Thursday, January 17, 2013

Everyone Welcome

Most people who know me know that I go to church regularly.  Not all of these people also attend church.  People who I talk to about church and who don’t also go sometimes make comments like “if I went to church, it would probably burn down.”

I always laugh and give one of my stock replies:  “If we were all supposed to be perfect, none of us would need church,” or “Well, I go every week, and it hasn’t burned down yet.”  In my inept way, I want these people to know that none of us can do anything to deserve walking through that door into church.  I want them to understand that it’s not anything we have done; it’s not how good or religious we are that warrants us a sacred invitation to attend church.

I want them to know that they are always welcome in church, even if they don’t believe.

In my life, I have experienced that same feeling: I don’t even think I believe in God; how can I go to church?  I would feel like such a hypocrite.  I’ve also felt about church on the other end of the spectrum:  I don’t want to go to church; the only people who go to church are hypocrites.  And I’ve been in the middle, where I neither thought about going to church nor thought about not going to church; it simply wasn’t on my radar.

In my life, I’ve been a church-goer and a non church-goer.  I have attended church when I believed and when I wasn’t sure that I believed.  I have attended church, fully believing that God is with me, and not felt anything holy.  I have attended church, too distracted by my own small life to feel the whoosh of the Holy Spirit.  Yet God has never shouted at me from the heavens to exit his house because I wasn’t good enough.  God has never struck me with lightning if I dared to enter his house after sinning.  No church that I attended ever burned down when I entered it.

Although when the fire alarm goes off during service, I wonder if anyone has thought that there is a real fire, and that they are the reason for the alarm.  If God worked like that, the building would be up in flames about half the time I showed up.

I am a sinner, and I go to church.  Almost every week.  I believe that the body of believers, God’s church, is meant to grow in ranks of sinners.  Most of us will never become saints, but we can all praise God together for the wonderful gift of salvation he gave us in Jesus Christ.  None of us are good enough to receive this gift.  Yet God gave Jesus to us for the sole purpose of saving us from our own sins, so we can live with him forever in heaven.  I don’t know why he did this.  But I believe that he did it because he loves us.

For years I have prayed for my loved ones to know Jesus as I do.  I don’t know specifically who I’m praying for; I don’t quiz them about their beliefs.  I cannot know the hearts of those who don’t say much about what they believe.  So I pray.

And I attend church, and hope that my loved ones will be there right next to me someday, feeling fully welcomed.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.  Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good.  But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.  For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.  Romans 5:6-11 (NLT)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Work it Out

My sweet son sat across from me at the dinner table and announced that he wished that he had as easy a day as I had.  After all, he knew that both of us were at home, sick.  He knew that there was a solid chunk of time that I spent laid out on the couch, silently willing this virus to release me.

He knew that there was another solid chunk of time that I spent sitting at the computer, something that I haven’t done in weeks for any length of time.

He thought that I had an easy day.

At that moment, I looked at my sweet son, at his innocence in thinking that mom had an easy day because I didn’t spend the whole of it doing the myriad of tasks that I normally do, and I kind of wanted to throttle him.

Because I had done a myriad of tasks, despite feeling lousy and just wanting to crawl into bed, which he had done for the bulk of the day.  Tasks that were invisible to him, but to me are necessary to the smooth running of this household.

I had done laundry, cooked, cleaned, straightened up.  I had made phone calls, maintained the calendar, shuttled our daughter to her after school activities, and made sure everyone had their homework done.  I had done plenty, and I was a little indignant that he didn’t even NOTICE.

In my open-mouthed, stunned silence, my husband stepped in.  How can you say that?  He asked our son.  Your mother works harder than anyone else in this house every single day, and she even does it when she’s sick.

Snapped out of my bewildered state, I looked at my husband, then again at my son.  I was vanquished, my reputation righted.  YEAH!  IN YOUR FACE!  the ugly part of me wanted to shout.

But I didn’t. I paused, and realized that I felt too lousy.  I was still sick, and I didn’t have the energy.  Plus, I didn’t want to make my son feel bad.  He’s only a kid, after all.  He doesn’t need to know all the details of my life.  For now, it’s okay that he thinks that because I laid on the couch for two hours today, that my day was an easy one.

In life, who really wants to hear about all the tasks that we complete?  If we do our work only to gain recognition from others, we will forever toil in vain.  No one cares quite like we do about the jobs we do.  We will never gain the admiration from others that our always-hungry egos desire.

God tells us that when we work, to work only for him.  When we give our work to God, whatever it is – folding clothes, digging ditches, painting a wall – he is glorified.  We can be sure that in God’s eyes, our work will never go overlooked, as it does so often here on earth.

Even by the sweetest of sons.
Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.  Colossians 3:23 (NLT)

A dairy maid can milk cows to the glory of God.  – Martin Luther

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Focusing on the Good

With each New Year come all sorts of feelings about life.  Reflection abounds; navel-gazing is encouraged.  Many of us vow to do certain things more and other things less, and have a fresh and improved outlook.  Often the things that we want to change are things that we’ve wanted to change for some time, but haven’t for various reasons: it isn’t the right time, it’s too difficult, I can’t right now, I don’t want to. 

Somehow the turn of a New Year gives us permission to revamp things, and we jump full-force into it, trying our hardest to lose the bad and let the good lead.

And then, because we are real people and not robots, we fail.

The old habits sneak back in.  The old patterns of thinking resurface, the old annoyances trip us up again, and the old ways return.  We find ourselves going back to what we were doing before the New Year came with its glittery promises of refreshment and renewal.  Why bother trying to change?  We sigh in defeat.

I come to this point every year, sometimes not even much past January.  Small changes that seem so easy at the start of the year quickly become burdens that I can’t possibly carry on my own.  I can’t escape who I am, who too easily falls and slips back into old habits that aren’t always so great for anyone involved.

This mentality is self-defeating, but negativity and pessimism are so easy to fall back on if you’re comfortable there.  To look forward with a smile on your face despite looming obstacles seems so silly.  Why not scowl back at reality?  It mocks optimism in all forms.

But I’m not there yet.

Here at the beginning of the year, nothing much can squash that optimism.  The fresh New Year is here, and my prayer is to live the whole year, and each one thereafter, with a changing attitude that allows me to look at the bright spots first, and maybe even to shine some light into the dark areas before they pull me into their comfortable cocoons.

Who better to share my New Year resolution with than Jesus?  After all, he is the one who gives us this amazing renewal in the first place.

Dear Lord, please help me to change the way that I approach life this year.  Help me to see the good parts first. Shine your light in my life so that it can reflect off of me onto others.  Thanks for your amazing gift which brings hope.  Amen.


Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. Psalm 125:1 (NIV)