Saturday, December 5, 2015

Christmas confessions

Have you read the Christmas story in Mark lately?  There’s no manger.  No Mary and Joseph.  No baby Jesus.  No star or angels.  No heavenly hosts or shepherds.  No silent night.
If Mark was the only one who wrote about Jesus’ entrance to the world, Christmas would look a lot different.
There would be no gifts.
There would be no Hallmark Christmas movies.
There would be no twinkling lights.
We would be eating locusts and honey instead of turkey and dressing. Instead of a manger scene, there would be a wild looking man dressed in leather and camel hair, preparing the way for Jesus by preaching one message.  
A message we don’t usually hear at Christmas.  
A message of repentance.
Mark’s good news of Christ’s arrival begins with a call for a change of mind that results in a change of actions.
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him (c)onfessing their sins
How many of us have Christmas confessions on our ‘to do’ list?
According to Mark’s gospel, the way we need to prepare for Christmas is to repent.
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”
John prepared the way for the arrival of Christ by leading the people to turn from their sinful ways.
Forgive me.
I’m sorry.
Heal me.
Restore me.
Change me.
But today, instead of repenting, we shop, we decorate, we bake, we party, and then we compare our gifts and decorations, and activities with everyone else’s. 
Our path is full of distractions and detours, and we miss out on God with us.  
This Christmas take the time to prepare the way for the Lord by preparing your heart and not just your house.

Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Love does not rejoice

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6)                      
This verse is tucked inside the famous "Love Chapter"of 1 Corinthians 13.  We have all heard it read at weddings and held up as the perfect kind of love we should aspire to... patient, kind, long-suffering, not boastful or rude. We can all agree that those things are loving. But there is some controversy in our society over verse six.  Love does not rejoice at wrongdoings. Another translation says love does not delight in evil. The Bible clearly states that it is not loving to celebrate sin. It is not loving to approve of actions that God says he will punish. 

The world says that Christians are haters because we don't applaud those lifestyles and choices that deviate from God's design. The world says Christians who support the biblical model of marriage and fidelity are intolerant bigots. But God says it is the opposite of love to applaud wrongdoing. Wouldn't it be more hateful to believe what God says about sin and death and hope and life and NOT tell people?  How much do I have to hate someone to approve of something they are doing that God says will bring condemnation? Even if you don't agree with me, you have to admit that according to 1 Corinthians 13:6, if I love you I cannot rejoice in your sin.  If I love you I will speak truth and not say what you want to hear. 

The argument is that we should all just love each other because Jesus loved everyone. That is true. Jesus loved the tax collectors and sinners, but he did not rejoice in what they were doing.  He loved the tax collectors and told them to give back the money they had stolen.  He loved the prostitutes and told them go and sin no more.  He loved the greedy man and told him to be generous.  He loved the gossips and told them to say only those things that build up and not those things that tear down.  He loved the prideful and told them to consider others better than themselves.  He loved the busy woman and told her to focus on what was really important in life. He loved the woman who was living with a man who was not her husband and told her how to worship in spirit and in truth. Jesus never rejoiced in wrongdoing or said it was okay to continue in sin.  Jesus loved people where they were and then said, "Be holy as I am holy." 

It's not surprising that Jesus wanted to eat with sinners. That's why he said he came--to seek and save the lost. What is surprising to me is that sinners wanted to eat with Jesus.  He was perfect, righteous, and holy... and sinners flocked to him. Most of us don't enjoy being around perfect people because they highlight our imperfections. So what was it about Jesus that drew people to him? The reason sinners were attracted to Jesus was because he was full of grace and truth.

Most of us lean one way or the other. If you are full of truth, but no grace, no sinner is ever going to want to eat with you. A grouchy legalist is not approachable. I sat by one the other day and I wanted to get away as soon as possible. We cannot sit and condemn people and expect them to be attracted to our Savior.

On the other hand, if you are full of grace without truth, you are like a bandaid on a gaping wound. You do good things and you try to make people feel better by covering up their brokenness without offering the truth that will truly heal them.

Jesus was not either/or.  He was both/and. He was holy and he was loving. His holiness was not a barrier to people because it was paired with love. Jesus met people where they were. He knew their sins and loved them anyway. He did not rejoice in their wrongdoing, but showed them a better way. If we are going to be like him, we have to approach people the same way.

