Archives for the month of: November, 2013

Assembling a Battleship

Prince wrote a song about it. Techies warned of collapse when it occurred. I’m not sure why the beginning of a new century was more anticipated than any other day, but it was. I remember as a child calculating that I would be 41 when the century changed, and I wondered if I would be too old to enjoy it. What I pictured as the best way to celebrate when I was 10 didn’t look possible or probable for someone 41. But I did have a wonderful New Year’s Eve 1999. I sat at home with my family and assembled a 1000 piece Lego battleship with my son. We built a fire in the den and watched TV and plowed through endless pieces of Legos. I don’t love Legos; I love my son. Sharing that time with him made for a delightful evening doing something I would never have chosen on my own.

During an interview for a Christian radio station, Jase Robertson from Duck Dynasty said that it isn’t so much that he loves duck hunting; what he loves is to be with his family, and duck hunting is how his family chooses to spend time together. I have done dreadful, gross, tedious things with someone I love, and it became a fun adventure. I have had what should have been a really fun thing ruined by the selfish behavior or rude attitude of the person I was with. Life isn’t about what we do; it’s about who we do it with. I’ve had miserable meals in incredibly wonderful restaurants. I’ve had delightful picnics with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The food and setting can certainly add to the moment, but it cannot “make” the moment.

The wonderful stories and best memories of my life have far less to do with what I was doing than with who I was with. The best, most exciting things we do can disappoint us when we are unable to share them with someone else. The most mundane or painful moments can become precious when we share them with someone we love.

God knows this about us. He created us for fellowship with him, and calls us to fellowship with each other. He promised, “I will be with you always, even unto the end of the world.” It is our purpose on this earth to share our lives with him. Ignoring his presence can rob us of celebration and joy in the best of times and cause us to despair when our circumstances disappoint us. Awareness of his presence can bring joy to disappointment and awesome worship to the times that delight us.

To celebrate the new millennium, I built a Lego battleship. And the memory of that night is still precious to me because of who I spent it with, not what we did. David realized in Psalm 139 that anywhere he went, God was with him. When we consciously choose to acknowledge God’s presence, our joy is multiplied and our difficulty is mitigated. May each of our days be characterized by sweet fellowship with our heavenly Father.

Thanksgiving

As I prepare my home and my kitchen for Thanksgiving, I am reminded that what I am doing should be a reflection of what I feel. All of my preparation is only ritual unless my heart remembers all that I’m thankful for….that’s what tomorrow is about. God commands it all through the Bible. Those who love him reflect and display gratitude in their daily lives. They give thanks for food and for people. They are grateful for deliverance and for victory. Sometimes thanksgiving is just a natural response; sometimes it must be an intentional choice. Even in adversity, the children of God are reminded to be grateful to the God who has overcome the world and who never leaves them. Paul reminds us in Eph 5:20 to “Give thanks in all things.”
I am abundantly blessed with family and friends who love me. I decided to make a list of just 10 things, other than the people I love, to thank God for today.
1. a warm, dry home where I am safe
2. the ability to provide a meal to share with my family
3. the unconditional love of a patient God who has never given up on me, especially when I deserved it
4. a church where I can worship and serve God’s people and be loved
5. coffee in the morning
6. work for both my husband and me
7. the friendship of the children in my neighborhood
8. the bluebirds that show up for my morning quiet time
9. good health, mine and those that I love
10. the freedom to own and study the Bible and worship publically

Sometimes the testimony of others helps us recognize what we might take for granted in our lives. I would love for you to post your list of 10 my blog. I wonder how differently our days would look if our lives and attitudes were consistently characterized by gratitude, regardless of our circumstances.
In her book, Jesus Calling, Sarah Young summarizes Jesus’ words by saying, “This is the day that I have made! As you rejoice in this day of life, it will yield up to you precious gifts and beneficial training. Walk with me along the high road on thanksgiving, and you will find all the delights I have made ready for you.”
May this day lead us to remember and rejoice; may it lead us to delight in his blessing and his presence. May our celebration of Thanksgiving be so much more than just an obligatory meal; may it begin in the sacred recesses of our hearts and overflow into the lives of all we meet.

