Trust, Hope & Love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

We have a blended family that includes 5 adult children that range in age from 20-30 years old.  We are firmly entrenched in the marriage stage of life.  So far, we’ve had 3 weddings:  Zac in 2016, Kyle in 2018 and Reagan was married this weekend.  Three down and two to go. 

As a parent, there are lots of thoughts and emotions that arise when one of your children moves toward marriage.  You want the best for your child.  You pray they are making sound choices.  There’s the joy (and lets be honest the stress) of adding another person to your family as well as the new extended family.  Weddings are fun, beautiful, joyful, frustrating, tiring and hard work.  And, after the party is over, the REAL work begins in earnest.

Marriage is a constant exercise in give and take.  According to statistics, almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation.  Researchers estimate that 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce.  Of the remaining 50 to 59 percent of marriages, I wonder how many would rate their marriages as “successful”.  I love being married.  I was married for 18 years, widowed for 10 years and celebrate my fourth anniversary in a few months with my new husband.  I had a successful first marriage and I consider my current marriage a success. 

So, what makes marriage so difficult?  I think the answer is pretty simple:  selfishness.  When I concentrate on “ME” and “MY WANTS”, I cannot put my marriage first.  My selfishness takes precedence.  I recently saw a sign that said:                   “Want a bad marriage?  Put yourself first.                                      “Want a good marriage?  Put your spouse first.                                   “Want a great marriage?  Put God first.” 

There is so much truth in these words.  If I concentrate on what God wants, I will take care of my spouse.  It doesn’t matter if my spouse reciprocates.  I am still responsible for seeking a Godly marriage.  And if my spouse also seeks a Godly marriage, so much the better!!

We’ve all heard and/or read 1 Corinthians 13, also known as “The Love Chapter”.  I find that putting scripture into my own words, makes it a little more real to me.  This is my personal interpretation of a few of the love verses. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13 (Melissa’s words)

Love is valuable.  It is worth everything to me. 

Love keeps going even through the hard times. 
Love gives to others instead of taking for itself.
Love
is happy in its’ own yard.  There are no greener pastures.
Love doesn’t exist only when it gets attention.
Love doesn’t allow my selfish wants to conflict with those I love.
Love doesn’t manipulate to get its’ way.
Love plays 2nd fiddle at times. 
Love is calm in the face of conflict or disappointment.
Love has learned the art of forgive and forget.
Love doesn’t take pleasure in making others beg for attention
Love speaks the truth (even when it hurts.)
Love withstands any attack.
Love is from God and trusts that He is in control.
Love often wears “rose colored” glasses and sees the good in a difficult situation.
Love never asks “what if” and longs for something (or someone) else        Love stands firm and stays true to its’ vows and commitments.

There are three things that will make me successful in life:  Trust, Hope and Love.  And Love is the one that is my focus. 

We all crave love.  We want to be adored and cherished.  Too often, however, we confuse lust with love and settle for less than the best God has for us.  We have found that we can avoid solving issues within relationships by moving on to new relationships.  There is excitement in the chase.  We use the excuses “I’m just not happy and I deserve happiness”, “We’ve just grown apart and have nothing in common”, or (the biggest lie from Satan) “God wouldn’t have brought him/her into my life if He didn’t want me to be with him/her.”  Just as Eve allowed the Serpent to persuade her to eat the forbidden fruit, we listen to the world and throw love and commitment to the wolves in order to have a moment of excitement and fun. 

As my children begin and continue to grow their marriages and their own families, I pray that the words of 1 Corinthians 13 will ring true and keep them on the true path. 

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7,13 NIV

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Most anyone can sing these few lines of the song:

                “R-E-S-P-E-C-T

                  Find out what it means to me

                  R-E-S-P-E-C-T

                  Take care. .T -C-B “

When Aretha Franklin recorded this Otis Redding Song, she declared she was a strong & confidant woman who has everything a man could want.  She demands his respect.  But, what is RESPECT?

I ask the question because we don’t seem to understand the term in this day and age.  Respect is given to a person we admire, to a position of authority or honor, or to a boundary that denotes space or possession.   Respect can be defined in several ways and the definition in which I am most interested is: 

“to consider worthy of high regard”  syn: admire, appreciate, consider, esteem, regard

Throughout my life, I have known people that I personally had difficulty respecting. Due to personal or work ethics, I did not respect anything about them.  I could however, respect their position of authority.  It was easy to complain and whine about the how unworthy these persons were.  It often proved to be very difficult to give respect to the position they held.  But, I knew it was necessary for me to do just that.  In a business setting, I could force myself to give at least a token respect since my job quite literally could depend upon it.  Unfortunately, I think it can be particularly difficult to respect a position or a stand, when the offense is from a member of our family or the Church. 

