Monday, November 29, 2010

Castles of Air

When I first read the topic I thought, Castles of Air? What am I going to do with that? Who thought of that one, and what were they thinking? Well, Becky owned up to the topic. She said she had something in mind when she suggested it, but I’d have to wait to read her post to find out what it is. I’m still waiting for Becky to write, which means I’m left to figure out this “Castles of Air” thing on my own.

Through some twisting, convoluted thought path I somehow connected Castles of Air with the topic of Hope. Which brings us to the Facebook poll, “What hope of yours has been fulfilled this year?”

It’s such a peaceful feeling to reflect upon hopes that have been fulfilled over the past year. Justice being realized. First-time home ownership. Loved ones by our side. Being employed in this volatile economic climate. Going through the struggles and living to tell about it. Yes, when hopes have been fulfilled, life has a sense of completeness. Life makes sense.

I wish I could say that life for everyone I know has that sense of completeness, but it is not so. Businesses close down and jobs are lost. Justice sometimes seems unfair and wrong. Home becomes a place that doesn’t feel like home and families are broken apart. Loved ones die, sometimes suddenly. Promises are broken and trust is shattered. We may even feel despair. The puzzle pieces of your life don’t seem to make the beautiful picture it ought to. Like Castles of Air, life does not make sense.

Which brings us back to hope. Sometimes when you are in the midst of despair, when pieces don’t appear to be of the same puzzle, let alone fit, hope does not make sense. God doesn’t even make sense.

Not long ago I was asked to pray for a family in crisis. I found myself asking, “God, do you know what you are doing?” Nothing made sense. Yet the family believed God is still sovereign, and crying out in desperation to God was all they had left.

Was this family’s hope fulfilled? Tragically, no. Stunned and in shock, they were violently thrust into the vortex of grief, where nothing makes sense, and they wonder if anything ever will again.

While we're not making sense, let's go back to fulfilled hopes. When a hope is fulfilled, it often comes after  some struggle or some degree of heartache. Somewhere during the process there is a part of you that wonders at the logic – or lack of logic – of it all. Doubt threatens to extinguish faith. Grief’s cacophony seems to be an endless torment. But still there is hope.

Hope is independent of the apparatus of logic. It doesn’t have to make sense.
Hope puts faith to work when doubting would be easier.
Hope is grief’s best music. The torment does not have to prevail forever.

While it may seem wonderful if every hope we ever had were fulfilled the way we want it, would we really want it that way? That’s another way of saying Be careful what you hope for.

God does not have to always make sense to us. If He did, we would have no need for faith. God has made sense to us before, when things turned out alright for us. Although we are now uncertain about our circumstances, our hope and faith assure us that God will work our circumstances to make sense to us at a time to come in the future.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Hope is one of those things you cannot do without. Having hope will give you courage. Hang in there. Even if it doesn’t make sense.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Finding Joy

Word Search Puzzle created by

The holiday season is fast approaching. It seems like about eleven months or so ago it was Christmas, and here it is again already!The local Rite-Aid store near me replaced the sunblock display with bayberry, peppermint and cinnamon scented candles. In fact, for a week or so, the two displays were actually side-by-side, causing one to ponder, Is something wrong with this picture?

Just thinking about the month of December brings to mind many activities: family gatherings, parties, shopping, exchanging gifts, time away from work or school, road trips, celebrations ...

The Christmas season can be an emotional time as well. Anger, anxiousness, loneliness, sadness, emptiness, worry. It's no wonder some people cringe when you wish them Merry Christmas, even without the whole "politically correct religious tolerance" broughaha.

One of the more popular Christmas songs is "Joy to the world!" Joy. What is joy, anyway? If you're a regular reader of my ponderings, you know that when I dive into deep questions, one of my favorite resources for answers is (dun-dun-DUNNN!) a Facebook poll! (and most of you know by now that when I post a poll, it usually means I'll be using the answers in a post.) So, I asked my facebook friends and family, and some of their friends as well, the following question:

Aside from family and chocolate, what brings you joy?

