Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Chair

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16

My husband’s aunt came to visit his mother last week. She is in her eighties and apparently has difficulty sleeping in a bed. At home she sleeps in a recliner, a piece of furniture my mother-in-law no longer possesses. She used to have a nice recliner but when she bought her new furniture she gave it to our son for his room. When he moved out he left the chair and then it made its home in my office. It has become my chair. Read that the way I would say it to you, MY CHAIR. I love that chair. It’s my prayer chair, my Bible study chair and my just sit and read chair.

Guess where my chair has been for the past ten days? At mother-in-laws house. She didn’t ask for it. I offered it back to her when she explained her sister’s issue with beds. It was the right thing to do and I not only knew that but never hesitated to offer it. I did, teasingly, make sure that Gigi [my mother-in-law] knew it was a loan.
My husband took it to his mother’s house and she joked that she had forgotten how nice it was and maybe she wouldn’t give it back. WHAT? Oh, oh, it’s a joke. Ha-ha! Then the sister/aunt arrived.

In the way of many old and infirm people Auntie likes to discuss the rapid decline of her health. She likes to do a litany of the many ways in which her body is failing her and each litany comes with the caution that she may not be with us much longer. She may, in fact, not live long enough to need a ride back to her home state. Which caused my husband to joke, (what is with these people and their sick jokes?) that she may die in….. wait for it…. MY CHAIR! Excuse me? Okay, that is not nice but she does bring up her death fairly often and my husband has known her all of his life. I guess it’s okay for him to tease her about her demise. It is not at all humorous, however, to suppose it could happen in my chair, not at all humorous.

This evening we had Gigi and Auntie at our house for dinner. Again we had the litany of aliments followed by a quick interview about things that have gone wrong or could go wrong for us, as she points out, we “aren’t gittin’ any younger.” Tonight though, Auntie was quick to tell us that every day she counts her blessings. She added that while she has been here she has been “ever so grateful to have that recliner chair” aka, my chair.
Suddenly the chair didn’t seem like a teasing or joking matter. While I certainly haven’t given any thought or concern to Auntie dying in my chair, I have missed it. That may seem ridiculous but that chair plays an important role in my day to day life. When I am studying in that chair my desk chair becomes a desk. Odd logic but if you could see it, it would make sense. I have missed my chair. I will be happy to have it back but not nearly as happy as I was to know that sharing it made someone’s life a great deal happier.

During the litany of issues was always the mention of the fact that after a certain age, life is just not fun. Auntie told us more than once that there is little in her life that is pleasurable. Having that chair wasn’t just a pleasure, she counted it as a blessing. And now I can count sharing it as a blessing as well.

It was truly a very small sacrifice on my part but it had a great impact. Now I’m looking around. What else could I lend or give away to make someone that happy? I don’t know yet, but I’m hoping God will tell me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vacation

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

A friend of mine just returned from a very nice vacation. Before she left the tension in her person was perceptible. She carried herself in a way that suggested she might shatter if anyone got close. She stated and restated how much she needed the break. Well, simply taking a break isn’t always the answer.

Jesus took breaks, or tried to anyway. He admonished the apostles to take breaks. From
the Old Testament to the New we are advised of the wisdom of taking a break, getting away and resting. We are called to be as much like God as we possibly can and guess what? On the seventh day, He rested. My friend’s idea was a good one, get away, take it easy and go back to work with a renewed sense of purpose. She’s baaaack. She doesn’t seem rested and where there should be a renewed sense of purpose there is nothing but the same old story, the same old song and dance. When I spoke to her the day after she returned it was as if she’d never left. The oil of tension dripped off her every word. Where strength and rejuvenation should have been there was the very familiar ring of anxiousness and irritation.

My first reaction was “gee, a lot of good that did.” I thought of the time and money her “rest” had cost her and wondered if it were at all worth it to her. Then I did the self-check thing. When have I done the same exact thing? Gone off to rest and returned just as tired and aggravated as when I left? A couple of incidents came to mind.

The break I’m referring to here did involve several days off from work, a lot of money spent and a great distance between the home/work arena and the vacation spot. But it doesn’t have to be that significant a change to provide the opportunity to miss a blessing.
Many of us take a quiet time with God each day. That should renew us from whatever has gone before and strengthen us for whatever is coming. If we follow the example of Jesus we will take those moments, or if we can days, and renew not only our physical bodies but more importantly our spirits.

