Friday, October 13, 2006

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - Jesus did with you!

Did you know that Christians do not care about preserving or nurturing the environment? It’s true, you know. I found that out as I watched a documentary on Idaho Public Television last Wednesday night. Through an expose on evangelical Christians and their views about the environment, Bill Moyers attempted to tackle the question, “Is God Green?” The show featured interviews with Pastor Tri Robinson of Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Garden City, Idaho. Robinson is being hailed a “hero” of sorts for his bold assertions that Christians should actually take an interest in this Earth that we live on, even going so far as to say that it is a “Biblical imperative of stewardship.” Can you believe that? Apparently, we, as Christians, are to be concerned about things that non-believers have cared about for years. Absurd!

But here’s what I find truly unbelievable (and if you haven’t figured it out yet, that whole diatribe I just laid out was sarcasm)…I don’t know any Christians who believe they should “ignore” environmental issues or who fail to acknowledge that EVERY human being has a duty to take care of God’s green Earth. Yes, I believe God is green and perhaps a bit red with embarrassment when he sees the media portray his children from such a pitiful perspective. I don’t even know where to begin with this one.

Cheers to Pastor Robinson for his brave efforts to address an issue that has unfortunately been swept under the proverbial rug for way too long. Cheers to Pastor Robinson for even laying out a biblical foundation for our calling to environmental preservation. Cheers to Pastor Robinson for seeking to dispel a common myth that Christians believe the Earth is “gonna burn,” therefore, asserting that any attempts to preserve it are futile, at best. Did you know that? Did you know that Christians actually refuse to recycle on the basis that the whole Earth is going down, even the aluminum cans? Hmm, I don’t know about yours, but my God is a God of second chances, even for the tin cans and the plastic bottles (hehe – sorry, the whole thing is absurd, isn’t it?)!

In my quest for truth, I came across an author who put it this way. As Christians, our bodies will soon perish, but yet, we take care of those, don’t we? So why not the Earth? It has been entrusted to us in the same way that we have been admonished to care for our bodies, which are “temples of the Lord,” right? We’ll spend countless hours on the treadmill, but we won’t spend 2 seconds tossing our Pepsi can into the blue trash bin instead of the black one? A heartless lot, aren’t we? No, we are not, at least not all of us. So here’s what really sits uncomfortably in my soul when I watch these programs. What happened to truth in broadcasting? Not all evangelical Christians are racing for the finish line to claim the prize (which we already have, by the way). Not all of us are standing on the highest sky rise with our arms outstretched waiting for the spaceship to land. And certainly not all of us are impatiently searching the horizon for some plume of smoke that signifies the lake of fire is just around the corner! Some of us actually would like to do some good or leave some mark while we meander through this life. So again I say, yea to Pastor Robinson for showing the world that Christian environmentalists exist and though we are few (she says in jest, with a mischievous smirk), we are ready, willing, and able to act in whatever means necessary, even if it means, Heaven forbid, sacrificing a perfectly good minute on a Sunday afternoon to bend down and pick up a candy wrapper that has fallen by the wayside!

If you haven’t noticed, I’m really quite sick of it! I would rather jam a pencil in my eye than watch another expose on the crazy lives of evangelicals. Why don’t they do a piece on Muslims and their views on the environment? Or the Hare Krishna’s, now THAT, I’d watch! Why is it always those crazy Christians? I’ll tell you why. Because my Jesus is a threat to people who don’t believe in Him. My Jesus was a pacifist and an activist, a politician and a law-abiding citizen, a student and a teacher. My Jesus was specific about how we ought to live our lives here on Earth, but vague about when we would see him face to face. People don’t know what to make of that. They don’t want a community of people who tow the line. They want you to take a stand and fight till the death to defend it, even if it means climbing the ladder of self-righteousness to reach the judgment seat. But with Jesus, there are some shades of gray, whether we choose to believe it or not. We are called to believe the impossible, to deny our instincts, to admit to our imperfections and accept undeserved forgiveness. We are called to believe unabashedly that what seems upside down is actually right side up, and what our hearts tell us is senseless, our eyes will one day confirm. I truly believe that if you are so defensive about the views of another that you must go on the offensive to attack, there must be some seed of conviction deep within that you are trying to stifle.

Now I’m not saying this particular documentary was challenging Christianity or portraying it in a negative light. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I guess it’s what wasn’t said that really bothers me. What was missing was the fact that the majority of Christians do not believe we are to overlook environmental issues, global warming, etc. And to praise one pastor who is doing his part suggests, to me anyway, that most of us are not. My husband was watching this show subconsciously absorbing a story line that reads something like this: Christians roam the Earth like packs of wolves devouring aluminum cans and hurling them by the thousands into the nearest ocean, all the while spraying Aqua Net in an endless stream into the sky, which unsurprisingly is now a dirty shade of blue from which birds plummet to their death at an alarming rate. Don’t count me out yet; I did e-mail this to save paper, didn’t I? Ok, I’ll lose the dramatics now and simply say this…I love my home (San Clemente, the United States, and the Earth) and I’d no more like to see it perish than I’d like to spend an evening on the receiving end of a frontal assault by my demon-possessed cat. I care about the Earth and I know some other Christians who do too. There’s prayer because we care (the new motto of Christian activists), and we believe in a God who makes things happen. I do not believe I am free and clear of responsibility to Mother Earth simply because one day I will leave her and I know a few others who feel the same way. For the love of all that is holy, I married an Environmental Resource Specialist, tree hugging, granola-eater; I couldn’t litter if I wanted to!

