Wednesday, September 30, 2009
One phrase in particular comes to mind.
A person approaches us and begins to share her struggles. (Not even a person at church Sunday mornings. More likely a person we run into during the week, because we Christians also have a hard time being honest about our lives. But that's for another post.) She tells you her burdens. Difficult children. Broken marriage. Lost job. Not enough money to put gas in the car.
We listen politely. And then that phrase.
I'll be praying for you.
Really? If you see this person again next week, will you even remember what she's struggling with? Or will you be able to honestly tell her you've been praying?
Let's up the game a bit. Yeah, so prayer is a good thing. The best thing you can offer anyone. The most powerful tool known to man. But let's not forget the other tools we've also been equipped with.
Why not give her the cash in your wallet so she can buy gas for her car?
Buy a gift card to the local grocery store?
Or a gift card for her and her husband to have dinner together?
Offer to watch the kids?
Mow her yard?
Give away your extra winter coat?
Prepare a meal and take it to the family?
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? -James 2:15-16
We Christians may talk the talk and make ourselves sound good. But if we don't walk the walk, the person in need has no reason to believe in our God.
Monday, September 28, 2009
I had quite an encounter with one of my nursing home residents on Tuesday. She behaved very badly.
She's been quite the challenge for everyone in general and has "behaviors," as they call it professionally. Basically she doesn't want to do anything for herself.
I'll leave out the details, but Tuesday's treatment boiled down to a battle to see who was more stubborn - her or myself.
I'm not sure who won. I think it was a draw.
Our session ended in a tantrum (her, not me) with her sitting herself down and laying on the bathroom floor. (No, I did not drop her, and no, she was not injured.) This was her way of getting out of doing the work.
Each time I think about her, all I can do is shake my head. It blows my mind how she can possibly think her actions are justified and worth repeating over and over. Now the stubbornnes I understand fully, because I am. But my stubborn actions are appropriate. At least I'm reasonable about when I choose to hold my ground.
After spending the week recapping the highlights of Tuesday morning, I had a horrible realization. God so gently whispered words to my heart that hit me like a hard punch to the gut. Knocked the wind out of me a little.
How many times do I say "I can't" and lay down on the floor to pretend like I didn't hear His voice?
The Father knows what's best, and my life belongs to Him. When He tells me to do something, it's for reasons that are good. I can trust that the task He gives me is not too difficult, for I can do all things through Him.
But sometimes I don't want to do the work. I don't want to do something that's hard, something that's uncomfortable and challenging. All I can see is the task in front of me and I forget to look ahead to the results He has promised.
I tell Him I can't do it. I quickly change the subject to try to distract Him...or maybe me...so He doesn't have a chance to finish the sentence. Because if I can't hear it, surely He didn't say it. I roll over and close my eyes, convincing myself that if I can't see it, it's not really there.
I don't like knowing that I behave the exact same way as this resident.
I am humbled and thankful that His patience and grace extends much farther than mine.
Friday, September 25, 2009
There's that law again, the one from James 1:25. The one that the Jews and early Christians knew well.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
James is my favorite book of the Bible, but it sure is a hard one to read. It's so practical, and it keeps holding that proverbial mirror to my face to show me what needs to change. (Actually, it's the Spirit doing that, just to clarify and avoid and doctrinal reprimands in the comments.)
I finally made it through chapter 1, picking it apart a few verses at a time and seeing things in my life that need to change. Chapter 2 was a welcomed repreive...until I started reading.
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand over there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? -James 2:1-4
Guilty as charged.
There are so many times throughout my average day that I discriminate, even in just my attitude toward a certain person. I discriminate among the people who come into the clinic - some are pleasant to work with, some not so much. I discriminate at the nursing home - some patients I really enjoy, some are very difficult. I discriminate when I go to home visits - some homes are clean with pleasant tenants, others are sticky and dirty with dwellers who aren't as well-kept. I discriminate among various staff memebers I work alongside - some are educated and easy to converse with, others have struggled to get where they are now.
But this isn't limited only to my working life.
This seeps over into my church life.
There are people in church who are very dear friends. There are others whom I don't know as well, who are difficult to deal with, or who don't have the same kind of home life I do.
I discriminate. I label. I pick and choose. I show favoritism.
I have become a judge with evil thoughts.
God, help me to love everyone, without showing favoritism or having preferences. Help me to love rich and poor alike as you did here on earth. Let my actions be consistent and my deeds reflect you.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I've done plenty of this in my life. While I think other people are growing more impressed with me by the minute, one of two things is actually happening: 1. I look and sound like a complete fool now, or 2. I'm building walls of sand that look impressive but will come crashing down around me and make me look like a fool later.