We read the story of creation which includes the words, “so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” Genesis 2:2b We read in Matthew 14:23 that Jesus went off by himself to pray. We see it again in Mark 1:35, Jesus going off alone to pray. In the story of Jesus calming the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) Jesus is asleep in the boat. Renewal does not always come from the well thought out, saved for, long anticipated vacation. Renewal always comes from getting quiet and close to our Lord.

Take a break, a real one. God did it and so did Jesus.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Faith Like A Child

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as there.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. Matthew 19:14-15

In the past ten days I have heard two sermons and had two very interesting conversations with my granddaughter Faith. The sermons were good, well, one was good and one was just okay. The conversations were amazing. My granddaughter is two weeks away from her sixth birthday. She isn’t a genius or a Bible scholar. She is a child, a child who has enormous love and trust in God, which is a bit surprising, considering that she only rarely attends church. She attends a public school and is being raised by a single mother, my daughter, who has a great spiritual foundation but no real relationship with God.

Just yesterday when our pastor referred to a friend who had passed away, he said, “We know God loves Todd [the man’s son] and that He loved Jim.” (Jim being the friend who had died.) I’m fairly certain that our pastor just misspoke. Surely he knows that God’s love extends far beyond this life. But when he made his gaffe, it reminded me of Faith.
Faith has spoken to me about “our new life.” She told me that people get new names in Heaven but that she will not because her name is Faith. Apparently if your name is Faith or something like that, if it has anything to do with trust, you get to keep that name. She told me that God’s favorite word is love. “He also likes share and care but care has to come first. You care about people and then you share with them.” She further explained to me.

Now in my eyes Faith is absolutely precious. She is tender hearted, kind and very compassionate. She is not perfect. Just a few minutes after telling me why God’s favorite word is love, she told me a story about her little sister Madelyn that wasn’t terribly flattering or factual. Faith is a regular Kindergarten child with a connection to God that evades explanation or frankly, understanding.

I don’t know why or how Faith knows the things she knows about God. She tells me He speaks to her. He tells her things. She refers to Him as “the one who always watches over us.” When I asked who that was, she said, “God.” She answered me as if I were an addlebrained child. See, just a regular kid but with a vision of some kind.

Jesus instructed us to be like children, to come to him like children and to have faith like a child. Listening to Faith and then listening to my pastor, I wonder sometimes if too much knowledge gets in the way. Faith told me that God talks to people all the time but that most people don’t hear Him. I wonder if we all need to simplify our lives and just listen to God and to the youngest of His children.


At that time, Jesus full of joy through the Holy Spirit said, "I praise you FAther, Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father for this was your good pleasure." Luke 10:21

Friday, September 23, 2011

Character

So I tell you this and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because they have given themselves over to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity with a continual lust for more. Ephesians 4:17-19

There are four words that are present in almost every conversation I have with my friend Patty. It doesn’t matter who we are talking about, ourselves, our children, politicians; it comes down to the same four words. It’s all about choices.

Maybe you can’t judge a person by the outer core but if that appearance raises doubts watch and see if their actions follow. One mistake is understandable but a string of lousy choices points to serious character flaws. This condition is not unique to this time in history. Paul’s writings are in the neighborhood of 2000 years old and he is saying the same thing, just using more words.

We aren’t talking about choices like vanilla or chocolate. The choices Paul refers to as he clearly states may be life changing, taking one away from God. It is easier to resist impurity if you haven’t danced right at its borders. Once tasted one taste is not enough. It creates as Paul says a “continual lust for more.” One lie leads to the next; one undiscovered affair makes it easy to believe it is okay to do it again, etc.

As good choices build character poor ones tear it down. Paul says the Gentiles have “lost all sensitivity” and we do too. In recovery programs clients are told to change not just their behavior, but any activity or relationship that would trigger the problem.

