Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sight

Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near,
Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord I want to see,” he replied.
Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight
and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. Luke 18:40-43


Perhaps it’s age or maybe it’s true growth but lately I have been much more aware of the people around me. None of us live in a vacuum. How long ago did John Donne tell us, “no man is an island”? This is not news but somehow lately it has become more apparent and certainly more important to me. Each day I work with a group or children who bear a label. That label changes every few years but usually includes words like, exceptional or special. Those words are euphemisms for handicapped. The children I see every day are handicapped. They are also special and exceptional, a never-ending source of delight and aggravation, sometimes in equal measure. I thought of them today when I read a poem my cousin Karen sent me that was written from the perspective of an older woman in a nursing home. In it the woman is asking that her caregivers see her as she truly is, inside and not as the limited outside view leads them to believe. She pleads, “see me.”

The poem made me sad but also introspective. How often we take people at face value, literally, and never go any deeper. I see it often as I travel with our students. There are people who smile and wave because they are acquainted with the kids from a different arena. There are people who smile and speak to the children as if they are infants. There are those who speak to them truly out of kindness. Then there are my favorites, the people who speak to our students as they would to any other child in the building. Our students are not special or exceptional to them. They are just kids, going down the halls like any other kid.

Most of us respond to other people based on what we see, pretty gets more attention than homely. Wealth is still something to be admired but you don’t actually have to be wealthy you just have to look wealthy. Lack of people skills is mistaken for haughtiness. Awkwardness is mistaken for any number of evils, depending on how it presents. The worst, the anguish included in the old woman’s poem, is when sadness and loneliness are mistaken for bitterness and anger.

In the poem the woman begs, “see me.” By their behaviors our students sometimes beg for the same thing as do so many of us. We all want to be seen, truly seen, the inside, not the packaging. What our students want people to see, what the old woman wants people to see, what most of us want people to see is our hearts. See my heart that is afraid to trust you. See my heart that is much stronger than my mind. See my heart that wants desperately to have a friend. See the Jesus in me.

Jesus commands us to love one another, to do that we have to see with his eyes and with his heart. Our own sight will often cause us to hurt or disappoint. It will certainly cause us to judge. The eyes of Jesus see through the outer trappings of feigned wealth or intelligence. They see beyond the constrictions of a damaged mind and a worn out body. His eyes see us as we truly are and in seeing all of that he loves us. He invites us, no he instructs us to do the same, to love one another. Today ask Jesus to give you his eyes to see the world around you in a more compassionate way.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sleepy

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you sleeping? Could you not keep watch for one hour?”

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning a third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Mark 14:23-33, 37, 39-42


This same event is told in Matthew 26 in almost the same words. The point is clearly the same. Jesus is suffering the worst night of his life. He asks his three nearest and dearest, Peter, John and James, to come with him to pray. They go along I’m sure, with the best of intentions. They plan on praying along with him, keeping vigil, right up until they fall asleep.

In the verses just before the Gethsemane verses we read about the Last Supper. There is a lot of food and wine. The guys in this story are well fed and maybe just a little less than sober. They are at the very least quite relaxed. They sit in the quiet stillness of the night and most likely begin to pray. They have no idea of the seriousness of the situation. Soon flesh takes over and they are out. We read these accounts and think, “How could they fall asleep?” We are astounded because we know the whole story. We know what is in front of suffering Jesus. They did not. It is hard for us to believe that they let the pleasures of food, wine and sleep come before their dedication to Jesus! But ask yourself this question, how different are you from those three?

Too often in life Jesus asks us to keep watch with him, to pray alongside of him or serve in some capacity and we say yes but then we fall asleep; maybe not literally but in some sense, we drop the ball, fail to remain faithful. We look at the apostles and we say their stomachs were full and their minds were dull and those things kept them from serving Jesus. How often are our stomachs full or minds dull from too much world?

There are so many things that keep us from serving God or doing what we know we should be doing. Television, telephones, shopping, eating, playing, even working all get in the way. We say yes, Lord we will go with you, stay awake with you but something else beckons and we answer forgetting our first love.

Like the apostles before us we need to stay awake, keep watch and pray. We need to turn down the distractions of this world to focus on the next. We need to avoid getting too well fed, too dull or too tired to be of any use to God. There is an acronym used in 12 step programs, HALT. The people trying to break an addiction are to avoid becoming hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Perhaps we need to come up with an acronym to help us avoid becoming complacent, focused on all the wrong things and quite frankly, lazy. God instructs His people to pray as much today as He did that night in the Garden and truly we must stay awake.

