Shack Suffering and Joy

Consider it… pure joy

The book of James, written by James, (some say Jesus’ half brother, others say his cousin) begins without any lead-in. He straight-up tells his readers to consider whatever trials they are facing as pure joy.

Here is it is in the NIV translation of Scripture:

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:Greetings.2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Consider it: The reason I can don’t skip these verses entirely and move on to number 5 (which is a favorite) is that James tells me to consider that my suffering is pure joy. I like the phrase consider it (over feel it), because it gives me space to step back from my suffering for a moment, and reflect. 

I feel James asking for a shift in my thinking. “Cinthia,” he seems to be asking, “Can you view your suffering through a different lens, and possibly find joy?” In a world that views suffering through the lens of horror while asking the question, “Why does God allow suffering?” James (who was martyred for his faith, so he is no slackard on the subject), tells me that suffering comes bearing gifts–joy, perseverance, and a perfected faith that lacks nothing.

It is hard to consider suffering in any light other than panic and fear, because suffering is so often unfathomable. Don’t think this short study is easy for me to digest because I’m the one writing it. It isn’t. I am heartsick for your suffering and mine. I know women who have buried children, and in the same year, spouses. Women who received the bodies of their son’s, returned to them in a casket from Afghanistan. Women who were just told, you have Alzheimer’s, at 45. I shed tears, now, over it. I cry out, quite literally, to my God, and say, “She is your daughter. Go to her!” The tears of friends are my tears too. Suffering is no small subject and I do not make light of it, but James asks us to consider it, and so we do, even when we are shocked, confused, outraged, feeling assaulted, and wondering how to fix it immediately. Remember this, when the unthinkable happens and we are not prepared for it, God is. In that regard, Scripture speaks to suffering in all 66 books. Generally, we are given three primary things to consider about suffering (if you have time, look these verses up):

  1. We will suffer. (John 16:33, I Peter 4:12)
  2. God is with us in our suffering (Psalm 22:24)
  3. Direction and understanding about our suffering. (Ephesians 4:14)

If Scripture is true, and I believe it is, then we will suffer trials of many kinds. Don’t immediately discount your suffering because it isn’t persecution for your faith. The kind of suffering James is talking about here takes any form, hence many kinds. I’m even going to be bold enough to toss some of my “consequences for not so stellar decisions” into that definition.  I don’t mean I will blame God or others for my mistakes and sins, but I plan to hold onto God’s refining fire of me during those consequences. I want my suffering, whether I brought it on or got blindsided by it, to count for something. I don’t want it to be wasted. Pure joy actually sounds good. It gives me hope that the suffering isn’t just for suffering’s sake.

Personal Questions (for journaling or reflection):

  1. What does James promise as a result of the testing of our faith in vs. 3-4? .
  2. How do the words not lacking anything resonate with you? Do you desire that kind of faith? (Can we be honest about it? Because God is not only able to handle our honesty, he uses it to raise our chins. He uses it to free us.)

Don’t confuse not lacking anything with moral perfection. It is the perfected faith of believers that is the topic. I’ll be honest. I want a mature faith, just like I want an established and prosperous career. But, I am not sure I want the work that accompanies that career, or the suffering that develops that faith. Can you relate?

Personal Questions:

  1. What could be the perfect result of your (my) present suffering?
  2. What would be the result if you (I) could skip the suffering?

Because, here’s the deal. I think we can and often do skip it. We:

  • Shop it away.
  • Drink it away.
  • Exercise it away.
  • Work it away.
  • Compartmentalize it away.
  • Play it away.
  • Literally move away.
  • Pretend it away.
  • Use anger to keep it away.
  • Use relationships to distract it away.
  • Blame it away.

I have refused the perfect result of suffering for much less. But does it make sense too? C.S. Lewis related suffering and endurance to a surgeon’s knife. If you were sick and needed surgery, would you stop the surgeon half way through his task? No. Even if it required your suffering, you know that to finish the surgery is to be healed. You endure the surgery for the perfect result.