Earlier in the Scripture we are told that Christians will be known by their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-23) Where did that fruit begin? It all began with one choice, one footstep in the right direction. When advising a child, a friend or keeping your own counsel remember those four important words, “it’s all about choices.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hebrew of Hebrews

If any one thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews: in regard to the law a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:4b-8


Paul had the right idea. He knew that he was nothing without Christ. He knew that all of the trappings of this world were worthless. He knew because he had once had it all and had willingly given it up for Jesus.

Our own position doesn’t matter. Look around, no matter how well off you are, or high up in your profession or church, no matter what your family heritage, I bet you can find someone with more. Or conversely no matter how little you have or feel you matter there is someone with less. Do we understand really, that we have it all if we have Jesus Christ in our lives? If you are at the top are you willing to be at the bottom to keep your relationship with Christ? If you are on the very bottom of the ladder are you willing to climb up to retain your relationship with God?

In Paul’s case he had to relinquish his position with the Pharisees, give up the life he was used to living, to preach Christ to the world. Sometimes there is as much of a sense of pride in being at the bottom. When God calls us to receive a blessing we are too afraid that we will look less committed to Christ if we accept. There is a false sense of humility to which some people want to cling.

Whatever Christ is calling you to relinquish for His sake, do it. The true reward is surely worth the perceived sacrifice. Wouldn’t you hate to say no and miss out on the opportunity to have an impact like Paul’s?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Because You’re Worth It

“For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” Acts 17:28

Years ago the tagline for L’Oreal cosmetics was, “because you’re worth it.” L’Oreal products were a bit higher priced than their competitors. Instead of trying to deny that or explain why their products were worth more than the other guys’, they turned the tables. They didn’t say, “Hey look how great our stuff is, spend a little more.” No, they played on our self-esteem issues. “Look in the mirror, you’re worth it.” That, my friends is a slippery slope in more ways than one. That mirror will tell one person they are worth it and another they may as well buy the cheap stuff, because there is no hope. That slope is unimportant to me. The one that I think about, a lot, is the one that concerns my spiritual health. Maybe I am worth an extra dollar or two, but why? And more to the point how does my Father want me to spend those dollars? How does He want me to measure my worthiness?

Here, in this world we measure worth in terms of dollars and cents, beauty, educational achievements, and level of success. Some of the most influential people in today’s society aren’t very nice. They may be wealthy, pleasing to the eye and even quite popular in their own circles but how did they get there? Who are they? Who do they serve?

We hear a lot about self-worth and self-esteem. Hm, see the problem with those terms? They start with self. The best way to realize one’s worth is to look away from the mirror, the bank balance, the diploma and straight into the heart of God. That is where we find our worth. Our proximity to the King of kings determines what and who we are.

I have purchased some L’Oreal products over the years. I have allowed myself some little indulgences over the years of my life. That is okay. God has provided for me, at times, to splurge a bit. Those splurges don’t happen because I’m “worth it.” They happen because I am loved.

Everything I have comes from the Father of the Heavenly lights. (James 1:17). I am worth it, whatever “it” is because I am a child of God. Without my Father’s love I am worthless. Apart from God I am nothing. My worthiness itself is a gift. In the Catholic Church there is a prayer that says, “O Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. Speak only the word and my soul will be clean.” It is a prayer of confession but look at it. We are not worthy until He makes us worthy. We are worthy to come into His presence because He makes us so. Spend time with the Giver of all things. He is certainly worth it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chains

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Colossians 4:18

Remember my chains. Paul, formerly revered for his persecution of Christians is now in chains persecuted for his devotion to Christ. Ironic isn’t it? Take a look at your own life. What are your chains? Have you taken something on that used to seem like a burden because God asked you to do it? Or have you given something up that you were sure you couldn’t live without because God hated it? Those are your chains.

We are blessed to live in a country where we are allowed, at least for now, to openly profess our faith in Jesus Christ without fear of imprisonment or torture. That does not mean that the Christian walk is without peril. None of us lives exactly the same life we lived when God called us to walk with Him. A yes to that call brings change with it. We cannot choose Christ and continue to live the way of the world. It may be one big thing or a lot of little ones but change is imperative. Those changes remind us of our commitment as surely as Paul’s chains reminded him.

I believe that Paul admonished the Colossians to remember his chains to remind them that following Jesus can be, in fact usually is, a costly endeavor. Most of us have lost friends and some have lost family members due to our faith. Some have had to change hobbies and others I know have even changed jobs because of the far too worldly environment in which they found themselves.

