Monday, April 30, 2012
Walk into any workplace break-room and you are likely to see the following signs posted on the fridge:
"Please remove your old food or you will stink up the fridge!"
"WHOEVER has been taking other people's food, please STOP!"
"If you put something in here that leaks or spills, CLEAN IT UP!"
Then move over to the microwave and you will probably find the following:
"Please do not cook STINKY food in the microwave - other people work here TOO!!"
"If your food explodes inside...CLEAN IT UP!!"
Then walk to the sink and you'll find:
"DO NOT PUT ANYTHING DOWN THE GARBAGE DISPOSAL THAT YOU WOULDN'T PUT IN IT AT HOME!!"
"Please do your OWN dishes. Your mother doesn't work here!!!"
At my work place, we actually have a calendar that shows when it is each employee's turn to clean out the fridge. That's right, in between my work appointments, meetings, and paperwork, I have to remember that on May 13, it is my turn to clean out the fridge. This means I have to get in it with a sponge to clean up the sauce and soda spills, as well as throw out expired yogurts, half eaten burritos and rotten apples. Fun.
Why do we need all these signs with all these !!!! to keep us in line? (And even with them the food still gets stolen, messes don't get cleaned up...)
Because as soon as we get in that room, no one is looking.
And as soon as no one is looking we act like the fallen, sinful, selfish human beings we are.
There I said it.
We are NOT naturally good people.
We do NOT naturally do what is right.
We are sinful and selfish.
In fact, if you put any of us in a room without anyone else, (or any cameras) and we open the fridge and find a cherry pie inside labeled with someone else's name, we'll look over our shoulder, grab a fork and a knife and wolf down a piece.
OK, maybe not everyone.
Maybe I wouldn't eat a piece of someone else's pie. I wouldn't go that far, but I might leave my coffee mug in the sink without washing it. I might leave my orange in the fridge long enough for it to turn into a science experiment. I might decide to zap my leftover tuna casserole in the microwave, despite the fact that it will make the whole office smell like a wharf.
Bottom line? We need all these signs because as human beings, we are driven by our own selfish desires and it is only by the grace of God within us that we think of anyone else besides ourselves. We must be taught as children how to share, play nicely, be patient - these traits do not come naturally. If we grow up in a home where there is some religious teaching, than we are taught the Golden Rule.
"Do unto others as you would have done unto you." Or...
"If you wouldn't want someone to do this to you than don't do it to them!!!" in break-room parlance. Leave someone else's pie alone. Clean up after yourself. Do your own dishes. Be polite. Think of others first.
If we are Christians and we are selfish, it is because we forget that we belong to Christ. That he is always with us. That we are to put the needs of others before our own, be considerate, kind and compassionate. This is not easy. It goes against the grain of our very nature, but it is who we are called to be. Christ-like. Even when no one is watching. Especially when no one is watching. Maybe it would help if we put a sign up to remind us:
"JESUS IS WATCHING!!!!"
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Saturday, April 28, 2012
I see you in the clouds,
In the billowed landscape of the skies,
Glory in the spaces where they divide,
Throwing shafts of light to earth
As though the sun were giving birth
Where the dark and light collide.
I see your sacred footprints
Along the edges in silvery shimmers;
This reflection just a glimmer
Of your hallowed, gracious hand,
Bringing rain upon the land
And grace upon this sinner.
Friday, April 27, 2012
I mean, I just don't like to say his name. It makes me feel like some wild eyed, half-in-my-wrapper, pea soup spitting, head spinning, silver cross holding Christian. Maybe I've seen too many movies, but if you want to make an unbeliever roll his eyes, just talk about Satan, the devils, or demons. My goodness, you actually believe that stuff? Their eyebrows will ask. Seriously, Hope, save all is that devil and demons stuff for Halloween. Buy a red cape and a pitchfork, get some candy, and call it a day.
The gospels and the book of Ephesians have a lot to say about God's enemy, Satan. Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus tells Peter "Get away from me Satan!" when Peter focuses on earthly, not heavenly concerns. Satan enters Judas at the Last Supper before he betrays Christ. We are also warned in Paul's letters about how Satan seeks to destroy us. Paul calls the devil a roaring lion who prowls about with a hungry belly yearning to be filled full of Christian souls. We are also to look out for the devil's traps. We are told we need the full armor of God and steady prayer to avoid falling into the Devil's hands.
Later in the day, I am not kidding, I was riding in my car and I heard the INXS song "Devil Inside."
This was turning out to be a really crazy day.
Wait a minute? That reminds me of someone. Someone who showed up in the Garden of Eden and questioned God's authority. Someone who tempted two of God's own. Someone who rejoiced when they gave in to their own will and disobeyed God.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
"As much as I wanna be found, please don't find me..."
I recently downloaded Civil Twilight's new album, pressed shuffle on my ipod, and this slow, haunting ballad started playing. I was entranced. The Coldplay-ish like singer pleaded earnestly with his listeners. In his voice was the strain and tension of his message...
"As much as I want to be found, please don't find me...
'Cause I've been running for awhile and I'm used to this by now...
So as much as I want to be found
Please don't find me..."
The last two lines rang out. They reminded me of how I have felt at times. They convey such a poignant, painful truth about so many people we know and meet.
I am lost, lonely and hopeless.
But please don't find me.
I am ashamed.
I am embarassed.
I must preserve my dignity.
I have my pride.
Just leave me alone.
But not really.
I mean, I don't really want to be alone.
I hate this, you know, this feeling alone?
I do want to be loved,
It is safer here,
On my own, I am
If I am found,
If you discover me,
If you enter my seclusion,
Will you judge me?
Will you look down on me?
Will you bring others in with you?
Will I have to cover my ears and scream,
"GET OUT! LEAVE ME ALONE IN MY MISERY!"
