And Coming in 2016....

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden," to be published by Cranberry Quill... an allegory for children of all ages, beautifully illustrated.

Monday, November 30, 2009

November 30, 2009 Fast or Feast...Maybe Both?

Baked turkey and sage dressing. Ham with clove sauce. Mountains of mashed potatoes, gallons of gravy, vegetables seasoned to perfection, hot buttered rolls, sweet tea. And that’s just the main course. For dessert, every variety of pie known to mankind—pumpkin, sweet potato, peanut butter, chocolate, pecan, chocolate pecan, apple, cherry, blueberry, blackberry cobbler, peach, peach cobbler, mincemeat, lemon meringue, cream—and the cakes…pound, chocolate, spice, marmalade, angel food, yellow. Followed by candies, fudge, truffles, mints, jelly beans, candy corn. Washed down with eggnog or punch, with coffee or Coke.

I defy anyone to keep an accurate count of their calorie intake between Thanksgiving and New Year’s…there’s just too much variety this time of year, too much richness, too many yellowed and tattered heirloom recipe cards pulled from between the pages of favorite cookbooks. This is the time of year that we most easily excuse and justify excess—it’s the holidays! We’re celebrating! Care for more whipped cream on that slice?

And that’s just the food. This is also, historically, in our nation anyway, the biggest buying season, the max-out-every-credit-card-season, the I’ve-got-to-buy-her-something-season. Would it be Scrooge-like to interrupt the festivities with a quiet call to…moderation? Even (gasp) discipline?

The season of Advent does indeed celebrate the coming of Jesus, the Christ child, but I wonder if we might better celebrate his birth by obedience to the teachings he delivered later in life. Mightn’t it be a novel approach to the holiday season of So Much to consciously, perhaps even painfully, do without?

It sounds almost sacrilegious. Easter is the season of sacrifice—Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross of Calvary—not Christmas. But what if we entered this time of year symbolically emptying ourselves? Cutting back, not just in one area, but in every area.

Because Jesus spoke directly to eating, that’s a good place to start: “My disciples will fast” (Matthew 9:15). Jesus said those words, those clear and emphatic words. In the midst of all the wonderfully aromatic kitchens, would he really dare say them to us? Now? Doesn’t he know it’s Christmas!!

“My disciples will fast.”

After the first of the year—that’s a better time to start. My blood sugar won’t let me. I get headaches. It would disrupt the household. I have to eat with the pills I take. That was for the disciples back then. If I fasted, I’d struggle with pride. I don’t want to be hyperspiritual. That’s just a little too charismatic, if you ask me. I’ve never fasted, and I’m a good Christian.

“My disciples will fast.”

Notice that Jesus didn’t say his disciples would fast one day a week, or three days a month, or on special days of the year. He didn’t say they would do it at the same time. He didn’t say it had to be from sundown to sundown, or from dinner tonight until breakfast the day after tomorrow. He didn’t say fasting is only effective if it lasts 3 days, or 7, or 40. He just said that his disciples will do it.

We usually think of fasting as “not” doing something, specifically, not eating. Jesus didn’t say, however, that his disciples “won’t eat.” Fasting is an active discipline, requiring the use of willpower, self-control, dependence on God—all good things to develop, good things that when acquired in sufficient measures, spill over into other areas of our lives.

Which begs the question…begs two questions, actually: Do you consider yourself to be a disciple? And if so, when will you be fasting next?

I submit that setting aside even one day during this season will help us maintain our perspective, help us focus on Christ, rather than Christmas. Help us empty ourselves a little more of self, that he may fill us anew with his Spirit. By giving ourselves even a brief respite from all the excess through a fast, we might even enjoy it more when we do sit down to a feast. Just a thought…


Permission to reprint with acknowledgement of source.

ellenofgillette1@aol.com

Monday, November 16, 2009

November 16, 2009 Lost and Found


“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”- Ashleigh Brilliant.
“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” – Jesus Christ.

There are several parables that talk about God’s desire that all people be saved. A woman loses a coin and turns her house upside down to find it. When she does, she invites everyone over to celebrate. A shepherd leaves 99 sheep that are exactly where they’re supposed to be to hunt down the one that is not, finds it, brings it back to the safety of the fold.

Interestingly, although the parable of the Prodigal Son falls in line with the other two, no one goes looking for the prodigal once he chooses to take his inheritance and leave. His father waits for him from home, longing for the day when his son comes to his senses and returns.

