Hook, Line, and Sinker

So, I have this horrible problem of reliving past mistakes, I know I’m the only one in the world guilty of such habits so I won’t go into exhaustive detail about what and why. Suffice it to say that I don’t want to let myself off the hook, for any offense I’ve committed. I have this stupid lie that surfaces that says I must relive the pain, rethink the action, confess the sin over and over and over… well, you get picture. This morning was no different.

I woke up chastising myself, angry with myself, hurt again over what I had thought to be dealt with at the cross, but giving into the taunts of the evil one, I started to believe that I needed to submerge myself in the mire again, take back up the cross, the sin, the shame and become the sinner once more. Mercifully, Jesus met me, before light, before another tear could fall, or lie implant itself and offered a hand to take my pain, my sorrows, my regrets. He met me with one line – “Cast it to me.” I read more heart into that. “Leslie, throw it over here! Don’t gingerly lay it in my hands and walk away looking back, throw it long and high! Don’t place it gently down, show me that you mean it – mean it in your heart. Cast your cares, your worries, your fears, your anxiety to ME! Because you holding onto it only serves to do one thing, imprison you, and whether you want to admit it or not, your lack of faith is at root here.”

Wait. Hold up. Uh, say what?

Again, without any condemnation He repeated, “Your lack of faith.” Then, with wonder still in my heart, I heard Him say, “Cast it and I’ll catch you – hook, line, and sinker.” Okay, I’m human and a little dim witted at times, so I’m not too proud to admit that I had a spiritual “duhhh” moment. How did we go from casting my cares to fishing? The thought wouldn’t subside and in like thirty seconds I went through a mental concordance to gain understanding. Casting nets, fishers of men, cooking fish, Peter and the twelve, Judas, the betrayal… I was getting off the mark so God intervened in my spiritual ADD.

A picture surfaced. I was standing on the edge of the pond, my grandfather with a smile at my side. “Cast the line, Leslie.” I looked at him unsure. “Just raise the rod, push the button, and let the line go.” Believing his advice, and loving him so very much, I took his word…but being a fearful, insecure child, I pushed the button too soon and a yard of line came streaming out of the rod at my feet. Pouting, I placed it back in his expectant hand. After he fixed the mess, he handed it to me again. After about three such episodes, I got it right. I watched in amazement as the line arched high into the bright sky and landed ten or fifteen feet away. Smiling and satisfied, he settled his line close, but not too close, to mine.

In a matter of seconds I felt a small tug, eager and ready I snatched the rod up, and the line came whipping out, fishless. Frowning and disappointed, I handed the rod to my grandfather. He wouldn’t take it. “Cast it again.” It took another three tries but again the beautiful, freeing arch and gentle landing. This time he talked me through the initial nibble and told me to wait. Biting my lip in anticipation, I held through the initial nibbles until the line went tight, and then, looking to Papaw for permission and getting a smiling nod, I yanked. To my ultimate pleasure and delight there was weight on the line, there was definite, grunt requiring weight! I remember the thrill as I watched the most wonderful brim jump to the surface still caught tight by the hook! Clutching tightly to the rod and reeling with all of my might, my grandfather was laughing, directing me to slow down, and begging me to be careful.

After a squeamish unhooking and his beaming approval, I placed the fish in a styrofoam cooler. And there it was – my fish. Squatting by the side of that cooler I watched and marveled while Papaw continued to fish. Initially it lay limp, almost playing dead, but then it began to stir and swim, slowly at first and then more confidently. I was fascinated. I then noticed the hole in its lip. Cocking my head to the side, I realized I’d put it there. The fish soon to be released again was forever altered.

And that’s where my memory rested. “There.” Ahhh. My duh turned to an aha; I understood. “Cast it and be caught.” I am both the fisherman and the fish. What if I hadn’t persevered? What if I’d simply thrown that rod and reel with its pile of line down on the ground and given up. It would still be at my feet. Useless. But, instead, I listened, I trusted, and I cast with success a line that captured a gift. My fish. All because I casted. I get that. I’m slow but eventually I do surface. But what about the “be caught” part…what about me being the fish? Well, a fish that nibbles, isn’t altered. It’s a fish that is caught by the hook, pulling on the line and drowning the sinker, that is forever changed.

