Sunday, June 1, 2014

Catching the curveball

Proverbs 16:9
The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.

When you envision your future, you don't envision yourself, or someone you love battling cancer. You don't imagine burying a child lost too early in a car accident. Your plans don't include bankruptcy and the loss of your job, or home. These are not the things that we see when we look forward into our days. We picture our families intact, prospering, and growing, healthy and happy. We see the future as a breeze and imagine the best for our children and ourselves. Oh yes, we tell ourselves that we are aware these things can happen, but inside we doubt they will ever happen to us.

Our Sunday School lesson this morning was taken from a scripture in Ezekiel. Now, I have to admit that I haven't read a lot in Ezekiel. The visions he shared were always so strange and hard to understand that I had a hard time comprehending it, and the book starts right out with those, so yes, my study of it hasn't been as in depth as other books. But when I read the lesson, and the scripture I was intrigued, and dug a little further on my own.

As a young man, Ezekiel was raised and trained to become a priest in God's temple in Jerusalem. He was just about to begin that when Jerusalem was taken in a siege, and he along with others of Israel's best and brightest were carried off into captivity to Babylon. He was given relative freedom in Babylon, but was a captive none the less, and his life was turned upside down and inside out from what he had been raised and trained to do. All his plans for his future were completely annihilated.

The Bible doesn't tell us what Ezekiel's response to this was. It doesn't tell us if he suffered from severe depression and sorrow, or went into a slump where he couldn't get out of bed, and it doesn't tell us, how long all that lasted, if it happened at all. It does tell us that he saw visions of heaven. That God spoke to him, and basically said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Look at this, read it, eat it, make it a part of you, and get up and go tell everyone what you have seen, heard and read!" and he did!

After reading what I did, I realized that when life has thrown me curve balls, and completely upended my "plans", my initial reaction and response wasn't immediate obedience to God, and a willingness to do what He wanted me to do in that particular circumstance, but usually one of mourning and great sorrow, and self-pity, and even a little wallowing, there, I admitted it. AND I have to admit, that after I finally began to get sick of all that, and looked around, God was patiently waiting for me, and took my hand and we moved on. The point is, that THAT behavior and the circumstances that I chose to dwell on, if Ezekiel experienced them, apparently weren't noteworthy enough to even get a mention in scripture.

The commentary said Ezekiel was open and listening to God, and when he was told what to do, he immediately went and did it. Now this was a guy, that had been schooled in the scriptures, and knew them backward and forward (to say it was required reading is an understatement). His knowledge of God was extensive from years of preparation to prepare him to serve in the temple. And even though he didn't get to serve God in the temple in Jerusalem, and make the sacrifices, and enter the Holy of Holies, God still appeared to him, in a foreign place and spoke to him, and used his life in the lives of others.

As I read, I made some notes. There is a lot there I need to chew on, and remember.
  1. Know God's word, and what it says. Ezekiel framed everything that he saw and that was happening to him in the framework of what he knew through the scriptures.
  2. Be obedient. Ezekiel was already in the habit of regular worship, and sacrifice, and being obedient to doing what God wanted and even though he didn't completely understand, he followed God's instructions.
  3. God isn't confined by MY circumstances and location. He saw firsthand that God wasn't confined to a temple in Jerusalem, God was with him, no matter where he was.
  4. Share it! Through obedience, he could be a voice to exhort and encourage this brothers in captivity of God's faithfulness to them and love for them if they turned from sin, and followed Him.
I'm going to read more of and about Ezekiel, I know God called him as a prophet to the people of Israel while they were living in a foreign land. But I am more intrigued by Ezekiel's response to God and how he listened, and obeyed because of his faith and belief in the God he knew so well. I want to study that and learn from it, and hopefully the next time I experience something in my life that is not what I planned, I will remember Ezekiel and the lessons he taught by being obedient and following God.



Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Tablecloth--a tribute*

Her things are always in my house; her coffee table and end table, dishes, pots, kitchen utensils. There is even a fleece jacket of hers that I wear almost every day during the winter, but I guess I’ve grown accustomed to having those things.

These are new. Tablecloths. I have a whole pile of them. Anita brought them up. Lace, linen, some Mother made, and many we bought her; one in particular stands out to me. She never used it much, said it did not fit the table for large groups, but I always loved it; the smoothness of the linen, the formality of it with just enough whimsy of fun in that trial of pale green shamrocks.