Three similar stories, but let’s look at the differences. A coin has no choice where it is. Inanimate, it depends on someone picking it up and laying it down. The woman lost the coin; the coin didn’t “get lost.” This strikes so close to home, because I am constantly unable to put my hands on a piece of paper or a photo or something I really, really need RIGHT NOW because of my own lack of organization (only occasionally because of helpful people who move my stuff, but that’s so much easier to take!).

So the coin is lost, but it isn’t to blame. Think of people out in the world who have never heard the gospel, never heard “Jesus” except as a curse word, never known tenderness or training. They are lost without a relationship with the God who loves them, but is it because of something they did? Perhaps the woman in the story is a Church who has let people fall through the cracks, who hasn’t gone out into the highways and byways looking for those in need, who hasn’t gone out into the fields “white with harvest” and brought in the sheaves.

The sheep? Sheep are pretty stupid, really. We raised goats for awhile and their level of intelligence is similar. There may be 20 acres of lush pasture grass but one or two will get their horns stuck in the fence trying to reach something on the other side. We’d make fence runs, calling out “Maaaaaaaaaas” and head for the faint sound of another dumb goat caught. And of course they didn’t just stand there quietly while horns were disentangled; they fought you. They were stressed, fatigues, frightened…and inevitable struggled against the very people trying to help.

Sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? When people stray from the path of righteousness, when people leave the foundations they know, the teachings on which they were brought up, they invariably find trouble. They’re lost because they got distracted by the pull of something just out of reach and lost track of time, not hearing the shepherd’s call back to the fold. Entangled by weakness and addiction, those who love them enough to track them down and try to pull them back to safety may have a fight on their hands, but it is a fight worthy of the time and energy.

The prodigal is without excuse. He knows better, but he chooses the easy life, the lazy life. He wants instant gratification, not years of faithful service. He wants to play fast and loose with the money someone else earned, with the teachings someone else paid a price for learning. Rather than someone who is unsaved, perhaps he best represents the backslidden believer, the deceived disciple, the carnal Christian. He knows the love of the Father, the wealth of his provision, but he has grown impatient to fulfill his destiny. He wants to launch out on his own, has a better idea than faithfully toiling in the fields with his brother.

His brother doesn’t go after him. His father doesn’t send messages or plead for him to come back. It has to be the prodigal’s decision or it will, at best, be a temporary return for spending money and a full belly before heading back to the world.

It seems the perfect place for Jesus to talk about coming to seek and find the lost, but he saved that nugget for the story of Zacchaeus, the wee little man who climbed a sycamore tree, entertained Jesus with a meal at his demand, and was so moved that he committed to follow Jesus and live a life of generosity and honesty. He stopped long enough to listen to Jesus, and that was all it took—just a tiny gesture of interest, and Jesus took it from there.

Jesus is indeed the Lord of the Lost. What is lost in your life today? Finances? Dreams? A relationship? A child? A marriage? A job? Your favorite pen (I’m still hoping someone finds it—cobalt blue, with real gold trim, a gift from my son Caleb well over a decade ago)? Stop the intensity and turmoil of life long enough to listen to what Jesus is saying. Ask him to find what it is you need, whether the answer is lying dormant within you or you need to go to a person in humility or it is time to accept a loss and move on.

He’s the Lord of the Lost, and of the Found. What a wonder to be found by him as the Prodigal’s father found his son on the road to his home, embracing him and rejoicing over his return.
Permission to reprint with acknowledgement of source.

Monday, November 2, 2009

November 2, 2009 Hallowon't

I’m sort of the Halloween equivalent of the Grinch. I don’t like Halloween. There, I said it! I confess! I wrote a newspaper column stating the basic reasons why many years ago, and heard later that I’d been the topic of a radio commentator’s tirade. How can anyone not like Halloween? Children love it! There’s chocolate!

When I was a little girl, our church participated in Trick or Treat for UNICEF—I remember walking around the college campus where we lived, dressed in the pilgrim outfit my mother had sewn (my sister was garbed a la Martha Washington), tightly clutching the valuable pennies that would benefit children on the other side of the world.

As a new mom, however, there was no UNICEF angle where we lived. I found myself questioning the history of Halloween and whether or not the things it promoted was what I wanted to promote in my children. The church I attended hosted an alternative to trick or treating, asking children to dress up as Bible characters instead of goblins and superheroes. Dress-up is fun, as well as being an important imagination-stimulator. That, I could handle. But we didn’t take the kids trick or treating.

