Thursday, December 16, 2010

Who's Your Baby?

For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given,
And the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
There will be no end.
Isaiah 9: 6-7


Isn’t that verse amazing? Wonderful counselor, Mighty God. Michael W. Smith sings a song that uses this verse and he adds “Lord of life, Lord of all.” Lord of all, not the Lord of morning but I’ll handle the afternoons. He is not Lord of my wallet but not my reading material. He is the Lord of all, King of kings. As Christians we sing Scripture all year long. We sing it in church and many of us sing it at home, in the car and anywhere else we happen to go. During the Christmas season we hear hallelujah, gloria, Emmanuel and Jesus sung in places we otherwise never hear the name of God. It’s Christmas so Christ and his buddies get to hang out in places from which they are normally banned.

A couple of years ago a woman with whom I work gave me a Christmas CD. It was a collection of songs by Christian artists. It included some snowy and jingly songs but for the most part it was the fall on your knees, sing gloria, worship God kind of CD. She hated it! “I want Christmas music.” She said, “Not this garbage. Where’s the Santa baby?” “The what?” I replied. Of course I knew what she meant but seriously CHRISTmas music should center for the most part on CHRIST. I mentioned that she was missing the point but she refused to hear me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the snowy and jingling songs too. I just love my Savior more. I do not like the song about Santa that she was looking for. I have no problem with Santa though I know some Christians do. I love the idea of giving being personified in a friendly, jolly guy all dressed in a bright color that draws the attention of children too young to truly grasp what real giving is all about.

It occurs to me that allowing children to focus on Santa for the first few years of life while of course teaching and reading them the true Christmas story is a great way to teach salvation. What does Santa get out of giving? Nothing. What does Jesus get? He gets us, to live at his side and adore him. What do we get from Santa? A toy that lasts a year at best. What do we get from Jesus? Eternal life. What is the greatest difference? Santa is mythical, based on some real saints but mythical all the same and Jesus is as real as real gets. Of course there are all kinds of other differences, which then can be taught to our children, and maybe our children will teach them to adults like my co-worker who doesn’t want a CD about Christ. Oh no, she wants a CD about Christmas or so she thinks. I think she wants a CD about the politically correct “Happy Holiday.”

At first I was irritated that this grown, educated woman refuses to get that Christmas is not about red and green packages, cookies and bows. Then I felt so sad for her because the lack of Christ in her life is not limited to Christmas. In December she may be looking for Santa baby but in January through November she will have to look for something else, just as elusive, just as much a figment of imagination, just as empty as Christmas without Christ.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” and he will be called Jesus baby, Emmanuel, precious child. “Where is Santa baby?” my co-worker asked. Standing away from and hopefully very far behind Jesus baby. This conversation as I mentioned was not recent. It happened at least two years ago. Today that woman is more bitter and hardened than ever. She is difficult to speak to or be around. I feel so sorry for her. She has found Santa baby this year as she does every year at this time but she has yet to find the Wonderful Counselor that came to us as an innocent child. She embraces the profane and ordinary while ignoring the profound and sacred and it shows. My prayer for her, for you and for me is that this season, every season, we allow ourselves to seek and find Jesus, baby, man, and Savior. We can call him Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Holy One and he will call us his own.

Shivering

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:8-12


(note: This was written in 2005. Faith and Isabelle are now five years old and sometimes have to be convinced that a jacket is necessary. This week the temperatures in sunny Florida have dipped into the 20’s. Brrr….. it’s cold down here!)

This morning I was singing along with one of my favorite Christmas songs, “Do You Hear What I Hear.” As I sang the words “a child shivers in the cold” I was shivering too. It is important to mention that it was 52 degrees at the time, not exactly freezing. While my formerly Yankee blood has become quite nicely accustomed to the kinder weather of the South over the past 20 years I still remember what subzero freezing is all about. I remember it with great disdain. The word shiver doesn’t accurately describe what your body does in those temperatures. It is more like your own personal earthquake. I remember stiffening every inch of my body in the false belief that stiffening would ward off the bite of the frigid air. I was sort of laughing at my new definition of cold and shivering when the image of one of my brand new granddaughters crossed my mind.

I pictured her tiny body cold and shivering. I thought of how awful my daughter would feel if there were no way to protect Faith from the elements. The night before in the shivery cold 50-degree weather Faith looked a little like an Eskimo baby as she left my house. Her cousin Isabelle had left just a few minutes before her with a tent of blankets encasing her carrier. Our baby girls are kept warm and protected but at the time of his birth our Savior was shivering in the cold, a cold that I’m guessing was a lot more like Syracuse, NY than Orange Park, FL.

We are all quite used to our creature comforts. We forget that each and every one of them is a blessing from a God who loves us enough to watch His Son shiver in the cold. We hear the cliché about being born with a silver spoon. Jesus was born with no spoon at all.

My little angels Faith and Isabelle have nurseries full of soft cozy blankets and clothes and toys that they won’t use for months to come. Mary did not have the luxury of that kind of prepping for Jesus’ birth. We do. Today Jesus doesn’t need a literal blanket but it might warm his heart to be covered up in praise. Don’t let your Savior shiver in the cold of neglect this Christmas. Praise his name every chance you get. Celebrate his birthday by offering him yourself. Wrap him in your love. You may be assured you are wrapped in his.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end. Isaiah 9:6-7


On Sunday I visited a different church than the one we attend, to see my granddaughters in their Christmas play. First let me say, they were the cutest three up there! Okay, really, the whole group was adorable, including the one-in-every-crowd, who waved to the audience the entire time. Not my main point!

The pastor spoke on Isaiah 9:6, which is one of my favorite verses. It is so strong. A child is born who will be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” A child who will be mighty and powerful but who will first be stalked and later persecuted. Even in Isaiah’s times those words were strong but as we sit today, knowing the whole story of this “child” it is even more incredible.
At one point during his message the pastor asked, “When was the last time you stood in awe of Jesus?” My responding thought was “last night during my prayers.” I felt immediately grateful. To be in awe of Jesus is a wonderful feeling. Those are the moments when I fully realize my faith, how deep it goes and on whom it rests.

Again, let me mention that we were not in our own church. This was the church attached to our granddaughters pre-school. We weren’t the only non-members there. In fact, by the confusion and general discomfort of many of the people in the building, I could tell that several were not church goers at all. So, the thought that quickly followed my own gratitude was sadness.

It is unfathomable to me that awe of Jesus would be a foreign concept. As I stand in this season of baby Jesus, fall on your knees, let earth receive her King, it is very sad to me that right near me, sitting in church are people who have never known the breathtaking awe of the presence of God.

This is the Christmas season. It is a season where most minds and some hearts are turned toward giving. My heart and mind are pretty set on giving. I love giving gifts. Sitting in that church listening to the pastor I wished that I knew some way to point people in the direction of THE gift, Jesus. I have made or purchased some really nice gifts for those near and dear to me, nothing expensive but all of them thoughtful or more to the point thought-filled. What I can’t do is put a bow on the Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God but I can pray that something, somewhere, sometime, shines through me to draw attention to Him.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reading is Fundamental

Finally brothers what is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

They say reading is fundamental and I believe it. Reading is pretty much like breathing to me. I read everything. Certainly there are things I prefer to read but honestly whatever written word is in front of me is going to be read. Have you seen those personalized license plates? They are supposed to be making the driver’s statement I guess. Some are easy to understand but others are indiscernible. I get 2QT4U but what does I2O7GP mean? You might suggest that I just stop reading them but I’m telling you, I cannot. It’s an automatic reaction. I see letters and I read. I’m not joking, it doesn’t end with license plates. I read everything, hats, t-shirts, bumper stickers, if it has print I’ll read it. That, has become a rather disconcerting and unfortunate obsession, given our current, do and say whatever I want, climate.

This really hit me hard the other day when I was driving down the road behind a small truck with, not one but two, unsavory adages applied to the back of the vehicle. The words were so disgusting I will not print them here but suffice to say they planted a mental image I would like to have burned from my memory. Thanks be to God I will forget them eventually but at odd points during that day the thought would occur and I would shudder. It is my contention that the general public should not have to contend with anyone’s private fetish or depravity. With all due respect to the first amendment, give me a break already!

