Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Next Level

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life. Psalm 27:4


The world has gone techno, video game crazy! This year my husband and I even gave my parents a game system. When my family is together the guys, and even some of the girls, are talking about Angry Birds, some game they play on the phone. Games are a huge thing these days.

Our grandson, Joey, received a video game from his cousins for his birthday. They live in another state and the gift arrived a bit late, which worked out well. Since it was separate from all the party chaos, we were able to sit right down and play as soon as it was opened. When it was time for Joey to leave I asked him if he would mind if his grandfather and I used his game while he was gone. “Of course not!” he said. And I thought, “oh sweet boy”, which he is. Then he added, “You can open up some more levels.”

Levels are the name of most games, the idea being, to get farther and farther in, higher and higher up. Listening to Joey, to other family members, to people at work, especially the ones addicted to Angry Birds, I hear it all the time. “What level are you on? Did you get to such and such yet?” Hearing it over and over made me think about my walk with Jesus. What level am I on? Have I gotten to where God wanted me to be at this point in my life? It isn’t a crazy comparison.

I have been tested enough that I know if I don’t get it right, God in His infinite mercy, will give me another chance, whether I want it or not. Mostly I don’t. Just like the gamers. They don’t want to repeat levels because in the game, that is an obvious backward step.

Ask any person who has more than a passing relationship with Jesus if they want to take steps backward and they will tell you no. Of course we don’t. Having achieved any heightened knowledge of God we don’t want to go back to a lesser place and yet, it happens all the time. The difference being that the levels in the game are so obvious while the levels of faith are much more subtle. We don’t see the slips and compromises that take us back a level or two. Sadly, many of us don’t fight nearly as hard to keep our status with Jesus as the gamers do to keep their game rating.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I know many people who are obsessed with Angry Birds right now. It’s the latest cool thing. I know this because when one person mentions it, several others chime in about their experience with the game. If only we were all as eager and outspoken about our experiences with God. There are definitely different levels of faith and like the gamers we should share what we know to open up the next level for those around us who haven’t gotten there yet. It should certainly be our obsession to get higher and higher in our pursuit of God.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Especially Fond

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8


A couple of years ago I read a book called “The Shack”, in which a man has a very close and personal encounter with God. Early on Mack, hears God listening to music that Mack thinks is questionable. When he comments on it, God remarks that He is “especially fond” of the boys in the group. That expression is used over and over again in the book and has stayed with me and recently it kept coming to my mind.
How can God be especially fond of people who are so ignorant of Him? Or worse, how can he be that fond of people who show blatant disrespect for Him, by claiming His name and then behaving as badly as they know how? It made no sense to me but I believe it. I know God loves each us as if there were only one of us.

A week or so ago my granddaughter Madelyn, had her preschool promotion ceremony. One of the songs she sang was “Jesus Loves Me.” I listened as the precious little group sang the words, “Jesus loves me when I’m bad, even though it makes him sad.” That’s it! That is how God can be especially fond of even the worst people, as we see it, in the world. They are His children.

My husband and I have four children, four in-love children and nine grandchildren. Over the years our four have given us moments that range from amazingly wonderful, bringing us great pride, to ordinary life, just making us happy to have them, to oh-no-you-did-not, making us, frankly, a bit crazy. I’ve been asked numerous times if I have a favorite. Yes! And that answer changes all the time.

Paul, is my oldest, precious boy. Paul, who I nearly lost at five days old, is constant, full of love and integrity, with a wicked sense of humor. Oh, yes, Paul is my favorite. Joseph is number two, the teddy bear. Sweet, caring, forgiving, goofball, Joseph, would literally give you the shirt off his back. Joseph is my favorite. Jeffrey is number three, talented, passionate, fiery Jeffrey, who can change a tense situation with a well timed phrase. Jeffrey is my favorite. Laura is number four and my only girl. Laura is determined. She has a strong exterior with a marshmallow inside. When she is committed to something, she will never back down. Get Laura on your side and you have an advocate who won’t quit. Laura is my favorite.

One time one of my sons told me our family was an embarrassment to him and kept his distance from us for awhile. My heart broke but I was still especially fond of him. One evening another child walked in the door and handed me the first in the list of things a mom does not want to hear. I am especially fond of that one. At work one morning I got a phone call that one of my boys needed bail. I just love that kid. Then there is the child who cut me in a way I never wanted to be cut by putting another mother in my place. That child is so very dear to me. I am especially fond of each and every one of them.

Actions, words and behaviors can certainly hurt me. Truly, no one can hurt me like those four and right behind them my in-love children. However, the relationships I have with them show me why God can be especially fond of us even when we are at our worst. He sees things in us that aren’t visible to human eyes.

