Who in Your Life Needs a Blessing?

I was at the service counter at Trader Joe’s when, out of the blue, one of the staff handed me a bouquet of white roses saying it was a “Pay it forward.” That unexpected gift was a blessing. The giver had no idea how such a simple gift would touch me. I had been missing a dear friend who died months earlier. The gift came as a sign that God, knowing my loss, had found a way to comfort me.

The gift of Blessing another is something that the church I am a part of will be starting next week. Wrapped around a study called, “Surprise the World,” every person will be encouraged to choose three people each week to bless in some way. I suspect there are as many ways to bless as there are people who need a blessing. To the troubled co-worker having a rough day with the boss, a word of encouragement can lift a spirit. Reaching out to an overwhelmed parent of a special needs child with a meal for the family – can give a much needed break. Sending a note of support to a person going through a divorce, to just let that person know that you care, can heal a broken spirit. Taking time to listen to a friend, offers encouragement in the simple act of allowing a person to be heard. Taking a lonely person out for a meal recognizes that person’s value and worth.

Look around your world today – who in your life needs a blessing? And what is it that he or she needs?

 

God’s Care is Forever

My favorite Bible is the Revised English Version which often translates passages of scripture in ways that are somewhat different than more popular Bibles. This morning I was reading from Isaiah 40: 21-31 when the words “Do you not know, have you not heard, were you not told long ago?” popped out at me. I thought of how often I have to be reminded of what I already know about God.

I know that God moves in our lives in both mysterious and somewhat less than mysterious ways. I am confident (most of the time) that God’s love is real. When I look at my life I can point to times and places where I knew that God was not only present, but moving mountains that were in my path. I preach about a day I was going through a divorce, single parenting and choosing between rent money and food, when a person dropped by with a couple of bags of groceries. There are seasons, when I know God interceded on my behalf as I’ve lived  through a rough patch. What I don’t understand is why I forget those moments and times the next time I bump into a challenging situation.

Apparently, I’m not the first person who has a memory lapse when it comes to the goodness, compassion and faithfulness of God. Isaiah reminds a doubting people that God’s care and love is forever.

“Jacob, why do you complain,
and you, Israel, why do you say,
‘My lot is hidden from the Lord,
my cause goes unheeded by my God?’
Do you not know, have you not heard?
The Lord, the eternal God,
creator of earth’s farthest bounds,
does not weary or grow faint;
his understanding cannot be fathomed.
He gives vigor to the weary,
new strength to the exhausted.
Young men may grow weary and faint,
even the fittest may stumble and fall;
but those who look to the Lord will win new strength,
they will soar as on eagles’ wings;
they will run and not feel faint,
march on and not grow weary.” Isaiah 40:27-31 REB

Some days I just need to be reminded of what I already know.

Tears of Confusion

My oldest son was just shy of three years old when I discovered that he was gone. In the distance I saw him riding on his little red tractor. Gathering up my 18-month-old son, I began the chase. The problem was, I was seven months’ pregnant. With the added weight of my second son, I couldn’t run faster than my older son was scooting. The best I was able to do was to keep him in sight.

The race had gone on for about three blocks when I saw my older son heading for the freeway. There wasn’t much else to do, but put my 18-month-old on a corner, tell him to “stay,” and ask the UPS driver parked on the side of the road to watch  him  until I got back. Then, with less weight I went  after his brother. I remember how my younger son started to cry. I’m sure he felt that I was deserting him. What he didn’t know was how much he was in my thoughts, as I pursued his brother. He had no concept of how hard it was for me to leave him there. He didn’t understand that I didn’t want him left by himself, even for a few minutes. Nor, could he know how very worried I was about him. He didn’t know that my heart was aching for him.

