Tag Archives: faith

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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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.

God, Give Me Faith!

God, give me more faith!” I prayed in the shower this morning.  Yet, even as I prayed that, I thanked God for God’s provisions and affirmation the previous night.

As I did my rehab and exercises this morning, I reflected on that prayer.  Uh oh, I thought.  What if praying for more faith is like praying for more patience, where you don’t actually get it, but you get opportunities to practice and cultivate it?

We’re a two-entrepreneur family now, and I told my husband last night in the midst of frustration and discouragement, “I know you’re doing everything you can.  No question.  And I still believe this is what God has led us to.”  There were no buts, no “if onlys,” just a simple assurance that we’re still on the right track.  Within half an hour, I received an order from a customer from whom I wasn’t expecting another order.  Yeah, I see it as a God thing.

“God, give me more faith!”  The story of the man with the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9 came to me.  The father wants to believe.  In fact, I believe he truly does.  Yet, the doubts creep in; after all, his son had been possessed by this evil spirit for years, and it’d tried to kill the boy numerous times.  So the father cries out, anguished, “I believe!  Help me to believe more!”  Some translations have that as, “I have faith!  Help me have more faith!”  That’s me this morning.

It’s a pure, selfless request, the request of the striving, growing believer.  Those moments when our faith slips can lead in two directions:  One, we can say that God obviously doesn’t care and turn away completely; or two, we can pray for more faith.  Pray for it.  Ask for it.  We can’t do anything more than this to get it.  We can’t put our good works into some vending machine to get what we want back out.  All we can do is humbly, sincerely ask.  It is in humbling ourselves that we are most receptive to receiving greater faith.

In the Mark 9 account of this demon-possessed boy, there’s a request, there’s a faith lesson, then there’s healing, followed by God granting exactly what the father needed.  Both father and son needed something on this day.  This morning, I prayed a request, the Spirit led my meditations, there was a revelation (not so much a healing for us), then God gave me what I needed.  While I was doing my rehab, I’d heard my husband come back in after having left for work before leaving again.  I texted to ask if everything was OK.  He’d gotten two voicemail messages, both for estimates, one for a subcontract job with growth potential.  God gave us an opportunity to increase our income (always vital in the new stages of entrepreneurship), and God had affirmed that we were still on the right path.

God gave me more faith!

God in the Little Things

I prayed.  And I prayed.  And I prayed some more.  I prayed – admittedly – to calm myself down in order to fall back asleep when worries and anxieties woke me during the night.

I’m generally pretty casual when I pray.  No “Holy Father, thou art God.”  In fact, unless it’s a liturgical prayer, I pretty much never pray in the King’s English.  My husband had been trying to do something grand and wonderful, and there was roadblock after roadblock in his way.  So I was in the shower one day a couple of weeks ago, having a little conversation with God that went something like this:

“OK, God.  You know what’s been going on, and you’ve seen how frustrated Peter is getting.  Tell me something.  What’s your plan here?”

Then like a bolt – ZAP! – to the back of the head, the message came loud and clear:  “Get a line of credit on your business for him to use.”

There are a bagillion reasons why I would think that’s a bad idea, including the fact that I’m opposed to buying anything on credit.  But I didn’t argue.  I also didn’t run right out and go to the bank, either; my husband and I discussed it first.

The next business day, I went to the bank, and I applied for that line of credit.  And for whatever reason, it took over a week to hear about a decision that usually just takes 48 hours.  But I did hear, and I did get it.  As a result, he has a chance of seizing a dream that he’s held onto for at least 20 years.

It’s such a little thing.  Well, it’s big to us, but in the scope of the world – the universe – this is a pretty insignificant thing.  And yet, God heard my prayers, even the one from the shower, and God let me know God heard them.  Look back at what happened.  I asked God for guidance, not a cash infusion.  The choice was still mine as to what I did with that guidance.

We read in Psalm 119:105, “Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (NIV).  Darn if we don’t want that light for our path to be something like  high-beam headlights or those mega-watt halogen lights used for nighttime construction work!  Right?  Of course.  We’re “big picture” people.  But no.  It truly is a “light for [our] feet,” a tiny little keychain flashlight that illuminates a 24-inch circle, just big enough for our next step.  We don’t get to see the big picture, and we’re not meant to.  Instead, we see enough to take the next step, but no farther.

Taking that first step requires a great deal of faith.  It does get easier with each successive step, though.  Until it’s not so easy.  Until a crisis hits and our faith is shaken, and we’re not at all sure we can take that next step, because we can’t see far ahead.  We can’t even see the light for ourselves until someone – friends, family, minister – convinces us that it’s still there.