There is one other thing I’d like to address and you may totally disagree with me on this one, but for the longest time, I’ve wondered why it disturbs me so intensely when I see a church or a pastor or any Christian for that matter on television discussing what they are doing for the Lord. And though this is a non-essential tenet of the faith, I have a very strong opinion on this one (tune out now if you don’t care to hear it). Matthew has much to say about service to the Lord in Chapter 6 and states, 2”Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3But when you do a charitable deed do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. 5And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you…17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Not for one moment am I presuming to know the motives of one man’s heart, nor do I believe his intentions were anything but pure. In fact, I might even go so far as to assert that it is the media that seeks to call attention to Christianity today, but I think in light of Matthew’s admonitions, if I were ever to find myself the interest of a media frenzy – don’t laugh, it could happen - I would gracefully bow out and leave the convertin’ to Jesus! I am fairly certain the intent of most Christians who take center stage in the public arena is to point a finger at the grace, forgiveness and love of God, but unfortunately, there is much more interest and much higher ratings in jumping on the bash-Christianity bandwagon. The lights I’ve seen shed on my faith time and again are less than flattering.

I’ve watched hour-long shows about my faith and failed to hear even one mention of Jesus Christ. My favorite author, Donald Miller, tells a story about a class he taught to a group of Christian college students. He asked them to describe the tenets of their faith and they nailed it. They spewed out everything from service to worship to moral absolutes to spiritual gifts, but forgot to include that Jesus guy. Ouch. That’s like trying to describe the ocean without mentioning water. In another interview I read recently, Reverend, Richard Cizik, gives the following definition of being “born again.”

“Well, it's pretty hard to define. Every individual has their own definition, their own existential experience, so to speak. All [born again] means [is] that you submit yourself to the authority of Jesus Christ over all of your life. He becomes the most important thing to you. It's not obedience to some laws or the Old Testament Ten Commandments. It's obedience to what Jesus wants, as authoritatively stated in the Scriptures, and that changes one's life.”

Ok, Richard, I’m halfway there with you. I wholly agree that everyone does have his or her own definition and I’m way on board with the idea that it has little to do with obeying some laws that were etched in stone some fifty gazillion years ago, but I’m going to take it a step further. Being born again, to me, has a whole lot to do with repentance and forgiveness and not necessarily in that order. It’s that whole idea I alluded to earlier that God is a God of second chances. And Richard, I second the notion that obedience to what Jesus wants changes lives. So what DOES Jesus want? I believe He wants to love me, and wants to hang out with me on Sunday afternoons (sometimes even on weekdays), and I believe, more than anything else, He wants me to acknowledge what He did for me on a hill awhile ago and maybe even tell some people about that. But here’s the stone, cold truth…there aren’t a whole lot of people who want to hear about that these days, least of all, the people on TV. And sometimes I think if we allow ourselves to entertain the idea of “getting the word out” by stepping into the public limelight and being broadcast through the media, there’s a good chance that Jesus guy won’t make the cut. Whenever I happen to nurture the desire to serve God in the smallest way and whatever I manage to do for Him when I’m not out shopping or at home torturing my kitty or screaming obscenities at the TV on a Sunday morning when the Chargers are down by a field goal (I love you, LT!), I think I’ll just do in silence and not give anyone ammunition to hurl back at me when I’m face down in the glitter gulch mourning the loss of my innocence!

But I digress. Some Christians care about the environment and the ozone layer and the fishes in the sea. But some of them really don’t and do you know what else? Some of them don’t like chocolate or the beach or (God help them) cats. Yes, some Christians suck. Ok, all of them do in one way or another, but so do all Catholics and all Muslims and all Jews and all Amish and all Buddhists and all Mormons, whether they believe it or not. We are all inherently bad (that whole “fall of man” thing). So can we stop focusing on the Christians for once and just play a rerun of Law and Order, or something?! Now that’s good television!

Heavenly Father, we recognize that being a child in your family means caring about other people, even the ones who don’t know you. We like what you’ve done here and even though we can’t wait to see you face to face, we promise to do our best to keep this place clean and beautiful and safe for all of your children. And Father, when we decide we’d like to be movie stars for a day, please help us to act out a story of love, and grace, and friendship and let the truth be told!!!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Greatest American Hero (uh, that'd be Jesus)

So I was thinking today about those pastors who fall from their pedestals in the eyes of the church when they find themselves (oops), in the throws of adultery, or the bonds of addiction, or heaven forbid, entertaining a notion that challenges church doctrine. My knee-jerk response to this sort of situation is to belt out in utter amazement, “Wow, and he was such a great man of God!” Excuse me while I climb back into the chair I just fell from and regain my composure.

A great man of God…is there such a person? And if there is, how does one achieve such a status? I am hesitant to even utter the phrase out loud, but if I were to even skate along the edge of belief in such a person, I would offer the following definition. A great man of God is not the one who can yell loudest, but the one who can listen most intently. A great man of God is not the most dynamic in the crowd, but the most humble. A great man of God does not boast in how much he has to offer, but delights in even the smallest gain. And most importantly, a great man of God recognizes that he is not inherently great, but attributes his value to God alone. More simply stated, the greatness of man is that he is “of God.”

When I think about my best friends, the ones I believe to be truly great, I define them in this way: they are not the ones who know what’s best for me, but the ones who WANT to know what’s best for me. They are the ones who are willing to walk beside me as I figure it out. They are not preaching from the pulpit about the error of my ways or weighing me down with burdens I cannot carry, otherwise known as “should-haves” and “ought-tos”. They are not boasting of their position in my life, but are content with my friendship. My greatest friends are not great at all; they are merely faithful.

