I was listening to Casting Crowns’ song, “Jesus, Friend of Sinners,” in the car and was struck by this line:
“Jesus, friend of sinners/ the truth’s become so hard to see/ The world is on their way to You/ but they’re tripping over me.”
It’s easy to think of other people who are guilty of this: people who are hateful “in Jesus’ name” or who gossip but call it “sharing,” who criticize and say they’re “just being honest.” People who make Christians look so bad we understand why so many unbelievers don’t want anything to do with our Savior.
But then I thought about myself. Am I ever guilty of tripping people who might be on their way to Jesus? The word Christian means “little Christ.” Am I living the life Jesus modeled? Or am I behaving more like the pharisees – the hypocritical religious leaders that Jesus himself condemned?
If I am being perfectly honest, I have to admit that I struggle with pharisee-like thoughts and actions sometimes. It is easy to look at others and think of ways that I am “better” than them. But those thoughts are awful, destructive, and sinful. Those thoughts break God’s heart and prevent me from being able to serve others the way He has commanded me to serve. Because those thoughts come out through my words and actions, “tripping” others who may be on their way to Jesus.
So rather than tripping people along the way to Him, I want to come alongside them, help them, pick them up when they fall, dust them off, hug them when they’re hurting and cheer them when they are victorious. I want people to look at me, to be around me, to know me and be encouraged. I want to be like Jesus – a friend of sinners, of whom I am one, saved by His grace.
Sometimes, life can really stink. I’m not talking about bombing a test or getting a ticket. I’m talking parents are divorcing, Grandma has cancer, that kind of stuff. The stuff that is awful. Stuff that makes you wonder if God really cares. Stuff that makes the verse that says “God works all things for good to those who love the Lord” seem like it doesn’t apply to you. How can good come from tragedies? What good can be found in a divorce or a death, in heartache?
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard broken-hearted people ask, “Why would God allow this to happen?” He could have stopped that divorce, healed the cancer, prevented that accident. But he didn’t. He let it happen. Why?
I understand that sentiment – I have felt it, too. But as I study God’s word, I see character after character who suffered – painfully. Joseph was punished for his purity. Job was attacked for his righteousness. Jeremiah was rejected for preaching God’s words…
Those men, and so many others, serve as examples to us – examples of how God redeems the rotten circumstances of life. That doesn’t mean what happened to them was good. Being falsely imprisoned is not good. Losing home, health, and family is not good. Being perscuted is not good. But God allowed good to come from it. But for two of those three, the good wasn’t seen during their lifetimes. Job never knew why he lost so much. Jeremiah never saw the people respond positively to his message. Only Joseph saw the good that came from his tragedies. But even that knowledge didn’t erase the terrible memories of being abandoned by his family and being imprisoned for being pure.
What I cling to during the times that life seems rotten is my faith. Not the “I believe I can fly…” faith-in-faith stuff, but real faith in a real God. A God who is so much better than I can imagine and who knows so much more than what my finite mind can grasp. Faith in the truth of God’s word. Faith that someday, I will understand everything. Faith in an eternity so wonderful that the trials I face here will disappear from my memory. Faith that the God of the Bible – the God I serve – walks with me through the worst of times and redeems even the most rotten situation.
I love Christmas.
Everyone says that, but I have actual reasons. That’s right. Reasons. If I were on trial for loving Christmas, I would be found guilty. Given a life sentence of Christmas cheer.
So why, you ask? Why this arrogant assumption? This preposterous proposition?
Because during Christmas all of America loves what I love all year long:
- Old music
- Classic films
That’s right. Folks might say “Happy Holidays” at the department stores, but “Silent Night” is still playing in the dressing rooms. Jesus is everywhere during the Christmas season. Nativity scenes fill shelves and yards and window displays. Christmas trees are topped with angels or a star — both reminders of the story of Jesus’ birth.
And when “Silent Night” isn’t playing, what is? Top 40′s music? Rap? Country? Oh, no. Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, Dean Martin. Great singers crooning great music that is 50+ years old. I listen to that music all year long. They did sing more than just “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Lots more. And it’s fabulous.
And when families gather together around the Christmas tree with hot chocolate and popcorn, what movies do they pull out? The classics — “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34th Street”, so many more. And musicals — the epitome of entertainment — are on TV everyday. Ah, the joy of seeing people spontaneously break out in song at any moment.
As a matter of fact, I’m thinking of doing that right now…
“Do You Hear What I Hear?”
I am finishing up a study of Galatians in my personal bible study, and I ran across a verse yesterday that I don’t think I really thought about before: Galatians 6:6 “And let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches.”
I am married to a pastor’s kid, was raised in the church, Dave and I were missionaries for four years, and Dave, for a short time, was an associate pastor…so I am familiar with the ministry. I understand the needs families in ministry have. And, having seen church from both sides of the pulpit, I know that giving is one of those issues that makes people uncomfortable. Some people hate it when giving is mentioned at all. It makes them angry – how dare they ask for money?? Others just don’t think about it – they are barely making ends meet as it is!
