#Blessed

I looked at his high end sports car as it zoomed into the parking lot. He was always sharply dressed. His house, though not a mansion, was far more than what I had growing up. He had a manicured lawn complete with special sod for the putting green in the back which had it’s own separate, special lawn mower for the small 25 by 12 foot parcel of putting grass. He was a strong member of the church that he was a member of, which consequently, was directly across the street from his business which is where I was standing, ready for him to open the doors so I could start work. When asked, or a comment was made about his house, car, business (in general, his affluence), he would simply say “Praise the Lord, I’m just blessed.”And so used to be my thought of “blessing” and “being blessed.”

Used to be. Not anymore.

I’ve learned that I cannot truly sing the song, “Blessed Be Your Name” if I am not willing to accept that God does both give and take. And, I cannot read the beatitudes if I am not willing to believe that their is “blessing” in both the giving and the taking of God. This relates to what I wrote about last time. We’re screwed up in our thinking. I’m not sure if it’s just an American church thought, or it is all of Western Christianity. I’m not upset that the man in the story above had a sports car, nice house and manicured lawn. He gave me my first job out of college as I stayed in our college town waiting to marry Iris. I think that it was good for him and his life. God gives us all the freedom to chose, and he is enjoying some of the things of this world. He gave generously to the church and to me as I was going into ministry. But to call that blessing, is to then say that because I don’t have those things, I am not also blessed. To believe that only those who are wealthy or well off are more blessed than I, is to say that God has some sort of grading system wherein He has certain children he really loves and others he just, well, loves. But God never speaks of favoritism when it comes to His children.

Looking at the Old Testament, or the part of our scripture that is pre-Christ, God would bestow massive wealth on those who were righteous. That is, they followed all customs, laws and rituals God ordained and they reserved the title and authority “Lord of all” to God. But And, when Christ came, he brought a more refined sense, a deeper understanding, a fuller perspective on what blessing was. It had nothing to do with wealth. That was a time that those who believed in God were under the law. In fact, it seems that wealth actually got in the way (see Ananias and Sapphira trying to hide their wealth and the early church selling all they had to name just two examples). Blessing from God post-Christ, seems to be all about relationship. So, why do we so often say we no longer live under the law, but still do in practice? Because we’re human and feel we have to earn something, achieve status, work on our own…towards a goal.

Looking at the beatitudes in Matthew 5, it lists several kinds of people-the meek, those who mourn, those who seek righteousness, etc. And with every single one of them, their blessing is about relationship-inherit the kingdom of God, seeing God, they shall be called children of God, the reward will be in heaven-it is all about having a relationship with and being in the presence of God. That is blessed.

Freedom from the law is realizing that we are already saved; we are already given grace; the relationship is their, waiting. We simply need to release the idea that if we work harder we will become more blessed, and give in to the Truth that God is blessing us with relationship (and I’m learning that simple does not equal easy). This is a daily, perhaps a moment by moment struggle for me. But when I do give in, I am reminded again and again of how valued, loved, cherished, and blessed I am. Perhaps today you need to give into this Truth as well.

be blessed today

 

 

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The Sin Of This Modern Era and What We Can Do About It

Ed Stetzer tweeted in June, “In the last 5 days: 700 refugees drowned off Greece, 9000 babies were aborted in U.S., and 68 were shot in Chicago…and a gorilla dominated the news.”

There is this subtle sin that has crept in the world and grown in power the past several years. Sadly, the Church has not been immune to it. What is it? The subtle deadly sin of disengagement.

Why are we so disengaged?

Let’s look at what has happened in recent history. In the last ten years the Iphone, Ipad and cloud computing have taken the world by storm. We are more connected in more ways than any, ANY other generation in the world…. ever. We are more interconnected as a human race than we ever have been before. But the world has changed in other ways as well. More fighting, more wars, more tension, more offense, more distraction and more taking sides. I wish I could say this was only outside the Church, but you and I both know it is happening in every religion, every country and in every nation. And yes, that includes those who are following Jesus.

I’m thankful and grateful for modern technology. I am. I can send videos to my friends back home in the States in milliseconds. I can communicate, in real time, with anyone I want no matter where they are in the world with an internet connection. I have files stored in a server thousands of miles away from where I live. I can listen to any music I want, watch any movies or shows I want, and keep track of how many minutes of sleep I get a day. I can publish a book, on my own, and have it sent worldwide in a few hours. It’s unbelievable.

