Getting my goat

Christians can be very proud. Have you deducted this? Have you seen any of this played out lately? One area that I find Christians particularly proud in is the area of charity. It’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? To brag about “good works,” isn’t that almost to negate them? It kind of leaves the message, “I didn’t really do this for you. I did it for me, but you get something out of it.” Or, this is the message that we are sending whether that is what we intended or not.

I was recently at the way too overwhelming local Chuck. E. Cheese when I saw someone with a t-shirt that read, “This shirt fed 40 people. What did your shirt do?” Okay. On the surface, I get the point. They gave some money or did some act of service or sacrifice, which was a good thing, to help feed starving people which is a very good thing, but the shirt portrays an attitude that negates the ambivalent nature of the giver. I don’t see a t-shirt that says, “I paid twice as much for my canvas shoes so that someone else wouldn’t go shoeless.” I don’t even think such a shirt will ever be made, or should be. And yet, I see Christians wearing t-shirts that make charity seem selfish. The argument could be made that it is to raise awareness for world hunger…well, wouldn’t a shirt that said, “Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger. How’s that burger?” That would raise awareness and address gluttony in America, and guess what? No one gets credit…and someone looks twice at the burger they are eating. Perhaps that person paid enough for that shirt that 40 people were fed, but it isn’t boasting. No one knows but that person and God…and perhaps the little guy that handled the order. And, that’s okay.

In the Bible, Jesus tells us not to let the left hand know what the right is doing. He instructs us to do our good deeds in private. But, then no one knows what we did, so how will we find reward? Well, He goes on to tell us, “Your Father in heaven will see your good deeds and reward you.” Oh but, Leslie, people’s rewards are much more instant…yes, and far less rewarding. Which leads me to my next point, we somehow think that we deserve something for our good works. For instance, I mentioned my frustration at seeing this t-shirt to someone the other day, and I expected this person to take up my cause, after all, we are both serious about ministry! Instead, the response was to smile and say, “Heck Yeah, I have that shirt! I suffered through 30 hours of hunger to get it!” Wait. What? I know that my jaw had to have dropped open! Since when is sacrifice about anything more than…well, sacrifice? But, this person isn’t alone in this. Recently I saw a campaign for a popular Christian music group to build wells in third world countries. I was standing in line as one of the spokespersons for the group was telling about their initiative and that if you gave X amount of dollars you would get a free shirt and a CD. Commendable…until the person in front of me asked, “So what is the least amount I have to give to get the stuff?” Wait. I think we missed the point.

I’m not a huge John Acuff fan, but I do like some of what he says. I will never forget the blog he posted on “fasters” – those people that observe the spiritual discipline of fasting…not to be confused with pastors that get you out of church by noon every Sunday. (Ba dum pum.) Anyway, he was talking about the ones that feel the need to announce to the world what they are doing, when God’s Word clearly says not to make a show about it because that’s what the religious folks do and their reward is found in the praise of man. He quips about possibly telling the next person, “Man that stinks. Now that you told me that your only reward is what I have to say…so, way to go, bro! You fasted for no real reward!” (Not an actual quote but that was the gist.) Really! What kind of reward is that? I’d rather keep it to myself and simply have the reward of knowing that I sought God and denied myself food or pleasure in order to understand His will in my life. I admit though, I have announced before that I was fasting, but not in an effort to make myself look good, but rather in a desire to see others join me. In my mind, if one fasting can bring clarity to a situation then all members fasting can put it in the sky on wide-screen and surround sound! But, that is neither here nor there.

The point is this. Let’s not boast about our good doing. Don’t post on Facebook that you and your family bought a herd of goats for a village in Tanzania. Don’t tweet about how many kids you sponsor. Don’t wear t-shirts that make people feel bad that they paid $5 for theirs at Old Navy and didn’t serve any purpose than to cover up a hairy chest or a muffin top. Don’t publicize your good works and make Christians look worse in the eyes of others…who might actually do more good and don’t expect a reward. There are things that you CAN do to promote help and support, like: Post links to great organizations and encourage donations and gifts for others. Wear World Vision t-shirts and then answer questions when people ask if it’s a world-wide Optical service. Support your local food banks and feed the homeless in your city, or even volunteer time at a local shelter, but don’t expect a t-shirt…or even a pat on the back…but I can tell you this: the smiles from those you serve, the looks of humble appreciation or amazed gratitude, or the profound look of relief that there is another pair of hands to bear the load, those are gifts from God…and no one can take that away, and unlike a t-shirt, they don’t shrink.