Every step, every little foot of ground covered, God is there.  In the exciting times, like starting a new business, God is there.  In the freaky-exhilarating times, such as departing to another continent on a mission trip, God is there.  In the dark valley of the hospitalization of a child, God is there.

I pray that you’ll let these words comfort you in the dark times and comfort you in times of uncertainty.  When you encounter someone who needs the reminder, share these words, share the message.

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.

 

God as the Dungeon Master

Lately I’ve been pondering the effects of loud-mouthed, hate-spouting Christians on the spiritual lives of people who no longer go to church.  Why are people unchurched?  How do once-faithful church-going Christ-followers become atheists?  Some will say it’s because they got turned off from church.  Yet, they stay away from the church because they feel shunned, unwelcome, ostracized.

Let’s say I’m dating a guy who is a Dungeon Master.  I happen to be at his home while he’s hosting a game, and all the players present start trash talking me based on some area of brokenness or imperfection in my life.  I mean, they’re wicked and cruel and hateful when I haven’t done anything to them.  My hypothetical boyfriend tells them this isn’t the right way to be, but they continue to treat me poorly.  I’m not going to break up with my boyfriend because of the way these people treat me, am I?  No!  I’ll just not be where these haters are.  Thankfully, there are other options of places to go.

So I attend another game that my boyfriend is mastering, this time with another group of gamers.  This group sees me and recognizes me as someone who is just as imperfect as they are.  In fact, before they see my areas of brokenness, they might fear that I’m going to judge them based on their imperfections.  Yet, as we get to know each other better, we discover our similarities, and unlike the first group, this group welcomes me warmly to be with them.

A lot of churches treat sinners the same way as the first group, and sadly, many Christ-followers “break up” with God as a result.  Yet, these church members honestly and truly believe that they’re justified in their behavior, because there’s no room at church for “sinners like those,” failing to realize that all of us are sinners, and no one sin is worse or better than any

Dante's hell

6th level of hell is maybe good enough for those who turn people off from God

other.  I happen to believe that God’s judgment on people like this will be more demanding because they have caused others to stumble.

There are a lot of self-righteous, holier-than-thou people out there who truly believe that churches are made for people as perfect as they think they are.  Just because a group of people won’t accept you wholeheartedly – imperfections, brokenness and all – doesn’t mean that their God agrees with them.  Find another group, folks who’ll welcome you into fellowship with other broken people.  Come back to the One who might have been your first love, because that One still loves you.

Edited to add:  Every gamer I’ve met has been at the very least polite and cordial, though some are warm and huggy – just like everyone else is.  I haven’t met anyone who’s been cruel and judgmental.

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 Robin William’s Death Can Teach Us About Depression

Robin Williams died this week, apparently by suicide. I had learned during my undergraduate studies that he suffered from bipolar disorder and would use it to benefit his comedy, riding out the manic episodes to create exceptional improvisational comedy, both in his stand-up routines and in his screen roles. I admired that about him, how he turned a psychological disorder into something positive, useful, and, yes, very funny.

Robin was my favorite comic actor. (I adore Bill Cosby for his low-key comedy and tell-it-like-it-is bluntness.) But Robin… There was just something about him. Maybe it was that early admiration. Or his ability to play a variety of different roles really well. He was special. And yet, we discovered his dark side this week as the cause of death hit the airwaves. We learned that he’d entered rehab earlier this summer, a wise move for anyone struggling with addiction issues. Perhaps it’s the part of me that’s really fascinated with forensic psychology and behavioral analysis, but it seems odd that he’d want to improve his life through rehab if he was so depressed he was ready to end it all.

Yet, I realize that a depressed person can choose to end his life with very little warning and notice. Sure, often there are signs. For someone who had struggled for so long with depression, though, suicide looked like the only viable alternative. Robin’s critics slammed him for killing himself. I’m sure his family – his wife especially – are going through their own personal circle of hell in wake of Robin’s choice. Yet, sloughing all that away, a major positive of Robin’s death is, it brought the issue of depression front-and-center in America’s consciousness.

Contrary to what I’ve heard and read, depression isn’t something you just “get over,” nor is it a purely spiritual condition. Plenty of people of faith suffer from depression. I’m evidence that a person of strong faith can pray and pray for someone to be healed of an affliction, but has to accept that God has a different answer and a different plan from my own. People who are sad can get over sadness. People who are grieving can move through that journey to something like happiness again. People can even go through periods of what looks like depression based on circumstances of life. These are all instances that look very much like depression, but that are temporary.

Robin Williams, like so many other people, had very real, clinical depression. This isn’t a choice. This isn’t something you “get over.” It’s not a spiritual condition. This is a chemical problem in the brain that has to be medicated. The treatments are varied. Some people are able to treat depression successfully with some lifestyle changes, like regular exercise; change of scenery; and talk therapy. Others require daily medication to maintain an even mood. Still others are so severely depressed – we’re talking in-the-therapist’s-office-with-a gun-to-their-head depressed – that only the most radical of treatments will get them to where antidepressants even work.

