Friday, April 29, 2011

Hero or Zero

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through the one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Romans 5:12, 15


My son Jeffrey is a musician. A couple of years ago he wrote a song called “Run.” On the surface it is the story of one man, a deadbeat dad. Listen closer and you find a second man, the hero so to speak who takes up where the first man failed. Digging deeper still and knowing the songwriter I hear and see a picture of a couple of different events and people from his own life. The details are changed to protect privacy but the feelings are certainly there. To the deadbeat Jeffrey sings, “go on ya’ bum, go on and run.” Later as the man picking up the pieces he sings, “I gotta’ go. I gotta’ run.” The first is running from and the second is running to. I wonder if Jeffrey even begins to realize how many lessons, including a lovely spiritual one, are in that song. You could take it apart piece by piece and do quite a nice study on human behavior. As a mother and key player in Jeffrey’s life I identify with a lot in that song but listening to it yesterday I was taken by the idea of the one bad man and the one good one. Sound familiar?

Life imitates art they say. But I think art imitates life, as in everything, every thought, every object, every movie, every song, every novel, etc finds its origin in the Bible whether the thinker/ doer/creator knows it. The idea that one man’s actions can bring destruction and that another can come and save the day is not new or original. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jeffrey’s song. I think it is a great illustration of the battle between good and evil.

In the song a young woman has been left by what we gather was her boyfriend, left with a fist full of empty promises and a baby. Many, many years later the boyfriend returns. She no longer knows him and refuses to see him. In comes our hero who explains to “Mr. Johnny Come Lately” that he has stepped up to fill the void. The hero’s voice is much subtler than that however. The message is more you left her behind, empty and alone and now it is my privilege to have her by my side and call her my own. Now that my friends, sounds very familiar.

I can’t speak for you but I can speak to my own life and even my son’s life when I tell you that we have believed those lies at times. We’ve fallen prey to the call of the one man who brings death. Thankfully, we have realized the falseness of that voice and pray daily to hear and heed the voice of the One who brings life. Jeffrey and I along with the rest of my children were blessed to live this out in this world as well. Abandoned and mistreated by one man we were given the gift of a second man who loves and cares for us, as if to do so is indeed a privilege. That is for us, a small picture of the saving, merciful, perfect love of Christ.

Sometimes we think, what can I do? I’m only one person. If we will put our words and actions into God’s hands He will use us to be the one who brings life to a situation. If we believe the lies of the enemy we will join the myriad of people who prefer to bring gloom and maybe even death to a situation or worse, a life, a soul. It is a simple statement but true, each day we have to choose Christ, choose to be bearers of his perfect light. Walk in that light and be the hero and not the zero.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Own Worst Enemy

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1: 16-17

Sometimes in life we encounter enemies that just won’t go away. We name them. We curse them and then eventually we attempt to deal with them. We can fight or we can walk away. We can choose to have nothing to do with that enemy, whether it is a thing or a person, unless of course, we are our own worst enemy. I have heard the expression used in various ways, “we have met the enemy and they is us.” At one time I even knew where that originated but that isn’t important here. What is important is freedom. I want to be free from being my own worst enemy, causing my own nightmares and producing spoiled fruit. It is time for me to live fully under the grace of God, in complete recognition that in spite of what the world would have me believe, I am royalty.

The problem is not my parentage. How can it be? I am the adopted daughter of the King, not of a king but THE KING. Why can I come and go as I please? I’ll tell you why, my Abba owns this place. He designed it. He built it and he shares it with me. To walk around with my head down or living in some faulty self-constructed pseudo castle is foolish. At risk of getting yelled at by my grandbabies I’ll say it in stronger terms; it’s stupid. (Hear a small voice saying, “bad word!”)
The body I have, the life I have, the people who inhabit it, the job I do, the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the ability to think and reason, to walk and talk, to laugh, to cry, etc. etc. are all gifts from the Father of heavenly lights. He gives them to me and he gives them to you too. He will give us pure freedom and the ability to walk in it if we understand that he really does know what is best and give him control.

To stay trapped in a false sense of self, a belief that I am not who I am supposed to be, or that I am useless, is beyond stupid. It is sinful. It is also dangerous and self-defeating. As long as I allow myself to be my own worst enemy I will never be of much use to God. How can he work through me when I won’t get out of the way?

