Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Lay Down the Sword and Pick Up the Cross

I teach an Elementary Sunday School class. This is not something I consider myself particularly good at. However, there was a need, and I stepped up to fill it. I feel nervous and ill equipped before class every Sunday, but often walk away feeling humble and grateful I get to be a part of these precious children's lives.

We taught through different Biblical figures talking about how God changes people. Recently we talked about Peter.

I love Peter. Reading about his life is so encouraging for this fumbling fool who desperately wants to be used but can't seem to get out of her own way. He's got some really amazing highs in his life like walking on water, writing part of the Bible, and being one of the first to preach Christ risen, but the pendulum swings just as far in the other direction with his impulsiveness, his need to correct Jesus, and his denial of Jesus in his most vulnerable time. Reading through John 18 (the text for our lesson), a truth stood out to me that I felt the need to blog. It's nothing new or even really profound. I've heard it preached and read it in books, but I just couldn't help but think scrolling through my social media feeds, it's something we have yet to fully grasp. This is a little more 'preachy' than I like to get on this blog, but the message is powerful and freeing.

Like I said, I identify with Peter. One minute he's walking on water to get closer to Jesus, the next minute he's cursing and insisting he doesn't even know who Jesus is. One minute I'm watching miracles happen before my eyes, and the next I'm hoping no one sees the miracle Jesus worked in me.

Have you ever read about the last night Jesus spent as a free man, and really thought about the details?
John 18:1-14
1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.
2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 
3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 
4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" 
5 They answered him, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said to them, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 
6 When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. 
7 So he asked them again, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." 
8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go." 
9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: "Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one." 
10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) 
11 So Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?" 
12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 
13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 
14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

Look closer. Walk through it with me.

Judas and the band of soldiers and officers came armed with "lanterns, torches and weapons" (verse 3). Betrayed with a kiss is common vernacular in our society pertaining to that night when Judas kissed Jesus to identify him for capture, and while that did happen, it would appear from this text that Judas and his group of conspirators came ready for a fight.

Jesus wouldn't give them one. He stepped forward saying, "I am he." His boldness took them back. They fell to the ground (verse 6). Weapons have no power over the one who created the beings wielding them.

Every Christian knows the words Jesus spoke on the cross, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Have you noticed these words, though? "So, if you seek me, let these men go." Spoken to fulfill the words, "Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one." (Verses 8 and 9)

Peter had a sword (verse 10). Anybody else unsettled by that thought? A fisherman who may or may not have ever wielded a weapon before in his life was armed with a sword. Not exactly the picture I have of Jesus and his disciples. Nonetheless, Peter had a sword. Did anyone else have a weapon? Were they all ready to fight? Did they prepare themselves to defend their Savior as if they were the ones doing the saving?

To strengthen the hypothesis that Peter probably didn't have any idea what to do with that sword, he cut off a man's ear. Was he aiming for his head? His neck? His heart? I'm not exactly sure how you cut off an ear and only an ear with a sword, but I do know that these soldiers and officers came armed and ready for a fight. It looks possible that Jesus followers had armed themselves as well. Peter made the first move, but no one else was hurt. A battle did not ensue (verse 10). The words that come to my mind thinking of that moment are Jesus words from the belly of a ship being tossed by the sea, "Peace be still."

Jesus' rebuke to Peter wasn't harsh, at least not as harsh as the last one when he referenced Satan. It was just simply, "Put your sword into its sheath." (Verse 11) Jesus, being able to see hearts, thoughts and motives, he is very understanding of our humanity. He knew the anguish Peter was feeling, the fear and desperate need to protect this man he loved so much.

According to Luke (and only Luke), Jesus healed that man who lost his ear. Jesus spent his night praying, sweating drops of blood begging God for this cup to pass, for him to be able to avoid the torture he knew he would have to endure, and one of his last acts as a free man was healing one of the men who came to take him toward his death. "Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?" (Verse 11) His death wasn't useless suffering. He had a purpose and a plan for it. He had a plan for Peter, a plan for Malchus, and a plan for me. It all culminated in that cup he chose to drink.

