The ‘C’ Word (a PINK Tuesday post)

The letter C

Image by Mel B. via Flickr

I know, I know… you’ve heard all of the quotes before:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr

If you don’t create change, change will create you.”

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”

 “Change is the only constant.”

We could go on, but we know the drill. Change happens. Ready or not, willing or not, it’s a-coming. For some of us, change is equivalent to a four-letter-word that brings with it a discomfort that only makes us wiggle and squirm and ultimately finds us fighting back in an effort to keep things the way they WERE (the way we happen to LIKE them).

For some, though, change is a necessary rite of passage that creates the momentum necessary to move us from here to there; from where we are comfortably seated now to where we need to be for our next adventure in life. Does it hurt? Yup. Is it hard? You betcha.

I suspect that some of you are anticipating the type of change I’m facing this summer – that of an (almost) empty nest.  Or perhaps your change is about 6 lbs. and wears diapers and cries every time you manage to fall asleep. Maybe your change is an empty chair at the dinner table or one less passenger in the carpool. Change can look like moving boxes or new neighbors or the ceiling of a hospital room, but no matter what your view, everything is (of course) always about to change.

Jesus deals with the idea of change in a way that you and I might consider a bit harsh. Listen to these words from Matthew 10:34-39:

“Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut – make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law – cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me. If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”

Change in my own life has often been bloody. It’s often felt more like the work of a really sharp knife than, say, the warm hands of a potter and the whirring sound of a potter’s wheel. Yet Jesus clearly says that until I am cut free of what I consider comfortable, I am not capable of being joined with Him. My work, my family, my ministry are only that – MINE – until I yield to the severing that His sword came here to do.

Change is running rampant in my life this summer! I’m feeling the awkwardness, the discomfort, the brewing of what may very well become for me my own ‘perfect storm.’ Yet I trust the One who wields the weapon that ultimately makes me capable of giving more, seeing more, loving more and doing more than what I’m equipped to do today.

As this season of change runs its course in me, Pink Tuesdays are going on sabbatical! Vacation! What you can expect from Pink Shoes Ministries this summer is a more random expression of growth than the predictable Tuesday morning post. Expect CHANGE! The visual format of this blogsite will be changing! Who knows what future posts might look like as God re-shapes me for His service?!

In these months of change, please consider exploring some of the posts you may have missed in the past. I’ll be updating and organizing them by category in hopes of making it easier for you to find what you might need. And please take time to write me a note, letting me know better how to encourage and support you in YOUR static and fluid seasons of life!

As change unfolds, perhaps the ‘C’ word will emerge as…

Centering!

Catalyst!

Celebration!

CareFREE!

Spirit, I say ‘BRING IT!’

 

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Faith EVOLUTION (a PINK Tuesday post)

Ichthys and Psalm23

Image via Wikipedia

This has been a season of wrapping things up for me – more so than ever before. Every year the school year ends. Every year a class of Confirmation students is welcomed into Church membership. Every year we celebrate our graduates and applaud their achievements. But this year has been different for me.

This year I am the mother of a graduate. The mother of a Confirmation student.

My children are growing up in front of me, over which I seem to have precious little control.

And this season has gotten me thinking…

It actually all started with a Confirmation class assignment. This assignment is issued every year to every student attending Confirmation at my home Church. Both first and second year students are to write a Faith Statement which is to be shared at the end of the season.

Several years ago I began to broaden the scope of the Faith Statement assignment, drawing parents and Mentors of the students into this personal exploration of faith. Now, on the final night of Confirmation class for each school year, we sit around a growing circle of chairs and take turns. We take turns sharing our faith in words that make sense to us. In words that describe the faith we claim to have today.

Sitting in this circle of faith two weeks ago, listening to the faith stories and statements and journeys of children, teenagers, young and seasoned adults, it struck me that our faith itself is anything but fixed. This was especially noticeable in the second year statements, where what was written in 2010 had to be re-written to fit the growing faith-walk of these beautiful people of God.

I noticed this in my own Faith Statement, having written one each year for four years running. I even tried to cut corners between years one and two, but I found that a mere 12 months had rendered my beliefs – touched. Touched by life. Touched by loss. Touched by knowing more and seeing more and trusting more. And I am completely convinced that until we take the time to put into writing what we think we believe, our faith evolution is overlooked. Underestimated. Neglected. Missed.

So today I issue a challenge to all of you whose faith has never been put into words that can be written out on paper and maybe, someday, read aloud to a trusted circle of friends. Because sometimes we don’t really understand what it is that we believe. We’ve never thought it out before. We’ve never had to make our case or tell our story or stand on our own two feet and pull off the Sunday morning mask.

