Category Archives: Stewardship

Doing it Daily – All Over Again

There’s this beautiful song by Train called “Marry Me.”  Perhaps you’ve heard it.  Although it was released in 2009, it was 2013 before I heard it for the first time.

I love the line, “Marry me, today and every day.”  We get married (hopefully just once), and we have that one wedding where we make promises to each other in front of an officiant, God, family, and friends.  There’s music, there are flowers, there’s cake, maybe dancing, and it’s a glorious affair with people looking tres belle and tres beau.  Afterwards comes the honeymoon, a delightful period of romance and spending time together as husband and wife in a great location.

But what happens after the couple comes home, unpacks, and gets back to the day-to-day business of being a married couple every single day in the real world – a world without the flowers, the music, the cake, the honeymoon?  Unlike the pink-edged cream rose I have growing in front of my house, marriages don’t thrive on neglect.  They need daily attention and devotion, as do spouses.

This has to be intentional, though.  We can’t give our marriages our attention today and come back to it in a week-and-a-half.  My husband and I have a routine.  I don’t mind drinking day-old coffee.  Sure, I prefer it fresh, but I’d rather not waste it.  On Saturdays, I pour myself the day-old cup and make fresh for him; on Sundays, he gives himself the old cup and makes fresh for me.  This weekend, though, he did something different for me.  I woke up yesterday and poured the old coffee into my cup before making the fresh pot.  When I went back to the kitchen a little while later, my coffee was missing.  The cup was still there, but it was empty.  My husband had poured the day-old coffee into his cup.  He did that this morning, too.  It’s a tiny little act of service (my love language), but it made a huge impact.  Likewise, each day, I tell him something great I’ve observed about him or something perhaps that the girls have remarked on.  The key isn’t about being flashy or loud in the affirmations, it’s simply about being consistent.  As a result of these little acts – just small little things – we have grown closer and we have become more solid as a couple.

Discipleship requires just as much intentional daily attention.  Jesus says in Luke that if we’re going to follow him, we must take up our crosses daily and follow him.  As this call to the spiritual discipline of evangelism fell on my ears, as we read the corporate prayer of confession in church this morning, it hit me that I really don’t do as much as I’m supposed to.  I don’t  enter into a time of confession of my sins on a daily basis.  I also take the Gospel for granted.  I know it.  I’ve read it (multiple times), studied it, taught it, and preached it.  In fact, because I know it so well, the story isn’t fresh and new, this Good News more something I might meet with the excitement of my tax refund showing up than with joy that rivals fireworks, because, people, this is GOOD NEWS!  The BEST news!  It’s not exclusive, judgemental, or condemning.  This gift is for EVERYone, and I’ll open my arms wide and share it with absolutely everyone.

God loves us, has loved us from the beginning of time.  In fact, God loves us so much that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ and came down to earth to suffer the just punishment for our sins.  And when we accept this free gift of grace, we have eternal life.  No, it’s not physical immortality; our flesh will still age and die.  It’s spiritual immortality – our souls uniting with God in Heaven.  This is the good news.

And each and every day, I need to remember this good news, remember how it’s impacted my life, remember what it has called me to do with it, remember to share it.  Every day, I need to be intentional about devoting myself anew to the Lord, just as I do my husband, and publicly sharing my love for God, just as I publicly share my love for my husband.

Share your story.  Share the good news this week – how God has worked in your life.

 

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The Compassion of a Child

I’m sitting in my home along the SE US coast, waiting for Hurricane Matthew to pay us a visit.  Am I worried?  Not particularly, though I did feel a strong sense that we needed to do more to prepare for this storm than we typically do for others.  We’re prepared to this point, though we’ll have a bit more to do come Thursday and Friday.  Worst case scenario, we pack the kids and the cats into two cars and head west; the cars are fueled sufficiently.

This morning as the girls and I tracked the storm, we saw that some people weren’t so lucky.  As we pulled up the tracking map online, we saw that at that moment, the storm was right over Haiti and eastern Cuba, with a course dead-straight to the Bahamas.  While this is devastating for all these island peoples in the Caribbean, our hearts really went out to the Haitians.  It’s like they can’t catch a break!

So we prayed.  Then H, my seven-year-old who’s diligently saving up for a pink sparkly boat about the size of a massive cruise ship, started outlining her plan for rescuing people in such situations.  This plan involves using her boat to take them to safety on her own private island, complete with three hospitals, just to make sure everyone gets the care they need.  (I guess she’d need more than one island, so she’d have options depending on which direction the storms are going.)

