THE THING ABOUT FAITH

This is morning, I listened to our guest pastor discuss Hebrews 11. This is that nice chapter that starts out with: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” That’s a beautifully worded verse, isn’t it? It’s so encouraging! Then there’s the second verse: “This is what the ancients were commended for.” And a list of who “the ancients” follows in a really poetic fashion, with the mention of each ancient beginning with “By faith….” And a sense of righteous reverence rises up in me. I this, Wow! These ancients were amazing. Their faith was so strong.

It really is an impressive list of faith. Even sprinkled by moments of mistakes and doubts, these folks finished as God intended for them to. It’s a good reminder that we will very likely make mistakes, but by our maturing faith we will be found righteous as long as we trust that God is truly a good God.

I also listened to what each of the ancients endured and came out on the other side of, even closer to God. They and all the other men and women we read about in the Bible went through some heavy, burdensome things. It makes you look back at beginning of the chapter and reconsider what is really meant by “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” We’re not talking about the hope a child has that they’re going to get a pony for Christmas, or that God’s going to bless you with winning lottery numbers so you can pay off all your debt. These people did the hard things! They did things that exemplify what God means when he says his thoughts are higher than our thought, his ways are higher than our ways and that he’s about to do a new thing. 

08ef2004deac5eb4c1a19b7ceacc0107The Red Sea, sacrificing a son who was inconceivably conceived, a single man telling a pharaoh (himself considered a god) that his God said to let his people go, packing up a huge household, including livestock, and going “over there” because God said to, taking 120 years to build and ark while being mocked by an entire community. No one could fault any of them for saying to God, “You’re kidding, right?” Because we don’t think that way, but God does.

God has never asked me to do the unimaginable or anything as reality-defying as the men and women of the Bible, but in my small world I have had occasions to trust him more than has been comfortable. And it was while I was pondering this fact that our guest preacher moved on to Hebrews 12 which begins, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses….” As I said, I’ve never had to ask God to part the Red Sea for me and thousands of others while an army is at our heels. But I have been overwhelmed by a season of “stuff” that required more money, more energy, or more strength than I had, and stood at the edge of my next step wondering how it was going to be okay, when it was going to be okay, knowing I really had no reasonable option but to go “by faith.”

I was listened to this from a pew at the back of the church. I looked out at the smattering of heads covered by gray hair or no hair among the younger looking heads. And I realized that I was surrounded by my own, personal cloud of witnesses. I attend a Methodist church and you can’t accuse them of being Pentecostal in any modern sense, but I know our older members have a deeply rooted, secured faith that came from doing hard things “by faith.” They’ve been married to the same person longer than I’ve been alive. They’ve buried husbands, wives and children long before they wanted to. They’ve done without and gotten through it anyway. They’ve gotten through things I hope to never have to go through, and things I’ll likely still go through because I’m married, have children, work and, quite simply, because I’m alive.

These beautiful people aren’t wiser simply because their older. They are wiser because they’ve learned hard lessons by faith. They’ve got battle scars that others can’t see. Their armor is certainly worse for wear. They’ve fought battles on their knees. They may walk slower than they did when they were younger, but I know they walk together; and in them is still he heart of a child who knows they are loved by their Father. I love them in a way I never thought I could love anyone, and I thank God for them.

BUT WHY?

Very little is more frustrating than doing something simply for the sake of doing it. Many years ago, I attended a friend’s baby shower. I took my gift to the gift table and handed it to the gift table manager. She was quick to point out that the accompanying card didn’t have my friend’s name on it and suggest that I do that. Since there was only one mother-to-be at the shower, I hadn’t expected this social construct to be important. But in order for the gift table manager to have a fulfilling purpose beyond receiving and strategically stacking gifts, checking envelopes for names to add some value to an otherwise so-so responsibility. Or maybe she just really, really believed names should be on envelopes!

Sometimes, traditions get passed from one generation to the next. You know the story of the young mother asking her mother why she was always sure to cut off each end of the ham for dinner. Her mother didn’t really know why, so she asked her grandmother, who settled the matter saying, “Because none of my pans were big enough to hold a full ham.”

Simon Sinek examines this kind of thinking in this 5-minute short-cut version of Start With Why. And, yes, he focuses on business training, but when he says:

SINEK - WHY

When we look at it this way, our church families are challenged to determine why we do what we do.

It’s so tempting to look at mega churches and feel a twinge of jealousy when our own small parking lot and pew seats remain sparsely filled. What do we do when popular churches offer spectacles more electrifying than Hamilton and all the members are on their feet in a deafening praise, while we have a generation of grandparents and great-grandparents, a smattering of young families, and teens with a very short attention span?

The harvest Jesus talked about is still out there, always out there, until God gives the nod to Jesus that it’s end-game time. So…

whay-church-should-be-e1561400496199.jpgWhy do we have church? Why do we open the doors, call for volunteers and pay for building maintenance? Why do we have coffee and doughnuts available? Why do we congregate and sing together? Why do our pastors prepare a new sermon every week and our boards get together to plan?

