Tag Archives: Bible

My Two Cents’ Worth

Sunday and Monday, I was pounding the pavement, rocking my almost-three miles each day, getting the heart pumping happily.  Both days as I walked, I found two pennies on the street.  Finding these on Sunday was remarkable, but I shrugged it off:  I’ve been walking those streets 3-4 days a week since October and had never found money before.  Finding these coins two days in a row, though, seemed to be a sign that needed attention.

As I walked Monday, those two pennies clinking softly in the pocket of my running pants, I thought about two cents.  What good, of what value, is a mere two cents?  It depends on your frame of mind, I guess.

To a millionaire, a couple of cents would be dispensable.  What’s two cents out of hundreds of millions?  To most of us, we can take them or leave them.  Maybe we wouldn’t want to touch dirty pennies.  Or, if you’re like me, you toss them in a jar until you have enough to roll – or save them to use as math manipulatives.

English: Large amount of pennies

English: Large amount of pennies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For one woman in the Bible, though, two cents was absolutely everything she had.  Mark relates the story of Jesus and his disciples standing in the narthex of the Temple, watching people placing their tithes and offerings in the offering box.  Most placed their ten percent, the Pharisees making a production of such.  One poor woman put in a whopping two mites – two small coins, probably worth a cent each.  What are those worth compared to the tithe of a rich person?  Jesus commended her offering to his disciples, for she had put in far more than anyone else; she had put in everything she had.

Those two cents made me remember, we need to give everything we have.  Some have the sheer faith literally to turn over everything they have to the Lord and trust God for all their provisions.  Others (I fall into this camp) recognize their blessedness in all they have, however much it is, and strive to honor God in how they use and treat it.  In doing this, I have come to see the blessings even in the clutter (God did give me those children who make it), but I have also taken it as a discipline to put the stuff in its proper perspective.

Our church has been doing a study the past few weeks on living generously, and we spent an easy two weeks talking about how we can live more generously if we don’t think we always need more.  I pretty much mentally checked out of the study at that point, because I don’t want more, I don’t need more, and I don’t think I need more.  In fact, we are steadily getting rid of stuff, putting perfectly good furniture we were storing at the curb for others to take and selling and donating clothes (with monies going towards the girls’ soccer this season).

We also need to dedicate our work and play to the Lord.  We need to play in a way that points people to the Lord, and how we go about our work needs to be a witness to God.  This means working with integrity and not trying to get by with less-than-responsible behavior.  It means not trying to get by with stuff.  My older daughter and I discussed how I could do something and no one would ever know.  I could get by with it, technically it wouldn’t harm anyone, but it still wouldn’t be right.  Integrity – doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

In our play, we also need to give all we have to God.  This manifests itself in good sportsmanlike conduct in team sports, discipline in practice, and, for those of us crazy fortunate enough to coach, modeling the right behaviors.  Coaching soccer is like ministry to me, and I am constantly aware of how I can show the love of God to my players, both on and off the field.  Giving our play to God also shows up in how we treat others, even in our casual pick-up games.

As you go through your days, give you all to God.  Our offering is more than just 10% of our paychecks; it’s time, talents, and gifts – all which come from God and all which we can use to glorify him and lift others up.  As for those four pennies…?  They’re going in the offering plate.  I’m trying not to denigrate them as “just four cents.”  I’m going to trust God will multiply them as the Lord has done before, and those four pennies will end up being far, far more valuable than four cents.

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Reflections on #NCCPilgrimage16

This week, my 13-year-old, Mary, shares her thoughts and reflections on this year’s Pilgrimage, a weekend-long worship extravaganza for United Methodist youths. 

