Saturday, October 27, 2012

And Having Done Everything, To Stand

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

                In Stephen King’s novel The Stand, forces of good and evil are pitted against one another in the wake of a “superflu” that wipes out 99 percent of the world’s population.  The leader of the good side is an ancient, wise black woman named Abigail Freemantle (aka Mother Abigail). Mother Abigail speaks to her God as though He is right there in the same room. She seeks His will in all decisions as one by one, led by their dreams, those who would choose good over evil come to her. Meanwhile, Randall Flagg, aka The Dark Man, is gathering his own forces together in preparation for the ultimate showdown.  Mother’s prayer is, “Lord, help us to stand.”

                I’m not sure what Stephen King’s religious beliefs are, although I think I recall reading somewhere that he refers to himself as “a fallen-away Methodist”. Whatever the case, like most people, he has an innate sense of the struggle that has existed since the beginning of Time, and even before that, when Lucifer fell and took a third of the angels with him. It has not ended and we continue every day to fight against the “powers of this dark world.” For someone who hates confrontation as much as I do, this is a daunting thought. One thing I have learned, though, is to recognize the attacks for what they are. I know that the enemy is wily and deceitful. I don’t freak out about Halloween or Harry Potter; I am far more concerned with people. While the real struggle is not against flesh and blood, Satan uses our relationships with others to cause division and strife. His goal is to divide humanity and ultimately conquer. Of course, he was defeated already, two thousand years ago when Love paid the price for our sins. However, like anyone else who suffers from insanity, The Old Deluder won’t acknowledge the truth. He continues to steal, kill, and destroy, and he uses human beings to help him accomplish his evil schemes.

                Those who are used of the enemy are, more often than not, used unwittingly. Despite the decline in my idealism over the past ten years, despite all that I have been through, I still do believe that very few people are truly evil. A lot of people are confused and deceived, often because of their own hurt, but utter depravity is a rare thing. Mental illness, a sad result of our sinful, fallen world, accounts for many things that occur, and I am not sure that this aspect of our society is dealt with as well as it should be. But what is certainly not addressed most of the time is the multitudes who live in utter despair because they have been rejected and feel they have nowhere to turn. These are the souls who slip in and out of our lives virtually unnoticed until the headlines shriek of some new horror, and we are dumbfounded. I have heard stories of people whose primary emotional wounds were received, not at home, not at school, but guess where? Believe it or not, in church. Trying to convince these people that it was human beings who hurt them, not God, is a difficult task. The really horrible part is that the wounding was often done with the best of intentions. Of course, we all know where “good intentions” often lead.

                A person who is overweight does not need a pastor to tell him so, nor a fellow parishioner to outline exactly what formula to follow to eliminate the sin of overeating and thus set the person free from bad things happening, ever again. A woman who has had seven miscarriages is not helped by her church family telling her that this agony is because of some unconfessed sin in her life. People who don’t regard little kids going door to door yelling “Trick or Treat” as an evil thing do not need to be handed the tract about a child who goes out on Halloween night and is hit by a car and goes to Hell. And I doubt very much that anyone has been saved as a result of being screamed at by people in a van with REPENT OR BURN IN HELL painted on the side. I hate these things  with a perfect hatred, because these people are calling themselves Christians while driving others AWAY from the Kingdom. They are not standing where they should be. They are,albeit completely unaware for the most part, standing WITH the enemy, helping him spread the lie that no one is worthy anyway, no one can possibly measure up to God’s standard, so why try?

                I don’t mean to sound like I am being judgmental, but perhaps I am. I know a lot of Christians who mishandle situations and have deep regret. I have done it myself. I am not talking about that. I am talking about people who hurt our cause by hurting other human beings on a regular basis. I am talking about the ones who have put God into a little box, gotten in there with him, and have a smug sense of their own righteousness. They are in the God Box and they are nice and safe in there, safe enough to judge everyone on the outside. For those of us who are willing to step outside the box and stand for what is truly right, there is swift and severe retribution. I have warned my daughter about this, because twice this past week she has stood up for herself and for others. The first time she found her gym bag on the locker room floor with its contents spilled everywhere-and no one did it. Who knows what the next move will be in the little game of middle school power play?  She has a choice to make. She will be making it every day for the rest of her life. Sit by and do nothing, or make a stand and face the consequences.

