Ch-ch-ch-changes!

I’m number 11 of 13 cousins on my mother’s side.  Number 12 arrived just 10 days after me.  (Just an interesting fact I thought I’d share with you).  On Easter the baby, number 13, sent a text message to the next 3 youngest (all well into our 50s now) reminiscing about an Easter in our childhood “I’m sitting here wishing we could have an Easter Egg hunt and play spoons (and monitor Carrie’s water intake)…”

I will never live it down.  I haven’t played spoons in years but as I recall playing cards were involved and if you were the last to grab a spoon you had to down a glass of water (family version).  I was a frequent loser.  Suffice it to stay that copious amounts of chocolate Easter eggs followed by chugging water can cause a gal to not feel her best.

Except for the memory of one of the older cousins (who was way cool in my mind) rolling his eyes in disgust, I really have no desire to live down that family tale.  Family memories bring a lot of laughter.  Number 13’s Easter text ended with “Love you!” and was followed by responses from the others confirming we love and miss each other and that “we were always surrounded by love”.

Testament to my mom, dad, aunts and uncles. Surrounded by love.  A treasure from a time past.  But what do we do with our changed present?  One thing I do is realize the gatherings are fewer and our numbers are fewer but the love – the love still surrounds us.

My mom’s 84th birthday was last week.  I believe this was our first apart except for when I was away at college. I knew this would be tough for my mom because she loves above all else, being with her family.  She has mourned, for some time now, the loss of holidays being spent together with extended family.  Those loud, game playing, pie eating (we’re known for our pies), crowded, laughter filled, shared holidays still exist but they are far less frequent.  And now, of the first generation we only have 4 of the 10 still with us.

So, I was praying very specifically as her birthday approached.  She has life long friends who go out for lunch to celebrate each other’s birthdays.  And she has newer friends (you know the type; they’ve only been friends for 30 or so years) who send cards and call each other on their special day.  But this birthday, I’d be gone and I knew God knew that this would be tough on both of us.  What did I specifically pray?  “On her birthday Jesus.  Not just leading up to.  ON HER BIRTHDAY bring visitors and special attention to her.  Help her to feel loved.”  I went on, but you get the gist.

I believe the Bible teaches that when it comes to prayer you don’t always get what you want but be sure to ask, cause you’ll get what you need.  There’s a rock song that teaches that too.  (I know this is a really incomplete explanation of prayer.  Roll with me here).  Anyway, the truth is I really get a kick out of getting what I want!

Well, back to the 13.  Of the 12 of us still living, only one lives in the town where my parents live.  Number 10 lives about an hour away.  She and her husband had my parents, along with cousin #1 (bragging rights) and her husband, over to her home 2 days before my mom’s birthday.  The week before the cousin who still lives in town and her sister (who was visiting from her far away home) invited my parents over and played games with them.  Did I mention games are a big deal in my family?

So try to keep up with my cousin numbering.  We actually number 24 now including spouses. (I’ll spare you the count of the next generations).   And if you asked my mom you’d know these spouses are her nieces and nephews too.  (As much as they like to joke that they are the outlaws).  Subtract my brother and I and our spouses and the total is 20.  The week before her birthday she saw 6 of them.  Highly unusual.

ON HER BIRTHDAY, she was surprised with visits from 5 more (#1 again & her 2 siblings and another cousin who lives out of state and his wife) and a call from 2 others!  A few days later 2 more came into town and came over to visit.  Don’t worry I’ll add it up for you:  my mom was surrounded by love.

Some things never change. The love of my family and the love of my God.

And sometimes, I think Jesus just gets a kick out of blowing my mind.

 

It’s a Popular Punch Line: It’s all About Me

 

Okay, sometimes I do think it’s all about me. If you could look into my thoughts I’d be busted. Little flakes of entitlement would be seen drifting by and sometimes settling down in my mind. Some start with the subjective “I deserve” (e.g. a break, to think of myself, to be left alone); some begin with the arrogant and/or naive “I expected” (e.g. the day to run smoothly, to be asked about…, respect).

I really battle with this honest view of myself. Because I’ve had glimpses of glory when I’ve been aware enough to ask for perspective from the Holy Spirit. And those moments formed my world view that putting others first is a blessed way to live. Although grateful for those moments of breakthrough, I often fall back into doing-it-apart-from-Christ mode – also known as, all about me.

My husband and I have started attending a church just outside of DC.  The church had a breakfast Easter Sunday and at our table there was a gal originally from Venezuela, one from Honduras, another from Ethiopia, a young man who seemed introverted, and a white couple who work in influential government jobs.  I had been told you could be sitting at that church with a homeless person on one side and a millionaire on the other.  That is no exaggeration. I like that. I really like that.

So what does that have to do with my ego-centric thoughts? Living in a diverse community is a great reminder that it is not all about me. I bet that homeless guy in the pew didn’t expect his life to go the way it has gone. I bet that influential couple doesn’t attend church in spite of their influential life filling every longing of their hearts. I bet those women who made moves from other countries didn’t get what they deserved: warm welcomes, recognition of their innate value as a human being, a community coming along side them to soften the culture shock and loneliness. I bet that young man rarely feels he’s the center of positive attention.

