Sunday, January 8, 2017

Peace

There are a lot of pieces to peace and the Bible strings them together like pearls, one more beautiful that the one before:

"A peacemaker is someone who experiences the peace of God (Philippians 4:7) because he is at peace (Romans 5:1) with the God of peace (Philippians 4:9) through the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), who, indeed, is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), and who therefore seeks to live at peace with all others (Romans 12:18) and proclaims the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15) so that others might have joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13)". (Compiled by Dustin S., found on desiringGod.org)

There seem to be two components to this peace: one is the peace I get from faith and the other is the peace I strive for with my neighbor. Peace is a bridge, a bridge from me to God and a bridge from me to you. Looking at it that way, it makes perfect sense that Jesus would include the peacemaker in His Sermon on the Mount. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)

Christmas has come and gone, 2017 has started - and being a peacemaker is my new year's resolution. It is also an act of obedience... two birds with one stone, how very efficient of me. I know that this won't be easy. Everything worth having in life requires hard work and sacrifice, blessings included.

Being a peacemaker is personal. It is the time-consuming, tedious, repetitious work of a bridge-builder. It is also risky and potentially hurtful and often thankless, regardless of whether I am one of the feuding parties or a bystander trying to step in. A few months ago I slipped and landed smack between two fighting dogs. Coming eye to eye with the flashing teeth of two snarling, growling, attacking dogs is the perfect image of what my new year's resolution may get me into. At the end of the day, we all love a good fight and nothing is more upsetting than a seemingly self-righteous do-gooder who won't take your side and tries to make peace instead.

Being a peacemaker is also against human nature for that very same reason: we all love a good fight. I am far more likely to be the one who is upset, outraged, insulted and mistreated. Rising above to make peace requires just that: to rise above, to look toward God, to seek His peace first.

I am not naive, I am also not likely to win the Miss Universe pageant. But if I was, I don't think I would make "world peace" part of my acceptance speech. All that does is make the goal so lofty and impossible to reach that it becomes a utopian dream rather than a call to action. I am not talking about  world peace here. I am taking about a bridge; a bride from me to you or from you to somebody else. Like the old-fashioned marble game where the ball rolls down one track, falls onto the track below in a different direction, rings a bell or spins a wheel on its way down, and on it goes... countless bridges with some excitement along the way.

James says, "And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:19) Righteousness can only come from Christ and it can only be shared in peace if I make peace - and those are my marching orders for 2017: stay close to God through Christ, feel His peace through faith and trust, and then share it with you. Just like the marble, peace starts at the top and trickles down. My resolution is to clear the tracks and keep the marbles rolling - and I will be plenty busy just clearing up my own tracks. So if you and I are having a tiff, if our bridge needs mending, expect a phone call. It is the beginning of January and new year's resolutions are still going strong. I will show up, brick and mortar in hand, to be the peacemaker God wants me to be... one bridge at a time.

Happy New Year!











Thursday, December 15, 2016

Oh Tannenbaum

My men love a big Christmas tree. The bigger, the better - even if it takes them hours to put the lights on. I, on the other hand, want a small tree. A humble, tiny tree, preferably with roots to plant it in the  yard in the new year. Negotiations broke down about 10 years ago and now we have both: a majestic, beautiful 12-foot tree in the family room and a humble, also beautiful 2 foot tree in my office. Decorating the big tree is a family affair, the little tree is all mine. I cherish the hours decorating it, glass of champagne in hand, strolling down memory lane with German carols and ornaments from home. And then I get homesick... but that is another story.

Today's story is about the big tree. For the past 22 years, we have had near-perfect Christmas trees. Twelve feet of natural perfection; impeccably shaped, dense, fresh and fragrant.

This year... not so much. This year we ended up with a 12-foot version of a Charlie Brown tree. Misshapen, gaping holes, branches sticking out in the strangest places, crocked, it doesn't even have a top to put the star on. Slightly concerned we set it up, added water, went to bed and hoped that it would open up over night to awe us with its beauty in the morning. No such luck. As if to dare us, the hole got bitter, the branches stuck out further, it even tilted to left. "Go ahead," it sneered, "miss the entire meaning of Christmas and burn me. Exchange me for a perfect, man-trimmed, forced-into-shape tree. After all, perfection is what Christmas is all about, isn't it?"

