life, the friends

Big Love & Fruit that Lasts

I’ve been teaching the book of John to a group of third and fourth graders every Monday night since September.  Half the class is nice and quiet – just the way I like it – and the other half is rowdy.  Last night they were extra rowdy – pouts, tears, an injury, two kids under the table – all in the first 15 minutes.

We were in chapter 15 and I was explaining what Jesus meant by, “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  I told them the Holy Spirit is like the sap that flows from the vine out to the tip of the branches to produce fruit.  As long as we stay attached to Jesus, the Holy Spirit will flow through us, producing good and exciting things.

Things that last.

Then we got to the part where Jesus told His disciples – and us – to love the way He loves.

And that brought us to verse 13.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I wanted to illustrate what that looks like in everyday life.

So I told them about Tuscany. I told them that the hub and I have been saving money to take a trip there as soon as he retires. We want to see the countryside and eat good food and take a cooking class.

I also told them that we have spent A LOT of money on emergency vet bills in the last few years.  (Over $40,000 the hub tells me but I didn’t tell the youngsters that.)

“And now today,” I said, “the beagle we adopted 4 weeks ago had surgery. And it’s expensive. So we’ll take more money out of our Tuscany fund to pay for it.

And we probably won’t get to go on our trip.

But that’s okay.

Because greater love has no one than this: to lay down your Tuscany for your beagle.”

The rowdy ones, who didn’t appear to be listening, their interest quickened by the example, gave a hearty laugh.

P.S. The hospital just called. Dixie did very well overnight.  She’s comfortable, bright, alert, responsive and she’s coming home this evening.  I’ll keep you posted.

#quickened

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Jesus, Light

It’s All About the J

I skipped the stations of the cross on Good Friday to see a movie – The Young Messiah.  The most pious among us might disapprove but, as Johnny Cash pointed out, the most pious among us are not Christian then.

I liked the movie a lot. I don’t think it was one hundred percent theologically correct, but it didn’t claim to be. It was fiction, the author’s imaginings about what Christ’s childhood may have been like.

Some Christians won’t see the movie because of the theological errors. Some won’t see it because the author of the book upon which it is based used to write books about vampires – not knowing anything else about her.  But like Johnny said…

The movie depicts Jesus performing miracles as a child.  This is where I believe the author’s imagination strays from reality. I won’t go into all my reasons for this belief – unless someone asks for them – I’ll just say that, being one of us, I don’t believe He was able to perform miracles until the Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism.

Because we can’t perform miracles until the Holy Spirit comes upon us.

Check out what Jesus said:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 [italics added]

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

What happened when Jesus went to the Father? He sent His Spirit.

We can’t do powerful stuff without the Spirit, who dwells within those who confess the powerful name of Jesus.

Now here’s where it gets a little bit tricky and a little bit deep. You guys can handle tricky and deep.

Spirituality is popular these days.

There are loads of spiritual books. Some of them mention Jesus as one among many noteworthy and enlightened teachers. Some don’t mention Him at all. The ones I’ve read that do mention Him don’t mention Him as who He claims to be – the Way, the Truth, the Gate, the Bread, the name above all names, the only name by which we are saved, etc.

Some of the books, which contain beautiful truths based on His teachings, give Him credit, others do not.

Credit or not, there is no real power in Jesus’s teachings without the weight of heaven to carry them out.

We can read beautiful words and feel inspired to be a better person all on your own, sans the Spirit, but mere words fall short where the rubber meets the road.

I thought about that when my sister died.

And I thought about it recently when my pastor posted a parody on Facebook that poked fun at the trend toward spirituality over religion.  The parody was so over the top that he didn’t think anyone would take it seriously. It struck me as funny, in the same way the old SNL “church lady” skits struck me as funny. Even though I am a church lady.

But someone was offended.

He felt awful about offending a parishioner who has been entrusted to his pastoral care. In the power of the Holy Spirit, he confessed his regret.  He apologized from the pulpit, he apologized on Facebook. I was proud of him.

Humility is powered by the Spirit.

It’s the Spirit who cares more about a person’s heart and soul, when it comes down to it, than getting a laugh, a Facebook like, or even claiming the freedom to just be who we are – take it or leave it. It’s the Spirit who has the power to overcome self-defensive pride.

Jesus told us to turn the other cheek.

This is how He said it:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” – from Matthew 5

Any one of us can aim to put that lovely concept into practice – whether we attribute the concept to Jesus or not – but without His Spirit dwelling in us, the concept fails.

Someone offends us and, instead of turning our cheek, we immediately poke the person in the eye for poking us in the eye.  We lash out and offend them, and everyone like them, because we are offended.

