Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Viva La Difference

The holidays are upon us. We will be spending time with family, participating in our individual unique ways to celebrate a day set aside to give thanks to God for everything we have, see and are. Whether God is part of  your celebration and how much, which side of family or friends who are like family; we all come together with those we have a sense of belonging acceptance and connection.  The Holidays can also be a stressful time of old hurts, disappointments, varying expectations, as well as illnesses from cold and flu season. Holidays can be stressful to replicate some version of a Normal Rockwell-ish setting. A dreamy picture of food, decoration, and relationship trifecta of perfection. Tinkling music in the background, playing touch football after having eaten the perfectly cooked Turkey and watching the Parade. That's some pretty stiff standards to live up to.  The stress of trying to go from dream to reality can leave some in abject disappointment and failure.

In my extended family of origin, there is the traditional food, football and family. There is an acknowledgement of God in a prayer before eating. Hopefully getting to start trimming the tree while laughing and catching up with one another in person about our lives rather than through the otherwise convenient means of texting, skype, facebook, email and telephone. There is also some holes where people we dearly love are gone. In as much as we want to spend time all together, there is the reminder, the 'all together' was for many years different. We have added spouses and children, and lost along the way a sister, a brother, a niece and all but one grandparent.

My family is a direct reflection of the melting pot of America with our varying beliefs, hobbies, ways of living, occupations and political views. There are pros and cons to this set up as with any family dynamic. I've been judged before for the difference. Sometimes our differences place their own natural gaps in the relationships due to trying to find a common activity we all enjoy to spend time doing. There are definite advantages. I will never get set in my ways or become so isolated in the Christian community that I forget that the rest of the world is different. I see vividly God working in our hearts to bring people closer to Him. I have learned to get out of the way and let God work. I know my family's love and acceptance of me does not hinge on me agreeing with them. We know we don't, we accept that about one another. No one is better than the other. We are all doing the best we can at what ever stage of life and family we are currently in. We have long since learned to steer clear of persuading or criticizing different choices made.  Some topics are more controversial than others. They might be brought up from time to time, but we have also learned to see the red flags in each other's response and move on.

In some instances, with those I have common values and faith, there is more defensiveness and criticism. As though somewhere God laid out unwritten rules that Christianity must look one certain way. The 'narrow way' verse is taken out of context and legalistically applied as a bar for all who believe and strive to follow God. God says we are 'beautifully and wonderfully made'. Just like the snowflakes during winter, the grains of sand in summertime, the changes of the leaves in fall,  and the fresh vivid fragrant flowers in the spring time, no two are exactly alike. The  array of shapes, sizes and colors, both the living, the dead, the successful and the failures can and will be used by God for His master planning. What a bland dull world we would be inhabiting if there was only one way to bring glory to God.  God, himself is a creative being with everything He master planned in to existence on this planet and beyond. There is beauty and holiness in all forms of His creation from the earth's natural resources to the ability He gave him to take natural resources and blend them together to for inventive purposes to the spiritual, academic, personality, physical, artistic gifts can all be used to bring people to know His ways and heart better.

Somewhere along our prosperous past in this country, we have equated success of a plan with pride. We have inversely linked together failure with sin in the Christian community. If some goal wasn't achieved brilliantly than we did something wrong. Hard work equals success right? Success means God approved right? Neither is universally true across the board. God's strength and promises burst forth through those moments where we did everything we could and yet things did not turn out how we planned. The health and wealth gospel  as I've heard it called, leads to some dangerously small picture thinking in the midst of life's storms.  I admit to falling prey to it during our journey to have a baby. "God isn't giving me a baby because of my past sins. Because of those sins, I would be a terrible mother." How many lies did you spot from the enemy? God has immense patience, love and grace where ever we are in our faith journey - even if we don't think we are on one. If God, the only perfect being, "did not send his Son in to the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:17, how can I?

