Monday, March 31, 2014

Do you feel like you are missing out on something?

I remember envying the Catholic kids who not only got out of school but came back to school with ashes on their forehead, a wordless proclamation of their faith.  I got nothing, not ashes, not getting out of school, just a sense that I had to speak my witness, and I am not sure that is harder for any population than a middle-schooler, and that is what I was when the ashes thing took place.

I love it when God gives us divine coincidences, like Ballykissangel and the subject that just came up in my daily Bible time: confession!  We had found it tough to find a current American TV show that we can both agree is worth watching together until we started watching shows from the United Kingdom, shows that took place in England, Scotland or Ireland, the locale for our most recent series: Ballykissangel.  Now, lest you think I am recommending this for your family, you need to check it out.  I do not think it is right for every family, but we watch with discrimination.  This seemed to be one show that for the most part ended without making the viewer feel that he or she wished she hadn’t wasted their time.

It is set in a little Irish village thirty or so years ago, and one of the main characters is a Catholic priest struggling to mesh his faith and church practices with real life.  And hearing and making regular confession is part of the role. Then this last week, confession showed up as the topic of study in my journey through Scripture.

Here’s my confession: confession has not had much a role in my life, at least not the role I think it might have had for my good.  I believe Christ paid the death penalty for all of my sin.  I don’t have to remember every sin to have his forgiveness; after all, I am a flawed human being and I probably don’t even see some of the things that creep into my life as sin.  So there’s that for starters.

Then, for so long, my faith tradition focused on several “big” sins: sexual immorality, smoking and drinking and (until the last decades or so) movies, and the usual lying and stealing and coveting (but not so much this one). I guess those are the biggies.  And those sins had not given me all that much trouble.

I always taught that confession did not get rid of sin; Christ’s death and resurrection did that.  Accepting the gift of salvation through Christ took care of it all.  Confession restored broken relationships, like when a child admitted he or she stole the balloon out of the cereal box (I really did that).  After confessing to it, the child no longer felt the guilt or shame and fellowship with the family was renewed.

Confession today renews fellowship, with us and the people we offend, but also with us and God.  There is something about knowing that we have let God down that messes with our relationship.  We have less and less an appetite to be with him because we know how we have failed him, and the little can get very big, like a fire left untamed.  So, a prayerful review of our day is valuable.  I say prayerful because we are inviting God to bring to our minds those things we have done that might come between us and Him or between us and our usefulness for Him (and those two might be the same).

We don’t have to go to confession once a week, but maybe it would be good if we did, or once a day even,  if we had that regular and public reminder to give our lives the once over in God’s presence. The point is not to get rid of sin, but to nourish our relationship with the One Who has taken care of our sin.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spring winds bring....

Blog March 26, 2014

I can hear the wind blowing, a fierce spring wind, a March wind in fact.  I remember hearing that March winds bring April showers which bring May flowers, so I am celebrating these winds.  But that is not the point of this blog entry.
I look out through the window, dust motes floating in the sunshine streaming in, and I watch the wind blow the great branches of the mighty evergreens behind our house, as if they were feathers, but I cannot see the wind.

Just down the road from our house, the wind blows into our car the acrid odor of skunk spray, wind carrying it to us though I can see neither the fragrance nor the wind. And I am grateful that same wind will soon bring into my house the perfume of the lilac bush behind my house in only a few weeks.
Wind, I can hear it; I can see evidence of it, and I can smell it’s work, but I cannot see it.  DO I question its reality?  Never! too much evidence to the contrary.

So, it struck me, is the Holy Spirit.  I cannot see the person of the Holy Spirit, but the evidence of the Spirit at work is all around me. I have seen changed lives, bitterness healed, the aimless moving with direction, and I guess I must look at my own life.  It cannot be but for the work of the Spirit that I am here, doing what I am doing.
I remember, without difficulty, many near misses, in my life.  Yes, some were near car accidents, where by the natural law, we should not have survived.  But some came in the form of temptations, where pleasure danced, and but for the Spirit’s work, my life would have had a different course.  I can pull up events where bitterness and hurt could have ruled, but for the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit. No, I never saw the Spirit incarnate, in the flesh, but I know that without his attention, his speaking into my life, the outcome would have been different.

