Saturday, May 24, 2014

Christians Are NOT Perfect!

"What feelings do you have when you hear of Christians today who lose their jobs, are thrown into prison or are martyred for Christ?"

This was the question I faced in my morning devotions this last week. I admit, I crossed the median on this one -- the question referred to martyrs for Christ, but the "Christians who lose their jobs" struck a nerve with me, and this is the result:

My instantaneous reaction is that “God doesn’t work.” I think to myself, “We’re all doomed. None of us – Christian or not – is safe.” I wonder what hope there is for me. If we’re “doing the right thing” we should be safe, right? We should get some kind of reward, a little relief at least! What is the point of tithing, losing good sleep on Sundays, being thought slow-witted or fascist (at the least!), and dealing with all kinds of church drama for nothing!

Optimism weighs in, at this point. I think God gave this to me (THANK HIM!) to set me back on track. It’s really not my love for Him. I don’t love Him that much, yet, but I’m praying. Maybe that’s why I do go through so much, always drawing me to His throne. Nonetheless, stubborn fool that I am, I resist His great love for me and instead think, “It’ll be OK; it’s always  OK. I might lose something today, but I’m strong, I’ll get through it, and God will give me something back later.” And while that may be true – look at Job – I definitely do not believe this is what God intended.
Let’s do that; let’s look at Job. What did he lose? EVERYTHING. Children, possessions, his home. All he’d worked so hard to get. His little piece of happiness he’d carved out, despite how rotten and unfair life can be.  Add to that, along the way he found out who really had his back – no one. Not on this earth, at least. His friends wanted to blame. His wife wanted him to quit. And he searched desperately for an explanation. But it was steadfast love for God that kept Job trucking.
How much, really, could I lose before my optimism lost its mojo? What types of tribulations would send it packing? If I’m relying on the optimism I was given at birth, or developed along the way, am I truly relying on God? If I have concocted some explanation as to how life works, or how God works, am I trusting Him, or my explanation? Am I letting God be God?

Maybe I'm checking out, denying my pain and disappointment, putting up walls against surrender and simply “keeping on keeping on.”
I’m pretty sure this is not what God wants. I hurt. This is tough. Do I really think I can hide that from Him? Why don’t I honestly say how disappointed I am? Why do I hold my breath and ride it out? How often do I pray for myself -- wholeheartedly petition God for what I need, or even what I want? I pray for others. I feel sad for them. But come clean before God and break down, bearing my very soul?
Is that it? Am I so afraid of feeling sorry for myself, descending into a pit of despair that I will not get out? Or, worse, I will lose control? What if I lose my faith, my relationship with God? You can’t “lose” God anyway, right? It’s not supposed to be about me or what I do. So, I should just let it fly?
God wants us to be honest with Him as well as with everyone else. How can I tell my children I don’t like their behavior, or tell my husband I don’t like his approach, but I pretend before my Father God? Yeah, like He doesn’t know. That is the relationship I should value most! Why would I never entertain the temptation to be false to those I love within my home, but I am habitually false to the very One within my heart?
So, here it is. My final answer. Sometimes things get so bad that I cannot take another minute of being broke, invisible, used, minority, looked down upon, harassed, or trapped. I hate knowing my son is playing me and faking his way through life. I hate the fact my daughter doesn’t pay any attention to anything I say, and never talks about how she feels. I can’t stand the situation with two of my step-children; I can’t stand seeing my husband lose his children because they have been lied to and threatened regarding me. I hate to see Olivia functioning as two different people because she feels she must in order to please everyone. I hate hearing that folks stood up for what is right, and were severely, humiliatingly, and prejudicially put down; I hate keeping quiet because I fear that for myself. I hate having to deal with people who would spit on others simply because they can. I hate evidence that seems to indicate morals and biblical truths are a dying breed. I hate yearning for 50 acres of land in Western PA, craving simplicity and privacy, and being stuck in a house farm with people on top of me, trash in my front yard, and the smell of filthy asphalt during a summer rain.
And that, my friend, is where the rubber meets the road. All these situations have their opportunities and advantages; it’s the “stuck” part that vexes me. Who is God to stick me where I don’t want to be? Who is He to allow my children to ignore Him? Who is He to make sure the bills keep rolling in and the jobs do not? Who is He to play God with my life and not bless me? You know, I work hard. I surrendered my life. Everything around me should be different now! How can He say He loves me when He keeps letting all this stuff happen?
 Ephesians 1:18-23

"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength  he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,  which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."
God wants me to know hope in Him. Not in myself or some power of positive thinking mantra. My inheritance is now, in me. The superficial vs. the eternal. He enables me. He knows how I feel; He knew how I would feel. And He enables me with a strength that raised the crucified Lamb from the grave! and exalted Him above all this nonsense -- eternally! God does have control. And he does love me. And maybe, just maybe, if I’m honest with Him about the way I feel, He’ll tell me that Himself!
(Job 38-41)

Friday, May 23, 2014

At the Hands of a Craftsman

What do you like to do? When considering the perfect occupation or weekend retreat, what would you do?

My uncle was a carpenter. His basement was full of enormous power tools -- lathes, saws and all manner of woodworking amenities. The smell of scorched wood, and crackling curls of maple -- it was captivating. His tools, my foray into craftsmanship.

My nana taught me needlework as soon as I was able to balance a hoop and needle. I loved sitting at her feet, her bag open in front of me. I'd root through embroidery hanks and thimbles -- so much potential. Her tools, my toys.

