Monday, January 4, 2010

Sin: It's just normal, isn't it?


   At a routine physical, I was recently diagnosed with an endocrine condition. Though I felt pretty normal, after I saw a list of symptoms, I had to agree that I had just about all of them: brittle nails; achy joints; dry skin; sensitivity to cold; gritty, twitchy eyes; lethargy.
  My mom had the same condition, so it made sense. I thought the symptoms were just products of normal aging.
   I was willing to live with these conditions because I thought that was just the way it had to be. It was normal.
   Now that I’m on medication, I’m seeing some of the symptoms fade and that means freedom. I can move again. I’m awake and alive, not dragged down by a sluggish metabolism.
   Thinking about sin, I can see it works the same way. We don’t know there is a problem until someone points out how it has affected us: difficult relationships; pride; selfishness; hidden lust; greediness; subclinical bitterness; impatience with others…
   When we are properly diagnosed, we can say, “Yes, I guess sin is really having an impact on my life. I just wasn’t aware of it. I just thought it was normal.”
   The Great Physician undoes the effect of sin. Humility, love, freedom, new life: He energizes our being and we are free and alive in Him.

Friday, December 11, 2009

No more sweets, please


One of the great things about the Christmas season, for those of us with a sweet tooth, is the variety of sugary treats available everywhere. All cooks have a specialty, and at Christmas they put time and care into that specialty, so you are assured a quality product.

My grandma’s specialty was fudge, and she cooked a large assortment. Chocolate with and without nuts, peanut butter fudge with marshmallows, sugared walnuts and divinity, all in large quantities. Divinity was a fluffy, white, chalky confection that kind of melted away when you put it in your mouth. There really wasn’t much to it. Why it’s called divinity, I’m not sure.

There comes a time, though, if you overindulge, that you begin to sicken of sugar. You might still eat another chewy caramel when it comes to you on a plate, and you might go ahead and have “just a sliver” more of pie, or a cookie, or a candy cane, even when your mouth says “no” and your stomach says “no way.”

After a while, your tongue gets sore and your mouth hurts. Blisters can even form on the roof of your mouth.

Eventually, you even end up longing for something with a little more nutrition when the almond bark comes your way. You think of a roast beef sandwich or pickles on the relish plate. You might seek out a glass of milk or a slice of turkey because you’ve just had too many empty calories and you want a little salt and substance.

Christmas as a whole can be just like that. All the shallow little accessories become the main dish. We enjoy them. We revel in them. We’re glad they’re here. But eventually there comes a time when we are full and empty at the same time. We’re full of emptiness, and we crave something with a little meat to it. It’s a relief when we hear a deep, meaningful carol on the car radio, or when we close ourselves in a closet with the scriptures and just drink it in.

And our spiritual lives can become like that candy plate, too. We sample from this teaching, and that book, and this CD, and that DVD on how to walk with Christ, or how to help others walk with Him. Eventually, we can get to the point where one more fluffy, sweet, chalky, white bite is going to kill us. We desperately need to get out and just walk with Him and consume His flesh instead of all the sticky, pleasant substitutes. It’s easy to let the name “divinity” divert us toward unhealthy spiritual diets.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shutting the Door on Cold, or Christmas?


