Sunday, August 2, 2020

Psalm 5

What do you hope for?  During my life, my hopes have changed according to the desires of my heart.  In high school my hopes often revolved around boys, especially that I might be asked to a dance or other similar event.  In my young adulthood my hopes were often focused on employment, that I would get a raise or that I'd have certain perks from my work. These days my hopes are a little less tangible: I hope my kids are growing in maturity, that my husband and I grow continually closer to each other, and that my friends are well. None of these hope are intrinsically bad, but as I studied Psalm 5, I began to see how much I have misunderstood the biblical concept of hope:
Lord, listen to my words. 
Pay attention when I mourn.
My King and my God,
hear me when I cry for help. I pray to you.
Lord, in the morning you hear my voice.
In the morning I pray to you.
I wait for you in hope. 
(Psalm 5:1-3, NIRV)
Usually when I say hope, I mean that I am wishing for something to happen.  In Psalm 5:3, the word translated as "hope" is "tsaphah" which means "to look out or about, spy, keep watch."  Yes, hope is something much deeper than wanting something.  It is a trust something is going to happen. David  knew God was going to answer his prayers because he trusted God. “I wait for you in hope” really means that David is watching for something he knows is going to happen.   

When we plan to have visitors at our home, I sometimes find myself passing repeated by the front window of our home, waiting to see their car pull up. I know my friends are coming; I’m just not sure exactly when. That is the kind of hope that David had. He knew that God would answer his prayers, but he didn’t know when or how. As long as I'm being honest, I'll admit that my hopes don't always revolve around God.  I don't eagerly stand at the window of my life and watch for God's appearance.  How different my life would be if I started each day watching for God!

Friday, July 31, 2020

Bailout

With the American economy in the toilet (and, honestly, a good portion of the global economy), I reached into my file of "Random Things That I Probably Should Have Thrown Away A Long Time Ago" to share with you some thoughts I had last time we had a government bailout. There are lots of strong opinions floating around on the CARES Act, and there are also lot of strong opinions on whether there will (or should) be a second round of stimulus checks. This post is indifferent to the political nature of any bailout. Just have some fun with my theology. What else do we have to do these days?

Reason Why Jesus is Better than Any Bailout
  • The bailout is meant, largely, to preserve personal wealth and our global economy. But God gives us "an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4).
  • Some say that the bailouts represent a fundamental shift in the way the U.S. economy works. Fortunately, we're taught, that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
  • The "Bush Bailout" was supposed to fix our problems, and didn't. The "Obama Bailout" was supposed to fix our problems. The first bailout under Trump didn't either.  It leaves Average Joe asking how many bailouts will it take? But Scripture tells us Jesus saved us the first time: "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God" (1 Peter 3:18).
  • Everything our government is discussing is only conjecture because we have never before had an economy like we are experiencing now, but our Savior is the same One who created the universe. He has told us: " 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future' " (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).
And there you have it.

My goodness, I need to get out of my house for a while.  And soon...

FMF: Respect

Give to everyone what you owe them:
If you owe taxes, pay taxes;
if revenue, then revenue;
if respect, then respect;
if honor, then honor.
Romans 3:7, NIV


This seems like such a straightforward passage.  If you owe something to someone, give it to them.  It's pretty easy to apply the concept to taxes or revenue, but when I come to the second half of the verse it gets harder.  Too often, I want to chose who deserves my respect.  I want to decide who deserves my honor.  Yet, I see that the verse does not say, "Give to everyone what you THINK you owe them."

There are some people who by virtue of their position in your life that deserve respect.  Parents.  Bosses.  Government leaders.

Pause for a moment: Government leaders?  I never doubted if I should write this; it's just that, in today's political climate, this is a controversial statement.  Respecting government leaders was the essence of Paul's words here to the believers in Rome, so I'm guessing that it was controversial in Paul's time too.  Their country did not share their faith.  There must have been moments when it was challenging to respect leaders whose decisions seemed to fly in the face of what they believed.  At times their government was trying to kill them.  At times their government was killing them.  But that's what makes respect so powerful.

I'm sure that each of us struggles with respecting different people in our lives.  I know who I struggle with.  I am challenged to ask God if there are any less obvious people to whom I do not give proper respect.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Psalm 3

We usually credit David with writing the book of Psalms, but it turns out he only wrote about half of them. That's still a lot of psalms, and the most of any contributor. When you read the Psalms, you can know which were written by David because they are identified as "a psalm of David." I feel silly writing that, but I never paid attention to the byline at the top of many of the psalms. So, I will guess there are others that do the same.

As far as kings go, David was pretty awesome  Most of us know some things about him – like that he was a shepherd, or that he fought Goliath, or even the fact that he became king under pretty intense circumstances – but sometimes we miss or forget that David was also a musician, and he loved to write songs to God. Forgive the comparison, but when I think about David singing and dancing for God, I imagine a person sort of like Marshall Erikson from How I Met Your Mother.


In church, we often encourage believers to talk to God through prayer, but most of us don't talk to God in song.  Tell the truth, have you ever sung out to God?  David sang to God like we would talk to a friend. Look at how Psalm 3 begins:
Lord, I have so many enemies!
So many people are rising up against me!
Many are saying about me,
“God will not save him.”
(Psalm 3:1-2, NIRV)
Those aren't the words of someone who is fulfilling a religious obligation to talk to God.  David loved God, and he used his songs to stay close to Him. 

This post is about to get a little more interactive than it usually is. I'm going to ask you to do something that feels really strange.  Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, look away from your screen and sing something to God.  Do it.  Now.
  
Did you do it? A good place to practice this would be in the shower.  Most of us already sing there.  Why not sing to God?  Sometimes we get tripped up on what we should say when we talk to God. One thing that David told God was what he liked about Him. For example, Psalm 3:3 says: 
Lord, you are like a shield that keeps me safe.
You bring me honor. You help me win the battle.
Most of us have grown accustomed to wearing a mask when we go out in public.  Some people go above and beyond by wearing a full face shield.  You know what I mean, those plastic ones that look like the person just came from welding something.  They keep things away from your face. They believe the shield will protect them from infection. When David sang that God is like a shield, he meant that God is protecting him, sort of like a face shield.

There were lots of things happening to David that were dangerous, but he knew that God was with him. David wrote in verse 6: 
I won’t be afraid even though tens of thousands
attack me on every side.
David trusted God.  When he wrote that he was attacked by ten thousand, it was not figurative.  Remember, David wanted to build a temple for God, but he was a man of war (1 Chronicles 28:3). If David could trust God in every situation he faced, we can trust God in every situation we face.  And maybe we can express that faith like David, in song.

I am Apollos

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9, NASB


It's summer time in Southern California, a summer that I desperately needed.  In past years summer has meant a lot less to me.  For years I worked five days a week in an air conditioned building.  If it were 100 degrees outside, I was still leaving the house with a sweater.  I might get the chance to step outside for lunch and feel the warmth of the sun, but that sun was gone again as soon as my break was over. Since I stopped working full time, I have come to appreciate the seasons, mostly because I experience them now.
My first cucumber in early growth.

My newest joy is my garden.  Yes, I have had things growing my back yard (and front yard, actually) since we bought our home eight years ago.  I have written before about my benefiting from another's work.  When my yard got a major trim this month, I was sad at how much they cut off my fruit trees.  Then I reminded myself that I waste a lot of the fruit that is produced, and everything will grow back.  In fact, it will grow back stronger for the trimming that occurred.

Right now the shining gem of my garden is my single cucumber plant that I could easily take too much credit for.  It was my mother in law who showed up at my door with seeds and a trellis for the vines to creep up.  It was my son, under my mother in law's guidance, who turned the dirt.  It is me, though, who faithfully waters the plant.  Everyday.  Sometimes, twice a day.  As Paul wrote, it was God who made it grow.  There is nothing I could have done to make that plant grow.