Check out these great links, and please help those that cannot help themselves.

http://www.worldvision.org/content.nsf/give/ways-to-give

http://www.30hourfamine.org/about/what-is-the-famine

http://globalgiftguide.worldconcern.org/category/animals/one-goat

And if you want to read more of Acuff:

http://www.jonacuff.com/blog/  (You’re welcome.) 🙂

Carving out monuments

The minute I walked in the doors of the church his presence was felt. Or was it the Holy Spirit? They echoed the same. I walked forward in a line when someone extended a hand, “Here, you first.” I smiled. Knowing. This person had been touched by the life of Robert Ammon Warner as well. He had been touched, and in that small gesture, was showing homage to a life lived well.

Today I started the day by contemplating my epitaph. Strange yes, but not random. I am going through a Bible Study that asked it of me. But, I realized it was fitting as I walked into a room of people that I didn’t know. I may not have known their names, but each held meaning and purpose and a destiny whether they were aware of it or not. Each life touched in one way or another by an extraordinary man of God, a man we affectionately referred to as Brother Bob. He was revered and loved and remembered, and this memorial was more of a testament to the work of Christ than any other I’d been to.

Bob Warner was a saint. No doubt. But he’d never say it. He was a kind man, prone to emotion, and filled with love. I will never forget our first encounter as he handed me a book, “The United States of America was built on hope and faith!” He said with a loud and passionate voice. He was so convinced of this that he asked each and every member of our church to read that book, “The Light and the Glory”. He evoked passion for our country for the founders and for its purpose in the Kingdom of God. I admit with a frown that I never read through the book. In fact, it still sits, collecting dust, on my bookshelf, dog-eared about a fifth of the way through.

I will also never forget the sincerity in his voice as he shared how Jesus met him in the cockpit of a fighter plane in World War II and how his life was never the same. It was with great grief that he shared of the many friends that had lost their lives, and the eternal question of “Why me?” was whispered in his heart as he still possessed his life. It was out of that deep understanding that he then gave his life over to God, and that is the place that God took an ordinary man to the man of distinction that we remembered today. He wasn’t proud of the violence of war, but he never insulted his military. One year, a missionary woman from Japan came to our church, and with her she brought one of the native pastors. With tears in his eyes and love in his voice, Brother Bob spoke: “I am so sorry for what we did to your country and for the bomb. Please forgive us.” All that were there that day were touched by two things: his repentance and the acceptance of the Japanese man that represented a country that had been ravaged. It exemplified the heart of Christ, and the truth of the Body that sees no lines of distinction.

If I posted his picture, you wouldn’t know his face, most likely. But if you took that picture to a group of people who were uneducated and poverty stricken, those he taught to read and thus gave them hope, they would most likely weep. He was an educator by design much less than occupation. He believed that every person had a chance to an education and that education would bring them confidence. He offered tutoring at no cost. He hosted it for a few years at our church with others of our congregation, and it was a blessing. In fact, he was so committed to education he also taught in the prisons and fostered a ministry there. I will never forget the time that I joined them. Yes, me. A young woman in her early twenties went into a men’s prison and ministered. I sang. They listened. And I remember quite keenly that I had no fear. Brother Bob also invited my husband to go. We each went once. But, they were remarkable memories. Sadly, the ministry fizzled out and others came in and we never had the opportunity to go again, or maybe it is that we didn’t make the opportunity.

As Brother Bob’s son gave the eulogy he said that more than any other characteristic his father exemplified love. Yes. He didn’t live his life worrying whether or not he was in the Father’s will or if he was a part of the right group or wondering what anyone thought of him. He simply walked this earth giving out love. No one had to ask him, “Are you a Christian?” With one look at his outstretched arms and the smile on his face, the answer was clear. This man was a follower of Christ.

