Sunday, November 26, 2017

Jesus is not Santa Claus


Recently, the president of the United States asserted that "We're saying Merry Christmas again,"  as a valiant defense against the supposed attack on Christmas, and Christian values in general.  And, well, that made me feel angry.  Because he used his platform to declare to the world that the thing Christians are willing to take a stand on is the right to tack Jesus' name onto a holiday that has pagan roots and is often more about consumerism than Jesus' love.

 Don't get me wrong, especially in recent years, I feel moved during the Christmas season.  I enjoy the peppermint this and that, I celebrate our family traditions, I relish in cheesy Christmas movies, and during December my house tends to look like someone threw up red and green all over it.  More than that, though, reflecting on the notion of a God who leaves heaven to come to earth and enters into the most humble of circumstances in loving pursuit of humanity changes me.  I love setting aside time to remember that each year.  However, sometimes I wonder what associating Jesus with the not-so-spiritual aspects of Christmas has done to our collective psyche.  How has the connection impacted our views on God and who he is?

I think that sometimes we look at God like he is Santa Claus.  Santa is generally looked on as a positive character.  He is loving and kind, generous and jolly.  Those are words that the average person might use to describe God (assuming that person believes in him).  Saint Nick is an old man.  Both he and God are often portrayed with long white flowing hair and beards.  Santa's thought to be omnipresent, "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake."  That's another characteristic that links him with God.

Santa is primarily a gift-giver.  Lots of folks view God this way.  He's the guy you go to when you want/need stuff.  But Santa has a naughty and nice list.  If you do enough good, and don't do too much bad, you make the nice list.  If you're not "good, for goodness sake," watch out.  You might end up with no presents, or find the ominous gift of coal lurking at the bottom of your stocking.  The bottom line is this:  we ask Santa for (material) things, and if we've been good enough he gives them to us.  Do believe that Jesus is the same way?

We treat Jesus like he's Santa Claus when all we do is ask him for stuff.  We send up prayers like, "Dear Jesus, please give me an Xbox, and an iphone 8."  We often ask for things we don't need, things that would not add value to our lives, or even things that would be destructive were we granted them.  I don't think this is necessarily wrong to do.  The bible talks about having childlike faith, and I want to be dependent upon God the way my son is dependent upon my husband and I.  That naturally leads to looking to him for things I want/need.  I think it's to be open and honest with God about where I'm at.  That includes bringing my desires to him. 

 Ultimately, though, I also want to ask God to be sovereign over my desires.  To change my desires--make them more holy, more selfless.  I want him to give me whatever it is that he knows is best for me.  Plus, if that's all we ever talk to God about we are missing so much.  God wants to have a relationship with us.  He wants to walk with us in intimacy through life.  He wants to hear about your day.  He wants to share with you his dreams for your life and his heart for humanity.  He wants to just be with you while you're doing the dishes or walking the dog.  He wants to express his love to you and for you to express it back.

Sometimes, we act like, in suite with Santa, God has a naughty and nice list.  Only, instead of coal the perceived risk is hell-fire and damnation.  (Try fitting that into a stocking).  I think we often sense that getting into heaven, or earning favor with God works on a system similar to Santa's.  Don't do too many bad things.  Do enough good things, and you're golden.  You'll make it to heaven.  Or at least, God will give you good gifts.  This is so contradictory to what the bible actually says, and to what I personally have experienced in relationship with Jesus.  Take a gander at these bible verses in Ephesians:

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

The path to heaven here is described as undeserved.  It is declared a gift from God.  The clarification is made that this is not based on works.  It can't be earned.  It can only be received through faith in Jesus.  The passage also speaks of the kindness Jesus wishes to show us.  The good things he desires to give us.  We see words like "grace" and "mercy," used.  Mercy:  not giving someone something bad even if they deserve it.  Grace:  giving someone something good even if they don't deserve it.  That is a stark contrast to the naughty and nice list!

The bible reiterates this point in Matthew:

"For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

God is a good father who likes to give us good gifts and that is not based on our behavior.  That, is the Jesus that I want to contemplate during the Holiday season.

With all due respect, Mr. President I am bowing out of the battle.  Someone else will have to fight the war against Christmas.  As a Christ-follower, I'd much rather stand for the downtrodden.  For the widow and orphan.  For the poor and the broken.  For the outcast and the oppressed. I'd rather stand for love.  Sure, I'll still say, "Merry Christmas," most people that I know do, religious or otherwise.  I might also say, "Happy Hanukkah," or even *gasp* "Happy Holidays," at times in consideration of my friends.  That doesn't mean that I won't be celebrating, even the pagan rituals, because evergreen trees smell amazing.  But I want to use the Christmas season to reflect on who Jesus really is.  To be in communion with him.  To celebrate who he is, what he stands for, and that day when he appeared and my soul felt it's worth.







Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Reckless Love

This is one of my favorite songs as of late:



According to dictionary.com (the new Webster?), "reckless" means:

utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless 

Reckless, is usually considered a bad thing.  Think, "You kids are being so reckless!  Make better choices!  Eat your vegetables!  Wear a helmet!"

Why then, use this word to describe God?  A creator so precise in his actions that he knew exactly where to place the earth:  were it a few million miles closer or further from the sun, the planet could not sustain life.    How could that God, ever be described as reckless?  Certainly he is not akin to a some careless hooligan.

I think the key portion of the definition is "utterly unconcerned about the consequences."  No, God isn't romping about the heavens all willy-nilly.  I think, that in this case, reckless love, refers to God knowing the consequences of his actions, and being unconcerned about them.  In fact, utterly unconcerned about them.

He does not love cautiously, only to those who will accept it or give it back.  He just loves. He loves every human. If you think about it, there's nothing in it for him. He has everything he could ever want.  He doesn't need to even give humans a second glance. Yet he still chooses to love us.  He pursues us relentlessly.  Unconcerned with what the response will be.  Unconcerned with the results.  Unconcerned that  the very people that he pours out his life for, often reject him, condemn him, or ignore him.

Jesus bore the weight of each person's sins, knowing that they would keep right on sinning.  He left his heavenly oasis, knowing he'd be rejected on the planet he had a hand in creating.  He died a torturous death, just to offer the free gift of salvation, knowing that none deserved it, and many would not receive it.  None of this concerned him.  Without caution, without care, he just went on giving and loving the very people that would spit on him, and curse him, and rip the flesh from his bones.

I don't know how to love like that.  If I'm honest, most of the love I give is very calculated.  If I really think about it, many things I do in the name of loving others, serving, or giving are actually about me.  I rub my husband's back knowing that  he will be happier with me.  I initiate time spent with my friends, desperately attempting position myself as a priority in their lives.  I give a thoughtful gift hoping that at some point in the future I might get one back.  I make investments in others hoping there will be a return.

And if not a return of love personally directed towards me, I at least expect there to be some results.  I want to be able to pat myself on the back for accomplishing something good in the world.  I want an impressive story to be able to tell.  I want something to boost my resume.  I want that student to come back and tell me that I've made a difference in their life.  I want that look of gratitude that makes me feel like maybe I'm a good person after-all.

In my short life I have seen glimpses of truly selfless love.  First, I think of my husband with his students.  (Yes, he gets paid to work with them, but he could easily get paid doing something less taxing).  Philip works in a self-contained special education room.  Most of his students are non-verbal, or almost non-verbal.  The chance of him getting a thank-you or a you-changed-my-life speech from one of them are slim to none. Every day he uses his best energies and strategies to teach them things they've often forgotten by the next time he sees them.  He gives them skills that might allow them independence, knowing that many of them will never move out of their parents' homes.  He builds relationship with each one knowing that it in some cases it will never be reciprocated.  That's reckless love.

I think of my dear friend, who reached out to me when I was at my darkest.  She had nothing to gain by loving me.  She dipped into her precious time and resources.  She gave me very one-sided phone calls and text messages.  She encouraged me.  She was courageously vulnerable with me, so that I would know I was not alone in my grief.  She gave me notes and gifts.  She prayed for me.  She gave to me during a time when I literally had nothing to give back to her.  I like to think she was unconcerned about that.

I think of my (now) sister-in-law, who gave everything to care for my brother when he was in the throes of a battle with cancer.  They were just dating at the time.  It wasn't like she had already made the, "in-sickness-and-in-health," promise.  She didn't owe it to him.  She had no guarantee that they would even stay together long enough for him to return the favor.  In fact, she didn't even know if he would make it through this.  Still, she gave up her job.  She set her dreams and ambitions aside for awhile.  She spent countless, weary hours tending to his every need.  I know it wasn't easy.  Even if she would have gained nothing from this, I know she still would have done it.  That is love without caution.

I think of motherhood.  As moms, much of the time you are giving so much to someone who can't, won't, or doesn't give back to you.  Not to mention, you never know what the result of your careful parenting will be.  Let's be honest; there have to have been serial killers who had great moms.  For all I know, Mrs. Hitler was a wonderful woman who loved her kids well (actually, I was fascinated to learn more about her story).  There's no guarantee that you are going to raise a loving, life-changing, or even somewhat civilized human.  I'm not saying that what we do as mother's makes no difference.  I'm not saying we shouldn't do it with intentionality, or that we won't reap a reward for our labor.  I'm simply stating the fact that sometimes a mother might do her absolute best and never see her investment come to fruition.  You can't control people.  You can only love them. And, that, as it turns out is pretty reckless.