It’s bad enough when a so-called adult puts those statements on a car, hat or t-shirt but when I see children wearing rude, suggestive or disrespectful sentiments on their clothing I get really upset. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge but the Scripture says that salt water and fresh water cannot be in the same stream. (James 3:9-12)
Our Lord in His infinite love gave us eyes to see and minds to read, think and comprehend. I do not believe that He intends for us to read or think about someone else’s moral depravity or even just bad taste.

Of course I can’t do a thing about it. We live in a time where very little is private and even less is sacred. Unfortunately for me I continue to be a readaholic and maybe you are too. I just wish people would keep some of their sick thoughts to themselves

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wanting Home

“Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Luke 2:49


Do you ever long for home? Maybe when you’re at work, or out running errands, you just stop and think, “I wish I could be home.” I know I do. Some days I just want to be at home. Some days I want to go home, as in to heaven. That is not to say that I am depressed or suicidal. I just want to be with my Dad. I want to go where things make better sense. I want to truly see the face of my Father and of my brother, Jesus. Sometimes when I hear of a person dying I envy them a bit. Their journey is over and they are right where I want to be, home.
In our class we have a student who says some pretty kooky things. Every now and then he’ll tell me, “Boysen, I’m going to take you to heaven and then I’m going to bring you back.” I always reply, “Little man, once I get to heaven I am not coming back!” Can you imagine it? You’ve had heaven, lived there, loved and been loved there, walked the streets, met the inhabitants and oh wait, back you go. If I did have to come back, I promise you it would be done with massive amounts of kicking and screaming! Jesus gave all of that up to come and save us. He didn’t come into a nice cushy lifestyle either. He came to a stable, cold, poor and hunted. Wow, lousy trade!

We focus on the crucifixion as Jesus’ great sacrifice for us. The truth is his entire existence on earth was an enormous sacrifice. In the passage from Luke Jesus has gone missing from his family’s caravan. When his parents find him and ask what he’s doing he responds with the above verse. Didn’t they know he had to be in his Father’s house? No, they didn’t. They didn’t understand the longing of his soul for the perfect home he’d left behind. They didn’t understand the depth of his need for his Father. I don’t either because I haven’t been to heaven but I do know the watered down, human nature variety of that longing and it is pretty strong. Have you experienced that longing? Do you know the feeling of just wanting to get closer to God?

When we read the passage from Luke 2:41-52 we focus on Mary’s feelings. We look at the idea that this twelve year-old Jesus seems wise beyond his years and yet wandered off. We need to look at his longing. He “had” to be in his Father’s house. That is the kind of devotion to God that I want to have. I want to be so lonely for my Abba that I just want to sit in the house we’ve built for him here while I wait to go to the house he’s built for me there.
I don’t want to be so heavenly bound that I’m no earthly good. Certainly Jesus wasn’t. He knew he would go home eventually but he also knew his purpose here. Still sometimes he just wanted to be with his Abba. This passage is often used to illustrate Jesus’ understanding of who he was. I think it shows just as well, a boy longing for his home.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Parentage

Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph. Luke 3:23

We live in the time after the story played out. We know who Jesus is. We know his parentage but the people who lived in his time did not. “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph.” Hm…. Jesus knew who his real father was (Luke 2:49) but the people around him saw him as Mary and Joseph’s son.

I grew up in an environment where a lot of things are kept secret. It’s all for someone’s good of course, but it results in lies and those types of things often end badly. More than once I heard stories of a child being told that his/her grandparents were the parents because an older sister had given birth at too young an age. No joke, this was not a one-time story in my life. Did you ever have that moment when you wished someone would tell you that you were adopted? I have. Of course for me it was a pie in the sky wish. My two oldest sisters are women who followed the rules. So I wasn’t getting that disclosure. I am number five to a mother who only wanted two children. Clearly she didn’t look for a child to adopt. Therefore, I am the product of the two people who raised me, for sure. So let’s look at Jesus’ story.

Over here is Jesus, going out to do his job, the job his Abba sent him to do. Over here are the rest of the people, whispering behind their hands. “Isn’t that Jesus? He’s the carpenter’s kid, right? Well, look at him, preaching on the corner, making wine from water, giving blind men sight and lame men legs. And what was that?!? Did he just tell that chick her sins were forgiven? He’s nuts!”
The hometown crew may have had trouble believing what they were seeing. After all, everyone knew the story, illegitimate and all that jazz. Jesus’ known parentage should have kept him hiding in his home. He was the child conceived before the wedding. He was the shame of his mother, at least as the worldly view saw it. Jesus knew better. He knew he was the Son of God. He knew his father and he knew how much his father loved him.

That same knowledge exists for us. I am the daughter, by birth, of Genevieve and Joseph but my real father is God. Jesus didn’t let his odd, questionable parentage limit his ministry. We can’t either. Whether you have great parents or poor ones if you will accept the truth, you’ll know that your real father is God. He stands with open arms, waiting to welcome you. Then you can be called his own, and the names on your birth certificate will carry far less significance than the fact that your name is the only book that matters, the Book of Life.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Happy Ending

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He is risen. See the place where they laid him.”
After the Lord Jesus spoke to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.
Mark 16:6; 19


When I read I want a happy ending. I’m all for mystery, tension, and intrigue as the story builds but in the end I want everyone, or at least all the good guys, to have a positive conclusion. A lot of boy meets girl stories follow the same pattern, boy meets girl, boy loses girl through some flaw in one of them or crazy mix-up and then, boy regains girl and they live happily ever after. Okay fine, except for the part where boy loses girl for some contrived reason, or in a mystery where an innocent person is being punished for a crime they didn’t commit while the criminal walks free. Those are the parts I don’t like. In reading the Gospel I find the same anxious, oh no not this part, feel when I get to the section in all four where it says, “Triumphal entry.” That sounds positive but those of us who know the story know that right after that triumph comes the torture and the cross. I don’t like that part at all. I know it’s necessary and I am immensely grateful for it, I just feel horribly uncomfortable when I read it.

In the Gospel there is the most happy ending ever. Jesus rises from the grave. He is alive! He is free and by that act so are we. The ultimate happy ending! There is no more positive a conclusion than that one. Still to get there we have to go with Jesus through his dark night of the soul in the garden. We have to stand by helpless to change a thing, as he is questioned, beaten and humiliated. We have to envision the cross, the nails and as we do some of us feel a glimmer of that pain. Most of us see the injustice, the unfairness of beating and killing an innocent man. Nevertheless it is the pivotal point of the story. Without the Cross there is no resurrection, no amazing display of unconditional, without borders or prejudice, endless love. Reading those chapters, those conversations, makes me so sad, so uncomfortable. I want the happy ending. I want to turn to the last page and know that this sweet dear man, who is my favorite character in all the other stories of the book, will be okay. I want him to get the big prize, be the winner and receive some recognition.

There is a happy ending for sure, Jesus is alive and reigns in heaven with our Father. But, I have, we all have, a responsibility to make sure that he gets the big prize and receives the adoration and recognition he so richly deserves. Oddly, we, the people who put him through the parts I’d rather not read, are the prize. We are able to give him that adoration and recognition. We can be part of the happy ending. He doesn’t need us. He is perfect all on his own but for some reason, for which we should be ridiculously grateful, he wants us! And that, as a former pastor of mine used to say, is very Good News.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mary's Joy

“Blessed are you among women and blessed
is the child you will bear. Luke 1:42b


At this time of year, as we sing and read about the birth of Jesus, we also hear more about Mary. I was raised in a Roman Catholic home, so I heard a lot about Mary year round. For most people though, Mary comes into her own during Advent, those weeks leading up to Christmas, when we also focus on baby Jesus much more than the Jesus of the Cross. Like many people I have given a lot of thought to how Mary might have felt, pregnant, unmarried and very young. The words overwhelmed, terrified and humiliated come most quickly to mind and I’m sure they are fairly accurate. Still, there could very well be another side to the story. Regardless of the questionable circumstances, Mary was pregnant with the Son of God. So excitement is a word you might add to the list. Again, regardless of the circumstances Mary was pregnant. If you’ve never been pregnant that may not mean anything to you but having been pregnant and given birth I know how amazing that process can be.

