it; give it a wide berth.
   Make a detour and be on your way.

Evil people are restless
   unless they're making trouble;
They can't get a good night's sleep
   unless they've made life miserable for somebody.
Perversity is their food and drink,
   violence their drug of choice.


The ways of right-living people glow with light;
   the longer they live, the brighter they shine.
But the road of wrongdoing gets darker and darker—
   travelers can't see a thing; they fall flat on their faces.

Don't know what you think, but I think that sounds like a traffic report that will get me where I want to go. Now if I can just restrain myself from taking shortcuts.....

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Faith? Simple, But Not Easy.

My nephew died today. He was only 24 years old. In the time it took his car to collide head-on with another, he was gone. About now I imagine him giving his big sister a gigantic hug. She was just 15 when God took her home. Staying here without them is hard. The tears flow easily just thinking about how our family dynamics has changed forever on this earth. We will miss them so. But, of course, my dad is there with them – in fact, they have both their grandpas there with them – and Jesus! Most importantly, Jesus! I don’t think they miss being here. The relationships they had here will surely pale in comparison to God’s glory.

So I’m not sad for them. If anything, I should be jealous – longing to be where they are, seeing our Heavenly Father face to face, no longer feeling pain or sorrow, but instead – pure, raw joy. What an amazing time they must be having! I am sad for me, though, and I’m sad for my brother and his wife and their two younger children. I’m sad for my mom, and for all the family who must somehow manage to carry on without those whose lives so touched our hearts that it seems the hole left there will never be filled.

And yet, through the events that take place every day, I am constantly reminded that my life is not really about me. None of us can claim that our lives are about us, because we did not create ourselves. God created us for His pleasure. Our lives are His. He created us to bring Him glory. Some of us are called to glorify Him by living; others by dying. Who are we to question what He chooses to do with His creation? He does not expect us to understand His choices, but He does want us to trust them. Simple trust – that’s all He requires. Trust that as God of the universe, He knows what He is doing even when we don’t. Trust that as our Creator, our Lord, our Savior, He loves us. He has not promised life on this earth to be easy, or happy, or without pain, but He has promised He will always be with us. Sometimes it takes losing the things that are dear to us to realize that when it comes right down to it, He is all we need. If all else were lost, He would still be here.

My nephew learned today the truth of Philippians 1:21, To live is Christ; to die is gain. Do I understand God's ways? No. I don't think I ever will. My head tells me that He could have used His power to change the outcome of a car crash. My heart tells me that if He would not change circumstances to save His own son from suffering in order that the world might be saved, why should I expect Him to change circumstances for me when I have no ability to see what good will come from the choice He has made? My understanding of God and the choices He makes is limited by the boundaries of my experience as a human. So all I can do is surrender my understanding to my faith in who He is. He is my God. He loves me -- I know that because I feel it even in the midst of my pain. Was it His choice for my nephew to die today? I don't know. But I do know that it could not have happened if He had not allowed it. Because He has allowed it, I must trust that He had a reason. Something I can't see or understand -- at least not now; maybe never. How can I trust God when I don't understand His ways? Through faith – faith that He is who He says He is and that He does what He says He will do. It’s simple, really. What it isn’t, is easy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Weed or Wildflower?

My backyard is not landscaped. That means it is open domain for weeds, and with all the rain we've had this spring, the weeds have been continually gaining ground, literally. But today I noticed something amazing. I've been out of town for a few days and upon my return, I looked in the backyard and was stunned to see that my backyard is beginning to look exactly like the mountainside on the other side of the fence. A blanket of lovely little yellow flowers and various green plants are dotted across the expanse of my “un-landscaped” yard. I couldn't help but think to myself, “Who says these little volunteers are weeds? Who determines whether an emergent from the soil is a wildflower, a cultured plant, or a weed? Does a plant earn the label of “weed” just because it wasn’t planned or planted?” Hmmmmm.

