Where is Christ in the Small Things?

Via Facebook, my friend wrote,

“In Christ Alone” seems so irrelevant when you’ve just spilled 2.5 pounds of flour everywhere. Where is Christ in the small things?”

My dear friend,

I’m sorry about the flour!! :(

I’ve had my share of messes to clean, even really stinky ones. I find that “the small things” are disguised little tweaks along the process of molding you into the person God wants for you to be.

Some ‘small things’ are especially frustrating, like losing your passport the night before your big trip —but, they are more than that. They are valuable teaching moments that draw you closer to God if you soften your heart.

‘Small things’ are opportunities for you to think of Christ and what he would do in the situation, even though you feel like losing your temper or questioning your faith.

Focus on your Savior instead of the clean up, as if you were doing the work just for him.

Picking up the proverbial flour and throwing it around the room in a heated rant is probably not the most profitable way to deal with messy situations.

Even if we are upset, we can also be…

Humble – Yes, I’m an adult and sometimes I spill flour!

Thankful – I am upset this flour is ruined, but thankful God provides for our food needs, and that this isn’t the only substance of our last meal like the widow and son met by Elijah the prophet!

Gracious – Despite it being one of my least favorite things to clean up horrible messes, I will do my best for God’s glory.

It is tough sometimes, though! Like, I don’t know, hmm…. when your five year old is sprayed in the face by a skunk or your seven year old physically fights with you because he’s afraid to get closer to the “spider toilet” and instead pukes on your only pair of sneakers.

(Okay, in that latter incident, I did lose my temper BIG TIME… and had to apologize to my son!)

We truly see Christ when we choose to put off the flesh and to put on the heart of Christ. We see him when we consciously applying the cross to the details of our life, knowing he laid down his life for us.

One last thing — there is nothing wrong with having emotions. Christ was just as human as you and I and he understands what it’s like to be faced with a bad day or a ridiculous incident. Such things are part of life. It is good for us to pour our hearts out to Him who understands us so completely, body and soul.

Accidentally spilling flour isn’t a sin, and I’m sure Christ had his share of interesting things happen while he was here on this earth! Certainly he knows what it feels like to have an annoying day!

What if Jesus was in your kitchen when you accidentally spilled? Would he tell you how clumsy you are and make fun of you? Or would he just say, “It’s okay. You have a lot on your plate, and this is just too plain overwhelming at the moment. Let me help you clean it up?”

Sometimes we get angry with ourselves and project that God must be angry with us, too. When you think of God’s voice, especially in frustrating situations, do not think of it as angry, overbearing, quick-tempered, and as coming from one who is seeking only perfectionism. Instead, picture the voice of someone who loves you very much, even when you’re feeling your worst.

Remember — it is while we were ‘yet sinners’ that he died for us.

Half-Empty : Optimism, Pessimism and Realism

John writes:

I’m getting pretty sick of people with the whole optimist outlook. Call me rude or whatever else, but isn’t it appropriate at times to be angry, upset, etc? I see optimists as people who don’t have the sense to take off the sunglasses when it starts raining.

Now, some people call this pessimism. I, however, argue that I’m a realist. I see the world more or less as it is.

Some say the glass is half empty; others say the glass is half full. I simply say the glass is too big. Maybe the person was expecting too much. I have at this point begun to see the world with resignation. Things are neither good nor bad. They just are.

Thoughts, gentleman?

Dear John,

Bad things happen, and they happen to good people. We live in a fallen world. It is a wonder than any of us are okay at any given time. From a spiritual perspective, I wrote about this in my post regarding the earthquake in Haiti.

While we don’t have control over what happens in life (and giving up control to God is very liberating), we do have control over how we react to them. We can choose to push back in anger, as if we are owed happiness and perfection — or we can accept the circumstances, make the best of them, and praise God anyway.

Another thing we can do is make a habit of doing good to others, even people who are not kind to us. As you pointed out, bad things are never in short supply. Consider for a moment, then, the impact you can have as a person by doing good things to others. Quite simply, it is shocking, heart warming and compelling to the recipient. It is unexpected.

