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Posts Tagged ‘truth’

Widows-MiteIt’s not really about the amount we give; instead, generosity is often measured by the cost to the giver to give it [hint: as in “sacrifice”]. In other words, it is some part of the story about the woman who gave only two coins, her last two coins, and she was cited for being far more generous than the rich men who gave out of their abundance. [Luke 21:1-4]

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. . . . They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. [2 Corinthians 8:2-3, 5b, NIV]

As a believer for many years, I have been around the bend several times about giving and tithing. As a baby Christian, although I loved Jesus dearly, I was church-skeptical. Why should I give them my money? How will they use it? How can I trust them to use it wisely? (So self-righteous, as though I was using my funds well. Hardly.)

Then I went through a period of legalism where I tried to follow the letter of the scriptures, from purity to tithing; I was determined to please God, to perform superbly. And perhaps, if I was very good and very faithful and very exacting, I could become a super Christian and perform miracles for God. Forgetting of course, that we all fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23].

money pressueShortly after that, I began to follow various teachers and did my best to align my understanding of the intentions of God with their explanations. I became a kind of disciple, from teachers who garnered thousands in arenas to popular television evangelists. It was during this time that I met my husband, who I put through the paces of meeting my mother and getting her approval, etc. (it was a Gothard thing, for the folks who remember him). And yet, we were engaged in 3 days and married in 4 months. I think it was all that “purity” talk that put us on a fast track.

As a couple, we started out in a more traditional setting in Mike’s home church. The people were kind enough, but there was little fire. I had been introduced to contemporary praise and worship by then and a traditional service felt wanting. The whole giving thing went to a back burner as newlyweds and he had never practiced tithing.

Thetake-the-plungen, we found another church and our faith exploded through the body of believers, the anointed pastor, and the call to service. Here we gave willingly and for the first time, even sacrificially, of our money and our time. We trusted God and we trusted them. We also discovered several Cursillo-type para-church organizations that moved yet closer and closer to Christ, and another outlet for giving. Such joy.

When we came to Maryland, we continued in our love and faith, but we were being challenged to give where we knew no one. Again, the distrust from old came rearing its head.

Around this time, I was challenged by the remarkable story of Jackie Pullinger who went alone, in her zeal, to Hong Kong in 19giving to poor66 (and still remains) where she made a powerful impact. But what stayed with me the most from one of her sermons was her story of giving without reserve to the poor. A visiting friend chastised her saying that the man to whom she gave money would probably spend it unwisely, and she said that her Christ instructed her to give; what happened to funds afterwards was God’s problem.

And with that, we began to tithe faithfully, ten percent, as written.

habitsBut, then, the challenges to our commitment began: the costly adoptions, a new house, travel to family far away, and so on. And although we gave consistently, I would not say it was generous of us at all. Not really. We were doing good things, serving, and going on mission trips, of course. But we simply got out of the habit. Like anything else, the longer you do (or stop doing) something, the more natural & comfortable it feels.

Restore Church

Finally, Mike and I found ourselves at our current church, Restore Church, right in our small Maryland town. The love for the people and the pastor was an updated experience of our Atlanta days. But we were also being challenged to consider giving generously, not comfortably. A few months before Mike’s death, we committed to tithing again. And God blessed our decision immediately, with a light shining out of the financial morass we had made.

oneNow, with Mike gone, our family financial situation is tenuous at best, but I am in this one mind: God is the author of my journey, which now is missing my life’s mate, but God is God and so, this is the new way. I have an inner conviction that I cannot shake that I must trust God more than ever, tithe and even give above that tithe, because I am no longer my own, but God’s and God is my essential one priority.

 

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Photo by Steve Fraser

Photo by Steve Fraser

Throughout history, the Word has had the power to “light the way:” scripture, inspired by God in both the Old Testament and the New. Words handed down to us through story, heroes and villains, miracles and inheritance. The Word, then, a written and verbal account of the presence of God among humankind, given to enlighten our own actions and choices, to give examples and a path toward righteousness; a template for living and a warning in the face of evil. We acknowledge: Your word [God] is a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey. I have sworn, and I fully mean it: I will keep your righteous rules. [Psalm 119:105, CEB]

God gives and we must respond, or at the very least, I am compelled to answer. This psalm, the longest single chapter in the Bible, whose author is officially unknown but most assume that either David, Ezra, or Daniel wrote it. The overall message? The Word of God is all-sufficient.

Can I swear to that and mean  it? Can I keep the laws of God? Not all, for sure; and maybe not even the ten. But if I could just fasten my heart on to the two most compelling “Words” from God, two key laws, two commandments that hold within them, the entire Law of God:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  [Matthew 22:37-39]

These two would light my journey indeed, each and every day, if I allowed them to do so, if I surrendered to their Truth and embraced them wholeheartedly, they would shine the brightest.

But I cannot. I don’t. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man [woman] of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips . . . ” [Isaiah 6:5a, NIV]

And for this reason, I cry out to my Jesus, that One who always knew and knows that I cannot follow that path on my own, no matter how much I want to do so today, tomorrow I will go astray. This I know, this I have seen in myself. Only One can cover me, can make the path wide enough for my weaving heart. Oh Jesu, my Savior, the propitiation for my weak resolve.

