Material Gain or Heart Wealth…..

The whole idea of prosperity being God’s will for us taught in many churches today has always bothered me. Throughout the Bible the message is centered around relationships; relationships with God and with others. God is interested in our hearts, our heart motivations, specifically, and much of our journey with Him is refining those motivations to align more closely with His nature. So how does material prosperity fit into that message?

Certainly, God knows that our human needs in terms of shelter, food, water, and being able to support ourselves financially are important, but they are not the central theme. To adopt the mindset that we are all to be materially prosperous results in a chasm between members of a church, and between believers, in the greater picture. How do we explain that God’s desire is that all are materially prosperous when there are solid Christ-professing followers being beaten, tortured, starved, and killed for not renouncing Jesus as Savior in countries around the world? Having posed that question in the past to prosperous church-goers, I have heard that those in other countries have been chosen to suffer for Christ, or those in prison needed to muster a little more faith that God would meet all of their needs. Really?? I find those explanations harsh.

As a young “Christian”, and part of a name-it-claim-it church, I found myself sorely lacking in the “prosperity” department. Many of the teachings from the pulpit were about prosperity; why it’s ours for the taking, how to get it, and the like. New and immature believers are conditioned to believe that the prosperity message is central to successful Christianity, and that, in my mind, is sad, if not even a bit dangerous. Christianity becomes more about formulas and prayers, that if spoken correctly, result in material gain.  Reaching out for guidance from a seasoned “Christian” the counsel I received was that God was teaching me a lesson, or perhaps, I didn’t have enough faith and needed to spend more time on bended knee; variations on the above explanation. From my reading of scripture it says that we need faith the size of a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, surely I had at least that much!! Apparently not, otherwise the formula for prosperity would have worked. I am not suggesting that God doesn’t want us to be prosperous materially; by and large that prosperity, however, seems to be centered over the USA, with a smattering around the rest of the world. A bit lopsided, wouldn’t you say? Personally, those who enjoy material prosperity and dismiss the many in prison as being chosen to suffer for the cause of Christ, makes me wonder if selfish pride, and certainly greed, may be the roots of such thinking.

In Hebrew, the word “prosperity” is “salach”, and its meaning has the feeling of moving forward, or accomplishing a task. More specifically, salach means to do a job, accomplish a task as unto God prayerfully, humbly, and in unity with Him. Puts a different spin on prosperity altogether, wouldn’t you agree? Prosperity is referenced several times throughout the Bible. Some references are associated with material wealth, or possessions; there are also scriptures where the reference is a warning, however in terms of our attitudes, again our heart motivations, concerning wealth. Often, the essence of the word used in a scripture is concerning moving forward.

Through the years I have noticed that the teachers of the prosperity message, the hard-core adherents who believe the Bible is primarily a financial textbook, loosely apply the material wealth definition to scriptures that have little to do with financial gain. Words like reward, bless, desires, and abundance, to name a few, are often associated with money or the accumulation of wealth. In truth, many of these scriptures taken in context have little to do with any kind of material or monetary gain. Loosely tied scriptural references regarding wealth speak to the carnal nature of man, greed, specifically, and before we know it we are sucked into false beliefs about prosperity and God’s desire to meet our material needs above all else.

Focusing on the acquisition of material wealth distracts us from a meaningful relationship with God and our spiritual efforts become self-serving. In thinking of prosperity as moving forward our journey with God offers opportunities for growth and transformation so that our heart motivation aligns more closely with God’s will that all would know of His love and mercy. Heart motivation changes in us touch the lives of others, hopefully for the better! And what of the tasks we are called to accomplish? If God assigns me to examine the motivations of my heart and therein I find qualities that are detrimental to myself and others, I then have the task of changing how I think and act; prosperity of heart becomes a product of growth.

Does God want the best for us in all things? The answer is yes. Are you spending more time accumulating prosperity of heart or material gain? The choice is ours…..

Of Beasts and Belles…..

One of my adult daughters and I went to the new Beauty and the Beast movie. Oddly enough, there were many adults in the theater without kids in tow! Truly, Beauty and the Beast is a classic love story; one that teaches us that the soul of another is more important than what is on the outside, that family is everything, that it is okay to dance to the beat of a different drummer, and that in the end we will all live happily ever after. If only life were so magical!