Why? We aren’t a business. The offering isn’t a cover charge.

Why did the field workers who got hired late in the day get paid as much as the workers who put in a full, grueling day? Because there was still work to be done. It absolutely must be done because we’re running out of time!

People are finding comfort from the wrong things. People are living one day after another without knowing how very loved they are by the one Father that will never leave them or forsake them. People are dying without salvation.

Certainly, there is plenty of work to be done before the sun sets. There are people who need to be loved into salvation.

WHAT IF CHURCH

What if all we ever have are the members of our small church to be the hands and feet of God? Here’s what I see in my church family:

  • A generation with years of faith-building trials, heartache, blessings and wisdom that can only come from a long life. A generation that will not be here forever. Their hearts are soft enough to be pierced by the word of God; but their confidence in a good God is heard in their fervent prayers and felt by their gentle hands.
  • A generation of young parents who have chosen to raise their children to trust God, appreciate Jesus, listen to the Holy Spirit, and love others. Their young ones won’t be young as long as we think they’ll be. Soon, they’ll be…
  • Our youth, the ones who will elect the people who will determine the legislation that affect all of us. They’ll create and run business that will set standards of trust and transparency. They will be the thermostat for their community, their state, their country. They are the ones to whom we will entrust the harvest we don’t have the time to finish.

I think we need to know why we do church. I think we need to determine if we need to keep putting a name on a card when it can only go to one person. Maybe we need to figure out why we keep cutting the ends off our hams. There are far too many souls out there waiting to be loved into the kingdom of God for us to be wasting our resources on anything that doesn’t help get them there.

COME HOME

I ended my last post with “You are so loved!” I tell my family that often. They give me so much joy that I could never not love them. But this morning, after I’d texted my teenage daughter that she was ‘so loved’, Holy Spirit nudged me and said, “So are you. You and the rest of the world are so loved that God gave his only son, that whoever believes in the son will not perish but will have everlasting life. We are all so loved by our Father. He wants everyone to just come home where they belong! He already has a place at the table with our name on it.

That’s a pretty decent WHY!

Let’s pray that as fishers of men, we are as able to pull in a net bulging to the point of breaking as we are to trust Christ to tell us where to throw the net out and that we’re willing to throw it out at his word no matter how many times we’ve already tried or how tired we are.

And remember…you are so loved!

 

 

 

 

 

MORE MUSHROOMS AND OTHER THINGS I DON’T LIKE

In my previous post, we looked at how we can handle those things – and people – we don’t like. You can catch up here if you haven’t read it yet.

So what does social media have to do with books and recipes with mushrooms?

Inclusion and Exclusion.

It would be easy enough to discuss being kind to others. As Christians, we can take a cue from Christ and be kind to others. Heck, there are plenty of people who aren’t Christians who are kind to others! But there’s another side to the equation to that. (Don’t worry! This isn’t a math problem. I’m not nearly that clever or cruel.)

I think we can take kindness a step further. Very simply, we don’t have to share every thought we have! Or as George Washington advised Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton:

talk less smile more

I can be incredibly insecure at times. I feel especially anxious when someone avoids me or doesn’t speak to me, because one of my “punishments” growing up was to not be acknowledged or spoken to for up to three days at a time. (I was talked about, but not to.) But that’s not something anyone but my family – and now you – know enough about to be sensitive to it. And even if someone knew enough to be sensitive to it, there are those who would exploit it because they have the right to say whatever they want – whether I like it or not.

I am also really self-conscious about my thick waistline and thin hair. I absolutely hate being in photos – so much so that I cried for most of the day after seeing myself in all my monstrosity in a company photo. Words like disgusting, fat, stupid, and unacceptable were on a continuous loop in my head. I would imagine some of you have felt at least a bit of embarrassment, rejection or shame in your life, so I know I’m not alone.

you don't get to decide.jpgVulnerability can be so painful.

But it’s so easy to forget that others can feel embarrassment, rejection or shame, too. We forget how much better compassion can feel. And yet, some of us subscribe to the “misery loves company” philosophy and figure if they’re going down, they’re taking someone with them. They manage to compound someone else’s shame by excluding them from their customized paradigm by making them “less than”.

Christ didn’t come to us to save those of us who don’t sin as badly as “those people” sin. In fact, the offer of salvation is still available, albeit for a limited time. We all want compassion, mercy and grace. We don’t deserve it, but we want it

thumper

We’ve heard John 3:16 often enough that even a non-Christian  – especially if they’re a fan of Tim Tebow – would know it: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

How wonderful to know that we have hope, that we are set apart. But John 3:17 reminds us that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” 

It’s simple enough for a child to understand, really. What we don’t do is every bit as important as what we do. What we don’t say can more than what we do say. Maybe we could be quiet sometimes.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be discerning. But embarrassing an overweight passenger isn’t discerning. It’s shaming, and it’s not necessary. I doubt this passenger wasn’t hearing anything she hadn’t already told herself! And there were probably a fair number of passengers who were relieved that they hadn’t been seated next to her. In fact, the only difference between them and the vocal passenger may have been small and simple: they didn’t humiliate a fellow human being and she did.