God’s wardrobe

In this world, image matters. We chose a wardrobe that reflects our style and indicates how we want others to see us. Preppy, Goth, Metrochic, Surfer, Skater, Redneck, and Western are just a few terms that we use to describe appearance and that we associate with behavior. When I teach, I dress professionally so my students will know I take what goes on in our classroom very seriously. When I attend a sporting event, I try to wear something that leaves no doubt which team has my support. I choose clothes and shoes that will enable me to be successful at whatever I have planned.

The original verb in Judges 6:34 and in many of the translations is that “God clothed himself with Gideon” and empowered him to defeat the enemies of Israel. What Gideon was incapable of by himself, he was capable of when God filled him, when God “wore” him. This is the same imagery used in the New Testament idea of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul warns in Eph 6:10-17 that we are to “put on” the full armor of God. This relationship clearly indicates that both putting on and filling are required…our submission to God’s presence.

We are God’s wardrobe. He has promised to “fill us” as we “put him on”. If we forget to get dressed before we go out, we will be humiliated. Most offices and stores do not have “pajama day”. “Bedhead” is not typically the look we seek. As a child of God, his presence goes into your world everyday looking like you. If you go into your day capable only of your own potential, you are entering a battlefield where the odds are stacked against you. If you are intentional about allowing God to clothe himself with you, you will be filled with the power to accomplish all that he calls you to do.

Imagine the pain of loving two people who refuse to love each other. Love is one thing on this earth that is not subject to economics or basic math. We don’t have a limited amount of love that we need to dole out responsibly; we have as much of it as we chose to give away. I remember being afraid the night before my second son was born. My fear was that I’d never be able to love my second son as much as I loved my first. It was literally love at first sight. What I learned was that my younger son made our family more complete. I would always love them differently, but I would always love each of them with my whole being.

I do not understand why the parable is entitled “The Prodigal Son”. While I do see far too much of myself in each of the sons, the focus of the story is on the Father. This story is the best picture Jesus gives us of his heavenly father.

It is the story of a Father who desperately loved two very different boys, both of whom rejected him. One of those boys left the physical presence of his father; the other refused relationship with his father. That father anxiously awaited the return of his sons: one from a “far country”, the other from the field. Perhaps the most incredible line in this story is “When he was a long way off…” Oh how the father must have grieved the absence of a son who had rejected him, who did not deserve his love or the respect of this family, yet he still scanned the horizon constantly, hoping against hope that his son would return. How many nights did that father look at the empty chair at his dinner table and feel fresh grief at the son’s foolish, selfish choices? What family celebrations were incomplete without this precious son’s presence? How many nights did that father fall asleep praying for that son’s safety and protection? How many tears did he shed begging God to bring him back home? This young man didn’t deserve his father’s love when he left, and he didn’t deserve it when he returned. But the Father “runs” to meet that son and doesn’t even let that son finish his well rehearsed speech before forgiving him and restoring him into full fellowship with the family. He was awfully quick to locate the sandals and robe and ring….wonder if he’d kept them handy, just in case. And then he threw a huge party to celebrate the return of a son who still doesn’t deserve his love. But sadly, he’s still missing a son. He went to the field to ask the older son to come inside and make the family celebration complete, but was refused. How often during the party did that father look at the door, hoping to see his older son rejoining the family? The Father shows no pride in this story, but he chooses to love boys whose pride separates him from them. He doesn’t insist on proof of change as a prerequisite of his love; he just wants both boys to come home.

God values each of us individually, and loves us freely and unconditionally. Where did you go when you were a “long way off” from God? May we never separate ourselves from the one who loves us, who desires fellowship with us, and who never stops watching for us to return to him…no matter where we’ve been or how we’ve treated him.

What do you do when you’re right and they’re wrong? How do you handle people who are making really bad choices or who treat you unfairly or unkindly? My most common response is a good dose of self-righteousness accompanied by withdrawal.  And in that moment, how I handle being right, makes me wrong. My response becomes my sin. 

