Faithful or Fusspot

Is there anyone in the Bible to whom you relate? Are you like Mary  of Mary & Martha and just can’t wait to sit at Jesus feet?  Or maybe you are more of a Martha, always busy and wanting everyone else to be busy too?  Are you an evangelist like Peter or Paul? What about a leader like Moses or Joshua?  There are lots of people to use as a yardstick for our Spiritual lives.  Throughout life, circumstances and/or decisions may change your view of yourself.

I often have used King David as an example.  He was “a man after God’s own heart” and he did some very questionable things.  His faithfulness was never in doubt, even when his human desires stepped in to take over the situation.  But lately, another well know name from the Bible has come to mind more and more:  Jonah.

Jonah was a Hebrew prophet that God told to go to Nineveh and preach for their repentance.  Jonah didn’t like the people of Nineveh.  He didn’t think they deserved forgiveness.  So he did what every faithful follower does when faced with a distasteful assignment:  he ran the opposite direction.  We are all familiar with the story of Jonah and the Whale.  A big storm, Jonah thrown into the sea, a whale swallows him, after 3 days Jonah is vomited onto the shore. God once again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh.  At this point, Jonah decides to follow God’s instruction.

“This time Jonah started off straight for Nineveh, obeying God’s orders to the letter.  Nineveh was a big city, very big—it took three days to walk across it.   Jonah entered the city, went one day’s walk and preached, “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.”

The people of Nineveh listened, and trusted God. They proclaimed a citywide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone did it—rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.”  Jonah 3:3-5  MSG

Jonah was successful.  The people heard what he had to say and repented.   And God forgave the people of Nineveh.   This was a reason to celebrate!  But, not for Jonah!

Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of  forgiveness!  So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”  Jonah 4:1-4  MSG

Jonah was not at all happy.  He did not like it one bit.  He fussed and complained because God had given these horrible people another chance.  He went out of the city and sat and pouted and sulked.  We never find out if Jonah reconciled himself with God’s forgiveness.

If I’m completely honest,  Jonah’s reaction is very familiar.  I know there have been times that I just wanted to tell God what to do and how to do it.  In fact, I have done just that on several occasions.  I’m pretty sure I know who should be punished and who should be forgiven.  I’m pretty sure I know how things should be done.  And I’m more that willing to fill God in on the appropriate processes, especially when it comes to my worship services at my church.

  1.  There are people who just don’t deserve forgiveness.  I have a hard time letting go of the past.  There are some people who have caused pain to my family that I do NOT like.  I’ve been very eager to point out how they did not deserve God’s forgiveness.  Fortunately, God didn’t consider whether or not I deserved His Grace.  He just forgave me.
  2. What’s wrong with the way “we’ve always done it”?  I claim that I don’t like changes.  But, I’m always ready for the next computer or cell phone or other technology that is out there.  So, why can’t I be as open about changes in the way God leads in my church or my worship?
  3. The kids aren’t being taught respect.  Just look how they dress in church. When I was a child, I had school clothes, play clothes and Sunday clothes.  I had dresses that were only worn on Sundays that were a bit fancier than my other clothes.  Through the years, the way we dress has changed for work, for school and for church.  Business casual is the norm at work.  T-Shirts and jeans are acceptable nearly every where else.  Dressing up is not the norm.  I did require my daughter to wear a “girl” top and my son to wear a collared shirt on Sunday’s.  The more relaxed clothing expectations has made it more comfortable for some to attend church.  I still object to short-shorts or work-out clothes at church, but I can only control my own reactions.
  4. I hate the music used in church worship.  It’s too old-fashioned (or modern).   Music has become one of the most divisive areas in our churches.  If you grew up with the hymns and hymnals, the new stuff is “too loud” or “too repetitive” or “not musical”.  If you didn’t grow up with hymns, then they are “old-fashioned” or “have too many word” or “don’t make sense”.  I remember the discussions that arose over changing from the Broadman Hymnal to the Baptist Hymnal and then  later to the New Baptist Hymnal.  There were too many new songs (like “He’s Everything to Me”  or  “Because He Lives”) in this newer version.  I may prefer the “old” hymns over the newer praise music. However, my preferences cannot be the most important ones.  God is in control.  He has a plan.  I need to follow His leadership instead of pouting on the sidelines.  And, I’ve learned to love some of the newer worship songs.  Especially the ones that include a taste of the “old” hymns.
  5. Real worship only occurs in the sanctuary of a church building.  Many of the  churches that are most successful at reaching the community are meeting in schools, strip-centers, etc.  The less “churchy” environment is more inviting some.  My church meets in a movie theater.  We have the most comfortable seats around!
  6. Real worship needs an organ and a piano.  I don’t like guitars & drums.  Some of my dearest memories are of the Mrs. Stapp playing the organ at church.  I’ve played piano in my several churches throughout my life.  Not every church can afford a piano and an organ.  Many churches have no one to play them anyway.  Piano lessons were a given when I was a child: everyone when through lessons and recitals.  That’s not the case any longer.  A well prepared band or even a single guitar player can greatly enhance the worship experience. God used the loaves and fishes to feel the multitude, can’t He also use a guitar to feel your spirit?