Since there has never been a time in my life when I was not lacking something (spiritually speaking), then I am quick to dismiss James’ here. If I can’t envision it, I don’t seek it. But, if suffering is going to come, whether I am seeking it or not (and seeking it is fool’s play), then perhaps my ability to envision the joy or maturity that follows, doesn’t matter. What matters is the gift of God’s Word framing my thinking during my plight. When I am blindsided by life, I can hold onto what God promises through James’ pen. There is joy in the midst of my pain, and my suffering will not be wasted. It will produce fruit in me. That is hope for uncertain times. 

Comment questions: (Answer in the comments below if so led):

  1. Has there ever been a time when you chose to skip the suffering through some worldly effort?
  2. What was the result of that “skipping?”
  3. If it is possible, would you consider experiencing the suffering now, and letting God have his perfect way with you?

If we’re going to consider (not feel) our trials as pure joy, we must consider the perfect result of that trial. We must consider that the answers to our probing questions are found in the completed suffering, not in the deliverance from it.

That is surely enough to consider for today.

Father of grace, Lord of life, Creator of all things, 

Fight for us. Come to us. We are scared, tired, weary, unsure, defeated. We are lost. But you are there. In the darkness and in the light, your arms embrace us. Your arms enfold us. Let us rest in your arms, comforting our hearts with your great presence. Understanding that the You and you are alone are worthy, and in you we are fulfilled. You are life. In the midst of our fears, and all that assails us, come to us. Fight for us. We love you. In Jesus Name.

Blog Bible Study–Need Some Ideas!

Let’s do a blog Bible Study.

Once a week. On Mondays. I’ll dedicate the blog space for it, but will leave the other four days (Tues-Friday) open for my usual gardening/life/ranting posts.

Here’s how it will work:

1. You don’t have to sign up. You can just log on every Monday (or the day of your choice, read #10 below) to participate.

2. You will read the study, look up a few Bible verses, and answer a couple of questions. A notebook or journal would be helpful. Or read #3 if answering questions is more than you want to do.

3. You can skip the questions part, and just read the blog/study part if that’s good for you. I’ll set it up for either.

4  I’d love it if you commented about anything the Lord teaches/reveals to you, but it isn’t necessary to do the study. Your thoughts are helpful to the rest of us journeying along beside you, but they are also your thoughts and sometimes for you alone. You decide if you want to share.

5. Don’t let the word study send you screaming. It will be something you can do in under 15 minutes.

6. If you have questions about it or during it, feel free to contact me.

7. Please tell friends about it. I miss teaching, and I often do my Bible Studies alone, because my work hours don’t allow for me to meet when most of the women’s groups meet. So, this is really for me, and I’m hoping you’ll join me. Oh, and non-believers are welcome too. I am blessed to have Christian and non-Christian friends, so all can study together.

8. Each study will be independent of the others, so missing a week or many won’t matter. But, after 6 weeks, let’s reevaluate. . . Did we like it? Want to keep going? It tanked? Did not work? We’ll decide. Or, do we need changes? More? Less? Again, we’ll decide.

9. I’ll post it Sunday night to be in your in-boxes early Monday morning. Or, again, log on Monday (or the day that works for you) to participate.

10. You can do it any day you want! I’ll have it up on Monday, but if Friday is your best day, then that’s the day for you. I have never been an up-early-every-day-doing-my-Bible-Study kind of girl. Some days I am up early doing it, other days I am lying in bed at midnight doing it. Some days I do two days worth because I have the time, and some weeks I completely miss. So, feel free to comment if you find the study long past the time I’ve posted it. I will be blessed by your thoughts, no matter when you do it.

11. I worship with all Christians, so any denomination is welcome. And, the only thing I’d ask is that we respect each other in the comments, if we leave one. We can disagree diplomatically.