The things I was taught in the use of table clothes. Use the formal ones with the china, the bright printed ones with the Fiesta ware, for family dinners. There were others for Sunday after church dinners, parties with friends.

Much discussion always went into which one to use on which occasion. Did it hang right, was it the right color, and was it to short, too long? Dressing a table took forethought and preparation. It was a statement to your guests as they walked in your door.

“I’m ready for you!”
“I’m so glad you’re here!”
“I have planned something special just because you are coming.”

With the advent of Formica top tables, and polyurethane finishes, tables don’t need the protection of a table cloth or covering so much anymore. Place mats have also taken the place of table cloths. Shoot, people seldom drag out the china, and candle sticks anymore, if they entertain at all.

I did not realize that there was anything to doing it properly until I had Roger help me one time and he did not have a clue….he did not know the crease needs to run straight down the center of the table, the ends need to be even, to really do it correctly, you need a partner on the other end to get it centered just so. You don’t just “slap” a tablecloth on the table; you put something under it to protect the table. She went so far as taking old mattress pads and making table pads for her tables. She made special hangers to hang the cloths on in the closet after she had washed and ironed them so they would stay wrinkle free and ready to dress out the table at a moment’s notice.

As I went through the stack and looked at each one, I remembered them, and I remembered the times we used them, and I remembered her. I remember being taught to be particular about how you do things, pay attention to details--they matter, somethings go together, and somethings just don't. Protect and take care of your things, they are worth it, be prepared for company, make people feel special, sometime it takes more than two hands to do something right, and "Yes, the crease being straight matters". As I look at that stack I miss my mother. I’m thankful for my Mother and all the simple life lessons that she taught me by simply teaching me the how’s and whys of using a table cloth.
* from the archives....

Sunday, May 4, 2014

“Son your sins are forgiven”

Mark 2:1-12 When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them.And they *came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to [a]get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof [b]above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith *said to the paralytic, "[c]Son, your sins are forgiven." But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins [d]but God alone?" Immediately Jesus, aware [e]in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, *said to them, "Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk'? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—He *said to the paralytic, 11 "I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home." 12 And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."

I have read this passage of scripture many times in my life……..many times. I've even read the commentary that goes along with it, but for some reason I saw something that I had not seen before.

The commentary puts it this way:
"Jesus asked the "which is easier" question to demonstrate the truth of His claim to forgive the man's sins—something only God can accomplish. Anyone could assert the ability to forgive sins, since there was no earthly way of confirming the statement. But to say "arise, take up your bed and walk" to the paralytic could be tested immediately by whether he walked or not. By healing the paralytic, Jesus made His pronouncement of forgiveness far more credible."

As I sat and pondered this I was immediately reminded of early days in my walk with the Lord. I was in High School, and I remember when I went back to school the Monday following the weekend of the Lay Witness Mission, people could tell by just looking at me that something had changed within me, and they commented on it. However, as the days and weeks went on, they watched me to see if the changes that they observed and I testified to, would really last; was I really a different person? Had God really done a work in my heart or was this a flash in the pan sort of thing that would fade in time.

What does the power of God's forgiveness do in your heart and life?

After being told his sins were forgiven, the man got up and walked. That is quite a change. Life altering. Physical healing is something that we equate with miracles. But isn't a healing of a heart through the very forgiveness of our sins supposed to be just as life altering as a physical healing which brings about the ability to do things we have never been able to do before? It should change us, and alter us to the degree that our lives are completely changed. We should never be the same.

As the Easter season is still upon us, and we are entering the season of Pentecost where the church was altered forever, ask yourself, "How have I changed since my sins have been forgiven?"

A Touch

As I was reading in the Gospel of Mark today, I was reminded of a story; and as usual, when that happens I need to write it down.

The passage was the gospel of Mark, chapter 1:29-45.
“And immediately after they had come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever, and immediately they spoke to Him about her. And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.
And when evening had come, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door.
And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.
And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there. 
And Simon and his companions hunted for Him; and they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”
And He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.”
And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.
And a leper came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean,”
And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand, and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing, be cleansed.”
And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”
But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news about, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.”

*A story came to mind as I read certain verses from this passage and the remembrance that I saw firsthand what a touch can do toward the spiritual healing of someone.  

