Posted in Faith

These Hard Things We Do

“God is good.”

The Facebook comment in response to a post about a young man who’d been in a car wreck finally coming home from the hospital blinks at me from my iPad’s blue-light screen.

I am 48 years old and have loved God all my life, and yet today, those words, God is good, sting.

As one family praises God for a life spared, I sit in a sterile hospital room, listening to the ventilator hissing out its death-knell rhythm, as my sweet mama spends her last days on earth fighting pain and waiting for us to just let go.

Spit-in-the-hand, pinky-swear truth? God doesn’t feel so good right now.

My head understands we all have to die. My heart needs a little help getting to David’s conviction that goodness and mercy shall follow me.

And yet, even as I wonder why God gave my mom, who had already faced health challenges like colon cancer and a gallbladder surgery that almost killed her, one of the worst diseases to die from, ALS, I still lean on my faith. Since her diagnosis in October of 2015, I’d say I’ve honed it.

Still, my emotions, in turmoil, show me I still need pruning.

No wonder those who don’t believe in God’s grace hate us. Believe me from the other side of the fence, when you praise God that you got good news today, you’re stabbing in the heart the person for whom God’s answer to prayer that day was a no that felt just like a knife to the chest.

Jesus assures us that suffering is universal and no sign of one’s goodness or badness. He also assures us of His comfort in all circumstances. It’s a good thing He offers it because these tough times are impossible to survive without it.

Calling out to Jesus when I hurt is one of many skills I’ve improved since that day in a Houston hospital when the doctor told my mother she was going to die. I hope I’ve learned to be less judgmental. My empathy skills are growing. I want to embrace mercy and grace and love and not worry so much about truth and right and wrong.

Jesus talks about how narrow the way to God is for many reasons. In one sense, the narrow path is good news. The only way to salvation is to believe that Jesus died on a cross and rose again for the sake of all sin and to accept Him as your Savior and Spiritual Guide. There may be many ways to come to the knowledge of that path to salvation, but the actual achievement of being saved comes only as the gift of salvation from our Lord Jesus. This is the narrow way that makes salvation so simple for any and all to achieve.

But the narrow way of fulfilling one’s potential by growing through Christ is a life-long pursuit from which we easily and frequently stumble outside the lines. We say words we don’t really mean. We judge others without first considering our own failings. We despair.

I am convinced that the farther we stray from treating others with the grace God has bestowed upon us, the farther we are from the narrow way of a life lived in Christ. And I am also convinced that when we work harder at seeing the world in black and white instead of through eyes of empathy and compassion, we are no where near the narrow path upon which we should tread.

Maybe that is why the Facebook comment hit me with such a force. How can we be thankful for our blessings and yet still be mindful of those who don’t have an immediate reason to feel blessed?

I have to turn again to Jesus, the master of empathy and grace. In His ministry, He had such compassion for those in need of physical and spiritual healing that He gave all of Himself. He raised more than one loved one from a death bed. He freed those enslaved to demons. He gave the blind sight. He refused to condemn those who were ready and willing to turn away from sin. Perhaps, like the woman who was to be stoned to death, they turned from sin because Jesus refused to condemn them.

When we are so fired up about something, whether it be a hot-button issue like abortion or our enthusiasm for a miracle, we often bulldoze our way through the mire when a much gentler, slower approach will do. If your idea of promoting a cause is pointing a finger at somebody else instead of offering to help or to try to see things from that other perspective, then you’re just part of the problem, not the solution—no matter how divine you think are your intentions.

Jesus had no use for those who worshiped the law more than they worshiped God: And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.  (Luke 11:46)

I want to be a Christian who lifts not one finger, but both my hands to help others carry the burdens of this life that are difficult enough without the law becoming more important than love.

