Advent: Be Honest

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Day One: Set Free By the Truth

‘If you remain in my word,’ he said, ‘you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ (John 8:31b-32, NTE)

Her eyes were brimming with tears. This was one of the moments when I would have liked to throw accountability out the window—but it was also one of those obvious God-picked teachable moments.

“Mom, I don’t know why I lied. I knew you’d be disappointed in me. I’m sorry.”

The poor choice was compounded by the lie, and my daughter knew that would only multiply the consequences—but her understanding and unprompted apology was sincere. She received her punishment, knowing it was fair and deserved.

But she also knew how much I appreciated her ownership and honesty. With apology came forgiveness and my willingness to move—to free her from my judgment and further punishment because of my continued anger.

God reminded me that day of the importance of honest confession before him. Telling the truth enables us to live freely, without having to spend energy continuing to cover the lies and inevitable shame. How precious that kind of freedom is!

TO PONDER: Can you think of a time when life became more complicated by a dishonest response? My mother often quoted the old prover, “Oh, what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Think about a time when, though difficult, it paid to be honest.

TO DISCUSS: How have you experienced God’s mercy and freedom in your life? Who in your life embodies the Truth? 

PRAYER: God, you are the Truth and the Way. Forgive us when we try to dodge consequences by not avoiding the Truth. Guide us back into your Way, and enable us to walk lightly and freely—honestly with you. Amen.

Pick A Box

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Do you have God in a box?

It’s an odd question…an old question.

Usually, we say we believe the Creator of the Universe is too big to be limited. We use theological words like omnipresent, omniscient, omni-something-or-other.

But we don’t live what we believe.

Sometimes we act like our problem is too big for God to handle…or too small for him to care. Or at times, we’d rather do things our way, because he’s too slow. Funny…he never seems to be in half the the hurry I am.

We hold back from letting him help because we don’t want him to “mess things up”. All that means is we only want our way, but don’t look at the mess we’ve made.

We take him out when it’s convenient, when it makes us look good, when no one will be offended.

What if God put us in little boxes and only took us out when it was convenient?

Here’s a couple verses that can help us with this box problem:

Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In ALL your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

If we will do this…he will do that.

So either we climb into that God box with our ALL,  or we let him out so he has freedom to fill and lead us wherever we are.

PRAYER: God, sorry about the box thing. This world we live in is so conveniently compartmentalized. It’s how we try to maintain control. Help us to do that hard work of trusting you with our ALL so you can lead us into your best. Amen.

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Advent 14: Christmas Cookies

I love Christmas cookies. I love cookie exchanges.

My mom never made Christmas cookies–any cookies, actually. It wasn’t until I was in Girl Scouts that I ever iced sugar cookies.

Did I mention I love cookies? I don’t think I ever met a problem a Doule Stuff Oreo (or whole bag) couldn’t solve. I have eaten way more than my fair share in my fifty-six years.

Last Christmas a friend invited me over to decorate cookies. It sounded like fun so I showed up. She had several bowls of homemade icing and trays and trays of cut-out cookies in all the traditional Christmas shapes.

I sat down at the table and very carefully and gingerly began to ice and decorate with sprinkles.

She laughed at me. Then she asked me what I was doing.

I looked at her rather shocked at first. I mean, what did it look like I was doing. Then it dawned on me that she had finished decorating a half dozen cookies to my one. I was so afraid to “mess up” that I was not enjoying the experience at all. My perfectionism was totally tying me up and shutting me down.

My friend then very quickly went to work assuring me that there was no wrong way to do this. She’s a very wise woman. I decided to believe her. The result was that we had a fun time. In the end there were plenty of iced cookies and neither of us were fretting about the icing or sprinkles on the table…I don’t think we were fretting at all.

And a truth seed was planted in my heart that brought a breath of freedom into my life.

Too often my perfectionistic roots strangle my creativity, my living, and living life to its fullest (See John 10:10). I have noticed that I’m not alone in this as I have listened to friends discuss their struggle with finding and doing God’s will…his perfect will.

Choices that I made in my life really messed things up for me. I was afraid life was over. Somehow I thought that life progressed in a straight line moving up. But it looked more like a jumbled mess.