I’ve done my share of complaining and pouting.  I understand Jonah a little more that I would like to admit.  I may want to be more like David and be recognized as one after God’s own heart.  But, I know that I am so much like Jonah in wanting things done MY WAY.  Unlike Jonah, I want the end of my story to be clear: I followed God’s leading regardless of my own preferences.

What about you?  Will you known as one of the Faithful or as the Fusspot who grudgingly served God?

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Bonding or Criticizing?

I have two younger siblings, a brother and a sister.  As we were growing up, there were many times that I was irritated by one  of them. I would complain about my brother being the favorite or about my sister wearing her knees socks OVER her knees. It was perfectly acceptable for me to pick on either of them. But, it was NOT okay for anyone else to do the same. We were family and I would protect them both. As adults, it angered me when an in-law would criticize a sibling.  We were Browns  by birth.  Anyone else was an outsider, even if they just happened to be married to a Brown.

Through the years, I’ve watched newly formed family relationships damaged by inappropriate conversations that are critical of another family member.  It’s easy to get on the band wagon and bash whoever is under fire.  But be warned:  anything you say, can and will be repeated and YOU  will be the bad guy in the situation.  You may think you are safe talking about sister-in-law A to sister-in-law B.  You are wrong.  Whatever you say about A will be repeated by B at some point in the future.  When I was a newly wed 20-something, it was common to hear criticism of the other daughter-in-laws at family gatherings. As a result, I was very aware of every word I said. I was never completely at ease. I always wondered what was being said about me when I wasn’t around. On a few occasions, I did know what was said because it was repeated to me by an in-law.

I am constantly amazed to meet people who appear to thrive on  conflict.  I’m never sure if that’s the only attention they feel they deserve or  if it’s the only way they know to control a situation.  I was taught that being truthful made life easier.  It eliminated the need to keep up with multiple story lines.  I guess we all say what we believe the listener wants to hear to some degree.  But, I don’t understand people that tear down a person in one discussion and then get on social media and sing their praises as soon as they leave the room.  It’s not a way to build trust.  It’s not a way to build good family relationships.

A good rule of thumb:  If you wouldn’t say something directly to someone, don’t say it about them to someone else.  I’m aware there are times that we have to discuss intervention in situations, I get that.  But, the daily conversations that tend to move to gossip can be stopped.  It’s not easy.  I find it extremely difficult when I’m irritated or feeling used.  But, I know that I should at least attempt to control my conversations.

“Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy.  We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.”                                  Romans 14:13-14  The Message

It’s Personal

I have been challenged to define love several times over the past few weeks.  There’s lots of information about love out there:

  • “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.”
  • “Love is a many splendored thing!”
  • “Love isn’t love until you give it away.”
  • “Love will find a way.”
  • “You can’t buy love.”
  • “Love is friendship caught fire.”
  • “Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.”
  • “Love makes the world go round.”
  • “Love is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can feel it. “
  • “Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by imagination.

and my personal favorite. . .

  • “Your love completes me!”