As I sat in my theater seat mesmerized by every moment, every lyric and note, the heartache, and triumph, I also found myself weeping. Come on now, I am an adult woman, well over the age of 50 who does not believe in fairy tale endings, yet I wept! Being the self-analyst I am, I needed to dissect such an unexpected reaction. What I discovered surprised even me.

The tears were happy tears, tears of joy for Belle hanging in there, seeing beauty in the soul of the beast, for loving when others chose to fear, and hate. And, tears for my kids and me having made it to the other side of abuse. Even though we are several years on the other side, in that moment when Belle and the Beast were dancing in the ballroom, the realization hit me with full force. Isn’t it interesting how we are bathed in revelation and light at the most odd moments? I was crying tears of joy, an emotion that had not been a part of my life for a long time; the kind of joy that permeates every cell, the kind of joy that fills every tear flowing down our cheeks, and inhabits every infectious belly laugh.

Abuse robs us of joy, hope, purpose; it sucks the life force right out of our souls. Many who survive abuse in any form never fully recover to experience life on the other side. The insidious nature of abuse lulls us to sleep, brainwashes us into believing that what is happening in our lives is somehow “normal”. The brainwashing tricks our minds into believing that we are the cause of the abuse, that if we were more cooperative, or tried harder, the abuse would stop. Alas, it does not. The only option for those caught in the insanity of abusive relationships is to get out, the first step in living life on the other side, and the beginning of hope for healing the fractured spirit and messed up mind.

I do not believe any can experience true healing without God. God meets each of us at our point of need and He comes in many different ways. Literal lightning bolts from heaven don’t fall, but God does send them to us in other ways. Family may come alongside, a true friend may step up and offer help, whether it be financial, spiritual or emotional, opportunities open up where once there were none. These experiences begin the process of healing as we consciously or subconsciously internalize the reality that we are worthwhile, accepted, and even loved by others. Hope begins to well in our spirits for the possibility of a better life; God is at the center of renewed hope.

Why didn’t God intervene long before the abuse started, before the damage was done? I cannot answer that except to say that we each have free will, the freedom to decide for ourselves, and unfortunately we often make poor decisions; decisions without God’s input. The other side of that is abusers exercise their free will in the lives of others. The whole free will thing sounds like a good deal until it is exercised apart from God’s will and used to harm others. Disaster is usually right around the corner.

Leaving abusive relationships requires trust; trust is in short supply for those of us on the receiving end of abuse, however. At some point many who muster the courage to leave have reached out to God and trusted that He would guide us out of the darkness. Trust does not come easily for us; at one time we had trusted the abuser. The struggle to freedom is real, and the path lit one step at a time. We learn to trust all over again, but this time the One we trust is trustworthy.

To weep real tears of joy was a new step for me on the journey of healing. Many of us harden our hearts to joy, refuse to feel, shut it down in self-preservation. To feel means that we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable again; a state that many avoid for the rest of their lives. Vulnerability is risky business, even with God.

In some ways the Beast is representative of those who have experienced abuse; Belle saw through the hurt, thru the armoured exterior of self-preservation and protection, and showed the Beast he was accepted as he was, and worthy of love. Her acceptance of him chipped away at the wall he had erected around his heart. If we are blessed, God brings “Belle”s into our lives to see thru the hurt, fear and mistrust. For me, it is my husband. He came along and took all of us on, hurt and all. Is he perfect? Nope, but he has walked thru a lot of healing with us, and taken a lot from all of us as we have worked thru the remnants of the trauma. It hasn’t been easy for him, but he has been understanding and patient; qualities Belle had as well.

In the end, as with all love stories, Belle and the Beast danced their way into their perfect life together. It doesn’t happen that way for us living in the real world, unfortunately. We still have to deal with the disagreements, the misunderstandings, the bills, and the ups and downs of life, but we can still dance as we heal, and feel, for the first time in a long while, joy…..

 

What is Required; You Got This…..!

I’m basically simple; I like simplicity in all forms, and spirituality is no different. I have always been uncomfortable with all of the “rules” of Christendom. Sometimes it seems as if there is a disconnect between what the church teaches and what the Bible says, and then we become bogged down in the mire of confusion as to what is from God and what is man’s opinion.

