Mary, I Didn’t Know

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To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. — Genesis 3:16

In 5th grade, all the guys were led into a classroom down the hall, where we were taught some sterilized version of the facts of life.  The girls had their own lecture.  If I remember correctly, their conversation lasted longer than ours did.

I remember rejoining some of my female friends, and seeing a strange look in their eyes. They all seemed to have aged a year or so in maturity.  I wondered if they had been told different facts than we had.

Indeed, they had.  More than just the rough outline of Male/Female sexuality, they were learning about pain.  The monthly ordeal of menstruation, the excruciating process of childbirth.  I don’t know if any time was given to the discussion of other forms of pain for women — objectification, harassment, abuse.  Somehow I doubt it.

I had no clue.  I knew of none of this, and wouldn’t for years.  Some of it, I’m still learning.

Last week, for instance, I sat with my senior high Sunday School youth at the coffee shop and asked what was meant to be a throwaway question, “The angels said ‘be not afraid’.  What’s your biggest fear?”

One of the young women said, without irony, “I’m afraid of men.”  The other two quickly agreed.  They began to share with me and the other young men there, how difficult it is for them to be out, anywhere, by themselves.  I don’t know what it was about this unexpectedly frank conversation, but as they each gave real world examples of how scary and painful it can be living as a young woman in this world, it occurred to me…

That little wood-carved figure of Mary, there on my coffee table nativity set, is going through some stuff I simply can’t imagine.

Not only do I have next to no concept of what it means to be a young woman in our world today, I am utterly clueless of what that young girl in her teens must be enduring on Christmas Eve.

Having a baby is a big deal.  Having a baby in a cattle stall, with only (I’m guessing) a pretty clueless husband to assist must have been terrifying.  I can only imagine such physical pain coinciding with great joy!

I’m aware there are many women in the world whose pregnancies aren’t successful, due to complications, or lack of assistance, or poor sanitation. Wow. More pain that I can hardly fathom.

I’m reminded of Adam and Eve, expelled from the Garden of Eden.  There were consequences to their disobedience, and one of them was that childbirth would bring pain. I’ll be honest, I haven’t thought much about it before.  The literal pain alongside the joy of Christmas.

I tend to think that God is not inflicting these punishments, but that they are natural consequences for us choosing to live in the harshness of the world.

Regardless, I feel that Eve got the worse end of the deal, compared to Adam.  As did Mary, with Joseph.  As I’ve come to believe more and more, women in general face pain that men aren’t always aware of.

This is not a pity party for the ladies. It’s closer to a celebration of the strong and faithful women I have known in my life, who may have had to struggle more than I know just to celebrate Christmas this year.

In the least, I’m aware that the mother of my Savior deserves some gratefulness on my part.  I’m guessing the same is true for all the other women in my life.

It’s not much, but I wanted to say, on behalf of my 5th grade clueless self, and my 50-year-old slightly less clueless self…

I was thinking of you this Christmas.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Mitch

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Have I been discounting Jesus’ pain?

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Rank the following in order of importance to your faith:

a.  The Life and Teachings of Jesus
b.  The crucifixion of Jesus
c.  The resurrection of Jesus

It’s amazing to me how varied people’s answers are, when I ask this.  What’s your order?

Mine is a, c, b.   Even though I know  resurrection is the gift at the heart of my relationship with God, I can’t help but think about how much Jesus has taught me to walk in the light.

I suppose I go back and forth between a and c.  But b, crucifixion, never makes it out of the 3 spot.

I was reading about crucifixion, about how extremely painful a form of execution it was.  How the nailing of the hands, which was not always done, would have added another layer of agony.  Add to that Jesus’ scourging, whipped until he was bloody, and there’s no discounting the suffering he encountered.  It was unspeakably bad.

And yet I do not give it the attention I give the other parts of the story. Have I been discounting Jesus’ pain?

I’ll admit, it occurs to me that there have been many others to die on a cross.  Many to be tortured, punished, put to death in cruel and unimaginable ways.  I’ve seen the pain of warfare and the harm of disasters.  I am aware that these human bodies are mortal, and fragile.  It’s all part of being human.

Jesus died among the worst ways possible.  But there were two thieves hanging there with him, enduring the same fate.  There have been saints who have been martyred in the same way as Jesus.

