Wednesday, March 30, 2011

…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12 This is the season of Lent in liturgical churches. It is the name given to the days that lead up to Easter and for those of us raised with liturgical teachings it calls to us to be introspective, to look at life from the perspective of the sacrifice of the Cross of Christ. With that in mind my attention was caught by lyrics to a song I’ve heard many times over the last couple of years. It references the verse above. The singer asks Jesus to show him the distance from the east to the west and comes to the conclusion that the distance is from “one scarred hand to the other.” Many times I have sung that song and been impressed by it, but not in the breathtaking way that I was earlier today. Today when I heard those words my first reaction was to lift my own hands in praise. When I did I saw them, scar free. There are no marks left from implements of torture on my skin. And how can that be? I am after all the one, or one of the ones, who deserves them. No, those scars, those sacred scars, mar the hands of the only perfect individual ever to grace this earth. It shook me to see it that way. How dare I toss a casual hurtful remark toward, or about another of God’s creatures? Whether we know it or not, accept it or not, each of us, every human being, was created by God. Therefore no matter who is the recipient of my verbal arrow I’ve pierced the heart of God. What’s worse is that I, personally, have done a lot worse things than make nasty remarks. This is not the arena for a list of my sins but I know they exist and/or existed. See, some of them don’t exist anymore. They are flung as far as the east is from the west. Remember now, it was not my hands that cast them away. It was not my blood that flowed to pay the price. I have experienced some consequences that I can relate directly to sin and I’m sure there are others that are more subtle. Still, the ultimate price was paid by one who should never have had to pay at all. The idea that my hands bear no scars stayed with me throughout the day. How is that possible? It shouldn’t be. It isn’t fair, a term we humans just love to use. As I used my hands today to hold the hands of the children with whom I work, to brush the hair from the eyes of one precious boy, to hug my granddaughters, to clean my house, make my dinner, write a note to a friend and many other tasks, I couldn’t help but see them differently. They are scar free! Why? For the answer to that see John 3:16 and put my name in the place of the word “world.” Better yet put your own name there and then take a look at your hands. The distance from the east to the west, from our past sins to our present lives, is the distance from one scarred hand to the other.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Weak Journeys

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

For years I have struggled with the journey from sitting, (or kneeling or standing) in the beautiful presence of God and then back into the regular world. It is very hard to carry the peace and joy that fill my heart and soul into the mundane, let alone the ridiculous. Several years ago my family attended a church with an excellent mid-week prayer service. It was truly an oasis in the midst of even the most desertlike weeks. Many times I sat there in prayer or worshiping in song and I would think, “this time I am not going to lose this peace.” Or even, “this time I will keep my promise to God to be more obedient.” That service was the perfect time for reflection and confession. It was so lovely to sit in the presence of God and truly believe that this time I would not let go of my convictions, of my determination to die to self and live for Christ. The sad thing is how many times that determination barely made it out the door.

The service was wonderful as was the church, for the most part. However, there were people there who could easily get on my last nerve. Maybe you like, as well as love, every person in your church and if you do, God bless you. Sadly that was not the case for me at that church. I did, however, have a lot of friends there. Certainly I could end up being nasty or at the very least judgmental toward the people I didn’t care for but my friends could bring out the gossip in me. You know what I’m talking about the “this is something I would only tell you” statements. Those puppies are danger with a capital D! And there were the times when I left church or my quiet time determined to be better at something and those too met with failure, in a kind of the road to hell is paved with good intentions way.

So, for years I have berated myself for being so faithful, so unwavering, so reverent, at the altar and so quick to become so human and small as soon as the service or my personal time of prayer was over. I felt like a fraud. Frankly I wondered how long God would put up with me? (Mt. 17:17) I felt like those people who were looking right at Jesus Christ and didn’t get it. How could I walk away from such sacred times and into such contemptible or even just ordinary behavior? Wasn’t I made for better things? It wasn’t that I felt alone in my thinking. I’ve been in too many Bible studies where that very topic has come up, I just wanted better for myself. I wish the next sentence could be and now I’ve found it, but it isn’t.

