Integrity In Your Bones

skeleton-in-the-closet

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. –proverbs 10:9

Want to freak yourself out?  Next time you’re in a crowd, remind yourself that you are in a room full of skeletons.

It’s not something we tend to think of when we look at each other, but just a couple inches beneath each person’s surface lies a collection of bones.  Boo!  Here lies the object of infinite Halloween frights, and the symbol of all things unmentionably hidden.

One does not put one’s bones on display.  Not the ones inside our bodies, or the ones we’ve stuffed into our closets.  They’re private. These bones represent our collection of indiscretions, our taboo secrets, our hidden sins.

With all these skeletons in our closets (and inches beneath our skin), how could a single one of us walk with integrity?  Politicians throw that word around, but managing integrity is a rare feat.   It doesn’t seem like our elected officials have much integrity these days, although they are masters at appearing like it.

They’re not the only ones.  Many people today avoid the church because Christians seem so proficient at integrity — until greed, or abuse, or all manners of non Christ-like behaviors reveal us to be as “boney” as everybody else.

The #MeToo movement is a perfect example of the state of integrity — pulling back the curtain on decades of hidden harassment and demeaning behavior.  I’ve surely hated to see the pitiful contents of some of my favorite public figure’s closets. I’m cautious at pointing a finger, however, because I’d just as soon no one ever peek in my closet.

How about you? Anything to hide?

So, shy of, say, the Dalai Lama, is there anyone with integrity left in this cursed world? Are we all doomed, as proverbs mentions, to walk crooked paths until the day God and humanity discovers what lies beneath each of our feeble attempts to appear good?

No.  We’re not doomed.  Jesus came to save us from the evil that has settled into our very bones.  When Jesus died on that cross, the earthquake that filled the land cleaned out every closet and gave us the ability to walk with our heads held high.  Not with some mock piety, but with the assurance of grace.  We’re not perfect.  Just forgiven.

I wonder if integrity can grow even through our attempt to find it.  Maybe so.  Instead of hiding away the frail remnants of our past, our bones can be made strong in Christ. Stronger than a tanker truck of milk ever could.

The next time you’re in a crowd, don’t freak out about all the skeletons surrounding you.  It’s part of human nature to carry a few sins with us as we go through life.

But strive (with God’s help) for integrity.  It comes when we make room for grace, in our bodies, minds, spirits..

and closets.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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The 5 most embarrassing things that can happen to you at church.

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When I think through my collection of embarrassing moments, it seems like almost all of them took place out in public somewhere.

Makes sense.

So I suppose it’s no wonder that people can find themselves embarrassed at church from time to time.  The problem comes when the embarrassment feels so strong that someone is tempted to not come back.

It happens more than we might realize, and that’s something worth addressing.

Here, then, are the (unofficial) top 5 ways folks find themselves embarrassed at church, and how to move past them.

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1. MY KIDS ARE OUT OF CONTROL!!!

What happens:  I hear this one all the time.  Maybe your baby has a complete meltdown in the middle of the pastoral prayer.  Perhaps your 3rd grader and your 5th grader won’t stop fighting.  Somehow children have this uncanny ability to pick the WORST moments to cry, scream, laugh, argue, and fuss.

How it feels:  It can feel as if the whole world stops and turns towards you.  Every nearby woman becomes a disapproving mother.  Every person of authority deems you unworthy.  And in general, everyone in your presence agrees:  You are not a good parent.

Truth be told:  There probably are a few people who act annoyed or disapproving.  Shame on them!  The truth is there is NOTHING more precious to the church than children.  Most people and churches understand the joys (and trials) of raising children, and most parents can sympathize with those days when the kids are wound a bit too tight.  Church is better — for all of us — with children in it.

Bottom line:  Let the Children Come.

 

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2.  I DIDN’T PUT ANYTHING IN THE OFFERING PLATE!!!

What happens:  The plate is passed.  The person to your left puts in a check.   The person to your right is holding an envelope in anticipation.  And you?  You don’t have anything for the offering plate.

How it feels:  It can feel as if all eyes are on you and your lack of a contribution.  Do people think you’re stingy?  Do people think you’re poor? Does it mean you don’t deserve to be here?

Truth be told:  Relax, nobody’s looking. Many people pass the plate without putting something in it.  Lots of people give monthly, or online.  Some mail their pledge in, and yes, some folks just can’t afford to contribute financially.  Passing the plate isn’t supposed to be an exercise in guilt.  It’s an exercise in commitment.  Next time the plate comes by, touch it and briefly say a word of commitment to God.

Bottom Line:  Offer yourself, as best you can.

 

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3.  I COULDN’T FIND COLOSSIANS.

What happens:  In Sunday School, the teacher has everyone turn to Colossians (or some other book).  Everyone else turns right to it, and you find yourself flipping around before sheepishly looking at the table of contents.  Uggh.  Either that, or  you’re being asked general Bible knowledge questions and you haven’t the foggiest answer.

How it feels:  It can feel as if everyone is snickering behind their Bibles, watching you flail in your scriptural ignorance.   Or you might feel frustrated and lost, as now the teacher’s moved on to the next scripture before you could even find the last one.  It can make you feel stupid and silly and out of your depth.

