Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I think one reason is that it kicks off a lengthy holiday season, but there are other reasons as well.
There are no "requirements" for this holiday, aside from having food. There are no stockings or baskets to fill. There are no candles to light or presents to buy. There is no candy to buy. There is no place to go to swat bugs and watch fireworks.
Please don't get me wrong. I really enjoy all of the holidays I just mentioned. I just like Thanksgiving more.
With the exception of Black Friday (which now begins on Thursday, something I won't be getting into at this time), Thanksgiving is completely non-commercialized. We don't have required Thanksgiving apparel or is completely about the people...and the food.
I love spending the day in the kitchen making the dishes that we only have once or twice a year. It really doesn't make sense that I don't get completely stressed out in the kitchen. I usually do make a list, based on how long each dish takes to prepare, to plan out the day. Beyond that, my mom and I just do what we need to do. It amazes me that there are times when just getting a regular dinner on the table can almost push me over the edge, but I can put a Thanksgiving Feast together with little to no stress. Isn't that strange?
Not really. I think it all has to do with attitude. Perspective. During the week, there are places to be and things to do and sometimes dinner is just one more thing that has to be accomplished. Not so with Thanksgiving.
On Thanksgiving, it is all about the rushing to go anywhere. It is all a labor of love and gratitude. The friends and family members who join us bring dishes as well. And the entire day is spent laughing and talking and sharing and...being thankful. Isn't that really the bottom line?
During this time of the year, we are reminded to be thankful. It is hard not to be reminded when you're saying Thanksgiving several times a day leading up to the big day.
Doesn't that just change everything? When we focus on what we have instead of what we don't have...when we look at all the good stuff instead of thinking about the is much easier to have the right attitude and act accordingly.
I love Thanksgiving. I love being surrounded by family and friends in a home filled with the smells of amazing dishes. I love hearing the kids of all ages talking and playing and laughing. I love seeing the parade, and then football, on the TV, even if the volume is turned down.
How different would my life be if I could somehow be as thankful on Friday as I am on Thursday? And the next day? And the next?
Can you imagine how different life would be if we could focus daily on all that we have rather than what we don't have?
Please don't misunderstand me. I know there are bad things happening everywhere all the time. I know there are people out of work and in trouble and dealing with hunger and loss.
I also know that God calls us to give thanks praise Him always...He doesn't say we have to like everything that happens to us or every situation we are in...He just tells us to be thankful while we are there.
That is my challenge to myself. Every time I start to grumble, I want to replace it with something I am thankful for. When I am about to lose my mind because my daughter has been talking constantly form sun-up to sundown, I am going to be thankful that I have a healthy, amazing daughter who wants to talk to me. When the kids are fighting and driving me crazy, or getting along and driving me crazy, I am going to be thankful that I have them here with me where I can hear them annoying me. When my husband does something that gets on my nerves, I am going to be thankful that I have a husband who works to support this family and who loves me and his children. When I am driving (Oh, this is a big one for me), and someone does something that aggravates me, I am going to try to be thankful that I have a car to drive to begin with. When the laundry just won't stop, I am going to be thankful for the clothes we have, and when I notice how much I have to do to clean the house, I am going to be thankful that I have a home.
I know I will fail and fall short. But when I do, I am going to be thankful for a God who forgives with his amazing grace. I know the hard times will still come, but I am going to be thankful for my faith.
Want to join me on this challenge? How could we change the world with a little more thankfulness instead of "wanting more-ness"? Who knows? It's worth a shot.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Real Christians

When I started this blog, I didn't intend to write an entire post about my faith. I knew my faith would be evident throughout my other posts because it is who I am. I didn't think I would actually write a post about Christianity primarily. Quite honestly, today I felt led to do so. It started while in the car with my daughter listening to a Christian radio station. I had heard the song before, and I have always liked it; however, today it just begged for a response from me. I think it's only fair to reveal the song and some of its lyrics.

Do Something by Matthew West
"I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, 'God, why don’t You do something?'
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, 'God, why don’t You do something?'
He said, 'I did, I created you'

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, 'somebody else will do something'
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
'I’m gonna do something'"

I guess maybe this is one way for me to do something. I am watching Christianity become more and more hated, more and more controversial. I have actually started seeing the persecution of Christians here in this country, and even in the proverbial "Bible Belt." I believe one of the biggest problems is that so many of us don't "do something." Sometimes that something might be as simple as standing up and saying what we believe. I go.

