Hosanna!

I grew up in a very small town in which high school sports played a big part. We were so small a town that we didn’t even have one stoplight. Oh we did have a few stop signs. However, one of out biggest claims to fame was the multiple state championships we had won for basketball and soccer. Our high school was small and we always felt a bit like David versus Goliath when we went to the state competitions, but for a small town it was a big deal. For those in town who hadn’t snagged a ticket for the big game some two hours away, the local radio station would carry the broadcast and we would all tune in. We all got to celebrate alongside those who would win, usually year after year. Phone calls would be made and a line of vehicles including our two fire trucks would be waiting on the edge of town when the bus carrying the players and fans would return to our small town. When we heard the sirens and horns we would all gather outside on our front lawns with homemade signs, waving and cheering as our state champs rolled into town. It didn’t matter if you knew a player or not. It didn’t matter if you even liked sports. Young and old alike would stand outside and cheer and clap as the parade of buses, trucks, and cars would circle through the entire town multiple times.

I can only imagine that this was what it was like on what we now call Palm Sunday. Crowds gathered on the road to Jerusalem, cheering Jesus on and waving palm branches.Jesus of course knew what would be coming later in the week, and we get insight into this in Luke’s gospel. Before entering Jerusalem He stops and cries over the city. He cried because He wished they would understand what would bring peace.(Luke 19:41-42). Despite the cheering crowds, Jesus knew the real heart of the city rejected Him and did not realize it was He who had come to bring peace. The disciples must have enjoyed hearing the praises of the people as Jesus rode into town on the donkey. They might have even felt good to be a part of the entourage of Jesus, just like the parade of fans I remember from my home town. There was celebrating in the streets as Jesus, their hero. who had performed so many miracles was riding triumphantly into Jerusalem. But their celebrating would soon turn into disbelief and even denial in a few short days.

We, of course, now know what it was all about and understand that Jesus was entering Jerusalem where He would be tried, convicted, tortured, crucified, dead and yet rose again three days later. But, if we had been there, what would we have done?  Would we have joined the celebration parade? Would we have abandoned following when Jesus got arrested?

Sometimes, even now our faith is tested by what we go through and what we see. One minute we are celebrating and the next we face an uncertain time. Remember the greatest celebration isn’t Palm Sunday, but after, it’s Easter Sunday. It is what gives us hope that Jesus has paid our debt in full, defeated death, and will one day return. At that time there will be no more death, no more viruses or diseases that take our loved ones. No more crying, or heartbreaks. This is what Easter is about. It’s a victory celebration with Palm Sunday as just a preview. -God Bless -Nancy

Not For Sale

The truth is hard to take. It is impossible to take when it is something about ourselves. Ouch! It hurts to face the truth about ourselves. Recently I was reading an article on the rising number of atheists among Gen Z. What was hard to take was that the article mentions the fault for such a thing was not that there wasn’t enough opportunities for them to have heard the Gospel, aka the good news, but that their parents had presented them with a Christianity that just wasn’t realistic.  It is one that was based upon self fulfillment, prosperity gospels, and entertainment. The Gen Z saw right through that, but the parents did not. Gen Z desired social justice, authenticity and acceptance. And they are right in expecting this from Christianity. This message is found in the Gospels. Jesus accepted all people who were willing to follow Him (equality). He came that all men might be saved. He called for community (acceptance) He also treated women with high respect, compared with the religious leaders of the time ( women’s rights).   Examples of caring for the  environment (Environmental justice) is found in the Old Testament as well, as mankind was called to be good stewards of the land and animals (Genesis 1:28). They were given the role of care taker of the earth and to be generous and support the widows and children (social justice) as acts of pure religion( James 1:27).  So the Gen Z’s who want this are actually wanting what Jesus wanted for His followers. But what the Gen Z’s see is a church full of self serving hypocrites. And they are right. So they look elsewhere to find the answers to life. So what happened?