Remember your chains and remember that whatever it cost you to follow Jesus will be returned to you a hundred fold. No man or woman can ever match let alone outdo God for generosity. The small sacrifices we make to serve are nothing compared to the sacrifice Jesus made to save.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cool Praying

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:24

How many books do you suppose have been written about prayer? I wouldn’t even begin to guess. There are books for spouses, parents, teachers, doctors, singles, men, women, etcetera. I own a few and there are others I would like to own. With the number of books, essays and sermons on prayer, it seems that it must be a fairly complicated thing right? I’m not sure it is. I wonder if we make it harder than it has to be.

My grandson Joey and I love the movie “Cool Runnings.” One of our favorite scenes is when Derice is trying to convince Sanka to join the bobsled team. Derice is a lovely, very charming guy and Sanka has been his friend since they were children. Derice approaches Sanka with this whole speech about friendship and loyalty. Sanka says no. He then says to Derice, “Derice, if you want me to do something, just ask me. Just say, ‘Sanka, you are my best friend. We’ve been through a whole heap together and I really, really need you.’” Derice gives Sanka the exact speech and Sanka says no but then laughs and says of course he will do what Derice wants.

From the first time he watched the movie Joey has been able to quote that scene. When he wants something from me and he’s pretty sure I won’t want to do it he quotes, “Grammy, you are my best friend.” He can do the whole thing word for word complete with a Jamaican accent. It’s hysterical and sometimes, often, it works. What would have been a no becomes a yes because the kid is so funny and adorable. When he looks at me with those big old blue eyes and says, “I really, really need you.” I’m done, unless of course, what he is asking is really not good for him.

I love Joey. He is my firstborn grandchild. He spent the lion’s share of his early years in my home. We have been through a whole heap together. I would do pretty much anything for him and when he knows it, which is why he can ask with great confidence and great simplicity.

Not for one minute do I think that I love Joey more than God loves me. I should approach the throne of grace with the same confidence, first of all because I was told to, (Hebrews 4:16) but also because Jesus is my best friend and we’ve been through a whole heap together. He tells us to use his name. He has influence with our Father based on their relationship. We have the ability to use his name based on our relationship with him.

Instead of finding fancy words or saying the same thing over and over again, I think I’m going to try simple for awhile. I think I will pray, “Jesus it’s me again. You are my best friend. We’ve been through a whole heap together and I really, really need you to………………” That is what is in my heart. When I pray I feel like I am asking my dear friend for help. So why not just say so?

Jesus told us to use his name, to ask for anything we need or want. I believe that if we approach our Father with the love and trust with which Joey approaches me we will get what is best for us. We won’t always get a yes but that isn’t because we prayed it wrong or He didn’t hear us. That is because Father knows best.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Missed Opportunities

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Matthew 10:32-33

I am blessed to have two grandchildren attending the school where I work, my granddaughter, Faith, who is in Kindergarten and her cousin Joey, who is in Second grade. Yesterday I brought them both a brownie with a note of love from me. On the first day of school I did the same thing with cookies that were joyfully accepted and appreciated by both of them.

Yesterday Faith was thrilled to receive her treat but Joey’s reaction wasn’t nearly as positive. When I approached him I was greeted by a look I have never seen on his face before. He looked as if he didn’t know me and further, didn’t want to. I was shocked and disappointed. This is a child who has run to me every time I’ve arrived on the scene since he was old enough to run. This is a child who has begged me to let him live at my house. We’ve spent the better part of his life together. Suddenly I was persona non grata. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling but as it turned out, it was my own fault. Little did I know that a couple of games of pee wee football make a boy a BMOC, top of the heap, Joe Cool, big shot. Here’s the picture, when I approached Joey he was in the breakfast line with some boys from his football league, a few of whom were older boys. Having a grammy in those circumstances is apparently not cool! All that behavior cost Joey was the brownie which I gave to his younger cousin Madelyn, who happened to be having breakfast with her sister, and later in the day a bit of sarcasm from me.