One day you’re going along, all by yourself, working, cooking, shopping, chatting with friends and then suddenly you are not alone. A bit later and that other being makes his or her presence felt. A little kick here, a little jab there and that tiny human being becomes very real. It’s a humbling and wonderful feeling to be even a teeny, tiny part of the creative process. I certainly hope that Mary felt that exhilaration.

Today we know the whole story. We know that she was carrying the Savior. We know that in order to be our savior, Jesus would suffer a ridiculous amount of humiliation and pain. We also know that after suffering he would rise from the grave in the biggest victory ever experienced in our world. The man Jesus would throw off the grave cloth, roll back the enormous, cumbersome stone and walk free from the grave, freed from the limits and cares of this world. Mary didn’t know any of that. Thankfully she didn’t know about the suffering, although, Simeon tried to tell her. (Luke 2:25-35) She didn’t know about the great victory and she wouldn’t even as she stood and watched her precious boy dying. All she knows in those first days and months is that she is pregnant and that this baby is as special as they come.
I have four children, Paul, Joseph, Jeffrey and Laura. They have given me several grandchildren and will be giving me more. Each one of my babies was special to me, even while in the womb. Each one of my grandchildren is special in our family. They precious and dearly loved but each one was conceived in the usual way, no angel intervention. Add that aspect and special becomes SPECIAL, bold letter, flashing neon lights, you definitely want to check this out, special.

Was Mary terrified? I bet she was. Was she humiliated? She was an unmarried pregnant teenage girl in a day when women had little to no value and could be stoned for much less. So, yes, I bet she was humiliated but I also like to think that she was thrilled, excited and amazed. The birth of Christ is an amazing event and she had the front row seat. That is pretty exciting.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Prostitute

Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, the will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. Exodus 34:15
The words prostitute and prostitution are extremely unpleasant. I don’t know how you respond but a very specific picture forms in my mind. No matter many times I see real pictures of what we technically term a prostitute, no matter how high dollar that person may look, the picture in my mind is much more of the seedy variety. That applies on both sides. I am still stunned when the celebrity or politician is caught with their pants down, figuratively speaking. What possesses a person of some semblance of intelligence to take that path? Over the years I have been offered several fairly good explanations of what drives men and women to that behavior but I frankly still don’t get it. And I still see it as less than savory. The picture in my mind, on both sides, is that of a dirty, unkempt, sleazy person. Limited? I know but I guess somewhere along the way that image took hold and it remains. I do not see prostitutes or those who frequent them as anything other than sordid and no amount of propaganda is going to change that image. Okay, so “prostitute themselves to their gods?”

That phrase speaks of idolatry to me. There is only one God so anything else put in the position meant solely for Him is an idol, right? If that is true then my picture of prostitution is quite helpful. If I can see the things I put before God as the broken down, beyond suggestively, well into come and get it clad street walking, fast talking mess, then to give my time to it makes me the dirty trench coat wearing, greasy haired, slicker than dirty oil disaster that goes looking for such a mess. I do not want to be cast in the role of one who seeks out a prostitute. I do not want to put something so deplorable in front of my God. Never once in my life have I seen the things in which I choose to invest my time as prostitution. I have seen them as less than valuable, or even a considerable waste of time, but never as something so filthy and disgusting.

Reading this verse today another idea of prostitution came to mind. Not too long ago I remember watching as a prominent politician had to confess to the world that yes, he was involved with a “call girl.” Whatever buddy! A prostitute by any other name is still not your wife. She wasn’t his wife. She was an extremely expensive substitute. I wondered what drove that man to spend so much time and money on something that would never be his. To me it’s a bit like owning a beautiful home but living in an apartment, all the while paying for both of them and not truly caring for either. Shouldn’t his wife have come first?

We are told in Exodus 34:14 that God is a jealous god. He does not want us to have idols or to put anything in the place created in us for Him. The word prostitute comes from the Latin word prostituere, which broken down is pro- in front and tuere- to stand. So now we know why that words is used in reference to false gods. God wants nothing to stand in front of Him. He is number one, the Alpha and Omega. John 15:5b says, “apart from me you can do nothing.” After years of enjoying the privilege of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit I would paraphrase that to say, “apart from Him I am nothing.” Why would I want to have anything to do with prostitutes of any kind? We are exhorted to have no gods before our God. What stands in front of God for you? Move it! Do everything you can to get that obstacle out of your way. There is no substitute for the One True God.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Some Things Never Change

“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. Bit to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must want these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name. Acts 4:16-17

Does this sentiment seem at all familiar to you? Peter and John have just appeared before the Sanhedrin. The result is that now all the big guys are in complete uproar. Here are these two uneducated, ordinary guys claiming that they have indeed given the lame guy his legs back. Worse, they are claiming to have done it in the name and power of Jesus Christ. You know the elders, Sadducees and the rest of the crew were thinking, “Oh please! Are we ever going to stop hearing about this Jesus?” Pretty sure that they won’t, they decide to stop Peter and John. They tell them, “That’s it, no more talking about Jesus.” Fine, except Peter and John aren’t quite so easily deterred. Politely they say, “Sorry but we can’t help ourselves. We’re going to talk about Jesus.”

Reading this account of nearly 2000 years ago, I saw some similarity to our own times. How often have you recounted a miracle in your life just to have some one explain it away? There is a medical reason, a paperwork reason, a misunderstanding of the original circumstance, something, anything other than what it really is, a miracle.

The name of Jesus is not terribly welcome in our world these days. We aren’t supposed to invoke it in a public school setting. It isn’t politically correct to approach someone whose behavior is abhorrent based on the teachings of Jesus. He isn’t invited into many, if any, secular settings but conversely I hear his name slandered in those same settings, all the time.

As Christians we are supposed to stand still, be quiet and not oppose those whose lifestyles bring total dishonor to the precious name of Jesus. We are supposed to stand silent in the face of a culture that demands respect for every other belief system while blatantly blasting ours. We face a Sanhedrin of our own every time we raise the name of Jesus in a secular venue. We are told as plainly as Peter and John, “Don’t talk about him here and by all means keep your miracles to yourself.”

For all the freedoms we posses in this fine country the one we cherish most is being severely challenged. Pray that we all have the courage of Peter and John to stand up for the name we say we love. Pray that no one will able to silence those of us who do believe in one nation under God and who do put our trust in Him.

My Savior never pretends that he doesn’t know me. He fights for me and he’s proud to know me. How can I do any less for him?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Translator

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Acts 8:30-31


The other day a dear friend of mine gave me some recipe books. Not unusual, women do that right? Sure. Except for the books are in Spanish, a language that is completely foreign to me. The pictures are lovely and I’m sure I would like some of the foods and baked goods if I could read the recipe. Let me say here that Bella did not give me the books to frustrate me. There are decorating ideas that literally just need the pictures. They have words but the words aren’t necessary. This was a lovely gesture from a dear, sweet friend. She would, I am sure, translate every word if I asked her for help.

Looking at the books, thinking about them, made me think of how some people see the Bible. There are people who see God’s Word the same way I see those books. There may be some curiosity or even interest but there is no understanding. Some people are well able to read but still don’t comprehend but others who encounter God’s Word may see what I see when I look at the recipes. In other words they see something that should make sense but really doesn’t. Where literacy is the issue the answer is simple, read it to them or teach them to read. What do we do when spiritual blindness or a hard heart are the problems?

I believe that we do as St. Francis suggested, “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

Suppose I decide to attempt to make a dish from my Spanish recipe books. I can rely on my extremely limited knowledge of Spanish and guess, or I can ask Bella for help. I can ask her because she speaks the language but also because she is a dear, lovely friend. She is a person I trust, who is immensely approachable. I ask her opinion and advice on a lot of topics. I would not have any hesitation to ask her for help.
As Christians it is our duty, our purpose, to be that approachable. We need to be open and inviting where our faith is concerned. Our attitudes need to encourage those who may look at the Bible and see a foreign language, to ask us anything. If we have the ability to read the Word and learn from it, we also have the responsibility to share it with those who are not yet able to see.
I am grateful to Bella for the books but even more grateful for the deeper lesson I learned from receiving them. It is a gentle reminder to me that not everyone has spiritual sight and for those who are seeking it, I may just need to be the translator.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bless this Acorn

All you have made will praise you O Lord,
your saints will extol you. Psalm 145:10


Many people are awed by nature.
Everything about the natural world is fascinating to them. I am not one of those people. There are sights and sounds in nature that take my breath away but I’m not a bird watcher or a hiker. I do not seek opportunities to commune with the land. Not being a nature purist I can enjoy those books, movies and cartoons that lend human qualities to animals. Yesterday our pastor showed us a picture of a squirrel in a position that looked as if its paws were raised to heaven. The cute little thing even had its eyes closed. Adorable! Yes, it is a rat with a tail but irresistible in that pose. The caption was a Scripture verse but it could have read, “Bless this acorn and berry I am about to eat.”