“Where is God anyway?” It comes, that question, when life deals us a bitter blow. “Why? Why didn’t God stop the drunk driver who killed my friend. . . .Or the spread of cancer in my child . . . why didn’t God make my marriage work, when I prayed so hard?” “Why did my child get mixed up in drugs?” “We loved each other, why did my spouse die so young?” Would that there were easy answers to these difficult questions. The more I experience of life, the more convinced I am that there are no easy answers to life’s griefs, disappointments, and sorrows. I am equally convinced that God cares, that God is with us in each and every tragedy, that God does not leave us comfortless. Believing that and feeling that are, of course, two entirely different situations.

What we believe in faith is that some day we will understand this life with all of its unfairness. To say that it is God’s will a child dies of cancer, a drunk driver kills someone, a marriage fails or that anyone gets messed up in drugs seems to me blasphemy. It’s equally evident that God doesn’t protect us from life’s hurts. I once heard the theologian Henri Nouwen say, “The good news of the Gospel is not that God has come to take our pain away, but that God has come to be with us in it.” The apostle Paul says it another way, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

No, I don’t have the answers for “Why.”  But this I believe  – that even as my heart ached for my younger son with his tears of confusion, even so, God’s heart aches for each of us in ours.

Jonah – God’s Petulant Prophet

Jonah is a petulant prophet. He fumes, he expresses his frustration with God by running as fast and far as he can to get away. All of which is why the book of Jonah is one of my favorite Biblical books. One can give credit to Jonah for honesty. He does not mince words with God about  what he thinks and what he wants to do. He runs from God’s call to go to Nineveh because he simply doesn’t like the people. He’d rather they were not warned. What he hopes for is that God rains down fire, brimstone and tons of lava on the city of Nineveh and its people. So he runs from God.

God has a way of searching after us when we run and Jonah’s run from God was no exception. Caught in a storm and with the throw of lots indicating he was the reason for the storm, he just asks to be thrown into the sea. Jonah would rather die than see the Ninevites’ saved. It would be a final escape from the persistent call of God. Even there his plan fails. Instead of certain death, he is rescued by a large fish and eventually spit out on the shore. Once again he encounters the call of God to go to Nineveh. Fresh from his near death experience one would suspect there would be an authenticity about his message as he walks the city. So, Jonah shouts for the people to repent, hoping they won’t.

Yet, he is incredibly successful. Maybe it was the way he described being held in the stomach of a giant fish or being thrown into the stormy waters. For three days he walks the streets of Nineveh, fuming about being there. Having completed his task, he goes to edge of town and waits for  Operation Nineveh Storm to rain from the sky. But it doesn’t. Frustratingly for Jonah, the people believe him and repent. Even the king’s heart changes.

Jonah’s problem is that he doesn’t want God to love other people. He wants that for himself and his people.

Jonah’s strange trip to Nineveh is meant to teach him compassion. The story of Jonah ends with a word from God, after a plant gives Jonah shade for a day, then withers the next. He is distraught. God compares Jonah’s concern for the plant with his lack of concern for the 120,000 people living in the city. We are left wondering if Jonah’s heart was changed. Did the word mean anything to him. Was this reluctant prophet able to open his heart to love the other people God loves. Are we?

 

 

Steadfast Love Transforms all Failure

Though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the LORD holds us by the hand.” (Psalm 37:24) writes the Psalmist. I’m not fond of falling headlong or stumbling along life’s journey. I would much rather be the person who always has it altogether, with no detours along the way. That may have been why it was so difficult for me when my marriage fell apart. Back in those years, I was convinced that a Christian ought to be able to make his or her marriage work. Failing at that, I had serious questions about God’s ongoing love and care . I wondered about God’s willingness to accept me and forgive my failure. I’m not sure quite why the assumption was so embedded in me that divorce was an unforgivable sin. I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that.

From the vantage point of years, I suspect that I was projecting my own sense of judgment on God. Failure pulls us up short. Personal failure can be devastating. We don’t like to fail. Failure forces us to admit our human limitations. It causes us to acknowledge that we do not know everything we thought we did. In failure, we find ourselves eating words we once glibly stated and wincing at judgments we freely gave. We find ourselves in a humbling place, without the familiar certainty of yesterday.

