He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:3a

Monday, October 27, 2014

See With God's Eyes

           My husband was talking with a man a week ago who caught me completely off guard. He was average height, mid-forties or early fifties, with hair hanging well past his shoulders, snaggletooth, but relatively clean.  As I eyed him, I found myself not revolted, but very leery, certain the language from his mouth would likely be offensive.   As I joined my husband and listened to the conversation between the two of them, I discovered the man was a believer in Christ.  Shame on me!  I had put him in a box based on what my eyes saw.

          In another instance we were in the midst of a large group of people and I noticed the attire of many of the women, young up to middle age; small and petite to larger and even obese wearing what looked like black tights in place of jeans or shorts.  I again admit to shuddering and thinking, “Really?”

            Why do we put people in boxes?  I suspect when people see me, especially in conversation with someone else, they must just shake their head and wonder what in the world is wrong with me since my hands rarely stop moving.  I don’t use “sign language” in the regular sense, but talking with my hands is just how I seem to be able to communicate.  In fact, my husband has grabbed my hands in the middle of a sentence and I declare, I forget what it was I was saying!

            My point is we all have little nuances, which makes us different.  I imagine when Christ walked the earth; people probably found Him a bit odd.  He challenged people to look at life differently, to accept what was new and in some instances went against what they’d believed all their lives.  He wanted acceptance based on what He told them, not what he looked like. 

            God looks for faithfulness in our lives, not flawlessness.  He doesn’t love us based on our hair style, shirt color, our shoe size or if we have all our teeth or not!  He loves us because He is God.  He loved us so much He sent his Son as the ultimate sacrifice.  And Jesus loved us enough to leave His throne in heaven and give His life in agreement with the Father. 

            I believe God challenges us to look beyond what we see with our mortal eyes.  It takes more than our human-ness to do this, however.  The only way we can look past what we see is to ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and our hearts to God’s wisdom.  Otherwise we will see only as the world sees, and the world is blinded by sin and can’t see at all.

            God also expects us to see past whatever situation we are in and look for guidance from Him to be able to deal with, work through, or wait on His answer regarding how to handle what is before us.   When we use “God’s eyes” to see, we will more likely understand the lesson we are to learn from whatever trial we are facing or further mature into the person we are supposed to become in Christ.

            As we grow in Christ, seeing our world, God’s creation, including other people, through Heaven’s eyes, we will grow in faith and as we grow we will discover that faith functions by love, not in a box.  Our hearts will be able to see past the flaws we see in others and enable us to see with the love of God.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Love With Rules

One of the greatest things I’ve learned through my lifetime experiences, whether in a work environment or in every day life, is people need and expect rules.   Love and acceptance, however, cushion these rules.   Rules without love have the potential to create an unpleasant working environment which is especially apparent when working with children.
            I was a part-time Instructional Assistant for three years.  During my second year working in first grade, I was offered an opportunity to work full-time with kindergarten in another school.  I accepted the position. During the next two weeks before leaving, I was amazed by both the children and the teacher.  
            The teacher was a kind, gentle person, except in her classroom.  She had strict rules and high expectations.  She seldom smiled and rarely expressed genuine approval.   When a child didn’t complete a task as expected, she became impatient and angry.  She sternly reprimanded the child in front of the class, humiliating the already frustrated child with, “You know how to do that problem, so write the answer.” Or “You can see how to do it.  Don’t act like you don’t know.”  It must have seemed to the children that she certainly didn’t like them and that they were stupid for not understanding the question or knowing how to read the directions completely or worse, even stupid for asking.
As Instructional Assistant, I worked with specific children on a regular basis teaching basic reading and writing skills.  However, I freely loved all the children.  On most mornings many of the children came to give me a hug, which smiling, I happily returned.  Often the child shared an incident that happened the night before or over the weekend.  I received an endless array of pictures the children drew for me, some even of myself. 
            While I openly loved the children, I also supported the strict rules the teacher implemented in the classroom.  It’s important to children to have consistency.  Rules give children boundaries in which to work and play.  They are reassured and comforted when the adult is in control, as long as they know the expectations. 
            During those last two weeks of my two-month stay in first grade, the children became busy with my “secret going away party.”  Most of the work was done on the afternoons I wasn’t there.  But sometimes I would catch the children quickly stuffing something in their desk with a devilish grin, hiding a mysterious treasure when I walked into the room.  With great delight they would mention a picture or writing they were working on and then quickly cover their mouths because they realized they shared a secret.
With the aid of the classroom teacher, my send off included a book each of the children had helped create, gifts, many hugs and a degree of guilt at leaving.  The one thing which tugged at my heart most, however, was the comment the teacher made to me before I left.  “These children love you.  If I were to die and never come back, they wouldn’t care.  They don’t want you to go.”                                                                    
            People of all ages respond to love and acceptance.  We want others to accept us right where we are despite our shortcomings.  When we know we are loved we can reciprocate with love.  When loved, our self-esteem grows.  When self-esteem grows, so does our spirit, our confidence and our ability to give more of ourselves.  While we as a human race respond to love and acceptance, we also need and respond to rules.  Rules give us boundaries by which we know our limits.  Rules when accompanied with love create an atmosphere in which adults, as well as children, are not only able to give their best but want to give their best.  
         I challenge you this week to consider your "love level."  Do you love unconditionally like our Lord taught us?  I encourage you to accept and love someone today who is not necessarily "lovable."  Make a difference in their lives so they "never want you to go away!"

