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Archive for October, 2011

Giving Thanks

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.”  1 Thessalonians 2:13

     There have been times in my life – regularly – when I start complaining to myself and God (and maybe sometimes my husband) about this and that.  What happens is really interesting:  the more I complain, the worse it gets, like a ripple effect until I’m really unhappy and miserable with myself because what I perceive is an injustice or something that isn’t right.  Many of these situations are things about which I can’t do anything, so I begin to settle into an unhappy funk.

     Paul’s letters are a reminder to me that we have a choice about whether or not we will be grouchy and crabby or happy and grateful.  Nearly every letter we have from Paul begins and ends with his thankfulness for the church to which he is writing.  Interestingly, some of those churches haven’t been very nice to him, yet he praises their ministry and faithfulness even though he also teaches them about what it means to walk the Christian walk.

     I heard a story about someone who had been diagnosed with cancer, and she began a praise journal.  No matter how bad her situation, how much pain she endured, how difficult the chemo treatments became, she would take her journal out and find something to give thanks to God for in that day.  It’s a good practice to have!  One time, I decided that I needed to do the same thing, and I believe that has helped me form a more positive attitude and given me the insight to try to see things from the other person’s perspective rather than from my own.  When I’m upset about something, I stop and give thanks to God for the “two-by-four” across the forehead and take a hard look at the whole picture.  When I can’t see it, often my husband will help me step back and look at the larger picture.

     On my last day off, I was grocery shopping, and I was standing in front of the produce, trying to decide if I wanted baby spinach or “adult” spinach.  I must have stood there too long because this man came up, pushed my cart out of the way, and stepped in front of me to get what he wanted.  I apologized, and he never said a word – totally ignored me.  That got me started with the internal fuming!  Then a woman was standing on the opposite side of an aisle looking at something which forced me to walk in front of her so I said, “Excuse me” as I went past her, and she didn’t even acknowledge me.  Fumes increased!  As I drove out of the parking lot, a car from another state didn’t stop at the stop sign and shot right in front of me to get into the line for the stop light.  The car must have been filled with smoke by then! 

     As I was driving home, I realized that I was tense, angry, upset, and wanted to give those people a piece of my mind, and that wasn’t doing me any good since they weren’t around, and I couldn’t do anything about their behavior – only my own.  I started repeating “peace,” “serenity,” “relax” to myself for the rest of the ride home, and by the time I opened the garage door, my muscles had relaxed, I had given my frustrations over to God, and I was able to let go of their rudeness.  I can only control myself.  So, I’m thankful for lessons I learn from so many people, especially the woman who kept the praise diary and the people who remind me every day that I can only control my own behavior, make my own choices about how I will respond to other people, and invite me to look at things from their point of view (even though I may only be guessing as to their situation).

     Our actions can share the word of God or our own word.  As Christians, we are asked to share the Word – Jesus by following in his example, living lives that reflect the presence of God with us, and give thanks in all things.  How are we doing?  We each can ask ourselves that question, and we are the only ones who can answer – well, us – and God.


Making a Commitment

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind . . .  and your neighbor as yourself.”  Matthew 22:37-39

Commitment?  Commitment, you say?  Hmmm . . . okay, so maybe I’ll make a commitment to my spouse or my work or my friends, but church – that’s another story.

Sometimes we can come across that way to others.  People come to churches and join saying that they will support the church with their prayers, presence, witness, gifts, and service, and many people (fortunately) follow through with that consistently.  There are also many who are gone at the first major change (such as a new pastor) or when they have a disagreement with someone in the congregation.  Maybe they are offended, and instead of going to work it out with the person (who may not even know what he/she did), the offended one leaves, never to be seen again.

Then there are those who are terrified of entering into the covenant of membership even though they have been attending the church for years.  I’m still wondering about that one.  Sorry, I don’t understand.

What I DO see from most people, though, is a sincere desire to know God better, to learn more about God and how we are to live following the ways of Christ.  That is evident in many ways.  Matthew 22:37-39 is Jesus’ reminder to the temple and synagogue leaders of the shema (or at least part of it) from Deuteronomy 6:5, and follows it with a verse from Leviticus 19:18.  Love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself.  That’s a teaching that was handed down from generation to generation through the Hebrew people.

The temple leaders were testing Jesus once again (previous parts of Matthew have them trying to trap him into saying things they could dispute and argue in order to show how wrong he was, but he always was able to outsmart them).  They wanted to know which of the over 600 laws on the Jewish register was the most important.  How could he pick out of 613 laws, all of which the Jewish leadership considered to be equally important.

Jesus puts together two teachings that encompass everything in the law.  He was true to his Jewish roots, but he redefined the law away from a list of rules and regulations into relationship with God first, then others and ourselves.  Interestingly, the word “love” is difficult for us to understand.  We usually think of it as a feeling and most often as the Greek word eros which is associated with passion and romantic love.  In reality, Jesus is talking about agape which is “loving-kindness.”