So maybe, next time you want to thank God for being good in a public forum, consider how you would say that to the family who just said good-bye to someone they love. I do praise God for His goodness. He loves me even when I don’t have Him at the top of my Hits List. He is so good, that if we fail to praise Him, the stones will cry out. (Luke 19:40)

God is able to do all things, even soothe the ache in a much-battered heart. Sometimes, it’s all He can do. It’s one of the many things I want to ask Him about when my own time to pass into glory comes due. My friend, Katie, who’s seen more than her fair share of troubles, says she has a clipboard filled with such questions. It’s a sign of our faith that we hold on to our right to ask them of a loving Creator, even in these moments when we feel least loved.

In Christ,
Ramona

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Posted in Christian Living, Love

God Is Love: The Greatest Love Story Almost Never Told

God IS Love

In our enthusiasm for a cause, we humans very easily lose sight of an objective perspective. We go to extremes that push people further away instead of potentially helping them see things from our point of view.

Take for example the issue commonly referred to as Pro-Life. Whenever I see people outside a clinic with signs that point fingers, calling people baby killers and more, I wonder where this approach to attempt change comes from. Would Jesus, who refused to judge the adulteress until someone was willing to throw the first stone and even then merely helped her see the truth about herself admonishing her to sin no more, stand outside a planned parenthood building with a sign that condemned the scared, hurting women walking through the doors?

When we attempt to support God the way we think we should because we are so enthusiastic about the cause instead of taking serious time to reflect on God’s approach to the issue, are we really serving God the way we think we are?

I may be a slow learner, so forgive the revelation that came to me recently if you’ve known it all along, but when we push God to others based on strict guidelines of right and wrong, we leave non-believers with the impression that God is the God of punishment. We inadvertently make Him out to be a God who is primarily interested in seeing people suffer for their transgressions.

It’s easy enough to see God this way, especially if you do a pick and choose approach to the Bible. Many times, God makes His awesome wrath known, going so far as to wipe out the entire planet in a flood with only Noah and his family as survivors to begin again.

But God is NOT interested in punishing. Let me say this again, because I think most of us operate on the opposite assumption. God’s main focus in this life is NOT to punish those who defy Him but to LOVE and BE LOVED.

You’re wrong, you tell me. God lives to punish bad behavior. He swallowed thousands of people whole in the desert. He sent plagues upon Egypt the likes of which no one in our modern world has ever witnessed. His revelation portrays a coming end that will have no rival in pain and misery and suffering, not even in the best apocalyptic blockbuster. God takes pleasure in sinners’ pain.

Fickle, proud humans that we are, we perpetually grab on to the idea that we can understand the ways of an omnipotent power. Because some of His actions seem awful and cruel, we find it easy to label God as such. But looking at the history of God and man, we can see that God really deals with us from an entirely different perspective. Only a God who loves beyond human knowing could explain how He continues to give us chances to do better, even when history reveals that God can’t seem to win when it comes to the fickleness of the human mind.

Despite God’s worst punishments, His people continue to stray from His commandments. Like a mad roller coaster ride, the story of the Israelite people shows them growing closer to and then farther away from God over and over again. When He blesses them with much, their gratitude from being saved from the latest disaster dissipates all too soon. Look at David. This King who had a heart like God’s, lived to praise Him, but David also failed God, breaking His commandments to give in to his own lusts. Whether God deals with us humans in love or in mighty power, we fall short of giving Him the praise and love He deserves.

But God is not coming from a place of punishment. Instead, even in punishment, God always comes from a place of love. Only God’s love for us explains how any of us are still walking around breathing. Annie Dillard puts it this way:

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” -Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk

The Creator looks down upon a world in which His creations flit about as if they are not tiny ants dodging the giant shoe always dangling above them and does not choose to wipe us out to begin the entire, wretched experiment over again. If that is not some over-arcing love for us, then what is?

Even for Christians, who believe that God humbled Himself to become merely a man in order to sacrifice Himself for our very souls, walk through our days as if we are drugged by our own indifference. We judge others. We create black and white scenarios as if we have no beams in our eyes, always in search of specks. We mock God’s love by taking actions in His name that go so far from doing His will they break His heart.

