I have been doing a lot of hill runs lately. Luckily, I live at the bottom of a hill. Actually, to be geographically correct, it is a ridge. The small town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, where I live, is in a valley between two ridges – one to the north and a parallel one to the south. I live at the bottom of the northern ridge.
I start my run at my driveway, turn left to climb the ridge, then have several options. I can turn around and run back to my house for a short run, run along the spine of the ridge before looping around for a medium run, or run down the other side of the ridge before heading home for a long run.
Yesterday, I chose the long run and was rewarded by another sign sighting at a church on my route (those of you who read this blog regularly, know I love signs). Those United Methodists are hilarious!
I sometimes wonder what God thinks when He sees our attempts to honor Him. Does he smile and shake His head? When my children were little, we used to go to a Saturday night service held at our church. We liked it. It resulted in one less morning each week that we had to rush the kids out the door. We often went out for a late supper with my parents after the service too, as an added bonus.
The problem with going to the Saturday service, rather than Sunday one, was the Saturday service was much less populated. That meant each voice was amplified during the singing of hymns. My family (with the possible exception of my hubby) is not what you would call, um, vocally talented. Or even proficient. Sometimes, during a hymn, elderly parishioners would turn around to see who was making such a horrible racket. Usually, when they saw my children singing, their faces would soften into a smile.
My boys, with the brash, inspiring, and completely unwarranted confidence of youth, saw themselves as great (or at least good) singers. The other parishioners might have seen them differently. There is a quote, sometimes erroneously attributed to the Talmud, that goes something like this: “We don’t see things the way they are. We see them the way we are.”
I was listening to a radio program on NPR the other day. One of the guests was criticizing the Judeo-Christian version of God. He characterized God as vengeful, petty and jealous and Christians as self-righteous, hypocritical and superior.
I think the normal human reaction from a member of the maligned group would be one of defensiveness or even dismissal, but I think it is important to use this criticism as an opportunity for self-reflection. To quote Proverbs “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.“
Grace is described as “unmerited divine assistance” or “the free and unmerited favor of God“. Unmerited. There is nothing we have done to deserve grace. It is a gift, freely given, from God to you on your birthday. This is, by design, so we don’t get too full of ourselves. Ephesians 2: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
There are hundreds of Christian viewpoints in the US alone, many of them claiming to be the only valid interpretation of biblical teachings. Some Christian leaders believe that everyone who does not agree with his (or her) particular perspective is going to hell, even other Christians. Is this really what Christ had in mind? An exclusive club populated only by the particular sect who somehow got it exactly right? Some of the criticism leveled at Christians may be accurate, at least on a certain level. Maybe Christians should focus more on the inclusive, loving message of Christ and less on the need to be right.
Viewing God as anything other than loving, patient, merciful and kind says more about the human condition than about God. (“We don’t see things the way they are. We see them the way we are.”) God is life, light, truth and hope. That is His nature. If we see anything else, it is we who do not understand.
To give an imperfect analogy, when my boys were younger, and I had to discipline them, I did it out of love. My goal was to be patient, merciful and kind. (I have to admit, I did not always reach that goal.) When they were not allowed to watch television or play video games because of some infraction, I am sure they would have used other adjectives than patient, merciful and kind to describe me. I hope now that they are older (and have children of their own), their perceptions of my discipline have changed, similar to the way our perception of God changes as we mature spiritually. With growth comes understanding, and with understanding, appreciation.
As I ran back down off the ridge to return home, I thought about those long-ago church services, and those three precious little boys sitting next to me, singing their hearts out. My own heart was full of memories and love and my eyes were brimming with tears. I did nothing to merit such grace, but, somehow, it is mine. Amen.
I am linking up with Char at Trekking Thru. Check out some moving inspirational blogs. I am linking up with Holley Gerth for Coffee for Your Heart. I am linking up with Eclectic Evelyn for her Words on Wednesday link up. I am linking up with Debbie at Dare 2 Hear. Check out the inspirational posts on her Tune in Thursdays. I am linking up with Jessica and Amy at Live Life Well. If you like this post, you may want to visit to read what other bloggers have to say! I am linking up with Jamie Sumner for Sunday Thoughts. Visit here for faith-based posts from many other bloggers.