The Most Important Kind of Love

I shouldn’t have worried about this week’s topic. With Valentine’s Day coming this Thursday, it was obvious what I was going to write about. Wait a minute! Valentine’s Day is this Thursday? It is, so if you have a romantic partner, you’d better get busy on finding a gift. But, for a Christian, there are more kinds of love besides romantic love, and that’s what I want to discuss today–what those kinds of love are and how we fail at expressing them.

We are all familiar with the first kind of love, and it’s the easiest one to express. It’s also the main reason people get each other gifts for Valentine’s Day. What is it? It’s romantic love, of course, or eros which is the Greek word for sensual or romantic love. People who are dating or married usually don’t have a problem expressing this kind of love. Whether by saying the spoken words, getting each other gifts, having children, or doing things for the other person, it’s the most accepted kind of love in the world and in the church. People don’t find it at all odd when spouses or dating partners express their love for each other. It’s accepted.

This love is followed closely by storge love which is Greek for love within the family. Love between parents and their children or love between siblings. People also consider this a natural kind of love. It’s not considered odd to hear parental love expressed for children or siblings expressing love for each other either in the world or in the church. In fact, in the church, there are more programs for married people and children for all ages because that is the defunct normal.

I’m going to define the next two types of love separately though I believe they are interrelated to a certain extent in how we fail to express them. First, there is philia love. Philia is a Greek term which explains the powerful emotional bond seen in deep friendships. Jesus said this love would identify his followers. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35) I struggled with this a little bit because, of course, I don’t have deep emotional bonds with everyone. But still, Jesus wants us to have love for our fellow humans and have care, respect, and compassion for people in need. In simple terms, love them. But, can I do that by myself? Maybe, we should go to the next kind of love for the answer.

The final love is agape love. It’s perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, and pure. It represents God’s immeasurable and incomparable love for humankind. It is the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when he died on the cross for us and was resurrected. It is the kind of love we receive when we receive the Holy Spirit upon our profession of faith. It is the kind of love that shows we are His disciples.

Now, I come to the point where I think we, the church, have failed at expressing this love both in words and in actions. Love is a verb. It needs to be said, and it needs to be done. I listened to a speaker this past weekend who said we needed to be expressing love to the people around us. She said it would feel odd at first to tell someone we liked them a lot (I think she thought using the word love would be too strange.), but it was something Jesus wanted us to do. I understood the feeling strange part, but it convicted me too. We should be able to express love to each other and not think we have to qualify it. Sister to sister. Brother to brother. Brother to sister (who are not romantically involved). Sister to brother (who are not romantically involved). I think women in the church have an easier time doing this than men, but it’s important, and it’s what Jesus wants us to do. I believe expressing agape love in word and in deed will take the love of Jesus to where it needs to go, and maybe, just maybe, will change our world for the better. So, I issue you a challenge as I end. Tell at least three people who are not your spouse or your family that you love them this week. I truly think you will be glad you did.

May God bless you all today!

 

The Power of the Holy Spirit

I started this post yesterday with a particular title, but then completely blanked on the first words I wanted to say. Has that ever happened to you? Anyway, I decided to start working on it again this morning and see where the words took me. I say all this to tell you that the title might change before I’m done.

So, the Holy Spirit. How much do we really understand when we talk about the Holy Spirit? Oh, we nod at all the correct places when the topic comes up. We hold up our hands in praise of what we think are all the members of the Trinity. But, do we really understand what the Holy Spirit is supposed to do in our lives? I don’t think we do, and I’m including myself in that number.

This came up last week when I felt a prompting to do something. It isn’t my purpose to gain praise for anything I did so I’m going to be intentionally vague about the details. Anyway, I felt this prompting from what could only be the Holy Spirit saying this was something I needed to do. Did I do it right away with no thinking involved? No, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t. I asked myself could I do it. Did I have enough time, enough money? Was I doing it from the right motives? These questions took very little time to answer in my head, but it was time not spent trusting God completely. I finally decided I could do it, but wanted to make sure I stayed anonymous. People helped with that, and by the time I was done, I had received a tremendous blessing.