God is all heart. If you read the Bible beginning with this assumption, you will see it everywhere. God postpones punishment. He is willing to bargain for delayed justice, saving entire cities for the sake of one good man, if such can be found. He puts up with fickleness, blasphemy and disbelief and yet still performs miracles for His people.

God believes in second chances, and third, and fourth. In fact, He tells us to forgive seventy times seven in part because He too never tires of welcoming the return of even one lost sheep.

What a disservice we do for non-believers when our actions reflect a God who favors vengeance over mercy. Whenever we act other than from the root of a love that runs deep in us, all the way back to Adam and Eve, we show the world the God they want to believe in, the God whose actions look spiteful and mean instead of patient and kind.

God wants every one of us to believe in Him: “This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). God’s love for us never ends: (for) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

Like a puppy who finds full joy in the presence of his master, we Christians owe it to God and our fellow humans to approach our Christian life in love, as God loves us. Instead of looking for the faults in others, we would be much better served to find the strength in all of us, those traits we share that make our Creator God put up with us instead of smashing us to pieces.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” Jesus tells us (John 15:13). In laying down His life for us, Jesus showed us the greatest love of all.

The next time we are tempted to draw a permanent marker line in the concrete, we should consider what Jesus would do. Unless you are willing to become part of a person’s solution, to really become a part of it, not just pay lip service to it, why are you pointing out their problem?

God loves. If that isn’t the God you are presenting to the world, if that isn’t the God you carry in your heart every moment of every day, what blessings you are keeping from your self and others.

Don’t know where to start? One of the things God loves most is our thankfulness. Look for the things you can be thankful for in a day and in others, especially others you may be tempted to judge instead. Give your thankfulness a voice in prayer to your Holy Maker. If you give Him the opening, God, who can do anything, will definitely accomplish the rest.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Faith

The Spider Web Principle

The Spider Web Principle of Faith

The spider and its web have been blocking my path between the car and the carport post for several days now. It’s a tiny little spider, with a sandy-colored camouflage that is perfect for this West Texas landscape. The web spirals out in thousands of gossamer rectangles that glint then disappear in the bright sun, easily covering an area from the spider’s perspective of many, many miles.

Wanting to capture a picture of something so marvelous and mysterious, I grabbed my phone and positioned myself as close as I dared to focus on the spider and its almost-invisible threads. Under normal circumstances, I’m sure my phone’s camera would have given me a decent shot of the web, especially in the bright sunlight surrounding me. But, the West Texas wind made its daily appearance, whipping at the spider and its web. I watched through the phone screen as the web with its sheer strings bobbed back and forth with the merciless wind. Despite a continual pounding, the web gave but did not break.

With a sigh, I gave up on capturing the spider web as it moved, and went on with my day, but not before I was struck with the idea of how like a spider’s web is our faith, which believes in that which we cannot see in a world that constantly seeks to batter the thin fibers holding our beliefs together.

Perhaps the idea of how gossamer yet strong faith can be meant more to me than usual because as I started up my car, I was headed for the hospital, where I’ve been schlepping back and forth for almost two weeks now as my mother goes through yet another procedure to try to make her life bearable until ALS finally wins its grim game. I have been away from my husband and home for more than a month now, with several weeks still yet to go as we get mom home and adjusted to the new routines required now that she’s had this latest procedure.

But I am not the only one whose faith has been tested in these last weeks, not by a long shot. In my immediate world, I know people who have likewise faced the challenges that test our endurance to believe. One young woman is a new mama, juggling her first-born and a father who is facing major medical issues that require a transplant operation of mammoth proportions. Just this week, she unexpectedly lost her sister-in-law and good friend out of the blue, a young woman with a husband and three kids of her own.  Two other couples are living with held breaths, both praying at-risk pregnancies make it to fruition this time. Another family is just coping with a mother who had unexpected complications from a procedure that has landed her in a nursing home while one of her older sons suddenly suffered from a stroke in the past few days. In yet another family, the once vibrant mother who ran five miles every morning now has trouble coping with each day as she succumbs to early-onset Alzheimer’s. This last week, she broke her hip and wakes up trying to walk every day because she has no short-term memory.

