Compunction to Care

After the funeral of a friend taken too soon,
And crises looming in several other’s lives,
My attention was directed to the scripture that
States we do not grieve like those who have no hope.

I was reminded people who love God
Have been sometimes counseled not to grieve,
As if grieving is a symptom of non-trust in God’s care for us.
But that is not what this scripture says.

It tells us we will feel grief, but are not deserted.
God is in the middle of our grief, a constant comfort.
But I was also reminded, from other scripture, as people of God
We might even grieve more than those without hope.

Many people care only for ‘me and mine.’
But as we express God’s love,
We have the compunction to care
For people and situations in a way many people don’t comprehend.

I am pleased to hear of some wealthy people who have begun a movement
To give back to the world, but what is my motivation?
God teaches me it is love – As I love the people around me
I get involved in their emotional lives, and love them for who they are.

And even when people I don’t know hurt – but are in situations I understand – I hurt.
When they grieve, I grieve;
Perhaps not in the bottom-of-the-pit place where I find myself When a close companion,
Beloved family or cherished friends dies, but I do grieve.

But I can let God’s love flow through me by being close,
Listening without denying their feelings are real or even appropriate,
Starting where they are when they come for comfort,
And showing God’s love so they will understand there is hope.

Hope God will help us deal with the grief,
Hope things will get easier to bear as God provides strength,
Hope the grief can spur us to action through which to funnel the grief.
Hope we will not always be lost in this sea of grief.

God is the source of my compunction to care.
The love flowing into my heart fills me and urges me care enough
To share it with everyone I meet, and when I care,
I share the grief of the person in front of me as well as people in tragic situations I hear about.

Yet I don’t live a grief-stricken life.
As God is the source of my compunction to care for many,
He gives strength and the wisdom of how to live with the resulting grief.
His help is often flesh covered as people offer practical help, and often it is spiritual comfort.

I don’t deny the reality of that deep sense of loss.
I have experienced it too often, and it is not always related to death.
It is only in facing it for what it is, feeling each stage fully, and giving it back to God
That I become unafraid to nurture this compunction to care.

The more I learn to love God,
The more the compunction to care grows,
The more I care for those around me and am affected by them,
The more strength God will give me to remain effective in expressing God’s love to hurting people.

I Thessalonians 4:13
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like those who have no hope…

Just One Whine Theory

A friend told of her daughter who had a set-back in a recovery process:
She set aside one day to just feel sorry for herself.
“I know it’s going to be okay,” she said.
But she just needed some time to deal with it emotionally.

It reminded me of something I’ve taught young teens
And have come to practice.
It’s a theory I have that combines solid recovery practices
With the practice of letting God handle our hurts.

For each situation, I’m allowed one whine:
Just one “Why me?”
Or “No, no, no, no… this can’t be.”
Just one truly emotional response – to get it out of my system.

But it’s more than just that.
It’s acknowledging I accept the situation as it exists.
I’m not going to suppress it, gloss it over, or go into denial.
I will accept its reality and deal with it head on.

One whine, one deep breath,
And
“God, I can’t do this alone.”
And I’ve turned the corner, away from despair.

Maybe it’s just me, but for me, I’m not ready to put in practice
The ‘just do it’ motivational speakers’ messages,
The quotes about victorious living,
The truisms about letting God handle everything,

Until I’ve had my one whine.
And then I’m ready.
I lift my head, and turn my face to God
And give it to him.

Let Us Not Waver

Romans 4:20

For Abraham never wavered in believing God. Indeed his faith grew strong and was a glory to God.,,

 

It seems a long time ago, in the middle of a faith crisis related to ministry, God promised strength and release.

Specifically, he promised me the high level of stress I was experiencing would not last the rest of my life. God would provide protection for my mental and spiritual health. Through the years he has kept that promise in varying degrees:

Several times, just as the job I held was beginning to require business abilities I did not have, God intervened. Each time God changed my husband’s place of ministry, the change has also been the best thing for my changing needs.

Not that those changes were endured casually or without trauma, but in our faithfulness, and in God’s faithfulness, God’s timing has been proven best for all involved.

And now changes have come that sees that long ago promise move to a new level of fulfillment. Now I have the ability to enjoy a new role as a person in the pew instead of part of a pastoral family and worship team. With that comes a narrowing of the number of people who are influenced by who I am, how I use my abilities, how I express myself, and the decisions I make. At the same time if my decisions are not always the best, fewer people are negatively impacted.

