Build Each Other Up

IMG_4888 When I was a kid we used to drive by a beautiful red barn on our way to the city. I always looked for it because it was tall, stately, and brightly decorated. One set of barn doors was painted with big white diamonds like an argyle sweater. Another sported a large bulls eye. Great creativity had been used in designing the exterior. IMG_4890

 

Over the years however, no one took care of the barn and its needed repairs. The paint began to fade and eventually it cracked and peeled. The shingles wore out, the roof sagged, and recently some of the doors fell off altogether. If you were to drive by the barn today, all you would see is a tired symbol of American farm history. IMG_4887

 

 

People are like that old barn. We need regular maintenance too. While it is true that God alone can maintain us, He gives us the privilege and responsibility to care for each other. First Thessalonians 5:11 tells us, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (NASB).

 

Do you see it? Encourage one another and build each other up. The two go hand in hand. At least five times in the New Testament the Apostle Paul uses the words “build each other up.” That’s why I’ve made it my goal to speak encouraging words to others. Let me encourage you to do the same.   Every day we have a choice to build up God’s kingdom, or tear it down. Let’s stick together. The world does a great job of tearing us down. We hear negative words and criticisms every day. Let’s choose to be builders rather than part of the demolition crew.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of articles posted on the Internet criticizing the way some of us do church.  They tear apart our belief in the Scriptures, criticize the size of our churches, and lambaste the way we worship.  It breaks my heart. If someone has a different approach but is reaching people with the true message of Christ, Praise. the. LORD.  It takes all of God’s “hands and feet” (us) to reach this world.  That’s the privilege He gave us.  Cherish it, and be a builder.

1Therefore I, (Paul) the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-5 NASB).

Think about what a difference you could make if you were to devote yourself to building others up according to what they need. You know the girl who stays in the background at youth group? Build her up. You know the Sunday school teacher who loves on your kids so you can worship in peace every Sunday? Build her up. You know the youth worker who selflessly gives of her time? Build her up. What about your sister on the other side of the room? God will give you the words. Recognize the way she loves Jesus. Remind her of God’s love for her. Make others stronger by the words you choose. Use Scripture to encourage, and thank God for the privilege of helping to build His kingdom!

*Lord, give me the courage and the discernment to be one who builds others up according to their needs.

 

Oh Come, Let’s Sing Ohio’s praise…

IN HONOR OF THE BUCKEYES PLAYING IN THE FIRST-EVER NATIONAL TITLE GAME OF THE NCAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFF ERA, I POST THIS ROUGH DRAFT.  A TRIBUTE TO THE GREATEST TEAM IN SPORTS.  O-H…  IMG_2565

I’ll never forget my first Ohio State-Michigan game. I was a freshman at OSU sitting in Block O, the student section directly behind the goal post in the closed end of Ohio Stadium.  That was a few years ago, but it remains engrained in my mind.  It was a cold Saturday in November, smack in the middle of a 9 year match-up between Earl Bruce and Bo Schembechler. “The Game,” as was usually the case, would determine the Big Ten title, and the team to progress to the Rose Bowl.

After a week of rallies and parades on campus, the crowd was exceptionally crazy. The band entered down the ramp in the closed end of the stadium just as tradition had determined since 1928.  The crowd went wild as the Buckeyes barreled out of the locker room (loud boos for Michigan of course–It’s ok, Michigan was evil, and it really was a war).  Then came the National Anthem. At a lauded game like this one there is a sense of tension and anticipation that, even though our hearts were bursting with the emotion of the event, we took a reverent moment to remove hats and fall silent as the drums began to roll. The singing began.  It was enthusiastic and every note was sung by the fans clad in maize and blue as well as those in scarlet and gray. In this vibrant crowd of over 90 thousand people there was no denying the electricity.

As we reached the final stanza, “and the home of the brave…” the U.S. air force roared low over the stadium in a thunderous formation that deafened the crowd until all that we heard (or rather felt) was the thumping of our hearts inside our chests on that final note.  The noise never dimmed as the fighters sped away, and I realized the crowd had picked up the roar and was keeping it going.  It was one of those moments everyone was caught-up, enraptured may I say, in the moment and the anticipation of what was about to be.  It was at that moment that I first realized what this rivalry meant to so many people.  It was then that I went from being a fan to being a follower of Ohio State Football. Kyle Idleman would be proud (look that up).

