Can People Trust You?

Trust (noun):

reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.

Trust is something for which most of us long.  We treasure those in our lives that we know speak the same of us when we are not in the room as they do when we are.  We esteem those whose are good for their word.  We understand how rare it is to be surrounded by others who we can put full confidence in their transparency; their support; their faithfulness.

Unfortunately,  I find it more and more common for trust to be as old fashioned as grandma’s party line telephone.  (My grandmother actually had a party line…oh the eavesdropping we did…but that’s a story for another day.)

Why is mistrust such a prevalent theme in life. With all the increased means of communication and visibility (via the internet, primarily), one would think that we would have higher levels of trust.  Yet, it’s not the case.

Do you think it’s because we are all living with so many hiding spots and loopholes?

Think about how many hiding spots exist.  Social networks allow you to create a online personae that can be completely disconnected from your real self.  Who of you will have any idea if what I write about here finds any reality in my life? Hiding spots are more than just staying out of the public eye.  Hiding spots can be self-promotion of exaggerated egos, false humility, feigned friendship, secrets, and undisclosed agendas.

If a hiding spot can’t be found, you can avoid personal authentication through a loophole.  One ramification of living in a litigious society is that we have all learned that no matter the responsibility, a loophole can always be found to avoid ownership.  Nobody has to get pinned with anything.  (Which is really so silly since “I’m sorry” is just not that hard to say.) Common loopholes are blaming, staging, pretending to have not understood and playing the victim.

The problem is that hiding spots and loopholes find a way of seeping down into our personal relationships.  Like foam that rises to the top, our relationships suffer from the weakness of integrity and moral ambiguity that our hiding spots and loopholes nurture. We stop speaking honestly and genuinely.  Hard conversations get avoided because parties understand commitment to relationships are no longer needed.

I’m concerned about what this is doing to our churches.  The early church was marked by their sincere and devoted love to one another.  We still say we do that.  But we’ve made it too easy on ourselves-we let online definitions of ‘love’ and Hollywood superficiality define what the church should be defining for the culture.  How many people in your church can biblically define the love Jesus commanded?  If so, can they point to its substance in their life?

Would you agree that part of the reason the ‘world’ doesn’t trust the Church is because there’s no integrity in the love they espouse?   (And yes this probably includes your church, don’t deceive yourself…I talk to too many people and read too many blogs of those who are see right through many of the slick lines.  People know when they are loved.)

I don’t trust people whose words don’t match their actions. The apostle Paul has a habit in his writings of using the phrase, “here is a trustworthy saying…”  He then goes on to describe the actions of the subject of his writing.   (Usually the subject is Jesus, but one time it is the elders of the church.)

It matters that people trust us. The responsibility of being a trustworthy person falls on you…on me.  We need to be done with our talk (especially our double speak) and we need to start connecting the dots of our beliefs with our everyday, hiding spot free, and loophole absent actions.

Where will you begin?  With whom?

Are You Excelling?

I’ve been thinking a lot about love. 

Thinking about how it is something so readily spoken of, but so rarely expressed. 

Why is that we–who have been loved so lavishly by God–are so frequently stingy or insincere in our love for one another?  Does that strike anyone else as an outrageous incongruence? 

I get that there are some people who are just prickly.  They’re hard.  They’re hard to love.  We all know someone who pushes the envelope of our tolerance. 

However, what concerns me is that love for others is becoming such a rare commodity.  I mean the kind of love that really treasures, values, and esteems others.  We don’t seem to have any problem loving ourselves.  Maybe this is why I’ve been jarred awake by the lack of love expressed in our communities of faith–the Scriptures tell us that in the last days people will be lovers of self (2 Timothy 3:2). 

