Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How Am I Blessed?

Working odd hours means I have to DVR "Longmire."  Working odd hours means people assume I'm not doing anything all day.  Working odd hours means I'm crawling under the covers just as the sun is blasting through my bedroom window.

However, working odd hours means I catch folks just as they're drowsily posting their last thoughts on Facebook, or they're being tormented by all those terrible things that go bump in the night.  A friend of mine was having just such a wakeful night last week.  My text alert went off some time around 1 AM.

"You are blessed," I texted.  "What could possibly be keeping you up at night?"

Well, it seems, time is passing and he doesn't quite see his life shaping up to be as he expected.  Now, far be it from me to ever suggest clothes, or cars, or money makes the man, but when it comes to opportunities, this guy's had 'em. 

"How am I blessed?" he asked.

I was stunned.  I mean, this was legit.  This guy honestly did not see what he had going.  He'd never been on food stamps or public assistance.  He'd never been forced to shop at discount stores.  He has multiple vehicles.  He has traveled.  He stays with a friend -- a great person, by the way -- in a beautiful home.  He has a job, a child, a life.  This was not some ingrate with a leaky diaper on Santa's lap.  He didn't get it.

"I know it could be worse," he texted.

I meet so many people who have no idea where their next meal is coming from, or how they will pay their utilities.  Their need is tangible, and the blessing of having their needs met is a box of food they put in their car or strap to the back of a bike.  But what of those whose plate is full, but hearts are empty? whose homes are warm and dry, but hearts are cold and drier still?  This poverty goes unanswered -- even by those who suffer it.  My heart is breaking for this guy.  He is in a world full of people, and still alone.  He is armed, ready, and standing with lights on, doors bolted shut, yet, he is afraid.  His need seems so much greater.

And it is.  Far greater than I.  I cannot throw him a Giant gift card and yell, "Use your coupons for extra savings!".  I cannot point him toward the clothing ministry and tell him to have at it.  His need must be addressed on the battlefield of the supernatural.  His need must be wrestled and pinned to holy ground.  I must take responsibility for the poor of heart just as I do the poor of purse.  I must lay his cause before his Creator when he will not.  I must point him toward Living Water each time he comes to me in thirst.  And I must pray.  With as much prayer as my knees will take, I must pray that one day he can answer the question, "How am I blessed?"

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I Probably Shouldn't Have Done This

So here is the issue: not what to write, but what not to write.  You see, for me writing is cathartic.  I have this awkward, impulsive nature that tends to engage before my brain has even gotten out of bed.  When I respond to a difficult situation, I either stammer foolishly -- I have already concocted, on average, three different responses which emerge tangled and garbled into one because my brain has actually failed to choose a single one of them -- or I reply, "Thank you," to the deb who has just complimented me on my manicure -- and not until the door to the ladies room eases shut, do I remember I haven't had one. 

It is pen to paper, or unmanicured fingers to keys that helps me make some sense of it all.  It is writing that helps me process all those feelings of inadequacy that others seem to enjoy taking out on those around them.  Unfortunately, with all the information which bombards me every moment of every day, and all the things that tick me off, or make me happy, or confuse the devil outta me, at the end of the day, that's a lot of writing. 

For instance, at some point this morning the Will Rogers quote, "I never met a man I didn't like," just popped into my head.  Not enough for me to consider it strange and continue making oatmeal cookies; I had to know how and why it suddenly got there.  So, I turned to my favorite investigative vehicle -- Google.  Did you know that Barry Manilow actually recorded a song, "Never Met a Man I Didn't Like?"  The thing that was truly shocking to me, was that it was included in his 1991 album "Showstoppers."  I'm remembering back to 1991, and can't recall the market for that distinctive Manilow sound, as being very vibrant.  As if that weren't enough, the lyrics include the word "highfalutin," which in its definition includes the word "bombastic."  I do recall "bombastic" as one of my vocabulary words in about 7th grade or so, but I honestly do not recall ever having used it since.

