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!

Enough?

I hesitated before deciding on this topic for today. Who likes admitting they don’t think they’re enough. I don’t, and I’m sure y’all don’t either.  My Lenten devotional was what convinced me. It suggested that today’s fast should be a “tidy faith.” We should doubt and question all we need to, and our faith would be stronger for it. It made sense to me, and since my courage has been growing, I’m going to write it all out no matter who might like or dislike it.

A long time ago, I left the church, and I left my faith. Oh, I said I didn’t. I said I was still a Christian, but for the most part, God wasn’t spoken of in my home except in our homeschooling curriculum when we began homeschooling. With what I thought of as my own strength, we moved through such things as death, moving, illness, hospital stays, moving again, and a miscarriage. Drastic changes, to be sure.

But then, I found my faith again, and I found the church I attend now. I’ve written about this before. In the almost seven years though since I found my faith again, I’ve wondered about something. I’ve wondered if I was enough in God’s eyes. I know, clearly, the things I’m not enough of. Not pretty enough. Not wealthy enough. Not with my spouse enough. Not Christian enough. (I wasn’t raised in the church.) Not knowledgeable enough about the Bible. Not in the “in crowd” enough. Not good enough to pray out loud. Not good enough to teach. Not good enough to serve. (At least not in the places where my gifts lie.)

Now, these haven’t happened all of the time. There have been seasons for each where I’ve been enough, and some where I haven’t. I’ve been tempted to walk away during the times when it hasn’t been enough because, as I’ve already said, who likes feeling like they’re not enough. It was especially difficult when I started thinking if just my presence was good enough which made me want to ask this question. Is just my presence in a church to worship enough? Does God value my worship enough for me to come to church even though I might feel lonely for the presence of other people in my life? Does God value me enough as a daughter to value my worship?

I know He does now, and I will never let others take away His love again.  That is how much my faith and my relationship with my Lord and Savior means to me. I’ve prayed, studied Scripture, and just talked to God more in the past almost seven years than I have in a long time. The growth I’ve experienced has re-established my faith in ways I didn’t expect. God has been there for me countless times.

But, there is that pesky thing called “meeting together as a church body.” God wants us to do this, and it’s called for in Scripture. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” So, meeting together to worship. The times when I’ve felt the most lonely and wondered whether my presence was enough. I could easily give up corporate worship. In fact, there are times I feel closer to God when it’s just Him and me. I don’t feel the judgment of other people for not being enough, and it’s calm and peaceful in my heart and mind.

God called me to corporate worship though, and I want to acknowledge and fulfill His call on my life. So, even though I may never “do” another thing for God or serve Him in the church in any capacity or even be acknowledged during a service, I am enough because God says I’m enough. Worshiping Him with my presence is enough.

God bless you all!

Lent as “Sojourn”

I started something new today on Ash Wednesday. A book called 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole focusing on the 40 days leading up to Easter. I’ve never done anything like this before for the time of Lent. In fact, I’ve never really gone through the whole period of Lent thinking about Jesus and His journey to the cross. Last year, I did read a devotional, but I started it late and with everything going on, I don’t think my focus was fully on it.

Not this year though. I have an insatiable hunger to know my Savior better. To know what it really meant and means for Jesus to go to the cross for me. This desire does not mean I will be doing activities in the church all of the time though I will do some activities. It does not mean I will adopt the attitude of being better than anyone else. I am the “worst of sinners” as Paul says in I Timothy 1:15. What it does mean is Jesus will be the focal point of my thoughts every day, and I will make a point of spending time with Him every day. Now, it might be argued I should be doing that all of the time, and I admit it. It’s true. But, Lent is giving me an opportunity to let the world dim and let Jesus be first. I plan on taking that opportunity.

So, Day 1. It was an introduction like one might expect for a book like this. It talked about the practice and history of Lent and of fasting. There was one thing that intrigued me though, and that’s what I want to focus on today. “Lent as sojourn.”

Usually, when I start something like this, I consider it a project. It’s a natural thing to do. All of my writing endeavors are projects, things I want to do my best to complete. Last year, I even blogged through a devotional wanting to prove to myself I could write every day for 100 days.

But, this is different. I don’t want to be keeping track of how often I’m reading or writing in the journal part of the book. I don’t want to measure my “success” by whether I spend enough time with Jesus. And today’s entry focused on that. “Lent as sojourn.” The author defines sojourn as a “temporary stay at a place.” “And a “stay” is about presence, not productivity.” (pg. 3, 40 Days of Decrease, Alicia Britt Chole) I want to be present during this experience. To stay with my Savior as I get closer to Him.

I might not write or post about every day in the book, but I wanted to record what I was doing so I could remember what I was thinking and feeling on March 6, 2019, at the beginning of Lent.

I want to end this by quoting Psalm 51:17 which represents what I want to take away from Lent this year. “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

God bless you all!

