Monday, December 15, 2014

Scarlet Cords in the Manger

Scarlet Cords in the Manger

Last week began a series of posts on the women in Matthew 1. You can read that introduction here. Today--the second woman mentioned in Jesus' genealogy. And yes, she is quite the addition.

And Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab.” (Matthew 1.5)

Wow—this bad, bad woman is uncomfortably close to our reverenced King David in genealogy, let alone Jesus himself. Rahab? Whose name is never mentioned in Sunday school classes without its suffix—“The Harlot”? Seriously, how many kids grow up thinking that was just her full name—“Rahab Theharlot”? They have no idea what the word means, right? So it's logical.

Rahab's story is found in Joshua 2, where she takes the Israelite spies onto her roof and hides them from her countrymen who would kill them. Basically, on top of being a whore, she commits treason and treachery against her own country. This just keeps getting better and better.

Much has been written (mostly by male commentators of the Bible) about Rahab's sinfulness. Perhaps students of Scripture should be reminded that more often than not, prostitution is not a voluntary occupation. We don't know her details, so we don't know her choices. One choice, though, we do know. It's the one where she defends the two men of God by risking her own life, and affirms,

“I know the Lord has given you this land. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.”

And she begs them to rescue her. She is talking about rescuing her and her family when the Israelites come into the city of Jericho and it falls. The scarlet cord she hangs from her window assures her that she and her family will be noticed and saved. But I think she's talking about more.

Rescue from her way of life. Rescue from her empty idolatry that promised happiness but delivered slavery. Rescue from the hatred of and simultaneous use by men. Rahab's story is an old one, and it is a current one, too. Women still live in slavery to men's lust for ownership. But that is not the last word.

“For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” 
(1 Peter 1.18-19)

Rahab needs rescue. I need rescue. Humans need rescue. And Matthew includes her in Jesus list of ancestors because that's precisely what He came to give. Rescue from an empty life that teases us with gold and gives out dust.

The good news of Christmas is that there is rescue. We are not doomed to remain harlots to whatever we have given our lives to that isn't healthy and whole. We can choose to cling to the scarlet cord that is Jesus' blood and take the rescue he offers.


Rahab is one of Jesus' foremothers for a reason.

Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!

The baby of the manger pleads your case. He offers a scarlet cord. He chooses to rescue, at his own cost.


Because it's Christmas.
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Monday, December 8, 2014

Matthew 1 and the Seismic Jolt of Christmas

Christianity is often accused of being anti-woman. People see it as a religion that treats women as second class and subservient. Nothing could be so wrong. Now, plenty of religious people do, in fact, treat women this way. Many sincere believers are certain the Bible even teaches this. But that is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is definitely not the belief system, or the behavior, of Jesus. And proof of this begins, well, at the very beginning. In Matthew, chapter one.

Most folks skim over chapter one. Seriously, who gets that much entertainment out of a list of “Joe was the father of John who was the father of Jim who was the father of . . .” Except the actual names in Matthew are much, much harder to pronounce.

But four times, we get stopped in the litany. Right in the middle of that perfect rhythm of dads and sons, we get a seismic jolt, four times. They are the names of the women. I spent one blog post talking about them last year; this year, I want to spend four. Why? Because I want to. And it's my blog.



No one ever included the women in lists like this. No one remembered them. No one considered them worth the mention. The fact that Matthew did blares a message across the ages we take for granted in our theoretically egalitarian society: 

Jesus came, right from the start, to cut through our ideas of who measures up and who's important with his message—everyone is immeasurably important.

To grasp how revolutionary this declaration of Matthew's is, we must understand how fundamentally not true this was for people of his time. People had a hierarchy by which to judge other people, and women were at the bottom. So were the disabled, the foreign, and the poor. The mere existence of this list in Matthew is a challenge flung into the teeth of the world. Love and value for everyone is taking over. We're here, we're ready to play, and we're not going home.