I had been looking forward to Pilgrimage 2016 since last year, when I went to Pilgrimage 2015.  The youth conference was only for United Methodist youth and was located in Fayetteville, North Carolina at Crown Coliseum.  The youth could bring friends, which almost all the youth in my small church youth group did happily last year.  We arrived in high spirits and had a joyous time singing and worshipping together with 5,000+ United Methodist youth from all over North Carolina in one place, youth of different colors, languages, and pasts.  I learned that we all made “Pilgrimage clothespins,” which were plain, wooden clothespins with inspirational messages on the sides.  We would then clip them onto the clothing of other people and merge into the crowd, knowing later they would read it and it would make them smile.  Getting clipped was an amazing thing, reading at night encouraging and uplifting messages of hope, love, and God.

This year, I began to count down the days until Pilgrimage 2016.  I was excited, as was my entire youth group.  This year, we didn’t bring friends and instead of a hotel we stayed in a camp.  We were looking forward to arriving at the coliseum for a life-changing experience, as we had last year.  I spent half the summer making Pilgrimage clips, painting them in bright colors and putting brilliant life quotes and Bible verses on the sides.  My buddy and I passed out a few of our clips Friday night, feeling grand knowing we made people smile.

Saturday morning, again, my buddy and I passed out clips, giving away my remaining twelve.  We sat down, ready for the hope of an amazing second session of Pilgrimage.  Instead, we were told that if we had a Pilgrimage clip on our being we would be immediately sent home.  The speaker of this year’s Pilgrimage sessions dished out hate at the clips.  Everyone was told to throw away their clips at the trashcans near the entrances; whether or not everyone did and instead risked their time pocketing the clips, I don’t know.

That evening, when we arrived at the coliseum, the cheerful atmosphere was missing from the entire building.  Everyone was more subdued than normal, not much chattering was going on, everyone in almost a thoughtful silence.  Passing out those clips was tradition, and in fact, taking that away angered many adults.  The knowledge of not being able to do that anymore took out half the joy in Pilgrimage, because with those clips, you knew you’d make someone smile.  We all took our seats half an hour before the third session started.  Once it had begun, one of the Pilgrimage coordinators went onstage and explained why we couldn’t have the clothespins.  A few Hispanic, Latino, and Asian youth groups had gotten bullying pins that said, “I love Trump!” on one side and “Build that wall!” on the other.  One of the chaperones from a Hispanic youth group – Stacy – got up and took the stage.

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The beginning of Stacy’s speech was good, explaining how she felt unwanted because of harassing clips her youth group had received and stares that greeted her the day before.  She made mention of how she’d grown up being bullied and understanding how it felt to be an outsider.  In school, she had to teach herself English, because her family didn’t know the language.  During recess, when everyone was playing dodgeball, people would say, “Get out that Mexican girl!  Get her out so she could return to where she came from!”

She explained how hurt she felt as she walked into the coliseum when people were looking at them as if to say, What are you doing here?  You don’t belong here.  However, then she started to make comments, such as how “the message of the red hat and the message of the wall is not the message of the gospel.”  A few youth that greeted her were wearing red Make America Great Again hats, which she found offensive.  “The message of the red hat was not a message of inclusion and welcome; it was a message of disinclusion (sic) and discrimination.”  More of the speech told us that the hat represented a person whose message was unwelcome and discriminatory toward women, Latino, African American, and Hispanic people as well as others.  “And this is not the message of the gospel,” Stacy told the many thousand youth listening.  “So today, we wanted to tell you, if you really believe that the Holy Spirit is here, if you really want to welcome the Holy Spirit, then take off your red hats.”

Being a true American citizen, she had a right to say that.  The freedom of speech is still true, no matter where you are.  But many of us believe that she was speaking to the wrong people.  Here we were, in a place supposed to be a destination to learn more about God and worship together, only the chaperones able to vote, getting politics in our faces.  It seemed as if all us Caucasians were labeled as Trump supporters and racists, even though there were only a few people at fault.  We were labeled as haters towards anyone who is darker colored, and I know that that is not the truth about most of the youth present that night.