On this PINK Tuesday, I challenge you to bare your heart and wrestle with words until what hasn’t been crossed out on the page is the truth about what you know to be true about the God who loves you more than you can fathom. I believe so strongly in this practice of the Church that I will even go first, sharing my own incomplete understanding of God and my faith evolution with you.

Brita’s Faith Statement  May 11, 2011

I believe that the God of the Bible is not only REAL, but that He has a story, He has a plan, and He has given us every opportunity to get to know Him better (through His Word, through His Spirit and through the people in whom His Spirit lives today).

While I may not completely understand everything about Him, I believe He is know-able. Not only that, but I believe that His heart’s cry is that everyone who breathes – everyone He has created – would know Him. He loves us ALL that much!

I believe that my own story – the situations and experiences in my life – fit like the pieces of a puzzle into God’s big-picture story. There are connections between my life and the work God is doing in the world! Some of these connections are things I’m aware of – relationships with people or the noticeable effects of my life on the lives of others – but many of the ways God is operating through me aren’t even KNOWN by ME!

God created me (and every person) as a unique, hand-crafted masterpiece with gifts and tools to be put to good use in the world around us. Not only that, but He has given me the energy and passion of His Holy Spirit in order to activate my gifts and motivate my actions for the good of others and for the GLORY of God!

My belief is bigger than the words I can find to express that belief to you. But that’s okay, because I don’t think God is as interested in what we SAY as He is in how we LIVE our lives in relationship to Him and to the teachings of His Word. There’s something mysterious in the way that God moves into a life and changes the heart of a person. I am different today than I was a year ago.

God has given me eyes to actually SEE Him at work in people who are genuinely seeking to know Him more, and this is a very beautiful thing. It’s what keeps me teaching and leading and participating in the life of the church. Watching people become more like Jesus IS the ‘work’ of the church! We don’t MAKE it happen, God does! But we share in the fruit of the spiritual growth of others when we choose to make God’s family OUR family. That’s why I love Confirmation so much – because it’s one of the ways that God connects our lives together in faith and calls us to actively LIVE OUT that faith as a family, united, in a world that is painfully divided.

God’s way of doing things is weird. Weird to a world whose focus is on ME and MORE. God calls me to live for HIM and OTHERS, and to be satisfied with LESS of the stuff this world thinks is so important to have, SO THAT I will have room in my life for MORE of what He is pouring into me through His generous Spirit of Life!

The scripture verse that sums this up for me and seems to be the call on my life is Psalm 116:12-16:

“What can I give back to God for the blessings He’s poured out on me?

I’ll lift high the cup of salvation – a toast to God!

I’ll pray in the name of God;

I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, and I’ll do it together with his people.

When they arrive at the gates of death, God welcomes those who love him.

Oh, God, here I am, your servant, your faithful servant:

Set me free for your service!”

Will you do it? Will you put pen to paper and spell it all out – what you believe about the God who believes in you?

Sprinkles (a PINK Tuesday re:post)

Close-up of cupcake with pink frosting and spr...

Image via Wikipedia

Sprinkles was originally posted as part of the Trek to the Manger 2010 at Pink Shoes Ministries.

No matter how hard I try to avoid it, the illustration of cake keeps surfacing as I search for ways to connect with you on this PINK Tuesday (sorry)! I’m not sure that the Apostle Paul would have jumped right to food in order to paint a word picture to accompany his letter to the Corinthians, but I’m the first to say, “if the boot fits…”

And this ‘boot’ is a good fit. Even if it is edible.

Hear these words from Paul on this PINK Tuesday:

“I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple – in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things – your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out. I want you to live as free of complications as possible.” 1 Corinthians 7:29-32 (The Message)

As free of complications as possible… Is that even POSSIBLE?

What makes it so ridiculously difficult to grasp what Paul is suggesting is our fondness for what my friend Nancy Whitney-Reiter calls “sprinkles.” In her book, Now Is The Time To Do What You Love, Nancy explains the benefits of downsizing:

“…most of us are surrounded by “sprinkles.” Using the analogy of a cake: the cake itself has flavor and so does the frosting. But what do the sprinkles really add? Empty calories. Take a good look around you. Chances are, you’re surrounded by things that you no longer use and likely never will.”

Go ahead – do it. Take a look around the room you’re sitting in right now. Think about the space you live in – your shelves and cupboards and closets.

What are your preferred “sprinkles”?

What are the things that make your proverbial cupcakes look colorful and cute but fail to add anything of substance to your life? What constitutes “empty calories” – things you consume that fail to nourish your soul?