Mountains. Waterfalls. Smiles from babies and old people. Fall leaves. Spring tulips. Summer sun. Winter frost. Changed lives. Good friends. Scrapbooking. Reading. Music. Being out on the water. Polka-dots. Elvis impersonators. Patches (I'm not sure I understand that one). Dancing. Living. Music. Weddings. Dancing to live music at weddings. The dog. God. Being successful with a project. Girlfriends. Laughing. A clean house. Laughing with girlfriends in a clean house.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of what brings people joy, but just thinking of a few of these is enough to put a smile on your face, if only for a few seconds. But what is it about these things that turns on the joy-button for us?

Braniac me would ask that question, wouldn't I? And I'm not going to leave you with a simplistic textbook answer, although that would be a place to start in finding one. Starting with the basic definition, "joy" is a noun, meaning "the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation."

Hmm ... "an emotion ... caused by something ..." Joy is not something that just happens! Did you know that? I didn't ... Let's go deeper into the ponder ...
Joy is a "fruit of the Spirit." I learned that back in my Catholic grade school days. It's in the Bible. The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatian church, "the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)

So, God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, pushes our buttons. I don't think anyone would disagree there. But God doesn't push our buttons for no reason, although we may sometimes think it seems that way. The passage says the Holy Spirit "produces the fruit." What? Joy isn't instantaneous? It's not spontaneous? Well, no, not always. Not all Elvis impersonators bring on feelings of joy. And be careful of the baby's smile - there may be something messy behind it.

Back to the earlier definition of Joy as the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.

emotion ... caused by something ... produced by the Holy Spirit ...

Time for another definition, this time in the form of an acronym:

JOY: = Jesus, Others, You.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27)

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." (Philippians 2:3-4)

Are you getting it?

Joy is the happy state that is found in knowing and serving God!

This week's blog theme is "Finish This." Actually, it was last week's theme, but I'll let you in on a secret. I didn't finish this post in time! But as I do finally finish this, I shall close with a challenge to all, young and old alike. 

As you make your way through the chaos of the upcoming Christmas season, take time to know and serve God. And repe-eat, repe-e-eat the sounding joy!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


You may be wondering how the Topical Bloggers come up with the weekly topics. Actually, it is quite simple. Blogger Becky has graciously accepted the role of ringleader moderator of the group. Her responsibility is to let us know what the weekly writing should be about. To make it easy for everyone involved (and easy on herself) she forcibly coerces periodically asks the bloggers to submit several suggestions, puts them all in a hat and, by random drawing, sets the calendar for as many weeks as she has suggestions for. Some bloggers will use the topic as an actual topic. Me, the "topic" is often a prompt. For example, last week's "topic" was "Priority Mail." Well, I sort of wrote about that...

This week's topic is "I lost my list." Yep, that was an actual topic that was truly and honestly submitted. I know, because I'm the one who gave the suggestion. When the last round of topics had run its course back in August, I wrote several suggestions on a piece of paper, and, naturally, promptly lost the list. When the time came for Becky to set the calendar and she threatened me with bamboo sticks under my fingernails politely and patiently asked for my suggestions, the first one I gave was "I lost my list." And that is how we got this week's topic.

What can be said about losing a list? If your name is Eileen you might say "I lost my list and now I stand upright."

(you can stop groaning now.)

Lists can be helpful to help us remember things and be productive throughout the day. There are To-Do lists, Bucket Lists, Priority Lists, Christmas Card Lists, Grocery Lists, Honey-Do Lists, even The Book of Lists. Realtors have MLS Listings. You can make a list, check it twice, add things to it, and feel good when you cross something off when it's completed. And of course, you can lose a list, but don't let that make you feel listless.

When you're outstanding at something, you are said to be on the A-List (for example, movie stars who work well and are big box office draws make the A-List). But woe to you if you cause severe embarrassment, scandal, or are affiliated with the wrong crowd! You may find yourself Black-Listed, never to work in this town again.

