The Heresy of Food in the Library

I couldn’t believe it. I. COULD. NOT. BELIEVE. IT!

The crinkle of her wrapper, the blatant slurping of her straw as she waltzed over to the garbage can. The thunk of her insubordination drumming the bottom of the metal can.

THE NERVE! Right there, out in the open, for everyone to see.

She was eating in the library!

It offended my legalistic tendencies. It just did.

Now, you might be laughing, or raising scornful eyebrows, but I was miffed.

I was miffed because there are rules. There are rules set in place that people are not supposed to break and they are for the good of (in this case) books, or (in most other cases) people.

And I judged. I admit it. I judged this young woman for her blatant transgression.

I judged her because it was something I would never do.

I judged her because I was sitting right there, not eating in the library, even though I had a perfectly good, just recently rediscovered granola bar that had lived in the inner pocket of my bag for who knows how long.

And I WASN’T EATING IT!

Because there are rules.

And I wasn’t breaking them, which means they are good rules.

And I wasn’t breaking them, which means I am a good person.

It hurts to write as much as it hurts to read. But it’s honest.

So many times I focus on what people are doing wrong in their Christian faith. When they cross lines I wouldn’t cross, say things I wouldn’t say, judge others (whoops, that’s me).

I look at them and am glad that I know the rules. Glad that their struggles aren’t mine and why don’t they just stop already!

What a messed up viewpoint of life. This idea that the rules others break aren’t as bad as the rules I break. That my sins aren’t as bad. That as long as I know the rules and abide by the really important ones my life is a more shining example of what must please God.

It’s an easy path to slip into. Where the focus shifts from God to the mountains we’re prepared to die on.

How do we view this life we’re living, this life that we try so hard to make look like God but which slips into a shining example of our own virtue? 

And how do we view the source of our strength in this life? The strength of our own convictions, our own accomplishments, our own framework of acceptability that can morph into something that doesn’t look like Christ at all?

When we look with a judgemental eye at our spouse, children, friends, church family members because they aren’t living within our acceptable framework of behaviour.

When we are tied in the knots of our own inability to accept the gentle nudge of new interpretation.

When we would rather shelter ourselves rather than go out into all the world and make Christ known because we are too afraid or angry to see the variance of what a Christ-following life looks like.

When we love the rules more than the One who should rule our lives with his grace and mercy.

“I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love” Galatians 5:4-6 MSG

Sometimes I get caught up in the idea that it is more important to be good than to be loving.

Forgetting that by showing mercy and grace I best represent the Jesus who died for my sins, the acknowledged and hidden.

I show less grace when I forget how much I’ve needed grace. And I am rigid rather than merciful if I turn a blind eye to my own sin and the broken rules I justify.

When I look at Christ and what he has done for me, the mercy he showed to the rule keepers and rule breakers of the Bible, I can let go. Let go of the need to police others. Let go of the idea that my own journey is based on rules rather than continual repentance.

Knowing that when I do fall, when I judge others, he shows grace to me beyond what I can imagine.

Upon this grace I can confidently, like the woman in the library, dump my spiritual garbage, knowing that God desires my loving response, not my legalistic rules.

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Have You had Your Break Today?

My mother in law once gave me a piece of phenomenal advice.

“Do something fun every day.”

It was during a time when life didn’t feel very fun. Most of my day was spent in worrying about the future and processing the past. Worry for my kids (who were doing fine), worry for my husband (who was in the same boat I was), and worrying in general.

And it was giving me tunnel vision. Giving me a rough edge that came out in the way I interacted with my family and friends. I was like a wounded animal looking for a way to slink off into a hole where I could lick my wounds in peace.

Nope, not fun.

I think that happens to all of us when we’re encountering a situation with many factors and unknowns. When we want to be able to control outcomes but jobs and timing and relationships depend on other people as well, don’t they. I was caught up in the uncontrollables of the future and the unchangeables of the past and couldn’t see the fun in life.

I had forgotten Sabbath breaths that still my worried heart during the day.

I had forgotten that the Joy of the Lord is my strength.

I had forgotten that when I turn my eyes upon Jesus, and really look at him, all other worries fade away.

So I focussed on joy. I took time each day to stop, focus on God, and do something fun. Reading, lollygagging, a bath during nap time, just things that brought me joy.