Do you think you will escape the judgment of God?  Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:3-4)
I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live, declares the Lord. (Ezekiel 33:11)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Can you read the condoms on the wall?

Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:13-14

Dear University,
Last week when I was moving my son into your dorm, it reminded me of when I moved into my own college dorm 25 years ago... the newness, the excitement, meeting my hall mates... and then I saw the condoms on the bulletin board. We did not have those in my dorm 25 years ago.  I am not naive enough to think that no one had sex when I was in college, but the university did not go out of their way to make it easy.  Single sex dorms with curfews and limited visitation were all attempts to protect us from ourselves.  What are you doing to protect your students?  Condoms on the bulletin board?  Where has this form of "protection" gotten your university?  The first week of school you start promoting your campaign against relationship and sexual violence.  You expect your students to have sex, but you tell them not to hurt anyone.
The unwritten message is, "Boys, this is what we expect of you, and girls, this is what you can expect on your dates."  Where is the message that says they have the right to say no? Where is message that says they have the right to have fun and get to know a person and then say goodnight at the door? Where is the encouragement to abstain from a world of one night stands and broken hearts and bodies?  I didn't see any of those messages.  The only message I saw was "Wrap it before you tap it." Nice.
Perhaps if purity was pursued rather than parodied, or if students were protected by policies and procedures rather than confronted by condoms every time they walk down the hall, you could do away with your campaigns and your t-shirts against sexual violence. Perhaps if you made "no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" you would have more people studying and less people "tapping it".  I know you will say that I am old fashioned and that times have changed.  You are right, times have changed.  But there is an ancient way that leads to rest for your souls. How many of your students long for that?  How many are being counseled for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Instead of giving them a Rock to cling to, you gave them a condom.

This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it.' Jeremiah 6:16

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Where do you love?

Last week I got a text from a new friend asking me, "Where do you love?"  I knew it was an auto-correct error, but it made me think...  Where do I love? 
Is my home a place where I cook and clean and sleep or is it a place where I love?  Is it a place where I love the ones closest to me and reach out to those far away,  or is it a place where I retreat to myself. Do I spend more time on Facebook than I do loving? Am I more concerned about the weeds in the yard or about the love in the room?  If the beds are made and the dishwasher is unloaded, but I have not love, I have gained nothing.  If my kids' rooms are clean and I serve gourmet meals, but I have not love, no one will look forward to coming home.
Lord, I don't just want my house to be the place where I live.  I want it to be the place where I love.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Feelings are not facts...

If I don't feel like being a mom, it doesn't change the fact that I have three kids who need my attention.
If I don't feel like being married, it doesn't change the fact that I made a covenant with my husband 21 years ago.
When I was pregnant with my son, I felt like I was having a girl, but that didn't change the fact that he was a boy.
When a girl with anorexia feels fat, it doesn't change the fact that she is so malnourished that her hair is falling out and her period has stopped.  We don't encourage the anorexic to continue feeling fat. Instead we do what we can to help her see herself the way she really is.
This week I heard about trans-abled people who feel the need to be disabled.  Just because you feel like you should be paralyzed doesn't change the fact that you are able bodied. I would not encourage someone who felt like they should be an amputee to cut off their own arm.  I would encourage them to see and accept themselves they way they are.
Suicidal people feel like dying.  We don't encourage them to act on their feelings.  We do everything we can to change their feelings.
 So why is it when a man feels like a woman the world says those feelings are right.  The world says those feelings trump the fact that every single cell in his body has an X and a Y chromosome--which cannot be changed by any amount of surgery.  The world says his feeling are more important than the fact that he has a wife and kids who also have feelings. I do not understand this.
Feelings are not facts.  Feelings can and do change. The world tells us to follow our hearts.  But the Bible tells us,  The heart is deceitful above all things. (Jeremiah 17:9)
We must do what is right... whether we feel like it or not.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fasting and failing

Today I am fasting.  

Oh, it's not like I'm going without food for 40 days or anything, I'm just skipping ONE MEAL for goodness sake.

Today I am failing.

Today I yelled at Will when the bus was here and he couldn't find the note he needed for school.. the note I had written just a few minutes before.

Today Richard told me I didn't need to yell... and so I yelled at him too.

Today I can't comfort myself with food.  I must deal with my sin on an empty stomach.

