Saturday, January 29, 2011

Training Wheels - Baby, It's Cold Outside

I haven’t written anything in this series for awhile because it has been rather chilly out. So Ole Blue has been sitting alone in the garage waiting for warmer weather. What I am amazed to find is how much I find myself missing my husband during this cold. Oh, he’s still around, but that part of him I only see when we are out riding is in winter hibernation too.

I was thinking this morning how much I would love to go out with him, but then the wind howled and I remembered how much I hate being cold. Ty knows this so he’s acted like he is content to wait it out but I know it is only for my sake. One of the main reasons we haven’t gone out in this weather is largely because I am not properly outfitted and the budget has not allowed us to get me all the gear I need.

Ty did buy me a set of leather chaps, which for those of you who don’t ride is not just a fashion statement but a necessity for blocking the wind. It is a start but there are still some things, like gloves and a good jacket, which I need. And Ty is unwilling to subject his delicate little wife to such hardships.

For the first time, this morning I realized something. There are points in our walk with God when it seems like you never get to do any of the fun stuff, like you are stuck at home and you aren’t going anywhere soon. You know that he is still there, waiting to take you out on that next great adventure, but that’s all you seem to be doing – waiting. It is like God is in hibernation and you can’t wake him up. You miss him, and no matter how often you assure yourself that he hasn’t left you, that the adventures of last summer really did happen and will happen again, you know you are missing out now.

It got me to thinking that maybe the reason is he loves us. He knows that we aren’t outfitted to endure the hardship that we would have to face if we struck out now. Maybe he is waiting until we have our gloves and jacket. Maybe he is adding piece by piece the protective gear we need so that we can go where he wants to take us next. Maybe he is just as anxious to begin as we are, but he wants to protect us until we are ready and the weather is right.

Ty wants all our trips together to be an experience, a chance for us to really enjoy the journey together, and I think that my husband doesn’t want one miserable ride to influence the way I view this special time together. So he waits for the time to be right, for the conditions to be suitable. He’s never left me behind to go and enjoy the adventure alone. He stays and he waits when I know he would rather be riding. And I have told him to go and enjoy, I will be here when he gets back, but he just smiles and finds something to do around the house. Some quiet domestic duty that he handles so well, but seems odd for my biker husband to be at peace with.

Somehow, I get the impression God’s a lot like that. Piddling around the house, waiting, not wanting to spoil our experience by taking us out before we are ready. Yes, he could go out and we would be here when he got back, but he’d rather have us with him. So this mighty creator of the universe waits, working on our spiritual plumbing, replacing our hinges, and changing our spiritual oil. Out of place and oh so domestic for one so great but this is what love does to us. It doesn’t negate who we are, but it sometimes requires that we slow down so the ones we love can catch up and be truly ready to join us.

So I am praying for a warm and sunny day when Ty doesn’t have to work, and a chance to take the tags off those new chaps. It will be fun to have my husband back again, and in the mean time, I'm learning to appreciate having him piddling around the house. He’s taking care of what needs attention now. I am sure God is too.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wherein God Speaks, and Emily Gets a Clue

Many of my friends have noted that I rarely get mad. There is very little that sets me off anymore, at least on a personal level. Now, this has sometimes been seen as a bit of a flaw in me, and perhaps out of balance it is, but I remember the time when my temper ruled my world. It was so much easier to get caught up in the mayhem of emotions run amok than to deal with the cause of the emotion. Now, I didn’t just stop losing my temper because I woke up one morning and decided to be a kinder and gentler Emily. I stopped losing my temper when I learned how to be kinder and gentler to Emily.

I realized that nothing makes me angrier than failing, and so much of my life I have failed to have the appropriate emotional response to any given situation. I am the type of person who finds Christmas arduous, funerals amusing, comedic movies depressing, and dry theological tomes thrilling. None of these meet the criteria for the proper emotional response in any social circle I have inhabited. So it seemed that everything I ran up against rubbed me the wrong way, exposing my failures to the world, and the best cover for this – anger. No one questions the emotions of an angry person.

I never really set out to stop losing my temper. I considered it my divine right to spew my venom at anyone who failed to meet my standards, and my standards are just one degree removed from perfection. And can you guess who the biggest offender was?

Yep, that would be me. So I went around, mad at the world and my loved ones for failing to be who or what I thought they needed to be. All the while, I am failing miserable to be who and what I thought I needed to be, leaving me angry with me and with so much more anger to share. There was enough of this toxic emotion to power the entire east coast, but I was the one being zapped.