That image grabbed my heart and stayed with me all day. I know that little squirrel cannot speak. I know that the pose is not what I want to think it is and that it may, in fact, be something sinister. “Watch the common yard squirrel as he prepares to attack his predator.” That may be more the case but I prefer to see as our pastor and whoever took the picture intended for us to see it. The squirrel is praising God. Why not? The squirrel was created by God. What really impressed me was the simplicity of the whole thing.

We see pictures of military men and women heads bowed, hands folded, deep in prayer. We see photos of groups of people holding hands, heads bowed deep in prayer. We see video of audiences at Christian concerts or listening to a speaker, hands raised, eyes closed, faces turned up, the direction we think of as heaven. We see those images and we can imagine what some of those prayers could be. But a squirrel? What does a squirrel pray? How does a squirrel pray? Honestly I highly doubt that they do. And yet, they are created beings. The psalm says “all you have made.” We read psalms and other Bible passages that say that everything should praise God. If that squirrel is praising God I guarantee you its praise is purer than mine. That tiny animal does not have to put aside its anger at a family member or a co-worker. It does not have to ask forgiveness for not appreciating its job. That squirrel brings no agenda to the table of praise. If it can bring praise, it brings pure and simple praise.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Psalm 150:6

Monday, November 15, 2010

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, May have the power ,
together with all the saints to grasp how wide
and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. Ephesians 3:17b-18


This morning when I picked up my Bible, it was open to a Scripture that I have been using to remind myself of God’s amazing power. I need a miracle and those verses assure me that God can and will answer my prayer. While I was reading and praying the enemy kept poking me, trying to get me to worry about something unrelated to my prayer. It was very distracting so I stopped reading and prayed that each and every time the poke came that my merciful Father would remind me that through Him I have the power to make that enemy shut up. The image from Psalm 91:13 came to my mind, the one about trampling the serpent. After thanking God for showing me a way out of that danger, I went back to the Word. The very next passage spoke of the disciples fears. The commentary for that passage explained that the disciples didn’t quite get who Jesus was or the extent of his ability to protect them. Did you follow that?

First I was reassured that my faith is based on absolutes and that God will take care of my huge prayer request. Understand this isn’t something that is possible for me on my own. I absolutely need a miracle. Then when the enemy attempted to distract me, there was another Scripture to remind me that God is all-powerful, not just in one aspect of life but everywhere. Nothing is too big or too small for Him.
Sometimes it is so hard to hang on in faith. The night gets darker, the road gets longer, the days get lonelier and it seems that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. There is light and not just any light but The Light, as in the light of the world.

Just yesterday I experienced a mixed bag of a day. Early on I was blessed by someone I dearly love. A bit later I was crushed by someone I dearly love. (different someones ). Still later I was able to do a nice thing for my husband and bless his day. The bookends of blessings around the heartbreak in the middle are more evidence for me that God loves me more than I can ever imagine and I promise you I’m nobody special. I certainly don’t deserve His blessings.

You know what that means? It means that God wants to bless you too. It means that His love is exactly as it is described in Ephesians. It means, as it says in Romans 8:31, that if God is for us no one can be against us. God’s love surrounds us, all day, every day. We just have to be smart enough to recognize it and accept it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Herod’s Puzzle

…Herod feared John and protected him,
knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.
When Herod heard John he was greatly puzzled;
yet he liked to listen to him. Mark 6:20


Herod liked to listen to John. Okay, so how is it that John ends up beheaded at Herod’s command, only seven verses later? For the same reason many of us make lousy choices. Herod let the call of the world, the beauty of a woman and the lust in his heart, rule over the sweet, subtle invitation from God. He liked listening to John. The Bible says he was “puzzled.” That made me think of my own reading of many parts of the Bible, I read the verse, reread the verse, read the commentary, reread the verse and still I’m scratching my head in total confusion. I keep reading because I like it, even the parts I don’t get. In this I have a distinct advantage over Herod. I know that what I am reading is the true word of God. I know that each word is included in that sacred tome for a reason. Herod knew only that he was interested in the words and thoughts of a man, most people described as crazy.
There was something in the message of that man that spoke to Herod. Herod saw righteousness in a man who, to the eye, looked like a lunatic. John ate bugs, he wore animal skin, (and don’t picture mink stoles, picture dirty dogs) and his hair was a version of the worst form of dreadlocks after a rough night. John was not pretty and neither were his words. This was the guy who was telling them all to repent because the Messiah was coming.
Reading about John I’ve always thought his words were probably tinged with frustration. “Come on people! Quit with the parties and orgies, the Messiah is coming!” It reminds me of my own frustration with my adult children who believe they can live as if they’ve never heard the Word. On a much lesser scale it reminds me of my children at younger ages minutes before company was expected. “Get the toys out of the den and dining room! Nana will be here any minute.” As my son Joseph would say the focus was on the wrong part of the story.
For Herod, his focus was drawn away from the right part of the story. He liked to listen to John. He may have eventually heard John but the nagging tones of his wife, the wife of whom John disapproved, was louder than John’s message. One may read this and think, aw Herod! You missed the boat. I’ve never removed anyone’s head but I’ve missed the boat more than I care to remember. How many times have my harsh words or lack of compassion removed a bit of someone’s heart? How many times has God been calling to me and listening, though puzzling, was lovely, until something else called louder? What could be more intriguing than God’s voice? The sad answer is, things that are very far removed from God. Things like gossip, the need to be heard, a desire to get even, are on the list, but so are things that can be good. Often we can find ourselves distracted by commitments to family, friends or work. None of those things are bad but they do have to take a backseat to our God time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Playing God

Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
John 8:32
I watched a TV show tonight where one poor tortured soul committed heinous, horrible crimes because he believed that his own life was over. He erroneously believed that he had nothing to live for. He believed it because a person who had once been everything to him kept a very important piece of information from him. The information withheld from him was truly life changing but because he didn’t have it he was empty and lost enough to torture and kill several other people. The story was fiction but it gave me great pause.
How often do we choose not to tell someone something for their own good? How often do we withhold information out of spite? When we do things like that we play God, which is extremely dangerous. That decision has a direct effect on how the other person behaves. When the truth comes out the consequences can be dire or, as in the TV show the consequences could be avoided by telling the truth.
When I choose what another person should or should not know I choose to play God. The problem there is that all I see is the tiny area around me. I do not see what forest fire can be set by withholding information.
My daughter has two children. Let’s say she tells me that she has hired a babysitter and I know that person is an alcoholic who can get quite mean. I say nothing because my daughter has already told me that I don’t trust her judgment and think she is a bad parent. In order to keep her good opinion I say nothing. She keeps the sitter who then puts my grandchildren in her vehicle while she is drunk and causes an accident that severely injures our babies or God forbid worse. How does my daughter feel when I tell her I knew all along about the sitter? How do I feel watching my angels suffer because I wanted their mother’s good opinion?
In the TV show the information withheld would have made the man’s life bearable but since it was withheld, he believed he had nothing to live for and chose to take the lives of many other people. Dramatic? Perhaps but possible.
Each word in the Bible is there for a reason. Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes it does cause another person to turn away from us or resent us. Still the words from John are our best directive, know the truth, tell the truth and be free.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For-GIVE-ness

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14
There are a couple of reasons that we may be reluctant to forgive an offense. The first is that many people believe that forgiveness indicates acceptance. It does not. We may forgive an offender but we’re not condoning the offense. Our forgiveness does not suggest that we now think whatever the other person did is all right.

The second reason is about reconciliation. When a sin is large enough to cause a rift in a relationship we may be disinclined to forgive because we fear that means reestablishing the torn relationship. That isn’t always the case.

Some sins may cause a temporary rift. Perhaps the people involved need some time apart to recognize the sin that exists between them. Maybe they just need a cooling off period and when the apology is offered and accepted they then move toward a new relationship.