The greatest men of God are fundamentally the same. They do not recognize their greatness and if it should surface, it is attributed to God and God alone. So even though there may exist some form of greatness in man, I would prefer to address it in another way. Perhaps greatness could be defined more appropriately as simply, faith. The spiritual icons of the Bible were not great men of God; they were great men (and women) of faith. They were the ones whose lives elicited greatness as a result of their belief, and hope, and trust in a loving God. They beat the odds, cheated death, astounded the masses, and emerged from the most impossible circumstances unscathed. They were not great; they were rescued. They believed in the greatness of God and clung to His promises.

And here’s a further definition and a thought you’ll likely loathe. The greatest men of God are those that have been wounded. Wounded men are useful. They are of great value in the kingdom of God. I love this one…

An excerpt from “To Own a Dragon” by Donald Miller:
“The TRC was a commission established by Nelson Mandela to listen to and attempt to reconcile the country after the atrocities of apartheid. It was a sobering account, a group of men and women listening to their countrymen, endless hours of testimony so gripping and gruesome as to beget feelings of hopelessness.

Before the commission was established, government officials asked Bishop Desmond Tutu what sort of person should be considered for a position on the commission, and Tutu responded, essentially, that the commission should be comprised of victims, of people whose lives had been ripped open by the horrors of oppression. But not arrogant victims, he sated, not people looking for vengeance. Instead, Tutu said softly, these should be people who have the authority of awful experiences, experiences that educate them toward empathy, and yet still have within themselves hearts willing to forgive. This, he went on to clarify, could be accomplished only through a deeply buttressed spiritual life. The people will be wounded healers.”

Wounded healers, I like that. We’re qualified to act as healers on the basis that we were once, and will always be, in need of some healing of our own. It has been said that God does not build a man; He breaks him. If you are asserting that God has made you great based on the experiences you have had, you are walking a dangerously thin tightrope. By carrying you through trials and tribulations, God has not given you success and self-worth so much as He has given you tools. You are now qualified…to be a healer, to be a brother or a sister, to be a friend.

I’ve heard people say that they have no regrets about the decisions they’ve made. They claim that their experiences have shaped them and made them who they are. Perhaps, but I believe God made me who I am when he formed me in the womb and the experiences I have had have done nothing more than qualify me to be a healer. Who in their right mind would not choose the path of least resistance if they could do it all over again??? Certainly not me!

God does not say that we will reach our fullest potential by enduring life and learning hard lessons. He did not create a blank slate in me that will become a glorious work of art as I encounter various experiences and travel many roads. I was a masterpiece at birth because I am the work of His hands. Jer 29:11”For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” There is no need for me to plan my way; God has done that for me. It is not my job to clear a path; it is my job to remain on the path that He laid for me, essentially, to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. There may be many roads for me to wander aimlessly down, but there is only one that leads to the cross.

A final thought…when I make a bad decision or choose a path that leads me away from God, it does not change who I am; it merely changes where I end up. If I happen to emerge stronger, wiser, or even richer, it is because God loves me enough to bless me in spite of myself, not because He is rewarding me for my suffering. I have many regrets about my choices and would definitely do many things differently if given the chance. I will say this though – in every single circumstance where I went horribly wrong and chose the wrong path, there is only one thing I would have done differently. I would have trusted in God’s greatness a little bit more and in my own a little bit less. I am not a great woman of God; I am a woman who trusts in a great God.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Give that guy a Sharpie!

Ephesians 4
17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.

20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Ok, so I was watching that crazy guy with the gray hair last night. You know, the one who writes all those random scribbles on a white board while he’s giving his “message,” none of which you can actually read? Well, I found myself drawn to him (no pun intended) for some reason, like watching a train wreck, but the train actually pulled into the station in the end and I was pleasantly surprised. He was talking about grieving the spirit, and not only had I never heard this topic preached before, but certainly not like this. I gotta be honest; I have absolutely no idea what it means to grieve the spirit, but his take on the issue sounded pretty good to me. And so, I’ll share.

Now if I had to take my best guess as to what it means to grieve the spirit, I’d guess something along the lines of doing bad stuff that makes God sad. Hehe! Silly me! With a little help from my gray-haired friend, I’m leaning toward an entirely different perspective now. His sermon was actually about tithing, but his comment about grieving the Holy Spirit stuck out more to me. It was something along the lines of, “If you are defensive about your giving, you are defensive about God’s grace.” Huh? I missed the first half hour or so of his little program, but I drew my own inferences and I think I may have actually caught his drift, despite the mess of Sharpie markings and meaningless doodles in the background. You see, when you actually understand the measure of God’s grace and how much you’ve been forgiven, giving almost seems like a natural way to say “thanks.” It’s possibly the only way some of us can express our gratitude. And yes, I know it won’t ever be enough, nor does God expect anything in return (short of our faith and trust in Him), but it’s a physical reaction to an overwhelming emotional feeling we get when we are hit with God’s boundless love for us.