I left the church thinking. Seeking peace and understanding in my own circumstances and the ministries that I am a part of…when I heard the Voice that governs my days and my nights say, “Peace. Live. Love. This is what I ask of you.” And, the realization hit me, if no one speaks another word about me on the day of my memorial, may the love of God ring out! May it fill up the room, and may the truth of my life be exemplified in my love for God and others, and may my gravestone read, “This woman was a follower of Christ.”

My Affection

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:25-26

Man. Jesus threw some doozies out there, and this one is no less controversial.

I’ve been reading “Not a fan.” by Kyle Idleman in the midst of flights and weddings and conquering Disney World in two days and supervising a ten year old daughter that knew better but still decided to bite into a neon glow bracelet and is now convinced her liver is radioactive and refereeing the latest sibling smack down before blood is drawn. I admit. It wasn’t easy with so much brain energy and physical fortitude required, but in the midst of all that chaos, this verse stood out.

Can I just say, that being a woman called into ministry is one of the hardest things in the world? Really. It’s right up there with the lion tamer and the “how sharp are these shark teeth” tester guys. (I mean, if there were such a job.) I could write a book on this impossible balance. It’s not easy. It’s hard. (I felt the redundancy there was necessary to prove my point.)

I love Jesus. Not a question. I love my family. Absolute fact. I will confess that if Jesus were in the flesh on this earth today, I would never leave His side. I would have never gotten married, had kids, or possibly gotten a bath…I would NEVER leave His side. Creepy? Maybe. But true. He is my first Love. I steal away with Him on picnics, talk to Him all day long, run every thought, plan, scenario by Him because I don’t want to ever feel disconnected from His plan, His purpose, His will for my life…which is most probably why I wasn’t meant to live when He walked on earth – the whole harvest and laborers ratio; plus, my kids are pretty darn cool and I have no doubt will eventually leave a distinguished mark upon this earth.

So why did that verse in Luke hit me so hard?

Because it’s not “cool” to love Jesus that much, to admit that you would choose Him over anything and everything in your life, given the choice. (Which just in case you are moments away from calling the men in white coats to haul me in let me state: I do not believe that Jesus asks us to make this choice, to choose Him and hate our kids or spouse or mom or dad or siblings. He simply asks us to choose Him. He provided those relationships and He did so with all such players in mind…but He asks that we love Him so much that in comparison our love for them doesn’t compare. Make sense?)

I will never forget the look of absolute disbelief my friend gave me when I admitted, “Losing my husband would be difficult, but it wouldn’t devastate me.” Now, in my defense, when I said this I was totally thinking about the significance and the absoluteness of the word “Devastate” – to ruin or destroy; I wasn’t thinking in an emotional sense of overwhelming grief. But, I was being completely honest, because (and this is where you might look at me weird and think I’ve flipped my switch) nothing and no one in this world holds enough significance in my life to destroy me. Depress me, upset me, hurt me, grieve me, or break my heart? Yes. But not destroy me. There is something about looking death in the face and meeting God’s love and grace that makes you realize that nothing is worth that again. Nothing.

Jesus is my Affection. Everything and everyone comes second to Him. We are told this is how it is supposed to be, what being a true disciple of Christ is, what relationship is all about…and yet, even the church criticizes those of us that think this way. (Unless you’re a priest or a nun, then you get a reprieve…well, kind of, because then they just think you are a closet pedophile or lesbian looking for cover in a habit or collar.)

“There is something wrong with you.” I’ve heard that before.

“Are you sure that you aren’t having an emotional affair with Jesus?” And my response was, “Is that even possible!?”

“You have some sort of misguided affection for your Saviour.” Because it seems to me that saying, “I would die for you” and then backing that up with actions seems just the right amount of affection for One that saved you…but maybe that is just me.