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.  ~1 Peter 1:22

Our lack of love is not a knowledge issue.  We know love is prerequiste of true discipleship (John 13:34-35).  No.  This is a practicum deficiency.  Love isn’t love if it’s only in word–it’s in becoming deed, or action, that it qualifies itself as truly love. 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God,  but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  ~1 John 4:7-11

Do you note the action verbs?  He didn’t just think about it or consider it or wave a happy wish.  He acted…bodly; outrageoulsy.  He risked it all to demonstrate His love.

I think this is where we get hung up.  We’re afraid to risk; risk rejection, misunderstanding, or maybe even vulnerability.  But that’s self-love.  When we choose safety for ourselves over the risk of reaching out to others we miss the whole message of the cross.  There was nothing safe about the cross.  It was a total commitment for the sake of another.

To whom can you say you are totally committed for their sake?  Where are you taking risks?  Where are your risking vulnerability to image God in His love for others?  Really?  Stop and ask yourself the question…and don’t be satisfied with your safe answers.  The Biblical authors were not soft about the love that was to be experienced in the Christ community.  Note how many times they exhort us to love and then follow it up with an urging to love even more deeply.  Doesn’t God know how quick we will be to justify and reward our half-hearted attempts? 

I’m preaching mostly to myself.  I find myself wanting to check-out on love more than I can humbly admit.  But if I don’t preach to you and you don’t preach to me, won’t we just keep growing colder in our apathy to one another?  We must expect more from ourselves!  I think about my 65 pound basset hound as the picture of what love should be like.  When Percy Basset loves you, you know it.  He smothers you with his enjoyment of being with you; slobber, howls, and all.  You never have to doubt if he really means it–there’s no denying he digs you.  Shouldn’t we all be so free with our love?

Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed, you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in Macedonia.  But we urge you, brethren to excel still more.  ~1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

Excel still more.  It’s never done.   There’s no box to check.  As long as you are breathing, be excelling at love!

The God of Your Assurance

I spoke today at a women’s retreat.   [Now if you know me, go ahead and pick up your chin off the floor.  Yes, I know I don’t usually attend women’s retreats, let alone speak at them.  God changes things and people.  Get over it.]

Women’s retreats are interesting places for reflection, which is good if your life is in need of some time and space to examine the things you might otherwise overlook.  But…if you’re asked to speak, then you feel just the tiniest bit of pressure to be an agent to help provoke some of that reflection.  So I went in thought up, studied up, and prayed up.  I went ready.

Or so I thought…

When you’re the last speaker of a retreat you second guess everything.  I. mean. everything.  By yesterday afternoon I had rewritten everything.  By nightfall, I was once again ready.

But today came and as I sat, waiting for my turn, fear and uncertainty rolled into my heart like a freight train.  It was all wrong.  All of it.  Somehow I had heard wrongly in all my preparation and it was too late to do anything about it.  All that could be done was to pray…and pray…and pray. 

It was in this moment that I looked up and saw what the worship artist in front of me had been painting–a child bowing on their knees. 

You have to understand that Carole, a precious woman who paints & sketches during worship, prays diligently about what she should paint.  I had no conversation with her about my topic.  She wasn’t provided a cheat sheet.  She showed up and sketched only what she believed the Lord had a placed upon her heart and it captured my topic perfectly.  Unbeknownst to her the very thing I was doubting was the point in my outline that said, “Where are you standing your ground with God where He is asking you to bow?” 

The moment my heart saw it, it was captured by the goodness of God’s provision for the topic in my hand.  Doubt fled. Conviction rose to the  occasion.   I was subdued by the knowledge that God had been leading me. and leading others, so that He might be greatly glorified in our hearts and minds. 

I spoke with Carole afterwards and thanked her for being so faithful to seek the Lord about her art.  Her response, “I felt so weird about this picture because I had no idea what a bowing child had to do with theme of the retreat, but the minute I heard you speak about bowing I knew.”  We both entered with doubts.  We both left with a confirmation that indeed God is in our midst!

