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Friday, July 22, 2016

First Questions



My friend Wendy is working on some guest posts for this site.
Something I love about Wendy is that she is not afraid
to ask the hard questions,
and she's also not afraid to send me her really rough draf
in the middle of the night
that is more consumed with questions than answers.
There are too many people in the world who claim to have blind faith.
Blind faith is not what it's cracked up to be.
In case you haven't noticed
Jesus does a lot of healing in the pages of Scripture,
and that healing often comes in the form of giving sigh
to those who cannot see.
If we have questions, we should ask them.
If we know people who have questions, we should allow them to ask.
We can't learn anything unless we wonder...
And so, here's a list to start
courtesy of my dear, sweet friend who isn't afraid to put it out there...

*****

Has God made us and left us?  Has God decided we are just messing things up so badly even he can't help us?  Seriously? Is this about free will?  Do you want to live in a world where a deity forces you to worship him?  What would be the point, and would it be genuine?

Sometimes when you pray, doesn't it seem like God is ignoring you?  Waiting for you to take that first step?  Waiting for you to take that leap of faith? 

Why does God let bad things happen?  Why does a two year old get cancer?  Is that free will?  How did the child choose this?  If nothing is beyond God, did he choose this?  Or does he not care?  And when the mother prays and cries with all her heart and her child still dies, is God there?

Does it go back to sin?  Have we been separated from God from the first sin? When sin has nothing to do with something, what is going on?  Can God intervene?  Why doesn't God intervene?  Why does God intervene sometimes?  Are some people's prayers more worthy?  Is it random?

Does it all boil down to a chain reaction?  What if someone else exercises free will that takes mine away?  Are our free wills intertwined?

Are you frustrated?  Furious?  Confused?

Having faith is not knowing the answer.  Not being okay with it.  Searching.  Seeking knowledge.  Understanding you may never have the answers.  But ... it's okay to ask the questions.  And ... it's okay to be confused and angry.  It's OK.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Body and Blood



The following is a guest post
for which I am incredibly thankful
as I participate in the Compassion Conference this week!
This post was written by my friend, Emily Greenhalge,
whom I met through some online discussion groups.
Emily is the pastor of discipleship and small groups
at GracePointe Church of the Nazarene
where she has been serving for five years,
figuring out the "calling thing"
as she travels through life with her family,
fueled by coffee!

*****

Some people call it Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper, or Communion.  Each of these names is important, each of them meaningful.  The mystery of the body and blood found in the elements of communion is a topic of much discussion and has been for centuries.  Most agree it is a means of grace, but we all have a different perspective on what that means.  Some say the elements physically or spiritually change into the body and blood of Christ as we partake.  Others say they merely represent the body and blood, that any deeper meaning is dependent on our own spiritual condition and understanding.  In between lies a spectrum of folks who deny that the substance of the elements change but affirm the presence of Christ in the act of partaking. Whatever you believe about it, we agree it is sacred.

Jesus gathered his friends around the table at Passover and explained what was about to happen.  "This is my body," he said.  "It will be broken for you.""This is my blood, poured out as a new covenant."  In those statements, Jesus not only made clear that the new covenant would be rooted in his death; he also  made clear that all of his disciples were welcome at the table.  Peter, who would deny Jesus three times that very night, was welcome at the table.  Thomas, who would be called the doubter because he didn't immediately believe in the resurrected Christ, was welcome at the table.  Even Judas, the one who had already decided to betray him, was welcome at the table. 

When we offer the Lord's Supper in our communities, we offer it to anyone who is journeying toward Christ.  The new convert who doesn't have it figured out yet, the aged saint whose testimony goes back generations, the visitor who felt like today might be a good time to start going back to church; they are all welcome at the Table.  The grace that goes before is present in the elements as we offer them. 