I suspect that we as parents of Gen z and millennials failed our kids by allowing them to be sold out to the highest bidder. What do I mean? We sought out churches with the best youth activities and mission trips, but not always considering whether they were getting the best understanding of the Bible. We sought the best worship music experiences with the best lighting and video effects. However,  we failed to help them learn to disinguish between the true and false teachers taking up pulpit space. We ourselves wanted a blessed life without problems. We wanted to be blessed in our finances and health and fell for the lies of the prosperity gospel that we just have to believe and we can somehow manipulate God into doing our bidding. We thought He was there for us, to serve us and our needs, rather than somehow we were to serve Him? That poverty and lack were to be battled against as an enemy to our happy Christian life. We allowed ourselves as parents to believe the lies that it is an “us” versus”them” world; the” us” that have it and the “those” who do not. We ourselves fell for the clever marketing of the Gospel. We bought the T shirts and attended the concerts and conferences. We loved our churches and branded church emblems more than God. We idolized Christian speakers and leaders and taught our kids to do the same. We watched the leaders we idolized fall away from the faith and were shocked to hear them denounce Christianity.  We taught our kids that acceptance and participation awards were more important than standing out as an individual. We told them it was more important to feel good about themselves and to avoid dealing with negative thoughts. We filled their schedules with activities so they would fit in with their peers and not feel left out. We taught them that feelings were more important than facts. We ourselves did not want to feel bad, so we found ways to medicate pain and difficulties we did not want to face. We failed to give them the truth. We sold them out to a marketed truth that filled the pockets of a Christianity which fell to the same marketing strategies as the corporate world. Give people want they want, and if they do not know what they want, help them to realize that you have what they need. Invent felt needs that only you can fill with your product. Offer to give away some of this magic elixir for free, but just enough so they will desire more. Do not include warnings, except in tiny fine print, for any side effects. or better yet, just omit any warnings and give them only promises of good results if they follow their specific Church plan.

Does Christianity come with warnings? Yes, the Bible is full of them. Christians will deal with all of the problems of this world and then some because of their faith. Christians should expect that they are not shielded from real life. There will be hurts, heartaches, disappointments, isolation, loneliness, grief, sadness, financial loss, job loss, diseases, accidents, rejection, suffering, pain, and the deafening silence from God when you seek Him for answers to prayer. This does not sound appealing does it? It would not market well, but it is truth. The God we have been sold by contemporary Christianity has failed us and we in turn have failed our kids. When they, and we, hit real life problems the catchy sound bite Christianity fails us. How do I know? I have been there, done that and bought the t shirt. No pun intended, but I couldn’t resist. I found out the hard way that ministries are not always what they seem and some are for profiting themselves and not helping people find God and grow their faith. The only thing growing are their bank accounts. I have also learned that God’s plans are not mine. We can’t “name it and claim it” to get what we want. It just doesn’t work that way. We shouldn’t expect God to give us everything we want. It is about Him, not us. We will have pain in this life. It is something we must deal with and go through. I know this from losing my Mom. My brand of Christianity almost failed me through the grief I felt in her death. I have also fallen for the false acceptance (over- eager church welcomes) and the free give aways done in clever marketing of churches who are seeking to pad their numbers. I felt accepted and important and needed, until I wasn’t, or until I raised questions about their motivations or programs.

But it is not about the numbers, it’s about real people with real lives and real eternities. What Gen Z’s want is authenticity. Will we give them the truth of what it means to be a Christian? Will we tell them it is not an easy road? I applaud the skeptics of this generation that are asking the tough questions of Christianity and demanding real answers. We should have answers for them, not marketing strategies. We can’t sell them out any longer. God doesn’t need our marketing; He does a pretty good job reaching out to those who are looking for real answers, not false promises. I fear more for those who do not ask enough questions and fall for a less than the truth Christianity. We need to admit we were wrong for giving them this model to follow. We need to help them find the truth among many opposing truths that Peter warns about in 2 Peter chapter 2. I found this verse interesting, “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” (vs. 3, NIV). I think this is what the Gen Z’s have called us out on and they are right. Although this verse refers to what was happening in the first century church, it is also true of today’s churches. They exploit and make up stories so that we will buy what they are selling. A false gospel that will make us feel better and benefit those who teach it. It was a problem then and it is the same today. Human nature has not changed. We are all designed for acceptance and relationship. This is to be met in personal relationships with friends, community, and in marriage, but ultimately is to be met by God Himself. We were designed for a relationship with God. It is not just a “felt” need, but a real one. Gen Z’s are wanting this and have discovered that in some cases, churches are standing in the way of them discovering this truth. They do not want a relationship with a church; they want a relationship with God. Will we continue to tell the younger generations to love their church, idolize their pastors, and seek for blessings? Or will we point them to Christ, who although He had never done anything deserving punishment for a crime, chose to suffer on our behalf, experiencing unbearable pain in the name of loving mankind. Will we tell them that once they realize what Christ has done for them, they won’t need to keep seeking more blessing? This is all the blessing they need. Will we tell them this love for Christ and from Christ will motivate them to suffer and endure things such as pain and even isolation, in His name? The first century church we read about in the New Testament existed in a world that was hostile to them. It was a difficult world, as it is today.  Will we continue to present a false story of Christianity or a true one? Will we teach younger generations to be watchful of false teachings, such as the prosperity gospel? Will we tell them that discernment is an important tool to sift out the scams of Christianity that exist?  Will we warn them about idol worship in the form of churches or pastors?  Will we teach them apologetic methods to help them explain their faith? Will will teach them to learn the Bible and not just memorize Bible verses for a prize? Will we teach them good hermetical practices so they will not fall for false teachers who take Bible verses out of context? Will we do the same for ourselves? Will we realize that the truth is not for sale? I hope so.