Why do I share this with you?  There are times in each of our lives that we are desperate to know that we are hearing the voice of the Lord in our lives.  We are so apt to let the buzz of doubt, confusion, and other people’s opinion drown out the conviction that can only be found in that which the Lord proclaims to a trembling heart.  I don’t know what you might be going through, but if you are doubting or searching, know that God sees you and it is His heart’s desire to confirm His wise plans and purposes to you and through you.  Self-confidence isn’t enough.  The affirmation of friends will only get you to the mic.  But God.  Oh, how many times we read that in the Scriptures!  But God,  He can make the trembling heart steady into the perfection of His plans.   Look for His hand.  Rest in the assurance that He will not forsake you in your seeking of Him.

Thankfulness: Imperfections & the People Who Give us Grace

Today was not a perfect day.

Neither was the day before that.  I’ve yet to live a perfect day.

I keep finding myself in what is called ‘today’–and so imperfection inevitably chases at the heels of every attempt to do things right.

I hate my imperfections–and if I had a wand to wave them away, I would–but, I am thankful for them.

I know it’s a weird thing for which to be thankful. Yet when you live in a constant state of never-quite-right, you discover the people who love you for who you really are…and not just for what you do. I am so thankful for those who laugh along with my randomness.  I’m thankful for those who let joy fill up the spaces where my intensity has made a crack.  For their patience with my mistakes, forgetfulness (Family, sorry I lost the Christmas names…again.), and clumsiness. I am thankful for those who remind me that grace is way of seeing past the moment of failure into the future of growth and restoration.

I’m grateful for those who love my less-than-best self.

Last night I heard an interview on Sunday Night Football with Tony Dungy about his relationship with Michael Vick.  He was asked why he got involved with Vick in the midst of his criminal failures.  Dungy replied, “It’s what I do.  It’s who I am.” It really struck me that Dungy understands the impact of there being one person in your life who stands by you…no matter what.  We all need that one person.  We all need to become that one person!

Do you find that you discover who your real friends are by how they treat you in your messing-up mode?  Have you stopped to tell them how thankful you are for their grace?  Have you paused to give thanks that you have people in your life who love you because they see your best potential even when you’re stumbling all over yourself?

The Congregation of Thanks

“My feet stand on level ground;
in the great congregation I will praise the LORD”  Psalm 26:12.

 

Willie Gills at Church by Norman Rockwell

I am giving thanks for my church family today.We are not a perfect lot (because I, for one, contribute to the whole), yet we are a special ‘lot.’   God intended that we would belong to something bigger than ourselves. There is safety; there is strength…there is love.  This love is not a Hallmark card variety, but an active, participation in sharing a treasure together.  The Church’s treasure is Jesus! To share with others in His work and wonders colors outside the lines of individuality and creates a masterpiece of His beauty, truth and goodness.

When I think about my church family, I am thankful for:

1. 5th Graders.  My husband and I teach them every Sunday and I have never seen a more hungry group of children.  Hungry for donuts, but not satisfied until we’ve dug deeply into the feast of God’s Word. They will ask me the toughest questions about the Lord that I will get all week.  Watch out!  The next generation are thinkers...I believe they are going to shake up the church and quite possibly spill out into the unreached places for Jesus sake.

2. Co-Workers.  I work alongside some of the most beautiful (inside and out) women!  They are dedicated to their ministry.  They get that ministry is not only what you do, it’s how you do it…and they do it beautifully.

3. The Representatives of the Generations.  I love the diversity of age present in my church. I often sit in the back, because from there I can see the now sloping shoulders of the woman who has walked with Jesus for 50 years as she stands alongside the broad expanse of the high school boy experiencing worship like it is his first Messy Sundae.  It moves me to tears every week to see with my own eyes the mysterious way in which Jesus can draw all shapes, sizes and ages with His love and then put them all together and make them fit. Amazing!

4. Voices.  We are not a shy group about declaring our wonder in Jesus.  We sing loud songs of praise.  We declare boldly the truth of His Word and esteem its Giver.  Our gathering is one frenetic with testimony–in the sanctuary, in the halls, and around the coffee carafes.  If you are struggling with doubts, one weekend with my church family will remind you God is still at work and His voice is still speaking in the hearts of men and women!

