Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Be Prepared to Meet Jesus

I have something of a reputation for being unconventional. (A bit of coaching my children have taken to the nth degree!) So, I am, during this season of Lent, doing a 31 Day Scripture Writing Plan -- for December. Days Three and Four were writings in Isaiah 11, a chapter rife with prophecy fulfilled and prophecy yet to be realized. The fulfillment of prophecy is God's guarantee that those things which have yet to come to fruition, will; so these Scriptures just ooze hope! Just look at verses 6-10:
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;And a little child shall lead them.The cow and the bear shall graze;Their young ones shall lie down together;And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LordAs the waters cover the sea.“And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,Who shall stand as a banner to the people;For the Gentiles shall seek Him,And His resting place shall be glorious.”
What a glorious promise of peace, and restoration to the way God designed this earth to be -- for all mankind! The knowledge of God's goodness, justice, provision, peace, and grace spread throughout the entire world! A Prince and Champion for the people of God! Wow, hard to imagine! And who wouldn't anxiously anticipate such a day?!


I don't anxiously anticipate that day; I don't want to imagine it. My anticipation is marred by the fact I have not, I do not evangelize the way I should. My work here is not finished, I know, but I do not seize every opportunity I am given to proclaim Jesus to others. Though the door may be wide open, my mouth remains shut to those who do not know Him. Coworkers have not come to know Jesus -- or even reject Him -- because they have not heard from me. My biological family and my spiritual family are not one in the same, in part, because some have never heard the Gospel from my lips! I cannot look forward to an eternity of peace, beauty, grace, God's presence when I know I have not done what was required of me with regard to those who have spent hours talking to me, years learning from me, countless moments sharing my table or riding beside me. The words, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus," become stuck in my throat when I see the lives of those I profess to love and care for as opportunities I neglected.

I know Jesus dies to save them. I know it is their choice. But telling them is my responsibility. We all have our own personalities, and faith walks, and thoughts about sharing the Gospel; but it is God's plan that I must follow, and He has given me far more opportunities than I have taken. So, while I may not be the one offering prayer to everyone I meet, or the person who peppers their path with tracts, God demands I do something. Maybe even something that fits my unconventional personality.

So, allow me to go on record as saying, I want to joyfully anticipate that day, knowing I have done all I could and took advantage of every opportunity I was given to proclaim Jesus. I have laid it all out honestly before the Lord; I have prayed for boldness, and eyes with which to see open doors. I have no right to dread any goodness my Heavenly Father bestows; and I have no right -- for any reason -- to keep something He has freely given, to myself!

Monday, March 19, 2018

What Lies Beneath

It was only last February that Scott and I graduated to smart phones. I like to think we are, at least, living in the early 21st century now. And while, most of the time, I use my phone for things like phone calls and texts (imagine!), I occasionally use it for music while I'm cooking. I was doing just that the other day when I began going through my mental Rolodex of bands I wanted to hear. Buckcherry came to mind, and with it, a story I've always remembered from an interview with Josh Todd, the group's lead singer. Now, I'm not the "groupie" type, but the story was so charming, so poignant, it has remained with me:

Todd was speaking to his future father-in-law, when the man expressed concern over Todd's many tattoos. Josh Todd responded something like: "I hope there will come a day when you no longer see them."

Todd's story always reminds me how important it is to look more deeply into the people I encounter. Sometimes the "tattoos" that prevent us from really seeing others as they are -- "tattoos" like bad behavior, foul language, filthy habits, polarizing personalities, self-righteousness, self-obsession -- are there with the purpose of distraction. "If you focus on the things about me that offend or intimidate you, maybe you will simply judge me and move on." Those "tattoos" keep the world, as unsafe as it is, from reaching what may really lie inside: fear, anxiety, self-loathing, hurt, weakness, doubt; the armor that others believe they need to cope in a world that is corrupt, threatening, and difficult to navigate; the armor of those without Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let me first say, that as Christians, the only armor we should ever wear is the armor of God. We need to make ourselves available to those who do not know Jesus. We need to -- when called by God -- enter into some murky water, some "unsafe" or "imprudent" situations in order to effectively proclaim Christ to those who do not know Him. (Just to clarify, "unsafe" and "imprudent" as applied to the world's assessment of a situation or place, not God's.) The only armor that will ever keep us and make our work as servants of the Lord effective, is the armor of God.