What if the truth is that God loves us enough to let us make mistakes? What if there isn’t one plan/path and if we don’t find it and only walk down that one and instead meander a little? What if there isn’t one perfect job, but a series of jobs where we have the opportunity to touch many lives and make a difference in many places? What if there isn’t one perfect mate, but more than one…or none?

There are those who would consider such thinking blasphemous. I wonder what they do when the cords get jumbled up?

There is a verse that is often quoted from Jeremiah: For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

There is certainly comfort in that verse…but it’s also pretty vague. And when you put it in context it’s even more interesting. Go ahead read the whole chapter.

Life is not always neat and tidy. Sometimes it’s jumbled up. Sometimes it’s even messier than a table after preschoolers attempt to decorate Christmas cookies. But God is still there. He’s still planning for hope and a future. He can make something beautiful if you’ll ease up and let him.

He is after all, the one who promised to give us life…life to the fullest.

Simple Gifts

Okay. Raise your hand if you have a cell phone? Keep them up…I’m still counting.

Last week I finally went in to talk to the people at my Verizon store. I would rather visit the dentist.

There are very few, if any, workers there who know what life was like before cell phones. I feel like I’m immediately a “marked” woman: easy prey; unknowing victim; big sale! Ugh.

So I after I am accosted at the door, I am sent to the counter to talk to a young man. Very chipper and quite excited to get the geezer (not), he asks what he can do for me. I tell him, “Fix my phone.”

I go on to explain that my battery won’t hold a charge. He removes the battery and spins it on the counter. “Yep, that battery is really bad.” (Thanks captain obvious, that’s why I came in). He explains that the spinning demonstrates that the battery is warped and that’s why it’s not charging.

He proceeds to look up my account–our account, since we are bundled with younger daughter. He correctly informs me that my contract isn’t up until March. A fact that I knew and that doesn’t make me happy. I ask what I can do about this.

He walks me over to the magic wall of wonder. I guess I’m supposed to be all “Ooh” and “Ah”, but all I see are gizmos and gadgets I can’t afford and don’t need. He proceeds to explain my two options–both of which cost way too much and don’t fix my phone. No, I need a new phone. Upgrade is the solution. I leave the store with his card and my bum phone.

Later in the day I tell my husband about my adventure. He asks how much a new battery costs. I tell him that was not an option that was given to me. He sighs and gets on Ebay. He orders me an $8 battery that will be here in three days. If that works–great! If not, we’ll consider another option. A new phone is not in the picture. And I’m way okay with that.

That battery came as promised. And works wonderfully. My phone should last until my contract is up.


Now where, you ask, is the daily grace in all of that?

Replacing the battery seemed like such an obvious and logical solution. I’m certainly no techo-genius, but even I came up with that one. And the whole thing dying shortly before my contract was complete was a fact that seemed quite suspicious to me as well.

As I drove home from the store, my phone making all sorts of odd beeps and chimes as I try to charge it, a phrase ran through my mind: not as the world gives.

Here’s the context of those words: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27, NIV)

We typically hear these words at funerals. They are spoken there with intent of bringing comfort.

But all I could hear was: I do not give to you as the world gives.

The world wanted me to spend beyond my means. The world left me feeling badly about myself. The world avoided the simple solution.

Jesus does none of the above. Jesus invites me to be a wise steward. Jesus loved me so much he died for me. Through Jesus’ teachings, miracles, and example, we see over and over the value of individuals that society shunned or devalued (the ill, children, widows, women, and tax collectors). Jesus focused on the obvious, even though their eyes were blind and their ears shut to his message.

As you make your way into the minefield of holiday shopping and gift giving, I would invite you to carry this verse with you: I do not give as the world gives. The world wants you to spend. The world seeks to convince children that they don’t have enough, or good enough. Adults aren’t immune from this ploy of the deceiver either.

The message of the world is that things, more things, better things, improved things, new things will make us happy. But it’s a lie. Sorry. Here’s how I know it: this is not how God gives. Jesus neither. God gave the greatest gift in the form of a helpless baby, born in a stable or cave. There was a fanfare of sorts (cue the angelic choir), but the message was given to dirty, smelly, low-life shepherds.

NOW HEAR THIS: I’m not saying you have to change everything you do. I’m just asking you to consider…and invite God into your process. This isn’t simply an invitation to ask and apply the WWJD formula…but there is something to thinking about how Jesus would give and what he would give.

