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It is so easy
to get too serious
about the work
that we do for You.
Help us remember
not only want our devotion
You also want
our laughter and
our ability to find the Joy
that comes through You.
Whether I’m going to pick my son up at school, do my grocery shopping or return a stack of library books, I pass several churches. In spite of this abundance of churches and denominations, I know numerous people who simply never attend. My guess is, that in spite of the directive to “bring the unchurched into a relationship with Christ,” the situation is the same wherever you live.
Me, being me (my husband would say nosy, I prefer inquisitive), I chat people up and I often work the conversation around to why. “Why don’t you go to church?” Some simply haven’t found a church that’s a good fit. Other’s have stories to share – stories that should be funny but aren’t. And generally these stories focus on a mildly irreverent question asked by a child. I say mildly because to kids they are just questions and aren’t meant to be disrespectful.
If you are around kids, you know they ask these questions all the time. One Sunday, my preschooler marched up to the pastor and asked what God looked like. “None of us has ever seen God,” our pastor answered, launching into the standard response. But my son was already dancing around – he apparently had more information to share. “Not even Mary? How come she doesn’t know? She’s the mom and God is the dad. Shouldn’t she know?” Our pastor managed to complete the discussion and let my son get out of ear shot before breaking into a hardy belly laugh.
Unfortunately, many people would be horrified. They would gripe. They would scold. They would “have a serious talk with that boy’s parents.”
And this, in my not entirely humble opinion, is our problem. We have completely and utterly lost our sense of humor about way too many things. We take ourselves far too seriously. I know, I know. Eternal salvation is serious work. We’re dealing with souls here and that’s no laughing matter. But, perhaps it should be – a laughing matter, that is.
After all, Proverbs extolls the benefits of laughter. “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (17:22)
The Psalms point out the message that our laughter will send to the world. “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’” (126:2)
And one of the great things that He has done is give us the ability to laugh. He wants us to have joy in our hearts. He wants us to share this joy with others.
And, I can’t help but believe that he liked to be around people who made him laugh. After all, in Matthew 19:14, Christ said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” He wanted the children around Him and, as we’ve already covered, children are going to ask irreverent questions. It’s what they do.
Something tells me that Christ enjoyed a good laugh and, how could our work be more serious than His?
Oh, it’s that time again. They come by the van-load every month like clockwork. Dressed impeccably, tracts in hand, ready to plow the fields of faith! You guessed it. It’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Giving it one more try!
Twenty years ago, my Mormon cousin created a rift in our lifelong friendship when she sent missionaries to my door repeatedly in an attempt to get me to see the light.
Well, you might say, you’re a person of faith. Aren’t you and these missionaries on the same side? What do you have against them?
It’s nothing against them or their religions, as such. I (obviously) don’t subscribe to the tenets of either faith and have heard it suggested that both of them teeter on the verge of being cults. I think it’s fine to talk about what you believe on a blog such as this one, where people of faith choose to read it– or not to read it. But me, showing up at your door, trying to bend your brain to my way of thinking? Never gonna happen.
It’s like this. A co-worker used to go to the bakery every week for a brownie, and while she was there, she’d pick one up for me as well. Nice gesture, right? Well, not really. You see, I don’t like brownies. I love almost every other kind of chocolate baked good with frosting, just not brownies. So I said, “Thanks, but I really don’t like brownies.” I’d find someone else in the office to whom I could “re-gift” the brownie (since, throw away a baked good? Are you macadamia?)
But after a few weeks of this, I handed it right back to her. “I don’t like brownies. Please don’t buy me any more of these.” She said, “But you love chocolate! And frosting. You told me so yourself.” I said, “But not brownies.” I liked the ingredients and the intention, but not in this particular configuration.
So somebody might be trying to “give” God to me, and I might appreciate it intellectually, but it just isn’t in the form that works for me. While you intend it as a positive, I will always (trust me on this) receive it as a negative. If you want to portray your faith in a good light, do me a favor, keep walking. I’ll consider it a sign that you take my feelings into account and think of your religion in a different light.
PS But if you come back, I’m still not gonna open the door.
The weight of the world is on my shoulders. Or it feels like it, anyway. And I’m not the only one. It seems as though, lately, tragedies and trials have been piling up on everyone I know. Family members are ill. A long-time friend has aggressive cancer. My childhood next-door-neighbor died yesterday. My friend’s aunt is in a spiral of desolation and decline since the death of her husband. We all seem to be suffering like never before.
