Jesus called twelve misfits to join him in his ministry. Even though they dropped everything to follow him, all along the way, their imperfections were screaming, “Losers – the whole lot of you”!
Jesus knew they were all a mess. He could have complained to God like Moses did, “Oh, Father, far be it for me to question your judgment, but isn’t there someone else you could come up with for this monumental task? If I’m going to babysit these whiners and complainers for the next three years, how can I get anything accomplished?” But he acquiesced, “Okay, fine. Not My will but Yours, Lord.”
I don’t know, but I’ll take a stab at God’s reasoning. Okay, I’m a liar. I do know because there are a bazillion verses in scripture about boasting and none of them elicit a high-five from God. Which I’m assuming speaks volumes about our stubborn prideful humanness.
I’m thinking Jesus had a list and chose them as the least-worst disciples to pick from. They had nothing to boast about, but they would anyway. At least at the beginning of that three-year adventure with Jesus. Of course, that all changed after Jesus died. Then you see a lot of their teachings in scripture about not boasting. Like 1 Corinthians 1:31, James 4:16, and Ephesians 2:9, just to name a few.
Another question that often comes up is why the disciples so readily followed Jesus in the first place. I’ll take a stab at this one too. Here were twelve guys hoping for a shot at greatness. Surely by now, they had heard of the crowds Jesus was drawing. He was charismatic and charming, and, WOW, those miracles…impressive, huh? Of course, that’s why they went.
After all, this Jesus seemed different from most of the influential leaders of their day. He seemed like a winner they could get behind. Perhaps they hoped for an upper management position. But what do I know? I wasn’t there.
Thinking in terms of the culture today, Jesus might have hordes of people in line around four city blocks hoping to be chosen, as if it was a shot at some reality TV show! Okay, maybe not.
Anyway, we know the disciple’s faith and trust in Jesus waxed and waned throughout his ministry. Except for Judas Iscariot, who checked out early, it wasn’t until after the resurrection that their passion caught fire, a passion that would take them to their own deaths. At that point, they were beyond holding out for a life story that would make them famous.
Anyway, think of the difference between the guys who scattered when their fear got the best of them and those same guys who became faithful and fearless after Jesus’ resurrection, despite their continued limping along an uncertain path. That should give us all hope. Why? Because if we are honest with ourselves, we too are misfits, doubters, seekers of power and acclaim, liars, and cowards.
Well, that makes me eager for Judgment Day. How about you? As for my sorry imperfect self, I want to run and hide! My imperfect body makes me cranky. My imperfect faith makes me scared to die. My imperfect emotions sometimes look like fireworks on the 4Th of July. My imperfect mind likes to stay awake at night, reminding me of what an idiot I am – or what a moron someone else is.
Brene’ Brown, in her excellent book, “The Gifts of Imperfection“, tells us it’s okay. How is that possible? She says, “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness….I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” Brown tells us that the gifts of imperfection are courage, compassion, and connection.
When we dare to own our own worthiness, then, and only then, can we reach out to others and use our God-given gifts to make a difference in this broken world we live in. The darkness needs your light. The doubts and fears of your neighbor or coworker need your courage. The hopelessness of the world around you needs to know the reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15).
So, there’s your challenge and your call to use the gifts God has given you to take into this messy world! Now is not the time to question or doubt that you are called to serve, that you have anything to offer, that you can make a difference.
It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. You don’t have to cure cancer or win a Nobel Prize (although you can if you’re so inclined). Just give your lonely widowed neighbor five stinking minutes of your precious time! Smile at a teenager you don’t know and act like you’re not afraid they’ll mug you. Take flowers to that crotchety grocery clerk you’re constantly judging.
NOW is the time to come out of hiding, shake off that fear, and jump!
I know many people, and I’ll bet you do too, perhaps even you, who can’t believe God has a plan for them. Over the years, I have encountered people who don’t believe me when I tell them my story. “Oh, really?! God told you to do that, huh? Right!” To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if he hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him, even if I was fearful and had no idea what he was up to.
God has always longed to grow me into the person he meant me to be. It was me resisting; me not being present to him; me missing the mystery and majesty that surrounded me because I was just too busy to notice, or more likely, too afraid. So instead, I skipped along, trying to drown out his voice, “Lalalalalalalala, I can’t hear you!”
For years, there were little promptings that, in hindsight, proved to me he was on the job (Romans 8:28). Then bigger ones that required more trust and offered way more grace than I deserved. God opened my heart in ways I could not have imagined. Though I still mess up – and often – I know God’s response is out of love for me; his admonitions tell me that he loves me too much to let me stay stuck in my messiness.
We are so used to being in a world that is loud and demanding of our attention. We busy ourselves filling in uncomfortably quiet places.That’s how we miss God’s “still small voice” or “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). Sure, he’s good at those show-stopper whirlwinds, earthquakes, and fire. Even what I have called 2×4 moments, but they didn’t leave marks like the ones my mother inflicted. Because of her, I was always on guard for those “laying down the law” whacks that I expected from God too, when I messed up. But, I believe he more often speaks through Spirit’s whispers of pure grace.
We can be so enmeshed in and blinded by the things of this world we miss out on our whole purpose for being here. So if you are going through life day after unremarkable day, schlepping through the same routine to ad nauseum – STOP IT! Your life has a purpose that God depends on you to fulfill. You matter that much!
We are all called to holiness, called to use the gifts and talents already given us for God’s kingdom work right here – right now. It just takes awareness on our part. (I would highly recommend Anthony DeMello’s book by the same name, “Awareness”).
Leo Tolstoy’s novel, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, considered a masterpiece, was written just after his own “profound spiritual awakening” and conversion experience. While lying on his deathbed, Ilyich ruminated about the reality that his entire life was superficial and self-serving, and he profoundly stated, “Maybe I didn’t live as I should have done?” In the end, he posited a question that Tolstoy must have pondered himself, “What if I really have been wrong in the way I’ve lived my whole life, my conscious life?” Oops, a little late, buddy!
