Beth Armstrong

Christian wife, mom, & author. Doing life with my eyes fixed on Jesus. I walk, I stumble, I fall. But God is big. And this is what I write about… Thanks for stopping by!

Archive for the category “Such are the Vicissitudes of Life”

INTERRUPTIONS OF THE JESUS KIND (Part 2)

interruptions

I walked in the building, went upstairs, sat down at my desk, and turned on my computer. It was early. It was quiet. Nobody was around. I was ready to bust out a few key things before my busy day started. And then…out of nowhere…there she was. Who is she? She’s the woman from part 1.

She pulled up a chair at the table beside my desk. She asked if I could look up a particular city on the computer for her. I’d never heard of it. I tried looking it up, but there was no city by that name. She fumbled around a bit, offered the same city, but a couple different states. She seemed a bit confused.

Clearly this was another interruption. Ugh!

Finally, after hitting a few dead ends, I asked her why we were looking this up.

“They found my son,” she said.

“Oh?” (I vaguely remember a few months back a conversation about not knowing where her son was.) If you read part 1, you’d have a hunch that I didn’t really want to engage her in a conversation because it might last way longer than I’d like it to. Plus, I was on a mission to get things done before the busyness began.

I have a hard time liking this woman. She drives me crazy. She’s nice. Kinda funny sometimes. She’s very, very complimentary and encouraging to everyone. She always has something nice to say to other people, which makes her sound delightful, right?

But… (Isn’t there always a ‘but’?)

She has quite a past…and present. She has a history of sexual abuse, assault, run-ins with the law, bankruptcy, etc. Since she came to our facility, she’s moved from boyfriend to boyfriend. She’s one of the poster children for the old country song “Lookin’ For Love in all the Wrong Places.” This maybe too much information, but she’s not “happy” unless she’s in the arms (or the bed) of a man. She’s the product of one bad choice after another. Hence my struggle. Even after being given wise counsel by me and some other staff members, she goes ahead and makes the bad choices anyway.

So, back to my “interruption.”

“They found my son.”

“Oh?” Looking at my computer, so she might take the hint that I’m busy.

“Yeah. They found him somewhere in the woods, dead, with a gunshot to his head.”

Okay…can you say INTERRUPTION?!?

My heart dropped. My conviction spiked. Five seconds ago, I didn’t want to give this woman the time of day.

I took my hands off my keyboard, spun my chair around, and fully engaged.

I wonder if God places these interruptions in our lives to see if we’re paying attention—not to the person or situation that’s happening—but to God Himself.

Could it be that God is saying, “Okay, I have something I want to accomplish in you and through you. Are you ready? Are you up for the challenge?” But we—in our own self-centered world—totally miss the opportunity.

Could it be that God is saying, “I want to take you on a journey. I want to teach you something profound. Are you willing to walk with Me?” But we—caught up in the busyness of self—aren’t fully engaged.

Could it be that God is saying over and over again, “Life’s not about you. It’s about Me. I want to use this interruption for My glory. I want to use this interruption to plant a seed. I want to use this interruption in ways that are beyond you.”

When I stop to think of the many times Jesus was interrupted, I certainly believe God may have a point here. Jesus’ teaching was interrupted when the guys lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof. Jesus’ travel was interrupted by the two blind guys on the side of the road. Jesus’ dinner was interrupted by a sinful woman.

One interruption after another. Why? God wanted to accomplish His purpose through His Son, Jesus.

I’m learning…slowly…

I want to be like Jesus. But, I also want that on my own terms, in my own timing, in my own way. Isn’t that ridiculous?

As I said in part 1, I’m a work in progress…maybe you should interrupt me.

 

 

 

 

 

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BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PRAY FOR

You know how they say, “Be careful what you pray for”? Well, whoever “they” are, they’re right.

