What I’ve Learned from Lent and Easter

Lent and Easter are both over, and we’re at the beginning of a normal week. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned over the past forty days. It might not be what the church expected me to learn, but I know I have heard words from Jesus.

It’s because I have a burden. A burden for the person who comes to church alone for whatever reason. In our churches, we have a default setting. A setting where every adult is part of a married couple. And if people are different from that setting, there is pressure to conform. It’s not done purposefully, I know. But it’s done often enough that people who are alone can often feel like they’re the third wheel. It can happen with the college student who doesn’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, and it can happen with the person who is widowed or divorced. It can happen with the person whose spouse doesn’t come to church or with the person whose spouse serves somewhere else. I think the last one is the hardest. You know your spouse is doing what Jesus has called them to do, but it is hard to see everyone sitting in couples. I won’t deny it.

People are generally oblivious as well. They ask if you’re going to celebrate a holiday with family not thinking there might not be any family to celebrate with. In fact, there is only one person I’ve ever known who has the gift of including a single person in their family gathering without making them feel weird. My college mom. From the first time I met her and her family, I knew I was always welcome. I remember fondly all the Sundays and holidays I spent at their homes when I was in college and across the country from my own family. They truly showed Jesus’ love to me.

But I digress. I was talking about Lent and Easter. Over the past forty days, I’ve spent a lot of time alone with Jesus–in prayer as I’ve worked through my Lent book. He’s brought me to the end of myself as I’ve asked questions that have been on my mind and heart. Especially this question. Why is the “church as a community” always talked about when all anyone ever wants to do is spend time with their own families, their own tribes. It’s frustrating to see things like “community” be given lip service when there are so many people in this world who are alone and hurting, people who are different from us, people we might not typically see.

Jesus reminded me that He saw them, and He still sees them today. He told me He sees all who are alone, even me when I don’t fit into church culture. It’s funny to talk like that when we’re told all the time not to try to fit into the world, but we also ask people to fit into a mold at church instead of loving and appreciating their differences. We’re all imperfect so loving other people is going to be done imperfectly until we go to be with Him. I know I’m imperfect, and I bet you all know you’re imperfect too. It’s overwhelming to think of all the mistakes I make as I try to be Jesus’ disciple in this world and make a difference, but not ever feeling accepted anywhere because I am so different.

But, maybe that’s the point. Maybe I’m not supposed to be accepted anywhere, not even at church. Maybe I’m supposed to love without any expectation of being loved back except, of course, by Jesus. And then, my eyes were opened, to all of the times Jesus was there for me yesterday even when I felt like I had failed. He was there when two children asked for me to play with them. He was there as I counseled my own son who had been feeling like a third wheel in the middle of “couple-land.” I was able to give him good counsel because of all the times I have felt like a third wheel even though I am part of a couple. Jesus was even there when I got in line behind a family taking communion together. Boy, that hurt, and I cried.  I won’t gloss over it. There’s nothing like feeling alone in the middle of a group of people. But, of course, I couldn’t admit it to said group of people. I was able to admit it to Jesus later on though, and that’s when He reminded me He was there, even through the tears.

So, that’s what I learned during this Lent and Easter season. I learned that Jesus is always there for me even when other people are clueless or selfish. I learned that “community love” will always be broken and imperfect at least until we are with Jesus. And I learned that Jesus wants me to pay attention to the burdens He puts on my heart even when I’ve been told no by a “church person.” Because God always provides a way even when it seems impossible.

Father God, help me to put into practice the things I have learned. Help us all to pay attention to who we meet so we can share your love. Help us not to be clueless and selfish and help us to reflect your love in a world that desperately needs it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

God bless you all!

Holy Curses

Another week has passed so it’s time for another post in my Lenten series from the book 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole. I wasn’t sure I’d do the post at first. In fact, I had to read the entry several times to understand what the author was talking about. I’m still not sure I completely understand, but I had to put my wrestling into words, to write down the questions I’ve been considering about my faith.

So, the phrase this week is “holy curses.” The author connects this phrase with the  Scripture where Jesus curses the fig tree for not having any fruit on it and says for it never to have fruit again. Then, He and the disciples walk by it again later, and Peter remembers what Jesus had said. The fig tree had withered because Jesus had cursed it. The author calls it Jesus’ only “destructive miracle.”

But, wait a minute. I thought cursing was a bad thing. And sure enough, the four other times in Scripture where this Greek word was used talk about how we’re to love our enemies and not curse them, about the cursed who won’t be in heaven, and about the taming of the tongue which can be used to curse others. I especially liked the reference from James 3:9-10 because I’ve been in a class studying this book of the Bible. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

By this example, I’m pretty sure God is telling us not to curse. He wants us to live together in community with His love at the center of our hearts and beings. So, what does the example of the withered fig tree mean? The author uses two verses from John 15 which talk about bearing fruit. Verses 5-6 say, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me  you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

I quote these verses and say all this to come closer to what I think the author means and to come closer to the questions I’ve been asking myself. As part of our faith, Jesus wants us to bear fruit. The things we do for our faith are not necessary to come to faith. They are what is supposed to come afterwards. I agree with and understand all of that.