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New JerusalemI have read (Bible Study Tools on Jerusalem) that there was a time that Jerusalem was invincible. I can certainly understand how that could happen, just thinking of the miraculous creation of the temple and the tangible presence of God there, how could any enemy prevail?

Jerusalem is built like a city joined together in unity . . . It is the law for Israel to give thanks there . . . Pray that Jerusalem has peace: “Let those who love you have rest. Let there be peace on your walls; let there be rest on your fortifications.” [Psalm 122:3, 4b, 6-7, CEB]

But not unlike the confidence in the Titanic, the unsinkable ship of wonder and power, people abused the vessel itself. The Temple was the core of Jerusalem, it’s lifeblood issued from its center, but the leaders and kings continued to misunderstand its role, the basic requirements of worship and faithfulness. As a result, they began to undercut its effectiveness. So it was with the great ship whose design was flawed and never fully tested, whose strength was challenged by boasting and unnecessary risk. Both Jerusalem and the Titanic suffered due to the pride of its caretakers.

And I wonder, are we doing the same thing with our religion? Are we borrowing from the texts the parts we want to use as a hammer against others and setting aside the words that condemn our own actions? Are we elevating our own understanding above the understanding of others? Are we so sure in the details?

And what about the Church itself? Have denominations and preferences become silos from which we are no longer able to see clearly? Now we have a myriad of “Jerusalems” into which we are endowing superiority and funds for the sake of our structures and mindsets.

God promises the earth, the peoples of this earth, a “New Jerusalem.” I do not believe that this is necessarily a humongous cube that will drop down out of space (the heavens) and we’ll all take a ride. Instead, I see it as a unified peoples, living for the sake of others, honoring humanity and the God who made us. The New Jerusalem comes at a cost, the paradox of letting go and surrendering to a different way of living and thinking.

Jesus was on a mission to bring us closer to the New Jerusalem. We’re not there yet. We may have to sink the ship a few more times before we are able to build a structure that can be inhabited by Truth.

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lead by exampleIs this cultural or simply part of human DNA? We seem to continually repeat our mistakes over and over again. And unfortunately, I see this both on a national and international level as well as in my own micro-world.

When that whole generation had passed away, another generation came after them who didn’t know the Lord or the things that he had done for Israel. . . . [And] then when the leader died, they would once again act in ways that weren’t as good as their ancestors’, going after other gods, to serve them and to worship them. They wouldn’t drop their bad practices or hardheaded ways. [Judges 2:10, 19, CEB]

The learnings from one generation to another are not happening. Parents are not telling or did not tell their children about the work of God in their lives in an authentic way; instead, they pass this job to Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Weeks. In my mind, not only do we fail to tell the Bible stories, we a) water them down to make them PG and b) we don’t personalize them. Every story has a message for humanity. Every story has a message for me and my family. The Bible is not Disney World.

Miracles require effort and devotion, faith and trust. They require accessibility and openness.

I know some people have disagreed with me about telling our children about my past, particularly the darker side, but I have always felt  it was important for them to know that I am a different person today because of my faith, and that essentially, my lifestyle before Christ would have led very quickly to illness and death.

But I also think about our church and how we depend so heavily on our charismatic pastor and we are not raising up leaders to serve with him so that we don’t follow the footsteps of the Israelites who only succeeded while a particular leader was in place. It is everyone’s responsibility to tell the story, to walk the walk, to lead and train and grow. As the pastor tells his story, we must also tell our own.

authenticityOne of the ways to do this is mentoring (or discipleship). I have generally avoided this practice because it sounds so daunting, to take on a tenderfoot on the journey, to help someone else grow, to embrace him/her as family. I’m already struggling with my own adult children after all, how can I take on another, and what if I fail? But here’s the truth: all I have to do is “bring them along” when I go and do. I can’t pretend to be more than I am (nor should I assume I am less). New believers learn by being around old believers. New leaders step up when they watch old leaders in every day life, every day challenges, every day decisions, every day blunders.

Jesus didn’t turn on the leadership persona or the faith role just when the disciples were around. He lived and breathed what he knew. He healed because he could. He told stories because they meant something to him. He expressed mercy and grace because that was part of his genetic code.

We do not have to be infallible to demonstrate love and grace. In fact, authenticity goes farther. Mistakes confessed give hope to those who believe they are not worthy or that they are “too late” to change or that they can’t change. Our frailty revealed is courage demonstrated.

Generations ahead are depending on us now.

 

 

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make a wayWe all were. Sent ahead. In some cases, that is more obvious than in others, but if you think about it, we can each lay a path or new ground for our descendants and loved ones.

But God sent me [Joseph] ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. [Genesis 45:7, NIV]

My mother and father left Europe and came to America and worked hard for the sake of their children and a new life. My mother’s mother left her village in Lithuania to go to Riga to experience city life. In my own life, bouncing from city to city, I eventually landed with a husband and a home here in Maryland and drew three orphaned children to us from Latvia and St. Petersburg, Russia, their lives forever changed.

