Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dance, I say

What happens when we receive a gift from God and we don't acknowledge it? What if God were to waltz into your kitchen and cook up a delightful feast and you decide not to eat it? By rejecting his food, are you rejecting God? Oh yes, I believe so. 

God wants us to be happy. He wants us to feel. He wants us to find joy in the gifts he gives us. Sometimes we may want all of these things, too, but we are afraid of the stares, comments and ridicule we may receive from those around us. Sometimes it is hard to be the first to step outside of the norm. 

I was recently reading Matthew 11:17, We played the flute for you, and you did not dance... " and, in the process of my studies, I had listened to a short sermon on it. Pastors Kris Langham and Jonathan Ferguson from Through the Word likened this to a school dance. Do you remember yours? 

Anticipation builds as kids wait weeks for the dance. Days are filled with finding a date, shopping for just the right dress/matching suit, gossiping over who is wearing what and who is going with whom. Then, at last, the day of the dance finally arrives -- the gym is transformed into a fairy-tale setting, the DJ is ready to start blaring his tunes, and the magical moments of memories begin. Except, well, no one is brave enough to step out on the dance floor first! All the kids, decked out in their best school dance attire, stand along the wall, just holding it up.

Why do you think that is? I guess it could vary for each, but I think it all boils down to a lack of confidence -- in ourselves, in our faith. 

See, God gave us music and he wants us to dance. But we focus too much of our time worrying about what everyone else will think that we don't dance. Maybe - in grown up life - it isn't that we are necessarily worried what everyone else will think, but rather we are too busy worrying in general. We spend a lot of time worrying and stressing about our jobs, bills, kids, etc., and not enough time enjoying the precious gifts we receive from our dear God. After all, God has everything taken care of already -- what are you worrying for? (I know, I know... that is a whole different blog for an entirely different day) 
Have faith that you are who God made you to be and have faith that He will provide for your every need. And since you have that covered, take a moment today and make God smile -- turn on some music and dance! Let go and just be!

Monday, September 19, 2016

He gives and He takes away

He was just another man in the park. He was hunched over on a bench staring out into the Intracoastal. He watched people as they walked by -- smiling, nodding. He saw a woman with a dog and held out his hand to show the dog he meant no harm. He was quiet, otherwise. He read his books. Book after book, he read. He even claims to have read the bible several times, cover to cover. He didn’t bother anyone. Even on nights when he was able to collect enough money to buy some beer. He still didn’t bother anyone. He drank his beer on his bench, watching the boats come and go, carrying people of lives different than his. He gets a bag of food and some room temperature bottles of water on this hot day. He smiles and throws his hands up to the sky, “Thank you God you answered my prayers!”

He is the least of these.

His eyes are bright blue. Piercing blue. His hair white with traces of blond and his skin a dark shade of tan. He has been living on the streets for a couple of years now. He had a home. A nice one. He had a job, too. In fact, it wasn’t just any job – he owned the company. He even had a wife and a dog. And then one day his wife got sick. He spent every last dime he had – literally -  to get her the treatment she needed to save her life. He adored her so much that he let her carry his heart in her hands. It wasn’t long until the treatment failed and she lost her battle. He buried her, still holding his heart. A few months later his dog went home to be with her. A broken - and broke - man in an empty house, he turned to anything he could in order to numb his pain. Do you blame him?


He is the least of these. 

She has never told me how she got there, she is just always there. She has made a home on the streets and those who come and go are her family. She organizes, shares, looks out for everyone she meets. She has good intentions, always. But her addiction is hard to fight so she gets sidetracked easily. She was going to get baptized once. She was excited. She told us all about it - when, where, what she was going to wear. We told her we would be there for her... to support her decision. She never showed up. "She isn't feeling well," that is what we were told. We later learn that a man she keeps company with is quite controlling and possibly abusive. She loves him. She wont leave him. Her vicious cycle continues.

She is the least of these. 

She had always wanted to be a nurse. She wanted to help people and knew that she would be good at it. Instead of pursuing her career, she dedicated her life to her family and keeping her home filled with joy, laughter and support. She nurtured her loved ones with every fiber of her being, never disappointing her husband or their children. The day she lost him, though, she lost a piece of herself. With the kids grown, she had no one left to look after. She didn't have long trying to find her new place in the world before her health began failing. She felt helpless and alone for the first time. Who was she going to lean on? Who would be there for her? 

She is the least of these. 