I guess my question is what exactly is that supposed to look like. Does that mean we take every class or go to every activity that the church offers? Do we bear fruit in our families, in our jobs, and with our friends? Do we take the risk of letting the guards on our hearts down so we can wrestle with the things Jesus taught us? Do we deny self in our pursuit to bear fruit? I believe the answers to these questions come in pieces and are all related to the denial of self. One person’s fruit is not the same as another’s. So many people I know are doing so many different things for God, it’s almost impossible to count them all. Among my friends, I know someone who is living a life dedicated to her family and to the children in her classroom. She doesn’t make it to church all of the time, but I know she would be there for me if I ever needed her. I have another friend who runs a ministry to the least of these. Some of the people she ministers to are not welcome in churches, but I believe she is bearing the fruit Jesus wants to see. And, finally, I have a friend who has opened her home to me more times than I can count. When I was in college, she let my car stay parked at her home for more than six months while I was recovering from mononucleosis on the other side of the country. I believe all of these examples are examples of the fruit Jesus wants to see in our lives.

And that makes me wonder. Do I bear the fruit Jesus wants to see? If I were to be honest, there would be many times I would have to say no. Times when I’ve used my tongue unwisely. Times when I haven’t loved like I should. Times when I’ve not denied self. Times when I’ve been hypocritical. I look at these words and feel deeply inadequate to this task Jesus has called me to of sharing His love. Have I borne the fruit Jesus wants me to bear? Have I shown His Name is the only Name that matters? I won’t know the answers to these questions until I am with my Lord and Savior, but I hope that by considering them now, I would consider my words and behavior each and every time I consider the question what would Jesus do. And I hope, that by writing these questions down, you would consider them too.

God bless you all!

Holy Gets Angry

Today, I’m going to spotlight the second of the phrases I found in my Lenten book, 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole. The phrase is “holy gets angry.” There aren’t many instances of Jesus getting angry in Scriptures. I am sure though we are all familiar with the most quoted instance of Jesus’ anger with His clearing of the temple. Until now, I had always heard sermons of why Jesus cleared the temple–the religious establishment was cheating those who had come to worship. But, I had never paid attention to the words of how he had cleared the temple. So, I went back and read the verses that stated the how.

John 2:15-16 says, “So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

The other Gospel writers covered this instance and at least one more–one at the beginning of his ministry and the other towards the end. Jesus was seriously angry about this–serious enough that it was covered in the written accounts of his ministry.

But, anger is not a nice emotion, right? It’s not nice just like grieving isn’t nice, and people don’t know what to do with it except maybe to tell people they shouldn’t be angry about a particular situation. Now, I agree. There are many instances where we shouldn’t be angry. Anger can have a negative effect on emotional and physical health. Getting angry can result in violence you really don’t mean to happen. It might be the result of a misunderstanding. Or it might be the result of a legitimate situation. God knows we get angry just like we grieve, and He doesn’t condemn us for it. It’s part of who we are as humans.

So, with that negativity against anger, is there ever a good reason to be angry? To get angry, yes, but to stay angry, no. That’s where forgiveness comes in. Anyway, I did some thinking before coming back to writing this paragraph, and I realized that Scripture shows us the way. God wants us to use our anger on things that affect others. I’m not talking about a hashtag campaign on hot-button issues like abortion or poverty either. I’m talking about getting down in the trenches with someone who needs help and getting angry when the church refuses to help. I’m talking about not condemning a person for their “sin” and instead loving them in Jesus’ Name. We all sin. There is not a one of us who sins less than the other. In fact, the only person who never sinned was Jesus, as we all know.

I’m talking about walking with the person who is being abused, walking with the woman or couple who is facing an unexpected pregnancy, walking with the person who is not the same race or income level as you, or walking with the person who is addicted. God doesn’t want us to stay in our comfort zones. He wants us to get in the trenches with those who need to see His love.

I guess that’s why I get angry when I see news coverage on any of the hot-button issues. There is never a solution, only angry words offered–from both sides. Even from Christians. What happened to sharing instead of greed? (And don’t tell me only one side is greedy. I’ve seen greed on both sides.) What happened to hope instead of despair? And finally, what happened to love instead of condemnation? When I consider the answers to these questions, I get angry at others and at myself. Because, we’ve all sinned in this way. I think that’s when God gets angry too. We’re not living the way He wants us to live.

So, as I finish this, consider the answers to these questions in your life. And then, when you get angry, are you angry because something hasn’t gone your way or are you angry on someone else’s behalf? How can this anger then be turned to show Jesus’ love in our sphere of influence?

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

God bless you all!

“Higher, Further, Faster” (With God as my Co-Pilot)

It generally takes me awhile to go and see a movie. Between not wanting to be in the crowds on opening weekend (That’s my introvert self talking.) and looking for the cheaper showings (I hate how much it costs to go to the movies nowadays.), waiting for a couple of weeks seems to be the norm. But, last Monday, I saw K. M. Weiland’s blog post of 4 Pacing Tricks to Keep Readers’ Attention in her ongoing series of The Do’s and Don’t’s of Storytelling According to Marvel. It focused on Captain Marvel, the most recent Marvel movie. I was entranced when I read the post. I could go see this movie, learn some tricks for my own writing, and be entertained at the same time. Seemed worth the price for a ticket so I headed to the theater last Thursday afternoon.

