Sunday, November 16, 2014

All the poor and powerless.

I really don't know what to say about the Holy Spirit. I just don't. I've been thinking about it for months, more curious about it than I can ever remember being. I grew up in a church culture that treated the topic like an awkward family member you ask to stay upstairs while guests are over.
I've read and prayed for wisdom about it. I've asked people I respect as well as people I generally don't agree with doctrinally.  There's different answers, none very clear. We just don't know what to do with it.

And that's okay.

The older I've gotten (and I'm still a baby), the more I've realized what a blessing it is to serve and worship a God we can't ever fully understand. There are just some things we are not going to know and a decent slice of humble pie can make you grateful for that.

I hesitate to even write about what happened today because I don't want it to come off as self congratulatory. So please don't take it that way- this isn't about me. It's about my good God who gives me opportunities to serve and who loves me when I take them and when I don't.

I was coming home from church today around noon when it started raining. I was on 20-59, which I normally wouldn't be but through a series of unrelated details, I had to swing by work and pick something up and was on the North side of town. It's pretty cold here, everything starting to take on that winter drear, and the rain made it worse. Anyway, when I was passing the Hueytown exit,  I happened to notice a figure leaned against a stop sign on the other side of the interstate, about 100 yards away. He was huddled over, holding a sign, clearly in need of some help. I knew he must be freezing, and probably soaked through, and I said a little prayer for him. A couple minutes passed and I was still thinking about him (or her, I didn't know). I really can't explain what made me get off the interstate and go back to him. I just had a moment of absolute certainty- "I'm supposed to. Because I can, I'm supposed to."
I was going to offer him a ride but that thought was kind of scary to me and honestly depended on the gender and general appearance of the person. Glad Jesus doesn't offer His grace depending on gender and attractiveness and how well He judges we'll use it but that's another blog for another time.
Anyway, I pulled up next to him and rolled my window down. The sharpie on his sign was running down like tears and he looked up at me with a clear head. Beneath his hood was a face about my age that has seen more than I ever care to know about.
"Can I give you a ride somewhere?"
"Thanks. But I've got nowhere to go."
"Are you hungry?"
"I'm okay right now."
Well. What am I supposed to do for him, Lord? He doesn't want a ride, he's not hungry, I've got no cash.
"I'll go get you some groceries and be right back."
"I really appreciate it."

I went to the nearest gas station and got him some non-perishable basics. (Including peanut butter and some bananas which is probably my favorite meal, fyi.) Now, here is the extraordinary part. I pulled up next to him again and handed him the bag. I told him that where I go to church, there is a panty full of clothes and food and people who would love to help get him back on his feet. I'd written my name and the church's address on a piece of paper and I was about to hand it to him when he interrupted me.
"You're Katie Gregory aren't you?
Um. What the heck have I just gotten myself into.
"I'm Blake Hopkins*. I went to high school with you."
Talk about an awkward silence. My eyes immediately stung with tears, which embarrassed us both and there was a solid 15 seconds where we were both clearly thinking of the difference 6 or so years can make. I have been loved, cared for, educated. I sat in my warm, sensible 4-door with business cards in my purse and a rain jacket and a mom who had just called to see if I needed anything from Walmart. And he stood in cold rain in his toboggan and hoodie and cardboard sign and sad eyes. And we'd been in the same place before, the same stage. Incredible. What I remember about this kid is not much- quiet, mysterious, quick to start a fight and even quicker to end it.
We spoke for a few more minutes and I tried to talk him into letting me take him somewhere but he said he was fine. Clearly. I gave him my number and told him I'd pick him up for church any time. He said he'd think about it.
Mainly, I wrote this to ask for your prayers that something prick his heart enough to want to come. I've seen lives changed completely, I've seen my life be changed so completely, I know my God can make something beautiful from this broken boy who's had some bad luck and probably made some bad decisions. Haven't we all?