I try. I do well for awhile and then slide backward. The journeys from the altar to the door, from my knees to my kitchen, from my quiet time to the next phone call, all are treacherous. I believe that God knows my heart. I believe that he sees the efforts as well as he sees the failures, but that he remembers the efforts while erasing the failures. Far from making me feel better that makes me feel worse. In the face of never-ending forgiveness I’d like to need that forgiveness less. I’d like to make it from the altar to the car, from the car to lunch, from lunch to the house, and on into the week, without having to think, “Oh, dear Lord, forgive me! I’ve done it again.” In the meantime I rest assured that God is still working on me and if he won’t give up, I won’t either.

Joy vs. Happiness

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy the choice food and sweet drinks and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10 (emphasis mine) But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; Everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, And sorrow and sighing will flee away. Isaiah 35:9b-10 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even thought you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 Are you happy? Enjoy it. Happiness is fleeting. What makes you happy? Your family? Your job? Your spouse? Your pets? Your possessions? Your health? Fleeting, every single one of the aforementioned possibilities is temporary. We are happy when a project goes well. We are happy when the doc says all is well. We are happy when our spouse does some unexpected kindness. We are happy when the children are pleasant and all is well with them. Great, but what happens when the doc says more tests are needed? What happens when the children bring bad news? How do you feel when the spouse forgets your special day or is not delighted in your accomplishments? What about when the pet dies or the car is totaled? Are you happy then? Of course not! But you can be joyful. Are you joyful? Enjoy it! Joy, if it finds its source in Jesus Christ, is enduring. It will not fade or fail. We can let go of it but it will not depart from us. It will be there always lurking, waiting to be admired and appreciated. The root of the word happiness is hap, as in happenstance. The very root of the word means that it is not enduring. That it is temporary and based on very mercurial things. It isn’t meant to stay. It is meant to grab us, dance us around and then leave. It is insouciant and fun. Who doesn’t want to be happy? There is nothing wrong with happiness except its transitory nature. Happiness lifts us up out of the ordinary into a little dance of delight and then it drops us back into the ordinary or worse. Joy is decidedly different. Joy lifts us up out of the pit of despair. Joy holds us in its tender arms, above our circumstances, closer to the heart of our Master, closer to the thrill of salvation. Joy is not fleeting. Joy is not mercurial or insouciant. It is steady, calm and readily available in the person of Jesus Christ. When the news is bad and happiness has left the building. Give praise to God for the lasting joy He has provided for all of us who put our trust in Him.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Closed Eyes

Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?”
The man hurried over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes were set so that he could not see. He told Eli, “I have just fled from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.” 1 Samuel 4:14

This passage is part of the story of the Philistines capturing the ark of God. There are all kinds of lessons to be learned from the behavior of the Israelites, from the Philistines, from Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas and from Eli himself but one minor line stood out to me today. As I read this chapter the words, “whose eyes were set so that he could not see” grabbed my attention. To be honest at first I was just taken with that turn of phrase. It could just say that Eli was blind because Eli was old and blind. So my writer’s eye was captured by the word picture and then as I read it again I saw a deeper meaning.

Eli’s eyes were closed. His actual physical sight was non-existent but that isn’t all of it. A man of God had come to Eli and given him fair warning about his nasty sons. Their death had been foretold to Eli and I’m sure it broke his heart. In verse 18 of chapter 14 Eli dies. He hears the news about his sons and about the ark of God and it is too much for him. I can’t help but wonder if Eli did what many parents have done before and after him, what I know I have done myself. He turned a blind eye to what those boys were doing.

Eli’s sons were awful and he knew it. He went to them and told them how wrong they were and they would not listen. I wonder if that is when the eyes of Eli’s heart became set so that he could not see? Sometimes the actions of our children, spouses or friends are so hurtful, so potentially devastating that we turn a blind eye. We may try to encourage a change but when that doesn’t work we just look away and pray that God will intercede before it is too late.

Eli may have closed his eyes but it appears that Hophni and Phinehas closed their hearts. Their behavior had dire consequences for them and for all of Israel. Eli couldn’t look at that. Could you?

It isn’t just other people’s actions that close our eyes either. Sometimes we are quite able to ignore the possible consequences of our own actions when the immediate prize is shining so brightly before us. We don’t so much choose to go ahead regardless of the fallout as much as we fail to consider it. If I don’t see it maybe it isn’t really there.

Sometimes all we can see around us is darkness. We complain and moan about how awful things are while God stands right in front of us holding out a blessing. We can’t see the blessing because our eyes are set so that we cannot see.