Be Careful What You Pray for

Last week was a bit of a crazy week. Let me fill you in…

Years ago, I did quite a little bit of speaking at banquets, seminars, and retreats. But God suddenly (and not pleasantly) changed all of that for me. (Long story!) Since then, I’ve done a banquet here and there when I felt like I had God’s green light. I’ve been praying some in the last several months for Him to use me again, to give me opportunities to speak or preach if He thought that’d be cool. I’ve just been patiently waiting, not wanting to put myself out there publicly. Just trusting in His plan, His timing, His ways if He wanted to use me.

So back to last week…

My next-door neighbor texted me on Monday morning and told me his dad had passed away the evening before. I knew his dad as well and we exchanged a few texts and that was that.

On Tuesday morning, while on my walk, I was listening to a sermon (which is my usual workout routine—I know, it’s weird). For whatever reason (not coincidental as you’ll see later), I decided to walk a route I never take. Pretty soon I see my neighbor’s mom walking toward me with her dog. Yes, my neighbor’s parents live just down the street. So, as I’m approaching her I’m thinking, “Oh boy! I need to extend my sympathies to her, but I look like a hot mess, I’m not in the mood, I really don’t want to talk to her.” But…I did. I knew it was the right thing to do. So, I pushed pause on the sermon, took my headphones out, and we chatted a bit. She was a little teary and I could tell she wasn’t up for a long visit in the middle of the street. As we turned to part ways, I said to her, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” (Which…I meant…sorta…or not.) It was one of those comments that we say all the time. But do we really mean it?

We went our separate ways. But when she got about two driveways down, she hollered back at me, “Beth! Yes, there is! There is something you can do!” At this point I had no idea what that could be. We came back together, and she told me how she had been trying to get ahold of an old chaplain friend to do the funeral for her husband. She explained that they had quit going to church years ago and she simply didn’t know who to ask. I offered to get her in touch with one of the pastors at my church. She went on further to say this gentleman used to attend Antioch Community Church. “Oh,” I said, “that’s a great little church. Wonderful people there. Very warm and inviting. I’ve preached there on the occasions when their pastor has been out of town.” (Now, honestly, my intent in telling her this was to talk up this church thinking maybe she might decide to get back into church when the dust settled for her.)

She did a double take and said, “You’re a preacher?” And before I could say no and explain myself, she said, “Oh Beth, will you do Don’s funeral? You’d be perfect! You know us. It would really mean a lot to us.” And then here came the tears. (At this point, I’m thinking, “Oh my, what have I done?”) In my mind I thought it wouldn’t really happen. I thought she’d get ahold of her chaplain friend. I thought I’d be off the hook. I thought how I’ll never say the words, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you” ever again.

I put back on my headphones, turned on the sermon, and went on the rest of my walk. Totally zoned out to what I was listening to. Totally having a serious conversation with God. “Should I do this funeral? I’ve never done a funeral before. Is this from You? Is this what You want me to do?” And again, the haunting thought revisited me… “Oh my goodness, what have I done?”

I knew I couldn’t sort all of it out on my walk, or make any determination, so I tuned back into the sermon that had been playing in my ears for the last several minutes, but I hadn’t heard a word of. Right then, this is what the preacher said, “365 days a year we get the opportunity to serve and love on people we encounter—those people God places in our midst.”

No joke, that’s what he said.

At that moment I knew I had to say yes to doing the funeral. But oh my! I didn’t know the first thing. All I knew was God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. (Firm believer in that now, by the way.)

As soon as I set foot in my front door from walking, my neighbor called and said, “Beth, thank you so much for agreeing to do dad’s funeral. Bless your heart. That’s awesome.”

I hadn’t agreed to anything, but there it was. I said, “Sure thing. My pleasure.”

I ended up doing the funeral. And when I say I did the funeral, I did the whole thing. Welcome, introduction, obituary reading, scripture reading, message, prayer…everything.

Curiously, a common thing among people who pray (myself included), is to miss the connection between what we pray and what happens next. When I asked God to use me again, to give me opportunities to speak or preach if He thought that’d be cool, I failed to connect these dots initially.

Here’s the thing…Prayer isn’t intended for us to convince God of what we think He should do for us. (Although we’d like to have it this way.) No, prayer is the method God uses to lay His heart over ours.