                Right now I am facing the possibility of a confrontation with someone, and it is making me sick. I am afraid of what the consequences may be. I am worried about saying the wrong thing and creating a situation that will lead to more damage and not to the restoration for which I am praying. The truth sets us free, but only when spoken in love. Even then, it can be hard to deal with, and people don’t always accept it gracefully. When a situation has existed for a long time and you have just allowed it to continue in the interest of keeping the peace even though people are being hurt by it, you are guilty of wrongdoing. Fear kills truth, and then restoration doesn’t happen. At least if you do what is right, there is a chance for a good result. Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird understood that. It is better to stand that to sit passively. People can be really mean and nasty and say horrible things to you and about you. The Bible reminds us, though, that really, what can man do to us if we are walking with God? 

                As I write this I am trying to talk myself either into or out of what I know must be done. I keep getting affirmation from God, through events and through other people, that it MUST be done. Yet still I am afraid. It’s okay. Fear is not the opposite of courage. Because Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, He must have felt fear as He prayed in the garden, as He stood before Pilate, as He walked to the Cross. William Wilberforce, William Wallace, George Washington, Martin Luther, Rosa Parks, Moses, Daniel, David, Esther- all of them must have experienced fear. They just didn’t let it stop them. Frodo and Sam were afraid, but the quest had to be completed for the good of all. They had to stand. I have to stand. Crucial things are at stake. Maybe not as crucial as, say, saving the world, but we never know how one small event will affect everything else. It’s called the butterfly effect-if someone kills a butterfly, according to Ray Bradbury, it could change everything. Everything. And so…it’s time to stand. Please pray for me.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Do What You Can

“While He was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on His head. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. 6“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have Me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for My burial. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

            This week I attended a conference for Christian teachers. The final speaker on Thursday has written a book entitled She Did What She Could, inspired by this beautiful story of a woman, probably Mary Magdalene, who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume-and then had to deal with the judgment and criticism of those around her. One can’t help seeing their reaction as so typical of human nature. Either we aren’t doing enough, or we aren’t doing in correctly, or we are doing it for the wrong reasons, or myriad other things that people tell us to make us feel unworthy and inadequate. But the truth is that Jesus wants our hearts and He honors our efforts. I often wonder if I am getting things “right”. I have lived a lifetime of stress and worry, seeking that perfection that always seems to elude me. I am haunted by mistakes and shortcomings, always seeking a better way. I forget that, in the words of the Song of Solomon, I am “dark but lovely.” In other words I am scarred, blemished, wounded, sick, and sinful-yet dearly beloved by my Father God.

            There are so many things I wish I could do that I simply cannot. Some things I never could do, like play volleyball or paint a picture that actually looks like something real or perform breathtaking gymnastics feats or figure out complex algebraic equations. Some things I used to be able to do but cannot anymore, like drive long distances, do hard physical labor, walk a long way without suffering great pain or having my heart race, run, dance, stand long enough to sing an entire cantata with a choir, or wear cute shoes. I miss those things. I want those abilities back. Someday I may eventually be able to do some of them again; some are gone forever. I waste far too much time on wishing and denial, though. The focus needs to be on doing what we CAN.

            I remember a dear lady, Mrs. Fenters, who is forever one of my heroes. Wheelchair bound, she smilingly came up to our school four days a week to read with the little children. On Wednesdays she spent all day preparing something special for the church potluck in the evening. She kept the church accounts in perfect order. During Vacation Bible School, she would be there every day, serving snacks. She would often say, “I can’t do much, but I’ll do what I can!” Always in pain that she masked with a bright and very real smile, she did what she could. When she went to be with the Lord, all I could think of was that she was now free to do anything she wanted. Anything. But while here on this earth, in a body that limited her abilities, she found so many ways to serve her God.