Each week in our church we are prompted to pray for an enemy. Unfortunately for the last few months the same face came to mind with amazing alacrity. This week I will pray for my real enemy. That face looks a lot like the one I saw in the mirror this morning. Maybe that is true for you. If it is don’t let it continue. Open yourself to God’s healing love and ignore the lies of an enemy standing at your door.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Lesson from Faith

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Deuteronomy 5:6-7
Yesterday my granddaughter, Faith, was very excited about a lesson she learned in pre-K. Faith attends a Christian school and the lesson was about Jesus. She told me all about how Jesus was accused by the “bad guys” and how he answered “calmly and without disrespect.” She took me through the whole story from accusations to heaven. When she was finished, I realized it was not their chapel day. So I asked her if she had heard the story from her teacher and she said yes. I then asked if she thought the pastor would talk about the same thing in chapel. “Yes.” She said, “And I can’t wait to see what Father Hall says about it!” I told her that I would like to hear what Father Hall said and she told me to call her as soon as I was finished at work; which I did, only to be told, by Faith herself, that she was busy and couldn’t talk right then. Her mother told me she was watching a movie. I laughed at first, not at all offended. A few minutes later I started to think about Faith’s choice and that’s when it hit me.

How many times in a week do I make a similar choice? I could pray, read my Bible, call to check on a friend but I watch the movie, read the article, or play the game instead. There always seems to be time later for God, for prayer. Then of course I pray to be used by God, to be more in tune with what He wants from me. How is that supposed to happen when, like Faith said to me, I promise to get back to Him later?

As I write this it is late in the evening. Faith has not gotten back to me and I certainly hope she is in bed right now. Again, so like her Grammy, Faith’s intentions were good. She did tell me that Father Hall did talk about that topic but she would call later. She hasn’t and as I said, it’s late.

I rest assured that Faith will tell me her story at some point. She retains information very well and there is no time limit on my end. But what about when God calls us to listen to Him or co-operate with Him and we miss the moment? That is our very sad loss. It is an amazing privilege to be invited into the projects of the Lord of all. How ridiculous is it that we would push that to the side for anything? In comparison, any and everything else we choose is mundane. Even the most wonderful things of this Earth pale in contrast to the glory of God.

Faith’s mommy was a bit embarrassed that her daughter put me off until later. I was amused at first because yesterday it was so important that I call her as soon as I possibly could. Now, I am grateful. When I am tempted to choose some ordinary activity when I feel my Father calling to my heart I will remember little Faith and hopefully, that will inspire me to make the right choice.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Two Sides to the Story

So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not here, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “let us also go, that we may die with him.” John 11:14-16


I love to read the Bible. Wait a minute… before you give me a pat on the back or judge me for being pretentious, wait for the whys. Of course there is the faith aspect. The Bible is my rock, but that isn’t exactly what I’m talking about here. I love the Bible because of the characters, who aren’t in fact “characters” at all but real people with real lives. Unlike other historical figures, we don’t know a lot about some of the most important people in the Bible. Many of them we see in snapshots.

Yesterday our pastor, Sam, spoke about Thomas. Sam is very well educated, especially in terms of spiritual matters. This is the second time in recent weeks that he has referred to Thomas as sort of an Eeyore. The first time was in reference to the passage above and yesterday he added the section of the Scripture that makes Thomas famous, his doubt. He wants to see the wounds of Jesus before he believes.(John:24-31) Those incidents combined with Tom’s comments at the Last Supper make Sam see him as a naysayer, a ho-hum we’re all gonna’ die anyway, kind of guy. The first time he said it I was shocked. Never, in all of the times I have read those passages have I seen Thomas that way. To me it isn’t a pattern but two sides of the same coin. Some of the reason may be that Sam and I are very different people. We differ in that, Sam is a glass half-empty type and I’m a glass half-full. Where we agree is that it doesn’t matter what is in the glass, or how much is in the glass, what matters is what God plans to do with it.

While Sam sees Thomas as resigned to die in the passage from John 11, I see him as committed to Jesus. In my mind it’s more of a, “Come on guys. He’s going, with or without us and we know we’re better off with him, so let’s go” scene. Jesus is going to Lazarus’s home and the way I see it, Thomas has his back. Later, after the crucifixion, Thomas, who put that kind of faith and loyalty into his relationship with Jesus, feels let down. To me, that doubt reads as one of those crisis of faith moments. Not knowing the whole story, Thomas, believes that he was wrong. He didn’t know Jesus as well as he thought he did. Things didn’t go the way he was so sure they would. So now he should believe that it’s all good again? Yeah, okay, but first, how about a little proof? That’s how I read Thomas, very different from Sam’s version. I am so grateful to Sam for giving me a different perspective. I still like mine better but I certainly found his interesting.

