Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year Hopefullies

Yep, I just made up a word.

Hopefullies. 

It's the whole long list of things you hope for in the coming New Year...

hopefully, this year will be better than the last...

hopefully, my marriage will get better...

hopefully, I'll find a new job....

hopefully, the biopsies come back negative...

hopefully, I can find my way out of this addiction...

hopefully my depression will ebb more than flow...

hopefully I'll shake myself out of this funk I've been in for the last eight months...

and, hopefully, I'll be able to pay my bills on time.

Hopefullies.

You have them, so do I. Your hopefullies may be on that list...

and then maybe not.

Maybe you have hopfullies you would never share with anyone...

hopefully, I can stop looking at porn.
hopefully, I'll stop purging.
hopefully, no one will catch me in my web of lies and deceit and cover-up.
hopefully.

That must be why we cling to New Year celebrations and shiny new resolutions.

We are almost giddy at the thought of our hopefullies. Why?

Because, the thought of one more stinkin day of our struggle wears us out. It rips us apart and in the darkness after the smiles fade we're left with a quivering upper lip. Please, can anyone tell us it will all be better?

That's why the thought of a brand new day without our struggle brings a glimmer of hope...

a tiny shiny ray of light peaks through the darkness.

It is the reason we celebrate, right?

It is the very reason we await the day.

...the one day.

...the 1 day.

...the first day.

...january 1st.

It even sounds fresh.
It sparkles with promise.

It is the one day of the year when we believe change is possible.

When we long for a difference and we believe it can happen...

this time.
this year.
this day.

Because, if there is one thing we all want more than anything else, it's change.

Will that child give up the one thing that's holding them down?

Can we just go back to the way we were? Can our relationship just be a little more romantic, a little more considerate, a little more honest?

Will my job be a little more exciting, a bit more appreciated, pay a few dollars more?

Can my health improve? Just a little? Will this be the year I'll have more energy and less weight? Will this be the year the biopsies come back clean? Will I finally eat right, lose weight, lower my blood pressure?

I really hope that things will be different this year. How about you?

What are you hoping for?
What's in your bag of hopefullies?

I am convinced that this longing, this gut-wrenching desire for newness and change simply reveals our heartache for a fresh start.

We want a slate wiped clean, no looking back.

With clenched fists and grinding teeth we push forward and plead and beg and pray, Lord, let it be different.

Only this year, it is different. It is already different. Maybe it's the years piling up. Maybe it's the unmet longings and the reality of life crashing in. I'm not sure. But, it is different. Clenched fists are gone. Grinding teeth have stopped. Things are different. Oh, don't get me wrong. I've lived my life nestled among the words of this post. The struggles are real.

Yet, I have come to know that reality and humanity have just as much to do with the spiritual and the divine. They were never meant to be separated. We know this because we just witnessed it. The incarnation. God in human form.

But we forget it. We go out and live our lives as if we have to be God. We leave behind the reality of human"ness" and act as if we can actually "live like Jesus." I now know that's not true.

When I look at my list of hopefullies, I'm not looking through a rose colored lens anymore. I see clearly - no filter. I see rough edges not feathery filtered images. I see streaks and shatters and missing corners and over exposed portions.

My hopefully is not masked with a faith that lies to me. Faith does not lie. The gospel is truth. And the truth is, we are not God. We are humans. We do our best, but at the end of the day we are left with ourselves. I don't know about you, but I have lots of regrets and stacks of apologies I have yet to make.

Interestingly though, this is not a depressing message. You might think, how in the world is there any hope in all of this?

The hope is this. There is Hope. Hope has come, and it's not the fake, happy clappy hope we over dramatize and then feed others when we don't know what else to say. I'm done with pat answers and lame assurances.

Hope has come, we don't need lame answers.

Hope has come.

We don't need to fill our lists with all the hopefullies that are wrapped up with translucent ribbon. Our hearts see through them anyway.

We can be honest. We can face our fears, our struggles, our realities. We don't need to pretend.

Hope came.

Hope is here.

The Hope that came down as a baby is still here.

Hope is here, scarred and bruised...just like you and just like me.

