Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Gift of Christmas

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. James 1: 17a
It is the season of gifts. Early morning shopping, boxes tucked under the welcome mat, finding forgotten gifts stashed in the back of the closet, wrapping in secret, and piles of brightly decorated boxes under the tree. This year our family went high tech and posted wish lists on Giftster.  When the larger family of siblings and cousins meet we have gone to drawing random gift cards out of a basket for a unique Christmas surprise.  I am certain the wise men had no idea what they started with their gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

While we work to make Christmas about decorations and ribbon it is truly about the perfect gift from above - the king who became a baby. Christmas is about His sacrifice and our salvation.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. I Timothy 1: 15

I cringe when I hear about elf on the shelf watching to see if children are naughty or nice. It is such a strange twist to the Christmas story that we tell children to earn their gifts and fool ourselves into thinking we deserve ours. While the elf on the shelf makes for family fun and cute pictures on social media, it represents a completely backward version of the Christmas story.

We do not deserve this perfect gift. The perfect gift brings us eternal life that is absolutely undeserved. The perfect gift is Grace crying in a manger, Grace walking among us, Grace hanging from a cross. The perfect gift does not come wrapped. The perfect gift wraps His arms around us. 

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. I John 3: 1

And so we are. 

Blessed in Grace.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Faking it

It has been a long summer.

It was named the summer of research. It began with interviews and painstaking transcriptions. It continued with coding words and phrases, sorting information, re-coding, thinking, theorizing and now writing. It is the game called "Dissertation or Quit."

The summer has been interrupted by my dear mother-in-law’s passing and by a belated memorial service for my mother’s sister. My sister and I have spent much time helping my mother after she broke her leg. Helping with wheelchairs and transportation, finances and health decisions, doctor appointments, apartment cleaning, laundry, late night calls from Lifeline, and the slow but certain revelation that she needs to move to another level of care. 

Through all of this I continue to carve out time to write and rewrite and edit and write some more.

Today was a day of discouragement.

My typing is bad. My arm never quite healed and numb fingers cannot find the keys like they used to. My brain is tired. The computer is playing tricks on me that require searching for solutions that don't seem to help. One technical problem after another until finally everything froze. 

Now, in an oddly fitting end to the day, I find I cannot sleep.

During the day, problems make me frustrated, tired, angry, discouraged. At night, those same problems turn into doubts, worries, and fears.

This dissertation project is too big.

I am not smart enough.

I will be found out.

I have too many interruptions. I can’t get it done. I will never graduate.

I will fail.

I imagine my dissertation defense as a strange episode of Penn and Teller: Fool Us where I spend an hour trying to fool my committee into believing that I am smart and if I  successfully fool them I win I Ph.D. 

I am not fooling anyone.

I will lose.

Once again, it is time to stop playing this game - the fake it 'til you make it - game.

This graduate school adventure game is not mine to win. On a good day, I feel as if I am treading water. On a bad day, a day like today, I feel like I am drowning.

But it is not my game to win.

I cannot fake anything. I am weak. I am poor of spirit. I am helpless.

I am God's precious child. This game - if it is to be won - will be won by God.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith -

Tonight I pray for God's wisdom, for God's strength, for God's mercy. Only His will can accomplish what my failing, faking efforts cannot do.
 - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Tonight God reminds me that He has the plan and the wherewithal to accomplish His will. He reminds me of His complete and perfect love. He fills me with His peace. He is far more abundant than any problem I could worry over. 

 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according tot he power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen Ephesians 3:14-21, ESV

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Living within our means

The church should live within its means.

I have heard this phrase many times, and it sits uneasily on my heart. At first glance, it makes sense. My husband and I earn income, and it is important that we do not spend what we do not have. If we incur an enormous debt, we might risk bankruptcy. We need to live within our means, shouldn’t the church do the same?

Here is the thing. In my years of studying the Bible, I have never found scriptural proof that a church should live within its means.

God did not encourage Moses to live within his means when he walked the children of Israel across the Red Sea -- God provided.

God did not ask Solomon to build a temple within a budget -- God provided.

