Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Blessing of Trust

The phone call left me with a worrisome heart. I turned to Paul and informed him that the church treasurer was coming to visit. I was one of two teachers at this lovely country church school and I knew that especially for a female church worker, a visit from an official of the church was not likely to be a good thing.

As he walked up to our door I noticed he was not dressed as a farmer; he was in a suit and tie and a concerned look on his face. I searched my brain for what I might have done or said to cause that concern and then welcomed him in.

As it turns out he was going over the records of tithing and noticed that Paul and I were among the church families that gave the most for the previous year. Out of concern for the fact that he knew Paul was out of work and starting school, and because he was well aware of my income, he wanted to encourage us to tithe less.

Yes, you read that correctly; the church treasurer was encouraging us to give less money to the church.

I heaved a heavy sigh of relief and thanked him for his gracious concern. But, Paul and I did not change our giving habits.

You see, I married a tither. My faith in this area has always been weak. I want proof that God will take care of me before I step into the arena of risk taking. But for Paul, this issue has never been worthy of discussion. He remembers a professor preaching at our childhood church. This preacher leaned over the pulpit and shouted: "God doesn't NEED your PENNIES. He could write the Gospel in letters of fire across the sky." Both the words and the shouting made quite an impression on him! God has made it easy for me to give in to the directive to tithe, and in that process, something interesting has happened. Through word sacrament and the nurturing work of the Spirit, my ability to trust God has increased. My faith has grown.

Now, a bit of a warning is necessary, here. This is not a formula for successful trust development. God does not say first you tithe and then I will bless you.

The blessings God bestows on us have everything to do with Him and nothing to do with us.

Because of His powerful all encompassing agape love, God has blessings already planned for us. He does not wait for evidence of worthiness. He knows we are not worthy of these blessings but extends them because of the worthiness of His Son.

The blessings are there, but we often do not realize them because we prefer to stay in our own little worlds where we believe in our false sense of control. Accepting the blessing of God's provision, means we trust enough to let God be in control.

The blessings are there; so often we walk right by them with our heads bowed in our own worry and grief.

I have always worried about money issues. I usually blame the fact that I am a first born in a family that struggled financially due to medical bills. The truth is I am a sinner in a sinful world. When God used Paul to teach me to tithe, the trust came slowly. I remember weeks of eating only government issue cheese and those cute little pullet eggs. I remember checking the gauge on the propane tank and wondering if we would have enough to heat the house until the next paycheck. I remember worrying and I remember God providing.

Trust came slowly for me and I still struggle on that journey; yet I can see how God has worked in my heart. Leaving teaching and enrolling in graduate school has been a huge change that brought with it many, many risks. Some of those risks are financial and that is where my faith is still at its weakest; and yet God still provides. I believe that if God had not led me to tithe, and used that to help develop trust, I would not be enjoying this blessing, now.

He doesn't wait until I trust first, to bless me. He just takes me by the hand and brings me along. The blessings are there, the Spirit stands ready. I just need to lift my head from my own worries and look up to see what is set out before me on the table of blessings. By providing me with the opportunity to tithe and by caring for me through met needs, forgiveness and the nourishment of His word, God brought me to a place where I could trust Him for bigger things. I have a long way to go in terms of trusting. I know I won't ever get there, this side of heaven. However, I am grateful for the opportunity to tithe; not only because of the blessings of what is done with that money, but also because of the blessing tithing brings to my heart.

God doesn't need our paltry change. He doesn't need our money. Instead, He knows we need to give. He knows we need to trust Him for all things. He knows we need to look up, away from our worries and into the face of His blessings.

Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. Psalm 33:22


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Good Books

This has been a huge math semester. I spend more time in the computer lab than in the library and that is less than comfortable for me. A week or so ago, one of the professors suggested a book for me to read. I think he is a bit surprised that I took up that suggestion when the book is not required for anything. I am just so desperate to hold a book in my hands; especially one that relegates numbers to where they belong—to the corner of the page. The book I am reading is on friendship and peer culture in the early years. It is a report on research done by a sociologist who spent a year watching children in a pre-school. It sounds a bit creepy by today's standards and phobias but it was a new approach at the time. Who would have thought you could learn more about kids by watching them where they work and play instead of theorizing about them in a lab on campus? Go figure!

The book is pages and pages of dialog of children playing interspersed with the author's observations. He identified three play themes that were a foundation for most play demonstrated by the children: 1. lost/found 2. danger/rescue and 3. death/rebirth.

Lost and found games can be formal such as "Hide and Go Seek" or just part of an on-going routine: "Teacher, we are looking for the magic fairy, have you seen her?" Lost and found games have safe suspense and predictable joy, when whatever one is looking for is found.

Danger and rescue games up the ante just a bit. While still carefully orchestrated they involve a higher level of suspense as well as a higher level of relief and joy at their conclusion. "Okay, you are caught in the building that is on fire and I am going to rescue you. Remember to scream."

Death and rebirth games are just as common but not always as noticeable. They can happen in the midst of a lost and found or danger and rescue game. An observer will notice this type of play when a character is "dead" but can still talk and direct the game. Or if a character dies but is alive again the next time a game is played.

It is fascinating to watch children play and to see how many versions of these three games they can create. It is important to remember that children do not play these games randomly. They play them for a purpose. Just as a child who wants to hear the same story over and over, is learning something in the process of that story, a child who plays the same game over and over is learning, too. These young minds are grappling with ancient issues.

I had a class that struggled with the realization that a classmate lost a parent to death. They played the same death/rebirth game for the rest of the school year. They played it happily as if it was a game of tag. I watched and prayed over them, and developed a better understanding of how God was helping them.

The author of the study was interested in young children and play but I see these same themes in the lives of adults. Just like in the Margaret Wise Brown book "The Runaway Bunny" we want to know that no matter how far away we run from those who love us, we will always be found and welcomed home. Just as in Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. We want the thrill of exploring our wild side but we want to know we are always safe. And just like Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar we want to know that there is a different life waiting us when this one is finished.

Are we really surprised by this?

Our children are working, in their own way, to understand the same things we worry over as adults. We want to know that no matter how far we stray, God will come looking for us and will bring us back to Him.

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? Luke 15:4

We want to know that no matter what danger we face we will be safe in His arms:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand. John 10:28

And we want to be assured that the life we currently live is not all there is. We want to be transformed in heaven and here on earth:

For this Son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15: 24

From before we were born, from our early childhood years until now and into the future, God knows our needs and meets them perfectly.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36

I think I need to go back to my favorite book and read those stories again.