Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Put the Book Down, Will You?

So--we're watching "The Mummy", you know, the first one. The movie's about 2/3 over--Evie is defending herself against the just-revived, dessicated Anck-Su-Namun, Rick O'Connell is whacking away at dusty but determined Egyptian priests, and then there's Jonathan. Oh yes, Evie's aimless brother. He's on the periphery of the action with the all-important Book of the Dead, the book that holds the key to destroying the scary and dangerous Imotep. And Jonathan is, well, irritating.

There he is, book in hand, essentially out of danger, and his only job is to READ SOMETHING. I mean, how hard can it be? And he's COMPLAINING about it. And while he's doing it, and slowly, mind you, Rick and Evie are subduing real bad guys--dismembering them and scattering them to the winds. And what are they doing at the same time? HELPING JONATHAN.

That's right. Here they are, swords flying, giving the guy who risks nothing hints and help, all while keeping flesh-hungry mummies at bay. And while they do it, they are patient, articulate, and brave. Duh. What's wrong with this picture?

Well, nothing as it turns out. This, ladies and gents, is the way of our world. We are Jonathan. Yes, we are. I mean, really....when was the last time you ever had to really defend anything or anyone? When have you been in any real danger?

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.--Hebrews 12:4

No we haven't. And we're still complaining.
It's too hard, Lord.
Why me, Lord?
Give me, Lord!

And there's our God, sword in hand, defending us, or hands stretched out on the cross, dying for us.
We ought to have only one thing on our lips.
Humble thanksgiving.

We don't necessarily have to put down our own work, but maybe we ought to recognize what's really going on outside our little world, don't you think?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Quick to Judge: A Study in Black and White

It just seems so easy for some people.
Right and wrong, I mean. Some just see it so clearly, with no fuzzy edges, with no confusing alternatives, with no options to reconsider.

Deciding right from wrong sounds like it should be easy, but it isn't. Not for a lot of us.
Most people will tell you that lying, for instance, is wrong.
But what about lying to save someone's feelings or their reputation or their life? Is it still wrong?
And how about harming someone? Is that always wrong?
How about protecting someone from attack? How about the times when civil courts exonerate the obviously guilty? Who protects their next victim?
And then there's obedience to authority--when can a child question? When a parent instructs them not to tell? When they teach a child to buy them drugs? When they say it's OK, just this once?

I think there's a reason some of these questions seem so easy for some and so hard for others--
People who judge quickly have often had to.
Some of us have grown up with the luxury of relative ease and security. Not so with everyone. Some people are born into a battle that they have to engage day by hard day, even from childhood. Their antennas always have to be up. Survival can depend on it.
The more often a person has had to make hard, life-changing, even life-saving decisions, the quicker they judge. They have had to. 
Someone in immediate danger can't pause to contemplate. They act.
A hard life can necessitate a habit of fast, hard decisions.

God, for His part, appreciates people of decision:
...he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed like the wind.--James 1:5
He says He will show us what to do and expects us to do it.
This is the way. Walk in it.--Isaiah 30:21

God is saying that He's given us all we need already. He expects us to do something with it.
Judge when you have to. 

Yes, some people judge more quickly than others, but before you point an accusing finger and quote a Bible verse, find out why.
Maybe they've lived a life that necessitated extra practice.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Breathing in, Breathing Out

The ins and outs that measure life.
Our breaths number thousands upon thousands, and we count only the hard ones--the first, the labored, and the reluctant last.
But our breaths all belong to God.
Each one communicates God's own identity, a confirmation of life carried to us from very heaven.

Breathe in, and receive God Himself.
Breathe out, and do what?
First, a cry. Later, a laugh.
Sigh. Moan.
Promise. Lie.
Pray. Curse.
Sweet pillow whisper.
Sweaty sickbed soothing.
Blow a bubble.
Play a flute.
Extinguish a candle.
Have a smoke.
Ho-o-old it....

And then they're gone. A whole life of breathing.
How have I spent my breaths, my second-by-second gifts of Spirit?
There's only one good way. I must give them back.
Everything that has breath praise the Lord.--Psalm 150:6

Do you want to remember that you belong to God?
Breathe with Him. In and Out. Every day.
And Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that, He breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit...--John 20:21-22

And, at the end of all our days, may we offer up even the last of breaths to Him in a sacrifice of praise.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Why You Can't Hurt Me Anymore

Some days, I wish I wore shoulder pads.
I am tired of hurting.
It's the accumulation, I think, that piles up over long years, the catalog of hurts that comes with living.
What do I do with them?