My friend Nate started a site called ItStartsWith.Us — a “club” of sorts (free membership) where a mission is given each week to do something that will make a difference. It could be as simple as putting someone’s cart away in the grocery store parking lot (hmm… might have to suggest that one to him ;) ) or writing a thinking-of-you note to a child who is suffering from terminal cancer. Please take a moment to check out the site. Consider the Change the World statement and the idea behind it. We’d love to have you join us.

Since being intentional about helping others, I have realized just how far a little kindness will go, and how strong it is against the “bad things” in this world. Bad things can happen, but a little bit of love goes a long way.

We cannot see the love in this world if we are only looking out for ourselves.

SJA ;)

PS: You can follow Nate @itstartswithus. Please mention my name when you introduce yourself :D

Unemployed, Broke and Scared: A Prayer for Heather

Recently on Facebook, I reconnected with my friend Heather from college.

We shared the same women’s dormitory, Hauser Hall. She lived across from me. Fun-loving, always smiling and with a slight edge, she brought levity to shared classes and to our residence.

We chatted about great memories like doing up our hair for the Christmas Banquet, as well as scary ones – like when a paramedic had to be called because she had an allergic reaction and her throat closed. (Obviously, she’s still with us!)

As we caught up on ‘where we are now’, her story broke my heart.

She was unemployed, unable to pay bills, and was really struggling. Heather was coming to terms with some things in her past, but combined with her current situation, it was all overwhelming her at once. She couldn’t sleep. Her nighttime was my daytime, so I talked with her until Facebook Chat became to get too flaky to continue.

Not wanting to end the conversation, I wrote her a note. I prayed as I wrote, and jotted down my prayer. I imagined I was sitting right next to her, holding her hands in mine as we prayed together.

Today, she IM’d me with this news:

I am now working 4 days a week as a nanny and my boss is amazing. She is an old family friend and told me if I EVER need to take out a loan towards my paycheck she does not mind at all because she knows me and believes in me. That was such great comfort! I was about to lose my cell phone cause I could not pay the bill and instead she added me to her plan where I only have to pay $10 a month. I can honestly say I think about you every day and what a huge blessing you were that night because I was at a COMPLETE breaking point.

My eyes filled with tears as I read this. To get such a wonderful answer from God! And, to be working for someone so kind and giving! We only want what God has in store for us… nothing else is as good.

I asked Heather if I could share my note to encourage my readers who are in a similar situation during these hard times. She said that she didn’t mind at all, and that I could use her first name.

Dear Heather,
Send me your resume, and I’ll help you brainstorm.
Get some rest!!!! ♥

Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for my friend Heather. It is so good to reconnect with her! Thank You for not giving up on her in hard times, but instead drawing her close to you. Thank you for your mercy to all of us. It is humbling to recognize sin and to repent of it – thank you for sending your son to bear our sins so that we can even do this in the first place. Thank you for the encouragement of Heather’s honesty and transparency. So many times, we try to pretend that all is well when it is not, but you know our hearts.

You are the keeper of all of the money in the world (Haggai 2:8), you made all of the food in the world. You have the power to move mountains and change the hearts of kings. Lord, I ask that you please provide for Heather’s needs during the time of hardship – financial and even basic needs like food.

Please show her the job that you would have her to do – we only want what you have in store for us, not things because we forced them to happen. Help us know when to push for things, and when to be patient and to wait on you.

Lord, please comfort Heather and keep her faith strong. Help her to physically rest, as she rests in you. In the words of Victor Hugo, “God is Awake”. You are handling things even while we sleep.

In Jesus Name, Amen.

If you’re reading this and need some hope and encouragement, please send me an email. I’d like to help if I can. It’d be an honor to pray for you, too.

Remember, as Heather did, the Bible says, ” You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. ” (1 Peter 5:5-10)

Photo Credit: Syna and Summer by Hlkljgk via Flickr.

