What Are You SO Afraid of?

Did I tell you about Justin (not his real name) the kid who taught me a lesson in love? Okay, well, if so, I’m gonna tell it again because it’s freakin’ awesome!

About twenty years ago, I worked for Youth in Need, a wonderful organization that helps teens, usually wobbling vicariously between their broken world and the road to juvenile detention. This was often the last best hope for them.

I was basically a house mom and often worked the night shift in the house they lived in. It was a time in my life when I was also a broken mess, not long before my husband and I separated for a year (another God story). I’m not really sure how I ended up there, thinking I had anything to offer them. It would be much later before I could see God’s hand in it.

The police often brought the kids to us. Sometimes they were runaways, or castaways by their parents or guardians. Justin came to us, a little guy – for a twelve-year-old – with a huge chip on his shoulder. He was always angry and struck out at anyone who looked at him wrong.

Easter Sunday was my day off but I decided that I would buy a ham and ask some of my neighbors to make some covered dishes. How nice of me! Look out Saint Mother Teresa…Linda’s vying for your spot in heaven! I can see the headlines now:

LINDA RUSSELL CANNONIZED BY POPE FRANCIS: THE PARTON SAINT OF MISFITS…

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But, I digress…

The evening went unusually well. That is until we discovered that one of the Easter baskets went missing. Later, I found it under Justin’s bed. When I called him out on it he went ballistic! He started pounding on the walls and yelling obscenities. When I headed down the steps to contact our on-call therapist, he followed me. Still yelling! And then he spit on me. Okay, now I was mad! I began thinking of how very generous I was to come in on my day off. I muttered under my breath, “Kid you’re outta here!” And I meant it. I was determined to send him away and I had the power to do it. When I shut the office door and picked up the phone I knew he was listening.

I explained to the therapist what had happened. She asked me if I felt threatened. If I would have said yes, the police would have been called. But, then, in that moment God grabbed my heart…this was Easter Sunday! On Good Friday, Jesus was spat on and mocked and crucified. Justin was just a child; a hurting, suffering child. I assured the therapist that I did not feel threatened and would handle it.

When I opened the door, Justin fell into me – still angry, “YOU GONNA CALL THE POLICE?! GO AHEAD CALL THE POLICE I DON’T CARE. CALL MY DAD, I DON’T CARE!” I calmly (which surprised me) said to him, “No Justin I’m not calling anyone. Just go upstairs, get your shower, and go to bed. Oh, and, if you need a hug I have one for you.” I think that offer surprised both of us, but his response didn’t. He uttered, “Yeah right!” just before he knocked the chair up against the wall and stormed out of the room.

Yeah right. What was I thinking? And now I had to fill out an incident report! Oh joy. “I’m taking my ham back! You hear me buddy???”

Twenty minutes later, report finished, I headed upstairs just in time to encounter Justin coming out of the bathroom. There was something different about him when he looked at me. He was calmer and then asked something that, to this day, I still get teary eyed thinking about it. “Can I have that hug now?” I can’t even describe the emotions that filled my heart as I hugged that little boy. I have no idea if he had ever been hugged before or since then. I hope that’s not the case, but I never saw him after he left.

When I consider that for just one moment  that I had the power to influence a little boy’s life – for good or bad – it’s mind-blowing! I know this for sure, if I would have followed through and had him sent away, that would have certainly been my own narcissistic doing. But, the ultimate outcome of that incident was totally God’s doing and took place even in the midst of my own brokenness (that’s a very important fact). It wasn’t by my own strength or even care for Justin. I was not some amazing spiritual giant responding as would have been expected of the likes of Saint Mother Teresa, But, and this is huge, I was able to hear Jesus speak into the depth of my otherwise hardened heart, which in turn allowed him to speak love into the soul of another broken heart. He used me in all my messiness. Unbelievable.

When I look back on my life it is simply astounding to me to consider what God is able accomplish when he has so little to work with. If such incredible acts of love, mercy, and healing can take place even when we are so resistant to him, I have to wonder what America would be like today, if more Christians would stop resisting God’s call. It is breathtaking to consider the possibilities.

