Thursday, March 28, 2013

My family's "Passover"

We have been celebrating the Thursday before Easter as a family for at least ten years. I don't broadly advertise our family tradition, because we're not Jewish, and I always feel as if we're trespassing on someone else's religion. We don't celebrate the Jewish Passover; our special day is specifically tied to Easter.

I can barely remember how it got started. Easter is one of those holidays that didn't resonate with me. I liked new clothes as a kid, the egg hunts, the Easter basket, but it always seemed like a very serious, holy holiday that was mostly observed with a lot of fluff. I wanted something more meaningful, but I'm not one of those model moms who has all these instincts towards decorating for holidays and pulling off traditions. I purchased The Good Book Cookbook and learned a little about food in the Roman Empire and food that was common to the Jewish people of antiquity. I do like to cook, and I love history.

When hubby & I were younger, we'd alternate between our families of origin for Easter, so we were never at home that weekend. But the Thursday before Easter, we were always home, and that is the day, in the traditional Easter week, that Jesus ate The Last Supper with his disciples. I didn't want to call our celebration The Last Supper...eek. Jesus was eating the Passover meal with his disciples, so we've always called it Passover. I really don't know what a seder is, but people use that word all the time when I say "Passover."

We decorate eggs to have for this meal (the Romans loved hard-boiled eggs), and I tell my girls the myth of Simon of Cyrene and the colored eggs. I buy lamb (yum! but so expensive), which none of the kids like (well, the youngest does now). I make a vegetable that the book tells me is authentic, usually cabbage in olive oil and wine or asparagus. We always have parsley, and I tell the girls that it represents the bitterness of slavery. I make Waldorf salad, which lo and behold is called "haroseth"--it represents the mortar the Israelites needed to build bricks. We have sparkling grape juice and light candles. And the girls make matzoh, which we dip in balsamic vinegar. Oh, and I make a green salad, a sure sign in our house that it's a special meal.

I used to conjure up some kind of desssert from my cookbook, which usually involved honey and whole wheat flour, but now we buy chocolate cheesecake, the sampler with a variety of chocolate flavors.

Over the years, we have discussed what Passover meant to the Jews, and what Jesus did in becoming our Lamb. There is so much symbolism and meaning to delve into! Now, of course, the children roll their eyes, but that just means we've done a good job. We usually read about Jesus (sometimes from Exodus), and we used to watch The Ten Commandments afterward.

But my favorite part of our Passover is that it's just us. We're a pretty introverted family (don't tell Lizzye), and this quiet event has no eyes on us. I intentionally don't clean the house. I don't get dressed up. I don't fuss over the kitchen being clean. We celebrate completely as we are, which meant that tonight Lizzye asked if she could read Luke in her "ghetto voice" (the answer was no). Abby gets whatever piece of cheesecake she wants, no matter what the rules are for everyone else (half a slice, try two) because you just can't argue with her. And Beka can frown all she wants.

I remember years ago, meal over, the kids running out in the backyard to swing, and Johnny wandering off to surf the internet. I would load the dishwasher, and when it was dark we'd watch a movie. We didn't sing a hymn. We didn't follow an educational book on seder. We were just us, before God with what we know from the Scripture, celebrating Jesus.

Abby is going off to college, and I don't know if we will keep up this tradition. Of course, at New Year's Eve when I decided not to make chocolate monkey bread for midnight breakfast, the kids almost rioted, so we'll see.

But I want to encourage you: do whatever small thing you do. Do it without show, like you're laying a single brick at a time in a wall you're building. Persist, even if your lamb is so rare your husband won't eat it or your completely forget the bitter herbs until the end or no one has time to decorate the eggs. I pray God blesses what you build.

Monday, March 25, 2013

An unstable landscape

This past Sunday was hard for me. My wonderful husband followed me around the house for about an hour after we got home from church, while I ranted and verbally stomped my foot in frustration. I value him so much. He listens to me and hears my heart, as well as my head. And I jump back and forth constantly in what I want him to be hearing--good job, babe.

Because of what we've been through this past year, I am unsure about some things where I used to be comfortable and settled. It can be hard for me to be in church or read the Word sometimes. Have you ever been there? Yesterday I wanted so badly to settle some things, to SEE what I couldn't quite see, and I didn't seem to get anywhere. I looked things up, I copied Scripture into my journal, I prayed, I talked. Nothing clicked.

God is always faithful to me. In my husband's response to me, I see a tiny picture of the immense love and patience that my heavenly Father has towards me. I know the Lord has wisdom and answers and the big picture. He may not choose to show me any of it. Proverbs 25:2 says, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings." And the very same chapter says, "It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to search out matters that are too deep" (v.27). There is a balance to struggling with big truths and simply trusting. I'm trying to walk that line.