The In-Between Place

Creak! The exit gate from my complex begins to open. Creak! It opens slowly, not usually at the pace I’d like it to open. Creak! It finally opens all the way, and I’m able to leave my apartment complex with my car. I always have to take a deep breath while I’m waiting for the gate to open. My impatience to be on my way can disrupt my peace of mind if I let it, and it has on any number of occasions. Just like waiting in general, to be honest.

I started thinking about this the other day when I met a young couple about to have their first child. We did all the normal chit-chat expected of people meeting for the first time. Then, the wife said something that I think is fairly normal of people in this life situation. She said, of their impending birth, “I guess we’re going to be adults now. We finished our conversation, and the couple walked off. I was left thunderstruck though I know it was a normal kind of thing to say. But, did that mean my own children weren’t adults at the ages of 19 and 22? Did that mean single young adults or married young adults who don’t have children weren’t really adults? I know there are many young people who are living at home longer and who are putting off getting married, but…really? Why do we say our young people don’t have the capability  of being responsible or contributing to society before they are married or have families. It made me mad, and I’m neither sad or childless. Then, it got me to thinking of the in-between place my sons and I are both in right now, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

So, the in-between place. It’s like when I have to wait for the gate to open. There’s nothing to do, but wait. But, I think there’s a way to flourish in the waiting without hurrying to the next phase. My older son and his girlfriend get it. He graduates from college this May, but she has a few more years to go so they’re gonna wait until she finishes. My son knows he needs to start working and making money. They also know they’re not ready to be married yet. I don’t know about you, but that sounds responsible to me.

My younger son doesn’t have a regular girlfriend yet, but he also knows he’s not ready. He needs to prepare for his career and make his faith his own. But he’s responsible too. Does everything he’s asked, takes care of his classes and his part-time job, and is a genuine pleasure to be around. Yes, he and his brother play video games, but it’s certainly not all of the time, and it’s after all of their other responsibilities have been fulfilled.

I’ve already talked about my waiting place and how I’m  doing things to establish the next phase of my life so I won’t go into that further. But, I do want to ask a question. Do churches recognize this as a time where young people can flourish and have responsibilities? (beyond working with the youth group or having a college/singles ministry within the church) If the church is large enough, they might have a college and/or a singles ministry which can give young people opportunities to minister.

But, in general, I don’t think churches recognize this. Their college students were just their kids a short time ago, and it’s hard for people to get out of that mindset. When these students still have parents within the church, it’s even harder. I believe that’s why many young people leave the churches of their youth. So, they can be seen as adults.

This in-between place though shouldn’t be a dead and stagnant time for young people in their churches. It should be a time when students and single people are given increasing responsibilities in the church and taught about leadership. They should be mentored by others and able to flourish. That was the experience I had in college and as a single person, and I pray that happens for my own sons.

As I end, I ask you to think about this untapped potential in our churches. These young people want to change the world, and we have the opportunity to tap this energy for Christ. Because, they will find a place to expend it. If not the church, then where?

Have a great day, everyone!

 

My Journey with Chronic Illness

This is the story I’ve never written down, much less published, because it’s not really my story. It’s my husband’s. But, it became my story when we met in 1992, and it has continued to be my story in our almost twenty-five years of marriage. Today is the first time I’ve written it all down because…it needs to be heard.

First, there are illnesses that, dare I say, are “fashionable” to talk about. How many ads we have seen for medicines that treat heart disease or multiple kinds of cancers? I would say many. I understand this. There are many people who suffer and who have died from these diseases. But, if we have lived any length of time, we know there are many more diseases than just these two. My husband has dealt with one of these for most of his adult life. Crohn’s Disease. I’m going to define this disease, and its cousin, ulcerative colitis, because they are so similar, and the drugs used to treat them are similar. First, Crohn’s Disease—a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract. Now, ulcerative colitis—a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. As you can see, they are similar, only having a one or two-word difference in their definitions. In fact, we later found out that my husband’s diagnosis was indeterminate between the two.

But, back to the diseases themselves. They are both bowel diseases. Diseases that affect elimination. Who wants to talk about that? There are many people though who suffer—1.6 million with 6 to 15 new cases per 100,000 people diagnosed each year. And there is no cure. Yes, there are drugs that can control it. Yes, there are surgeries that can help. But, all of these have life changing consequences. I know this because I’ve lived it.

Anyway, when I met my husband in 1992, he was recovering from a surgery. I was struck by his kind manner, his twinkling brown eyes, and his sense of humor. The rest only became relevant as we started dating. The times he couldn’t go anywhere because of the pain. The shame he felt when he had an accident. The constant hunger from the steroids he took. And so many more side effects from the medications and effects from the disease itself. We had good times though. Times when he was in remission and we could be normal. He asked me to marry him almost eight months later. I suppose as a 27-year-old, I should have known what I was facing, but I loved him and wanted to marry him. We married almost thirteen months after he proposed.