But, I wondered why I had resisted. Was my trust in God’s provision so little that I didn’t think He could provide for my needs and for the thing he wanted me to do? My trust wavered in this instance. I’ve had promptings like this before and not responded at all so I’ve had some growth in this area. But, still, total trust eludes me, and I don’t like that. I want to have total trust in what the Lord is doing in my life.

I put some more thought into it. Is the reason I don’t listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit because of times when my own needs haven’t been met? There have been times in my life when that hasn’t happened. I’ve suffered, and no one was there. I lost my trust and my faith, and it took awhile before it came back. Or do I have trouble hearing the promptings of the Holy Spirit because I don’t want to give up control? I think that’s big for a lot of us, and we limit the power of the Holy Spirit when we’re unwilling to give up that control.

I’ve been working on this for awhile–regaining my faith and my trust in God and in other people. Sometimes, it’s easier to say I trust in God than in other people, but I know God wants me to have both so I’ve worked on both.

I’ve also worked on being more conscious of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life which led to last week’s events. Two things are helping with this. The first is a book I’m reading by Sheila Walsh called It’s Okay Not to be Okay. It’s helped me to realize that God doesn’t want us to put shields around our hearts. He is okay with however we come to Him. There is a quote from the book I’m planning to have framed because God used it to speak directly on this topic to me. Here it is.

“We’re not supposed to have enough. We’re supposed to bring what we have, our clearly not enough to Jesus, and ask Him to meet us where we are.” Sheila Walsh, It’s Okay Not to be Okay

The other thing happened yesterday during church. Because my heart is opening and my trust and faith are growing a little more each day, an opening was made for a sermon to touch me. (Yes, that does happen sometimes. Lol, GB) My pastor started a series on the Holy Spirit, and it brought some things into focus for me. We are not enough. We will never be enough like Ms. Walsh says in the quote I shared. We don’t have control. We only think we do, and we buy into the illusion we do. There’s a funny thing about that. I love to read mystery books and find out who did whatever was done, but I think I should know everything about God and the Trinity. I know now it doesn’t work that way.

It’s time for me to embrace the mystery in my relationship with God just like I embrace it in what I read and what I write. It’s time for me to freely trust and freely live in the generosity of God’s Kingdom which includes the Holy Spirit. It’s time for me to trust in what God has given me through the Holy Spirit. I’m looking forward to learning more about the power of the Holy Spirit in the weeks to come.

Have a great day, everyone!

A Continuing Conversation

I saw this quote in my writing inspiration book last week, and it got me to thinking about my goals for blogging. Then, my thoughts expanded to include what I think we all hope for from a conversation. First, let me share the quote by Andrew Sullivan. “A blog is in many ways a continuing conversation.” Mr. Sullivan was one of the first mainstream journalists to experiment with this form of writing almost twenty years ago and soon had a large following on his blog. He was able to have a continuing conversation with his followers through the comments and was able to receive almost instantaneous feedback on his work.

Now, it’s almost twenty years later, and there are many, many more blogs. Some of them have large followings and some, not so much. I fall into the latter category. Barely 100 followers, and maybe a couple hundred more who access the link through my Facebook and Twitter. Actually, there’s no way to know exactly how many can access my blog link on social media. I’ve had some comments over the years I’ve been writing these posts, but nothing that would say it was wildly popular. I’m not complaining though. Having this space has given me the opportunity to practice my writing in public, work through some things from my past, work through some faith questions, have some good conversations, and meet some neat people. It has shown me that I can do this writing thing and that I can be consistent with it.