Take Micah 6:8, for example,  “Human being, you have already been told what is good, what ADONAI demands of you – no more than to act justly, love grace and walk in purity (or blameless) with your God.” (The Complete Jewish Bible) Micah was one of the minor prophets, and like those before and after him, felt the call of God in his life to turn the hearts of his people back to God. He lived in a time not so much different than we live in today; crooked politicians and religious leaders, greed, and violence. Seems like little changes, doesn’t it? Was Micah successful in turning all of the hearts of his people back toward God? Not any more than anyone else has been down through the ages, but the point of his life and message, and others like him, is that he answered the call of God to warn people about turning from God and toward the evils of the world. Some listened and responded.

Micah’s message was simple: be just, love grace (kindness) and walk blamelessly with God. Can anyone be 100% just, kind, and blameless? Not a chance, but what we can do is to the best of our ability adhere to these principles and we will certainly be on the right track. To walk in love, grace and purity is a pretty tall order for everyone, so why do we need to add even higher standards? We don’t.

All too often we focus on fixing the ills of outward man. For instance, the colorful use of cuss words, smoking, drinking alcohol, tattoos, to name a few. Yeshua called the religious leaders of His day “whitewashed sepulchers”, in other words, tombs that were clean on the outside. Not much has changed. The religious of our day back up the Christian dump truck and bury those seeking relationship with God with myriad thou-shalt-not’s. In so doing, we are concerned with shining up the surface and ignoring the rot underneath. God is concerned with the heart of man; the motivations and intentions that guide or misguide his/her daily life. Does it really matter if we are covered in tattoos, lift a beer in toast while smoking a cigarette and peppering our conversations with colorful cuss words, while at the same time, those who consider themselves “Christlike” harbor hatred, and bitterness toward fellow man, gossiping under the guise of praying for another, or setting ourselves above others in pious judgment? We can cheat, steal, and lie and not blink an eye, but dare someone to tell us they frequent the local watering hole on Saturday nights without the white-washed uttering the requisite  “tsk tsk” of hell bound sinner! Perhaps this sounds harsh, but the reality is no one is perfect, everyone is loved by God, and it is high time we embrace these truths. People are leaving churches, those outside are refusing to even give God a chance because pious pew-sitters demand perfection of those coming thru their doors seeking rest, healing, and compassion.

The message of the prophets, and of Yeshua as He walked the Judean countryside, was to bump our heart motivations up against God’s standards and act accordingly. The measuring stick of standards is the Ten Commandments and the sum of those commandments can be found in Micah 6:8 – do what is right.

It is my opinion we have “westernized” the Bible. Our understanding and interpretation of words and scriptures in the Bible are often inaccurate and narrow; the culture at the time any given scripture was written is not considered, and we interpret words based on our own definitions. Biblical Hebrew has a mere 8,000 words, whereas we have 100,000+. Having so few words it only stands to reason that there are layers of meanings to words.  We have the mindset that God requires humanity to be perfect, or walk in obedience; in the case of Micah, to walk blameless. Blameless, obedience and other like words all have their origins in the Hebrew word “shema”. Shema means “to hear”. Hearing is much more than the physical act of sound waves being interpreted by the brain and fashioned into what we call “words”. Shema means the physical act of hearing, but also heeding the words, and responding to what is heard. In Hebrew, to hear is to do. Additionally, “shema” refers to moral innocence, or to integrity, so be be blameless before a Holy God is to live life with integrity. Humans screw up, we don’t always get it right, and we do not always make sound decisions that demonstrate our integrity, but God is merciful to forgive us when we recognize our lack of integrity and purpose to do a better job in the future.

We don’t all “hear” at the same time either. God journeys with each of us individually. We may technically hear, in other words, receive the sound waves for interpretation by the brain ten times, and then on the next go round, we hear with understanding and a call to action. This is the miracle of personal revelation! The light bulb moment! Epiphany! And at that moment the choice becomes ours to act on what has been heard, to respond, to return to a life of integrity.

The Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He hasn’t changed; His message is still one of love for His creation, a call to live a life of integrity, to do what is right, to correct our course if we have messed up. Act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. You got this kiddo……

Be Still and Know…..

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (Complete Jewish Bible) Many of us are not good at “being still”. To be still means we quiet the mind and spirit and sit before God and allow His love and peace to wash over us, renewing us.