So he begins with Tamar. Might as well start with Desperate Housewives. You can read the entire account here, if you wish. Just know, abridged version, she is not exactly without scandal. Desperate for a son and thus someone to care for her as a widow alone, she opts for a less than conventional route to pregnancy. As a result, she ends up almost burned alive as a prostitute. She also ends up mentioned in Jesus' genealogy.

Tamar had been treated unfairly by those in power over her, and she was afraid. Afraid she would be alone, ashamed, and impoverished later in life. I think we can relate to those fears. Do you carry shame you're afraid will be revealed, whether it is actually shameful or imagined shame? It was considered shameful for Tamar to have had two husbands and no sons. Her shame tripled when she was denied a third husband because of her habit of losing husbands. Matthew assures you and me from chapter one that Jesus came to deal with shame.

Fears of being alone? You haven't found that “one” to go through life with? Or you did, but he or she turned out to be not the one? Maybe the kids are all gone and the quiet closeness of the house seems unbearable. Or you are the kid whom no one sees or hears. Matthew promises—Jesus came to deal with alone.


The fact that Matthew includes Tamar in Jesus bloodline fairly screams, if we will hear it: 

Jesus came from a woman who was frightened, alone, ashamed, and set aside because he came for people who felt the same way.

He cries from the cradle and then whispers from the cross—I will be the eraser of shame and the lover of the lonely. Come. Just come.

No more let sin and sorrow reign,
     nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make his blessings flow,
     far as the curse is found.


Because it's Christmas. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Running Wild with Hope

So perhaps laughing uncontrollably through a video on ebola may not be appropriate. But appropriate is not always my strong suit.

Let's be clear—ebola is not a humorous topic. Certainly not one to take lightly, no matter if precious Americans are safe on our soil. Thousands of West Africans are not, and that isn't forgettable or funny.

But the video I happened upon, and shared with my daughter who appreciates British humor, poked fun at the media's response to ebola, not the disease itself, and put me in tears. Sometimes, we laugh at things that seem horrible. But I wonder if maybe the reason isn't so much lack of taste as a desire to laugh at the horrible itself. To pretend we have some control over it and some ability to minimize it if we make fun of it.

Yet, as we move into the Christmas season, I wonder if there isn't even more to it for Christians. Shouldn't we be the ones who are perpetually laughing?

Christians should be the first ones laughing. Not at other people, mind you, but laughing. Because we know. We know the truth of Christmas—that God personally interfered in our messy world and gave us the forgiveness, love, and tools to set it right. We know that no matter the ugly, there was a baby whose star of presence was the most beautiful thing to ever hit planet earth.

In fact, I find that the people who get angry the easiest, who get offended at the least bit of humor, are the ones who may, after all, be capable of atrocities against others. It's the anger that gets offended easily, the dislike of thoughts other than our own, the distrust of laughter we can't understand that causes a lot of the pain of this world. People who can't laugh are often quite willing to abuse those who can.

If you don't know this craziness ends? If you don't know pain is temporary, and the hurt we do to one another defeatable? OK, I can see how nothing would be funny. Nothing at all. But we know. We know, because of Christmas, the world isn't going to hell in a handbasket.

So why do we act like it is? Why do so many Christians freak out over threats large and small? Why do we say we believe God is in control and act as if we believe it's all up to us? Yes, there are horrors beyond our imagination happening right now. Yes, I pray for victims of murderous persecutions and deadly diseases, and I help where I see avenues to help. But I do not duck my head and scream that the sky is falling. Mere men do not hold up the sky.

Some call this naïve. I prefer to call it belief. Belief that, because of Christmas, God wins. Faith that, despite suffering, He has the final say. Trust that yes, things may get rough. Very rough. They may not go the way Christians would like them to go. Nevertheless, His purposes, not mine, finish the story. Victoriously.

We should laugh. We must hope. In one of my favorite Rich Mullins songs, he sings,

How the Lord takes by its corners this old world

And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope
To run wild with the hope

The hope that this thirst will not last long

That it will soon drown in the song
Not sung in vain.”