As I thought about this verse an old Quaker song came to mind:


Now those are some gifts I would like to find around my tree: freedom, the ability to bow and bend, and know I’m where I ought to be. Those are the gifts Jesus gives. I hope you find those this holiday and holy season.

Surrender

We started our study of Conrad Gempf’s book, Mealtime Habits of the Messiah in our Sunday school class last Sunday. And as I suspected, we didn’t get very far, very fast. In fact, we only got through half of the introduction. Lest you wonder…this is a good thing. There was much discussion and participation. Our class has grown so much that we have to find a better way to squeeze us in–such a glorious problem!

So while I was studying and preparing for the upcoming class the topic of surrender was mentioned…but the way my mind stuck on it you would have thought that it was the main theme. Rumination at its best.

Surrender. Not a popular word. Somehow it has become the definition of weakness, of defeat. We don’t want to surrender to our enemies, our spouse, our boss, our grandchildren. And yet we daily surrender to our passions, our obsessions, our addictions. Go figure.

For a bit, I want to focus on what surrender means in the spiritual sense…at least for me.

Here’s the problem as I see it: we think surrender means giving away everything and getting nothing. And somehow in that process I get lost…the me that I am, is gone. If I surrender to my spouse I cease to exist and it’s only them. If I surrender to God…then there’s no me. And we can’t fathom not being. That’s why we fight death so fiercely.

Until we begin to understand God, this surrender thing makes him seem like some cosmic terrorist: why surrender? He’s just going to kill us anyway.

Our thinking is really twisted…thanks to the great deceiver and the work he’s been at since the garden. See, he started his number on the first folks, Adam and Eve–and primarily Eve. His job has been to distort God’s purposes and He’s really quite good at it and we’re really quite sucked into it. His opening remarks were to twist the words and purpose of God’s reasoning. “Did God really say that?” “I’m sure that’s not what he meant.” And then she bit and bought the apple.

What does this have to do with surrender? Everything. We think everything is ours and to get a piece of God we have to give it all up. As if to hold God in my hands I have to lay my stuff down. And there in, or in there, lies the problem.

Nothing I have is mine. It may be in my possession, but it doesn’t belong to me. Having trouble with that? I understand. I was dealing with my grandson on the concept just the other day. He was playing with a neighbor boy, who happens to remind me of Eddie Haskill (if you don’t remember Leave it to Beaver, go look it up on youtube). He’s older than my grandson and constantly tries to take advantage of his naivety. Especially when it comes to trading. (This is a boy concept which I don’t get very well.) Eddie-boy tries to grandson to give him something or things and in return gives him junk that he tries to pawn off as really great stuff. Grandson wants to be friends with Eddie-boy so he goes along with it.

This trading isn’t too big a problem until grandson starts to trade off the stuff that we have paid for (aka: of high value to us as it should be to him). That’s when I step in as the enforcer and put the kibosh to the whole thing. The last incident left grandson in tears and confused and me trying to explain. I wanted grandson to know that we provide these things for him so that he will have things to do and play with while he is at our house (daily). He is allowed to play with them and in some sense they are his things, but they don’t belong to him. He is also charged with the care of these things.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this is how God sees things, too. He provides it all–but it’s still his. All he asks is that we acknowledge that and take care of it.

I think that was why the Rich Young Ruler (see Mark 10:17-27) had such a hard time when Jesus told him to sell all that he “possessed” and give it to the poor. He didn’t really understand who the true owner, possessor, was. He really bought the lie (of the evil one), and thought he owned it. He thought to give it, to surrender, meant that he would lose it all. As if to think that God really needed his possessions? I don’t need to own all my grandson’s toys. In fact, when he’s grown and gone, so will the toys. It would just be nice if he recognized the provision occasionally, but that might be a lot to expect from a seven year old.

But we’re adults and it seems to be what God is asking of us.

Could this be what Paul was saying to the Romans (Romans 12:1-2) when he describes our reasonable service/sacrifice as one that is living? He says God wants a living sacrifice. That is what is holy and pleasing to him. Too often we think we quit living if we surrender.

(I just had a moment…a thought…I was thinking about Abraham offering Isaac. There seems to be some parallels. Would God have allowed Abraham to kill Isaac? Or was he wanting to see if Abe would give, surrender his son–give back to God what ultimately was his anyway? Going to have to think on this some more.)

