23 Oct 2014

Suppose you're not such a great witness..but ..today . is . a ..gift!

This being a Christian thing can be unnerving

biting nails !

I remember my daughter struggling with it, and each time as we sorted through the debris of doubts and questions, this one piece will appear persistent, almost like it can crawl back after we toss it out: but I'm not good enough!

Somewhere deep within her (no thanks to our imperfect parenting) lurks the notion of 'measuring up'.

In my latest book Shed Those Leaves, I come right out and say it: Forget it! You and I - we won't measure up!

But how we hate to hear it. We want to measure up. We want to be good enough. What kind of wimp lets someone save them? That sounds so much like... failure!

But suppose we come to our senses and cry out for salvation. What do we do next? Go right on trying to measure up again! Habits, especially such ingrained ones, die hard! So commonly I hear -

I'm not a very good / strong Christian
I am sure that wasn't a very good testimony
There goes my Christian witness!

and it goes along with the expression of helplessness and a taint of defeat; sometimes complete with an audible sigh!

To their disappointment I don't hug them and say, "I am sure you are trying your best" - because sometimes, honestly, we don't! We don't care that much about God's reputation. But my quiet presence is not meant to be rebuke; it is meant to be company. I know. I am right there with you at notch four.

You see, I used to beat myself up.
Then I would get sick of feeling beat up.
Then I may beat myself up for not being firm enough on myself...you get the crazy routine.. until - one day, I realised I was having this conversation all by myself. I was deciding whether I was good enough, and whether I right about my estimation, my feelings about it and so on...

So I did a weird thing. I asked God.

Did I really mess up?
Was it that bad?
What could I have said / done differently?

God swooped right in on me then.

What is in your heart for this person / situation?

We are so bent on making an Impression when our witness is meant to be our Expression of Him!

Huge difference there.

Now I was feeling true, real, guilt that will make a difference. I saw the paucity of my love. I saw my priorities in clear light. I saw my attempts to feel good about being good.

It was a good, necessary seeing, the kind described as thus
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret...
~ 2 Corinthians7v10
I grieve often for my lack of love, a love that prays on knees, serves with hands, runs with feet, weeps with a broken heart and sacrifices that others may live better or stronger. This is a grief that empowers me. It doesn't in the end lead me to wallow in my lack; but to run to the Supply.

What about you? What helps you take the next step?

And one more thing God still says to me; which this video captures so well {you need a few minutes to enjoy this} -

Each day is a day for adventure, for receiving, for giving as we are being led to higher places or lower places -- and our witness happens in smile, speech or service as we express that bit of the Great God who mercifully works and weaves Grace and Truth, Life and Light into our days.

14 Oct 2014

A Happy song in a minor key called Joy

I love being happy.

I am not always happy. In fact, many days, my children and spouse consider me rather crabby {somehow that happens alot at home}. But they are wrong; even if I was crabby; I was really en route to being happy. Sounds insane, or perhaps, you agree!

We believe our actions and choices and words are aimed at making us, others and the world better, happier. Sacrifices must be made on the way to bliss right?

Just one major flaw in this premise. Happiness has this habit of being elusive. We should all know.

We all have our boxes of 'nearly perfect dates', 'supposedly relaxing vacations' & 'amazing imagined and engineered outcomes' where we have tossed the moments and memories which we wouldn't post on Instagram or facebook about.

I should know - I speak about the subject of happiness.

But can I share honestly here? I'd rather speak on the subject of JOY. Now that's a different moniker.

Joy we've been told is a deeper thing that runs much further beneath the surface. At times it bubbles forth with delightful gurgles; but mostly it is subterranean. Maybe a picture can save me the thousand words I cannot find right now:

Here is a sudden burst of joy erupting forth when the wonder of fireflies buzz around one's little head!

Joy often catches us off guard. 

We are rushing around and suddenly our eye catches sight of the beauty of a flower
We are engrossed in our work when we hear a giggle in the next room
We are walking our usual route when we bump into a dear friend
We are lost in our thoughts when a gentle breeze comes and a playful bird offers us a enlivening distraction

Yet- in each of these instances, we need to choose Joy or we can miss it. We can fail to splash around the refreshing spring of joy that can nourishes us. Rightly, Henri Nouwen reminds us

But choosing Joy can be hard as life comes with many sombre minor notes when what we hoped for, worked for, prayed for, does not happen {soon enough}. Choosing Joy can be hard when our lives are so busy we don't have space . to . notice ...

I find that I forget to choose joy many days and rummage around for some scrap of happiness instead. It is most unsatisfactory!

I forget there is Joy. I am too impatient to wait for it. Every day as I read the news, I am faced with the reality that with all of our advances as a race, humanity continues to confront massive challenges: from Ebola to ISIS. These large issues and our own daily difficulties can easily cause us to mope and lose touch with the gift of Joy.

What we settle for then is happiness of this stripe:

Which is really good and necessary {thanks to all my baking friends for the yummies!}.

But -- we now live in a world where more of us are chronically unhappy. Why is this so? Could it be that seeking to be happy doesn't work; that we were made for Joy and a lesser substitute is like taking an artificial sweetener?