Hope is here, begging God...just like you and just like me.

Hope is here, knowing suffering and knowing pain.

Hope is here, knowing the realities of harsh lives and empty hands.

Hope is here, knowing cold hearts and doubting minds.

Hope is here, in the midst of it all, never going away, always loving, forever holding on, to you and to me.











All of our hopefullies have already been met in Hope. The gospel is everything you have ever longed for. No empty promises...just one Promise to cover an eternity of unfulfilled hopefullies.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

In A World Spinning Out Of Control

As we come into this Christmas season with all of its sparkle and glitz, it’s hard not to be distracted by everything that’s going on. There are parties to attend, out of town family members to prepare for, and shopping to finish. Our stress and anxiety levels increase with each passing day on the December calendar. And yet, in the midst of it all, we are reminded that God came down two thousand years ago. He descended into our anxiousness and weariness to make everything sad untrue.

When Jesus was laid in that manger long, long ago, it was not in the midst of a world set right. It was in the midst of a world spinning out of control. The Old Testament closes with prophet after prophet begging people to turn back to the Lord. They had forgotten their first Love. The New Testament opens with the birth of our Savior, but in the midst, King Herod is looking to destroy him. It was chaos and mayhem. Although we don’t have the same circumstances, we feel the same chaos at this time of year. We are preoccupied, busy, and distracted.

Thankfully, in the midst of our mayhem, God descends in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Prince of Peace comes to settle our cold and wayward hearts. He comes to serve our weary souls. “Christ became a servant” that we “might glorify God for his mercy.”

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."



Friday, December 4, 2015

The Good News of Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins this weekend. 

As a Midwesterner [insert: white, Kansas born, middle-class, Oscar Meyer-eating, hometown parade-going girl], I knew little about the Jewish culture and faith until I moved to south Florida over twenty years ago. I needed to know though. I'm glad I know. I am grateful for my Jewish brothers and sisters and for their voices, history, and culture. I'm thankful for my Jewish friends who navigate an oftentimes difficult road between their familial roots of Judaism and the faith that has grabbed and secured their hearts in Christ. Some would argue the two can't coincide. And yet, In Christ they do. Jesus makes a way for Christians to be Christians regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, politics, history, or family. It is in this unity of the gospel that we find depth of meaning written across the pages of history.

What follows is a personal story - I would call it a story of triumph. Interesting way to describe it you might say. However, I believe it is a fitting way to describe my friend's journey - one that brings her back to the gospel and reassures her that she can simultaneously claim her humanity (her Jewish"ness") and proclaim her faith. To deny either would be to deny the gospel. 

Read along as she visits the good news through the eyes of her people, but more importantly, through the lens of the Gospel.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I am Jewish and I am a Christian.

I was raised in a Jewish home, with Jewish parents and grandparents. I went to a Jewish school and lived in a Jewish community. I heard the full Gospel for the very first time when I was 29, over twenty years ago. A year and a half after that, I professed Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Integrating my Jewish background into my Christian faith is an ongoing process. The New Testament states that...

God is the same yesterday, today and forever... 

which got me thinking about God in the context of Jewish history.

I received a card that said, “May the Miracle of Hanukkah fill the season with wonder and joy." This challenged me to consider the miracle of Hanukkah and what God did as it relates to His character and the Gospel.

The account of Hanukkah takes place in the years between the Old and New Testament, in a time when Israel is taken over by the Assyrian-Greek Empire. There was extreme strife and rampant idolatry. Antiochus lV outlawed the Jewish religion and the worship of the one true God. The Assyrian Army desecrated and ravaged the Temple, the focal point of Jewish life and worship. They traveled through the country slaughtering all those who refused to worship their gods. A priest, Mattathias rallied a small band of men, the Maccabees, to eventually defeat the Assyrians.

Jewish tradition tells that when they began to restore the Temple, and light the Lampstand for the Holy Place, there was not enough oil to keep the lamp burning continually, as prescribed in the Torah. The miracle, according to the Rabbis is that a small amount of oil lasted eight days until new oil was produced. Thus, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days, lighting candles each day.