When was the last time you tried to be still? I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s nearly impossible for me to quiet the noise of the world. There are too many distractions; family responsibilities, job, church, societal demands, all vying for our attention. Couple all of that with the ills of the world we live in and we get worn down, used up, we feel helpless, hopeless, and empty. Sometimes just waking up in the morning and dragging ourselves through our day is a challenge. Many fight depression, take medications to lift their spirits, turn to alcohol, try myriad remedies to distract themselves from feelings of failure. Some of us purposefully fill our lives with so many activities that we don’t have time to deal with the nagging thoughts that we don’t measure up, that we have missed the mark, have irreparably messed up our lives.

And therein lies the problem; we try to do everything ourselves. Time with God often takes a backseat to all of our other obligations, a quick prayer here and there. Some of us are more successful at scheduling a morning devotional time, but even that can feel like wrestling with the ills of our world, personally and globally. There are too many needs, people to prayer for, situations that need God’s intervention, and pretty soon the “still” part is lost in the noise. Our spirit becomes restless, unsure that God hears our prayers, sees our struggle, understands the in’s and out’s of our trials and tribulations; all because we cannot be still and know.

God’s world and ideals are very different than ours. We are taught to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps when the chips are down, become a self-made person, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and we will miss the blessings if we don’t take initiative to move the mountains in our way. Even if we believe God is in control, we don’t live as if that were true. Why? Because our focus is wrong. Some of us focus on the problem instead of knowing the solution is in God’s hands and plan. Others focus on the prize, the outcome, instead of the One who can move heaven and earth on our behalf. God says, “be still…..and…..know”.

Like many phrases in the Bible the “be still and know” is a coordinate imperative; a kind of if, then. Put another way the coordinate imperatives demonstrate a condition with the resultant consequence. Be still is the condition we are to assume; the consequence will be that we will recognize God as the all-sufficient One.

Our part sounds easy, but it is not as easy as it seems! To be still means we need to stop striving for, well, everything and realize that we have little control over most everything in our lives; that our security, every breath we breathe, every day we inhabit planet earth, is in His hands. We are admitting our weakness in the midst of His strength. The self-made-man attitude must fall away, we need to give up the thought that somehow our puny efforts result in any security we believe we have outside of God.

To be still and KNOW that He is God is to accept the assurance that I am loved, I am engraved on His hand, that I am on His mind every minute of every day. I don’t need to “do” anything to gain God’s acceptance, I can sit still before Him and drink in His love, His comfort, His guidance, His peace, His rest, His wisdom. To be still and KNOW that He is God is to embrace and internalize that our spirits are intertwined and I don’t fight battles, face trials, or overcome  challenges alone.

Find a quiet place away from the noise of the world and close your eyes. Quiet your mind, breathe in deeply, and let the breath out slowly. Feel your body relax. Release your thoughts, your worries, your struggles. Allow His spirit to flow over, around and through your being, let His peace wash away the doubts and fears of not measuring up, because the reality is that you are a creation of the Creator, loved beyond measure for that fact alone; not for your accomplishments, your accumulated wealth or wisdom, not for your works. You are loved in spite of your past, what you screwed up yesterday, or today, in spite of all your flaws and imperfections.

Be still and KNOW that He is God and in His eyes you have not failed. His mercies are renewed every day and we wake each day to a new opportunity to get it right, to walk more closely with Him, to forgive and be forgiven.

I heard a story once that stuck with me.  In the midst of the ocean a storm was raging; the waves crashing and receding with a frightening strength and furious majesty. In the middle of the ocean, far from land, a rock jutted skyward above the waves. Within the rock was a hole, a shallow cave of sorts. A dove sat calmly in the shallow cave, cold, razor-sharp raindrops pelted the rock, the waves threatening to bury the rock and flood the tiny refuge. All around the tiny dove and as far as the eye could see there was turmoil, yet the dove nestled down in the shallow cave that God had provided in the midst of the storm, confident that when the storm passed he would be fine. That, my friends, is the ultimate picture of peace, of being still and knowing, of trusting God.