Reading this quote though has brought to mind all of the conversations I’ve had on this blog, on the Internet, and in real life. Have I done my best to ensure those conversations can be continuing? Have I been flexible enough to agree to disagree or have I wanted to be proven right each and every time–rigid enough where someone felt like they had to walk away from a relationship? I’ve fallen on both sides. We all have. In an effort to change how I interact with people, I haven’t talked about the most divisive items in our society for a long time–race, poverty, politics, abortion, immigration, any issue that could be divisive. What good does it do to scream about something when I can spend my time and energy loving the people in my life the way Jesus wants me to?

But, I think Jesus would want us to talk about the hard stuff. The stuff that keeps us from having relationships. The stuff we use to climb the judging pedestal because it hasn’t happened to us. The stuff that is too different from our norm.

Like abortion, for example. I think abortion is wrong. It is killing a child who has never had the chance to life. But, I know people who have had abortions, and I have no way of knowing the factors that led them to their decision. So, I refuse to judge. Jesus loves the woman who had an abortion just as much as He loves the rest of us.

And, what about poverty? So many things factor into being poor. Race, unemployment, gender, country of birth, mental illness. Those of us who are more fortunate just turn a blind eye to the less fortunate and argue about the politics of it all. I remember the times my husband has been unemployed and thinking constantly that people were judging us. Judging eyes seemed to be everywhere.

Isn’t that why we need a continuing conversation? To acknowledge the hard stuff. To practice grace with the people Jesus loves as much as He loves us. To listen, really listen, to the person with an opposing view and not think how we’re going to reply the whole time. Over the past few years, I have worked on opening my heart to new and different viewpoints and to trying new things. I haven’t been perfect, but I have felt my heart getting softer and more in tune with this faith I practice. May we all be willing to have continuing conversations full of grace and love!

Have a great day, everyone!

 

Called on Purpose

It took me awhile to wrap my head around the theme my church has for this year. It’s not that I don’t understand what Jesus is calling Christians to do. The Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20 states it plainly. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I also understand the Scriptures my pastor used yesterday, one section of which showed how people were amazed by Jesus and how He found favor with God’s people and then, how people were amazed by the apostles and the wonders and signs they performed. I especially liked the Scripture from Acts which described the first century church. From Acts 2:42-47, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

I’ve always thought the ideal time for the church was when it was first formed. Now though, it is over two thousand years later, and we need to know what God wants for the church in the 21st century. For many years, I considered myself inadequate for God’s calling. I would look at Scriptures like the ones in Titus 2 and tell myself I looked nothing like the women in those Scriptures. I didn’t consider myself a good role model. (still don’t) My interests didn’t lie with anything  having to do with the home. I felt inadequate with the way God made me. There was no way God could have called me for anything on purpose. Not as a follower and especially not as any kind of leader. I loved Jesus, but I didn’t feel like I was any good at anything.

I had to go through that tension to know God made me the way I am for a point and a purpose. He is calling me to show His love in a way that is different from the person on my right and the person on my left. God is calling for me to be a part of a faith family, but He is also calling for me to use the gifts He has given me whether it is in my church or in the world. So, my called on purpose will look different from everyone else’s except for the overarching theme of showing God’s love.

What will that look like for me during the next few months? I’m still planning some things, but I’ve also got some things on my calendar. I’m going to participate in a 5-K walk to end cancer. This is a first for me as an adult. I never thought I would be in good enough shape to participate in a run or a walk, but things have changed since I made physical activity a priority. I’m also going to an anime convention with my son and husband next month. I’m looking forward to becoming more familiar with one of my son’s passions. And finally, I’m going to a writing workshop which is one of my passions. These things don’t even count the times my husband and I will be serving a meal at my son’s campus ministry in the next few weeks.

I look at all the things I wrote in the previous paragraph, and a point is becoming clearer to me. These are all events in my community and not in my church.  Maybe, that is what “called on purpose” really means. 🙂

Have a great day, everyone!