Other times the sin is just too grave and the hurt too deep for a relationship of any kind to exist. In those cases it is still important to forgive and if possible make the other person aware that you have in fact forgiven them. Forgiveness frees us to move on. No one harboring resentment is going to move very far in life. Resentment and bitterness can hold us hostage as surely as sin that is not confessed.

Even when a relationship can be saved it most likely won’t be the same. Very few things, once broken can be repaired “as good as new”. Somewhere the glue shows. It is the same with relationships. If the hurt goes deep enough it leaves a mark behind. Sometimes we are blessed to move on and grow stronger in spite of the rift. Other times we need to forgive and let go.

Trust God to show you what can and can not be salvaged but no matter what, forgive. It isn’t worth the price we pay if we don’t. Remember forgiveness can never be earned it can only be given. For-GIVE-ness.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Value of Crisis

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to proper you and not to harm you,
Plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11


Years ago I gave birth to my first son, Paul. He was beautiful. A large baby, he had a round face and chubby little fingers from the moment he was born. He looked pink, healthy and perfect. He wasn’t. Day five of his life saw him back in the hospital, hooked up to an IV, not very pink, and according to the doctors, not at all healthy. Day four brought seizures into Paul’s life and that meant hospitalization to determine the cause. The cause, which we found out a week later, was an error in judgment on the part of the delivering physician. Too much pressure on Paul’s tiny, delicate skull caused blood vessels to break and bleed into his brain. As the blood in the brain was reabsorbed the brain seized. “We’re so sorry but your baby has brain damage.” The message was basically, oops, that’s not good but go home, put him on this medicine and get over it. In other words, my perfect, wonderful first born child’s life started in crisis. At the time I felt awful, then I called in every faithful person I knew to pray and to bless that baby. Once I knew he would live, I thought no matter who he is or what he can or cannot do, this is my baby and I will raise him and love him, the end!

Today Paul is approaching his thirtieth birthday. He is tall, thin, handsome, and brilliant. I was told he wouldn’t speak well. He spoke in full sentences at not quite two. I was told he would have fine motor issues. There was a phase at around eighteen months when he seemed unable to take three steps without tripping, but that was hurry not brain damage. He could take toys apart and occasionally put them back together by three. There is no brain damage.
I tell you this because this morning I read about how boring the miraculous stories of the Bible would be if we removed the crisis section. True! If I said, my son was born perfect but we faced a bit of a challenge and now he’s great. You would say, ho-hum, who cares? The truth is much more dramatic and compelling. I went through, he may not live, oh, okay he’ll live but with questionable quality of life to there’s significant brain damage, we’ll see. And here comes my favorite words, BUT GOD, had other plans. The miracle is that Paul is whole and well, of course, but it is so much more than that.

Paul is twenty-nine. He learned to walk and talk. He went to kindergarten. He graduated from high school and college. He dated, learned to drive, married a lovely girl and has a wonderful life. Every time he’s hit a milestone, large or small I have praised God. Paul’s life is a miracle.

Paul has three siblings. All three were born without incident. They’ve faced some illnesses but nothing out of the ordinary. They have given me sleepless nights because of choices they have made but we’ve weathered those storms.

None of us enjoys the crisis. I cried every day that Paul was in that hospital. Five days that felt like fifty. I prayed and hoped at each test after that until I could see that my son was fine, miraculously without damage, even though the test still said the damage exists. But, that crisis showed me the value of Paul’s life and beyond that the value of Joseph, Jeffrey and Laura’s lives as well.

Not one of my children has cured a disease, gone to the moon, or invented a life changing tool. They are wonderful, flawed, ordinary human beings and I marvel at each one of them because, through crisis, I know what could have been.

The crisis part stinks. It hurts. It’s scary and no one likes it. In the moment we wish it could be any other way but in retrospect we are pleased for the glimpse of God’s power. I will never enjoy a crisis but I can look at Paul and know that somewhere in that pain there is a gem. It may take awhile to see it, too long sometimes, but it is there.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Go Team!

It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 1 Corinthians 1:30

There are certain moments in life that are not unique to anyone. They are banner moments that become the topic or catalyst in books, movies and plays. There are weddings, births, deaths, and the one that is often supposed to be hilarious, but may fall short depending on one’s own experience, the choosing of teams.

Just this morning I was reading a book in which a now middle-aged man recalled the pride of getting his football letter jacket. He talked about how he wore that banner to his athletic prowess every day, regardless of the temperature. He then noted how that paled in comparison to being part of God’s team. That gave me pause.

I was one of those skinny, not at all athletic kids. There wasn’t much in the line of physical education that was on my list of accepted activities. I was a booky kid not a runner, not a ball player, and not at all competitive. Isn’t the fun in playing the game? Oh no, grasshopper, the fun is in winning, not just winning either but in totally humiliating the other group, even if they are your dear friends. Suffice to say, I didn’t get it. The rules of the games evaded me and frankly I didn’t care. Do you think I was one of the first ones chosen for a team? Not hardly! The grace of God was present in my life even then. I wasn’t embarrassed to be called if not last, then pretty darn close to last. I had no illusions of athletic grandeur. There is no letter jacket in my closet or whatever the female equivalent was in the 70’s. There is however a book with my name in it and that is of the utmost importance to me.

Each one of us has the opportunity to be saved by grace. We all have an equal shot at the true prize. There is no physical or intellectual requirement either. What I have in lieu of a letter jacket is a few pins for speech and debate. It doesn’t matter. I can debate all day long. I can present to you in fine dramatic form, any monologue you chose. Those things will not swing open the gates of heaven any faster than a winning touchdown. There is no requirement to receive the precious gift of salvation except acceptance. All we have to do is to ask and we are on God’s team.

Remember those teams in school? The “everybody gets to play” teams? Those were meant for kids like me who might otherwise not be chosen. Oh gee thanks! Didn’t anybody get that not everybody wants to play?

Sadly, not everybody wants to be on God’s team either. The good news for those of us who do is that we already are. The gates of heaven will not swing open based on our abilities or talents, but the arms of Jesus are wide open simply because of his love.

No letter jacket, no trophy, no pin, no shirt, no shoes, (pardon the awful grammar) no nothing, can get us into relationship with Jesus. Only love, his love for us and ours in return. We are all chosen for the best team ever, if we want to play.

Monday, November 1, 2010

God's Kid

And he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore whoever humbles himself like this child
is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4

A devotional message that I read this morning used the analogy of walking with a small child to define our walk with Jesus. The point was that it is not just for the child’s protection that we stay near or hold hands but also for our joy in the nearness of the child. My first thought was of my grandchildren. Just last night I sat with five of them reading stories. They love books, just like their Grammy. It was a lovely and precious time for me as well as for them. I understood the analogy of the message quite well. Then the lights came on inside my foggy brain. God sees us the way I see my babies!

Think about that for a minute. What is your profession? Teacher? Lawyer? Chef? Musician? Doctor? Mom? Dad? Or maybe even, pause for the moment of reverence, pastor? Guess what? God sees us all like small children. Follow the analogy, we are to a toddler as God is to us. Now think with the mind of a young child. For one thing we are physically bigger. Then there is the whole misconception that all children hold that adults can do whatever they want. We set their rules but to them no one tells us what to do. Yes, it is laughable but they believe it.

Now, think about God. Although I have no idea what God physically looks like I perceive Him as big, really, really big, huge even. And who do you think could possibly tell God what to do? Granted we all try to tell Him what to do, how to do it, when to do it but that’s pretty laughable too.

The best part of the analogy suggests that the relationship between the adult and the child offers protection for the child. I know I feel very protective of my grands. Just watching their parents make typical parenting boo-boos makes me want to step in and help. I want to convey to those parents that this precious time lasts about thirty seconds. The job feels enormous because it is but at some point most children become adults with the accompanying mistakes and foibles.

At first I was a little taken back at the idea of God seeing me as helpless and small, the way I see my grands. Then I realized that I could not possibly love those babies more than I do. I want the best for them. I want to wrap them in cotton and protect them from everything, even more so than I did with their parents because I am not responsible to raise them. I don’t have to allow them to learn from their mistakes. It isn’t my job to see that they become responsible. All I have to do is offer unconditional Grammy love.