I love the game! It’s like a religion (stay with me). I mean, there is so much tradition, everyone knowing what to say, to sing, to yell, to do and when to do it. It’s liturgical. Literally, being in Columbus on game day, especially on Michigan game day, you see a city come ALIVE. Around campus there are the usual vendors, food, drinks, drunks, souvenirs, but also the alumni in their scarlet and gray corduroys, fancy buckeye socks and yes, the buckeye necklaces!  LOTS of Buckeye necklaces.

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There is more to this religion: Just like in biblical times, we have prophets: Major prophets like Archie Griffin, Troy Smith, Eddie George, Howard Cassady, Vic Janowics, and Lee Horvath (our Heisman Trophy winners). The major Prophets have their names inscribed on Ohio Stadium. Check out this 2014 unveiling of Troy Smith’s name and number during the 2014 Michigan game: 

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 And then there are minor prophets: Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, and Earl Bruce (beloved former coaches). Of course, then there is THE prophet.  The Messiah of Ohio State football: Woody Hayes.  Seriously, he’s a legend.  One of my former coworkers has a 4’x6′ shrine to Woody in her basement in a room dedicated completely to Ohio State (I am not kidding).

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Then there’s the music. College football has nothing else like the incomparable Script Ohio. The (literal) signature of The Ohio State University Marching Band (TBDBITL), is performed before every home game and is considered one of the greatest traditions, if not the greatest tradition, in all of college football. One senior sousaphone gets to dot the ‘i’ at each home game.  I know people who grew up playing the sousaphone who’s first goal in life was to “dot the i” someday.

1000px-20041322 200px-Ohio_State_dot_the_I             “Pick up your feet, turn your corners square, and drive, drive, drive!”–chant each time they march out

The band is the heartbeat of Ohio State Football–the equivalent of a ‘worship team.’   If you think I’m just sounding off take a look at the lyrics to our alma mater ‘Carmen Ohio.’  Its a hymn sung by players and fans alike, and led by the worship team:

Oh! Come let’s sing Ohio’s praise,
And songs to Alma Mater raise;
While our hearts rebounding thrill,
With joy which death alone can still.
Summer’s heat or Winter’s cold,
The seasons pass, the years will roll;
Time and change will surely show
How firm thy friendship O-hi-o.

Listen:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtxtU23DjI4

We have a rock song too: “Hang on Sloopy” (it’s legislated by the State of Ohio), two fight songs,  a few (a-hem) drinking songs, and one Michigan-hating song (well, maybe two).  Good taste or poor taste?  I don’t know, but people know them, sing them, and live them.

“Re-li-gion:” a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.

It’s true.  I know lots of people who think about the Buckeyes year round.  My Dad requested to have the OSU fight song played as his casket was wheeled out after his funeral (no kidding).  My brother has plans to have his ashes spread on Ohio State’s football field (it’s ingenious, and I doubt he’s the first). Truly, there are some crazy, loyal, dedicated fans of Ohio State.  The persona is larger than life.  The fans even won a national ranking: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/12/ohio-state-finishes-no-1-in-the-first-ever-fan-index…Ohio State fans are into it from head to toe!

images uploadedImage.php uploadedImage.php uploadedImage.php images uploadedImage.php  Fans take their loyalty all over the world.  Wild, right?  Dedicated. 

OSU fans swarm the field after the win against Michigan in 2014.IMG_4672

So…if you know me, you probably know where all this is heading.  I love Ohio State football.  My entire family does. All activities stop on Saturdays in the fall when the game plays. We wear the shirts, the hats, the buckeye necklaces-ha! We sing the songs, we spell OHIO with our arms, the whole ball of wax.  I even have a patient who calls me “Ohio State.”

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But it’s not my religion.  I see the significance of being part of something big: the tradition, the emotion, and it’s all cool–and so much fun! But it’s only substitute for the One who deserves the true glory: Jesus Christ.  He is the true Champion. His is the glory. HE IS THE REAL THING and everything else is but a shadow, making us think we are getting something of substance while in reality our hands are empty.  Please.  If you love sports, if you are drawn to an epic battle, if you love rivalries, consider the spiritual battle that takes place around us every day. Go looking for the substance behind the human experience.  Go looking for the ultimate win.  Read some of my other posts to learn more.

Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for the second coming… of Woody Hayes!