Believe

I’ve never been one to follow fads even when I was younger. Don’t believe me? When Princess Diana married Prince Charles in 1981, I didn’t imagine myself having a wedding like theirs. I’ve never wanted to wear the popular trends in clothing or dress my children in them either, for that matter. I’ve worn clothes, or had them wear clothes, when they were younger, that were durable and inexpensive. I’ve also never driven the more expensive cars. Yes, some of that was because I couldn’t afford it, but I didn’t have a preference one way or the other. It wasn’t in my make-up. And finally, I didn’t have the desire to own an expensive home. In fact, my husband and I have talked often about what we would do if we won the lottery (just wishing and dreaming, really), and in none of those dreams has owning an expensive home been mentioned. We have dreamed more of the experiences we could have and the money we could give than anything else.

I say all this to tell you why I’ve never been a trend follower even with things that might be good like having a “word for the year.” Every time I’ve seen it over the last couple of weeks, I’ve felt it was trendy and hokey, and I wanted nothing to do with it. But then, I started getting nudges. Nudges I know now were from the Holy Spirit. It was confirmed when I was at church yesterday when one of the speakers talked about nudges. I had written in my journal on Friday that if I was going to have a “word for the year”, it needed to apply to both my writing and my faith, and I wasn’t sure any one word could do that. I was wrong.

So, with that, I want to introduce my word for 2019. It is BELIEVE. God knows my struggles with believing in myself, my writing, my worth to the people around me especially at church, and my worth as a daughter of God. I often don’t feel like I have a lot to give to anyone so this focus will be a good exercise for me as I move through 2019. When I submit a writing piece and it gets rejected, I will have the courage to move on. When someone doesn’t understand what I’m trying to do and makes fun of it, I will believe in myself enough to not trust that person with my dreams anymore. When someone has a problem with my being authentic, I will have the courage to be authentic anyway. And, when all of these things discourage me from my faith, I will believe and lean on my Lord and Savior for the courage to continue.

I know these are big statements, and I know there will be times I will fail. In fact, when someone asked how they could pray for me yesterday, I wasn’t sure at first how I could verbalize it. (I do better with writing it than talking about it.) I did though (probably was too long-winded), and they told me some words they thought of when they looked at me. Courageous. Authentic. Passionate. Yes, that turns out to be a handy acronym :-), but it was helpful for me too. When I get discouraged, I can tell myself someone believes I’m a CAP. 😉

In all seriousness though, encourage the people around you in 2019 whether they are like you or not, whether they are or aren’t as far along in their faith as you think they should be, or whether they have made hundreds of mistakes to your few. Your kind words may be the only thing that’s keeping them off the sinking ship.

For now, I wish you all a Happy New Year in 2019 and leave you with this visual demonstration of my CAP acronym. Thanks to David and Laura Grady for ministering to me at church yesterday and for the acronym!

Sacrifice

I sit here on this Christmas Eve wondering what sacrifice really means. Wondering how it truly feels to put the interests of someone else above your own. Wondering how God felt when He sent Jesus to be our Savior. It’s an abstract concept to some. They’ve never seen anyone sacrifice for them. They’ve never been taught to sacrifice for others. But, even if the lessons have been taught, understanding what God did for us at Christmas and at Easter can be hard even for the most giving of us. We think we have to do something to earn the grace spoken of in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” We can’t see this grace so it’s hard to be conscious of it. 

But, we can see other people who claim to be believers. Should we expect to see sacrifice from them? Should we expect them to demonstrate Jesus’ words from John 13:34-35? “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” If people could see this love and willingness to sacrifice in us, it would be easier to see the love God has for us. It would be concrete. But, do they? Do they see this love and willingness to sacrifice in us? Sad to say, more often than not, they don’t. They see people in the church who are just as selfish as people who are not in the church. They see things like the prosperity gospel taught. They see us, and they see nothing different from the world around them.

In case you’re wondering, I count myself in that total. I can be just as selfish as the person who has rejected Jesus or the person who has never heard of Him. I reflect His love imperfectly, if at all. And it’s made me wonder what sacrifice really means. I wonder a lot if you haven’t figured it out already. 🙂 As a writer, the words I write and the words I read have an impact on my life. They help me to understand things that my brain alone has trouble understanding. It’s how I understand the world. Even the TV shows I watch can have this effect if I’ve already been wondering about something. 

