Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Courageously Resolved.

Here we are again. It is time to raise our glasses to a year completed and kiss our sweethearts as we welcome in the new. Praise God we made it through another twelve months! Time to set goals and resolutions to lose more weight or stop biting our fingernails, both of which I’ve tried and failed miserably over the last ten Januaries.

Last year I set a different agenda and resolved to use less sarcasm in my communication. I did OK. I learned very quickly how many nasty things I say all hidden behind a thin veneer of “I’m just joking”. I plan to keep up the work to use less sarcasm until I can completely wave goodbye to it. This year I plan to also strive to be less cynical and revive certain purity that is lost over past hurt relationships. It will be hard work of that I am sure.

This year I plan to be in the same house, working with the same congregation, raising my three beautiful children and loving my wonderful husband. I have very little change on the horizon and for that I am grateful. God may change and challenge my plans, but as of now I see my path ahead clearly.

I have several dear friends, however, who will make huge life changes this year. At least three families that I know of will make huge moves across oceans, countries, and states. They see it coming and have little control over where, when and how God will lead them. Over the last week I have thought about them off and on, and how much I admire and love their constant flexibility to God’s plan. I know they experience apprehension and fear, and yet they are willing to be molded and used by God in ways that many never experience or allow. They embrace their calling and set out to face a new year as a rich adventurous journey all for the sake of the Father. Their courage is inspiring and I'm blessed to call them friends.

Of all the many things I lack in my faith walk, courage is the biggest. So, this year I am adding courage to my resolution list.

I want to be brave enough to invite my neighbors to know Jesus.
I want to be brave enough to allow people to see my faith in Jesus in my actions.
I want to verbally express how Jesus has worked and changed my life to others who need Him.
I want to wear and own my Christianity and no longer hide behind a facade of “maybe they’ll notice Jesus in me because I’m a nice person.”
I want to say the name Jesus without fear of the repercussions or weird looks.
I want to be brave enough to challenge the status quo when Jesus is forgotten and traditions become god.
I want to have the courage to give till it hurts, and still have the faith that God will provide for my family.
I want to share our convictions and our faith with my children’s teachers and/or coaches and expect them to respect it and turn and walk if they don’t.
I want to turn my back on a politically correct faith and call sin sin.
I want to love those who need love and awaken the all too comfortable pews to a world that is dying for food, water, clothes and Christ.
I want courage.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. ~Deuteronomy 31:6

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

~1 Corinthians 16:13

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. ~2 Timothy 1:7

Several years ago we had to leave a place we loved. We had to leave behind the dearest of friends and embrace God’s lead to a new phase in life. Our hearts hurt to leave them. Through that time this song was constantly playing in my mind. I knew what God was saying to me then, and I ask you to consider it now as you embrace a new year. Take courage, my friends, courage. For the adventure is yours and it is lead by the best.

Father, hear the prayer we offer:
Nor for ease that prayer shall be,
But for strength, that we may ever
Live our lives courageously.

Not forever in green pastures
Do we ask our way to be,
But the steep and rugged pathway
May we tread rejoicingly.

Not forever by still waters
Would we idly, quiet stay;
But would smite the living fountains
From the rocks along our way.

Be our strength in hours of weakness,
In our wanderings be our Guide;
Through endeavor, failure, danger,
Father, be Thou at our side.

Let our path be bright or dreary,
Storm or sunshine be our share;
May our souls in hope unweary
Make Thy work our ceaseless prayer.


~Love M. Willis

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rethinking Christmas JOY and Stalking People in Grocery Stores.

'Tis the season for sparkling decorations, bustling shoppers, busy schedules and really mean ladies running down small children with shopping carts.

I went grocery shopping today with my two sons. (I have mentioned my disdain for shopping, right?) When I go grocery shopping I must have a list. I have a planned path through the store and I am surprising and uncharacteristically organized as I pick out my things. When my kids join me it adds an extra element to keep track of, but my children are well-behaved children by my standards and rarely step outside a three foot radius around the shopping cart.