The question that comes to my mind over and over is this:  Is love an emotion or is love an action?  When we are discussing love, we are usually talking about the “feelings” that are described as love.  You know those tingly feelings.  It’s all bubbly and exciting.  The world is beautiful as long as you can be around the one that is the object of your love.  We LOVE being IN-LOVE!  Many relationships are based on the feelings of love.  So, what happens when the feelings calm down and reality takes a toll on all the bubbly excitement?  There appear to be 2 choices:

  1. Decide to move on since you have ‘fallen out of love’ and you are no longer happy.
  2. Recognize that love is an action and made the decision to show love to your partner is  every way, regardless of how I feel in the moment.

How many couples have moved-in together because they were just so “in-love” only to see things fall apart since there was no real commitment to stay together?  The fun ends and the exit sign lights up when it becomes too difficult to stick around.

How many marriages fail because at least one of the people involved is “not happy” and decides to look for happiness elsewhere?  We hear “You deserve to be happy” or “You only live once, so be happy!”

Love is not an easy choice.  I love my children.  I love my husband even when he drives me nuts with some of his preferences.  I love my siblings and my parents.   I would give my life for any of them.  That doesn’t mean that I always like them or their decisions.(And just for the record, I can say anything I want about my husband, children, siblings or other family members.  But, you better not criticize or demean any of them or I WILL come after you!)  I choose to love through the hard spots, through the disappointments, through the struggles.  My heart breaks when I see any of the people that I love in pain.  I’m concerned when the choices being made aren’t the best and I offer advise even when it’s not wanted.  I stick it out because I have chosen to make love a verb.

I have friends that get really turned off  and even a little offended when I use the Bible to support my points.  However, there are several verses about love that anyone can put into practice, Christian or not.

‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’

‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’

‘Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.’

One of the best known and most quoted scriptures on love is found in 1 Corinthians 13.  I’ve taken verses 4-7 from the Message and made them very personal by inserting my own name in place of love:

Melissa never gives up.
Melissa cares more for others than for herself.
Melissa doesn’t want what she doesn’t have.
Melissa doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head,
doesn’t force herself on others, isn’t always “me first,”
Melissa doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Melissa puts up with anything, trusts God always,
always looks for the best,
Melissa never looks back, but keeps going to the end.

Are these truth’s about my life?  Not always.  But, these are the ideals I want in my life.  In relationships, we need to make this list personal and to work toward loving others unconditionally.  And that may mean, not complaining about the person that I say I love to someone else.  It means that I forgive and FORGET offenses.  It means that I stop manipulating the people I love and let them grow and love in their own way.   It means I have to be patient and content with my life and stop working to “keep up with the Jones”.  It means that keeping the spotlight on myself isn’t really success.

What’s your definition of love?  Go ahead, define it for yourself.

But, I Want to be Angry!

I am beginning to avoid reading anything from the news to social media these days.  Everywhere I turn, someone is tearing down someone else.  It’s bad enough when it’s people that I do not know, but when life long friends take to social media to bash other life long friends (either openly or passively), I cringe.  I’m not going to weigh in on the “controversy du jour”.  It really doesn’t matter what the issue is or is not.  The reason changes weekly if not daily, but the voices, the criticism, the anger never change.  I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that there are some who are just angry and need to have something or someone on which to focus that anger.

I believe in free speech.  I believe in candor and honesty.  I also believe that a little tact goes a long, long way to promote the unity of opposing sides.  I enjoy a healthy debate.  I think discussions are pivotal to a healthy community and world.  But, mud-slinging and name calling are not be part of it.  Social media does very little to foster productive discussions and usually just fans the flames of both sides.  My opinion may not matter to you, but it does to me.  I have been known to adjust my views when presented with a calm and rational argument.  Continuous bashing and belittling of others’ convictions or opinions (right or wrong) are perceived as anything but calm or rational.  I had a supervisor who mentored me in my younger days to pick my battles carefully.  I learned to take a deep breathe and step away for a bit to collect my thoughts BEFORE I bulldozed through the issue.  I discovered that I usually got much better acceptance and cooperation this way and the outcome was often what I wanted in the beginning.  The path to get there was just a little different.

