New Year’s Reflections

Standard

Like many, I create New Year’s resolutions.  Like most, I don’t achieve all of them.  I adopt Bible verses to try and live often as my resolutions.  This year, Jud and I developed a mantra of ‘Afraid but Brave’ to live out for the year.  We have lived in the shadows of life for several years because we didn’t trust the healing in our hearts.  This year, we decided to test the scars to see if the healing held.  Jud volunteered at a hospice organization and experienced his first client’s death.  I spoke out more for people whose voices seem limited or silenced in some circles.  We initiated a few meetings as we searched to broaden our friendships.  We walked through some tough revelations of heart and soul as we dug deeper to find God’s heart and not just rules of the church.

As I look over all that 2013 offered us, I realize the difficulty navigating through it.  I started the year having finished a book that I threw at the walls more than once as I read it.  The book rocked my theology and I didn’t like it.  Now, a year later, I find that I needed the challenge to some of my beliefs about what ‘biblical’ means and how to allow the Holy Spirit to write His law on my heart and not obey rules to earn God’s acceptance.  In the messiness of learning a deeper Grace, I lost a couple of friends–and will likely lose more in the coming years as Grace and Holiness meld into my soul.

Good intentions almost ended in ugliness that would have sacrificed relationships.  I thank God that He mitigated the consequences before those intentions became reality.  I will continue to learn in the coming years how to support, encourage and celebrate friends’ life events without agenda.  While I fell on my face often, this year has taught me the value of a contemplative spirit, intuitive knowledge and merciful heart.  I paid more attention to Jesus’ way with people, and God’s ways and thoughts became clearer.

Filtering the whole Bible through the life of Jesus changed how I approach the Bible and what I expect from it.  It has become more fluid and alive.  It no longer represents a static ‘owner’s manual’ or ‘blueprint’ for life.  It now reveals a conversation God started long ago with mankind and invites us into the conversation with Him.  Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, pointed out that God spoke to Moses in his time and culture, to David in his time and culture, to Jesus in his time and culture, etc.  I am learning to hear God speak His truth in my time and culture.  When His revelations seem to contradict what the Bible ‘clearly’ says, I no longer dismiss His voice immediately.  I now sit in that uncomfortable place and ask the Holy Spirit what needs to change–context of the verses, my hearing of His voice, the church’s traditional doctrine?  I remain in discomfort with several new thoughts.

With each of my three pregnancies, my belly stretched beyond what I thought possible.  This year, my heart showed amazing elasticity.  I look forward to seeing the life begun in it grow into adulthood.  I know it may take a lifetime; but what could be more noble than transforming into the heart of Christ and seeing ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth….’

May we all reflect back on who we started this year off as, and who we end this year as.  My prayer is that we are all becoming more and more a reflection of God’s grace, the Holy Spirit’s fruit and Jesus’ life.

What growth have you seen in yourself this year?  What was the hardest lesson?

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Print this page

Christians Running Amok and A-Fowl–Again

Standard

I love Jesus, but sometimes I curse a little when others who follow the Bible open their mouths.  I tried to avoid the Duck Dynasty controversy.  It’s Christmas.  I want to celebrate Jesus’ birth with cookies, carols, children and cheesy Christmas movies.  I don’t want to enter into yet another stressful discussion on what the Bible is and isn’t ‘clearly’ against.  But, I’m so appalled by the knee-jerk reactions I see in my own kind that I can’t sleep and can’t keep silent.

First of all, while I have heard of Duck Dynasty, I have never seen it.  Oh, no high-horse, holier-than-thou reason.  We don’t have cable/satellite.  I also have only read the articles about the GQ article that has created so much diatribe on both sides.  Honestly, I don’t care what Phil Robertson said.  He gets to have his beliefs.  I’m more concerned with the vehemence that christians seem to defend him–at the expense of those whom they claim need to turn from wickedness.