That’s it. That’s the deal. God moves, He orchestrates, He uniquely lets His desire be known to us. We just need to get ourselves clued in.

I guess we have two choices. Either be careful what we pray for or pray big, mighty things and make the connection between what we pray and what happens next.

And if you ever say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you” pay attention, because God may be at work preparing you for the unexpected.

UNNECESSARY DRAMA!

I hung out with a 6th grader a while back. Well, let me clarify, she just completed the 6th grade. That would be middle school. An age I don’t really care for at all. They’re squirrely as all get out. I barely survived my own middle school children. And I wouldn’t want to go back and relive those years at all. So, hanging out with a middle schooler isn’t really my idea of a good time. But this one happens to be related. Plus, she’s a pretty good kid. Don’t tell her I said this, but I actually enjoyed it.

Anyway…

I was hanging out with her recently and I asked her how her first year of middle school was. Was it better than expected, worse than expected, or just what she expected? She thought for a second, then said quite matter-of-factly, “It was worse than expected!” (That answer caught me off guard a bit.) So, I asked her to expand on that. Here’s what she said, “Well…In the 6th grade, it seemed to me there was so much drama going on all the time. And it just wasn’t necessary!”

dramaI laughed out loud for a second. And I agreed with her. But really on the inside I cringed. Do you know why? Because the preteen/teenager lying, manipulating, gossiping, bad-mouthing, superficial, immature, life-in-drama-mode, occasionally grows up into adult lying, manipulating, gossiping, bad-mouthing, superficial, immature, life-in-drama-mode. And guess what? It doesn’t get any better, prettier, funnier, or easier to tolerate when adults display unnecessary drama.

I hung on to her words, “It just wasn’t necessary!” I replayed that line over and over in my head. Man! I live in this world every day. A world where behaviors, words, actions, and reactions just aren’t necessary. Immature responses—not necessary. Lying—totally not necessary. Hate speech—straight up not necessary. Gossip—so not necessary. Manipulation for the sole purpose of getting what you want—absolutely not necessary. Life-in-drama-mode—very, very, not necessary.

Do you know what necessary means? It means needed, essential, crucial, vital. Do you know what my 6th grade niece was saying? She was saying all the drama she witnessed throughout her 6th grade school year just wasn’t needed. It wasn’t essential. It wasn’t crucial or vital.

I guess people who live in that dimension believe it is. I guess for them, drama gets them somewhere. It gets them something.

I can’t relate.

It got me thinking, however, if we all could put our personal drama aside and ask ourselves what IS necessary, how would we answer? At the end of the day, what IS essential, needed, crucial, and vital? If drama mode isn’t necessary, then what IS?

If you read the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42, one might surmise that Martha just may have slightly lived in drama mode. When Jesus was at her house, she was distracted, worried, and upset about all the food prep she was doing in the kitchen while her sister Mary was at Jesus’ feet hanging on every word He said.

She barged in, came up to Jesus, and said, “Hey don’t You care that I’m doing all the work in here, while she’s just sitting there doing nothing? Tell her to get in here and help me!” (See? Sounds a little drama-ish, doesn’t it?)

Jesus responded back, “Martha, chill for a second. You’re all worked up over nothing. Only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the right thing.”

Did you catch that? Only one thing is necessary. Only one thing is needed. Only one thing is essential.

Maybe if we could put all of our own drama aside and ask ourselves what IS necessary, what IS needed, what IS essential, we’d consider what Jesus said. And yeah, maybe it sounds simple, but truthfully I think Jesus was in the business of keeping things simple.

What IS necessary? To seek Jesus. To listen to Jesus. To quietly sit at His feet and absorb and learn and simply be present where He is.

I’d much rather live in that world than a drama-filled one any day of the week.