Paul recognized his place in the hierarchy believers.  He was someone who said yes to God, one of many someones.  I love my cucumber plant, and I am looking forward to the fruit it produces. However, the plant would have grown for anyone who did the work that my family did.  The believers in Corinth did not understand this truth.

The modern church sometimes gets hung up on things that don't matter.  There are groups who believe they have exclusive access to God because of the day they worship, the age at which they baptize, who they accept in their priesthood, or the way they talk to God.  This is what Paul identifies as "jealousy and strife" in verse 3.

I am Apollos.  I can only take credit for watering my garden.  It would not have mattered if I used a bucket or a hose.  One may be appropriate for one part of my garden and the other more appropriate for another part of my garden.  Where seed is being sown, cultivated, and watered, God will do the rest.

Friday, July 17, 2020

FMF: Smile

“O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary."
Daniel 9:17, NLT

Something is changing in my heart, and I'm not sure it's a very popular opinion: I don't hate that our churches are closed.  I am encouraged by my pastor who often reminds me the church building is not where God's presence is.  Remember, a day is coming, and is already here, when we won't worship God on a temple or in a mountain, but in spirit and truth (John 4).  Yes, God's presence lives in the hearts of His believers, whose lives reflect the Spirit that lives with in them.

Enter Daniel.  He's certainly a big biblical character.  Yet, we don't often study him pleading with God to "smile again on your desolate sanctuary."  Smile, here, is better translated enlighten.  Can you imagine the darkened temple being illuminated as the torches were lit up?  At first a little light, then more, until finally every corner could be clearly seen.

The temples of our hearts are darkened.  Some have been darkened long before the word coronavirus had ever been heard by our ears or muttered by our lips.  So I pray, as Daniel did, that God would light up our hearts.  We are suffering a punishment that was due us, but God is merciful.  I pray God lights our hearts - not for our sake, but for His.  

Read the entire chapter of Daniel 9 HERE, and let yourself feel the realness, the humanness of Daniel's words.


This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Psalm 1

Blessed is the person who obeys the law of the Lord.
They don’t follow the advice of evil people.
They don’t make a habit of doing what sinners do.
They don’t join those who make fun of the Lord and his law.
Instead, the law of the Lord gives them joy.
They think about his law day and night. 
(Psalm 1:1-2, NIRV)

When I was a child, my favorite toy was a stuffed dog called LeMutt. I loved LeMutt. It made me happy to play with him. I threw him around. I took him on trips with me. Sometimes I just let him ride on my shoulder.  As childhood toys do, LeMutt brought me a lot of joy.  Unfortunately, as often also happens to childhood toys, something sad happened: I lost him.

Years went by, and I could not find him. Until one day, my sister gave me a special birthday present. She had found LeMutt.  It wasn't actually my LeMutt; it was a replacement she found on eBay.  I didn't care; it was like she had given me back a part of myself.

LeMutt is a little bit like the Bible. The psalmist wrote that the law of the Lord brings him joy. Because the Bible brought him joy, he thought about it day and night, just like that tattered old stuff dog that I dragged around.  When something is special, we pay attention to it. We respect it. We don’t forget about it or lose it. We carry it around with us. We should find joy like that in scripture.  I have not always found joy in it.  I still struggle with this.  I call reading my Bible a "discipline."  Of course, it is a discipline, but it should be a passion too.

Twinkie likes to cuddle with LeMutt too.
The only other activity that I can compare this paradox to is running.  About ten years ago I woke up very early on Thanksgiving morning, unable to go back to sleep.  I had just moved, and I was about two miles away from our town's annual Turkey Trot.  I knew a few people who were going, but it seemed crazy for me to go.  I didn't even own appropriate clothes. I'm so thankful that I talked myself into going that morning.  I walked those three miles in my jeans, and it began a change in me.  First, I bought some running pants.  Then, I found myself walking more places.  Eventually, I was jogging.  At some point a friend joined me, and we signed up for a race.  I started eating healthier and logging miles.  I had become a runner.  It was a discipline, but I loved it. I eventually let running slip lower on my priority list.  These days I can barely jog a mile or two.  I lost my discipline, but I recall the joy.

We take care not to lose things that are really important to us. These day I keep LeMutt somewhere special so that I don’t lose him.  Scripture should also be kept somewhere special.  Psalm 119:11 says “I have hidden your word in my heart so that I won’t sin against you.” When we hide God’s word in our hearts, no one can ever take it away from us.  There is no where else to guarantee it.

Friday, July 10, 2020

FMF: Endure

But now your kingdom will not endure;
the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart
and appointed him ruler of his people,
because you have not kept the Lord’s command.
1 Samuel 13:14, NIV

My best friend calls me an anti-bandwagoner.  Basically, if something is really popular, I won't be interested in it, at least not until the hype has passed.  I fully admit I have a different way of looking at things. Just last week I asked a friend why she was doing something a certain way.  Wouldn't another way be easier?  I wasn't trying to tell her she was wrong; I just saw the situation differently than she did.

When I saw the prompt for today's Five Minute Friday session, I knew that many people would write about how "His love endures forever."  The phrase appears more than 40 times in the NIV translation of scripture.  Those who read the NKJV translation would be writing that "His mercy endures forever."  This is a good word, but being the anti-bandwagoner that I am, I will not.

Instead, I am writing about NOT enduring.  In 1 Samuel, we read God list one specific attribute in Saul that made him unfit to be king: Saul had not kept God's commands.  God says nothing about his vision setting goals or the economy of the nation.  His kingdom did not endure because of his relationship with God.  In that same verse, there is one attribute about David that made him worthy of the being king: David was a man after God's heart.  There is, perhaps, no other quality in a person, that God desires, except that we love him. Our ability to endure hangs on this.


This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Friday, July 3, 2020

FMF: People

So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God.
For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors,
just as God did after creating the world.
So let us do our best to enter that rest.
But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.
(Hebrews 4:9-11, NLT)


I don't often think about Sabbath as a gift, much less a special gift.  I usually think about it as another obligation.  I have to rest today.  Will God be upset if I wash laundry?  How full can I fill the sink with dirty dishes before God will not care if I wash them?  It's nonsense, and it's the wrong perspective.

The book of Hebrews gives me a better perspective, the right perspective on Sabbath.  Yes, God wants us to rest from our labor.  If you have kids or know young kids, you may have seen a child so tired that when trying to put him down for a nap, he throws a fit, crying, "I'm not tired."  The grown up knows the truth even when the child does not.  Sometimes we are those children, and God is our Father trying to get us to stop for a moment for rest.

But Sabbath is a special gift.  It is one day a week when we collectively stop and practice Heaven.  We remember "the special rest that is still waiting for the people of God."  When you think about it that way, I feel especially foolish for the way I've negotiated my rest.  It's like I'm asking God, is this enough Heaven?  No, I want all the Heaven I can get.  I want access to God, quality time with Him.

We have learned to labor; Lord, help your people to practice rest.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Costa Rica and The Broken Body

I couldn't let today pass without writing one more reflection on my trip to Costa Rica two years ago because I was supposed to be making the same trip again this week.  Today we would have been flying home, so I am thinking about our return last time.
We loved our customs photos.
My son looks like Clark Kent
about to change into Superman.

When we bought our tickets, we scheduled an early afternoon departure so that we would not have to wake up pre-sunrise as some of the other teams did.  There were a few problems with our plan.  First, we were literally the last team to leave the seminary.  Also, the bus drivers did not want to hang around, so we left a little early and spent several hours waiting at the airport. It turns out we were tired from our week even though we didn't have to wake up as early as some others.  The other major problem was that we arrived back in the States after midnight, and that made for a long day.