That's the wild laughter we need to have. The abandon that comes from certainty that we will not always thirst. The joy we need to embrace, not in the absence of fear and horror but in its midst. That is the only place it serves its purpose. Joyous, abandoned, holy laughter only makes sense when it's in the face of a force that thinks it has won but most definitely has not.

That Christmas baby was born in the midst of some pretty awful circumstances. Circumstances a lot like ours. Slavery, persecution, discrimination, hunger, hatred, and disease. His star shone brighter because it was in that world, because light always shines brighter in darkness. He cried many times in this world, but he also laughed. A lot. I am sure he did it with his whole heart and soul, with abandoned, head back, hiccuping joy. Because he saw the horrors of this world better than we ever have--and he knew the end.


The song is not sung in vain. Run wild with the hope this Christmas. Stifle the sour faces and dire predictions. Stop the endless blaming for this world's ills. This world has a promise born in a stable. See what kind of peace on earth your wild, laughing hope can bring.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Pumpkin Pie (To Be Grateful)


This year, we are staying home for Thanksgiving. The past few years, we have traveled, and we will miss seeing family. But this is the first year that child #3 is away at college, and she would have to drive five hours home and then six hours farther and do it all over again a few days later. It's too much. 

Plus, there are things moms recognize about that first year away. She would need “normal.” She already feels she's missed so much. To miss The Great Christmas Tree Cut Down, the decorating, the “home” feeling down in your heart that says it's all still there and all OK—that would be too much. Sometimes, you have to recognize that the intangibles are the most real things in existence.

I remember the feeling. My first Thanksgiving in college, I, too, came home. But it was not the home I had known for eighteen Thanskgivings. It was a home without the mother who always cooked the turkey dinner. (Although really, I think dad did quite a lot of it. He was the better cook. Just like in our family.) Without her sisters and their busy families, because it was without the glue that had held those extended family units together. Take out the mother, and you take out a network.

So I did what I suspect my daughter would do. I cooked dinner. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, lemon merengue pie, pumpkin pie, cranberry relish. I don't even like pumpkin pie. But the offerings hadn't changed in eighteen years, and they must not now. I set all the good dishes out. I did everything to maintain the illusion that this was normal. This was dinner as always. Though the universe might turn sideways, this would not alter.

I had no idea what I was doing.

I mean, literally, I had no idea how to cook. Mom hadn't taught me, although I'd gained basic knowledge by watching. But as mentioned, she was not the better cook of the duo that was my parents. 

Beyond that, though, I had no idea that illusions failed. We hung on to the traditions, my dad and I, but we weren't fooling one another. This was not the same, it never would be, and we had no idea how to navigate it into something else. I can't say that we ever really learned.

This year is the first Thanksgiving with child #3 away at college, and it's the last Thanksgiving with child #1 unmarried. Next year, she'll have her own family with her own relationships and traditions to navigate, and we'll have to learn a new dance. But—and here's the big but—we will. (Yes, I did just say big but. I know you laughed. You can't pretend.)

We will. I've learned some things since the fall I was barely eighteen.

Particular faces and specific dates alter with time and circumstances. Just like I no longer feel compelled to bake pumpkin pie because, in fact, we dislike it, some details no longer apply. As with the year we ate Thanksgiving burgers at the Hard Rock Cafe in the alternate universe called Orlando, or the Christmas dinner in Costa Rica involving coconut, pineapple, and spaghetti, traditions sometimes bow to present realities. And that's OK. (Because, hey, we remember those two holiday dinners.)

The tangibles change. The intangibles remain the real things. That the things we do together happen, in some form, matters. When they happen or precisely how, not so much. That the feeling of home remains “it's

all still there, and it's all OK” matters. What the menu or makeup is, not really. That we recognize the fleetingness of “same” and express gratitude for the times we have matter. Whether there seems to be little or much to be grateful for does not.