I seriously doubt that the Wise Men of old traveled with sprinkles. I suspect that they limited their luggage to that which gave them nourishment, sustenance and protection for the journey. Surely they kept it simple, in order to be footloose enough to travel as the star led them. In order to keep up with God.

Personally, I fail the sprinkles-test every time I pack for a trip.

I might need this.

I could want that.

If it’s cold, I’ll need that.

If it rains…

You’ve been there, too. I can’t even stomach the thought of going camping because the what-ifs end up creating such an intimidating packing list. Either the stuff goes, or the kids go. Both won’t fit in the car!

It takes discipline to pack a week’s worth of personal items into a carry-on. And it takes discipline to simplify a life that has been complicated by the things the world thrusts on us. Even if we were willing recipients of those things, you’ve got to agree with Nancy when she reminds us that “you expend energy on your possessions. Simplifying your possessions allows you to redirect that energy…”

I don’t know about you, but I sure could use some energy to redirect as the school year comes to a close and summer ‘vacation’ begins! Maybe I could channel that newly-found energy toward the process of freeing up space in my head and in my schedule for the Spirit of God to come in and move me. Or maybe I have friends and family who need my attention, but I just haven’t seemed to have the time to spend with them.

Sprinkle-maintenance requires time and energy and attention that Paul tells us is better spent on the things that matter to God. In fact, Paul says that:

“All I want is for you to be able to develop a way of life in which you can spend plenty of time together with the Master without a lot of distractions.” 1 Corinthians 7:35 (The Message)

I have a dear friend who just moved from an enormous house into a much smaller home – not unlike many of us who have been adversely affected by our country’s economic state. She was forced to downsize her estate within a very short time frame, creating stress and using up precious energy that could have been directed toward holding her family together in a season of emotionally challenging events.

What if we could choose to live in the same way that the Wise Men traveled – limiting our possessions to those which give us nourishment, sustenance and protection for the journey of this life that we are on? Wouldn’t it be great if we could keep it simple, in order to be footloose enough to travel as the Spirit leads us? In order to be able to keep up with God?

Take stock today of your sprinkles. Pay close attention to those possessions which drain your resources – time, energy and money. Consider asking God to help you give away these empty calories (or sell them on Craigslist)!

NOT so that you can turn around and shake some new, different colors on your cake, but so that you can direct more energy toward time spent together with the One who gave up everything for love of YOU.

What’s in YOUR Faith Chest? (a PINK Tuesday post)

Box 1 -Wooden Chest.

Image by ~Brenda-Starr~ via Flickr

My home church has a beautiful tradition of encouraging faith development in our youngsters. At baptism, each child is presented with a meticulously hand-made wooden chest. We call them Faith Chests, and when we give them to our children we explain that they are intended to house the items of faith that they will acquire as they grow.

I was recently looking through my son’s Faith Chest, searching for a medallion with his baptism date on it. While in there, I found such a variety of faith-related things that I had to laugh out loud. Among his faith items I found…

a small New Testament (gift from VBS)

a handmade blanket (gift from the quilters at our church)

a photo frame made out of craft sticks, holding a picture of my son at VBS

a poster with faith-facts about my son, created in Sunday School

a set of home-made Resurrection Eggs

a cloth drawstring bag filled with items that tell the Passion Story

a recycled plastic bottle filled with rice and some pretty obscure objects (not really sure what the faith connection is here)…

My son’s Faith Chest contains memories and reminders of the milestones and events in his growing faith life. Things he has made. Gifts he has received. Props used to teach and tell the stories of the Bible.

My son’s Faith Chest contains the stuff that faith is made of.

And this got me thinking… If I had a Faith Chest of my own, what would be inside? Which items from my almost 50 years of life would mark the events and kindle the memories of a growing faith? What have I accumulated on my journey that belongs in a keepsake like this Chest of Faith?

And my answers, well, they tell stories.

The Stuffed Lamb from high school frienemy, Robin. Robin and I were like-minded and competitive, enjoying each other’s company immensely and yet vying for the same kind of attention from pretty much the same people. What resulted was a tumultuous friendship that often got turned inside out. During one of these rinse cycles, Robin showed up at my after-school job with a beautifully wrapped gift from the only Hallmark store in town. It was a Precious Moments lamb; stuffed, soft and cuddly. She knew I loved Precious Moments. And she knew that in spite of our egos-out-of-control, I loved her, too. The lamb would definitely make it into my Faith Chest, because it reminds me that when those who know us best can love us still, that takes faith.