Joseph has a friend named Carlo, of whom, I am not especially fond. Oddly the word especially, reminds me of him. I work with special needs children and Carlo knew a few of them from his former job. He referred to them as the “especially handicapped kids” and he had a special affection for them. That is sort of a tiny glimpse to me of maybe, how God sees us. I see Carlo in all of the ways that make me want to slap him, but there is that one decent and lovely thing about him.

One day, he put aside his own plans to be at an event for a child in my class who had no one else to come. Without Carlo, that child would have been alone while his friends had family members with them. Thinking about Carlo from that angle makes me especially fond of him. Further, it helps me to understand that we are all God’s children whether we acknowledge him or not. We are His and He is especially fond of each and every one of us.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

One Question, Two Ways

“Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks, ‘Where are you going?’ ”
John 16:5


The Bible is a book that needs to be read very carefully and prayerfully. We know it is the absolute truth but sometimes we get confused. After all, here is Jesus saying that his disciples have not asked him where he’s going. This is in chapter 16. To get to chapter 16 we should already have read chapter 13, where in verse 36 Peter asks that exact question. Simon Peter asked him, “Lord where are you going?” Does that make this verse a contradiction? No, it does not.

The conversation in chapter 13 revolves around the disciples concern for themselves. Where are you going? Can I go with you? It continues in chapter 14 when Thomas says they don’t know the way to where Jesus is going, indicating that they want to stay with him, go wherever he is going. In that exchange the disciples are concerned for themselves. They aren’t necessarily worried about Jesus but they are worried about what they’re going to do without him. I can understand that. They’ve left everything behind to follow him and now he’s saying the train stops here, you can’t go any further.

In chapter 16 the focus is not on the disciples, but on Jesus. He says that they haven’t asked where he is going because they haven’t asked about his future, his well being. They’ve been blinded by selfishness. The attitude in chapter 13 is what’s in it for me. In chapter 16 Jesus is looking for a more sincere concern for the ministry. He’s trying to open their eyes to the fact that they will have to carry on the work without him

Looking at this question, seeing the two different focuses I became aware of how many times I am more concerned about what impact God’s will is going to have on my day to day life, than I am about the Kingdom. Short term vision is not new to our generation. Peter, Thomas and the rest of the crew were guilty of it too. It is human sight, as opposed to spiritual sight. Jesus wanted his closest friends to understand that the Holy Spirit was coming and was going to enable them to continue healing, saving and blessing.

When we choose to accept the gift of salvation and invite the Spirit of God to dwell within us we become a part of that ministry. Every person we see presents us with an opportunity to show the Jesus in us, to continue his work.

How are you asking the question? Is it, where are you going and can I come because I’m worried about my life? Or is it, where are you going because I need to continue to follow you, seek you and be a part of your work?

Far too often my prayers are selfish. Help, heal, advise, I ask. I hope as I grow along my prayers will become more and more, send me, use me, let me help and bless. In the meantime, as I grow, I will check my motives as I pray. It needs to be all about Him and not about me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Moldable

Yet, oh Lord you are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Isaiah 64:8


“We are the clay.” Have you ever worked with clay? I really haven’t other than children’s clay. I have worked with dough, which is kind of the same idea. In either case the potter or baker is presented with a lump of inanimate material that can be shaped into any form that suits the person doing the shaping. On my shelves I have a clam, a dinosaur, a turtle, several little houses, a bowl and various other items shaped by my children’s hands in a high school ceramics class. Clay is inanimate. When we are presented with that blob of whatever goes into clay, it isn’t going anywhere. We can pick it up, put it down, shape, reshape, mash it all down and start over. Let me say it again, the clay isn’t going anywhere. It is never going to look at the potter and say, “Hey! I wanted to be a vase not a tea cup!” As the potter’s fingers work the clay molding it to the desired shape we never hear, “Ouch! Stop! I don’t want to look like this. You’re hurting me. Why me? Why not that other piece of clay over there?”

The verse says, “we are the clay” but maybe it should say, “we should be like clay.” The problem here is the same one that presents itself in Romans 12:1 where it says, “Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” An old friend of ours used to joke; “The problem with living sacrifices is that they can get up off of the table.” The same is true for human clay. Unlike actual clay we can argue with God, bargain with Him and attempt to coerce Him. When we see what He has planned for us or when we are called to serve, too often, too many of us start to tell Him why we can’t do what He’s asking.