So who’s right? Who knows? Maybe Sam. Maybe me. Maybe neither of us. That is why I love the Bible. There are such great, truly human beings in it. Think about it, there are so many amazing people in those stories. The next time someone tells you they don’t read the Bible because it’s boring, ask them if they know about David or Saul. Tell them about Thomas, Mary, Martha, Esther, Peter, Nicodemus and anyone else who intrigues you. Also if someone tells you that the Bible is fiction, point out how little we are told about the “characters.” Good fictional characters come with a lot more detail. Before Thomas uttered one word in any chapter, we’d know what he was wearing, where he’d been and who he’d spoken to last, if the Bible were fiction, which of course, it is not.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Follow Through

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the fist and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will sir’ but he did not go.
“Which of them did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Matthew 21: 28-31


I missed a golden opportunity yesterday. While out running errands I saw someone who carries the scars of injuries caused to her by someone near and dear to me. Given that set of circumstances I have no idea how an approach from me would be received and that is what stopped me from approaching. It’s been years since we’ve seen each other. In fact, I don’t know that she would recognize me right away. Still, all that was necessary was a few words of greeting and possibly identification and I couldn’t do it. Oh, at the time I told myself that I didn’t want to put her in an awkward position. I told myself that it I was doing the right thing and I kind of believed that until my last wakeful moments of the day.

The very last thing I do before I turn out my lights, each and every night, is to write in my gratitude journal. That is a little chronicle I keep detailing the many ways in which God has blessed me. The writing of at least three things each night, forces a review of the day. In reviewing I remembered a moment in the early morning when I felt God reminding of the words in Joshua 1 “be strong and courageous.” I heard them in a song and for the better part of the day they stayed with me. God has used those verses with me many times and I remembered several as I went through my day. Then, I forgot to be strong and courageous. I became fully human, operating under Tricia power instead of relying on the mighty help of the Holy Spirit.

Oh no! When I realized what I had done I felt so small, so disappointed in myself and so eager for a second chance. Immediately I prayed for that second chance. I have no idea if I will get it.

This morning reading about these two brothers I thought of two of my sons, Joseph and Jeffrey. Things have changed considerably but when they were younger this passage described them. One was agreeable with no follow through and the other was argumentative but would do what you asked of him, eventually. Smiling at those memories I realized, that’s me! I’m the brother who not only said yes, but begged to be sent out, to be used and at the very next opportunity, pulled a Jonah and ran away.

Here I am now, reporting to you from the belly of the stinky fish. We suppose Jonah was really inside a real fish. I am in the belly of a figurative fish but it smells and is uncomfortable in its own way. Perhaps like dear Jonah I will get a second chance. I just hope that, unlike him, I leave the griping and complaining at home.

Tenebrae

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Luke 24:4-6a

My friend Cindy told me the other day that her church has changed their Holy Week tradition. This year she said they are going to have a Tenebrae service. She stumbled over the pronunciation of the word and then began to describe it to me. I told her that in my denomination that service is the norm. That opened up all kinds of questions. What is quite familiar to me is foreign to her. The biggest question that she had was what would happen if a person came into the church on Good Friday but didn’t come back on Easter. A few years ago I had written an essay about a man who comes to a Tenebrae service and dissatisfied with the end returns on Sunday to see what could possibly happen next. His life is changed dramatically by the experience but Cindy raises a good point. What if the person doesn’t come back?

That idea really bothered me. Tenebrae is the Latin word for darkness. As the service progresses the church gets darker and darker. The words of the last hours of Jesus life on earth are read, quiet sad songs are sung and the mood is quite somber. This is the one time of the year when there is no happy chatty fellowship after church. This is the crux of our faith. Every year I imagine how the apostles must have felt. I think about what the world would have been like in those hours when Jesus was not here or in heaven. I may foolishly ignore for hours on end but the idea that he could not be reached is unnerving to me. My view is from this side of the resurrection not from the side that didn’t know what was going to happen. The time between the “into your hands I commit my spirit” and the empty tomb must have been the worst most heartbreaking time to live.

Years ago there were two musicals about Jesus that were popular at the same time. One was Jesus Christ Superstar and the other was Godspell. My faith was of the pray when you’re about to get caught or feeling terribly ill variety at that point but having been raised in a Catholic home and school I knew the story. Somewhere in my heart that was some love and respect for God. Godspell has always been my favorite of the two. The music in Superstar is great but there is a lack of reverence and respect, almost a mocking tone to that one. I liked it but I loved Godspell partly because the whole thing is a more positive look at Scripture, at Jesus but mostly because of the end.

At the end of Superstar Jesus is dead. We sing our way through his arrest, crucifixion and death, the end. Godspell on the other hand, sings us through his life, his friendships, his miracles and then his arrest, crucifixion and death. There are a few moments when the theater is quiet and Jesus no longer dances and sings, loving all the people around him in the processes. It is a dark, sad moment until… BAM! There he is fit as fiddle and ready to save the rest of us. Yeah, that’s the right story!

When my friend Cindy asked me what would happen if someone saw Good Friday but not Easter I couldn’t really answer. After thinking about it I believe it comes down to this. If the person coming into the church has hope in their heart they will ask if that‘s it or is there more to the story. We then can tell them to come back on Sunday. If they are hopeless that dark service may not call to their hearts. They may think, “I knew it. There is no hope.” In the end I think if God gets a person with little to no prior knowledge of him in the door on Friday, He’ll get them back there to hear the rest of the story.