To the offender who has the Spirit of God in residence, the Spirit says, “No, loved one, this is the way, walk in it.”  And as we mature in our faith we say back to Him, “You are right, I was wrong.” And with that He nudges us to apologize.

Because there is great power in an apology.

And when the Spirit resides in the offended, indignation gives way to graciousness. And we cut people some slack.

That was the tricky part. Because I’m trying really hard to not offend anyone here. Not offending people seems to be getting trickier and trickier these days.

Now the deep part:

Remember when Jesus asked the guy who had been an invalid for 38 years, who wasn’t able to get into the pool when the healing waters were stirred, whether he wanted to get well?

It always strikes me when I read that passage that Jesus didn’t assume that everyone wants to get well.  Perhaps He knew that some find comfort in the familiar, even when the familiar is crippling.

But if we really want people to love us, and not offend us, then we will help them succeed.

When they betray us, instead of lashing out publicly, we will ask them questions privately.

Questions like, “You said seekers are welcome at our church, but the parody you posted makes me feel like I’m not. Did you really mean to give that message?”

Questions asked in love nip the offense right in the bud. They give people a chance to share their hearts, to clear the air. If their heart and/or clear air is what we want.

But if remaining crippled and alienated by real or perceived offenses is what we want, we will offend right back.

We can’t really know people unless we are willing to ask them questions.

We can’t really love people unless we are committed to believing the best about them.

It takes bravery. And bravery is hard when we’ve been beaten down by the enemy of our souls. When we have his deceptive, slick, smooth-tongued, accusing, counterfeit voice in our ear.

Remember the movie I mentioned way back at start?

In the opening scene the devil is standing off to the side eating an apple watching a child being harassed by bullies. At just the right moment he tosses the bitten apple into the crowd, causing one of the bullies to trip over it and die. The devil immediately enters the crowd and whispers into a receptive ear, “He did it,” pointing to young Jesus.

The devil tosses the apple, trips up mankind, causes our death and Jesus gets the blame. (And then the young Jesus resurrects the ungrateful bully and we have the whole gospel story right there.)

The devil accuses Jesus and we believe him. And so we seek a counterfeit.

We might say we are seeking Jesus, but if we refuse to read His words  – preferring pleasant plagiaries (yes, I did make up a word)  – then we are actually rejecting Him.

When we seek a God of our own imagination, one who is safe, one who doesn’t challenge our prideful notions, one who is manageable,  we remain powerless to change.

We can’t love His concepts without loving Him. We cannot know the power of His teachings separate from the power of His name. They are a package deal.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” –  John 15:5

 

 

 

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life

TJ Maxx

First I headed to the returns counter.  I had grabbed a last minute pair of knit pants that looked really comfy and really long – long enough for these lanky lower limbs, comfy enough for lounging around the house.

I tried them on as soon as I got home.  Yikes, lounging around the house is ALL I’ve been doing all summer.  So no.

Knit, like spandex, is a privilege, not a right,  I’ve lost the privilege.

I removed the pants from their bag and handed them to the smiling, sunny cashier.

“You didn’t like them?”

“Oh, I liked them, I liked them a lot, I just didn’t like them on me.”

She laughed, completed the return and bid me a great day.

From there I headed to hosiery for some charcoal tights.  I spotted just the right color, and made in the USA, too.  Size 1, size 1, size 1….  squeeze around the very large tub blocking the aisle … size 1, size 1, size 1. Size 1 is for people 5″6 and below, not for me.  No matter how many times I tug at a size 1, no matter how thoroughly I stretch them upward, the crotch still hangs down to just above my knees.  No one needs that kind of uncomfortable grief all day.

Dang it, those would have been perfect, too.

Just then a very tall, very large, very, very tall and large female employee approached the very large tub and slid it aside.

“Are you about to refill the racks?”

“I’m not about to refill anything,” she snorted.

I mean she SNORTED like a very large, very angry bull about to charge.

“Shoot,” I said, touching the top of the merchandise-filled tub, “I was hoping there was some size 2 gray tights in here.”

She growled.  Her face contorted from bull to bear – a very tall, very large, very grizzly bear.

Whoa!  What did I do? Maybe she just hates all middle-aged white women.  Maybe she’s had all she can take of the high-maintenance middle-aged white women in my town.  The kind who would just open the bin and rummage through it themselves – or demand that she do it.  But I’m not one of them.  I’m courteous.  And, wait, we’re not in my town, so no excuse.

I wanted to say, “So your manager is okay with you treating customers like this?” But the look in her eye warned me not to poke that bear.

So I pretended she hadn’t just sprayed bull snot all over me, shrugged and said, “Dang it, those tights would have been perfect.”

I snagged a pair of SmartWools for a really good price and headed toward housewares.  As I was walking away I heard her voice and turned around.  “There are more tights up front,”  she said, speaking with her back to me, refilling the racks.