Crucifixion?  It’s a terrible way to go, but for me, it’s not the showstopper of Holy Week.

Until I think of this:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  —1 Peter 2:24

The physical pain of the cross would pale in comparison to the spiritual weight of the world.  He “bore our sins” in order to heal us, an unthinkable feat.  Without Jesus’ pain, the Easter story would be very different.  The entire Jesus story would be very different.  The pain of the crucifixion anchors Jesus as our champion, taking on all the sin the world can throw at him.

And still…I can’t stay there.  I can’t give the crucifixion the same due I give the resurrection, or Jesus’ ministry.  Here’s why:

Whereas there is a place for me in the crowds that followed the life and ministry of Jesus, and a place for me inside the wondrous empty tomb on that Easter morn, I find no place for me on the cross of the crucifixion. It’s too powerful, too dark, too dangerous.

I can look at the cross, and pray at the cross, and pick up my own cross, but I cannot climb up and embrace the burden of this kind of pain.  There is only one who ever could.

And so, this Holy Week, I invite you to spend some time with all 3 parts of Jesus’ story.   .  There’s a reason it is referred to as the Greatest Story Ever Told.  If some parts are more painful to watch than others, just do what I do:

Take a good long look,

 

But keep a safe distance.

 

In Christ,

Mitch

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Maybe Cold People

 

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Why are some people so cold?

You know?  That person you wave to every morning on your way to your desk…

who never waves back.

The teenager who will never say more than “I’m fine” when you ask about their day.

The person in your Sunday School class who never shares about their own life, and hardly seems to care about yours.

What’s up with them?  Why do they act like the Walking Dead?

Is there life inside those distant eyes?

Here are some thoughts I’ve had on the subject:

Maybe Cold People…

are insulating themselves from being burned again.

Maybe Cold People…

are playing dead and hoping no one notices them.

Maybe Cold People…

are frozen stuck from terror, disuse, or some other form of paralysis.

Maybe Cold People…

have a head cold and thoughts aren’t connecting with their heart or mouth.

Maybe Cold People…

aren’t warmed up because they haven’t had enough practice socializing.

Maybe Cold People…

Aren’t really cold.  Maybe they’re just very introverted, or not very emotional, and that’s okay.

And yes, maybe sometimes Cold People…

are icy because they have an (ice) chip on their shoulder.

– – – – –

When I find myself in the presence of a cold person, my first instinct is to think that I’m the reason they’re acting that way.

That’s probably not the case.

And my second, kneejerk reaction is to become defensive over their perceived defensiveness.

That’s probably not helpful.

The truth is, God made people of all shapes, sizes, and temperatures.

So, if folks aren’t as outgoing as you, it’s certainly not a crime.

And honestly, you can’t change someone’s temperature anyway.

Maybe Cold People will change, and maybe they won’t.

They have to make that change themselves.

All you can do is lift high the Light of Christ

and invite others…

to be warmed by it.

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

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Whisper

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The words and images in today’s devotion come from a popular app called “Whisper”.   Whisper is a social networking site where people can anonymously post whatever they want.

There’s plenty of flirting, goofing around, rough language, and immaturity (so be forewarned), but the site seems to actually serve a purpose, too:

This is where people post their real struggles, pains, fears, and confessions.   Things they might not even tell their closest friends.

People write their whisper, and the program automatically chooses a picture background based on the words.  (Sometimes the picture fits better than others)

Here are some of the posts I found that come from within a half-hour radius of my church, but be forewarned — it may hurt your heart to read them.

losingmyfaithnotskinnysinglemomhome

 

 

 

 

steroids needhelp hungry jobeliminated gambling heroin feelempty brokenhearted domesticabuse drunk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

depressed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow.  These are things we don’t generally mention during Joys and Concerns, right?

Just knowing that these people live and work within range of my own church makes me ache to reach out to them.  And then it occurs to me:  Who’s to say these people, or people like them, aren’t already a part of my congregation?

The truth is, everybody has pain, and secrets, and plenty of material for “whispers”.

We don’t give voice to our whispers because we’re ashamed of them, or because people wouldn’t understand, or because we don’t want to appear weak, or because we aren’t ready to change.