One day as I was driving home from work, I had a thought that must have been sponsored by God. (I just have this image of him saying, “I want to buy a thirty second spot to run a special commercial in her brain.”) I know it had to be him, because I am not this smart. The thought was, “Your response should be counter-intuitive.”

Occasionally, a cryptic remark like that makes more sense to me than the most detailed diagram but this was not one of those times. So I paused for a moment to ponder what this could possibly mean. The person sitting behind me at the light did not properly appreciate this revelatory moment, I could tell once I became aware of the honking horn and some rather expressive hand gestures. I can be perceptive like that. Fortunately, I was too intrigued by what was going on in my head to care or I might have been angry.

What?, I thought with incredulous eloquence. My response to any give situation is an emotional reflex, how in the world can I make them counter intuitive? Almost immediately, the next God thought followed, “A response is not the same as a reaction.”

Now wait a minute, I thought, how could they be different? Can you distinguish one from another? I waited, but it seemed like I was on my own this time. Here’s what I came up with, a reaction is the first emotional rush brought on by any given event. It is the emotional equivalent of hitting your knee with a hammer, your knee jumps and it is neither good nor bad. It just is, accept it as part of a working design.

A response is what I give when I have put thought into how I will behave towards any given situation, and once I think about how to behave I am responsible for my actions, because it is no longer a reaction. And this means any thought, even as minute as “I am going to kill them.” I am making a conscious choice in how I am conducting myself, and that puts me in charge, not some pre-wired survival mechanism. First, I realized that this a pretty weighty responsibility, but then I realized something fabulous.

I am not responsible for my reaction. I don’t have to beat myself up any more for not having the right emotional reaction to life. I can react any way my little erratic mind reacts and it’s okay. I wasn’t a failure. I was operating as God intended me to operate, as a person who tends to be a little on the passionate side with a warped sense of humor. And I am good with that.

All of a sudden my job shifted, I could stop wasting time trying to undo my emotional reflexes and work on the stuff I really could control. I am a great thinker, and I love to do it! How awesome is it that God had already given me the tools to fix my problem! As I learned to temper my responses, I found that my reactions became calmer, more subdued, and I could offer an honest response more in keeping with the heart of my Father. When I learned to cooperate with the creation he had made in me, and stopped fighting it, I was able to live at a greater level of freedom and effectiveness than I had ever known.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Temptation of Christ

I've been pondering the temptation of Christ over the last couple of weeks. It has been the sermon topic at the church my wife and I have been attending. As we have been going through this story, it never ceases to amaze me all of the things that are held in such a small place on the page. The event is recorded in the fourth chapter of Matthew taking up all of eleven verses. It's a strange passage in which we see an exchange between our Lord, and Satan. Making his appeal to Jesus to ignore the will of the Father and indulge himself, Satan tempts Jesus with incomplete ideas. Let's take a look.

The scene begins forty days after Jesus' baptism. Many scholars have speculated on what happened during this time in the desert, but that is not what we are doing today. As we look at this story I think an important thing to keep in mind is, what we have recorded in the Bible is more than likely a condensed account of a much more lengthy exchange. Since we don't have the full account, we will work with what we have and hope the Lord will guide our imaginations to fill out the picture in a way that leads us to learn some of the truth He would have us learn from it. I say some of, because so much is held here that there is no way we could exhaust this passage in a single post.

The main points I want to ponder today are Satan's reason for believing in success, and the reason that we cannot live our lives existing on sound bytes.

We have to understand when we look at the text that this is not a Sunday morning drama team exchange of words. This is not the interlude between the music and the sermon. Jesus has been in the desert for forty days and nights. If you ever want a good description of what forty days without food in the desert will do to a person, please read "The Lonesome Gods" by Louis L'Amour. We often begin looking at this passage with the idea that this was done solely as an example for us to follow, that Jesus had to be tempted to prove he can identify with us. This is the same as children singing choral arrangements of folk songs saying they understand what it was like being a Union Pacific railroad working in the 1800's. Jesus did not just appear to be tempted in a dramatic scene to condescendingly show us how easy it should be to resist the devil.

So why, you ask, did Satan think that he might have succeeded in this venture? Often times when we think of Jesus we forget about his humanity. Jesus was fully God, that part I think is easy for a lot of believers, but he was also fully human. The very fact that Satan even attempts to cause Jesus to sin should be a reminder of his humanity. While pondering this idea I had the question come to mind: "If Jesus was born without sin, how could Satan tempt him into sin?" The short answer is because he has led sinless people astray before. If we remember in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve created by God without sin. I believe that this is part of where Satan's confidence comes from. He has appealed to and seduced a sinless humanity in the past, why not think that he can do it again. The fact that Jesus does not give in, is proof of his divinity. Here in eleven short verses, we are given a small glimpse of one of the greatest mysteries of God. The God made flesh, still fully God, powerful beyond measure, while subjected to frailties, and still humbly obedient to the will of the Father.