For most of my life I have struggled with severe motion sickness.  It is a frequent problem, but I know how to manage it most of the time.  This time, however, I made the bad decision of taking the maximum recommended dosage of my motion sickness medicine.  My body became so sluggish, that I only vaguely remember falling asleep on the plane.  When we finally landed, it was so difficult to walk off the plane, collect my luggage, go through customs, and then find my husband at the curb.  I remember him asking, "Couldn't you hear me calling your name?"

I felt a little like the disciples when we read about Jesus' encounter with them in the garden of Gethsemane (see Matthew 26:41 or Mark 14:38).  He had asked them to pray for Him, but He finds them sleeping instead.  He warns His disciples that "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  I was certainly willing to go home with my husband, I even wanted to go home with my husband, but the quality of my body and the decisions I had made left me weak.

I wonder if we, as the flesh of Christ (the body, if you prefer), are like I was returning from Costa Rica in 2018.  We are tired.  We have made some bad decisions.  We are eager to go with God, but we can't hear Him calling our name.  Like the disciples, we must keep watching and praying because even though the flesh is weak, the Spirit is still willing.

Friday, June 26, 2020

FMF: Compromise

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives.  Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
Genesis 13:8-9

Abram and Lot had set out on a journey together.  They had followed God together.  They had worked together.  They had prospered together.  In Genesis 13 we read that that their fortunes had grown so big the land could not support their livestock.  In Genesis 14 we read that Abram had 318 trained men.  That's quite a staff.

At first it appears that Abram and Lot let go of their relationship to seek wealth.  They already had plenty between them.  They could have cut back a little and continued to live together.

Instead they reached a compromise: you go one way, I will go the other.

In fact, Abram loved his nephew so much that he let Lot chose which way he would go, and Lot chose the way that looked like it held a more prosperous future.  Abram loved his nephew enough to let physical space come between them so they and their households could live in unity.  Sometimes unity means being separate.

Is that the best situation?  It may not be ideal, but it is better than the alternative of living disagreeably together.  I suppose that is the essence of a compromise, it is never what you would have dreamed of, but it could be worse.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Costa Rica and The PB&J

Anyone who knows me well knows that I like food.  I like trying new recipes.  I like eating where locals eat.  I like to make food that makes people happy.

I also like the bond that sharing food creates.  I often find myself asking my husband, "Do you remember that __ we ate in __?"  Fill in the blank: pretzel/Texas, corndog/Arizona, hotdog/Kansas City.

Six years of Spanish classes were not wasted:
I ordered this pupusa entirely in Spanish
on our layover in El Salvador.

I like what I learn about culture through food.  In Boston, I ate at the restaurant that created Boston Cream Pie.  In Colorado, we tried rocky mountain oysters.  On the way to Costa Rica, our flight had a very brief stop in El Salvador.  Between the two terminals I saw a pupuseria and couldn't let the opportunity pass me by to have an authentic pupusa. In Costa Rica, we discovered that coffee is sold with sugar already added and they have a very unique method for making drip coffee. Viva el cafecito!

One Costa Rica food memory that is universally groaned at is our daily sack lunch: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a packaged snack.  The first day we discovered that there is an art to making a PB&J.  There is a certain peanut butter to jelly ratio that should be observed, and, of course, there are flavors of jelly that some prefer over others. By day two we realized that we would be eating this same meal every day and food swapping began - my sandwich for yours, this cookie for that one.  Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful for the food and for the people who prepared it.  I don't want to imagine making several hundred PB&J sandwiches everyday.  That was their contribution to our mission work. I hate to admit that it was on day two or three that all excitement for our lunches had passed.  Team members were foregoing parts of their lunches, and some chose not to eat lunch entirely.  A pile of leftover food began to accumulate at our work site.

The next day when we returned to our work site, I was surprised to see all of our food was gone.  We soon discovered that Pastor Sergio, the pastor of the church we were volunteering at, had taken all of the food we deemed inedible and distributed it to his community.  I was simultaneously rejoicing that he put our leftovers to good use and mourning that we were so full while others were hungry. It's hard to think about a neighborhood that would appreciate food we reject.  It's hard to think about rejecting food others are so appreciative of.

I can't deny the intrinsic value of food.  Everyone should have the right to eat, but this is not always the case.  Both political and personal decisions create food scarcity.  Jesus so highly valued food that it is one of the six criteria by which God separates the "sheep and goats."  That is, He will distinguish those who belong to him from those who don't by the way we respond to these six areas: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, inviting in the stranger, clothing the naked, helping the sick, and visiting prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46).

If my faith were to be judged solely in these six areas... Lord, help me; I have failed miserably.

I'm sad to not be in Costa Rica right now.  However, if I am honest with myself, I recognize that there is no shortage of work I can do in my own community. I probably won't take a PB&J to my neighbor, but I can look for other ways to feed, slake, invite, clothe, help, and visit those in need.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Costa Rica and Morning Worship

When we traveled to Costa Rica in 2018, one of the things I loved most is also found at Christian

retreats, conferences, and summer camps: daily morning worship.
A clown in worship...
you don't see that everyday.


Since my first summer camp experience, I have loved corporate worship. I had grown up in church, but I have never known worship like that before. To this day I love seeing people lift their voices and hands in praise to God. I love seeing how God speaks when we are willing to listen. I love seeing differences dissipate, sometimes even our spoken language, as we focus on God. Yet in my personal life I struggle to develop the same daily habit.

If we model our faith life on scripture, there is no denying that God wants a daily relationship with us. Over the two decades we have been married, my husband has often worked night shifts. In our early years, we were like ships passing in the night; I'd come home from work and he'd hand me our son so that he could leave for work. If I worked late, he'd leave our son with his mother, and we wouldn't even see each other. Our relationship suffered, and still suffers, when we don't have time together every day, even if only for a few minutes.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He asked that God would "give us today daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). When the Israelites wandered through the desert, God literally gave them daily bread called manna. It was no good the next morning, "it was full of maggots and began to smell" (Exodus 16:20). Moses was angry with those who didn't trust him, or, more accurately, didn't trust God.  Maggots and stench revealed the hearts of the Israelites who lacked faith; when we lack faith, it's not quite as obvious. Too often I think the faith I had yesterday will be sufficient for today, but it never is.

In Proverbs 30:8, Agur prayed that God would not give him poverty, and not give him riches - ever prayed that before? - but only his daily bread.  In Job 22, as he defended his faith to Eliphaz, Job says that that he has valued God's words more than his daily bread. In Acts 2, we read about the Holy Spirit coming to believers.  The crowds did not understand and made fun of them. Peter defends the believers' actions, and he uses the opportunity to teach many about Christ.  

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
(Acts 2:46-47)

They met together every day.  Every day.

The power of "every day" is not in checking something off your to do list.  I love to do lists; they show what I have accomplished.  I can get a lot done when I make a list. No, "every day" is not about what I have done.  It is about God.

The first few chapters of Leviticus outline the offerings that should be presented to God, but in Leviticus 9:24 we read that the fire that burned the offering came from God.  Not even our offerings are acceptable without God's help.

The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.
(Leviticus 6:12-13)

Even though the priest added to the fire every morning, the fire burned continuously.  The same is true with our faith.  Daily prayer, worship, and Bible study are only opportunities to add to the flame that God has placed in our hearts. As believers, we must tend the fire of our faith.  It must not go out.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Costa Rica and the Ministry of Availability

I can't stop thinking about it.  I am supposed to be in Costa Rica.

We cleared our schedules, told friends and family members, and saved and fundraised for months.  I traveled to Costa Rica for the first time two years ago with my older son, and I was looking forward to my younger son joining us this year.  I've shared before about the team of forty local students and their families that I traveled with to Costa Rica in 2018.  From across the United States, teams came together to serve God in a beautiful land.
Here we are gathered for morning worship before one of our work days in Costa Rica.