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE BLEEDING OF NEGATIVITY

She fell backwards and hit the back of her head on the trashcan. The look on her face and shriek of pain said it all. I ran over to her as quickly as I could. She said she was fine, but that she “bumped” her head. She was trying to get up, I was trying to make her lie still. As I gently cradled my hand around the back of her head to comfort her and keep her as still as possible, I could feel the damp, stickiness. When the nurse arrived, I took my hand out only to find it full of blood.

Head injuries are that way. Because your head has a higher number of blood vessels than other parts of your body, wounds or cuts to the head and face tend to bleed more. The smallest cut can look like the worst injury all because of the bleeding.

I’ve noticed something lately about bleeding. Not about the kind of bleeding that comes from head injuries, but the kind of bleeding that comes from negativity. When something negative happens to us—when we don’t get the raise or promotion we deserve, when someone lies to us, when we’re accused of something we didn’t do, when we’re treated unfairly or poorly, etc.—it bleeds. And sometimes the bleeding seems much worse than it really is.

Bleeding of NegativityHere’s what happens…

When the “wrong” is committed, we’re hurt, we’re ticked, we’re frustrated, discouraged, or disappointed. But as the day or week goes on, the things that we previously found joy and fulfillment in, begin to look and feel stained or infected. The positive things we have going for us are suddenly not-so-positive. The effect of the initial wrong bleeds over into other areas of our thoughts, actions, behaviors, and experiences.

And the smallest cut (to our feelings or ego) can look like the worst injury (that permeates other experience) all because of the bleeding.

But how do we stop it? How do we put an end to the bleeding of negative thoughts that start in one place, but end up all over the place? How do we deal with the bleeding of negativity?

3 options come to mind:

  • FRAME it – (No, I don’t mean put a frame around it and put the negativity up on the wall for all to see. Because that’s ugly, and nobody wants to get sucked into that mess.) Think about it this way…A frame is a rigid structure that surrounds or encloses something else. So, in this sense, rigidly put a border around the negative thought. Keep it contained to the one incident or experience. Enclose it so the bleeding stops within the context of that particular negative experience only. Contain and surround the negativity by putting up a mental “frame.”

OR…

  • FREE it – It does absolutely no good to cling to the negativity. Like, NO GOOD. Sometimes we like to get a little mileage out of the negative experience. But to what end? The attention or sympathy it gets us? Be careful, because that tends to backfire. Pretty soon you’re simply known as “Negative Nancy.” In reality, clinging to the negative incident, experience, or thought does more harm than good. Again, it bleeds over into so many other areas if we let it. So, my suggestion? Set it free. Let it go. Otherwise…we bleed.

OR…

  • FOCUS it – Or maybe I should say RE-focus. Push pause for a moment. Take a step back. Acknowledge the wrong, the hurt, the circumstance, the negative thought. But do so in the light of the big picture. Redirect your focus to the grand scheme of things. In the grand scheme of things, you’re blessed. Looking at the big picture, the wrong, the hurt, the frustration of the isolated incident—though it bleeds over into other areas—could have been far worse. Focus on what matters. Fix your mind on the good. Dwell on the positive, the constructive, the encouraging.

If we don’t stop the bleeding of negativity, the bleeding of negativity will stop us. It will steal our joy. It will rob us of our attention, motivation, and purpose. But don’t let it! Frame it, free it, or focus it. In doing so, we form a coagulant that allows us to step over the incident and stop the bleeding of negativity.

 

THE BEAUTIFUL FEET OF BILLY GRAHAM

Most people don’t like feet. They don’t like other peoples’ feet, nor do they like their own. They’re smelly. They’re gross. They’re funky looking. They’re misshapen and calloused. Hairy toes, bunions, athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, heel spurs, corns, warts, gout. See? The list goes on and on. Maybe God spent a little less time on feet than other parts of our body when He created us.

I’m not foot fan either. But one thing’s for sure…the late Reverend Billy Graham had beautiful feet. That’s right, I said beautiful. And I know this for a fact. How? Let me tell you…

The arena was packed. We were seated in the upper level. I had heard of Billy Graham as a kid growing up. My grandmother was a big fan, frequently sharing stories about him or his ministry that she heard or read. I reckon my parents were fans as well. And I suppose that’s why we went to hear him when he was in town about 40 years ago.

