Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Martha's Minion

"So I was standing at the sink washing potatoes for the ladies' retreat and wrestling with myself about why I was doing it," my friend admitted over coffee last week.
The three of us talked about how difficult it is to keep pure motives when we serve others--especially at church.
That took us to the topic of people who give gifts with expectations of how they should be used, or how we should respond, or with an extravagance that demands obligation.
Nice conversation. Biblical principles shared, agreed upon. Prayer offered. And we left, each to her day.

Disclaimer: Before you read the following, know that the women of our church are wonderful, generous, caring women. We love one another and enjoy serving together, but we all make mistakes. Sometimes we drop the ball. Each of us sins against God and others daily. The following is a real-life vignette of how God used the hot water of people and circumstances to draw out the contents of my teabag, a.k.a. heart.

That evening we met  at church for our ladies' retreat. It was time for the meal and there was miscommunication. Thinking there was a need for dessert, we had baked and counted and baked some more. Someone else brought root beer floats for the same reason. I was frustrated and angry.  As petty as it is, I even thought about the new Tupperware I'd purchased--just for cupcakes. And to find out, it wasn't needed; didn't fit the plan. I was put out. I. Me. My. Pride. My words from that morning echoed, "It's important to give and let go. If you're going to give, give. It doesn't belong to you anymore. If you can't let go, don't give. " The situation wasn't mine and I needed to let it go.

I had offered to play the piano since the other pianists would be out of town. Plans changed and two very capable, able, and enjoyable pianists came. I didn't want to play--and bring cupcakes. But I had offered a gift. I needed to let it go. I sighed, felt pressure to play well...and loudly...and.... Oh, crumb. Pride.

Weeks earlier I thought of an old, old song that fit the theme and had asked, "Would that be helpful?" not thinking (or knowing) about the piano...and cupcakes. "We'd appreciate it," was the answer. This wasn't what I had in mind at all. The microphone malfunctioned. I looked like, felt like, a three-ring circus.

And the theme? Mostly Mary. It was all about choosing that better thing, sitting at Jesus' feet instead of being worried and troubled about many things. Suddenly, I was Martha. I didn't intend to be busy and over committed. I evaluated and reviewed conversations--where did I go wrong?

The speaker addressed serving--that's what Jesus did--but keeping a balance so we don't over-serve and feel used, bitter, resentful, or self-exalting. Oh, boy. I had become the poster child for Martha's Minions--one of her understudies! And as God and I talked about it, I was thankful that He chose to use me, even as a bad example. I am not exempt from sinning or making wrong choices or consequences. Should He choose to use my sin for His purpose, who am I to demand otherwise?

And in that moment, there was peace. And the remembrance of forgiveness and love and grace. It's okay to sin and get caught. That's life. But it's even better to know Christ and live in His love.

"Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:8-14).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Ole Love Yourself Debacle

"To love your neighbor as you love yourself means you have to love yourself first." I've heard it on Christian radio, at my kitchen table, in the car. And it's not true.  I'll put it out there and, perhaps, suffer for it. There is no command in the Bible to love yourself. There are no directives on how to love yourself more or better or biblically. Those who disagree generally use a portion of Scripture and draw inferences. I cannot think of one place in the Bible, Old Testament or New that commands me to love myself--or gives the example of Jesus teaching and modeling self before others.

True love does not come from my heart. This will bust your bubble--the natural, stinky heart of mine doesn't love you. It can't. There is nothing in me that will seek your good above my own, that will do what you want instead of what I want with pure motives. For that same reason, I cannot love myself any more than I can love you.
True love comes from God for "God is love." Want love? Go to God. Want to love others better? More? Love them, period? Go to God.

If you and I find ourselves critical, judgmental, gossiping, slandering fools it's because we have failed to recognize God's love for us. When I read Scripture as a list of do's and don't's or failures and successes it's because of the way I view God, not because of the way God views me. How often I turn from feasting--choking--on dry bread at His table, then turn and apply that same judgment to others.

But when I pray and ask God for His view of Scripture and read it with an eye for who He is--for grace, love and mercy--drinking in the richness of His goodness, I display and share that same goodness with others. I view myself and others through the lens of God's grace rather than the lens of my need--my need to be better, my need to know more, my need to excel, my need to please God. The nourishment I receive from God is passed on to others and we grow.  Together.

Through Christ, I experience the love of God--all of it--and it is steadfast. Through faith in Christ I am accepted, wanted, covered, protected, cared for. I do not need to perform, be better, have more of, do more. I am. Jesus loves me. Jesus gave it all--for me. And although I do not deserve His death (or His life) it is mine. Because of who He is. That's grace. That's God.
And that's enough.

What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
As He says also in Hosea:
“I will call them My people, who were not My people,
And her beloved, who was not beloved.”
“And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them,
‘You are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.” (Romans 9:22-26)
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,  even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How to Do Everything

You may remember my Congolese friend, Joy, that I meet with regularly to study English. When she came to America three years ago, she spoke multiple languages, but no English. Our wonderful God arranged for their family to be taken in by Tom, who works with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and his wife. Two years ago Joy's family moved from Florida to Iowa and started attending our church. When we began meeting together she was still learning the names of basic objects. We added verb tenses and prepositions along with practical helps like running a dishwasher, following directions on a boxed mix and cooking a turkey in a roaster.
Last Fall she held up her English Bible and said, "This is what I need more." She understands most of the Sunday sermons, even spoken through our West Virginian pastor! But she wanted to spend  time learning and studying God's Word.
We used the same Bible study as the other women at church, "Developing Genuine Friendships" and continue to use it as our guide. Each week we read the verse printed in the book, look it up in our Bibles, and discuss any unknown words before sharing the friendship quality and application. Sharing and writing our answers in English has led to some beautiful and precious insights.
This time, we read with Philippians 2:14, "Do everything without grumbling or arguing." After reading and discussing it, I admitted to complaining about someone who makes a big to-do about being a Christian, but is unkind, short-tempered and rude. "I don't know if I should say something or not," I mused.
Joy, hands crossed on the table, pointed her index finger at me, leaned forward and said, "You--do everything without grumbling or complaining. Let Jesus talk to her."
Oh, how I love Joy! Her love for Christ and wisdom speak to my heart. By simplifying the words of Scripture and sharing from her own life, she displays Jesus in so many ways. Her schedule and demands are more rigorous than most, but she never complains. She is thankful!
And as David and I read the Psalms this morning, I was reminded of her and how we are able to do everything: without complaining. We can--if, and when--we praise God and give thanks.
To quote Joy, "I am healthy and my family is good. Everything God gives me is good.  Ehhh! Why would I complain?"

"I will extol You, my God, O King;
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
And His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,
And on Your wondrous works.
Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts,
And I will declare Your greatness.
They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness,
And shall sing of Your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and great in mercy.
The Lord is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works.
10 All Your works shall praise You, O Lord,
And Your saints shall bless You.
11 They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,
And talk of Your power,
12 To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look expectantly to You,
And You give them their food in due season.
16 You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
18 The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
21 My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord,
And all flesh shall bless His holy name
Forever and ever."
Psalm 145