Sadly, so many who confess to be Christian are believers in name only – lukewarm God calls it. Revelations 3:16-17: “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone, oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.” (The Message)

How much do we hate the thought of being that person before God? – Because we don’t act like it. I don’t know if it’s as much a matter of indifference as fear.

What ARE we so afraid of? Trusting? Possibly.

Are we afraid of what God will require of us if we come out of hiding? Perhaps.

Fear of the unknown? Absolutely.

Let’s go back a ways. There are many people in the Old and New Testament that were afraid to trust God; afraid of the unknown, “You want me to do what?” They came up with some pretty lame excuses considering they were arguing with God himself.

Coming out of our comfort zones and believing we have gifts to be used for God’s kingdom is just too hard to get our heads around. But, it’s true. When I have the opportunity to share my story, I have heard so many people tell me they can’t imagine God working in their lives like that. I have to remind them of the heathen I was before God caught my attention. And when that did happen it wasn’t a sudden thrust into a world I knew nothing about…

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God isn’t in the business of scaring us to death to get his point across. He knows each one of us intimately. He knows how to gently encourage our trust in him and the fact that our lives have a purpose.  Just little moments of grace, then more to follow,  like a child learning to crawl, then holding onto something sturdy to stand before he could trust enough to walk…and then run.

 Eventually I discovered, as I hope you will, that God gives us everything we need to be all he created and called us to be; that my past did not define my future, and that the lies I lived were Satan’s stronghold on me – not my truth.

When we doubt ourselves Satan gets all giddy inside. When we question God’s call to us, the kingdom work he has planned for us to do never gets done. And Satan cheers. Sure, he could go find someone else, but with the number of us who are never willing to step out of our comfort zones, that leaves him limited resources.

And Satan cheers again.

satan

Our strength is limited, but we don’t need to rely on our own strength because God’s boundless, inexhaustible, immeasurable grace is just a prayer away. Not convinced? Pick one:

The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless his people with peace. Psalm 29:11

In quietness and confidence shall be my strength. Isaiah 30:15 

I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Ephesians 6:10

I have put on the complete armor of God. Ephesians 6:11

God gives power to the weak. And to those who have no might, He increases strength. Isaiah 40:29

Here’s more

Enough? Yeah, it seems God knew we needed lots of convincing. Has it worked? Not according to Ed Stetzer in his article titled, Too Many So-Called Christians Merely Giving Lip Service to Jesus. Below is an excerpt, and if you would like to read the entire article go here.

I suspect many churches have forgotten their main calling: to make disciples. Instead, we believe drawing a crowd of people on Sundays is enough. We invite people to come to church or to be good people—but not to follow Jesus.

Sociologists like Christian Smith say many Americans follow something called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a belief in God that’s mainly focused on being a good person and having a positive self-image. 

That kind of religion feels good. But it doesn’t motivate people to act on their faith in areas where it costs them.   

Mediocre. Is that what you’re striving for? Is that what gets you up every morning and fills you with excitement about what life has in store for you? Are you content to sleepwalk through this life waiting for the next (whatever that means)? Have you thought about what you’re missing when you sleepwalk through life? That’s a shame because God could put those gifts he gave you to better use. Imagine him watching you just sitting on them…

Oh, okay, maybe you’re waiting until you get your life straightened out before you think God can use you. After all, you may reason, I’m just too broken myself.  There’s no way I could help anyone else if I can’t even help myself. That’s true, if in fact it is you that you’re relying on the fix yourself. It’ll never happen! Sorry. I can’t imagine you haven’t heard the expression: God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. Catchy huh?

Come on. Wake up!

There’s kingdom work to be done. God’s waiting…

Here’s a little food for thought: Do you realize that God is dependent on you?  That’s not a typo.

Say it to yourself, “God is dependent on ME!

“Linda, you’re crazy!”

Really? Then what does this quote by St. Irenaeus mean? “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Let that sink in a moment. You see, God needs us. It’s true. Anyone ever tell you that before?

So, you see, you MUST WAKE UP because this broken world needs you! God needs you! Now more than ever.