I know this--I must choose my protection carefully.
I can put on shoulder pads, but not erect barriers.
If I protect myself too much, I will miss my life. I am going to have to endure some risk, and some hurt, if I am going to do any living at all.

The key is learning to recognize real danger.
Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but not kill the soul.--Matthew 10:28
There is, after all, only so much another person can do to me. If I am to live at all, I will have to accept a measure of hurt.
My defense, though, is really a good offence.
I do have the power to kill old hurts and consign new ones to their proper place: it is the power to forgive.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.--Colossians 3:13
And how do I do that?
I do it by remembering that, to some degree, I hand people the sticks with which they beat me.
If I hold on to hurt, it holds me captive in return.
If I take hurt in stride, chalking it up to the brokenness of this world and the people around me, I can reach out to, and be consoled by the only consolation truly available.
The Lord will protect you from all evil. He will keep your soul.--Psalm 121:7

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Real True Love

This is the irony of age--that I have spent  a whole lifetime caring for and satisfying a body that slowly falls apart. 
And I can't do a thing about it.

Let's face it.
I love myself. More than I love anyone else and more than anyone loves me.
I am my own best friend.
But my affection is misplaced. I am also my own betrayer.

My hands hold tight to what does not last.
The man who loves his life will lose it...--John 12:25
My head trusts my own reason above all others.
For the wisdom of the world is foolishness in God's sight.--1Corinthians 3:19
My heart leads me to destruction.
The heart is deceitful above all things.--Jeremiah 17:9

So what do I do with this body, this life--or what is left of it?
How do I focus on what does not crumble to dust?
How do I live in blood and bone and skin, emotion and thought, but disdain its rule over me?

There is only one way I know--
I must live not to find satisfaction in indulgence, but joy in denial.
I cannot become like Christ and, at the same time, pamper my flesh. I have to go past it, through it.
This is life's purpose, its real journey.
If I can do this, then I will still die, but I will not die with my body. I will live with my Lord.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Where are You?

I'm wondering--
Who prayed the first prayer?

Simply defined, prayer is conversation with God.
But something else may be implied here, I'm thinking.
After all, Adam and Eve kept company with God in Eden, and that company was, presumably, easy and companionable.
The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.--Genesis 3:8

It sounds an awful lot like Adam and Eve often walked with Him, that they conversed with God, who showed them the world He'd created for them. Maybe they discussed heaven. Maybe they talked about what each fruit tasted like. Maybe they tossed around names for the animals.
But those conversations weren't prayer, were they?
I'm thinking not.

Prayer implies separation, a conversation held with effort across a chasm. 
Prayer started after God's question,
Where are you?--Genesis 3:9

They always knew how to find one another before that. Adam, Eve, and God, walked easily together before, but this time,
...they hid from the Lord among the trees in the garden.--Genesis 3:8

And God said to them what He is still saying to us--"Where are you?"
We are still hiding, still in the process of finding and being found.
That's where prayer begins, I'm thinking.

That's why it's so hard to pray, so slippery.
God is out there somewhere, and we hear Him sometimes, hear His sweet invitation in the cool of the day, but can't quite get there.
Maybe we're still afraid.
Maybe we're unsure.
Maybe we're still so mortified by our sins.

It doesn't matter.
Prayer is our connection to God for now, but not forever.
Some day, we will see Him face to face, clean and easy again.

Those will not be times for prayers, for not-quite-connected communication.
Those times will bring the same sweet fellowship Adam and Eve once knew--up close and personal.
That is God's biggest promise--Himself.
Your eyes will see the King in His beauty...--Isaiah 33:17

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How to Hate the Sin

We are supposed to hate the sin but love the sinner. 
We hear it all the time, but the whole idea produces more blank looks and shaking heads than almost any other. How in the world are we supposed to do that?
 Well, like any other biblical principal, maybe it's best to start with ourselves.