2016 was a not-so-perfect year for many of us. For many in the world, it was the most horrific year ever. So why not end a crooked, imperfect year with a crocked, imperfect tree?

We trimmed a few branches on top just to make room for the star. We didn't touch the branches sticking out nor did we try to fix the hole. And we have learned to love our distorted tree. The lights still sparkle, the decorations still bring back memories, and it is still the symbol of our faith that promises hope and joy and love. It reminds us that especially in less-than-perfect years, this hope, joy and love have to be shared with a desperate world.

I am merrily busy celebrating an extra-meaningful Christmas this year. Christ was born some 2,000 years ago to make a year like 2016 bearable. "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world," He says in John 16:33.

Christmas is about redemption. It is about forgiveness of sin and closeness to God. But to me, this year it is about "take heart, I have overcome the world." I may be skipping 16 chapters in the gospel of John, but my crippled, misshapen tree stands for the promise that imperfection will not last. We are told to put our love around an imperfect world, make it better, learn to love the ugly parts and decorate it with the love of Christ.

And our wayward, stubborn and flawed tree this year may be our best one yet.

Wishing you a merry, blessed and hopeful Christmas. May God fill you with His peace, and may He give you the courage to be His love in 2017. The world around you needs it so!













Friday, November 25, 2016

Asking for Blessing

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Render true judgements, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart. But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent... . Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. As I called, and they would not hear, so they called and I would not hear', says the Lord of hosts..." (Zechariah 7:9-13).

You know you are in trouble when you read an Old Testament reprimand from God and every last word stings - because every last word applies to you.

I can almost hear God add one more thing to this long list of grievances: "... and then they had the gall to ask me to bless their nation!"

When you ask God to bless you, make sure you are bless-worthy, so to speak. Make sure God likes what He sees when He looks at your heart. As a church and as a nation, we must ask that same question. Are we worthy of God's blessing? Does God look at us and say, "Bless you??? You must be kidding!!!" or does He say, "Well done, my good and faithful servants!"

I am going to stop with the "God bless America" for a while and make sure that we - and I - are right with God. At the moment it's not looking so good. "True judgements, kindness and mercy, no evil against another"... oh boy. On the other hand, "diamond-hard hearts, refusal to hear, ignoring the Word of God"... now that sounds more like us, doesn't it?

"As I called, and they would not hear, so they called and I would not hear, says the Lord of hosts."

God will not hear our call for blessing if we will not hear His call to live the gospel. It is time to quiet the noise and peel back the layers we have piled on top of the message of Christ. Whatever happened to "love God above all else and love your neighbor like yourself"? That is not a political platform, it is a statement of faith and a way of life. It is a source of reason the world around us so very desperately needs. We can't expect God to dig through the rubble of watered-down Christian truth to look for a nation worth blessing. Just like we can't expect to find God's peace and joy in the rubble of watered-down Christian truth we have allowed to corrupt our faith.

We have thrown faith, patriotism and political goals into one big pot and stirred it so hard that we ended up with an indistinguishable blob - and not a fragrant one, if you ask me.

So I am taking a step back. I want God's blessing more than anything else. I want it for myself, my family, my church, my country and the entire world. But one step at a time! It starts with my heart - and yours - and from there we set out to reach the remaining seven billion hearts with the untainted, loving, forgiving, caring and non-condemning message of Christ.

Now more than ever the world needs us Christians to do our job - and nothing else. We need to be the voices of love in a world that is screaming hatred and vile. We need to be the hands of mercy in a world that cares for 'self' above all else. And we need to step back from politics in a world were everybody is scrambling for a seat at the table.

May God bless our efforts to be His love, and may He encourage us when we fail. Let's start there and see where it takes us. Actually, Zachariah tells us exactly where it will take us: "Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts... saying "let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you." (Zachariah 7:22-23).

That is the goal. Christ's uncompromising call for love is how we reach it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Life and Death

"Death is part of life," they say. How very true. And how very unimaginative and void of meaning.

If you want to add meaning to this thought, you have to reverse it: "Life is part of death." Do I have your attention now?

If death of natural causes is my destiny, then how I have lived will affect how I die. Not in terms of  the physical course of events but in terms of the emotional process it will be. A lifetime's worth of experiences, good and bad, will influence my final days. Because in the end, everything else will cease to matter. People will no longer be recognized, voices will no longer be heard. Food will no longer be of importance, personal appearance will matter no more.