As you walk through Holy Week think about a life without the truth of Easter morning. Think about the darkness of Friday and what life would be if that were the end of the story. Praise God that you know better. Praise Him for his gift to us in the person of Jesus Christ and pray for someone you know who needs that knowledge.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An Ordinary Man

“Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him.” But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the fist fish you catch; open its mouth and your will find a four –drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” Matthew 17:26b-27

This passage, to me, is such a great snapshot of Jesus’ humanity. Here he is just trying to pay his taxes. We see so few of these fully human moments in the Gospels but the apostles were with Jesus every day. While it is odd to me to think of Jesus as just another tax payer, it kind of helps me see where the people closest to him could still be amazed and surprised by his power. Put yourself in Peter’s shoes. One minute they’re walking along discussing where they will sleep that night and the next minute Jesus is pulling coins from the mouth of a fish or giving someone their sight. For us, the ordinary moments stand out but I wonder if it was the other way around for the disciples.

Lately I have been revisiting an old favorite TV show, Joan of Arcadia. In it a teenage girl has encounters with God, who shows up in various forms. Sometimes it’s a lovely man or woman, sometimes a grumpy one, sometimes a teenage boy or girl and my personal favorite, the seventy year old woman walking around in the body of the cutest little six year old girl. Pleasant or not so much, all the personalities of God have directives for poor Joan. The idea, I suppose, is God as Everyman, suggesting that we never know where He is or what He looks like. The theme song says, “what if God was one of us?” Well, for awhile He was, in the person of Jesus.

That theme song says, “Just a slob like one of us….trying to make his way home.” That’s true isn’t it? And here in Matthew we see Jesus, an ordinary man just trying to pay his taxes. A bit later in the same Gospel we will see the enormous struggle, as Jesus makes his way home. It is bloody and repugnant. It is horrifying but for those of us who believe the message of Jesus’ life and death, horrifyingly beautiful.

What if God were one of us? He’d pay taxes. He’d get mad when people messed up his Dad’s house. (Matthew 21:12-13) He’d weep when his friend died. (John 11:35) He’d delight in the presence of small children. (Luke 18:16) He’d love and comfort his friends. (John 11:38-44, Matthew 8:23-27). God was one of us, right here on Earth for a brief and wonderful time, and He went by the name of Jesus. Perfect Jesus now fully God was then, also, fully human, taxes included.

What if God were one of us? A slob, a poor pitiful human being, with limitations, stressors, relationships good and bad? Well, He was and because He was, we live today and are invited to live forever.

Monday, April 18, 2011

His Will

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

“Formerly it had seemed to me that His will was the terrible instrument of His severity and that I must do all I could to avert its terrors from swooping down upon my devoted head.” Do you find that quote funny? It was written by Hannah Whitail Smith and I’m fairly sure she was not trying to amuse. Mrs. Smith was a woman ahead of her time. The Beth Moore of her day, I suppose you could say. She was quite a faithful woman and very wise. I have read many things written by her and learned from them all. Reading that quote above however, just cracked me up! Here is a spiritual giant who died eight years before my mother was born, not exactly a contemporary of mine and yet to her sentiments I say a hardy, “Amen!”

Look at the quote in today’s vernacular. If I had written it, it would read more like, “Before I thought of God as the big daddy in the sky, not so much watching over me, as watching my every move. Whatever His will might be I could be pretty sure it involved sacrifice, trial and pain. I saw Him as waiting in the wings to drop the next shoe on my unprotected, but oh-so-Christian head.” See? Isn’t that funny? God, the one true God of the universe, the being who created us out of love, is often seen as some punishing guy, just waiting to send us some impossible, complicated, unpleasant task. Mrs. Smith goes on to say that when she came to understand the unselfish nature of God, she knew her previous assessment couldn’t possibly be true. Again, I say, “Amen!”

God is for us. In Romans Paul is quoted as saying, “If God is for us.” ( Romans 8: 31b) Of course God is for us. Paul uses the word if because he is making a comparison. It could just as easily read “with God on our side.” Still there in that tiny two letter word is where most of our trouble starts. “If” God is willing…. “If God is able….” And the worst one of all, “if” only.

Friends, God is love. (1 John4:16) There is no if in that statement. It is the backbone of truths like 1John 3:16, Romans 5:5, John 15:13 and so many more. It provides absolute certainty to Paul who writes in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

It is one of the best instruments in the enemy’s arsenal of torture to keep us in a mindset that says God’s will is inhibiting, frightening or angry. To ponder the will of God and decide it is to be avoided is the surest way to self-destruction. God is for us, there is no if about that and because He is His will is perfect and best; even when it is uncomfortable, even when we don’t understand it, we can rest assured that our God is an awesome God who loves us beyond anything we can ask or imagine. We need to keep our pious, Christian, “devoted” heads, focused on Him at all times. His grace is enough and then some and His will is far superior to our own.

