Friday, December 20, 2013

Bearded, Crude and Honored

I just have to get in on the some way. There is no sense repeating the resounding appeal for freedom of speech, so I won't go on and on about that. There is no sense in trying to convince people of the living and inspired Word of God being truth...that is the Spirit's job. And there is no sense in trying to talk people into believing you can disapprove of something and still love at the same time...they don't WANT to believe that. 

No, my many words won't change much. Still, there is that insatiable desire to say something...while there is still the freedom to do so. To feel the freedom of expression without too much fear of hurtful reactions. Now that is something worth talking about. Lack of fear. 
I don't watch much Duck Dynasty, but just enough to know that these people are pretty real, pretty happy, happy, happy and pretty fearless. To have the guts to go on national television as a Bible believing, Jesus loving, duck killing, anti-razor family, with cameras following the intimacies of daily life is beyond my timid imagination. It is no surprise at all to me, that Mr.Phil made this statement. In fact, I was kind of waiting to see how long it would take before someone asked him about this issue. As expected, he stood firm and blunt on his loyalty to the Word of God. I'm stunned at the public surprise. 

I admire anyone, whether I agree with them or not, who has the courage to speak the truth of what they believe (for the record...I agree with Phil...and the Bible...and Jesus). They might not say it as gracefully as I would like, but at least they are saying it, not hiding in the shadows, hoping someone else will take the bullet for their freedom. God calls us to be courageous. We deny Him in so many ways, so many times and yet He continues to give us opportunity to show courage and trust in Him. To beat the fear. 

Mary was afraid. She was about to be seen as an adulteress. The evidence would be clear and yet accusations untrue.
"But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.'" Luke 1:30

Favor with God. Not with ratings, TV stations, polls or public opinion. That's the assurance of  safety. Courage comes from knowing God is pleased with you. Not how perfectly you said something or how well you perform nor how many people stand with you...but with your heart. When He knows you love and trust Him more than anything, especially your own understanding,..enough to throw everything on the altar of uncertainty...He shows up for you bringing peace and power unmatched. 

The Christmas story has a lot of fearful people in it...Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, even King Herod. He sends bright and powerful messengers of hope to His timid but willing children. There is no guarantee of the outcome you like, but there is a guarantee that you'll like the outcome. The cure for fear is faith, not loop holes, compromise and avoidance. Funny...the shepherds had the honor of being Jesus first friends. I think Phil would've fit in quite nicely with that group of roughians. God honors those who honor Him. Even  bearded, crude and politically incorrect ones.

Monday, December 16, 2013

It's All About the Presence

It's list time. In my head and on paper. I am not going to lie. I love presents. I love giving presents. Yes, part of the excitement of Christmas morning is those beautiful little bundles of surprise and fun under the tree. the week before the Day of intense shopping is magical and exhausting, but a big part of the celebration. God is a gift giver and so we should be too. Trying to participate in this tradition but not get caught up in materialism and overspending is not an easy task though. A concerted effort is needed to stay within the spiritual purpose of the presents and stay clear away from the commercial monster that hijacks Christmas so often.  

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Wise men gifts. Although you won't likely find these products on the Walmart shelf, they can give guidance as to what kinds of gifts to buy. Gold...valuable, long lasting and fit for the little kings and queens we love so much. I try to stay away from the dollar store as much as possible for this reason. Frankincense...pleasing to the senses and healthy. Sure, treats are in order at this time of year, but not so much that it makes us sick, fat and depressed. Gifts are supposed to be a blessing to our bodies not a curse. Myrrh...representative of Jesus future. It foresaw the life of suffering He would face. Our gifts should reflect the person receiving it. It might be something I could use, but it's not for me. I love gifts full of thought and personalized.

The material side of gifts, however often distracts us from Emmanuel. Jesus came diapered and cooing centuries ago. He lived life, then died...just like everyone else. When a loved one passes on, we sentimentally talk of them still being "with us" in spirit. We long to feel their presence in quiet moments and the reality of the person is acknowledged...insisted upon and relied on for comfort and strength. Why don't we do that with Jesus? In fact, He is the only one in history who actually proved, in physical form, that He is no longer dead and communes with us still. The only one to cheat death and continue to be with us in spirit. The only one to reveal Himself to us everyday. He fills a heart with hope, help and happiness. Spending time with family at Christmastime is wonderful too. But there is no gift like the immediate presence of God. His presence is for now. It is more valuable, useful and eternal than gold. It is more pleasing and healing than Frankincense and it is more tailored to our needs and useful for our future than Myrrh. 