Because you will want to be understood
Before you seek to understand.
I know what I am doing is killing me!
And I'm aware that this solitary confinement is no cure,
But it is all I know -
This running, this hiding from others, from God.
I want love, freedom;
And I'd love to know peace,
In the privacy of my shame there is comfort.
In the hiding place of my embarassment there is familiarity.
My pride provides protection.
In my secret solitude, I feel safe.
So as much as I want to be found,
Please don't find me.
This is the cry for love that pushes away. It can be said a lot of different ways. It's in the voice of the angry teen that screams "Leave me alone!" but really means "Don't let me go!" It's in the eyes of the poor when they come to a charity event hoping to leave with gifts AND their dignity. This is in the hearts of unbelievers when they meet Christians in fancy suits carrying pamphlets on "Accepting Jesus into Your Heart." It's in the cries of the broken hearted - "I will never love anyone again!" It's in the voice of a child who has never known a stable home.
As much as I want to be found, please don't find me - is to be believed, but not obeyed. When I hear it (or see it in behavior in some cases) it means, "I may not let you in." And if I don't slow down, if I don't listen, seek to understand, humble myself, serve, love and reach out in compassion, this person will not let Christ in either.
Lord, there are so many wounded, hardened hearts that need to hear the soothing, softening message of God's loving grace which can handle our worst fears, our deepest hurts, our greatest sins and are biggest shortcomings. May we believe it ourselves and share it with others. Put a new song in our hearts --
"I once was lost, but now am found!
Was blind, but now I see!"
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Let's keep a few things in mind. Francis is not in her 20's. She is not a body-builder. She does not live with a room-mate, a family member or her husband. She doesn't even have ADT or a dog. Her home wasn't robbed while she was at the supermarket picking out a nice ham. Francis is 95 years old, walks with a cane and lives all by herself. She was home - unarmed - unless you count the rolling pin. And she is NOT afraid when a stranger breaks in to her home while it is still dark, shoves a gun in her face, throws a bag over her head and ties up her hands and feet while they take everything of value from her house? She doesn't know if she is going to live to see the sunrise and she is NOT afraid?
Nope. Not Francis.
Why should she be scared when God is on her side?
At first, I was blown away by the boldness of her faith. Then I began to wonder what exactly she meant by this. Was this just false bravado? She seemed sincere, emphatic even. But what exactly did she mean when she said that God was on her side? He didn't swoop down like Superman and kick the invader out of her house. He didn't hide her valuables. He didn't bring a neighbor over just in the nick of time. True, she wasn't harmed physically. Maybe that is how she knew that God was there with her? Maybe she meant, "It could have been so much worse and it wasn't, therefore I know God was on my side. Sure, the bad man took my rings, necklaces and HP desktop, but I was never scared that he would hurt me, because I have God on my side." But something told me she meant so much more.
Could she have meant that no matter what anyone does to me EVER I am not afraid because I AM GOD'S and HE IS MINE and NO ONE can take that from me? Is THAT what she meant by "God is on my side"? I wasn't sure. Then I read Psalm 118 and I realized Ms. Francis South was quoting Scripture.
"The Lord is on my side; I will not fear! What can man do to me?" (Verse 6)
Man can break into your house.
Man can rob you.
Man can point a gun at you.
Man can bind your hands and feet.
Man can take your valuables.
Yes, man may take my physical freedom, my possessions, but man cannot take God from me. Go ahead, shatter my earthly security, but my heavenly security will remain intact! Break in and steal my earthly treasures, but you can't touch the treasures I have stored up in heaven! Restrict me, hand and foot, but you cannot restrict my love for God and his love for me! Point a gun in my face and look into my eyes! You will see I do not fear death because I belong to one who has conquered death. I belong to the Giver of Life. You can take THIS life from me, but you cannot take the next.
Yes, Francis. God is on your side...
Why should we be scared?
Link to the news story: http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/inland_empire&id=8631852
Monday, April 23, 2012
Last year, Los Angeles Lakers' player, Ron Artest, officially changed his name to Metta World Peace. "Metta" is a Buddhist word for "loving kindness." This past Sunday, however, Metta World Peace was neither loving, nor kind. During a game against the Oklahoma Thunder, he proceeded to flagrantly and brutally jab his elbow into the head of player James Hardin sending James sprawling to the court. Metta was ejected and most likely will be suspended. This was not his first incident or outburst. Once, when Metta was still Ron Artest, he ran into the stands to fight with fans. He's earned 13 suspensions and a reputation as a hot head during his NBA career. When he changed his name in 2011, many thought he was trying to separate himself from his bad boy image and turn over a new leaf. He even won a citizenship award last season for his support of charity.
Today, the story of Metta's assault on James Hardin is all over the news. Most are outraged at this outrageously unsportsmanlike and violent act. So am I. However, I am more outraged by Metta's apology. Here is what he said to reporters when asked if he wanted to apologize for what he did:
"It's unfortunate that James had to get hit with an unitentional elbow..I apologize to the Thunder and to James Hardin...It's unfortunate that so much emotion was going on at that time."
Sure the word "apologize" is there, but does that even come close to an apology? Does Metta acknowledge his wrong-doing, seek forgiveness and like his last name, seek to cultivate peace?
These "celebrity apologies" usually sound like this:
- I am sorry if I unintentionally happened to be involved in something. (I am not at fault. I didn't really know any better. I just did what everyone else was doing.)
- I am sorry I got caught up in the moment... (The MOMENT is at fault.)
- I am sorry YOU feel that way about what I did or said. (YOU are at fault.)
- I am sorry if I offended or hurt you by what I said or did. (You are not at fault, but I am only sorry for how you feel, NOT for what I did which caused you to feel that way.)