My life's story here on earth with all its dreams, hopes, plans, successes, disappointments and hurts will be part of the equation, whether I view death as the end or as the beginning of eternity. It is a transition either way.

God knows this, of course, and that is yet another reason why He is teaching me the importance of forgiveness now. A lifetime of forgiveness brings the peace that will reign as death draws near. Think about that for a moment. If a lifetime worth of experiences - good and bad - will influence my final days, then forgiveness will ensure that the good outweigh the bad. That is peace.

We all lug baggage around. Apologies neglected to be made. Wounds not allowed to heal. Forgiveness not asked for or not granted. But there will come a time when it is too late, when all that will be left are regret and sorrow. And it will show. I have seen people die with a smile on their face, peacefully and gratefully. And I have seen people fight to their last breath, clinging to life for that last chance to fix what has been broken years ago. Waiting for the estranged child to show up and be held. Waiting for the abusive spouse to finally break down in grief and remorse. Waiting to forgive or be forgiven.

Don't wait too long. Live your life today in a way that lets you hope to die in peace tomorrow. No loose ends, nothing left unsaid. "... as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." Paul said that. (Colossians 3:13) If I let that simple command govern my life, it will impact every single day, up to the very last one.

This is easily my heaviest blogpost yet. It is the result of a hard, hard week at hospice. And I will be the first to admit that I am way out of my depth here. But even if my underlying theory is wrong, the conclusion is still right: "... as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." There is peace in forgiveness.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Cloud of Unkowing

In the late 14 century an anonymous monk in England wrote a book called Cloud of Unkowing.  Its premise, the way I understand it, is that true faith brings with it - and rests on - pure, emotional love for God.

"But no man can think of God Himself. Because He can certainly be loved, but not thought. He can be taken and held by love, but not by thought.", he writes.

When push comes to shove, when a leisurely Bible study becomes impossible because life is just too hard and when a cup of coffee with friends is no longer enough, my love for God is all I have. It is that love that will protect my faith in hard times, and it is that love that will allow God to reach my heart and be there... not as some spiritual, cosmic, out-there entity but as the living, real and tangible Christ. My friend, my protector, my guide, my love.

"Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) takes on a whole new meaning. It is not about me taking the time to pray, and it is not about me being still enough for God to answer me. Prayer is not a to-do list from me to God, nor is it the means for God to hand me His to-do list in return. Being still and knowing that He is God means to stop thinking, stop analyzing, stop asking, stop searching, stop quoting Scripture, stop singing... stop using words altogether. Speechless love. "He can be taken and held my love, but not by thought." Stop thinking, start feeling.

All of this sounds very mystical, I know. It reminds you of the 60s, doesn't it? I was born in '65, too young to catch the groove, and I cannot speak from personal experience. But I do understand what made the 60s so unique: people stopped thinking and acted on emotion instead. Granted, they used drugs to do that - and I am not condoning nor suggesting the use of drugs - but when I  manage to turn  off my brain and just feel, that is when God's magic happens. God's peace, God's love, God's strength, God's courage, God's joy and so much more are available to me if I only shut up and just feel. Try it sometime. It is hard! And if a 14th century monk thought that life got in the way too much, imagine what he would think today. Around-the-clock news coverage, most of it negative, social media, countless ways to stay connected and be reached... when are we ever still?

Faith, per definition, has a component of the supernatural. It cannot be proven, it cannot be explained, it cannot be comprehended. Otherwise it would be fact, not faith. The only way that lets me bridge the gap, the only way I can take that leap of faith is emotional love. Cut that out of the equation and faith will die. When John says, "God is love" (John 4:8) He doesn't only mean that God loves us or that we should love one another. He also means that we can only find God through love. Love for Him, not for His character, not for His power, not for His actions. The minute you start thinking of these things you start thinking in terms of words. Words again... how they get in the way of emotional love.

"But no man can think of God Himself. Because He can certainly be loved but not thought." I told you this was hard.

Back to basics, back to love - personally, as a church, as a country, as the world... don't get me started. If only we could be still and know that He is God. Can you imagine? Can you feel it?





Monday, September 12, 2016

Yo-Yo Faith

I am sure you have heard of yo-yo diets. You may have been on one or two yourself. Let me just state the obvious and get it over with: they do not work! They take you to a temporary high, but ultimately they leave you feeling deflated and discouraged.