The story of Hanukkah is inspiring on many levels. It is about the victory of light over darkness, the small and weak over the strong and mighty. It celebrates the tradition that supernaturally a little was sufficient when much was required. Hanukkah is rich with history - history that puts God and His divine power on full display.

What exactly did God do?

He kept His promises. He honored His everlasting covenant with his chosen people. He brought glory to His name in keeping that Covenant. He displayed His sovereignty and power for all to see. He used a small band of men to bring about His grand plan.

God did what He always does.
He came down.

He condescended into our brokenness and corruption, because our resources are always inadequate.


In the darkness that became the Festival of Lights, He came down to rescue His children.

He came into the muck and mess of political, social, and cultural upheaval to save the fickle, faithless and confused.

He came in a time and space when His chosen people were breaking His Law.

He freed His children whether they were trying to follow His ways or not.

In His unconditional, relentless love and grace He delivered His own.

He is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

In love, the very substance of the Triune God clothed in human flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit condescended and entered our broken world to become one of us, and one with us.
This is the Gospel.

It's Good News.

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
-Luke 2:10

(This article was written by my friend Debby Viveros - she lives with her family in south Florida where she teaches and tutors. Debby is learning that the gospel speaks to every part of our humanity.)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Saint Augustine - We Are The Half-Dead, Wounded But Consoled

The Good Samaritan (1849)
Eugène Delacroix
There are people, ungrateful towards grace, who attribute much to our poor and wounded nature. It is true that man when he was created was given great strength of will, but by sinning he lost it. He fell into death. The robbers left him on the road half-dead. 

A passing Samaritan lifted him onto his beast of burden. He is still undergoing treatment. 

You will remember, beloved, the man half-dead who was wounded by robbers on the road, how he is consoled, receiving oil and wine for his wounds. His sins, it is true, were already forgiven; and yet his sickness is cured in the inn. The inn, if you can recognize it, is the Church. 

While in the inn, let us submit to treatment; let us not boast of health while we are still weak. 

Say to your soul, say this: you are still in this life, the flesh is still weak; even after complete forgiveness [in baptism] you were prescribed prayer as a remedy; you still have to say, until your sickness is cured, 'Forgive us our tresspasses.' 






Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pray for Long Island, Bahamas

There is nothing quite like the threat of a natural disaster to bring people together. I have vivid memories of Hurricane Wilma and the destruction left in it's wake. We walked away with a roof over our heads, damaged, but still there. It's hard for me to fathom the devastation my family and friends are dealing with in Long Island. 175 mph winds. What?!? 

I remember going outside after Wilma passed - fearful of what I would see. Among the debris, I saw neighbors. Neighbors helping neighbors. Neighbors sharing food. Neighbors talking and laughing and lifting. I pray that for the people of Long Island. In times of disaster, people come together. I am sure that's what's happening right now in Long Island. 

As I sit here helpless today, not knowing what to do, I thought - I can do something. It's not much, but it is something. 

Friends, some of you might be able to help, some can pray, others can share. We can't all do everything, but we can do something.


I know more pictures and more news will pour in today and tomorrow and in the days and weeks to come. I'm hoping for the best, but I've seen the preliminary pictures and video, and it's not good.

I'm grateful for the gentle breeze and low humidity that Joaquin brought to Ft. Lauderdale, FL, but that's about it. In Long Island, family and friends are in the midst of trying to put their lives back together. 

For that, they need the gospel. For that, they need the overflowing love of the Rescuer, Jesus. For that they need the help, hearts, and hands of his people.



Here are some specific ways to help if you can:

$20      Water – 5 gallons
$25      1 pair of shoes
$50      Clothing (dress, or pants and shirt)
$75      One school uniform with shoes
$100    Basic kitchen supplies
$110    Gasoline/diesel – 20 gallons
$125    Food – One week’s worth for two people
$150    One roof tarp
$200    Chainsaw
$250    Small generator
$500    School room supplies (to get one classroom up and running)
$750    Basic medical supplies for small clinic
$1000  Roof repair
$2000  Roof replacement


Hop over to GoFundMe to give a gift. Anything helps. Prayers are appreciated.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Deconstructing My Religion - A Look At What's Left When It All Falls Apart

What do you do when a puzzle crumbles? Of course, you pick up the pieces and try to reassemble it. But, what happens when you discover that you're missing some sections? Where did they go?