As we prepared for that event, our plans changed regularly.  From week to week we wondered what we would actually be doing in Costa Rica.  Part of the frustration was a difference in culture; things are done differently in Costa Rica than they are done in the United States, and that's ok.  However, it created a time of uncertainty leading up to the trip. Our team lead, a local pastor, encouraged us to adopt a ministry of availability.  We should be open to serve however we are asked, and God will do His work through our willing hands.  That spirit worked well in Costa Rica, and at our local church we've returned over and over to that idea in the last two years.  Even this week I found myself telling a new neighbor that if he ever needed a volunteer force for his business, our church would love to partner with him.  We don't necessarily have skills specific to his company, but we have a God who equips us for doing good.

Just like the trip to Costa Rica that was supposed to begin today, many of us have seen our plans crumble over the last few months.  Events, trips, and celebrations have been postponed indefinitely or cancelled. I long for things I previously took for granted.  In that loss, I lose sight of the opportunities to serve God that are right in front of me.  I do not keep myself open to the ministry of availability.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
(Isaiah 6:8)

The words of the prophet Isaiah are a good place to start the ministry of availability. God is always asking who is available. I don't believe He asks because He does not know. God asked Isaiah to give him an opportunity to respond, and God asks us the same question for that same reason.

Our response ought to be the same as Isaiah's: Send me.  Sometimes God sends us to Costa Rica, but sometimes He sends us to the corner with a bagged lunch for a homeless person.  Sometimes we stay up all night to travel around the world, but sometimes we stay up all night to pray for those in need.  Sometimes we spend our vacation time to visit foreign lands, but sometimes we use our Saturday to visit a friend.  Sometimes we spend money, and sometimes we spend time.  This is the heart of the ministry of availability.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Baggage

A woman’s purse – a source of lifelong frustration for women and a great mystery to men. I had a business associate who, after being married nearly 50 years, told me there are two things he won’t do: he won’t sign his wife’s name and he won’t go in her purse. A wise man! Let’s face it, consciously or subconsciously, a woman’s purse speaks a lot about her. Women spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a name brand to hang on their arm. A well matched purse-to-outfit tells others you pay attention to detail, and that you have the time and patience swap purses regularly. Many ladies remember their first purse, and it seems to be that the older you are the bigger purse you have.

I’ve always liked to think I carry a pretty small purse, just bringing along the necessities and leaving the rest at home. I had to rethink that idea when I reached into a zipper compartment this morning to pull out some lip gloss. There were a number of obscure objects, and I think I really had a shot of winning something on Let’s Make A Deal. Batteries. Two packages of travel dental floss. Countless earrings. A broken ring (beads everywhere!). Nyquil. No less than nine hair clips and three pens. Oh, and I did finally find that lip gloss, along with a lip liner and a tube of Chapstick. Keep in mind that was only one of my two zipper compartments.

Without even knowing it, my small purse had accumulated a lot of unnecessary baggage, and I had to ask myself how exactly this had happened. It’s not like I woke up one morning and threw everything into my purse that didn’t have a spot elsewhere in my house. No, it was one thing at a time. One “I’ll take care of this later” until I had a serious accumulation. And so goes the other baggage in our life; you know, the spiritual and emotional baggage that we all have. It’s not like one day I decided I’m going to let things bother me today from fifteen years ago. Instead what happened was over the years I decided I couldn’t or wouldn’t take care of issues as they arose (probably because I'm taking care of even older problems) and so I let “future me” handle them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to let Future Amie handle my problems. Future Amie is great because she lets me get on with my life now. Or so it seems until one day my husband asks me why he doesn’t have any clean underwear, and I explain through tears why I failed English in the seventh grade. I swear that teacher had it out for me!

While I don’t have all the answers, here are a few things I think we can do to help ourselves. Start with today’s problems, taking to heart the words of Ephesians 4:26-27, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” There is no better time than now to take care of your problems! Then, start taking care of yesterday’s problems. Address the carryover issues, one at a time, until they are all dealt with.

Yes, I know I am oversimplifying this. And, yes, I know this is something we will all continue to deal with. But I truly believe God wants us to live without the unnecessary stress that “baggage” adds to our life. When we aren’t all wrapped up in ourselves, we can focus on what we’re supposed to: loving God and loving others.

Monday, June 15, 2020

What I Heard: Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
(Matthew 5:8, NASB)


I hate to say that there are parts of Scripture that I like more than others.  I suppose it might be more accurate to say that there are parts of Scripture that I favor more than others.  The stories and ideas that speak to me most draw me in, while other parts do not receive the same focus.  For years I was fascinated by Genesis.  I still consider it the Bible's soap opera, filled with enough betrayal, love affairs, and scandal to give Days of our Lives a run for its money.  For a while I couldn't get out of Hebrews.  The way the author tied together the Old Testament and New Testament kept me turning back to its thirteen chapters.  Most recently I have been captivated (no pun intended) by the Israelite's escape to freedom, what we call the Exodus.  However, the Beatitudes do not get this same attention from me.  I have often turned to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, but those first few verses in Matthew 5 get moved past quickly.

Yesterday was the first Sunday we met on our church campus for three months.  Everything about it was different - the format, the expectations, and thanks to a flood in our sanctuary even the location.  Yes, for the first time that I can ever recall, we held our Sunday morning service al fresco.  When I was a teenager we held our Easter sunrise service outside, but the main service was always held in the sanctuary.  Even in the late 1980s, when our sanctuary received a significant remodel, services were held inside - sometimes with blankets because it was cold and there were no windows, but always in the sanctuary.

To grossly oversimplify what my pastor taught: We are not called to be peace-experiencers, we are called to be peace-makers.  There are four common expressions of peace making:
  1. We make peace with God.
  2. We make peace with others.
  3. We help others make peace with others.
  4. We help others make peace with God.
I won't reiterate the details of his sermon, but if it becomes available on our church's YouTube page, I will link it here.

As I thought about what I heard, I wondered what practical actions make peace?  In other words, how do I actually make peace in all or some of the above capacities?

Walk in Peace
I cannot overlook the fact that peace is an attribute of God; Scripture makes that clear when it says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-25).  I was recently reminded that fruit does not exist for the the tree that produces it, but it does exist to grow new plants and to nourish the animals that eat from it.  Similarly, I do not experience the fruit of the Spirit for my own benefit.  It is for those around me.  If we are believers, people of the Spirit, we should walk in the Spirit, and that includes walking in peace.
    Another passage that has often drawn me in is the book of Malachi.  How can you not be intrigued by a prophet whose message from God was that He'd rather we shut the doors of the temple than perform useless rituals.  I believe that before the quarantine, but after three months of doing "church at home" I understand it a little more.  For three months I have had few, if any, questions about why the cups at the church coffee bar are a certain size, why the bulletin does or does not have particular information, or why we don't host a certain event.  I still believe that corporate church body has a special place in ministry, but I'm learning so many things were useless fires. Later in Malachi we read about the job of the priests.  We read "true instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity" (2:6).  As a priesthood of believers, I believe we are also called to speak truth and not wickedness.  When we walk in peace with God, many will follow.

Speak Peace
Have you ever noticed that words have meaning in Scripture?  There may no better example than Genesis 25 when Jacob tricks his father into giving him the blessing that was intended for his brother.  When Esau learns that he has been tricked (again!) by his brother, he asks his father if there is a way to make things right.  I feel bad for Esau.  Sure, he hadn't made the best decisions, but he was duped by Jacob.  We might have found ourselves advocating for Esaus.  Isn't there any way for Isaac to take back the words he spoke over Jacob?  We understand the circumstances and the deceit (this is some of that classic Genesis scandal I mentioned earlier), but there would be no blessing for Esau.  What had been spoken would stand.  I too need to remember that my words aren't "just words" as if they have lesser meaning than other action.
    In Malachi we see also the power of words, and the prophet goes so far as to say that the priests "have wearied the Lord with [their] words" (2:17). They preached a wrong gospel, saying that God was happy with evildoers. This is a just one point in a long list of grievances against the priests, but again it shows that our words matter because the represent our hearts. As Jesus would say it, "his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart" (Luke 6:45).  So when mouth speaks defensively it reveals the state of my heart.  When my tongue is patient, it reveals something too. It is equally important to remember that silence can be the loudest message we speak.