Keeping Up With Old Friends While Attending a New Church: Big Ideas and Practical Methods

This is a response to my friend Tara’s recent post on her blog, Considerable Grace. (Click here to read.)
I started to reply in the comments, but I realized it was a post in-and-of-itself :)

The question was,

…a friend of mine is leaving her (beloved) church to join a new one that is significantly closer to her home. No conflicts or theological disagreements, just a great opportunity to save a ton of driving while still remaining in the same denomination, involved in the same outreach and mercy ministries, etc… Her question for me was something to the effect of, “How do I make this move in the most loving and gracious way so as to AVOID causing any conflicts?”…

Big Idea: The Body of Christ is Bigger Than a Single Congregation

I believed this in my heart, but my eyes were opened when I went to Mitaka Evangelical Church in Japan for the first time. We struggled to communicate with words, but I instantly identified with the worshipful hearts of the members there. I learned that the body of Christ is even bigger than language barriers!

From the more academically focused churches, to the simple country church, to the Christian websites, to the evangelists, to English speaking churches to Japanese speaking churches – God’s Truth is being proclaimed to the nations, to people of all walks (and talks!) of life, and we need to rejoice over this!! We all need each other, and we’re all in team ministry with one another.

Applying the Big Idea: Freedom to Stay Involved With Your Former Church

If God’s plan is for you to move to a new church, He will not leave you nor your former congregation hanging. It is possible that your church back home may change in a positive way when you leave – think about it, if you were a church leader, formally or informally, someone else will now fulfill the role. Your former church may grow in new ways because of your move. Your new church may need the very gift/talent/personality set that God has given to you, and it may be an adjustment as you get accustomed to your new home and it gets accustomed to you. Growing pains produce growth. The transition might hurt at first, but God promises He will not leave His work incomplete.

When we catch the big idea here is that God is at work in every place, we can break free from sins like jealousy or coveting. It frees us from doing things like measuring people’s abilities as they fill in the role we left behind, or having the false idea that there is only one way to run a women’s ministry and critically comparing it to the one from your “perfect” former church. It frees us because our hearts are focused on praising God for His vastness. It frees us to appreciate each body of Christ for it’s uniqueness and beauty, and to praise God for the variety in the Church. It frees us to love and maintain friendships with our former church members without fear.

It is important beyond words to commit yourself to your local church. By being a member of our local church, we have the support and a foundation in place so that we can go forth to minister to other believers — in our former church and in the churches around the world! In many ways this commitment is similar to marriage and a family unit. Just like you wouldn’t let your own family go hungry so you can feed someone in need, do not take away your resources or your involvement in your local church to give to former church. That being said, I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t have time to pray for the needs of friends or to send a quick email of encouragement.

Maintaining Personal Relationships: Hints and Ideas

Just because you leave doesn’t mean that relationships have to die. I live in Japan, and I daily communicate with my loved friends, family and church members back home. It is important to me to do this, and therefore I make it a priority. Think of all the churches the Apostle Paul encouraged just through writing letters – which are still preserved for us to read today, I might add!

Communication can be done through good old-fashioned snail mail, the more recent invention called the telephone (with Vonage, long distance fees are history!), or even via the Internet. In addition to email, the Internet offers Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Skype, and more! By “stay in touch”, I mean showing love, caring for, praying for, etc. Annual family newsletters are great tools, but they cannot be the only communication with someone if you want to maintain a friendship with them.

If you find staying in touch with a number of people to be overwhelming, invest in a good address book program for your computer (because if you’re reading this, you probably have one!) that includes fields for notes, anniversaries, birthdays, how you last contacted them and when, and planned follow-up contact. While it’s romantic to think that you’ll remember all the important dates and to follow up on something, chance are, you’ll forget. The end result of planned contact is the same as spontaneous contact: you let the important people in your life know you care. The same tools for maintaining business contacts can be used to helping maintain personal relationships. This is the very reason caved in and I joined Facebook: to make it easier to maintain relationships with people I care about. I like it because I can keep up with my friends’ status updates, photos, notes, profiles, birthdays and other special events (with reminders!) and more — all in one place.

