Rise Up, Christians!

I have been searching for months for adequate words that might tell of my heart’s sorrow.

I witness again and again so much hate on the airwaves and in the news and in the comment section of far too many websites and social media platforms.  I am stunned each time the President of the United States freely belittles or threatens others on Twitter. Has it really come to that!?

We have morphed into a society that gives free-reign to the inner monologue—those thoughts often best kept in the confine of one’s mind—as the core of public discourse.  I find this kind of hate-filled, one-sided conversation to be a vile regurgitation of personal opinions that come with little regard for speaking one’s truth in love and compassion.

And let us not think that Christians are innocent of such behaviors.

Yes, it would be naïve to believe all of the mean, nasty comments we read are NOT from the hearts of Christians.  I, myself, have no doubt I stand guilty of the occasional heart-less comment or two.  If anything, I am guilty of mentally approving of someone else’s mean-spirited opinion or post.

A recent spiritual discipline I have engaged is resisting the urge to respond immediately to things that I read on-line, especially when negatively triggered by the words or visuals.  Beyond restraining my fingers from firing off, I am understanding that my thoughts must be equally tempered.

What about you?

What motivates you to post on-line or comment, especially when you do not agree with an article or statement?

Is it pride, arrogance, fear, or disgust? Do you comment just to have your own opinions heard?

The Apostle Paul advises in his letter to the church of Rome:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

I can hear Paul addressing Christians today with similar words of wisdom:

Rise up, Christians!

Let not the world dictate how you respond to friends and strangers alike.  Conform no more and instead be transformed by the renewing of your minds!

Pause–breathe–and pray before you share your thoughts with others.

Be that much needed holy and acceptable, living sacrifice to God.   Speak and post what is good, acceptable, and perfect in God’s eyes.

My Christian sisters and brothers, please…join me in being that living sacrifice.

Your voice of compassion and the love of God you can share are needed more than ever in the world today!

 

 

 

Tending the Soul’s Garden

The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail. 

Isaiah 58:11

I keep it no secret that although I enjoy gardening, I am no master gardener.  In fact, any plants that go into my back yard are mostly on their own once they go into the dirt. I occasionally water.  I don’t fertilize. I rarely prune & groom. And…my garden looks about like you would expect!

And here’s the deal.  Our faith is very similar. You get what you put into it!

Image result for small flower garden
Nope. This image is definitely NOT from my garden! 🙂 Photo copied from Pinterest.

If we only occasionally attend worship, and especially when we expect or even demand to be entertained or inspired, then chances are we are anticipating a bountiful crop from an untended vine.  What I’ve noticed for myself, too, is that when I walk away disappointed with a particular worship service, I have had to admit that I have been leaning on Sunday mornings to be my only spiritual nourishment.

It’s just not enough.

Experiencing the Holy, noticing Divine synchronicity, feeling spiritually grounded happens when we actively tend to our faith.

This means in addition to attending worship that we commit to a daily spiritual practice like intentional prayer time (not just praying on the fly, which has it’s own value but doesn’t enable a deeper time with the Holy).  We read a devotional each day that offers words of wisdom that may find their way into the day in unexpected ways.  We listen to religious or spiritual music as a wonderful way to nourish the soul and reflect on our faith.  As I’ve written before in the past, even seeking a Holy message in secular music can be satisfying, if not a surprising way to tend to ourselves. And equally important, we spend time with other spiritual sojourners (in a prayer and share group or Bible Study). Often God speaks to us through their witnessing, their prayers, their understanding of scripture. As we receive encouragement and support in our own walk and can, in return, provide the same to others on their own spiritual journey. We grow together!

So…How’s that tending the soul going in your life?  Is your spiritual garden in need of some TLC…some weeding or watering or fertilizing?

What I continue to learn in my work as a hospice chaplain and in my own life, is that when our faith is tended to, when time is being spent in prayer, and study, and fellowship, there is a resiliency, a core strength that grows, enabling us to endure the hardest of times and delight in the best of times.

And with that I say, “Let’s get going!”

Put on those gardening gloves, get into your spiritual garden, and start tending to it.

You will be grateful you did!

 

What Imprisons You?

prison doorHere’s something I love about scripture. 

The characters are 1000’s of years old, and yet, for better or for worse, they are still very relatable.

In Acts 16:16-34 we find a slew of authentic characters.

We meet an enslaved woman, driven by a spirit to predict the future.  We come across Paul and Silas, servants of God, who only out of annoyance heal this fortune teller who has followed them for days announcing their role in the salvations of her fellow citizens.  Her owners take the stage, angered that their source of income, this now-healed woman is no-longer a cash cow predicting the future.  They, of course, drag Paul and Silas before the magistrates for their transgressions whereby drawing a crowd into the drama. And finally we read of the jailer who is so devoted to the law that he is willing to execute himself for slipping up on his duties to prevent the prisoners from escaping after an earthquake opens the prison doors.

Today’s scripture speaks of a variety of prisons.

Paul and Silas are not only physically placed in a cell after performing their exorcism but are initially imprisoned by impatience.  They cured the fortune teller only for their own sake, annoyed by her constant predictions, lacking compassion or concern for her and without thought of the impact their miracle-working would have on her livelihood.

The woman is enslaved by her owners who exploit her for their own gains.

These so-called businessmen are controlled by their greed and hope of making more money at the cost of others.

The crowd is on the chain-gang of mob mentality.

