Thursday, July 31, 2014

An Honest Prayer is Hard to Find

There is a scene in the movie Signs (Shyamalan, 2002) which depicts an ordained minister who has lost his wife and his faith. One of his children is on the brink of death, and for the first time in years, he prays to God. His prayer is short and to the point. He cries out, “I hate you.” To my mind, this is a profound, righteous prayer. He isn’t indifferent and he isn’t dishonest. And paradoxically, his words demonstrate a true and strong faith in God.  He’s hurt, to the point of rage, and he wants God to know it. God can always take that kind of honesty and build on it a foundation for true intimacy with him.

I have wasted so much time and breath, praying the way I think I should rather than offering God my honest and vulnerable thoughts. When I had my come-to-Jesus moment at the age of twenty-four, my first prayers sounded more like short homilies or Theology 101 papers. I think sometimes we would like to prove we are worthy.
Saint Thomas does not hide his unbelief
So why is it so hard to tell him the truth? I think our desire to self-justify pops up even in our prayers. We would love to think that we have somehow merited God’s love and mercy, that our relationship with him is rightfully earned. The naked truth -- that Jesus irrationally and whole-heartedly loves us -- is so much more uncomfortable for mere mortals like we are, and beautiful, flowery prayers cannot disguise that.  Thank God for it, for even our best efforts and most eloquent, theologically-sound prayers fall short. It’s his love and grace, all the time. 

A Christian is marked by a relationship with Jesus.  Our prayers to God and our listening to his responses, are essential for our relationship with him, and like any other relationship, honesty is always the best policy. An honest prayer may be hard to find, and hard to say, but in the end, it is the very best.

So, where are you today? What is your honest prayer? Are you tired, confused, or angry? Are you indifferent or unsure of him? Are you angry with him or doubting? Let him know. And have faith that he is strong enough to handle your unrighteous deeds and your worst feelings, and he is gentle enough to handle your hurt and despair. He never gives up on us, even when our prayers are dismal, pathetic, or unholy. He always wants to be in an open, honest relationship.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Church is Better with Noisy Kids

Some time ago I visited a church with my husband Bo and our eight month old daughter. During the communion, my daughter made the slightest peep. A little baby chirp. A woman in the congregation turned to me and loudly shushed me (for the record, the shush was louder than the chirp). I turned to Bo in total shock, “Was she just shushed for a peep?” I whispered. I couldn’t quite believe it. Seriously, it was a peep, maybe only 5% of what her maximum lung capacity. I could understand if she was making death-curdling wails, but a peep. I got the message - take your daughter outside. Every parent I know has a story like this, and for many, it is so intimidating that they don’t take their kids to church.
David Kinnaman in his book, UnChristian, states that of my generation (the millennials), over 37% has an ambivalent relationship to Christianity. For many, attending a church service can be a daunting experience. People often don’t know how to behave in church.  They need some help and we can’t expect them to walk into our sacred places knowing how they and their children should “do church.” It’s something that comes with time and something that needs to be lovingly taught. But, more than this, when we think about it, don’t we want them in church despite some “bad” behavior on their part? Isn’t Jesus just thrilled to see them there? Wasn’t he usually surrounded by pretty uncouth worshippers?
Before I go further, I understand that children need to be taught how to behave in church. Church is sacred and reverence is needed. Moreover, it is good and necessary for children to learn that they should respect the worship of those around them and that worship a corporate experience, but whose worship needs are being prioritized? Is it the adults who desire polite, quiet worship, or the children who desire to worship in their own way at their own level?
This makes me remember my years of pew squirming
Our children are worshippers as well, and I think the restrictions sometimes placed on them are, at times, antithetical to the words and deeds of Christ.
If you study God’s Word you know he has a special place in his heart for children. A child’s worship and devotion to God is a deeply sacred thing, something that should never be hindered, but only fostered.  Jesus gives a grave warning to those who hinder the faith of children (Mt. 18: 6).
This leads me to conclude that baby chirps, toddler “goos,” and cries are good things, which mean that God is being worshipped by his people – all of his people. Doesn’t Jesus further tell us, that we should go to the least and the loss, and there are few who are arguably, more “least” than children. They are the ones who are so often forgotten, overlooked, neglected, abused, and voiceless. Where, if not in the churches of God, are they to be loved and cherished? Church is their rightful home and we have a sacred duty to love and welcome them.
If you think about it, we only have eighteen years at most with children before they go off and do their own thing. What message will endure in their hearts?  Will they remember that “at church they really wanted me to behave,” or will they remember that “at church they loved the heck out of me, even when I was a noisy little bugger?” We all know that the all consuming, never-ending love of Jesus wins every time, so let’s start modeling this to our children here and now.
We don’t have to get crazy. Enacting discipline and good behavior is a part of God’s love, but shushing is not. I have a few really good examples of ways in which children, and their tired, anxious parents, have been welcomed into church. Let’s learn from them.
A single mom came to church. Her two children were wailing and running through the pews. She had tears in her eyes from embarrassment and she wanted to leave, but her sister in Christ (whom she had never met) came over and said, “Let me help you.” She picked the little one up and walked him around the church. This freed the mama to attend to the other one and they got through the service in peace.
We have some friends who run a home church and it is a family church. This means they don’t take the kids out during the service. There is no separate “children’s church,” but they all worship together. It is a thrilling, chaotic, worshipful mess, and I believe quite pleasing to our Lord.
Awesome children and nursery programs, which are at the forefront of the church’s collective goals, are another great way of doing it. So often the youth programs have about as much funding as clean-up or garbage disposal costs. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were a greater priority?
What would happen if every adult found a child in church and “adopted” them, caring for them, taking an interest them, and showing them the love of God?
But more than this, we don’t need great programs, resources, or inventive ideas.  What we need is an attitude of love and generosity for parents and their children. If you see stressed out parents or noisy kids, welcome them, help them, or bless them by befriending them, offering loving words and deeds. If your worship is disrupted by the cries of babes praise God for it – it means that you and your church are following the words of Jesus to love, welcome, and encourage children. Put the worship needs of those around you first, in particular the least and loss, and God will take your worship and faith to a place of greater holiness guaranteed.
            I will leave you with one story that for me sums up what the church can do for children and families. The first six months of Lydia’s life, Bo and I had a ministry start-up which had failed and we were both unemployed living at home with our parents, trying to be parents. It was tough. I remember one Sunday at church, Lydia was wailing and I was nervous, anxious, and sweaty, all those things that happen to new moms.  I took her outside in the hall. My brother in Christ, who was originally from Latin America, came outside and asked to hold her for me.  He complimented me on her beauty. He took her inside because he wasn’t embarrassed by her cries. I was able to sit down and just breathe in the presence of Christ with everyone else. After the service, he discreetly handed me a hundred dollars (and I knew he was hurting financially), and said, “I know you are struggling, but God has a plan for you and your husband.”  His words and deeds blessed me so profoundly. I still remember them with tears.
            As the body of Christ we can do this and so much more for our families. It is our sacred duty to love noisy, broken, sweaty, and unkempt families. Where else can they go? Who else will love them and show them the Way? In the end, what refuge do we all have, but God’s Kingdom, so bring them on. Noisy kids in church ­- Alleluia. Let the angels sing.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Guest Post: Diana L. Flegal "A Word Fitly Spoken or Written"