More Ideas for Staying Involved

  • Listen to sermons from your former pastor. From Japan, I am still listening to and growing from Gregg Strawbridge’s sermons at All Saints Presbyterian.
  • Ask to receive church newsletters in the mail.
  • Subscribe to any email groups related to your church and participate in the discussion.
  • Ask to know what people are studying in Bible studies. Buy a copy of the book and follow along and discuss them on the email group or with individuals.
  • Ask to know about church fund raising and give a special financial gift to your old church. We give to other Christian organizations, why not give to a congregation that has made a difference in your life ?
  • Attend special events, such as service-project days, bridal and baby showers, annual picnics or retreats. Even if you can no longer commute to the church regularly, visit once in a while to encourage and be encouraged by them. They are part of your family, just like the out-of-town relatives you make a priority to visit!
  • Ask to remain on the “prayer chain” so you can pray for the needs of the individual members and the church body as a whole. Remember to follow up with cards or emails, or even by sending flowers, as you may not have the chance to follow up in person.
  • Stay active in the meals ministry or other niche ministry groups. Offer to be a once-a-month backup for meals ministry in a pinch. If the ladies make quilts to welcome new babies in the church, and each lady makes a square, find out the dimensions and contribute a square. There are endless possibilities!
  • Ask for an up-to-date church directory, and asked to be kept in the directory as a “Friend of the Church” :) Missionaries are in the directory, and people can stay in touch with them… so it’s possible that you can be in the directory, too!
  • Communicate with the church body as a whole. Recognize that they miss you as much as you miss them. Encourage them as a congregation, as someone who knows their particular needs first hand. Send updates addressed to the whole church as to how you are doing, and how you are growing. Let them know of your prayer requests — and most importantly, how much you love them.
  • Taking Back the Day: Reclaiming a Bad Day for God’s Glory

    Dear L&F,

    How are you doing?

    I hope you are enjoying each day that the Lord gives to you!

    Sometimes, if I am having a particularly terrible day, Psalm 11:24 serves as a kick-in-the-pants reminder for me:

    “This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

    Reading this helps me to stop thinking (okay, the more specific words would be stewing or worrying) about my problems and to instead think about ways to apply this verse to my day.

    When the day is so bad that I wish that I could just start it over, I look for ways to do just that. I call it, “Taking Back the Day”.

    I might put on some pleasant music – especially music that is edifying to the soul, like hymns. I concentrate on the words, and I find it’s very hard to sulk after that.

    Or, I might do something different from the normal routine like packing everyone up and going for a walk or to the Dollar Tree.

    If there seems to be “nothing” (and I put it in quotes, because, really, there is always something – even if it is just the air we breathe) I try to actively find things to create or do to lift the dark clouds, thanking God for each step of the process. I might walk around a room and thank God for providing every little thing I see. It sounds silly but it works!

    Another thing to do that is fun is to look through photos and thank God for happy memories and for the people we see in each picture. We can take a moment to pray for each one specifically or to thank God for allowing us the pleasure of knowing that person while they were still alive and for the influence they had on our family.

    “Taking Back the Day” isn’t just to make us feel better, it is reclaiming it for God’s glory.

    Sometimes days are bad, not just because of events beyond our control, but because of the way we have responded to them. If this is the case, reclaiming the day for God’s glory must include, and even begin with, confession of sin. This means attitudes we have or things we have said or done in selfishness, anger or revenge. Or, we may need to confess that we have not had a thankful heart throughout the day.

    We must also go back and be reconciled to the people we have sinned against. We must never blame the bad day for our sin – though we can certainly explain what happened that day because the people in our life care about us and can give us a much-needed hug!

    Remember, bad days only bring out things that are already stored in our hearts:

    Matthew 12:34-35 says, “(34c)For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (35)For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. ”

    We can reclaim the day for God’s glory no matter how late into our bad day by confessing our sin to God and to others, and by obeying God’s word. Meditate on things from Philippians 4:4-9. Notice how this passage begins with rejoicing?

