Wednesday, January 16, 2019

You Got This-Week 3-Perfection

“Practically Perfect in Everyway” 

Mary Poppins magical tape measures her to be “Practically perfect in every way”, which begs the question what is “perfect”? Shel Silverstein’s character “Mary Hume” tries to judge this very question with an “Almost perfect…but not quite” to everything she assesses, only to have her final judgment at the pearly gates to be: “Almost perfect…but not quite” (Silverstein, A Light in the Attic).

As Christians we are called to righteousness to the degree of perfection, knowing that we always are going to get Mary Hume’s “…but not quite” at the end. We are called to be the best self we can possibly be at all times; not just on days we are at church or serving at a church function. We are called to strive to live the way Jesus did all the time, even when no one else is looking.

At this point you might be asking “so what defines perfection?” or “where can I get a firm definition of something as seemingly subjective as perfection?” Pointing to Jesus is a good start, but let’s start a little more basic than that…the Ten Commandments. The Commandments are the nuts and bolts of what God calls us to be like. When asked which the greatest commandment, Jesus responded, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength”. He goes on to tell us the second greatest, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31). Now that is a tall order, isn’t it…and that’s just two of the commandments.

Love God: I can try and do that, but all my heart, soul, mind and strength? What about my family, my dog, and…football, oh and my neighbor…He said to love my neighbor? We are called to not put any of these things before God; more specifically we are to love them through God. By loving God wholly, we are able to love all other things far better because God, when we allow Him, filters out all that is not good in the things we love. The first four commandments are all about this relationship with God; summed up they are to love God, love no other Idols (even football) before Him, to never use His name in vain (Yes this includes “OMG”), and to keep the sabbath day holy.

So far, I am not doing so well on this test, how about you? I am running about 50 percent. Ok, so next is the remaining six commandments: Honor your parents (“love you, Mom and Dad”), Don’t Murder (haven’t killed anyone yet), No Adultery (this can even be in the mind, without the physical), No Stealing (do pens from work count?), No lying (even little white lies?), and do not envy (but that car is so cool). These all point to how we are to love one another and that is not just our own social circle either.

As Christians, we all generally try hard to not do these things; at least not often. However, we are all broken and as such, we will always reach those gates and hear “almost perfect…but not quite”. So, that brings us back to Jesus, it is only through Him that we are washed clean and made acceptable; not by our own merits, but by the grace that comes from His. Thank you, God, for allowing me the way to be perfected through your son Jesus, for I know I cannot do it alone.

~Written by Christian Love

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

You Got This-Week 2-Grace

Oh, how I have loved Justice.
How I have let her comfort me in times of trouble,
when I am certain I am right.
I hang my arm around the shoulders of Justice,
lifting up my chin, ready to face off with my opponent.
Justice is beautiful, clear, and precise.
Justice is from God, and my craving for her is because
he made me in his image.
His love for Justice is mine.

Sometimes I abuse Justice and use her as a weapon.
I assume I am her only friend, and that she owes me her loyalty.
I boast that she lives at my house, and that I alone can interpret her meaning.
It feels good and right.
Sometimes I abuse Justice.

But then….Justice pulls away and reveals
she is not on my side this time.
She threatens everything
by exposing where I have failed.
And though I agree with Justice,
I cannot bear our parting of ways.

And then, Justice introduces her companion, Mercy.
Mercy has always been with Justice; they depend on each other,
but I have ignored Mercy when it suites me.
When I should introduce her to someone else.
When Justice alone makes me look better.

But in this time, when Justice unapologetically
judges everything with her swift sentence,
Mercy pulls me in for a hug.
Mercy slings her arm around my shoulder and
lifts my chin, ready to face off with my opponent.
Mercy gives a knowing nod to justice,
and the two of them judge me as righteous.
Mercy does not ignore the truth of my failing.
She lives not in spite of it, but because of it.

The beauty of this exchange brings me to my knees.
My shoulders relax.
I breathe more deeply, finally exhaling.
I know Justice is right, but that Mercy is also right.
These two companions belong together,
and it is clear I have neglected their joint power.

Sometimes I abuse Mercy and use her as a hall pass.
I assume Mercy will always be there to catch me,
And I forget to be deeply grateful.
I deliberately don’t introduce her to my friends.
I can almost pretend Justice is all I need.
And then Grace reminds me,
Because Grace is also their companion
And understands my limitations.
Sometimes I abuse Mercy.

I am inconsistent, wobbly and forgetful.
I am harsh, lazy, and distracted.
I am judgmental, judged and saved.
I am friends with Justice, Mercy and Grace.