You see, the ability to be still and know that He is God is to fully trust in the throes of any situation or circumstance life tosses our way.  Stuff happens in life, does it not? Let go and let God is a statement one hears frequently in Christian circles; it is not as trite a statement as it may seem. The meaning of the statement is centered within the words of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know…”

Where is your place of refuge and peace where you can let go and let God, where you can be still and know? I picture myself in the cave with the dove. My place of peace is the ocean; the ocean is at the same time a peaceful and frightening place, but it is where I am closest to God, able to drink in and fill myself up with His majesty and His power. The place where I can at the same time be in awe of Him and humbled by Him. The place where I can fully surrender my cares, my worries, the burdens of this life and let them be washed away by the waves that ebb and flow. The place where I am most aware that I am in control of little in my life, yet I can trust everything to His care. If you have not ever experienced letting go, experienced being still and knowing, I encourage you to do so. Find your space and place to be still…..

Why Did You Doubt…..?

When the talmidim (disciples)saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said and screamed with fear. 27 But at once Yeshua (Jesus) spoke to them. “Courage,” he said, “it is I. Stop being afraid.” 28 Then Kefa (Peter)called to him, “Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come!” he said. So Kefa got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Yeshua. 30 But when he saw the wind, he became afraid; and as he began to sink, he yelled, “Lord! Save me!” 31 Yeshua immediately stretched out his hand, took hold of him, and said to him, “Such little trust! Why did you doubt?” 32 As they went up into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 The men in the boat fell down before him and exclaimed, “You really are God’s son!” (The Complete Jewish Bible)

This passage is full of interesting insight into the disciples and their relationship with Yeshua. I have always been fascinated with the relationship Yeshua and His disciples had while Yeshua wore the clothes of humanity. Hundreds of years after the fact, we who believe, clearly see Yeshua as the Messiah, the Promised One. However, there are several passages that hint the disciples weren’t altogether convinced, or at the very least, unclear as to the extent of His power over the laws of the universe.

Of course, we don’t know the exact words that were spoken by any of the Biblical characters, including Yeshua, but the essence and intent is there. For instance, did Yeshua really say, “Stop being afraid”? Maybe, maybe not, but I am certain it was something close to that. In any case the point is the disciples first instinct was to fear, That, in itself, is a whole subject for another blog!

The scripture that caught my eye most recently was, “Why did you doubt?” Being the self-described nerd that I am, I immediately started researching the word “doubt” in Hebrew. Turns out, there is no such word in Biblical Hebrew for “doubt”, so clearly Yeshua didn’t say that exact word. (The original Biblical text was written in Greek) Again, the intent is there, and perhaps what those transcribing what we know now to be the scriptures chose the word that most closely described the intent. So let’s look at the word “doubt”.

In our language and understanding, to doubt means to be uncertain, or to fear. Given that definition it makes more sense. The reason the word “doubt” is used is because the passage is about the disciples’ fear and uncertainty having just witnessed Yeshua walking on water and asking Peter to join Him. How many times has that happened in your life? Probably none, which is exactly the number of times it likely had happened to Peter! So here we have Yeshua answering Peter’s question, “ Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Yeshua said to join Him on the water. What else was He going to say? It was Him, and Peter said if it’s you tell me to come out there. Peter had put Yeshua in a box! So Peter gets out of the boat and as soon as the wind  came up he doubted what he was already doing; he was walking on water! Now Peter is sinking and he cries out for Yeshua to save him, and Yeshua responds with, “Such little trust! Why did you doubt?” Why did Peter doubt; he was walking on water for goodness sake! The answer lies in the reason the word “doubt” was likely used in this scripture.

Since Biblical Hebrew has no word for “doubt” we have to assume another word was used originally that captured the intent of Yeshua’s question. Abraham Hershel, a Polish-born American rabbi and a leading Jewish theologian of the 20th century said, “Doubt is an act in which the mind inspects its own ideals; wonder is an act in which the mind confronts the universe”. What does that mean, exactly? Doubt originated in the Garden of Eden and was the original “sin”; Eve doubted God; she had inspected her own ideals.

Prior to that, Adam and Eve lived in wonder, focused on the Creation and the Creator. Along came the serpent and Eve questioned what God had said; that she and Adam needed to avoid the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve’s “sin” is that she looked inward for advice, so to speak, instead of recognizing the wonder of the universe and accepting at face value what God had told them. God had never lied to them before, at least not to her knowledge, but perhaps He had about this; and doubt was born. Up to this point Adam and Eve had been totally dependent on God for everything in life, and life was good. The serpent had suggested that God may not have been totally forthcoming about the tree, and so Eve chose to decide for herself what her truth would be for this situation.