The movie was worth penny I spent. Not only was I entertained; not only did I learn some tricks I could use in my own writing; I also saw some of my own life in Carol Danvers’ life. No, I haven’t been to another planet. No, I haven’t had amnesia. And no, I certainly haven’t gained super powers. But, I’ve gone through a lot of the past year not knowing who I was. I was no longer a homeschool teacher, and there was no natural niche where I felt I fit. The parts of my life were in pieces with parts not being acknowledged by other parts. I’ve had a difficult time working my way through it.

But, back to the movie. There was something happening every fifteen minutes or so that kept me in the story. That, in writing terms, is called pacing, and the movie was a great visual example of it for me. And it wasn’t just random. It was something that moved the story along and brought Vers (Danvers’ Kree warrior name) to our technologically challenged planet. She had decisions to make at each point too.

I also liked how they began the story in the middle of the action, but were also able to combine character development with it which made sense and didn’t feel forced. Her character arc combined seamlessly with the story as it should have since this was an origin story.

There were two things though that felt off during the movie, but not off enough for me to take my good rating away. The first was the jarring nature of the flashbacks where the Skrull commander repeatedly “rewound” Vers’ memories forcing her to pay attention to details she originally hadn’t focused on. It reminded me of the skipping of a record player each time it happened. (which should tell you how old I am, 🙂 ) But, in its defense, it was a different way to do a flashback which made it memorable.

The other thing that bothered me was the characterization of the villain. Even if it wasn’t already known this particular character was going to be the villain, it was easily figured out by the way he behaved toward the heroine. I didn’t see very much good at all in the way his character was presented even before his villainy was on the movie screen.

When everything was known though, when Carol was about to know and knew who she was, and when Yon-Rogg was shown to be the villain, some of the best scenes of the movie sizzled on the screen. I could see the good writing. I could see the good characterization. I could even see that the revelations were handled crisply and cleanly.

And the part about it relating to my own life? I saw my life coming together as a whole through watching this movie. That might be a funny thing to say about a secular movie, but bear with me. I felt awkward with the thought at first. How could my faith life, my writing life, and my life in general come together through watching a secular movie? That’s when I thought of the addition to today’s post title, “Higher, Further, Faster” (With God as my Co-Pilot). I had thought I needed others’ approval for what God was calling me to do, but I really don’t. I just need to do what God is calling me to do on whatever path He sets me on.

So, that’s it for today. Highest recommendations for the movie! Can’t wait for Avengers Endgame in just a few weeks!

Holy Grieves

For almost a year, I’ve wrestled with the question of whether it’s okay to grieve in church. If I’m honest though, it’s been longer than that. I’ve just been thinking about it in particular over this past year and wondering if it was okay.

Sometimes, I think I’m the most human person in the world when I go to church. I weep when I grieve. Tears come easily though I do my best to hide them, and there aren’t many people who understand when I try to tell them. So, I keep my thoughts and feelings to myself when people ask what’s wrong, or I just don’t cry at all even though I want to. And all along, I think I’m a terrible person because it seems like I’m the only one who needs to grieve, and God must think badly of me because I grieve so openly. As you can see, I internalize many things about grieving.

But, I’m going through a book during this Lenten season as I’ve mentioned before, 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole. One of the more recent entries had the answer to my question, and I’m using two of the words in that entry for the title of my blog post, “Holy grieves.” The author provided the translation of the word Luke used when he was describing Jesus riding into Jerusalem. When Jesus cried at the sight of the city, He was wailing. Yes, that is the translation of the Greek word–lament, wail, cry–all of those words. He grieved for Jerusalem. He grieved for all its inhabitants. He grieved for all of humanity.

I read the author’s words and felt better about my question. We’re all familiar with the Scripture where Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ death though he was about to be resurrected. But, the other instances, I had never heard them explained so clearly.

We don’t do a good job though of wrestling with this in the church. The author of my book calls it “wrestling with the mystery of the Incarnation,” and I think that’s appropriate. We use words that are easier for us to understand though they cut open the heart of the receiver because we don’t understand the point and the purpose of grief.

Here are some of those words quoted directly from the author. “You shouldn’t cry, grieve, wail, or weep. God is in control. He works all things for the good of those who love Him…so there’s no need to feel___.” (Alicia Britt Chole, 40 Days of Decrease) I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard those words spoken to me or have spoken them to others. We’ve lost the art of just sitting and grieving with each other.

So, I wonder what I should do in church when I hurt. Should I weep and feel awkward and lacking in faith after I do so? Should I keep it all in and not share it with anyone? Or should I remember this sentence from the author of my Lenten book? “It is never weakness to grieve where God is grieving.” (Alicia Britt Chole, 40 Days  of Decrease) Crying is not a sin, and grieving is not a sin, and I think I finally understand what God has been trying to teach me.

May all of us who are believers grieve authentically knowing that our Lord and Savior grieves with us. Praise God that “holy grieves!”

God bless you all!