Philippians 2: 1-8 (MSG) says this:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”

If Christ was able to put aside his own status and take on the status of a slave, then shouldn’t I be able to offer grace to those people that just drive me nuts?  Christ knew that Judas would betray Him.  Yet, He still included Judas within the twelve.  He still showed love and compassion to His betrayer.   Is there anything in my world that excuses me from giving that same love and compassion and even respect to others in some form?

Respect is almost a foreign concept in our world where “self” is the most important part of life.  We are told:

  • You deserve to happy.  Don’t waste your life.  Chase happiness.
  • The harder you work, the more you will get, and the happier you will be.
  • It’s a dog eat dog world.  Grab what you can before it’s gone.
  • Whoever has the most “stuff” wins.

When I, ME, and MINE are the most used terms in my vocabulary, esteem of others is impossible.  If I refuse to take responsibility when I hurt or offend another person, I show just how much I respect them.  When I gossip, complain or talk about friends or family to others, I lose the respect and trust of the very people I am attempting to impress.

There are lots of areas where disagreement is not only possible but encouraged.  We see that evidenced in all areas of politics.  And I’m using the term “politics” quite broadly.  Aside from the government, politics encompasses the total complex of relations between people living in society.  We see politics in our family and business relations.  We have seen the politics of the Church evidenced from the time of the Pharisees all the way through the various denomination squabbles of today. 

We can have disagreements.  We can have convictions.  But, ultimately, we have to find a way to be “deep-spirited”:  especially within the Church.  In my younger days, I had no patience with anyone that didn’t follow the letter of the law.  I was a self appointed judge and jury who practiced religion.  And no matter how meticulous I was, my actions were worthless because my motives and actions were not based upon the grace that I myself had been given.  There are areas that are not up for debate, but that doesn’t mean that I have the right to run roughshod and force-feed my convictions to others.  As I matured, I realized the need for tenderness.  I found that allowing a person grace and compassion was much more effective in guiding them to the truth.  And, along the way, I discovered that some of my “laws” were really based on religion not faith.  Respect doesn’t mean I have to agree with you.  I don’t even have to approve of you or your actions.  But, I do need to respect the person that God has lovingly created.

That’s a hard pill for this controlling person to swallow at times.  I’m still learning.  I’m still trusting.  I pray that I’m T-C-B:  Taking Care of Business.

What’s On Your Bracelet?

Most of us are familiar with WWJD.   An abbreviation for What Would Jesus Do, it became popular in the 1990s as a reminder to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus.  Not as openly accepted (and never printed on t-shirts, bracelets, etc.), but more popular with people of all genres would be WWIDT:  Why Would I Do That.

Recently, there was a meeting in my neighborhood to discuss the future of a group home that would be an extension of the Manna House.  Manna House is a residential addiction recovery and rehabilitation campus that has been in Brookshire of 20+ years.   They run a program that has seen over 600 men pass through their doors.  Unfortunately, the input from my neighbors was less than supportive and the home will probably be sold. 

Our society is all about treatment and reform.  We talk a big talk about the need for support for addiction recovery.  We brag about the good things that are done with Celebrate Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous.  We are happy to make donations to support these good causes, especially if I can get a tax deduction and maybe some recognition.  I support the programs whole-heartedly, until they begin to invade “my space”.   I don’t want it in my neighborhood!

When we look at the example that Jesus set throughout His life, he was never in the ‘safe’ area.  He would reach out and touch lepers as well as other ill persons.  He traveled through Samaria and then took the time to talk with a Samaritan woman (both no-no’s).  He kept company with tax collectors and prostitutes.  He showed no concern about being with or being seen with societies “lesser” members. 

No one wants to live next door to an addict.  But, how do you know that you don’t already?  Do you know everything about your neighbor?  I lived in an area for years where the nicest people on the block were the ones that kept the local high school students supplied with recreational drugs.  I didn’t know this was happening in my neighborhood until I saw the news trucks blocking the street one morning.  There had been a shooting after a drug deal had gone bad.  I would now prefer to live near a KNOWN residential home with rules and supervision for recovery instead of the unknown drug house.