Whether you're sitting around a table with family Thursday or eating alone, swapping adult kids between tribes with the dexterity of David Copperfield or working all night to accommodate early (crazy) shoppers, stop. Find your intangibles. What matters? What doesn't? When all is stripped away, what remains real? That's what you have to be grateful for.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Being Grateful for Winter. A Little. OK, Just Barely.


And one of the 8002 blizzards of 2013 begins.
I am not a winter person. While everyone on Facebook has been proudly proclaiming their refusal to turn on the heat yet, I've been sitting on my couch muttering, “Forget that crazy business. I've had mine going since September. Plus two fleece blankets.” 

OK, part of it is being sick for several months, but I am freezing this year. And I have no pride anymore when it comes to seeing how long I can refrain from cranking the thermostat. Comfort trumps bragging rights.

I don't like cold. I don't like to drive in snow. I hate early dark. I detest cold slush in my shoes. Polar vortexes are not my friends. And no, I do not especially want to build a snowman. Though monkshood and roses still bloom outside, I know the truth. It's stinking cold out there, and I know what comes next.

But November is the month for gratitude, so kvetching about winter is not something I'm going to do. Much. Instead, I've decided to find the good things in winter. So here is my list. What is there to be thankful for between November and March? (Realizing that in Chicago, we could easily add a month on either end of that.) Here you go.

  • CHRISTMAS!


  • Men have No Shave November. No shave November? No shave next five months, ladies! This may be better than Christmas.


  • Cute boots and leggings.


  • Christmas lights. Did I say Christmas?


  • The first hot drink at the Starbucks drive through.


  • Lord of the Rings marathon on New Year's Eve. Bring it on!


  • Ice covered tree branches. It's God's form of twinkling lights. Except better.


  • Christmas cookies. Oh, and Christmas.


  • Homemade hot chocolate. Real hot chocolate, as in whipped from cocoa and sugar and milk. And maybe hazelnut syrup. If you really have good taste.

It's snowing. It's snowing and she's
thrilled. What kind of weirdo does this?
Oh wait--one with my genetic code.

  • Making soup. I am not a fan of eating it. And I am not a fan of cooking. But there is something about making soup that I love. Explanation? I have none. I need none.


  • Leftover turkey. I like it. Get over it.


  • Christmas songs. Unless they are insipid and annoying. Or Santa Baby, which is in a class by itself for stupid. But otherwise—cue the music. CHRISTMAS.


  • Seed catalogs that come in the mail. I'm dreaming of an early . . . spriiiing. Just like the ones I've never knoooown . . .



  • Quiet evenings when no one in their right mind goes out that are perfect for reading books and planning vacations. To places that are warm.


  • Chocolate marzipan in my Christmas stocking. The kind that comes only from Cost Plus World Market, not the sad little excuse for it called Ritter Sport Walgreens stuff. Just a hint, in case anyone's listening. (Gluten free.)


  • Creating an epic gingerbread masterpiece. What would you suggest we try this year? I don't think it's possible to top last year. But we are open to suggestions.

What do you find to be grateful for in winter? Yes, I know, some of you may be those weird people who actually like the whole season. I live with some of you. I can't help you. I'm ready for spring. 


Monday, November 10, 2014

I'm Not Tolerant

Kids don't need to be told how to do this.
On November 16, the UN urges people worldwide to celebrate and observe the UN International Day for Tolerance. The point? To foster understanding and education between peoples of different origins. (That's my summary, not theirs.)

While I love the idea of celebrating differences, I'm not so sure of the name. I know tolerance has become the buzzword of the 2000's. If you're not tolerant? You're a bigoted, uneducated jerk. Basically. That's the edited version. Whose version of tolerant? Well, it depends. To steal from Orwell, it does appear some people are more tolerable than others.

But I refuse to be tolerant.

Tolerance” is such a feeble word. I tolerate creaky knees. I tolerate cold weather and slow checkout lanes and JW's at my door. (Although to be honest, I usually hide from them.) I don't love any of those. I don't even like them very much.