It is not until I realized I have watched almost the entire Youtube video (Manilow performs his song on a show hosted by Joan Rivers -- most likely sometime before her ninth or tenth facelift.  She wears a gold jacket, he is wearing an ultra-feminine red and black color-block jacket over a black mock turtleneck.  Aaah, the '90s.  No diggity, no doubt.) that I realize the chicken I have grilling on my 1990s George Foreman grill is now burning on my 1990s George Foreman grill.  As I frantically pry tonight's dinner from George's grip, I have already begun considering the possibility of having multiple children named Judi.

I've never really liked my name, and while the "i" makes it more unique than others with a "y," I have, thanks to my mother, inherited a certain level of annoyance with people who have known me for years and continue to spell it with a "y."  So, would I continue to spell my name with an "i," and my progeny's with a "y," simply to differentiate?  Folks would probably insist on spelling theirs with an "i."  Not really something to which I should be devoting a whole lot of time and concern. 

And then I begin thinking of how intolerant I can be.  I would think Will Rogers would be ashamed.  I mean, if he knew me.  Which he didn't.  But, at least, I know he would have liked me.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Spilling the Beans


A word that, to a Christian, can be like Pavlov's bell. 

When used by someone to describe their life, it can cause us to instantaneously begin belching out Bible verses and phrases like "peace like I've never before known," and "joy unspeakable," (yet somehow we will continue to find the words to speak about it).

People seem to use that word to describe feelings of loneliness, purposelessness, fear, grief, and almost any other feeling that accompanies trauma as intense as the death of a spouse, or as superficial as the closing of your favorite dry cleaner. (Hey, some folks take professional dry cleaning and exemplary service very seriously.)  What your average non-believer may not realize, is that such a word releases a flood of endorphins in the mind of a Christian that can cause us to wildly and tyranically spew forth -ologies and -isms of the Christian faith that are rivaled only by the "small print dictum" at the end of an auto dealership's radio commercial.

I'm being facetious, of course, but the concept of emptiness is not foreign to any of us.  In fact, in this age we have the capacity to be surrounded by constant communication, stimulation, information, fornication and fortification, more than in any other.  And yet, our world is "empty."  In John 4:14 and 6:35, Jesus says that those who follow Him will never thirst or hunger again; Jesus fills the empty corners of our lives, of our hearts, that we may never be empty again.  Christians know this to be true!  So forgive us for our enthusiasm and preachiness, we just want to share.

And believe it or not, we still know what it means to feel empty.  Not all the time, mind you, as is probably the case with those who do not claim a personal relationship with Jesus, as well.  And it certainly doesn't stand to reason that because we feel that way, it means we are that way -- any more than feeling fat makes us so. (The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit, Our Helper and Comforter, dwells within us - Romans 8:9, and I Corinthians 6:19)  But we feel empty sometimes, too.

So what do we do? vomit verses and truths all over ourselves? call one of our Christian friends to do it for us?  If only that were true!  But the truth is, some of us find comfort in the refrigerator.  Some of us find comfort in old movies, or trashy novels.  Some of us gossip, or revisit substances we left in the dust long ago, or waste hours on the internet, or cut, or any of the myriad of things to which "the world" might turn.  You see, Christians are not perfect, and as much as we'd like to hope we get it all together, the only thing we hope in is Jesus.  We cannot get it together, but Jesus can.  We cannot permanently fill the emptiness, but Jesus can.  We cannot make the loneliness, purposelessness, fear, or grief go away, but Jesus can.  And when the feelings of emptiness come, if we turn to Jesus and hang on to His promises with all that we've got, we will once again feel full.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Psalm 23:5

The Clearer Path

I thought this was such a great article, I wanted to reprint it here:

"The Clearer Path"