12. You do not have to participate each week to do the study.  If you miss a week that’s okay, since each will be independent of the others.You can join in anytime or drop out anytime.

13. Please provide me with ideas! Anything you really need right now? Is there a Bible character you’d love to learn more about? Suggestions are welcome. Topics, people, books, I’d love to explore them with you. Leave a comment or contact me. I respond best to email, or text.

Finally, how about we start this coming Monday? July 21? It can be our first practice round. We’ll see how it goes and continue on. I look forward to spending time in God’s Word with you. Now, send me some thoughts! Much love, Cinthia .

The Book of Jacob

I’ve been reading the book of James. For my non-Christian friends, that’s a book in the Bible. If you’re interested, it is located toward the back of the Bible, sandwiched between the book of Hebrews and the first letter from Peter. Or look in the table of contents. Honestly, that’s what I do. For my non-Christians pals, think of it as chapters and that will make it easier to find.

James was the half-brother of Jesus, son to Mary and Joseph. Well, there is some debate about that actually, because the word brother can also be translated cousin, but I’m reading it from the perspective of James as Jesus’ half brother.

Turns out James (the English name) was Jacob. Likely named for his grandfather (on Joseph’s side, Matthew 1:15-16). If you’ve read James, and you’re aware that Jacob (not the grandfather, several generations back) was the name of the Jewish patriarch, this fact will make you smile. James gets no small amount of grief for being, well too Jewish, i.e. all works and no faith.

In the first chapter–heck the second sentence of the first chapter–James instructs believers to, Consider it pure joy, whenever we face trials of many kinds. I like that James doesn’t get into listing the possible scenarios of trials. He only says trials of many kinds. I like this because I tend to minimize my trials, thinking my problem is a severe lack of coping skills, not a trial. So, right off, James gives me permission to at least ask myself this question: Is this a trial I am facing?

But then, he commands me to consider my trial pure joy. His reasoning is that it will aid in making me mature and complete, not lacking anything. Isn’t that funny? Because I’ve always noticed that trials come with loss, but James says they come bearing gifts. Something to ponder.

The chapter goes on to say many things. Here’s just a few.

  • If you lack wisdom, ask God for it, he gives generously without finding fault.
  • The poor man is in a “high position,” the rich man is in a “low position.”
  • God does not tempt us, generally we’re just carried away by our own lusts, which gives birth to sin, and when sin has matured, it gives birth to death.
  • Every good and perfect gift is from God, the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows.
  • Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger–for a person’s anger does not bring about a righteous life.
  • Don’t just listen to God’s Word, but do what it says.
  • There is a law that is perfect and it gives freedom.
  • Religion is taking care of the poor and widowed, and keeping ourselves from being infected by the world.

Seems James has a lot on his mind. So, do I. We should fare well together.

The Taliban Blew Up My House Today

Okay, so yeah, I still have issues. At 55. I see myself as such an uber-cool adult woman who is slightly successful, but not overly, because then I wouldn’t be humble. I also have an amazing wardrobe, interesting friends, and the ability to be pretty chill about everything,  At least, that’s my picture of myself, a chill, well-dressed, successful woman.

And then, the Taliban blows up my house.

Here’s what happened. I dreamed that my ex brought his new girlfriend over to meet me. (I need to add that she is also his ex-mistress, which might help you understand the dream a tad bit better.) I didn’t ask him to bring her. He volunteered, presuming it would be nice if we met. He can be so thoughtful that way. Anyway, so there she is sitting on my couch in my new little rental house that I love, and well, AWKWARD. Then the ex informs me that he is going to leave her with me for a week, so we can really get to know each other. And, then he leaves. I’m freaking out, but before I have time to say do you prefer flat or fluffy pillows, the Taliban shows up and starts bombing my house. So, I grab my College Son, who is asleep. Remember, he’s in college, he can sleep through ex-mistresses and the Taliban. I jerk him awake, and we run to safety, while my house burns to the ground. There goes my cute little house.