- It is unfortunate that you were involved and had to get hurt. (YOU have really bad timing/luck.)
- It is unfortunate that this had to happen and that I have brought shame on my team/family/organization. (I am sorry I got caught!)
"It's unfortunate that James had to get hit with an unitentional elbow..."
James had to get hit? Really? Did he need to be punished for something? Or have some sense knocked into him? And Metta, an "unitentional elbow"? Just a question - is your elbow controlled by your brain or does someone in the Laker's front office control it? How can YOUR elbow unitentionally fly into the head of someone else without your consent? Were you having an on-court elbow seizure? Or did a random "unitentional elbow" come flying out of the stands and smack James on the head? Metta, watch the video. It wasn't an "unitentional elbow" that hit James, it was YOU.
"It's unfortunate that so much emotion was going on at that time..."
It is? So maybe the NBA should ban emotion in basketball? I mean, if emotion is to blame for your violent outburst, maybe we need some new rule that makes players care less about winning and losing. And what about those unruly fans who waved signs, spun towels, stomped, clapped and screamed with emotion throughout the entire game? Should they have to apologize for contributing to your angry outburst? Should we make them sit quietly like statues during games so you can better control your "unintentional elbows"?
OK, so I am having some fun here at Metta World Peace's expense, but my point is that his apology is far from an apology. It is a press statement. It is a PR quip. It is worthless and empty. He might as well have said, "I will not apologize." There is no acceptance of responsibility. There is no remorse. There is no asking for forgiveness. There is no regret and there is certainly no heartfelt committment to do things differently next time.
Metta World Peace reminds me that sometimes my apologies can be the same way.
God I am really sorry if I should have done/said...
God, please help (fill in name here) to understand why I had to do what I had to do...
God, I know I shouldn't have said it like that, but I felt I...
God, I know I really should have (done this) but maybe you understand why I felt I needed to (do this instead)?
These apologies sure have a lot of "ifs" and "buts".
Or maybe I do manage a sincere apology...
"God I am truly sorry for saying/doing that. It was wrong. I let you down and I ask for your forgiveness. Help me to be more like Christ in what I do and say."
Accept responsibility for my actions? Check.
Ask God for forgiveness? Check.
Ask God to help me do better next time? Check.
Ask person I hurt for forgiveness?
C'mon God! Do I really HAVE to do that? It's so uncomfortable - that letting down my pride and admitting where I was at fault stuff. Can't my apology to YOU be enough? Look, there wasn't a single "if" or "but" in my entire apology!
Apologies are difficult to do, but I need to go to both God and to the one I hurt with a contrite heart. I can think of two reasons why I don't and they both amount to my pride getting in the way.
Sometimes, I don't apologize because I don't think what I did was wrong. Someone else made me act this way. She had it coming. I was only reacting to how he was talking to me. It was no big deal. I was frustrated. Tired. Everyone else was doing it. I'm just getting what I am due. Mind your own business.
Another way pride gets in the way, is when I am more concerned with protecting myself than with setting things right. Humans naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain and therefore in all of us, there is a natural inclination to shield ourselves from guilt or shame. Humility means I acknowledge my error, pride places the blame elsewhere. Will I accept responsibility for the hurt I've inflicted and in some cases, for the longerm damage I have caused? Not if my pride kicks in. I will be more concerned about my reputation, than about making reparations. As a selfish, self-preserving human, it's easier and less painful to give a "celebrity apology."
Seeking forgiveness from both God and another person, requires I humble myself before both. (And in the case of Metta World Peace, sometimes in front of a world wide audience.)
So Metta World Peace, here is the apology you could have given (Feel free to use this as a script if it helps):
"James, I am very sorry I hit you. I lashed out and I hurt you. I made a mistake. I ask you to please forgive me. May God forgive me and help me to act differently next time."
Can you imagine what would be all over the news if Metta had made THAT his apology? Sports commentators, bloggers and newscasters wouldn't even be talking about his elbow jab anymore...they'd be talking about how Metta brought "World Peace" back to his name and the NBA.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
2. Meeting Follow Up
Really?! Did we really need an agenda full of white space, some corny clip-art of a person on a mountain-top, and 3 words? I am sure we could remember to welcome, talk and adjourn without a paper reminder. I know for sure, I would remember the adjournment part. Sometimes, just to mix it up a little, someone will add "Roundtable" to the agenda after #2, which basically means you have to sit there and pretend to be interested while each person in the meeting, one by one, gets to share how busy and wonderful they are. Then, when the slow wave of blabbering makes it way to you and it's your turn to talk, you clear your throat, put down your iphone, and talk about how busy and wonderful YOU are. As you talk, everyone else thinks about where they are going to go for lunch and orders ahead on their ipads.
Sometimes, though, agendas are necessary and do serve a valid purpose. They help the group understand the purpose of the meeting, what is going to be discussed and what the priorities are going to be for the hour or so the group is together. An agenda in essence says, "Here is where we are going to focus our energy." (At least until Lisa Longwind sucks it out of us!) Agendas also tell the meeting attendees "This is how we are going to spend our time." (Until Manny Monopolizer takes over!)
This got me thinking.
What does my life agenda look like?
MY LIFE AGENDA
5. Family & Friends
And how does my agenda compare to God's?
1. Welcome (Create All)
2. Send Savior
3. Love All
4. Welcome All
Evidently, there is quite a bit of difference between my agenda and God's. My agenda is all about me - what I want to do, what I have to do, with whom I will spend my time. God is a part of my life, but farther down on the agenda than I'd like. Sometimes #2 & #3 will switch places and some days God moves up the list, but for the most part there is not much movement. The agenda is a pretty good reflection of where I spend my energy and where I focus my time. What would your life agenda look like?