The Scrollwork Metal Cross from neighborhood Bible study friend, Leslie. We were both attending a neighbor’s Bible study group, which started with The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren and took on a life of its own. What began as a loosely connected group of people who knew, liked and might be related to the hostess morphed into a circle of friends whose faith grew simultaneously for all too short a time. At one point I took on leadership of the group (while what was really anticipated every week was my husband’s retelling of the Veggie Tale versions of the scriptures). I showed up for the study one night and was presented with a Pier 1 bag, handed over to me by Leslie with a smile. She had found it while shopping and it made her think of me. Dainty and sizeable, the metal cross has graced my wall ever since. Several months later I got a phone call. 40-something Leslie had died unexpectedly, after dinner one evening. The cross would belong in my Faith Chest as a picture of the beauty to be found in spontaneous acts of giving, because life is short. Why wait?

The Dead Carnation that I received, gave back to God, and then took home with me again. I walked into the sanctuary and was handed a fresh carnation. All of us were. I held it. Smelled it. Twirled it around between my fingers. At some point in the service, I was asked to let it represent an intention – something that I wanted or needed to give to God. Hmmm. I held it and smelled it and twirled it some more, and surprisingly ended up in tears. I knew what the flower had to be, and I was certain that I needed to return it to God. I laid my intentions on the altar and walked away. I gave back to God my plans for what I would be when I grew up someday. I gave them back and trusted that my sacrifice would be sweet, like that flower. Later in the evening, someone had gathered up the flower/intentions and put them in a bucket. I found mine – it was pretty distinct – and I took it home with me. A reminder that what I have – all of what I am – is a gift from God. The dead carnation would be at home in my Faith Chest because I believe God will remember the surrendered dream it represents, and because I believe His dreams for me are even more beautiful than this one would have been.

The Scrapbook given to me by my husband several Christmases ago, which served as an invitation to contact a local recording studio and have some of the songs I’ve written over the years recorded. This would be in my Faith Chest because it reminds me of the faith my husband has in me and the value that my life’s work has in his eyes. When people have that kind of faith in you, you don’t take it for granted. You thank God for it. You thank Him for it every single day.

I could go on. I could go on and on and on.

But what I really want to know is, what’s in YOUR Faith Chest? What are the things you can touch and feel and look at and smell and taste that remind you of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going on this life-long journey of faith?

Indulge yourself in this opportunity to pack your Faith Chest full!

Full of memories of God’s work in you.

Full of connections with Him, through the people in your life.

Full of opportunities, captured and embraced, to be all that you can be in His eyes.

Full of all the stuff our faith is made of.

Security Breach (a PINK Tuesday post)

Computer Space (1971)

Image by Laughing Squid via Flickr

I’ve just received the fifth email warning today, informing me that my email address has been pirated by an ‘unauthorized person’ outside of the Epsilon system. Epsilon is apparently a massive e-mailing machine, but I’m awfully glad I don’t own their stock today as I open email #5 from yet another apologetic company.

“We are confident,” my emails read, “that the information that was retrieved did not include any customer account or financial information.” And I’m shaking my head now, asking no one in particular if that’s supposed to make me feel better – more secure, more safe – now that some dishonest hacker has information about me from FIVE different sources?!

Are you kidding me?

How should one react when their security has been breached?

In the case of Epsilon’s failure to keep my personal information secure, I’ve been instructed NOT TO REPLY to requests for login ID’s or passwords. In fact, it is advised that I do not reply to ANY email asking for any sort of personal information, because now that security has been breached, I just can’t know who I can trust. Better to remain skeptical of everyone, reporting suspicious activity to the ‘How To Report Fraud’ hotline, right? At least that’s what the sincerely apologetic emails in my inbox tell me.

Honestly, this is what I tend to do when my emotional security has been breached, too.

Don’t reply.

Hole up in my own little world.

Be a skeptic.

Doubt everyone.

Trust no one.

A breach in trust may warrant such responses! After all, there isn’t a Fraud Hotline when it comes to the suspicious (and sometimes malicious) activity of people. If I’m to protect myself from further breaches, I have got to be proactive by sandbagging and boarding up the windows and doors. There is no way that I’m exposing myself to the elements of betrayal and dishonesty again.

So I change all of my passwords and shut down my operating system. No one gets in.

Dr. Roland Summit, a leader in the medical field and faithful advocate of the sexually abused child, had this to say about the effects of such abuse in children:

“The uncertainty of sorting out enemies from friends impairs the emotional security of victims and their advocates.”[1]

Whether our trust has been breached dramatically through abuse or more subtly through neglect or broken promises, the result is almost always impaired emotional security. Can anyone be trusted now?

On this PINK Tuesday, consider the security breaches you’re reeling from.

Who has broken your trust?

Who has betrayed your faith?

Who has failed to live up to your belief in them?