If you’re still reading along with me, then you have exceeded blogdom’s suggested word count and I thank you. Let me hasten to close…

Surrender is not to be feared or avoided. In many ways it reminds me of how I define confession: agreeing and owning what God already knows about me. Surrender is recognizing who truly owns everything and receiving it back as a trust–whether it’s my life, my money, my toys…you fill in the blank. I’m not, you’re not, the owner, but the steward.

And here’s a thought: God trusts you with his very best and treasured possessions. How will that impact your living?

Wondering and Wandering: Fear and Freedom

“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.'” (Rom. 8:15).

It’s a lot easier to write when I don’t envision my friends’ smirking faces as they read what I’ve written. In particular, I can see Heidi’s grin as she scans over these words. I see her face because it’s her voice I hear in my head right now. I’ve been playing back a conversation we had on Friday as we ate ice cream and sucked down several cups of coffee. “What are you so afraid of?” she asked me.

I had no answer then. I don’t have one now. What I do have is a heavy weight sitting right on my chest, squashing me, squeezing all the air out. Fear is that weight, but I don’t know what it is fear of exactly. Failure. Rejection. Pointlessness. All of the above. None of the above.

Fear is not a new companion. I have lived most of my life afraid of something. I remember the physical frozenness when I was in hospital chaplaincy training and how hard it was to make myself walk through that door. I have been so afraid of driving in weather. Fear has affected my friendships, my relationship with my husband, my job performance.

So when I started researching for today’s word, I started by doing a keyword search on bound. Nothing jumped. I switched to bind. Nope. I googled “spiritual bondage.” Getting closer. Then I pulled out my Theological Dictionary and was directed to the above scripture reference. It wasn’t until I read it a few times that one word jumped up and bit me on the nose. Again.

Chapter 7 of Romans is one of the Bible’s great wrestling matches. My other favorite is Jacob and the Angel. Anyway, in Romans 7, Paul is describing the internal wrestling match he has between doing the good he wants to do and the not-good that he ends up doing. Near the end of the match, Paul asks the question, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” The answer is Romans 8:1: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Paul wants us to know that God has not set us free to be put into slavery, or bondage AGAIN.

In Christ Jesus we are not just set free, but we are adopted into the closest of relationships. To call God Abba is to refer to him in a dependent and loving way as would a child and with the respect that an adult has for his or her parent. It is a relationship that is completely secure and that’s what releases us from the bondage of fear.

As we wade even deeper into Advent, let us marvel at the freedom that Jesus came to offer. Let’s take time to identify and surrender our fears to him. I mean seriously, aren’t you getting tired of the wrestling match?
1. Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

2. Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh196.sht

Feel Like Dancing?

This morning I was going through the many blogs I read and I pulled up one from the Steve Laube Agency. It contained two videos. I was so sucked in I watched three more and then went back and watched the first one again. Here, you watch:

So what did you think? I wish we could dialogue together about this.
-First, I love the freedom. I have led such a boxed up and carefully contained boxed life. Free would never be a word that describes me. Controlled, absolutely. I never knew how to play, really let loose. I have never felt creative or imaginative. And no one will ever confuse me with someone adventurous. Here’s the poem that best describes me:
My Inside-Self and my Outside-Self
Are different as can be.
My Outside-Self wears gingham smocks,
And very round is she,
With freckles sprinkled on her nose,
And smoothly parted hair,
And clumsy feet that cannot dance
In heavy shoes and square.

But, oh, my little Inside-Self —
In gown of misty rose
She dances lighter than a leaf
On blithe and twinkling toes;
Her hair is blowing gold, and if
You chanced her face to see,
You would not think she could belong
To staid and sober me!
“My Inside-Self” by Rachel Field

Yep, that about sums me up…and perhaps why when I see people dancing freely, I weep. Enamored with the beauty, the freedom.

2. I listened to the video of how this guy, Matt, made these videos. Can you believe this was his job? How incredibly cool. In case you didn’t watch more than just the one I posted, he reports in his “how I made the video” video that if you google him, Matt, he’s the top four results. Can you imagine?! He went into his world, all around the world, and invited people to dance. And they danced.