Since I grew up in a home where we went to church (a lot, because we were Baptists at the time), there was prayer, Bible studies, some type of ministry always being done. I knew who God was. I knew Jesus was God’s Son. I’d heard it all before.

But as I sat there in the arena that night (probably wishing I was anywhere else), the words of Billy Graham penetrated my heart. Somehow, someway, he connected all the dots I’d heard before. At the end of his preaching, he gave an invitation. It was an invitation to respond to the Good News he’d spent the last 30-45 minutes sharing. It was an invitation to have God be at the center of my life. It was an invitation to follow Jesus. It was an invitation to have a real, living, breathing relationship with the God who created me.

It was at that moment, I knew I wanted what he had. I knew I wanted to follow Jesus. I wasn’t exactly sure what that looked like going forward, but I knew I wanted to spend an eternity in the presence of the Creator of the universe.

As the choir sang the classic, timeless hymn Just As I Am, Billy invited everyone who wanted what I did to come down to the lower level and stand in front of him on the floor of the arena. As I felt the tug on my heart to do so, I also felt the awkward, and uncomfortable fact that if I did, people would stare. My parents would find out. All the other people in the arena would know that Beth Armstrong just admitted she was sinful. That Beth Armstrong just admitted she couldn’t live life on her own. That Beth Armstrong needed a Savior.

I couldn’t stand the thought. There would be endless questions and discussions to follow and I wanted no part of that. So, I stayed seated. When the masses of people finally arrived on the floor of the arena, Billy invited them all to pray simply, admitting their need, asking God to take over their lives. Though I didn’t join the crowd in proximity, I joined them in proclamation. I prayed that prayer. I said yes to Jesus. I responded to the Good News. And I began a spiritual journey that night while seated in the suddenly-near-empty upper level of the arena.

beautiful feetRomans 10:15 reads, “And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

Billy Graham preached.

Billy Graham was sent.

So you see…Billy Graham indeed had beautiful feet.

Though I have far less than perfect feet, I long for them to be even a smidgen as beautiful as Billy Graham’s.

WHERE IS GOD WHEN WE PRAY?

The room was full. Various people had gathered there that Sunday morning. Wealthy and not-so-wealthy. Infants in car seats and aged in wheelchairs. Giggly children and stern-faced, weather beaten old folks. Married, single, widowed. Some sang. Some whispered among each other. Others checked their phones, or just gazed with blank stares at whatever caught their eye…or mind.

One gentleman was holding his son. He always holds him. He’s a boy of about four years old. He clings to his dad until it’s time for him and the other kids to leave. While the congregation was standing, facing front, the boy—arms around his dad’s neck, legs dangling on each side—was facing the back. He was lost in his own little world. Or so it seemed. Sometimes his head was up, looking around. Sometimes it was gently leaning on his dad’s shoulder.

Then something interesting happened. The music stopped. The pastor spoke for a moment or two, then said, “Let’s pray.” Just about every head (of the still standing congregation) bowed on cue as if it were something rote or practiced.

But the little boy, still held by his father, with one arm wrapped around his dad’s neck, took his free hand, lifted it up above his head and pointed upward with his little index finger. He didn’t look up, he just pointed up. While the congregation, with heads angled downward listening to the prayer, this boy had his eyes open looking around and was pointing upward. He held his position for the entire prayer. When the pastor said, “Amen,” his little arm came down and wrapped it once again around his dad’s neck.

I didn’t bow my head during the prayer. I didn’t close my eyes. I watched. I was intrigued. I glanced around at the bowed heads. It was almost as if this boy was pointing us upward to our Heavenly Father. Yet we were missing it. Everybody in the room was seemingly downward focused. (Perhaps there was something interesting on the floor?)

I wonder…

Where is our mind when we pray?

kidup

Where is our heart when we pray?

Where is our gaze when we pray?

Where is God when we pray?

If we asked this little boy, I’m quite sure he’d point upward.