They live in a run-down single room efficiency. With barely enough money to make ends meet, he works hard to provide as best as they can for his young bride and their newborn baby boy. He leaves home for work before the sun rises while she keeps herself busy making their tiny space a home. She sews bright curtains for their 2 tiny windows out of scrap fabric, she uses her talents to paint a mural on the far wall to make the room shine brightly. Her favorite day of the week is Friday. This is when she gathers up as much extra food as they can spare and puts bags together for some neighborhood kids. Sometimes its a couple of pb&j sandwiches, a couple pieces of fruit or some crackers. Other times she will find a sale on bologna and cheese. Yet at other times, its just fruit and crackers. This food allows these kids to eat over the weekend since they are not at school to receive a meal. Yes, she has so little, but gives so much. 

She is the least of these. And she helps the least of these. 

So who are the "least of these," you ask? They are the faces of God. They are the hungry, the thirsty, the helpless and the hurting... "Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'" Matthew 25:37-40 (NLT)

God works through us. He expects us to do as he would. His love in us shines brighter each time we help those who need us. It is a very important part of what it means to be a Christian. Do you honestly think you encounter people in life by accident or coincidence? No, no, friend. There is a reason."With every bone in my body I will praise him: "Lord, who can compare with you? Who else rescues the helpless from the strong? Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them?" - Psalm 35:10 (NLT) 

Turning away from someone because they may not be at the same place in life as you is going against God. We have all been given many blessings and skills. I sometimes think that God gives us these things just to see what we will do with them. Opportunities, money, gifts -- They aren't ours. Therefore, what you have... give it away. You may be surprised at just how you full you feel when you do. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Don't just smack the hurdle - jump it!

What does it mean to forgive? Let's get technical  for a moment, shall we? 

Forgive: "verb stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong): to stop blaming (someone): to stop feeling anger about (something): to forgive someone for (something wrong)..." (Merriam-Webster)

Easier said than done, right? I'll be honest, I don't really have a hard time forgiving folks...for most things. After all, I have done my fair share of crap over the years and I am thankful for the forgiveness I have received from those around me. Besides, who wants to hold on to anger and grudges? -- those aren't any fun! 

But what about something BIG? What if it is more than just forgiving your sister for sneaking something to wear from your closet? What if someone has physically hurt you? What if someone has seriously done wrong to someone you love? What if the actions of this person has caused your life to be different than what you had dreamed of? (whoa, hold up... side thought -- do we really give people that much power?!)

Forgiveness is hard when referring to something severe. Sometimes we try to ignore it rather than face it head on -- i.e. it seems easier to knock the hurdles down (aggressively) than to jump over them. This has been weighing on my heart recently and, because of that, I have been doing a lot of reading, thinking/reflecting and, well... God has got to be tired of hearing me blab! But, really... I know I am not the only one that struggles with this so I feel compelled to share. 

If I asked you who was the single most important person to you, you would likely say God, right? You win an award, you thank God. You sit down to a nice meal, you thank God. You get your broken AC fixed in the middle of summer, you thank God. So I think it is safe to say that his opinion is pretty darn important, right?? Well... let me just tell you what He says... "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48 NKJV).

But...but... but... we aren't perfect, are we? We can't be perfect! We are sinners! We make mistakes! We are HUMAN! Yes, indeed, you sure are. 

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15) 

God forgives us. 

It doesn't matter what sins or wrongs we have committed because ultimately, with repentance, we are forgiven. That is why Jesus died on that cross -- for our imperfections. So those who have wronged you, they deserve forgiveness, too, since Jesus died for all the "whosoevers" in the world -- not just for you.

Maybe you don't think that person deserves it. Maybe they didn't learn their lesson and will do the same thing again next week and next month and 3 years from now. Maybe a piece of your heart is broken due to the pain or heartache. But it just isn't a place to stick your nose. The actions of that person will be something that God will work out with him/her. Not you. No way Jose, think again. That is not why you are here.  

Paul tells us that God wants us to "...be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32) If someone is unkind to you, are you to be unkind to them? No. Love them. I'll say it again. Love them. Forgive them. Do good things for them. Be kind. Be patient. Set an example. Luke 6:27 says, "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." A lot of people hated Jesus. He loved them. He still does. 

I know some scars run deep and forgiveness is not something that can happen overnight. Boy, do I know. But it is something to work on - daily. Baby steps. Seek God and ask for him to guide you. He can show you ways to forgive. And, once that day comes, you will feel so incredibly free. I promise you. 

***UPDATE: It is funny how this seems to happen. Shortly after writing this blog and publishing it, I was checking out CNN online. I started reading a story called, "Real 'Fault In Our Stars' Couple Takes a Tragic Turn"  ...You will have to read the story, but as the girl is talking about God taking her home she says this: "Just love each other," she said. "If somebody makes you mad, just forgive them." A simple and pure statement from someone who is running out of time to forgive. Wait - Aren't we all running out of time?