Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Perfect Storm

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Have you met your perfect storm?

Have you ever faced a trial that seemed made to order just to take you out. One that pushed all the right buttons in all the right places of your life. One that seemed to play on your every last weakness? Did you feel capsized? Did you wonder if you were going to drown? Did you ever face a trial that took you to the point that you realized that there just wasn't any use in playing anymore, trying to hide your pain behind a false smile or faith that you just weren't feeling at the moment? Were people disappointed that you didn't handle it with the strength they thought you should have? Did you feel judged?

Jesus faced his perfect storm. He faced it on his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane. I think that it is very interesting that he takes Peter, John and James with him to pray. The Word tells us He was deeply distressed and troubled, that He was in anguish, and that His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. He told His disciples that His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. When He finds the three disciples He chose to accompany Him asleep, it is Peter He addresses. Why just Peter? Peter the bold one, the brash one, the quick tempered and boastful, the one who swore never to disown Him? Is it because Christ knew Peter, of all the disciples, needed to see him at his lowest point of sorrow? Did Peter, more than any of the others need to see the 100% human of the 100% divine Christ?

No one likes to go through a storm. But I have learned that storms can leave behind some priceless gifts. The storms of my life gave me a whole new appreciation for grace. Now when I hear the word "grace" it flames up like a fire within my heart. When I sing about God being my strength, its as if every cell of my being is echoing the sentiment. We like to put people on pedestals and when they fail to live up to all we think they should be, we love to judge. Part of us feels betrayed, let down, and sometimes disillusioned. We ask ourselves, " How could they!?!"
Peter demanded a lot of himself, and many times people who demand a lot of themselves can be harsh judges of those around them. Perhaps that is why it was so important for Jesus to have Peter witness His agony in the Garden. Perhaps like Peter, we need to be a little less quick to judge those around us who fail to respond to life's trials with the outward appearance of strength that we think they should have . . . at least until we are sure we have already faced our own perfect storm.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

More Potholes than Pavement

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There are times in my walk with God that I have to go old school. There are times in my life when I have to go back and sing the old hymns the way I grew up hearing them as a child. There are times in my life when my prayers are not very pretty. There are times in my faith walk when the road is so dark, and there seems to be more potholes than pavement. These are times when I have to go way back and when my Grandma Clara hangs very heavy in my mind.
Grandma Clara was called "China doll" by all who knew her. They say she was the prettiest woman for miles around and had a voice like an angel. When she met my grandfather, Paris, they were working in an elastic factory in Kentucky. They began singing gospel together and would travel around to churches singing with another couple. They got married and began to have children. My grandfather began to make what was good money at that time. Unfortunately as his money increased, his faith decreased as well as his concern for his family. He began to drink. Heavily.
As alcohol increased its destructive grip on their home the money dwindled away. My grandfather became a very bitter man, hostile toward religion and abusive to his family. He would disappear and abandoned my grandmother with her 9 small children. They lived in abject poverty. They slept on pallets on the floor. Sometimes they would wake up to find snow on the bed covers. My father said that sometimes the first child up got the clothes. He didn't have a matching pair of shoes until he joined the army.
The neighbors say that when the children were small my grandmother would scrub whatever they had, put it on them and march them to church. I can't imagine what life was like for Grandma Clara. Not back in those days. I would like to tell you that she stood firm and was a shining testimony of grace, strength, and faith, but as her circumstances grew worse she turned to alcohol as well, and it eventually took her life. I do not judge her. After her death her small children were scattered hither and yon, some of them never to be reunited again this side of glory.
Oddly enough, when things get really rough in my life, when I feel abandoned by everything and everyone I am used to leaning on, when I feel betrayed by my own circumstances, its my grandmother I think about. When I feel that I don't have the strength to take one more step forward, and that I have been knocked down for the final time, I think of Grandma Clara. I think about her and I get a sense way down deep inside of me that I have to keep going, that I am not in this alone, and that I'm not just standing firm for myself, but I am standing firm for her too. At these times I think about the way satan took my grandmother out and I know I have to make it, not just for myself, but for her.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

