Monday, April 28, 2014

Looking into the mirror, not so much fun these days!

April 28, 2014

It’s one of those funny things, what Facebook does for you.  It’s true, I graduated from high school nearly five decades ago, and I haven’t seen some of those people all that much since then.  Once in a while, one of us from that graduation class finds another on Facebook, and it’s always such a surprise. He or she doesn’t look the same.  Like, where did all that white hair come from, or those rounded out curves, or laugh wrinkles, shall we call them?  Then it occurs to me, that’s what they probably say when they see my photos, but when I see those pictures of myself, they don’t look all that different.

That’s because it happened so gradually that I never saw a sharp change in the mirror, and maybe too because I stopped looking all that closely. Oh, I look close enough to put on some moisturizer, some lipstick and even a little eye makeup, but that mirror engagement is purely tactical, did I smear the lipstick or eyeliner? 

Is that because I don’t really want to see what I do look like to others, like I might be afraid of the truth if I looked for it?  Evidence that all those years had passed?  Then it occurred to me that confession, real confession is kind of like really looking into a mirror, looking closely with an intent to see what is there.  And if you find something you have to do something about it.

That’s what happened to me this last week.   I am still studying confession, and this last week it got personal.  I was challenged to look back into my life and see if there was anything that I may be hanging onto that is weighing me down, anything I needed to make right.  Now. there’s an exercise that can make you want to go take a walk or vacuum or read another book.

But I did it, and will probably be doing it some more.  The point is, there were some things that I could make right, so I screwed up the courage and made a couple of phone calls.  Actually, they went pretty well, but today as I type this, I wonder if there isn’t more, and maybe it isn’t so much that I need to confess these things to make me feel better but because I need to humble myself before someone else.  Maybe God might use that exercise of my humility in my life and in someone else’s.  

I said, back when we were missionaries, that God did not take us to Africa because the Chadians needed us so much, but because that was what God was going to use in my life to make me more like Christ, to grow me.  And now, I think that’s what is happening in retirement and with mirrors and confession.  I am not here because it is time to relax and read more books, but to use the quiet to see how God wants me to grow now…and as uncomfortable as it is sometimes, I am glad He is still in the growing business.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

So, here's my shower gift!! and the truth!

Someone bought the house next to us, and the new owner is hard at work every spare moment, hammering and sanding and drilling and ripping out and building back up, creating a new house for him and his wife.  Soon, his wife will bring in their wedding picture, flowers and favorite pillows and turn this new house into a home, their home.
As I listened to the endless brrrr of the sander one day, it occurred to me how much work people put into getting their house just right, and that made me think about the big bucks and endless planning people put into getting the wedding just right – grand and beautiful decorations, moving music, gloriously attired bride and groom and the best refreshments.  Months and months, and in some cases years of preparation go into an event that lasts mere hours.
All of that made me ponder how much preparation goes into that which lasts much longer, the marriage. We spent an hour with our pastor, and I remember very little of that.  My mother reminded me that marriage was forever, and that I shouldn’t plan on coming home without Jim. That was our premarital counseling. I understand some pastors require a few weeks (read that three or four meetings) of premarital education.  From all that I can gather, those sessions are led by men and deal with budgeting and recognition of who is going to be the “buck stops here” person and what the wedding ceremony will look like.
But who tells the young couple the truth – that marriage is hard work because you are combining under one roof oil and vinegar? And they generally do not stay mixed up, at least without a lot of shaking. Read that attention to each other and willingness to see things from the other’s perspective and make compromises.  Marriages cannot succeed if she thinks he can read her mind, and functions that way.  It cannot succeed if he thinks he can relax now, and stop pursuing  her.  Now he just has to support her.

Marriage can be very fragile, like trying to keep a match lit on a windy day, or it can be strong and powerful like the mountain of fire we call a volcano.  I don’t believe God designed marriage to be an endurance contest, two people living under one roof.  I think marriage is meant to begin like the embers of a fire that requires feeding to keep it alive.  Sometimes the flames leap up with laughter and excitement, but most of the time, it burns on sweetly and comfortingly as each marriage partner seeks to bless the other.
So here’s my shower gift: marriage is built on the kind of love that seeks the best in and for the partner, and that requires some serious selflessness.  So, if that’s not where you are, then you better get busy and do something about it.  It’s been nearly five decades now, and I can tell you from experience, all the effort is worth it. And I will admit, it has required some serious work because we are human!