Simply put, doubt is deciding that we know better than God, and that is self-idolization. We look at the circumstances instead of the Creator and make decisions about situations when we don’t have all of the facts. Peter was looking into the face of the Creator, God incarnate, bidding Peter to join Him on the water, and Peter chose to let the wind distract him from the truth; he was walking on water. Peter freaked, cried out to Yeshua to save him, and Yeshua “immediately” per the scripture, reached out His hand to rescue Peter, and then asked Peter why he had doubted what He knew to be truth. Did this really happen? I don’t know, but it is clearly another beautiful word picture of a spiritual principle; we need not doubt when we have our eyes focused on God.

A lot of times and in a lot of situations it doesn’t feel like God is involved at all, and I believe this is one of the reasons many choose to move away from God, doubt Him, abandon relationship with Him altogether, or at the very least trust Him less. I have been there. After 30 years of marriage with a very abusive man, and having prayed and believed that God would change the situation, the man, fix everything, make him stop, whatever, it didn’t happen; and in many ways it only got worse, and I did move away from my relationship with God for a time. What was the lesson? Well, for one I hadn’t listened to those in my life who saw that he wasn’t the best choice for me, but it was my choice, and clearly I made a bad one. God lets us do that, and at this point I wouldn’t change any of it because I was blessed with 3 wonderful children, I learned more from that one experience that God has used to help other women, and God blessed me on this side of the experience with a wonderful man who has accepted my kids and me, with all of our wounds and scars, and at times it certainly hasn’t been easy for him. Were there losses? Of course. Days, months and years I will never get back.

I doubted God, doubted that He had a plan for my life; self-idolization. And God allowed me to suffer the consequences of looking inwardly for my own “wisdom” and not to Him. Yeshua rescued Peter when he cried out to Yeshua to save him, and Yeshua will rescue us, too. Will it be right away like it was with Peter? Most often not, but the scriptural truth is still there from which we can draw hope. Eve’s self-idolization moment in the Garden had far reaching consequences for all of humanity, and yet God reached out His hand to rescue His creation in the person of Yeshua. Have you looked inward and leaned on your own wisdom instead of God’s? Yeshua’s hand of rescue is reaching out for you to grab hold…..

Jesus Loves Me This I Know…..

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…..” Most of us know this children’s song whether we were raised in the church, went to Vacation Bible School with a friend as a child, or were taught the song by a grandparent. The lyrics are straightforward, no beating around the bush – Jesus loves me because the Bible says He does. And yet, somewhere between childhood and adulthood some of us begin to doubt those words; or we decide they are for everyone else, but don’t apply to us.

Why? For some, the message is too simple; that can’t be all there is to it? After all, as children, many of us have learned that we don’t measure up, that we are not good enough, from parents, teachers, our peers, so that when we reach adulthood the message is firmly embedded in our spirits. In the eyes of children, parents and those in authority over us are god-like; their words accepted as truth. Add to that the rigid standards of acceptance on the playground and some of us don’t have a prayer for attaining “loveable” by anyone, much less the God of all Creation.

What about the people who reach adulthood, decide they want a relationship with God, and find a church to attend? Within a few visits  the Christian dump truck gets backed up to their house and the contents of all sin is spilled on their doorstep. The weight of all the “sins” in their lives becomes the focus; the “Jesus loves me” message is lost. As a new Christian, many moons ago, I felt renewed, rejuvenated, refreshed,forgiven, and then I started attending church. Once I hit the doorway the “good Christians” within the walls of the church made sure that I knew I was a sinner saved by grace. Now, I don’t have an issue with that because it’s the truth, but somehow in church the message was no longer that Jesus loves me, but that I had failed Jesus. Mentor Christians, those a little older in their relationship with Jesus, come alongside to “help” new Christians with their walk. Newbies tend to open up, share their struggles, ask for advice, and it has been my experience that this is when the proverbial shoe drops. The advice and answers given to me were that I didn’t have enough faith, pray enough, tithe enough, or the “devil” was after me to thwart a blessing God had waiting for me should I pass the “test”. Many moons later after failing Jesus too many times and having lost sight of the fact that Jesus loved me, I called hogwash!

