A Time to Breathe

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In the news this week, the Boy Scouts voted to allow openly gay kids into the organization.  I’ve read many of the comments on the news articles, and one would think that every disaster proclaims God’s disgust with that decision.  Hearing adults who claim Jesus as their example projectile vomitous hatred and vitriolic arguments frightens me.  Hearing vindicated glee in the tone of people, whom I assume have felt the freedom from shame and the power of God’s amazing grace, directed toward anyone’s suffering turns my stomach.  Hearing the terror in their hearts over ‘the moral decline’ in our nation rage against a group of people–especially children–causes me to gasp in disbelief.  Hearing my own arrogance as I rail against my own kind humbles me.  Why would anyone follow that kind of religion or that kind of God?  Have we fallen so far to have lost the ‘good news’ of Jesus that angels ‘harked’ to shepherds?  Have we forgotten all of Jesus’ parables and teachings about how to treat people?  Have we trumped the teaching about being ‘innocent as doves’ with being ‘wise as serpents’?

In my discouragement with myself and people who claim to follow the same God I do, I searched my soul and prayed for God’s heart.  Here’s what I concluded:

1)  God doesn’t need us to defend Him.  He doesn’t even ask us to defend Him.  Jesus got pretty upset with Peter when, in trying to defend Jesus, Peter took out his sword and chopped off a guy’s ear.  It’s hard to ‘make disciples’ when we’re on a soapbox.

2)  Changing someone’s theology?  Forget about it.  In my experience, no one has ever decided to follow Jesus because I out-debated them.  “It’s Your kindness that leads us to repentance.”  (Romans 2:4)

3)  Arguing the ‘black and white’ view of the Bible goes both ways.  Just as I may see my interpretation of the Bible as obvious, so others see their view.  Slashing someone’s character because they don’t have the same interpretation doesn’t make them wrong and me right.  It means that God is bigger than all of us and His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.  (Isaiah 55:9)

4)  Jesus’ sacrifice released us from the power of sin and death.  (Romans 8:2)  When we see something that offends us, we tend to overshadow the cross of Jesus and His sacrifice for ALL.  Jesus got offended–at religious leaders who declared impossible expectations on people so that the leaders looked more holy.  In a world where so many news stories tell us of adolescents bullied because of sexual orientation and the suicides that accompany that bullying, we need to proclaim freedom in Jesus and emphasize His power to release us from shame!

5)  We tend to pick and choose sins.  We want grace for our ‘sins’; but condemnation for our definition of sin in others.  Jesus addressed this attitude often in his parables and teachings.  (Luke 6:42)

6) The Holy Spirit gets to convict–not us.  Only God changes people’s hearts to His will.  I am not responsible to ‘save’ anyone or do much more than offer counsel when asked.  How arrogant am I to think that I know what and how God needs to change in another–especially if I do not have a relationship with that person?  (John 16:8)

7)  Why do differing viewpoints threaten us?  Romans 14 offers great insight to this point.  “Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right” (Romans 14:22).  Paul advocates letting God’s Holy Spirit decide in each person.  Some will accuse me of interpreting this passage as ‘situational ethics.’  My ethics have never changed in any situation–regardless of the person, I try to treat each one with equal empathy and understanding (admittedly, I fail more than I wish).  I want respect for my deeply thought out interpretations, and I give respect to anyone with opposing, equally thought out interpretations.

So, what can we do?  Ask questions and don’t sermonize.  Jesus did.  He also taught with story.  He understood its power.   We tend to focus on correct doctrine.  In making that our passion, we forget that there are real people with real lives, real feelings, real beliefs behind every ‘issue.’  Behavior that one person may believe the Bible condemns, another may have a different  interpretation or insight.  Before drawing a line in the sand, perhaps we can listen to each other’s viewpoints and experiences without trying to win a debate.  Shaming a person or a group of people to prove ourselves ‘right’ reminds everyone more of the Pharisees than Jesus’ actions.

As my blood-pressure rises when I hear people in my own faith tradition making blanket statements at the expense of hearts (we are all guilty of this, regardless of our viewpoint), I breathe.  in. and. out.  slowly.  methodically.  silently.   And I focus on Jesus.  And I remember how much He loves us, how competent He is to fulfill His purposes even though we are not perfect in communicating His life.  As I see again myself in His vastness, I stop attacking those that see the world differently (even if they speak unkindly and irrationally) “and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace”  (Helen Lemmel, hymn).  May the grace of Jesus overflow in our lives as we all work out our own salvations.