You know how the online dictionary defines tolerance?

To allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference. To accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.”

Tolerance only asks that I endure you. I can continue to dislike you intensely, but if I deal with you like I would a root canal, I'm a good person. As long as I allow your existence, I'm on moral high ground. You see what a weak ideal we're celebrating here?

Now, I realize that allowing someone else's existence would be a significant step up for people like ISIS. It's a steep enough goal if you're the UN, so what they're doing is great. But for most of us? I'd like to think we could aim higher.

Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Pray for your enemies.” He told stories of racial strife healed by a Samaritan salving a man's wounds and putting him on a donkey. He rebuked the unjust treatment of women by refusing to throw a stone at one.

Then he showed us how it was done by forgiving those who murdered him even as they cheered about it. That “Father forgive them” was not an act of tolerance. It was a declaration of love.

It was a gauntlet thrown down in the name of a new Kingdom where love, not mere tolerance, would reign. It was a challenge for his followers to take up.

In contrast to tolerance, witness the definition of what Jesus meant when he told us to love our neighbor.

Agape is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love in the Bible. The essence of agape is self-sacrifice.” 

That doesn't sound like the kind of feeling I'd have toward a root canal.

The day we, literally, sat down for tea with a Chinese communist.
And we had a great time.
I have a challenge. Skip the tolerance. Go right to the love. Put away the name calling, the labeling, the Facebook posts about “those people” and how dumb they must be. Stow your “right” to be angry and your certainty that yours is the only reasonable outlook.

Sit down for tea with someone you disagree with on however many levels. Someone from a very different background. Not to argue. Not to convince him or her you're right. Just to talk. Mostly to listen. See if you can't hammer out more than a simple tolerance by the time you're done. I'm serious about this—do it. This is not just a theoretical challenge.

If those who claim to have accepted Jesus' declaration of love for themselves cannot, read that will not, lavish it as unconditionally as He did, we're not even tolerating. We're just plain failing. Fortunately for us, he just keeps offering that love, and power, to improve our record. 

I need that power. I fail at the love thing. I need power every day to turn away from what I think I deserve and how right I think I am toward “selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love.” But tolerance? I want to fail at that. I don't want to endure those with whom I disagree. I want to love them. With whom are you going to have tea?



Monday, November 3, 2014

Rosie the Riveter, Home Built Sewers, and the Holy "I Can't"

I can't. Do you say those words often? I don't. Like, never. “Yes, I can” runs in my veins like iron runs through our well water. I would have made a great Rosie the Riveter.

Not only don't I ever say “I can't,” but if someone says it to me (as in, “you can't do that”), well, that's probably the best motivation to ensure I will try.

I think this is a result of being the daughter of a man who built his own garage and laid his own septic tank. (That last one at night, on account of the law frowns on home built septics, apparently.) My dad repaired washers and dryers for a living. He didn't exactly have a degree from the Ty Pennington School of Demolition and Carpentry. He just never knew he couldn't do things, so he did them.

This stubborn inheritance may be part of the reason why, just prior to getting sick last June, my calendar included five speaking engagements, one vacation for five, a writer's conference, a pastor's conference, two kids' graduations, a weekend road trip, normal work, a wedding . . . and a partridge in a pear tree. I'm certain there was no connection between that and the getting sick thing. None whatsoever.

All this to say—I've been saying “I can't” a lot the last five months. And I've hated it.

I can't commit to a mission trip. I can't take a walk around the lake. I can't promise I'll make a two-hour drive. I can't sit up at the table to play a board game. I can't sign on to help promote your book. I can't even get off the stupid couch to turn off the TV. Yes, it's been that bad. Friends I've wanted to support haven't been supported by me. Kids I've wanted to spend time with have had to do their things without me. And I've rebelled against the I cant's. Oh, how I have rebelled. Inwardly, because it's tough to rebel too strenuously when “I can't get off the couch” is the one “I can't” that's absolutely incontrovertible.