The movies, songs and cliches of the season seem to focus priority on the gifts and the presence of family and friends. For many, these things are not possible...poverty, sickness, work, broken relationships, or unusual circumstances. It's a reality. So should that ruin Christmas? If it does, then you've missed the point. The point is Emmanuel. GOD with us. Not anyone or anything else...just God. If you have the presence of God with you, then you have Christmas. Mary and Joseph were alone in the stable with God. In their hometown, with no family of friends visiting and no glittery gifts wrapped and under the tree. God alone was with them on the first Christmas morning...and that was enough. 

The gifts and the people are wonderful blessings that make the season bright, but if you can't have these, you can still have the essential. The presence of God Almighty. The one who loves you most and best. His presence will fill your heart with every perfect gift and bring the joy Christmas promises. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Irish Spring and Jesus

Homelessness. I don't know that word. I've always had a home. I've always been loved, cared for, spoiled even. It's real though and I should be familiar with it. Why are some people without home and family? I don't know...alcoholism? Laziness? Mental instability? Misfortune of some kind? Does that change anything really? They are still hurting, cold and hungry. Some stand in soup lines with black eye and black soul. Some sit quietly with their 13 year old daughter who should be at a cheer practice or listening to Mom read her Little Women. Some reeking of alcohol and dirty shirt. No goal, no plan, no hope. Walking to nowhere in particular. 

I awkwardly offer him a blanket and a backpack filled with necessities, with a little fear of response.  Dirty hands rummage through the bag and gravitate to the plastic bag of toiletries...soap...he points longingly at the Irish Spring box and smiles at the sight and scent of cleanliness. Forget the jerky and the peanuts, mitts and's the soap. The cleanliness he longs for. He smiles and nods at me in gratefulness. I gave him a bar of soap for Christmas and he is happy.

The black-eyed man stands fearfully in the corner. Full of confusion and helplessness. He wants a bar of soap too. The kind that cleans the soul. The soul that has made too many wrong choices that keep leading him to this soup line. We offer him cleansing. The gospel wash...scented with Jesus' sweat, foaming with His precious blood and rinsed with the powerful resurrection. It's still his choice. The soup kitchen will always be there for him, but he needs to know what the choices are. We need to make sure he knows the options.Tell them that they aren't really homeless, they just don't know the address. Give them the divine directions home.

The friendly, small lady tears over the package of brand new underwear. Brand new. What a treat. Worth crying over. She continues the tears as the gospel track is read to her while she hugs the Fruit of the Loom delicacy. Again...cleanliness. I thought  hunger would be the issue, but I don't think it is. I know the joy of a hot shower, scented shirts straight form the dryer and smooth minty teeth...everyday. I also know the joy of freedom and forgiveness after a cleansing moment on my knees, secret confessions before my Father who knows already. He waits for me in the soup line. With my black eyes, dirty fingers and unchanged clothes. He must wonder why I insist on staying that way for so long. 

We long for cleanliness. He offers it, no matter how dirty we get, and yet we stubbornly continue to roll in the mire. I don't know why. Maybe humility is needed. Humility to just give up and let go of MY way. How many times do I have to end up in the soup line before I try HIS way? 

Humility is also needed to go there and offer the soap. You risk a little. Rejection, discomfort and aesthetic deprivation for a time. Just for a time. Humility is also needed to admit that it could have been me in that line, hugging those new undies. It might seem unlikely that I would let myself get there, but many of them were "somebody" once upon a time...they have stories. Images of God, tainted and broken. Not homeless, just lost.

"There, but for the grace of God, go I." -John Bradford

We really aren't much different. Just circumstances. I'm going to have a hot shower today...she won't. I can hear the fireplace crackling warm as I type..not so for her. New things adorn my body and, she gets something new. Simply because I did something unusual. But with love and prayer we can both have Him...and He makes all things new.