Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ready or Not

“In just a little while, he who is coming will come and not delay.” 
Hebrews 10:37

Ready or not, here I come.

* * *

I hate not being ready.  Last minute preparations and scrambling to get ends tied up send my nerves on edge, not to mention plain old forgetting that one important thing.  When that happens, I can’t seem to focus on anything but that one thing I forgot.  Nothing makes me feel more incomplete than driving down the road or arriving to my destination only to realize that I forgot earrings or my wedding ring.  A naked ring finger and unadorned earlobes become center spotlight on my mind’s stage.

Like a thief in the night, he comes.  The Bible is peppered with allusions to be ready for when God comes.  Warnings to get right with God are common; so is the more modern question Do you know where you’ll spend eternity?  Christians everywhere are given the task of spreading God’s word, remembering Jesus’ sacrifice, and sharing that there is a place for each and everyone in heaven.  Quick – make your reservation, even though not one of us knows when we are leaving.

I remember as a new Christian I wondered if I was ready.  Did I do enough in accepting that Jesus saved me?  Was there still a corner of my mind that doubted what I said I believed?  I prayed the salvation prayer over and over, as if I forgot something the last time: Dear God, I am a sinner, and I believe that you sent Jesus to die for my sins.  Amen? Is that it?  It seems so inadequate.  God, I really really believe that you sent Jesus to die for me.  Oh man, my sins.  Please forgive me for when I did this, and this, and this, and oh, I guess I am sinning now by not believing in the simplicity of your plan, oh God, am I messing this up or what? I’m sorry.  Forgive me.  Please have a room for me in your house.  I know you have one for me.  Amen.

Even in prayer I’m a neurotic mess.

The truth is that God will not wait to come.  When his time is here to reveal himself to the world, even the most powerful will be humbled, but we can be sure that this is also how he works in all of our lives on a daily basis.  God will not wait to teach us something when he deems it’s time.  I was not ready to be called by God to believe; I didn’t make a plan, didn’t foresee the future of life as a Christian.  Nor do I have fair warning to do many of the things I look back upon and say “God put me in that situation.”  If God wants to show us something, he won’t hesitate to show us his hand, ready or not. 

God is always on the lookout for what we need, and his will supersedes any of our plans (or lack of them).  I believe God gives us chances to do his will in our lives, and we don’t always notice them.  There is a time when he needs us for something that can’t be ignored, and we make choices to do them or not.  Even the one who thinks he has lived his life for God can do one more thing for the Kingdom.  God never fails, and this includes never failing to use us for this glory, no matter when or where we are in our lives. 

God doesn’t wait for loose ends to be tied up; he doesn’t care if we forgot to wear earrings that day.  He will come when we least expect it, without warning.  Every day we have the choice to do something with what God gives us, until that very last day when he calls us home.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Sunday Every Day

On Sundays after church, there’s a feeling of benevolence in the air.

This is apparent to me because on Sundays after church, my children rarely bicker or complain and they are more apt to agree to normally opposed chores like mowing the lawn, putting clean laundry away, and washing my car.

They feel it, too.  I know this because on Sundays after church, more than any other day, I am also more apt to agree to special indulgences like going out to lunch or stopping for ice cream or buying something I'd normally say no to. 

Sundays are when we have each other’s number.  But none of us seems to mind.

There’s a reason why going to church on Sundays feels so good.

It’s because at church, God is there.  We still our hearts and our minds for one hour and focus on God, our creator and father.  We sit quietly to pray and hear his word, then jump to our feet to sing and praise him.  At church, we devote our lives – for that one hour – to God.  There’s nothing else to focus on, no distractions to lure our attention away from him.  When we’re at church, we allow ourselves to be emptied of worldly things and filled with his presence.  We are in his house, and it is a welcome place.  In God’s house, we have everything we need.  It’s a good feeling.

Praising, praying, receiving the Holy Spirit, reading and meditating on his word – these are all things that happen on Sunday.  How much better off we’d be if we did all of these things every single day?  What would it be like if the benevolence that followed church on Sunday extended into the week? How wonderful the feeling if we distract ourselves from the world with God for an hour on a Thursday afternoon!

This is something that many people know already.  For some who attend mid-week services and Bible studies and breathe prayers to God in the shower and while driving and who praise him while they watch the sun rise and set on each day and who take every care and concern and good thing to him, dwelling in God’s presence is their way of life. 

I can’t say it is mine.  I have too many  concerns that I like to hold close to my heart, where they leach in and make me sad, mad, and discouraged.  I have pet peeves that I like to stroke and feed and keep on a short leash.  Only when I get fed up with myself do I ask God to take care of them for a while.  But eventually I take them back.

Holding onto our cares is not what God wants for us.  He wants us to be in constant communion with him, our lines of communication open and free.  He wants us to confront a problem and look to him whether in Word or Prayer or Deed and say What now, God?  Give me the answer – I sure don’t have it myself.  Guide me in the way you want, and in the meantime I ask you to show me your plan.  But if you don’t, hey, that’s okay, too.  You’re awesome and I trust you, and I’m here to be your hands, feet, and words.

On Sundays, when we are in God’s house, the distractions are few and it’s easier to give up our cares to God.  It’s a prescribed time to do so; we organize our lives to take that time to be with him.  As a result we are refreshed, renewed, and filled with kindness, compassion, goodwill – benevolence.

Why don’t we treat every day – every minute – like Sunday?


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Faith and Other Difficult Concepts

Why do you believe what you believe?