Eli may have ignored some of the antics of his sons but he was truly, physically blind as well. You and I may have perfect vision but set our eyes so that they only see what they want to see. Combine that with ears that only hear what they want to hear and we have a real problem.

Hophni and Phinehas made lousy choices so God passed them over for a purer more humble young man. Samuel, instructed by Eli, kept his eyes and ears open to the Lord and the Lord rewarded him. Any one of us may lose our physical sight but we never, ever have to give up our spiritual sight. Let’s set our spiritual eyes on Jesus and follow where he leads.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quiet Invitation

I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed from weeping and drench my couch with tears. Psalm 6:6

There is a song I love called “Alive.” It includes the lyric, “there was a time I was dead inside.” Watching a video of the song I saw the verse above run across the screen. The theme of the song is that writer was dead inside until he heard Jesus calling his name.

Just the other day I was in St. Augustine with my family and a dear friend. We spent hours wandering in and out of stores and galleries. While we were there a man took the stage in the center of the town square and began to rant. There is no other word for it, the man was ranting. On and on, yelling and hollering out Bible verses and warning about heaven and hell.

As we were walking and hearing this never-ending stream of thoughts, for lack of a better word, I felt myself getting irritated. Instead of wondering how many people would stop and listen I wondered how many he was driving away. Think about it. Are you enticed by anger and rage? Have you ever seen your spouse or friend mid-hissy fit and thought, now would be a great time for a chat? Or does the erratic behavior of anyone make you want to know them. or more importantly, their friends, better? No!

All I could think was that Jesus never screamed at anyone. He is not quoted as saying, “Get your behind over here and listen to me, right now or burn in hell.” Never! No, Jesus’ invitation is quiet but incredibly appealing. He says, “Come follow me” (Matthew 4:19) in a quiet voice as he passes by, and Simon and Andrew follow. Just a few moments later he issues a similar invitation to James and John (Matthew 4:21-23) and they also follow.

The writer of the song “Alive” references a call of his name. He does not say, some nut job was screaming about how I was going to go to hell so I turned my life to Jesus. In fact I’ve never heard that testimony. For me, personally, it was a very quiet but very persistent call.

Walking along listening to that man screaming and yelling, I said to my family, “if you know because you know, that you are right, you don’t have to yell.” I believe that the best invitations are spoken quietly. Sometimes they are urgent and quiet, sometimes simple and quiet but always quiet.

Please know that this is my opinion. I haven’t done a study or gathered statistics. I have met a lot of Christian people and heard many change of heart stories and none of those include screaming street corner evangelism. However, I cannot say that it absolutely does not work.

I do know what the songwriter is talking about. There was a time that I too, was dead inside. I also heard that call of my name and answered and that answer has made all the difference.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Puzzles

For your thoughts are not my thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,
declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8


Some of my grandchildren love puzzles. Thankfully so does my husband because Grammy is not a puzzle person. I can sometimes manage the ones that have 25 pieces but beyond that, well, let’s just say I’m challenged.
I work in an elementary school. You may or may not realize it but along with all the other details of the job, I think an elementary school principal has to be fairly adept at puzzles. First there’s the challenge of which children go to which teacher. Then there are lunch schedules, recess and resource schedules, which have to be juggled at testing times to accommodate that schedule, a lot of little pieces to make a whole.

Those things to me are tiny, little tiny, infinitesimal comparisons to God’s puzzle. Can you imagine? (By the way, if your answer is yes, you are a far better person than I.) I’ve been in many conversations about God’s will. Recently it seems to come up every day. Someone, at some point, mentions how they don’t understand, or are trying to accept, the will of God. That is because in the enormous puzzle that is God’s will, we are a tiny piece. Picture not the giant puzzle piece of the fifteen piece floor puzzle but the one piece out of the five thousand piece puzzle, then go a bit smaller and in the scheme of eternity, that’s us. No wonder sometimes life doesn’t make sense to us. From our perspective we have to take it on faith that there are corners and edges to this puzzle so far away from us are they.

