Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Who is God? Who am I? And how do I relate to you?

Tonight we received certificates to show we completed our counseling courses require to serve in Liquid Church's Care Ministry. We were asked to answer three questions from the perspective of what we learned in our course work. 
This is that essay. 

God is perfect; perfect power, perfect wisdom, and perfect love. Because God is love, He created humanity to love Him back. He did not want forced, coerced, manipulated love so He created us with free will. With the freedom to love, God also gave us the freedom to turn away from His love. We call this sin.

Even before God created the world, He knew we would sin so He had a plan to reconcile us to Himself and be with us in perfect peace forever. His plan spanned millennia, generations and nations. God is patient, willing to bear the pain of our rejection and of watching our self-inflicted tribulations as we ran from Him and His perfect will. We could not save ourselves even after God gave us His Law and His warnings through His prophets. Even when we desired to be righteous, we became self-righteousness. We were hopelessly dead in our sin.

At just the right time, Jesus came to save us. He left paradise to meet us in our broken world. He walked beside us, telling us stories, asking us questions, and healing our diseases. He demonstrated He was fully human by eating and drinking, laughing and crying, bleeding and dying. He demonstrated He was fully God by His control over the sea and the rain, over angels and demons, over life and death.

Jesus took all our sin on His own body and paid our debt to God in full. As He died, He proclaimed, “It is finished.” Death could not hold Him, nor will it hold us when we trust in Him. We are truly free now, free to choose God, free to love Him as He always intended.

God adopted me and I am His daughter, beautiful and perfect in His sight. That is how God sees me in His eternal realm. However while I am trapped here in time and space I must still work out my salvation in fear and trembling. I must diligently follow Him and be alert to the evil one as he accuses me, tempts me, and appears as an angel of light.

Now God is our Father so we are one family. I am the sister and my family is vast, from every continent, every nation. I link arms with them, lean on them, help them as they help me. We share God’s truth and God’s love. I love and forgive them. I listen with humility as they point out my blind spots, and I confess and pray for the Holy Spirit’s power for change.

All glory to God!
Before this course, I knew to speak with mercy and tenderness as I point out the blind spots of others. However, now I realize I cannot understand their pain or attempt to help them until I walk beside them as Jesus did. I must enter their world, listen intently, and ask questions. I cannot assume I understand their heart or their situation. I do not know their answers. Only Jesus knows. Only He can see what is in the depth of their hearts. I must be patient and love them as Jesus did, freeing them to change or not, at their own pace, in their own way. Jesus was in no hurry to fix people. He was willing to withstand the pain of watching our trials while He waited for us to be ready to accept Him and His truth. So it must be with me.

We offer them Christ’s stories, the thread of themes from Genesis to Revelation that demonstrate God’s grace and truth. Where does their story intercept with God’s story? Where is God encouraging change at a heart level, not merely our changing our behavior? What truth or mercy of God are we missing or misunderstanding? We bring them to the Holy Spirit and trust God for change in His direction and timing. As we point them to God, we are confident God is faithful. He will use our pain for His glory and give us peace.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Confession, the Pathway Home

Confession has a bad rap.

It conjures up images of an old white-bearded man pointing a long bony figure at us snarling "repent!" Or the apprehension of a small child entering a small dark closet and whispering the words, "Bless me father for I have sinned." It is the dread of being exposed and seen with our hands dirtied with our most heinous deed. It is the anxious anticipation of your dad's scream, mom with the wooden spoon, or sitting in the principal's office.

That is not God's view of confession. Proverbs 28:13 tell us, Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. James 5:16 has even a better promise, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

Mercy and healing are the sweet fruit of confession.

Jesus paints an even more delightful picture in the story of the prodigal son. The son leaves home, takes his inheritance, and makes a series of reckless choices. He finds himself homeless, hungry and surrounded by swine. It is there that the scriptures tells us he came to his senses. He confesses his sin and in that turning point, he starts on his way home. The son expects punishment.