Now if look at the tactic used here, Satan appeals to the most basic of issues facing Jesus: hunger. There is a great amount of work done on how this parallels the nation of Israel walking in the desert and being delivered by God from hunger. In fact, Jesus even references the story of Deuteronomy chapter eight. What we need to understand is that Jesus is using a referencing tool that many Jewish teachers would have used. He quotes a short section of a larger passage to tell a great story of God's provision using very few words. In short he is telling Satan, and possibly reminding himself, that when God leads us into the desert, He will provide. Jesus is not letting how he feels interfere with what he knows about God's character.

When the base elements of humanity fail to ensnare Jesus, Satan tries a different approach. He quotes a few scriptures back to Jesus. He starts again by appealing to Jesus identity, and moving on to telling Jesus things he should be entitled to, offering Jesus what would seem to be a short path to glory. I think it's important to note the major differences in the way that Jesus and Satan approach the scripture. Jesus uses it as a revelation of God's love and character. Satan attempt to wield it like a lawyer pleading a case for Jesus against God.

When Satan begins using scripture to help justify actions, he begins by stating that which seems most appealing and stopping just short of the whole truth. He tells that if we behave a certain way then God is by law bound to grant us something. Imposing God's promises as a fine, God must pay for our yielding to His desires for us. For example in the Garden of Eden, Satan tells Eve that if they eat of the fruit they will be "like God knowing good and evil." This is only half of the truth. Yes, we did learn good and evil, but we were still condemned to death. Satan attacks us by limiting and distorting our imagination. Encouraging us to focus on the thing that seems most urgent, and forgetting that God is faithful. He presents something that seems simple, the thing we can provide ourselves without God's help, and uses scriptures to justify it. This is where we have to remember that God is greater than our basic ideas of how life can be.

We should always take into account all of God's promises, not just the parts that seem most appealing to us. Paul in the book of Romans says that we must note both the kindness and the severity of God. If we allow Satan to stop us with only the parts of God's word that will appeal to and appease us for a short time then we are easily trapped by our perception of what we think we need, our belief that we deserve to be treated better, and a desire to abuse God's word for personal gain. We should always keep in mind that God desires to make us Holy, through this process we can find our fulfillment in Him. Only then will we find true joy. One of the largest dangers of Satan's temptation, is his ability to stop us from waiting on the Lord.

I say all of that to say this: When we look to apply scripture to the situations we face in life, we need to keep in mind the fullness of the stories God has presented us. We need to keep in mind that the condensed sayings, or smaller pieces of the Bible that we call up quickly from memory, should always remind us of the fuller context. We should always be reminding ourselves the ways God has proven his love, and that He is faithful to do it again.

When he leads us into the wilderness, He will provide. Just look at what Jesus was talking about when he was dealing with the devil.

Deuteronomy 8:1-20 (It’s beautiful.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

House Keeping - New Posting Schedule

Until recently, I simply posted as I wrote, or scheduled the posts to appear approximately every three days. However, one of my good friends has stepped up to edit my ramblings. Thank God!

And as usual, she has suggested a really great idea. Now, the Pagus blog posts will appear every Wednesday and Friday at noon. This should make it easy for everyone to keep up with what is going on.

Thank you to everyone who takes time to read what we have shared. I hope that it is encouraging, edifying, and maybe even a little inspiring. And as always, please leave us a comment! We love the feed back, and if I can be a little selfish, it is an encouragement to us. Help spread the word by becoming a follower and sharing on Facebook.

Thank you so much!

***Actually, we're going to post on Wednesdays and Saturdays, as of next week. It's my fault Em got confused but it's all worked out now. ~Katrina

Speaking Their Language

Okay so Christmas has past, but there is this thing that keeps running through my head. It is one of the absolute coolest parts of the Christmas story, apart from God being born as a baby. Nothing trumps that, but this is pretty amazing, too.

I think I like it because I love the Bible stories about the outsiders, the people who didn’t quite belong or fit, but were included anyway. The Bible is full of them. I guess I really don’t see it as that big of a deal when someone who knows the rules does the right thing, but when someone who has never been taught is just so overcome by the splendor and holiness of our God that they instinctively do the right thing, it just blows me away. It reminds me of how far God is willing to go to reach all who have a heart to respond.