Faith allows me to accept many things that my finite, human brain could never otherwise explain. I know that God doesn’t want any of these bad things to happen to us. Do you doubt it? So many examples of God’s mercy exist in the Bible, I wonder at those who do. I wonder at myself when, in my darkest, most human moments, I have the same doubt.

Consider the story of Jonah and the whale. Jonah is reluctant to go to Nineveh, in part because he knows how truly wicked the people there are. Once God forcibly gets Jonah to the city, the prophet is dumbfounded when the people listen to him and repent. When God spares Nineveh, Jonah goes off to pout. “I knew you would find a way to show these heathens mercy,” he whined. “Why did you put me through all of this fuss and bother if you knew you were going to be forgiving like always anyway?”

Throughout the story of our relationship with God, we humans have pushed Him away and away and yet never seem surprised that He shows up when we finally call to Him. The Bible tells us that God is slow to anger and wants everyone to come to know Him and believe, and most of the time our actions seem to reflect a firm belief that God will be infinitely patient with us. We put off getting our acts together, testing God’s love for us, pushing Him away so that we also put off receiving all the wonderful gifts of faith.

The power of faith truly lived is every bit as strong as that gossamer spider’s web. It saves us from worry. It keeps us in the presence of our almighty God. It hugs us in the deepest places of hurt and opens our darkest parts to the light. There is a reason why Jesus tells us the faith of a mustard seed, such a tiny, tiny particle, is enough to move a mountain.

But how do we live our faith when all these bad things in an evil world keep piling on top of us? I have to admit, my Bible study and prayer time have dwindled these past weeks between going to the hospital and doing a thousand other things around my parents’ house helping with my mother’s special needs. Have I remembered every time I’ve felt lonely or afraid to cry out to Jesus? Of course not. But I keep working at it. I know this much, the study and praying and learning about Jesus that I have done during the less chaotic times of my life are the foundation by which I cope with the challenges of today.

I know my Redeemer lives. I know I can call to Him any and every time I feel the need, and He will be there. I have woven my own spider web, I suppose, through a lifetime of trying to know Him through His Word, through time alone with Him and through my interactions with other believers.

If faith is like a spider web, it is woven through a lifetime of loving and living God. You don’t have to worry about the yesterdays you’ve wasted. With God, each morning is another day, full of promise, ripe for forgiveness. The path to your perfect, or imperfect, web begins with a first step. God isn’t going anywhere. Are you?

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Never Too Busy For Us

Jesus is my Superhero

Spring is a whirlwind of activity in my other life, the one where I go to health food industry conventions and visit manufacturing facilities. I get back from one trip just in time to head out for another one.  As March fades into May, my house increasingly reflects the chaos of my mind and body. Dishes pile up in the sink, cat toys lay strewn where they’ve been batted by furry paws, my carpets bear the marks of heavy living without their regular vacuuming.

My travels take an equal toll on my body. My diet, always a challenge, flies out the window in the midst of the stress and upset routine of travel. My sugar intake skyrockets. I give in with increasing consistency to my comfort foods: chicken fried steak coated in creamy gravy, baked potatoes swimming in butter and sour cream, Tex-Mex enchiladas, and tortilla chips, and salsa. My usual, six-day workouts dwindle to catch-as-catch-can.

My mind struggles to function with my travel schedule and my poor habits. Stress, my forever friend, comes for a sleepover and sticks around like three-day-old fish. I find it hard to relax or to calm my mind, so that my thoughts run over and over, making it difficult for me to fall asleep or rest.