God’s Full Refund Offer

It seems like such a stretch…no…an impossibility, for us to accept what God really desires from us and for us: Not a list of commands we can tick off like the rich guy in Matthew (19:16), not a quick rote prayer on our way to more important things, not a list of complaints we keep bringing to him until they are heard and remedied.

And so, here we are, stuck in our miserable small lives, blaming our unhappiness on God or some inept human and demanding the universe be reordered in our favor! All the while, we seem to be oblivious to life’s special moments with friends and loved ones, majestic sunsets, breathtaking rainbows, the pure pleasure of chocolate, and most of all, a magnificent life full of richness and purpose. All planned out for us by a God who doesn’t’ do ordinary and never did.

Do you ever think about why we stay stuck there? I believe we are afraid of intimacy. Deny it, poo-poo it, thumb your nose at it, but think about it. Keeping ourselves at arm’s length from relationship with God and others requires nothing from us. Intimacy is too scary. But surprisingly, it too makes no demands. By its nature it cannot demand.

Intimacy is the love relationship modeled for us by the Father and his beloved Son through the work of the Spirit. It is self-emptying and gratuitous. It seeks the best for others over our own wants and needs. It is life-giving and it is what God longs for with each and every one of us. He beacons us into relationship with him and he will court and swoon and get all mushy over us until we let go of our fears. But, intimacy requires trust and vulnerability and we’re terrified of being vulnerable and exposing our weaknesses. Yeah, I tried that once and got smacked silly. No thanks. If we could just realize that vulnerability is not a character flaw to be conquered. It is integral to our relationship with God and is meant to be transforming. It means accepting and loving who we truly are, sins and all. It is birthed in the grace of God, not shame.

We continually believe that we’re not good enough, not perfect enough, not “holy” enough.  Who told us that? I can think of several people in my life, beginning with my parents, especially my mother. There have been countless more people over the years eager to reinforce that lie. It’s actually amazing when you think about it that we allow other broken people to define us and determine our worth. Then point to them when we try to prove to God that we are not worthy of love.

Truth be told, it’s the ego that holds us back, which is a paradox actually. The ego is our sacred cow. And yet, we live this meager, paltry, desolate life tethered to our fears, all the while pumping up our false selves for display to anyone who threatens our fragile sense of self. I wasted so many years of my life trying to defend myself against the lies and blamed God for all my misery. In my lowest moments I accused him of not caring, “If you loved me, where were you when I needed you?! What was I supposed to think when you were silent while my mother abused me?”  More silence. “Yeah, I thought so.” Proving my point I could go off and do what I damn well pleased. You’re on your own Linda. I’m pretty sure God was silent in those moments because he knew I was a hot mess; that my heart was too closed off to hear him. I wasn’t interested in healing I just wanted him to bring down fire and brimstone on everyone else.

Fear makes no sense. It denies us a loving, generous, merciful, forgiving, extraordinary relationship with God, and in turn, with others. Instead we settle for crumbs. We live in defiance of our truth because it seems impossible to believe that God would really “desire” our broken, self-centered, imperfect selves. What Glennon Doyle calls, “this crappy version of ourselves.”  Instead of embracing it, we give up trying because it’s just too hard to be the flawless human we’ve been lead to believe God requires. We’re certain that we are a disappointment to him. That he’s tallying up all our transgressions. That nothing gets past him. It’s really annoying.

Fear has a source that God continually warns us about. I love this quote from John Eldridge:

When we don’t believe in our blessedness we begin to doubt and fear just as Peter did when Jesus invited him to walk on the water (Matt 14:29)and that’s just where Satan wants us. So, how do we get beyond that? How to we learn to embrace; to love what God sees in us? Perhaps we should start with this truth: Even if your parents failed to love you well, it’s okay. It really is okay. You are okay, because you already possessed an innate capacity to love and be loved before God formed you in your mother’s womb. Our mothers, no matter if they love us well or totally suck at nurturing, are not the creators of our essence. That distinction is God’s alone. Got that? Let that soak in.

I was able to begin my long journey of change when I came face-to-face with this God who seems to forget our offenses even when we can’t. Not a change that signifies accomplishment, but change that allows me to embrace my messiness, my brokenness, my imperfections.