I've never known the complete, frustrated helplessness that is physical disability, nor the depth to which it can affect your outlook. (Not to mention your disposition. Those people who suffer sweetly through illness? Yeah, so not me. I'm a certified crank. True story.)

I knew I hated hearing “you can't,” but I never knew how deeply I would despise saying “I can't,” knowing it to be true, and feeling the fear of not knowing when it would not be.

I can't” are two little words, containing an ocean of meaning, complexity, and emotion I never realized. I rebel at their truth. I don't think I'm the only one.

In fact, I know I'm not, because that little incident in the Genesis Garden happened when two people looked at one another and thought, “Did He really say we can't? I don't like that.” And we all know how that ended.

No, being forced into I can't because of physical limitations and fighting the limitations God created are not the same thing. But the former only exists because the latter occurred. On some level, the “I cant's” we hate are all a result of the “I won't” chosen so long ago.

All this time, I've been trying to figure out what I can learn from the past five months, and maybe it's simpler than I'm making it. Maybe, it's that discontent with the results of that one big, disastrous “I will” is OK. Not just OK, but encouraging. A sign of life. A proof that we know in our being this is not how it was meant to play out.

Maybe it's OK to hate our I cant's. Maybe they're a reflection of our restlessness with the way things are versus the way they should be. We know we were not made for sickness and disability and frustration. We know the world was not created for hunger and cruelty and greed. One huge cry of frustration at our “I cant's” really may be a healthy cry. A cry of birth, signaling our anger at not being able to heal the ills around us.

And after the angry cry of birth comes the living. The refusal to give in to the cant's and the agreement that whatever we can matters.

I know someone with a chronic illness who so often can't. Yet when she can, she fights human trafficking with every ounce of her passion. Are the two connected? Does her frustration at physical difficulty interplay with the willingness to fight against an evil the world was not meant to hold? Oh, I think it does.

I think our real limits can always fuel our discontent with unjust limits. It should not surprise us, really.

CS Lewis felt and explained our discontent often.

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” 

Unlike my friend, I am going to get better. This will be over, and I'll be back to being my contrary active self. But when “Yes I can” is back, I hope it fuels a different sort of discontent. One not so much focused on me but on fixing what has been broken and retrieving what has been lost.



What have you discovered through your “I cant's”?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bah Humbug




I keep my candy, and my kid, for our church harvest party. I just ignore the doorbell on Halloween.”
Yes, she was a ladybug one year.
But I think this is more of a
"layer everything in the dress up box" look.

That's a quote, from someone I don't know, on Facebook last week. Halloween comes and goes, and so do rants about it. As usual. (I had my own last year regarding the “too old” question.)

The woman mentioned above seems to share a common opinion among churchgoing acquaintances. Jus some samples from conversations I “overheard” online last week:

  • Halloween is so dark/creepy/ugly.
  • The kids are too greedy/too old/ too overweight/too impolite.
  • Costumes are too gruesome/slutty/non-existent.
  • Why even open the door?

All possibly true. Yet the tone feels like Ebeneezer Scrooge landed in the wrong month and took up residence in, of all the places he never belongs but too often is found, the church.

Let me say, first, I don't care for gruesome. Not a fan of the macabre. Have never, ever felt an inclination to dress up as a bloodied zombie apocalypse corpse with a chainsaw. My kids were never allowed to dress like that, and they never wanted to. I avoid Party City in the fall like the doctor's office during flu season. Just don't need to see that.

So I get the distaste for handing candy to someone whose costume makes it all very unappetizing.

Also—I want to be clear that if you choose not to celebrate the holiday with your own children, that is your right to decide. No one gets to guilt you for that decision. All parents and all kids are different. You make the best decisions for your kids.

What I don't get is the notion that we are better people if we turn off our porch lights and ignore our neighbors' kids. I don't get the concept that calling other peoples' kids rude or satanic makes us more polite or more holy. That God will be more pleased with us when we save our candy for church rather than making it an offering of grace to those who will never enter our church doors.