Most importantly, if I do not work at staying close to God, my spiritual house can become as untidy as my physical and mental houses. This year, my usual steadfast habit of Bible reading and study each morning has given way to last-minute catch-up items, oversleeping, and generally running out of time to do it. I have no valid excuse for this failure. God should always come first. But, I am supremely human, thankful for mercy, and wholly dependent on grace, and my inadequacy only underscores my abject need for God.

I remember one night this Spring lying in bed and realizing something powerful. No matter how bad things have gotten in my life, I’ve always made it through the bad times because God is there with me. Why, then, do I waste so much time being afraid about what might happen or is even likely to happen? As I embraced the idea that I can always call on Jesus and He will never be too busy to hear me, I felt such a sense of empowerment and peace.

But epiphanies that happen in the middle of the night can quickly fade in the harsh light of day, especially when you don’t make concerted efforts to build on your relationship with God and nurture your faith. Too often this Spring, my anxiety has won out over my faith. Instead of focusing on Jesus, I’ve focused on deadlines and bills, on health issues and work routines.

How grateful I am that God, the Creator of all things, is never too busy for me, even when I fall into the bad habits that make me “too busy” for Him. How do I know this? Jesus tells us: “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7).  Paul assures Timothy, “This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). No matter that we use His name in vain, that we mock Him in word and deed, that we ignore Him on a daily basis, God is always waiting patiently for us to believe.

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Jesus asks us (Matthew 6:27). When I truly embrace the truth that God is always with me, that when I call out to Him, He allows me to feel His presence, I understand the truth of that question. Jesus is like the ultimate superhero in my pocket. What do I have to fear?

As Summer fast approaches, I am glad to put paid to another busy Spring. I will spend this Summer getting back into my regular reading of the Word. I will make God an active participant in my daily life by seeking Him often, not just when I feel desperate or totally alone, but when I am happy as well as sad, when things are going well along with when they seem to be falling apart.

Sometimes a busy life is just busy. But making God the center of your life, that’s the kind of powerful stuff that leads to prosperous living no matter how busy or inactive you may be.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity

Why God Is Essential To Morality

Ecclesiastes 12:13b

We probably all think that we are truly living in an age of moral decline on a magnificent scale. Maybe we’re right. But, there are other generations who thought the same. The greatest generation fought a world war to stop a madman in his quest to wipe out an entire race. Sooner back than we would like to remember, a man could be hung in this country for the color of his skin. In some areas of the Old West, everyone carried a gun because everyone used one—and justice often came hand-in-hand with a bullet.

We humans are basically rotten. Anyone who tries to tell you that we are ultimately good in and of ourselves is lying to you. Do you wonder why God includes stories in the Old Testament of a father willing to have his daughter raped to protect his male guests from the gang of townsmen standing outside his door as Lot did, of brother killing brother as Cain killed Abel, of brother raping sister as David’s son Amnon did to his half-sister Tamar?

In a time when God made His miracles known, sent angels to interfere in human affairs, and came to the prophets in dreams to communicate with them directly, people didn’t question the existence of a Holy Creator, merely the reality of His Monotheism. Even though God appeared in a burning bush and made His presence visibly apparent on top of a mountain, the Jewish people, who had been rescued from Egypt by this same God, who had been fed and guided by this God through the desert, continued to sin against Him.

Today, we live in a world that has decided God does not exist. Popular culture makes Him the butt of jokes. Those who profess belief in Him get called crazy on national television. We have pushed Him out of our classrooms, out of our social settings, and out of our morality.

So, why are we surprised when bad things happen in this world left without a God when we humans managed to be bad even when God’s presence was awesomely visible and practically irrefutable?

Believing in God is important in part because the only way a human being can hope to be good is by looking up toward an omnipotent, loving Creator who inspires us to a better self. Christ, who came to earth as man and lived a perfect life, a life without sin or flaw, shows us how love trumps hate, how kindness offers more than meanness, how spiritual things bring more value to this life than anything material.

