Friday, August 19, 2016

Am I Gonna Die In Church? ...thoughts from my ten-year-old self

We all had silly notions when we were young of how life worked - like thinking there were actual little people in the TV doing all those shows. But some might not have been so silly! Some were life and death! Communion at church! Eeeeek!!

Taking communion at church used to scare the Hades out of me. I had heard the preacher say that people had “fallen asleep” (which I found out was code for “died!”) because they were unworthy, and because they took communion with unconfessed sin….at least that’s what I thought he said. So, when the elders would assemble at the front of the church to pass around the communion plates it got real for me...and I got my prayin' face on! I’d start my prayers in earnest as they headed my way...head bowed, hands folded tightly and trembling...

”Oh dear Jesus, I’m so sorry for all the bad things I’ve done and the way I treated my sister and disobeyed my parents…”

And I’d open one eye from my praying to see the communion plate getting closer, and I’d squirm back in the hard wood pew and prayed a little faster…

“…and for not studying for that test…and for my messy room…and for being so selfish….”
One row away and the man in the blue suit would be handing me that plate…I sped things up and did the big coverall close...

“…and for anything I forgot to confess I confess that too…amen…”
The plate passed by…

I took the bread…crunch. 
I took the cup…sip. 
I passed it along. 
I waited. 
Not dead…Phew.

Fortunately we only took communion once a month at my church soI had 30 days to wait for my next near-death experience. My friend's church took it every week! No thank you! Too much drama for me!

Well, like TV actors growing to full size, those thoughts have grown up in my understanding and are far away from me now both in time and in maturity because I grasp the context of that Scripture and how I my naive younger self had misunderstood 1 Corinthians 11 which, while still very serious actually says:

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.
Now, that makes sense! He didn’t say we had to be worthy because that would be entirely impossible ”…there is none worthy, no not one.[1]” This is an immutable truth and an eternal problem save the rescuing grace of the Lord whose death we remember in this very ordinance.

He didn’t say we had to have all sin confessed which would also be an impossibility because the “heart of man is deceitful above all things, who can know it?[2]”

He did say we had to “examine[3]” ourselves which in the Greek means “examine yourself.”
We can pray as David did in Psalm 139, "Search me Oh God. Know my heart. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting."

In the verses right before this Paul had admonished them because they’d been coming to church drunk and had been divisive and dishonoring to one another and still just taking the bread and wine like it was no big deal. This was literally breaking the the third commandment not to take God's name in vain. They had been admonished that taking the bread and wine was to “proclaim the Lord’s death”…instead their sin was such a distraction they were proclaiming their debauchery instead.

So, if I could sit next to my younger self in that church pew some 40 years ago I think I’d remind the younger me how deeply I loved Jesus…how strongly I desired to serve and honor Him and that while capable of finding and punishing the unworthy, God is less inclined to do that and more inclined as Scripture says to “to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him[4]” …and my little 10 year-old heart really was committed to Him.

The next time we prepare our hearts for communion, let’s take time to quietly examine ourselves, not so we’re all “prayed up” and can avoid sudden death but because we’re so incredibly thankful for His life and for His death which is, after all, what we’re supposed to be focused on anyway.

For more reading on communion from one of my favorite Bible teachers, read this blog

What about you? Did you have any naive notions about church or faith growing up? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

[1] Ps 14:1-3; Is 53:6, Rm 3:10-18

[2] Jer 17:9

[3] Strongs #1381 “dokimazo”

[4] 2 Chr 16:9

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The One When Lucy Got Scooby Scared