We are to treat others with respect, with loving-kindness which alters our 21st century mind-set about loving someone else.  So how do we do that with God?  God’s love is outward, ever-flowing to everyone.  When we love God, the natural outwardness of the mutual love, acceptance, joy, gratitude, and care that we have from God becomes part of who we are.  We share that loving-kindness that we experience with others – AS WELL AS OURSELVES!  (Maybe that is the hardest of all!)

The commitment begins with a relationship with God.  Writer Kate Huey says, “Commitment is that mysterious mingling of feeling and action, a beautiful dance between the two.”  (Weekly Seeds at UCC.com)

Commitment means giving God first priority; for example:  start the day with a sentence of thanks, offer mini prayers throughout the day or talk with God throughout the day recognizing God’s presence with us, living out respect and kindness to others through caring acts, and taking care of ourselves because we, too, are God’s precious child.  That’s stewardship – care of our body, mind, spirit, and relationships.  It isn’t easy, and it is a constant process.

Commitment is possible, and it’s something we can do even in the church.  Maybe we’ll find new ways to make commitments in our time, talent and treasure this year.  What do you think?

Change – Again and Again and Again

“Listen, I will tell you a mystery!  We will not all die, but we will all be changed.”  1 Corinthians 15:51

Is this bad news for those of us who say we don’t like change?  Hmmm.  Recently, someone made the comment that they didn’t like change, and it started me thinking once again about change.  I fully admit that I’m not crazy about change, either, at least not some changes.

For example, the containers for some of the products I buy have changed to a slightly smaller version, but the price has stayed the same.  I know what is happening with that:  the companies are downsizing their packaging so they make a little more profit, but we think we are still getting a bargain.  It’s a trick!  I don’t like change when it comes to people moving away or when a pet dies or when a loved one dies.  I don’t like change when someone’s attitude is different in a negative way or when my eyesight becomes weaker or my joints can’t do what I used to be able to do.

So is there change that is good?  Absolutely!  In September my youngest stepson moved in with us, and it has been great having him here.  Sure, there was an adjustment to having a third person in the house, but he’s such a good person and willing to help in anyway he can that we are really enjoying having him live with us.  There were changes that meant we had to change some of the ways we were using the house, but they were worth it so he could live with us.  It was also wonderful to see how thrilled my husband Dave was to have him with us.  Maybe that was worth more than anything else to me.

I can think of all kinds of situations where change can be good:

  1. Our skin cells slough off every day – if they didn’t we would have really tight skin and lose the ability to move at all eventually.
  2. When we have children our lives change, and even though we may have lots of challenges, the change is wonderful.
  3. For me, getting married was a huge change.  I waited 55 years to find “Mr. Right” and I have been SO blessed to have Dave in my life.
  4. When I first moved to southern Maine in 2007, I didn’t particularly like the change, but as I worked through the changes, and as we have now moved into our fifth year here, we are counting our blessings because of some of the changes that have made life and work better.
  5. When someone goes through surgery, an accident, or illness, there is change, but it is usually for the better as they heal.
  6. The list could go on and on.

We can’t avoid change, and we don’t want some changes.  How can we find the good that comes out of change?  How can we begin to change some of our behaviors that maybe we need to change?  Maybe it helps even to just have a slight attitude adjustment and say that ALL change isn’t bad – there are some good changes and good CAN come out of some changes.

An attitude adjustment – it’s a start!

What is hospitality anyway?

   “Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquest.”  Matthew 22:9

   The king was not happy.  He had invited a bunch of guests, and they all ignored him, shrugged their shoulders and went on doing their own thing.  Ignoring the king’s invitation in Jesus’ day was a very dangerous thing to do because the king had a lot of power and could execute anyone who snubbed him.  This is what happened to the guests who were initially invited to the wedding!  So the king sent his servants out to collect a whole bunch of people from the town regardless of their social rank and status, provided them with a wedding garment (which was a custom in those days apparently), and began the feast.  The king brought in people with whom he might not have associated, but they were people who wanted to be there!

   Then, of course, we have the fellow who appeared with out a wedding garment.  This always seemed a bit odd to me, but when I read that one of the customs was for the king to provide wedding garments, it makes a lot more sense.  This man basically rejected the offering of the garment, so he in essence rejected the king as well.  That is why he was thrown out.

   When have we rejected God’s hospitality for us?  When have we rejected God’s message – God’s invitation in our lives?  And then, when have we failed to be hospitable to others?  How do we ignore those who aren’t of our social class or status?  How do we reject them?  It’s interesting to consider those questions in light of this parable.

   While the violent language is disturbing, I think it’s helpful to remember that the writer of Matthew is trying to get a point across:  when we are not hospitable to God and others, we force ourselves out of the kingdom.  When our language, behavior, and lives don’t reflect the presence of God – the wedding garment, so to speak, we are not showing an acceptance of the invitation of God into relationship.  With that relationship, our lives change for the better.  Jesus is our example.

   He invited everyone to know the love and grace of God, and he welcomed everyone into the kingdom of God.  Accepting the invitation was up to them, as it is for us.  How will we respond?

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