God's agenda looks different. While I don't know his ACTUAL agenda of course (and I am just using "agenda" as a metaphor so I am not implying that God actually needs or has one), it was interesting and enlightening to come up with God's agenda. One thing I noticed right away is that while my agenda is all about me, God's agenda is all about others. His focus is on saving, loving and caring for his us. He wants to welcome all to spend eternity with Him and so he spends his time and energy in both the Old and New Testament trying to reconcile his people to him. The Creator wants his creation with Him. We resist because we have our own selfish agendas and are focused on ourselves. So, he ultimately sends the most valuable gift he can send - his only Son JESUS, to save us from ourselves and bring us to him. Our agendas have led us astray - His agenda brings us back where we need to be - with Him.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the blessings that God gives us in this world. He blesses us with people, beauty, talent, nature, laughter, music, family and so much more. The problem comes when we devote our time and energy to the gifts God gives us, instead of to the GIVER of those gifts. When we worship the feeling of love, for example, devoting our time and energy to getting it (or giving it) and forget about the One who IS LOVE and created love to begin with, our agendas need shifting. It's OK to spend time studying and exploring our talents and hobbies, but do we devote at least the same amount of time to studying and exploring the ONE who gave us those talents and passions? I wish I could say I did.
I wish my agenda looked more like this:
MY REVISED LIFE AGENDA
2. Love God
3. Love Others
You may say this agenda is not possible. Where is work? You have to work. Where is family? & Friends? There is nothing wrong with making them a priority, right?
I guess the way I look at it is I want my agenda to be simple. I only want to put on it what I might forget to make a priority. I don't want to include anything that I naturally make a priority anyway, like those useless agendas with three words that I get at work sometimes. Welcome. Talk. Adjourn. No duh. In other words, I don't need a Life Agenda with "Work" on it. That's a given. Loving God and others? Those slip off the agenda a little easier so I want to make sure it is written down on my paper reminder.
#1 on the Life Agenda = Love God.
How do I love Him? I live a life that reflects the Gospel of Jesus. (Philippians 1:27) I talk to him, listen to him and live like Him. Easy to say, hard to do. That is why it needs to be top on the agenda. As Mark 12:29-30 says, "The most important commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might."
#2 on the Life Agenda = Love Others
If I "Love God" as I should, then He will help me "Love Others" (including my family and friends) as He wants and commands me to...
"Do unto others as you would have done unto you."
"Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:31)
"Be kind, tenderhearted toward eachother, forgiving one another..." (Ephesians 4:32)
"...In humility, value others as better than yourself." (Philippians 2:3)
"Honor your father and mother..." (Ephesians 6:2)
"Love is patient, kind...(I Corinthians 13:4-7)
Oh, to be able to love others like this! Better keep it on the agenda and also in my prayers.
I guess I could add adjournment to the end of my Life Agenda. But, since I don't know exactly when that will be, I think I'll stay busy with #2 and #3.
NAMES of GOD
Be my SHELTER today.
Protect me from what distracts me from you!
Hide me from the Great Distractor
Over whom You are KING.
I need you, my SAVIOR
to be my FOUNTAIN OF LIFE.
May I draw strength from your WORD
and HOPE from your promises.
Faithful GOD, you are my ROCK -
Unmovable, unshakable and
Steadfast in LOVE,
My HELPER today and always.
The words in ALL CAPS are names of God taken from Psalm 34, 36, 41, 42 & 47. Look for future "GodSpeak" blog entries which feature original prayers.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with uterine cancer and her future is unknown. She has had to withdraw from many of the things she enjoys in order to focus on her treatment. I told her I was devastated at the news and would pray for her and help her in any way I could.
Her response blew me away:
"Your prayers mean everything to us, and I am very much at peace going into this knowing that God is holding me and all of you in the palm of His hand. Our hope is in Him, and with the Lord Jesus lying in the bed along with me, I forever have the comfort of His presence."
While I am sure there are flickers of fear and doubt that flame up in her mind (She is human after all), her response defined hope:
In this dark time, I am at peace because of who I know and what I believe.
Jesus is here beside me. His presence comforts me.
That comfort and peace is mine forever because I am in God's hand.
What a blessing her words are in the midst of this tragic diagnosis! She reminds me that "Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even there you are with us." (Psalm 23)
Thank you, my friend, for reminding me of the hope and comfort we find in Christ. You are in my prayers and in the palm of God's hand.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
It's not enough.
What you did for me on the cross?
I know you took my place there.
I know you shed your blood for me.
I know your Father turned his back on you, forsook you
He couldn't bare to look at you because my sin was all over you
Dying there, deserted, broken, beaten, mocked and mutilated
Thorns crushed into your head
Sword shoved into your side
Nails run straight through your hands
Spit, dirt and sweat mixed with your holy blood - all for me
You gave so much.
But sorry, Jesus it's not enough.
You paid a high price, but I still feel like I owe something.
Your death washed me clean, but I still feel dirty.
You cast away my sins, but I think you missed a few.
So sorry Jesus,
It's not enough.
Maybe if I pray.
Maybe if I fast.
Maybe if I someone says mass for me.
Maybe if I give to the poor.
Maybe if I read the Bible.
Maybe if I teach the Bible.
Maybe if I go to church.
Maybe if I start a church.
Maybe if I build a church.
Maybe if I go on a mission.
Save a soul.
Rescue a child.
Honor my parents.
Go to seminary.
Write a book.
Love my enemies.
Maybe if I punish or deprive my body.
Maybe if Mary can intercede for me, or one of your saints?
Maybe I just need to love you more.
Maybe then it would be enough.
Maybe then, Jesus,
Your death -
Would be enough.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
"So do you think I came into the world to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." (Jesus in Luke 12:51)
"Do not think that I have come to earth to bring peace. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Jesus in Matthew 10:34)
What about your other words, Jesus?