A few years back one of my daughter’s and I decided to attend a church that was supposed to be progressive, open to all manner of people, come sinner, come saint. Although I had given my kids a Bible-based upbringing, given all the abuse that had occurred in our family before we were able to get away from the ex, we all found ourselves at a different place spiritually after we left. My daughter decided she wanted to attend the Christianity 101 class to begin again, so to speak. She asked if my fiance and I wanted to join her. We attended one class and one class only.

The leaders of the group were an older, supposedly wiser, couple and the other attendees were a variety of congregants. Some of the comments made were prefaced with, “I couldn’t receive from that fellow because I knew he smoked cigarettes”, or “He seemed to know his Bible, but I know he drinks beer, so of course he can’t really be a Christian”. I was sitting between my daughter and fiance who knew my thoughts on flippant judgment and condemnation because of seeming “sins” that had no solid Biblical base. I adjusted myself in my seat a few times, sat up straight, pursed my lips until my daughter and fiance gently put their hands into my lap to quiet what they knew would be coming out of my mouth at any moment! My daughter leaned over to whisper, “Mom, calm down”, then smiled. I decided the better part of wisdom was to keep my mouth shut, although it was getting more difficult! Then the conversation turned to tattoos. My daughter has a tattoo on her wrist that says Never Broken in reference to words the ex spoke over her often in her growing up years, “you are the only one of my kids I haven’t been able to break”. The tattoo had meaning and represented her survival of dark times in her life. Fortunately, the pastor’s wife was also in the class, and up until that moment had remained silent, but now made the very sensible comment, “there are several beliefs in Christianity that don’t have a Biblical basis, and these subjects are some of those.” The comments ended. Too late! When the class ended, I got up and announced in a very audible voice that we would not be coming back to such a narrow minded, judgmental group. Christlike? Probably not my finest moment.

There ain’t no saint like a reformed sinner, as the saying goes; I guess that is what has happened between Jesus loves me and backing up the dump truck, for those that choose to go the church-route. Christians are to do God’s work on the face of the earth, but that doesn’t include judging those who seek to draw closer to God. We need to understand that we are all on a journey with God, and God meets each of us at our place of need. Perhaps you are a smoker, but God, in His infinite wisdom, would rather that you deal with a bitter heart, unforgiveness that is damaging to relationship with Him and others. If I come alongside and start preaching that smoking is a sin, that you can’t be a Christian and smoke, then I am interrupting the work God is doing in your life; in essence setting myself above God’s wisdom and plan for your life. I need to be more concerned with what God has for me on my journey. This cycle prevents people, those who know they need and want a relationship with God, from coming to church, or deepening their relationship with God.  No, we don’t need to go to church to have a meaningful relationship with God, but some people desire the fellowship with others.

A few months back I spoke at a funeral for a friend. The friend’s mother asked me to speak from the heart, to be honest about who my friend was. My friend, you see, was a lesbian and was in a relationship with a lovely young woman, however, the pastor, a family member, chose to present his version of my friend instead of the reality. Fire and brimstone spewed from the pulpit, as well as a version of her and a relationship with God and the church that was, for all intents and purposes, a lie. No doubt he believed my friend’s sexual orientation to be a sin and decided to ignore who she had been in life in favor of who he wanted her to be. Those of us who knew her got the point; she was not acceptable as she was. In the parking lot after the service a woman came up to me and thanked me for speaking the truth about our friend, and added, “what happened in there is exactly why I don’t go to church”. That is truly a sad comment.

Jesus loves you – period. Jesus love me – period. Neither of us has to do anything to make Him love us or want relationship with us; nothing. On the journey through this life with Jesus there will be things we are doing or attitudes we have that He would like for us to change. Work toward changing them, and whether or not we are successful, He still loves us…..

Are You Available…..?

I work with a Chaplain. We have had some good conversations, shared thoughts on theology, you know, the kind of conversations one would expect to have with a Chaplain. I have never seen her in action other than to say the blessing at the beginning of a meeting,  but I don’t doubt that she does a great job with our elderly patients. One day as we were talking she made a comment about pastors who don’t have the appropriate education and credentials.

