As Is

One of the first presents I got after Matthew and I were engaged was from my mother. She had bought me a set of pots and pans. They were Revereware, and were way too expensive for me to buy for myself. They were pretty expensive for my mom to buy too, except that she got them on sale. The store was having a huge “Scratch and Dent” sale. Everything for sell had a flaw and was appropriately discounted. My mom figured they’d be scratched and/or dented after I used them a few times anyway, so she got me quite an array of pots and pans. I still have them all. Twenty-two years later.

Maybe it’s something I learned from my mom, but I love “scratch and dent” or “as is” sales in stores. You know going into it that the items have flaws. Rarely does the store tell you where the flaws are, but it doesn’t usually take long to find them. They are usually pretty obvious. Then you have to decide if the flaw is something you can live with. Lots of things don’t have to be pristine to still be useful.

People are like that. We should all come with an “As is” sticker attached to us. We are flawed, and it usually doesn’t take others too long to find those flaws. Maybe it’s a short fuse, or an overly sentimental heart. Perhaps there’s a tendency toward the white lie, or for procrastination. Isn’t it funny how we decide in our minds which flaws we will put up with and which ones we won’t?

I’ll bet you have heard a girlfriend speaking of another friend’s spouse:

“I just don’t know how she puts up with that. I couldn’t stand that for a single minute!”

Be honest. Have you been the one to say that? I have.

We choose spouses, friends, and others we desire to spend time with based upon which flaws we are willing to deal with. The others we put as much distance between them and us as we possibly can.

But what if we can’t put that distance? What if a difficult flaw has attached itself to a coworker or family member? How do we manage that? I can tell you, as you probably well know already, that’s a hard one. We are commanded to love the unlovely. Nowhere in Scripture does it say we can refuse to love someone because of their flaws.

I have recently been thrust into the close proximity of someone with some challenging flaws. My path crosses with this one person on a regular basis. I would have to make some really drastic changes to alter this fact. I began to dread the encounters with this person days before they were to happen. I could imagine my frustration in advance, and it would ruin my day…. And I wasn’t even with that person yet!

I decided to take my problem to the Lord. (Good idea, I know) My first pleas were to have God remove this person from my path. After all, he put them there, he could remove them. So I asked, and I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It became clear to me… eventually… that removal was not to be the solution. So then I went back to God, this time with a more open mind. I said, “Okay. So you are not going to remove them… What shall I do?”

My answer? My answer was that I was supposed to love them. Oh boy. I argued a bit. Reminded him how unloveable this person could be. I reminded him just how annoying their flaws were to me. I did a lot of heavy sighing.

Slowly the change came. Slowly my heart began to change. That person did not change. Not really. But I changed. I began to invest in this person rather than wishing they would disappear. Are they still flawed? Oh yes. Do their flaws still bother me? Absolutely. But God is giving me the ability to deal with it. I no longer dread our paths crossing. I don’t look forward to it with eager anticipation either, but at least I don’t dread it anymore.

A funny thought occurred to me through this experience. I wondered how many people in my life were willing to overlook my flaws to stick with me? As I look around at my family, friends, co-workers, and others… I realize that’s a lot of people!

And the best thing that came to mind was how that even in the midst of my flaws, God still saw fit to love me. He loved me in spite of my scratches and dents. He loves me enough to help me improve… to help me de-flaw.

I think the flaws we see in others will always influence us. I think there will always be imperfections in others we are just not willing to put up with, and sometimes, unfortunately, the nature of some flaws warrants that. But for those minor, garden-variety flaws, I know he can help change our hearts. He can help us see past those flaws to the person he loves so much, and help us love them “as is”.

Life Long Learner

When I think of the spiritual giants in my life, no one with a seminary degree comes to mind. (Except for my husband, of course. Sorry, honey.) It’s not that I don’t value the seminary degree, I really do. I am of the opinion that everyone in a significant leadership/teaching position in a church should have one. I know I will get arguments over this, but that’s what I think. Yet as useful as I think a seminary degree is, it only gets us so far.

By comparison, my nursing degree only got me so far as well. I have learned far more about health and disease processes since I graduated from nursing school than I ever learned while I was there. Real life experiences have taught me much.

My apologies to my early patients.

When I think of the people who have most influenced my life in spiritual ways, none ever set foot in a seminary classroom. They may not know the Greek word for “grace”, but they know the grace of God first hand. They may not be able to exegete a passage of scripture, but they have tucked it away in their hearts and it speaks to them in their times of great need.

I’m not saying that theology and the study of it has no place
. Rather I am saying it has its proper place, but it can become a crutch. Are we pre-mill, post-mill, or a-mill? Do we baptize by emersion or sprinkling? Is Israel still God’s people or not? Did God just know I would choose him, or did He choose me?