As if, somehow, handing out candy to costumed children at church is holier than handing it out to costumed children at your front door. I would suggest that maybe your front door is just as holy. Possibly, it's even more so.

I'd love to offer a few thoughts in answer to that final question—
Why even open the door?

"Adorable" and "cow" are not words often
put together
Many years ago, waaaay back in college, I went trick or treating to collect money for UNICEF with my sorority. That was big back then. I don't remember what I dressed as, but I do remember the door we came up to with the handwritten sign that read, “Halloween is Satan's holiday. You are going to Hell.” Someone flunked “pleasant greeting” class at the Carnegie Institute.

Months of quiet witness to my sisters evaporated on that doorstep. Again—anyone is entitled to that belief. But not the best way to express it on a night with the chance to talk to neighbors who come to you and could be engaged instead of repelled.

Maybe, instead of thinking of our front door as a barricade to keep the evil world out, we need to think of it as an altar to offer blessing and grace.

Maybe we need to remember that letting our light shine could happen better when we turn the porch light on for a kid who could be trying to pretend he's scary because this world scares the heck out of him. Light always shines brighter when it's in darkness. Church fall events are great. Go. Invite people. But remember that shining your light in an already lit up room doesn't do much for the total wattage in this world.

Really, it's a wonder we ever got them
to be still long enough to get the dressed.
They're kids at your door. Someone's kids. God's creation. They will grow up too fast, too soon. And that girl at your door dressed as Bimbo Belle or Sexy Snow White? She'll grow up even faster. Maybe what she really needs more than a modesty lecture or a gospel tract is a neighbor who knows her and takes the time to open the door. Maybe, on more than one night a year.

You don't have to like Halloween. You don't have to celebrate it. It can be ugly, and yes, it can be satanic. But—it can also just possibly be redemptive, when we choose to turn a light on and open a door.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Is Life happening to You?--Part 2

Ah, steps.
Lastweek, I offered two first steps to being people who intentionally choose their life, as opposed to the kind of human default of passively letting life happen to us.

For most, though not all, of us, we have the choice. But it takes work. It's easier to let life happen. It's much harder to examine it and make changes. Like Fiyero says in Wicked, “Why invite stress in? Stop studying strife, and learn to live the unexamined life." (At this point he's not very heroic. So . . . not words of wisdom really.)

Steps #1 and #2 last week:
Figure out what my priorities are.
Ask god if they are his priorities. (adjust accordingly.)

This week, 3 and 4.

Steps.

Do my actions line up with those priorities?

Here is the tough part. We can have great priorities—on paper. But when daily decisions come calling, do the choices we make display our three words? Do we choose love over anger? Do we choose to forego a bonus at work to have more time with our family? Do we choose to take our kid out of travel soccer so you can say yes to serving others?

When it comes down to those decisions, do we consciously let life overrun us with its status quo, or do we take the wheel and steer it where we have chosen for it to go?

I think this is where most of us fail. We mean well. But the tyranny of the urgent takes over. The law of physics that says whatever our current state of movement is, that's where we're likely to stay. It takes conscious effort to rebel and override the system. What do our actions, not our intentions, say about our priorities?

Even more steps.

Create a next step to make it real.

What will you do now? A plan is awesome. A plan without actual, concrete steps toward the goal is just a lovely Facebook meme.

For instance, suppose your three words are “give more freely.” (Totally making this up on the fly here.) One of the things you do to make that happen is sign up for a 6k run/walk to benefit clean water initiatives. (OK, not making that up. I'm doing that.) Then you realize you're in such bad shape you breathe heavily walking to the mailbox.




And smiley faces. Because  . . .
you  made it.
Next step: Walk a half mile tomorrow. Walk five minutes more each day. Not fast. Not perfectly. But the next real step is to start walking and then up that distance gradually. It's simple. Achievable. Doable. And easy to gauge if it really gets done. See how much more likely that is to happen than a vague goal of “I want to do something to help other people”?