So, here are just a few of the things that (once again) we christians have missed:

  1. Homosexuality is unnatural.  *sigh*  Will we ever get over ourselves?  The vast majority of the people who say that being gay isn’t ‘natural’ are heterosexuals.  According to Medical Science News, homosexuality occurs in more than 1500 species.  Apparently, dwarf chimpanzees (which are considered close relatives to humans) are all bisexual.  The entire species.  So, perhaps we can say that homosexuality isn’t ‘common’ in human beings.  Statistically, that’s true and doesn’t carry the same connotation that ‘unnatural’ does.  For those that insist that we continue to call out ‘unnatural’ behaviors, please remember that Jesus lived his life, and taught us to live ours, quite un-naturally.  Living sacrificially, loving our enemies, the whole concept of grace, living selflessly, turning the other cheek, the Sermon on the Mount, forgiving those who oppress all run against human nature.
  2. Only christians are oppressed.  *sigh*  We do have a persecution complex.  We find persecution behind every corner.  We rarely take responsibility for what we say or do that has more to do with us acting unkindly or saying offensive things.  We often claim persecution as a badge of honor, so we proclaim things in the name of ‘truth’ that have little to do with anything of God’s heart.  We want to live as martyrs (of course, we don’t admit that publicly).  We want the glory that God promises to those who suffer for their faith, so we often create our own ‘persecution’, when we’re really just being Pharisees.  Christianity has enjoyed privilege and power in this country.  We abused that privilege and power by trying to force all others into our interpretation of the Bible (which, by the way, ensured our privilege and power).  What we experience now is closer to the American Revolution, Civil War, Women’s Rights or Civil Rights Movement–the powerless and under-privileged saying, ‘ENOUGH.’
  3. The Bible clearly states….  *sigh*  6 verses.  Only 6.  The whole Bible contains over 31,000 verses.  We focus on the 6 that, taken in historical and cultural context, are anything but clear.  I know very few people who claim to be christians that volunteer at soup kitchens, take in orphans, advocate for domestic abuse victims, visit prisoners and AIDS patients.  There are over 300 verses on poverty.  According to well-known financial speaker, Dave Ramsey, there are 800 verses that tell us how to use our money.  But we draw a line in the sand over 6 verses.  While ignoring the thousands of verses about how to treat powerless and underprivileged people.  *sigh*
  4. The Bible clearly does not state….  *sigh*  I’ve begun to hear this argument more and more.  The Bible does not have any examples of homosexual relationships, that’s true.  However, it seems that we have adopted this line of thinking because the-Bible-clearly-states-in-6-out-of-31,000-verses line of thinking has become a joke.  The-Bible-clearly-does-not-state is also flimsy, at best.  The Bible is silent on the use of modern technology, corporate monopolies, political democracy, capitalism, birth control pills and much in the way of modern medical research.  We cannot develop firm doctrine based on what the Bible does not say.
  5. Sin focusses on behavior; therefore, God focusses on behavior.  *sigh*  Jesus never focussed on behavior.  Every instance that I’ve seen in the Gospels, Jesus does a face-palm when his disciples or religious leaders try to define ‘sin’ as someone’s behavior.  God, even in the Old Testament, mentions behavior, but the emphasis is on how that behavior represents our hearts.  People can do all the right things and still miss the mark (one definition of ‘sin’).  The rich young ruler found that out when he interacted with Jesus (Mark 10).

We have missed the mark.  In trying to live perfect ‘christian’ lives, we have isolated ourselves and damaged the credibility of Jesus and his Good News.  It should shame us when we preach a message that drives people away from Jesus–when we preach a gospel that doesn’t make people gasp in astonishment and cry, ‘Heresy’ or ‘Blasphemy.’  A gospel that alienates prostitutes, tax collectors … minorities, the powerless, the shamed.

Ah, but all is not lost.  Jesus promised that if we are silent, ‘the very stones would cry out.’  His message, God’s heart, will continue with or without us.  Our attitudes cannot stop God’s grace.  I cannot stop God’s grace–even when I communicate His heart imperfectly.

As we celebrate Jesus’ birth and end our calendar year, may we proclaim the true Gospel, His Good News, that Jesus came to bring wholeness and unite us back to God!

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Print this page

Comfort and Joy

Standard

“God sent me to announce the year of his grace—a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—and to comfort all who mourn” ~Isaiah 61:2.