 

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Ah, Youth

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Many adults say that they can’t relate to teens.  Many adults are afraid of teens.  Sometimes, we adults wonder why teenagers think we are ridiculous?  Perhaps the question we need to ponder is, “Why do we think teenagers are ridiculous?”

Graduation season is upon us.  I’ve got 4 youth girls that I’ve watched grow through tough times and amazing times over the past 4 years.  As I write out their graduation cards and smile at their future, I remember why I love working with youth.  The energy, the passion, the joy and effervescence!  Not the drama–never the drama.  Not even when I was in high school did I deal well with the drama.  BUT, this post CELEBRATES our next generation.

When I worked as a youth leader, I figured out a few things quickly:

1)  Teens want adults to cheer them on.  They want adults who will believe in their dreams–even if they’re unrealistic.  They want adults to celebrate even small successes with them.   Those girls’ faces lit up and they couldn’t wait to introduce me around when I showed up at their recitals, performances, sporting events.

2)  Teens don’t care how old you are if you love them.  In my 40s, many of the teen girls gravitated to me.  They didn’t care that I grew up with their parents.  They only cared that I cared for them.  They listened to me, even though they wouldn’t listen to their parents who were saying the same things that I said.  It’s the time of life when kids want to find their own way and start to separate from their parents.  My own kids did–I was NOT ‘the cool youth leader’ at home … I was MOM.

3)  Teens want an adult to hug them when life throws them an ugly curve ball.  They want an adult to whisper that they may hurt badly now, but they will heal.  They want an adult to cry with them when life falls apart–even if it seems trivial in perspective to adult pressures.  They want their pain to be taken seriously.  They look to adults for stability and need us to express faith that even though today is unbearable, God can, and will, heal.

4)  Teens sometimes need just presence with no words.  I remember holding one girl when a dear friend committed suicide.  I remember spending time with her 6 months later when another friend killed himself and yet another had attempted suicide.  I remember there being very few words in those moments.  Ecclesiastes 3:7 offers wisdom, “A time to be silent and a time to speak.”  In the moment of crisis, often teens need adults who feel no shame in their tears.  A time comes to offer hope, prayer and reassurance; but there is a time to simply feel and empathize.

5)  Teens want to believe in the wonderful, the miracle, the hope of life.  They want to believe in God and that He loves us.  They want to believe they are part of something bigger, better, more than just high school.

6)  Teens want to be wanted.  They love it when youth leaders spend time with them.  My daughter recently took a middle schooler out to an educational store and they played with puppets to the delight of both of them.  The youth girls I mentored never said, ‘No,’ when I asked if they wanted to go to Starbucks or get some ice cream–and they didn’t want to leave quickly; they wanted to linger and share their thoughts, ideas and passions.

7)  Teens want respect.  They want an adult to listen to their views without belittling or condescending to them.  They want intelligent conversations that challenge without patronizing.  They want to grow in understanding their world and how to solve the world’s vast problems.

8)  Teens want adults who can laugh with them, laugh at themselves and enjoy life!  Not everything is a learning experience.  Sometimes, we just have to cut loose in healthy silly ways.  Laughter reduces stress and helps us put our annoyances in perspective.

9)  Teens want to know adults are in their corner.  They want help getting up, dusting off and bandaging up.  They want to know that they may get knocked down; but they don’t have to stay down.  They can heal the broken dreams, bring into focus what they really want to do and even change up the dreams altogether.

10)  Teens want freedom.  Freedom to explore.   Freedom to fail.   Freedom without ‘I told you so.’

For all the adults out there, have you seen it yet?  Teens aren’t much different than us.  We’ve just lost some of the passion, energy and belief that we can change the world.  Cynicism infects us as we find that our dreams may not come true in the form we hoped.  Hang out with some teenagers for a bit and you will find that the passion, energy and hope may invade you to your core.  You may believe in your youthful dreams again and have the maturity, wisdom and knowledge to affect change in your corner of the world.

 

 

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HAPPY WOMANHOOD DAY!!!

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To all women who have influenced lives and helped shape the next generation, HATS OFF TO YOU!!  Today, may be called ‘Mother’s Day,’ but all women should be CELEBRATED (whether they conceived a child physically, through fostering or adopting, or mentored someone and helped the journey through life)!!  If we are friends, family, teachers or leaders in youth organizations, we have all ‘mothered’ children, teens and adults.