What do your actions says about your priorities? What's your next step? I'd love to hear! 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is Life Happening to You?--Part 1


Pastors deal with people a lot. This should be self-evident, but it came as a bit of a shock to my introverted soul to learn I would be spending so much time interacting with people.

Fortunately, I've also learned that people are pretty interesting, so it's all good.

Life happens to insets. They hatch. They lay eggs.
They die. End of story. 
Out of all these interactions, I've found there are generally two different kinds of people. (No, that is not a punchline for anything. Totally serious here.)

--Those who let life happen to them, and
--Those who choose what happens.

It's not scientific or anything, but personal experience tells me there are a lot more of type One. I know it's my default. I think most of us find it a lot easier to be a victim of our own lives, or at least a bystander.

It's hard work to paddle the boat instead of just letting it drift. Sometimes, the current taking us one direction is strong, and fighting it is a long, exhausting struggle. Plus, let's be honest. We don't have to feel bad if we can say, “I couldn't help it. Things just happen.”

It's easier to let life happen to us. But it's not better.

Have you ever found yourself saying things like, “I don't ever have time for . . .” “I don't know how that happened.” “I'd love things to change, but I can't do anything about it.” “If only . . . had not happened/would happen. Then things would be better.”

That's letting life happen to you talk. It's chosen victimhood, assuming that something outside of yourself has to happen before you will have the life you want to have.

Obviously, there are things that happen. We don't control cancer. Or people who hurt us. People in other parts of the world are helpless when faced with persecution and kidnapping. Girls in Nigeria truly don't choose their life. But for most of us, we're really not victims. We've just never learned how to be type 2—those who chose what happens.

These guys, on the other hand. They make their choices.
(Except maybe being put in cages. But this is a rescue,
not a circus.)
I've been doing some thinking, and some rearranging, to make sure I don't fall into that default mode myself. Here are some of the things I've come up with to be the kind of person who chooses, not allows, life.

Figure out what my priorities are.

What are the important themes and needs in your life? The best piece of writing advice I ever received was to put the main idea of whatever I was writing, whether a 300-paeg book or a 300-word devotional, into three words. Yes, just three words. It focuses you. With just three words as a guide, it's suddenly clear what parts of a story or article fit the theme and what is extraneous and needs to be cut out. The writing is far, far better for the focus.

So is life. What are your three words for life? If you had to narrow your purpose down to three words, what would they be?

Ask god if they are his priorities.

OK, maybe you have three great words. You think they describe your life. But if you are a Christian, there's a filter to run those words through. Would God agree that is the mission He has for you?

Because someone's words might be, “Raise happy children.” Or “have job success.” Or even “great bikini body.” Whatever. But passed through the lens of “What did God put me on this earth to do?” they fall short. They may be good things to do. But they cannot be the end all three-word purpose for someone who wants to follow Jesus with all her heart, soul, strength, and mind.

In saying we should chose our life, I'm not preaching that God promises anyone the life they want. I'm not claiming that God particularly even wants you to be happy. (Sorry, recent pop-theological proclamations to the contrary. That just isn't biblical.)

So, telling folks to choose their own life instead of letting it happen to them comes with the caveat that we're choosing wisely. With godly intent. Otherwise, we may be living intentionally, but we're also living pointlessly.

Donald Miller makes the claim that a believer's purpose is to “save many lives.” That's a bit higher than happiness and success. It's the height God wills us to aim for.

So #2 in the quest to be a person who choose their life—make your three-word life theme something God would agree should be a priority.

Take some time. Now. This evening. Tomorrow. SOON. Examine the priorities of your life. If you had to put them into three words, what would you choose? What would God think of those words? Revise. Edit. Finalize the rough draft. You know—all those things you had to do in College Composition. Then please, would you share your words with me? I'd love to see what God is doing in your life.

I'll go first so it's not so scary. I think my three words are: Bring Jesus' grace.


That's enough for this week. Next Monday, the other two steps.