Calling (continued)…

IMG_4304   I have called you by your name and you are mine. Isaiah 43:1

I first felt God calling me into ministry just over 3 years ago.  My mom had passed away suddenly, and I had been in shock and dealing with grief.  When a person grieves she asks a lot of questions of God, even if she knows the answers or knows her questions aren’t meant to be answered.  God can handle it.  He wants the big questions that no one can answer.

So, there I was asking Him what good it was to look forward to anything in life.  Why make plans?  Why set goals?  Dump the bucket list if there is no guarantee of the future.  I felt this way and was pouring that out to God because Mom had been taken way too soon.  There were plans she still had in life.  There were things we wanted to do together… and she certainly would never willingly give up the privilege of seeing her granddaughters become young women.  They were her joy, and she was their biggest fan.

In my grieving I asked God, “Why look forward to anything? What’s the use? There is no point!”

I heard Him whisper to my spirit, “You know that’s not true.”

“I know LORD, I have walked with you for 30 years, and I know that. It’s just how I feel right now.”

God understands our grief. He lets us express it to Him–He wants us to–because He knows. And He loves.

Feeling His calming influence in my spirit, I asked, “Then LORD, what do you want from me?  If life is that short and this uncertain, what do You want?”

“Do what I have created you to do.”

“Will you make that clear to me LORD?  I know where I have passion for your work, but will you make it clear to me?”

A short time later I was filling in for my boss who was vacationing in Florida.  I was working extra hours, doing a lot of manual physical therapy, and my hands were aching.  I was in the middle of seeing a new client one day when I asked her if I could take a short break to let my hands rest.  I jokingly told her it was time for me to begin my second career (away from manual therapy).  She raised her eyebrows and asked me what it would be, and without thinking I told her I would go back to school and get a degree in teaching Bible.

My words surprised me.  Even the thought was unplanned. I had never entertained it before.  And I’m telling you, time stood still.  There was at once a heavy peace in the room that even my patient felt.  I couldn’t say a word and she took a deep breath.  Looking at me now through curious eyes she very slowly and deliberately spoke, “You’re very interesting to me.”

Speechless, I rubbed my hands for a minute trying to comprehend the atmosphere, then set back to work.  From there the patient (I’ll call her Carmen) began to tell me her own story.  It was tragedy mixed with religion in the worst possible way.  That she even trusted me, knowing now of my faith, was amazing to me and a credit to her.  I can only say that God’s Spirit was there in that room.  John 14:26 calls The Holy Spirit the comforter or helper, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” God’s Spirit was so present that He allowed Carmen and me to interact in a way that brought hope and encouragement to both of us.

I continued to pray earnestly for God’s guidance after that day.  What did he want and what was I to do? What was He really saying?

He seemed to be speaking to my spirit regularly now.  I felt Him telling me to step forward and lead.  He reminded me of the great privilege of having training in His Word for so many years, and my responsibility to steward what He had given. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” Luke 12:48.  One time He lay a burden very thick and heavy on my heart saying, “love them.”  The words He spoke to my spirit were of a love that takes action, and not merely a sentimental feeling.

My prayers grew more specific: “LORD, do you want me to go back to school?  That wasn’t something I had contrived on my own.  I certainly have loved learning and always desired to learn more, but never–truly never–had I thought I would return to school for another degree.  Even now it seemed impossible.  There were too many barriers.  I hadn’t the time.  I hadn’t the money.  I had too many responsibilities, like raising my four daughters, attending their ball games, and caring for my father who was in failing health and alone without Mom to care for him.  My husband lost a job during this prayerful time, and I needed to work. I could barely manage the weight I was carrying. The small clinic where I worked was asking for more of my time, and I was holding them off when they were asking for more.  What kind of a degree would I pursue anyway?  I wasn’t even sure what to look for.

But I prayed again, “LORD, this is impossible for me.  But I know all things are possible with You. If you make it possible, I will do it. I will do whatever you ask me to do, and what You have laid on my heart I will follow, as You make it possible.”

Over the next year I continued to pray about this idea.  Is it Yours, LORD, or is it mine?  He gave me constant reassurance that it was His will that I make this major shift, and the barriers began to clear from my path.  It wasn’t an easy year.  In fact, it was one of the most difficult years in my life. I lost my father that year too after several months’ battle with an unknown neurological condition. Yet I saw God working every step of the way, guiding me in what to do.  My girls quit pursuing some of their sports. So long basketball. So long volleyball. Other time-commitments cleared too.