So I asked for forgiveness from Will.  I asked for forgiveness from Richard. And I asked for forgiveness from God--the only one who sees the yucky stuff that I am able to hide from others most of the time, but not today.

Then since I couldn't eat, I vacuumed the couch. (I cannot explain this.) What I found was the yucky stuff that had slipped between the cracks.  No matter how many times I have tidied the living room the past few weeks, I have missed the stale popcorn and fuzzy jelly beans under the cushions.  It's much easier to straighten the pillows than to deal with the stuff underneath, but that stuff never goes away on it's own.  It has to be uncovered and swept away. 

Fasting does that too.  It reveals the yucky stuff that I manage to hide most days. It's easy to hide my irritability and self-centeredness... until I'm hungry apparently. But when what is hidden inside comes out and yells at my family, it's time to deal with it.  It's time to admit it's there.  It's time to call it what it is. It's time to realize that as clean as I get the outside of the cup, the inside is what needs a good washing.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. "(Matt. 23:25-26)

Good news! Along with the yucky stuff in the couch, I also found Audra's Ipod that she has been searching for. 

Fasting doesn't just reveal what you are trying to hide, it also reveals what you are searching for. It helps you find your satisfaction in God rather than food. It helps you focus on what is important. It's a reminder that man does not live on bread alone. It's a way to show myself that I want God more than I want a bowl of cereal. 

You satisfy me more than the richest of foods. I will praise you with songs of joy. (Psalm 63:5)

Friday, February 20, 2015

For my wilderness friends

I was reading this morning about the Israelites after they left Egypt.  In Exodus 16 it says they "came to the wilderness of Sin."  Apparently this particular wilderness is located somewhere between Elim and Sinai and it just happens to have the ironic name of Sin.  Your wilderness may be located inside an empty house, a hospital room, a cemetery, a school, or a doctor's office.  It may be caused by sin (yours or someone else's) or it may just be an unwelcome part of your journey.

When the Israelites got to the wilderness of Sin they were hungry and they grumbled because they remembered how it used to be.  When I'm in the wilderness, I grumble too.  I want things the way they were before.  I'm needy. I'm sad. I'm angry. I'm empty.  And I want God to show up!  Look at God's response to their grumbling, "I am about to rain bread from heaven for you." What?  They just wanted to go back to Egypt.  They didn't know there was another way to survive the wilderness. But in the morning they looked outside and saw something covering the ground and asked, 'What is it?' Moses told them, 'It's the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.'  It was like nothing they had ever seen before and a new supply fell every morning. There was enough for everyone and it kept coming as long as they were in the wilderness.

Manna sounds a lot like grace--new every morning, sufficient for the day and enough for everyone. When I was in the wilderness of cancer, people would say that there was no way they could do what I was doing. They were right. Unless you are in the wilderness, you don't have the manna you need.  Unless you have breast cancer, you don't have the grace God gives to sustain you in that sick bed. Unless your husband has moved out, you don't have the grace that is sufficient for you in that empty house. Unless your child has died, you don't have the grace you need to survive a trip to the cemetery. But when you are in the wilderness--of loneliness, of pain, of depression--that is when God provides the grace to sustain you. You might have to look for it and it may not look like anything you've ever experienced before.  You may not think it's enough. You may be like the Israelites who wondered how they could survive without all the food they wanted.  But God says, 'My grace is sufficient for you.'(2 Cor. 12:9) As you journey through your wilderness, God's grace may not look like what you thought you wanted, but it is all you need.

If you are wandering in the wilderness, keep moving.  In chapter 17 it says that the people moved from the wilderness by stages. Those Israelites moved from place to place to place before they finally got to where they were going.  If you are in the wilderness, press on.  Don't give up. Moses named one of those intermediary places Massah (which means tested) because it was there that the people tested the Lord by saying, 'Is the Lord among us or not?' Excuse me? Did they forget about the manna?  Did they not see God with them every morning when they looked outside their tent?

When you are camped in a place that seems far from where you want to be and you are wondering if God is there, look for the manna. Look for the mercies that are new every morning. Look for the bread. God's response to our need is still bread from heaven. Jesus said, 'I am the living bread that came down from heaven.' (John 6:51)  This is my body which was broken for you... take,eat. (1 Cor. 11:24)