Look at My Brother

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken to the Lord. Exodus 34:29
….he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will--- Ephesians 1:5


The pictures of Prince William’s wedding are all over the place, on the internet, on magazines, everywhere you look. Certainly I have seen picture after picture of Will and Kate but I have seen many of the guests as well. One such photo grabbed my attention due to the disparity of facial expressions on the subjects. It is of a celebrity couple. He is a prominent figure in one area and she in another. Together they make a lovely example of the famous and the beautiful, as both of them have both those attributes.

My first thought was that of course those are the kind of people invited to the wedding. Then I remembered that an acquaintance of my husband’s had shared a story with us of her son meeting Will a few years ago. They’d hit it off and remained in contact for a bit, so maybe there were some ordinary people at the wedding. Further I realized that the man of the celeb couple is Will’s very good friend, if the magazines are to be believed. The picture certainly supports that idea. The hubby is grinning ear to ear in the picture. His expression seems to say, “Way to go Will!” The wife, not so much, with the happy face.

This woman’s face says, “Oh ho-hum, another star studded event. Poor me, having to deal with all of this. I couldn’t be more bored or for that mattered irritated.” What? Here she is entering the wedding of the century and she looks like she’s being led in, through a nasty smelling corridor, to receive oral surgery.

Here they are, inches from royalty, he looks as you would expect a guy happy for his buddy would look and she looks like she is the important one. I wondered for a minute what my face would look like if I were that close to royalty. Stunned? Terrified? Then it hit me. I live that close to royalty. Jesus Christ is my brother, by the sacrifice of his life that allows me to be adopted by our Father in heaven. Oh wait, then not close to royalty but a part of it. I am royalty. I am the daughter of a King. So how does my face look?

When I enter church on Sunday, do I look like a happy child arriving to see Daddy? When I walk into my job, a grocery store or social event, do I look like a person secure in her place in the world? Am I grinning ear to ear at my brother’s accomplishments? Probably not often enough and for that, shame on me!

Attitude not latitude is what tells people how close we live to Jesus. If I believe, truly, that his death and resurrection bought my salvation and adoption I should float through the ordinary days, rejoice in the triumphant ones and bear the difficult ones with the grace of one who knows the final outcome.

I’m drawn to the look on the celeb husband because it says, “Look at my buddy! He’s a prince getting his princess.” I want to wear an expression on my face that says, “Look at my brother! He is the Prince of Peace.”

Monday, June 27, 2011

Opportunities in Odd Places

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him and offer the other also.” Matthew 5:38-39

I don’t have a big career. Nothing I have ever done to earn a paycheck has any real significance. What I have done, what colors everything I do, is be a mother. The other day I met a young man I’ll call Liam, who will be a part of my life for a short, predetermined period of time. Liam is very self-aware. He is blunt and brash. He swaggers and postures to deliver the message, I’m trouble and if you get close I’ll hurt you. Whatever! My mother’s eye sees a troubled kid who needed someone to tell him, at a much earlier time in his life, that he is the dearest thing in the world to them. Since that did not occur he expects the people in his life to jump through hoops to gain his respect and compliance. They don’t and he reacts by acting out in ways that include mocking everyone around him, targeting weaker, smaller individuals, using trashy language and basically acting like a fool. I love that kid. I’m not at all sure that I like him, although he has likeable moments but I do love him.

Just yesterday he told me that he is difficult to get along with. Oh really? My response was, “Not for me.” Which garnered a quizzical look and I fear a determination to prove his point to me. After the fact I wished I had said, “Aren’t we all?” Because truly, aren’t we? I know I can be difficult but the truth is there are degrees of difficulty. This kid takes his to the, how bad can I be before you give up on me, level. He does that because being incredibly self-aware, he knows it is his behavior that turns people away. I think it’s a which came first the chicken or the egg thing.

In Liam I see many things. I see how I behave toward God. Do you still love me? Even now? Even now? Even now? I see an opportunity to better myself by dropping the chips on my shoulders. Most importantly I see an opportunity to model the love of Christ to a child who has most likely never met him.

This is a child who personifies “go with him two,”(Mt.5:41) “how many times should I forgive my brother”( Mt.18:21-22) and “turn the other cheek” (Mt.5:39) for me. Over our short association I expect that Liam will push my buttons, cuss in my face, show me disrespect and break my heart by mocking other children who I love. I expect to be able to go two miles, forgive repeatedly and turn as many cheeks as necessary, because God put Liam in my path for a reason. I expect to be able to show him the love of Christ because I fear that this boy has known little of real love in all of his short life.