Where have you fallen victim to emotional pirates, who have taken your innocence as plunder?

These are difficult things you’re dealing with. Lost friends. Broken marriages. Runaway children.

God’s Word for you and me, and our words for those who seek to hack into our joy, sound something like Joseph’s response to his traitorous brothers in Genesis 50:20:

“Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people.

Joseph lived his entire life sorting out enemies from friends.

He didn’t hole up in his own little world.

He fought the urge to become a skeptic.

He chose not to doubt everyone.

He overcame the temptation to trust no one.

In the end, he was able to redeem those who had breached his trust and discarded him, body and soul; to stand and say that God meant it all for good.

Will you?


[1]Murphy, Edward F.: Handbook for Spiritual Warfare. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1996, S. 467

Heartitude L4L.15

figs on tree

The WORD

“A healthy tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a poor tree bear good fruit. Every tree is known by the fruit it bears; you do not pick figs from thorn bushes or gather grapes from bramble bushes. A good person brings good out of the treasure of good things in his heart; a bad person brings bad out of his treasure of bad things. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:43-45 (Good News Translation)

Let’s hear this Word a second time, from the New Living Translation:

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”

We ALL have bad days.

Sometimes a bad day leads to a bad attitude, doesn’t it? When everyone seems to be plotting against us, and everything appears to be an obstacle in our path, it’s downright hard NOT to gather up attitude and watch that ‘tude take on a life of its own!

For the sake of today’s Literal 4 Lent discussion, let’s peel off a few layers of misunderstanding when it comes to what ‘attitude’ is and is not.

Attitude…

    • Is how I feel about what is happening right now.
    • Can change from moment to moment.
    • Can be pinned on me by someone else.
    • Is sometimes ‘bad,’ sometimes ‘good.’
    • Is part of being human.

The thing about attitude is that it isn’t always the same. I might have a bad day and say or do something I will later regret, but a hasty word said in the heat of a moment does not a HEARTITUDE make!

The APP

What is HEARTITUDE, you ask?

Heartitude is what Jesus is referring to in today’s Luke 6 text. Heartitude is NOT the same as attitude!

What Jesus speaks of here is something other than the changeable ‘mood’ that you and I carry around and that depends on our circumstances at any given time.

Heartitude…

  • Has deeper roots than attitude does.
  • Can be best deciphered over time.
  • Is your ‘normal’ setting or default mode when your defenses are down and you are not ‘on guard.’
  • Is more than a feeling! It’s what I believe to be true, no matter how I feel about what is going on in this moment.

The idea that Christians are somehow capable of immunity from issues of attitude is deceptive. Don’t buy the lie that if you follow Jesus, you’ll never be guilty of copping an attitude in challenging situations. We want to rise above our gut-level reactions to things as they happen – especially to things that push our buttons, hurt our feelings and betray our trust – but we’re human.

God knows we’re human. He knows we aren’t perfect.

HE MADE US THAT WAY.

Heartitude is the posture of your heart in relationship to the Spirit of God. It’s where your ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT ultimately comes from!

What Jesus is saying here is that the content of our HEART spills over into our words and actions. By comparing this spillover to fruit on a tree, Jesus is saying that where our heart takes root is where our fruit comes from. Just as a tree produces fruit over time, in its season, so the fruit of our hearts is revealed over time, throughout the seasons of our lives.

Attitude pops up at a moment’s notice, but fruit takes its time to develop and grow. That’s what HEARTITUDE is.

If your life is producing hearty, healthy fruit, don’t let one bad day get you down!

Get back to your roots.

After all, the best remedy for an attitude problem is a Heartitude-check.

It’s just what the Doctor ordered.

Click here to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

Pants on Fire (a PINK Tuesday post)

Example capri pants.

Image via Wikipedia

I still can’t hear the word liar without hearing the rest of the rhyme:

Liar, liar. Pants on fire. Nose as long as a telephone wire.

(Proof that making something rhyme gives it staying power – possibly undeserved.)

I don’t use the word much. Don’t even hear the word much. So when it shows up in Scripture five times in the petite book of 1 John, it grabs my attention. I’m listening.

li-ar (n): a person who has lied or lies repeatedly. Synonyms include: deceiver, trickster, cheat, beguiler, fibber, storyteller.

Anyone come to mind?

In the world you and I live in, lying is fairly commonplace.

We struggle with ways to get our kids to tell the truth, and we wonder how we’ll know if they don’t.

We fail to tell the whole truth sometimes, hoping that a partial lie (or incomplete truth) will pass for the real thing in a pinch.

We weigh the value of a relationship before deciding whether this one is deserving of the facts (or just a camouflaged version of the truth).