The words hung in the air as our youth small group members searched our brains for an answer that would satisfy such an unfair question.  Seven of us sat, wedged into preschool Sunday school chairs at a low table that some of the teens in our group had sat in when they were preschoolers.

The playing field was leveled.  Students and youth group leaders were equally stumped.

Because things have happened that can’t be explained by anything other than God, offered one.  Because it’s what I’ve always believed, said another.  I grew up learning about God; I don’t know any different, agreed someone else.

I nodded.  These things were true of me, too, more or less.  Because I just do.  Because I choose to believe.  Because of what Jesus did for us.  Because God said these things, and I believe him.  It’s truth.  It’s in my gut, my heart, my mind.  Because at some point I took a leap of faith (there’s no other way to describe it) and I believe that Jesus died on the cross to atone for my sins and that God made this plan and I’m a part of it and I know he’s there.  I just do.  I know Jesus did this for us.  For me.

By faith we are saved.  Not by what we have done, or what we can see.  By faith.  A friend of mine once told me that she would believe in God if she saw all the things happen that God said happened.  If she had proof with her eyes that he is who he says he is.  Somehow reading about it isn’t enough.  I weakly appealed to her heart with my own experience.  I just couldn’t explain well enough to get her to see why I believe, how I got to that leap of faith point.  I couldn’t explain myself because it wasn’t me who gave me the faith.  It was God.  I chose to believe, then he did the rest.

Without faith the story of Jesus dying on the cross is just a tragic story, and God is just an idea created by humans to keep each other in line.  Right and wrong and truth and lies are arbitrary, able to be interchanged according to the social climate.  It seems crazy to believe in some all-powerful being having a hand in the world’s affairs.  Why live according to some concept of eternity that no one can see?  There’s an explanation for every one of these questions that works to unravel faith in what God has done for us. 

And don’t even get me started on how Jesus managed to be human and God and Spirit in one.  I. Don’t. Know.

The fact is that I believe.  Faith in God holds my beliefs intact.  I’ve had enough years of interacting with God to know that this isn’t just some whim.  As proof, I see churches and people who work to spread the Good News about Jesus and read enough about how God works in the world that can’t be explained by anything else.

People may say that I’m fooling myself, that I am just another pawn in some ancient mind-numbing movement that gets people to pledge loyalty to a belief system that has no current significance, just another cog in another money-making machine.  My mind has adapted to conform to a belief system that lulls me into a sense of false security and hope.  It’s the only thing that keeps most people from hurling themselves off the nearest bridge.

Now, I can be a cynic, but even that’s a little dark for me.

I believe that just as God created us individually, he gave us faith the same way.  I can only explain faith the way I’ve experienced it; I can only offer proof in what makes sense to me.  I can’t hold my faith in my hands as an object to show others that it is real, just as God doesn’t present himself on earth wearing a nametag, offering trips back in time to meet Abraham and Moses and to watch Jesus die on the cross.  I can’t tell you how to have faith.  All I can tell you is how I came to have faith.

That’s all I can offer.  I’m so thankful that God can offer so much more.

Dear God,
The faith of millions is your work. 
Thank you for what you have done for all of us. 


Friday, October 9, 2015

A Simple Command

“This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:10-20

Easy, right?  To love.  For some, love is easy – we have been showered with love; we know what it looks like, what it feels like to be loved.  We love others how we have been loved.  We kiss and hug and smile and give and laugh and share and talk and help and do all the things that we think love is.  It’s easy to love when we have experience with it.  It’s easy to love when the people we love are lovable, and especially when they love us back.

But what if we have little or no experience with love?  What if life dealt us a mean hand, and we don’t know what it’s like to be loved freely?  What if we were kicked, beaten, starved, put down, and hated?  How do we construct something out of nothing?  How do we love if we don’t know what it’s like?  What if we are surrounded by people who don’t know how to love?  What if we consider the people who surround us to be unlovable?

Though we crave it as humans and seek it out, something always seems to happens in life that turns us against love.  Betrayal and hurt are powerful emotions and create seemingly impenetrable barriers, and any growth happens around the hard places.  We wind around these past hurts like a tree confronted with an obstacle, meandering its way around it to find the light again.  What’s left is a malformed thing, twisted and bent.  When love is missing, our spirit merely learns how to survive.  Instead of growing straight, strong, and true, we are crooked and broken.

It's easy to turn our behavior and our words against those who don’t love us, or who we feel are unworthy of our love.  We make fun of, bully, berate, and ignore those who we deem undeserving of love.  Human nature has an ugly side, and we let it fly when confronted with someone who means nothing to us or worse, who has hurt us.  We fight back with discord and dislike instead of allowing love to heal.

I’ve been hurt before.  I’ve been the object of dislike and discord, have felt rebuffed and unloved.  And I have also disliked, ignored, and put down others whom I’ve refused to love.  The absence of love feels like a bottomless pit, a dark nothing with no boundaries and no end.  Whether coming to us or originating within us, feeling no love is a numbness that I do not wish to feel regularly.

How we come about love may be complicated; we may not know how to love due to past or present problems.  For me, to know that we are to love is enough.  Maybe we aren’t given specific instructions on how to love because that’s the part where we are to lean on God’s wisdom and understanding.  Maybe loving is so hard at times because God wants us to ask for help on how to do it. God knows what we should do; he waits for us to look to him.

I appreciate Jesus’ simple command to love.  When the chaos of bad feelings and past hurt haunts me, “Love each other” rises above the endless feed of negativity.  It is our calling, and I am not above asking God for help with it when my tendency is to do everything but love. 

It helps me to know that we are directed to love.  To obey God.  All else is under his control.