This verse in Isaiah first refers to God as “our Father.” That makes it harder for a lot of us. Many of us don’t have the best picture of fathers. Often what our earthly fathers asked of us was wrong or detrimental. Father God most certainly does know best. The picture here in Isaiah is of a loving Father who wants to hold us in His hands and mold us into something beautiful, useful and purposeful. If we would sit still like a blob of clay and truly allow God to work in our hearts to fashion us to His liking our lives would be much more successful and infinitely more joyful. He is the potter and we are the clay. There are no better hands for the job of molding our lives. Are you moldable?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Examples

And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. Mark 9:42

Yesterday I was driving and came to a curve in the road. This curve was mentioned in a sermon I heard several years ago. The pastor said that shortly after having a talk with his young children about obedience he was driving on that curve going 15 miles over the legal limit. His youngest son commented on that fact asking why he had to obey if his father did not. Years later that same man would prove to his sons in a horrible, public and humiliating way that he did not believe that he had to follow the rules. That man had many people looking at his behavior, measuring his response to Scripture and he failed them all. He is not alone.

Every parent in the world is under the same scrutiny. It is important that we live as we are telling our children they should live. If they have to do something because “I said so” then we must do what our authorities tell us to do as well. When they see us living as if the Commandments don’t exist they see hypocrisy. There are numerous songs and poems that illustrate the importance of modeling good behavior for our children. What about our siblings? Or our co-workers? Our parents?

Once we claim the name of Christian we have to live up to it to the best of our ability. Just like that pastor, our words and actions are being measured by all who see us. Some watch to emulate our behavior. Some watch to catch us in an indiscretion or other form of hypocrisy.

We all fall short. We all make mistakes but when we preach with our words we better pray that our actions match. None of us is perfect, but we all should be striving toward perfection. (Matthew 5:48) We will fail, and those failures will be seen. It is our responsibility to be seen succeeding more often than failing. That pastor was a lousy example for his children and for his flock. By observing his mistake I hope to learn and to do better. I know I’m much more cautious on that curve in the road. That’s a silly thing maybe but it does remind me of the bigger picture.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Imaging

Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and the over all the creatures that move along the ground.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:26-27


There is a quote from philosopher Blaise Pascal that reads, “God made man in His own image and man returned the compliment.” The way those words are put together is so amazing to me. It sounds almost positive at first read.

My Gram, and my mother, taught me never to return a dish empty. If someone brought a dish with food in it to our home, we were then to return it with a gift of food for the giver, or at least put in a thank you note. My mother grew beautiful roses and I remember on more than one occasion returning a dish with a rose or two placed in or on top. God made me in His image so let me make Him into…. Oh wait a minute now the real meaning of the statement comes to light. This isn’t cherry pie and pastel flowers. This is minimizing at the very least.

Read the statement again, “God made man in His image and man returned the compliment.” Ouch! The idea of taking what is perfect and making it into something far less, vastly inferior makes no sense and yet old Pascal is so right. From the earliest Bible stories we see it. Didn’t Adam and Eve immediately return the compliment? We don’t need to obey you. We’ll make our own choices, with the help of this very knowledgeable serpent. The Israelites made wooden gods and golden gods. Anything that could be cast or carved was a possible god.

Let’s return for a minute to the dish analogy. Let’s say I bake a nice chocolate cake for my friend Charlene. She accepts the cake and instead of enjoying it, she takes it, adds things from her cat’s litter box, mixes in a bit of wet coffee grounds and a dash of window cleaner for good measure and then returns it to me. How do you suppose I would feel about my cake? Granted it’s a thin and stretched analogy but hopefully it makes sense.

Having been made in the image of perfection, we then choose to live far from perfect lives. Then judging our perfect, supreme Father by imperfect, flawed standards, we get frustrated when God is not who we want Him to be. Wanting to be “good” Christians, we mold and fashion a god who will fit better into our days and be more approving of our lifestyle.

The first commandment tells us not to put other gods before him. Again, wanting to follow that rule, we just change the God we have to fit our understanding. Fortunately for us, it doesn’t work that way. God never changes and while we’re trying to change Him, He is faithful to show us over and over again exactly who He is.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Widow’s Story

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had.” Luke 21:1-4

Whenever I read a book with particularly well written characters I hate to see it end. I want to know what happens next? Does the couple live happily ever after? Is the rebel truly tamed? How does that newborn baby grow up? What becomes of that family? Sometimes the author continues the story with a sequel but most often it is a slice of life and that’s all. Here in Luke we get more of a crumb of life story. The widow goes to the temple and she gives all that she has. I am humbled by her actions but what happens next? Jesus doesn’t say. He tells his story makes his point and moves on. It’s almost an aside between two more important stories, an, oh by the way did you see that? Knowing the heart and mercy of God we believe that the widow was then lavishly blessed, that her life of struggle became a life of plenty. Nowhere does it say that happened.