We used to have quite a little farm at our home. Having lots of pets makes for lots of stories and this was one I remember like yesterday... Our mini poodle Lucy FREAKED out. One second she was trotting without a care ahead of me as I walked to the kitchen and the next she's practically jumping into my arms like Scooby into Shaggy's. Something in the shadows by the piano startled her - and by startled I mean she literally skidded to a stop and back peddled on her clicky little paws until she slipped - back legs first - down the stairs. Now, mind you, normally Lucy assertively goes for any little critters she crickets and beetles, or grasshoppers, even mice. She scared up a rat from the side yard a few weeks back and killed it. She keeps the stray cats in their place, tried to take on a skunk last week, and even attempted to bark a Rottweiler into submission at the beach a couple of days ago. But this time she was acting more like a scaredy cat, instead of my usual perky poodle. She kept tentatively prowling forward investigating something she'd seen in the shadows...nose to the ground, paws moving slowly like a chameleon on a twig, then skittering back, with that puffball of a tail tucked between her hunched up legs. I couldn't, for the life of me see what the heck was setting her off. I flipped on all the lights and called for the boys who were upstairs watching Captain America. She kept at it..sneaking forward, skittering back, glancing uneasily toward me, gathering courage, then at it again...all attention focused on the space between the upright piano and the wall. At this point I was getting a little Scooby-scared myself. "What the heck has her so messed up?" I asked as the boys emerged and surveyed the situation from the top of the stairs. There's Lucy still nervously vacillating between brave hunter and scared sissy sneaking back and forth from my feet to the piano shadow. Then Jonathan, after gathering in all he needed to know headed calmly down the stairs and says one word. One word that upon hearing causes me to scoop up Lucy and scoot out of his way: "Dean." "It's Dean." my son states frankly. Yes, folks, it was Dean, Jonathan's 2 foot long python. Dean had somehow slithered unnoticed from his cage in Jonathan's upstairs room, out his door, across the hall, down the stairs and was now behind the piano in the living room. Jonathan tugged the piano away from the wall and saw a portion of Dean's long body. He tried to grab him but Dean's apparently feeling comfy in his new crib, which, by the way is a few feet away from our three pet rats. (Yes. We also own rats. Stay focused.) Dean has tightened and plumped his already thick body like a Ballpark Frank making him fit super snug in the small space between the base of the piano and the hardwood floor. Jonathan tries again to snag Dean, but no go. So, hubby steps in and lifts the piano giving Jonathan more access to Dean and allowing him to dig him from his den. The python now in hand, Glen lowers the piano, I release Lucy, and Jonathan heads upstairs to return the python from his pilgrimage to our piano. Lucy is now fully recovered and back to her brave little self, sniffing the piano's shadow and prancing around as if to say, "That's right. I smoked that snake right out, baby!" All in a night's work here at the Richmond household.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

When A Friend is Hurting

"Did I do something wrong?" Shauna asked me from over her cup of coffee, tears brimming making her sad eyes look so tired. "I mean, I just don't see how things could be going this badly in my life unless I had done something wrong - really missed the mark - and God is teaching me a lesson." 

Honestly, this question is one where I could put any woman's name ...Mary's name, Cindy's, Karla's, and at one point in my life - my own. I hear it all the time when I meet with women sharing their hurt and asking the hard questions. Why are things going so wrong? How did I mess up to deserve this? 

It's no wonder we think along these lines. From our earliest lessons in life, we see that things come together with consistent cause and effect whether good or bad or even neutral: We cry for comes to pick us up. We reach out to a hot stove...ouch! In school, one plus one equals two whether we're playing with blocks, racing through a math worksheet, or trading snacks at recess. So much of our life experience is taught and learned through this basic law of the universe - cause and effect. This isn't just a physical law. We see it in spiritual matters too. In God's reliable Word we read, "You reap what you sow." And, while opposed to the Bible, the pagan teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism have a cause and effect teaching in the idea of Karma*.

It's natural and honest to at least look at the possibility that the choices we've made have impacted what we're now experiencing. Many like to comfort a friend in a difficult time with the empty platitude that, "Everything happens for a reason." While that may be true, it could also be the reason is you were a knucklehead and made a bad decision. But I digress...