When are we going to stop pretending that perfection is where we live?  The last I checked, no one I know is perfect.  We all have our own baggage.  When does compassion come into play?  When do we stop judging those who have admitted to having an addiction and are working to control it?  When do we start treating them with civility and respect?  When do we forgive them for messing up?

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
    as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

Matthew 6:9-13 MSG

The Lord’s Prayer:  I memorized it as a child.  I’ve sung it at weddings.  I’ve studied it as an example of how to pray.  It’s pretty straight forward.  So why is it that so many of us we know the words but ignore the message that is summarized in the next two verses?

“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 MSG

Forgiveness is at the center of our relationship with God.  Gods forgives us and we are to forgive others.  I’m not sure I’ve always understood what it means to forgive.  There have been periods of my life when I saw no need to extend forgiveness if it wasn’t requested.  Is that really the way God intends us to forgive?  As a believer, I am taught that Christ died on the cross to forgive ALL of my sins:  past, present and future.  I only need to accept the forgiveness.  When I realize there’s something wrong in my life, I confess it.  But, the forgiveness was already granted.  Even addicts are forgiven. 

Addictions come in many forms.  Honestly, as long as you don’t get caught or cause a big scene, the world “approves” of your addiction.  Often, it’s the very addiction that makes you fun or entertaining.   But, go public and the consequences are that you are no longer accepted into polite society.  It’s time we stand and openly encourage those that are fighting addictions.  It’s time to forgive those that have their addictions out in the open for all to see.   It’s time to recognize that “there but by the grace of God, go I.”

So, the answer to WWJD is: whatever it takes to show love to others.   WWJD is about risking it all.  It’s about loving the unlovable.  It’s about accepting the person even when we don’t approve of their behavior.  It’s about forgiving the shortcomings and weaknesses of those that are dealing with addictions and encouraging better choices.   When we espouse the ideology of WWIDT, everything revolves around ME.  I have no time to think or consider others.  I have no time for compassion, forgiveness or understanding.  I set myself up as judge and jury.  I barricade myself behind a wall of selfish indulgence that I call “safe” and remove the opportunity for God to work in my own life. 

So, what about you?   In your world, do you espouse WWJD or WWIDT?  What is most important to you?      

Hopeful Intentions in 2019

As 2019 begins, many will make resolutions and plans for the year.  A few years ago, I was challenged to choose one word that would be set my vision for the year.  That year my word was “dream.”  I had forgotten what it was to have dreams.  I had become accustomed to just getting by: one day at a time.  I recognized that I needed to dream again.  I needed to set my sights on something new and better in my life. 

This year, I have two words.  The first word is “Hope”.   Hope was the word given to me when I took a “Word of the Year” quiz.  I can always use hope.  The other word came to be a bit more subtly.   During my quiet time, I heard this word whispered into my heart: “intention”.  So, in 2019 I will focus on living my life with hope and intention.  How do I accomplish this?

First, I wanted to know what these two words mean.  I found that they are very similar. 

INTENTION

noun

a determination to act in a certain way : resolve

Synonyms

aim, ambition, aspiration, design, dream, end, goal, idea, ideal, intent, mark, meaning, object, objective, plan, point, pretension, purpose, target, thing

HOPE   

noun

a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Synonyms

Aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim goal, plan, design

What does it mean live a life of intention and hope?  Is it just setting goals or objectives and wishing it all goes well?  Choosing a word (or words) each is year is different from resolutions.  Resolutions seldom work because they are based on the type of person I’m tired of being.  I focus on the negative and are expected to be “broken”.  Instead, I want to focus on the person that God wants me to become: the transformation process.

A wise friend of mine has pointed out that a person’s focus can be found by reviewing their calendar and checkbook.  We spend our time and money in the areas that are the most important to us.  I don’t hesitate to keep my business appointments in my Outlook calendar.  I have all kinds of bells and whistles to remind me when to pay bills, when to get up, when to take medications, when appointments are scheduled.  So, why don’t I use these same reminders for my personal life?  If I intend to spend more time in Bible Study, I should block out that time in my calendar instead of saying I want to “read the Bible more”. 

