O, the tongue ...

James writes, “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2)

Jesus says, “… for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

I have been pondering these passages of Scripture in light of a couple verbal interchanges I experienced over the last week or so.

Let me explain:

I have been teaching on Sunday mornings at Orchard Hill Church for 15 years. Because of recent retirement and staff changes, I am now one of the senior teachers at our church. I suppose you could even call me a teaching pastor. And don’t forget, I happen to be a woman.

Despite this seniority, I still find people (mainly men) who speak to me in ways that are not meant to be demeaning, but that, in actuality, are demeaning.

One man, on a Sunday morning before I was to teach, approached me and said, “I’ll be in there evaluating you this morning!”

Another man approached me during the week and said - (and I fully believe he hoped this would be complimentary) - “I told our senior leader after your last few teachings …. ‘I think we should keep her!’”

Now listen, I am a joker. I love a little light banter; am unoffended by casual sarcasm. I don’t consider myself overly sensitive. I don't walk around demanding respect or privilege in any way.

But I wonder about these kinds of comments.

I wonder what is underneath them.

I wonder about my own words to others. How careful am I with what I say? Do I ever use my words – intentionally or unintentionally – to “keep people in their place” or to demonstrate power?

And I wonder, in the church, when I feel diminished by words from a brother or a sister, what would be an appropriate response?

Silence ...

I went out to lunch with my parents yesterday, which is always a treat.

My parents are almost 80 years old. My dad still works full-time as the senior partner in his law firm. My mom works for my dad most afternoons. They go out to lunch together almost every day. Occasionally, I get invited along.

We had great conversation. They are some of the only people besides my husband who love hearing about my kids … in detail!

However, during one part of our conversation, I noticed I was not listening well to my mom. She (a nurse) was trying to explain something medical to me, and I kept talking over her, explaining to her that I already knew what she was trying to tell me.

Yuk.

Why did I do that?

Why do I often do that?

I use my words to try to control people. To try to explain to them how much I know. To try to correct them; fix them, even.

I want to be a better listener. Do you?

First, then, we must start with silence.

“Silence frees us from the need to control others … A frantic stream of words flows from us in attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way. We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people. We devour people with our words. Silence is one of the deepest disciplines of the Spirit because it puts the stopper on that.” (Richard Foster)

Oh silence, will you be my friend?

The discipline of being sick ...

I am a terrible sick person.

I rail against being sick. I hate it. I fight it. I try to doctor myself. I can’t rest well. I try to stay productive even though my head is pounding like a freight train.

And this tells me something about myself:

I have a hard time being human, being vulnerable, being weak.

And this tells me even more about myself:

I have a hard time surrendering to the truth of the moment; I want to create my own reality.

I have a hard time letting God be God; I want to run the show.

I have a hard time giving up control, dropping the reins, saying to God, “Thy will be done …”

And so today, on my second full sick day, I am going to practice “the discipline of being sick.”

It is a new spiritual discipline I just made up.

And it looks like me being kind to my very human and frail body. It looks like surrendering to the sick day rather than fighting it. It looks like resting, rather than railing against my need for rest. It looks like finding joy in the space and time away from productivity rather than struggling to be productive in the pain.

It looks like trusting that God can take care of the universe very well on His own, thank you very much, without my teeny-tiny bit of assistance.

It looks like giving in to the fact that I am human after all.

In the end, it looks very much like actually trusting God.

Meanness ...

I wrote yesterday about the power of kindness.

Today, I want to write about the power of meanness.

While roaming the halls of the hospital where my son was recovering, I overheard a patient spouting the most mean-spirited, vile opinions about immigrants to a custodian who was cleaning his room. I believe the custodian was of Hispanic origin.

Later, as Will and I chatted with a young nurse in charge of the floor, she let us know that this same patient had yelled and screamed at her for 15 minutes that same day.

Two days later, I heard him yelling at the woman who brought him his food, telling her how terrible the food was and letting her know not to bring him his dinner; he was going to get his food elsewhere.

Now, I don’t know this patient’s situation. I don’t know his history. I don’t know anything about his story.

But this I do know: it seems as if our nation has become meaner.

Our radio hosts are mean.

Many of our news channels and reporters are mean.

For Lord’s sake, the political ads over the last few months were much meaner than they were factual or helpful.

People at church can sometimes be really, really mean.

It seems as if even Christians have decided that if we believe we are right about something – something cultural, or theological or political – then we have every right to be mean about it.

When we behave this way, Dallas Willard calls us  “righteously mean Christians.”

Ugh.

In the same measure that kindness is beautiful, meanness is ugly.