Discussions of theology can be fun. My husband and I participated in many of them while he was in seminary. Every day he would come home and regurgitate what had been discussed in class that day. He went to a multi-denominational seminary and was presented with various denominational perspectives on most every point of theology. We had to (or we felt we had to) settle how we felt on each point. We were convinced we owed it to future congregations to have it all settled in our minds. As each issue was presented and settled we could then check it off the list. Done and done!

That all worked out really well…. until it didn’t.

Those early discussions never really did anything to further the Kingdom of God and bring anyone to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

It never fails that no matter how neatly you have things bundled up, eventually you begin to question some of the things you have always believed were decided. You learn that great, Godly men on either side of a theological question will continue to disagree. Someone has to be right. Right? So who is it? I might say that it is me. You will likely say it is you.

It is for these differences that we have a plethora of denominations within the church. I don’t think that when Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this Rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16;18), he intended it to have so many divisions and disunity. Theological disagreements have done more to divide the church than they have ever done to unify it.

I am currently sitting under the teaching of a woman who presents her view of Israel’s significance in Bible times and today. She has spent a great deal of her life in the study of this matter. Whether or not I agree with every point she presents is far less important to me than her passion and love for the Savior. Her love of God is almost tangible. She sent me an email this week that told me she is praying for me by name every day. I feel somehow better knowing that she is praying for me. Not because I agree with everything she teaches in our class, but because she is a giant in the faith.

People are drowning this world of confusion and chaos. They don’t need a debate on theology. They need Jesus to rescue them. Those theological lessons can come later, as well they should. The Bible has a lot to say about seeking knowledge and wisdom. Those theological studies do help provide us with a deeper understanding of our Lord. But even then, we should never expect to understand all things this side of heaven. It’s just not going to happen.

We can paint ourselves right into a theological corner if we are not careful, and we can find we are stuck there. Or we can choose to be life long learners and students in the faith. We can open our hearts and minds to the things he longs to teach us, and we just might be surprised by where and from whom those lessons come.

Mezuzah

I once read a book by Leonard Sweet called Soul Salsa. In the book, Sweet wrote a lot about the Jewish mezuzah. Mezuzah actually means doorpost. In Deuteronomy 6, the Jews were instructed to continually remind themselves of all the great wonders God had done on behalf of his people. 

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-6.

The Mezuzah is typically a small case that is fixed to the doorpost of a home that holds inside the handwritten words of this reminder. As the members of the household come and go from their home, they touch the case and kiss their fingers in acknowledgement of the promises inside.

Rather than mimicking the Jewish tradition of the mezuzah and actually nailing one to our doorposts, Sweet suggested that we should mezuzah our lives.
Mezuzah causes an intentional pause for us to remember the great promises not only to the Jews, but now through Jesus, to the Gentile believers as well. It is easy as we got through the busyness of our lives, to forget God’s promises to us, and ours to him. Whether at work or at play we should remember his teachings and follow in his ways.

So yesterday I decided to mezuzah my house. It’s a bit of a more literal action than Leonard suggested, but something I had wanted to do for quite some time. I have seen it done in a few homes before. My mother-in-law has “mezuzahed” her house for years, as have some friends of ours.

They both painted from the scripture Joshua 24:15,

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”

over their front door, or in some other prominent place in the home. This verse was Joshua’s line in the sand. It didn’t matter if others wanted to worship unicorns; he was going to stay devoted to the one true God.

I decided to mezuzah my dining room with this declaration. It was a risky endeavor, but I figured if I really messed it up, I could just paint over it. I borrowed my artist daughter’s paint and brushes, found a font I really liked on the computer, and printed out the verse I had chosen. I carried a ladder up from the basement and used a level and a ruler to make sure everything lined up right. As I started, I reminded God that I was about to paint his word on my wall and could he please help me not to mess it up? Two hours later, I was standing back viewing my handiwork. I thought it turned out pretty well.

Now, as we gather together as a family to share in the provision of food, we will be reminded that we have decided to serve the one true God who is our Provider. The results were met with rave reviews from everyone in my family. The kids all want to mezuzah their bedrooms!

God knew it would be important for his people not to forget his great love for them. He knew they would face trials on every side, and that if they were not careful they could (and often did) turn from him. The same is true even now. God knows that life is hard. He knows that sometimes if may appear as though he is far from us. Yet it is during those times that the mezuzah reminds us that he is near and that his ultimate end is to bring us into his perfect peace.

So go grab yourself a paintbrush and mezuzah your house. Or if that’s just too radical for you, find other ways to mezuzah your life so that you never forget our great God or his promises.

No Grandkids

The weather is turning cooler. Leaves on the trees in my yard are starting to turn loose and fall to the ground. Football is everywhere. All sure signs that Autumn is coming quickly. It’s also the time of year that small groups at my church start back up. When you go to a church of 14,000 small groups are essential to make a mega church feel not so… mega.