Maybe we don’t speak our whispers out loud because we’d feel too vulnerable.

So what can we do with our secrets, our fears, and our shames?

Well, that’s why we have covenant groups, and accountability groups, and support groups in the church.  They are places of high trust designed for sharing the deeper stuff.

And there are counselors and therapists and pastors who are willing to listen and help.

And of course, there’s prayer.

Whether they were intended as such or not, I consider posts on Whisper to be prayers.  Surely God hears them.

God hears your prayers, too.

As for Whisper, I think it may provide a place for ministry in the 21st century.  People can actually reply to a person’s whisper, so I’ve responded to a few, offering some encouragement and comfort.

And there are people out there who offer Good News in their whispers.

For every dozen desperate secrets tossed out into cyber space, you’ll find something like this in with the mix:

godislove

 

May you find a place, online or off, where you can whisper.

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

 

 

Have you been abused?

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Some things need to be said.
And I’m gonna say em.

If you have endured
(or are enduring) some form of abuse in your life
(Sexual, Physical, Psychological…)

You aren’t alone.
You aren’t alone because abuse is more prevalent than most of us realize.
You and I encounter people every day who are victims of child abuse, or spousal abuse, or rape, etc.

BUT ALSO

You aren’t alone because
of all the places where God chooses to be,
God MOST chooses to be with those who suffer.
God is with you right now, arms around you.

You deserve to be safe, and happy. 
God wants that for you,
and will never give up on pursuing that for you.

If you are not safe, or not happy, I’m very sorry.
Whether your abuse happened 30 years ago
or is happening right now,
pain is pain.

This little devotion probably won’t change that.
But just know that I was thinking about you today.
Whoever you are.

And if there’s a way I can help,
Listening to you.
Praying for you.
Helping you be safe.
Pointing you towards people who can help in other ways,
I will try.

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which means
that I believe Hope Springs Eternal.
that good can triumph evil.
that Love can heal what has been broken.

That is my wish for you today.
To be healed and hopeful and triumphant.

In the name of Jesus,
May it be so.

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I DON’T CARE

From time to time, I’ll be watching the news or surfing the web and I’ll hear about the world’s woes.

And I won’t care. About any of it.

I’ll think, “Let the world shoot itself in the foot. Let horrible people do horrible things. Go ahead, world, bring me your worst. I shall not be moved.”

Ever feel like that? Like a hardened lump of clay? Like there are so many terrible headlines, so many series of unfortunate events, that “keeping the faith” seems impossible?

That’s when the negative stuff begins to blur.  It’s like static. White noise. Too much bad stuff.

Oh no! The Church is failing.  The Economy is failing.  Crops are failing. Marriages are failing.

And you know what?

I DON’T CARE.

(Except I do.)

When they come at me too fast and furious — Water-cooler  conversations with co-workers, headlines on the radio, breaking news alerts on my phone — it adds up to a wall of pain that I can hardly imagine, much less imagine overcoming.

It’s overwhelming, so I convince myself I don’t really care. I pull myself out of the equation.  I pretend like I’m a bored observer, watching a tedious movie. I disengage.

There’s a word for this kind of a response.  It’s called APATHY.

APATHY is a coping mechanism.  We make ourselves bored because we’re afraid to interact with our environment.

APATHY sits back and  feels numb. APATHY is the paralysis of faith.

I don’t want to feel that way. Do you?

Certainly, it’s not the kind of living that God has in mind for us.

So how can we fight APATHY? Here’s 3 quick suggestions:

1. Apply filters.  Watch one news report instead of three.  Thin out your twitter feed. Stay connected to the world, but not enmeshed with it.

2. Memorize the Serenity Prayer, and live by it:

           God grant me the serenity 
            to accept the things I cannot change; 
            courage to change the things I can;
            and wisdom to know the difference.

3.  Follow Jesus.  Jesus had the weight of the world resting on his shoulders, and still he managed to keep his focus and passion.  You want to know how to do that? Do what he did.

I may still have the occasional overwhelming day when I say I DON’T CARE, but to be honest,   I think few phrases are more offensive to God.

After all, when God breathed life into us…
there was no intention of us staying lumps of clay.

Have a good week,

Mitch