So, I’m casting my line…and I’ll return from the trip with a hole in my lip. Not what any one would call a fisherman’s dream, but it certainly has been a revelation from the pond.

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The Best Christmas Pageant EVER.

I don’t like admitting that my heart hasn’t been in the season this year; in fact, it pains me to say it. Heart not in Christmas – that just sounds wrong. Heart and Christmas are two very ingrained words… up until this year they seemed intertwined and mutually exclusive to the point of synonimity. (If that were a real word.) This year feels different. I can’t explain it, can’t put my finger on it, call it out, or really make sense of it, but it is…different.

I was wrestling with this feeling. Trying to push past the bahhumbugishness and embrace the holiday spirit, my attempts seemed forced and fake. Like I was trying to take something dull and lifeless and transform it into something shiny and bright. Like I was taking the ordinary humdrum wool stockings of life and hanging them by the fire place next to a painted Christmas tree with lights. It wasn’t working, and I was getting more and more confused the closer Christmas got.

My daughter belted out, “10 days til Christmas!” with all the anticipation the season deserves, and I sighed and pulled out my list looking at the names left unchecked. Friends laughed and talked of caroling and sadly, I was relieved that one of the neighbors got sick and it got called off. Is that horrible? Yes. It is. But, it’s honest.

So, today when Maddie woke up with a fever on the day of the Christmas Program, I can’t say that I wasn’t surprised. It seemed about right. We went through the motions of preparation, making food and picking out clothes, but all the while it wasn’t very deep. Pretty much the pre-performance to the program…and my heart again played it’s part in isolation, hiding from the joy.

Then, we got to the church. The atmosphere was dull and dark, no big production, everyone seemed to sigh their hellos and cut off their hugs. My soul was sad. I sat down next to a dear man in the church and finally said out loud, “I’m just not feeling it this year.” He seemed surprised as he looked at me as if to say, “You?!” I nodded. He let out a sigh of relief, “I was afraid it was just me.” He went on to tell me about his stress and his strain and how distant his heart seemed to be, and all the while the Spirit of God in me echoed, “You are not alone.” And, I found my ADD mind wandering to others and to more and thought perhaps there was much more to this apathetic spirit toward Christmas.

Then, it happened. The program got started as kids nervously mumbled their lines and looked for confidence in the faces of their parents. Slowly the story progressed until we arrived at the angels…the heralding, good news messengers of old, that sang the birth announcement to the shepherds in the fields. It started alright, each angel with his and her part, until there was a break down in communication. The angels huddled and regrouped figuring out the speaker and the lines. It was obvious that everyone was pointing to one little girl, the youngest of the group, the precious grand-daughter of the man I’d just been speaking with, and she was terrified. The other angels were getting antsy, and she stood there – silent. A bigger angel in the back tried to tell her her line, hoping to encourage her to speak, but she still stood there, eyes wide, incredible denial filling her face. Realizing everyone was waiting and her line could not be taken by another, she gave in, and like a rush of wind in utter defeat, she said with a sigh, “Jesus is born.” I could not control my laughter! None of us could. It was art imitating life. And, we were entertained!

I laughed so hard I cried (and felt horrible when the sweet girl put her “Angel Song” booklet over her face.) She didn’t understand what many of us were feeling; she had captured our lack of excitement in her bland statement, and something was happening in me. I realized that I was grossly overlooking Christ. He was treated as a commonplace statement filled with exaggerated sigh while I had been focused on all the other things that held no value or hope.

AND IT HIT ME – I had taken Christ out of Christmas. I had seriously forgotten that this season is all about the mundane becoming special, the invaluable being shown as a treasure, and the commonplace finding remarkable meaning in the Light of Christ’s birth. The darkness I was feeling, the lack of joy and spirit, the absence of hope was a child of God succumbing to the “holiday.” I’d like to say that I got up from that pew and I walked out of church with a new perspective and with the heart of a insomniatic Scrooge, I ran from the sanctuary singing and dancing! I’d like to say that, but it simply wouldn’t be true. The truth is, I’m trying. I’m gonna attempt to remember Christ everyday in some special way… and I’m praying for His peace and His joy in my heart because I really could care less about the “holidays” – it’s Christ I want.