One morning we arrived at the preschool to find a flood in the hallway. Some of the items in our supply closet were already wet, and we had to work fast to save what we could. When we’d emptied the closet, I ran upstairs to find the janitor…who was off that day. I asked the secretary to please get him on the phone, and she told me in no uncertain terms that she was busy and that I needed to take care of my own problems. My typical response to people in need is to jump right in and help them. But when I don’t receive that same response from them, I have a very low flashpoint for anger. Unfortunately, I also have the verbal ability to respond quickly, often without a filter. I did a very poor job of hiding my frustration with her, but basically held my tongue, and returned downstairs to finish the cleanup before the students and parents arrived. Later, when I encountered this secretary in the hallway, she told me she did not appreciate the tone I had used with her. My anger trumped my common sense, and I began my tirade with, “Who do you think you are to lecture me on civility?” All that followed was completely true, but not remotely kind. This woman who showed me no compassion, and she got none from me. Instead of showing her what compassion looks like, I became as mean as she was.  And in my anger, I sinned.

I can well imagine what the older brother of the prodigal son was thinking.  His immature little brother took advantage of their father and left him with all the work. While he’s off cavorting in the “far country”, the older brother is at home doing two sets of chores.  And then after months of watching his father mourn for that brother who rejected the family, now that brother has returned home.  He has wasted money and his life, and he wants back in to the family. Rather than punish the son who left and praise the son who stayed, the father throws a party to welcome this younger son back home. All of those angry, self-righteous thoughts were true.

The older son had done the right thing, but how he handled being right made him wrong.  Rather than welcome the brother and honor the father’s invitation, the older brother withholds his love and chooses to pout in the field because neither his brother nor his father behaved like he thought they should.

Neither son was motivated by love, but only the younger son repented. The older son chose self-righteousness, rather than mercy, and ended up alone – alienated from the family celebration.

What really good reasons have kept you pouting in the field, rather than enjoying the fellowship of others?  What have you missed while you were so right and they were so wrong?  What lesson has your judgmental attitude prevented you from learning? Teaching?  What changes do you insist others make before you are willing to love them? How it breaks the heart of our Father when we are so busy being “right” that we are “wrong”.  This parable should have been entitled “The Prodigal Sons”. 

ImageThe older I get, the more I’m grateful for the times in my life when my dissatisfaction with my current circumstances causes me to see the difference between where I am, and where I thought I was going.  I remember being really shocked and impressed at how much smarter my parents seemed after my four years away at college. When I left, I thought I had all the answers. I had a terrific college experience and made friends that are still precious to me 30 years later, but being the one from the “east coast” meant my parents couldn’t just drive down and take me to dinner when I had a bad day; they couldn’t even come for parents’ weekend. I didn’t get to take a break and drive home for a short vacation….it was a 24 hour drive one way.  I learned how precious home was when I was homesick. I learned that having all the responsibility for my choices was harder than submitting to the authority of my parents. I loved my years in Texas, but those years taught me that I belonged in Virginia.

Unfortunately, I share this trait with the Prodigal Son.  Both of us had to learn about ourselves the hard way. That young man gained the power to control his own life, but lacked the experience to do it wisely.  How different would his story have been if he’d gone home at the first sign of pain in that far country?  How many times did he have to see the truth about that “far country” before he finally believed it?

This is my favorite parable in the Bible for so many reasons, and I have so many questions about it.  Was this based on a real family that Jesus knew or that was represented in the crowd he taught in Luke 15?  What was the event that caused the Prodigal Son to finally decide to leave home?  Did his older brother bully him?  Was he a dreamer who wanted more excitement than the family farm offered?  Was he disdainful of his Father’s authority over him and eager to be in charge of his own life?  What had he heard about the “far country”, and what did he hope to find there?  What did he actually learn there?  What did he miss most about being home?  Did he feel shame in feeding pigs or relief that he had a job? How long was he gone? Did he rehearse his speech all the way home? Was he fearful of being rejected? How was he different when he returned?