I began to research Graduate programs in ministry and Bible, but all of them seemed to be focused on clinical counseling or on leading a church.  I knew that neither was my calling. I also knew that financially I would need to continue to work as my girls were coming of age to graduate high school and pursue their own college degrees.

My answer was as beautiful as the story God had painted thus far. In the fall, about a year after my calling, I attended a Christian college fair with my daughter and stopped at a table Grace Seminary had set up (even though the fair was aimed at high school students).  There I learned that Grace was starting an online Master’s Degree with an emphasis in Women’s Leadership. The young recruiter invited to come to campus and meet the professor developing the program. Within two weeks I met with Dr. Hill and discussed the program. It was just what I was looking for.  The new program was half theology and half ministry. I would become more rounded in the Scriptures, and also receive instruction on ministering to those in need. Grace College is only an hour from home, so it would be easy to travel there if needed. They even offered that I could take a couple class on campus. They were just opening the new program, and if I committed to Grace I would be the first woman admitted.

I prayed harder. There were still a few barriers.  I was working in a job I really liked in a small clinic with a great boss and staff. Even though I was feeling called toward ministry I knew that if I cut back it would affect more than just myself. I prayed about that too. Over the past several months the clinic had slowed down and they really wanted my help to generate business.  “LORD, what should I do?”

My answer came through another.  We were riding back from a pre-planned marketing meeting when my boss said he had something to tell me and it wasn’t easy for him to do so.  He said the owner had called him the day before and cut everyone’s hours, including mine, since I was not a salaried employee.  Basically, it meant no work for me except for one specialty area.  It should have been bad news, in fact pretty scary, since my family depends on my income. But I was flooded with peace.  I remember saying, “Its okay…I know God has another plan.” God had already been showing me that I would be moving on from this job, and this was His confirmation.  It was sad for me because a great experience was coming to an end (in fact the clinic closed altogether about three months later), but it was a promise from God that He was now controlling my future.  I was watching Him work.

The last piece of the puzzle was awaiting its place.  The financial.  Tragedy and loss can be a good teacher no matter how hard it is.  It was very difficult losing my parents within 14 months of each other.  There are holes that will never be filled, and questions that may never be answered.  But a last gift perhaps (and proof of God’s provision) was the fact that after the bills were paid, and the accounts divided between my brother and me, there was just enough money in Dad’s account to cover the cost of the degree from Grace. Including my books, it wouldn’t surprise me if the number was to. the. penny.

ALL of the roadblocks had been cleared.  Only fear could hold me back at this point, and I prayed that God  would not let me be controlled by fear, but be controlled by Him.  So on January 7, 2013, my birthday, I began classes toward my Master of Arts in Ministry Studies and Women’s Leadership.

As I sat at my desk reading the syllabus, my phone rang.  Remember Carmen, the patient I was working with when The Holy Spirit was so present in the room?  She called me.  She had somehow found my number and she called me.  It had been over a year since I had seen or heard of her.  She wanted to know how I was and if I was pursuing what I had told her about.  I cried as I told her all God had done in a year’s time and how I was just sitting down to begin doing what He had provided.  She gave me an update on herself as well, and told of how God had healed her when doctors had given her very little chance of survival.

God is good!  Despite all of our trials and fears He hears us and He is near.  He is an excellent provider, and and even better friend.

So here I sit on January 7, 2015 just 7 weeks from completing my degree.  I have loved every minute.  I have worked very hard.  I have stayed up late, and I have struggled through tough concepts.  But God has been gracious with me.  So very gracious.  He has provided the time and the work flexibility I have needed to get it all done.  I have never missed an assignment and never regretted the decision to forge ahead where God had laid a path. My family still loves me and they say they don’t feel neglected (but don’t ask my garden about neglect). Oh, there have been times along the way where I have stopped to ask myself what I am doing. Is this really headed anywhere?  Why am I sacrificing abundant opportunities in my profession?  Why did I spend money on this when my daughters are starting college? Did I really hear from God or was I just making this up?

Then He reminds me how He has provided at every step.  He assures me that He has called me to what I am doing.  He provided me with a new friend who also has a deep passion for ministry.  Her encouragement has prodded me through some spots when I felt stuck. He gave me a fellow learner in my program whose love and support have been invaluable. He also provided a “big sister” who is a pace-setter and wonderful example of God at work. How can I doubt what He has shown me, and how can I doubt that He has a plan ahead as well? 

God is good at providing all we need (Philippians 4:19).  I am so thankful.  I am so humbled. I am so challenged to continue on this journey that God started in my heart.