However, there is no punishment waiting for the lost son who returns to his father, only an embrace of love, tears of joy. The father summons his servants to bring the sandals, robe and ring. The servants knew immediately right where to find these precious items that would restore the wayward boy to full son-ship. Why? Because the father always had them at the ready, waiting only for the son to return to him.

There is no punishment waiting for us either when we confess. God is not waiting to give us penance, as if a few prayers or acts of contrition could erase our sin. No, Jesus paid it all, it is finished, completed, accomplished. Our restoration waits for us to receive it, if we would only come home.

At Aunt Tillie and Uncle George's beach house there was
always a celebration! 
And then there is the party because the father is ecstatic to have his son home. The father instructs the servants: Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Confession is the privilege of God's children. It is the vehicle for God's mercy, His healing, His celebration. God the Father invites us  His children to come to Him to confess, so that we can be restored.  Because that is what the Father desires, for us to come home, sit at His table, enjoy His presence.

Confession is our pathway home.

To read the entire story of the prodigal son, see Luke 15:11-32.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Prejudice and Transformation

Last Friday I went to the movies and watched Hidden Figures. As the movie progressed I winced as I watched the true story of three women who endured treatment that no human should experience. Prejudice in all it's hateful glory was on display. However, by the end of the movie, the hearts of the most prejudice among the players had changed. Instead we saw understanding, respect, and kindness on the screen. How did that happen? What triggered the transformation?

On Saturday night, my daughter and I watched the 30th anniversary edition of The Breakfast Club. She had never seen it before, indeed it was released before she was born. "Why do you like this movie, mom?" she asked.

Because it too was about prejudice and transformation. There were no people of color in this movie. In fact, they were all white, straight teens in a middle class high school. And yet they found a way to be prejudiced, to put people in little boxes and not let them out.

The brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess and the criminal. But one Saturday they were forced to sit together all day and after they fought and talked and played together they discovered they were not so different after all. Same thing happened in Hidden Figures. Forced to work together in NASA for the common goal of getting a man into space and returning him safely, they discovered they could see past the boxes of man and woman and black and white that they had been forced into.

Our family in Washington DC 
Tomorrow is the day we remember Martin Luther King Jr. He was a great man who fought for liberty and peace. Four days later, the power of presidential leadership passes from our first black president to a white man, a billionaire real estate tycoon who never before held public office. 2016 was a year tarnished and torn by trash talk and bloodshed and bigotry. We remain a nation divided into pieces and more than just black and white.

How do we heal from this?

Like the teens in The Breakfast Club, maybe we need a Saturday detention, a forced time to sit face to face. Maybe we need a common goal like those who discovered they needed even Hidden Figures to help them all succeed.

Maybe if just one of us reaches out  to someone different to listen, not mere to judge and mock but to try to understand.

Maybe me. Maybe you. Maybe today. Let's try that. Are you in?

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 
-- Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 1963

Me too, Martin. Me too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Walk

First summer walk and I return again to the stream by my home, a favorite place to pray. On the narrow walking bridge I stop to look at the brook, swiftly passing below, full with spring rains. The lush foliage bows towards the waters. How often have I looked at the brook and asked God about my future. What is going to happen? When is it going to happen? What do I need to do to make it happen? I desperately wanted to know what was in my future. I needed to know because I wanted to be prepared.

This time, even though there was still many uncertainties in my life, I looked at the brook and felt His peace, not my questions. And in that peace He said to me:

No, you do not need know. You need to trust Me. I alone can prepare you.

It's the same at the beach.  There I found it was tempting to look for shells and rocks, and when I found something interesting I would wonder, what does this mean for my future, Lord? Once I found a large smooth stone shaped in the form of a heart. And my hope was renewed for a vision of mine. But it was mine alone and not of Him. It never worked out.

This summer's first beach walk I looked again at the sandy edge and He said to me:

I do not speak to you from the creation on the shore. I have given you My Word, My Son, My Spirit.