It was too late for Ilyich, but not Tolstoy. He discovered his purpose and rejected his aristocratic life to follow Jesus’ teachings – particularly the Sermon on the Mount. Years later, his writings profoundly impacted Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless others.
Soooooo, what are you waiting for? You must still be breathing, or you wouldn’t be reading this. That’s a start. Incredibly, no matter how you lived your life to this point, it’s not too late to begin again. New beginnings are God’s specialty!
“To infinity and beyond!” God coined that phrase, you know. Don’t believe me? HUMPH! Check out Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
Alrighty then, you’re pumped and ready to go, right? You’ve packed your sandals, and camel hair coat, and checked Google Maps – for what? A sign from God?
Stop! Take a deep breath. Maybe start by sitting quietly with God and waiting.
Don’t look to anyone else to give you a formula or a checklist to send you on your way to your destiny. But I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you can love yourself. And you can’t love yourself utilizing any of the myriads of self-help books on the market. You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved first by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time and attention. You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in. We are all deeply loved sinners. It’s high time we act like it, don’t you think?
Absolutely, go to church, take the time to read scripture, and pray, But mostly, LISTEN! Geeeezzzzz, we’re so bad at listening.
Many people use, and believe the expression, “the patience of Job”. Actually, Job was not a patient man. Perhaps a bit more patient than his lovely wife who told him to “Curse God and die!”– And his so-called friends who insisted God had exposed him for his wickedness. Their accusations had no limits:
Eliphaz, like most people in Jesus’ time, believed suffering was a direct result of sin; that suffering exposes you to God’s wrath – you’re busted! Sadly, many people still believe that.
Eliphax tells Job that he suffers at the hand of God because “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same”. (Job 4:7-8)
Bildad chimes in, “God has rejected you because you’re evil!” (8:20). Ouch!
And, of course, not to be outdone by the others, Zophar annihilates any sense of worth Job may be clinging to, “You’re a damn fool! Waxing poetic nonsense like you can dupe everyone, even God. Are you crazy?! We’re going to hang out here until God decides to give you a piece of his mind. And he will. You watch. If you weren’t such an idiot you would reach out to God while you still have breath in you!” (Job 11-14). Honestly, that’s all in there. Okay, I might have taken some license with it.
So, would “patient” be the appropriate verb for Job? After all, he admits, “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes” (Job 3:26). I do, however, believe Job endured more hardships than most of us could possibly imagine. So, let’s give him that.
Then, there was God, who was eerily quiet until he came storming out of the whirlwind (38:1-40:2) into Job’s broken heart, revealing his power and majesty. And what was Job’s response? How could it have been anything other than “what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth” (40:4). And later, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3). So, I think we could also give Job credit for finally surrendering to God even in the midst of his suffering; even though he still had no idea why God allowed him to suffer such pain and loss. God owed him no explanation and Job no longer questioned him.
As for me? How long have I been questioning God? Forever, I think. Questioning often grew into whining and whining into mistrust until I felt I would never know the deep faith I so longed for. I was too afraid and too busy trying to control my own destiny. I talked about surrender and wrote about surrender, but felt my hypocrisy would one day be exposed because I wasn’t living it. Easy enough for me to tell you to surrender your life to God! Go on now. You’ll be fine. Honest.
In all fairness to my fragile ego, in two of the major events in my life: writing a book and going to graduate school, I did get the first part of God’s calling right, “Go”. The problem was my need to second-guess him; to run ahead of him. But, let’s go back to where it all began.
God said to me one day, out of the clear blue, “Write a book.” Long story short, it was a work in progress for ten years: written, rewritten, and self-published twice. Writing the book was the part of God’s call I listened to and accepted.
The part I added later went something like this: “I’ve just written a book! Since this came from you, Lord, I can only assume it’s going to be on the New York Times best-seller list! WOW! I can’t wait!” When that didn’t happen, I began to grow weary of God failing to meet my expectations and started to whine and complain, again, “God, why did you have me write this book? There have been so many mistakes made in the process. You knew I didn’t know what I was doing. So, why? Why? Why? Why?” Those incessant questions were born out of my feeble attempt to control the process and the outcome.
The next chapter begins with a friend asking me to speak at her church. I muttered a few words in God’s direction, “Lord, if you are now calling me to speak, even though this is also something I never would have imagined doing, then I will do it.” I enrolled in a Speakers Training Workshop, had promotional DVDs made and mailed to everyone I could imagine would care. I was offered a few opportunities to speak, and although I was extremely nervous – actually scared to death – they went well and the feedback was positive.
Wait, don’t leave! There’s more! In 2006, I was approached by my pastor to consider a program that would entail studies for a graduate degree in Pastoral Care (I still have the laugh lines from that one!). Seriously, I was nine credit hours short of an Associate’s Degree from a community college, and this was a graduate program! Right! To appease my pastor, I completed the application forms certain they would not accept me.
When the letter came I confidently opened it. My assumed rejection began with “We are pleased to inform you…” Wait, that’s not nice! You are pleased to tell me what I already know – I’m a loser? However, the letter went on to say they had accepted me.
“Oh shit!” That’s what I said. Those two words usually only come out in extreme circumstances like a car coming at me head-on, being stuck in a burning building, or having Robert Redford knock on my door and I’m in my bathrobe and curlers. (Yes, I’m that old!).
An impossible and immutable reality was staring me in the face and, again, I was scared to death! But I went, frightened and uncertain, and graduated in 2009. Glory be to God – well, and to Linda, who, after one semester of preaching classes, and a head full of myself, determined that I would probably become the female Billy Graham on the preacher’s circuit. But, alas, more dashed dreams of fame.
I was supposed to move right from graduation to a position as a Pastoral Associate in my comfortable little church. Yep, you guessed it, that’s not what happened. After three grueling years of studies, I was told that the position was not available due to a lack of funding. So, there I sat in my pile of poopy dreams and unfulfilled aspirations as an imminent writer, speaker, preacher, and/or Pastoral Associate faded into oblivion.