Pray for me?  That I continue to hear His call?

Thanks.  I will be praying too.

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Calling…

Following is a reflection I wrote for  a website almost 3 years ago when I was first hearing a call to ministry.  God has brought me a long way since that time. It is almost unbelievable.  I will post an update following this one.

Like newborn babies, we grow to maturity one milestone at a time. I was only 3 years old the first time I spoke to God. Having just lied to my mother about how many cookies I’d eaten, I knew I’d done something wrong.  I asked God to forgive me for all the naughty things I had ever done, and all the naughty things I would ever do. No one told me how to do that; I just knew that I should. As a 15 year old, I came to understand that it is the forgiveness bought by Jesus Christ on the cross that would bring me near to God. I asked Him to take my sins away, and to come and live in my heart. That was the day I was born again. I knew I would never walk away from that commitment, but I still had a lot of growing to do. Key growth times included when, as a collegiate, I surrendered my chosen profession over to God, only to receive acceptance into Ohio State’s physical therapy program, the very thing I had given to Him. He knew the plans He had for me. Through this experience the milestone I learned was the importance of surrender. Still, a long-time struggle I’d had was in comprehending how our God, who loves mankind, could see me as more than one in the mass of humanity. Was I really loved enough that Jesus would have died just for me? I asked Him many times if it were true. Then He spoke to me one day through a song by Casting Crowns. The lyrics asked, “Who am I?…that God would “care to know my name, care to feel my hurt?” The song went on to explain that it’s not because of who I am or what I’ve done, but because of who He is and what He’s done! Eureka! That’s why He cares! I am His! I had already been a Christian for almost 20 years, and this was like a revelation to me! His love for me wasn’t based on me, it was based on Him! Through this experience I learned that my very identity needs to be in Jesus Christ. In Him I am secure. I want to be found nowhere else! Now in my forties, I have walked though a lot of life. Our family has faced illness, death, loss, unemployment, betrayal, financial strain, and legal issues. I have come to realize that whatever influences eternity is the only thing worth pursuing. Perhaps this was solidified in my mind following the sudden and unexpected death of my mother. Grieving brings the essential into clear focus. My desire to pursue earthly advancement and knowledge has faded away. When I first voiced to a patient that I would really like to pursue a second profession in ministry, a flood of peace came over me. I believe it was a call to ministry. I believe that God’s Story is now able to shine brighter through my story, as I have found His ultimate purpose for me. I know He mightily uses everyday people in everyday places, and that is just the message I want to pass on to as many people as I can. I would appreciate your prayers as I take steps toward learning the details of how God would have me further tell His Story!

Why I am not afraid of Ann Voscamp (and other famous people)

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Have you been tagged?  It’s all over Facebook right now.  Post ten books that have “stayed with you” in some way.  Then tag ten of your friends to do the same.

Here are my ten:

10) A Reason for Joy- Thomas Thigpen
9) God’s Story Your Story- Max Lucado
8) The Journey of Desire- John Eldridge
7) A Mother’s Heart- Jean Flemming
6) Tramp for the Lord- Corrie ten Boom
5) One Thousand Gifts- Ann Voscamp
4) Approval Addiction- Joyce Meyer
3) Rennovation of the Heart- Dallas Willard
2) Our Covenant God- Kay Arthur
1) The Bible -God

Some of the authors on my list have been labeled as questionable in Christian circles because of some things they teach.  Take Ann Voscamp. Ann’s most successful book, One Thousand Gifts, illustrates a time in her life where she eagerly sought and experienced a mystical spiritual experience.  She quotes spiritist and New Age writers in the book which has (rightly) made it a topic for much debate.  On the other hand, the book focuses 95% of the time on cultivating a heart of thankfulness. Throughout the book Ann uses Scripture and brings acute focus on God.   I would like to tell her how grateful I am for modeling continuous, overflowing thanksgiving. That’s why the book has stuck with me.  So, where does Ann stand and how should we respond to her as believers?