As I walked away from Joey and his snotty response the Scripture above came full blown into my thoughts. Ouch! Yes, Joey had rejected me and yes it stung. This is after all my Buggy! This is a kid who I have literally stepped on because he was so close on my heels. Of course I was a bit hurt but that cannot begin to compare with the grief I have caused to my Father’s heart when on occasion I have acted as if I didn’t know Him or minimized our relationship to avoid controversy or appear more worldly.

Thanks be to God that hasn’t happened in a long time but I know I have done it. I wonder if a test is on my horizon, a time when choosing to stand on my belief and embrace my Lord will cost me; if someone will think less of me or choose not to befriend me because Jesus is my dearest friend. At least the little incident has given me a head's up. I will pray to stand firm in my faith, no matter what.

Certainly I will not turn away from Joey. I gave his treat to Madelyn and I gave him a hard time later, done and done. He’s my firstborn grandchild and a huge part of my life. My love for him was not diminished at all by that interaction. It did however give me a view of us I have never had before and for Joey there was a cost. When I make the comparison I see again, quite clearly, that my hurt was minimal when compared to the ways in which I have grieved the heart of my Father. I also see that Joey lost out a bit and that makes me wonder what I’ve missed. I haven’t denied God in a way that will cost me my salvation but what small miracle, what gift of grace did I miss by slighting my Father? I hate to think about it. This experience does remind me to be grateful in the extreme for the forgiveness and love that flow from the throne of grace.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vengeance Is His

Arise O Lord!
Deliver me O my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw, break the teeth of the wicked. Psalm 3:7


Many years ago I was in a terrible position in life. All around me things were falling apart. I did not have the luxury of joining them as I was the mother of four young children. Many of my problems, most of them, actually, were centered on the behaviors of one other person. That person had caused enormous damage to almost every area of my life. Even then I knew my best weapon against his attacks was prayer. With no love and a whole lot of bitterness and anger in my heart I approached the throne of grace with no real confidence but a heart full of obedience. I prayed for him, quite honestly, to be kept well but far away from me.

As I said, life was a mess. It was hard for me to see God’s hand and impossible to understand why He was allowing certain things to transpire. Through it all I continued reading a devotional Bible. Many days the message from the Word was the only I had to hang onto but one day in particular the message was loud and clear. God’s hand of protection was on me and nothing could shake it off.

While at work one afternoon I got a phone call informing me that my nemesis had been injured at his job. My immediate reaction was to feel vindicated and a bit amused as the injury was due to his stupidity. As soon as those feelings ran through me they were chased by guilt. Regardless of how awful he may have been to me this was a serious situation. I prayed to God to forgive me for my feelings toward this man and his mishap and I moved on. Later that day I would be called upon to react to the event and each time it was equally hard not to enjoy his discomfort, at least a little. Each time I prayed for forgiveness and I prayed for his recovery. The latter of which was all to honor God because I couldn’t have cared less if he recovered or not.

The worst damage turned out to be to his mouth, where several of his teeth were broken and a few were knocked out completely. Imagine my reaction when the next morning my devotional reading plan took me to Psalm 3 and the words, “Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” I promise you, I read it three times before I believed that those were the actual words. If God is for us indeed! (Romans 8:31)

I was filled with the overwhelming knowledge that no matter who or what might come against me, God most certainly had me covered. I’d been fighting the urge to sink into bitterness and hatred for months, turning everything back to God, praying, hang onto Scripture with both hands and there it was in beautiful letters, God heard my prayers more clearly than I even knew.

Please don’t think that I think God literally struck that man on his mouth. I don’t. I do think he allowed the man’s own arrogance and lack of good sense to get the better of him and used that to give me a bright light at the end of a tunnel in which I was still trapped. God released me from that tunnel many years ago and has blessed me in ways I never could have imagined. To this day when the tunnels of life get too dark and begin to seem endless I remember that little bit of justice. I know that God is for me and vengeance truly is His.

Cheer Up

A cheerful heart is good medicine but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22


When I was younger I thought religion and anything that involved religion had to be serious. I thought that because it was what I was taught. When I began to develop my own relationship with Jesus I still believed that I had to be serious, almost solemn, about it. My views on religion were bleeding all over my faith. I am not by nature a very serious person, responsible yes but not serious. There is a touch of humor to be found almost everywhere but to be a “good Christian” I had to forget that and take life more seriously. It was rough going for awhile as I tried so hard to be “good.”