Man in and of himself is incapable of achieving these heights of goodness. We will not share because people should be good. We will not think of higher things if all we have is this world without a next one. I think this fact is one of the reasons socialism has never succeeded. It’s a nice idea to think that people would willingly provide for others who do not or cannot work as hard as they do, but the reality is much different, especially when the leaders of these movements are often the worst offenders.

But Jesus is not one to do what human leaders do. He does not demand any part of me that He does not deserve. In fact, He could demand much, much more. He loves me even though I make mistakes. He gave His life for my salvation even knowing all the times I was going to disappoint Him in this journey to heaven we call life.

Morality based on the limits of the human imagination, which sees as its ultimate culmination only humanity itself, is a failed morality. But walking in goodness because we respect our God/Creator and also love Him has every reason to succeed. He made us with a desire to seek Him, a desire which helps us reach higher than ourselves, to achieve what we could never achieve if we were left to our own devices, a goodness that honors a pure and holy God.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

For Such A Time As This

For such a time as this

I love the story of Esther and Mordecai. Every time I read it, I learn something new that I can apply to my life. This week, the lesson that stood out most for me was Mordecai’s argument with his niece, then the queen, as he convinced her to risk her life for the sake of the greater good.

Esther’s life was never easy. She was an orphaned Jewish girl, living far from her people’s homeland, along with all the other exiles. Her uncle, Mordecai, takes her in to raise her. She grows up learning the lessons about boundaries and injustice that plague all defeated nationalities.

Imagine her surprise when she is asked to come to the palace to compete for the position of queen! Even this “blessing” is not as wonderful as it seems.  Because her people are foreigners in the land of their conquerors, she doesn’t tell anyone who doesn’t already know that she is a Jew. Instead of having free access to the outside world and childhood friends around her, Esther must get used to a household staff led by eunuchs as she is shielded during her preparation for the big day, her one and only chance to make a good impression on King Xerxes.

Sure, Esther gets special beauty treatments, has servants, and eats a special diet while she’s in the palace. But, she’s taken from the only home she has ever known, objectified for almost an entire year without even meeting the king, and must perpetually worry about what will happen whether or not the king chooses her. After all, the queen Esther might be replacing was cut off by the king just because she didn’t feel like going to dance in front of a group of drunk royalty at the snap of the king’s inebriated fingers.

At the point in Esther’s story when Mordecai uses his lesson-giving argument, she is finally queen, but the Jewish people are in even more serious trouble than the usual. The Persian king has allowed one of his minions to declare a day for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai wants his niece to go to the king unannounced and beg for a reprieve from the death sentence.

Esther hesitates. Nobody in the palace knows that she is even a Jew. She hasn’t been called to the king in a month as it is, so could the king even be interested in seeing her? And, here’s the kicker: if she walks into the room where the king is unbidden and he doesn’t reach out his scepter to her, Esther faces an immediate penalty of death.

My absolute favorite lesson in this story is Mordecai’s argument to Esther that she should take the chance for her people because how does she not know that God made her queen for “such a time as this.” But, this week when I was reading the story again, another aspect of Mordecai’s argument with Esther at this critical moment stood out for me.

Mordecai assures Esther that God will save the Jews one way or another, with or without her. Didn’t Esther want to be a part of God’s plan? He tells her:

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Mordecai’s unwavering assurance that God’s will always will be done reminds me of all the times I don’t give God enough credit as I go through each day. Because I know that bad things happen in a fallen world, I sometimes get into the mindset of forgetting that God still has His hand on everything, often by helping to create something good out of the bad that is happening all around us.

How inspiring is it to understand that God will love, will provide whether we are an instrument of that provision or not? It gives us not only encouragement but actual courage to know that God is not limited by our human capacity or even the necessary parameters of a fallen world. I need that courage, especially when living my faith means doing things that are way outside my comfort zone, like interacting in large groups or going to places I’m unfamiliar with in order to be of service to someone.