A couple of days ago, there was another shooting at another Denver-area high school.  The shooter killed himself after shooting another student.  She remains in critical condition.  And this happened almost a year to the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took 26 lives (20 children, 6 adults).  I remember thinking about the massacre of children surrounding Jesus’ toddlerhood–a story we don’t often sermonize at Christmastime.  I nearly left the service today when we prayed for the Sandy Hook victims’ families and then for Claire Davis as she fights for survival.

When the evil of this world touches children, we all should ask, “What can I/we change that may prevent this horror in the future?”  We may not find satisfactory answers; but we need to ask the question.

I find myself pondering more and more the questions of life.  I wish I could say I find creative answers in that pondering.  I remember Jo Anne Worley (a female comedienne of the 1960s and 1970s) saying that she dreamt one night that she found the answer to all the world’s problems.  She woke up long enough to write it down so that she’d remember it in the morning.  When she got up the next day, she looked at her notebook.  She had scribbled “Cottage cheese” in her dream notebook.  I laughed during that interview.  As I remember with nostalgia days where profound answers came on bumper stickers and posters, I know now that answers seldom come in sound-bytes.

As we decorate with bright lights and tinsel, bake and frost Christmas cookies, buy and wrap gifts with beautiful ribbon, maybe we can also remember to say a prayer for Claire Davis and all the others who are fighting for life or sanity during this festive time.  Praying may not seem like much; but I believe that if we all accept a dose of humility each day that we cannot solve the world’s problems with any quick, trite or simplistic phrase, then maybe in those acts of prayer we will find a simplicity of wisdom that reminds us to treat each other kindly, gently, tenderly.

I love that the prophets foretold that Jesus would announce the favor of God in our midst.  I love that God wants to communicate grace, compassion and healing.  In learning humility, I pray that we learn that our enemies are not flesh and blood–people who cut us off on the freeway or say and do insensitive things.  Our enemies lie much deeper within ourselves–arrogance, devaluing lives, emotional toxicity and indifference to suffering in others.  While I personally can’t end world hunger, I can drop a dollar in the Salvation Army bucket, make a donation to a clean water charity, volunteer at an underprivileged school, donate clothing or coats that just hang in my closet.  I can get to know my neighbors and see if together we can make a bigger dent in poverty, medical missions and companionship needs than I could individually.

Today, I pray for Claire Davis.  I will pray for her and her family while I bake my daughter’s favorite Christmas cookies.  Tomorrow and in the coming year, I can look for opportunities to set aside portions of my busy-ness and ‘to-do’ lists and proclaim God’s favor in the lives of people I meet.  A smile, a handshake, a conversation, a donation of time to a person or organization that desperately needs human contact.  Jesus interacted personally, humanly, humbly.

As the Advent season continues, may we all start to look past the shopping, the wrapping, the parties and begin to love with our lives and not just with gifts.

How can you ‘proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ in others’ lives?  Have you volunteered for organizations that help others in need?  What have those experiences taught you?

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Print this page

Shame On Christmas

Standard

[Elizabeth speaking]: ‘I have lived with the disgrace of being barren for all these years.  Now God has looked on me with favor.  When I go out in public … I will not be disgraced any longer.’ ~Luke 1:25

I love Elizabeth’s story in the advent of Jesus’ birth.  I relate to her.  She lived the right rules for her society and church culture.  She made wise life choices.  She lived her life the way she believed God wanted.  Yet, she lived in disgrace.  In her society, a married woman’s identity rested in her ability to provide children who would care for aged parents and carry on the family name.  Having children meant God liked you and ensured that you would not be forgotten.  Living well had not provided children for her and her husband; and when they enter into Jesus’ story, their age prevents hope of ever having children.

Until God takes notice of them.

I wonder how many times she prayed and hoped each month, as a young bride, that maybe this month she would experience pregnancy?  I wonder how many months she cried when hope never fulfilled itself?  I wonder how many years before hope turned to shame and disgrace.  In her own recorded words, we know that she felt that public shame.  I wonder if she, like so many of us, made peace with her shame and accepted it as her ‘lot in life.’

This acceptance of shame is different than accepting the reality of circumstances.  I’ve often said that the only thing I took away from geometry class is:  You can’t change ‘the given.’  Sometimes, we fight against circumstances and limitations that we cannot change.  We exert a lot of effort frustrating ourselves and others trying to rework our past or not acknowledging how our past affects our present.  But, the acceptance of shame means that we’ve grown comfortable believing that our shame is our identity.  And not just that we’ve accepted the shameful identity; but we’ve also accepted others’ judgements against us and believe we deserve the shameful identity.