In the gospel of John you say, "My peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So do not be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27 NLT)
And the apostle Paul says in his letters, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since as members of one body you were called to Christ." (Colossians 3:15)
There appears to be a conflict here. Does Christ hold a sword or a dove? Does he bring peace or does he divide? It is possible he does both?
When thinking about this passage, this thought came to mind:
How does Jesus divide?
Well, right down the middle.You are either for him or against him, right?
Yes, but is this a division JESUS causes or one we cause?
If all had accepted him as the Messiah when he came to earth two thousand years ago, there would be no divisions. If all who heard him say "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" had believed, well, history would have been very different, wouldn't it? Instead, like the "stiffnecked people" we can be, some rejected him and divided off against him, even killed him. Even today, we cling to our selfishness and like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, we hold on to our sin, stroke it lovingly and call it "Precious." We choose ourselves over Christ. This divides us from Jesus. It also divides us from being united in Him in one body, and with one heart.
Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it! (John 3:16-17) So His gift of salvation is for all, with no division. If only all would accept him, peace would make a comeback.
There is another way we use Jesus to divide. We use him to push others away. We use him as a sword to cut away those who we look down upon. When we think more highly of ourselves because we have accepted the gift of salvation and they haven't, our pride divides us. We also divide amongst ourselves when we squabble over insignificant issues along the faith journey (In the 80's we squabbled over speaking in tongues; today we fight and divide over predestination.) When we leave a church because they get the music all wrong or decide certain people are welcome in our congregation and others aren't, we divide, divide, divide. No wonder we have so many denominations within protestanism alone!
So we divide. Does Jesus bring peace?
He sure does. He holds it out in his pierced hands. It is ours for the taking. And we take it by believing that the price he paid on the cross is enough.
For years, I could not find this peace because I thought I needed to do something or change something about me to get it! Talk about a life of restlessness! I finally found peace when I realized there is nothing else I need to do; there is no price I need to pay to gain peace before God. The wrath of God that demands justice for my sin, has been satisfied in the death of Christ. He did it all and brought me peace before God and peace in my heart! There might not be peace on earth because we divide as a result of our sinfulness, but there is peace in heaven because God is no longer angry towards us because of our sinfulness. The death of Jesus provided the justice God demanded for our sin. "By his wounds, we are healed!" (Isaiah 53:5)There is lasting peace for all who believe in Christ. This peace "passes understanding" (Philippians 4:7) so don't expect to understand it fully. It As the gospel of Matthew says, "It is not the peace the world gives" which is temporary and passing - it is a profound, lasting, eternal peace. It is the peace that stays with me when I see the world dividing over religion, politics, skin color and class. I know that all of time is in God's hands and that I am in God's hands for all of time. We are divided now, but some day we will be united with him. Even in our dividing, He is in control. Even when I am wandering, I am still within his hand. His gift of peace is mine forever and cannot be taken away. Lord help me to share this gift of peace with others. May your peace bridge the divides.
Friday, April 13, 2012
When I heard this verse read aloud in a UK podcast, I was immediately captivated by the question "Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?" Some versions, including the standard NIV, use the words "Who has gathered up the wind in his hands"; other translations say "in his fists." For me, those don't carry the same poetic power as the wind being "gathered up in hollow of his hands." What an image!
I picture God's hands held out, cupped togehter as though he were about to scoop water out of a stream. In this hand-shaped bowl are all the winds of the world. I see a tempest of circling, howling gusts and gales, circling and swirling, spinning leaves and dust about - all within his cupped palms. What a magnificent image of the size, scope, power and control of God! (And yet to think even this image cannot capture Him.) No wonder the author of the above Proverb (Agur, son of Jakeh) says, "Who is He?!"
Then, I read the read the other lines of the verse and other mental images came to my mind as well.
God has all the earth's winds cupped in his hands as their mighty Creator...
He has all the world's waters wrapped up in his cloak...
This God, my God, made the ends of the earth - north, south, east & west - yet He has no beginning or no end himself; I cannot point to where He begins or where He ends...
He, who was both able to create, ascend to and depart from this planet controls, conducts and cares for all.
Wow! All of this makes me want to exclaim right along with Agur -
"I am ignorant! I have no understanding of God! I have no knowledge of his holiness! Who in the world does? Somebody? Anybody? If you do, tell me!"
Another way to inquire about this God, would be in the words of a song sung by Moses & the Israelites from Exodus 15:11: "...Who is like you, God - majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?" Maybe this was more of a rhetorical question and the answer for Moses was simple: "No one is like our God."
Who else can cup the winds in His hands? No one.
Who else can hold the oceans, seas, lakes and streams in his jacket? No one.
Can anyone else set the equator in its place and station both the north and south pole? Nope.
Who can make a planet, come to it and leave it? No one, but God.
The above poetic metaphors from Proverbs 30 show the power, omnipotence and omnipresence of Mighty God. OK, so maybe Agur took poetic liberty in putting hurricanes in His hands and water in His windbreaker, but He made his point in powerful images:
My God is a mighty God, so mighty in fact, that my puny mind cannot fully understand Him. I don't have full knowledge of His holiness and am unable to comprehend his glory.
His power is incomprehensible. Yet in the midst of my ignorance, I know enough to be thankful that the same hands that hold the winds, hold me as well.
So Agur - Who is this that holds both the wind and world in his hands?
His name is Jehovah. His son is Jesus.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Go back and read the title of this blog again, but this time, read it with the same voice the announcer uses for the "Monster Truck" races. You know the one - low, rumbling and overly excited?
Wasn't that fun? Now read the following advertisement in that same announcer voice: (C'mon, you know you can do it! Try reading it out loud to really get the full effect!)
Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!
Come join our Easter 2012 celebration!