Matthew and I were invited to be a part of a small group that one of our associate pastors was hosting in his home. Okay. Sure. Who could say “No thanks” to that invite? We found out that it’s a study about Israel. Okay. Sure. I could use some information on Israel… Really? Israel? I wasn’t too sure about that, but maybe there’d be food.

When we arrived for our first installment, we were warmly welcomed into a really beautiful home. Soon the other folks who had also received an invitation arrived. It was an interesting crowd and we quickly met everyone and conversations ensued. It was kind of like one of those “Clue” parties, only not so much. It was an odd mix of singles and couples, older and younger… with Matthew and I filling the bill for the “older”.

Quite a unique woman led the teaching on Israel. She was a little older than me and was a vibrant lady in both dress and mannerism. We were invited to be seated in the large den and as everyone took their places she began. I had been a bit curious about a group learning about Israel. What would we learn? Was this going to be a snoozer? I can say in all confidence, it was not a snoozer. The next hour and half passed and I was sure it had only been a few minutes.

She talked about Abraham and the promise he received about being the father of many nations. She talked of Isaac and Jacob. She talked about how we, as Christ followers, had been grafted into the vine and were now heirs and full-fledged members of Abraham’s family… the family of God. It was all very exciting.

I am not much of a note taker, but I wrote down one thing the leader said. It was a quote from Billy Graham. When she was talking about how Abraham had been promised by God that his descendants would be as plentiful as the stars in the sky, she talked about how that included both his genetic descendants and his spiritual ones.

Then she quoted, “God does not have grandchildren.”

I thought, “Wow. I like that.” I liked much of what this lady had to say, but that one statement struck a chord in my heart. I quickly scribbled it down for later. As my kids grow up and out, Matthew and I have tried to teach them that at some point in their lives, they have to own their faith… and the sooner the better. Just because I am God’s daughter, doesn’t mean that my kids are his grandkids. God’s family doesn’t work that way. Each of us has to come to a faith all our own.

So many of us living here in the Bible belt want to ride on the coattails of our parent’s faith, but Christianity is not something one inherits like blue eyes or brown hair, freckles or big ears. We are not Christian simply because we were born in a “Christian nation”. (Sadly, some even question if it really is a Christian nation any longer.)

Each of us has to make that decision to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit on our lives when that time comes. It’s an important lesson for us to learn and to pass on to our children. As Christians, the Father loves us all equally. The inheritance he gives to his children is spread equally among those who call him Abba. We each are no less loved as he chooses us to come into his family, than when he chose to show favor on the people of Israel. We are his children. His kids. No grandchildren.

We Win

Ten years ago today, life in these United States changed forever. I think it’s safe to say that life in the entire world changed that day. No one thought that terrorists would ever be so brazen as to attack the US on it’s own soil. We underestimate Evil. That’s a dangerous and unfortunate circumstance.

I have never feared “Evil”, but neither did I properly judge it for its, well, evil capabilities. Not until a few years ago, that is. I learned a few years ago that Evil does not respect proper boundaries. I thought that Evil would stop at the door of the church, but no.

I mean, I’ve seen people behave in shameful, ungodly ways inside a body of believers, but I had never seen Evil come in and completely take over an unsuspecting group of Christ followers and spin its web of obscenity; all in Jesus’ name. You might get a picture in your mind of Jonestown back in the seventies. That would be an example of Evil at work in the Body. But I didn’t live through that. It didn’t touch me personally.

I have rubbed elbows with Evil and it is nasty. Nasty is really too nice a word for what I am trying to describe. I spent six weeks with my family in a place I would just as soon forget forever, but what I learned there about Evil has changed my perspective on the whole subject. Evil is, well, hell-bent on destroying any and everything that brings glory to God.

I saw things happening that I had never even come close to witnessing in all my life. My family experienced things personally that confounded us all… they still do. Things that were done in Jesus’ name. Things that turned freedom in Christ into slavery and bondage. Things that brought attacks on our family, both spiritual and experiential. How does that happen? Evil can do that. It quite nearly destroyed my family. Only by the grace of God, and our willingness to grasp hold of it and hang on, did we survive.

So as we watch again the planes crashing into the Twin Towers of New York, as we see again the damage done to the Pentagon and think of those who intended to fly another plane into the White House ten years ago, we should not wonder how such wickedness can happen. We tend to think that Evil would behave in socially acceptable ways. That it would resist hits below the belt. We are naïve.