I have been very tolerant of Christians who believe different doctrines than I do. I have served with an ecumenical bunch of people, which I loved. Now I'm struggling with that tolerance.

I cringe when I hear the Bible presented as allegory. And yet I know Jesus valued story as a means of teaching truth.

I want the freedom to feel and say what is in my heart, and yet I know that we are also to speak the truth about God, that our confession builds our faith.

I have packaged Jesus and church with marketing strategies, evaluated testimonies and miracles like a commodity. I didn't mean to err; it wasn't my heart to do so. And so I watch modern American churches with concern.

I admire the love of truth that I see in the Reformed movement. But I struggle with the language that we use to describe how the Holy Spirit moves in our lives, and the nature of revelation.

I admire the passion of the charismatic movement, but I fear misplaced zeal and an emotion that trumps solid doctrine.

People have disappointed me, like a bomb that collapsed the entire floor of my building. And I love people, their stories, their journeys, their testimony to our amazing God and how He works in our struggles and failures.

I have seen the power of God move through people I don't trust. And I have heard people I do trust say things I don't quite agree with. I value leadership, but I have lost faith in my own perception of what good leadership is.

I want Jesus to return and set this whole mess straight. That one thing, my friends, has not changed at all.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The value of community

At the most recent Lunch at Angie's, everyone shared their relationship with housework. That was fun. For me, it's like a mediocre marriage. I'm not getting out of the relationship, but I could certainly be investing more than I do...I just don't care enough. I wish I had taught my girls a little better. My own mom taught me well, so the skills are there, should I ever want to use them. Cough, cough.

Lunch at Angie's is a little community. We are united by our physical proximity. Small towns have community naturally, because you know the clerk at the store, the police officer that pulls over your teenager, the first name and favorite dessert of your mail lady. In larger communities, you have to work a little bit to find your "group."

Family is forever; friends are the people you choose and intentionally invest in. Unlike these two, community is more random. When you see someone using cloth diapers and think, "Hm, I could do that," that's community. When you ask someone in the produce section what recipe she uses for cabbage, that's community. When you end up spilling your broken heart to a person in the hallway at church and she prays for you and gives you some advice that puts you one step closer to healing, that's community. When someone at a luncheon of random people says she doesn't clean her house very regularly and you think, "Maybe I could dump some guilt," that's community.

We recently attended a small group at our new church. At our previous church, small group was a priority on Sunday night, and our children always expected us to attend. I think there is something solid for our kids in our own habits. Just like I am still married to their father, and they can count on that relationship, when Mom & Dad leave every Sunday night to eat dinner at small group, there is a comfort in the routine. "My parents are connected"--it is a security not really verbalized, but present. It's why moving a lot is hard on children; every routine, every tradition we can give them is foundational (or at least scaffolding) for their lives.

The kids asked, "Did you like the people?" My reply was, "They were random, and I wouldn't have picked them. So yeah, it was good." We practice Jesus when we walk with people who are not exactly like us. I'm sure there is a secure feeling from being surrounded by people exactly like you, but you work out your Christianity best with people who aren't. Especially other Jesus followers who make different choices.

We all need community. When we stepped away from our church last summer, we fell back into the arms of another community. We have lived in Tulsa our entire married lives, and so we have connections. I was blessed with the Lunch at Angie's crowd, who always vary, but they come, and they make my life richer. Finding community is one of the skills I want my girls to have when they leave my home. It doesn't look the same every season of life, but it is a specific thing--not family, not friends--that adds a depth of blessing. Where is yours?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thinking about maybe coming to God, just maybe

I think people often hesitate coming to church until they get their lives in order. There is something about that I kinda respect, as if the hesitaters are sensing that God is holy. You wouldn't want to walk up to GOD with all of your junk, right? Those of us steeped in ChristianLand know that we cannot straighten out our own sin and must humble ourselves, blah blah--of course there is a correct theology. But the instinct to put on your best shirt, cover up your ugliness--that seems like a good instinct, human and right.

I think there might be something else to the "let me straighten up my life first" impulse. What if you have something in your life that you're not willing to let go of? And you suspect that God wouldn't be happy with it? If you think that GOD (all caps, head of the universe) would want you to change something, and you don't want to change it, then why come? It doesn't show much respect to approach someone falsely.

I guess that eventually you have to decide that God is bigger than your issue. That you really need Him or really want Him.