When I was growing up, we lived next door to a family of boys. Theirs was a rough home life with a mousy little mother and a loud obnoxious father, who was chronically unfaithful, and habitually abusive toward his wife and children; we saw this first hand. 

The youngest boy in the family was a year younger than me, and during the course of our growing up years, we joined the other kids in the neighborhood playing ball in the vacant lot across the street and riding bikes all over town. But as we grew into our Jr. High and High School years, the differences in our lives became apparent, and the childhood friendship waned and ended. I’m not proud to admit this, but he was a boy, after all, and my friends were mostly girls. He became coarse and rough, and yet, looking back, cowardly and needy…..of male companionship.

As his older brothers grew up they ran with the rougher crowds, smoking, drinking, and when the drug culture really took off, that as well.

In the midst of all that Billy seemed lost. Always his mother’s baby, he was struggling to find a place. The guys in school didn't like him, didn't feel comfortable around him, and mocked, teased and picked on him, while at home…..well, I can’t imagine at home. 

After he graduated, he joined the military, and the last I had heard, had settled on the west coast.  My mother moved to another part of town away from his parents but continued to run into Bill’s mother here and there. 

Eventually, my mom told me that his mother had started attending one of the churches in town, and we were all glad to hear this. 

But several years later not long after I married, my mom shared with me that Bill had come back to town, and was living with his folks. He was ill, apparently with AIDS, and had come home to receive his care and treatments close to his family.

This didn't really surprise me. Bill had turned to the gay lifestyle for all the obvious reasons they give, but for all the good it did to analyze the reasons and whys, he was now dying.

One weekend when we were home Mother and I were headed to my sisters for dinner on a Sat. morning, we stopped by the grocery store in that small town I grew up in and when we pulled up to the curb to park the car, Mother commented that Bill’s mother was sitting in the car next to us, and sure enough as I got out of the car to run into the store, Bill came out of the store with a carton of cigarettes.

We stopped and looked at each other, grinning and confirming that yes, we were who we thought the other one was. He was a shadow of his former self, frighteningly thin, and pale as a ghost. When I stepped forward to give him a hug, he seemed surprised but eagerly responded when he realized I meant it. There we were, two play mates from childhood, seeing each other after years and years of life.

As we pulled apart, I asked how he was doing, and he admitted that it wasn't too good, but he was hanging in there. He struggled to look me in the eye, so I went over to the car and bent down to tell his mother hello, and as I did I noticed tears in her eyes as she smiled at me and said hello. Bill got into the car, and as I told them each goodbye, she reached out and took my hand squeezing it and brimming over and whispered: “Thank you.” 

When I got out of the store and back into our car, my mother was beyond upset. “You wash your hands as soon as you can!”  she said. I assured her that you could not get AIDS from touching someone, but she was adamant, “I don’t care, you wash up anyway!”  I could tell it scared her to death.

The above passage of scripture reminded me of this story today as I read it.

Vs. 32 “And when evening had come, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door.”

Why wait till sunset, under the cover of darkness? Because in that time, those who were ill, or considered possessed were considered unclean, and therefore untouchables. The only times they were able to be out and about was under the cover of darkness when everyone else was home in bed.

Then in verse 40: “And a leper came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on His knees before Him, and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

I have checked this translation with several others, and they all say the same, “You can make me clean.”

Healing did not seem to be the issue so much as the whole idea of cleanness; Cleanness meant restoration, acceptance, inclusion, and relationships.

“You can make me so I am acceptable to the rest of society, so I will be included, and can have friends and family again.”  I wonder if that is what he was really saying when he asked Jesus to make him clean?

The next verse is what says it all though:
“And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand, AND TOUCHED HIM, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

Jesus touched the untouchable.

Imagine the feeling of that man who had not had a human touch in years when he felt someone touch him for the first time.

Bill did die of AIDS, but not before he accepted Christ as his Savior. For you see in the story of the family, that small church, that his mother had started attending a few years prior, hired a new pastor; a guy new to the area who knew nothing of the town, or the people, or the stories that went with them.

When he found out that Mary, a part of his church, had a son who was dying, he went to call on them……every week……and toward the end, every day. He called on this family who for years had sat in a shadow of reputation and gossipy assumptions, but who desperately needed to be told of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Every week he went and ministered Jesus to them, and before Bill died, he prayed and received Jesus as his Savior,  and not long after  Bill’s death, his dad started attending church and eventually walked the aisle to the altar and gave his heart to Jesus as well.