We’d like to think we’re fairly wise in how we present ourselves, but we’re always open to the possibility of an aesthetic touch-up here or strategic adjustment there, to insure that we’ve put our best foot forward.

What we fail to acknowledge is that manipulation of the truth in any way, shape or form is actually a lie.

Apparently John had witnessed, on more than one occasion, behavior that warranted the use of this strong, descriptive word: liar. The Greek language definition of the word, which reflects John’s objections to its appearance in the church, is slightly different than the English dictionary version printed above:

Liar: One who breaks faith. A false and faithless man. To lie, to speak deliberate falsehoods. To deceive one by a lie, to lie to.

I may not think of myself as a liar, but have I ever broken faith?

Surely I’m not a trickster, but is there anything about my persona that could be considered false? A misrepresentation of who I am or what I believe?

Sometimes I tell a fib or two, but does that make me faithless?

I might use artistic license at times, but it’s not like I’m deliberately misleading others!

“Deceiver” is a name given to the evil one – God’s enemy. Not to people like ME!

What was John thinking when he offered up this four-letter word?

I Am A “C”

I am a “C H.” I am a “C H R I S T I A N.” Which implies, I belong to Christ. I follow Christ. I am HIS. And yet my claims of belonging to the family of Christ ring hollow and tinny when my life itself fails to confirm it.

“If someone says, “I belong to God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth.” I John 2:4 (NLT)

We are liars in the eyes of God when we confess Him with our lips and deny Him with our lives. When the life I live is a misrepresentation of the One I’m living for, and still I claim to be a member of the Body of Christ, I’m fooling myself.

One of John’s names was John the Evangelist. If he was known as such, he must have spent years of his life proclaiming the Name of Jesus and lifting up the Gospel of grace before those who were hungry for a bit of good news. John knew that it was as important to preach without words – through a life lived authentically for the glory of God – as it was to speak the Message in audible ways. Actions speak louder than words, you know. John knew it, too.

And just in case we forget or begin to think that we’re somehow exempt from this truth, John is here to remind us that words are not enough for a watching world to be convinced. They’ve got to see it to believe it.

I Love You, Lord

And I lift my voice to worship You, oh my soul rejoice! Take joy, my King, in what You hear; may it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear. (Lyrics by Laurie Klein)

We sing the songs on Sunday morning. We pray the prayers that express in words the love we believe we have toward God. And we just can’t stand that annoying person sitting in the pew behind us.

“If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen?” I John 4:20 (NLT)

John uses this word liar to describe someone who claims to love God but fails to extend that love to people. I wonder if it’s just that we’re… confused. It’s not difficult to see how we might have become confused – after all, love in our culture is best described as the warm, fuzzy feeling that wells up in our hearts when we think about someone who is special to us – right? If we claim to have the warm fuzzies for God, surely we can muster up a tepid fleece for those who worship with us, right?

Unfortunately for us, it’s going to take more than a feeling to qualify as a lover in the Kingdom of God.

In God’s world, love is an action. Love is a lifestyle. Love is a choice.

We can’t love outside of relationship, which means that we must be in relationship with the people of God in order to truly be in relationship with God Himself. Only through the act of loving real people can we even come close to knowing how to love the God who made them in His image.

Loving God is the result of loving those who bear His likeness and are known by His Name; not the other way around.

Denial… That’s a River in Egypt, Right?

I know – it’s tempting to play dumb. That must be why John was driven to use such hard words to drive home such a critical point to those who filled the worship centers of his day.

“And who is the great liar? The one who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Such people are antichrists, for they have denied the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2:22 (NLT)

When it comes right down to it, I wonder how many people actually deny that Jesus is the Christ. Think about it with me. ANTICHRISTS. That’s quite an accusation. How many people in our communities today would deny the Lordship of God – if they were sincere? If they were totally honest? If they were asked?

I don’t think we’ll ever know unless we, like John the Evangelizer, wander out of our Christian bubbles of comfort and safety and start asking the questions that beg our attention.

Sure, there are great liars out there. But not so many, I suspect, as we might think.

There are those whose god is themselves.

There are those whose god is their appetites and passions.

But there are those who are just waiting to be approached.

To be looked at. To be asked. To be LOVED.

To BELONG.

With hearts (not pants) on fire, may we demonstrate today that we are lovers (not liars).

(And spread the news from the telephone wires!)

Face to Face L4L.11

Girl With Striped Fingernails Covering Face

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography via FlickrThe WORD

The WORD

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (NLT)

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need to hear this again.

“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him – work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” (The Message)

If I’m honest, this is not the way I usually handle conflict. A literal interpretation of these words from Jesus would mean doing an about-face from my current default mechanism for conflict resolution. It’s not that I disagree with Jesus or think that His way isn’t the best way; it’s just that I’m so stuck in mine.