Depressed brain comparison

A PET scan of the brain of someone with depression compared to someone without it

Depression is a disease.  There’s some correlation between depression and low serotonin reuptake in the brain.  Bottom line is, when someone has depression, their brain – that organ in our heads – is sick.  Why wouldn’t we find ways of treating it?  If the heart is diseased, we treat it, right?  We don’t think anything of a diabetic taking insulin, because their pancreas isn’t working the way it should.  There’s no stigma at all to taking inhaled steroids for asthma.  So why do we think that someone with depression – a disease of the brain – should just pray more or exercise more or “get over it”?

My best friend is one of those who have to take antidepressants on a daily basis. He can survive without his medication, but his moods will swing wildly. The antidepressants help him maintain more of an even keel. (I intentionally refer to his medication as “antidepressant” as opposed to by its name, because I don’t want to forget that his depression is a part of him.) Bobby goes through funks, even on his meds, but they don’t last long, and we can discuss and deal with them. Because he’s a valuable person who God created and loves (nevermind the fact that I happen to like the guy), it’s a no-brainer that I’m willing to enter into his depression with him for as long as it lasts – but I have to know about it first.  I asked him one time how he’d kill himself if it ever got that bad.  He told me, and I said, “Call me and wait, and I’ll come with you.”  I figure, 5 hours stuck with me in a car, and we can get through anything and everything.

Robin Williams’ death is making us talk about something that we’d rather just push aside and forget – depression.  I’ve never heard of anyone raising funds for depression awareness.  The awareness ribbon is kelly green, and we should start sporting one for those who we love who are battling this disease in silence.  The people I’ve met who are depressed are some of the strongest people I know, because each day they get up and move on, dealing with that day or the next step to the bathroom or whatever they have to do to get to the next whatever.  Even in their funks, they work and love and give something of themselves to others.  And each day, they find a reason to keep living.

If you’re dealing with unexplained sadness, hopelessness, disturbed appetite, disturbed sleep; or if you are thinking about hurting or killing yourself, PLEASE tell someone – anyone! – or call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

Be Still

Stillness_Ps46

The text message that was my inspiration

In the frantic muddle of our hurried lives, it is hard – nearly impossible – to be still.  I’m not talking about being physically still but about being wholistically still, being still in our whole beings.

In Psalm 46:10-11, the psalmist writes “Be still, and know that I am God… The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  It isn’t easy being still, and it’s even harder to get intimate with God when we are cluttered and allow chaos to surround and fill us.  Being physically still isn’t that difficult.  We can sit and watch TV or movies for hours.  How often do we plop ourselves down in front of our computers to read email, check Facebook, and read blogs or news articles?  This is physical stillness, but while our bodies may be fairly stationary, our minds and spirits are anything but still.

Are you one of those people who simply must have background noise, a regular soundtrack to accompany your life? I confess, I used to be; I used to have to have the TV on all day long as I went about my work.  That changed when I took a class in Divinity school on the Desert Fathers and Mothers that came with a challenge from the professor:  Live, work, and study in silence as the Desert Fathers did so that you can hear God speak.  That was very uncomfortable at first, but it did not take me long to acclimate myself to the silence, to listen carefully for that still, small voice.  Before this, that background noise made it very difficult for me to be present to myself or to hear God speak.

I’ve already pointed out how easy it is to be physically still, and I’ve shown how we can reduce the background noise from our lives.  The most difficult areas of stillness for me are mental, psychological, and emotional stillness.  My mind is a manic to-do list almost all the time.  I mean, it can go like it’s been fueled on Red Bull and espresso – mixed!  There comes a time when I have to say “Stop!” to get the clutter out of my head.  Lacking Dumbledore’s pensieve (Harry Potter reference there), my only alternative is to write that mess down and start tackling it one task at a time.  Sometimes that mental clutter is a blog post or a story, and I have to force myself to carve out time to get those words out.

Nothing will prevent me from hearing God speak, though, like psychological noise.  This is all the mess that tears me down.  It’s the sum of all the worries, the fears, the uncertainties, and the concerns.  It’s the stuff that can get me down and keep me from getting a good night’s sleep.  You probably know what I’m talking about, and I think that, being moms, we’re most susceptible to this.  After all, we make decisions for our families day-in and day-out, and we need to be absolutely confident that those decisions truly are the ones which are best for our families, not just best for us.  I’ve learned this great trick for silencing the noise, especially in the middle of the night when it’s the loudest and keeping me from getting some much-needed sleep.  Are you ready for this?  Say this simple prayer to God:  “Lord, I know you did not make me to have a spirit of fear.”  Don’t messages from God often begin, “Fear not”?  God does not want us to be afraid of those things which aren’t worthy of our fear.  God wants us to have peace in our spirits.  Sure, fears creep in (we are human, after all), but when you are feeling powerless to tackle those fears and worries, pray that simple prayer:  “Lord, you did not make me to have a spirit of fear.”  Every time I’ve prayed that, I have felt calmer.

