Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Clams Have It All Over Us

Did you know clams have it all over us?
They sure do. I heard a pastor say this in a sermon recently and it made me chuckle.
What in the world could those slimy shell covered little ocean dwellers have over me?
Well, for one thing---They are perfect.
They are exactly as God made them to be.
The way they look, the way they eat, live, move and thrive--when they act clam-like, they are acting exactly, precisely, perfectly as God created them.
Let me put it another way: There are no sinful clams.

I am not all I was created to be.  I struggle to be a good person. A nice person. A decent human being. A loving Christian, friend, sister, daughter, aunt...
Sure, I have moments where I am pretty good. Occasionally, I exhibit flashes of glory--glimmers of the real Hope. Usually these come when I am completely rested, my prayer life is good, the Dodgers are winning and I've had plenty of chocolate. Then I remember, without Christ, I can do nothing. So I can't take the credit for any of my goodness anyway.  And no matter how good I get, it certainly doesn't get me any closer to heaven. Jesus took care of that.  But it still would be nice to one-up the clams in the here and now. Fact is, I am never going to be all God created me to be in this world, not until I am with Christ in the next. Until I shed this imperfect shell I am currently in and get my new, perfected, redeemed, eternal body (The one without the achy knees and dry eyes) I am just going to have to live with the fact that for now, the clams have it all over me.
But listen up clams!
Before you guys get big heads, remember, at least I'm not going to end up dipped in garlic butter and dropped down some chubby tourist's throat on Cape Cod. Oh, and one more thing: Sorry about what's happened to your living space. I bet you wish we humans could keep our sinfulness to ourselves instead of wreaking havoc on you, too. You just want to sit there in the ocean, happy as clams--but no! We humans have to go throwing our cigarette butts, pesticides and motor oil down the storm drains and mucking up your pretty little sea space. I don't smoke, avoid pesticides and go to Jiffy Lube for my oil changes but, I do have to admit that as a child, I peed in the ocean next to the Santa Monica pier once. Sorry about that. But anyway, congratulations on being a perfect clam! Someday, I'll be perfect too. Until then, I am going to enjoy your perfection in my imperfection ---see it as a reflection of the One who made you.  Like C.S. Lewis so eloquently put it--I am not going to stare at the sunbeam; I am going to look up the sunbeam to the Sun to see the Creator of all that is perfect, My Perfect Creator.  I will smile and splash in the perfect waves of the sea, relish the perfect sand beneath my toes, and turn my face up toward the perfect soaring seagull, flapping it's wings in the perfect blue backdrop, under the Perfect Sun.

-Hope Horner, 2013
Twitter @HopeNote

Monday, April 15, 2013

Top 10 Ways to Be Ironic in a Toyota Prius

Today being Monday, I thought we could all use an infusion of fun to lighten the load, dontcha think?  So, here's a little something I hope brings a smile to your face.

You see 'em all over the road these days -- The Toyota Prius.  The Eco-friendly, gas-sipping car for the environmentally friendly and the globally conscious "Greenie." 

Top Ten Ways To Be IRONIC in a TOYOTA PRIUS:
1) Smoke
2) Drink from a large Styrofoam cup
3) Cover your seats in mink fur
4) Install a gun rack
5) Drag race
6) Off-road in the Everglades
7) Put a Romney 2012 sticker on the bumper
8) Install a lift kit and giant knobby tires
9) Let your teenager drive it
10) Drive to Walmart, shop for everything you'll need for the month, tell the cashier you want EACH ITEM in a SEPARATE plastic bag, and then ask for help out to your car.

Copyright 2013, Hope Horner
Twitter:  Follow @HopeNote

Sunday, April 14, 2013

It's God's Story, Not Mine!