I'm looking for pieces. Trying to put back together what fell apart.

I'm not sure what I'll find. 

Maybe the journey is the answer...




We were the typical suburban "Easter/Christmas" church family, and we looked the part. All dressed up with shiny shoes and navy blazers, we were the picture of normalcy and godliness. Only problem was we weren't...normal or godly. Oh, that's not to say we were any worse than other families visiting church on Easter morning. I now know that none of us measure up. 

Normal is merely a word in a dictionary that has no real bearing on how people function in a fallen world. 

Fast forward thirty years. I've written about how God saved me while I was minding my own business in the pew of our local Methodist church. I was quickly immersed into Christian culture, Bible studies, and homeschooling. I studied how to become a Proverbs 31 woman and felt responsible for all things godly in our home - including making sure my husband came to know God (the truth was, our marriage was falling apart). Several years later we moved to another church and it was there where I learned that grace alone through faith alone, saves. The Bible became the means by which I was set free as opposed to merely being an instruction manual on how to live a Christian life. However, the left-overs of my religious rule-keeping had left its mark on me and on my marriage. A few crash and burns came knocking at my door. The most recent explosion was not necessarily the worst one, however, it was one that affected my entire family, and we are still experiencing the aftershocks. I'm not even sure I can properly articulate it.

Having left behind a fundamentalist approach to my faith, I welcomed the good news of the gospel. Jesus came to set me free. He forgave all my sin. As a result, my striving to be anything other than forgiven was now over. Liberty was all in all. I sat under the teaching of law/gospel theology, and it was soothing to my soul. I needed those years to strip away the lies that had whispered to me, "Do this and God will love you."

A little over a year ago, it all changed, again. I say again, because I'd been down that road before. The road where all the sign posts that once read, "This is the way, walk in it", were now blurry and difficult to make out.

Once upon a time you had it all beautifully sorted out. Then you didn't. 
- Sarah Bessey

My pastor told me my theology was wrong. I was fired from my church. I lost my bearings and started questioning everything. All that I left behind from fundamentalism and all I knew about the freedom of the gospel - neither one had the power to steady my wobbliness. Everything familiar was stripped away. My church, pastor, community, and friends. My entire faith world was shattered into a million pieces. Where do you turn? How do you go on? What is true? What was real? Was it all just a joke? It's been over a year since we've been to church. I have not spoken with a pastor since that time. I reached out to a couple of pastors I knew from social media, but it's social media. Local care is what I really needed. Where do you go? Who can you trust? My husband and I listened to church on-line for a while but we eventually walked away from all things "churchy." The beach has become a sanctuary of sorts for us.

It's good to contemplate life sitting at the edge of vastness.

It's comforting to see that the sun rose once again.

It's reassuring to know that Someone is in control of the story.


Now what? Well, I'm adjusting to ongoing places of change. Change in priorities. Change in routines. Change in income. Change in my family. Change with friends. 

There's another thing I'm getting comfortable with too. 

Calling a thing what it is. 

The reality of getting older. The betrayal of friends. The difficulty of relationships. The awareness of doubts and questions. The harshness of life.

In all of this rearranging, I feel like it's time for some deconstructing. Here, definitions are helpful.

de·con·struct
ˌdēkənˈstrəkt/
verb

reduce (something) to its constituent parts in order to reinterpret it.


How do I reduce my religion to its constituent parts? How do I go about reinterpreting it? It all sounds very technical. So, I think I'll start at the beginning. What is religion? In other words, what components make up this thing called religion?

religion
 re·li·gion \ri-ˈli-jən\
noun

: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used   to worship a god or a group of gods
: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group


According to the definition provided via Merriam Webster, religion is made up of a couple of things:
  1. Religion is belief. 
  2. Region is a system (of belief that enables worship including activities and/or ceremonies I take part in.)
The first part is easy for me. I believe in the God of the Bible, three in one. I still believe that I believe. 

