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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Missionary


My son attends a pre-youth group youth group meeting at our church.  Two evenings a month, he gets together with other kids his age and they play a game, do a service project, and get a Bible lesson.  They call it Adventure Club.

It’s an informal thing; the older youth group students help facilitate, and for one hour twice a month my son gets to do something loose and fun that he normally wouldn’t do.  The bonus for him is that he gets to spend those evening hours away from the prying eyes of parents and siblings; the bonus for us is that he gets a little Christian education and time hanging out at church, which is also a bonus for him.

He loves it, and each month he tries to bring one or more of his friends from school to go along.  When Adventure Club day rolls around, I remind him:  Don’t forget you have Adventure Club tonight.  Tell your friends.

He comes home from school and tells me that so and so is going, but so and so can’t.  I confirm with parents and arrange to pick up; after all, this is our church and he’s doing the inviting.

Most weeks, I take the same group of kids that have always gone with my son to Adventure Club.  The cast of characters that sing along to our car radio and make middle school jokes that make me laugh every time changes very little. 

But then once in a while, a new character is added.  The last time I chauffeured to Adventure Cub, we had someone new, a friend from school that I knew a little, but didn’t really know.  I called his mom that evening to introduce myself and explain that we take some kids from school twice a month to church and they had been talking about it at school and my son invited her son to go along, and would he like to come?

He would, she said.  We chatted for a few minutes and she gave me her address.  Then she remarked, he’s quite the little missionary, your son.

I laughed and replied, I guess so.

Missionary.  The term brings to mind a noble person who gives his or her life to serve others.  Mother Teresa was a missionary.  So are all the people in Europe and Africa and Asia who live among native peoples, and some who live right here in the US but away from family and friends, to spread the word of God. 

As I was sharing this story with a friend, she said but isn’t that what we are all called to be?  As Christians, aren’t we all sort of supposed to bring others to Christ every way we can?

It’s exactly what we are supposed to do.  My son gets it, and I don’t even think he knows it.  All he wants is to hang out and have fun twice a month with his buddies.  The Bible lesson is extra, but it gets in there somehow.  His act of inviting friends to church shows it.

He’s a missionary.  All of us are, if we are living the life that God intends for us to live.


Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Love is… like, a feeling. Or something.


Now that Valentine’s Day is over and we can breathe a sigh of relief that we’ve gotten through it unscathed, what with all the pressure of showing love and buying love and complaining that shouldn’t we love every day of the year and WHY DO VALENTINE’S DAY CARDS COST TWICE AS MUCH AS ALL OTHER CARDS, let’s talk about Love.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the love scriptures recited at a wedding (1 Corinthians 13, NLT):

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.   If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

I remember thinking, jeez.  Love is all that?  I thought it was, you know, how you felt about someone.  Like  bringing them flowers and saying I love you and kissing and hugging and all that crap.

I was a kid at the time, okay?  Okay, technically I was almost an adult.  Okay.  I was like, 18.  Okay.  19.

Anyway, what is love?  What does it look like?  Merriam-Webster online dictionary says that it is “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties,” and “attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers” (lovers emphasized, which makes me giggle – it’s just one of those words that brings out the 12-year-old in me) and “affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests.”  That last one is thrilling.

A fabric-covered American College Dictionary that I've got (published in 1951, it’s like an old friend who sits nearby and defines superdreadnought but not chillax) says that love is “a strong or passionate affection for a person of the opposite sex.”  Whoa.  Settle down there, American College Dictionary.  Don’t hurt yourself.

In the movie Love Story, Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal famously said that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” which is stupid.  It kind of makes me want to scream a little.  I feel like love is most definitely not “never having to say you’re sorry,” because never having to say you’re sorry is selfish and frankly, just rude.  And rudeness does not equal love.  It says so right there in the Bible.

On Valentine’s Day, love looks like this in my house:



Every other day, it looks like this:



And this:



But these are just approximations of love.  The only pure love out there is God.  He made for us the universe, created us, and even gave us earthly love in the form of Jesus, his teachings, and his eventual sacrifice.  He even left us his Word, which tells us everything that we ever want to know about life.  He is patiently waiting for us to spend eternity with him, in total love.

