Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow day epiphany (epiphanies can be L...O...N...G )

I love snow days because everyone is forced to stay in (for the most part). I love that-as dysfunctional as my family can be-we are all confined to this tall skinny townhouse, and I can feed them yummy comfort foods, and I know where everybody is...and I love it the most when the snow is still falling and no one knows when it will stop...and we just might be stuck in this small world for a very long time.

I like this small world because, with less and less options, the activities are more and more predictable. We will eat the same bonding (fattening) foods, we will watch the same movies-especially if the satellite signal is affected. The options get fewer and fewer, and the "unity" gets keener and keener.

But once the snow stops falling, the restless natives scatter, and you see the unity was really only a figment of the narrowing options available.

I apparently like narrowing options. There is something reassuring about us all proceeding in this controlled limited atmosphere. It is as filling and as comforting as the banana pancakes, the white chili, and the fried ice cream we consumed. But it is likely just as unhealthy.

I have been hearing a lot of mixed messages lately and, as you might have guessed, I don't like mixed messages. Way too many avenues leading who-knows-where, far from home, no doubt. And the opportunity to get lost in it all is a scary thing.

Fortunately, I decided a while back that I would make no decisions based on fear. So today-now that the snow stopped falling-I decided to stop watching the seeming conflicting messages pile up in my periphery, and look them each straight in the eye.

I didn't know where it would take me, and I worried that it would isolate me-from everyone. But I decided to trust The One who leads me and is with me always, and to set my fear aside, hold onto Him, and see where we ended up-together.

I started with the message from my "Perspectives" class...a study I'm hoping will give me God's heart for His world. So far-and I've only had 3 classes-the message is God deserves the praise of the nations and I should unapologetically spread the word.

Then there's my dear friend Oswald Chambers (author of My Utmost for His Highest), who tells me I am to be a proclaimer of the gospel of God, above all else. I know, I know, not too conflicting so far...

But then there's my blogging friend, Glennon, who has such a beautiful aroma of Jesus on her, and who lives to love God and love people, but refuses to draw any lines in the sand-even where the Bible does.

And finally there's Dr.K, who conveyed to me that I make some people feel "put upon" when I talk to them the same way I talk to believers in Jesus...which really rocked my world-and not in the good way-because that was something I thought I was doing right...(being myself with everyone). It sure seemed to simplify life.

And so, it would seem, I have the challenge of unapologetically proclaiming the gospel, while drawing no lines in the sand and squelching the talkative-believer-in-me who makes other people feel "put upon".

But are the messages really as mixed as they seem? Is the only hope I have of them all sitting down at the same table and behaving themselves, limited to the forced isolation of the rare snow day? Or could each of them come together in such a way as to broaden my horizons without compromising any of them?

I'd have to look and think and read and pray on that one.

First, I remembered my friend Letha. I had tried for years to get Letha to come to church with me. She was willing to be my friend-though we really didn't do that much together-but she showed no interest whatsoever in church. I finally gave up completely. Which sounds bad, but in my discouragement, I said to God, I'm gonna get together with Letha for lunch one day a week, and I'm going to determine not to give her any advice no matter what she says. (And let me tell you, she could say some things that were screaming for advice). I remember biting my tongue and just asking her, "so, what are you going to do about that?" As I look back on it now, I can almost hear God breathing a sigh of relief..."Finally! I was wondering what would make that girl just shut up and listen for a change..." (I said almost). But a funny thing ended up happening as I sat there week after week without a spoken opinion on everything I had an unspoken opinion on-which was everything. Letha started coming to church. Hmm...

Dr. K had suggested I might be afraid of other people's beliefs-which I quickly dismissed-but that it would be more endearing to cultivate a true interest in what others believe, and how they arrived at those beliefs. He suggested that I be more open and flexible...not I know what is right, but I want to know what you are thinking. That seemed to fit with the Letha experiment. And so I continued to ponder...

Shortly after these thoughts entered my mind, I stumbled upon an Internet article by David Wood, entitled: Hungry Homeless and jobless in Haiti. It seemed I wouldn't have to wait too long to see what some people were thinking about Christianity, and unfortunately it would be no mystery as to how they had arrived at those opinions. The article was insightful, about the plight the Haitians find themselves in, but the comments that followed were up close and personal for someone like me (and you, if you call yourself a Christian). They went disturbingly like this:

Vanleys: "Their only hope is Jesus Christ Himself! Instead of building a bullet train in parts of America, for the poor here, let's feed some families in need there. That's what the Lord would do. Bullet train, what a joke this guy is. Oh he's my president, but he's far from what he could or should be."

Emily29388: "If Jesus is gonna save'em all, I have to wonder why Jesus let them all get in this fix to start with. Oh yeah, he works in mysterious ways his miracles to perform. Mysterious indeed.