So, take a breathe.  Calm down.  Anger is debilitating to the bearer and often counter-productive.  As many old grandpappies have said, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Gray is not for Cakes

I have always loved the color PURPLE!  I’m drawn to the color in everything from clothes to décor.  I have my favorite purple sweatshirt with my name on the front.  My dad helped me paint my trombone case purple.  I had a purple furry coat.  I just loved the color.  And, I still do today.

When I was about 10 years old, my parents and younger sister took an October trip to the Ozark Mountains.  My brother and I stayed with my grandparents and my Aunt Ruth, who was just a few years older than me.  My birthday was very near this time, so Ruth and I decided we needed to make a birthday cake.  And of course, I wanted a purple cake.  We did not have access to the myriad of food coloring products that are available today.  We had the box of 4 basic food colors from the grocery store: red, green, yellow & blue.  My aunt was in Junior High, so we knew that we could mix the red and the blue to get a beautiful color of purple.  We mixed the cake (from scratch) and then added the food coloring.  The cake was more lavender than truly purple, but that was okay.  After transferring our batter to the pans, we decided that swirls of color would be even better.  So, we added drops of all of the colors to the cake in the pans and stirred it around.  We stirred a little too much we would discover later.  The  beautiful purple cake I had envisioned was more gray than purple.  There were flecks of color here and there, but over all, it was a gray cake.  It tasted great, but it was not very appealing to the eye.

I am going the Bible chronologically this year.  Recently, I’ve been in the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  The various kings for both Israel and Judah are listed and their history is recorded.  I found it interesting that each account included one of these statements:  “as far as God was concerned, he lived a bad life” or “in God’s opinion he was a good king” or “… did what pleased God for as long as he lived (even so he did not . . .)”  There were several kings that were just bad.  They worshiped other gods and led the people to do the same.  There were a few kings that did what God decreed and destroyed the other temples and led the people to worship Jehovah only.  And then there were the kings that lived the way God decreed, but allowed the people to continue to live in sin by worshiping other gods.  These were the “grey” kings.  If you kept your eyes closed or didn’t look too closely, they were good kings.  But, they didn’t follow God completely.  They failed the people they were chosen to lead.

When I look at my own life, I wonder if my life is “gray” when God looks at it.  I don’t think I’m living a bad life where God is concerned.   But, do I live in a way that pleases God?  Am I a royal purple follower of Christ and His commandments? Or, do I slip into the “grey” area that encompasses too many things?  Have I become so desensitized to the sins around me that I just don’t realize it?  Is political correctness the center of my focus or is God’s word?  Do I show compassion to everyone or just to the people I “like” in that moment?

I think we all like to believe that we are on the side of right.  I don’t know anyone that deliberately takes a stand that they believe is wrong.  However, we can’t all be right about everything.  Just as the early kings of Judah and Israel condoned the sex-and-religion worship by allowing temples to be built to worship the gods of fertility, we condone everything that makes us uncomfortable by NOT speaking up.  It’s just easier to live our own lives and ignore those around us.  I’m not advocating throwing stones at others.  I do firmly believe that we are to be kind and compassionate to those around us.  But, do those around you know what you believe?  Do they see someone who God is blessing when they see you?  Do you take a stand on a daily basis or is the act of attending Sunday and/or Wednesday services enough of a witness?  Is your relationship with God based solely on the current crisis in your life or do you spend time with Him daily regardless of circumstances?

Too many additions and too little knowledge/experience, made my birthday cake grey.  I don’t want my life to be gray.  I want the knowledge that comes from reading the scriptures.  I want to experience everything that God has to offer.  I want to follow Him completely and to exclude anything that is outside of His will.  That’s doesn’t mean I wont make mistakes.  (I can promise you I will make plenty of them!)  It does mean that I will stay aware and correct any mistakes with God’s help.  It does mean that I may have to give up some things.  I may have to get up a little earlier to spend time with God.  I may not get to sleep in on Sundays because I NEED to be in church worshipping with others.  I may have to give up my reliance on “finger-crossing” and “quick prayers” to really spend time with God to learn what I need to know.  I may have to learn to be part of the crowd and not in the spot-light where others can see me and comment on how wonderful I am.

Gray is a popular color for walls.  But, I don’t recommend it for birthday cakes.  Or life.