Sometimes a childlike perspective of God is all we need. After all, an upward glance every now and then sure beats whatever is on the floor.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE PRAY

I saw him the other day. His face was broken out with some mysterious rash. It didn’t look good at all. It was spreading, up around his eyes, making everything puffy and painful. When I asked him about it he said he was miserable. It was driving him crazy. He looked worried. His disposition wasn’t his normal, sweet, friendly one. The ointment and antibiotics weren’t working. I felt sorry for him. And that was it.

A week or so later I saw his brother. I asked for an update and he said his brother was admitted to the hospital. He had been there for about a week. “Yikes!” I thought. He said it was bad…real bad. Whatever infection this was had taken a toll and had gotten serious. I told his brother that I would pray. I got the look back that was sort of a generic “thank you.” The look that says, “you’re obligated to say that, and that sounds real nice…but whatever.”

That’s when I piped up. “No, when I say I’ll pray for something or someone, I’ll really do it. I take that seriously. I mean it and I’ll do it.”

A little taken aback, he said, “Well I appreciate that.”

So I prayed. And I prayed some more. I prayed for complete healing. For his body to be rid of this infection. For him to be restored fully—physically, spiritually, mentally.

I saw him yesterday. His face was clear and bright. His sweet disposition was back. The warmth and friendliness in his smile was back. As I walked over to speak with him, huge tears welled up in his eyes. He could barely speak. He choked out something like, “My brother told me what you said the other day. About how you said you’d pray for me and you meant it. You have no idea how much that meant to me. I cannot tell you how appreciative I am for you and what you did.”

My eyes welled up with tears as I choked out something like, “Too many people say it, but don’t do it. I meant it. And it was my privilege to pray for you.”

It was a unique, shared moment where God was alive. God was present. God was brought to the forefront of the conversation, the relationship. God stood out, I didn’t.

When We PrayFriends, this is what happens when we pray.

  • When we pray, we get to see God go to work.
  • When we pray, we get to be involved in something extraordinary.
  • When we pray, we tap into the Divine.
  • When we pray, we the created are speaking directly to Him the Creator.
  • When we pray, we are instruments of God’s choosing to accomplish His work.
  • When we pray, we see a little bit of the “up there” moving “down here.”
  • When we pray, we create a deeper connection with those we know and care about.
  • When we pray, we go on a journey, on an adventure unlike any other earthly adventure.
  • When we pray, it’s not about us, it’s all about our great big God.

Let this be a reminder: Say it. Mean it. Do it. Pray with your eyes wide open. Make the connection. It is indeed one of the greatest privileges we have on this earth. Amen?

A NEW YEAR’S CHALLENGE

I noticed something odd this Christmas season. I don’t love to shop, so I don’t go to very many stores. Plus, online buying has become quite popular with me. But when I did visit a few stores here and there, I noticed something. There were far less Salvation Army bell ringers this year than in years past. Years ago, it seemed like there were bell ringers nearly everywhere you’d go. Men and women from all walks of life would be out there ringing their bell right beside that red bucket. Some would ring vigorously. Some would ring with some rhythm and actually move and groove a little while they were ringing. Some would be very chatty and gracious as you entered or exited the store. And then some would stand there, ring quietly, and hardly acknowledge the passersby. But this year, they were few and far between. Truth be told, I kind of missed hearing the ringing.

But there’s another thing I noticed this year along with the fewer bell ringers. This is not a new thing, but it was perhaps the first time I actually paid attention. Even though there were far less of them, the sign that sits atop the red bucket caught my eye. The sign has the big red Salvation Army logo, which is quite recognizable. But right below the logo were the words “Doing the Most Good.” That struck me. About 10 years ago, they evidently adopted this new brand “Doing the Most Good.” (Yes…and I just now noticed the sign. If you didn’t know, I’m behind the times, and oblivious to most things.) The idea of the brand came from the co-founder Evangeline Booth who wrote a book that was published after World War I. In the forward, she said, “…there is no reward equal to that of doing the most good to the most people in the most need.”