God loves each of us and I believe because I have experienced it that God will never be outdone in generosity. If I, like this widow, give until it hurts I will be blessed but not necessarily with money or things. You see God knows what we need so much better than we do. The widow came and gave her last two coins but maybe money wasn’t really her deepest need. Perhaps she was lonely and God provided companionship for her. Perhaps she was ill as well as poor and God restored her health. I have no way of knowing the details but I do know this, God did not ignore that act of great faith.

This story may be about the widow’s awareness that God is all we truly need in life. Maybe, but I think it is about God’s glory. We are not told what happened to the widow. We don’t know how quickly God responded and answered the desires of her heart. We do know this that her actions were applauded by Jesus himself. Was it an act of faith or desperation? We don’t even know the answer to that question. I like to think faith motivated her. That she knew that God would bless her in an abundant and powerful way. That line of reasoning really works for me but I don’t know if it’s true. Perhaps she was just desperate and having heard that God could change her life decided to give her all and hope for the best. In either case she put her faith, trust and hope in God. We know that means she was not disappointed but I wonder if that is the real reason the story is included in Scripture. Is it an illustration to encourage us to give, or is it included simply to bring glory to God?

Nowhere is there a follow up story about the widow. The comparison is made between the rich who gave a bit of what they had and the widow who gave her all. God doesn’t want a few minutes here or there. He doesn’t want alternate Mondays and one evening a month. He isn’t interested in a leg here or a hand there. He wants us in our entirety. All of our actions, energies, words and thoughts are supposed to be focused on Him. We were created to point to God, to reflect his love and to bring him to those who haven’t met Him. It’s a huge task and I know I fail miserably, falling much more in line with the rich than with the widow. I know however that God sees my every effort and applauds it. I know that those things I do to honor His name and to bring attention to him are the things that bring me the most joy. How is it that even when we are getting it right, when we do give a good gift that God blesses us more than we can ever bless Him? It happens because God is God and we are not. To God be all the glory.

Last Days

“You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Luke 12:40

Now brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 2 Thessalonians 5:1-2

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” Matthew 24:42

A few weeks ago my husband, Otto and I were attending a large community event and saw people carrying signs proclaiming May 21, 2011 as the day the world will end. Kooks, is what I thought. Clearly, we don’t know when that is going to happen. Yesterday Sam, our pastor, addressed this same declaration. Apparently, some man invested his life savings to get this word out. He obviously believes it. Sam gave the man’s reasoning with numbers and used the expression square root, things that leave me behind, way behind. It doesn’t matter. I don’t believe it and neither does Sam. Still, it makes you think. What if I could know the time and date? What if the hour were not unexpected? How would I behave then?

In the passage from Luke 12:35-48, Jesus talks about readiness, and doing what is pleasing to God. The passage does not suggest that we should all be on our knees in prayer. It does say that we should be doing what we were created to do, which is, serve God.

I thought about all the clich├ęs and songs that reference what we should do or how we should behave if we believed we had only today. Some are of the, eat, drink and be merry variety and others are of the make your mark, appreciate the people around you, variety.

In discussing the idea with Otto this morning I said that I probably wouldn’t change the way I approach God. I don’t feel a need to seek Him more in such a case. If the rumor should turn out to be true I’ll be seeing Him very soon. I guess I’d want to do what I want to do anyway, and that is whatever it is He wants me to do. I did say though, that I would want to be with my dearest ones, since I have no idea what relationships are like in heaven.

Otto had a bit of a different take on the whole thing. He said if he believed the prediction that he would feel a greater sense of urgency toward those people we know who are not in a relationship with God, those people around us who are not saved. I liked his perspective and gave it a lot of thought throughout the day. I realized that our mistake is not in questioning the validity of the prediction but in living without urgency toward the unsaved people in our lives.

The truth is judgment day can arrive anytime. None of us knows when we will make the journey to meet our Creator. It is hard to live one day at a time and yet that is all we can count on. James admonishes us to couch all our talk of future plans in light of God’s will. (James 4:13-17) He’s right. Earlier today my son invited me to his home on Saturday. I teased him saying that I would come as long as we were all still here. The truth is that, God willing, I will go to Jeffrey’s and if it is not in God’s will, for whatever reason, then I will not.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Lesson (or two) from Jairus

When he arrived at the house Jesus did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John, James and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”
They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. Luke 8:51-53


Just the other night at dinner with my friend Patty, I used the example of Jesus interacting with Jairus to help her through a family situation. No one in her family is dying, thank God, but she is in a difficult spot. Patty is a wonderful, faithful woman who has tried for a long time to handle things the way she believes God wants her to handle them. She has treated all the parties involved with respect and has endured treatment that bears no resemblance to kindness. In short she has exhibited grace under fire. After awhile, enough is enough. She wants to bring faith and respect to interactions with people who are bringing little of either to the table.