Joyce Meyer is another controversial author.  I am unsure of her feelings about contemplative prayer and mysticism, however she is known for her self-help methods and her knack for using the gospel as a means to prosperity.  Joel Olsteen would also fit into this category.  Both have been accused of teaching false doctrine, and I share the sincere concern of many.   Yet these authors seem to use a lot of scripture to build a case.  Where do they stand?

http://churchismessy.com/2013/08/05/why-i-called-out-joel-osteen-and-joyce-meyer/

The pendulum has been swinging since the serpent first tried to deceive Eve in the garden. As long as there have been people there has been a choice to listen to God or to another voice. The “new” (not really new, just new to our era) spirituality is a swing of the pendulum.  In the early 20th century there were many movements based on holiness and the Word of God (The roots go back a bit further, but I’ll skip that for now). The movements were motivational, God-focused, and reached hundreds of thousands, even millions with the message of Christ–A great swing for the pendulum!  But eventually that fervor for Jesus swung into legalism (rules, rules, rules on what makes a “Good Christian”).  Don’t dance, don’t go to theaters, don’t play cards. Even if you aren’t doing something wrong, someone might see you and think that you are. Then you might cause them to stumble. People failed, people judged, and people longed for another way.

And so the pendulum has swung again: Let’s just love Jesus, and love others like He did.  Isn’t that what he said was greatest anyway? Forget the doctrine. Forget the rules. Give me an experience I can hang onto. Show me how spirituality and Jesus can help me to have a better life. Here’s a champion of that thought process:

Even a novice can pick out the deception in that philosophy can’t they?  Yet belief can seem confusing can’t it?  All the various teachings, the books, the videos?  Even your friends approach God in differing ways.  That’s why we need a standard. We need something unchanging that we can stand on.  Stop the pendulum! Give me something I can hold on to!  Give me something I can understand!  Ideas come and go, and then resurface in new clothing.  There is nothing new under the sun.  But there is a solid place to rest. There is one way to stand on solid ground when we are reading, listening, watching events that were created to influence us as Christians.  You know the standard. It’s God’s Word.

I have loved and studied the Scriptures for over thirty years. Recently I have been given the opportunity to study them more intensely and I continue to be amazed at the things I learn. The Scriptures are living and active, and yet as solid and unchanging as anything I know.

Translators and historians do a great job of going back several thousand years to retain the biblical teachings of our earliest forefathers in the faith. Led by God’s Holy Spirit, the Scriptures have been preserved for us as our standard.  Reading them is anything but dull, and the more I read, the more I understand the character of God.  The more I read the more I relate to Him.  His amazing message is love, grace, justice, and mercy.  I am not afraid of Ann Voscamp (or any other famous person) because I value first and foremost the scriptures and I weigh other ideas on the scale of Biblical truth.

May I encourage you too to look into the scriptures. Intently. You will find life, and clarity.  You will be less likely to be deceived.  You will learn to understand God’s purpose for you and for mankind.  You will be molded and formed to the person He has made you to be.  But best of all, you will learn to know Him as a Father, Savior, and One who will guide you. And you won’t have to be afraid either.

Lovers n Haters

Lovers n Haters: We are in a Cultural War

I have wanted to write this post since the election of 2012, but I’ve struggled to articulate all I want to say. I prepared it again in the fall of 2013, but never posted it.  

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Remember the Dr. Suess story of the Zax? The North Going Zax and the South Going Zax met head to head in going about their way. Neither was willing to step aside to let the other pass.  And so the world went on without them, and how foolish they looked!

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Here’s is a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzP-_PoOg8k

When I began this post for the second time the American Government was shut down because the legislators could not agree on a direction for our country.  It was a long time coming.  At 2012 election time the evidence of what we see was already propelling us in this direction.  Here’s another glimpse  of the divide I saw come across Facebook last fall:

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Link to article: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/10/11/holy-war-breaks-out-in-nyc-atheists-hit-back-at-christian-billboard-with-anti-god-message/

Or what about last month’s Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty controversy?  That brought a lot of heated discussion!

My point is to show the cultural war.  We are a polarized nation, and unless we find a way to work together we will fall. Although disagreement has been building for some time, I am not sure I have seen more anger, angst, or such a spirit of attack than I saw at the last election…until this week.

It was the big creation vs evolution debate:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6kgvhG3AkI.  I won’t talk about that now, but  let’s just say the bitterness and anger involved in the post-debate social media have been unbelievable!

http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2013/10/11/billboard-big-bang?utm_source=aigsocial10112013billbigbang&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=facebooktwittergooglelinkedin

So who will reach out? Who will work together?  Humble yourself. Look around you.  We are indeed dividing ourselves, and three has been a hurricane of heightened emotion over our differences.  If you are a Christian I ask you:  How are you reaching out to those with whom you disagree?  How are you loving them?  How did Jesus reach out to those who were different from him?  He went to them, dined with them, and by knowing Him, their lives changed!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipwEtvWL_3c He loved them who were different. 

