2020 Advent Unmuting Challenge

So this challenge was made on Twitter and I decided to give it a try.

November 29: Abundance of Caution: Mark 13:33

Text: And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!

When my dad was dying from cancer, I rode back to the house with my mom across Columbus. I remarked at how well I thought she was doing well in spite of everything. I told her I couldn’t remember her driving on the interstate. She laughed and added that was probably because she and Dad had been “blotto” most of the time.

At the time of this conversation, I was in a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) program in Kansas City. I had been doing a lot of reading on children of alcoholics. The descriptions lined up with many of my behaviors, especially my hyper vigilance: always watching for the other shoe to drop, and being ready for some emotional explosion or melt down.

Always ready. On guard. Alert! Anticipate and expect the worst.

When began my faith journey as a freshman in high school, I gravitated toward these kinds of verses of warning. They had a familiar feel. I could handle this.

My struggle came when I had to understand and incorporate grace. The tension between what I understood as be alert and relax was confusing and unsettling. How would I make it work?

As life has unfolded, I have learned that it’s just as easy to choose to anticipate the positive as it is the negative. After all, I know well, that we will get what we look for.

So I now longer read these verses with the lenses of doom and gloom. I will be ready, not out of fear, but out of an expectation for God to bring good out of whatever I face.

Irritable

Lately, I’ve been feeling irritable, on-edge, restless, out-of-focus.

I grabbed my prayer book this morning and this is what I found:

Are the antidotes to my dis-ease in this simple, timely prayer? Let’s think it through:

First, have I responded in love when irritations and annoyances erupt? Nope. My anger has over-ruled and overrun my giving grace and love mechanism, like a log truck going downhill in the mountains.

If sensible people control their temper, as the writer of Proverbs admonishes, I have been anything but sensible. I have been out of my senses. I have been out of control. This is obvious in my interactions, my eating, and my disciplines. I haven’t written anything for months. My office is in total disarray. All I want to do is get on my bike and ride—hard, long, and fast.

It’s like I’m trying to get away from something. I’ve always been a runner, an avoider. Ignore something long enough and it will go away. Ridiculous thinking. I would identify it and encourage others to change, but have not been very good at owning it in myself.

As a counselor, I learned and taught classes, groups, and individuals about anger management. A basic truth for me has always been that most often anger is a protective response. People feel more comfortable expressing anger and pushing others away than owning their more vulnerable feelings of sadness, fear, confusion, or brokenness.

I’m feeling all of the above. At work. At home. In my relationships. I feel more comfortable holing up alone in my house with my dogs who don’t care what I’m going through as long as I feed them, let them out to potty, and give them an occasional scratch behind the ear.

But this is not how I want to be. And perhaps that’s why I’m so frustrated. I don’t feel like I’m allowed or supposed to feel this way. I have to be on and up for everyone. I’m not allowed to be irritated. And heaven forbid that I would express my frustration publically.

For example…last week the tree trimmers came to my house to cut my tree limbs back from the power lines. I was fuming. They’re supposed to let us know so we can pay top dollar to tree-trimming companies to sculpt rather than butcher our trees indiscriminately. We weren’t notified. They butchered my tree.

I felt violated. I was so angry, I was telling people that I was ready to chop the rest of the tree down with my teeth. Not particularly attractive talk or behavior. Upon reflection, I was mortified that I was so vociferous in my expression of my anger. I should have been gracious. After all, they were only doing their job, and keeping the electric on is important for me and for the neighborhood.

Spewing my anger over what I felt was hack job on my tree became the perfect opportunity to empty out my hoard of pent up frustration and irritation. My behavior was completely disproportionate to the incident. My ranting was unbecoming and my inability to control my expression was indicative of a deeper wounding that needs to be addressed.

That said, I have realized and reminded myself of Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians regarding anger: be angry and sin not. Anger is not the enemy. Anger is a legitimate emotion. How we release or control the intensity is what matters. Who we express it to is also relevant. Anger is energy that when channeled appropriately can result is positive change.

Typically I like to finish one of these posts in a neat package, with a tidy resolution tied up with a pretty ribbon.

Sorry, no ribbon today. Today begins the arduous work of back-tracking soul-searching examination to uncover the wound that has been the impetus to this feeling of dis-ease. I take comfort in the words of Psalm 103, “He heals all our dis-eases.”