Isn't it good to remember, ChristianLanders, that He is worth more than anything? That's how we come to Him at first. That's how we always come to Him.

We don't straighten ourselves out. He knows we fall short, and He's made provision for us through Jesus. But when we come to Him, we have to come with all that we are. We have to mean it, or we are somehow saying He is less than Lord.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sunday mornings

Paul wrote, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want" (Philippians 4:12). Paul went through a lot of suffering, and I think it was in those fires that he learned this lesson. God is the never-changing rock, our source for all peace and all comfort.

I had the privilege of working as a preschool minister at a large church for several years. I would get up early on Sunday mornings and leave the house at 7:15 with my oldest daughter, sometimes the middle one too. She would take the car to Panera for some breakfast after dropping me off at church, and then she would minister to a group of elementary girls and attend youth group. Meanwhile, I would print off the schedule of volunteers that morning, over 80 of them, making notes based on emails and text messages received over night or that morning. I would unlock certain doors, so my early volunteers could get the area ready for that day's ministry. The drama team would arrive and begin rehearsing, checking sound equipment. I would greet the building supervisor, the pastor starting the welcome center, the people setting up the coffee shop. I would double-check the work my staff had completed during the week and say hello to the ministry leaders as they arrived to supervise the classrooms. I would walk through the halls and pray, greet the early teachers looking over their lessons, the faithful volunteer setting out water pitchers.

My husband would arrive at church in time for the first service, and we would sit together while our kids were either in youth or serving. Then I would slip out early to host the theater for 100 four and five-year-olds and their parents. As the second service started, I would again walk the halls, talking to parents, volunteers, children, handling any issues, greeting other staff members. Because our ministry was so large, there was always a little chaos, things that needed my attention. But every morning, seeing the wide variety of faces and knowing the stories attached to each was such a blessing to me. Every Sunday was an opportunity to minister, over and over again, in the name of Jesus.

Last June I resigned, and it was sort of sudden and unexpected. I thought I would take a break from church, then visit around and get plugged in somewhere. Things haven't progressed quite as I thought they would. But I still love Sundays, even though they are very different now. I get up and have coffee with my husband. I read and goof around a bit, then scramble for church, rousting the teenagers out of bed and fixing their breakfast. We go to worship together, and then come home, talking about what we heard, what we understood, what we struggled with. My Sundays could not be any more different than what they were, and yet I am content--I have somehow learned that secret that Paul spoke of, whether I am enmeshed in obligation or freely and almost anonymously participating in a congregation.

I did not earn this contentment. It came to me through the stuggle of seeking God's peace as I served Him, and obeying His voice no matter what the cost. It is a gift. It is a product of maturity. I am not sure why I have wanted to write about it, except perhaps because contentment seems a bit misunderstood. You can't grasp it, with the fury of someone seeking to fight their way out of captivity. It comes to you as you do the hard work of building your faith. I think that perhaps many of the marks of maturity are not goals, but byproducts of pain and struggle. We all want to get to Christlikeness, but I think sometimes we balk at the path. If you do the work in front of you, whatever mundane thing it is, Christ will come and dwell in you, and someday you may be surprised by the joy of your Sunday mornings.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Invest in friends

Life is meaningful because of our relationships. At the end of the day, this is all that matters: the people you've loved, the people you've hurt, the wrongs you've righted, the good memories you've made.

We focus a lot in conservative Christian circles on family, and family is important. The Bible says that if you don't take care of your family, you're worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). That said, many family relationships in the Bible were not strong and uplifting: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, etc. Even Jesus was told by His family that He was crazy (Mark 3:21). They tried to take Him home because He was doing such ridiculous things...not particularly supportive of His Messianic ministry, would you say?

Sometimes we get so focused on our families, especially stay-at-home moms, that we forget the value of friends. Proverbs tells us that it is better to go to a neighbor nearby in a time of crisis than a relative far away (Proverbs 27:10). Relatives can be great, but friends can be invaluable. The Bible tells all sorts of positive stories about friendships. David had six brothers, yet his best friend, Jonathan, was the son of his enemy. Ruth chose to leave her family to be with her mother-in-law, because she wanted to claim the same God that Naomi served.

And when Jesus was told His family wanted to see Him, "He looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother'" (Mark 3:34-35). Jesus was not rejecting natural family ties: He asked the apostle John to care for His earthly mother while He was dying on the cross. Yet He did value those who walked with Him in life's journey, and those were not always natural bonds.

Your life will be greatly enriched by friends. Here are some suggestions to finding that connection:

* Let God help you choose. If you set your desire to have a friend before your Father, you will be surprised how quickly He will place people in front of you.