“Oh, good, thanks.”

The Holy Spirit must have whispered something to her.

I added an item from housewares to the knee socks in my cart, tried on a really cute skirt and added that to the cart and found a pair of size 2 gray tights, made in the USA, color not as perfect as the ones in hosiery, up by the check out line.

I was called up to cashier #4, the same cheerful woman who had taken my return.  We chatted pleasantly while she rang me up, then she bid me another great day.

“Thank you for being so pleasant and friendly,” I said with a smile, “there aren’t a lot of friendly people these days.”

The cashier next to her nodded and said, “You’re right.”

Day and night and back to day again.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Night and Day.”

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Jesus, Light

It’s All About the Awe

I read some grandiose words while scrolling through WordPress yesterday.  The zealous author was proclaiming how he would always do this and never do that.

I smiled because it reminded me of the time Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” To which Jesus replied, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I smiled because I’ve been there.

And now I’m here, in a hazy spiritual fog.

The fog can roll in on the best of us, and I’ve grown tired of passively waiting for the Son to burn it off. So yesterday I spoke up:

“It feels like my spirit is trapped in a haze, Lord, and I don’t know how to shake it off. How do I get out of this fog and back into close fellowship with You?”

I grabbed The Full Life Study Bible I inherited from my dad and opened it, unintentionally, to the book of Malachi. Actually to the outline just before the book. There it was, midway down the outline, the question that has been on my heart:

“How are we to return?”

How am I to return?

I started to read while the Spirit talked me through Malachi’s entire Q & A. It came down to this:

1. Appreciate the Almightiness of His Love.

There is a distinct place, a distinct love, to which to return:

God: “I have loved you.”

Israel: “How have you loved us?”

God: “I made a distinction between you and your brother. I chose you.

His love is revealed in the choosing. And that choosing ought to mean something.

I don’t know why You revealed yourself so clearly and unmistakably to me, and not to my sisters, but You did. You did and it is huge.

2. Get His Cross Back in Balance.

“Judah broke faith,” whispered the Spirit. “They got into bed with a foreign god. They kept bringing their offerings to Me, though, and then flooded the altar with tears because I was no longer paying attention to them.”

Israel: “Why don’t you care about us anymore?”

God: “I’m sticking up for your wives. You’ve been cruel to them, you’ve been casting them aside and I hate that. I made you one flesh because I wanted godly offspring, not so you could give lip service to me and then run around on your wives and expect a blessing. Not so you could act just like the brother I did not choose. Are you kidding me?”

I get it, Spirit, but I’m not running around on the hub. So what’s the equivalent? Am I running around on You? Am I getting too cozy with the world? Am I acting like those who don’t know You? Have I gotten your holiness and your compassion out of balance? I confess I have not been taking You as seriously as You deserve to be taken.

hocom

It’s so easy to do these days with everyone debating how God feels about homosexuality and gay marriage. It’s tempting to want to be liked by everyone, to want to make everyone feel good, be the compassionate one, to ignore His holiness. But to ignore His holiness is to say that we are kinder than He is. And we’re not.

3. Find a Church that Isn’t Playing.

God: “I made a covenant of life and peace with [the priests, pastors, church leaders] and that covenant called for reverence and awe, yet you show contempt for my name. Where is the honor due me?”

Priests: “How have we shown contempt for your name?”

God: “You bring me lame offerings.”

It’s the Cain thing again.

I have grown lazy, I admit it. 

Yes, you have, but this one is on your church. The awe and the reverence due Me are gone. The awe has become all about the polished music, the polished programming, the lights and smoke and staging, the numbers, the awesome things they are doing, “the wow factor” and the desire to be better than anyone else in town.

“Oh that one of you would shut the [church’s] doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar!”

I know. You know I know. You know how I have longed to worship in honor and awe, in a place that draws from me Your spiritual best. You know how I long for a church that isn’t playing.

Help me.

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Jesus, Light

Stacking Stones: A Big Pitcher of the Holy Spirit

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I thought I’d stack some stones today; tell a story of God:

It was very shortly after I became reacquainted with Jesus .  I was in the car with my sister – the one who is just one year older than me – on our way home.  As we pulled into the driveway, she made a critical remark about the sister who is just one year older than her.  Ordinarily I would have just nodded and said nothing, let her talk, but as I sat there in the passenger seat, I thought, Now that I am a Christian, I should probably respond differently.  

So, in an attempt to put an end to maligning words before they got rolling, I said, “Maybe you should talk to her and not to me.”

Suddenly there was a huge pitcher balancing above me.  It tipped and poured over me.

My sister was speechless.  Not because she saw the pitcher – she didn’t.  She was speechless because I had always been too afraid of her wrath to do anything but nod and listen.