Letting Go….

Hi, my name is Nancy and my superpower is worrying and overthinking. Everything. Or at least it was. With the new year I have decided to let go of my superpowers for a bit. Or at least try to. If you’ve read my posts before, then you know I over plan and over think and over worry. Is that really a thing? I think it can be. I think there is nothing wrong with a bit of concern, but when we take it too far and what ever we are concerned with takes up all our thoughts, well yup you got it!, over worry.

So, while I might not admit to making a New Year’s resolution, I usually do; I just don’t tell anyone, so that way if I fail, no one has to know. Pretty good plan, huh? Well, this year it isn’t so much what I am adding to my resolve, like exercise, but what I’m leaving behind. I’ve decided to leave the past, right where it should be, the past. Everything that went wrong and everywhere I fell short, or others fell short. I’m just going to not bring it up in my mind. This year is a new chance for falling short, both mine and others.

When we hold onto those past short comings we label people and ourselves in such rigid ways, that we end up only seeing ourselves and others in that way. So we enter a new year expecting the worst from ourselves and others. We limit them and us and restrict any growth.

I really don’t like labels. People can move forward and grow. We are all capable and with God’s help we will continue to grow in our faith walk and in life in general. No one would expect a kindergartner to do Algebra and neither would they stay at the kindergarten level. They will grow and learn. Adults can grow too. We learn from the past and give ourselves the grace to move forward despite making past mistakes. We should offer this grace to others as well. Putting the past behind and moving forward is not just a cliche, but is a part of living.

But what about worry? Are you going to mention that again? Yes. Yes, I am. I am still a work in progress in this area and a verse came to mind this morning as I thought about what to write. It’s from Matthew: Here’s Jesus’ words on the subject of worrying: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?(6:25-27, NIV).

Many of you might be familiar with this passage, but I think the best part is found further on in the reading of chapter 6 from verse 34;  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for today is its own trouble” (ESV).

Ahh, see there’s my biggest nemesis! Being anxious and worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Today is enough for today. And this is also where letting go of the past comes in. I think much of what we base our worry and anxiety on is from our past. If something went wrong before, surely it will go wrong in the same way tomorrow, right? Well, no. Yesterday’s mistakes were so yesterday, tomorrow’s mistakes will be tomorrow’s, we need to be concerned about today. And when we focus on that, the part about not worrying about our stuff, as mentioned in verses 24-27 about food and clothes comes in to play. Don’t be anxious about tomorrow. Think about today. And oh yeah don’t worry about today. God’s got this. That might be a unofficial version of the text, but I think that is what it is saying. Just something to think about. God Bless -Nancy

Relative?

“What is truth?” – Pontius Pilate( John 18:38)

Can you answer that question? Or do you struggle as Pilate did when Jesus mentioned the word?   Ask anyone today what is truth and you’re bound to get several different answers. Ask about religious truth and you’re bound to get even a few dozen more. But, does it really matter what you believe, so long as you believe something? This question is one that has been circulating for decades. Yes, it does matter.

Let me put it this way, when you pull up to the gas pump to fill your car’s gas tank, does it matter how to you how much you pay per gallon? Well, for some of you perhaps not, but  I know for others of you, it becomes a mathematical science of figuring out which station has the right price, how much you need, what your gas mileage is, etc. But, imagine if you will that each station had its own definition of what a gallon of gas is. For example if one station calls half a gallon a gallon, would you still fill up your tank there? So, does the truth in measurement matter? Yes. There are certain regulatory laws in place to protect the consumer against frauds, such as weights and measures. So why should we fail to accept absolute truth in other areas? Are there any laws to protect against frauds of belief? Is there any standard by which morals can judged be against?