I think they’ve forgiven me. The jury’s still out on the Santa thing.

Now that my children are adults and I’m a grandmother, I’ve had to adjust a little. When my oldest granddaughter attended a church pre-school, Halloween played a surprisingly huge part of their October curriculum. I bit my tongue at the Casper coloring pages, even made her a costume for the school parade, bought candy to hand out in the neighborhood. Didn’t like it, but went along for the ride.

I could get into the questionable beginnings of Halloween, the dark history, but instead, let me just give some personal thoughts. Our Lord is the Lord of life – Halloween, traditionally, focuses on death. Graveyards, R.I.P., ghosts haunting cemeteries…where is the fun in that? Having buried a son, and having found many hours of comfort praying and crying at his grave, a cemetery holds no fear for me. We will all die one day; Christians certainly have nothing to fear from death, because it is the gateway to eternal life—why make it a scary thing for impressionable children?

Witches and demons—and they are real, not cartoon characters to mimic or lampoon—do not celebrate the Lord of life, but raise creation to a status of equality with the Creator. Minions of the Lord of darkness, they manipulate us for evil purposes, tempt with sin, terrorize and taunt…anything to take our focus off of God and his promises. What possible good comes from dressing up like them and either diminishing the reality of their existence or paying homage to their powers?

And don’t even get me started on the latest vampire phase. Hollywood has taken killing and the eating of blood (forbidden in the Bible) and sanitized it to the point that tweens, teens, and adults who should know better, are swept into the romance of it all. “But this is about good vampires,” I’m told. Ever see them reading their Bibles? Do they go to church? Do they follow Jesus? I think not. Are they good role models for our children? They hate the light…which sounds familiar. Biblical, even, in a definitively negative context.

But the candy…everyone loves candy, right? We have a nation of overweight children (and adults) but on October 31 it’s okay to gorge ourselves on sweets. Aside from candy makers, who really benefits? The candy’s available throughout the year at every grocery store, but wrap it in orange and black, and it’s supposed to taste somehow better.

Call me strange if you will, but the whole concept of trick or treating rubs me the wrong way. Jesus preached a gospel of giving, not taking. Of doing good to others, not playing tricks on them when they don’t comply with our wishes. Maybe I’m being an extremist—certainly the majority of little children traipsing door to door have no mischief in mind—but I think words are important. When we sing “trick or treat”, we’re actually saying, “If you don’t give me a treat, I’m going to play a trick…and you won’t like it.” Not healthy, if you ask me…and nobody did, actually!

While I’m all for disregarding Halloween completely, I do appreciate the attempts to refocus people from haunted houses and that ilk onto more positive activities. The church with which I am blessed to be involved hosts a fall festival in October, free to the church kids and to the entire community. This past weekend we worked for its success, gave out tons of candy, dressed up ourselves (it’s always fun to pretend to be someone else!)…as well as showing a friendly face to folks who would otherwise not darken our doors. If that brings people to Christ, hallelujah! Use what Satan loves to use for bad, for good. It saddened me, though, as the caretaker of the Garden Tomb trying to solve the "Mystery of the Empty Tomb" that other events had sufficiently trained some kids to expect frightening objects to jump out at them as soon as they entered the darkened room. Some were really afraid...the opposite of what we wanted to provide for them.

On All Hallow’s Eve itself, I went to another church for their "Trunk or Treat" (candy was given out of the back of vehicles), heard the gospel message in exchange for a free hot dog, won a cupcake in a cakewalk, oohed and ahhhed at the adorable kids in costumes, and got to sit inside a firetruck. All in all, not a bad afternoon.

Later, I got lots of exercise following the grandkids and their friends as we snaked throughout our daughter’s neighborhood (sorely needed exercise after the amount of sweets consumed). It’s not that it wasn’t fun…it’s just that the same activities could have been done any time during the year without the ghosts, goblins, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, graveyards, witches, demons, serial killer costumes, fake blood, etc. etc. etc.

Okay, I’ve vented. Halloween’s over and no real wrong, hopefully, was done. Maybe I’m being too serious, too literal, too hyperspiritual. Maybe next year I’ll dress up as Elvira and score some Kit Kats myself.

Sarcasm. Just another service I offer.