5. Servants.  So many serve week in and week out.  Many at great sacrifice, but all with incredible enthusiasm.  Special is the church where service is treated as a privilege rather than an obligation.

This is the way the Lord intended it to be: One body, joined together by Him as a testimony of His love, power, and grace. Enjoy His gift today and give thanks that He had you in mind when He prayed,

I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message.  May they all be one, as You, Father, are in My and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.  I have given them the glory You have given Me.  May they be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me.  May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.  Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am.  Then they will see My glory, which You have given Me because You loved Me before the world’s foundation.  Righteous Father!  The world has not known You.  However, I have known You, and these have known that You sent Me.  I made Your name known to them and will make it known, so the love You have loved Me with may be in them and I may be in them”  John 17:20-26.

Amen.  May it be so.

Who’s in Your “Thanksgiving” Network?

 

Thanksgiving by Norman Rockwell

 

Today I am thankful I am not alone to figure out all my stuff.  It’s a great lie we believe that no one understands our predicaments, so we’ll have to be our own superhero.  In God’s economy, community is the shared place for us to declare wise sayings and tell of the mysteries of old…and unravel new ones.

I will declare wise sayings; I will speak mysteries from the past–things we have heard and known and that our fathers have passed down to us.  We must not hide them from our children, but must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord…so that a future generation–children yet to be born–might know.  They were to rise and tell their children so that they might put their confidence in God and not forget God’s works, but keep His commands”  Psalm 78:2-4, 6-7

What a relief that God gives us permission to be a child in our faith!  Not childish, but child-like where we can dress up in the faith of our fathers and enter their thoughts about God.  Where we can humbly admit we need help with mysteries that feel like shoe-laces uncooperatively looping in the hands of a five-year old.  Where we can sit, clinging to the cadence of their stories and discoveries while our heart stores up courage to let God write us into His story.

Today I am thankful for the “storytellers” God has placed in my life this last week–some I know personally, others only through the ink of their pens.  Yet each, in some way, have spread out the horizon of my faith.

1. I am thankful for Ellen Charry.  Her book, By the Renewing of Your Minds (1997, Oxford), may possibly be the most important book I’ve read to date.  Her wisdom in a nutshell,

Reclaiming the beauty of life with God for the people of God will require attending to the practice of life with God.  What is called for is not only expanding our grasp of what doctrine does but also attending to how Christians can best utilize it.  Whatever the intellectual adjustments that must be made in order to do so, the reclamations of the pastoral functions of doctrine will fail unless theology is reconnected to devotional life.  For theology is not just an intellectual art; it cultivates the skill of living well.

2. I am thankful for Klyne Snodgrass (Stories With Intent, 2008, Eerdmans) and the insight he provided me on the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35).  I’m thinking differently about the grace I have received and the grace I am to give to others.

This text is a clear example of the tension between two or more truth that are always present in Christian theology.  The community cannot tolerate sin without confrontation and reproof, but must always love and forgive without limits.  Deciding what should be done is always a matter of wisdom.  Sin has disastrous and eternal consequences, confrontation and discipline are necessary, and excommunication from the community is a real possibility.  At the same time, God searches out those who stray and wills that none be lost, and the community can lay no bounds to its forgiveness or forget that its forgiveness is modeled on God’s forgiveness of its members’ own much larger debt.  The biblical and Jewish traditions do not feel the tension we feel between reproof and love.  Rebuke of the neighbor and love of the neighbor stand together in Lev. 19:17 and T.Gad 6.3-4.  By framing Jesus’ teaching as he has, Matthew has insisted that the community address seriously issues of disobedience and sin, if possible in discrete ways, even if that leads to starting all over with those it rebukes, treating them as outsiders.  At the same time Matthew has insisted that humility and forgiveness dominate the efforts.