For three years, I have been bellyaching to God just like Job. And then it happened. God’s preferred method of attention-getting for me is a 2×4. While driving down the highway, minding my own business – from out of nowhere – WHACK!
God: “Are you paying attention, Linda?”
Me: “I am now!”
Suddenly, I was pummeled by God, or at least that’s how it felt, with a review of the course of events that had transpired. Here’s a chronology of those events:
My book is the story of how God reached into my pain and suffering at the hands of others, and my own sinfulness, and spoke healing into my brokenness. He used the process of writing the book and the opportunities I had to speak to continue that healing, which in turn, has helped others who have shared their own experiences with me.
Graduate school was really, really, REALLY a struggle for me. Writing graduate-level papers and reading the works of theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard Lonergan, made my head explode! I was anxious for most of those three years. I felt inadequate at best and downright stupid at worst.
Academically, I felt I was not on the level of most of the other students – always looking over my shoulder and waiting for someone to show me the door. I got some of it, forgot most of it, yet, somehow, in the process, I grew spiritually in ways I could never have imagined.
One of my last classes dealt with the foundations of ministry. I remember my professor telling me at the end of the semester that I had a simple way of approaching ministry that would serve me well. He was telling me that I didn’t need to feel incompetent because I couldn’t put together a string of theological thoughts that would rival the best in the field. But I didn’t understand or appreciate his words at the time.
Just before graduation, I asked my pastor, “Do I still have a job when I get out of here?” He replied matter-of-factly, “No.” I was shocked! He stated that because of the economy they could not afford to hire an associate. I was devastated and shaken to my foundation. Fear got the best of me. If I was going to apply for a position in a different church, how would I fair in the interview process? Even though I had a 3.7 GPA, I had little confidence in my abilities, especially since I knew there would be lots of applicants and very few positions available. Oh yeah, and I was old.
Do you see how God has moved in my life over all these years? I didn’t until that fateful trip in my car last week, when all of these events and situations came flooding into my head – then my heart. And, just as with Job, God spoke:
Linda, Linda, Linda, what am I going to do with you?! I called you to write a book, to do some speaking, and to go to graduate school. Who told you you were going to be a famous writer, speaker, or preacher?! Much of the time you ran off on your own without waiting on me; without even consulting me. You had it all figured out and then when it didn’t happen the way you planned it, you came complaining to me. My time is not your time, my ways are not your ways. It’s about obedience and trust, Linda. I think you are finally ready to hear that.
Why, according to your timing, has it taken so long?It was important for you to feel the pain of the loss and suffering of your past and to go through your own healing process before you could enter the sacred space of others who suffer. This is Holy Ground that I am asking you to step into. You were not ready before.
Somehow you have managed to move in the direction I have called you. You’ve made it an uphill climb, but you have been falling forward, so that’s progress! I placed the desires in you before you were born, and I have set in place my plan for you and long to bring it to completion. If you will just get out of my way!
A few days after the Holy Whacking in my car, I received a Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr. Quite appropriate I think, “All of Jesus’ guidance for ministry…are very concrete and interpersonal. They are all about putting people in touch with specific people, especially with people’s pain. Person-to-person is the way the Gospel was originally communicated. Person-in-love-with-person, person-respecting-person, person-forgiving-person, person-touching-person, person-crying-with-person, person-hugging-person: that’s where the Divine Presence is so beautifully revealed.“
What a dunce I was, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). I pray I have finally learned to wait on God and know his plan for me is perfect; to trust his infinite wisdom more than my finite and feeble efforts to do things my own way.
And the saga continues…
I would like to conclude with a quote from Glennon Doyle that sums up where I’m at right now and where I hope to stay till the end.
No. It’s merely a perception that we have the power to change.
The age of seventy-four is magical for me. I can’t contain myself when I consider all the experiences I have grown through. Fierce rejections, false truths, exquisite God-moments, giggly grandkids, and cherished relationships that have endured my messiness and painful childhood memories, all washed over by grace.
I have embraced a calling that gives meaning and purpose to it all. I can barely believe this is my life! My once insignificant story has blossomed into something holy and beautiful that makes me want to sing! If only I could sing.
Many, at this point, feel they have made an irreparable mess of their lives. Yet, it seems easier to continue the incessant navel-gazing than to allow God to gaze into their hardened hearts and change their lives.
And if we weren’t beating ourselves up enough, the world also tells us that we have outlived our usefulness. We are sucking valuable air and resources that would better serve the younger and more “productive.” We should simply lie down and die already.
But for others, grace has led us through much self-reflection, releasing a false self we so easily embraced, finally leading us to the necessary letting go. We have stopped fighting against it. With new found courage, we have sought out forgiveness from those we have hurt and offer forgiveness to our offenders.
We have no one to impress and no status to protect. Our once false reliance on all that is worldly has been exposed. It pales in comparison to the treasure of relationships, beginning with God. As long as we are still breathing (you are still breathing, aren’t you?), we can leave a legacy of love in the hearts of those we share this journey with.
But wait. Look around you. Are you reveling in that grace-filled stage of your life alone? If so, someone is missing. If you are here and those who continue to suffer are over there, you have probably forgotten your purpose! (Mark 12:30-31). Every day brings a new opportunity for us to step onto the path of someone else’s journey to wholeness and healing. And please do it with great joy and enthusiasm!
1 Peter 3:15 tells us, “… always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you….” News flash! No one is even going to ask if we are not living differently than the rest of the world if we spew cynicism from every pore of our wrinkled and aging bodies.
Joy is loving out loud!
I believe young people, in particular, need to hear that there really is Good News! But they don’t want to hear it from a bunch of grumpy old people.
You may ask, “With the world in such a mess, why shouldn’t we be cynical?” Well, I’ll tell you why. Cynicism is the devil’s tool for keeping non-believers away from salvation’s door. “Look,” says the non-believer, “those Christians are just as miserable as we are – maybe more so with all those thou-shalt-nots to contend with. If we’re going to be miserable, we’ll do it on our terms. Thank you very much.”
