Monday, February 8, 2016

The Blessings of Despair

Certainty
Certainty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." James 4:13

Cerebral palsy afflicted Alex. When I met him, he was three, the same age as my daughter. On this particular day, he accomplished a "miracle of God", or so my friend had proclaimed.

He stuck his tongue out.

This horrified me. Unsaved and unsure of God's absolute mercy and love, I saw Alex's affliction and could acknowledge no miracle in his life.

My own daughter, oblivious of the "workings of God" going on in the kitchen, sat on the living room floor and happily watched Mr. Rogers lead children through his peaceful neighborhood.

As I left my friends' home, I ranted against the God I did not believe in. How dare he afflict children with appalling conditions? How could my friends, people who'd become my solace during my miserable and lonely marriage, adore a Creator like this Jesus.

However...

When my temper settled, I reflected on the fleeting nature of life, and about the length of eternity.

We live for the breadth of an eye blink. Then, like May flies or a day lily, our brief life ends. We enter eternity--and that goes on and on and on and...

You get the idea.

Alex's affliction, in the span of forever, was brief, shorter than the life span of a night-blooming cerseus. Forever, he'd be rewarded with glory.


And the effect on me?


My daughter is a bright, beautiful, normal child. Today she works well, is a good mother and wife. Like me, not a superstar, not fashion-model pretty. But Alex's plight made me see mine as richer, more glorious.

And most important: the lesson I took from Alex's life, brought me a step closer to my own salvation.

When the unthinkable happens, remember, God's direction will never take you where His grace can't sustain you.

Have there been Alexes in your life? What have they taught you?


Monday, February 1, 2016

The Hymn Battles: Conflict and Lust, James 4:1

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. James 4:1-3

I adore my church. Being a member only since June, I find no flaw in it. It worships divinely. The teaching is solid.The people are welcoming and accepting. They follow God, walk in faith, and demonstrate true Christianity.

And they grieve.

Why,when all is so perfect?

A contingency had an argument and left. Sadly, the split is quite cliche: should we use the organ and hymns exclusively or mix it up with contemporary choruses?

Since the pastor decided to mix it up, and to take the control away from those who did not have the authority to dominate, a group of people picked up their hymnals and (if they could) their organs and went home.

The sad part is, the old order of worship had not been abolished, only updated and blended. 

I, personally, don't care for hymns--although today I've found myself singing "Blessed Assurance" all day long (no pun intended--all the day long!). During my first visit to my church, all they sang were the standard hymns, and I felt the presence of God that compelled me to worship.

I still don't like hymns. I still worship better with contemporary ballads--but when God shows up, I don't care how.


Why the musical and heart-rending drama? Lust and power and envy dominated the spirits of those who packed up and trekked to a church more to their opinions. They left in their wake a faithful, and welcoming congregation now grieving because of the animosity the fleeing have created. They mourn the loss of their family.

Silly things to fight about.

The Zika virus is destroying lives. Refugees, from the Middle East, from Africa, from Central America, cannot find refuge. People succumb to addictions. Charlatans and crooks want to run our country. And our churches bemoan their music!

Pray for what you want, for your needs, for others. God will hear--IF we pray according to his will and not to consume our answered prayers on our own egos.

Have people's lust and envy hurt you? How do you heal?

In truth, I'd love to hear of your experiences...together we can pray according to God's will.



Monday, January 25, 2016

How to Overcome What You Don't Want to Overcome

English: Official portrait of US Senator Marco...
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. James 4:7-8

 The very first verses of James, chapter 4, of course, do not apply to us. "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?" 

Or perhaps not to you. I hate to admit it--but here I will, to the multitude who visit this blog...sometimes I quarrel. 

When I know I'm right

Take for example this election. Neil wants Marco Rubio to win. I know only Bernie Sanders can dig us out of the snowstorm of errors this country created. I'm right. He's wrong.

Once in my life I had a conflict that had no resolution--one that couldn't be settled by the mere fact I was right. My pastor of this time and I did not see eye to eye on most everything. No matter what I did, I didn't seem to measure up. I craved service in my church--but was continually judged as lacking. Finally, I was pushed over the edge, and this normally laid-back lady blew her top. What caused it?

Perhaps it was the time I was asked to step down from choir, or my name was removed from the nominations of deacon or was told, "You have grown so much, but there's still something--can't define it--that isn't right." (How do you fight that?)