He can be difficult, that much is true. He is determined to screw up everything good in his life. And yet, inside those mocking tones and derisive eyes, is a kid with a great heart. This isn’t a sociopath. This is kid afraid of anything and everything he doesn’t understand. I get that. Do you?

I think we learn the most and grow closest to our Father when we love the supposedly unlovable. When we say yes, Lord, I will treat this one the way you treat me I believe He rewards us with grace that draws us closer to Him.

I expect that Liam will do everything in his power to embarrass me and make me uncomfortable. Good luck kid, I have a power on my side you know nothing about….. yet.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I AM

God said to Moses, “I Am WHO I AM.” This is what you are to say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14

I am a middle-aged woman. I am a mother. I am a grandmother. Throughout the day I may say, “I am tired” or “I am happy” or any number of things. I have never just said, or heard anyone else say simply, “I am.” I certainly haven’t heard it spoken in such a way that it needs to be written in all capital letters. When I hear the words “I am” I expect something to come after that. Otherwise I’m asking, “You are what?”

So let’s ask that of God. Here He is quoted as saying to Moses “I AM” and telling Moses to basically use that as His name. “Tell them I AM has sent you.” Put yourself in the shoes of the hearer of that message. “I AM sent me.” “Who?” “I AM.” Keep going in your head. It takes on the likes of a famous comedy routine doesn’t it? But when the speaker is God it is no laughing matter.

The words that come after I AM are anything and everything we want and need. He is our life! The words creator, healer, lover, comfort, judge, friend, seat of mercy, provider, and guide could all go after the I AM and that is just a tiny sampling.

God is everything we can imagine and much more. We look for self-esteem, self-worth and satisfaction in all the wrong places. We seek those things in a job, degree, bank balance, spouse etc. and we never find them. We find our worth and satisfaction in the same place where we find our hope, in the great I AM. All that we need or want in life, HE IS, and there is nothing we can desire that is greater than the love and presence of God.

On the other side of the equation there are words that are not factors in the I AM. Cruel, forgetful, merciless, vindictive, to name a few, are character qualities that God does not possess. Any adjective that comes after I AM is sure to be life affirming. In John 10:10 Jesus tells us that he came so that we may have full lives.

I am a mess. I am cruel sometimes. I am forgetful, short-tempered, ornery, phony, judgmental and selfish. Depending on the day and time, I can be described with less than flattering words. I promise you I am not always who people need me to be. I am human.

The great I AM is everything we think we need and so much more. Two words on which we can place all our hope, faith and trust, I AM.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What’s Next?

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

Something is up with my comfort zone. It appears that God would like me to step out of it a little bit, or heaven help me a lot. It’s a subtle thing but it has been going on for months. When it began I thought it would be immediate. It wasn’t. I’ve been thinking in terms of missionaries, a role I’ve never felt called to take. I can’t tell that isn’t it for sure, but at this point, I don’t think it is.

We read about Abraham, Moses, the rich young ruler, Saul/Paul and so many others in the Bible and we see that God’s call maybe a still small voice or it may not. Sometimes it’s more like, “Hey you! Yeah, you, I’m speaking to you. What you can’t hear me? Okay then.” And bam! The not so talented listeners find themselves under horses, facing burning bushes or worse, facing their own faults and fears. Can they hear God then? Oh yeah! So here I am, in the subtle nudge phase of the transition out of my comfort zone and wondering what’s next.

The words “what’s next” remind me of a little boy in our class. He is a great little kid with a personality that is much bigger than his body. Every so often, very often, too often, he asks us, “what’s next?” It isn’t that he doesn’t want to do what we’re asking of him now; he just wants to know the future. He arrived in our class right at the beginning of the shakeup of my comfort zone. “What’s next?” is cute at first, but after a day or two gets really old! I think, kid, we do basically the same thing every day. When there’s a big change we’ll let you know. Oh! Is that what God is saying to me? “Tricia, I’ve been leading you all of your life, even when you were ignoring me. Now, relax, trust me and learn from the subtle nudges because yes, change is coming.”

God wastes no effort. I have no idea what my future holds. What I do know is that in the past several months I have gone places I didn’t want to go, endured uncomfortable situations, had conversations I didn’t want to have, accepted blessings with plenty of unknown factors involved and all the while, yearned to do something more for my Abba. Put all that together and what do you get? I have no idea. All I know is that God is sovereign and I want to do what He wants me to do.