I guess I just want to thank Christ that it was in His plan for me to stop today. He is so good, so powerful, so gracious. I want to encourage you all to listen to His voice because I am certain there will be a time when He calls on you. And I also want to encourage you to be thankful for where you are, good or bad, and know that your path could look a lot different.

"Remember this: had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, Divine Love would have put you there."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Food to Spare

"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's servants have food to spare and here I am about to starve?'" Luke 15:17

When I came across the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 this morning, something struck me- it is the father's compassion to his servants that persuaded the young son to return. He knew that his father's servants were treated well because he had seen it firsthand. I can imagine the servants in their homes, laughing and eating their fill and not worrying about where their next meal was going to come from because they trusted in the generosity of their master. The son is reminded of the comfort of his previous life because he remembered the joy of his father's servants.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my responsibility (and privilege) as a daughter of the King to look and behave differently than the rest of the world. How do I wear that title with humility and not haughtiness, as something that was graciously given to me and not earned? How do I immerse myself in my culture enough to relate to it and be sympathetic with the lost around me without letting it darken my heart?

I think that we, as our Father's servants, should be living in such a way that we remind the straying how good it is beneath the provision of our Master.
I should be joyful in difficulties because I have a good Father who has a plan for me. I should be grateful in sadness because I have a good Father who offers endless comfort. I should be peaceful in stress because I have a good Father who hears my prayers.
If I live that way, the world will notice. Make the lost question what makes you joyful when the logic of the American dream says you shouldn't be. Make them wonder why the fulfillment of worldly ideals and self-promotion is actually pretty lonely.

Being a servant of our God means having "food to spare."
Live gratefully.
Be a reminder.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

When You Finally See Them

                                           "Atticus, he was real nice..."
                                           "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them."
                                                                     -to kill a mockingbird

Sometimes God gets through to me by the simplest experiences. So even though this story happened  quickly and probably had no effect on anyone else, it's been on my mind the past few days. And even though I've had to learn this lesson a thousand times, I'm praying that this time it sticks.

Thursday morning I took my grandmother to the doctor in Ensley. Okay Ensley, Alabama is rough, y'all. I'm usually pretty comfortable in towns that aren't exactly filled with the upper class but I was a little nervous when I had to stop for gas before getting back on the interstate. (Disclaimer for Clay: I know I probably shouldn't have pulled over but I would rather have gotten gas quickly than ran out completely in the middle of the ghetto. Agreed?) Anyway, the gas station was incredibly sketchy and gross and if I'm being honest, I felt a little above it. But I got out, locked my grandmother safely inside and started pumping.
To my left there was another man maybe a few years older than me pumping gas in his SUV. He was this huge, Escalade-driving, doo-rag-wearing guy that I was trying very consciously not to make eye contact with. I probably couldn't count on my fingers the number of snap judgements I made about him in a matter of seconds. And here's the crazy thing: I didn't even realize I was doing it.
The next thing I know, a homeless man approaches me on my right. He tells me I'm beautiful, asks me my name, how my day is going. I respond but I'm admittedly not overly friendly. He says he's hungry so I grab the cash I keep in my car door for a sweet tea fund and hand it to him. Then he starts to hug me.
Now, I'm in the ghetto of North Birmingham with an 82 year old woman in my passenger seat and a homeless man who thinks I'm beautiful is trying to hug me. When you're in that situation you realize there's a fine line between not wanting to seem like a snob and not wanting to get shanked. Gingerly, I pat him on the back and return the hug, tell him I'll be praying for him, and he goes on his way.

Here's where the lesson comes in: that guy that I was so wary of at the beginning of the story leans toward me and says "Aye, girl, you 'ight?".
Okay, to a lot of people that would be no big deal. But to me, there was a badly needed lesson in that question. Four minutes ago I hadn't wanted to give this person eye contact because of the way he looked. And here he is, going out of his way to check on a stranger who obviously felt out of place. I was embarrassed. There was a kind heart beneath those thick chains on his chest and in my arrogance I had judged him.

