Don’t Get It Confused

Throughout my life I have tried to be viewed as a person that tries to give his all to God. Clearly I have fallen short through the process and I have given in to the things that this world deems as good. This is evident as I think about the fact that I am writing this blog post on the iPad I was given as a gift, but couldn’t settle for just an iPad, but I also needed the matching bluetooth keyboard. I am a technophile, and this mere fact shows that I give in to the latest and greatest the world has to offer. (I certainly am not claiming that owning an iPad is a sin, but my obsession certainly crosses into the idolatry side of things.)

However, in preparation for a sermon I recently gave I was reminded that as much as I want to be viewed as a devout follower of God, it IS NOT ABOUT ME!!! I get this confused far too often. In Acts 13, Paul recounts the history of Israel, and throughout this history the main thrust is not about what Israel has done, it wasn’t about how well the law of Moses was followed, but rather it is about how FAITHFUL God was and is, and how much GRACE is poured upon us time and time again. I will fail, but God has taken care of that sin, and God will continue to take care of me.

This bashed in my skull again as I sat reading Romans 12, as I worship I have thought that I was bringing something to God, but in fact, God brings the goodness, the grace, and the fulfillment. So again I am told loud and clear that IT IS NOT ABOUT ME!!! So I realize that it takes a lot more humility to simply accept the grace that God pours upon me, and to even go further to ask for serving after serving of this grace.

We are called to respond to this grace, but our response is not the source of the grace, nor is it the reason the grace was given in the first place. God gave us grace because He LOVES US ABUNDANTLY, and that is why CHRIST DIED, that is why our JUSTIFICATION can only be found through the power of God expressed in Christ dying on the cross and being raised from the dead. That happened. Whether or not we respond by living our lives as worship-filled as we can, God still LOVES us!

SO don’t get it confused, IT IS NOT ABOUT ME!!! (or any of us.)

Playgrounds

Being outside has always been my son’s preference, and I will give him the credit at pulling me out of the house, and getting me active once again. He loves going down the slide, climbing anything he can climb, and pretending he is on a boat/spaceship/ school bus, etc. I enjoy watching him do all of this, and even more when he invites me in his fantasy. This is supposed to be a safe place where energy can be dissipated in a safe environment so that kids can play. However, at our favorite park, there have been more “older kids” just sitting and waiting for something to happen. While they are waiting,  they usually have stuck to sitting on benches away from the playground, but as the weather has warmed up there are more people and “those waiting for something to happen” have moved closer and closer to the playground, until they are actually sitting on the equipment, moving to this spot as children are playing. Bad enough, right? It gets worse.  While on the equipment they were smoking, loudly arguing using unimaginative language, and fighting. Our boat/spaceship/ school bus has been infiltrated by pirates.

Before we found ourselves asked to walk the plank, we decided to take a break from that park, and use our imagination more.

The other day we went to a wilderness park, where we were able to use the original playground equipment, trees, ponds, hills, and open space. Much like the playground, there are still the dangers of  falling down and skinned knees, but we did not encounter any pirates, and we were able to have fun enjoying nature. While the playground was always the safe choice for fun, we found a great blessing in just playing around and exploring. The important thing about play is not the specific equipment, but in the fact that children are incredibly inquisitive and have the ability to make the most out of their environment. As a parent I have looked and searched for the “best” playground with the most equipment , but I am reminded that a child’s mind is the best piece of equipment.

As a father I have sought to give my son all the tools and toys to foster his imagination. I don’t buy him every toy, but, as we sit in his room playing looking around at all the toys we aren’t playing with, I recognize that I have purchased too many toys. I have thought this is cool, or that will be fun to play, I forgot that the key to play is not the toy, but the child playing. The Almighty created my son with a mind and a body made for play. I need to remember that there is nothing and no place that will ever be anything more than the thing or place is seen to be in the eyes and mind of my son.

As an adult I am just like that, I find myself bored, and that life will just be better if I get a new this or that. Maybe an iPad will do the trick? Nope. Not even the iPad2 is better than the Creator’s natural gifting. We have become old, and our equipment might be rusty, but if we shake off the dust, we will find the best tools and toys occur naturally.

Perfect is not found in places or things, because just like The Boss says, “Baby we were born to run,” and climb, and play. So whatever your preferred play, use the natural tools we have been given, and stop relying upon all our toys and equipment.