Now, I realize this is a simplistic argument for truth and some of you might argue that in other countries they use liters or imperial gallons for measurement, I get that, but my aim here is to just get you to think; What if there is only one truth. The truth Jesus was talking about? if we can agree that there are laws protecting the measurements of gas to protect the consumer, could there possibly be other moral laws built into this world to protect the people of it? Are all religions equal? Is it okay to take bits and pieces from different ones until you find what is true for you? That would be equal to filling your car up at multiple sights across town just so you will have a full tank in the end. Sounds kind of crazy to me. All religions cannot all be true because in order to do so they would have to contradict themselves. Cars require gas or (electricity) to run properly and we expect to get what we pay for in terms of gas or electric charges, so should we not expect that for life to run well, there must be something we need, something that is truth? We might look different on the outside, but we are al really the same on the inside. We all want to be loved and accepted. We all want to find something to do that we love and someone to love and share life with. We really aren’t that different, no matter what culture we are from. So, why do we question truth about beliefs? We need truth in our lives, not different truths, but truth that will actually fill the needs I just mentioned before. Truth that doesn’t change with the times or with whichever political party is in charge. Truth that sustains when life seems out of control. Truth that is true for all not just for the individual.

 

Real (estate)

It was the perfect time of day. The day time sky had not quite given in to the blackness and darkness of the night sky, but was holding on for just a bit to its reflection of blue. It was a soft blue, almost purple, but you could tell it had been a brilliant blue in the brightness of daytime. The sun had set and was casting a loving glow upon the wispy clouds. The clouds were not big and puffy, but just small and wispy, like the contrails of a jet. They as well seemed to be trying to hold on to the last bit of day as they shown in a soft pink color. Some call this time the golden hour.

The sky view was blocked slightly by the house. But the house itself did not seem dwarfed by the sky as it was larger and grander than most. Someone had turned the lights on inside already anticipating the coming nightfall. In fact, each room had the glow of a soft yellow light and because the curtains had not yet been closed, you could see a hint of the room inside. Each window was symmetrical with the large door in the center. I had studied some architecture in college so I knew this would fall into the category of Georgian style. It looked so amazing at this perfect time of night. Almost magical and surreal. So perfect. Almost unbelievable.

And it was. You see it was a real estate listing I was staring at on my phone this morning. No, I’m not looking for a house, it just was one of those social media pop ups, probably because of a word suggestion made earlier by one of my sons. You see both my sons are photographers and videographers who work in real estate. So I am very familiar with how real estate photo shoots are done. When someone is ready to sell their home they typically call an agent to list their home. The agent calls my son and a time slot is given to shoot the home. My son edits the photos to some degree and then they are sent to another editor to finalize the pictures. I have heard from them just how far some home owners want them to edit the photos. Thankfully, my sons will not edit out something that would misrepresent the home- such as a door or window. But gaining in popularity with home sellers is the twilight shot. I have to give my sons quite a bit of credit here as they actually will go out at the golden hour and photograph a home. However some home sellers want an ideal picture with the purplish sky and pink clouds that are not real. The colorization is so intense that it is like a dream sequence, not reality. I’m not sure what people think who actually see the homes in person, but at least it gets them to visit the home.

We all know about air brushed photos of models on magazine covers, but have you ever thought that we too airbrush and edit our lives to look good for others? Let me be even more specific, have you ever thought about the church doing this? If you haven’t then let me assure you it does. I know because I am the church. We all are. If you call yourself a Christian than you are part of the body, the church. And I have been so guilty of this at times. But what if we could just be real with each other and stop showing up on Sunday mornings all edited and air bushed to perfection. Please I am not talking about showing up in our pajamas and without makeup. Makeup is okay as is hair coloring, and tattoos and piercings. Just be yourself and be transparent. Don’t try to hide your struggles and imperfections from each other. If you were perfect than you wouldn’t need God or a Savior.

And for all who read this who think they can’t visit church until their life is all cleaned up and edited, please come as you are. Believe me the church is full of many hurting people with problems that are willing to help you tackle yours. I know some church people are really judgemental, I get that and I have fallen for the lie that I have to act and or dress a certain way to be accepted. We all want acceptance and affirmation. But, we can’t really get that completely from people, we will only find that in God. And not in any god or religion, but THE God, who doesn’t ask us to clean up and edit ourselves first to look good on the outside, but the God who came down to earth as a lowly human, felt pain and hurt and rejection by others. He wants the real us so He can heal us. Not in a superficial way that only looks good on the outside, but in a real and personal way. he knows you and your struggles. If you do visit a church this week or seek out a pastor for help and you get the judgemental, air brushed version of church, keep looking, we are not all bad. we are just imperfect so keep looking and visiting until you find the one that welcomes you without the editing.

