Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Constructive Connections-Part 11

Opened Door

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.

Boy, what a mess!  Wouldn’t guess that there was just me n’ Bruce livin’ in the apartment.  Got to admit, it’s mostly my junk keepin’ the tidy from tidying. Mama wouldn’t have let the place fall into this kind of disorder.  But Mama isn’t round to direct me while cleanin’ today.
“Bruce, get up off the couch,” I yelled at my older brother in my cleaning frenzy.  “Why don’t you go watch TV in your room today so I can keep the living room clean for once?”  As soon as I said it, guilt set on my heart.
His eyes filled with tears and he yelled, “Don’t be mean!  I’m gonna tell Mama!” and he got up and ran to his room. I didn’t have time to go and console him; my new friend was going to be there in a half hour.  The chore list lengthened when Bruce slammed his door as the bills balanced on the ledge, spilled from their precarious perch.
My friend Sabine, from our small group, recommended I volunteer at the preschool to get connected.  By sharing my passion for creating, I got to spend time gathering craft supplies; glitter-glue, Borax, food coloring, and made it a fun day for the kids.  It was the best messy crafting day I ever had! The kids were elbow deep in the sticky substance, but each of the kids had huge smiles and lots of giggles (all accept for little Jim-he had a texture aversion, I totally respect.  Bruce also has that one. Can’t get him to even sample chocolate pudding!)
The teachers asked if I would come back sometime and make another project with the kids.  The next time I came to volunteer, I was partnered with one of the moms named Ramona. We were like two peas in a pod!  Both from the South, accents as thick as honey. It felt like home talkin’ with her.
“Know what I miss?” Ramona asked me when we met for coffee one day, “Pimento cheese sandwiches.  Haven’t had one of those in two years!”
I gave her a high five, “I’ve been up here for six years and still haven’t found pimento cheese!  Mama, Bruce, and I lived on those sandwiches during tight times.”
“So where does your mama live these days?” she asked after sipping her new-found breve latte favorite.
“Mama?  She had pneumonia a year ago.  Seems the weather up here isn’t as dry as Kentucky.  She died after having it for three months.”
“I’m so sorry,” she consoled.  “How’s your brother takin’ it?”
“Bruce has struggled pretty bad.  He forgets the funeral, he forgets the packing up of Mama’s things, he forgets she is at the cemetery; not in the kitchen cooking up his grits for breakfast,” I got quiet and sighed. “I almost envy him.  I’d love to forget how she suffered and how much I miss her.”
It was so good to have a friend to talk to.  Being able to let someone into our story, into our life.  Each time I became braver to let someone in, let someone see just a bit of my pain, it began to change the sadness.  It was like becoming vulnerable by sharing the struggle of what my life is like, brought a bit of light to the dark places.  
“Would you like to come over to our apartment and help me make candles?” I asked Ramona.  “I’ve been wanting to try out a new oil I picked up at a craft fair a couple of weeks ago.  It’s called ‘Blushing Blossom’, smells like four o’clocks. My Gran had four o’clocks scattered all over her property.  Every time I uncap the lid, it smells like visiting Kentucky again.”
Ramona is going to be over soon.  It is weird to say that I am nervous, but I am planning on asking her a very important question. I am hoping she will go with me to the women’s Bible study group that was advertised at church the other day.  There is also a women’s retreat…retreat sounds like heaven. Although, I’m a little panicked to go; it means a lot more getting to know other women. Maybe there will be more women like Sabine and Ramona? Maybe not?  Guess I will never know unless I take the chance to open the door and let light in.
The more that I am reading about Jesus and his disciples, the more I think about how they must have known everything about each other-the good and the bad.  While He wants us to serve one another, He also says that we should shoulder each other’s burdens. I have a few burden’s that I would like to have shouldered right ‘bout now.  From my glitter and craft encrusted apartment, to my crying 31-year-old brother in the next room; yes, I am in need of shared burden.
I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them.  They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.
Numbers 11:17

Happy Where You Are - Week 1-Being Single

Joy in the Single Life
By Wayne Clinton

I questioned at first if I was even a good candidate to write about this, but then I realized that in just 6 more days I will have lived my life as a single man for the last 7 years. I went from being a fully committed husband, to a struggling single overnight. I had to redefine my life and learn all over again what it's like to live single. I was fortunate to have someone living with me, my son, who brought me comfort and camaraderie to help me from being too lonely, but he had his own life too. So, I began to study what contentment meant for me: I had to relearn how to pursue joy, and really define for myself what “Joy” truly was.
John 16:20-22 NIV says...
(Jesus talking to His Disciples about his upcoming crucifixion..)
Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

..... I was in LOVE with how that sounded. "and no one will take away your joy".  The key to my contentment and joy was in Him. Jesus. even though my days were tough right now. Joy was to be found in Him.

Romans 15:13 NIV
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit......
Hope and Joy....and Peace. How do these get acquired? By trusting in Him, says Gods Word”.
And finally, in Philemon 1:7 NIV
“Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people”.

...I wanted to be able to refresh people's hearts through Christ.  So, I began to engage in relationships that were safe. I must admit, it was very difficult for me at first. It seemed like everyone was busy, and already committed, and I wasn't very good at reaching out, or setting up long term goals for events and planning for future dates with friends to do things with. I was more of a spur-of-the-moment person, and I found that most of the people I dealt with were not. They also had to check in with their significant others to see if they were available or could break free to do things. I didn't really have to check in with anyone, it was really kind of nice. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to, but not with whomever I wanted to. 
There were boundaries, there still are. I also had to fight off the voice that would constantly call out my singleness, like this phrase in my head, "you’re the only one without someone here". Those that I was with didn’t care, why did I. So I started routines, small ones, ones that I could accomplish and feel good about. I found I had a lot more time on my hands, time that I wasn't used to, the reality is relationships take a lot of time. The one thing I found great satisfaction in doing was serving other people. Sometimes I would directly for friends sometimes indirectly. Directly, was a hands on serving, helping people move, helping them fix something or clean up some mess, watching their pets and kids, while they went on vacation. I enjoyed it all, but it wasn't very fulfilling, at least not completely.