7 Easter Experiences! April 6 through 8th! Good Friday! Saturday! Easter! Easter! Easter!
Unforgettable Children's events! Win fun prizes at every celebration service!
Mall sized merry go round!
Celebration prizes include an XBOX Kinect! Ipod Touch! Cash! Disneyland tickets and more!
Treats! Egg Hunts! Puppet Shows! Fun Games!
Join us for Easter 2012 at __________ Church!
(OK, you can go back to using your normal voice now.) How did you feel reading the above advertisement? Did you find it humorous? Outrageous? Irreverant?
Would you believe me if I told you this is a real ad? Yup, it's true. The words above were in a full page, color ad that came out in my hometown newspaper the week before Easter. The bold advertisement featured a green marble background, modern fonts and pictures of the XBox, Ipod and Merry Go Round. At the bottom was a posed portrait of the pastor - a hip, young, gotee'd guy with his Martina McBride look-alike wife.
When I saw this ad, I was blown away. Not by the expensive prizes, but by the sheer audacity of it. Personally, I found it disturbing. My first thought was "This church has turned Easter into a carnival!" which immediately led my mind to the story of the Jesus clearing out temple of all the money changers and animal traders in the gospel of John. How could the words "XBOX" and "Easter" be in the same ad? "Ipod" and "Good Friday"? I was appalled.
Then I thought of all the people in my town who would be trying to decide where to go to church on Easter Sunday. For many, it would be the only time all year they would darken a church door. Would they choose this church because they might win an ipod? I pictured an eight year old pig-tailed girl pointing at this ad saying, "Ooooh, Daddy, can we go to this church on Sunday? They're going to have a merry-go-round!" Right then her older teen brother rips the paper out of her hands, looks it over quickly and says, "Merry go round? Who cares! I wanna win the Xbox!"
The ad was definitely eye-catching. I looked again at the portrait of the pastor and his wife at the bottom. Their smiles were sincere. His tight black t-shirt and her pink corsage showed they were both hip and conservative. Did they mean to turn Easter into a circus?
Whatever brings 'em in. I could hear them say. If it takes a cash prize to get 'em in the door to hear about Jesus, so be it. Whatever we can do to lure them into the loving arms of Jesus. It's not a bribe, really. It's an incentive. We've only got Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! with these people so we need to use whatever we can - prizes! rides! games! treats! - whatever it takes to get them to come inside and hear the message of Christ. Yes, they might only be coming to hunt for colorful eggs, but in the end, what they will find is Jesus.
In other words...
They don't believe people will come just for Jesus?
Well...Jesus isn't shiny. He can't play all your MP3s. He's not as fun as Disneyland. He can't keep you entertained for hours. So we spent money on this giant ad, the prizes, games and activities for the kids because we know you have many choices for church this Sunday, and we want you to choose us. Choose us! And we don't care why you choose to come, we just want you to come! (This reminded me of the free gift hotels use to lure you into the "time share" room. You go because you want the free buffet or sunset cruise, but what you get is an earful of something you're really not all that interested in. If you're lucky, you get out the door without having to buy your share of the 2 bedroom condo on Rosarita Beach.)
What if, the Easter ad read like this:
(Yes, it's time to get out your announcer voice again!)
Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!
Jesus loves you! We love you, too at __________church!
Come join us, AS YOU ARE, this Sunday and every Sunday!
We'd love to have you with us! No matter who you are!
This SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! and everyday! We worship the risen Christ by loving him AND YOU!
No prizes. No egg hunts or merry-go-rounds.
No tech gizmos.
No cash prizes and no Disneyland tickets.
Really that's all?
Then why come?
To hear the good news about how the Messiah! This is what Easter is all about!
Jesus, came to earth, laid down his life to save us all and then rose again on the third day. My friend, there is no earthly prize that can compare to the joy, peace and hope that comes from hearing about and sharing in His astounding love! His love is our's this SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! and EVERYDAY!
Or maybe we don't advertise in the paper at all. Maybe we live our lives in such a way that we advertise our church - our faith in Christ - all year long. Everyone around us sees our service of others, our compassion, the kind way we treat our neighbor, our outreach to the poor and our care of the needy and they want to know more. We leave the big, gaudy ads to the Monster Truck Shows and we let our loving lives be what draws people to Christ this SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! and everyday.
Monday, April 9, 2012
"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father, but by me." - Jesus
This verse is often used by "Christians" to tell others of differing religions that they are in the wrong. Buddhist? Hindu? Muslim? Sorry, folks, no one comes to the Father, but by Jesus. Not Mohammed, not anyone else - just Jesus.
While I believe that Jesus is the one true way to God, I do not believe that the "me" in that verse refers to me. "No one comes to the Father, but by Me" - that "Me" refers to Jesus. He IS the way. Not me. In other words, who am I to say who is and isn't getting into heaven? While I certainly can and do believe that I have found the way (Jesus) and I want to lead others to the Way (Jesus) - I am by no means the way myself! My church is not the way. My religion is not the way. My opinions are not the way. My belief is not the way.
The plan of salvation was not written by my hands. No, it was created by the piercing of His hands. These 'holy' hands reach out to all; they show the Way to all; they point out the Truth to all; they give Life to all.
I would do best to get out of the way.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
All of this sounds ironic, or maybe just plain wrong. Could it be true?
My parents' first child, Joel, died tragically after he was only a few hours old. His tiny lunges swelled with air only a few times and then failed. My parents were crushed. The darkness poured in all around them. Tears smeared their view. In the midst of their paralyzing sorrow, they put their hope in God. Right in the middle of their profound grief, God's love for them lifted their hearts from the pit of sadness. They looked to him for comfort and he did not fail. His goodness encircled them and gave them another child. When I was born, they named me Hope.