Vanleys: "America is next! You mark my words--gay marriage, abortion, gays mocking Christ on Easter out in San Francisco every year, and now our president banning Christian Day of Prayer. Folks, I got news for ya, 9/11 and Katrina were just icebreakers for what's to come."

bpd9227: " worship a god who wreaks havoc and destruction on those its supposed to love? And what of the Christians killed in the many disasters...they accepted Christ, and yet they still suffered...why don't you fly down to Haiti yourself and help those people? Isn't that what Jesus would do? You big phoney!

Hammerofmac: "Jesus, what is he waiting for, an invitation? Let him go and help-they need it. But I think Americans need the help more--and I don't mean in food and water."

Wow. Those are some harsh criticisms of Jesus...but can you blame them? All they've seen of Him is what the loudest of us have shown them. For once, (maybe because I've been ruminating on all these mixed messages), I wasn't offended by their genuine-if insulting-
feelings. Their anger made perfect sense to me. We're called to proclaim the gospel unapologetically, but does that really look anything like Vanley's initial comment for earthquake crushed Haiti, "Their only hope is Jesus Christ Himself!"?

I don't know about that, but I do know this: nobody can tell me much of anything when I am hungry, thirsty, tired, in pain, or uncomfortable. It seems like, in this situation, words about Jesus are for another time. Maybe a time when they are asked for. And what would ever make the people of Haiti ask for words about Jesus? How about when we're acting so much like Him, they either have to ask us what makes us so different, (if they've never heard of Him), or, if we're related to Him (if they have).

When Vanley goes on to get political and complain about the president, I don't think that comment will draw out any interested questions about Jesus. I think that will just get chalked up to one more whiny American who naively thinks everything would be running smoothly, if only their guy would've gotten in. I won't even get into Vanley threatening America with God's wrath, or the fact that somewhere along the line bpd9227 got the idea that Christians aren't supposed to have any disasters. It all adds up to one big question: "Why does God let us speak for him at all?".

It seems like the problem of Christianity today might just be too many words and not enough action to back them up-or even to be invited to speak. The words of St. Francis of Assisi ring loud and poignant here: "Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words."

I include myself in the masses of well meaning Christians who have devoted themselves to study, but have opened their mouths on a study break and-quite unintentionally-hurt those around them with their enlightened ideas. And when I start living like my God is as worthy and amazing and compassionate and powerful as He is-and when I get that He wants to show that through my life and words-but not through my wordy instruction of how life after redemption is supposed to look-maybe then I will be a part of the solution, and not just an accidental part of the problem.

I think God just may be using all the mixed messages to bring me one step closer to Him. A step in which He does not become smaller and more controllable (like my snow day world), but bigger and more complex, and more amazing. And while I do not believe that all paths lead to Heaven/God, I do believe that God, in His love for all humans, devises ways to intersect with those paths...if only His people would stop setting up road blocks at those very intersections.
We've got to stop blocking the way and let them get close enough to see the beauty of the creator-somewhere past our imposing platforms-and seek Him under the shelter of the cross and decide for themselves. Do you really think if they got that close to Him they could so easily walk away?

God looks on the human condition at its worst and is not repulsed by people, but is longing to redeem them. The further we get from our own moment of clarity, however, the less tolerant and loving we are toward those who are still awaiting their moment in the Son. We feel we have arrived-when we have not. What we have is redemption. What we have to offer is not the definition of "cleaned up", but the invitation of introduction to our Redeemer. Our part is to make the introduction. To pray. To answer questions asked. To remain available and to watch the redemption process unfold-never with a critical eye-but in amazement of God's impeccable timing, and loving precision that results in redemption-and, ultimately, more introductions.

The snow is beautiful, but there is a big world out there, full of ideas and spiritual journeys that need to be genuinely (and not fearfully) listened to-really heard in the context of relationship-lifting Jesus up with every opportunity we get. Let's leave our pat answers inside our tall skinny townhouses and brave the elements together. "And surely", Jesus says, "I am with you to the very end of the age" that's comfort food.

one last thought...I am just naive enough to think this beautiful snow day epiphany will be beautiful to everyone, but realistically it will not. And so, if I must offend, may I offend my brother in Christ, who has the grace and the Spirit available to him, to get over it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

no frills friday

Are you ready to be offered? The question posed by Oswald this morning, in his devotional My Utmost for His Highest.
"Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of
your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all."
(Phil. 2:17)
"Suppose God wants to teach you to say, 'I know how to be abased'
are you ready to be offered up like that? Are you ready to be not so much
as a drop in the bucket-to be so hopelessly insignificant that you are never
thought of again in connection with the life you served?"
(Oct. 5th devo.)
Lord, I am learning that this is Your story. I'm learning more and more that this is not about me. I'm learning that everything that comes to us in this life, (good, bad, strength, weakness), are all assets to you. So, no matter what you have for me-be it seen by many, or completely unnoticed-I want it.
I know it is your will that I do Kingdom work. And I know-as I try to be obedient to you-You will give me the work that was prepared in advance for me to do. I am honored to be a part of Your story. I pray that whatever I am given to do, I will do it "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ".
In Jesus name, Amen.