We can each make a way. We can cut the brambles to the best of our ability so that others can walk behind.

But of course, some people refuse. The road ahead seems too difficult, too overwhelming. And so they sit in what small space they can carve out and wait. Reminds me of the parable of the “talents.” Three servants were entrusted with wealth to invest for the Master while he journeyed away. Two took risks and plunged ahead. But the one merely buried what he was given and although he returned it all, he had made not change or increase.

Humans are given gifts as well as challenges that make us who we are but also help make us what God intends. It is not about the money but about the attitude, the response to life’s events, accepting the truth of what is and making the very best of what that truth can contribute.

This process is true for organizations as well as individuals. Churches, in particular, have a mission to reach out to those stagnant souls who have lost their will or hope toward the next step. The Church, the Body of Christ, can do corporately what cannot always be done by the one. But it must be done in unity and love.

Look back: who is following you? Whose steps are landing in your footprints?

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women and storyAbraham protected himself by claiming that Sarah was his sister in the land of Abimelek (Abimilech) and here, Isaac does the same thing, in the same geographical area, with another king (perhaps a son?), also called Abimelek (Abimilech). Scholars are not in agreement about these accounts since they are mirror of one another in so many ways. But for my purposes, they cause a completely different resonance: one that makes my blood boil if you want to know the truth.

When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.” [Genesis 26:7, NIV, emphasis mine] (See Genesis 20 for Abraham’s version.)

In some quarters, commentators have said that these parallel stories show God’s protection over the patriarchs and the beauty of their women. How swell. But in neither story, as told by the Old Testament historians, is there much information about the women and the circumstances in which they found themselves as a result of their husbands clever misinformation (lies). The reason for their deception, in both cases, was to protect their own lives because the ruler might kill the husband to acquire the wife. But a sister? Piece of cake, just hand her over (with gifts from the household of the King to the patriarch, I’m sure).

And so the women, beautiful they may have been, were thrust into the households of foreigners. Nice. Convenient and cunning.

I am more than aware that culturally, in those days, women were a type of property or chattel. They were owned by their husbands and subservient to the lord of the house. Despite these restraints, many women of that period still accomplished great things and often, with courage, they turned their world, the Esthers and Abigails and for all we know, many who went unnamed. But these accounts are few and far between.

Women are a often strong and flexible and most tenacious. They can take a bad situation and make it better. They can tolerate much. They are survivors. But not all women. Too many other women fall in the face of men who strike with force to gain their will. Other women self-medicate to beat back emotional pain. And still others eat until their bodies betray them altogether and beauty is no longer apparent.

I suppose Abraham and Isaac could be commended for their clever little deception. They both gained immeasurably by it and found much favor from the Abimileks in their sojourns. But for the women, it was a sacrifice. And I want to remember that.

As a contemporary reader of scripture, I often remind myself that it’s critical to look between the lines, to pray and contemplate the untold story. So often, scripture time is compressed into a single phrase but it’s really months or years. And in those time frames, there are women living, crying, hoping, and maintaining their faith, often in the face of trial. whats_your_story

For my sisters in faith today, I challenge you, don’t read like a man. Read from your unique femaleness. For it may only be us who hear and see and can recognize those underlying truths. In the centuries since those days, many women’s stories have been lost. We need to remember and we need to repeat our own narratives, to our daughters, to our nieces, to our girlfriends.

Tell your story. No one else is more qualified than you.

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Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

It’s a mysterious statement and how interesting, that it comes from the mouth of Zophar, the least likely of the three “friends” of Job. After all, his next breath his full of chastisement and nastiness toward Job. And yet, he does have this one right.

Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
    that he would open his lips against you
and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,

    for true wisdom has two sides. . . . [Job 11:5-6a, NIV]

In a wonderful online homily, this topic is explored more fully, but it fits in with my own view of the many paradoxes that exist in scripture and faith. An old friend used to call it the both/and of truth. In God, two seemingly opposed truths can actually co-exist. How is that possible? I don’t begin to understand it. But I believe it because it allows for the conundrums that an “all-knowing God” and the “free-will of Human” can be true as well. It is wisdom to accept the possibility of their concurrence.

Another view of the two sides of wisdom might be the simple explanation that everything is not revealed to us, like the iceberg that only shows a tip of itself while the greater story is beneath the water.

both-andAs I see it, God himself declared that Job was a righteous man whose love for God was pure and above all other living men. Job committed no sin that we could see to warrant his suffering. God allowed it to happen at the hand of the enemy. Somehow, God knew it would take Job to the “next level” of understanding and wisdom and faith. At great cost.

A deeper truth had to be examined, a more difficult investigation into human.

I must remember this basic truth as well: all stories have two sides, all of suffering is an iceberg, all sin has a path leading up to it. So often, I hear people condemn those who adhere to looking at the world as black or white, good or bad, etc. But I think it may be a mistake to assume that the only alternative is to say that the world is grey, as though the contrary forces would meld into something new. Instead, it may just be possible, from a God view, that both black and white can live together and still retain their identities.

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