What is Jesus’ way when it comes to responding to awkward and painful relationship issues? This text deals specifically with how a believer is to respond when offended, hurt or disrespected by a brother or sister in the faith. Can I just say, to get it off of my chest, that nothing makes my heart hurt more than the unchecked emotions and unbridled tongues of those whose rulebook includes basically two entries:

  1. LOVE the Lord your God with everything you’ve got.
  2. LOVE everyone around you as you love yourself.

How CAN we say we subscribe to the first if we don’t also practice the latter?

The APP

The only way to carry out these words of Jesus is to take ALL conflict face to face.

Our response to the pain inflicted by friends and family in the church must first be one-on-one. Face to face. This is Jesus’ way – the way He’s calling us to walk – and yet we often choose to do something like this instead:

Match their argumentative or hurtful posture with a like-minded response.

Talk with a different friend (or friends) about the situation first.

Send an email, make a phone call, write a memo, send a text.

Build a wall of silence and keep your distance.

Unless we seek out the one whose words or actions have hurt us and do the difficult and often painful work of sitting down and addressing what has happened, we fail to honor Jesus’ teaching. In addition, by adding our murmurs to the rumor mill, we end up contributing gossip rather than grace; tearing down the community rather than building it up.

I really believe that the majority of conflict could be resolved by simply adopting this face to face approach and choosing to take our feelings and concerns directly to the source. It’s counterintuitive, really, to respond in any other way, yet we do it all the time in both our personal lives and corporate settings.

The side-effects of taking Jesus’ advice and going to the source of relational conflict are absolutely worth paying attention to:

No one else gets dragged into a fixable situation, which goes a long way to preserve the peace in a community.

The name of the person you’re at odds with is less likely to be dragged through the mud, protecting their reputation among the people.

YOUR name and reputation are protected, too, because you chose to tackle the issue, not the person.

Most people will ultimately feel valued by your choice to approach them first, giving them and their behavior the benefit of the doubt.

Handling conflict in this way allows for the possibility of a friendship to grow. Any other method stifles future friendly contact.

If being Literal 4 Lent is appealing to you, then we’ve got our work cut out for us! There is more here, in Matthew 18:15-17, for us to learn – we will come back to this text again.

For now, make face to face your mantra and pay attention… to how it changes you.

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To Be(rean) or Not To Be(rean): THAT is the Question (a PINK Tuesday post)

Portrait of a philosopher or an orator. Marble...

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Pastor/author/speaker Rob Bell has a new book hitting the shelves today, and the religious community is astir. Words like radical, universalist, false prophet and heretic are erupting from the mouths and the laptops of many whose closely-held interpretations of Scripture are being challenged in Bell’s controversial book, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Surprisingly (or not), many of those whose criticisms are already raging have yet to actually read the book.

Several years ago I took my women’s study group through a book written by atheist Christopher Hitchens. Some of my group would tell you that they were cautiously skeptical when the study began – it felt almost like heresy to even open the book, God Isn’t Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, but we did.

We bought used copies – most of which had been removed from the shelves of libraries. We read it. We discussed it. We cross-referenced the author’s references. We looked things up and we broke things down.

It was one of the most eye-opening and faith-building exercises I have ever engaged in, and I think I can tell you why…

Questions are Inevitable

When we willingly choose to take on the challenge of examining Scripture in light of a different worldview or theological perspective, we can state with absolute certainty that “if you read it, they will come” (the questions, that is).

It is questions – not answers – that draw us deeper into the mystery of that which is worth knowing.

The more I have learned about the God I worship and the Savior I follow, the more questions I have;  the less I seem to know.

Sometimes we are paralyzed by our state of not knowing, especially when we’re so full of questions that we wonder whether God is even find-able. Yet Psalm 34:10b says that “God-seekers are full of God.”

Some of us seek answers, while some of us seek God. There is a difference.

Those who push against the comfort level of the frozen chosen often find themselves on the sharp end of a critical tongue; full of something, all right, but whether that something is God or something more pungent depends upon who you ask. As we mature in our faith, struggling with what we believe as it rubs up against the faith of others, we begin to respect and even appreciate the questions. And the ones who are brave enough to raise them.

There is Safety in Numbers

Community is critical in the working out of our faith. Thinking people easily fall to the temptation of that fateful tree, choosing the illusion of knowledge over the gift of faith. Challenging one another to think and study and find words for the ideas taking shape inside our heads is invaluable to lives being lived for the glory of God!