I'm sure you faced such situations: A husband refuses to let you sign your son up for karate lessons because... A friend doesn't include you in a girls' outing to the movies because... An employer doesn't give you the raise you deserve because...

How do you overcome genuine hurts you do not wish to forgive?

Here's how.

Submit yourself to God and He will do it.

Yikes. It's easier said that executed (especially when execution sounds pretty good).

Here's what worked for me when I was grievously wounded. I knew, despite my pastor's misjudgment, that when he went to heaven, God would say to him, "Well done my good and faithful servant."

God would say that to me, as well.

Neither of us were perfect, both were doing what we believed was right. So I had to forgive. I didn't want to. My prayer became: "God, make be want to forgive."

Then I thought about it. I didn't really want to be made to forgive. So I prayed again. "Lord, make me want to want to forgive." 

A few moments later, I prayed, "Make me want to want to want to forgive."

Then...

You get the message.

And guess what? I did.

In my above examples from my own life, I had to give a composite of little things I recalled. The real grievance has long been forgotten. To me, a real sign of true forgiveness.

When we resist the devil and draw near to God--well, the rest is gravy.

As for Rubio verses Sanders?

We all know who picked the right candidate.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Tale of Two Preachers: James 3:13-18

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure then  peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits,unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3: 13-18
English: Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Mar...
English: Photograph of Rosa Parks
 with Dr. Martin Luther King jr.
 (ca. 1955) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today we remember the life of a remarkable man, the Rev.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I can hardly think of an individual who did more for the Civil Rights of all people than this man.

Though many may disparage his foibles, this preacher was willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Thrown into the Montgomery bus boycott, King became president of the MIA. Subsequently, he rides the first integrated bus.


President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Marti...
President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meet at the White House, 1966 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
From this point on, his life zeros in on the rights for racial equality. He meets presidents and world leaders, is stabbed, arrested,assaulted, elected president of many civil rights organizations. He writes and publishes and receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

He's arrested, accused of being a communist, and still he strives for equality of all races, and fights for the end of poverty.

Eventually, he is assassinated--a horrid end for a man who strove for peace and the end of inequitable laws.

And then there's Al Sharpton, a man who deserves no reverend suffix to his name. He wants fame and perpetrates false civil rights atrocities to make a name for himself. This begins with the Tawana Brawley debacle. 

He's notorious for tax evasion. With any civil rights disturbance, he pokes his nose into the situation.

His language is as strident and hate-filled as Rev. King's was eloquent and righteous.

His list of infamy goes on and on, and I do not care to elaborate on it. To my thinking, he illustrates verse 14.

These two men perfectly illustrate today's scripture. King is wise. His knowledge gentle and godly. His fame found him. He did not seek it for fame alone. He was reasonable, gentle, full of mercy and willing to pay the price for righteousness.

Sharpton? You can form your own opinion.

As the week goes one and we move into Black History month, remember the godly, the men like King, who make our world a better place.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Kill the Gossip: New Year's ReSOULutions, Part 2

And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. James 3: 6-8

There's a reason my closest friend Renee and I are tight: we're both passionate with an overlay of sarcasm. I love sarcastic people who don't send barbed-tongued comments to wound others. That's me. 

And Renee.

Yesterday, I was happy I had conquered my tendency to gossip (at least in that moment). I sat in Sunday school and our teacher, who also happens to be Renee's husband, mentioned how his pile of research covered the kitchen table.

I blurted, "I'm sure Renee gave you your comeuppance at that."

I cringed. It sounded harsher than I intended. And a good thing. I scanned the room. She often doesn't come to class, but this day she did. And she didn't bat an eye. I probably beat her to the punch at the joke.

And better yet, it was something I would say to her face.

Good thing because I did say it to her face.

At one time in my life, I thought I had a sure-fired way of stopping my gossiping: I forced myself to forget what was told to me. If I didn't remember, I didn't spread it.

Bad idea. I developed an attitude of inattention, and I no longer recalled important details people asked me to pray about. I never re-connected with my friends to offer help.

So when attempting to bridle your tongue--listen to the personal details friends share about their own lives. Pray with them both at that moment and in your private times. Just don't spread the juicy tidbits. Remember, they're only juicy to you.

How to stop gossiping?