Secondly, we must learn to see, as much as we can, as God sees. I recognize many "tattoos", and I also know why they are there -- I wore many for the same reasons. By God's grace, many of mine have been removed; but, also by His grace, I now am able to identify and have compassion on those who are still "tatted up." Because of Jesus, I can understand the unruly child and the self-righteous parent; I have compassion on the addict and the cutter. It is by God's grace that I can pray for Him to help me reach the obnoxious neighbor or the lazy coworker.

Years ago I might have prayed God would remove a situation from me, or remove a person from my situation -- and I still think that way sometimes; but God shows us how to see as He sees. God's Spirit teaches us to pray for that "annoying" person at your job, to see what lies deep inside. God's Spirit gives us wisdom and insight to not simply "deal with" a bad situation, but to understand what He can do through it to change us into someone who more closely resembles Him -- people who are marked with the blood of Jesus, rather than the "tattoos" of this world; people who can see beneath the surface.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Tremendous Value of Truth

Truth is a gift.

I once knew a man who was funny, personable, interesting. He had traveled a bit; had a wonderful family. He wasn't the most popular guy on the block, but I liked him. There was just one thing: he couldn't tell the truth. Every time he told me about his weekend, or his latest project, he lied. Silly stuff, unnecessary lies (if any lie truly is necessary); lies to make it seem he had more money than he did, or knew more than he did. Over and over again as we spoke, I would validate him: "I like you ___," or "You are a really kind guy, ___;" I even went so far as to say, "I'd like you if you didn't have DUBs, ___." (And he didn't have DUBs, by the way -- still liked him.) I thought if I let him know he was safe, that the things he did or the things he possessed were of no importance to me, we could have a decent friendship. He didn't get it. I wanted to ask, "Why do you do that? Do you think any of that matters to me?" I wanted to tell him how insulting it was for him to think I was that shallow. How do you have a relationship with someone who is always pretending to be someone else? How do you have a relationship with someone who thinks you are someone else?

This afternoon, Mom was watching Gunsmoke; an episode called "Stark." In this episode, the character played by Suzanne Pleshette is scolding her brother for his part in a tumultuous relationship with their father:
"All he ever wanted from you was one truth. Just one single truth. So he could be sure he had a son and maybe you'd know you finally belonged some place."
That resonated deeply with me, and got me to thinking about some of my relationships -- past and present. Truth tells us our relationships are exactly what they are -- good, bad, or otherwise. If you know someone really likes you, you go from there. If you know someone doesn't quite feel the same way you do, you just go. But it's truth that puts us on a level playing field and assures us we need to keep playing, or warns us we're better off on the bench. Truth keeps everyone safe -- the giver and the receiver. Even if the news isn't good, at least we're free of delusion or pretense. Truth is a gift.

And that brings me to the classic line from A Few Good Men:
"You can't handle the truth!!"
The truth is not always pretty. The truth sometimes hurts. The truth can make us see something we've known all along but have chosen to ignore. The truth can be as difficult to deliver as it is to receive.
Humanity has known the truth, but some have chosen to keep it to themselves, to ignore it, to distort it, or to outright defy it. Truth tells us that we are not all we're cracked up to be, and that there is a larger, grander, more powerful Authority to Whom we must account. Truth assures us that even those these things are true, there is hope. In the Truth of the Gospel.