The answer to feeling spiritually lost is surprisingly simple: Listen to God’s voice.
by Tony Woodlief
It’s never helped my faith one bit to worry over how I compare to others. Unfortunately, that truth rarely stops me from envying the lives of Christians who seem to have it all together—good marriages, well-behaved children, stable jobs, positive attitudes. I watch them live their good lives and ask myself why I can’t be more like them.
How good it must feel, I tell myself, to be there. No deep worry or doubt, no secret sin gnawing at the heart, no days or nights of crying out questions to God and receiving the dread silence in reply.
What we learn, however, when we get to know those seemingly perfect people in our churches, is that nobody’s faith is perfect. They may bear their struggles with brighter faces, or keep their nagging doubts and sins better covered, but they feel no closer to perfection than the rest of us.
Anyone who imagines he’s worked out his salvation satisfactorily, in fact, who has no “fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), well, he may be even more lost than us gossipers and lusters and worriers. At least we have our nagging consciences, after all, to remind us of the great divide between our sullied lives and God’s holiness.
For it is a wide gulf, yet we are each of us called along a path of sanctification into the very midst of God’s holiness. At times this seems hopeless, falling back as we do—as I do—into my persistent sin, my distractions, my feelings of weakness and futility and weariness.
We are called along this path all the same, our good works “prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). But it is such a long walk, isn’t it? A long and wearying walk, and at times we look behind ourselves and see only failure; we look ahead and imagine more failure to come, and we search out the heart of God to ask, Why me?
Why have You arranged for so many people to depend on me?
Why have You allowed this sin to be my struggle?
Why do You expect me to keep journeying on this life’s path when I am so very tired?
We ask why and we ask where. Where, Lord, does it end? What is Your purpose in this illness, this joblessness, this rebellious child?
More than once, I’ve tried to bargain with God—asking Him to just show me where I’m going, and I’ll give up asking why. A journey can seem endless, after all, without a map to tell us how close we are to our final destination.
Scripture says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28). But that doesn’t mean we always get to know when the good will emerge, or where life’s raging river will deposit us.
So we are, every one of us, searching. We are searching, some of us, for the path we once knew, because we have lost our way. We may be in church, we may be in a small group, we may even be in our Bibles every day, but we can feel lost all the same. It is exactly the same feeling we had as small children, when we looked up from our play and couldn’t see our mother or father. Some of us feel lost, and the bitter irony is that the more we seem to “have it together,” the harder it can be to ask for help.
Others of us feel lost, and everyone knows we need help, but we imagine we are too weary to do the work. Too weary to resist the call of that bottle, that pornography, that comforting fury, that inappropriate relationship. We feel too weary to pray, too fearful of the silence that results from having shunned God in our hearts. Deep within ourselves, we are still searching for God, if only because He calls to us: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).
We who feel lost still hear God’s whisper, and we search for it even as we run from it. I imagine that whatever else hell is like, it is also like this—the heartrending urge to rush into the arms of God, and yet a debilitating terror at doing so, because it means we must forfeit the miserable little lives we’ve crafted for ourselves.
I have been “stuck” in my faith, and I have been lost; and each time, my instinct is to blame God for not speaking more clearly. If He would just tell me what to do, I say to myself, then of course I would do it. When my heart is in that stubborn place, I go through the motions of prayer and Bible reading, but it does no good. I can’t hear a thing—not a single thing—and I tell myself the lie that God has gone silent.
“Take heed what you hear,” Christ says. “With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given” (Mark 4:24 NKJV).
We are called along a path, and because we are faithless, we are prone to sit down along the way, like stubborn toddlers, because we can’t see the end. Maybe one reason we can’t see further along the path of faith is because we don’t pay enough attention to where we are right now. We hear, Christ tells us, as we listen. We can’t expect a richer faith, a clearer path, unless we are taking into our hearts those words of God that we already understand.
Words like: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
Words like: “Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:13).
Words like: “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land” (Deut. 15:11).
Some of us call out for God’s guidance, and yet we haven’t heeded the lessons we learned in Sunday school. There is so much wisdom in the Bible, so much instruction from a loving Father, but we cannot hear it until we begin to heed the words we’ve already received.
I have often stood on the path, demanding to know from God what my next step is, not realizing that He’s already told me. Love my neighbor. Visit those in prison. Give of myself to “the least of these.” I don’t know how to move forward, because I don’t know how to live rightly where I am. I’m calling out, but I stop up my ears against the reply. I cannot hear because I do not listen.
We live the life to which we are called, not by staring off in the distance, wondering when we’ll get “there,” but in realizing that “there” is “here,” just as the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom is at hand because Christ is Immanuel—God with us—which means we needn’t get there because He has come here. He is here and He is speaking. And if we will just live out what our Sunday school teachers taught us, this world and our very lives will be transformed. That is the promise.
Copyright 2013 In Touch Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved. In Touch grants permission to print for personal use only.