One of my most powerful moments of growth came when I was able to realize that my mother, my mean, abusive mother, was loved by God. But, sadly, she was never able to grasp her truth. When I was younger I hated her and told her so. She lived and died never having known the person God longed for her to accept and embrace as His beloved daughter. What I wouldn’t give to have her back. What I wouldn’t give to offer her the forgiveness and love that I now know. But when she was alive I was too lost and broken myself. God knows that and he has been relentless in his pursuit ofmy heart, so that I could forgive myself and offer his love to others. I honestly feel that the moment I was able to forgive my mom, even though it was long after she died, that our spirits connected and that mysterious, mystical love of God transcended all our barriers and healed both our hearts. I could deeply sense it even though I couldn’t explain it. Of course, as soon as you try to “explain” mystery it is no longer mystery.

When we allow ourselves to open our hearts to God the magic begins. Suddenly, our worldly longings don’t seem so significant. We stop demandinganything from anyone, ourselves included. If we can get just a small taste of the peace and indescribable joy God will bring to our lives when just sitting in his presence becomes everything it is tantamount to heaven because it is heaven.

Jesus said to all with ears to hear, which has never been many, “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (my emphasis). Luke 17:21. You don’t have to strive for it or wait till you die for it.

Saint Iraneus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive”.  Conversely, the joy of Satan is man sound asleep. Are we even aware that there is a battle raging in the very depth of our hearts that is continuous and unrelenting? Jesus warned about it but we’re not listening because we don’t think it applies to us. Why is that? How much of Scripture do you believe is meant for us today; is meant to be a guidepost for how we should live and move and have our being? And, how much do we toss away as irrelevant? That, my friends, is Satan at his most cunning. Like that pesky snake in the garden, “Oh, come on, you don’t really believe all that stuff do you?! God wants you to have a fun-filled life with no worries! Party on munchkins”.

Jesus warned his followers then and warns us now, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they (you and me included) may have life and have it to the full.” John10:10. Do you feel like you’re living your fullest life possible; that you are the best version of yourself? Or does it feel like one hurdle after another to overcome; barriers and heartaches and detours that wear you down?

Well, I believe God has a challenge for you if you’re willing to give him a chance. Ready?

“Try me out for thirty days. When you arise in the morning, come talk to me first. Read some Scripture, tell me what’s on your mind, what breaks your heart. You may already be doing that, but, I would ask you to go deeper because this is where it gets real. Give me ten or fifteen quiet minutes of your time without expecting anything. Then, if you don’t feel something stirring within you (by the way, that would be me), I will give you your miserable life back! What do you say?” – God

I see you there, thinking, “Yeah, been there done that and got lost in a maze of “rules and regulations” from days gone by. I’m busy and this is complicated. Can you just give me the bullet points?” I think we have the notion that God doesn’t understand our obsession with bullet points in this hurried life we live. Look how we are drawn to articles that provide 5 Easy Steps to _________ (fill in the blank). Actually, four would be better. Just get to the point! For example:

4 Easy Steps to permanent weight loss (I could offer this in 1 Easy Step):

  • Stop eating crap. BAM! See how easy that is?

And reading Scripture? Really?! How many attempts have you made to read the Old Testament before your eyes glazed over? Exactly.  If God could just make this easier. Actually, he did. Perhaps he made it too easy and we can’t wrap our minds around something so simple. Ready?

1 Easy Step to permanent peace and joy:

  • “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 – Any questions?

 And this, dear ones, is what I hope and pray for you:

When You Quit Believing in Santa, You Get Underwear

Do you remember how long you believed in Santa? I remember slowly doubting when I was about seven. Santa became suspect when my brother and sister, who are older, began to make fun of me. But I didn’t want to stop believing. Christmas was magical. Santa made it so. For a child Santa is the reason for the season (we can only hope they outgrow that belief).

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 back 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. It was over: The magic, the mystery, the futile fight to stay awake this time, just for a glimpse of Santa. If I could see him just this once, my faith would be restored, and, with tears streaming down my face, I could tell him that my brother and sister were VERY naughty all year and they should both be turned into lumps of coal! 

But, that didn’t happen and now I was doomed to a reality I was not willing to face. I supposed the next thing to go was the Easter Bunny, and then the Tooth Fairy. And then what? I couldn’t bear it!