Maybe this is why my favorite people on the scene, (although technically, they arrived way past fashionably late, make that two to three years late), were the Magi. The Bible doesn’t have a whole lot to tell us about who they were, what their background and history was, and so we have built up a lot of myths and legends about their journey. We have given them names, that may or may not have been theirs, we have given them different and distinct ethnicities so they can serve as representatives for the rest of the world. (Read that Gentiles).

But as usual, the truth is so much stranger than fiction. Magi was the official title of the priests of a Babylonian god named Mithras. In their official capacity they observed the stars, foretelling the future, searching for omens, and looking for signs. Stars were the writings of the gods, revealing to man all that the gods desired for him to know, and it was a language they knew well.

Here’s the first thing that amazes me, God got their attention and he did it using their language, their area of expertise. He did not require that they learn some new culture or code of conduct before he would deign to speak to them. It’s as if he said, “Okay, you can read the stars. Allow me to write it in the medium you know.”

It makes me wonder how many times we Christians like to complicate the message for those foreign to our ways. Why does it seem so hard for us to follow God’s example and speak the language of the people we are trying to communicate with? It’s time that we recognize that God desires to reach all humanity, not just the ones who talk, look, and act like us. We need to take the time to learn how to speak their language and quit expecting them to learn ours.

The second thing that amazes me is that God accepted their gifts, even honoring them by mentioning them by name in his Word. Now, there has been a lot written about the nature of these gifts, how they were used by kings and in anointing royal bodies, but the Bible never clarifies why these particular gifts were given and most of our Christian writings are just speculation. Maybe it is our attempt to Christianize these heathen priests.

I think it honors them far more to understand the gifts in light of the Magi’s culture. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were gifts reserved for their god. It was the way they understood how to honor a deity, and just as God spoke their language to communicate with them, they now speak their language to communicate with him.

And it’s okay. It’s what they have to give to him, the highest honor they can bestow, and God says it’s enough.

Perhaps as Christians we need to value the language of foreign people a little more. Perhaps we need to be more sensitive when someone from outside our culture responds to God, and be less judgmental when it fails to meet what we deem to be correct. Maybe we need to stop placing our interpretations on their actions and let them speak for themselves. God was okay with the sincere gift of foreign men, and I can’t help but feel he has the same response to all who seek him with sincerity.

Perhaps it is time we took the value off the form and placed it on the intent of the heart, and let God decide whether it is a good and acceptable gift.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Just One of Those Days

Well, it has been one of those mornings. The kids have decided their teacher is a cruel taskmaster doling out far too many assignments and not enough grace. And since yelling at the teacher is forbidden, yelling at each other will have to do. Lydia called Lauren a name that I can’t record here. Lauren screamed at Lydia for not doing something right, in all honesty I am not for sure what it is because my ears don’t register screams or whining. It’s a survival skill I picked up years ago and one that drives my girls insane.

I wish I could say that all the drama is pointless and squash it dead in its tracks, but since I haven’t figured out a way to stop it, I look for ways to redeem it. I have learned that when I look at my girls I can see myself, and each day they show me something new in them, I find that that same quality is within me. They just have the guts to let it out.

I realized this morning, as they yelled at each other from across the house, that I am like that. They really aren’t mad at each other, and would probably find a way to entertain themselves, if I had not dared to interfere in their lives. You see, they are really mad at me. Ultimately, at least in this small sphere, I set the terms, control the circumstance, and I have the authority to compel the other one into submission. And since life is being so devastatingly unfair and they cannot persuade me to make it otherwise, they have to spew at something and who better than a sibling?

I wonder if God ever has the urge to lock himself in the bedroom and sneak a cigarette when I behave this way? You know, the days when I could entertain myself just fine but he chooses to make other plans on my behalf, or more specifically, he has something to teach me. The days when I know he is just not being fair and I truly believe my life would be just great if he would make that other person behave.

Because I know that even though my children can throw a fit, my fits are far more dramatic and possess a distinctive flair that they have yet to develop. I have far more ammunition – I mean justification, for seeing myself as the victim. After all, I have been put upon, oppressed, mistreated, and abused. I have witnessed a world full of evil and I know that it is out to get me. I have to stand up for myself, demand that my rights be observed, and fight to make my voice heard. My hurts, my needs, my disappointments, and frustrations need to be vindicated. Evil must be punished, and I . . . uh, I mean, good must prevail.

Wow, that felt good. Too bad it’s all a load of garbage.

The hard truth is I have no rights. Not at the deepest level. No one owes me anything, least of all God. Every bit of goodness, peace, and joy I experience comes as a gracious gift from his love for me. I can’t earn a gift, and I can’t perform well enough to merit his love. It is something I accept with joy and hopefully, at least sometimes, with the proper humility. Any importance or significance I have is found in the fact that he created me in his image and he loves me.