The jailer is entrapped by the perimeters of duty, unable to see that he has not failed and that the prisoners did not escape under his watch.

And so my questions to you are this:
What imprisons or enslaves you?
What keeps you chained down, behind walls, or isolated?
What restricts your freedom?
And more importantly, who or what has helped you to break free?

 

For myself, I typically dwell in the cell block of anxiety. For much of my life I have been bound by its power to restrict me from taking risks, or confronting others, or being driven and focused.

Co-dependency is another prison that has often blocked any freedom from unrealistic expectations, leaving me trapped in the vicious cycle of considering the faults of others while downplaying my own.  In this prison I have found it far too tempting to fix problems that weren’t mine to solve.

I am very grateful for the Twelve Steps of AA for giving me the tools to free myself from both anxiety and co-dependency.  I am also certain that my faith and the teachings of Jesus keep anxiety at a minimum (when I practice my faith and walk the walk!!) and moves me to being more compassionate and less controlling of those around me.

Take time today to acknowledge the walls around you. 
Pray for the pathways to freedom. 
And embrace a new way of being!

 

 ****************************************************************************************************************************************

For the Lord to whom they could turn is the spirit of the new agreement,

and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, [people’s] souls are set free.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Phillips

 

From Secular to Sacred

forest road 2

A favorite worship practice we experienced while living in Tucson was the regular use of secular music. My kids easily identified with many of the popular songs shared and when we’d hear that song again on the radio, they’d remember our worship time.

Brilliant.  Truly brilliant.

It taught me, and hopefully planted spiritual seeds within my son and daughter, that faith and daily life should be inseparable.  Messages of hope, or solace, or inspiration are all around us.  We simply need to pay attention.

Our move to Oregon three years ago had a rocky start.

I came up a month ahead of my family to prepare the way–to find housing and have it up an running by the time they arrived.  And I did just that.  Well… half of that.  I found a house and after a very quick tour, rented it.  I would discover, only after picking up the house keys three weeks later, just a few days before my family with all our belongings were to show up, that the home was mold-infested.   My family arrived Christmas Day to the news that we were temporarily homeless.

A very stressful week followed, a far more expensive rental was found, and our lives began to take on a new rhythm.  For a few month at least. And then my husband’s job abruptly ended.  Higher rent, less wages.  Not exactly what I had planned for my family and me.

And a song, which I’d heard dozens of times before, struck me with new meaning one dreary morning on the way to work :

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Suddenly I was being serenaded by God.

I’m going to make this place your home…”  I needed to hear that. I needed to be assured that I had not made another mistake by once again uprooting my family.

And then these words followed.

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place

(Song title: Home,  co-written by Drew Pearson and Greg Holdensong)

The overwhelming negative thoughts were certainly filling me with fear.  I was running scared, afraid to face another day of uncertainty.  “Settle down,” whispered God’s spirit in that familiar melody, “it’ll all be clear.”

As we rapidly approach our third anniversary here in Eugene, we have indeed made this place our home. It was a rough and tumble first year but we are making our way.  I am ever grateful for the many ways God whispered “You are not alone.  Keep the faith, be at peace, and have hope” in the times when I languished and longed for such assurances.

As I think about my children whose young lives are unfolding, it is my vision that they will have a faith so imbedded in their very beings that they too will constantly sense in the midst of the Secular that which is Sacred and be carried by this Presence through the easiest and hardest of times.

In the End, It’s all Grief

Lately I’ve been working on a theory that under all the emotional baggage we carry—the regret, anger, control issues, fear, resentment, and shame—there actually lies grief or sorrow.  I experienced this first hand recently.

I was cleaning out my files and came across the summary of a church survey from 10 years ago.  The survey had been the beginning of the end for me as pastor of that congregation.  Even before the unsanctioned survey was sent to church members, my anxiety had been through the roof, my health was deteriorating, and my attempt at doing it ALL (from full time ministry to parenting two small children to managing our home life) was failing miserably. It was such a painful, difficult time for me.

As I read the comments in my kitchen, both positive and negative, the emotions came flooding back:  the regrets in all that I did not accomplish; the deep shame in having let people down; the resentment of those who spoke critically of me; the fear of failure and rejection I carried into the jobs that followed. Regret, shame, resentment, and fear.  Powerful emotions. But in the end, all I could do was quietly weep. Until seeing that survey summary, I had no idea that grief had been buried so deep. I had dealt with all the other emotions, but grief—she had lain dormant.

And so it is with much of life.

We move through it often numb to the losses we have experienced, oblivious to the ways our emotional baggage weigh us down. I’m grateful for those kitchen tears and pray I continue to grieve the many losses experienced in that ministry.  More than that, I am moved to remember all of the blessings that came out of that time—the incredible landscape and seasons of Vermont we experienced, the life-long friendships gained, the lessons learned, the spiritual growth attained.

No longer remain in denial about the baggage you, too, are carrying. 

Open those boxes, duffle bags, backpacks, steamer trunks—any and all emotional baggage—and unpack the fear, regret, shame, anger, control, and resentments.  And when it is all said and done, grieve.  Weep for all that has been lost, all that cannot be changed.

But do not stop there.  Remember that in the midst of the sorrow, joy will appear.  She may come in unexpected ways, but she is promised to us nonetheless:

From Jeremiah 31:13 (The Message)

Young women will dance and be happy,
    young men and old men will join in.
I’ll convert their weeping into laughter,
    lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy.

So grieve and lament…and trust that, in time, joy will come rushing in!