The dream was so real that I had to stop myself from calling my ex today and saying, “The farm wasn’t enough? She had to hire the Taliban to blow up my house?! It’s a rental. What do I do now?!”

So, if you spend most of your day thinking, am I ever going to get over my issues, take solace. The Taliban is probably not blowing up your house.

Fortunately, for me, my boss is a godly, Christian man. I told him my dream when I got to work today. After he stopped laughing, he said, “Cinthia, you need this book I’m reading on total forgiveness.”

I said, “When she stops destroying everything, I’ll forgive her.”

He cut his eyes sideways at me. It’s his look. The look that says, is that forgiveness? Is that how Christ forgave and forgives? Well no. He forgave while they were torturing him, mocking him, and crucifying him. He forgave during not after. And then it hit me. Forgiveness is a during event, not an after. It is an on-going process, not something I do when the dust finally settles, because let’s face it, it may never settle with some folks.

I buried my head in my hands and said, “I’m so screwed up and the Taliban burnt down my house!”

My boss smiled and said, “Well, my dear, we all are. That’s why it is called grace.”

And so it is. Grace extended to everyone. Even the Taliban and ex-mistresses. Could anything be more radical than that?

 

adulterous woman

The Thing About the Adulterous Woman

So, the thing about the adulterous woman in John chapter 8 is this: she did break the law. She actually did. She was caught red-handed (and yes, there is much to be said about that), but no matter how she was caught, possibly set-up, seduced or used, she did break the law.

Here, read it for yourself.

To Throw the Stone

1-2 Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them.

3-6 The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.

6-8 Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.

9-10 Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

11 “No one, Master.”

“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

Right there it is. She was busted. She had no wiggle room. We can (probably) safely assume how the catching part played out. The text says that the men were trying to incriminate Jesus with their questions. Looking for a wrong word or wrong move so they could toss him in jail, or just discredit him. If I were a betting woman, I’d bet they set her up so they could then set Jesus up. But the text doesn’t say, so assume is all we can do.

But truly, who doesn’t love that ending?

Couldn’t have been better if I’d written it myself. Finally, something in Scripture that ends just like I want it too. Those mean men walking off with their heads hanging. The crowds thinning because there’d be no drama that morning. And, the adulterous woman alone with Jesus, hearing words that must have made her heart soar, “Neither do I condemn you.” Perfection. Call it wrap and go home.

Except. She, the adulterous woman, did break the law.

I am not a legalistic person but I am quite literal. I want to hang out with Jesus just a bit longer–after she has left with her freedom and dignity restored–and ask him, but what about the law? Did you actually answer the question?

Don’t misunderstand, I have compassion on this woman, forever referred to as the adulterous woman. I have compassion on her because I am her. I could lock arms with her and say, “Stone us both. She is my sister in crime.”

And, I get Jesus stating the obvious. If you any of you be her judge, then step on up.

But, if you have my brain, then the thing you want to be sure of is that the pronouncement Jesus made over her (over me too, your sins are forgiven) is the real deal. I mean, are those men coming back? Does the verdict stand if the punishment is not met? That law was the very law God gave to Moses in the desert, hence an immutable law. Can Jesus, yes even Jesus, speak mercy over it and thus change it?

The words, “The law says,” would keep me up at night. Because if the law is immutable, the crime punishable by death, and no one died, then what? Is it truly a get-out-of-jail-free-card?

I told you I was literal.

If I am understanding the calendar of the day, and times and all that, Jesus was about six months from Passover. Six months from his conversation with the adulterous woman, he would hang on a cross and die the death she didn’t that day. That’s the answer to their question. He would die, not her. And, her crime–regardless of the screamingly unfair events leading up to it that make us want to protest for her freedom–her crime would be paid for by Jesus himself. The law stood when Jesus stood up to address those harassing him. Her Freedom = His Death. And so does mine.

Now, go, and sin no more.

