Friday, August 29, 2008

Tell Your Story

I know what I'm doing.
I have it all planned out--
plans to take care of you,
not abandon you...

Jeremiah 29:11a (The Message)

If you have followed Jesus for any length of time you have a story of how God has taken care of you. I love when in conversation I hear the words, "it was a God-thing" because it means that in the telling of the story I will find encouragement, hope and praise. Through the telling of our God story we have the opportunity of pulling people from the "slough of despond", encouraging others as they begin following Jesus, or simply "standing in the congregation" acknowledging the faithfulness of God.

I encourage you to take time today and think specifically about a God-story you can tell. Carefully consider how you would tell the story so that it communicates well. Tell God of your willingness to share your experience with whoever He has in mind. Finally, be ready "in season and out" for the opportunity that arises.

We are God's gift to each other and He longs to hear us talk about how he has taken care of us.

Thank you God for knowing the plans you have for me so that even when I seem to be wandering you're still making sure I get to your destination.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


…for God gave us a
spirit not of fear but of
power and love and

2 Timothy 1:7

Darkness terrified me as a child. Plumping my courage I would enter a dark room and shout, “Get out of here!” At bedtime my door remained open for the lighted hallway to pierce the darkness. My patient babysitter sat by my bedside until sleep visited. The weird part of this childhood experience was that in the recesses of my child’s mind I knew I had nothing to fear.

As we grow older we become aware of “legitimate” fears. But, fear is systemic and like a rash that starts in a localized area within a short period it has spread. If left untreated it soon becomes the focus of one’s existence. And “existence” is what it is because fear is a robber of life.

Given the circumstances of conflict and persecution for Timothy no wonder Paul reminds him that fear is not a gift from God. It is a character trait that God never intended for us. Instead He provides antidotes for fear—power, love and self-control. Applying them is like shouting “Get out of here!”

The power comes in not just knowing but believing that God is present, no matter the circumstances—if God is for us who can be against us! Love for others, our life, our circumstances takes shape when we allow ourselves to be enveloped in God’s loving embrace. Understanding that God has not asked us to be in “control” of anything other than what He has given us individually is the self-control antidote. Fear cannot survive when treated with this combined healing ointment.

Loving God, forgive me
for the numerous times I
allow fear to spread over my life.
It has controlled my
thoughts and my actions for too long.
I need Your antidotes
of power, love and self-control.


Artwork--Charity, Isaac Oliver, 1596-1617. Tate Collection

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Good Character

It’s a mark
of good character
to avert quarrels,
but fools love to pick fights.

Proverbs 20:3

Marriage can be a fertile ground for developing fighting skills. Two people, who up until the time of falling in love were strangers, now come together bringing with them a load of differences. A small opinion about how something is done can quickly become a battleground and the opinion holder suddenly finds himself in a dilemma—to back off or go to the mat. There are, it turns out, very few “opinions” that are worth wrestling to the point of a victory over one's lover.

For some there is a fear of becoming a doormat and so they “hold their own” against the opposition. Others have a need to dominate and still others pick fights just to “get things going.” None of it enhances the character of a person. Instead it leaves the “winner” with a false sense of victory and the “loser” flattened. Quarrels just don’t seem to accomplish very much.

Giving ground isn’t weak. To be able to relinquish oneself to another’s ideas, opinions or even quirkiness shows strength of character. Giving ground is the ability to think more of others than of oneself; responding instead of reacting.

Within the Christian community this ability is particularly crucial. Like a marriage, the church is a coming together of strangers who have one commonality—falling in love with God. But sometimes our opinions override what has brought us together and we find ourselves reacting.

To bring about peace, no matter the environment, we will need more people pursuing good character and fewer fools.