Because I want to be intentional about how I spend my time, I need to be aware of my time, also.  Much as I have to plan how to spend or same my money, I need to do the same with my time.  I already know how much time I spend commuting to and from work, the hours that I am in the office and how much sleep I need.  I also know my basic commitments for church and life group.  That’s where my calendar begins.  I also know that I NEED to spend time with my husband and my children as well as friends.  It’s all too easy to say “we should get together” and never actually do it.  Scheduling a date night with my spouse is an easy way to be sure we get some quality time together.  Instead of waiting for one of the kids to call me or drop by,   need to put some time in my calendar to check in with each of them.  If I am intentional about spending time with my children every month, I will set appointments with each of them throughout the month.  It doesn’t have to be a huge event, but I MUST decide to schedule and follow up on these times.  The same thing goes for friends.  I need to spend time with friends to keep me grounded.  Finding a convenient time for both of you may take some work, but the effort is priceless. 

While I’m being intentional with my time, I need to schedule time to refill my own reserve.  It’s not only okay to take some alone time, it’s important to do so.  I need to block off time each week for my “creative” side to emerge.  I need to release myself to create.  As a student, I spent a lot of time practicing my music.  As an adult, I have been known to think of that time as a “waste”.  But, I’ve learned that I need that time. 

Does every moment have to be scheduled and every dollar earmarked?  No, definitely not.  I want to be intentional with my life, not controlling of every aspect.  There is also value in being spontaneous, flexible and generous. Calendars or the budgets should never be your master, just helpful tools to guide you.  When 2020 arrives, I want to look back at 2019 and not wonder where I spent my time and money.  I want to know that I invested wisely in the lives of my family and other around me. 

So, the challenge for this year:  Be Intentional with Hope.  Don’t sulk because you haven’t received a phone call from a loved one:  CALL THEM FIRST.  Don’t wait for friends or family to suggest a visit:  INITIATE THE SCHEDULE.  Stop with the passive/aggressive comments and just reach out to the ones you want to be near.  Life is too short.  Make the trip.  Spend the time.  Be intentional in 2019.

Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!

Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.

Ephesians 5: 11-17  MSG

But, I Love Tacos!

“This is how much God loved the world:.
. .”

A deceptively simple statement and it conveys so much hope for each of us.  We love EVERYTHING:  I love my car; I love my dog; I love the color purple; I love tacos.  Because we use the word “love” so often in our everyday life, it’s easy to lose sight of what it means to love or to be loved this deeply and completely.  I love my children and my husband with that deep, soul-crushing love.

“. . . He gave his Son, his one and only
Son. . .”

I would give my life for any of my kids or my husband if they needed it.   And even though I may say I am “dying” for some good Tex-Mex food, I wouldn’t really trade my life for a taco.  I don’t love it that much.  I can hardly bear to hear a negative comment about one of my kids.  I go into Momma Bear mode really quickly to defend them.  I can’t imagine giving one of them up for anyone or anything.  But, God loved me enough to sacrifice His ONLY son.  FOR ME!! 

“. . . And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”


This Salvation is for anyone that believes.  Again, it’s a simple statement.  But, for some it is impossible to believe that God could love them this much.  I still wonder why He loves me so much.  I’m not perfect and in fact can be a little bit bossy and insistent at times.  Yet, He continues to show me His great love in so many ways.  My only requirement is to trust & believe.

Do you understand what it is to love or be loved this completely?   Have you experienced that deep bitter-sweetness that comes with giving yourself heart and soul to another?  This Love is not a disposable emotion that you outgrow or tire of with time.  This Love is a commitment: the deepest commitment you can possibly give or receive.  This Love overrides ego and self-seeking actions.  This Love requires total devotion. 

This Love is the gift we were all given in the form of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  When you accept His Love, you cannot avoid giving the same Love to others.  My needs are not so important when viewed through Love.  My focus becomes Loving others:  my family, my friends, my neighbors and not just “me”.  The more I practice giving Love, the harder is becomes to NOT Love. 

As 2018 draws to a close, I hope that you will examine this gift of Love.  Take it out.  Embrace it. Give it away.  May 2019 be the year when we all decide to Love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
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,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 MSG

Church, Why Bother?


In today’s world, there is a lot of discussion about the church, both universal and local congregations.  The universal church is comprised of all Christians of all times and places.  As Christians or Believers, we gather in local congregations for worship, etc.   For purposes of this discussion, the term “church” references the local congregation. 