Believing Jesus During the Norovirus

Some days I feel unconquerable. The other 364 days, not so much.

Today was a not so much day. I am recovering from the Norovirus. The word wobbly describes my day, and soft carbs describes today’s diet. Talk about a Come to Jesus meeting in the bathroom where I slept for 12 straight hours. It just made more sense to make my bed on the tiled floor, if you get my meaning. And as sick as I was, it’s crazy how I was able to reevaluate my priorities when I was face-to-face with my toilet.

I don’t understand how anyone can skip religion. Atheism makes no sense to me, even if it were to be right. Who wants to live believing there is nothing? While I was on vacation with the family, I had a free moment to sit in my swing and gaze out at the ocean, and this thought popped into my head. What if Jesus is a hoax? My next thought was a prayer. I said, “Lord, are you a hoax? Please don’t be. That would just be unbearable.”

A world without Jesus would be unbearable.

I do understand, especially after reading some of the thoughts on Facebook about the whole Hobby Lobby deal, that more people consider Jesus to be a hoax than not, and many consider me, because I am a Christian, to be one too. So be it. At 55, I simply don’t care. I have thrown my lot in with Jesus and that’s that.

We talked Sunday in our Connect Group (what used to be called a Sunday School class) about the long haul of faith. About that moment when it is necessary for you to choose if your are going to believe Jesus, or the world, or your doubts? I’d say for most of my faith life, my doubts won the battle. But, lately, I feel the Lord calling me to something higher, better, more determined in Him. I feel him saying, believe me. I have believed in him, a phrase I don’t even really like because it is rather like saying I believe in ghosts, when what I mean by it is that I know him. I know him personally, but I haven’t always believed him. I generally see the circumstances and not the author and perfecter of my faith. Now, I feel him speaking directly to my spirit, saying, believe me, and rest in me.

I like the way The Message, a contemporary translation of Scripture put it:

Psalm 31:24
Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.Expect God to get here soon.

I have lived as though I did not expect him to get here at all. I have lived as though I was just trying to finish up here and make it to him. Some days, one of those 364 other days, I’d tell him I was ready to go if he was ready for me to come. I don’t think he is ready for me to come. I think he wants to show me that he can be faithful right here, right in the midst of life’s craziness, and the Norovirus.

I have made life harder by believing in him, but not believing him.

I have skipped the rest he promised the weary in Matthew 11:28, and soldiered on, not expecting him, but hoping I could make it until I got to him. The journey was mine, and I guess I figured he was in heaven furrowing his hallowed brow, wondering if I’d make it. It never occurred to me that he was walking the journey with me. Like he said in John 14:18, I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you. If there was ever good news, that is, and yes, please do come to me, Jesus. That was my simple prayer in the bathroom last night, “Come to me.”

Perhaps that is really the only prayer–come to me. The good news? He said he would before we even asked.

 

Cottage with Flowers

Getting off the Treadmill (Without Going off the Grid)

I despair.

It’s work.

Understand, I love my job. I’m outside all day, with my plants, doing my thing, and mostly talking people’s heads off. What’s not to love?

But, here’s my despair. I have discovered the timeless truth of the treadmill. And, I am on it.

I talked non-stop with Debbie N, (that, I-think-I’m-having-a-nervous-break-down,  talking) for an hour, yesterday. She was standing in line at Moe’s ordering burritos for take-out supper. Chicken and rice, if you’re wondering. Having to do the whole ordering and paying thing while on her smart phone with her hysterical friend. Mouthing, “yes, large tea” (sweet, it’s the south), and gesturing “yes, extra chips, yes extra sour cream,” to the Moe’s folks with the phone cupped between chin and shoulder. It’s what we women do. I could hear “Welcome to Moe’s!” being shouted in the background.

By the time she got home with supper, I was going to empty my savings, pack a few belongings in the car, and Thelma and Louise style, just start driving. I was thinking west coast, because that just sounds so good when you’re running away.