As a child, I never missed Sunday School. I wasn't allowed to.  My parents got me to church before "Big Church" (what I called the regular service) in plenty of time for Sunday School with the rest of the little Baptist boys and girls. If church started at 10 a.m., Sunday School was from 9-10.  It usually involved a Bible lesson, an arts and crafts project, singing (with or without guitar/piano depending on the talent of the teacher) and a snack.  I enjoyed all four activities, but mainly the last one. As for the Bible lesson, I think these were the lesson plans of most of my Sunday School teachers:

  1. Spend several minutes telling kids to be quiet. Remind them Jesus is watching them.Take a deep breath as they simmer down under Jesus' watchful eye.
  2. Open Bible to today's passage.
  3. Ask the kids to open their Bibles. Give a disapproving look to the kids who forgot their Bibles (except the new kids and the Catholics.)
  4. Read ________(Passage of Scripture). Use the King James Version. It sounds more official than the NIV.
  5. Talk about what the passage means to you as a 30/40 something year old. Confuse kids.  (If you have flannel graph, prop or a picture, now is a good time to use it.  At least make it interesting!)
  6. Ask kids what the passage means to them. Be patient with blank stares. Call on Suzie to answer as usual.
  7. Ask kids "How can we apply this passage to our lives?" Be patient again. Ignore Suzie's hand in the air. Rephrase question. ("What does this mean to you?") Give up and call on Suzie again.
  8. Lead the class in prayer.  Include a line about how we all will apply today's lesson at home, at school, in Big Church, with our non-Christian neighbors, and last but not least--everywhere.  
  9. Dismiss class. Ignore the cheers.
  10. Scrape glue from the tables and vacuum glitter off the floor. Ask Susie if she wants to take her Popsicle stick replica of the Sistine chapel home.

I am discovering in my own study of the Bible, in my own "Sunday Home-School" if you will...and in reading the works of various other people of the faith -- Dare I say it?
God bless 'em. Their intentions are good. They mean well. They are the wives, widows, young college students, retirees, stay at home Moms of the world who want kids to know about Jesus. They pour hours and hours of their heart and soul and often their own money for glue and Goldfish crackers into every lesson.  They pick up countless scraps of colored construction paper, wipe snotty noses, pat backs and encourage little ones in the faith. They pin up pictures of Jesus knocking at the door of your heart and they take down holiday creche displays after the 3 Little Wisemen have taken off their crowns and headed to the bathroom. They have to deal with "Suzie Know-It-All" and "Boistrous Billy" all the while keeping their Christ-like poise and patience.
I respect and admire them.
I had lots of them and was one myself for awhile. And I fell into the same trap --Where did I do wrong?
I took everything I read in the Bible and made it ALL ABOUT ME.
What is Jesus saying to ME?
How does the story of Moses and the burning bush apply to ME?
Jesus rose from the dead.  What does that mean for ME?
Would I have the courage of Daniel in the lions den?
What about Joseph?  See how he fled from sexual immorality?  Look what happened to David when he didn't? What does that mean is going to happen to ME if I don't?

In other words, I study the Bible to see how I could fit it into my life. I need God's story to be MY story.  And as I study it for myself now years later, I discover that it is not MY story. It is God's story. The Bible tells me about God - who He is, what He did and how He reaches all of His creation, how He will and does redeem it, how He loves it.  Man is in the Bible, but man is not the focus of the Bible. In fact, as far as I can tell, we couldn't even know God, let alone respond to Him without help from God. (Read the two chapters of the book of Ephesians to start.)