As a message to all of us, it’s not tolerance (and its certainly not intolerance), but radical love that reaches those who are different from ourselves.  It’s a love that shows who we belong to and invites others to belong.  It’s loving our neighbor as ourselves.  How do we do it Christian?  Again, look around you.  When others criticize you and hurt you, reach out! Are you a lover or a hater? And how will you approach the cultural war –like Jesus?

A Rare Opportunity

This past fall I was given the privilege of helping to plan and speak at a teen girls’ retreat at my church.  With everything else ready, I took a few hours Friday afternoon to make preparations at the church building before the girls arrived.  My ‘to do’ list included making sure my presentation was properly loaded on the computer, checking locations for the various breakouts, and assuring equipment and chairs were in their places. 

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With some of the adult volunteers at the girls retreat

As my duties led me throughout the building I could hear our worship pastor practicing down in the Family Life Center….or maybe he was just worshipping with his voice and keyboard and no agenda.  What I do remember clearly is thinking how blessed he is to have the voice, the musical talent, and the opportunity to make music to the Lord in the place where we all worship together as a church family.  

I acknowledged to God what blessing and privilege this must be.  I wasn’t exactly envious of someone else’s gift.  Rather, I was wishing for the opportunity to sing such praises, especially in that sacred place.  Our Family Life Center is just a gym, complete with basketball hoops and foul lines. Several days per week it hosts well over a hundred running, screaming, playing children from our Christian school and our church family.  So it isn’t the location specifically that is sacred, but the fact that God has come so faithfully to meet with us as we’ve worshipped Him for many years in that room.  

The girls arrived around 7 that evening and we all got dressed up, shared a fancy meal, danced a bunch, heard an awesome message by one of the other leaders, played some games, and started a movie (The Princess Bride).  We’d had a full, great evening, and the movie didn’t end until 3 am.  I left the room before it was over, escaping to the loft of the old sanctuary, as the main floor was full of girls, scattered popcorn, and sleeping bags.  Besides, one of my daughters had forgotten her bag, so I gave her mine and I found a couch upstairs where I could sleep.

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Line Dancing  after a delicious Mexican Fiesta!

Some time during the night I woke up cold and noticed that one of the teens had also made her way to the loft and found another couch to sleep on.  She was clad in fuzzy pink footie pajamas and her blanket had slipped to the floor.  I was extremely  tempted to sneak over and nab that blanket, until I realized that when she awakened I would have to explain why I was snug as a bug under her blanket! So I covered myself with the couch pillows and made the best of it.  

When 6 a.m. rolled around I awakened enough that I wanted to get up.  All the fun and excitement of the night before were fresh in my mind, but I was in need of peace and solitude, so I relished the fact that out of sixty teen girls and almost twenty leaders, I was the only one awake. That is, God and I were awake.  I was to be the morning speaker and I didn’t want to forge ahead without spending time with Him in preparation, so I made my way down two flights of stairs to the dark and deserted Family Life Center.  Only the red exit sign  was lit enough  that I could see the dusky lay of the room.  The lighted stained glass window behind the stage left a small halo of light around the corners of its covering, and my eyes quickly adjusted to the empty room and the stage where the pulpit is filled three times each week.

This was my opportunity. An unexpected gift from God. I was listening to worship music on my iPhone and suddenly I realized that no one could hear me from the other end of the church.  I began singing quietly, and soon I was singing loudly, and with no care of who might hear.  My voice filled the large room, and since only God was there to hear, I hoped it was beautiful.   I sometimes danced as I worshipped. I prayed out loud, and I lay prostrate before the front of the church.  For an entire hour I was alone with God worshipping, singing, praying. God was there.  He is present in the praises of His people.  I believe He empowered me to speak to the girls that morning, and later in the day He was with me as I led a 12 year old girl to trust in Christ for the first time.  What a privilege to share in God’s work and to proclaim His message to a fallen world!  I count is among my highest privileges in life.  

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Some freshman girls hamming it up 

But this also day held something special for me personally.  I had barely uttered a desire to worship Him in a certain place and in a certain way, and  

My group of junior high girls

within hours He gave me the rare opportunity to do so.  God hears our every prayer.  He listens to the cries of our heart.  And when it comes to relating to Him, He blesses oh so abundantly, exceeding our expectations, our hopes and our self-made plans.