As the pink sparkly boat is still quite a ways off, H spontaneously thought about what she could do now.  Her solution?  She wants to donate some of her shoes and clothes to children in Haiti who’ll lose everything in this storm.  I immediately grabbed my phone and texted the children’s minister at church, asking if there’s any reception for those sorts of donations.  No, but there are organizations, like Hope Changes Everything, who already have boots on the ground and need money to supply the Haitians with exactly what they need, be it clothes, food, or housing.  (That link will take you right to their site, and you can donate there.)

Our minister suggested a yard sale.  Truthfully, I don’t relish the idea of putting together a yard sale, but the weather will be good again, and there are a lot of things we can get rid of for this cause.  While I don’t look forward to the work and administration of doing this, I’m excited, because this is something H can lead off on.

I am understandably so proud of my daughter for having a heart that wants to reach out to people who have been so devastated by this storm.  More, though, is how she’s overcoming her own fears of the storm in thinking about others.  All morning, we talked together about what we need to do to make sure our home and property are ready for the storm.  I presented it as, “We need to be prepared, but we’re gonna be OK.  Worrying won’t change the storm at all.”  Still, though…  She is seven, and she’s not so thrilled with regular ol’ thunderstorms, let alone a hurricane due for a direct hit.  Once she started thinking about how to help others, she forgot to be afraid.

H is such a good teacher, even reminding her pastor momma about some truths that are easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

  • We need a change in perspective sometimes.  Things look challenging for us this coming weekend, but they’re much worse for thousands upon thousands of other people who have no evacuation routes and limited resources.
  • When we’re afraid, it helps to think about others and become unafraid.  I find it also helps remembering who controls the storm.
  • What we have can be used to serve other people.  This girl has plans for her life, plans that involve a good deal of education and helping vulnerable creatures.  Yet, her heart remains for people and desiring to help them.

The Bible tells us so many things about children.  “A little child shall lead them.”  “You must have the faith of a child.”  And the Psalmist writes, “From the lips of infants and children, You have ordained praise.”  We oh, so busy adults need to stop sometimes and listen.  The still small voice of God I’m hearing this week isn’t coming from a gentle breath of wind, but from the lips of a little girl.

News Flash! The War on Christmas Surrenders to Common Sense!

It’s a cup.  It’d have coffee or hot chocolate or sugar-free fat-free soy latte in it.  Then, once all that caffeinated joy had crossed the tongue and winged its happy way to the bloodstream, the cup gets unceremoniously dumped in the nearest trash receptacle, ultimately winding up in a landfill where it slowly, over five to fifteen years, biodegrades.  This week, Starbucks unveiled their holiday cup – plain red with their distinctive green and white logo.  That means their cups no longer feature prancing reindeer, cheery snowmen, or swirling snowflakes.  Whoopedy friggin’ doo.

It’s.  A cup.  Actually, I find Starbuck’s move to plain cups to be a great avenue to politically correct, unoffensive inspiration.  I can see it:  The barista takes your order and conversationally asks, “What are you celebrating this season?”  You answer “Christmas” or “Hanukkah” or “Winter Solstice,” and the cheery barista writes your name and order on one side of this plain red cup and draws an angel, a menorah, or a wintry tree on the other side.  Voila!  Every single Starbucks customer gets a cup customized to their religious beliefs and no one can get offended.  Everyone’s happy, except maybe for the poor barista who is better at pulling a cappuccino than drawing various holiday icons.

America isn’t a Christian nation (meaning Christianity isn’t the national religion), and Christmas isn’t a regulated national holiday.  Christmas is a holy day in which Christ’s followers celebrate his birth and others value the traditions of the season as they spend time with family.  However, not everyone celebrates Christmas, nor do they have to.  No one can tell a privately owned business how to observe this season.  People can rant and rave about me using reindeer in some of my packaging (reindeer aren’t Christian), but since it’s my business that I run my way, I can use whatever I want.  Same with Starbucks.  What’s the big deal?  Their cups are still in Christmas colors.