So what does it mean to read the Bible as God's story, not mine?  It doesn't mean that I am an inconsequential part of the story. It just means the focus isn't on me or mankind. When I read, I am not reading myself into the Bible, into every passage.  I am reading the Bible to find God, not myself.  And in finding God, in learning about Him through the stories and words of the Israelites, the prophets, the life of Christ and the early Christians like Paul, I find my place.
And my place is secondary.
I am not in the lion's den, in the belly of the whale or in the crowd at the trial of Jesus. I am not a disciple. When I put myself in those places to try to see how those stories or lessons relate to me, I am missing the point.  Why not just read the story and ask, "What does this tell me about the story of God? What does this story reveal to me about God?  Who is He?  What is He like?  When Daniel, Noah, and Pilate acted a certain way, how did God respond?  What does this say about Him?
THEN, WHEN I UNDERSTAND GOD, when I see that it is HIS story, I can see where I fit in.
But I don't think I should start with me. That feels a little bit like putting the cart before the horse. (Or the chariot?)
My job is to RESPOND to God's story. If God is________(patient, loving, righteous, just, long suffering, etc.) how do I respond?  Possible responses include:  thankfulness, repentance, relief, service.

Let's use the story of Moses parting the Red Sea as an example. (Exodus 14) Read the Story Here
The usual personal extrapolation of this story is that I should obey God, trust God and when I do he will do miraculous things. If I come to a tough time in my life, I should raise my staff (a symbol of asking for God's help) and God will part the troubled sea of my life so I can walk through on dry ground to better times.
All about me.
Here's another story that I re-read recently and is probably the reason I wrote this blog entry:
Jesus clears the temple of the money-changers and animal sellers (John 2:13-22) (Read the Story Here)  I remember this story from Sunday School.  The lesson from the story was usually that we should not turn God's house into a marketplace.  Another lesson I often heard for this one was that it was OK to be angry if you were angry about the right things (righteous anger). My 3rd grade Sunday School teacher would say something like this -- "See even Jesus gets mad sometimes! But he was mad at the right things, not just mad because he didn't get his way."
Hold on a minute.  Why was Jesus mad?
Because the temple looked like the Pasadena Swap Meet?
In my 3rd grade mind I could not imagine why anyone would want to sell animals in the church foyer and what in the world is a money-changer anyway?  Is that like the people at the airport who take your dollar and give you 20,000 pesos? What are they doing in the temple?
"Never mind, kids. The point is that you need to know that it is not right to turn church into anything but church. You need to be reverent, quiet, focused on God when you are in church, never loud or boisterous, except when you are angry in a righteous kind of way, but if possible, don't do that in Sunday School, save that for when your parents are around."
As it turns out Jesus wasn't mad simply because the temple had been turned into a noisy, bird poop covered flea market. He was mad because of the injustice and dishonesty going on there--the social injustice being done in the name of religion.
Every Jew over the age of 19 had to pay a temple tax. The tax helped keep the temple going. The money changers were there because you could only use "special coins" (shekels) to pay your temple tax. You brought your ordinary silver coins from home and had to trade them in for the "proper" coins. And if you had a full shekel, you had to turn your coinage into the exact 1/2 shekel tax amount. As you can imagine, this cost you some coin.  So, you might bring ten common coins and in trade, you would get 8 special coins, then you got to break one of those coins down into half shekels. This is going to cost you. Guess who keeps the 2 coins? Guess who keeps a little for himself to break your coin in half? Yup, you guessed it. The IRS. Uh, I mean the temple money-changers.
And as for the animals in the temple?  They were there because you not only needed special coins to pay your temple tax, you needed a special animal for your temple sacrifice. Here's how it worked. You would bring a bird from home and the animal vendors in the Temple would flip him around, lift his wings, stare into his eyes and declare him unfit for sacrificing. You would need to purchase a different bird.  A perfect, spotless bird.  Here, how about this one? Good ol' Polly here is ready to go. Perfect for killing. Problem is - she is 10 bucks more than any bird you could easily find just down the street in the bird district or at Birds R Us. But you're here. You don't want to have to go back outside, get on your camel, fight through the traffic and go get another bird.  Plus, you figure no matter what bird you manage to find in some discount store, no matter how perfect you think Tweetie is, they are not going to accept it. So you plop down the extra ten bucks for your fine feathered friend and move on. (At least when this type of gouging happens at the movie theater, you can eat the overpriced popcorn. You can gorge after you have been gouged. Polly is just going to get her head lopped off, but at least you will be cleansed for another year.)
Understand why Jesus was mad now?  Me, too.  But it took reading the story behind the story to understand. I didn't try to read myself into it.  I just read it.  I didn't try to make a quick lesson out of it for my life, pray and then get ready for "Big Church." But the story did teach me a lot even though I wasn't in it.  The story tells me about Jesus - about God. He is righteous. He is fair. He hates exploitation. Whoa. I need to find a perfect bird.  Oh, wait no I don't because He sent the perfect LAMB, Jesus, to take care of all that.  Back to YOUR story God!  Thank you!  I love your story God!