I’m trusting in that truth, and in the ensuing process. I’m also hoping the ownership of the feelings unlocks the door to peace (completeness, shalom) so that my life and living will be a more credible witness.

Woo or Woe

Woo Not Woe

“Mom, is there anybody you won’t talk to?” This was a question my girls would ask when they were young. We’d go into the store, and I would invariably strike up a conversation with someone in the checkout line or parking lot. I never gave it much thought. I just liked connecting with people.

Several years ago I was required to undergo psychological testing as a precursor to a job I applied for. One of the tests came from a book, “Strengths Finder 2.0” written by Tom Rath. It was a very new test at the time.

Not surprising to me, I scored very high in the area of “woo.” Woo is the ability to win others over. It’s about connecting with others and involves the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone. Good trait for a pastoral/preacher type to have.

Jesus thought it was a good trait for all his followers. 

In Matthew 18, Jesus responds to a question posed by his disciples: “Who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” I think they were hoping he would say it was them and not the religious establishment. Jesus turns, however, and picks up a child. Not what they were expecting—or even able to comprehend.

The disciples and followers of Jesus were constantly taken aback when his teachings and behaviors didn’t match up to their desires for the Messiah. He wasn’t what they were looking for … but exactly what they needed. 

They were focused on themselves, their plans and dreams, and wanting to distance themselves from others—so they would come out on top. Jesus was about reaching out to others, about loving the unlovely, about connecting with the disenfranchised. This was his mission before he even arrived (for background check out Isaiah 58 and 61, and Jesus’ first sermon in Luke 4).

Jesus’ response to their “greatest” question contained some strong words of warning. Each one began with ‘woe.’ Woe unto those who are so caught up in themselves that their behavior causes anyone to stumble. Woe unto those whose selfishness and self-serving behavior drives anyone away.

For Jesus the better behavior would be a wooing behavior—a drawing behavior. The kind of living and loving that is welcoming and warm. 

I don’t know about you, but I find that behavior as rare as a sunny day in Ohio recently. Our lives have been inundated with a divisiveness that is far from wooing. We live in a time when offering a cool cup of water, a tender word, and a moment of connection would go a long way to bring someone into the fullness of the kingdom.

These days we need less ‘childishness’ (self-seeking) and more child-likeness (open and trusting). I know I don’t want to be on the receiving end of Jesus’ ‘woe.’ The world watches and wants a whole lot more wooing from those of us who claim to follow the ways of Jesus. 

Let’s get wooing. 

Advent: Think Small, Be Honest, and Give Big

Invitation

Many times this part of a book is called the “introduction.” I’ve decided instead to make mine the “invitation.”

Why you ask?

Oh, I’m so glad you did.

We live in a time when bigger is assumed to be better: bigger homes, bigger cars…bigger paychecks. Unfortunately, I’ve seen much more dissatisfaction, disappointment, and disillusionment when bigger doesn’t bring better—when more doesn’t result in greater happiness.

Many years ago I had the privilege of serving as an interim pastor at a Mennonite church in Ohio. In an effort to help me understand the congregation several members encouraged me to find a book they felt explained their choices and focus in life. The title was “Living on Less, And Liking It More.” The title not only intrigued me, but challenged me.

Three “tenets” of the Church of the Brethren include continuing the work of Jesus: peacefully, simply, together. Sandwiched there in the middle laid a concept ready to pounce on the faithful and push them into brand new territory.

Does God care about small stuff?

What does it mean to live simply?

How much is enough?

Do I really need all this stuff?

Thinking about Advent helped me arrive at a “simple” answer: Yes.

As we journey to Advent, we’re going to look some of those small, seemingly insignificant things and consider how important they are to our God.

I’m inviting you to think anew on the spiritually small things of life to gain a new understanding as to why God chose to begin his redemption plan with a baby.

But not just small things matter to God.

We’ll also be considering how important being honest is—especially when it means being vulnerable. God is concerned about honesty and sincerity in our faith journey. And coming as a baby demonstrates his willingness to be vulnerable. Can we do less?

Finally, we will also accept God’s challenge to give big. After all God gave us the greatest gift of all, Jesus.

So, join me: think small, be honest, and give big!

Life’s short…then you die.