I’m glad the preacher at the church had greater faith in God than he did in the mistakes and sorrows and reputations of people. I’m glad he did not know the stories, or if he did he ignored them and went out and ‘touched’ them anyway.

This story is a constant reminder to me of God’s grace and power and that time is not our enemy if God is on our side.  It is also a reminder that prejudice and bigotry are born out of ignorance and assumptions, something the church should not tolerate. It also reminds me to check that log, before I go fishing for splinters.  But mostly it reminds me how desperately some people need the “touch of Jesus”.

*names have been changed 

Social Ill's

Abortion, Civil Rights, Aids. They are coming to the surface in every area; the news, education, our personal lives.  Yet when I read scripture, they don’t seem to be addressed generally, but in specific incidents where the person is more important than the issue.

That is the way God intended it, but unfortunately we as the Church and as individuals try to ride it on both sides. We fail when we deal with any social issue from the perspective of the culture around us, but if we address is as Christ wanted us to, then perhaps the culture around us is affected and altered, just as it was in Jesus day when he brought God into the center of the issue.

As I hear more and more about these current issues painted with the broad stroke, I am reminded of people and the stories of their lives where the issue became personal, and policy didn't seem to matter at the time of having to deal with it.

Once again a story—
I accepted Christ when I was 17 years old, living in a small town of about 1500 where there were no black people, there were two “beer joints”, and one stop light. Anything that happened that would have been considered a social issue was NEVER brought to the light of day. Oh yes, there was gossip, and innuendo, but the facts, and truth, seldom came out.

I lived in what some would have considered a Utopian society on the outside that affected my thinking and my life. Yes I was naive, to put it mildly.

When I graduated High School and planned to attend college at one of the big state universities that was four hours from home, I had absolutely no idea what I was headed for. They might as well have dropped me in the middle of New York City.

To say I was “exposed” to sin is an absolute understatement. Sex was prevalent, smoking and drinking, the casual use of drugs, poured in on me and I had absolutely no idea how to deal with any of it. Not wanting to appear as naive as I was, I tried to fit in where I could, to a certain point, but there was a point where the confusion rained down and I couldn't seem to rationalize the issues in my mind.

I met many girls who professed to be followers of Jesus, who had grown up attending church just like I had, but for some reason were going out on Fri and Sat nights with their boyfriends and sorority sisters and getting drunk, high, and not coming home. They would attend Bible study on Wed. evening in a dorm room, and go party on Sat. night. They didn't get up and go to church on Sunday.

I would say I eventually distanced myself from them, but the truth of it was, that just like my friends back home, who I found out years later where doing much the same thing, they simply excluded me, and left me behind.

I continued to attend Bible Study on our floor and the gal who led it was actually the older sister of one of the girls who lived next door to me, and had attended one of the big churches in Wichita. They were fun, light hearted girls, who were in a sorority, and had lots and lots of friends, and people to hang out and do things with. Our Bible Studies were light, nothing too meaty, but always social, and fun, and you came away feeling good…….yeah.

During this time I got a job; a part time one at the Student Health Center. I filed papers, and files for a few hours a week, but it supplemented my money and it required no skill except knowing the alphabet.

One day as I was filing, the leader of our Bible Study came to the window to check in for an appt. I saw her, but she didn’t see me. Things were much different back then, there were no computers at every desk, a select few had them and otherwise, things were done manually with paper forms and paper documentation. The forms the kids filled out were given to the Dr. to mark with diagnosis, and given to the computer entry person to put the information into the computer, where the same slip of paper was pasted into their file and I filed it. I really never was privy to personal, confidential information; or at least I wasn’t supposed to be.

After my friend checked in, I commented to one of the ladies that I worked with that I knew her and who she was. Wondering aloud what she was there for and hoping that she was O.K.

As I continued to file over the next few hours, a fresh pile of paper work was brought back to be entered in the computer, pasted in the files, so I could file them away. When my co-worker started to go through the papers, she asked me about my friend, “didn't you say she leads your Bible study?” she asked. When I replied that she did, she asked me if she was married. I said, “Oh no!, She is only 20 years old, she is in XYZ sorority.”  “Well”, the lady replied, “she is pregnant.” 

HIPPA hadn’t been passed yet.