When we love others, God gives us a taste of what love really is, what it's meant to be.  His unending supply of love flows through us at the height of our kindness and feelings of affection for others, but this is just a tiny portion of the love that he has for all of us, every day, all the time.

When we love, we put away our own desires, even if just for a minute.  When we love, we make sacrifices.  We feel joy for another person.  We are happy when they are happy, and share sadness when they are sad.  We lift them up with words and actions, and pray for them even if we don’t tell them we’re praying.  We suspend our own judgments and differences, and affirm them with our words and behaviors. 

I admit that I am not always loving.  I do not always affirm the ones I love.  I fall short of expressing love in favor of judging and complaining.  Pretty often. 

But God is love.  His love covers the parts I leave bare.  I trust that his love will heal the wounds I have made inadvertently, in ignorance, and due to my own sin.  His love is complete, and it conquers everything.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Meet You There

We circled the neighborhood yet again.  The houses that all seemed alike on the first pass-through started to form their own identities.  There’s the one with the wishing well.  There’s the one with the basketball hoop.  The one with the Trans-Am.

I don’t know which one it is, I said, my throat tightening.  The rain continued to fall, further obscuring my view from the back seat.  I couldn’t see the house numbers.  We had been in this neighborhood for fifteen minutes. My parents stayed quiet – they were surely getting irritated.  What if we never found her house?  We will go home.  I will miss the sleepover.  I will be the flaky girl who didn’t show up to the party.  My social life – ruined.

I looked at the directions that I had written on a sheet of paper.  My new friend had given them to me over the phone just before we left the house.  Short of knocking on doors and asking if there was a junior high birthday party going on, there was no other way of getting there other than the route we had already taken over and over, three times now.

My dad patiently continued to drive slowly as I recited the directions.  Turn right.  Turn left.  Take the second right.  Veer left up, then down the hill.  Why didn’t I write down street names?  Frustration seized me.  The tears in my eyes threatened to fall.

My mom asked me again what color the shutters were.  I couldn’t even see colors.  The panic in my heart was too big, the night too dark, too damp to see through the fog of the car windows.

At once I saw it.  Balloons on the mailbox.  This is it!  I cried.  Relief.  I was a little late, but not much.

I wiped my face and gathered my bag and gift for my friend, a girl who I had met at my new school and had been friends with for months now.  My parents walked me into the house and met her parents.  They were strangers, people who my mom and dad were now trusting to be responsible for me, their only daughter, for the next sixteen hours.  I said goodbye; they left.

My parents taught me so much about patient parenting from that experience.  I never forgot those tense moments, the care and calm that they demonstrated as I panicked about missing my very first sleepover at a new friend’s house, a place that they were probably nervous about dropping me off in the first place.  They understood that I was upset, and though they must have felt just as frustrated as I was, they never showed it.  They willingly submitted to driving the same route over and over until we got there.  They didn’t yell or show exasperation with my feebleness at giving directions.  They knew where I was, and guided me through the steps needed to find my destination.

Isn’t this what God does with us?  He guides us along the path we’re already on, even though it might not be the one that would lead us directly to our purpose.  He gently leads us to where we are meant to be.  It might take weeks or months or a lifetime until we adhere to the path he intended for us.  The whole time, he encourages us and patiently waits for us to seek his will.

Thankfully that rainy night many years ago, we found our destination.  Thankfully with God, we can do the same.



But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. James 3:17 (NLT)

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Friday, February 8, 2013

With

I am a loner.  Give me a quiet empty space and some time to accomplish tasks, and I feel happy.  I will emerge from my cocoon refreshed, energized, and ready to spend time with another human being that just a little bit ago threatened to suck my soul right out of my body.  Sometimes.  Other times, that time spent by myself has been so refreshing that I don’t want it to end, and I become a hermit.  Don’t bother me!

It’s a struggle for me, being a loner.  I have alienated people in the past.  I don’t spend tons of time with others because I like having time to recharge, and others might think that I am aloof.  It takes a long time to make friends because of this.  It was tough when I was young, because the quiet girl almost always gets labeled as stuck-up.

As an adult, it’s fine.  Most adults are busy enough themselves that they don’t miss my prolonged absence from their lives.  But some do.  Family members and good friends, my children and my husband all fall victim to my “not now” attitude.  It hurts them.