Which is what being on a treadmill does to you. It makes you want to run away.

Now, that I’ve calmed down considerably, two or three Xanax later (but really, who’s counting?), I am pondering the whole treadmill thing from a much more laid back perspective. Say man, what do you think about the treadmill of life? (Kidding, it’s the Xanax talking.) One major thought popped up.

When I moved to Brevard, almost two years ago, I told the Lord that I would work 24.7 if that was what was needed. Newly divorced, newly employed, and newly responsible for the household and kid, I was typical Cinthia. Extreme, determined, and way too prideful to ask anyone for help. You know, the whole bootstrap mentality.

2 years later, and completely exhausted, here’s what I’m realizing. It isn’t my job to work 24.7. It is the Lord’s. If anybody is on the ole’ treadmill, the Lord is. I mean, look at his job. He keeps the whole world cruising along every day, all day, with no sleep, and no help. Now, that is a treadmill deal. If he stops, it all stops. Meaning, he  is in control, and I’m not.

And, isn’t that where the treadmill lie originates? We’re stressed because we’ve convinced ourselves that the world rests on us. If we stop, it all stops?

Sometimes, I  want to be a teenager again. Back home in my room, staring out my window, gabbing on the phone, mom making dinner and dad hanging out with her. Because then, I wasn’t the one responsible for it all.

But, here’s the takeaway. I’m not the one responsible for it all now. So, when I feel like I am running on that treadmill of life and work again, I need to step off, and say, “Sorry, Lord, it’s all yours.” Because it is.

PS Kidding about the Xanax, it’s Klonopin. 🙂

The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living

I don’t know if fear is the undercurrent of most people’s life, but it definitely is mine. I’ve lived long enough to know that there are things to be frightened of. In fact, I am more astonished that the world is as safe a place as it is–most of the time, or at least my little corner of it–than I am that horrific things can and do happen to folks daily. Inhumane acts don’t surprise me, but nice people do.

I know, sounds all bitter and cynical, right? Maybe.

Recently someone did something nice for me.  She cleaned my car. We had traded cars for the day because she was doing something else nice for me; taking my car to get it serviced. Granted, we were using my car for a joint road trip, and my job doesn’t allow for errands or car servicing, so she volunteered. When we traded back, she proudly showed me her handiwork. My car, the one that hauls plants around, the one you could likely grow a plant in, was spotless. I hope I was appropriately grateful, but I may not have been, because I was stunned.

I don’t say this to paint a picture of how pitiful I am, but no one, outside of my family, has ever done anything on that caliber of kindness for me before. It was work that took quite a bit of time away from her day. How crazy is that?

To be truthful, and thus look a bit less pitiful, recently again, this time at work, I was grumbling about a co-worker to a co-worker. The person I was grumbling too, kindly reminded me to be kind. It was a good reminder, and I appreciated her forthrightness in setting me straight. Kindness is a virtue I am learning. I want to be kind, but really, I think I want others to be kind first, then I’ll be kind.

But, maybe, they’re waiting for me.

It seems to me that fear is not spurred by the actions of others toward us, but by their indifference. During my divorce, I was terrified of my future. How would I support myself? Where would I live? Could I parent and grandparent alone? All of that was big, scary stuff, but the most fearful component was not the unknown, but the new and complete indifference my ex regarded me with. The man who made sure my car was cleaned and serviced for 20 years, was now the man who wanted me out of “his” house. Watching that transformation was frightening. I could have used a bit of kindness. I wanted to scream at him, “Hello, my name is Cinthia!” I wanted to be seen, even in the process of dissolving our marriage, which is what I think kindness is, seeing someone.  Even the person who is mean. Even the person who participates in making the world a scarier place, because if you can see the image of God carved out in that person, then surely, you can see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

And, maybe, be kind first.