Pray

Today I have a simple question to ask of you… Do you pray?  If your answer is yes, then let me ask another follow up question…. When?  Maybe your first thought about this answer was a particular time of day, like first thing in the morning or the last thing at night. There is really no set time that is better than others. However, praying first thing in the morning kind of gets the day started off in a better direction. Do you pray alone? Or with your spouse? Or with your kids before bed time? I remember praying with my kids at night while I sat on the edge of their beds. My husband and I began praying together both in the morning and at night a few years ago. My favorite time to pray is when I have the whole house to myself and can just have this awesome conversation with God, pouring my heart out to Him. Or in the car- I promise I do not close my eyes when driving!

Maybe you can’t remember the last time you prayed- I mean really poured your heart out to God with thanksgiving and also with your concerns. Maybe you save prayer for the big stuff- like health scares or financial stresses. Or maybe only when that child or spouse that just needs to change- in your opinion. Or maybe you just get busy and slowly prayer becomes something you’ll get to later in your already busy over scheduled day. Yes, we can get lazy about prayer. It can be like that well intended diet we started. As soon as the desserts show up our diet is gone and our good intentions are lost.

Some people like to schedule their time with God for reading His Word and for prayer. This I do recommend to keep from falling away- like that well intended diet plan. But, if you blow it and miss a day don’t worry, just get back at it. It helps to remember why we pray in the first place. Its all about communication. Jesus even gave His disciples – and us- an idea of how we should pray in the Lord’s prayer. No, we do not have to follow it word for word like a memorized prayer. But, He gave us ideas of how to pray- to communicate- with God- the Creator of the universe.  If you’re unfamiliar with what’s called the Lord’s Prayer you can find it in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.

The most important item to take away from Jesus’ model He gave His disciples, was that He prayed to His father. If Jesus prayed, shouldn’t we also? Jesus is part of the Trinity- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Did He need to pray? Wouldn’t that be like talking to yourself? Well, that’s a deeper question to think about now, but what we should realize is that Jesus communicated with God the father regularly. And that is what He wants us to do as well.  It doesn’t matter the formula, time of day, or words- God knows us- He wants to be in a communicating relationship with us. He wants our praise, our thanksgiving, our petitions, requests, our worries and stresses- all the messy stuff of life- He cares. He accepts and does not reject those that call upon Him to be saved (Romans 10:13). He hears us (1 John 5:14), He will not forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6), He loves us (John 3:16). He wants to hear from us, so why not at the end of reading this, you just stop and pray. No excuses, just do it. Not sure what to say? Just tell Him whatever is on your heart. He’s waiting for you to make the first move.

-God Bless

– Nancy

 

Giving Good Gifts

So, how’s that Christmas shopping going? How many times have you heard that question this year? It seems like it is a common question this time of year as we approach Christmas, a time to celebrate Christ’s birth by exchanging gifts with our families and friends. But maybe the real question should be; how are you at picking out gifts? I find that the people who procrastinate at their Christmas shopping are the same ones who struggle to figure out what a good gift might be. They fear giving the wrong gift, so they put off their shopping.

Thankfully, God knows how to give the best gifts. of course the first and best is His Son Jesus, but also there’s the spiritual gifts that He gives to believers. There are many self tests out there to help you discover your spiritual gift. 1 Corinthians 12 gives a good list of these gifts as does Ephesians 4. These good gifts are for the benefit of the church, to grow it and build it up. But, there are other gifts that God gives. Our natural abilities and talents that helps us to do our vocations and hobbies.

Recently I was reading an article that suggested parents should not recognize or celebrate their children’s natural gifts and talents. Instead it was suggested that parents should encourage their children to work hard and excel at everything. All it takes is a little self determination and everything is possible. Well, I  believe that God creates each person individually, I mean look at your fingerprint- there isn’t another one like it. Our natural talents are meant for us and is a part of who God made us to be and should be celebrated. We as human beings are unique and specially created by God. We are not cookie cutter.

Sometimes, I think we can forget this. We try to be or do something we are not. We are trying to use a gift that doesn’t fit, because, well, we don’t have that gift. It is a fake it till you make it philosophy, but it’s not long and we can become frustrated trying to do something we were never meant to do in the first place. We should always operate in what we have been gifted in. It is the right gift. The right fit. The good gift from the ultimate gift giver.

I was reminded of this today. I am responsible to use the gifts I have been given, not try to use someone else’s gift. It is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t fit and it’s a struggle to figure out how to make it fit. In the end, it’s a choice to select to do what I am gifted to do and not try to do everything.God Bless -Nancy