It is natural to make God's story all about me. We do this with every story we hear and Bible stories are no different.  If someone tells us about their Aunt is struggling with cancer, we immediately think about someone we love who is struggling or who was lost to the disease.  If someone at work complains about a dangerous intersection in town, we immediately think of the last time we drove through it and if we had the same experience. We look at the vacation photos of others and think how much we would like to go there, or if the place looks like a barren wasteland, we think "not for me." If our neighbor describes a problem with their teenager and we have a teenager, we immediately chime in with our recommendations based on our experience. It always comes back to me. What I think. What I know. It is human nature to be this way.  Try this experiment:  See if you can go one whole day without talking about yourself.  If someone brings up a topic or subject, resist the urge to turn the conversation to you.  Ask a question. Keep the focus on them.  You will soon see, as I have, that it is very difficult to keep the focus on someone else.
And the same thing happens in Sunday School. Only this time the story is more profound than my last family trip to Yosemite. The story is about God. The story continues today--God is still speaking, still working, and I am a part of the story because I am his child, but it is not all about me. It is all about God. Every story.  Every Sunday. In Big Church and in Sunday School. That is one heck of a lesson.
Is it snack time?

-Hope Horner, 2013
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Friday, April 12, 2013

It is Well With My Soul (So Stop Whining!)

Imagine this.
Your son dies when he is only four.
Your business burns to the ground. 
Then your 4 daughters drown when their ship sinks at sea. 
Oh,and your spouse is on the ship when it goes down, but manages to survive and once he/she reaches dry land, sends this text:
"Saved. Alone.."
In shock, you get on a ship to go meet your spouse. You have lost everything except him/her. You leave nothing and no one behind you. No family. No business. All of it gone in a few short years. You are decimated. Distraught. Despondent.
And on your way across the ocean to greet the only family you have left, you come to the spot where your daughters drowned and you write this:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control:
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul.

Recognize this hymn? "It is Well With My Soul" is one of the most popular and revered hymns of the faith. This is not just a nice song about peace that we sing on Sundays. It is the song that Horatio Spafford wrote after he went through everything I just described above. I heard Horatio's story this morning and suddenly realized that I am the biggest, whining, ingrate that God has ever known.
I feel sorry for myself over a few tough days at work, an annoying cough, lack of sleep, and the increased cost of my homeowners insurance. Horatio buries his son, sifts through the ashes of everything he owns, says goodbye to his daughters somewhere out on the Atlantic and writes a hymn about how no matter what happens in this life, he can still be at peace because he knows that he, his son, his daughters--ALL OF THEIR SOULS--are secure with God because of what Christ has done. 
Horatio was a real person with feelings, needs, hopes and sorrows. He was not a superhero or Sci-Fi hybrid human. He, just like me, bleeds, breathes and believes in Jesus, but the contrast is startling:
Horatio says: Disease can kill, wealth can burn, boats can sink, daughters can drown, but nothing can steal me or my family away from God. Therefore, in the midst of my sorrow, I can say: 

Hope says:  Work can drain. Ailments can strike. Bills can mount. Loved ones can fade. Words can wound. Therefore, in the midst of my sorrow, I can say: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Really? For goodness sake, stop whining!
Put it in perspective. Not when you get to dry land. Right now. In the boat. Right in the very place where you lost it all. Stand in the ashes, float over the spot where your hopes went down and then, instead of feeling sorry for yourself, put your whole faith in God and lean on Him. Then say it: It is well with my soul.