And it’s distracting. Simultaneously, we are the most engaged and the most disengaged generation in history. We are the most engaged- engaged with knowledge that is. But, completely disengaged with reality. Disengaged with life, people, living human beings. Disengagement, it seems, is the sin of this modern era.

Second, it seems this way especially when looking at current political circus in the States, it’s clear that there is something darker going on. There is an underlying idea that the world is going to Hell, everything is falling apart, but we as Christians will be ok. The idea that we need to circle up the wagons, grab our guns and protect ourselves. And at the same time, held in tension, there’s this idea that we’ll be ok, so let those who don’t know Christ die knowing that their eternity is uncertain…as long as we’re ok.  It’s the, “I’m in, you’re not; I win, you lose. Sayonara,” mentality that for whatever reason the Church just can’t shake. I’m not saying that everyone in the Church believes this. But there are those who do, and no matter how small they may be in number, they seem to be the loudest.

How have others been engaged?

We have disengaged from the “least of these.”  If we’ve done it to the abandoned, forgotten ones in the world, we’ve done it to Christ, Matthew 25. But there are examples of engagement.

God reveals to us that we are to be active participants. Think of Esther in the Old Testament standing up for her people before the king. Think of four simple fishermen who were content doing just that the rest of their lives until someone showed them the Truth. Peter, Andrew James and John became active participants in the world and did not sit by and let it fall apart. In recent history we can think of so many more….Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Lyman Stewart, Amy Charmichael and more.  These people did not say “Sayonara” to the world. They became actively engaged in being a part of its redemption history.

Taking an honest look at ourselves

Let’s look at the Church in a couple of areas. First is social justice. To be fair, we are considered aliens in the world. So, it is hard to look around and not allow the thankfulness of our salvation in Christ to turn into some sort of prideful sneer towards someone who does you wrong. It’s hard not to feel some sort of weird justification when something bad or hard happens to someone who was hurtful to you. We want justice but only in those things we deem important. When we look at social justice or fighting for justice to those oppressed innocently, it seems that the Church in many ways does this well. And I am so grateful for this.

But in other areas, we as the Church fall way short. Even now I hear from fellow believers in my home country, this attitude of “Well, that is unfortunate for you. You should work harder, be stronger, get over that, move on.” We fail to see that many things in life aren’t up to us. Many things aren’t something we can just get over or work harder at. They aren’t things we can immediately, from out of no where, become stronger in. Many of us are completely powerless to either situations or privileged people.

Go to any Alcoholics Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Over-Eaters Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery or any other recovery type of meeting and you will soon see people who are unable to just “get over it.” I honestly believe there is no difference between the ones who attend those meetings and everyone else except for one thing- the ones who attend those meetings know how helpless they are and how much they are in need of a Savior. The other group of people would probably have a hard time admitting that.

Second is the area of knowing versus doing. David Fitch in his book “The End of Evangelicalism?”   writes, “the ‘inerrant Bible’ allows us to believe we have the truth while at the same time remaining distant from actually engaging in it as a way of life. We assent unabashedly to the perfect book without it truly meaning anything. It acts as an “ideological fantasy” wherein we live in a projected world where we can believe we have the truth, but in real life have to make little or no changes to the way we live.”

I admit that I have given give into the selfish desire to become judgmental and disengaged at times as well. Knowing I have the Truth and no one else does gives me a sense of power and of judgment. It gives the idea that because I know the Truth, there’s no reason for me to change. Knowledge somehow gives us power and control…. we think. We are still grasping for control and think we can do a better job than He can. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be people burning out, falling from moral failure, blindly sticking with one political group, having more protests about what they are against rather than what they are for, among other things. But knowledge doesn’t cause us to become engaged.

And third, the area of spectators versus participants. In recovery groups there’s a level of grace towards one another that is unmatched to almost any other group of believers that I’ve ever been in. Why? Because those in recovery all understand that they are in the same sinking ship in this world. Citizens of the world or citizens of heaven, we were all born into this fallen place. It’s what we choose to do with this time while here that counts. Giving grace and living a life of honesty, vulnerability and forgiveness allows us to transcend the boundary between disengaged spectators and participators. Spectators watch the world fall apart like they’re watching a movie in a theater. Participators are the ones who are scratched, beaten and bloody because they decide jump in the pit and help those who need it.