Big failures carry with them fear of judgment, loss of confidence, and a disturbing anxiety about our future. I don’t know what failure Dietrich Bonhoeffer was referring to when he wrote these words. I do know that he was in prison in Germany during the World War II charged with treason. He writes, “Time alone distinguishes . . .when the creeping hours of the day first reveal the true outlines of failure. This is the hour of steadfast love, the hour of the mother and the beloved, the hour of the friend and the brother. Steadfast love transforms all failure, and gently cradles it in the soft radiance of heavenly light.”

If today, you are feeling yourself to be a “failure,” be assured that God has not stopped loving or caring for you. God is far more concerned about your personal well-being than about the mistakes you have made. God wants you to know that you are not alone.  You are in fact  surrounded by the steadfast love of God . A love so rich and pure that no words can adequately describe the power of that love. Looking backwards I can name the people God put in my life during that painful, questioning time.   I see how God was using them to reach me –  to remind me that God’s love never fails.

The scripture says, “Being rooted and grounded in love, may you have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17b-19)
The day of failure really will pass. Up ahead will be moments of joy and celebration. But for today, be assured God’s grace and love are surrounding you.  Someday you will see how in this uncertain time, you have truly been “cradled in the soft radiance of heavenly light.”

Put on Compassion – Put on Love

In David Brooks book The Road to Character he talks about the difference between  résumé virtues and  eulogy virtues. He points out how very different they are. On our résumé we lift up our qualifications, our skills and gifts. We tell a potential employer why we should be hired over someone else.

Eulogy virtues are different. He says of them: “The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed. Most of us would say that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé virtues, but I confess that for long stretches of my life I’ve spent more time thinking about the latter than the former.”

When I meet with families before a funeral, I often ask family members to tell me about the qualities of the person. What is it about their loved one they will miss the most?  Most often I will hear about the good things. They will remember special meals, trips, a kindly father-child talk . . . The mother who hovered over them in moments that were hard . . . the son or daughter who was always there . . . a spouse who took care that life was easier for the other.

Sometimes, there will be silence when I ask that question. No one really wanting to tell me about the person we are planing the funeral for. From all that is unsaid, I hear the pain of a life that left emotional distress, anger, resentment and suffering behind. We are each given a finite time on this earth. What we do with our lives during that time is ours to choose. What Virtues are You Growing?

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.” Colossians 3:12-15

A New Year – A Time to Bless and to Heal

A year’s ending gives us a peculiar vantage point. We look back on the events, people and circumstances we’ve encountered. There have been moments of joy, others of sorrow. Some came as the bitter sweet irony of both. We have had times to savor and celebrate. There have been losses which caused our hearts to bleed. People who have been precious to us are deeply missed. There were times we acted on our best impulses and our highest motives. To our regret, there were other times when were less than we wanted to be.

A year’s turning gives us opportunity to rethink where we have been and how we want to live our lives in the future. Howard Thurman’s writes in his book of essays and prayers, “The Centering Moment,” “We anticipate tomorrow, not because it is our promise and our due, but because there is within us a deep yearning for the fulfillment of that which we have not known before, for the opportunity to be what, if we have another chance, we think we may become. Brood over us as we stand on the threshold. . . Make tender our spirits that we may not through any callousness of mind or hardness of heart, hurt and maim and injure where we could bless and cure and heal. Leave us not alone to the independence of our minds or to the hardness of our hearts and spirits, but surround us with Thy caring, that what we do will be what we mean and what we say will be inspired by the integrity of the intent.”

May this New Year, truly be that for you. A NEW YEAR. May it be an opportunity to start fresh.   For we have been to Christmas. We have seen the star. We have heard the angels singing. We have knelt at the manger. It has been given to us to know that the light of Christ is in our world and darkness has not and cannot overcome it.

May your New Year be blessed with the deep assurance that Christ’s light will be with you throughout this year.

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”   II Corinthians 5:17