My Daddy was a Preacher

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Recently I learned something new about one of my favorite artist, Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh's father was a Methodist minister. As it turns out, before Vincent became an artist he felt a very passionate calling to ministry and desired to "Preach the Gospel everywhere." He did become a preacher in the coal mining district of La Borinage, Belgium. Conditions there were bitterly harsh. Wishing to live as the people he served he gave all he had to the poor and slept on a bed of straw as they did. He was dismissed from his post for "undermining the dignity of the priesthood." He was later to write in his personal letters to his brother Theo, " Oh I am no friend of present day Christianity, although its founder was sublime. I have seen through present day Christianity all too well."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Time to Love

A Time To Love

~ Stevie Wonder

We have time for racism
We have time for criticism
Held bondage by our -ism's
When will there be a time to love

We make time to debate religion
Passing bills and building prisons
For building fortunes and passing judgements
When will there be a time to love

At this point in history we have a choice to make
To either walk a path of love
Or be crippled by our hate

We have time to cause pollution
We have time to cause confusion
All wrapped up in our own illusions
When will there be a time to love

We make time to conquer nations
Time for oil exploration
Hatred, violence and terrorism
When will there be a time to love

At this moment in time
We have a choice to make
Father God is watching
While we cause mother earth so much pain
It's such a shame

Not enough money for
The young, the old and the poor
But for war there is always more
When will there be a time to love

We make time for paying taxes
Or paying bills and buying status
But we will pay the consequences
If we don't make the time to love

Now's the time to pay attention
Yes now is the time - to love
A time love - love
A time to love
Please please won't you tell me
When will there be a time to love

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Forgiveness completely

It seems like lately I am learning my best spiritual lessons from either the unchurched or from children. I was thinking this morning about a former boss of mine, Jim. I worked for him when I was twenty years old. He owned a chain of restaurants and was very successful. He tried college but said he realized it wasn't for him. He would say that he knew he would never be as smart as everyone else, but he could out work anybody. Jim was as cute as a button and always on ten. Despite his success he was very down to earth and treated everyone with the same respect. It wasn't above him to come into the restaurant on a busy night and grab a broom or bus tables. I worked for him with my best friends and roommates, Ginny and Shirley.
One day Shirley's boyfriend came to me very upset. He said that Jim had slept with my roommates while on a business trip out of town and then threatened them if they ever spoke up about it. I probably wouldn't have believed it, but since the trip, Ginny and Shirley were constantly laughing and giggling about a private joke. I didn't know what it was about but I got the feeling it was about something illicit. Also I was very gullible and just couldn't imagine my friends making up such a wild tale.
Well, to make a long story short, I confronted Jim. I even threatened him. It was the only time I have ever seen him angry. He denied it and stormed out. A while later my friends arrived and Shirley confessed that it was all a big lie she had made up to manipulate her boyfriend.
I apologized to Jim and he accepted my apology graciously. Thank God he didn't want or need his pound of flesh in that small town where jobs were scarce. In fact his forgiveness was so complete that he even tried to fix me up with his best friend. And a while later, when a manager who resented my faith accused me of stealing, he intervened for me. He knew I wasn't a thief.
Jim didn't go to church. Maybe that's why he didn't know anything about church forgiveness. You know the kind where we mouth the words but still want to hold it over a person's head until we feel they have suffered sufficiently under our resentment. He didn't know about church forgiveness where we say we have forgiven, yet every time a person's name is mentioned we say more with our facial expressions than our words ever could. He didn't know about church forgiveness, where we spread our resentment under the guise of a prayer request because we are "just so concerned" about the situation. Jim didn't know anything about any of that. When he forgave you he forgave you completely and he never mentioned it again.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Broken Dreams

Ever had a dream?
Ever had a dream that you nurtured and prepared for? Did you cradle it in you imagination? Did you hold it close to you like a baby? Did you feed it and coddle it, sing it to sleep at night?
You were careful who you let hold your dream. It was precious and you knew you just couldn't trust anybody. And you waited for the day that your dream would mature and walk and play and sing back to you. You waited and waited and waited, sometimes thinking you couldn't wait another minute.

Ever thought your dream was gone? Did it make you angry? Did it trouble your sleep? Did you carry your hurt around like an unprotected wound that is easily re-injured? Did you mourn your dream like the mother of a murdered baby who couldn't get justice?

Look again.
If your dream is something planted in your spirit by God,
you're baby may not be dead.
Like the daughter of Jarius, it may only be sleeping.
Just waiting for the Master's touch to wake it up again.