Susan

This particular message is a rerun from a couple of years ago. The facts remain, those three ladies are among the best people I know. Today one of them is in a literal sturggle for her life. My hope is that more people than ever will read this blog today and that each of them will lift Susan Tongol in prayer. Thank you all in advance for the prayers you will pray for my dear friend.



Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1-4

Today I wish my mother had named me Susan. I’m sure you are wondering why. Don’t worry, I’m about to tell you.

This morning I was fervently praying for humility, not humiliation but true spiritual humility. I was pleading with God to remove all my pride and replace it with humility. “Lord,” I asked, “please make me humble.” It was one of those moments in prayer where I wanted an example, just in case the all mighty, all knowing God of the universe, Lord of all didn’t quite understand what I meant. I prayed to be more like three women I know fairly well. “Oh Lord,” I prayed, “please let me be more like Susan Tebo, Susan Tongol, Susan Starnes.” At Susan Starnes I realized, they were all named Susan. What’s in a name? Apparently quite a bit. For the first time in my life I wished to have been named something other than Patricia.

Many of you don’t know these women, who I assure you are very real people whose permission I will seek before using their whole names. Let me tell you about them. They have in common a willingness to do for others. They are all very positive people. I have seen each one smile when I knew they had precious little to smile about. One is a died in the wool Yankee, one a Southern girl and the other a military kid who has been a little bit of every where. They all do different jobs and attend different churches. The greatest, most obvious, most enviable quality I see in all three of them is the ability to be completely visible and completely invisible at the same time. These are women who touch other people’s lives simply by walking past them in the hallway. It’s a wonderful spiritual gift I bet none of them thinks she has. I wonder if it comes with the name. I know there are exceptions to every rule but as I was praying this morning, it certainly caught my attention, that all three had the same name.

Seriously I don’t think the name is the deciding factor. As I was writing this I thought of two other Susans that I know. One is similar to this trio and the other just may be the exception that proves the rule. It isn’t about the name and certainly I know other wonderfully spiritual, humble people including a couple of guys who didn’t want to be a Johnny Cash song and aren’t named Sue. My guess is that God was trying to get my attention and repeating the same name three times made me stop and think. What is it about these three that captivates me, grabs my attention and makes me a little envious? I believe it is that true humility worn so easily tells me that these women are much closer to God than I am. Somewhere along the way they’ve learned a lesson I’ve missed and therefore am destined to repeat. Humility is something with which my Father would like me to get comfy. I’ve prayed off and on to be more humble but today I really decided that it is of the utmost importance to me. It almost feels like the next rung of a ladder or step of the journey.

In his infinite wisdom and mercy, lest I forget and back up from my commitment to truly become more humble, become a Susan, God sent me a little reminder/help. When I arrived at home after work today, the day of the Susan epiphany, there was an envelope in the mail from my sister. Inside was a green sheet of paper. At the top it said, “A Private Litany of Humility.” My sister had sent it to me in response to a message I had written a couple of years ago about learning to be more humble. Did you just read that it’s been a couple of years at the very least that I have been in this quest for humility? I do believe God is telling me it’s time. Get it and get it now!

My sister enclosed a note that said, “I love this prayer. I hate this prayer.” I read it and heartily concur. I LOVE this prayer. I HATE this prayer. Most of all I am so very grateful to have it and to have received it today, just exactly when I needed it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Say a Prayer

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you; Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44


Sometimes God speaks through the oddest things. Many of us are familiar with the Old Testament story in which he spoke, literally, through a donkey. While I have never received a message from livestock, often I hear things in the strangest places. At times the message is immediately obvious. Other times I need a little time to sit with it. Yesterday I had a bit of both. I heard a snippet from an old song that made me stop and think. Later after receiving some hard news the idea gelled. The song is written from the prospective of the bad boy trying to woo the good girl. He mentions that he knows her mother doesn’t like him. But, he asks, did she ever pray for me? Hm…? My first thought was of a friend of one of my children who I really, really don’t like. Have I prayed for him? Thankfully I can say yes but I still got the point of the song.


We call ourselves people of God but then forgetting that every person is his creation we pick and choose those for whom we will pray, even when God puts someone in our path, over and over. Did I pray for that young man? Yes, but not terribly often, not with much sincerity and not without an agenda of my own. The line of the song became a cautionary one for me. “Oh yeah, you’re a big Christian, all about love, but did you send any my way?”