When I turned thirty the following year, we started to consider having a child. He had managed to come off his medications, and the doctors said it would be the best time to try. He had been on them for so long though, the odds weren’t high we would be able to conceive—one of the side effects of the medications I spoke of earlier. We beat them though. Or maybe I should say God had a hand in it. 😉 I got pregnant and at the end of 1996, we had our first son.

The first days of new parenthood were wonderful, exhausting, exhilarating, and every superlative adjective in-between. But, as we moved several months into our son’s first year, my husband had a flare and came out of remission. I can hardly describe the pain. I know it was excruciating. There was so much he wanted to do, but couldn’t. They tried several combinations of the meds. They did a colonoscopy to see where the lesions were. But, nothing helped. My husband was stoic. He worked as much as he could. He didn’t want it said of him that he complained too much of not feeling well. That was something one of his family members did constantly. Finally, though, he couldn’t work anymore. Something had to be done. The doctor decided on surgery, and we met with a surgeon. They were going to open him up and see how much damage there was. A temporary colostomy might have to be done, but he was optimistic it could be reversed. I particularly remember the surgeon asking what his pain level was. He said it was a four or five on a scale of ten. (This would come into play later.)

The following day he went into surgery. I was anticipating a surgery of no more than two hours so when it passed that time, I got nervous. One of the nurses in the operating room called out to the waiting room. The damage was more extensive than they had thought. (This surgeon later said to my husband he wouldn’t wait to take him back to surgery again. Turns out he has a very high pain tolerance.) They didn’t know how long it would be. The surgeon came out over six hours later. Something bad had happened. The damage to his colon and rectum had been extensive. They had removed both and put in an ileostomy. He had coded on the table, and they had restarted his heart. My heart almost stopped. Here I was an almost 32-year-old woman with an almost 1-year-old son, and I had come this close to being a widow. Of course, I was grateful they had saved him, but at that moment, I didn’t realize how permanent and life-changing this would be for him in the years to come.

He went home from the hospital a week later, and our adjustments began. He had received counsel from an ostomy nurse about what to expect, but a lot of the adjustments were going to involve him seeing what worked and what didn’t. Here is the definition. “An ileostomy is an opening in the belly (abdominal wall) that’s made during surgery. The end of the ileum (The lowest part of the small intestine) is brought through this opening to form a stoma, usually on the lower right side of the abdomen.” (Source, cancer.org) I won’t get any more detailed than that. Just know that it was a permanent change in body image for him and a change that both of us would need to walk through. We went to one support group meeting, but weren’t able to gain a whole lot of insight since we were the only ones there who weren’t retired and who had a young child at home. After that, he got most of his information from the Internet.

Not only were we dealing with physical adjustments, we were also dealing with mental and emotional adjustments. This path was hard, and there was no one in our lives we could really talk with about it. No one who understood when I came to a church function alone. So much depression and shame. Why couldn’t our lives be normal? We could see our abnormal clearly. Did anyone else have an abnormal?

Things gradually evened out though. We had our second son, and our abnormal became normal. Life was good. But, in the first years of the twenty-first century, my husband started having problems with the ostomy. He had to go to the hospital again. What? I thought we were done with the hospital. Turns out we weren’t. In fact, there have been many hospital stays over the past nineteen years. 2001. 2003. 2005. 2010. 2015. 2016. All of these stays didn’t directly involve the ostomy, but I had to wonder if some of them involved his destroyed immune system. Because that was the other life-changing thing the doctor had told us to expect. He had been on the meds for his Crohn’s for so long; he would more than likely catch everything that came down the pike. He did. If there was something going around at his office, he would usually be the first one to catch it.

In the midst of all this, we moved. Several times. Employers have a hard time understanding the reality of a chronic illness and everything that comes with it. He was able to gain valuable experience with each position though which was a plus. But, we still had very few people in our lives we could trust with our “abnormal” normal. We had left the church, and I felt so far away from God.

Finally, we moved to our current state and found our current church. I’ve written about this before. It took us a long time to trust this community, and at times, I still don’t. We’ve been on the recipient end of help instead of the giving end, and it’s made us feel unworthy. How could we not? The shame involved. The low times. The hard times.  We had been shunned by former churches, and I keep feeling the other shoe is about to drop here. We’ve even chosen not to do certain things because we don’t feel capable. Listen, we know in our head that God does love us unconditionally, but the heart is another story. It can be very hard to live into, and it’s even harder to not think we won’t be shunned again. But, I do my best each and every day to live into the grace of God and not in shame and loathing from Satan.

We’re on the other end of raising our children now as I’ve written about before. My husband is in a stable job that is a good fit, and we’re hopeful he’ll be able to stay there until he retires. I’m in a place where I can write, and we’re in a place where we can contribute. It is my hope, by laying my heart bare, that people can have a greater understanding of our story and why we react the way we do as we live our “abnormal” normal.

Have a great day, everyone!

 

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!

 

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!

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!