But, folks, giving isn’t optional. It is required. The verse above is just one example – one that reminds us that, when we have people investing their lives in us, to teach us the word, to counsel us, to help us and our community, we must share what we have with them so they can keep doing it.
The Old Testament word is “tithing” and it means 10%.In the New Testament, we are told to be cheerful givers (2 Cor. 9:7). We are shown the example of the Macedonians, who gave to Paul, not out of their wealth, but their poverty, to ensure the work of the ministry continued, even though they had to sacrifice in order to see that accomplished (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
We are to give generously to those who invest so generously in us. The plate or bucket or whatever it is that is passed around at your church isn’t there to make you feel guilty or angry. It is there to help you be obedient. It is there to allow you to help your church run – to pay the bills, to meet payroll, to help missionaries, to feed the hungry…
It’s easy to make excuses – especially around this time of year. But those excuses aren’t from God. He – not your pastor – has told you to give, generously and cheerfully. And as with all his commands, there is great joy in obedience.
God gives us all many good things. Don’t forget, in this season of giving, to share those good things with your church.
Go to any bookstore – online or in person – and you will find rows and rows…and rows and rows… of shelves housing books devoted to “self-esteem.” Most seem to focus on loving yourself, forgiving yourself, being good to yourself. Because we just don’t think enough of ourselves.
Here’s what I think: our problems with self-esteem aren’t that we don’t think enough of ourselves. Our problem is that we think of ourselves WAY too much.
At least I do, anyway. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t think about myself, my needs, my wants. When I don’t feel frustrated that I am not being treated well enough. I look at people and wonder what they are thinking about me – do they like me? Are they talking about me to their friends? Are those conversations positive or negative? They better not be saying bad things because, believe me, I know some stuff about them…Yeah, um, you get the idea.
But plenty of days go by when I don’t think about others: the needs of others, the wants of others, whether or not I am treating others well enough. I am an expert on being self-centered. In fact, I could write a book about that! But being others-centered? I need some help there.
I have help there: it’s called the Bible, and it is SO much better than any self-help book on any real or virtual bookstore on the planet. The Bible has a whole lot to say about how we should think about ourselves. The verse I need to be reminded of most often is this one:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” ~Phil. 2:3-4
The English teacher in me has to point out that those verses are imperatives – the “bossy” sentence. That’s Paul (lovingly) sticking his finger in our faces and saying, YOU – that’s right YOU – stop being so selfish! Worry more about others than you worry about yourself. The rest of the chapter (which I highly recommend reading) goes on to demonstrate how Jesus lived out this principle. He set the example for a selfless life, and we will experience great joy if we follow that example.
So if I really want to make ME happy, I should think about ME less.
Because my self has enough help.
We almost moved to Honduras this summer. And when I say “almost” I mean we were brushing up on our Spanish, looking up plane tickets, finding homes for rent, and emailing folks who lived down there so we could know as much about it as possible.
In my internet searching back in June, I found an English-speaking international Christian school in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, that was looking for a high school English/Drama teacher and a middle school Math teacher. I teach English/Drama at my Christian school in Tampa. And, though his love is teaching Bible to adult learners, Dave has taught middle school math, and he could easily do it again. The school just asks for a two-year commitment. Perfect! A chance for our family to minister overseas together, to experience life in another culture, to improve our Spanish…
As we looked into it, we found it made a lot of sense. Dave is finishing up his dissertation and teaching online for Liberty University – both of which can be done from anywhere – so those weren’t an issue. The school provides housing and a small stipend, and our kids could attend there, so we would have all our needs met. And we’ve lived in Central America (Costa Rica) before, so we have a basic understanding of some of the cultural differences there and a foundation in the language. The more I looked into it, the more perfect it seemed. Right place, right time, right jobs.
We sought counsel from people we respected – pastors, friends, family. All agreed it made sense. “No red flags,” as one pastor commented. No reason not to go.
Woop-Woo! Vamos a Honduras!
Except….Dave didn’t really want to go. I really wanted to go. Dave really wants to teach Bible to adult learners. The reason his teaching middle school Math is in the past tense is because, though he did it well, he did not enjoy it. And though he was willing to go to Honduras, he didn’t share my burning desire to relocate to that particular location. And, ultimately, he is the head of our family. As we prayed about this amazing possibility, we agreed that we should not move simply because it works for me. It has to work for us.
I was disappointed. What was the point of all that? Why did God let me stumble across that website, anyway? To get excited about something he knew wouldn’t happen? That just seems mean. And so I ranted to God, questioning his wisdom, confused about his purpose.
Two months later, we got the call that my mother-in-law had Stage 4 cancer. A month and a half after that call, Dave was spending a week with her, caring for her while she was in Hospice. A week after that visit, she went home to be with the Lord. We were all able to go to NY for the funeral. Dave was able to stay with his dad for a week afterwards. He will go up again next month. Because he can – his work is entirely online and can be done from anywhere.