With that being said, I want to tell you a story about a TV show that brought me to a deeper understanding of sacrifice. It wasn’t a Christian show, but it still had the same effect. Let me set the stage. I am a fan of science fiction. It shows me a world of  possibilities different from what I see in real life. Anyway, in the last few weeks,  I’ve been watching the most recent season of a particular show which features a group of people who have traveled back in time to save the world. They want to prevent their future from ever happening. Now, they weren’t altruistic all of the time. They did things for their own benefit to protect those they had come to love. They were imperfect just like those of us who are believers, and they had to go through many difficulties in the episodes I watched including death. In the last two episodes, one character was killed because he had prevented a nuclear explosion, and another was killed because she was trying to prevent the bad guys from getting the information inside her head. (Yes, this is the kind of TV I like to watch. 🙂 ) I’m guessing you probably realize the team was in turmoil at this point. Then, the leader of the team said something that has stuck with me through several viewings of the final episode. He had the opportunity to go further back in time to hopefully correct some of the mistakes they had made. When one of the other characters expressed doubts he could do so, he said, “Well, maybe I can give the years back to someone else.” His statement nagged me for a bit, and I had to watch the episode again to get it, like I said. He was willing to live the years again so other people could be happy with no benefit to him. It’s the truest example of sacrifice I had even seen on television. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know those were all scripted words. But, wow! Those characters showed sacrifice to me. From the man who reached for nuclear material without a second thought to the woman who shot herself in the head so the bad guys wouldn’t win to the man who went further back in time, they were all representative of sacrifice to me. I had to think about what this meant in my own life and with my own faith. 

I came up with some things I want to share. For me, sacrifice is standing in the background and letting someone else serve. Sacrifice is accepting you may not matter to some people and loving them anyway. Sacrifice is knowing what you do might not matter until you are gone, but doing it anyway. Sacrifice is being the person you are, the person God made, and only focusing on what He wants and no one else. Sacrifice is accepting His call no matter where it may take you. Sacrifice is giving everything you are to the one who made you. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? 

Merry Christmas! 

Christmas and December Birthdays

It’s a week until Christmas Eve. Some of us might be about to put up our Christmas decorations and embark on a frantic week of shopping, baking, wrapping, and traveling while others of us have had our decorations up for weeks. We are drinking hot cocoa at night and listening to Christmas music having finished the Christmas shopping weeks before. I know people at all ends of the spectrum. 

In my home, we’ve done it differently each year. Right now, I am looking at a decorated home with many presents under the tree. There’s more left to wrap and just a few small things left to get. I don’t feel rushed, and I’m grateful. I’ve been able to focus on Jesus and the meaning of the season as well as listen to Christmas music. 

But, there’s a part of me that doesn’t feel like Christmas is about to come until after tomorrow. It’s been that way for almost twenty-two years. Let me explain. When I was growing up, more effort had to be put in to planning my birthday parties because, you guessed it, I had a December birthday. And, inevitably, one or more of my friends couldn’t come to my parties over the years because they were going to some Christmas event. I resented that when I was younger, but not so much now, and I’m not complaining now. That’s just how it was. I did learn the importance of one historical event during my growing-up years because of my birthday, and it led to a fascination with anything related to World War 2. Now, when someone asks about my birthday, I tell them I’m a Pearl Harbor baby. If they know their history, they know when my birthday is. 😉 

I say all this to give you background for the next part of the story. When I found out twenty-two years ago that my first child would be born close to Christmas, I decided I would make a point of celebrating his birthday each year and making sure he knew how special he was to me. The years have passed quickly. He will graduate from college in May and start his own life. There is no way I can tell you how proud I am of him. We’ll go out tomorrow night for dinner, have birthday cake, and have him open presents. Celebrate the anniversary of his birth. The conversation among others might be all about Christmas, but there are other important things to celebrate in my home. 