What about Maria? You know, "How do we solve the problem of Maria...?" from the Sound of Music. While I adore, adore, adore this musical and the entire beautiful true story it's based on, the problem of Maria really is revealed in her sweet and theologically off-target song, "I Must Have Done Something Good." You remember that song, right? She's falling for the Captain and he appears to be falling for her and she simply can't imagine why she should deserve this, but "somewhere in her wicked, miserable youth...I must have done something good." because "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could." Cause...something good. Effect...Captain loves me.

Lovely but oh, so wrong and this sweetness actually infects our thinking. If we got something good because we did something good, then it must follow that since we're having such awfulness, we must have done something bad. Sad. Not true at all. Take a look...

Our wonderings and attempts to find a cause for the painful trial or situation we're in is certainly not new. We're in good company:
  • Job's friends tried to find a reason for the horrendous calamity that had befallen him, and this event took place nearly 5000 years ago!  But was it, as they had assumed, because of some secret sin of Job's? Nope! It was for God' glory.
  • Before Jesus healed a blind man his disciples asked why he was blind in the first place. They figured it was either his own sin or his parent who had sinned for this man to deserve the punishment of blindness. But no. Not at all. Jesus teaches that no one had sinned. His situation wasn't an effect of sin, but a cause of glory! Jesus said, “but this happened [the blindness] so that the works of God might be displayed in him." and then he healed him.
  • When, as Luke records in chapter 13 of his gospel, citizens in Galilee were murdered and their blood mingled with temple sacrifices, the disciples again tried to wrap their reasoning minds around this tragic and evil event...why? "Were these Galileans more wicked than others?" No, again, Jesus says. This had nothing to do with their sinfulness. And he simply used the incident to chide and warn them to repent.
  • What about when Paul was bitten by a viper? Remember that? The astonished sailors around him gasped and figured he was a gonner and that he'd gotten what he deserved since he was likely a no good, dirty rotten, murderer! Nope. Again! It was to point to God's power and give Him glory! 
  • Cause doesn't seem to correlate to effect, does it?
So, back to my friend, Shauna and her honest question from a hurting heart and perhaps back to you if you find yourself asking, "Why? Why is this all happening?"...Three things:
1) No Versitudeisms: In the pain of that moment I would never offer a versitudeism (a Bible verse that is quoted out of context causing it to become a platitude of impotent optimism) like "all things work together for good...yada, yada, yada." No one wants to hear that. Don't do it. Don't say it. Grow deeper in your understanding of the Word and in the truth of who God is. You can offer better. Read the Bible and consider how you can "spur one another along in love and good works", how you can "bear one another's burdens".
2) Remember God's Track Record: Then, keeping in mind that Shauna isn't living in sin but is humbly walking with the Lord and reaching out to make sense of some hard things going on in her life, I simply offer a reminder of God's faithfulness. There's passage after passage in the Word to offer but Hebrews 11 (the "Hall of Faith") is one of my favorite reminders that God has been faithful through the lives of those who submitted to Him...and also Lamentations chapter three. It's a tough one to read, but resonates with us when we're in so much affliction like the author of this book. Buried in amidst the recounting of abuse, shame, sickness and carnage, comes a flood of hope because of the realization of God's faithfulness and love and mercies that are new every morning.
3) Prayer and crying - I've been lost before, hopeless before, in so much pain and sadness before and sometimes - oftentimes - the best encouragement I've received was simply the arms of a true friend hugging and praying and crying over me. The hurt is real. The sadness is true. But God has given us quite literally a superpower...prayer. Use it with empathy in times like this. Weep with those who weep. And let the tears flow. It's healing and mystically strengthening.
ok, four things...
4) No Fixing: Don't try to fix things or explain things. Whether you're the one in pain or the one listening to a friend in pain...don't. Instead, simply Love. Pray. Encourage with Scripture. Let God do the fixing. Let His Spirit do the explaining...if He so chooses. Otherwise, you come alongside and Love. Pray. Encourage. 

The truth is there's no lack of pain and hardship in this world. Jesus reminded us, "In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."...and "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." Are you in need of a reminder of this peace? Let's talk. You can email me at 

Leave a comment. I'm curious about how you reconcile the life you're trying to live with the mysteries of why bad things happen and why we go through such hardships.

