Sunday, January 24, 2010

I Corinthians 13 for Evangelicals, Charismatics and Otherwise Very Nice People

Though I speak in tongues and prophesy with shocking accuracy… though I fiercely defend truth and valiantly guard good doctrine… though I silence the skeptic with skillful debate and bedazzle Christian minds with Biblical insights about love—but have not love—I am a bothersome ringing in God’s ears.

Though I weep for the nations and intercede for cities… though I have faith that scatters demons, lengthens  limbs or brings multitudes to their knees… though my days be marked by fasting, my nights with fervent prayer and my years by serving on plague-ravaged soil—but have not love—to God I am nobody impressive.

Though I give lavishly to survivors of earthquakes,  passionately pursue justice for the enslaved, care for our precious earth, fight tirelessly for the rights of the unborn… or the hated; I have helped others, as I should, and that is good. But if I have not love—it does not get me an ounce of credit with God.

Love suffers long and silently under unfair assumptions and cruel accusations—never feeling the need to defend or explain.

Love freely expresses genuine happiness over another’s success.

Love does not casually slip her good deeds into conversation.

Love prefers to others-promote.

Love cannot remember yesterday’s insensitive remarks. It has forgotten last year’s rude comment.

Love is not paranoid or suspicious; there is no fear in love.

Love is not quick to correct.

Love can take correction.

Love’s first response to injury is compassion—not exposure.

Love is crushed at the news of an enemy’s failure.

Love puts up with immature babble. 

Love patiently bears with incessant whining, yet is not manipulated by it.

Love is gracious under unprofessionalism, never feeling the need to “help” by pointing out where improvement is needed.  Yet it knows when to confront with fearless grace.

Love is not short with the telemarketer or stingy with the slow waiter.

Love does not get even with the in-law; it dares to get flowers instead.

Love spends itself caring for the aged mother, never mindful of lost opportunities.

Love holds close the distant teenager. It keeps holding tight around rigid arms.

Love never fails.  Philosophies, programs, causes, books, lifestyles, facelifts, ministries, sermons, bailouts, heroes, romances, cash, adventures, diet plans, dating profiles, miracle drugs, business ventures, spouses, children, parents and friends may disappoint, fail and vanish away.

The sum total of all of our wisdom and knowledge combined is but a speck of dust compared to what we don’t yet know, but need to know. It will be done away with, when that which is all we ever needed comes to us.

It is time to put away childish thinking, living, behaving—childish loving.

One day we will see clearly the essence of love. We will see Him face to face, and we will know ourselves  and each other as He has always  known us.

People talk of the greatness of faith and hope. But one day there will be no more need for those. Only love will remain. For it is the greatest.

(See the original I Corinthians 13 for the truly inspired version.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