 

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In Defense of Beth Moore, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner

In Defense of Beth Moore (and a few other Bible Teachers)

Today, I was encouraged by something Beth Moore wrote. Then I forgot what it was (within like five minutes, geez) so I googled her to see if I could find that statement again. Dear Jesus. People do not like that woman. Or, at least, some don’t. Some probably like her a bit too much judging by their response to those who don’t like her. This was all blog talk. Theology this and that. Big hair this and that. Texas this and that. Southern this and that. Women this and that. She gave up her son…what you’re really going to go there? Turns out Christianity Today isn’t too big on her (well, since they don’t like her!), and some woman in Wisconsin broke up with her.

I will pause here to give thanks to the Lord that He did not see fit to make me Beth Moore. I would kill a couple of people. Or, I’d send my big Texan husband to kill them.

At any rate, I did find Beth Moore’s statement. It was Faith can be work. Love can be labor. And, hope can get long. Amen, Sister.

Some of her haters are theologians who specialize in discrediting everyone but themselves. I’ve done some of her studies, just like I’ve done Bible Study Fellowship and Kay Arthur and Anne Graham Lotz and Kelly Minter and well, all sorts of studies, including Sunday School lessons and extensive note taking during my pastor’s sermons. And while none of them have turned me into a Biblical know-it-all, all of them have encouraged me along the way, which is huge because the way has been hard. Very hard. And, I could use some encouraging. And, that seems to be the real talent of Bible teachers in my life, to point me back to Christ, and his faithfulness, and to encourage me on my journey.

Every year I go with my precious roommate from college to Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove and spend the weekend being taught by Anne Graham Lotz. I’ll be honest. I don’t really remember what she teaches me. But, I come away encouraged, equipped, and believing that I know a God who cares about me. Read that again. I come away knowing that I know a God who cares about me.

That’s what I need to be taught again and again–the Lord Loves Me.

Sometimes, I wonder why, when doing so many Bible studies, that I can’t remember half of what I learned. I think it’s because I am not there to learn something just to make me Bible-smart. I am truly desperate for God. I am listening, not for crazy theological insights, but for God himself to tell me, I love you Cinthia, and I have not forgotten you. I’ll fill in any blank I’m asked too if the Lord will whisper that in my ear.

You see, Jesus better be real, or I am up the proverbial creek. I need the Lord. I need him to show up each day because I am terrified of life without him in it. Sometimes I wonder if I am whacked out to believe in someone I have never seen. And, to be so dependent on that someone. Literally, Jesus is first in my life and my heart not because I am a spiritual guru, but because there is no one or nothing else to compete. I have no husband, or enormous savings account–the two things that would likely keep me pretty independent. Consequences and circumstances have played out that I do life alone, mostly, and that is pretty scary. And, no before you go there, that does not make me prey for Bible teachers. I am pretty discerning and when I hear something that just sounds off, I know it. I don’t agree with every teacher or preacher. I don’t have too for them to encourage me, and remind me that I am loved and remembered by God. I need the reminder as much as I need Nicole C. Mullen, singing at the top of her lungs, that Jesus will move heaven and earth to come rescue me when I call. I hope he moves heaven and earth because I can’t.

Today, my pastor talked about trials and suffering, and how we best prepare for them because we will have them. He had us in 1 Peter. And, I don’t remember everything the man said, but I know that, after the sermon, I felt God had spoken to my heart. That he had reminded me, come the inevitable suffering and heartache, that he was there. And boy, do I need to hear that because while Beth Moore may not have it all right, she’s got one thing right. Faith can feel like work, love can be laborious, and hope seem pretty dang long. And, I need the encouragement. So, thanks for taking the time, Beth Moore, to encourage me. It is appreciated.

 

 

Small, Medium and Big Christians: Auditing the Faith

One Sunday after church, my oldest son (age 10 at the time) came into my bedroom to announce something.  He wanted me to know that it had come to his attention that there were “small, medium and big Christians.”