*Curious about Karma? I'd be happy to chat with you about how this false teaching has infected our Christian faith and how you can battle against it with the Truth of God's Word. Call me. Let's talk!

Monday, August 1, 2016

I Don't Really Trust God...or Do I?

During a particularly stressful season in my life it occurred to me that I liked the idea of trusting God, but I didn't actually trust him. I knew the Bible verses - "trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not blah-blah-blah..." I knew the songs, " and obey for there's no other way to be blah-blah-blah-blah..." but reeeeeally, truly was I actually living in way that showed I trusted him? I realized, when I sat down in my office chair, I just sit. I trusted the chair to hold me. When I turned the faucet I just held the cup and trusted the water to splash worrying, wondering, second guessing...I just went on past experience without a 2nd thought and, voila, my cup runneth over. So, what was up with how I was thinking of "trusting" God? 

I realized my concept of trust in God and how that looked in my life was connected to my expectations on how this or that situation might turn out. So I was trusting God only to the extent that what I imagined He might do or allow was what I could imagine possibly happening. And when I couldn't imagine a situation working out, or I was fearful that how things might work out would not be the way I would want them...I got panicky. Yikes. That's not actually trusting God now, is it? 
No. No it is not.

Trusting God is not based on what we hope will happen, what we wish would potentially happen or what we can imagine might happen...trusting God is rooted in our concept of His character. Like anything we might trust, it's based on past performance. That chair held me last'll hold me again. The water faucet turned on yesterday, it'll turn on again. 

Think about it. How many times in the Word of God do we read about the mighty works he's done in the past? How many encouraging verses have to do with his faithfulness to all generations, how he's the same yesterday, today and forever; and reminders not to forget his many mighty deeds? I'll give you the short answer...hundreds! Hundreds of verses and passages point us to God's faithfulness and history of being there continually for the faithful. Here's where it's tough (don't think I don't realize it's really tough!) - it's tough when we do not like the situation we're in. We're in a dark place, a scary season, a season of lacking, a season of pain...and this is when it is so hard to trust. When will it end? Will it get better? Will I find relief? When? I'm scared, God!! I do NOT Like this season!

You are in good company if you are feeling this angst. You are among great leaders in our faith if you are worried and fearful...but do not be swallowed by this. This is precisely the season in which you must sit confidently in that chair, when you reach confidently for that faucet...know this: you will be held, the water will CAN trust God. Return to the Word and find reminders of his character. Anchor your confidence, your willingness to actually trust, not in your personal hopes and expectations, but in the historical and present truth of WHO GOD HAS BEEN AND WILL BE... 
"...none of those who wait for You will be ashamed; Those who deal treacherously without cause will be ashamed. 4Make me know Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths.…" (Ps 25)
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.…" (Heb 12)
"...good and upright is the Lord, for instructs the sinners in His was, He guides the humble in what, and teaches them His way..." (Ps 25)

Knowing the TRUTH about God is where real trust can begin. Do you need fresh reminders of this? Do you need strengthening in the area? Can I encourage you to do two things this week?

1) Read Psalm 25 and Hebrews 12 - and read them aloud...and stand up while you read them! Do it. It makes a big difference.
2) Write down the stressful craziness of what's going on in your key words, write each of those on a slip of paper, set those papers on a big, firm chair and sit on them. Then pray, "God, I really do want to trust you. You've proven yourself to be faithful and true and even if I don't like the outcome, even if it takes a lot longer to resolve than I have been hoping...I am trusting you for these situations. Amen." Period. Done. 
...ok, three things...
3) Reach out to a trusted friend, pastor, mentor...and confide in them your desire to grow in your ability to trust God. You could even call me! Let's talk this out and get real and really grow in this!

Remember, the world is full of cliche messages about God, the real God and His real story for you are bigger, harder, and way more trustworthy than the bumper sticker or Hobby Lobby woodprint quotes you're reading. Get into the Word of God and get on your knees. You can grow in this's totally worth it.