I grew up in church.   I was on the cradle roll.  I remember my first Sunday School class as a 3 year old with Mrs. Carter.  Church on Sunday was normal and expected.  I never really questioned why we went to church.  It’s what we did. I was an adult before I realized that attending church wasn’t really a requirement and that people around me actually survived without attending church.

I grew up in the Southern Baptist denomination.  We had  Sunday School and a worship service on Sunday morning.  Sunday evenings, we had Training Union and another worship service.  Wednesday night was for another service called Prayer Meeting, but it seemed to me that it was just a smaller Bible study service.  I was part of the youth choir so that meant attending rehearsals.  I grew up as a Sunbeam, a GA and an Acteen, more meetings during the week.  There were special book studies for the various mission emphasis times: Lottie Moon at Christmas, Annie Armstrong at Easter, and Mary Hill Davis in September.  We have revival meetings twice a year that lasted a week and included a noon meeting and and evening service and maybe a special emphasis night for youth.  I attended Vacation Bible School every summer for a week.  (I remember having 2 weeks of VBS, too.)  And, then there was GA camp, Youth camp and other youth events/trips to conferences and music festivals.  I spent a lot of time in church related activities.  I was well versed in what was expected of me and the respect that I needed to give through my attitudes and presentation.

As a college student, I learned the difference in attending church and being a part of worship.  There is a big difference.  I spent most of my life attending church.  Realizing what it meant to truly worship revolutionized my life.  People worship in lots of ways.  Some are very quiet and private with their worship.  Some people raise their hands and lose themselves in the worship experience.  Some believe that speaking in tongues is a requirement to worship.  Some believe you have to worship on your knees.   However you worship is between you and God.  I cannot stress how important it is to just be in the moment and worship openly from the heart.  It is not my right or my responsibility to judge how you worship.  Some of the sweetest worship times for me occurred during music rehearsals for the services and not during the actual worship services.   I served as a worship leader and as such couldn’t really get completely caught up in my own worship experience during the services.  But, rehearsals were different.  I could allow my heart to truly worship my audience of One. 

As a young, newly married adult, I served with my husband in several churches across the area.   One in particular comes to mind.  It was a small church in a changing area of the city.  No longer a middle class neighborhood, they struggled to survive.  It was a traditional Southern Baptist Church.  We sang hymns, had a choir and used both a piano and organ for the music.  I sat through service after service and starved spiritually.  This was a church that refused to adjust to the changes around them.  Reaching the local people was not really on the agenda.  The church was there to provide a food bank but we didn’t really want “those” people inside the church.  We were eventually asked to resign because my husband was getting too involved with the local troubled kids.  I have never been as wounded by a group of people in my life.  It took a long time for me to trust the local church, again.

As an adult, I am very involved with my church.  Things have changed.  I have realized that in order to have church you do not have to have a church building.  My church meets in a movie theater.  There are numerous churches in this area that rent space in the local schools.  Portable churches are an accepted and even exciting way to do church in today’s world.  People that are hesitant about the formal church are more open about attending in a non-typical arena.  We see it every Sunday at the Bridge.  It’s a sad truth that many churches thrive and grow until they finance and build a building.  Then, the excitement is cooled as the need to support the building and it’s upkeep comes front and center. 

I have come to understand and support Life Groups as the core of the church.  While Sunday School had it’s place in my life, I have grown more through Life Groups.  They provide a casual and far more personal way to engage in spiritual growth.  Life Groups provide a more relatable group in  which to learn  and to grow.  It’s much easier to be open in a group of ten to twelve than in a huge group.  Life groups create a feeling of family and acceptance.  They get down to the day to day needs in our lives and enable us to fully worship when the time is offered. 

Music has definitely morphed through the years.  We have the old hymns, we have the older contemporary music and we have the new worship music.  I learned to play the piano using the Baptist Hymnal.  It was blue.  When that hymnal was updated, it caused a lot of excitement.  There were “contemporary” songs included like “He’s Everything to Me”, “Pass It On”, and “Because He Lived”.  People that never really cared about music suddenly preferred the “old hymnal”.  (I was pianist at one church in the 80’s that still used the old Broadman Hymnal because “it was just better.”)  I still have copies of all three hymnals and enjoy the music contained in them.  But, I also love the “new” stuff. Of all the things people use as an excuse to avoid church involvement, music and the use of other creative arts seem to top the list.  No matter what is provided, someone is not happy. 