Because shame and disgrace are pretty universal to humanity, I love the stories of Jesus.  He took people’s shame and turned it into blessing.  He took the lives that society shunned and created restoration and reconciliation.  He noticed outcast people, marginalized people, underprivileged people, powerless people.  Jesus changed their ‘given.’

Just as God changed Elizabeth’s ‘given’ and allowed this barren couple to conceive, deliver and raise John the Baptist–the harbinger of Jesus.

I wish I had a step-by-step formula to release people from shame.  I wish our world would celebrate differences and not war against them.

While I don’t have a formula, I do know a person who lived the example of God’s heart.  I love that we celebrate His birth–the beginnings of hope, wonder, expectancy.  He lived life at times confusing His disciples, many times infuriating religious leaders who wanted formulas, but always un-ashamedly loving and accepting the ones living in disgrace.

We see at the birth of Jesus, God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.  Humbly born, He relates to our shame.

I take courage that God notices us in our shame and invites us into His story.

Have you felt like a misfit?  Have you believed that your shame separates you from society?  Have you believed your shame separates you from God?  How can you begin to encounter Jesus this advent season and allow Him to heal the wounds caused by shame?

 

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Print this page

Anticipating Presence

Standard

“A young maiden will conceive. She will give birth to a son and name Him Immanuel, that is, ‘God with us.’”~Isaiah 7:14

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday; but my family will tell you that I adore Christmas.  I get excited over all the colorful lights and festive smells as we decorate and bake.  The anticipation of mystery gifts thrills me to my soul!  I’m a minimalist by nature; but Christmastime makes me a little giddy because it’s a season of surprises.  I love surprises!  For the past several years (especially since my kids have left elementary school and all its naive wonder at the world), the awe of Christmas seems tarnished in my heart.  Decorating feels more like a chore, and baking smells don’t whisk me back to childhood as they once did.  I know life events jaded my heart and I recognize a cynicism in me that out-grinches the Grinch at times.  Even Advent church services have lost the imperceptible gasp of anticipation that Jesus’ birth used to swell in my heart.

I’ve heard it all.  I don’t think I’ve heard a fresh Advent sermon that sits me up and makes me take notice in decades.  I know all the stories with all the usual suspects–Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, wise men, shepherds and angels.  Lots of angels.  Harking and heralding the Good News that Jesus is born!  But I’ve lost the miracle of God becoming man and dwelling among us.  I’ve lost the gratefulness that literally turns my knees to jelly and I fall to the ground in overwhelmed gratitude.

God with us.  God for us.  God through us.

The sermon my pastor gave yesterday reminded me of the 400 years of Biblical silence between the last book of the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament.  He reminded me of what kind of world Jesus came into–a conquered Israel, a broken Israel in ruins.  The former glory days long gone and mostly forgotten.  Then God breaks the silence and hopelessness:  first with an angel visiting a childless old man telling him that he and his wife will have a child (John the Baptist), then telling Mary that God’s favor rests on her.  Two ordinary lives given extraordinary grace.  Two unlikely households graced with God’s presence.  God didn’t just come down to earth; He started from the beginning–a womb where the divine and human coalesced.

In beginning to ponder that journey from silence to womb to birth, I start to feel my heart beat a little faster and my eyes lose some of the cynical scales.  I feel the wonder of God’s presence overtake the immature anticipation of wrapped gifts.  I believe again, anew, afresh.  The story of Jesus’ birth begins a pilgrimage into the deepest heart of God.  Jesus’ birth proclaims to us all that God is with us.  God is for us.  God works through us.

Because God values us.  

Because God is our truest ‘Father.’  

Because God wants us to see how life can be lived.  

Because if we live that life He shows us, then we can experience ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all people.’

My prayer for all of us this Advent season is that we would take some time away from the busyness and frenetic pace of our culture and ask God to give us His favor and presence.  May we all ask how God can work through us to make our world shine with His glorious life!

What does the Advent season mean to you?  How have you lost and regained that sense of childlike wonder?

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Print this page