Then who are we in our sin filled lives ( that means everyone) to do any less?? We are Christ to each other, 'for what so ever we do (and not do) to the least of these, we are doing to Christ'. Matthew 25:40, 45. We should stop and pray very carefully consulting the Holy Spirit before we interfere with His work in someone's life and heart.  We too quickly place a distance between us and differences of age, education, experience, or financial just to name a few. We build ourselves up by listing 'our' successful accomplishments and only remembering the ways we've done God's will. Comparing our good to someone else's bad isn't a level playing field to start with and that isn't what defines our worth anyway. No matter who comes out the winner, we all fall short of the glory of God. We may tell ourselves in our feelings of injustice or pain that this person is somehow inferior to ourselves. Maybe we attack them on the grounds of  'not being emotionally health enough', ' not Godly enough', too toxic, damaged, sinful, immature or selfish. We go after their flawed home, imperfect friendships, social mistakes or the breaking of our own standards.  Wow to the level of arrogant pride involved in  the process of finding others lacking. Propping our own egos upon the pillars of a short memory and the habit of defining ourselves relative to those around us.  We then have to forget our own short comings and the denial of the brokenness no matter how far down the road we think we have come from our own pasts. Yes, you'd be right about the negative aspects of any person, but since we all sin ( not sinned, sin, present tense) and fall short of the glory of God, they would be right in saying any of those back at you as well. I'm so glad God has accepted me with unconditional love and true grace every step of the life. After all, in the end every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We are all on a level playing field. We are called to be like Christ. All scripture is applicable, not just a handful of verses or the side of the trinity we identify with the most that requires the least amount of growth on our part.

If my goal is peace and agreement, I can certainly achieve that by the cutting off of any one or thing that disturbs me, looks weak or  is damaged. I can refuse to be refined by God, that is my choice. He is a gentleman and will allow me to stay as immature as I presently am. I look back and see what God has done in my life in ten years and I get excited about what He'll do in the next ten. Also, when I look back I see areas where fear, a stubborn heart or resistance prevented God from fully having access to dark places in my character. If my goal is building a strong family only to be surrounded by other strong families, than I've missed the great commission. If my goal is to be comfortable in my inner circle of friends then I'll miss out on the opportunities to fully rely on God when I'm frustrated, hurt or fearful. I'll end up spending more time venting to my friends than praying to my God. Lastly, if my goal is to sit on the sidelines and know about God but never spend time talking with Him and prayer and seeking His will in His word, I'll go through life never knowing the place of true joy, faith and hope that is in following Jesus Christ.

No one has the corner market on perfection. It's so easy to go to extremes of crimes to justify the reasoning, but it's faulty at the heart. The heart of it is, we all sinful, period. If you're hoping to perform well enough to not have to use up God's grace, it ain't going to happen. It's not a resource of diminishing return anyway. Is our goal really to hear good and faithful servant? Really? I thought my job was to bring honor and glory to God. To strive for a place of honor and righteousness before God is prideful. It's like the disciples clamoring over who gets to sit next to Christ for eternity. It's just not the goal. Anything good came from God anyway so we can't lay a claim of personal glory to having pulled that out of our own will anyway. Anything that God thinks and says about me is a byproduct of and direct reflection back to Him. Any goodness is simply not about me. I pray to be a teachable vessel for God. I pray to be a willing instrument in His grand decision. I pray most of all to take seriously His calling in the purpose of my existence. I pray to look forward to His preparations of my character in every area to spend eternity with Him. Pride slips in such subtle ways and the enemy gets a foothold. I pray for the awareness of the enemy's presence in my actions, attitudes, thoughts and plans. I pray to call on the mighty name of our Savior to defend my spirit in getting caught up with the enemies lies.

When I feel a critical spirit coming on, I try to first remind myself that #1 I'm not loving and seeing them as God's child worthy of His son being crucified for them and #2 that I don't know the whole story or their heart because to judge a soul and heart finding it lacking which is the very essence of  God's work in each of us is to judge God.  I know my place before God and that's not it.

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