Studies show that happiness and unhappiness are actually two different clines. In other words, doing stuff you think will make you happy will not make you as happy as if you also at the same time deal with what makes you unhappy. Your unhappiness which may be caused by a totally different set of things can leak your happiness.

This is where Joy comes in.

While we muddle about to find out why we are happy or not; there is this gift called Joy.

Joy is built on something larger and bigger; indeed Someone larger and bigger.

For joy is about wonder, awe, grandeur, surprise, reversals, redemption.

Ask the mother who has reconciled with her son
Talk to the man embroiled in  lawsuit who has just received news that the suit has been dismissed
Look at the child who has just been given an ice-cream instead of the cane when he just failed his paper
Listen to someone who just returned from the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights

These are the big boxes of Joy.

But daily, there are smaller parcels waiting for us to notice and unwrap too.

One of the most surprising places to find Joy is in Scripture! Listening to God speak to us is life-giving and adds to the quotient of joy in the depths of our soul; even if we do not immediately feel it.
Like a filled up petrol tank, we don't immediately go faster; but we soon know we can go on longer.

My son has just walked in. He is moping because his Math homework is making him think so hard. I read this verse in John 15 with him and I ask him,

Who is saying this?
Now, think, when you read your Bible or listened to God, did you hear something that put joy in you?
- Ya, when God tells me He loves me, I feel so full of joy inside. 

{his mood lifts! thank Goodness}

Perhaps you and I need to read and listen more consistently.

Indeed, this past week I found myself drawn to those familiar words Jesus spoke about becoming like children. At once I know why my joy quotient is dipping. I am acting all grown-up again trying to figure out life instead of leaning into Everlasting Arms... Yes it's a paradox friends: we need to grow, we need to solve, we need to wrestle and at the same time, we need to let go, rest, trust.

Just imagine if it were only life on one end of the paradox: all strife and self-dependence! Good grief, then happiness and joy will be all hard-won battle scars. Ouch. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be so.

It's a crazy world, and you and I need Joy to find our song in it. For we do so much want to be happy. So how about these pictures for a start:

9 Oct 2014

because the rants tire us all..and the Word calls us to mind our words

When I saw the tag on facebook, honestly, I went "O no...".  There is this one-up-man-ship these days especially on the social media platforms. We challenge notions, question actions, and accuse so readily, and easily.

I enjoy learning and as a student and then a cleric I would raise questions. But I was always tentative, somewhat unsure... and even then, I was labeled a firebrand ! One generation later with a more learned populace we are assured of more lively debates and challenges. But somehow, the online exchanges leave me wary and weary.

It is a strange place in a way to find myself sounding like my elders of past, with thoughts such as -

I have eaten more salt than you
How much have you really experienced to qualify you to make such a judgment?

Yes, as youths, we felt asphyxiated when our elders threw such quick retorts back at us. We roll our eyes and count them lesser mortals for not being as exposed to ideas as we are. Youthful zeal and pride are often bedfellows I guess.

But is it just a function of growing older? Am I destined to calcify in my position and become impatient with the young uns?

So I did an exercise.

I took an area where strident voices have been heard and I tried to cross over to the other side. I imagined myself belonging to a misunderstood minority. I imagined struggling about which public toilet to use, how my head may turn and heart stop when certain words are overheard, how going to school, church, street can be constant reminders that I don't quite fit in....

 It turns out it wasn't altogether that difficult. Upon reflection, I realised why.

Firstly, in one sense, we all have experienced being on the outside. Rejection is almost universal a human experience. Granted, some experiences of rejection, name-calling, and worse lie beyond my scope of imagination and empathy. To read of abductions for the purpose of correcting behaviour is bizzare to me. But then, that's salt I haven't tasted. Would I order the abduction of my child if I was convinced she was so wrong she would end in eternal damnation and be ruined for life?

There are many things about ourselves, what we truly feel, think or will do, that we cannot be certain of. A religious commitment and outlook may proscribe some things; but then again, when crunch time comes, can we be so sure?

Further, I have chosen to live on the outside in some ways. The religious or spiritual person doesn't exactly square in a material-secular world. I have been called 'unreal, out-of-touch, holier-than-thou'... My gender has added to the mix too as leadership roles are not easily accorded to a woman (yes even today). 

Finally, I have been a victim before.

Is this why I am tired of the calling-out, standing-up, setting-right?

Listen, most of us have no idea and no business doing any of the above; because we are just going to walk away after a while. We go right back to our little lives filled with self-centred ambition and greed. Including me. This isn't to say we don't get into the fray at times. But here's the Word:

"Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt..' ~ Colossians 4v6

This Word here about seasoned speech is not one of my favourites. It cuts too close for an extrovert with a gift of the gab (so they said). But it's in the Word, so it applies. It means simply, I must apply it. I am not always sure how; especially when I am tagged and I feel like I am expected to say something. As an older person I feel immense pressure to be wise and responsible - especially today!

So this online fracas is going to test how we apply this Word. Can we be polite? Can we look for what's good and throw that in the mix when we want to point out a weakness? Can we pull back from polarising and demonising? Surely for all the education, we can move away from the grandstanding?
After all, the truly learned are humble no?

May our hearts grow large with our minds while our mouths and keyboard skills be put to truly good use.