I have heard him in the voice of a bird, a baby’s coo, the ripple of a cool stream over a rocky creek bed.  I have seen his power in a changed human attitude, the majesty of an eagle floating on the air currents over a gorge, in the path he has guided me on.  I have breathed in the fragrance of spring rain on the dust, of red roses glowing in my garden, the fragrance of the back of a child’s sweaty neck.  I have experienced his impact in my thinking, bringing together long ago memorized Scripture or the words from a devotional or Sunday preaching, answering prayers for guidance.  And all of these things, evidences, remind me of the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  And if I will pay attention to the evidence of his work in this world, I will have no reason to be discouraged or despondent. 
That same powerful God loves me. I know it because his Spirit brought again to my mind this morning, the words from I John 4:7-9, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

photo from

Monday, March 24, 2014

March 24, Now, when I go home....

A few weeks ago, a friend asked, with the eagerness you might express when asking, “Did he give her the ring?” “Is he gone?” A mutual friend had been failing, and now was down to hours.  My friend followed her question up with, “Can you imagine him dancing in Heaven?  It must be so wonderful!!”

My first thoughts were, “wait a minute.  There are people here who are going through great grief,” and fortunately I kept my mouth shut because the death of a loved one, secure in their relationship with God does not have to naturally mean great suffering for those left behind.  Certainly there is loss.  That loved one is gone and there is a hole, a vacancy that no one can really fill in the same way, and there is that attendant pain. 

BUT, my friend was right; the home going of a physically suffering and/or aged believer should be accompanied by rejoicing.  They are free from the limits and pains of this human body, and they are present with the Father.  Honestly, as hard as I try, I cannot imagine what that will be like.

The Apostle Paul declared that “to be absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). And later, he says that (for the believer) to die, is “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better’ (Philippians 1:23).  Jesus speaks of the immediate home of the saved dead, as “Paradise.” He said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Another dear friend and godly woman “went home” this winter, and in her last days and hours, her family sang to her, the wonderful old hymns many of us grew up with.  That’s what I want to hear in those last hours on this earth.  Her family not only sang these beloved hymns, but they rehearsed shared memories, Christmas stories, picnics, shared vacations and they laughed together.  Can you imagine how comforting that must have been for my friend, to know that her family was there, and that they knew the comfort she would derive from music and memories, even if she could not participate out loud.

So, when I go, you can just leaf through an old hymnal and sing a lot of first verses….you don’t have to sing all the verses, but do sing Amazing Grace, The Old Rugged Cross, How Great Thou Art, Be Thou My Vision, Blessed Assurance, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, and My Faith Looks up to Thee, for starters.  You can just go to for a great list.

Now, I am not being morbid, and I don’t have any secret terminal illness.  I was just thinking about these two wonderful people and also about what those who loved them were experiencing…and the power of music. 

I fear that since many churches laid aside the hymnal, we have been taught too many choruses, and choruses with so much energy that I don’t find them peace-generating.  So, drag out the hymns, forget about the bad theology that might be in some of them, (heaven forbid….this is not a teaching time, but a wonderfully comforting time,) and sing me home.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When we were on fire!

A couple of weeks ago I taught the last of a series of classes on the topic of Women Counseling Women and invited the ladies to pose questions they might have that I had not answered.  Kind of foolhardy of me, but that’s another story.

Anyway, one of the questions was “What would you have done differently if you had the chance as you raised your children?”  Now there’s something painful to consider because you cannot change the past.  The first thing I told those young women was that there were some things they needed to understand.  First, I did not grow up in a church involved family.  My mother made sure we went Sunday mornings, but for a variety of reasons, she seldom accompanied us. 
Then as a young believer, I wanted to do the faith thing right, so I looked unquestioningly at those around me and my church for ground rules.  This was a long time ago, remember, and my pastors’ wives communicated, as did the church literature of the time, that godly wives wore dresses and skirts, obeyed without question their husbands, and followed the rules the church seemed to communicate about Christian living.  This meant no drinking, no smoking, no movies, no secular music, no worldly (like the world) dress. And, if the church doors were open, we should be walking through them.  Obedience to the rules was key.  And as a young wife in ministry, I had to make sure my kids did not do anything that would embarrass us and especially the church and ministry.