Sort of got me thinking about the labels we put on people. I don't have to tell you what they are -- you know them. You know because you've been labeled by someone. Chances are, you've labeled others too. We call some people beautiful and others weird. Some people just don't fit in. Like weeds, they sprout up outside the garden walls in places we don’t expect them. They grow a little crooked or they just don't measure up to the prize plants that set the standard. That makes them weeds, right? I wonder. 

I have a feeling that what we call a weed -- whether a plant weed growing up as a volunteer in a place where it's not wanted, or a people weed that doesn't quite fit in with the others around it – was created by the same God who created the beautiful rose planted with loving care in our garden or the beautiful child carefully planned and anxiously awaited.

It is likely we will be compelled to spray the “weeds” in our backyard. It’s the thing you do when you have weeds. I’m not sure why right now as I look out and see how our yard has become an extension of the mountainside. But what I do know is that I’m not calling them weeds any more. I’ve been given a glimpse of beauty in something unexpected and unplanned. I hope that the next time I see a person that has been labeled “different or weird” I will be reminded of the beauty hidden inside them. My prayer will be for that inner beauty to find its way to my heart and I will see them the way that God sees them – as wildflowers.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Twelve Words That Make a Big Difference

Over the course of my life, God has taught me that I cannot control what others believe about me, or what they believe about my husband, or what they believe about anyone, for that matter! I can only control my response to what they say they believe. There are twelve powerful words that I have learned I can use in almost any situation regarding relationships. I don't know who first came up with this "formula," but I first heard it when my husband used it in one of his sermons. There have been many opportunities for me to witness the power of saying:  I am sorry; I was wrong; Please forgive me; I love you. I've discovered that there are a myriad of ways to adapt these words so that they fit almost any situation. Here are just a few examples:

1.      I’m sorry that I was so self-focused.
I was wrong to think only of my own needs.
Please forgive me for being so insensitive.
I love you and want you to be happy.

2.      I’m sorry that our friendship was damaged.
I was wrong to hold a grudge against you.
Please forgive my selfish behavior.
I care about you and want God’s best for your life.

3.      I’m sorry that I have to enforce this discipline on you.
I was wrong to have let your behavior continue to this point.
Please forgive me for not being tuned into what you were doing before now.
I love you and want to help you learn to live responsibly.

4.      I’m sorry I have not lived up to your expectations.
I was wrong to let you believe that I could.
Please forgive me and accept that I have limitations.
I love you and promise to do all that I can to make you a successful person.

I have found tremendous power in these words, coupled with prayer -- even if the words never reach the person to whom they were directed! Sometimes just writing them out and praying for God’s strength has been enough for me to move forward when I have felt paralyzed by disappointment, resentment, betrayal, anger, etc.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thoughts on Perspective

When I was a teenager (a loooong time ago and far, far away), I remember reading about a contest in a fashion magazine and making a decision to enter. The entry involved answering this question: “If you were stranded on a deserted island, what one cosmetic item would you not want to be without?” Thinking about that now, the answer seems so obvious – sunscreen! But back then, protecting my skin from the sun was the last thing on my mind. As is common with teenagers, I was concerned about looking my best – okay, I’ll admit it – I was consumed with fitting in and being accepted by my peers. It’s really embarrassing to consider the answer I actually submitted, but hey, I’ll swallow my pride for the sake of making my point. It’s really sort of funny that I still remember this – my profound answer to the question about what I would want with me on a deserted island went something like this: “I would want my eyelash curler because I have really short, straight eyelashes.” Okay, go ahead and laugh – I am. That answer is so wrong on so many levels! First of all, who’s going to care how they look on a deserted island? The whole concept of a deserted island is that no one else is there, so who is going to see you? Secondly, is having perfectly coiffed eyelashes going to help me survive living alone on an island in the middle of the ocean? It all seems so funny now, and yet, I remember being very serious at the time, and even thinking my profound answer just might win that contest.

I guess what I’m trying to do is make a point about what a difference perspective can make. Children live in a perspective of here and now, for the most part. “I want this and I want it NOW!” There is no attention given to whether what you want is an inconvenience to someone else, or that the consequences of getting what you want might actually have a negative impact on your life. In teen years, our wants become “needs.” By this time we have decided that we really deserve the things we need and that those who refuse to provide them simply “don’t understand.” The only perspective we have in those delicate years is that today is the most important day of my life and that everything that happens is a matter of life and death. We must not stand out from the accepted norm or our life is over.