Take a long, hard look at who you are by the light of Scripture. Yes, it will be hard to handle. But if you can endure a few glaring realities about your own inadequacy, your own poverty of being -- and you refuse to cover those realities up with some ridiculous story to make yourself seem more than you are -- you will be able to see the hope, the freedom, the gift that is Truth.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Day Dreaming

I blame our pastor, really I do. I don't think I'd gotten more than ten minutes into the copy of one of his recent sermons when my mind began to wander. It's not that Pastor Bryan is boring, or dry, or doesn't preach in a way we can understand; it's because our pastor definitely has an anointing. I don't think I've ever heard him preach when his message didn't hit home at some point. That's what happened as I listened this day. As he spoke, a scene from my childhood slowly eased it's way to the front of my mind:

When I was young, my family would take day trips to the beach. Mom would pack sandwiches in the cooler, and pack us into our swimsuits; Dad would pack us all into the station wagon, and off we'd go. Once Mom set up shop on the musty old Army blanket, that's where she remained for the rest of the day; Dad was the free spirit. He would play with us in the surf, splashing and squirting us, coaxing us to swim toward him.  

On one occasion -- the specific one that came to mind as I was listening to Pastor's sermon -- Dad was carrying me piggyback deeper and deeper into the Atlantic. I was excitedly urging him to keep going, my wet feet swinging back and forth along his sides, and my bottom bouncing up and down in his arms. I tightened my grip around his neck as he pressed on. I looked across the surface of the water and saw a discarded cupcake wrapper floating, tarnishing this perfect setting for fun. A few steps further, and there was another. And another. I can't recall if I spoke first, or if Dad offered up the explanation: they were not discarded wrappers at all, they were dead jellyfish.

As I sat down to write today, I was curious as to how Dad had immediately identified those stinging blobs as dead; so...Google to the rescue. The long and the short of it is, unless they are decomposed, or it is obvious they are being carried, lifeless by the current; unless you make contact, there are few ways to determine if they are truly dead. Perhaps Dad had poked one somehow -- he was sort of fearless that way -- or perhaps he did not wish to alarm me; either way, they were "dead" to me. We pressed on.

And that is the point at which my twisted little mind returned to the sermon; but it hadn't strayed far or long. You see, my momentary journey was, in some ways, a picture of the Christian walk. We can all remain "safely on shore". We can trust in what makes us feel comfortable; we can remain on what, for now, appears to be sturdy, dry ground. We can allow our fear to keep us beached on some musty old territory, with only a cooler full of PB&J for the rest of the trip. But where will that take us? And what happens when the tide rolls in, sweeping away our comfortable little roost?

Or, we can frolic in the surf with our Father. We can cling tightly to Him as He leads us further and further into the great Deep. We can ride safely in His arms toward what might normally frighten us were we to travel it on our own; we can fearlessly, excitedly urge Him to carry us "further! deeper!" And we can know, the dangers that may await us on our journey are dead to us; nothing more than harmless discarded rubbish, rendered ineffective and completely under the authority of the Living God. Our Father.

(Although, the old wagon didn't quite make it to the shore on this trip...)

Monday, February 19, 2018

What Is Your Kryptonite?

I have not posted in two weeks. Now, I could list a plethora of reasons: it's tax time and I'm trying to get paperwork together; Mom and I have been taking advantage of some sporadic breaks in the weather to get outside; I've been getting some of my seeds planted for Spring flowers and Summer vegetables -- just to name a few. But the real reason is Discouragement. There you have it (and it actually feels kind of liberating to see it in black and white).

I am beginning to realize Discouragement is my Kryptonite. Kryptonite, of course, was the one thing that was able to bring down Superman -- the legendary hero, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Well, I am no Superman, but I am an organized, intense, focused, multi-tasking wife, mom and daughter who, two weeks ago, picked up a dose of Green Kryptonite. Wikipedia describes Green Kryptonite as cancer-causing to humans, and even, fatal with long-term exposure. I know Kryptonite is fictional, but Discouragement is not.

Dis-couragement: the thing Satan uses to take away the boldness, the courage Christ has given me for Kingdom purposes. Strictly my definition, but one that reminds me of the origin of discouragement; the blessing of courage and its "bigger than me" purpose; and my responsibility to armor-up against discouragement. Think of it this way: to disrobe means to take off what you are wearing, to remove it. To dis-courage or to allow dis-couragement is to remove, or allow someone or something else to remove courage from you.