If you’re a conservative believer who wants to talk with your coffee, then bypass Starbucks altogether.  Instead of spending money on overpriced crappy coffee, head over to your local coffee shop, talk to the manager and see if she or he would cut you a deal on coffee.  Then grab a few friends and $20 and buy 20 cups of coffee that you then deliver to homeless people.  Warm up some people this chilly winter on the inside with good coffee and a bit of kindness.  That’s the way you share your beliefs in a coffee cup.  Go on.  Do it.  Don’t wait for some corporate entity to do it for you.

 

We So Fly (Lady)!

We live in CHAOS – Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.  Yes, it’s true.  Between teaching and canning and running the biz, cleaning happens randomly (grabbing something of mine as I walk out of a room), and it’s so frustrating getting on the troops to clean up while I’m doing something in the kitchen or my workshop.  Those aren’t my Legos or dolls!  Those aren’t my clothes left in a heap on the living room floor.  That stack of mail doesn’t have my name on it.  Ugh!  Then when company wants to come over, there’s the 5-hour, really stressful blitz to get everything picked up.  With Christmas coming, who wants to deal with that???  I want to decorate on my schedule, not be cleaning instead.

It showed up in a homeschooling group:  The Fly Lady Holiday Control Journal, which promises to help one conquer cleaning, making gifts, baking, hosting, and shopping.  Seems like a pretty audacious claim, doesn’t it?  The Fly Lady premise tackles cleaning in small, 15-minute chunks, claiming you can do anything for fifteen minutes.

The original Fly Lady

The original Fly Lady

As soon as I discovered and printed off this journal (it’s in a handy .pdf), I sat the family down and said, “This is what we’re going to do.”  I don’t want to be stressed this Advent season, and I want to be doing something other than last-minute present making/assembling on Christmas Eve.  The Troops got it.  We’ve done the 15-minute blitzes twice now; the only problem we face is, some of us don’t want to stop once the 15 minutes are up; a still-cluttered space – just this morning, in fact – can make one of us say, “But that area still needs to be cleaned.”  That was my older daughter.  I know the struggle, but I say, “Nope.  We’ll come back to it after moving on.”  At the end of each blitz, I make everyone come into the room.  I ask them to remember what the room looked like before we started, then have them take a good look at what it looks like now.  What do they think of it?  Everyone agrees that there’s a lot of improvement.

We’re a family of four, and the children are both old enough to help clean.  No one wants to be stuck cleaning a room by her- or himself, so if the room is big enough, we all tackle it together.  Think about it:  Fifteen minutes times four people…  That’s like an hour’s worth of cleaning in that one room!  Darn straight, there’s a lot of improvement in a short amount of time!  I was even able to seize a teachable moment by grabbing one of the teaching clocks and explaining this concept to my younger daughter.  It’s like a competition against the clock – how much cleaning can we do before the timer goes off?  That means there is very little second-guessing – things get thrown away, there’s little squabbling over “that’s not mine” (it all gets put away), and there’s a real sense of teamwork.  At the end of it, I get the cleaner home I want, I get the help I need, none of us are spending all day cleaning, leaving us free to enjoy other activities.  That’s a win all the way around!

My Daughters are Weird

Weird is the opposite of normal, and for the sake of this piece, “normal” is like what everyone else does.  Given that, my daughters are weird.

In some circles around here, being home educated makes them weird.  They enjoy school and learning.  They have tons of free time.  They get weeks off at a time.  When they’re not having structured lessons, they learn life lessons; this week, it’s a review of preserving apples, tomatoes, and herbs.

They save their money.  My younger daughter, aged 6, has a fat wad of money saved from birthdays and Christmases that we keep in a safe place for her.  She could get it if she wanted, and she only has to ask if she wants us to get it down for her.  But every other bit of money she gets, from earning it to finding coins on the sidewalk, goes into her boat fund.  When it comes to shopping, she just waits until she has gift cards.

They earn their money.  My older daughter, aged 12, mows lawns and does chores to earn money, and this money goes to mission trips, clothes, and anything else she wants.  We supply her needs, but having to work and earn money has made her a lot more deliberate in how she determines her wants.  The girls across the street from us – teenagers both – find her completely fascinating.  They ask her where she gets her clothes, what she learns, and so forth.  Mary gets clothes for her birthday and Christmas, and she uses her own money for whatever else she wants.  She likes to shop consignment stores for that stuff; she doesn’t see the point in paying full price when she’ll only be able to wear a garment for a year at the most.  The older of the girls told Mary, “I buy whatever I want.”  Mary cocked her head,

We prefer being weird

We prefer being weird

looked at her, and asked, “How will you learn how to manage your money?”  The girl just repeated that she buys whatever she wants.  OK.  That’s great until you’re an adult and real life steps in.