“You’re a woman…there should be a certain level of restraint even in your intimacy with Christ.” Wow. So the woman that admitted to me that she has so much difficulty with physical intimacy because of past abuse and misuse that she asks the Holy Spirit to love her husband through her and often lays naked before God in order to feel the purity of that state instead of the guilt and shame of before would probably be burned at the stake, and yet, I understand her. I understand that pain and that desperate need from a God that created her and has a compassion for her that never fails.

I’m a woman. A woman that loves Jesus. That gave my life up for Him. That has been spending my breath to give His back. Not because there is something wrong with me, or because I’m misguided or without restraint. But because He healed that which was wrong, He led me when I was completely off track, and He has taught me that His perfect Love casts out all fear…including the fear of losing someone that is most precious to me, or the insecurities of the looks that I get from others, the bitter gossip of those that don’t understand, and the lack of appreciation from those that haven’t experienced the intimacy that Christ’s Love affords.

I never want to be accused of choosing ministry (ie: work) over my spouse, my children, my family, and as a woman, a mother and a wife, the pressure of that is even stricter than on a man in ministry; however, I will always put my relationship with Christ first over any other role that I fill. Not to be separate but to be significant and inspirational, and if others can’t understand that, then they haven’t experienced the freedom that having Him first brings. Christ’s love affects me. And my affections are first for Him. Isn’t that what being a committed follower of Christ requires? According to Jesus, the red letter Voice, it is.

Forgiven

Someone asked me, “How do you forgive the person that has hurt you?” That’s not an easy question to answer. And, yet, I know that we MUST forgive. Jesus admonishes us to “Forgive as you have been forgiven.” Really? Because that takes forgiveness to another level…that level takes more than flesh can give. I guess that’s the point.

Forgiveness comes more easily for some than others. Some pains are more easily forgiven. The ignorance of the one that hurt you, for instance, over time might be easier to dismiss. But what about the malicious acts of pain and abuse, the in your face I hate you kind of grievances? Or the people that abuse you, misuse you, and break your heart again and again behind closed doors where no one else sees? What of those?

One thing I have to remind myself is this: My enemy is not flesh and blood. He works through flesh and blood and manipulates others to come against me, but my enemy is deeper than that. When you can disconnect the pain from the person and attribute it to a “greater” source, perhaps you can forgive more easily. I know in the significant pains that I have faced in my life and overcome, it has taken that. I could stew about so and so and what they did to me, or I can realize that, like it or not, they too were victims of a hateful enemy that simply longs to kill and destroy and will stop at nothing to see it happen.

Oh but wait! Leslie? You are then excusing the sin!? Yes.

“Forgive as you have been forgiven.”

Luckily, Jesus didn’t hang on a cross and blurt out, “Leslie Ann, this nail in my hand is for you, for the times that you lied, were unfaithful, murdered men in your heart, and took my name in vain!” He simply stated, “Father forgive them…” I was included in that blanket forgiveness, as were my accusers and my attackers. It held no stipulations or quid pro quo; forgiveness was given without a thought to the specific sin. It isn’t what put him there that mattered to Him, but the ones He was setting free!

“How do you forgive the person that has hurt you?”

You have to choose. Choose two things: First, remember the One that was hurt FOR you. Secondly, forgive as you have been forgiven. This is a little easier when you are removed from him or her. But in the case that they are still in your life, pray for them. Never discount the power of spoken prayer. Your circumstances may not change, but I guarantee your heart will; yielded and pliable in the Hands of your loving Savior, your heart can take on a softness you never thought possible.

I’m praying for the person that reads this and harbors unforgiveness, anger, and hatred. I have been where you are, and for years I allowed that bitterness to fester and to grow. Then, I forgave and released the stress and energy that had occupied my mind and heart for years, holding me back from taking hold of the abundant life found through Christ Jesus. Forgiveness, I once heard, isn’t about forgetting what was done. It’s the act of releasing the chokehold around the perpetrator’s neck. Let them go… and they will lose their hold over you.

I leave you with these words of Corrie Ten Boom, when she was looking into the eyes of the man that had abused, mistreated her, and passionately hated her for no other reason than she was a Jewish sympathizer:
“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”