What happens next in Esther’s story is also an important reminder. Before going before the king and risking her life, Esther fasts for three days and asks that the rest of her people join her in the fast. She wants to be sure that she is honoring God, following His will, and walking in assurance that He is with her. We must be sure we are walking in God’s will if we want to be able to lean into the assurance of His help in our endeavors.

We Christians long to do the will of God always and in all ways. Remembering that He accomplishes His will whether we serve as an instrument of His design or not is sometimes vital to stepping forward in faith. No one who loves God wants to fail Him. Esther’s faith in God saves not only the Jews, but also teaches us that walking in faith helps us to fulfill the times like this that God places us on this earth for in the first place.

 

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

GOD is NOT a Capitalist

Give God your best

It’s that time of year again at our church, the time when the church leaders are trying to finalize the current budget and get the congregation’s commitments for the tithe.

The tithe, that ten percent of my net worth that should be given to God, usually makes me think in terms of dollar signs. But the church, and most especially God, is not primarily concerned with me opening my wallet. Yes, in our modern world, there are the practical concerns for a church like having electricity and paying support staff, but the idea of the tithe has never been, or ever was, just about money–in so many ways.

Abraham gave a tenth of all he had to pay homage to the Lord. God told the Israelites, “You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God” (Ex. 23:19). The Levitical law declared: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (Lev. 27:30). The Proverbs remind us to “honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (3:9).

As important as it is to offer to God the first fruits of our labors, which in our economy equates to dollars and cents, the tithe should be a time to also remind ourselves how important it is to God that we honor Him with, not a specific percentage of our worldly goods, but with the best of us, the best of all that we are. 

How often do I give God not the best of me, not the part of me that rolls out of my warm bed mostly ready to face, and maybe even conquer, the world each morning, but rather the what’s left of me, the worn, half-asleep me that has faced the world and found myself wanting? How often do I come to Him only after I have exhausted all my personal resources, as if I have control over anything at all?

Why should it surprise me that God wants the very best of me when He gave me the very best of Himself? Not only did Christ come to earth as man in order to die for my sins, He left behind the Holy Spirit to function inside of me as a believer in the One and Only. Shouldn’t God expect me to begin and end not only my day, but my each breath, with thoughts of praise, with thankfulness for His power in my life, a power I am supposed to be acknowledging instead of trying to take on the world all by myself?

Giving God the first parts of me, the best parts of me, means praying often, especially when I least feel like it, humbling myself to admit that my problems are truly God’s problems, that I cannot worry myself out of any situation but that God can see me through all the things bound to happen to me in a fallen world.

When I was very young and admittedly not too bright, I took my favorite teddy bear, the one smooshed from being held by me through many a long night, and laid him on a makeshift slab bench in our back yard. My uncle, a young man, was dying from cancer not even a year after my grandfather had died. In the shade of our fruitless mulberry tree, I prayed that God would take my teddy bear and make my uncle better.

Since I didn’t have access to matches, I guess I expected my teddy bear to be struck by lightening or simply disappear. In my childish mind, giving up one of my favorite things seemed like a decent trade. But nothing happened, and a few months later, my uncle died anyway.

I didn’t understand then that Jesus had already made the ultimate sacrifice for the only thing that truly mattered, my eternal soul, my uncle’s eternal soul. As A. E. Houseman proclaims, “life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose.” It’s taken me almost four decades to truly understand how important it is that I offer myself to God, not objects, but my whole self no longer tied to the objects on this earth, in order to be close to Him, in order to walk a more Christ-like walk.

Sometimes, I think it’s easier to give God money than concentrate on the things He really wants, like our lives free from sin, our humbleness, our gratitude.  But giving to God means being our best selves in light of our need for our Holy Father. I thank Him for His patience with us. I love Him because He forgives me when I often stumble. And I give Him money from my wallet because my firstfruits include all of me, even the dollars in my bank account.