God gives us every opportunity to grow and mature but He calls us to faith like a child because to Him we will always be small, needy, children. Considering that the meaning behind that is that His huge strong hands are always available to rescue me, I like that!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Name of God

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,
for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Deuteronomy 5:11



There is a new language now, a language I despise. It is the vernacular of technology, I suppose. I first heard about when email and instant messages began. You know what I’m talking about the, lol, btw, b/c, and the rest. I hate it but I do understand that my age and my word addiction contribute greatly to that intense dislike. There is one, however, that no matter how long I live or even if I could temper my love of words will ever be acceptable. I hate it, absolutely hate it and that is not going to change. That one is “omg.” Are you kidding me? It isn’t bad enough that so many people feel so little about tossing the Lord’s name around, now we’re going to lose the capital letter and abbreviate. Let’s make breaking the third commandment as user friendly as possible. I cannot even consider the little abbreviation that adds the famous letter! I’ll just stick to my outrage at “omg.”

Of course I have been told that it can, and does, mean oh my gosh. One day I had a somewhat serious conversation with my friend Charlene. We were talking about how substituting gosh for God isn’t really much of a solution. Char decided that she would borrow from our friend Susan, who says, “Oh my head.” Upon further reflection we realized that if we are living correctly that would also be God. Certainly we didn’t see it as the same as literally taking God’s name so lightly. I then mentioned how I love Shirley Temple and how she imitated her butler in one movie saying, in a stiff British accent, “oh my word.” Another pause. Yup, same thing.

The fact is, God is our head, He is the Word made flesh and obviously He is God. To say, oh my head, oh my word or even oh my gosh, isn’t horrible. It isn’t breaking any commandment. I suppose it is the emotion or meaning behind the expression that makes the difference. We can say “oh my gosh/head/word” in surprise or fear. We can say it when startled or when we aren’t sure what to say. Those words aren’t sacred and they don’t carry any weight of their own. The words “oh my God” on the other hand, should only be spoken with reverence, in prayer or as praise. Never, ever should that name be taken lightly.

I would like to think that all the “omg”s, spoken and typed, are “oh my gosh” but I’m not that naïve. Far too often I hear people use the whole phrase, or just the name of God to express disgust or dismay. It means nothing. There is no connection to some, between the word and the Being.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower. (Proverbs 18:10) It is the name we turn to when we are in need or in pain. We run to the tower of the name of our God and we are promised refuge there. It is never, not ever to be minimized or disrespected.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Saved Alone

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed
his people. Luke 1:68


The story of Horatio Spafford’s reason for writing the hymn, “It is Well” is amazing and eye-opening to me. I love to read that story and I love the hymn. Hearing it recently I thought of the words in the telegram that Mrs. Spafford sent to her husband after the accident which took the life of the couple’s four daughter’s. To inform her husband of their latest tragedy she sent two words, “Saved alone.” The thought of her having to send the telegram, as well as the thought of him receiving it, gives me chills. That the man was then able to turn that into an anthem of faith, hope and praise is beyond anything I can imagine. But today, it is the two words of the telegram that are speaking to me. “Saved alone.” Reading the story yet again, I was stopped at those words. Anna Spafford meant them literally. Her four precious daughters were dead and she was not. But, think about those words, saved alone and ask yourself, who isn’t?

I have been in church services where many people approach the altar for the prayer of salvation. Many think that prayer will change their lives. It can but only if the individual lets it. In those services there can be ten people or a hundred. The next day the church marquee may well read, “94 saved!” Really? I always wonder about those signs but that thought is a digression. The real thought I am trying to express is that whether one kneels with a group of people at a church service or a revival, or whether they kneel, or cower, or stand, or lie in their bed, each and every one of us is saved alone.

Salvation is not a group effort. When a person chooses Christ as his or her personal savior, it is exactly that, a personal choice. We are not saved en masse. Each of us is saved alone. Once we have recognized our need for a savior and further acknowledged that Jesus is the one and only choice, we enter into a relationship with him. That relationship should change all our other interactions. It should teach us to love and serve better than we ever have before. You may worship in a group. You may serve in a group, but at the end of the day, it’s just Jesus and you.

God does not speak to me, or guide me the same way he does my husband. We know that Horatio Spafford felt compelled to cling to God, to worship him. We do not know if Anna felt the same way. For Anna Spafford the words “Saved alone” are sad, devastatingly sad. For us, for you, for me, for any individual who seeks the saving grace of the Cross, saved alone, is the only way to be saved.

The Spaffords lost their daughters. The words “Saved alone” meant that their home, once filled with five children, the four daughters and a son who had already passed away, was now the shelter of just the two of them. For us, the words saved alone, means never being alone again. Accepting salvation, embracing the saving power of Jesus Christ means that he is our constant companion.

A quick word about the some huge number saved signs. I have nothing against altar calls. Sometimes it takes that invitation, that even though it is offered in a group setting, somehow feels personal. What I wonder is if 94 are “saved” on Sunday evening, how many are living in the grace of that salvation by Tuesday morning? Faith is not about big numbers. In fact it only takes two, Jesus and one other person, any person, willing to be saved alone.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Healthy, Wealthy and Blessed

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you,
and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have
compassion on whom I will have compassion. Exodus 33:19


It seems to me that several of the more popular televangelists are wealthy. Due, perhaps to their own abundance, they like to preach prosperity to the rest of us. God, according to them, wants us to have everything, fancy car, big house, lovely clothes, etc. He also wants us to be healthy and happy. Some of them go as far as to suggest, if not come right out and say, that if we aren’t healthy, wealthy and wise we don’t have enough faith.

Contrast that with a very large portion of the world where people have almost literally, nothing but their faith. What about them? Several years ago my husband went on a mission trip to build houses in Honduras. He came home with stories of abject financial poverty endured by people of immense faith.

Financially, I fall somewhere in the middle. My husband and I are not prosperous by American standards but compared to much of the rest of the world we are wealthy beyond measure. Sadly in matters of faith, I fear I fall in the middle as well. My faith is certainly not based on my bank account or whether or not life is going my way. I am grateful for a faith that has sustained me through financial crisis, loss of relationships, humiliation and the death of loved ones.

I believe that God wants me to enjoy plenty. The question is plenty of what? Looking at that question I see that it could have a sarcastic tone and I assure you that is not my intention. Not too long ago I heard a pastor say, “God wants us to be happy.” This was not a man on TV. This man was standing right in front of me, preaching at my son’s church. It took every effort in me, not to say, “No, he doesn’t.” Which is not to say that God wants us to be unhappy: happiness isn’t the issue. God wants us to be joyful.

Our joy should not come from fancy anything. It should not come from the false security of a large bank account or the backward pride of a small one. It should not come from the ability to boast of never having been sick a day in my life nor the boast of all the illnesses endured. The steadfast joy of the Lord comes from, THE LORD. It comes from the simple, although at times very hard to hang onto, knowledge that God is God which makes everything right. It doesn’t matter how things look or feel. God is in control and He is perfect.

God may want you and me to have things, tangible, fancy, don’t I look nice, things but then again He may not and the choice is His. Our choice is to love and praise Him or walk away.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Perfect Parent, Perfect Kid

Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn
from it. Proverbs 22:6


One of my goals in life from as early as I can remember, was to be a mom. In fact I wanted to be a Kool-aid mom. You know, the one who always has all the kids at her house, her own and all of their friends. God was very good to me in blessing me with four children of my own and giving me that dream of having their friends around as well. It seemed to me that if you were an active part of your children’s lives you got the double portion benefit of enjoying them and raising secure, confident children who would make good, sound decisions. If you are laughing at me right now, I’m okay with that.

I have four grown children who are dearer than dear to me. I love them beyond measure. Some of them however have made choices that have made their lives so difficult. Some have been hurtful to themselves and other and each one, every one of them, lacks confidence in one area or another. This is not to say that they aren’t capable, functioning adults, some of whom are doing very well. This is to say that the road has been hard, full of potholes and rocks. In other words, it has been real life.

For years I judged my parenting and found all kinds of holes and deficiencies. As one after another stumbled and sometimes fell, I took responsibility, at least in my heart. What could I have done differently?