So I think the point the crazy scribbler was trying to make when he made that comment about giving was that if we are defensive and feeling guilty about our giving, it may be because we have not fully experienced God’s grace in our lives. In other words, when we hesitate in our giving, we are likely not doing so out of a spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude. If we’re feeling negative emotions about giving to God, it’s probably because we don’t feel particularly appreciative about His sacrifice and love for us. How can you grasp the magnitude of being loved despite the ugliest and most unpleasant parts of you and NOT feel some sort of desire to say “thanks?” If you don’t feel thankful, you don’t feel loved and accepted and that’s a pretty big problem. So when you’re “grieving the spirit,” you aren’t making HIM sad, you’re making YOU sad because you’re missing out on something, namely, God’s grace and intimate friendship.

Ok, enough with the crazy gray-haired scribbler; cut to the Apostle Paul. In the Ephesians passage, Paul says the Gentiles are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the futility of their thinking. Hmmm…they don’t understand because their thinking is limited. Perhaps their thoughts are on things that don’t matter? Maybe they’re thinking about what’s for dinner or how they need to break in their new sandals or about those cute little shepherd girls on the next block? Maybe they should be thinking about things above, like God’s faithfulness to them or His providence in their lives. Perhaps if they shift their focus, they might gain a little understanding. Then Paul goes on to say that when we come to know Christ, our minds are to have a new attitude. Our minds…those things we use from time to time. Those things are supposed to have a new attitude. And what exactly could that be? Um, how about…gratitude? How about contentment? Maybe even a little bit of joy? I think the point Paul is trying to make is that the state of our souls matters a little more than the state of the nation. What God is doing within us counts a little more than what God is doing around us, don’t you think? And if we’re too busy worrying about life, we probably aren’t spending enough time living in love. What would it look like if we actually did live in a constant awareness that we are loved and forgiven (for our past mistakes, our future mistakes, and even that thought we’re thinking right now)? Our minds truly would have a new attitude, our understanding would reach its full measure, and our souls may actually feel at rest for a moment or two. How could anyone feel anything but joy when they are walking hand in hand with a king, a counselor, and a friend of sinners?

In verse 30, Paul advises us not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom we were sealed for the day of redemption. I think the key here is the part about redemption. If we could come to a deeper understanding of the idea that we were sealed for redemption, grieving the Holy Spirit wouldn’t even be an option. Honestly, once we believe that God is who He says He is and Jesus did what He said He did, we are sealed for all eternity and that seal can never be broken. We have been and will be eternally redeemed! You can’t be sad about that, can you? Besides, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need to do any grieving over our actions; we do enough of that ourselves.

Once more for the masses...I don’t believe God is grieving what we do. I believe we’re grieving what we do, and simply stated, that means not letting grace in.

God, please help me to let grace in. Love me as only you can and remind me that I have no reason to grieve your absence, for you are ever-present! Help me to care more about what you are doing in me and less about what is going on around me. Let my thinking be limited and my giving be unlimited. And please do the same for my friends and family.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Forever Friend

So I sat down to write about all the old hymns and how they were all about the same thing, God’s grace and mercy. My intention was to rant about how the songs we write today are all about our contributions to the kingdom of God and our sacrificial lives, but I’m feeling rather convicted. You see, when I did a little research what I found was that they really aren’t much different at all. Short of a few grammatical and language differences, the subject matter is all the same. They all tell the same stories, complete with longing, suffering, wonder, appreciation, and an ever-present need for redemption and many of them speak of our desire to serve the God we love. All of it’s right there, on the pages of the old hymnbooks and the overhead projectors of our “worship” communities. Nothing has changed, really. But I do have a strong fondness of the old hymns. They’re so raw and unedited. The writers seem so passionate and certain of their hearts’ desire and for the most part, that was one thing alone, Jesus. Sure, there are numerous hymns about God, but almost all of the ones I came across were sung to and about Jesus (yes, I know all about the Trinity). There is one thing I can say for certain about my own view of “worship” songs. When I sing songs today, it’s almost as if I’m singing to a stranger, like some distant pen pal I’ve never met. But the writers of the hymns seemed to be much more connected to their subject matter. They seemed to be intimately involved with Him, on a much deeper than surface level. They were friends with Jesus and it shone through in their lyrics.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make that connection with Jesus when I sing to Him and the only way I know how to do that is to explore what exactly that connection looks like. What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus? How do I go from looking upward to Jesus, to standing before Him, face to face? I think to do that I have to understand who He really is and what He means to me. Jesus has been called so many things because He truly was so many things to so many different people (and still is). He’s been called a shepherd, deliverer, healer, king, potter, purifier, redeemer, restorer, rock, servant, saviour, unspotted lamb, vine, cornerstone…shall I go on? Wow, those are some serious shoes to fill. So here are a few names I particularly love that really define who Jesus is to me.

Counselor (one who gives advice) – Let me take this one step further. Jesus does not just give advice; He gives sound advice and even my best friend sometimes messes that one up. Any counsel from Jesus is more than trustworthy, because He is the author of perfection. He is the measure against which we hold every question of morality and every act of judgment. So when I’m stuck at a crossroads and I’m not sure which path to take, I can rest assured that the right way is the way of the savior. And though it may not be the path of least resistance, as long as my eyes are fixed on Jesus, I will always come out alright on the other side (and I don’t have to pay $100 for an hour session to get there). What a friend I have in Jesus!

Lover (an affectionate or benevolent friend) – My personal favorite. Jesus doesn’t merely think I’m kind of cool and somewhat fun to hang around. Jesus loves me affectionately and passionately. He cares for me, which, lets be honest, sometimes our parents don’t even do well. He is a benevolent friend, inherently good, and devoted to me whole-heartedly and I know this because anyone who willingly goes to the grave to secure my fate does nothing half-heartedly. What a friend I have in Jesus!