That must have been a very desperate time for Jesus' disciples, though. They didn't fully understand what had to happen. They knew Jesus was the Messiah and God's Son, but he was also their Rabbi, their leader, their friend and their brother. They ate with him, walked with him, talked with him, and loved him. They could feel the growing threat of danger toward Jesus and toward them. Maybe that's why Peter armed himself with a sword. Ready to fulfill his words, "Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death." (Luke 22:33) Maybe feeling like the battle was his to fight and not the Lord's, he prepared himself to save his Savior.

In verse 14 Caiaphas "advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people." Now, Caiaphas was trying to restore order and control, but that was exactly what Jesus was doing, dying for the people. ALL the people. No amount of censorship, persecution, torture or murder could stop the Gospel from spreading, and my how it spread, over continents and oceans and centuries to a 6 year old gentile girl in a little country church in a very young nation on a continent they didn't even know existed at that time.

Jesus didn't come as a King to amass an army to fight his battles for him. He needs no man to wield a sword on his behalf. He did not come to war with the human beings he created, but to deal the death blow to the real enemy, the one pulling all the strings in a desperate attempt to change his sealed fate or at least inflict as much damage as possible before he loses his freedom. That death blow would not come from a sword in a battle. It would come from the opposite; Jesus would lay down his life, let Satan have his moment, and in that sacrifice, provide a way for us to be restored, for ALL to be restored.

There's a lot of that in Jesus' life, a lot of opposites. The last shall be first, the servant shall lead, the lamb will conquer the serpent, blood can make you clean. Strength in weakness. Freedom in surrender. Power in meekness. Jesus came as a carpenter, a servant, a healer seeking the lost and broken to restore them to himself. He didn't send his followers out to destroy those who oppose him. He sent us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).

This is what I hope you gather from this text. When we arm ourselves to fight a battle that isn't ours, when we strike with our swords to save the man who came to save us, we cut off the ears of those Jesus came to heal. They don't hear the Gospel. They don't see our fighting as bold and undying devotion to our God. They feel the pain from our blow and they bleed.

"Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one." I have lost not one. Not one.

My dear brother or sister, you cannot be lost. No one can take Jesus from you. You do not need to fear. He will not lose you.

This offense you have taken up, the fight you are fighting is not yours. Jesus doesn't need saving, but the people he has surrounded you with, they do. Desperately. You weren't meant to fight to save Jesus. You were meant to fight for those who need saving. You have been sent to love, to heal, to clothe, to feed, to share the Gospel and speak truth in love. Lay down your sword. Take up your cross, and follow Jesus. He will fight the battle for you, against the real enemy, and he will heal many ears as you turn your cheek, give your cloak, and walk the extra mile.

In panic and confusion, should they come with their weapons to take you by force — and if you believe the Bible, that day is coming, even for us Western Christians — a sword of metal will not provide any hope. The only weapon able to conquer a hatred like that is love.

I am living proof that there was more at stake that night than one man's life and ministry. Had Peter succeeded in rescuing Jesus, he would have derailed the entire plan. If Jesus had allowed his followers to fight a battle that was not theirs, we all would have lost him. How many precious souls are lost when we pick up our swords and start swinging in the dark.

Consider the real enemy. Consider the reason Christ came. Consider the call he has placed on your life. Consider the beautiful truth that the love he has for you is the same as the love he has for the soul who opposes you. Consider that your purpose isn't to win the argument but to win the soul of your opponent. Consider the cost of wielding a sword rather than extending a hand. Consider laying down your sword and taking up your cross.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Do More Than Be Silent

My draft folder is full. I have written many a post on current events only to decide it's better left unpublished. I struggle, wondering most if what I've written would be helpful, or if it would just stir the pot.