Are you kidding me?!

Bear with me, I’m a little upset.

What part of “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” aren’t we getting?

There is a serious curve that is emerging in the church, and we used to point our fingers and talk behind the backs of a specific group of people who were artistic and edgy…but now the margin is thinning and the compromise is rampant. Only we don’t call it “compromise” we call it “relevant”. We use the words of Paul in his address at Mars Hill – basically where he says, “I have become all things to all people so that I might save some.” But, it’s not a legitimate translation of that passage; it’s a misrepresentation to justify partaking in the pleasures of the world. (And, I realize that I just lost readers and ticked some people off, but I’m not too concerned.) I don’t know where the “relevant” movement will end, but as one called to lead and impact this generation…I’m having a hard time following suit.

Leaders are immersing themselves in the culture – drinking, smoking, cursing. They say, “We’re trying to be relevant, to reach out, to be a part of the crowd.” What crowd, any real reason why? Because we are afraid to be called “hypocrits?” And yet, it’s exactly what we are. Because we want them to embrace Jesus? So we are helping them by lighting up and tipping the bottle and spilling expletives, oh yeah, because I totally remember in Mark 28:8 where Jesus got a little tipsy at the party and started cursing the Pharisees. Um, no. The excuse I often hear is: “Hey, it’s okay. Even Jesus ate with the sinners.” Yeah, He did. He reached out to them with a voice that said, “Come to me all of you that are weary and burned out, and I will give you rest.” But I don’t recall him passing the hookah.

This “shock and awe” witness is getting old. I’ve actually heard people say, “I think it is so cool that pastor so and so cusses. He really understands.” What does he understand? That his use of the English language is so limited he has to resort to slang to get his point across. I’m pretty sure that you can say those things without getting vulgar. The truth is that those that are listening to him, even those in the world, might actually have more respect for him if he spoke out of a heart of compassion and sensitivity…just saying.

But, truth be told, I’m frustrated for another reason. I’m frustrated because in being lackadaisical about our habits and our actions, we are missing the bigger picture. In being nonchalant about our indulgences we are making an impact greater than we realize. In slinging cuss words and consuming alcohol and smoking nicotine we are saying “This is okay.” We are saying to the younger generation, “Indulge, enjoy, live it up!” All the while, we are exchanging our witness for our release. This is not okay. It’s not. And, when I’m paying the rehab bills to help my alcoholic daughter get over her addiction because some idiot said that she could drink because Jesus drank and that gives her the license to do the same, I’m gonna be furious! When my daughter is in the hospital with emphysema because some youth pastor decided to prove a point to the church by smoking in front of his kids, I’m really gonna have to spit in his face! No. I won’t actually spit. But I will be sure to show him this blog, this post, this warning and my child and say, “Do you think this is what Jesus meant when he said to feed His sheep?”

I beg of you. Let’s not set aside our witness to let out our steam. It’s a problem, and as cool as it is becoming, it’s not cool. It’s not cool when mentors of young girls now become confusing to them because where they are going to Bible Studies and they are doing mission trips, they are dropping the “f” bomb and are drinking more than just occasionally. These are the same ones that tout, “Be all things to all men so that we might save some,” but if you are doing these things in the privacy of your home, on the back porch with a shade up, are you doing it for “all men” or are you doing it for you? Has your release become more important than your witness?

Jesus says, “Come as you are.” But, those that have been pitiful and dirty and scarred, desperate and dark and scared know that He doesn’t want you to stay that way. It’s a process. I will be the first to admit that I have a ton of issues that need to be rooted out and dealt with, but He is faithful to gently and passionately show me what they are and as He does He transforms those places…by the renewing of my mind, not by my “relevant” living.

The hope is in the changed life, not the compromised one.