What do we do now?

So, how do we stop this and start becoming engaged with the world?

First, spend time in reflection asking that the Spirit reveal to you areas in which you have been disengaged. If you think you haven’t been, that’s a good sign that you probably have. Then as those areas come to mind, seek forgiveness. This is not a one time reflection, but an ongoing one.

Second, for those who have lived a life of engagement listed earlier, and the countless others, it came down to a decision. A decision to become active. Willing to face the pain and suffering around them and become “one” with those in the midst of it. They went against the trends of the culture they were in. Becoming engaged with the world is starting to see faces, eyes, of those suffering. Not just read headlines.

Third, it begins with looking around your world and finding the suffering that is around you. Looking up from your phone, laptop and tablet, and seeing the world for what it really is. Not the digital world we have become too comfortable living in.

Fourth, becoming engaged starts with being honest with your own emotions and acknowledging the feelings of those around you. Just like Christ did. The women at the well, the oppression of the merchants in the temple, the lame man unable to get to angelic pool to become healed just to name a few. He empathized by being honest with what He had gone through in order to engage with those in pain around Him. He wept.

By becoming engaged with the world and not just informed about it, we are living out that second commandment of loving our neighbor like our self; and, almost on divine accident, the first like it, loving our Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our soul and all of our mind. May we be known as the generation that engaged the world for Christ.

be blessed today

 

 

 

Photo Credit: http://www.kickvick.com/21st-century-photos/

Oh, Those Self-Degrading Trees

Oh, Those Self Degrading Trees

A week or so ago we decided to take the day as a family sabbath and head around to the other side of a national park here (we have three within a two hour drive). Though dwindling, the larch forests are prevalent here. The government does what it can to protect these trees that are so much a part of tradition, history and culture here, but they are fading quickly. Larch wood is incredibly hard and is quite water resistant. It’s durable and lasts for a long time. Gers, or as we in the West know them as yurts, are constructed using larch because it holds up so well to the elements and lasts so long. What I also didn’t know before moving here was that larch, though they are a needle tree, lose all their needles in the fall and they grow back in spring.

The place we decided to stop and park was tucked back behind the trees in a little clearing, hiding us from the road. We drove across the frozen river in order to get there, which is always a fun thing to do. The wind was howling creating whiteouts and brownouts (sand) in sections blowing across the road. But, it is a beautiful place tucked down the valley from an old Buddhist monastery.

While we were there, trying to hurry up and eat as the windchill was insanely low, we ran around a played a bit. The boys ran up a mountain because they saw a tree (never mind the hundreds of trees that already surrounded us). Emmi, Iris and I stayed closer to the car trying to prepare lunch. When we were running around in and out, around the trees, there was one tree that looked interesting. It was, I think, dead. Some of the branches had been broken off or fallen off. It was tall, taller than most the trees around it, and just standing there, crooked and straight all at the same time.

The tree didn’t quite look like the others did. Yet there it was. It was what it was. Completely unassuming, without intention to look or be better. It stood there, quietly. It didn’t mind where it was, whether branches had fallen off, if it leaned that way or bent this way. It was simply what it was.

I often times wish I could think the same of me. I used to have a massive self doubt problem. From time to time it comes again but nothing like it used to. Second guessing myself, immediately apologizing for a decision or choice I made, doubting myself, my intuition, my personality and doubting who I was. Today still, too many times I get down on myself for appearance, words I wish I had or hadn’t said, decisions I wish I had made differently, etc. I’d love to say I conquered that part of me, but I haven’t. I have become far more confident in who I am in Christ. I have become more confident in how He has made me, wired me, gifted me, skilled me. I have become more confident in my experience with Him in life. But there is still doubt in myself. I guess that happens for a person who is driven by intuition.

One learned behavior I have is after this second guessing or self doubt, I begin to beat myself up about it. No matter how big or small the decision or action actually is, my perception is that it is much larger. Beating myself up is easy. Well, it seems easy.  But it makes life hard. People don’t desire to spend time with someone who is constantly hurting themselves. It is hard to not begin looking at yourself negatively when you are constantly interacting with someone who beats themselves up. I read a study, actually a few, that showed children who were raised by one or more parents who were constantly talking down about themselves, repeated the behavior even though they may have been very young children.

