Friday, May 22, 2015

Parable of the Umbrella

This is a picture of my beautiful niece, Rachel,
after she learned to catch a chicken.
Warning to my grammar enthusiast friends: this post is  infected with run-on sentences and sentence fragments.  I saw them, and i'm leaving them there.  Because today, the content is more important than the structure.  Please enjoy.

As anyone who lives in East Texas can tell you, a working air conditioner in one's vehicle is a very high priority, especially for anyone who commutes any distance to work each day.  About a year ago, the air conditioner in my car, or rather the fan that makes the air from the air conditioner (or ever so rarely, the heater) blow out of the vents, and into the atmosphere of my vehicle, began to falter.  It took on a temperamental maybe-i-will-and-maybe-i-won't kind of attitude, which i found extremely frustrating.  

Even more frustrating, was the strange fact that my husband could get in the car, put his hand on the vent (i'm am so not making this up), say, "come on, baby," to the car, and the fan would begin to blow.  every. time.  For me?  It would do nothing.  I took on the strategy of never turning the fan down from "high," thinking that if i didn't mess with the controls, it might not remember i was there, and it would keep blowing.  

At some point after the car stopped succumbing to my husband's gentle wooing, we accidentally figured out that traveling hard and fast over certain speed bumps would often convince the fan to blow.  (This may or may not have something to do with why my struts need to be replaced.)  But eventually, even the speed bump method became undependable.  

One day during this past unusually long and cold winter (for us, ok?), i was nearly in tears by the time i got to work in the morning.  I hadn't worn a big enough coat, and the heat in my car had refused to blow on me, no matter how much i begged.  That afternoon, when it was time to go home, the temperature was still very cold, and i still had no decent coat.  Anticipating a tearfully cold trip home, i am not exaggerating when i tell you, i prayed fervently to the Lord to make my heater blow on me.  And then, i followed my prayers up with action by getting a good and long head start and speeding fast over the speed bump at the entrance to the parking garage.  IT WORKED!  God answered my prayer, and the heater kept me warm all the way home.  I was tearfully thankful instead of tearfully cold.  I knew that God had heard me and answered my prayer.

But it didn't last, and i was sad when summer started to come, and no amount of prayer or sweating or abusing my car seemed to have any valuable effect on the comfort level inside my car.

Then one day, finally, i remembered that i wanted to google my car problem and see if there might be an easy fix.  And i remembered to actually do it.  You know what?  There is!  It turns out that my blower motor needs to be replaced.  The blower motor being the thingy doodle behind and below my glove box, that makes ye ole conditioned air blow through the vents in my dash.  You know what else?  Now that i know where it's located, i figured out that i can hit that area with my umbrella to make the fan kick on.  You know, until i actually replace the motor (the new part is in my living room being very useful).  With a little effort on my part, i learned how to resolve my situation, instead of crying about it and begging for help.

I know this is long, but keep reading.

When babies are babies, they can pretty much breathe with a funny tone, and their mother or father or whomever caretaker, is closely inspecting them and attending to their every need.  But what would you think if you saw a mother attending so closely to the needs of a healthy....let's say, eight year-old?  It's ok.  You can answer.  You'd think that that was a pretty terrible parent, wouldn't you?  Even worse, if you see a parent catering to the every whim of their spoiled, snarl-faced teenager.  Isn't that right?

But for some reason, as people attempting to follow after God, there is this tendency for us to believe that if God isn't answering our prayers, we must be doing something wrong.  Well, let me rephrase that.  If God isn't doing everything we tell Him to do, the way we tell Him to do it, when we tell Him it should be done, then there's something wrong with our spirituality.  Our faith must be weak.  

And sometimes we think this because we remember a day when it seemed like every time we just had a though of a desire, God was answering that for us.  Delighting us by teaching us that He is actually listening to our hearts.  And we think that the present delayed gratification, the requests that are not instantaneously granted, are some kind of sign of lost faith.  

But that isn't the case.  God is a parent.  Better than that, He's a good parent.  So, if you would see spoiling a teenager, instead of teaching them responsibility, accountability, and skills, as bad parenting..................then why would we expect God to cooperate with a parenting plan, created by us, the children, in which He simply does everything we want Him to do, protects us from every possible disappointment, and never teaches us to grow and mature? 

Good question, isn't it?  