She Makes Men out of Kool-Aid

     Today I went to the mailbox and found an envelope with a small red Kool-Aid stain wrapped around the edge. Rather than discarding the soiled piece of mail, the sender had taken an ink pen and outlined the front part of the stain, transforming it into a perfect, red-faced lumberjack. On the back of the envelope was a cute red bear with a heart tattoo on its arm.
     "Just like Georgia," I smiled.
     Georgia does that with life too. When unexpected turmoil gets splashed into her existence, she dons her spiritual beret and quickly beautifies what most of us would prefer to toss into the "no thank you" bin.
     Here's what I mean. Seven years ago her (then) fiance was diagnosed with cancer.  She had a hospital wedding ceremony anyway, while he was undergoing treatment. The local newspaper showcased a radiant bride next to a hairless groom in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV.
     Three years ago Georgia's obstetrician informed her that since her five months-pregnant womb had completely emptied itself of amniotic fluid, the baby boy inside would most likely be born dead, or at best suffer severe brain damage. Georgia refused to give in to fear, notifying the doctors that God willing, her baby would be fine. Two weeks ago, little Garrett was romping around my kitchen wearing Dave's hunting boots, healthy as can be.
     Georgia struggles to make ends meet, on a regular basis. Yet I'll never forget the day she called to offer me half of her tax return because Dave was out of work. I refused the offer, but knew it would have thrilled her to put the money in the mail even though she was much more in need, with four little mouths to feed and no husband at home.
     I was shocked to learn one day, after knowing Georgia for several years, that she suffers from an auto-immune disorder. She had never once complained of her symptoms.
     And there's her past. It's the real reason she should be wearing a frown, rather than penning smiles on envelopes and constantly wearing one too. You see, Georgia's birth mother tried to scald her to death as an infant in a steaming bathtub. She was rescued by social services, only to be placed in one fostering hell home after another.
     Georgia knows what it's like to have the blinds shut and door locked every afternoon when  you're twelve years old.... She still remembers the way they laughed at school when she arrived wearing the contents of "the bucket" she'd been forced to empty at three in the morning on an icy driveway.... The memories are as fresh as the road kill served for suppers--skunk, raccoon, squirrel and woodchuck. "If it's still warm it's safe" he'd always say.
     And there were the cruel and unusual punishments--hours standing against the wall trying desperately to not let the quarter slip off...but she was so tired. And that's when the coffee was brewed. And forced down, black, at four in the morning.
     How Georgia hates the smell of coffee!
     Sometimes I forget when she comes to visit. "But this is hazelnut!" I always say. We laugh.
     Georgia should be throwing Kool-Aid stained envelopes away.
     One day she did start over though. It was in a country church with simple folk. The preacher told them Jesus could make their scarlet-stained heart as white as snow. Georgia ran forward and a lifetime of misery rushed out in tears. "If you don't love me, I can't love me. And no one else will," she told God.
     I have only scratched the surface of the untold hardships of Georgia's life. The rest are too dark and painful to mention here. Yet since that day at the altar, twenty years ago, Georgia's worn a smile as big as her heart. It's funny. She's the one that cheers me up. Me with a husband at home. Me with the happy childhood memories. Healthy me. (Slightly more) wealthy me. I can only conclude that I need a little more of the Jesus Georgia has.
     And a beret.

(This story written with permission.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Why I Don't Make New Year's Resolutions

I don't make New Year's Resolutions; I make daily ones. I got the idea from an old prophet.

In the Old Testament book of Lamentations (chapter three), Jeremiah is having one big pity party. He feels the pain of Israel's broken resolutions and is about to give up on everything and everybody, including himself and God (who Jeremiah is sure must be against him as well). Until...

     "But this I call to mind,
      and therefore I have hope:

      The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases
      his mercies never come to an end;
      they are new every morning."

Suddenly poor old Jeremy remembers God's mercies (Hebrew, hesed), or covenant/steadfast love. At the end of the day--at the end of his rope, his hope--that is what remains. New mercy will be waiting in the morning, after his long, dark night of affliction.

From Jeremiah I learn that God's mercies are new every morning--not every year. That means if I fail at keeping my latest resolution, I get a fresh start within twenty-four hours.

Actually, I don't have to wait until the cock crows. I believe Jeremiah is simply telling us that God is abundantly merciful, always merciful, instantly merciful. When the apostle Paul told the Philippians to forget the past and reach for what lies ahead (chapter three), he meant the past--whether it's ten minutes, or ten years in the past. God's mercies--his hesed--means that my future is one fresh start after another, starting now. No failure of mine can interrupt "the steadfast love of the Lord."

So here goes. My New Day Resolutions:

Today I resolve to limit myself to one Lindt Truffle and no more.

I resolve to eat an unfulfilling-but-healthy apple.

I resolve to get outside and walk, unless it's in the single digits. Then I resolve to move to Florida.

I resolve to figure out what's for dinner by noon. I resolve to have it on the table by five (-ish). I resolve to smile sweetly and bite my tongue until it bleeds if they don't like what I make. I resolve to hire a cook.

I resolve to not raise my voice at the children.

I resolve to be a respectful, non-nagging wife.

I resolve to write a blog post (check).

I resolve to get myself in bed by ten o'clock so as to awaken tomorrow well before the kids do and enjoy an early morning tea with God.

I resolve to run into God's ready arms if I fail.

I resolve to listen when He tells me I am loved anyway, and that tomorrow will be a fresh start.