Friday, May 29, 2009

Mastering Our Moods

From Reflections for Ragamuffins--May 28

After an interview with someone, Abraham Lincoln remarked to his secretary, "I don't like that man's face."

His secretary reacted in amazement, "But that's what his face is; he's not responsible for his face." And Lincoln replied tartly, "After forty every man is reponsible for his face."

My face is the mirror of my moods. After four decades of dying and rising, I should have acquired sufficient emotional maturity to master my moods and maintain a tranquil facial expression. I think that's what Honest Abe was implying.

I would not be writing this little chapter if a woman had not asked me this morning, "Why are you in such a rotten mood?"

All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Proverbs 15:15

On Crooked Knees comment--"Whew!" LORD! Let my countenance reflect your tranquil nature.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why Follow?

“Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

Matthew 9:9b

Peter left his livelihood as a fisherman. James and John turned their backs on the family business. Matthew left a secure appointment by the government. Jesus knew what he was asking and yet throughout his ministry he continued to repeat the same two words, Follow Me. Some who heard were able to meet the challenge and take the risk. Others felt the constraint of family and business obligations. Both decisions changed their lives one way or another.

The disciples represent the broad spectrum of individuals that Jesus called. They all came from different backgrounds with the only common factor being that in following Jesus they were turning away from the known to face the unknown. Jesus gave no expectations at the point of his calling. There were no promises of life after death. No assurances that they would return to their lives. He simply said, Follow Me, and at least twelve couldn’t resist!

It strikes me that sometimes we spend a great deal of time talking about Christianity in the context of the afterlife. We “witness” because we want people to be assured of heaven after they die. We don’t think so much of how it could change their lives, now.

Follow Me radically changed the lives of the disciples. They saw, heard, and experienced this life as never before. Jesus taught them how to live the kingdom life that was being given to them--now.
Jesus wants us to live in the kingdom now. Follow me!

Jesus, sometimes I look only towards the future,
forgetting that you have given me a life to live right now.
Teach me how you want me to live in the kingdom, today.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fired Image

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver…

Malachi 3:3a

The Bible is sometimes difficult to understand. Because of the historical and cultural significance of some passages it takes some digging to mine the truths and bring them to meaning in the 21st century. In other passages all we have to do is simply scratch the surface and up pops a gem beyond compare. I was reminded of this when a mass e-mail popped in my box with this verse from Malachi along with this illustrating story.

Prompted by this verse and wanting to know more about the process of refining and purifying silver, a Jesus follower found a silversmith and started asking questions. She discovered that in order for silver to be refined it had to be held, by the silversmith, deep in the hottest part of the fire. It was crucial that the silver be carefully watched because the silver would be destroyed if over exposed to the intense heat. However, it was the heat that burned away all the impurities revealing the value and brilliance of the metal.

After watching from beginning to end she asked, “How do you know when the silver has been properly refined and purified?” Without any hesitation the silversmith replied, “When I see my image I know that the silver has been in the fire long enough.”

It doesn’t take much to understand how this connects to our lives! Nevertheless it’s a good reminder--God has his eyes on us at all times. He never allows us to burn unnecessarily. While the heat of the fire may seem beyond our tolerance He’s watching and when He sees His image we’ll be removed.

God, you are the master Silversmith.
I put myselfin your hands believing that even though
I will be put in the fire I will become a reflection of You.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Work in Progress

God is the one who began
this good work in you…

Philippians 1:6a (CEV)

Grace is an early fixture in my memory. She passed away several years ago but the impression she left is firmly imprinted--Grace assumed the best in everyone. When walking on the pier no one was able to pass by without her calling out a hello or engaging them in a conversation about the catch of the day. She didn’t see anyone as anything other than God’s good work.

It isn’t always easy to accept those that we meet, or live with, as God’s good work. We know all the weak spots of those we love and upon seeing a homeless individual on the street we may find ourselves giving them a wide berth. Many times I find that my own instinct, unfortunately, isn’t to first assume that God is doing a good work in those that may be troublesome. But, of course, I want others to see me as a good work in progress!

From our beginnings God saw that what He had created was good. Grace claimed this truth living it out in her life, giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, believing that what she saw wasn’t the finished product. There was hope of a completed good work in everyone.

It’s a good way to live--having the eyes of God; seeing that He has begun a good work in everyone. With this outlook it doesn’t matter that a person’s behavior, choices or attitude seem far from being good. Trust God to make sure that the finished product is what He intended.