   Snow, or no snow, this time of year brings to kids those three words that mean so much.
   Not "I love you," "How r u?" or "Ho, ho, ho!" (Okay. "Ho, ho, ho" is not three words, it's one word three times; and "How r u" only qualifies for texters.)
   The words kids hear most often in winter are: "Shut that door!"
   In our house we have two doors that must be closed upon entry. The front door leads directly to polar air flow. An entryway between the front door and the door to the living room mixes that icy air with house air.
   The entryway serves as a buffer between Siberia and comfortable, living room heat. The kids rarely forget to close the front door. Somehow, frigid, arctic air jostles their brain cells enough to signal the door-closing response.
   But after removing coat, hat and boots, and basking in the warmth of living room heat as they enter the living room, the kids fall victim to drowsy, warm influences on those same brain cells. The entryway door remains open, sending the gas meter ticking away at phenomenal speed.
   "Shut that door!" When I was a kid, my friend's mom always shouted, "Born in a barn?" implying that barnyard animals are the only ones without sense to shut the door when it's cold. I never liked that expression, and I won't use it.
   Besides, "Shut That Door!" has a nice, staccato sound to it, like nails pounded into memory. Usually, "Shut That Door!" is enough to stimulate the door-closing response, though not always.
   Sometimes, shutting the door is nearly impossible. For adults, it's even more difficult than for kids.When you shut a door after a child first moves out on his own, that's hard. When you shut the door on a long relationship that has slowly unraveled, that's painful.
   When you've sold everything you once cherished on the auction block, to move into assisted living, and shut your door for the very last time, that's agonizing.
   Christmas is a door
 Sometimes it's wrong to shut the door. A neighbor needs help. Sorry. Slam. Recently, one large retailer decided to shut the door on the Salvation Army, forbidding bell-ringers.
   Its corporate position statement cited the need for customers to enjoy "distraction-free shopping." Distraction-free shopping. There's the Christmas spirit! A memo right from the desk of Scrooge and Marley. The charitable heart of Christmas ripped out and labeled a "distraction" from buying and selling.
   Shutting the door on Christmas is probably no easier than shutting the door on a strong north wind. Still, some try. Some work to dilute Christmas with every Rudolf, sugar, tinsel, eggnog, Susy Snowflake mixture they can find.
   Others stand at the doorstep, complaining about the welcome mat. Others rail against Christmas, citing their own bitter memories of past injustices, or predicting future ones. They refuse to go in unless they go in on their own terms at their own time, and try to block others from entering.
   Disgruntled litigants apply legal pressure to shut tight any Christmas door left open to the public. But it's hard to shut a door on a door. And Christmas is a door.
   "I am the door," says the Christ child. "If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture."
   No more bolted doors. No more "Do not enter" signs. You can be shut out of meetings, banned from white restaurants, coralled onto smaller and smaller reservations, locked out of board rooms, prevented from bell-ringing. But you can never be shut out of Christmas.
   You can go in AND out. And find pasture. Rich, green, luxuriant pasture.And it won't matter if you leave the Christmas door open, because the Christ child himself was born in a barn.
   Christmas is the door that faces biting, arctic air. But it's also the door that leads to warmth and comfort and welcome.Maybe every time a child comes home, I should accompany "Shut That Door!" with "Come On In!" because it somehow seems like a more Christmassy thing to do.

For more Christmas shorts click here

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Waiting for God's Thank-You note?


     Pulling my daughter from sleep and into the day has always been like dragging a barge loaded with lead. She clings to sleep with her life. I’ve tried to break up the process into small chunks.
     First, I rub her back and greet her with a cheery, but not too sweet, greeting for the day.
     Then, I tell her that I will go make her breakfast. This interferes with her sleep brain waves and gets her at least thinking about waking up.
     Next, I place her breakfast on the table and call her to come eat it.
     And this is where we get stuck. Some days, I literally have to drag her out of bed. Other days, I have to call her four or five times before she manages to lift herself from the covers.
     Every single day she tells me it’s too cold to get up, even on the warmest days.
     Today, after calling her the first time, I forgot about her. I was dealing with my son – who was leaving for a long debate trip.
     When I finally remembered my daughter, I saw her at the table, giving me a look. The look said, I got myself out of bed after only one reminder. She kept trying to catch my eye, and I could see she wanted acknowledgement for her tremendous feat of doing what she was supposed to do anyway.
     I did go and hug her, but I thought about how I do this same thing with God.
     Look at me, God! I did what you asked. Where are my congratulations? Where is my reward? Hey, look! I’m doing what you told me to. See? See?
     We are unprofitable servants, doing what is our duty to do. Not much glory in that, is there? Why do we think God owes us? We would never come out and say it, would we? And yet, when we do His will, we sometimes get that attitude. As if we’ve done some mighty act of valor! And mostly, He tells us to do things because they make life better for us when we do them.

Look! I brushed my teeth without even being asked!
Good. Now your teeth probably won’t fall out.
Don’t I get a reward for this?

God, forgive us when we seek recognition for those things we should do humbly, in obedience to You.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

For a little history on Thanksgiving...


Here is a decent, short and interesting overview of the story of the Pilgrims and their voyage to the New World.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Seeking the more excellent way


I once happened to observe a short exchange in a church, many years ago, where one woman thought that another should be helping with a weekday kids program.