Just a few words from Philippians 2:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

Shine, my friends … shine!

I saw it ...

Two years ago we went to South Africa to visit my daughter who was studying at the University of Cape Town.

The natural beauty was jaw-dropping.

The culture was rich and fascinating.

The food was drool-worthy.

But the spirit of the place was something I had never felt before.

There was a vague sense of dread in the air. Everything felt a tad unsafe. Unsettled. Unmoored. Festering.

The bed and breakfast at which we stayed had multiple locked, gated entries.

Razor wire was everywhere.

We had to buzz in to a really nice restaurant … the neighborhood was too dangerous to have an unlocked entrance.

My daughter’s home had a security guard. If she was at the library late at night, she always called a car to drive her home.

On a wine tour just outside a township, we got stuck in a traffic jam and armed guards showed up on the edges of the highway, protecting us from possible car-jacking.

This was South Africa 20 years after the horror of apartheid.

“The sins of the fathers …” is what I kept thinking of.

To see black and brown people living in shanty towns that spread as far as the eye could see, while white people lived in relative luxury … well, it was just shocking.

But it should be no more shocking to me than living here. I guess sometimes you have to travel to begin to see your own situation with new eyes.

I read these statistics this week and they brought me to my knees for my brothers and sisters in this country:

“The US incarcerates a higher proportion of blacks than apartheid South Africa did.”

“In America, the black-white wealth gap today is greater than it was in South Africa in 1970 at the peak of apartheid.”

It was Christians who brought apartheid to South Africa. They thought God condoned it; even mandated it.

As a Christian in America today, I wonder what role I might be playing in the pain and suffering of my neighbors.

Of all the questions I might ask myself these days, this might be one of the most important.

Drunk on grace ...

Grace, my friends … grace!

Robert Capon writes:

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism

 … a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof GRACE –

 bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture,

 one sip of which could convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.

 The word of the Gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps –

 suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that

 the saved were home before they started.”

Oh, isn’t that good news, my friends?

Will you live in that truth today?

It is not up to you or to me … thank you, Jesus!

Free to love ...

The greatest commands are to love God and love others.

This is Bible 101.

Yet, we fail at this over and over; especially the second one.

I should say, I fail at this over and over...

Sometimes we think we just need to try harder and get more serious in order to do this.

I wonder if instead, we need to drink in more of God's grace for ourselves in order to be a better lover of neighbor.

Listen to this:

"God reminds us again and again that things between he and us are forever fixed.

They are the rendezvous points where God declares to us concretely that the debt has been paid, the ledger put away, and that everything we need, in Christ we already possess.

This re-convincing produces humility, because we realize that our needs are fulfilled.

We don't have to worry about ourselves anymore.

This in turn frees us to stop looking out for what we think we need and liberates us to love our neighbor by looking out for what they need."

(Tullian Tchividjian)

The more fully we allow ourselves to sink into the unearned Good News of God's grace for us, the more we will be able to live into his command to love our  neighbors as we love ourselves.

Isn't that cool how those two things are inextricably linked?

What really separates ...

What really separates us from God?

Is it sin, or something else?

I  have been pondering this question lately.

Listen to this:

"Our misdeeds are not  the real root of the problem. They are just what the tradition called actual sins.

There is a much more serious problem, what the tradition called original sin.

It is much more subtle and inevitably hidden from us.

The relationship is broken by the presumption of our ethical behavior, our morality, our good deeds, our insistence on doing it ourselves.

The relation is broken because these too turn us quite simply against grace...

The Almighty God desires simply to be known as the giver of the gift of absolute grace.

To this we say "No."

We say, rather, that we intend to make it on our own, that grace is 'too cheap.' 

Then the relationship is destroyed just as surely as it was by our immorality."

(Gerhard Forde - A More Radical Gospel)

Have you ever pondered the thought that it is your own self-created "goodness" that keeps you from God?

Exactly the opposite ...

So, I am reading a book called "One-Way Love" by Tullian Tchividjian, who happens to be Billy Graham's grandson.

It is a powerful book on grace.

This morning I read about how Tullian was kicked out of his home by his parents when he was 16.

To say he was a bit of a rebel is an understatement.

But he tells a story about how he used to wear earrings, and how it drove his parents crazy.

People then ask him, "Well, how did your grandparents respond? How did Billy and Ruth Graham treat you during your rebellious phase?"

This is what Tullian writes:

"They treated me exactly the opposite of how I deserved to be treated. 

For example, I wore earrings back in those days... It used to drive my parents nuts.

Every time my grandmother - Ruth Graham - came down to visit, she would bring me a fresh set of earrings to wear!