 

Because the girls earn and save their own money, they have learned how to wait for things they want to have.  It started out with waiting for a sale or some special deal.  Once they experienced the rewards of waiting to buy something, they discovered that it’s nothing to wait for other things.  When I promise something fun, they are cool with waiting, and they do well when something affects our plans, making us have to wait even longer.

I don’t mind being weird, and I like having weird children.  It’s my belief that weird children grow up to be weird adults, and weird adults tend to make iNcReDiBlE things happen.

The Perplexity of Christian Hypocrites

English: Ethnic composition of American Muslim...

English: Ethnic composition of American Muslims, according to the CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations, Washington D.C.http://www.cair.com/Portals/0/pdf/The_Mosque_in_America_A_National_Portrait.pdf) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ahh…  So the hate continues to grow and spread.  I really, truly thought that we were past the point of stereotyping all people for the actions of a few.  Didn’t we leave that behind in the 60s?  Aren’t Blacks, Muslims, Native Americans, Baptists, Gays all crying out at the injustice of being branded as those who are violent, extremists, hateful, or vengeful?  My fellow Christians of all colors stand with them, loudly protesting the stereotyping, proclaiming for all to hear, “Wait!  They’re not all like that!”  (Or, in the case of us Baptist Christians, “We’re not all like that!”)  Our stomachs turn at the hate that comes at our friends; my Black friend isn’t like Michael Brown.  The folks spouting hate from Westboro Baptist don’t speak for all us Baptists, and we are quick to point that out.  My sweet, elderly Muslim neighbor isn’t organizing a terrorist cell.

Many of us followed the situation down in Texas this week where 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was taken into custody after his teacher thought his homemade clock was a bomb.  Those of us who are paying attention cringe at the transparent dishonesty of the teacher, the school administration, and the police:  If the teacher truly thought it was a bomb, then why wasn’t it treated as a bomb?  We feel indignant that this child’s constitutional rights were so harshly violated as he was denied his parents and representation by an attorney.  We shake our heads as it is glaringly apparent how Ahmed was targeted because of the color of his skin and his chosen religion.  That’s simply unjust!  Just because he’s a Muslim living in the US doesn’t make him inherently evil.

At the same time that we’re proclaiming this boy’s innocence and protesting the injustices against him, so many Americans are appalled that the US is opening its borders to Syrian refugees, many of whom are Muslim, but not all.  Syrian Christians are among those who ISIS has targeted most heavily for persecution, and there are hopefully those in that crowd.  People are saying that such actions will permit cells of terrorists into the country.  What?  Like they’re not here already?  All the US is doing is granting displaced Syrians a place of refuge – a place far from their home, their native lands, their families, their friends, all they hold dear.  They’re showing videos and pictures of fights among Muslims, trash “supposedly” left by Muslims, basically, everything that makes Muslims look bad – yet, they protest the treatment afforded to Ahmed based on the same standards.

Many people – good Christian people – don’t want these Syrian Muslims coming to our country.  Based on what scriptures?  In Matthew 25:35, we read Jesus’ words, “I was a stranger, and you took me in.”  The Psalmist writes, “The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow” (Ps. 146:9); I wonder how many of those refugees are widows or orphans?  The writer of Hebrews encourages us to welcome strangers, declaring that, in entertaining strangers, some have unknowingly welcomed angels (13:2).  In offering gracious hospitality to people who are “not one of us,” we live out our faith and witness, furthering the Kingdom of God on earth.  What would have been the fate of the man robbed, beaten, and left for dead had the innkeeper refused to take him in, simply because a Samaritan was paying for his care?

What do we as Christians have to fear?  In what do we place our trust?  Do we place our trust in our military, our police, our American government?  Or do we place our trust in the God who is bigger and tougher than any force our puny little government can offer?  We are called to welcome people, to offer them hospitality and care, and we are commanded not to fear.  That’s a really liberating thought!