Make Peace an Offering
We sometimes get tripped up in the word offering.  Among believers today, the word is mostly used for the money we give to our local house of worship.  In the Old Testament, there were offerings given for many reasons.  When I think of offerings, I think of the sin offering because that tends to get talked about more, but the peace offering was distinctly different (you can read about all the offerings in Leviticus 1-7).  The peace offering was voluntary and was given when someone fulfilled a vow, when they wanted to give thanks to God for a special blessing, or just because.  It could be given by an individual or collectively.  The peace offering is unique in that it is the only offering in which the giver, and his friends or family, ate the offering.
    There is no one application of a peace offering that would fit everyone's life. We all live in different communities and are presented with unique opportunities. I do not know what your day will look like tomorrow.  I don't even know what my day will look like tomorrow.  However, I know I will be presented with opportunities to make peace, perhaps even situations when I don't want to make peace. I pray that God will give me the wisdom to see these moments and that He will give me the strength to make peace when I don't want to.  Not for me.  Not for the other person.  May the peace I make be an offering back to the God of peace.

Friday, June 12, 2020

FMF: How

This is how you are to eat it:
with your cloak tucked into your belt,
your sandals on your feet
and your staff in your hand.
Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
Exodus 12:11

Last night my family celebrated my older son's high school graduation by dining at a high end steak house. My sons, 17 and 13, didn't even realize that a restaurant like this existed, and so we taught them what to expect and how to act: This is how you will dress. This is how the staff will treat you. This is how you put a napkin on your lap. This is how you order. This is how the sides will come. This is how you know which fork to use. This is how the night went.

Today the church is facing a time of how, too. We are reopening the doors to our church buildings, some that have been closed for more than three months. We know that, really, the church was still working during this time because we believers are the church, we just weren't in the building. However, as we begin to meet together again, we get to decide how God wants us to do things. We should not sit down at the meal our Heavenly Father has chosen for us the way we always have. We must stop to consider that we are like the Israelites. We are heading into to a new phase of God's story, so how would God have us eat? May the Lord bless us with wisdom to answer this question.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Friday, June 5, 2020

FMF: Stay

A stay of execution is the postponement of punishment through a court system.  Don't think execution as in death penalty; think about executing an order.  A stay of execution is a great thing if you or your loved one is receiving punishment.  It does not feel as good if you are the one who has had injustices committed against you.  In the Job 24*, the author wrestles with the idea that there are people doing evil deeds who are not punished: thieves, murderers, and other wrong doers.

In the American court system, intent factors punishment.  We differentiate between those who commit murder ("premeditated") vs manslaughter ("no malice aforethought").  Sometimes a case hinges on that distinction.  In verse 13 the author makes a similar observation, “There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths."  Some rebel because they do not know the right thing to do, and some rebel because they have chosen to do the wrong thing.

By the end of the chapter, the author has gotten to his point.  These rebels are not really getting away with evil deeds.  A time will come when their stay of execution will end.  As the author writes, "For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all the others" (v. 24).  Sometimes justice only rests in the hands of God.

*Read the whole chapter HERE.  I think it's beautiful.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Fireworks

Tonight I laid in bed hearing the boom of fireworks, and I wondered how far away they were.  Could I actually be hearing the fireworks from protesters downtown, more than 15 miles away*?  Or worse, are there people throwing fireworks close to my home?  For the past five days, the news has repeatedly shown images of fireworks being thrown among protesters in a way that I can only describe as too close for comfort.  Lying there in bed, I chose to be honest with myself and admit what I did not want to: I don't like fireworks.

Fireworks represent closure.  When I visited Disneyland as a child, someone would always ask whether we could stay for the fireworks.  I can't recall how many times we went to Disneyland, but I know it wasn't more than a few times.  I remember how the park felt different after the fireworks show ended, as we walked away from Sleeping Beauty's Castle and toward the front gate.  Every shop on Main Street called to me.  I had not explored enough.  I wanted to know every detail that was available to be known.  Can we go in this store?  How about this one?  Eventually we would cross under the train tracks and out through those final barriers. I knew something had ended that would not happen again for a long time.  In those days there was no California Adventure and certainly no Downtown Disney.  When you left Disneyland you were in a parking lot.  You had to either wait for a tram or make the seemingly never ending walk to your car in the cold night air.  The magic was over.

Fireworks evoke feelings of rejection.  I missed being born on the Fourth of July by less than two hours - one hour and fifty eight minutes to be exact.  Growing up, my sisters loved to tell the story of how I ruined their Fourth of July the year I was born.  Since our parents were at the hospital, my sisters were left in the care of our grandmother.  Grandma would only let us do sparklers.  Would it be too dramatic to say the words still echo in my ears?  I know they were teasing, but I've connected fireworks with the special kind of bullying that only a sibling can do.  More than that, most years I have been presented with a red, white, and blue birthday cake.  Whether at a church picnic or my parents' house: Since we're going to be together for fireworks anyway, let's celebrate your birthday too.  I'm sure that's convenient, but it's never been very meaningful for me.

Fireworks are correlated to loneliness.  When I was about fourteen my mother worked for a doctor that had a cabin in the mountains.  We stayed at his cabin a few times while she worked for him.  During one stay we visited the home of my mother's boss's friend.  Their cabin was multi-story and was situated in such a way that it had a breathtaking view of the city.  We were promised fireworks like we had never seen them before.  It's true; I cannot recall ever again having such a good view of fireworks.  As we stood on that cabin's balcony and the evening sky was illuminated over and over again, I was mostly aware of how cold it felt and that I wished my friends were there to experience it with me.

You'll never read these stories on the cover of a newspaper, and there will never be an episode of 20/20 exploring why fireworks distress me.  However, they are powerful stories.  They are powerful because they are lies that I've heard - and believed - and allowed to steal joy from me.  The truth is:

Some days are big days, Disneyland days.  Some days are small days.  In the work of rebuilding the temple, God told Zechariah, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things?" (Zechariah 4:9-10, NASB)  It takes a lot of small days for the temple of God to take shape.  It takes a lot of small days to for me to be shaped into the person I am called to be in Christ.  If I allow Him to, Christ will shape me because He has chosen me.  Scripture tells me that I am a chosen person (1 Peter 2:9), I was chosen before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4), God has prepared good works for me (Ephesians 2:9), and I have not only been chosen but also appointed to bear fruit that remains (John 15:16).  No earthly rejection - real or perceived - can negate the good things that God has in mind for me.  Me personally.  Me.  I don't have to be afraid of knowing me.  I don't have to be afraid of being alone with me.  Alone doesn't have to mean lonely.  Some people can be alone and never feel lonely, but I've struggled with this for a long time because in those quiet moments I hear the lies the loudest.  I will no longer allow myself to be moved by anything but the truth of God.  As Jesus himself prayed for his disciples, may I be sanctified in the truth (John 17:17).





*A quick internet search returned that fireworks can be heard up to 50 miles away.  I still don't know where the booms and pops were coming from, but at least I know that random fact.

Friday, May 29, 2020

FMF: Born

My older son is graduating high school this year.  Tomorrow would have been his Senior Prom.  I can't help but get nostalgic when I think about it.  It doesn't feel that long ago that I learned I was pregnant with him and even less time since that October morning I woke up with a very distinct pain through my abdomen.  I was in labor.  My son was about to be born.