God is not in the fortune cookie business. He does not hand me little clues written on pieces of paper to tell me what’s next. He gives plenty of indication that things are changing but no clues as to how. My choice is this, ignore Him and stay comfortable or delight in His way and be blessed. The latter choice is harder and may not be, most likely will not be, a comfy place but that is okay. My God is for me so I have no reason to fear.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Daily Gifts

This is the day that the Lord has made;
I will rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24

Give us today our daily bread.
Matthew 6:11

Rejoice in the Lord always I will say it again, rejoice.
Philippians 4:4


In praying the Lord’s prayer we say, “give us this day our daily bread.” When my children were younger one of their favorite hymns was “This Is The Day.” It is all about rejoicing in the day the Lord has made. Just a few days ago a friend quoted that Scripture to me. She said that she had decided to live the truth that each day is a gift from God. She was choosing to rejoice and be glad. Those things all came together for me this morning as I was praying.

Each day is a gift from God that He is happy to give. I can only imagine that He wants our response to be one of delight. He wants us to rejoice and be glad. I began to think how much it must hurt Him when I wake up and grumble at whatever the day holds. It must break His heart to bless me with a new morning only to hear “oh I don’t want to go to work today” or “I can’t believe I have to clean my carpets” or whatever other complaint may fall from my lips.

I thought about how I feel when I give gifts. When I buy them and especially if I make them I want to the receivers to be thrilled. I want to see the joy in their faces. It is important to me to know that they will enjoy what I have gone out of my way to provide. Years ago I bought my husband a pair of shorts and a shirt, no big deal. Still I wanted him to appreciate the gesture. He didn’t. That outfit sat in his drawer for at least two years. Then one day he started wearing those shorts and literally wore them out. I had spent the time he ignored the gift with hurt feelings, thinking it was his lack of appreciation that hurt. To an extent it was but for the most part it bothered me that he did not enjoy what I had given him.

When we wake up in the morning we are given the gift of a whole new day. If we ignore it, choosing instead of rejoicing to groan and complain we are missing out. That is true of every gift God gives us. If He sends us a divine interruption we should enjoy it to the best of our ability. When He gives us a gift large or small we should rejoice knowing that it is coming from love, from the very source of all love.

I am sad for the days that I have not shown the Lord how grateful I am, how delighted to simply be alive and in His presence. I know no matter how much I do not want there to be that there will be many more of those days I don’t appreciate, those gifts for which I forget to show gratitude.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Father Know Best

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

Sunday is Father’s Day. My grandson has a gift for his daddy hidden in a closet in my house. In another closet I have a gift for his grandfather. Father’s are very important. We all know the expression, “Just wait until your father gets home.” Sometimes it is spoken in jest, sometimes as an actual threat.

One time when our boys were teenagers, I caught them fake fighting when they should have been cleaning their room. As I began to deliver my lecture I had about half of their attention. Suddenly all eyes were on me and there was a lot of “yes, m’am” going on. I began to feel quite effective until I realized that my husband, their father, was standing right behind me. Father’s are very influential.

My husband is a great father. He has a great work ethic but he knows how to have fun. He treats me with respect and is good at doing a kindness when it isn’t necessarily deserved or even appreciated. He is a great role model for our sons of what a husband and father should be.

Some of us did not grow up with a great role model. It makes it tough for us to envision putting ourselves into the hands of a father to be molded. Too many people, men and women alike have gone out of their way to not be anything like their earthly fathers.

My husband is a good father. My sons are good fathers. None of them are perfect. Only one father is perfect and that is our Father in heaven. In His hands we can be molded and fashioned into something much more wonderful and sometimes very different from who or what we think we are. If we are willing to be pliant in God’s perfectly capable hands we will become exactly what we were created to be.

When I was a child there was a TV show with the title, Father Knows Best. In one of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life, the main character, George Bailey finds himself in an untenable situation. He spots a sign that says, “Ask Dad” and knows exactly what he should do. On TV as in real life, father does not always know best. The very best ones try but being human they fall short. The worst ones can cause great damage that reaches through generation after generation.

There is one Father who truly does know best. He will never leave us or let us down. He is perfect and we are called to be just like him. (Matthew 5:48) If your earthly father is or was a great man, follow his example. If not, learn from his mistakes. In either case become clay in the hands of the Father who waits to mold each one of us into something beautiful.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jesus

You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. Luke 1:31

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and they are safe. Proverbs 18:10


At one point or another most Christians experience a crisis of faith. Even the most dedicated, devoted disciples have a hard time when the accident happens, the tragedy occurs or the bottom falls out. Many of us have twinges of doubt over even the simplest of things. Personally, I have questioned my faith more than once. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe God existed. I know that in some incredibly deep part of me. What I do wonder and have questioned too many times is if I have enough faith and if all the things I believe are true for me. I know God can do the impossible. I just wonder if, or even why, He would do those things for me.