Nourisher (to promote the growth of; sustain) – To think that Jesus actually cares about my growth! Well, He does. And I’m not talking about my growth as defined by a life of less sin or greater works. I think spiritual growth is simply growing closer to Jesus by getting more real with Him. Once I grow up by coming clean and learning to lean, He truly does sustain me and nourish my soul. What a friend I have in Jesus!

And now a final word about my faithful friend, Jesus. I heard someone say once that every time you see a penny on the ground, you should stop and reflect upon what it says, “In God We Trust.” And then try to remember all the times you’ve trusted God and all the times He has never failed you. Brilliant! God’s faithfulness to us is not in question. What we struggle with is remembering His faithfulness amidst our doubts, fears, and painful circumstances. So I thought this was a cute way to remind myself and now, whenever God proves Himself faithful to me yet again, I drop a penny in my “trust fund.” ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus.

So I think if I keep focusing on the attributes of Jesus and realize that He is truly the greatest friend a girl could ever have, the words on the overhead projector may actually come to life and instead of sending my praises up to the one who loves me, I can whisper a simple “Thank you” to the friend standing right beside me.

So here are a few of my favorite hymns about my forever friend.

Anywhere with Jesus
Words by Jessie Brown Pounds - 1887
Verses 3 and 4 by Helen Cadbury Alexander - 1915
Music by Daniel Brink Towner – 1887

Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go,
Anywhere He leads me in this world below;
Anywhere without Him dearest joys would fade;
Anywhere with Jesus I am not afraid.

Anywhere, anywhere! Fear I cannot know;
Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.

Anywhere with Jesus I am not alone;
Other friends may fail me, He is still my own;
Though His hand may lead me over drearest ways,
Anywhere with Jesus is a house of praise.

Anywhere with Jesus, over land and sea,
Telling souls in darkness of salvation free;
Ready as He summons me to go or stay,
Anywhere with Jesus when He points the way.

Anywhere with Jesus I can go to sleep,
When the darkening shadows round about me creep,
Knowing I shall waken nevermore to roam;
Anywhere with Jesus will be home, sweet home.

The Touch of His Hand on Mine
Words by Jessie Brown Pounds
Music by Henry P. Morton - 1913

There are days so dark that I seek in vain
For the face of my Friend Divine;
But though darkness hide, He is there to guide
By the touch of His Hand on mine.

O the touch of His Hand on mine,
O the touch of His Hand on mine,
There is grace and power in the trying hour,
By the touch of His Hand on mine.

There are times when tired of the toilsome road,
For the ways of the world I pine;
But He draws me back to the upward track,
By the touch of His Hand on mine.

When the way is dim and I cannot see
Through the midst of His wise design,
How my glad heart yearns and my faith returns,
By the touch of His Hand on mine.

In that last sad hour as I stand alone,
Where the powers of death combine,
While the dark waves roll He will guide my soul,
By the touch of His Hand on mine.

And now I think I’ll try my hand at one of my own…

Forever Friend
I sang the songs of yesterday,
And let them wake my heart.
And in the words I’d held at bay,
Discovered who you are.

Jesus, Savior, Nourisher,
Teach my soul to trust.
Counselor, encourager,
Who raised me from the dust.

Son of Man, whose grace abounds
In morning, noon and night.
Holy God with nail-pierced hands
That steered my wrong course right.

What a friend we have in Jesus.
Faithful friend who never leaves us.
What a friend who truly sees us.
Loving friend who daily frees us.

Father of the weak and poor,
Lover of the lost,
Son whose mercy opens doors,
Bearer of another’s cross.

Shepherd of a wandering flock,
Cornerstone on which to build,
Humble servant, solid rock,
Vision of promises fulfilled.

What a friend we have in Jesus.
Faithful friend who never leaves us.
What a friend who truly sees us.
Loving friend who daily frees us.

Remover of all obstacles,
Deliverer, with lives to mend,
Redeemer of the prodigals,
Mighty King, forever friend.

May songs I sing, with heart unbound,
Be praises to my faithful friend,
For what an honor to be found,
And know what lies around the bend.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Chosen and Precious

I’ve heard it said before that we live in a world that seeks to devour us. The outrageous cost of living, the lack of morality in most of our entertainment, and the barrage of advertisements that urge us to super size, throw caution to the wind, and build a better body, lead us to believe that good enough will never be. We are crushed under the promise of a “new and improved us.” But what if that is not the case at all? Of course, the main goal of an advertiser is to get you to buy what they are selling, but does all that pressure really seek to devour us? I don’t think this world seeks to devour us so much as it seeks to ignore us and THAT is an even greater detriment. In trying to find our place in this world, I think sometimes we can do much greater harm to ourselves than any outside force could do.

So here’s the way I see it. I used to view the world as a giant, relentless tidal wave. There was a constant struggle to stay afloat and every time I came up for air, that pesky wave would pummel me yet again. Now I view the world as more of a black hole, an abyss of ordinariness and predictability and we all just sort of get lost in the darkness. Our attempts to step back into the light look a little like this. We fight to find something unique about ourselves and accentuate that quality, to leave a mark and render ourselves unforgettable. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way our actions are construed more as acting out and not as standing out. Our goal is to gain attention and admiration. And quite frankly, some of us would just like to be noticed. Consequently, our real struggle is not against the world, but against ourselves.