Today reading 1 Chronicles I saw David and Solomon through God’s eyes. David was not allowed to build the temple. God told David that based on some of David’s behaviors, Solomon was better suited to build the temple. Reading I flashed forward to Solomon in his later years. Sometimes so close to God, so wise (we do say the “wisdom of Solomon”) but sometimes just downright selfish. And there it was, comfort from my dear Father.

My children are far from perfect but in some ways they’ve done better than I ever have. They are human, just like me, just like David, just like Solomon, and just like you. God is father to us all. If my heart breaks seeing my babies (the youngest of whom is 25!) struggling with consequences how much more so do those actions break the heart of God?

The verse in 1 Chronicles says to be “careful to observe the decrees and laws.” In other words to be obedient. I am often disobedient and/or disrespectful to my Father just as my children have been to me. If we will not obey and stay close to a perfect parent how can I expect more when I am flawed and far, far from perfect? There are things I would do differently, of course, but a lot of it I would do exactly the same way. The one thing I know I did well was to introduce them to, acquaint them with and point them in the direction of, their perfect Father. Just like me, just like David and Solomon, they have to choose to obey Him or not.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Body to Body

When Elisha reached the house there was the boy lying dead on his couch. He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy’s body grew warm. Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. 2 Kings 3:32-37

In liturgical churches during the season of Lent, many sermons are given about the abundant love of Christ and the sacrifice he gave on the Cross. There is a lot of focus on the fact that one perfect life was exchanged for so many imperfect lives. Jesus gave his all for us.

This story of Elisha and the son of the Shunammite woman, comes before Jesus in the Old Testament. To me it is more evidence that God never changes. Elisha does not have to give his life for the boy but he does take a huge risk. Moreover, the cost to Elisha is not detailed here.

Elisha put his body over that of a dead boy. Read the words carefully, “mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands.” Okay, the boy died of something. Elisha has no idea what nor does he seem to care. The “mouth to mouth” could read, “healthy ordinary germ filled mouth to sick, life taking germ filled mouth.” The same holds true for the hands certainly and maybe even the eyes. Elisha is taking a huge risk. He lays his healthy body down on top of a dead one. Forget our modern thoughts on that and think about the reaction of those times, to all things unclean, dead bodies being rather high on that list. With no thought to the social stigma Elisha does what he deems necessary and then returns the boy to his mother. What happens to Elisha at that point?

We can suppose that there are happy tears shed by both boy and mama but what of Elisha? My guess is that Elisha is done for a bit. He has called on every bit of God power in him to save that life. God’s power surged through Elisha to the boy and when all was said and done I bet Elisha felt his frail humanity and powerlessness.

I have been privileged to pray with people who are very ill, terminally ill even and with people who are world weary and frightened. I have prayed with people whose requests seem simple or who are rejoicing. In all cases I can feel the nearness of the Lord but when I pray with the ones who are suffering there is a difference. While in prayer with them I feel strange. It is as if something has taken me over, put me on autopilot. I guess that is because I have stepped out of the way, as much as possible, to let God speak through me. After the prayer is finished and the receiver goes along with his/her day I feel an emptiness, a weakness if you will. It is the recognition of the power that was there for the moment but is now not so evident. The power of the Holy Spirit is available to all of us who call on Him. However He certainly turns up the heat at times.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Creations

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him:
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

When writing fiction I have to create characters. They become quite real to me, which is sometimes hard for the people around me to understand. A few years ago while out to dinner with my husband I saw a young man who looked a lot like one of my characters. I told my husband, “He looks a lot like Nick.” My husband laughed and asked me how I knew what Nick looked like. If not me, who would? Nick exists because I created him. The other day I mentioned that the little girl in the book I’m working on now sounds like a little girl I know from school. My husband again commented. “Oh great, now you’re hearing their voices?” Admittedly that does sound a little odd but again, of course I hear them. I plan every minute of their lives. Still it is so great when someone reads my book and tells me something they’ve seen in a character that I didn’t really think about.

Talking about this with various people, I began to think about God’s creation, in other words, us, His people. God has a plan for us and He knows exactly what it is. He knows us better than we know ourselves. There are many days when I am not a fan of free will. Those are usually the days when I have managed to do something I know is a disappointment to my Father. Then I wish that he would script my every word and orchestrate my every move. That way I couldn’t screw up. Unfortunately I do have free will. While God knows me inside out, he does not put the words in my mouth. He doesn’t put my foot in there either. God knows me better than I know myself, better than any human being knows me. Nothing I do can surprise Him.

Which brings us back to Nick. Nick and all my other characters can surprise me. Just when I think I know where I/they are going with a story something changes. I know them better than anyone else does but not in the same way that God knows us. Outside factors in my own life can influence a story. Nothing outside of God influences His thoughts or His decisions.

He created us with a plan and a purpose which nothing can change or take away. In this life we live with lots of variables, question marks and insecurities but one thing is absolutely certain, God is for us. We are His own and no one can separate us from Him.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Decision Makers

Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord. Exodus 28:30

Do you know what the Urim and Thummim are? I didn’t until I looked it up the first time I read this verse. The what? These aren’t words that suggest any meaning I’ve ever known. So, I checked them out. Immediately I wanted a set of my own. Now years later reading this same passage in Exodus I don’t feel any different. I want a set of my own!

In case you haven’t had the opportunity to check out these ultra-important items I’ll tell you about them. The Urim and Thummim (say that five times fast!) were devices used by a priest, in this case Aaron, to determine God’s will. The best information is that they were much like lots or stones cast to discern God’s yes or no answer. Where can you buy those? Where’s the infomercial on those little darlings? Come on! I would pay three payments of whatever the cost and not expect a second set or even free shipping.

In all seriousness this is where I get a little impatient with our friends the Israelites. We pray and we listen for the guidance of the Spirit of God. Sometimes that is loud and clear. Other times it as clear as mud. We seek advice from our prayer partners. If they don’t all see it the same way, I’m inclined to go with the opinion that matches mine. It might be better to consider the opposing opinion but that’s usually the harder road. Oh for a Urim and Thummim or even just one of them!

One of the hardest things for me is to be sure that I have heard God’s directive correctly. I know what the Commandments say and I can consult Scripture but again, like the advice of my prayer partners I can pick and choose with God’s Word too. I’ve had those times, when like it or not, I knew because I knew because I knew exactly what God wanted from me. Even when I hate what I have to do, I love doing it because I know it is from Him. Unfortunately, it isn’t always so clear.

Right now I am grappling with two very difficult decisions. I am seeking God and Godly counsel. I am reading His Word, praying and trying to hear Him. But how much easier it would be to look to the old Urim and Thummim? Of course the nasty free will issue is always involved and like the Israelites before me I could still be disobedient. I just think it would be great to have a tool like that.

We don’t. What we have is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the personal responsibility to be so close to Him that we cannot falter. I guess God’s still working on me in that area. I suppose He will be working on me in that listening/understanding/obeying area until He welcomes me home. I guess it’s better this way. I would rather seek God’s face, through His Word, through His people, through His Spirit than through a priest and a couple of gadgets. Still there are some days……

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Room

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1a

… while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our
great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Titus 2:13

My husband and I are standing in a room that is at once very familiar and not familiar at all. It is a room with no windows and no doors. If you’ve ever ridden the Haunted Mansion in Disney World you know what I’m talking about. You begin the journey in a room with a ceiling and walls that seemingly has no form of exit. In case you haven’t picked up on that yourself, a dark, creepy voice informs you that the only way out is his way, leaving no question in your mind that the rest of the journey is not going to be pretty. The room Otto and I find ourselves in is the same in that it has no windows, no doors and only one way out. The differences are the look of the room and the voice that is speaking to us.

Our room is full of light. I get the feeling of a very pretty, airy blue, like the blue of a cloudless sky. The impression I have of the ceiling, (I can’t see it yet) is that it is beautiful, intricate and inviting. The only exit available is the hand of God. There is no fear, real or make believe in this room. We’ve come to be here by a combination of our own decisions and circumstances beyond our control. I have no doubt in my mind that God’s amazing hand will reach in and pluck us out. I have no idea how or when. Right now I’m waiting and for the last several months many details of life have conspired in an attempt to make me worry, agonize and fall into despair. I refuse. There is no need. The room I am has no exit, to be sure, but it is an amazing room.