 

 

Forgiveness, Tolerance & Acceptance

Forgiveness is something we all want and usually expect,  but we often find it difficult to give; especially when it comes to forgiving ourselves.  This verse is one that come to mind when I don’t seem to be getting the forgiveness I think I deserve:

 “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”  Matthew 6:14-15 The Message

I don’t like to think about this verse when I am angry and need to forgive, however.  I’ve been told my entire life to “forgive and forget” when I am offended or hurt.  That’s really hard for me to do.  I think I’m good at forgiving, until something new arises and I all those old memories come flooding back.  I don’t always realize that I’m holding a grudge, but it’s there.  Forgiveness is something that I have to work on everyday.  When that old grudge rears its ugly head, I must remind myself that it’s been forgiven and move on into the light of life.

I find that I have a hard time forgiving when the offense is against someone who I love.  If one of my kids or my husband, one of my siblings or my parents are the object of ridicule, unjust criticism, rumor or other attacks either physically or emotionally, I want to punish the person responsible. History has proven that retribution doesn’t always pan out the way I would like, it just leads to more hurt.  And the cycle is repeated over and over and over.

“Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”  Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.” Romans 12:19-20 The Message

I am learning each day that I must forgive.  Even (especially) when the other person involved is not aware that they need forgiveness.  Words are thrown carelessly around.  We talk about anything and everything without a thought to what those words may mean to the listener.  Hearing another woman wish her husband was gone caused pain to me as a widow.  My children react when they hear others complain about their parents and/or step-parents.  We need to be aware of the audience and be sensitive to others.

We say what we “think” others want to hear.  Unfortunately, social media is used to broadcast our every thought and action.  Inconsistencies are highlighted because of it.  Keeping our stories straight is very difficult these days.  If I say I cannot go to dinner with you because I don’t feel well and then post on social media my night out on the town with someone else, you probably would be hurt.  The trust between us would be broken. And I may never realize there was a problem. What if I go out of my way to help someone and they thank me profusely; then, I find out that they complained about my interference to a mutual friend.  I’m probably not going to help or trust as easily the next time.  And, I must forgive that person and tolerate their inconsistent behaviors.

Tolerance has become a big part of forgiveness for me.  There are things that offend me, that make me angry.  Being angry is hard work.  I don’t tolerate half-truths very well.  My nature is to point out the white lie very loudly.  However, I’ve come to understand that sometimes, people are conditioned to say just enough to get by.  It’s the  way they have survived:  by saying what they perceive is expected of them.  It’s usually not meant as hurtful.  And, I need to learn to be tolerant of the behavior and earn their trust so we don’t have to tell half-truths any longer.

I continue to learn how to tolerate  and to forgive those that need to tear everyone around them down in order to feel bigger.  These are the gossips that grab any shred of information and blow it up to destroy another person’s reputation.  The gossip  may have begun with a shred of truth, but it rarely is accurate.  It’s not meant to tell the truth.  It’s meant to help the teller feel better about their own fallacies.  We have all been victims of rumors and gossip and one time or another.  And, I would venture to say, we have all gossiped as well.  I struggle with forgiving the back-stabbers, the ones that smile to your face and tear you down when you walk away.  But, I’m working on it.

“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.”  John 8:  The Message

I fear that one of the biggest issues we all encounter is accepting forgiveness.  When we have wronged another, it can be very uncomfortable and maybe even awkward.  It’s hard to ask for or accept any forgiveness.  Sometimes, we don’t believe that we deserve that  forgiveness.  And, I find it especially hard to forgive myself for stupid decisions and mistakes.  I have only to look at the example of Jesus to see how important forgiveness is.  He gave His very life so I could be forgiven.

“If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.”  1 John 1:8-10  The Message

So, why do I find it so hard to give or accept forgiveness?  Why do I continue to hurt others with my words and actions?  Why do I gossip?  What makes me better than anyone else?  Each day, I decide anew to be the more like Christ in my actions and deeds.  I strive daily to do my best to forgive any wrongs of others, to be tolerant of those that just don’t “get it” and to accept the forgiveness I am given.  It’s hard.  I fail. I try again.  God continues to work on me.  What about you?