For all I know that guy really could have been a thug. But you know what? I believe that God loves thugs. I believe that God loves everyone and I think most people reading this would say they agree. But that means understanding that God loves every democrat, every Auburn fan, every homosexual, every "liberal" or "conservative", every bad driver or slow waitress in this entire world. From the very bottom to the very top, God loves every one. What God hates is not this group of people or that group of people. What God hates is not necessarily what you hate. That's a very dangerous way to think. What God hates is sin. And do you know what that good God asks me to do?
    "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
               And He said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your 
               soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first command. And the second is like it: 
               You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  -Matthew 22:37-39

My "elder brother" attitude can so easily get the best of me sometimes but, thankfully, I serve an endlessly patient Christ. Does He love my sin? Absolutely not. He loves me in spite of it.

I pray that as children of God we all start looking more at the heart of strangers than the clothes they're wearing. I pray that each time I feel a little superior to someone else that I realize we owe the same debt to the same Savior. I pray to finally start truly seeing each person as someone who Jesus loves desperately. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Avoid the Fatal Thought

A couple of months ago, a professor in my family psychology class said something that hit home for me because of a doubt I've been wrestling with for a while now. He was lecturing on resolving conflicts in marriage and he said that if there was going to be one thing we left this class remembering, he wanted it to be this: Avoid the Fatal Thought. Not that I have any personal knowledge of this, but there seems to be quite a few ways for Satan to crawl his way into a marriage. Or any kind of relationship, really. The final straw of a marriage can be one too many compromises, one too many times of forgetting something important, one too many failures, one too many arguments, one too many hard days. My professor argued that all of those things can be worked out... as long as you never slipped into the Fatal Thought, which is this:

Does he (or she) still love me?

The second you let yourself wonder that is the second you're going to put up every defensive tactic in your arsenal. Oh yeah? Well I just won't love you anymore either. That thought makes trying to work it out impossible, makes any positive effort meaningless. Why try to fix it if he doesn't care? Once that thought enters your head, your heart starts telling you that it's not worth it.
The only thing that stands between a successful marriage and a failed one is that- confidence in the other's love. Certainty. Security.

I'm just going to be really straightforward- for months I've let myself wonder about God's love for me. Intellectually, I know He does. If someone on the street were to ask me if I thought God loves me, I would say a thousand times yes. But there has been a small but powerful voice whispering in my head for some time now. Not a voice that says "No, He doesn't." My Enemy is sneakier than that. Instead it is a voice that asks "Are you sure?" My doubt is not if He loves mankind as a whole. My doubt is more selfish. My Fatal Thought is this: Does God love me, individually? Does He know my situation, my heart? Does He listen to my prayers?

Am I sure? Yikes. Well, of course I'm sure. My Sunday school teacher told me. Jesus loves me, this I know... But do I? Is that what I honestly believe?

Here's the glaring issue with the fact that I'm struggling with this: if I'm  honest with myself, I know I'm doubting because I'm not getting what I want. I know how stupid that is. But if life were exactly the way I asked for it to be, if every prayer was answered with a "Yes, you deserve it", I wouldn't question His love for a second. I would go on my merry, ignorant way. But God is a good God and He wants more than a superficial relationship with me. So He challenges me. He disciplines me like the child I am.
This summer I watched two young boys everyday. I remember one day Davies (the 8 year old) asked if he could do something that was ridiculous and I said no. I can't recall the specific request but it involved his new puppy, the pool, and his dad's power tools. He looked at me like I just told him Santa wasn't real and said "You just don't want me to have any fun." Right. Didn't we have a home run derby with water balloons like half an hour ago? But instead of bringing up all the fun things we had done that week, all the trips to the library and the playground and the water park and football practice, I just laughed. Because I realized that this had to be, in a very small way, how God feels when I ask Him the same thing. He has to be thinking "Didn't I just give you a paycheck from the job you begged me for? Didn't I give you a family that loves you? Don't I do countless things for you that you aren't even capable of being aware of?"