This morning I woke up praying for one of my children who is in a bad position as well. He also is not dying, thank God again, but his spirit is in danger. A bit later, included in my morning reading and prayer, was the story of Jairus and a commentary about it. The commentator made a lot of the same points I made with Patty.

When Jesus went in to heal Jairus’s daughter he took her parents, Peter, John and James. He sent the weepers and naysayers out of the house. These may have been wonderful well meaning people but they were focusing on the wrong part of the story. Some of them laughed at Jesus and most likely some were irritated. If the girl was dead then wasn’t the young rabbi giving her parents false hope?

No, he was not. Notice the people Jesus took with him. The girl’s parents, who want so much to believe that Jesus can heal their daughter. Maybe they had faith, but they certainly had hope. Peter, John and James, no stranger to Jesus’ miracles, they had faith and most likely they also had hope. Even if the only hope they had was that Jesus would heal her so they wouldn’t look foolish.

The story of Jairus is not in the Bible just to show us what Jesus can do for the sick, dying and even dead. It is also there to show us what kinds of people hinder our faith. A teaching I heard years ago referred to the naysayers and wailers as toxic people. We all know them. They’re quick to point out the foibles and pitfalls of any situation. They are often happy to point out the flaws in our personalities. Sometimes the toxic citizens are just people who always see the glass as half-empty and have never seen a tree for all the forests around.

Jesus tells us by example to keep them out of our prayer lives. There may be times when we have to distance ourselves completely. That I believe is the lesson for Patty. For my son, I’m not sure. I want him to have his spiritual health restored. I want to see him alive with the love of Christ, vibrant and joyfilled. I don’t know what God wants for him but I do know that I was encouraged to continue praying for him.

Whether it is our bodies, spirits, finances of anything else that needs healing, we can call on Jesus in faith and hope. Some people hinder our faith walk, those people we do not need around. He will come, even after we think it is too late. God is never late, Jairus and Lazarus would be quick to attest to that.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Relief

We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Life is hard and if we are to believe the pundits, it’s getting harder. Great! Lately even my most devoted Christian friends have sounded anxious. I’m tired of hearing the word economy! Budget, is pretty much on my ugh list too. Yes, there are problems in the world. My day job is in a public school. Trust me; I know there are real issues. Life gets hard when I focus on those issues and not on Scripture.

Yesterday I brought in my mail, ads and bills. Among all that delightfulness was some an information packet. It looked innocuous, even inviting, but to me it was a reminder of something that has become a casualty of the economy issue. It isn’t the end of the world, just a pinch of things that aren’t a part of my life anymore, things I enjoyed and very much wanted to keep but couldn’t. There was that second when I had the choice to feel sorry for myself or to remember what a good day my husband and I had and to be grateful. I chose the latter but don’t give me any credit for that. Give glory to God.

I know that my husband and I are not alone in this dilemma. Most people have had to rethink options, redo their budget or give some things up. I am grateful that we haven’t lost anything essential. Some of my friends have experienced much deeper loss. Here’s the bigger problem and I’ll quote my son Joseph, we’re “focusing on the wrong part of the story.”

Yesterday I may have been reminded of a hard decision but today I was reminded that I am a child of God. In reading 2 Corinthians 4, it became clear to me, once again, that I do have all the truly important things in life, first and foremost the love and mercy of my heavenly Father.

Is your life hard? Read 2 Corinthians 4. It begins with words about God’s mercy and ends with the promise that our troubles are temporary and tiny in comparison to the vast lavishness of eternal life. Midway through the chapter we read the contrast of how things appear and how they really are. We may be hard pressed but we are not crushed. Unless or until we do not receive the gift of eternal life in heaven, we are not defeated. As long as we give our needs and wants to God we will not be disappointed. Things may not happen the way we want them to happen but if we trust our Father and let Him have His way with us, we will have the best life here and there.