One slight alignment of thinking, of behaving, of identifying with God yielded a pouring out of His Spirit.

There have been times when God has done so much in response to so little.

Do you, dear reader, have some stones to stack, some recalling, recounting and rehearsing of God’s goodness to do?  Write about it and link it back here.  I love to read HIStory.

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life

ROOMTOBREATHE

We visited a new church today and Jesus was there.  Thank God.

This is what I liked about it:

First, I like the denomination’s motto:

“In essentials… unity. In non-essentials… liberty. In all things… charity.”

I hope that means that Jesus isn’t in a straightjacket there.  I hope it means the doctrine isn’t so locked-down, iron-clad and air-tight that the Holy Spirit has no room to breathe; no room to move.

I like that while we were standing in the lobby drinking coffee before the service an elder came over, introduced himself, asked us some questions and welcomed us to the church.

I liked that when that same elder prayed at the beginning of the service, he prayed for some of the specific needs of the individuals in the congregation (without naming names).  In other words, I liked that the church was small enough that its leaders actually know who their congregants are and the things with which they are struggling.

I liked that the worship was simple and sincere.  The words of the songs were on slides that had Jesus as the background, not moving geometric neon shapes.  The hub liked that there was no smoke and the amplifiers weren’t turned up to 8.  Maybe we’re just old.  I actually don’t mind loud, but I much prefer unpolished, heartfelt worship to a professionally produced production.

I liked that the worship leader sang a NEEDTOBREATHE song during the offering and got choked up as he introduced it.  He sang it from his heart an he did an excellent job.

My daughter and I are both NEEDTOBREATHE fans.  We have seen them in concert several times together.  My favorite time was a completely unplugged impromptu show that we had the privilege of attending.  I love acoustic performances because they allow the lyrics to shine.

Let me digress for a sec to do the mom thing:

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Here's a fix for you Seth fans.

My daughter went to see NEEDTOBREATHE with some friends. When she showed me the picture taken with Bo, I said, “You two look really good together, you match. You should marry him.” (I don’t think he was married at the time, but if he was, my apologies to his wife.)

So as soon as the worship leader mentioned the NEEDTOBREATHE brothers, I turned to my daughter (who was worshipping with us today) and said, “Oh goody, your husband!”  (Again, my apologies to Bo’s wife.)

Anyway, the song fit the message very well.  Here’s a bit of what Bear Rinehart said about it in an interview:

“This song is my story of trying to understand my role in God’s plan. We were on tour with a secular artist, Taylor Swift, playing to 20,000 and even 50,000 people per night. We felt like we were doing what we were supposed to be doing. Despite our efforts, I didn’t feel like we were having the impact we are called to have.

I think God was asking us at this time, “What are you doing this for? Are you doing it for Me?” And, I think that’s where this song was birthed. That confusion is almost a good thing. The bridge says “I am on the fence about nearly everything I’ve seen.” I meant that in how the whole band was going through a “we surrender to God” kind of way.

We don’t need to be concerned about what happens after we’ve given up this gift we have to God. That was really powerful for us. We had ambition and let that take too much of a priority in things that led us down a road that wasn’t good. I think that in trying to re-prioritize, God wants us to sacrifice those things, those idols in our lives. Some idols for us were wondering what the outcome was going to be, that we had the upper hand or maybe we were the best band out there, or we thought we were the most clever at it.

I feel like the beginning of the song is us asking ourselves are we really difference makers. How valuable are we, really? Towards the end of the song it comes around that God makes us a part of what He does, which is so crazy. It starts with us realizing that we don’t get to make the rules. We don’t control it, and we don’t get to say what the timing is. It’s not because of our talents. He doesn’t need that. He needs our willing hearts.”

You can read the full article here.

There’s a short “behind the story” clip here.

And here’s the song’s official video:

And that brings me to the last thing I liked about the service.  The pastor concluded by saying that we need to change our paradigm from thinking that our relationship with God is all about us to seeing His greater purposes and how we might fit in.  Then he added, “For those of you who are already operating out of that paradigm, I encourage you to continue to do so.  And then he gave examples of some of the ways various people in the congregation have entered into God’s purposes and are impacting the community.

AND THAT’S IT!

That’s what I have been longing for.  A simple balance.  A simple acknowledgement of growth; of maturing Christian hearts.  But that takes knowing something about the hearts and lives of the people you serve.  It’s much easier to just say, “We’re all a bunch of selfish sinners who are only looking at what’s in it for us” and call it a day.

I want to be inspired.  I want to be spurred on toward love and good deeds by seeing and hearing about the good deeds others are doing and perhaps joining in.  I don’t want to be browbeaten.

Amen.

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