Father, thank you for beginning a good work in me.
Help me to see everyone as Your good work, in progress.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Memorial

Flags whipping, people cheering,
Bands marching, gum popping,
Picnics munching,
. . .this is Memorial Day.

Flags draping, tears falling,
trumpet playing, guns saluting,
Silent lunches,
. . .this is Memorial Day.

Flags torn, orders shouted,
Bombs exploding, soldiers falling,
Fertive gobbling,
. . .this is Memorial Day.

Empty tomb, sorrow spent,
Mary weeping, angels questioning,
Jesus dining,
. . .this is Resurrection Day!

Lord, in these turbulent, uncertain, violent times. . .bring us again to your empty tomb and Resurrection Day! Thank you for the peace that only your presence can bring.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Standing in His Shadow

In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.

Psalm 57:1b

I am claustrophobic. Whether it’s a tight space or a tight embrace my breath quickens as I struggle for freedom. It’s probably one of the reasons why I love the image of being in the shadow of God’s protective wing. I want to feel secure not claustrophobic.

Standing in shadows isn’t a suffocating experience. Instead, one finds relief from heat, the wind, the rain while at the same time keeping the ability to be mobile, with a view of what’s happening. If we are to learn from our experiences, it’s important that we see what we’re facing. Locking ourselves in a windowless room or closing our eyes doesn’t help prepare us for anything.

When we’re facing storms of destruction God spreads out his wing of protection. He provides the shadow that reminds us of his presence while providing a “safe” space to learn and grow from the experience. It’s all part of growing up in Christ. If we want to be a Jesus follower that is mature and strong it will require us to be content in the shadow of God’s wing instead of always seeking a face lock embrace.

Now, we have to be honest, an embrace is wonderful. But, if we are going to become strong as a result of our “storms”, taking refuge in God’s shadow will give us the comfort we need while at the same time give us a view of the upcoming lesson.

Father, thank you for your wing shadow of protection.
It reminds me that nothing can truly harm me and that this present storm
is yet another part of my growing up in you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

At the Center

These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom.

Mark 10:14b (The Message)

“Our culture is child centered at the moment,” said my walking partner, an elementary school teacher. She was responding to my question as to whether she had seen a change over the years in the behavior of children. It became apparent that a teacher’s life isn’t easy given the self focused personalities of children. However, that evening at church I saw centers of life jumping up and down singing about the power of Jesus. I saw hope!

Children are the center of life, but, too often we’re confusing which “life” they ought to center. Once I met a young man who claimed that his parents never told him what to do; they just wanted him to be “happy.” Unfortunately I never saw him be "happy." His parents had centered him in their life forgetting where his true center lay.

Jesus saw the ability of children to throw themself at something, wholeheartedly, without reserve as a way of illustrating what it meant to live in the kingdom. On one hand it might appear that we should make children the center of our culture, but there’s a catch. When we forget that our children are the center of life in the kingdom of God and instead make them the center of our lives we destroy their identities in the kingdom.

For all who are involved in the lives of children, their “happiness” cannot be our focused desire. We are instead called to show them how to claim their identities as centers of life in the kingdom.

Jesus, help us to remember that children are not merely
sources of happiness but the centers of Your Kingdom.
Give us wisdom and courage to speak with our children
about where their true identity lies.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Food for Thought

And he said to them,"Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while."

Mark 6:31

It is difficult to be alone. Feeling uncomfortable in one's "aloneness" is cross generational. Just watch a congregation of teenagers or hear them texting on their phones. Most adults wouldn't dream of sitting in a restaurant eating by themselves. Most often, when we find ourselves with the possibility of being alone, we seek to fill the void. In the midst of my own fatigue my thoughts have settled on these selected portions from Gifts from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I was struck with how many years have passed since the publication of this book and yet how pertinent, particularly to the life of a Jesus follower.

Jesus faithfully pulled away from the crowds and spent time alone. It was after these times of "aloneness" that miracles happened. If being alone produced such significant results shouldn't we seek it's location more diligently?

It is not the desert island, nor the stony wilderness, that cuts you off from the people you love; it is the wilderness of the mind, the desert wastes in the heart through which one wanders lost--a stranger to oneself and estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others. We are all, in the last analysis, alone. How one hates to think of oneself as alone. How one avoids it--it seems to imply rejection or unpopularity. We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Even if family, friends and movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void.