Beloved Jesus, there it is again. Trust. My impatience displays a lack of trust in You. Beloved, remind me of the wonders You have already done. Remind me You are worthy of my trust. Thank You for Your patience with me as I fail and fail again. Thank You of not leaving me in the desperate place of needing to know, wanting to know. It is Your mercy that You do not tell me.

It is in Your mercy that You spare me from my petty desires and give me Yours alone. You have given me so much! Your Word, Your Son, Your Spirit. I may not know the future. I am blessed instead to know You.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

on baseball mitts and tap shoes

Debbie and Gio, off stage
I saw Gio yesterday at his game, handsome and so tall already in his uniform and cap. He played first base, he pitched from the mound, using his mitt to catch so well. I was the audience today, watching him and as I did I remembered other times long ago, watching Debbie on the stage, her tap shoes clicking skillfully to the tune, her costume glistening in the lights.

There is still a part of me that longs to be that too, on the stage, in the spotlight, with the audience watching me. On the field, using my mitt, running the bases, pitching the ball. From childhood it started and I never lost that longing. I confess, even now I want to be seen, to be heard, to be noticed. I want what I do to last, to matter, to be a thing of beauty.

The desire haunts me. But it is not working for me.

But then, Beloved, You speak to me tenderly in Your great mercy….

You need to remember that I see you. I am always watching you, always with you. You are never alone. I am your very attentive and loving audience of One. As you delight in Gio and Debbie, so I also delight in you. But I created you and specifically gifted you to be a servant. That is how you will achieve the greatest good, not only for others but also for yourself. It seems lowly but it is not. For you, it is your true greatness, your true goodness. And you cannot be a servant as I have created you to be, from the center of the stage. The center of the stage is not for you. I have protected you from that spot but you still desire it. This is your idol and you must repent.

Trust Me. I know what is good. I want to give you what is good but I cannot when you chase after this other thing. It is not for you. I want to give you the better portion of servanthood. It will not be taken away from you. It is sitting at My feet. It is filling the room with the fragrance of worship. That is where you will be remembered. That is where I will use you best.

As you serve and teach you must remember that you are not better than any whom you serve. They are your family and My beloved. Pride can be a trap even for a servant. Even kings are warned against it (Deut 17:18-20). This too is sin. Point always to Me, the true eternal King.

I will use you by the power of My Holy Spirit where I have put you. Remember, I am the Creator and King of the Universe and I see you. I notice you. I will make what you do in secret last eternally. I will make it matter in My kingdom. I will make it a thing of incredible beauty beyond what you can imagine.

Trust Me. Rest in this. It is from Me. And I am doing a good thing. are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41-42)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

That's your problem

It happened again at work yesterday. She called me back weeping, so troubled, so alone. The situation seemed dire, not only for her but also for her young son. My mind raced as I talked to her on the phone: how can I help them? Even though it was not my job to help, even though she wanted to keep it a secret because she was so ashamed.

We’re reading about the last days of Jesus in our life group, where He was betrayed in the Garden. All betrayed Him, but in the end, Peter was restored, and became the hero and leader of the church. However Judas hung himself and is remembered as the betrayer and of the devil himself. Why is that? What’s the difference? The answer lies in three verses left for us by Matthew:

Judas, the one who betrayed him, realized that Jesus was doomed. Overcome with remorse, he gave back the thirty silver coins to the high priests, saying, “I’ve sinned. I’ve betrayed an innocent man.”

They said, “What do we care? That’s your problem!”

Judas threw the silver coins into the Temple and left. Then he went out and hung himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)

Judas, like Peter, realized his sin. The difference was while Peter wept then returned to the fellowship of the disciples, Judas went to the high priest.

Judas tried to fix it himself.

The high priest even urged him on in this: “That’s your problem!” And because the problem was too enormous for Judas to fix himself, he hung himself in despair.

Horrified I considered the situation yesterday with the troubled woman and her son. I want to help her but, let’s face it, the situation is enormous. Like Judas I am anxious, consumed, and in despair because I cannot find a way to help. I am like Judas:

Barbara tried to fix it herself.