Just a bit later in the day I received word that someone I do love as a sister in Christ as well as a sweet friend, was suffering, near death. Did I say a prayer for her? Immediately! Please, oh please, oh please Lord, kind of prayers went from my heart and my mouth to the throne of God. I believe that in his perfect way God heard, is hearing, and will answer my prayers. I know my prayers for my dear Susan are combined with the prayers of multitudes of other believers. This is a well known and much loved woman for whom many people will pray. My children’s friend? I suppose he’s well known but not much loved. I suppose some people will pray for him but not with any real sense of urgency. He is more of the lost cause variety. I don’t think he’s anywhere near a physical death’s door. But then again, he’s already spiritual dead.

So who needs the prayers more? Susan whose mortal life is in danger but whose eternal life is secure or the kid whose mortal life stays in the danger zone while his spiritual life is of a spirit that I find repugnant? The answer is that they both have the same level of need. We all do. Our pastor is very fond of reminding us that we all have issues that require tissues and he’s right. It isn’t about need. It’s about who I see as worthy of my prayers and that is just plain wrong!


The words to that old song reminded me of that young man. Did I immediately pray for him? No, sadly I did not. I did immediately pray for Susan and have continued to pray for her. How noble of me, to pray for a friend! Prayer is a gift. It is one we are meant to share. That song, the song written in the person of a malcontent trying to persuade a young girl into questionable behavior is very irreverent. It was meant to raise eyebrows and point fingers. It worked. Years ago I thought it was so cool. Yesterday I heard it as a wakeup call. I believe God was reminding me that he wants me to love all of his people, not just the ones I like. Praying that a person would just go away doesn’t really count either. The words of the song say, “Did she ever say a prayer for me?” “A prayer for me”. That is something to think about.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Trust

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God whose word I praise, In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? Psalm 56: 3-4 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30: 15 To Run Unhindered Straight To God There has been a lot of talk about trust in my world lately. Trust between friends, spouses, siblings, parents and kids. It seems that just about everyone has some reluctance to trust the people around him or her. I get that. It is hard for me to trust some people. It doesn’t help that I have trusted again after solemnly vowing not to, only to be hurt. People, no matter how well meaning, no matter how much they love you, no matter what relationship you have, people will let you down. That is not condemnation. I am not sitting in my lofty white tower writing to you about those darn people. If you are my spouse, child, friend, sibling or parent, you know I will let you down. I hope not often but it is going to happen. I am sorry. I wish that it weren’t true but it is. Once in awhile a little thing gets forgotten or overlooked no big deal but a pattern of broken promises becomes an issue. Our hearts get broken and if the pattern continues, they may become hardened. We then take that distorted view and apply it to God. Even if we’ve been fairly blessed in the trust department, if the people who populate our lives have been trustworthy, that standard still isn’t how we should measure our Father. Our Bible tells us God will never leave us or forsake us. No human being can promise that. It also says that he will forgive every time we ask him to and then forget the offense. No human being can promise that either. Well, I guess those promises could be made but they will almost surely be broken. Trusting God is an entirely different matter than trusting any human being regardless of relationship or proximity. God will never let you down. There is no selfishness in him. He wants what is best for you and he knows it way better than you or I do. I spelled it out above, trust, to run unhindered straight to God. Unhindered by guilt, fear, depression, anxiety, people, things, or money, we are light as air. Our feet firmly planted in the Gospel of the good news can take us straight into the arms of perfection. TRUST your Father. Run to him whenever for whatever. He won’t let you down. He promised.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sister Act

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. John 11:20



Martha and Mary, the sisters. Have any other set of sisters caused as much discussion to as many people (read women!) as those two? I highly doubt it.
In the first story we see Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha is busy making the food for the reception after the talk. Jesus admonishes Martha, saying that Mary made a better choice, a choice to sit at his feet and learn. He doesn’t say that what Martha was doing was wrong. He just says that what Mary was doing was better. That statement has caused so many discussions, so many disagreements and so much guilt. I don’t doubt for a minute that Mary made the wiser choice. Still, what would happen later? Everyone would be hungry and Martha, to whom I can definitely relate, felt compelled to feed them. I bet she enjoyed feeding the crowd but I also believe she resented having to do it all while Mary sat and listened.

Look at the second passage. Martha is outside waiting to meet Jesus and Mary is not. There are those who like to paint the picture of Martha as the worker and Mary as the fragile one who is too delicate/special/important/proud to lift a finger to help, that all she cares about is Mary. Those who would paint that picture forget the story in John 12:1-8. Mary is not a delicate little shirker. Mary is a woman in love with her Lord. In the second passage her heart is broken, which keeps her home. Martha’s broken heart sends her out to find Jesus and get him to make a difference.