Today Micah, my three year old, stepped away from the cart, again only about three feet away, to gaze lovingly at the Mac N Cheese. This should not surprise any other young moms out there. Who doesn't love the Mac N Cheese, right? At any rate, an older lady ran her cart into my young son's head. It was clearly her fault. I quickly pulled Micah over to my side. At this point, this lady who I am telling myself must have experienced horrible morning already, glared at me and my little boy and started shaking her head like it was our fault she assaulted him.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I was rushed today. I was semi-stressed out and only had a limited amount of time to get groceries. It is after all the Christmas season and as much as I preach to Rethink Christmas, I have allowed my schedule to make me a crazy person this year. Normal behavior for me in a situation such as this would be to quietly apologize for the incident and move along avoiding the lady like the black plague. Not so today, my friends, not so today. You see, I've been in several grocery stores over the last several months and this is not the first incident I have encountered where someone ran either me or one my kids down with a shopping cart and then unapologetically moved along. Today, I snapped.

I looked this lady in the eye and said, "Excuse me. Do not shake your head at my son. He is only three. You ran HIM down." At which point, she quickly scuttled off still shaking her graying head at me.

So, I did what every other well-meaning and frustrated young parent would do...I stalked her through the rest of the store. I quietly did the rest of my shopping while maintaining a close distance with this lady. I gave her some extra time to witness how great my boys truly are. Then I followed her right into the same check-out line. Her mouth began to gape as she noticed us right behind her in line, and I'll be honest she did look a little scared of me. I then gave her a great big smile. Now I wish I would have wished her a Merry Christmas. Then, keeping in character, she was rude to the cashier and went on her merry way double checking her receipt for mistakes.

One of my biggest pet peeves of young moms is the complaining about how hard it is to be a young mom. I can't stand that. I do not want my kids to EVER hear me complain about one second of the short time that I get to spend with them. I do not EVER want them to think that they are unloved or unwanted or unappreciated. I also feel you teach your kids to whine about life being hard when they hear you whine about life being hard.

Life is tough. This time of year is stressful, sadly enough. It doesn't have to be. We make the choice to be frustrated. We make the choice of how to respond to life. Just like I made the choice to follow her through the store, just to get a chance to smile at her. I could have easily either avoided her or thrown a package of spaghetti at her head, my response, my choice.

I feel sad for that lady in the store. I wonder what makes her so upset that even at Christmas time she can't smile at a wide eyed three year old standing by the Mac N Cheese.

In the end, I simply want people to be nice and not run down my kids with shopping carts, but I cannot control the behavior of others. I can only control my response. I make the choice to let people steal my joy.

In this season of rush and want, smile. Be joyous and let the gift of Christ shine from your face, your countenance. Be nice, and remember you make the choice how to respond. You make the choice to get angry, raise your voice, or throw spaghetti.

'Tis the season to share Joy!!!

"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." ~Luke 2:9-11

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rethinking Christianity.

Usually when I write a blog that references a lot of scripture I do not get any comments. This has always bothered me, and I have never fully understood whether I failed in my writing attempt or if people generally avoid discussing scripture. Clearly, I am not the best writer on the planet, but I do feel that Biblical scripture makes some people nervous or is interpreted as ‘preachy’. So, as a general rule scripture is avoided by even the most faithful believer. Needless to say, today I use scripture, like it or not, because I believe in scripture and I am not ashamed to quote or discuss it.

Did you know that the Bible speaks on the less fortunate, or poor, more than 300 times? I have heard many a preacher discuss how many times the bible mentions the word ‘love’, (I believe it is around 800 depending on the version you read.) but seldom in my life have I heard a sermon on the poor or Christ’s mission, dare I say vision, for the what the church should mean to the less fortunate.

I feel that if scripture notes a topic hundreds of times it merits my consideration, don’t you?

Here are a few verses that I want to mention today, especially during this season of giving…

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. ~James 1:27

Easy enough, right? We do that, right?

James immediately takes this discussion of “pure and faultless religion” to the importance of providing for the poor in chapter two. James discussion on faultless religion includes this…

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ~James 2:14-17

What I don’t want to discuss today is politics. I have absolutely no interest in your politics. I also have no interest in excuses or explanations why corporate expressions of charity are wrong in your opinion. Please do not bring semantics into this discussion about what social justice means or whether government has a role to play in providing for the poor. Friend, if these are the notions you get hung up on before you open you wallet or serve the less fortunate, then you have grossly missed the point of Christianity and the role of the church.

What I do want to point out is that a true and faultless religion not only pays attention to the poor, but does something about it. Three different gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) tell about a time a faithful follower of the law came searching for salvation from Christ. Jesus told him simply…

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." ~Mark 10:21

I will be honest with you. I am not ready or willing to sell everything I have. This definitely points to my lack of faith in God’s provision. I know that. What I do learn from this verse, and Christ’s direction, is that providing for the poor is not to be an afterthought in our Christian walk. Providing for the poor is what we do. It is who we are and it is the religion we should be keeping. It is Christ's priority and is ours.