Truth be told:  Every church is filled with people at every range of Bible knowledge.  Some folks were raised memorizing scriptures, and others have come only picked up the Good Book recently.  Most adults know a lot less about the Bible than they would like to admit, so it’s very doubtful anybody is snorting in your direction.  Instead, be proud that you have a desire to grow in your faith and knowledge of this Holy Book!

Bottom Line:  Keep Searching.  (Colossians is towards the back)

P.S.  Bible Tabs make it easy to find your way around the books of the Bible.  Get ’em at a Christian book store

 

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4.  I COULDN’T REMEMBER SOMEONE’S NAME. (Or they couldn’t remember mine)

What happens:  You recognize the face, but when you find yourself standing next to them at the coffee hour, you can’t remember their name. The worst is when you call them the wrong name, but it’s not much better to have to fish around and act like you remember it when really, you don’t.

How it feels:  It can feel like you’ve offended someone.  As if you didn’t care enough to remember who they were.  Or, if the opposite happens and they’ve forgotten your name, you can feel slighted, less important.  Either way it can make you hesitant to want to keep wading through that sea of Sunday morning worshipers.  Why bother getting to know these people anyway?

Truth be told:  A person’s name IS important.   In many ways we see it as the key to our identity.  So when the name game fizzles, it’s not a great feeling.  However, it’s a harder game than most people realize.   There are only a few gifted people out there who can remember everyone’s name.  So, the rest of us just keep working at it.  Since most of us have our slip-ups from time to time, it’s better to just laugh about it together, own up to having a slippery brain, and devoting the rest of the conversation to learning more about each other.

Bottom Line:  Names are important, but slippery.  And that’s okay.

 

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5.  MY SINS ARE PUBLIC.

What happens: This is perhaps the most serious one of them all.   When you’re the subject of gossip, or your name ends up in the paper, or the folks in your neighborhood know about your business, coming to church at all could seem like a really bad idea.  Why would you want to walk into a church — where people talk about sin — if everybody already knows about yours?

How it feels:  Every whisper, every glance — it would be hard not to think they’re talking about you.  Maybe you had a brush with the law — will church members trust you now?  Maybe you had an affair — will that change everyone’s opinion of you?   Maybe you have struggled with an addiction — will people see you as unworthy?   It would be easier to stay away, right?  To roll over in bed for another hour and avoid the pain.

Truth be told:  The church was MADE for people like you.  People who have fallen in some way and are trying to stand up.  The church is where you can receive love and support, where you can be embraced by a family of other sinners, all redeemed by God’s grace.  Now, let’s not be naive –churches have plenty of gossip and judgement in them.   Some of that you may just have to ignore.  But don’t give up on the idea of church — there’s a place for you there.

Bottom Line:   Church is about Grace.  Keep looking, and you’ll find it.

 

Okay, that’s it.  An impressive list of embarrassing things that, in the end, you have no need to stay embarrassed by.

Instead, may your experience at church turn your cheeks a rosy red,

not out of embarrassment and shame, but as a reflection from

your warmed heart.

Have a great week,

Mitch

Noah rosy cheeks

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.

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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

 

 

 

 

P E T T Y

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“You are so PETTY”, the anonymous note read.

She crumpled it up in a ball and threw it inside her desk, looking around to see if anyone was watching. She made an effort to return to her seat with a forced smile on her face.  She’d have time to cry after school.

And she did cry.  Even though she was popular, and had lots of friends, the words stung her. Was she really petty?  She thought she knew what the word meant, but she decided to look it up just in case:

mean or ungenerous in small or trifling things: a petty person.” 

She wondered who had written the note, and what she had done to deserve the harsh words.

Had she been mean?  Well, maybe sometimes. There were kids in her class that she teased.  Some of them didn’t dress very nicely.  She didn’t mean anything by it, really.  She was just laughing along with her friends.

Had she been “ungenerous”?  Well, she did talk behind some kid’s backs. That probably wasn’t very generous.  And she hadn’t invited Gabriella over for a big sleep over, even though they’d been best friends last year.  Gabriella’s parents lived in the “wrong” part of town, according to some of her other friends.

Now she was crying again.  Not just for embarrassment, but for shame.  She hadn’t really stopped and thought about how she might be hurting other people.

She looked at the cross hanging on her bedroom wall, and cried some more. She reached for her Bible, and it flopped open to where she had bookmarked one of her favorite verses:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Finally, she said a prayer and asked for forgiveness for how she’d behaved.  She even prayed for the person who had written her the note.

The next day she felt very different as she walked into class.  She found herself looking at each person through new eyes.  She wanted to see people the way Jesus saw them.

She sat down at her desk, and after thinking about it, reached inside to grab the crumpled up note. She thought she might keep it as a reminder.

She flattened the note out and her jaw dropped.

There it said in plain English, “You’re so PRETTY“.

Not “Petty”, “Pretty”.

Blushing slightly, she smiled and put the note back in her desk.

For a moment the thought passed through her mind, “This changes everything”.

“No it doesn’t,” she said aloud, softly, smiling.

“God’s Love changes everything.”

Have a great week,

Mitch

Pettiness prayer