See, as Christians, we are supposed to be loving towards everyone, not just people with the same skin tone as us.  Stacy judged us in her own stereotypes, taking the little she knew from the few minutes they stayed the first night and running and accusing all of us of being like that, when I know that loads of youth groups there would’ve welcomed her in.  She tried to blame us all for something only a few people did.  You don’t know the past of the youth who wore those hats.  No one in our youth group saw them.  They might have been using them as warmth, given that inside the coliseum was still really cold.  They might not have had much money, so since it was cold around the coliseum and outside, that one hat may have been the only one in their family.  We never know what the inside story about people are until we get to know them, but we often don’t take time to and instead make snap decisions.  Stacy was willing to tell us about her back story, but she didn’t take time to know the stories of others.  We as people have our own opinions, and if we want to wear a hat with our opinions on it, why should we be stopped?  What Stacy did was right in the respect that she did have freedom of speech, but wrong in many respects.

1) Wrong place, wrong time.  She should not have thrown politics into the matter.  She started off strong, but she quickly fell.

2) How many of us youth could vote?  That’s right, next to none.  Again, she shouldn’t have put in politics.

3) She didn’t respect the fact that we all have our own opinions.  Instead, she made a bigger issue out of it all.

4) She labeled us all incorrectly instead of just the people with the hats.  She labeled us all as haters and Trump supporters, not Christian people who would welcome everyone gladly.

I was grateful when our livid youth leader said that we were leaving after the speech was over.  We decided that since the Pilgrimage pins were taken from us, we would make up some and return to church the next day where we knew we’d be accepted lovingly so we could clip these pins on people.  We were up bright and early Sunday morning to get on the road, and we had fun clipping others.  I have made up my mind that every time I visit that church, I’m going to clip a handful of people.  I can also do it at general places such as grocery stores, restaurants, and gatherings.  I can spread love easily through a simple clip.

On a closing note, I believe that our image of what the weekend was going to be was different from God’s plan.  I was really grateful that we returned to church early, because we made many people smile with the joy we shared and the enthusiasm we brought with us at the sheer idea of returning.  Our pastor was absolutely livid, something I’ve never seen before in my life, and she explained that what happened should not have and that there was no place for it in a church setting.  Everyone went out of their way to show us some extra love after the horrible time we’d just had.  We all learned things from that experience, but the most important of them all was just how it feels to be labeled as one thing when only a few people were the cause.  Such as how Hispanic people are all being labeled as illegal, lazy, and/or drug dealers, when I know many who are perfectly legal, have great jobs, and hate the idea of drugs.  We think that Muslims are in support of ISIS, and that Blacks are associated with gangs and ‘hoods.  But really, it’s not true.  There are White gangs as well, and yet we never want to look at them.  What we don’t want to realize is that there are actually only a few immigrants who are illegal, and yet we want to say that every one of them is here illegally and subject to deportation.

 

Why Do People Hate People who are Transgender?

I realize that, by posing this question, I’m likely opening myself up to being exposed to a large amount of hate and vitriol, but I am genuinely curious.  I have at least one transsexual friend who I share with other friends.  There’s so much hate and violent sentiment directed towards this segment of the population, and I really, truly don’t know why that is.  I’ve heard them referred to as “freaks.”  Really?  That doubly appalls me; while transgender is listed as a psychological disorder in the DSM-5 (which I can see necessary in some cases), still, calling people who are transgender “freaks” is about as sensitive as calling the following “freaks”:

  • An Army vet with PTSD
  • A little girl on the Autism spectrum
  • A woman with schizophrenia
  • A man with depression

Get my point there?

So, please, tell me why people (maybe you, even) hate people who are transgender and wish serious harm or death to come to them.  If you’re going to site scripture, please do so in a way that honors God and respects the Bible (or other holy book, dependent on your faith) with faithful use of scripture.  This includes using the scripture in its context within scripture, but also with respect to historical context.  And for those of you who would dare to say that God hates people who are transgender, please read your Bible all the way through before commenting; there’s only ONE “I hate” statement attributed to God in the WHOLE Bible, and it has nothing to do with the LGBT community.

Yes! On the Right Track!