I was intentional in pursuing God and pursuing joy.

And the breaks caused a break in my mood and a healthy break in my worrisome spirit.

It gave me new perspective and new vision, and new peace and a way of sinking into the soothing arms of God.

Jesus is More than My Friend

My daughter came up to me yesterday crying because she was dissatisfied with her brother’s theology. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time.

When my 5 year old son wants to play by himself, much to the dismay of my 4 year old daughter, he tells her that Jesus is always with her so Jesus can play with her. Not very satisfying to her tender child’s heart.

Her tears come from the reality that though Jesus is always with her, he makes an unsatisfactory playmate because he has no body Right Now.

This is the eternal struggle, isn’t it? No matter if you’re a child or an adult it’s difficult to believe in the unseen, have faith in the invisible. We have no tactile God to grasp and hold.

I envy the disciples. I envy the women, Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene. I envy the blind man, the woman at the well, those who saw and touched Jesus.

Those who called him friend. Friends because of the shared trials, friends because of the time spent,  because of the laughter and tears, the meals and comfortable silences.

What did they know and see that we will never understand. To look into the face of their friend and try to grasp the fullness of the Almighty.

That tension exists for me. My son and daughter see a friend in Jesus, but that sits less comfortably with me. Through the years I’ve heard songs sing of Jesus our friend. But I wiggle and struggle with that phrase.  It is and always has been difficult for my finite human brain to grasp the Almighty contained within the Incarnate.

How can Jesus be my friend?

Fear can lean us towards an imbalance. Fear of the perceived mercilessness and judgement of God can draw us towards a Jesus who is friend but not saviour. The sacrificial lamb without the Lion of Judah. 

This is a continual struggle with me but in the other direction. When I perceive that Jesus is being watered down, I lean more towards the image of God as creator and bringer of all things. And I lean away from Jesus, because I know that the nature of my sins cannot be wiped clean by someone who is friend and not God.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself and all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:15-17, 19-20

This is the glory of what God has done for me, for us. That Jesus is the image of the invisible God. A true Saviour cloaked in flesh. Flesh that was capable of gladness and sorrow, sore feet and loving arms, jokes and stillness.

True goodness and power that could touch and be touched. That called them and me friend. There is no weakness in that. The greatest gift Jesus gave was his life laid down for us so that we might turn towards him and be clean in his eyes and have the right to call him friend.

It is the aspect of friend that strikes me this Easter season. That his sacrifice on the cross was an act of mercy and love. And because of this I can see and imagine new things about God. Because he drew himself closer, close enough to see and touch, to laugh and grieve alongside of us. The God of the universe drawn close with gentleness and power held in balanced measure. No loss of power and no lessening of mercy. Love incarnate in ways we can imagine and beyond our wildest dreams.

Misplaced Confidence in My Flesh

An opportunity came to me yesterday and knocked the wind out of me. And not the good kind of knocked the wind out. The kind of opportunity that sends a rush of panic down my spine, widens my eyes, and I think “Oh Nelly, what next!”.

The kind of opportunity that answers all sorts of questions and raises even more. The kind that sinks your stomach because you feel so monumentally under equipped.

And I ask, “God? Is this from you because it’s so out of the realm of my comfort and my comprehension that there’s no way on this good green earth that I can do this. You wouldn’t give me something that I couldn’t do. Because then it wouldn’t be from you, right?”

And my confidence fell down the elevator shaft.

My courage was sucked away and left me in the place of panic.

Have you ever been in that place? A place where you see the opportunity in front of you, seemingly heaven-sent, but not heaven-sent for you because this doesn’t even smell like something you’ve ever tried before. Not even a whiff.

I don’t really like trying things I’m not good at. Or things that aren’t related to things I’m good at. Or things that might cause me to stumble or fail.

Because when I’m good at things people notice and approve. When I fail people notice and…well…notice.

And that doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good not to have your A-game. It doesn’t feel good to look at another person and know they know you messed up. That you’re not perfect.

Because then they might see you differently. They might have less use for you because you’re of less use to them.

Because these skills and talents, these wirings and personality traits, this body that can do things, has failed this time.

You’ve failed.

So yeah, I get nervous, and I get wary of opportunities that might stretch me and drop me and trip me up.
Because I have confidence in this flesh of mine but I also know, oh so well, its’ limitations.