But sometimes, I forget. I look around and the world is not as I would have it and I grow impatient. I see people screwing it up, making mistakes from ignorance or laziness. I can never do what I want to do when I want to do it because there is always someone there making demands, wanting my attention or my time. I get frustrated and I want to scream at them to all go away, leave me alone so that I can just love my God and put on my pretty Christian face. It’s their fault I get ugly. It’s their fault I lose my temper and have to yell, stomp my feet, and make a spectacle of myself.

But deep down in my heart, I know they aren’t the ones I am mad at. They are just people, in the same boat I am in. They don’t control their fate any more than I control mine. We all have to deal with the fact that other people have their own agendas, get in our way, and just generally annoy us. But we all know there is another one who is in control who can change the circumstance, fix the terms, and has the authority to compel everyone into submission. He’s the one I am really mad at, because after all he needs to make things work out for me. And though I may be yelling at the rest of the world, I am also yelling loud enough so I know he will hear.

Thankfully, I now know the other side of that equation. I know he doesn’t take away all the obstacles because he is teaching me something that I will one day appreciate. I know he lets the other person get in my way because he loves them as much as he loves me. He doesn’t always bust my butt when I deserve it, and his ears will hear me again when I can learn to stop screaming. And sometimes, us kids just need to work it out amongst ourselves. He loves me enough to do all this for us simply because we are his children.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dear Jesus, you are cordially invited . . .

I have never been one of those girls who got all mushy over weddings, but there are two weddings that are particularly noteworthy to me: my own and the one at Cana. Call me, if you want to hear more than you could possible want to know or ever will need to know about my and Ty's wedding. As for the wedding in Cana, if you don’t know the story, dig out your Bible and look up John 2:1-12. Go on, we’ll wait, because the rest of this is going to make a lot more sense, if you know the story.

Now, I don’t know how many favorite Bible stories a person is allowed to have, but put this one on my list, too. First of all, it happens at a party. You have to love that, the creator of the universe at a party! That alone gives me hope for a heaven that is way more exciting than any of my Sunday school teachers made it sound. We know that it couldn’t have been too solemn an affair because they drank up all the wine.

This is a major problem, and there are a ton of writings out there about the expected protocols and proper hospitality so I will spare you those details. Let’s just say, this was a major embarrassment to the host, and Mary tries to handle it discreetly by asking Jesus to help. Again, gallons of ink have been spilled over the significance of their conversation, and there are some good things to learn from it but let’s get to the part that makes this so cool for me – the jars.

The host had six stone jars which John explains are for Jewish purification rituals. These things were big, each one holding twenty to thirty gallons. And Jesus has the servants fill them up, to the brim. Now as modern readers, we think no big deal, the guy had stone jars to hold some water, but these jars are important.

A major part of the Jewish religion was purification. We call this washing up. The Torah records the significance of this act, and how God himself commands that his people purify themselves with water before and after certain activities. (See Leviticus and Deuteronomy for more details). We now know that the homes of the wealthy included private mikvahs, or tubs used to wash in, and pools surrounded the Temple so those who were entering could immerse themselves before doing so. Like I said, it was pretty important, but evidently this guy couldn’t afford a mikvah, so he did the best he could. He provided his family and guests with jars of fresh water so they could do what was right and proper before the Lord.

On this auspicious day something amazing happens.

I think we all get that if Jesus had not been there, there would have been no miracle. And Jesus’ very presence tells us something else about the wedding host, he desired to have relationship with Jesus. He wanted Jesus there for this joyful family event. How many times do we take time to consciously invite our Lord to the party? We are pretty good at sending up the bat signal when we are in trouble, but I think that sometimes he would like to have some fun. You know be in a relationship where he wasn’t just being used.

And when this host's desire for relationship collides with the his obedience, he receives a miracle. Because without his obedience, there would have been no stone jars, no place to put the water, and no means for the miracle. Jesus took what this man offered, a willing spirit and an invitation into another’s life and turned it into something amazing.

It was more than just wine. Jesus saved this man from humiliation and disgrace. He to care of the need before the host even realized he had one, and his obedience brought him greater honor than he could provide for himself. And I am learning that with God, our good enough is never enough for him. He always desires to do and give us more than we could imagine possible.

I think it is fitting that Jesus’ first miracle was one of almost whimsy, something that in the light of the rest of his life seems almost inconsequential. But it is such a bold declaration of who he is and what he desires to bring to our lives. He gives them wine, a symbol of God’s presence, his abundant provision, and his desire to bless us with joy through knowing him. In celebrating his nearness this tiny little act becomes so full of promise.