The quality that draws people to Christianity isn’t gloom and doom. Instead, it’s deep-down joy, even in the midst of trials and struggles. Joy causes the lonely and suffering to peer up from their pit of despair and ask, “Why are you so cheerful? What do you know that we don’t?”
Here are a couple of frightening statistics to consider: 1) seventy percent of Christian youths abandon their faith during college years and never return to it (LifeWay Research), and 2) suicide is the third-leading cause of death among ten to twenty-four-year-olds (CDC). In both instances, we need to ask ourselves why. And more importantly, what have we done to convince these young people that Christ isn’t worth following, that joy isn’t worth seeking, that life isn’t worth living? When they look at us, what do they see?
Do they see this? I can’t imagine anyone skipping joyously into the second half of life if this was all we had to offer; aches and pains and life’s dreadful stains. Just shoot me!
Or do they see this?
Now, this is a different story! No, that picture was not photoshopped. That was my husband, who loved being silly with the grandkids. Okay, maybe it’s a bit extreme for some folks, but I think it’s hysterical, and our grandkids LOVED it. Since his passing, they now have beautiful memories of him. I kind of wish I would have done it now. But I don’t think it would have been as funny. Anyway, my claim to fame was “the running game” and the “tickle monster” – and I participated in them with great gusto!
“What this country needs are radicals who will stay that way regardless of the creeping years.” ~John Fischer
So go find someone to love on. Maybe even a teenager. Really! From many years of being a Youth Minister, I can tell you that teens are not as scary as you might think. I decided to “retire” from that ministry because I thought I was too old. Someone younger would be better suited to the job and relate better to them.
On the contrary, I found that being able to care about teens is not determined by age; it’s determined by how much we care. That’s all they want, someone to care and offer them hope and encouragement. They long for someone to help them reach within themselves to find that child who may have been lost to society but is NEVER lost to the God who created them. I know. I’ve been there. What about you?
Here are some things I have learned about life. Some the hard way:
Failure is never final, and love is never wasted.
Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you the way you have hurt me.
Eat dessert first.
I would look stupid in skinny jeans even if I could fit into them – which I can’t.
Pride is overrated – laugh at yourself – often.
That jerk in your day-to-day life is trying to teach you something – pay attention.
Surrender is a daily act of courage, risk, and trust.
Be silly! We don’t have enough silliness in this world.
Leave your little corner of the world better than you found it.
Words of wisdom from Richard Rohr: “The Jesus way is to embrace our wounds and accept them as the price of the journey. We can choose to carry our wounds with dignity until the time comes when we forget why they were so important or debilitating, to begin with. I think we carry our wounds until the end; they do not fully go away but keep us humble, patient, and more open to trust and intimacy. The healing lies in the fact that those same wounds no longer defeat us or cause us to harm ourselves or others.”
And finally, a quote that should conjure up an “oh crap” moment for all of us:
“Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do” Gian Carlo Menotti
Funny word, “failure”. We tend to judge everything that misses the mark according to our expectations: Anything that does not invoke praise and accolades from others is deemed a failure. The times I have whined to God in deep sorrow for my failings have grown beyond my ability to number them.
“Lord, I know this was from you – I did it – I failed at it – I am a despicable wretch! For example: remember way back in 2001, when you said, “Write a book”, and I did? I am yet to see it on the New York Times best-seller list. Your book would have been #1 on that list – forever!”
The Bible comes to mind. “No disrespect, but why didn’t you just write it yourself? I mean, really.” Countless people have written and rewritten it until the essence of your message is often blurred and confusing.
God: “Are you finished, Linda?”
“Oops (a Job moment), “Yes, sorry.”
God: “I’m not interested in how the world views your work. I am ONLY interested in how you trust and obey me. I thought your story of surrendering to me was beautiful. Okay, there were a few typos. But, that part about ‘giving birth’? I’m still laughing at that one. So, will you please quit your whining!?”
When we are obsessed with success and failure, trusting in God’s plan can become obscured by fear. Often, I read these magnificent words from Thomas Merton to remind myself of God’s call for me to trust him:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
I have learned countless lessons about trusting God. Many of my attempts were wrought with uncertainty and assumptions of failure throughout eleven years of my book-writing adventure. But I knew without a doubt it was God speaking to my heart from the beginning. His words, “Write a book”, were not cloaked in ambiguity. They were clear and undeniable.
The book’s first edition (yes, there have been two) was an unbelievably daunting challenge. God made it sound simple enough. But, here’s where I began to falter: I made some very costly errors in judgment, and the book was published with several editing issues. I was angry with the publisher and myself and proceeded to complain to God.
Through tears of disappointment and self-doubt, I wanted to know why he had directed me to write a book when I understood nothing about the process that would ensue. I felt I had failed him because everything seemed to go wrong. So, here’s God, ears covered, “Blah, blah, blah, I can’t hear you. Get it published.” Fine. I attempted many times to offer it to publishers, becoming the recipient of more rejections than Charles Manson when he tried to find a date for the prom! So, I self-published.
After the fact, I read a book about self-publishing. Wanna know what it said? “NEVER, write a book FIRST! Get your name out there with published articles, establish a following, and then write your book.” Apparently, God failed to read that book.
Anyway, I was confused about how to proceed. Did I mention that I had 2500 books delivered to my doorstep and knew nothing about marketing? Did I mention that?! Then, to my utter amazement, people actually bought the book; people not even related to me!
The next surprise? The publication, and subsequent sales, of my very imperfect book, led to speaking engagements – a notion that I found incomprehensible since I had never felt the slightest longing to stand in front of an audience and reveal my true self. All my attention-grabbing stunts during my childhood had been designed to hide the real me! The very idea of speaking to a group of people horrified the adult me. I wanted to slap myself silly for saying “yes” without consulting my more reluctant self. What a long list of grumblers I follow: Moses (Exodus 4:10-17) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4-9), just to name two we know well.