David laments in Psalm 103, “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” To this world, we are nothing but flowers that will soon pass. I think we spend most of our days here on Earth trying to prove to others that we are much more than that. But in our pursuit of notoriety, we build an image even worse than that of a dying flower, in fact, much closer to a weed. And what is most frightening is that in many cases, people of ill repute are the people this world elevates. It is the Dennis Rodmans and the Saddam Husseins that this world deems most newsworthy. The more absurd your lifestyle, the more outrageous your deeds, and the more obnoxious your image, the more attention you get. And make no mistake, it happens on a smaller scale too. Young girls act out in promiscuity to get the attention they so desperately crave. Gang members commit heinous acts of violence to feel some sense of inclusion with a family, however dysfunctional it may be. Even as babies, the most effective way to get our needs met is to scream until someone takes notice. So alright, it isn’t difficult to analyze WHY we do what we do. The long and short of it is that we don’t want to merely sway back and forth in the wind waiting for our time to come. We want to prove to this world that we have something to offer, something unlike anything else it has ever known, something special. Basically, we want to prove we have more value than Joe Schmo sitting next to us. So here’s a question for you to ponder…is it really THAT important for this world to take notice of us? I mean, what’s so wrong with being ignored. In fact, I would venture to guess that most of us long for the people around us to ignore us every once in a while. So I guess I should delve a little deeper. Isn’t what really matters that God takes notice of us? Doesn’t our value come from Him alone? Shouldn’t that be enough? (Here comes that “in a perfect world” speech again).

“The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God's eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace. We must dare to opt consciously for our chosen ness and not allow our emotions, feelings, or passions to seduce us into self-rejection.” -Henri J. M. Nouwen

When we start to feel ignored by this world and consequently, persecute ourselves for being unnoticeable, wouldn’t it serve us well to search for our worth elsewhere? Oh that we could remember this one on a daily basis! I am the chosen child of God, precious in His sight. Chosen and precious. Chosen and precious. Chosen and precious. So what if this world does not choose me? What if when the team captains are picking their players, I’m the last one picked? Here’s one I love even more. In the child’s game Red Rover, when the other team finally does call your name, you run as fast as you can to break through and then they block you. It’s like being teased at acceptance. They’re calling you to come join them and then they shut you out. Fun, but slightly rude. Hang tight, I have a point. In God’s eyes, you will never be shut out as long as you’re headed in His direction. You are chosen and precious.

I guess our real hang up then, is once again, letting God’s affection for us be enough and accepting that though this world may never take notice of us, God will never forget us. Chosen and precious. And now, a HUGE digression, but a scenario I find quite intriguing.

If you give a child a dollar, he will celebrate. He will rejoice and laugh and shout with joy because he's got dreams. He's got lofty ideas of how far a dollar will go. He’s got endless possibilities. If you give a grown man a dollar, he will despair. He will mutter an insincere "thanks" and cringe with disdain because he's got life. He's got years of heartache, years of bills too numerous to count and years of the bitter, tasteless sting of reality. He is jaded. A dollar is almost a curse; it is a fraction of what it would take to do more than merely survive. It is a dent in the armor of happiness, a mere pebble on the beach of eternal bliss (hehe). Oh, how I long to be a child again, to feel the worth of a dollar. And oh, how marvelous the beauty and wonder of the thought that our heavenly father views us the same. We are but a dollar in worth to ourselves, but to Him, a vast ocean of wealth with priceless value. We are an endless possibility to God, a blank slate on which to write a story with a happy ending, a blank canvas on which to paint a masterpiece. Chosen and precious. Before David’s diatribe in Psalm 103, he says a little something about ‘as high as the Heavens above, so great is the measure of our Father’s love.’ GREAT IS THE MEASURE OF OUR FATHER’S LOVE! Great, not slightly noticeable, mildly tolerant, or remotely apparent, but GREAT! For someone who has chosen to saturate us in His love, to ignore us would be completely out of character.
Ok, I’ll close with this. I’m sort of a vivid learner. I can’t retain or comprehend an idea until I’ve painted a picture of it in my mind (or read it 75 times). So here’s how I illustrated this topic. There once was this huge game of Red Rover going on in Heaven. There were two teams, the Sin Seekers and the Fallen Angels and they both screamed in unison, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Jesus right over.” And the beauty of the game was this. Jesus came running and no hands went up to keep Him out. He broke through (ok, a little blood was shed), but He broke through nonetheless. And everybody won and from that day on, here we stand – ignored by worldly standards – chosen and precious by Godly standards.

Friday, January 20, 2006

And justice for all

So what is the sign of repentance anyway? How do we truly know when someone is face down on their penitent face and when they are simply posing for the cameras? And my God, what gives us the right to be concerned with this matter in the first place? Let me first state that in attempting to scratch the surface of this one, the finger that so often comes dangerously close to pointing at God’s vengeance and eternal damnation is pointing right back at myself, because I am the worst of sinners when it comes to judging (and so many other areas). So here goes nothing. Where do we draw the lines between “gently” rebuking our brothers and sisters, harshly judging them under the guise of saving their mortal souls, and biting our tongues when we believe they are “backsliding”? And when they profess to be “giving it to God,” what then?

Let me lay a foundation and define judgment as I see it and then I’ll get into our obsessive flirtation with it. What is it? Judgment is not characterized by speech alone, but can come in the form of a disdainful look, a sigh of disappointment, or even the distancing of oneself from a long-time friend for fear of becoming “guilty by association.” And now, where does it come from? In all honesty, I am more apt to believe our judgment of others is better explained as a deflection of our own guilt about the sins in our lives than as a genuine concern for their salvation. Either way, I think too many of us are confused about how we approach judgment in the Christian community. As far as non-believers are concerned, we may as well be charging admission when we point our disapproving fingers, roll our disbelieving eyes, and dispel our urgent calls to repentance because these tactics we’ve come to know and love are nothing short of entertaining to non-believers. Seriously, I pray for the whole world to know Christ, but you and I both know that isn’t going to happen, so let’s concentrate on the smaller picture for now.