So my prayer for you today is that you honor the Lord with your obedience, you remember to invite him to the party, and when the wine runs out he will be there to bless you with the joy of his presence and provision.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Learning to Live

Ty started a new job right after Christmas, and he is working regular hours now, as opposed to the weird hours of his previous job. I have been finding that I am a bit at loose ends. It is the first time in my adult life that I have not had a job to get up and get dressed for or a deadline looming over my head. Yet, as I sat here this morning, I found myself asking for more time. Time to get the house cleaned, time to write a few more blog posts, time to organize the kids’ lessons and time to dream.

Mostly time to dream. I tend to spend a lot of time in my head, thinking things through to their ultimate conclusion, working out problems, and just wondering about the great mysteries of life. It is one of my favorite times, pacing around the living room, speaking my thoughts out loud and letting them drift where they may. It gives me energy and keeps me awake both mentally and physically.

This past week I haven’t been able to shake this groggy feeling, like my brain is only functioning at minimum capacity, refusing to do anything beyond basic life sustaining operations. I feel like a decade of being on survival mode has left me unable to cope without some sort of crisis demanding my attention, every cell super charged with adrenaline. Now it seems as if all the big issues of my life either have been or are being addressed, all without any apparent effort by me. It is a strange lulling security that seems to be dulling my edges.

This is a strange new role I have stepped into, full time wife and mother, good but strange. I look back over my life and I place them alongside my former job titles and I wonder how the tool-and-paint-sales person, art instructor, berry farm foreman, bartender, restaurant manager, college instructor, field hand, green house worker, hay hauler, floor layer, and shelf stocker got here. I had always hoped, but I don’t think I have ever believed that it could happen.

There is a big difference in hope and belief. Hope is dandelion fluff that floats through our vision, catching the sunlight, but impossible to grab. Belief is the foundation stones of something greater than you. Solid and strong, never failing to bear you up when you need the support.

I find now that this hope has solidified, and no longer am I chasing it across a field of broken glass. It’s here and I am learning to live with it. I am trying to understand how to accept it as a reality and keep reminding myself it is real. I am not going to wake up only to find that it has all been a pretty figment of my imagination.

So I am left with the question – Now, what?

Before Ty, so many of my hopes and dreams were bound up in the idea of being in love and being loved. I planned the ways I would care for the man who was willing to share in this life I desired, and I dreamt of the days when I would no longer feel that crushing weight of being alone. It took up so much time, kept me from going mad from the harsh facts of my existence. It was a beautiful place to retreat, to hide when the world got too scary, but now I live there. I don’t need to hide in my head. It is a good and frightening feeling all at once. One that leaves me blissful and sappy while filling me with a rare dread–what shall I dream of now?

Is it possible to be still and enjoy the moments that flow one right into the next? It is so new to me, so very strange and foreign, I often find myself holding my breath as if it were an exotic bird that I dare not startle or frighten away. I tip toe around this new life, careful lest I awaken myself and not all together sure that I like this new feeling of peace. Wondering how insane is that?

My father once said ignorant people are scared of what they don’t understand and even if something is better, they will do everything in their power to destroy it or remove it. I think that is where I am. This place, this feeling, is something I don’t understand but thankfully, I don’t believe that I am ignorant. So I am going through the process, learning to accept this blessing with grace and joy. It isn’t always easy, and I don’t think we acknowledge this part of the journey enough.

In this fallen world, marked with pain and suffering, doing without and just surviving, we have forgotten how to receive. We have forgotten how to experience the good things that the Father has chosen to bless us with. We have found that it is far easier to destroy or remove the blessing before we truly allow ourselves to experience it. It just seems so out of place when measured against our past experience, so we sabotage it, we deny it, or we run from it.

So look around, what is the Father bringing into your life? Is it a blessing? A special provision of grace? Your heart’s desire? Can you embrace it, acknowledge that it may not feel right just, yet is a good thing? Embrace it, protect it, and I promise you it will be worth all the awkward moments, every new and uncomfortable feeling. He only gives good gifts.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Don’t Flinch – Part 3

Of all the parts of this “mini-series,” this has been the hardest to put into words. There is a delicate balance that must be struck and requires a certain sensitivity of one who wishes to implement what I am about to say. It is difficult to share what I have learned without sounding arrogant or condescending. So I ask for your grace as I share. Please bear in mind that I am only submitting what I have learned from experience, both as someone who has been judged harshly and as someone who has judged others harshly.