Did I mention that the book is now in its second edition (edited more professionally)? I’m still not sure why. Still no call from the New York Times. But – and here is where God has wanted me all along – it doesn’t matter if I sell even one. I am happy to give them away. God said, “Write”, – so I wrote. Everything else is fodder for Satan.
I, like Job, learned the hard way to accept being on a need-to-know basis when I feel God calling me, like Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), to get on my camel and ride. No GPS, no roadmap, no crystal ball. I now find myself enjoying the adventure, even with blindfolds on!
So the next time you find yourself making room on the shelf for your next trophy, only to stare at the empty space it should have been placed in, try sitting quietly with the lesson. It’s there. Pray and wait for it. Like when you are passed over for the job rightfully yours, stop to consider the lesson. When your plans to join a mission team in Haiti are dashed because you could not raise the funds – you got it – stop and listen to God. There’s a lesson there somewhere.
I can never give up trusting that God’s plan for me is PERFECT, even when everyone else tells me I am a pathetic loser!
Do you find it beyond interesting that many women in scripture are not named? The “woman caught in adultery” (John 8:1-12), the “woman at the well” (John 4:5-30), and “the woman who bled for twelve years” (Mark 5:25-34). How do you feel about that? Some of you may feel a bit of “it’s not fair” huffiness. Or you may not have even given it a second thought. As for me, I love it! Why?
It’s as though their namelessness encompasses every woman who has lived the same circumstances. It doesn’t matter if she was Jewish or Gentile. Her age doesn’t matter. Her hip size, family size, brain size – none of it matters. To her surprise and mine, sinfulness doesn’t even matter. The only thing that matters is the love Jesus pours out on her and the relationship that follows.
Each of these women has pointed me toward Jesus, whom they met on the road, by the well, and in the court of rejection. Each has given me the courage to lay my burdens and sinfulness at his feet – only to be surprised by LOVE – immersed in grace. I want to speak to just one of these stories and how it relates to my own life.
The woman at the well (John 4:5-30, The Message) This is a long one (I took the liberty to shorten it a bit), but it is laced with pearls! So first, grab a cup of coffee. Now, read it as though you are right there.)
“To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village…. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon. A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?”
The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water?”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst.”
The woman said, “Sir, give me this water, so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”.
“I have no husband,” she said.
(Jesus) “That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”
(The woman replied) “Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
(Jesus) “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem….But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
(Jesus) “It’s who you are and how you live that count before God….That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship.
The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”
“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
Just then, his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman.
The woman took the hint and left…. Then, back in the village, she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.
This woman was ostracized in a town where everyone knew her business. She could not hide from the other women’s ridicule or the condemning stares. So she avoided the courtyard in the early morning when the other women were there, choosing to go when she could be alone. And then…
Here comes a miracle!
Jesus chose to reveal himself (verse 26) to this lowliest of women, to a hated and rejected sinner – to me, “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
By the time I reached my early twenties when a suicide attempt had failed, I often drank myself into a stupor to numb the pain. I was divorced and had a miserable off-and-on relationship with someone as messed up as I was.
And then it happened – suddenly and without warning – Jesus showed up at my empty well! It’s funny; in our misery, we muddle along day in and day out. Days stretch into years. Pain and sorrow become as commonplace as your morning bowl of oatmeal. No surprises. No hope. No desire or longing to cling to. We do life anesthetized. But just leave the slightest crack for Jesus to enter, and all of heaven breaks out into thunderous applause, dancing and singing, and all sorts of merriment! With a wink and a nod from God, Jesus joyfully erupts into our lives!
Does anyone besides me remember Mighty Mouse? I sing the song from that cartoon to my grandkids, and they look at me like I have two heads! But I do it anyway because it’s fun. But then, the other day, I heard my granddaughter singing it, “Here I come to save the day”! That is the picture I get of Jesus when he shows up in our lives. It is awe and wonder in the very midst of our messiness. There are indeed those still-small-voice moments. But I believe he saves those for when our hearts are open to him.
When I drift too far from the well, Jesus becomes a man on a mission, touching the depth of my heart—taking my breath away. Literally! Just like the woman at the well who was blown away by her Jesus encounter. She ran as fast as she could to tell everyone about it. She no longer cared one rip about what people thought of her. She was a new creation in Christ, a beloved daughter of the King, and no one would redefine her ever again! She was forgiven and loved more deeply than she ever thought possible – and so are we – every last one of us!
So, let us not find ourselves at the well of the lost and broken ready to judge and condemn them. Let us not participate in the ridicule of others so many so-called “Christians” piously denigrated in God’s name. I sadly confess that I often forget the sting of being judged as I become the judger – Lord have mercy on me.
You cannot encounter the Living God and not be changed – it’s impossible. So, get yourself over to the well, leaving just the teeniest crack in your heart, and then hang on for the ride of your life!
The world offers many different expressions of love: “I love mint chocolate chip ice cream!” (Actually, that’s true.) “I love your new car!” “I love shopping!” Love can be humorous, as when Miss Piggy floats across a field of flowers, heart beating wildly, feeling weak in the knees, stomach all a-flutter, shrieking, “Ohhhhhh, Kermie!”
Worldly love can come with no expectations or commitments: “I used to love you when you were thin and had more hair!” or, “Well, I could have loved you, but your ex-wife got all your money, and, well, I have needs!” or, “You didn’t tell me I had to love your kids too!”
That kind of love can be found merely by seeking our own desires, which we believe no one has a right to deny us, and it’s just as rewarding to love things as people. But, unfortunately, that mentality devours childhood innocence, destroys relationships, shrugs off compassion, and muddies the pure waters of selfless love. As long as we seek love from the things of this world, we will always come up lost and empty for our efforts.