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But wait!  Discovering that Santa is likely the invention of parents who simply run out of creative ways to keep kids in line a few weeks out of the year may have a positive side:

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 have to buy for a few kids and they have deeper pockets. Sweet!

You would not have to share the cookies and milk with him. You know how you always hated sharing. You little Grinch!

You could complain about the gifts received and demand they be returned to the store. You can’t return gifts to Santa because that would make him angry!

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.

And what about those stupid pictures on Santa’s lap?  He was creepy and made you cry.

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And – best of all – there would be no pesky “list” Santa would check to ad nauseum! “Santa’s watching you, you little monster! I saw what you just did to your sister! That’s gonna go on your permanent record young man!”

Now that we’re all adults here, and you’ve gotten over your obsession with Santa, what about Christ?  What about your faith in Someone a bit more significant? If you profess to be a Christ-follower, then there are serious implications to consider. I would be remiss if I did not throw in God’s word about his “lukewarm” followers in Revelation 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Nothing ambiguous about that, right? But, we are ridiculously skilled at glazing over it like it applies to everyone else but me.

Professing Christ does not simply amount to the word games we play to dodge God’s claim on our lives. It doesn’t matter how you “talk” about Christ if what people see does not match your rhetoric.

What matters is how you “live” Christ in your day-to-day. Are you truly “living” Christ’s message to love and serve the Lord; to being Christ to a hurting world?  That comes from the very 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 have enough to do just paying the bills and trying to one-up your snooty neighbors. Those ladders to climb; that big house to pay for; people to gossip about; weekly therapy, and all your “charitable volunteering”, will require much more of your valuable time. So God will just have to find someone else to do his other work; the work that doesn’t appeal to you. How about that retired guy down the street? He needs something to keep him occupied, out of his wife’s hair and your business.

If you simply go to church on Sunday, hide in the back, and get your card punched you can sneak out before anyone notices you. And be sure you skip “Mission Sunday” and “Sponsor a poor family Sunday” and “Stewardship Sunday” and “How come you’re wasting your gifts 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.

If you must relieve occasional guilt for your indifference to the world around you, send a check – commensurate with the size and scope of your guilt – to a charity of your choice.  And, while you’re at it, consider tithing a little of that money you spend so frivolously on your pathetic selfish adult self.

Whatever you do, stay away from church on Good Friday! You know Jesus’ passion makes you very uneasy and almost, almost, makes you long for something more. You’re sure never going to watch that Mel Gibson movie again are you?!

And best of all, having “religion” in place of relationship makes you accountable to no one. You can just skip merrily along without ever having to “give an answer” to anyone for how you are living your wretched, despicable, miserable life.  Sounds lovely.

So, there you have it. That’s how underwear ends up in your stocking and how Jesus ends up irrelevant.  Neither is a pretty sight; 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 as we’re reminded once again just how deeply and extravagantly God’s love is by dropping head-long into a smelly manger with smelly animals and not a bit of fanfare!

But it’s sorta 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.

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And even if you say you LOVE Jesus and your neighbor, it won’t be “obvious” 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. Then, it will spill out and manifest its radiance and glory to all the world around you!

Brilliant!

Jesus' birth

I wish for you and your family a very blessed

Christmas filled with wonder and awe like you’ve

never imagined it!

 

The World is Coming to an End!

APOCALYPSE

Just kidding. Not happening. Not today anyway. I don’t think. I could be wrong. Sorry if that disappoints you. Nothing I can do about it.

Anyway, let’s jump right into the muck shall we? Weren’t the 2016 elections fun?! And the aftermath? – there doesn’t seem to be an end to it.

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Many people on both sides are everything from angry to frustrated to fearful. It’s all over the internet and the news ad nauseum. You can’t get away from it if you talk to friends, family, or strangers in the checkout lines who need to vent. Hateful rhetoric, anger, and violence are now the norm.

(Spoiler Alert: This is NOT a political post. Honest!) Stay with me now…the Good News is coming!

If you’re scratching your head because you don’t understand how we got here, maybe because you still believe Christianity is the foundation of this country, I am sorry to inform you…in recent years, it seems, we have become a more and more secular country.