Now, after tomorrow, my focus will be solely on Christmas and the “reason for the season.” (This phrase is almost trite now, but I try to take each word and put meaning and thought behind it when I say it.) I’ve often wondered if God has a problem with my divided focus during the season. Of course, everyone in my family acknowledges the importance of the birth and death of Jesus. It’s part of the faith we all hold, after all. But, it’s important to me that my son doesn’t feel forgotten on his birthday, and, if I’m being honest, I don’t like feeling forgotten on my birthday either. Fortunately, over the years, I have had many friends who have made sure I haven’t felt forgotten on my birthday. My family has also done a good job of making me feel loved. My husband likes to say that he remembers our son and I so well, we forget his birthday at the beginning of January.  Not this year though. He’s just as special as the rest of us. 😉 

But, back to my question. Is God upset with my divided focus during the Christmas season? I don’t think so. My son and I and many more of his children are born during this month. We are all made in His image just like the people born in the other eleven months of the year. And, He loves us all. He loved us enough to send His Son Jesus all those years ago to be born and to die for us. I wrestle with this every day. How could someone love me that much? My heart would be broken if I had to watch my son die like Jesus died. But, he did that for me and for all of you. That’s why I don’t think God minds my divided focus. Because, you see, love doesn’t divide. Love multiplies. May you know the multiplying nature of Jesus’ love during this Christmas season! 

God bless you! 

Inspiration–God-Style

Over twelve years ago now, I met a special lady  online at a homeschool website. Her name was Betty. At first, I had cautious conversations with her and the other ladies on the website. I had just begun homeschooling, and they all sounded so accomplished. I wasn’t sure I would ever do as well as they seemed to have done. She and the other ladies must have talked me down a dozen times during my first year. They were always there on my screen with a word of encouragement. It might seem funny to you, considering someone a friend who could only be seen on a computer screen, but we were all doing something that was considered out of the norm. 

As the years passed, I noticed something different about Betty. She always pointed to Jesus in whatever conversation she was having. And, she took it further than being just a name on a screen. When my mother-in-law passed away suddenly in 2009, she took the lead in having cards and flowers sent, and she called me. I don’t remember how long we talked that day, but our conversation showed her heart, and it left me strength (God’s strength, I know now.) to keep going through the first days of my grief.  Betty was doing all of this while helping her husband fight cancer. She showed up for me then, and I will always be grateful. 

Sadly, the end of the following year saw her husband go to be with Jesus. She showed such amazing strength encouraging all of us–her online friends and her friends in real life. That time though turned out to be a time of tumult for both of us. For me, it was my husband’s surgery and subsequent loss of his job while I was still homeschooling. For her, it was the church not showing up when she was widowed. It still hurts me when I consider those words. How could someone not show up for such an amazing and gentle Christian? But, that is not really for me to consider as it is part of her story and not mine. 

While she was still going through her tumult the following year, she showed up for me again. We had gone out west so my husband could look for work, and we needed a place of respite for a few days. She provided her home, and she wasn’t even there. She had her son let us in, and those few days of rest encouraged all of us.  They took us to the following week when my husband received a job offer on our son’s twelfth birthday to go to Alabama. So, we drove back east to a new city and a new state to begin a new life. 

In the seven years since, a lot has happened to the both of us. I have finished homeschooling both of my sons through high school with one of them almost being done with college. Her children are all grown now as well. There have been job losses and hospital stays for my husband. She had one as well and had to learn to walk again. She also married again to a wonderful man. They’ve lived in two different states. 