Eventually, through Scriptures like this proverb and truly getting to know Jesus I realized I had been right all along. There is a touch of humor in most things. Sometimes we have to be serious and tragedy is just that, tragic, but whenever possible find something to smile about. There are some amazingly blessed people who find some little occurrence and laugh about it even in the midst of their very worst days. We all need to find things to smile about or better yet find something to giggle about and take that further to laughing out loud.

If you think there is nothing to smile about visit a pre-school and listen to the little ones or watch teenagers interact. From very different perspectives both are comical. God wants us to laugh and relax. Without frequent bursts of humor or downright silliness we begin to take ourselves too seriously. We can become too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. Watch a silly movie, hang out with a two-year-old or just sit and people watch, but find something to laugh about. It will definitely improve your spirit.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Picture Not So Perfect

“Come to me all you who thirsty, come to the waters Isaiah 55:1a

There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Matthew 17:2


Our pastor often bemoans the fact that there are very few good artistic renderings of Jesus, his apostles or the saints. He’s right. Some depictions of the apostles have them look dazed and confused. In others they look useless. Most of the saints look, oh I hope this isn’t sacrilegious, creepy and certainly ill-equipped to do anything but gaze into the sunset. And poor Jesus! I’ve never seen a picture of what looks like a typical Jewish guy. Jesus gets a whole lot of sappy treatment too. Once in awhile there is a strapping, wide smiling Jesus and while those are great pictures, I’m betting they fall very short on accuracy points. Our pastor seems to object most viscerally at the sappy Jesus pictures and I get that. Is this the guy that took all that torture? I don’t think so!

Yesterday there was a small picture of Jesus in the corner of the song lyrics on our screen. It was of Jesus in the clouds, all in white with his sleeves billowing and his hair blowing back. The picture wasn’t great but it made a great impression on me. There was Jesus, with his arms wide open, calling us to run into them. The idea is extremely inviting, isn’t it? What could be better than to be welcomed into the open arms of Jesus? Still, he was wearing a flowy white dress. That, oddly enough is what got my attention. The man, Jesus, is the epitome of strength and courage. He is everything we need him to be and more. Those arms can, did and do, hold the weight of the world. That all by itself could be a bit intimidating. But dress that man in a long, fluttering white robe and he takes on an approachable softness. Suddenly the image evokes thoughts of running into the arms of a dearly loved grandmother. Now the picture isn’t weak or sappy. Now it’s comfort at its finest. Isn’t that Jesus?

I still agree with my pastor. It does seem like someone, somewhere could do a better job but then again, we have no idea, really what Jesus looked like. We know he wasn’t attractive, whatever that meant in his day. (Isaiah 53:2) Maybe he was a bit thin for the times or maybe his features were too narrow and fine compared to his countrymen. Maybe he had an actual defect. I don’t know. What I do know is that looking at him with his arms open, clean and bright, eyes clear, heart tuned to mine, I want to run into those arms and I do not want them to feel as if they are made of steel.

That picture wasn’t perfect but it was perfect for me, in the moment. The idea that Jesus is both the strong courageous defender and the warm loving brother is lovely. It gives me the idea that our Father in heaven, mighty, awesome, powerful and perfect, is also in possession of things we often attribute to mothers, tenderness, compassion, forgiveness and mercy.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I Wanna’ Go Home

In my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. John14:2
The thief comes only to kill and to destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10


While writing in my journal yesterday I mentioned to my Father how pleased I was to feel His presence even though the view lately has not been so nice. Everywhere I turn someone is hurting, someone is discussing the effects of the sad economy or the sorry state of our government. Even what I can physically see, empty buildings where businesses used to be, a loved one walking, barely and in great pain, and worst, people showing disrespect and lack of care to those to whom they should be showing concern and love. The view can be downright ugly. Then again it can be glorious.

As I was writing in my journal the image that flashed through my mind was one of incredible beauty. One day last week as I was driving to work a hawk flew across the front of my vehicle, literally inches away from me. It was amazing! The enormous bird came seemingly out of nowhere, although technically, I suppose out of the trees on the other side of the road. Suddenly there he was huge and breathtakingly beautiful. My first response was to be startled. That was quickly overtaken by awe. I drive down that road five days a week. I often see my favorite cardinals flying around and a couple of times I’ve seen deer but this was my first hawk sighting. The enormity and the wing span were marvelous. That is a tiny, tiny taste of the kind of awe inspiring reality waiting for us in heaven.