Jesus, I want to be a person of good character,
thinking less of myself and more of others.
I give you my pride, my fear and all that keeps
me acting foolishly.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Best Minds

…I’d say you’ll do best by
filling your minds and
meditating on things true,
noble, reputable…gracious—
the best, not the worst…

Philippians 4:8 (The Message)

There once was a church lady who gave her “all” to her congregation. She sang in the choir, taught Sunday School, embraced her role on the elder board, never missed a church social and always was first on the prayer chain. To a casual observer it appeared as though the congregation couldn’t possibly do without her “all.” Her fellow Christians certainly appreciated her ability to get things done. However, they discovered that her “all” was tearing holes in the congregational fabric--it came with a negative view on everything.

Most of us fall into one of two categories—we are either a pessimist or an optimist. While standing in line, listen, and you may discover that pessimists outrank. Restaurants to churches to schools are filled with people whose personal vision of things hasn’t been realized. Nothing or no one is able to measure up to their personal standard—whatever that may be!

Filling our minds on the best, not the worst requires that we step outside of our personal vision and take in the God created landscape—it is far more unique, complex and exhilarating!

Why then, is filling our minds with the true, noble and gracious things of life so challenging? The truth is that often we meditate on our ideas, fill our minds with our desires, seeing everything through our custom made eye glasses. Difficult as it may be, the “all” of a Jesus follower should include focused attention on all that is best, avoiding even a glance at the worst.

Creative God, when You
completed each creative season
You saw that it was good.
Change my vision from one
of self focus to filling my
mind with Your created best.
Artwork--The Guardian of Paradise, Franz von Stuck, 1889.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Found Out

…be sure your sin
will find you out.

Numbers 32:23b

“I hoped that it wouldn’t come out.” The famous last words from a politician who’s extramarital affair had just been exposed. That relationship, which at the time had been so important it had to be kept secret, was suddenly caught in high beams. Nothing can really be kept secret.

Many probably don’t realize that what has become a part of the "moral" fabric of our society is rooted in the Bible. And yet, even though the truth is as “old as the hills” keeping sin hidden continues to be a hurdle. A little “white lie”, a “slight” misrepresentation, a “small” omission of facts, a “tiny” twist to the story are part of what eventually wears down our inward life and we are exposed. Sin will not be hidden.

The challenge for our Christian community today is acknowledging the characteristics of sin. In most churches confession of sin is encouraged as an important part of the Christian life and yet in an environment of total acceptance of all things and non-judgement of anything or anyone the lines of “sin” have become blurred. What exactly are we to confess?

Just as nothing can be kept truly secret, neither can sin. Ultimately what is sinful will reveal itself through broken relationships, familial discord, heartbreak, soul deterioration, separation from all that one holds important. Sin is tough that way. It steals our God given gifts, freedoms and purpose leaving us empty handed. Sin refuses to stay in the shadows.

Jesus, forgive me for the sins I know and
those that have not yet been revealed.
Give me a spirit that rejects what seeks to
steal away Your gifts.
Artwork--The Wicked Servant. Ian Pollack. Eich Gallery

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Prayer for Mid Life

Creative Father, loving Jesus, comforting Spirit
thank you for seeing me through the numerous
transitions of my life.
Standing on the threshold of so much new
I see it as clouded glass
and yet, I have hope that what you have
destined will shape itself into
the plan and purpose you have for me.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Looking Hopeful

For who hopes for
what he sees?

Romans 8:24c

Many children aren’t hopeful, they’re expectant. Eating, bathing, napping, playing all become what they expect during a day. There are exceptions but the truth is that all children should be able to live expectantly. Hope shouldn’t necessarily be a part of their lives, because they should be able to see what they expect.

We were once expectant children, but age faded its brilliance as we discovered that eventually life offers up numerous unrealized expectations. Gradually we recognize that what we expect is not always what we see. Our expectations become diminished and we begin using the language of hope—I hope I get that promotion. I hope I get accepted into college. I hope my doctor’s appointment goes well. There is much that we do not see, and yet we remain hopeful.

Being a Jesus follower demands huge amounts of hope. A commitment to Jesus is based on faith in what can’t be seen. The Trinity is not a visual reality, but it is a hopeful one. And as with so much of the other “stuff” in our lives that can’t be seen, but for which we are hopeful, we begin to appreciate that we can believe and hope in something that we don’t necessarily “see.”