As I take my place among millions who have gone before me and stand with me every week, I consider the historic significance of the words I repeat to each one who stands before me to partake, "This is the body of Christ, broken for you; the blood of Christ, spilled out for you."  The sweet lady I know as our missions president approaches, holding her husband's hand and leading him along to accept the bread and dip it in the juice.  He suffers from dementia, but he always has tears in his eyes as he praises God for the grace offered in this moment.  My friend Lane rolls up in his wheelchair.  We always kneel down a little so he can reach.  The big guy who always takes more than one and says "I'm a big boy, I need a lot of Jesus."  Between tears, I continue to speak the words, "This is the body, broken for you; the blood of Jesus, spilled out for you."  Toward the end of the line, I see my own three kids and my husband.  With great emphasis, I speak each of their names, "Toby, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.  Malachi, the blood of Jesus, spilled out for you.  Leah, take and eat."  The same words have been spoken by celebrants for a millennia, the same grace offered to participants. 

The precious grace of God invites us all to the table.  And at the table, we are all the same.  We are sinners in need of a saving God, a broken people in need of the body broken for us.  The sinner just beginning to seek Jesus is offered the same grace as the saint just a breath away from Glory.  And so it is at the foot of the Cross. When we come to Jesus, every one of us is in need of the healing and restoring grace found in him.  And as we continue on the journey, we remain in need of that grace. 

I taste the sweet homemade bread soaked in the fruit of the vine, and I see again that the Lord is good. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Just a Few Things



If I'm going to err on the side of pride or soul crushing self deprecation, it's almost always going to be the latter.  Not that I don't have a great facade that I can fabricate in a pinch.  Oh, come on.  As much as I legitimately believe in transparency, we all have them.  Maybe admitting to my ability to be fake is part of being real.

There's this serious tension, though, between self-sacrifice and self-preservation.  We're not called to save our lives.  Scripture is pretty clear on this, "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it" (Matthew 16:25, NIV).  And yet we are also expected to live into this concept of being beloved.  Serving a God who says, "Hey I love you, now go die," can be difficult.  No one wants to say that.  No one wants to hear that.  But here we are...

I don't really want it to be difficult.  It's not that I'm afraid of hard work, but I think it would be best if I just closed my eyes at a reasonable hour tonight, woke up in the morning, and found that every single person on this planet had transformed overnight to embrace love and peace and Kingdom values.  I think that's what everybody actually wants, right?

And yet we fight.  We fight about everything.  We always think we're right.  Well, I mean, I do anyway...

"In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin" (Psalm 36:2, NIV).

Here comes the soul crushing...

What if I'm wrong?  Oh my goodness, I hate being wrong.  I readily admit that I am wrong, probably at least eighty percent of the time, but I hate it.  It would be fabulous if I could redirect that hate toward my own sin... which I almost never talk about, because it is so much easier to point out how others are failing.  At least... that's easier in public.  I can beat myself up pretty good when I'm alone...

"Do not be arrogant, but tremble" (Romans 11:20b, NIV).

OK.  Perhaps this is the part when I admit that I am not nearly as good at everything as I would like people to believe.  I'm not nearly as good at everything as I would like to be.  There are even days when I wonder if I'm good at anything... but then I have to recognize that I'm moving too far to the side of criticism.  Even though I'm pretty good at sarcasm, the real me makes a lousy cynic.  I feel too much for that.  I can pretend, but the truth is; I know what love in the world looks like, so there's no going back.  I'm going to have to live with the fact that behind this wall of concrete covered in diamonds, is a pile of mushy feelings.  Beloved.  Go figure. 

And God doesn't actually put anybody in charge of everything.  Yeah.  Control freak nightmare.  I get it. 

"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'" (Matthew 25:21, NIV).

To be faithful with a few things...  To share responsibility... To be happy... 

I wonder how many of us could do just that?  I wonder where I might exercise faithfulness best.

L.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Love is Expensive



I have an awful lot of thoughts about marriage running through my mind lately.  I'm not sure what it is about this calendar year, but I have so many friends who are getting married!  It actually seems kind of weird, to be honest.  I'm 36 years old.  Didn't we already do this phase of life?  On the other end of it, I have spent more time walking with friends through the tragedies of being widowed, divorced, and processing annulment than I ever imagined I would experience at this stage, as well.  Some of these sad stories are merging into new, happier endings (and beginnings), and I feel as if I'm bumbling my way through most of it, just hoping I'm saying the right things and loving well.  I often feel way out of my wheelhouse.  I often feel unprepared.  I didn't realize this kind of stuff was going to be cyclical.