The problem was that no one emphasized all that much that everything was to be done in love, and in response to God’s love.  I wish I knew that then.  As a young wife eager to please, I fear I worried more about getting the rules right than communicating to my children that God loved them and wanted a relationship with them.  I know I did a poor job helping them understand why we obeyed those rules because sometimes I struggled with it as well.

Which brings us to the title of this blog: When We Were on Fire, a book written by Addie Zierman, a child raised in the same era as my children.  Her book is subtitled “A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over.”  This is not an easy read, well, easy to take as a parent.  We thought we were doing all the right things, but we laid out way too many should and not enough explanations.  Consequently, too many kids left home and left the church.  It didn’t make sense to them.  All the warnings they were given seemed over the top, and as it always did, the pendulum swung…for some of them way out.  For Addie, that pendulum nearly cost her marriage, and she journals those years…into drinking too heavily, into never being satisfied in a church because she couldn’t get by the imperfections of church goers – people who could not meet her expectations, not that even she could.

Near the end of her brutally honest story, she wrote the following, “You are beginning to understand that even the best goals and intentions can be corrupted.  That the blind devotion to any Mission can turn dark.  You have learned that it is impossible to divide things neatly, and that the second you begin to define something, you limit it.  There is no such thing as “cut and dried” in a world of broken humanity.  Gray bleeds into gray bleeds into gray, no matter how you slice it.  While American evangelicalism navigates the changing spiritual landscape, you own identity is in flux.  You are neither stereotype.”

So this is longer than I intended, but this book was a good read, one I wish parents and students and adult church kids could/would read it. We don’t all have a parallel journey, but there might be something here that might help us understand each other, and forgive each other.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Can an old dog learn new tricks, and about legalism?

March 4

Isn’t it cool how God uses so many different things to get our attention?  I read from “A Year with God” daily, and was struck by these words written originally by Dallas Willard today: “we are all somebody’s disciples.” Later in the reading, I was challenged to consider who/what were the central influences in my life, and finally who is learning from me and what am I teaching them.  This all follows my reading of the book Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor.

Two passages of Scripture also caught my attention in my continued reading of I Thessalonians in by old KJV and my new Message translations: “One final word friends.  We ask you – urge you is more like it-that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance.”  I Thess. 4:1 Message  and “Since we’re creatures of the day, let’s act like it.  Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love and the hope of salvation.”  I Thess 5:8  The Message

Lastly a friend Dan Lyle posted this quote on facebook this morning “legalistic religion focuses on what I do for God, genuine worship focuses on what God has done for me." - Pastor Lynn

Now, to put it all together.  The three greatest influences in my life as a young person were my mother, my older sister and my church.  I learned from them that young ladies do not use coarse language (you can guess who taught me that, and I still hear her voice in my head), Jesus loves me, and you can tell if a person is a believer by the style clothes they wear and how they use their time: they don’t wear shorts in public, dance, smoke, drink, go to the movies or go with people who do.

That sounds pretty judgmental by a lot of standards today, but I was young, a new believer and searching for godly leadership in my life, and I learned it all well.  As I matured in Christ, I came to question some of those things, but all of that was pretty well rooted, whether I liked it or not.  Eventually I came to understand why I was taught some of those things; my teachers were fearful of how we might be influenced by the world, becoming worldly rather than godly. So I learned to fear God, and not in a good way.  What a mess!

When you really read the Bible, especially the New Testament, you can’t miss it.  God wants us to respond to His love by loving others, not by running around judging them.  He wants us to live a life of joy, of peace, of hope. 

Now to the book by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a tattooed (and we know what that could mean) and foul-mouthed, at least in her writing, pastor.  You talk about conundrums.  How can someone love God and use the kind of language that would have gotten me a date with a bar of Ivory Soap?  I have come to learn that tattoos are not a mark of Satan, too many men in my family have them, and some of the women.  But that stuff that was planted in there a long time ago rose again to serve unbidden as a filter. 

The point of the book, once I waded through it all, was the same thing as the gospel of John, or the rest of the New Testament – love God and love others, and remember what God has done for me. 

I guess it all boils down to an old dog learning new tricks and trying really hard not to let the old tricks spoil the new ones.