I think something I've realized lately is that different people have different kinds of relationships with God and mine should not be the standard for everyone. I think some people have very wide relationships with God- meaning they want to learn everything about Him that they possibly can. They spend hours studying and have rooms full of commentaries and thrive in discussions about theology. That's how they grow, that's how they get their security with their Savior. Others, like myself, have very deep relationships with God. Not that I don't want to study or learn about my Creator- but that's not really how my faith is strengthened. My faith is strengthened through experiences. I gain confidence in Christ when I can look back and say "He led me through that. He'll lead me again." Which is exactly why Satan knows tempting me with this momentary doubt is much more effective than trying to get me to question His existence. And I'd be willing to guess that if you would say your relationship is more wide, you've struggled with wondering if there is a God at all.

I know this post has been mostly questions with no answers and my grammatical errors and wandering thoughts may have made you give up a while ago. I honestly have no answers. I don't know if there are any.

 I do know that the only way to believe He loves me, the only way to be in the middle of a storm and think "He's doing this for my benefit in the end", is to fully trust that He is good. If my God is good, He cannot do me harm. He can tell me no. He can make me face fears I don't really want to face. He can test me. But He cannot do me harm. And as long as I avoid the Fatal Thought, I am secure. If I trust in His unbelievable love for me any trial can be faced with courage, any loss can be returned with joy, and any doubt can be overcome.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lest I forget.

       "And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you didn't know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So shall you keep the commandments of the Lord by walking in His ways and fearing Him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.
     Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His rules and His statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who gave you water out of the flinty rock, who led you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth..." 
                                                                                                         Deuteronomy 9: 2-18

I do that too- skip over whatever long quote is italicized and get to the real stuff. But it's actually way more important that you read that than whatever stuff I'm about to ramble on about. Please, I encourage you to read all of that passage even though it's a bit lengthy.

I am about to begin my senior year of college. What? I have no idea where I will be living or what I will be doing ten months from now. And as much as that scares me, I'm realizing more and more that there never has been and never will be a time in my life that I will know exactly what I'll be doing ten months in the future. I am likely to get wrapped up in my plan and forget who is running the show but there is only One who knows what tomorrow will hold.

There is a glaring problem with me being anxious about this final year. I am forgetting who has led me through my wilderness so far. I forget who lifted my burdened heart, who led me out of Egypt, out of slavery. And I forget that through that wilderness He kept my thirst quenched, my back clothed, my stomach full. And when I forget that, why wouldn't I be hesitant to begin this new part of my life? When I forget Him, I become my own guide and that is definitely something to worry about.

I am so certain of one thing- God is good and He will lead me if I let Him. Growing up, I always thought "I just have to trust God and He will work everything out like I want. He won't let anything bad happen." Lol. I heard a sermon recently about the majesty of Jesus and the preacher said something along these lines:

"If we truly believe that Jesus is King of the universe- that He is an all powerful, all knowing, all good Christ, who became a man so that He could die a shameful death on a cross to save me- I better not be asking that Christ to come into my life as a secretary. I better not be thinking 'How can Jesus help me fulfill my dreams?'"

When I want Jesus to be my secretary, and things start going the wrong way, my faith falls apart. When I want Jesus to be my King, my Friend, my Brother, and things start going the wrong way, my faith is steadfast. When I have no trust that God will "humble me and test me to do me good in the end", I am too scared to take a step. When I truly believe that Jesus loves me and wants me to love Him back, I will follow where He leads with joyful obedience.

I hope to grow in His likeness this year. I hope to grow up this year. I hope I realize that if God "worked everything out like I want", He wouldn't be a very great God. I hope to have no fear, no worry. I hope to have perspective. I hope to be more grateful. I hope to never forget who has led me through a wilderness. I hope to be one year closer to spending an eternity with Him in a Land that He will show me.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Be careful little mouth what you say.

     "How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness... With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing." -James 3: 5 and 9-10

Everyone has heard the phrase "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." And while I understand the point that it is trying to make, I don't want to teach my kids that. I want to teach my kids that if they can't say anything nice, they better check their hearts. I want to understand myself that if I can't say anything nice, it's probably not because the person or situation is hopeless but because my heart is too hard to see any good or too lazy to do anything to help.