Go back with for a moment to the room in the Haunted Mansion, in Disney, in Florida. Most of the times I have been in that room the outside temperatures have been quite warm. The room is usually crowded and often has an unpleasant smell. It is dark and cramped, contrived to if not frighten at least upset. It usually works.

The room Otto and I are in today is not a positive place. We need help. We need out. There is a definite element of discomfort and yet, it’s okay. On the other side of the Haunted Mansion walls, things await that are intended to frighten. On the other side of our walls there is, well, we have no idea what’s out there to be honest but we do know that our Father has planned it for us and His plans are perfect. On the other side of these walls is freedom from this room. So we wait but how like God that he has even allowed blessings in our waiting.

In this room I have learned to wait expectantly and obediently. I have learned that while I still hate waiting I can use it to draw closer to God. I am quite excited to see the ceiling on my way out of this room. I am ready for the hand of God to reach in and draw me out and when He does I will tell everyone who will listen what was on the other side.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Your Passion

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,”
plans to prosper you and not to harm you.” Jeremiah 29:11


Yesterday I heard a pastor preach on Psalm 8. He said that God has made each of us unique, that He has given us a passion and that He has a purpose for our lives. Those three words that begin with P, person, passion and purpose, each had their own little box. As I looked at my notes this morning, not reading them but just seeing them on my desk I realized that while there were Scripture references and salient points jotted in the boxes for person and purpose there was nothing noted in the passion box. Ah-ha!

Listening to the pastor as he spoke I did jot down notes about my (our) importance to God, how dearly He loves each of us. I made notes about living according to His will and purpose for my life. I even jotted down a little joke the pastor made because I knew my husband, who wasn’t able to be with me, would love it. In the passion box I made no notes, not one single word. This morning it occurred to me that while this very able pastor can lead me or you or anyone else to understand that God created us uniquely and that He loves us beyond measure. He can use Scripture to make and back up his points about our creation and our purpose but when it comes to our passion we’re on our own. That box we have to fill in without the pastor’s leading.

This particular man did share how he discovered his passion, which is to be a pastor. I could have written down all that he said about finding his passion but that doesn’t really apply to me. He and I have very few similarities in our lives. Even if we were to arrive at the very same conclusion the roads would be very different. I know my passion and I could fill in that box. Maybe you can too. The point is that no one else can fill in our passion box. A pastor, parent, spouse, friend can give us guidance and input but at the end of the day it’s all about individual choice.

What are you passionate about? What makes you smile or get excited? What makes your blood boil? Answer those questions and I think you’ll be well on your way to finding your passion and fulfilling God’s purpose. Just know that it is yours and no one can determine it for you but you, and God of course. The only seal of approval you need is God’s. He will lead you to living out of your passion once you find it and dedicate it to Him.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Who is Jesus

Who Is Jesus?

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do you say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” Matthew 16:13-17


“Who do you say that I am?” Who do you say that He is? Is your answer different today than it was yesterday or will be tomorrow? Do you answer that question with Simon Peter’s words or your own? Much time has passed since Jesus asked this question. Today’s answer on the surface is of course the same as Peter’s answer. But our response should go deeper.

We, unlike Peter have been taught that Jesus is the Son of living God. That was not something we had to discern for ourselves. Our own experience of Jesus will form our personal answer. If our response only goes as far as Son of the living God or Son of Man or even Savior, it does not go far enough.

“Who do you say I am?” In your triumphs and trials, in your successes and failures, when you are surrounded by friends and when you are alone, who do you say that Jesus is to you? The answer should be profoundly personal. Even if you and I can use the same words the emotions, the experiences behind them will not be the same. God loves each of us as if there were only one of us and for each of us His friendship is unique.

Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” What is your answer?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Amazing Answers

Amazing Answers

When the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3:9-10

Yesterday I was blessed to be a part of a ministry effort gone somewhat south. In short, what we mortal beings had planned was not what God had in mind. We ended up helping in a very different way from what we expected. As one member of my group commented on that the woman we were helping just laughed. “It ain’t nothin’ honey.” She said. “I’m not surprised. You say a prayer and ask God for help and He jus’ sends it along. Isn’t He amazin’?” As I responded in agreement that yes, God is amazing I started to laugh. I turned to her and asked if she’d received similar answers to prayer before. She said yes and I said I had too, so why are we still so amazed?

I think there are two answers to that question and I think both are true for me at various times. Sometimes we pray and pray and pray for something. The answer is a little slow in coming, or so we think and doubt begins to settle into our souls. Then God shows up and answers our prayer. Sometimes those answers are huge and surprising. Sometimes there are simple. In either case we are amazed because that demon doubt had caused us to think maybe God wouldn’t or worse, couldn’t, answer our prayer. In light of the answer we are amazed. “Well, will you look at that! He really is God.” Doubt is our enemy but even that doubt can be used to bring glory to God. When we’ve wondered, for whatever reason, if God is ignoring our pleas we are even more thrilled by His response.

The other reason I think God still amazes us no matter how many times He proves His majesty is alacrity. Take the example from Acts. The people have seen this lame beggar day after day, after day. Suddenly he’s up, leaping around, praising God. What? The people are filled with “wonder and amazement.” How could this happen? It’s impossible. Today we might think, well, with a whole lot of medical attention, some new technology or an enormous amount of physical therapy but come on, lame people don’t just jump up and walk! We would be just as amazed as the “people” from the Scripture. We pray and pray for healing but sometimes we just can’t see that it could happen.

My nephew has just received horrible news about his son’s health. There are no medical answers. The docs say there is no hope for a cure. No hope? That’s impossible! Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and as long as that is true there is great hope, huge hope. Still, if someone were to go to Lucas’s side and pray, “Silver and gold I have none but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, be well” and Lucas was then well, we would all be amazed.

God still amazes us and while that seems a little odd based on the things we know to be true, it is understandable. It is understandable because we do doubt. It is understandable because sometimes it is so immediate, so enormous that we are simply astounded. Further it amazes us because we know good and well that we do not deserve it, not for a second. Everything we have from God is pure gift. Filthy, selfish, judgmental, arrogant, fearful, self-pitying, lying, cheating, adulterous dogs that we may be, God in His mercy loves us beyond measure. Those answered prayers are amazing but then they are answered by an amazing God.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Found

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Isaiah 55:6
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.
Psalm 23:6a


Often when people begin a relationship with God they are said to have “found” Him. That irks me a little. The idea that the God of the universe is so often lost. Does He wander about like some poor demented soul? No! God is not lost. God does not get lost, even when we in our anger or ignorance tell Him to do just that. God is never lost in the literal sense but He can be lost to us.

Doing a study of the 23rd Psalm I spent a lot of time with the words, “goodness and love will follow you all the days of your life.” God is love and love will follow me all the days of my life. God will follow me all the days of my life. God will follow me? No wonder He gets lost so often! That doesn’t really make sense because the earlier part of the same psalm says He will lead me. Which only makes sense because oh, right, He’s God.

He leads us, follows us and walks beside us. We are literally surrounded by God. (Psalm 139:5-12) So then, why do people have to find Him? Why are there verses in the Bible that tell us to “seek” God, as if He were an elusive being? Unfortunately the answer is that one we hate to talk about, sin. It is because of our sin, sin that crowds out the beauty of God in our lives that we have to seek God to “find” Him. He is not lost. We are.

God always knows right where we are. He does not have to search for us but He does have to wait for us. He beckons. He pursues. He invites. And then He waits, while we spin in circles looking for happiness, looking for comfort, looking for peace before eventually realizing our need for a Savior.

While I will never be a fan of the phrase, “She found God.” I see that it might not always be as inane as it sounds. Of course we all have to be prepared to lose ourselves in the process. We have to abandon what we believed to be important to embrace the essential. God is not lost, ever but He is eager to be “found.”

Monday, May 3, 2010

welcome

Hello

My name is Tricia and this is my attempt to share with anyone who is interested, the words and thoughts that God has shared with me.

Today is my first day as a blogger. This has been suggested to me numerous times and frankly I've been too old school to try it. It is my hope that the words I place here will bless and encourage those of you who are journeying toward home as I am.

It is my goal to post a message each day that will include Scripture, a brief story to go with that Scripture and maybe a prayer or two. For some of you this will be quite familiar as it is the same style as in our e-mail days and in the book Joyful Perspective. As usual, I would love to hear your feedback.

Blessings to all of you,
Tricia