I really appreciate that Horatio didn't say,"It is well with my life."  He says, "It is well with my SOUL."  Thankfully, he is not one of those annoying, superficial, Poly-Ana types who when tough times come, pat you on the back and say,"Everything is going to be OK" which you know might be true, but really don't want to hear.  Instead of making you feel better, their words and little patronizing back pats actually make you want to PUNCH THEM IN THE FACE and then cry while they bleed into a towel.
Nope.  Horatio does not say it is well with his life, because it is NOT.  He is not trying to self-talk himself back to happiness. He is not having a personal pep-talk, trying to convince himself that "Thanks to Jesus, everything is going to be peachy-keen." He says he has peace because what REALLY matters - his eternal salvation, i.e. his SOUL, is just fine!  No one and nothing can touch that!  He has been given a gift that moth, rust, fire, water, disease cannot destroy. And he knows it. He knows it profoundly, deeply--so much so that when the things that make him happy in this life disappear and die, he turns his tearful eyes toward the cross. There, he sees that thanks to the death that Jesus endured and conquered, that death in his life really has no power over what is truly important. Yes, death removes us from this life. It took his son too soon. It swallowed up his daughters in the murky depths. His wife was almost choked out by it, too. Yet, he knows that death actually means life. It is not the end.The body decays, but the SOUL lives on. The body is ill. Gone. The soul is well. Alive. 
Forever. With Christ.
And for that reason, he can say, I can say, we all can say--
It is well with my soul!
-Hope Horner
Twitter: @HopeNote

Monday, April 8, 2013

Salvation Scriptures

The other day someone said to me, "It seems like everyone's world is falling apart."
I'll admit, this person tends to be a bit of a pessimist, but she had a point.  People all around us were struggling with wayward teens, cancer scares, job loss, car accidents, death of a loved one and these all seemed to happen in the last few months. Things haven't exactly been peachy keen for me either lately, but I am a stubborn optimist, so I tried to keep the tone light.

"Yeah, there seems to be a lot of bad stuff happening lately, but you know, we also have a lot to be thankful for."  She agreed.
This morning I was listening to an audio lecture on Buddhism and learned the 4 Noble Truths of the Buddha:

1.  Life means suffering.
2.  The origin of suffering is attachment.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
4. There is a path to the cessation of suffering.

So basically, as I heard it, Buddha says:
  1. Life sucks.
  2. The origin of suffering is that we cling to things that are not permanent which makes life suck.
  3. Luckily, this clingy stuff that makes life suck can be stopped.
  4. Finally, the path to not being such a sucky cling-on and ruining your life is simple.  So simple in fact there are only EIGHT MORE steps to go.  These steps are all about self-improvement.  Best wishes!

I found this so depressing I almost became a pessimist, but my name is Hope so that would be ridiculous, not to mention I am only one class into a session of four on Buddhism so I certainly don't know that much about it yet and maybe it gets better. For now, please pardon my sarcastic ignorance, but that is how the noble truths sounded to me.  
After the class, in an attempt to cheer myself up, I turned on a podcast from one of my favorite pastors - Pastor Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.  The sermon was entitled "Peace" and wouldn't you know it, it was all about how we can NOT get over the suckiness of life on our own simply by improving ourselves or changing the way we think?  We can't find peace as long as we are here, but we can HAVE peace while we are here if we look to the Author of Our Salvation---Jesus Christ.  He is WITH us during the sucky times.  He has saved us from death, which is really the ultimate suckiness that we are all afraid of and trying to avoid. (Buddha is right when he says that we cling to what was never meant to last and that is what causes life to suck. Where he goes wrong is when he tells us that we can "buck up" on our own simply by controlling our thoughts, but then again, I can't sit in the lotus pose, so maybe that is my problem.)
The good news is that we don't go it alone.
This world is NOT all there is. We don't need to cling to it. We have been given so much more. We have been delivered from death by the One who conquered death and we can cling to Him during the tough times.
True, we are all going to die, but we do not need to fear death because we are saved by the One who died for all. We will leave this sucky world and be reunited with Him in the perfect, restored, blissful and care-free world we were meant to be in.  What a gift!