I sin.
So do you.
But do I hate my own sin? 
And how do I know this?
Jesus tells me:
If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off.--Matthew 18:8

Did He really mean this? 
Well, He did, or He wouldn't have said it.
He probably meant it as a metaphor, of course, but the example serves to illustrate the force with which we are to approach sin. We are to hate it enough to cut off our own hand to get rid of it.

Jesus says to "take up your cross" (Luke 9:23) and "die every day" (1 Corinthians 15:31).
He leaves no room for excuses, no safe harbor while sin still reigns in us.
This is what He does say:
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.--Hebrews 12:4
This is how much we are to hate sin.

Does this sound cruel?
It is not cruel to insist that we put to death strong, sinful desires.
It is not cruel to deny that it's OK for either ourselves or anyone else to give in to what is clearly forbidden.
We are to love both ourselves and others with self-denial.

Examine your own strong desires.
Do you indulge, rather than fight them because it's just so darn hard and you know that God, in the end, will forgive you?
I do.

The hand I must cut off is the hand of strong, habitual, sinful desire.
And it will hurt. A lot. A real lot. I will scream from it. I will not be able to envision what is on the other side, who I will be without it, how I will live, what I will do without the emotional crutch.
But, if I believe that heaven, and freedom, await, I must whack away, doing whatever it takes.
And then, pointing with my own bloody stump rather than a filthy, still-intact, accusing finger, I can learn to truly hate the sin and love the sinner because I have done so with myself.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Broken by Myself

I know that Christ died for me, but I don't believe it. Not really.

If Christ had to do that--die--really die--to fix me, then there must be something drastically wrong with who I am.
And He died, all right. I believe that. But because of me? Really?

The Bible, after all, says that I am made in the image of God, right? How messed up, then, can I be?
Enough, apparently.

This is hard to understand. But until I do understand, really understand, this miserable necessity of Christ having to die because I am so broken, I can't understand anything else--not about God, not about me. So long as I hold onto even the smallest inkling that I might be OK just as I am, I cannot know God.

I don't like this idea. Not even a little.

I am good, and patient, and kind and all the rest. Most of the time. I am. I sometimes even look in the mirror and think, 'Hey, you're OK, girl.' But inevitably, just about then, I crash and burn. Anger, deception, and selfishness crowd out all the good stuff. Again.

And I see Him there--Jesus--hanging, bleeding, dying--saying nothing, saying everything.

Is He accusing me? No. But neither does he shrink from the truth like I do. He wears the truth.  He carries it, lays down on it, and dies on it.

I am not OK. Not alone. Not without Him. Not ever.

He bore the punishment that makes us whole.--Isaiah 53:5
You were bought with a price--1 Corinthians 6:20

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Putting Pain in its Place

Sam and Anne
I like to listen to first-time moms when they talk about the pain of childbirth. Really. There is a kind of community in this, something we all share and, as for every intense life experience, we all learn something from it. Some women bear their pain patiently, some resentfully, but like me, most of us try to forget it as soon as possible and, in the wake of the joy that usually follows, we can.

Not my friend Sam, though.

Now, Sam loves her daughter as much as any other new mother. She bubbles with the joy of her. She hasn't however, sidelined the memory of pain in getting there. Instead, Sam continues to stare her pain in the face, to call it by its nasty name, and commands it to its appropriate place in her life. Sam refuses to let her pain pretend to be anything other than what it is--hard, unpleasant, and temporary. 

Sure, she remembers that her labor hurt a lot, but also, defiantly, that it did not hurt forever. The pain never mastered her because she knew it had a purpose and when its purpose was fulfilled, it would end. In doing this, she got to keep the memory of the pain and the lasting gift it left her. Today, she can look at her daughter and say, 'You cost me a great deal, but you were worth it.'

In doing this, I think, she has discovered pain's purpose. What, after all, does pain bring? If we apply it correctly, it brings more than discomfort. Pain, if we let it, can bring sure knowledge that we can endure it and understanding that some things bring a hard cost. It can also bring vision of and hope for a future of health and wholeness.

Christ knew this, too--hence, the cross. He endured pain because He had a job to do that overshadowed it. His pain took a back seat to His purpose. He knew that the effects of His purpose would long outlast His pain. It happens the same for us. When God allows us pain, we can, if we choose it, come to know both the cost and the value of its greater purpose. By this knowledge, both the pain and the gift of it, we can join with Christ.

For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.--Hebrews 12:2