What did your “far country” look like?  What did you hope to find there, and how long did it take you to decide to return home to the one who loves you unconditionally? Our “far countries” may be a season of sin in our lives that robs us of our joy and our security like it did for this Prodigal. They can also be wonderful places (like Baylor was for me)…that are not part of God’s plan for us.  Either way, we need to leave them.

When this prodigal son left home, he demanded what he did not deserve. When he returned, he asked for what he did not deserve. His pig pen made him so miserable that he learned the value of home. What was the moment/occasion/event that caused you to change direction and place your trust back in your heavenly Father? When did you need a fresh start so badly that you were willing to admit you were wrong and take responsibility for your poor choices? His “pig pen” was a healing, healthy turning point in his life. He didn’t enjoy it, but it made all the difference to his future. He intentionally left home, and he intentionally returned – to the same farm and Father and brother that he’d left. The only change was in him. He started over again in the same place he’d left, but this time with experience and perspective that gave him better understanding and appreciation of that place. And that change began in his “pig pen”.

Some of us prolong our stay in the far country, and try to make ourselves happy in the pig pens we find there. We can only guess at the pain and disappointment that led him to that pig pen, but that pig pen led him home.  He was miserable enough to decide he’d had enough, and humble enough to admit he needed a fresh start.

I am so profoundly grateful for a heavenly Father who loves me enough to let me go, so that I can choose him for myself.  He doesn’t want to condemn me for my foolish decisions; he intends to throw a party when I make the right choice.  May we all find our “pig pens” to be so distasteful that they convince us to turn around and go back to where we are loved.

If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.  Margaret Thatcher

What we do and how we do it indicate our motive and purpose.  Sometimes my goal is to really clean my house; sometimes the goal is to quickly hide the clutter from whoever is about to ring the doorbell.  My level of “clean” is determined by which goal is in place.  I’ve been known to compromise actual cleanliness to achieve the appearance of cleanliness if I’m in a rush.  My favorite thing about a dishwasher is that I can hide dirty dishes in it!  My goal of maintaining a clean house is sometimes degraded by my desire to appear to be a thorough housekeeper. 

I’ve come to understand that this kind of compromise can work to our benefit or our detriment.  We live in a culture that places high value on toleration and compromise.  Avoiding conflict, maintaining peace, and being politically correct are more respected in our culture than standing firm on principles and convictions.  People who want to be liked won’t create discomfort or take an unpopular stand.  Christians should never be seen as angry, vengeful, selfish people who oppose all who oppose them, but Christians are more and more often condemned if their opinions or behavior do not give credence to those who oppose them.  Christians are required to be respectful and tolerant of other religions that show no respect or toleration for Christianity.  We may not include Muhammad in our cartoons or entertainment, but we are seen as fanatical if we are offended when Christ is the butt of jokes or his name is used as a curse word.  Our culture has adopted our celebration of Christmas, but now that culture wants to forbid public displays of the Nativity and has changed “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays”.   

Peace is a gift from God, but Satan also uses the desire for peace as a temptation to compromise on complete obedience.  Too often “Have no other gods before me”, “do not take my name in vain”, and “honor the Sabbath” have become increasingly uncomfortable requirements for people who seek to “get along” with the world.  If our goal is to be liked and avoid conflict, we will never take an unpopular stand against those who oppose what we stand for.  If our goal is to be seen as politically correct and achieve peace at any price or, we will never accomplish anything more than what our enemies choose to give us. 

What we achieve is all too often determined by our goal.  The church and its people need to take a serious look at what our goals are.  Do we want to serve the world, ourselves, or our God?  Do we strive for obedience and holiness or do we want to be accepted and admired by those around us?  Do we want slick programming or do we want to encourage deeper understanding of and relationship with God? Are we so afraid to “stand out” that we choose to “blend in”?

Jesus provided us with two very specific goals:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart….and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Choosing these as goals will put us at odds with others who have not chosen them.  Finding the line between complete obedience to God and unconditional love for others requires that we refuse to compromise on either.