    “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

    Some of the suggestions I mentioned before are helpful ways to find lovely things :)

    I hope that this note finds you both having a good day – one where things that cause your heart to rejoice seem to be all around you and obviously so!

    I love you both very much and I write these important things to you because I wish that someone had written them to me when I was your age. If you know and practice these things, not only will you be more mature than most adults, you will find that your life will be enjoyable because your relationship with God is strong and because you trust in Him during both good time as and bad times.

    If I’m ever having a bad day, please remind me what I wrote okay?

    [Noted personal prayer requests]

    Let me know how I can pray for you!

    Much love,
    Mrs. Albrecht

    Photo credit: Iheartlinen via Flickr

    RE: A Gift for a Wiccan Friend

    This is a response to a recent comment left on an earlier post:

    I do hope you reached out to your friend and gave her the gift that spoke to you..

    There is truth in many things, and not just in one religion.

    Jesus walked among the masses and did not judge them. He gave unconditional love and acceptance. Do this for your friend and you will both be blessed!

    God and Goddess Bless you.

    Hello Karen!

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. I am very glad to know that my readership is diverse, and I am thankful that you felt comfortable enough to comment.

    I do agree with you that there is truth in many things. In religions other than Christianity, certainly there are people who practice self-sacrificing behavior of being kind to others, albeit with different motivations.

    It is very hypocritical when Christians abuse the environment instead of caring for it, when they flaunt Christianity as a means to obtain political power, when they have hot tempers and pick fights, when they harm animals, when they abuse other people both spiritually and physically.. and the list could go on.

    Yet, Jesus came to sacrifice himself as payment for these horrible sins. The Bible is clear these things are sinful – but the Bible also offers hope through Christ instead of condemnation. There can be forgiveness of these sin-debts against God because they have been paid for by Christ.

    I appreciate your bringing up Christ, who did walk among the masses as you said. He dined with “tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2), people who were outcasts in society.

    How many Christians today would go into a bar and strike up a conversation with society’s outcasts?

    Not many, but I know some! And, I certainly have friends from all walks of life. This love for people comes from a heart dedicated to God. It comes from recognizing how much we have been forgiven and not thinking of ourselves as better than others. It can be frightening to talk to people who have made themselves to look unfriendly – but as the Bible says in 1 John 4, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

    You are right that Jesus did not judge people in the sense of avoiding them or publicly shaming them.

    I am reminded of one such story, found in John 8, of a woman who was about to be stoned by the Pharisees for adultery, whom Jesus rescued. Jesus simply saying to the Pharisees, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    But, the story does not stop there.

    When the Pharisees dropped their stones and stepped away, Jesus said “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” And she said, “No man, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

    Go and sin no more does imply a judgment of sorts – he did not say that her adultery was acceptable.

    There are many similar stories in the Bible (including the aforementioned one in Mark 2), but in all of them, Jesus offers something better, and it involves repenting of sin and following Him.

    My concern is many Wiccan teachings are in opposition to Christianity. It’s not that there wouldn’t be truth and insight in a Wiccan gardening book, but I would consider it blasphemous to promote a book that pointedly undermines the premise that God is the creator of the plants, water, weather systems.. of the whole universe (Genesis 1; Job 38:4; Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 45:18; Revelation 4:11 – and I would add Romans 1:18-32, which specifically speaks of consequences for those who do not acknowledge God as Creator and Lord.).

    That’s why I think that a book about gardening, without the Wiccan-specific teachings, would still make a great gift for a Wiccan friend.

    There are some fantastic, breath-taking pictorial books of beautiful gardens, which upon viewing, certainly stir my soul. A book like this would affirm the friendship – because that’s what the gift symbolizes: understanding a friend’s love for gardening, and doing something that would bring joy to the friend.

    As you said, there is truth in many things and I think there is a way to show love to a Wiccan without compromising the Christian friend’s faith. Besides, if the Wiccan friend truly loves her Christian friend, she would not want the Christian friend to have a hurt conscience over a gift.

    Again, thanks for reading my blog and I hope to have dialog with you in the future.

    Much love,
    Sarah Joy Albrecht