When things get to be too much for me it helps me to see it that way. Something that feels just so wrong, so painful to me, may well be a catalyst to someone else that causes them to seek the will of God. My life is all I know. I cannot see the ripple effects of my actions. God knows what chain of events my words or actions have set off. He knows what needs to be done and how He can use even my worst mistakes. I only know my own situation and maybe a bit of what you tell me about yours.

From our point of view certain things seem terribly disparate. We see someone get the blessing we’ve been seeking and ask why her and not me? A bit later we hear about someone else’s misfortune. Do we ask then why her and not me? Do we even remember to pray for her and praise God for our safety? Life is complicated, for sure. But consider this, God is in charge of everyone’s life even the people who refuse to acknowledge Him and the ones who serve other gods. That puzzle is far, far, far beyond my imagination.

I wouldn’t want to be a school principal. It was tough enough juggling the schedules and agendas of my own four children. The idea of having responsibility for a thousand or more children, plus the adults it takes to educate them is outrageous to me. God’s responsibilities are unfathomable. So as I ponder the idea of God’s giant puzzle I have to ask myself why it is then that I so often think I know what He should do. Does that sound familiar to you?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Death Row

But the other criminal rebuked him, “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Luke 23:40-41

My feelings or beliefs about capital punishment are not firm. I’m one of those who sees the validity of some parts of both arguments. Having said that, let me say that I hate any thought of a person’s last days or hours. I don’t watch those movies, even if it’s a “look they saved him,” one. I don’t knowingly read books or articles, fact or fiction, about the subject. What I know I’ve gleaned from bits of news stories and listening to other people discuss the topic. Frankly when a story or discussion involves last meals, bids for appeals, or the emotional mindset of a person in that situation, it breaks my heart. Do those people deserve that death? I don’t know. What I do know is that the worst story of that kind is the one that saved my own life.

Read a Gospel, pick one, any one and there it is, the most gruesome walk to the death story of all time. It includes details of torture, humiliation, and disrespect, at levels that seem unfathomable and unbearable. What makes it worse is that it is the story of a truly innocent man. Occasionally there is a story told of a person who was wrongfully convicted. Whether they are on death row or not there is much ado about the injustice but often when we look into the story we find that the person was a shady character or had committed some crime or crimes, just not the one for which they were convicted. Even a truly innocent human being, one who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time or who happened to look like the real guy, is not without sin. Jesus Christ was tried, if you can call that behavior a trial, tortured and executed for no reason. Not only was he innocent of any crime, he was without sin, a claim which no other person can make.

From Palm Sunday through Holy Week liturgical churches recount the events of Jesus’ final days. As soon as you get past the hosanna section it gets emotional, horrifying, depressing, sad and terrifying, in turns. Then of course, in a way no other story does it turns around to the ultimate happy ending, the victory of Easter. But those days from Palm Sunday to Easter are awful. To read about my dearest friend and wonder what his emotions were as he shared the Last Supper, prayed in the garden, was questioned by hypocritical morons, was betrayed, beaten, taunted, and finally hung on a cross. No private room with just a select few present for Jesus. His execution was the entertainment of the day. Sadly there were those who took great pleasure and found amusement in watching him suffer.

As I said, I am ambivalent about capital punishment. For the most part I do not think any of us is qualified to make a decision about when another person’s life ends. Still there are some truly abhorrent heinous criminals who may appear to deserve death. If one of those criminals were to hurt one of my loved ones my views might jump off the fence. I honestly cannot say. I do believe that an individual who can perpetrate evil on another certainly deserves punishment, but Jesus is the absence of evil. Jesus is love. He deserves praise and adoration not spit and pain.

It is the ultimate in death row stories but with a decidedly wonderful twist. Jesus conquered death at the Cross. I still hate to think about all that he went through for us but I love the results. I am grateful to live under the saving grace, the atonement given to all of us because Jesus was willing to walk through the story that makes me uncomfortable just to read.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tearing Down the Strongholds

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Colossians 2:8

I fear that I am getting what I deserve. I don’t know this for sure but it seems very logical when I think about it. It’s one of those reaping what you sow things, the details of which aren’t terribly important. What is important is the lesson behind it. The lesson is wonderful. It’s amazing. The potential, if I learn it well, is beyond what I can imagine. It could truly free me to be a much better servant, much better child to my Father.