We must re-learn to be alone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Built to Last

Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house.
It was fixed to the rock.

Matthew 7:25 (The Message)

During one of my most difficult life moments I met Beth. She was waging a battle against a powerful hurricane, cancer. Beth’s story and the hard work she was doing to simply LIVE reeked havoc on my pity party. She never complained or questioned God’s purpose. In order to not be destroyed, Beth faithfully followed the blueprints that would keep her living.

The Bible is consistent with this message—a Jesus follower can be guaranteed some foul weather. It isn’t a pleasant truth, but there it is. In my own life I have found it to be an uncomfortable fact. It seems as though I just get through one “rain” storm and another appears on the horizon. It is at these times that meeting people who are dealing with “hurricanes” provide a perspective.

Being in community with fellow Jesus followers is essential during “rain” storms. It is impossible to build a house on one’s own. Even if you’re doing all the “building”, others are usually a part of the process. The same concept applies to the life of a Jesus follower. We cannot be solidly built without one another’s help. Our stories of endurance remind us that there is life after a “flood.”

Meeting a Jesus follower who is built on the rock is like knowing a master builder. Having been intimately acquainted with the Master’s blueprints they know what is necessary to build and can help us be fixed to the rock as well.

Jesus, you have promised life even after a hurricane.
Help me to know you so well that I am fixed to the rock.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Word for Today

Let us, therefore, take courage and strip ourselves for the contests. Christ has put on us armor that is more glittering than any gold, stronger than any steel, hotter and more violent than any fire, and lighter than any breath of air. The nature of this armor does not burden and bend our knees, but it gives wings to our limbs and lifts them up. If you wish to take flight to heaven, this armor is no hindrance. It is a new kind of armor, since it is a new kind of combat.

Although I am human, I must aim my blows at demons; although clad in flesh, my struggle is with incorporeal powers. On this account God has made my breastplate not from metal but from justice; God has prepared for me a shield which is made not of bronze but of faith. I have, too, a sharp sword, the word of the Spirit.

John Chrysotom, Fourth Century

Friday, May 15, 2009

They are a vanishing format of communication, but the message boards where people have painstakingly applied the letters to a sign outside their business establishment still have some of the best pithy if not poignant sayings. We have a couple in our town that change frequently.

Here is the "blessing" that is on one of them that I pass daily.

May the most you wish for be the least you get.

My prayer today is that you will, in a significant way, experience the abundance God has in store for you. How that abundance will look, I have no idea. But, this I know, our God is lavishly generous. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Anxiety Comes Knocking

Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.

Proverbs 12:25

Most of us have known the weight of anxiety. From owning your own business, to raising children, to making ends meet, to marital issues, at some point anxiety meets us head on. And, we don't really need to be told that as Jesus followers anxiety shouldn't be one of our friends. If we have read the Bible even just a little we know that Jesus says, Be anxious for nothing.

Anxiety, no matter the reason, destroys our spirit. Even our physical body will eventually begin to exhibit the effects of anxiety through a variety of physical ailments. For something that causes so much destruction it's a wonder that we are willing to entertain it for so long. We know it isn't a good house guest and yet we do so much to make “anxiety” feel comfortable.

It is at the point when we see “anxiety” making camp that we need to help each other with a good word. The challenge of this is becoming aware of what that good word might actually be! For myself, I too often quickly offer words of Biblical "instruction" about who and what God will do instead of waiting, listening to the words of anxiety and responding with a God given good word that will bring gladness.

Here's a challenge for today. Let's listen and hear what is weighing down the heart of our friend, co-worker, parent, child, neighbor, but, take the next step--wait, listen carefully to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and hear the good word. Today let's make someone glad because of the good word we have given them.

Jesus, thank you for your assurance
that worry is not a responsibility you want for us.
Forgive me for keeping anxiety on as a house guest.
Help me today, to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit
and speak a word of gladness.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Prayer for Today

Lord, I have nothing;
help me to give even what I do not have.
Lord, I feel nothing;
help me not to be jealous, that You may
use me to touch others' hearts.
Lord, I am weary;
help me to remember that You
have been weary, too.
Lord, I need refreshing;
help me to refresh others and to forget
about my own needs.
Lord, I can't see the way ahead,
help me not to get in the way
of those who can.
Lord, I am disappointed,
help me not to bring disappointment to others.
Lord, I have no one to help me;
help me to trust in You.
Lord, I can't see You;
yet You see me. . .
help me to remember that.
Lord, I am not worthy to receive You,
but only say the word and I shall be healed.