When we take the title Christian, or Christ Follower, we are shouldering a tremendous responsibility. It is a declaration that as we walk through this world, we are to be a revelation of the Lord who gave his life on our behalf. We are to be an example of his grace and love to a world that is suffering the effects of sin, sometimes as willing participants and sometimes as another faceless victim. How we respond to those who are dealing with the effects of sin in their lives may be the only clue they have as to how God responds to them. It is our duty and obligation to fulfill this role with integrity and compassion.

Unfortunately, many of us fail to meet this standard. We act as if God’s holiness is in danger of being contaminated by a sinful world. We flinch as we hear the stories, we draw back in fear when we see the effects, and shun those who need his touch the most. I often speculated what could lead us into such damning behavior – are we afraid another’s sin will pollute us? Are we worried that God is unable to clean us up again if we get a spot or two on us? Do we think that he won’t love us if he found out we spent the day with a divorcee, an addict, a liar, a gossip, or worse?

Now, I have heard all the excuses. God doesn’t want us to associate with sinners. What does light have to do with the darkness? Evil company corrupts. Tolerance is the same as approval. You don’t want to be led astray. And I am not denying the validity of any of these arguments, but when they are not held in tension with the truth that we are the light of the world, we are the ones responsible for reaching out to those God loves and values as much as he loves and values us.

Don’t flinch, means that we are able to live our lives with a confidence that God is greater than any evil we may encounter. It means that instead of being appalled at a behavior or action we focus on the person, we see the need they have in their life, and we respond according to the strength and power of the one we serve. It means that we recognize the inherent worth the other person has as God's creation, and we demonstrate his desire to redeem any and every thing they may have ever done or endured.

When we flinch, we are telling the world that God is flinching, too. We are saying that God is not big enough or doesn't love them enough to reach out to them or push aside anything that separates them from him. We are telling them that their sin is so great, all hope for redemption has been lost. We are misrepresenting this God we claim to serve and have the utmost faith in, and I hope to never be held accountable for that action.

When I don’t flinch, I can hold the hand of one who is in pain. I am giving them permission to ask the questions, to seek God, and to hopefully, experience his love through me. When I don’t flinch, I am saying God is strong enough to deal with their issues, unafraid of their doubt or anger. I am declaring that he loves them enough to endure anything to be near them, including death and he has already done so. When I don’t flinch, I am saying that I am not naïve enough to think I am better than them, that I have been there and he was good enough to save me. I am giving them the hope that he may be big enough to save them.

When I don’t flinch, I am modeling the behavior of my Lord, who was not surprised that the Woman at the Well was living in sin. I am saying that he knows, he always knew and he still desires to share living water with all who are willing to sit at the edge of the well with him.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Don’t Flinch – Part 2

In the last post I retold the story of the Woman at the Well from my perspective. As I said, I love this story because I know it all too well.

Once upon a time, I was well versed in the faith of my family and culture. I knew the proper forms of worship, the hope of the return of the Messiah, and I thought I knew all the right Bible answers. But once upon a time, I got married to a man who renounced his faith shortly after the ceremony and our marriage crumbled into a game of survivor. One I had to win if I was going to save my children and myself. I got out and tried to make a life for me and my girls, but it was a rough go.

Many people could not grasp how a good Christian girl could get a divorce or how I could wind up married to such a man that would make divorce the only option. I must not have prayed enough or I wasn’t submissive enough. There was sin in my life or I didn’t have enough faith. Not many were brave enough to speak these words aloud, but they didn’t have to. It was there in their eyes, in their offers to pray with me, and in the quiet way they would ignore the ugly facts of my existence.

I learned you don’t go to the well in the morning. Everyone was there ready with that pitying but condemning look. The whispers were low, but not low enough. So I learned to avoid the crowds, draw into myself, take comfort where I could find it, even in a few relationships that were less than holy.

When I would meet a new Christian, someone who did not know my story, I learned to tell it with a note of defiance and an unspoken dare to condemn if they must, but get it over with. I learned to accept the fact I was too far gone to be of any use to God or his people. Like the Samaritan woman I had too many strikes against me.

Worship was hard, my faith seemed as stagnant and dead as the water in that seep of a well but it was all I had. So I learned to make do. Fake it. Act like it was enough, all the while I was dying.

I hated the Holy Flinch, that involuntary reaction that good Christian people have when they are in the presence of sinners. The one we are taught is a gauge of our holiness. Oh, we are taught to hate the sin but love the sinner, but too often we fail to recognize there is no sin separate apart from the person. So often the sin has become the definition of who they are – as in, “Oh, you mean the divorced woman who sits in the back at church.” We begin to shy away from that person, as if their sin was going to rub off on us, like God wouldn’t like it if we came home smelling of divorce. Our kindness is marked with that boundary of “I will give you this, but don’t come any closer.” In the end, that type of kindness is crippling to the receiver.