We read about strongholds and Asherah poles in the Old Testament. These are things that must be torn down and destroyed in order for God’s people to truly worship Him without obstacles. We are taught that we too have strongholds and our own forms of idols. That is what I think I may have stumbled upon in my own life. The crazy part is that it is nothing new. It isn’t a struggle that is unfamiliar to me. I’m just seeing it in a new light. The realization is hitting, and hitting hard, that I have sown some nasty weeds and those weeds are grown and trying to choke me. Meanwhile I would like the people around me to see nothing but flowers.

The question remains, can I chop those weeds down? Can do as I have been taught? Can I put God first, others second and myself last? Can I remember to love my neighbor and my enemy as well? I certainly hope so. There is just this huge stronghold, this giant obstacle in front of me. I need to heed the words of Paul to the Corinthians and chase after the crown that lasts forever rather than a temporary one made of garbage. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

The hard part is that doesn’t happen overnight. I have been in a close relationship with Jesus for over thirty years and tonight I am sick and tired of this particular sin. Scott Krippayne has a song called “All of Me” in which he references, “my favorite sins.” That may sound insane, a favorite sin, but we all have them. It’s mostly likely the thing we defend by prefacing any reference to it with a phrase like, “well, that’s just how I am.” Perhaps, but it isn’t who we ought to be.

Tonight I sit determined to change. That’s great except I have been determined to change this so many times before. I can only hope that this time I will allow God to reign in me. I hope that I will accept the sufficiency of His grace and lean on that when I would prefer to choose my sin. His grace is more than enough but if I ignore that gift it does me no good.

Friday, March 11, 2011

His Choice

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to pick it back up again. This command I received from my Father. John 10:17-18
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13



According to the liturgical church calendar it is Lent. For the next few weeks many Christians will give much thought to the sacrifice of Jesus. I’m fairly certain that I am not alone when I say those passages, the ones about Jesus torture and death are so hard to read. Without them I have nothing. I am grateful beyond words to Jesus. The words from John 15:5 are so real to me, apart from Jesus I can do nothing; I am nothing. Yet, there are those who argue that Jesus just did what he had to do. Well, read John 10:17-18 again. He did not have to do anything, at any point Jesus could have said, enough is enough. Looking at all of us, at humanity at our inhumanity to each other, our lack of regard for our Father and his ways, wouldn’t it have made sense? Instead of forgiveness and mercy, instead of pleading on our behalf wouldn’t it have more human sense if Jesus had simply said, “Abba, are you kidding? This crowd? Give my life for these fools? No, thanks!” But he didn’t. He chose, chose, to go willingly to the Cross, to torture and humiliation, to death for us.

Every year during Lent, during Holy Week, at Easter I am taking by the fact that this was a young man. My oldest son turned 30 this year. That is just three years shy of Jesus’ age at the time of his death. Paul has friends who are a bit older. To me, they’re all the same age. My friend Charlene is actually two years younger than I but we both say, “our age.” When I was a child thirty-three was an adult. When I was thirty-three it really hit home, or so I thought. Now I see it as my son’s age and in my top two worst nightmares are that anything would hurt Paul. To have to see him suffer disrespect, total humiliation, torture, betrayal and death, that I cannot even begin to imagine.

There is the argument that Jesus was God and man. True, but it was his human body, his human emotions that bore the pain and degradation. There is a Third Day song about the crucifixion that includes the words, “so I carry my Cross, and I carry the shame.” His Cross, our shame. That’s the hardest part of all. This young, young man, willingly took on the worst death imaginable not because somewhere in his heart he knew he had it coming but because he knew we did.

We tend to see the crucifixion as Jesus destiny and it was but we forget that he could have said no. As fully human, Jesus, like the rest of us, could have said, “no, I thought it over, talked to my Bible study group, weighed, measured and frankly Abba, they just aren’t worth it.” He didn’t. He pleaded to his Abba to find another way and when none was offered, when no ram was substituted for his body, he picked up his cross and went to his death. Yes, he knew the end result would not be a grave but I know that too and I still hate the idea of the journey to the other side. Death is not the problem. The destination, home, is wonderful and Jesus knew that better than any of us, but there is the passage between here and there and any way you look at it that is scary.