They were always funny.

At Christmastime, she would bring me ornament earrings and make me put them in and take a picture.

At Thanksgiving, she brought fork and knife earrings, and she took a picture.

She made light of it. 

She wasn't making fun of me.

She was saying, 'This isn't a big deal He's going to grow out of it.'

It may sound pretty trivial, but it meant the world to me.

Everyone else was on my case, and instead of giving me one more thing to rebel against, my grandparents drew me closer."

Beautiful...

How did Billy and Ruth Graham treat their rebellious grandson?

Exactly the opposite of how he deserved to be treated.

Meaning, they treated him like God treats all of us.

Love your enemies ...

In two classes I am leading, we are talking about forgiving those who have wronged us,  loving our enemies, and wishing good for those who curse us.

What hard stuff!

But I love how practical we are urged to be: Simply start praying for those who feel like competitors, for those whose success somehow threatens your well-being. And even if you don't "feel" the words of your prayer, just keep saying them. Pray for good to enter that person's life in powerful ways. Pray for their success. Pray for their well-being.

Can you imagine how your life might turn if you actually started to do this?

For real?

The next time you feel threatened or "cursed" in any way, consider immediately asking God for the well-being of that person, rather than phoning a friend and starting in on all the reasons you have to feel resentment.

For as Jesus said, "even the pagans love those who love them! That is no big deal. What I am asking is that my followers become like my Father, and love even those who hate them."

For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us...

 

Hatred over pain?

I read this today and wondered if this is one of the reasons so many of us have such a hard time forgiving those who have hurt us...

Do we believe that hatred is easier to deal with than pain?

"Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the one who hated, and this was an immutable law…

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

(James Baldwin, 1924 – 1987)



           
                                                                                       

 

The Gospel liberates ...

Doing some great reading on GRACE for my Easter teaching... and stumbled upon this beautiful statement.

See if it doesn't lift your spirits today:

"The gospel liberates us to be okay with not being okay. We know we're not - though we try very hard to convince other people we are. But the gospel tells us, "Relax, it is finished"

Because of the gospel, we have nothing to prove or protect.

We can stop pretending.

The gospel frees us from trying to impress people, to prove ourselves to people, to make people think we're something that we're not.

The gospel frees us from what one writer calls "the law of capability" - the law, he says, "that judges us wanting if we are not capable, if we cannot handle it all, if we are not competent to balance our diverse commitments without a slip."

The gospel grants us the strength to admit we're weak and needy and restless - knowing that Christ's finished work has proven to be all the strength and fulfillment and peace we could ever want, and more.

The gospel frees us from the urge to self-gain, to push ourselves forward for our own purposes and agenda and self-esteem.

When you understand that your significance and identity and purpose and direction are all anchored in Christ, you don't have to win - you're free to lose.

And nothing in this broken world can beat a person who isn't afraid to lose!

You'll be free to say crazy, risky, counterintuitive stuff like, "To live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21)! That's pure, unadulterated freedom.

Since Jesus is our strength, our weaknesses don't threaten our sense of worth and value.

Now we're free to admit our wrongs and weaknesses without feeling as if our flesh is being ripped off our bones."

(Tullian Tchividjian)

Now, take a deep breath... and live your day free and forgiven! It is finished. It is not up to you. Thank God!

Come to him poor and helpless ...

"If we know how great is the love of Jesus for us we will never be afraid to go to Him in all our poverty,

all our weakness,

all our spiritual wretchedness, and infirmity.

Indeed, when we understand the true nature of his love for us,

we will prefer to come to Him poor and helpless.

We will never be ashamed of our distress.

Distress is to our advantage when we have nothing to seek but mercy.

We can be glad of our helplessness when we really believe that His power is made perfect

in our infirmity.

The surest sign that we have received a spiritual understanding of God's love for us

is the appreciation of our own poverty in light of

His infinite mercy."

(Thomas Merton)

This is how the Kingdom works, my friends...

Our fatal love affair ...

I am reading Robert Capon's strange and beautiful book called "Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace." Like I said it is strange and beautiful. It is not for the faint of heart.

Capon is an Episcopal priest. He says this is his most important piece of writing ever.

Just a tiny sample from his opening chapter:

"I said grace cannot prevail until law is dead, until moralizing is out of the game.

The precise phrase should be, until our fatal love affair with the law is over -

until, finally and for good, our lifelong certainty that someone is keeping score 

has run out of steam and collapsed."

I cannot tell you how many conversations I have with folks from my church

who still believe, as they have always believed, as they have been taught to believe...

that "Someone is keeping score,"

that the "Someone" who is keeping score is God,

and that they are dreadfully, woefully, coming up short.