If you've ever lost an important list, you know the sheer panic uneasy feeling of having to recreate the list, especially if you need to recreate it on the spot. For example, try remembering all 120 names on a Wedding Guest List! Hopefully you won't leave someone out and end up on their Sh.... Never mind - it's not a good list to be on. Not as bad as being on someone's Hit List, but still not good.

Which brings me to ponder, what kind of list does God keep? I'll tell you what I believe about that pondering. I believe that God keeps two lists: an A-List and a Hit List. The A-List (in the Bible it's called the Book of Life) is the list of who will be allowed entrance to heaven for eternity. The Hit List, well, that's everyone else. They get life in hell - apart from God's love - for ever and ever and ever. But how can someone know for sure which list he is on?

God, being holy, has a standard of perfection, and heaven is a place that meets that standard. But if heaven is a perfect place, how can a perfect God allow imperfect people (I'd say that's me and you) to enter without making tainting its perfection? In other words, how can something 100% perfect still be perfect if it has any imperfection in it? Even 99.9% pure is 0.1% flawed, and no longer perfect. We all do wrong things; we all have sin in our lives. Wouldn't that, by default, put us all on God's Hit List?

True, our sin keeps us from being in good standing with God, and there is nothing we can do on our own to change that. That's where Jesus comes in. The apostle Paul teaches us in the book of Romans,

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person*, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:6-11, NLT)
*even an upright person such as Eileen

It is our decision which of God's lists we are on. It has nothing to do with how lengthy your list of accomplishments is, or how short your list of errors might be. God isn't impressed with those lists. Choose to accept Jesus as Lord over your life, and you choose the A-List. Don't, and you're on God's Hit List. The playing field doesn't list to one side or the other. It's level for everybody. Simple as that.

Now to find that original list ...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Priority List or Bucket List?

This morning I went online to read and print an email that I had saved from about a week ago, an email having to do with a meeting after church this morning. When I went into my account, I found about eight or ten emails – none of them spam – that I acted upon (read and file, or read and delete). One of them had to do with a discussion with a Facebook friend, so of course I had to go there. Once logged in, I quickly skimmed over what the insomniacs of my entourage had posted overnight. Running out of time, I quickly closed down my computer and continued with my morning routine. Halfway out the door to leave, I realized I never did open the email I originally wanted to read. And by then it was too late.

Sometimes our relationships with each other go the same way. We build a friendship over time, with the promise to always keep in touch. And they’re good intentions. Plans are made to gather together, but life happens. Maybe a child gets sick. Or an unexpected bill comes up. Life progresses and we surround ourselves with a whole new circle of friends and acquaintances. Enough of these extra things come up, and keeping in touch becomes less and less important. Sadly, it appears that meeting for lunch with old friends moves from the Priority List to the Bucket List.

It ought not be so! True, you can’t always control what comes up in life. But you can control the actions you take to let people who have impacted your life that they are special and have made a difference, no matter how big or small that difference may have been. You don’t necessarily have to do something extra-ordinary. If this post brings to mind someone you have not seen in quite some time (perhaps years), start simple. A quick email, or an e-card is a good way to begin. If you (or they) are not comfortable with computer technology, then do something more “old-school” like a phone call, or simple greeting card with a brief hand-written note. Re-establish the friendship, and make the non-negotiable commitment to meet together, and follow through on that commitment. It doesn’t have to be something as formal as a reunion – something where you would feel comfortable, like a backyard BBQ or meeting for pie and coffee can be just as meaningful, perhaps even more so.

There is an old saying that goes, “Keep your friendships in repair.” To do so takes intentional effort. Some people end up making enemies instead of friends because it is less trouble. Don’t be one of those people. Cross “meeting for lunch with friends” off of your Bucket List and place it back on your Priority List. You’ll be glad you did.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12