Check out the "Salvation Scriptures" podcast at the top of my blog and listen to twelve minutes of Scripture readings from the Bible about this incredible gift and see if it doesn't lift your spirit a little.

If podcast does not show up or work correctly on my blog, you can go to itunes and search for the "Realistic Mystic" podcast or click here Salvation Scriptures Podcast


-Hope A. Horner, 2013
Twitter @HopeNote

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Thank You Curt, For Country

I thank Curt Cobain for introducing me to country music.
When he and Nirvana and the rest of the rock grungies in the 90's all started yelling and moaning and thrashing and moshing, I checked out of the popular music scene. Goodbye Top 40! I wondered where I would go now that 80's music was over.  No more happy days of pop synthesizers, seagulls in flocks, material girls and East End boys. No more parachute pants party music about love and stopping the world to melt into love and love being a battlefield...oh, what would I do?
I turned to country.
And as it turns out, lucky me, I turned to country during the decade (the 90's) often considered my country music buffs as the best decade for country. (Arguably, but let's face it - SiriusXM has a whole station dedicated to 90's country music and there are plenty of folks in cowboy hats who agree with me.)  Veteran country music stars like Clint Black and George Strait were really hitting their stride.  Garth Brooks ruled and the new guy - Tim Mc'Graw- was some skinny dude in tight jeans that wrote songs about being an Indian Outlaw. Wynonna left the nest and stepped out on her own to release a few solo albums. Faith Hill and Martina McBride were blowing up the charts with their impressive voices and pretty faces.  I tuned in and liked what I heard. There was less twang or "whack-a-do" as I call it than there was in the classic country of years past (i.e. Dolly, George Jones, etc.) Just good music with stories to tell. I built up my CD collection and went to a few concerts. To this day, I still listen to a lot of the artists I found then - Mary Chapin Carpenter, Diamond Rio and Dwight Yoakam.
So, basically Curt, I have you to thank for turning me into a country music fan.
And I got to thinking...
Maybe that is why life is uncomfortable sometimes? Sometimes it takes discomfort in the old world to move us into the new. I kind of hate to accuse God of making me "uncomfortable" but then again when I read the Bible and have to say that sometimes he does do things to move people from where they are to somewhere else, or shall we say he uses certain situations or people to move people? (He chastens the ones he loves!)  Of course he is always in control, but it isn't always easy to believe that when I'm uncomfortable. I guess that is why it is called faith. When I get uncomfortable, I forget that it may actually be a good thing. He may have something better in mind.
I am facing some discomfort right now in my life and it makes me wonder what else is out there?  Where is God going to take me now? Am I supposed to just persevere through this or is it time to break-up with Curt Cobain and say hello to Garth Brooks?
Only God knows, but I trust Him.
True, I do miss the days of 80's music when everything in my life was happy, fun, poppy and big Aquanet hair was cool and even encouraged. But those days are over.
Maybe it's time for a change.
Maybe this "grunge" is meant to make me move on. Think differently. See myself, others or my purpose in a new light. Learn or find something new. Maybe I will be moved to something new or maybe I will have to mosh through the grunge pit for a little while longer, do the best I can, pray and trust until, rising, I find myself in a whole new place either physically or mentally.
When I do get out of the grunge pit, I really hope Brooks and Dunn are there.

Hope A. Horner
Twitter:  @HopeNote