This stress-worry is something God and I have worked on for years. And in this change God’s timing and faithfulness has been as astonishing as ever.

Sometimes God changes our just inner lives, sometimes just our physical lives. And often, as the result of God’s work in one or the other, both are changed. However it is, God’s promises are not forgotten.

But I don’t think most of us take God’s promises with us as part of our daily lives. We visit them when we are worried, upset, grieving, facing upheavals, or are troubled. But we don’t let them dwell with us like we do things that we are trying to solve or what we are worrying about. We don’t take them out and examine them like we do a problem. And I think we should.

… Abraham never wavered in believing. I wish I could say that. Abraham didn’t always make the best decision, and sometimes he tried to help God’s promise hurry up to take place, but the scripture says he did not waver in belief.

God made me a specific promise, and I lost sight of it several times. And I must confess I almost lost sight of God’s role in helping me carry the load. You may be more like Abraham in trying to help God’s work along in your impatience to get things done. God will help you know where you get ahead of God’s fulfilling his promises.

But just as God is constant, his promises should be part of our daily lives. Let us not waver.

 

Seeking and Accepting

Acts 17:26-28 NIRV

                    From one man he made all the people of the world. Now they live all over the earth. He decided exactly when they should live. And he decided exactly where they should live. God did this so that people would seek him. Then perhaps they would reach out for him and find him. They would find him even though he is not far from any of us.  ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ As some of your own poets have also said, ‘We are his children.’

 

  • So again I prayed, desperately seeking God’s presence. And in today’s language that is the accepted language and thought pattern. It implies digging through, creating a path, tossing out distractions, and extreme, concentrated effort. So, I approach God that way – as if it is a painful, birth process.

In Acts 17, Paul lists what all God does just to get us to seek him. Somewhere in my reading I came across this idea:

                        Maybe seeking is not just my responsibility alone

                        What if I have taken on a responsibility

                        That is not totally mine to work out?

                        What if seeking is not such hard work?

                        What if seeking God is as easy as turning my face (attention) towards him?

And perhaps the desperate seeking could end when I realize God is seeking me with the same concern I am seeking him. Perhaps I don’t need to seek out the perfect meeting place, find the perfect attitude or create the perfect atmosphere.

Perhaps grace is not so much sought as much as it is applied.

                        Perhaps it’s not so much about desperately searching for God’s will

                        As it is learning to understand our gifts,

                        See the opening doors, and recognize opportunities presented

                        As invitations to fulfill God’s will.

                        Perhaps living a Christian life is about accepting Christ first,

                        Then spending our lives learning to see God at work.

                        Perhaps I do not grow because I do not see where God’s work needs my gifts.

So today I stopped working at seeking and turned my face towards God. And found God looking me straight in the eyes.

“Ah.” He gestured toward the waiting table laden with bread and drink.

“You’re here. Have a seat.

“What’s on your mind?

“Would you like a drink of living water?”

God’s All

Galatians 3:26-27
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

I’m frustrated when I try to get beyond the ‘we’re all the same in God’s sight” cop out, and the word-service given to the philosophical acknowledgement of Galatians chapter three verse twenty-seven’s resounding ALL.

I’m afraid we still think in terms of God approving and disapproving of everything, and we assume we need to think in those terms. But are we sure we have to hold opinions on everything, and approve or disapprove of every thought, person and belief?

God’s ALL is not about approval and disapproval, it’s about the worth of people. And when we (Humans, not God) want to make ourselves look better, we first make our detractors look unworthy.

People have been degrading others since the first person accepted slavery as an institution, since politics became a profession, since success or society’s approval, or wealth became the measurement of a person’s worth. And it has seeped into the church and Christian’s attitudes between denominations and believers.

Competition seeps in and we resort to proving ourselves worthy and the ‘other’ not. We tear down effectiveness; analyze to death with emphasis on the negative; and apply what is no longer acceptable in today’s society to yesterday’s actions. We try to prove worthy or unworthiness through approval or disapproval.

But God’s ALL is not about approval. ALL who believe are worthy; ALL have the same value, and ALL can become believers and be redeemed.

And as such, ALL enjoy God’s love. With our actions we judge who God will find acceptable. We make lists of what we agree and disagree with, approve and disapprove of and forget God’s disapproval does not negate worthiness; it reflects actions. God approves or disapproves of actions instead of worthiness.