This last month, though, has been such a painful month. The shooting massacre in Orlando, the ISIS bombing in Baghdad with so little care expressed, and the African American men killed by police, so much pain, I find myself struggling again. Struggling with words. Struggling with the feeling that I need to say something. Struggling with the questions, "What can I say? What can I do?" I have done my best to profess my sympathies and concern in a personal way to those closest to me in these communities, but more and more I feel like I need to say something more public. In an attempt to be helpful, to at least choose not to be silent, I am offering these words to members of the African American community, the LGBT community and to the victims of ISIS in Baghdad.

I see you. I hear you. My heart aches for you. When I say I'm praying, it isn't just lip service. I mean that I have and will continue to tearfully kneel in intercession before my God asking him for healing and peace for your communities, asking him for justice and change in our country and our world, for understanding and direction in my life and in my community.

When you express your anger and disillusionment, your fear and lack of hope, your graciousness and love even in the presence of hate, I take it in, all of it. I consider every word and lay out my heart to be broken, my mind to be changed and my life to be given in service.

I would offer my shoulder, let me cry with you. I would offer my presence, let me stand with you. Let me hold your hand as you walk through the pain, and let me carry some of the burden. Let me pray with you and for you. I know my God loves each and every one of you, and I know he hears from heaven and intervenes.

He sends people, people like you, people like me, ultimately people like him, created in his image. He sends us to help each other, to learn from each other. Tell me your story and let me learn from you. I give my word, I will listen and hear you, and my silence will then have purpose as I absorb what you share and use it to do more than be silent.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Feeding a Broken Heart

My sweet potato casserole with both nuts and marshmallows.
In my Memaw's house, there was one cure for every ailment, love, and while that love may have taken on many forms over the years, it was usually expressed with food, all kinds of food. Holidays or just weekly dinners at her house, if she knew your favorite, it would be waiting for you at her table. Even if you were the only one in the house who would eat it, even if you protested her going through all the trouble, it was always there. If you were sick or sad, that called for special measures, and she pulled out all the stops. If you had something to celebrate, you could bet she would find a special food to fit the occasion.

Her recipe collection was extensive. She was always trying something new, testing another recipe on her all too willing subjects, the grandkids. I remember her talking about the failures she made, but oddly, I don't ever remember tasting one.

She put together a book of recipes for everyone a few years back, and my favorites are the ones in her own handwriting. We used to talk about the recipes in there, the ones she wanted to try, the ones I had tried. I called her as a new bride embarrassed I didn't even know how to make mashed potatoes from real potatoes. She laughed, told me what to do, and shared a couple stories about her cooking as a newlywed to make me feel better. I called her for holiday recipes when I wasn't able to make it home to her table for the meal. I sat and brainstormed with her when I learned of Jackson's allergies. I called her when I tried something new, just to share it with her. I loved talking with her about food. It was never a dull conversation, and more often than not, I walked away feeling more loved.

Sweet potato casserole in her casserole dish on her buffet table.
She used to tell me how proud she was of me, working so hard to cook for Jackson, making sure he had the best food possible. She used to say she didn't think she could have done it, which always blew my mind because I always thought she's where I got my need to feed. I heard similar words from others in my life, but her compliments meant the world to me because I knew food was her love language. I knew she was telling me she was proud of how I loved him.

She passed away in October, at 90 years old. This Thanksgiving, my family is scattered, but I know we all feel her absence. This Holiday in particular is hard because it's about food and family, exactly how you would describe her heart if you could only use two words, food and family. I had a few teary moments getting ready this morning, but as I prepared the sweet potato casserole, the dam burst. A flood of memories came to my mind, followed by a flood of tears.

It all came as I pulled out the casserole dish she gave me before she moved the last time. Her ability to cook had left her, and she wanted me to have some of her dishes. Today, reaching in, anxious to get it in the oven, I took one look and fell apart.

She didn't have a special recipe for sweet potato casserole, but she was the first person I called when I was trying to figure out my own. She said she liked the marshmallows on top, but Granny (her mom) liked the nuts until she couldn't eat them any more. I remember telling her, after I had figured it out, that I liked to do both, and then giggling with her about how that seemed like the perfect solution. I loved her giggle.