So, this post is not about Democrat vs. Republican. It’s about our changing culture and how we are to live as people of faith in America today because I think we may need a refresher course on Luke 10:27.

Let’s begin with this excerpt from First Things written after the 2012 elections. What Reno wrote is even truer today:

The New Secular Moral Majority, by R. R. Reno

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life tells us that 20 percent of Americans (that number increased to 23% in 2014) now check “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. Many are fed up with religion’s longstanding influence on American society, making them likely to attack the public role of religious institutions and further polarize politics. (Source)

Never mind that “until recently, all the progressive movements in American politics were promoted and heavily influenced by the mainline Protestant churches.” (Source: Reno)

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But, that’s not the whole story. It isn’t just their politics that’s concerning.

Consider this article in the NY Times from April, 2016:

Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years with increases in every age group except older adults….sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. 

I could throw in statistics on road rage too (I was a victim of that recently, it was frightening!). Are you aware of how many fatalities are a direct result of road rage? And the numbers are increasing.

Data gathered by SafeMotorist.com indicates that 66% of recent traffic fatalities can be linked to aggressive driving. More disturbingly, 37% of those fatalities were found to be caused by a firearm, rather than a typical accident.

Here are some more fun facts concerning the rise in mental health disorders, according to the latest statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Then you have to wonder about the extent of usage of all those legal and readily available drugs. Well, one in six U.S. adults reported taking a psychiatric drug, such as an antidepressant or a sedative. The data comes from an analysis of the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS).

Okay. I’m done.

Now, let me ask you. Does it sound like we Americans, who supposedly have everything, are living full, joyful, blissful lives? Which, surprise, is what God intended. We may have lots of “things” and the sense that we can do what we damn well please, but do our lives have purpose? According to the above statistics, it doesn’t appear that way.

We seem to be trudging through life on autopilot.

olive oil sleep walking

I believe what underlies all of this is that the American people are dying for hope.

Nothing else.

We have everything else!

People in Third World countries have nothing and are literally dying of starvation. We recently spent two months in Rwanda and encountered the survivors of the genocide of 1994. They lost almost 1 million loved ones in one-hundred days! They experience hunger daily! Which would make their faith and hope in God incomprehensible to Americans. I wrote more extensively about it here.

So, I believe this is our challenge: We, as people of faith are called by God to be that hope for others. 1 Peter 3:14-15 tells us “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”

The question that God puts before every person of faith is this, “Are you living a life of hope and joy; of compassion and mercy and generosity that speaks to the emptiness of those who have lost their way?”

Not according to Barna Research Group (sorry, this is the last one – promise):

It may come as no surprise that the influence of Christianity in the United States is waning. Rates of church attendance, religious affiliation, belief in God, prayer and Bible-reading have all been dropping for decades. By consequence, the role of religion in public life has been slowly diminishing, and the church no longer functions with the cultural authority it held in times past. These are unique days for the church in America as it learns what it means to flourish in a new “Post-Christian” era.

Geeezzzz, Linda, if I wasn’t depressed before you shared all this “stuff” I am now!

Oh, come on, stay with me guys cause we’ve got work to do!

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God’s call in this day and time may seem overwhelming. After all, I am just one person, right? So was Esther! If you have been following my blogs, you know I have a special place in my heart for Esther. God prepared her for “such a time as this” (4:14). And here’s the key: we rarely know the outcome of God’s calling before our “yes” response. So, it’s too risky for us. We want to say, “Yes, if…”

“Yes, if it won’t cost me anything.”

“Yes, if I’m going to be rewarded for my effort.”

That was not Esther’s response, and it shouldn’t be ours. She said “yes” to God knowing full well she would likely be killed, “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” But, she didn’t perish; she saved her people. (Esther 4:15)

BAM DONE!

“Okay” you say with great trepidation. “But, where do we start?”

Well, perhaps we’re standing in the wrong line;

line

Putting our trust in the wrong people;

voting booth

Believing the rhetoric that there is no heaven or hell;

hell

Spending too much time shopping online, obsessing over Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media sites;

social media

We first have to come to the realization that we will never be fulfilled by our consumerist obsessions; our need to succeed at any cost; our inflated egos and narcissism. We never seem to be satisfied. We want more, but more of what? Richard Rohr calls it our “survival dance” which keeps us from “getting to our sacred dance.”