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he decieves himself and his religion is worthless. -James 1:26
This little paragraph at the end of chapter 1 led me to make a few lists, one of which is below. Boasting about our goodness or religiousness to make ourselves look and feel holier than thou will eventually destroy our witness. Here are a few ways our tongues keep people from coming closer to Christ:
- Filthy language
- Speaking in anger
I spend a lot, and I mean a lot, of time with people every day. That's a humbling realization to have, to think of all the time I spend each day not pointing to Christ by the way I speak.
So what should we do instead?
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. -James 1:27
It's like James is saying, "Hey, don't be a fool by calling yourself a Christian and then running around shooting your mouth off. You want to be religious? Then do what pleases God - look after his children who don't have parents, and take care of the widows who no longer have a husband to support them. And by the way, don't let the secular things in life lead you astray. That's true religion."
Friday, September 18, 2009
I was praying for people earlier this evening, people who don't know Jesus. My prayer started out something like this:
Please give them a desire to know you. Send people into their livesThat was the general idea. May they want to be Christians. But then I stopped mid-thought.
who love you, and create in them a desire to give their lives to you.
Is that really how I should pray for someone's salvation? I mean, honestly, that's not a bad prayer at all. To have a desire for God, to want to be saved...that seems valid.
But is that truly the root of it all?
Our prayers...or mine, anyway...for the salvation of others tends to fit right into our tendency to create a feel-good Jesus. Yes, they should desire salvation. But when I pray like that, I think the idea behind my words paints a picture of want for the sake of happy and comfortable.
I shifted my prayer to something like this:
God, show them how their sin seperates them from You. Teach them what Jesus did for them so that they can understand their need for salvation. May they choose new life in You.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
That is the Jesus we want.
But the Jesus of the Bible is different. Yes, He wants to give us good things, be happy, sing songs, and receive our gifts to Him. But not in the ways we have decided to do it.
The Jesus of the Bible said that to follow Him, we have to give up everything. Everything. He told us...promised us...hard times and persecution. Even death. He repeatedly illustrated and emphasized the greatness and importance of His eternal Kingdom, and how it is worth more than all the treasure we can find here on earth. He told us to go and make disciples, and he said that by giving us this task He was putting us out there like a sheep among wolves. He didn't say His work is easy and safe; He said it is difficult, painful, and even deadly.
That is the Jesus we serve.
He gave us a Mission. But how many of us are doing that mission? I know I'm not. I like to dance around the fringe, picking out tasks that are easier and less risky, that don't demand a lot of boldness on my part.
And then I ask Him to bless my efforts.
We don't take the Mission seriously. We fill our days with things that distract us from it. Then we make excuses for why we don't have time to work on the Mission. We've set up home here.* We forget why we were created in the first place.
With seven years of higher learning behind me, I've had to do my share of studying in life. The longer I was in school, the harder it got. Finally, when the school part was over, I had one final test to take. I had to prove my knowledge. I had to take a five-hour board exam in order to make it into the world of therapy that I had spent years preparing for.
I'm not a great studier. I prefer distractions. Most of my set study times ended in either facebooking or napping. It's just plain hard for me to sit down and study.
But as this big test hung heavier over my head, I kicked it into gear. My entire future now hinged around this one event.
I removed myself from distractions. Got away from my computer so I couldn't get on facebook. Sat in the middle of the living room on the floor so I couldn't tinker with things around me. Left the house and went to Starbucks so I wouldn't fall asleep. Made notecards for the physical stimulation to keep my mind focused.
In the same way, it's easier to focus on the Mission when we remove ourselves from distractions. Spend time in prayer. Read the Word. Volunteer our time. Have coffee with a non-Christian co-worker instead of a Bible study pal. Drive a cheaper car and send that extra money to missionaries.
Move to a grass hut to build a Church where people hate you.
Yeah, that would keep your mind on the Mission, wouldn't it?
You see, there are a few things in life that matter, and many things that don't. Jesus called us to this Mission, and one day we're going to have to stand before Him and present our work. Everything we've ever done here on earth is going to be thrown into the fire. The eternal will withstand; the earthly will be burned up.
What am I doing in life that will still be intact after it has passed through the fire? On the day I see Jesus, what's going to bring reward and what's going to bring regret?*
What have I done this year...this week...even today, that I am not ashamed to place at the feet of Jesus?
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*Quotes from Francis Chan's sermon, Living a Life that Matters - "Living Eternally."
Monday, September 14, 2009
I listened to it a second time, this time typing notes into my phone so I could pull out the main ideas to digest later. I want everyone to hear and feel the same words I did, because these particular truths are so foundational to our faith. Yet I know hardly any Christians who put these things into practice.