Regardless of how many glimpses we get of Martha and Mary, their fates were sealed with the statement from Luke. Mary is the devoted disciple and Martha is the work horse. Sure in that passage. The problem is that one passage does not tell the whole story. Mary’s quiet devotion keeps her home, inside, at the time that Jesus is met by Martha. There we see Jesus using Martha to convey another important message. In the words between Martha and Jesus in John 11:20-27, the message is sent, God is never late. Martha is the worker but that doesn’t mean her devotion or faith are less than Mary’s. It means they are different. God created them to be exactly as they were.

In the first passage we learn from those sisters that God should come first, before we make the pasta, before we finish the report, start the laundry or wash the car, unless, God is using us to server someone else.

Every day I pray to be of service to God and to others. Normally my routine is to spend quiet time with my Lord (Mary) before entering the busyness of the day (Martha). Yesterday I had to get right into the day to day to make a bigger than normal breakfast for my husband and adjust his lunch according to a situation that had developed with his blood sugar. Then, if there was time, sit with the Lord. Oh, and I was picking my friend Charlene up for work which meant leaving a tad earlier. That was being done to accommodate another person later in the day.

As I finished getting ready to leave and realized that I would not have time to sit and actually speak to God I felt awful. I thought, I’m such a Martha! And God said, “Yes you are and good for you.” Huh? Friends, there is room in the world, there is a need in the world for Marthas and Marys. The thing is we have to integrate those personalities to best serve God.

Yesterday God wanted me to drop my agenda to serve his other children. Doing so willingly and without guilt was as faithful and disciplined an act as sitting in prayer or reading Scripture. I was so grateful for that lesson and just knew that many of my sisters in Christ, and maybe even some brothers, could use that lesson as well. To all my guilty Martha sisters I say, take a Mary break. And to all the Mary sisters I say, sometimes you have to cook too and it is okay. If we let God order our days, hours and moments, all that we do will be pleasing to him.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How Strange

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to
him,
Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with
suffering.
Like one from whom men hid their faces
he was despised and we esteemed him not.
Isaiah 53:2b-3


Does it ever occur to you that there are people who live their lives totally unaware of the saving, protective, merciful presence of Jesus? I don’t mean third world citizens or people who speak in clicks and ticks. I mean flag waving or burning, primary voting or election protesting US citizens. That annoying woman next door or the sweet guy that delivers your mail may very well be living their lives with no recognition of the facts of life. They may get up in the morning and lay back down at night without ever one time thinking about God. I find that very strange. I have known about God my entire life and I have known him, intimately, for 28 years.

The other day I was listening to one of my favorite songs. It is by Aaron Shust and in it he says, “That he should leave his place on high and come for sinful men to die. You count it strange so once did I, before I knew my Savior.” I don’t really know about before I knew my Savior. I know about before I truly believed in him. I know about ignoring the fact of his immense sacrifice but I do not know about not knowing about him at least the simple facts.

Do you know George Bush? I don’t. I have no idea how he speaks to his friends and family. Nor do I have a clue as to what he feels to be his purpose in life. I do know that he exists and that his existence and his position are a great influence on many other people. When I was younger that is how I knew Jesus. I didn’t know his heart but I knew that a lot of other people did.

It makes me wonder what a life with no Jesus, no God, is like. I’m not fond of the image of God that was crafted for me as a child. That God was an unapproachable judge, devoid of mercy. I certainly did not approach Him. Later in life as I began to know people who truly knew God, knew Jesus, knew about the power of the Holy Spirit my perspective changed.

I do not know about “before I knew my Savior” but I do agree that it is very strange to most of us that anyone would give up what Jesus gave up for the likes of us. But then, Jesus is full of strange behavior.

My son Joseph has always loved the song “Jesus Freak” by DC Talk. I remember him walking around singing, “People think I’m strange. Does it make me a stranger that my best friend was born in a manger?” The answer is yes, yes my son, to an unfortunately large portion of the world that makes you very strange. Good news, it makes Him, Jesus, even stranger and it is that strange behavior on which we stake our lives.

There is nothing normal about the way Jesus was born, the way He lived or the way he died. People may think we are strange to believe such things. I find it stranger still that there are people who do not care to know about Jesus and the way He lived. I hope that I might live as a small example of the beautiful strangeness of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Desires

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Psalm 73: 25-26



It is hard for me to admit but there are days when earth has a lot that I desire. Granted I can’t remember a day when I clearly desired something more than I desired God but still there are things I desire. A lot of times, those are the things that get me in trouble. If I were asked if I would give up on God to get whatever I want at that moment the answer would be no. I wouldn’t give up my salvation or my relationship with Jesus for any thing. Unfortunately I rarely see my choices in those terms. I see them as wanting what I want.
Wanting in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is what I will go through or compromise to achieve the desired object or outcome that can be problematic. Earth should not have anything that does not pale in comparison to God.