I’m Out

What does that mean?  In gambling, it means, “I’m out of this hand or the game.”  In family life, it could mean, “I’m out of the house running errands.”  In the LGBT community, it refers to being “out of the closet,” being open about one’s sexuality and lifestyle.  I’m not saying any of those things.  I’m saying, I’m out of the box.  I’m outside the box.  I’ve known this for a while; it certainly wasn’t a secret to Dean Cogdill, my Divinity School dean.  To this day, I’m still not sure what he saw in me that had him labeling me his “outside the box thinker.”  I really had never thought my cognitive processes were all that different from other people’s.

It was fall semester, 2004, and I was in my last semester of Divinity school.  The last semester is rather anxiety-provoking, because every student in their last semester has to complete a Senior Synthesis paper, a lengthy (save often!) discourse on his or her entire Divinity school experience – every discovery, every growing edge, every field experience, every mission trip…  Everything!  To accompany this epic tome comes the Senior Panel.  This is a closed-door meeting with two professors and that semester’s Senior Synthesis professor, and each student gets to have a say in his or her choice of professors.  I put my choices in – Drs. Jones and Harmon, my professors of Hebrew and Old Testament, and Theology and Ethics, respectfully.  Soon before the panels were scheduled to begin, the list of panels came out and was passed around the room.

It didn’t take long for the mutterings to start.  “Whoa, Sara!  What did you do?”  “Oh, Sara, you’re gonna get it!”  Oh lordy, I thought, waiting for the list to get around to me, how bad is it?  Finally, the list came to me, and scanning down to my name I discovered that I didn’t get either of my choices on my panel.  Instead, I got both deans.  BOTH.  DEANS!  My professor said, “No one else got both Dr. Cogdill and Dr. Powers.”  “Yea.  Lucky me,” I replied.  Truthfully, I was terrified and humbled and honored, all at the same time.

There was history there.  As a Religion minor in the days before the Div school was chartered, Dr. Cogdill was chairman of that department, and, of course, I’d had some classes with him.  I’d had Dr. Powers for one undergraduate class.  In a lively discussion on the role of women in the home one day in Church and Family, Dr. Cogdill had had to get on me about my comportment during class discussions (I guess heavily insinuating that the guy I was addressing was misogynistic wasn’t very mature of me), an incident that, thankfully, he’d forgotten by the time I had applied for Divinity school.

As I sat in the conference room on the day of my panel, I remember the warmth and encouragement flowing from Dr. Hoyle, Dr. Powers, and Dr. Cogdill.  The last question Dr. Cogdill asked me was, “Sara, how will you stay outside the box?”  Um…  Uh…  Duh…  Crickets.  I was outside the box?  Really?  OK, that’s pretty cool, but it’s not something I’d ever done intentionally.  I was still young enough that some parental/family/social approval was a big deal to me.

That was ten-and-a-half years ago, and I am so completely out of the box now with age and maturity that I often forget there is a box filled with so many people.  See, here on the outside, it’s really spacious – not very crowded at all.  It’s great, but getting here can be quite scary.  Sometimes staying here is quite scary.  So how am I staying outside the box?

My heart still yearns to fulfill my ministry calling from so long ago.  As I have encountered more and more people, it has become glaringly apparent to me that we need more love and less judgment in this world.  People don’t need to hear a laundry list of their wrongdoings while we’re thumping our Bibles at them.  They need to hear just a few simple truths:  God loves you.  Jesus has something amazing in store for your life.  I love you.  Focus on that, so sweet, so simple, and the rest will fall into place perfectly.

English: Love Heart rainbow

English: Love Heart rainbow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long before the Supreme Court determined that equality for gays and lesbians who wish to marry would be protected under the 14th Amendment, I began to think, Why shouldn’t they marry if they wish?  I mean, so many of them, without marriage, are living together in long-term, committed, monogamous relationships, and isn’t that pretty much what marriage is?  I lose nothing by them having the same civil rights that I do.  It’s not going to negatively impact my faith, my marriage, or my family life.  It simply means that gay and lesbian couples can now be legally happy together instead of illegally (for lack of a better word) happy together.  So…  Since they also have been created in the image of God, just as I have, and since God loves them, just as He does me, shouldn’t they also be welcomed into worship with us and welcomed to join us at the communion table?