Last week, I wrote about the power of words. This week, I am thrilled to follow-up on the topic to include, not only our speech, but the written word as well. And, to really show us how it's done, I have my literary agent, Diana Flegal as my guest blogger. Not only is she a blessed writer, she is a blessing to so many writers. Please enjoy her thoughtful insights. Grace and Peace, Lilly. 

A Word Fitly Spoken or Written by Diana L. Flegal

Many of us have heard or read something that redirected the steps of our lives. We were perfectly positioned for a word in season. It is usually when we have exhausted all our effort, say 'uncle' and allow God to speak.

God delights in orchestrating our lives. Similar to the conductor of an orchestra, who gathers many skilled musicians and brings them into a harmonious tune, He gathers us together for the purpose of drawing out of us the skills we posses, for the glory of His name.

 I am a curious seeker of truth. Throughout my life, words I have heard or read have redirected my life's path.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. Proverbs 25:11

A small word, like a rudder can steer a huge ship or can change the course of our lives. Might that be why God cautions us to let our words be few, and seasoned with salt? (a little salt goes a long way in bringing out the best)

I have read nonfiction and fiction titles and received encouragement. Sometimes the word on a coffee mug sent to me by a friend or coming across a quote I wrote down a long while back, is just what I need to be reminded of. Receiving a note in the mail from a friend saying simply, I was thinking of you today.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. Proverbs 18:21

Chose wisely what you say and write; socially and in your WIP. (Work in progress).

Short or long, speak and write life.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Let the Ancient Words Impart

 Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

I know a teenager who is now a young adult. When she was in high school she was bullied by a group of mean girls. This girl was a big nerd and was constantly teased.  If you knew me in high school you might be wondering, is this “girl” really Lilly? No, I am not talking about myself here.
Her mother handled the bullying brilliantly. She listened to her daughter. When the daughter said, “They said I was fat and stupid, that I would never get a boyfriend.” The mother’s response was always the same, “I reject those words in the mighty name of Jesus.”