But when it comes down to politics – church or otherwise – , denominational or personal survival, or establishing reputations in life or business, God’s love goes out the window. We draw lines and we fall back into the trap of approving/disapproving and attacking worthiness.

And so I pray:
God, help us let You redeem our scornful natures.
Help us find the place to stand when we have disagreements of belief and ideas
Without degrading our opposition,
Without assuming our disapproval cancels Your (God’s) ALL..

It’s Over

1 Kings 19:4-8 (NIV)

4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said.
“Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank.
Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

So the Great Elijah had this wonderful experience
With the burning altar when God sent the Fire down and burned everything
Including the Water he soaked the wood with to prove the power of God.
However, in proving God’s power, he made powerful enemies.
And he panicked and ran.
He ended up safe and provided for by angels,
But his spirit was broken.

“The glory days are over,” he says to himself.
“Here I am of use to no one.
I don’t have anyone to serve.
I am of no better than my ancestors who couldn’t remain faithful
To God for more than one generation at a time
Before falling back into sin.
So, God, just take me home.”

No one has to live very long,
No one who has a servant’s heart,
No performer or artist who has ever had a perfect performance or result,
No pastor who knows it is time to turn the congregation over to the next person God has prepared,
Who comes to a low point following the great times of the mountain-top experience,
Can deny they know exactly what Elijah felt in that cave.

“Things will never the same,”
Something deep inside insists,
“Or ever as good the emotional seat taunts.”
We don’t leave God, but we hide out.
In fact we often find God is supplying our needs during the process.
But we are scared the opportunity for service is gone.
The special lift, or heightened communication with God or community
Will never be experienced again.

“This is as good as it will ever get. It’s over. I’ve reached the peak of life.
God, just take me home now, or I am afraid I cannot ever serve you like that again.
And I will fail you, me, and the people I am supposed to be serving.”
This is not just a pity party.
This is the loss of confidence in our ability to reproduce this kind of experience ever again,
“I cannot conceive of things ever going anywhere but down from here time.
Life will never be this good again. And I have many years yet to live.”

And most of it really is true. Life will never be the same
After one of those periods of life… after a truly spectacularly mountain-top time of service,
Service may never again be so meaningful for quite some time.
Relationships may not be as rich.
But……
God nurtures us while we flounder in uncertainty of what comes next.
And before we know something sparks that servant’ s heart.

We find a kind of perverse joy in the mundane…..
As a musician knows the joy of just practicing returns,
We experience life in normal valley as good.
Perhaps the fire on the mountain experiences will never again be part of daily life.
But it is not over.
God is, as he always was, still there – working, prompting, going before us, clearing the way
For the different, new – if not spectacular – thing he is guiding us to.

Quietly we follow.
Gently God leads.
We expect little.
God presence is often just enough.
And step by step we travel through the tunnel of transitions,
And unexpectedly emerge onto a whole new mountain place of life
Made possible by the journey that began when we thought nothing would ever be the same.

Give Us This Day

Matthew 6:11

Give us this day our daily bread,

 

For years I have prayed for people by making lists of the things I thought they needed.

And when I finished the list, I didn’t know how to continue praying for them. The other day I came across a new idea from the scripture as this verse from the Lord’s Prayer jumped out at me.

I suddenly realized I’ve wandered from the idea of God giving us what we need. I find this idea fascinating and have written about it before. But I have not applied the idea to prayer.

I imagined someone for whom I pray regularly. I could not know everything they might do in one day. I could not come up with a list of things I thought they might need for the day. This scripture suggested I pray that God would fill in the needs.

So, I began to pray for their health and needs and moved to asking God to give them whatever they needed for that day.

I was reminded that we don’t need the same things every day. One day I need courage and the next I need hope. Unless I call and request you to pray for certain things, you don’t really know what I need, but God does. And when I pray ‘God, give them everything they need for today,’ he goes into action.

That is so simple, yet so deep. Everything you need. I really like it. It comforts me and helps my worry that I am not praying for the right things for you, yet I am praying more specific than ‘help her/him/them.’

Give them everything they need for today. And tomorrow I pray for that day.

And when we need wisdom in making decisions that will affect the future, God sends the kind of help we need to make the best decision today.

Tomorrow we will pray for what we need and God sends what we need to follow through .

Enough Contempt

Enough Contempt

Psalm 123

(A Song of Ascents. A song pilgrims or travelers sing as they journey to places of festival.)