A few days ago I had a rather rough day. Thankfully, I could feel God pulling on my heart. I knew that what I needed to do was spend a little time with Him. After a few minutes of prayer I went back to the tasks I had to accomplish. It was a more work than time day but having taken a minute to center myself correctly I knew things would get done. When I went back to work I turned on some music. About three songs in the one playing used the name of Jesus over and over again. I caught myself smiling and the verse from Proverbs 18 ran through my head.

Yesterday I was driving home from a quick errand. My mom is here visiting me and my grandson was also waiting at the house. That’s a happy circumstance. I was facing a situation, however, that was not so clearly positive. It had potential to be ordinary, lovely or awful. Underneath the warm cozy feeling of having loved ones waiting was the nagging temptation to become anxious. As I turned the corner toward home the radio played the song that made me smile just a few days prior.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower. It never ceases to amaze me that supposedly believing Christians can toss it around as if it had no value. It breaks my heart to hear anyone use the name of Jesus in anger or frustration or just as any other expletive but it is worse when it is someone who claims to be his friend. The “let me make sure I’m in church on Sunday” crowd who forget the importance of Jesus the rest of the week make me nuts.

For me, that name is all I need to know. I love studying Scripture. Finding something new in a passage I’ve read over and over is so great. I love to learn things about the Trinity and the Bible that I didn’t know before. Still at the end of the day, all I need is the name of Jesus. Just hearing it makes me smile. It makes things better.

Have I questioned the level of my faith? Yes. Have I wondered if I have what it takes to go the distance with Jesus? Yes. Have I questioned God’s sovereignty and His love for me? Sadly, yes, I have. But, yesterday recognizing what hearing the name of my Savior does to my heart I was assured that my faith, weak and small though it may be at times is just fine. My faith lives and moves and finds its being in the name of Jesus, in the One True God and that is all that matters.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Humbled by Ordinary Greatness

Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up. James 4:10

The other day while shopping, my husband and I were looking at a book written by a young man named Nick Vujicic, who has no arms or legs. His situation is not the result of a terrible accident. He was born that way. We flipped through the photo section of the book to see an adorable baby, smiling, laughing, face covered in chocolate. He could have been anyone of our grandbabies, except for the no limbs issue. My husband had never seen or heard of him so I shared the little I know of him and his life’s work. In doing so I felt seriously humbled.
This morning the devotional that I read was written by Fanny Crosby. She stands out to me as the child who praised God for her blindness. There is a great poem about her sightless life that she wrote at age, eight. It says:

Oh, what a happy child I am, although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world contented I will be!
How many blessings I enjoy that other people don't!
So weep or sigh because I'm blind, I cannot - nor I won't
.

What? She was eight years old! There is no self-pity, no woe is me in her little poem. She is joyful, sincerely joyful. That humbles me.

I hate to admit it but I “weep and sigh” over things of far less significance. So when I look at people like Nick and Fanny, like Joni Eareckson Tada, I feel as if I am wasting, worse squandering, what God has given to me. While I may not have superior intelligence or any raging talent, I do have four working limbs, good eyesight and fine hearing. The one thing I do share with the aforementioned people is a deep love of God. The difference is that they live out their faith in ways that amaze and humble me; while I see limits that may or may not exist.

We are many parts but just one body. Parts like Nick truly rely on other people’s hands and feet. Parts like me have limits that can’t be seen, needs that aren’t immediately identifiable. I lack the motivation and trust that drives people like Joni Eareckson Tada. I fall short of the level of faith of Fanny Crosby. At eight she was fully accepting of God’s plan for her life. She literally had blind faith and that little girl saw much more clearly than this old broad.

Last week two of my granddaughters had a pre-K completion ceremony. They sang a song about faith that said, “Just give Him all you got. It doesn’t take a lot.” Nick, Fanny, Joni, and many others, have given God all they have. Some have it “all” and some have great challenges. But those people, the ones who put all their eggs in God’s basket, those people are achievers. They are successful and I want to be more like them. I want to give God all I’ve got. More and more with each day He gives me I live to please my Father and yet, while fully physically and mentally capable, I allow ridiculous things to limit me or hold me back.