These atrocities, and others happening all across our globe, are carried out by men, but the Bible tells us that our real battle is not against these men. It tells us that we fight a battle against Evil itself. It tells us that there is, right now, a battle going on that we cannot see with our eyes. (Ephesians 6:2) Yet we cannot ignore that it is happening when we see the results all around us. The earth itself is groaning… earthquakes, fires, storms, and droughts. The earth is feeling the effects of the battles that rage. (Romans 8:22)

Does this mean that we should just board up our windows and hide under our beds? Maybe. But the reality is, while we should never underestimate the schemes of the Evil One, neither should we ever underestimate the power of a Holy God. Even as the battle rages on and we continue to see brutalities and abuses around us, the real truth that we have to hold to is,

We have already won.

It’s like knowing the score of a football game before the kickoff. Even if your team were down two touchdowns going into the fourth quarter, if you knew that your team was going to be victorious, you’d face that fourth quarter with anticipation of the victory that was sure to come. (Yes, I just used a sports analogy…)

Because of Jesus, we have already won. There is power in his name to save us. We speak his name and Evil has to flee. For sure, we will suffer the effects of the Evil One until Jesus comes again, but the truth is, we have already won.

So until that day, we must continue in the faith, never doubting what we know to be true.
Our lives changed forever on September 11, 2001. Our eyes were opened a bit to the battle that continues even now. Knowledge is power, though, and while we might want to let fear envelope us, we can stand firm in the name of Jesus to be victorious. While I never care to be snuggled up to Evil that closely again, I know that it cannot win. It will not win.

Bad Apples

I am not a fan of the weekly grocery-shopping chore. I’m not really a great cook, so I don’t enjoy shopping for ingredients to make delicious meals. Plus, it’s a continuous challenge to keep my grocery shopping within our budget as food prices continue to creep upward. While I am thankful for the means to go shopping for food, the entire process is just not that fun for me. I see other people at the store who seem to really enjoy the whole experience, but I can’t seem to join them.

I put the food in the cart. Then I put the food onto the conveyor at the check out, and then back into the cart again. I push it out to the car and unload it into the car, drive it home, unload it again, carry it all inside, and put it away. I’m tired just thinking about it all.

On my most recent trip to the store I found myself in the produce aisle shopping for apples. There are a million different kinds of apples. I needed juicy, crunchy apples. This was a request from my husband. I am not a produce expert. More often than not, I am unable to select the best of apples. Although I try my best, lots of times I end up with bruised, mushy apples.

As I stood staring at my apple choices, a young store employee came and stood next to me. He started picking up each apple, turning it over in his hands and looking at each one. Some he would keep, and some he would put back. I really only gave him a cursory glance, as I was busy trying to decide which apples looked crunchy and juicy. I did notice he was sighing a lot, and finally, with an apple in his hand, he turned to me and asked me if I would be willing to buy the apple he had. He pointed out a few small brown spots, asked if those were common for that kind of apple, and would they keep me from buying it.

The poor kid had no idea who he was talking to
. I said I didn’t know if those spots were common to that kind of apple, but either way, I probably would not buy it. He said, “Yeh, me neither”, and tossed it into a box. It wasn’t until then that I realized what he was doing. He was trying to sort out the bad apples.

Our little exchange apparently made him feel comfortable enough to confide some things in me. Maybe I reminded him of his mother.

He told me he had no idea what he was doing. He usually worked in the garden center, but they had pulled him inside and told him to sort through all the apples and pick out the bad ones. He said, “I’m not an expert at picking out bad apples.” I wanted to tell him that I was really good at picking out bad apples and that usually I bought them and took them home. Instead, I encouraged him to keep up the good work, and to be thankful he was no longer working outside in the heat.

I chose a few apples to take home and, as usual, hoped for the best. I thought it was interesting that I was there trying to find a few good apples and he was there looking for a few bad apples. It’s hard to tell sometimes without biting into an apple which are good and which are not. All you can do is judge an apple by the way it looks on the outside. You don’t get to check out the inside until you make an investment in the apple yourself.

In that way, people are a lot like apples. We have learned to present ourselves in such a way that others have no idea, really, what’s going on inside. We can shine ourselves up all nice and pretty on the outside, while on the inside we hide our bruises and mushiness.

It makes it hard for us to pick out those “bad apples”. Oh sometimes the wounds they carry can be pretty obvious, but not always. It takes an investment in some to find those. Mostly, we are forced to look upon their outward appearance and make a decision. The Bible even speaks to this dilemma. It tells us that while we have to look upon someone’s outward appearance, that God can look right into our hearts. (1 Samuel 16:7)

He can look right past our shined up appearance and see the bruises we hide from those around us.

He’d make an excellent fruit inspector. That kid in the
fruit department was going to throw away those bad
apples. We tend to do that with people. God doesn’t
do that. He can look inside the brokenness of our lives
and make things new again. He’s not afraid of those
things, nor does he shy away from the injured. He is
ready to invest in them, heal them and use them for
his glory. And that’s a good thing…

Cause we’re all bad apples.