The first woman was overloaded with duties and also had young kids at home and a disability. The other had grown kids and yet wasn't helping. From all outside appearances, there was nothing to prevent her from helping. She didn't work. She had few demands on her time. What few knew was that she had an unbelieving husband at home resentful of her time at church.

I watched as the conflict escalated, in polite church fashion. Before long, each was whisking out her Christian credentials to win her point. One tithed and insinuated that the other didn't, the other prayed with the missionary prayer group, one helped in the nursery, the other taught for years, and so on.

It was an uncomfortable exchange and nothing good came of it. But it was an eye-opening experience because it showed what I might be tempted into when on the defensive.

How do we show our Christian credentials? Should we point to our works in the church, our prayer life, the number of Bible chapters we read each week? The prisoners we have visited or the grieving families we have comforted? Should we tally these up and be ready to produce the card at a moment's notice? We know that Christ confronted those who blew trumpets to announce, in public, their piety. No, no, no!

As a group, how do people know we are followers of Christ? By the big building we gather in? By the great kids programs? By the coolest services? By the best preaching? By the sheer numbers who attend? By the quality of our "product"? By the trendiest music? By our devotion to "excellence"? No, no, no. There is excellence, and then there is the "more excellent way."

By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if ye have love one to another-John 13:35. Yes, yes, yes!

Nothing else comes close, and if we lean on anything else and neglect love, everything else we lean on will come crashing down. Peter says Above all things, have fervent love for each other (I Peter 4:8). Above all things! We might think that running the most efficient ministry beats that, or being the most humble, or holding onto the best traditions, or being the most contemporary in presentation, or showing supreme devotion in our walk, or drawing the most unbelievers in, or sacrificing the most, or any of dozens of other almost-above-all things. But no. That’s not it. Those pursuits, good as they are, are less than loving one another.

So how do we do it? Galatians 5 gives a clue: By love, serve each other. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Just ask, and answer honestly: Would we want it done to us this way? If the answer is no, don't do it, don't say it, don't write it, don't spread it and certainly don't repeat it in defense.

We all know this stuff.

There is no steamrolling over others for the glory of God. There is no place for grasping for authority or using manipulation in the name of Christ. There is no using people. It doesn't glorify Him when you trample others, even for a good cause.

Directly after telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves, Paul warns: For if you bite and devour one another, be careful you don't consume each other. It's easy to do, even in defense, even when we think we're justified. Even when we think it will improve God's kingdom.

To be safe, I am going to read I Corinthians a few times over. Maybe more than a few times.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Good apples, bad apples


During a month of sickness, I watched as my apple tree dropped onto my lawn the best crop of apples it ever produced. I was too weak to harvest them, and my kids were overloaded with schoolwork and music activities. My husband was doing double duty as it was.

Each week, more apples ended up on the ground. I kept thinking I’d get well and be able to harvest them before they all went to waste, but every time I thought I was healing, I’d take a turn for the worse.

Finally, when just about every apple was on the ground, the weather turned warm and I had enough strength to gather from the ground as many decent apples as I could find.

I took a large laundry basket and a bucket -- and began to sort. Many apples were large this year. I would find some that were large and unblemished, and I quickly set them in the laundry basket. Others were split or pitted and I dumped them into the bucket.

Sometimes, I’d come to an apple that looked robust on the surface, only to turn it and find ants eating up the other side. Or I’d find one that looked firm and crisp but then I’d notice a very small hole and could see that just under the surface, it was rotting.

Occasionally, I’d find one that looked misshapen, and I’d be about to toss it into the bucket when I saw that, despite its odd shape, it was healthy and crisp. Into the basket it would go with the good apples. Sometimes an apple would have a mark, but it was only a surface scratch, and the apple was still quite fit for a pie.

As I sorted through the apples beneath my tree, I thought of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13. The harvesters wanted to know if they should gather the weeds before the crop was grown, but Jesus says no. They might accidently uproot the good seed with the tares. He wants none lost. None. He says to wait; then, at harvest, they can first throw out the bad and then carefully choose the good.

He doesn’t want a single good apple lost in the rooting out of bad apples.

We are valuable to Him. So valuable that he won’t risk losing us in his haste to destroy the work of the wicked one. Even though bad and good grow together for a time, so much so that we sometimes question God: Didn’t you plant good seed? Why is there bad here? Even so, he allows his reputation to be held in question for producing the bad rather than destroy a single apple with potential for pie or apple strudel.