~Written by Lori Caperoon

Monday, January 7, 2019

Constructive Connections-Part 10


Constructive Connections is a fiction series.  They are beginning tales of how each person is crafted by God to fulfill a purpose, to enhance the narrative of life.  By contributing unique talents to serve one another, a tower God calls us to construct begins to form for His joy.

He looked up with irritation, “Grapes?  Is that all?” Jacob surveyed the kitchen.  Grapes were on every platter, every plate, every tiered cookie trivet.  
Finding so many grapes in our town proved to be tricky, but I had my sources on the look-out.  “Oh Jacob! I am so glad you came tonight to partake in our grape event!”
“You said it was a small group.  No mention of grapes. I didn’t eat dinner.  Are you a vegetarian or something?” he complained while popping three glorious Crimson Seedless into his stern scowl.
“No my friend, alas, I am a carnivore.  But tonight…Tonight! We are going to talk all about these delightful varieties of vine bearing fruit,” I answered him, smiling widely.  

Jacob Meyer was standing in my kitchen! It was a sight to behold. He was always serving, never allowing anyone to serve him. Such can be the way of a servant heart attempting to lose the pain of the past with the excessive.  But the night was to be focused on more than serving; it was to be about connecting and I was not going to let sourpuss jibes put a damper on the trajectory of the evening conversation.
A total of 5 people had come to gather for an evening of healing and fellowship; the most in my little living room since we had formed three months earlier.  I could not have been more overjoyed; 5 souls who longed for more. 5 hearts longing to be healed. 5 bodies yearning to become part of The Body.
“Hey Sabine, I noticed over yonder Peaceful Place Retirement has a bazaar next week,” Amy grabbed a handful of ripened Rieslings and popped them past the braces to become crushed by solid straitened molars.  “Do you think they’d let me set a spell with my wares?”
“Outside crafters are always welcome at Peaceful Place.  Most vendors are from the community; the residents love to talk with merchants,” I thought for a minute about how Amy was new to the area; all the way from Kentucky.  
“Let’s go there together Monday! I would love to introduce you to the coordinator.”
“What kind of crafts do you make?” Vera Candlewood inquired as she sat next to her husband Paul on the love seat.  The couple came every Thursday with their crisp leather covered Bibles. New to the faith, yet unable just yet to break in the pages.   
“I like to make stuff fer kids.  Ya know; stuff like slime, moon sand, and things.  Kid sized aprons are also a hit.”
“Oh, how many kids do you have?” Vera asked.
Amy looked down at the grape she was swirling between her thumb and index finger.  “None,” she said quietly. “Love kids, just God ain’t given the ‘yay O.K.’ yet. Besides, it’s just me and Bruce this round, I guess.  It’s fine, ya know,” she covered when she noticed Vera’s seat-shifting discomfort. “Bruce is enough mess maker for my liking,” she snickered.
“Who’s Bruce? Boyfriend?” Jacob piped in while testing each selection of grape variety without looking up, missing the very essence of apparent agony Amy must have been experiencing.  “What?” he questioned as he received the right tone of my glare.
“Bruce is my older brother.  He’s got some special needs. Mom was always there, so we helped each other take care of ‘im.  But since she’s gone…I’m it,” she looked down at her phone. Poor dear; she must have been awaiting the paid caregiver’s eventual call for instruction.  “State wants to take ‘im, but we will get to stick together if the Good Lord is willin’ and the creek don’t rise.”
Amy and I had met over doughnuts in the church lobby a few weeks prior.  She was standing against a wall as the space filled with people after service.  The delightful conversation we had led to an invitation to our smallish group gathering.
“Grapes!” I exclaimed; admittedly a little too loud.  “There are over 80,000 grape varieties in the world. Each has its own place on the vine.  
Ever notice that sometimes grapes, even though they are right next to each other on the vine, can taste different?  One sugary sweet cotton candy,” I shot Jacob a look, “yet the next is small and tart as lemon? Well, they are all related.  Each grape grew at different rates, but they all grew from the same vine. But I noticed something as I washed them, preparing for this evening of grape expectations…Some of the fruit were no longer on the vine.  
Fallen off their stems. They were left in the bottom of the bag. No longer…connected.”
I walked over to the fridge and pulled out a mixed bag of stemless grapes.  “These poor dears are like us sometimes. They have fallen off the vine and are left without connection.”  I paused for dramatic affect. “We, friends, can be as unconnected as these poor morsels, left at the bottom of the bag, fragments of lovely sweet flavor left untasted.
“Sabine, I am not a grape.  And I am connected, thank you very much. I have 5 jobs I do at the church and I am happy.  Can we get past the grapes, already?”
“Oh, Dear Jacob.  We are all at times the grapes that don’t make it to the place of honor.  Somehow, we have fallen to the bottom; passed over, looked past, not washed, not noticed.  We are still Jesus people, we were once alive and growing and becoming so sweet with knowledge and wisdom.  But something happened…a death, an accident, an incident, a life interruption. Something caused our fall from the cluster.”
Amy looked down thoughtfully at the grape in her hand.  “How do we get back on the vine?”
“Oh dear sweet Amy!  Jesus is so amazing, He allows us to be grafted back onto the branches when we are ready!  That is the amazing grace-we are His amazing grapes and He is just waiting for us to come back to the bunch!”  
“But it is hard to connect, especially when you have difficult situations to account for,” she plead.
“Think about how God gifted you uniquely, perfectly.  He endowed you with creativity! Slime is a great example of a God gift!”
She looked at me as if I had three eyes.
“You could bless some of our preschoolers with teaching them how to create their own slime.  The small gesture of sharing can be the first step to getting back to the cluster, attached to the stem, receiving the healing nourishment that comes directly from the vine.”
Her eyes brightened as she considered.  “Slime? I suppose I could teach some kiddos how to make it.  Might be fun!” Then she looked around at the other guests. “But how does that get me back on the vine?”
I went to her and held her hand.  “We are called to bring our gifts, not to expect anything else.  God will work through every slimy interaction, every slimy conversation and he will do the connecting when you show up.”
“I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.   John 15:5
~Written by Jennifer Love