Thank you to all the women in my life who have made me the person I am today.  Thank you for your wisdom, your nurturing, your ability to challenge my thinking.  Thank you for your courage, your character and your depth of soul.  Thank you for showing those you influence how to have grace under pressure, how to grieve loss, how to rejoice with others and how to live every season of life with joy.

‘Mother’s Day’ doesn’t begin to encompass my wonderfully varied gender.  So I am changing the name to include all the ones who have mothered people in generations past and present, given a legacy to future generations of what it means to be a woman and have gone unsung and unnoticed by society.

YOU ARE NOTICED!  YOU ARE WORTHY!  YOU ARE LOVED!  ALL Y’ALL HAVE EARNED THE TITLE ‘MOTHER’!!  I CELEBRATE YOU!!

 

 

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Lessons Learned

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Most of my life I’ve felt sorry for my pastors and leaders.  I tend to ponder thoughts and ideas from every angle possible; but I do all that pondering inside, then ask questions.  Lots and lots of questions.  Yep, I’m that person.  Trouble is, on the outside, I joke, laugh and have a good time.  So, it can shock leaders when my deep inner thoughts come out.  Because of ‘ugly’ times past with church or a pastor, I hesitate to reveal the deeper side of me.

One particularly painful memory of church involved a pastor who used scripture to shame people into service.  I became the person no one wanted to be.  I became the person who said ‘no.’  Jud worked his full-time job and then volunteered 20-30 hours per week at the church for this pastor.  The pastor wanted me to do more–be more like Jud.  Three children in elementary school and the demands of keeping them fed, clothed and maturing filled my plate.  At first, I deprived myself of sleep to help the church get its footing.  The pastor kept saying, “We just need to push through this immediate need.”  I asked for some time off–3 months to be exact.  He told me that I was ‘shrinking back’ and needed to stop being selfish.  After a couple of years (yes, I am that dense), I realized he would never okay time off for me–there was always one more ‘big push.’  He used scripture to shame me into service.  He compared me to Jud and said that I needed to serve so that Jud didn’t have to work so hard.  He finally told people not to be my friend or hang out with me because I was ‘dangerous’ and ‘in rebellion.’  Frankly, he may have been right.  I won’t pretend that I did everything well and didn’t make relational mistakes.  I can use my words for good or for evil.  I have no doubt that pastor felt that my words were evil toward him.  But, my voice speaks here, not his–he gets to tell his own story.

Finally, after 5 years, we left–not on good terms.  Some would say that we didn’t leave the ‘right’ way; however, we left under guidance from professionals.  Our counselor and a few close friends said we didn’t leave soon enough.

‘Ugly’ stories like that leave scars.  Jud and I got counseling, healed ourselves and our relationship.  The scars remain and surface inopportunely.  We hired a new pastor in our current church about 5 years ago.  The first sermon series he preached was on Daniel (one of our former pastor’s favorite books).  The next series, he preached The Kingdom of God (a HUGE message of our former pastor).  God and I had some angry words over that one (okay, mine were angry; His were kind, but firm).  I informed God that if the next series was Nehemiah, I would leave church–permanently.  Five years later (so it wasn’t the ‘next’ series….), guess what our pastor wants to use for a sermon series?  Yep.  Nehemiah.  I haven’t looked at that book since leaving the dysfunctional church.  I had considered ripping it out of my Bible.  God reminded me that He won’t let any part of that ‘ugly’ experience define me now.  He won’t let that pastor color how I view His words.  (By the way, at the moment I still despise Nehemiah, so I suppose God’s right to address the topic.)  Of all the sermons and shaming, Nehemiah represents how this man leveled scripture against me…often…publicly.

One lesson I’ve learned over my life:  Trust God.  Not necessarily people…but I can trust God.  When I found out about this sermon series, God spoke into my heart that I needed to ask my current pastors to pray for me as we go through the book.  Of course, my response was one of submissive repose and quick obedience.  I believe my sanitized reaction went something like, “WHAT?!  ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”  After a lengthy…um…’dialog’ that lasted several days, I grudgingly complied.  This part of the healing could be the final tote bag left to unpack of the steamer-trunk-sized baggage that I’ve carried from this trauma.  Of the lessons I’ve learned from the ‘ugly’ stories, this one is hard.  I know that God matures us through healing the ugliness in our lives.  I know that God ‘makes all things new’ and that ‘in Christ we are new creations’ and I am thankful for His creative work in our hearts and lives. I trust Him and the path He leads me.

So, I’m reading Nehemiah and hoping that at some point, I will only hear God’s voice speaking the words.

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