Would I have been named Hope without this pain? Does Hope not come from sorrow? If we do not see any need to change our present circumstances, what is there to hope for? In other words, if all is well, do we really need hope? If I am happy; If my life couldn't be better, what purpose does hope serve? Only those in the dark look for a beacon. If a light goes on in the daytime, we hardly notice it. Hope shines brightest in the deepest blackness.
Hope isn't the same as "wish." We all wish for things everyday. We wish it would stop raining. We wish someone would hurry up. We wish we could lose a few pounds or go on an exotic vacation. Even Disney characters wish upon a star! We wish, but we don't hope. Wishing and hoping are not the same. Wish is a fanciful desire;HOPE is the desire of all desires. Hope is an inner longing for the change of present circumstances with the optimistic expectation that it WILL happen because God is good. It is an assuredness in God's faithfulness. Hope is the belief that despite this present darkness, day will come! And as ironic as it may sound, we need the "bad" to help us hope for the "good." We need the night to make us long for day.
Today, we celebrate the risen Christ. Easter songs ring out with hope. Though Christ was crucified and buried, he has come back to life! Alleluia! He lives! What greater hope is this than to know that we worship the risen Lord!
While I enjoy my life and am thankful for God's earthly blessings, I also long for the day when my body won't ache, my heart won't break and my soul will be united with the risen Christ. The aching and the breaking stir up that longing. On the good days, when things go right, I forget. Lord willing, I have many days ahead of me. There will be joys, as well as sorrows. Some days will be happier than others, in earthly terms. And along the way, the world may make some of my wishes come true, but it cannot satisfy my desire of desires to be with Jesus. My hope rests in his words alone:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me...I go to prepare a place for you and will come back and take you to be with me that you may be where I am."
Have a happy, hope filled Easter.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
Today, you are quiet
Hidden in the grave
Behind stone, in the whitewashed tomb
A respit from the lashing
An escape from the mocking
A break from the suffering
Today, you are quiet
Lying in peace,
Wrapped in white linen stained with your blood
Blood that ran freely yesterday
Now dry, dark flakes of crimson
On your brow, hands, and feet
Today you are quiet
Yesterday, you cried out
"Behold!" toyour mother
"Amen!" to the criminal,
"Abba!" to your Father
Today, you are quiet
Waiting for your Father to respond to your plea
"Father forgive them!"
Today, you are quiet
Tomorrow, with one breath from you
The angels will shout
All of nature sing
Women will run and exclaim
Disciples ask "Could it be?"
You'll say, "Touch and see."
But today, you are quiet.
Friday, April 6, 2012
Yesterday, a friend of mine, Jane, a co-worker, lost her Dad. He collasped in the middle of the day at 87 years old and died. She got the news at work via her cell phone and understandably was very upset to hear that her Father had passed away. She instantly began to cry and got up from her chair as all her co-workers, including me, came toward her to lend her a shoulder to cry on. She hugged us all, sobbing in our arms, and we held her and whispered words like "I'm so sorry" and "We love you." Finally, the embracing stopped and she just stood back and looked at us all as we stood around the room. She wiped large tears from her face, smearing her makeup.
I took this moment to look around the room at everyone. There wasn't a dry eye in the room. My own eyes were filled with tears. We were crying for our friend.
But we were also crying for ourselves.
I looked at one co-worker, Denise, who was crying nearly as hard as Jane. Denise had just lost her Dad a few years ago. I had been at the funeral. A younger co-worker at my left, was wiping tears from her eyes with a tissue. Her grandmother had just died a few days ago. I was choked up because I was thinking about my Mom, who was still alive, but only a few years earlier, almost died from a massive stroke. I remember the feeling of dread and fear and profound sorrow when the news came. I remember sitting outside the hospital with my Dad as he cried and asked, "What am I going to do?" I had no answer. I only had tears.
So we cried for Jane because we could empathize. She is a friend. The kind of co-worker who connects with everyone, creates laughs, dances in the office to lighten the mood and epitomizes "team-player." Here she was sobbing, distraught and we all felt her pain. We felt it because we knew it ourselves. We cried for her and for ourselves.
It reminded me of the story in John where Jesus is on the cross. Below him, according to the Gospel of John stands his mother Mary, his Aunt and Mary Magdalene. We do not read in John whether they cried, sobbed, or just stood in solemn silence. I can only imagine they did a little of each. They cried in losing their son, nephew, and friend. Maybe tears flowed as they thought of others who had died before Jesus. Perhaps they thought about their own mortality and that of their children. Would their other children, nephews and friends face the same fate? Would they too be killed for going against the grain of Roman society for following this Jesus?
From what I read in the Gospel, I am pretty sure they did not understand exactly who hung on the cross above them. They knew he was Jesus and he professed to be the "Son of Man". He could do miracles - heal the blind, drive out demons, turn water into wine, walk on water - but who is this, this King of the Jews? They cried, perhaps, not for the death of the Savior, as we understand Him to be this Good Friday, but at the loss of a their son, nephew and dear friend. They loved him and now, he was gone. They cried for him and they cried for themselves.
There IS good news for those who stood at the foot of the cross and for all of us who stood around Jane in the office yesterday. Someday, we will all be together again in a place where there will be no more crying; no more sadness; no more loss. And we will be there with the risen Jesus.
*Names in the story have been changed for privacy
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Snow is bright.
But the sky is brighter.
Really? That's can't be.
The snow before me looks so bright!
It is blinding it is so bright!
In comparison, the sky seems darker, grayer, dimmer, bleaker.
Not true. Not possible.
The object reflecting the light cannot be brighter than the light.
Place a mirror in the snow and you will see for yourself how bright the sky is. How much brighter the sky actually is than the snow.
Oh. You're right.
Then why does the snow LOOK so much brighter than the sky without the mirror to reflect the truth?
Because the snow is closer.