Recently, I’ve seen a few posts on social media that were critical of using the church services for “entertainment”.  I suspect that the church I attend would fall in that category to the outside observer.   This generation is known for being global, social, visual and technological.  In the last decade, the cell phone has revolutionized the way we collect and perceive information.  Instead of carrying a Bible in book form, the Bible App has become a mainstay for many.   Hymnals have been replaced with projection systems.  Church Bulletins are more reminders to go to the church website for information than actual information. 

While we tend to focus on the musical influences in church services, there are a multitude of creative arts that can and are used to promote worship. No longer is the primary instrument in a church the organ and/or piano.  A full band is now expected.  In the past, we all took piano lessons and would be expected to play at church.  Now, its guitar or drum lessons.  Praise Dancers are not a new concept, but they are more widely accepted across denominations now.  My late husband was a creative soul and loved to write and perform skits for the worship services.  He was also a proponent of building backgrounds to enable all of the senses to be engaged in worship.  Lighting, sound and (for lack of a better word) theatrics have taken their place in the worship services.  We want our services to be on point, on time and worth remembering. 

With all of the opinions on the type of service, where the services are held, the target audience, what to wear and what music to use, we often lose sight of the reason we are there: TO WORSHIP.  It hurts this believer’s heart when factions within the local church start bickering and criticizing each other and/or other churches/denominations.  How can we expect to present ourselves as the Body of Christ when we continue to pick at each other?  How do you know that the brilliantly staged service doesn’t open the hearts of the congregation to worship?  Just because it doesn’t fit into “MY” model, does that make it wrong?  Maybe we need to take heed of the message in the book of Ephesians: 

“But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”  Ephesians 4:7-13 MSG


Lonely in a Crowd

Have you ever found yourself filled with loneliness while you are in a group of people? You look around at those surrounding you, but you don’t connect. You may not have anything in common with others in the room. Or, there may be underlying tensions that keep you separated. This kind of loneliness is difficult at best and isolating at worst.

As I have been thinking about the Christmas story, I began to consider the journey that Mary and Joseph undertook to get to Bethlehem. Usually it is depicted as a solitary and lonely journey: just the two of them traveling on a deserted road. But, this year it occurred to me that they were probably not all alone on that road. The entire Roman Empire was traveling to ancestral hometowns.

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. Luke 2: 1-5 MSG

It’s quite possible that Mary and Joseph were traveling on a very busy road. There were very likely other relatives making the same trek. But unlike other journey’s that would be made as part of a large family caravan, Mary and Joseph were very alone on this journey. The reason is clear: Mary was Joseph’s pregnant fiancee, not his wife. Her pregnancy was an opportunity for gossip and judgement and maybe some shame and scorn from family members. We don’t really know details, but Joseph’s original reaction to Mary’s news gives us some insight into how this pregnancy was perceived.

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. Matthew 1: 18-19 MSG

As I think about Christmas in 2018, I wonder, how many of us are surrounded by people but still feel totally isolated? There are many things that can contribute to the isolation. The normal tensions that exist within a family unit may result in a feeling of detachment. New family situations that result from death, divorce or a even new marriage may greatly influence the family temperament. A death in the family will make traditions either too precious to forget or too painful to observe. Each family member will react with different expectations or preferences. Melding or ignoring the new needs may create a strong resentment within the family. Divorce always stresses and changes the family dynamic and as a result the holiday season. When anyone within the family gets married, old traditions are stretched and strained. Now there are multiple family traditions and locations to be considered and blended. Seemingly small things like what food will be served, special church service attendance, multiple family gatherings as well the cost of gifts can become contentious. Hurt feelings and blame placing only contribute to feelings of isolation.

As I approached this 2018 holiday season, it was too easy to dread the upcoming holidays. This is just my fourth Christmas as part of a blended family that includes my husband, and our five adult children, two daughters-in-love and a precious grandson. We are still figuring out how to build our own family traditions. Trying to coordinate our blended family plans with their own extended family events can be overwhelming. I love looking for that perfect gift for each person in my family and it gets more and more difficult the older they get. And this year, I determined to enjoy this holiday time. This year, I will give full attention to my family and not be overtaken with self doubt and feelings of failure when I do not meet the expectations of others. I cannot keep everyone happy. That is a choice made by each individual.

This Year, I will focus on the celebration of the birth of my Savior.

“There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified.

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:Glory to God in the heavenly heights,Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!     Luke 2:8-20 MSG