That reminded me of a student of ours at school who I will call Billy, in part because although it is not his name, he often calls himself Billy. Billy is a great kid. He’s a real kid and can be a bit annoying at times but he’s a funny little guy with a quiet husky voice. The first few months we knew him the one thing that we heard over and over was, “I wanna’ go home. I wanna’ go home.” Don’t picture a child screaming, “Mommy!” type of thing. Those words were spoken very quietly, in his deep voice, very deep for such a young, small boy. In fact sometimes you have to strain to make out what our dear Billy is saying and to this day it is often, “I wanna’ go home.” Well, Billy boy I can relate.

The contrast of the beauty of the hawk in flight to the suffering I had witnessed the day before while visiting with an ill friend make me “wanna’ go home” too. Our dear Father has promised us no tears, no suffering and no fear when we go home. At is very best this life is a weak imitation of what He has planned for us in Heaven. I love my life, even with the sometimes lousy view. I have a lovely husband, great kids and in-love kids, “perfect” grandchildren, a loving extended family, an amazing best friend, a nice church and a good job. My life is good here but it is going to be perfect when I get home. Billy anticipates that home is so much better than school that sometimes he misses out on fun while he’s with us. I want to enjoy every opportunity and bit of beauty that my Father affords me here but then…… "I wanna’ go home."

Friday, September 2, 2011

When Trying Is Not Enough

“A new command I give you; Love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:35

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8


Last Sunday our pastor preached about loving your neighbor, among other things. I throw in the “among other things” because the sermon was very good and Sam made a few significant points. The salient point to me was the one about loving our neighbor. The Scriptures Sam was quoting left no wiggle room. Jesus is quite direct on this issue and so was Sam. The reason that topic was hitting so close to home was that right after church I was going to “do the right thing” and spend some time with a couple of people who present me with a challenge right now, one in particular. And guess what? That guy is my neighbor and thanks to Jesus, and Sam’s presentation of his perspective, I knew that there were no other options.

It would be great to type in here about how I went forward and loved that neighbor as Jesus intended. I want to. I wanted to a bit before the sermon and I really wanted to after the sermon, after the reminder of how important love is to Jesus. What was already an exercise in mercy became an exercise of obedience and discipleship. I still wanted to “do the right thing” but beyond that I wanted to please my Father. I tried. To be as honest as I can be in my assessment of my own behavior I’m sure an onlooker would tell you that I succeeded. I was polite, inviting, and even friendly. I looked for things to appreciate and respect. Oh wait, there’s the issue. There is where loving my neighbor kind of falls apart. I was looking for reasons to love him. Jesus didn’t say, “Go out and find people who fit your idea of what is right and wrong and love them.” No, he said, “Love your neighbor.”

That kind of love does not depend on the recipient at all. It depends solely on the giver. I “tried” and in trying, I had already failed.

It is several days later and I have gone over the event in my head and with trusted “neighbors” more than a few times. Why? I’m looking for a loophole. If this guy’s behaviors and choices are odd enough or sinful enough then I’m off the hook right? I tried. Wrong! We are called to love as God loves us. So the answer to my queries about my feelings toward this guy who has the following things wrong with him, aka known as these particulars specks in his eyes, should be, take the plank of judgment out of your eye and love like God loves you, while you are still a sinner.

It would be lovely to say that seeing this truth my attitude did an immediate change. It hasn’t. I know I’m wrong, in a Pharisee/tax collector scenario with the two of us in lead roles, I am the Pharisee! I know that as well as I know that I can “try” to love this guy and the rest of my neighbors all day long and I can fail all day long. To succeed I have to let go and let God. I have to give love before he, or anyone else, gives me a reason. It isn’t easy. Sam’s sermon was certainly not the first one I’ve heard on the topic, not even the first one I’ve heard from him. It bears repeating and repeating because we have to get it. To love and serve our Father we have to love our neighbor.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Closed Eyes



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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