I think of countless other small ways of loving without conditions.  Giving money anonymously:  without thank-yous or accolades.  Reaching out to people you feel rejected by.  Showing kindness to the naughtiest kid in class, the one that will never give you anything but further grief in return.  Having a conversation with that person who will talk your ear off and not so much as ask how you're doing in return.  Praying for healing or life change even if it never comes.  Sitting with someone in suffering.

Dear Jesus,

The distance between your goodness and my goodness is great.  In fact, I'm not sure that I've actually ever done something completely void of selfish intent.  Will you take my heart?  Will you make it more like yours?  May I reap the benefits of your love.  May I soak it in.  May I look at it in wonder.  May it pour out of me.  Like water permeating a sponge, flowing from every orifice.  Teach me to love the way that you love.  Love through me.  Help me to be unconcerned about  the consequences of my investments of time, energy, and talent.  Rather, I want to love unconditionally to the point of recklessness.  I want to throw kindness around like it's confetti--even if that means that some of it just winds up lying on the floor.  Lord, you are good.  More of you, and less of me.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Following God Like a GPS


As a language-minded person, I can't help but love metaphors.  I am also a person who happens to be terrible at directions--like I have managed to get lost in a town with an area that is less than three square miles.  While I have joined the 21st Century by owning a (30 dollars from Walmart) smart phone, I don't have a data plan.  Which means I can't access most of my apps, including the Global Positioning System (GPS), unless I'm connected to WiFi.  So I am not accustomed to the ease of having a GPS with me 24/7.

I often rely on printed directions from Google Maps or Mapquest (along with frantic phone calls to my husband) to get me from point A to point B.  So, when I decided to make a two-hour drive to an area I was unfamiliar with, I borrowed my mom's GPS.  The soothing sound of a woman's voice giving me gentle reminders where and when to turn, and letting me know I was on the right track put my mind at ease.

As I was following the twists and turns of the freeway, taking in the picturesque hills of sage brush, and singing along to my Taylor Swift album, I started thinking about my GPS as a metaphor for God.  I think we often view following God like following those printed off (or written down, if you're more old-fashioned) directions.  When, really walking in step with Christ functions a lot more like navigating with a GPS.

When using turn-by-turn directions, you know every step of the journey before you embark on it.  While--as a planner--I feel like I would love it if life worked this way, it just doesn't.  Honestly, though, that might be for the best.  Looking at all the steps together, I sometimes get so overwhelmed!  I start to question how this will all work, and wonder if I can actually do it.  I think if I really knew all the details of how my life was going to go, and what God was going to ask me to do along the way, I might feel the same.  Like a GPS, I've found that God often tells us where and when to turn in the nick of time.  We don't necessarily know the next step miles--or years--in advance.  Rather, he gives us a direction right when we need to use it.

Following a set of turn-by-turn directions evokes a lot of fear and anxiety in me.  Here's the thing:  it is so easy to make a mistake with those as your guide!  You are busy trying to make sure you're going the speed limit, and staying between the lines, and eating your road-trip snacks.  Meanwhile, you need to keep an eye on that sheet of paper with barely readable font that has all the answers scrawled onto it.  Sometimes I get confused because the directions want me to do something like make a "slight right," whatever that means, and I have nothing to encourage me that I'm going the right correct way.  In fact, I've gotten myself completely off course before and not even known it until I was obviously miles away from my destination.  The GPS, however, reminds me multiple times that my turn is coming up.  It gives me a visual, and a glowing arrow to help show me where to go.  And once I've made my turn correctly it gives me an affirming DING.  It is much harder to miss a turn when following a GPS.  I think God's the same way.  I don't think he tells us what he wants from us one time, and if we're not listening well, then, too bad.  I think he gives us lots of hints, nudges, and reminders along the way.  I think he reassures us when we're on the right track.

Perhaps the biggest pitfall of having the directions printed, is if you make one wrong turn, you're kind of screwed.  You're left to your own devices to attempt to navigate your way back onto the path.  The GPS is far more forgiving.  If I misunderstand the directions or don't make a lane change fast enough, the little woman who lives in the GPS extends me grace and finds me another route.  Sure, I might not take the intended path.  The one I inadvertently choose might even be a little longer or more difficult than the original plan.  Either way, my destination remains the same.  I continue moving in the overall same direction.  I think that's how it is following God.  We aren't going to do it perfectly, but we don't need to panic when things go awry.  In life, I often feel like I am following that sheet of directions, like if I make one mistake, if I take one turn outside of God's will, I am out of luck.  I will have to figure things out on my own, and there's a chance I'll never make it back to the right path.  Meanwhile, God just says a calm, casual, "Rerouting."