My house is ridiculously small by American standards for a family of seven (stay with me...  I promise I didn't just have a random squirrel moment in the middle of a post...  it will come together in a minute...)  As I was getting my youngest child to sleep last night (yes, she's six... yes, I still lie down with her almost every single night... no, I didn't do this for this long with the other four... yes, I'm having trouble letting go of the "last baby" stuff...), I received a message from my neighbor who offered us a free piano several weeks ago (OK...  it might have been a couple of months...  I really don't remember).  As soon as her face popped up on my screen, I said to myself, "Crap!  The piano!"  She asked if we still wanted it, and because music is a priority in our home and our piano is literally falling apart (as a side note, literally means it is actually happening), I confirmed that we do, indeed, want the piano and that I would clear a space for it, somewhere, by tonight.

My six year old mostly fell asleep, and I stumbled through the darkening house muttering about how seven people sharing less than 1,000 square feet of space should not have two pianos in the living room...  Sometimes I am ungrateful.

As I was spending some time scrolling through Facebook (which has been a luxury this summer with my crazy travel schedule), I just so happened to run across a post about a house that a friend of mine has recently listed for sale.  It is beautiful (really, really beautiful), huge (over 5,000 sq. ft.), more expensive than anything I will ever imagine living in (I could insert the price, but just... no), safe neighborhood, jetted tub, intercom (let me reiterate... intercom).

I was getting a little bit jealous.

I know I'm not the only one, either, because the comments were great.  One, in particular, stood out to me.  It was written by a stranger, from what I could gather a pretty young guy getting ready to enter into marriage himself, hoping to one day live in such a place.  My friend's reply (shared by permission) was, "Only if it's filled with love, honesty and integrity."

That's when the weight of her whole story hit me afresh, and I remembered why the house is on the market.  The house is not expensive.  It's just money.  It's just stuff.  Love is expensive.  And unrequited love, over a lifetime, just costs too much.

My heart hurts, and it's not because it doesn't fit in this cracker jack box of a dwelling.  It's because it does.  Somehow.

Another recent share that hit my newsfeed came from a sweet, idealistic, unmarried friend of mine who is in her early 20s.  She was appalled that so many people warn young adults about the difficulties of marriage, and she was sharing a post by what must have been a marriage expert (the author claims, in her piece, to have been married for ten months).  The title... "Marriage isn't Hard".  Well, friends, marriage also isn't easy!  In fact, it is so difficult that the divorce rate in the United States hangs out around 50% consistently.  Half of all people who enter into marriage find it hard enough that they also exit.  And interestingly, it is often the people who have legitimate reasons to leave who hang on the longest, hoping, praying, desperately trying to make it work.  And it is work.

The Catholic Church plainly labels marriage a vocational sacrament.  It is a call to holiness and service to another human being for the rest of your life, and it requires grace... sometimes a lot of grace... definitely more grace than any of us possess on our own.

Before I go too much further, I want to make it clear that there are reasons to dissolve a marriage.  Sometimes it doesn't work, because one or both spouses have no intent of faithfully keeping covenant with one another and express this through adultery or abuse.  Most of the time, it's not healthy to keep hanging on to that, although I have seen some miraculous exceptions.  But really, they're the exception. 

Apart from these things, though, I think a lot of what makes marriage work comes down to our willingness to set aside what we want for the sake of what we need, and what we need is almost always described in terms of character as opposed to terms of materials.

Let me try to wrap this up.

In a subsequent message, my friend with the incredible house wrote to me, "We could live in a castle and be horribly unloved. I'd rather live in a small tiny house and have love, honesty, and integrity."

The truth is, my husband left the house at 3:00, this morning.  He drove 3 1/2 hours to work, and even though he has to be there again, dark and early on Monday, he also drove home when he was finished, apparently because he wants to be with me tonight.  Friends, there are days when I honestly don't know why.  Today is like that.  I spent hours moving furniture around.  I am disheveled and maybe just a touch hangry.  And I totally smell.  But we have a piano to move into this tiny house...
 
L.