I read a message from Nick Vujicic which said that at one time he begged God to change him, heal his body. Now, inspired by the story from John 9 about the man born blind, he chooses to allow God to use him as he is, to bring glory to His name. Isn’t that what all of us should be doing? Whatever our circumstances, shouldn’t we give all we’ve got to God so that we can be used to bring glory to His name? Aside from the physical differences, Nick, Fanny and Joni are just believers like you and me. We all have talents and we all have challenges. The difference comes in how we view them and what we do with them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

He Ain’t Heavy

Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 1 John 2:10

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


Earlier today I heard an old song that used to be one of my favorites. It’s called “He Ain’t Heavy.” I am quite familiar with the song, the saying and the story behind it. I was raised Catholic and every year we got Christmas seals from Boy’s Town with the picture of the bigger boy carrying the little boy and the words, “He ain’t heavy Father. He’s my brother.” I’ve heard the story since I was a small child of how the priest admonished the older boy for trying to carry the younger one saying, “He’s too heavy for you” and receiving the now familiar response.

I have no idea how the writer of the song became familiar with the story. I do not know what he thought about God or what he thought he thought about God but I do know that on some level he understood Scripture. There is nothing spectacular, from a musical standpoint about the song and yet it’s one of those that I love to this day. It makes me feel hopeful. I know that I am not alone in that. The love displayed in the picture on the Christmas seal and in the song lyrics is one that I was quite unfamiliar with while growing up. Watching my own sons grow up I began to understand it a little better. There are things that become much more bearable if your dearly loved brother is on the journey with you. The simple presence of that kind of love lightens the load. Time after time my sons have displayed this to me in ways large and small.

The song is written from the perspective of the older brother. He says that he is not laden by the weight of his brother but that any sadness he feels is that other people do not have the joy that he feels in loving his brother. Right after that is one of my favorite lines, “For I know he would not encumber me.” There the older brother speaks to a love that does not weigh him down because it is reciprocal. His brother is not a burden because any love given to the younger brother comes right back to the older one. The older brother speaks of the younger brother and says, “His welfare is my concern.” Yes, we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keepers. We need to be concerned with how our actions and words impact those around us. What face do they see? Do we bear any resemblance to our Father or our brother, Jesus? Jesus, who by the way, carries us on his badly bruised and bloodied back.

Toward the end of the song there is a line that says, “It’s a long road from which there is no return.” My husband is a painting contractor and his company slogan is “Have it done right the first time.”
In our journey toward home we need to get as much right the first time as we possibly can. It is a long road and there is no return, no do over, no try again, no hire a different guy, no, oh gee you were serious about that love your neighbor, option. We are all traveling together. Sometimes we are the carriers and sometimes we are the carried. When the burden is on my back I hope and pray that my sentiments echo, “he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

Learn from the Message

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God, in the beginning. John 1:1-2

Today is going to be a busy day, and today is going to the quietest day I will have for the next ten days. I made sure to get up early enough today, to have serious Abba and me time. I know I need it!

When I woke up this morning I was overwhelmed by the challenges and disappointments that are currently a part of my life. There was a definite threat to my peace and joy. In fact peace and joy are the antithesis of what I was feeling. Gloom, doom and sadness were not the emotions I wanted to take into my visit with my Lord. But my thoughts wanted to stay in the less than faithful, hurt and disappointed area. No! To combat that I did what I do when I’m using my brain. I turned on praise music.

One of my favorite songs reminds me that one event supersedes anything that happened before, happened since or will ever happen in the history of man. In other words, the guy sings about the sacrifice of Jesus. It is a great song! It illustrates what is important as opposed to what is not so much, and does so really well. It was the second song I listened to this morning.

The first one was basically a great Psalm set to music. I know nothing about the singer but I do something about the writer, King David. In the second song the singer and writer are the same person and I know that he used praise music as a stepping stone to a very different kind of career. I may believe, wholeheartedly, the words he is singing but I’m not so sure he does. That brought up a different issue for me.

For just a second that thought, the idea that this young man, who sings so passionately about Jesus, went on to live in a rather questionable lifestyle, gave me pause. I was quickly reminded of another musician who is similar, and then another, and pretty soon the faces of a couple of pastors I know floated into my mind. Stop!

True enough, I know people who sing and preach about God with great eloquence and then live lives that say, “Jesus who?” Worse I know one or two who use their Biblical knowledge as a weapon, turning people away from, instead of toward, the love of God. So, now what?

The Truth is the truth and no one, no singer, songwriter, pastor or pedestrian, nominal Christian, can add to, or deter from, that truth. Continuing to listen I realized there are many singers out there about whom I know nothing. They may be all that they present to the world. The fruit they bear may be ripe and wonderful. Or they may be all talk and no follow through. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.

Go back to the pastors for a second. I have learned so much from a couple of men whose personal choices make me cringe at best. Yet, those men were so intelligent, so well-spoken that they could make the words of the Bible real and relatable. I have walked away from their messages comforted, challenged and convicted, sometimes all on the same day. That is a preacher! That same man may not live what he is preaching but that is between him and God, not him and me or God and me.