In our world the almighty degree has become the gold standard for credibility. Why? I understand that there are professions where a degree, a solid base of knowledge is warranted; the medical profession, for one. But I also believe there is room for all manner of people, with all levels of education in most businesses; the pastorate being one of them. In my life I have heard pastors who have never darkened the doorway of a college deliver some spot on God-inspired messages and others who have spent years in seminary who don’t have a clue. Who’s to say because you have the appropriate letters behind your name that you are any more qualified than another who does not? I know full time musicians who have the degrees to prove their talent, and I know self-taught musicians who can play circles around someone who has a framed piece of paper hanging on their wall declaring their talent and aptitude. I am in the medical profession, and through the years have taught new employees, or those wanting to enter the profession and I have always said I can teach any skill, but I cannot teach compassion. There are medical professionals out there who do not possess one ounce of empathy for their patients, and there are those with wisdom born of years in the field and a double dose of compassion. Sometimes degrees don’t matter.

Yeshua (Jesus) was the Messiah when He walked the earth; Simon Peter, the Rock on whom the “church” was established, Moses, the adopted son of a slave woman led the Hebrews out of Egypt, Matthew the tax collector and author of the first book in the New Testament; all people whose names we recognize today, thousands of years after the fact, none of whom had the appropriate degrees.

Ephesians 4:11-13 says, “Furthermore, he gave some people as emissaries, some as prophets, some as proclaimers of the Good News, and some as shepherds and teachers. 12 Their task is to equip God’s people for the work of service that builds the body of the Messiah, 13 until we all arrive at the unity implied by trusting and knowing the Son of God, at full manhood, at the standard of maturity set by the Messiah’s perfection” (The Complete Jewish Bible) In a nutshell, God chooses those He wants to do His work on the earth until we all are on the same page. Nothing is said about what degrees are necessary, the schools one should attend, or the like. If God is doing the “equipping” that should suffice.

In my life I have talked to lots of people in the course of a workday, in my personal life, in churches I have attended, places I have gone, and very often conversations turn toward the spiritual. I don’t know why, but I have come to believe that God has “sent” them, so to speak, that our meeting isn’t accidental, that God has used me to say something to that person he/she needed to hear. Most of the time I am not aware of what that message may be, and sometimes during further conversations the person will say, “I was thinking about what you said the other day”, or “I really needed to hear what you said the last time we talked”. Is there anything special about me? Not as far as I can tell. I bumble through life just like everyone else.

What I am is available, and God is looking for available. Some of those God called down through the centuries didn’t realize they were available; Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, was knocked off a donkey when Yeshua appeared to him and “equipped” Paul for ministry. Now whether the story is allegory or not is beside the point, I am of the opinion that this part of the story is likely another word picture for us to better grasp the meaning of Paul’s conversion. As a side note, within the degreed ministry there is a lot of controversy as to whether Paul was knocked off a donkey or a horse, if he was riding any animal at all, and if Yeshua (Jesus) actually spoke to him in an audible voice, etc. Is it really necessary to focus on donkey vs horse, audible vs spiritual voice? It’s a good way to miss the point, however! The point of the story was that Saul was doing his best to persecute those who called themselves “Christians” and God decided He had better use for Saul as Paul. Knocking Saul off his donkey was necessary to get his attention to strongly encourage him to be a bit more available! Paul, though an educated man, was sent to teach Gentile and Jew alike about Yeshua, of which, in the beginning he knew little about!

Ministry, the gifts we are endowed with, is about using those gifts in whatever capacity they are needed, whether it be a kind word someone going through a tough time needs to hear, an arm around the shoulders of someone who is grieving, a meal or visit to a shut-in, or a worldwide ministry teaching thousands. Ministry is also this silver-haired, beaten-up-but-not-knocked-out-by-life nurse/ordained minister who wants people to know that Yeshua will meet them wherever they are, in whatever condition they are, on any given day, and journey with them, loving, and accepting them always.

So often we only think of ministry in terms of those who stand in a pulpit, those we see on television preaching before the masses, but ministry happens wherever God’s work is being done. I have told people many times in my life, we never know in what way we have touched another person; someone we know very well, or a stranger in the checkout line at Wal-Mart that needed a kind word or a smile. Do I always get it right? Nope! But, little by little I am trying everyday to do a better job of being available, and just being aware that people need God in small and big ways. We are all called to minister; He calls some to be pastors, and teachers, some to mentor, and others to prophesy. What is your gift? Better question; are you available to use that gift…..?