Where some people have taken offense to the brand, or motto, or slogan (or whatever you want to call it) because it sounds arrogant, I actually like it. I like it because of the challenge it presents—the reminder to be intentional and have a purpose when we’re helping, serving, and doing for others. The question isn’t where can I do good? The question is where can I do the most good? What a great challenge for us all!

The image of the sign which reads, “Doing the Most Good” has been etched in my brain the last few weeks. I even see Salvation Army trucks about town now with the same words written on them.

What would happen if we approached 2018 with similar personal motivation? What would happen if we were reminded day in and day out not to just do good, but to do the most good? What would happen if we were to ask ourselves these practical questions:

  • Where can I serve this year to not only have impact, but have the greatest impact?
  • Who can I invest in this year to not only bring significance, but bring eternal significance?
  • What kinds of things can I do this year to not only bring change, but lasting change?
  • How can I give of myself (or time, money, effort) this year to not only bring worth and value, but bring the utmost worth and value?
  • How can I be involved this year to not only produce transformation, but produce long-term transformation?

Friends, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Let us rise to the challenge. Let us be intentional. Let us set forth in 2018 with purpose. Let us do what we were created to do. Let us consider ways, places, and people to serve by doing the most good.

BINGO…AND FORGIVENESS

“BINGO!”

That is the word I hear several times a week after I utter a seemingly endless strand of letters and numbers.

B9…O66…I20…B2…G55…N41…etc….etc…etc… “BINGO!”

bingo

Admittedly it’s probably the least favorite part of my job. But the residents thoroughly enjoy it. After calling BINGO for over four years now, it’s dawned on me why I don’t care for it much. It’s the least social aspect of my job. It’s rote and redundant. You can’t necessarily visit with folks because it needs to be fairly quiet and continuous. In my own quirky, silly way, however, I try to make it fun and entertaining. (I don’t do this for the residents. I do this for my own sanity.)

There’s occasionally some friendly banter back-and-forth between residents who are winning a lot and those who aren’t winning at all. There’s occasionally some friendly banter back-and-forth between residents who have empty cards and me who’s apparently not calling their numbers on purpose. They like to “threaten” me that we’ll no longer be friends if I don’t allow them to win. They even playfully threaten me with some sort of violence if I don’t start calling the “right numbers.”

After the first game the other day, one gal made such a “threat.” I played along and told her I’d work really hard to call her numbers on the next game so she could win. Well as it turned out, she did win. Then she said, “Beth, all is forgiven now!”

I replied back, “Wow…that was easy.”

Another one piped up and said, “Yes, that’s how forgiveness works.”

As we continued with the mundaneness of BINGO for the next hour, I reflected on forgiveness…and the beauty and simplicity therein.

The hardest part of forgiveness is the asking. It’s hard to admit we’ve done wrong. It’s hard to acknowledge we’ve hurt or angered someone, especially those we care a great deal about. Even so, though we may admit our wrongdoing, and ask someone for their forgiveness, they may have a hard time honoring our request. They may even deny our request for forgiveness, or make us somehow try to “earn it.” When we go through something like that, all is not necessarily forgiven, nor is it easy.

But I reflected on a grander scale. Not us being forgiven by others. But us being forgiven by God. When we admit to God we’ve screwed up or not exactly lived in a way that’s pleasing to Him, He promptly says, “All is forgiven now!”

No threats. No earning it. It’s a freely offered gift from a great big God who thinks the world of you despite your screw-ups. It’s called grace. It’s not complicated. Just beauty and simplicity therein.

When I reflect on that, I indeed reply, “Wow…that is easy!”

And my resident would respond, “Yes, that’s how forgiveness works!”

And everybody would join in and said, “BINGO!” (…or maybe AMEN!)

THE COMMONPLACE OF COMMUNION

Grab the bread and dunk it in the juice as quickly as possible. There’s a line, ya know? And as the Kansas City Royals say, “Keep the line moving!”