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Personal Prison

My friend shares the story of a childhood which included the knowledge, confirmed by her father and other relatives, that if her mother could have given her away at birth she would have done it.  Despite the knowledge, she usually kept a sunny attitude even though the relationship with her mom was strained, at best. 

My friend grew up, married and had a family of her own but realized she held a degree of anger and bitterness toward her mom.  She found there were times when the memory of rejection withered her spirit unlike anything else she’d known.  The effect of the rejection carried over into her adult life causing an intense desire of acceptance and expectations of herself.  It also created a need to be certain her own children never felt such pain and found herself over compensating from time to time even to the point of physical illness.  She discovered the only way she could give up the pain was to forgive; and that process had to be done through God.  Ultimately conversation was held with her mother and forgiveness was finally attained. They never grew into the ideal “mother-daughter” relationship, but they were friends and I’m certain both were grateful

  Our Pastor has been doing a series on forgiveness and I’ve found it exceptionally interesting.  Biblically, we are instructed to forgive not seven times, but seven times seventy.  When we don’t forgive, it is we who are kept in a personal “prison.”  It begins with a choice.  Even when we don’t “feel” like forgiving, as believers, we must.  There is comfort in knowing our emotions will eventually follow our actions, because we are being spiritually obedient. 

Forgiveness, the Pastor explains, is not forgetting.  Forgiveness is spiritual while forgetting is biological.  We won’t necessarily forget the pain we’ve endured, but with God we can spiritually forgive, creating an avenue where healing can begin to take place.  Forgiveness is also not ignoring, excusing or disregarding the wrongdoing; nor does it deny possible consequences.  There are often ramifications; sometimes depending on the situation, big ones!  There may be times when reconciliation takes a very long time, because forgiveness does not mean the “warm, fuzzy feelings” will return instantly.  A trust in some form has been violated.  It takes time and effort to rebuild trust. Sometimes counseling is necessary, maybe even for all parties involved.

It took a long time for my friend to even recognize forgiveness was necessary!  She didn’t realize the damage, both emotionally and physically, she was doing to herself by letting the pain seethe inside her.  After her mom passed away, I suspect when she looked back on her life and the relationship she had shared with her mom, she was especially grateful she released the power of anger and hurt when she did.  Once death has taken someone there is never the chance to make things right.

I challenge you this week, to consider if forgiveness is necessary in your life.  Do you need to forgive someone? Forgiveness allows you to move on in your life with new perspective. Ask God to enable you to set your heart at peace by offering forgiveness.  Do you need to be forgiven?  If you need to make something right with someone because you have been hurtful in some way, be obedient and consider going to that person to make things right.  Admit a wrong has been done and say I'm sorry.  This will free both of you from a life of further pain, and allow God’s grace to heal.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Sneeze Here, A Cough There

 “Here we go again,” I thought, as I discovered my third of five children was coming down with a cold in less than a week.   While I was hoping the rest of us would not catch it, it seemed like an impossible likelihood.  The “germ” had been vicious and would undoubtedly catch each of us one by one and then possibly start over.  As I changed the soiled sheets in an effort to contain the germs, my mind seemed to wander in a seemingly irrational way trying to make sense of the whole mess. 

As my mind meandered in its own weird direction, somewhere the line, “a sneeze here, a cough here, everywhere a sniff, sniff” bounced through.  But as I continued to consider the situation I found myself focusing on the thought “If we could spread God’s message the way we spread colds!”
         Colds seem to catch everyone no matter how hard we try to contain them.  We teach our youngsters to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze to minimize the spread of germs but those little animals still manage to get the best of us.  Wouldn’t it be exciting if God’s word spread with such a small amount of effort?  Aren’t we supposed to let our light shine?  Yet, we hesitate. We often “cover our mouth” as we contain God’s word within us.  We keep it to ourselves instead of sharing, unlike our innate ability to share tiny bits of information about our most recent shopping trip or fashion we’ve just discovered, or information about a neighbor down the street or even the latest information on a sports event we just witnessed.  All this information seems worthy of excitement and sharing, but not the guide for life we have within our hearts!
         Sometimes we feel inadequate to share.  Memorization is an important element of sharing scripture and it seems hard as we try, memorizing scripture verbatim is a huge obstacle.  Even when our memory allows us the ability of paraphrase, recalling the location within the Bible, is even more daunting.  Since, quoting scripture is an obstacle, we don’t feel we have the ability to witness.  Besides, isn’t it our minister’s place to share God’s word?  He’s been trained for it! 
         As Christians, however, we have power in the Spirit to witness even if we aren’t professional ministers. When we call on the Spirit, God will guide our thoughts and not fail us when we take an opportunity to let others know about His love and grace, even when we’re not sure of what to say.
         Still, Satan is going to be around the corner waiting for us to fall on our face using our doubts to mangle thoughts within us, making us afraid.  Once he’s succeeded the first time, he knows our vulnerability and will use the same ruse again and get stronger with each failure.  So it is paramount to face our fears, placing them at Christ’s feet knowing God has given us the ability to share his message.  It may not be from a pulpit, but rather through a listening ear, kind word, smile, gesture or giving aid to someone who least expects it, like the Good Samaritan did for the Jew. 
God knows our hearts.  When fear, timidity, and apprehension stand to overwhelm us, we can call on the Spirit to capture our weakness, enabling us to spread His word.  God’s return is perilously close.  While we wait with patient hope we must reach others.  It’s true, “a sneeze here, a cough there, everywhere a sniff, sniff…” and you’ll soon have a room full of people with colds.  It’s also true, “a touch shared here, a thought shared there, everywhere a prayer, prayer….” And you’ll soon have a world full of hearing and sharing God’s word.