How can the church help our people get over their "fatal love affair with the law?"

How can I get over my own "fatal love affair with the law?"

A person loved in weakness ...

I have been reading a little devotional called "It is Finished:365 Days of Good News" by Tullian Tchividjian.

Here's why:

"How does change actually happen?

When it comes to real heart change, we have two options: law or grace.

That's it.

Two.

At the end of the day, we either believe law changes or love does...

Paul makes it clear in Romans 7 that the law endorses the need for change

but is powerless to enact change - that's not part of its job description.

The law points to righteousness but can't produce it.

It shows us what godliness is but cannot make us godly.

The law can inform us of our sin but cannot transform the sinner.

The law can instruct, but only grace can inspire.

To put it another way, love inspires what the law demands.

... a person loved in weakness blossoms."

I will always be tempted to try to change by applying the law to myself.

Instead, what I need, what you need, what we all need, is a huge, daily dose of grace.

Tchividjian dishes it up, one day at a time.

Feast on your life ...

I believe one of the biggest hindrances in life is self-hatred.

So much time wasted berating ourselves for being human, fallen, fallible, flawed...

As if we're the only ones...

Maybe it is my age,

or perhaps I am just done picking on myself,

but I am finding peace with who I am these days.

And it is so nice...

Reminds me of this little essay I keep tucked in my planner:

"The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door,

in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other's welcome.

And say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was yourself.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to yourself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life,

who you ignored for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life."

(Derek Walcott)

If you haven't yet made peace with yourself,

I urge you to do so.

See yourself as God sees you...

fatally flawed,

but fully forgiven,

and so deeply loved.

You are so deeply loved...

Honor your parents ...

This weekend, my brother and sister came home with their kids. My brother stayed with my folks - 4 kids, 2 dogs. My sister stayed with Chuck and me... no dogs, 1 amazing Liza-child.

Fun, busy, full, chaotic... all words to describe the few days we had together.

But last night, as Chuck and I helped my folks clean up their home after the fun, what struck me was how tired my folks looked. 

So darn tired.

But my dad said, "We always want our kids to come home. We always want them to have fun. And we will do whatever it takes for as long as we can to make that happen."

I love my folks so much.

But at this moment, I just really loved their fierce love for their family.

And their fierce willingness to pay whatever price they need to pay in order to have all their children come home.

Even if that price is their own bone-deep exhaustion.

Reminded me of this beautiful bit of writing from my favorite Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner...

"Honor your father and your mother," says the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:12).

Honor them for having taken care of you before you were old enough to take care of yourself.

Honor them for the sacrifices they made on your behalf, including the ones you would have kept them from making if you'd had the chance.

Honor them for having loved you.

But how do you honor them when, well-intentioned as they may have been, they made terrible mistakes with you that have shadowed your life ever since?

How do you honor them when, far from loving you or taking care of you, they literally or otherwise abandoned you?

How do you honor them when physically or sexually or emotionally they abused you?

The answer seems to be that you are to honor them even so.

Honor them for the pain that made them what they were and kept them from being what they might otherwise have become.

Honor them because there were times when, even at their worst, they were doing the best they knew how to do.

Honor them for the roles they were appointed to play—father and mother—because even when they played them abominably or didn't play them at all, the roles themselves are holy the way priesthood is holy even when the priest is a scoundrel.

Honor them because, however unthinkingly or irresponsibly, they gave you your life.

(Frederick Buechner)

(Note - my parents were awesome. They did none of the above awful things, only the good ones... Just felt I should clarify)

 

Another person's good words ...

I know that praying "from the heart" is good.

But I also know that praying another person's good words is also good; very good...

especially when we don't have words.

I love this prayer:

Gracious God,

our sins are too heavy to carry,

too real to hide,

and too deep to undo.

Forgive what our lips tremble to name,

what our hearts can no longer bear,

and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment,

Set us free from a past we cannot change;

open to us a future in which we can be changed;

and grant us grace to grow more and more

in your likeness and image,

through Jesus Christ,

the light of the world.

Amen.

God is in every person's life ...

I know many friends who live in much angst

over someone they love

who seems to be making a complete

disaster of their lives.

This is a little gift for you

from Pope Francis:

"God is in every person’s life...

Even if the life of a person has been a disaster,

even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs, or anything else – God is in this person’s life.

You can – you must – try to seek God in every human life.

Though someone’s life be a land full of thorns and weeds,

there is always a space in which the good seed can grow.

You have to trust God."

(Source: Interview with Antonio Spadaro, SJ, September 2013)

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