I guess the real problem then is Christians…not the ones who have mastered the art of empathy and surmounted the challenge of coupling compassion with admonition (hats off to all 3 of you!), but those who have intentionally (God forbid) or unintentionally tarnished the crown of mercy and singed the garland of grace. In a perfect world, all Christians would be skilled at gentle rebuke. If we were truly learning from the master, rebuke would play out as it does in Mark 16:14, “…Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.” Jesus rebukes the disciples in this passage not for their wicked ways per se, but for their lack of faith in Him. So when one of our brothers or sisters is sinning, is it their actual sin that bothers us or is it their lack of faith? If there is ever an instance in which I feel it is appropriate to correct one of my friends, it should be when he/she is not trusting in God’s power to heal and forgive, not solely because I disapprove of his/her choices. And even then, my approach should be such that the playing field is level. We are both sinners; both in need of God’s love and mercy; and both under the blanket of grace, rather than the weight of condemnation. Ah yes, in a perfect world…

But here’s another one for you to chew on. Not only have we eclipsed gentle rebuke with biting judgment, but we’ve actually taken it one step farther. One of the biggest problems it seems is that many Christians have not learned to distinguish where rebuke ends and forgiveness begins. Daily we walk the line between responsibility as a Christian and responsibility as a friend. What is truly disheartening is that we have somewhere along the line divorced the two and come to the conclusion that we cannot play both roles at the same time. In our rush to ensure that God’s precious flock does not wander from the field, we have unknowingly pushed a few sheep off the proverbial walk of faith and down a cliff of despair and guilt.

Let me be very clear. I am extremely apprehensive to express any sort of disapproval of one’s actions to begin with (though I do it quite often), but I am only human. So, when I have truly invested in one of my friends, given myself some sort of a platform from which to speak, and genuinely feel that out of concern alone I cannot shut my mouth any longer, I have been known to share my feelings about the choices he/she is making. And then, when I have spoken my peace, I do my best to let it go! But is this what the Bible calls us to do or are we called to a much greater duty? You ready? I really don’t have an answer for you on this one, but I do know one thing – there is a very finite line that has been drawn in the sand for us to take note of and it addresses the following question. When do we expel the immoral brother (which is most often, ourselves) and when do we lovingly embrace him? I got three words for you…RE-PENT-ANCE! The moment a sinner cries out to God for forgiveness, our rebuke falls to the wayside and God’s mercy takes over. But as one writer points out, “The trouble with most Christians today is that they would rather be on the judgment seat than on the witness stand.” Don’t we love it when someone else’s sin is more visible than ours? We get to feel better about our own iniquities or at least about our ability to camouflage them. And God forbid someone should actually acknowledge their sins and cry out to God for help. Then we get to judge their sincerity and the motives of their heart. Listen to what God’s divinely inspired have to say about that. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5”I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” If that isn’t enough to squash the pride in you, consider this. The appearance of our righteousness in the church often leads to the disappearance of God’s righteousness and who wants to answer for that one on judgment day?

So let me explain it in one more way. Eric Sandras says in Buck Naked Faith, “It is the pursuit of the kind of the relationship with the Father that Jesus had, and not the expectation of attainment in this lifetime, that we’ve needed all along.” I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more. We get so caught up in trying to be Jesus that we often fail to be WITH Jesus. God desires us to pursue a relationship with Him, to seek Him and long for His friendship. To strive for the very same intimate bond that He had with Jesus. But He’s also made it perfectly clear that while we are on Earth, in our sinful bodies, we will never have that perfect relationship. So maybe we should focus on a more feasible goal. We should be encouraging each other to pursue a relationship with God through confession, trust, and ever-increasing need for His grace, not holding each other to the impossible standard of filling His shoes. So when you get the urge to pick up your gavel, don your black robe, and shout, “Guilty!” try to remember that you’re the one on trial and throw yourself on the mercy of the court.

God, we throw ourselves on the mercy of your court. Please silence the voices of our accusers and when we look to you, let them look away. If we do allow their misplaced anger and hurt to sting our souls, gently reminder us that as long as we trust in you, you will never abandon us. And if we ask ourselves – what does it look like to trust God? May we always hear the answer – it looks like a cross set upon a hill, stained red as a reminder that we are loved.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Rest Assured

"I was regretting the past and fearing the future. Suddenly God was speaking: 'My name is I am.' I waited and God continued, 'When you live in the past, with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I was. When you live in the future, with its problems and fears, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I will be. When you live in this moment, it is not hard. I am here. My name is I AM.'" ~Helen Mellincost

Wow, I really need to write; it’s been way too long. So on this day of turmoil and chaos, frustration and rage, busyness and restlessness, I will make time to write, because only one other thing soothes my soul such as this. There is too much these days for any one person to handle (except Jesus, of course). There is too much noise, too many errands to run, too much stress, too many crazy California drivers, too much heartbreak and too many worries that bombard us from one minute to the next. Shall I go on? Oh, what a girl would give for just five minutes of solace! We wonder why we all have difficulty falling asleep, and no, it’s not because we haven’t given in and bought a sleep number bed yet. We can’t get our bodies to rest at night because we can’t get our minds to rest at night. The worries of yesterday and the anxieties of tomorrow weigh on us like a ton of bricks and in the stillness of the night, our “to do” list is anything but still.