Unfortunately for me as a writer...and you as a reader of my writing...this sermon was so well spoken that there's not a lot of room for me to expound. But I'm going to try it anyway. Whether anyone is reading this or not, these are thoughts I need to process and put into action.
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Over the course of the past few years, and especially the past several months, I've felt less and less connected to life here on earth. My pull towards my heavenly home has grown gradually stronger. I like that. Maybe it helps that I haven't lived in the same place for more than two years at a time since moving to college, or that I haven't settled down with a husband and kids into a house of our own. But I think the more likely answer is that God has been working in my heart, and my soul knows this wasn't the life it was created for.
Death doesn't scare me. Many times I hear stories of people with terrible illnesses or injuries who are taking every possible measure to draw their lives out as long as possible. I look at them and wonder why they try to catch hold of this vapor of a life like it's the only thing that matters.
Don't get me wrong - I haven't always thought this way. I used to fear death as much as the next person. And as for those who have no eternal security...I should hope that they cling to this life with every ounce of their being, because they need all the time here on earth they can get to find Jesus and His salvation.
But anymore...I don't long for life. I don't have dreams to build my own huge house (though it was once appealing), find a husband and get married, travel the world, save tons of money, land the perfect job... I aspire to only those dreams and desires God places in my heart. "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
I think of the day Jesus will return to earth to gather His followers, and it excites me. I picture myself hearing that trumpet blast, feeling the Spirit leap for joy inside me, and running out into the streets of wherever I am, jumping up and down and pointing to the sky like a child as Jesus sweeps in on the clouds.
God has changed my heart, and now I can say that this is the day I live for.
But as long as we're alive, thoughts of death scare us. We don't want to die. We don't want to face the unknown. We don't want to give up our families and cars and money and vacations in exchange for heaven. We want life to keep going long enough for us to experience that next milestone, whatever it may be.
Partly I blame our culture, which we are all a part of, and so therefore I blame ourselves. Of course we fear death. Look at what we've done for ourselves. We spend our lives striving to achieve the American dream, always wanting and always having and never satisfied. There's always going to be something newer and bigger and better than what we have. And we chase after it.
Many of us don't even want to die today because we've built such a home for ourselves here on earth. We'd actually be sad to leave the earth and be with Jesus.*
Can you imagine living like that? Being excited for the day you die?
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*Quotes from Francis Chan's sermon, Living a Life that Matters - "Living Eternally."
Friday, September 11, 2009
Practically speaking, what does observing the Sabbath look like in our culture?
I don't think it's an easy thing to choose to observe, especially when we've already trained ourselves to go to baseball games and put off doing our weekly chores until the very end.
For me, observing the Sabbath means doing all my laundry, ironing, dishes, house cleaning, grocery shopping, and blog posts on Saturday. It means staying home from events that don't point me to remembering Who God is and what He's done for me. It means basking in His Word, music, and prayer...and maybe even resting in Him by taking a nap.
Observing the Sabbath means working harder on Saturday and the other nights of the week so that I am prepared to spend my entire Sunday doing nothing that isn't resting. It means not going to games or parties or movies because I want to have some fun.
It means reflecting. Resting. Being.
Maybe it doesn't always sound like something I want to do. But it's something I need to do. Not just because He commanded it, and not even because I physically need the rest.
It's something I do because it reminds me of God Himself.
And He is all that matters.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
I find one particular verse interesting:
The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. -Exodus 31:16
First, the Sabbath wasn't to be imposed as a rule that kept people from enjoying themselves. It wasn't meant to suck the fun out of this day of rest. On the contrary, it was to be celebrated. Because it was to remind the people of what God had done for them and His promise for the future.
Second, the Sabbath was to serve as a reminder of a covenant. God likes covenants. Because it keeps His people from forgetting Whose they are. He made a covenant with Noah and sealed it with a rainbow. He made a covenant with the Israelites and sealed it with Passover. He made a covenant with us and sealed it with the Cross, which we remember through taking the bread and wine.
The Sabbath is a reminder to us, just like the rainbow, Passover, and the bread and wine. God told Noah that each time a rainbow appeared in the sky, He would remember the covenant He made. But more importantly, these things serve as reminders to us. God doesn't forget. We do. So He gave us these things to see and do on a regular basis so that we don't forget Who He is.
The Sabbath reminds us of Who we serve. Sundays are a day to remove ourselves from the other six days of the week and focus on Him.
Because otherwise we forget.
Monday, September 7, 2009
This was actually a post I tried to write a few months ago. But my thoughts weren't complete.
Now summer has come and gone, and while schedules have changed with the start of school and fall activities, no one is any less busy. Including myself. Once again I am reminded that waiting for "a better time" to do something is never going to happen.
It just has to be done.