Because life on earth is not this thing we have to endure until we can finally die and go to heaven, where we'll never have to think again, or do anything again.  We're not going to just be a bunch of diapered babies, being spoiled for eternity, by a nanny god, in a big cloudy nursery in the sky, called Heaven.  This life is preparing us for eternity.  An eternity, i admit i don't understand, but that i do understand our hearts are being conditioned for.  Heaven is called a kingdom.  Not a nursery.  You know, the "Kingdom of Heaven."  Jesus used that term, Kingdom of Heaven, only about 25 times per minute while He was on earth. Maybe it means something.  Please excuse me.  My sarcasm is showing.  :) 

You may have often heard it said, as I have, that it is not God's will that we should be sick, or in pain.  And I absolutely, one hundred gobillion percent, believe that.  In exactly the same way, but much more benevolently, as you, as a parent, cannot stand to see your child experience disappointment, or pain, or sadness, or grief, God the Father hates to see His children hurt.  It grieves His heart.  It causes Him pain.  And yet, the condition of our souls, the value of our character, being so infinitely more important than the comfort of our bodies, in His wisdom and foresight, He will absolutely definitely, use the extremely painful and seemingly unbearable discomforts of this life to shape our souls into His image.  So that we are ready to be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, when the time comes.

It is our job to ask Him for what we need and want.  It is His job to give the right answer.  Can you have enough faith to trust Him when the answers are hard to find?  When they don't look like the same answer that other guy got?  When they don't conform to what we imagine?

I'm not saying not to ask for healing and miracles.  God absolutely does healing and miracles.  He absolutely wants us to ask for them, and He absolutely wants to teach us how to see the circumstances of this life, from another dimension, like the spoon in the matrix.  He wants to bring us to the place of spiritual authority where we we tell the circumstances the will of God, and they obey.  But He's not training up magicians.  He's training up His children into spiritual soldiers, armed and ready and skillful.  And there is training.  The training is hard.  And the transformation is miraculous and beautiful.

Many times in the Bible, God is compared to a potter, and we are compared to His clay.  I once saw a potter give a demonstration, with physical clay, illuminating the details of the metaphor of our lives.  It was really beautiful.  One of the things she said was that sometimes, the clay is tough, and it refuses to conform to the shape the potter is trying to get.  When this happens, as i understand it, the potter will take the clay off of the wheel, and beat it and work it, to make it more malleable, and then start the process again.  In this metaphor, i'm just guessing that being beaten into malleability is probably painful.  But the persistence of the potter is so loving.  How much easier it would be to just throw away the clay and begin again with more ideal clay.  But instead He tries again and again.  Breaking His own heart, as He allows His child to endure pain, so that a better end, a beautiful and useful vessel, can be formed, in His merciful, all-knowing hands.  

Praise Him.  For His mercy endures forever.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

One Measly Talent - One Discount Desk

The last time we remodeled our house (read, "recovered from a house fire"), we made the decision to downsize our spacious bedroom to make room for a roomier utility area.  This meant eliminating the part of our bedroom which served as a home office.  Two desks, two desk top computers, including the giant, now obsolete, car-sized monitors, had to be eliminated from our floor plan.

 I was ok with this because the elimination of the giant office space came with the promise of a black Friday discounted lap top computer, that i could use on the arm of the couch, while watching t.v., visiting with friends, and listening to music, because the more media exposure one gets, all at one time, the best in the long run.  Or that's what i heard.

And i did get my lap top and my down-sized bedroom.  A couple of years later, i even got a new bed.  And i have successfully used my lap top on the couch, while watching tv, talking to my husband, and texting with friends, more than once.  Ok, more than a handful of times.  Ok, kind of often.

But there is just something about sitting down at a desk, in a normal sized chair, to make a list, or type a message, or write on a calendar, or whatever, that makes a record keeper type like myself, feel at ease.  And the need, for that "at ease" space has been gnawing at me for quite a few months.  I've browsed craigslist and facebook and garage sales, looking for something i could fit in my living room, and i've talked myself out of a purchase over and over.  But the need kept creeping up, and my calendars kept being unwrittenupon.  And then i fell upon it.  It seemed like it couldn't be true.  My tiny budget met with someone so desperate to empty an apartment that they let me take home their desk before i could pay them my 20 bucks!  Wow!

The desk was much larger than it appeared in the picture on facebook, and much better quality too.  And i worked all weekend, re-rearranging furniture and going through piles of unorganized pieces of paper, trying to finally marry my "at ease space" with the living room, without making the whole business look like i just decided to stick a desk next to the couch for grins.