Beloved Jesus, forgive me. Some things are way over my pay grade, as this one was yesterday. Maybe I can help in a small way, but not without coming to You first. Nothing is too enormous for You, even death itself. Please remind me again and again that prayer is doing something. Sometimes it is the only thing. I can come to You because You are able, indeed You are enormous and You love with us with an enormous love. I can trust You.

Monday, February 01, 2016

What was I thinking? Reprise

It was 2000 years ago when a widow came to the Jerusalem temple and inconspicuously dropped in two small copper coins into the temple treasury. She was surrounded by many wealthy people giving large sums, but undeterred, she dropped her offering into the box.

Later a woman named Mary scandalized her dinner party guests when she took an entire bottle of pure nard and poured it on the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The perfume was ridiculously expensive and although she was ridiculed by others, she only looked at His face.

About 30 years pass. Paul sat in prison and wrote a letter to dear friends far away. They had given him a gift and he was saying thank you and also shared important matters of his heart and his faith with them. When the letter was done, he handed the scroll to his friend Epaphroditus and prayed for his safe travel to the distant city of Philippi.

All three, the poor nameless widow, Mary of Bethany and Paul had no idea at the time of the significance of their obedience. I wonder -- what were they thinking?

Did the widow wonder what difference it made, her two tiny coins compared to the substantial contributions of the others? Did she fear ridicule for her tiny donation? Did she wonder how she would eat the next day because all her money was now gone? Maybe she just had faith and was obedient to God because she trusted Him, even with all she had.

Did Mary wonder what everyone would say when she lavished all of her precious gift on Jesus? Did she think she would be hidden behind Him at His feet? Was she embarrassed when she realized the smell of the nard filled the room and everyone was staring at her, her hair undone, her extravagance revealed? Was she horrified when Judas pointed at her in scorn saying the money could have been used to feed the poor? Maybe she just had faith and was determined to demonstrate her love for Jesus.

Did Paul wonder if his letter would get to it's destination? Was he concerned about Epaphroditus' health and safety as he traveled? Was he in prayer that the Philippians would be encouraged by his letter and be open to his instructions? Did he wonder if he wasted his time to write a letter that they may never receive? Probably he was moved to communicate to them in the only way available to him, although it was lengthy and cumbersome, and he trusted God for the rest.

The widow had no idea that the Lord of Israel in the flesh stood near her watching and held her up as a sterling example of generosity and faith to His disciples for generations. Mary had no idea Jesus would defend her to her guests, praise her faith and proclaim that her story would be included wherever the gospel was preached. Paul had no idea that not only would his letter reach Philippi but it also would sit on my kitchen table today in New Jersey. They only acted in faith. They had no idea how God would use their obedience.

Ten years ago, I voiced frustration to a dear wise friend. While I don't remember the specifics of the situation, I clearly recall his advice. Use your gift, he told me. Find a way to express the gift that God has given you. And so hesitantly I began a blog. What was I thinking? I had been writing in journals all my life as I cried my heart out to the Lord, as I studied His word. Out of those conversations, He seemed to talk back to me. Really, He did. I'm sorry if it sounds crazy. The words, those thoughts were too "other" to be mine. I wanted to write them down and save them in a way so I could remember them. I hoped that they would encourage others. And some people have told me these posts are encouraging. But I am sure the person who reads my blog the most is me! As I recall Jesus' words to me, I am encouraged and rebuked and strengthened all over again.

I have no idea how God will use this blog. But I know He reads every word. He remains my main audience, an audience of One. This is my conversation with Him. My prayer is that you, if you are reading this, would also be encouraged. Do you have a gift? Are you using it? Find a way to express the gift God has given you. Don't be deterred that it seems small. Don't be embarrassed that it seems ridiculous to others. Don't be hopeless that it will be effective.

God used two small coins, a pound of nard, a parchment is a mighty way. And so I trust Him with this blog. You can trust Him too.

Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me."

Matthew 12:14-44, Matthew 26:6-13, John 12:1-8, Philippians 2:25-30