It takes work to be hopeful. It’s so much easier to make plans, set agendas, organizing one’s life in such a way that we expect to get certain results. Living a hopeful life is edgy and absolutely crazy. But, one day hope will bring what can’t been seen into focus—the Kingdom of Heaven.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit
I want to be able to see You,
hear You, feel You.
Help me to know You
in a way that is hopeful, expecting
that one day all will be seen.

Artwork--Jan Brueghel the Younger. Paradise. c. 1620

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Food for Thought

We’ve been driving hard the last two days. It seems that despite the seat belts, the brakes and the locks on the doors, our daughter insists on going four states away to college. Everything this past week has been, “this is our last…”

Today she moves into her dorm room. The “tab keeping” that we have diligently maintained throughout her childhood will now be lessened, drastically. So, last night was our “last dinner together until Christmas.”

Carefully selecting the restaurant; sitting outside was a given, we began enjoying our “last dinner.” Thankful for all that God had done for us as a family and marveling that we had come this far, seemingly at the speed of sound. Wondering what the future would hold. Peaceful conversation was shattered, however, when the single patron sitting at the adjacent table made a call on her cell phone.

Her rudeness astounded me as the call loudly continued for almost ten minutes. I struggled with what would be the best response. What I wanted to do was give a dirty look, after all, she was intruding on our “last dinner as a family…”

Still, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything or even attempt to catch her eye. I seemed to be restrained almost against my will! Paying the check we left quickly when we saw her attempting another call. Relieved to not be a part of her next conversation we took our “last walk” down the street.

Sitting down to write, I opened my Bible. The words leaped from the page—Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. (Romans 4:5a) I was thankful that I had been restrained because reasonable wouldn’t have been the adjective the phone talker would have used to describe me!

Holy Spirit, thank you for your promptings that keep me from acting in a way that doesn’t reflect You. Help me to be always alert to Your Wind, blowing through me. Amen.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Food for Thought

In the middle of the vast, open landscape called Nebraska we heard the news of a suicide, via our cell. There is no escaping bad news these days. Where once good or ill news waited for one's return home or was waiting at a destination it now barges in, appearing in even the most vacant of places. Protective buffer zones are obsolete.

This was the second suicide I had heard about this summer. The first being a girl who had barely reached the age of being called woman. Sitting at a planked table surrounded by her peers we listened to a pastor wanting to give us some words of "comfort." Depression had been a frequent visitor of this young woman and the young pastor had tried on many occasions to draw her into the "fellowship." She couldn't, however, seem to keep the door locked against her unwanted visitor.

Continuing he said, "Depression is from a dark place and is from the devil. Depression has no place when God is in control." Shocked I glanced at the young man grieving next to me and wondered, "Where is the message of Hope for him?"

Now, speeding down the ribbon highway, I listened to my "pastor" husband call the grieving relative. "What 'comfort' words would he say?" I wondered. After a long period of pastoral listening he said, "I understand. It is at times like these that I go back to Romans 8:38-39 'For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels or rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.' That means even depression can't separate us from God's love. Absolutely nothing."

Here was Hope! The conversation ended I asked why that particular response. "Because someone told them today that people who commit suicide don't get into heaven."

Thank you, God for being stronger and able to overcome all that seems hopeless. Because of Your Son, Jesus Christ, we are never, ever separated from Your love. Amen.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Turning Right

Point your kids in the
right direction—
when they’re old
they won’t be lost.

Proverbs 22:6 (The Message)

There are no guarantees when raising children. You don’t need to be a parent to comprehend this truth, because you are someone’s child. Musing over the past we wonder, “How did I manage to get from there to here?” If it’s your turn to be a parent the slippery nature of parenting has probably found you frequently on your back, wondering what you slid on.