How do so many of us get it so wrong so often? Perhaps it’s because our meager understanding of love is based on our personal, human experiences. I often ask myself, “Self, what is your problem? Why do you struggle so much? Why can’t you let go of your past? Why is it so difficult for you to trust God, to accept his love and your inherent worth?” Perhaps my ego has been too big, my fear too overwhelming, and my God too small.
But by the grace of God, I am gradually seeing my failure to truly love and my fear of accepting love. God does not fit neatly into the image I created. He refuses to patronize me when I cry out, “Lord, Lord!” It’s as though he is saying, “Your cries are muted by your deafening indifference, Linda. Your faith is lukewarm, and, need I remind you, how I hate lukewarm?!” (Revelation 3:16)
Then, as so often happens, Richard Rohr puts it into perspective for me, “It is in doing it wrong, being rejected, and experiencing pain that we are led to total reliance upon God….God has let me do just about everything wrong, so I could fully experience how God can do everything so utterly right….If we expect or need things (including ourselves) to be perfect or even “to our liking,” we have created a certain plan for a miserable life.”
Phillip Newell tells us, “Within us – as a sheer gift of God – is the capacity to bring forth what has never been before, including what has never been imagined before. Deep within us are holy, natural longings for oneness….We may live in tragic exile from those longings, or we may have spent a whole lifetime not knowing how to truly satisfy them, but they are there at the heart of our being, waiting to be born afresh….When we love, we bring the very essence of our being into relationship with the essence of the other.” (The Rebirthing of God, p. x, xvi)
There are rare moments in my life when I experience a great and mysterious intensity. Perhaps that is the longing Newell speaks of. I recall someone else calling it those thin places where we feel God’s presence most profoundly. I can’t describe the emotions except that they are overwhelming, and somehow I know God is working in this messy heart of mine.
When I start to judge others, I sense God’s tug on my heart to “see” them as he sees them; to look beyond their actions to their hearts where He resides. The peace that it brings to my own heart is beyond words!
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells us, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
There are some attributes of love I would like to focus on: “Love suffers long” and “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”.
Love suffers long
Okay. We’re already in trouble. We don’t want to suffer; we want the antidote! We want something to fix the problem. As human beings – even Christians – we really hate to suffer. Actually, many Christians believe God should protect them from suffering.
Scripture tells us of God’s deep longing for those who turn away from him. This is not a God who cannot wait to punish us for our sinfulness. Instead, he longs to lavish us with his love despite our sinfulness. Just as Jesus’ suffering and dying brought many sinners to salvation, and the apostles’ suffering and martyrdom brought others to God, our willingness to suffer well, whatever comes our way, is a witness to the power of God’s love in a broken world.
I have a friend whose marriage is terribly difficult. She has often threatened divorce. But God spoke to the depth of her heart that it was within her marriage that she would grow to be more like him. It’s easy to love a newborn baby, a tiny puppy, or the perfect mother you’ve been blessed with. But what about those imperfect people?
Do you find yourself glaring at that lump of a husband on your sofa – you know, the one who’s guzzling beer and belching show tunes – and wondering where you went wrong? Then there’s that snarky neighbor you secretly wish would fall off the face of the earth.
There always seems to be someone anxious to make messes in our lives. Can’t we do something to make him or her pay? Don’t we have the right? The answer is a simple but emphatic “No!” God will handle that person, not us. Definitely not us.
Love bears all things; believes all things; hopes all things; endures all things.
When your wife comes home drunk…again, when your child is arrested on drug charges, when your cancer returns, when your aging parents make continual demands on you, who do you turn to? When you can’t lift your head off the pillow to face another day – how do you bear up, believe, hope, and endure all things? How do you go on when you cry out to God in despair but receive no answer?
You have to believe, truly believe, that the God of mercy loves you immeasurably. Nothing you suffer is lost to God’s watchful, loving care. No part of your life is without purpose. In the book of Genesis, God called Abraham to slay his beloved son Isaac. Could I have trusted God that much? No anonymous tipster in this story whispers, “Pssst, Abe! Just go along with it. He’ll stop you at the last minute. Trust me.” Nope, it didn’t happen that way, but Abraham completely trusted God.
We can find incredible stories of people who have suffered persecution and abject loss throughout history. Yet, countless people have survived the unthinkable by believing in God’s promises and trusting in his love. From the darkness of despair comes the dawn of grace.
When we can’t see God or hear him in the midst of our pain, we need to believe that his love for us is at the core of our being. “Blessed are those who suffer well and hope for things unseen, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 13:13). In suffering, we are comforted by God and, in turn, learn to comfort others.
What if Jesus’ story had been different? What if he had gone to the cross, kicking and screaming? He certainly had the right. He was being persecuted relentlessly. He had done nothing but love his Father and humankind during his life, and for that flawless behavior, he was crucified. He could have retaliated with an army of angels, but he didn’t. Instead, he was stripped, spat upon, mocked, and killed. He could have cursed his enemies to Hell. Instead, he prayed for them.
The world repaid Jesus’ love with hatred in the form of a cross. But the nails didn’t hold him there; love held him there. He chose to forgive in his final act of mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus’ final hours speak volumes about my rejection of atonement theology. So many believe that Jesus had to die to atone for our sins. I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. I believe too many of us subscribe to the teaching that God’s anger over our sins required Jesus’ death. Doesn’t that create an image of a God bent on punishment who can’t wait for us to screw up? I keep imagining that Wack-A-Mole game. No thanks.
GOD IS LOVE…PERIOD. And because we were created in his image and loved beyond measure, we must also be that love to others. Jesus’ last command to us was to love. When did he tell us to hate, judge, and flip off that jerky neighbor? The last words out of Jesus’ mouth were to forgive, not to condemn.
My mother-in-law (God rest her beautiful soul) could offer you a perfect example of why God calls us to love. She bore the pain of losing a younger sister to cancer and the death of a beloved son. She struggled through a difficult marriage and other challenging relationships. And then I came along.