I was only 21 years old and had not prepared sufficiently.  Of course there is really no amount of preparation that adequately equips you for the birth of a child.  Then there's also all the people who have wisdom they must share with you, things you must do.  There was a very nice man who worked in my office building back then.  He had young kids and we would talk casually about my pregnancy.  One day he made a point of telling me how I must have a home birth.  I listened to his story; yes, it was a beautiful birth story, but I knew it was not for me.

As that October morning progressed and my doctor told me I need a C-section, I thanked God I had not listened to my co-worker. My son's umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. A home birth would have been detrimental for him. And so, as I remember that day, I pray my son's song will be the same as the psalmist:

I have depended on you since I was born; you helped me even on the day of my birth.
I will always praise you. (Psalm 71:6, NCV)




This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Heart and Hands

Several years ago, a thought entered my mind that I couldn't shake for several weeks: What God lays on your heart, pick up with your hands.  Set that aside for a minute.

My husband turned to me one evening this week and asked if I had heard of a certain person, a Christian celebrity. Eek, Christian celebrity. I don't like writing that, but I don't have a better description. I told my husband that I had heard of this particular person, to which he responded, "I guess he doesn't believe in God anymore."

I asked him why, and he told me that he had read that the celebrity couldn't understand why an all loving God would allow bad things to happen, or something along those lines.  The conversation was pretty matter of fact. In part because my husband hadn't heard of the person, and I think in part because it seems to be happening more frequently these days.

Then my brain started turning.  To me, more concerning than a God who would allow bad things to happen are the 2 billion Christians who would allow those same things to happen.

From the very beginning we were meant to play a part in God's story. Genesis 2:15 (NASB) says, "Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it."

As we continue reading through scripture, we come to the story of God in Nehemiah's time.  Leroy Eims shares great insight about Nehemiah's faith in his book Prayer: More Than Words.  He points out that, in addition to prayer, we must do our part.  Or, as we read in Nehemiah 4:9 (NASB), "but we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night."  They prayed for God to do His part, and then they did their part.

God's word continues to tell the same story in Acts 2:42-45 (NASB) when we read that, again, the believer prayed and took care of each other:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

Is your heart breaking for the millions of people who don't have access to clean water?  Do you think we we should do something to end homelessness?  Are you distraught by the spread of HIV/AIDS?  Do you cry when you think about orphans? God has called you to be like Adam, or Nehemiah, or the believers of Acts 2.  Turn your concerns over to God, and then turn your attention to problem.  What God lays on your heart, pick up with your hands.

Friday, May 22, 2020

FMF: Forward

Hope looks forward and finds peace.  Consider the woman from Shunem:
He said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.”

And she said, “It will be well.” Then she saddled a donkey and said to her servant, “Drive and go forward; do not slow down the pace for me unless I tell you.” So she went and came to the man of God to Mount Carmel.

When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Behold, there is the Shunammite. Please run now to meet her and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’”

And she answered, “It is well.”  (2 Kings 4: 23-26, NASB)

Her hope doesn't make sense.  That is the essence of hope.

For the Shunammite woman, hope literally meant moving forward, to the prophet Elisha, for healing for her son.  She had not always had this kind of hope.  Earlier in this chapter we read that it was the prophet Elisha, through God's power, who allowed her to have a son.  Back then, she didn't have the hope inside of her to ask for what she really wanted, and she warned Elisha not to get her hopes up.  She looked back.  She saw all the years she had been unable to conceive.  She believed no child would be in her future because no child had been in her past.  When the Shunammite woman was unable to look forward, Elisha looked forward on her behalf.  He had hope for her when she was hopeless.  What a different woman than one we see here.

Her son has just died, and the Shunammite woman tells her husband that she will be going to Elisha to fix the situation.  Like the Shunammite woman years earlier, her husband can not look forward.  He looks back.  He wants to know why she would go to Elisha for healing on a day that is not traditionally a day of healing. He was stuck in the past.

And there it is: You are either stuck in the past of looking forward to the future.  Those of us who look forward, and consequently move forward, can say like the Shunammite woman, "It is well."



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Moment

A friend recently gave me a necklace that says "This moment matters."  (See it: HERE.) It is one of the lessons I am learning right now in my life. Lessons aren't always easily learned: sometimes you have to kick and scream and push until the outcome is what it is supposed to be; sometimes you have to shut up, sit down, and wait for the right results; and sometimes it's hard to know which method to employ.

REDEFINING A MOMENT
The problem with a "moment" is that it is an indefinite amount of time. The problem with "indefinite" is that it can mean "unlimited" or "unspecified."  I mean the latter, but I digress.  I usually think of a moment as a short period of time, such as a second or a minute. We say things like, "Can we take a moment to thank Mrs. Smith for her contributions to this event?" We applaud, and the moment is gone. However, a moment can be a longer: In the 1980 Winter Olympics, the American men's hockey team beat the USSR in what is now known as the Miracle on Ice; it was a great moment in sports.  The moment was not only that exact second that the buzzer rang, but rather the hours leading up to, during, and after the game.

RECALLING A MOMENT
If you read an English translation of the Bible, it appears Matthew is focused on moments (moment appears in Matthew 3:16, 8:13, 9:22, 15:28, and 17:18).  The original Greek is actually "hora" or hour.  This may be strange at first, but let's think about it.  When we remember moments, most of us don't know the actual second.  We may remember the feeling of that second, but we remember in generalities. A few notable exceptions exist, such as a a birth, a death, or if we happen to look at a clock before something significant happens.  We don't usually know when something significant is about to happen, so our recollection is usually limited to a general hour.

RECLAIMING A MOMENT
Moments, whether seconds or hours, become days.  Days become years.  Years become a lifetime.  I am living in a moment that has its challenges.  You may feel the same.  When I think about the life I want, it does not always match the life I live.  I want to be healthy, but I have poor eating habits.  I want to understand the Word, but I don't spend enough regular time reading it.  I want to have meaningful friendships, but it's easier to hold people at a distance.  These moments are opportunities.  I can chose how I spend each moment, and that is why this moment matters.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Good Deeds

Before I get into the thick of this, let's have a little laugh. Watch as Friends' Joey and Phoebe debate whether selfless good deeds exist.


There's no denying that we are supposed to do good to others. The Bible makes that abundantly clear in verses such as "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it" (Proverbs 3:27, ESV) or "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James 4:17, NKJV). Yet, I still find myself thinking that somehow good deeds will offset my bad deeds, as if it wasn't something I'm expected to do, and, instead, is something I'm doing out of my own goodness.

If our good deeds, in fact, earn us something (love from God, admission into heaven, forgiveness, etc) then how good do we have to be? Is sharing a cookie sufficient? Is mending a relationship you would have otherwise given up on sufficient? Is selling everything we have and giving it away sufficient? Is it, as Joey proposes in the above clip, that there is nothing such as a selfless good deed because you feel better as as result of it?

It may be fun to debate the existence of altruism, but the selflessness of a deed is not the most important thing to consider. When unsure of what to do, we can ask ourselves:
  1. Is this how I want to be treated?
    "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38).
  2. Do I feel good about this decision?
    "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).
  3. Can this deed bring glory to God?
    "You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:11)
These questions won't tell you the right thing to do in every situation, but they're a good place to start.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Mold

Last night I had the unfortunate experience of finding mold in my coffeemaker.  I am fairly committed to my daily cups of coffee, so this was a troubling experience for me.

I've only had this coffeemaker a few years, and it was moderately expensive because of several appealing features, like the "rich brew" setting and the ability to make one cup at a time without using pods. At the same time, I am avidly mold averse. To be fair, I'm not sure that there is anyone who likes mold, but what I mean is that my tolerance of mold is very low.  I have thrown away many things, because of mold sightings, that probably could have been cleaned.  However, I knew I could not throw away my coffeemaker.  Instead, I found a way to clean the machine (actually, to clean it several times), and I thanked God for letting me find the mold before it caused any harm.