Hugh Barney

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

True Love

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.

I Corinthians 13:4

Between officiating at marriages, catering or attending them my husband and myself have seen hundreds of couples exchange vows of commitment. Even for those who have previously been married a new relationship represents renewed hope and desire. Everyone wants to believe that, somehow, they will be able to sustain the amazing feeling they are experiencing. Statistics seem to compose an alternate ending.

When the day to day struggles arrive, the differences in backgrounds rears on its legs or the protective personality covering falls away we are faced with how difficult it is to be patient or kind, not insisting on our own way. . .to love. It proves much more difficult than we ever imagined.

We are, however, loved in exactly the way Paul describes. God knows how to love. Even in Eden his love overshadows Adam and Eve while he makes clothes for them, after they have “insisted on their own way.”

The thirty plus years of loving my husband stumbles, when compared to how I’ve been loved by my Father. His love has never faltered as daily he clothes me with his “love” garments. Dressed in his clothes I am able to at least begin to know how to truly love.

Thank you, Father, for loving me
with pure, unrestrained passion.
Because of your love I can learn to love

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dig In!

Therefore we will not fear...Though its waters roar and foam...

Psalm 46:2a, 3

Dig in! Dig in! Suddenly the waters turned into a whirlpool and the six of us thrust our paddles into the water feeling our weakness against the river’s strength. Nevertheless, our rafting guide repeatedly yelled, Dig in! We listened. Digging in was what had to be done in order to get through to the other side.

My muscles ached the next day as a result of digging in. At one point I felt myself being pushed off the raft by the force of the water; I dug in deeper. Digging in was the critical element of survival, but it also helped stave off fear. When one is busy digging in there isn’t time for fear.

It would be nice if there was a river guide yelling Dig In! when our life river suddenly turned to rapids. Too often fear overcomes us and forgetting to dig in we become swamped by circumstances beyond our control. We feel our weakness.

But the truth is that we do have a river guide daily encouraging us to Dig in! Abraham and Sarah grieved over their infertility and God said, "Your descendants will outnumber the stars"–Dig in! When Job was put to the test, God said, "who hung the stars in place"–Dig In! Gabriel tells Mary, "Don’t be afraid. God is with you"–Dig in!

In the moment of life’s turbulence, if we are willing to listen, our heavenly River Guide can be heard to say, "You have nothing to fear. I am with you." Dig in!

Jesus, I can hear your voice reminding me to
“dig in” to God’s strength, your love
and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Good Gifts

If you then...know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

Luke 11:13

Parenting is the hardest relationship I have yet encountered. It’s like the wildest roller coaster while quickly resembling the tranquil beauty of an ocean sunset. Just about every imaginable emotion lies in between. The crazy part is that even given the uncertain emotional nature of the relationship, when my child asks, I want to give.

The truth is that most parents know exactly what their kids want because kids aren’t afraid to ask. Knowing what is available, they believe that they have a ready source able to provide. And, while their requests may not always be granted, parents generally want to give their kids good gifts.

Translating this truth to our relationship with the heavenly Father, just imagine what we would receive were we to simply ask. As the perfect parent, the Father wants to give the ultimate in good gifts to his children. But, asking is an important part of the process.

Prior to asking, a "need" must first be identified. Next is acknowledging that this "need" will bring about change in one’s life. Asking is the point where "need" and the desire for fulfillment meet. When Jesus says, Ask and it will be given (Luke 11:10a) he recognizes this truth and he wants to fill the "needs" that will bring him glory.

There’s nothing like receiving a gift that we specifically asked for. The heavenly Father is waiting for you to ask. His good gift of the Holy Spirit will satisfy all your needs.

Jesus, thank you for your willingness to respond to our asks.
Today I ask for your good gift of the Holy Spirit.
This is the "need" that I want to become real.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

No Darkness

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

I John 1:5b

Sitting in inky blackness, illuminated by a bonfire, the camp speaker gave me a truth that prepared me for life as a Jesus follower--Don’t doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light. I was fifteen and still remember.