I'm grateful she gave me her casserole dishes before she moved. I'm also thankful for every recipe she left behind. They're like memories with taste and smell, like she's still here loving me even though she's gone. I know she's much happier now than when she was here stuck in that failing body, but I miss her so very much. And, I can't wait until we're feasting together in heaven, and I never have to tell her goodbye again.

Happy Thanksgiving, and a special prayer for peace and comfort if you have an empty seat at the table this year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Public Apology

So, reading back through my first paragraph,
I decided I was pretty much describing my Memaw.
She passed in October, and I miss her so very much.

You know those people who are on top of things, who always know what to say for every situation, the people who always give the best gifts with the best cards at the perfect times, those who organize their calendars and never forget important dates or commitments, the people you can drop in on and always feel welcome finding a neat house with something cooking or brewing, those people you know you can count on when you need them because they are just those kind of people? I'm not one of those people. I want to be. I really do, but I feel like I might have dug a hole so big, it might be easier to just keep digging and find my way to the other side of the world.

If there were a need, I think I might be able to teach a class on what NOT to say in certain situations. There's a running commentary in the back of my head of all the terrible things I've said to people. Dumb things at weddings, baby showers, even funerals. If I'm able to respond in writing, I'm much better, but you can't be in a hurry because I have to type it out and mull over it. And, let's not even talk about Facebook. Even though, technically, it's in writing, there's something about that medium that lends itself to really stupid comments, of which I think I might be in the running for the most stupid.

I am probably the worst gift giver alive, and I am painfully aware that it is NOT the thought that counts. I've seen enough polite smiles and heard enough insincere thank yous to know the truth about just how much the thought counts. I'm always thinking about people, praying for people, but when it comes time to show it in a tangible way like a birthday or wedding, it's bad. Really bad. When you're married to someone who needs the thought AND the gift, i.e. the thoughtful gift, it's just plain awful. Too often, if I don't know what to give, I don't give. Another reason it isn't the thought that counts. I can think about it all day long, but if it never materializes into a gift, then it's like I didn't think about it at all.

My calendar looks like a 4 year old sat down with a box of crayons and created a masterpiece. There's no room for error, but it happens every week. I forget something, some activity, some important date, and sadly the people attached to those activities and dates suffer. It breaks my heart. I promise, I usually remember, but it's often not until midnight or 5 am the next day. Then I spend the rest of the time trying to figure out how to make it up to whoever or whatever I forgot, then I never get around to that either.

I think the last time I sent out a thank you note was my wedding. That's 13 years ago for those of you who don't know. I LOVE getting them. I know it's important. I plan every birthday or event to do better, but I just can't manage to pull it off. I've almost decided that the next time I send out invitations to an event, I'll just slip the thank you note into those. Be proactive, you know.

I crave order and neatness, but I usually end up with C.H.A.O.S. (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome). I love to cook and feed people. I love how the early church worked, food and fellowship, and I crave that in my own life. I have always wanted a home with an open door for anyone who needed a meal, a place to stay and/or a listening ear, but when you home school during the day and have one or more activities each night of the week with at least two activities on the weekend, you don't have room for a neat home and a home cooked meal not to mention a place at the table for the surprise guest.

I think the worst problem about being so busy and absent minded is the fact that I don't feel trustworthy or stable. It's in my nature to help and nurture people. I want so much to be that person you can call knowing you can count on me, and it hurts me to say I can't help.

I'm a mess. For real, and I'm always surprised at the people who still feel like I love them. I'm even more surprised at the people who really know me and still love me. Not that I'm unloveable, but the longer you know me, the more frustrating all my absent mindedness can get.

So, here's my public apology, all typed out and mulled over.

