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

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?