This is what Communion looks like and feels like at my church. We form lines and head to the front of the Sanctuary or Ministry Center. The organist or worship team plays some Communion-related song as we “worshipfully” approach the serving Elders or Deacons at the front. It seems to be a relatively slow and reflective pace—some deep in thought or even prayerful as they make their way to receive the elements.

Or is it?

As soon as we saintly souls get to server #1 who has the plate of bread and says (as a holy reminder), “This is the body of Christ broken for you,” we’ve already moved to server #2 who has the juice and says (as a holy reminder), “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.” As a matter of fact, before server #1 is even through speaking, some have already dunked the bread into the juice and moved on.

And poor server #2 who holds the juice! They’re just holding a mess right there.

Here’s my observation: It’s a race. It’s a fast food drive through. It’s some sort of “Divine Dash.”

Somewhere along the way, we’ve confused scoring points for the Royals with taking holy Communion as quickly as you can. As I said, “Keep the line moving!”

I am an Elder who occasionally serves Communion at our church. I’ve witnessed this Divine Dash for years. There are some who grab the bread before I even get the chance to say anything. Of course, there are (very) few who actually wait, take a piece of bread, listen, and move on to the juice server, then wait, listen, and dunk the bread into the juice.

And the dunking of the bread is another thing. Trust me I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen big hunks of bread accidentally dropped into the chalice of juice, then grabbed right back out with germy hands. I’ve seen hunks of bread left in the chalice as nice little floaters to greet the next person in line. I’ve seen dunks so big and sloppy I feel like we need one of those “Caution—Wet Floor” signs to place in front of the juice server.

What is happening here? Seriously, I’d like to know!

Do you know what the word “commune” means? According to the Oxford dictionary, to commune means to “share one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with (someone), especially on a spiritual level.” It means to “feel in close spiritual contact with.”

In the Divine Dash to grab and dunk, are we “communing” at all with God? Are we having any “close spiritual contact” with Jesus—the One we are doing this in remembrance of?

Come on, church! Is this any way to approach Communion? Is this any way to approach Holy Communion?

Where’s the reverence? Where’s the reflection? Where’s the repentance?

Am I coming down on my church? Yes! Am I shaking my holy finger in their face? No! Because I’ve been equally as guilty as the rest.

But maybe my church isn’t that different than yours. Maybe your church has its own “Divine Dash” or seemingly apathetic approach to something set aside as a holy sacrament.

I would contend that perhaps Communion has become commonplace.

A lady in her 90’s recently shared a story with me. She and her husband used to lead the youth group at her church some 70 years ago. On a youth mission trip—in which they planned to offer Communion—something happened to the bread and the juice. The bread was moldy and the juice was spoiled because it got left in the hot car for days. So, they scrambled for a solution. Instead of serving bread and juice for Holy Communion, they served potato chips and Pepsi. (Yes, you read that right!) I laughed out loud when she told me that. And then she said, when all were served, they threw out the rest of the potato chips and Pepsi because they were used as holy elements. They were set aside and designated as a holy remembrance of Jesus’ body broken for them, and His blood shed for them. And because of that, they could not (in good conscience), have used the chips and soda pop as common food. She shared with me that they all had to move past the simple in order to arrive at the sacred. They had to step over the droll in order to embrace the Divine. She said it was one of the most meaningful and memorable Communions they had ever partaken of.

Friends, no matter how you receive Communion, remember it’s not a common occasion. It’s a holy experience. Pause…slow down…reflect. If the elements are passed down your row of chairs or pew, hold the elements before you gobble them up and slam them back. If you go forward to be served the elements, let the server actually serve you. Let the words of their mouths soak in. Infuse the words of institution. Refuse the temptation to allow Communion to become commonplace. It’s not a Divine Dash. It’s a moment. A moment to commune with our Heavenly Father. A moment to share and connect with the God of the Universe. A moment to reflect on His lavish love by way of sacrificing His Son Jesus.

A moment created for you…not about you.

Slow down…reflect…repent…embrace the Divine…welcome the privilege to commune. Move past the simple, and arrive at the sacred.

 

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