This may shock you, but Satan isn't the least bit interested in you. He isn't the least bit interested in me. He's not looking to "mess with us" in the sense that he wants to spill your morning cup of coffee or keep you from that promotion. He wants glory -- the kind of glory only God is due. What better way to get it than to take it from God via God's people? Make them weak, ineffective, and -- best of all -- focused on him! If we are not strong and courageous for Christ, we are not proclaiming the Gospel to those who do not know Him. If we are walking around with the weight of the world on our shoulders, we're not convincing anyone of the power of Christ in our lives. If we are trapped in the grip of discouragement, we are focused on our problems, our limitations, our past failures. Weak, ineffective, focused on our enemy. Just like Superman under the influence of Kryptonite, his eyes fixed on his nemesis, as he collapses to the ground.

Discouragement unchecked eats away at us like cancer. It peeks its head over the fence by reminding what happened the last time we went on a diet. It growls loudly when our husband comes home and asks what's for dinner. It lays on a full-body check when our children come home from school with leftover cupcakes from the bake sale. And brings us to ruin when we step on the bathroom scale the next morning. But discouragement never stays in one area of our lives; Satan wants it to metastasize to our goals, our relationships. Until we can no longer can bear the thought of donning that skimpy little negligee on our wedding anniversary. Until we can't fathom a family vacation at the beach, as long as we look like a whale. Until we are convinced God has let us down again. Why would He make me this way if He really loves me? On and on it goes, larger and larger it grows until we do nothing more than warm the sofa each day. Cancer-causing, even fatal.

But there's hope! Wikipedia says, "Characters have been shown to become immune to the effects of Green Kryptonite due to...long term absorption of sunlight." (Hahaha! Oh, yes! You know where I'm going with this, don't you?) Christians have been shown to become immune to the effects of Discouragement, Jealousy, Unforgiveness, Pride, _____________ (insert your Kryptonite here) due to long term absorption of Son-light!

And here is where I leave you to rid yourself of your Kryptonite. Open your Bibles. Talk to Jesus (and listen when He talks). Head to a Bible study. Sing a few worship songs. Talk a walk. Serve. Call a Christian friend. Accept the pastor's invitation for prayer after the service. Absorb as much Son-light as you possibly can. And eradicate the effects of Kryptonite in your life.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Victory Is (Almost) Always Bittersweet

So, the Birds are, finally, the owners of a Vince Lombardi trophy. I keep repeating it over and over in my head, "They won. They won the Superbowl!" Scott, the auditory learner, keeps muttering it aloud. This household -- like many others, I'm sure -- has not taken its eyes off the television for almost twenty-four hours. Celebration after celebration, interview after interview -- believing, I suppose, the more frequently we hear it, the more time we spend absorbing it, the more angles from which we examine it, the more deeply we will accept and own it. (There might just be a lesson about Bible study in there somewhere!)

But victory, by nature is usually bittersweet. The existence of a winner bears with it the implication of a loser. When the loser of a particular contest is equally deserving of victory, or the loser possesses noble dreams that resonate with an audience, a certain pathos coexists with exuberance at the winner's success. I'd like to just go on record as saying, as far as Superbowl success is concerned, I have no sympathy whatsoever for the owners or players on the Patriots. However, believers exist on both sides of the field -- Christian brothers; players on both teams have been touched by human tragedy; I would venture to say, each player -- in blue or green -- has someone special cheering them on; some have personal goals. Point being, there are human interest stories from one end of the field to the other; a case could be made for either side's entitlement to victory.

Victory also invokes a certain sadness when those who are unable to share in it are recalled. Philadelphia Eagles coach, Doug Pederson lost his father a little more than a year ago. In an interview shortly after the win, a reporter asked Pederson what he believed his father would think; Pederson's tone became gentler, a bit less professional, and he fondly remembered his father's brow-beatings (I believe he called them) and spoke of his father looking down on them in this moment of victory. Bitter sweetness.