It’s false. It’s not truth.

Thomas Kelly, in his classic work “A Testament of Devotion” writes, “If you slip and stumble and forget God for an hour, and assert your old proud self, and rely upon your won clever wisdom, don’t spend too much time in anguished regrets and self accusations but begin again, just where you are…Learn to live in the passive voice–a hard saying for Americans–and let life be willed through you.”

The larch tree stands unassuming, accepting of what it is-hurt, misshapen, yet strong and forgiving.

Either we make mistakes or mistakes happen to us. Broken people living in a broken world with other broken people. They are moments in time that cannot be taken away. Some of them are incredibly, almost unbelievably painful.  And those moments will need time to walk through, to reconcile.

Walking through, but not living there. Living there is not what God intends. God intends us to live life to it’s fullest. Living in the moment of a mistake is not living, it is being tortured. It is living in a jail cell, you created, being tormented by no masked person. Simply by yourself. You are worth far more than that. Grace is a mysterious thing God has created. Grace looks at mistakes and hurts with compassion, not amnesia. Grace accepts what you may have done, who you are and loves anyway. God has grace for us that is never ending and limitless. Grace allows us to walk through. Grace allows us to reconcile. Grace allows us to see our worth, removes the blinders. Grace, in many cases, as painful as it may be, is the healing balm God has created to heal the wound and hurt. Not remove the scar, but heal the wound.  I pray that we all accept His grace for ourselves and give it freely to ourselves as well today. May the you become like the larch, being who you are in Christ. May I as well.

Where have you seen others give grace? Where have you experienced grace from others? Is it hard for you, as it is for me, to give yourself grace? What helps you to give it to yourself?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tombricker/15067413953/?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed

Feeling Trampled?

Both of my grandfathers were farmers…. legitimately or at least at heart. My grandfather on my mom’s side, Papa Bach, had about an acre of land in the small city he lived in. Little did he know then that he probably set the present day trend for having chickens inside city limits, not that he was into the trend setting thing. Behind the garage and chicken coop, was a decent sized orchard filled with apple trees and a small parcel for growing vegetables before it brushed up against the neighbor’s property on the next street over. It was his native German mentality that kept that place in tip top shape while he was mentally and physically able to do so. Like a typical German, everyone had a small piece of land to “farm” and he was very particular about what to do around the plants (don’t trample on them) and very particular about the chicken coop (don’t leave the gate open). I enjoyed spending time at his house. He’d always have a story from back home at the foot of the Black Forest where he grew up.

My other grandfather, Grandpa Hecock, actually was a farmer. He had a small farm in the then small town he lived in. It was more of a side thing as he had worked a few jobs, one of them selling seed to farmers. After my parents were married and bought the farm that I would eventually grow up on, he and grandma built a house on the northwest corner so they could continue farming vicariously through my parents. He had many years of experience an it was important that I listened and obeyed. Small choices during planting season could have big effects when it came time for harvest. For example, if I ran out in the field and while playing trampled on the seedlings of wheat or corn or soybeans, it could kill the plant and then there would be nothing to harvest when it came time. It was a big deal. And, I was a kid. Needless to say, I eventually learned my lesson after grandpa  had a talk with me. He was a rough guy, but a good one.

The dean of women at my college gave a talk during the first weeks of my Freshman year. I would come to learn that she gave this same talk every year. Me getting to college, let alone this particular one was a bit of a journey in and of itself…perhaps for another post for another day. She gave a talk about this one significant verse that had spoken to her many years in her past, and she thought it was still relevant today. David says in Psalm 17:8 that we are the apple of God’s eye. The apple of your eye is the reflection of an object in your eye. In this case, David is implying that we are the apple of God’s eye as He stares at us with great affection and love. We are of great value to Him.