When we think of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we need to be sure to remember that it was his choice. When it came to his life or ours he chose ours. We can never be grateful enough but we can be as grateful as humanly possible.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

But God

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

A friend of mine is suffering today. She has cancer and not for the first time. From all reports, her latest medical treatment went well and she has not had any terrible effects. I guess that means physically, at least for the moment, she is not suffering. But her heart and soul are different matters. In that sense she is suffering. This is a woman who knows only too well, much too well, the ravages of cancer. She lost a loved one to the disease already, and just one year ago we all lost a dear friend. This is not new territory. It makes me ask why?

This news of my friend’s illness comes at a time when many other friends are sharing stories of challenges, aggravations and horrible fears. All of this comes to me as I am taking a look at my own faith and praying to hang on. Too many of my prayers, including the ones for my sweet friend, seem to be receiving the same answer, no. Not just a simple no either but, NO!

It would make logical sense to take a step back, to reexamine my belief system and everything on which it is based. I was just about to do that when this news came to me about my friend and oddly enough, that is what put the steel in my spine. This is truly where the rubber hits the road. Do I believe or just say I do? Am I a true friend of God? Or a fair weather friend who leaves when things don’t go my way?

I do not understand why so many people that I care about are struggling. I don’t begin to see why enough isn’t enough already. Tried, tested and proven describe my friend and yet here we go again. None of it makes sense but this I know, God is God.

The words that change any situation are, but God. We could not conceive a baby, but God…. My mother refused to even hear the name Jesus, but God…… I didn’t think we’d ever get out of debt but God…. No one should ever have walked away from that car crash, but God….. They said she wouldn’t survive the week but God…..

In any given moment I can choose to turn my back on God. He does not hold me captive. I am not chained to Him nor does He demand my presence. I could walk away but seriously, where would I go? Who would I talk to or confide in? Who would send comfort into each and every one of these intolerable situations? No one, but God.

God does not hold me captive, except He does, because thirty-two years ago I gave Him my heart. I am not chained to Him by anything but the bonds of love and mercy. He does not demand my presence but there is nowhere I want to be more than with Him. I could live my life any way I want to, but God has the best plan for me.

All the worries, concerns and woes that have been shared with me are valid as are my own. We could let them defeat us or we can choose hang on in faith and wait for the, but God.

Injustice

“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth why did you strike me?” Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest. John 18:23-24

Reading this passage a few minutes ago I just felt sick. The voice coming from Jesus today was not the confident, calm in the face of disaster voice that I usually associate with Him in this event. It was the sad, hurt voice of someone so innocent they cannot believe you would accuse them. It was, quite frankly, the voice of a child.

To me, as a mom, there was no worse feeling than to accuse one of my children, find them guilty and set down the discipline, only to find out I was wrong. Thankfully it didn’t happen very often but even the few times I have experienced it were more than enough. To look into those sweet eyes and know how much hurt I had caused broke my heart. There are no words that make up for not believing them. If they had already served their sentence I couldn’t give them back their time or privilege either. As I said, it was very rare and for that I am grateful. But in seeing Jesus in that light I was reminded of all the children who are abused, unjustly punished and condemned for no fault of their own.

Prior to this reading today I have always seen it from the angle that has Jesus righteously indignant. In that light He sees Annas and Caiphas as fools who don’t know any better. His words, “then why did you strike me?” are more of a challenge. Bring it on boys, you’ve got nothing. Of course it doesn’t matter. Jesus knows what the outcome of the whole scenario is going to be. He knows there is ultimate victory and that one day they will realize the error of their actions.

So why did I hear His voice differently today? To remind me that when my children, the youngest of whom is 25, were younger that I made mistakes? No, I already knew that. I believe I heard Jesus as a shocked, injured, sad child because He was that along with a strong young man who knew His destiny. The lesson here is that Jesus is with us in all of our trials. He knows what it is like to be falsely accused and mistreated for no real reason.

Many of us have suffered abuse in our past. It is hard to overcome that hurt. It is impossible on our own but if we can see Jesus standing beside us asking right along with us, “why are you hurting me?” then healing can begin much faster.

Jesus stood before His accusers pure and perfect. He stood and with precious humility and no guile He asked, “why did you strike me?” His accusers had no answer. Perhaps neither do yours. Thank God that in that moment of hurt and humiliation you were not, are not alone.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mirror, Mirror

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most faithful one of all? Would you ever look in a mirror and ask that question? I would not. For two reasons, one I hate mirrors and two, I’m not sure I would like the answer.