The Psalmist goes on to say that God is his strength and his portion forever. That was not true just for that one lucky man. God is strength and portion for every one of us who turns to Him and becomes His. There is nothing in this world that can compare to Him. No one who even comes close.

I think of my husband, my mom and my closest friends. If you were to ask me I would tell you that they would always stand with me and support me through my life events. I think they would but the truth is they may not. For various reasons every human being at some point will let you down. It may be through no fault of their own but it will happen. God will never let us down, not ever, not once.

Throughout the Bible we read these references about God as our strength, portion, shield, provider and protector. We read that He is always for us and that He always wants what is best for us. So how should we respond? We should respond as the psalmist does right here. We should, write, speak and sing praise to the Lord. We should tell everyone we know that all we are and all we have are gifts from God. We should leave no doubt as to whose we are. Every where we go people should see a little ray of God’s great light.

Whom do we have in heaven but Him? Who will take better care of us or lead us in a better direction? No one. There is only one God. We only have one life and He wants it. Put your life in His hands. He will do amazing things.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Character

“Man looks at the outward appearance, buy the Lord looks at the heart.”
1Samuel 16:7b

As for those who seemed important—whatever they were makes no difference to me. God does not judge by external appearance— Galatians 2:6a


“Character is chiseled into beauty by the daily discipline and daily duties done.” My children would be quick to tell you that my definition of what is beautiful is quite often downright odd. I find beauty in places where other people see none. This quote is not about physical beauty. It is about the beauty that comes from being fully devoted to Christ. The discipline spoken of here is the daily yielding to the movements of the Holy Spirit. It is the cheerful handing over of the reins of our lives to the One who is far better equipped to steer us.

The beauty spoken of here is what comes after flint faced resignation has given way to wholehearted devotion. Can we still backslide? Yes! Can we still stumble and even fall? Certainly! But character, built by daily devotion to Jesus, shows itself as beautiful when after dusting off our little pants, we admit our faults and begin again.

It isn’t easy, especially when we revisit the same sins over and over again. Each time we escape we have a new plan. There is no way that same demon is going to get us, until it does. Ugh! Now not only do I carry the weight of sin, I carry the weight of repeated failure as well. If I succumb to those feelings my character will not develop well. If I accept that God applauds the efforts made and renews me, restoring me to right relationship with Him, showering me with grace to try again, then my character starts to take shape in the right way. It is the willingness to admit my faults and try again, returning to what I know to be right that show my character development.

So where’s the beauty? It is formed by the knowledge of the love of Christ. It is born of the love that he showed to us, long before we ever choose to live for him. On the outside I may look the same but watch my interactions with others, look at the way I handle adversity and see if you see beauty there. If I’m living well, you should.

Years ago our family knew a young girl who was not beautiful by worldly standards. In fact she was rather odd looking. To me she was beautiful and my children were terrible to me when I said so. They laughed! They didn’t see what I saw. My boys saw a plain Jane with bug eyes and a big nose. They saw a girl they would never want to date. My daughter got it a little better but she still very gently pointed out to me that the girl really couldn’t be seen as pretty let alone beautiful. Wrong! She had a smile that could light up the darkest room and when she walked, well, she didn’t so much walk as float/bounce. It seemed that her feet barely touched the floor. I saw a young woman so filled with the love of God that she wasn’t quite attached to this world. That is character chiseled into beauty. Her actions, words and behaviors all pointed outward and upward toward God. She was and I guess still is, a beautiful girl. I would say, she looked a lot like her Father, our Father.

The mirror tells one story but I pray that day after day, good decision after good decision, one obedient act at a time my life will tell a much better one. I hope my character is being chiseled into beauty.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Humility

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12

On humble people, Christian writer Brennan Manning says, “Following the counsel of Jesus to take the last place, they are not shocked or offended when someone puts them there.” It is important to know your worth to God but to know also that while no one is better than you, neither are you better than another. Our Father sees us all as equal. Though it is difficult for us to understand He sees all sin in the same light as well. We often fall into the trap of the Pharisee who compared himself to the tax collector, forgetting that our Father loves each of us as if there were only one of us. Self- promotion is never effective. Only God’s promotion counts.

The way of the world is to shine our own light. Take a look at any political campaign. Such paragons of virtue and people of immense strength and widespread accomplishment are running for office. It is hard to believe that such people exist. Before we get too comfortable with those beliefs someone from the opposing team is right there to tell us the real story. Political campaigns are the epitome of this verse from Matthew.

We would all do well to remember that when we yell, “look at me, look at me” people will surely look. When they share what they see we may not be flattered. We may well as Manning suggests be shocked by the position others think suits us best. We are wise then to follow James’ advice. “Humble yourselves then in the sight of the Lord and he will lift you up.” James 4:10