In light of that perspective, it’s not surprising that I would consider my eyelash curler the most important thing to have with me in case of being lost in the middle of an ocean. I was focused on me as I appeared to the world.

Now that I have lived a lot of years, I’ve learned a few things about myself. One thing I’ve learned is that I still focus way too much on me as I appear to the world. I’m smart enough to understand that a tube of sunscreen on a deserted island makes a lot more sense than an eyelash curler, but I’m still self-focused enough to not leave my house without curling my eyelashes! Why is it that we are consumed with the image we present to the world? Even when we pretend that we don’t care, we really do.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing the best we can with what we’ve been given. In fact, I think it’s a really good idea to do what we can to be clean and presentable to the world. I just wonder if our perspective on what that means has become a little skewed as the media of our culture tries to set the standards for us. Some of us still want to “fit in” way more than we should. It’s only when we begin to see ourselves through God’s eyes that we really see who we are. To take God’s perspective is to understand that each of us is unique and created the way we are because that was the way God wanted us to be! Obviously God didn’t think it was a good idea for me to have long curly eyelashes or He would have given them to me. I’ve considered putting that on my “List of Things to Ask God About When I Get to Heaven,” except that the older I get, the more I realize that most of the things I wonder about really aren’t going to matter when I get to Heaven. My list is getting shorter and shorter.

Anyway, I’m just thinking that perhaps we should do a perspective check every now and then, just to see if the things we are focusing on are the things that really matter. At least for me, it seems prudent, considering that I bought a new eyelash curler today.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

All's Fair in War and Bathrooms


It was early in the morning when I stumbled into my bathroom. I’m not much for mornings and today was no exception. As I switched on the light and blinked my eyes, it seemed they were everywhere -- moving like men on a mission -- all over my bathroom counter. Ants! Hurrying; scurrying; coming; going.

“How dare you!” I blurted out, “This is my bathroom, what do you think you’re doing here?” I lashed out in anger and squashed every one I could catch. “There, that will teach you.”

Immediately I felt guilty. I may not be a morning person, but I’m not a murderer. I had just smashed somebody’s uncles or brothers or fathers. I could hear the survivors back at the anthill, breathlessly telling the whole horrible story about the giant monster lady that had ruthlessly massacred them all in cold blood. I tried not to think about it the rest of the day.


They were back in force. It was almost as if they had called out reinforcements, because my bathroom counter was alive with the little guys. I found myself talking to them again. “What do you want? If you are looking for food, you’re in the wrong room, guys, this is the bathroom!” And then I thought maybe I should watch them for a while, just in case they knew something I didn’t -- I’m always ready for a snack, and if they had discovered food, I wanted to know about it!

“What could they possibly be looking for?” I thought to myself, for they definitely moved as if they were looking for something. I realized it had been a long time since I had taken the time to watch ants at work. They seemed to have some kind of trail they followed and they always traveled single file until each one in turn would venture off and go exploring. They seemed almost to be frantic in their searching as they ran back and forth. They always returned to “The Trail” before continuing on their way, either moving ahead or going back.

I thought I remembered reading somewhere that all ants are male, except the queen, who rules The Hill, and they all work constantly serving her. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I couldn’t help wondering what a bunch of males were doing in my bathroom. It occurred to me that maybe this particular group of ants had a very ugly queen, and were hoping to make off with some of my cosmetics to beautify her. I’d heard that ants can carry several times their own weight and I suspiciously waited to see if they tried to make off with a tube of lipstick.

As I watched, I was reminded of the last time I looked down at the earth from an airplane and watched the little cars scurrying along the roads. I thought to myself that humans are not all that different than these ants from that perspective, following their little trails and jockeying for position. And some of the conversations I’ve heard on human trials are not nearly as polite as what I was imagining that of the ants to be.