But it also begged the question: what was I doing wrong? I've had the machine for several years, and I have never seen mold before.  I considered what actions had changed recently, and I decided to not do those things anymore so that my coffeemaker would remain clean.

In chapter 6 of 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses inappropriate behavior among the believers.  He encourages them to settle matters under the guidance of another believer instead of taking each other to court.  He tells them to consider allowing themselves to be wronged instead of wronging another believer.  These are hard words to accept.  Does God want them to be taken advantage of?  Shouldn't they want justice for these wrongdoings?  Paul further clarifies:
"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, emphasis mine)
Paul makes it very clear: The believers were once one way; now they should be another way. God had washed the mold off their hearts and those moldy ways should no longer be practiced.

I was hesitant to write about my mold discovery.  I feared a friend would read this and never accept a cup of coffee at my house again.  Similarly, I am often fearful of sharing the stories of my spiritual mold, those parts that aren't so pretty and need God's touch, but I cling to the promise that Paul gave the Corinthians:  I have been washed, I have been sanctified, and I have been justified through Christ and the Spirit. Thank you, Jesus!

Friday, April 24, 2020

FMF: Perspective

I delayed participating in the Five Minute Friday writing community today because I couldn’t wrap my mind around what to write about. I suppose you could say my perspective wasn't right.  However, as He often does, God spoke to me when I least expected Him.

In my sociology class we’ve been learning about social standing. Sociologically, your status is the various characteristics that make you who you are. It's the "position a person occupies in a particular setting." For example, at home I am a mother, so I behave as one, but in class I am a student. I do not act like a mother in class because my position is different. Most also have a master status, something that carries across all social settings, such as "male", "felon", or "doctor".

In the New Testament church, the believers were struggling with the conflict between their statuses. The previously-Jewish believers and the previously-gentile believers were arguing about what mattered and what didn’t. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28, NASB).

If we are believers, out master status is found in Christ. All of those other areas of our life shape us, but the single identifying factor is that we are believers of Christ. In that regard Christ has redefined our perspective of ourselves.





This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Little Man

One of the things that I miss about church while we shelter-in-place is teaching our children.  It's sometimes exhausting, often surprising, and always a blessing.  I'm thankful that my church team is working together to remotely present the gospel to our youngest visitors, but it's not quite the same as being together in person. Today, I felt that void a little more than I have other weeks.  Our curriculum was on the Sunday School classic, Zacchaeus.  Oh, poor Zacchaeus.  He's the Napolean of the Bible.  We miss the wonder of his encounter with Jesus because we get wrapped up in one little detail: Zacchaeus was a wee little man (a wee little man was he).

The Gospel of Luke tells the story like this:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10, NIV)

In modern days, we focus on the fact that he was short, and I understand why.  It's a great image to think of a grown man climbing a tree to see who's passing by in a crowd.  Like other gospel encounters, we read about a person who was curious about Jesus. I love how verse 3 says "He wanted to see who Jesus was." Maybe he wanted to size up (pun intended) this man he's been hearing about. Maybe he wanted to see one of His famous miracles.  Or maybe, just maybe, the message of Jesus was already beginning to do a work in his heart.  I'm thankful for the Zacchaeus-es of the world, who are willing to do silly things, undignified things, to see who Jesus is.

But the story isn't really about a short, wealthy man who was willing to climb a tree.  The story is about the Savior who was passing through Jericho, who was surrounded by a crowd, and who knew to look to an unlikely spot to find the man who was truly searching for Him. Jesus had previously promised the people, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8, NIV). Zacchaeus was acting on these words.

Do you think Zaccheaus climbed the tree reluctantly?  I don't think he climbed it saying, "Well, I guess I'll climb this tree if that's what I have to do."  No, I think he was excited that a solution existed. I envision a movie moment.  Zacchaeus is being pushed and shoved in the crowd, maybe getting an elbow to the head.  He stands on his tip toes, but still can't see over the people around him.  Then the crowds part ever so slightly, and he sees the tree (maybe there is a light shining down on it). He pushes through the people to the tree, and he's thankful that he has the opportunity to climb the tree.

When I read a story like this, I usually ask myself what I am willing to do to see Christ.  I think a better question is what I want to do to see Christ.  Paul tells the believers in Corinth that "you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (1 Corinthians 9:7, NIV).  Similarly, God doesn't want us to climb the sycamore trees in our life "reluctantly or under compulsion."  We should love climbing the trees that let us see Jesus.

Friday, April 17, 2020

FMF: Another

“A new command I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 
(John 13:34-35, NIV) 

"Another" is one of those easily ignored words in the English language.  We use it without giving it much thought.  It's something we say or write without having to look up the definition or remind ourselves how to properly use in a sentence.

"Another" has two meanings: Additional (like "Have another cookie") and Different (like "Pick another cookie").

When Christ tells us to "love one another" in Scripture, there are two types of people who we need to love.  Those who are like us, an additional person in our type.  Those who are different from us.

As Christ said in Luke 6:32-36, if we only love those who are like us, what credit is there?  Anyone can do that.

Today I will chose to love another person, whether it comes easily or with great sacrifice.
Today I will chose to love another person, whether they are family or strangers.
Today I will chose to love another person, whether I want to or not.

Then I will love another, and then another.




This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Grain, Oil, and Wine

It's quiet at my house today. My husband is asleep.  My older son is walking the dog on one of the hour long walks to which she has become accustomed. My younger son is doing what can only be described as a prison yard workout in his bedroom for his PE class.

I'm working on laundry. I've already washed a load of delicates, which, upon finishing, I discovered could be hung out to dry because it is such a beautiful day. I have an eastern facing door that is perfect for drying laundry in the early part of the day. I felt the sun and gentle breeze come through that door, and soon all the other doors and windows were opened too. I heard it is supposed to rain later this week, but today is the essence of spring, at least the spring I have in my mind.  In reality, spring is transition from winter to summer and is often filled with rain.  The rain makes what I think of as "spring" possible.

Just after the Israelites received the ten commandments, there is a passage I often miss because it lives in the shadow of the law. The Israelites are told:
"So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today — to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul —  then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil.  I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied" (Deuteronomy 11:13-15, NIV).
In a nutshell: If they obey God, He will send rain. He will take care of them. The command listed here is the essence of the ten commandments, "to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul."  This is THE law, and all other law provides guidance for people to fulfill this one. Is it any wonder why Jesus called this the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:34-40?  Love God, and He'll take care of me? That sounds like a great deal. However, things were about to get hard.

The difficulty is not in the exposition of the law, which would continue for several chapters of Deuteronomy and include everything from dietary restrictions to debt laws. Nor is the difficult part that these people were living in the desert. In fact, it is just the opposite.  The challenge would be moving back into the city.

In the desert, they had nothing but God to focus on. Yet, when their leader left to receive instruction from God, it took less than forty days to be led astray into worshiping a self-made golden calf (Exodus 32, Deuteronomy 9:7-12). Here in California, it has been 28 days since Governor Newsom issued our Stay At Home order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. There is uncertainty, and every day brings new questions. We are in desert land, and many feel helpless.  Some, I fear, have made themselves golden calves. If we are anything like the Israelites, the hard part is yet to come.

God repeatedly warns these people that they are about to go into a new land. They will move out of the desert, and to the life they dream of, the life they want. It will be even better than their time in Egypt because they will no longer be slaves.  They will be free.  They will be free to determine how their days are spent. They will be free to raise their children how they see fit.  They will be free to structure the details of their lives. When Deuteronomy 11:31-32 says, "You are about to cross the Jordan to enter and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you have taken it over and are living there, be sure that you obey all the decrees and laws I am setting before you today" it is both a promise and a warning.