Those are the facts, but what I want to talk about now is how she has inspired me. Like I said earlier, she points to Jesus with everything she does. Jesus, not a church.  She’s done what God has told her to do even when people in churches have told her it was impossible. She’s started a ministry to those in the adult entertainment industry, the “least of these” talked about in Scripture. She and her teammates go into the clubs to show the people there the love of Jesus, period. The name of the ministry is Xpose Hope. (https://xposehope.com/), and I would love it if you would explore the website and donate if God so leads you. I’ve also set up a Facebook fundraiser that lasts until the end of this week (https://www.facebook.com/donate/323209931601991/) if you want to go that route. She is reaching people, and she is loving people. People who would not go into a church building otherwise. And with all that, she inspires me. 

Now, I think I know Betty well enough to know she would be humbled by what I’ve written and would still point to Jesus regardless. But, I think you need to know why she specifically inspires me. As I’ve tried to figure out the question of ‘What comes next?’, I’ve felt God calling me to write. So, I’ve written. I’ve written stories, essays, and blog posts. I’m working on a book. It’s not as directly involved with people as Betty’s ministry is, but I’ve worked on getting better at what God has called me to do. My writing hasn’t received a lot of attention yet. I don’t think it’s been well understood. People still look at me oddly when I mention what I’m doing with my post homeschooling life, and it’s a lonely feeling. I’m going against the grain in many ways especially at church. But, I know Betty understands it, and that is why she inspires me. She has encouraged me with my writing, and she has encouraged me with other things I’ve felt called to do. She’s even encouraged me to do things with my callings pointing to Jesus and not to wait until a church says it’s okay. 

All of these things about her life have pointed me to Jesus and have inspired me at the same time. It brought me to an understanding yesterday morning too. Not everyone will understand what God has called me to do. Why should they? It’s my calling not theirs. So, I asked God for peace and not to feel lonely as I continue to consider the question of ‘What comes next?’, and I thanked God for the people He’s put in my life like Betty. 

Praying that God will give us all an idea of His calling and people to encourage us like Betty encourages me. 

God’s blessings on you all today! 

The Gospel is the Great Equalizer

With the turning of the calendar to December, my thoughts have turned to the birth of Jesus and to what the Gospel means to all of us. Let me explain. We all have a tendency to sit in judgment of other people. Jesus knew this full well and spoke of it in the Sermon of the Mount. From Matthew 7:1-5, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

So, why do I quote these Scriptures today in a post about Christmas at the beginning of December? Bear with me. All will become clear.

Anyway, if you’re in the United States, I’m sure you’re familiar with the migrant situation on the southern border especially with the group that is in Tijuana, Mexico at this time. If you’re in a different country, you might very well be familiar with immigrant situations in your own country–whether legal or illegal. Today though, I don’t want to politicize the discussion. I want to instead examine some of our thinking about the situation and whether the fear of someone or something different makes us recoil in finding solutions.

First, have you ever wondered about the people who say, ‘Why don’t they just immigrate legally?” (in regards to illegal immigrants) The attitude I sense in all of those statements is one of superiority. (I did it the right way. Why can’t you do it the right way?) To me that sounds like an attitude of judgment–something that Jesus tells us not to do in the Scripture I quoted earlier. It’s also why I won’t make those kind of statements online myself. God is calling me to treat the people I come in contact with, either in real like or online life, kindly so I do my best not to become involved in contentious political discussions.

But, then there’s the other side. The other side which says it’s okay to disobey laws no matter what. The one who doesn’t want to change the laws because it really isn’t interested in being compassionate. It just wants to create a situation which will make the first side look bad. Politics–it is the topic that makes me say, ‘Jesus, please come now,’ more than any other.

There’s another side though that I feel like I can speak to somewhat since my trip to Honduras last summer. There are people there who want to make their country a country they’re proud to live in. I met some of them, and I was conscious of how wealthy I was compared to them  even though I’m paying for two children in college now. They have a commitment to their faith I know I’m lacking, and they treat each other better than many people I know in the United States, at least the ones I met do. Of course, they’re not perfect, and I’m not trying to claim they are. They have a more conscious awareness of their need for a Savior which would benefit all of us to witness.