My perception of God began to shift over time. I mean, if his people flinched then surely he flinched. And if he flinched, it had to mean one of two things, my sin was that great or he was that small. Either way, it meant there was no hope for me. I was lost, endlessly and miserably lost, and there was not a God who loved me enough or was great enough to save me from my reality. My façade was crumbling and my faith was a tattered rag too full of holes and too worn to be warm in the coldness of life.

But then came the day, when I went to the well and stared into its depths and wondered why even bother to lower the bucket. I would just be thirsty again, why prolong the inevitable? So I sat waiting my demise, wondering how long it would take to kill off those last vestiges of faith, and he showed up. I didn’t believe him at first. My ability to hope, to dream of great things for myself and my girls was dead, but somewhere in the deepest part of who I was I knew that when the Messiah came he would explain everything. And when he sat beside me on the edge of that well, that is exactly what he did.

He explained how there is plan and purpose for us all. He told me how there is not one moment of my heartache and pain that would be wasted. He told me he was big enough and great enough to redeem it all to his glory. He said his holiness could never be sullied by my sin and shame. He shared how his heart’s desire was to resurrect all this world had killed within me, and called me back to life. He shared a drink with a disreputable woman who had given up hope, until he saw me and didn’t flinch.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Don’t Flinch – Part 1

There is a story I love about Jesus, maybe it is because I identify with the woman he is talking to, all too well. As I read his words to her, and listen to her responses I can hear my voice forming the words, the sense of desperation and the sheer lack of hope.

The story is found in John 4:1-42. Jesus is traveling with his disciples but he sends them away for awhile, maybe so he could spend a little time alone with a woman they just wouldn’t get. Maybe it was so they wouldn’t have the chance to scare her off, or make another one of their blunders in defense of their Lord. Whatever the reason, he found her there alone at the well in the middle of the afternoon, and what he requires of her is astounding. "Give me a drink." (John 4:7)

I can see the disdain in her face as she responds, hear the unspoken accusations in her words. What are you going to say to me? What could you possible say that a hundred others haven’t already accused me of? You have no right to say one word to a woman such as I. Instead, she merely points out the obvious, you are a Jew and I am a Samaritan, why are you even speaking to me?

Jesus doesn’t flinch. I can almost see him smile as he tells her that if she had a clue, she would ask him to give her living water. It’s a set up, she can see it but can’t resist the chance to put this great man in his place. She tells him, you don’t even have a bucket or a rope, and yet you have the audacity to offer me something greater than the water in this well. I can almost hear the snort.

Living water, a precious commodity in those days. Water that had not been allowed to set or stagnate. It was required that one wash in living water before entering into worship, and not always available in that arid land. Even the water in the well was not living water, the well was a seep. Water from the surrounding land filtered through the rock and slowly collected there, stagnating and stinking because it had no fresh source. Water unfit for use in purification or cleansing, but all that could be had at this place.

Jesus continues, redirecting her vision back to the well, showing her something she has not seen or considered before. With gentle authority, he affirms what she has said and then challenges her to hope, but her heart has been broken. She has been kicked around by society, judged by the harshest critics. Why else would she avoid the other women who came to the well in the cool of the morning? The part of her that knows how to dream, how to hope, has been broken and Jesus is doing something amazing – He is calling it back to life.

“Go and get your husband.” He commands, and she laughs, with bitterness I am sure. “I have no husband.” You can almost hear the thought, once more I am disqualified, not good enough to receive a blessing. Her anger and wounded pride, justified yet again.

But Jesus still doesn’t flinch. “I know,” he says. “And I know all about who you are, what you have done, but I have still made the offer. I still want to share this drink with you!”

I can almost hear the mental scurrying as she seeks a place to hide within herself. She has to deflect, avoid the intimacy of the moment, kindness is too much. So she asks an inane theological question, something safe, but Jesus refuses to be distracted. He answers but his answer is far more pointed than she could have anticipated, "God is seeking those who will worship in Spirit and in Truth." He is looking for people who can acknowledge that there is sin, some sins they have chosen and some to which they have been a victim. But, God still desire to know them.

Listen close, I can almost hear the hope creeping into her voice, “When the Messiah comes, he will explain everything.” I will know why my life has been what it has, the thought pierces through her words. I will understand why I have had to endure what I have endured. It will all be worth it when he comes.

And Jesus, once again smiles, "I am he!" What a revelation! What a reason to grasp the hope he has offered! It is not an abstract idea. It is not something locked in the great, unknown future. It is now, and she has witnessed it.

Tune in next time – when I tell the story of when I went to the well.