I'm praying for things to change, if not anywhere else but in my own heart. I want that running commentary of all the stupid things I've said to stop playing. I want to let go of all the failures and forgotten things and move on from here not trying so hard to get it all right. I want to really believe that praying isn't nothing. That sometimes it's enough to remember the people I love while I'm on my knees in communion with my God. I want to allow God to change how I view success and failure in my life. I want to accept the fact that I cannot work harder or do better, that I must rest in Jesus and allow him to make the difference in my life and in the lives of those I'm called to reach. As strange as it is, I want to believe He does know best. That I need to be still to be busy, slow down to go faster, and rest to get more done.

Help me, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

We do the loving. He does the changing.

The gospel isn't different for different groups of people. It doesn't change based on need or ability.

The gospel for the homeless isn't to get off the street.

The gospel for the depressed isn't to choose to be happy.

The gospel for the gay or lesbian person isn't to be straight.

The gospel for the alcoholic isn't sobriety.

The gospel for the workaholic isn't to balance work and family.

The gospel for the sex addict isn't to control themselves.

The gospel for the obese isn't to get skinny.

The gospel for the church lady isn't to just keep being perfect.

The specifics of our faults, flaws and struggles are irrelevant.

The gospel isn't about fixing us. It's not about correcting a real or perceived fault in our lives so that we fit a better mold. It isn't about making perfect little followers that look nice in the church pew.

The Gospel is the revelation of Christ. It is Jesus and his saving truth. It is the good news of his deity, his sinless life, his sacrificial death, his burial and triumphant resurrection by which he offers life everlasting to all who seek Him.

ALL who seek him. And those who find him, he called to seek others and lead them to Him. Seek them, not fix them. Lead them to him, not force them into our chosen church culture. He's the one that heals and changes. His people are here to lead the lost to a savior, to bear burdens, to fill bellies, to share cloaks, to turn cheeks, to offer love to the lonely and hope to the hopeless. We are here to work and serve together showing God's love and healing to others, something we are only able to do as we allow his love and healing to change us first.

Jesus didn't come and die so we could be popular and successful. He came to change us, to make us more like him, to allow him to use our hands, feet and hearts to love the world and everyone in it, the homeless, depressed, gay, lesbian, alcoholic, addict, obese, church lady and every other person we come into contact with. We do the loving. He does the changing.

Monday, June 8, 2015

I Think God is Beautiful

I haven’t done a serious post in a while. I tend to be a pretty transparent person, and I’m ok with sharing all kinds of things many people wouldn’t dare. I’ve been warned by other mommy bloggers, though, that while being transparent with those I interact with on a daily basis can be a very good thing, being too transparent on my blog could be a problem, especially in this culture of outrage we live in. I've been warned to weigh it out and decide if I'm prepared for the potential backlash. I don’t think there are too many people that follow this blog that don’t actually know me in person, but I can see the potential issue with misinterpretation or that nastiness that too often comes out when generally decent people get behind a screen. I've been there, on both sides. It's not pretty.

However, I have dozens of posts in my draft folder, posts that flowed out in great urgency and through tears and prayer, posts that would ultimately not be published because I wasn’t sure I wanted to put those raw feelings out into cyberspace. Posts on feminism, sexism, racism, terrorism, marriage equality, the church, the government and my little dot on the map. Serious political, emotional, controversial stuff, not really what I usually post on this blog. Sometimes I wonder if something happened to me, would anyone go through my draft folder? What would they think? Would they delete it all as the ranting of a crazy person or publish it all as powerful words from the grave? Maybe I should clean that folder out. Or not. Or write a post with instructions about what to do with everything in it if something did happen to me. Or just hold onto them all and ponder the courage it would take to hit that little orange button and put it all out there.

Anyway, I do post about my son with autism and food allergies. My most popular posts are my recipes, but many posts about our specific issues with his development are frequently visited, too. Having reached a very manageable point in his development, there’s not much to write lately. Sometimes I wonder if this is just the calm before the storm. Puberty is coming, and I wonder sometimes if that mixed with autism will throw me a curveball or just go haywire like a possessed pitching machine. Time will only tell, but every now and then, I’m reminded of the different way he thinks. Sometimes it adds a certain level of frustration. More often than not, though, he moves me to tears or changes the way I see things in our little conversations.