Being afraid of the dark is normal. Rarely do we enter an unfamiliar darkness without flipping on a light in order to expose all that is hidden. Light alleviates our fears allowing us to move around, confidently.

It’s our memory, however, that changes our behavior. Our homes, bedrooms, places of work, or schools are familiar and so, even if shrouded in darkness, we allow our memory of what we know to be in that familiar place, to guide us. Consequently, in the middle of the night we find that we have made it to the bathroom--without a light.

Jesus followers need to rely on a spiritual memory as well. During those moments when life’s decisions are obvious and clear cut we are privileged to stand in God’s well lit room. It is at these moments, when everything is visible, that spiritual memorization is essential. Because the truth is, in an instant the light of the “obvious” could be snuffed out and instead of confidently moving ahead we find ourselves disoriented and confused.

If as Jesus followers we consciously make spiritual memory a priority, fearing the dark should no longer be an issue. Without a doubt we will remember what God has shown us in the light.

Jesus, you were the Light that God sent to illumine the darkness of the world.
When darkness envelops me, help me to remember
what I have seen in your Presence.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Reflection on Trusting God

Trust nothing, yourself least of all; but in Me have that perfect confidence that banishes fear. Remember how many storms I have quieted by a word, making a great calm to follow. Remember how I held up Peter walking on the waters. I am always as near to all people as I was then to him, and as ready to help and succour in all that is for the good of the soul. Be confident, faithful, courageous; have no fear for your body and soul, for I am there, loving and all-powerful.

Never forget that I am there. In this life the tempest never ceases, and your boat is ever ready to sink. But I am there, and with Me it will never be wrecked.

Charles de Foucauld

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

His Way

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will act.

Psalm 37:5

Trust is at the heart of so much of what we do. We respond to situations and individuals according to our level of trust. Trust is often easily given, but, once broken we discover that trust is not easily restored.

I once put together twelve verses to be memorized for the year. It was part of a talk I gave for a group of Jesus followers starting out the New Year with an Epiphany dinner—the season for new discoveries.

Of course, what begins as a plan of action for others quickly becomes a life lesson for oneself. While the whole of my life has been a continuous lesson on trust that particular period of my life had thrust me into “class” full time.

My “way” was my husband accepting a new pastoral call 1500 miles away. Events along the way were our daughter finishing high school three months early but not being able to see a “graduation”, the death of a family member, packing and posting a “house for sale” sign in a down market, finding a new house to call home, a new town, new congregation, even an unexpected surgery, and five months later saying good-bye to our only child as she began college. Everything was new. Trust became an uncertain commodity in a new environment.

Every morning was a repeated prayer, “I trust you, Lord.” And God acted, intervened, provided all along the way. Today I confidently shout, GOD IS WORTHY OF TRUST.

Jesus, whatever today holds I commit to you;
trusting that you will act in a way that is best for me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Take a Risk

The moment they saw him they worshiped him.
Some, though, held back, not sure about “worship”,
about risking themselves totally.

Matthew 28:17 (The Message)

There have been worship leaders, who in their eagerness to get their congregation to “worship”, have by their own admission, been manipulative. “Do you love Jesus? Raise your right hand? Do you know that Jesus loves you? Raise your left hand! Ah, hah I’ve gotten you to raise your hands, now keep them up there and let’s worship.” Worship is a response of love and adoration to God, but it should be a voluntary action!

I feel for the disciples that held back when they saw Jesus, not wanting to risk themselves totally. Worship is a dangerous business—you may lose yourself, completely. A loss of control is at stake and the uncertainty of what might happen is just that, uncertain.

During our years of ministry, my husband and I have heard all sorts of reasons why people hold back when it comes to worship. But all of them are based in worry and a need for control—how they will look or what will people think—if they take a risk at worship.

Abandoning, “risking” ourselves to the act of worship means that sometimes we might “look” funny. But, there will also be laughter, joy, energy, new friends, even a new sense community.

Your risk will look different than mine. But the next time you’re worshiping ask yourself, are you holding back from totally showing your love and devotion to Jesus.

Jesus, I love you and want to worship you.
But, sometimes I get caught up,not in your Spirit,
but in who might be looking.Help me to risk learningl
learn what it means to worshipYou with abandon.

Friday, May 1, 2009

More Food for Thought

Anxiety is not only a pain which we must ask God to assuage but also a weakness we must ask him to pardon--for he's told us to take no care for the morrow.

C.S. Lewis