In regards to Sunday, I should be doing more with it than what I am. Or rather, doing less. I tried for a while to make it a point to get as many of my weekend chores done on Saturday. Then I could intentionally not be working on Sunday in reverence to God and His day. But since then my attempts have dwindled down to mere fleeting thoughts of being more diligent on Saturday.
So I continue to finish up my chores on Sundays - folding clothes, ironing, washing dishes, buying groceries.
You know what makes this harder? Across the board, Sunday has become just another Saturday. Stores are open, restaurants are serving food, games and events are being held. People go out to eat after church (yeah, they're not preparing dinner on the Sabbath...but what about the people who are?), buy their groceries in the afternoon, and head to the ballgame that evening. The entire day is packed with things to do.
Where does God fit?
Oh, wait. We gave Him that hour and a half in the morning while we daydreamed through church.
Back in the day, God decreed His people to abstain from any kind of work whatsoever. They weren’t even allowed to gather food for their Sabbath meals; that was done ahead of time. He wanted His people to take a break from life and rest so they could enter the new week refreshed. But more than that, He wanted them to reflect on Himself. He wanted His people to remember who He was and whose they were. It was a holy day. A holy day for a holy God.
He even made it one of the Ten Commandments:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. -Exodus 20:8-11
Sounds nice, doesn't it? Well, check out this next verse. God wasn't joking around when He made that commandment:
'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so that you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.
Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.' -Exodus 31:13-17
Can you imagine if Jesus hadn't come? We'd all be dead.
Friday, September 4, 2009
I cross the highway toward the parking lot of a city building. I see balloons on a door of the building and look for the occasion. There is a homemade sign attached to a pole. More balloons. The sign points attendees to the celebration inside. Perhaps a birthday party.
Two gatherings. Only a paved road in between.
Both filled with family and friends. Each vastly different.
My heart aches for those under the tent. I don't know them. But I know that someone is now without a spouse. Someone is without a parent. Someone is without a friend.
Life goes on. I can't help but notice this as I cross the parking lot outside the celebration. Behind me a baseball game continues. Inside this building people are laughing and sharing cake. A train whistle blows. Kids are playing in the street.
A family carries sorrow today that they're not sure they can shoulder. They spend the day crying and holding each other, wanting it all to be over, yet not ready to face tomorrow.
Life goes on.
Somehow we keep moving forward, placing one foot in front of the other. Somehow we find a way to function while watching life move on around us.
Some days we celebrate.
Other days we need someone to carry us through.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
This verse shows the contrast between two men: the first man hears the Word and does nothing, while this man mentioned above hears the Word and chooses to conform his life to it. As I studied this verse, I decided I really liked it.
Tucked in the middle of this sentence is insight into the life of these early Christians. (Who, by the way, were in the midst of persecution for their faith and had scattered all over the land - see vs. 1).
The man who looks intently into the perfect law...
Looks intently - he does not simply skim the pages of Scripture or gloss over the words of God. No, he studies, examines, scrutinizes these words that promise life to those who do so.
Perfect law - In my tiny margins I have scribbled "Matthew 22:37-40". The perfect law that James was referring to is as follows:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and
with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And
the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law
and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.' "
This was about the time I decided I really liked this verse. You see, these early believers didn't have the Bible. They didn't have all of Jesus' and Paul's teachings in a pocket-sized New Testament that they carried around. They didn't have Bible Gateway on which to quickly reference a verse or perform a topical search.
No, these people had none of that. Jesus had only recently left the earth; all of the New Testament books we have now were only in the process of being penned.
But they did have the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), if not some of the other Old Testament writings. These five books had been around since the time of Moses (as he was the one who wrote them), and these were the books that God's people studied and memorized.
Jews knew these words inside and out. They studied them from the time they were old enough to read and literally memorized them. So when James refers to this perfect law, these Jews-turned-Christians knew what he was referring to.
In the verse above, Jesus was quoting directly from these holy ancient words. They come from the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), and the early Christians knew them well.
Hear, oh Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the
LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your
hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit
at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get
up. tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your
foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your
When James told his readers to look intently into the perfect law, he wasn't telling them to study the Sermon on the Mount. He wasn't suggesting they sit around and discuss possible interpretations of holy living. He wasn't asking them to separate the black and white from the gray areas of language and wine.
He was telling them to love the LORD with everything in them, and to keep on doing this. He knew that this is all that matters. We often miss that point in our comfy Western culture. But these people - these precious souls who had just handed over every safety and comfort they had ever known to follow a Jesus who challenged everything they had ever learned about God - these people better understood the freedom that such a life brings. Not an earthly freedom. By no means, because to live in such a way draws persecution. But an eternal freedom that no physical restraint can contain.
For to love the LORD...that is everything.