I’m praying passionately, all the time. That’s why SueBe’s post this week was so reassuring to me: It reminded me that I’m not being a pest if I ask for help, even if I ask over and over again, incessantly. Part of me doesn’t want to “bother” God: After all, there are starving people, people without homes or clean water to drink. What are my problems compared to theirs, in the scheme of things?
The idea that God could love me enough to listen and care about my troubles with exactly the same weight he affords to kings and saints-in-the-making…well, it’s pretty hard to fathom. But there it is. And we should celebrate it. Even with all our burdens, we have one good thing going for us: The ultimate listening ear.
One of the parables that I taught in my class was the Parable of the Persistent Widow. Normally, I link to the Scripture, but I’ll include it here since this one is brief.
Luke 18: 1-8
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
The first time I heard this parable, I wondered what the lesson was. Sure, there’s the obvious lesson – if persistence will wear down the unjust, won’t God also hear us? But Christ never let a teaching moment go with just the surface message. As I studied what other people said about this parable, I realized that I truly had missed the deeper meaning – the lesson of persistent prayer.
Often, when we pray, we bring something up to God one time and then brush it from our hands. Whew. One prayer task accomplished! We check it off our to-do list.
But that isn’t what God wants. God wants us to pray persistently, to come before Him again and again.
There are several reasons for this.
Putting ourselves and our prayers before God, moves our focus to Him. He wants us to reach towards him and one of the ways that we can do this is through prayer.
Reaching toward Him, gazing into his loving heart, we will gain what the widow had – Hope. Faith. If we come before God, it will strengthen our Faith. Why? Because we will be gazing into He who gives us all that is good. We will not be focused on what is muddled up around us.
And finally, renewal. How do I know that even in the midst of your troubles, you will be renewed? Read Isaiah 40: 31.
But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
Go before God. Pray to Him again and again. It will change your focus. It will strengthen your faith and lighten your load. And the spring in your step will be there for all to see.
Go. Pray. Now.
Through the years, I’ve been to my local donut shop a couple of times. Okay, maybe more than a couple of times. Okay, maybe so many times that I know the secret to getting the fresh donuts – look for the pink wax paper…the stale ones are on white paper.
So I’ve chatted with the manager there many times and he’s always been perfectly pleasant. He looks a bit like Bela Lugosi (those under forty, please Google this reference), but always seemed amiable enough. Then one day, I came in with my son and a couple of his friends and ordered a dozen donuts.
The normally placid manager tensed up like Dracula at a Turtleneck Convention, waiting for the critical decision-making process to finish. It took all of three minutes, but there were pauses, ummms, and no, no, not that one, Ma, the marble! He didn’t say anything to show his displeasure, but his usual stream of “Hot enough for ya?” and “Some kinda traffic today, huh?” dried up completely and he stood stock still, as if each millisecond it took for these kids to make a choice was cutting into his profits.
“Big decision,” I said, smiling. “Gotta make sure to pick the right one.” No reaction at all. I considered putting a mirror under “Vlad’s” nose to see if he was still breathing, but then I realized – if he didn’t have a reflection, we’d probably need to fight to the death. And who has time?
There was no line behind us. In fact, the entire store was empty except for us. The boys were perfectly well-behaved, using their indoor voices. They had no lizards or worms in their pockets (that I know of.) So what’s with the bum’s rush? Vampire or vacuum salesman, whenever products are being sold, they want you to buy something. Get the sale and get ‘em out.
Make sure that when you try to share what you believe with anyone – living or undead – that you’re not handing anyone a bill of goods. Knowing God doesn’t solve all your problems. Might even bring up some new ones. But being an example by being courteous even when people forget their manners is one way to spread the word. Sure beats silver bullets and wooden stakes, and the benefits (peace that travels with you, sense of purpose in life, connectedness to the divine) are out of this world.
Looking for inspiration, I opened the book at my elbow, and read:
“In this sorrowful world why tamper
with anything that lifts
It’s a piece of a poem by Mira, popular poet and saint of India. Born a princess, this proto-feminist defied social convention by becoming a sadhu, or itinerant monk. Imagine the reaction she must have received from the people of her time!