There is an incredible book I have read and reread, titled, Waking the Dead, by John Eldredge.  Powerful stuff.  He asks:

What is really going on here? Good grief – life is brutal. Day after day it hammers us, till we lose sight of what God intends toward us.” He quotes St. Irenaeus, “The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive” – and goes on the say, “You’re kidding me. Really? Is that what you’ve been told? That the purpose of God –the very thing he’s staked his reputation on – is your coming fully alive?

Eldredge believes that:

We are at war. I don’t like that fact any more than you do, but the sooner we come to terms with it, the better hope we have of possessing the life we want. I’m sorry if I’m the one to break this news to you: you were born into a world at war, and you will live all your days in the midst of a great battle, involving all the forces of heaven and hell and played out here on earth.

Yeah, thanks!  That insight surely makes you want to trade your Armani suit for an itchy camel hair coat; pack your lunchbox with locust, and find your prophetic voice doesn’t it?

Alternatively, I don’t know about you, but I’m not anxious to end up as the one referred to in Revelations 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

So many people have become fearful of what our future, in particular the future for our children and grandchildren, will look like. Focused entirely on the makeup of Washington, the seeming inability to correct the direction we are headed, and what all that will mean for this fragile country.

When I read the article I shared with you in the beginning of this post, God revealed to me something much graver.  No matter how any of us voted, there is something much more critical to address. I have a great sense that our work, the work of all people of faith, at this time in history, is more critical than ever.

Okay…there you go.

What are we, as God’s people, supposed to be thinking, and feeling, and doing in what seems to be a hopeless situation?

Well, not this – please – not this:

HatfieldClan

If you’re wringing your hands, hunkering down, barring your windows, loading your guns, and wishing for the apocalypse, perhaps this is a good time for a refresher course in what it means to be God’s beloved. That’s where it starts. Then, it should flow out to others. People all around you are desperate to hear they are worthy. That is our “great commission” today, just as it was for the first disciples so long ago. In case you’ve been so busy you haven’t noticed, they’re long gone and there is a void that we ALL are called to fill.

Perhaps, for starters, some sobering questions need to be answered by each of us:

  • Does my “yes” to God call me to a responsibility that compels me to a response?
  • Why, if we are 40% of the population, have we not influenced the “nones”?  We are the same 40% while they are growing in number. Why?
  • Are we culpable in the course this country has taken because of our limited desire to live the “Good News” in a way that makes others want what we have? When we “go to church” an hour on Sunday and the rest of our lives are enmeshed in worldly pursuits, how are we any different?
  • The secular may have pushed God out of our schools and Public Square, but are we, a people of faith, just as guilty of keeping Him hidden in our places of worship?

Still waiting for Jesus to come? Still waiting for the “Good News”?

waiting for Jesus

Well, guess what? YOU are the bearer of God’s “Good News”! All wrapped up in the bright, shiny LIGHT of Jesus! YOU are God’s gift to a hurting world.

Indeed, we need God, but, are you aware that God needs us too? Right. You thought God didn’t need anything. But, it’s true. Archibald MacLeish, in his sermon on Job tells us why:

Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one. Without man, God does not exist as God, only as creator, and love is the one thing, no one, not even God Himself, can command.

Do you believe that?  If so, what are you “doing” about it? Sure, you may not be the next Mother Theresa or Ghandi or Martin Luther King – or you could be. Either way, God has gifted you, and likely in some way you may not even have imagined. God prepared you before you were born and has called you into the fray and the messiness of this world to serve.

If the love of God is not manifest in and through us to others, how will the “nones” ever know there’s a better life waiting for them? If that beautiful nun, Sister Maureen, had not spoken God’s love into my heart fifteen years ago, I would likely still be drunk! If she had only seen the exterior of the obnoxious heathen I was, and not the very breath and heart of God buried deep within me, I would likely be one of those statistics.