For me it wasn’t until I got in alignment with God's plans for me, His plans to use me and stretch me beyond my comfort zone. To challenge me in my faith and beliefs, and He did exactly that. I began serving in youth ministries. And WOW what a ride. I’m still on it and the rewards have been amazing. It was a commitment of only 2 hours a week at youth group, God grew that into much more than I could have expected. Now, years later I’m dating again and I am very happy. Life returned to me long before the dating commenced and is probably what made me look worthy of dating to her. Gods provisions for me were and are my Joy and Hope. He has met all my needs and has left me longing for very little that I have not received from Him already. I trusted His care for me and also trusted those around me that He placed there to guide me, walk with me, and correct me and at times, rebuke me. I may be single, but I am NEVER ALONE.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Freedom in Christ

When the Christ Follower embraces the liberty that being unconditionally loved by God allows them, it is a very dangerous thing. They realize they are truly free AND truly loved just as they are. No condemnation.

It is true.

The lack of condemnation creates a sort of vacuum that will be filled with either a deeper awareness of God’s love and intimacy with Him, or with selfish desires.

Inevitably, we choose to spend freedom on selfish desires - thoughts and activities that grieve the Holy Spirit and perhaps those around us.

Choosing to spend freedom on self is a reality of fallen life and is ALWAYS seized upon by the enemy due to it’s great effectiveness in stunting the progress of the “newly free” Follower of Christ (and each of us is made newly free EVERYDAY – so this is a threat ALL Christians face, everyday!)

When the “newly free” choose self, they are confronted with internal and external resistance to their selfish splurgings. Therefore, in order to maintain access to the object of their selfish desire, they cover up. They engage in the activity undercover in some way. They hide.

I imagine the scenario of a man standing in line at the convenience store, purchasing pornography. A young person buying a package of condoms at the grocery store, or an underage person sweating bullets while waiting to see if they are “carded” at the door. Each person is pursuing their desire – but they are confronted with an obstacle that threatens its acquisition, either statutory, social or spiritual.

To be perfectly honest about their desire would require an admission about the condition of their heart that they would rather not make. “I want to look at pornography.” “My plan is to engage in sex.” “I wish to violate the law.” Precisely, it is the motive BENEATH these desires that are most embarrassing and are to be kept hidden: “I’m lonely.” “I’m bored.” “I feel unloved.”

Rather than being honest about the motives, they create an image. Excuses, reasons, and justifications are deployed to conceal what their new freedom is actually being used to obtain. This is almost always because the individual is being internally convicted by the Holy Spirit to deal with the underlying motives. God wants to heal us.

But rather than dealing with the conflict by admitting what it is they actually want (their fear is that the admission of the desire will result in the revocation of their freedom) they conceal their TRUE desire; wrap it up in a coating of religious-speak, cultural disguises or legal jargon justifying a desire that should not be indulged at all, but instead should be examined carefully under the light of God’s presence.

It’s like lying about “embarrassing” symptoms to one’s doctor, and yet expecting an accurate diagnosis.

Eventually, the Holy Spirit does his work and the disciple is confronted with the unassailable knowledge that the desired object is not God-honoring though it is free from them to pursue. The SELF then registers the possibility of LOSING the object and strikes back with the accusation that his FREEDOM is being threatened.

The reality is that the freedom is still as valid and untouchable as it was the moment Christ spoke the words, “It is finished.”

There is 6 step process described here:

  1.     Realization and joy at a deep heart level that the love of Christ has purchased your freedom.          
  2.     SELF seizes this awareness and begins to spend the freedom on its own desires.                          
  3.     The SPIRIT grieves but does not recant freedom.                                                                         
  4.     The SELF (now convicted but still free) begins to create constructs around the desire  to protect  it from the perceived threat that God will take away the object AND the freedom.                                                                                                                                                                
  5.     Over time, the SELF feeds on the object, grows, and obscures the SPIRIT.                                    
  6.     Left unexamined, the Christ Follower slowly forgets the REAL nature of their desire and   begins to believe that it is, in fact, a godly one. They find themselves defending an object that   has now lost all it’s original luster, wondering why their relationship with “God” has gone flat   and defending their freedom to hold this dead thing – a freedom which was never threatened.

In my mind, steps 1 through 3 are inevitable. They describe the journey of the disciple through a fallen world. I believe we repeat these steps over and over again, moving ever onward to the center of God’s will, “working out our salvation with fear and trembling”.

It’s at step 4 that things go sideways. We must ever always be brutally honest about our desires. When I am finally willing to admit out loud (maybe to a trusted human, but always  to YHWH) that I want “x” more than I want intimacy with YHWH, I am greeted by His loving embrace and guided right back to step 1 and a season of great joy, intimacy, love and rest.

It is only when I try to hide from Him what He already knows that my freedom is threatened – and even then – it is not under threat from God, but from the enemy.

Watching someone you love live in steps 4 through 6 is brutal. You CANNOT step in front of God and artificially limit freedom in an effort to “force” them back to step one. That is nonsense – like trying to push with a rope.

You CAN try to redefine the object of their desire. But this frequently results in resentment, and the “judgment” card being played.  This is the place of exhortation and boundary setting.

The truth is that once step 4 has begun – the only course of action is to live in step 1 yourself, pray that the other sees it and their desire moves from the dead object to the REAL object (Christ).

In the meantime. One must be prepared to endure great pain.

~Written by Dan Hazen

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