* Make the effort. You will likely have to step outside of your comfort zone to make a connection with someone. It is worthwhile. It is also important to set aside time for friends, whether you make a phone call or set a regular night out or play date. Habits are powerful, and if you value friendships, you should make them a habit. My best friend and I have met at Panera at 7am for years and years. It works with our families, and we are much saner because of it. People say, "7am? Are you crazy?" And we reply, "We're just that desperate."

* Walk alongside. My best friend and I began our relationship with our first pregnancies. It was sometimes rocky at first, but we had new motherhood in common, and it was easy to just hang out at each other's houses. We were in a similar stage of life, so our days could mesh well.

* Avoid "I'm okay." If you want a friend to share your heart and walk through life with, don't be okay all the time. The okay parts of our lives certainly exist, but it's not where we need help. My best friend has helped me be a better mother, wife, daughter, and Christian...but not because I only showed her my happy side. Here are some safe phrases to lead you into real conversation: "I need to think something through." "Can I say something out loud, just to get it off my chest?" "I need help with ____." I find it very helpful to talk to my friend about all my crazy ideas, and then the real issue will rise to the top, and it's more manageable than if I just leave the chaos in my head.

In a time of trouble, it is good to go to a neighbor rather than a relative far away. One who will pull up a lawnchair for you, hand you a popsicle while the kids play in the sprinkler, and listen to you babble out all your crazy thoughts. May the good Lord bless you with a friend.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Leaders who deceive

I've been a Christian for decades, and so I have done my share of timelines and studying Revelation. I've listened to arguments over whether the church will be raptured before the Tribulation, mid-Trib, or post-Trib. Sometimes, it all gets jumbled in my head: the Tribulation, the battle of Armageddon, the rapture, Jesus returning. I am not an engaged scholar on these matters.

There are a few things I'm sure of. The "end times" exist. Just as destruction came in the days of Noah, so judgment will come on the earth. Jesus, Paul, and Peter all said that there is a suddenness to the end, a surprising element for those who think that things will always keep on they way they are now (Matthew 24:42-44; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 3:3, 16:15). Christians should not be surprised that this age has an end. When Jesus taught His disciples about the Holy Spirit, He explained that the Spirit would teach us about things we need to understand about sin, righteousness, and judgement. The world in general does not understand nor like to think about judgement. Christians do, because it gives meaning to how we live.

Aside from Revelation, there are several passages that speak about the end: Matthew 24 (parallel in Mark 13, Luke 21), 1 Thessalonians 4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2, 2 Timothy 3, 2 Peter 3, and Jude. In many of these passages, the author is writing about false teachers, as if a discussion of false teachers, who have been in the church from early days, automatically makes one think about the end. In 1 John 2:18, John says, "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour." The end and false teachers go hand in hand.

So here's a question: what does a false teacher look like? These passages give many specific examples, but step back with me for a moment. Jesus said that at judgement many people would approach the throne and say, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?" (Matthew 7:22). These people, whom the Lord told to leave Him, that He never knew them, had successful ministries. If you claim to have driven out demons and performed miracles, it is likely you have really seen something like this happen in your ministry. It seems likely that these ministries might look valid and good to an observer.

Jesus said, "False messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time" (Matthew 24:24-25). When we see huge earthquakes on the news, don't we think perhaps it is the end times? However, when you hear of miraculous things happening in a ministry, do you consider that this may also be a problem? The church in Revelation is persecuted; the false prophet performs great signs and is exalted and popular. Many popular church people want to say that the church looks mighty and great--well, the antichrist comes from the church, yes, you hear a warning bell?

"Watch out that no one deceives you," Jesus says in Matthew 24:4. We, possibly even those of us who really know Jesus, are in danger of deception. We're in danger of persecution and, worse yet, mistaking something for Jesus when it is not.

In Mark 13, Jesus says, "At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Messiah! or, 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it." I have always had a hard time imagining people claiming to be Jesus, and anyone telling me I should go check it out. And yet in my day, I have seen revivals erupt where Jesus' power is supposedly at work, that cause people to buy plane tickets and go there, to encounter Jesus.

I feel convicted to build on solid rock. I need Jesus to stir my heart and engage my mind. I am in danger of being deceived by religious things that I might love, things that might compel me because they are powerful and look like God.

In the end times, we will not be able to avoid persecution. We will not be able to avoid war and natural disasters. Relationships will be strained and painful. The world may fall apart, and I may suffer, but this one thing I know: we have been warned about deception. If Jesus told me to be on my guard, then He does not intend for me to be trapped.