In the Old Testament God spoke through a donkey and I think He does that today too. I know my actions aren’t one hundred percent truth and faith. I can only pray that enough of how I live supports my belief. I would advise everyone reading this to take my words, as well as the words of anyone else, to Scripture and verify them. Learn from the message not the messengers.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

God’s Jewels

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Job 23:10


Something that I read this morning alerted me to the fact that I may be looking at suffering and hardship in the wrong way. I am aware that God will use those things to His purpose. It is not a foreign thought to me that a challenge will bring one closer to God. Today I read a message I have read many, many times before. It is from a book that I have had and loved for so many years that it is held together with tape. The pages are so yellowed that I have to have the “good” reading glasses to read it. (Good in this case meaning not bent and of stronger magnification.) All of that background is to show that this is not a new message to me. I should have seen this years ago and yet God chose today to truly reveal this idea to me.

The author was referring to God as a sculptor. He spoke of a piece of rock that gets tossed aside because it has no potential. That piece regards itself as perfect as it watches another rock being faceted and polished. Perhaps God chose now to reveal this to me because my husband has begun taking rocks and turning them into jewelry. He begins with a large clump. Some of the clumps are pretty colors and some just look odd. Then he takes them to the machine and grinds, buffs and shapes for hours. Later he will bring in a perfect oval, circle, heart, cross or some other shape, shiny and beautiful. Each time he says to me, “Hold it up to the light.” My response is almost always, “Wow!” What was formerly a lump of rock is now a beautiful stone that truly pleases the eye. Sculpted and faceted it is now able to take in the light, reflect it and in doing so become even more beautiful. Just as after grinding and testing we are better able to reflect the light of God.

This morning the message I read referred to the feelings of the rock not being faceted or shaped. That rock, the author asserted, most likely feels superior. After all it was not forced through heat and grinding. That rock apparently doesn’t see that it was simply set aside, that the sculptor or jeweler saw nothing in it that seemed worth any effort.

Once I picked up a rock that seemed to catch the light well and was a really pretty color. When I asked my husband what he was going to do with it he said nothing. It was cracked and too weak to withstand the process. Look at that from the prospective of people. We see people living “charmed” lives and we envy them. We shouldn’t. There is a good possibility that God sees them as too cracked or weak to withstand His training.


Reading that message again today and viewing it in light of my husband’s jewelry I now have a slightly different perspective on trials and challenges. God is indeed still working on me. He’s working on my dearest friends and some of my family too. I hate watching my friends or family hurting. I’m not terribly thrilled with pain for myself either but it certainly helps to see it as a byproduct of being chosen by God. If we weren’t worth His time He would leave us in the bin with the other lumps of useless rock.

I am so pleased that God pawed through the dirt and pulled me out. I’m thankful that He spends time grinding and shaping me to fit into His plan. Above all of that I am so pleased that today He taught me that those people who feel so superior because God is not challenging them are wrong. It is in the trials that all of us can know that God is with us, working on our character and relationship with Him.

Friday, June 3, 2011

He is God

Hear now O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command or subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you. Deuteronomy 4:1-2

Over the last several months I have been watching the old TV show, Joan of Arcadia. I watched the show when it was on TV the first time around but now see how much I missed. The theology is not always spot on. My sister Kathy and I used to talk about how some things didn’t quite mesh with our Christian beliefs. Still, there is a lot to be learned there.

Joan is a typical teenage girl. She wants friends, in particular a boyfriend, she wants to enjoy life, she wants her brother’s paralysis to be healed and most important, she wants to know her place in the world. God, in many various and often amusing forms, comes to speak to her face to face and help her along. Joan’s family is not involved with God. There is little of the spiritual in their home, so Joan’s knowledge of God is limited. She does, however, know some things about God. She knows, for some reason that she has to obey Him.

The other day while I was watching, while folding laundry, I heard a line that stopped me in my tracks. Joan said, “I have to do what you say. I get it. You’re God.” And she does!

God comes to Joan and asks her to take an advanced Chemistry class, build a boat, have a yard sale, find someone to help, take the school bully to a formal, etc. and she does. She often complies grudgingly but she complies. Like the rest of us she asks why, she gets angry with God, and she attempts to walk away but once she’s met Him, she can’t walk away and she can’t say no.

All of us have authority figures in our lives. Somewhere, someone, at some time, is or has been our superior. When that person speaks we are compelled to listen and do as they say. We obey because that person has some sway in our life. All of us are God’s children. The world would be a great place, a perfect place, if we all did things His way. We don’t. We aren’t as compliant as Joan.