The parable prevents any presuming on grace.  The church has often presented a grace that did not have to be taken seriously, but biblical grace is transforming grace.  When  you get the gift, you get the Giver, who will not let you get your way.”

3. I am thankful for Dennis Okholm.  He is my professor of theology at Fuller Theological.  (Which typing this reminds me I have homework to do.  Yikes!)  I am learning so much in his class.  Yes, I am learning a lot about doctrine, but more so, I am learning how to converse eloquently on the things of God in the context of a diverse community.  He always listens patiently and responds diplomatically.   His diplomacy never marginalizes the one whom he addresses, never short-changes truth, and always leaves the whole better for the exchange. His words are seasoned by grace and therefore, I’d like to say this is a practical theology class.  My favorite quote of his this week:

The Church is to be a visible testimony & expression of the invisible reality & ministry of the Trinity.”

4. I am thankful my husband is a hope-filled man.  I would have been sidelined so many times in my life if it weren’t for his persistency to keep putting one foot in front of the other...and requiring me to do the same.

I don’t see how this will get better, but I have to hold onto hope that God has a way of making it right.”

5.  I am thankful for my hairdresser, Stephanie.  We all need a person in our life who’s sole purpose is to make you look better. So today, Stephanie will do what she does, and I will be thankful she is in my network.  By chance, I might also find a manicurist to make me look even better!

My list could go on and on–I have parents, and siblings, and children, and friends, and co-workers, and church family who all contribute to my life in significant ways.  What a gift it is to have too many to list!

Who are you thankful for?  Tell them!

The true me…and you

Are you ever given to over-thinking things?  I am.

Like Huckleberry Hound, I get my nose on a scent and I will exhaust myself in the search for crime and compromise.  The obvious problem is that my sleuthing usually only leads to vain imaginations.

Once the image is in place, I become victim to the tyranny of the monster my mind has created.

Ephesians 1:4 says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”  My soul delights in knowing that when God looks upon me, He sees the true me.  The me hidden in Christ who is holy and blameless.  God sees me through His eyes of love and grace.  He sees me as my best me…the me He knows I’ll one day be when He has completed the work He has authored and is perfecting in Christ.

Conversely, when I look upon an adversary or someone who has hurt me, I see them through my eyes of conviction and contempt.  I see them as their worst self.

Today the Lord prompted me to read this verse differently.  “For he chose my adversary in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”  God sees my adversary in the best light.  In the completed form, in Christ–He see them as holy.

Like a bird set free from a cage, my heart is released.  What a beautiful new creation is my brother…my sister!

How would your heart and habits extended to your brothers & sisters in Christ change if you saw them as God does?  How do you treat the holy things?  What value and special regard do you attribute to them?

I think about the instructions God gave to the Israelites for the care of the holy temple items–what if we treated each other like that?  Approaching them purely, shining them up to glisten for God’s glory, guarding their safe-keeping, and grieving over anything that attempts to taint their worth.  What if?

We would see Christ in each other, our hearts would be less judgmental, grace would be so thick you could grab hold of it, and the lost might just begin to believe the gospel has a power their life is missing.

More so, our hearts would be more greatly God-oriented.  Eugene Peterson (Practice Resurrection) refers to Paul calling the Ephesian church ‘holy’ in this way, “Holy does not refer to them as they are in themselves; it refers to who they are in God.  Paul is not particularly interested in them psychologically.  Their moral behavior doesn’t top the list of what makes them who they are.  It is God’s intent for them and God’s action for and in them that defines them.  It is not what they think of themselves, or how well they are doing in life, how good they are that defines them.  God is definitive for who they are!”  (p. 79-80)

Maybe we spend so much time sniffing out the behavior of our brothers & sisters because we have such a small glimpse of the greatness of God’s love manifested in Jesus for us…and for the difficult ‘others’ in our lives.

But that’s for this Huckleberry Hound’s next investigation.