Sometimes our trials make no sense to us. We don’t understand why we can’t have what we want and have it when we want it. Please note I said, “We.” I question the “no” answers all the time. My prayers seem to be positive, things that would please God, be in His will but the answer is no. What? Like any child, I ask, “Why not?” I think the answer then is always the same. God knows better than I do what is right for me and for the people in my prayers. In times of heartbreak and frustration it is good to go to the Scriptures for truth and for comfort. I highly recommend starting with 2 Corinthians 4. Then see where else God takes you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Odd Image

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Psalm 68:19


Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2


A few weeks ago my husband, Otto, needed a board, 2x4, 4x6, I don’t know, just a big board, for a project. We went to the hardware store and after looking at several other things, bought the board. Otto put it on one of those huge cart things they have to get it to the checkout but after he paid for it he slung it over his shoulder and carried it to his truck. The image hit me immediately of Jesus carrying the Cross. To me the board seemed ridiculously unwieldy and while it may not have been too much for Otto, it seemed pretty heavy to me. Still he carried it quite a way into the parking lot and with seemingly no effort hoisted it into the back of the truck. That image has stayed with me for the last few weeks. For some reason it continues to remind me of Jesus carrying his Cross.

What I actually saw was a healthy, able man carrying a board the distance of a few car lengths. What runs through my mind is the image of a man, broken and bloodied, carrying two large boards put together, a much longer distance, uphill, while being mocked and spit it and oh, by the way, he was on his way to die.
No one’s life is smooth sailing. Otto right now faces some tough situations. There are things in his life that could certainly be better. His biggest cross is invisible to most eyes but he and I know exactly what breaks his heart on a daily basis.

We are all told in Scripture to bear one another’s burdens and Otto certainly bears mine, as well as those of our children and grandchildren. The image of him carrying that board serves to remind me that he daily, picks up his responsibility for our family and willingly shoulders it. Our children are blessed with an excellent example of selfless love. Otto has sacrificed for all of us, over and over again and yet even as dear and kind as he is, his love doesn’t hold a candle to the love that flows over us from the One who carried an actual cross.
We hear about and read about the love it took for Jesus to carry that Cross, endure the suffering and save us from ourselves but I wonder if we can ever truly understand it. If we could, I don’t think we would be as casual in our lives as most of us are.

Often when Otto does a kindness for me or one of our children I am moved to do something for him. That is because I am an eye witness to the event. I’m wondering as I write this if the reason the board image stands out so much to me, if the reason I felt compelled to write about it, is to shine the light back where it always belongs, on the sweet, perfect, unconditional love of Jesus Christ. Maybe you and I will now feel compelled to offer some gift of love back to him, to Jesus, who oh so greatly deserves it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cleaning Project

But there are many people hear and it is the rainy season: so we cannot stand outside. Besides, this matter cannot be taken care of in a day or two, because we have sinned greatly in this thing. Ezra 10:13

Okay, first of all, I can easily relate to the procrastination. Uh, yeah, we want to do the right thing. We will do the right thing, but right now it’s rainy and crowded, etc. etc. Fill in your own words. If you’re anything like me, you’ve done this dance. I want to repent, really, but not yet, because of these three not terribly legitimate reasons. Two of my least favorite words when put side by side are “I’m gonna’” Ugh! I sincerely doubt it! It doesn’t matter if someone else is saying them or if they are my own words. “Gonna’” is not the same as actual, well, action. But then, right after the oh so familiar and quite human delay tactic comes a very profound thought. This sin is so grievous that it isn’t going away in a day or two.

Living as we do, after the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we know that we are forgiven immediately when we ask our Father to forgive us. But our confession and God’s mercy are not a period end of story. Forgiveness comes right away but then comes consequences. I understand what these men are saying. They have sinned in such a way, grieved the Father’s heart to such an extent that they will have to walk through the cost of that error for longer than a day or two. I don’t know how long they felt was appropriate but I get what they are feeling. It can’t be that easy.
The truth is, forgiveness is that easy. We ask it of our Lord and He says yes, it’s done. Rebuilding a life, a trust, a relationship, takes longer than a day or two. Things are not going to feel normal to us, until we feel we’ve done something to repair the damage we caused.

Our pastor had a rough patch a few years ago. He has made it right in the most important places, with his family and with his God. He makes reference to his slip every now and then in an attempt, I think, to rebuild trust, restore relationships and let his congregation know that he is still taking it all very seriously. If things were immediately mended a lot of valuable lessons would go unlearned. We would miss opportunities to forgive those who trespass against us and miss opportunities to experience forgiveness from family, friends and most important, God.

The men in the passage from Ezra are in a real mess with far reaching consequences. They are self-aware enough to know it and they are smart enough to admit it. All of us would like our sins, especially the big ugly ones to just go away. We love clean slates. Sometimes God wipes our slate clean and sometimes He hands us a rag. Either way, when He is in our cleaning project with us it can’t help but succeed.