The Lord's Prayer

Weeks later, the girl was being bullied in the hallway. In frustration, she threw her books on the ground, pointed to the mean girls and said, “I reject that in the mighty name of Jesus!” The mean girls, totally shocked, walked away speechless.
So, what went on here? I think that on the surface the mean girls were downright surprised and that shut them up. Spiritually, however, and more deeply, I think their evil words were renounced and silenced by the power of Jesus. What does this mean for us? There is great power in the words we say. 
Jesus tells us that we have the power to bind and the power to loose, and as a result, our words of binding, casting-off, or refusing, have both earthly and eternal consequences (Mt. 18:18). Likewise, what we release or loose has eternal consequences and earthly power. Let’s consider how this effects the words we say.
All of us, at some time or another, have had terrible words spoken over us. We have been verbally abused, put-down, or insulted. It doesn’t require much to have a lasting impact. These words have enduring power over us and can often shape, if not become, our core our identities. We have been “fat, stupid, unlovable, or rejected.” Or we have been “abused, forgotten, unwanted, unworthy, or screwed-up.” I have an African American friend who was told as a child that she was “pretty for a black girl.” For years she saw herself as “less than.” She did not see herself as worthy, and she often made choices that reflected that core identity.  Then she met Jesus and he showed her that her beauty transcended every social category or construct. She handed in that old identity, one that had been shaped by a few evil words, and received her true identity as beautiful and beloved, the very apple of his eye.
Far too often we say destructive words to ourselves or to our loved ones. Even advanced Christians do this. How often have we said, “I’m such an idiot, I can never get it together. My husband never comes through for me. My wife always fails me in this way.” As Christians, these words have spiritual power, and it is comparable to calling down curses on ourselves or our loved ones.
But Jesus gives us a way out and my friend’s story shows that. We have the power to bind. Next time you hear yourself or someone around you downgraded, you can say, “I reject that in Jesus’ name.” We can trade in those hurtful words and identities to receive the truth of Christ, a truth which is powerful and lasts forever.
Words of Truth
Moreover, we can release blessing and this is truly exciting. When I was in my early twenties, I wore the words “outcast and screw-up” like a badge of honor, until someone saw me in God’s eyes and said, “You will be a holy woman of God.” There are many of us who have had the entire course of our lives changed with a word of truth. I encourage us all to look for ways to release blessings over ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. When we encounter people who have been called, “ugly, screw-up, or worthless,” we have been given the spiritual authority to speak the truth over them, calling them, “beautiful, righteous, chosen, or more than worthy.” 
The words we say have meaning. They have power. Jesus has given us his words and his truth, therefore let the ancient impart their blessing, goodness, mercy, and compassion.  Let’s be changed by God’s word, helping others to be changed too.
Holy words long preserved
for our walk in this world,
They resound with God's own heart
Oh, let the Ancient words impart.
-          Michael W. Smith

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Kingdom of Uetulas

When I first became a Christian, I met a woman named Prayer. She blessed my life. Prayer had been a prostitute and drug addict for nearly two decades. She dropped out of high school around the age of fifteen, when she had her first child. 

She met Jesus in the jail (which I hear is a great place to find him). She met her husband soon after, who had a similar story. The two are now dedicated to each other, their children, and their ministry with great passion. Prayer works at a fast food chicken place and preaches God’s word, pretty much whenever she can.

Prayer doesn’t come from a good family. She is not rich, white, seminary trained, or educated. She doesn’t have any of the stuff that often gives people a leg up in our cut - throat world, but she is one of the most brilliant and gifted teachers, preachers, and theologians I know. She could preach for hours and her ability to communicate really profound, complex truths greatly shaped me and many others.

So what makes someone like Prayer so theologically advanced? Theologian Thomas Aquinas
Saint Thomas Aquinas
explained this phenomenon with the Uetula principle, referring to a brilliant widow he knew. Uetula was as theologically astute, if not, more so, than himself and that’s really saying something. He argued that those who have just a little Holy Spirit knowledge have wisdom that can surpass even the greatest, most erudite, learned theologian or scholar among us.

Karl Barth, possibly the most brilliant theologian I’ve read, at the end of his career stated that he had learned one small truth, “Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible, tells me so.” This means there are three and four year olds are right up there with him - soaring the same theological plane. Truly, God not only uses the wisdom of the foolish to shame the wise, but he gives his wisdom and gifts so freely and graciously, and often, to people who are overlooked or looked down upon. People who are much like himself, “meek and lowly of heart.”

In the course of our walk with God, my husband, Bo, and I, the supposed “teachers” have been taught, led, and discipled by some surprising people - children, addicts, high school drop outs, the elderly – you name it. We often hear, “we’ll you would know better. You were seminary trained.” I have seen great stalwarts in the faith, with marked-up Bibles, withered from years of being read, ask my husband the ordained minister, what he thinks. He often replies, “What do you think?” and here’s something not all shocking, they already possessed the truth.

I write this little post for anyone who feels like a theological dummy. Who stops themselves from sharing their wonderful ideas with others, because they might not be “smart” ideas. Who says stuff like, “what do I know, I’m just a…” I hear this all the time and you know so much more than you think and it’s your humility as a Christian that best qualifies you to preach God’s word through thought and deed. God bless all the Uetulas, they give such flavor and salt to God’s rich Kingdom.