Lots of holy folks don’t get a very good reception in their day. Look at Jesus. Seeking a military leader, the Jews instead got a down-to-earth savior who spoke of love, not war. A lover, not a fighter; the “son” of a carpenter, not a king. The least-likely Messiah.
Wisdom can come from the oddest places; “from the mouths of babes,” so to speak. It may not be the speaker or message you were expecting, but that doesn’t make it less valuable. I was thinking today about how I could raise our blog’s profile and increase our readership. Spice up my posts, maybe. And then I read Mira. In this sorrowful world, why tamper with anything that lifts our spirits? Why, indeed.
I don’t know who this blog will ultimately affect, or whether, in fact, it will be appreciated. But writing it, and reading the posts of my sister-bloggers, does lift my spirits. So I’m going to let it be. Maybe others will find it. Maybe not. And while I would never place myself in the ranks of Mira or Jesus, I do harbor a hope that the words on this blog will instill in someone else, if not holiness, then peace, hope, a new way of looking. If it does, let us know. And if you hate it, that’s okay, too. Just remember: We’re here to lift up. You can fight us or join us. But I know which option Mira would prefer.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the verses that form a prequel to the Parable of the Good Samaritan – the ones that lead up to Christ telling the parable.
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
An expert in the law. Most likely a Jew, this man wouldn’t have been an expert in the Roman law but Jewish religious law. He wasn’t there to learn from Christ. He was there to show off. How do we know that? “[He] stood up to test Jesus.” He wanted to show everyone, including Jesus, how much he, Mr. Expert, knew. He wanted to strut his stuff.
But how often are we already guilty of this kind of religion? For so many of us, the rules and regulations that accompany our faith become the core of our religious practice. We know the rules about who is saved and who isn’t. We’re crystal clear on the regulations concerning who is a child of God and who isn’t. Ask us who can preach, what constitutes a valid baptism, what clothing is Christian and even where we should go to church and we can trot out a rule (or thirty) to prove our point.
And you know something I’ve noticed about these rules and regs? They’re never used to hold someone up but to keep someone down. Want to beat your wife? There’s a verse and no doubt several rules to back that up. Against mixed race marriage? Or maybe you’d like to declare that various people aren’t even fully human. Let’s sit around and debate whether or not they have souls. After all, we have rules and creeds and more. We can do it and in our not-so-distant past, we have.
But what we aren’t doing when we’re staging these almighty debates is holding our hearts and prayers up to God. We aren’t gazing up at Him in awe of His Grace. We’re looking down at the rule books, keeping score. In trying to keep other people small, we are taking our eyes off Him.
It seems to me that when we take such a legalistic approach to religion, it shows that we lack a full understanding of God’s Grace. We are saved by our belief in God and His love for us. We don’t earn Grace through good works or religious rites. It simply is not something that we can earn. It is not something we can buy through tithes. It is a gift. And it isn’t ours to give. It is God’s. Ultimately? Its His call, folks.
Until we fully understand that, we are missing the point and it is a very big point indeed.
“Oh, Thou Maker of All Things….Please send locusts. Far-reaching famine. And a pox for good measure. Amen.” Nobody prays like this… do they? Well, maybe we do, but we don’t realize it. Sometimes it’s best to ask for “grace” – pure and simple. Or to say, “Thy Will be done.”
Because at times, whether you realize it or not, you’re asking for trouble. We’ve all been in that place where we’re asking God for something that really isn’t in our best interests. Holding onto a relationship or a job that sucks the life out of you may not exactly be what God had in mind for you.
Life after my marriage ended wasn’t easier; it was better. It’s better not to hold onto something that no longer exists. It’s a relief not to have turmoil and tension in my home. Sometimes we may even find ourselves nostalgic for what wasn’t working because we’re not sure what the future holds. We might think, Well, this situation is toxic, but what will I do next? How can I ….. fill in the blank. Support my family. Pay the bills. Fix the plumbing. On my own.
Now I know. You have to leave the door open to whatever may come, and you have to remember you’re not on the road alone.
It’s taken some time to re-train my mind, but these days, I don’t pray for things I don’t want, like crabgrass, a goiter or a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. I’ve learned to get into the groove of grace. Please open the door for me. Help me walk through. Please allow me to work for what I want. Then I’ll know I’ve earned it. Please bless me with self-determination and focus, wide open spaces and cozy nooks with a good book.
After all, life is what you make it. Prayer is Who you know.