Events of the weekend brought to mind this passage from Acts 5*:

33 When they [the members of the Sanhedrin] heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

When someone who is “religious” tells you that speaking the truth is wrong and that preaching the Word of God is wrong, then that tells me I am totally on the right track.  Satan used someone this weekend to try to undermine the message of love that fills the entire Bible; that came to completeness in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and that, paired with “don’t judge others, ’cause your life is just as messy,” exemplifies how we Christians should live.  It’s small in the realm of persecutions, but it lets me know I’m on the right track, that Satan doesn’t like that message.  So I’m gonna just rock on with preaching this word of God’s love and acceptance for all people; it’s beautifully inclusive.

“I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people…” (Luke 2:10)

For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

 

 

*Scripture references are from the New International Version of the Holy Bible.

 

To my LGTB Friends… Please Stop

You know who you are.  You’re lesbian or gay or transgendered.  I don’t know of any of my personal friends who are bisexual, but this is for you, too.  Some of you I know personally; we’ll smile when we see each other and exchange hugs.  Others of you I only know through forums or Facebook, and we’ve shared so much of our lives through those media that meeting would be a seamless transition from “online friends” to “real life friends.”

I see your posts.  I see the news articles about pastors gay bashing.  I see the video clips of pastors calling for your deaths.  I hear about the far-right extremists bashing you and calling you all sorts of vile names.  Why do you do this?  Are you trying to find further justification for denying God or for thinking all Christians are haters?  C’mon!  You’ve known me for how long now?  You know not all of us are haters.  In fact, the vast majority of us prefer love to hate.  Some of our numbers are confused and struggling to understand you, or struggling to reconcile what the Bible says in Leviticus about homosexual behavior with what Jesus and Paul said about love and acceptance.  Be patient with them; it’s a tough, rather scary road to travel.  I should know, because that road is in my own rear-view.

I’m asking you to stop.  Please.  Stop listening to that crap.  Stop reading the hateful words.  Stop renting head and heart space to those disgusting hypocrites who are so far removed from Jesus that they wish you would die.  (That’s a whole lot of hate there.)  Your person is precious.  I believe God made it so, whether you do or not.  Hearing and reading that kind of vitriol will corrode your soul over time, and your soul is too precious to do that to.

So just stop it.  OK?  You are a wonderful, amazing, precious person, and God loves you.  God made you into that wonderful, amazing, precious person (again, whether you believe in God or not).  You’re a fellow co-created traveling life’s journey with me in some form or fashion, and I love you as that.  If you’re a friend, I love you as a friend, unconditionally, because that’s simply what friends do.  Fill your head and heart with love.  There are so many people out there who love you – far more of them than the haters.

Wanna talk love?  Do you want to know more about God’s love for you?  Feel free to message me or comment, and I’ll be happy to share more with you.  If you’re feeling persecuted in your personal life – maybe parents, friends, or loved ones have rejected you for being gay or transgendered – please know that there is love for you, too.  Don’t let their hate and narrow-mindedness define you or rob you of your self-confidence in who you are.  Remember…  Wonderful.  Amazing.  Precious.  You.

What Would Jesus Say Today?

I wasn’t going to touch the Caitlyn Jenner issue.  It’s gotten so much hype already, and frankly, I’m pretty sick of seeing the cover of Vanity Fair in my Facebook newsfeed.  That has more to do with the fact that I can’t stand hatemongering and judgmental attitudes, often accompanying such pictures, and there’s not much that bores me more than entertainment news.  Don’t care – at all.

But oh, the hate!  All in the name of Jesus and in what the Bible says and what God likes and wants and blah blah blah.  I imagine what Jesus would say to those “him followers” who are spouting off about how terribly wrong Bruce/Caitlyn is.  I also imagine what Jesus would say to Caitlyn.  This is based on my reading of the teachings and life of Jesus.

First, to Caitlyn:  “Caitlyn, I love you.  Do you know the Kingdom of God is available to you, too?  I forgive you of your sins.”  I’m not saying that gender reassignment is sinful, nor am I saying it’s not; that’s not the theme of this post.  Jesus forgives all sins, everybody’s sins.