Be Kind, inspirational scripture art, hand lettering, from StudioJRU
Be Kind, inspirational scripture art, hand lettering, from StudioJRU

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV). The flip side is this: Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want someone to do to you. This isn’t “spiritual”; it’s kind and decent.

Now, I’m still not willing to make recipes that include mushrooms or read a book I don’t find interesting. I suppose I can at least try read the rest of a devotional that calls me to do what I don’t really want to do. But if God loves someone as much as He loves me, it seems only right that I try to love them, too. And if I can’t love them, I can at least I can be quiet.

MUSHROOMS AND OTHER THINGS I DON’T LIKE

I have a couple of things that I need to confess:

  • I ignore any recipe that requires mushrooms.
  • When I don’t like the first few pages of a book, I simply won’t read it.
  • I don’t care how sick I am, I will not take Alka Seltzer if it goes in a glass of water.
  • I take a pass on any devotionals that even hint at something I really don’t want to do. (You know the ones, right?)

im not arguingFor the most part, this list is pretty harmless, right?

Right?

Recently, I heard a story that is all too common today. Apparently, a passenger on a flight didn’t care to be seated next to a fat person, a fact she made abundantly clear to anyone near her. She had a belief paradigm in which fat people on a plane didn’t fit.

I came across another story along the same lines. (They’re not hard to find, folks!) This was a pretty transparent, well-articulated letter that highlighted the shame felt by most people who have ever been singled out and treated as “less than”.

It broke my heart. Not because it was written by an obese person or the fact that I understood all too well what it felt like to believe you were literally taking up more space than you should. It broke my heart because the treatment of the writer was both unkind and unnecessary.

As a person who likes to share every thought that pops into my head – and a few that take the express lane past the Does That Really Need to be Said? pit stop – I know how satisfying it can be to say whatever you think and how very hard it can be to hold your tongue. Just as every single teacher I had from Kindergarten through high school.

In fact, just last night, I was in a pretty foul mood after work, and my husband and daughter heard all about it when I got home.  When I decided it was time to stop ranting, some anger still sputtered out, much like the coffee machine does after it dispenses coffee. I grumbled, “I need to calm down. I want to write about kindness!” (I know! Right?)

they'd all be right
I’ve had this on my fridge for a long time! Guess which one is me.

Most of that post was ditched this morning when I began to consider that maybe what we don’t do is as important as what we do.

God is all about balance. Christ demonstrated that. Every time he healed someone, it was every bit as much about asking the religious leaders why He shouldn’t heal someone as the fact that someone’s mind and body should be restored. I have no doubt that some of them were what their culture would call ‘undeserving.’

If there’d been a show of hands for who in the crowd of 5,000 men (plus their wives and children) should be healed, “those people” wouldn’t have been healed. Jonah had a really hard time offering God’s compassion to “those people” in Ninevah. Today, we have a hard time offering God’s compassion to “those people” in our lives, don’t we?

And doesn’t it seem like there are a lot of “those people” in our lives? Our coworkers, the government, the customers at the grocery store, the drivers on the highway, the people we are connected to through social media…They’re everywhere, and they get on our last nerve!

What gives any of them the right to be treated kindly? To be shown compassion? To be forgiven?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Except God’s grace. The same grace that we are afforded. And before you think, “Well, I know I’m not perfect, but…”, think about all the times you’ve seen yourself get ugly about someone else. Yes, some times it is a righteous anger. But more often than not, it’s more about feeling justified.

We want what we want! We’ve grew up with the conveniences of refrigeration and automobiles – just two of the things that gave our families free time. Then we got fast food, and we got what we wanted right now. And then Burger King told us that we could have it our way. Today, social media allows us to create our very own truth bubble by subscribing to what we believe and blocking anything that doesn’t agree with our truth.

We are able to communicate with millions of people around the world and to access a ridiculous amounts of information, which we can customize to our liking. But instead of creating a sense of community with a variety of cultures by identifying the things we have in common, I think it creates a very egocentric mindset. If there’s something that doesn’t fit into our customized truth, we reject it. That doesn’t make us bad, though.

However, I suspect – and I could be wrong – that this customization lays the foundation for creating the culture of offense we have today. When I think my thoughts are better founded and my comforts are more important than someone else’s or my rights are superior to someone else’s, I can simply take offense. I become self-righteous. I begin to pick and choose who I will love, tolerate, affirm and forgive. That means that there are some of “those people” who won’t show up on my radar – because I eliminate them. It’s not something new, but now we’re able to dislike and disagree with people whom our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t have access to.

So what does this have to do with recipes with mushrooms and books? I’ll tell you tomorrow. Feel free to type your guess in the comments below!