Once all the eggs have been found…

So I have been out of the game for far too long. It seems like Ash Wednesday was yesterday, Lent was this morning, Palm Sunday was lunch, and Easter finished five minutes ago. But in our congregation, similar to many congregations, we spoke about the journey toward the cross and the road we take toward a deeper relationship with God through the process of going without during Lent. But that is all done now, because all of the eggs have been found and we can move past that stage in our faith walk for another year. Or can we?

For many of us the journey toward the cross is filled with the reminder of our failures, marks showing us how we have fallen short of the glory of God. But that pain doesn’t tell the whole story, because the story doesn’t end on Friday; but rather death, pain, and our failure are overshadowed and redeemed through God’s victory and the Resurrection of Christ Jesus!

We spend much of our lives alternating between living our lives flaunting our failures and trying to redeem ourselves because we are not worthy.

When we flaunt our failures and are living in the world of  “cheap” grace we are of the mindset that the Easter Egg of Grace should be brightly colored and three-feet in diameter. We know the egg is there and we can turn around and get it at any time, but we are going to do our own thing until it is more convenient.

However, when we view ourselves as not worthy, we are of the mindset that the Easter Egg of Grace should be camouflaged and the size of a pea.  The quest is going to be arduous, and we don’t think it is possible to find the egg because we are so blind from our sinfulness.

Most of the time we are actually in the middle, and see the Easter Egg of Grace as the pink egg above.

But the story tacked on to the end of John is how the Lord reaches out to us, especially after we have finished celebrating the Resurrection.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

 “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

The Almighty is calling us to follow. We failed, and we continue to fail, just like Simon Peter, but the Lord calls out to each one of us to do the Kingdom work each day. We have chores we need to get done, the sheep need to be taken care of and fed, the lambs need to be fed, and we need to learn to follow better. The eggs are not hard to find, but we need to follow Jesus to their hiding place, and once we get there we find abundant grace.

Gifts, Humility, Forgiveness, and Heroism

Last week I prepared a sermon about Joseph (OT) and I have always been intrigued about this man. Was he perfect? No he wasn’t. However, most of the characters in the Old Testament had some flaw. With certainty though, Joseph was GIFTED, God had given him something, but he didn’t exactly know how to use the gifting at first.

God spoke to Joseph through his dreams, and probably understanding full and well what it meant, sought to blab it to his brothers. This dream essentially rubbed it in his brothers face that they would bow down to him, and he would rule over them. He was the arrogant kid that essentially rubbed in the face of his brothers that he knew he was better than them. His brothers were already upset with him because they saw him as a tattle tale, and as daddy’s favorite, which was thrown into their face every time they looked at his coat. So they looked at their arrogant brother and sought to break him, so they eventually sold him, and removed him from their sight. Joseph’s arrogance had betrayed him, and he lost all that he had which fed his pride.

Humbled, Joseph went around and was a good servant. He did all that he could to be successful, giving his work into the hands of God, and God blessed him. Not that this went straight to his head, but the success caused Joseph to let his guard down, and he fell into the trap set by his master’s wife. Feelings of invincibility probably caused him to enter into a circumstance that ultimately got him thrown into prison. Lesser arrogance than what he threw into the face of his brothers, but still a lack of humility.

God stayed with him, and continued to offer him gifts and blessings, even in the outward appearance of no gifts, no reason for pride, as he was locked up. God had a plan for his life, one that he probably had no clue, and his thoughts were far from those dreams that he had told his brothers, another life ago.

So Joseph used the gift God had given him even while in prison. This time he interpreted two men’s dreams, but this time the reward was not instant, for as soon as the man that benefitted from Joseph’s interpretation, did not help Joseph. This caused a deep humility to dwell within Joseph, so much so that he would remember that God is the source, and Joseph is merely the vessel.

Thus the time came when Pharaoh needed some dreams interpreted. Here Joseph supplied the information that allowed Egypt to be saved from the effects of a Great Famine. For this act Joseph, was rewarded with great power and prestige. At this point his brothers enter the scene again because the famine reached Canaan and his family. They came looking for assistance from Egypt. Instead of treating them with the wrath they probably deserved, Joseph helps them out, and actually saves his whole family, because through the power of the Holy Spirit, Joseph offers forgiveness and salvation to those who started his downward spiral.

He even wanted to offer them the assurance that they were forgiven because he knew that God blessed him throughout the midst of his humbling, by telling them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” His brothers needed to be humbled, but Joseph did this through the love of God, not the wrath.