Lately I have caught myself questioning the veracity or sincerity of several of the people around me. Granted the lips say something very different than the actions, so I have tried to excuse my judgment as looking for the fruit. (Matthew 7:16) That didn’t go over too well. It felt a lot more like judgment in discernment’s clothing. The truth is the people to whom I’m referring are believing Christians. I know this because at different times I have seen their fruit. Okay, bear with me here, you are probably way ahead of me on this but after a week or so and a few different people, I got it. This is not about someone else. This is about me.

My face is the one that needs to be in front of the mirror, asking the question, hearing the answer and then adjusting my actions accordingly. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the one with faith so tall? Not you, Tricia!

My own faith has been lagging lately. Misery loves company and so I wanted to see that same lack everywhere I looked. Guess what? I could. Well, almost. I do have a few people in my circle who can stand in that mirror with total confidence. These are ladies who have been in the fiery furnace and seen the shiny guy in there with them. They are not people who have great faith because they live on CalmCoolAndEasy Street. I admire them. I see them as role models and honestly, I hope never to face the demons they’ve stared down. But, back to my lesson.

It took me awhile to get here but, I am at the point now, where if such a mirror existed, one that could show me my faults and the places where I need work, I would actually seek it out. Living in the land of lagging faith is no fun. Neither is walking around blinded by the plank in my eye slamming into people whose specks I feel compelled to remove.

It is no coincidence that the verses that teach us about answered prayer and seeking God (Matthew 7:7-12) come shortly after the speck and plank verse. My prayers, my seeking and knowing God, depend on what is in my eye, not what is in yours.

I hate mirrors. I am not a person who seeks out any reflective surface I can find. I am a person who avoids them. However, if I can find one that will show me how to better serve my Father I’ll stand in front of it all day, or at least until I understand what he wants me to do. And one more thing, even though you don’t know who you are, if you think I might have been judging you, please accept my apologies. I’ll see you much more clearly once my plank is removed.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Prodigals

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again: he was lost and is found. Luke 16:31

Most of us are familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son. The little snot asks for his father’s money, takes off and blows it on good times. Then he comes back. The father is thrilled. The prodigal is repentant and his brother is irate. When we read it in the Bible, depending on the day, we can see ourselves in the various characters. Sometimes one is the son, sometimes the father and far too often, all of us see ourselves as the brother.

The brother is judgmental. He’s caustic. He demands fairness. Yuk! And yet, it is so easy to relate to him. Most of us would prefer to be the father. List his personality traits, giving, forgiving, loving, kind. Sure, that’s who I want to be. We forget that after he was taken advantage of, after he suffered the lack of love and disrespect from his son, he stood in the doorway too many times for too many hours, waiting to see that well-loved, familiar face coming down the road, coming home. It is lovely to be the welcoming one. Wonderful to forgive and to embrace the miscreant turned penitent. Not so wonderful to spend sleepless nights wondering if you will ever see that face again. Will he return? Will you get to give him the embrace you so dearly want to give?

Then there is the prodigal. Why don’t we relate to him more often? Perhaps it is because his story is told as a one-time deal. He messed up in a huge way, realized it, came home, received forgiveness, the end. Most of us do not like to see ourselves in that role but most of us are there more often than we’d like to think. Just because the story is told as a big moment does not mean that it is only our big errors that break God’s heart. One sin is the same as the next to God.

The other day I heard an old song where the people speaking to God were referred to as prodigals. I started to think, what exactly does that mean? I remembered being taught what it meant when I was in high school and being surprised. I know it doesn’t mean sinful or even lost. So I looked it up for an exact definition. It means “wastefully or recklessly extravagant.” That doesn’t sound too bad, until you realize that this guy was wastefully and recklessly extravagant with someone else’s money. Then I put it together. Yes, we are all prodigals. Every single thing we have is a gift from God. Whether we acknowledge him or not, God is Father to us all. Every penny, every moment, every breath comes from God. When we waste those pennies, moments or breaths in sin we are just like the son, often referred to as the lost son, in the story.

I’ve been the brother, too many times and I’m sad to say I expect to be him again. I am the father at this moment, literally waiting for the return of a precious son. Worst of all I was, am and will be the son, wasting the gifts of my Father on things that don’t matter.