The kicker is that the relationship never ends! It’s a job from which you can’t resign and most likely don’t want to relinquish. At some point, however, a shifting of the paradigm takes place and you find yourself looking into the face of a person who looks vaguely like your child. All the time you spent pointing in the right direction will now be put to the test.

Will this child, who you feel in your marrow, be able to find their way?

Proverbs is a great book with bits of hard and comforting truths. However, even here there aren’t guarantees. Everyday I have asked God to protect my child from my numerous parental mistakes. But, when a child is no longer a child and with saucer eyes is looking at the world, a parent has to trust that their directions were clear.

Ultimately, that child who you nurtured, loved, spoiled and who was claimed as your own isn’t your possession. She was knitted by God, created for His joy and sustained for His purposes. As parent you only pointed towards the goal. From this point forward the child must choose, on their own, which direction they will take. It’s the risky part of parenting—will they go in the right direction.

Father, thank you for
creating, knowing and loving
me, your child.
Help me to feel Your touch,
hear Your voice and move
in the direction of Your choosing.

Dedicated to my dear Alexa who is leaving the "coop" and flying towards her first year of college!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gift Words

Watch the way you talk…
Say only what helps,
each word a gift.

Ephesians 4:29 (The Message)

If you can’t say something nice don’t say it at all was part of my early education. Honestly...I haven’t always applied this principle. But, I've been the recipient of words spoken by individuals who haven’t applied it as well! It’s not that uncommon when living in community! In election years sometimes I want to use my “outside voice” to say, If you can’t say something nice… We live in a time when people believe it is their “right” to say whatever they “feel” with very little thought to the effects.

The majority of conflicts, estrangements, misunderstandings have begun with stone words instead of gift words. Words are perhaps some of the most powerful weapons we have at our disposal. They can, however, also be tools for rebuilding and restoring. It all depends on what words are spoken and how.

As Jesus followers the words we speak should make us distinctive in a world consumed with “tongue rights.” When the “world” hears Christians exercising tongue rights with each other what are they to think. Why should they choose another Way if what they are seeing isn’t any different then their present way of living? Our behavior should be so gift-like distinctive that it attracts people, like a sumptuous table of food.

Watching the way we talk begins at “home.” The words we speak to our parents, spouses, children, siblings are practice for words spoken to our neighbors, friends, and fellow Jesus followers. Our “nature” is not gift words. Saying only what helps is a conscious, deliberate and daily choice.

Jesus, thank you for Your “gift words”
that brought healing,
forgiveness and wholeness.
Help me to watch the way I talk
so that I can give “gifts” instead of stones.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Remember Me

Remember me,
O my God, for good.

Nehemiah 13:31c

For a lifetime the world witnessed a humble life at work. Most people understood the why of her endeavors fewer could understand the Who. It was difficult to put into a “worldly” context a life lived in obedience to God. Nevertheless, Mother Teresa’s journals express a very basic spiritual emotion—does God even care. How many times have you wanted to say the words of Mother Teresa--“I feel like refusing God.”

Nehemiah’s life took a drastic turn when he lived his life in obedience to God. After moving to Jerusalem he encountered one barrier after another attempting to thwart the good work God had called him to do. And when the wall was finished his “enemies” were afraid because they knew that it was a result of God’s help (Nehemiah 6:15-16). Enemies that are afraid can’t be trusted and yet Nehemiah continued--restoring, rebuilding; helping the Jewish community to return their focus on the Who of their existence.

By the end of his life this humble cup bearer accomplished much more than anyone ever anticipated. What had started as a construction job turned into a life long mission. True, the physical walls were completed but in the process Nehemiah realized that the spiritual foundation of the community had been compromised and so he keeps obeying.

They lived obedient lives. But, Nehemiah and Mother Teresa both shared a doubt--was their good work enough to be remembered by the God who had called them to obedience.

We are the recipients of God’s loving memory.

God, thank you for those
who have lived before us
revealing that an obedient
life is a life that You remember.
My desire is to do Your good work;
living a life of obedience.
Remember me, O my God.
Artwork--Creation, Marc Chagall, 1960. Gallerie Art Churdim

Monday, August 11, 2008

Aware of Excess

...I did not demand
the food allowance
of the governor,
because the service
was too heavy
on this people.