Suddenly, I realized all that hustling and bustling had made me hungry, so I went to make myself a sandwich, which I brought with me back to the bathroom and commenced eating as I watched the little fellows some more. “Oh well,” I thought, “I might as well share a few crumbs. It will be kind of fun to see what they do.” So I carefully placed a couple of tiny breadcrumbs near The Trail.

It didn’t take long before one adventurer found the first crumb. I watched as he checked it out, lifted it a couple of times as if testing its weight, then with considerable ease, hoisted it up and headed for The Trail. “If only I could bench press like that,” I thought jealously, and considered squashing him.

I realized that he would probably take his precious cargo back to The Hill and present it proudly to his queen. This was my chance to find out where The Trail began. I carefully watched his every move as he began his journey home. First, he went the wrong way on the trail and ended up at the opposite end of the counter. “Typical male,” I thought, “they never stop to ask for directions.” Finally he turned around and started back.

It was fascinating to note that the ants returning to The Hill followed the same single file as the ants coming from the Hill. Consequently, there were more than a few head-on collisions, and definite interaction with each other as they decided who would give way to whom. I had earlier wondered how they knew where The Trail was, once they had left it. I mean, after all, if you’ve seen one bit of white Formica, haven’t you seen it all? But watching, I realized it must be the interaction with one another that gave them assurance they were on the right track. I mean, can’t you just hear the whole conversation?

“Watch where you’re going, you road hog! By the way, is this the way back to The Hill?”

“Watch where you’re going yourself, can’t you see I’m in a hurry? Yes, you’re on the right trail, just turn left when you get to that dent in the wallpaper, then it’s straight up from there.”

They all seemed to be in such a hurry, and again, I thought how much humans are the same as those ants. Everyone is in a hurry. I’m not sure why, either. We rush to pass all the other travelers on the trail, just so we can sit and wait at the next light while they catch up to us.

Anyway, I tracked the guy with the crumb all the way past the dent in the wallpaper, up the door trim to the wall above the closet, and into a hole near the ceiling. “Aha! So that’s where you broke and entered,” I said, as he disappeared into the hole.


In spite of the entertainment factor of watching ants, the next day I called the apartment manager and he agreed to send over an exterminator. I know. It was a cruel and heartless act. I mean, after all, they weren’t really hurting anything, were they? But I had to do it. “It’s my bathroom, guys,” I told them, as if they were judging me, after the exterminator had gone, leaving poisonous ant bait near the entry hole. He explained that they would unwittingly carry the poison back to their queen, not knowing they were serving her a death sentence. “Once the queen is dead, they will have no direction, and will die of frustration,” he told me. I felt bad, but I tried to make them understand that I would never come crawling around their home, and even if I tried, they would surely do their best to defend it.

The whole process seemed a little like what happens in human homes as we carry home poisonous stress from our scurrying and hurrying out on the trail. The next thing we know we lash out at the very ones we vowed to love until at some point, a part of them just shrivels up and dies.

I watched the demise of the ants with mixed emotions. I’m not really a bad person. But this was a war, and war is never a pretty sight. Everyone knows you do things in the heat of battle that you might not do under normal circumstances. I keep hoping they found it in their little hearts to forgive me -- maybe they didn’t die. Maybe they found a new queen, and maybe the new one wasn’t so ugly.

After watching the saga of the ants, I decided it was time for me to stop spending so much time traveling in a sea of white formica and veer off the trail to enjoy the beauty of all the other colors in God’s creation. Perhaps by doing so, I can avoid a premature visit from the exterminator.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

When Did the Word "Christian" Become An Adjective?

Do you ever stop to look around at today’s Christian culture and wonder why anyone who is not a believer would ever want to be part of it? We seem to have developed a whole sub-culture of Christian music, Christian schools, Christian stores, Christian concerts, Christian conferences, Christian retreats, Christian jewelry, Christian magazines, Christian books, Christian television, Christian radio, Christian movies, etc., etc., etc. We have surrounded ourselves with all things Christian. We are slowly creating an environment that minimizes our interaction with people who are not yet followers of Christ. Why? Why would we want to do that if we are really trying to become more like Christ? Did He spend all His time in the synagogues teaching religious people, or did he go through the countryside, ministering to people and showing them genuine love? Did He not go to the rejects of society and offer hope? Did He not spend His short life on earth teaching that Christianity is not about who WE are, but about who HE is?