Jesus So Near Me

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Joshua 1:5

“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Matthew 24:44


When my son Joseph was little he found a great way to deal with his frustrations. Joseph was prone to temper tantrums for awhile as a very young child. Sometimes when he would feel that pressure building, he would stop and say, “Jesus be near me.” This coming from a two-year old was quite precious. I taught Joseph and his siblings, from their very early days, to call on Jesus when they were frightened, angry, or felt any kind of need. I tried to instill in them, the idea that Jesus is right here with us, always.

The other day I had my own moment of irritation, to be a tad more accurate it went beyond irritation. The thoughts I was having about the subject of my frustration were not at all kind. I looked up from what I was doing to lock eyes with Jesus, in the form of a painting of the Last Supper. I felt an immediate rush of guilt. How could I think such awful things with Jesus looking right at me? I was instantly amused at myself. Did I forget him for a moment? Or did I just think he would look the other way whenever I wanted to behave badly?

This is not my first experience of this kind. Too many times I have heard myself advise or instruct another person just to hear that instruction or advice in my own ear, a prompt from God. Working with a particularly difficult child once I asked her, “Why won’t you just listen to me?” I told her, “If you do it my way, it will go much easier.” As I said it I could picture God saying those exact words to me. If I would listen to Him, things would go much better. If.

Seeing that picture of the Last Supper and experiencing my rush of guilt was just the reminder I needed. Jesus is always near me. What I taught my children was true. I can call on Jesus anytime I want. He is never far away. He is always ready to protect, comfort and defend me. If I’m going to be on my best behavior when Jesus is watching I better pick up my game a little, or a lot.

What do I want to be doing when Jesus comes back for me? Praising him or doing something to bring glory to his name. I do not want to be slandering or maligning my brother or sister. My behavior always needs to reflect my love for my Savior. It doesn’t at the moment, but no worries, God’s still working on me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

What is Faith

Now faith is being certain of what we hope for, confident of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we do not see it. Hebrews 11:1 (TLB)


We ask the question, what is faith and the Bible answers with the verse above from Hebrews. Faith is a confidence that God is for us, that His will is perfect and best, no matter how things look or feel. That is great! It is such a lovely, happy promise for us and when things are going well it is so easy to believe. When all is right in our little worlds we have such strong faith but what happens in the tough times? In the truly tough times, our faith can sometimes be even stronger. It’s the grey areas that are the hardest to handle.

Just yesterday I was speaking to my daughter-in-love Stephanie, a young woman who is proof positive to me that God hears and answers my prayers. We were talking about a few different and equally difficult topics. Each one came back to the same thing, we don’t understand God’s will. We’d like to. We try to and sometimes we think we do or at least might. But, at the end of the day, we don’t. Much of our conversation was filled with things that look like injustice to us, things that prove the verse about God causing the sun to rise on the evil and the good. (Matthew 5:45)

It is especially hard to watch someone who has or is throwing away a blessing that our own hearts so desperately seek, getting more and more of the same blessings. Ouch! Our human hearts want to cry out, “But what about me?” It is harder still when we see someone we love being taken for granted, not appreciated, completely devalued. We wonder why God is allowing them to go through such hard times. As we spoke I had only two answers for my dear girl. One is that we don’t know. Yuk! We hate that answer! The other is that God is molding each of us into the people he wants us to be, so that we can best serve Him.

What is faith? It is the confidence that God has the best plan for us. It is trusting that no matter how things look, God’s will is perfect and best. It is accepting, the I don’t knows and I don’t understands. Faith is hard. It calls us to believe what we can’t see and to ignore some of what we can see. Faith is the only place to stand when the going gets rough and it is the hardest place to stand when the going gets rough.

We are called to walk by faith. Some days we have to face the fact that our walk has become a crawl. We cling to our faith with white knuckles and tight jaws. We experience doubt and fear and then wonder if that is why the blessings escape us. All of that, the crawling, gut wrenching questioning, is okay. Our loving Father knows our hearts and as long as our hearts are set on Him, as long as we seek to have more faith, He will hear and answer us.

It is hard to hang on when things seem impossible. In those moments we need to remember that with God all things are possible. I don’t know what the future holds or why things happen the way they do. I do know that God restored my first born to me and that years later through that son he blessed my life with Stephanie.

What is faith? The constant knowledge that I haven’t got a clue and that that is not at all important. I don’t need a clue, I have a Savior.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Conqueror

No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37

Words are very dear to me. I love them. It’s a great day when I learn a new word or hear an exceptional turn of phrase. One of my favorite words is conquer, in all its forms. Think about it. Better yet, say it. Then say conquering, conqueror. Can you feel that? The words even sound strong. They sound imposing. I was listening to one of my favorite songs the other day and realized that part of the reason I like it is because in the chorus Jesus is referred to as the conqueror and later the singer talks about being a conqueror because of Christ. Love it!