God says through the psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Why are we supposed to do this?  What does it benefit us?  The answer lies in the next verse:  We are still because Yahweh Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.  This one verse contains three identifiers of God.  First we see the unspeakable, most holy name of God that God gives to Moses through the burning bush (Exodus 3) – Yahweh.  It means “I am” and can also be translated as “I will be.”  This is the God who is and who is to come.  The next identifier of God is as Shaddai, the Almighty.  The Almighty is the One who has armies of angels at his disposal, the one who drove nations out from the Promised Land so the Israelites could settle there.  The Almighty is the One who is strong enough to control and conquer even the most fearsome of earthly military forces.  Then finally, the psalmist identifies the God of Jacob, hearkening back to the God who was with Israel the man from whom descended Israel the nation.  This is the God who was present to the ancestors of the Jews, the God of their history and heritage.

When we are allowing ourselves to be still, we are essentially kicking back, taking it easy, letting down our guard, leaving the working and worrying to someone else to handle.  It’s a vulnerable position, if you think about it.  But when we are still to allow ourselves a greater intimacy with God, then we are in a completely safe place, because God Godself is our fortress, providing that wall of protection around us.  We can be still, because God’s got this.  We can release all the clutter of our lives and the chaos in our hearts, minds and spirits, because God will bring order to it, allowing us to experience an even closer relationship with God.

I challenge you this week to do a few things.  One, turn off the radio, TV, Pandora, mp3 player, whatever, and tune in to what God has to say to you.  Two, get rid of distractions – books, phones, computers – and listen for God to reveal godself to you.  (I realize some of you may have small children at home that make living a peaceful, quiet existence a great fantasy, but after a while, you will hear God through them.  Check out Psalm 8.)  Three, remember to pray that simple prayer above when the psychological clutter is robbing you of good things, like sleep.

Be still, and know that Yahweh is God.

Watch Your Confession

I’ll admit, it drives me crazy when people “confess” to doing something that’s not a sin, and I’ll confess, it leads me to address it in a blog post instead of more directly.

See what I did there?  I admitted to a shortcoming (being impatient with people who confess frivolously), but I confessed to a sin (addressing it in a blog).  You see, I admit to shortcomings (my lack of patience is one), but what I do with that lack of patience can become a confession-worthy sin.

I regularly hear a pastor say, “I confess,” and then he confesses something silly, like liking pizza or donuts, or enjoying singing in his car.  Yes, seriously.  These aren’t sins for which one should confess.  He’s not gluttonous, and he sings decently (and who cares how someone sings when they’re in the car enjoying themselves?).  Yet, never does he invite people to come up at the end of the service, confess their sins, repent of them, and make a decision to follow Christ (a basic component of most Baptist worship services).

I admit that I like pizza and donuts and singing in the car.  Shoot, I car dance!  And I do it with gusto, because I enjoy it, my girls enjoy it, and it makes people smile.  I admit to feeling angry sometimes, and I confess to losing my temper on occasion.  I will freely admit to my shortcomings, and I will confess my sins.  Since I’m trying to lose weight, liking donuts and pizza – and eating them – is a shortcoming.  Going to a pizza buffet and filling up on pizza and pasta is something for which a confession is appropriate.

This pastor I hear throws his “confessions” around loosely.  Yet, he seldom if ever calls on his congregants to confess their sins – things that are worthy of confession.  And when this pastor sinned against my husband and me, he failed to confess to it.  See, in the church, without confession of sin, there can be no forgiveness.  Yet for those walking in fullness of life in Christ, forgiveness is required to maintain that full life.

If you’re going to confess, confess sins.  We all do it; none of us is alone in sinning.  When we as Christians “confess” to non-sins, then the whole act of confession loses its meaning.  It becomes hollow, because we lose all sense of what it means to confess something wrong that we do or did.  We get so wrapped up in confessing little, piddly stuff that we overlook the big, ugly sins we commit against God and against those with whom we share life’s journey.

As I teach my younger daughter, “Watch your words.”  Be mindful of those “confessions” you make.  Speak in sincerity with integrity.  Confess real sins, not frivolous preferences, like liking junk food.  Liking junk food isn’t a sin; glutting on junk food is.  Be aware of real sin is.  That is worthy of our confessions.