This surprised me, but I wasn't shocked. My Jr. year of HS, a girl got pregnant out of wed-lock, and the students had gotten together a petition to demand that the school board allow her to remain in school. This was nothing new to me.

But the thing was my Bible Study leader never had that baby. School continued for the next 6 months, and she never gained weight, began to show, and never had a baby. Her younger sister never said anything to any of us about her sister going to have a baby. In fact she continued to lead our Bible Study, although not as regularly, but she was there.

I had three older sisters who had children, I knew the process of pregnancy, and I knew that if she was truly pregnant, and I had seen the slip of paper that got pasted in her file and the Dr. had signed it, she would have eventually started showing signs, which she never did.

It took me awhile to realize what had happened, and how it had probably been handled.

A former roommate of mine, also a professing Christian, had an abortion just a few years later, and her sister explained to me how she had driven up to Manhattan and picked her up, taken her over to KU, had the abortion, and then stayed with her for the weekend. It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that this is what had probably been done with my Bible Study leader too.
I was confused. Abortion was something that I had heard about, but was not openly spoken of.
But here was a beautiful sweet young girl, who was teaching others how to read and study the Bible, but obviously wasn't internalizing any of what she was reading and teaching.

At first I wanted to blame the boy, but as I got older, and had my own issues with guys, I realized that she was equally responsible and therefore to be held as accountable as any guy.

As I continued through college and later in life, I have encountered several girls who have shared that in their younger years had abortions. Girls who went to church all their lives, and who even led, or taught Bible studies and Sunday School classes. These girls, I figure needed love, and were looking for it in the arms of a guy whom they had misread, and found themselves in a predicament that they simply couldn't face. The rejection of a guy who they found out or knew wouldn't want to share this responsibility with them, the facing parents who they knew would be disappointed and devastated by the news, and the altering of their futures and lives for the rest of their days; this was something that the abortion industry assured them could be fixed, so they did it.

I never knew what happened with too many of these girls. I don’t know how it impacted them and their lives and futures, but I know how the knowledge of them making this particular choice after saying they were Christians, and trying to be someone that supposedly didn't believe in and would never do such a thing, impacted me. My own response is all I can be responsible for.

I didn't turn from God, but I began to see a much broader picture of things than I had before. I began to see the grey areas that so many people live in, and I began to step into those areas myself.

Because of the personal stories, and affects of the social issues that I've seen and encountered, I have a hard time when I hear the politicians take something so personal and try to make it a blanket issue that will be dealt with on a grand scale.

The individuality of the individual is lost, and person by person needs are never met.

Yes, the church has failed, we as individual Christians have failed to show the love of God to people in a way that they won’t go searching for it in places and people that would and will continue to only hurt and scar them for the rest of their lives. 

When politics and social issues collide with the church, something is lost. Read the Gospels. Over and over the religious leaders who were trying to appease Rome that they might keep their “institution” intact, clashed with Jesus. Not over the issue, but over the treatment of the individuals involved. For Jesus saw the stray, the wounded, the sick, and downtrodden as one person at a time and ministered and healed them as such. Oh yes, He did miracles on a grand scale, feeding 5000 is no small thing, but overall when you read the Gospels, they are a record of the one on one encounters of people with the Living God. 

When the church becomes so much of an institution that it fails to teach and stress one on one mentoring, discipleship and relationship, it isn't the reflection of Jesus anymore, but the very institution that Jesus constantly warned the church leaders about.

Eventually that very institution conspired with Rome and had Jesus killed because they saw Him as such a threat to their way of doing things that they couldn't let it continue. Somewhere along the way, the relationship that God wanted with his people took a back seat to the institution of God.

Small victories are won in the trenches of relationships. The kingdom of heaven started with 12 men and a hand full of followers who without mass communication and technology went out and shared the power and impact and results that knowing the Risen Christ had on their lives. They lived it before people, and it changed the world.

There is no reason for our impotence, except without relationship WITH Christ, we can’t really have relationship with anyone else FOR Christ.

Perhaps this is what our Bible study leader didn't know either. Sharing what Jesus can do and reading the Bible is good, but having a relationship with Jesus is what enables and empowers us to resist the desires that draw us into sin. Demonstrating relationship with Christ is what shows the world that we are different, we approach things differently.

Prayer, relationships, prayer, Bible reading, prayer, fasting, prayer………relationship with God.