The community of believers in Jesus is, among many other things, a reminder that in many ways we don’t get what we deserve or expect; we actually get more than we could have hoped for or imagined. We get to grow. When God sets to grow his children up he does it through life experiences that take us out of our comfort zone. “I deserve” and “I expected” generally come from “I want comfort”.

Okay, sometimes I do want comfort. And sometimes because of God’s grace he gives me comfort. But a life of comfort does not make for a satisfying life. It really doesn’t. Even comfort can become boring and unfulfilling. But growing as a follower of Christ is quite the opposite. It is exciting and fulfilling. And it never comes about with a thought life that entertains the notion that it’s all about me.

There is no lasting satisfaction in being recognized as one who is deserving. There is joyful satisfaction in being thought enough by your God to be used by him to make a difference in the lives of others. I’m just not going to make a difference believing I deserve what I expect.

I will make a difference asking Jesus who I can serve and give his love to on this day.  I will make a difference becoming who God is growing me to be.

Electing Love

How will I respond if Trump wins Ohio today; wins the nomination?  How should I respond?  Does that really change my world or is God the same today, yesterday and tomorrow?  Are we, the human race, still the same fractured, wounded, glorious creation of that unchanging God?  Win or lose, do those who have taken His name as our own, still have Jesus living in us?  Win or lose, do we still have the power of love?

A win by Trump represents to me a choice to teach our children that mean-spirited bravado and arrogance are to be lauded.  A win by Trump speaks to me of disenchanted people desperate for a way out where the dreamed of ends, justify the reality of the ugly means.

But if I fall apart or despair over this possible win, I will be choosing to live in the smaller story.  Jesus calls us to the reality of the larger story.

We were not made to live and breathe based on how a government or country can impact our lives.  We were certainly not made to live and breathe based on a man.

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”  Acts 17:24-28

Yes, the brokenness of man is something to be mourned.  We should seek to be aware of this brokenness, learn from our brokenness, purpose to obtain healing of our own personal brokenness and offer the hope of healing to others.  We should not be stopped dead in our tracks by this brokenness.  Because, love really does win.

“in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  Romans 8:37

That is the message of Easter.  Jesus, the One who is Love, has won life for us.  Abundant life.  Not a heart’s-still-beating life.  A triumphant life.

There’s a story in which disciples of Jesus (Peter and John) had healed a man in Jesus’ name and the religious leaders of the day were freaking out that many people were believing in Christ as a result.  The leaders felt their own authority was threatened.  So they arrested Peter and John and began questioning them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

“With that, Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, let loose: “Rulers and leaders of the people, if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, put under investigation regarding this healing, I’ll be completely frank with you—we have nothing to hide. By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One you killed on a cross, the One God raised from the dead, by means of his name this man stands before you healthy and whole. Jesus is ‘the stone you masons threw out, which is now the cornerstone.’ Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one.”  Acts 4:10-12 MSG

All righty-then!  That’s the power of the larger story!  Back to my question on how I should react to a possible Trump win.  How should I react to any win of an election?

One answer is spelled out in Micah 6:8 – “And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Yep, “to do justice” for me includes expressing why I think Trump is not the kind of leader we should be electing.

Yep, “to love kindness” includes pointing out his lack of kindness.  But it also demands I turn the mirror on myself and examine why and when do I not choose kindness.

Yep, “to walk humbly” means to acknowledge I don’t know the whole story playing out in the heavenlies; so despair over this election is not a reasonable reaction for one who trusts in God.

Another answer is found in Romans 8:39 – Remember “that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.  And so my role in His love story is to just keep on loving in response to his love for us.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out all fear.

Today I choose to respond to your love Jesus.  Yes!

 

Return of the Roman Colosseum

It’s frightening.  A man, at a podium, being cheered for as he expresses his desire to punch a protestor in the face. Watching those crowds of gleefully mean-spirited Americans grieves me.  Yes, I know there are multitudes of kind, generous, rational Americans.  But I’m sure there were a lot of good hearted people in Rome, Germany, Russia, Uganda, and Italy when a hate filled barbarian became their leader.

When Trump first began rising in popularity I began to fear having him as a leader.  Now, I find I fear fellow citizens.  How, can there be so many who would delight in what God hates?

Proverbs 16:18  Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 8:13  To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.

Proverbs 11:2  When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Proverbs 14:3  A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them.

Proverbs 6:16-19  There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Now, you may read Proverbs 6 and think that describes a number of our most popular leaders.  I believe you’d be right!  They just hide their true colors.  However, I used to believe a wolf in sheep’s clothing was more dangerous than a wolf in plain sight.  I no longer believe that, because many Americans are feeding the wolf and joining his pack in broad daylight.  Many are admiring his base nature.

It’s not just pride we’re witness to.  In my opening example I witnessed disrespect and vulgarity.  So much for “love your enemy”.

The Word of God also tells us that fear is not from the Lord.  I need to take that to heart and not fear what I’m witnessing.  What then?  Anger?  Probably not productive.  Action.  Better.  Jesus, guide me to what action I can take.  The risk to me now is minimal.  If we wait, the risk to us as citizens may be much greater.  History testifies to what happens when good people do nothing.