This is a mild announcement compared to some of the things my children have sprung on me since, but I could tell he wanted me to take him seriously. So, I did.

I probed a bit to get his meaning, though frankly, it wasn’t too hard to discern.

He said he had noticed that not all Christians were the same. Meaning, of course, that we’re at different places in our faith journeys. I agreed. His concern was that one person he thought of as a small Christian was seen by everyone in our church as big. What had he missed?

Well, imagine the following conversation. Of course, before you even think it or get it out of your mouth (because I know you are thinking it), we had the discussion about judging others. To which, he retorted, “Dad says we can judge if someone has fruit or not.” My ex was always the clever one. Touche.

Honestly though, I wasn’t concerned about my son’s discovery that the church was busy promoting some elder as a stoic in the faith, while my son witnessed a very different person Mon-Saturday. Let’s face it. At some point, all of us church goers figure out that there’s a few loose screws sitting in the pews. My polite way of saying, a few who, for whatever their reason, show up to church, but haven’t a clue whomthey worship. I mean bottom line, for some, church is a social means to a business end. Or a cultural habit that revolves more around friendship than worship. There are plenty of reasons people go to church, not all of them have to do with Jesus. My son was going to figure that out soon or later.

No, this little announcement had a different impact on me. It had me on the edge of my seat of wondering where MOM fit on the small, medium, and large Christian scale.  I mean I talked the talk, that’s for dang sure. Was I walking the walk in his 10 year old eyes?

So, I nonchalantly got him off the elder by quizzing him instead about everyone else he knew. I was hoping to insert my name into the list and catch him off guard, so he’d be honest. After all, he’s 10, he knew who paid for the pool and movies. I started with his Maurme, my mom, his grandmother. “Oh, she’s  HUGE.: She got a huge? Huh. I went on, Aunt Debbie?, Aunt Kathy? Your Father? and so on. When I slid my name into the list, he cut his eyes at me, and said, “Mom, of course you’re big.” Hmmmm…

The child was desperate for a night over at a friend’s house who lived a long way across town, and I had agreed to talk Dad into it. So?? Was I truly a big Christian in his eyes? Or the means to his present end? Who knows? What I do know is that I became acutely aware that a 10 year old had pretty much nailed the faith (from appearances) of each person I listed. It was revealing because I could see how he arrived at his conclusions, and I really couldn’t argue with him. My mom is huge.

He’d done this without a word or a discussion. In his child’s eyes, he had watched each person in his world with a keen observation, and made some rather stern determinations. It was humbling, and life changing for me. I wanted, from that moment on, to be a big Christian in his eyes.

This past Sunday, sitting in an entirely different church than the one my son witnessed,  the Pastor said that as Christians. sometimes we want to “audit the faith.”

You know, like auditing a class. You get to sit in the class and partake of all the good things–lectures, notes, books, learning–but you do not have to take the tests and quizzes, or turn in term papers. Christians want all the blessing of the faith, but none of the testing of the faith. At least, I think we can safely make that assumption about most of us because who on earth wants to be tested in anything?

Here’s the problem with that: tests are what grow our faith.

If I want to grow as a Christian, and become more mature in my faith, then the Lord will test me. Test me to prove his total faithfulness to me. How would I know he would provide if I never needed him too? How would I know he would give comfort, if I only experienced joy?

Lately, I have found myself in a circumstance that proves to have no solution. I can’t think or muscle myself out of this situation–something I can generally do. I was thinking (obsessing ) about it again yesterday, and I said out loud, “I have no backup plan for this.” The Lord whispered in my ear, “You have me.”

When the Lord is the only back up plan we have, we’re facing a test.

When the Lord is our only help, we’re facing a test.

Now, I have two beautiful granddaughters, and one Bonus Daughter. I want them, if ever asked about YaYa”s faith, to respond as my son did about his Maurme, “She’s HUGE.”

Keeping in mind, of course, that our huge is still so very small compared to the greatness and glory of God. Amen.