I sat in my in-laws’ living room the day before the funeral, looking through pictures of Judy’s life, surrounded by the family she loved so much, and realized we wouldn’t be there had we moved to Honduras. Dave wouldn’t have gotten those precious last days with his mom. Our kids wouldn’t have been able to attend the funeral and spend time as a family grieving with their cousins, aunts and uncles.
God knew all that. He knew what was coming. And so he made sure we stayed right where we were, surrounded by a church family that loves us and helps us, a school that embraced the kids and me as we walk through this loss. He made sure Dave didn’t have a job that tied him down to a specific location. While I was ranting at God for not letting me get what I want, he was lovingly working all things for our good.
I look back now, and I am grateful that God didn’t give me what I wanted. Even though I didn’t see it at the time. It reminds me to trust him more, to hold my plans with an open hand and not a tight fist. He truly knows what is best, even when I don’t see it. And, even in the hard times, I can trust that my Father always knows best.
If I were Superman, math would be my kryptonite.
If I were Dorothy, math would be my Wicked Witch of the West.
If I were Snow White, math would be my juicy red apple.
I really hate math.
My hatred goes way back. I remember being in second grade, sitting in Mr. Spellman’s class, wondering why in the world I should care if Suzy gave two of her five cookies to Sally. What kind of insane seven-year-old gives away her cookies, anyway?
I know math is important. That the roller coasters I love to ride would fall apart without math. That this computer wouldn’t compute without math. I know.
But I still don’t like it.
I know ranting is frowned upon in blogs. But I thought you should know this about me.
Moral of the story: If you give me 5 cookies, you will get none back.
“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than sitting in garage makes you a car.” “I can worship God anywhere — church doesn’t have the corner on that market.” “There are too many hypocrites in church for me to want to go there.” “Sunday is the only day I get to really rest, and isn’t that what Sunday is supposed to be, a day of rest?”
I could go on. I’ve been in church work enough years that I have heard all the excuses. And, yet, I still believe firmly that going to church isn’t just a good thing, it is necessary.
Are churches perfect? No. Are there hypocrites, awful people, bad churches? Yes. There are bad restaurants, too, but we haven’t sworn off eating because of them!
In my almost-39 years, I have been to many different churches, different denominations, different sizes, in different cities, states and countries. In every one, God has taught me more about Him, He has put people in place that challenged me and helped me, encouraged me.
But that is only PART of what church is for — yes, we go to grow and learn and be part of a community. But when we stop at that, we miss out on the best part: service.
There are LOTS of different places to serve in the church. For me, my favorites are discipleship and worship arts. I love seeing people get excited about learning more about who they are in Christ, helping ignite a passion for God and His word. I love helping point others to Christ through music and drama.
Most people I encounter who hate church or make excuses for not attending are people who aren’t serving. They are so focused on what they aren’t getting that they miss out on what they should be giving. And every believer has something to give — you can love on babies, bring meals to people who are sick, help organize showers, make dolls for children in the hospital, serve meals to the homeless, fold church bulletins, run the games for VBS…
Church should be a place of comfort, encouragement, challenge, accountability. If you aren’t part of a good, Bible teaching church – find one! Get involved, use your gifts, grow.
“Let us consider how to inspire each other to greater love and to righteous deeds, not forgetting to gather as a community, as some have forgotten, but encouraging each other, especially as the day of His return approaches.” ~Hebrews 10:24-25
I’ve begun this post in my mind about a hundred times over the past week. But I have struggled to sit and type it out, to put words to my thoughts. I am still processing the fact that my godly, encouraging, inspiring mother-in-law is no longer on this earth. Judy was just 67.
We went to Dave’s parents’ house in New York last week. Dave’s parents have lived in the same home for over two decades. Dave and I held hands for the first time in their den. Emma took her first steps in their living room. When we returned from living in Spain, we stopped there first. Just this summer, my girls spent a week there. Judy still hadn’t told us about her cancer. As a friend said, “What a precious gift she gave to your kids.” They were able to enjoy being there with her and Richard, not feeling sorry for her or thinking, ‘This may be the last time I see her…’ They just enjoyed being together.
At Judy’s funeral, person after person shared about ways she ministered to them – praying for them, caring for them, investing in them, pointing them to Christ. She wasn’t showy, she didn’t seek attention, didn’t do things to get noticed or praised. She simply served in so many ways. Ways that even her kids didn’t know about. She served Christ wholeheartedly. And even when she was facing the end of this life, having believed God would heal her and having been disappointed that he chose not to remove her cancer, she never let go of her wholehearted love for her Savior. And, as so many have said, she was healed – wholly, completely, and eternally. Not what she expected. But I’m sure, if she could speak to us now, so much better than she ever imagined.
The legacy Judy left is in the family that comes together to celebrate her life, to tell her stories. It is in the people she led to Christ, the women she mentored, the children she has raised. No one spoke about how much money she made. No one talked about what degrees she had. No one shared which beauty products she used. None of that matters in the face of eternity. It doesn’t matter when evaluating true worth. Judy died rich in what really mattered – rich in faith, rich in purpose, rich in family.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
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