Here are some things I have heard throughout the years. "Christians are hypocrites." "Christians are judgmental." "Christians hate (fill in name of group here)."

I would like to address these statements.

"Christians are hypocrites."
Why, yes, yes we are. We are that a whole lot more. We are sinners. At this point, I will shift to the pronoun "I." I don't want to assume anything about anyone else. I mess up. I expect certain behaviors from my children, and sometimes I don't model the same behavior. I get road rage. I sometimes use words I shouldn't use. 
"Christians are judgmental."
This one is tricky, so let's look at it from two different directions. First, yes, I can be judgmental. I can hear a parent yelling at his child harshly in the store and think bad thoughts, and then yell at my own kids in the van on the way home. I consider that to be judgmental. Second, I can be caring. Yes, caring. It has gotten to the point where if a Christian sees someone participating in an activity that is dangerous in whatever way and addresses it, that Christian is judgmental. We have become a world where anyone can do anything and as long as no one appears to be getting hurt, then it is fine. Here is the problem with that: people do get hurt. Maybe a solid example will help because I am starting to confuse myself. If I have a friend who is struggling with her marriage, a marriage that has problems but nothing like abuse or infidelity, and I encourage her to try to make it work, if I warn her about the consequences of divorce, I am not being judgmental. I am being caring. If I notice the child of a friend misbehaving, and I address the behavior or discuss it with the parent, I am not being judgmental. I am loving them. Now, I know sometimes we get a bad rap because we base our "suggestions" on our own personal opinions or beliefs. Unless we have been asked for our opinion, that might be a problem. However, if we are coming from a Biblical standpoint, then we are doing what the Bible tells us we should do. And a quick aside, as a Christian, if someone comes to me in that way, I also need to be careful as to how I receive it. I need to listen. 
"Christians hate..."
I guess this one is related to being judgmental. There are people who call themselves Christians but speak and act out of hatred. That is not okay. But assuming that all Christians are like those few is no better than assuming everyone from the Middle East is a radical Islamist. Take a moment to look at all the good Christians have done. Most of the time, Christians are out doing good to do good, to love others as we have been loved, not for the recognition. Please trust me when I tell you that there is a lot of good going on out there. It just doesn't hit the news. True Christians do not hate any group of people. We hate sin. Our sin. All sin. We don't hate people. I know this one is tough. It has gotten to the point that if we don't like something someone is doing then we must hate that person. Wow. Talk about extreme. 

It occurs to me here that Christians are being forced to change their vocabulary, what they read in public, and so many other things because someone might find it offensive. But when a Christian expresses having a problem with something, anything, someone else is doing, that Christian is being judgmental and hateful and sometimes even hypocritical. Wow...all three in one.

So what makes me different? How, as a Christian, am I different than anyone else? I have already admitted I am a sinner who messes up on a regular basis. I am forgiven. And because I am forgiven, because God sent his only son to earth to die on a cross for my sins, I am compelled to extend that grace to others. I mess up at that sometimes, too. God is a just God. And he couldn't just forget about all this stuff we do against Him. For centuries, people have tried to follow God's law on their own. It hasn't worked out very well. But He loves us. He wants to have a relationship with us. So he sent Jesus to die on the cross, and Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for everyone who will believe in Him. 

"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:7
Wow. That sounds so limiting. It isn't. It's there for anyone. 
Why do I believe? How do I believe? This is confusing. It's like a cycle. Do I believe because I have faith or do I have faith because I believe? I don't have all the answers. But I know who does. 
Like me, my life is not perfect. We live in a fallen world. God doesn't cause bad things to happen, but he does allow them. I don't understand his plan, but it isn't for me to understand. I understand that every time I desperately needed to go across the country to be with my cousin when her son was fighting brain cancer, the money appeared. Every time she said she needed me, the money appeared. It happened over and over again. It didn't rain down from the sky, but we would suddenly have it. My husband would get a bonus we weren't expecting, for example. One time, friends from church helped make it happen. But it happened. I have a life full of examples like that. 
There are Christians in my life I like. There are Christians I don't like (gasp). There are non-Christians I don't like. There are non-Christians I like (gasp). Becoming a Christian didn't elevate my status as a person. It didn't make me better than anyone else. I do strive to live a better life. I do try to live by God's commands in the Bible, but I fall short repeatedly. Hence, the need for the cross. 
I am a sinner. But I am a forgiven sinner.
I praise God for that. I don't do nice things because I have to in order to be forgiven. It was totally free! For me. I didn't pay the price; Jesus did.