No, You Can’t

My son has repeated to me numerous times the phrase, “I can do it myself, Daddy.” It is one of the most annoying phrases, even though it comes from the a person that I love so dearly. I can guess that it is certainly not unique to my family, and that there are parents out there who feel the same way I do. My own parents probably fall into that category.

No matter his true independence level on a number of tasks, there are many things he does need help doing, for instance, he needed help turning on the faucet at a sink because the handles were just outside his reach. He kept telling me he didn’t need my help, and insisted that I turn the water off, until finally he stood on top of my feet which gave him the necessary boost to reach the faucet handles. In his mind, he probably thinks he did it himself.

Another incident tonight was as he was trying to fall asleep, and he kept whining, indicating he was uncomfortable. I was worried that he might be sick, I asked him whether there was anything I could do to make him more comfortable. In true form, he told me that he was taking care of it himself, and didn’t need my help. However, after another ten minutes of struggling he let me know that he needed another blanket because he was too cold. Oddly enough, he would have had the issue resolved earlier had he just let me know when I first asked him.

These two examples are similar to how we often think we can do everything ourselves, we think we are completely self-reliant. However, we aren’t! We don’t want to hear, “No, you can’t do it all on your own.” However, we often walk along in our lives struggling to do it on our own, when we really just need to learn to ask for help.

The Almighty God desires us in relationship to lay EVERYTHING at the foot of the throne, for nothing is too much or too heavy.

When are we going to wake up and allow others to help us?

 

Watch Out!

Sometimes in life things happen, sometimes they are expected, but most times they catch us off guard. No matter what happens, we need to be on the lookout for the opportunities to jump into action, and opportunities to be the people that we are called to be. Whether it happens to be when a loved one is sick, or a friend is in need, or a natural disaster strikes, we should always be ready to jump into action and do what we can to help, to bring God’s grace and mercy to a friend or a stranger in need.

Watch out! Be ready to jump into action! Be “all that you can be”! Prepare your life for the fact that something is going to happen and we will have the opportunity to bring Glory to God!

Dear Starbucks

Dear Starbucks,

Christmas is not over, so why have you taken down all of your festive decorations and your “holiday” menu already? I thought that I could walk in and still see your red colors, but the brown and green of “ordinary time” has already returned.  The gift of Christmas is 12 days long beginning on the 25th. Therefore, I wished that you would keep up your decorations up until at least the first of January, if not the full Christmas until January 6th on Epiphany, or maybe even until the Sunday after the 6th.

I fully recognize that you, Starbucks, are not interested in maintaining the church traditions about Christmas, and that it is true most people are not going to buy that extra pound of “Christmas Blend” after the 25th of December, I don’t fully understand the need to revert so quickly. I walked into your friend, Target, the other day and they were already trying to get me to buy into the Valentine’s Day hype. I understand this is the commercial aspect of our Western holiday structure, but I don’t go into Target for the experience, I do go into Starbucks for the experience.

If we let the 25th of December be the end of the “Commercial” Christmas, and spent the rest of Christmas resting in the fact that it is Christmas, maybe we would all have a better perspective on what it is we should all be focusing upon during Christmas. Maybe we should all take a lesson from “A Miracle on 34th Street”, when we begin to understand that we all benefit when we work together and strive for a common goal of meeting the “needs” of the world.

Oh well, I guess I will have to settle for leaving my tree up until Christmas is over.

Wishing you a warm and merry Christmas,

ELPISANDSHALOM.COM

So Many Things To Do, So Little Time (Christmas Eve Edition)

It is here.

It has come like the kid playing hide-and-seek who has just finished counting, and has begun the search for those hiding, proclaiming, “ready or not, here I come!”

“Oh no, I never finished putting the decorations up!”

“I’ve got to get to the mall and finish my Christmas shopping.”

“This house is a mess, I have to get it clean!”

“Those presents aren’t going to wrap themselves.”

“There is so much to do, and I have so little time to accomplish it!”

These thoughts are the thoughts of a frantic person that has probably procrastinated on getting their Christmas tasks completed, and is now stressing out over their inability to complete the task list. This person is me. Maybe I am continuing the procrastination by taking time to write this blog, since I have not written any since the month began. (Another thing on the list that got pushed to the side.)