Now, to those Jesus-followers hating and shaming:  “You have read what I’ve said, haven’t you?  You know, that whole ‘Love one another’ (John 13:34) thing?  That was the new command I gave you before I died.  What did Caitlyn ever do to you?  Has she personally sinned against you by becoming female?  Has she threatened your faith, your family, your marriage, your life?  If the answer to this question is ‘yes,’ then let’s talk about the much bigger issues you face and let me heal those for you.  If the answer to this question is ‘no,’ then what’s the big deal?

“What’s that in your eye?  Is that a plank I’m seeing there?  If you have such a huge obstruction in your eye, then how in the world can you see the sins of anyone else?  Deal with your own failings and shortcomings, then you can confront those of other people.  In the meantime, don’t be judgmental of others; though if you insist on judging others, then be prepared for my heavenly Father to judge you just as harshly as you judge them.”

Nowhere does the Bible tell us to judge or condemn others.  Nowhere does the Bible condone hate.  In fact, the only “I hate” statement attributed to God is in Malachi where God says, “I hate divorce and a man who visits violence on himself (could also be translated as “his wife”).*  If God is love, and we are made in the image of God, then how in the world do we as Christ-followers justify calling people names and spouting off hate-filled rhetoric?

God is love.  I John 4 tells us “Love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love, does not know God.”  Our words and actions need to be living testimonies to the love of God, not just towards our families, our friends, and people like us (“even the Pagans do that,” Jesus says in Matthew 5), but to all people.  That’s inclusive; if it can include our enemies, then it can certainly include some athlete-turned-entertainer, a man-turned-woman, who, like most of us, will eventually disappear in the annals of history.  Our love, however, will live on to impact others.

* I read this passage in Malachi as God hating the breaking of covenant.  The LORD established a covenant with Israel, one which the Israelites broke.  Marriage is also considered a covenant, hence, the marriage language to symbolize the everlasting covenant between God and Israel and “divorce” to represent the breaking of that covenant.

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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Christmas Gift for a Hater

No H8

No H8 (Photo credit: RussellReno)

The past year – the past two months, actually, – revealed something to me that I did not know.  I have a hater.  To say I was surprised is an understatement.  What multiplied my surprise exponentially was the fact that (1) this hater is my brother-in-law, (2) this hater professes a  personal relationship with Christ, and (3) this hater and I have had the leanest, most bare-bones contact since we saw each other last two Christmases ago.

Yet, Christmas is the season of giving and sharing, and I felt it appropriate, despite everything, to give him a gift.  Three, actually.  Here is what I gave him:

Herein lies your three gifts from me, two of which you’ve already received, though you haven’t realized it.

My first gift to you is forgiveness.  I forgive you for the mean and hateful things you’ve said about me behind my back.  I also forgive you for telling my husband he should divorce me, simply because you don’t like me.  I told you once before that I am willing to forgive you 70 times 7 times, and this is simply one more.   You’ve had this gift for over a year.

My second gift to you is prayer.  When Peter told me you hate me, I was incredulous.  My first thought was, Why?  After all, we haven’t seen each other in two years, nor have we spoken.  My second thought was, Isn’t he supposed to be a Christ-follower?  My Bible tells me not to hate.  It tells me that God created us all in God’s image, and that God is love.  My Jesus tells his disciples – his followers and those who learn from him – to love one another.  Period.  There are no conditions on this love; it’s to be unconditional.  My Bible also says that it’s not possible to hate someone and live in the light of God.  Lastly, my Bible says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  For whatever reason, you’ve allowed jealousy and hate to enter your heart, and from there, they have spread their poisons to your soul like thick, black sludge.  Your hate only hurts you and those who love you; you’ve already allowed your hate to severely damage your relationship with your only brother.   I have been praying for you since I learned how strong your feelings for me are, and my prayer for you is that the spirit of God’s love will be the antidote to the poison of hate inside of you.