God did not ask the church of the New Testament to work within a budget -- God provided.

Our Good and Gracious Lord knows that Lutherans know how to work a budget. We are good at thinking things through, making a plan, and sticking to it.

What we are not good at is giving – or trusting. Instead, we try to live within our means. And that is where the trouble begins.

People gripe about covering costs beyond the budget when the problem started at the offering plate. The church and school tighten the belt a bit more, the church workers feel the belt tighten each year. Salaries freeze, workers, are let go, insurance benefits are cut back, the workers provide the supplies. Even through all of this, the church workers are saddest when ministry is cut back.

All of this in the name of living within our means. 

This attitude is small minded. It is evidence of a lack of trust. It is arrogance in the face of what God can, and does, do for us. It is dangerous.

I am not advocating for churches to spend without care, without thought, without prayer. I am advocating for putting our trust in God rather than in budgets.

My mother lives in retirement housing. She has lived on her own for quite a while, but this time is coming to an end. The falls (and broken bones) are becoming more frequent. She is currently in a wheelchair with her leg in a cast. She has diabetes and cannot see. She cannot bathe herself, clean the apartment, do her laundry, grocery shop, or get herself to a doctor’s appointment. 

Yet, she wants to live within her means. She does not wish to put her trust in others to care for her. She cannot see that others are already doing this. Health aids, nurses, assistants, her children; many people come to her aid to patch together a safe living for her. 

She no longer lives within her means.

This evening the LifeLine people called me to let me know that she had fallen again. It took me close to 30 minutes to get to her apartment, find someone with a key, try to help her up and eventually call the fire department in order to get her off the floor and safely onto her bed. If she were living in an assisted living facility, she would have received help within minutes. Her desire to live within her means is becoming dangerous to her well-being. 

While we were waiting for the fire department, I mentioned that it might be past the time when she can live alone. She quietly agreed. This conversation will continue.

None of us can truthfully live within our means. Our means are limited. Our means are small-minded and weak. Our means are blind to the needs of others and to the possibilities that only God can see.

Our means are weighed down by our sin.

We must live within God’s means. We have a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present.

We can only live within His means of Grace: the Word, the Sacraments, the saving work of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the blessing of the Father, and the power of the Spirit. 

Why would we want to live within our means when we have God?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
Psalm 23, ESV

Monday, June 22, 2015

Thank you, God, for those who give care to the elderly.

Our world worships power and money. People who work in politics and those who tend to financial matters have jobs that earn them respect and high salaries.

The workers we pay the least and seemingly dismiss, are those who care for our children, for our disabled and our elderly. In these jobs, the pay is low, and the workers must grow thick skin as they find themselves victims of the frustrations of others. They are rarely honored and rarely thanked for the tireless and quiet work they accomplish each day.

The world gives a strong message about what is important, but the world has it wrong.

Nothing is more important than guiding a lost grandfather to the dining room. Nothing is more important than calming a grandmother who still does not see her home as a familiar place. Nothing is more important than checking on a father who has fallen or taking care of the soiled briefs of a mother. Nothing is more important than lovingly arranging the day’s meal on the plate or carefully cleaning the bathroom. Nothing is more important than celebrating a birthday with bingo or greeting a family member at the door. Nothing is more important than getting medicine to the right person, clean teeth to the right mouth, or the clean clothes to the right closet. Nothing is more important than patiently answering the same question as many times as it is asked.

Nothing is more important than tenderly moving a dying body that can no longer move itself. Nothing is more important than assisting someone with her last bath, her last meal, her last time to dress. Nothing is more important than offering food or comfort to family members waiting by the bedside of a loved one. Nothing is more important than explanations gently offered for the signs of the end of life. Nothing is more important than the phone call no family member wants to receive and no caregiver wants to make.

Nothing is more important than the tears you shed behind closed doors when you lose yet another friend who found a place in your heart. 

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in [an unfamiliar place] and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in [an unfamiliar place] and go to visit you?

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25: 34-40

For those of you who are caregivers for our precious loved ones, the only thing more important than what you do, is what God has done for you. 

You are loved.