And i think i finally did it.  And i'm so happy about it that this will be my second blog post in one week (and if you've been not reading my blog for a while, you know that the twice a week thing has been missing for a lot of months), so i have to show you.  Here it is!

O.k. it's not that much.  And i really need to put some effort into finding a real curtain for that window.  But i have an at ease place now.  See?  And i can use a real mouse too, because of flat surface area.  I feel so ... civilized.

O.k. i don't really have any deep spiritual lessons for us to learn from the pictures of my new secondhand desk, except may be this:  we are all given gifts by God, abilities, places where we shine, places where we feel most "at ease," where we are of greatest benefit to others.  And while there are things we will always be better at than other things, it isn't very fair of us to expect those gifts and abilities to just force their way out of the that box on the arm of the couch, while we keep stuffing them back in.  Our gifts will likely have more success in our lives, if we give them an at ease place where they can grow and be matured and learn the best ways to benefit others.  If they spend our lives trying to gnaw their way out of our tiny boxes, well, at the very least, they won't be living up to the potential for which God placed them in us.  Remember the servant who buried his one talent in the ground because he was afraid to risk using it?

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)

 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you... (2 Timothy 1:6)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Knowing the One and Loving the One Anothers

Do you know that verse, "Beloved, let us love one another."   ?

I know it.  I learned it as a song when i was a child.  Teaching scripture in song is a very successful method for me.  I can't forget it.  Recently, i read that scripture again, and it was the part after the song that caught my attention.  Well, first, let me sing you the song.

Queue piano.

Let us love one another. (echo: love one another)
For love is of God, and everyone that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is Love. (echo:  God is love.)
Let us love one another. First John, four, seven and eight.

I turned 39 1/2 this week, and i've known this song since i was something like 4 1/2.  And all that time, i think i've been reading it wrong.  I've been reading the words of this song as an indictment.  I hear this snotty voice in my head, mocking me, "you just don't know God.  you would act right if you knew God!"

But after the song is over, and i keep reading the rest of the verses, (after roughly 35 years), i am finally starting to read this scripture another way.  Verse 9 says that God demonstrated His love to us, by sending Jesus into the world, so that we could live through Him. Dot, dot, dot, verse 11, "if God so loved us," and the purpose was to make so that we could live through Jesus, who IS love, then we ought to be using that love on each other.

Reading the rest of the paragraph, i can see that John is trying to get across that we have been equipped by God, for the purpose of letting people SEE God!  Not by wispy images in the clouds (no offense to anyone) or on your toast, but by being able to see love, because God is more than the author of love.  He IS the love!

One night last week, during the time that i had been spending time thinking about this scripture, my husband was flipping through the channels, and we heard a couple of minutes of a comedian's act on some comedy show.  I'm sorry i didn't catch the fellow's name, but here's the gist.

He said "all the greats," including Jesus and Buddha and Ghandi and Martin Luther King, all seem to conclude that LOVE is really important.  You should love people.  That's what the authorities say on living a good life.  The comedian then got the laughy part of his act going with the question, "have you met people?"  His point (or the one i got out of it) is that people are hard to love.  Did Jesus actually meet all these people He wants us to love?  It's true.  People are hard to love.  People are selfish and rude and condescending and whiny.

Turns out, however, that i am one of these hard-to-love people.  And God does know me.  Every dirty, whiny, weak, cowardly, lackluster, hidden, part of me, and He loves me anyway.  Not just out of some strange attraction to the awkward girl in the corner.  He loves me (and all of mankind) enough to actively pursue us when we had no interest in Him.  And that's why, through His amazing, unspeakable power, i can "love one another."  Because i am "one another," and if i have come to know any part of the amazingness of His love for me, i have to love all the other one anothers.  I can't help it, not if i'm paying any attention to God's love for me.

And that is why, "he that loveth not, knoweth not God."  It's an invitation, really.  If you're not loving the one anothers, you will do well to spend some more time getting to know the One who knows you, better than you know yourself, and loves you more passionately than a mother loves her child, with a love that's more unhinged than the naivete of newly weds who haven't yet discovered each others' faults, and more powerful than all of the waves of the ocean, and hotter than the core of the earth.  When you get to know the Author of that great love, you will have more than enough with which to love all the other one-anothers, like you.  "Everyone that loveth...knoweth God."  Because that's the only way to pull it off.