Some words are strong and some are gentle. Think of the ways in which people describe Jesus. He is love, mercy, grace and comfort. All lovely sweet words that sound pleasant because they are. Of course Jesus would be seen as pleasant. But then again, there are words like conqueror, defender, victor and those words don’t sound so sweet and mild. Put together the sweet words and the strong ones and we have a pretty apt description of Jesus.

In the Bible we are instructed to lean on the understanding of God not on our own thoughts. (Proverbs 3:5) We are called to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) Over and over again in every book of the Bible there is some caveat about the way we should live. That might sound pretty terrifying, if it weren’t for the fact that living as God intends, is what makes us conquerors. What’s more, we are not expected to do it alone. God in his infinite mercy has provided the Holy Spirit for us, to lead and guide us through this life into the next.

The Holy Spirit is also called the Paraclete, meaning intercessor. The words comforter, helper and counselor are also associated with the Holy Spirit. The idea of wind is used to describe the movements of the Spirit. In the Bible the Spirit breathes on the apostles. That sounds pretty delicate but just last week tornadoes caused massive damage and destruction in the United States. That wind was not delicate. Wind can have a conquering quality too.

In Jesus we are conquerors through the power of the Holy Spirit, a gift given to us by our heavenly Father. Looking at the Trinity, at the ideas of who and what God created us to be and do, there are all kinds of words and ideas like conqueror, that can build us up when we realize the smallness, the frailness, of our human condition. That is where the not leaning on our own understanding comes in, I suppose.

Today be a conqueror, vanquish a foe, even if that foe is as simple a thing as a bad habit. In Christ we can do all things (Philippians 4:13) and with the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts we should call on that power to succeed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Gifts Large and Small

As he looked up he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins, “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4

The price of a gift shouldn’t make any difference to the receiver. The more important factor should certainly be the thought, the heart behind the gift. No gift is too small if it reflects the love of the giver. Too often many of us agonize over the size or price tag of a gift. Our society says that bigger is better as do the reactions of certain receivers.

Years ago I attended a party where the couple being honored was given a very large gift from one of their children. Clearly the dollar amount of that gift reached well into the thousands. The givers were extremely wealthy people. The price to them was nothing, a drop in their overflowing bucket. The woman receiving the gift became quite emotional, thanking them profusely with tears on her face. A few gifts later she opened a gift from another of her children. The gift was much less expensive, a small household appliance. It came however from a person much like the widow who most likely spent her last few dollars to purchase it. Beyond that it was something the woman had repeatedly mentioned wanting. Opening it she gave a slight nod in the direction of that giver and said a brief thank you. The look on the giver’s face gave away none of the disappointment I knew she was feeling. She smiled and expressed her hope that it was in fact the desired object. No assurances came that it was because the couple had gone back to oohing and ahhing over the larger gift. How unlike Jesus we are!

Knowing the people involved fairly well, I know the motivation behind both gifts. The large gift was given in part to buy favor with the couple. It was also given to say, “look what we can do, with no real effort.” The smaller gift was given in an attempt to fill a want. It stretched the budget of the giver to the extreme but she didn’t care because she was anticipating the joy of the receiver. That joy didn’t come, overshadowed as it was, by something flashier. Thankfully our Father doesn’t operate that way. We bring Him our measly little tithes and offerings, we occasionally obey Him, perhaps giving Him something that does stretch us a little and He is happy to receive it as long as it is given with a cheerful heart.

The size of our gifts and offerings do not matter to our Father in heaven. He looks at our hearts. Gifts should be given from love. We have the perfect example in Jesus, who gave his very life for us. He gave his literal blood, sweat and tears for us not just at the Cross but for all of the years leading to it. We are all aware of the violent and excruciating way that our dearest Lord and Savior died. Those of us who love him feel sorrow, pain and maybe some guilt at the thought of all he suffered. We think of that suffering in the past tense. I can’t help but wonder if every time we count some thing as more valuable than his gift if it breaks his heart a little bit.

Watching the scene I described above with the big gift and the smaller one, I saw the validity of the passage from Luke in living color. The size of a gift shouldn’t matter. The motive, the heart, the intentions are far more important. Jesus gave us all that he had to give. He gave us his heart, literally. How often we forget that as we seek him for far lesser things. We can be assured that he wants us to have what we need and even some of what we want. Before we drew breath, he’d already given us far more than we deserve.