This stress level is proof positive that I have failed to keep perspective on the season. A season that started so promising, as we got the tree up the week after Thanksgiving. My son’s help was fantastic, as he made sure the candy canes were placed perfectly, and all of his favorite ornaments were in the same place. This was fun and helped me focus on the fact that I have been blessed with a marvelous 3-year-old, and watching the Christmas excitement in his eyes has been marvelous.

However, that was where the peace and time to just be in the season started to fade, as one thing led to another, and stress and to do lists began to take over. I don’t think it is unique to the time around Christmas, but it seems to be amplified by the fact that there is one day where everything happens, and judging by the way stores look the week after x-mas, the season ends, off to the next holiday.

Well here I am, trying to gain more perspective. This season is about the eager anticipation of the coming of the savior of the world: A savior who has come to us first as a vulnerable baby, a savior that remains with us to guide us through the Holy Spirit, and a savior who promised to come again! It isn’t about lists or calendars, it is about breathing in deep the breath of God, and allowing our hearts to let go of hustle and bustle, and rest in the fact that the Creator of the Universe loves you, and provides more joys, more presents, and more love than any man in a Red Suit.

So I wish you all a Merry Christmas, let us celebrate, and I encourage you to take a deep breath today!

Illness Ignored

I am just getting over an illness that I could not understand, nor could I kick it until I decided that I needed to change the way I was living to allow my body to fight it properly. I went about my day, working and playing as if nothing was wrong, staying up late, eating whatever sounded good to me at the time, and not paying any mind that my stomach was upset, and living in this manner aggravated the symptoms, and I felt worse. Eventually, I got tired of feeling sick, and realized that if I wanted to get better, I would have to alter the way I was living, and maybe even go see a doctor. (Strangely enough, even at 31 years of age, I still have an uneasy feeling about going to see the doctor.) Eventually, I stopped eating whatever, and went on a diet of foods that were easy on the stomach, I went to bed earlier, I rested when I could, and I gave my body a fighting chance against whatever the bug that was attacking my system. Now, I feel better, and am taking it easy, sort of.

I missed the opportunity to truly enjoy spending time with my son, because I wanted to be able to just fight through this sickness. Because I fought taking a step back, I ended up going through the motions in our play and not fully engaging in the way I want to engage him. If I just would have taken a day to allow my body to rest, I’m not saying it would have been better immediately, but I wouldn’t have just been “blah” in the precious time he and I had together.

Many things in life are like this illness. Whether it is our habits, routines, addictions, lust, sloth, our current emotional state, mental health, physical health, any number of vices, or our lack of spiritual well-being, all of these can contribute to our illness. This illness affects the type of person we are with our loved ones, it affects our ability to work, and eventually it breaks down our physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies, until we are defined by our illness. It starts with something manageable, with something that doesn’t rule us, but because we convince ourselves that we can control it, we lose control without ever knowing when we have reached that tipping point.

So many things get in the way of being the best us! Whether it is something that happens to us, or something we do to ourselves or others, we are susceptible to contracting this illness. When it eventually hits us, and it will hit us, what is our response going to be? Are we going to try to just live our lives as if we are in control of the symptoms? This is our pride surfacing. Most All of the time, we have an out. We need a doctor to guide us through the maze, to help protect us from ourselves. We are not able to do this on our own. A change needs to happen, and Jesus is here for us, so let’s not ignore the fact that He chose to dine with us, not the scribes and pharisees. (Mark 2:16-17, Matthew 9:11-13)

We are all sick, don’t ignore it, dine with the Physician tonight.

With One Hand Tied

Yesterday, as I was playing with my son at the park, he insisted that we bring his football along. With this I clearly had no issue, and pride bubbled over in my heart. He carried his ball around with him throwing it around and yelling, “Touchdown!” The only problem came when he decided he wanted to play on the equipment, climbing the stairs, and going down the slides, he wanted to take his ball. While he has a high level of coordination, many of the playground elements require two hands. I implored him to drop the ball so he could use both hands, but he refused because he wanted to keep the ball with him on the slide.

I think many of us go through life like this. We want to multi-task and carry so many things with us no matter what we are doing. At times we walk through life with one hand tied behind our backs, or in the case of my son, one hand carrying a football. While we continue about our lives and daily tasks, we may not realize how much these things slow us down. Things, thoughts, worries, emotions all can slow us down, if we let any of them master us.

I am thankful that I don’t have to carry these things with me, but am frustrated that I willfully often carry more than I need or should. Let us resolve not to be mastered by the things of this world, but cling to the Almighty God, and give them over in prayer.