In the old song the prodigals are confessing sin in order to gain the ear of their Father. Unconfessed sin will eat at our peace like nothing else. It can cause a distance between us and the throne of God. Not because God imposes the distance but because we, like the lost son, walk away. We need to be quicker to head down the road toward home than the son we call prodigal and lost. Those are words we do not want to apply to ourselves.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Precursor

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near. This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah.
“A voice of one calling in the desert
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” Matthew 3:1-4


I love John the Baptist. I went to his school SJBA, St John the Baptist Academy. Our yearbook was called the Precursor. Though I went there for 12 years, I was out of high school before I understood the significance of that name. It was one of those lightbulb moments “OH! I get it.” It isn’t however his title, Precursor, or the fact that I attended a school named after him that makes me love John the Baptist. It is his complete disregard of the opinions of those around him.

He wore animal skins and allowed his hair to do whatever it pleased. He slept on the sand and ate locust and wild honey. He was the original Survivor candidate but I can only imagine the strong words he’d have for those people. John didn’t have much time for anyone of low moral character.

What about his mother? What did she think of her wild eyed boy? Here he was, the son she’d long since decided was never to be. The son she waited and prayed for year after fruitless year. He spent his life raging at the religious and political leaders, causing everyone to call him crazy. My guess is she couldn’t have been prouder. She understood his mission.

John was the lead guy, the first act. He was warming people up for his cousin. Over and over he told them to repent, to get ready. For the most part they didn’t listen. Most people laughed at him, shook their heads calling him odd. Poor demented soul, spends too much time in the sun, I suppose they thought. But John was committed. Nothing was going to deter him from getting that word out there. He wanted everyone to have open eyes, ears and hearts when the Messiah arrived. The lucky few who listened were ready and waiting when Jesus appeared on the scene. Some people never got it.

John’s life ended because of the lack of understanding of two very selfish women and one very weak man. (Matthew 14:1-12) The people who brought about his death were afraid of John. His teaching meant their lives would have to be drastically changed. They didn’t want to hear what he had to say. Still he risked his life to say it. Jesus and John may or may not have spent much time together as children. We don’t know. We do know that the two men were a lot alike as adults. They spoke the truth whether the people around them wanted to hear it or not.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Confidence

I am the vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

To say that I lack confidence is an understatement. Some people who know me find that hard to believe. Others are painfully aware of it. I tend to question all of my decisions and miss opportunities because I do not feel equal to the task. It is something I know I have to work on because a lack of confidence means the focus is on me. It shouldn’t be. I can’t do anything alone but with God I can do whatever he asks me to do. It is God’s perception of me not mine that really matters. Lack of confidence then is really a lack of faith.

Just the other day while having a conversation with a group of women I noticed that one of them radiates confidence. She is the antithesis of me. She sees herself as talented, beautiful, capable and quite frankly a little too good for the likes of me and to be fair most of the rest of the group. In fact earlier in the same conversation she was quick to point out a detail that makes her, in her estimation, superior to her husband, a very accomplished man. She sees herself as having all that she has through some effort of her own. Her confidence then, is a lack of faith.

Was God telling me to get more education? Take voice or dance lessons? Get a makeover? In short become more like Miss Confident? No! He was saying, never, ever forget that every thing, every blessing, every bit of talent, every opportunity even those things you see as flaws, my dear, are all from me. “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” He said it before and if I ever forget, and I pray that I won’t, he will say it again, for which I am exceedingly grateful. Miss Confident does not realize is that what she is so proud of is all fleeting.

For a moment as I thought this all over it felt very much like judgement. I was heading toward the speck and plank Scripture when God redirected my attention. He wasn’t asking me to go tell her the error of her ways. He was telling me to be sure I never make the same mistake. He was encouraging me to stay in his grasp and to recognize that all that I have, am and do is from him.

Does this woman have some talent? I’ve heard that she does. Is she doing well in her profession? Yes she is. Is she physically beautiful? To each his own, some would say yes, others not so much. The point is that what she does have comes from the same place as everything that I have and everything that you have. The difference between us is that I know it and she doesn’t. Am I better person than she is? I assure you that I am not. What I am is blessed to have received and accepted an invitation to dance with the King. I know that the invitation is there for her too and I hope that one day she accepts it.