This got me thinking, and the more I thought the more I wept. No one is going to pay me to go around the world. I’ve been given my little corner. I firmly believe that God put me in this spot, at this time, on purpose. Am I dancing? Am I living an intentionally infectuous and all out life for Jesus that draws people in? Maybe a little, but that seal in the video danced better than me. (It’s okay, go back and look for it, I nearly missed it too. It’s at the 4:08 spot.) I don’t want to just be a good neighbor, a responsible community member. I want to shine and dance for Jesus. My prayer is that. Just that. Free me up Jesus. Take this love I feel for you on the inside and help me let it out, in ways that bring joy and a hunger and thirst in others to join the dance.

How ’bout you? Feel like dancing?

Coming out of the corner

Coming out of the corner

When you were a kid did you have to stand in the corner for punishment? I don’t think I did. I got my fair share of spankings. I was sent to my room. Only one time did I ever miss a meal. I was grounded as I got older and remember losing car priviledges, too. But I don’t remember my nose stuck in the corner. Oh, and there was no such thing as a time out chair in my house.

So as an adult, who is almost fifty-five, today feels very odd to me.  Recently,  I completed the final phase of punishment for a crime I committed ten years ago. I was not the kid who got in trouble. Never even got a speeding ticket. A friend made the statement that my worst crime was probably the way I cooked meatloaf.

Before I recieced my sentence, I completed a psychological evaluation to determine the likelihood of my reoffending. I was deemed low risk for reoffending. A PSI (pre-sentence investigation) was also done and it supported the Psych eval. So when it came time for my sentencing, the judge ordered me to spend sixty day in county jail, pay a $500 fine, and serve five years on community control (aka probation). Additionally, this crime automatically carried a ten year period of community registration which came with its own restrictions. This final component has been the mostndifficult for me. In many ways it has been like being in a prison without bars, because of the legal restrictions and the self-imposed shame. There wasn’t a single day in that ten years when I didn’t feel some level of judgement, real or imagined.

Today the bars are gone completely. All phases of that original sentence have been completed. It seemed very fitting that the sun should be shining the day it was all done, because I certainly feel like I had come out of a very dark place.

Putting someone in time out, whether it is in the corner or in prison, can provide the separated individual an opportunity to reflect and plan. My encounters with people seems to reveal to me that much more time goes into the planning than into reflection. The plan may be as simple as how not to get caught again or to exact revenge on those the “prisoner” blames for his or her incarceration. As for me, there was much  more reflection than planning. I have spent a lot of time, both in therapeutic counselling and journalistic reflection, thinking about what got me into the place where I made such devastating decisions and what I need to do to be sure I don’t ever repeat those mistakes.

So now I’ve crossed into a new place. In some ways life doesn’t look any different than it did a few days ago, but I can feel the difference.

Sunday morning in worship we sang the chorus, “Trading My Sorrows.” It starts out by saying!
“I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading my shame. I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord…I’ll say yes Lord…” I get that. I have exhausted myself. Ten years of shame carrying can do that to a body.

I was trying to explain this feeling and the “change” to a friend.   Never having walked this path she just couldn’t wrap her brain around the difference. She has only known me for the past four years, so she didn’t know the pre-crime Tina. She couldn’t understand what difference a day would make. This isn’t the first time we had this conversation, either.  So once again, I tried using a current example to help her see.

There has been a job advertized online and in our local paper for a counselor position at the local drug and alcohol counselling center. There is licensure requirement listed. I have a counselling degree and experience. I could do the job. Last week I wouldn’t even considered applying. What makes the difference? Two things. First, I have completed my sentence. That means something. And through the process I re-established my credibility and I have the references to support that. They are the same references I would have had last week, but now it’s their word and my action. Even more than that, I have hope. And that is poweful a thing.

What I know for absolute certain is that I am out of the corner.  I sometimes wonder if the paint was wet in the corner where I stood.  Or perhaps someone stuck a “Corner” tag on my back when I was reflecting too deeply to notice.  I wonder this because there are some people who treat me as if I still belong in the corner.  Good therapy has helped me in handling this.  I just remind myself: they can’t put me back there unless I let them.  And all their fretting about my being “restored” is about them.  I don’t have to try and carry their stuff–I have enough of a load of my own to deal with thank you very much!

So I’m going to kick around and enjoy a little fresh air and freedom.  No more corners for me!