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I remember a seminary professor’s instruction to the wide-eyed group of preacher wannabes: Pay attention when the Bible repeated itself.

As I have been preparing for this week’s message on Psalm 39, I’ve noticed the author has stated twice that life is “a hand’s breadth.” Each time the thought is followed by the musical term “Selah.”

What’s the point? Life is short.

And after each reminder: Selah. Pause. Reflect. Take a breath.

My grandson started back to school this week. As he approached his last weekend, he was filled with complaints at what he didn’t get to do or get done during his summer break. He was overwhelmed by how slow summer drug on, but how quickly it was gone.

Hand’s breadth.

That’s life, Buddy. That’s life, friend.

Message Meme: Harmony

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I googled “how do we create harmony?” And I was surprised by the variety of responses that came up. We can create harmony in the workplace, for the unemployed, in our relationships, and in our minds. There are sites to teach you how to harmoniously kick start your career, create harmony in your style, and find harmony in your home.

Scripture tells us: Live in harmony with each other (Romans 12:6a, NLT)

In music, harmony is the working together of notes—different notes, with different values, different tones—to make something beautiful and uplifting.

When scripture tells to be like-minded, to have the same mind as Christ Jesus, we need to understand that the “likeness” is not necessarily “sameness.” We may never agree in all things, we are as different as notes. But we can have the same end game, the same goal “in mind.”

What can we do to cross the finish line together?

Live in harmony.

 

 

Message Meme: When You Pray

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Tuesdays I plant a seed for the coming Sunday message. Starting Sunday I will begin a series which draws inspiration from Bob Hostetler’s book, The Red Letter Prayer Life, 17 Words From Jesus To Inspire Practical, Purposeful, Powerful Prayer. 

This week’s text is Jesus’ words on prayer after watching the self-absorbed Pharisees who prayed publically to get attention:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:5-6, NIV).”

Is Jesus saying we are only to pray in private? I don’t think so.

I believe Jesus is teaching his followers that until they work on their relationship with God through private prayer, their public prayer will only look like the performance of the Pharisees.

So when you pray, get alone with God and talk to him…really talk with him…and don’t perform.

Selah: Vacation

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My husband and I are going on a vacation—together. That may not sound like news to most people, but for us it is more rare than a blue moon.

In 40 years we’ve only been on vacation together about a dozen times—and most of those were with family.

He’s always been a go and see kind of guy. Fill up the schedule. See all the sites. I would come home exhausted.

This time, he’s on vacation. No agenda. Not interested in going or doing.

Resting. Really resting.

I’m encouraged. It’s as if I have permission to rest, too.

Why do I need someone else to give me permission?

Do you need permission to rest? To Sabbath?

We’re planning to go to Hawaii next year for our 40th. I asked for recommendations from friends on Facebook. One of the best came my friend Mike. He said this: My recommendation… just go to Hawaii (I liked Maui)sit on the beach during the day and relax. Go to a Luau in the evening and enjoy yourself. Take notes for all the stuff you would like to visit on your next trip, maybe squeeze one of those in on this trip but most of all relax. Don’t worry about your hair while you’re there because there is no such thing as a good hair day on the islands. And relax, treat like one long Sabbath.

There’s something to be said for this kind of thinking. Get someplace in nature. Appreciate God’s amazing handiwork. Breathe.

I’m breathing a lot of Arizona air this week. And thanking God for the opportunity to rest.

When Will I See You Again?

This morning as I was getting ready to write I found this post from last year. I need these words again. Maybe their truth will rub an ache in your faith, too. Selah.

Pot of Manna

For we walk by faith, not by sight, (2 Corinthians 5:7)

WP FCWC

I’m at Florida Christian Writers Conference. It’s a great place to be on so many levels. For one thing, the weather here is delightful. I’m also improving my craft, networking, and making new friends.

So, it might make more sense to you when I tell you I walked out on my balcony and prayed: Lord, where will I, when will I see you again? (And then I started singing, “When will I see you again?” by the Three Degrees…it’s on youtube if you need an earworm)

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I love my regular times with the Lord. Morning routines of prayer and attention to the Word can put such a positive energy into the beginnings of my day. If there’s a sunrise or a sunset filling the sky, it feels like God is tapping me on my shoulder reminding me he’s…

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