Nehemiah 5:18c

Our meal was delicious. There had also been way too much! “Doggy bag” in hand, we walked around the corner. Out of our periphery we glimpsed a worn, disheveled woman crouched on the concrete. She never said a word, simply rocked back and forth.

“We need to give her our food,” said my daughter. Walking back I was greeted with a “Hello Lady.” Explaining that we had more food than we needed she grabbed the bag—“Thank you!” Later that evening she still rocked, the “doggy bag” empty.

Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem with good motives--helping put Jerusalem back together. He discovers, however, extreme opposition to his good work as well as his own people taking advantage of each other for their own gain. Food has become a premium. When Nehemiah is appointed governor he refuses to eat the food allotted to him because it comes to his table on the backs of people who have little to eat.

Today, history is repeating itself all around the world. The number of Individuals considered starving is approaching 1,000,000,000. Domestic food banks are finding that food donations that stock their shelves are diminishing even as the demand on their supplies increases.

We’re frightened for own future making us afraid to give. But what if we lived like Nehemiah. How much food would we be able to give if we cut out just one meal a week? I think you’ll be surprised both by how much you can give as well as how you’ll feel.

Jesus, thank you that
my needs are met.
Help me to be aware of any
excesses and seek out
ways to give away what
I don’t need.

Friday, August 8, 2008

In God's Employ

So they strengthened
their hands
for the good work.

Nehemiah 2:18c

Nehemiah had a good, steady job in the palace of King Artaxerxes. As cupbearer it was his responsibility to protect the king by tasting the food and wine served to the king for possible poisons. Granted, it was a risky occupation, depending on the political environment, but it was also a job that was respected. A cupbearer was a trusted employee.

Nevertheless, Nehemiah was an Israelite in exile, longing for home. One day a group of visiting Judeans tell him that the walls of his beloved Jerusalem have been burned and destroyed. Nehemiah, overwhelmed with sadness, knows action needs to be taken and begins the discerning process of praying and waiting. God's answer to Nehemiah is to ask the king for release from his duties in order that he might go to Jerusalem, start a construction company and begin repairing Jerusalem’s walls. On the part of Nehemiah, the request was a huge risk! Just because he asked, the king could have ordered Nehemiah’s death. God, however, entered the presence of King Artaxerxes before Nehemiah.

And so, Nehemiah leaves behind him the stability, comfort and respect of his palace position and heads to Jerusalem to begin what God has called him to do—the good work of repairing what has been destroyed.

We are modern day Nehemiahs. Whatever our “employment” whether an attorney, quilt maker, doctor, teacher, sales clerk, homemaker…, God calls us to strengthen our hands for the good work. As Jesus followers, we are in God’s employ.

What Kingdom job is God asking you to do?

Jesus, sometimes I get so caught
up in my “earthly employment”
that I forget I am also in Your employ.
I am open to all positions!
Show me what Kingdom job
you have for me.
Artwork--Prunella Clough (1919-1999) Broken Gates, Tate Collection

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Food for Thought

I had a vision of a house. Every time a crack appeared in the wall, or damage in the house, I dashed out to repair it as quickly as I possibly could, like most of us do, so that the inside of the house was protected and kept safe from the weather and the storms.

And the Lord said to me, 'This is what your Christian life is like. Whenever any cracks appear in the wall that has been built up around about you over the years by the world and by yourself you dash out and you fill in the cracks so that no one is able to see what is inside. But I want the world to be able to see what is inside. I want to be able to come in through the cracks into your life and I am not going to fill them up either, I am going to flow in and out of these cracks. So when you see the cracks appear in your life, do not rush out and fill them in. Let Me come in.'

David Mattches

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Asking Directions

Ah, stubborn children,
declares the Lord
…who set out
to go down
to Egypt, without asking
for my direction..