Yo-yo faith does the exact same thing.

So God has seen you through a tough time. You have felt His love and provision, and you can't stop singing His praises. And then reality kicks in again, you are busy and preoccupied with a thousand things, and before you know it, the singing stops and the high evaporates. 

You may say, "That is just because of the crazy time we live in. So many demands, so fast-moving, so hectic, and it gets worse the older I get."

Not so. Robert Robinson wrote a hymn about this in 1757, at the tender age of 22.

Come, Thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace,
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise,
While the hope of endless glory
Fills my heart with joy and love...

Verse after verse he praises God's grace. And then he throws in this:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Yo-yo faith is not an issue of our modern times. It is an issue of our fickle hearts.

The way God takes and seals my heart is by filling it with love for others. No religious fervor, no amount of academic Bible study, not a minute of volunteer hours will tie my heart to Him. They will just keep me busy and feeling good about myself... for a while. Yo-yo faith indeed. Why do you think Christ keeps telling us to love our neighbor, love our brother, love our enemy - and whoever else we can think of, love them too? He doesn't want our hearts on temporary highs followed by periods of deflation and a sense of failure - He can't build His kingdom on so shaky a ground!

Easy as pie, once I figured it out. 

For example, I co-lead a weekly women's Bible study. I prep the lesson, I set up the room, I keep the study running and on target. But I know for sure that the only way for my faith to be visible to the group is through my love, not my Bible knowledge, not my personality, not my table runners, not my prayer emails. Are the women in the group in my heart, truly and consistently? If so, I am close to Christ. If not, my heart wanders off and the farther it goes, the quicker I lose all joy and purpose. 

The difference between "doing it" and "doing it right" is the love that drives me. I go from "prone to wander" to "here's my heart, o, take and seal it" because of that love and compassion. Christ tells us to love one another not just for the benefit of the one on the receiving end. He tells us to love one another because the very act of caring puts our hearts firmly in His hand; the most solid, unchanging, reliable and save hand there is.

As I said, easy as pie. This doesn't mean that I always get it right. But it certainly means that I know how to change course when I don't. 








Wednesday, August 24, 2016

God's Perpetual Motion Machine

Empty-nesting does wonders for your prayer life. I can't remember the last time I have prayed so much, if ever.

What a crazy summer it has been. There hardly seemed time to breathe. But now there are three empty bedrooms upstairs where noise and chaos used to reign, and I had big plans for doing a whole lot of nothing for a while. Take a few days off and start fresh in a week or two. A week or two? Who was I kidding? My sons' beds were still warm when I started to clean up, wash sheets, vacuum carpet space that hadn't seen the light of day in years and finally - finally! - find the matching pairs in their sock drawers that have eluded me thus far. Missing socks is a mystery I cannot wait to solve.

Withdrawing into inactivity comes as naturally to me as flying does to a fish. Can't do it. And while the Bible is full of verses on hope, trust, faith, and the promise of a perfect ending, I always look for something more tangible, something I can do here and now. It is how I am wired.

For example, I had tendonitis in my arm a little while ago. Months and months of debilitating pain. The doctor said it would heal eventually, all I had to do was wait and be patient. My consternation must have shown clearly because he quickly added that physical therapy and stretching exercises would speed up the process. Now that's more like it! Give me something to do that helps the healing process and I can deal with most anything.

I approach faith the same way. "Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit." (Psalm 51:12)

Salvation, joy and a willing spirt and inseparable for me. Salvation is the basis on which my joy and my willing spirt propel each other forward, so to speak. One leads to the other, in either direction. Joy that comes from faith will overflow into active love for others. Getting out of my potential misery by focusing on the needs of others restores my joy. Back and forth it goes, the perfect perpetual motion machine - which, by the way, does not exist in the world of physics as we understand it today. But it does exist in the world of faith!

Withdrawal is not an option. Asking God to blow on my empty-nester-booboos while I wait for them to heal is only half the picture. Healing cannot be for my benefit only or else the Psalm would end with "Restore to me the joy of your salvation". But it is a willing spirit that upholds me, and a willing spirit is a spirit that obeys... and loves doing it.

So this is Day 1 of my new life, 6 AM, and I am ready. My sons' bedrooms are all set for them to come home at Thanksgiving and I have places to go and things to do. Offer God a willing spirit and He won't waste any time.