“We need inspiration! We need training! We need encouragement!” Christian people clamor. Yes, we do, but for what purpose? What are we doing with our fresh inspiration, our expert training and our motivating encouragement? Talking about it with our Christian friends? Savoring the way it makes us feel? Thanking God for the experience? Are we really trying to provide opportunities for people to find Jesus or are we instead looking for ways to “protect” ourselves from evil and experience a spiritual “high”? Does the church offer what we need to help us be on the offensive as we go out into the world, or does it encourage us to “circle the wagons” as if we were trying to keep out the enemy?

Jesus went on the offensive against the enemy, defeating him at every turn. If His Spirit lives in us, do we have any reason to fear evil?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39, NIV).

If Jesus were to return to earth today, would He would make a tour of churches telling Christians, “Well done, you have been my salt and light in the world!” (Matthew 5:13) or would He look around at the neglected, hurting people of our world and say to us, “What have you done to share my Good News with these lost children of mine?”

The Christian environment we have created can serve to provide Christians with the tools they need to go out into the world and share Christ. Instead, our inclination seems to be to savor those experiences, to talk about them, or even debate them. We may protest what we are taught or give our support, depending on whether the teaching aligns with our understanding of scripture. We organize groups to rally behind our beliefs to “show the world” our collective voice. These are not necessarily bad pursuits if our motives are to create an environment that will show the love of Christ. However I fear that many times, while we are engaged in our passionate pursuit of making a point, people all around us are dying without Jesus and we are too busy to notice.

The people of this world don’t care whether we wear a cross around our neck. They don’t care that we can sing all the words to the songs on the Christian radio station. They don’t care that our t-shirt has a picture of nail-scarred hands or a catchy Christian phrase. They don’t even care that we can pray for hours and quote scripture. What they care about is whether we care about them. Are we willing to step out of our comfortable Christian environment and step into their world? Do we care enough to show love and kindness and forgiveness to the unlovely, the mean-spirited and the hateful?

For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. (Galatians 5:6, The Message)

Christians hold a precious gift that has been offered to all men – eternal life. Yet so often we hoard that gift as if it were ours to keep. Christ compels us to move out of our pews and into the streets. He commands us to stop “playing church” and “go into all the world” (Matthew 28:19-20). When we go to a Christian conference, do we take what we’ve learned and use it to build His Kingdom, or do we simply sign up for the next one “because it was so inspiring?” Does Christian music move you to compassion for your neighbor whose dog barks all night, or does it just drown out the noise and help you deal with your anger? Do the scriptures you quote come from a heart of love or condemnation? Should we not take to heart these words of Paul in Colossians?

24-25 I want you to know how glad I am that it's me sitting here in this jail and not you. There's a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church's part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God's way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth.

26-29This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it's out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God's glory. It's that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That's what I'm working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me. (Colossians 1:24-29, The Message)

The Church seems to be evolving into a place where those who don’t know Christ don’t feel welcome. Is that what He had in mind? The Church is Christ’s Body – a body that was broken for all men (1 Corinthians 10:15-17). As members of that broken body, we are compelled to make The Church a place where all men can find forgiveness, hope and salvation. The church must be a place that welcomes the lost and sends out the saved.

Perhaps those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ could strive to be worthy of these words Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in chapter one, verse 3 (NIV),

We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Sweetness of a Salty Treat

French fries are my favorite treat,
I’d choose them any day.
Though some say it’s a sin to eat,
They can’t be right, I pray!

Don’t give me just a small amount,
I need a mountain pile!
Who cares about the calorie count?
I need not force a smile.

Like clay between my fingers,
It’s a feeling I enjoy.
A memory sweet that lingers
Like a long lost favorite toy.

So let me take my rightful place
As leader of the flock.
Come with me as we share in grace
This thing that thin folks mock!