It hurts me too.  Relationships suffer when time together is thwarted by my quest for isolation.  I have spent so much time trying to get away that I often miss out what is happening during the treasured time spent together, and my frequent timeouts allow others to drift elsewhere for more constant companionship.

Recently I have been more aware of how much time I spend by myself, and how much of that me time is not actually good for me, due to the many roles I have taken in my current life.  I realized that my me time often borders on sin.

Sin pounces when we are not looking.  We turn around too late and realize that even though we haven’t done anything terrible, our behavior has caused hurt in others.  We did not give ourselves to them.  And when we keep ourselves to ourselves, we do not give anything to God.

God has shown me that I need to spend more time with others.  He has shown me, through hearing other people’s testimonies, taking the time to have conversations, and finding extra time to spend with others, that I need to spend more time with people and less time with me.  He has shown me that by listening to others share their faith, my faith grows.  He has shown me that we are not meant to be alone; the consequences of my neglect pull at my heart.

Each encounter with another person reinforces this.  Each opportunity to spend time with God’s family of believers enriches my life and builds my faith.  Each of God’s words that I read further embed themselves in my heart when I am doing his will. 

God provides us with everything we need, and he has provided me with a family, friends, a community of love.  With God’s help, I know I will grow within that community.

Lord, thank you for all your provisions, including the loved ones who accompany us through life.  May we nurture these relationships with your help and bring us all closer to you.  Amen.
 




This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.   If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  1 John 1: 5-7 (NIV)

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Let's Be Honest

If I’m being honest, I should say that I’m not going to help you move.  Or clean.  Or paint.  Seriously, no.  I will NEVER help you paint.

If I’m being honest, I should say that I have always struggled with being a good friend.  Each friendship that I have lost is due in large part to my own negligence. 

If I’m being honest, I should say that I’m a little bit self-centered.  Okay, maybe a lot.

If I’m being honest, I should say that I’d rather sit inside all day than go outside to do anything, even lounge on the beach, climb a mountain, or go for a swim.

If I’m being honest, I should say that I littered today.

If I’m being honest, I should say that I hate to exert myself during physical activity.  When I start to sweat, I dial it back a little.

If I’m being honest, I should say that I’m way too critical of everything around me.  I often look at myself as a cause of the problem only after I’ve blamed everything – or everyone – else to some extent.

If I’m being honest, I should say that I look less like this on a regular basis:
 



And more like this:


 
If I’m being honest, I should say that in the first picture up there I’m holding a glass of wine in my hand at 10 o’clock in the morning.

In the other picture I had had several glasses of wine.

If I’m being honest, I should say that I look forward to when my kids go to bed every night.

If I’m being honest, I should say that I feel like being a wife and a parent is exhausting and I think of what my life would be like if I hadn’t been married or had children. I let those thoughts settle in and I don’t feel bad about them.

If I’m being honest, I think that is a horrible thing to think about.

If I’m being honest, I should say that I regret moving away from home, even though when I moved away I said that I couldn’t wait to leave and never return.

But I’m often not as honest as I should be.  I present my more photogenic side to the camera, the nicest and most nurturing side of my personality to whoever I’m talking to and the calm side to the world when inside my heart is beating like a squirrel hopped up on caffeine. 

Often, the real side of me, the ugly, mean one, is prominently featured when dealing with my family, those who love me the most, and who I love the most too.

I am flawed.  Human.  I make mistakes.  Big ones. 

But I have learned to apologize, to confront the wrongs I have done.  Knowing God and nurturing a relationship with him has taught me this.  I have learned to ask God for forgiveness when I cringe about the nasty side that escaped for just a minute when I let my guard down.

And he has forgiven me, and he gives me the strength I need to face the consequences.  And I learn how to do better, to lean on him for wisdom and to wait for the right moment to try and repair the damage I’ve done.  I pray for him to heal the wounds I have inflicted.  I pray for him to change my heart, my mind, my actions.  And he does, ever so slowly, so as not to give me whiplash.

And I am thankful.

But I still will probably NOT help you paint.  Not anytime soon, anyway.

Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!  Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!  When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long.  Psalm 32:1-3 (NLT)