Forty-three years ago, I stood before her in a short skirt, a long wig, a seven-year-old daughter by my side, and a heathen attitude in my heart. I was self-centered and demanding. I resented the occasions when my husband would stop to see her after work. I was jealous.
For those and other reasons, she could have done what everyone else in my life had done – she could have rejected me or struck out at me. I would have understood that reaction; I was accustomed to it. But instead, she chose to love me despite my attitude. Soon I could feel myself being drawn to her. She had something I wanted, and I didn’t even know what it was. But after being in her company and experiencing her selfless love for others – and for me – I was hooked. That was the beginning of my long (still ongoing) journey of change.
If I hadn’t experienced her love first-hand, I would most likely still be self-absorbed and wearing those dreaded short skirts (probably not a good idea for a sixty-eight-year-old grandmother!). I can imagine her reunion with God, “Come on, give us a hug, Catherine! Thank you for so brilliantly dealing with that mess of a daughter-in-law of yours! Well done, my good and faithful servant…well done!” (Matthew 25:23)
The greatest of these is love.
Scripture tells us the value that God places on love: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). love is a verb. It’s an action word. We can’t just give lip service to God’s commandment to love one another. If the action doesn’t match the words, it’s a lie. Jesus went beyond telling us that he loved us; he showed us and expects us to do the same.
How about 1 John 4:20 for a wake-up call? “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” Of course, we all know someone like that, but could we be accused of the same shortcoming?
God never promised us that his way would be easy. The Bible depicts a love unlike the worldly version: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friend” (John 15:13). How many people would you consider dying for? Hopefully, your children, your spouse, possibly other relatives (except crazy Uncle Bill), and most likely your dearest friends. Those friends would have to be your dearest ones, though! Fair-weather friends wouldn’t make the cut. How about an enemy? How about that crotchety neighbor you’ve had to contend with for years? How about that lying sneak of a co-worker who managed to get himself promoted to a job that was rightfully yours?
Although God’s love is freely given, it longs for a response. If fear holds us back, it masks who we really are. Fear clings to the old self, refuses to relinquish control, and attempts to tie the hands of the Holy Spirit.
And lest we forget, God’s sacrificial love infuses an inherent dignity in everyone! We, as Christians, have no monopoly on God. We don’t own him, and we don’t have exclusive rights to him. This isn’t a private club. We are to be instruments of his love or our response, and our faith is inadequate at best and sinful at worst.
I would like to end with a quote from a sermon on Job once given by Archibald MacLeish. He said, “Man depends on God for all things; God depends on man for one. Only man can prove that man loves God.”
Gleefully we buy and wrap presents for everyone on our shortlist and ignore those on, you know, that other list! No sugar plums dancing in our heads because they are too filled with anger and resentments we revisit every year.
Instead of living in hopeful expectation of the coming of a Savior, we hope against hope that the one we hate so deeply would have dropped dead before we have to sit across from them at Christmas dinner yet again. In one breath, we thank God for sending his beloved Son to reveal his deep and abiding love for us, while we begrudge his creation of that so-and-so who makes our life a living hell.
Attempts to sing any Christmas song other than “Grandma (or my brother or former friend) Got Run Over by a Reindeer” is just not going to happen. And you swear that if you hear “Fa La La” one more time you’re going to punch someone!
Christmas dredges up “stuff” that we try all year long to ignore. What is it about this season that not only brings out the best but, sadly, the worst in us? I don’t know for sure, but I believe it was intentional on God’s part. (He’s pretty clever that way.) Think about it. Other times of the year can trigger bad feelings in so many of our relationships. But, Christmas just seems to profoundly manifest our deepest feeling. Why?
What do you think is most important to God? Relationships, right? He is always about the business of teaching us how important they are: his relationship with us and ours with him and our relationships with each other. Every Christmas is supposed to remind us of a Divine Love that had to come to earth incarnated as the child Jesus so we could touch and feel it for ourselves. Whoa, that’s way too scary, so we just go to church instead. That’s easier and less demanding. Then we can hang onto our perceived righteous anger because we don’t want to let them off the hook, “I hope your Christmas sucks!”
And so, again, the need for forgiveness is upon us. Like that stupid elf on the shelf! Every morning you get up knowing it’s there somewhere, watching your every move. It is not possible to be in relationship with others without the need for forgiveness at some point in our lives. Everyone screws up. Everyone! All of us, at some time in our lives, will be called upon to forgive or to ask for forgiveness – usually both and usually often.
Of course, we can deceive ourselves into believing that we did that already. So, how will you know if you have? If the result of your forgiving or being forgiven has mended and restored that relationship you struggled in then let me throw out an AMEN AND ALLALUAHA!!! However, you will be tested again and again if it has not been, especially if that person slips again.
Forgiveness will not change the past. Period. It may not make the present more bearable or the future more hopeful if the other person refuses to accept or offer forgiveness. That’s when we can so easily revert to our stance of hating them all over again.
But forgiveness is a must, no matter the outcome, no matter the response of the other person. Usually, we have to get to Easter to be reminded of Jesus’ last words on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Come on, we’re just as guilty as anyone else of doing something stupid and unforgivable. It’s human nature. That’s why God has to forgive us over and over again. I suppose he does roll his eyes and smack his forehead while asking the proverbial question, “What were you thinking?!”
But he still forgives because he is well aware of our incessant and unremitting screw-ups. He accepts all our foils if he knows we are doing our best. He loves us despite ourselves. I’m not sure how we can think for one moment that we can get away with giving anyone else grief for their sinfulness. Perhaps we all need to be reminded of the following scripture – A LOT!
Matthew 18:21-19:1 (loose translation), “Peter, all smug and sure of himself, asked the Lord how many times he is expected to forgive the dimwits in his life. He picked a number out of the air that he thought Jesus would agree to. How about seven? But Jesus rebuked him, “NOPE, wanna try again?”
Oh boy, I feel a parable coming on. Jesus told Peter about the king who lined his servants up and demanded they settle their debts with him. All but one holdout did. He thought he could hedge his bets that the king would forgive him if he groveled enough, and amazingly he did.