I say all this today to come back to the title of my post. The Gospel is the great equalizer. Whether poor or rich, white or black, migrant or citizen, we all have the need for a Savior–for Jesus. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum we’re on. None of the other things I’ve said matter either. We have all sinned, and we all need Jesus. My hope going forward is that we can remember this and treat the people in our lives like Jesus would have us treat them.

God bless you all!

What Prevents Us from Turning Cynical?–Questions to Consider–Part 5

I didn’t think I would be asking this question the week after Thanksgiving, but several things brought it to mind, and I thought I would address them in today’s post. I do need to make it clear though that I did have a good Thanksgiving. This is just a culmination of something that happened over the holiday and questions I’ve been considering over the last few weeks.

What does prevent us from turning cynical? Is it violence on Thanksgiving Day? Yes, my city had a mall shooting that evening. People were hurt and killed, and many people’s lives were disrupted including people close to my son. I keep thinking of a line at another store which prevented another person from walking back into that mall when the shootings were happening. That was a “praise God” moment for us, but I think of the people’s lives that were disrupted. Of people who are no longer here. Of people who were injured or scared. And it brings me back to God. Why did He let this happen? There are no answers, of course, and I am tempted to let my heart turn hard and cynical. Of course, I could be honest and say let my heart turn harder and more cynical.

What about people who are told they’re not wanted in churches? I couldn’t imagine this happening, but it has happened to a friend of mine who runs a ministry to the “least of these” in another city. She was told flat-out that the people she was bringing to church were not welcome. It hurt my heart so much to hear this. I asked, ‘Why God?’ Aren’t we supposed to welcome all people to church and share about Jesus’ love? And my heart turned harder and more cynical.

Finally, what about the people who are closest to you? I tried a few weeks ago to protect one of them from overworking himself in the church. He’s on a sabbatical now, but I’m wondering if that was the right thing to do. God is convicting my heart we should all be willing to serve Him, and I do agree with that.  But, at what cost? Health? Family? Marriage? All of it? I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. Should we still love the people who refuse to serve because they’re afraid they’ll be overworked? My heart says yes to that question, but then it turns harder and more cynical towards those who won’t help and who won’t give leaving the work to the 5-10% of the membership who will. I count myself, to my shame, in that first group right now. Between the times I’ve failed, the times where my help wasn’t needed, and the times where I’ve just felt overlooked, I’ve become confused about what my role in the church is supposed to be.

Of course, none of the situations I’ve mentioned can prevent you from turning cynical. In fact, I’ve become more cynical with each one. But, I was recently looking at the You Version plans, and I saw one entitled Beating Cynicism. It intrigued me which is why I started it on Saturday. And I learned that my heart had hardened. Hardened to almost where it could be shattered. My attempts to protect because of fear were not what God wanted for me. He wants me to serve with hope. He wants the people I love the most to serve with hope. I thought I had moved past the situations that had hurt me so badly, but I just pushed them into a box never to be dealt with again.

Isn’t that what we do in the church? We don’t talk about the hurts and pretend that everything is okay. Sometimes we move on to other relationships or other churches. I don’t think God wants that for us either. But, what does He want? What does He want us to have the courage to do?

I believe it starts with one of the prayers included with the devotions. “Dear God, I admit it. I have stopped hoping, stopped believing, and stopped trusting. But, you haven’t. And because you haven’t, I don’t want to stay the way I am. Give me the courage to hope again, trust again, and believe again. Amen.” Because, I do want my heart to be soft again. I want to be able to say I can trust people as well as trusting my Lord and Savior. I’m not saying we shouldn’t trust our Lord and Savior. I’m saying I don’t want to go into a situation always thinking that the other person is going to let me down.

So, can I ask a favor of those of you who are believers? Can we offer each other encouragement instead of judgment? Can we let each other cry when we are in pain? Can we try to understand instead of condemn? Can we be the community Jesus wants us to be instead of pretending? I promise I will try, and I hope you do too.

God bless you all!