Ask yourself how many Linda’s you have turned away from God because you were too busy or too afraid to be vulnerable and risk reaching out? Then, ask God to change your heart and move your feet.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8)

 

matthew west
Do Something

Perhaps the motto of the French Foreign Legion would help us:

                If I fall – pick me up.

                  If I falter – push me on.

                   If I retreat – shoot me!

 

Do Expiration Dates Matter?

Did you know: According to the FDA, “With the exception of infant formula, the laws that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administers do not preclude the sale of food that is past the expiration date indicated on the label. The FDA does not require food firms to place ‘expired by’, ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ dates on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer.”

Article in Time, “…according to the new analysis, words like ‘use by’ and ‘sell by’ are used so inconsistently that they contribute to widespread misinterpretation — and waste — by consumers. More than 90% of Americans throw out food prematurely, and 40% of the U.S. food supply is tossed–unused–every year because of food dating.”

So, it would seem that, to many Americans, the expiration date stamped on food products is gospel. It is critical to our health and well-being. Right?

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You wouldn’t consume this. Right?

road kill
I’m guessing you wouldn’t eat here!

So then, the question becomes:

Why do we so stubbornly and unwaveringly oppose, ignore, or deny THIS expiration date:

me expired

Don’t tell me you don’t. We all do. I think that reality is the most profound image of “whistling past the graveyard”. Every one of us has an expiration date. It’s not arbitrary or negotiable. And, yes, it IS set in stone. Okay, a bit of clarification: God can change that date. God can do anything he wants! It’s also quite possible that when your doctor told you you had six months to live – ten years ago – that all those prayers raised to heaven on your behalf were answered. But, I believe it’s more probable that the doctor was simply wrong. It reminds me of the expression, “If it ain’t your time to go not even a doctor can kill you.” But, that is a whole other blog post.

Anyway…

I can be, and often am, lax about the dates on most food products. Milk is a good example. After you reach the date on the carton you smell it, and then take the tiniest taste. You’ll know if it’s okay for another day. Simple enough and money saving.

Actually, (sorry, this is probably gross for you to consider) when we humans reach our final stage of life, usually the last couple of days or hours, there is an undeniable smell of death. It is one of the signs of the end of life’s journey, and I have experienced it often sitting vigil with Hospice patients. But, don’t count on that smell test to help you decide to hurry up and clean your act up. Unfortunately, at that point, you will be too far gone to make any life changing decisions.

And, what if, on your expiration date, without any warning, you just get run over by a truck on your way to work!?

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I know I use this a lot, but it’s SO funny!

I am writing this post at the beginning of Lent, a perfect time to reevaluate how I’m living my life. After all, it is a time when we too are called to die…

Take a breath – it’s okay

We’re called to die to our sins. I’m not saying that’s easy by any stretch. We so often fail miserably at our best intentions: I’m going to bake a pie for that grouchy neighbor of mine! Maybe. Or not.

We must keep trying though, and hopefully, by the grace of God, we will at least fall forward. With that in mind, I have determined – again – to make this my most profound Lenten Season EVER! (I’ll keep you posted on my progress)

I have so much to consider:

  • Needed changes I have refused to deal with.
  • Baggage I cling to.
  • Old hurts that still affect my life all these decades
  • Lies of other broken people I have fed on and nurtured.
  • Guilt and shame I cannot let go of.
  • And, most importantly, denial of my worth as a beloved child of God.

I long to grow in love. I want to use these final days of my life, however many I have left, to fully live as the person I was created to be.

Saint Irenaeus said: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I want and need to be that fully alive Christian, now. We should all, if we call ourselves Christian, want to strive for the ultimate goal of our faith. And it is not a goal to be realized after life here on earth has ended. It is a goal we should be striving for every day, right here, right now. The Kingdom of God is here, now. It’s not some faraway place we hope we’ve gotten our card pinched enough to qualify for entry.

Our hell is right here, if that’s the life we are living.

Our heaven is right here, if we choose to live as God calls us to.

Even if Lent is not part of your faith tradition, this is still an excellent time to consider fasting and praying as we approach Easter. You don’t have to eat peanut butter and jelly or fish on Fridays unless you LOVE peanut butter and jelly and fish.