I want you to know that this post is absolutely directed at myself. But something that has really bothered my lately is how easy it is to slip into this mindset where we think we can say whatever we want. I think about 1 Corinthians 14:26 ("...let all you do be done for building up.") everyday. How much of what I say can fall into the category of encouragement? What is it about our culture that makes us have to tell a better story or a funnier joke? What is it about me that makes me immediately text my roommate when someone says or does something stupid or embarrassing?
Particularly, I think we better be more aware of what we say to those we are close to. I constantly find myself thinking "Yeah, I probably shouldn't say this... but I'm only saying it to _____ so it's fine. They know what I mean by it." When does Jesus say it's okay to slander as long as the victim doesn't find out? Where in Scripture does it tell us not to spread rumors... as long as you clarify it by saying "now, I'm only telling you this..."?

When I was in kindergarten, if we told our teacher something that another kid did, she would literally pin this humiliating costume tail on the back of our pants and we had to wear it the rest of the day; everyone knew you were a tattle-tale.  Obviously, that's a little drastic and I'm still recovering from some emotional scars that caused. But for crying out loud, if I had a tail for every time I told a friend someone else's sin or made someone else look bad,  I'd have a pretty impressive tail. And not even as drastic as someone else's sin but just these nagging, petty little criticisms of other people that I just had to say.

I pray that I start seeing my own failures more clearly. I pray that I give other people a stinkin'  break.   I pray that everything I say will be for building up. I pray that God will close my mouth and open my heart.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Give us this Bread always.

What a week it's been already. What a month- what a year, really. So many blessings in the past few days and so much to be thankful for. So many struggles in the past year, some new and some that have clung to me for years. My twenty first birthday was two days ago. Weird. I remember being excited about turning eleven because I was too old to show my age with my fingers. How sweet to dwell on who it is that has been with me for all those years. He has known every thought, every deed. He was with me when I didn't care about Him. He watched me blow candles year after year just as swiftly as I blew opportunities for His love and forgiveness. 
Oh, to grace how great a debtor.  

I guess I should tell you why I named this blog Bread and Water. I've been reading through John the past week or so and I have been struck by how Jesus describes Himself. Bread, Living Water, Truth, the Light. What do all those things have in common with Jesus? They are absolute necessities. If you don't have Jesus, you don't have Bread or Water. Without Jesus, you have nothing. Anything that you desire that is outside of Christ is death. I hope to spend my time here in a constant pursuit of Life.

In John 6:34, when Jesus compares Himself to life giving bread, the people say "Sir, give us this bread always." But they aren't really asking for Jesus. They're asking for a free lunch. Jesus had just miraculously fed a large crowd and now they're hooked. They're thinking they could get used to following this guy around who hands out free food. But Jesus, though free, is expensive. He demands all of you and He's going to put you through some tests to weed out who the true followers are. But He is rooting for you. Think about that. The all good, all knowing God is pulling for you.

Here's something that I've had to learn the hard way: God doesn't promise us good things on this earth. Not in a family-of-four, white-picket-fence kind of way. But I am here to tell you that the white picket fence doesn't compare to the broken body of Jesus. My plan is hard to let go of. What I want for my life here may not happen but if I trust Him regardless and follow Him in humble obedience, I am promised a Life far greater than what I can imagine.

In a roundabout sort of way, I want this blog to be a reminder to you (and me) that Jesus is absolutely necessary and that whatever it is you think you want besides Him is absolutely not. I would say I can't imagine my life without Him but I can. For a shameful amount of time, though I still went to church and sang and still spent time with other Christians, I saw the love Jesus had for me and flat out chose something else. Because I was still seeking my free lunch.

I hope you pray that Jesus will "give this Bread always" with a heart that is not seeking bread that will mold and be useless in a couple of weeks but with a heart that wants Him and nothing more.