The second part seems pretty simple too. Because I am not currently involved in any organized ceremony or activity that enables worship, my religion is, at its basic form, belief. That's why it's such a relief to me when I read about the crowds who came to Jesus and asked, "What must we do to be doing the works of God?" Jesus replied, "Believe in him whom he has sent."

Jesus boiled down his expectation of what it means to be a Christian to one word - believe.

Whatever else people try to get me to believe, I'm realizing more and more that it's not about my ability to rightly divide the word of God. It's not about my diagnosing and appropriately applying law or gospel. It's not about getting theology wrong or being let in or kept out of any one's Christian club. It's not about labels or arguments or popularity or platform.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying this deconstruction process. I thought it would be more complicated to get at. Truth is, it's not all that complicated. Churches, denominations, Bible versions and Bible studies, books, ministries, missions, and all things Christian, boil down to one word. Jesus said, believe.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Check out a few resources I've found helpful along the way:
Jon Hollingsworth - Author of Runaway Radical
I LOST MY RELIGION IN SOUTH SUDAN - An essay by Paul Dunk
searching for sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Coming up next, What about faith? 

Monday, August 3, 2015

When Friendships Die

Where do friendships go when they die?

Who picks up the shattered shards of brokenness?

What is the point of loving and losing a friend?

Because really, it all seems a waste. A barren land of pain, regret, and betrayal.

I've walked this rugged path - more than once. What was lush and green is now dry and deserted.

The theme song from Friends plays in my mind...

I'll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I'll be there for you
(Like I've been there before)
I'll be there for you
('Cause you're there for me too)

The song goes on to say,

So no one told you life was gonna be this way.

Maybe they did try to tell me and I wasn't listening. I didn't see it coming. I never expected the pain and agony of broken relationships. Oh, there were the childhood breakups. The squabbles over boys or toys, or some random something that caused a petty fight signaling the loss of what was probably a superficial friendship anyway.

Then, there was the other friendship.

The one built on like-mindedness, shared convictions, unspoken words, and best friend secrets...

...the one where belly laughs about nothing and tears over everything planted deep roots. 

Their broad branches of love provided shelter in the midst of life's storms. Their canopy of care stretched out to lend relieving shade.

And then...

...it happened.

Out of nowhere a violence occurred. Damaged roots and broken branches. Debris everywhere.

I have experienced one too many broken relationships.

No one told me it would be like this.

I don't remember anyone sitting me down to explain that someday my best friend would walk out of my life...just like that. Or, that I would walk out of my best friend's life...just like that.

There doesn't seem to be a good explanation for any of it. There doesn't seem to be one reason I can point to.

Some say, "People are in your life for a season and that season may just be over." Yeah, not so comforting is it? I never found it that helpful either. Because I need to grieve. I want to mourn. There is emptiness and void left, and I'm trying to fill it back up so it won't hurt so much but I'm having trouble. I'm desperate to make the pain go away.

But it doesn't go away. It may dissipate, but the dull ache is there...always.

And the question lingers...

...why?

I would be lying if I said I've stopped asking why. I still do. I long to know the reason for the heartache and misery.

But more and more I know that my own capacity to love is stained. It falters and fails. And, I know that's true of other people. It's not that we don't want to be faithful friends and true companions. But life creeps in and relationships get strained. We listen to lies all day long - from the world and the enemy, both trying to rip apart any shred of goodness. I don't understand much. I still shake my fist for answers. But all it does is leave me in a heap without answers, until all I can do is confess. Confess the Truth.

A friend loves at all times (Prov 17:17).

I used to read this familiar Proverb and think, I have friends like that...and I'm a friend like that. But now I see the brilliance captured in those simple words. There is one, a friend, who loves at all times. It's not you and it's not me. 

There is only One who could ever love at all times. He's a friend, friend of sinners.

The love-capable savior who came for love-incapable people like me. 

This is the friendship that can never change. It is borne out of death.

The friend our hearts long for died for us, and in so doing, gives us a friendship that will never die.