 

1 I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven. 2 As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

3 Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, for we have endured no end of contempt. 4 We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.

 

 

      I shrink a little when I encounter Scripture’s allusions to slavery, and I often put it aside without digging any deeper. But the prayer’s use of the word contempt caught my imagination.

      First, let’s put the slavery issue into perspective. Its origin has nothing to do with inferiority of race or gender. It has to do with helplessness. It results when someone feels they are superior and have rights (because of who they are) other people do not have. Therefore, they have the right to consider those people as objects …. To do with what they please….own or sell even.

      Contempt for the people who don’t share those rights is just next door. Many people in today’s secular society don’t take that step, merely wandering into arrogance. But most arrogant people regard other people who are not like themselves with contempt.

      What gives us the right to regard others with contempt?

      I’m reminded of a couple of television shows with atheistic scientist characters who assume their way of looking at things is the only logical way of looking at life, therefore, only science is the true ‘religion.’ Anyone who believes in a deity is clearly out of step, deluded, and not important. Literature has given its characters forms of a God-is-out-of-date attitude since the nineteen-twenties, but on a much more subtle level.   

      And I think that is why the word contempt leapt out at me. We have had enough contempt. Today’s Christian certainly know what it feels like.

      Although this scripture puts it in the slave/master relationship common in that culture, we certainly understand the proudly accomplished/uneducated, homeless/wealthy, working/welfare, professional/civilian, or the proud people who insist they no longer need a deity/believer – many of us deal with the scorn that leads to contempt. (Politics is not even on the table.)

      But no one gets off the hook.

      Christians often scorn the people around them who, no matter what happens, or how bad things get, they just never catch on to the possibilities of a better way of living. They never quite get that they should seek instead of blame God.

      The weak often scorn the strong because they assume the strong have been given more than they have or had more opportunities. Or the wealthy have been given their wealth rather than working and scratching for every penny, or they don’t fulfill their obligation to share their wealth.

      Abusers of systems meant to help the truly needy, scorn those who work so hard for so little, and, in turn, scorn the government because it doesn’t take better care of all of us.

      So, overcome, we turn to God: “God, I understand you feel no contempt for me. I know your very nature is love, and I put myself in your hands, trusting you, like a someone who trusts another person who has proven over and over his only concern is that their relationship is for the betterment of them both, we have had enough contempt. Show us mercy.”

      And God does. When we fall into the trap and regard another with contempt, God will forgive when we repent of the error. When we encounter contempt, God gives us power to overcome it.

      May we seek God’s face in the light of today’s world of sometimes quiet, subtle, and sometimes in-your-face contempt filled existence and begin to counterbalance it with God’s gift of mercy. It’s possible. After all is said and done, God has proven from the beginning, his mercy is unending, bountiful, and stronger than man’s contempt.

      May we seek God’s mercy for all.

 

A New Dictionary

I sometimes struggle with the basic religious language in today’s way of thinking. I hear it in secular productions – books too – the terminology of worship. But the ‘one’ they worship turns out to be men, ‘false gods’ or cultic.

As a result, I sometimes struggle with terms like surrender, giving oneself up for God, giving everything to God, live for the glory of God, and righteous. They are often presented as unreasonable demands of false gods.

I realize these terms have been taken from the Christian dictionary. But I’m afraid when I talk about them I end up sounding like the fantasy/magical culture of today. And the non-religious already have trouble understanding our intent.

I ask God help to find new ways to express the concepts to kids and people who see the fantasy, and lead them to the God of all gods. I feel like I’m starting all over. Perhaps we are back to the many gods culture of Paul’s time.

In my own personal relationship with God, I realize I cannot avoid these concepts for myself. I find myself stepping back before I remember they borrowed our dictionary, I didn’t borrow theirs. They are valid concepts for me.

There is a difference I need to remember: magic/fanciful false gods end up being selfish, with self-serving motives. People end up being mere tools for accomplishing goals. In the end, all the pretty words are harmful.

On the other hand, the end results of God’s words, are aimed at redemption. Of preserving and transforming me into my best, and helping others find their path to God. Not making everyone into ‘little gods,’ but people who know God.

The way our secular thought uses worship is giving one’s self up for God. But its tone is negative…. The person is gone…. Really gone. But in the Christian’s experience, there’s something mysterious about it.

The self we offer in worship takes a risk because of trust, and is not lost, but returned to us as a transformed, beautified person.