The other night he asked me in all seriousness, "What does God look like?"

I stopped for a moment to consider my answer because this is the child that panicked at the Sunday School verbiage about God coming into his heart. His literal reasoning told him that trying to fit something as big as God into something as small as his heart would likely be painful if not deadly. I knew I had to be careful in how I answered this question. I couldn't go to Revelation and the description of Jesus, although that's the most literal way to go about answering that question. I didn't feel like that was what he was asking. He asked me as if I would know because I've seen God. I love how he assumes I know the answers to his hugely complicated spiritual questions, and as I considered what to say, my heart became overwhelmed by the answer and what I desperately wanted to teach him about who God is.

So, my answer?

"God looks like you. He looks like me. He created us in his image and for his glory. That means that every bit of our humanity, your boyness, my girlness, our hearts, our souls and our minds, it all started with him. So, when you want to know what God looks like, look at the people around you. You can find him in every face you see."

We talked until his little mind was satisfied, and after we prayed and I told him to go to sleep, he told me, "I think God is beautiful." He was satisfied, but I walked out of his room with tears in my eyes and a very heavy heart. Oh, how I wish the world saw itself the way he does, the way God does.

When you love God with all your heart, your soul and mind, then loving the humans around you is easier. You can love the boy with the straight limbs and great athletic ability and the girl bound to a wheelchair and a feeding tube because you can see God in them. You can love the beautiful woman dressed to the nines and the homeless man wearing everything he owns because in their eyes you see God. You can love the people who look and speak different from you. You can love the people who disagree with you, those who pick on you. You can love the bully, the mean girl, and the person who goes out of their way to be friends with everyone. When you love God and seek his face, you can even love the angry man who may take your life because he sees a God he hates in you. You can love like that because God IS love, and the more you seek him the more like him you will be. The more you seek him the more you see him in the people around you. Seek his face, and you'll find it in the lost and hurting around you.

I could blog about every current event and issue we face right now and do little more than toss my drop of water into the ocean, or I could love like Jesus and create the kind of current that guides lost vessels to safe harbor, the most important of those vessels being my children. I can teach them about prejudice and injustice, or I can lead them into a relationship with the God who knows no such thing. I can teach them to seek the God who is no respecter of persons, the God who loves the persecutor and the persecuted, the discriminator and the discriminated, the God who sees into the broken soul of every human being and desires to heal and restore each one to himself above all else.

That is who God is, and that's what he looks like, like you and me reaching out in healing and restoration. I found myself on my knees begging God to help me teach my children that one thing, because I feel like even if I get everything else wrong, seeking the God who created them and loving every other person he created, there is nothing more right.

I don't think I will ever forget those precious little words, "I think God is beautiful." Yes, Baby, he most certainly is.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Pinterest Success: Pizza Waffles

You know those things you see on Pinterest and think, cool idea, but after you try it you realize it's just a poorly thought out theory. Or, at least, for someone with your skill set. Well, I saw this cool idea on Pinterest.

Pizza rolls on the waffle iron? Awesome. I had to try it. The pin used biscuit dough which isn't possible for my kiddo. So, I used premade pizza dough from the grocery store. I rolled it out, and cut circles out with a biscuit cutter.

Yes, I smooshed the handle pushing down on the dough.
Why is the handle even there? I usually push down on the sides anyway.

Then I filled it with marinara, cheese and whatever toppings each person wanted.

How cute is that little pizza? I almost wanted to stick it in the oven,
but onto the waffle iron it went.

I put spinach and garlic in mine. The kids wanted bacon and/or ham. I did a few with just sauce and cheese.

This was my tester roll, the one I put on there to see
if it would explode or otherwise ruin my waffle iron.
Success! It did not explode OR ruin my waffle iron.
Super yummy, and easy enough the kids can do it.

I'm excited that I had a Pinterest success, and that this is potentially something I can make and send with my crazy picky daughter for school lunch.