Then my thoughts spread to another group, one that a friend of mine is in:  The BDSM group.  In speaking to my friend, he conveyed that “people like [them]” aren’t welcomed into churches, that churches tend to take a hard stand against them coming in.  Yet, this guy misses communal worship.  Years of being married to a Presbyterian minister accustomed him to the liturgy of worship and the inclusion into the family of faith.  If he misses church, would not others in the BDSM community miss it, too?  So why not establish a church where those other churches shun are welcomed?  Maybe being gay or enjoying some consensual kink is a sin; I don’t think so, but then again, I’m not God, and I’m not ever going to presume to put words in the mouth of the Almighty.  What I do know is, the Kingdom of God is for all of these people, just as much as it’s for the straight-laced, buttoned-down, very conservative people who sat on the pews this morning for worship.  I know that God loves them, and I am also called to love them.  And if the people following these lifestyles are sinning, it is not my job to judge them; the Holy Spirit can condemn them and lead them to repentance if that’s the case.  See, at the very least, these folks would hear the gospel message of sacrificial love and sacrificial living; and at the most, they would be convicted of their sins and make a lifestyle change (whatever the sin might be).  That looks like a win-win, whether you’re in the far-right evangelical camp, the left-leaning evangelical camp, or somewhere in the middle.  Who loses out here?  Nobody, by my reckoning.

Staying outside the box means raising children who also think outside the box, but that’s a post for another day.  Stay tuned.

11 Ways to Live Life More Fully

Hatred does not cease by hatred ...

Hatred does not cease by hatred … (Photo credit: symphony of love)

I am arriving, and I am becoming.  Yet, as we step into 2014, I feel like so much of what I’ve been doing is gelling for me and enabling me to have the fullness of life that God would want me to have.  Here are the things I’ve discovered work.

Spend time each day in Bible study and prayer. I read one day that, if a person spends an hour every day reading about her interest, then she will be among the world’s experts in that topic in three years.  People think I know the Bible because I went to Div school.  No, I know the Bible because I read and study it.  I don’t read it for what I want to get out of it; I read it to learn what God wants to teach me.  (And I’m far from an “expert.”)

Prayer is another way to learn what God wants to say to us.  Don’t just talk to God; good conversation goes two ways.  Listen to God speak.  Be quiet for a while and hush the background noise.  Step outside of your narrow world and pray for others – that neighbor who’s sick, the friend who’s looking for a job, the child who just needs to get through today.

Eat well.  Eat balanced.  Drink lots of water.  Enjoy whole grains.  Embrace green leafy vegetables.  Experiment with different foods.  Try new recipes.  Don’t deny yourself sweets, but don’t overindulge in them.

Hang out with positive people.  I have some amazing friends, both male and female.  When I’m around them, we can talk about different things.  We’re all pretty intelligent and well-read, but we all have different interests and passions about which we’re knowledgeable, so our conversations are vibrant and lively.  I have a couple of older female friends, and half an hour talking with them is like drinking an espresso.  Find people like this.  Enjoy their company.  Learn from them.  Energize each other.

Grudges?  Who needs them?  Let go of grudges.  If you aren’t currently carrying any grudges, don’t start.  It’s called “holding a grudge” for a reason.  Imagine someone handing you a huge, heavy box of junk for you to carry for 6 months or 5 years or 20 years.  It’s their junk, but you think that they’ll feel the hurt in their arms and back if you carry it.  Are you going to choose to hold onto this burden, or simply leave it behind?  If you do hold this heavy burden, how much hurt will they experience from it?  None, of course.  Choose to let that stuff go.  It’s only weighing YOU down.  Your grudge only hurts you.

Forgive.  Forgiveness doesn’t say to someone, “It’s OK that you did that.”  Forgiveness is for yourself, not for the other person.  Forgiveness says, “This is your issue, not mine, and I’m letting this go for my own emotional and psychological health.”  Forgiveness is liberating!

Honor the Sabbath.  Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.”  While this is one of the Ten Commandments and worthy of attention, we need to realize that today’s working climate sometimes requires people to work on Sundays.  A Sabbath day is meant to be a day of rest.  Take this, whichever day of the week this falls on.  Unplug, check out, spend time with your family or friends or a good book.  Rest and relax so you’ll be refreshed and recharged for the next 6 days.

Don’t hate.  Simple as that.  Grissom, former head of the crime lab on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation once said, “Hate isn’t the opposite of love.  Apathy is.”  Truth of the matter is, hating someone requires a great deal of emotional investment.  Think about loving someone.  Your every moment is filled with that person.  What are they doing?  When will you get to speak to them again? Is he/she having a good day?  Are they well?  You see what I’m saying.  Hating someone is the same way.  Your hate consumes you, occupies your time, drives you, governs your feelings and attitudes and behaviors.  In other words, just as when you love someone, hating someone also infiltrates every aspect of your life.  If you’re not going to love, then be apathetic.  Simply stop caring.  Why invest emotions where there’s no positive return?