Even given her amazing level of obedience, especially when you consider that she knew little or nothing of God before He began to speak to her, Joan still makes mistakes. When she is asked to keep a friend’s artwork out of a show, she destroys it. That is not what God had in mind and the fallout was not good. Through it all Joan learns. Watching her I am learning as well.

Her line on obedience, the simple surrender involved, is very profound to me. If I would understand, truly, that I have to do what He says because He’s God, things would go much better. I would know why things are happening the way they are happening. At the end of every task, Joan knows, to some degree, why God gave her the strange assignment. She gets that God is God and she is not.

God has never shown up and spoken to me through a person. I have to rely on Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s harder for me than it was for Joan and yet I know she is right. He is God and we do have to do what He says.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Today

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24


This is the day that the Lord has made. When my sons were in preschool they learned a little song based on this verse. “This is the day that the Lord has made, not like tomorrow or yesterday. He made today in a special way. So let’s all sing and be glad.” It was precious to hear those little voices singing. There was a slight emphasis on the “yesterday” that when sung by four year-olds was quite pronounced. I can’t help but think that is why I remember the song so well. It makes the point of that precious verse so very clear.

This is the day that the Lord has made. Yesterday was also made by the Lord but yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not here and may not be at all what we expect but today is here and we best enjoy it.

If yesterday was a bad day then how wonderful it is that it’s over. Too often we drag the hurts or embarrassments of yesterday into the next day, week or month letting them determine our mood for far too long. Before we know it we’ve built a wall that keeps us from receiving the blessings of this day that the Lord has made.

Tomorrow is a maybe. We have no guarantee that tomorrow will come for us or for anyone else. Maybe tomorrow is the day we’re all going home. Maybe it is the day a few of us are going home. I don’t know and neither do you. There is an old adage that says, “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” That’s true but we need to prioritize according to God’s will. This day that the Lord has made is a gift. It is a gift that we need to immediately return, so to speak.

Each day when we wake up we need to greet our Lord with words that express our desire to please Him, to do His will. In His hands this day, every day will hold some good. No matter how many trials we face a day in the hands of God will hold the promise of tomorrow and healing for yesterday. We need to live in the moment, every moment, knowing that our Lord has numbered our days and has an exact plan for each one.

This is the day that the Lord has made. It is not like tomorrow or yesterday. It was created for you and me, for our enjoyment and to give us an opportunity to serve. Please rejoice and be glad in it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Nuts

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” Judges 6: 14-16


When the road ahead looks oh so long
And your talents seem so few
Just remember that the mighty oak
Was once a nut like you.
Author Unknown


Sometimes the greatest people have the most humble beginnings. In fact I would say that happens quite often, especially in the Bible. Gideon felt too small for the task at hand. He was not alone. He was actually part of a very auspicious group. Noah, Moses, Jeremiah, Mary and Peter, to name a very few, also felt inadequate to the task at hand. That isn’t false humility. They weren’t capable on their own, of accomplishing what God had planned for them.

Gideon is one of my favorites because of his reaction. “Who me? No, not me. My family is too small and I’m even too small for that crowd. You can’t mean me.” God’s response? “Uh, yeah, I know who you are but I also know who I am.” God told Gideon, I’m big enough for the both of us. Gideon believed God but as the story goes on he still keeps asking God to provide assurances that He is in fact standing beside him.

Have you ever, like Gideon, felt that you were being called to something for which you were not equipped? Do you ever feel like the least of the least of the least? Or even worse do you sometimes feel like a fraud?

Gideon’s family worshipped idols. That had to be some of his thought process too. He knew that his family was not fully devoted to God and yet there was God taking up for them. He was choosing Gideon for great things and choosing him out of a small clan, an even smaller not terribly faithful, hedging their bets, family. Unbelievable right? Wrong. Those not so clean and tidy, not so pulled together, not quite good enough for the real world types are God’s favorite people.

That is great news for me. Like Gideon I come from an, um, hm… less than stellar family and I am the youngest. I was certainly raised to see myself as less than capable and yet God uses me quite often. I’ve never taken on any Midianites or risked my life to bring prophecy anywhere. I’m certainly not on the same page as Moses or Noah but I can and do feel God calling me to things that seem if not impossible at least unlikely.

God doesn’t care if we’re a little nut or a big tree. He cares about our availability, our openness to His plan. Most of the truly great men and women of the Bible looked a lot like acorns when God put His hand on them but today we speak of them with great respect and more than a little awe. So lay your nutty self at God’s feet and let Him do the rest.