As I think about these things, I have to consider Christ's death on the cross. In my younger years, prolonged meditation on the events leading up to and including the crucifixion would cause me to weep heavily. But not because of God's immense love for me or the magnanimous offering of my Savior; because of guilt. The guilt that He had done so selfless a thing for me; and every fiber of my being was self-ish, wrapped up in me -- including that guilt. The cycle of sadness that revolved around the one who was on the throne of my life at the time -- me. It was bitterness to me that He endured so much, poured out His life for me, and I just couldn't seem to get it together and simply read my Bible, or stop cursing, or get excited about church, or be a little less angry. There was no accepting this as victory, no cause for celebration. Only shame.

Thanks be to God, I encountered grace! Grace is what allows us to understand Jesus willing laid down His life, willing withstood such torture in obedience to the Father, out of love for us, for His glory. Grace is the sweetness with which we stand in victory, and we celebrate the forgiveness, wholeness, healing, joy, peace and justification (and myriad other gifts!), despite the gruesome facts of the case. And there are gruesome facts on both sides of the issue: the manner in which Christ was executed, as well as the filth belonging to each of us, that He took upon Himself. Only Christ can eradicate all of that in the name of eternal, supernatural, unimaginable, complete, personal victory we all can confidently celebrate! Sweetly!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Keys to a Better Relationship

Today I am making clams and linguine for Scott. It is one of his favorite meals. Who doesn't love to come home after a long day's work, and sit down to one of their favorites. Good thing for him, I get home from work first, and he doesn't cook. And it makes me happy to see him happy.

We are also planning a trip to see our grandchildren. My schedule is busy but pretty flexible; then there is Mom, and we have two dogs to consider; accommodations. But before all that, I talk to Scott. His schedule requires more attention than any other; plus, he is head of our household, and his input is usually quite useful -- he tends to have a bigger perspective than those of us in the trenches, so to speak.

A few weeks ago, my husband changed up some of the responsibilities typically held by the youngest of our children. As he explained what needed to be done, he also explained that I needed to be free of those things and that I should no longer think of myself as being responsible for them.

All of this to say, if marriage is a picture of Christ's relationship with the Church -- and it is -- how is my relationship with Scott compared to my relationship with Christ? I mean, I can't always say I am as respectful to my husband as I am to the Lord, and I know there are plenty of other things that need improvement; but do I seek to please Jesus the way I seek to please my husband? Do I defer to Christ the same way I defer to Scott? Do I allow God to care for me the same way I have learned to allow Scott to care for me? Maybe I'm just a little backwards that way, but I sometimes think I treat Scott better than I treat my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Really! And I don't think I'm alone in that.

Take the linguine and clams, for instance. We've had pasta a few times in the last couple of weeks, so I wasn't sure if he'd be interested. "Would you like linguine and clams tomorrow, or are you all pasta'd out?" A simple question, but how often do I seriously, slowly, earnestly seek what God wants? Or do I just go ahead 'cause "God really likes this helping the poor thing." Well, sure He does; but that doesn't mean it's what He had planned for me that day.

And our trip. My primary consideration was Scott: his preferences, his plans, and his input. I didn't book a hotel, or put in for the days off; he was the first person I spoke to about my idea. I want to do what he wants and I want his insight. Can I say the same thing for my relationship with God? Do I like it when He puts the kibosh on my plans? Do I avoid asking Him to make sure He doesn't? Is He the first One I go to, or do I wait until I've hit some sort of roadblock, when I need His help bailing me out? "Bless my project, God."

And Scott's instructions to the youngest. In them, he not only gave her some more age-appropriate chores, and updated things to accommodate our current situation, but he set me free. They are no longer my responsibilities, and I don't have to hover just to be sure things are handled. How often have I prayed for something, and tried to "help it along"? Or I've "helped" someone to the point I hurt them because of my need to control or be the hero? Or I've turned a situation over to God, only to take it back later?

Pleasing God in the way He desires, making His plans my plans -- not the other way around, and walking in the freedom purchased for me at the cross. Sounds to me like some pretty solid relationship advice.