Love one another.  Love wildly.  Radically.  Freely.  Liberally.  Enthusiastically.  Out loud.  In the quiet moments.  During the storms and while running towards each other in some figurative flower-strewn meadow.  Love unconditionally.  Love the unlovable.  Love those who hate you.  Love regardless of religion, sex, creed, color, and sexual orientation.  Jesus never put conditions on his command to love.  Why should we make loving harder and more restrictive than even the God of Love created it to be?

Exercise good stewardship over what you have.  Those Joneses who you’re trying to impress?  You know, those neighbors or people from church or folks at work?  They really don’t care what you have.  Don’t run up debt trying to impress people you really don’t like.  Don’t run up debt, period.  Live within your means.  Get rid of clutter.  Your material blessings are from God, and we are called to be faithful stewards of those blessings.

People in your life are also blessings.  (One of my friends says that “People are either blessin’s or lessons,” so even the lessons can come with blessings.)  Treat your spouse, children, friends and parents with care.  Look out for them.  Respect them.  Guard their hearts above all else.  As those of us reading this can attest, there will be more than enough people in their worlds who’ll break their hearts.

Realize the truth of God’s word.  There are no short cuts.  There are no easy answers.  The Bible says that God wants us to have abundant life.  God has great plans for our life.  God loves us.  Nowhere does it says that following Jesus guarantees health.  Sin is in the world.  Bad stuff happens.  People get sick and die too soon.  This includes Bible-readin’, Jesus-followin’ prayer warriors.  The word of God also doesn’t promise wealth.  In fact, Jesus tells the rich man to sell everything he has and give it to the poor before following him.  Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.  Nor are we promised prosperity.  The man who built a bigger barn to store his excess grain died that night.  Those of us who faithfully follow Jesus choose to follow an itinerant, radical rabbi whose ways and teachings upset people so much they killed him.  Short summary:  The health, wealth and prosperity gospel is a HERESY!  (Can we do the St. Nicholas punch on those who preach that?)

Ask for help when you need it.  Often in Paul’s letters, we see allusions to racing, and often researchers and interpreters envision those as marathons, for the race for the crown truly is a long race requiring stamina.  I see the Christian life as a relay race, though, because we need people to help us win that race.  The writer of Hebrews says to encourage each other daily, as long as it’s TODAY.  Don’t worry about who you’ll encourage tomorrow; encourage those around you today.  One of my favorite lines from hymnody is “Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too” (“The Servant Song”).  When we don’t ask for help, then we deny others the opportunity to live out their faith in serving us.  There’s a reason we’re in communityKoinonia – together.

What would you add?  What helps you live a more full life?  (Comments and suggestions from those of all faiths – or no faith – are welcome.  I just ask that you keep them respectful.)

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What We’re Preparing For

The God moment came when I least expected it, as they tend to do.  The Spirit spoke to me through my very own words, which never fails to surprise me.  And a tremendous feeling of peace stole over me that had nothing to do with my rocking with a sleeping child in my arms.

On Sunday, we were at my parents’ house, and we didn’t have my younger daughter’s Bible handy, so I told her a Bible story, how the angel visited Mary, then Joseph, and told them about this baby they were going to have.  Tuesday night, I told her the story of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and the birth of John the Baptizer.  Today at nap (her Bible still in the car), I told her about the ministry of John and how he was the one who was to “prepare the way for the Lord.”  I told her how that included teaching people the importance of stopping sinning, because John helped them prepare their hearts for Jesus.  Ya know, just like we need to focus on preparing our hearts for Jesus to come again to us as a little baby.

Ding!  I, Sara, need to focus on preparing my heart to receive the baby Jesus anew.  I need to stop worrying about how we’re going to afford presents and instead think more about taking some very necessary time to savor the joy and anticipation of the season.  It’s time to say “no more!” to killing myself and stressing myself out about gifts for everyone and spend time preparing meaningful gifts for the family we love.  What a great way to spend time with my girls and share my heart with them about the real meaning of Christmas!

What can you do to help ease your own stresses during this season of joy and stress?