In a sudden lapse of memory, the servant ran into a guy who owed him money and demanded it back just like the king. The other guy begged him to give him more time. But, unlike the king, he refused and threw him into jail. The king got wind of it – oops, busted. He rescinded the jerk’s forgiven debt and threw him in jail too. There, take that, moron!
So, what about you? Is there a relationship you need to mend this Christmas? I believe the most challenging struggle we have is when we are in a close relationship with someone, and we can’t avoid it. The anger or hurt is always before us; if their attitude is indifference, we struggle even more. Our hurts are like open sores that never heal. So, instead of seeing the good that person may do, we forever carry around our “Jerk Meter”. AHA! There she goes again! Great! –now I’ll be up all night again. Just me at my pity party with my “Jerk Meter.”
Finally, my prayer for everyone, especially those who harbor past hurts and pain, is that you will see the Love of God anew. A Love meant to be carried into a hurting and broken world by us. So, instead of just stepping in the church’s doors this Christmas, step into the heart of someone who’s broken and in need of love. You’ll probably find them sitting across from you at the dinner table.
Do you remember how long you believed in Santa? I remember slowly doubting when I was about seven. He became suspicious when my brother and sister began to make fun of me. But I didn’t want to stop believing. Christmas was magical. Santa made it so.
One year, my brother and I found all the presents wrapped up and hidden in a closet two weeks before Christmas. We shook them and then carefully peeled the tape away to see what was inside. Then wrapped them up and put them back in the closet.
As you might imagine, Christmas morning was a terrible disappointment to me. I couldn’t even pretend to be excited about the gifts I received, even though some were what I had asked for. But then, it was over: The magic, the mystery, the futile fight to stay awake just for a glimpse of Santa.
My faith would be restored if I could see him just this once. Then, with tears streaming down my face, I could tell him that my brother and sister were VERY naughty all year and should both be turned into lumps of coal!
But that didn’t happen, and now I was doomed to a reality I was unwilling to face. I imagined the next thing to go was the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. And then what? I couldn’t bear it!
But wait! Discovering Santa is likely the invention of parents who simply run out of creative ways to keep kids in line a few weeks a year may have a positive side.
(1) You were always told to keep your list short since Santa had to provide for the entire world! Now you could make your Christmas list longer and the requests more extravagant. Parents could do more than Santa because they only had to buy for a few kids and have deeper pockets. Sweet!
(2) You would not have to share the cookies and milk with him. You know how you always hated sharing, you little Grinch!
(3) You could complain about the gifts received and demand they be returned to the store. However, you can’t return gifts to Santa because that would make him angry!
(4) Have you ever felt that Santa would be very disappointed in you if you did not give up your “gently used” toys for kids who had nothing? You could now ask your parents to write a check to their favorite charity allowing you to keep every last toy for your pathetic selfish self.
(5) What about those stupid pictures on Santa’s lap? He was creepy and made you cry.
(6) And – best of all – there would be no pesky “list” Santa would check to ad nauseum. “I’m watching you, you little monster. I saw what you just did to your sister! That’s going on your permanent record.”
Okay, enough about Santa. Let’s get serious. 1 Corinthians 13:11 tells us we should put away childish things. You’re an adult now….right? Right?! It should be no surprise to you that Christmas was never about Santa. Give me a great big “DUH!” I can’t hear you. Oh, Lord…I’m afraid this is not going to go well! But let’s just jump right in. Shall we?
What about Christ? What about your faith? If you say you’re a Christ-follower, there are profound implications to consider. Professing Christ does not simply amount to the word games we play to dodge God’s wrath. It doesn’t matter how you talk about Christ or what people see on the outside if there is still a void on the inside.
What matters is how you “live” Christ in your day-to-day. Are you indeed “living” Christ’s message to love others and serve a hurting world? That should come from the core of who you are as the image and likeness of God.
Faith that is shallow and superficial can be enormously attractive to lazy Christians seeking cheap grace. You think you have enough to do just paying the bills and trying to one-up your snooty neighbors. Those ladders to climb, that big house to fuss over, gossiping, weekly therapy. They all require your valuable time.
God will have to find someone else to do the other work that doesn’t appeal to you. How about that retired guy down the street? He needs something to keep him busy and out of his wife’s hair.
Do you simply go to church on Sunday, hide in the back just to get your card punched, and sneak out before anyone notices? Then be sure you skip “Mission Sunday,” and “Sponsor a poor family Sunday,” and “Stewardship Sunday” – it just makes you squirm in the pew.
Never buy into the idea that the abundant love God pours on you is a free gift – no strings attached. It’s just a trick to reel you in. Nothing in this world is “free.” You know you’re gonna have to pay him back. And from past experience, you know that’s simply an exercise in futility. Better to just not accept it in the first place.
And best of all, having “religion” in place of relationship makes you accountable to no one. So you can just skip merrily along without ever having to “give an answer” to anyone for how you lived your wretched, despicable, miserable life. Sounds lovely.
If you must relieve occasional guilt for your indifference to the world around you, send a check – commensurate with the size and scope of that guilt – to a charity of your choice. You could take it out of those excess funds you spend so frivolously on your pathetic selfish self.
So there you have it. That’s how underwear ends up in your stocking, and Jesus becomes irrelevant. Neither is a pretty sight, and neither will bring you joy on Christmas morning.
We can “pretend” to be excited about the whole “Jesus is the reason for the season” message. But it’s like this: even if you LOVE the underwear you receive for Christmas, it’s not likely anyone will know unless you wear it on the outside.
And even if you say you LOVE Jesus and your neighbor, it won’t be evident unless you are carrying him and his love for you and your neighbor on the inside in that place where there is a void you have been trying to fill with other things.
So, come on now, take that leap of faith. What you might find this Christmas are blessings beyond your wildest imaginings and a new year filled with wonder and awe – presented by our God, who longs to love you deeply and extravagantly!