Isaiah 30:1a, 2

I have come to the place in my life where I don’t make a move without first talking to my Father. Unfortunately this lesson has been learned the hard way. I have always marveled at those individuals who seem to make decisions for themselves and somehow it turns out. My experience has been when trying this approach that things turn out messy. Waiting for His direction is maddening and yet, it’s in the waiting that problems are made clear.

From churches to government there seems to be an absence of asking God for direction and waiting. Dozens of books are available outlining program development for churches, money growth for individuals, five year plans, retirement survival. None of these are wrong in and of themselves but I wonder how frequently we stop in the midst of our devouring them and pray, “Lord, what do I do?” Perhaps like the Israelites we respond in panic when things go wrong rushing back to our enslavement.

God says over and over again that He wants to have conversations with us even about the simplest of issues. And He’s good at giving directions. The challenge that presents itself is are we willing to follow the directions given. Flashy neon signs abound tempting us with life directions. God’s sign is a simple wooded one but it does provide a strong support when we’re weary from our running around.

Sit and rest awhile. Soon the way will be made clear.

Jesus, thank you for the
signpost of your Cross
that points the way.
I want to live my life
asking first directions
from You.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Peace to You

Grace to you and peace.

I Thessalonians 1:1c

It was time in the worship service to pass the peace of Christ to our neighbors but for some it was time to catch up on news. Turning to my pew neighbor I saw her hand reach out to a quickly moving worshipper who obviously had another congregational target in mind. My neighbor received only a slight brush of the hand with no eye connection. Between these two Jesus followers the peace of Christ was not given. The look on my neighbor’s face with her outstretched hand was…well, how would you feel.

Sitting down I pondered over what exactly had been missed. If every letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the early churches starts with a greeting of peace, it must be important for us today as well. Giving a word of peace to someone is surely more than a Sunday morning salutation.

Encouragement, exhortation, instruction and correction were what Paul’s letters contained. Familiar with the challenges that faced each congregation he also knew what they needed to hear. While each letter is unique in its message he never failed to first give them the peace of Christ. While situations, locations and political structures separated them, Christ’s peace was what bound them together as an early church.

So much was missed during this particular peace of Christ Sunday. Two Jesus followers, possessing all manner of things that separated them, missed an opportunity to connect at the Cross. Our differences make us individuals. Christ’s peace makes us family.

Grace to you and peace.

Jesus, thank you for the
peace that you give me every day.
Give me eyes to
see the opportunity
and lips to speak Your
peace to everyone I meet.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Pressing Forward

But one thing I do:
“forgetting what

lies behind and
straining forward
to what lies ahead,

I press on toward
the goal…

Philippians 3:13b-14a

Athletes are perfect illustrations for how God wants us to live life as a Jesus follower. Endurance, strength, character, perseverance, discipline are just part of what makes up a world class athlete. But the ability to put behind them past failures or mishaps and focus on the ultimate goal is the perfect example for a Jesus follower. Ice skaters may take a tumble in the middle of a gold medal program but so far I’ve never seen one skate off the ice—they always get up; focusing on the goal even if the fall has cost them.

Forgetting “stuff” that has happened in the past is tough. Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress we carry it around with us even though the weight digs into our spirit. When we are bowed by the hurts, fears, betrayals, misunderstandings, rejections of our lives it’s impossible to see any of the beauty that lies ahead.

Jesus had a lot of “stuff” happen to him. From the start people were out for his blood. He was misunderstood. He was rejected. Friends denied knowing him. Betrayal led to his ultimate death. But, he never looked back nor did he carry any of the baggage. He kept the goal of the Kingdom in site and in order to reach it he kept moving forward.

When you watch the Olympics this summer think about the spiritual parallels. With every pulsing muscle and disciplined breath they strain forward. They never look back. The goal is ahead, not behind them.

Jesus, your life is a comfort
and an inspiration. You know
the “stuff” I keep lugging around.
Forgive me! Take from me
everything that keeps me from reaching You.
Image of Pilgrim's Progress from