            The problem of unwanted and orphaned children is so massive that there is no way for one person to solve it. But what if we all did what we could? What if everyone who was able took in a child? What if adoption was made easier for people who have the desire but not a lot of money? And how about the problem of homelessness? Statistics show that if every CHURCH took in one homeless PERSON, guess what? There would be no more homeless people. Wow. And what if we lack the physical or monetary ability to help in a big way, but simply give what we have, like food or clothing? Isn’t that doing what we can? I think that we fear not doing enough, and thus we are paralyzed and do not act at all. At school I have a box in my classroom to collect food for the needy. It doesn’t have much in it, but I don’t really believe my students are apathetic. I just think they believe that a couple of cans won’t matter and so they aren’t doing what they can. I explained to them that they don’t have to go buy anything; almost everyone has an extra can or two in the pantry and that WILL make a difference. In this country many people don’t vote because they think their votes don’t count-but they do. Whatever we do matters, to someone, somewhere, somehow. Mostly, it all matters to God.

            I have been asked to sponsor the Scholars’ Bowl team and the Media Club at school. I am delighted to do these things-because I can. These ministry opportunities are just as real as coaching one of the ball teams or planning and carrying out a retreat or Christmas program. They are things that I am able to do. Last spring at our service retreat, I went with a group to Mobile Baykeepers and spent the day clipping and sorting newspaper articles, and the people there were grateful for our help. Sure, I would rather have been out helping paint a house or planting sea oats , but my reality is that I can’t, so I did the thing I could, and I was good at it, too. I can read a lot of information very quickly and I print neatly and cut fairly straight. Small abilities, but useful in that particular capacity. I did what I could.

            Sometimes people simply need someone to talk to, someone who will listen and not judge.I am good at that. English teachers need to be able to read and write and understand grammar and impart that knowledge to their students. I can do that. As a parent, I have never been able to play ball with my children or climb on the monkeybars with them, but I have sat and watched and cheered them on. I have been able to play boardgames and Wii games and do art projects with them, and read to them and watch movies with them and talk to them about all kinds of things. We have painted and played with Play-Dough and decorated cookies with them. We have never had the money to take a real vacation as a family, but we have gone on day trips to the beach and the zoo and the Exploreum, and we have gone on picnics and to plays and concerts and to many dinners at Wendy’s or the Chinese restaurant. We have done what we could. My desire was to adopt more, but obviously God sees our quiver as full and I have accepted that.

            In all that I do, I have always wanted to do my very best. Teachers are world-changers and so are parents, even if the world never notices. The mistakes that I have made in my teaching and in the raising of my children have been human and forgivable. I know that in my head, but my heart is slow to catch up.  To quote Emily Dickinson:

 If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

God sees things very differently than the world does. He notices and He cares. What little I can do, I want to do to His glory. His eye is on the sparrow, and if I help even that little sparrow, I have done something. To save three children out of so many in need does not seem like much in the grand scheme of things. There are seven billion people in the world. Seven billion aching, hungry, hurting souls. What can I do? Only what I can. My friends who have adopted one child, if they listened to God’s call, have done just as much as I, just as much as others I know who have adopted ten or twelve. It is not the amount we give; it is the heart with which we do it. The Word tells us that if we give so much as a cup of cold water to a brother in His name, we have done as He commands.

            Next month is Adoption Awareness Month. I urge everyone who has even had a fleeting thought regarding adoption to seek God’s will through prayer. Maybe He is calling you. Or maybe not. Maybe your calling is something else entirely. But whatever you feel He has given you to do, go out and, in His power, do it! There is some gift He has given you; use it! Do what you can. You will be more blessed than you can imagine.


“If there are millions
Down on their knees
Among the many
Can you still hear me

Hear me asking
Where do I belong?
Is there a vision
That I can call my own?

Show me, I'm
Looking for a reason
Roamin' through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world
Not a lot to lean on
I need your light to help me find
My place in this world
My place in this world…” –Michael W.Smith