So try to follow my random thoughts for a minute and don’t freak out when I say this. Those crazy Buddhists have it all figured out (well, some of it anyway). Buddhist ideals rest on the challenge of maintaining consciousness of one’s surroundings at any and every given moment. Buddhist philosophy rests on this principle – be here now! When you are sitting, feel the chair beneath you. When you are speaking, listen to your own words. Whatever you do, focus on the physicality of the task and try to align your thoughts with those actions. In other words, THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING FOR THE LOVE OF GOD (ok, maybe the Buddhists would leave out the love of God thing, but you get the picture)! Hmm, easier said than done and even the Buddhists know that, but it’s a good goal to have, right? Ok, here comes that movie trailer guy again…”In a world with too much of everything, where chaos ruled and busyness triumphed, one man came to awaken their hearts, put to sleep their minds, and change the course of history forever.” I love that movie trailer guy! Anyway, in a perfect world our “to do” lists would only get smaller (and our bank accounts larger, but I’ll leave that one for another day). So let me just touch on the “be here now” idea for now.

So I’ve been trying to figure out a way to work Psalm 23 into my writing, because I truly love it and I guess now is as good a time as any. In case you’ve forgotten, Psalm 23:1-6The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

I love this Psalm for so many reasons. It’s all about the peace, comfort, and solitude that only a loving and powerful God can offer and it’s all about how He chooses to bless us with these things daily. On a side note, I love verse 6, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” Notice it does not say that I will strive for goodness and love or run after them? Goodness and love will follow me. Imagine that…they will come to me wherever I go. God loves me that much. But I digress. What is truly appealing to me is the tense of the scripture. The author is writing in the present tense. He is not concerned about what God did yesterday or what He will do tomorrow. His only concern is what God is doing RIGHT NOW. And right now, God is providing, and leading, restoring, guiding, comforting, and shepherding. God is present at this moment and every moment for that matter. So really, God is the greatest Buddhist who ever lived (LOL). God is the only one who has ever mastered the art of “being here now.”

In the song “Getting Into You” by Relient K, their hearts cry out, “I’ve been a liar and I’ll never amount to the kind of person you deserve to worship you. You say you will not dwell on what I did but rather what I do. You say, ‘I love you and that’s what you are getting yourself into.’” So if God is not concerned with what I did yesterday, why would I care? It seems like wasted energy, doesn’t it? Warren Wiersbe says it this way, “Most Christians are being crucified on a cross between two thieves: Yesterday's regret and tomorrow's worries.” Hmm…thieves, I like that. Yesterday and tomorrow are thieves. They steal our peace, rob us of our joy, and deprive us of the intimacy with God that comes from awareness of His presence at every moment.

So how do I learn to live in the middle? To make my comfort zone the diminutive space between yesterday and tomorrow or better yet, between five minutes ago and five minutes from now? How do I feel the chair beneath me, the air around me, and the keyboard that I’m typing on when my mind draws ever closer to the stack of bills lying on the desk beside me? How do I maintain consciousness of God’s love for me RIGHT NOW and let everything else fade into the background? Here is one perspective: Arthur W. Pink states in an almost urgent tone, “From every pulpit in the land it needs to be thundered forth that God still lives, that God still observes, ... still reigns. Faith is now in the crucible, it is being tested by fire, and there is no fixed... resting place for the heart and mind but in the throne of God. What is needed now, as never before, is a full, positive, constructive setting forth of the Godhood of God.”

The Godhood of God, I like that too. It seems the longer our “to do” list gets and the more crushing the weight of our present circumstances, the less relevance God has to us. In fact, He takes on a whole different role in our lives, doesn’t He? God becomes the punisher, the great unknown, the misunderstood, misrepresented, unloving, unsympathetic, distant, fair-weather friend. He is responsible for our burdens and slow to pull us out from under them. He is selective in His hearing and apathetic about our pain. He is an Alzheimer’s patient, forgetting those He loves. Where, oh where has our great God of compassion and mercy gone? I’ll tell you where He’s gone – nowhere. It’s us who have gone. That author is right, faith is now in the crucible being tested by fire and the real question is, how will we fair? Will we find a resting place for our hearts and minds in the throne of God or in the checkout line at Target? The coffee counter at Starbucks? The big screen at the local theater? God forbid, the bar at the end of the street? Where will our solace lie? Only in the throne of God! So I’ll say it one more time, in case you missed it. COME TO JESUS! Or better yet, stop leaving Him. Lord knows He’s never tried to flee from you. Let’s set forth the Godhood of God, let Him play the role He intended in the first place, and try to believe He really does have it all under control. After all, I’m lucky if I can muster up enough energy to change my cat’s litter, let alone try to change my past or my future.
God, please help me to take back the night. Help me to find rest without the assistance of a million tiny pills. Lead me every second to the middle ground, to the moment between regret and fear, to the throne where your Godhood lies and my need for grace is evident, to the only place my soul finds rest. And when my only focus is on crossing off the items on my list so I can breathe, remind me that only one thing is needed to breathe life into my soul again and that is your love. Help me to live in constant awareness of that love. And in those times of protest when I cry and scream and throw my little temper tantrums, please, drag my sorry butt to Jesus and remind me that I am nothing and life is meaningless without His friendship. And please, oh please, do the same for my friends and family (ok, and all those other sinners too).