How do you view following God?  Do you want him to map out your entire future for you right now?  Do you feel anxious that you might miss a direction from him?  Do you experience a lot of fear when you think about making a mistake?  Does this sound all too familiar?  I am, often, right there with you!  Perhaps we need to stop viewing following God like following a sheet of directions.  We need to think about his path for us as less fixed.  We need to trust that he is going to help get us where we need to go; that he is going to make it known to us when he really needs us a to make a change.  And perhaps most of all, we need to believe that it's okay for us to get it wrong sometimes.  Let's trust that many paths can get us to the same destination.  If we're surrendered to him, he'll keep us moving in the same overall direction.  Let's treat following God more like following a GPS.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

His Grace is Enough



 Sometimes, when I walk into a Christian gathering, I feel like a fraud.  This is amplified when I find myself in some sort of leadership role.  Things I've thought, said, or done that are less-than-Christ-like flash through my mind.  I think of that harsh thing I said to my husband.  The frustration I felt towards my son.  The amount of time I wasted on social media.  All of these short-comings haunt my thoughts.  I start to feel like I'm not good enough.  I wonder, what am I doing here?  How did I fool these poor suckers into thinking I belong here?

All I need is to hear a word, or a song, or a prayer about the cross.  Then I remember the truth:  not one of a us is good enough.  But Jesus is good enough.  His work on the cross is enough.  Yes, my sins are many.  But his grace is sufficient for me.

Because of this, we are invited to come as we are.  I can approach God freely.  I can do the small tasks he gives me in confidence.  Knowing, that I don't stand on my own righteousness, but on his. We all belong, here. There is a place for every loser, every hot mess, every wretch at the foot of the cross.  His grace is enough.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

My Body Is a Tool, Not a Decoration


I didn't think that it would bother me so much for my body to change after giving birth.  Just a few short weeks postpartum people were commenting on how quickly I lost weight and how little I was.  Even now you probably wouldn't look at me and think, "There's a girl who definitely just had a baby," or, "She could stand to lose a few pounds."  I, however, am up-close and personal with my new body.  I can see and feel my squishy, round tummy.  I have experienced my now wider hips rejecting my pre-pregnancy pants.

I guess that being thin and having a flat stomach somehow became a part of my identity.  That's not to say that I felt perfectly secure about being skinny.  I knew that I would never have some of the--ahem--assets that other women had.  I would never be a curvy girl.  At times that bothered me.  Though I felt I had those short comings, at least I knew I had the zero fat thing going for me.  I can't say that anymore.

In the past I almost always reached for the smallest clothing size that a store carried--and sometimes even that was too small.  Being a size four or six or small or medium rather than a one or two and extra small might sound like a dream to some women, but to me it feels foreign.  Wearing my skin-tight pre-baby clothes and seeing a little pooch around my midsection, I hardly recognize myself.  I honestly feel embarrassed.

I've basically had to buy a whole new wardrobe.  I'm someone who loves clothes.  I so enjoy creatively putting together outfits--coming up with new combinations of texture, color, and print.  What used to be a glorious adventure has become a chore that I dread.  Instead of delighting in the ensembles I crafted, I find myself scrounging for something that I can wear that I won't feel stupid in.

I'm trying to remind myself:  my body is a tool, not a decoration.  This body allows me to do extraordinary things.  It has allowed me to kick soccer balls, run miles, win wrestling matches.  My body has embraced the broken, walked alongside people, and brought meals and gifts to bless others.  Most recently, my body did the incredible feat of bringing life into the world.  Instead of being amazed and praising my body, I have chastised it.  When I should have said, "Great job!  You have created and sustained the most perfect little human,"  I have asked, "Why can't you look like you once did?"

Something in me, as a woman craves beauty.  I desire to be lovely.  I think that's okay.  But who says that the new slightly chestier (thanks breastfeeding), wider hipped, squishy-tummied, still not very curvy, me can't be beautiful?  Who decided that a round belly is lovely when a woman is going to give birth and hideous after she has already done so?

So, I will probably keep living in flowy shirts, and high-waisted bottoms that I feel flatter my dynamic figure.  But, instead of hiding and shaming of my ever-changing body I want to celebrate it.  I want to love and accept my imperfect self.  I want to use my body to love and serve.  Even if it means stretching it, wrinkling it, and wearing it out, ultimately I hope that my body will be used as a tool to bring more of heaven to earth.  I think that, is pretty beautiful.
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