We, too, will eventually leave this desert and return to a place that feels much more familiar. We will be presented with pleasures that feel long forgotten.  We are the ones who saw God's hand at work, and we must decide if we will receive the grain, oil, and wine that God is supplying.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Thief

We had a very unsettling experience at our house recently. My husband, who works a swing shift, had just gotten into bed, and I was waking up for the day. In my sleepy-eyed state, I wandered into the living room and looked out our sliding glass doors. It took me a moment to register what I was seeing. There, in the remnants of the overnight condensation, were hand prints. Someone had been in my backyard and looked into my home. I immediately checked all the other doors and windows; everything was locked, and there were no other signs of disturbance. The gate was not tampered with, and nothing appeared disturbed. Still unsure if what I was seeing meant what I thought it did, I asked my husband to come to the living room. We stood there hypothesizing about what else it could be and reviewing the timeline of the night before: what time my husband came home from work, what time he had gotten in bed, and if he had heard anything unusual while he was in the living room unwinding. Though I felt a deep sense of invasion, I thank God that no real harm was done.

Theft is nothing new. In fact, Christ spoke of theft (technically burglary) as a parable regarding his second coming:
“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will" (Matthew 24:42-44, NASB).
This is a portion of a larger teaching in Matthew 24-25. When reading scripture, it is important to remember that chapters and verses were added for organization and do not always reflect proper breaks. To read only Matthew 24:42-51, the section titled "Be Ready for His Coming" in my Bible, would be to miss that Jesus' words stem (pun intended) from the previous section in which he uses a fig tree to make a point. As the pastor of my youth would have said, When you see the "therefore" in verse 42, you need to see what it's there for.

Jesus had been speaking about the signs of his return and compares the signs to a fig tree.  When you see the leaves appear on a fig tree, you know that summer is coming.  I love when my fig tree starts leafing. I am reminded that winter will not last forever and that summer is coming.  I understand that you may not know that, but those who are familiar with fig trees know this. I think that is one of the important lessons we should learn here: not everyone will recognize the signs, but Jesus wanted the disciples to be prepared.  Like leaves on a fig tree, there will be signs that point to his return. Signs, however, are not a calendar. They can prepare you, but they do not tell for sure.

My good friend recently gave birth to her third child. Because of previous complications, she had a c-section scheduled.  She knew the time her child would arrive.  Historically, most expectant parents cannot predict when their child will be born. When I was pregnant with my first son, I recall being told to pack my hospital bag earlier than I thought necessary because labor could come at any time. (The idea of labor pains is part of Jesus' teachings here, too.  See Matthew 24:8.) The day my son was born, I woke up and quickly recognized the signs of his coming, but even that close to the event I could not predict when he would be born. In the same way, those who are looking for Christ's second coming will see the signs but will not know exactly when he will come.

I'm not going to lie to you. For several days after I saw those hand prints, I was on high alert. Every shifting shadow in my backyard caught my attention. I checked the locks on doors and windows as night came. I even slept in pajamas that would be suitable for running out of the house in the middle of the night. I thought that was a brilliant decision at first, and then I was concerned that I might be a little too worried.  However, I take comfort in the fact that Jesus thought it was a good idea for me to sleep in a bra.  As he said in the revelation: “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame” (Revelation 16:15, NASB).

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Empty Tombs and Churches

An empty tomb is always something to celebrate. My husband's grandfather was very financially responsible.  He was never indebted to anyone and used his money wisely. When he looked into buying a burial plot, he found that he could get a better price if he bought in bulk.  So he bought ten, one for him and his wife and one for each of his children and grandchildren.  A few years ago, I was at that cemetery for a funeral, so I decided to visit his grave. I looked at the names of my husband's grandparents, and I thanked God for the way they lived their lives. What really caught my eye were the empty spaces next to them. Each of those empty plots represented a cherished family member, someone alive. Yes, an empty tomb is something to celebrate.

When my father died, my mother and I went to the cemetery to buy his headstone. In a time of sorrow, headstone selection feels like it is filled with endless decisions: What color stone, what font, what image, and what remembrances.  We wanted the headstone to be attractive and to properly reflect his life. However, when I was younger I couldn't fully wrap my head around that symbolism. It made me uncomfortable to walk through a cemetery because each headstone I saw reminded me of what was happening underneath the ground. Jesus used a similar metaphor to hold the religious leaders of his day accountable:
“You are like tombs that are painted white. Outside, those tombs look fine, but inside, they are full of the bones of dead people and all kinds of unclean things.  It is the same with you. People look at you and think you are good, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and evil" (Matthew 23:27b-28, NCV).
When the women went to the tomb that first Easter morning, they did not find what they expected. Unlike the religious leaders who had pretty outsides and ugly insides, the outside of Jesus' tomb had been disturbed, but the inside was perfect. It was empty.

Like Christ, we who are believers are being resurrected.  We are being called out of our tombs to a new life. That life does not exist in the buildings we call churches, but rather the body we call The Church.

Today our churches are as empty as the tomb was, but I thank God that Jesus is alive.  And so is The Church.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Strange Chocolate Bunnies

Sometimes I'm strange. I think that's ok.

The Bible is full of strange things. Balaam's donkey had to talk sense into him (Numbers 22). Esther uses her status as a royal beauty pageant winner to save the Israelites (Esther 1-9). Jesus healed a blind man by spitting in the dirt and then rubbing the mud in his eyes (John 9).

Sometimes my prayers are strange.  I don't mean that I pray in tongues (1 Corinthians 14), my thoughts are strange.  A few days ago I found myself telling God that I am a chocolate bunny. My husband had gone to the grocery store with me, and, as we went down the seasonal aisle, he caught me looking at a huge chocolate Easter bunny. "Come on," he said, "it's hollow inside." I knew he was right. Though I knew it was only a chocolate shell, I was drawn to the treat. I laid in bed the next night and confessed to God that sometimes I am a chocolate bunny. I look solid, but I am weak. I look complete, but there is something missing. God, help me.

Today I found myself lost in the strangest worship. I was driving to the grocery store, listening to Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back to Me Now." I prayed to God as I sang "It was so long ago, but it's all coming back to me." There's something in me that I've lost, but it's coming back.  I pray God honors what my heart was saying.

I recently found an old Bible up on the top shelf of a closet. It was actually at the bottom of a pile of Bibles, still in the leather case I carried it in. I had other Bibles before it and after it, but the one I found was special because it was the first meaningful Bible I had. It was a Teen Study Bible. It had bright colors and illustrations, and it was falling apart. I carried that Bible to church on Sundays and Wednesdays for years. I underlined and highlighted it. I filled it with bulletins, book marks, and even a leaf. I couldn't help but notice my current study Bible looks a little different. It doesn't reflect the same passion that other Bible does.

There's an older gentleman at my church that calls me "Sweet Amie." Sometimes I have to paste a smile on face when I hear him say that. I am not always sweet. I am a chocolate bunny, but I'm trusting God to fill me.





*If I said bunny enough times to make you think of the classic VeggieTales song, you can enjoy it HERE.

Friday, April 10, 2020

FMF: Patient

When I participate in Five Minute Friday writings, I always think about the prompt for a while before I actually start writing. If I only have five minutes, I need to have a good idea of what I want to say before I start. I often look up Scripture, and think about how the prompt applies to what is going on in my life right now.

As I looked up the word "patient" I was surprised to see that it is only in the NASB translation twelve times. That just didn't seem right to me. Patience, as they say, is a virtue. I was sure it was in the Bible more than that.

Then I looked up the word "wait." Yes, that's more like it: 142 times. That makes more sense because the story happens in the wait. Patience is a skill already attained; it is acquired in the waiting.

Today is Good Friday, but the event that we remember, Christ's crucifixion, did not seem very good. Those early believers did not know they only had to wait until Sunday.

We know Sunday is good. Sunday is very good.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.