Often these snapshots of community look more like a train wreck than a garden; the faint of heart need not apply themselves to such experiential efforts. It takes guts and a ravenous hunger for God to drive a man or a woman into community and keep them there.

Self-preservation is thrown out the window when one chooses to become part of a community of faith; a limb or an organ in the Body of Christ. Here we are equipped to tackle the tough stuff of life and faith in authentic and life-altering ways, and we do so alongside others whose imperfections and mis-directions may very well drive us insane. It’s in the tension of community, though, that we are given perhaps the clearest picture of the God we cannot see with our eyes.

In the end, those who have fought long and hard to be an island and have lost are those who are more able to articulate what it is that they have found.

Acts 17:9-12 tells the story of itinerant preachers/missionaries, Paul and Silas, and the people of Berea.

The people there were more open-minded than the people in Thessalonica. They listened to the message with great eagerness, and every day they studied the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was really true. Many of them believed.” (Good News Translation)

One translation says that, as a result of their searching the Scriptures, many believed. The Bereans were known for their need to test the words of men against the Word of God. They were commended for it! You and I probably believe that what Paul spoke to these faithful students of Scripture was provable by the Scriptures themselves, but we don’t hear about them using their findings to beat down those whose message seemed to be inconsistent with what they had found in the pages of God’s Word. They simply tested everything, and many of them believed.

How many of us can say that this is the way we have chosen to approach the study of the Bible, the things of God?

How many of us who are quick to condemn a teaching or a teacher can honestly say we’ve studied the Scriptures – exhaustively – for ourselves?

How many of us are basing our beliefs on someone else’s say-so rather than on the authority of the revealed Word of God?

There are plenty of believers who are choosing the road of condemnation and name-calling these days. Let’s not be one of them.

To Be(rean) or Not To Be(rean): THAT is the Question on this PINK Tuesday.

Dark Monday L4L.08

Porchlight

Image by matthileo via Flickr

The WORD

You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on the lamp-stand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:14-16 (The Good News Translation)

We’re far too familiar with these words, Lord. Wake us up to Your LIVING WORD today! Make Your words leap off of the screen and into our hearts as we read them again…

Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message)

I heard a seminary professor say, in a recent meeting, that WORSHIP should be REHEARSAL for Christians, so that they are prepared to perform their faith when they leave the building on Sunday mornings.

Yet, in many of our churches, worship is actually a performance.

Think about it. Even if it makes you squirm, you have to admit that there are elements of performance in much of how we have allowed our worship services to be shaped.

Rows and rows of benches or chairs, all facing the front of the room.

Elevated platform in the front, where the speaker(s) stand to address the listeners.

Microphones are given to those who are prepared to speak and sing.

We pick up an outline of the service when we enter, which is given to us by an usher.

Should I go on? Because it seems to me that the only ones rehearsing anything in many Christian churches on most Sunday mornings are the pastor and the praise team, and maybe the lay reader and the acolyte. The rest of us… well, what do the rest of us do?

The APP

‘Dark’ is a theater term which means that a show does not have a performance that day. You might say that most churches are ‘dark’  Mondays, meaning that the planned, organized, communal gatherings of Sunday morning are over for the week. If someone walks into your church looking forward to worship on a Monday morning, in all likelihood they are out of luck. The lights in the office may be on, but the sanctuary, as they say in show biz, is ‘dark.’

Now, this is actually okay if we subscribe to the idea that worship is our rehearsal time – that the main event for those who follow Jesus begins when we exit the building. After all, for church buildings to be dark on days other than Sunday ought to mean that the real action is out there – at my workplace, in your home, on our streets, in our neighborhoods.

Isn’t this what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:14-16? Doesn’t He tell us that each one of us is here for the purpose of bringing the Light into the world?

If church is our staging area, then it should be dark Mondays! And Tuesday – Saturday, for that matter.

What we don’t get from Jesus in this text is an invitation to go dark in our real-time faith walk. In fact, quite the opposite is said…

We are light-bearers!

We’ve been put on a lamp stand!

We’re like a city, up high on a hill, shining its light warmly in the night!

Light for the whole house – the whole world!

Jesus is telling us that our life of worship – everything we say and do in front of others – should look and sound like the old Motel 6 commercial: We’ll leave the light on for you!

Newsflash, my friends: church itself is not the light. We are.

Resist the urge to do what many who attend worship on Sunday will do again, today, when the light of their witness in this world gets shoved under a bucket so that their own show can go on. Fight the temptation to go dark Monday.

Instead, be brave and watch the Light in you illuminate every room you enter, every car you travel in, every conversation in which you engage.

I think Jesus will enjoy watching us take His words literally today.

I think He loves to watch us SHINE!

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