And that knowledge makes me tentative and unwilling to pursue the goodness right in front of me.

Because I have it all wrong. I am putting my trust in something that yes, will fail me. I will come to the end of my knowledge and will too soon see my own limitations.

God works in mysterious and sledgehammer ways, though.

This morning as I was wrestling, headache-y and surly, my readings took me through Philippians 3. The title even says “no confidence in the flesh”. Sledgehammers, I say.

Paul talks in this chapter about how he had all the training, the right background, the history, and the zeal. A perfect pedigree.

But that means nothing to him.

Nothing!

But sometimes these things mean everything to me. They mean acceptance and success and wiping sweat off a forehead for a narrow escape. 

But to Paul they meant nothing.

Because he knew what was better. He knew his limitations and he knew Christ. 

“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Philippians 3:7-10

I know the exhortation that God will equip me for the tasks he’s set in front of me. And I believe this to be true. But these verses go deeper and call me further.

I need to realize the power I have, the purpose and value, come from knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection. And this power is not for my own social perfection but that I may know Christ and make him known.

Because when I fail, I look to Christ.

When I fall, I look to Christ.

In the cloud of my embarrassment and shame, I look to Christ.

And when I’m praised, I look to Christ.

When people tell me all manner of wonderful things about what I can do and who I am, I look to Christ.

Because this is the goal. To know Christ and make him known. 

My own desire for perfection and performance holds no eternal value. It will not make me more like Christ. It won’t let me know him better, this perfecter of my faith.

So what do I do when I forget to look to him and the fear of failure surrounds me? When I sit in the pool of my own embarrassment?

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

I press on. Christ calls me heavenward so I press on. Forgetting past mistakes and past pride, I press on.

Because there is no ceiling to what I can do in Christ. No fear of failure when I seek him. No condemnation, just the power of his grace and forgiveness.

Can We Balance Service and Self?

There never seems to be enough time, enough space, enough help, enough helping, never enough of those things we know we should do but can’t seem to find the time to do. Our culture tells us to have me time, tells us to sacrifice all for our friends or children, tells us to plug in and unplug.

It feels like there is a constant tension between self care and service. Helping ourselves and helping others.

And how do we get it right? What’s the balance?

Because if it’s all about me, then am I being selfish? But if it’s all about others, am I being harmful to myself?

This tension between self-care and caring for others is felt not only in our culture but within many who follow Christ. If we are to be like Christ, we are called to do as he did.

“but [He] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 2:7

It’s a tension that is very real for many of us. I feel it myself. There’s the desire to help others, to give of myself, my time and resources. But this is countered by my desire just to stop, rest, be, not shoulder any one else’s burdens as I struggle through my own.

When I don’t lovingly serve others, I fall into the trap of self-indulgence and self-importance.

When I don’t practice self-care, I find my capacity to serve is diminished and my approach is clouded with bitterness and sigh-filled obligation.

So where does the sweet spot exist?

Where can I find that peace of mind and peace of heart that comes with joy-filled service and peace filled rest?

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4

Here lies the balance. And it comes from an unlikely source. I don’t often think of the apostle Paul as the poster child for balance. Paul is all in. He deals many times in absolutes, choosing sides, letting his yes’s and no’s resound through his writings.

But there is balance. In this small verse, in the midst of exhortations to be a servant like Christ is this idea of balance.

There are two sides to our natures, God designed and God given. He created us to serve. To serve joyfully and with humility, seeking to lift others up with our words, deeds, and loving kindness.

But the other side is important as well. The side where we see that in order for this service, this ministry, to be sustained, we need to refuel.

We need time with God, time with our thoughts, time away, time within. We need to have time and space to stop and breathe, to listen and exhale.

He knew from the beginning of time, when he created the world that there needed to be work and rest, service and restoring of soul, output and input. Sabbath is our gift and reminder that he knows our natures because he created us and modelled for us what it means to have both sides to our nature.

If we are to be like Christ, we serve and we rest just as he did.

And that’s how God made us. With two sides to this coin of humanity. The growth and refining that comes from lovingly serving in community and the peace and re-centering that comes from time with him.

There’s the balance. There’s the life giving permission to be all that he created us to be.