DANGER: Slippery Rail

PLEASE tell me I'm not the only one.  Have you ever thought to yourself, "Boy, if I could just catch a good case of the flu/ if I could just break a leg -- I could get all the rest I need."  I don't want to catch anything life-threatening or spend days in a hospital, mind you, but just a small mandatory vacation -- you know, doctor's orders and all that. 

But, is it really the desire to lie in bed which afflicts us, or the compulsion that drives us on when we should be lying in bed?  If a doctor sentences us to bedrest, then we have to do it, right?  So why don't we just do it because it is the right thing? because it is good for us to teach our children how to rest? because we are better spouses, better employees, better friends, better people when we get the appropriate amount of rest?

Most of us are no different when it comes to spiritual rest.  Lately, I've been noticing how stressed and empty I feel from time to time.  Lately, I've been noticing that at every turn God is telling me to rest.

I said a few months ago, that I felt God was telling me to get out there and live the gospel, and I don't mean He has rescinded those orders.  But, I realize I have separated the life of the gospel into two distinct operations -- the personal and the public.  In the personal part of my life, I read and study God's Word, listen to radio sermons, pray and worship.  In the public part, I do some of the same things, but I also run errands for others, chauffeur folks to doctor's appointments or other commitments, deliver meals, write notes of encouragement, donate blood, financially assist others as much as possible, and serve with various groups, ministering to those in need.  Believe me, not a bit of this am I saying to toot my own horn!  In fact, quite the opposite.

My life has recently become a whirlwind of activity.  For almost weeks at a time, I have dashed from one activity to another, trying to keep in balance those things I must do -- like work and sleep -- and those things I feel compelled to do -- like be all things to all people.  Yup.  I said it.  That's what's been going on.  Perhaps some form of guilt, perhaps it's as arrogant as it sounds, but something has been driving me to believe I have all this "free time", and wouldn't it be great if I gave some of it away to those who do not.  Something has been stirring me to pour myself out -- even just one last drop -- to someone simply because I can, because it is there to be poured out, because it is not mine to start.  And all that might sound very wonderful -- that whole pouring out thing -- but...

A) Is my motivation to serve or to fix?  To bless, or to cause others to conform to my ideal of how life should appear?  Am I elevating myself to a position of superiority -- a "have" over a "have-not"?

B) Does my personal life take a back seat when there is so much to be completed in my public life?

C) Do my actions directly, clearly, humbly point to Christ, or is it some roundabout theorem demonstrating that, "because I am generous, I must be different, and because I am different, it must be something supernatural (because we are really all the same), and if it is supernatural, it must be Jesus, and if it is Jesus others must desire Him because He is really good, because I am generous."  See what I mean? -- almost sickens me to write it.

My public life NEEDS to be an outpouring of my personal relationship with Jesus!  And, I'm not saying it didn't start there, and I'm not saying it doesn't go back for a visit now and then.  BUT, when my public life supercedes my personal life, when I choose waiting in line at the DMV with someone over interceding in prayer for them, or discussing Christ with them while we wait, I've gotten off track.