Monday, April 14, 2014

But Confession Is So Hard!!

I’ve mentioned the book I am working through:  A Year With God – Working Through the Spiritual Disciplines, and the topic right now is confession.  The passage referenced today was Numbers 5: 5-8, and the focus was two-fold: confession and restitution, both required according to the Law. One thing that caught my attention in the Numbers passage were these words:  “When a man or a woman wrongs another, breaking faith with the Lord, that person incurs guilt and shall confess the sin that has been committed.  The person shall make full restitution adding one fifth to it, and giving it to the one that was wronged.”
When I teach about confession, I always teach it as two directional.  You confess to God, Kind of a vertical confession, and your relationship with Him is restored.  No because He ever moved away, but our own feelings of guilt and shame make it hard to have fellowship with Him.  Then there is horizontal confession, making it right with the one offended, and the ground work for restoration of that fellowship has been laid.  I put it that way because sometimes the person offended may not be ready or want that restoration.  Nonetheless, it is important that we act in love, apologizing for our failure, and the next step belongs to that person.

Well, as I thought about confession, here in the Old Testament, I wondered what the New Testament said.  Apart from the passages that encourage us to confess our faith, there is another one that deals with sin issues and confession: James 5: 16, “Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another that ye may be healed.”  As I thought about those words, it came to me that my sin not only affects my relationship with God and the person I have offended, but it wounds me, and I need healing.

The Greek word here for fault is paraptoma meaning a lapse or deviation from truth and uprightness, a sin, misdeed. The one for healed is iatomai meaning cure, heal; to make whole; to free from errors and sins. My unconfessed sin, the ones the Spirit of God  brings to my attention, scars me or damages me in some significant way.  As I thought that through, it came to me that the more I make excuses for my faults or sins, the greater the gap I build between God and me.  The harder it becomes to hear or pay attention to the Spirit of God or the Word of God, and the greater the distance between us grows.  My self-inflicted wounds of failure to confess and make right my own short-comings grow like scar tissue that must be removed for healthy tissue to grow.

And James speaks to the importance of the Body of Christ.  We are to confess our faults to each other and pray for each other, so the healing process can take place.  There is something about transparency that builds or facilitates the building of relationships.

I have been talking my Ministry Com students about mentoring, and that is a great place for this kind of confession to take place.  Accountability relationships are another great place for this transparency.  Family, both physical and spiritual, is designed for this kind of relationship building. 

All of that to say, that I have been thinking a lot about confession these last couple of weeks, and have realized afresh how important it is.




Monday, April 7, 2014

Weaning is no fun! Or is it!

A year ago, I was putting six books a day into the hall outside my office, with a two-fold goal: to take fewer boxes home and to pass on books to those who were at the other end of their professional careers.  Those next few weeks flew by, and suddenly I was home, boxes piled around me, and no place to go. 
You’d think it would have been fun, sleeping in, books to read, sit in the sun!!!  But I was miserable!  For over thirty years, everyday, I would wake up, dress up and head up and out to school, surrounding myself with young people to teach and mentor.  I had been a teacher, a professor, an administrator, and now what?

After several weeks of self-pity, I got excited.  I was to teach two online classes, a monthly counseling class and writing classes at the library.  The fall flew by ,and it was so much fun.

Then spring came, and no online classes, but an on -campus class along with the other classes, and it was still fun…less intensive, because online classes are intensive, but I began to have a sense of being weaned. Last week, we had a final celebration of my library writing classes, made better because they want to do it again. But I did look at the calendar and realized, like last year, it would all be over in a few weeks.  Then what?

A new door opened; I was invited to teach a couple of workshops at a writers’ conference this summer, and it came to me, the kindness of God. Last night I woke up, and discovered I was rehearsing Scripture that I had memorized, and I can still remember whispering this verse in the darkness, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

God is weaning me from the familiar, and He has been doing it with such kindness this last year…allowing me to continue teaching a little and writing a little.  And like the infant who is weaned from the bottle or breast, who discovers the freedom a glass of milk gives, I am discovering the freedom and joy of this new life.  Yeah, I know I am a slow learner, that I am just getting it now.
BUT, I wonder if the lesson isn’t the same for all of us.  We all face periods of life when we are weaned from the familiar to walk a new path.  Sometimes the new path looks scary, and from experience, the more we look back, the scarier the looking ahead gets. But God never changes; He loves us and He never forces us to walk a path that He has not cleared for us. And He never asks us to walk that path alone.