To trample on something is to beaten it to the ground. Things that are trampled are usually distorted, a blurred image of what they once were, never to return to it’s former state. I think of flowers that have been trampled (while I was a kid, you know…don’t tell my mother), and how their stems were broken and bruised, the petals crushed, almost instantly turning brown. They would wither up, look ugly before they finally became one with the soil again. I was driving the other day through the countryside coming from another city. There’s very little snow here and even scarcer vegetation. These are nomadic peoples and herdsman. There were cattle tracks everywhere throughout the valleys I crossed through, all the snow trampled down mixed with what little vegetation was left from a harsh drought…and dust…lots of red dust. To trample something is to crush, beat down, flatten.

Bruce Demarest, in his book “Seasons of the Soul,” writes “We trample on God’s  grace when we refuse to forgive ourselves  after He has forgiven us. C. S.  Lewis observed that when we fail to  forgive ourselves after Christ has  forgiven us, we establish ourselves as a higher judge than God himself-which cannot be.”

I know what trampling does. I also know how incredibly hard it is for me to give myself grace. Part of me accepting my dysfunctions is also accepting God’s grace that He gives to me every moment. It’s actually easier for me to give other people grace than it is to give it to myself. Go figure…crazy how distorted one can be.

I also know that I have no desire to be a judge, especially a higher one than God. But to think that when I trample on His grace, I am claiming that things He has said are true aren’t. I’m claiming that I know better than He does, He who knit me together.

Something as beautiful as the flowers He created are not beautiful when they are crushed and beat into the ground. Think of how much more beautiful you are to Him than a flower. I’m not good at it, and I fail often, but when I have the courage to accept His grace, it is something nothing short of beyond my imagination.

You are worth it. You are valued. You are loved. You are the Apple of His Eye. I pray you accept that as the truth that it is.

Do you have a hard time accepting God’s grace over you? When you do, what is it like? Thanks for journeying with me!

 

 

High Horses and Humanity

I really hate acknowledging my flaws. It is laying myself out there to be vulnerable to other people who, in turn, can use those flaws against me.  But that is the risk of being vulnerable.

One of the things I find frustrating about myself is when I look at someone judgmentally, I expect that when it’s their turn to look at me, they will do so with a tad bit of grace  “Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you,” as Brene Brown wrote in her book Daring Greatly.I expect great things of others all the while never holding myself up to those same standards.

Sitting in my first ever large group recovery meeting, surrounded by people dealing with their own stuff was an interesting experience for me. People openly sharing about what they are struggling with, dealing with…the mess they are in. And yet, there wasn’t any judgement. As I started down my own journey of understanding my dysfunctions, hurts and habits, someone very wise told me that “it doesn’t matter what everyone else is dealing with- control, pride, alcohol, sex or drugs- everyone’s stuff weighs the same.”

When we begin to realize that their is no hierarchy as to who is more messed up than us or who has sinned more than us, we remove the judgement and start to replace it with grace. We see them (and maybe more importantly, ourselves) as human. Again, humanity is a high value of mine.

This goes along with something I recently read in Brene Brown’s latest book, Rising Strong, in which she puts it far more succinctly. She states that people, no matter what dysfunction or perceived health they are operating in, are simply living the best way they know how at the moment. Be it the politician spewing hatred about other religions or the religious fanatic who believes killing is the only way to “heaven;” the person who looks like they have the whole world at their fingertips but is dying inside to the other stealing a loaf of bread from the store because they haven’t had enough money to eat in weeks; they are only doing the best they know how. Without allowing the Spirit to examine our lives and walking through the pain to hand over lordship to Christ, we can never experience, nor expect, full healing. If we’ve never understood what it is that Christ has done for us and having courage to make amends for wrongs we’ve committed, we can never understand forgiveness. We cannot fully live in freedom.

If we are able to come to a place where we see other as doing the best we can, grace can come much easier. When we look at each other in grace suddenly we see them as human. We see ourselves as human. We are able to accept the grace God has given us. And we are much more able to show compassion. I am in no way implying that it will no longer be a struggle nor grace will always be the first response, but grace will more easily come if we stop and remember that they are human…just like we are.

Our perspective on our neighbors, family members, co-workers, other ethnicities and other cultures will begin to change as we see each other through the lens of grace. Grace brings freedom, love and empathy. Judgement brings bondage, worry, fear and hatred. My prayer for each of us is see others through a lens of grace more and more each day.

Do you have a story of how you’ve experienced judgement and grace? What was the outcome of each? May you be blessed as we grow in Christ.