  1. Take a moment and ask yourself if you would make this comment to the person who is targeted by the gossip. If you'd die if your comments were heard, you better bite your tongue.
  2. Change the subject. People don't want to be perceived as someone evil. Gossipers are often fueled by their own insecurities. If you change the subject, most times the chatterer gets the hint her subject is unwelcomed. She knows it paints her in a poor light in your eyes.
  3. Say something positive about the subject. The speaker will get the hint. Without fuel, the fire goes out (Pr. 26:20).
  4. Try to find a solution. Sometimes gossip arises out of a genuine concern. Instead of maligning the subject, find a solution to the problem.
  5. Pray. James 3:6 says the motivator of evil-speaking is the devil himself. He certainly doesn't want anyone praying about the situation. If you pray, he will desist. Ask the person who shared the news with you if you could agree in prayer right then. In your own devotional time, pray.
  6. Remember the golden rule. Do you want your bad news or your foibles shared? If not, then why would this person. Also, remember the friend who is currently "confiding" about another's problems will probably share your information. Be careful what you say to her. If she is a chronic gossip, find a time to address her about her problem. If she does not hear you, then you may need to avoid contact.
Are there other things that have worked for you?

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year's ReSOULutions: Bridle That Tongue

English: New Year's Day postcard. Reads: "...
English: New Year's Day postcard. Reads: "A New Year's Resolution / Jan. 1st / To Gossip, Slang and Cuss words / I'll bid a last "Adieu" / And place a bridle on my tongue / And thoughtless actions, too!" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. James 3: 6-8

Have you ever heard a juicy, fun bit of news you couldn't wait to spread? You got the info from good sources (say, you best friend Barb Dewitt, or Uncle Kurt Teller, or the National Enquirer). You told everyone and then discovered the reliable source Uncle Kurt or Barb used probably got his info from Buzzfeed.

One day, while teaching, a student raised her hand. "Are you pregnant, Mrs. McClain?"

My mouth dropped. I was definitely nearing retirement, not maternity leave. Furthermore, by teen standards, I had to be post-post-post menopausal. 

Where'd the info come from? 

Not too long prior, I had had a ob-gyn appointment that happened to follow the appointment of one of my pregnant teens. IF she was there about a baby, then I was, too.

Sheesh. Time for a diet.
gossip is a barb--not love

That bit of blowback is funny. However, not all is harmless. 

Our church is currently having a power struggle over the over-use of an overly loud organ and dirge-styled hymns combating the heretical contemporary ballads.

Bitter gossip reigns, and people, believing lies about a dedicated pastor, good people trusting friends who are miffed or hurt by changes, have left the body. 

One day my husband, a retired minister, came home and said the pastor gave the organist a letter asking for her resignation. Everything had been done   to correct the problems according to biblical dictates, and, to me, this sounded like the next, correct step.

Turned out, the man Neil trusted had erroneous information. The church called a meeting to address all the rumors, and the truth came to light. No one had been asked to resign. Yet, as I listened to our open and honest pastor explain the situation, I questions his honesty because I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the ethics of my husband.

Wasp sting, with a droplet of venom
Wasp sting, with a droplet of venom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
similar to the poisonous sting of gossip
Gossip is a hellish master as James 3:6 implies.

I'm sure you can think of times when the evil sting of the tongue has lashed your life or that of someone you love.

If so, what about your own gossip? Maybe it's time for a New Year's reSoulution.
Bridle the tongue.

How? Not so easy, but doable. Tune in next week for some ideas.

In the meantime, how has gossip caused problems in your own life?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Do We Have Any Volunteers In the House? James 2:14-17

"14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary fortheir body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead,being by itself" James 2:14-17

I peeled my eyes opened. Eight a.m. on a Saturday. Forget the fact that my weeks have six Saturdays and one Sunday, my brain had been trained and  Saturday is sleep-in, lazy sacrosanct. However every Saturday we members of North Country Habitat for Humanity banded together to work on the restoration of a house for a needy and deserving family.

      I didn't want to go. Jimminy Crickets, it was Saturday. But James 2:14-17 might as well be engraved on my forehead. "Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? ... Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?"(from THE MESSAGE)


     So I rose and within the hour I shined. Once again I discovered joy in giving. I hammered nails, chatted with friends, learned skills, watched our family work for the home they'd soon inhabit and ate a fabulous lunch prepared by Joanna, a dear friend on our local board. I couldn't imagine any greater way to spend a Saturday.


     And I learned some valuable lessons to boot:

  1. toenailing has nothing to do with a pedicure
  2. shank isn't something prisoners use nor something you braise in an oven
  3. a stud is not a virile man
  4. strapping is not used in S & M
  5. dike is not a gay woman nor something that holds back water
     So tell me what you think these mean?