Then there's the unfaithful husband. The drug-addicted daughter. The death of a parent. The bankruptcy. The cancer.

No, you haven't turned a page. These are tools also. Not all of them my experience, but close enough. These are the tools God has used to change my life, or the lives of my friends.

Christians catch a lot of flack for worshipping a God who would hurt to heal, or tear down to rebuild. And right now, trust me, we are knee-deep in teardown. But, I have learned that something good will come of it. Oh, I can't say that I'm gushing about the process, but truth tells me this is for a season.

The Bible contains account after account of folks who, throughout history have experienced the same phenomena as this -- God's sometimes sharp tools applied to their lives -- but this poem says it pretty well also:

The Master Weaver's Plan
My life is but a weaving
Between the Lord and me;
I may not choose the colors–
He knows what they should be.
For He can view the pattern
Upon the upper side
While I can see it only
On this, the under side.
Sometimes He weaves in sorrow,
Which seems so strange to me;
But I will trust His judgment
And work on faithfully.
‘Tis He who fills the shuttle,
And He knows what is best;
So I shall weave in earnest,
And leave to Him the rest.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needed
In the Weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
-Author Unknown

Worth a Look!

I just wanted to draw some attention to this group of stars -- real stars. Not because they participated, or donned some designer duds, as is the reduced standard that qualifies numerous no-talents as "stars" these days. Because they determined to overcome and, in fact, it is adversity they credit with their victory. They set the standard for what it means to be a star, and in addition to their "No track, no problem" motto, they adopted a "NO Whining, NO Blaming" policy and stuck with it. These youthful paragons of character cared for one another and so highly valued the definition of team they earned their success!

PLEASE check out their story:

Camouflaging Tofu

This is a post about the things we do for love, just so it's clear. I would have called it "The Things We Do For Love," if that title had not already been apprehended some time in the 1970s, by a small but successful band called "10cc."

I also want to be perfectly and permanently removed from what I'm saying here. I don't want anyone reading this to think that, upon request, I will one day pull up out front of your duplex ready to engage in any of the following activities:

1) Sorting, washing, and folding unmentionables. I realize this is a pox on every country which has not yet adopted the practice of wearing disposable skivvies. I realize there are many others like me, out there dealing with this very same issue, but let's face it -- we're all just doing it for love. No? Yeah, me either. I just know for certain I will never again have decent attire if I don't do it myself. And what am I going to do? Leave a hamper full of BVDs and who-knows-what sitting around until I am compelled by my own sense of cleanliness to do them anyway? On second thought, I do it for love. I love me.

2) Answering. "So simple," you say. Never. It usually goes like this:
"Yo, Babe!"
"Would you..."
And so it goes -- anything from running up two flights of stairs, moving three pieces of large furniture, and grabbing the blank piece of paper he left behind, to getting up an hour and a half early, making sure his blue shirt is washed and dried, mending his tan shorts, driving him to the shop, picking up his script, printing out the direction for his next job, and changing the oil in his Corvair. Answering. Never simple.

3) Listening. Quietly. Again.

4) Swapping spit. Oh, this is not what you think it is. The sloppy wet kisses of a two-year-old. Finishing the runny grape popsicle your grandson has been slobbering all over for the past 30 minutes, or sucking the pimentos out of those little green olives because he doesn't like "the red things."  Drinking from the water bottle your niece laced with every floater known to man. You do it for love. Sometimes because of love -- after all, it's your kid, right? Or your sister's kid -- in which case, she has completely stolen your heart and most of your good judgment.

5) Relinquishing the remote -- sometimes.

6) Gushing over an egg carton caterpillar as if it were hand painted by Cezanne himself. In my teens, I brazenly opened the bottom drawer of my mother's dresser. Sexy unmentionables? A cache of savings bonds and gold bullion? Nope. Every silly scribble, glob of paste, and fleck of glitter I touched, from nursery school (that's what Fonzie and his pals called it back then) to grade infinity! That's love, there.

7) Putting up with his insufferably dull sister and her husband. You may, however earn the right to brag to all your coworkers about surviving your first and only Christmas party with a Dr. Who theme.

8) Planning healthy, filling, delicious, unique, inexpensive meals for your family each night. Dr. Oz has made his way into your T25 via Pandora. He is telling you you can no longer eat as you did in your twenties, and expect to wake up without chest pains. Somehow you find yourself afflicted with the task of doing healthy better, for cheap. And of course, it's gotta be good, and diverse, and substantial -- cat food wrapped in Beggin' Strips might be a practical snack, but trust me, there are other ways. So, you spend days traversing the WWW only to find the same eight recipes -- all containing some quantity of white meat chicken, diced tomato, and minced garlic. You eventually find yourself frying falafel burgers at 4AM, and you camouflage tofu in as many as sixteen different ways. Maybe they'll only discover it in...fifteen. But you try because you love them. You want to keep them around. You want to be around for them.

9) Wearing a parka in the summer. Or shorts in the winter, depending upon your arrangement. Dividing control of the thermostat between seasons may increase the life of your marriage by -- yeah, I have no idea, but rules are rules, and there's always payback when your season comes around!

10) Listening. Quietly. Again. (Oh, and somehow, if you look past them to see the results of DWTS, it doesn't count.)

Maybe things are a little different for you. Maybe you are taking a bullet, giving up a kidney, purchasing new wheels for her Veyron, or footing the bill for your new college freshman.  Maybe you're simply camouflaging tofu. But whatever it is, do it for love.