This man who came searching out Christ was a good man. He kept the commandments. He was not called a sinner. He was loved by Christ, but he was lacking one thing. His religion was missing one thing, charity.

I don’t know about you, but these verses tell me that I can be the best worshiper, the best scripture quot-er, have the most well-behaved children, a terrific marriage, attend services three times a week, and practice a daily prayer routine, but if I’m not giving to those in need, there is something crucial missing in my ‘so-called’ religion.

I know you feel pulled in a hundred different directions this month. I know you feel the pressure to buy and buy for every teacher, postal worker and fourth cousin twice removed for Christmas. I feel that, too. I also get bills in the mail, just like you. But if just a little at time we change how we spend, if just a few more people each year give less to those who have and give more to those who don’t, then we are slowly becoming what we should be to the world.

Until we see fully Christ’s mission, His vision for the church, our religion, our faith walk, our Christianity is lacking. Until we learn that church is NOT about
dynamic sermons,
uplifting worship services,
brand new buildings,
new dynamic ministries,
competing with the church down the street,
insulating our members from the uncomfortably socially unacceptable,
playtime for our children,
fancy dinners or retreats,
social gatherings,
fashion shows,
or networking opportunities...we are lacking.

We are missing one thing, charity.

Some food for thought:

According to UNICEF in 2005, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world... or the church.

Less than one percent of what the world spent in 1999 on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen. (State of the World, Issue 287 - Feb 1997, New Internationalist)

Here is an eye opening article that includes the above quotes and more…

If you are setting an agenda to make resolutions for the new year, include a change of heart for this season and throughout the year. Include charity in your Christian walk.

Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

Jer. 22:3. Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

Prov. 29:7. The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such concern.

Luke 12:33. "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys."

Luke 3:11. And [John] would answer and say to them, "Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise."

Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

1 John 3:17. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rethinking Christmas.

It is hard to understand poverty unless you have lived impoverished. I never have.

My young family has certainly lived on less. We used food stamps and Medicaid during my husband's graduate work and definitely lived on the generosity of others during that time. In fact, there were days when we wondered how we would make it, but lo and behold, God provided. We are both changed because of our years spent on living with less.

I don't notice how that time changed me until the Christmas season approaches, and that's when I feel it the most. To be truthful, I get angry. I get angry when I see the excess that we spend on ourselves and our children all justified, of course, because of the "season of giving". I get angry when I hear that we over spend so much that we put our families into debt all for things we don't need. I get angry when I feel pressure to fit in or to keep up with the affluent all for the sake of the "season of giving".

My friends, if gifting our children with a hundreds of dollars worth of material things after shopping the sales to clothe ourselves in riches is what Christmas is about, then I'm ready to take down the tree.

I live outside Detroit. Twenty miles from my house is an incredibly impoverished community. The Census Bureau reports that 33.8 percent of Detroit's population lives in poverty. As I watch the snow fall from the sky while leaving a mall bustling with busy shoppers I question how it is that we have time to spend plenty of money on ourselves, but twenty miles away some child will sleep without heat tonight. These are the thoughts that plague me. This is why I don't like to shop.

You see, while I have lived in situations where my husband and I wondered how to pay for groceries, we have always had a roof over our heads and a warm place to sleep at night. This is not the case for everyone.

So this year I'm encouraging others to rethink how much we spend on ourselves, rethink how much we spoil our children, and consider for a moment what we can do to help someone who really is in need. I want to trade all the extra clothes, dolls, trucks, jewelry that my family doesn't need and instead teach my children that love and generosity and service are better gifts than ones that will go unworn, unused, returned, forgotten and/or disliked. The best gifts we give our children never are purchased.

I will give my children gifts and I want you to do that, too. But please remember, teaching our children to share is a gift that won't go uncherished and teaching our children self-control and contentment are gifts not marked by time or age.

We cannot rid the world of poverty, but we cannot ignore it and sleep well at night. Frankly, we cannot ignore poverty and still claim to be Christ-like.

This Christmas give meaningful gifts. Tell your family you love them. Give photos. Create memories. Volunteer together. Shop for a needy family together. Give to charities in someone's honor.

Give, for it is truly the season of giving.