The snow is here.
The snow is right in front of me, all around me.
Not like the sky.The sky is far.
The sky is there.
It is above me.
I must lift my eyes to look. It is so far away.
In thinking about this, I realize how this is a metaphor for my life, for my relationship with God.
God, why does this world, my way of doing things seem so right? Why does everything here capture my eyes and blight my heart with its shimmering allure? And yet your way, seems darker, more obscure, hard to see, unless I lift my eyes?
Because what I know is here.
I am comfortable with what is underfoot.
I can feel it underfoot, see it, touch it, even taste it.
You are there. You are far.
Over head. So far above me.
I must lift my eyes to look.
Sometimes, you feel so far away.
You are brighter. Lighter! You are THE light!
But you don't seem that way to my eyes - my eyes that like a baby's go to what is shiny, what is dangled right in front of me. I am captivated by the flash, the flame, the flicker, of all that it here on earth that appears to bright, but is really just a reflection of a greater light. And if I put the mirror out, I will see the greatest reflection of all - YOU, Great Light, reflecting from me.
Yet, so often, I keep my eyes fixed on the light that is here, as though it were the brightest.
Pull my eyes away to the Brighter Light of your Love.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Wow, what a Debbie downer, huh?
Actually, no. Not if you have the right perspective. Not if you have the LONGVIEW. Right here, right now DOES have it's great moments. Reality isn't all bad. It might not be full of unicorns and waterfalls, but God infuses joy and pleasure into the world because he loves us. He wants us to find it. All blessings are from him...
The joy of a newborn child. Love. That delicious Thanksgiving meal. Dogs. The rollercoaster. The ocean. Vacation. Friendship. All gifts from God!
The only problem with these gifts is like the storybooks and Barbies, they don't last; they eventually disappear, either because we leave them or they leave us. Relationships last the longest, but never long enough as anyone who has ever lost a spouse, mother or a child can attest. However, this "reality" is not the end of the story. We DO have a "happy ever after." The key in that statement though is the word "after." The true happiness does not come in this time, in this world, in our lifetime. The true joy, the happiness that endures forever, comes in the "after." If you look with the LONGVIEW, you can catch a glimpse. Looking only right in front of us means we cling to the things that give us only temporary happiness. Sure, enjoy them, but clinging to them is dangerous for the heart. They will disappoint, die, disappear, be destroyed and we will be a slave to them while they exist and a prisoner to grief when they are gone. Look with the longview - look to the "after" and know that great joy is coming - joy and peace and pleasure that never disappears, a joy that has never known loss, a peace that has never known war, a pleasure that has never knows pain.
How is this possible? The joy in the now is but a dim reflection of the joy to come. The peace that is now is but a fragment of the peace to come. The pleasure that is now is but a brief burst of the pleasure to come. The fullness of joy, enduring peace and perpetual pleasure are only possible in the presence of the one who created joy, peace and pleasure. And while his Son, Jesus, came briefly into our "reality" and his Holy Spirit is here with us now in our hearts, someday, we will be in the loving presence of this Creator, the one holy God. Then, with all the others gone before us, we will live "happily ever after." Matthew 6:20I Corinthians 2:9John 3:16
Monday, April 2, 2012
While reading the Old Testament, I am struck by how both Moses and David pray bodly to God, holding him to his promises. Moses spoke with God "as with a friend." Even in face to face conversations he spoke openly and honestly to God. In fact, he quoted God's words back at God.
You say you are pleased with me, God. Prove it.
You say these are your people God. Spare them.
You said you would be with us. Stay.
You promised we would defeat our enemies. Do it.
You said we would be known as your people. Then don't abandon us.
David held God to his word, too. He prayed with assuredness that God would bless him, and bless his family and his future decendants. He thanked God for being a God who keeps his promises and prayed with certainty that if God said it, it would in fact happen.
These two men of the faith hold God to his promises by praying those promises back to God. Like an audio recording, they hit rewind and play back God's words to God.
"You hear that God? You you said this, so therefore I am going to hold you to it!"
Why can they pray with such assurance?
Because they know the God they pray to keeps his promises. If he says it; if he promises it; they can hold him to it. He will follow through. His faithfulness endures forever. He cannot lie. He keeps his word.
So I thought - what a powerful way to pray! I can pray bodly to God and ask him to keep his promises to me.
Lord, you promise to never leave. Stay!
You say you care for me. Show me!
You say that I can never be removed from your love. Help me to know and believe that!
You say that you will forgive me. Please do!
You offer a peace that passes understanding. Give it to me!
You say that if I have faith like a mustard seed it will be enough to move a mountain! Lord, strengthen my faith so that is has mountainous strength!
While I pray bodly, my heart is both humble and thankful. Humble, because it is only because of Christ that I can even approach God and ask for anything. Without Jesus, I would not be able to ask, nor would I dare to ask because all I would get, no matter what I asked, would be justice. And what is justice? Getting what you deserve. And what I deserve would not be what I am given through Jesus. Thankfully, because of Jesus, I can ask God to keep his promises to me. I ask with the humility of knowing I ask through Christ.
I also ask thankfully. I thank God for the promises he has already delivered on and for the ones he will certainly answer in the future. My requests spring from a heart full of the joy because I know that I am God's child, and as a child, I approach my Heavenly Father and say, "Father, you promised." Just a Jesus cried out on the cross to his Father, I can cry out to mine.
One more thing. The prayers of Moses and David also reminded me of how important it is to know what God has promised. How can I hold him to his word if I don't know his Word? How can I quote God's promises back to him even I don't even know what they are?
May my prayers be filled with the promises of God.
May my heart filled with moutainous faith in His truthfulness and faithfulness.
May my soul filled with the hope that comes with believing he will do what he says he will do.
I Thessalonians 5:24
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