Lastly, my third gift to you – and this comes from Peter and me! – is gratitude.  Every time you tell Peter all the things you can’t stand about me, it reminds him of how much he appreciates those attributes in me.  He’s known I’m “opinionated and outspoken” from when we were dating, and he knows I get it honestly from the very strong women in my family.  He loves that I’m intelligent enough to form my own thoughts and opinions on matters, and he respects and is proud of the fact that I’m bold enough and confident enough to express those thoughts and feelings.  He knows I can speak openly for myself; I don’t have to play silly games like hiding behind some man, pretending I’m speaking in his voice.  This leads him to love me more deeply and it brings us even closer together.  So we thank you, because, like most couples, we can use moments of renewal, and your words bring that.  How awesome is our God who can bring good out of evil!

I wish you a Merry Christmas, and may God bless you in the New Year.

Returning hate for hate seems easy.  Nurturing “The Poison Tree” takes time, effort and sacrifice.  Forgiveness and offering prayer is much harder, yet only requires the sacrifice of pride.  Once I forgave and committed to praying for my brother-in-law, I became free!  I was free of his hate, free of anger, and free to have the love and compassion for him that God Godself has for him.

I key these words, not to prove anything or to appear any way.  I am a genuine Christ-follower who sins and misses God’s will for my life on a daily basis.  But I give you these words to inspire you, to give you hope, and to show you that there is an alternative to hate.

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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?

Homecoming

An image of a handshake superimposed upon a Gr...

Today was a special treat, as my family and I got to attend my home church’s annual Homecoming service, celebrating that church’s 112th year.  That church has a new pastor, a guy who I’ve known from that church since I was a child; we’re both part of the fabric of this generation of Sorrell’s Grove.  I walked in to hugs – the first two being dear, dear former neighbors of ours, a lovely couple who lived two houses down from my parents and me until I was 23 and we moved to a new town.  In my hand was my favorite church Bible (I have Bibles for home reading, sentimental value, study…  You get the idea), a raggedy, teal Bible inscribed and gifted to me from that church when I graduated from high school.

As I prepared to return to my home church, I thought about how it’s the place where I received many of my spiritual roots.  I learned about Jesus there.  And love.  And discipleship.  And serving others.  My Acteen leaders, Becky and Carol, empowered me to serve through backyard Bible schools and volunteering in the community, activities that took hold and lasted long after I completed my Acteen studies.

It was in this church as a youth that I learned about “us versus they,” “they” being everyone who’s not Christian, and barely Baptist.  I learned about premillenial pretribulation dispensationalism.  To put that in lay language, the idea that the world will get worse and worse until Jesus comes in the Rapture, taking all those who believe to Heaven and leaving all the rest to terrible torments and tribulations.  This church taught me that only men are suitable to serve the Lord from the pulpit or in servant leadership positions.  I don’t agree with any of this any longer.  All of us – Christians of all sorts, Muslims, Pagans and Atheists – are human beings created in the image of God, and God loves us all.  Catholic doctrine is no more wrong than Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian or Lutheran doctrine is (despite what last year’s Homecoming speaker proclaimed in the name of God).  If Christ calls us to suffer for him, even being willing to die for him, what makes us think we should be spared that in the end times?  God can call anyone who God wishes to minister.  Even the early Church had female deacons, both the Church ecumenical in the first century and the Baptist church in the early seventeenth century.  The only restriction the Bible places on women leading is that we should not usurp the authority of the church doing so, and God is the only authority in the church.  This is a good lesson for ministers of both genders.

Despite the theological and doctrinal differences, this small, country, loving Southern Baptist church is where my spiritual roots were formed, and nothing can ever change that.  This church has seen recent growth, which is a blessing.  It has taken down its American and Christian flags, for which this Bonhoeffer-loving minister is grateful.  A carved wooden cross graces the front of the church where once hung a lovely picture of Jesus.  There have been some beautiful improvements to the sanctuary itself, but one thing remains constant, and that is the people who love God so whole-heartedly and love people so warmly.