This morning I studied the angel’s appearance to Gideon recorded in Judges 6.   In Priscilla Shirer’s study of the life and calling of Gideon (which I HIGHLY recommend!), she makes the point that the angel appeared to Gideon before Gideon knew the angel was there.  Gideon’s focus was on the wheat, while the Angel of the Lord sat watching him.  Gideon was so focused on the immediate of his own agenda that he was unaware of the divine.

How often is that true for me?  When have I missed God’s presence or blessing because I was busy with something else?  When has my focus on the immediate cost me a view of the eternal?  When has my frustration with my current circumstance hindered my ability to see God’s plan?  How many times have I been offended at injustice or hurt by greed or selfishness and forgotten that I am a precious child of God?

My husband and I recently saw “Captain Phillips”.  In order to safely steer his ship, the captain has to continually watch what is ahead of him and maintain a course that will take him to where he wants to go.  But he also has to watch the radar.  It shows him everything around his ship.  In this movie, the captain had some warning that pirate ships were approaching his cargo ship from the rear, and he was able to make minimal preparation to fight them off. 

If all I’m watching is what’s in front of me, I will undoubtedly miss the threats, and even the angels, that surround me.  Searchlights are very bright and very limited in scope.  If my focus is on the searchlight that helps me see what I want to see, I will continue to be unaware of what is around me.  Those of us who are very focused often miss the big picture.  How many times have I missed the presence of God because he wasn’t what I was looking for?  Because he didn’t say what I wanted to hear or speak in a way that I expected him to?  How would my days and my demeanor be different if I watched my “spiritual radar” to be able to recognize God’s presence and activity around me, rather than just keeping my focus on the searchlight of my own agenda and expectations?  

I have a very special friend that I’ve been close to for over 40 years.  We were in each other’s weddings, raised our babies together, celebrated, grieved, and laughed often.  But imagine what our “friendship” would be like if I’d chosen 40 years ago to just know about her, rather than share her life.  Suppose I got daily intel reports on her:  her grades when she was in school, her job evaluations when she got out, the mileage on her car.  Suppose, I had hired someone to go through her trash and see exactly what she throws away or to interview all her other friends to see what they said about her.  This person would also provide me with updated pictures of her shopping or working so I could see her style of dress or how she’s aged.  What if I learned all about her history and habits: where and when she goes to church, the competence of her dog groomer or nail tech.  What would our friendship be like if that was our history?  It wouldn’t be friendship at all.  She would be someone I know about, not someone I’ve shared my life with.

Gratefully, forty years ago, I chose a friend, not a topic of study.  I have a precious relationship, not just an accumulation of information.  God created us for relationship like that, with each other and with him.

Gods knows all the information about us, but he also knows our hearts.  He has counted the number of hairs on your head.  He has seen every tear you’ve ever cried.  He knows the people who have hurt you, and the people you have hurt.  He has seen you struggle; he knows your exhaustion and your pain, your frustration and your disappointment.  He knows what you’re going to say before it comes out of your mouth.  He knows when you get up and when you go to bed.  There is no where you can go that you are out of his reach or presence.

But the problem is, we don’t know him like that.  When Christians show up for church without meeting God there, we don’t know him.  When we learn about God’s relationship with others in Bible study without seeking his presence in prayer, we don’t know him.  Showing up and learning about is not the same as relationship. 

To some extent we can’t know him like that because he’s infinite, and we’re not.  He is so much bigger and holier and powerful than we are, we are incapable of grasping all of who he is.  But every one of us could know him a lot better than we do.  Because he is God and we are not, we have to study his behavior and responses and law in the Bible. But if all we do is study the stories of his interaction with other people, we will only know about him; we won’t know him ourselves.

He wants us to know him….and that requires quiet time alone in his presence, so that we can know more than just “about” him.   Paul talks about this in I Cor 13 when he says, “Now we see but through a glass darkly; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  What needs to change for you to know God better?