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

It's Not What You Think...

Image result for image christmas cross

It’s Not What You Think

    So, the time of year has come again where we redecorate our homes, sing a different set of songs, and are barraged with sale after sale.  Yes, my friends, it is Christmas time. The secular side of Christmas is that of Santa Claus bringing toys, snowmen (and women), cookies, and sleigh rides.  The Christian side of Christmas will paint the picture of the neatly designed nativity. Mary, Joseph and a few important guests; the shepherds, wisemen, and a few animals crowded around the manager.  While both Christmases have their place, even in my life, neither gets truly to the nature of what Christmas is all about…its not what you think.
    To start, I will mention that Santa Claus (aka Saint Nick, Pair Noel, Sinterklaas, etc.) has very diverse roots; many of them pagan.  Saint Nicholas the person was a follower of Christ as well as a giver of gifts. He was once defrocked for hitting a peer in full assembly when a Bishop, named Arius, downplayed the divinity of Christ when he stated Jesus was not equal to God the Father; painting a lesser picture of the significance of Christ in the church.  Being a believer today often makes us the minority, watching what we say and how we say it in the workplace and in many public settings (sometimes to extremes in places such as China). Christmas is the one time of year we can get a little braver, declaring our faith by the carols we sing and the nativities we display.
    The focal point of every nativity scene is the manger and more important the baby that lay in it- Jesus.  Much is said in the Bible about this baby that bears many names beyond that of Jesus, “and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  The entire Old Testament foreshadows His coming and the New Testament is about His time here and why he came.  While the nativity scene is a symbol of celebration and the birth that changed everything, it is not completely what Christmas is about.  If the meaning of Christmas is only about the baby in the manger, then I will challenge that Christmas is not about what you think it’s about.
    So what is Christmas really about then, you might ask...? The musical group Go Fish sums it up very well with their song “It’s about the Cross”. The first verse and chorus are as follows:
“It's not just about the manger
Where the baby lay
It's not all about the angels
Who sang for him that day

It's not just about the shepherds
Or the bright and shining star
It's not all about the wisemen
Who travelled from afar

It's about the cross
It's about my sin
It's about how Jesus came to be born once
So that we could be born again

It's about the stone
That was rolled away
So that you and I could have real life someday

It's about the cross
It's about the cross”

Go Fish – Album “Christmas with a capital C”

    Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, but really, it’s about the ending of the story 33 years later.  It is about the cross, “it’s about the one who came to be born once so we can be born again” (Go Fish). Yes, the birth is important, and we must always celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we need to remember what it is really about…” God so loved the world He gave His one and Only Son for us” (John 3:16).  

Merry Christmas everyone!  Now I call you all to go tell it on the mountain; not just that Jesus Christ was born, but why.

Please enjoy the link to Go Fish’s “It’s About the Cross”

~Written by Christian Love